Ex-soldiers offered mercenaries $10,000 a week to join a private army that would fight in Yemen’s civil war, prosecutors says

Fighter from Saudi-backed forces in Yemen
A fighter with forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government holds a position against Huthi rebels in Yemen’s northeastern province of Marib, on April 6, 2021.

  • Two former German soldiers planned a mercenary force to fight in Yemen’s ongoing disastrous civil war, prosecutors say.
  • The men wanted to recruit up to 150 men and offered $10,000 a week to join their private army.
  • The ex-soldiers reportedly reached out to Saudi government agencies to ask for funding, per the BBC.

Two former German soldiers worked to set up a mercenary force, in which recruits would be paid $10,000 a week for their services, to fight in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, according to prosecutors.

Arend-Adolf G and Achim A face terrorism charges in Germany for allegedly planning to recruit up to 150 men, consisting of former police officers and soldiers, and offering their services to Saudi Arabia’s government, the BBC reported.

They planned to pay each recruit a wage of about €40,000 ($46,400) a month for their services, prosecutors said.

The former soldiers are accused of asking Saudi government agencies to finance illegal missions in Yemen. The prosecutors said their outreach attempts were unsuccessful, per the BBC.

Yemen has been devastated by a civil war since 2014 between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and Houthi insurgents.

According to UNICEF, more than 10,000 children have been killed or injured in war-torn Yemen. The UN says that the fighting has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with over two-thirds of the population in need of aid.

Yemen Houthi rebels
A gathering to donate to the Houtis fighters battling the government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, on February 04, 2021 in Sana’a, Yemen.

The Germans were accused of setting up the paramilitary unit at the start of 2021, and, according to the BBC, they actively tried to recruit at least seven people.

The mercenary force would have worked to capture areas held by armed Houthi rebels in Yemen, Deutsche Welle reported. The suspects also had plans for the unit to take part in other conflicts, the broadcaster said.

The “ringleaders” were aware that the mercenaries would have to kill people, including civilians, according to prosecutors.

Germany’s Military Counter-Intelligence Service received a tip citing the plans, according to German newspaper Spiegel.

One of the men was arrested in Munich and the other in Germany’s south-western Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald district, the BBC reported.

They are due to appear in court on Wednesday.

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US sanctions reveal how Mexico’s powerful Jalisco cartel is seizing control at a major Pacific port

Mexico Manzanillo Colima drug shipment seizure
A Mexican marine carries packs of cocaine after a drug bust aboard a ship in the port of Manzanillo in Colima state, November 5, 2007.

  • This month, the US sanctioned suspected Jalisco cartel members, accusing them of controlling drug operations at the port of Manzanillo.
  • Manzanillo is a crucial entry point for fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals from Asia.
  • Control of Manzanillo is vital to CJNG’s efforts to dominate the synthetic drug trade into the US and the group’s expansion across Mexico.

The United States has sanctioned four suspected members of Mexico’s powerful CJNG cartel, alleging that they controlled drug operations at a Pacific port that is a crucial entry point for fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals from Asia.

Aldrin Miguel Jarquín Jarquín, Jose Jesus Jarquín Jarquín, César Enrique Diaz de León Sauceda and Fernando Zagal Antón are alleged to be members of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generació – CJNG) operating out of the Manzanillo port and surrounding areas in the state of Colima, the US Treasury Department said in an October 6 news release.

Treasury officials say the men “coordinate CJNG’s drug trafficking operations through the port of Manzanillo” and maintain contact with cocaine suppliers in Colombia.

The Jarquín Jarquín brothers, as well as Diaz de Leon Sauceda, are allegedly among the most senior members of the CJNG operating out of Manzanillo. They report directly Julio Alberto Castillo Rodriguez, the son-in-law of CJNG boss Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” according to the Treasury Department.

The CJNG’s “criminal success is partly due to its influence over strategic locations such as Manzanillo,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

“This Pacific coast port serves as a significant gateway for Colombian cocaine and precursor chemicals imported from Asia, including those used to synthesize fentanyl,” she said in the news release.

It’s not just fentanyl products moving through Manzanillo. In early July, 50,000 kilograms of benzyl chloride, used in the production of methamphetamines, were seized at the port.

InSight Crime analysis

Mexico Colima Manzanillo
Navy members patrol the coast in Manzanillo, Mexico, May 2, 2020.

Control of the port of Manzanillo is crucial to CJNG’s efforts to dominate the lucrative synthetic drug trade into the United States and the group’s expansion across Mexico.

