Archive for December, 2010
TRADITION: Warriors of the World
To ring in the New Year, we thought we’d take a look at the dress uniforms of several nations around the world. As luck would have it, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made several trips to Latin America, Asia and the Near East in 2010. And where the secretary travels, there is always a photographer. We hope you enjoy this scenes, which aren’t always seen. Remember to click on each image to see a larger version of the photo.
First stop, Vietnam
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Hanoi in October and reviewed the troops with Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phung Quang Thanh during a Guards of Honor Ceremony at the Vietnamese military headquarters. Those boots have got to be hot in the tropics.
Gates reviews the troops during an honor arrival ceremony at Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 9, 2010.
Gates and Chile’s Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet reviews the troops during an honors arrival ceremony Nov. 20 at Santiago. Check out those helmets and boots. How do you say ‘Achtung!” in Spanish?
In Bolivia for a conference of Western hemisphere defense ministers, Gates received full military honors when he arrived in Santa Cruz on Nov. 21. Must be windy, look at those flapping ties. No wonder the honor guards’ caps have chin straps.
Omani Defense Affairs Minister Sayyid Badr bin Saud bin Harib al-Busaidi was on hand to greet Gates upon his arrival in Muscat, Oman, Dec. 5.
And finally, Afghanistan
Gates receives an honors welcome in Kabul as he arrives at the Ministry of Defense with Afghanistan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on Dec. 9.
AFRICA: South Africa Joining BRIC Bloc
Chinese President Hu Jintao, who currently holds the rotating BRIC presidency, has invited South African President Jacob Zuma to attend the group’s next summit in China in 2011.
The term BRIC was coined by a Goldman Sachs analyst in 2001, linking the four nations as being at similar stages of economic development. The original four BRICs have a combined population of 2.85 billion (40 percent of the world’s population) and a total land area of 38.5 billion square kilometers (25 percent of the world’s land coverage).
All but Russia – which already has the world’s fifth largest active military force – are substantially increasing their defense budgets and all four are seen as key strategic players in their regions. South Africa is Africa’s largest economy.
AFRICA: No Progress in Ivory Coast Presidential Crisis
One month after a disputed election in the west African nation of Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), international leaders have had little luck persuading President Laurent Gbagbo to step down, reports the Voice of America.
Reuters is reporting that the presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde – all members of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) issued an ultimatum that Gbagbo step aside or face removal by force.
Ivory Coast, a former French colony that had been West Africa’s strongest economy, has been in turmoil since challenger Alassane Ouattara claimed victory over Gbagbo in the Nov. 28 elections. The United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS have all declared Ouattara the winner but Gbagbo and his supporters have refused to budge. More than 170 people have died in Ivory Coast’s economic capital, Abidjan, since the stalemate began.
WASHINGTON: Rules to Halt Conflict Minerals Traffic
U.S. stock market regulators have joined the effort to halt manufacturers’ use of ‘conflict minerals’ – tin, gold, tungsten and tantalum – which are seen as fueling violence in Central Africa– particularly in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Language regulating the use of conflict minerals was included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform act passed by Congress in May and signed into law by President Barack Obama in July.
The law doesn’t ban the use of conflict minerals but requires public companies trading on major U.S. stock exchanges to disclose their use of them in the products they make or sell. Those disclosures must include whether the companies’ products contain conflict minerals and if so, what country they came from and how they were processed among other things. Goods that don’t contain conflict minerals can be marketed as “DRC Conflict Free.”
To implement the law, the Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed rules requiring companies to list in their annual reports products that aren’t DRC Conflict Free. Companies that continue to use conflict materials could be boycotted by consumers, a powerful publicity tool that could affect how companies do business with militaries that use natural resources to fuel wars and rebellions.
The SEC rule proposal has companies ranging from retailers to automobile manufacturers scrambling to come up with a process to guarantee they’ve eliminated minerals from pariah regimes from their products.
A 1988 California law that required all companies selling securities in California to publicly disclose if they did business with South Africa’s apartheid government is thought to have played a significant role in hurting South Africa’s economy and leading to the fall of the segregationist regime.
Christmas with the troops around the world
We thought we’d share some photos of U.S. service members and what they’re doing to mark the holiday season. Remember to click on any photo to enlarge it.
The guided-missile frigates USS Underwood and USS Halyburton are decorated as part of a holiday lighting contest at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Dec. 15, 2010.
Air Force Capt. Phillip Newman looks at the Yap Islands during Operation Christmas Drop Dec. 14, 2010. This year more than 60 boxes will be dropped to 55 Pacific islands weighing in at more than 20,000 pounds. Captain Newman is a pilot assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Sherlock directs the Marine Forces Pacific Band during the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Dec. 8, 2010.
