More to ignore, Book 57........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper reiterated to 60 Minutes on Sunday that during his time in the Trump administration, he had to prevent “dangerous things that could have taken the country in a dark direction.”

Esper, whose forthcoming book A Sacred Oath makes a number of allegations about former President Donald Trump — including that he asked about shooting Black Lives Matter protesters and wanted missile strikes to “destroy the drug labs” in Mexico — told 60 Minutes that he thinks “it’s important to our country” that the American people understand what unfolded during Trump’s presidency.

According to a transcript of the interview provided by CBS, Esper told correspondent Norah O’Donnell, “it’s important to our country, it’s important to the republic, the American people, that they understand what was going on in this very consequential period — the last year of the Trump administration.”

“And to tell the story about things we prevented: really bad things, dangerous things that could have taken the country in a dark direction,” he added.

“What kind of terrible things did you prevent?” O’Donnell asked.

“At various times during…the last year of the administration, you know, folks in the White House are proposing to take military action against Venezuela, to strike Iran,” Esper replied. “At one point, somebody propose we blockade Cuba.”

“These ideas would happen it seemed every few weeks,” he continued. “Something like this would come up and we’d have to swat ’em down.”

Asked who “swat ’em down” referred to, Esper said it was mostly him, though he had “good support” from Gen. Mark Milley.

Esper said he and Milley developed a system called “the Four No’s” — meaning “the four things we had to prevent from happening between then and the election.”

“One was no strategic retreats, no unnecessary wars, no politicization of the military, and no misuse of the military,” he said. “And so, as we went through the next five to six months, that became the metric by which we would measure things.”






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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: The race for the last bridge over the Siverskyi Donets
Mark Sumner

When I first wrote about the town of Popasna on April 16, I had absolutely no idea that this was an important military stronghold for Ukraine, or that it would become the focus of Russian attention for the following month. I stumbled across the town in a list of locations, looked it up where everyone looks things up—Wikipedia—and realized it had an interesting history. Popasna had been captured by Russian forces in 2014, recaptured by Ukrainian forces just three months later, and stayed in Ukrainian hands when a neighboring town, Pervomaisk, was captured a second time by pro-Russian separatists.

I then took the next step, pulled these two towns up on Google Earth, and started looking at that small strip of land that separated them. Sure enough, what had clearly been unremarkable farmland eight years ago, had since then been crisscrossed by trenches and dotted with bunkers. The images were good enough that you could even see how the short stretch of road separating Popasna and Pervomaisk was dotted by a pattern of mines.

It was easy to imagine a certain tragic romance around these places. Surely there were families who lived in Popasna after leaving behind parents or grandparents in Pervomaisk. There must have been sweethearts severed by the line running between these towns. Friends and business partners could look out a window and see the place they used to meet for coffee on Tuesdays, or go to church on Sundays. Only now that place was on the other side of mines, trenches, and machine gun nests.

Since 2014, the population of Popasna, which had been 20,000 before the first Russian invasion, had declined. There were only a handful of functioning stores remaining in the town and an unknown, but much smaller, population when the second invasion began. However, I had no idea how fortified the town had really become, or what would happen again, and again, and again over the following weeks as Russia and Ukraine engaged in what I cheekily named the Popasna Polka.

Thanks to the deep, heavily fortified bunkers Ukraine had built in and around Popasna, they could draw Russian forces into the city, then attack them with artillery kept well back from the line. That tactic accounted for the repeating pattern in which Russian forces announced they had entered Popasna, then announced that they had entered Popasna, then announced that they had entered Popasna.

But when Russian troops entered Popasna on May 6, there were few Ukrainain forces left to oppose them. You could see this coming. For the better part of a month, Russia had 7 Battalion Tactical Groups concentrating their fire on Popasna. When Russia began withdrawing forces from Mariupol, many of those that left the ruined city came to join these other BTGS in battering this much smaller town.

On NASA’s FIRMS fire map, you could watch Popasna being slowly reduced. At first Russia was firing all around the city. Then it was firing into the west and the north. The last two days before Russia rolled in to Popasna in force, all of the artillery had been directed at just a few remaining blocks on the slightly higher ground at the north end of the town. Reports from evacuees who escaped the town in its last days stated that there was not a single building, anywhere in the town, still standing.

