Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Commander: Countering Extremists Tops Africom’s Priorities

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2012 – In its mission to strengthen the defense capabilities of African states, the U.S. Africa Command considers countering extremist organizations its top job, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, Africom commander, said today.

“In line with the new defense strategic guidance, we’ve prioritized our efforts, focusing on the greatest threats to America, Americans and American interests,” Ham told the House Armed Services Committee. “Countering threats posed by al-Qaida affiliates in east and northwest Africa remains my No. 1 priority.”

Helping Africom partners responsibly address their own security challenges is an integral part of the command’s activities, as are strengthening regional and peacekeeping capabilities and maritime security, the general said.

“Our engagements are designed to be innovative, low-cost and have a small footprint,” Ham told the panel. “In Africa, a small investment truly can go a long way.”

Over the past year, significant changes have swept the African continent, he said.

“The broad wave of democratic movements that began in Tunisia has spread faster and more broadly than many forecasted,” Ham said. “And the Republic of South Sudan is the world’s newest nation,” gaining its independence last July.

In Nigeria, an Islamist extremist organization called Boko Haram conducts violent attacks and demonstrates a growing threat to western interests, the general said. And in the Horn of Africa on Feb. 9, he noted, al-Qaida and its Somalia-based terrorist cell al-Shabaab publicly formalized their long-standing merger.

Strong relationships have long been suspected among al-Qaida, al-Shebab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula across the Gulf of Aden, operating in the country of Yemen, Ham said.

“Some have postulated that the timing of the public announcement may [indicate] that al-Shebab is under duress,” Ham said. “I believe they are very much under duress by the African Union mission in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, which have joined in the effort to defeat al-Shebab and clear areas of Somalia from al-Shebab control.”

The announcement is not quite a last gasp, the general added, “but I would say [it is] an effort by al-Shebab to gain some international support.”

While each group by itself is certainly dangerous, he added, “what concerns me more is at least the … intent expressed by the leaders of those organizations to more closely collaborate and synchronize their efforts.” If they are able to coordinate efforts, share funding and training and exchange weapons, the Africom commander said, “I think that presents a real challenge for us.”

In October, President Barack Obama authorized the deployment to central Africa of 100 combat-equipped U.S. forces whose mission was to help regional forces fight the notorious Lord's Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony.

Today, with the approval of the Ugandan government, about 100 service members and civilians that include two combat-equipped teams and headquarters, communications and logistics personnel, provide information, advice and assistance to select partner nation forces and act as advisers to partner forces that seek to remove Kony and other senior LRA leadership from the battlefield.

“The Lord’s Resistance Army is an organization that creates through violence a tremendous amount of instability in a four-country region of east and central Africa,” Ham told the House members. “Initially beginning in Uganda but now extending their efforts into South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they’ve displaced many thousands of African citizens and brought terror and fear to families across the region.”

Ham said the four African nations, with U.S. forces in a facilitating role, are coming together in an increasingly collaborative approach to counter the LRA.

“To date, what we have found is that presence of the U.S. mostly special forces advisors that are working with the armed forces of those four nations are having a very positive effect,” the general said.

Though he is optimistic, he added, the effort is “not yet to the point where we see the end in sight.”

Security in Africa, he said, continues to be influenced by external actors, by rapid economic developments, population growth and the overall size and diversity of the continent itself.

Ham said that as he travels across Africa, he’s been encouraged by the optimism of African leaders in confronting the challenges and embracing the opportunities ahead.

Because he believes Africans are best able to address African security challenges, and because a safe, secure and stable Africa is in the U.S. national interest, the general added, “we at U.S. Africa Command will continue to strive to be the security partner of choice in Africa.”

Australian Man and His Firm Indicted in Plot to Export Restricted Military and Other U.S. Technology to Iran

WASHINGTON – An Australian man and his company have been indicted today by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for conspiring to export sensitive military and other technology from the United States to Iran, including components with applications in missiles, drones, torpedoes and helicopters.

The five-count indictment charges David Levick, 50, an Australian national, and his company, ICM Components Inc., located in Thorleigh, Australia, each with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Arms Export Control Act; as well as four counts of illegally exporting goods to an embargoed nation in violation of IEEPA; and forfeiture of at least $199,227.41.

The indictment was announced by Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; John J. McKenna, Special Agent in Charge of the Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement Boston Field Office; James W. McJunkin, A ssistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Kathryn Feeney, Resident Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Resident Agency in New Haven, Conn.; and Bruce M. Foucart, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Boston.         

Levick, who is the general manager of ICM Components, remains at large and is believed to be in Australia.   If convicted, Levick faces a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy count and 20 years in prison for each count of violating IEEPA.

