Archive for November, 2011

AFRICA: Egyptians, Congolese Go to the Polls

A Tale of Two Countries

Large turnouts are being reported in Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo as voters in both African nations went to the polls in rare and crucial elections Monday (Nov. 28).

After a week of violent demonstrations against the interim military rulers, observers – and Egyptians – were surprised by the large turnout and only sporadic violence in Egypt’s parliamentary vote. It was the first election in Egypt since the ouster of long-time President Hosni Mubarak in February. And many would say it was Egypt’s first free and fair election – ever.

Turnout was also large in the DRC, but missing ballots, long lines and mob violence against poll workers and voters in several locations marred the process. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is expected to win re-election in what many observers predict will be a fraud-plagued vote. It is only the second democratic election in the Central African nation’s history.

Egypt in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Egypt under Mubarak, a former Air Force general, is a long-time partner with the United States in Middle East strategy and has been a recipient of more than $1 billion-a-year in foreign aid and military assistance since signing a peace treaty with Israel. Mubarak’s 30-year rule ended when he was forced out by the military following weeks of demonstrations against corruption and civil rights abuses during Egypt’s phase of the Arab Spring revolt in the region.

Now many Egyptians are unhappy that the military is reluctant to turns over the reins of power to a civilian government. The opposition has been split and many liberals are boycotting the election. That is expected to be a windfall for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that was suppressed under Mubarak. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has been actively politicking and mounting a well-organized get-out-the-vote push. Leaders of the Brotherhood say they would keep the treaty with Israel if they come to power, but their ascendency worries analysts in the U.S. and Israel – as well as Egypt’s 8 million Coptic Christians.

With a population of more than 80 million, Egypt is the most populous Arab country.

The first round of voting for Egypt’s lower house continued today with additional rounds and runoffs continuing into January. Voting for the Parliament’s upper house doesn’t start until January with results expected in March.

Farther south, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, (formerly known as Zaire and the Belgian Congo), there also were long lines at polling places Monday but voting for president and lawmakers was extended to today (Nov. 29) because of violence, late deliveries of ballots and other irregularities around the country.

DRC in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Meanwhile, several opposition party members are already calling for the elections to be nullified because of what they call widespread vote rigging and polling place violence.

It’s only the second relatively-free election in the country’s history. The DRC, which has been plagued by war, government corruption and violent crime and terrorism for the past two decades is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of natural resources. But in human development (with benchmarks like health, education and living standards) it finished dead last among the world’s nations in a recent United Nations report.

Complicating the DRC election is the sheer size of the country (30 million potential voters) and the ballot (11 presidential candidates and 19,000 candidates for 500 seats in parliament). Ballots to some remote areas were delivered by U.N. peacekeepers in helicopters. The ballots in some districts are the size of newspapers.

While Kabilla is expected to win re-election, observers fear that if the election is close it could lead to more violence.

November 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 26, 2011) (Updated)

Spectacular Sight in a Dangerous Place

Photo by Cai Tjeenk Willink, copyright Virunga National Park

As you may have heard, Nyamulagira volcano in Africa’s Virunga National Park errupted on Nov. 7. It’s putting on a spectacular show and the embattled park on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo is hoping tourists — bringing much-needed cash — will visit the region, which is also home to the endangered Mountain Gorilla.

This ranger (named Romeo) stands guard with AK-47 assault rifle as Mount Nyamulagira erupts in the distance. Park administrators are inviting tourists on an overnight trek to view the volcanic activity. The park rangers, who normally guard the gorillas from poachers, are now providing security for visitors in one of the most dangerous places on earth — the eastern Congo region, which has been plagued by war, genocide, crime, corruption and mass migration for decades.

Another erruption is expected Monday (Nov. 28) when the DRC is scheduled to have presidential and parliamentary elections. There are 11 candidates for the presidency (although incumbent Joseph Kabila is expected to win) and thousands of candidates vying for a spot in the 500-seat parliament. Violence has marked the run-up to the elections. But the eastern Congo has been the scene of horrendous violence in recent years as rebels, insurgents, militia groups and the armies of at least three neighboring countries have fought over the area. A civil war that ended in 2002 left several million dead in the mineral-rich DRC, which nonetheless has been classified the least developed country in the world by the United Nations, according to The Economist.

