Posts tagged ‘Special Operations’
UPDATES: To restore photos, links, tags; also fixes name of Talos suit to Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit.
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) says Afghanistan continues to be the most important operational region for his people even as Western forces begin a scheduled troop drawdown after more than a dozen years of war.
“Afghanistan is, and will remain, my Number One war fighting priority,” Admiral William McRaven told a defense industry symposium in Washington Tuesday (February 10).
U.S. and coalition allies are slated to end their combat role in Afghanistan by year’s end and troubled negotiations between Washington and the Afghan government over how many – if any – U.S. troops remain in country are still up in the air.
But no matter how many special ops troops remain in Afghanistan, “our future military-to-military engagement with the Afghans will remain vital in the region,” McRaven told the opening session of the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA).
McRaven stressed that Spec Ops’ role will be largely one of training and advising Afghan National Security Forces, which took the lead for security across the country in June.
On other issues, McRaven said he is very bullish on the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS) project to create a ballistic protective suit for special operators, which has been likened to the metal suit of comic book superhero, Iron Man. “If we do TALOS right, it will provide a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give our warriors the protection they need,” McRaven said. He envisions an “X-Prize” type competition to engage industry in developing a protective combat suit. He’d like to offer as much as a $10 million prize to the competition winner and is working with Pentagon leadership to get the authority for spending that much.
Already 56 corporations, 16 government agencies, 13 universities and 10 national labs are involved in the product. McRaven said three prototype suits without a power system will be delivered to SOCOM in June to begin testing. The goal is to develop a deployable combat suit in August 2018, he said. The SOCOM commander acknowledged that providing such a high technology suit with an independent power source is “the biggest stumbling block to having an independent suit that a person can wear.”
He said SOCOM is planning a “Monster Garage-type” event in the future to attract “local garage tinkerers” and have them collaborate with professional engineers, designers and craftsmen to build components for TALOS and “potentially even a complete suit.”
McRaven said solving the problems of powering the suit “will have greater applications across the SOF (Special Operations Forces) enterprise.”
To see a video of an industry demonstration day in Tampa, Florida last August, click here.
Way Up North
Over the last decade of war, we’ve gotten used to photos of troops launching an unmanned aircraft in the deserts of the Middle East or the arid landscape of Afghanistan. But here’s one being readied for launch in snowy Alaska.
These paratroopers –from Bravo Company, 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division — are preparing this RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for launch at Forward Operating Base Sparta on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.
The Shadow, manufactured by AAI Corp. of Hunt Valley, Maryland, can detect ground level temperature variations and can visually survey large stretches of territory, providing commanders with valuable battlefield information.
The troopers from Bravo Company were joined by soldiers assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team for a nine-day field training exercise almost 400 miles from their base at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks, Alaska.
To see a photo slide show of this exercise, including closer views of the Shadows, click here.
Reason for Concern
Africa may have had some of the fastest growing economies in 2013, but the intelligence organizations that are the eyes and ears of the U.S. government, say several countries of the world’s second-largest, and second-most-populous continent are likely to experience unrest in 2014.
Last week the 17 government departments and agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community, presented their annual assessment of global and regional threats confronting the United States and its friends and allies. They include terrorism, transnational crime, the proliferation of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction, cyber threats, economic disruptions and potential shortages of natural resources from food and water to energy.
The 31-page unclassified summary of Senate testimony about their threat assessment also includes dangers facing several regions of the world. Here’s a look at the problems facing North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa:
“The continent has become a hothouse for the emergence of extremist and rebel groups, which increasingly launch deadly asymmetric attacks, and which government forces often cannot effectively counter due to a lack of capability and sometimes will,” the report states.
– — –
In the Sahel, the dry-scrub area bordering the Sahara Desert, the governments in Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania are at risk to terrorist retribution for their support of the January 2013 French-led international military intervention in Mali. But the region faces other pressures from a growing youth population and marginalized ethnic groups (like the Tuaregs of Mali) who are frustrated by a lack of government services, unemployment and poor living standards. Compounding the issue: corruption, illicit economies, smuggling and poor living standards.
In Somalia, which is just starting to climb back up from decades as a failed state, the young government is threatened by persistent political infighting, weak leadership from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and ill-equipped government institutions. There’s another challenge, the increasingly violent al-Shabaab Islamist group which has been conducting asymmetric attacks against government facilities and Western targets in and around the capital Mogadishu.
East African governments have beefed up their security and policing partnerships since the deadly al-Shabaab inspired attack last September on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. But the IC folks think those governments will have difficulty protecting a wide range of potential targets. They told Congress that al-Shabaab-associated networks might be planning additional attacks in Kenya and throughout the region including Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda to punish those troops that deployed troops to Somalia in support of its government.