According to the indictment, beginning as early as March 2007 and continuing through around March 15, 2009, Levick and ICM solicited purchase orders from a representative of a trading company in Iran for U.S.-origin aircraft parts and other goods.   This person in Iran, referenced in the charges as “Iranian A,” also operated and controlled companies in Malaysia that acted as intermediaries for the Iranian trading company.

The indictment alleges that Levick and ICM then placed orders with U.S. companies on behalf of Iranian A for aircraft parts and other goods that Iranian A could not have directly purchased from the United States without U.S. government permission. Among the items the defendants allegedly sought to procure from the United States are the following:

VG-34 Series Miniature Vertical Gyroscopes.   These are aerospace products used to measure precisely and/or maintain control of pitch and roll in applications such as helicopter flight systems, target drones, missiles, torpedoes and remotely piloted vehicles.   They are classified as defense articles by the U.S. government and may not be exported from the United States without a license from the State Department or exported to Iran without a license from the Treasury Department.

K2000 Series Servo Actuators designed for use on aircraft.   The standard Servo Actuator is designed to be used for throttle, nose wheel steering and most flight control surfaces.   High-torque Servo Actuators are designed to be used for providing higher torque levels for applications such as flaps and landing gear retraction.   These items are classified as defense articles by the U.S. government and may not be exported from the United States without a license from the State Department or exported to Iran without a license from the Treasury Department.

Precision Pressure Transducers. These are sensor devices that have a wide variety of applications in the avionics industry, among others, and can be used for altitude measurements, laboratory testing, measuring instrumentations and recording barometric pressure.  These items may not be exported to Iran without a license from the Treasury Department.

Emergency Floatation System Kits.   These kits contained a landing gear, float bags, composite cylinder and a complete electrical installation kit.  Such float kits were designed for use on Bell 206 helicopters to assist the helicopter when landing in either water or soft desert terrain. These items may not be exported to Iran without a license from the Treasury Department.

Shock Mounted Light Assemblies.   These items are packages of lights and mounting equipment designed for high vibration use and which can be used on helicopters and other fixed wing aircraft.   These items may not be exported to Iran without a license from the Treasury Department.

According to the charges, Levick and ICM, when necessary, used a broker in Florida to place orders for these goods with U.S. firms to conceal that they were intended for transshipment to Iran. The defendants also concealed the final end-use and end-users of the goods from manufacturers, distributors, shippers and freight forwarders in the United States and elsewhere, as well as from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.   To further conceal their efforts, the defendants structured payments between each other for the goods to avoid restrictions on Iranian financial institutions by other countries.

The indictment further alleges that Levick and ICM wired money to companies located in the United States as payment for these restricted goods.   Levick, ICM and other members of the conspiracy never obtained the required licenses from the Treasury or State Department for the export of any of these goods to Iran, according to the charges.

In addition to the conspiracy allegations, the indictment charges the defendants with exporting or attempting to export four specific shipments of goods from the United States to Iran in violation of IEEPA.   These include a shipment of 10 shock mounted light assemblies on Jan. 27, 2007; a shipment of five precision pressure transducers on Dec. 20, 2007; a shipment of 10 shock mounted light assemblies on March 17, 2008; and a shipment of one emergency floatation system kit on June 24, 2008.

This investigation was jointly conducted by agents of the Department of Commerce Office of Export Enforcement, FBI, DCIS and ICE-HSI.  The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John W. Borchert and Ann Petalas of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia; and Trial Attorney Jonathan C. Poling of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains mere allegations.  Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NATO Head Discusses Afghan Violence, Syria, Chicago Summit

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2012 – NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen took questions from reporters today about the recent violence in Afghanistan, NATO’s position on the Syrian uprising and the upcoming NATO summit.

Rasmussen held a news conference during a NATO Allied Command Transformation seminar here, held to prepare for the NATO summit scheduled for May in Chicago.

The secretary general condemned the killing of four U.S. military members by Afghans in violence that erupted in Afghanistan last week over the inadvertent burning of Quarans.

“The very tragic events will not in any way affect the timeline of transition” for security from coalition to Afghan forces, he said.

The violence, he added, does not represent the full picture of cooperation between International Security Assistance Forces and Afghan security forces.

“I remind you that 130,000 ISAF troops work on a daily basis together with more than 300,000 Afghan security forces, and the overall picture is of cooperation characterized by trust and confidence,” Rasmussen said.

“It would actually fulfill the strongest wishes of the enemy,” he added, “if they succeeded in dividing us from our partners in the Afghan security forces, and that will not happen.”

Despite the tragedy of the incident and the challenges that lie ahead, the secretary general said, “we must not lose sight of our goal –- a stable Afghanistan. That is in all of our interests and that must remain the focus of our shared efforts.”

