Posts filed under ‘Iraq’

LESSONS LEARNED: Controlling Wasteful Spending in Iraq, Afghanistan

Catching White Elephants

Can't give it away.

Can’t give it away.

By now you’ve probably heard or read about the $34 million military headquarters building at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan that probably won’t ever be used by U.S. troops.

But maintaining the 64,000-square foot, air conditioned windowless building – equipped with modern office space, work stations and an auditorium — is probably too expensive for the Afghans to handle so the brand new building may be demolished by departing U.S. forces.

But wait, there’s more. Less than four months after the Army asked Congress to fund the huge command center, the local Marine Corps commander said it wasn’t needed and made a request – in May 2010 – to cancel the project. In February 2011, however, the Air Force issued a construction contract to build the facility, which Uncle Sam took possession of in November 2012, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR is a government agency created by Congress to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan reconstruction programs.

The unused $34 million headquarters building in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of SIGAR)

The unused $34 million headquarters building in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of SIGAR)

“Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped,” Special Inspector General John Sopko, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; the commander of U.S. Central Command – which includes Afghanistan; and the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

Sopko said he was also troubled by the options of either “destroying a never-occupied, never-used building or turning over what may be a ‘white elephant’ to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.” You can read his letter here.

Meanwhile, another special inspector general for reconstruction – this time in Iraq – has a recommendation to avoid future money-wasting boondoggles. In testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday (July 9) Stuart Bowen Jr., urged creation of a U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO) to concentrate authority over relief and reconstruction efforts into a single office that would report to both the secretaries of Defense and State – as well as the president’s National Security Advisor.

Now there is no executive branch department with the primary responsibility for carrying out relief and reconstruction activities, Bowen said, noting that Congress has appropriated $60 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction over the last 10 years and his office has recovered more than $200 million through waste and fraud investigations. Instead of a single office, the stabilization operations are just add-ons to the work already being done by the departments of State, Defense, Justice and Treasury, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Current geopolitical events make the need for a reform like USOCO quite compelling,” Bowen said in written testimony for the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, adding “a number of fragile states, including Syria, could soon require integrated stabilization and reconstruction assistance.”

A bill that would create USOCO and assure that the government is preparing for the next stabilization and reconstruction operation ahead of time has been introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas).

July 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm 3 comments

SHAKO: Memorial Day 2013

Ideals Carved in Stone

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

In late May every year, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment – known as The Old Guard because it is the oldest serving unit of the Army – place American flags at every grave marker in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery in advance of the Memorial Day holiday, which honors the nation’s war dead. The cemetery is located in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, Washington.

If you click on the above image to enlarge it, you’ll notice the symbols at the top of the headstones of the first three graves indicate (from left to right) the deceased is a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim who all died in the service to their country. Behind these three headstones, on the left, you can also make out the grave of a woman Army officer, who earned the Bronze Star medal in Iraq.

We think these symbols, purchased with blood and carved in stone, are silent testaments of the ideals that America stands for — even if the road to achieving those ideals has been a rocky one since 1776. In the not so distant past, men and women of all races, colors or creeds — even if they weren’t treated equally back home — still answered the nation’s call to serve, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, because they believed in those ideals.

Today, the Army notes that “though they may differ in faith or background, all soldiers bleed the same color for our country. They serve with honor and integrity, and those that fall are all given the same honors.”

Each May, the soldiers of The Old Guard, who also provide military honors at burial services in Arlington, fan out across the cemetery’s rolling lines of graves — and in a matter of just a few hours — place the small flags a uniform distance from each marker and then salute.

On May 23, about 1,200 Old Guard soldiers participated in the “Flags In” event this year, and about 220,000 graves received a flag, as did memorial markers and rows of urns at the cemetery’s columbarium, according to Army Maj. John Miller, spokesman for the Old Guard.

The tradition dates back to the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 to honor Union Soldiers that had fallen during the Civil War, Miller said. The custom was interrupted a few times over the years but the Old Guard revived it after World War II.

Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)

Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — The Old Guard — places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

May 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

SMART POWER: Army Paying Attention to Human Geography

Understanding People, Culture in Conflict Zones

Human geography experts say it's just as important to know the people in a conflict area as well as the terrain where a unit is deployed. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

Human geography experts say it’s just as important to
know the people in a conflict area as well as the terrain
where a unit is deployed. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

For centuries, mathematician, inventors, traders and explorers have mapped the Earth from the ancient Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent to the mountains of Antarctica and the undersea canyons of the Atlantic.

Now social scientists, soldiers and businessmen are among those mapping a different kind of geography: human geography.

Human geography is a multi-discipline study of the Earth and how people move across it, where they gather on it and how they interact there. It combines numerous fields including history, agricultural science, economics, political science, meteorology, geology, urban studies and anthropology. Studying human geography can be very important for soldiers, says Lt. Col. Andrew Lohman, an associate professor in the Geography Department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

On-the-ground knowledge can indicate what is normal and what is out of place in a society, a province or a village. And in an era of low intensity conflicts and asymmetric warfare, that knowledge – combined with cultural sensitivity – can be as important as attack helicopters and satellite imagery.

In five deployments to Iraq with Army Special Forces, Lohman said “we learned everything about an area before going there.” The important lesson wasn’t just the facts like what percentage of the population was urban or who the local power players were, he said, but “how is this going to affect what we’re doing when we’re there.” In short, area analysis and mission analysis, Lohman told your 4GWAR editor at a Human Geography conference last Fall.

Lohman said the study of geography is making a comeback in Army circles. Its popularity is growing at West Point where every year 50 to 60 cadets pick it as their major, he added.

To read more of this story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) website.

Some Additional Background:

In the photo above, soldiers with Texas Army National Guard provide security at the Friendship Gate for team members assessing the progress of the new customs yard being built near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The new facility will help to increase border traffic.

The Army’s Human Terrain program has sent teams of sociocultural experts to both Iraq and Afghanistan in an attempt to avoid bloodshed and calm relations with local populations during the height of fighting in both countries. But the program has been controversial, both for how it was managed and for its basic concept of using civilian social science professionals for a military program.

April 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: Conflict-driven improvements in body, vehicle armor

Force Protection

The challenges of counter insurgency and unconventional warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked several innovations in armor development for both individuals and vehicles over the past decade.

Pvt. 1st Class Cheryl Rogers grins as 2nd Lt. Chelsea Adams helps her into the new Generation III Female Improved Outer Tactical Vest, Nov. 28. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Emily Knitter)


Pvt. 1st Class Cheryl Rogers grins as 2nd Lt. Chelsea Adams helps her into the new Generation III Female Improved Outer Tactical Vest. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Emily Knitter)

From mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles to better ballistic protection in helmets and outer tactical vests, the services’ research labs, university and corporate research divisions have been working to keep the troops safer.

One development that might come as a surprise to some was the Army’s development of female-specific body armor. For years, more and more women soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have been going in harm’s way to do their jobs as drivers, pilots, mechanics and Female Engagement Team members.

But until 2009, little or no study was given to making generic body armor fit a woman’s body. As one female soldier said “a woman in not a small man” but the ballistics vests that female soldiers and Marines were required to wear “outside the wire” were still too big, or too long or too constricting.

Now,  the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Massachusetts has come up with eight different sizes of female body armor in two different lengths and the women who have tested them give the new vests high marks.

To read more of my story, click here to  go to the Institute for Defense and Government Improvement (IDGA), which is holding a conference on body and vehicle armor next month outside of Washington, D.C.

January 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (October 19, 2012)

Saber Junction

U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger

Aaah, autumn in Bavaria: the crisp air, the colorful foliage, the rumble of a U.S. Army cavalry column.