Chief Equipment Operator Joe Zaleski, from Phoenix, Arizona, on deployment with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 18, spreads Christmas cheer with Army personnel at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. NMCB-18 is a reserve component battalion tasked with building combat outposts and improvements to forward operating bases throughout the Regional Command South and Southwest Regions of Afghanistan.
Army Airborne troops drop from the sky behind a mound of donated toys at Sicily Drop Zone, Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 11, 2010. The paratroopers donated more than 5,000 toys to local children. To see a Defense Dept. photo essay on this charity drop, click here.
Maj. Tim Hart, Capt. Curtis Knighten and Capt. James Garza conduct air surveillance and command and control operations from an Air Force E-3 Sentry. The members of the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron are prepared for a Christmas Eve Santa tracking mission. Airborne warning and control systems crews will provide additional surveillance as part of Operation Just Claus.
Half Empty or Half Full?
There’s a dilemma posed by the Obama administration’s assessment that the war in Afghanistan is making “significant” progress toward the ultimate goal of disrupting, dismantling and eventually defeating the al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The report begs the question: Is the Afghanistan glass half empty or half full?
On the one hand, according to a five-page unclassified overview of the assessment report released Dec. 16, the surge of 30,000 additional troops in southern Afghanistan is showing some positive results: al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under the most pressure than it’s faced since 2001. The Taliban are being pushed out of their strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
On the other hand: Taliban insurgents can still take refuge – and al Qaeda can still plot and organize attacks – in their sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the corruption permeating the Afghan national government isn’t winning many hearts and minds among the Afghan people.
Nevertheless, both Islamabad and Kabul still get hefty amounts of U.S. financial assistance — despite the often strained relationships they have with Washington. (The forced departure of the head CIA officer in Pakistan is the most recent example.)
The administration is leaning toward the opinion the glass is half full. “We are making considerable gains toward our military objectives,” Obama said at a White House briefing last week.
But the annual progress report notes two persistent hurdles:
- the ineffectiveness of the Karzai government in providing security and basic services for its people;
- and the continued ambivalence of Islamabad to suppressing Taliban safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal territories along the Afghan border.
“Everybody knows that failure to deal with the safe havens does present a real challenge, but I would argue that we are in the process of dealing with those safe havens — the Pakistanis on their side of the border, and Afghanistan and Pakistan and us working together,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a White House briefing.
On the corruption issue, Gates said the key is to identify objectives carefully. “Our goal isn’t to build a 21st century Afghanistan. Our goal is not a country that is free of corruption, which would be unique in the entire region.”
Instead, the goal should be “what do we need to do, along with our partners and the Afghans, to turn back the Taliban’s military and violent capabilities to the degree that the Afghan government forces can deal with them; and to provide some minimal capability at the local, district and provincial level for security, for dispute resolution” and other minimal government services.
At a Pentagon briefing, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the current counter insurgency-focused strategy of clearing and holding insurgent controlled areas by the military with local and coalition civilian workers following behind to establish Kabul’s governance. He said the coalition forces in Afghanistan are capable of both counterterrorism and counter insurgency activities.
“The question becomes ‘What’s the right balance at any given time on the battlefield?’” Cartwright said.
A lot of critics of the administration’s strategy have focused on President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Some hawks say that is too soon – since the last troops participating in the surge did not arrive in Afghanistan until September – and such a drawdown will send a bad message to the Afghan people and the insurgents that the U.S. is once again abandoning Afghanistan as it did after the Soviets were driven out.
But opponents of the war say the deadline is too vague since it is conditioned on conditions on the ground.
Cartwright says the agreement by NATO countries and the Karzai government to set a 2014 deadline for turning over security responsibilities to the Afghan National Army and National Police gives the U.S. and its allies more time to stabilize the situation and train the Afghans. “It’s very important that we all understand there is a transition process … and that process will continue on until it’s complete.”
But Vice President Joe Biden muddied the waters when he said Dec. 19 that the agreements with the Karzai government and NATO allies means U.S. Troops “will be totally out of there – come hell or high water – by 2014.” The White House later clarified that Biden meant combat troops would be out by 2014.
The question America will face this coming summer is whether to top off the Afghanistan glass or empty it and put it away.
Clearing a Bomb-laced Road
U.S. Marines wait in their mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles behind a string of bulldozers as a roadside bomb is safely detonated during a mine-clearing operation in the Sangin district in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The Marines, assigned to the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, cleared Route 611, which was laced with the boobytraps, also known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), during Operation called Outlaw Wrath. The hair-raising, eight-day operation cleared a crucial supply route. Because of the threat of roadside bombs, U.S. forces previously had to fly in supplies by helicopter.
