Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bush Urges End of Violence Gripping South Ossetia

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2008 -- President Bush today called for an end to hostilities in South Ossetia that’s pitting Georgian forces against Russian troops and regional separatists.

In Beijing to view the start of the Summer Olympic Games hosted by China, Bush said the conflict in South Ossetia, a part of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, threatens peace across the region.

“We have urged an immediate halt to the violence,” Bush told reporters in Beijing. He also called for an end to Russian air strikes that reportedly have bombed targets in South Ossetia and Georgia.

Bush reportedly has discussed events in South Ossetia with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was also in Beijing.

Georgia declared its independence from the then-Soviet Union in 1991. However, many South Ossetia residents continued to profess Russian allegiance.

Yesterday, Russian tanks and troops crossed the border into South Ossetia. Fighting escalated in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital city and reportedly has reached into parts of Georgia.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters yesterday the Pentagon was closely monitoring the situation in South Ossetia. Whitman said about 130 U.S. military and civilian personnel were located near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi helping to train Georgian troops for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. All of the Americans have been accounted for, and none had been injured, he said.

The U.S. State Department is the lead U.S. agency regarding the situation in South Ossetia, Whitman said yesterday.

“The United States calls for an immediate ceasefire to the armed conflict in Georgia’s region of South Ossetia,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement released yesterday. “We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil.”

Rice said she and other senior U.S. officials “have spoken with the parties and continue to work with them to seek an end to hostilities.” The United States, she continued, is working with its European partners to launch international mediation to end the conflict.

“We urgently seek Russia’s support of these efforts,” Rice said in her statement.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department reportedly has dispatched a senior envoy, deputy assistant secretary of state Matthew Bryza, to the region to try to arrange a peace agreement.

Senior UN and NATO leaders have also called to end the fighting in South Ossetia and urged that a peaceful settlement be found.

(Story by Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.)

Related: U.S. State Department Background Notes on Georgia

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Video: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Deployment in Afghanistan Under NATO; Part 2

video

Part 2: Task in Helmand

Dispatches from the Front:

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

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 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

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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Friday, August 8, 2008

More Assets Approved for US Central Command

Focus on Defense

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 -- Congressional defense committees have approved a request to reprogram $1.2 billion so the Defense Department can beef up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in U.S. Central Command, DoD officials said.

The reprogramming comes from fiscal 2008 funds and will buy 21 manned ISR aircraft and improve unmanned aerial vehicle capabilities in the theater, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday.

“It will assist our efforts to grow the UAV capability in platforms such as Shadow, Predator, Reaper, Raven and Hunter,” Whitman said. “It will allow us to buy additional Scan Eagle detachments.”

The reprogramming comes from recommendations of a task force set up at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to ensure the department was doing everything it could to deploy additional ISR capabilities to forces in combat. As operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to evolve, battlefield commanders have said the need for pervasive ISR has never been higher. About 80 percent of the U.S. military’s ISR assets already are deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations, most in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“All these procurements are focused on manned and unmanned ISR capabilities and the infrastructure that is necessary to process and disseminate the information you get from these,” Whitman said.

The secretary also has approved task force recommendations to reprogram funds in fiscal 2009. Total cost is still being examined, DoD officials said. The capabilities needed in 2009 include sustainment of the additional 2008 procured aircraft and infrastructure, an additional 30 C-12 aircraft, and additional personnel to process, exploit and disseminate intelligence gathered.

“The effect of the task force is to help ensure we are using ISR resources effectively in support of our combat commanders and forces,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Pat Ryder, a DoD spokesman. “The task force also addresses shortfalls and challenges for sustainment.”

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

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Troops in Afghanistan Kill Enemy Fighters

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 -- Coalition and Afghan forces killed enemy fighters and detained three suspected terrorists during operations yesterday in Afghanistan, military officials said.

In Ghazni province’s Giro district, coalition forces killed several enemy fighters and five non-combatants during an operation in search of Taliban fighters in the area. Coalition troops were engaged as they approached their target facility. The troops returned fire, killing the militants and eventually detaining three. The attack inadvertently led to four women and one child killed, officials said.

Coalition and Afghan forces killed four militants in Helmand province’s Nahr Surkh district. The joint forces engaged the militants with mortar fire after observing them emplace a roadside bomb. The bomb was destroyed during the engagement, officials said.

