Tag Archives: war

$626 Million Worth of U.S. Weapons Have Gone Missing in Afghanistan

The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released its “Afghan National Security Forces: Actions Needed to Improve Weapons Accountability” report for July.

The report revealed that a total of 747,000 weapons supposedly given to the Afghan National Security Forces by the U.S. Department of Defense are now unaccounted for.

According to the report, 465,000 of these weapons are small arms that include, “…rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and shotguns.”

The Department of Defense relies primarily on two programs to track the flow of weapons to Afghanistan’s security forces: The Security Cooperation Information Portal (SCIP) and the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database (OVERLORD).

A chart showing how weapons are tracked. Click to enlarge
A chart showing the process of how weapons are sent from the U.S. Department of Defense to the Afghan National Security Forces. Click to enlarge

Both of these programs were found to have major errors and discrepancies. In fact, a whopping 43% of the serial numbers (used to identify and track each individual weapon) in the OVERLORD system were found to have, “missing information and/or duplication.”

On top of that, the report found that as of November 2013, the U.S. had provided Afghanistan’s Security Forces with nearly 113,000 more weapons than they actually needed (based on the “Tashkil”, the official list of requirements for the ANSF issued by the Afghan government).

The overage in weapons provided by the U.S. Click to enlarge

The SIGAR report also warns that these weapons could easily find their way into the hands of hostile groups like the Taliban, if they haven’t already:

“Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, SIGAR is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to Afghan civilians and the ANSF.”

You can check out the full SIGAR report here.

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

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It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better– much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

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Click to enlarge

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

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Click to enlarge

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

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Click to enlarge

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

The Latest from the Middle East: Terrorists, Rebels and the Geopolitical Clusterf***

I’ll try to make this as quick as I can.

Yesterday, we reported on how the new emergent terrorist group ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city on Tuesday and stole nearly half a billion dollars from the central bank there. All this week the group has been advancing towards Baghdad, taking a number of towns along the way.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

Then early this morning, reports came out that the Syrian government, which the United States is trying to overthrow by backing largely Jihadist rebels (the Syrian government calls them terrorists), is coordinating with the Iraqi government (which was put in by, and is still heavily backed by the U.S. government) to fight against Jihadist rebels/terrorists in Iraq.

Are you still following? Feel free to read that last part again- I had to read it at least five times myself. Ok, ready? Let’s continue.

Amidst all of this ridiculousness, Iran (one of the U.S.’s biggest political foes) has offered to help it’s former sworn enemy, Iraq, and its biggest political foe (the U.S.), to fight against the Jihadist rebels/terrorists of ISIS as well.

It’s interesting how quickly all of these countries were able to put their political differences aside as soon as there was a common enemy.

On top of this already massive mound of geopolitical shit, the Daily Beast just reported that ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia: three of the U.S.’s closest allies in the middle east.

Welcome to the geopolitical clusterf***. My brain hurts.

Soldiers Who Kill In Combat Are LESS Likely to Abuse Alcohol? Yes, According to This Study

Going to war is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone could ever imagine enduring. Every year, hundreds of soldiers return home from combat with serious cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Struggling to re-adjust back into civilian society while simultaneously trying to cope with the psychological side-effects of being exposed to combat often leads war veterans to abuse alcohol and other drugs.

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But a new study co-authored by Cristel Russell, a marketing professor with American University’s Kogod School of Business, and researchers from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research suggests that soldiers who actually kill in combat are in fact less likely to abuse alcohol after being discharged.

Here’s Russell talking about the results of the study:

“We were very surprised by the findings. Most previous research supported the prediction that more traumatic experiences would lead to more negative health outcomes, such as alcohol abuse. We found the opposite- that the most traumatic experiences of killing in combat actually led to a decrease in alcohol abuse post-deployment.”

Cirstel Russell, co-author of the study (Image courtesy of American University)

So why is it that taking the life of another, arguably the most traumatic thing a soldier can experience, leads to a smaller likelihood of alcohol abuse?

The researchers believe that the strange finding is the result of mortality salience. The theory is basically that taking the life of another human being increases a soldier’s sense of their own mortality and vulnerability, making them less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. Here’s Russell again:

“We reason that a possible explanation may be that soldiers who experience killing during combat become more aware of their own vulnerability to death. Mortality salience is known to have effects on decisions that people make including, in our case, the decision to not take risks and abuse alcohol, presumably to live longer.”

