Saturday, August 2, 2008

Combat Camera: Wolfhounds Secure Iraqi Checkpoints

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Spc. Alexignacio , a Trinidad Solvang, Calif., native, maintains security at vehicle checkpoint in the Istaqlal Qada, northeast of Baghdad, July 27, 2008, ensuring that enemy weapons are not trafficked into the area. Trinidad is an infantryman with Company B, 52nd Infantry Regiment attached to 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad. (Photographer: J. B. Jaso, 2nd Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division.)

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Capt. Omololu Makinde, a Columbus, Ohio, native, briefs Soldiers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad on a mission to secure vehicle checkpoints in the Istaqlal Qada, northeast of Baghdad, July 27, 2008. Makinde is the Iraqi security forces coordinator for the 1st Bn., 27th Inf. Regt., 2nd SBCT, 25th Inf. Div., MND-B. (Photographer: J. B. Jaso, 2nd Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division.)

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Spc. Jesse Arnold, a Warrensburg, N.Y., native, maintains security at a vehicle checkpoint manned by Sons of Iraq (Abna al Iraq) guards in the Istaqlal Qada, ensuring the safety of this area northeast of Baghdad, July 27, 2008. Arnold is a mortarman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad. (Photographer: J. B. Jaso, 2nd Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division.)

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Spc. David Sorensen, a Missouri City, Texas, native, maintains security behind a vehicle while at a checkpoint in the Istaqlal Qada, northeast of Baghdad, July 27, 2008. Sorensen is a mortarman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad. (Photographer: J. B. Jaso, 2nd Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division.)

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Cpl. Michael Tejada, a Hastings, Minn., native, observes approaching vehicles at a vehicle checkpoint manned by Sons of Iraq (Abna al Iraq) guards in the Istaqlal Qada, northeast of Baghdad, July 27, 2008. Tejada is a mortar section leader for Company B, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad. (Photographer: J. B. Jaso, 2nd Stryker Brigade 25th Infantry Division.)

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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Video: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Deployment in Afghanistan Under NATO; Part 4

video

Part 4: A Day in the Life

Dispatches from the Front:

NOTE: Newsfeed readers should visit the blog to view the video.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2008 -- NATO TV is launching a six-part video story on the deployment of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) in Afghanistan. The 24 MEU is conducting operations in southern Helmand Province as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Together with the British forces of Task Force Helmand, the 24 MEU has contributed to improving the security for the Afghan citizens of the Garmsir district since 28 April 2008. After a successful counterinsurgency operation, ISAF marines are now conducting security patrols to prevent insurgents from coming back.

Though the area is becoming increasingly stable, patrols continue to encounter unexploded ordnance and remain on high alert for asymmetric attacks, be they caused by improvised explosive devices or suicide bombers.

ISAF’s effort in the Garmsir district involves engaging with leaders to determine what is required to bring lasting stability to the area and to ensure that the district remains under the rule of the Afghan government.

The 2,400-strong Marine unit is a Theater Task Force, a position which allows the commander of ISAF to rapidly deploy the unit wherever it is needed to conduct full-spectrum operations from humanitarian assistance missions to combat operations.

(From a NATO ISAF news release.)

Related:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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Marine Patrols Crack Down on Insurgency in Iraq

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Lance Cpl. Benjamin A. Zellman, 23, a scout from Herndon, Va., with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd LAR Bn., Regimental Combat Team 5, posts outside of the door while Marines in his team search a house in western Anbar province, Iraq, July 29, 2008. The operations consist of the Marines with Delta Co. driving around the desert villages engaging with the citizens. They search the houses searching for any trace of previous insurgent activity to prevent enemy influence in the province. (Photographer: Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team-5, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs.)

Dispatches from the Front:

AL ANBAR, Iraq, Aug. 2, 2008 -- As Operation Iraqi Freedom evolves each day, coalition forces are still conducting operations to defeat the insurgency.

Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd LAR Bn., Regimental Combat Team 5 is cracking down on the insurgency by patrolling through the towns outside of Akashat, Iraq, and establishing a local presence.

