War on Terrorism

Friday, February 28, 2014

Official Gives Congress Details on Fatal Helo Attack


By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2014 – Two and a half years after 30 Americans were killed in what stands as the deadliest day for U.S. forces in the Afghanistan war, a top Defense Department official told Congress today no evasive action could have been taken that would have prevented Taliban insurgents from being able to fire at close range on an Army transport helicopter, an attack that killed everyone on board.

Garry Reid, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee to provide answers to relatives of the deceased, some of whom attended the hearing, who say they still don’t have clear answers about events on the night of Aug. 6, 2011, in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.

Among those killed in the attack were 17 Navy SEALs, as well as eight Afghans who also were aboard the helicopter. One U.S. military working dog also was killed.

The SEALS and an Army aviation battalion had spent weeks conducting night operations hunting Taliban fighters in Wardak’s Tangi Valley. On that night, intelligence indicated that a high-profile Taliban commander had been spotted near the SEALs’ base camp.

With Army Rangers searching on the ground, the SEAL team, along with Navy combat support specialists, airmen and an Army flight crew, were aboard the Chinook when it attempted to land and surprise the retreating enemy commander. Instead, the aircraft was fired upon by an undetected Taliban insurgent using a rocket-propelled grenade, sending it crashing in a ball of flame.

Reid told the House committee that a U.S. Central Command investigation determined the Taliban were hiding in a nearby building undetected by other U.S assets in the area, and they likely were tipped off by the sound of the approaching Chinook.

“They were able to hear and see the Chinook as it entered the valley, shooting at it from nearly head-on at a distance of less than 250 yards, leaving the pilot no chance to perform evasive maneuvers,” he said.

The Chinook was not equipped to carry a flight recorder, and during today’s hearing, questions were raised about why it was also not equipped to counter rocket-propelled grenade fire. Reid said such technology isn’t yet available for this type of aircraft.

“Sadly, there is no technological solution that will guarantee the safety of those thrust into battle, particularly when helicopters are involved,” he said, adding that he still believes the Chinook was appropriate for the mission.

“The fact remains we will always have to balance the tactical requirement to move troops quickly across the battlefield with the dangers of incurring lethal enemy fire and flying in extreme terrain,” he added.

Reid told lawmakers that immediately after the loss, the Defense Department assigned the Helicopter Survivability Task Force, which was stood up two years before the incident, to examine potential ways to counter rocket-propelled grenade attacks.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the findings of this assessment were that technologies to enable the development of active protection systems for helicopters are immature and unproven.”

The investigation found the crew that flew the ill-fated helicopter was experienced operating in the mountainous region, and that there was no indication that the enemy had any advance knowledge of its flight route and landing zone location, Reid said. In addition, the partnered Afghan forces operating with the Americans had been trained, vetted and with them since 2009.

“We believe the SEAL task force employed sound tactics in planning and executing their fateful mission, including the decision to load the entire element on a single aircraft,” Reid said. He added that officials continue to look for ways to protect U.S. forces.

“We recognize that more needs to be done to help protect our forces, especially when they are so vulnerable in the air,” he said.

McRaven: Special Ops Ready for Post-2014 Afghanistan



By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2014 – Special operations forces will be prepared for any decision made on the post-2014 U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command told Congress today.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Navy Adm. William H. McRaven cited “great strides” in dealing with current conflicts, preparing for future conflicts, and with the state of his workforce.

“Socom continues to provide the world’s finest warriors to the fight in Afghanistan,” he said. “As we approach the end of 2014, your special operations forces will be able to adjust to whatever decisions are made regarding our future employment in that country.”

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon leaders to prepare for the possibility of a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year if a signed bilateral security agreement is not in place.

“Globally, we are developing plans to better serve the geographic combatant commanders, who, owing to the past 12 years of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, have gone under-resourced with special operations forces,” McRaven said.

The admiral referred to Socom as the Defense Department’s “synchronizer for the planning of the war on terrorism,” noting the work special operations forces are doing to better coordinate activities locally, regionally and globally with both the geographic combatant commanders and the U.S. ambassadors.

“I believe the future of special operations will be in helping to build partner capacity with those willing nations who share our interests,” he said.

This will mean strengthening existing allied relationships, McRaven said, and building new ones. “No nation alone can stem the rise of extremism,” he said. “We need our friends and allies more now than ever before.”

The admiral said Socom’s future is “inextricably linked” to the general-purpose force and government agencies outside DOD.

“The past 12 years have shown us that a whole-of-government effort is required to be successful,” McRaven said. “In special operations, we have always known that without our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, we are destined to fail.”

McRaven said the command has also gone to great lengths to take care of what he called his most precious resource: his people.

“The preservation of the force and family … has already seen a marked improvement in the morale and well-being of those who serve in [special operations forces],” he said. While there are still issues to be addressed, McRaven acknowledged, he expressed confidence in the health of the force and their families going forward.

“I believe that we have laid the foundation for keeping our force, and their families, strong and resilient into the future,” he said.

