Posts tagged ‘Special Operations’
Under the Southern Cross
Under the starry night sky in northeastern Australia, U.S. Marines prepare to collect simulated enemy casualties and weapons during a mechanized “raid” at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland, Australia. The Marines are part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which participated in Talisman Saber 2013, a two-week U.S.-Australian training exercise that concluded July 28.
The biennial exercise, aims to enhance collaboration between U.S. and Australian forces for future combined operations, humanitarian assistance and response to natural disasters. To see Australian Defence Forces information about the exercise, as well as more photos a, click here,
The 31st MEU consists of about 2,200 Marines and Sailors equipped with more than 150 ground vehicles, 23 helicopters — ranging from the CH-53 Sea Stallion to the AH-1 attack helicopter — and eight AV-8B Harrier jets all on board three amphibious ships: The USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Denver and USS Germantown. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU — the point end of the spear — and is the Marine Corps readiness force in the Asia-Pacific region.
Click on the photo to enlarge it. To see more photos of Talisman Saber, click here.
In The Know
ASPEN, Colorado – Here at 4GWAR, we’ve written about the topic of Human Geography numerous times before. Nevertheless, we were surprised at how often that concept – if not the actual phrase – came up in discussions at the Aspen Security Forum in the Rocky Mountains last week.
Human Geography is a multi-discipline study of not only the physical nature of the earth but the people who live on it and how they relate among themselves and with others along political, economic, cultural, linguistic and geographic lines.
The need for cultural awareness and background knowledge of people and places where the United States may conduct future military and humanitarian operations came up several times during the four-day annual gathering of defense and homeland security experts from government, academia and the corporate world.
With U.S. combat activities in Iraq over, and ending soon in Afghanistan, speakers and panels discussed the new challenges facing the United States.
“You really gotta know the place,” said Ambassador Rick Barton, assistant secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, describing the complexity of sorting out potential partners among the scores of opposition groups in the Syrian civil war. Time, effort and money need to be spent on acquiring the right intelligence, he added. “If you’re really going to be effective in a place, you’ve really got to have a sense of the context and the balance” he said during a panel discussion on the U.S. role in preventing conflicts.
Speaking on the same panel, Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) – which oversees the Green Berets, Navy Seals and other special operations forces – said cultural awareness (one of the key aspects of human geography studies) was a key to training partner nations to defend themselves against terrorists. “When we put people into a country they need to speak the language, they need to be culturally aware of what’s going,” McRaven said. But after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan many of those skill sets have eroded for other parts of the world. “So we are reinvigorating the language programs and reinvigorating the cultural awareness programs,” he said. SOCOM units, like SEAL teams, will be realigned within the various regional combatant commands such as Africa Command and Pacific Command “so that the right people will speak the right languages and understand the right cultures,” McRaven added.
“The problem, of course is the way Americans always come into a country with which there is enormous cultural difference. They don’t always appreciate cultural difference,” Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told another panel discussion on Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of 20-something troops and contractors “not knowing how to be deferential to the elders, not knowing how to deal with the mullahs, not understanding the sectarian and religious concentrations.”
And the former head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham (ret.) noted “it’s a particular challenge in Africa, because of the diversity of cultures and languages” as well as religious, ethnic and tribal distinctions. “We have a long way to go,” he said. But he also noted that the assistance of experienced foreign service and U.S.AID officers has helped in the past and McRaven’s promised deployment of special operations forces with cultural skills tailored to the regional combatant commands’ area of responsibility will help in the future.
In a story out this week in Special Operations Technology magazine, your 4GWAR editor examines how special operators are combining new technology and old skills in human geography for missions like foreign internal defense and civil affairs operations. The explosion of social networking and geospatial imagery on the Internet has added many new tools for human geographers and intelligence gatherers. To read more, visit Special Operations Technology magazine, by clicking here.
On the Brink
A U.S. Marine prepares to exit the back of an MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft high above Djibouti near the Horn of Africa.
The Marines — from the Maritime Raid Force with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) – were conducting parachute operations with French special operations forces in May.
The Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane. The one is this photo is assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266. The 26th MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group.
To see more spectacular photos of this jump, as well as what the Osprey looks like in flight — and the very interesting headgear of the French parachutists, click here.
Dawn Blitz 2013
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are conducting a large amphibious exercise off the Southern California coast called Dawn Blitz 2013. But this year’s exercise, which runs from June 11-28, is a little different from previous ones. It has morphed into a multi-national exercise with troops from New Zealand and Canada and — for the first time — the Japanese Self Defense Forces participating.
In fact about 1,000 Japanese sailors and soldiers are taking part in the exercise as well as . New Zealand and Canada which have have sent company-sized contingents of between 150 and 200 troops. There are also small detachments serving as observers from Australia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
The participation of so many Latin American countries indicates that the shift — or pivot — in U.S. strategy to the Pacific takes in more than just the Far East. “When we talk pivot, it’s much more than Asia,” says Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, commanding general of both the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
The American contingent in the massive exercise is about 4,000 sailors and Marines, Broadmeadow told a defense bloggers roundtable today (June 13)
Dawn Blitz is a multilateral amphibious exercise designed to strengthen international partnerships by improving the ability to respond to crises and protect the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners.
But both Broadmeadow and Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock II — who spoke to the blogger’s group Tuesday (June 11) took pains to say the exercise had no political ramifications despite news reports in Asia that it was meant to send a message to China which is in a escalating dispute with Japan over possession of a group of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea.
Although amphibious operations on San Clemente Island are scheduled for June 17, the exercise “has nothing to do with retaking an island,” said Broadmeadow.
In addition to troops from Japan’s Western Army Infantry Regiment as well as helicopters and other units from the Western Army Aviation Group and Japanese Air Defense Command, the Japanese contingent included three ships from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force which sailed across the Pacific from Japan to California with a stop in Hawaii.
U.S. Navy vessels from the Expeditionary Strike Group 3, including the USS Boxer, USS Peleliu, USS New Orleans and USS Harpers Ferry — all amphibious assault or transport ships –and the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, are taking part in the Exercise.
Another first for the exercise was expected Friday (June 14) when a Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft lands aboard one of the Japanese ships, the Hyuga [see photo below], for the first time. Broadmeadow said it wasn’t the first time an MV-22 had landed on the deck of a foreign Navy vessel — just the first time for a Japanese ship..
Broadmeadow also said members of MARSOC, the Marine Corps special operations unit, would take part in the exercise.
Now That’s A Different Look
Army Sgt. Kyle Francione, wearing a uniquely decorated flying helmet (click on the photo to enlarge image), peers from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, as it flies to pick up soldiers attending the Mobile Pathfinder Course. The sergeant is with the 207th Aviation Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard,
More than 40 soldiers tested their skills as they conducted parachute drops onto Malamute Drop Zone in Alaska. The three-week course, conducted by the U.S. Army Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Georgia., instructs students in air traffic control, medical evacuation operations, sling load operations, helicopter landing zones, air assault planning, pathfinder employment, and drop zone operations.
Pathfinders are the soldiers who jump into a remote or hostile area before the other paratroops to mark and scout the area then coordinate the operation from the ground. Those soldiers who complete the course will earn the coveted Pathfinder Badge.
To see more photos of the Pathfinder Course including parachute drops, click here.
Isn’t that a Flying Car?
This airdrop took place over Malamute Drop Zone followed by paratroopers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The soldiers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
For more photos of this operation, click here.
Security Council Votes
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously today (April 25) to approve a peacekeeping mission to the war-wracked North African nation of Mali.
A force of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers could be deployed as soon as July, the New York Times reported. About 6,000 troops already deployed by member countries from the Economic Community of West African States — as well as about 1,000 French troops — are expected to form the base of the peacekeeping mission. France intervened in its former African colony in January when militant Islamic extremists and Tuareg separatists threatened Bamako, Mali’s capital.
For nifty interactive timeline by the Times chronicling the 16-month-old crisis in Mali, once one of the few working democracies in West Africa, click here.
