Archive for April, 2012
Some Like It Hot (Updates with new background info)
No, this is not an impressionist painting, but a Defense Department photo. It shows a team of firefighters spraying a blazing engine during an aircraft fire training exercise at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The heat waves coming off the fire distort the imagery, so that a layman might assume this piece of art was drawn or painted rather than shot through a camera lens.
A dozen Air Force Reservist firefighters donned chemical protection gear and fire suits — on Friday the 13th no less — before heading into Hurlburt’s aircraft burn pit for their annual refresher course on handling a large frame aircraft fire. Read the full story here.
These firefighters are from the 919th Civil Engineer Squadron of the 919th Special Operations Wing, a Reserve unit based at Eglin Air Force Base’s Duke Field in Florida. The 919th SOW provides and maintains the MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft, a cargo plane variant that can fly extremely low to drop bombs, propaganda leaflets or special operations troops in covert operations. One of Wing’s units — the 919th Security Forces Squadron — was the first Air Force Reserve unit activated in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The 919th SOW also has one of the strangest unit emblems we’ve ever seen. Your 4GWAR editor would love to hear from a current 919th SOW member or vet who can explain its significance.
Reporting from Afghanistan
Two journalists your 4GWAR editor knows have been blogging from Afghanistan for the last few weeks and they present a fascinating picture – in very different ways – of what it is really like over there. Maybe not what it’s like for the troops who are deployed for a year, but what the weather is like and what the food and the roads and the people – in uniform and out — are like. The kind of things you or I might notice in such a strange land.
Both blogs are listed on the 4GWAR Blog Roll in the right hand column on the Home Page, but we thought we’d call a little more attention to these two intriguing websites.
North Carolina newspaper
With the Troops is a blog written by Drew Brooks a reporter with a North Carolina newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, along with his photographer, James Robinson. They are embedded with the 82nd Airborne Division, which is based in Fort Bragg, N.C., right outside Fayetteville. It is the second overseas embed with the military for both journalists. They were in Iraq last year to cover the drawdown in U.S. troop strength during Operation New Dawn (the successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom).
Now they’re in Afghanistan until May, reporting on topics like small unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) used by the infantry and female soldiers reaching out to Afghan women to overcome cultural obstacles and acquire intel.
I first met Drew at the University of Kansas journalism school’s Military Journalist Experience program last Fall. About a dozen jouros from all around the country – and one from Africa – spent five days at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri learning about what officers are taught and how enlisted personnel are trained. Drew covers Fort Bragg and military matters for his paper.
While I don’t know James Robinson, I do like his work. He’s taken some great photos and you can see some of them here.
Minnesota Public Television
I’ve never met Luke Heikkila, but I’ve enjoyed reading his blog about a trip to Afghanistan. We stumbled across each other’s blogs when he ‘liked’ a Defense Department photo I posted for the Friday Foto on 4GWAR. And when I visited his blog to thank him, I saw he was a public television reporter/producer from Minnesota who was getting ready to embed with the troops in Afghanistan.
What made Luke’s blog fascinating reading was his mission: embedding – not with combat troops or commanders — but with a Minnesota National Guard unit that would be serving as the Agribusiness Development Team for Zabul province – ZADT for short. These were part-time U.S. soldiers who were going half way around the world to offer advice on growing food and raising livestock.
Another reason to read Luke’s Ten Days in the Sand blog is his wry, self-deprecating narrative about preparing for this adventures – especially what to pack and how to get into and out of Afghanistan. The early months of this blog provided a real education in being a do-it-yourself war correspondent. Who knew Afghan security won’t let you bring a Kevlar helmet and bullet proof vest into the country in your carry-on bag?
Also, Luke was a one-man band, taking still photos and videos, interviewing people and taking copious notes for the blog and the report he will do for Twin Cities Public Television. I don’t know how he found the time or energy to write as much as he did.
Luke recently returned to the states but his journey still makes interesting reading.
Nigerian Pirates Extending Range
Piracy is on the rise in the waters off west Africa – especially in an around Nigeria – according to statistics from the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Global Piracy Report.
While the number of incidents and ships seized by pirates is down for the 1st Quarter of 2012, compared to the first three months of 2011, the threat of Somali pirates operating in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden remains high, with attacks off Nigeria, Benin and other West African countries increasing, said the Kuala Lampur-based IMB.
Worldwide, there were 102 incidents of piracy or armed robbery at sea during January to March 2012, compared to 142 incidents for the same period last year. In 2012, 11 vessels were reported hijacked worldwide, with 212 crew members taken hostage and four slain. Additionally, 45 vessels were boarded with 32 attempted attacks and 14 vessels fired upon. Five locations were responsible for 70 percent of the 102 incidents: There were 28 incidents near Somalia, 18 near Indonesia, 10 in the waters near Nigeria, 8 in the Gulf of Aden and 7 in the Red Sea.
