Archive for January, 2011
But the Coast Guard Wears Two Hats
Among the proposals being floated by congressional Republicans to trim the projected trillion dollar federal deficit is one to move the U.S. Coast Guard out of the Homeland Security Department (DHS) and into the Defense Department.
Unlike some of his colleagues, who want to cut federal spending over the next five years, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggests trimming $500 billion from the federal budget now (in Fiscal Year 2011). Among the new senator’s suggestions for getting the numbers down is to cut the DHS budget by 43%, according to a watchdog group, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Paul also proposes moving the Coast Guard – an armed, uniformed service – into Defense Dept. with all the other armed services. The Coast Guard would take its funding along with it to the Defense Department.
A summary explaining Paul’s bill, the “Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011,” states that the transfer from DHS “’will promote uniformity, administrative savings, and reduce duplicative functions.”
The way Paul and his advisers see it, the Coast Guard is practically a part of the Defense Dept. already because by law it operates under the authority of the Navy in time of war or when the president so directs. Coast Guard units are currently working with the Navy in the waters off Iraq as well as part of anti-piracy operations in and around the Horn of Africa.
But Paul’s folks seem to have forgotten, or ignored, the fact that the Coast Guard also has civilian law enforcement authority and is the only armed service exempt from the restrictions of the 1878 Posse Comitatus law that bars federal troops from enforcing civilian laws on U.S. soil (except in very limited situations like armed insurrection.)
Because of that law enforcement exemption, the Coast Guard’s mission has been repeatedly expanded – especially since 9/11 – to include drug and illegal migrant interdiction, port security, vessel safety inspection and intruder interdiction in the airspace over Washington, D.C.
Coast Guard advocates also note the entire Coast Guard is never made a part of the Navy in wartime, just designated units, vessels and personnel.
While Paul’s plan to move the Coast Guard is considered highly unlikely to pass, it does raise the question of what would happen to the Coast Guard’s role as the enforcer of U.S. maritime safety and security laws if it became just another armed service.
Color Us Relieved
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is dumping its confusing color-coded terrorist alert system. The five-color system, first introduced in 2002, ranged from Green (Low Risk of Terrorist Attack) through blue, yellow and orange up to Red (Severe Risk of Terrorist Attack). It has been stuck at Yellow (Elevated: Significant risk of Terrorist Attacks) for years. And U.S. airports and airlines have been at Orange (High Risk of Terrorist Atacks) since 2006.
In an announcement last week (Jan. 27) Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new, two-tiered system “is built on a clear and simple premise: when a credible threat develops that could impact the public, we will tell you and provide whatever information we can so that you know how to keep yourselves, your families and your communities safe.”
The old system, which did not specifically tell people what to do when alert levels were raised or lowered became the butt of comedians’ jokes and a source of anxiety and frustration for average Americans. It will be phased out by April, the DHS said.
Snow Falling on Submarine
Not-so-Lean, Mean. Fighting Machine
Air Force Maj. Loren Coulter exits an A-10C Thunderbolt II — more commonly known as a “Wart Hog” — at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Coulter is an A-10 pilot assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which recently moved its aircraft and other assets to another part of the airfield as part of a consolidation of units in the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing. In all, 10 units and two groups to be consolidating on one side of the flightline, making room for the expanding missions of Afghanistan’s Kandahar Air Wing in the near future.
The A-10C Thunderbolt II is the latest iteration of the 1970s-designed twin-engine, single seat jet attack aircraft, which is used primarily for close air support in Afghanistan — and previously in the Gulf War, the Balkans and Iraq. In today’s photo, under the nose (like a fat cigar clenched in its tiger shark teeth) you can see the seven-barrel, rotating 30 milimeter GAU cannon. The gun enables “hogs” to support ground troops by taking out enemy tanks and armored vehicles with its armor-piercing shells. The A-10 itself has been likened to a flying tank because of all the armor it carries as protection from ground fire.
The high placement of the turbofan engines (see one on the extreme right behind the major) is designed to protect them from foreign object damage on the rough runways of forward air bases and also limit the aircraft’s infrared signature, making it tougher for heat-seeking missiles to target. (Don’t forget to click on the photo to see a larger image).
Welcome to the Club
In the wake of a terrorist bombing at Moscow’s busiest airport Monday (Jan. 24) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says terrorism is the most serious threat facing that country, according to the BBC.
