Posts filed under ‘Lessons Learned’
Colombia is back in the news.
Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he is going to visit Colombia during a Latin America trip later this month. The trip, which is slated to begin the week of May 26, will include visits to Brazil and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
“In Colombia, the vice president will meet with President [Juan Manuel] Santos to build on security relations and focus on ways to further the prosperity of our two countries,” the White House announced.
It was the latest development in the increasing cooperation between the United States and Colombia.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Colombian counterpart – Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon – to discuss the security partnership between the two countries. Speaking later at the National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Pinzon said ““Today, the average Colombian citizen lists street crime as a greater threat than terrorism.” Pinzón said, noting how far Colombia has come from the height of its nearly 50-year Marxist insurgency, when more than four terrorist attacks a day occurred.
For the last two decades the insurgency by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by its Spanish acronym FARC, has been fueled by narcotics trafficking, according to the CIA.
At the height of the insurgency, 20-30 years ago, Colombia was “nearly a failed state,” Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly told a recent conference on transnational organized crime. But in the years since, said Kelly – the head of U.S. Southern Command – Colombia has done a “tremendous job” battling both the FARC and narcotics cartels — while reforming its military and legal system. “And they’ve done this almost entirely by themselves,” with relatively limited military assistance from the United States, Kelly said. “Once they stick a fork in the FARC, they’ll be even more effective in taking cocaine off the market,” Kelly told the gathering in Alexandria, Virginia, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.
At an earlier IDGA conference on countering-improvised explosives devices, one speaker was a Colombian Army officer who described the skill in dealing with booby traps and roadside bombs that his military has developed during almost 50 years battling a Marxist insurgency. Colombia is considered second only to Afghanistan for the number IED attacks within its borders.
Meanwhile, a panel of Latin American experts on Colombia’s counter insurgency opined that the “military-centered approach has been good but not sufficient enough” to deal with problems within its borders and across the region. In a March panel discussion at George Washington University, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Strategic Studies Institute and the National Defense University, cited the need for politicians and bureaucrats to show a governmental presence in rural areas once controlled by the rebels, the need for the military to coordinate operations with analysis of how FARC had changed tactics and areas of operation; and provide security and stability while dealing with new types of battlefields. Here’s a Synopsis
Understanding People, Culture in Conflict Zones
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.
(UPDATE below in italics: one suspect, two police officers killed, second suspect at large)
The joy and exuberance of the 117th Boston Marathon were shattered a little more than four hours into the 26.2-mile race on Monday when two bombs shattered storefronts and bodies near the finish line.
The latest casualty report puts the death toll at three – including an 8-year-old child and two young women – and 180 injured, many of them suffering horrendous injuries to their legs.
[A SHOCKING AND ALMOST INCREDIBLE DEVELOPMENT:
Early Friday morning two men -- identified Thursday by the FBI as suspects in the bombing -- reportedly tried to rob a convenience store in Cambridge, Mass., shot and killed two police officers, hijacked an SUV and fled. They engaged in a four-mile firefight with pursuing police. One suspect was killed, the other fled and is the subject of a massive manhunt in the Boston area. Stories can be read here, here and here.]
Your 4GWAR editor is going to drop the “royal We” normally used when directly addressing the blog’s readers – and rely on the singular pronoun “I” to express my sadness, anger and hurt.
I have run three marathons although I could never qualify to run Boston. But if I had been running there on Monday, I probably would have been crossing the finish line about 40 minutes after the blast. I would have seen all that chaos and pain first hand. And that is disturbing to contemplate.
Boston is one of my favorite cities and I have visited it many times – most recently, the day of the bombing. So I take this attack very personally. I left Boston Sunday, the day before Marathon Monday by train a little more than 25 hours before the first bomb went off.
There is still no one in custody. No suspects have been identified – that we know of. But I believe justice will be served. Remember, it took more than 10 years, but Osama bin Laden now sleeps with the fishes.
Make no mistake about it. The bombings in Boston were acts of terrorism – even if this turns out to be the work of a nut job like the Unibomber or just some crooks who wanted to divert attention from some other illegal activity.
When acts of violence like those in Boston, occur, they have a profound effect on a community and often on the larger society. And it almost doesn’t matter what the motivation was. I say this as someone who lived through the Washington area sniper siege back in 2002. That, too, was the act of criminals with non-political motives. But it was terrorism nonetheless. Schools canceled field trips and recess. Night life in Washington suburbs dried up because people were too afraid to go out at night. Restaurants, stores and movie theaters all lost business.
The day of the first shootings, I saw police cars with their sirens wailing rush to the street outside the store I was in — just a few hundred feet from where one of the first victims was shot. Helicopters hovered over head and police in bullet proof vests toting machine guns scoured a nearby parking lot.