McRaven: Special Ops ready for post-2014 Afghanistan

by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service


2/28/2014 - WASHINGTON -- Special operations forces will be prepared for any decision made on the post-2014 U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command told Congress today.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Navy Adm. William H. McRaven cited "great strides" in dealing with current conflicts, preparing for future conflicts, and with the state of his workforce.

"Socom continues to provide the world's finest warriors to the fight in Afghanistan," he said. "As we approach the end of 2014, your special operations forces will be able to adjust to whatever decisions are made regarding our future employment in that country."

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon leaders to prepare for the possibility of a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year if a signed bilateral security agreement is not in place.

"Globally, we are developing plans to better serve the geographic combatant commanders, who, owing to the past 12 years of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, have gone under-resourced with special operations forces," McRaven said.

The admiral referred to Socom as the Defense Department's "synchronizer for the planning of the war on terrorism," noting the work special operations forces are doing to better coordinate activities locally, regionally and globally with both the geographic combatant commanders and the U.S. ambassadors.

"I believe the future of special operations will be in helping to build partner capacity with those willing nations who share our interests," he said.

This will mean strengthening existing allied relationships, McRaven said, and building new ones. "No nation alone can stem the rise of extremism," he said. "We need our friends and allies more now than ever before."

The admiral said Socom's future is "inextricably linked" to the general-purpose force and government agencies outside DOD.

"The past 12 years have shown us that a whole-of-government effort is required to be successful," McRaven said. "In special operations, we have always known that without our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, we are destined to fail."

McRaven said the command has also gone to great lengths to take care of what he called his most precious resource: his people.

"The preservation of the force and family ... has already seen a marked improvement in the morale and well-being of those who serve in [special operations forces]," he said. While there are still issues to be addressed, McRaven acknowledged, he expressed confidence in the health of the force and their families going forward.

"I believe that we have laid the foundation for keeping our force, and their families, strong and resilient into the future," he said.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Contingency plans begin for possible full Afghanistan withdrawal

by American Forces Press Service

2/27/2014 - WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama today informed Afghan President Hamid Karzai that because the Afghan leader has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the bilateral security agreement on a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beyond this year, he has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

In a summary of the Obama-Karzai phone call released to reporters, White House officials said Obama is leaving open the possibility of concluding a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan later this year.

"However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission," they added. "Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition."

Soon after, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a statement expressing his "strong support" for the president's decision.

"This is a prudent step, given that President Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the bilateral security agreement, which would provide DOD personnel with critical protections and authorities after 2014," the secretary said. He also commended the efforts of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of U.S. forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and other military leaders to provide flexibility to the president as the United States works to determine the future of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

"As the United States military continues to move people and equipment out of the Afghan theater, our force posture over the next several months will provide various options for political leaders in the United States and NATO," Hagel said in his statement. "And during this time, DOD will still continue planning for U.S. participation in a NATO-led mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission."

The United States will consult closely with NATO allies and ISAF partners in the months ahead, he added, noting that he looks forward to discussing U.S. planning with NATO and ISAF defense ministers in Brussels this week.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dempsey, U.S. Leaders Discuss Obama’s Afghanistan Decision



By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Feb. 26, 2014 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with U.S. leaders here today to ensure they understood what President Barack Obama’s decision on Afghanistan is and what it is not.

White House officials said yesterday that Obama has directed the Defense Department to begin contingency planning for the possibility of a full withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year if no signed bilateral security agreement is in place for a post-2014 U.S. military presence there.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told military leaders here that yesterday’s announcement was direction from the commander in chief for the military to plan for other options in Afghanistan.

The president’s decision was driven by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement his government negotiated with the United States. The agreement would give U.S. and ultimately NATO nations the legal basis for remaining in Afghanistan after the current mandate expires at the end of this year.

NATO is planning a regional approach for Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan that would have between 8,000 and 12,000 service members in the country after this year.

“What we were directed to do yesterday was to look at other options, to include completely retrograding, if we get to a point where we don’t have a bilateral security agreement,” Dempsey said during an interview with reporters traveling with him.

That’s what it is, the chairman said. “What it is not is a fait accompli that we are going to zero,” he added.

“The second thing I wanted everybody to know is we’ve got a lot of work to do in 2014, and we can’t let 2015 distract us from 2014,” Dempsey said.

American military leaders in Afghanistan were not surprised by the president’s direction, the general said, and they understand the “physics” behind the decision.

Dempsey said the leaders talked about “campaign simultaneity,” meaning they have to keep pressure on al-Qaida, the Haqqani network and the Taliban. They also must continue to build Afghan national security forces and continue to retrograde personnel and equipment.

Dempsey said he has spoken to Afghan officials since President Obama’s announcement yesterday. “They all expressed a certain level of anxiety about the possibility that there would be no BSA,” the chairman said. “They all encouraged me to remain committed to a BSA and to an enduring presence, and they all assured me they are doing everything they can to ensure a BSA.”

Dempsey said the most important announcement in the past 12 years was the announcement by the loya jirga, a national council of tribal and community leaders, in November that they overwhelmingly supported U.S. presence and partnership beyond 2014.

“That’s the message that I continue to reinforce,” the chairman said. “Diplomatic engagement among leaders is diplomatic engagement among leaders. It’s the loya jirga we ought to listen to.”

