Archive for February, 2015

FRIDAY FOTO (February 13, 2015)

Big Sky, Big Mountain.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston

Please click on photo to enlarge.

Air Force First Lt. Greg Johnston (left) and Capt. R.J. Bergman fly their UH-1N Iroquois helicopter (popularly known as a Huey) over a mountain range near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.

The flight took the crew over a variety of terrain and altitudes, from flatlands to valleys and mountains. Both Airmen are 40th Helicopter Squadron rescue pilots.

February 13, 2015 at 2:43 am Leave a comment

AFRICA: Nigerian Election Delayed; Boko Haram Making More Enemies

Election Postponed.

Nigerian flag (CIA World Factbook)

Nigerian flag
(CIA World Factbook)

Nigerians were supposed to go to the polls Saturday (February 14) to elect a president but officials have delayed the election for six weeks — ostensibly to allow more time for multi-national forces can secure areas battered by the Boko Haram insurgency.

The closely contested election will now be held March 28, the election agency told a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, last Saturday night (February 7).

The delay has generated criticism from the opponents of the ruling party  who are trying to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan. It has also generated speculation around the world about the real reason for the delay. Jonathan, a Chrisitian from southern Nigeria, who has been plagued by the Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and abducted hundreds of schoolgirls, is running against former general Muhammadu Buhari, who ruled the country as a military dictator in the early 1980s. Buhari, a Muslim from the north, has promised to crush Boko Haram and end corruption.

According to the New York Times, the delay was ordered after weeks of pressure to postpone it from the ruling party, which analysts say was facing potential defeat for the first time in more than 15 years. The country’s northeastern region has been in the grip of an Islamist insurgency waged by the extremist group, Boko Haram, for more than five years. Nigeria’s military has been unable to contain the violence but it was not immediately clear how the situation might change in the coming six weeks.

Darren Kew, a Nigeria expert at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told the Times: “This is a sign of panic on the part of supporters of the president and the ruling party. The real reason behind it is the opposition is surging right now.”

Washington said it was “deeply disappointed” by the decision to postpone the election. “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement  (February 7), adding that “it is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process. The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates. The United States underscores the importance of ensuring that there are no further delays.”

Buhari called for calm in the country and cautioned against any violence following the election postponement, which he said was engineered by the ruling People’s Democratic Party.  Foreign powers are closely following events in Africa’s biggest economy and have voiced concerns there could be a repetition of violence that followed 2011 elections when 800 people died and that a delay would stoke unrest in opposition strongholds, Reuters reported.

Jonathan denied he was consulted over the postponement of Saturday’s presidential and parliamentary elections. He said election officials took the decision on the advice of security officers concerned about the Islamist-led insurgency in the north-east, BBC reported. The six-week delay was not a “big deal, Jonathan said on national television.

*** *** ***

Uniting Against Boko Haram

Nigeria (CIA World Factbook map)

Nigeria
(CIA World Factbook map)

While it struggles politically as well as militarily against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s neighbors are uniting to counter the radical Islamist group, after it has launched cross border attacks into Cameroon and Niger.

Niger, the latest Nigerian neighbor to come under attack, has joined Cameroon, Chad and Benin to form a multi-national force to suppress Boko Haram.  Those countries agreed with Nigeria last weekend to send a joint force of 8,700 troops to fight the violent extremist group, which has killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds more in its bid to carve out an Islamic state in the region. Niger’s parliament voted unanimously to deploy trrops in northern Nigeria.

On Monday (February 9), Boko Haram bombed the southeaster Nigerien town of Diffa, killing five people – its third attack there in four days, according to The Guardian. Boko Haram also carried out raids in neighboring Cameroon, kidnapping a bus full of passengers.

Northern Cameroon, where Boko Haram operates. (Wikipedia)

Northern Cameroon, where Boko Haram operates.
(Wikipedia)

Thousands of civilians fled their homes in Diffa this week, officials said Thursday (February 12), following waves of cross-border raids and suicide bombings by Boko Haram. Attacks in Niger are deepening a humanitarian crisis in the remote border zone, according to the Voice of America. The area, struggling to feed 150,000 people who have fled from violence in northern Nigeria, has seen about 7,000 arrive this week in Zinder, Niger’s second-biggest town, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) west of Diffa.

Meanwhile, Niger’s military said its forces had killed 260 Boko Haram militants and had arrested others in fighting since February 6. A suspected local leader of the group was arrested, and rocket launchers and other weapons were seized at his home.

