Posts tagged ‘Disaster Relief’
Modern Face of War
UPDATES with additional information and links
The camera that took this photo was using a night vision lens, just like the night vision goggles worn by these combat air traffic controllers, a little known speciality (outside the military community) in the U.S. Air Force and Special Operations Forces. They are the first to arrive at hazardous landing areas (either because of enemy action or damage from natural disaster) to set up aircraft landing or parachute drop zones. Combat controllers are FAA certified air traffic controllers who provide the link between the air and ground forces in direct action, special reconnaissance, humanitarian assistance and foreign internal defense operations.
This Combat Controller Team is from the 720th Special Tactics Group, based at Hurlburt Field, Florida. In this photo they are relaying wind speed and aircraft direction to a C-130 H3 cargo plane during night operations on an airfield in northeastern Niger, late last month (Feb. 28) during Joint Exercise Flintlock 2014. Troops from Canada, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom — as well as 6 north and west African nations participated in Niger this year.
Flintlock is an annual, African-led, military exercise focused on security, counter-terrorism and military humanitarian support to outlying areas. Each year a different government in west Africa plays host to the exercise, which includes U.S. forces and troops from other non-African countries. To see an Africa Command slide show of the wide variety of Flintlock 2014 activities, click here.
Inside the Osprey
Cobra Gold, the largest and oldest military exercise in Southeast Asia, originally started as a training exercise to strengthen the relationship, mission readiness and interoperability between troops of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States. This year, the 33rd iteration of Cobra Gold, the United States and Thailand welcomed participants from Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and, for the first time, the People’s Republic of China.
The exercise included an amphibious operations, helicopter assault, disaster site evacuation and training with live ammunition, according to the Pattaya Mail. The U.S. Marines seen here are with 2nd platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
To see what the Osprey tilt rotor aircraft looks like from the outside and other photos of the exercise, click here.
Helping First Responders
Robotic systems aren’t just for helping police pursue fleeing criminals or investigate suspicious packages.
From monitoring wildfires to patrolling busy harbors, industry, government and academia are exploring how unmanned vehicles can assist emergency responders on land, sea and air.
In addition to research at the University of Hawaii and Oklahoma State University, small companies in Florida and California to big ones in Massachusetts are modifying existing vehicles to aid search and rescue operations or creating new systems with sensors focused on looking for signs of trouble far from first responders.
To learn more about this re-purposing of technology first developed to assist the military, check out our article in the latest (February) issue of Unmanned Systems, the magazine of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (subscription required).
New Boss, New Threats
WASHINGTON – The new head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says foreign jihadists streaming into war-torn Syria and self-radicalized “lone wolf” terrorists in the United States have become a top concern for him.
DHS Secretary Jeh (PRONOUNCED Jay) Johnson said the department has become “very focused” on foreign fighters heading to Syria, where foreign Islamists have radicalized and complicated the three-year civil war with the Bashar al-Assad regime. The DHS concern is what these fighters will do when they return to their home countries or travel elsewhere, indoctrinated with a violent Islamist mission.
Johnson told a Washington think tank audience Friday (February 7) that Syria was a constant topic of discussion at a recent meeting he attended with European security officials in Poland. “Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” he told the Woodrow Wilson Center in his first major public address since taking charge of the nation’s third largest cabinet-level department in December.
He added that the terrorist threat “is increasingly decentralized” as al Qaeda’s leadership has been killed, captured or driven farther into hiding. But “the threat has evolved” has evolved into al Qaeda offshoots like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa’s al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Johnson, former Pentagon general counsel under Defense Secretaries Robert Gates ands Leon Panetta, said another major concern to U.S. security officials is the so-called “lone wolf,” a home-grown self-radicalized terrorist behind incidents like the Fort Hood shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing. “They may be the hardest to detect,” Johnson said of home grown terrorists, because they have little – if any – connection to international terror groups and may done nothing to drawn the attention of the FBI or local police. “It is the thing I worry about the most,” Johnson said.
