Archive for April, 2013

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (April 26, 2013)

It is a puzzlement

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak

Sailors organize cargo poles on the flight deck during a weapons transfer aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Pacific Ocean, on April 18, 2013. The Stennis is returning from an 8-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility — the Middle East and the Pacific.  Click on the photo to see an enlarged image.

April 26, 2013 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (April 26, 2013)

Isn’t that a Flying Car?

(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)

Ever see a Humvee fly? Well here’s what it looks like when soldiers drop a Humvee from an Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft into the clear blue skies of Alaska.

This airdrop took place over Malamute Drop Zone followed by paratroopers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The soldiers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team.

For more photos of this operation, click here.

April 26, 2013 at 12:37 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: U.N. Peacekeepers for Mali, Nigerian Foreign Loan and Violence

Security Council Votes

Mali (CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously today (April 25) to approve a peacekeeping mission to the war-wracked North African nation of Mali.

A force of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers could be deployed as soon as July, the New York Times reported. About 6,000 troops already deployed by member countries from the Economic Community of West African States — as well as about 1,000 French troops — are expected to form the base of the peacekeeping mission. France intervened in its former African colony in January when militant Islamic extremists and Tuareg separatists threatened Bamako, Mali’s capital.

For nifty interactive timeline by the Times chronicling the 16-month-old crisis in Mali, once one of the few working democracies in West Africa, click here.

Meanwhile, Mali’s interim president has launched the country’s reconciliation commission to deal with security and governance issues in the country’s north. But a Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, refuses to disarm before beginning negotiations with the Malian government, the Voice of America reports.

Nigeria: Business and Bullets

Nigeria (CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

Nigeria’s National Economic Council has approved a $9 billion foreign loan to fund new infrastructure, invest in agriculture and create jobs, Bloomberg reports. The lenders include the Export-Import Bank of China, rthe Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Capital interest rates on the loan will be as low as 2 percent and Nigeria will have more than 40 years to repay.

Meanwhile violence has erupted again in the country’s north, according to the Voice of America. Nearly 200 people were killed last weekend in an attack by the militant Islamist group in the fishing town of Baga. But some analysts say many of the slain may actually have been killed by security forces.

In a report that echoes earlier ones by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government says indiscriminate killings and detentions by security forces are “a seroious human-rights problem” in Nigeria, VoA reported.


April 25, 2013 at 11:25 pm Leave a comment

INTERNATIONAL CRIME: Sequester Squeezes SOUTHCOM Counter Drug Effort

Organized Crime Spreads

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) accepts the fact that he’ll be dealing with continued budget cuts into the forseeable future, but U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly says if he only had “13 or 14” Coast Guard or Navy vessels to station off the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Central America, he could dramatically reduce the cocaine traffic coming into the United States.

Kelly, who took over as head of SOUTHCOM last Fall, says the key to hurting the multi-billion dollar drug trade in the Western Hemisphere is interdiction at sea — before the drugs make it ashore. At a conference on countering transnational organized crime, Kelly discussed the network running up from South America through Mexico that brings cocaine, heroin, illegal immigrants and enslaved sex workers into the United States.

He also talked about a surprising Central American ally in the war on drugs. To read more of this story go to Seapower magazine’s website.

SOUTHCOM'S area of responsibility

Click on the image to enlarge the map

April 25, 2013 at 10:21 pm Leave a comment

INTERNATIONAL CRIME: Guns and Drugs in Africa

Transnational Crime in Africa, Latin America

12-gauge shotgun ammo (Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Casey N.  Thuston)

12-gauge shotgun ammo
(Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Casey N. Thuston)

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – 4GWAR has reported in the past on how Latin American drug cartels are using countries in West Africa as transit points for drugs heading to Europe and points East. Now we learn from a federal official that small arms – particularly shotguns and shotgun shells – have become an illicit trading commodity in West Africa.