At least seven people have been killed by a female suicide bomber who blew herself up at a crowded market in northeast Nigeria, according to witnesses and officials, Al Jazeera reported. The mid-afternoon attack Thursday (February 12) in Biu, 180 kilometers (111 miles) south of the Borno state capital Maiduguri, is the latest in a spate of similar attacks in the region. Boko Haram was suspected in the attack.

The group as been blamed for using women and young girls as human bombs as part of its deadly campaign to create an Islamic state in the country’s far northeast.

February 13, 2015 at 2:19 am Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Senate Confirms Ash Carter as Defense Secretary

New Pentagon Chief.

U.S. Senate confirms Ash Carter as 25th Defense Secretary.  (Defense Dept. photo)

U.S. Senate confirms Ash Carter as 25th Defense Secretary.
(Defense Dept. photo)

The U.S. Senate today (February 12) confirmed the nomination of Ashton Carter to be Secretary of Defense — the fourth since Barack Obama became president.

Carter, 60, a former No. 2 civilian executive and acquisition chief at the Pentagon in the Obama and Clinton administrations, will replace Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.

As expected, Carter’s nomination by President Barack Obama made it through the Senate fairly swiftly. The president named him to succeed Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska and Vietnam Army combat veteran, in December. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted unanimously February 10 to recommend Carter to the full Senate, which approved the nominee, by a vote of 93-5, just two days later.

Carter will inherit an array of defense and foreign policy challenges that are likely to help define the remaining two years of Obama’s presidency, Bloomberg Business noted. He must guide the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan when many military officers and some members of Congress want to slow it. He also will be a central figure in the debate over Obama’s request for congressional authorization for the war against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

In a White House statement, Obama praised Carter as “a key leader of our national security team in the first years of my presidency” adding that “with his decades of experience, Ash will help keep our military strong as we continue the fight against terrorist networks, modernize our alliances, and invest in new capabilities to keep our armed forces prepared for long-term threats.” Yet the president passed over Carter in favor of Hagel two years ago. Hagel, who announced his resignation in November, stepped down “under pressure from Mr. Obama,” the New York Times noted, “over the mounting conflicts in the Middle East and agitation from Republicans, including those with whom Mr. Hagel once served in the Senate.”

Carter will be back before the Senate Armed Services Committee early next month to defend Obama’s $585.2 billion defense budget request for fiscal year 2016 (October 1, 2015-September 30, 2016), which is about $35 billion above the funding cap set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which could impose severe budget cuts through the process known as sequestration again in FY 2016.

At his confirmation hearing, Carter called across-the-board sequestration cuts risky, adding that they cause “turbulence and uncertainty that is wasteful.” At that hearing Carter also said he was inclined to support giving “lethal arms”  to Ukraine’s military in its battle against Russian-backed separatists. He also said the violent extremist organization which the U.S. military calls ISIL (for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is the “most immediate threat” among many facing the United States. Despite threats from the Middle East and pressure on NATO allies and partner nations from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Carter said he supported the administration’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific area.

February 12, 2015 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 8-February 14, 1815)

Fort Bowyer Besieged Again.

February 8-12, Mississippi Territory

The Fall of Fort Bowyer, 1815. Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

The Fall of Fort Bowyer, 1815.
Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Repulsed at New Orleans, the Royal Navy is now at anchor near the entrance to Mobile Bay in Mississippi Territory (now the state of Alabama). Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the overall commander of the British invasion of the southern United States is looking to recoup his losses and reputation after the disaster in Louisiana by taking the small city of Mobile.

Standing in the way, however is a small sand and log fort, Fort Bowyer — which repulsed a British attack in September. Army Major William Lawrence, the commander who beat back a combined land and sea attack in 1814 with just 160 men of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment, now has 375 soldiers. But instead of the 60 Royal Marines and about 100 Indian allies he faced the previous Fall — the British have landed more than 1,000 troops on shore with a dozen canons and rocket launchers. And there are now scores of British ships surrounding the point where the fort sits, compared to the four used in the unsuccessful September attack.

Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay 1814-1815. (Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay 1814-1815.
(Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

While the fort and the Royal Navy exchange gunfire, the British land troops take three days to dig trenches within 30 yards of the fort and deploy their artillery. Outnumbered and outgunned, Lawrence agrees to surrender and on February 12 his troops march out of the fort. Cochrane plans taking Mobile — and maybe attacking New Orleans again, from the North.

February 11 New York City

The British sloop HMS Favorite arrives in New York harbor with the peace treaty negotiated by British and American representatives in Ghent, Belgium on Christmas Eve. The document has been signed by the Prince Regent, acting for his father King George III. The war is still on until the U.S. Senate ratifies the document.