He and other Russian leaders vowed to hunt down those responsible for the blast that killed at least 35 people and injured more than 100 at Domodedovo Airport. They also vowed to clean house because of apparent security and intelligence lapses causing little or no action to prevent a “well-prepared attack.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but most observers suspect Islamist militants from the turbulent North Caucasus region on Russia’s southern border were behind it.
In the recent past, militants from there have taken credit — or been blamed — for other bombing attacks on public transportation. There was the November 2009 attack on a St. Petersburg-bound high speed train that killed 28 and two Moscow subway attacks that left 40 dead last March. Other European cities have also seen attacks on rail transportation – including Madrid, Spain on March 11, 2004 and London, England in July 2005.
But this latest attack — if it is the work of militants from the Caucasus — may mean a shift in targets from trains and subways back to air transport and foreigners as well as Russians.
Officials say the massive explosion was a suicide bombing at the crowded international arrivals area of the airport. An Israeli airport security expert, Rafi Ron, tells the Washington Post that the security perimeter of most airport international arrivals areas is a vulnerable target for terrorists.
Medvedev accused airport officials of allowing “pure anarchy” to reign at Domodedovo, but airport authorities say they met all the requirements of airport security.
And some politicians and pundits have suggested that maybe Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government should be held responsible for the security and intelligence failure, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Putin, who has vowed a get tough policy, has seen numerous attacks on Russian soil during his time as prime minister and two terms as Russia’s president. Following several bombings and other attacks on Russian military and civilian areas in the late 1990s, Moscow launched a massive invasion, followed by a brutal counter insurgency, in the rebellious Chechnya region.
That led to a series of terrorist incidents. In addition to the 2004 downing of two airliners that killed more than 100, there was the government’s muddled response to a mass hostage incident, also in 2004, in Beslan, that led to the deaths of 330 people — including more than 100 children — in the rescue attempt by Russian security forces. There was also the inept rescue of hostages held in a Moscow theater by Chechin nationalists in 2002. More than 120 people died, many of them hostages killed by a sleeping agent pumped into the building by authorities to subdue the terrorists.
Monday’s bombing wasn’t the first time Domodedovo airport was involved in a terrorist situation. The two women who brought down separate Tupelov airlinersin 2004 boarded the planes at Domodedovo. Russian authorities have maintained the women detonated “suicide belts” hidden under their clothes. The belts contained little or no metal, so they went undetected, Russian officials said. That incident prompted Homeland Security officials in the U.S. and elsewhere to seek technologies that could screen for explosives concealed on a person’s body. The quest intensified after a 2006 plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners using liquid explosives was uncovered in London. More urgency to find the right mix of technology and surveillance techniques followed in the wake of an attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit by a man with explosives hidden in his underwear.
On the Job Training
Australian Army Reserve Private Luke Goodwin (right) points out the arcs of fire to Lance Corporal Alex Alex Tyler during an exercise as part of the Junior Leadership Course conducted recently for troops serving with the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) in East Timor.
Thirty-two Australian Army Reserve (Ares) soldiers were able to complete the Junior Leaders Course Modules 1 and 2 in one block over the Christmas holidays, speeding up their promotion track over the usual two or more years for part-time soldiers.
The course included operational planning and training while the reservists were serving with the ISF, an Australian-New Zealand peace keeping mission on the island nation, officially known as Timor-Leste, at the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.
Goodwin says there were benefits to doing the course overseas. “Back home you are familiar with your surroundings,” he said, adding: “Here there is different terrain and different vegetation, and we can still be recalled at a moment’s notice to support our [ISF] operation.”
An Australian-led international peace-keeping force was dispatched to East Timor in 1999 after widespread violence broke out following a vote for independence from Indonesia, which forcefully occupied East Timor in 1975.
When additional violence broke out in 2006, Australian peacekeepers returned after the government of Timor-Leste requested the creation of a multi-national security force (ISF) to assist with stability operations. The ISF currently consists of approximately 470 personnel from the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces. The force is currently led by the Australian Army’s Col. Mick Reilly, with Wing Commander Samuel Leske of the Royal New Zealand Air Force serving as deputy commander.
The ISF was expected to withdraw after national elections in 2012 but Timorese news outlets say Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao favors an earlier pull-out, according to The Australian newspaper. And a report by the Geneva-based International Crisis Group urges Australia to set a date for withdrawing its forces from Timor- Leste because the security situation has improved and the ISF is so small it no longer goes out on patrol at the local government’s request, the newspaper reported last month.
