Archive for May, 2013

FRIDAY FOTO (May 31, 2013)

Now That’s A Different Look

(Alaska Army National Guard. U.S. Army photo by Percy Jones)

(Alaska Army National Guard. U.S. Army photo by Percy Jones)

Army Sgt. Kyle Francione, wearing a uniquely decorated flying helmet (click on the photo to enlarge image),  peers from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, as it flies to pick up soldiers attending the Mobile Pathfinder Course. The sergeant is with the 207th Aviation Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard,

More than 40 soldiers tested their skills as they conducted parachute drops onto Malamute Drop Zone in Alaska. The three-week course, conducted by the U.S. Army Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Georgia., instructs students in air traffic control, medical evacuation operations, sling load operations, helicopter landing zones, air assault planning, pathfinder employment, and drop zone operations.

Pathfinders are the soldiers who jump into a remote or hostile area before the other paratroops to mark and scout the area then coordinate the operation from the ground. Those soldiers who complete the course will earn the coveted Pathfinder Badge.

To see more photos of the Pathfinder Course including parachute drops, click here.

May 31, 2013 at 12:17 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Hezbollah in Nigeria; Piracy in West Africa

Arms Cache Found

Nigeria (CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

Nigerian authorities say they have uncovered a large cache of automatic weapons and explosives belonging to the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, the BBC reports. Authorities say they found the weapons, including rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and anti-tank mines in a warehouse in the northern city of Kano.

Three Lebanese were arrested, an Army spokesman said, insisting that officials had uncovered a Hezbollah cell. Northern Nigeria, where Kano sits, has been wracked by violence over the last three years since Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group launched an insurgency to overthrow Nigeria’s government and establish fundamentalist Sharia law in Nigeria. An estimated 3,000 people have died in Boko Haram-sparked violence, the government said.

President Gooluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three regions – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa – and he has admitted that the government has lost control in parts of those states, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Pirates Attack oil tanker

Armed pirates attacked an oil products tanker off the coast of Nigeria in West Africa and abducted an unknown number of crew, Reuters reports. Shipping costs have increased as acts of piracy increase in the Gulf of Guinea region, which includes Africa’s leading oil producer Nigeria. According to Reuters, gunmen boarded the Nigerian-flagged MT Matrix in the early hours Saturday (May 25) about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria in a stretch of water often targeted by pirates.

There were 12 Pakistani and five Nigerian crew members aboard the vessel when it was attacked, sources told Reuters. International navies have not launched counter-piracy missions in the Gulf of Guinea – as they have in East Africa – leaving the many vessels in Nigeria waters vulnerable to attack.

Piracy is on the rise in West Africa, according to a Reuters analysis, but the police and coast guard in most of the countries in the region, like Ivory Coast,  are too weak and poorly armed to challenge the pirate gangs. In 2010, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which has monitored global piracy since 1991, recorded 33 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. But that figure jumped to 58 last year.

May 30, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Memorial Day 2013

Ideals Carved in Stone

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

In late May every year, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment – known as The Old Guard because it is the oldest serving unit of the Army – place American flags at every grave marker in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery in advance of the Memorial Day holiday, which honors the nation’s war dead. The cemetery is located in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, Washington.

If you click on the above image to enlarge it, you’ll notice the symbols at the top of the headstones of the first three graves indicate (from left to right) the deceased is a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim who all died in the service to their country. Behind these three headstones, on the left, you can also make out the grave of a woman Army officer, who earned the Bronze Star medal in Iraq.

We think these symbols, purchased with blood and carved in stone, are silent testaments of the ideals that America stands for — even if the road to achieving those ideals has been a rocky one since 1776. In the not so distant past, men and women of all races, colors or creeds — even if they weren’t treated equally back home — still answered the nation’s call to serve, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, because they believed in those ideals.

Today, the Army notes that “though they may differ in faith or background, all soldiers bleed the same color for our country. They serve with honor and integrity, and those that fall are all given the same honors.”

Each May, the soldiers of The Old Guard, who also provide military honors at burial services in Arlington, fan out across the cemetery’s rolling lines of graves — and in a matter of just a few hours — place the small flags a uniform distance from each marker and then salute.

On May 23, about 1,200 Old Guard soldiers participated in the “Flags In” event this year, and about 220,000 graves received a flag, as did memorial markers and rows of urns at the cemetery’s columbarium, according to Army Maj. John Miller, spokesman for the Old Guard.

The tradition dates back to the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 to honor Union Soldiers that had fallen during the Civil War, Miller said. The custom was interrupted a few times over the years but the Old Guard revived it after World War II.

Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)

Army Sgt. Titus Fields of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — The Old Guard — places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)



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 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 24, 2013)

Indian-U.S. Training

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Indian Army Private Anil Pawe and Spc. Henry Vaillancourt, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, partner up to fire an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Vaillancourt is familiarizing Pawe — an infantryman assigned to the Indian Army’s 99th Mountain Brigade — with the American machine gun prior to field training during the annual U.S. – India Yudh Abhyas training exercise, which ended May 17.

The joint exercise dates to 2004. Yudh Abhyas means “training for war,” in Hindi. About 200 Indian troops from units including the 50th Independent Para Brigade and the 5th Gurkha Rifles participated.

For more photos of this training exercise, click here.

May 24, 2013 at 1:29 am Leave a comment

COUNTER TERRORISM: Obama’s Plan, London Attack, Marathon Bombing-Related Shooting

A reset for America’s counter terrorism strategy was announced by President Obama Thursday (May 23) … authorities in London are collecting evidence a day after the brutal slaying of an off-duty British soldier by two men allegedly protesting the treatment of Muslims … meanwhile a man in Florida said to have links to one of the Boston Marathon bombers is slain after an altercation with the FBI.

(White House photo by Pete Souza)

(White House photo by Pete Souza)

Recalibrating War on Terror

President Obama today (May 23) outlined his revised plan for countering terrorism and ending the global war on terror.

Speaking at the National Defense University in Virginia, Obama pledged to continue “our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations” but, he added, “this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

The president layed out a series of policy changes and clarifications as well as calling for Congress to allow the closing of detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where 166 alleged terrorists – many now conducting a hunger strike – have been held for years without trial.

Obama also said he was setting new guidelines for when U.S. citizens and foreign nationals can be targeted for death by missile-armed unmanned aircraft, the so-called drones. He defended the use of drone attacks in the past but said the threat has changed in Afghanistan and elsewhere and only when targets pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the United States and only when avoiding civilian casualties is a “near-certainty,” the Washington Post reported.

His remarks came a day after the White House revealed that four U.S. Citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009. For an outline of the plan, click here.

— — —

Horror in London

An off-duty British soldier was run over by a car and then hacked to death May 22 by two men believed to have ties to radical Islamist groups. Both of the alledged attackers were shot and wounded by London police responding to 9-1-1 calls. One of the suspects men held up a bloody knife and meat cleaver in hands red with blood as he ranted to passersby about his reasons for the attack.

The soldier was identified as Lee Rigby, 25, a drummer with the 2nd Battalion, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, according to CBS. Rigby, who served in Afghanistan, leaves a wife and two-year-old son. He was not in uniform at the time of the attack which took place near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a section of Southeast London.

The man waving the bloody blades and justifying his attack to passersby who filmed him with their cell phones, was identified as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, a British-born convert to Islam of Nigerian descent. The second suspect, also hospitalized with gunshot wounds, was not identified.

Authorities in Britain took two other people into custody on conspiracy charges today (May 23) and government investigators were looking into whether the alleged attackers were “lone wolves” or part of a larger terrorist organization.

Rigby is the first person to have died on British soil in an apparent attack by Muslim extremists since the 2005 suicide bombings on London’s transit system, in which 52 people were killed, the Los Angeles Times reported. An additional 1,200 police officers were out patrolling London May 23.

— — —

Marathon Bombing Mystery

There’s been a new wrinkle in the investigation of last month’s bombing of the Boston Marathon.

A man identified as a friend of one of the two alleged bombers was shot to death in Orlando, Florida May 22 after allegedly attacking an FBI agent who has questioning him, the Associated Press reported.

Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was himself slain in a gunbattle with police just days after the bombing, was shot after attacking the FBI agent who did not suffer life-threatening injuries. Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighter from Russia, had lived in the Boston area before moving to Orlando, Fla., over the past couple of years.

Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and charged in the bombing.

The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation. But some of Todashev’s former roommates said that he knew Tsarnaev from athletic circles in Boston and that the two Russian immigrants might have trained together, the AP reported.

And officials are looking to see if there are any links between Tsarnaev and a triple muder in Boston a year-and-a-half ago.

May 24, 2013 at 12:28 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Aid for Great Lakes Region, Investment in Sudan

Great Lakes Funding

The World Bank announced today (May 22) that it will pledge $1 billion in development funding for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Africa Great Lakes Region

Africa Great Lakes Region

Jim Yong Kim, the bank’s president, said the proposed funding would help finance health and education services, hydro-electric projects and cross-border trade in the strife-torn region in Central Africa. The Great Lakes region has been destabilized by years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has spread to neighboring nations like Rwanda and Uganda. More than two million people have been displaced – just inside the DRC – since 2012, and another 70,000 people have fled the DRC for neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Thousands more have crossed into the DRC from Angola, the Central African Republic and Burundi, according the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We believe this can be a major contributor to a last peace in the Great Lakes region,” Kim said, according to the Aljazeera news service. The pledged money would spend $100 million to support agriculture and rural livelihoods for displaced people and refugees; another $340 million would go for an 80 megawatt joint hydro-electric project for Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania; $165 million for roads in the DRC and $180 million for infrastructure improvements and border management along the Rwanda-DRC border. Additional funding would go to public health laboratories, fisheries and trade facilitation programs, according to the World Bank.