Delta Co. is a reserve light-armored infantry unit based out of Quantico, Va. The Marines are currently attached to 2nd LAR Bn. in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We’re trying to find any information to fight the insurgency that remains in this area of operations,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher L. Salas, 21, a scout team leader from Stafford, Va., with Delta Co. “It helps fight the war if we show our faces around the area and provide the people protection.”

The operations consist of the Marines driving around the desert villages and talking with the citizens. They search the houses for any trace of previous insurgent activity to prevent enemy influence in the province.

“These people that live in this area are citizens who make an honest living farming or herding. It’s our job and the Iraqi security force’s job to ensure they aren’t influenced with corruption,” said Lance Cpl. Kevin T. Webb, a scout with Delta Co.

“I understand those houses are in the middle of the desert, and all these people want to do is have a good life for their families,” Webb said. “We’re visiting and talking to those people because it’s easy for those smugglers or insurgents to take advantage of them.”

Since the beginning of the deployment, the company had been able to provide security for the villages, train the Iraqi police and issue medical attention to all who need it. The Marines know that ridding the remaining insurgency from the area will be the foundation for bringing security to the province.

“If the people help us stop the insurgency, it will bring stability in the region and build infrastructure for the future,” said Sgt. Ernesto Dorado, 26, a scout team leader from Anaheim, Calif., with Delta Co. “We went from being a [security] force to being advisors to the ISF, and now it’s time to finish the job.”

The Marines will conduct these missions until the day they re-deploy back to the States. According to them, they know they will continue to make a difference in the western Al Anbar province.

“In the end, it will bring peace to this nation,” said Webb, 23, from Alexandria, Va. “The people trust us because we try to help them at any opportunity we have. By finishing off the insurgency, we are doing another thing to help.”

(Story by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5.)

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Air Force Identifies Nellis Pilot Killed in F-15 Crash

News in Balance
Lt. Col. Thomas Bouley, pictured here, died in a aircraft crash during Red Flag 08-03 on July 30, 2008. Colonel Bouley was the 65th Aggressor Squadron commander.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Scottie McCord.)

News in Balance:

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev., Aug. 1, 2008 -- The pilot who died in an aircraft accident July 30 was Lt. Col. Thomas Bouley. The name was released in a July 31 press conference by Col. Russell Handy, 57th Wing commander. Colonel Bouley was the 65th Aggressor Squadron commander.

Colonel Bouley was killed when the two-seater F-15D Eagle he was piloting crashed on the Nevada Test and Training Range during a Red Flag training exercise July 30.

"Colonel Bouley had recently celebrated his 20th year wearing the uniform, and had more than 4,200 flight hours in the F-15 Eagle, the Royal Air Force F-3 Tornado and the T-38 Talon," said Colonel Handy during the press conference. "He was a decorated warrior, an inspiring leader of Airmen and a loving father and husband. He served his country with distinction and will be greatly missed."

The other pilot in the aircraft, an RAF exchange pilot, is in stable condition. His name is being withheld due to the ongoing investigation, but will be released when the accident investigation board completes its work. He was assigned to the 64th AGRS.

Both Airmen were aggressor pilots. The mission of both the 64th AGRS and the 65th AGRS is to simulate opposing enemy air forces during Red Flag exercises here.

"The investigation into this mishap began almost immediately," said Colonel Handy. "The Air Combat Command accident investigation board will collect and protect evidence from the scene, and gather and analyze all relevant data."

The accident investigation board comprises a board president who is a senior pilot, a maintenance expert, flight surgeon, judge advocate and any other needed specialists.

"As commander of this wing, the safety of our Airmen is at the top of my priority list," said Colonel Handy. "Protecting our nation's sons and daughters is a sacred trust, and we intend to do everything in our power to find the cause of this mishap so we may prevent it from happening again."

All aircraft units, with exception of the 64th and 65th Aggressor Squadrons, have continued flying operations. The 64th AGRS will resume flying missions Aug. 1, and the 65th AGRS will resume operations Aug. 4.

"Right now, we're focused on supporting Colonel Bouley's family and the men and women of the 65th AGRS," said Colonel Handy.

