Thursday, February 28, 2013

Officials: Cuts, Unstable Budget Threaten Intelligence Mission

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2013 – Along with al-Qaida, nuclear proliferation and cyber threats, budget instability and the prospect of further deep spending cuts are among the nation’s most pressing national security challenges, top defense intelligence officials told a congressional panel yesterday.

Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn testified during the unclassified part of a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.

Elements of the intelligence community that are part of DOD include DIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, Vickers said. Nearly 60,000 civilians and 123,000 service members support DOD’s national and military intelligence missions at home and alongside combat forces worldwide.

Defense intelligence partners include counterparts in the broader intelligence community, he noted, including the director of national intelligence, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and many other elements.

President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request seeks $19.2 billion for the military intelligence program, the undersecretary said, which funds intelligence, counterintelligence and intelligence-related programs, projects and activities that provide capabilities to meet warfighter operational and tactical requirements.

Vickers reviewed the top intelligence challenges for the Defense Department and the nation:

-- Transitioning the mission in Afghanistan to Afghan leadership;
-- Preparing for increased instability during the Arab world’s historic transition;
-- Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
-- Ensuring continued U.S. access to the global commons and critical regions such as East Asia; and
-- Continuing to provide decisive intelligence to policymakers, operators and warfighters.

“Finally,” Vickers added, “we must ensure the continued economic leadership of the United States. This is the foundation upon which our long-term national security rests. At the same time as our intelligence and defense budgets are declining, the challenges … are increasing and becoming more complex.”
He described intelligence as a major source of U.S. advantage that “informs wise policy and enables precision operations. It is our front line of defense.” To maintain and bolster that front line, Vickers added, requires critical investment in a range of capabilities.

The war against al-Qaida and instability in the Middle East and North Africa make it necessary for DOD to continue enhancing its counterterrorism capabilities, he said.

“Our national security strategy in Asia will require significantly different investments over the next 15 years … to obtain the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities most appropriate to the unique challenges of ensuring access in the Pacific,” the undersecretary said.

Countering cyber threats and nuclear proliferation calls for new resources and new ways of operating, he added.

The department is improving its human intelligence capabilities by establishing the Defense Clandestine Service, he said, and critical intelligence capabilities like overhead and cryptologic architectures continue to need modernization and recapitalization.

“Budgetary instability and the prospect of further deep cuts,” Vickers said, “put these investments at risk.”
When Flynn addressed the panel, he noted that the nation is at a moment of transition and that the global security environment presents increasingly complex challenges and a growing list of threats and adversaries.
“Demands on the U.S. intelligence system have skyrocketed in recent years, and these demands are only expected to increase,” the general said. Noting that the DIA puts its people first, he added that sequestration -- the deep and sudden budget cuts scheduled to begin tomorrow -- will negatively affect the agency’s more than 16,000 employees in 262 locations worldwide, including 142 countries and 31 states.

“We cannot accomplish our mission without the men and women who serve this nation so well,” Flynn said. “The impact sequestration will have on an organization that depends on human resources for its capability is astoundingly complex and far-reaching.”

The director characterized a geometric impact that includes the cost of lost opportunity and the cost of rebuilding capability the agency stands to lose.

“What we cannot predict is the real impact on national security of that lost capability,” Flynn added.

“If we think that our adversaries will use this time to take a strategic pause, or that we will somehow manage to stay ahead of the most potentially catastrophic intelligence issues while opting to take cuts against the low threat areas, then we are deluding ourselves,” he observed.

“The real cost of this action is in public insecurity and potential strategic surprise,” the director said.

At best, Flynn added, “we may never know what key intelligence we have missed as a result of sequestration. At worst, I fear we may find ourselves rehashing another major intelligence failure.”

Combined Force Arrests Haqqani Facilitator

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 28, 2013 – A combined Afghan and coalition security force today arrested a high-profile Haqqani network attack facilitator and detained two other insurgents in the Pul-e Alam district of Afghanistan’s Logar province, military officials reported.

The facilitator is believed to be responsible for transporting and facilitating weapons for insurgents in provinces across Afghanistan for use against Afghan and coalition security forces.

