Archive for September, 2010

AFPAK: Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan

A Political and Diplomatic Minefield

Map: CIA World Factbook

The Washington Post, in its third installment of highlights from Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars,” has a telling passage that summarizes the contradictory relationship the U.S. has with Pakistan — and why it is so important, so maddening and so dangerous:

“…the most pressing U.S. interests were in Pakistan, a nuclear power with a fragile civilian government, a dominant military and an intelligence service that sponsored terrorist groups.”

Much of the news this week has been about, or from, Pakistan and every new story raises questions about that country’s stability. And that has got to weigh heavily on U.S. decision makers.

Going Nuclear

First comes the news that the United Nations’ atomic energy agency has elected the head of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission as its new chairman. Dr. Ansar Parvez was selected to chair the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency for the next year.

IAEA photo

As Bloomberg news points out, Pakistan is also the home of nuclear weapons-trafficker Abdul Qadeer Khan. Parvez, who is not linked in any way to the Khan network that sold nuclear bomb-building information to Iran, North Korea and Libya, is not the first Pakistani official chaired the IAEA’s governing board. But he is the first since Pakistan joined the nuclear club in 1998.

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Wanted: Better Leadership

We think the New York Times may have buried the lead in its front page story Wednesday that Pakistan’s military is very unhappy with the poor performance of the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari. The generals, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have been underwhelmed – as have most Pakistanis – by the government’s sluggish response to catastrophic flooding that has killed nearly 2,000 people and left millions homeless.

They’re not exactly thrilled with how Zardari and his cabinet are handling the struggling nation’s economy, either.

Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani talks with U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen (Defense Dept. photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

But what we think is quite remarkable is that the generals – unlike former military commanders, Pervez Musharraf and Zia -ul-Haq, among others – don’t want to take over the government.Civilian governents have fallen three times to military coups over Pakistan’s 63-year history. This time, however, the generals are too busy fighting homegrown insurgents.

But at a meeting Monday “that was played on the front page of Pakistan’s newspapers,” the army chief, confronted the president and his prime minister over incompetence and corruption in the government.

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Not Wanted: al Qaeda and the Taliban

The U.S. has stepped up missile attacks on militant strongholds in Pakistan in recent weeks, prompting a outcry from some segments of the public about violations of Pakistani sovereignty. Adding to the controversy, U.S. and/or NATO helicopters have crossed the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan – operating under the “hot pursuit” of bad guys doctrine – to attack armed individuals that fired on them.

CIA World Factbook

CIA Director Leon Panetta is meeting with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to discuss Islamabad’s increasing unhapiness with the U.S. airstrikes. Pasha heads the Inter Services Intelligence agency, which  supported Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. And segments of the ISI are reportedly still supporting some of those groups – even though they are targeting coalition forces.

Pakistan shut down the crucial land route into Afghanistan for NATO supplies after accusing NATO of killing three Pakistani guards at a checkpoint in the most recent cross-border attack, according to Voice of America.

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Here We Go Again

There are reports that at least some of those missile strikes into Pakistani territory were aimed at disrupting militants planning attacks in cities across Europe and possibly in the United States.

U.S. Air Force photo via Wikipedia

Intelligence officials in Britain and France said they had disrupted plots to conduct low-tech raids by heavily-armed militants to kill and take hostages, similar to the attack in Mumbai two years ago that left 166 dead and hundreds more injured, according to Sky News and other news outlets.

Several outlets reported the stepped up activity by missile-firing drones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was, in part, an attempt to disrupt  further planning meetings. But according to NPR, some U.S. officials say that was not the case.

September 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

AFPAK: Flood Relief Update

Afghan, Chinese Helicopters Join Pakistan Flood Relief

Rescue and relief efforts continue in flood-ravaged Pakistan more than a month after heavier-than-usual monsoon rains caused the Indus River and its tributaries to overflow.

Flooding victims gather as U.S. Marines and Pakistani soldiers unload relief supplies from a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter. (USMC photo by Capt. Paul Duncan)

The U.S. Defense Department says about eight million pounds of food and relief supplies have been delivered by Air Force C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft as well as Army, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters.

