TIME Military

Why the U.S.-Cuba Thaw Doesn’t Mean Guantanamo Bay Is Closing

Guantanamo Bay Cuba
Camp X-Ray was the first detention facility to hold 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The U.S. Navy’s historic base—and new terror prison—is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon

Like Sherlock Holmes’ dog that didn’t bark, the absence of debate over the fate of the U.S. base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay since President Barack Obama announced resumed ties between the two nations on Wednesday is striking.

For several reasons, nothing is likely to change, at least not in the near future, even as the U.S. restores its embassy in Havana and Obama nominates an ambassador to occupy it (although some lawmakers plan to oppose the envoy’s confirmation). Obama Administration officials have said reopening of relations between the two nations doesn’t affect the base.

For more than a decade, the 111-year old base—and the more than 130 detainees kept there for their suspected roles in the 9/11 and other terror attacks—have been a white-hot issue among human-rights advocates. Six years ago, Obama signed an order shortly after he was sworn in as President requiring the prison be shut down within a year.

That obviously didn’t happen, for legal, political and diplomatic reasons. There have been calls to shutter the prison and conduct trials of the accused on U.S. soil, something Congress has forbidden. It also has been challenging for the U.S. to find other nations willing to take the detainees.

But even if the prison and the detainees it now holds vanished overnight, it’s doubtful the U.S. would relinquish the base, U.S. military officials say. Cuba has wanted it back since Fidel Castro came to power more than 50 years ago. The U.S. signed a deal in 1903 with the Cuban government—after ousting the Spanish from Cuba in the Spanish-American War—allowing the U.S. to construct a base at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for an annual payment, in gold, now worth about $4,000 (the Cuban government refuses the payment).

Some defense experts, like former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, think it’s time for the U.S. to abandon Guantanamo and the bad memories it holds. “We should turn Guantanamo back to Cuba in a reasonable period of time,” says Korb, now at the Center for American Progress. “That base is not that critical now, given what’s happening in the world, and Gitmo has caused real difficulties for our global reputation.”

But the U.S. military disagrees, and is unlikely to want to surrender such real estate, perched near the southeast corner of the island. It is seen as especially valuable since the U.S. gave up its Navy base at the Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, a decade ago.

The prior chief of U.S. Southern Command, which overseas Latin America and the Caribbean, made that clear. “Absent a detention facility and even following the eventual demise of the Castro regime,” Air Force General Douglas Fraser told Congress in March 2012, “the strategic capability provided by U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo remains essential for executing national priorities throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and South America.”

With language like that, it’s a safe bet that the U.S. military won’t be lowering its flag over Guantanamo any time soon.

TIME Military

Taking the Crisis Out of ISIS

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
An F-18 leaves it carrier for a bombing run against ISIS targets. Navy photo / Robert Burck

Pentagon reports some good news from the front

After four months of stalemate in the U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, the U.S. military finally expressed measured optimism Thursday over the course of the campaign.

“We’re seeing initial successes in this fight,” Army Lieut. General James Terry told reporters at the Pentagon. “My assessment is that Daesh has been halted in transitioning to the defense and is attempting to hold what they currently have.”

The Pentagon has begun referring to ISIS—which is also know as ISIL, for the Islamic State in the Levant—as Daesh, after prodding from its allies.

In Arabic, Daesh and ISIL sound alike, although “daesh” literally means “to crush underneath the foot,” Terry said. “Our partners, at least the ones that I work with, ask us to use that, because they feel that if you use ISIL, that you legitimize a self-declared caliphate, and they feel pretty strongly that we should not be doing that.”

ISIS forces still control roughly a third of Iraq and Syria. Regaining major territory in both nations won’t be possible until local ground forces can be assembled and trained to take the fight to the Islamic militants in the major cities they now hold. The launch of any such single counter-offensive is months away, and will take years to drive ISIS from all the cities, Pentagon officials believe.

Later Thursday, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said air strikes over the last month have killed senior ISIS officials. “Since mid-November, targeted coalition airstrikes successfully killed multiple [ISIS] senior and mid-level leaders,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said. The Wall Street Journal reported that three senior leaders had been killed.

“We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades [ISIS’s] ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq,” Kirby added in a statement. The U.S. and its allies have conducted 1,361 air strikes since August, with 86% of those carried out by U.S. warplanes (the U.S. has carried out 97% of the strikes in Syria this month, Reuters reports).