In Syria, 7,500 opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have been killed since a populist uprising against al-Assad began a year ago, the United Nations reported today.

At the press conference, Rasmussen responded to a question about the conflict in Syria, and why NATO was willing to help those in Libya, who opposed the 40-year rule of Muammar Qadhafi, but not the protesters in Syria.

“NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria,” the secretary general said.

NATO strongly condemns the situation in Syria, he added, but “the allies find that a regional solution to the problem in Syria is the best way forward.

“In Libya we had a very clear United Nations mandate and we had active support from a number of countries in the region. None of these conditions are fulfilled in Syria,” he said.

“I commend the Arab League for their efforts to find a solution,” he added. “So far it’s not been successful, but I do believe countries in the region should engage actively in finding a solution.”

At the Chicago summit in May, NATO will follow up on major decisions made at the Lisbon summit in November 2010, including the commitment to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, Rasmussen said, and “how to sustain the operations of today and face future challenges … by continuing to strengthen our core capabilities and transform our forces.”

The key to a stronger future alliance, he added, is “smart defense,” a concept that encourages allies to cooperate to develop, acquire and maintain military capabilities in accordance with the NATO strategic concept for 2020.

“Smart defense is about prioritization, specialization and cooperation,” Rasmussen said.

“We all know that it will be increasingly difficult for individual allies to acquire expensive military equipment on their own,” he added, “but by pooling and sharing resources by multinational cooperation and helping each other, they can better afford investments in the necessary military capabilities.”

The secretary general said he expects NATO to adopt a defense and deterrence posture review at the summit that will include nuclear policies.

“The essence of that document will be to find the appropriate mix between nuclear forces, conventional forces and missile defense,” he said.

Also in Chicago, “I expect all our allies to commit to long-term goals for the capabilities we need and for reinforcing the connection between our forces,” Rasmussen said.

“I expect them to back up that mission with concrete targets so that in a fast-changing world we can do better with what we have and stay lean, but strong,” he said.

22-NCR Visits NMCB-11 on Camp Krutke

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 Public Affairs

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (NNS) -- The commodore of 22nd Naval Construction Regiment (NCR), and the command master chief of 22-NCR visited Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11's mainbody on Camp Krutke, Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan Feb. 24.

Capt. Kathryn A. Donovan and Command Master Chief Mark E. Kraniger were given a tour of the camp by Cmdr. Lore Aguayo, commanding officer of NMCB-11, and Command Master Chief Christopher Levesque, NMCB-11.

Seabees on camp were engaged in conversation by both Donovan and Kraninger about their specific roles within the battalion and any challenges or obstacles they may have experienced working and living on Camp Leatherneck. Donovan awarded 22-NCR coins to a few Seabees who were recognized as having made a significant positive impact on the success of the battalion.

Donovan did not pass up the opportunity to encourage Seabees to earn the Seabee Combat warfare Specialist (SCWS) qualification. She even took some time to pose with Seabees who wanted a photo to post on Facebook.

Kraninger, whose son Erik is a builder in NMCB-11, also shared wisdom with the Seabees. Both Kraninger and Donovan had positive things to say about the condition of the camp and the preparedness and attitudes of the Seabees.

This was the first such visit since NMCB-11 official took authority of Camp Krutke earlier this month.

NMCB-11 is deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Federal Jury Finds Dennis Mahon Guilty in Scottsdale Bombing Case

PHOENIX – Dennis Mahon, 61, of Davis Junction, Ill., was found guilty of the 2004 bombing of the City of Scottsdale Office of Diversity and Dialogue, and the injury to Donald Logan and other victims. Specifically, a federal jury in Phoenix found Dennis Mahon guilty of Conspiracy to Damage Buildings and Property by Means of Explosive, Malicious Damage of a Building by Means of Explosive, and Distribution of Information Related to Explosives. Daniel Mahon was found not guilty as charged in Count One of the superseding indictment. The case was tried before U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell. The defendant is being held after trial. Sentencing is set before Judge Campbell on May 22, 2012.

“I commend ATF, the Postal Inspection Service, and the Scottsdale Police Department for their dedication and perseverance throughout the course of this investigation and prosecution,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel. “I also commend our prosecution team for their tremendous efforts in securing today’s conviction. Crimes motivated by bias and hatred continue to be a reality in our culture. This case shows that we will do all within our power to work with our law enforcement partners not only to prevent hate crimes, but also to vigorously prosecute those who commit them.”

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) is committed to aggressively pursuing hate-fueled acts of violence,” said Thomas Atteberry, ATF Special Agent in Charge. “Today’s verdict makes clear that such acts of violence will not be tolerated by the good people of Arizona. I commend the tenacity of the ATF agents that led this investigation for eight years, culminating in a verdict of guilt upon Dennis Mahon. We will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to put criminal hatemongers on notice – no matter how long it takes – they are not beyond our reach. I want to especially thank the leadership of the US Attorney’s Office and recognize the cooperative efforts of our investigative partners; the United States Postal Service and the Scottsdale Police Department.”