A report, “Mexico’s Role in the Deadly Rise of Fentanyl,” published in February 2019 by InSight Crime and the Wilson Center found that the port of Manzanillo accounted for the lion’s share of seizures of fentanyl precursor chemicals entering the country.

The CJNG, though, wasn’t always the dominant player in what had once been a sleepy port. In 2016, violence surged around Colima in a three-way battle among the CJNG, the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Zetas. The CJNG was ultimately able to consolidate its control of Manzanillo by forging alliances with local gangs.

The CJNG was also positioned to deal in fentanyl, given its background in methamphetamine trafficking.

The group’s control of the port has been crucial to its swift rise as one of Mexico’s main fentanyl traffickers into the United States, according to a January 2020 US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence report.

Combating smuggling at the Manzanillo port has become a priority of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who visited Manzanillo himself as a show of commitment. In January of this year, he gave the Mexican Navy, direct control of the country’s seaports.

The US and China have also worked together to crack down on the supply of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds. But halting the smuggling of fentanyl and its precursors is not likely to happen any time soon.

The shutdown of the Chinese city of Wuhan – an epicenter of fentanyl manufacturing – amid the COVID-19 pandemic led to the sourcing of fentanyl and its precursors from other countries. Meanwhile, criminal groups like the CJNG ramped up their manufacturing capabilities.

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North and South Korea are both showing off new weapons, but they’re trying to send very different messages

North Korea Kim Jong Un submarine
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aboard a submarine in an undated photo released on June 16, 2014.

  • North Korea said it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile on Tuesday.
  • South Korea has also been busy showing off its military prowess recently, but its defense ambitions are driven by several complex factors.

North Korea has announced that it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, on Tuesday.

State media claimed the missile – launched from the same submarine from which Pyongyang tested its first Pukguksong-1 SLBM in August 2016 – has “advanced control guidance technologies, including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility,” designed to make it harder to track and intercept.

The name of the submarine used for the launch-the “8.24 Yongung”-also seems noteworthy, as a reflection of the importance Pyongyang puts on this vessel: It means “hero” and apparently signifies the August 24 date of the 2016 SLBM launch.

The test is another sign that Pyongyang is trying to secure a second-strike capability – the ability to respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear weapons. The aim would be to protect the regime and perhaps even cause Washington to hesitate in defending Seoul in the event of an attack, for fear of possible North Korean SLBM strikes.

The launch came on the heels of an extravagant display of force the previous week. Pyongyang showed off some of its new weapons and military hardware on October 11, to mark the 76th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party the day before.

It’s a common ritual in the insular one-party state, but this year, the format was different. For the first time, new additions to the country’s arsenal were on display at a museum-style exhibition rather than a military parade or other major celebration.

North Korea submarine launched ballistic missile test
A new submarine-launched ballistic missile during a test in undated photos released by North Korea on October 19, 2021.

It appears Pyongyang is trying to instill a greater sense of national pride and patriotism in North Koreans about their country’s military might, while portraying itself to the world as a modern, normal state.

Clad in a Western-style suit, the young dictator Kim Jong Un explained in his commemoration speech that the “grand-scale exhibition, a crystallization of our Party’s revolutionary defense policy and its robust viability, is an epoch-making demonstration of our national strength no less significant than a large-scale military parade,” according to state media.

Billed as the “Defense Development Exhibition ‘Self-Defense 2021,'” the event boasted new weaponry that North Korean officials insist are meant for self-defense – to serve as a deterrent against the “hostile policy” of the United States.

On display were an intercontinental ballistic missile; a new hypersonic glide vehicle, a rail-mobile short-range ballistic missile and a long-range cruise missile, all of which Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested last month; and a submarine-launched ballistic missile – presumably the one it tested this week – among an array of other military hardware. These weapon systems, if deployed, could directly threaten South Korea, Japan and even the United States.

Clearly, the regime has been checking off Kim’s wish list that he disclosed at the 8th Party Congress in January, which included many of the weapon systems that were on display last week. Even if these weapons have not yet been perfected, the disclosure of their existence, not to mention the regime’s propaganda, provide ample indication of its intent.

It is only a matter of time until North Korea acquires the capability to reliably put these advanced weapons to practical use, even if that may seem like a fantasy for now.

Kim Jong Un meeting soldiers
Kim Jong Un meets fighter pilots at a defense development exhibition on October 11, 2021.

Of course, such technological perfection may not even be necessary for the time being. The ability to arm even a rudimentary hypersonic or ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead would still threaten South Korea and Japan. Even the perception of having that capability would provide Pyongyang with political leverage in future negotiations with Washington, as well as a measure of legitimacy and loyalty at home.

