Archive for March, 2012

FRIDAY PHOTO (March 30, 2012)

Old School

U.S. Army photo by Timothy L. Hale

In a world of computer network-linked weapons platforms, unmanned drones and radar-evading stealth aircraft, it’s important to remember one of the basics of warfare: well-trained boots on the ground.

The U.S. Army certainly thinks so. Here we have veteran soldiers from U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters climbing an obstacle during a non-commissioned officer professional development event at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Very Old School

U.S. Navy photo by Sonar Technician 2nd Class Thomas Rooney

Meanwhile, the Navy is preserving skills from another century that might seem obsolete to the casual observer. Sailors place the sail on the yard of the mizzen mast aboard USS Constitution. Navy personnel assigned to the Charlestown, Massachusetts-based three-masted frigate routinely work to improve seamanship skills in preparation for possibly sailing the ship for the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The Constitution, affectionately known to generations of American school children as “Old Ironsides,” is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat.

Note the obelisk in the background between the female sailor and her shipmates. It’s the Bunker Hill monument in Charlestown, commemorating the Revolutionary War battle.

March 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm 1 comment

LATIN AMERICA: Raids on Colombian Rebels, Dempsey’s South American Trip (UPDATE)

Updates with Dempsey visit to Brazil, adds background (in italics)

Colombia Rebels Killed

Wikipedia image

Government troops in Colombia killed 36 rebels Monday (March 26) in an airstrike on a training camp in the state of Metas south of Bogota, the capital.

It was the second such raid against Colmbia’s main guerilla force in less than a week. On March 21, the Colombian military killed 33 rebels in another air raid on Arauca state near the border with Venezuela, the British newspaper The Guardian reported. That raid followed an early March rebel attack that killed 11 Colombian soldiers.

The attacks come just as the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, said it would release the last of its prisoners – some of them held for as long as 14 years – early next month.

FARC has been waging an insurgency against Bogota since the 1960s resulting in the deaths of thousands of soldiers, rebels and citizens. In recent years FARC has been battered by an increasingly professional and effective Colombian military with U.S. financial aid and military assistance, the Associated Press reported.

Recently FARC said it was halting kidnappings for ransom, a long-time source of income along with the illegal cocaine trade.

Veteran U.S. Officers to Assist Colombia

The United States is preparing to send Army brigade commanders with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to Colombia to assist a joint task force aimed at defeating FARC guerillas.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, on a tour of Colombia and Brazil, says the U.S. officers will visit commanders of Joint Task Force Vulcano for two weeks to help with leader development and share their experience fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The task force is one of several created by the Colombian government to disrupt rebel organizations engaging in drug smuggling, arms trafficking, illegal mining and bomb manufacturing. The learning experience won’t be a one way street, Demsey says, adding that he fully expects U.S. leaders to learn from the Colombian counterparts.

On a two-day visit to Colombia to meet with high ranking political and defense officials, Dempsey said Colombia had a good strategy for combating FARC. That strategy calls for cutting FARC’s forces – now numbering 8,000-to-9,000 – by 2014.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, listens to Colombian Armed Forces Commander Gen. Alejandro Navas (right) at Joint Task Force-Volcano near Tibu, Colombia. (Defense Dept. photo by Army Staff Sgt Sun L. Vega)

During his meetings, Dempsey said the Colombians indicated ways to accelerate their efforts on the ground including: border security, protecting critical infrastructure, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, intelligence fusion, airlift and unmanned aircraft.

The Colombians also would like the U.S. to provide additional aircraft to transport cargo and troops, Dempsey told reporters traveling with him, the Associated Press reported.

Getting Closer to Brazil

Dempsey wound up his first trip to South America as chairman of the Joint Chiefs with a visit to Brazil, where he met with Brazilian military leaders and toured the country’s jungle warfare training center near Manaus in the Amazonia region. The world class training center has seen only a few U.S. troops among its students. In fact, it has graduated more officers and non-commissioned officers from France (86) than from the U.S. (25) in its 48-year history.

Dempsey said Brazil, the largest country and largest economy in South America, has a key role to play in the region. The Pentagon, as part of its new strategic guidance, is seeking to enlist the assistance of Brazil, Colombia and other countries in the region to block the spread of terrorist groups and transnational crime – particularly narcotics trafficking.

