Archive for March, 2010
Brigade Mission Shift
As the U.S. draws down its combat forces in Iraq as part of the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government, the Army is shifting missions for the brigades that will remain.
Plans call for cutting U.S. forces from 90,000 troops now to 50,000 by Sept. 1 and eventually pulling all U.S. troops out in 2011. Instead of their usual role as Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), the six brigades staying behind after the drawdown will be designated advise and assist brigades (AABs) that will take a hands-off approach when it comes to combat operations, letting the Iraqi military handle planning and execution, says Army Brigadier Gen. Ralph O. Baker, a deputy commander of 1st Armored Division.
In a recent teleconference from Baghdad with the Pentagon’s bloggers roundtable, Baker said the existing 11 BCTs will be replaced by six AABs. The new advisory brigades will split up over three regions in Iraq: two in the north, two in the south and two in central Iraq.
The advise and assist brigades have been receiving specialized training both in the States and Germany, Baker said. Each brigade has undergone mission rehearsal exercises. Additionally, each AAB will have 40 to 50 majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels to assist with advising Iraqi troops, especially on logistics and intelligence development.
The field grade officers will be advising Iraqi military leaders at the brigade, division and corps levels, Baker said. “Below the brigade level, they don’t need us,” he says, noting that Iraqi military forces have been handling security by themselves since June.
All of the AABs were trained outside Iraq and are being rotated in. The first AABs in country include the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Regular 4GWAR readers may remember that the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd Brigade is attached to the Global Response Force and is winding up its stint aiding humanitarian relief efforts after the Haitian earthquake.
Walls Make Good Neighbors (click on image to enlarge)
Soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division put the finishing touches on a just-installed barrier at a Afghan National Police checkpoint in Robat, Afghanistan. In a place where attacks can come at any time, it is crucial to set up a protective perimeter quickly. Known as a HESCO barrier, it consists of collapsible wire mesh frames, lined with heavy duty canvas or other material. The boxes are then filled with dirt or sand — preferably with a front-end loader — to make a barrier resistant to small arms fire and shrapnel. They can be stacked or lined in double rows to provide additional protection from rocket-propelled grenades and bombs. Originally developed for erosion and flood control, the semi-permanent barriers are manufactured in a variety of sizes by a British company, HESCO Bastion.
In 2007, on the Danger Room blog, David Axe listed the HESCO barrier as one of the top 10 technologies in use in Afghanistan and Iraq. A photo essay on the process of building blast-protective barriers in the middle of nowhere can be found at the Defense Department Web site. Beats filling sandbags.
From the War Zone to the Disaster Zone
The subject of this posting epitomizes what the 4GWAR blog is all about. Note the last paragraph, too.
The mission of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, according to its Web site, is to deploy and conduct “forcible entry parachute assault” in support of U.S. national interests within 18 hours of notification.
But for more than two months, elements of that elite combat unit have been providing earthquake relief in Haiti. It’s all part of their training, says their commander.
Paratroopers from the 82nd have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past seven years, but the lessons they’ve learned in non-violent counter insurgency operations have been put to use in humanitarian relief efforts following the Jan. 12 Haitian earthquake.
“It’s about protecting the population and taking care of the population and building a relationship with them,” says Col. Tim McAteer, commander of the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The 2nd of the 82nd is part of the Global Response Force (GRF), a Joint Forces Command “shock absorber” kept on stand-by for rapid response to sudden crises – like the Haiti quake – at home and abroad.
In a conference call from Haiti, McAteer told a recent Pentagon Bloggers’ Roundtable that a lot of “the tactics, techniques and procedures we use in counter insurgency are very applicable here in a humanitarian operation.”
While not facing hostile forces in Haiti, the “dealings with the local government, the local security forces and the population are very similar to what we’ve done in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan,” McAteer said. That included distributing food and water, temporary shelters and providing security for non-governmental organization (NGO) relief workers. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are among the six missions the GRF trains for.
The paratroopers “changed a lot of pre-conceived notions about what the U.S. military is about” and “broke down a lot of barriers” with NGOs, McAteer said.
The colonel, who took command Feb.9 after the 2nd Brigade was already deployed in Haiti, said he was surprised how calm things were in the devastated island nation – despite widespread destruction of homes and institutions like hospitals and government offices, a collapsed infrastructure and the deaths of an estimated 400 Haitian policemen in the earthquake. “We have had no security incidents,” McAteer said and “no acts of violence against American soldiers.”
