Archive for September, 2011

FRIDAY FOTO (September 30, 2011)

Building Confidence

Confidence Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (Photo by John M. Doyle)

Troops of Bravo Company, 35th Engineer Battalion, learn to rappel down a wall during Week Eight of their training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Bravo is one of three companies in the 35th Engineers. Every new soldier at Fort Leonard Wood goes through nine weeks of Basic Combat Training. Fort Leonard Wood has been the home of the Army’s Engineer School since 1988.

This wall climb is training step leading up to rappelling down the 40-foot Confidence Tower (see below).

Confidence Tower. (Photo by John M. Doyle)

More photos and posts on 4GWAR’s visit to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri next week!

September 30, 2011 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: Pirates Release Tanker and Crew

Captain, Crew Safe

Pirates operating off the West Coast of Africa have released a hijacked oil tanker and her crew, Reuters reports.

The ship, identified as the Cyprus-flagged, Spanish-owned Mattheos 1 tanker, was taken by pirates Sept. 14 in the Gulf of Guinea about 62 nautical miles southwest of port of Cotonou in Benin, Reuters said, quoting the Spanish foreign ministry.

The mostly Filipino and Cypriot crew of 23 was released with only one seaman injured. Five Spaniards and the ship’s Peruvian captain also were released.

The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, says attacks by armed pirates are increasing in the Gulf of Guinea near Cotonou, Benin’s commercial capital.

CIA World Factbook

September 26, 2011 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 23, 2011)

Large Package, Large Plane

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division await takeoff as they sit next to a Humvee and 105mm howitzer in the cargo hold of a C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft on Pope Field, N.C., Sept. 10, 2011. As part of a joint Army-Air Force exercise, C-17 crews use parachutes to transport the heavy equipment to the drop zone on the first pass.

It’s all standard operating procedure during the Large Package Week (seriously) exercise. The aim of Large Package Week (LPW) is to build cohesiveness between the sky soldiers and the airmen who deliver them to the drop zone. The services practice air-dropping  vehicles, artillery pieces, supplies — and troops — to improve readiness for the 82nd’s mission to be able to make a forcible entry into a hostile or denied area by parachute assault — within 18 hours of notification.

To see a Defense Department photo essay on this training operation (and to see what happens to the Humvee) click here.

Don’t forget to click on the photo to see a larger image.


September 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

AF/PAK: Pakistan Intel Agency Tied to Embassy Attack (Update)

The Gloves Come Off

Updates with Pakistani officials’ reaction, links to additional criticism by U.S. officials, adds links to photos from Kabul attack.

The already troubled relationship between the United States and Pakistan appears to be heading for a head-on crash after the top U.S. military leader said Pakistan’s intelligence service is indirectly linked to last week’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (right) and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testify before a Senate panel.( Defense Dept. photo by DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday (Sept. 22) Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking uniformed U.S. military leader, went further than any American official has gone before in linking Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency with recent attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In his written testimony, Mullen said the Haqqani Network, a terrorist organization based in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border, was responsible for last week’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that left five Afghan policeman and 11 Afghan civilians dead. Mullen said the Haqqani Network enjoys “the support and protection” of the Pakistani government.  But he went even farther than that:

“The fact remains that the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving asproxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as U.S. soldiers. For example, we believe the Haqqani Network—which has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency—is responsible for the September 13th attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.”

Mullen isn’t alone in his criticism of the Pakistani government’s relationship within its borders. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who also testified at the hearing, warned that the U.S. is prepared to take unilateral action to stop the attacks if Islamabad doesn’t do something about the Haqqanis. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, has publicly blamed the Haqqani Network for the attacks and the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, accused the Pakistani government of supporting the group, notes POLITICO.

This latest development is likely to shatter the shaky alliance that the U.S. and Pakistan have maintained since 9/11.

Army Sgt. Jaclyn Guzman maintains surveillance during an insurgent attack on International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sept. 13. (Photo by Army Sgt. Catherine Threat)

Pakistani officials are having none of it. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Mullen’s comments risked straining U.S-Pakistan relations to the breaking point. Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned that Pakistan will not allow foreign “boots on our ground, never.”

To see more Defense Department photos of the Sept. 13 attacks in Kabul, click here.

