U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with his Italian counterpart Admiral Luigi Binelli-Mantelli during a pass and review ceremony in Rome on January 19.
Make sure you click on the photo to enlarge the image and get a good look at the spectacular uniforms of this Italian honor guard: red and white ostrich feather plumes, Napoleonic hats, white gloves, sashes and gaiters, shakos, capes, boots and lances! The general and the admiral aren’t doing too badly themselves in the brass and gold braid department.
Dempsey stopped in Italy to meet with Binelli-Mantelli and Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti on his way to NATO meetings in Brussels. Fighting terrorism and countering Russia’s aggressive behavior in Ukraine were key topics of discussion.
Italy has made major contributions to NATO and United Nations international missions, Dempsey said. Thousands of Italian troops are currently deployed in Iraq, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa, and with the United Nations mission in Lebanon. Italy and the United States are the top contributors of on-the-ground trainers and advisors with the Kurds and Iraqis in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/IS extremists, defense officials noted.
To see more photos, click here.
WASHINGTON — Despite uncertain defense funding and a Pentagon strategy shift to get partner nation militaries to take a more direct role in commando operations, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), is still bullish on developing a lightweight ballistic protective suit for American forces.
Army General Joseph Votel has dispelled any speculation that support for the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS), may have waned since he took over as commander of SOCOM from Navy Admiral William McRaven, the super suit’s biggest booster. The futuristic commando body armor has been likened to the suit worn by the superhero, “Iron Man,” a characterization SOCOM has not discouraged – although TALOS won’t be able to fly.
Votel, an Army Ranger, told a defense industry-special operations conference Tuesday (January 27) that SOCOM’s goal remains to have a deployable suit ready for field testing a little over three years from now.
“Although many significant challenges remain, our goal of a Mark V prototype suit by August 2018 is on track right now,” Votel told the first day of the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition. The two-day gathering, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), discusses the strategic and tactical needs of special operations forces (SOF) to fight small wars and prevent them from becoming big ones.
The TALOS suit, as envisioned by McRaven, will provide ballistic protection with advanced, lightweight armor and sensors to monitor the wearer’s heart rate, temperature and other vital signs. Using an integrated system of systems combiningg sensors, communications equipment and an electrically-powered exoskeleton, TALOS advocates say it will not only protect SOF troops but will make them run faster, hear and see better and carry heavy loads without excessive fatigue. “If we do TALOS right,” McRaven told the SO/LIC conference last year, “it will provide a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give our warriors the protection they need.” McRaven, a Navy SEAL, retired from the military in August.
“TALOS was charted to explore and catalyze a revolutionary integration of advanced technologies to provide comprehensive ballistic protection, peerless tactical capabilities and ultimately enhance the strategic effectiveness of the SOF operator of the future,” Votel said in his keynote address at the annual NDIA gathering.
Two early prototype suits, MK I with an early exoskeleton design, and MK II an assault suit, were delivered to SOCOM headquarters at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida in June. SOCOM is working on TALOS with input from the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency, the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center – as well as numerous corporations, universities and national laboratories.
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the civilian executive in charge of the command’s equipment acquisition will be among the speakers at this year’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition this week in Washington.
Sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), the gathering brings together Special Operations leaders from all the U.S. armed services and several foreign countries, as well as industry, foreign embassies and academics to discuss the role of Special Operations Forces in a rapidly changing world.
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s new commander is slated to be the keynote speaker Tuesday (January 27), the gathering’s first full day. Later Tuesday, Michael Dumont, a civilian and principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) will be the luncheon speaker.
On Wednesday, attendees will hear from James “Hondo” Geurts, SOCOM’s acquisition executive, who is expected to outline what products are required to meet the needs of troops involved in SO/LIC activities.
As in past gatherings, money constraints are expected to be a hot topic as SOCOM deals with terrorism in Africa and the Middle East, countering ISIS and training local defense forces in places like Latin America. Special Operations Forces number about 67,000 — one of the fastest growing segments of the military. American SOF are working as trainers and observers at any given time in 90 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, Colombia and the Philippines. Their portfolio also includes rescuing hostages or capturing leaders of violent extremist organizations .
Special Operations Forces include Army Green Berets, Rangers and Special Ops aviators, Navy SEALS and Special Warfare Combatant-craft crews, Air Force Pararescue jumpers and combat air controllers, Marine Corps Corps critical skills operators and special operations combat services specialists.
