Monday, February 28, 2011

Self-Described "Militant Extremist" Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Visa Fraud

Sentence Enhanced Based on Statements and Conduct Indicating a Desire to Attack the U.S.

GREENBELT, MD—U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus, sentenced Brahim Lajqi, age 51, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo residing in Silver Spring, Maryland, today to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for visa fraud. Judge Titus granted the government's requested sentence enhancement based on Lajqi conducting activities to fulfill his pledge to retaliate against the United States for its involvement in the Kosovo conflict, which Lajqi believed had led to the deaths of several family members.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations.

"The evidence showed that Mr. Lajqi repeatedly and consistently made statements and took actions indicating that he planned to engage in terrorist activity," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

"As this case clearly demonstrates, visa fraud presents a vulnerability that could be exploited by dangerous criminals or even terrorists," said William Winter, Special Agent in Charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Baltimore. "ICE HSI will continue to vigorously pursue those who seek to exploit and corrupt America's legal immigration system."

According to Lajqi's guilty plea, he made false statements on immigration documents. Lajqi admitted that on his application to become a permanent resident in the United States he stated that he had been granted asylum status, when in fact, he had not. Lajqi further admitted that he forged his mother's signature on a petition for an alien relative that was purportedly filed by her on his behalf.

According to court documents and testimony at today's sentencing hearing, Lajqi is a self-described extremist militant trained by Bosnian rebels, who on several occasions expressed a desire to "get even" with the United States and discussed obtaining weapons and explosives for an attack on Washington, D.C. According to court documents, Lajqi drove around Washington, D.C. on two occasions to discuss and view potential targets, including Capitol Hill, the courthouse where his immigration proceedings were being held, the White House, the Treasury building, and a Metro train stop during rush hour. Lajqi also stated that he was in the process of renewing his commercial drivers license (CDL) in South Carolina so that he could transport weapons from Canada. Lajqi actually traveled to West Virginia in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a CDL there.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI and ICE-HSI for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Gregory Welsh, who prosecuted the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey E. Eisenberg, Chief of the National Security Section, who supervised the case.

Troops Re-Positioned to Provide Options on Libya

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2011 – The United States military “is in the planning and preparing mode” on Libya, and will be able to provide the full range of options for national leaders, Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said here today.

The U.S. military is moving naval and air forces to the region, he said.

President Barack Obama asked the military to prepare these options as the situation in Libya gets worse. News reports indicate while Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi is attacking rebels in and around the capital of Tripoli, anti-regime forces hold the east.

In a Feb. 26 call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama said: “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now,” according to the White House.

The Defense Department has not been directly tasked for any mission, Lapan said.

“We have planners working various contingency plans,” he said. “It’s safe to say as a part of that, we’re re-positioning forces to provide for that flexibility. We are re-positioning forces in the region to provide options and flexibility.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also urged Gadhafi to stop killing his own people and leave. She also said the United States government has been reaching out to Libyan rebels.

“We’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves westward, there as well,” Clinton said at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday. “I think it’s way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we’re going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States.”

Lapan ruled nothing out. “Again, it goes back to having a full range of options available,” he said. “So those forces could be used in any number of ways. Re-positioning them provides that flexibility so they can be used if needed.”

Inspecting the Hercules

Georgia Guardmember Airman 1st Class Slade Hall inspects the horizontal stabilizer of a C-130 Hercules during a routine inspection on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 21, 2011. Hall is deployed from the 165th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard. Hall, a Georgia Air Guardsman, is a crew chief assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila Devera)

Alleged Supporter of Terrorist Group Extradited from Paraguay

PHILADELPHIA—Moussa Ali Hamdan, 38, a dual citizen of the United States and Lebanon and a former resident of Brooklyn, New York, made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia today after being extradited from Paraguay. He is being held pending a detention hearing. Hamdan is among several defendants charged in a conspiracy to provide material support to Hizballah, a designated foreign terrorist organization. He was indicted November 24, 2009, along with nine co-defendants. Hamdan was taken into U.S. custody in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Thursday, by U.S. Marshals who escorted him to Washington, D.C., where members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force took him into custody.

At the time of the indictment, Hamdan had left the United States. On June 15, 2010, Paraguayan authorities arrested him in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Paraguay for the crime of material support of terrorism.

Hamdan is charged in 28 of the 31 counts in the indictment, including conspiring to provide material support to Hizballah in the form of proceeds from the sale of counterfeit money, stolen (genuine) money, and fraudulent passports. According to the indictment, Hamdan and several other defendants were also charged with several counts of transporting stolen goods, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and making false statements to government officials.

According to a related criminal complaint Hamdan began purchasing purportedly stolen cellular telephones from a cooperating witness acting as an agent of the government and participated in the purchase and transportation of purportedly stolen goods on numerous occasions. These stolen goods included cellular telephones, laptop computers, Sony Play Station 2 systems, and automobiles, which the conspirators caused to be transported to destinations outside Pennsylvania, including overseas destinations such as Lebanon and Benin (Africa). Hamdan also allegedly bought counterfeit goods—namely, counterfeit Nike® shoes and Mitchell & Ness® sports jerseys—from the cooperating witness. The complaint details efforts by defendants Moussa Ali Hamdan and his co-defendants to sell the CW counterfeit United States currency for the purpose of raising funds for Hizballah. In total, the conspirators provided the CW with approximately $10,000 in counterfeit United States currency. The complaint also alleges that certain of Hamdan’s co-defendants generated additional funds for Hizballah by selling fraudulent passports. The CW and the defendants participated in the purchase of two fake passports—one from the United Kingdom and one from Canada—for the benefit of Hizballah. Hamdan allegedly agreed to pay $10,000 towards the purchase of these passports, in order to satisfy a debt he owed to the CW.