A Good Start
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees private and commercial aircraft operations, has chosen six sites to test the best ways for introducing unmanned aircraft into the crowded National Airspace.
The sites are located in six states: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Virginia and Texas. The entities – three universities, an aiport and two state governments were all picked for their climate, research facilities and air traffic conditions. “In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs,” the FAA said.
Congress has ordered the FAA to develop a program for the safe introduction of commercial unmanned aircraft, usually known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS – although most people call them drones – into the already crowded National Airspace System by 2015.
Currently only government, industrial and academic UAV operators are allowed to fly them in highly restricted air zones — mostly for research — once they have received a certificate of authorization (COA). The COAs limit when and where they can fly their drones. Hobbyists may fly a small UAS no higher than 300 feet above ground and must always maintain visual contact with the drone. No commercial drone activity is allowed at this time although proponents say they would be useful for monitoring traffic during a mass evacuation, crops and livestock, wild animal migration, forest fires, oil and gas pipelines, Arctic sea ice and emergency response operations.
As we noted in November, the FAA has issued its initial plans, or roadmap, for integrating UAS into U.S. skies, but the process is expected to take 15 years.
UAS supporters worry that the outrage raised by U.S. drone strikes against militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere — that have led to civilian casualties — has made the American public leery of drones flying overhead. There is also concern about privacy and other civil rights being violated by a camera-equipped UAS flown by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. That worry is largely driven by last summer’s revelations of covert cell phone and email meta data gathering by the National Security Agency.
So the Aerospace States Association, the American Civil Liberties Association and other groups have developed suggested guidelines for state laws concerning drones that will protect civil liberties without pulling the plug on an industry with the potential to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to the national economy.
And the companies that provide services ranging from translators to aircraft for humanitarian aid and relief organizations are exploring how UAS might help them with security and finding refugees or survivors of natural and man-made disasters in undeveloped countries, according to the programs and operations director of the International Stability Operations Association.
Updates with U.S. terrorist organization designation for al-Mulathamun Battalion; background on UN concerns; quote from Garvelink and background on Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Africa’s vast Sahel region – on the southern edges of the Sahara Desert – has become the object of heightening international concern because of repeated droughts, political turmoil and violence. Many Western observers fear that the windswept region is becoming a breeding ground for disaffected Islamist extremists and terrorists spreading that violence across the continent — and possibly to Europe.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday (December 18) named the al Mulathamun Battalion, a former al Qaeda-affiliated group operating in the Sahel, as a foreign terrorist organization. The group, once part of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split with AQIM.
A United Nations official says 16 million people in the Sahel are at risk of hunger in 2014 due to conflicts and rapid population growth — despite recent good harvests and rainfall, according to a Reuters report.
And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that terrorism, trafficking in arms, drugs and people and other forms of transnational organized crime threaten security in the border region south of the Sahara. Because of the region’s vast size and porous borders, the security challenges can be addressed successfully “only if the countries in the region work together,” Ban told a U.N. Security Council meeting Dec. 12 on the Sahel situation.
Key to meeting those challenges is economic development and medical assistance, according to most of the panelists at a discussion Wednesday night on the troubled North African region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank
A 2012 drought across the 10-nation region left 11 million people in danger from what the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls food insecurity: They have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices while awaiting the next harvest.
But violence in the area is on the increase, endangering outside aid workers trying to alleviate the crisis. “Never before has the intensity of conflict been so great,” said Santiago Martinez-Caro, general director of Casa Africa, the Spanish government’s diplomatic and economic outreach organization with Africa, where Spain once had colonies.
As the region’s economy continues to falter “the piracy issue is going to grow,” Martinez-Caro said, eventually sparking a multi-national military response like the one around the Horn of Africa on the continent’s eastern coast.
The people of the region are tough and resilient nomads, said journalist and film maker Donovan Webster. “All they need is water, education and some medical help,” he said, adding that clean water from newly dug wells has cut down on disease and migration.
But security remains a crucial issue for international organizations trying to assist victims of hunger, bad water and health problems, said Vivian Lowery Derryck, former assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID).
