Sunday, September 30, 2018

Commander Wants Coalition Forces in Afghanistan to Know Why They Fight

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WARSAW, Poland -- “Why are we here?” is a basic question that coalition troops in Afghanistan have to answer.

The simple question evinces a lot of different answers, said Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, the new commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

“Each nation has its own objectives, and then there are NATO objectives,” Miller said prior to the NATO Military Committee meeting here. “So you get a lot of different answers when you speak to the troops. But it all comes down to protecting the citizens at home.”

This is easy enough to forget. The events that precipitated military actions in Afghanistan occurred 17 years ago. To put this in perspective, some of the coalition soldiers assigned to Afghanistan were a year old when al-Qaida terrorists killed 3,000 people in America.

They have no direct memories of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, or an aircraft slamming into the Pentagon, or Americans fighting back and forcing a plane commandeered by terrorists to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. They know about Sept. 11, 2001, because they studied it, but they don’t have the visceral emotions that those who watched the Twin Towers fall or counted the number of friends dead in the rubble of the Pentagon.

Al-Qaida had safe haven in Afghanistan. The Taliban leaders of the nation protected Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants as they planned the attack against the United States.

NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that created the alliance for – so far – the only time in its history, as the nations of the alliance came to the aid of America in the aftermath of the horrific attack. Article 5 states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.

In the more than 17 years since the attack, more than 1,100 NATO and coalition troops have lost their lives combating terrorism in Afghanistan. And this is not just an American conflict or problem. Terrorists have struck London, Madrid, Paris, Nice, Bali, the Philippines, Mumbai and many other cities and countries.

Ungoverned or loosely governed areas attract terror groups. They use monies raised from taxing areas they occupy or – like the Taliban and others – money from illegal activities such as the drug trade to finance their attacks. They use these safe havens to train new terrorists and indoctrinate new recruits into the hateful ideologies they espouse.

Making Their Own Countries Safer

Miller, who has been commander of the NATO mission only since Sept. 2, reminds coalition troops that what they are doing in Afghanistan makes their own countries safer. They are protecting their fellow citizens.

The “train, advise, assist” mission allows Afghan security forces to take the fight to the enemy. They are working to give the Afghan government the security needed to provide stability. That makes the nation untenable for terrorists who want to make it a safe haven again.

The answer in Afghanistan is reconciliation between the government and the Taliban. The war has continued for 17 years. NATO and coalition forces are in for the long haul, and the Taliban cannot hope to wait out the coalition. The smart option is to reconcile and rebuild Afghanistan together, the general said.

Terror groups such as ISIS-Khorasan, al-Qaida and others have no role in a new Afghanistan. Afghan security forces and coalition operators target those groups to crush them to erase their ideology.

There are many challenges ahead for Miller and the coalition. There are Afghan elections next month and presidential elections set for next year. The coalition needs to provide more training for more units in the Afghan army and police. The Afghan air force needs to continue to grow and develop to provide support to those on the ground. Neighboring nations need to do more.

And the coalition troops in the country need to remember why they are there, Miller said: to protect their own citizens and families.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Marine Corps F-35B Conducts Combat Strikes in Afghanistan

NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN -- The Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II conducted its first combat strikes in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan yesterday.

The airstrike in support of ground clearance operations was deemed successful by the ground force commander.

“The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy,” said Navy Vice Adm. Scott A. Stearney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

Replacement for Harrier

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is the first combat-deployed MEU to replace the AV-8B Harrier with the F-35B Lightning II. The F-35B’s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 are embarked on the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group.
“The opportunity for us to be the first Navy-Marine Corps team to employ the F-35B in support of maneuver forces on the ground demonstrates one aspect of the capabilities this platform brings to the region, our allies and our partners,” said Marine Corps Col. Chandler S. Nelms, commanding officer of the 13th MEU.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

DoD Official Explains U.S. Strategy in Syria to House Panel

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON -- In a complex part of the world, the U.S. strategy in Syria is simple to state: the enduring defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the deterrence of the use of chemical weapons and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region.

Robert S. Karem, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, detailed the way forward in Syria for the House Armed Services Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee today.

“The United States also seeks a peaceful resolution to the multifaceted conflict in Syria in a manner that protects U.S. interests, preserves a favorable regional balance of power, protects our allies and partners and alleviates suffering,” Karem told the panel.

Limited DoD Role

The Defense Department’s role in Syria is limited, with a small number of American service members in the country working by, with and through local forces. Those forces have driven ISIS from stronghold after stronghold, but that is only one part of the complex situation in the nation, Karem said.

“While we are not intervening in the Syrian civil war, because our combat operations target ISIS, this underlying conflict inevitably affects our efforts,” he added.

The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad has been propped up by Russian and Iranian intervention, and has taken swaths of rebel-held territory back. This endangers international efforts to get the parties to the peace table, the assistant secretary said.

That there has been progress against ISIS in Syria is undeniable. ISIS swept across much of the country and into Iraq in 2014 and declared the area to be its new caliphate. Coalition efforts have contributed to the liberation of more than 99 percent of the territory ISIS took then, Karem noted.

“Despite this progress, we assess that even after the defeat of the physical caliphate, ISIS remains stronger now than its predecessor – al-Qaida in Iraq – was when the United States withdrew from Iraq in 2011,” he said.

Tough fighting remains in the middle Euphrates River valley, he said, and the hard-won gains in Iraq and Syria remain vulnerable.

 “The enemy is adaptive,” Karem told the panel. “Even though operations against the last pocket of ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria are underway, ISIS is transitioning to an underground insurgency. A sustained, conditions-based U.S. presence will allow us to pressure the terrorist insurgency and prevent ISIS’s resurgence while simultaneously facilitating diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.”

In the northern part of the country, the United States is working with Turkey to ensure security and a sustainable solution that addresses Turkish security concerns, the assistant secretary said. But the United States and its allies are still “gravely concerned” about a possible Syrian regime offensive – backed by Russia and Iran – into Idlib, he added.

Chemical Weapons

He reiterated that the United States will respond to any use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons. “We urge the regime and its Russian partners to refrain from the use of chemical weapons or risk the international consequences for doing so,” he said. The United Kingdom and France share in the U.S. resolve, he told the House panel, and the United States urges other international partners to join the diplomatic and political efforts to deter Assad from using these weapons.

The United States remains concerned by Iran’s significant military, paramilitary and proxy involvement in Syria, Karem said. This directly threatens Israel and Jordan “and risks dangerously escalating the tensions in the region,” he said.

“Iran is no friend of the Syrian people,” he added, “and if its behavior in Iraqi is any indication, its militia proxies and malicious agenda will only marginalize Syria’s Sunni population, inflame tensions and sow seeds of further radicalism.”

The United States maintains a regional force posture and military plans designed to deter and, if necessary, respond to aggression, the assistant secretary told the legislators. “We are not seeking war with Iran,” he said. “That said, we will take steps to defend ourselves and work with allies.”