The slow process of evacuating thousands of British troops from the chilly shoreline of Lake Borgne continues. Sailors in longboats and barges have to row the troops some 60 miles out to the waiting fleet, unload, and then row back to pick up more troops.
Fearing an outbreak of cholera after continuing heavy rains uncover British remains in a mass grave on the Chalmette Planation battlefield near the American lines, Major General Andrew Jackson orders his forces to withdraw back to New Orleans, where a tumultuous celebration is held on January 23 starting at the Roman Catholic cathedral of St. Louis with Abbe Guillaume Duborg, bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas presiding. (One wonders what Jackson, the son of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians made of all the candles, Latin chanting and incense).
On January 25 there is a brief skirmish between the British rear guard and Major Thomas Hinds’ Mississippi Dragoons. If there are any casualties, their number is not known.
The evacuation is finally completed. The last soldier makes his way aboard the waiting fleet. And by 11:30 a.m. the last sails of the British fleet disappear over the horizon, according to American sentries. But the fighting in the Gulf area is not over. The British are heading for Mobile Bay to capture Fort Bowyer and Mobile itself.
The famished British stop at Dauphin Island near Mobile and seize all the cattle and pigs.
Meanwhile, on the high seas the war goes on …
War at Sea
The Royal Navy’s blockade of the U.S. Atlantic coastline from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico is still in force. Captain Stephen Decatur and his frigate, the USS United States, have been bottled up in New Haven, Connecticut since June 1813. Late in 1814, the U.S. Navy assigns Decatur, a hero in the war with the Barbary pirates a decade earlier, to command another 44-gun frigate, the USS President, anchored in New York harbor.
On January 15, Decatur and the President slip out of New York in a snowstorm. But the ship runs aground on one of the many sandbars between New York and New Jersey. Battered by the storm, it takes hours to free the ship, soon after setting sail again, three British frigates ships are closing in.
Decatur and the 475 sailors and Marines on the President are facing the 40-gun HMS Endymion, HMS Pomone and HMS Tenedos –both carrying 38 guns. Decatur battles the Endymion first, but by nightfall, the President had lost 24 dead and 55 wounded. There are steering problems and the other two ships are getting ready to pound the President., so Decatur is forced to strike his colors.
The British take the President as a prize and sail her back to Bermuda, where a few days later they learn the war is over.
Boko Haram Captives.
The Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram has released about 190 captives, who returned to their homes in the northeast state of Yobe between Friday and Saturday (January 23-24), while other people were still being held, according to Reuters.
Abdullahi Bego, spokesman for the state governor, said the militants released young men, women and children who were kidnapped on Jan 6. At least 20 other people were still being held.
Boko Haram has been waging a five-year insurgency to establish an Islamic state in the northeast of the country. Borno state is the worst hit followed by Adamawa and Yobe, Reuters reported.
The group frequently raids towns and kidnaps young men, women and children as well as some foreign workers. A German national was freed in Cameroon last week after being abducted in Nigeria’s Adamawa state in July.
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Nigeria Election Next Month
Public dissatisaction with Army and government ineffectiveness in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency has become a driving force in next month’s presidential election in Nigeria, according to the New York Times.
The bloody insurgency that has killed thousands and driven thousands more from their homes in the country’s north is propelling a retired general, 72-year-old Muhammadu Buhari , to the forefront.
“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” says Jobrin Ibrahim, a poliical scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. “A lot of people are frightened that these people can take over the whole country. So a lot of people are saying ‘Give Buhari a chance,'” he told the Times.
Buhari was slated to speak Monday (January 26) to the Center for Strategic and International Studies but canceled “because of a last minute change in [his] schedule,” the Washington think tank announced Friday (January 23).
Plunging oil prices have hurt Nigeria’s economy — the biggest in Africa — and the continuing Boko Haram rampages — including the kidnapping of hundreds of high school girls in April — have undercut incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
But Jonathan’s national security adviser tells the BBC that Nigeria does not need help from United Nations or African Union troops to take on Boko Haram. Sambo Dasuki told the British broadcaster that Nigeria, and its neighbors are in “good shape” to take on the insurgents – although he acknowledged the violent group is a “real security threat.”
