Archive for May, 2011
U.S. Seeks Air Partners
Senior leaders from more than 20 African air forces met recently with U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and other top U.S. officials to discuss avenues of cooperation at a gathering in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Schwartz was the keynote speaker at the three-day African Air Chiefs Conference that was sponsored by Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA, also known as the U.S. 17th Air Force) and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Schwartz said the U.S. Air Force was committed to non-kinetic, non-combat employment of military airpower as well as its more traditional role.
“Just as effectively in providing military applications, airpower can deliver elements of international, non-governmental support, such as life-sustaining supplies by the International Red Cross or life-saving medical treatment by Doctors without Borders, to distressed, often isolated areas,” the Air Force leader told military, government and non-governmental organization leaders at the gathering.
“Like every region of the world, Africa faces security challenges that are both unique to the continent … and shared globally,” said Air Force Major Gen. Margaret Woodward, AFAFRICA’s commander, telling the Africa officials present: “We believe that our only chance at truly confronting these challenges successfully is in partnership with you.”
AFAFRICA, a unit of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), is based in Ramstein Air Base, Germany and provides AFRICOM’s air and space component, but does not maintain a permanent fleet of combat and transport aircraft. Rather it coordinates the use of air assets in Africa from other commands. it also has a collaborative relationship with the 110th Air Operations Group, Michigan Air National Guard.
AFAFRICA does maintain one forward operating base in Africa at Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Combat search and rescue for the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa is controlled out of Camp Lemonier.
Can You Hear Me Now?
The Federal Communications Commission(FCC) is teaming up with federal emergency officials and wireless communications companies to launch a public alert system that will send warnings to people’s mobile phones when they are in a threat area.
Known as PLAN (for Personal Localized Alerting Network), the new public alert system will allow mobile phone customers to receive geographically-focused text-like messages about imminent threats to safety.
The alerts will be localized – say within a few blocks of a suspicious vehicle or within a few miles of an approaching tornado or hurricane – through short, relayed messages from a local cell phone tower.
The service is slated to start by the end of the year in New York City and Washington, and in the rest of the country by mid-2012. All major U.S. Cell phone systems will participate in the system, which is being supervised by the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
The wireless industry will have to add a necessary chip that only a few types of phones have right now. They have agreed to add the chip to new phones and wireless devices rolling out by 2012.
The chip means people in threatened geographic areas with enabled phones will receive the alerts regardless of where they are from or where the phone was purchased, according to the New York Post.
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Was al Qaeda Getting into Training?
Amtrak, the U.S. National Railroad Passenger Corp., used to advertise with the catch phrase “America is Getting into Training.”
According to the documents seized by U.S. agents in Pakistan following the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, it appears the terrorist organization he founded and led planned to do a little “training,” itself.
Information obtained following the raid on bin Laden’s compound indicates the terrorist organization was planning – as recently as February 2010 – to launch attacks on U.S. passenger trains,possibly during the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Although the U.S. has long labeled al Qaeda a threat to air transportation, the terrorist network has also launched attacks on big city transit systems — in London (July 2005) and Madrid (March 2004) — killing and injuring hundreds of people.
The intelligence coming out of the bin Laden compound raid led Sen. Charles Schumer of New York to suggest imposing a “No Ride List” for Amtrak similar to the “No Fly List” of known and suspected terrorists to be kept off airline flights. The New York Democrat wants the Department of Homeland Security to expand the Secure Flight program that pre-screens airline passengers for terrorists, to Amtrak in order to protect the nation’s railroad infrastructure.
Amtrak says such a system may be worth looking into, but an awful lot of planning has to go into any such security system to ensure passenger rights are protected and commerce isn’t slowed down, according to Fox News.
Hospital Ship Security
Now here’s a Military Occupational Speciality we weren’t expecting, armed deck security manning a machine gun on a U.S. Navy hospital ship.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jerris Bradley stands watch aboard the USNS Comfort as the hospital ship transits the Panama Canal en route to Peru. The Comfort, which left its homeport in Baltimore March 17, is on a nine-nation, five-month medical and humanitarian mission, Continuing Promise 2011, to Latin America and the Caribbean Basin.
