Archive for April, 2011
Boots on the … Face
In the spirit of the royal wedding that took place in London today, we thought we’d visit the British Army website to see what they were up to – when we came across the arresting photo above.
It shows a Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) cadet negotiating the obstacle course – with the assistance of Officer Cadet Oliver Wootton’s face – in the 2011 Sandhurst Cup military skills competition at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
The 11-event competition, named for the British military academy, has been a showcase for cadets to demonstrate their soldier skills, and also exchange ideas, since the late 1960s. This year, 50 teams took part in the April 15-16 event.
The competitors formed nine-member teams with at least one female member. They included squads from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force academies and college ROTC programs, as well as from Britain, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Chile and Afghanistan.The ROTC competitors came from schools in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, North Dakota and Vermont.
They were tested by a timed marksmanship event as well as a four-and-a-half hour combat assault challenge. That segment included obstacle courses, endurance challenges – such as crossing a ravine by rope – a 90-minute land navigation (orienteering) course, and a river crossing by small inflatable boat. There were also command tasks, a written test and final a weapons check to deal with.
“We try to make it different each year to challenge the cadets to solve problems,” said Capt. Edd Oldfield, the British Exchange Officer at West Point. The idea is to prepare future officers for situations like the ones encountered in current operations “where there are scenarios you can’t predict,” he adds.
For the first time since 1993, a West Point squad won the overall title. During that 17-year hiatus, the top honors went to either a RMAS team or one from the Royal Military College of Canada. This year, one of the two British teams finished third overall but was the highest-scoring foreign team. The other British team won the overall orienteering competition.
The Afghan squad was unable to send more than three cadets. They were able to round out their nine-slot team by “borrowing” three West Point cadets, two British cadets and one from a U.S. ROTC program.
For more information, including rules, video and final team standings, click on the Sandhurst Competition website.
Lest anyone think we are mocking the Sandhurst cadets or the UK military, please note the photo was placed third on the British Army news page of the MoD website. It was featured just below pieces about the household cavalry’s preparations for Prince William’s wedding and the return of a Scottish regiment from Afghanistan.
Still dissatisfied with 4GWAR’s photo selection for this special day in the UK, see the Friday Foto Extra below.
Preparing for the Wedding
Red-coated soldiers of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment’s Life Guards exercise in Hyde Park ahead of the April 29 Royal Wedding. They are one of two cavalry units that protect the British sovereign. The other is the Blues and Royals (also known as the Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons).
For more photos and information on these splendidly attired horse soldiers and their magnificent animals, click here.
Obama Security Team: Musical Chairs
President Obama is going to nominate CIA Director Leon Panetta to replace departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to the Associated Press and several other news outlets including the Washington Post, New York Times, and Bloomberg.
Additionally, Panetta will be replaced at CIA by Army Gen. David Petraeus, current commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, according to reports. And Ryan Crocker, President George Bush’s envoy to Iraq is said to be Obama’s choice for ambassador to Afghanistan.
The Panetta- Petraeus move had been rumored for months. Panetta, 72, a former California congressman (1977-1993) served as President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff. Previous turns as chairman of the House Budget Committee and head of the Office of Management and Budget (1993-94) in the Clinton administration are expected to be major assets as Obama seeks to trim the Pentagon’s budget by hundreds of billions of dollars in an effort to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Petraeus, a former commander of the 101st Airborne Division and U.S. Central Command, is popular on Capitol Hill and is seen as mastermind of the successful surge of U.S. troops in Iraq in 2007 when sectarian violence began to spin out of control. Obama picked Petraeus, 58, to command in Afghanistan after removing Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal in June 2010.
Gates, himself a former CIA director, was tapped for the Defense post by President George W. Bush in 2006 and retained by Obama when he became president. Gates has been talking about leaving the grueling Pentagon post to return to private life for more than a year. Gates said recently that Petraeus would issue an assessment soon on how many troops can leave Afghanistan in July, as part of Obama’s promised start of U.S. troop reduction there in 2011.
If confirmed by the Senate, Crocker would replace former Army general Karl Eikenberry, who has had difficult relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Quoth the Raven Operator
When it comes to hand-launched surveillance drones, it doesn’t matter how big or strong you are, says a veteran operator of Army small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS).
Sergeant First Class Jose Blanco, who has led soldiers operating the RQ-11 Raven SUAS during three deployments in Iraq, says he has trained men and women both short and tall to launch the 4.5-pound drone, which can be carried disassembled in a soldier’s backpack.
