Saturday, January 3, 2009

US State Department: Situation in Gaza

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2009 -- The following news release made available Saturday by the U.S. State Department is the text of a statement by spokesman Sean McCormack regarding the situation in Gaza:
We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a reestablishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza and to condemn the people of Gaza to a life of misery. It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a cease-fire that is durable, sustainable, and not time limited.

Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate President of the Palestinian people. They have used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and have contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address. Hamas has made it very difficult for the people of Gaza to have a reasonable life.

The United States is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation and the protection of innocents. In this vein, we have expressed our concerns to the Israeli government that any military action needs to be mindful of the potential consequences to civilians.
(Report from a U.S. State Department news release.)

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US Airpower Summary; Jan. 3, 2009: B-1s On Patrol

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A B-1B Lancer flies a combat patrol over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The B-1B has the capability to carry guided and unguided weapons and deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision weapons against specific targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon.)

Dispatches from the Front:

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Jan. 3, 2009 -- Coalition airpower integrated with coalition ground forces in Iraq and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan during operations Jan. 2, according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials here.

In Afghanistan, 49 close-air-support missions were flown in support of ISAF and Afghan security forces, reconstruction activities and route patrols.

Eight Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft flew missions as part of operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, two coalition aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

In Iraq, coalition aircraft flew 28 close-air-support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions integrated and synchronized with coalition ground forces, protected key infrastructure, provided overwatch for reconstruction activities and helped to deter and disrupt hostile activities.

Twenty-eight Air Force and Navy ISR aircraft flew missions as part of operations in Iraq. Additionally, three Air Force and coalition aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft and C-17 Globemaster IIIs provided intra-theater heavy airlift, helping to sustain operations throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.

Approximately 140 airlift sorties were flown, more than 320 tons of cargo were delivered and nearly 2,900 passengers were transported. Airlift included approximately 29,000 pounds of troop re-supply that was air-dropped in Afghanistan.

Coalition C-130 crews flew as part of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.

On Jan. 1, Air Force and coalition aerial refueling crews flew 46 sorties and off-loaded approximately 2.9 million pounds of fuel to 195 receiving aircraft.

(Report from a U.S. Air Force news release.)

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Military Times: US Troops Wary of Obama

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2009 -- Writing in a story that appeared in Wednesday's Army Times, Brendan McGarry says troops are worried about President-elect Barack Obama as commander in chief, citing his inexperience as a leader and lack of military service as the main reasons for their pessimism.

In a Military Times survey, six out of 10 active-duty service members say they are uncertain or pessimistic about Obama.
“Being that the Marine Corps can be sent anywhere in the world with the snap of his fingers, nobody has confidence in this guy as commander in chief,” said one lance corporal who asked not to be identified.
For the last eight years, members of the U.S. military have served under a Republican commander in chief who reflected their generally conservative views and leadership qualities.

The troops now face changes not only at the very top of the chain of command but perhaps in mission, policy and values.
Underlying much of the uncertainty is Obama’s stated 16-month timetable for pulling combat troops out of Iraq, as well as his calls to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to allow gays to serve openly in the military, according to survey responses and interviews.

“How are you going to safely pull combat troops out of Iraq?” said Air Force 1st Lt. Rachel Kleinpeter, an intelligence officer with the 100th Operations Support Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England. “And if you’re pulling out combat troops, who are you leaving to help support what’s left? What happens if Iraq falls back into chaos? Are we going to be there in five years doing the same thing over again?”

When asked who has their best interests at heart — Obama or President George W. Bush — a higher percentage of respondents picked Bush, though Bush has lost ground over time. About half of the respondents said Bush has their best interests at heart this year, the same percentage as last year but a decline from 69 percent in 2004.

Nearly one-third of respondents — including eight out of 10 black service members — said they are optimistic about their incoming boss.

Even some service members who voted against Obama — only 1 in 4 supported him over Sen. John McCain in a pre-election survey of Military Times subscribers —now express goodwill toward him as their new commander in chief.

“Overall, the prospect of having someone who isn’t necessarily tied to old strategies is a good thing,” said Air Force Master Sgt. David Ortegon, who said he voted for McCain. “Sometimes you need a fresh perspective to be able to handle our military readiness and the needs of the nation.”

The findings are part of the sixth annual Military Times survey of subscribers to Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times newspapers. This year’s survey, conducted Dec. 1 through Dec. 8, included more than 1,900 active-duty respondents.

The responses are not representative of the opinions of the military as a whole. The survey group overall under-represents minorities, women and junior enlisted service members, and over-represents soldiers.

But as a snapshot of the professional corps, the responses highlight the challenges Obama faces as he prepares to take command of military careerists with different political and cultural attitudes.