“The guilty verdict handed down today by the jury brings to close a long, thorough investigation into a vicious crime,” said Pete Zegarac, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Phoenix Division. “The parcel bomb was meant to cause harm and destruction to its victims, but it ultimately brought destruction to Dennis Mahon. The collaborative investigation between Postal Inspectors, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Scottsdale Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office has ensured that Dennis Mahon will no longer be free to send bombs to others.”

The evidence at trial showed that a bomb detonated at the City of Scottsdale Office of Diversity and Dialogue on February 26, 2004, causing injury to Donald Logan, Renita Linyard, and others. The evidence also showed that Dennis Mahon had specific knowledge of how the bomb, addressed to Donald Logan, was constructed. The evidence further showed that Dennis Mahon conspired with other individuals on behalf of the White Aryan Resistance to promote racial violence.

A conviction for Counts One and Two carries a maximum penalty of 40 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine or both. A conviction for Count Three carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. In determining an actual sentence, Judge Campbell will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the United States Postal Service; and the Scottsdale Police Department. The prosecution was handled by John Boyle and Michael Morrissey, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

Navy Seabees Pave Way for US, Allied Forces

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 Public Affairs

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (NNS) -- Seabees deployed to Afghanistan are undertaking projects to repair and improve large stretches of roads in Helmand Province which will greatly increase the maneuverability of U.S. and allied forces in the region.

Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11's Detachment Dwyer have widened, leveled, and laid gravel to existing roads to facilitate the movement of supplies and personnel in southern Helmand Province.

Two miles of road have been cleared and graveled since the project was turned over from NMCB-4 earlier this month according to crew leader Equipment Operator 2nd Class Mardi Ros of Tomball, Texas.

Crews have been forced to deal with torrential rain causing them to spend days clearing sections of road they had already flattened.

"We are working on keeping lines of communications open for displaced personnel," said Det. Officer in Charge, Lt. Seth D. Cochran of La Plata, Md. "Our goal is to improve freedom of movement for our supported command, so that movement of supplies takes place without any damage to equipment, as was the case previously."

This project is one of many NMCB-11 is involved in throughout the country.

Homeported in Gulfport, Miss., NMCB-11 is deployed to Afghanistan to conduct general, mobility, survivability engineering operations, defensive operations, Afghan National Army partnering and detachment of units in combined/joint operations area - Afghanistan in order to enable the neutralization of the insurgency and support improved governance and stability operations.

Army Casualty

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

Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, 48, of Baltimore, Md., died Feb. 25, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Marchanti was assigned to 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Division Security Partnering Team of the Maryland Army National Guard, Baltimore, Md.

For more information related to this release, media may contact the Maryland National Guard public affairs office at 443-250-7242.

Officials Reaffirm Commitment to Afghan Strategy

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 – The rioting and killings that have followed the accidental burning of Qurans by coalition personnel will not change the NATO strategy in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are fully committed to continuing operations aimed at turning over security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, Little said.

Panetta and Dempsey “believe we have achieved significant progress in reversing the Taliban’s momentum and in developing the Afghan security forces, and they believe that the fundamentals of our strategy remain sound,” Little said in a Pentagon news conference, joined by Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, who spoke to the Pentagon press corps from the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Afghans rioted following the revelation that NATO forces inadvertently burned Islamic religious articles, including Qurans. Four Americans have been killed, including two officers serving as advisors in the Afghan interior ministry in Kabul.

It is important that the recent events not blind people to the progress being made in the country, Little said. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, in partnership with Afghan national security forces, is making progress in defeating al-Qaida and its terrorist allies and denying them the ability to maintain a safe haven in Afghanistan, he added.

Afghan rioting is decreasing, with only three demonstrations held today, Kirby said, noting that ISAF leaders have joined with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in urging calm and an end to violent protests.

“We appreciate the steps President Karzai is taking to quell violence in the country, and we commend the hard work and sacrifice of the Afghan security forces who have suffered casualties attempting to quell the violence,” Little said. “We respect the right of all Afghans to peaceful protest, but further bloodshed serves neither the coalition nor the Afghan people, who are themselves falling victim to violence.”

Little said the relationship between ISAF forces and their Afghan partners remains strong, pointing out that U.S. forces work with 330,000 Afghan security forces to defend the country. “Together, they fight in very difficult situations, building trust and mutual respect despite recent incidents,” the press secretary said.

