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US Must Build Space ‘Superhighway’ Before China Stakes Claims: Senior Space Force Officer – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

The moon is once again a prize in a new space race. (Graphic by Breaking Defense / Original moon photo by Dom Le Roy from Pexels)

WASHINGTON: China fully intends to extend its “territoriality” to the Moon, flouting international law in exactly the same way as it has with regard to the South China Sea, Brig. Gen. John Olson, chief advisor to Space Force head Gen. Jay Raymond on mobilization and space logistics, asserted today.

The United States therefore must rapidly act to take the “first mover advantage” for itself to block Chinese ambitions, he told Breaking Defense in the margins of the National Defense Transportation Association (NDTA) meeting today.

“If you read their language, if you read their products — which I am a vigorous student of — if you look at what they do they telegraph everything that they’re going to do, they believe that the Moon is manifest destiny for them” and part of their “economic … and security equation,” Olson said.

The officer drew a direct line between how Beijing has ignored a World Court ruling on a sovereignty dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea to how Chinese leaders could act in space, without regard to the prohibitions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST.)

The OST bans any nation state from claiming sovereignty over the Moon, other celestial bodies and space itself. It also bars military maneuvers, weapons testing or the establishment of national military bases on celestial bodies. China, the United States and Russia are among the 193 signatories of the framework treaty, which sets principles and guidelines for peaceful and equitable international interaction in space.

Thus, Olson asserted, the United States needs to urgently act and establish itself as the lead national power beyond Earth orbit, on the Moon and even on Mars — across the diplomatic, economic and military spheres.

In some ways, Olson’s comments were startlingly blunt. But they appear as part of a broader trend, growing for some time, in how US military space leaders more and more openly paint China as an aggressor in space, with goals of not just world but galactic domination. For another example, look no further than the reactions to the recent revelation that China in August tested a capability to launch a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, which could theoretically be nuclear armed, into orbit and cruise it most of the way around the world.

Space Force Brig. Gen. John Olson slides on space logistics NDTA Oct. 20 2021

Olson, an Air Force reservist with a NASA background who served in the Obama White House at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, suggested that Washington cannot wait for multilateral deliberations about future rules for space activities, noting the slow pace of the UN’s “one-country, one-vote” decision-making. Instead, it needs to make the rules for space and set the proper example,” he stressed.

By acting first, “that way we set the standards, we set the doctrine, the governance along the principles that we believe in,” he told an earlier NDTA panel on space logistics. “Much like English is the language of the International Civil Aviation Organization for space, I believe it needs to be English for space transportation and for these broad logistics and transportation elements, not Mandarin.”

Olson further told the panel that enabling the US to lead the expansion of human activity beyond Earth also requires the US Space Force to take on the mission of “protecting and defending” future “space lines of commerce and that includes, certainly in my opinion, the Moon, it absolutely must. And I think our near peer adversaries are full heartedly focused on that.”

Asked after the panel what role Space Force would have if conflict broke out in space over resources, Olson stopped short of directly suggesting that the United States itself abandon the OST and put boots on the Moon. Instead, he explained, the issue of Space Force’s role in such future conflict is “an active national discussion.”

“That’s largely a very interagency high-level, policy-driven discussion, and I think we’re an integral part of those discussions,” he said. “I’m trying to not define policy or define the doctrine.” Instead, he explained, his goal it talk about the issues within the confines of US obligations and values, to allow space to be used for the benefit of Earth “in the best way.”

Space Logistics

In the near term, Olson told the panel, this means encouraging industry to push forward the boundaries of space activities to make real the promise of future space utilization. Space Force is in the early stages of working with industry via Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs, which involve no funding) on figuring out how to build the space infrastructure required — such as re-fueling depots along a “space superhighway,” he explained.

His presentation slides showed how commercial space logistics can help the US military to be able to “maneuver and reposition with impunity,” and “dominate” Space Command’s AOR (Area of Responsibility) which has been defined as 100 kilometers above the Earth to infinity. The development of a robust commercial infrastructure also can support “resilient and persistent occupation” of space by the US “at a lower cost.”

And while Space Force and the Combatant Commands do envision future investment in space logistics, it sees itself as a customer — with industry providing services. He compared the model to that of the federal highway system or the electrical grid, where “90-to-95 percent” of the investment came from industry.

Rocket Cargo concept, AFRL image

For example, Space Force is keen to explore “Rocket Cargo” concepts not just for point-to-point delivery on Earth but also for delivering supplies to future space stations, which both the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) are experimenting with, Olson noted.

Mark Surina, of TRANSCOM’s Office of Research and Technology, explained that TRANSCOM is interested in demonstrating capabilities for cargo delivery through space under the CRADAs it currently has with XArc and SpaceX; whereas AFRL’s high priority Rocket Cargo Vanguard effort is aimed at developing the technologies the military would need allow it to utilize such a commercial service.

He added that TRANSCOM intends to issue new CRADAs and open up the demos as wide as their own capacity will allow.

On that note, Tom Martin, director of national security programs at Blue Origin, said the firm has responded to TRANSCOM’s request for information from interested vendors. “We’re in conversations right now about establishing a CRADA.”

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No more free college in Biden’s spending bill : NPR

New graduates line up before the start of a community college commencement in East Rutherford, N.J., on May 17, 2018.

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New graduates line up before the start of a community college commencement in East Rutherford, N.J., on May 17, 2018.

Seth Wenig/AP

The Biden administration’s program to make community college tuition free will not become a reality in this round of the president’s spending priorities, leaving progressive groups disappointed.