If convicted of all charges, Hamdan faces a statutory maximum sentence of 260 years in prison.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the New Jersey State Police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Secret Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Philadelphia Police Department, Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Federal Air Marshals, Pennsylvania State Police, and the Philadelphia Police Department.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nancy Beam Winter and Vineet Gauri, and National Security Division Counterterrorism Section Trial Attorney Jolie F. Zimmerman.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office would like to extend special thanks to the Paraguayan judicial and law enforcement authorities, including the U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay, for their invaluable assistance in the arrest and subsequent extradition of Hamdan, as well as the Office of International Affairs and U.S. Embassy, Asuncion, Diplomatic Security personnel who were involved in ensuring Hamdan’s capture and return to the United States.

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Spc. Andrew C. Wilfahrt, 31, of Rosemount, Minn., died Feb. 27, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.  He was assigned to the 504th Military Police Battalion, 8th Military Police Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

For more information, please contact Schofield Barracks public affairs office at 808-438-0944.

Forces Detain Militants, Find Weapons in Afghanistan

Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2011 – Afghan and coalition troops detained three insurgents, including a Taliban weapons trafficker, yesterday in Afghanistan, military officials reported.

Security forces detained two militants in Paktiya province’s Zurmat district after they were found with five anti-personnel mines, six hand grenades and automatic machine gun ammunition.

In Kandahar province’s Kandahar district, troops captured the Taliban leader, who is responsible for coordinating attacks on security forces and facilitating suicide bombers with explosive devices.

Forces also found several weapons stockpiles throughout Afghanistan. The operations resulted in seizure of 14 rocket-propelled grenades, eight homemade explosive devices, five hand grenades, three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, three mortar rounds, one assault rifle, one machine gun and a 10 liter propane tank filled with explosives.

In operations Feb. 26 throughout Afghanistan:

-- Afghan and coalition forces killed armed fighters in a gun battle in Helmand province’s Nad’Ali district. Troops killed the armed militants after their patrol was ambushed by the group.

-- Security forces killed two enemy fighters, including a Taliban member responsible for trafficking weapons and funding militants’ operations, in a shootout in Zabul province’s Tarnek wa Jaldak district.

-- Forces captured 12 suspected insurgents in Kandahar province’s Zharay district after troops found the suspects with 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate –- a banned fertilizer often used in homemade bombs.

-- In Zabul province’s Qalat district, security forces detained several suspected insurgents, including a Taliban weapons trafficker, responsible for selling and buying weapons for attacks on local security forces.

-- Afghan and coalition forces detained several suspected insurgents while searching for a Taliban weapons smuggler in Helmand province’s Nahr-e Saraj district. The smuggler allegedly also has connections to narcotics traffickers in the area.

-- In Logar province’s Pul-e ‘Alam district, forces detained several suspected insurgents, including a Taliban bomb-maker with alleged ties to several recent attacks on local security forces.

-- Acting on tips from local residents, security forces detained four suspected insurgents with ties to Taliban bomb-makers in Kandahar province’s Kandahar City.

-- Security forces found several weapons stockpiles throughout Afghanistan. Operations resulted in seizure of 200 automatic machine gun rounds, 43 various rockets and mortars, 30 rocket-propelled grenades, 26 hand grenades, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two anti-tank mines. Troops also found 2,200 pounds of hashish and 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a banned fertilizer used in homemade bombs.

In operations Feb. 25:

-- Afghan and coalition forces captured the top Taliban leader for Kandahar province’s Zharay district along with numerous other suspected insurgents there. The Taliban leader is responsible for planning and launching attacks on local security forces and recruiting enemy fighters.

-- Forces also found several weapons stockpiles throughout the country. Operations resulted in 200 assault rifle rounds, 11 hand grenades, three rocket-propelled grenade warheads, five gallons of ammonium nitrate. Security forces also found several explosive devices caches, including nearly 2,000 pounds of homemade liquid explosives, two 40-pound jugs filled with large-caliber machine gun rounds and several anti-tank mines and artillery rounds.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Marine Forward Element Set Up to Help in Middle East

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 25, 2011 – Traveling through the Middle East to confer with U.S. allies in the midst of regional unrest, the top U.S. military officer visited a new Marine Corps headquarters element here designed to evacuate noncombatants or provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, checked in today on the Marine Corps Forces Central Command Forward element at Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

The headquarters stood up in November to bring Marine Corps Forces Central Command what its other sister services already have: a forward element within the 20-nation Centcom area of operations.

“Trying to conduct business from the MARFORCENT headquarters in Tampa is a bit difficult,” Lt. Col. Mark Duffer, the element’s deputy current operations officer, told reporters traveling with Mullen. “So we wanted to push something forward to the here and now, to what’s happening so we can [create an] effect right away.”