In keeping with previous surveys, nearly half of the respondents described their political views as conservative or very conservative. Slightly more than half said they consider themselves Republicans, 22 percent independents and 13 percent Democrats.
(Report from commercial media sources.)

Source:
2008 Military Times poll: Wary about Obama

Related:
The Hill: Obama Cans Bush Pentagon Appointees

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Pentagon: Pakistani Forces Make Progress in Khyber Pass Offensive

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2009 -- The Pakistani military is making good progress against militants who have threatened a major supply route running from Pakistan into Afghanistan, U.S. officials said here today.

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan are “cautiously optimistic” regarding recent news reports that cite Pakistani forces’ success in driving militants away from the Khyber Pass region, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Army Col. Jerry O’Hara said in a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service today.

Pakistani forces launched an offensive Dec. 30 to target militants who, in recent weeks, have attacked some supply convoys that transit the Khyber Pass.

That supply route runs hundreds of miles from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan and then through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. The Khyber Pass route provides about 75 percent of the U.S. supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military actions directed against militants who operate in the Khyber Pass area are providing “security of the Peshawar [supply] terminals and our supply lines,” O’Hara said.

Pakistan’s operations in the Khyber Pass region are achieving success, Washington-based U.S. State Department spokesman Fred Lash said today during a phone interview with American Forces Press Service.

“We certainly welcome that kind of cooperation we’re seeing,” Lash said, noting he understands that Pakistani forces “are making good progress” against the militants.

The United States appreciates Pakistan’s actions against militants operating along the border with Afghanistan, Lash said, as well as Pakistan’s arrests of suspects following the November terrorist attack on Mumbai, India.

“We welcome the full and transparent cooperation of Pakistan in all matters like this,” Lash said. “Not only in trying to ferret out the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, but actions such as this in the Khyber-Pass region just shows they are cooperating more in a lot of ways.”

The Khyber Pass supply route was temporarily closed at the start of the Pakistani offensive, but U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO International Security Force officials had noted in a recent joint statement that closure of the supply route had “no immediate impact on our ability to provide supplies to the troops” in Afghanistan. Due to the offensive’s success, the Khyber Pass route was reopened today, according to news reports.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials have been looking for other supply-route options. U.S. Transportation Command’s top officer, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, traveled to several Central Asian countries in November to explore options for establishing added supply routes for Afghanistan operations, Transcom spokeswoman Cynthia Bauer said Dec. 31 during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service. Transcom is based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

“We’ve been looking at alternate distribution routes for a while,” Bauer said.

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

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US Airpower Summary; Jan. 2, 2009: C-130s Provide Essential Airlift

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A C-130 Hercules prepares for a nighttime departure. C-130s are prime transporters of cargo, passengers and troop resupply throughout Southwest Asia. This C-130 is deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas and is assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Raheem Moore.)

Dispatches from the Front:

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Jan. 2, 2009 -- Coalition airpower integrated with coalition ground forces in Iraq and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan during operations Jan.1, according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials here.

In Afghanistan, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a guided bomb unit-12 onto anti-Afghan forces near a ridge in the vicinity of Nurestan. The mission was confirmed a success by an on-scene joint terminal attack controller.

In the vicinity of Nangalam and near Bari Kowt, F-15Es conducted shows of force and performed armed aerial reconnaissance for a coalition forces foot patrol. The JTACs declared the missions were successful.

Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets conducted shows of force expending flares, to deter anti-Afghan activities and provide armed aerial overwatch for a coalition convoy in the vicinity of Sangin and near Musa Qal Eh. The missions were reported a success by the JTACs.

In the vicinity of Monari and near Ghazni, Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs provided armed aerial reconnaissance and armed overwatch for a coalition convoy traveling along a known enemy ambush route. The JTACs confirmed the missions successful.

Navy F/A-18A Hornets conducted shows of force, expending flares to deter enemy activities in the vicinity of Garmser. Also, a coalition aircraft performed a show of force to deter enemy activities in the vicinity of Shurakian. The missions were declared a success by the JTACs.

In total, 68 close-air-support missions were flown in support of ISAF and Afghan security forces, reconstruction activities and route patrols.

Seventeen Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft flew missions as part of operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, two Navy aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

In Iraq, coalition aircraft flew 19 close-air-support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions, integrated and synchronized with coalition ground forces, protected key infrastructure, provided overwatch for reconstruction activities and helped to deter and disrupt hostile activities.

Twenty-four Air Force and Navy ISR aircraft flew missions as part of operations in Iraq. Additionally, three Air Force and coalition aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft and C-17 Globemaster IIIs provided intra-theater heavy airlift, helping to sustain operations throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.