Both progressive and moderate Democrats confirmed to NPR that two free years of community college — a major Biden priority — will likely not make it in a final package of key progressive priorities. Other higher education provisions included in the original bill, like expanding Pell grants for low-income students, money for college completion and vocational programs, are still on the table.

Biden had hinted last week that the free community college program would be omitted from the final bill.

“I don’t know of any major change in American public policy that’s occurred by a single piece of legislation,” Biden said. “I doubt whether we’ll get the entire funding for community colleges, but I’m not going to give up on community colleges as long as I’m president.”

Progressive organizations say they are disappointed and frustrated.

“We aren’t giving up,” says Max Lubin, a graduate student who leads Rise, a student-run progressive advocacy organization. “We endorsed Biden on the basis of his free tuition plans, and we believe abandoning it would be a major liability in the midterms.”

The free college plan from House Democrats included in the reconciliation bill was a federal state partnership to make community college free. Essentially, the federal government would give billions of dollars to states each year in exchange for the state eliminating tuition and fees at their community colleges.

The 5-year plan would cost about $45.5 billion, about half as much as Biden’s initial 10-year plan called for. It’s estimated it would benefit about 8 million students.

“This would be one of the largest investments we’ve seen in higher ed in generations,” Will Del Pilar, a higher ed expert with the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization, told NPR earlier this month. “[It] could change the landscape of higher education nationally and extend what we consider as a free education in this country beyond just high school.”

One argument against a national free college program, though, is that a patchwork of state and local programs already make college free or very close to free.

Tennessee Promise is a statewide free college program in that state and there are free college programs in cities like Dallas and Kalamazoo, Mich. And while existing financial aid scholarships can end up covering community college tuition — which is often very affordable — the process is often confusing to students and families.

“The problem with the system we have now is that whether you have a tuition-free path to college or not just depends on the accident of geography,” says Michelle Miller-Adams, a senior researcher at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and a professor at Grand Valley State University who studies free college programs.

A federal, universal benefit free of income limits and applications, like the proposal originally included in the bill, makes it more clear. She says people understand the concept of free.

“One of the most dramatic findings of 15 years of research is that simplicity is your ally,” Miller-Adams says. If you can make that promise — you can go to college without paying tuition — you get a lot of leverage out of that message.”

In other words, students who might not consider college — say they’re the first in their family to go or they don’t think they can afford it — would get a super clear message: community college is free.

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Mentorship in the US Military: A Necessity, Not a Myth

After more than two decades of the Global War on Terror, the United States is now in the third stage of what is called General Adaptation Syndrome.

This 1936 theory outlines a body’s response to stress, dividing it into three phases: alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion. Irrespective of one’s personal views concerning the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is clear that the broader national mood has been one of jaded relief.

For this reason, the military must now prioritize the triage of its wounds, be they image-based, personal, or professional.

In a military transitioning its focus from counter-insurgency to global peacekeeping, mentorship within the ranks is more necessary than ever.

Origins of Mentorship

A brief reminder of the origins of the term mentorship may underscore its relevance in the present context.

Homer’s The Odyssey develops its protagonist Odysseus through his eponymous voyage with the assistance of peers and adversaries. However, it is the growth that Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, receives from the wise Mentor that truly reveals the benefit of a constructive mentor in one’s journey.

Mentor, a wizened advisor to Odysseus, encouraged Telemachus to achieve personal growth by defending his mother from power-hungry suitors during Odysseus’ extended absence during the Trojan War.

Mentor eventually reveals his identity to be none other than Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. This explicit tie between wisdom and the capacity for mentorship may be overdrawn, but the roots are crucially revealing.

Military Mentors

Military mentors are not just capable of but willing to share their personal and professional experience with those in their immediate proximity. A mentee is ready and willing to receive and implement this advice, both on-duty and off-duty.

Mentorship can be separated into three broad categories: a superior offering mentorship to a subordinate; a subordinate requesting mentorship from a superior; or, optimally, a mutually developmental subordinate/superior bond.

The first two examples are largely one-dimensional and can be difficult to balance. A superior service member dedicating time out of their schedule to offer advice to a less experienced service member can easily come across as favoritism, just as a junior service member asking a senior for counsel may appear sycophantic.

While both situations are ostensibly positive, the aphorism “perception is reality” requires a bilateral exchange of ideas to ensure that a mentorship relationship is amenable and beneficial to both parties involved.

Soldiers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team
Soldiers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Photo: US Army

Capability Gap

Military mentorship has been a topic of conversation for as long as the rank structure has existed, yet there is still a shortage of research and published findings on the topic.

Formal Mentoring in the U.S. Military – Evidence, Lingering Questions, and Recommendations, published in the 2010 Naval War College Review, cites the contrast between disproportionately high rates of mentorship in senior-ranking officers and strikingly low rates among junior officers.

While over 87 percent of Naval flag officers received mentorship at some point in their careers, less than 50 percent of US Naval Academy midshipmen were able to identify a strong mentor during their undergraduate experience within weeks of graduation.

None of the war colleges from other branches of service have offered published insights into mentorship. Minimizing this gulf between junior officers’ receipt of mentorship and senior officers’ experience is a crucial capability gap in the military.

A post-Global War on Terror military must prioritize talent recognition and cultivation through developmental mentorship bonds to encourage future service members’ commitment to the profession.

Making Mentorship a Priority

The US Army already publicizes mentorship through its online Army Career Tracker and the textual Army Mentorship Handbook, yet neither of these measures has attained public acceptance or even widespread awareness.