During that period I pumped gas while crouching behind my car: One of the early attacks came at a service station. I ran in a zig zag pattern from the car to the ATM and kept a nervous eye on the nearby woods. The snipers used similar woods as cover to shoot a schoolboy on his way to class.
Experts like to cite specific factors that determine whether an act of violence is “terrorism.” But I believe this distinction is a legalistic one – like the definition of hate crimes. If all violent acts are hate crimes, how do you enforce the law against hate crimes? Where do you get the resources to combat them?
Of course every violent act isn’t an act of terrorism but authorities need to take a look at widening the definition to encompass acts that terrorize people on a large scale.
A last word. Boston is a tough town, just ask anyone who’s driven there. It’s people are tough. They can be demanding of themselves and difficult with others. But they are fair and they are unrelenting in wanting to fix things that are no functioning properly. I am sure Boston will get through this crisis.
Corrects: that I left Boston the day before the bombings NOT the same day as the attack.
We Won’t Be Fooled Again
You’ve probably heard of the Vietnam era expression “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came,” right?
Well, here at 4GWAR we recently learned what happens when you give a readers’ photo picking contest and nobody picks.
Your humble 4GWAR editor has learned a lesson. The readership has spoken and nobody wants to play photo editor. : (
Hope you enjoy this week’s Friday Foto below. : )
The war in Afghanistan may be winding down but that’s not the case with homemade bombs and booby traps, according to the commander of the Defense Department unit battling improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“I believe the IED and the networks that use these asymmetric weapons will remain a threat to our forces [overseas] and here at home for decades,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero says.
Barbero is director of the Defense Department’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). Since its creation in 2006, it has used high tech detection systems, body armor, trained bomb sniffing dogs, unmanned air and ground vehicles, and heavilly armored vehicles to thwart attacks on troops and civilians, first in Iraq and now, Afghanistan.
“The IED is the weapon of choicefor threat networks because they are cheap, readilly available, largely off the shelf, easy to construct, lethal and accurate,” Barbero told the House Appropriation Committee’s defense spending panel Sept. 20.
Between Fiscal Years 2006 and 2011, JIEDDO has received more than $8 billion for Counter IED (C-IED) programs. According to the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars developing C-IED capabilities — including $40 billion on mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles – large, lumbering trucks and wheeled-personnel carriers known as MRAPs.
Yet IEDs are still the leading cause of civilian, military and law enforcement casualties in boith Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barbero told a Senate subcommittee hearing last month. “More than 60 percent of U.S. combat casualties in Afghanistan – both killed and wounded in action – are a result of IEDs,” he added.
The spread of IEDs beyond Afghanistan and how to counter them will be discussed at a conference later this month in Washington sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. To read more of my C-IED story, click here.
The First Year
It has been a year of surprises — pleasant and unpleasant — for both sides in the conflict known alternately as “The Second American Revolution” and “Canada’s War of Independence.”
The Americans saw two major frontier forts, Mackinac and Detroit — both in Michigan — fall to the British, Canadians and their Indian allies with barely a shot fired. Three other U.S. post — Fort Dearborn in Illinois and Fort Harrison and Fort Wayne, both in Indiana — came under attack by Native Americans. Fort Dearborn was evacuated and about a score of its inhabitants — both soldier and civilian — were massacred. The fort, standing in what is now downtown Chicago, was burned to the ground.
British troops and Canadian militia — sometimes with the assistance of Native Americans (or First Nations as they are known in Canada) — were able to repulse three clumsy invasions of Canada by poorly led U.S. troops, but with the loss of one of their most skilled leaders: Major. Gen. Isaac Brock, who was killed at Queenston Heights in present day Ontario, Canada.
The Americans were more successful at sea, defeating three British frigates — the Guerriere, Macedonian and Java — while losing some smaller ships like the sloop USS Wasp. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy expanded a blockade of U.S. ports from New England to Georgia.
The first year of the war, which began in June 1812 showed how ill prepared the armies on both sides were.
The American troops consisted mostly of state militias and volunteers commanded by elderly veterans of the Revolution or younger men who were eager but often inexperienced.
Still at war with Napoleon in Europe, the British could spare but few troops to defend Canada or invade the United States. Instead the burden of war fell on Canadian militiamen who often had little training or supplies. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh threw in his lot with the British, hoping a U.S. defeat would put a halt to the Americans’ relentless expansion into tribal lands stretching West from the 13 original colonies into what was then called the Old Northwest (a region around the Great Lakes that would generate the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota). Tecumseh’s attempt to unite all the tribes east of the Mississippi River against the Americans set the frontier aflame in 1812, leading to attacks on settlements and Army posts.
This will be the last installment of THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 as a weekly feature on 4GWAR.
In the future we will focus on significant developments like the battles of Lake Erie, Bladensburg, Fort McHenry and New Orleans. The first posting, in late January, will explore the Battle of Frenchtown and the River Raisin massacre.
Thanks and Happy New Year!