In other news, a precision strike called in by a combined force in Helmand province’s Marjah district yesterday killed one insurgent and injured another.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NORAD Promotes Maritime Awareness to Protect Homeland

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service\

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2013 – Drive around any American city and you’re likely to see tractor-trailers hauling huge containers that arrived from overseas at any of 361 major U.S. ports dotting some 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
North American Aerospace Defense Command’s maritime domain awareness mission helps to provide the information and intelligence required to increase the security of U.S. and Canadian waterways and ports. Pictured here are four newly operational supersized container cranes on a new 50-foot deep container berth at the Port of Baltimore, one of only two East Coast ports able to accommodate some of the world’s largest container vessels. Maryland Port Administration Photo by Bill McAllen, courtesy of the Maryland Port Administration

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The United States is the world leader in maritime trading, Navy Capt. Martin Beck, chief of North American Air Defense Command’s maritime division, told American Forces Press Service. Twenty percent of all global trade passes through its extensive maritime transportation system, and 80 percent of all foreign trade entering the United States and Canada arrives by sea.
Unfortunately, these same waterways expose an unintended Achilles’ heel to bad actors intent on using them for illegal, or even diabolical, activities.

“The threats are varied to the extent of your imagination,” Beck explained. “They include state and nonstate actors, narco-smuggling, human traffickers, weapons traffickers, proliferators [and] foreign intelligence collectors. That is the gross macro spectrum of what we could encounter in the maritime domain.”

The consequences, if left undetected, could be severe to the United States and Canada, Beck said. “We want to prevent a potential 9/11 in the maritime domain,” he said.

To shore up these vulnerabilities, the United States and Canada amended the NORAD agreement in 2006 to add maritime warning to its mission. The two countries agreed to increase information and intelligence sharing to give their national leaders a clearer picture of the maritime approaches to their shores -- and, in the event of an inbound threat, vital time to act.

“The intent of the agreement was to increase the security of North America using a proven command infrastructure to increase bi-national cooperation in the maritime domain,” Beck said. “We’ve got 55 years of experience here at NORAD in the defense of both Canada and the United States. So we are leveraging the state-of-the-art operations center and information-sharing protocols to ensure both countries have an accurate, timely and comprehensive picture of the maritime domain.”

Since adopting the expanded mission almost seven years ago, NORAD processes, assesses and disseminates intelligence and information about the movements of hundreds of thousands of ships around the globe that ultimately will arrive at U.S. or Canadian shores.

This responsibility, which covers both countries’ maritime areas, internal waterways and maritime approaches, requires extensive partnerships with U.S. Northern Command and its sister combatant commands. It also includes other partners in the U.S. and Canadian militaries, law enforcement, intelligence and commercial maritime communities.

Beck called these partnerships and the processes they have developed to make collaboration faster and more effective the strength of NORAD’s maritime mission. Together, NORAD and its partners provide the myriad elements that, considered together, provide the most complete situational awareness, he said.

“The biggest challenge is the sheer volume of information that we have to sort through, and then collaborate on and share with our partners,” Beck said. “This sharing and collaboration is essential to our success in the maritime domain and in exercising our maritime warning mission.”

When the intelligence raises a red flag, NORAD issues an advisory to alert national decision-makers, or, in the event of a confirmed threat, a maritime warning.

Both are relatively rare. During the last 18 months, NORAD has issued just seven advisories and two warnings, none of which Beck can describe because the details are classified. But he said past responses have proven the effectiveness of the processes.

“To us, this shows that the process is working exactly as it was intended,” he said.

The success of the mission, Beck said, can’t be measured in warnings issued or interceptions made. Rather, he said he looks at the big picture, and the fact that neither the United States nor Canada has suffered a major maritime incident.

NORAD is committed to maintaining this track record to protect the U.S. and Canadian homelands, Beck said.

“We have the watch, and what we do is a no-fail mission,” he said.

Brazilian Firm to Provide Aircraft to Afghan Air Force

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2013 – Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter called Brazilian Minister of Defense Celso Amorim this evening to inform the Brazilian government about the decision made by the United States Air Force to award Sierra Nevada Corp./Embraer SA a $427 million contract to provide light air support aircraft and associated maintenance and training for the Afghan air force, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.

Sierra Nevada Corp. is based in Sparks, Nevada, and Embraer SA is its Brazilian subcontractor.
Under this contract, 20 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to operational air bases in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014 to conduct advanced flight training, surveillance, close air support and air interdiction missions, Little said.

This platform, he said, is critical to providing enabling support to the Afghan National Security Forces as part of United States enduring support to Afghanistan following the completion of the ISAF mission at the end of 2014.

Minister Amorim also extended his best wishes to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on his first day in office, Little said.

The two leaders, Little added, noted they look forward to scheduling the next U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue and continuing defense cooperation between the United States and Brazil.

McChord Reservists return home from Afghanistan deployments

by Airman 1st Class Madelyn McCullough
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

2/27/2013 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- About 60 Citizen Airmen from the 86th Aerial Port Squadron here are scheduled to come home from a six-month deployment from various locations in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

A group of about 20 Reservists are scheduled to arrive at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Feb. 28 to be greeted by their friends, family members, and other supporters including the 86th APS commander, Maj. Tony Edwards.

