Posts tagged ‘Special Operations’
Big Norwegian Exercise.
Thousands of Norwegian soldiers, sailors and airmen are converging on the northernmost county in Norway as part of joint service exercise called “Joint Viking.”
Some 4,000 soldiers and 400 vehicles will take part in the largest winter exercise near the Russian border in almost 50 years. Submarines, surface ships and aircraft will also be part of the exercise
The object of the 10-day arctic exercise that began Monday (March 9) is to perfect a concept called “Joint Operative Arenas,: which fuses several sea-air-land-specific exercises together “in order to give all players an increased outcome,” according to the Norwegian Armed Forces website.
Another, pointed but less direct object of the exercise — the largest near Norway’s border with Russia since 1967 — is to send a message to Moscow. Since the end of the Cold War, Norway (a member of NATO) and Russia have conducted several joint exercises in the Barents Sea region — the latest was in 2013. But with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Norway as ended all military cooperation with Russia, according to the Barents Observer.
Meanwhile, Russia has launched numerous military exercises near the borders of NATO nations — including an air force war game last week over the Barents Sea.
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Oslo’s Arctic Buildup.
As we have said in previous posts, Russia’s new aggressiveness all along its borders with former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries (like Estonia and Ukraine) has provoked several Nordic countries to reevaluate their military spending – particularly on equipment and manpower in the High North.
Norway, for one, is planning on an $8 billion defense budget in 2015. Norway is beefing up manpower and equipment for Arctic combat units as part of the Norwegian Defense Forces’ Smart Defense Strategy. The strategy places a higher priority on Arctic-class specialized equipment procurement and more intensive training for Arctic-deployed units.
According to Defense News, a Joint Operational Command Headquarters “is overseeing the evolution of Norway’s High North defenses into a centralized command and coordinated fighting structure” that will be able to rely on air force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, army battalions deploying CV90 tracked armored infantry fighting vehicles and Archer self-propelled artillery units, naval surface vessels like anti-aircraft and anti-submarine Arctic-class Fridtjof Nansen frigates and Skjold corvettes.
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Congressional Arctic Caucus.
Two U.S. senators are forming an Arctic Caucus in the Senate to focus on building U.S. leadership in the region.
Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said March 4 that she and Maine Independent Senator Angus King are forming the caucus to initiate discussions on a range of issues including defense, energy, environment and trade. “I’m calling on colleagues in the Senate to join me, to step up, to help us not only build out policy initiatives, but really take that leadership role we should be doing as an Arctic nation,” Murkowski said from the Senate floor, adding: “Embrace your inner-Arctic self,” The Hill newspaper reported.
The new caucus comes as the United States is poised next month to begin a two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental group that focuses on cooperation in the region.
King said his priorities include: appointing a U.S. ambassador to the Arctic; ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, examining the need for infrastructure investments — such as building more ice-breakers, evalue tthe challenges of Arctic shipping and how the United States might work cooperatively with Russia on Arctic issues, according to the Portland Press Herald.
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Arctic Sea Ice Melt.
Research shows that Arctic sea ice is not only covering less of the planet, but it’s also getting significantly thinner. That makes it more susceptible to melting, potentially altering local ecosystems, shipping routes and ocean and atmospheric patterns, The Guardian newspaper and other news outlets report.
“New data compiled from a range of sources – from Navy submarines to satellites – suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated, according to a study aiming to link those disparate data sources for the first time,” the Guardian said.
According to the report from the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, the extent of Arctic sea ice is well below average, but it remains to be seen whether March will see a rise or set a record low maximum. “Regionally, Arctic ice extent is especially low in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea. In the Antarctic, sea ice shrank to the fourth highest minimum in the satellite records,” the report 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. “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.”
Boots on the … Air.
Violent Islamist extremists in Libya released a video purporting to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians Monday (February 15) and the Egyptian government responded swiftly — launching air strikes against the group’s training camps and weapons caches in eastern Libya.
Egypt’s airstrikes “on now threaten to drag it deeper into Libya’s messy internal conflict at a time when Cairo is already straining to revive a battered economy and suppress its own domestic Islamist insurgency — centered in the Sinai Peninsula but now also fighting under the banner of the Islamic State,” the New York Times notes.