Coalition and Afghan force found a weapons cache in Zabul province’s Shajoy district. The cache contained rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, land mines, assault rifles with ammunition and bomb-making materials, officials said.

(Compiled from Combined Joint Task Force 101 news releases.)

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Troops Nab Suspects, Seize Weapons Across Iraq

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 -- Coalition and Iraqi forces detained several suspected terrorists and found weapons during recent operations in Iraq, military officials said.

Just north of Baghdad today, U.S. troops captured an alleged Iranian-trained “Special Groups” financier and five suspected Special Groups criminals during operations. The alleged financier is believed to be responsible for supporting networks and coordinating attacks throughout the city, officials said.

In operations yesterday, coalition troops detained several suspected terrorists during separate operations in Baghdad, Mosul and Beiji, officials said.
  • Coalition troops captured a suspected terrorist in Beiji and another five others just north of the city. The suspect in Beiji reportedly is associated with senior al-Qaida officials and a suicide-bombing network in northern Iraq. The five other suspects are believed to be connected to a bomb builder in Mosul, officials said.

  • In Mosul, four suspected terrorists were detained during an operation targeting an al-Qaida leader there, officials said.

  • In Baghdad, U.S. troops from 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team captured two suspected al-Qaida members. The suspects reportedly are responsible for coordinating numerous bombing attacks, including suicide bombings, car bombings and roadside-bombing attacks, throughout Baghdad, officials said.

In operations Aug. 6, a Sunni Muslim “Sons of Iraq” citizen security group and coalition forces discovered weapons during a patrol in the Jazeera Desert west of Samarra. They found more than 900 pounds of nitrate and 100 pounds of propellant explosives with four propane tanks, officials said.

Also Aug. 6, coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad found a weapons cache and an emplaced roadside bomb. The cache consisted of six various assault rifles and several magazines with ammunition. The roadside bomb was discovered during an Iraqi police patrol in Baghdad’s Risalah community.

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

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Pentagon Seeks Changes to US Command Structure in Afghanistan

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 -- The Pentagon has proposed to make Army Gen. David D. McKiernan overall commander of both NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a senior Pentagon spokesman told reporters here today.

“We are looking at options and ways that we can streamline the command-and-control arrangements for U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

The proposed change, he said, is viewed as a method to make management of U.S. forces in Afghanistan “more efficient and effective.”

“This is not a finished action; this is not a done deal by any means,” Whitman emphasized.

Senior defense officials are consulting with U.S. allies in Afghanistan, notably members of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, he said.

McKiernan commands ISAF, which consists of about 45,000 troops, including around 15,000 U.S. troops. Another 19,000 or so U.S. troops are assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, which is part of Operation Enduring Freedom and commanded by Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser. Regional Security Command East, which handles security and reconstruction duties in eastern Afghanistan, falls under Schloesser’s purview.

The mission of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, commanded by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, is to partner with the Afghan government and the international community to train Afghan security forces.

ISAF is engaged in combating Taliban and al-Qaida extremists and performing reconstruction projects in the southern and southeastern parts of Afghanistan.

If adopted, the change would refine the U.S. command structure in Afghanistan, Whitman said.

McKiernan would assume the title of commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Whitman said, with the four-star general commanding both ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom.

However, “although it would be one commander in charge of both missions, the missions would not be blended in any way,” Whitman emphasized. “So, you’d have the ISAF mission, and you’d have the OEF mission, and they’d remain separate and distinct.”

Whitman said the proposed command change would improve the synchronization of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, allow the U.S. commander control of all U.S. military assets in the country, and help ensure he is deploying them to the maximum operational benefit.

For example, about 2,200 U.S. servicemembers assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit now report to ISAF, while the 1,000 or so Marines assigned to the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan report to U.S. Central Command.

“So, you’ve got U.S. forces that are not all under the command of a single U.S. officer in Afghanistan,” Whitman noted.

(Story by Gerry J. Gilmore,American Forces Press Service.)

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Pentagon, State Department Monitoring Developing Situation in Georgia

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 -- The Defense Department is closely watching developments in South Ossetia, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a senior Pentagon spokesman said here today.

News reports cite Russian tanks crossing the border into South Ossetia and of fighting between Georgian troops and rebels in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital city.

“We’re monitoring it very closely,” spokesman Bryan Whitman said of the situation during a briefing with Pentagon reporters.

