Archive for February, 2012

ASIA PACIFIC: Exercise Cobra Gold

Beachead Thailand

Thai Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles charge onto a beach during Exercise Cobra Gold 2012 in Hat Yao, Thailand. (U.S. Marine photo by Capt. Caleb D. Eames)

More than 10,000 troops from the United States and six Asian nations spent a week in Thailand hitting the beach in an amphibious exercise, learning jungle survival skills, building schools and practicing humanitarian evacuations.

It was all part of Cobra Gold 12, the largest joint exercise in the Asia Pacific region, which has been hosted by Thailand and the U.S. Since 1980.

Troops from Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Malayasia, Singapore, Japan and the United States took part in various parts of the exercise. Another 10 countries also joined in a computer simulated command post exercise at Camp Suranaree in Korat, Thailand.

The object of Cobra Gold is for participating nations to learn from each others’ unique experience and better prepare for a unified approach to future contingencies. Cobra Gold 12 ran from Feb. 7 to Feb. 17.

South Korean Marines rush from an amphibious assault vehicle during a beach assault as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2012. (USMC photo by Cpl. Jonathan Wright)

U.S. Marines joined South Korean and Royal Thai Marines in the amphibious assault demonstrationat Hat Yao. There also was a combined live fire exercise involving close air support, artillery fire and infantry maneuvers. Other participants like Singapore joined the U.S. and Thailand in building school buildings for several Thai communities. The bulk of the particiapting forces came from the U.S. : about 7,000 Marine and sailors. About 3,000 Thai troops, more than 300 from South Korea, 79 from Malaysia and 59 from Singapore also participated.

There were also martial arts demonstrations by the Thai, Korean and U.S. Marines as well as jungle survival sessions – that included learning to drink cobra blood – conducted by the Thais.

South Korea Marines perform Taekwondo, a form of martial art, during a sports cultural exchange as part of Cobra Gold 2012. (USMC photo by Sgt. Brandon Saunders)

Although Cobra Gold 2012 has been planned for more than a year, it took on added significance this year with the U.S. Strategy shift that will focus on the Asia Pacific region. Also the U.S. Marine Corps, which sent the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force to Cobra Gold, is promoting its expeditionary and amphibious skills to Pentagon budget planners after 10 years of war in the deserts, mountains and cities of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to current bases in South Korea and Japan, the U.S. plans to base Marines in northern Australia and new shallow draft Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore. The U.S. is also in discussions with the Philippines about a return of U.S. forces (but not U.S. bases) to the island nation for the first time since 1992, when massive U.S. naval and air bases were closed.

While China was not mentioned in the official press statements issued by government agencies during Cobra Gold, a number of countries from the region — including some that sent military units or observers to the exercise have gotten into tiffs with the People’s Republic over who has sovereignty over the South China Sea and the oil and mineral wealth believed to lie beneath its waters.

As it has been since 2002, China was invited to attend Cobra Gold and sent several observers. Here and here are some of the comment from Chinese news outlets

February 26, 2012 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 24, 2012)

The (Thai) Marines Have Landed

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Garry Welch)

Royal Thai Marines exit an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) and begin securing a beach during exercise Cobra Gold 2012 in Hat Yao, Thailand. U.S., South Korean and Thai troops took part in the massive exercise. 4GWAR will have more on Cobra Gold — the oldest U.S. joint military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region — over the weekend.

February 24, 2012 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (Feb. 24, 2012) Update

“I Was Misinformed”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Araiza)

U.S. Navy Lt. Scott Pennoyer, (right), reads Petty Officer 2nd Class Geoff Shepelew the oath of enlistment. As you’ve probably noticed, there’s something different about this photo since both men are underwater.  They are both assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 2, Navy explosives experts who are also trained divers and parachutists.

It was Sheplew’s choice to re-enlist beneath the surface of the Gulf of Tadjourna. The Defense Department has presented similar photos in the past.

But what caught our eye is the location: off the coast of Moucha Island, Djibouti. Normally the photos that come out of Djibouti, home to Camp Lemonier the only U.S. base in Africa, look more like this …

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)

The juxtaposition reminds us of the line in the iconic 1942 Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca, when Bogey’s character tells the local police chief he came to Casablanca for the waters.