September 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm Leave a comment

MEDAL OF HONOR: Into the Kill Zone

SHAKO: Dakota from Kentucky

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jimmy D. Shea)

President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2011. Meyer, of Columbia, Kentucky, is the third living serviceman  — and first Marine — to receive the nation’s highest award for military heroism during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meyer, then a corporal, was part of a training team embedded with Afghan troops in Kunar Province on Sept. 9, 2009. As U.S. and Afghan troops moved into Ganjal Village on foot for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders Meyer and other Marines were part of the security element posted at a rally point away from the village. But the advance element was ambushed by more than 50 insurgents in well fortified positions along a planned kilometer-long “kill zone.”

U.S. soldiers, Marines and Afghan soldiers and police were pinned down for hours with casualties mounting. Air support was delayed for more than two hours. Meyer requested — and was denied — permission to mount a rescue mission into the kill zone four times. After his fourth request was rebuffed, Meyer and then-Staff Sgt. now Gunnery Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez grabbed a Humvee and headed in to the kill zone with the sergeant behind the  wheel and Meyer up top manning a machine gun turret.

The pair braved mortar, machine gun and small arms fire as well as rocket-propelled grenades and drove into harm’s way not once or twice but four times to evacuate the wounded, recover the dead and give aid. Meyer killed at least eight fighters and was wounded in the arm. Rodriguez-Chavez was later awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest medal for bravery.

Meyer led a fifth rush into the kill zone looking for four missing team members.  Accompanied by Marine 1st Lt. (now Capt.) Ademola Fabayo and Army Capt. William Swenson, Meyer braved enemy fire on foot to continue the search. However, he found all of his team — three fellow Marines and a Navy corpsman (medic) — dead. He helped recover their bodies under fire.

According to the Marine Corps:

Over the course of a six-hour fire-fight, without regard for his own personal safety, Meyer entered the kill zone five separate times to evacuate the wounded, provide essential aid and, ultimately, saved the lives of 13 U.S. Marines and soldiers in addition to 23 Afghan soldiers. Meyer personally killed at least eight Taliban insurgents, while providing cover for his team to fight their way out and escape certain death.

To read Meyer’s Medal of Honor citation, click here.

To learn about Meyer’s team members who were killed click here.

To read an earlier 4GWAR article about the heroism that earned Fabayo and Rodriguez-Chavez the Navy Cross click here. 4GWAR  readers may remember the sergeant’s wife (justifiably) took exception to our headline that said Two Marines Win Navy Cross. It’s not a contest she noted. They were fighting for their lives and the lives of their comrades.

The whole story of that awful day has not come out yet, according to the Washington Post. For more about Army Capt. Swenson, who reportedly is also up for the Medal of Honor — and bitterly criticized the lack of air support, click here.

For more photos of the White House ceremony, click here.

To find out what those others medals on Meyer’s uniform are for, click here.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Daniel Wetzel)

September 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 16, 2011)

Sailor’s Delight

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Scott Dunn)

Remember the old saying: “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, a sailor’s delight” Well here’s a delightful Pacific Ocean sunset silhouetting the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit as they conduct operations off the coast of southern California.

O.K., we admit it. The first thing we thought when we saw this photo on the Defense Department website was: Pretty as a Picture. You can see an AV-8B Harrier jump jet on the right side of the ship and helicopters (CH-53 Sea Stallions?) on the left side (or should we say port side?).

If you look  closely at the bottom of the ship, you can see the lights of the well deck where the amphibious craft — like LCACs and AAVs — move in and out of the vessel.

Long time readers may remember we featured the Makin Island in a FRIDAY FOTO on March 4 when V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft landed on her flight deck for the first time.

September 16, 2011 at 1:14 am Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: New Threats, New Strategies

Napolitano Outlines Changes

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says her agency has been working on ways to deal with home-grown terrorists, many of whom are individuals radicalized by the Internet.

While al Qaeda-inspired groups outside the U.S. still pose a threat to the U.S. So-called lone wolf terrorists or lone wolf actors pose “a very difficult threat to detect” because they are not part of larger networks, Napolitano said.

CBP photo by Barry Bahler

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been “devising strategies for dealing with the growth of lone wolf actors,” Napolitano said, adding that homeland security also needs to be a shared responsibility of ordinary citizens as well as government – especially to thwart lone wold attacks.

Local citizens need to report unusual activities or things that don’t look right, she said, citing the New York City street vendor who reported a van with smoke coming out of it, preventing a bombing in Times Square. Another example was the street sweeper in Spokane, Washington who spotted an unusual package before a Martin Luther King Day parade and reported it. The package turned out to be a bomb that could have killed and injured many.