Red Flag, a realistic combat training exercise involving the air forces of the United States and its allies, is conducted on the vast bombing and gunnery ranges at Nellis AFB, Nev. It is one of a series of advanced training programs administered by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center and Nellis, through the 414th Combat Training Squadron. Nellis is the busiest flying base in Air Combat Command, flying 42,000 sorties each year.

(Story by by Airman 1st Class Ryan Whitney, 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs.)

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Pentagon Discusses Death Penalty for Soldier

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Seen in this 1988 photo, U.S. Army Pvt. Ronald Gray has been on the military's death row for 20 years.

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 -- President Bush this week approved the death penalty for an Army private convicted of committing multiple murders and rapes in the late 1980s on Fort Bragg, N.C.

Exercising the commander in chief’s final authority to approve capital punishment for a servicemember, Bush issued the order against Pvt. Ronald A. Gray on July 28, the first time such a presidential directive has been invoked in 51 years.

Gray faces the death penalty after being convicted of two killings, one count of attempted murder and of raping all three victims, among other crimes he was found guilty of committing while serving at Fort Bragg from April 1986 to January 1987.

“When the convening authority … reviewed those facts and circumstances, they made the determination that they were such that they wanted to authorize -- they felt it appropriate -- that a panel have [the death penalty as an] available punishment,” Army Col. Charles Pede, the chief of the Criminal Law Division of the Office of the Judge Advocate General, said in an interview at the Pentagon today.

After a president approves the death sentence, a soldier-defendant has the right to conduct a “collateral attack” on the military legal proceedings in an action known as a “habeas petition,” Pede said.

If the capital punishment ruling is upheld, Gray’s punishment will be administered via lethal injection.

Gray is one of six servicemembers on death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. His case was the first to complete a series of standard legal proceedings that includes military appeals and petitions to the Supreme Court, which then allowed for action by the president.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino characterized the president’s decision as one fraught with difficultly.

“While approving a sentence of death for a member of our armed services is a serious and difficult decision for a commander in chief, the president believes the facts of this case leave no doubt that the sentence is just and warranted,” Perino said.

The last military execution was ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 and was carried out by hanging in 1961.

(Story by John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press Service.)

Related Article: Bush Approves Execution of US Army Convict

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Forces in Iraq Keep al-Qaida Off-Balance

Bloggers' Roundtable

Bloggers' Roundtable:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 -- An operation near Iraq’s Diyala River Valley -- planned and led by Iraqi forces with coalition support -- is going very well, a senior coalition spokesman said yesterday.

“The main objective there is the pursuit of al-Qaida … to remove them from their hideouts there, and continue to keep them off-balance,” Navy Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, deputy chief of the strategic communication division for Multinational Force Iraq, said to online journalists and bloggers in a teleconference.

About 30,000 troops are involved in this major operation, which has resulted in the detention of at least 30 to 35 suspected al-Qaida members and uncovered weapons caches, Driscoll said.

While operations in Diyala continue, Iraqi security forces also are engaged in Baghdad’s Sadr City district and in the cities of Basra, Amarah, and Mosul, Driscoll added.

“Mosul is a piece of valuable real estate for al-Qaida,” the admiral said. “They want to hold on to Mosul, because it’s their entryway to Syria, and it facilitates a lot of the flow of foreign fighters and money to finance al-Qaida.”

Another piece of real estate al-Qaida covets is Iraq’s Anbar province. The al-Qaida threat continues there, but the Iraqi army and border patrol police, along with U.S. Marines, are securing the province’s borders. “In Anbar, there’s still a viable, lethal al-Qaida threat,” Driscoll said, “and that is really the focus of the security forces out there.”

While operations continue, the Iraqi security forces are in the process of expanding. About 580,000 people now serve in the country’s scurity forces; the Iraqi police have about 380,000, and the Iraqi army has about 200,000. By next year, the stated goal for the Iraqi security forces 660,000 members, Driscoll said.

A couple of good indicators suggest things are moving in the right direction in Iraq, the admiral said.

