Archive for March, 2013

FRIDAY FOTO (March 29, 2013)


Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

An Afghan National Army soldier observes his sector during a clearing operation near Camp Shorabak in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Behind the soldier on the right is a four-wheel MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle.

U.S. and coalition troops are letting Afghans take the lead in operations like this in preparation for when the Afghan National Army takes over security responsibilities in 2014.

To see more photos of this operation, click here.

March 29, 2013 at 12:40 am Leave a comment

SHAKO-Drone/Cyber Security Medal Revisited

Medal Muddle

Distinguished Warfare Medal

Distinguished Warfare Medal

Last month we told you that then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had approved a new medal to cite the contributions of troops working behind the lines – like drone pilots and cyber warfare operators – to combat operations.

Now current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, has asked the military’s top uniformed leader, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to head a review of the award..

The new Distinguished Warfare Medal (DWM) was intended to recognize members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps “whose extraordinary achievements, regardless of their distance to the traditional combat theater, deserve distinct department-wide recognition.”

In short, the award was to be given to uniformed personnel to recognize actions with direct effects on combat.

But in the hierarchy of military awards, the DWM was slated to rank just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star medal. But that decision sparked protests from veterans’ groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, who said the new medal’s status diminishes older military decorations like the Purple Heart which is awarded to those wounded in battle – including Hagel, who served as a combat infantryman in Vietnam.

“He’s heard the concerns of others, and he believes that it’s prudent to take into account those concerns and conduct this review,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said earlier in March.

Hagel asked Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs, to conduct the review and report back in 30 days. Meanwhile, Little said production of the medal has stopped and no one has been nominated for the award.

Several members of Congress, including the chairman and top Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee have written Hagel expressing concern about the new medal’s precedence.



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.

March 27, 2013 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: The China Question, Mali Fighting

Xi in Africa

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, is in the middle of a four day tour of Africa – part of his first trip abroad as national leader.

Xi will be attending a two day conference of leaders of the so-called BRICS countries starting today (March 26). The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – form an economic bloc made up of many of the world’s leading emerging economies. But Xi is also trying to assure Africans that China interest in their continent isn’t just as a market for its manufactured goods and a source of the raw materials needed by its factories.


His first stop in Africa this week (March 24) was Tanzania. China has had a close relationship with the country since it gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s. Thousands of Chinese engineers and laborers built a railroad connecting Tanzania with Zambia in the ’60s and ’70s, according to Xinhua’s website.

At a conference center in Dar es Salaam built with Chinese assistance, Xi assured the audience and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete that China was interested in helping African nations develop their economies, pledging $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next two years. He also said China would train 30,000 African professionals, offer 18,000 scholarships to African students and “increase technology transfer and experience,” Reuters reported.

China’s trade with all African countries reached $198 billion in total value in 2012, an increase of 19.3 percent from 2011, according to Chinese customs statistics, the New York Times reported. Much of that trade consists of oil, minerals and other commodities from Angola, Nigeria and other resource-rich countries, the Times said.

After the two-day BRICS meeting Durban, South Africa, Xi will wind up his first foreign tour with a visit to the Republic of Congo (not be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo — formerly known as Zaire.)

At a Washington symposium on conservation and national security that your 4GWAR editor attended last week, a former Bush administration diplomat said China had made Africa “strategic.”

“I think that strategic engagement is going to translate into political influence and geo-strategic influence,” said Jendayi Frazer, the first woman appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “I think it will show up in things like the United Nations Security Council and how votes start to go in the U.N. General Assembly and other such venues,” she added.

But, “African citizens are becoming increasingly impatient with the flood of Chinese laborers” into their labor markets “and particularly, cheap goods and the supply chain” supporting Chinese traders in the African marketplace. “It’s a big problem,” she told the gathering, co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and Conservation International.

Frazer, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, noted however, that China’s “model of supporting business and their strategic outlook in Africa, is something we in the West should emulate. We should do a better job of helping our private sector” in Africa and other regions.

[You can see a video of Frazer and some of the other speakers at this symposium by clicking here. Your 4GWAR editor’s question about AFRICOM is at 57 minutes and 55 seconds on the tape. Frazer’s comments on China in Africa are at 1 hour, 3 minutes into the tape, followed by her comments on AFRICOM.]