To protect its the offshore oil deposits and the water and agricultural resources of the Amazon region, Brazil is expanding its military acquisitions under a 2010 defense strategy. It is building five submarines – one them nuclear-powered – in an agreement with French shipbuilder DCNS. France also has a deal to sell Brazil 50 EC725 Cougar military transport helicopters. And Sao Paulo is said to be close to deciding from whom it will buy 36 next generation mult-role combat jet fighters.

A staff member at Brazil's jungle warfare training center in Manaus explains to U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey the importance of natural resources. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt Sun L. Vega)

Brazil is, itself, a military manufacturer and exporter. Recently it sold the Embraer’s Super Tucan turbo-prop plane, which can serve as a trainer or light attack counter insurgency weapon, to three African nations: Angola, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. In the past, when it was ruled by a military junta, Brazil was a leading manufacturer and exporter  of armored vehicles, rocket launchers and small arms.

In addition to international drug cartels that move drug shipments by plane, boat and homemade submarines, U.S. security planners are also concerned about the activities of Iran, China and Russia in Latin America and the presence of businesses linked to international terrorist groups – particularly in the largely lawless Triple Frontier region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay share borders.

Dempsey said he was concerned that transit routes used to smuggle  drugs today could be used by terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction in the future, the AP’s Robert Burns reported.

To see a 10-minute French television report on the Brazilian jungle warfare training center click here. (In French except where it’s in Brazilian Portuguese)

March 29, 2012 at 11:59 pm 1 comment

ARCTIC: Exercise Cold Response 2012 (Updated)

“War” Near the Top of the World

New photos and information on air operations.

Canadian troops from the Royal Canadian Regiment fire a mortar during Exercise Cold Response. Canadian Defense Forces photo.

More than 16,000 troops from 14 countries just completed a weeks-long exercise in the frozen hinterlands of Norway and Sweden training in winter warfare skills such as infantry maneuvering and amphibious landings in extreme temperatures.

Called Exercise Cold Response 2012, the biennial training exercise – hosted by the Norwegians – is in its fifth iteration. In addition to Norway, the largest troop contingents among NATO countries included Canada, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other participants included Sweden and Finland, two non-aligned Nordic countries, who belong to NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

The exercise began March 5 with a week of acclimation for troops not used to Norway’s harsh winters. Operations ran from March 12-21 with a few clean-up and departure duties beginning March 21.

U.S., British and Dutch Marines conducted joint amphibious assault operations along the northern Norwegian coast near Bardufoss. The Royal Netherlands Navy’s landing ship platform Hr. Ms. Rotterdam served as a base for the U.S. British and Dutch marines. The HMS Bulwark, a British amphibious assault ship, served as headquarters for the joint staff.

U.S. Marines disembark a Dutch landing craft near Harstad, Norway for Exercise Cold Response 2012. (Dutch Ministry of Defense photo)

Other land operations were conducted mainly in Troms County along the northern coast. Maritime operations also covered parts of Nordland County. And air operations were conducted from Andøya, Bardufoss, Bodø, Evenes and Ørland air bases in Norway, and Luleå in Sweden. Those ops covered most of Northern Norway and parts of Swedish air space.

Smaller forces and air assets operated in the border areas from Narvik in Norway to Kiruna in Sweden, and Swedish military aircraft flew in Norwegian territory from Swedish air bases.

CIA via University of Texas Libraries (Click on map to enlarge)

Other units taking part in the exercise included about 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and some 215 Finnish soldiers from a Jager (ranger) company.

For the first time the exercise included air operations that crossed national borders. A Royal Norwegian Air Force cargo plane flew a transport run from Norway to Sweden and back again. Norwegian F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets supplied air cover over Norway with Swedish JAS Gripen 39 fighters taking over in Swedish airspace. But tragedy struck on March 15 when the Norwegian C-130J Hercules cargo plane crashed into a mountain just over the border near Kiruna in Sweden, killing all five crewmen on board.

A Swedish fighter jet refueling during Cold Response (Photo Louise Levin, Swedish Forsvarsmakten)

Air operations concluded with a large force engagement exercise with 36 aircraft participating including Norwegian and Belgian F-16s and Swedish Gripens. A Swedish pilot served as mission commander in the exercise, which tested coordination and aircraft management, including air refueling.

To see a video of the troops, ships, planes, helicopters and tanks in action, click here.

To a video of Norwegian tanks and troops, click here.