EU Imposes Ivory Coast Trade Sanctions, Neighboring Militaries Prepare
Ivory Coast is the world’s leading cocoa producer and incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo is counting on the proceeds from that valuable crop to keep him power.
Gbagbo lost the Nov. 28 presidential election – according to the United States, United Nations, European Union and his country’s electoral commission – but has refused to step aside for the man who won: former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.
Ouattara, a former World Bank economist, is trying to cut off Gbagbo’s funding – and with it, his ability to pay soldiers and civil servants loyal to him. Meanwhile, West African militaries are prepared to send troops into Ivory Coast to remove Gbagbo, a Nigerian general told AFP.
Speaking in Bamako, Mali where military chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States have been meeting, the Nigerian general said military iforces are ready to intervene if the political leaders of ECOWAS nations give the word to launch operations.
The United Nations has more than 9,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, and plans to deploy 2,000 more even though Gbagbo has ordered all U.N. troops out. Manu of the U.N. Peacekeepers surround the Abidjan hotel where Ouattara is conducting his campaign to take over the government. Militants loyal to Gbagbo surround the U.N. troops.
Nigerian forces are expected to play the largest role in any military intervention in Ivory Coast, supplying a combat squadron and attack helicopters, AFP reported.
The small Ivory Coast Air Force was destroyed on the ground by France in 2004 in reprisal for an attack on a French peacekeeping post that left nine French soldiers dead. At the time, Ivory Coast said the attack was an error but French didn’t see it that way.
Ivory Coast reportedly has built up its air force with retreads from France, the U.S., Russia and Ukraine although the operational capabilities of any of the aircraft is questionable.
Complicating matters, the E.U. has imposed trade sanctions, barring member-ships from taking on cargo in Ivory Coast’s two main ports, Abidjan and San Pedro. That includes cocoa and coffee, another major cash crop. The market uncertainty has driven the price of cocoa commodity futures up, according to Bloomberg. Ouattara and West African officials are trying to block Gbagbo’s access to the Central Bank of West African States, Bloomberg reports. Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have been pressuring local businessmen – including cocoa exporters to pay fees and duties only to them and not the other side.
Meanwhile, violence is on the rise according to the Associated Press and the Voice of America. The death toll from violence has risen to 260 and the U.N. Reports about two dozen women have been raped in the western part of the country.
More Self-Imolations Over Conditions
The fiery suicide of a young Tunisian street vendor that sparked a popular revolt – driving a long-time dictator out of power – is apparently prompting similar extreme protests across North Africa, according to Arabic and Western news outlets.
At least six protestors have set themselves on fire publicly in Mauritania, Algeria and Egypt. The suicide of Muhammad Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable seller who set himself afire Dec. 17 after police seized his cart, struck a nerve in Tunisia among mostly young people angry and depressed about unemployment, rising food prices, continued housing shortages and other poor living conditions.
Their swelling street protests over a matter of weeks pressured Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president for the last 23 years, to flee the country on Jan. 14.
Now the question is whether the popular “Jasmine Revolution” will spread to other authoritarian Arab states in the region, known as the Maghreb, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
The head of the Arab League told reporters at an Arab economic summit in Egypt that “there is a lesson and there is a message from what happened in Tunisia, Reuters reported. Amr Moussa did not mention the specific issues that led to the Tunisian revolt but he added: “we can’t just consider Tunisia an isolated incident.”
Young people are restive in places like Algeria and Egypt and leaders in those countries and elsewhere are keeping a close eye on the Tunisian situation, the Guardian reports.
Relic from Another War
Here’s a aging reminder of why they call Afghanistan the “Graveyard of Empires.” A soldier from the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team provides security near a rusting Soviet tank in the Daymirdad district of Wardak Province, Afghanistan.
Army officials met with local leaders to discuss improvement projects in the arid, mountainous district.
To view a Defense Department photo essay of this mission click here.
Election Crisis Continues
The standoff continues between the sitting president of Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and the man just about every international organization says beat him in the polls last November. And now both sides are claiming the other is slipping mercenaries into the West African nation.
Alassane Ouattara, the president-elect, told a Washington audience during a teleconference Friday (Jan. 14) that his opponent, Laurent Gbagbo has imported about 3,000 mercenaries from neighboring Liberia.