This convoy of vehicles, led by an Army Stryker vehicle, is entering the village of Schalkenthan, near Grafenwoehr, Germany, during Saber Junction 2012. The multinational exercise involves U.S. troops and 1,800 NATO and non-NATO personnel from 18 nations including Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Moldova, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Britain.

If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see the grenade launching tubes to the left of the soldier in the top hatch of the Stryker, as well as the heavy machine gun just above the grenade launchers.

In addition to developing interoperability of communications networks and systems, the exercise seeks to overcome language barriers and promote cultural understanding.

The huge training and manuever area — 1,300 square miles — exposes the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) to the real-life challenges of civilian traffic, civilian authorities and civilians on the battlefield, in addition to the real-world experience of working as a coalition.

Saber Junction is the largest exercise of its kind in Europe since 1989. And before the exercise concludes on Oct. 30, it will see the use of jets, helicopters, Main Battle Tanks, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Strykers and more than 200 wheeled vehicles and 90 tracked vehicles.

The 2nd Cavalry will have to deal not only with a mock insurgency but also force-on-force action against a conventional opponent. Army officials want to incorporate the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan with scenarios U.S. troops my face in 10 or 15 years.

To learn more about Saber Junction click here. For more photos, click here.

To see a brief Army video outlining the exercise’s scope, click here.

October 19, 2012 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

SMART POWER: U.S. Military Seeks to Avoid Costly Cultural Misunderstandings

Know Your Enemies — and Your Friends

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lovelady)

The U.S. military has been trying to improve cultural sensitivity with classes, training programs, video simulations and rules of conduct to help its troops operate in a foreign environment. In an era of asymmetric warfare – where the enemy may be a small guerrilla band or a criminal network – an armed force can no longer ignore where they are fighting and the society occupying the battlespace space.

The alternative could lead to blunders  like the burning of Korans by clueless U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The process of studying not only your enemy and his tactics but the people around him who could give him shelter or turn him in to the authorities is a big part of the discipline known as human geography. It is cultural awareness – how to avoid social gaffes or breaking taboos – raised to a critical level for intelligence gathering and tactical decision making.

To read more of this story, click here.

September 28, 2012 at 11:20 am 2 comments

FRIDAY FOTO (Sept. 14, 2012)

9/11 Around the World

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zane Ecklund

Originally, we were going to go with another photo — also taken on a U.S. naval vessel — but the news this week got us thinking it wasn’t the right thing to do in this turbulent time.

Instead we feature this photo of a 9/11 memorial service on the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York on station with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group in the Gulf of Aden. The photo is part of a Defense Department slide show of 9/11 commemorative ceremonies around the world from  Hawaii to Kyrgyzstan and San Diego to Italy. Here’s another one, showing ceremonies in Puerto Rico, Colorado, Maryland and Afghanistan.

Four Americans were killed this week in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Meanwhile, violent demonstrations are spreading across the Muslim world protesting a bizarre film — produced privately in the U.S. — maligning Islam and the prophet Muhammad. At first it appeared the killings in Libya were part of the wave of anti-American protests sparked by outrage over the film The Innocence of Muslims. Now investigators in Libya and the U.S. suspect it was a terrorist attack that either had nothing to do with the demonstrations or took advantage of the chaos.

The attacks have spurred a political dogfight — in the midst of a U.S. presidential election campaign — about whether it was more important to defend the First Amendment right to free speech or to try convincing an already suspicious and turbulent Arab street that despite a spurious internet video, the United States is no enemy of Islam.

4GWAR thought it was important to take a moment to remember the attacks 11 years ago in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that killed thousands and touched off what became known as the Global War on Terror.

But we also want to contemplate all the deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Mumbai and Texas that have occurred since September 11, 2001. Each suicide bombing and missile strike creates new victims and new enemies. Unfortunately, there are also people around the world willing to take personal or political advantage of each new outrage.

There is still a large cultural knowledge gap between Islamic countries and the West. Until leaders and ordinary people on both sides stop demonizing the foreign and the alien, the body count will continue to rise.

September 14, 2012 at 11:28 am Leave a comment

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