Two Royal Norwegian Navy Combat Boat (BC90s) underway during Exercise Cold Response 2012. (Dutch Ministry of Defense photo)

March 27, 2012 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (March 23, 2012)

Arctic Ambush

Photo by Cpl Stuart MacNeil, copyright 2012 DND-MDN Canada

Two Reconnaissance Platoon corporals from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment prepare to “ambush” a combat vehicle with an 84mm rocket launcher during Exercise Cold Response 2012 in northern Norway. The 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion were among 16,000 participants from 14 nations — including a company of U.S. Marines — in the Norwegian-led invitational military exercise, which just ended.

We’ll have a full report Monday on the fifth iteration of this massive exercise — the largest yet — which saw Swedish fighter jets, Norwegian tanks, British helicopters, Dutch landing craft and Canadian armored all terrain vehicles roaming the seas, skies and woods near the Arctic Circle.

The exercise was marred by the crash of a Norwegian C-130J transport plane, killing all five on board.

March 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO: March 23, 2012

21st Century Meets 12th Century

Defense Dept. photo by Sgt. Ken Scar, U.S. Army

It looks like a U.S. Army armored vehicle has blundered onto the set of an Arabian Nights movie but this is actually a real village square in Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the Pakistani border. If you click on the photo to enlarge the image you can spot a tiny satellite or sat phone dish just to the left of the left-hand tower.

U.S. soldiers use their MRAP (mine protected ambush protected) vehicle to cordon off the square of a small village near Combat Outpost Yosef Khel.  The soldiers helped Afghan forces conduct traffic check points near the village.

March 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm 1 comment

AFRICA: Troops in Mali Revolt

A Coup Not a Mutiny

Disgruntled soldiers in the northwest African state of Mali have staged a coup d’etat, ousting the president and his government, discarding the constitution and closing the borders.

In a broadcast on state television a day after they seized the government station, rebel soldiers said they were ending “the incompetent and disavowed” rule of President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was set to step down after next month’s presidential election. The rebels, who called themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (or CNRDR, the acronym in French – Mali’s official language), vowed to return power to a democratically elected president “as soon as national unity and and territorial integrity is established,” the Associated Press reported.

Mali (CIA World Factbook)

The coup was condemned by the White House and the U.S. State Department as well as the African Union, the European Union  and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called the coup “an apparent setback to the consolidation of democracy” in Africa and urged reinstatement of the Toure government, AFP reported.

Mali, which elected Toure president in 2002 and again in 2007, was seen as one of the most stable democracies in the region. The elections were widely judged to be free and fair, according to the CIA Factbook. Ironically, Toure – whose whereabouts are currently unknown – ended a longtime dictatorship through a military coup in 1991.

A poor, landlocked country on the edge of the Sahara, Mali was scheduled to hold elections April 29 and Toure was expected to relinquish power because of term limits. More than a dozen candidates to replace him were expected to run. But since mid-January the government has been battling an ethnic Tuareg insurrection that has battled the army and seized several towns in the arid north. Frustration with Toure’s management of the campaign to squelch that revolt sparked the soldiers’ coup.

A U.S. Partner

Mali has been considered a key U.S. partner in the effort to halt the spread of al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups across Saharan Africa as well as in the arid border region known as the Sahel. Malian Defence Force troops have participated in the Flintlock military cooperation exercises with U.S. and European troops since at least 2005. The partnership with Mali and other African nations is a key element of the new Pentagon defense strategy which concentrates U.S. military attention in the Asia Pacific region as well as the Middle East.

U.S. and Malian troops just completed the annual Atlas Accord exercise, focusing on logistics command and control training, air drop preparation and helicopter resupply. The exercise is hosted by a different country each year. About 400 Malian troops and 125 Americans participated this year. All U.S. personnel have returned to their home stations since the exercise concluded in February, said Nicole Dalrymple, a spokesperson at U.S. Africa Command‘s Public Affairs Office in Germany.

In an email, she said a small number of U.S. military personnel are currently in Mali but “all U.S. military personnel are accounted for.”

U.S. and African troops at opening ceremonies for Flintlock 09 exercise in Bamako, Mali in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Victoria Meyer)

This year’s Flintlock exercise was postponed even before the coup because of the rebellion in Mali’s northern desert region by nomadic Tuaregs. Dissatisfaction with the Toure government’s handling of the two-month-old Tuareg revolt sparked the coup. The Tuaregs, a largely pastoral ethnic group that ranges from Libya to Burkino Faso and Nigeria, have revolted several times since the 1960s, seeking an independent homeland. But the latest uprising was spurred by the recent return of heavily-armed Tuareg fighters from Libya where they were serving as mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi before the Libyan strongman was deposed and killed. Many Malian soldiers have been killed in the fighting for which they claim they are poorly armed and equipped.