Georgia declared its independence from the then-Soviet Union in 1991. However, many South Ossetia residents continued to profess Russian allegiance.

Whitman said about 130 U.S. military and civilian personnel are currently located near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, helping train Georgian troops for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. All the Americans are accounted for, and none has been injured, Whitman said.

The U.S. State Department is the lead U.S. agency regarding the situation in South Ossetia, Whitman said. The State Department is “in close contact with senior Russian and Georgian officials. We’re urging Moscow to press South Ossetia’s de facto leaders to stop firing,” Gonzalo R. Gallegos, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department, said yesterday during a Washington news conference.

At the same time, senior U.S. diplomats are “urging Tbilisi to maintain restraint,” Gallegos said.

“We’re very concerned about the situation,” the State Department spokesman said. “We call for an immediate end to the violence and for direct talks between the parties.”

Gallegos rebuffed a reporter’s question as to which side started the fighting. “It’s important that both sides stop firing, that they sit down and they discuss this in a peaceful manner,” he said.

At the NATO summit meeting held earlier this year in Bucharest, Romania, the United States urged the alliance to offer the path of NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet Union republics. The Russian government has often voiced its displeasure about the concept of eastern European countries joining NATO, especially former members of the Soviet Union, like Georgia and Ukraine.

In a NATO statement released today, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer cited his concern over the events. The secretary’s statement also called for “an immediate end of the armed clashes and direct talks between the parties.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also issued a statement yesterday expressing his concern about the mounting violence. In his statement, the senior U.N. official also urged all parties “to refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation and threaten the stability of the region.”

(Story by Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.)

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Iraqi Forces Continue Coalition Success in Iraq

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2008 -- Despite the recent drawdown of coalition troops in Iraq, violence levels continue to drop as Iraqi security forces grow in competency and size, a senior coalition spokesman said today during a news conference in Iraq.

Throughout the past few weeks, coalition forces have drawn down troop numbers in Iraq. The last of the five original surge brigades, two Marine battalions and an Australian battle group have redeployed without the need for replacements, said Navy Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll.

At the same time, Iraqi forces have grown by more than 148,000 troops, and the Sunni Muslim “Sons of Iraq” citizen security groups are more than 100,000 members strong, Driscoll said.

“This [Iraqi forces surge] explains how we can continue to see very low levels of violence even though [coalition forces] have taken away a lot of combat power based,” he said.

Recent Iraqi-led operations in Basra have allowed the local citizens to regain control of their city. The operations drove the insurgency -- mostly Iranian-backed “Special Groups” criminals -- either into hiding or into Iran for sanctuary, the admiral said.

“The operations in Basra really instituted the rule of law there,” Driscoll said. “The people there are able to live freely again without intimidation and extortion by militias.”

The operations were also a great success for the Iraqi government and prime minister. Individuals who once saw Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a leader partial a certain sect, now proclaim him as a nationalist, a leader for the people of Iraq, he said.

Recent operations in Amarah and Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood saw similar success by Iraqi security forces and local Sons of Iraq. Iranian-backed Special Groups and militia gangs were forced from the cities, reportedly to Iran to find refuge, he said.

Coalition and Iraqi forces in Diyala province and Mosul, however, are fighting a “more determined enemy,” he said. Iraqi forces recently launched a large-scale operation against al-Qaida in Mosul but were unsuccessful.

Mosul is a key territory for al-Qaida because of its location along the Syrian border, which is an important line of communication and an infiltration route into Iraq. Al-Qaida is determined to maintain its foothold, he said.

“What you saw and what you’re seeing now in Mosul and Diyala is a more determined enemy in terms of holding ground,” he explained. “Al-Qaida still remains a lethal threat.”

Despite al-Qaida’s perseverance, Driscoll said, the terrorist group isn’t as influential as it once was. Less than two years ago, it was a powerful group on the brink of causing a civil war in Iraq, he said.

But today, al-Qaida doesn’t hold any territory or city. The group’s fighters still have “pocket areas” in Diyala, Mosul and Anbar, but Iraqi security forces and coalition forces are very aggressively targeting to eliminate them, he added.

“Al-Qaida is still a viable threat, and it’s not so much they’ve given up,” Driscoll said. “The coalition, Iraqi security forces and political process [have] made it much harder to for al-Qaida to operate in Iraq.”