“The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert!” the policeman blurts out.

“I was misinformed,” Bogey deadpans.

Guess we were misinformed about Djibouti. There’s more to it than desert.

By the Way, 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the release of Casblanca, which won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1943.

February 24, 2012 at 9:40 am Leave a comment

DEFENSE: Leaders Plan Training for the Post-Afghanistan Army

Black Balling Black Boots

The U.S. Army’s top enlisted man says future soldiers may never have to polish another boot again.

Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III says that may be just one of the changes arising as the post-9/11 Army re-evaluates what it means to be a professional soldier.

“We used to wear boots that we were required polish. I’m not sure we’re going to go back to a black boot Army. We’re probably going to stay a brown boot Army,” Chandler told a defense bloggers roundtable today (Feb. 23). But he added, that doesn’t mean non-commissioned officers won’t be holding inspections to make sure the troops are wearing the proper uniform and are otherwise squared away.

Not every Army recruit is ready for this. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Griego)

Army leaders are working on striking a balance between the spit and polish standards that slipped during 10 years of war and the attitudes of soldiers who joined after 9/11, deployed repeatedly to Iraq and Afghanistan and may see the changes as so much Mickey Mouse. “Being able to pass a PT (physical training) test is part of what we say we have to do,” Chandler said, adding that not being able to pass means “you are not the person that is committed to the Army profession.”

Chandler says the Army is emphasizing the image of the professional and faces several challenges in how it trains its people in the 21st Century. One problem is that in an era of smart phones, video games and super size fast food, many recruits are not physically fit.

“Society has less athleticism, less outdoor activities. Diet and nutrition are not as good as it has been in the past,” said Chandler – who joined the Army in 1981. “We do have some problems in America.,” he added.

Some solutions start before the recruit puts on a uniform, Chandler noted. The delayed entry program gives new recruits as much as a year before they are inducted. That allows them to train and get in better shape for Basic Combat Training.

In the Future Soldier Program Army recruiters were spending time getting recruits and prospective recruits to a better level of physical fitness, he said. Physical fitness training has also changed. “About six years ago we started something called physical readiness training, which addresses many of the issues we have surrounding a less physically fit younger population,” Chandler said.

For example: “You don’t start off running in boot camp in boots,” he noted. Instead training might be limited at the beginning and then build up over the 10-weeks of Basic Training.

In addition to physical fitness, the Army is dealing with health issues – especially the pervasive American problem of obesity. Chandler said he recently met a young female private who had to lose 300 pounds before she was allowed to join the Army. But the Army’s top soldier said he thought the young woman’s drive and determination marked her for a “very successful Army career.”

The Army has also embarked on a “Fueling the Force” campaign that teaches young soldiers how to eat nutritious, less fattening foods.

When your 4GWAR editor visited Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri last fall he visited a chow line – they don’t call it that any more – that did not serve fried foods or sodas.

The Army brass is spending a lot of time and money figuring out what the Army is and what it should be in the coming years as it shrinks in size and thousands of Army men and women rejoin civilian life.

For a look at the white paper, pamphlet, power point slide programs and other materials generated by this institutional soul searching click here. But be prepared for a lot of jargon and acronyms.

February 23, 2012 at 11:38 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: West Africa Drug Trafficking, the Sahel Drought, Senegal’s Election, Nigerian Violence

West Africa and the Sahel

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

West Africa and the zone between the Sahara and the savannah lands, known as the Sahel, are being buffeted by a wave of troubles from cocaine trafficking and sectarian strife, to piracy and a growing food crisis. Here’s a rundown from numerous press acounts:

Cocaine Trafficking

South American drug cartels are taking advantage of West Africa’s poverty, corruption, weak law enforcement and porous borders to ship drugs worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Europe, according to a United Nations agency.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that cocaine trafficking in est and Central Africa generates “some $900 million annually,” the Associated Press reports.