By the end of December 2012, the group had already managed to support the movement of more than 100,000 passengers and nearly 70,000 pounds of cargo on almost 7,500 missions. This deployment had a mixture of both new and experienced Reservists who worked at a busy Kandahar, Afghanistan terminal to support their war-fighting counterparts, Edwards, a two-time Bronze Star recipient, said. It gave them the opportunity to be mission ready.

The reservists are returning to their Pacific Northwest homes including Auburn, Bothell, Kent, Oak Harbor, Spanaway, Spokane, Tacoma, and Vancouver.

Even with the busy and continuous schedule, the reservists managed accomplish other mission-essential training. Training ranged from career-efficiency and promotion training, to finishing Community College of the Air Force classes to earn Associate's Degrees.

"I'm proud they were able to directly support the war fighters by bringing them the equipment and supplies they needed as well as moving them where they needed to be," Edwards, a local State Farm agent, said. "It's good to have (the Airmen) home after a long, hard six months of continuous labor so they can be with their friends and families again."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Outlook on Afghan Progress Remains Positive, Press Secretary Says

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

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2013 – Despite discovery of a clerical error that incorrectly indicated a drop in Taliban attacks, the Defense Department’s assessment of progress in Afghanistan is unchanged, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.

At a Pentagon news conference, Little said the incorrect information is being fixed.

“This is a regrettable error in our database systems that was discovered during a routine quality check,” he said. “We are making the appropriate adjustments. In spite of the stated adjustment, our assessment of the fundamentals of progress in Afghanistan remains positive.”

Little said the clerical error doesn’t change the fact that 80 percent of the violence has been taking place in areas where less than 20 percent of the Afghan population lives. The Taliban have been pushed out of population centers and have failed to retake any of the areas they lost, he added.
Afghan security forces are now in the lead for the vast majority of partnered operations, and have taken the leading role in providing security for 87 percent of the country's population, Little told reporters.

“There's a tendency sometimes to fixate on one metric, whether it's this particular database number or insider attacks or casualties,” he said. “The complete picture of progress in Afghanistan is much more nuanced, and I would encourage you to look at that overall picture.”

Little also said the congressionally mandated Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan will be reviewed for any necessary adjustments, but that he doesn’t believe a broader review is necessary.

“As we transition in partner war with the Afghans, we're going to have to collect information with them, so we need to make sure that our numbers and their numbers are accurate, that they're reported effectively, that our systems are capable of processing those numbers, and then we drive out the correct analytics at the end,” he said.

The Defense Department has a duty to convey information that is as accurate as possible, the press secretary said. “So I view this as a limited instance at this stage,” he added. “If there is a broader problem, of course, we'll be forthright about it.”

Little said this year’s statistics show a “story of tremendous progress” for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

“It’s, in part, what steps American and ISAF partners have done to orient this very effective campaign in the right direction,” he said. “It's also about what the Afghans are doing themselves to orient their own campaign, and it's about what we're doing together in Afghanistan.

“And we're seeing major muscle movements on all three tracks,” he continued. “And I think if you add the progress up along those three tracks -- bearing in mind that there are still challenges out there, and we're not at all discounting the challenges that still remain in the midst of a war -- then the overall trend lines are very positive.”

Little said the goal of ISAF partners has been to “make this war effort over time, more and more Afghan, not just the face of Afghans providing security for their own country, but also their capabilities.”
“And we are, I think, doing a very effective job enabling them,” he added. “And in many cases, they have surpassed our own expectations. That's not to say we don't have work to be done … in certain areas. But they have really taken on this fight, willingly, and have made great sacrifices, and we're trying to help them every step of the way.”

Joint Commission Reviews Wardak Province Allegations

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2013 – A joint commission composed of International Security Assistance Force and Afghan officials is being formed to review the Afghan government’s concerns surrounding abuse and murder allegations in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.

Consultations to address Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s claims are under way, with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. the ISAF commander, leading the review, Little said at a Pentagon news conference.

“We take those concerns seriously and will work with the Afghans,” Little said.

ISAF officials said yesterday that they had found no evidence connecting U.S. troops to allegations of abuse, torture, harassment and murder of innocent Afghans in the region. Talks will continue despite Karzai’s order for special operations forces to end operations throughout the insurgent-dense province and to leave it within two weeks.

“We look forward to consulting with our Afghan partners,” Little said, “as we do on a daily basis on other matters.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bagram bodybuilders push it to the limit

by Senior Airman Chris Willis
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

2/25/2013 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Bodybuilding is not a sprint, it's a marathon.

Airmen got a chance to show off their hard work and dedication to fitness as they participated in a bodybuilding competition open to all service members and civilians on Bagram Airfield.

