Archive for May, 2011
Leaked Diplomatic Cables Via Wikileaks
For several years now, U.S. military and intelligence officials have warned about the growing influence of China, Russia and Iran in Latin America. China and Russia have stepped up arms sales to Venezuela and Iran is increasing trade missions and the number of its embassies throughout the continent.
But published reports of U.S. diplomatic cables – leaked to the press by Wikileaks – indicate U.S. officials were also worried about the growing influence of Israel south of the border – especially when it came to the sale of arms and military expertise.
A McClatchy Newspapers report appearing in several news outlets recently says U.S. diplomats saw a security risk in the inroads being made by Global CST, an Israeli company run by the former operational chief of Israel’ defense forces, retired Major Gen. Israel Ziv.
By 2007, 38 percent of Colombia’s foreign defense purchases were going to Israel, according to a cable diplomats sent to Washington, McClatchy reported. Global CST also had deals with Peru and Panama.
The company, based outside of Tel Aviv, also did work in Africa and Eastern Europe. A company promotional video includes praise from then-Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos. who is now Colombia’s president.
UPI reports that other Israeli defense manufacturers – not just Global CST – are still active in South America. Argentina and Ecuador bought military equipment from Israel last year, UPI said. But in 2009, Colombia changed its mind about buying Israeli-made Hermes-450 unmanned aerial vehicles.
Despite such high tech developments as missile-firing drones, bomb-disarming robots and cyberwarfare, U.S. military officials say there’s still a need for boots on the ground and butts in the mud — especially in small wars and counter insurgencies.
One place Marines can learn the needed skills is on the northern end of the island of Okinawa, Japan, at Camp Gonsalves, home of the U.S. Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center. At the JWTC, they have helicopter landing zones, a rocky beach to land on, simulated Third World villages, densely canopied jungle to navigate and lots and lots of mud.
In this photo, a Marine wriggles through that mud beneath barbed wire as part of the six-day endurance course designed to familiarize Marines with fighting in a dense jungle environment.
The camp is named for Pfc. Harold Gonsalves, who was killed on Okinawa during World War II and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery.
For more photos of the jungle training course, click here.
Way Up North
The northern nations that form the Arctic Council are set to sign an agreement on a search and rescue treaty this week.
The eight-member council is holding its bi-annual ministers’ meeting in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland this week. Among the agenda items, a treaty that would govern how Arctic countries respond to, and coordinate with each other in the event of a major catastrophe such as an airplane crash or cruise ship sinking in the Arctic. At least three ships – including a cruise ship and two oil tankers – ran aground off the coast of Greenland in 2010, requiring emergency response operations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were both in Nuuk for the meeting. State Department officials say Clinton’s presence shows the U.S.’s increased interest in Arctic affairs.
The treaty – the first legally binding one agreed upon by the Arctic Council since it was formed in 1996 — is needed to coordinate search and rescue operations on the 13-million-square-mile waters of the Arctic. The Arctic Sea and surrounding waters are expected to become more navigable as polar sea ice melts in future years. That ice melt has touched off a series of issues in the High North (the area within and around the Arctic Circle) including the effect of development on indigenous people, maritime commerce across the region, oil and natural gas drilling and boundary disputes.
In 2007, Russia touched off territorial concerns when one of its submarines planted a metal flag at the bottom staking a symbolic claim on the mineral wealth believed to be there. Meanwhile, China has stepped up its scientific expeditions in the Arctic, and Canada is engaged in a massive project to survey its underwater boundaries in advance of the expected sea traffic through once icebound waters.
China is not a member of the Arctic Council, which was founded in 1996, but it has ad hoc observer status and is seeking permanent observer status – as is the European Union. The opening up of the Northwest Passage across the Canadian north could speed the shipment of Chinese export goods to Europe.
The members of the council are: Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States.
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.