With the Biden administration continuing its overtures for dialogue, a defense expo achieves the same effect of a show of force without being seen as overtly provocative in the eyes of the international community. There may also be an element of trying to portray itself as a modern and prosperous nation despite North Korea’s economic difficulties amid its self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic and continued effects of international sanctions for its nuclear weapons development.

Moreover, calling the event “Self-Defense 2021” suggests there may be more shows to come in future years. Perhaps Pyongyang even envisions inviting foreign buyers and defense industry insiders to its expos in the distant future.

Ultimately, goose-stepping military parades are reminiscent of backward totalitarian regimes, particularly in the eyes of developed countries in the West, while defense exhibitions depict modern, wealthy states that are also militarily strong.

For example, South Korea grew out of its own military parades in the process of becoming a democracy, downsizing or canceling them in the 1990s and eventually replacing them with defense exhibitions and air shows. Seoul’s own biennial defense exhibition kicked off this week.

Seoul, for its part, has also been busy showing off its military prowess in recent months, testing its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, rolling out plans for high-tech weapons development and increasing its military spending. The timing of the two Koreas’ weapons tests has raised concerns about a new arms race on the peninsula.

South Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile
South Korea’s first underwater-launched ballistic missile is test-fired from a submarine in South Korean waters, September 15, 2021.

However, the reality is that Seoul’s defense ambitions are driven by several complex factors and are not necessarily intended for escalating tensions with the North. Most of its weapons development plans were in place long before President Moon Jae-in took office, though Moon’s government seems to have accelerated a few of them, particularly Seoul’s naval capabilities.

More broadly, Moon’s political objective is to meet the necessary conditions to transfer wartime operational control, or OPCON, to South Korea from the United States and persuade US President Joe Biden to actively support Moon’s vision for inter-Korean peace by showing maximum flexibility in its approach to the North.

Seoul believes that developing more advanced weapons and boosting its military spending would demonstrate its seriousness about deterrence in the face of North Korean nuclear and missile threats, thereby meeting OPCON requirements.

One way to indicate high military spending, South Korean government insiders tell me, has been to shorten the time period necessary for some defense acquisition projects in the military’s budget proposals, which in effect increases yearly spending.

A successful OPCON transfer would also help Moon achieve his motto of “military sovereignty,” which is in line with South Korean progressives’ ideology of ridding the country of US influence and its reliance on Washington for national security.

Another underlying motivation for Seoul is to create an environment that enables Moon to leave behind a “Korean peace” legacy before his term ends next March. In remarks at the UN Generally Assembly last month, Moon reinvigorated his push for a declaration to formally end the Korean War, for which hostilities ceased in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

To this end, Seoul has been aiming for a summit among the leaders of the four main parties to the conflict – the two Koreas, the US and China – on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February. However, North Korea has rejected Seoul’s proposal as purely symbolic, and Washington rightfully remains wary of signing a war-ending declaration with a state that continues to build up its nuclear weapons in contravention of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Moon Jae-in South Korea KF-21 fighter jet
President Moon Jae-in in front of a prototype of South Korea’s first homegrown fighter jet, KF-21, at its rollout ceremony, April 9, 2021.

Still, South Korea remains hopeful, even as North Korea threatens further missile tests and nuclear weapons development. Employing parallel tactics of scorn and flattery, Pyongyang has also taken advantage of Moon’s desperation to secure his legacy by restoring an inter-Korean communication line and dangling hopes for a war-ending declaration and another inter-Korean summit – provided that Seoul works harder to satisfy the Kim regime and break with Washington.

Moon has met Kim in person three times during his presidency. One last inter-Korean summit would provide Moon with the justification needed to ratify the 2018 inter-Korean summit agreement in the National Assembly, where his ruling Democratic Party holds a supermajority. That would legally bind the next South Korean administration to Moon’s policy of maximum engagement without conditions with the North, which many conservative critics say could jeopardize South Korea’s national security.

A victory for Moon’s party in the presidential election next March, which Pyongyang is apparently trying to influence with its latest flattery, would also be a win for North Korea. This is because conservative South Korean governments tend to impose higher bars for inter-Korean engagement and denuclearization and are more closely aligned with the United States.

Against the backdrop of these security and political dynamics on the Korean Peninsula, the fundamental challenge for the Biden administration is to persuade the Kim regime to come back to the negotiating table and curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

However, Kim has so far rejected the Biden team’s overtures, and the chances to resume diplomacy are further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang’s refusal to return to direct talks any time soon and its unwillingness to even receive international humanitarian assistance are apparently due to fears of importing the virus.