Napolitano spoke at a gathering sponsored by the Aspen Institute to launch its new Homeland Security Group. The think tank has gathered a panel of Washington heavyweights to discuss and advise government on ways to improve homeland security.

The group is co-chaired by Michael Chertoff, the second head of the Department of Homeland Security, and Jane Harman, a former California congresswoman. Other members of the group include: Richard Ben-Veniste, a former member of the 9/11 Commission; Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, Michael Leiter, until recently the director of the National Counterterrorism Center; and James Loy, who served as Coast Guard commandant, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and deputy Homeland Security secretary in the Bush administration.

On other topics, Napolitano said disaster relief and recovery programs were the most likely to be hurt if Congress proceeds with major budget cuts to DHS funding. The agency’s 2011 budget was $40.3 billion.

“The fight we’re in now is to get the money for the disaster relief fund. We do not have enough money, given all the number of [natural] disasters we’ve had this year, to finish out the fiscal year,” Napolitano said.

On a positive note, she said the TSA will be able to eliminate several onerous airport checkpoint practices in the near future. “The overall goal is to be able to separate passengers who are low risk from passengers for whom we have little or no knowledge or, for a variety of reasons, [passengers] we might privately denominate as higher risks,” Napolitano said.

Under new policies Napolitano explained to a Senate committee hearing Sept. 13 children under the age of 12 won’t have to removed their shoes and will be exempt from most searches when they pass through airport security checkpoints. And when they are subject to secondary screening, they won’t be patted down the way adults are. Internet videos of TSA personnel searching crying children sparked widespread complaints about the agency’s security measures – especially among some conservatives, who termed it a form of child abuse.

Napolitano cautioned that random searches of passengers – including children or old people – will have to continue to prevent terrorists from gaming the system. “If you totally exempt a group, that group will be exploited as a terrorist weapon,” she said.

TSA is also testing a new trusted traveler system that could allow passengers who supply verifiable identification information to pass through security without removing their shoes – another widespread complaint of air travelers. The practice was put in place in 2002 after an al Qaeda agent tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes aboard a U.S.-bound flight from Europe.

September 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: Another Pirate Attack off West Africa

More Trouble in the Gulf of Guinea

Another ship has been attacked by pirates off the coast of Benin in West Africa. According to news reports, pirates hijacked an oil tanker and took 23 crew members hostage.

Map: UCLA African Studies Center

The ship was said to be a Cyprus-flagged vessel carrying oil. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, says attacks by armed pirates are increasing in the Gulf of Guinea near Benin’s commercial capital, Cotonou.

“Armed pirates are violent and in some incidents, pirates fired at ships,” the IMB Piracy Reporting Center says, adding: “A number of ships particularly tankers were attacked and hijacked.

There have also been incidents off Nigeria near Lagos and the Bonny River. “Generally, all waters in Nigeria remain risky,” the IMB says.

Another West African hotspot for piracy is near Conakry, Guinea, where pirates have sometimes donned military uniforms to get close to targeted ships. In most cases, the pirates have steamed the hijacked ship to a hidden location to offload the cargo — usually oil. The crews are usually released although their treatment has been harsh.

While piracy in West African waters has not risen to the level off the Horn of Africa on the other side of the continent, there have been about 20 incidents in the Gulf of Guinea this year.

Most of the nations in the region don’t have adequate resources to mount long term anti-pirate patrols, although some, like Benin, are considering beefing up their patrol fleets.

September 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Sept. 9, 2011)

Cold Air Drop

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally)

Petty Officers 2nd Class Chris Smith (right) and Jared Morrison prepare a canister with equipment to be dropped to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis St. Laurent near the North Pole Sept. 7, 2011. Smith and Morrison conducted three canister drops to the two icebreakers. Both Coast Guardsmen are HC-130 Hercules airplane crewmen assigned to Air Station Kodiak, Alaska.

The Healy, based in Seattle, Washington, is the Coast Guard’s newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. It is designed to break 4.5 feet-thick ice continuously at three knots. The ship can operate in conditions as low as 50 degrees below zero (Farenheit).

The Healy crew is working with the Canadian crew to map the Arctic sea floor and conduct scientific research.

