The Importance of a Flag

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“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

                                                              -Admiral Chester W. Nimitz-

Seventy-two years ago, Marines stormed the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima. On the morning of February 19, 1945, 1st Lt. John Wells in command of 3rd Platoon, Easy Company, 28th Marines landed on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima. Wells and his Marines would be given the mission of attacking the foothills around the base of a volcanic peak named Mount Suribachi.  Lt. Wells had lead his Marines on Guadalcanal and once boasted “Give me 50 Marines not afraid to die and I can take any position.” His Marines swept across the foothills below Mount Suribachi. Wells was severely wounded and unable to walk but still he continued to command his men. He was evacuated to a hospital ship. Lt. Wells would be awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

The battle for Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. American casualties were 6,821 killed and 19,217 wounded, while the Japanese casualties were 17,845-18,375 killed or missing and only 216 prisoners captured. “Manila John” Basilone, who won his Medal of Honor for bravery on Guadalcanal would be killed in a mortar attack after he captured a Japanese defensive position on Iwo Jima.

On February 23, 1945, in the early morning hours, 40 Marines from 3rd Platoon under Lt. Harold Schrier were ordered to attack the crater on Mount Suribachi and raise an American flag for all to see. Just the sight of an American flag was inspiring for those fighting the Japanese.  After taking their objective, Marines attached a small American flag to a steel pipe and held the flag high. To the Marines who had lost so many brothers the sight of the flag was a symbol of all they were fighting for. To the Japanese on the island, the sight of the flag was a psychological blow and they knew that their homeland was threatened. Of the 40 Marines who assaulted the crater of Mount Suribachi that day, 36 would be killed or wounded on Iwo Jima. The price in American blood was high.

The “iconic flag raising” on Mount Suribachi would be the second flag raising that day. As photographer Joe Rosenthal made his way to the top of Mount Suribachi, he stated “I could see this small flag waving on a very long pole. It gave me a jolt and I get it now. That was our Flag-American Flag.” Rosenthal asked three Marines at the summit what was happening and one of them said “The Colonel down below wants a bigger flag so it can be seen by the troops all over the island.” Rosenthal would snap a picture and hope that it was as he had seen in his viewfinder.

That iconic picture of the flag raising on Iwo Jima would win Joe Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize. One picture of Americans raising the flag would inspire the nation. Three of the Marines who helped raise the flag, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley and Michael Stank would all be killed in battle on Iwo Jima.  The three surviving flag raisers , Marines Ira Hayes, and Rene Gagnon along with Navy Corpsman John Bradley would all make it off the island. One of those Marines, Sgt. Michael Stank has been described as “the kind of Marine you read about, the kind they make movies about.”

Rosenthal’s iconic photograph would become the inspiration for Felix de Weldon’s 32-foot high sculpture entitled Marine Corps War Memorial. The sculpture replicates the flag raising on Iwo Jima and commemorates all the Marines that have died in battle since 1775. But just as on Iwo Jima that early morning seventy-two years ago, Americans stopped even in the middle of a battle to look upon the flag being raised. Some yelled out hurrahs, others waved their helmets and others fired into the air upon seeing the American flag on Japanese territory.

Flags have played an important part in our history over the years. George Washington asked Betsy Ross to sew the first American flag. Years later, Francis Scott Key inspired by seeing the American flag still flying after the bombardment of Ft. McHenry by the British, that he wrote the Star Spangled Banner. And yet, our national symbol has been burned by protestors and dishonored by sports athletes in recent years. Our great country is not perfect in anyway. However, we allow individuals to protest and seek redress. But to disrespect the symbol of America and those who lost their lives fighting for all that the flag represents is a travesty.

I have unfortunately had to see too many flag draped coffins over the years. Yet, even in death, one of the greatest military honors is to be cloaked with one’s flag. Today, seventy-two years later, one should understand the importance of the flag that even under gunfire Marines raised this American symbol not once but twice for all to see. For after all, it is not only a symbol of America but of our national pride, patriotism and unity of purpose. And we honor those who seventy-two years ago fought and died on Iwo Jima under that flag.