“I think we can use development issues to promote peace,” said Lowery Derryck, who now heads The Bridges Institute. She noted that civil society – representing all aspects of a society – from the extended family to the state – can be a political catalyst to change governments without resorting to rebellions or military coups.
But the military can play an important role – positive or negative – when it comes to change, she added. She noted a number of factors can affect the actions of a soldier: mission, doctrine, religious considerations and respect from the civilian population. “Is he going to get paid?” Lowery Derryck asked, adding that if the soldier isn’t getting paid, he was likely to join AQIM, which does have money.
William Garvelink, former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the U.S. government has closed most of its diplomatic missions in the Sahel, where institutions are weak and many governments are corrupt. A mediator in many of the region’s disputes — former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, “is gone,” he added — killed in a revolt that has released a flood of small arms and other weapons. Garvelink now is senior adviser for global strategy at the International Medical Corps.
After the split with AQIM, Mokhtar Belmokhtar merged al Mulathamun Battalion with another violent group: Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, according to the State Department. The new group, al Murabitoun, “constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel,” the State Department said.
The one-eyed Belmokhtar was the mastermind behind a January attack on a gas facility in Algeria that left left 38 civilians dead, including three U.S. citizens, according to the New York Times.
U.S. Scaling Back
Nearly three weeks after first responding to the typhoon that ravaged the central Philippines, U.S. Marines are reducing their presence in the disaster zone as the need for their unique skills decrease, officials say. Priorities are shifting from emergency relief to long term recovery operations.
The area in and around Tacloban City on the island of Leyte was destroyed November 8 when Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda) struck the area, packing winds reaching over 200 mile per hour. The island of Samar was also hard hit by the super storm. More than 5,000 people died during and after the storm, according to CNN.. Thousands more were injured and more than 1 million people were left homeless.
The first U.S. military assistance arrived on November 10 with two KC-130J Super Hercules tanker/transport aircraft carrying about 80 Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (3rd MEB). The Marines’ MV-22 helicopter/fixed wing hybrid has also been flying relief missions in the Philippines as well as MH-60s Seahawks helos and Navy P-3C maritime surveillance and Air Force C-130 Globemaster heavy lift transport airplanes.
The were quickly joined by an eight vessel strike force headed by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). The task force includes two guided missile cruisers, two guided missile destroyers and a dry cargo transport ship. On November 22, two amphibious dock landing ships – the USS Ashland and the USS Germantown – replaced the aircraft carrier and its 21 helicopters which delivered relief supplies including food and bottled water to devastated areas of the Philippines.
The Air Force has also been flying its large surveillance drone, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk over the Philippines disaster area, to help relief workers plan helicopter landing zones and check the status of storm damaged roads and bridges, according to Maj. Ryan Simms, chief of remotely piloted aircraft policy at Air Force headquarters Executive Action Group. The high flying drone has completed three missions, supplying 50 hours’ worth of images, he told a session on non-military uses of unmanned aircraft at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.
The Ashland and Germantown each carry landing craft for moving large amounts of cargo and equipment ashore. The 900 Marines aboard the two workhorse ships bring heavy equipment which can clear debris.
Joint Task Force 505 (JTF 505) was created by U.S. Pacific Command on November 13 to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in support of the Philippine government and its armed forces.
At its height, JTF 505 included nearly 850 personnel on the ground and an additional 6,200 in the George Washington Strike Group. An additional 1,000 Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) also were sent to aid the Philippines. Personnel and equipment from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have come from Hawaii, Okinawa, Japan and the continental United States, according to the Defense Department.
The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious is also in the Philippines carrying about 500 tons of aid supplies and seven helicopters to deliver them, Sky News reports. Sailors from the HMS Darling supplied fresh water and other relief aid to starving, homeless villagers on remote islands, the Telegraph reported. Japan has sent three naval warships and more than 1,000 personnel to the Philippines on a relief mission, according to the website Euronews.
And Canada has sent a 200 member Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), including Canadian soldiers, three CH-146 Griffon helicopters and a water purification system that can produce 50,000 liters of pure water a day, reported Canadian Press via the Huffington Post.