The Pentagon statements didn’t occur in a vacuum. Last week, lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed ire at the slow pace of the war against ISIS. “Does the United States have some other strategic plan other than arming these [Syrian] folks that aren’t going to show up till 2016, dropping bombs, that are marginal whether they’ve been successful, and helping with military aid to some of these coalition countries?” Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, asked Brett McGurk, the Obama Administration’s anti-ISIS envoy.

“It was designed,” McGurk said, “to be a long-term program.”

Read next: U.S. Kills 3 ISIS Leaders in Iraq Strikes, Officials Say

TIME Military

The Navy’s New Drone Looks Just Like a Shark

The GhostSwimmer vehicle.
The GhostSwimmer vehicle. Edward Guttierrez III—U.S. Navy/SIPA

The new drone could replace dolphins and sea lions in spotting underwater mines and finding equipment

The Navy has designed an underwater drone that could star in a Jaws reboot for the 21st century: designed to look and swim like a real fish as part of experiments with unmanned underwater vehicles.

The drone is five feet long and weights nearly 100 pounds, Wired reports, and while it’s more the size of a large tuna, it looks much more like a shark. The robot propels itself forward with a tail, can dive as deep as 300 feet and swim independently.

The drone shark, which was developed by a a Navy contractor called Advanced Systems Group at Boston Engineering and dubbed the GhostSwimmer, can be used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It could also replace the bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions the Navy trains to recover equipment and spot underwater mines.

[Wired]

TIME National Security

A Contrivance of an Alliance

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
U.S. Navy warplanes prepare to attack ISIS targets. Navy photo / Robert Burck

The U.S. is largely flying solo when it comes to attacking ISIS

The U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is complex. A coalition made up of the U.S. and seven allies began bombing ISIS targets in Iraq in August. A month later, the U.S. began bombing targets belonging to the militant group in Syria, along with four allies.

Should the civilized world care that none of the seven U.S. allies bombing ISIS targets in Iraq (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom) are bombing ISIS in Syria? And that, ipso facto, none of the four U.S. allies bombing targets in Syria (Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) are bombing ISIS targets in Iraq?

Does it matter that the U.S. stands alone when it comes to bombing both?

Perhaps more important is the lopsided nature of the air strikes: since Sept. 23, the allies have accounted for nearly 40% of close air support, interdiction and escort sorties, and 25% of total missions flown. “Many of those sorties that conduct dynamic targeting in support of ground forces require specialized capability, and frequently they do not result in a necessary strike on [ISIS] forces, equipment or facilities,” Gary Boucher, spokesman for the campaign, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday.

But the allies have accounted for only 14% of the air strikes. That’s less than one out of every seven. Think of it like a workweek: the U.S. military is working Monday through Saturday; and the allies work Sunday. It works out to an average of two non-U.S. daily air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, shared among seven nations, and less than one non-U.S. air strike per day among the four countries attacking ISIS targets in Syria.

“The real problem is how few sorties most other countries are flying,” says Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “A 62-country token alliance is only marginally better than the U.S. alone.”

As small as the allies’ contributions may be, there are back-home considerations driving which side of the porous Iraq-Syria border they’re bombing. Many of the nations bombing ISIS in Iraq fought alongside the U.S. there following the 2003 invasion, and don’t want their earlier sacrifices to be in vain. The states bombing inside Syria want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad gone.

The anemic response from the world community suggests the war against various forms of Islamic zealotry is going to get worse before it gets better. Following Monday’s jihadist-inspired bloodshed at an Australian chocolate shop, and Tuesday’s massacre of at least 141 people, nearly all of them schoolchildren, by Islamic militants at a military-run school in Pakistan, it’s past time to ask when the international community is going to come up with a plan to deal with this metastasizing horror.

The right response isn’t necessarily more bombing by more countries. The targets are often elusive and defy military action. But until there’s more buy-in from the rest of the world, Washington’s efforts, military and otherwise, are doomed.

TIME Military

Where the U.S. Army Is Winless

Army v Navy
Army cadets cheer on their football team Saturday in their annual game against Navy. Rob Carr / Getty Images

Pall of football defeats hangs over West Point since 9/11

Thirteen years ago, two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. finally had something to celebrate. “We believe the Taliban appears to have abandoned Kabul,” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared on Nov. 13, 2001, a scant 38 days after the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban, who had given sanctuary to those who carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, were on the run.

Nineteen days later, in the warm afterglow that followed, Army beat Navy, 26-17, in the annual gridiron classic between the nation’s two oldest military academies. It was the last game they’d play at Philadelphia’s now-gone Veterans Stadium.