Meanwhile, Mali’s interim president has launched the country’s reconciliation commission to deal with security and governance issues in the country’s north. But a Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, refuses to disarm before beginning negotiations with the Malian government, the Voice of America reports.
Nigeria: Business and Bullets
Nigeria’s National Economic Council has approved a $9 billion foreign loan to fund new infrastructure, invest in agriculture and create jobs, Bloomberg reports. The lenders include the Export-Import Bank of China, rthe Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Capital interest rates on the loan will be as low as 2 percent and Nigeria will have more than 40 years to repay.
Meanwhile violence has erupted again in the country’s north, according to the Voice of America. Nearly 200 people were killed last weekend in an attack by the militant Islamist group in the fishing town of Baga. But some analysts say many of the slain may actually have been killed by security forces.
In a report that echoes earlier ones by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government says indiscriminate killings and detentions by security forces are “a seroious human-rights problem” in Nigeria, VoA reported.
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.
U.S. VS. Ansar-al-DineOne of the violent radical Islamist groups at the center of the insurgency in northern Mali has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
In a statement released today (March 21) the State Department said Ansar-al-Dine was deemed a Foreign Terrorist Organization under federal law and also a Global Terrorist entity under an executive order that targets terrorists and those providing them support.
Ansar-al-Dine was one of the Islamic extremist groups that hijacked a largely secular rebellion by nomadic Tuareg tribesmen in Mali’s desert north last year. The rebellion, the latest in a series of revolts since the 1960s by Tuaregs seeking autonomy from Mali’s government in Bamako, the capital, mushroomed after Malian army officers staged a coup on March 22. Ironically, the military coup arose from Army frustration with Mali’s democratically-elected government was mishandling the Tuareg revolt.
Taking advantage of the political chaos, the Tuaregs swept over nearly half the country, between January and April 2012, seizing control of an area the size of France, including the legendary city of Timbuktu. But hardline groups like Ansar-al-Dine, pushed the Tuareg leadership aside and imposed strict Islamic law in the captured region. Punishments included floggings, amputation of limbs and executions. Most music was forbidden and several historic tombs were destroyed.
Ansar-al-Dine cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, another designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, the State Department said. During Ansar-al-Dine’s March 2012 attack on the town of Aguelhok, the group executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more.
The request of Mali’s new government France, the country’s former colonial ruler, sent troops and aircraft to halt an insurgent threat to Bamako in January. French troops aided by soldiers from Chad and other African nations have driven the insurgents back almost to the Algerian border.
AFRICOM VS. al Shebaab
Speaking of extremists, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says another violent Islamist group, al-Shabaab in East Africa has been “significantly weakened from a year ago.” Army Gen. Carter Ham told the House Armed Services Committee last week (March 15) that AFRICOM was assisting partner nations battle three other violent groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, active in northern and western Africa; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Ham noted that while there’s been good progress against al-Shabaab by the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia as well as Ethiopian and Somali forces, the group is still dangerous and capable of unconventional attacks to disrupt AMISOM operations as well as the new Somali government.
Asked if he had enough resoures to battle AQIM, Ham said there were “significant shortfalls” in equipment providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.
More on Mali
France says about 10 Islamist fighters were killed today (March 21) when French and Malin forces repelled an attack on Timbuktu, the Voice of America reports.
French President Francois Hollande said this week (March 19) that military operations in Mali are in their final phase. But military analysts are worried al-Qaeda-linked militants could return to nothern ali’s cities and towns once the French withdraw their 4,000 troops from the region. Another concern, says VOA, the Malian army is still weak. The attack on Timbuktu comes a day after a suicide car bombing killed a Malian soldier and wounded six other people at Timbuktu’s airport.
It was the first suicide attack in Timbuktu since French and Malian troops drove Islamist militants out of the ancient caravan city two months ago, the Guardian reported.