The 82nd Airborne was training north of its home base at Fort Bragg, N.C., when it got the word about 5 a.m. on Jan. 12 that the 2nd Brigade was needed in Haiti. By the next evening, the first 82nd Airborne troops, from the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, were arriving by plane – not parachute – in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. If the runway had been damaged, the 2-82 would have air dropped in, McAteer said. Equipped to bring sufficient food, water and ammunition to face a crisis situation on arrival, the 2-82 left most of the weaponry – like TOW anti-tank missiles and 105mm howitzers – behind and brought medical supplies and trucks for transportation instead.
By Jan. 24, the 2-82 had more than 3,000 troops in Haiti, joining Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps personnel. The 2-82 supported United Nations peacekeepers – Brazilian, Jordanian and Nepalese battalions – as well as State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) relief efforts. Most of the Airborne troops arrived by commercial aircraft or ship.
McAteer said about 900 paratroopers remain in Haiti including some military police, engineers and civil affairs teams.
–John M. Doyle for 4GWAR
P.S. On the 2-82′s Website I found this VERY interesting item about the impact on one young man when U.S. troops last passed through Haiti in 1994. -jmd
The escalating drug violence along the U.S.-Mexican border has been a growing concern to officials in Washington and on March 23, a top level delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with their counterparts in Mexico City.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of National Intelligence will attend the Merida Initiative High-Level Consultive Group meeting, the third year such a cabinet-level meeting has been held.
Since a 2007 meeting between then-U.S. President George Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Merida, Mexico, the U.S. and Mexico have been cooperating in a battle against cross-border organized crime including drug trafficking, weapons smuggling and money laundering. As part of the effort, the U.S. has supplied intelligence and technical assistance, including helicopters and surveillance aircraft.
Drones for Texas
The eyes of Texas may soon be upon Homeland Security Department unmanned aircraft patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border. Texas news outlets were abuzz last week about a letter Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry stating that an unarmed Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be dispatched later this year to patrol the troubled border along the south Texas Gulf Coast and El Paso.
That drone — the seventh UAV operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a unit of the Homeland Security Department — is slated to be based at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.
4G WAR readers may remember we reported (Dec. 10, 2009) on the delivery of the first Predator — known as the Guardian — equipped with maritime radar. Three other CBP Predators, based at Sierra Vista, Ariz., patrol the Arizona border with Mexico. And two more of the UAVs are based at Grand Forks, N.D. to patrol the northern border.
“Virtual” Border Fence Virtually Dead
On another border security issue, the Obama administration has decided to halt work on the behind-schedule “virtual” fence of tower-mounted sensors, radar and cameras — some of them moveable — along the Mexican border, the Washington Post and other news outlets report.
The fence, part of a project known as SBInet (for Secure Border Initiative network) has been behind schedule and over budget, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a brief statement.
Preparing for Afghanistan
British soldiers in Jackal 2 vehicles prepare for deployment to Afghanistan during a mobility training exercise in the desert of southern Jordan. More than 120 troops from the 4th Mechanized Brigade’s Brigade Reconnaissance Force spent four weeks on mines awareness, reconnaissance, signals and infantry training during Exercise Jordan Express. The 4th Mechanized Brigade, based in Catterick, North Yorkshire, is slated to replace the 11th (Light) Brigade as the lead British unit in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in April. This will be the first deployment to Afghanistan, for the 4th Brigade, nicknamed “The Black Rats.”
The Jackal 2, a 4×4 tactical patrol vehicle, debuted less than a year ago. It provides better armor protection against some roadside bombs than Land Rovers and the earlier version of the Jackal but it is faster and more maneuverable than U.S.-made Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAPs) trucks. The three-man Jackal 2 can travel 80 mph on roads and between 40 and 55 mph off them. It is armed with a top-mounted .50 caliber machine gun and a 7.62 mm general purpose machine gun operated by the vehicle commander.
The 4-star-chiefs of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. And while CENTCOM’s Gen. David Petraeus got most of the attention with his comments about Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, Adm. Eric Olson — SOCOM’s commander — had some interesting things to say, especially about his budgetary wish list.