The spirit of American, coalition and Afghan forces will be tested throughout the campaign in Afghanistan, Little said. “Anyone who believes they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly attacks is severely mistaken,” he added.

The coalition will emerge from the challenges stronger and more unified, Little said. “There is much at stake in Afghanistan, and our commitment to our mission and our strategy will not waver,” he said.

Coalition, Afghans Work Together to Capture Insurgents

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2012 – Coalition and Afghan forces have worked together throughout Afghanistan in recent days, capturing several insurgent leaders who led attacks against them and killing one in self defense, military officials said.

In eastern Afghanistan today, a coalition security force in the Pul-e Alam district of Logar province captured a Taliban operator who provided weapons and financial support to numerous insurgent fighters in the area. No shots were fired during the operation.

Also today, coalition and Afghan forces in the Nadir Shah Kot district of Khost province captured a Haqqani network leader who managed an insurgent network and directed operations against Afghan civilians and security forces in the district. Two suspected insurgents also were detained.

On Feb. 25, an Afghan provincial response team, working with coalition forces in the western province of Farah, captured several insurgents while acting on a search warrant in the Bala Boluk district. All of the detainees were directly tied to attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, as well as crimes against local Afghans, military officials said.

The combined force also found and destroyed anti-personnel mines, grenades, ammunition, homemade explosives and various bomb components.

Also on Feb. 25, a combined force of Afghan and coalition service members fired on an insurgent in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, killing the man after he ran at the security force carrying grenades and small-arms ammunition during a vehicle inspection. The security force found and destroyed bomb components.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Panetta Supports ISAF Personnel Recall After Kabul Murders

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – After learning this morning of the murders of two U.S. military officers serving in Kabul, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta backed the decision to recall International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan personnel working in ministries there, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

“This act is unacceptable and the United States condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” Little said.

Initial reports indicate that an individual turned his weapon against ISAF service members in Kabul City, Afghanistan, killing two service members, according to an ISAF Joint Command statement.

It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.

In Kabul, ISAF Commander Marine Corps. Gen. John R. Allen made the decision to protect forces by instituting the recall.

“I condemn today’s attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today,” Allen said in the statement.

Earlier today, Little said, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak offered condolences in a phone call with Panetta and apologized for the incident.

“Secretary Panetta appreciated the call and urged the Afghan government to take decisive action to protect coalition forces and curtail the violence in Afghanistan after a challenging week in the country,” Little said.

Wardak told Panetta that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assembling religious leaders, parliamentarians, justices of the Supreme Court and other senior Afghan officials to take urgent steps to take such action, Little added.

In Kabul, Allen met with Afghan Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who offered condolences to the families and apologies. The minister pledged his complete cooperation in investigating the tragedy and in taking stronger measures to protect ISAF personnel.

The general said an investigation is under way and officials will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack.

“The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered,” he said.

In an interview today from Kabul, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said neither the attack nor the personnel recall would deter the United States from its overarching mission in Afghanistan.

“All of the partnership and the training we’re conducting with Afghan security forces continues,” he said. “The very important work we are doing throughout the country in Afghanistan continues.”

The nation remains committed to a partnership with Afghanistan, Allen said, and to reaching “our common goal of a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan in the near future.”

(Elaine Sanchez of American Forces Press Service contributed to this article.)

Air Force Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of an airman who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 44, of Paducah, Ky., died Feb. 25 from wounds received during an attack at the Interior Ministry, Kabul, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 866th Air Expeditionary Squadron, Kabul, Afghanistan.

For more information media may contact the Air Force Special Operations Command public affairs office at 850-884-8900.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Carter Concludes Afghan Trip With Visit to Kajaki Dam

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

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan  – Wrapping up his first trip to Afghanistan since assuming the Pentagon’s No. 2 post, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter today visited a key site that provides irrigation and hydroelectric power to residents here.

 “It has always been a dream of mine to come here,” Carter said as he walked through the grounds of the Kajaki Dam.

After the Helmand Valley Authority was formed in 1952, the dam was built with the assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development and $40 million in bank financing, officials of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command Southwest said. The facility’s turbines produce the hydroelectric power crucial to villages throughout the province and the irrigation of farmlands.

Carter met the dam’s chief engineer and received follow-up information from Col. Steve Waldron, Regional Command Southwest’s civil-military affairs officer, and Thomas Bauhan from USAID.

Two of the units were installed in 1975, but a third turbine was delayed due to conflict in the country, they said. Following failure of both installed turbines in 2003, USAID hired companies to step in and repair the units, and the work finished in 2006.

In August 2008, a contingent of British, Afghan and ISAF troops delivered the third turbine from Kandahar Airfield, but it has yet to be installed, said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, who is traveling with Carter.