An optimal solution to a lack of military mentorship is to begin with an entirely fresh look at mentor/mentee relationships. Forums for contemporary mentorship vary widely from book clubs to Outlook 365 chat rooms, yet there is a military-wide discordance between the vital importance of mentorship and its poor implementation that dooms the situation to failure without significant adjustments.

Adding a section to a Non-Commissioned Evaluation Report or Officer Evaluation Report requesting input from randomly selected subordinates is a potential starting point for a military that needs to include mentorship as one of its highest priorities.

Wisdom gone unshared does nothing to benefit an organization. The military should immediately engage in a careful analysis of how to foster a culture of two-way mentorship throughout its ranks as it moves forward to new challenges.

Headshot William H. ScottWilliam H. Scott is an Army Captain currently attending the Military Intelligence Captain’s Career Course in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He has served in the Second Cavalry Regiment, deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and is honored to be an inbound Rakkasan with the Third Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in January 2022.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.

The Defense Post aims to publish a wide range of high-quality opinion and analysis from a diverse array of people – do you want to send us yours? Click here to submit an op-ed.

The post Mentorship in the US Military: A Necessity, Not a Myth appeared first on The Defense Post.

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Army Acquisition Nominee Warns ‘Aggressive Timelines’ Could Cause Challenges For Prototype Efforts – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

The Army is seeking to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle through its Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle program.
(Spc. Randis Monroe/US Army)

WASHINGTON: While Army leaders spent last week touting that the majority of the service’s modernization priorities would be in prototyping next fiscal year, the service’s top acquisition nominee warned today that leadership should prepare for unexpected difficulties ahead.

Doug Bush, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that the “central challenge” he expected to face as the service’s top acquisition official is “successful execution” of guiding prototype efforts into production and fielding.

“This process is likely to be challenging in many cases due to the aggressive timelines currently assumed for  these programs. It is also likely to be challenging because of the normal friction points that occur when a complex system moves to this more detailed stage of development and production,” he wrote in his advance policy questions.

“Testing will reveal things that need to be fixed. Early production efforts will likely reveal currently unforeseen  difficulties in ramping up production at scale. The Army’s needs may shift, which could disrupt fielding schedules. And finally, delays or difficulties with some programs may lead to cost growth.”

While in line with the traditional comments seen from acquisition nominees at hearings — each of whom always says their top priority will be to keep programs on track and under budget — Bush’s comments are notable given the sheer volume of prototypes the Army is counting on to transition to full programs in the coming years, from its tactical network to next-generation helicopters and ground vehicles.

His comments also follow Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville’s pledge at the annual Association of the United States Army that 24 of the Army’s 31+4 signature modernization systems will be in prototyping by fiscal 2023.

Just this month, a key prototyping effort hit a snag. The service’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System, tactical augmented reality goggles that display battlefield data to soldiers, is facing a “several” months delay, the Army announced late last week; on Monday it was revealed that the delay was due to technical issues with the expanded field of view that hardware provides soldiers.

In his advance policy questions, Bush stressed the importance of flexible acquisition practices, through the Middle Tier Acquisition pathway, in allowing the service to rapidly prototype and deliver cutting-edge capabilities to soldiers. He cited the IVAS program as a test case of the importance of flexibility contracting practices to adjust to meet soldiers needs.

“IVAS is an excellent example of an MTA rapid prototyping effort that is adapting its schedule and funding to continue evolving the system to better meet the Army needs, as evidenced by shifting Initial Operational Test and Evaluation in order to improve functionality and reliability,” Bush said.

Bush, whose nomination was announced while he was serving as the acting acquisition chief told senators in his written answers that another top priority would be improving the Army’s acquisition of software and plans to “accelerate and expand” previous software purchasing practices. He will also focus on improving the Army’s focus on both supply chain security and cybersecurity.

“The Army faces a fundamentally different threat in this regard as compared to the post-Cold War era and must adapt its policies and practices to enable delivery of systems and capabilities uncompromised by aggressive efforts by China, Russia, and others to disrupt them before they are fielded,” he wrote.

Bush added that he’ll focus on ensuring “realistic operational testing,” including cyber testing.

“Taking a little extra time and effort to fully test systems up front ensures that contractors are held accountable and problems are identified on test ranges rather than in combat,” he told senators in his opening statement.

Senators asked Bush in his advanced policy questions about the Army’s work on long-range precision fires, a critical capability as the military pivots toward fighting in the Indo-Pacific, one also being pursued by the Navy, Air Force and Marines. Avoiding duplication, Bush said, hinges on a Joint Warfighting Concept that “clearly defines” the role of each service in a joint fight.

“Taking a little extra time and effort to fully test systems up front ensures that contractors are held accountable and problems are identified on test ranges rather than in combat,” Bush wrote.

Finally, Bush expressed confidence in the Army’s current acquisition approach to the Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle, the latest of several attempts over the last 20 years to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Army didn’t provide vendors with strict requirements, which failed previously. Rather, the Army provided vendors with a “characteristics of need” document that allowed companies greater flexibility.

“My assessment is that the current multiphase OMFV program strategy is a balanced way to procure a robust platform with sufficient size, weight, and power to integrate additional capabilities over time,” Bush wrote.

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Dr. Rachel Levine becomes the country’s first transgender four-star officer : NPR

Dr. Rachel Levine testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington in February. Levine was appointed to lead the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, becoming the nation’s first openly transgender four-star officer.

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Dr. Rachel Levine testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington in February. Levine was appointed to lead the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, becoming the nation’s first openly transgender four-star officer.

Caroline Brehman/AP

Dr. Rachel Levine is once again making history, becoming the first openly transgender four-star officer to serve in any of the country’s eight uniformed services.