In addition to 480 Navy medical and dental professionals, the Comfort is carrying 12 Air Force and Navy linguists to serve as interpreters. There are also 71 civil service mariners (U.S. Merchant Marine) who will operate and navigate the ship, provide water and electricity to the shipboard hospital and, when necessary, transport patients between the Comfort and shore in small boats.
Also aboard the Comfort are Navy Seabees (construction battalions) , who will assist school building projects in the countries visited.
There are also volunteers from 30 non-governmental organizations ranging from Project Hope and Samaritan’s Feet (which provides shoes to people who can’t afford them) to Des Moines University (a health sciences/medical school in Iowa) and World Vets (as in veterinarians).
According to the Navy, the exchange of information with partnering nations “is integral to building disaster relief preparedness and supporting maritime security in the region.
Continuing Promise 2001, which is conducted by U.S. Southern Command, will take the Comfort to selected ports in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.
McKeon: Cause Was Heat, Dark and High Walls — Not Mechanical Failure
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says it was not a mechanical problem that caused the loss of a stealthy U.S. helicopter during the commando raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon said that while hovering in the dark inside the high-walled compound where the head of the al Qaeda terrorist network had been hiding, the “back of the helicopter hit the wall”
Additionally, the California Republican said, there was a 15-degree temperature difference within the compound and the air outside. “The lift of the helicopter depends on the temperature,” McKeon said. Because of that, the helo “couldn’t hold the hover” to allow the Navy SEALS to slide down ropes to the ground. So the pilots made a hard landing to get the raiders out as quickly as possible. “It was not a mechanical failure,” said McKeon nor was it an error by the pilot. “Just a little miscalculation on the temperature.”
No SEALS were lost during the 40-minute mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan in which Bin Laden was killed and his body taken away by raiders who also seized documents and computer hard drives. Officials have said the damaged helicopter could not take off and was destroyed by the departing special operations forces, although part of the tail survived and was carted away by Pakistani security officials.
In addition to Bin Laden, four people, three men and one woman, were shot and killed in the raid, officials said. The slain woman was not Bin Laden’s wife and he did not use any woman as a human shield — as previously reported — they added.
After photos of the wrecked helicopter’s tail section were published, there has been much speculation that it was a previously unknown version of the MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that apparently had been modified to be extra quiet and possibly equipped with stealth technology to thwart radar detection.
McKeon’s remarks about the raid came following a speech on defense spending and acquisition reform at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.
NORAD Testing Air Defense Overnight
Fighter jets and helicopters are scheduled to fly over the Washington, D.C. area overnight as part of a North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) military exercise.
Barring adverse weather conditions, the exercise, called Falcon Virgo 11-08, was supposed to run from 11:30 p.m. Wednesday (May 4) to 5 a.m. Thursday (May 5), according to NORAD.
Air Force F-16 fighter jets and at least one Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter will take part in the exercise to test the National Capital Region’s Visual Warning System and also hone NORAD’s intercept and identification capabilities.
The exercise comprises a series of training flights in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Capital Region Coordination Center, the Joint Air Defense Operations Center, the Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard and the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR).
What Bin Laden’s Death Could Mean
Will Osama Bin Laden’s death have any effect on the fight in Afghanistan?
The former U.S. Marine Corps commander in Afghanistan’s volatile Southwest provinces says yes, but it will be largely symbolic.
“I think psychologically, it’s going to be a blow to the insurgency for several reasons,” Maj. Gen. Richards P. Mills told a bloggers’ roundtable today (Tuesday). Mills, commander of NATO’s Regional Command Southwest until last month, says Bin Laden had a “mythical standing within the terrorist organizations” and his demise at the hands of U.S. special operations forces May 1 could undermine morale.