Nigerian piracy has been “increasing in incidence and extending in range,” says Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. The number of reported incidents is twice what it was for the same period last year. At least six of the Nigerian incidents occurred more than 70 nautical miles from the coast “which suggests that fishing vessels are being used as mother ships to attack shipping further afield,” Mukundan said.
But Somalia continues to dominate with 43 attacks including the hijacking of nine vessels and 144 crew members taken hostage. That’s down from 97 incidents and 16 hijackings in the 1st Quarter of 2011. The IMB report suggests actions by numerous navies off the Horn of Africa are responsible for the drop in incidents.
However “it is unlikely that the threat of Somali piracy will diminish in the short to medium term, unless further actions are taken,” the report concluded.
Here is a link to the IMB’s Live Piracy Incident Map.
In, then Out
Troops from South Sudan have ended their incursion into neighboring Sudan after nearly two weeks of fighting over an oil rich area at the two countries’ borders.
The only question is whether the South Sudanese are marching out or running in full retreat. South Sudan, which separated from Sudan in 2011 after an independence vote, has been disputing the accuracy of the borderline drawn between the two countries in a largely desert – but oil rich – region. The secession vote ended a Civil War that had raged since 1983. Last week South Sudanese troops seized the oil town of Heglig on Sudan’s side of the border. That move provoked condemnation from the United Nations, the U.S., Britain and the 53-member African Union. Casualties are believed to be heavy, according to McClatchy Newspapers.
South Sudan officials on Friday said they were withdrawing their troops from Heglig, to avert escalating the conflict, the Associated Press reported. But officials in Sudan say their troops ran the South Sudanese out with a relentless bombing and artillery attack, according to the New York Times.
Meanwhile, nature abhors a vacuum. The Central African Republic, a neighboring country west of the two Sudans, claims 11 of its troops were killed in an ambush by rebels from the Darfur region of Sudan seeking guns and ammunition, Reuters reported.
Three U.S. military personnel were killed Friday (April 20) in a one-car crash in Bamako, capital of the strife-torn West African nation of Mali. U.S. Africa Command, which is based in Germany, said the crash was under investigation.
An official in Washington, said one of the three Americans was from U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, and the other two were assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command, the Associated Press reported. The three were in Mali for a training exercise that was called off after a military coup ousted Mali’s democratically-elected president.
The coup was sparked by dissatisfaction with the way the government was handling an insurgency by Tuaregs seeking a separate state. The insurgents became emboldened after the coup and swept over almost half the northern part of the country seizing three large and strategic towns — including fabled desert crossroads, Timbuktu.
Mali’s interim prime minister says he is willing to negotiate with the insurgents but not under duress, Aljazeera reported. But Prime Minister Chick Modibo Diarra says his top priority is winning back the land the Tuaregs declared an independent state.
Marines Die In Morocco
Two Marine corporals were killed April 11 in a helicopter crash outside Agadir, Morocco. The MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed during the bi-lateral training exercise in Morocco known as Africa Lion 2012.
Killed in the accident were Cpl. Robby Reyes and Cpl. Derek Kearns. Both were crew chiefs assigned to the aviation sector of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Two other Marines on board the MV-22 were injured in the crash.
The purpose of the exercise (See Friday Foto below) was to improve cooperation among U.S. and Royal Moroccan troops while conducting amphibious operations as well as aerial refueling and live fire operations.
‘neath African Skies
Marines from the 4th Tank Battalion clean their M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks after a day of training during Exercise Africa Lion 2012 (AL-12). The Africa Command-sponsored bi-lateral exercise in the North African nation of Morocco is led by Marine Forces Africa.
AL-12 includes training with the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces in amphibious assault, live-fire and maneuvering operations as well as peace keeping procedures. There was also an intelligence capacity building seminar, aerial refueling and low-level flight training, as well as medical and dental assistance projects.
U.S. forces participating in the exercise this year included Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The 14th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit based in Fort Worth, Texas and soldiers from the Utah National Guard also participated. The tankers in the photo above are based at Twentynine Palms, California.
Sadly, two Marine helicopter crew chiefs from the 24th MEU’s aviation element died when their MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed in Morocco on April 11. The tragedy illustrates that even training exercises can be dangerous operations.
The annual exercise is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s military tactics, techniques and procedures.
We will have more on Exercise Africa Lion and the Osprey crash in an AROUND AFRICA posting later today. The photo below shows what an Abrams tank rolling across the Moroccan desert looks like in daylight.
