Archive for October, 2010
Two U.S. Marines fire a mortar round during combat operations at Forward Operating Base Nolay, located on the outskirts of Helmand Province‘s volatile Sangin Valley district in southern Afghanistan. The Marines are from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, which is deployed in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan.
This weapons system is an M252 81mm medium weight extended range mortar. In the background one can make out the HESCO barriers used to protect troops from small arms fire and explosions. The barriers or bastions are made of prefabricated wire frames with heavy duty fabric liners that are filled with dirt or sand. If you click on the photo and enlarge it, you can see the second mortarman ducking down from the blast.
Unmanned Aircraft Needs in Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers fighting Afghan insurgents, particularly in the volatile southern part of the country, are requesting more small unmanned aircraft to help them monitor large areas with a limited number of troops.
“The fight in Afghanistan is different from Iraq – particularly in the south,” Col. Gregory Gonzalez, the Army’s program manager for unmanned aircraft systems, tells a blogger’s roundtable. “We’re seeing an increased demand for small UASs.” Speaking from the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington, Gonzalez says the small drones are needed by platoon-sized units that have to cover large areas.
The smaller, hand-launched UASs, like Aerovironment‘s Raven and the slightly larger Puma — which can operate from land or sea – have a “huge impact” on small unit operations, according to Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, he says, the Army has deployed to Afghanistan within the last month, quick reaction capability UAS unit equipped with missile-armed drones. The platoon-size QRC units are equipped with four Hellfire-armed Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft. The Gray Eagles, modified General Atomics’ MQ-1C Sky Warrior unmanned aircraft, are being deployed in support of Army special operations forces, Gonzalez says, declining to go into specifics.
Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Victor Arroyos fires the Navy’s Dazzler on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) to familiarize himself with the device. The Dazzler, a non-lethal weapon that can temporarily blind and disorient an assailant. It is also used for signaling.
The dazzler is a directed energy weapon that uses intense, laser-generated light that can temporarily blind or disorient people approaching a ship, base or checkpoint. Believed to first be employed by the British in the Falkland Islands War, dazzlers have been used by U.S. forces in Iraq to stop cars racing towards checkpoints.
The master-at-arms is a U.S. Navy rating or specialty focused on security, force protection, anti-terrorism and law enforcement duties. Oddly enough, the Navy’s master-at-arms school is located at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas – now known as Joint Base San Antonio.
The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th fleet area of responsibility. To see a video of master-at-arms training, click here.
Food for Thought
This week 4GWAR made the rounds of the Washington policy institutions – think tanks – where reports were issued and discussions held on improving U.S. relations with the world’s biggest democracy and how to create police and law enforcement systems in under-developed countries in extremis. Details on each study will be appearing on 4GWAR next week.
A new Passage to India Urged
In advance of President Barack Obama’s planned state visit to India in November, a Washington think tank is urging the U.S. to strengthen ties with India, the world’s largest democracy.
One way for Washington to do that, says the Center for a New American Strategy (CNAS) is to “commit publicly and explicitly” to working with New Delhi to admit India as a permanent member of an enlarged United Nations Security Council.
The CNAS report, A Blueprint for the Future of India-U.S. Relations, also recommends seeking a broad expansion of bilateral trade with India, including a Bilateral Investment Treaty; increasing the security relationship between the two nations and liberalizing U.S. export controls to make it easier for India to purchase high tech weapons platforms and defense equipment.
Written by two former U.S. diplomatic troubleshooters – ambassadors Richard Armitage and R. Nicholas Burns – along with CNAS Senior Fellow Richard Fontaine, the report grew out of an eight-month review of U.S.-India relations by a 22-member non-partisan working group.
While the two countries are unlikely to ever become formal defense treaty allies, the security relationship has been growing between Washington and New Delhi for the past decades – especially since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 – the report notes that the U.S. now holds more military exercises with India – one of the world’s nuclear-armed countries – than with any other country.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council includes five permanent members with veto powers: the U.S., China; Russia, Britain and France.