Mills, who also commanded the I (first) Marine Expeditionary Force (pronounced Eye-Mef), in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Nimruz provinces, says the slaying of the world’s most wanted terrorist also sends a message to insurgent leaders. “It proves the point that the Americans don’t walk away” from a difficult mission, he said. “No matter how tough, no matter how long it takes, we get it done,” Mills said, adding that it disproves “the insurgent propaganda that the Americans are going to leave very quickly and forget about Afghanistan and walk away from you.”
Al Qaeda was in the background of the conflict in Helmand, Mills said, so Bin Laden’s death probably won’t have much effect on the ground there, but for the Taliban, it “will probably frighten the senior leadership more[knowing] that they are being hunted.”
Mills took over leadership of NATO operations in Helmand and Nimruz provinces from a British general in April 2010 just after the big offensive in Marja. There was additional heavy fighting in places like Sangin on his watch. His command of 30,000 troops included 20,000 U.S. Marines as well as troops from Britain, Georgia, Denmark, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Tonga and Estonia. The coalition forces also partnered with the Afghan National Army’s 215th corps.
Mills was the first Marine Corps officer to head a NATO regional command in combat.
The 4GWAR blog asked him just who the enemy was in Helmand, foreign fighters or home grown insurgents?
Mills said his troops had battled a combination of local insurgents and “a corps of out-of-area fighters” from “Pakistan most notably.” He said the outsiders provided the locals with structure, training and leadership on the ground but the majority of fighters, “60 or 70 percent,” were locals. He noted that widespread unemployment was a driving force behind recruiting for the insurgency in largely poor and rural Helmand Province.
One issue coalition forces were able to exploit he said, was the fact that insurgent leaders who remained safe in Pakistan strongholds were, in effect, phoning it in from Quetta. Some hadn’t been back to Afghanistan for years. “I think that’s a real weakness there,” Mills said, “as the war turned against them, I think the local Taliban became very resentful that the leadership could run to safety, and they had to stay and fight.”
In the Wake of the Raid
Now that al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden is dead and buried (somewhere at sea) what happens next?
Analysts and government officials are warning that the U.S. and its allies may face retaliatory attack but individual countries are reacting differently to the potential danger.
Right after the news about the U.S. raid on Bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan, security alerts went up at U.S. embassies and military installations domestically and around the word. But prices of commodities like petroleum and silver came down — at least for a while.
Britain and India have also stepped up security at government buildings at home and at their diplomatic missions around the world. The Philippines and Indonesia – which have active al Qaeda-affiliated cells – tightened security at embassies and airports. African nations like Kenya and Nigeria have also stepped up security.
But Australian officials said they did not see a need to raise the nation’s terrorism threat alert above medium – two levels below the highest warning.
The U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans. But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that lacking any specific threat information, the new National Terrorism Advisory System was not raising a new terrorist threat alert.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said “we will only issue alerts when we have specific or credible information to convey to the American public.”
Gone in 40 Minutes
Updates with comments at White House press conference by Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan …
More information is starting to trickle out about the U.S. special operations forces raid on a walled compound in Pakistan where al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was found and killed in a firefight.
About 40 Navy SEALS were flown from Afghanistan to Abbottabad, Pakistan – some 35 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad – aboard at least two helicopters. At a White House news conference Monday, John Brennan, the president’s homeland security adviser, said the SEALs did not go in with orders to kill Bin Laden. He said a course of action was debated and developed over several months to decide: “If he was captured, what would we do with him? Where would he go? If he was killed, what would we do with him, where would he go?”
One of the helos – a CH-47 Chinook – developed mechanical difficulties and made a hard landing inside the compound. Senior Obama administration officials told reporters in a late-night conference call they were “shocked” when they first saw the compound in 2010 surveillance photos. “The physical security measures of the compound are extraordinary,” including 12-to-18-foot-high walls topped by barbed wire, few windows and no telephone or internet service, said one official.
The SEALS quickly secured the area. More than 20 rushed the house where Bin Laden was and ordered him to surrender. A gunfight broke out and Bin Laden was drilled through the head (and apparently shot a second time for good measure). Brennan said he didn’t know if Bin Laden “got off any rounds.”