The arena was packed with spectators as the bodybuilders prepared backstage, oiling up and getting pumped to entertain the crowd.

Like rock stars, the bodybuilders entered center stage to perform their individual routines to a cheering crowd holding posters and rooting for their favorite contestants.

For some competitors this is a lifestyle and was not their first show. Others, such as first timers Capt. Michelle Ruehl and Staff Sgt. Adam Nicola, both from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, were not easy to pick out during the competition, even though they had mere weeks to prepare for the event.

"This was my first competition," Ruehl said. "I had a great time training for it, but I knew I was limited on time."

Nicola had taken up bodybuilding in college but this was also his first competition.

"I work out hard every day at the gym and like the way it makes me look," said Nicola, who deployed from Joint Base Langley- Eustis, Va. "Getting on that stage and showing what I worked for is just a bonus."

Competing in the bodybuilding event is also part of a bigger picture to some Airmen.

At the Air Force Academy, Ruehl played rugby to stay fit but noticed in her mid-30's staying fit takes a little bit more work. As the unit fitness program manager for her squadron, she wanted to show the younger troops that fitness is more than just a standard.

"It's better to set an example than to just tell people they 'should' be fit," said Ruehl, who deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. "You can stay fit and strong at any age."

For many these competitions are about getting out of their comfort zones and pushing it to the limit of their physical capabilities to impress the crowd.

"Hearing the crowd roar is the best part of the competitions for me," Nicola said. "They make you want to flex even harder than you should already be flexing."

Ruehl and Nicola both placed in top positions in their divisions and are hooked on the sport. They are already planning to participate in more competitions back at their home stations.

Combined Force Arrests Taliban Leader in Nangarhar Province

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 25, 2013 – A combined coalition and Afghan security force arrested a senior Taliban leader in the Khugyani district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province yesterday, military officials reported.

The Taliban leader is believed to be responsible for coordinating and directing insurgents and of having maintained direct operational control of suicide bombers prepared to carry out attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, officials said. The security force also arrested three other suspected insurgents.

In other Afghanistan operations yesterday:

-- In Kandahar province’s Arghandab district, a combined force arrested a Taliban facilitator believed to be responsible for the acquisition and distribution of lethal aid for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces and to be heavily involved in the finances of an insurgent network in the district. The security force also arrested another suspected insurgent.

-- A combined force in Logar province’s Pul-e Alam district arrested three insurgents during a search for a Taliban leader believed to be responsible for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also has been linked to kidnapping Afghans for ransom and establishing illegal checkpoints, officials said.

-- In Ghazni province’s Andar district, a combined force arrested a Taliban leader believed to be responsible for procuring and distributing automatic weapons and roadside bombs to insurgents and to have personally planned and executed attacks. The security force also arrested another suspected insurgent.

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Marine Casualty

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

Staff Sgt. Jonathan D. Davis, 34, of Kayenta, Ariz., died Feb. 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 32nd Georgian Liaison Team, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif. 

For more information media may contact the 1st Marine Division Public Affairs Office at 760-725-8766.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

NATO, Partners Still Considering Size of Post-2014 Force

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2013 – NATO and partner nations are still considering the size of the force that will remain in Afghanistan once the International Security Assistance Force mission ends in December 2014, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

Little, in Brussels with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, issued a statement to put down rumors about the size of the U.S. force that will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

In a statement, Little said news reports that American officials told partners that 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. troops would be part of a follow-on force are incorrect. “A range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution,” he added.

President Barack Obama still is reviewing options for American forces in Afghanistan following the end of the ISAF mission, the press secretary said. Officials have said the United States will continue to have a presence in the country aimed at training and mentoring Afghan security forces, and a small counterterrorism force aimed against extremist groups such as al-Qaida.

More than 100,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan today. The United States provides about 66,000 service members.

In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, Obama announced his intent to withdraw 34,000 U.S. service members from Afghanistan over the next year. The United States already has withdrawn the 33,000 troops that surged into the country beginning in 2009. Officials have said the U.S. presence will shrink as Afghan capabilities grow.

Afghanistan’s national security forces now have 352,000 members, and they will assume the lead in missions throughout the country in the spring.

In his statement today, Little reiterated that U.S. officials will continue to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with NATO and partner nations.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Precision Strike Kills Taliban IED Expert

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2013 – A precision strike killed Zekaria, a Taliban improvised explosive device expert, in the Chahar Darah district of Afghanistan’s Kunduz province yesterday, military officials reported.

The strike will significantly degrade the ability of insurgents to conduct attacks in the Charhar Darah district, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command officials said.

In other news, ISAF Joint Command officials confirmed today that Habib, a Taliban leader, was killed by a precision strike yesterday in Logar province’s Charkh district. He obtained weapons for insurgents and helped to plan attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, officials said.