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, pushed for the new forward element to focus on two primary missions: theater security cooperation and crisis management. “This was his vision here,” Duffer said. “And his vision started a couple of years ago and finally came to fruition here.”

MARFORCENT stood up with a staff of 161 Marines, sailors and civilian employees working in a tiny facility within Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

The location proved to be perfect, operationally as well as geographically, Duffer said. Home to Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet, close partners in the MARFORCENT mission, it’s situated smack in the middle of the Centcom area of operations.

“If you put your finger right on the map, on Bahrain, you can see we are very centrally located and [that it’s] a very good location,” Duffer said. “We can … reach out and touch anybody, so we provide that stabilizing force.”

From their new location, Marines assigned to the element work to build capability within regional militaries, concentrating more on ground than amphibious forces. “We focus … on the basics of what Marines do: hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship and other things that are very basic and make up the Marine Corps ethos that we want to provide,” Duffer said.

The goal, he explained, is to help strengthen regional allies’ forces so they are better able to defend their nations and, if needed, to provide coalition support for future operations.

Meanwhile, MARFORCENT is now positioned to provide faster response to a regional crisis -- particularly noncombatant evacuation operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“We are that 9-1-1 force people can tap into to efficiently, effectively and always get the job done,” Duffer said.

As unrest ripples through the Middle East, he recognized the potential for the new element to be called on to help evacuate civilian noncombatants caught in the violence.

“As we stand up this command center, we have an ability to command and control that” at Centcom’s direction, he said. “We can actually stand up as a joint task force with coalition forces, as well as provide [evacuation operations] within this region.

“We are prepared to do that, but have not been asked as of yet,” Duffer said.

The more certain requirement -- the only question being its exact timing and location -- is a rapid humanitarian assistance and disaster response in the event of a crisis in the region.

Brig. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, commander of Marine Expeditionary Brigade Bahrain, understands that need firsthand. When the forward element stood up last fall, he was on the ground in Pakistan, commanding the U.S. joint task force that responded to devastating floods there.

“This is one of the key tasks that we can be assigned to do, so I think we are very well positioned” to carry it out,” Duffer said.

Gunnery Sgt. Adam Doyle, who served with MARFORCENT headquarters in Tampa before helping form the forward element, said the new location improves the ability to coordinate operations, as well as logistics. “The command here brings ready access,” he said. “It provides what we need to be more responsive.”

As the element continues to take shape, Doyle and his fellow MARFORCENT Marines are preparing to move next month into a larger headquarters being renovated across the base.

Exactly how many Marines ultimately will join the element is classified, but Duffer said he sees developments underway as a sign of MARFORCENT’s long-term commitment to strengthening partnerships and protecting U.S. interests in the region.

“We are building up this command center for a lasting, enduring mission within [Centcom’s] area of responsibility,” he said.

Chairman: Incident Highlights Piracy Threat

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 24, 2011 – Condemning pirates who killed four Americans aboard a private sailing vessel this week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff vowed today that the United States, as part of a strong international coalition, will continue to pursue this growing threat.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who arrived here during the sixth stop in a week-long trip through the region, credited the “extraordinary amount of work” the U.S. 5th Fleet based here has committed toward this long-recognized issue.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces stood up a multinational anti-piracy effort known as Combined Task Force 151 more than two years ago. The task force operates primarily in and around the Gulf of Aden, but also in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

NATO and European Union commands have joined the effort, bringing to more than 30 the number of ships committed to counterpiracy operations, Mullen noted. “That is a very good reflection of the significance of the challenge, and also the priority, in terms of focus,” the chairman said.

In addition, the maritime industry has joined the effort as well, he noted, ensuring ship crews are aware of the threat and take proper precautions.

The chairman expressed condolences for the families of four U.S. citizens Somali pirates killed this week aboard the 58-foot yacht Quest. The incident, he said, reflects the growing reach and lethality of pirates.

“We have watched them adapt their procedures, and in fact, they are now seizing vessels farther and farther from Somalia,” he said. Where pirates once operated within a couple hundred miles of their Somali base, he noted, they now have been identified as far as 1,500 miles away.

Meanwhile, the pirates have adopted new tactics to increase their capabilities. For example, using the “mother ship concept,” they deploy skiffs to operate ever more deeply into international waters.

This exacerbates the counterpiracy challenge. When Combined Task Force 51 initially launched, officials said, pirates’ operating area topped 1.1 million square miles –- roughly four times the size of Texas, or the size of the Mediterranean and Red seas combined.

With pirates’ expanded reach, Mullen acknowledged that tracking them down sometimes can be akin to finding “a needle in a haystack.”

But as tragic as the Quest incident was, Mullen said, the fact that more hijackings don’t occur is a testament to a dedicated international crackdown, particularly in light of heavy maritime activity in the region.

“We have improved our capabilities dramatically,” he said, reaffirming U.S. commitment to stopping pirates from interfering with freedom of the seas.

“These are criminals,” he said. “And some of them certainly have not been deterred.”

Petraeus Orders Probe of Rolling Stone Allegations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 – Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will appoint an investigator to determine the facts of issues raised in a Rolling Stone magazine article that appeared today.

The article alleges that Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV used information operations officers in an attempt to influence distinguished visitors to his command, NATO Military Training Mission Afghanistan.

"Secretary Gates is aware of the allegations in the Rolling Stone article and believes it is important to determine what the facts are so he fully supports General Petraeus' decision to investigate this matter before drawing any conclusions," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.