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Houthi Rebels: An Emerging Threat in the Red Sea

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 “The land of Sheba is once again bedeviled by blood feuds, tribal warfare and conflict. All is normal in Yemen.”

Not long ago I watched as ships navigated the waters between Djibouti and Yemen and the clouds seem to roll westward. This natural chokepoint with its sparkling blue waters has attracted global interests since the first European fleet under Afonso de Albuquerque, the Duke of Goa sailed through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

For years, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been perfecting their “swarming attack technique” sending Iranian fast boats in a dispersed formation to attack a ship using anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and suicide bomber boats. While the IRGC has perfected these tactics and techniques in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, it should surprise no one when Iranian-trained Houthi rebels in Yemen employ these same tactics in the Red Sea. Besides exporting these tactics and techniques, Iran has supplied weapons to the Houthi militias. Along with traditional small arms, Iran has provided the Houthis with anti-ship missiles surface-to- surface short range missiles, and sea mines. Iran has smuggled arms to their Houthi allies across Oman and on the seas. Even before this latest conflict, Yemen was a land filled with weapons. With the introduction of anti-ship missiles, the threat to shipping in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait have increased. Yemen remains caught in a quagmire. The Houthis militias fighting for Zaidi Shia Muslims joined with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to fight against President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. President Hadi has been backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, the United States, England and France. The Iranians have supported the Houthis in this conflict. With all this chaos in Yemen, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State have taken advantage of the situation.There is a great line written by Freya Stark in “The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut which states:

“From here the old navigator sailed southward between converging coasts. Where the sun-darkened waves grow more frequent, he entered the channel of Bab el Mandeb, which forces the sea together and shuts it into a narrow strait, the passage which the island Dioduros (Perim) divides.”

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait sits at the southern end of the Red Sea and is strategically vital to the movement of commerce globally. The Bab el- Mandeb Straits are divided into the larger Strait with a width of about 16 miles and the smaller Strait with a width of about 2 miles from the island of Perim to the mainland of Yemen. Early on in the Yemen civil war, Houthi rebels placed numerous weapons on Perim Island. In October 2015, troops loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Saudi troops retook the strategically important island.

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The southern gate of the Red Sea is important for economic, political, and military reasons.  The Red Sea continues to be a principal route for trade between the East and West. It has been estimated that 4% of the global oil supply and about 10% of the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) supply pass through the Straits. Oil has always been a prime target for terrorists. On October 6, 2002, Al-Qaeda sent two suicide bombers in a small boat to attack the French oil tanker MV Limburg in the Gulf of Aden near the port city of Al-Mukalla. Abu Khaythama and Abu al-Hareth al-Badawi aimed their fast moving suicide boat at the starboard side of the oil tanker. The French oil tanker had loaded 400,000 barrels of oil at Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia and was enroute to the Minah Al-Dabah Oil Terminal in Yemen to load another 1.5 million barrels of oil when it was attacked. The tactic of using one or multiple speed boats with explosives highlights the ease with which terrorists can target and attack shipping.

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Houthi suicide boat speeding toward a Saudi frigate just before it explodes.

On January 30, 2017, several Houthi speed boats buzzed around a Saudi navy Al-Madinah class missile frigate, as it patrolled the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen.  The suicide bomber boat sped towards the stern of the frigate and detonated killing two Saudi navy sailors and injuring three others. The above picture captured aboard the Saudi frigate moments before the explosion shows the suicide bombers boat speeding towards its target. Over the years the Iranians have pioneered the harassing tactic and used it for years in the Strait of Hormuz. Today, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are deploying not only Iranian missiles but utilizing this tactic of multiple speed boats harassing and attacking targets.