In Nigeria, rising political tensions and violent internal conflicts are likely in the lead-up to Nigeria’s 2015 election, according to the U.S. Intelligence community. Nigeria faces critical terrorism threats from the violent Islamist group Boko Haram and persistent extremism in the predominantly Muslim north where “economic stagnation and endemic poverty prevail amid insecurity and neglect.” In the oil-rich south, the economy centered on Lagos, is one of the fastest growing in the world. These disparities and domestic challenges could mean the waning of leadership from Africa’s most populous country (174.5 million) and possibly hurt its ability to deploy peacekeepers around the continent.
Ready for “Harm’s Way”
“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
–John Paul Jones
Today U.S. sailors take vessels like this riverine command boat (RCB) into harm’s way. Sailors assigned to Task Group 56.7.4 cross the Arabian Gulf in an RCB during a training exercise in the Arabian Gulf. RCBs provide a multi-mission platform for the U.S. 5th Fleet by focusing on maritime security operations, maritime infrastructure protection, and security cooperation efforts with other services and militaries. Oh, and they take part in offensive combat operations, too.
These fast moving boats ar armed with M240 7.62mm machine guns as well as heavier .50 caliber machine guns.
To see a short training video of an RCB in action in the Arabian Gulf, click here.
Of Monuments and Partners
TAMPA – “The Monuments Men,” the 2009 book on which the upcoming George Clooney-Matt Damon motion picture is based, highlights a little-known aspect of World War II.
The U.S. and British armies sent a small band of art hisorians, museum directors, conservationists and other art experts to Continental Europe in 1944 to prevent the destruction of monuments and other artifacts representing thousands of years of Western culture.
We don’t know if the movie will be entertaining, but the book is fascinating. Your 4GWAR editor is reading it during off-hours while attending the Special Operations Summit in Florida sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
It occurs to us that the reasoning behind the original Monument Men’s mission parallels much of what we’re hearing here in Tampa from officials representing Special Operations Command, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Defense University and the Naval Post Graduate School.
In short, war – whether conventional or irregular – is more than just neutralizing the enemy to achieve political and military objectives. Culture and place and community have to be kept in mind.
Special Operations Forces leadership has been saying for a while now that they have to adopt a policy of partnering with friendly nations and letting them do more of the heavy lifting – after training and equipping – in their own internal defense.
Speaker after speaker here discussed the need for intelligence about a place and its people as much as the best way to deter guerrillas, short-circuit insurgencies or eliminate terrorists by kinetic means. In the future, U.S. Government officials in the field – civilian as well as military – will have to strike partnerships with local militaries, leaders and communities to have any hope of success. U.S. Special Operations missions in Colombia and the Philippines were cited as true success stories.
In “The Monument Men,” there’s a stark contrast between the Germans and the Allies. While Hitler’s retreating armies were looting France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands of their art treasures, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, issued an order a week before D-Day that said in part:
“Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe, in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.
“It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols wherever possible.”
Ike went on to say that in some cases – like the destruction of the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy – necessity dictates that the lives of Allied troops come before “some honored site.” But in other circumstances damage and destruction “are not necessary and cannot be justified,” the order noted.
It’s remarkable to think that in the midst of the biggest war in human history, the good guys – at least some of them – were thinking about the big picture … Asking what good would it do to liberate Europe if you wrecked it and destroyed the national identity of the people living there.
It just goes to show that good ideas often have a history.
4GWAR will have more on the conference – which had a surprisingly large turn-out for these budget-constrained times – in the coming days.
Soldiers with the 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, patrol at Multinational Base Tirin Kot, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. The Australians are assigned to the U.S. Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment Task Force.
AROUND AFRICA: Joseph Kony Surrender Talk; Nigeria vs. Boko Haram, Swedish Drone on East African Anti-pirate Patrol
End of the Road for LRA Leader?
Is he really sick? Does he seriously want to surrender? Those were the questions swirling around Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous, brutal rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. An African Union official told reporters at United Nations headquarters Wednesday (November 20) that many reports say Kony – who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court – is seriously ill and on the run along the borders of Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Associated Press.
Ambassador Francisco Madeira told reporters the nature of Kony’s illness isn’t known, but he said Michael Djotodia, president of the Central African Republic (CAR) told him that his people had been in contact with Kony.
A spokesman for Djotodia went even farther, telling the Voice of America that Djotodia has talked with Kony by phone and that Kony said he is ready to put down his arms and come in from the bush.