Though Chechen forces are now engaged in using Popasna for what seems to be their principle role in the war—making propaganda videos in which they chuckle over the idea of how cruel they can be to Ukrainians—indications are that all but a handful of fighters left the ruins of the town on Friday evening as the barrage of shells finally compromised the last bunkers. Surviving Ukrainian forces withdrew to the north and the west of Popasna, to positions that local officials describe as “prepared fallbacks.” However, it's not clear where those positions might be.

I had no idea when I started writing about it, but the reason Popasna was so important was that, in this part of the field, at least, it held the southern flank. Having turned that flank, Russian forces now threaten forces along the line that runs toward Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are already being pressed from the north and east.


Maybe Ukraine does have well-prepared fallback positions that will make Popasna, for all the effort that Russia put into it, just two miles of road won at a very high price. Maybe the increased presence of Western weapons in this part of the battlefield will prevent Russia from being able to exploit this breakthrough. Maybe Russia’s own repeatedly demonstrated incompetence will be enough.

screencap.jpg

The last time we mapped this area, both Popasna and Nyzhnie were still controlled by Ukraine.

There’s not really any evidence that Russia did anything new at Popasna. It didn’t organize a large scale movement or a swift operation using combined arms. It just pounded with artillery until there was nothing left to pound, which has been the Russian tactic going back through decades.

But there are definitely reasons to be concerned about what’s going on in this area, concerns that only increased on Sunday with Russia’s capture of the town of Nyzhnie, about 20 kilometers northeast of Popasna.

KHARKIV​

If what’s happening at Popasna is all sad news, what’s happening north of Kharkiv is anything but. Though there have definitely been some reversals — Ukraine lost several vehicles in what seems to been ill-considered attempt to drive into first Kozacha Lopan then a couple of miles south near Tsupivka—everything else happening in the area seems to be falling in the direction of the folks waving blue and yellow flags.

Russian forces are reportedly digging in near Kozacha Lopan, which is less than 4km from the Russian border. The intention appears to be to protect the large border crossing just a few kilometers to the east at Nekhoteevka. This crossing became famous early in the war as satellite imagery showed Russian convoys passing through on their way to assault Kharkiv. Now Russia seems to be anxious to keep Ukrainian forces back from the area just in case they get a taste for going the other direction—the Russian base at Belgorod is just 30km up the road. And honestly, that has to be tempting.

In any case, Nekhoteevka has mostly lost its value as a place to bring Russian materiel into Ukraine, as Ukraine now blocks every route coming from that crossing.


screencap.jpg

Russian forces are reportedly digging to protect border crossings

What continues to be most puzzling, and interesting, is what’s going on along the western bank of the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukrainian forces raced into position at Staryi Saltiv last week, surprising observers — and the Russians. From there, they shelled the town of Rubiznhe to the north, where a bridge crossed the river. However, that bridge has now been blown, reportedly by Russian forces. Which makes the latest NASA FIRMS data very interesting.


screencap.jpg

Fire icons on this map represent hot spots on the NASA FIRMS data for May 6-7.

Just for this map, I’ve added some fire icons to denote areas where NASA FIRMS data indicates hot spots on May 6-7. Two of these are west of Staryi Saltiv, where Ukraine appears to be working to clear towns along another highway and potentially cut off Russian forces who still appear to be occupying the area around Petrivka.

But another big area of fire is now in the area east of Starytsya, well to the north of previous activity and quite close to the Russian border. What’s at Starytsya? One of two bridges across the Siverskyi Donets in this whole area of Ukraine still believed to be intact.

Just as it did at Rubiznhe a few days ago, Ukraine appears to be pounding the area around the bridge. Also worth noting, Ukraine no longer seems to be hitting positions around Rubiznhe or the bridge to the east, both of which were shelled earlier in the week.

Does this mean that Ukraine is racing up the west side of the river, and is now closing on Starytsya? That’s completely unknown.

What is clear is that Russia’s main site for moving men and equipment into Ukraine at this point is less than 10km east of Starytsya at Vovchansk. But if Ukraine wants to reach Vovchansk soon, they need to take an intact bridge.


