Archive for June, 2010
Korea — 60 years later
Soldiers make their endless, ghostly walk on patrol at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Today (June 25) marks the 60th anniversary of the day North Korean troops invaded South Korea — a conflict that officially hasn’t ended between the two Koreas.
The Defense Department website has a series of articles and striking photos commemorating the “Forgotten War” that ended for the U.S. in 1953 — although thousands of U.S. troops are still stationed in South Korea and North Korea continues to be an unpredictable adversary with a developing missile and nuclear weapons strategy.
Provincial Reconstruction Team
Darren Richardson, a U.S. Agriculture employee, points out a nearby canal to Kuchi tribesmen while Marine Corps Major Jeffrey Seavy looks on in the Bawka district in Afghanistan’s Farah province. The major is the 1st Marine Expeditionary forward liaison officer to Provincial Reconstruction Team Farrah.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams are part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. There are currently 26 PRTs in Afghanistan, 12 of which are under U.S. command, including Farah. Other countries, ranging from Hungary to New Zealand, oversee 14 other PRTs.
The teams deliver assistance at the provincial and district level for improving security, supporting good governance and enhancing economic development.
In addition to military representatives charged with providing security and logistical support, PRTs include civilians from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other agencies like the Department of Agriculture.
The teams are seen as a key component in winning the support of the Afghan people and undermining the credibility of the Taliban. Recently the Farah PRT’s medical staff assisted the first Afghan Health Ministry village outreach effort, where hundreds of villagers were treated in a remote area.
For more photos on PRT Farah’s visit to this district click here.
U.S. and Danish naval vessels will be joining Canadian defense forces in their summer Arctic exercise, Operation Nanook. A ship and dive team from the U.S. Coast Guard will also participate in the exercise which is slated to run from Aug. 6 to Aug. 29. All three branches of the Canadian defense forces, plus the Canadian Rangers — a reserve Arctic patrol unit — will participate in the exercise around Pond Inlet, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord in Nunavut in Canada’s eastern Arctic. There is irony in the foreign participation in Operation Nanook, which is designated as a Canadian sovreignty exercise, especially since Canada still has offshore boundary disputes with both the U.S. and Denmark (which controls Greenland), the National Post and Windsor Star note.
Homeland Security vs Air Safety
Despite the widespread success of unmanned aerial vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been slow in approving the flight of UAVs in or near commercial airspace. The Associated Press reports that Texas congressmen and senators are pressuring the FAA to allow patrols by Predator B UAVs over the El Paso border area and the Teax Gulf Coast.
More Bad News
The United Nations says it is moving some of its personnel out of Afghanistan because of the recent surge in violence, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, a top British envoy assigned to Afghanistan has stepped down. The Guardian reports that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles clashed with NATO and U.S. military officials about the direction the Afghan war was taking. The diplomat also favored negotiating with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, nine coalition troops — including three Australians and an American killed in a helicopter crash — died Monday (June 21) in Afghanistan, according to news reports. The casualties also included a British Royal Marine commando who died from wounds suffered June 12 and a Canadian combat engineer killed by a roadside bomb.
The British soldier killed was the United Kingdom’s 300th casualty in Afghanistan. The Canadian was the 148th killed since Canadian troops deployed in Afghanistan with NATO in 2002. Canada is slated to withdraw its troops next year.
Proving the adage “You can’t keep a good man down,” Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaun Meadows shares a laugh with his son after completing his first parachute jump since losing both his legs in Afghanistan.
Meadows, along with 39 other members of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron (STS) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. conducted a practice parachute jump from a C-17 Globemaster III, in preparation for a change of command ceremony.
The combat air controller lost both legs during a reconnaissance patrol in Afghanistan when his convoy hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in July 2008. Combat controllers are FAA-qualified air traffic controllers who jump or swim into hostile territory to scout out landing zones or airstrike targets and then direct the incoming aircraft.
“Everything went well today,” Meadows said after the June 14 jump. “It felt good to get up there and jump again after two years.”