The Raven has been used by the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The yard-long (38-inch) Raven, which has a 55-inch wingspan, is launched by throwing it into the air like a model airplane. But unlike a major league pitcher, Blanco says there are no advantages if the soldier launching the Raven is tall or has a strong arm.
“It’s very light. It’s all in the technique. We’ve had male and female soldiers graduate the course,” Blanco told a bloggers roundtable via telephone from a recent Army Aviation Association meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
In fact, says Blanco, he has even trained a war-injured soldier to launch and operate the Raven, the second-smallest drone (after the Wasp) in the Army’s unmanned aircraft inventory.
“We had a recent graduate of the course who was an amputee. There’s no restrictions on that, believe it or not,” said Blanco, a combat infantry veteran with more than 20 years in the military.
The Raven, manufactured by AeroVironment, is a low-level reconnaissance and surveillance drone with an electric motor powered by rechargeable lithium batteries. It can stay aloft for 60-90 minutes. It carries electro-optical and infrared (night vision) cameras that can transmit images from beyond a ground unit’s line-of-sight via a ground station operator to both troops on the ground and attack helicopter pilots in flight. It can show small units what’s over the next hill or around the next corner in urban areas.
Blanco said his “passion for this job” stems from his combat infantry experiences. “I lost a lot of friends, saw a lot of guys step on IEDs (improvised explosive devices), get blown up. If I can prevent that from happening to another ground troop, then this is the best job to do,” he said.
The Business End
A U.S. Army gun crew conduct a proficiency drill demonstration with fellow members of the 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khwost Province, Afghanistan. The 3/321st in part of the 18th Fires Brigade (Airborne), 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The soldiers in the photo performed the drill with a M777A2 lightweight towed howitzer while being observed by U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, senior U.S. enlisted leader with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
This lightweight howitzer can be transported by fixed wing aircraft of helicopter. It can fire four rounds a minute for two minutes, and then two rounds per minute for a long haul.
To see a video of one of these guns in action closde up, click here.
For a longer, promotional video by manufacturer BAE Systems, click here.
When you enlarge the photo, one can make out the division patches of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, as well as the 1st Infantry Division. Can anybody see and identify the other shoulder patches in troops in the photo? If so, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s 2011, Not 1120 A.D.
The carpets, mud walls, beards and turbans … except for the plastic water bottles, the occasional wristwatch and — oh yeah, the machine guns and sandbags on the guard posts in the corners — it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this scene in 12th Century Afghanistan instead of the 21st Century.
With all the high tech attack and surveillance drones, satellite and wireless communication, Kevlar body armor and mine resistant vehicles in use by coalition forces, it’s easy to forget the conflict in Afghanistan is largely an infantry exercise. It’s also important to remember that success in any counter insurgency effort includes working with the local people.
Troopers from the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, attended a shura, or consultive decision-making gathering, April 20 in Now Bahar District, in Zabul Province, not far from the Pakistani border. The 2nd Cavalry is one of the oldest regiments in the U.S. Army.
In this photo, residents of Now Bahar District listen as Zabul Deputy Gov. Mohammad Jan Rasulyaar speaks during the shura at the district center.
To view a Defense Department slide show of the shura, click here.
(Don’t forget to click on the photo to see a larger image.)
Ivory Coast: Here We Go Again
Gunfire has broken out again in the largest city of violence-wracked Ivory Coast. After weeks of fighting in and around Abidjan earlier this month by forces loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo and others supporting Alassane Ouattara – who defeated him at the polls last November – calm appeared to return to the city last week following Gbagbo’s capture.
Residents who has gone days without food, water and medicines during the street fighting and bombing of the presidential compound were hoping for a gradual return to normalcy. While Ouattara’s army was trying to eliminate remaining Gbagbo loyalists in Abidjan’s Yopougan district Wednesday (April 20) word came that pro-Ouattara forces were fighting among themselves in another part of the city, the Voice of America reports.
The intramural fighting is between Ouattara’s forces and a militia group known as the Invisible Commandos. The commandos, led by Ibrahim Coulibaly, joined forces with Ouattara’s main fighting group, the so-called New Forces, to take control of parts of Abidjan before the assault against Gbagbo began.
Coulibaly says he wants recognition for the role he played in Gbagbo’s overthrow, the BBC reports, but the Invisible Commandos are accused of being behind much of the widespread looting that took place in Abidjan over the past week. They are also accused of extorting money from motorists for access to a major road.
An unrelated outburst of shooting in the port of San Pedro, one of the main cocoa-exporting transit points, was also reported Wednesday – apparently in another dispute between pro-Ouattara forces, the BBC said.