“One is the continued successful pursuit of al-Qaida,” he explained. “That’s a key security issue that we can’t take our eye off and [that we have] got to continue to focus on. Another one would be the structured continued process of turning over security for provinces to the Iraqi government. That would be a good thing to watch, and we’re making good progress on that.”

Driscoll noted that violent incidents in Iraq have reached the lowest level since 2004, facilitating progress toward elections later this year.

“That’s very encouraging, the progress we’re seeing right now,” he said. “Five hundred and sixty-five voter registration centers are open; people are registering to vote.”

While the provincial elections currently scheduled for Oct. 1, Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashadani has scheduled a special meeting of lawmakers Aug. 3 to resolve an election legislation impasse.

“I am very encouraged by the fact that Speaker Mashadani has called them in,” Driscoll said. “They’re going to wrestle with it on Sunday. All parties, really, I think, have an interest in solving this now, because as they move forward with the elections and as they move forward with solving the Kirkuk issue, … it’s going to be very beneficial to the country in terms of moving forward economic development.”

Driscoll added that officials are taking a wait-and-see approach on possible disruptions in the elections.

“The people are, by and large, rejecting the violence, whether it’s al-Qaida or [Iranian-backed] special groups -- this indiscriminate violence that’s killing innocent Iraqis,” he said. “The Iraqis have really out of hand rejected that, and are not supporting any elements that really participated in that.”

He acknowledged that while security is improving and progress definitely is being made in Iraq, threats still exist, but he repeated that trends are moving in the right direction.

“It’s very encouraging time, now that we’re kind of shifting into the political [and] economical development phase of the counterinsurgency,” he said.

(Story by Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg, New Media Directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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Senate Confirms Air Force Generals

Focus on Defense

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 -- The Senate today confirmed two Air Force generals nominated by President Bush for key positions.

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, will be Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, Air Force vice chief of staff, will succeed Schwartz as TransCom commander.

Schwartz will succeed Gen. T. Michael Moseley as the Air Force’s top officer. Moseley stepped down in June in the wake of a report critical of the Air Force’s handling of its nuclear weapons program.

(From a U.S. Defense Department news release.)

Bios:
Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz
Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb

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Pentagon Promotes 'Soft Power'

Focus on Defense

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 -- The Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy is the latest in a series of Defense Department messages highlighting the need to develop a U.S. foreign policy with greater emphasis on so-called “soft powers” such as diplomacy and international aid.

The broad-brush document released yesterday includes a section that strikes at the need for greater cooperation, or “jointness,” between the department and its interagency partners if American operations abroad are to succeed.

“Iraq and Afghanistan remind us that military success alone is insufficient to achieve victory,” the strategy reads. “We must not forget our hard-learned lessons or allow the important soft power capabilities developed because of them to atrophy or even disappear.”

Beyond security, the “essential ingredients” of long-term success include economic development, institution building and enforcing the rule of law, the document states.

To achieve these ends, the strategy recommends closer coordination among other U.S. departments and agencies, state and local governments, partners and allies, and international and multilateral organizations.

“A whole-of-government approach is only possible when every government department and agency understands the core competencies, roles, missions, and capabilities of its partners and works together to achieve common goals,” it states.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill yesterday, Eric S. Edelman, the undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before Congress on the U.S. military’s role in foreign policy.

Edelman, who is a top official at both the Defense and State departments, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that a “militarized foreign policy” is contrary to American interests.

“From our point of view, such an agenda would be counterproductive, wasteful and dysfunctional,” he said. “It would send exactly the wrong message to those nations who are striving to build democracies with civilian oversight and to be able to partner with us.”

The departments of Defense and State have made some significant strides in improving coordination on nonmilitary functions such as humanitarian assistance and interagency information-sharing, he said. But that represents only the first step, he added.

“Far too often, we find our military assuming missions for which it's not best placed,” Edelman said. “And while we've filled these gaps admirably, I believe, there's no substitute for civilian expertise and experience, whether it's building schools, advising city councils, or [engaging] in other activities in complex operational environments.”

Edelman’s comments echo Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who earlier this month said diplomacy and development should lead American efforts abroad and warned against a “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy.