Soldiers in a base outside the capital. and at another one at closer to the fighting with the Tuaregs, began their protest complaining about the government’s inept response to the Tuareg rebellion that has seen several northern towns fall to the nomadic tribesmen and many soldiers killed or captured

Previously, according to the Associated Press, a tweet from Toure’s Twitter account: “There is no coup in Mali. There’s just a mutiny.” Now Toure’s whereabouts are unknown and several cabinet ministers reportedly have been arrested.

March 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm 1 comment

AROUND AFRICA: Congo Violence, Mali Mutiny, Sahel Food Crisis (UPDATE-Mali-2)

Congo Election Violence

A United Nations report say security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) committed numerous human rights violations – including murders, shooting into crowds and arbitrary arrests – during contentious national elections late last year.

Investigators at the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC found at least 33 people were killed in the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, by security forces during November and December, the Associated Press reported. At least 83 other people were wounded and more than 250 were detained.

President Joseph Kabila won election Nov. 28 for a second-five year term with a reported 49 percent of the vote. But foreign observers, including the European Union and the United States said voting was marred by violence and intimidation.

The human rights abuses were attributed to elements of Kabila’s Republican Guard and the National Congolese police with armed forces troops involved to a lesser extent, Reuters reported.

The DRC – the second largest and fourth most populous country in Africa – has been wracked by civil war, invading armies and militias – including the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army – as well as a refugee crisis for decades. But is has some of the world’s largest copper and cobalt deposits – as well as gold, diamonds and oil.

Mali Soldiers and Rebels

Updates with White House condemnation of coup violence

Mali (CIA World Factbook)The North African nation of Mali has been battling an uprising by Tuareg tribesman for months and now the army is up in arms over poor equipment, supplies and compensation for the families of slain soldiers.

As soldiers fired their guns into the air Wednesday (March 21) in Bamako — the land-locked desert nation’s capital– and seized the government’s radio and TV broadcasting center, the question arose: Is it a coup, a mutiny or simply a protest?

The answer is now apparent: It’s a coup. On Thursday leaders of the rebellious soldiers announced on state television that they were ending “the incompetent rule” of President Amadou Toumani Toure and suspending Mali’s constitution to protest the poorly led campaign against the Tuareg rebels, the Voice of America reports.

In Washington, the White House issued a statement strongly condemning the coup’s violence and calling for “the immediate restoration of constitutional rule in Mali, including full civilian authority over the armed forces …” The statement added that the U.S. stood by Toure’s “legitimately elected government.”

Soldiers in a base outside the capital. and at another one closer to the fighting with the Tuaregs, began their protest complaining about the government’s inept response to the Tuareg rebellion that has seen several northen towns fall to the nomadic tribesmen and many soldiers killed or captured

Previously, according to the Associated Press, a Twitter message from Malian President Toumani Toure proclaimed: “There is no coup in Mali. There’s just a mutiny.” Now Toure’s whereabouts are unknown and several cabinet ministers have been arrested, according to reports out of Bamako.

The Tuaregs have sought an independent state in northern Mali for decades but the latest uprising was spurred by the recent return of heavily-armed Tuareg fighters from Libya where they served as mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi before the Libyan strongman was deposed and killed.

Many Malian soldiers have been killed in the fighting for which they claim they are poorly armed and equipped. The Tuaregs have seized several northern towns.

Early reports Wednesday (March 21) said the Army revolt was merely recruits venting their frustration for how the Tuareg conflict was being handled but by late in the day parts of the capital were under the muntineers’ control and Toure was holed up in his presidential palace guarded by his elite Red Berets, according to the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is calling on the Tuareg group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad to halt their attacks and take the Malian government up on its offer of peace talks, the AP reported.

Chad: Sahel Hunger Crisis

In another Northern African desert country, children are starting to die from malnutrition as a hunger crisis looms across the Sahel, the arid borderland that stretches across the continent south of the Sahara.

The international relief agency, Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger), says malnutrition has soared in western Chad.

Aid agencies like Action Against Hunger have been warning for months that the Sahel faces a food crisis because of drought, poor harvests and population dislocated by the war in Libya and the Tuareg revolt in Mali.

The United Nations estimates the crisis could affect at least 15 million people across Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkino Faso, Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania.