Caldwell’s command is responsible for training Afghan soldiers and police. Afghan and NATO plans call for Afghan security forces to take over lead responsibility for security in their nation by the end of 2014.

The investigation “is not focused on any particular person other than determining the facts and circumstances that were raised in that story,” said Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan.

The article alleges an information operations team was ordered to prepare dossiers on visiting distinguished visitors, including senators, congressional representatives and senior military officers.

Citing the pending investigation, Lapan would not comment on the specifics of the article, but speaking generally, he said, violations would depend on the circumstances.

“On the face of it, it doesn’t have to be [a violation],” he said. “It’s the actions, not just the assignment.”

What is being done with information and how it is used determines if there is a violation, the colonel said. This would be the same no matter who compiled the information, he explained, be it a public affairs officer, a protocol specialist, a legislative affairs officer or an information operations officer.

The investigation will determine what actions took place and if any of them were inappropriate or illegal, Lapan said.

Afghan Forces Expand, Gain Capability

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 – The Afghan army is growing fast and simultaneously struggling with the need to educate and train its noncommissioned officer corps, the senior enlisted leader of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan said today.

Army Command Sgt. Major Marvin Hill and his Afghan counterpart, Sgt. Maj. Roshan Safi, spoke with reporters at the Pentagon during a video teleconference from ISAF Joint Command headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“The Afghan National Army, like the entire [Afghan security forces], has come a long way in just a short period of time,” Hill said.

The Afghan security forces include the army, the air force and the national police.

Since 2009, the army has grown more than 56 percent, Hill said. In the past year, it’s grown by about 50,000 soldiers, more than 23,000 of them are in training, and the army consistently meets its recruiting goals, he added.

With new programs for recruitment and retention, higher salaries, an automated pay system and an attrition rate of 1.6 percent per month, growth is not a problem, he said.

“The bigger challenge is creating an entire structure of military education and development that will professionalize the entire force,” Hill said. A big part of Roshan’s role is helping professionalize the Afghan army’s noncommissioned officer corps, he added.

In 2009, only 86 percent of army recruits were literate, and there was no mandatory literacy training. Soldiers faced substandard pay, shortages of equipment, a poor quality of life and a high attrition rate, Hill said.

“Under Sergeant Major Roshan's leadership, there's been a 76 percent increase in trained noncommissioned officers,” Hill said. “[Afghan army] NCOs are already filling key positions, such as instructors for professional courses, as well as setting the example for standards and discipline,” Hill said.

Today, all soldiers receive mandatory literacy training, he added. They are are outfitted with Afghan-made uniforms, NATO weapons and high-quality equipment.

Eleven of the 12 branch schools are open -- including infantry, engineering and intelligence -- and in many case, Afghan soldiers already are taking the lead as instructors, Hill said, adding that Afghanistan’s army is “built on the pride of its people.”

Soldiers represent several ethnic groups, including Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, Hill noted, and the army takes pride in being “the protector of the people and the nation.”

As a result of support the Afghan army has received from the United States and coalition forces, Roshan said, Afghan soldiers have begun to take the lead in a number of combat operations.

“We are well on our way to taking full control and leading all combat operations by 2014,” he said. “By working shoulder to shoulder today, we will stand on our own tomorrow.”

“Hooah!” Hill added, and both senior NCOs grinned.

Since 2009, women have served in the Afghan army, Roshan said.

“Just 10 years ago, women were not allowed to attend school,” he said. “In fact, women had very little rights at the time. Now, we see women attending school, and they hold meaningful jobs in our community and position in our government.” The Afghan army’s training center is training future female NCOs, he added.

In late 2009, 20 women graduated from the first female officer candidate school. Twenty more women are enrolled in school now, and women also are enrolled in the military medical school, the Afghan sergeant major said.

Challenges lie ahead for the growing army, Hill said, especially in the areas of equipment and international trainers.

“The end state is that by 2014, the [Afghan army] is a self-sufficient professional force,” Hill said.

“This process will take time,” he added, “but ISAF is fully committed to an enduring relationship and partnership with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan national security forces as a whole.”

In the meantime, Hill said, protecting people is the No. 1 concern.

“Right now, we have 110,000 more forces here in Afghanistan than we had at this time last year,” Hill said. “We have 70,000 more Afghan national security forces, and we have 40,000 more U.S. and coalition forces. And that's providing a better umbrella of security.

“Just months ago,” he continued, “the people in Marja couldn't come out of their homes. And today, bazaars are open, there are open shops and markets, and schools are open. There's a girls' school open that has 180 students, and that wasn't the case just months ago.

Security always is a problem anywhere, Hill said. “But here,” he added, “we are combating that with the boots we have on the ground and with a competent Afghan national security force.”

Mullen Visits Horn of Africa Task Force

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti, Feb. 24, 2011 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took time today during his whirlwind trip through the Middle East to visit with troops of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, whose full-time focus here is on maintaining stability and preventing conflict.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen’s visit here was part of a week-long, six-country trip aimed at reassuring U.S. allies and hearing their views of the unfolding events surrounding unrest in the region.

In Djibouti, Mullen met with Maj. Gen. Ahmed Housein Fathi, chief of the general staff, and other key military leaders. Djibouti experienced only small-scale protests that have quieted down, officials here said, unlike Yemen and Libya, just across the Gulf of Aden.