And U.N. Secretary Ban-Ki-Moon has growing concern about stability in West Africa and the Sahel region to the north “because of a rise in organized crime, drug trafficking and piracy, a growing food crisis and the influx of weapons from the upheaval in Libya,” AP says.

Food Crisis

Sahara Desert countries. (Map courtesy of

The United Nations says 10 million people in the Sahel are facing a food crisis brought on by drought, poor harvests and population dislocation in the region due to the Libyan revolt, a Tuareg rebellion in Mali and violence in other parts of the region, according to another press report.

Countries affected by the crisis include Senegal, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Senegal’s government, caught up in a contentious presidential election, doesn’t appear to be focusing on the situation, according to the Voice of America.

Senegal Tensions

CIA World Factbook

Senegal’s capital, Dakar, has been wracked by demonstrations as opposition groups threaten to make the West African country ungovernable if the incumbent president, 85-year-old Abdoulaye Wade, runs for a third term in this weekend’s coming election.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is in Senegal as an election observer, is trying to make peace, according to an AP story via  Time magazine.

The opposition galvanized when the Senegalese Supreme Court ruled that Wade could run again. At least six people have been killed in demonstrations this year. Previously, the country has been seen as a model democracy and remains the only one in the region where the Army has never seized power.

Nigerian Violence

Meanwhile, more violence is reported in northern Nigeria where a radical Islamist group has killed at least 300 people. The latest incident was a series of explosions in Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city, in the predominantly Muslim northern part of the country.

There were no immediate reports of casualties but authorities are concerned that it might be another attack by Boko Haram, a increasingly violent group bent on imposing sharia, or Islamic, law in northern Nigeria.

February 22, 2012 at 11:59 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Feb. 17, 2012)

Little but Lethal

Defense Dept. photo by Senior Airman Kenny Holston, U.S. Air Force

Capt. Jason Blodzinski, a 77th Fighter Squadron pilot, talks with his crew chief, Senior Airman Frank Brown, as they ready an F-16 Fighting Falcon for launch. This photo illustrates just how small this highly-regarded jet fighter is. Note the photo below shows what the F-16 looks like in flight. This photo also shows the F-16’s sensor and targeting technology under the fuselage, the cigar-shaped external fuel tanks and missiles and hard-point under-wing connections for additional missiles. For a detailed look at the development of the F-16, click here.

The 77th Squadron was taking part in an operational readiness exercise at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina on Jan. 31, 2012. The exercise evaluated the 20th Fighter Wing’s ability to meet wartime and contingency tasks.

The 4th Fighter Squadron Fighting Falcons shown below were taking part in Red Flag 12-2 exercise over the Nevada desert.

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Benjamin Bloker

February 17, 2012 at 10:26 am 3 comments

COUNTERTERRORISM: ‘Underwear Bomber’ Sentenced

Life in Prison

A Nigerian man who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a U.S. Airliner over Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underwear has been sentenced to life in prison.

U.S. Marshals photo via wikipedia

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 25, the so-called “Underwear Bomber,” pleaded guilty last Fall (Oct. 12) to eight terrorism and conspiracy charges in federal court in Detroit.

He was accused of attempting to detonate a bomb secreted in his underwear as a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam was beginning its descent over Michigan’s Detrotit Metropolitan Airport on Christmas Day 2009. According to a federal indictment, Abdulmutallab intended to blow up the plane, killing the other 289 people aboard the Airbus aircraft. The bomb he ignited failed to explode, however, and passengers and crew managed to subdue him and extinguished the blaze. He was the only one burned.

According to the eight-count indictment, Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen to join violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda. Federal prosecutors said Abdulmutallab, the son of a Nigerian banker who warned U.S. officials that his son may have become radicalized, was influenced by the fiery U.S.-born jihadist cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Alaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last September.

The bomb Abdulmutallab was given contained two high explosives, PETN and TATP, prosecutors said. They played a video in the courtroom (see it here) that demonstrated the explosive power of the device’s ingredients.