Creating Police Under Fire
A retired U.S. Army general, who oversaw programs to build law enforcement systems in Haiti in the 1990s and in Iraq during the 2007 “surge” in U.S. counter insurgency efforts says recruiting, training and deploying new police officers in a vacuum is a recipe for failure.
“Creating police is not a numbers game. Numbers are important but they do not determine effectiveness,” Lt. Gen. James Dubik (Ret.) writes in a new report in the Best Practices in Counterinsurgency series issued by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Dubik says creating a law enforcement system in a strife-torn nation is a multi-dimensional effort that should also include development of a prison system and a judiciary. “Police are only part of a nation’s law enforcement structures,” Dubik writes, adding: “Rule of law requires both courts and prisons. Efforts to establish an adjudication system and a confinement system must take place simultaneously with the police and law enforcement systems.”
But he acknowledges that development of those three entities won’t follow a uniform timeline – especially in countries where they either haven’t existed or have been weakened by corruption.
Dubik, who has visited Afghanistan annually since 2008 to study military and police programs there, says it’s also important to realize that in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, getting law enforcement up to the standards of developed countries will take time – a lot of time in some cases. But assisting entities like the U.S. or NATO countries shouldn’t allow those standards to delay progress that is “good enough for now, given the circumstances.”
Creating a national police force requires embedding advisors and assigning a partner unit, the report urges. That has often been hit or miss in Iraq and Afghanistan. Training Afghan police has been fragmented within the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTMA). The U.S. does not have a national, uniformed police force, so police training has been assigned to nations with a national gendarmerie like Italy and Germany.
One way to measure a police force’s improvement is feedback from those it is policing, the ISW reports says. It urges polling citizens as soon as possible to establish a baseline and measure progress.
Numerous officials from NTMA have told 4GWAR and other bloggers that Afghanistan’s police are not trusted by the local populace and don’t have a clear idea of the concept of serving and protecting the public.
Pairing Defense and Development
Brazil’s defense minister says his country’s new strategic plan – which calls for increased military presence in the Amazon region – is not aimed at international terrorists, drug cartels or any of Brazil’s neighbors.
Instead, says Nelson Jobim, the strategy seeks to link national defense with national development by protecting and leveraging Brazil’s large water, agricultural and energy resources.
Speaking at George Washington University Wednesday (Oct. 20), Jobim said Brazil intends to beef up Army, Navy and Air Force capabilities along its northern and western perimeters, which border the Amazon River Basin and its enormous rainforest areas. Jobim stressed the plan is not a reaction to Brazil’s restive neighbors: Venezuela, Colombia or Bolivia. There are also plans to increase monitoring the waters more than 100 miles offshore, beneath which are believed to contain vast petroleum deposits.
Overall, the strategy calls for increased attention to space, cyberspace and nuclear security. A nuclear submarine is included in a five-sub manufacturing deal with France. Brazil wants to monitor the Amazon with satellites. The largest country in South America and the world’s eighth largest economy, Brazil also wants to launch its own satellites rather than pay other countries for their imagery, Jobim said.
The strategy calls for the creation of a second naval fleet in the north to protect the Amazon region. There are also plans to base a second Marine division near the Amazon’s mouth.
The Army has 21 frontier platoons patroling along the rivers that flow into Brazil from neighboring countries. The strategic plan calls for creating 28 more platoons, who will live among the natives of the region with their families.
More unmanned aircraft and – after the Oct. 31 presidential runoff election – more jet fighters are also in the plan. The selection of the F-X2, the next generation of Brazilian fighter aircraft is being delayed to give the new president a say in the matter. The three aircraft under consideration are Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet, Sweden’s Gripen from Saab AB and the Rafale made by France’s Dassault.
A deciding factor will be technology transfer. Brazil doesn’t want to just buy somebody else’s airplanes, but wants to acquire all the internal technology as well as the aircraft so it can build and service follow-on models in Brazil. Technology acquisition is part of the cyberspace segment of the strategic plan.
It has been reported that France is the front-runner in the fighter competition because it has agreed to sell all the aircraft’s technology to Brazil. U.S. law limits the transfer of technology deemed crucial to national security and Sweden’s Gripen is made from parts manufactured in other countries which would each have to approve the information transfer.