It was also the last time Army beat Navy (Navy leads the series with 59 wins, 49 losses, and seven ties).

History repeated itself again Saturday, as Navy beat Army 17-10 in Baltimore in their 115th clash. The sting hurts even more given Army’s pregame hype.

For more than a decade, as Army loss follows Army loss, it has been distressing to see the Black Knights of West Point, N.Y., lose to the Midshipmen of Annapolis, Md. If the Army can’t prevail on the gridiron, the thinking goes, how can it beat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)? Football, after all, is a game played in the dirt—the Army’s home turf—not in salt water.

The streak has led to stories like this from Duffel Blog, a website dedicated to fake news about the U.S. military, shortly before kickoff:

The Army’s record-breaking 12-game losing streak against the Naval Academy is actually an experiment to build officer resiliency for the military’s next impossible war, according to one senior West Point official. “We’re going to win this time!” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno is expected to exclaim to a crowd of crestfallen cadets in the locker room of M&T Bank Stadium, unconsciously echoing both William Westmoreland in 1971 and Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel last Friday…“Look at this way,” a leaked document of Gen. Odierno’s prepared remarks reveal. “Even at 0-12, we’ve still beaten Navy more recently than we’ve beaten any of America’s actual enemies!”

Football, with its goal lines, sidelines and referees, has a clarity that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lack. But few believe that the Army—the service that has done the bulk of the fighting, and dying in both (accounting for 4,955 of 6,828 U.S. military deaths, or 73%)—has achieved victories there.

Since 9/11, 95 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sixteen from the U.S. Naval Academy have made the ultimate sacrifice, including 2nd Lieutenant J.P. Blecksmith, Class of 2003. He caught a pass in the last game the Army won. Blecksmith was following in the footsteps of his father, who served as a Marine in Vietnam. As the Marines fought to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Nov. 11—Veterans Day—2004, a sniper killed him.

Granted, it’s foolish to link wars with games. Football no more resembles war than it resembles life. But the ethos of football—grit, self-sacrifice, playing through pain—isn’t foreign to those on the battlefield.

And the battle continues in Afghanistan. The Taliban once again are stepping up their attacks in and around Kabul, the capital. Early Saturday, a pair of men on a motorbike shot and killed a top Afghan court official, as he walked from his home to his car in a northwestern suburb of Kabul. Late Friday, a bomb killed two U.S. soldiers north of Kabul. A pair of attacks killed six Afghan soldiers and 12 men clearing clearing landmines.

But the U.S., more or less, has decided to pick up its ball and head home. “This month, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “Our war in Afghanistan is coming to a responsible end.”

It’s a lot easier to define end than it is to define responsible. Check back in a year to see if Army’s other losing streak has come to an end, too.

TIME Military

Navy Unveils Spy Fish Drone

The 5-foot robot swims like a blue fin tuna

The U.S. Navy has developed an unmanned underwater robot that looks and moves like a blue fin tuna.

The robot is a result of Project Silent Nemo, which tested the prototype at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia on Thursday. The fish can be controlled with a joystick or be programmed to swim on its own.

Project engineers tell the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that the model is attractive because, by mimicking the evolved motions of a real fish rather than propelling itself through the water with a propeller like most submersibles, Nemo moves extremely quietly. The hope is Nemo will be able to sneak into enemy waters more effectively and patrol undetected in American waters.

“This is an attempt to take thousands of years of evolution—what has been perfected since the dawn of time—and try to incorporate that into a mechanical device,” said project lead Jerry Lademan.

[The Virginian-Pilot]

TIME indonesia

Papua Remains a Killing Field Even Under New Indonesian President Jokowi

INDONESIA-RIGHT-MILITARY-UNREST
A Papuan activist delivers speech at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta on Dec. 10, 2014, during a protest against the killings of teenagers in the Papuan town of Enarotali two days earlier Adek Berry—AFP/Getty Images

The death of five high school students in skirmishes with Indonesian soldiers demonstrate the huge task ahead for Jokowi

The vivid images that emerged from Indonesia’s Papua province this week are pretty gruesome: teenage boys in school uniforms lie in a pool of blood, surrounded by shell-shocked residents. They are a grim reminder of the ongoing human-rights abuses in the country’s easternmost corner, wracked by a low-level armed separatist movement and heavy-handed military crackdown for about half-century.

