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Here's a look inside the narco sub from that viral Coast Guard video — and the mission to capture it
It was no surprise the dramatic Coast Guard video quickly went viral.
Shot on a coast guardsman's helmet camera, the one-minute clip posted to the Department of Defense's imagery website captured the remarkable end of a June 18 high seas pursuit that ended with one team member leaping aboard a moving submersible and pounding on the hatch until suspected drug runners opened up.
But the story of how Coasties took down the so-called "narco sub" began about 12 hours before the video took place, according to Capt. James Estramonte, the commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro, the high endurance vessel credited with its seizure.
Early that June morning, Estramonte received intelligence on the narco sub from a Navy P-3 surveillance aircraft, acting as an airborne early warning system for the cutter, which was then patrolling in the Pacific Ocean roughly 200 miles west of the Colombia-Ecuador border.
Estramonte knew he had to hit the gas to catch the suspected smugglers, which were about 250 miles away and moving north. It was yet another lead coming into the Alameda, California-based cutter, which was keeping busy on its first counter-drug patrol of its second deployment, after commissioning in 2017.
Despite its fairly recent introduction to the fleet, the Munro's historic lineage from World War II gives its crew plenty of inspiration for bravery. In Sep. 1942, Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro led five small boats to the shores of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands to rescue a battalion of beleaguered Marines, and at one point, positioned his craft between Japanese machine guns and Marines to shield them from fire. With his dying breath, Munro's final thought was to ask whether the Marines were safe: "Did they get off?"
Although Munro was mortally wounded in the rescue, his actions earned him the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 500 Marines. The Munro is the second cutter named in his honor, and Estramonte told Task & Purpose the vessel's history has created a close bond between his Coasties and the Marines.
Capt. James Estramonte, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755), and Senior Chief Petty Officer Leslie Hearn, the Munro's command senior chief, attend a rededication ceremony for Douglas Munro's memorial in Honiara on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Nov. 27, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West)
After assessing the intelligence, Estramonte ordered the cutter to 25 knots (about 28 mph) to catch the sub, which he estimated had about 1,000 miles left to reach the United States. Despite the slow speed of the sub, it would still take about 10 hours for Munro to get close enough to launch its boats and a helicopter.
Meanwhile, inside the custom-built sub were five men, eating store-bought snacks and drinking bottles of water and soda alongside 17,000 pounds of cocaine.
"These vessels are custom built for one purpose – to transport as much drugs as possible," said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Inside the narco sub(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
With just a few small forward-facing windows giving the sub driver a view not much more than a few hundred yards ahead, the voyage was perilous — even without a potential Coast Guard presence.
"Their visibility is pretty limited. It's pretty tough conditions for these five guys," Estramonte said. "There's a chance they didn't even know we were there until we started banging on the hatch."
With its low-profile and proximity to the waves, SPSS vessels are incredibly difficult to spot, and even more difficult to seize — Brickey likened it to the "White Whale" in one interview — since drug smugglers typically scuttle the vessel if they find out they're being tracked.
Their reasons are simple: It's a lot harder to convict someone of smuggling drugs if the drugs are gone.
At 20 miles out from the sub, members of the boarding team launched in two small boats, a 26 foot boat called a Mark 4, and a 35-foot long range interceptor. On board were 13 coast guardsmen specially-trained in boarding vessels, including members of its elite Tactical Law Enforcement Team, which often accompany Navy ships on counter-drug missions, although Estamonte jokingly admitted that jumping onto a sub in choppy waters may not be in the training manual.
"I don't know if there's any specific training" that helps you jump onto a narco sub, Estamonte said, but "these guys specialize in doing this."
In addition to the small boats, the Munro also launched its helicopter to provide sniper overwatch with a .50 caliber rifle while sending updates to the captain throughout the operation.
The two boats approached from different sides of the sub's stern. As one inched closer, a coast guardsman shouted in Spanish, "stop your boat!" but it continued, likely oblivious to the shouting. Then one boarding team member had a different idea in mind: Jump on top of the thing and start banging on the hatch.