“Brazil uses the purchase of military equipment for the transfer of technology,” Jobim said, adding: “I don’t want to buy any thing. If they [aircraft makers] reply ‘It’s difficult,’ we’re out.”
Brazil is also buying 50 EC-7250 military transport helicopters from France and developing – with Colombia, Chile, the Czech Republic and Portugal – a new large transport plane, the Embraer KC-390, that can land on a small (1,200 meter) airstrip. Both aircraft are to be manufactured, at least in part, in Brazil. Jobim estimated that hundreds of U.S.-made Hercules heavy lift aircraft will be retired between 2018 and 2020. That’s the time when the KC-390 will be ready for market, Jobim said.
Despite the drug gang violence embroiling Mexico, Colombia and other neighbors to the north, Jobim said narcotics interdiction was a police matter, not a defense security issue. Using the army as a police force can be a touchy subject in Brazil, which was ruled for much of the 20th century by military dictatorships.
Jobim also discounted the concerns that the so-called Triple Frontier – where Brazil’s border intersects with Paraguay and Argentina – is an ungoverned and lawless area.
The area has a large immigrant Arab population – mostly Palestinians and Syrians – and U.S. officials have expressed concern that while the majority are law abiding, international terror groups, like Hezbollah an al Qaeda, could use the area’s business climate to raise money legally or illegally.
Jobim attributed those concerns to ignorance and prejudice. “The mistake the West makes is in thinking our structures are the only ones,” he said, claiming that Brazil was a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that did not pigeonhole people.
“There are no problems on the Triple Frontier, only some American commentators are concerned,” Jobim said.
Outside opinions about the area could be affected by a new motion picture being planned about the Triple Frontier. Entertainment industry blogs are full of news about “Sleeping Dogs.” The film project depicting the Triple Frontier as an organized crime haven is being developed by Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “The Hurt Locker,” which won the Academy Award for best picture last year. Tim Hanks and Johnny Depp are reportedly interested in appearing in the film.
UK PM: Defense Cuts Won’t Hamper Afghan Mission
British Prime Minister David Cameron says cuts to the defense budget won’t affect the UK’s military mission in Afghanistan. On Tuesday (Oct. 19) Cameron announced spending cuts of 8 percent over the next four years that will include manpower cuts and the early retirement of the HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier as well as four naval frigates and destroyers.
There will be a 40 percent reduction in tanks and 35 percent in heavy artillery. Reconnaissance aircraft and Harrier jump jet programs are also being ended. Two new carriers will still be built, although their longterm future is uncertain. Without the Harriers, UK aircraft carriers will only have helicopters flying off them until 2020, when the Joint Strike Fighter will become available.
But Cameron told Parliament that Britain wasn’t backing off its commitment in Afghanistan — or as a world military force. He noted that even with the cuts, the U.K. still has the fourth-largest defense budget in the world (after the U.S., China and Russia). In fact, he said, Britain will increase spending for armored ground vehicles like the Warthog, unmanned aircraft and helicopters, which have been in short supply in Afghanistan.
Grozny Attack Leaves Six Dead
Sixteen years after an independence movement evolved into an Islamic insurgency, touching off two brutal wars in Russia’s northern Caucasus region, violence has erupted again in Chechnya. Gunmen, believed to be Islamist militants, stormed the parliament building in the Chechen capital of Grozny on Tuesday (Oct. 19), killing three people before being slain themselves. Two of the dead were policemen. No lawmakers were hurt.
The audacity of the attack on one of the most heavily-guarded complexes in the region contradicts the contention by Moscow and Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leadership that the insurgency has quieted after nearly two decades of war and atrocities. Chechens, who are predominantly Muslim and famously independent-minded, have been battling Russian domination of the oil-rich region since the 1850s.
Australia Takes Over Pirate Patrol Command
A commodore in the Royal Australian Navy has taken over command of the international naval task force that patrols the waters off the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. In a change of command ceremony in Bahrain last week, Commodore Gregory Sammut took over control of Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) from Pakistan’s Rear Adm. Zafar Mahmood Abbasi.