On Monday, five high school students, aged 17 to 18, died in the town of Enarotali after security forces allegedly shot at a crowd of about 800 Papuans — many of whom were pupils — protesting on a soccer field, not far from the military and police offices. At least 17 civilians were wounded, including women and children. A sixth victim died on Tuesday, Papuan media reported.

The ill-fated protest was sparked by a brawl between troops and local residents, including children setting up Christmas decorations, shortly after midnight — it ended with a 12-year-old boy being beaten by rifle butts and stones thrown at the military personnel. The U.N. Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have since called for an independent investigation into the deadly shooting.

The killings raise doubt on the commitment of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, whose election victory has buoyed hopes that the world’s largest Muslim majority nation may finally address rights abuses, self-determination grievances and economic inequality — issues that have long plagued the resource-rich provinces of Papua and West Papua.

However, the most recent shooting is “one of hundreds” of rights-abuse cases documented by HRW over the past 15 years in the Papua region, says Andreas Harsono, the group’s Indonesia researcher. “None of these have been resolved. If anyone is ever put on trial, he would be sent to jail for a few months, but no military men nor policemen have ever been fired because of human-rights violations in Papua.” Indonesian police and military have denied involvement in the Monday shooting — the army chief of staff even suggested the Papuan rebels were behind the incident.

Jokowi, who traveled to Papua and West Papua during parliamentary and presidential campaign seasons, has shown plenty of goodwill gestures to the troubled region. In a June visit, the then presidential candidate told an adoring crowd of his family’s close affinity to the Papuans’ homeland. “My wife was named Iriana because her grandfather was a teacher who was deployed to the then named Irian Jaya for quite some time,” he said, referring to the old provincial name of Papua.

Just weeks after his election victory, Jokowi met with Papuan politicians and leaders and promised to boost dialogue between Jakarta and the two provinces. In October, the President made Yohana Yembise his Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, the first Papuan woman appointed to the Cabinet.

The Papua region, which has some of the world’s largest copper and gold mines, is the only remaining area plagued by armed separatist conflicts in Indonesia. (East Timor voted for independence in 1999 and Aceh rebels reached a peace deal with Jakarta in 2005.) While the two Papuan provinces are currently a virtually no-go zone for foreign reporters — two French journalists making a documentary on Papua’s insurgency were arrested last August, jailed for more than two months and later deported — Jokowi has spoken about lifting media restrictions.

Conversely, though, Jokowi has been heavily criticized not only for naming a hard-line retired general, Ryamizard Ryacudu, as Defense Minister, but also for supporting an increased military presence in the region, including a plan to establish a new military command. Indonesian rights activists say the higher number of security forces could trigger even more violence in Papua.

And like the Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians in China’s periphery regions, Papuans are also worried of the influx of new migrants into their homeland — a number that is likely to increase if the new Transmigration Minister could push a migration program to Papua from other islands, especially the densely populated Java. “It is seen as an attempt to Indonesianize Papua,” Harsono tells TIME.

One day after the shooting, in an International Human Rights Day event in the southern Javanese city of Yogyakarta, Jokowi reiterated his human-rights commitment. “The government is paying attention and committed not only to resolve past human-rights abuses but also to prevent rights violations from being repeated in the future,” he said

That may be reassuring to some, but Papuans and human-rights activists are demanding more concrete actions, not just promises, from their new leader. “After nearly two months in power, nothing has been realized yet,” Harsono says about Jokowi. “There have been no significant changes.”

TIME Bizarre

Torpedo-Dragging Seals and 6 Other Real Ideas for the U.S. Military

Illuminated coils of projector used to create lase
Illuminated coils of projector used to create laser light, in 1963 Fritz Goro—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The U.S. Navy has successfully tested a laser ray gun. The idea happens to be more than 70 years old. Here are other suggestions for the America's fighters, given when the government put out a call for inventions in 1941

Fans of science-fiction, lasers and guns were probably excited to learn on Wednesday that the U.S. military has successfully tested a laser ray gun. The weapon took many years and tens of millions of dollars to develop, but the future, apparently, is now.

Or maybe not.