President James Madison (Courtesy, The White House Historical Association)

President James Madison
(Courtesy, The White House Historical Association)

The treaty reaches Washington City on the evening of February 14 and Secretary of State James Monroe presents it to President James Madison. Word leaks out and celebrations erupt around the capital, battered by a British invasion force less than six months earlier. Madison, who is living at the Octagon House across the street from the burned out White House, plans to keep quiet about the agreement until he presents it for ratification on the 15th.

February 14 Mobile Bay, Mississippi Territory

Admiral Cochrane gives up his plans to attack Mobile when another British ship arrives with word of the Prince Regent’s signing the Treaty of Ghent.

The attack on Fort Bowyer, considered the last land engagement between U.S. and British forces during the War of 1812, costs the British 30 killed and wounded. The U.S. casualties total 10 killed and wounded.

February 8, 2015 at 8:00 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 6, 2015)

Cold Plunge.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal  Charles Santamaria

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Charles Santamaria

Marine Corps Staff Sergeant John Freeseha begins singing the Marines’ Hymn after completing a plunge into freezing water during an ice-breaker drill.

The drill — plunging chest deep into icy cold water and then dragging oneself  out using ski poles — is part of the Winter Mountain Leaders Course at Levitt Lake on Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.

To see other photos of this grueling survival exercise click here and here.

Once students got out of the water, they sprinted to the warming tents, where they stripped off their wet clothing and put on dry clothes to restore the body’s normal temperature.

The six-week course, which began January 5 and is scheduled to end February 18, is designed to train Marines on what to expect in a cold weather environment.

February 6, 2015 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Nordic Defense Worries; Special Ops Up North; Alaska Oil Fight; Canadian Patrol Boats

Russia’s Nordic Neighbors Worried.

A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen during a flight exercise in 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard)

A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen during a flight exercise in 2013.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard)

Sweden’s military is trying to get the country’s new government to boost long-term defense spending by adding as much as $620 million.

Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and suspicions that an unidentified underwater craft that violated Sweden’s territorial waters in late 2014 was Russian have convinced military planners that more defense spending is needed to acquire needed upgrades to fighter aircraft and submarines, as well as financing military exercises, according to Defense News.  Unlike all its Baltic and North Sea neighbors (except Finland), Sweden is not a member of NATO.

The Armed Forces Command (AFC) is pushing the newly elected socialist-green government to add between $380 million and $620 million to the spending plan, which is set at about $5.5 billion in 2015. The AFC’s position is that $380 million is the absolute bare minimum amount required to cover the Swedish Armed Force’s basic needs in operations and procurement in 2015-2020.  Defense chief General Sverker Göransson has warned the government that if the annual budget remains at $5.5 billion, the armed forces could not finance key — or even small scale — programs, such as the next-generation Grippen fighter or submarine modernization projects. Meanwhile, funds would be stretched to pay for equipment for soldiers, multi-branch military exercises or vehicles.

Sweden’s Parliamentary Defense Committee roundly supports increasing the defense budget, Defense News said. Meanwhile, the other non-NATO nation in the High North may be drawing closer to the Western alliance.

According to Alaska News Dispatch, a recent poll in Finland shows  63 percent of Finns surveyed say that an advisory referendum would be the best way to decide whether or not Finland should join NATO.

In the poll, commissioned by Yle and carried out by Taloustutkimus Research, 63 percent of respondents supported a referendum — even if the president, government and a majority of parliamentarians hold the same view regarding NATO membership. Only 27 percent of respondents felt that Parliament should make the NATO membership decision.

Ten percent of respondents said they did not know how the matter should be decided.  Just over one thousand people were polled between December 29 and January 8.

The strongest referendum supporters were the Finns Party and Left Alliance voters. The conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) and Swedish Peoples Party were least enthusiastic about the idea. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a solid majority of Finns are against joining NATO, so a referendum would be unlikely to rubber-stamp membership, the Dispatch noted.

*** *** ***

USSOCOM-Norway

Two members of the Norwegian Naval Special Operations Command.  (Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

Two members of the Norwegian Naval Special Operations Command.
(Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.

Norway, a NATO member that shares a  195.7-kilometer (121.6 mile) land border with Russia, announced in December it was suspending bilateral military activities with Russia — because of Russia’s aggressive activities in Ukraine — until the end of 2015. “Military bilateral cooperation has been suspended since March 2014, since the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization in eastern Ukraine,” said a press release from Norway’s Ministry of Defense

Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).