For starters, Olson says SOCOM plans to add to its specialized helicopter fleet. SOCOM — which includes Army Rangers and Special Forces, Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams, as well as Air Force and Marine Corps special operations units — plans on adding eight MH-47 Chinooks by Fiscal 2015. The command is also looking to increase its fleet of 12 CV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey helicopters to 50 by 2016. Five of those hybrid rotary/fixed wing aircraft are being sought for Fiscal 2011.
SOCOM’s $6.3 billion base budget request for Fiscal 2011 includes an additional $3.5 billion for Overseas Contingency (war) operations – a total of $9.8 billion. The Florida-based command is also seeking to modernize its existing MH-47G helicopters and add new MH-60M helos with special operational capabilities like being able to refuel in the air, conduct advanced night operations and hug the ground during covert flight.
Plans to revamp the oldest airframes of its C-130 tactical airlift planes are a “current top priority” for SOCOM’s air component, Olson told senators. The Fiscal 2011 budget also proposes a 4.6 percent increase in SOCOM’s force, 2,700 in people in all. Currently SOCOM has 12,000 personnel deployed in 75 countries – with most of them in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in CENTCOM territory. Olson said he’s also seeking to increase SOCOM’ combat service and service support assets including: communications technicians, information support specialists, forensic analysts, intelligence experts and military working dog teams.
In his testimony, Petraeus told the Senate panel that plans were on track to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq from about 100,000 to 50,000 by Sept. 1. Despite that shift, Olson says he expects the level of Special Operations Forces “will remain constant” in Iraq during the drawdown.
Both Petraeus and Olson say the rising presence of the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a growing threat to Yemen, believed to be the source of several attacks and attempted attacks on the U.S. and its people and property overseas. Olson said his command is maintaining “a relatively small” training operation with “certain Yemeni forces,” but he told the committee he couldn’t go into more detail in an open hearing.
A Teachable Moment
A soldier from the U.S. Army’s 118th Military Police Company teaches a group of Afghan National Police officers how to clear and secure a room. The class was conducted at Pole-Elam District Center in Logar province, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2010. (Click on the photo for larger image.)
As part of coalition plans to turn over national security responsibilities to the police and the Afghan National Army, the NATO training command in Afghanistan wants to increase the combined size of both forces to 305,000 by Oct. 31, 2011. The Afghan National Police, currently at 99,000, would increase to 134,0000, says Brig. Gen. Gary Patton, a deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A).
That’s a tall order — especially for the police force which has been rife with desertions and corruption in past years. Their unreliability has all but destroyed Afghans’ trust in the police and undermined the Kabul government’s credibility with the people. The police have also been hobbled, according to the Canadian Press, by a very low literacy rate among its personnel — making it hard for them to read their paychecks to determine if superiors are skimming off the top.
Responsibility for training Afghan police has been shifted from the State Dept. to the Defense Dept. A new program calls for sending some police candidates overseas for additional training in Jordan and Turkey, according to the Washington Post.
Military leaders in Pakistan have offered to train the Afghan police and Army — in part to forestall what they perceive as rival India’s growing influence in Kabul. Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently said thanks, but no thanks. He’s not interested in having India and Pakistan — or the U.S. and Iran — play geopolitical chess in his country, according to reports from the New York Times and the Voice of America.
War in a Cold Place (Click on photos to enlarge)
Cold Response 2010, the multi-national, cold weather military exercise hosted by Norway above the Arctic Circle recently ended. More than 8,500 troops from 14 nations participated in the 16-day exercise in and around Norway’s northern coast and a sliver of neighboring Sweden.
The exercise – one of the coldest ever with temperatures plummeting to 30 degrees below zero Celsius (-22 Farenheit) – saw U.S. and Royal Marines hit the beach in landing craft and rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs). During other segments of the exercise, Norwegian tanks rumbled across the border with Sweden — another exercise participant. Austrian Kiowa OH-56B attack helicopters took part with U.S., Dutch and Norwegian units in maritime interdiction and assault operations. And Finnish NH-90 helos supplied tactical transport in mountainous areas. Beneath the fjords’ waters Dutch and Norwegian submarines hunted each other while shadowing surface vessels.
The military contingents ranged in size from Britain’s 2,000 sailors and Marines and Sweden’s 1,000 troops – most of them from the Jaeger (hunter or ranger) Battalion — to six Polish officers who helped plan tactical operations.
Naval vessels included a British task force with an amphibious helicopter carrier, a French korvette, Norwegian mine sweepers and supply vessels, and a Dutch amphibious warship.