Ivory Coast’s official name is Cote D’Ivoire (see map).
Burkina Faso: Calm After Army Mutiny
Ivory Coast’s neighbor, Burkina Faso, has a newly appointed prime minister who says his cabinet picks will be based on their “competence” in dealing with a political crisis that rocked the West African nation for weeks, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
Luc-Adolphe Tiao was named prime minister Monday (April 18) after President Blaise Compaore dissolved theprevious government to quell a soldiers’ mutiny. Burkina Faso is sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest cotton producer.
The mutiny began on Thursday (April 14) in Ouagadougou, the capital, when members of the presidential guard fired guns in the air, demanding unpaid housing allowances. Soldiers in cities north, south, east and west of the capital joined them within days. Calm returned after the soldiers were paid, according to the Associated Press.
Nigeria: Post Election Unrest
President Goodluck Jonathan was re-elected this week in a vote remarkably free of fraud in notoriously corrupt Nigeria. Nevertheless, the election of Jonathan, a politician from the largely Christian and oil-rich South, is being challenged by his opponent, Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari’s supporters in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim North reacted with outrage to the election results and there was rioting in several towns. Scores were said to be killed in Muslim attacks and Christian reprisals. Both churches and mosques were burned. Officials declined to release casualty figures for fear of inciting more violence.
Despite the rioting, Jonathan, in a televised speech, called for next Tuesday’s elections for state governors to go forward, Reuters reported. If those elections are relatively free of fraud, it could go a long way toward burnishing Nigeria’s reputation in the region.
However, just hours later, the head of Nigeria’s independent election commission decided to delay the vote in two northern states, Kaduna and Bauchi, for security concerns, theAssociated Press reported.
The most populous African country with 154 million, Nigeria is also a leading oil producer. Some analysts expect Nigeria could surpass South Africa as the most economically and politically powerful country in Africa by 2030, the Voice of America said.
South Africa: Another BRIC in the Wall
Speaking of South Africa, the country with the continent’s leading economy attended its first meeting as a member of a coalition of emerging economic powers in China last week.
South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China as one of the BRIC countries – which will now be known as BRICS with South Africa’s addition. The acronym was coined by a Goldman Sachs executive, Jim O’Neill, in a 2001 white paper. The addition of South Africa to the bloc has puzzled some analysts. Others believed it was engineered by China, which is seeking friends and natural resources in Africa.
Compared to the other members of the BRICS bloc, South Africa has a much smaller economy, area size and population. South Africa ranks 25th in the world in area compared to No. 1 Russia, No. 3 China, No. 5 Brazil and No. 7, India. South Africa has a population of less than 50 million compared to the next smallest BRICS country, Russia, with nearly 142 million inhabitants. Both China and India have over a billion residents. South Africa’s gross domestic product ranks 28th in the world, compared to China, with the second-largest; No. 8 Brazil; No. 10 India and No. 11 Russia.
South Africa also spends only a fraction on its military, compared to the other four. South Africa ranks 43rd in the world in defense expenditures. China is rated No. 2, Russia is fifth; India is ranked 10th and Brazil No. 11, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
And Know Your Friend
Recent attacks on coalition forces by rogue Afghan soldiers – or terrorists disguised as soldiers – has not destroyed the trust between NATO trainers and the Afghan troops they’re training, insists the U.S. Army general in charge of the program.
“We remain confident in our Afghan partners,” says Major Gen. Gary Patton, noting the motto of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) is “shoulder to shoulder.”
Even after an Afghan sergeant turned on his trainers and fellow Afghan soldiers at a training range near Mazar-e Sharif last July, “we resumed training the very next day as a sign of solidarity and because we retain confidence in our Afghan partners.”
Patton, who is winding down an 18-month assignment as the Army’s deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, spoke with defense bloggers in a teleconference from Kabul Tuesday (April 19).
Despite Patton’s assurances that coalition and Afghan commanders were taking steps to vet Afghan recruits to weed out potential attackers, news reports from Afghanistan in recent years have indicated coalition troops are wary of the recruits they’re training and even of trained Afghan soldiers they jointly patrol with.
The murder of five NATO soldiers Saturday (April 16) at a forward operating base in Laghman Province by a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan Army uniform is just the latest in a series of attacks. on coalition forces. Since January, 13 International Security Assistance Force soldiers have been killed by infiltrators in disguise or Afghan soldiers going rogue for whatever reason, according to Stars and Stripes. There have been 38 killings under similar circumstance since 2009, the newspaper reported.