As Iraqi security forces develop into a national defense force, coalition forces continue to develop the Iraqis’ counterinsurgency force within in the Iraqi army, which is showing much-improved capabilities, he said.

“The Iraqis are really developing and have come a long way,” Driscoll said. “It takes a while to develop the kind of leadership they’ve shown. We’re focusing on that key leadership and bolstering them so we have a vibrant and successful counterinsurgency force.”

(Story by Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service.)

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Little Army Robot Doing Big Job Saving Lives

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The MARCbot IV extends its camera nearly four feet in the air to search for suspected improvised explosive devices at the training course in Fort Polk, La. Paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team will have the opportunity use this tool in their upcoming deployment in support of the war on terror. (Photo by Pfc. Derek Kuhn, August 7, 2008.)

Focus on Defense:

FORT POLK, La., Aug. 7, 2008 -- Children often play with remote control cars during their childhood. Some children also want to be Soldiers when they grow up.

Now the Army is now giving servicemembers the opportunity to play with remote controlled cars on the job, but these are not the type purchased at any toy store. These robots save lives.

Paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division received training on how to effectively use the Multifunctional Agile Remote Controlled Robot at the Joint Readiness Training Center. In doing so, these Fort Bragg N.C.-based Paratroopers now have a new tool at their disposal for the brigade's upcoming deployment in support of the war on terror.

Known as the MARCbot IV, the robot resembles a remote controlled car. The MARCbot IV has proven to be a powerful tool against combating terrorist activity with its movable camera arm, ability to be controlled from a long distance and hours of battery life.

"MARCbot IV is an observation platform that gives Soldiers the ability to have some stand off range for a suspected improvised explosive device," said Sgt 1st Class Kelly Taylor, a Robotic Systems Head Project Office sergeant. "Instead of having to go down to physically look at an IED or suspected IED, they can send the MARCbot IV to put an extra set of eyes on it to verify whether or not it is an IED."

With its relatively cheap production cost and ease of operation, the MARCbot IV is ideal for mass distribution and integration in the U.S. Central Command theater.

"The MARCbot IV is available for anybody from administration to Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel to use. It's designed so anyone can use it," said Taylor.

During the familiarization course, Paratroopers had their chance to acquaint themselves with the MARCbot IV and most were proficient with it within 30 minutes.

It takes some getting used to the handling, but it is very doable, said Pfc. Troy Jones Company D, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT. Anyone can do it.

The MARCbot IV saves lives, it also saves time.

"It frees up EOD to respond to credible threats," said Spc. Gustavo Mansilla, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-505, 3rd BCT. Instead of having EOD personnel bother with objects that look like IEDs, but are really just pieces of trash.

When Soldiers are on patrols, they run into debris all over the country, said Spc. Phillip Howard, Company D, 2-505th, 3rd BCT. Previously, when they would encounter something suspicious, they would have to call up an EOD unit to come and clear the area, which could take hours. The MARCbot IV now allows Soldiers to cut through all that time.

Having been fielded in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easy to see why the MARCbot IV has had success.

"I think that it is definitely a valuable and useful tool," said Mansilla. "It helps cut down on the static time a convoy has, so there is less time for it to be identified."

Mansilla continues about the viability of the MARCbot IV.

"It's been really great to see the Army go outside of the box and finding a cheap, but really good solution," said Mansilla. "It solves a problem. Instead of risking Soldiers lives, you are risking a robot."

As part of a new breed of unmanned reconnaissance tools, the MARCbot IV with its small stature, makes big contributions to the U.S. military. Paratroopers of 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division have taken notice and will make the most of this powerful tool in their upcoming deployment this fall in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

(Story by U.S. Army Pfc. Derek L. Kuhn.)

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Combat Cameraman Awarded Bronze Star

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In this 2004 file photo, U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate then 2nd Class John Parker documents a Refuel At Sea (RAS) operation conducted by the Dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47), left, Australian replenishment vessel HMAS Success (AOR 304), center, and the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1), right. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Bradley J. Sapp.)

Face of Defense:

NORTH ISLAND, Calif., Aug. 7, 2008 -- Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific (FLTCOMBATCAMGRUPAC) presented a combat cameraman with the Bronze Star Medal during a brief ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., Aug. 6.