For more dramatic photos from this recently concluded exercise, click here. Make sure your click on each image to enlarge them.
Don’t Mess With Me, Argentina
Argentina, South America’s second-largest country, has been making a lot of headlines lately: saber-rattling over the Falkland Islands as the 30th anniversary of that war with Britain nears … getting back into the arms business … and threatening to pick a fight with another European nation over a giant energy company.
You Say Falklands, I Say Malvinas
Thirty years ago this month, a Britsh battle group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, sailed for the South Atlantic to reclaim the Falkland Islands, which Argentina had invaded a few days earlier and claimed as its own as Las Islas Mavinas – not Falkland Islands.
The Brits drove Argentina’s military junta to the peace table within a few months of fighting. The embarassing loss also drove the junta from office.
Now Argentina’s government is making noise about the windswept islands in the middle of almost nowhere, even threatening to invade them again. Most of Latin America is siding with Argentina, calling the UK’s position there since 1833 an occupation.
At a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Colombia over the weekend, the U.S. and Canada declined to join a declaration supporting Argentina’s rights to the islands.
The Planes of Argentina Are Called Pampas
Argentina is hoping to revive its defense manufacturing industry with the production of Pampa combat and training aircraft. According to UPI via Defense Industry Daily, Buenos Aires was inspired by Brazil’s resurgent arms industry.
For a start, production will be for the demands of the Argentine Air Force and Navy but analysts say government planners are looking to enter the export market.
Fadea, the government-controlled aircraft factory in Cordoba plans to build 100 Pampa II in association with German aerospace company Grob Aircraft AG, according to press reports. Grob Aircraft won a contract last year to build turbo prop-powered trainers for the Indonesian Air Force.
In addition to yanking the British Lion’s tail over the Falklands/Malvinas, Argentina is picking a fight with Spain over a huge energy company. The Argentine company, YPF, was privatized and sold to Spain’s Repsol in the 1990s. But Argentine President Cristina Fernandez decreed the seizure of Repsol’s 51 percent stake in the company, claiming that Argentina needed to reclaim sovereignty of its natural resources.
The move outraged the Spanish government, which vowed retaliation — both legal and economic, Reuters reported. Fernandez’s decision cheered voters who have grown disenchanted with her government in recent months. It also spooked international investors, according to the Associated Press.
Fernandez had been dropping in popularity polls before the saber-rattling and nationalization tactics, which reminds us of the moves taken by the military junta in 1982 when its popularity was waning. Stay tuned.
Distinguished Service Cross
An Army sergeant who twice drove into the kill zone of a 2010 ambush in Afghanistan to rescue wounded comrades – despite his own serious wounds – was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Thursday (April 12).
Sgt. Felipe Pereira of the 101st Airborne Division was presented with the nation’s second highest award for valor – after the Medal of Honor – by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno at a ceremony at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the division’s headquarters. The DSC is equivalent to the Air Force Cross and Navy Cross.
Pereira, 28, was on his first deployment to Afghanistan with the rank of specialist on Nov. 1, 2010 when a roadside bomb detonated during a patrol in Kandahar province, killing two soldiers in his squad. Pereira, a Brazilian immigrant who had joined the Army less than two years earlier, was himself seriously wounded by shrapnel.
But he refused medical assistance, and drove an all-terrain vehicle into enemy fire to help evacuate other wounded soldiers “with little regard for his own safety or care,” according to the citation for his heroism. Even though his lung had started to collapse and he was having trouble breathing he drove into the kill zone – twice.
Pereira was credited with saving the lives of two wounded soldiers while risking his own. “Only after all of the wounded soldiers had been evacuated and were receiving medical care did he accept treatment himself,” the citation noted.
The sergeant, now a squad leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, is the 165th member of the “Screaming Eagles” division to receive the DSC, and the first to do so since Vietnam.
Pretty Picture, Bad Scene
A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter releases flares to support coalition special operations forces and Afghan soldiers during a firefight near Nawa Garay village in the Kajran district of Afghanistan’s Daykundi province.
Air Force Cross
A U.S. Air Force combat air controller received the nation’s second highest commendation for valor at aPentagon ceremony Thursday (April 12) for exposing himself to intense enemy fire in a remote Afghan village while calling in repeated air strikes and medical evacuations.
Capt. Barry F. Crawford Jr. was the air-ground-link (joint terminal attack controller) for a 100-man force of Afghan commandos and U.S. Army Special Forces during a helicopter insertion into a Taliban-friendly village in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on May 4, 2010. Crawford will receive the Air Force Cross, the highest valor award given by the Air Force — the equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross — and second only to the Medal of Honor for heroism under fire. He is the fifth airman to receive the Air Force Cross since the 9/11 attacks. Two of those medals were awarded posthumously.