Meadows will also be participating in the 22nd STS change of command ceremony, which will be his last jump before he separates from the Air Force.
For another photo of the sergeant’s history-making jump, click here. Don’t forget to click on images to enlarge.
Afghan Build-up — Literally
The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) is about to launch a big build-up that will supply the embattled country’s military with both skilled combat engineers and leaders.
The training will be accompanied by construction projects that include the Afghan Defense University, which will house eight separate training schools.
At first, a separate engineers school won’t be training builders of buildings so much as combat engineers – known as sappers – who are skilled in demolition, detecting and defusing roadside bombs.
“The engineer schoolhouse will be focused on sapper skills. It will be focused specifically on route clearance and mobility,” says U.S. Army Col. Mike Wehr, director of NTM-A’s Combined Joint Engineer Office. Wehr told a recent defense bloggers’ roundtable that the engineers’ school, which is slated to start next month, will have bulldozers, loaders and other earthmoving equipment to help build forward outposts but the initial focus will be on combat engineering skills like road clearance.
Meanwhile, Afghan engineer trainees are working side-by-side with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other engineering units from the Air Force to build facilities for the rapidly expanding Afghan National Security Force – which includes both soldiers and police.
Currently, the Afghan Army stands at 125,694 troops with plans to increase the size to 171,000 by October 2011.
The Afghan National Police, is slated to expand to 109,000 by this October. To house them all, engineers are building housing that ranges from permanent buildings to tent cities, says Wehr. And the Afghans are involved in every step from planning and site selection to maintenance. A big part of the training plan is to teach the Afghans how to maintain the permanent buildings, he adds.
The Afghanistan Defense University – under construction just outside Kabul in Qargha – is slated to open the first school, the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, in March 2011, although construction of the entire complex isn’t expected to be completed until 2012. Eventually the 105-acre campus will also house the Afghan National Army Command and Staff College, the Afghan War College, the Legal School, the Foreign Language Institute and the Counter Insurgency Training Center. In addition to classroom buildings, a library, post exchange (PX), gymnasium, medical center and barracks, the campus will feature family housing units and apartments for visiting faculty.
“It’s an Afghan educational institution that focuses on developing leaders,” Jack Kem, deputy to the NTM-A’s commander, told another bloggers’ roundtable, adding: “It’s an investment in intellectual capital for the future of Afghanistan.”
Relying on the Unreliable
A question at a Washington think tank’s conference last week on American Security in the 21st Century underscores the continuing dilemma confronting the U.S. in Afghanistan.
A member of the audience at the Center for a New American Security gathering asked about the “double bind” the U.S. faces and what the White House should do since: “If we stay, we radicalize the population. If we leave, we radicalize the population.”
In a nutshell, that’s the dilemma. Support for the U.S.-NATO mission is waning among Afghan civilians who have suffered threats or reprisals from the Taliban for cooperating with the outsiders. They are also unhappy with the central government in Kabul which allows corruption but fails to deliver necessary services in the countryside.
Conversely, analysts fear if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan prematurely it will embolden terrorists to attack U.S. interests the way the retreat from Somalia did two decades ago. It will also strengthen the hand of Afghan warlords and drug lords — and lead the Kabul government to strike deals with them as well as the Taliban and al Qaeda.
A surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops is expected to be completed by August, raising U.S. troop strength to 100,000. But NATO nations have fallen short by more than 300 on promised trainers for the Afghan National Police. Meanwhile, President Obama has set a July 2011 deadline for the start of troop withdrawals in Afghanistan.
For the past several weeks, the news out of Afghanistan has not been good. Attacks on U.S. and NATO forces are up – and consequently casualties among the troops are also rising.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the combined U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has been forced to delay until Fall the much anticipated operation in Kandahar Province, a Taliban stronghold, because it appears the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not ready to fill in behind the Western troops once they have taken and cleared Taliban-held territory.
