Posts filed under ‘Iraq’
Deja vu all over again
Back in February, 4GWAR reported that new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was troubled by foreign jihadists streaming into war-torn Syria, which was turning into an incubator for future terrorists.
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, Johnson said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had become “very focused” on foreign fighters heading to Syria, where foreign Islamists have radicalized and complicated the three-year civil war with the Bashar al-Assad regime. The DHS concern is what these fighters will do when they return to their home countries or travel elsewhere, indoctrinated with a violent Islamist mission.
Then in April we reported on another threat emanating from Syria: the rise of the Iranian-backed, Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia as a military force in Syria. In a report, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), another Washington think tank, said that Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia which has been battling Israel and the West for decades, has become a major player in the Syrian conflict.
Hezbollah has been designated as a Global Terrorist organization by the United States since 1995 for a long history of terrorist attacks against American citizens and officials – including the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon during the 1980s.
Now this: President Barrack Obama says he is sending up to 300 special operations forces to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, where forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured several cities in northern and western Iraq in a sweeping attack out of Syria.
But Obama made clear that he will hold back more substantial support for Iraq – including U.S. Airstrikes – until he sees a direct threat to U.S. Personnel or a more inclusive and capable Iraqi government, according to the Washington Post.
At the White House, Obama said “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.”
Obama, who withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, said he’s positioned “additional U.S. military assets in the region. Because of our increased intelligence resources, we’re developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL. And going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it. If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region.”
But Obama emphasized “that the best and most effective response to a threat like ISIL will ultimately involve partnerships where local forces, like Iraqis, take the lead.”
Catching White Elephants
By now you’ve probably heard or read about the $34 million military headquarters building at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan that probably won’t ever be used by U.S. troops.
But maintaining the 64,000-square foot, air conditioned windowless building – equipped with modern office space, work stations and an auditorium — is probably too expensive for the Afghans to handle so the brand new building may be demolished by departing U.S. forces.
But wait, there’s more. Less than four months after the Army asked Congress to fund the huge command center, the local Marine Corps commander said it wasn’t needed and made a request – in May 2010 – to cancel the project. In February 2011, however, the Air Force issued a construction contract to build the facility, which Uncle Sam took possession of in November 2012, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR is a government agency created by Congress to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan reconstruction programs.
“Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped,” Special Inspector General John Sopko, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; the commander of U.S. Central Command – which includes Afghanistan; and the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.
Sopko said he was also troubled by the options of either “destroying a never-occupied, never-used building or turning over what may be a ‘white elephant’ to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.” You can read his letter here.
Meanwhile, another special inspector general for reconstruction – this time in Iraq – has a recommendation to avoid future money-wasting boondoggles. In testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday (July 9) Stuart Bowen Jr., urged creation of a U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO) to concentrate authority over relief and reconstruction efforts into a single office that would report to both the secretaries of Defense and State – as well as the president’s National Security Advisor.
Now there is no executive branch department with the primary responsibility for carrying out relief and reconstruction activities, Bowen said, noting that Congress has appropriated $60 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction over the last 10 years and his office has recovered more than $200 million through waste and fraud investigations. Instead of a single office, the stabilization operations are just add-ons to the work already being done by the departments of State, Defense, Justice and Treasury, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Current geopolitical events make the need for a reform like USOCO quite compelling,” Bowen said in written testimony for the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, adding “a number of fragile states, including Syria, could soon require integrated stabilization and reconstruction assistance.”
A bill that would create USOCO and assure that the government is preparing for the next stabilization and reconstruction operation ahead of time has been introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas).
Ideals Carved in Stone
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.
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.
Understanding People, Culture in Conflict Zones
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.
The challenges of counter insurgency and unconventional warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked several innovations in armor development for both individuals and vehicles over the past decade.
From mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles to better ballistic protection in helmets and outer tactical vests, the services’ research labs, university and corporate research divisions have been working to keep the troops safer.
One development that might come as a surprise to some was the Army’s development of female-specific body armor. For years, more and more women soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have been going in harm’s way to do their jobs as drivers, pilots, mechanics and Female Engagement Team members.
But until 2009, little or no study was given to making generic body armor fit a woman’s body. As one female soldier said “a woman in not a small man” but the ballistics vests that female soldiers and Marines were required to wear “outside the wire” were still too big, or too long or too constricting.
Now, the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Massachusetts has come up with eight different sizes of female body armor in two different lengths and the women who have tested them give the new vests high marks.
To read more of my story, click here to go to the Institute for Defense and Government Improvement (IDGA), which is holding a conference on body and vehicle armor next month outside of Washington, D.C.
Aaah, autumn in Bavaria: the crisp air, the colorful foliage, the rumble of a U.S. Army cavalry column.
This convoy of vehicles, led by an Army Stryker vehicle, is entering the village of Schalkenthan, near Grafenwoehr, Germany, during Saber Junction 2012. The multinational exercise involves U.S. troops and 1,800 NATO and non-NATO personnel from 18 nations including Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Moldova, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Britain.
If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see the grenade launching tubes to the left of the soldier in the top hatch of the Stryker, as well as the heavy machine gun just above the grenade launchers.
In addition to developing interoperability of communications networks and systems, the exercise seeks to overcome language barriers and promote cultural understanding.
The huge training and manuever area — 1,300 square miles — exposes the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) to the real-life challenges of civilian traffic, civilian authorities and civilians on the battlefield, in addition to the real-world experience of working as a coalition.
Saber Junction is the largest exercise of its kind in Europe since 1989. And before the exercise concludes on Oct. 30, it will see the use of jets, helicopters, Main Battle Tanks, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Strykers and more than 200 wheeled vehicles and 90 tracked vehicles.
The 2nd Cavalry will have to deal not only with a mock insurgency but also force-on-force action against a conventional opponent. Army officials want to incorporate the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan with scenarios U.S. troops my face in 10 or 15 years.
To see a brief Army video outlining the exercise’s scope, click here.
Know Your Enemies — and Your Friends
The U.S. military has been trying to improve cultural sensitivity with classes, training programs, video simulations and rules of conduct to help its troops operate in a foreign environment. In an era of asymmetric warfare – where the enemy may be a small guerrilla band or a criminal network – an armed force can no longer ignore where they are fighting and the society occupying the battlespace space.
The alternative could lead to blunders like the burning of Korans by clueless U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The process of studying not only your enemy and his tactics but the people around him who could give him shelter or turn him in to the authorities is a big part of the discipline known as human geography. It is cultural awareness – how to avoid social gaffes or breaking taboos – raised to a critical level for intelligence gathering and tactical decision making.
To read more of this story, click here.