The helicopters have also rescued nearly 17,000 people in Pakistan. Aerial operations in Pakistan can be tricky. Much of the country’s infrastucture was washed away in the floods. There is also the challenge of fog, haze, rough terrain and high altitude mountain passes and landing zones. The Marine Corps choppers came in on the USS Peleliu (LHA5) and the USS Kearsarge (LHD3), two Navy amphibious assault ships. The latest Army helos were flown in from Fort Wainwright, Alaska on Air Force C-17s and C-5s of the 732nd Air Mobility Squadron.

More than 1,700 people died and millions have been made homeless by the rising waters that, at their height, flooded more than 20 percent of Pakistan. The U.S. has increased its pledge of Pakistan relief aid to $345 million. Britain, which has also sent relief supplies on Royal Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft has pledged more than $200 million in assistance. And Royal Australian Air Force C-17s have also flown in relief supplies and personnel

U.S. officials, particularly Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Pakistan, are concerned that the Pakistani public is unaware of just how much assistance Washington is providing, according to an Associated Press report. Those officials, who want to shore up Pakistani support for U.S. counter insurgency efforts against the Taliban and al Qaeda, are urging international aid groups to be more open about U.S. funding for their efforts. But some relief groups are resisting, fearing too close a link with a government that is hunting militants with drone-fired missiles in Pakistan border areas could endanger their staffers.

Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopters and their crews returned to Kabul International Airport from rescue operations in Pakistan. (Defense Dept. photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Mobley)

Meanwhile, military helicopters from Afghanistan and China have just returned from relief missions to Pakistan. In their first-such mission outside China, four helicopters of the People’s Liberation Army flew rescue and relief missions in Pakistan. Click here to see photos from the People’s Daily.

According to Chinese and Pakistani press reports, the PLA helos — belonging to the Xinjiang military area command — were dispatched from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Sept. 21.

Afghan National Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi was on hand to welcome the crews of four Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopters back to Kabul in early September after 26 days in Pakistan evacuating stranded flood victims and carrying food, water and first aid supplies. The 22 crew members flew more than 400 sorties, rescuing 120 stranded Pakistanis and delivering more than 188 tons of food, medical equipment and shelter supplies. They also transported 1,904 aid workers and other passengers.

The Afghan Air Force (AAF) has grown to almost 5,000 airmen and 50 aircraft since the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan command started up in November. In July, AAF Mi-17s were needed to rescue Afghan flood refugees (see photo below).

A month before Afghan helicopters mounted a flood relief mission to Pakistan, they saved more than 2,000 of their own people from floods in Laghman province. (Photo by Maj. Kazim, Afghan Air Force)

September 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Sept. 24, 2010)

Rumble in the Jungle

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel Negrete)

U.S. Marines slog through a stream during a jungle-patrol exercise in Guatemala’s remote Poptun Training Camp. About 40 Marines from Alpha Company of the 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, spent a week at the Guatemalan Special Forces camp as part of a “subject matter expert exchange” or SMEE. The Marines are part of a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force supporting a larger humanitarian civic affairs mission in Latin America and the Caribbean

The elite Guatemalan commandos known as Kaibiles conduct an arduous 60-day training course twice a year in Poptun, located in the northernmost district sandwiched between Belize and Mexico. If you’ve seen the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, “Predator,” which was shot in the Mexican  jungles, then you’ve got a pretty good idea how rugged the terrain is at Poptun.

The Kaibiles are a controversial unit created in 1974 during Guatemala’s bitter 36-year Civil War,  Specializing in jungle warfare tactics and counter insurgency operations,the Kaibiles believe a soldier must earn his food, so before every meal they are required to climb a rope, do five pull-ups, 10 push-ups ands run two miles. The U.S. Marines also performed those exercises before eating their chow during the week-long SMEE.

Only seven or eight of the 40-some candidates in a typical Kaibiles training course will make it to graduation,says Col. Victor Diaz, commander of the Kaibil training school. The seven-day training package the Marines completed at Poptun focused on the Kaibil swim qualification course, jungle terrain navigation and maneuvering, moving vehicle exits and reacting to ambushes.

While many of those skills are similar to Marine Corps doctrine, Capt. Lynn Berendsen, Alpha Company’s commander, believes the Kaibiles enhanced the compressed training session “by teaching us some techniques for operating in a jungle environment … something most Marines have not done since the Global War on Terrorism shifted our focus to the desert.”