“Broadly speaking, when it comes to America’s engagement with the rest of the world, it is important that the military is -- and is clearly seen to be -- in a supporting role to civilian agencies,” Gates told an audience at a dinner organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign.

The secretary -- who in the past has been a strong advocate for increasing the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budgets and increasing their manpower rolls -- encouraged greater flexibility within the tools of U.S. power.

“The challenge facing our institutions,” he said, “is to adapt to new realities while preserving those core competencies and institutional traits that have made them so successful in the past.”

(Story by John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press Service.)

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Afghan Police Detain Militants in Eastern Province

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 -- Afghan National Police, with support from coalition forces, detained almost a dozen insurgents yesterday in Afghanistan’s Paktika province after finding evidence they were roadside-bomb facilitators, military officials reported.

After separate attacks on coalition and Afghan National Army vehicles, informants provided information that led to seven individuals who were responsible for the bombs. Traces of explosives were found in the detainees’ vehicle, officials said.

In other news, local sources in the province’s Ahmed Kheyl district pinpointed the location of several insurgents responsible for setting up illegal checkpoints used for stealing goods from local travelers. Four suspects were detained as a result of this information, officials said.

(From a Combined Joint Task Force 101 news release.)

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Troops in Iraq Capture 17 Suspected al-Qaida Terrorists

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 -- Coalition forces captured 17 suspected al-Qaida terrorists during operations in Baghdad and Mosul today, while Iraqi police found an assortment of explosives in Baghdad, military officials said.

In today’s operations:
  • Fifteen suspected terrorists were captured in a village southwest of Mosul.

  • In Baghdad, coalition forces captured an alleged al-Qaida associate, as well as an additional suspected terrorist.

  • Iraqi police found nine roadside bombs designed to pierce armor-hulled vehicles, 10 1-pound blocks of explosive material, three 20-kilogram bags of explosives and bomb-making materials in the Kadamiyah area of Baghdad.

In operations yesterday, U.S. soldiers in Baghdad detained two suspected criminals for questioning. The operation resulted in the surrender of another suspect.

Also yesterday, Iraqi soldiers seized a sniper rifle, an AK-47 assault rifle, an AK-47 short stalk, a rocket-propelled grenade round, and two hand grenades in the Kadamiyah area of Baghdad.

During July 30 operations:
  • Iraqi soldiers detained a suspected al-Qaida financier during an operation in Sadiyah. Three other suspected terrorists were detained during the operation.

  • U.S. soldiers detained a suspected Iranian-backed “special groups” criminal near the Jihad community in Baghdad’s Rashid district. Five other suspects also were detained.

  • U.S. soldiers detained a suspect after discovering possible bomb-making materials in his home in Baghdad’s Risalah neighborhood.

  • Iraq security forces captured three suspected terrorists in separate operations: The Mosul special weapons and tactics team captured a suspected mid-level al-Qaida operative in Namrood; the Fallujah SWAT squad captured a suspected al-Qaida member during an operation in Fallujah; and to the north of Baghdad, Iraqi National Police captured a suspected al-Qaida leader.

In July 29 operations:
  • An Iraqi special operations and weapons team from Haditha detained a suspected al-Qaida terrorist in Barwanah, northwest of Baghdad.

  • Iraqi special operations forces detained two suspected terrorists north of Baghdad.

  • Iraqi special operations forces detained four suspected al-Qaida members in Tahwila, northwest of Baghdad. One of the detainees is linked to coordinating the movement of weapons and people between the Diyala and Udaim river valleys.

In July 28 operations:
  • An Iraqi SWAT team detained a suspected al-Qaida operative and two other suspects in Mosul.

  • Iraqi soldiers detained a suspected al-Qaida financier northwest of Mosul.

  • Muqdadiyah’s Iraqi SWAT team detained a suspected al-Qaida financier.

(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq and Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gates Discusses 2008 National Defense Strategy

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2008 -- Balance is the key word of the new National Defense Strategy, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a news conference today.

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the U.S. military must be prepared to perform the full range of missions.

The department must be ready to wage a full-out war and handle irregular warfare and humanitarian missions, Gates said.