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John T. Parker received the award for meritorious service during a deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, working with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Arabian Peninsula from Oct. 1, 2007 to March 15, 2008, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Kansas City, Mo., native was specifically cited for his actions while documenting operations with a U.S. Army Special Forces unit that was hit by an improvised explosive device. Following the initial explosion, Parker immediately played a crucial role in securing the immediate area and assisting with medical aid.

Parker credited his training and past-deployment experience for his quick response and alertness.

"I reacted just as I had been trained, said Parker. "We're constantly preparing for these situations and when it came down to it, my muscle memory kicked in."

The official citation also recognized his bravery for "performing his duties under fire without regard to his personal safety."

While not deployed, FLTCOMBATCAMGRUPAC personnel spend numerous hours honing their professional and tactical skills in preparation for the arduous deployment schedule.

"Petty Officer Parker is an example of why we train our Navy combat cameramen who serve in hostile environments throughout the world," said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Cotton, FLTCOMBATCAMGRUPAC officer in charge. "We do this so that we're able to perform our job on any platform – at sea, in the desert, in the snow, on rocky terrains, even in the air."

Parker has now completed three deployments to Iraq as well as deployments to Bahrain, Australia, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea since arriving at FLTCOMBATCAMGRUPAC, May 7, 2004. However, this latest deployment stands out as the culmination of his entire Navy experience.

"Not since the Vietnam era have combat cameramen been able to deploy with Special Forces units in combat situations," said Parker. "I feel my entire career has been spent preparing for this one deployment and I'm proud to have been able to document the actions of these elite units and assist them wherever I could."

The combat camera mission is to be able to deploy anywhere in the world at any time. They provide video and still documentation of combat operations, contingencies, exercises and events of historical significance.

The Bronze Star for meritorious service is the ninth highest U.S. Armed Service award.

(Story by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark A. Rankin, Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific Public Affairs.)

COMBAT CAMERA Recent Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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Bin Laden Driver Hamdan Sentenced to 66 Months in Prison

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FILE PHOTO - Commissions building courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Christopher Mobley.)

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2008 -- The first detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to have his case brought to trial was sentenced today by a military panel there to 66 months in prison for providing material support to terrorism.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who served as Osama bin Laden’s driver, was tried and sentenced under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Following a two-week trial, a military jury yesterday found Hamdan guilty of providing material support to terrorism, but not of the more serious charge of conspiracy.

Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the military judge, sentenced him to 66 months confinement but offered an eight-day credit. Military prosecutors had urged 30 or more years imprisonment, claiming that a tough sentence would send a message to other al-Qaida supporters.

Hamdan’s case now will undergo an automatic review by the convening authority, which will evaluate findings and appropriateness of the sentence, officials said. He will have legal representation through the process and the opportunity to submit matters for consideration on his behalf. The Court of Military Commissions Review will then review the case.

After that process, Hamdan has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court, officials said.

Despite his shorter sentence, defense officials said Hamdan is likely to remain in prison longer than 66 months. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said during an Aug. 5 news conference he is still considered an enemy combatant and a danger.

Morrell called Hamdan’s trial “a fair and transparent process” that allowed journalists to observe and report on the proceedings. Hamdan “was offered a vigorous defense by his counsel, in which the prosecutor was able to make his case,” Morrell said.

The United States is “clearly trying to work to reduce the detainee population in Guantanamo” and bring more trials forward, Morrell said. In addition to bringing detainees to justice, the process will “at the same time provide a system that protects the American people from some very, very dangerous characters out there,” he said.

A link to Hamdan's list of charges can be viewed on the Military Commission Web site at: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/May2007/Hamdan_Charges.pdf.

(Complied from a story by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service, and a U.S. Defense Department press release.)

Related: United States Department of Defense Military Commissions

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Troops in Afghanistan Kill Several Enemy Fighters

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2008 -- Coalition and Afghan forces killed several armed militants and destroyed a weapons cache in operations this week in Afghanistan, military officials said.

Troops killed several militants and detained two others during an operation Aug. 5 to disrupt militant activities in Kapisa province.

Coalition forces came under enemy fire as they searched a compound in the Nijrab district for a Taliban commander responsible for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, military officials said.

The troops retaliated with small-arms fire, killing several militants. Inside the compound, coalition forces found and destroyed bomb-making materials and barricaded fighting positions.

During an Aug. 4 operation, Afghan commandos and coalition forces discovered and destroyed multiple weapons caches in the Maywand district of Kandahar province.