To collect the data, the researchers surveyed 1,397 troops from an Army National Guard Infantry Brigade Combat Team three months before and after their deployment between 2005-2006. The surveys, answered anonymously, asked the soldiers questions about their substance use, with questions about combat experiences added to the post-deployment questionnaire.

The survey revealed that overall, alcohol use increased from 70.8% pre-deployment to 80.5% afterwards, and alcohol abuse increased by over 125%, from 8.51% to 19.15% post-deployment.

Russell and her team plan to do more research into how mortality salience effects soldiers’ behavior after they return from war.

Read more from the Parent Herald here.

How Our Military’s Weapons Are Flowing to Local Police Departments As the War Dies Down

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted almost 15 years now, costing the United States between $4-6 trillion (with a “T”) dollars since they began back in 2001.

A significant portion of that money has gone to buying weapons and munitions for the soldiers. But what happens to these weapons when the soldiers are sent home?

Hundreds of U.S. military vehicles will have to find new homes back in the U.S. after they are removed from Iraq over the next year (Image courtesy of the Pentagon)

“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.”

That quote is from a New York Times article published last Sunday, an article that tells the story of how, under the Obama administration,

“police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”

One of these pieces of military weaponry is the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle.  A total of 432 MRAP’s have made their way into the fleets of police departments around the country.

The graphic below shows where all of those MRAP’s were sent, as well as giving tallies of the all the military-grade equipment that has found its way into local department since the program started. Click the image to view the full-size version.

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So why are so many weapons flowing into local police forces? Is it because they are facing increasingly dangerous scenarios? Many would argue that this is the case, and while it does have some truth to it, this is simply an excuse.

The real reason for local police departments taking in all of these weapons is basically that the government has nothing better to do with them- if the police don’t want them, they’re turned into scrap:

“The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.”

An MRAP being tested (it's driving over landmines, if you were wondering). Click to enlarge
An MRAP being tested out (it’s driving over landmines, if you were wondering). Click to enlarge

The situation often pits the community against itself. Neenah, Wisconsin, a small city with very low levels of violent crime, is one of the cities set to receive one of the military’s armored vehicles.

When word got out about the police department’s plans to acquire the vehicle, some residents, like father Shay Korittnig, weren’t too happy about it:

“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have… This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”

William Pollnow Jr. is a city councilman in Neenah who decided he would be the one to ask, “Why are we doing this?” However, the argument on the other side is almost unbeatable. Here’s another excerpt from the Times article:

At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.

“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”

Kevin Wilkinson, Neenah’s police chief, believes having a vehicle built for combat will help protect officers. (Photo: Darren Hauck / The New York Times

The biggest problem most people have with this heightened militarization of local police forces is that it’s being done, for the most part, without the knowledge of the public.

None of the cities taking in these weapons are holding town hall meetings, public forums or referendums to let the citizens decide whether or not to add fully-automatic machine guns and armored vehicles to the force.

I won’t be one of those people who sits here and tells you the government is about to start an all-out war against the people, using cops as infantry, because I just don’t see it.

What I will say is that, in my humble opinion, the increased militarization of police forces nationwide is both unnecessary and unsettling.

For more info, I highly recommend this New York Times piece– they did an extremely thorough job of covering the whole story from all angles.

BONUS: This great infographic details the cost of different parts of our military, comparing it to the average household income, as well as costs like college tuition, healthcare, and a new home. Click the image to view the full-size version:

This Day in History… June 6, 1944: D-Day Invasion at Normandy Beach

By the summer of 1944, Hitler was beginning to look unstoppable. After occupying France early on in the war, the Nazi army put in heavy fortifications (2,400 miles of bunkers, landmines and beach and water obstacles) along the shores of France’s coastal Normandy region, which is separated from Britain by only about 25 miles across the English Channel.

So the allied forces decided on a bold and risky strategy to change the tide of the war: invading five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy. Operation Overlord, as it was known amongst the allies, was orchestrated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who would eventually become president after the war).

The Allied invasion routes for D-Day. Click to enlarge
The Allied invasion routes for D-Day. Click to enlarge

Nazi intel had informed Hitler of an impending invasion in France, but he did not know where it would come from. To take advantage of this, the allied forces disseminated false military intel to make Hitler think that the attack would come at Pas-de-Calais (which had the shortest distance to France from Britain).

The allied deception included fraudulent radio transmissions, double agents, and even a phantom army, supposedly commanded by the famous General George Patton, that Hitler believed was stationed just across the water from Pas-de-Calais.