Combat controllers are specially trained, FAA-certified air traffic controllers who parachute or helicopter into enemy territory with ground troops to coordinate close air support, establish assault zones or airfields and supply fire control and reconnaissance. They are also among the first on the ground at the scene of natural disasters, like the 2010 Haitian earthquake, to guide in relief flights when normal air traffic is disrupted.
Crawford told a defense bloggers’ roundtable Wednesday (April 11) that the U.S. troops were acting as mentors, letting the Afghan commandos take the lead in searching for weapons caches and interacting with the locals. It was part of a larger effort spearheading “the first mission into a completely denied area” to friendly forces.
At sunup – an hour after helicopters dropped them off in the village – they began taking hostile fire which picked up in intensity and for the next 12-plus hours the Americans and Afghans were often pinned down by heavy fire. Two Afghan commandos were killed and three others were wounded.
“Recognizing that the wounded Afghan soldiers would die without evacuation to definitive care, Captain Crawford took decisive action and ran out into the open in an effort to guide the [medical evacuation] helicopter to the landing zone,” according to the medal citation. “Once the pilot had eyes on his position, Crawford remained exposed, despite having one of his radio antennas shot off mere inches from his face.”
“Acting without hesitation” according to the citation, “Crawford then bounded across open terrain, engaging enemy positions with his assault rifle and called in AH-64 [Apache attack helicopters] strafing attacks “to defeat the ambush.”
During the battle Crawford, 31, called in scores of helicopter and fighter jet air strikes. As the Afghan and U.S. Special Forces withdrew from the area, they had to cross open ground, exposing themselves to more machine gun and sniper fire. The 2003 Air Force Academy graduate called in help from Apaches firing Hellfire missiles and F-15E Strike Eagles dropping 200- and 500-pound bombs. Thanks to the air support “we were able to depart the area without taking catastrophic losses,” Crawford said.
Crawford was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at the time of his deployment in Afghanistan. He is now with the 104th Fighter Squadron in the Maryland National Guard and is slated to begin pilot training in June. In about two years, he said, he will be flying A-10 Thunderbolt IIs , better known as Warthogs, with the Maryland Guard – a highly appropriate assignment for a man who knows first hand the importance of close air support.
The ousted president of the West African nation of Mali has resigned and leaders of the coup that drove Amadou Tourani Toure from the presidential palace say they, too, will relinquish power – but are vague about when that will be.
Toure signed a letter of resignation Sunday (April 8) saying he did so freely because “of the love that I have for this country,” Reuters reported. The two-term, democratically elected president was due to step down within weeks anyway because of term limits. But that was before the military coup drove him from office and threw the country into chaos.
Mali’s neighbors imposed harsh economic sanctions and closed their borders to the embattled country, which is dependent on imports of food and fuel. Meanwhile, an insurgency by Tuareg separatists in Mali’s desert north took advantage of the chaos and seized the three largest towns in the region including fabled Timbuktu. The nomadic Tuarags, some of whom seek to impose Islamic sharia law, now control the northern half of Mali and declared it an independent state. But the African Union, United States and the united Nations refused to recognize it – or the junta now running the rest of the country.
AFP is reporting that Islamist extremists have joined the revolt and in some cases are battling the Tuaregs for control. Among the groups said to orgainizing or fighting within the Tuareg controlled area they call Azawad, are members of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, Boko Harum – a Nigerian extremeist group – and the strict Islamist Ansar Dine group.
Ironically, it was the Toure government’s inept handling of the Tuareg revolt that sparked the military revolt by a group of young army officers who seized and looted the presidential palace, arrested cabinet members and voided Mali’s constitution.
The soldiers claimed they were poorly led and insufficiently equipped to battle the nomadic Tuaregs, many of them returning heavilly armed from serving in the army of deposed Libyan strongman Muammar Qadaffii.
The coup leaders went on national television claiming they would return control to civilian hands after the crisis was over. But leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Mali
ECOWAS agreed to lift the economic and diplomatic sanctions when the junta agreed to give up power but in a broadcast message on Monday (April 9) the coup leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, said he would sit down with ECOWAS in 40 days to decide how the country shoould be run until elections can be held. That wasn’t the deal ECOWAS intermediators thought they had with the junta, the Associated Press reported.
ECOWAS is readying a 3,000-man force to restore order in Mali and help take back the reble-seized north. But Sanogo warned against foreign intervention, saying Mali simply wanted better equipment and logistical help to take care of the rebels.