Many countries in West Africa have porous borders, weak law enforcement agencies or grinding poverty that makes government officials susceptible to bribes and corruption – and attractive for arms and drug smugglers. Officials in Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Sierra Leone have been implicated in drug trafficking in recent years, according to a United Nations report. Guinea-Bissau is considered to be virtually under the control of narco cartels.

Kevin O’Keefe, chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division at the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) told a conference on transnational organized crime this week that the low tech, low maintenance weapons like shotguns are being shipped illegally to places like Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. They are sought, not for military or terrorist use, but as a commodity to be bought and sold on the black market.

Shotguns are “not readily available in those countries, so anything you bring over, you’re going to make a profit on,” O’Keefe told 4GWAR after his presentation at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

“Nobody’s going to overthrow a country or command any big presence with shotguns,” O’Keefe said, “but we find 12-gauge shotguns being regularly trafficked back there because they’re easy to move and if you pay a couple hundred dollars here, there’s a big profit margin once you sell them in these countries.”

At the same conference, the head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said drugs like cocaine were being shipped from several South American countries – including Brazil – to West Africa. But Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who oversees U.S. Military interests in all of Central and South America – except Mexico – noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police operations in the region were helping in the war on drugs. The Brazilian Navy has taken it upon itself to patrol the South Atlantic looking for pirates and other criminal activities in the waters off West Africa, he noted.

“Brazil is oriented toward Africa,” said Kelly, noting it shares a common language – Portuguese – with several African nations that were once Portuguese colonies. “Brazil is starting to step out and wants to become a world power,” Kelly said, adding that it is concerned about piracy and sees counter-piracy as  a “niche” operation it can perform. He noted that a Brazilian naval officer has served with the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, which oversees U.S. counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Brazil’s Navy has also participated in patrol operations with the U.S. Navy off West Africa, he said.

April 24, 2013 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

SMART POWER: Army Paying Attention to Human Geography

Understanding People, Culture in Conflict Zones

Human geography experts say it's just as important to know the people in a conflict area as well as the terrain where a unit is deployed. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

Human geography experts say it’s just as important to
know the people in a conflict area as well as the terrain
where a unit is deployed. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

For centuries, mathematician, inventors, traders and explorers have mapped the Earth from the ancient Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent to the mountains of Antarctica and the undersea canyons of the Atlantic.

Now social scientists, soldiers and businessmen are among those mapping a different kind of geography: human geography.

Human geography is a multi-discipline study of the Earth and how people move across it, where they gather on it and how they interact there. It combines numerous fields including history, agricultural science, economics, political science, meteorology, geology, urban studies and anthropology. Studying human geography can be very important for soldiers, says Lt. Col. Andrew Lohman, an associate professor in the Geography Department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

On-the-ground knowledge can indicate what is normal and what is out of place in a society, a province or a village. And in an era of low intensity conflicts and asymmetric warfare, that knowledge – combined with cultural sensitivity – can be as important as attack helicopters and satellite imagery.

In five deployments to Iraq with Army Special Forces, Lohman said “we learned everything about an area before going there.” The important lesson wasn’t just the facts like what percentage of the population was urban or who the local power players were, he said, but “how is this going to affect what we’re doing when we’re there.” In short, area analysis and mission analysis, Lohman told your 4GWAR editor at a Human Geography conference last Fall.

Lohman said the study of geography is making a comeback in Army circles. Its popularity is growing at West Point where every year 50 to 60 cadets pick it as their major, he added.

To read more of this story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) website.

Some Additional Background:

In the photo above, soldiers with Texas Army National Guard provide security at the Friendship Gate for team members assessing the progress of the new customs yard being built near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The new facility will help to increase border traffic.

The Army’s Human Terrain program has sent teams of sociocultural experts to both Iraq and Afghanistan in an attempt to avoid bloodshed and calm relations with local populations during the height of fighting in both countries. But the program has been controversial, both for how it was managed and for its basic concept of using civilian social science professionals for a military program.

April 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (April 19. 2013)

Colorful Landing


U.S. Navy Seaman Isia Washington, an aviation ordnanceman, directs an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 — known as the Eightballers — to land on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) underway in the Pacific Ocean, April 10, 2013. 