General Eisenhower addressing the troops. Click to enlarge

The day before the invasion, Eisenhower gave a rousing speech to his troops, telling them,

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”

Allied troops landing on the beaches of Normandy. Click to enlarge

Despite all of the deception and preparations, the Allied forces were still met with heavy resistance when they landed on the morning of June 6, 1944.

The beaches were honeycombed with bunkers full of machine guns and artillery, and the sand was full of mines, as well as being covered with a grisly assortment of obstacles (seen below) which made moving inland an extremely arduous task.

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156,000 American, Canadian and British forces attempted to land on the beach. More than 4,000 lost their lives on that first day, including more than 2,000 Americans. The allies were, however, able to successfully secure the beaches by June 11, less than a week later.

Allied troops rush onto the beaches. Click to enlarge

Normandy quickly became a hub for troops and supplies, allowing Allied forces to move quickly through France. By the end of August these forces had liberated Paris and were preparing to enter Germany.

The invasion was also key because it kept Hitler from being able to move troops from France to stop the advancing Russian army in the east.

Sandwiched by the allied forces in the west and Russia in the east, Hitler’s army could only hold out for so long. On May 8, 1945, less than a year after D-Day (and just nine days after Hitler committed suicide), the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.

Read more about D-Day from the History Channel here.

From the Editor: My Battle With the World’s Most Dangerous and Powerful Drug

It’s a drug unlike any other known to man. It’s the most powerful and most widespread drug on the planet, but very few people know that it’s a drug and even fewer people know that they’re addicted.

It has existed for almost as long as our species has. It is responsible for more deaths than all of the wars of history combined. It’s been cut, chopped up and re-packaged millions of times, and most people have sub-consciously figured out ways to hide their addiction. But every once in a while, every single one of us comes up on a real good batch of it.

The high is intense. I mean seriously intense. It starts from the center of your forehead, ripping like a perpetually fragmenting lightning bolt through your brain and into your spine. Once it hits the spinal column it’s over. The drug courses like a hot wave through your body, with each consecutive beat of your accelerating heart pounding mind-numbing aftershocks through you from head to toe.

If it’s truly a batch with 100% purity, you black out. Sometimes just for a moment. Sometimes for a few minutes. Some times for a few days. Sometimes forever. Yet we continue to feed our addiction.

Why? I can’t say for sure. Maybe it’s because that numbing feeling it leaves behind helps us deal with pain that we don’t understand. The drug has destroyed both the relationships and the lives of loved ones in every family. We feel the pain of all this destruction, yet we choose to keep feeding the addiction responsible for the damage.

It can be similar to other drugs in many ways. Sometimes we do it because everybody else is doing it and we’re afraid of being left out. Sometimes we do it because our perception of those around us is making us question our own value. Sometimes we do it because the loss of someone close to us is making us face our own mortality. Sometimes we do it to avoid questioning our own sanity.

I’m no expert or anything… Hell, I’m just a lifelong addict who is trying his best to recover. And I’ll admit, I’m not very good at that either. I slip up all the time. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to avoid the drug completely for more than a week since I got hooked on it as a child. It’s so bad that sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it until after the deed is done.

Mom, Dad- if you’re reading this, please don’t blame yourselves. I know that the drug played a major role in your lives as well, though you have learned to control your urges for it better than most. You did a great job of teaching me not only why it’s so dangerous, but also how to recognize when you’re under the influence and how to come down off the euphoric yet painful high without crashing too hard.

I do my best to walk the straight path. I honestly believe that we all do our best to walk that path. Nobody wants to be addicted to this drug. It brings absolutely nothing but pain to all of us in the long run, but we live in the moment. Rather than face our addiction we opiate ourselves with more of the poison in calculated doses whenever we deem it necessary.

The drug is a ruthless overlord. Even though I am aware of its evils I too still bow to it from time to time. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible not to. But when I’m in the grips of the drug’s embrace, I remind myself that the pain I feel is the same pain that is felt within every other human being on this planet. And that the master I’m fighting is the same master that we all fight on a daily basis.

It doesn’t stop the effects of the drug completely, but it helps. And I guess that’s all you can really ask for. Anyways, I hope that this information can help you in some way in the future. I won’t take up anymore of your time…

Oh, what is the drug? It almost seems like a silly question after all these years. So obvious yet so opaque at the same time. The drug, my friend, is hate.