The combined forces were on a patrol when they uncovered the caches, which contained 60 5-gallon plastic containers of ammonium nitrate primed with detonation cords, among other materials. They also discovered a stolen tour bus onsite.

(Compiled from Combined Joint Task Force 101 news releases.)

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US Navy to Commission New Guided Missile Destroyer Sterett

Focus on Defense

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2008 -- The newest Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, Sterett, will be commissioned Saturday, Aug. 9, during a 7 p.m. EDT ceremony in Baltimore, Md., at the South Locust Point Marine Terminal.

Designated hull number DDG 104, the new destroyer honors Andrew Sterett (1778-1807), appointed lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in 1798 and assigned to the USS Constellation as third lieutenant. During the quasi-war with France, he served with Capt. Thomas Truxtun onboard Constellation, capturing the French frigate L'Insurgente in 1799. By 1800, he had risen to the rank of first lieutenant. He was soon given command of the schooner Enterprise. In June 1801, he sailed Enterprise from Baltimore to serve with the Mediterranean Squadron and captured a 14-gun Tripolitan warship and her 80-man crew during the Barbary Wars. Sterett continued his Navy career until he resigned his commission in 1805. Three previous ships have carried his name: DD 27, DD 407 and DLG/CG 31.

Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter, will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Michelle Sterett Bernson, a descendant of the ship's namesake, will serve as sponsor of the ship. The ceremony will be highlighted by a time-honored Navy tradition when Sterett Bernson gives the first order to "man our ship and bring her to life!"

The 54th Arleigh Burke class destroyer, Sterett is a multi mission ship that can conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection, in support of the National Military Strategy. Sterett is capable of fighting air, surface, and subsurface battles simultaneously and contains a myriad of offensive and defensive weapons designed to support maritime defense needs well into the 21st century.

Cmdr. Brian P. Eckerle of Jasper, Ind., will become the first commanding officer of the ship and will lead the crew of 276 officers and enlisted personnel. The 9,200-ton Sterett was built by Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics company, and will be homeported in San Diego, Calif. The ship is 509 feet in length, has a waterline beam of 59 feet, and a navigational draft of 33 feet. Four gas turbine engines will power the ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots.

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

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Troops in Iraq Capture Suspects, Seize Weapons

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2008 -- Coalition and Iraqi forces caught dozens of suspects and seized weapons caches in Iraq over the past three days, military officials said.

During operations in Iraq today:
  • Coalition troops detained 11 suspects in Mosul, including an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. Intelligence reports indicate the suspected leader uses a local mosque to recruit extremists, collect money to finance terrorism, and store weapons for attacks against coalition forces, military officials said.

  • Troops caught four suspects while targeting foreign terrorist associates in Biaj, about 80 miles southwest of Mosul. Also south of Mosul, coalition forces in Beiji detained three suspected terrorists who military officials suspect of hiding foreign terrorists and weapons in the area.

  • Coalition troops in Baghdad captured five suspects, one of whom is the suspected leader of an al-Qaida in Iraq network that operates within the Iraqi capital. In a separate operation in the West Rashid area of Baghdad, troops captured two suspects believed to be associated with Iranian-backed “Special Groups.”

  • Coalition forces in Salman Pak caught two people who are suspected members of the Rusafa car-bombing network, which is known to attack Iraqi civilians and security forces, military officials said.

In the Diyala River Valley area yesterday, Iraqi special operations forces captured two suspected al-Qaida in Iraq network members. The suspects are believed to have recruited and trained female suicide bombers in the city’s Old Baqouba neighborhood.

Elsewhere in Iraq yesterday, combined forces seized three weapons caches in Baghdad. The stockpiles included mortar rounds of various sizes, grenades, rockets and other weaponry.

A day earlier near Muqdadiya, Iraqi special operations forces arrested four other suspected al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists on a Ministry of Justice warrant.

Meanwhile in the Diyala River Valley area Aug. 5, the Baghdad National Emergency Response Brigade captured two cell members from the Islamic State of Iraq, a front organization for the foreign-led al-Qaida in Iraq, military officials said.

In the Iraqi capital Aug. 5, soldiers from the Iraqi army and Multinational Division Baghdad seized weapons caches that included various grenades and sniper rifles.