Mali Update

Mali [click on image to enlarge]CIA World Factbook

Mali [click on image to enlarge]
CIA World Factbook

Six people – including one civilian – have been killed in fighting between Islamist rebels and French and Malian forces in the northern city of Gao (see map), according to Voice of America.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate has named a replacement for a key commander killed by Chadian soldiers in Mali’s northern mountains last month, according to an Algerian broadcaster, VOA reported. The new guy, Djamel Okacha – also known as Yahia Abu El Hamam – is slated to replace Abdelhamid Abou Zeid as a leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, commonly known as AQIM, according to Algeria’s Ennahar TV.

March 26, 2013 at 1:15 am Leave a comment

LESSONS LEARNED: Friday Foto Fizzle

We Won’t Be Fooled Again

You’ve probably heard of the Vietnam era expression “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came,” right?

Well, here at 4GWAR we recently learned what happens when you give a readers’ photo picking contest and nobody picks.


Your humble 4GWAR editor has learned a lesson. The readership has spoken and nobody wants to play photo editor.  : (

Hope you enjoy this week’s Friday Foto below. : )

March 22, 2013 at 1:07 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO: March 22, 2013

Training Day

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

Fellow Marines tow Sgt. Ian Anderson as part of a rescue drill during a water survival course for instructors at Marine Corps Base Camp Johnson, North Carolina.  Anderson is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

For some more very interesting photos of how Marines train to rescue fellow Leathernecks when they go in the drink — with and without their battle gear, click here. You will also see some very interesting tatoos.


March 22, 2013 at 12:49 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Mali Terror Group Sanctioned, AFRICOM, More Mali

U.S. VS. Ansar-al-Dine

Mali [click on image to enlarge]CIA World Factbook

Mali [click on image to enlarge]
CIA World Factbook

 One of the violent radical Islamist groups at the center of the insurgency in northern Mali has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

In a statement released today (March 21) the State Department said Ansar-al-Dine was deemed a Foreign Terrorist Organization under federal law and also a Global Terrorist entity under an executive order that targets terrorists and those providing them support.

Ansar-al-Dine was one of the Islamic extremist groups that hijacked a largely secular rebellion by nomadic Tuareg tribesmen in Mali’s desert north last year. The rebellion, the latest in a series of revolts since the 1960s by Tuaregs seeking autonomy from Mali’s government in Bamako, the capital, mushroomed after Malian army officers staged a coup on March 22. Ironically, the military coup arose from Army frustration with Mali’s democratically-elected government was mishandling the Tuareg revolt.

Taking advantage of the political chaos, the Tuaregs swept over nearly half the country, between January and April 2012, seizing control of an area the size of France, including the legendary city of Timbuktu. But hardline groups like Ansar-al-Dine, pushed the Tuareg leadership aside and imposed strict Islamic law in the captured region. Punishments included floggings, amputation of limbs and executions. Most music was forbidden and several historic tombs were destroyed.

Ansar-al-Dine cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, another designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, the State Department said. During Ansar-al-Dine’s March 2012 attack on the town of Aguelhok, the group executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more.

The request of Mali’s new government France, the country’s former colonial ruler, sent troops and aircraft to halt an insurgent threat to Bamako in January. French troops aided by soldiers from Chad and other African nations have driven the insurgents back almost to the Algerian border.

AFRICOM VS. al Shebaab

Speaking of extremists, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says another violent Islamist group, al-Shabaab in East Africa has been “significantly weakened from a year ago.” Army Gen. Carter Ham told the House Armed Services Committee last week (March 15) that AFRICOM was assisting partner nations battle three other violent groups: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, active in northern and western Africa; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Ham noted that while there’s been good progress against al-Shabaab by the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia as well as Ethiopian and Somali forces, the group is still dangerous and capable of unconventional attacks to disrupt AMISOM operations as well as the new Somali government.

Asked if he had enough resoures to battle AQIM, Ham said there were “significant shortfalls” in equipment providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.

More on Mali

France says about 10 Islamist fighters were killed today (March 21) when French and Malin forces repelled an attack on Timbuktu, the Voice of America reports.

French President Francois Hollande said this week (March 19) that military operations in Mali are in their final phase. But military analysts are worried al-Qaeda-linked militants could return to nothern ali’s cities and towns once the French withdraw their 4,000 troops from the region. Another concern, says VOA, the Malian army is still weak. The attack on Timbuktu comes a day after a suicide car bombing killed a Malian soldier and wounded six other people at Timbuktu’s airport.

