Archive for May, 2012

AROUND AFRICA: Charles Taylor Sentenced, Private Anti-Pirate Patrols

Warlord Sentenced

An international court has sentenced former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for orchestrating atrocities during the horrific civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone (Map from CIA World Factbook)

Taylor, the 64-year-old former president of Liberia, was convicted April 27 of aiding, abetting and planning “some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history,” according the presiding judge at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

It is the first time a head of state has been convicted and sentenced on such charges since the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II, the New York Times reported.

During the 10-year Sierra Leone civil war thousands of people were killed, raped, mutilated or kidnapped and forced to be soldiers or sex slaves. The international court is barred from imposing a sentence of life in prison or death. Taylor still has many followers in Liberia.

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Counter-Piracy Measure

A private company based in the UAE plans to outfit three boats to patrol the pirate infested waters off the Horn of Africa, the BBC reported.

Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

The company, Typhon, plans to man each of the patrol boats – now being outfitted in Singapore – with a complement of 40 former British Royal Marines and a crew of 20.

The boats, which will be contracted to protect cargo ships plying the Western Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, will also be armed with machine guns. The security officers will have rifles.

Unlike some 25 naval vessels patroling the pirate zone, the Typhon boats will assigned to protect specific boats instead of patrolling a vast area of seas.

Currently, eight vessels and 235 crew members are being held by pirates.

May 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Memorial Day 2012

Lest We Forget

Sundown at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Kansas. The dead rest by the hundreds. (4GWAR photo)

Here in the United States, it is easy to understand why Memorial Day is seen by many as a national holiday that marks the unofficial beginning of summer — especially since its date of observance was changed in 1971 from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

But the holiday started out as a day set aside to decorate the graves of the fallen from the Civil War and to remember their sacrifice. Originally in the North it was known as Decoration Day and Memorial Day in the South. In November, on Veterans Day, we honor the living who have served their country in uniform.

Your 4GWAR editor thought it was important to note — as newspaper editorial writers have done for decades — that Memorial Day is more than a collection of patio furniture sales, ball games, car races, band concerts, picnics and fireworks. It is a day to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice for their country. Their deaths may not have all been heroic — many a warrior succumbed to disease or accident without ever meeting the enemy — but they are all certainly heroes, and deserve at least a pause in holiday activities to be remembered.

Soldiers from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment, “the Old Guard,” place small flags in front of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Coffee)

 

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.

May 28, 2012 at 1:00 am 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO May 25, 2012

Beach Party, Thailand

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Robert Clowney

O.K., so it’s not the kind of beach “party” you’d expect to see in a Thai travel brochure or website. This week’s photo shows Thai and U.S. Marines participating in a simulated amphibious assault during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2012 in Hat Yao, Thailand on May 23.

About 3,500 Thai and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel participated in the niner-day exercise, which ended today (May 25). CARAT is a series of annual bilateral naval exercises that the U.S. has conducted with counterparts in Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. See CARAT Facebook page.

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can get a good look at the Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) used to transport the Marines and Thai troops from the amphibious landing dock ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) to the beach. Note the AAVs coming ashore in the background. As we have noted in the past (July 22, 2011) the Marines are looking for a replacement to the ageing AAVs, which have been around since the 1970s.

The Marines in this week’s FRIFO are assigned to Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. To see more photos of this exercise, click here.

May 25, 2012 at 11:14 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Mali, West Africa Drug Traffic, Guinea-Bissau

Mali Mayhem

More unrest in Mali. Earlier this week an angry mob stormed the presidential palace and attacked the interim president.

Mali (photo by Timm Guenther via Wikipedia)

Interim President Dioncounda Traore suffered a head wound after Monday’s attack by protesters, the Associated Press reported. He was treated and released from a hospital a few hours later.

Now the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is threatening to impose sanctions on those responsible.

The political situation has been chaotic in the largely desert northwest African nation since a military coup on March 21 when the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, was forced from office. Soldiers blamed him for botching the response to a rebellion by Tuaregs in the north.