IZYUM​

What’s happening at Izyum continues to be fast moving and complex. As was discussed on Friday, Ukraine seems to be operating primarily in the area immediately northwest of the city, where a complex network of roads provides access that’s difficult to cut off and forests provide good cover. Fires within that forest make it difficult to tell where there are areas of fresh firing, and just areas of plain old fire.

In any case, we can hope this is true.

 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Key Takeaways


  • Russian forces are likely amassing in Belgorod to reinforce Russian efforts in northern Kharkiv to prevent the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive from pushing closer to the Ukraine-Russia border.
  • Russian forces near Izyum focused on regrouping, replenishing, and reconnoitering Ukrainian positions in order to continue advances to the southwest and southeast of Izyum.
  • Russian forces continued their ground attacks to drive to the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts but did not make any territorial gains
  • Russian troops continued to assault the Azovstal Steel Plant and advanced efforts to economically integrate occupied Mariupol into the wider Russian economy.
  • Russian troops may be preparing for a renewed offensive on the Southern Axis but are unlikely to be successful in this endeavor.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Monday, May 9, 2022 · 1:05:43 PM EDT · Mark Sumner
Reports now indicate that Russia blew up the bridge at Starytsya sometime on Saturday evening. They may have also blown up the bridge a mile to the north at Ohirtseve, leaving no intact bridges in northern Ukraine.

Both of these reports are unconfirmed.

..........
Monday, May 9, 2022 · 1:19:31 PM EDT · Mark Sumner

There are now reports that Ukrainian forces have taken Rubiznhe (the one north of Kharkiv, not the one east of Izyum, or any of the other Rubiznhes) and have entered Lyptsi. Ukraine still appears to be shelling positions just north of Lyptsi, which may now represent the edge of Russian control. Updated map coming soon.

 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: This 'Victory Day' comes without much in the way of victory for Russia
Mark Sumner

GettyImages-1240560345.jpg

A Ukrainian flag waves at an open air WWII museum in Kyiv. May 9, 2022.

For those who gathered in Moscow for the May 9 parade, there was one big let down on the pomp-and-circumstances front: Reportedly, very few aircraft passed over the city, with none of the low altitude flyovers from fighters, bombers, and support aircraft that marked such occasions in years past. Many planes that were practicing about the city just two days earlier turned out to be no-shows on the day itself.

Maybe most notably — there was no flying ‘Z.’ Despite the effort Russian pilots put in training to fly in a none-too-elegant zed pattern, that flight was absent from the actual event

There have been two explanations as to why the aerial portion of the day’s events was so limited. The official explanation is that the weather was bad. However, both witnesses and video confirm that the skies in Moscow were a powdery blue. The less official explanation is that Vladimir Putin and the Russian military were concerned Ukrainians infiltrators — or disgruntled Russians — would manage to shoot down a Russian aircraft, on their big day, in the middle of Moscow. Which, admittedly, would put a damper on the party. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Russia no longer has enough operational planes to engage in alphabet-themed activities.

Whatever the reason, reports indicate that the show on the ground was also smaller than in past years. Apparently Russia did manage to get their specialist Main Parade Tank, the Armata T-14, to pass before the reviewing stand without incident. Which is something. Russia’s new “super tank” is yet to be seen in the field. When first introduced over seven years ago, one stopped working on the parade route and was about to be towed away when last minute repairs apparently got it moving again. Earlier this year, a halted T-14 on a Moscow street was blamed on operator error.


Still, when it comes to the show put on for the obligatory crowd, it was definitely a C+. At best.



What those attending the parade did get was a heapin’ helpin’ of Nazi. According to Vladimir Putin’s speech, Nazi’s are everywhere. Nazis in Ukraine. Nazis in the West. Nazis in all nations but Russia … and now, my friends, let’s watch the jackbooted troops goosestep for the Motherland! Some of which, according to Putin, includes eastern Ukraine.

There were some expected things missing from Putin’s speech. There was no call for a general mobilization, no threats of a global thermonuclear war, and no claim that anything which has happened so far in Ukraine constitutes a victory. So … everyone else is a Nazi, eastern Ukraine is part of Russia, and that’s about it. Even by Putin standards, not a great speech.