Approximately 120 airlift sorties were flown, more than 450 tons of cargo were delivered and nearly 3,200 passengers were transported. Airlift included approximately 136,000 pounds of troop re-supply that were air-dropped in Afghanistan.

Coalition C-130 crews flew as part of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.

On Dec. 31, Air Force and coalition aerial refueling crews flew 44 sorties and off-loaded approximately 2.8 million pounds of fuel to 234 receiving aircraft.

(Report from a U.S. Air Force news release.)

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Pentagon: US Deaths in Iraq Decrease in 2008

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2009 -- The number of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq in 2008 fell two-thirds compared to the previous year, underscoring an improvement in security amid upcoming provincial elections.

Last year's casualty figure -- 314 -- marks a sharp reduction from 2007 when 904 troops died. The 2008 tally comes on the heels of a week in which the number of daily attacks in Iraq dropped nearly 95 percent compared to the same time last year.

"This is a dramatic improvement of safety throughout the country," Army Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters in Baghdad last week, when the average number of daily attacks in Iraq was 10, compared to 180 a year earlier.

He added that the country's murder rates have dropped below levels that existed before the start of American operations in Iraq. In November, the ratio was .9 per 100,000 people.

Military and Defense Department officials have attributed security gains over the past year to a host of factors, including the now-completed surge of U.S. forces, Sunni fighters aligning themselves with Iraqi and coalition forces to help purge al-Qaida and maintain security, and a cease-fire pledge by prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who controlled several militias.

Overall violence in Iraq has fallen some 80 percent since the surge of 33,000 U.S. forces began in January 2007.

Speaking in October about the reduced bloodshed in Iraq, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized the role of reinvigorated counterinsurgency tactics.

Put simply, counterinsurgency is a form of warfare in which a civilian population is in the center of a tug-of-war between an insurgency and the forces attempting to stop it. The Army and Marine Corps in late 2006 published a counterinsurgency strategy written by a host of contributors, including Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who implemented its tenets while serving for 20 months as the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

"In my view, what really turned it around was the counterinsurgency tactics our troops embraced and perfected," Mullen said Oct. 8 at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference.

While the security gains are significant, Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Multinational Force Iraq commander, warned in an interview with reporters in Baghdad last month against becoming complacent amid Iraq's improved security, a transfer of authority to Iraqi forces and an upcoming election.

"In military terms, transitions are the most dangerous times," the general said Dec. 23. "What we're trying to do is make sure we don't have any seams in our transition."

A piece of legislation hammered out by Washington and Baghdad -- known as the Status of Forces Agreement -- went into effect yesterday. The agreement supersedes the United Nations mandate for the coalition presence in Iraq, and transfers military operational authority to Iraqi forces with U.S. forces assuming a support, or "overwatch," role.

The deal becomes effective ahead of the scheduled Jan. 31 provincial elections in Iraq, which Odierno characterized as the next security test for combined forces.

"Al-Qaida will try to exploit the elections because they don't want them to happen. So I think they will attempt to create some violence and uncertainty in the population," he said. "The next 60 days are a critical period."

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

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OEF Summary; Jan. 2, 2009: Troops in Afghanistan Kill Militants, Capture Suspects

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2009 -- Afghan and coalition forces killed numerous enemy fighters, captured terrorism suspects and repelled two attacks against bases in recent days, military officials reported.

Coalition and Afghan forces killed five militants and detained 10 suspects -- including a targeted Haqqani terrorist group militant and a Taliban subcommander -- during multiple operations in Afghanistan’s Khowst and Zabul provinces yesterday.

Afghan and coalition forces netted the Haqqani leader during a combined operation in the Sabari district of Khowst province that left five armed militants dead and seven suspects detained.

As the combined force approached the targeted man's compound, several armed militants came out of the buildings and attacked the force with small-arms fire and hand grenades. The combined force returned fire, called in close-air support, and killed five armed militants. A search revealed several hand grenades and assault rifles, pistols and bomb-making materials.

An operation in Zabul province’s Qalat district yesterday resulted in the capture of a Taliban subcommander known for weapons trafficking and planning attacks against coalition forces along Highway 1, the major north-south road connecting Kandahar to Kabul.

Coalition forces searched the targeted compound without incident and detained the subcommander and two other suspected militants while protecting nine women and 20 children.

In earlier operations:
  • Coalition forces killed eight armed Taliban militants and detained one suspect in Zabul province’s Arghandad district Dec. 31. The operation targeted a Taliban subcommander wanted for his ties to a bombing network along Highway 1 and recent attacks against coalition forces. He also is believed to help foreign fighters enter the region. Coalition forces killed six militants who refused to leave the targeted compound, where a subsequent search revealed assault rifles, pistols and hand grenades. As coalition forces left the targeted building, armed militants moving along a nearby ridge attempted to engage them. The forces called in close-air support, and two armed militants were killed.