A highlight of the day, Mullen said, was his visit to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. Navy Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the task force commander, updated him on operations his 1,700 service members are conducting to provide not just security assistance, but also humanitarian support and development to the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

The task force initially stood up in November 2002 as a seafaring force aimed at blocking terrorists fleeing Afghanistan from setting up a new safe haven here. But within six months, it moved ashore to this former French Foreign Legion base.

Today, the task force focuses on challenges in a region strategic because of its geographic location, resources and struggles with instability, officials told reporters traveling with Mullen.

The goal, said Army Brig. Gen. William L. Glasgow, deputy task force commander, is to help African nations build capability so they can promote regional security and stability and prevent conflict.

“We’re building friendships with Africa and trying to help Africans solve African problems,” said Army Spc. Gary McGoyne, deployed here to provide security for the task force’s stand-by pararescue medics.

The task force is a model of the “whole of government” approach that Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and others advocate for promoting U.S. security interests, Glasgow explained.

Military members here work hand in hand with personnel from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to create a stable climate that promotes a better quality of life for the local population, he said.

In doing so, they apply multiple elements of U.S. national power -- the so-called “three D’s” of defense, diplomacy and development –- to their mission with an array of military-to-military efforts aimed at building capacity and humanitarian and civic-support activities.

Projects go beyond digging wells and building or refurbishing schools, with the task force ensuring that the host nations are able to sustain what’s done and that the work contributes to the big-picture goals here. “Everything contributes to the long-term commitment we have,” Glasgow said.

Glasgow described the service members undertaking these projects –- many operating far from Camp Lemonnier in three- to five-person teams –- as “strategic privates.” Before being dispatched for these missions, they get full briefings about the job they’ll be doing, but more importantly, why it matters and how it fits into the strategic mission here, he said.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Coffey, a motor pool chief who deployed here last month, said he enjoys the opportunity to interact with local Djiboutians and recognizes the importance of the task force mission in promoting regional and even global stability. “It’s very important that we are here to show our support,” he said.

These initiatives fall directly in line with the “soft” elements of national power Gates wants to see beefed up so nonmilitary U.S. government entities can be stronger partners in advancing U.S. interests around the world.

Navy Cmdr. Jeff Peterson, who works closely with embassy officials as officer in charge of the country coordination element, said this cooperation leads to “synergy and better results” in advancing U.S. objectives here. Ultimately, he said, it supports “phase zero” –- a nonkinetic, stable and secure region where good governance and democracy can take hold.

As he walked through Camp Lemonnier, Mullen took time at every opportunity to shake hands and talk with service members, pose for photos and present them his official coin. Seeing operations on the ground, he said, gives him a “better feel for what is going on,” adding that mingling with the service members deployed so far from home “made my day.”

Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Staff Sgt. Jerome Firtamag, 29, of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, was medically evacuated from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to the United States on Dec. 1, 2010, for treatment of a non-combat related illness.  He died Feb. 24 in Pembroke, Ky.  Firtamag was assigned to the 96th Combat Support Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

For more information, the media may contact the Fort Campbell public affairs office at 931-561-0131 or 270-798-9966.


Four-year-old Annika reacquaints herself with her father, Maj. Billy Kesselring of the 724th Engineer battalion's headquarters company. Approximately 300 Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 724th Engineer Battalion returned to Wisconsin Friday (Feb. 18), officially marking the end of their duty in Iraq in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. They were met by Gov. Scott Walker, senior National Guard officials, a military band and family members. Following an initial reunion with their families and a brief official "welcome home" ceremony, the Soldiers traveled to nearby Fort McCoy to begin about five days of demobilization processing before being released from active duty. The 724th Engineer Battalion includes the following northern Wisconsin units: Headquarters Company, Chippewa Falls; Company A (Forward Support), Hayward; the 273rd Engineer Company (Sapper), Medford; and the 950th Engineer Company (Clearance), Spooner and Superior. Wisconsin National Guard photo by 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson

Virginia Man Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Providing Material Support and Encouraging Violent Jihadists to Kill U.s. Citizens

WASHINGTON – Zachary Adam Chesser, 21, of Fairfax County, Va., was sentenced today to 25 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for communicating threats against the writers of the South Park television show, soliciting violent jihadists to desensitize law enforcement, and attempting to provide material support to Al-Shabaab, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The sentencing was announced by David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division; Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office.

“Zachary Chesser attempted to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and used the Internet to incite violence,” said Assistant Attorney General Kris. “Today he is being held accountable for his actions. I applaud the many agents, prosecutors and analysts who worked tirelessly to bring this man to justice.”

“Zachary Chesser will spend 25 years in prison for advocating the murder of U.S. citizens for engaging in free speech about his religion,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “His actions caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out – even in jest – to avoid being labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed. The fact that a young man from Northern Virginia could support such violence and terror is a sobering reminder of the serious threat that homegrown jihadists pose to this country.”

“Zachary Chesser encouraged violent jihad,” said James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI is concerned about U.S. citizens traveling overseas to join Al-Shabaab, and we are vigilant in working to disrupt potential plots where U.S. citizens become further indoctrinated and return with actual terrorism experience and training.”