Algerian Hostage Siege
We’ve held off posting on the seizure of hostages at a natural gas plant in eastern Algeria until the situation became a little less confused. But as far as 4GWAR is concerned, the situation is still quite confusing. The Algerian prime minister said today (Jan. 21) that 37 foreign hostages were killed in the four-day terrorist incident.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal also said a “Canadian” citizen coordinated the siege`and that seven of the foreigners killed — during the initial seizure of the desert plant on Jan. 16 or in the attack by Algerian security forces that retook the plant on Jan. 19 — have yet to be identified. Five other foreigners are still missing. Seven Japanese, six Filipinos, three Americans and three Britains have been identified by their respective governments as among the confirmed dead. Others, from Britain, Norway and elsewhere are listed as unaccounted for, according to Reuters.
The Algerians say about 700 Algerian workers and 100 other foreigners survived the ordeal at the In Amenas plant near the border with Libya.
Reuters also reported that an Algerian security source told the news agency that documents found on the bodies of two militants had identified them as Canadians. At a news conference in Algiers the Algerian prime minister said a Canadian was among the militants, adding that: “He was coordinating the attack.”
A leader of the terrorist group, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the attack on the gas plant in retaliation for French military intervention in Mali which Islamist militants are threatening to overrun. The AQIM says it was also punishing Alegerian officials for granting French military aircraft flyover permission on their way to Mali (See story below and note the border Mali shares with Algeria in the map above).
In a separate story from London, Reuters reported that Britain said it would increase counter-terrorism and intelligence aid to Algeria and consider giving more help to France in the fight against Islamists in Mali. But Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out any chance of direct British military intervention in Africa.
More on Mali
French and Malian troops have retaken two towns from Islamic militants several news organizations are reporting. The joint force took control of Diabaly and Douentza today (Jan. 21), although BBC reports the towns had been abandoned by militant Islamist fighters fled both towns last week after a French bombing campaign. Diabaly is about 250 miles northeast of Mali’s capital of Bamako. Douentza is about another 250 miles northeast of the capital. Diabaly was the southern-most point held by the militants, Bloomberg reported. Mali is one of Africa’s leading gold-producing countries — even though its people are desperately poor, according to Bloomberg.
The French began airstrikes using helicopters and fighter jets on Jan. 11 to halt the militants’ advance on the capital. They were concerned about Mali becoming a launching pad for terror attacks against Europe. About 2,000 French troops are in Mali already with another 500 expected, although the France, the former colonial ruler of Mali, insists it don’t plan to stay for a long time in an Afghanistan-like mission in Mali.
Meanwhile, an international force from several West African nations is beginning to form. Already about 250 soldiers from Nigeria, Togo and Senegal are in Mali. Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Ghana and Guinea have all pledged to send troops. Chad has pledged to send 2,000 troops and Nigeria will send 1,200 according to the BBC. Funding the coalition force as well as coordinating action among troops from many lands speaking many languages is still a concern.
“The crisis in Mali, if not brought under control, may spill over into Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences on our collective security, political stability and development efforts,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wrote earlier this month in a letter to the country’s Senate requesting approval of the troop deployment in Mali, according to Bloomberg. Nigeria is dealing with terror attacks by its own Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.
French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said the objective in Mali was to “totally reconquer” the area seized by nomadic Tuareg nationalists and militant Islamist fundamentalist groups like Ansar Dine, The Guardian newspaper reported.
The African Threat
Do the Algerian hostage raid and French intervention in Mali — coming on the heels of Islamist militant attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia signal a widening of the so-called War on Terror or an expansion of jihad from Southwest Asia and the Middle East to Africa?
A number of analysts have weighed in on that question. Here is a sampling:
An attempted military coup in Eritrea, a country sometimes called the North Korea of Africa, has apparently failed.
Eritrea, which sits just above the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea, has one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in Africa, according to the New York Times. The country won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991after a 30-year war of rebellion.
Eritrea has waged war at one time or another with nearly all of its neighbors. The United Nations has imposed sanctions on the country because of suspected support for Somali militants.
On Monday (Jan. 21) mutinous troops stormed the Ministry of Information and siezed the state-run television service (often a first step in seizing power in coups and revolutions). But apparently nobody took to the streets and soldiers loyal to the government of President Isaias Afwerki put down the would-be revolution. For details, click here and here.