Technical sergeant awarded Air Force Combat Action Medal

2/22/2013 - Tech. Sgt. John Fender, 90th Missile Wing Plans and Programs, and Barry Kistler, 90th MW director of staff, hold Fender’s Air Force Combat Action Medal citation Feb. 14 in the Wing Conference Room on F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. Fender was awarded the AFCAM for “active participation in combat, having been under direct and hostile fire or physically engaging hostile forces with direct and lethal fire, in connection with military operations.” Fender’s actions were in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Aug. 14, 2004 to March 6, 2005. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Torri Savarese)

NATO Secretary General Pledges New Afghan Mission Post-2014

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Feb. 22, 2013 – The NATO secretary general today pledged “a new and different NATO-led mission after 2014” in Afghanistan.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke to open the session of NATO and non-NATO troop-contributing nations here on the last day of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting. The International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan will end late in 2014, when Afghan forces will have assumed security responsibility for their nation’s people, he said.

“But our partnership with Afghanistan will continue well beyond the end of transition, and the end of our ISAF mission. … I am pleased that many partners have already offered to join us and are working with us to plan the new mission,” Rasmussen added.

NATO and its ISAF partner nations remain resolute in their support for a sovereign, safe and secure Afghanistan, the secretary general said.

In a news conference here yesterday, Rasmussen noted that while the alliance plans a follow-on mission in Afghanistan, it also is focused on maintaining and building on the capabilities it has gained through two decades of operations from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Libya. Over the next decade, NATO must preserve and pass on those skills, he said, “as our biggest operation comes closer to completion.”

The secretary general said the alliance has adopted the “connected forces” initiative to expand education and training and enhance exercises.

“Today we took an important step forward in that initiative,” Rasmussen said at the news conference. “We agreed on its goals, and asked our military experts to come up with concrete proposals on how to put them into practice.”

NATO’s goal for the initiative, he said, is to hold “more ambitious” military training exercises, with a broader range of scenarios, more often.

“The initiative will include a comprehensive training plan out to 2020, to make sure that our exercises are coherent, comprehensive, and cover the full range of alliance missions,” Rasmussen said. “It will include, in 2015, a major live exercise -- that is, one involving significant numbers of deployed forces, not just command and staff units.”

The NATO Response Force will be the core of the connected forces initiative, he said.

“And we will build on its exercises -- for example, by including the battalion which the United States government has pledged to rotate through Europe for precisely this purpose, and by building in more contributions from other allies and partners,” Rasmussen said. This will make the response force “a cooperation school, as well as a quick-reaction tool -- an immediate resource, but also an investment in the future,” he added.

Rasmussen said NATO also is working to use its common funding, which comes from member nations’ budgets, for high-priority missions that include training, rapid response, and improving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

“Over the coming months, we will make those improvements so that every dollar and every euro we spend is well spent,” he said.

The secretary general acknowledged that multinational cooperation doesn't solve all of NATO’s problems and is not a response to all of its challenges.

“We also need a sufficient level of defense investment,” he said. “And that's my major concern -- that if cuts continue, it will damage severely our ability to meet and address the future security challenges.”

NATO officials said yesterday they are discussing a proposal to maintain Afghan army and police forces at 352,000 combined members after 2014, when a previous plan had called for reducing the number to some 240,000.

“Let me stress that no final decisions have been made,” the secretary general said at the news conference. “But I can confirm that it's one of the ideas that is being considered. I feel confident that we will be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size.”

The international community has pledged to help in financing those forces, he added, “because a security force of that size goes well beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government.”
Rasmussen said NATO alone should not bear the cost for Afghan forces. “This is actually a responsibility for the whole of the international community,” he said. “And that has been confirmed at international conferences.”

Rasmussen noted the proposal makes sense both politically and economically.

“It's better to give the defense of Afghanistan an Afghan face,” he said. “And from an economic point of view, it is actually less expensive to finance Afghan security forces than to deploy foreign troops.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is attending this week’s meetings, and is scheduled to hold a news conference here later today.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Panetta: 2014 Drawdown to Begin After Afghan Elections

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Feb. 22, 2013 – The United States will maintain more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan through the spring and summer fighting season, cutting to 34,000 by February and staying at that strength through the Afghan elections set for 2014, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.

“Once those elections are completed, we will then begin the final drawdown,” Panetta said during a news conference at NATO headquarters after two days of NATO defense minister meetings.

President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union address earlier this month that the United States will withdraw 34,000 troops -- about half its current strength -- from Afghanistan in the next 12 months.

The secretary said the current International Security Assistance Force mission and the follow-on NATO mission in Afghanistan were the central topic of group meetings and his own one-on-one discussions with allied and partner ministers here this week.

