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Charged with crime and stuck in the brig, a Navy SEAL vows to fight on

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Chief Gallagher - Charged with crime and stuck in the brig, a Navy SEAL vows to fight on

Charged a few months ago with multiple war crimes in connection with the 2017 stabbing death of a detainee in Iraq, Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward “Eddie” Gallagher vows to fight for his freedom.

The 19-year Navy veteran has hired two high-powered criminal defense attorneys who specialize in military law — Colby Vokey of Dallas and Phillip Stackhouse of San Diego — and he’s exploring a civil rights lawsuit against Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents for alleged misconduct linked to his Sept. 11 arrest and detention in San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar.

An Article 32 hearing with a special military judge sent from Florida will begin to sift through the evidence against Gallagher on Nov. 14 in San Diego, according to Stackhouse.

The judge will then recommend which charges should be forwarded or withdrawn by an admiral who could convene a general court-martial. Gallagher has been accused of murder, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and professional misconduct.

“While the burden is very, very low to send the charges to court, Chief Gallagher will, like he has on every combat deployment, fight. Fight to clear his name, fight for justice, and fight to expose the lies that are being made against him,” said Stackhouse in a written statement emailed to Navy Times.

Multiple criminal defense attorneys, senior military commanders in the Navy and several special warfare units told Navy Times that the ongoing war crimes probe isn’t focused solely on Gallagher but includes more than a dozen SEALs who also deployed between 2017 and early 2018 near what then was Islamic State-held Mosul, Iraq.

NCIS agents are not only probing a number of serious allegations involving the death of the detainee, but also images that allegedly depict SEALs posing with the body. They’re also exploring concerns about how Naval Special Warfare Group 1 officers and senior enlisted leaders handled the initial reports about war crimes and the internal investigation that followed in their wake, they say.

But the central question in Gallagher’s case is whether he and other SEALs rendered first aid to the wounded Islamic State fighter or if they executed him.

Because the military judge has sealed most evidence in the case and has placed a gag order on all parties, Stackhouse said he can’t address specific allegations or delve into most details of the NCIS probe.

“But what we’ve learned in our independent investigation into these allegations is that crime simply didn’t happen,” he said.

Stackhouse traces the beginning of the NCIS investigation to April, while Gallagher was preparing to retire from the Navy and leave California for Florida.

He’s asked military prosecutors for a copy of the June search warrant, obtained through a federal magistrate in San Diego, that allowed NCIS agents to search Gallagher’s residence in military housing in Point Loma, but they haven’t provided it yet.

“They held Chief Gallagher at NCIS, while they knew his wife was at work,” Stackhouse said. “NCIS laid siege to the house in the morning hours ― weapons drawn — and inexplicably traumatized Chief Gallagher’s young sons by pulling them out of the house at gunpoint in their underwear.”

Stackhouse said the NCIS probe culminated on Sept. 11, when agents arrested Gallagher at Camp Pendleton’s Intrepid Spirit Center.

Opened on April 4, the base facility aids service members recovering from traumatic brain injury. Stackhouse said that Gallagher suffers from multiple head injuries incurred during his combat duty overseas.

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U.S. Special Operations Forces Want Lighter Machine Gun Ammo

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Special Forces soldiers in combat - U.S. Special Operations Forces Want Lighter Machine Gun Ammo

Having lots of ammunition is good. Carrying lots of ammunition, not so good.

So, U.S. Special Operations Command is looking for ammunition that weighs 40 percent less than current cartridges for machine guns and rapid-fire miniguns.

The goal of the feasibility study is to assess whether it is possible to develop “belt link cartridge cases that are significantly lighter than brass cases and have increased internal volume, pressure ratings, corrosion resistance, long-term storage, and structural integrity,” according to the SOCOM research solicitation .

SOCOM has multiple questions that vendors will need to answer, such as what makes the new ammunition superior to existing cartridges made from brass.

In addition, the cartridges must have a long shelf life. Vendors will have to explain the “materials used in the manufacturing process, the manufacturing method used (i.e., high-temperature welding, friction welding, gluing, etc.). Explain how the materials and the manufacturing methods prevent degradation of ammunition to make it ready for use even while the ammunition is in storage for 10 or more years.”