It was the first suicide attack in Timbuktu since French and Malian troops drove Islamist militants out of the ancient caravan city two months ago, the Guardian reported.

French, Malian and other African troops conducted search and destoy missions against insurgents in the area around Gao.Photo: French Ministry of Defense

French, Malian and other African troops conducted search and destroy missions against insurgents in the area around Gao.
Photo: French Ministry of Defense

March 21, 2013 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

ARCTIC: NORTHCOM’s Arctic plans, Alaska Oil Drilling,

NORTHCOM looks North

Coast Guard photo

Coast Guard photo

Increased activity in the Arctic — brought on by the decrease in icebound waters during the summer months — could lead to more requests for U.S. and Canadian military assistance to other government agencies, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) says.

U.S. Army Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today (March 19) that “other traditional military actors” are already setting priorities for the region. For example: Russia is actively recapitalizing its Arctic-focused fleet. And China — which doesn’t even have any territory in the Arctic, but is looking for maritime short cuts in the High North to cut the travel time of its merchant ships — is acquiring a second icebreaker. The U.S. has two ice breakers — the Healy and the massive Polar Star, both based in Seattle — far from the Arctic.

In his testimony before the committee, Jacoby — who also commands the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — said NORTHCOM and NORAD have signed an agreement with the Canadian Joint Operations Command to support other government departments and agencies “in response to threats and hazards in the region when requested or directed.”

Sea lanes across the Arctic have been opening up with the summer melt of sea ice in recent years. For the first time, this accessability is expected to draw more oil drilling, commercial fishing, shipping activity and sightseeing in the harsh environment (See March 6 posting on 4GWAR)

Jacoby also said U.S. military leaders were reaching out to engage with the Russian military, which has been expanding its modernization and training efforts “that extend the range of patrol activities by their air forces.”

The fourth annual Vigilant Eagle counter hijacking exercise between the U.S. and Russia is slated for August 2013. It will be a live-fly exercise involving a variety of NORAD and Russian military aircraft.

Fix it, or Lose it

The U.S. government is banning Shell Oil from drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters until it overhauls how it manages it’s drilling operations.

In one of his last acts before leaving office, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a press conference call March 14 that the oil company  “screwed up” its preliminary drilling operations in 2012 and would not be allowed back until the oil giant developed an integrated management plan.

Salazar’s decision came after a new report found that Shell’s contractors were repeatedly ill-prepared to meet the demands of operating in the harsh Arctic environment, the Los Angeles Times reported.

During its first efforts in the Chukchi and  Beaufort seas, Shell suffered a number of mishaps including the grounding of its Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska. Another Shell drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Shell has already said it will not be coming back to drill in Alaskan waters until 2014.

The grounding of Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska was the most heavily publicized incident in a season plagued with misadventures. Shell’s second drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, drifted and came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the report said, because of contractor Noble Corp.’s use of “only the minimum amount of anchor chain” and failure to have a contingency plan for bad weather.

The report’s harshest criticism was directed at Shell’s management of its contractors, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper site said. “The review said the company failed to make sure its contractors were up to operating in Arctic conditions, the Guardian reported.

March 20, 2013 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (March 15, 2013)

Something Different: Readers Choice

Over the last few weeks we’ve been bedeviled by the number of great photos taken by photographers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. That has made it very difficult at times to pick just one  for the FRIDAY FOTO. Longtime 4GWAR visitors have probably noticed we sometimes cheat and run two related photos of the same event or a FRIDAY FOTO Extra (usually a pretty picture without much back story).

This week we’ve decided to try something different. We’re going to let you, the readers, pick this week’s Friday Foto. This isn’t a contest. There are no prizes. Our budget doesn’t allow a cash prize and we have no 4GWAR ballcaps or coffee mugs to award. We just want to see if our taste is in synch with our readership’s.

Below you’ll find three recent photos from the Defense Department website with their original captions. You can pick the one you like by commenting at the bottom of the page or emailing us at

We’ll announce the winner next Friday and post some of the comments we get on the photos and whether you think this was a good idea.

Photo No. 1

Defense Dept photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Corey Hensley, U.S. Navy.

Defense Dept photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Corey Hensley, U.S. Navy.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Albuquerque (SSN 706) approaches the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) in Sattahip Bay, Thailand, on March 10, 2013. Frank Cable conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility.