Egypt has been intervening in Libya for months, backing one of the two rival coalitions that claim to represent the country’s legitimate government since the fall of strongman Muammar el Qaddafi in 2011. As militants in both Libya and Egypt develop closer ties, Cairo has become increasingly concerned about instability in Libya spilling over to its own Sinai peninsula, says Jane Kinninmont
a Chatham House senior research fellow on the BBC website.
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Turmoil in the Mediterranean
While Egypt mounts bombing raids against a Libyan Islamist group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL), Libya is asking the United Nations Security Council to lift an arms embargo so that it can deal with the IS group and other militants.
Two rival militia coalitions are battling for control over Libya and its vast resources, including nearly $100 billion in financial reserves, untapped oil deposits, and a long Mediterranean coast facing Europe. The worsening security situation has increased fears that the country’s warring militias may side with IS militants.
Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi of the Libyan group recognized by most nations as the legitimate government of the strife-torn country, said that it would help the government build its army and deal with “rampant terrorism,” the BBC reports. Egypt said it supported Libya’s request at an emergency session of the UN council on Wednesday (February 18). Egyptian officials have also suggested that a US-led bombing campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq could be extended to Libya.
The growing chaos in Libya has alarmed countries in Southern Europe, which have been dealing with an influx of migrants fleeing violence in North Africa and the Levant.
Italy issued its strongest warning yet about the danger of the Islamic State establishing a stronghold in Libya that would threaten Europe’s security and the stability of neighboring states, according to AFP (via Al Arabiaya).
Addressing parliament on Wednesday (February 18), Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said there was an “evident risk” of IS fighters in Libya forging an alliance with local militias or criminal gangs currently engaged in a multi-sided battle for control of the country.
A British anti-extremist group says Islamic State militants are planning to take over Libya as a “gateway” to wage war across the whole of southern Europe, The Telegraph reported.
Letters written by IS supporters have revealed that jihadists hope to flood the north African state with militiamen from Syria and Iraq. They will then sail across the Mediterranean posing as migrants on people trafficking vessels, according to plans seen by Quilliam, the British counter-extremist think tank.
And in neighboring Tunisia, government officials are vowing a “strong and violent response” after suspected militants linked to al-Qaeda killed four Tunisian police officers near the Algerian border, according to the Voice of America website.
About 20 rebels attacked security forces at a checkpoint in the country’s mountainous Kasserine region overnight. A Tunisian official attributed Wednesday’s shootings to the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which was implicated in the killings of at least 14 Tunisian soldiers last year in the same area.
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West Africa’s violent extremist group, Boko Haram, is threatening to disrupt Nigeria’s elections — now scheduled for March 28, Aljazera reports.
AbuBakr Shekau, leader of the Islamist terrorist group, has said in a new video purportedly released by Boko Haram, that voting in Africa’s most populous country will not be peaceful next month. Shekau issued his warning to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in an anti-democracy video, released on social media Tuesday (February 17) and obtained by U.S. based SITE intelligence group.
“Allah will not leave you to proceed with these elections even after us, because you are saying that authority is from people to people, which means that people should rule each other, but Allah says that the authority is only to him, only his rule is the one which applies on this land,” Shekau said, adding: “…we say that these elections that you are planning to do, will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives.
Officials delayed the February 14 election for six weeks — ostensibly to allow more time for multi-national forces to secure areas battered by the five-year Boko Haram insurgency.
The delay has generated criticism from the opponents of the ruling party who are trying to unseat 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. (To read more, click here.)
At least 40 people have been killed in mutiple attacks in northern and southern Nigeria, Al Jazeera reported.
The majority of the victims died when explosions ripped through a joint civilian and military checkpoint in Biu, in Borno State, Tuesday (February 17). Elsewhere, an attack on an opposition rally in Okrika, in Rivers State, left one policeman dead and several others wounded, while a reporter covering the event was stabbed.
In Potiskum, in the northeastern state of Yobe, three people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide blast. A bomber blew himself up inside a restaurant, killing the manager and a steward, officials told the AFP news agency. Thirteen staff and customers were seriously injured.
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.
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Uniting Against Boko Haram
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.
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.
New Pentagon Chief.
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.
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.
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.
ARCTIC NATION: Nordic Defense Worries; Special Ops Up North; Alaska Oil Fight; Canadian Patrol Boats
Russia’s Nordic Neighbors Worried.
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 unidentified underwater craft violating Sweden’s territorial waters in late 2014 were Russian have onvinced 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 Gripen 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 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 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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. 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.”