Rebels swept over the northern half of the country after the coup. A number of militant Islamists followed in their wake sparking the imposition of strict Muslim sharia law in some areas.

War on Drugs

The use of West Africa as a staging point for the shipment of narcotics to Europe by international drug cartels is getting more attention from U.S. And international organizations.

Officials in the Cape Verde islands seized 1.5 metric tons of cocaine with assistance of the new Counter narcotics and Maritime Interagency Operations Center there that U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) helped to support.

AFRICOM is also collaborating with the U.S. State Department and Drug Enforcement Agency to help Ghana establish a specialized counter drug unit.

In testimony before a Senate panel May 16, William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter narcotics and global threats, said the drug cartels, increasingly under the gun in the Western Hemisphere, are turning to Africa – especially the politically unstable countries of West Africa.

“As they target the lucrative and growing European market for cocaine,” he said, “we are also concerned about trafficking of southwest Asian heroin, as well as other drugs, such as khat.”

Restoring the Rule of Law

One of the countries said to be most penetrated by Latin American drug lords in Guinea-Bissau, which also saw its government overthrown by an April military coup.

CIA World Factbook

Now the military junta says it is handing back power to a civilian regime, the BBC reports, but foreign observers are skeptical.

ECOWAS brokered a deal with the junta to organize elections in a year. Meanwhile more than 600 peacekeeping troops are to be stationed in the former Portuguese colony – .about 70 soldiers from Burkina Faso have arrived so far.

May 25, 2012 at 1:02 am 1 comment

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. Commander Sees Afghans Filling Gaps During Drawdown

Beginning the End Game

The top commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan says Afghan National Forces (ANF) will fill in the gaps left by U.S. troops as they begin withdrawing later this year after more than a decade of war.

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, briefs the media at the Pentagon. (Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

“It’s not our intention to cede the ground [already secured] to the Taliban,” U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen told a Pentagon press briefing today (May 23).

Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said 23,000 U.S. combat and support troops – part of a surge to suppress the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and break their longtime hold on parts of the country – will begin leaving the country later this year.

That will leave 65,000 U.S. troops in country. Allen couldn’t say how many of them would have to stay until December 2014 when ISAF turns over full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to the Afghans. “There’s no number out there right now,” Allen said, adding that he will have to make a series of assessments in coming months and report back to the White House.

Meanwhile, the ANF will fill in behind departing U.S. troops in East and Southwest Afghanistan, the ISAF commander said. Coalition forces are increasingly turning over leadership responsibilities to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

At the recently ended NATO summit in Chicago, leaders agreed on a road map for drawing down operations in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama said at the conclusion that NATO is committed to bringing the war in Afghanistan “to a responsible end.” Afghan troops will take the lead on all combat missions by the middle of next year. Most troops are expected to be out of the country by December 31, 2014. The troops that stay behind after that will be trainers and advisers.

In the interim, Allen said, “we’re going to need combat power” and “not just U.S. Forces,” after the drawdown begins. While longtime NATO members such as the U.S., Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and the Netherlands have provided the bulk of troops to ISAF, recent NATO members like Poland and Romania and non-member countries like Australia, Georgia and Sweden have sent sizeable troop contingents although several – like France, Canada and the Netherlands — have withdrawn or are in the process of withdrawing their troops before the end of 2014.

Allen noted that the traditional Afghan fighting season will start soon and “some significant dynamics” will occur during that period including month-long fast of Ramadan, which starts in July.

May 23, 2012 at 8:49 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: New All Environment Wasp Drone

New and Improved

Wasp AE launch (photo courtesy of AeroVironment)

AeroVironment today (May 22) introduced the latest development of its Wasp class of small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) — the Wasp AE, which stands for all environment.

The tiny 2.8-pound (1.3kilogram) Wasp AE is capable of ground and water landings — making it suitable for maritime as well as land operations. The Wasp AE is equipped with a digital data link, allowing it to communicate and work with AeroVironment’s larger UASs, the Puma and Raven — as well as the Shrike vertical take off and landing (VTOL). It can be equipped to handle encrypted communication, operation beyond-line of sight and voice, video and data relay.