Seventeen soldiers were killed in the park in 2011 and more than 140 in the past decade, according to the BBC. But there have been no incidents involving tourists, who are only taken to the southern tip of the park, close to the town of Goma, which became the center of a refugee crisis during the genocide in neighboring Rwanda during the 1990s.

Established in 1925 as the first national park in Africa, Virunga, with its vast wildlife and geographical diversity, was declared a World Heritage Site by the U.N. in 1979.

On Nov. 12, five days after the volcano began erupting, warden Emmanuel de Merode, Tourism Director Cai Tjeenk Willink and volcanologist Dario Tedesco hiked to the eruption site and set up a camp for a new overnight tourist trek  to take some pictures, — including the one above.

Virunga National Park (courtesy NPR)

November 27, 2011 at 12:01 am 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (Nov. 18, 2011)

Welcome to Hawaii

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Gutridge

Just a few days before U.S. Air Force C-120 cargo lifters flew past Japan’s Mount Fuji (see FRIDAY FOTO below), a Japanese submarine was visiting Pearl Harbor as part of a joint training mission with the U.S. Navy. Note the welcoming lei draped on the conning tower.

The sub,  the JS Mochishio — officially a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Oyashio class submarine — arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Oct. 31, 2011. The diesel-electric Mochishio, commissioned in 2008 and based in Kure, Japan, will be conducting both in-port and at-sea training on undersea tactics, anti-submarine warfare and war time strategies.

The annual training exercise shows just how far relations between Japan and the United States have progressed since World War II. Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Kure, the Mochishio’s homeport,  was attacked repeatedly by U.S. bombers in the closing months of the war.  Japan and the United States are now among each other’s largest economic, trade and defense partners.

November 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 18, 2011)

Fuji Fly-By

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse)

A formation of U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft fly past Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji during a training mission known as Samurai Surge on Nov. 4, 2011. The object of Samurai Surge is to launch as many available aircraft simultaneously from Yakota Air Base in Japan. In this instance, seven of the 36th Airlift Squadron’s 40-year-old turboprop C-130s were dispatched within minutes of each other.

Yakota is home to the 374th Airlift Wing, which includes the 36th Airlift Squadron. The Air Wing supplies the tactical airlift capability for the western Pacific region. “We go to places like Thailand, Australia, anywhere in the Pacific Command area of responsibility to deliver whatever needs to be delivered,” says Capt. Michael Makaryk of the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, one of the air wing’s four groups. The others are the 374th Operations Group, 374th Mission Support Group and the 374th Medical Group.

The 36th Squadron is the only forward-based tactical airlift squadron in the Pacific. It provides C-130 aircrews to transport cargo and personnel, and conduct airdrops,  medical evacuation, search and rescue and humanitarian relief missions.

Don’t forget to click on the photo to see a larger image of the C-130s and the mountain.

November 18, 2011 at 9:49 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC: Guarding Canada’s Ice Comes at High Price

Pricey Policy?

Guarding Canada’s Arctic territory comes with a big price tag, as much as $1 billion Canadian, according to a series of internal Defense Department documents.

Those documents, dating back to 2008, show the cost of getting fuel, ammunition, food and shelter to the High North might tally between $843 million (US $820.7 million) and $1 billion (US$973.5 million), according to the Canadian Press. The Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force are grappling with the challenges of standing on guard over the mineral rich land beneath the Arctic’s melting sea ice.

(Photo by Corporal Jax Kennedy, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

The country’s top military commander, Gen. Walt Natynczyk has said it’s harder to sustain operations in the High Arctic than it is to operate in Afghanistan “because in the Arctic, it’s what you bring.”

And getting supplies to the sparsely populated, transportation-dependent North poses numerous logistical problems from transporting fuel to a deepwater port on Baffin Island – 750 kilometers (466 miles) inside the Arctic Circle – to a lack of airports that can accommodate large cargo planes like the C-17 or C-130.

The reports and other documents obtained by the CP through a freedom of information request indicate the Canadian military might have to turn to commercial contractors – and maybe even an exchange of services with the United States military – in order to keep itself supplied in the High North.

(Photo by Sgt Errol Morel, CFLAWC)

Since 2006 the Canadian government has been taking steps to assert its authority over now-frozen wastes that climate scientists say will become summertime sea lanes in the near future. Many countries, including the United States believe those shipping lanes constitute international waters. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party think Canadian “sovereignty over its Arctic territory “is not negotiable.”