According to court documents filed with his plea agreement on Oct. 20, 2010, Chesser maintained several online profiles dedicated to extremist jihad propaganda. Chesser admitted to taking repeated steps in April 2010 to encourage violent jihadists to attack the writers of South Park for an episode that included Muhammad in a bear suit, including highlighting their residence and urging online readers to “pay them a visit.”   Among the steps he took was posting on multiple occasions speeches by Anwar Al-Awlaki, which explained the Islamic justification for killing those who insult or defame Muhammad.   Al-Awlaki was designated by the United States as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” on July 12, 2010.

Chesser also admitted that in May 2010, he posted to a jihadist website the personal contact information of individuals who had joined the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” group on Facebook, with the prompting that this is, “Just a place to start.”

Chesser also pleaded guilty to soliciting others to desensitize law enforcement by placing suspicious-looking but innocent packages in public places. Chesser explained through a posting online that once law enforcement was desensitized, a real explosive could be used.   Chesser ended the posting with the words, “Boom! No more kuffar.”   According to court documents, “kuffar” means unbeliever, or disbeliever.

According to court records, Chesser also admitted that from at least January 2010 through July 2010, he posted numerous messages online that included calls from Al-Awlaki to join violent jihadists and step-by-step actions individuals needed to take to leave for jihad.   Among those postings included a video Chesser made that featured images of mujahedeen in Somalia and a song, sung by Chesser, with the translated title, “America We Are Coming.”

Chesser admitted that he promoted online what he called “Open Source Jihad,” where he would direct jihadists through his online forums to information on the Internet that they could use to elude capture and death while maintaining relevance and striking capability.   This included linking to the entire security screening manual used by the Transportation Security Administration and hundreds of books that contained information on the construction of antiaircraft missiles, and tactics, techniques and weapons for targeting aircraft such as jet airplanes and helicopters.

In addition, Chesser pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to Al-Shabaab. On Feb. 29, 2008, the U.S. Department of State designated Al-Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization, describing it as a violent and brutal extremist group based in Somalia with a number of individuals affiliated with Al-Qaeda. This designation prohibits providing material support or resources to Al-Shabaab.

According to court records, Chesser admitted that he twice attempted to leave the United States and travel to Somalia for the purpose of joining Al-Shabaab and engage in violent jihad as a foreign fighter. The first attempt was in November 2009, which was postponed because his wife was unable to obtain her passport. The second attempt was on July 10, 2010, when he sought to board a flight from New York to Uganda with his infant son. He was prevented from boarding the plane, and Chesser admitted that he brought his son with him as part of his “cover” to avoid detection of his intention to join Al-Shabaab in Somalia.   He also attempted to board the plane with a video camera, which he admitted in court that he intended to use to make production quality videos for al-Shabaab’s propaganda campaign.

Chesser also admitted in court that he posted several online messages in support of Al-Shabaab, including videos of attacks by Al-Shabaab on a government building in Mogadishu, a video claiming that African Union troops are responsible for killing civilians in Somalia, a video supporting the merger of Al-Shabaab with another organization, and links to what Chesser described as the “Al Qaeda Manual” that included instructions in support of violent jihad.

This case is being investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office.   Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gordon Kromberg and Thomas H. McQuillan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney John T. Gibbs of the Counterterrorism Section in the National Security Division are prosecuting the case.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Coalition Forces Detain Militants, Find Weapons

Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 – Afghan and coalition troops captured several insurgents, including a Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin terrorist leader, yesterday in Afghanistan, military officials reported.

The terrorist leader and another suspected insurgent were detained in Khost province’s Sabari district reportedly for trafficking explosive devices and other weapons throughout the province.

In other news yesterday throughout Afghanistan:

-- In Kandahar province’s Kandahar City, security forces detained several suspected insurgents, including a Taliban leader responsible for storing and distributing supplies to insurgents.

-- Forces detained several suspected insurgents during clearing operations in Kandahar province’s Shah Wali Kot district. The suspects are responsible for conducting and coordinating attacks against local security forces.

-- Security forces detained several suspected insurgents, including a Haqqani network terrorist who leads a bombing cell in Khost province’s Sabari district.

-- Afghan and coalition forces detained two suspected insurgents in Helmand province’s Nawah-ye Barakzai district while searching for a Taliban leader who reportedly is responsible for several Afghan civilian kidnappings and terrorist attacks in the area.

-- Security forces found several weapons stockpiles throughout Afghanistan. The operations resulted in seizure of 11,000 assault-rifle and machine-gun rounds, four various rockets and mortars, four hand grenades, four rocket-propelled grenades and assorted bomb-making materials.

Texas Resident Arrested on Charge of Attempted Use of Weapon of Mass Destruction

Suspect Allegedly Purchased Bomb Materials and Researched U.S. Targets

WASHINGTON—Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20, a citizen of Saudi Arabia and resident of Lubbock, Texas, was arrested late yesterday by FBI agents in Texas on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in connection with his alleged purchase of chemicals and equipment necessary to make an improvised explosive device (IED) and his research of potential U.S. targets.

The arrest and the criminal complaint, which was unsealed in the Northern District of Texas, were announced by David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; James T. Jacks, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas; and Robert E. Casey Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Dallas Field Division.