During a ceremony Tuesday, Levine was sworn in as an admiral — the highest-ranking official of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Levine’s appointment to the USPHS Commissioned Corps also made her the organization’s first female four-star admiral.

Previously she became the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate for a federal office.

“[Becoming a four-star officer] is very meaningful to me. I am so impressed by the dedication, the commitment and the expertise of the officers and the United States Public Health Service Commission Corps. And it is truly an honor to lead them and to serve with them,” Levine said in an interview with NPR.

She describes her appointment as part of the Biden administration’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.

“I think this is symbolic of that commitment and for transgender youth and other transgender individuals that there are no glass ceilings and no limitation to what we can achieve,” Levine said.

In her role, Levine will lead a team of more than 6,000 officers who respond to public health crises and natural disasters.

“This is a momentous occasion, and I am honored to take this role for the impact I can make and for the historic nature of what it symbolizes,” Levine said during her speech at the ceremony.

Levine, who serves as the nation’s 17th assistant secretary of health, focuses on improving the health and well-being of individuals across the country — specifically working to help the U.S. overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before becoming a federal official, Levine served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, highlighting several public health issues across the commonwealth: the opioid epidemic, maternal health and immunization rates among children.

She says her career has given her the chance to serve.

“First in academic medicine, to then serve my patients and students, then to serve in public health in Pennsylvania and even in Washington, D.C., as the assistant secretary for Health. Now with this role, this is just a further extension of that,” Levine said.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra described Levine’s appointment as a “giant step” forward toward equality in the U.S.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS. Admiral Levine is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America,” Becerra said in a release.

One of the eight uniformed services, the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is dedicated to protecting, promoting and advancing public health in the U.S., HHS said.

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Colonial Pipeline Hack Shows Peril Of Ignoring Military Cyber Vulnerabilities: Kendall – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

In an aerial view, fuel holding tanks are seen at Colonial Pipeline’s Dorsey Junction Station on May 13, 2021 in Woodbine, Maryland. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.: The Colonial Pipeline hack should serve as a wake up call for the US military, which needs to move quickly to protect its logistics enterprise from cyber attacks, two top defense officials said today.

In May, Russian-based hackers breached Colonial Pipeline’s networks, causing a gas shortage, skyrocketing fuel prices and ultimately costing the company $5 million in ransom money — and all those hackers needed was one password, said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who spoke at the National Defense Transportation Association conference Monday.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t protect our data, it is wide open for our competitors to steal or manipulate and to disrupt our military operations,” he said.

Kendall is not the only defense official concerned with the department’s vulnerability to cyber attacks.

On Tuesday, Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost pointed to the Colonial Pipeline hack as an example of the “growing threat” of cyber attacks and said cybersecurity would be one of her top priorities as the new head of US Transportation Command.

“If you can imagine a cyber criminal … can cause fuel prices to rise, what could a persistent threat — a persistent and very capable threat — do to our systems?” she asked the audience at NDTA.

While the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline did not directly assault military networks or other infrastructure, the event raised questions about the safety of networks used by commercial companies that form a key part of the Defense Department’s logistics backbone.

The department relies on commercial vendors for gas, jet fuel, and the transportation of goods and people —  all critical commodities for TRANSCOM, which uses military assets to move troops and supplies but also contracts directly with industry for additional airlift, sea freight transportation and other delivery services.

Any disruption to the department’s commercial vendors or its supply chain — or more widely, to the military’s own infrastructure — could be devastating in a war, Kendall said.

“Our adversaries can be assumed to be able to disrupt our networks right now, because we have not sufficiently guarded against an attack,” Kendall said. “Fewer than half of trucking and logistics companies even have a chief information security officer. What does that mean for our supply chain?”

Before being sworn in as Air Force secretary, Kendall spoke with the House Armed Services Committee’s task force on supply chain resilience and tried to convey the importance of ensuring the security of the defense industrial base and logistics enterprise, he said.

“Peacetime supply chain disruptions and shortages were a problem certainly, but a manageable one,” he said. “Wartime disruptions and shortages, on the other hand, could be much more problematic and in fact decisive.”

RELATED: Congressional Report Could Be Major Step To Strengthen US Defense Supply Chain

The Pentagon will need more funding in order to help mitigate current logistics vulnerabilities, Kendall said. Specifically, the military needs more weapons storage facilities and hardened fuel storage infrastructure, and it also needs to ensure that the commercial transportation industry can recruit talented employees.

“We must also acquire more resilient transportation systems of systems,” he said. “We know our current capabilities are vulnerable to cyber and kinetic attacks. We must address that harsh reality by incorporating the certainties of offensive cyber and kinetic attacks into our military requirements and into our acquisition plans.”

The Pentagon’s nominee for director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) also signaled on Tuesday that the department may need to do more to ensure its own weapons and equipment can stand up to cyber attacks.

The DOT&E office is responsible for ensuring that military technology meets cybersecurity standards, using “red teams” of NSA-certified hackers who attempt to breach a weapon system’s cyber defenses during testing. However, “those teams are stretched very thin by high demand, and have limited resources,” said Nickolas Guertin, who is nominated for the DOT&E job.

“Additional resources for those teams, as well as automation capabilities to ease their workload, would improve cybersecurity testing,” he wrote in advance policy questions delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Guertin also recommended that the Defense Department independently assess the security of the cloud services it purchases from commercial vendors, something not currently permitted in the department’s current contacts.

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Haiti is dangerous. Religious aid groups are still working there : NPR

A girl waits with other earthquake victims for the start of a food distribution in Les Cayes, Haiti, in August, a week after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the area.

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A girl waits with other earthquake victims for the start of a food distribution in Les Cayes, Haiti, in August, a week after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the area.

