Archive for March, 2011
The Beginning of the End?
The months-long stand-off between two men who claim to be the duly elected president of the West African nation of Ivory Coast appears to be drawing to a fast-moving and violent conclusion.
Heavy fighting has broken out in the largest city, Abijan, between forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the sitting president and Alasane Ouattara, a former prime minister whose election is recognized by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the African Union and neighboring African countries, the BBC reports.
The two men have traded charges that the other was using mercenaries and their supporters have clashed repeatedly since the Ivory Coast’s electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner. The U.N. says violence has claimed more than 400 lives, causing nearly 1 million people to flee the country, many to neighboring Liberia, the New York Times reports.
The BBC says Ouattara’s forces have made lightning advances since Monday, moving from their base in the predominantly-Muslim northern half of the country. On Wednesday (March 30) they captured Ivory Coast’s capital, Yamoussoukro, and the key port of San Pedro, from which the country’s important cocoa crop is shipped.
Ouattara has closed the country’s land and sea borders and ordered a nighttime curfew in Abijan until Sunday. The UN said thousands of soldiers and police, including several high-level officers, have reportedly deserted Gbagbo’s cause, the BBC reported. The head of the army has sought refuge with his family at the residence of the South African ambassador, the Voice of America said.
The BBC has a photo slideshow of recent conditions in Ivory Coast.
(Click on the image to enlarge the map)
Whose Cyberspace Is It?
When folks at the Pentagon dreamed up the idea of Cyber Command – a Defense Department entity that would protect U.S. military information networks from cyberspace attacks – one of the issues raised was: Just how much of cyberspace is the new command going to protect?
Cyber Command was activated last year, but after testimony at a Senate hearing this week it appears the question of how wide-ranging the command’s mission will be is not completely resolved.
At issue: can, or should, the Department of Defense (DoD), be responsible for protecting all of U.S. cyberspace, most of which — like the electric grid, telephone networks and U.S. financial markets — is in the private sector.
While some say the Pentagon should have that responsibility – after all the grid and communications are vital to national security — current federal law bars the military from acting like a policeman on U.S. soil, except in emergencies like an insurrection. Federal privacy laws are also confusing about how far the military can go in securing cyberspace.
Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) – which oversees Cyber Command – says he still doesn’t have all the legal authorityhe needs. However, Kehler told Sen. John McCain he was working on it – in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
DHS is the lead agency when it comes to safeguarding critical U.S. infrastructure — including civilian government computer systems. It also is responsible for coordinating the defense of industry information networks with the private sector. “So there are limits to what DoD can do today,” Kehler told the Arizona senator.
McCain, who is the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he is “concerned that the Department of Defense lacks both the necessary legal authorities and the sufficient trained personnel to fully perform its critical role in the realm of cybersecurity.”
“A lot of us feel that is the new battleground of the 21st Century,” McCain said. In 2008, a U.S. military facility in the Middle East was hacked with a malicious code that could have allowed classified and unclassified data to be transferred. The year before, the information networks of Estonian government ministries, banks and media outlets were attacked. And cyberwarfare is believed to have brought down Syrian air defense systems, allowing Israeli jets to fly in undetected and destroy a suspected nuclear facility under construction. In 2010, Iran’s nuclear facilities were attacked by sophisticated malware, known as the Stuxnet worm.
McCain noted that the issue has been bouncing around among congressional committees from intelligence and armed services to homeland security. “And everybody’s got a different idea.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman, another Armed Services Committee member – who is also chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee – said it was time to break down the jurisdictional barriers. “We’re not adequately defended from cyber attack today,” said the Connecticut independent, adding that there was an “urgent need” to get beyond “classic Senate committee turf battles” and pass legislation this year clarifying authority for the protection of U.S. cyberspace.
The issue of authority was raised a few weeks ago at a House Armed Services Committee hearing when the head of Cyber Command, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, said “we do not have the capacity to do everything we need to accomplish.” To put it bluntly, he added, “We are very thin and a crisis would quickly stress our cyber forces.”
Meanwhile, Kehler said DoD has a pilot program with industry to explore what authorities are still needed. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) chair of the Armed Services Committee, said legislative efforts are being organized to ensure the department and other agencies “have all the authorities they need and that they work together to make sure there are no cracks in our defense.” Levin said one aim was to clarify not only who has protective authority but “responsibility for the response [to an attack] as well.”
Bravest of the Brave
At the ceremony, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hailed the medal recipients as “the bravest of the brave.”
Since President Abraham Lincoln signed the 1861 law creating the Medal of Honor, 3,543 men and one woman have been awarded the five-pointed star-shaped medal. The most recent was Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade for heroism in Afghanistan.