Aldawsari is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Lubbock at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Aldawsari, who was lawfully admitted into the United States in 2008 on a student visa and is enrolled at South Plains College near Lubbock, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, Aldawsari has been researching online how to construct an IED using several chemicals as ingredients. He has also acquired or taken a substantial step toward acquiring most of the ingredients and equipment necessary to construct an IED and he has conducted online research of several potential U.S. targets, the affidavit alleges. In addition, he has allegedly described his desire for violent jihad and martyrdom in blog postings and a personal journal.

"As alleged in the complaint, Aldawsari purchased ingredients to construct an explosive device and was actively researching potential targets in the United States. Thanks to the efforts of many agents, analysts, and prosecutors, this plot was thwarted before it could advance further," said Assistant Attorney General Kris. "This case serves as another reminder of the need for continued vigilance both at home and abroad."

"Yesterday's arrest demonstrates the need for and the importance of vigilance and the willingness of private individuals and companies to ask questions and contact the authorities when confronted with suspicious activities. Based upon reports from the public, Aldawsari's plot was uncovered and thwarted. We're confident we have neutralized the alleged threat posed by this defendant. Those reports resulted in the initiation of a complex and far-reaching investigation requiring almost around the clock work by hundreds of dedicated FBI agents, analysts, prosecutors, and others. Their effort is another example of the work being done to protect our country and its citizens. These individuals are deserving of our respect and gratitude," said U.S. Attorney Jacks.

"This arrest and criminal charge is a result of the success of the FBI's counterterrorism strategy, which is to detect, penetrate, and disrupt terrorist plots in the United States and against U.S. interests abroad. In this case, FBI agents and other FBI experts worked tirelessly to neutralize the imminent terrorist threat described in the criminal complaint. The public can be justifiably proud of the national security expertise shown by the FBI in this investigation," said Special Agent in Charge Casey.

Purchases of Chemical Ingredients and Other Equipment

The affidavit alleges that on Feb. 1, 2011, a chemical supplier reported to the FBI a suspicious attempted purchase of concentrated phenol by a man identifying himself as Khalid Aldawsari. According to the affidavit, phenol is a toxic chemical with legitimate uses, but can also be used to make the explosive trinitrophenol, also known as T.N.P., or picric acid. The affidavit alleges that other ingredients typically used with phenol to make picric acid, or T.N.P., are concentrated sulfuric and nitric acids.

Aldawsari allegedly attempted to have the phenol order shipped to a freight company so it could be held for him there, but the freight company returned the order to the supplier and called the police. Later, Aldawsari falsely told the supplier he was associated with a university and wanted the phenol for "off-campus, personal research." Frustrated by questions being asked over his phenol order, Aldawsari cancelled his order and later e-mailed himself instructions for producing phenol. The affidavit alleges that in December 2010, he successfully purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids.

According to the affidavit, legally authorized electronic surveillance revealed that Aldawsari used various e-mail accounts in researching explosives and targets, and often sent e-mails to himself as part of this process. On Feb. 11, 2011, for instance, he allegedly e-mailed himself a recipe for picric acid, which the e-mail describes as a "military explosive." He also allegedly sent himself an e-mail on Oct. 19, 2010 that contained information on the material required for Nitro Urea, how to prepare it, and the advantages of using it.

The affidavit alleges that Aldawsari also e-mailed himself instructions on how to convert a cellular phone into a remote detonator and how to prepare a booby-trapped vehicle using items available in every home. One e-mail allegedly contained a message stating that "one operation in the land of the infidels is equal to ten operations against occupying forces in the land of the Muslims." During December 2010 and January 2011, Aldawsari allegedly purchased many other items, including a gas mask, a Hazmat suit, a soldering iron kit, glass beakers and flasks, wiring, a stun gun, clocks, and a battery tester.

Searches of Aldawsari's Residence

Two legally authorized searches of Aldawsari's apartment conducted by the FBI in February 2011 indicated that the concentrated sulfuric and nitric acids; the beakers and flasks; wiring; Hazmat suit; and clocks were present in Aldawsari's residence.

FBI agents also found a notebook at Aldawsari's residence that appeared to be a diary or journal. According to the affidavit, excerpts from the journal indicate that Aldawsari had been planning to commit a terrorist attack in the United States for years. One entry describes how Aldawsari sought and obtained a particular scholarship because it allowed him to come directly to the United State and helped him financially, which he said "will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for Jihad." The entry continues: "And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad."

In another entry, Aldawsari allegedly wrote that he was near to reaching his goal and near to getting weapons to use against infidels and their helpers. He also listed a "synopsis of important steps" that included obtaining a forged U.S. birth certificate; renting a car; using different driver's licenses for each car rented; putting bombs in cars and taking them to different places during rush hour; and leaving the city for a safe place.

Research on Potential Targets

According to the affidavit, Aldawsari conducted research on various targets and e-mailed himself information on these locations and people. One of the documents he sent himself, with the subject line listed as "Targets," allegedly contained the names and home addresses of three American citizens who had previously served in the U.S. military and had been stationed for a time at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In another e-mail titled "NICE TARGETS 01," Aldawsari allegedly sent himself the names of 12 reservoir dams in Colorado and California. In another e-mail to himself, titled "NICE TARGETS," he listed two categories of targets: hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants. On Feb. 6, 2011, the affidavit alleges, Aldawsari sent himself an e-mail titled "Tyrant's House," in which he listed the Dallas address for former President George W. Bush. The affidavit also alleges that Aldawsari conducted research that could indicate his consideration of the use of infant dolls to conceal explosives and possible targeting of a nightclub with an explosive concealed in a backpack.