KHARKIV​

Things continue to change quickly in the Kharkiv area. Following reports that the last two bridges across the Siverskyi Donets River north of Staryi Saltiv have now been blown up by Russian forces, it seems that Ukraine has stopped shelling sites around Startsya. Instead, the major hot spots identified by the NASA FIRMS data are near the crossroads town of Lyptsi, and to the southeast near the town of Petrivka.

Ukrainian forces have also been moving north along the road from Kharkiv to Lyptsi. On Monday, they captured the town of Borshcova and reports say that they have entered Lyptsi, with most of the fighting now happening northwest of the town proper. Russian forces are apparently still occupying Petrivka and Urainske to the southeast, but those forces seem increasingly threatened by Ukrainian movement on both east and west.

On the far west of what remains of Russian-occupied territory north of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces have recaptured the town of Tsupivka after several days of hard fighting in that area. Ukrainian forces are now closing in from two directions on the border crossing east of Kozacha Lopan, where Russian forces have reportedly dug in defend the border.


Whether Ukrainian forces are continuing to advance to the north along the river remains unclear.

screencap.jpg

Ukraine is getting ever closer to cleaning Russian forces out of the area north of Kharkiv

The blue checks are towns Ukrainian troops have taken in the last few days. The flames are hot spots from FIRMS data, and the yellow markers are towns where active fighting appears to be underway. Some reports have indicated Ukraine has also been engaged in one of those euphemisms—“mopping up” Russians stragglers still around towns and villages closer to Kharkiv.


EASTERN UKRAINE​

In the afternoon briefing from the Defense Department, officials noted that while Russia has made progress in the Donbas, that progress continues to be “slow and incremental” with “single kilometer gains.” The Pentagon assesses that Russia is “trying to advance from Izyum in the direction of Lyman, and to assault Sloviansk.”

An artillery strike that hit Ukrainian forces on Monday was geolocated to near the town of Ozerne, southeast of Lyman. It’s worth noting that Russia attacked south from Izyum to Pashkove starting April 24, and is still trying to take that position. Likewise, Ozerne has been at the end of the small salient running down past Rampril for over two weeks. Movement in these areas does not appear to be in any sense rapid.

The Pentagon also reported that 85 of the 90 M777 Howitzer units promised are now in Ukraine. They’ve been seen on the ground near Kyiv and Odessa, and multiple units were seen firing together at an unspecified location in eastern Ukraine. A total of 310 Ukrainian soldiers have been trained on operating the M777.

Overall, the Pentagon continues to assess that, in spite of the loss of Popasna and Nyzhnie, Russia has made “no significant progress” in the Donbas.


Here’s a good reason why.



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While Russians are complaining about Ukraine shelling their locations on a Russian holiday, it’s worth noting that Russia has by no means reduced their own firing. That includes missile strikes on Odessa that hit a shopping mall.

One possibly significant development on Monday afternoon: Russian forces have reportedly managed to cross the ubiquitous Donets River somewhere near the town of Bilohorivka and apparently moved some forces to the south bank. This appears to have been via a pontoon bridge, and this bridge is now reportedly destroyed. Ukrainian forces appear to have pushed back Russian forces that reached the south bank and destroyed another pontoon bridge in the area before significant forces could cross.
 
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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Alabama fugitive Casey White and corrections officer Vicky White are in custody after a chase in Indiana, and she is hospitalized after shooting herself, authorities said late Monday afternoon.

The pair were taken into custody after their vehicle crashed in Evansville, ending a week and a half on the run, officials said.

US Marshals told CNN that Vicky White's injury was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Her wounds are "very serious," said Sheriff Dave Wedding of Vanderburgh County, home to Evansville.

She is in "pretty serious shape," he told reporters.......
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Monday, May 9, 2022 · 8:29:30 PM EDT · Mark Sumner
The latest update from @war_mapper.



His latest has :
  • Ukraine also capturing Slobozhanske and Bairak north of Kharkiv, in addition to the villages already noted in the map with this article.
  • Russia has entered the towns of Derylove and Drobysheve, putting them just 4km from Lyman.
  • Russia gaining control of Velyka Komyshuvakha directly west of Izyum.
That last is a village that’s been in dispute almost since Russia set up camp around Izyum. It’s unclear how its capture relates to fighting supposedly going on immediately north of this location.

No changes for Mariupol or Kherson area.