Your 4GWAR Editor
The Farmer/Soldier in the Dell
ARLINGTON, Va. – While U.S. and coalition troops training Afghan police and soldiers have gotten a lot of attention over the last year or two – mainly because of attacks by some of the people they’ve been training – less attention has been given another type of soldier: the ones teaching Afghan farmers how to do a better job of farming.
Agriculture is still the largest source of income in Afghanistan – even though only 12 percent of the land is arable and only half of that is currently under cultivation.
Before the Soviet invasion and occupation (1979-1980) Afghanistan’s agricultural exports exceeded imports. But after nearly a decade of war, the fruit orchards have been cut down or bombed out. Forests have been decimated and irrigation canals destroyed or allowed to deteriorate.
Now, “they lack everything,” says retired Army Lt. Col. Craig Beardsley. “I don’t know how else to say it. They lack basic education in agriculture,” he told a recent conference on Human Geography.
Beardsley, is administrator of a program at Kansas State University that trains National Guard teams from agricultural regions how to teach better farming and livestock raising to the Afghans.
So far, KSU’s National Agricultural Biosecurity Center has trained four Kansas National Guard Agribusiness Development Teams and two from the South Carolina National Guard. They have also trained several units assigned to the 1st Infantry Division – including a Female Engagement Team (see below). The Agribusiness teams are from National Guard units in farm states.
The conference, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) brought together academics, military officers and industry experts to discuss trends and developments in human geography – a multi-discipline study of where a conflict is taking place and the culture, language and customs of the people who live there: friend and foe alike.
Beardsley said the teams his school send to Afghanistan are educated in Afghanistan culture and economics. They’re also trained in business development and business management to help Afghan farmers market their products and manage their resources.
He pointed out that while Afghanistan exports raw products like grain and fruit but imports processed – and value-added products like flour, juice and dried fruit. Most of Afghanistan’s agricultural exports go to Pakistan, India and Iran.
The emphasis is on keeping instruction simple and practical – something the Afghans can continue and maintain after the U.S. advisors leave.
He and others at the conference noted that the 11-year war in Afghanistan is more like a series of one-year wars because foreign trainers come for about a year and then are replaced by new trainers who might be from a different country.
For example, Beardsley said, it’s a mistake to assume the introduction of U.S. Agricultural techniques, equipment and seed “will solve all problems.” He noted 80 percent of the economy is agricultural, based on subsistence farming.
Among other lessons learned: the importance of getting to know who is in charge in a village – whether it be an elder, mullah or landowner.
“In the home, the women have more influence than we give credit for,” Beardsley said. That’s where the Female Engagement Teams – squads of female soldiers or Marines who accompany patrols – prove their value, he said. They can glean a lot of information, both military and economic by talking to Afghan women, something their male counterparts cannot do because of cultural taboos.
Tracking the Cost
A Washington-based think tank has begun tracking attacks by Afghan soldiers and policemen on U.S. and coalition troops with an interactive webpage that will map the attacks’ location in relation to provinces, cities, dates and casualties.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) announced today (Nov. 1) that it was launching the new webpage which will place data about so-called green-on-blue attacks in context for researchers and the news media. Between 2007 and 2012 there have been 69 documented green-on-blue attacks, also known as insider attacks — 40 of them in 2012 alone, according to the ISW. The uncertainty and mistrust such attacks cause could endanger the International Security Assistance Force’s mission to train Afghan security forces to take over responsibility for Afghanistan’s security in 2014
In addition to maps locating every attack, the website will track those attacks with charts noting whether the attack was made by members of the Army or Police, whether they happen in the field, on a base or somewhere else. When and where they happened and what the frequency in a given time period were also noted. Sources and methodology will also be reported.
After the Bomb
The U.S. military and its coalition partners may be winding down their presence in Afghanistan, but just getting from Point A to Point B can still be a dangerous proposition.
Combat engineers (sappers) of the 20th Engineer Brigade were on their way to Combat Outpost Baraki Barak earlier this month in eastern Afghanistan’s contested Logar Province, when one of their vehicles was hit by a roadside bomb.
In the photo above, we see Army Sgt. Jonathan Butcher, a team leader with 1st Platoon, 102nd Sapper Company, 307th Engineer Battalion (Combat Airborne), 20th Engineer Brigade, set up security after the blast until a wrecker could haul away the damaged vehicle and a helicopter could evacuate the wounded.
If you click on the photo to enlarge the image you can also see the vehicle in question is an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. The blast dug a wide hole in the road and appears to have damaged at least two wheels, but the MRAP — which has a V-shaped bottom to deflect the blast effects outward — is still upright and the crew/passenger cabin appears to be intact.
One soldier was wounded in the attack. The first platoon cleared a route in the Baraki Barak district to facilitate the movement of supplies to the combat outpost.
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 see a brief Army video outlining the exercise’s scope, click here.