Some critics say the world’s second-largest country – two-fifths of which is above the 60th parallel – may have over extended itself and its military capabilities trying to secure an area larger than Western Europe.

November 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm Leave a comment

AVIATION: U.S. Buying Retired Harrier Jets from Britain

Jump Jets

Gannett’s Navy Times/Defense News publications are reporting that the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are going to buy Britain’s moth-balled fleet of Harrier jump jets as well as all the Harriers’ Rolls Royce aircraft engines and spare parts. The purchase has been rumored for months and marks the first time in a long while that the U.S. bought used military equipment from anybody.

A British GR9 Harrier vertical take off and short landing jet over Afghanistan in 2008. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon via Wikipedia)

The United Kingdom (UK) mothballed its 74 Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harriers after sharps cutbacks in defense spending last year.

The U.S., facing its own defense budget constraints and continued delays in the development of the next generation carrier-based fighter, the F-35 Joint  Strike Fighter,  has been looking for something to replace its aging fleet of Marine Corps AV-8A Harriers and Navy F-18D Hornets. Both of those aircraft are equipped with technology for night operations.

A Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier launches from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) in 2005. (Photo by Airman Sarah Ard, U.S. Navy.)

 

The deal, which has not been finalized yet, will stretch the service life of the Harriers which can take off on short flight decks of the amphibious warfare Navy ships that transport Marine Expeditionary Units around the world. The Harriers can also land vertically like a helicopter.

A Marine Corps Harrier participates in night operations from the USS Bonhomme Richard (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Joe Kane)

 

 

November 14, 2011 at 11:10 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (November 11, 2011)

Safe at Home

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica Kuhn)

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Bernquist holds his arms out for his daughter Evelyn  during a welcome home ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., Nov. 4, 2011. Bernquist is assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps and just returned from a 12-month deployment in Iraq.

Note Bernquist wears the maroon beret of the paratrooper. He is also still carrying his M-4 carbine. Wonder what TSA thinks of that? The staff sergeant also sports the dragon patch of the 18th Airborne Corps.

To all our veterans from every service, war and conflict — and to those who kept the peace at home. Many thanks!

November 11, 2011 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: Tell it to the Marines — and Veterans

Semper Fi

Whoops! Your 4GWAR editor almost missed wishing the United States Marine Corps a Happy Birthday. Today the Corps is 236 years young. The organization has been defending the Republic since before there was a Republic —  by about nine months.

As we noted last year, 4GWAR has a warm spot in its heart for the USMC because this blog was born on Nov. 12, 2009 just two days after the Corps’ birthday, so we share  the Greek astrological sign of Scorpio — if you’re into that.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos does the honors with an officer's sword during the cake cutting ceremony at the Pentagon marking the Corps' 236th birthday. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers)

The Corps was created by the Continental Congress on Nov. 10, 1775 and as the place names engraved in the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial statue attest, it has fought all around the globe from the 18th to the 21st Century (so far). Click on the photo below to enlarge it to see some of those historic place names.

In ceremonies around the world from New York and North Carolina to Japan, Afghanistan and Iraq, the oldest Marine present is given the first slice of cake and then passes it to the youngest Marine.

We also have a special interest in the Marines because for 100 years they have been fighting the kind of small wars — in Haiti, Nicaragua and elsewhere in the Caribbean Basin–  that the 4GWAR Blog focuses on today.

Marines past, present and future are honored at the annual wreath laying ceremony in Arlington, Va., Nov. 10. (Photo by Cpl. Jacob D. Osborne)

Veterans Day

Tomorrow, Nov. 11, 2011 is Veterans Day, a federal holiday in the United States. It was first proclaimed by then-President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Back then they thought it was the “War to End all Wars.” Nov. 11 has since become a day honoring all veterans of all wars as well as vets of peacetime service.

We note an interesting piece of personal journalism that appeared today on the New York Times website. It was written by Kristina Shevory a freelance journalist who served eight years in the peacetime Army in the 1990s.   Your 4GWAR editor met Ms. Shevory at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in September where we were both participants in the Military Journalists Experience program put on by the University of Kansas journalism school.

Her piece is about why she has trouble calling herself a veteran despite eight years in the Army because she did not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan and never heard a shot fired in anger. It is a thoughtful, well-written piece — as are the many comments from vets of past and present as well as others who, like Ms. Shevory, served their country in peacetime. We commend it to our readers.