Stars and Stripes and other news outlets report there is disagreement among officials whether the attacks are primarily by infiltrators — as the Taliban claims — or simply due to cultural and communications clashes between Afghans and their trainers.
4GWAR asked Patton during the bloggers roundtable if officials had a clear idea of whether the attackers were actual Afghan soldiers or impersonators in uniforms which are said to be easily obtained in Afghan shops.
“I think what you see is really a combination,” the general replied. He added that he has discussed the problem several times with the chief of the Afghan Army’s general staff, as well as the defense minister. “They take it very seriously,” Patton says.
The defense minister has issued a directive declaring it is the duty of every Afghan soldier to be a sensor, to watch for comrades that start acting differently or out of character, say, after a trip to their home village. They are also being directed to keep watch on people in uniform they don’t know who don’t look right: wearing the wrong unit patch on their uniform or the wrong insignia for their rank or showing an identification card that doesn’t look right.
Patton said that the Afghans have developed an eight-step vetting process of new recruits that includes a letter from the elders in their home village verifying their identity and character. New recruits are also undergo medical screening and drug testing. Afghan officials have begun collecting biometric data such as retinal scans to keep in an identification database.
He added that 220 Afghan soldiers have been trained in in counterintelligence methods to uncover Taliban infiltrators or disgruntled soldiers who might snap and fire on their comrades or coalition trainers. NTM-A plans to boost that number to more than 400 watchers by the end of the year.
Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group take on an eerie green glow when seen through night vision lenses as they patrol in boats during exercise Emerald Warrior in Appalachicola, Fla. Emerald Warrior is an annual two-week joint/combined tactical exercise sponsored by U.S. Special Operations Command. It is designed to build on lessons learned from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide combatant commanders with the trained and ready forces they need.
Based at Fort Carson, Colorado with one battalion in Stuttgart, Germany, the 10th Special Forces group is responsible for special operations needs in Europe, from Armenia to Ireland.
To see more photos of this night mission and other segments of Emerald Warrior, click here.
For a three minute video — much of it shot through green night vision lenses — of an air drop and air transport loading of vehicles during Emerald Warrior, click here.
Restoring Order, While Washing Away the Blood
The fighting is over (for the most part) in Abidjan, former President Laurent Gbagbo, who lost the last presidential election but wouldn’t give up power, is now in custody. The commercial capital and largest city of Ivory Coast is starting to return to normal. What happens now?
Alassane Ouattara, the economist and former prime minister who defeated Gbagbo in the Nov. 28 election says his deposed opponent will not be harmed while authorities investigate what crimes to charge him with. Ouattara was also urging forces loyal to Gbagbo to lay down their arms and seek reconciliation with the new government. And Ouattara asked the gangs of young men who supported him in the five-month struggle to lay down their arms, too, the Voice of America reports.
The head of Gbagbo’s political party, the Ivorian Popular Front, is calling for an end to the fighting so that Ivory Coast can “return to normal.”
There have been shooting and looting incidents in Abidjan since the Gbagbo regime fell Wednesday (April 13) and it is difficult to say which side is responsible for the disorder.
Both sides “have blood on their hands” the Ivory Coast’s new justice minister tells Britain’s Daily Telegraph, but Jeannot Ahoussou denies that militiamen loyal to Gbagbo killed as many as 1,000 people when they swept through the western town of Duekoue. He acknowledged Ouattara forces killed about 70 people in fighting around Duekoue — but in combat, not reprisals. The United Nations says 330 people were killed – 100 of them by Gbagbo’s militia.
Gbagbo was taken into custody Monday (April 11) inside the Abidjan compound that includes the presidential palace and residence. The compound was surrounded by French and U.N. tanks and heavy weapons. Helicopters from both military entities pounded the presidential compound and surrounding army camps, knocking out missile launchers and other heavy weapons. There’s been speculation by Ouattara’s people — as well as French and U.N. officials — that the hundreds of rockets as well as crates of grenades and smalls arms ammo stockpiled in Gbagbo’s residence prove the attack was necessary to prevent further bloodshed among civilians
The French say they did not apprehend Gbagbo – just made it easier for the new Republican Forces to get inside the compound. Both the French and U.N. have been criticized – especially by African pundits – for getting involved in what is an internal political issue. But the U.N. Is defending its action, according to Reuters.
The BBC has a time line of strife in Ivory Coast going back to colonization by Europeans in the mid-1800s. The BBC also has a wide-ranging summary of African editorial comment about the final outcome of the Ivory Coast crisis.