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Libyan Terror Leader Dead
The Libyan Islamic militant group Ansar al-Shariah says its leader, Mohammed al-Zahawi, has been killed.
A statement, posted on the group’s official Twitter account Saturday (January 24), gave no details about how or when al-Zahawi was killed. Unconfirmed reports that he was injured or killed in an attack late last year circulated on jihadist websites, according to The Associated Press (Via Air Force Times).
The group has been blamed for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The United States designated Ansar al-Shariah a terrorist organization in January 2014. According to the State Department, the group has been involved in “terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations and attempted assassinations” of security officials and politicians in eastern Libya.
The United Nations also named the group a terrorist organization in November 2014 for running training camps for foreign fighters traveling to Syria, Iraq and Mali.
No Easy Task.
A U.S. Marine Corps raiding force clambers from a rigid-hulled, inflatable boat up into a gas and oil platform during maritime interoperability training (MIT) off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Another group of raiders descended by rope (fast-roping) from a hovering MH-60R Seahawk helicopter.
MIT prepares the Marines for their upcoming deployment by enhancing combat skills, and teaching them techniques for boarding vessels. These Leathernecks are with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force.
To see a slide show of this exercise, click here.
And here’s another photo from a different angle to show how far up the oil rig deck was. Please click on both photos to enlarge the image.
Coordinating U.S. Arctic Efforts.
President Barack Obama has signed an executive order establishing a new panel that will advise the U.S. government on preserving the Alaskan Arctic.
Obama said he was establishing the Arctic Executive Steering Committee to help juggle more than 20 tribal, scientific, corporate, and federal interests at play in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen at twice the rate as the rest of the United States, The Hill reported.
“As the United States assumes the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it is more important than ever that we have a coordinated national effort that takes advantage of our combined expertise and efforts in the Arctic region to promote our shared values and priorities,” the executive order, signed Wednesday (January 21), noted.
In April, the United States will take over from Canada the chairmanship of the eight-member Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The council, created in 1996, is a high level intergovernmental forum seeking to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States — with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities — on issues like environmental protection, oil and gas development, shipping and climate change.
Obama did not mention the Arctic specifically in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday (Jan. 20) but he said climate change posed the greatest threat to future generations, USA Today reported. And while he didn’t announce any new climate initiatives in his speech, he did say he was “determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.”
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Russian Arctic Buildup
Russia’s continuing activities in Eastern Ukraine are drawing criticism from NATO and other western nations. But in the Arctic, which is expected to grow more accessible as melting sea ice opens up shipping lanes, Moscow’s military buildup is also being noticed with some concern.
According to the Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, Russia is to looking to have 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015 as it pushes ahead with its plan to boost its military presence in its Northern region. Four airfields are already operational. Ten more will be built in the coming year, Russia’s deputy defence minister Dmitry Bulgakov told the country’s Sputnik news agency, the Canadian newspaper noted.
Newsweek notes that … A detachment of about 800 servicemen from Russia’s Northern Fleet has been stationed in the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk region, just 50 kilometers from the Finnish border. It’s part of a large-scale expansion of Russian military facilities in the country’s northwest according to a press statement (here’s a link to the statement, in Russian) by the unit’s commanding admiral Vladimir Korolev.
The rest of the fleet are expected to be stationed there “soon” according to Korolev. The base will be one of the key strongholds in Russia’s northernmost territories, designed to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities from the west, and improve their territorial claims over areas in the Arctic, said Newsweek.
At full force, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of about 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia’s decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia’s interests in the country’s northern regions, the news website noted.
And UPI notes (via Military.Com ) that Russia’s military press service has confirmed the country will be sending drones to the Arctic in early 2015.
“Before the end of the current year specialists with several Orlan-10 sets will arrive at the permanent service base,” the press service told Russian news agency Tass. Test flight will begin in the next few months. The drones are allegedly meant to do surveillance over coastal areas and to help sea vessels navigate, according to UPI.
The Orlan-10 is a Russian drone with a front propeller, resembling a traditional manned aircraft. The aircraft was first discovered to be in use in early 2014, when one was shot down in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, The Moscow Times wonders if the worldwide drop in the price of oil, the driving force in Russia’s economy, could slow Russia’s activities – military and commercial – in its Arctic region.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”