The deputy secretary was able to witness the results of recent efforts by U.S. Army engineers, Marines, USAID and international donors to restore and improve functionality at the dam and to begin preparations for the third hydroelectric turbine’s installation, Kirby said. The turbine could be operational in 2013, he added, and would be able to provide more than 50 megawatts of power once distribution lines are in place.

Carter’s Walk Through Marjah Market Shows Progress

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

MARJAH, Afghanistan – Simply by walking through the marketplace here today, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter showed how much progress has taken place in this former Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Carter visited a forward operating base and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, before he walked through the village’s marketplace with no issues. He got a firsthand look at work under way to expand capacity at the base, touring numerous construction areas.

The deputy secretary received an operational update from local Afghan national security force leaders and the district governor before moving on to the Marjah marketplace, where Taliban insurgents once operated with impunity.

In contrast to violent protests elsewhere in the aftermath of Muslim religious materials being inadvertently mishandled at Bagram Airfield, Carter encountered no protests, upheaval or disturbances in Marjah. The village remained tranquil as Carter, the district governor and Afghan military and police leaders walked through the streets.

A walk down Marjah’s marketplace was unthinkable as recently as 2010, when Operation Moshtarak was launched to free the area from Taliban control.

Carter called Marjah a “great success story” as he walked through the marketplace. Curious children came by and local residents followed on motorcycles as Carter made his way up and down the streets.

Along his route walking back to the base, Carter stopped and bought snacks from a local merchant for the village children who were tagging along. At another brief stop, he examined another merchant’s wares.

As he departed, Carter thanked the district governor and Afghan security force leaders for the opportunity to walk through the marketplace, again referring to the peaceful village as one of many “great success stories” in Afghanistan.

Carter’s first stop today was at the Chaman Gate, one of two major border crossings with neighboring Pakistan. The Pakistani government closed the crossing to NATO traffic amid recent tensions. The deputy secretary visited with local Afghan police and customs officials, toured a new biometrics facility and got a firsthand view of the daily traffic at the crossing.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, who is along on the trip, said this was Carter’s second visit to Chaman Gate, and that he noted the progress made in adding controls to the border post to put pressure on smugglers of explosive materials.

“American and Afghan military officials updated Carter on security at the Chaman Gate and gave him a better sense of the impact its closing to NATO traffic has had on resupply efforts,” Kirby said. Though Carter expressed his hope that Pakistan soon would allow alliance goods to begin flowing again, Kirby added, he was assured that operations in Afghanistan had not yet been adversely affected.

Carter's next stop was to Regional Command Southwest, where he received updates from Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Toolan Jr. about the progress of transition efforts and improved security throughout the region. Roughly half of Helmand's districts are in or will soon be in the process of transitioning to Afghan security lead, Kirby noted.     

On Guard Against WMD: Inside the Biological Countermeasures Unit, Part 2

Part 2 of an interview with Special Agent Edward You of the Biological Countermeasures Unit in the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate.

Q: What other responsibilities do WMD coordinators have?
Mr. You: At the local level, WMD coordinators act as resources for our partners, and they also engage in threat assessments and investigations. Coordinators are dedicated professionals who have their own career path within the FBI, and they go through an extensive training and certification program. With regard to training, we have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide training locally, regionally, and internationally. We are able to educate the scientific community about threats and provide situational awareness about security issues that may not have been considered. In turn, the scientific community advises law enforcement about the current state of the field and assists us in identifying over-the-horizon risks. The life sciences field is advancing so rapidly that it is difficult to stay current. We rely on the expertise of our business and academic partners to ensure that our agency is addressing issues appropriately and effectively. Synthetic biology is a case in point.

Q: What is synthetic biology?
Mr. You: It is the application of engineering and computer science principles to the life sciences. It is an evolutionary step in techniques in DNA sequencing and synthesis that are used to modify naturally occurring organisms, such as yeast and bacteria, and “reprogram” them to impart novel functions not normally found in nature. For example, synthetic biology allows you to program bacteria to efficiently produce bio-diesel fuel, medicines, and building materials.

Q: Why is synthetic biology important in terms of WMD?
Mr. You: Consider a company that produces synthetic DNA. They have the ability to generate the necessary genetic information to potentially produce bacteria and viruses, even high-consequence biological agents—such as Ebola or Bacillus anthracis (anthrax)—that are regulated by the U.S. government. Companies have adopted screening measures to prevent uncertified individuals from purchasing genetic information for these high-consequence agents. Through our outreach efforts and subsequent federal guidance, companies now know to contact our WMD coordinators when they encounter suspicious orders. The FBI can conduct further assessments, provide information back to the companies, and initiate investigations if warranted. As a result, industry was very happy to have a vehicle for reporting and vetting suspicious activity. We really filled a need with this program, and it has been very successful.