Awarding of the medal, originally presented only to enlisted men – soldiers and sailors, not officers – until 1863, has been controversial through the years. During the Civil War, hundreds of soldiers from a Maine regiment were offered the medal if they stayed past the expiration of their enlistment just before the Battle of Gettysburg. Some soldiers and sailors received two medals – one from each service – for the same act of bravery. Numerous Civil War veterans petitioned their congressmen to receive the medal long after the war.
To clear up the mess, a board of retired generals reviewed all the medal citations up until that time. In 1917, they recommended that 911 of them be revoked including six given to civilians. They included five Army scouts during the late 19th century Indian Wars – among them William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody – and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War battlefield surgeon and the only woman presented the Medal of Honor. All six civilians had their medals restored in the 20th Century.
Now according to U.S. law, the Medal of Honor is bestowed by the president in the name of Congress on members of U.S. Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”
Racism played a role in the denial of the medal to African-American and Asian-American servicemen during World War II. That, too, was remedied in the 1990s when seven black soldiers and 21 Asians who received the Distinguished Service Cross – the nation’s second-highest award for valor – in World War II had their decoration upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Among them was Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who lost an arm in Italy while serving with the vaunted 442nd Combat Team – which was made up of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States. Many had come from internment camps where their families were relocated during the war. A 22nd Asian-American who received the Silver Star medal in World War II was added to the medal of honor winners. Only one Japanese-American was presented with the Medal of Honor in wartime.
The first Medal of Honor winner to be decorated was Pvt. Jacob Parrott of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was one of the Andrews Raiders, Union soldiers who slipped into the South in civilian dress in 1862, hijacked a locomotive and drove it north to Tennessee, cutting telegraph wires and trying to damage rails and burn bridges along the way.
The raid failed in its main objective and all the raiders were captured. Eight were hanged by the Confederates as Union spies, including their leader James Andrews. Eight others escaped and the remaining six were traded in prisoner exchange. In all, 19 were awarded the first Medals of Honor, including Parrott.
Andrews and William Campbell, who was also hanged, were ruled ineligible for the medal because they were civilians.
The episode has been recreated in two movies. The first was The General, a celebrated silent film directed by and starring Buster Keaton. The second, Walt Disney’s The Great Locomotive Chase, starring Fess Parker – TV’s Davy Crockett – as Andrews.
The Searchers …
A joint U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps search and rescue team flying out of Yokota Air Base look over the destruction at Sendai Airport after an 8.9 earthquake and tsunami ravaged northern Japan. The team is part of the American disaster relief forces assisting with Japan’s recovery effort.
…and the things they saw
An SH-60B helicopter assigned to Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) 14 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi flies over the city of Sendai to deliver more than 1,500 pounds of food to survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. The citizens of Ebina City, Japan, donated the food.
Remember to click on the photos to see a larger image.
Puting the Combat in Combatant Command
The allied intervention in the Libyan revolt/civil war has turned the spotlight on one the United States’ newest and least understood military organizations: U.S. Africa Command, known as AFRICOM.
AFRICOM has spent years of trying to allay the fears of African political leaders, pundits and peace advocates who suspect the command is either a secret strike force for American imperialism to grab the continent’s natural resources, or the 21st Century version of Gunboat Diplomacy. But we wonder if AFRICOM’s stated message of supporting peace and stability has been undermined at all by the command’s involvement in Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn.
The United Nations-Security Council-authorized and Arab League-backed operation – ostensibly to implement a No Fly Zone over Libya and protect civilians from attacks by strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s military – has included multiple missile and aircraft strikes against Qaddafi’s air defense system and armored columns menacing rebel strongholds.
While that has sparked an outcry from peace activists, lawmakers and human rights advocates in the U.S. and Europe, we’re waiting to see how this plays with folks in Africa. Three African nations currently on the Security Council – South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon – all voted in favor of U.N. Resolution 1973, which in effect calls for the No Fly Zone. While no Security Council members voted against the resolution, Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany abstained from voting.
Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, has condemned the U.N. military action as well as the anti-Qaddafi rebels. But opposition parties in his country call his position hypocritical in light of his own lengthy autocratic rule and long-time friendly relationship with Qaddafi, according to local papers via the AllAfrica.com website. Museveni has penned a lengthy piece on his relationship with Qaddafi in Foreign Policy.
The African Union – which opposes the military intervention – called a meeting today (March 25) in Addis Ababa, Ehiopia to try and broker a truce invited representatives from the Qaddafi government and the rebel faction, as well as the U.N. Security Council, the European Union and neighboring Arab countries. But the rebels say they won’t negotiate with Qaddafi’s regime
At least one prominent African political leader, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda – a country that is no stranger to bloodshed – has spoken out in favor of the U.N. military action. In an opinion piece, Kagame says when his country was wracked by ethnic strife in 1994 during which nearly one million people died, the international community was slow to respond – “failing to intervene to prevent a state killing its own people.”
