Archive for June, 2011
Up and Over
While maritime interests await the melting Arctic sea ice to open up a Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the U.S. Air Force is taking a more direct route – over the Arctic Circle.
It was the first direct delivery airlift mission through the Arctic Circle from the United States to Afghanistan. According to U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command, the flight was a “proof of concept” mission to help establish future sustainment operations in Afghanistan.
The upgraded C-5M, with pilots from the Air Force Reserve’s 709th Airlift Squadron at Dover AFB, flew over Canada and the Arctic Circle, then back down through Russia and Kazakhstan to Baghram. In order to make the 15-hour flight (June 5-6), the Super Galaxy was refueled by a KC-135R Stratotanker from the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease Air National Guard Base. The U.S. and Russia have a 2009 agreement allowing the overflight through Russian airspace.
A few days later (June 21-22), an Air Force KC-135 air refueling tanker also crossed Arctic air space from Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington to the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The new routes, if accepted, are expected to cut flying time and cargo costs between the U.S. and Afghanistan.
That could make a difference in the future if the rocky U.S.-Pakistan relationship deteriorates further. Most of the supplies shipped from the U.S. to U.S. Forces in Afghanistan come in by boat to Pakistan and are then transported by truck along dangerous routes into the Afghanistan.
Sniper Survival Suit
A two-man sniper team from the Dominican Republic in camouflage clothing known as ghillie (or gilly) suits prepare for the stalking event at Fuerzas Comando 2011, a special operations skills competition in Ilopango, El Salvador.
Competitors from 19 countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean took part in the eight-day exercise that ended June 23. In its eighth year, the competition, which is sponsored by U.S. Southern Command, tests the skills and training of special operations troops and police in physical fitness, marksmanship, aquatic skills and tactical capabilities like stalking a target undetected or mounting an assault on a room that might have hostages.
Among the events the six-man teams faced this year: a timed 18.8-kilometer forced march up an inactive volcano while carrying 30-pound rucksacks and rifles, launching and landing a rubber raft loaded with equipment in heavy surf, swimming in strong ocean currents while towing equipment, running an obstacle course and rifle and handgun shooting exercises that tested shooters’ capabilities under psychological and physical stress.
While the elite troops and police were struggling through the demanding tactical competition, commanders and policy makers participated in a senior leader seminar. Staff members from each participating country operated as a combined staff to coordinate administrative, logistical, medical and communications support.
In addition to testing commando skills, the goal of Fuerzas Comando is to foster military-to-military relationships in the region to promote trust, cooperation and information exchanges — at both the soldier and officer level — about tactics, techniques and equipment for combating terrorism and transnational crime.
Teams participating in this year’s event were from Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and the United States.
Host El Salvador won the competition. Ecuador was second and Brazil finished in third place.
To see a Defense Department photo slideshow of the event, click here.
Can’t get enough? Click here for even more photos and videos.
Taking Out 10,000 Troops This Year
President Barack Obama says he will withdraw 10,000 of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by year’s end – with plans to bring home another 23,000 by the summer of 2012.
But members of the House Armed Services Committee question whether the troop reductions – promised by Obama in a 2009 speech at West Point – were too little or too much.
Rep. Buck McKeon, (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says he’s deeply concerned that what he terms Obama’s “aggressive troop withdrawals,” could jeopardize the gains made in the 18 months since a surge of 33,000 additional U.S. troops began. It is those surged troops, Obama said Wednesday night, that he wants to begin removing from Afghanistan by next summer. The cuts would still leave about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Plans call for nearly all of them to be out by the end of 2014, when NATO plans to end its mission there and the Afghan army and national police are to take over responsibility for security.
Testifying before McKeon’s panel Thursday (June 23), Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he did not, at first, support the scale of Obama’s the planned reduction. The president’s cuts “are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept,” Mullen said. More force over more time is “without doubt, the safer course,” he added. But Mullen believes the risks are in the acceptable range, while maintaining the U.S. capabilities to “sustain the mission, focus on the objectives and execute” the goals of crippling the al Qaeda organization and preventing them or other terrorists from setting up shop again in Afghanistan.
Mullen also noted that keeping more troops in Afghanistan for a longer period would make Afghan security forces more dependent on U.S. and NATO troops. It would also make them look weak in the eyes of the Taliban, he added.
Some committee Democrats, like Rep. James Langevin of Rhode Island, questioned why the Obama administration wasn’t taking out more troops sooner. “I think we’d undo all the gains” of the surge, Mullen replied.
Conversely, Republicans, like Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, wondered why, if the surge’s gains were fragile and reversible – as Mullen, Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus and other leaders said last year – wouldn’t troop withdrawals this year jeopardize the mission.