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

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Combat Camera: US and Iraqi Troops Conduct Air Assault into Southern Diyala Province

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G Troop, Task Force 1-35, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. (Photographer: Sgt. Eric C. Hein, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division Public Affairs.)

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U.S. Army soldier from Task Force 1-35, 2nd Brigade Combat Team aboard a CH-47 Chinook ride to their landing zone for the opening assault of Operation Knight Pursuit on July 25, 2008. (Photographer: Sgt. Eric C. Hein, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division Public Affairs.)

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U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Platoon, G Troop, Task Force 1-35, 2nd Brigade Combat Team move out on patrol in search of weapons cache with an attachment of Iraqi army soldiers during Operation Iron Pursuit on July 28, 2008 in 7 Nissan village, Diyala province, Iraq. (Photographer: Sgt. Eric C. Hein, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division Public Affairs.)

Dispatches from the Front:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq, Aug. 7, 2008 -- Soldiers from the 8th Iraqi Army Division and Task Force 1-35 conducted a massive air assault operation into the southern Diyala province of Iraq on July 26, 2008.

The air assault was the first operation of its kind for the 1st Armored Division during this Operation Iraqi Freedom rotation and allowed the movement of a large body of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Brigade, 8th Iraqi Army Division, coalition forces and supplies to an area of Iraq left untouched and untamed for years.

In the darkness of the early morning hours of July 26, soldiers from TF 1-35 AR and 8th IA Div. made their final preparations for the operation, ready for whatever lay ahead.

The mission was to rid the area of al-Qaida and other extremists who had free reign of the area for years intimidating and killing the locals.

As the soldiers sat in the Chinook helicopters flying to the objective their minds were filled with thoughts of what lay ahead. The mood was eerily silent and every soldier had an intense, serious look on his face.

The gunner called out one minute and the soldiers repeated his call. The soldiers turned on their night vision goggles and inspected their equipment in final preparations.

Thirty seconds from landing the gunner called out the time and everyone repeated his call in unison. The soldiers locked and loaded their weapons with ammunition and waited for the bump of the helicopter signifying tierra firma.

As the Chinook helicopters landed the soldiers understood they needed to do whatever was necessary to support the Iraqi army in establishing lasting security in the area, permanently denying AQI and other extremist’s sanctuary or bases of support in the area.

The ramp dropped and the Iron Soldiers and the 8th IA Div. soldiers quickly operated in unison exiting the aircraft, scanning the area for any dangers or threats before quickly securing the field used as their landing zone.

The soldiers exited the aircraft, stumbling through the dry, uneven canal, full of dry vegetation and canals.

The desert heat weighed upon the soldiers, each carrying an excess of 75 pounds.

The soldiers set up hasty fighting positions creating a secure perimeter on the landing zone to allow the safe insertion of follow-on soldiers and supplies.

Once the landing zone had been cleared and secured, the joint force established a checkpoint along the road entering a nearby village. They wanted to ensure that no one entered or departed the village.

In the morning darkness the soldiers moved forward, working as a team clearing nearby abandoned buildings and remnants of old houses in an effort to secure a base of operations.

Once the building had been cleared, a second group of soldiers pushed forward to the building with supplies.

As daylight began to break across the horizon, the soldiers of Bravo Co., 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regt., began their first sweep through the nearby village, alerting the area of their presence and talking to residents. Simultaneously, the medics and physicians of the 2nd BCT, 1st AD, began building their forward aid station.

The aid station, staffed by well trained medics and the 2nd BCT surgeon, offered the treatment and care of any health issues which may arise, providing shade, cots, food, water and a wide range of medical supplies to the soldiers.

The sun reached its peak before the soldiers of TF 1-35 AR returned from their foot patrols, all drenched in sweat and dangerously low on water.

Even under the near unbearable circumstances, not a single soldier complained. After grabbing what little water was available, the few soldiers not plagued by fatigue and dehydration took up fighting positions on the rooftop, providing security and offering their comrades a chance at a short but much needed rest.

For the first time in two days, soldiers of TF 1-35 AR were given a chance to sleep and recover, though few men were able to do more than lay down, grateful to relax but unable to sleep.

The break was short-lived. Seemingly quicker than it had started, it was a thing of the past. At a moments notice, the soldiers donned their gear to venture deeper into the villages that lay ahead.

TF 1-35 AR is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and deployed to the southeast Baghdad province of Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in April, 2008.
(Story by Pfc. Michael Schuch, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.)

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