All maps, CIA World Factbook

March 21, 2012 at 11:04 pm Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Air Force Needs and Wants (Update)

Budget Scrutiny

(U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash)

The uniformed and civilian heads of the U.S. Air Force came to Capitol Hill Tuesday (March 20) to explain the thinking behind cuts to personnel and aircraft in their Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.

But nearly every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the wisdom of trimming or eliminating large and small cargo transport planes and putting more than a dozen long range unmanned surveillance aircraft in storage – especially when the Pentagon’s new strategic guidance focuses on the vast Asia-Pacifc region and being more nimble and fast reacting.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz explained that fiscal constraints on the entire federal budget and the reduction in force following the massive military buildup during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan necessitated the cuts.

The 2012 Air Force Posture Statement notes that the average age of its aircraft has risen dramatically with fighters averaging 22 years, bombers 35 years and refueling tankers 47 years. It also notes that the budget increases approved by Congress over the last decade have been spent on “operational expenses, not procurement.”

Donley said the Air Force was trading “size for quality” in its $110.1 billion base budget request with another $11.5 billion for overseas operations – mostly Afghanistan. But he and Schwartz insisted – as have all Pentagon officials appearing before Congress to explain the 2013 defense budget cuts – that national security needs and not economics informed their decisions.

Senators  questioned them about decisions to retire 27 massive C-5A cargo aircraft and cut the minimum number of strategic airlift aircraft from 301 to 275; to trim 65 older C-130 cargo aircraft, leaving 318 planes to support tactical operations; and drop the planned 38-aircraft in the C-27 program – relying instead on the remaining C-130 fleet to support Army operations.

Sen. Carl Levin, the committee chairman, said he was troubled by the fact that the cuts in manpower and aircraft “are falling disproportionately on the Air National Guard.” Other senators from Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio and Mississippi raised similar concerns.

Committee members also questioned the decision to mothball more than a dozen RQ-4 Global Hawk high altitude unmanned aircraft system for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The Air Force officials said it would cost too much to upgrade the sensors on the Global Hawk to make them equivalent to manned U-2 spy planes. Eighteen Block C Global Hawks will be mothballed, said Schwartz with six going into “non-recoverable storage” with 12 others headed for “recoverable storage” for possible transfer to NATO or other allies.

March 20, 2012 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (March 16, 2012)

Underwater Anti-Terrorism

U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger

Meet Chief Master-at-Arms Cris Miller of the U.S. Navy. This photo was taken in December at Port Al-Shuaibah, Kuwait. At the time she was conducting anti-terrorism/force protection dives while assigned to the Commander, Task Group 56.1.

Task Group 56.1 divers look for and dispose of underwater mines, unexploded military ordnance and and improvised explosives. They also do  salvage-diving and perform other underwater tasks to counter terrorists and protect the ships and personnel. They are attached to the U.S. 5th Fleet, which is responsible for Navy operations in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean along the east coast of Africa from Egypt to Kenya. For some more photos of Chief Miller at work, click here.

The Navy master-at-arms rating is responsible for law enforcement, anti-terrorism, force protection and expeditionary warfare duties.

To mark Women’s History Month, the Defense Department has an extensive array of photos, videos and articles about the accomplishments of women in the armed services past and present. To view it, click here.

March 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (March 16, 2012)

Black Hawk Over Guyana

U.S.Army photo by Sgt. Taresha Neal Joiner

The crew chief of an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter leans out a side door as the chopper prepares to land at Camp Stephenson, 25 miles outside Georgetown, the capital of Guyana on South America’s northern Atlantic Coast, during Exercise Fused Response 2012. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you’ll get a better look at the two GAU-17/A miniguns at either door.

The special operations forces exercise ran from March 1-9 in Guyana, the only country in South America where English is the official language. Organized by U.S. Southern Command, the bi-lateral exercise sought to improve military skills and practices for responding to challenges posed by transnational organized crime and the illicit trafficking of people, drugs and other contraband (See 4GWAR March 15). More than 200 soldiers from the Guyana Defence Force and 350 U.S. troops from all branches of the services — including Army and Navy special operations forces — participated in tactical exercises that ranged from room clearing and close-quarters battle training to air and amphibious assault.

The exercise is part of SOUTHCOM’s efforts to build and sustain partnerships in the region — a task that has grown in importance since the Obama administration’s strategy shift focusing on the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

For more photos of Exercise Fueled Response, click here.

March 16, 2012 at 11:34 am Leave a comment

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