Thanks to the surge, Mullen said, Taliban insurgents “had a really bad year last year … are having a really bad year this year and will have a really bad year next year.” He added that the risks of reversal become less as Afghan forces become better trained and less dependent on coalition assistance, and while coalition forces continue to evict insurgents from their strongholds
It costs about $6 billion a year to recruit, train, equip and sustain the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police force, which now numbers over 300,000. Both Democrats and Republicans questioned how Afghanistan, with revenues of about $10 billion a year, could maintain such a force after coalition forces depart.
Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said it couldn’t. Both she and Mullen speculated that more than 300,000 security forces might not be needed by 2014 or 2015. Flournoy said officials were exploring ways to improve the Afghan economy to pay for more of its security needs. But she cautioned “Afghanistan will remain one of the poorest countries in the world for quite some time.”
So the Obama administration is dealing with a double dilemma. First, it’s tough politically to justify spending billions of dollars a month on Afghanistan when the U.S. economy is ailing – especially in a presidential election year (2012). But it’s equally tough from diplomatic and security standpoints to pull out of Afghanistan if it cannot maintain its fragile and flawed democracy and will just revert back to a terrorist base – despite all the blood and money the U.S. has spent since 2002.
In testimony before other congressional committees Thursday, Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, indicated that several military advisers initially favored keeping more troops in Afghanistan through 2012. At a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on his nomination to become director of the CIA, Petraeus said Obama’s timetable for withdrawal was more aggressive than the one his military advisers proposed. But the four-star Army general said it can be achieved without jeopardizing U.S. objectives.
Using the Heavens to Patrol the Seas
Maritime security, space and satellite experts are gathering in Italy this week (June 21-23) for a conference on monitoring the seas from space.
The concept is called C-SIGMA, a phrase that stands for Collaboration in Space for International Global Maritime Awareness. The phrase was coined and the concept developed by Guy Thomas, a former Navy signals intelligence officer who is now Science and Technology Advisor for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Thomas will be one of the speakers at the conference in Frascati, Italy at ESRIN, the European Space Agency establishment there.
The idea is to use currently available non-military satellites to monitor the maritime environment at the global level.
Conference attendees from navies, coast guards, customs and border agencies, intelligence services and police forces will be discussing how to utilize data from a galaxy of satellites for maritime border surveillance, law enforcement, search and rescue, seagoing traffic safety and critical infrastructure protection. Current satellite capabilities as well as new developments in technology will also be discussed.
A Cry in the Night
Air Force Capt. Dawn Russell, a physicians assistant assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Zabul, treats an injured Afghan boy while PRT personnel hold flashlights at Forward Operating Base Smart, June 9. The patient was transported to FOB Smart from Zabul Provincial Hospital after an improvised explosive device detonated, injuring two Afghan children. Both were evacuated by helicopter for further medical care.
PRTs, consisting of military officers, diplomats, and experts from U.S. civilian agencies like the departments of State, Agriculture or Justice, work to help local governments to govern their constituents more effectively.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Robert Gates, The Long Goodbye
We saw an interesting, brief item on POLITICO this morning on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ last scheduled press conference at the Pentagon.
Gates, who is retiring at the end of the month – after four-and-a-half years as head of the Defense Department – had some words of praise for the Pentagon press corps, calling reporters a “watchdog on behalf of the American people.”
Gates conceded that for Pentagon reporters who have been traveling with him in recent weeks to a series of command headquarters, forward operating bases, ships and airfields, it’s been The Long Goodbye.
In Washington, like most other places, people on their way out tend to say nice or at least respectful things about those they’ve worked with. While he did not have a stormy relationship with the press as did his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld did, Gates admitted he didn’t always like what he read in the press – especially if the information was leaked by someone within the Pentagon (transcript).
However, Gates said he gained an appreciation for the “important accountability role” the press plays early in his tenure when newspaper reports exposed what he called “two glaring bureaucratic shortcomings,” in the outpatient treatment of wounded troops at Walter Reed Hospital and resistance to purchasing armored vehicles, known as MRAPs, to protect troops from roadside bombs in Iraq.
It was because of his swift response to those issues – he fired the Army secretary and rushed more MRAPS into the field – as well as other steps to hold Pentagon leaders accountable that impelled this 4GWAR editor, when he worked at Aviation Week, to recommend Gates as the magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year. Among Gates’ actions cited in the cover story, his push for more unmanned aerial vehicles to provide field commanders with needed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data.