The traditional method of sanctions enforcement against the North, aimed at halting the flow of funds that finance North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, has also become difficult to maintain due to the country’s self-isolation during the pandemic.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in stroll together at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea
Kim and Moon at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, April 27, 2018.

Still, waiting patiently is not an option, as North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues “full steam ahead,” as the International Atomic Energy Agency announced last month. In the near term, countries that are in contact with Pyongyang could help persuade the regime that there are safe methods to receive vaccines and humanitarian aid, as well as to conduct official discussions with US counterparts.

The Biden administration should continue with its overtures and consistent messages about meeting without preconditions and harboring no hostile intentions toward North Korea. Meanwhile, Washington and the international community should tighten sanctions against Pyongyang’s cybercrimes and punish third-party entities involved in trade and illicit financial activities with the regime. The exorbitant earnings from such activities have become a lucrative source of financing for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

At the same time, Washington should prepare a strategy for when the pandemic subsides or when North Korea appears ready to engage once more. Challenges still loom because Pyongyang continues to maintain that its preconditions for dialogue include the removal of international sanctions, as well as an end to US-South Korean military drills and criticisms of Pyongyang’s human-rights violations – all of which remain nonstarters for the Biden administration.

Even if diplomacy resumes in earnest, the road ahead will be dotted with landmines. Yet inaction and the absence of bold initiatives toward denuclearization and peace will yield even bigger problems.

Duyeon Kim is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, based in Seoul. She specializes in the Korean Peninsula, East Asian relations, nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and security regimes.

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The White House had to row back Biden’s comments after he suggested the US would defend Taiwan from an attack by China

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 16, 2021.
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden told a CNN town hall on Thursday the US would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack.
  • The White House later clarified that the US policy of “strategic ambiguity” had not changed.
  • China’s recent military activity has raised fears it will try to seize the island, which it considers its own.

The White House clarified President Joe Biden’s comments after he said the US would defend Taiwan if it was attacked by China, in what appeared to be a significant shift in US foreign policy.

When asked by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper at a Thursday town hall event whether Biden would defend Taiwan if China attacked it, the president replied: “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

Aggressive Chinese rhetoric and military activity in recent months have raised tensions in Taiwan, which has for decades governed itself as an independent state and which China claims as part of its sovereign territory.

The comments appeared to be a departure from the policy of “strategic ambiguity” that the US has long adopted towards Taiwan. The policy means that the US has deliberately not indicated whether it would help Taiwan if it was invaded.

A White House spokesperson subsequently said the president’s comments had not signaled a shift in policy.

“The US defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” the spokesperson told reporters, according to The Guardian.

“We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”

Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the US provides the island with support, but they are not bound in a formal military alliance, the Financial Times reported.

China’s aggressive posturing toward Taiwan has increased in recent months.

An op-ed published earlier this month in the Global Times, a state-run Chinese tabloid, said Taiwan’s current status would “definitely come to an end” and said China will “teach Taiwan independence forces a hard lesson.”

A record number of war planes also entered the island’s air defense zone for several days in a row earlier in October.

In a Friday statement issued through the Global Times, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “No one should underestimate the strong resolve, determination, and capability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Reuters reported on Friday that White House officials were preparing for a virtual meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at an unspecified time.

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A former US Air Force airman who showed up to crime scenes with an AR-15 pled guilty to impersonating federal agents

Police car lights
Marlon priest, a US Air Force veteran, pleaded guilty to two counts of impersonating a federal law enforcement officer.

  • A 23-year-old Air Force veteran pleaded guilty to two counts of impersonating an officer Tuesday.
  • Marlon Priest impersonated an FBI agent, as well as a Moody Air Force Base Office of Special investigations agent.
  • The Georgia man made a traffic stop, offered to solve a crime, and even showed up at crime scenes.

A 23-year-old US Air Force veteran pled guilty Tuesday to impersonating a federal agent after admitting he’d made a traffic stop, offered to solve a crime, and even showed up armed to crime scenes, court documents show.

Marlon De’Adrain Priest from Valdosta, Ga. is guilty of two counts of impersonating an officer and an employee of the United States and is facing up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

A judge will sentence Priest in January.

In April last year, Priest, who had been discharged from the Air Force a little over a year earlier for misuse of a military credit card, made a traffic stop, identifying himself as an undercover federal agent at Moody Air Force Base.