“Now, the reality is that conventional and strategic force modernization programs are strongly supported in the services and in the Congress,” Gates said.

The main fiscal 2009 defense budget is a concrete example of that support. It contains $104 billion in procurement and about $80 billion in research and development funding, heavily slanted toward conventional modernization programs. Funding for the irregular wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas in the world has come from supplemental budgets.

“The principal challenge, therefore, is how to ensure that the capabilities gained and counterinsurgency lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the lessons we learned from other places where we have engaged in irregular warfare over the last two decades, are institutionalized within the defense establishment,” Gates said.

The secretary said he does not want the military to forget the lessons that troops have learned at such a painful price. “Looking to the future, we need to find a long-term place in the base budget for [these lessons],” he said.

Conventional modernization plans certainly are important, Gates said, noting they keep the military capable of defending the homeland, deterring conflict, and -- when deterrence fails -- winning the nation’s wars. But the most obvious threat the United States faces in the coming years, he said, comes from non-state actors using asymmetric tactics.

“I firmly believe that in the years ahead, our military is much more likely to engage in asymmetric conflict than conventional conflict against a rising state power,” he said. “We must be ready for both kinds of conflict and fund the capabilities to do both.”

In the past, irregular warfare has not had the support inside or outside the Pentagon that it requires, the secretary said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the modernization programs will continue to have strong institutional and congressional support,” he said. “I just want to make sure that the capabilities we need for the conflicts we're in and most likely to face in the foreseeable future also are sustained long term.”

(Story by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.)

Related Site: 2008 National Defense Strategy (pdf)

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US Air Force Missile Carrier Flips in North Dakota

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Payload transporter for Minuteman III ICBM (Air Force photo.)

News in Balance:

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D., July 31, 2008 -- An enclosed missile transport vehicle, assigned to the 91st Missile Wing, en route to a launch facility tipped on its side on a gravel access road this morning between the towns of Makoti and Parshall.

The vehicle, which carried an unarmed Minuteman III booster , tipped on its side at 8:20 a.m. (CST) on County Road 24 near Makoti, approximately 70 miles southwest of Minot. No one was injured in the accident, except for a few minor bumps and bruises.

"There is no danger to public safety, and local fire department and base emergency officials responded quickly and professionally," said Col. Christopher Ayres, 91st Missile Wing commander. "We're taking every possible precaution to minimize environmental and safety risks and we ask the public to avoid the accident scene."

Experts are en route to right the vehicle. As a precaution, the local police and fire department is on-scene, as are base security forces, fire department, and safety members.

The accident is being investigated. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

(From a U.S. Air Force news release.)

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Conditions in Iraq Improving; Results 'Mixed' in Afghanistan

News in Balance
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates smiles when asked if he is considering staying on with the next administration during a joint press conference with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen at the Pentagon, July 31, 2008. Gates said he is planning on leaving in 173 days, at the end of the current administration. (Defense Dept. photo by Cherie Cullen.)

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2008 -- While some troops will deploy to Afghanistan in the near future, large units must wait until an assessment of needs in Iraq is completed, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a news conference that the situation in Iraq has improved. “I personally believe that there is a real possibility of some additional drawdowns as we look forward,” Gates said.

Mullen agreed, saying conditions in Iraq have dramatically improved over the past year. In a briefing this morning, President Bush said military and civilian leaders in Iraq told him there is a “degree of durability” to the progress in Iraq.

“Some level of durability, I think, is one that fits,” Mullen said during the news conference. “But it's still … not irreversible. We haven't gotten to that point.”

The level of violence in Iraq is lower and other trends also are positive, he said.

“Then we clearly are looking at Afghanistan, where results are mixed,” Mullen said. “The challenges are certainly significant. And we'd like to get additional troops there as soon as we could.”

Some forces -- a few hundred -- will move to Afghanistan soon, Gates said. This includes more civil affairs personnel, explosive ordnance disposal experts, and engineers.

Gates and Mullen also said the Pakistani government recognizes it has a serious problem with extremists in the Federally Administered Tribal Area and the North West Frontier Province. It remains to be seen what actions the new government will take, they said.