The exercise, the first entirely above the Arctic Circle, tested cold weather amphibious operations, interoperability among expeditionary forces as well as conventional and special forces ground ops. Ground operations ranged from company-sized maneuvering to a brigade-sized beach assault near .
The exercise’s scenario: a response to the invasion of the fictitious country of Northland by troops of the equally fictitious Eastland to gain access to the port of Narvik and nearby oil and gas fields. The exercise culminated with an amphibious landing, with air and naval support.
Most of the participating countries belonged to NATO, but three — Sweden, Finland and Austria — participated through NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, that allows partner countries to build up individualized relationships with the alliance.
The U.S. Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment – a reserve unit based in New York State – hitched a ride to the exercise on British and Dutch ships. Royal Marines from Commando 45, based in Scotland and headed for Afghanistan later this year, shared the HMS Ocean — Britain’s largest warship — with the U.S. Leathernecks. It was the first time U.S. Marines had participated in the annual Norwegian exercise since 2005. U.S. Marines also were carried aboard the Royal Netherlands Navy amphibious ship HNLMS Johan De Witt. In addition to the 2nd Battalion, Marines from the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion participated in the Norwegian exercise.
There are additional photo galleries at the 45 Commando website, as well as the webpages of the Norwegian Armed Forces, the Swedish Armed Forces (translation tool:InterTran or google translate needed).
There are also videos on the Norwegian/Forsvaret site.
Thinking Big, Starting Small
The NATO command in charge of training and increasing the size of Afghanistan’s national security forces has been cranking out “a couple of infantry battalions every month,” says U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gary Patton. But the war-wracked country is going to have a hard time paying for their upkeep.
The goal is to increase the Afghan National Army – now at 107,000 – and the Afghan National Police – currently at 99,000 – to a total force of 305,000 by Oct. 31, 2011. Such a force will cost $6 billion a year to sustain and therein lies the rub, says Patton, a deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A).
With a GDP of just $23 billion last year, according to the CIA World Factbook, there’s s no way Afghanistan’s ruined economy can support such a financial obligation, but (CSTC-A) is taking the first small step in the long march to Afghan sustainability. In the coming weeks, CSTC-A, which is part of NATO-Training Mission-Afghanistan, will be awarding contracts to 20 different businesses in the Kabul area to supply Afghan troops and police with simple items such as blankets, socks, poncho liners and boots.
Patton, who is in charge of program management, told a March 6 Defense Department Blogger’s Roundtable that his outfit intends to invest about $1.5 billion in the local Afghan economy over the next year. He says that investment, admittedly small, means the Afghan government will be spending less money on army boots imported from China, Indonesia and elsewhere. And it will also mean more jobs for Afghan factories and their workers. “An Afghan with a job is more likely to side with the government and reject the Taliban insurgency,” says Patton.
Patton admits the boot factory’s product isn’t up to Afghan Army standards. “The stitching comes apart,” he says. But he’s bringing in industry experts from the laboratories at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, to advise Afghan workers how to improve quality and efficiency. Plans call for a low rate of initial production with field testing by the Afghan army before full production will begin. “We’re not going to create a factory that doesn’t produce to standards,” Patton says.
CSTC-A has also been working with the non-government organization Peace Dividend Trust (PDT) to identify Afghan businesses that can handle the Army supply work. Based in New York and Ottawa, Canada, PDT develops management and operation practices to make peacekeeping and relief efforts more efficient. It has compiled a 4,400-entry Afghanistan Business Directory and an on-line marketplace.
“I’m not claiming we’re going to revitalize the entire nation, the national economy or anything like that,” says Patton, adding ” I’m focused on what can have an immediate impact on the Army and also on some of the local companies here.
“You gotta start somewhere,” he adds.
Tough Training on Thin Ice
UK Royal Marines honed their Arctic warfare skills — including how to survive a fall through the ice — in preparation for the multi-national exercise, Cold Response 2010. The Royal Marines of Scotland-based Commando 45 took part in the crisis response exercise with U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment as well as soldiers, sailors and airmen from host country-Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands — 14 nations in all. About 1,000 special operations troops were involved in the 16-day exercise conducted in Norway above the Arctic Circle. Cold Response 2010, which ended March 4, included amphibious operations, mountain maneuvering and the testing of equipment, weapon and unit capabilities under harsh winter conditions.
4GWAR will have an extended report on Cold Response 2010 with more photos next week.