The affidavit also alleges that Aldawsari created a blog in which he posted extremist messages. In one posting, he expressed dissatisfaction with current conditions of Muslims and vowed jihad and martyrdom. "You who created mankind….grant me martyrdom for Your sake and make jihad easy for me only in Your path," he wrote.

This case was investigated by the FBI's Dallas Joint Terrorism Task Force, with assistance from the Lubbock Police Department. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Baker and Denise Williams from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Texas, and Trial Attorney David Cora from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

The charges contained in the criminal complaint are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Caldwell Lauds Afghans’ Force Increase

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 – As the United States and NATO surged 40,000 additional combat troops into Afghanistan last year, the Afghan army and police forces also surged, growing to 258,700 by September, the general in charge of the training effort said yesterday.

And now, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV added, some 6,000 recruits join Afghanistan’s army and police forces each month.

At a media roundtable in Brussels, Belgium, Caldwell updated reporters on the growth of Afghan security forces and NATO’s role in training them.

“The real story, the surge of Afghans, truly is astounding, when in September 2009, only 800 Afghans joined their security force that month, while 2,000 left it,” he said. The net result, he noted, was a decline of 1,200.

That was the last decline, the general said. The Afghan government recruited vigorously and added pay and benefits to attract recruits. NATO trainers arrived to give the soldiers and police the training they needed to provide security in the country.

Now, Caldwell said, officials face a new challenge. “There are more recruits that want to join the army and police than we have the capacity to bring in,” he explained, “even though we are continuing to rapidly expand the training bases.”

Afghan security forces are on track, Caldwell said, to reach the 305,000-member goal in October. “And we will achieve that objective,” he added.

Although the numbers are “amazing,” the general said, the quantity is not as amazing as the quality.

“While [quantity] is important and necessary,” he said, “what is essential is injecting quality into those forces, because without quality, [Afghan forces] won’t endure and be self-sustaining.”

The quest for quality is hampered by the huge problem of illiteracy in Afghanistan, Caldwell acknowledged. “Eighty-six percent of the Afghans volunteering to serve their nation were illiterate,” he said. By working with the Afghan interior and defense ministries, he added, NATO established a mandatory literacy program 10 months ago.

“We brought training to these illiterate young men, and some women, up to at least a first-grade level of education,” Caldwell said, “so they could at least read the serial number on their weapon, they could count the amount of money they’re paid, they can do inventory of the weapons given them, and do basic reading and simple arithmetic.”

Caldwell said the plan is eventually to bring Afghans to third-grade competency, the internationally recognized level of literacy.

The general said NATO is the only organization in the world that could have accomplished this mission. The 32 nations that make up NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, he added, recognize the need to build a stable, secure Afghanistan, and a self-sustaining and enduring Afghan security force.

“To accelerate progress and fulfill our ‘train the trainer’ program,” Caldwell said, “we’ll still need about 20 more trainers from each country for the next two years.” This, he told reporters, would give the Afghan forces the ability to take the lead for security in their country by the end of 2014.

“I am humbled and feel a tremendous sense of pride when I see the NATO trainers standing alongside their Afghan trainees and trainers,” Caldwell said, “and I look forward to watching the Afghan trainers in the lead while the NATO trainers mentor and supervise, … until one day when the Afghans will truly be able to stand on their own.”

This article was sponsored by Army Books.

Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Cpl. Johnathan W. Taylor, 23, of Homosassa, Fla., died Feb. 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

For additional background information on this Marine, news media representatives may contact the 2nd Marine Division public affairs office at 910-378-6193 or

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Top-Level Talks Focus on U.S.-Pakistani Operations

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MUSCAT, Oman, Feb. 23, 2011 – Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the top commanders responsible for carrying out the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy met here today with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to discuss regional security issues and explore new ways to better coordinate military operations.

In addition to Mullen, Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command; Navy Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, participated in the day-long session.

“I was very grateful for General Kayani's time and the opportunity to continue the dialog and the relationship at this very critical time in our shared efforts,” Mullen told reporters after the session.

A military officer familiar with the high-level proceedings –- the third of their kind to date -- called them “very candid and cordial, and very productive.”

Both delegations gave operational updates, discussing the need for more road-building and other infrastructure development and greater cross-border communication and information-sharing.

“The chairman believes this kind of dialog is vital to improving coordination and communications between our two militaries,” the official said.

Mullen believes the Pakistani military “continues to do a remarkable job battling extremists inside their borders,” he said.

Today’s meeting had been in the planning process for months and was not tied to recent developments or current events in the Middle East, the official emphasized. It occurred during Mullen’s week-long trip through the region, which although long-planned, has changed in nature in light of widespread unrest in the region.

Kayani, in a statement released by the Pakistani military, said he was “pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with American officers the progress we have made fighting extremists in our country and to offer them my thoughts about how our two sides might better cooperate.”

Pakistan’s soldiers have fought bravely and accomplished much at great cost,” Kayani said. “We must honor those sacrifices by making sure our military operations are understood.”

Pakistani Maj. Gen. Javed Iqbal, director general of military operations, and Brigadier Muhammad Saeed accompanied Kayani to the session.