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The Saudi Navy should have never allowed the small craft to close the distance and should have engaged the target. The tactic of using a small boat to deliver a suicide bomb was first used in Yemen when Al-Qaeda attacked the USS Cole.

On the morning of October 12, 2000, the USS Cole entered Aden harbor to refuel.  At 07:46 a.m. the harbor pilot, Ibrahim came aboard and began the process of guiding the warship into Aden harbor.  By 08:49 a.m.  the warship was moored starboard side to Refueling Dolphin # 7.  The harbor pilot departed the Cole by 09:40 a.m. and the crew began the process of refueling at station three at 10:31 a.m.  Hasan al-Khamiri and Ibrahim al-Thawr launched the boat packed with explosives from Al-Haswah Beach.

The two suicide bombers slowly started to make their way on the water passing fishing boats in the harbor. Two small boats had retrieved the trash from the Cole. The suicide bombers on their small boat would make like they were another trash boat approaching the Cole. The Navy ship was only going to be in port long enough to drop its trash and refuel.  According to a Petty Officer, “A few minutes before the blast on October 12, 2000, the Executive Officer made an announcement on the 1MC stating that we should be completed with fueling and expecting to get underway by 1330 and if possible we would get underway sooner.”  The two suicide bombers guided their boat to the port side, amid ship, waved, smiled, saluted and detonated their bomb.

The crew worked diligently to save their ship and shipmates.  Commander Kirk Lippold had trained his crew to be able to handle various critical incidents. In reality, that day one of America’s most technological warships should have sank twice.  But the Captain and crew would not allow that to happen.

Seventeen sailors lost their lives that day and another thirty-seven were wounded in the attack. Like their ship’s namesake, the sailors of the USS Cole displayed great courage aiding their wounded and keeping their ship afloat. The USS Cole is named for Marine Sergeant Darrell Cole, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in the battle for Iwo Jima.

The Bab el Mandeb Strait is a strategic chokepoint where much of the regions commerce travels through the Red Sea. After the recent attack on the Saudi frigate the USS Cole was ordered back to patrol the area of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. There has been some speculation that the Iranian-trained Houthis thought they were attacking an American frigate. In the same area where the Saudi frigate was attacked, Iranian trained Houthi rebels fired missiles at the USS Mason and the USS Ponce. These US Navy ships were in international waters when fired upon by Iran’s proxy in Yemen. The USS Mason fired missiles in response. On October 13, 2016, the US Navy destroyer, the USS Nitze launched numerous Tomahawk missiles at land based radar sites in Yemen destroying them. Missile attacks in the Red Sea by the Houthis pose a significant danger to vessels navigating the Red Sea and the Straits. The United Arab Emirates unarmed ship HSV-2 Swift was struck by a Houthi fired C-802 anti-ship missile doing significant damage to the aluminum catamaran vessel. The Chinese made C-802 anti-ship missile has a range of nearly 75 miles and could strike any ships in the Red Sea approaching the Bab el-Mandeb Straits. Iran has also copied this Chinese missile and manufactured a version of their own called the “Noor.”

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All shipping transiting the Red Sea southbound or those entering the Bab el-Mandeb must be aware of the dangers posed by Houthi’s missiles and speed boats.   With an increased US Navy presence to maintain the freedom of navigation through the Bab el Mandeb and provide a defensive presence for ships transiting the Strait as long as ships stay away from Yemen this threat shouldn’t pose a grave danger but more of a nuisance.

The attacks on the MV Limburg, the USS Cole, and now a Saudi frigate show how easy these types of attacks can be undertaken.  There are numerous defensive actions that can be taken to prevent these types of attacks. Each one of these attacks are quite different but do highlight  adversaries that are adapting their attacks to be successful. What is more troublesome is that Iran has provided missiles to the Houthis that pose a greater threat to shipping in the Red Sea. Whom else might Iran provide missiles to that pose a new threat in the future?

