Archive for April, 2012
Pretty Picture, Bad Scene
A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter releases flares to support coalition special operations forces and Afghan soldiers during a firefight near Nawa Garay village in the Kajran district of Afghanistan’s Daykundi province.
Air Force Cross
A U.S. Air Force combat air controller received the nation’s second highest commendation for valor at aPentagon ceremony Thursday (April 12) for exposing himself to intense enemy fire in a remote Afghan village while calling in repeated air strikes and medical evacuations.
Capt. Barry F. Crawford Jr. was the air-ground-link (joint terminal attack controller) for a 100-man force of Afghan commandos and U.S. Army Special Forces during a helicopter insertion into a Taliban-friendly village in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on May 4, 2010. Crawford will receive the Air Force Cross, the highest valor award given by the Air Force — the equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross — and second only to the Medal of Honor for heroism under fire. He is the fifth airman to receive the Air Force Cross since the 9/11 attacks. Two of those medals were awarded posthumously.
Combat controllers are specially trained, FAA-certified air traffic controllers who parachute or helicopter into enemy territory with ground troops to coordinate close air support, establish assault zones or airfields and supply fire control and reconnaissance. They are also among the first on the ground at the scene of natural disasters, like the 2010 Haitian earthquake, to guide in relief flights when normal air traffic is disrupted.
Crawford told a defense bloggers’ roundtable Wednesday (April 11) that the U.S. troops were acting as mentors, letting the Afghan commandos take the lead in searching for weapons caches and interacting with the locals. It was part of a larger effort spearheading “the first mission into a completely denied area” to friendly forces.
At sunup – an hour after helicopters dropped them off in the village – they began taking hostile fire which picked up in intensity and for the next 12-plus hours the Americans and Afghans were often pinned down by heavy fire. Two Afghan commandos were killed and three others were wounded.
“Recognizing that the wounded Afghan soldiers would die without evacuation to definitive care, Captain Crawford took decisive action and ran out into the open in an effort to guide the [medical evacuation] helicopter to the landing zone,” according to the medal citation. “Once the pilot had eyes on his position, Crawford remained exposed, despite having one of his radio antennas shot off mere inches from his face.”
“Acting without hesitation” according to the citation, “Crawford then bounded across open terrain, engaging enemy positions with his assault rifle and called in AH-64 [Apache attack helicopters] strafing attacks “to defeat the ambush.”
During the battle Crawford, 31, called in scores of helicopter and fighter jet air strikes. As the Afghan and U.S. Special Forces withdrew from the area, they had to cross open ground, exposing themselves to more machine gun and sniper fire. The 2003 Air Force Academy graduate called in help from Apaches firing Hellfire missiles and F-15E Strike Eagles dropping 200- and 500-pound bombs. Thanks to the air support “we were able to depart the area without taking catastrophic losses,” Crawford said.
Crawford was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at the time of his deployment in Afghanistan. He is now with the 104th Fighter Squadron in the Maryland National Guard and is slated to begin pilot training in June. In about two years, he said, he will be flying A-10 Thunderbolt IIs , better known as Warthogs, with the Maryland Guard – a highly appropriate assignment for a man who knows first hand the importance of close air support.
The ousted president of the West African nation of Mali has resigned and leaders of the coup that drove Amadou Tourani Toure from the presidential palace say they, too, will relinquish power – but are vague about when that will be.
Toure signed a letter of resignation Sunday (April 8) saying he did so freely because “of the love that I have for this country,” Reuters reported. The two-term, democratically elected president was due to step down within weeks anyway because of term limits. But that was before the military coup drove him from office and threw the country into chaos.
Mali’s neighbors imposed harsh economic sanctions and closed their borders to the embattled country, which is dependent on imports of food and fuel. Meanwhile, an insurgency by Tuareg separatists in Mali’s desert north took advantage of the chaos and seized the three largest towns in the region including fabled Timbuktu. The nomadic Tuarags, some of whom seek to impose Islamic sharia law, now control the northern half of Mali and declared it an independent state. But the African Union, United States and the united Nations refused to recognize it – or the junta now running the rest of the country.
AFP is reporting that Islamist extremists have joined the revolt and in some cases are battling the Tuaregs for control. Among the groups said to orgainizing or fighting within the Tuareg controlled area they call Azawad, are members of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, Boko Harum – a Nigerian extremeist group – and the strict Islamist Ansar Dine group.