The earlier version of the Wasp has been adopted by the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps for tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations by small units. After a year of engineering and user assessments, the Air Force is including Wasp AE in its Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Air Vehicle (BATMAV) program and has placed an order for Wasp AE systems valued at $2.45 million.

May 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO May 18, 2012

Big Island

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman George M. Bell

The command island on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson (CVN-70) dwarfs man and machine on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier.

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can clearly see a SH-60 Seahawk helicopter (right foreground) two E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and on the very far left an EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. You can also see the tractors used to haul aircraft around the flight deck.

The Nimitz-class carrier recently arrived in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after completing  deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet (Indian Ocean and Middle East) and U.S. 7th Fleet (Asia-Pacific) areas of responsibility.

To get a better idea of the enormity of this super carrier, click on the photo below.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist George M. Bell

May 17, 2012 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: EU Air Strike on Somali Pirate Lair

First Land Attack

Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

The European Union naval force patrolling for pirates off the Horn of Africa has launched its first strike against a pirate lair on shore. A pirate tells the Associated Press that the helicopter gunship raid on the Mudug region of Somalia’s central coast destroyed speed boats, fuel depots and an arms store.

Somali pirates have extended their raids out into the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden in recent years. The BBC reports they are believed to be holding 17 ships and 300 crew members for ransom. No Europeans or Somalis were killed in the night time raid, which also included fixed wing aircraft.

Since December 2008, EU members have mounted an international naval patrol, Operation Atalanta, off the Horn of Africa. The patrol monitors an area extending from South of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Basin and part of the Indian Ocean –including the Seychelles. It is an area in size comparable to the Mediterranean Sea, according to a 2010 report to the British House of Lords.

May 15, 2012 at 10:46 am Leave a comment

INTERNATIONAL CRIME: Got Pirates? No Problem

High Tech Response

Two of the U.S. Navy’s top research labs are teaming with scientists in Chile to develop widget – or web-based applications – to help police the world’s oceans and combat piracy.

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)

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific have formed a research alliance – the International Collaborative Development for Enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness – to build the widgets that will analyze data and other information for sailors and maritime interests to combat pirates, drug smugglers, arms traffickers and other criminals on the high seas.

ONR will be working with researchers at the Technical University Federico Santa Maria, a top engineering school in Chile, to create web-based tools in an open source environment. The focus will be on software to improve automation, small-target detection and intent detection.

Ultimately, the software will be compatible with multiple maritime network systems so that navies around the world can use the tools and share information. John Stasny, an engineer in SPAWAR’s advanced systems analysis systems branch at Systems Center Pacific, says the plan calls for integrating the software tools into a widget framework accessible to coalition partners at a web portal.

The project with Chile is part of a larger collaboration that includes researchers at the University of Ghana, the University of Pretoria, the University of Mauritius and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.

May 14, 2012 at 8:23 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 11, 2012)

The Hills Have Eyes

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Trey Harvey

This striking photo evokes a scene out of an old movie, maybe Beau Geste or Pork Chop Hill. A small outpost surrounded by lonely hills that probably hide an enemy waiting to strike.

What it really shows is U.S. Army Cpl. Esteban Lopez and an Afghan guard on security detail at an entrance to Contingency Operating Post Pirtle King in Afghanistan’s Kunar province (April 18, 2012).  If you click on the photo to enlarge it and then click again you can see the earth and rock-filled Hesco barriers that form the walls of the COP. Lopez is assigned to the 4th Infantry Division’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.

One of the tasks the soldiers perform from the COP is recording and later verifying the identity of locals using a handheld interagency identity detection equipment (HIIDE) that photographs the subject’s iris and face and also takes a latent fingerprint using a sensor. That information is stored in a database that can be used to verify identies.

If you click here, you can see a photo slide show of the mission

May 11, 2012 at 10:56 am Leave a comment

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