Kim announced the plan on the first day of a three-day trip to the region with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to support a landmark peace agreement for the DRC and the surrounding region.

But the optimism was marred by fighting between the DRC’s army and fighters from the M23 rebel group near the eastern city of Goma on the Rwandan border. At least 19 people have been killed in the last week. More civilians were killed in rocket and artillery fire Wednesday during the third day of  fighting between Congo’s army and the rebels, according to the Voice of America.

Lebanese Firm to Farm Sudan

A Lebanese investment firm plans to spend as much as $800 million on farmland in Sudan to produce animal feed for sale in Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports.

CIA World Factbook

CIA World Factbook

Beirut-based GLB Invests isn’t the first Arab firm to launch farmland and livestock projects in Sudan, where the farmland is water by the Nile River. The idea is to provide Gulf oil-producing countries with a way to meet foods needs in the arid lands.

Firas Badra, president of GLB Invest, told Reuters that the firm had leased 78,000 hectares (192,000 acres) of land 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Khartoum to produce and export 40,000 tons of animal feed annually.

 He said the company was starting out with a goal of producing 40,000 tons temporarily but the land will produce a maximum of 750,000 tons by 2019.

May 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm Leave a comment

HUMAN GEOGRAPHY: Tiny Facial Giveaways May Indicate Lying or Worse

Reading Micro Expressions

U.S. Border Patrol photo

U.S. Border Patrol photo

ARLINGTON, Virginia – Think you know when someone’s lying – because they won’t meet your gaze, or they can’t sit still or they’re sweating profusely?

You’re probably wrong says San Francisco State University professor David Matsumoto.

“There is no such thing as a Pinocchio response,” Matsumoto, founder and director of the Culture and Emotion Research Laboratory at San Francisco State, told a Human Geography conference outside Washington, D.C. recently. “There’s no set of behaviors that reliably differentiate” between who’s telling the truth and who isn’t, he said. At least none that the average interrogator can spot.

Hundreds of studies conducted with thousands of participants in recent years indicate that the average accuracy rate for an individual to detects liars and truth tellers is just 54 percent. “Bottom line: we’re no better [at it] than flipping a coin,” Matsumoto said.

But his research indicates that there are tiny facial expressions – micro-expressions he calls them – that can give away what a person under stress is thinking. They’re hard to spot with the naked eye but readily visible on slow motion video.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo

U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo

As an example, he showed video of a witness testifying at the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Some visible signs – breathing, blinking – indicated the witness was agitated. But when Matsumoto stopped the video, a facial expression not readily visible at normal speed was now apparent. Video usually shows movement at 30 seconds per second but the micro-expression image was captured in just three frames, indicating it took just one-tenth of a second.

Most people don’t see the changes but if they do “they don’t know what it is. But if I freeze frame on it, it’s very clear what his emotional state is,” Matsumoto said. And they “seem to be culturally universal,” he added.

He cautioned that such split second expressions are not a guaranteed indicator of lying but that the person being questions bears careful scrutiny. His program has been able to train law enforcement and other professionals how to spot micro-expressions.

Matsumoto is also studying whole body gestures and movements as indicators of intent and whether people who have experienced violent attacks can identify potentially violent persons by their facial expressions. So far his research indicates two types of potentially threatening facial expression: one contemplating premeditated assault (like an assassin or terrorist) and one indicating the loss of impulse control (someone who suddenly snaps and attacks.) But more research is needed, he said.

Human geography is a multi-discipline study of not only the physical nature of the earth but the people who live on it and how they relate among themselves and with others along political, economic, cultural, linguistic, geographic lines.

The two-day conference was sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

May 20, 2013 at 1:42 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 17, 2013)

The Big Lonely

Copyright French Ministry of Defence

Copyright French Ministry of Defence

The commanders of the Joint Tactical Group and the Régiment de marche du Tchad (a unit of the French 2nd Armored Brigade) observe maneuvering ground troops from a sand dune near Qatar’s Al Qalayel military camp during Exercise Gulf Falcon 2013.

(Click on the photo to see a larger image)

For three weeks, nearly 3,000 French and Qatari military participated in the bilateral exercise. The effort is planned and conducted under  cooperation agreements between the two countries that were reached in 1994.