“Given the overriding mandate of Operation Odyssey Dawn to protect Libyan civilians from state-sponsored attacks, Rwanda can only stand in support of it,” Kagame wrote.
Although the African Union was also slow to respond to the Libyan crisis, the Rwandan leader faulted the international community for not including the African group in the decision-making process even though the Arab League was consulted.
“African Union support for Operation Odyssey Dawn would have acted as a further deterrent to other African leaders who might be tempted to target their own people with violence,” Kagame concluded.
Meanwhile, NATO – which is taking over command of the Libyan intervention – said Canadian Lt. Gen. Charlie Bouchard will be running Odyssey Dawn. That should be a relief for AFRICOM and its new commander, Army Gen. Carter Ham, who in the early days of the air war over Libya was the public face of U.S. forces in the operation. AFRICOM’s area of responsibility includes every African country except Egypt, which is overseen by Central Command.
The newest of the six regional combatant commands, AFRICOM was created by the second President George Bush in 2007 to coordinate humanitarian relief operations and train local militaries – all as a stabilizing force on the continent. The military training is aimed at professionalizing local armed forces so they protect rather than oppress their citizens, and equipping them to handle transnational threats like al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
But no African government, save Liberia, would allow AFRICOM’s headquarters within its borders. AFRICOM continues to be based at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany and has no permanent armed force in Africa or anywhere else for that matter. Half of its 1,200 personnel are civilians.
Do As I Do
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Michael G. Roth demonstrates the proper tactical technique for entering a building to Honduran soldiers. Roth and other Marine and Navy personnel — including Seabees and the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) — taught security and law enforcement techniques, and worked on several small construction projects such as replacing a water pump at a local school and building new classrooms during a week-long expert exchange in San Lorenzo, Honduras. known as Southern Partnership Station 2011.
SPS is an annual deployment of U.S. ships by Florida-based Southern Command to the Caribbean and Latin America to share information with navies, coast guards and civilian agencies throughout the region. Roth is assigned to Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group. The soldier-students in this photo (click on the image to enlarge) are assigned to the 11th Honduran Army battalion.
To see a slide show of what Roth and his comrades were up to in Honduras, click here.
NYPD Plans “Dirty Bomb” Exercise
The continuing nuclear radiation crisis in Japan reminds us that not all nuclear threats arrive on a ballistic missile warhead.
Back when we covered the Homeland Security beat full-time after the 9/11 attacks, one of the big concerns of government officials and terrorism experts was the possibility of an attack with a “dirty bomb” – one that releases harmful nuclear material through the detonation of conventional explosives.
The latest exercise to test authorities’ ability to detect and respond to a dirty bomb is slated for the New York City area next month.
Unlike a nuclear weapon, a dirty bomb is not expected to cause massive damage to people or property – except in the immediate vicinity of the initial blast. What is worrisome about such a device – only half jokingly referred to by some as a weapon of mass disruption – is the release of radioactive material that could contaminate bystanders and the area around the blast.
And that could lead to long term problems including the quarantining of contaminated areas for months or even years, depending on the level of radiation released. Officials fear the crippling economic outcome if a dirty bomb was detonated in New York’s financial district or a key port facility like Long Beach in California – forcing their closure for months, if not years.
Washington, D.C. got a taste of that kind of disruption following the anthrax mail attacks of 2001 that sickened 17 people in four states and the District of Columbia. Five people died. Congressional and Supreme Court offices were closed for weeks to allow cleaning and decontamination, according to a Defense Threat Reduction Agency study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That cleanup cost $24 million and the disruption at numerous U.S. Postal Service facilities cost an estimated $3 billion.
More than one commentator has noted that Japan – which is much better prepared for most natural disasters than the U.S. – is scrambling to address the double threat to people and property, should the radiation leaks worsen.
Meanwhile, the New York police Department (NYPD) plans to conduct a full-sale dirty bomb exercise with regional emergency services entities next month, according to Bloomberg and other news outlets.
The NYPD, along with about 150 agencies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, will be testing their ability to detect and respond to nuclear materials targeted for use in a terrorist attack. The exercise will run from April 5-9.
The exercise is being funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security, which has conducted several major emergency response exercises over the years, some of them involving a dirty bomb.
Lawmakers Want More UAVs
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may have scrapped its plan for a virtual fence of sensors and cameras to monitor the U.S. border with Mexico, but DHS officials and members of Congress are very still very high on unmanned aircraft as a surveillance tool.
The top Republican and Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees border security both say they are impressed by the work unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) do patrolling the Southwest border.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a unit of DHS, operates seven unarmed Predator B UAVs. Three are based in Sierra Vista, Arizona, two more are based along the border with Canada and there are two maritime variants based in Texas and Florida.