On top of that comes news from NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan that Afghan National Security Forces – army and police – have shown improvements in recruiting and training but they face numerous daunting hudles on their way to becoming an effective force. In previous postings 4GWAR has reported that:
– Corruption remains a chronic problem throughout the Karzai government but nowhere is it as bad as in the Afghan National Police . “If we don’t beat corruption and if we don’t fix corruption in the Afghan National Police, it might be impossible to win the counterinsurgency,”Canadian Army Maj. Gen. Michael Ward, NTM-A’s deputy commander for police training, told a bloggers’ roundtable.
–It takes an estimated $6 billion a year to feed, train, equip, transport and pay the army and police but Afghanistan – much of its infrastructure wrecked after three decades of war – has a GDP of only $23 billion a year. However, the economy is just starting to see the development of companies that can make army boots and other relatively simple goods.
–The Afghan government is hoarding 6,300 metric tons of aged, obsolete and dangerous ammunition while new ammo supplied by NATO has to sit in substandard bunkers where it will deteriorate more quickly.
The news from Afghanistan isn’t all bad, however.
Gen. Gary Patton, deputy commander of both NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and the Army Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan says recruitment and retention are up in the Afghan National Police and attrition is down. Training is improving, too. In November, 2009 only 35 percent of Afghan basic Army trainees were qualified on their weapons. That number now stands at 65 percent. Officer and non-commissioned officer schools are turning out new leaders.
The Fly in the Buttermilk
For weeks these cascading developments in Afghanistan have reminded me of a scene in at the beginning of John Wayne’s flawed film masterpiece, The Alamo. A desperate Gen. Sam Houston explains the strategic value of the mission-turned-fort to his officers.
“I’ve been given command of the armies of Texas. But the fly in the buttermilk is, there ain’t no armies in Texas! … I’m going to have to knock some of these men into an army, and to do that I’m going to need time.”
While there is an army — and a national polic force in Afghanistan — U.S. and NATO forces are going to need time, too, to get them to a place where they can secure their homeland. At the same time, theNATO coalition will have to deal with political pressure at home and an ambivalent government in Kabul that is losing credibility with the Afghan people because of corruption and ineffectiveness.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress Wednesday (June 16) that there is still time to repair Afghan security forces and things aren’t as bad as they seem.
It’s worth noting that Sam Houston was, in fact, able to knock together an army that won independence from Mexico for Texas. It’s also noteworthy to remember that Houston was leading the insurgency.
Mammalian Mine Hunters
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Gerstel, a diver and handler assigned to the Marine Mammal System Company of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 1, rewards a bottlenose dolphin after a successful training exercise at Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., June 8, 2010.
An estimated 2,500 Canadian and U.S. military and civilian agency personnel participated in Frontier Sentinel 2010, a week-long maritime homeland security training exercise in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay near Hampton Roads, Va. EOD Mobile Unit 1 was conducting an underwater search and mapping mission as part of the exercise.
Now the Navy hopes the dolphins can help locate four unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that went missing during the exercise. The 62-inch long, cigar-shaped underwater drones are not armed and considered harmless.
The Marine Mammal Company is based at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, San Diego, Calif. The Navy uses dolphins and California sea lions to hunt for underwater mines. They are also used to spot — but not attack — unauthorized swimmers and divers in security areas. Despite fictional accounts like the 1973 movie “Day of the Dolphin,” the Navy Marine Mammal Program does not train sea creatures to attack underwater vessels or people because they would not be able to identify friend from foe.
Last week’s attack by the Taliban on a peace council meeting in Kabul led to the resignations of two top Afghan security officials, but it could also be another blow to reforming and reorganizing Afghanistan’s troubled National Police.
The resignations of Afghanistan’s interior minister and intelligence chief are widely believed in Kabul to have been forced by President Hamid Karzai, according to reports by the Associated Press and other news outlets. The Washington Post says a dispute over Karzai’s plans to try reconciling with the Taliban may be the root cause.