Back in 1941, the U.S. government and the National Inventors Council put out a call seeking ideas for new weapons. Nearly 30,000 submissions came in and, as TIME noted back then, some of them were accepted for possible development by the Army and Navy. One of the ones that wasn’t accepted was a plan for a “death-ray gun” by an inventor out of St. Louis, “who landed in the hospital after the gun’s first testing.” Clearly, the 70-plus years that have elapsed between then and now were long enough for the death-ray gun idea to mature — but that wasn’t the only idea on the list of rejected weapons inventions. They included:

  • A bomb filled with skunk musk which, dropped on an enemy ship, would so nauseate the crew that the vessel could be boarded, towed to port, fumigated, and added to the U.S. Navy.
  • A shell filled with sneezing powder which would explode in the face of the enemy and incapacitate him.
  • A nozzle for the last coach of every railroad train to squirt black paint on the rails and make them invisible to enemy bombers.
  • A propeller, motor and wing attachment for trucks that would fly them swiftly to the scene of combat.
  • A tank fitted with an auger for drilling itself into the ground to lie in wait or hide from the enemy.
  • A submarine chaser composed of separately powered units linked together, which could wriggle through the water, coil itself around a U-boat, crush it.
  • A harness permitting trained seals to tow torpedoes to their destination. (Seal would flip clear just before contact.)

On the other hand, who knows what the future may hold?

See the story in its original format, here in the TIME Vault: Crackpot Holiday

TIME Military

Air Force Secretary Eyes Review of Transgender Ban

Secretary Of The Air Force Deborah Lee James Speaks On State Of The Air Force
U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks during the 2014 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center Sept. 15, 2014, in National Harbor, Md. Alex Wong—Getty Images

“Times change,” said Deborah Lee

U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee said in a recent interview she wouldn’t be surprised if the military’s ban on transgender men and women were to come under review soon.

“Times change,” Lee said in an interview with USA Today. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens there.”

Though gays and lesbians have been allowed to openly serve in the military since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed in 2011, the ban on transgender troops remained in place. Many have called for the military to lift the ban, including a commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general. In March, the commission released a report that read, in part, “there’s no compelling medical reason for the ban, but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components.”

Lee said that all those who can and want to serve should be able to. “From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t come under review.”

[USA Today]

TIME Military

Zap Wars: U.S. Navy Successfully Tests Laser Weapon in the Persian Gulf

Service says ray gun can handle multiple threats at 59 cents a shot

For decades, the Pentagon has been saying that laser weapons are just around the corner. Thursday, the U.S. military finally turned that corner.

The Navy announced that it had deployed and fired a laser weapon this fall aboard a warship in the Persian Gulf. During a series of test shots, the laser hit and destroyed targets mounted atop a small boat, blasted a six-foot drone from the sky, and destroyed other moving targets.

“This is the first time in recorded history that a directed energy weapons system has ever deployed on anything,” Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, told reporters at the Pentagon. “A lot of people talk about it—we decided to go do it.”

The Navy’s laser weapon system—LaWS, in sea-service jargon—was fired from the USS Ponce, a one-time amphibious ship that was converted to an “afloat forward staging base” in 2012 and assigned to the 5th Fleet in Bahrain. Firing a laser from the surface of the Persian Gulf is challenging because heat, humidity, dust and salt water can reduce its power.

The Navy spent about $40 million over the past seven years developing LaWS, which actually consists of six commercial welding lasers lashed together and aimed at the same point. It has proven effective at ranges of up to about a mile.

A chief petty officer, sitting inside the ship’s combat information center, directs the solid-state laser with an Xbox-like controller. It generates about 30 kilowatts of destructive power, roughly equal to 40 horsepower. Three times as much power is lost as heat rather than light.

Navy officers say the weapon’s power is adjustable, ranging from distract to disable to destroy. They added it would be ideal for asymmetric threats, including small attack boats (a favorite tactic of Iran, which undoubtedly was paying close attention to the tests off its shore). U.S. Central Command has given the Ponce’s skipper approval to use the laser for self-defense, if needed.

“Light from a laser beam can reach a target almost instantly,” a July congressional report said. “After disabling one target, a laser can be redirected in several seconds to another target. Fast engagement times can be particularly important in situations, such as near-shore operations, where missiles, rockets, artillery shells, and mortars could be fired at Navy ships from relatively close distances.”

But lasers can be disabled by bad weather, and are limited to line-of-sight confrontations. Initially, they’ll complement a warship’s traditional longer-range guns and missiles. The lessons learned from the Ponce tests will be cranked into a new generation of laser weaponry, which the Navy hopes to begin installing on the fleet in the early 2020s.

Such weapons are safer than traditional shells and missiles, which are crammed with explosives and propellant. They’re considerably cheaper, too: the energy required to fire the Ponce’s laser costs 59 cents a shot, compared to a shell or missile, which can cost $1 million or more.

Read next: U.S. Closes Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

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