Phase I of the project will involve devising a feasibility study to show it is possible to develop lighter ammunition. The second phase will be to prototype and demonstrate lighter 7.62-millimeter NATO and .338 Norma Magnum rounds.

Other users besides SOCOM would benefit from lighter ammunition. “This system could be used in a broad range of military applications where the weight of small arms ammunition is a critical consideration both for the operator and the logistics system,” SOCOM says. “Lighter weight saves transportation cost for military and commercial ammunition shipments.”

SOCOM has several small arms projects for its marksmen, including adopting the 6.5-millimeter Creedmore round for its sniper rifles. The goal is to double hit probability at 1,000 meters (1,093 yards) versus legacy ammunition, as well as increase effective range 40 percent, reduce wind drift by 30 percent and have less recoil. SOCOM also has its Advanced Sniper Rifle project to replace the multiple models of sniper weapons that currently equip U.S. commandos. A standardized rifle would minimize logistics and maintenance issues.

SOCOM is also exploring a lightweight assault machine gun chambered for 6.5-millimeter ammunition. Other projects include a new upper receiver group for the M4A1 carbine, a suppressed upper receiver group for rifles, more advanced rifle scopes and night vision devices, as well as improved 105-millimeter and 30-millimeter shells for heavier weapons.

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Why Russia’s Alpha Group Commando Team Is Truly Terrifying

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Alpha Group Russia - Why Russia's Alpha Group Commando Team Is Truly Terrifying

Russia and the Lebanese Islamic militia Hezbollah have become close allies in the civil war in Syria, with both of them supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the conflict. Their relationship has not always been so friendly. When members of Hezbollah kidnapped four Russian diplomats in 1985, killing one of them, Russia dispatched the KGB’s Alpha Group to deal with the situation.

Alpha Group is part spy network, part counterterrorism team, part general-purpose commando squad — and entirely terrifying.

It first gained notoriety for leading the assault on the presidential palace in Kabul during the initial phases of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, its members participated in several high-publicity take-downs of terrorists, insurgents, and kidnappers.

When the KGB and parts of the Soviet military attempted a coup in 1990, members of Alpha Group were given the job of securing the parliament in Moscow and neutralizing then-president Boris Yeltsin.

Alpha Group survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and currently operates under the auspices of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. Yet its confrontation with Hezbollah during the hostage crisis in Lebanon remains one of its most widely discussed, and strikingly brutal, operations.

The KGB created Alpha Group — or Spetsgruppa A —in 1974 in response to the Black September attacks at the Munich Olympics two years earlier.

Eight terrorists linked to the Palestinian Liberation Front had infiltrated the Olympic Village, killed two Israeli athletes and took several others hostage. West German police botched a rescue attempt at a NATO airport hours later. Nine more Israelis died there, along with five of the terrorists and a West German police officer.

Alpha Group formed in the fiasco’s aftermath. But the group quickly took on a broader role than mere counterterrorism.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Alpha Group and the KGB’s Zenith Group, other special forces unit, led a contingent of 700 troops in the assault on the Tajbeg Palace in Kabul, according to David Cox in his book Close Protection: The Politics of Guarding Russia’s Rulers.

The commandos entered the country under the auspices of protecting the Russian embassy. The assault on Tajbeg Palace on Dec. 27, 1979, was the first phase of the Soviet invasion. Afghan president Hafizullah Amin was hosting a party at the palace that evening. Numerous civilian guests and palace residents, including women and children, were present when the assault began.

A special forces officer who participated in the raid told the BBC in 2009 that the officers in charge ordered soldiers to kill everyone in the building.

“I was a Soviet soldier,” Rustam Tursunkulov recalled. “We were trained to accept orders without question. I was in the special forces — it’s the worst job.”

An Afghan named Najiba was inside the palace when the Soviets arrived. She was only 11 years old at the time. “The things I saw,” Najiba told the BBC. “My God — people on the floor. I saw a person … like a scene from a nightmare movie. Dead bodies. Lots.”

“Please try to understand that when there’s a battle going on, it’s hard to know there are children there,” Tursunkulov explained. “In any army, there has to be someone who’ll do the harshest, most horrible tasks. Unfortunately, it’s not soldiers, but politicians who make wars.”