“There is a strong consensus that our mission is succeeding … on the ground because of the growing role and capabilities that all of us have seen [in] the Afghan national security forces,” Panetta said.

Afghan army and police units are on track to step into the lead for all operations this spring, he added.

NATO defense ministers today agreed to begin planning for a follow-on alliance mission after Afghan forces take over security responsibility for their nation, Panetta said.

“There are a range of options on [NATO’s] post-2014 posture that would provide for an effective regional presence,” he said. That presence would be placed not only in Kabul, the secretary added, but also in nodes around the country.

As the United States plans for its own Afghan troop presence after 2014, “we will continue to work closely with ISAF nations, particularly other regional lead nations, to … discuss options,” Panetta said.

“Our goal is, obviously, to ensure the success of this new mission and the long-term stability of Afghanistan,” he added, and he praised the “extraordinary unity, strength and resolve of ISAF” in reaching this transition point.

The secretary said he and his counterparts also discussed the number of Afghan troops that will be needed to assure their nation’s security in the years after the transition. A previous plan had set the number of Afghan forces after 2014 at 240,000, but it now makes sense to consider maintaining the Afghan surge strength of 352,000 through 2018, he said.

Panetta said supporting that level of Afghan troops is “an investment that would be worth making, because it would allow us greater flexibility as we take down our troops.”

The secretary said his father used to quote an Italian phrase that translates: “Step by step, you’ll go a long way.”

“I think that’s probably great advice for all of us as we approach this final period, hopefully, in the completion of the mission … in Afghanistan,” he added.

Panetta also touched on the threat of terrorism and cyberattacks, warning that NATO must commit to acting together if member nations hope to confront such challenges.

These 21st-century challenges require the response that only a strong NATO alliance can bring, the secretary said. Between shrinking European defense budgets and political gridlock in the United States, he said, “I do fear that the alliance will soon be, if it is not already, stretched too thin.”

The secretary said he asked a question of his fellow ministers this week: “Will we let our nations retreat from our responsibilities in the face of growing budget constraints, or will we demonstrate the kind of creativity, innovation and political will to develop and share the capabilities we must have?”
Panetta praised NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s leadership in guiding the alliance’s growth through efforts such as the new “connected forces” initiative, which will use the NATO Response Force as the core for multinational training and operations within the alliance after Afghanistan deployments wind down.

Such initiatives are “critical to ensuring the readiness of the alliance, which has to be the top priority in an unpredictable and crisis-prone world,” Panetta said.

The secretary also thanked Rasmussen for announcing that cyber threats will be a central topic the next time NATO defense ministers meet.

Cyber is “without question, the battlefield of the future, and it’s an area that NATO needs to pay attention to,” Panetta said.

The NATO alliance was built on 20th-century conflicts, Panetta noted. “After more than a decade of war in Afghanistan,” he added, “I believe we have renewed those bonds for the 21st century.”
If the alliance can carry its solidarity forward, the secretary said, “we can realize our shared dream of a better and more peaceful and more secure world.”

Earlier today, after a meeting of NATO and troop-contributing partner nations, Rasmussen said that while the ISAF mission will end after 2014, a new, smaller NATO mission will take its place focusing on national and institutional level training. While he, like Panetta, said NATO ministers see the new mission organized regionally -- rather than limited to one central location -- the alliance has not yet determined any specifics.

But “Afghans can be confident our support will go well beyond the end of transition,” he added.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Combined Force Arrests Insurgents in Kunduz Province

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 21, 2013 – A combined Afghan and coalition security force in Kunduz district of Afghanistan’s Kunduz province arrested six insurgents today during a search for an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader, military officials reported.

The leader is believed to be instrumental in manufacturing, procuring and distributing improvised explosive devices for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. The security force also seized a shotgun.
In Afghanistan operations yesterday:

-- A precision strike in Kunduz province’s Qalah-ye Zal Qahar district killed a Taliban leader and another insurgent. The Taliban leader coordinated attacks against coalition forces and acquired weapons for insurgents.

-- A combined force in Logar province’s Charkh district saw an insurgent engaged in nefarious activity and killed him with a precision strike.

State Department Updates Worldwide Caution for U.S. Travelers

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2013 – State Department officials have issued an updated a worldwide caution for Americans traveling overseas.

“The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas,” says the caution, published on the department’s website Feb. 19.

Officials said the caution updates threats to Americans overseas since the last worldwide caution was issued in July.

Overall, al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations and other terrorist organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings and bombings,” the caution says. “Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests.”

Terrorists may target Americans at high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas and other tourist destinations -- in reality, just about anywhere.

“U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure,” the caution says.