The Stennis Carrier Strike Group has been deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.

April 19, 2013 at 11:26 am 1 comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Boston Carnage, Commentary [UPDATE]

A Commentary

(UPDATE below in italics: one suspect, two police officers killed, second suspect at large)

Boston skyline (Photo by Y. Sakawa via Wikipedia)

Boston skyline
(Photo by Y. Sawa via Wikipedia)

The joy and exuberance of the 117th Boston Marathon were shattered a little more than four hours into the 26.2-mile race on Monday when two bombs shattered storefronts and bodies near the finish line.

The latest casualty report puts the death toll at three – including an 8-year-old child and two young women – and 180 injured, many of them suffering horrendous injuries to their legs.


Early Friday morning two men —  identified Thursday by the FBI as suspects in the bombing — reportedly tried to rob a convenience store in Cambridge, Mass., shot and killed two police officers, hijacked an SUV and fled. They engaged in a four-mile firefight with pursuing police. One suspect was killed, the other fled and is the subject of a massive manhunt in the Boston area. Stories can be read here, here and here.]

Your 4GWAR editor is going to drop the “royal We” normally used when directly addressing the blog’s readers – and rely on the singular pronoun “I” to express my sadness, anger and hurt.

I have run three marathons although I could never qualify to run Boston. But if I had been running there on Monday, I probably would have been crossing the finish line about 40 minutes after the blast. I would have seen all that chaos and pain first hand. And that is disturbing to contemplate.

Boston is one of my favorite cities and I have visited it many times – most recently, the day of the bombing. So I take this attack very personally. I left Boston Sunday, the day before Marathon Monday by train a little more than 25 hours before the first bomb went off.

There is still no one in custody. No suspects have been identified – that we know of. But I believe justice will be served. Remember, it took more than 10 years, but Osama bin Laden now sleeps with the fishes.

Make no mistake about it. The bombings in Boston were acts of terrorism – even if this turns out to be the work of a nut job like the Unibomber or just some crooks who wanted to divert attention from some other illegal activity.

When acts of violence like those in Boston, occur, they have a profound effect on a community and often on the larger society. And it almost doesn’t matter what the motivation was. I say this as someone who lived through the Washington area sniper siege back in 2002. That, too, was the act of criminals with non-political motives. But it was terrorism nonetheless. Schools canceled field trips and recess. Night life in Washington suburbs  dried up because people were too afraid to go out at night. Restaurants, stores and movie theaters all lost business.

The day of the first shootings, I saw police cars with their sirens wailing rush to the street outside the store I was in — just a few hundred feet from where one of the first victims was shot.  Helicopters hovered over head and police in bullet proof vests toting machine guns scoured a nearby parking lot.

During that period I pumped gas while crouching behind my car: One of the early attacks came at a service station. I ran in a zig zag pattern from the car to the ATM and kept a nervous eye on the nearby woods. The snipers used similar woods as cover to shoot a schoolboy on his way to class.

Experts like to cite specific factors that determine whether an act of violence is “terrorism.” But I believe this distinction is a legalistic one – like the definition of hate crimes. If all violent acts are hate crimes, how do you enforce the law against hate crimes? Where do you get the resources to combat them?

Of course every violent act isn’t an act of terrorism but authorities need to take a look at widening the definition to encompass acts that terrorize people on a large scale.

A last word. Boston is a tough town, just ask anyone who’s driven there. It’s people are tough. They can be demanding of themselves and difficult with others. But they are fair and they are unrelenting in wanting to fix things that are no functioning properly. I am sure Boston will get through this crisis.

Corrects: that I left Boston the day before the bombings NOT the same day as the attack.

April 19, 2013 at 12:37 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: Pentagon Cancels Planned Drone Pilot/Cyber Warfare Medal

Dust in the Wind

The short, stormy life of the Distinguished Warfare Medal is over.

488px-Shako-p1000580Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced this week that the new medal, which sparked controversy among veterans’ groups and members of Congress, will be replaced before it was ever issued.