Counter-guerrilla doctrine and the Kaibiles’ history was also included in the training. The motto of these jungle fighters who wear maroon berets is: “Si avanzo…sígueme, Si me detengo…Apremiame, Si retrocedo…mátame. “Kaibil!” [In English: “If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.” While the Kaibiles have unquestioned jungle warfare skills, critics are concerned about the export of their extreme training methods and skill sets to Mexico’s drug wars.

Alpha Company’s stay in Guatemala – one of three military knowledge exchanges in the Central American country – was part of a larger annual exercise, Continuing Promise 2010. CP2010 is a humanitarian-civic assistance mission that includes medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support as well as disaster response expertise exchange.

The Marines have conducted similar SMEEs in Colombia and Costa Rica with future exchanges scheduled for Nicaragua and Suriname.

September 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (Sept. 24, 2010)

Repelling an Attack

(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

U.S. Army Specialist William B. James shoots at the enemy during a firefight that lasted more than three hours at the Shege East Afghan National Police Checkpoint in Kunar province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 18, 2010. Tiny Kunar Province sits along the Pakistan border in northeast Afghanistan.

An estimated two dozen insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and small arms at the post. International Security Assistance Forces and ANP responded in kind with small arms, heavy machine gun and mortar fire. Neither ISAF nor ANP personnel were injured during the attack.

Here’s another view of the action. Click on image to enlarge:

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte)

September 24, 2010 at 11:55 am Leave a comment

AFGHANISTAN: First Female Army Officer Candidates Graduate

Leading Ladies

The Afghan National Army’s officer candidate school is scheduled to graduate its first class of female second lieutenants this week.

The 29 women who completed the 20-week training course outside Kabul, the Afghan capital city, had to be both literate and high school graduates to qualify for the class. Only about 15 percent of the Afghan National Army (ANA) is literate.

The female class began instruction May 2 and is scheduled to graduate Sept. 23 and be commissioned second lieutenants. Following the first eight weeks of basic training, the candidates transitioned to specialty training in Logistics and Finance. “These ladies are up to the task,” says U.S. Army Capt. Janis Lullen.

Women's ANA Officer Candidate School Oath Ceremony (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeff Nevison)

Although the women were recruited from all over Afghanistan and represented most of its major ethnic and tribal groups, there was no friction – at least no more than one would find in a typical U.S. military installation where young people from different regions are thrown together in an open-bay barracks, says Army 1st Sgt. Kristin Norton

She and Lullen, both from the 95th Training Division, told a bloggers roundtable that the real challenge was simply turning civilians into military personnel and one of the biggest tasks was getting them physically fit. “Their bodies weren’t used the physical activity that we pushed them through,” Norton says.

The women also received small arms training: hands-on instruction with 9mm handgun and classroom-training on long guns. The 95th Division is an Army Reserves unit headquartered in Oklahoma. It provides basic Combat Initial Entry Training at one or more of the Army’s five Basic Combat training centers.

In addition to getting the women physically “trained up” instructors — both U.S. and Afghan — had to teach them about military responsibilities like time management and taking ownership of leadership assignments, said Lullen.

The U.S. Army women told bloggers they thought many in the first class could handle leading troops – male as well as female – but such assignments will be up to the Afghan military.

“This is making history with another country – bringing women into the military,” said Lullen, adding that the officer candidates “have come a long, long way … they took a lot on in 20 weeks and they have transformed themselves from just regular civilians to independent-thinking officers of the ANA.”

September 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: U.S. Army Medicos Help in the Congo (Updated)

Join U.S.-DROC Medical Exercise

When one thinks of the challenges a U.S. Army delegation of medical personnel – doctors, dentists, technicians – would face in the strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – tropical diseases, bad roads, crocodile-infested rivers and warring guerilla armies come to mind.

But Maj. Gen. David Hogg, commander of U.S. Army Africa says one of the surprises confronting U.S. participants in MEDFLAG 10 – a joint exercise with Congolese military medicos – was traffic.

Kinshasa traffic jam. (Photo: Skyscaper City)

The two-week humanitarian exercise (Sept. 6-18) in which about 100 U.S. personnel and 295 Congolese participated, was largely confined to DRC’s capital city, Kinshasa, a metropolis of more than 10 million people, says Hogg, who is based in Vicenza, Italy.

Kinshasa is “just a very dense, populated area. And just getting around from Point A to Point B, you’ve got to plan accordingly,” Hogg told a bloggers roundtable via phone hookup from Africa.