Matias Delacroix/AP

The seventeen people from an Christian aid mission abducted in Haiti while returning from an orphanage remain missing, four days later.

Their kidnapping – brazen even in a country where abductions have increased exponentially recently – have cast a spotlight on the work that religious relief organizations undertake in sometimes dangerous conditions.

Indeed, such aid groups are often found in the parts of the world where conditions are most dire.

To understand the sorts of security protocols they take, and how they weigh their call to serve against significant risks, we spoke with three religious relief groups: Samaritan’s Purse, Catholic Relief Services, and Mennonite Central Committee. Each does relief work in Haiti.

Christian Aid Ministries, the group whose workers were kidnapped on Saturday, is based in Berlin, Ohio. Its relief teams are from Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist communities, according to its website.

The kidnappers are reportedly demanding $1 million per person abducted

Those abducted include six men, six women, and five children; 16 are Americans and one is Canadian.

The children kidnapped include an 8 month-old baby, and 3, 6, 13 and 15-year-olds, according to Christian Aid Ministries.

The Haitian gang that abducted them is reportedly demanding $17 million for their release, according to The Wall Street Journal — $1 million per person. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the State Department and FBI are working to secure the group’s release.

Christian Aid Ministries did not respond to NPR’s questions about its work and its security protocols. The group has provided emailed updates to NPR, in which it said civil authorities in Haiti and the United States are offering assistance.

Christian Aid Ministries has made headlines once before. One of its former employees, Jeriah Mast, was convicted in 2019 of sexually abusing two boys in Ohio. The judge in the case said Mast admitted to abusing many boys in Haiti over a 15-year period, according to the Wooster Daily Record.

Five of the missing are kids. Aid groups differ on bringing children to certain posts.

Edward Graham is assistant to the vice president for Programs & Government Relations at Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian relief organization. The mission of Samaritan’s Purse is aid efforts as well as promoting the gospel.

Graham was in Haiti just last month, visiting the group’s recovery programs following the August earthquake there.

He says he wasn’t surprised that there were children there among the Christian Aid Ministries group in Haiti.

“For missionary families, they live in all parts of the world when they work, and these families get to judge risk as they want,” Graham says.

His organization has pulled out staff from places deemed too risky at various points, though he says those decisions are up to the individual missions to make.

“But these families live down there, they’re invested and many feel safe, and they usually are around their communities that they work, because those communities love them and embrace them,” he says.

Many families feel safe in the communities they work in, “because those communities love them and embrace them,” he says. But when they travel around the country, as the kidnapped group was, they may not have that same protection. “But I’m not shocked or surprised that there were children there.”

Bill O’Keefe is executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services. He says at his organization, the vast majority of the staff around the world are citizens of the countries where they’re working — and naturally, those people have families.

But for the relatively small number of staff from other countries, there are certain countries that are not family posts, he says, “because of the particular risks of those situations.”

“Where it’s safe enough for people with families is a very, very tough decision but one that needs to be looked at very seriously,” O’Keefe says.

The Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, was closed on Monday, after the kidnappings in Haiti of 12 adults and five children with the U.S.-based missionary group.

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The Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, was closed on Monday, after the kidnappings in Haiti of 12 adults and five children with the U.S.-based missionary group.

Julie Carr Smyth/AP

The dangerous situation in Haiti has caused aid groups to make some changes

Graham of Samaritan’s Purse says the conditions in Haiti require significant precautions.

“You have to have security there. We have a very robust security team where we have subject matter experts that do the risk assessments, but also we have teams on the ground,” Graham tells NPR. “We have Haitian specialists and security that partner with our team and they give my father [Samaritan’s Purse President and CEO Franklin Graham] and our leadership recommendations here on how we respond.”

In Haiti, those assessments “influence where and how we move, what we can do, what we can’t do,” he says. “It does make things very challenging and it does limit our response capacity sometimes.”

But security doesn’t mean that the group’s missionaries are rolling around in armed vehicles, Graham says. And they make changes when they have to.

When Samaritan’s Purse responded after the earthquake, their trucks would leave Port au Prince and drive to Les Cayes where the group was working.

“Those trucks were getting robbed, the drivers were getting beaten up. So we stopped doing that, and we had to fly in most of our equipment,” Graham says.

Aid groups rely on local knowledge to mitigate risk

Without a minimum level of safety, relief organizations can’t do the work they’re there to do.

“We work very hard at ensuring that our staff are safe in order to conduct their lifesaving mission,” says O’Keefe with Catholic Relief Services.

At the heart of his organization’s strategy is what O’Keefe calls “community acceptance.”

“We work directly with local partners in local communities with credible local leaders — frequently faith leaders — who have their finger on the pulse of what’s really going on in those communities, and are frankly best placed to advise us about what’s safe and what’s not safe. And when it’s safe to go somewhere and when it isn’t,” he says.

Because of those long-term relationships, O’Keefe says they’ve had the ability to work in difficult situations — and they’re always weighing what they’re learning from folks in country about the possible risks against the goals of what they’re trying to accomplish in those places.

And, he says, faith-based organizations can sometimes provide relief where secular groups can’t.

“The nature of our work is interfaith, and is ‘need not creed.’ Therefore, where tensions in society cross religious lines, for example, our working across those lines provides added level of protection, because we’re respected as a neutral player that assists people on all sides.”

In Afghanistan, O’Keefe says, the local people understood why someone would want to do humanitarian work on the basis of faith.

“There was a box that we could fit into that made sense,” he explains. “As long as we respected the local culture and assisted everybody on the basis of need, we were able to operate very successfully there.”