To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.

Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals. To see more, click here.

*** *** ***

 Obama-Arctic

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to increase environmental protections for millions of acres of pristine animal habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, in a move that has already led to fierce opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers.

The White House announced last week (January 25) that Obama would ask Congress to designate 12 million of the refuge’s 19 million acres as wilderness. The wilderness designation is the strongest level of federal protection afforded to public lands, and would forbid a range of activity that includes drilling for oil and gas and construction of roads. If the proposal is enacted, the area would be the largest wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act over 50 years ago. But the proposal seems unlikely to find support in Congress, according to the New York Times.

The policy won’t have much effect on the nation’s oil production—Alaska accounts for only 7 percent of it, and most of the protected areas have been off-limits to industry for decades. And it didn’t really change the status quo or offer anywhere near the environmental protection the president could have conveyed. But he sure ticked off some Alaskans, according to National Geographic.

*** *** ***

Slush Breakers?

The design of the Canadian patrol boats will be modeled on this Norwegian Coast Guard vessel class: NoCGV Svalbard. (Photo by Marcusroos via wikipedia)

The design of the Canadian patrol boats will be modeled on this Norwegian Coast Guard vessel class: NoCGV Svalbard.
(Photo by Marcusroos via wikipedia)

Already five years behind schedule, Canada is finally getting underway with the construction of a small fleet of Arctic patrol boats to project a Canadian military presence in the High North where melting sea ice is opening up new maritime shipping routes – and access to underground riches.

The $3.2 billion ($3.5 billion Canadian) project will produce five ships – down from a planned eight vessels. But critics complain that none of the vessels will be ice breakers, as originally planned, and none will have landing craft equipped with an over-the-snow ground vehicle, according to Defense News. The ships weaponry is also said to be scaled back. Some critics in the military have called the planned ships “slush-breakers” since they won’t be able to break through heavy Arctic ice.

The ship-building plan was originally announced in 2007 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The patrol vessels were supposed to be in the water by 2013. Under the new deal, construction will begin in September, with the first ship ready by 2018. The last ship is expected to be delivered by 2022, according to the builder, Canada’s Irving Shipbuilding. Lockheed Martin is set to supply the onboard combat systems.

“The Arctic offshore patrol ships will enable us to become a truly Arctic, rather than just northern, Navy with the capability to operate in the Canadian Arctic archipelago on a sustained and persistent basis,” Vice Admiral Mark Norman, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy told a naval conference in October, Defense News said.

*** *** ***

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region.” Those interests include national security needs, protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening “international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo. (Click on the image to enlarge)

Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo.
(Click on the image to enlarge)

February 5, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Elite U.S.-Canadian World War II Unit Honored by Congress

The Devil’s Brigade.

First Special Service Force patch

First Special Service Force patch

The U.S. Congress has bestowed a gold medal — the highest civilian award it can bestow — to a combined U.S.-Canadian military unit that fought under some of the toughest conditions in World War II — and paved the way of today’s Green Berets and other special operations forces.

The First Special Service Force — consisting of 900 American soldiers and 900 Canadians — was activated in July 1942, and after deployments to the Aleutians against the Japanese and Italy and Southern France to fight the Germans, was disbanded at the end of 1944.

But in that short space of time, this elite unit captured 30,000 prisoners and earned five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors, according to the Associated Press.

The all volunteer 1,800-man brigade — called the “Black Devils” or “Devil’s Brigade” because they attacked the Germans stealthily at night with faces blackened by boot polish as camouflage — was made up of forest rangers, lumberjacks, ranchers, farmers and  other types of outdoorsmen.

The First Special Service Force troops, nicknamed "Black Devils"  by the Nazis, being briefed before a night patrol at Anzio, Italy, in 1944

The First Special Service Force troops, nicknamed “Black Devils” by the Nazis, being briefed before a night patrol at Anzio, Italy, in 1944

At Fort Harrison, Montana they trained in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, skiing, rock climbing, demolition, amphibious and mountain warfare. Their exploits inspired a book by historian Robert H. Adleman and Colonel George Walton, a member of the brigade, as well as a 1968 movie starring William Holden and Cliff Robertson.

There were only 42 surviving members of the FSSF present for the February 3) Capitol Hill ceremony presided over by John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Few of the Devil’s Brigade are with us today.  The current average age of members of the unit is 92, noted CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In fact, one of their number, Al Wilson, 90, of Flamborough, Ontario, died the day before ceremony after a bout with pneumonia.