During MEDFLAG 10, the U.S and Congolese medical personnel worked on a week of joint classes where soldiers on both sides received classes on triage, emergency treatment and evacuation procedures. They also provided medical and dental treatment to over 1,700 people in Kinshasa, Hogg said.

There was also a situational training exercise where the Congolese emergency medical team responded to a “bus accident,” performing triage and treating participants from the U.S. units who played the parts of accident victims.

One aspect of the exercise that caught Hogg’s attention was the DRC armed forces’ medical system which is designed to operate in austere environments without electricity. “It’s manual in nature, and that’s almost 180 degrees off from what we have in some of our [military operations] medical systems.”

Sgt. Zachery Brainerd of the North Dakota National Guard portrays a casualty during training with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa. (U.S. Army photo)

Most U.S. military medical operations are based on the notion that “you got to have the juice. You got to have the [electrical generation], Hogg said. He noted, however, that they are also capable of working in what he called “a degraded [non-electrical] mode.”

The DRC’s basic system is just the opposite of the U.S. “The primary system here is what we would consider degraded mode. And then, of course, they also have those systems that require a power source of some type,” said Hogg, adding: “what they have here works for their army.”

But the primary purpose of the exercise was not just to train U.S. personnel to work in the Congo’s environment,  he said, but to test and improve the preparedness of the Congolese forces. Speaking to the U.S. bloggers through an interpreter, Col. Gilbert Kabanda, surgeon general of the Congolese armed forces, said his country’s constitution requires that “the military should be prepared in assisting stabilization and development throughout the country in times of peace.”

While developing a rapid reaction force as part of DRC’s military reforms “ we also felt we needed a rapid-reaction medical force that could support this,” Kabanda said, adding: “This is not a one-time thing; it’s a long-range goal and a long-range development.”

Until 1997, the DRC was known as Zaire. One of Africa’s largest countries in area (No. 2 after Algeria) and population (No. 4 after Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt),  it was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960 when it gained its independence.


September 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Sept. 17, 2010)

Hold on, I’m Coming

(U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley/Released)

How many tugboats does it take to move the USS Kearsarge into the Greek port of Souda Bay? The Kearsarge, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship was taking the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU) to Pakistan when this picture was taken. The Kearsarge and the 26th MEU are there now, as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group providing food, water, transportation, and other support to flood victims in Pakistan.

Click on the picture to enlarge the image and you’ll get a better view of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor helicopters tied down on the Kearsarge. The Osprey, which is replacing the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, can take off and land in tight space like a helicopter or fly like an airplane once airborne. For a closer look at Ospreys, click here. For more information about U.S. relief efforts in Pakistan, click here.

September 17, 2010 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

NEWS: Afghanistan, Egypt and Mexico

AFGHANISTAN: Less safe than before

(CIA World Fact Book)

Despite the surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan, things have gotten more dangerous in parts of the country that have seen little violence in the recent past, according to the New York Times. Quoting a United Nations assessment, the report found that the Taliban has had a surge of its own, greatly increasing its activities in northern and parts of eastern Afghanistan. International relief and humanitarian organizations say less and less of the country is safe for  aid workers to operate in.

The number of insurgent attacks has risen from 630 in August 2009 to well over 1,300 for the same month this year. Ten Western medical aid workers were killed last month in northern Afghanistan — one of the quietest parts of the country until recently.

EGYPT: Picking the next president

(Nina Aldin Thune photo)

If you want to know who is going to be the next president of Egypt,the best people to ask are leaders of the Egyptian military. The New York Times reports Egypt’s military — which prides itself as the least corrupt and most efficient state institution in Egypt — wields considerable influence. The current president, Hosni Mubarak, has been in power for 29 years but the 82-year-old leader is ill and not expected to seek re-election when his term expires next year.  But the Egyptian military — which has received nearly $40 billion in U.S. aid over the past three decades — has a vested interest in influencing the selection of the next president. Like China’s People’s Liberation Army, the Egyptian military is heavily involved in commercial ventures from road-building to manufacturing consumer goods — as well as military equipment. Very little of its budget is made public.

Many current and former military officers are said to oppose Mubarak’s son, Gamal, succeeding him as president. The elder Mubarak, like his two predecessors — Anwar El-Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser — was a top military officer before becoming president.