CTF-150, part of Combined Maritime Forces — a 25-nation coalition based in Bahrain — was formed to create a lawful and stable maritime environment free from terrorism, smuggling, piracy and other illegal activities. The task force covers a vast area of two million square miles including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
The task force’s principal mission is to deter, disrupt and defeat attempts by international terrorists to use the maritime environment as a way of attacking or transporting personnel weapons and other materials.
How ironic is this: Former Cold Warrior Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary, meeting with his Asian counterparts beneath a gilded bust of communist North Vietnam’s founding father, Ho Chi Minh, at Hanoi’s Presidential Palace?
At 4GWR, we think this is one of the most remarkable images in U.S.-Vietnamese relations since Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — on a goodwill mission to Vietnam — visited a war museum in the old Hanoi Hilton where he was held as a prisoner of war.
Gates was in Hanoi for the first-ever meeting of defense ministers from the 10-member Association of of Southwest Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from eight other nations with a stake in the Asia-Pacific area.
During his visit, Gates also held bilateral meetings with officials from Vietnam, Japan, Australia, the Philippines and China. At the meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie, Gates accepted an invitation to visit Beijing next year.
Angered by the U.S. sale of military equipment to Taiwan, China dis-invited Gates to a scheduled vist earlier this year, and called a halt to all military-to-military ties with the U.S. China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, while the U.S. has tried to discourage Beijing from mounting an invasion of the island by selling Taiwan advanced weaponry.
In addition to the 10 ASEAN member nations – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – defense ministers from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the U.S. attended the meeting known as ADMM-Plus (for ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus).
During the meeting, Gates called for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes, mostly in the South China Sea. Hina has locked horns about ownership and fishing rights with Vietnam over the Paracel Islands, with Japan over the Diayou Islands (or Senaku Islands in Japanese) and with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan over the Spratlys Islands, which are believed to have large deposits of oil and natural gas beneath them.
For a slide shows of the Hanoi meeting, including Gates’ review of goose-stepping Vietnamese troops, click here.
The Real Rat Patrol
Last Father’s Day my wife and son gave me a rat, actually a bunch of rats. In lieu of a tie or DVD, they made a donation in my name to an outfit in Africa that trains rats to sniff out land mines – and tuberculosis (more on that later).
Started by Belgian Bart Weetjens, APOPO is a registered Belgian charity based in Tanzania. Weetjens says he got the idea for explosives-detecting rats from a Scientific American article about gerbils’ sensing ability.
The rodents APOPO uses are not just any rats but cat-sized Giant African Pouch Rats (Cricetomys gambianus). Like dogs the rats are trained to detect the explosives vapors emanating from landmines – even if they’re buried. And like dogs, the rats are given a food treat as a reward.
Unlike dogs, the rats are small (15 inches, three pounds), easily transportable and cheap. It costs about $2,000 to train a rat compared to $10,000 for a mine-sniffing dog. Rats are more resistant to tropical diseases. They also don’t imprint on humans like dogs do, so one handler can deal with many rats and a ran will tolerate several handlers or trainers.
Between 1999 and 2008, there were 73,576 casualties in 119 countries caused by landmines, improvised explosive devices or munitions left over from previous conflicts, according to Landmine Monitor. The group’s report says 17,867 of those people were killed and 51,711 were injured. The status of the remaining 3,998 is unknown.
Most of APOPO’s rats — known as HeroRATs — work in neighboring Mozambique where years of civil war have left thousands of landmines dotting the landscape, making some land inaccessible for agriculture and other forms of development. APOPO and the HeroRAT team have helped to return more than 1.7 million square meters of land to the population in Mozambique since the start of operations in the late 1990s.
So far in 2010, the rats have found 596 mines, 308 unexploded ordnance, and 6,205 small arms and ammunition. The group aims to make Mozambique’s Gaza Province landmine safe by 2014.
Mine-sniffing rats are also being trained by police in Colombia the most heavily mined country in Latin America. And honey bees are being studied by the University of Montana and the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico as land mine detectors.
The APOPO rats’ sensitivity is not limited to explosives. They can detect tuberculosis in the saliva submitted for testing by patients – and they can screen patients faster than a human technician in a lab. So far this year, the rats have identified more than 1,438 people with TB that were originally missed in hospital testing.