Also during today’s news conference, both Gates and Mullen said they are pleased with progress on negotiations for a strategic framework in Iraq. The framework will provide the legal underpinnings of continued U.S. presence in Iraq after the United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.

“I'm very comfortable that it gets us where we need to go, from the military perspective, for the requirements that we have,” Mullen said. “It's been spirited and, I think, a very healthy negotiation, which in fact is still ongoing, despite some reports that it's imminent. And I think we have to wait until those negotiations finish to really know obviously what the outcome is with respect to the details.”

(Story by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.)

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Pentagon Releases 2008 National Defense Strategy

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2008 -- The U.S. Department of Defense released the 2008 National Defense Strategy today. The strategy outlines the national approach to the defense of this nation and its interests.

The NDS is issued periodically and the last one was published in March 2005. It outlines how the Department supports the President's National Security Strategy and informs the National Military Strategy and other subordinate strategy documents. The strategy builds on lessons learned and insights from previous operations and strategic reviews such as the 2006 QDR.

(From a U.S. Defense Department news release.)

Related: 2008 National Defense Strategy (pdf)

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Troops in Iraq Capture Suspected Terrorists

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2008 -- Coalition forces in Iraq detained 12 suspected terrorists yesterday and today, including a suspect linked to the planning of al-Qaida suicide bombings, during operations in Baghdad and in the central and northern parts of the country, military officials said.

In today’s operations:
  • In Beiji, coalition forces captured a suspect linked to an al-Qaida bombing network that operates in the Tigris River valley.

  • In Baghdad, coalition forces captured a wanted man believed to be a liaison among various al-Qaida in Iraq networks. Two additional suspects were detained in the operation.

  • Coalition forces in Mosul detained a suspected terrorist while targeting al-Qaida-affiliated leaders in the city.

  • In eastern Baghdad, coalition forces captured three suspected criminals linked to a terrorist organization. One of the detainees is linked to a propaganda unit for the Kataib Hezbollah terrorist organization. The cell is suspected of making videos of attacks on coalition and Iraqi forces. The videos are used to raise funds and other resources for additional attacks.

Yesterday, U.S. soldiers detained four suspected criminals during an operation in the New Baghdad security district. Two of the detainees were highly sought-after criminals, and one of them is a suspected weapons smuggler, officials said.

(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq and Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

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iPods Help Troops Communicate With Locals in Warzones

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Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division received their first glimpse of the Vcommunicator (pictured), an iPod-based translation device, during a demonstration of the new capability at Fort Hood, Texas July 21-22. The Vcommunicator is designed to aid troops with the challenges of interacting with local populations in foreign countries by giving Soldiers access to hundreds of different phrases in languages like Arabic along with cultural awareness tips and gestures. The capability itself consists of two main parts including an iPod-type device (left) that connects to a speaker (right) and the system can be attached to a Soldier's arm with straps included with the kit. Other pieces to the kit include a pouch for storing the device and a solar charger. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.)

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Hearne, Texas native, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Levar Wilson, a brigade intelligence officer for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, checks out the Vcommunicator, a translation device, during a demonstration of the capability July 22 at Fort Hood, Texas. The iPod-based V-Communicator has been designed to help Soldiers communicate with locals in Iraq and Afghanistan and gives the Soldiers access to more than 400 phrases in five different languages to include Pashto, Iraqi Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.)

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While examining the equipment for the V-Communicator Mobile device, Atmore, Ala. native, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Poindexter (right), senior common ground station operator for Company B, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, speaks to Ernie Bright, one of the developers of the Vcommunicator, during a demonstration of the capability July 22 at Fort Hood, Texas. The Vcommunicator, an iPod-based translation device, gives Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan access to hundreds of phrases in five different languages along with cultural gestures in the form of video and audio examples. Approximately 700 military service members are currently using the device in theater. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.)

Focus on Defense:

FORT HOOD, Texas, July 31, 2008 -- Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division could soon have a new tool for their upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom that enhances the way they communicate with the people living in Iraq.

