Archive for April 26, 2012

AFGHANISTAN: A Tale of Two Blogs

Reporting from Afghanistan

Defense Dept. photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Crail, U.S. Army

Two journalists your 4GWAR editor knows have been blogging from Afghanistan for the last few weeks and they present a fascinating picture – in very different ways – of what it is really like over there. Maybe not what it’s like for the troops who are deployed for a year, but what the weather is like and what the food and the roads and the people – in uniform and out — are like. The kind of things you or I might notice in such a strange land.

Both blogs are listed on the 4GWAR Blog Roll in the right hand column on the Home Page, but we thought we’d call a little more attention to these two intriguing websites.

North Carolina newspaper

With the Troops is a blog written by Drew Brooks a reporter with a North Carolina newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, along with his photographer, James Robinson. They are embedded with the 82nd Airborne Division, which is based in Fort Bragg, N.C., right outside Fayetteville. It is the second overseas embed with the military for both journalists. They were in Iraq last year to cover the drawdown in U.S. troop strength during Operation New Dawn (the successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom).

Now they’re in Afghanistan until May, reporting on topics like small unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) used by the infantry and female soldiers reaching out to Afghan women to overcome cultural obstacles and acquire intel.

I first met Drew at the University of Kansas journalism school’s Military Journalist Experience program last Fall. About a dozen jouros from all around the country – and one from Africa – spent five days at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri learning about what officers are taught and how enlisted personnel are trained. Drew covers Fort Bragg and military matters for his paper.

While I don’t know James Robinson, I do like his work. He’s taken some great photos and you can see some of them here.

Minnesota Public Television

I’ve never met Luke Heikkila, but I’ve enjoyed reading his blog about a trip to Afghanistan. We stumbled across each other’s blogs when he ‘liked’ a Defense Department photo I posted for the Friday Foto on 4GWAR. And when I visited his blog to thank him, I saw he was a public television reporter/producer from Minnesota who was getting ready to embed with the troops in Afghanistan.

What made Luke’s blog fascinating reading was his mission: embedding – not with combat troops or commanders — but with a Minnesota National Guard unit that would be serving as the Agribusiness Development Team for Zabul province – ZADT for short. These were part-time U.S. soldiers who were going half way around the world to offer advice on growing food and raising livestock.

Another reason to read Luke’s Ten Days in the Sand blog is his wry, self-deprecating narrative about preparing for this adventures – especially what to pack and how to get into and out of Afghanistan. The early months of this blog  provided a real education in being a do-it-yourself war correspondent. Who knew Afghan security won’t let you bring a Kevlar helmet and bullet proof vest into the country in your carry-on bag?

Also, Luke was a one-man band, taking still photos and videos, interviewing people and taking copious notes for the blog and the report he will do for Twin Cities Public Television.  I don’t know how he found the time or energy to write as much as he did.

Luke recently returned to the states but his journey still makes interesting reading.

April 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

INTERNATIONAL CRIME: “Dangerously Increasing” Pirate Activities Off West Africa

Nigerian Pirates Extending Range

Piracy is on the rise in the waters off west Africa – especially in an around Nigeria – according to statistics from the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Global Piracy Report.

U.S. Coast Guard and Navy personnel inspect a suspected pirate skiff in the Gulf of Aden in May 2010 as part of multinational counter piracy task force. (Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ja'lon A. Rhinehart)

While the number of incidents and ships seized by pirates is down for the 1st Quarter of 2012, compared to the first three months of 2011, the threat of Somali pirates operating in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden remains high, with attacks off Nigeria, Benin and other West African countries increasing, said the Kuala Lampur-based IMB.

Worldwide, there were 102 incidents of piracy or armed robbery at sea during January to March 2012, compared to 142 incidents for the same period last year. In 2012, 11 vessels were reported hijacked worldwide, with 212 crew members taken hostage and four slain. Additionally, 45 vessels were boarded with 32 attempted attacks and 14 vessels fired upon. Five locations were responsible for 70 percent of the 102 incidents: There were 28 incidents near Somalia, 18 near Indonesia, 10 in the waters near Nigeria, 8 in the Gulf of Aden and 7 in the Red Sea.

Nigerian piracy has been “increasing in incidence and extending in range,” says Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. The number of reported incidents is twice what it was for the same period last year. At least six of the Nigerian incidents occurred more than 70 nautical miles from the coast “which suggests that fishing vessels are being used as mother ships to attack shipping further afield,” Mukundan said.

But Somalia continues to dominate with 43 attacks including the hijacking of nine vessels and 144 crew members taken hostage. That’s down from 97 incidents and 16 hijackings in the 1st Quarter of 2011. The IMB report suggests actions by numerous navies off the Horn of Africa are responsible for the drop in incidents.

However “it is unlikely that the threat of Somali piracy will diminish in the short to medium term, unless further actions are taken,” the report concluded.

Here is a link to the IMB’s Live Piracy Incident Map.

April 26, 2012 at 12:19 am Leave a comment


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