Supporters of the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, previously claimed that the U.S. Had sent mercenaries to Ivory Coast to oust the leader who won’t step down.
In a telephone hook-up with a packed auditorium at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from his headquarters in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, the country’s largest city, Ouattara called for the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to help oust his opponent.
“I believe seriously that force should be used to remove Mr. Gbagbo,” Ouattara said, noting that government troops have surrounded his hotel, and have fired on demonstrators calling for Gbagbo to leave. The United Nations says 247 people have killed in post-election violence. Ouattara says hundreds more have been kidnapped and thousands have been injured.
Ouattara’s election has been recognized by the U.S. The European Union, the U.N., ECOWAS and the African Union. The presidents of Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone have met with Gbagbo, urging him to step down to avoid violence but he has refused.
Claiming to be a “man of peace,” although his supporters fought with Gbagbo’s riot police in a previous presidential dispute in 2000, Ouattara – a Muslim from northern Ivory Coast – says its time for Gbagbo to be forced out. “It’s been six weeks now” since the election,” he added.
He discounted ECOWAS fears that a military incursion might spark more violence. Ouattara called Gbagbo a coward saying “If ECOWAS shows clearly its intent, Mr. Gbagbo will step down. I feel extracting him should not be difficult.”
Ouattara said about 2,000 soldiers and an equal number of police support the incumbent. “There are about 3,000 mercenaries. They have come for money,” Ouattara said.
There are reports of ex-Liberian soldiers drifting into Ivory Coast willing to fight for either side. But Angola and the U.S. have denied they are sending mercenaries to Ivory Coast. More than 20,000 people have fled Ivory Coast – mostly into Liberia – because of the violence. Forces loyal to Gbagbo have repeatedly attacked UN peacekeepers and Ouattara’s security forces detained four men from Ghana they claimed were mercenaries.
At a panel discussion at CSIS after Ouattara spoke, Akwe Amosu, director of the Open Society Foundation, underscored the magnitude of the crisis. She said U.N. Officials are building a refugee camp just inside the Liberian border and they have cleared 200 acres for tents.
Christopher Fomunyoh, the National Democratic Institute‘s regional director for Central and West Africa, said the Ivory Coast crisis has ramifications for all of Africa where more than a dozen national elections are scheduled for 2011 in places like Benin, Nigeria, Liberia and the Central African Republic. “If Ivory Coast gets it right, it will confirm that elections mean something,” he said. But he added if the crisis spins out of control “then there is no incentive for sitting presidents to allow elections and turn over power if they lose.”
Don’t Fence Me In
After a year’s study, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has decided to end its trouble-plagued program to build a virtual security fence along the border with Mexico.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Friday (Jan. 14) that the department was scrapping the project, first envisioned in 2005, to secure the southwest border with a system of video cameras, radar and sensors, combined with a command and control system to link them to DHS ground and air assets along the border. The idea was to create a “virtual fence.”
But the program, called SBInet, “cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution,” Napolitano said in a written statement.
She ordered a reassessment of the multi-billion dollar program last January and froze funding for it and lead contractor Boeing Corp., pending the reassessment. The program, which critics said had not been sufficiently developed before the contract was awarded, was plagued by delays and cost overruns – infuriating congressional leaders. Only about 50 miles of the Arizona border was covered by SBInet technology in two test phases after more than four years’ work.
Napolitano said a new border strategy will assess the best technologies for border security based on the unique needs of each region.
Some congressional leaders hailed the decision, which had been expected since last year’s halt.
”From the start, SBInet’s one-size-fits-all approach was unrealistic,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He called the decision to use technology “based on the particular security needs of each segment of the border” a “far wiser approach, and I hope it will be more cost effective.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said SBInet was “a grave an expensive disappointment since its inception.” Thompson, who had been chairman of the panel until Republicans won control of the House last fall, noted the committee held 11 hearings on the project and commissioned five Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports “all while this program cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion for only 53 miles of coverage.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the current chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he understood the department’s decision to end SBInet but “I continue to have very serious concerns about the Obama administration’s lack of urgency to secure the border.”
King complained that DHS has taken a year to make a final decision on SBInet and “will spend all of 2011, and maybe longer, deciding what to do next.”
Calling that pace unacceptable, King said he expected the administration to present a plan with necessary staffing, fencing and technology requirements in its 2012 DHS budget proposal “including timelines and metrics.”