But Gates has his critics, in and out of the press. One is Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate staffer and defense budget expert who has been a congressional-military-industrial complex gadfly. In an essay at AOL Defense, Wheeler, who is director of the Straus Military Reform Project for a Washington think tank, the Center for Defense Information, takes Gates to task for the opportunities he missed including real reform of the way the Pentagon keeps track of the billions it spends.
It’s time for you be the judge of Gates’ legacy. Please tell us what you think — either in the comment box below or by emailing us at:
Marines Awarded Navy Cross
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pins the Navy Cross on Marine Corps Staff Sgt Juan Rodriguez-Chavez shortly after presenting the nation’s second highest award for valor to Capt. Ademola D. Fabayo (left) during a ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps on June 10.
The two Marines were decorated for their actions against an enemy ambush in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2009. On that day, then 1st Lt. Fabayo was leading a dismounted patrol of Americans and two platoons of Afghan National Security Forces into Ganjgal Village for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Rodriquez-Chavez was pulling security.
When the team was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters in fortified positions, four team members were cut off from safety. Rodriguez-Chavez and Fabayo repeatedly advanced into enemy fire to rescue their fallen comrades, making four trips into the kill zone in the hours of fighting that occurred that day.
(Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Christopher Zahn)
View from an Osprey
A Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey, carrying Defense Secretary Robert Gates, flies over a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. As the tiltrotor helicopter approaches the base, the crewman mans what appears to be a 240 Gulf heavy machine gun on the back of the Osprey. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you’ll see how big and well stocked the base is. the watchtowers, reinforced Hesco barriers and rows of cargo shipping containers make the base look like a surreal cross between a Roman legion’s camp and the cargo area of a modern airport.
Gates made several trips to forward bases — this one occupied by Marines — during his farewell tour. The Defense Secretary is slated to step down next month.
To see a slideshow of the visit, click here.
The Class of 2011
During the last week of May, commencement exercises were held at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Here’s a snapshot of the time-honored ceremonies as well as the joy — and relief — expressed by some of the hardest-working college students in America.
We start with the oldest service academy, West Point, founded in 1802 because the Army wanted some decent engineers and artillery officers.
While several generals have been elected president of the United States, only two — Ulysses S. Grant (Class of 1843) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Class of 1915) — were West Point grads. The presidents of at least two other countries — including Jefferson Davis (Class of 1828) — went there.
This year West Point graduated 1,031 second lieutenants — including 16 combat veterans.
Click here to see a Defense Department photo essay on the Military Academy graduation.
While six of the last 10 presidents have been Navy men (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Bush the elder) only one — James Earl “Jimmy” Carter was an Annapolis grad (Class of 1946).
Look closely at the grads lining up in the above photo and you’ll see some are Marines in the dress blue blouse.
Or look below to see the Marines taking the oath as officers during the Naval Academy commencement.
The Naval Academy has 1,006 graduates, including 800 men and 206 women, in 2011. Of those 1,006, 260 were commissioned as Marines.
While one of the oldest armed services, the Marine Corps does not have its own four-year academy for training officers. Instead, cadets at the Naval Academy can elect to take Marine Corps commissions. After graduation at Annapolis, they are shipped off to The Basic School at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
Click here to see a photo essay on the Naval Academy graduation.
The newestt service academy is the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Founded in 1955, the Air Force Academy is famous for the modern architecture of its chapel and its football teams (check out the bowl game banners hanging in Falcon Stadium on the left side of the photo). This year the academy graduated 1,021 officers. The Class of 2011 was also the first to earn wings for remotely piloted aircraft.
If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you will see among the flying hats, the F-16 Fighting Falcons of the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s precision aerial demonstration team.
Click here to see a photo essay on the Air Force Academy graduation.
U.S. Marines hook chains to recover a downed French Dassault F-2000 Mirage D aircraft in the Bakwa District of Afghanistan recently. An M88 Recovery Vehicle was needed to drag the jet away from the fuel-saturated crash area.
The jet crashed near Farah in western Afghanistan May 24 after experiencing an apparent mechanical malfunction. Enemy fire was not to blame, according to French military officials, who said the two-person crew ejected without injury and were recovered without incident.
The Mirage went down in an area overseen by Italian troops who accompanied French and U.S. Army troops as well as the the Marines on the 81-mile recovery patrol. Marines from the Combat Logistics Battalion 8, 2nd Marine Logistics Group took the lead on the May 27 mission.
After securing dangerous flares from the downed aircraft, the Marines also removed the jet’s wings with C-4 explosives charges — to make it easier to transport the aircraft overland.
To see a slideshow of photos about this recovery operation, click here.
Updates with details of jet crash and search operation for the aircraft.