Al-Qaida and unaffiliated people planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations, but conducted on an individual basis, are a threat in Europe, the State Department caution says, citing as an example the Feb. 1 bombing that killed a guard at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and many other nations in the Middle East have extremists who wish Americans ill, the caution notes. Syria is an active war zone, and Turkey, Iraq and Jordan are receiving refugees from the country.

“No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention and torture,” the caution says.

Northern Mali remains problematic, and the border area with Algeria is dangerous. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is active and operates throughout the region. Terrorists also have targeted oil processing plants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Al-Qaida operatives and other extremists are believed to be operating in and around Africa, the caution says. Somalia, Sudan, Chad and other countries in the Sahel region have dangers.

“U.S. citizens considering travel by sea near the Horn of Africa or in the southern Red Sea should exercise extreme caution, as there have been armed attacks, robberies and kidnappings for ransom by pirates,” the caution says. U.S. military officials said there has not been a pirate attack for months, but that the possibility still exists.

South Asia contains representatives from the U.S. State Department’s terror list. Terrorists have launched vehicle-borne explosive attacks, improvised explosive device attacks, assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings.

“Such attacks have occurred in a number of South Asian states, including Pakistan, where a number of extremist groups continue to target U.S. and other Western citizens and interests, and Pakistani government and military/law enforcement personnel,” the caution says.

“India has experienced terrorist and insurgent activities which may affect U.S. citizens directly or indirectly,” the caution says. “Terrorists have targeted public places in India frequented by Westerners, including luxury and other hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, and restaurants in large urban areas.”
In Central Asia, many of the same terror groups that operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan maintain cells, and nationalist groups also pose risk.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Afghan, Coalition Forces Kill Insurgents in Logar Province

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 20, 2013 – A combined Afghan and coalition security force killed three insurgents and detained one other during an operation in search of a Taliban leader in the Charkh district of Afghanistan’s Logar province today, military officials reported.

As the security force approached the Taliban leader’s suspected location, insurgents maneuvered toward the Afghan and coalition troops. After positively identifying the lethal threat, the security force engaged the insurgents, killing three.

The Taliban leader is believed to be responsible for distributing weapons to insurgent forces and for planning and executing attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

The security force also seized a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, RPG rounds, assault rifles and a machine gun in the operation.

In other Afghanistan operations today:

-- A combined force in the city of Kandahar in Kandahar province arrested a Haqqani network facilitator who managed supply routes from the city to other provinces. He also is believed to have been instrumental in the acquisition and distribution of lethal aid to Haqqani fighters for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

-- In Khost province’s Terayzai district, a combined force arrested three insurgents during a search for a Haqqani network leader believed to responsible for improvised explosive device attacks. The security force also seized an assault rifle and two bolt-action rifles.

In operations yesterday:

-- A precision strike in Helmand province’s Nahr-e Saraj district killed a Taliban leader and another insurgent. The Taliban leader directed attacks against Afghan and coalition forces and coordinated the production and planting of IEDs.

-- In Ghazni province’s Andar district, a precision strike killed five insurgents after a combined security force observed them engaging in nefarious activity.

Face of Defense: Marine Supports Regimental Combat Team

By Marine Corps Sgt. Ned Johnson
Regimental Combat Team 7

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, Feb. 20, 2013 – Before a deployment, Marines train with their units, establish relationships and build camaraderie.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps Cpl. Sasha Savage helped fill an important role by maintaining records of supply purchases made by subordinate units. Savage, a 23-year-old native of Beaverton, Mich., originally deployed with Marine Air Ground Task Force Support Company, Reset and Reconstitution Operational Group, but was moved to Regimental Combat Team 7 when a shortfall was identified. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ned Johnson

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But one Marine prepared for her deployment with one unit, but was transferred to a different unit once she arrived here.

Marine Corps Cpl. Sasha Savage, a supply noncommissioned officer with Regimental Combat Team 7, deployed with Marine Air Ground Task Force Support Company, Reset and Reconstitution Operational Group, but moved to the regiment after a shortfall was identified.

Savage, a 23-year-old native of Beaverton, Mich., works with the regiment’s infantry battalions to ensure they are properly submitting supply requests and making responsible fiscal decisions. For an NCO, this is an important responsibility.

“Poor stewards of government spending and misappropriations of government funds are some things that supply absolutely has to be in tune with,” said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Donald Turner, the regimental combat team’s supply officer. “Being irresponsible with that is very unfavorable for a command.”

Savage’s role goes beyond being an NCO. She also has been trained to fill in as the supply officer if Turner has to leave the office to tour the regiment’s battle space.

“That’s the way we trained her, so that she could be here to answer questions if I’m not around,” said Turner, a 26-year-old Columbus, Ohio native and graduate of Ohio State University. “We wanted to create multiple capabilities within her as a Marine.”