In addition to Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, the ceremony was attended by Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole and Army General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command — which oversees Army Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Raiders and other U.S. commando groups.

“They were indeed, the elite forces of their time and thus the pioneers of our two nations’ special operations forces,” said Votel.

Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate present a Congressional Gold Medal to members of the First Special Service Force. From left to right: Speaker John Boehner; Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole;  Eugene Gutierrez, Jr.;  Charles W. Mann; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; and General Joseph Votel. -- (Official Photo by Caleb Smith)

Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate present a Congressional Gold Medal to members of the First Special Service Force.
From left to right: House Speaker John Boehner; Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole; American FSSF vet Eugene Gutierrez, Jr.; Canadian FSSF vet Charles W. Mann; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; and General Joseph Votel.

(Official Photo by Caleb Smith)

.west point cadets.pdfSHAKO 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.

February 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 1-February 7, 1815)

First Word.

Major General Andrew Jackson

Major General Andrew Jackson

On January 8 the British were beaten, on January 27 they departed Louisiana waters and headed for Mobile Bay.

Meanwhile, word finally gets to Washington on February 4 that Jackson and his rag tag army have won a great victory against the British — sparking celebrations all over the city and the region. But word of peace from Europe still has not arrived.

*** *** ***

Gone but Not Forgotten.

Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s fleet lies off Mobile Bay, waiting for a chance to strike at Fort Bowyer, a small post guarding the approach to the city of Mobile.

A small contingent of U.S. troops at Bowyer had beaten off an attack by 100 Royal Marines and 600 Indian backed up by a couple of Royal Navy ships in the late fall of 1814.

The fort’s commander, Major William Lawrence, commands 370 troops, the British now have ten times that number, plus all the guns of Cochrane’s fleet.

(U.S. Military Academy History Dept.)

(U.S. Military Academy History Dept.)

February 2, 2015 at 12:44 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Special Operations Chief to Meet With Norwegians on Arctic Tensions

Special Ops in the Arctic.

The Norwegian Brigade North advances during a live-fire exercise in the Setermoen Shooting Range during exercise Cold Response. The heavy Leopard 2 main battle tanks in the background. (Photo by Simen Rudi, Norwegian Armed Forces)

The Norwegian Brigade North advances during a live-fire exercise in the Setermoen Shooting Range during exercise Cold Response in 2014. The heavy Leopard 2 main battle tanks in the background.
(Photo by Simen Rudi, Norwegian Armed Forces)

WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.

Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they [special operations forces (SOF)] can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).

To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF regional commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.

Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals.

In 2007, a Russian mini sub deposited a metal Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole. Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, calls for a more aggressive stance toward NATO and boosting its military presence in the Arctic. Those plans include setting up an Arctic Strategic Command and opening 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015.

Sweden has tracked unidentified undersea vehicles – believed to be Russian submarines — violating their territory. In December, a Russian military aircraft flying with radar-evading stealth technology nearly crashed into a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen, Denmark. In April, Russian fighter jets carried out a simulated bombing raid on Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.

Add to these incidents Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and ongoing fighting between Ukraine’s military and Russian-supported separatists and  U.S. military leaders and their NATO allies have reasons to be concerned.

“I consider this a current and future challenge for us,” Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, told the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium & Exhibition. He conceded that the harsh Arctic environment poses a different challenge after more than a dozen years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is something we can deal with. While we have engaged in the Middle East, we have not forgotten about the other areas,” Votel said, adding that with industry’s help “I feel confident we would be able to address that relatively quickly.”

Army Gen. and U.S> SOCOM  commander Joseph Votel. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)

Army Gen. and U.S> SOCOM commander Joseph Votel.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)

On other issues, Votel said the flow of foreign fighters joining the violent extremist organization styling itself an Islamic State “is staggering.” IS (also called ISIS and ISIL) has attracted more than 19,000 foreigners from 90 different countries to fight with them in Syria and Iraq, he noted. Counter terrorism experts at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security worry about the threat these fighters pose when they return home to countries in the West.

Votel said SOCOM and law enforcement were also seeing “a growing nexus” between terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations because the crime groups’ ability to move money, people and weapons across borders is very attractive to terrorists. While officials don’t fully understand how these networks interact yet, what is known is “the more they cooperate, the greater the threat,” Votel said.

The SOCOM commander and Army Ranger added that airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-gathering “remains one of our chief concerns.”

SOCOM is “a global synchronizer of SOF forces, focusing on activities ranging from counter terrorism to foreign internal defense and from unconventional warfare to combatting weapons of mass destruction,” Votel added

February 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

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