The French military see the exercise as an opportunity to toughen the men and materials of the Army, Air Force and Navy to harsh desert conditions.

To learn more about the exercise and see more photos, click here. Be advised the site in in French.

May 17, 2013 at 4:19 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Arctic Council Grows, U.S. Arctic Strategy

U.S. Arctic Strategy

“The United States is an Arctic nation,” begins the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released last week by the White House.

Coast Guard photo by Air Station Kodiak

Coast Guard photo by Air Station Kodiak

With the apparently inevitable melting of polar sea ice, areas of the Arctic previously locked in by thick ice will be open – at least in summer months – for maritime shipping, oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing scientific research and tourism. The mineral riches beneath the Arctic Sea – which is bordered by six nations, Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States — have prompted concerns about a “Cold Rush” of industries, corporations, speculators and governments hoping to take advantage of resources once thought inaccessible. But there are many more nations in Europe and Asia that want a say in how the top of the world is managed. [More on that in Arctic Council item below].

The brief (12-page) document released by the White House last Friday outlines where U.S. policy should be going in the High North. It calls for three strategic priority efforts:

  1. Advancing U.S. security interests in the Arctic, including operating vessels and aircraft through, over and under the airspace and waters of the Arctic. Providing for future U.S. energy security is also seen as a national security issue.
  2. Pursuing Responsible Stewardship of the Arctic, and that includes protecting the environment, conserving its resources and considering the needs of native peoples in the region.
  3. Strengthening International Cooperation to advance common interest and keep the region stable and free from conflict. The eight-member Arctic Council, which includes Sweden and Finland as well as the six previously mentioned Arctic nations, approved an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in 2011.The opening of sea lanes through Arctic nations’ territory and the extent of the mineral riches beneath the ice has raised concerns about who owns what and who controls territorial waters. A few years ago, a Russian underwater robot placed a Russian flag beneath the North Pole to assert Russia’s stake in the region. And Canada has been gearing up its defense forces and mapping its Arctic coastline to secure sovereignty over its portion of the region. The U.S. Continental shelf claim in the Arctic region “could extend more than 600 nautical miles from the north coast of Alaska,” according to the Arctic Strategy statement.

Scientists estimate that as much as 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas deposits – as well vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore and nickel – lie beneath the waters of the Arctic Circle. Easier access has all sorts of implications. It could break the monopolies some nations like China have on resources such as rare earths (needed in advanced weapons systems and mobile devices). It could also take business away from transit points like the Panama and Suez canals and create all sorts of headaches for countries like Canada if all the world’s shipping starts taking unrestricted shortcuts through their backyard.

The United States will seek to enhance “sea, air and space capabilities as Arctic conditions change,” the new strategy says, adding that “We will enable prosperity and safe transit by developing and maintaining sea, under-sea and air assets and necessary infrastructure.”

The new Arctic Strategy also calls for eventual U.S. acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only Arctic state that is not a party to the convention. The complex series of agreements defines the rights and responsibilities of national governments in their use of the world’s oceans. Despite the support by Presidents Bush and Obama, the Pentagon, State Department and several major business and industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents in the Senate have blocked ratification of the treaty largely on sovereignty and national defense grounds.

Patricia F.S. Cogswell, the senior director for Transborder Security on the National Security Staff, an a special assistant to the president for Homeland Security, says administration officials will be hosting roundtable discussions in Alaska sometime next month to discuss the best ways for implementing the concepts laid out by the strategy.

Arctic Circle Nations

Arctic Circle Nations

Arctic Council Grows

The eight member Arctic Council held their biennial ministers meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week and decided to admit six nations – five of them Asian – as permanent observers. Only nations with territory in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States [Alaska] can be members. Permanent observers can’t vote or speak at the meetings but they can automatically attend, unlike non-permanent observers.

The start of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week. (Arctic Council photo)

The start of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week. (Arctic Council photo)

Added to the list of 26 existing observer nations were: China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. No non-state entities, like Greenpeace, were approved. And the application of the European Union – which has a dispute with Canada’s Inuit people over trading in the skins, meat and other parts of seals – was put on hold.

Canada’s Health and Northern Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq took over the two-year council chairmanship from Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.  The United States is slated to take over the chairmanship role in 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the council meeting that he looked forward to filling out the details of the new U.S. Arctic strategy “with all of you over the course of the next few years.”

May 17, 2013 at 2:12 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 10, 2013)

Tag, You’re It

USMC photo by Cpl. William J. Jackson

USMC photo by Cpl. William J. Jackson

Marines of the 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment fire an M777 A2 howitzer during a series of exercises at Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 26, 2013.

May 10, 2013 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

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