Abdulmutallab’s failed bombing attempt led to stricter – and controversial – passenger screening measures at U.S. airports. Because he successfully slipped his explosive device through airport security in Amsterdam and Nigeria, U.S. officials speeded up their deployment of whole body scanners that revealed what was beneath passengers’ clothes — including the passenger. The screening sparked complaints from civil liberties groups, conservative politicians and some parents of small children.

February 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

TRAINING: Marines, Navy, NATO in Massive Amphibious Warfare Exercise

Bold Alligator 2012

Amphibious assault vehicles maneuver into formation after disembarking from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stuart Phillips)

President Obama, in issuing his strategic guidance for the Defense Department last month, stated that the U.S. military – especially its ground forces – will shrink in size over the next five years after a decade of fighting counter insurgency-style wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So the new policy calls for a leaner fighting force that is nimble, fast to react to threats and expeditionary in its abilities to get troops and equipment where they are needed in a hurry.

A landing craft air cushion (LCAC) comes ashore during the amphibious assault phase of the exercise Bold Alligator 2012. ((U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tom Gagnier)

For the last couple of years now, the U.S. Marine Corps has been touting itself as that “middleweight” quick reaction force that can go anywhere and fight its way ashore by sea or air.

That claim was on display along the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina where Bold Alligator 2012, the largest amphibious exercise in at least a decade, was conducted by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and forces from several NATO member states and other countries.

The exercise, which started on Jan. 30 and ended Sunday (Feb. 12), involved more than two dozen Navy ships as well as some 20,000 sailors and Marines. Troops and and aircraft from NATO partners Britain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain took part – as did forces from Australia and New Zealand.

U.S. and French Marines launch a rocket from a SMAAW (Squad Medium Anti Armor Weapon) during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.(Defense Dept. photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Operations conducted during the exercise included a “hot extract” (video) conducted by the Navy’s Riverine Squadron 1 and Dutch Marines. There were also three large-scale operations including an amphibious assault at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; an aerial assault from the sea into Fort Pickett, Virginia and an amphibious raid on Fort Story, also in Virginia.

Royal Netherlands marines and U.S. sailors assigned to Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 1 conduct a hot extract drill during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lynn Friant)

The units involved included the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, Expeditionary Strike Group 2 (ESG-2), 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC).

An MV-22B Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 is unloaded on the USS Wasp as a Navy MH-60S Knighthawk idles nearby, during Exercise Bold Alligator. (Photo by Lance Cpl Martin Egnash)

Remember to click on the photos to enlarge the image. To see more photos, click here, here and here.

February 13, 2012 at 10:38 am 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 10, 2012)

I’m Batman

Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Rasmussen

No, it’s not really Batman and some of his high tech crime-fighting gadgets descending on a frozen valley in Afghanistan. But these dark parachute canopies do bear a resemblance to the Dark Knight’s cape as they near the ground. The rugged mountains provide a pretty striking background, too.

This photo shows a member of the coalition special operations forces approaching pallets of supplies on an all terrain vehicle in the snow during an airdrop in the Shah Joy district in Afghanistan’s Zabul province on Jan. 25. The ATV is just part of a motley group of vehicles (see photo below) including one of the smaller MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected truck) and what looks remarkably like the golf carts security guards use to patrol the perimeters of large facilities like industrial plants and airfields.

Defense Dept. photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Rasmussen, U.S. Navy

Zabul is in southeast Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. Afghan and coalition (United Nations International Security Assistance Forces) have been active in the area.

February 10, 2012 at 10:40 am 6 comments

FRIDAY FOTO: February 3, 2012

Over the Waves

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan Gragg

Reconnaissance Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct insertion exercises from a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter.  The Marines, carrying diving fins, plunged into the waters of the Arabian Sea after 15-foot motorized rubber raiding craft were launched out the back of two very low-flying helicopters.

The photographer, Navy Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Alan Gragg, told the Marine Corps flickr page that because this helo was so close to the waters’ surface (about 5 feet) he had to underexpose the shot to see through the cloud of spray. (Click here to see another photo illustrating his point).

The 11th MEU is deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island  (LHD-8) as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.  The group, part of U.S. Central Command, is supporting maritime security operations and security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility (AOR) in the waters of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

February 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm 2 comments

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