For those too young – or too old for that matter – to know the 1960s television series, “The Rat Patrol,” click here for some cultural intel (for a lengthier discourse of the show’s canon — pun intended), see the Wikipedia entry.
AFGHANISTAN: Was it Friendly Fire or Taliban?
A British aid worker held hostage by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan was killed during a rescue attempt, according to the British Foreign Office.
Initially officials said 36-year-old Linda Norgrove was slain by her captors before the pre-dawn rescue mission could reach her. But British Prime Minister David Cameron says today (Oct. 11) the U.S. military informed him that Norgrove may have been killed by a rescuers’ grenade. The incident is under review.
Norgove worked for Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), an employee-owned private development concern based in Bethesda, Maryland. She played a senior management role in a program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, that sought to create jobs and improve local Afghan economies. Norgrove was kidnapped Sept. 26 in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan with three Afghan co-workers who were later released.
PAKISTAN: Border Crossing to Afghanistan Reopening
Pakistani authorities have reopened a crucial border crossing with Afghanistan this week, allowing truck convoys to resume shipping supplies to NATO troops through the Khyber Pass. More than 150 tanker trucks were set afire and destroyed as they stacked up near border towns after Pakistan closed the transit point.
The shutdown came in the wake of a border incursion by NATO helicopters pursuing insurgents that fired on coalition troops in Afghanistan. The choppers mistakenly fired on a Pakistani border outpost, killing at least two soldiers and wounding others. The U.S. and NATO apologized for the incident but the border stayed closed for more than 10 days.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani TV station says government officials in Islamabad are considering imposing a tax on trucks carrying NATO supplies, the Pakistani newspaper, the Daily Times reported Sunday (Oct. 10).
PAKISTAN: Musharraf Wants to Come Back
Former Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf says he wants to come back from exile in Britain and is hinting broadly that he plans to run for office in the country’s next presidential contest. Speaking on ABC’ Sunday morning talk show, “This Week,” the former Pakistani army commander and president refuted criticisms that the government in Islamabad isn’t doing enough to fight terrorists and insurgents in border regions.
Meanwhile, Reuters has a nice Factbox on its site with a time line of the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
ARCTIC: Russia planning year-long Polar Expedition
Fifteen Russian scientists are ready to start a year-long study of polar ice fields from a large drifting ice floe. The Russians have begun aerial reconnaissance to determine the best place to base the SP-38 drifting station. Using high resolution photos from U.S. and European satellites, the Russians are surveying the area by helicopter to find a suitable place to set up their base, according to RiaNovosti.
The purpose of the expedition is to explore the sea bed in the Arctic in order to find Russia’s undersea outer shelf border.
When the Horizon’s Not Horizontal
Here’s an inside look at a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter on counter-narcotics patrol in the Caribbean. The chopper, part of Commando Helicopter Force, flew from the amphibious assault ship, HMS Ocean, during an anti-drug deployment this summer.
The Lynx helos, equipped with surface search radars, have a top speed of 150 mph (40 km/h) and a range of over 300 miles (480 kilometers) making them able to cover vast areas of the sea.
It’s been a busy year for the “Mighty O,” the largest warship in the Royal Navy. In February and March the big ship’s helos, landing craft and Royal Marines and sailors participated in a multi-nation cold weather exercise, Cold Response, in the Arctic waters off Norway.
The HMS Ocean left homeport Plymouth in June for a multi-mission deployment. First stop was a large amphibious exercise as part of Britain’s Auriga naval task group off the coast of North Carolina with the U.S. Navy’s USS Kearsarge amphibious group and the U.S. 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
August saw the Mighty O in the Caribbean region providing direct assistance to the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force based in Key West, Fla. That was followed by a three-day joint exercise with the Brazilian Navy and Marines followed by participation in a UK trade and industry exhibition in Rio de Janeiro in September.
This month the HMS Ocean is in West African waters. First stop, Lagos, Nigeria for a training and diplomatic mission coinciding with celebrations of Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence (from the British Empire). After maritime security operations in the Gulf of Guinea, HMS Ocean will return to the UK later this year.