A few First Team troopers, along with senior leaders, got their first glimpse of the Vcommunicator Mobile, a light-weight, compact, hand-held translation device and cultural awareness aid, during a demonstration of the capability at the 1st Cav. Div. headquarters here July 21-22.

Currently in use by approximately 700 military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, the one-way translation device offers hundreds of phrases in five different languages to include Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashto and Modern Standard Arabic. It also offers, via video cues, cultural gestures in the form of hand signals that may be common to a specific region, allowing for cultural awareness.

"It's very useful in situations where you may have only one to two interpreters on the ground, and about 80 to 90 Soldiers on the ground, so you may not have enough interpreters to go around in a particular situation," said Ernie Bright, one of the developers of the Vcommunicator, who gave the demonstration of the tool. "The real beauty of it is that the technology has been designed so that anyone who hasn't had any training on it, can use it."

"Soldiers see that this will help them to reduce mistakes and misunderstandings because they will be able to communicate with the local population," he added, explaining that the device has been designed to help reduce language and cultural barriers Soldiers experience while in theater.

The main parts of the compact system include an iPod, which attaches by a cord to a small speaker and then both parts fit into two straps that are placed on a Soldier's arm. The Vcommunicater kit also includes a solar charger and a carrying pouch.

"Soldiers are wearing 80 pounds of gear already, so it was important for them to have something that is light weight, very compact and that fits into a small pouch," said Bright. "The device can be attached to their arm so their hands are always free."

With the swipe of a finger over the device, Soldiers can select the language they need from a menu and choose a topic from a mission list to find an appropriate phrase for whatever situation they find themselves in. The menu includes such topics as basic conversation; cordon and search; intelligence gathering; building trust and relationships; raids; detainee processing; vehicle checkpoints and coordinating missions with Iraqi Security Forces among many other possible missions.

Once they choose the mission, they will see a list of phrases in English. Each of the phrases have a phonetic Arabic translation beneath them and when Soldiers press on the phrase they want to use, a video will play showing an animated, virtual Soldier saying the phrase in Arabic and the voice of the animated character plays through the device's speaker. Along with that, the phonetic spelling of the Arabic phrase also appears on the screen.

Bright explained that there are three major aspects to what the Vcommunicator does -a learning piece, a communication piece and a mission-aid piece.

Soldiers can learn Arabic or other language phrases from the Vcommunicator or they can use the device to communicate for them through the tool's speaker, according to Bright.

The tool also comes in handy when Soldiers need to make announcements to large crowds, as the device can be attached to a loud speaker. Within the mission-aid piece, Soldiers can add new information and updates to the device as often as they need to.

"By using commercial off the shelf software, there are a plethora of items you can add to it," said Bright. "The (Vcommunicator) gives Soldiers a full customization capability-where they can download maps, photos, videos, new missions and new vocabulary," said Bright.

One of the ways photos and maps would come in useful, according to Bright, are when Soldiers need assistance from locals in a village to find out information.

"All they need to do is point to the map displayed on the screen and use the Vcommunicator to communicate phrases such as 'shows me on the map,'" he said.

Bright saw the device go from concept to usage in just nine months, from November 2006 to August of 2007. In April of this year, he fielded the device to Soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division and said he never gets tired of helping Soldiers.

"I have tremendous pride in my job getting to do this and you can see the light in the eyes of the Soldiers and it's interesting when you go to conferences and hear them say 'this will make my life so much easier,'" said Bright.

Bright will be giving nine of the devices to three of the 1st Cavalry Division's brigades, allowing these units an opportunity to work with the devices in training prior to their upcoming deployment to Iraq.

First Team Soldiers who saw the capability demonstration said they see the utility for the new tool, especially as they prepare to deploy to Iraq later this year and early next year.

"It's easy to use and it offers a lot of applications," said Enterprise, Utah native Sgt. Edward Hunt, an intelligence analyst for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Div. "It's better than any system I've seen out there, especially with it having an iPod, so there are a lot of things it can do and it has a lot of promise."

"I can't wait to actually see it in use in the field," he added.

(Story by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.)

Related: Vcommunicator Mobile Web Site

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