(Coast Guard photo by Seaman Evan Burgeson)

Friday Foto Two-fer

Here is a shot showing what a tough target the two ice breakers made.

September 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

OPINION: The Cost of War

Food for Thought

U.S. Navy photo

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks draws near, we thought we’d run this opinion piece by veteran budget watcher Winslow Wheeler as a guest posting. Wheeler, the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at Washington’s Center for Defense Information, has been a longtime critic of the Pentagon’s spending practices.

A former Senate staffer for both Democrats and Republicans, Wheeler doesn’t mince words about what he thinks is wrong, but unlike so many others who rail against government spending policy, he knows what he’s talking about.

From 1971 to 2002, Wheeler worked on national security issues for members of the U.S. Senate and for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — the auditing branch of Congress. Wheeler advised Sens. Jacob Javits (New York), Nancy Kassebaum (Kansas) and Pete Domenici (New Mexico) — all Republicans — as well as Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas, a Democrat.

At GAO, he directed comprehensive studies on the 1991 Gulf War air campaign, Pentagon weapons testing and the U.S. strategic nuclear triad (maintaining of arsenal of nuclear armed missiles, bombers and submarines). Each of the studies, Wheeler says, found prevailing conventional wisdom about weapons “to be badly misinformed.” The author of two books on military spending and acquisition programs, Wheeler recently edited The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.

Please let us know in the comments box below or via email ( what you think about Wheeler’s piece and whether we should run other opinion pieces — clearly labled as such — in the future.

***            ***

What Has Been the Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars?

This week, as the media runs its displays on America ten years after the 9/11 attacks, there will be references to the dollar costs. A figure some will use is the one trillion dollars President Obama cited as for the war in Iraq.

That figure is a gross underestimate.

The war in Iraq and its costs are inseparable from the wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and elsewhere. Indeed, when the Defense Department seeks appropriations for them, it does not distinguish the costs by location; nor does Congress in appropriations bills.

Moreover, the DoD costs are hardly the whole story: add costs in the State Department budget for aid to the governments (such as they are) of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

Add also the costs to care for the U.S. veterans of these wars. That would include the care already extended and the care now obligated for the duration of these men’s and women’s lives.

Add to that the expanded costs of domestic security against terrorism.

Add also the interest we annually pay for the deficit spending that has financed the wars.

In short, if all the wars were to end today without a single penny appropriated for military operations, etc. for the upcoming fiscal year (2012), the federal costs already incurred would be from $3.2 to $3.9 trillion. If the wars were to run their course — as currently (and optimistically) estimate by the Congressional Budget Office — the costs (together with additional interest payments for the required deficit spending out to the year 2020) would come to an additional $1.45 trillion.

All that would make a total cost from $4.7 to $5.4 trillion — assuming everything in the future goes according to plan.See a breakout of these costs in the summary table of Brown University’s Costs of War study. Find that table at and find there links to the detailed analyses.

In sum, the costs to be incurred are very roughly five times the $1 trillion President Obama has articulated. Breaking down some of these costs is also instructive.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has assiduously tracked appropriations for DoD (and State Department) expenses for the wars. For the period up to the end of this month (after ten years of wars), CRS records the DoD appropriations for the wars to be $1.2 trillion. (Find the latest CRS study on this at However, this amount does not include an additional $600+ billion that was added to DoD’s “base” (non-war) budget as a result of the wars and the politics surrounding them. In short, the direct and indirect DoD costs for the wars up to the end of this month are $1.9 trillion (in 2011 dollars), not $1.2 trillion. I performed this analysis of the DoD budget for Brown’s Costs of War study; find my analysis — and an explanation of the $1.9 trillion total — at If you think that the DoD spending for the wars has been prudently spent, or even accurately calibrated, I urge you to read this paper.

Linda Bilmes of Harvard University performed an analysis of the up to $1.4 trillion cost for veterans and their families; find her analysis at

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was not one of Brown University’s Costs of War analysts, but he has written incisively about both the federal and the broader economic costs of the wars. Find a summary of his analysis (and links to other useful broader economic analysis of the wars) a

There are, of course, other human and moral costs that the Costs of War Study addresses and that others have addressed as well. As the American media cranks it out for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it will eagerly prompt the emotions of the original event. Thinking and reacting that way is precisely how we ended up spending something in excess of $5 trillion and achieved a result that is the solid basis for only an argument — and very little more.

 – Winslow T. Wheeler

September 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm Leave a comment

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