The lands of Sheba today not only have to deal with the civil war between the Yemen government and the Houthis but also with various proxies fighting other proxies in this theater. Terrorists groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are established and looking to take advantage of the chaos. With no end in sight, the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb could play a bigger role in these conflicts.

 

Terrorist Martyrdom Operations: Paris, Wurzburg, New York

Any trip to Paris would be incomplete without stops at the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world housing art from Rembrandt, Raphael, Goya, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Donatello and other great artists. Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy spent time at both Paris tourist attractions scouting his targets. He would also take selfies marking his targets on social media.

On January 26, 2017, Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy boarded a flight from Dubai with a tourist visa and headed for Paris. Upon his arrival he rented an upscale apartment in the 8th Arrondissement paying €1700 for a one-week stay. Two days later he entered a gun shop and purchased two machetes. Below is a picture of the upscale apartment building where Al-Hamamy rented an apartment.

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Located on the Right Bank of the Seine River, the Louvre Museum in 2016 saw a decrease to just over 7 million visitors. As one of the most visited sites in Paris, tourists, school groups and others line up for entry and to pass through security. After the 2015 terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan Concert hall, the Stadium of France and restaurants, about 3500 French soldiers have patrolled tourist sites and other potential targets. One might think that deploying soldiers to potential terrorist targets in Paris might be a deterrent.

However, just before 10:00 a.m. on February 3, 2017, Al-Hamamy bypassed the main entrances to the Louvre Museum. He did not wait in the long lines of people seeking admission and waiting to pass through the security checkpoints. Instead he attempted to gain entry through the Carrousel du Louvre Shopping Mall entryway. Individuals using this entryway have the option of going to the shops and restaurants or to the one almost secret entrance to the museum. When using this entry to the museum one needs to already have purchased a ticket and have no large bags or large items with them.   Below is a picture of the Le Carrousel du Louvre “secret  entrance.”

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French soldiers told Al-Hamamy that he couldn’t enter the museum with his two backpacks. Four armed French soldiers were not a deterrent to conducting an attack. For at the end of these types of attacks the terrorist is hoping that he will become a martyr.Armed with a machete in each hand he began attacking the soldiers yelling Allahu Akbar.” This not a phrase one wants to hear being yelled on a bus or at a potential terrorist target site. Al-Hamamy struck one of the soldiers with a machete causing an injury before being shot multiple times. Al-Hamamy survived his attack but like the other attackers in New York and on the German train these individuals were all seeking martyrdom. These attackers all sought to self-sacrificing themselves seeking what they believe would lead them to paradise. Below is the article Just Terror Tactics in ISIS’s Rumiyah magazine.

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Just before Al-Hamamy conducted this attack he tweeted the following “for our brothers in Syria and fighters across the world. No negotiations, no compromise, no retreat, relentless war.” The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) propaganda arm Al-Hayat Media Center in the second edition of Rumiyah magazine called for individuals to attack infidels. In an article entitled, Just Terror Tactics ISIS stated:

“One need not be a military expert or a martial arts master, or even own a gun or rifle in order to carry out a massacre or to kill and injure several disbelievers and terrorize an entire nation.”

If one has no firearms one can easily acquire a knife, an ax or a machete. There are no barriers to acquire a weapon to attack the enemies of ISIS. One doesn’t even need training or to be an expert to carry out these attacks. One doesn’t need expensive weapons or bomb making experience is what ISIS is publishing to it’s followers and potential attackers.

ISIS continues to recruit individuals who can launch low-tech attacks. ISIS is using a two-prong strategy of having trained and untrained individuals launch attacks. By radicalizing individuals online and using encrypted apps, ISIS makes it more difficult to identify and stop potential terrorists. ISIS doesn’t need attackers to travel to obtain terrorist or weapons training. Traveling to Syria or Libya or somewhere else makes it easier for intelligence services to identify potential terrorists. ISIS recognizes this and tells individuals not to travel to Syria. By combining a strategy of using trained terrorists with firearms and suicide bomber vests along with untrained individuals armed only with a knife, ax, machete or truck ISIS is making it hard to detect these plots.