But Interior Minister Hanif Atmar’s departure – which caught U.S. and NATO officials by surprise – could also affect attempts to reorganize the Afghan National Police, a top goal of the NATO command in charge of training the Afghan forces. Atmar recently signed the National Police Strategy, which lays out a five-year road map for the future of the Afghan National Police.
In battling with the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists, the police are hampered by ethnic and tribal rivalries, plus a lack of infrastructure for housing – let alone training. Leaders are also dealing with an economy in shambles after decades of war and government-wide corruption.
A Navy logistics officer told a Defense Department bloggers roundtable recently that Afghan truckers who were moving Navy Seals equipment from one base to another liked having a military escort because it kept the Afghan police from shaking them down at checkpoints.
Britain’s Independent quotes a British brigadier as saying police corruption is driving disgusted Afghans into the arms of the Taliban and the Taliban is taking advantage of the situation by donning police uniforms and extorting money or outright robbing travelers.
“It’s widely accepted that the Afghan National Police are the most corrupt institution in the Afghan government,” Canadian Army Maj. Gen. Michael Ward told another blogger’s roundtable last week. “So we’re starting from a very, very low level of accountability and credibility,” he added.
Ward is the the deputy commander for police, at NATO ‘s Training Mission in Afghanistan. The NTM-A is also charged with bringing Afghanistan’s courts, prosecutors and Army up to speed.
“We’ve done a number of things internally to try and limit or eliminate the causes of corruption,” Ward says. One of them is paying the police a living wage. “And so over this past six months we’ve introduced a level of pay parity between the police and the army … that has at least increased the level of take-home pay for basic patrolmen.”
Ward notes that his deputy commander, a brigadier general in the Italian carabinieri, has spent over half of his career in southern Italy fighting corruption and the Mafia. “And he’s fond of saying that corruption like this is not just a police phenomenon. It’s a social phenomenon. And therefore it has to be attacked top down. It has to be addressed by the government and the society. And it will take probably a generation or two to begin to notice the change in that.”
Another problem for the Afghan police is lack of institutionalized training. While there’s been a national police academy for 75 years, there hasn’t been a staff college to train police leaders in more than 40 years, Ward says.
The training command has been meeting with the Interior ministry as well as the European Union Police, and begun designing an Afghan National Police staff college “that reintroduces key elements of core professional development beyond the junior officer level,” says Ward. “That, more than anything else, is going to transform the institution of the police,” he adds.
Another hurdle facing NATO and the Afghan police is the sheer number of foreign police trainers. Civilian or military police from Canada, Germany, Italy and the U.S. are all instructing the Afghans.
“Right now I’d venture to say, more than 30 countries are engaged in training the national police. There are about 27 to 30 different training centers,” says Ward, adding that NATO only has direct input to about 11 of them.
“There’s always been a problem with standardization, and it’s been a challenge,” Ward says.
Police training by the international community has been incremental in the past, but he senses “that we now do have a critical mass focused on the police. And there’s a priority placed on the police that I think will generate much better outcomes in the near term.”
A search and seizure team from the guided missile cruiser USS San Jacinto conduct a nighttime boarding in the Gulf of Aden, May 26, 2010. The San Jacinto is part of Combined Task Force 151, a multinational task force established to conduct counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
For additional photos of the activities of Combined Task Force 151 click here.
A Moment in Time
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kevin Sweet (left) speaks with an Afghan man and his children in the village of Ibrahim Khel, Nerkh district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2010. Sweet, assigned to Company L, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, traveled to the village with Afghan soldiers to gather more information about a roadside bomb — an improvised explosive device or IED — found in a nearby road.
Pushtuns are the main ethnic group in volatile Wardak province. Other groups in the province, which is just southwest of Kabul, include Tajiks and Hazaras, and there has been increasing violence in the area, much of it flying under the news media’s radar, according to the Danger Room blog. (Click on image to enlarge).
To see more photos of earlier U.S. efforts in Wardak province click here.