Q: How will you continue to be successful going forward?
Mr. You: We will continue working with industry and the scientific community. Because we provide a service and act as a resource for our partners, our outreach has grown at a rapid pace—we can’t keep up with demand in terms of speaking engagements we are invited to or contributions to biosecurity policymaking. When we started our outreach program five years ago, we were out knocking on doors in the scientific community, trying to spread our message. Now they are inviting us in. They obviously they see the value of what we’re doing to protect the public and the scientific process.

Imam: Afghans Should Protest in Peaceful, Nonviolent Way

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

STERLING, Va.  – “Don’t respond to a wrong with a wrong,” was the message from Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society during prayers here today.

Magid delivered the jumaa – a sermon – specifically about the Quran burning incident at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The imam spoke to about 1,000 members of the suburban Washington mosque, stressing the need to respond to the Quran burning in “a peaceful and nonviolent manner.” As many as 20 Afghans may have been killed in riots near Bagram sparked by the incident.

Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, also attended the service and apologized for the incident. The imam and the assistant secretary both stressed that the incident was inadvertent and without malice. Both noted that President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, have apologized for the improper handling of the Muslim holy books.

Earlier today, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Panetta is concerned about the violence the incident has spawned. “He’s hopeful that the strong response by ISAF, General Allen and others, as well as political officials to include the president of the United States, will assure the Afghan people and Muslims around the world that this is not how the United States military treats important religious texts.”

Magid explained that Muslims see the Quran as the word of God from beginning to end. “The Book of Allah must be respected in all its forms,” he said, likening Muslims’ regard of the Quran to that of Jews toward the Torah and Christians toward the Bible.

The Defense Department and NATO commanders in Afghanistan are fully investigating the incident and will learn from it, Lavoy said.

“I come here to apologize on behalf of the Department of Defense for the incident that took place in Afghanistan this week, when American military personnel unknowingly and improperly disposed of Islamic religious materials, including the holy Quran,” he said.

The International Security Assistance Force has a long tradition of handling sacred texts with respect and full consideration of religious customs and rules, Lavoy said.

“In this case, our military neglected out of ignorance long-established, correct procedures for handling religious materials,” he said. “Even as we were fighting to help the Afghan people secure and govern their own country, we as a military did not meet our obligations to the Muslim community.”

Lavoy thanked the Afghan workers at Bagram who discovered the incident, and he detailed subsequent actions. The military personnel immediately stopped their actions and placed the religious materials in the hands of proper religious leaders, he said. Allen privately apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and publicly apologized to the Afghan people.

“I know that apologies are never enough and do not erase this incident,” Lavoy said. “We cannot undo the past. We can only forthrightly acknowledge this incident, seek to rebuild trust, improve our mutual understandings at all levels, and from them, do better in the future.”

Allen directed that all 140,000 ISAF personnel will receive immediate training in the proper ways to handle religious materials. He also promised a thorough, but quick, investigation. Lavoy said those responsible will be held accountable.

The Dulles area mosque is one of the largest in America, serving more than 6,000 families in Washington and Virginia. The mosque has a Boy Scout troop and a Girl Scout unit. The parking lot is full of soccer-mom vans with “My son is an honor student at ….” bumper stickers, and even a few trucks with faded “Go Redskins” stickers. One car had two Blue Star stickers, indicating that two members of the family are serving in the military.

“We are a bridge between America and Islam,” said Rizwan Jaka, an official with the mosque. “We can communicate with both, and we need to do this. Now, we need to speak to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and ask them to respect the teachings of the Quran and respect human lives.”

Carter Meets with Polish Troops, Discusses Partnership

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

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan  – Partnership has been essential to success in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this emphasis continued as Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter met with Polish troops here today.

Carter met with Polish Brig. Gen. Piotr Blazeusz, commander of Task Force White Eagle, Polish Col. Jan Rydz, deputy commander, and U.S. Army Col. Thomas Purple, coalition deputy commander, at Forward Operating Base Ghazni to reaffirm the U.S. partnership with nations contributing to the effort in Afghanistan.

“Thank you very much … to the Polish contingent here,” Carter said. “You’ve been great partners right from the very beginning, and we are admiring of your professionalism and dedication.”

Polish military leaders told the secretary they are working very closely with coalition troops from other nations, and there is a “very good partnership with U.S. forces in the area.”

The group talked about logistics, building capacity in the area, construction and other operational issues. Following their discussions, Carter re-emphasized that the union between U.S. forces and Polish troops serves as “a great, great partnership.”

Officials of the Illinois National Guard, which serves as part of Task Force White Eagle and has a state partnership with Poland, noted the partnership is extensive, as the Guard soldiers spend two months training in Poland before their six- to seven-and-a-half-month deployments.