In a statement, Hagel said the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force all agreed to create a new “distinguishing device,” honoring unmanned aircraft operators and warriors in cyberspace,  that can be affixed to existing medals.  Hagel ordered Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to conduct a review of the proposed medal shortly after taking over the Pentagon last month.

The Distinguished Warfare Medal was created by the Defense Department, at the behest of then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in February to recognize the achievements of drone and cyber operations that had a direct and immediate effect on combat operations.

But veterans groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion complained about the new medal’s placed of precedence between the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star medal — which is awarded for both heroism and distinguished service. That, critics complained, would honor service members who did not see combat above those earning the Purple Heart medal for being wounded or killed in battle.

In his statement, April 15, Hagel said he was directing the Defense Department to develop and present final award criteria and other specifics of the distinguishing device within 90 days for final approval. The distinguishing device has not been named or designed.

__ __ __

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.

April 17, 2013 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Somali Attacks, Ghana Water Woes, Latest from Mali

Mogadishu Attacked

Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

A series of suicide and bomb attacks ripped through Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, Sunday (April 14) striking a court complex and the outskirts of the city’s international airport. As many as 29 people were killed in at least two separate attacks, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported.

According to the BBC, the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab, said it carried out the attacks.

Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for a series of attacks in Mogadishu over the last two years. The group has been pushed out of most of the key towns it controlled in the southern part of the country after a stepped-up offensive by African Union peacekeepers allied with troops for Kenya and Ethiopia.

Quoting Somalia’s interior minister, the Associated Press reports that nine militants attacked Mogadishu’s Supreme Court complex and that all nine have been killed. Abdikarim Hussein Guled said that six of the attackers detonated suicide vests and three others were shot and killed during the assault, the AP added.

A car bomb was detonated later, outside a building housing security forces on the road to the airport. The blast went off near a convoy carrying Turkish aide workers, killing two of them, BBC reported.

Ghana Running Dry

Ghana in Africa (CIA World Fact Book)

Ghana in Africa
(CIA World Fact Book)

Almost 40 percent of Ghana’s population lacks access to tap water, forcing the poor to pay high prices to private suppliers, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. The West African nation’s booming economy is also being hurt by water shortages.

According to Bloomberg, water is one of the biggest issues facing Africa’s urban areas, which the United Nations says will see a 66 percent population increase – to 1.2 billion people by 2050.

Mali Roundup

Tuaregs Scout for French

Here’s a switch: Nomadic Tuaregs who stayed loyal to Mali’s government – during last year’s military coup, the Tuareg rebellion that sparked it and the violent Islamist insurgency that followed it – are now scouting for the French military.

They work as scouts for the French-led mission to purge Mali of its al-Qaeda-linked militants and return the country to government control, according to an AFP story in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.

French troops meet with soldiers from Burkina Faso outside Timbuktu. (Copyright French Ministry of Defense)

French troops meet with soldiers from Burkina Faso outside Timbuktu.
(Copyright French Ministry of Defense)

Chad Withdrawing Troops

After helping drive Islamist insurgents from Mali’s northern towns, Chad intends to withdraw its troops from the embattled North African country because it doesn’t want to get bogged down in a guerilla war, according to Chad’s president, Reuters reports.

About 2,000 troops from Chad – like Mali a former French colony in northern Africa – fought alongside French troops in the heaviest fighting to drive the radical Islamists from remote towns as well as the deserts and mountains in Mali’s north.

But President Idriss Deby says “the Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy guerilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali. “Our soldiers will return to Chad,” he told French reporters, noting a mechanized battalion has already been withdrawn.

Desert Refugee Crisis

A report by the humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, says about 70,000 refugees who fled the violence in Mali are living in “appalling” conditions in a camp in the middle of neighboring Mauritania’s desert.

About 15,000 more refugees have flooded into the camp since the ench intervention in January and now conditions at the camp are so bad that many who were healthy became ill or malnourished after they arrived, CNN reports.

April 15, 2013 at 1:23 am 2 comments

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