The SEALS then ransacked the house for intelligence data — taking papers and computer hard-drives – then bundled up Bin Laden’s body to take back to Afghanistan for positive identification. They blew up the crippled helo to keep its high tech equipment from falling into the wrong hands and took off. There were no U.S. casualties.
Brennan said Pakistani officials were not informed about the mission until after all U.S. personnel and aircraft had left Pakistani airspace.
It all lasted about 40 minutes. Reportedly Bin Laden and three other men — including one of his adult sons — were among the dead. A woman used as a human shield by one of the al Qaeda types was also killed. She is believed to be one of Bin Laden’s wives, Brennan said.
Remarkably, the one acre compound was in a well-to-do neighborhood only 1,000 yards from Pakistan’s military academy (the equivalent of West Point). News media in India — Pakistan’s neighbor, rival and enemy in three wars — complained the hideout’s location raised new questions about the role of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate – Pakistan’s military intelligence agency — which has long been suspected of having al Qaeda sympathizers within its ranks.
The Indian government said Bin Laden’s hideout deep in Pakistani territory “raised great concern.“
Brennan acknowledged Bin Laden’s presence so close to Islamabad and a major military facility while Pakistani authorities were insisting he was not in their country “raises questions.” But he said the U.S. has a strategic partnership with Pakistan even though “we don’t always agree.”
On another note: a computer programmer who lives in Abbottabad wound up tweeting about the raid (and alerting the world) without really knowing what he was seeing and hearing.
Several U.S. intelligence agencies — including the CIA, National Security Agency and the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Agency — provided key assistance in the operation, the administration officials said.
To avoid creating a symbolic rallying point, Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea “in strict conformity with Islamic precepts and practices,” Brennan said. He declined to say specifically whether an imam or other any clergy presided at the body’s dispatch.
There was debate within the White House over whether to release photos of the slain terrorist leader, Brennan said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure nobody has any basis to deny that we got him,” headded.
At least some Muslim religious leaders and scholars say disposal at sea was not in keeping with Islamic law and may actually be seen as an insult by some Muslims, presenting the possibility of retaliation, the Guardian newspaper in Britain reported.
Target No. 1 Acquired
Osama bin Laden, the founder of the terrorist group that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, killing thousands of people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, has himself been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan
President Obama made the announcement Sunday night, although word started to leak out before his televised White House address from the East Room.
Obama said the long sought terrorist leader was killed by U.S. Special Operations forces — not a missile strike from a drone — in a Pakistani compound where he had been tracked following a credible tip received last August. The president said bin Laden was killed in a firefight and his body was recovered by the U.S. troops and brought back for positive identification. Obama said he determined last week that there was enough confirmation that it was bin Laden to launch a boots-on-the-ground operation.
Details should starting coming out within hours. NBC reported the troops involved were Navy SEALS and that bin Laden was shot at least once in the head. We can’t wait to hear the timeline of this operation from who spotted bin Laden, to how they tracked him, determined they had good intel, what Obama said and did and how the operation went down.
In the hours since the East Room announcement, several analysts have noted this doesn’t mean the end of al Qaeda which has splintered into several subsets — especially on the Arabian peninsula and the Maghreb region of North Africa. We’re sure lots of television commentators, intelligence and military officials, editorial writers and talk show hosts will be quoting Winston Churchill: “This isn’t the end. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
For now, it remains to be seen if the United States and its allies will raise threat level warnings, increase security (more dogs and police with machine guns on the subways and in airports) on Tuesday and put their military and security forces on high alert. It also remains to be seen what al Qaeda and its allies do next.
When news websites announced Obama was making an address to the nation at 10:30 on a Sunday night with little warning — and that it had something to do with national security — we admit our stomach lurched. We knew this had to be something bigger than the death or departure of Libya’s Qaddafi. We suspected it was about Osama bin Laden, but we also worried that it might be some nightmare scenario out of the movies: a biological weapon attack, a jumbo jet heading for the U.S. with a dirty bomb aboard, even an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
We were elated at the real news. Ten years is a long time to wait for justice. But we do wonder what the fallout will be.