CHECK BACK LATER TODAY FOR INFORMATION ON THE DECEMBER U.S. REVIEW OF AFGHAN-PAKISTAN OPERATIONS.
Sweden: Terror Blasts in Downtown Stockholm
The threat of terrorist car bombings has now stretched to Scandinavia. One man was killed and two people were injured in a pair of bombings over the weekend in the Swedish capital Stockholm.
Swedish police are investigating e-mails, sent shortly before the blasts, threatening attacks because Sweden has sent troops to Afghanistan, the BBC reports. The dead man, said to be an Iraqi-born British resident, sent the e-mails, officials say. Sweden has sent some 500 soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the international military force.
For a video report of the blasts and their aftermath, click here.
SUDAN: Vote on Splitting Country Next Month
A referendum is scheduled next month to determine if Southern Sudan will split from the rest of the civil war-wracked country. NPR takes a look at an oil-rich county that sits along the border that could spark additional strife.
Abyei is considered largely within Arab-dominated, mostly Muslim northern Sudan but most of the area’s inhabitants are black Africans who practice Christianity or Animism – and are loyal to the south. Some have threatened to secede at the risk or war.
AFGHANISTAN: Small Arms Attacks Up, Six U.S. Troops Killed by Blast
Small arms attacks by the Taliban against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan are on the rise – nearly twice what they were a year ago – reports USA Today. Tom Vaden Brook’s story says there have been more than 18,000 attacks by Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, compared to about 10,600 in 2009. Officials say the rise in attacks is a result of the coalition’s push into Taliban strongholds – and the insurgency’s resilience.
Meanwhile, a massive vehicle bomb in southern Afghanistan has killed six and U.S. and two Afghanistan soldiers. The Associated Press reports two Afghans have been arrested in connection with Sunday’s suicide attack in the Zahari district of Kandahar Province.
The blast comes just days before the Obama administration releases its comprehensive review of the strategy that sent an additional 30,000 U.S. Troops to Afghanistan this year.
NATURAL SECURITY: Where the Next Conflicts Could Arise
The quest for oil, minerals and other natural resources could spark conflicts around the world from the Arctic to Africa’s Niger Delta in the not-too-distant future . More and more, the military and security planners are coming to grips with the effects the natural world will have on defense and foreign policy. The New York Times recently had an interesting analysis on some potential hot spots in 2011 and beyond.
We at 4GWAR must admit feeling pleased that all of the places mentioned – Brazil, China, Yemen and the Horn of Africa, the Niger Delta, and the High North – are areas we have written about in the last year. Please click on the links to see what we mean.
We would also list the Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes Region, Mexico and Central America, the India-Pakistan border and Central Asia as other places to keep an eye on because of water, food, or oil shortages — or human migration due to those shortages.
In the Drink
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jeremy Garett lowers a stokes basket from an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to the waiting hands of pararescuemen during Keen Sword, which ended Dec. 10. The joint exercise with Japanese defense forces took place off the coast of Okinawa and southern Japan. Garett, a flight engineer, is assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron. The exercise includes 10,500 U.S. participants from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
U.S. Air Force pararescue jumpers (PJs), identified by their distinctive maroon beret, have one of the toughest jobs in the military: combat search and rescue. They also participate in humanitarian rescue and medical missions. Their motto – “That Others May Live” — says it all.
For a photo essay on Keen Sword, click here.
Woman 2 Woman
The U.S. Marines – the people who pioneered doctrines like close air support and amphibious warfare – have another good idea: Female Engagement Teams.
That’s what they call female Marines and other servicewomen (see below) who accompany patrols and try to make connections with Afghan women, to learn their needs, the needs of their village – and maybe pick up some valuable intel about strangers in the area.
The idea is to leverage the influence that Afghan women have in the home and in the village – in a culturally sensitive way. It is a taboo in Afghan culture for women to even speak with strange men. That makes it impossible for male Marines to search, question or provide care for Afghan women.
Enter the Female Engagement Teams.
The concept, which grew out of the Marines’ Lioness program in Iraq, has been so successful in Afghanistan – there are now 40 teams – that it has been adopted by the U.S. Army and other nations’ militaries.
“The demand far outweighs the supply that we have,” says Army Col. Chadwick Clark, commander of the Counter Insurgency Training Center at NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. And that’s why the U.S. military is looking to standardize and expand training for FET members, he says.
