FRIDAY FOTO (March 27, 2015)

A Study in Lighting.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin V. Cunningham

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin V. Cunningham

Sometimes the Friday Foto illustrates a military operation or training exercise. Sometimes it shines a spotlight on unsung heroes like para-rescue men and under-appreciated military skill sets like sappers and hospital corpsmen.

And sometimes we just feature an arresting, beautifully-composed photo by one of the services’ many photographers. This is one of those times. This sailor, waiting to take off in an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter, has been caught in what appears to be a shaft of sunlight caused by the rotating helicopter engine blades. This shot was taken on the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard in the East China Sea on March 24.

BTW, the sailor is a naval aircrewman assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25. Make sure you click on the photo to enlarge it and get the full effect.

March 27, 2015 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

AFRICA: Africa Command Tackling Violent Extremists and Other Challenges

Making Progress, but …

U.S. Marines from the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa are training Tanzanian park rangers in infantry skills such as patrolling, offensive tactics, land navigation and mounted operations to aid in countering illicit trafficking.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lucas J. Hopkins)

U.S. Marines from the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa are training Tanzanian park rangers in infantry skills such as patrolling, offensive tactics, land navigation and mounted operations to aid in countering illicit trafficking.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lucas J. Hopkins)

Africa’s security environment remains “dynamic and uncertain” with numerous countries through out the continent plagued by crime, corruption, as well as political and economic unrest, says the head of U.S. Africa Command.

Testifying today (March 26) before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army General David Rodriguez, AFRICOM’s commander, said the command has expanded collaboration with allies and partners to address the “growing threat in Libya, Mali and Nigeria” including “an increasingly cohesive network of al Qaeda affiliates a growing Islamic State (ISIL) … presence and Boko Haram.”

Rodriguez said al-Shabaab remains the primary security threat to U.S. interests in East Africa “despite progress by regional partners in liberating parts of southern and central Somalia from the group’s control.”  And in North and West Africa, Libyan and Nigerian insecurity “increasingly threaten U.S. interests. In spite of multinational security efforts, terrorist and criminal networks are gaining strength and interoperability,” he said.

Of five immediate priorities, the top two are countering violent extremism and enhancing stability in East Africa and in North and West Africa.

Rodriguez noted that AFRICOM’s engagement with partner nations has increased between Fiscal year 2013 and 2014.  “In Fiscal Year 2014, we conducted 68 operations, 11 major joint exercises, and 595 security cooperation activities,” he told the Senate hearing. By comparison, AFRICOM conducted “55 operations, 10 major joint exercises, and 481 security cooperation activities in Fiscal Year 2013.” But requirements are expanding faster than resources are increasing, he added.

More on this hearing later this weekend.

March 26, 2015 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Navy Commando Medic Awarded Silver Star for Heroism in Afghanistan

Corpsman Up!

Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin D. Baskin, special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman, 3d Marine Special Operations Battalion, was decorated with the Silver Star Medal for his actions in Afghanistan April 25, 2013.  (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Scott A. Achtemeier)

Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin D. Baskin, special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman, 3d Marine Special Operations Battalion, was decorated with the Silver Star Medal for his actions in Afghanistan April 25, 2013.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Scott A. Achtemeier)

The U.S. Marine Corps doesn’t have medics per se. Instead, their medical emergency needs aboard ship, back at base or on the battlefield are handled by sailors known as Hospital Corpsman.

These highly skilled and highly respected personnel don’t get as much attention as they should from this blog. But today is different.

Today (March 25) we learned one corpsman, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Baskin, was recently awarded the Silver Star Medal for valor during combat actions in Afghanistan.

A special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman (SARC) assigned to the 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Baskin was awarded the Silver Star — the third-highest U.S. military decoration for valor — after saving the lives of four members of his unit, according to to U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). SARCs are special operations-skilled trauma specialists who are trained in many of the commando skills of MARSOC operators including combatant scuba diving and parachute insertion.

Baskin was attached to Marine Special Operations Team 8224 with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion during the unit’s 2013 deployment to Herat province, Afghanistan, according to Marine Corps Times. On April 24, 2013, Baskin and his team members came under a barrage of enemy fire from insurgents near Kushe Village, in South Zereko Valley.  Disregarding his own safety, he ran through enemy fire, to provide aid to a wounded teammate. After stabilizing the wounded Marine and loading him into an evacuation vehicle, Baskin himself was shot in the back.

Baskin’s award citation reads, “Although wounded, he continued treating casualties while refusing medical treatment for his own injuries. Under intense fire, while simultaneously directing the evacuation of the wounded Marines, [Afghan National Army] partner forces and himself, he laid down suppressive fire until every team member had evacuated the kill zone. His actions ultimately saved the lives of four of his teammates.” 

SARC insignia (RekonDog via wikipedia)

SARC insignia
(RekonDog via wikipedia)

No matter where they serve, the Navy rating of hospital corpsman is the most decorated in the U.S. Navy with 22 Medals of Honor, 174 Navy Crosses. 31 Distinguished Service Medals, 949 Silver Stars and 1,582 Bronze Stars, according to wikipedia. Twenty naval ships have been named after hospital corpsman.