The spokesman said Kony is in the southern part of the CAR near the Democratic Republic of the Congo with some 7,000 fighters. Past estimates have placed Kony’s troop strength as less than a thousand.
But U.S. Officials are skeptical that Kony means to surrender, the BBC reported. A State Department official told the British broadcaster that while some rebels have been in contact with authorities but Kony is not among them. Kony created the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 1980s as a popular uprising against the Ugandan government. But the LRA was driven out of Uganda in 2005 and has been wandering between the CAR, the DRC and South Sudan, wreaking havoc, killing villagers and soldiers and abducting children to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.
A contingent of U.S. Special Operations Forces have been advising African troops in the hunt for Kony and the LRA. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for him.
Battling Boko Haram
Lawmakers in Nigeria have approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency declaration in areas of the West African nation where troops are fighting Islamist militants, the Voice of America reports.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in May, as part of an effort to defeat the violent militant group Boko Haram.
Last week (November 13) the U.S. State Department declared Boko Haram and a splinter group, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. government finding labeled Boko Haram a “militant group with links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)” – al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.
The State Department designation held Boko Haram responsible “for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years – including targeted killings of civilians.” It accused the group of a “brutal campaign” against Nigerian military, government and civilian targets including a September attack that killed more than 160 civilians in Benisheikh and a 2011 suicide bombing at United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that left 21 dead and dozens injured.
U.S. officials accused Ansaru, a smaller group which split with Boko Haram in January 2012, of attacking the Nigerian military and Western targets like the kidnapping and execution of seven international construction workers earlier this year.
Despite the inroads Nigerian security forces have made against the jihadist group in urban areas, Boko Haram killings and kidnappings have increased in rural areas, says John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. On the CFR Blog, Africa in Transition, Campbell says there are reports Boko Haram is now targeting – and beheading – truck drivers on the road between Kano and Maiduguri (see map, click to enlarge image) in northeast Nigeria, where the group is trying to impose strict Islamic sharia law.
Horn of Africa
Saab’s Skeldar Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) has been operationally deployed aboard a Spanish naval vessel on anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa, the African defense and security website Defence Web reports.
Skeldar is an unmanned rotary wing short-to-medium range aircraft. Mikael Franzen, director of tactical UAS for the Swedish defense contractor, said the Skeldar V-200 is being operated together with a manned helicopter to extend the ship’s surveillance reach in counter piracy activities by the European Union’s Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean .
The unmanned helo is based on the Spanish Navy offshore patrol vessel BAM Meteoro. Prior to being deployed in the Atalanta mission, Skeldar unerwent successful sea trials aboard the BAM Relampago in the waters off the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Defence Web said.
Money’s Tight but Threats Are Growing
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) may be best known for rescuing pirate captives in and around the Horn of Africa and taking out al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan …
… but that’s only a small part of what the SOF community does, says Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command – which oversees the organization, training and equipping of SOF in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
“Our core competency is understanding this human domain,” McRaven, a Navy SEAL, said during a panel discussion at last month’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) conference in Washington. He was referring to understanding the language, culture, history and human networks of any given battle space before operations begin – whether counter insurgency or hostage rescue.
And that competency will be crucial in future conflicts where landpower intersects with the human and cyber domains, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, another member of the panel discussing the human nature of war and its implications for strategic landpower at AUSA. “Human interaction in a complex environment is going to be key to our success in the future,” Odierno said, noting: “I see SOF as the connective tissue between the [local] population and the conventional forces.”
McRaven has been telling audiences that as threats rise globally – but defense funding dwindles in coming years – SOF is going to have to partner with foreign allies, NATO forces and other agencies within the U.S. government like the State Department to accomplish its missions.
“We have limited resources, we have to figure out where we’re going to apply those resources,” McRaven told the Aspen Institute Security Forum in July. But he noted that working with partners is nothing new to SOF. “The larger part of what we do is help build partner capacity,” McRaven told the Aspen, Colorado conference.
To read more of this article, go to the Institute of Defense and Government Advancement‘s website.
AROUND AFRICA: Hostages Released, Somali Drone Strike; Kenya Mall Attack Arrests, Another Pirate Attack
(Click on images to enlarge)
Hostages in Niger Freed
French hostages abducted from a uranium mine in Niger in 2010 have been released, French President Francois Hollande announced today (October 29). He said France’s foreign and defence ministers have left for Niger’s capital, Niamey, and the hostages would return home as soon as possible, according to the BBC.
The four men were seized in September 2010 in raids targeting two French firms operating a uranium mine near Arlit, northern Niger. The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group said it was responsible for the kidnappings.
Drone Targets al Shabab?