Amin’s 11-year-old son was killed in the attack on the palace, and Amin himself either died during the action or soon afterward — perhaps executed. According to Tursunkulov, the bodies of everyone killed in the palace were wrapped in carpets and buried nearby without ceremony.

Alpha Group continued to lead KGB efforts in domestic counterterrorism and counterintelligence through the 1980s. The unit targeted CIA agents and operatives and led the raid against the hijackers of Aeroflot Flight 6833 in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1983. They killed three of the hijackers and captured the rest, but lost five hostages.

It was the group’s involvement in a 1985 hostage crisis in Lebanon that earned the Alpha Group an international reputation as a vicious — but effective — counterterror unit.

On Sept. 20, 1985, the Islamic Liberation Organization, a part of Hezbollah, kidnapped four Russian diplomats in Beirut. A message from the terrorists “warned that the four Soviet captives would be executed, one by one unless Moscow pressured pro-Syrian militiamen to cease shelling positions held by the pro-Iranian fundamentalist militia in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli,” according to a contemporary report by Jack McKinney of Philadelphia’s Daily News.

Moscow initially attempted to open communication channels in the hope of negotiating the release of hostages. But after the captors executed one of the Russians, Moscow sent in Alpha Group.

The remaining hostages were released within a few weeks, which came as a surprise to journalists, considering that many hostages taken in Lebanon were held for months or even years.

Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, who was the chief of intelligence for Syrian forces in Lebanon at the time, was originally credited with orchestrating the Russians’ release. This account trickled out to journalists in other countries.

“Western journalists reported that the kidnappers were forced to free the hostages because a block-to-block search by pro-Syrian militiamen was closing in on them,” McKinney wrote.

However, according to Israeli sources cited in the Daily News, it was actually the KGB that negotiated the release. And in Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God, Matthew Levitt clarifies that it wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill KGB operatives. It was the Alpha Group.

“In one retelling,” Levitt writes, “the KGB kidnapped a relative of the hostage-taking organization’s chief, cut off the relative’s ear, and sent it to his family. In another, the Alpha unit abducted one of the kidnapper’s brothers and sent two of his fingers home to his family in separate envelopes.

“Still another version has the Soviet operatives kidnapping a dozen Shi’a, one of whom was the relative of a Hezbollah leader. The relative was castrated and shot in the head, his testicles stuffed in his mouth, and his body shipped to Hezbollah with a letter promising a similar fate for the 11 other Shi’a captives if the three Soviet hostages were not released.”

While the details of the various “retellings” differ, the effect is much the same. Given the fact that the Alpha Group was dispatched to Beirut, and that the hostages were released so quickly when other countries, including the United States, had failed to facilitate such prompt responses from hostage-takers in Lebanon, it seems reasonable that it was Alpha Group rather than a Syrian search that prompted the quick release.

Russia has a longstanding policy of targeting family members of terrorists. The reports of Alpha Group’s alleged actions in Beirut are consistent with this tradition.

The Beirut saga is arguably the most sensational of Alpha Group’s operations. But the unit continued to play a prominent role in Soviet and Russian military, intelligence and counterterrorism efforts.

A Lithuanian detachment of the Alpha Group attempted to quell the secession movement there in January 1991, killing 14 civilians and injuring hundreds more when they seized the Vilnius television tower.

Later that same year, Alpha Group officers stormed the Russian parliament during a coup against Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. They were directed to capture Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin — or to kill him if it seemed he might escape.

Twenty Alpha Group officers refused the order, delaying the mission long enough for the coup to collapse.

More recently, the counterterrorism unit was involved in ending the hostage crisis at the Beslan school in North Ossetia in 2004. During the battle between the Alpha Group and dozens of terrorists, 330 people died, including 186 children.

The Alpha Group commandos were criticized for their reckless use of excessive force at Beslan, notes Glenn Peter Hastedt in Spies, Wiretaps and Secret Operations. Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his special operators, saying they had not planned on storming the school and did so only after reports that the terrorists had begun executing the children inside.

There have also been reports of Alpha Group fighting in the civil war in Ukraine.

This article by Darien Cavanaugh originally appeared at War is Boring in 2016.

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