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One of the last things Riaz Khan Ahmadzai communicated before he executed his terror attack  was “Pray for me to be a martyr, I am waiting for the train.” On July 18, 2016, Riaz Khan Ahmadzai boarded a regional German train traveling from Treuchtlingen to Wurzburg, Bavaria. As the train pulled into the Wurzburg station Ahmadzai attacked passengers onboard with an ax and a knife. After injuring four people on the train he fled. He attacked another individual before being cornered by police. Ahmadzai refused to surrender and attacked the police with his ax and was shot and killed.

Ahmadzai, a 17-year old arrived via Austria in 2015 as an unaccompanied minor refugee seeking asylum. He arrived in Germany claiming to a refugee from Afghanistan. He was placed in a refugee center in Ochsenfurt where he lived until being placed in a foster home. Ahmadzai communicated with an ISIS handler who asked him:

What weapons do you intend to use?                        “Knives and ax.”
Would not it be better to do it with a car?                 “I can’t drive.”
You should learn.                                                                “Learning cost time.”
The damage would also be significantly greater.   “I want to come to paradise tonight.”

Just before the attack he sent a video clip to his ISIS handler in which he stated “I am a soldier of the caliphate and will be doing a martyrdom operation here in Germany.” Ahmadzai also wrote a letter in Pashtun to his father and said, Now pray for me that I can take revenge on these nonbelievers, and pray for me, that I make my way into heaven.”

Within weeks of Ahmadzai being moved from a refugee center to a foster home he was able to execute this attack. In the video released by ISIS Ahmadzai bragged about living among you and that he “planned against you in your land.” He stated My message to the Islamic nation-wake up, the Islamic Caliph is established. Support the Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” There can be no doubt as to his motivation for conducting this attack. We can expect ISIS to continue to inspire its followers to conduct attacks like these.

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Who would attack four armed police officers? On October 23, 2014, four police officers were standing together on Jamaica Ave in Queens, New York. A photographer asked if he might take a picture of the four officers together. As the photographer took the picture Zale Thompson moved into position with his ax. Thompson attacked the four New York Police officers with an 18-inch ax. A convert to Islam, Thompson had taken the kunya-Zaim Farouq Abdul Malik. The 32-year old man from Queens had served in the Navy but had been discharged in 2003 for misconduct. He had explored various radical sites online and was clearly seeking martyrdom. Posted under his kunya Zaim Farouq Abdul Malik stated, “Which is better, to sit around and do nothing, or to wage jihad.”

Why else would one attack four armed police officers with an ax? Two officers were injured in the attack before the assailant was killed. While these attacks make no sense, the statements of these terrorists show their intentions. One of Thompson’s statements shows his mindset and how he wanted to launch an attack.

“Helicopters, big military will be useless on their own soil. They will not be able to defeat our people if we use guerrilla warfare. Attack their weak flanks.”

We will continue to see ISIS identify individuals that can be manipulated and motivated to undertake terrorist attacks using low-tech weapons like knives, axes, machetes, and trucks. The benefits for ISIS are that these “inspired” terrorists are hard to identify, detect and stop. Little to no investment is required by terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda since the “inspired terrorist” provides their own weapons. These terrorist group don’t have to arrange for travel, logistics, security, safe houses finances or training to execute these attacks.  Terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to call for these attacks as well as focus attention on jihadists who have undertaken these types of attacks.By doing this they may be able to inspire others to undertake and execute attacks.This death by a thousand cuts strategy keeps these terror attacks in the media, terrorizes people and makes the law enforcement and intelligence community expend resources trying to identify and prevent them from happening. Thus, enabling terrorist groups to spend their time and resources on “planned attacks.”