U.S. humanitarian assistance — especially from the U.S. military — has been a goodwill bonus to America, which has seen its popularity battered internationally because of controversial drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and meta data collection by the National Security Agency. By contrast, China — which at first donated only $100,000 in assistance — suffered a public relations black eye in world opinion. Beijing scrambled to improve its reputation by increasing its aid donation to $1.6 billion and sending a hospital ship, the 300-bed Peace Ark to Philippine waters, the BBC reported.
Like many of its neighbors around the South China Sea, the Philippine government has been in a bitter territorial dispute with China.
Racing Against Time
In the typhoon-ravaged Philippines there is finally a speck of good news. The country’s president says the death toll is expected to be far lower than the early estimates of at least 10,000 dead.
But the region hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan is still largely cut off from humanitarian aid and rescue workers by debris, blocked roads and a near total infrastructure collapse.
The official death toll stood at 1,833 Wednesday (November 13) morning – including nearly 1,300 in the province of Leyte. At least 244 people were killed in Tacloban City, Leyte’s provincial capital, NBC reported.
On Sunday – two days after the storm smashed into the Philippines, packing winds of 195 miles per hour – a regional police official estimated the death toll could hit 10,000. But President Benigno Aquino told CNN that the figure might go above 3,000 dead. But “ten thousand, I think, is too much, Aquino said.
Meanwhile, hungry thirsty survivors are scouring the wreckage hoping to find scraps of food and water.
Rescue operations are being hampered by the devastation, the New York Times reported, with aid supplies piling up but few ways to distribute it. The are plentiful gasoline supplies but no merchants willing to sell it. And there is no place to house the growing number of emergency volunteers, the Times reported.
The Philippine government says it is facing the biggest logistical challenge it has ever encountered. As many as 11 million people have been affected by the monster storm, the BBC reported. Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said the government had been overwhelmed by the storm’s impact, one of the most powerful storms on record.
U.S. military planes have been arriving at Tacloban’s shattered airport, delivering supplies from the World Food program, which is then transported by helicopter to hard-hit areas. The BBC said a French-Beligian field hospital has been set up in Tacloban.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said 250 sailors and Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are on the ground operating from Philippine air bases. The Marines have four KC-130 transport aircraft and four MV-22 Osprey aircraft to bring in supplies and evacuate the injured and displaced. The key supplies include water, food, shelter, hygiene products and medical supplies. Another four Ospreys were sent from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Japan — bringing the number of MV-22s sent as aide to Japan — as eight.
The Philippine government says it is facing its biggest ever logistical challenge after Typhoon Haiyan, which affected as many as 11 million people. Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said the government had been overwhelmed by the impact of Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record.
Monster Storm’s Aftermath
Update Includes new photos.
A powerful typhoon struck the central Philippines Friday (November 8) and thousands of people are believed dead with as many as 600,000 left homeless, officials said.
Rescue workers struggled to reach ravaged towns and villages in the area Monday (November 11) as they tried to deliver aid to survivors. Quoting an area police chief, Reuters reported an estimated 10,000 people were killed.
The typhoon destroyed countless lives, houses and other buildings and left Tacloban, the capital city on the island of Leyte without power or communication on Sunday (November 10). Residents were running out of food, water and other vital supplies, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Relief operations were hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage, according to the United Nations.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed U.S. Pacific Command to support U.S. Humanitarian relief operations – requested by the Philippine government – in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Initially, those efforts will focus on surface maritime search and rescue operations, transport of relief supplies by helicopter and fixed wing aircraft and airborne search and rescue, the Defense Department announced.
DOD is coordinating relief efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Ambassador in Manila.
“The Department of Defense will continue to monitor the effects of Typhoon Haiyan and stands ready to help our ally recover from the storm,” the Pentagon said.
The storm made landfall in north Vietnam, near the Chinese border, the BBC reported. The typhoon still carried wind gusts up to 98 miles an hour (157 kilometers per hour) as if arrived close to the Ha Long Bay tourist destination.