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

November 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

IRAQ: Untangling 10 Years’ Worth of Warfare

Covering Their Own 6

One thing Army Command Sergent Major Joseph Allen says he never expected to see was a U.S. M1A1 Abrams tank commanded by an Iraqi soldier.

“Scary thought, scary thought,” Allen told a Defense Department Bloggers Roundtable Wednesday (Nov. 9).

Iraqi soldiers assigned to the 9th Iraqi Army Division navigate an M1A1 Abrams tank during training with U.S. soldiers assigned to 69th Armor Regiment at Joint Security Station Al Rashid, Iraq in 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Gary Silverman)

But Allen says he has gotten over his shock and is convinced the Iraqi Army is better off now as U.S. Forces prepare to depart the country by year’s end. He said the Iraqi Army is better equipped and trained “than the army which we destroyed.”

“We have rebuilt the Iraqi Army from the ground up in recruiting, equipping and training,” says Allen, a veteran of 35 years in the Army. During that time he served in Grenada in 1985, Saudi Arabia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and in Iraq three times.

Allen, the top U.S. Army non-commissioned officer in Iraq, told bloggers that the U.S. military is working its way through the “monumental task” of shipping 10-years-worth of equipment out of Iraq to Kuwait and eventually home, as well turning over hundreds of military bases and facilities to the Iraqi government. Most of the stuff being left behind — like generators, air conditioners and containerized housing — has been battered by Iraq’s harsh climate for the past decade and isn’t worth the cost of taking home, he says.

At the height of the Iraq War the U.S. had over 500 bases around the country, now U.S. forces are in the process of turning over the last 11 to the Iraqis.

But “Iraq is still a very, very dangerous place, and our soldiers know it” Allen says. As the U.S. military presence shrinks from a high of 160,000 to 30,000 today – and virtually zero by Dec. 15 – there are still combat deaths. The latest fatality on Nov. 4 was a soldier shot by a sniper. Allen says senior Army non-coms are making sure their troops are staying alert “and keeping their heads in the game.”

The greatest security risk is potential kidnapping of U.S. personnel, Allen says. Intelligence briefings indicate “there is a credible threat out there,” he adds. As U.S. convoys carrying equipment out of the country head south to Kuwait, soldiers are instructed to stay in their vehicles and “never, never go any place with anyone … That’s a recipe for ugly things to happen,” he says. There have been no kidnappings, Allen added.

While most Iraqi military units have the capability to back up U.S. forces if they are attacked, the U.S. Army is not relying on them as the main source of security. “We understand that we have to cover our own 6,” Allen says, referring to the pilot’s term for watching your back. Another continuing threat is the roadside bomb or improvised explosive device (IED). But the military is much better at detecting and destroying IEDs than it was a few years ago, he says.

November 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Tippecanoe Bicentennial

Before Tippecanoe Met Tyler, Too

Today (Nov. 7, 2011) marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Tippecanoe, a brief but significant battle in western Indiana between U.S. troops and Native Americans. It was also a small action by most standards: a force of about 1,000 U.S. Army regulars and volunteers from Indiana and Kentucky VS. some 500 to 700 Indians, mostly Shawnee.

When it was over, 62 soldiers and between 36 and 50 Indians were dead. The Indians retreated after their two pre-dawn attacks failed

Historically inaccurate but colorful depiction by lonso Chapel.

Gen. William Henry Harrison, the territorial governor of Indiana who went on to become the 9th president of the United States, led the small U.S. army of about 250 regulars from the 4th Infantry Regiment, as well as 90 mounted volunteers from Kentucky and about 700 Indiana militia.

Harrison marched on an Indian village called Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. The Indians attacked first but Harrison’s troops drove them off.

Many Americans suspected the British in Canada had incited the Indians to attack. And that ill will contributed to the war fever that swept Congress the following year — leading to the War of 1812. It also led to the downfall of the Indian confederacy that the Shawnee leader Tecumseh was trying to create to reclaim Indian lands and push whites out of what’s now the Midwest.

Harrison became a national hero and was elected president — the oldest until Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. Harrison was paired with John Tyler of Virgina in the 1840  election campaign. Their campaign slogan? Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

November 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm Leave a comment

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