National Security

Weekly Ops Briefing: Prisoners, Syria, Medal of Honor, Iran Deal, Erik Prince

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Here’s your weekly briefing on what’s going on in national security and military news.

Israeli Strikes in Syria 

The Israeli military launched air strikes deep in Syria on Wednesday in response to Iranian rockets hitting the Golan Heights.

“In response [to Iranian rockets], Israel launched an extensive retaliatory campaign, striking suspected Iranian bases throughout Syria for hours following the initial Iranian bombardment,” an Israeli military spokesperson said, warning Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad not to get involved.

Israeli missiles struck an Iranian-linked military base in Syria on Tuesday, just hours after United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran.

The air strikes have heightened an already tense situation in the region. There is a high risk of direct confrontation between Iran and Israel, particularly after the United States withdrew from the nuclear accord.

Israel has struck targets in Syria before, including some strikes that involved Iranian forces.

United States Withdraws from Iran Accord

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that the United States will be withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, a pact reached by seven countries in 2015 and often touted as the crowning foreign policy achievement of then-President Barack Obama.

The United States will now reimpose the economic sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy for years before the deal was reached. The White House said renewed sanctions will target “critical sectors of Iran’s economy,” including its energy, petrochemical, and financial sectors. New penalties are also being considered by the Trump administration.

President Trump had stated during his 2016 campaign that he would seek to remove the United States from the “horrible one-sided deal.” He called the deal narrow and short-sighted, believing that international weapons inspectors should have greater access to Iran’s military facilities to ensure compliance. 

(Credit: Facebook/Tony Velong)

Americans Released from North Korea

On Thursday, President Donald Trump personally welcomed home three American prisoners recently freed from North Korea. The three Americans were released after a surprise diplomatic mission by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo returned with the three prisoners to Andrews Air Force Base, where President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcomed them home.

Kim Dong-chul had been held since 2016, while Kim Sang-duk and Kim Hak-song had each been detained in North Korea since 2017. Another American detainee, Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, shortly after he returned to the United States with severe brain damage. President Trump conveyed condolences to his family.

The release of the prisoners is just the latest achievement in President Trump’s mission to improve relations with North Korea after nearly a decade of tense and often unsettling antagonism on both sides. He is preparing for a landmark nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. A date has been set but details have not been revealed, other than that the summit will not take place at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) but instead may transpire in Singapore. 

Navy SEAL to Receive Medal of Honor

The Battle of Robert’s Ridge took place in 2002, early in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, and may seem like a forgotten fight. The White House announced on Monday that a retired Navy SEAL will receive the Medal of Honor for a daring rescue attempt during the battle.

Retired Navy Master Chief Britt Slabinski will be awarded the Medal of Honor for repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire during an attempt to rescue an American who had fallen out of a Ch-47 Chinook that was taking fire.

Command Master Chief (Ret.) Britt Slabinski (Credit: Facebook/Don’t Give Up The Ship Podcast)

“He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he engaged in a pitched, close-quarters firefight against the tenacious and more heavily armed enemy forces,” the White House announcement states. “Proximity made air support impossible, and after several teammates became casualties, the situation became untenable.”

“During the subsequent 14 hours, he stabilized casualties on his team and continued the fight against the enemy until the mountaintop was secured and the quick reaction force and his team was extracted,” the release states. 

Blackwater Pioneer Erik Prince in China

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has recently made news for his activities in China. After Blackwater contractors were found responsible for the killing of Iraqi civilians during the Iraq War, Prince moved on and started a new private security company called Frontier Services Group. The company’s goal is to help Chinese businesses with security, aviation, and logistics while working in Africa, an area of increasing interest for China. In 2013, Prince sold controlling interest of Frontier to Chinese entrepreneurs, and he remained on as chairman.

Some of Frontier Services Group’s work in China includes the building and running of the International Security Defense College. Founded in 2011, the school is located in the Shunyi district of Beijing and is considered to be China’s first anti-violence and terrorism training college. The courses in firearms, physical fitness, hand-to-hand combat, riot control, counterterrorism, explosive ordnance disposal, hostage negotiation, and more are taught to Chinese military personnel and police officers by security experts.

No matter what Prince’s objective is in working with the Chinese, the move is unsettling. Many will see him as a traitor for working with the largest rival of the United States and at a time where both countries are maneuvering for greater global influence. Others may see a businessman and entrepreneur following a business opportunity and helping a country protect its’ citizens from the continuing terrorist threat.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Chris Castellano

Christopher Castellano is a U.S. Army Veteran. He currently serves as a firefighter in New York City.

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