Priest was armed with a Glock pistol, wearing a bullet-proof vest, and driving a vehicle with police lights and a public announcement (PA) system, according to Evan Seago, the individual who Priest pulled over. Priest called the stop into 911, identifying himself as an undercover agent.

In August, he pretended to be a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, though that would not be the last time, his plea agreement, obtained by Insider, states.

In September 2020, the Moody Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations contacted the FBI to let them know about Priest, who had been impersonating an OSI agent. The Remerton Police Department had tipped off the base after seeing Priest at crime scenes on a number of occasions.

One time, Priest, who was driving a white Chevrolet sedan with police lights, showed up at a crime scene of a shooting incident in a bullet-proof vest with an AR-15 rifle, court documents show.

When Remerton Police Department Investigator Carl Dudley met Priest at the scene, he was grateful to have what he thought was another law enforcement officer at what could have been a dangerous crime scene.

Over time, Dudley became suspicious of Priest and decided to check in with the Moody Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations, which reported that Priest was not one of their agents.

In October of last year, Priest told a fraud victim he was an FBI agent and charged her $85 to take her case. Days later, he accused the victim of making false statements, threatened to press charges, and demanded another $150, which the victim paid.

Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement that “impersonating a federal officer for any reason puts the public and law enforcement officers at risk, especially when a firearm is used,” adding that “the FBI is committed to keeping the public safe from scam artists like Priest, who undermine legitimate police encounters that happen every day.”

Acting US Attorney Peter Leary said “Priest created a false appearance of authority and power to scam and intimidate his victims,” stressing that “impersonating a federal agent is a serious crime that will not be tolerated.”

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5 veterans on an advisory board to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema quit in protest, calling her ‘one of the principal obstacles to progress’

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during the Senate Finance Committee as Chris Magnus testifies on his nomination to be the next U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during the Senate Finance Committee as Chris Magnus testifies on his nomination to be the next U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington

  • Five members of a veterans’ advisory council to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have resigned in protest.
  • They cited Sinema’s opposition to some of Biden’s agenda and her support for the filibuster.
  • The veterans said Sinema has “become one of the principal obstacles to progress” in the Senate.

Five members of a veterans’ advisory council to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have resigned in protest over her holding up President Joe Biden’s massive social spending package and some of her other positions, The New York Times reported.

In a scathing letter to the senator obtained by The Times and highlighted in an ad from the political arm of progressive veterans’ group Common Defense, the members of the group, who informally advise Sinema on military and veterans’ issues in Arizona, charged her with “hanging your constituents out to dry.”

In a portion of the letter featured in the ad, the resigning members say they “feel they are being used as window dressing” for Sinema’s “own image,” not to provide guidance.

They particularly criticized on her opposition to plans to lower prescription drug prices, her support for maintaining the current Senate filibuster rules, and her not voting on the measure to create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. (Sinema said she missed the vote for a “personal family matter.”)

“You have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people,” the veteran advisors said in the letter. “We shouldn’t have to buy representation from you, and your failure to stand by your people and see their urgent needs is alarming.”

The public resignation of about a quarter of Sinema’s veterans’ advisory board adds to the backlash Sinema is facing in D.C. and at home for her opposition to major components of Democrats’ spending package

Sinema has refused to specify which parts of the package she opposes, saying she wants to “respect” the closed-door negotiations with White House officials and Senate Democratic leadership.

The Arizona Senator reportedly doesn’t support a measure to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and is opposed to some of the proposed tax hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations that would roll back tax cuts passed under former President Donald Trump and provide up to $700 billion in funding for the bill, Insider previously reported.

Some top Democrats in Washington have expressed frustration over Sinema’s role in holding up the process as Congress barrels towards the end of the year.

And the Daily Beast has reported that Sinema has iced out many of her longtime friends and political allies and rankled progressive activists in Arizona.

“While it is unfortunate that apparent disagreement on separate policy issues has led to this decision,” Sinema said in a statement to The Times about the resigning veterans. “I thank them for their service and will continue working every day to deliver for Arizona’s veterans who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe and secure.”

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For the US’s Vietnam-era covert special operators, the quietest missions were also the most dangerous

Air Force UH-1P Huey helicopter Cambodia
US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopters from the 20th Special Operations Squadron fly into Cambodia in 1970.

  • During the Vietnam War, a select group of US commandos carried out secret missions behind enemy lines.
  • MACV-SOG, as it was known, sent small teams on across Vietnam’s borders to conduct raids and gather intelligence.
  • The enemy was the best source for that intelligence, but capturing prisoners was SOG’s most dangerous mission.

During the Vietnam War, a select group of American commandos conducted some of the most sensitive missions of the entire conflict, including snatching live enemy prisoners.

Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations (MACV-SOG) was a covert special-operations unit conducting cross-border operations into Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, Thailand, and possibly elsewhere.

Composed of Green Berets, Recon Marines, Navy SEALs, Air Commandos, and local fighters and mercenaries, SOG specialized in strategic reconnaissance, direct action, and unconventional-warfare operations.

SOG went where US troops weren’t supposed to be, as US presidential administrations had publicly said no American GIs were fighting outside South Vietnam.

Their main battleground was the infamous Ho Chi Mihn Trail that snaked from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia and into South Vietnam, supplying the insurgency there.

Across the border

Vietnam War SOG special operations
A SOG team reconnoiters the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

Cross-border operations were fraught with danger. The small SOG recon teams had to survive on their wits against a devastatingly superior enemy force.

It was not uncommon for recon teams of 10 or fewer commandos to be compromised and face off against hundreds or thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers.

SOG commandos would be inserted by helicopters or small boats miles from their target and patrol toward their objective while trying to avoid the thousands of enemy troops scattered throughout the area.

One of SOG’s primary mission sets was to gather intelligence about North Vietnamese troop numbers and movements. During these reconnaissance operations, SOG commandos would try to observe or take photographs of enemy formations, camps, or other details, such as bulldozer or tank trails.

They would also often try to bug enemy communication lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail or place seismic sensors that supposedly could calculate the number of troops passing through. They could also steal documents and maps that contained the positions and numbers of enemy in the vicinity.

In order to make sense of that intelligence, US commanders and military intelligence officers needed someone to provide context – or, even better, the “plans and intentions” behind it.

The enemy was the best source for that information, but capturing live prisoners was perhaps the most dangerous and risky mission that SOG commandos conducted.

‘We want prisoners’

MACV-SOG Vietnam special operations forces
SOG Recon Team getting ready to be inserted.

MACV-SOG encouraged and incentivized prisoner snatching, either as a specific objective or when the opportunity presented itself. SOG recon teams that captured an enemy soldier received a $100 bonus, plus five days of relaxation and recuperation anywhere in the world.

SOG teams had “a few contingency-based” standard-operating procedures for prisoner-of-war operations, “not the honey-pot snatch you’re thinking about,” John Stryker Meyer, a Green Beret who deployed twice with SOG, told Insider, referring to a practice in covert operations in which a person, usually a woman, is used to lure a target, typically a man.

There were no overarching standard-operating procedures for capturing live prisoners, however, and every SOG team had to come up with innovative ways that worked for them.

One SOG operator, Lynne Black, devised a creative but dangerous method. Black calculated the right amount of C-4 plastic explosive needed to knock out but not kill a man – only after much trial and error, including testing different amounts on himself and knocking himself unconscious several times.

Black’s method required a SOG operator to place an explosive charge on a path or trail behind enemy lines and detonate it remotely after a North Vietnamese soldier had passed by.

The blast would stun but not kill the enemy soldier, and the SOG commandos would pounce, apprehending the disoriented North Vietnamese. If they could only find groups of North Vietnamese troops, the SOG recon team would kill everyone but the man targeted for capture.

MACV-SOG Vietnam special operations forces
SOG Recon Team practicing extraction by rope ladders.

Another approach was to actually assault a small North Vietnamese position deep behind enemy lines.

SOG recon teams carried a lot more firepower than a conventional unit of the same size, but they were only made up of six to 10 operators, which meant they were limited in which outposts they could attack. They couldn’t assault an enemy camp, but they could go after one of the checkpoints that littered the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Meyer described how those “door-knock missions” were conducted along the trail in 1969 and 1970.

“The NVA had checkpoints with a booth or a little small station, and we were going to hit one of those to get a live POW,” Meyer told Insider. “We’re going to hit it with [tear] gas first, go in there quick, kill everybody except for one and bring them back.”

Meyer has written extensively about his and his comrades’ experiences in SOG, detailing their cross-border missions in “Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam.”

The commitment of North Vietnamese troops, as well as indoctrination efforts by their commanders, often meant the North Vietnamese targeted by SOG teams fiercely resisted capture, equating it to a slow and painful death in American hands.

On one mission, a SOG recon team captured a North Vietnamese prisoner and flew back to their forward operating base. While en route, SOG commandos inspected their prisoner more closely, only to find that it was a woman. In their moment of surprise, the prisoner escaped, jumping from the helicopter to her death.

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.