It is noteworthy that this all happened during Baskin’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan. His first tour, with the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, was cut short when he was wounded by fragments from a rocket-propelled grenade — earning him the first of two Purple Heart medals for wounds sustained in combat.

March 25, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (March 20, 2015)

Concentration.

(82nd Airborne Division photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

82nd Airborne Division photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2nd BCT) and the British 16th Air Assault Brigade conduct airborne training at the Advanced Airborne School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Since the folks in this photo are already experienced paratroopers, we wonder what the training leader is saying through the loud hailer and what is it these Brits and Yanks are doing with their hands.

We’d appreciate it if any sky soldiers or paras out there could help us out with an explanation of this intriguing image.

Now back to the larger question: Why is such a large number of the United Kingdom’s maroon berets at Bragg?”

They’re training with U.S. troops and U.S. equipment to achieve seamless integration in future operations. The 2nd BCT is slated to lead a Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise with the British battle group in April. That exercise will test the 82nd’s capability to integrate with a U.K. brigade, allowing the two units to operate quickly and effectively if deployed together in a future coalition crisis response force.

More than 850 British Soldiers began arriving at Fort Bragg on March 9 to prepare for the exercise. 

To see more photos, click here.

March 20, 2015 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (March 20, 2015)

Foreground, Background.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean P. Gallagher/Released)

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean P. Gallagher

While Marines doing PT jog in the background, Sailors perform maintenance on an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in the Pacific Ocean.

The sailors are assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21. The Marines are with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Marines and sailors are training to coordinate, integrate and work together within the confines of the 844-foot-long,  40,000-ton ship before deployment.

According to the Navy, LHDs provide transportation, command and support for all elements of a Marine landing force of over 2,000 troops during an assault by air and amphibious craft.

Editor’s Note:

The one time we took a vacation on a cruise ship, we jogged on the top deck (dodging waiters, other joggers and small children). We can’t imagine what it must be like jogging on the flight deck of what’s essentially a busy, mini aircraft carrier.

March 20, 2015 at 1:11 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Tunis Update; Attacks on and by Al Shabaab; Mali-UN Chopper Crash; Mali-Rebel Talks

Tunis Attack.

Tunisia in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Tunisia in Africa
(CIA World Factbook)

The brutal extremist group that calls itself Islamic State is claiming responsibility for the attack Wednesday (March 18) on Tunisia’s popular national museum that left more than 20 people dead — most of them foreign tourists, the BBC reported.

Tunisian officials say two of the attacking gunmen were also killed and as many as three accomplices may have escaped. Officials in Tunis, the North African nation’s capital, say nine people have been detained for questioning in connection with the attack.

Initial reports Wednesday said the gunmen all attacked the National Assembly which is in the same compound as the museum and where lawmakers were debating a counterterrorism bill. here were no casualties at the legislative complex. Officials now say the museum and tourists were the attack’s targets.

The extremist group said the attack was aimed as “citizens of Crusader countries” and added that it was the “first drop of rain,” the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets reported.

The Bardo National Museum in Tunis, where more than 20 people were killed in a terrorist attack, is famous for its Greek, Roman and Carthaginian artifacts. (Photo by Alexandre Moreau via wikipedia)

The Bardo National Museum in Tunis, where more than 20 people were killed in a terrorist attack, is famous for its Greek, Roman and Carthaginian artifacts.
(Photo by Alexandre Moreau via wikipedia)

Twenty tourists from Britain, Colombia, France, Italy and Japan, came under fire as they disembarked from two tourist buses outside the Bardo National Museum. Others fled into the museum where some were taken hostage and some killed. At least two Tunisians, a female museum custodian and a security force officer, were killed in the attack.

Tunisian officials said troops were guarding key points in major cities throughout the country in the wake of the attack. Some Mediterranean cruise lines have suspended calling at Tunis for the time being, USA Today reported.

Wednesday’s assault was the worst attack involving foreigners in Tunisia since an al Qaeda suicide bombing on a synagogue killed 21 people on the tourist island of Djerba in 2002, according to Reuters.

*** *** ***
Apache Down.

Aerial view of the area surrounding Gao, Northern Mali. (United Nations photo)

Aerial view of the area surrounding Gao, Northern Mali.
(United Nations photo)

Two Dutch United Nations peacekeepers were killed when their Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Apache attack helicopter crashed in northern Mali, Al Jazeera reports. At a press conference in the Netherlands Tuesday (March 17), the Dutch military confirmed the crash, calling it an accident.

The helicopter was conducting a firing exercise on ground targets over uninhabited terrain with another Dutch Apache when it crashed, the RNLAF said.

The accident occurred 47 kilometres to the north of the Dutch compound. Immediately after the crash, the crash site was secured by a French attack helicopter. Dutch special forces secured and guarded the site on the ground. An investigation into the cause of the accident is being mounted.