Ironically, it was the Toure government’s inept handling of the Tuareg revolt that sparked the military revolt by a group of young army officers who seized and looted the presidential palace, arrested cabinet members and voided Mali’s constitution.
The soldiers claimed they were poorly led and insufficiently equipped to battle the nomadic Tuaregs, many of them returning heavilly armed from serving in the army of deposed Libyan strongman Muammar Qadaffii.
The coup leaders went on national television claiming they would return control to civilian hands after the crisis was over. But leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Mali
ECOWAS agreed to lift the economic and diplomatic sanctions when the junta agreed to give up power but in a broadcast message on Monday (April 9) the coup leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, said he would sit down with ECOWAS in 40 days to decide how the country shoould be run until elections can be held. That wasn’t the deal ECOWAS intermediators thought they had with the junta, the Associated Press reported.
ECOWAS is readying a 3,000-man force to restore order in Mali and help take back the reble-seized north. But Sanogo warned against foreign intervention, saying Mali simply wanted better equipment and logistical help to take care of the rebels.
For a change of pace, we thought we’d show a little pageantry in this week’s FRIFO, and when it comes to pageantry few military organizations can touch the French Defense Forces: camouflage uniforms with gold epaulettes!
Here French soldiers — we think they’re soldiers (note the diamond-shaped anchor patch on their sleeves, possibly Marines?) — render military honors to U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno during an arrival ceremony at L’Hotel National Des Invalides in Paris Thursday (April 5). Les Invalides is a complex containing an Army museum, monuments, a hospital and retirement home for military veterans. It also houses the tomb of Napoleon.
Odierno was in France as part of a tour of several U.S. commands and installations in Europe, according to Stars and Stripes. The visits come as the Army prepares to shrink its personnel and facilities in Europe as part of the post-Iraq and Afghanistan drawdown and the Pentagon’s shifting focus on Asia and the Pacific. While in Paris, he delivered a speech at the French War College to students from more than 60 nations.
To see more photos of the ceremony — and how the new U.S. general officer’s uniform stands up against the French in the gold braid competition — click here. There are also some pretty interesting French uniforms, colorful kepis (caps), white gauntlets, etc.
We’d also like to hear from any visitors who also think that the French Army chief of staff’s kepi appears to be a size too small — compared to the other officers and enlisted men’s headgear.
U.S. Marines have begun arriving in Australia in the first six-month rotation as part of a cooperation agreement between the two countries. But the pact has raised concerns with China and at least one other country in the region.
About 200 members of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment arrived Tuesday (April 3) in the northern city of Darwin. They are the first contingent of 2,500 Marines expected to be deployed in Australia by 2017. It’s all part of an agreement signed by President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard when Obama was Down Under in November, the New York Times reported. At that time, Beijing criticized the move as a figment of “Cold War mentality” that would destabilize the region.
The Marines will be there largely to train with the Australian Defence Force – particularly in amphibious warfare operations, which the Marines see as one of their primary skills – and a primary reason for continued funding in hard budgetary times. The Third Marines are based in Hawaii.
The agreement between the U.S. and Australia also calls for greater access to Royal Australian Air Force bases for U.S. aircraft and eventually more visits by U.S. Navy vessels to the western Australian naval base outside Perth. The Marines, who will be stationed at Robertson Barracks outside Darwin, will also be better positioned to respond to natural disasters in Southeast Asia and provide humanitarian assistance, U.S. officials told the Voice of America. There will be no U.S. base in Australia, officials said.
Australia has been a close U.S. ally since World War II. Australia sent troops to the Korean and Vietnam wars and Australia has been one of the largest non-NATO contributors of military personnel in Afghanistan. Last year, for the fourth time, the U.S. and Australian militaries conducted a biennial training exercise, Talisman Sabre in northern Australia and adjoining waters. Fourteen thousand U.S. and 9,000 Australian troops participated in the exercise last July.
Under the November agreement, the U.S. troops will be rotated in an out of Australia but not permanently based there. The deployment is part of the Obama administration’s strategy shift focusing on the Asia Pacific region after more than 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has also reached an agreement with the island nation of Singapore to base two of the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) there. Singapore has been a key player in the efforts to halt piracy in the area near the Malacca Strait, a major maritime choke point through which much of the world’s oil is shipped. Australia is also negotiating with Washington about allowing U.S. unmanned aircraft to fly surveillance missions out of the Cocos Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean about 1,700 miles/2,750 kilometers from Perth.