“Chicago has the largest population of Polish in the world, superseding Warsaw,” noted Army Maj. Rhonda Peterson, a logistics officer with the Illinois National Guard.

Carter showed his appreciation as the leaders exchanged gifts, and he spoke of the appreciation for the Polish troops’ service.

“Thanks, once again,” he said. “It’s very clear this is a great partnership.”

Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died Feb. 23, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when their unit came under small arms fire.  They were assigned to the 385th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade (Airborne), XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Killed were:

Sgt. Joshua A. Born, 25, of Niceville, Fla., and

Cpl. Timothy J. Conrad Jr., 22, of Roanoke, Va.

For more information media may contact the Fort Stewart public affairs office at 912-435-9879.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Panetta Offers Condolences for Georgian Soldiers

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today called Georgian Defense Minister Bachana Akhalaia to express his condolences for the Feb. 21 deaths of three Georgian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

The soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province.

The secretary thanked his Georgian counterpart for his country’s continued support to the International Security Assistance Force mission, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. Panetta also praised the exceptional performance of Georgian soldiers serving in Afghanistan, he added.

Helmand province is located within ISAF’s Regional Command Southwest. NATO officials said Georgia has contributed ISAF troops since 2004 and currently has 935 service members in Afghanistan, mostly in Regional Command Capital and Regional Command South.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in November during a visit to Georgia's capital of Tbilisi that Georgia is "on the right track" to full membership in the alliance.

In all, 15 Georgian troops have been killed in Afghanistan.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Man in Afghan Army Uniform Shoots ISAF Members

Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2012 – A man wearing an Afghan army uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force service members in eastern Afghanistan today, killing two service members, military officials reported.

It was the second incident in three days of a person wearing an Afghan security forces uniform shooting an ISAF member, officials said.

It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.

In other news from Afghanistan:
-- An Afghan-led and coalition-supported security force found and destroyed 1,100 pounds of explosives in the Achin district of Nangarhar province yesterday.

-- A combined Afghan and coalition security force in the Nawah-ye Barakzai district of Helmand province detained multiple insurgent suspects today while searching for a Taliban leader who conducts attacks against Afghan government officials.

-- An Afghan-led security force captured a facilitator who supplied arms and explosives to insurgents in the Khost district of Khost province today. The security force seized weapons, ammunition and bomb-making materials and detained an additional suspect during the operation.

Afghanistan: Georgia Army Guard member presented award by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

By Army National Guard Sgt. Christopher Hall
Georgia National Guard

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (2/23/12) -- Georgia Army National Guard Spc. Robert Schrader was awarded the Army Commendation Medal Feb. 10, by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan.

Schrader serves as an agricultural specialist and security force specialist with the Georgia Agribusiness Development Team 1.

"It was an extreme honor to be awarded this medal by General Dempsey," Schrader said. "It's not every day that you get to meet the highest ranking officer in the United States military- much less get presented an award by him."

On Sept. 10, 2011, Combat Outpost Sayed Abad suffered a major enemy attack when a vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) detonated outside the main gate.

The VBIED was packed with approximately 1500 pounds of homemade explosives (HME).

Schrader was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his actions following the attack.

The blast caused extensive damage to the COP, causing dozens of buildings to collapse as a result. Schrader was in his living quarters preparing to go to chow when the VBIED detonated.

“I was getting ready to go eat when I heard the boom," Schrader said. "Initially I thought one of the [Howitzers] had malfunctioned, but, when I stepped out and saw the mushroom cloud of dust I knew that was not the case."

According to the narrative that accompanied the award, Schrader maintained his military composure while the COP was experiencing chaos and confusion.

He immediately reported to his noncommissioned officer in charge and worked toward physically locating all members of the Civil Affairs and Military Information Support Operations (MISO) elements.

 "My main focus after I had accounted for my fellow team members was to just do the right thing," he said. "As soon as I stepped out of the office my training kicked in."

Schrader rushed down to the impact area and began the difficult and arduous task of extracting wounded personnel from damaged buildings and moving them to the casualty collection point for evaluation. He assisted medical personnel by providing buddy-aid and ensuring casualties with head injuries stayed awake.

 "When Schrader ran off to help, I didn't have to worry about him," said Army Master Sgt. James Horne, Wardak-South NCOIC for the Georgia ADT. "I knew he would do the right thing."

For the remainder of the day and into the night, Schrader assisted the medical staff and helped load casualties on aircraft. In the midst of uncertainty and immediate danger, Schrader consistently put the welfare of others above his own.

"I definitely did not expect to get an award for my actions that day," Schrader said. "My Command Sergeant Major is always telling us to 'do the right thing,' that's all I was trying to do."