The helicopter, from the U.N.’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), crashed about 20 kilometers (xx miles) from Gao in northern Mali. The pilot died on impact and he co-pilot died from his injuries at a French military field hospital at Gao on the River Niger. Both pilots were members of 301 Squadron based in Gilze-Rijen airbase in southern Netherlands.

Mali (CIA World Factbook) Click on image to enlarge

Mali
(CIA World Factbook)
Click on image to enlarge

MINUSMA has some 11,000 personnel on the ground in Mali, about 670 of them are Dutch. More than 40 peacekeepers with MINUSMA have been killed since the mission was created in 2013 to keep the peace between rebelling Tuareg tribesmen in the northern deserts and the government in Bamako to the south. Because of those numbers, according to Al Jazeera, MINUSMA is considered the most dangerous U.N. mission in the world.

*** *** ***

Mali Peace Talks.

Meanwhile, Mali’s government  said this week that it won’t participate in further talks with rebels seeking autonomy for northern Mali.

The collapse in peace talks could leave the north’s political status open indefinitely, a situation that Islamist militants active in the region could exploit, Reuters reports.

Mediators have been working for months to get talks going between a group of Tuareg-led rebels from the north and the government in Bamako the capital in the southern part of the vast northwest African country.

Bamako signed a preliminary proposal earlier this month but the rebels erected it, saying it did not grant their region, called Azawad, enough autonomy. Those rebels took  advantage of a 2012 military coup in the capital to sweep down from the north seizing territory and cities like Timbuktu. But their rebellion was hijacked by radical Islamist groups, some tied to Al Qaeda branches. They imposed harsh fundamentalist Muslim law and destroyed several holy sites revered by Muslims they consider heretics.

The rebels were threatening to capture Bamako in early 2013 when France intervened, sending troops, armored vehicles and aircraft to drive the rebels back. Eventually, a U.N. peace mission was created.

*** *** ***

Al Shabab Blamed.

The Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa

Four people have been killed in a terror attack in northeastern Kenya about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with Somalia, the BBC reports.

Security forces said hooded men locked people inside a shop, then lobbed a hand grenade in, causing a fire.

Al Qaeda-linked al Shabab militants in Somalia said they carried out the attack — the fourth in five days in the troubled northeast region. Kenya’s northeast region has often been attacked by al Shabab, which has vowed to get revenge on Nairobi for sending troops into Somalia in 2011 to help the United Nations-backed government battle the Islamists terrorists.

*** *** ***

Al Shabab Official Killed.

And last week, a U.S. drone missile strike killed a top official in al Shabab’s security service, the Amniyat, according to the Voice of America website.

The March 12 airstrike hit a car carrying Adan Garaar — described by the Pentagon as  working for al Shabab’s intelligence wing and also connected to the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that killed more than 60 people.

Last month al Shabab released a video that called for attacks on Western shopping malls. The Mall of America, one of the largest in the United States, is in Minnesota, which has a large Somali immigrant population.

Prosecutors say dozens of people from Minnesota, many of them Somali-Americans, have traveled or attempted to travel overseas to support groups such as the Islamic State or al Shabab since 2007.

U.S. law enforcement officials are concerned about the potential for radicalization among embers of immigrants communities.

March 19, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA/TERRORISM: 22 Dead in Tunis Museum Attack [UPDATE 2]

Previously Peaceful Tunisia.

Tunisia and its neighbors. (Map from CIA World Factbook)

Tunisia and its neighbors.
(Map from CIA World Factbook)

Nine people have been arrested in connection with the deadly attack on a museum in Tunisia’s capital, killing at least 23 people  — 20 of them foreign tourists, the BBC reports.

And the brutal extremist group that calls itself Islamic State is reportedly taking credit for the bloodbath in the North African nation, according to Reuters, CNN and other news organizations.

Officials have not confirmed the IS claim of responsibility, which was made in an audio recording that praised the two attackers slain in the assault as “knights of Islamic State.”

Gunmen tried to storm the country’s national assembly Wednesday (March 18) while lawmakers were debating an anti-terrorism bill. When that attack was thwarted, the gunmen — some wearing military-style uniforms — attacked tourist buses outside the National Bardo Museum across from the government building.

According to the Voice of America, the attackers took a small group of tourists hostage. There were about 100 tourists in the museum, one of he capital’s top tourism sites, when the attack began. Prime Minister Habib Essid said 17 foreign tourists were among the dead. They were said to come from Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. Two Tunisians, a female museum custodian and a security officer, were also killed — as were two gunmen. Tunisian authorities say they are searching for up to three accomplices.

The attack was a blow to Tunisia, one of the bright spots in the Arab Spring. Except for al Qaeda attacks on security forces along Tunisia’s borders, there has been no large scale political violence in the country. Tunisia has been making progress on a democratic transition since a popular revolt unseated the autocratic regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. Since then there have been violent uphevals in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.

The attack on such a prominent target is a blow for a small North African country that relies heavily on European tourism, said Al Jazeera. The Wall Street Journal reports that “about 12 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product relies on tourism.”

More later in AROUND AFRICA this evening …

March 18, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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