Michael Kostelnik, head of CBP’s Air & Marine Office, says the Predator Bs are force multipliers allowing U.S. authorities to monitor vast stretches of desert, woodlands and ocean for up to 20 hours.
Kostelnik said the UAVs, if flying over Japan’s earthquake and tsunami-damaged nuclear facilities could supply “unprecedented situational awareness” through their full motion video cameras and high definition radars.
Both the chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee of border and maritime security, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Minnesota) and the senior Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said they were impressed by the CBP UAVs.
“I’m happy to get you more UAVs,” said Cuellar, who described himself as a “big supporter.”
There is no money requested for UAVs in the Fiscal 2012 Homeland Security budget. The aircraft, which go for about $18 million apiece, require a crew of two — a pilot and sensor operator. Kostelnik, a former Air Force major general and NASA official, said CBP and the military services are having trouble training enough pilots fast enough to remotely operate the growing inventory of unmanned aircraft.
He said it takes CBP about $3,500 per flight hour to operate a UAV, compared to $7,000 per hour for its manned aircraft. “The longer you can fly, the more economical it is,” Kostelnik said of the UAVs, which can remain aloft up to 20 hours.
In addition to UAVs, Miller, the chairwoman, said her subcommittee intended to explore the potential of using “robotic land systems” on the southern border.
From Your Friends in Wahoo, Neb.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Herndon hands out wooden toys to village children in Paktika province, Afghanistan, March 9, 2011. Herndon, a Nebraska National Guardsman (Note the ear of corn design on the sergeant’s shoulder patch if you click on the image to enlarge), is assigned to the 623rd Engineer Company, out of Wahoo, Nebraska. You can’t get much more American-sounding than that. The Cornhuskers, along with the 1249th Engineer Battalion of the Oregon National Guard are part of Task Force Gridley, which has been helping Afghan villagers with construction, medical and agricultural projects.
Paktika, which sits along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, is a prime infiltration route for fighters coming from Pakistan’s tribal areas. But the violence isn’t limited to insurgents and coalition troops. .
We know we’ve run photos like this in the past, but of all the photos available this week, this one — to our way of thinking — had the best composition, color and human interest. In short, just a good photo. Also, we don’t run nearly enough pix of the citizen soldiers of the National Guard.
By the way, here’s a link to a NATO channel video on YouTube about some of the security problems in Paktika province.
No Fly Zone: Pros and Cons Debated
The clamor is growing in Washington and Europe to impose some sort of No Fly Zone over Libya to protect rebels and civilians from Muammar Qaddafi’s attack aircraft and bombers.
But there are still plenty of people in the Obama administration advising a “Go slow” policy.
At a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said NATO military planning “will continue … but that’s the extent of it with respct to a No Fly Zone.”
At two different Senate Armed Services Committee hearings this week, Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) pressed U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Intelligennce officials about the feasibility of a No Fly Zone.
McCain worried about what U.S. inaction on Libya would do to “America’s credibility and moral standing.” Lieberman said neither he nor others favoring a No Fly Zone “is talking about on-the-ground intervention”
Like the Defense Secretary told a different congressional committee earlier, Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, cautioned that coalition aircraft would have to take out Qaddafi’s air defense systems of fighters, anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles — in effect, an act of war — before the No Fly rules could be enforced.
Today, McCain noted that France has recognized the rebel coalition in Benghazi as the official Libyan government and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, head of U.S. Joint Forces Command, says the military could implement a No Fly Zone “within a couple of days.”
But James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, told the Senate panel that he was reluctant to go along with that assessmernt, adding that over the long term, the weaponry and organization Qaddafi has at his disposal means the regime probably “will prevail.”
That comment sent White House officials scrambling to shore up the message that the Obama administration still favors the departure of Qaddafi, who has ruled the oil rich North African state for more than 40 years.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will meet with representatives of the Libyan opposition during visits next week to Egypt and Tunisia but saidthe State Department was also vetting members of the opposition. “We know there are people we want to be associated with; we know there are people we don’t want to be associated with,” she told a separate congressional hearing.
Meanwhile, a number of retired senior Air Force officers have been lobbying Congress with the message that more hearings should be held on the feasability of an air blockade, Dave Fulghum reports at the ARES blog. Those officers complain that the naysayers in the Pentagon don’t have the aviation experience to make such a call.
On Wednesday night at a Capitol Hill gathering to promote a book on reforming defense budget excesses, several Pentagon old hands said the concerns about Libyan air defenses were “total nonsense.”
“What they’ve got is a joke,” said Pierre Sprey, a concept designer of the F-16 fighter and A-10 attack plane. The limited capabilities of Libyan SA-6 surface-to-air missiles means attacking the whole air defense systems is unnecessary.
At the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, “We all agreed that NATO will only act if there is demonstrable need, a sound legal basis, and strong regional support. We also agreed to continue planning for all military options.” Gates said.