Youths play soccer next to businesses that are closed due to a general strike in Port-au-Prince on Monday.

Matias Delacroix/AP

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Matias Delacroix/AP

Relief groups say they are called to do this work

Laura Kalmar is the interim communications director for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which has no formal connections with Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti.

MCC is a relief, development and peace organization, that works “particularly with vulnerable communities, with the intention of sharing God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ,” says Kalmar.

The organization often works in places where the needs last long after the news cycle has moved on, she says: “In places like Haiti, for example, where we’ve been for more than 60 years, Haiti gets in the news because of an assassination of a leader, because of a hurricane, because of an earthquake. But MCC is there working alongside local partners for the long term, recognizing that development takes time.”

And while there may be elements of risk, they are driven to serve the most vulnerable people.

Kalmar says they aim to strike a balance between that commitment to serve with the safety and security of staff and partners — by listening to local guidelines and experts, taking precautions where necessary, and having protocols in place to protect workers.

Kalmar explains that the calling to serve the vulnerable is “to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

She gives the example of bringing someone a handmade comforter, she says: “that warmth is translated on a really practical level, but also on a on a very emotional level. People recognize that that’s a sign of hope because they haven’t been forgotten. That sense and that calling that Jesus asks us to reach out to our neighbors.”

Their eyes are on Haiti

Graham says that on Monday morning, the staff at Samaritan’s Purse gathered in prayer for a peaceful resolution to the situation of those kidnapped.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now and their families back home,” he says. “It’s my prayer for peaceful resolution and that I’m praying for the kidnappers that they realize they’re wrong and they are their ways and their heart softens to what the grave mistake they made.

Kalmar at Mennonite Central Committee echoed that concern.

“It’s clearly a deeply concerning situation. Our prayers are really with the entire team at Christian Aid Ministries and our hope and prayers [are] that everyone can be released without harm.”

And of course Haiti’s ongoing violence is a challenge not just for aid workers, but to the local Haitian communities.

“Insecurities with jobs, insecurities with sending children to school because of because of local strikes or local unrest or local violence, or an earthquake where people are still really reeling from the trauma of that,” Kalmar says. “When communities are facing so many challenges that pile up on each other, we’re just really reminded of the vulnerability of people in these situations. And the challenges that they face on a daily basis.”

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Defense News

Analysis: Islamic State confirms Sahelian leader’s death, criticizes Al Qaeda

Image from the Islamic State’s interview with Abu Walid al Sahrawi in last week’s Al-Naba newsletter, including the honorific “May Allah accept him” indicating his death.

The Islamic State confirmed on Thursday that its longtime chief in Africa’s Sahel region, Abu Walid al Sahrawi, is dead. Sahrawi was reported killed by French forces in August in a tweet from French President Emmanuel Macron last month. 

While not detailing the events around his death, the jihadist group’s weekly newsletter, Al Naba, used the honorific phrase “May Allah accept him,” a common jihadist phrase used for killed fighters and leaders, alongside Sahrawi’s name. 

The weekly newsletter used the phrase as a subtle confirmation of Sahrawi’s death as part of an interview with the jihadist commander, the second half of an interview originally conducted late last year. 

The group has not issued a more formal confirmation of Sahrawi’s death. The Islamic State has not publicly named a successor. Abu Walid’s longtime deputy in ISGS, Abdelhakim al-Sahrawi, also died earlier this year in northern Niger

Prior to his death, Abu Walid was the emir of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), a branch of the Islamic State officially under the hierarchy of its West African Province (ISWAP), but which operates with a great deal of autonomy from ISWAP. 

Sahrawi previously served as a senior leader in and the spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an al-Qaeda-linked group among the constellation of al Qaeda groups in the Sahel in the early 2010s. In that role, Sahrawi was allied with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was originally a commander in al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). 

Disagreements with AQIM’s leadership led Belmokhtar to establish his own force in 2012. MUJAO later merged with Belmokhtar and his men in 2013 to form Al Murabitoon. But Sahrawi and a cadre of fighters broke away to establish a branch of the Islamic State in Mali just two years later.

Sahrawi first swore bay’ah (an oath of allegiance) to the so-called caliphate in May 2015. However, the Islamic State did not publicly recognize it until Oct. 2016, when the group’s Amaq News Agency released a short statement acknowledging Sahrawi’s oath, as well as a video of him reading his pledge.

Since then, Sahrawi’s ISGS has grown to be one of the most potent jihadist force across the Sahel, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians and local and international military troops. The U.S. government offered a reward of up to $5 million for information on Sahrawi’s whereabouts as a result.

At the same time, Sahrawi became a key figure in the global rivalry between the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Just like the first part of his interview with the Islamic State’s Al-Naba newsletter, much of the second half of Sahrawi’s interview is thus dedicated to critiquing al Qaeda in the Sahel. 

Critiques of Al Qaeda’s localized strategy 

Sahrawi spends a considerable amount of time discussing the Sahel’s tribal and ethnic dimensions across Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger before discussing al Qaeda’s role in these dynamics and the infighting between ISGS and al Qaeda. 

Al Qaeda’s men have long leveraged and exploited tribal and communal grievances and dynamics in the Sahel in order to more fully ingrain itself within the local fabric. 

According to Sahrawi, al Qaeda, in form of its Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), “is today attempting to push the different components of northern Mali, from the tribes and government militias, to stand with it against the mujahideen [the Islamic State’s men].” 

Further, the jihadist commander accusses JNIM of inflaming tensions through its heavy recruitment among the Fulani of central and southern Mali. For instance, Sahrawi states “sometimes it [JNIM] describes the fighting [with the Islamic State] as a means to prevent the Fulani from controlling Tuareg or Arab lands.” 