Military leaders need to do as much as possible to preserve decision space for elected leaders, Dempsey said, and this includes those leaders of coalition nations.

“As we look at our retrograde plans, we have a pretty good understanding at what pace they must progress if it became necessary to empty the theater by the end of the year,” the general said. “We are not anywhere near the point where we could not empty the theater. The decision point on going below Resolute Support levels is well into the summer.”

This would be difficult, he said, “but from the U.S. military perspective, the decision can wait until after the elections.” Afghanistan’s elections are scheduled in April.

Karzai’s refusal to sign the agreement is having the effect of encouraging the enemy, and has a detrimental effect on Afghan security force partners, Dempsey said. Afghan forces “want to have a bit of certainty in their future, as you would expect them to,” he added. “They are anxious about the fact that we haven’t achieved the BSA yet.”

The delay will affect coalition forces in different ways. “[The United States] can react even if this is a very late decision,” the chairman said. “That’s not true of all 44 nations in the coalition. Each has a different political calendar, each has a different budget calendar, and each will have a different challenge the longer this issue is delayed.”

U.S. leaders are focused like a laser beam on helping the Afghans secure the upcoming elections, the chairman said. Of the 7,765 polling sites in Afghanistan, more than 90 percent are rated green, meaning the security provisions are in place, polling materials are available, the logistics are planned, and movement is coordinated. “All the things that will make this a successful election are in place,” Dempsey said.

With the elections just over a month away, the Afghans are making progress across the spectrum of things that need to happen, the chairman said. For example, the Afghans needed 13,000 women to search voters entering polling places. Many felt the government would not meet this number, but today 12,000 have been lined up.

“The conditions are set for this to be a far more credible, safe election than was the election in 2009,” Dempsey said. “In 2009, the Afghan security forces numbered approximately 85,000, and today they are about 355,000.”

Hagel: Lack of Agreements Narrows Options in Afghanistan



By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Feb. 26, 2014 – Every day that goes by with no signed U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement and no status of forces agreement for International Security Assistance Force partners narrows the options available to help the people of Afghanistan after 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday.

Hagel spoke to reporters after visiting troops at Langley Air Force Base and nearby Fort Eustis, both in Virginia. He made the stop to discuss with service members some of the recently announced Defense Department recommendations for President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request.

Afterward, he continued on to participate in a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting that begins today in Brussels.

“Every time a day goes by [without a signed U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement], our options narrow,” Hagel said, discussing the outcome of a telephone call yesterday between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

According to a White House summary of the call, Obama told Karzai that, because of his unwillingness to sign the agreement, Obama has asked DOD leaders to ensure they have plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year if the United States decides not to keep troops there after 2014.

Hagel said Obama directed him and all the military commanders to plan for every contingency in Afghanistan.

“I understand … that President Obama noted that we, the United States, and our NATO partners still believe that we could continue to assist the people of Afghanistan in a post-2014 role -- to train, assist and advise -- if that’s what they want,” the secretary added. “But [Obama] made it very clear that if we don’t have that bilateral security agreement, we won’t be able to do it.”

The NATO nations are going to need a status of forces agreement, Hagel said, as will the non-NATO nations that contribute troops to ISAF. Nearly 50 nations are in and have been in Afghanistan, the secretary told an Air Force tech sergeant from an intelligence squadron at Langley who asked about the U.S. role in Afghanistan if no agreement is signed.

NATO nations “need a status of forces agreement to protect their people if they stay, and non-NATO nations also would have to be protected in some way,” he added.

“The president was very clear on this with President Karzai,” Hagel said. “In what would be a mission for the United States and our NATO and ISAF partners post-2014, we’re, as the president said, planning for different contingencies, including no mission in Afghanistan after 2014, unless there is [an agreement] signed by a committed government in enough time to give our commanders [and our partners] the options in planning they need to develop and implement a successful post-2014 strategy in Afghanistan.”

Hagel added, “We’ll talk about this in Brussels in the next two days.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Contingency Plans Begin for Possible Full Afghanistan Withdrawal



American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2014 – President Barack Obama today informed Afghan President Hamid Karzai that because the Afghan leader has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the bilateral security agreement on a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beyond this year, he has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

In a summary of the Obama-Karzai phone call released to reporters, White House officials said Obama is leaving open the possibility of concluding a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan later this year.

“However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission,” they added. “Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”

Soon after, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a statement expressing his “strong support” for the president’s decision.

"This is a prudent step, given that President Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the bilateral security agreement, which would provide DOD personnel with critical protections and authorities after 2014,” the secretary said. He also commended the efforts of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of U.S. forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and other military leaders to provide flexibility to the president as the United States works to determine the future of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

"As the United States military continues to move people and equipment out of the Afghan theater, our force posture over the next several months will provide various options for political leaders in the United States and NATO,” Hagel said in his statement. “And during this time, DOD will still continue planning for U.S. participation in a NATO-led mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission.”

The United States will consult closely with NATO allies and ISAF partners in the months ahead, he added, noting that he looks forward to discussing U.S. planning with NATO and ISAF defense ministers in Brussels this week.