MEXICO: Large prison escape near Texas

(CIA World Factbook)

Mexican officials say 85 prisoners, most of them convicted of, or being tried on, weapons and drug charges, escaped from a prison close to the border with Texas, Reuters and other news outlets report. The prisoners used ladders to clear the Tamaulpilas prison’s walls.  Authorities are investigating 44 guards to determine if they helped the prisoners make their escape. The prison is located in Reynosa, across the U.S.-Mexico border from McAllen, Texas. The escape occurred a day after 25 people were killed in drug violence in another border city, Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, the Associated Press reports. President Barack Obama has dispatched more than 1,000 National Guard troops [See Sept. 9 4GWAR posting] to help the Department of Homeland Security man the border from California to Texas.

Meanwhile a reputed Mexican drug kingpin was arrested by Mexican marines over the weekend. But as Mexico nears its bicentennial celebration, President Felipe Calderon tells CNN that the narco violence plaguing his country is fueled in part by U.S. government policies on drugs, automatic weapons and immigration.

September 13, 2010 at 8:16 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Sept. 10, 2010)

People, helos, floodwaters

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Paul Duncan)

If you click on this photo to enlarge the image, you can see in the center a Marine Corps CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter hovering above the flooded  roadway. Meanwhile Pakistanis walk along a narrow strip of land just above the flood waters in southern Pakistan. The Marines currently flying out of Pano Aqil, Pakistan are assigned to Marine Marine Helicopter Squadron 165, an element of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

To see more photos of the devastation now hitting southern Pakistan, and more action photos of this Marine Corps chopper’s relief mission, click here.

Between Aug. 5 and Sept. 7, U.S. helicopters (Army, Navy and Marine Corps) have rescued 12,871 people and delivered 2.5 million pounds of food and other relief supplies to beleaguered Pakistani villagers after heavy monsoons in late July caused extensive flooding that inundated 20 percent of the country. Air Force C-130s have delivered 1.6 million pounds of supplies to Pakistan since Aug. 16.

To date, the U.S. has provided more than $216 million (more than 18.36 billion rupees) in emergency humanitarian assistance to the people of Pakistan including blankets, water treatment equipment, inflatable rescue boats and plastic sheeting for temporary shelter. The U.S. also has provided halal meals, pre-fabricated steel bridges and other infrastructure support.

Perhaps these efforts will help counter the uproar among many Pakistanis over U.S. missile strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban camps in the tribal areas inside Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Time will tell.

September 10, 2010 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Beefing Up at the Border

National Guard on Border from California to Texas

There’s a couple of things the U.S. National Guard wants to make absolutely sure you know concerning its mission on the Southwest border.

– National Guardsmen are not going to flying helicopters or driving tanks or manning pillboxes along the U.S. Border with Mexico.

– No specific National Guard units are being sent to the border as part of President Barack Obama’s initiative to deploy 1,200 troops to the troubled border area. In fact, no out-of-state Guardsman will be on duty in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas. Instead, the thousand or so National Guardsmen and Air Guardsmen now at the border are all individual volunteers and not part of a larger unit.

And finally, the Guard volunteers are going to be assisting Homeland Security Department officers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But they will not be conducting law enforcement operations on their own, says Jack Harrison, the communications director for the National Guard Bureau.

Harrison took pains to make those points during a Defense Blogger’s Roundtable late last week.

Border Patrol agents observe an Arizona National Guardsman training in the desert. (U.S. Army photo by

Border Patrol agents observe an Arizona National Guardsman training in the desert. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill)

The Guardsmen will not be engaging in direct law enforcement activity. Instead they will assist CBP, ICE and Border Patrol agents as part of entry-identification teams and serving as criminal analysts. “They will be armed, but that will be more for self- protection than anything else,” Harrison says.

The National Guardsmen have been training for up to three weeks in CBP techniques and procedures as well with any CBP-unique equipment they may have to use. ending July 1, 2011. The price tag is a maximum $135 million. While Uncle Sam is funding the program, the individual governors in the four states and their adjutants general will be in charge of their own Guardsmen

Harrison notes that this isn’t the first time the Guard has been called out along the Southwest border. An additional 350 National Guardsmen have been doing counter narcotics missions in that same area for the last two decades. And in 2008, the Guard ended a two-year mission, called Operation Jump Start, to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the border.

September 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm Leave a comment

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