Right now, FET members — who are all volunteers — come from different specialties, like mechanic, clerk, driver, military police and medic. “They go through varying degrees of training, depending on how they’re going to be employed,” says Clark.
For example, the Marines that are deployed in Helmand Province go through four months of training that includes combat skills. They also take classes on Pashtu culture and language, techniques for engaging the locals, observation techniques, tactical questioning, personnel searches and planning engagements.
“They do have to be able to move, shoot and communicate while they’re out there [in the field], so there is some physical abilities that they have to have to do the job,’ says Marine Corps Col. Sheila Scanlon, an advisor to the Afghan Interior Ministry who joined Clark on a conference call from Afghanistan with bloggers.
While not strictly combat troops, members of the FETs are armed and have to be ready to support fellow Marines if attacked. “Every time we leave our camp, we’re in the combat zone, and even in our camp we’re in the combat zone. So the women are in a support role down there [in Helmand] supporting the infantry, but that doesn’t mean that they’re out there on the line in an offensive nature,” Scanlan says.
Other FETs that are partnering with women in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National at hospitals in Bagram. The U.S. women go through a seven-day course taught by the civil affairs and human-terrain team in Bagram.
Female Navy hospital corpsman serve as medicos with the FETs. There are also Army FETs. Jordanian forces have two FETs of their own. The Swedes and Norwegians have one each.
Although most of the Afghan women they will be dealing with are wives and mothers, there’s no push to recruit women who are married or have children as team members. “We don’t discriminate,” says Scanlon. “They come in all shapes and sizes – married, divorced, single, single parents. We take anybody as they are, as long as they can do the job.”
Part of that job requires “good social intelligence,” Clark adds. “So that you’re able to read people and understand what the meaning is, that you have empathy, so when somebody’s talking to you, that you can understand their feelings.”
He said standardized training is expected to start in January. Marines currently serve in the FETs for seven months. Soldiers in the FETs serve for a year.
UPDATE: Getty Images has some really nice photos of one of the Female Engagement Teams you can see it at MSNBC.
HAITI: Uproar Over Cholera Report
A French epidemiologist’s report says “massive contamination” of Haiti’s Artibonite River led to the outbreak of cholera in that country, killing more than 2,000 people, according to press accounts. The report implicates United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal – who are based on the river – as a likely source of the contamination.
But officials, including a scientist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ,say the evidence is not conclusive. Meanwhile, Nepal has condemned the report’s allegation, which has led to sometimes violent protests by Haitians. In Kathmandu, Nepalese officials insisted their troops were not the source of the water-borne illness, which is endemic in Nepal, but hadn’t been seen in Haiti for decades.
AFGHANISTAN: Strategy Shift
The second-highest-ranking military official at the Pentagon says NATO commanders in Afghanistan are shifting focus from a counter insurgency campaign to counter terrorism strategy. Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Washington conference that “the emphasis is shifting.”
Because the Taliban and foreign terrorists can flee into Pakistan after attacking coalition forces, more focus will be placed on cutting enemy communications and supply lines as well as disrupting recruiting new personnel, Cartwright told the Government Executive 2010 Leadership Briefings at the National Press Club.
AFGHANISTAN: Looking to Cut Civilian Casualties
U.S. forces battling insurgents and foreign terrorists in southern Afghanistan are looking for ways to avoid or at least reduce the number of civilian casualties. And one area under consideration is the use of non-lethal weapons, according to the ARES blog.
Marine Corps Major Gen. Richard Mills, chief of Regional Command Southwest, says he hopes to add non-lethal weapons – like stun guns, pepper spray and access denial technology – to his tool kit.
The Long Arm of the Yuan
Morocco, the Philippines and Egypt are all close U.S. allies that have received billions of dollars in military and civilian aid from America. But all are among 19 countries boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony this week honoring Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo.
While Morocco, whose relationship with the U.S. goes back to the 18th Century, will be getting more than $700 million in economic aid from the U.S. over the next five years, the North African kingdom also has developed “substantial trade interests” with China — including the sale of Moroccan phosphates.
The story is much the same with the the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The British newspaper, The Telegraph sees the boycott as a sign of China’s growing influence and Washington’s waning global prestige.
Coupled with China’s reluctance or inability to rein in the bellicose actions of its client state, North Korea, China’s use of trade and the yuan as a cudgel makes us wonder how much of a strategic threat China poses for the U.S. in the future. In addition to its growing arms buildup, China has been sabre-rattling over territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam in the waters around China. It is also buying up resources and building infrastructure in Africa and Latin America. China also wants to be a player in the Arctic Ocean, where melting ice could open up a shorter shipping route to the West for Chinese goods.