The Philippines is also in negotiations with the U.S. to allow a large U.S. troop presence in the former American colony, which evicted U.S. forces from a large air base and naval station there in the 1990s. Filipino law bars U.S. troops from fighting on Philippines oil although there are U.S. military advisers providing medical, veterinary and educational assistance as well as instruction in counter insurgency tactics. But like many of its neighbors, the Philippines has had territorial – and sometimes physical – confrontations with the China, which claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea.
In addition to alarming China, the Marine deployment and the other military moves in Asia raised concerns in Indonesia, according the Australian Boadcasting Corp.
Moving Eye in the Sky (Adds dropped material)
The widely used, hand-launched RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) is getting an improved sensor payload that will make it more effective in providing situational awareness for troops on the ground.
AeroVironment Inc., the Raven’s manufacturer unveiled a new miniature gimbaled sensor payload for the RQ-11B this week at the annual professional forum and expo of the Army Aviation Association of America in Nashville, Tenn.
The 4.5-pound Raven, which can be carried disassembled in a backpack and launched by a single soldier, is 38 inches long with a wingspan of 55 inches. It provides wireless realtime video imagery to a ground control station.
The modular payload includes a high resolution color and infrared thermal video sensor on a gimbal, or small turret. The new payload replaces two stationary payloads – an electro-optical sensor and an infrared sensor – for day and night operation. The gimbaled sensor payload will enhance the Raven’s capabilities by allowing both higher visual fidelity and continuous observation of an item of interest – regardless of which direction the SUAS is flying.
AeroVironment says the new payload will be a standard component of future Raven systems and will be sold as an upgrade for already fielded units. AeroVironment recently was awarded an $11 million contract by the U.S. Army to provide logistics support for Raven systems. The cost-plus-fixed-fee sole source contract covers Army, Marine Corps and Raven systems acquired by foreign militaries through the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) program. Under the FMS program the U.S. government procures defense articles and services on behalf of about 160 countries deemed eligible by the president and vetted by the State Department.
In its Fiscal 2013 budget request, the Army is seeking $26 million to acquire Ravens for small unit intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In 2012 Congress authorized the purchase of 900 Ravens for $60 million. The raven is also used by the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command.
A Tale of Two Uprisings
Just 12 days ago young soldiers in Mali — frustrated with poor equipment and weapons in their battles against Tuareg insurgents in the country’s northern deserts — launched their own rebellion, driving out the sitting government and tearing up the constitution of one of the region’s few stable democracies.
Now the leaders of the March 22 coup face condemnation from the west, as well as economic and diplomatic isolation from their neighbors that could cause food, gasoline and government funds to dry up. Meanwhile, the Tuareg insurgency has filled the void during the nation’s unrest, seizing several key towns in Mali’s north – including the legendary desert city of Timbuktu, the Associated Press reported.
Troops at an Army base just outside the capital city of Bamako and at another camp near the northern city of Gao rebelled against President Amadou Toumani Toure’s government, claiming it was mishandling the Tuareg rebellion. The troops seized and looted the presidential palace, took over the government broadcast center and announced that Toure was desposed, the government dissolved and the constitution voided until a elections can be held and civilian rule restored. (See video here). But the coup’s leader, Capt. Amadou Hayo Sanogo, has declined to say when those elections will be held.
Ironically, the coup took place just a month before presidential elections to pick a successor for Toure who was stepping down because of term limits. At the time, Mali, which had seen four peaceful presidential elections since 1992, was seen as one of the best examples of democracy in action in the often troubled region.
Meanwhile, the rebellion by the nomadic Tuaregs which started in January, swept across the country’s arid northern region. The rebellion, the latest in a series of uprisings since the 1960s seeking an independent Tuareg homeland, began in January and picked up steam with the return of heavily armed tribesmen who had been serving as mercenaries for Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi before he was removed from power and killed. Since the Mali army coup, the desert rebels have seized the regional capital of Kidal; Gao, the desert area’s largest city; and Timbuktu (Tombouctou on the map), a caravan crossroads and center of Islamic learning in Africa for centuries. All three fell with little resistance in just three days. Timbuktu has been declared a United Nations World Heritage site.
Complicating matters, a conservative Islamist group has sprung up seeking to impose Muslim sharia law in the areas controlled by Tuaregs, Reuters reported. That drive has worried religious leaders in the three recently seized cities where a more moderate form of Islam is practiced.
Meanwhile, a 15-member regional economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, has threatened to close Mali’s borders with the group, isolate it diplomatically and cut off access to ECOWAS’s central bank.