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Deputy US Treasury secretary says Taliban will not have access to Afghan central bank reserves, which are mostly in the US

US Treasury Building
  • The US Treasury is holding firm on its freeze of Afghan central bank reserves, according to Reuters.
  • Since August, the Taliban have tried to access close to $9.5 billion in assets located abroad.
  • Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said that sanctions and humanitarian aid would continue.

Wally Adeyemo, the Deputy US Treasury Secretary, said on Tuesday that there is no situation where the Taliban would have access to Afghan central bank reserves, which are largely stored in the US, according to Reuters.

“We believe that it’s essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Adeyemo told the Senate Banking Committee, according to the report.

Reuters reported that the Taliban had asked for the US to allow access to the central bank’s $9 billion in assets outside of Afghanistan after the US froze the assets in August, as the Taliban took over the country and now are facing an imploding economic crisis.

The Taliban has been unable to get its hands on the Afghan central bank’s almost $10 billion in reserves, Insider previously reported.

“Our goal is to make sure that we are implementing our sanctions regime against the Taliban and the Haqqani network, but at the same time allowing for the permissible flow of humanitarian assistance into the country,” Adeyemo said.

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Cockpit video shows a Russian fighter jet getting up close as a US bomber refuels over the Black Sea

B-1B bomber refuels from KC-135 over Black Sea
A US Air Force B-1B bomber refuels from a KC-135 over the Black Sea, October 19, 2021.

  • A short clip filmed by a Russian Flanker shows the B-1 during air-to-air refueling with a KC-135 over the Black Sea.
  • The US has criticized Russian conduct during previous encounters in the area, but the Russian jet kept its distance this time.

On October 19, 2021, two B-1B Lancer bombers belonging to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, currently deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, as part of Bomber Task Force Europe, executed a counter-maritime mission in the Black Sea region.

During the mission, as they transited through the region and throughout the maritime targeting mission, the BONEs (as the B-1s are dubbed in the pilot community), using callsign “DARK” integrated with Romanian, Polish, and Canadian fighters, supporting the NATO Air Policing mission over Romania and were also supported by RAF Mildenhall’s KC-135 Stratotankers and a Turkish Air Force KC-135.

Needless to say, as happened with similar sorties in the past, the segment flown over the neutral waters of the Black Sea was closely monitored by the Russian Federation air defence: In particular, two Black Sea Fleet Naval Aviation Su-30 Flanker derivatives were scrambled to escort the two B-1s and two accompanying KC-135 tankers as they flew off Crimea.

The pilot of one of the Su-30s also filmed one of the B-1s as it was about to receive fuel from one of the Stratotankers (that looks like to be the Turkish one). The video was then released by the Russian MOD:

Unlike what happened during some famous “unprofessional” intercepts involving P-8s or B-52s, this clip shows the Su-30 remaining at safe distance from the BONEs as it approaches the tanker.

“Our forces are postured to respond to any threat, anywhere, anytime,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander in a public release. “BTF provides enhanced interoperability training with our allies and partners, building coalition strength, and bolstering our ability to respond to all threats with unmatched power.”

Unfortunately, no additional details about the mission were released this time. Last year, the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) command released an official statement about the focus of a mission flown in the last week of May 2020, when the B-1s flew to the Black Sea to train on the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile capability (a mission that, once again saw the BONEs be intercepted by Russian Su-30s). However, it seems quite likely that the B-1s were involved in a similar mission profile.

The AGM-158C LRASM, based on the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER), is the new low-observable anti-ship cruise missile developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for the US Air Force and US Navy.

It has already been integrated on the B-1B Lancer and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, with integration aboard the P-8 Poseidon and MK41 Vertical Launch Systems currently in the works. The B-1B can carry up to 24 AGM-158C missiles.

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China and Russia send message to Japan and US with first-of-its-kind transit by warships

Russia China warships navy exercise Sea of Japan
A group of Russian and Chinese naval vessels during joint military drills in the Sea of Japan in a still image from video taken October 18, 2021.

  • Chinese and Russian vessels have for the first time jointly sailed through the Tsugaru Strait between Japan’s Honshu and Hokkaido islands.
  • The strait is an international waterway due to a Cold War-era decision to allow US ships carrying nuclear weapons to pass through without violating Japan’s non-nuclear position.
  • While legal, the transit is seen as a thinly veiled message to both Japan and the US.

The passage of 10 Chinese and Russian warships through a narrow strait in the north of Japan on Monday did not violate Japan‘s territorial waters but has exploited a loophole that’s set alarm bells ringing in Tokyo, according to analysts.