A U.S. missile strike destroyed a car in Somalia Monday (October 28) believed to be carrying a top leader of the al Shabab Islamist militant group, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported.
The attack was believed to be launched from an unmanned aircraft, or drone, but that has not been officialy confirmed. If a drone strike in southern Somalia is confirmed, it will further illustrate the increasing importance placed by estern powers on counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, the AP noted. Among the dead in the attack was al Shabab’s top bombmaker, Ibrahim Ali, one of the group’s members told the AP.
Three weeks ago, U.S. Navy SEALS launched an unsuccessful raid at Baraawe on the Somali coast that targeted a Kenyan of Somali origin, known as Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, who went by the name “Ikrimah.” He was identified as the main planner of al-Shabab attack on Kenya’s parliament building and the United Nations’
The New York Times noted that the Obama administration has been reluctant to launch drone strikes in Somalia with the regularity it has in Pakistan and Yemen. The Times said that may be in part over whether the U.S. could legally target al Shabaab, which has not tried to attack on American soil. There are also concerns that drone strikes might only incite al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab, transforming the group from a regional organization aimed at driving Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union troops out of Somalia into one with an agenda as violent and international as Al Qaeda’s.
Arrests in Nairobi Mall Looting
Two Kenyan soldiers have been fired – and arrested – for stealing cell phones and other items during last month’s deadly siege at an upscale mall in Nairobi, the Voice of America reported today (Oct. 29).
More than 60 people were killed during the four-day siege at the Westgate shopping center.
Security camera footage showed several soldiers taking things from various shop counters and walking away from stores carrying plastic bags during four-day ordeal.
At first the Kenyan military said soldiers only took water from the mall’s shops while battling Islamist militants. But after the carnage was over, shopkeepers claimed stores had been looted, including break-ins at automatic teller machines and banks themselves in the mall. Earlier, the Kenyan military said soldiers only took water from the Westgate shopping center as they battled Islamist militants.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the raid, saying it was retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention into Somalia two years ago. Kenya sent troops to Somalia to help battle al-Shabab, which has been fighting to turn Somalia into a strict Islamist state.
West African Pirates
The new Tom Hanks film, “Captain Phillips” illustrates how dangerous the waters off the coast of East Africa were just a few years ago.
But now the seafarers’ danger zone is on the other side of the continent, in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, the Christian Science Monitor relates.
While Somalia’s pirates tend to engage in protracted hostage-takings that could stretch for months or even years, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea prefer smash-and-grab operations to steal cargo, according to the Monitor, adding “They especially favor refined oil products like gasoline and diesel that can be sold elsewhere.”
In the latest incident, two American merchant seamen – the captain and chief engineer of the C-Retriever – a 222-foot oil platform supply vessel, were seized by pirates in the waters off Nigeria, where pirate incidents have boomed lately.
The merchant sailors’ whereabouts are currently unknown.
The C-Retriever is owned by the company Edison Chouest Offshore in Louisiana. The ship and 11 other members of the crew were released, the Associated Press reported.
Foreign Internal Defense
WASHINGTON – Michael Sheehan, the former top special operations adviser to the Secretary of Defense, says he doesn’t like to use the word “COIN” – as in COunter INsurgency – anymore.
“Because it’s so overused now,” Sheehan – former Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) – told the International Stability Operations Association’s annual summit recently. “For me, counter insurgency is done by local forces and the U.S. helps them do it,” he told the conference of companies that provide services ranging from construction to air transport for humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and development organizations.
And for direct action – when U.S. advisers are doers, as well as teachers – Sheehan says he’s advocated for a long time “that we train the locals to go through the door – not the U.S.” In other words, train and advise foreign armies or rebels – depending on their politics – how to defend themselves, but then taking a step back and let the locals doing the shooting or “kinetic action.”
Sheehan has had a little experience in this field. A former Special Forces (Green Beret) officer, counter insurgency adviser in Latin America, adviser to U.N. Peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Haiti, National Security Council staffer at the White House, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for counter terrorism, a high-ranking official in the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for Counter Terrorism – retired from the Pentagon this past summer. One of the key assignments of Army Special Forces and other special operators is Foreign Internal Defense: teaching the local population how to defend itself against terrorism by insurgents or a repressive regime.
“I believe this is the future, where we train, advise and assist from behind, both in counter insurgency and direct action strategy,” Sheehan said. That belief is held by other SO/LIC leaders, like Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command, which oversees the commandos and unconventional warfare specialists in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
To see a video of McRaven and Sheehan both speaking about these issues at a counter terrorism panel at the Aspen Institute last summer, click here.
Explanation of “Give a man a fish…”