Photo No. 2

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pvt. xxxxxx Peacock

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Kasey Peacock

U.S. Marines and Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces move in on an enemy position together during the final comprehensive bilateral force-on-force training evolution during Exercise Forest Light 13-3 at the Hokkaido-Dai Maneuver Area, Hokkaido, Japan, March 3, 2013. The training began with the Marines and JGSDF patrolling separately on foot and by mechanized vehicles to reach a temporary position and set up a hasty defense

Photo No. 3

Defense Dept. photo by EJ Hersom

Defense Dept. photo by EJ Hersom

A soldier keeps watch from the hatch atop a M2 Bradley fighting vehicle as it maneuvers during a training mission at the National Urban Warfare Center in the Mojave Desert on Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb. 24, 2013.

O.K., so there are our three candidates. Don’t forget to click on each photo to enlarge the image (it often makes a difference in one’s appreciation).

Please comment at the bottom of this post (click on where it says comment or click on the blue headline at the top of this post to get the comment box to appear at the bottom of the post) or send us an email at and give us your pick for next week’s Friday Foto.

March 15, 2013 at 1:03 am 2 comments

ARCTIC: Food For Thought

Avoiding Cold War in a Cold Place

Food for ThoughtOnly eight countries have territory bordering the Arctic Circle: the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Russia and Denmark (by virtue of its control of Greenland).

Together, these eight form the Arctic Council, an international forum created in 1996 to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the eight Arctic states and also involve the indigenous communities in the High North. Some of the topics of common interest include sustainable development and environmental protection.

In 2011, the eight Arctic Council members completed the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, the first binding treaty concluded under the Council’s auspices.

Rich oil and mineral deposits are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Sea and its underwater coastline. One of the world’s last great fisheries is also in Arctic waters. All of these valuable resources will become more accessible at climate change and other factors melt more and more summer ice in Arctic waters. That will open up sea lanes for transporting cargo and passengers as well as oil and natural gas exploration.


While the Arctic states have worked out agreements dealing with these natural resources little has been done to prevent or adjudicate conflict, says Paul Arthur Berkman, a biological oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Writing in the New York Times opinion pages today (March 14), Berkman says the potential for conflict is high – even if tensions now are low.

“How, for instance, will each nation position its military and police its territory?” asks Berkman, adding: “How will the Arctic states deal with China and other nations that have no formal jurisdictional claims but have strong interests in exploiting Arctic resources?”

It’s an important topic to mull. To read more, click here.

March 14, 2013 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Update, Kenya Election, New AFRICOM Chief

Kenya Election

Adds background, corrects size of Kenya’s economy

Kenya in Africa. Map from CIA World Factbook

Kenya in Africa. Map from CIA World Factbook

Kenya’s Supreme Court has been petitioned to examine the East African nation’s contested presidential election.

Uhuru Kenyatta – son of Kenya’s first president – was declared the winner of the March 4 election with 50.7 percent of the vote. But his opponent – Prime Minister Raila Odinga – says he has evidence of voter fraud and is asking the high court to examine his party’s claims. Kenyatta, who had been deputy prime minister, faces charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his alleged part in the post election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, faces similar charges.

Odinga’s followers did not take to the streets to protest as they did when he lost another election in 2007 that was marred by widespread claims of fraud. Instead, his Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) party is taking his case to the courts, which have a better reputation for integrity now than they did in 2007, the New York Times reported.

Kenya’s constitution stipulates that the parties have one week to legally challenge an election and the Supreme Court has two weeks to rule on the challenge before the president is officially installed, according to the Voice of America.

Kenya, which gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s, is the 11th largest economy in Africa.


463px-Africom_emblem_2.svgThe U.S. Senate has confirmed the nomination of Army Gen. David Rodriquez to be the next commander of Africa Command, one of the six regional combatant commands.

Rodriquez, who is currently vice chief of staff of the Army, will take over from Army Gen. Carter Hamm, the current AFRICOM commander, who is retiring later this year.

AFRICOM, created by President George W. Bush, is responsible for protecting U.S. interests and assisting allies and partner nations in Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, its area of operation includes all of Africa except Egypt which comes under U.S. Central Command.

The command’s missions — outlined by Ham earlier — include: Countering terrorism and violent extremist organizations; Countering piracy and illicit trafficking; Partnering to strengthen defense capabilities; and preparing for and responding to crises.

March 13, 2013 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

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