For about two weeks, the team was unable to use scanners, so Savage improvised. She changed her daily run route to pass each of the battalion’s supply sections, and along the way, she picked up and dropped off paperwork. The route is just short of 5 miles, and she carried a backpack, but she just shrugged it off.
“I just dropped by and picked it up,” she said. “It’s really not that far.”

Such an attitude is not that uncommon with Savage, whose father served in the Army and Navy. She doesn’t brag about having learned a new job specialty by working as a night-watch clerk or that she has improved her Marine Corps martial arts skills to the brown belt level. And she recently finished writing a book report on “The Last Stand of Fox Company,” a book on the Marine Corps commandant’s reading list.

“When she came in, she was rather quiet about things,” Turner said. “Her path of leadership now is leading her peers -- leading by example. She’s actually trying to be the best NCO in the shop, and Marines are following her because of it.”

Savage has made a big impact on the supply section and will continue to be an important asset, Turner added.

Obama’s War With His Commander’s in Afghanistan

Commentary by Lt. Colonel John Lewis Cook, USA (ret.)

While it has gotten little coverage in the main stream media, President Obama seems to be at war with his top commander’s in Afghanistan.  It started early in his first term when he fired General David McKiernan in May, 2009.  The official reason for relieving McKiernan was a need for “fresh ideas.”  McKiernan was, without question, old school, who believed that the enemy must be destroyed and wars must be won.  He was not a big fan of counterinsurgency.  Rather, he believed in combat operations to destroy the enemy.  As a result, he was replaced by General Stanley McCrystal who believed in a kinder, gentler approach to combat.  McCrystal was a big fan of counterinsurgency, of winning the population’s “hearts and minds,” and hoping they would turn away from the Taliban and support the corrupt Karzai regime.  What McCrystal failed to realize, and what McKiernan understood perfectly, was that the average Afghan feared the Karzai government more than the Taliban.  

Unfortunately, McCrystal fell victim to an unflattering article in Rolling Stones magazine and Obama promptly fired him in the summer of 2010.  This led to Obama selecting General David Petraeus, the author of the current failed strategy of counterinsurgency and he looked like a perfect fit for Obama who desperately wanted to look like a real wartime president without actually conducting real war.  In September, 2011, Pertaeus turned his command over to General John Allen, a four star Marine, and rode off to take over as the Director of the CIA.  As we now know, Petraeus did not have to be fired by Obama, he managed to fire himself by banging a camp follower.  

General Allen led the coalition forces in Afghanistan until February, 2013, faithfully carrying out the administration’s policy of conducting limited combat operations which put coalition forces at increased risks on the battlefield,  resulting in more casualties without any appreciable gains.  By now, any hope of success was long gone.  That hope died with the firing of General David McKiernan back in 2009.  As for Allen, he became caught up in the same web that snared Pertaeus and he has now announced his retirement.  The racy emails he exchanged with an upwardly mobile  socialite in Tampa proved to be his undoing, and he took the gracious way out by claiming family commitments.

Now the torch has been passed to General Joe Dunford, another Marine four star, selected by Obama.  He is the fifth war-time commander for Obama in Afghanistan in less than four years.  By comparison, President Bush only had two senior commanders in almost eight years, and he fired no one.

So how much progress have me made under Obama?  Unfortunately, we have steadily lost ground in spite of his desperate efforts, including the surge and the constant rotation of commanders.  During Obama’s four years, we have suffered over 65% of all casualties in over eleven years of combat. Even worse, we have given up on winning under Obama’s leadership.  

The last time an American president relieved a war-time commander was done by President Harry Truman when he relieved General Douglas MacArthur  during the Korean War.  How did that turn out?  As history has shown, not very well.  

Through all of this turmoil and incompetence at the highest level, the troops in the field faithfully carried out the orders given, which is what the troops always do.  They are the best in the world and they deserve better leadership.  The tragedy is they are not going to get it and they will continue to die in this God forsaken country for no reason other than propping up an interlocking criminal enterprise which is what the Karzai regime has become.  

So now the question has to be asked.  Why are we still there?  A very good question, indeed.

 About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel John Lewis Cook, United States Army (Retired), “served as the Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, Afghanistan, with responsibility for developing the force structure for the entire Afghan National Police.  As of 2012, this force totals 157,000.  From March 2008 until August 2012, his access and intimate associations with all levels of the Afghan government and coalition forces have provided him with an unprecedented insight into the policies which will determine the outcome of the war.  It is this insight, coupled with his contacts and associations throughout Afghanistan that form the basis of Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure.

Click to read more about Lt. Colonel John Lewis Cook