“Even though,” Sahrawi continues, “most of its soldiers are Fulani and not Tuareg or Arab! JNIM then uses double speech in front of the Tuareg and Arab tribes, in which it warns them about the displacement of the Fulani tribes!” 

Much like in the first half of Sahrawi’s interview, the leader states that the conflict between ISGS and JNIM did not happen until ISGS began poaching Fulani members away from JNIM. 

Sahrawi again specifically calls out JNIM’s leader in central Mali, Amadou Kouffa, for his role in inciting Fulani against the Islamic State. Kouffa is a common target among Islamic State publications against al Qaeda in the Sahel.

Turning to Burkina Faso, Sahrawi accuses JNIM of “volunteering to fight a war against the Islamic State” and working with what it says are Christian and pagan militias. 

For instance, Sahrawi states that al Qaeda in Burkina Faso has “overcome its differences and conflicts with the pagan and Christian militias in order to immerse itself with thousands of the sons of the Fulani tribes in its war against the mujahideen [Islamic State].” 

In contrast, however, Sahrawi states that ISGS, which also allies itself with local communities, only facilitates relations with the local tribes that “do not associate with apostate parties and movements, nor their leaders and chiefs.” 

By delineating the two group’s strategies with the local communities, Sahrawi is attempting to portray ISGS as a non-manipulative force.

In this regard, Sahrawi also notes that JNIM relies on local tribes and communities “in order to achieve their goals and they [JNIM] use them [local communities] as playing cards in order to put pressure on the Crusader regimes.”  

Condemns Al Qaeda’s negotiations 

In addition to critiquing al Qaeda’s strategy of implanting itself within the Sahel, Sahrawi also turns his ire on the jihadist group’s relations with regional states, particularly Mauritania and Burkina Faso, and others – groups and entities the Islamic State regards as apostates and infidels. 

This discussion comes within the context of numerous reports about Mali negotiating with JNIM to end the longstanding conflict. JNIM, for its part, has conditionally ‘agreed’ to talks but only if French and other foreign troops leave the Sahel. 

However legitimate JNIM’s reported willingness to negotiate in good faith with Mali, its rivals in the Islamic State have nevertheless condemned JNIM’s offer. As such, Sahrawi states this is just the latest in a series of negotiations between al Qaeda and various “apostate” entities in the Sahel. 

For instance, Sahrawi says that one of JNIM’s predecessor groups, Ansar Dine, which he states “acted as a political facade of al Qaeda” during its occupation of northern Mali, negotiated with influential tribal leaders in northern Mali to stop the targeting of Algeria. 

Further, he also states that al Qaeda negotiated with the French company Areva in 2011 to receive payments in exchange for not targeting the company’s assets in northern Niger. Ironically, Sahrawi’s MUJAO later worked with Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Katibat al Mulathameen to target an Areva facility in northern Niger just two years later. 

The late jihadist leader then turns to the long reported truce between al Qaeda and Mauritania, which Sahrawi confirms as true. According to Sahrawi, various jailed al Qaeda members in Mauritania facilitated talks between the terrorist organization and the Mauritanian state in which Mauritania would pay al Qaeda to not attack within its territory. 

This reported truce was discussed in several documents found in Osama bin Laden’s compound and later declassified by the US government. No independent confirmation has emerged of this deal but several other jihadists, including al Qaeda’s Abu Hafs al Mauritani, have spoken to its authenticity. 

Likewise, Sahrawi indicates that al Qaeda and Burkina Faso had a similar agreement in the past – though it is clear, given the focus Burkina Faso now plays in JNIM’s overall operations, any supposed deal between the two no longer exists. 

The former strongman of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, who was ousted in 2014, has long been accused of striking deals with various militant groups, including al Qaeda, to stave off attacks within his territory. 

Rounding out his interview, Sahrawi then turns to his own men, stating that they keep working to defend the Muslims of the Sahel against “those who mislead the Muslims and who try to divert them from their religion.” 

This line serves as yet another jeer at al Qaeda and summaraizes the main thesis of Sahrawi’s interview, as the jihadist leader makes the case that JNIM are hypocrites that manipulate local communities and tribes for their own benefit. 

At the same time, Sahrawi states that while JNIM says it is fighting ‘apostates,’ it routinely negotiates with them.  

Much like with the first half of Sahrawi’s interview last year, the Islamic State is likely hoping this line of argument will discredit JNIM’s reputation as a well-organized jihadist entity composed of various groups made from the Sahel’s various ethnic groups.

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD’s Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

Tags: Abu Walid al Sahrawi, Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, Burkina Faso, ISGS, Islamic State in Mali, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, JNIM, Mali, Niger

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Defense News

N. Korea Fires Suspected Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile: Seoul

North Korea fired a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile into the sea on Tuesday, the South’s military said, the nuclear-armed country’s latest advance in weapons technology and one that could give it a second-strike capability.

The test came with both Koreas building up their weapons capabilities in what could become an arms race on the peninsula, and with the Washington-Pyongyang dialogue at a standstill.

The “short-range ballistic missile suspected to be an SLBM” was fired from Sinpo into the sea east of the peninsula, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Sinpo is a major naval shipyard with satellite photographs previously showing submarines at the facility, and the statement added: “South Korean and US intelligence are closely analyzing for additional detail.”

The key question will be whether it was fired from a working submarine, or an underwater platform or barge.

A proven submarine-based missile capability would take the North’s arsenal to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a second-strike capability in the event of an attack on its military bases.