The fleet had been taking part in joint military drills in the Sea of Japan earlier this month, as the two navies have done in the past, but analysts say it will have been a calculated manoeuvre by Beijing and Moscow to subsequently route the warships through the Tsugaru Strait for the first time.

The strait, which separates the main island of Honshu and the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, is international waters open to foreign ships, but narrows to a chokepoint just 19.5km wide. It connects the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean.

During the Cold War, Tokyo made the deliberate decision to limit its territorial waters to just three nautical miles from the shore of both Honshu and Hokkaido, instead of the 12 it is entitled to claim, in order to leave a narrow passage through the middle.

Chinese navy Nanchang-class destroyer near Japan
Chinese Nanchang-class destroyer No. 101 near Japan, in a photo taken by Japan Self-Defense Forces on October 18, 2021.

The strip of unclaimed water permitted US ships carrying nuclear weapons to transit the strait without violating Japan’s commitment to the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” of not developing or deploying atomic weapons, as well as not permitting nuclear arms to enter its territory.

The combined Chinese and Russian fleet made the most of that position, although they were closely monitored throughout the journey by a Japanese P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft and two minesweepers. As well as exploiting the territorial anomaly while still complying with international law, the fleet’s passage will have been seen in Tokyo as a thinly veiled warning.

On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo was “closely watching Chinese and Russian naval vessels’ activities around Japan like this one with high interest”.

“We will continue to do our utmost in our surveillance activity in waters and airspace around Japan,” he said at a regular news conference.

“China and Russia have carried out these exercises in the past, but this is the first time their ships have used the Tsugaru Strait to enter the Pacific,” said a security analyst with the National Institute of Defence Studies (NIDS), affiliated with the Defence Ministry in Tokyo.

Russian navy Udaloy-class destroyer near Japan
Russian Udaloy-class destroyer No. 548 near Japan, in a photo taken by Japanese Self-Defense Forces on October 18, 2021.

“China appears to be showing off its military strength to Japan and its ability to sail where it wants to, while Russia is sending a similar message to the US,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

“This will cause concern in Tokyo, as we see the strategic cooperation between the two nations’ forces intensifying and directed at Japan,” he said, adding that Chinese warships’ increased access to the Pacific and the east coast of the Japanese archipelago was an added concern, as this was where most the nation’s military installations were located.

The Chinese, US and South Korean navies have used the route in the past but traverses by the latter two countries never raised concerns as they were considered allied or non-belligerent states.

But the ministry analyst anticipates that now the Chinese and Russian navies have sailed the waters between Honshu and Hokkaido, they are very likely to repeat the manoeuvre in the future.

James Brown, an associate professor of international relations specialising in security issues at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, said that what was essentially a “parade of 10 foreign warships” just a few kilometres off the coast of Japan was “symbolic, but also a real cause for concern” in Tokyo.

“China and Russia continue to get closer together and together they are communicating the message that they can create difficulties for Japan,” he told This Week in Asia. “And while it’s important to point out that they have not violated Japan’s territorial waters, this is all about signalling.”

Russia Vladimir Putin China Xi Jinping BRICS
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in China’s Fujian Province, September 4, 2017.

The joint crossing comes as Japan’s ties with China continue being plagued by conflicting claims over a group of tiny East China Sea islets. Tokyo has a territorial dispute with Moscow, as well.

Neither Beijing nor Moscow are happy about the creation – and possible expansion – of the Quad security alliance, which brings together the US, Japan, Australia and India, Brown said, while a demonstration of shared military capabilities so close to Japan could also be interpreted as a warning that Japan should not consider following in Australia’s footsteps and obtaining a nuclear submarine capability, potentially expanding the Aukus alliance.

The Defence Ministry in Tokyo identified the five Chinese vessels as a Renhai-class destroyer, a Luyang-III destroyer, a pair of Jiangkai-class frigates and a Fuchi-class replenishment vessel, the Nikkei newspaper reported. The Russian component was made up of two Udaloy-class destroyers, a pair of Steregushchiy frigates and a Marshal Nedelin-class missile tracking vessel.

The Chinese vessels were initially identified entering the Sea of Japan between Kyushu and the Korean peninsula on October 11 and were understood to have taken part in the Naval Interaction 2021 exercises with their Russian counterparts between October 14 and 17.

The exercises included anti-submarine warfare operations, both during the day time and at night, and signalling drills.

As part of their ramped-up cooperation in the region, China and Russia have been carrying out more joint military exercises in the region, although last year’s scheduled drills were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Collaboration between the two militaries has also been seen in their air assets, with bomber units carrying out joint manoeuvres.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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