"It's gonna be hard to get on!" he said, before he and two others jumped on the back, water splashing over their boots. Back at the Munro, the captain could only get the play-by-play from the helicopter, like a football coach who can't see the field. First man on, then second man, Estramonte would hear, and then: the boarding team has positive control of the vessel.
Fortunately, the men on board the sub opened the hatch and were quickly hauled out without a fight, though the boarding team was armed with pistols and ready for the worst.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro crew interdicts suspected drug smuggling vessel (U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area)
Though the video ended once the chase was over, guardsmen had to spend the next 12 hours unloading the huge haul of coke, worth an estimated $232 million. And then finally, after many photos were taken and the sub was given a final sweep for evidence, it was intentionally scuttled.
"It doesn't go down as easy you might think," Estramonte said.
All told, the Munro nabbed roughly 31,000 pounds of narcotics from eight suspected drug smuggling vessels during its deployment, to include the "narco sub." That earned them a welcome home speech by Vice President Mike Pence, the satisfaction of a job well done, and widespread praise from civilians and veterans alike.
"It takes every single member of a coast guard crew, and every single ounce of effort that they put into their work — whether they operate, navigate, repair, clean, mend, feed, support, mentor, or lead — in order to safely and successfully execute these dangerous missions," said Brickey, the Coast Guard spokesman.
"While this case is a great example of operations that occur multiple times a day, every day, in the U.S. Coast Guard, it more importantly demonstrates the courage and commitment that our members regularly put forth in service to our nation."
With northeast Syria engulfed in the fog of war, the Turks, Russians, and Kurds have all launched their own propaganda campaigns to win the battle over information.
One of the biggest unknowns at the moment involves exactly how many ISIS fighters and their families previously captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces have managed to escape since Turkey invaded Kurdish-held Syria on Oct. 6, 2019.
But while Defense Secretary Mark Esper has blamed Turkey for catalyzing the release of "many dangerous ISIS detainees", a senior administration official was unable to say on Monday exactly how many ISIS prisoners may have escaped.
Based on open source reporting, about 850 women and children affiliated with ISIS are believed to have fled a detainee camp at Ayn Issa and another five ISIS prisoners escaped from a prison at Qamishli, said Caitlin Forrest, director of operations for the Institute for the Study of War think tank in Washington, D.C.
Few things say "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum" like a Navy amphibious assault craft absolutely covered with Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighters ready to bomb an adversary back to the Stone Age.
That's the logic behind the so-called "Lightning Carrier" concept designed to turn those "Gator Navy" amphibs into ad hoc aircraft carriers — and the Corps appears to be moving slowly but surely into turning that concept into a new doctrine for the new era of great power competition.
NTSB releases preliminary report on cause of fatal B-17 plane crash at Bradley International Airport
The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report into the fatal crash of a B-17 bomber crash in Connecticut earlier this month.
Shortly after takeoff at 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the pilot of the vintage WWII-era plane signaled to air traffic control at Bradley International Airport that he sought to land.
While America's forever wars continue to rage abroad, the streaming wars are starting to heat up at home.
On Monday, the Walt Disney Company announced that its brand new online streaming service, aptly titled Disney+, will launch an all-out assault on eyeballs around the world with an arsenal of your favorite content starting on November 12th. Marvel Cinematic Universe content! Star Wars content! Pixar content! Classic Disney animation content!
While the initial Disney+ content lineup looks like the most overpowered alliance since NATO, there's one addition of particular interest hidden in Disney's massive Twitter announcement, an elite strike force with a unique mission that stands ready to eliminate streaming enemies like Netflix and Hulu no matter where they may hide.
That's right, I'm talking about Operation Dumbo Drop — and no, I am not fucking around.
US officials reportedly considered pulling nuclear weapons out of Turkey, effectively ending the US-Turkey alliance
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
On Monday, The New York Times reported that U.S. officials were considering plans to move the U.S. nuclear arsenal from Inçirlik Air Base in Turkey.
This move would be likely to further deteriorate the tense relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, which has rapidly devolved as Turkey invaded northeastern Syria in assault on the Kurdish forces that fought ISIS alongside the U.S.