North Korea is banned from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions, and is subject to multiple sets of sanctions as a result.

Pyongyang is known to be developing an SLBM and has carried out two previous underwater launches in 2016 and 2019, although the Pentagon and analysts say those were likely to have been from a submerged platform with the system in its early stages.

“The Kim (Jong Un) regime is developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles because it wants a more survivable nuclear deterrent able to blackmail its neighbours and the United States,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“North Korea’s SLBM is probably far from being operationally deployed with a nuclear warhead,” he cautioned, “but Kim cannot politically afford appearing to fall behind in a regional arms race.”

South Korea last month tested its first SLBM, putting it among the elite group of nations that have demonstrated proven technology, and also unveiled a supersonic cruise missile.

‘Deep Regret’

Tuesday’s launch comes after North Korea — which invaded its neighbor in 1950 — in recent weeks tested a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and what it said was a hypersonic warhead, sparking global concern.

It also mounted a rare weapons exhibition, showcasing the gigantic international ballistic missile (ICBM) revealed at a night-time military parade last year.

Photo of North Korea's new ICBM sighted during a military parade that marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea
North Korea’s new ICBM was sighted during a military parade that marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Photo: KCNA/AFP

Pyongyang says it needs its arsenal to defend itself against a possible US invasion.

Opening the weapons exhibition, leader Kim Jong-un — who has overseen rapid progress in the North’s military technology — blamed Washington for tensions, dismissing US assertions that it does not have hostile intentions.

“The fundamental reason for the North’s provocation is because the US is not changing its position on talks,” Shin Beom-chul, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told AFP.

“Pyongyang is trying to demonstrate that it can carry out a bigger provocation.”

South Korea’s National Security Council convened an emergency meeting over Tuesday’s launch, expressing “deep regret” and urging Pyongyang to return to dialogue.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said two ballistic missiles had been fired, also calling the launch “very regrettable”.

‘No Hostile Intent’

Pyongyang’s latest move came with Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence, visiting Seoul for a three-way meeting with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts on North Korea Tuesday, according to reports.

It also followed US envoy Sung Kim renewing his appeal for talks.

“We harbor no hostile intent toward the DPRK and we are hopeful to meeting with them without conditions,” he said following talks with his South Korean counterpart in Washington.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is pressing for a formal declaration that the Korean War is over — hostilities ceased in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty — before his term ends next year.

Kim met three times with former US President Donald Trump, who boasted of stopping a war but failed to reach a comprehensive agreement on ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

The talks process has been largely at a standstill since a second meeting in Hanoi the following year collapsed over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

In 2017, the North tested missiles that can reach the whole of the continental United States and carried out its most powerful nuclear explosion to date.

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Defense News

Senate Committee Aims To Boosts Pentagon’s Budget By $24B With Eyes On China – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 13: Streaks in the sky form at sunset behind the U.S. Capitol Building on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: The Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing to boost the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2022 budget by $24 billion with a focus on countering China, improving facilities and infrastructure across the services and advancing technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The bill’s big plus ups come with $2.5 billion of additional investments with an eye toward America’s rival in Asia, such as funding specific to Marine Corps Force Design 2030 efforts, accelerating INDO-PACOM missile tracking capabilities, funding for the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii and Guam Defense System as well as $100 million to establish the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve to “accelerate real-world demonstrations of innovative technologies,” according to a summary published by the committee.

The bill also provides various increases for artificial intelligence, cyber and microelectronics capabilities which includes a $500 million program in increase adoption of AI at combatant commands.

It would provide the still nascent Space Force with $17.9 billion for military personnel, operations and acquisition accounts, a 16% increase over last year’s enacted budget.

The fourth big focus area in the SAC’s bill is $1.6 billion of additional funding for infrastructure and facilities sustainment across the services. The Navy’s shipyard revitalization program, for example, would see its $280 million request increased by $480 million total, $180 million for facility renovations and $300 million for additional equipment.

The majority of the Pentagon’s topline is included in the SAC’s new bill, which provides the military with $725 billion. However, Senate appropriators funded military construction and veterans affairs in a separate bill that includes roughly $10 billion. That brings the SAC’s total Pentagon topline to around $735 billion, including $24 billion in additional funding. The three other congressional committees overseeing the Pentagon’s budgets have made similar proposals coming in at around a $740 billion topline.

Some of the major cuts include eliminating $3.3 billion that would have gone to the Afghan Security Forces Fund, an obvious result of the US withdrawal from the country and subsequent collapse of the Afghan government’s army.

There is a $433 million cut from the Space Force for “overhead persistent infrared satellites, which are being developed on fixed-price contracts, yet funding is requested in excess of the contracted value.”

The bill also contains a “rescission of $436 million in unobligated prior-year funds from production of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), due to lengthy manufacturing delays,” according to a statement from the committee.

By comparison, the House Appropriations Committee in July moved forward with a bill cutting the Pentagon’s total budget request by $258 million, Breaking Defense reported at the time. In contrast to the Senate’s bill which touts adds for INDO-PACOM, the House bill moves to cut funding for a Guam-based missile defense program, a major blow to the combatant command.

Other big budget items in the Senate committee’s bill include $1.7 billion for an additional DDG-51 destroyer, $1.8 billion for 16 C-130J aircraft destined for the Air National Guard and $1 billion for “urgent requirements” for Israel’s Iron Dome system.

The House and Senate authorizing committees are both moving forward with bills that add approximately $25 billion to the Pentagon’s request.

It should not be a surprise to military observers, but consistent with the Pentagon’s latest request, the committee also noted this is the first military budget request lacking an overseas contingency operations account since 2010.

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