  • Afghan National police and coalition forces killed three insurgents who tried to attack a forward operating base in the Nahr Surkh district of Helmand province Dec. 31.

  • Afghan security guards thwarted a daytime insurgent attack on Shindand Airfield in western Afghanistan’s Herat province Dec. 29. Afghan National Police officers detained four insurgents for questioning. One insurgent who was wounded during the operation received medical care from a coalition medic, but died of his wounds. An Afghan National Army cleric took possession of the body to ensure an appropriate burial in accordance with Islamic religious customs.

  • Afghan commandos and coalition forces killed an insurgent and detained five others during a Dec. 28 operation in Sanowghan in Herat province. The combined forces safeguarded two men, 12 women and 18 children during the operation. The insurgent killed had fired upon the commandos as they approached, and the commandos responded with small-arms fire. After the engagement, the combined forces met with village elders to discuss the reasons for the operation.

(Compiled from U.S. Forces Afghanistan news releases.)

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OIF Summary; Jan. 2, 2009: Troops in Iraq Detain Suspects, Find Weapons

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2009 -- Iraqi and coalition forces detained numerous terrorism suspects and seized stockpiles of illegal weapons in various operations this week, military officials reported.

In Dec. 31 operations:
  • Iraqi security forces detained five people after an indirect-fire attack southwest of Kut in Wasit province.

  • Iraqi soldiers found a cache in Baghdad's Ameriyah neighborhood that contained homemade explosives, a detonation cord and blasting cap.

  • Acting on a resident’s tip, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers recovered two rocket-propelled grenades in western Baghdad.

  • U.S. and Iraqi soldiers uncovered a cache north of Baghdad that contained three 107 mm projectiles.

In Dec. 30 operations:
  • Iraqi National Police, supported by coalition forces, detained two men who allegedly were involved in a recent bomb attack against a checkpoint in Baghdad’s Aamel community manned by the “Sons of Iraq” citizen security group.

  • In Baghdad’s Saydiyah community, Iraqi soldiers, supported by coalition forces, found three rocket-propelled grenades, three fuses, a battery and an unexploded 40 mm round. Later, Iraqi and coalition soldiers also found 15 mortar fuses in a vacant house in the area.

  • Iraqi and U.S. soldiers operating west of Baghdad seized a large weapons cache that included various rockets, mortars, grenades, fuses, a partially built bomb and a variety of bomb-making materials. Later, soldiers from the same units seized another cache in the area. The second cache contained 23 mortars.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

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Pentagon: Homebasing Announced for P-8A Poseidon Aircraft

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The P-8A Poseidon is the U.S. Navy's replacement for the P-3 Orion. (Photo by Boeing.)

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2009 -- The Department of the Navy announced today its decision to provide facilities and functions to base five fleet squadrons of the P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) with a fleet replacement squadron (FRS) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Fla., four fleet squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., and three fleet squadrons at Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, with periodic squadron detachment operations at NAS North Island. This decision implements the preferred homebasing alternative 5 identified in the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Introduction of the P-8A Multi-Mission Aircraft into the U.S. Navy Fleet (published November 2008). Introduction of the P-8A MMA squadrons is projected to begin no later than 2012 and be completed by 2019.

The notice of availability of the Navy's record of decision (ROD) was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 31, 2008 and the ROD is available for public viewing on the project Web site at http://www.mmaeis.com along with copies of the FEIS and supporting documents.

This action is needed to transition from existing P-3C aircraft to the P-8A MMA while maintaining the Navy's overall maritime patrol capability supporting national defense objectives and policies without interruption or impediment to operations or combat readiness. Ultimately, this action will include a total of 84 fleet and FRS aircraft.

(Report from a U.S. Defense Department news release.)

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

US Airpower Summary; Jan. 1, 2009: A-10 Flies Combat Patrol Mission

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An A-10 Thunderbolt II, like this one, performs sorties daily providing top cover for ground forces in Southwest Asia. A-10s provide close-air support and employ a wide variety of conventional munitions, including general purpose bombs, cluster bombs units and laser guided bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert Wieland.)

Dispatches from the Front:

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Jan. 1, 2009 -- Coalition airpower integrated with Coalition ground forces in Iraq and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in the following operations December 31, according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials here.

In Afghanistan, an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II fired cannon rounds against anti-Afghan forces who were using small arms fire against Coalition forces in the vicinity of Monari. The mission was confirmed a success by the Joint Terminal Attack Controller.

In the vicinity of Sangin, an Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-38s onto anti-Coalition forces hiding behind a tree line. Furthermore, a Navy F/A-18A Hornet conducted shows of force to deter enemy activities in the same area. The JTACs declared the missions successful.

Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets conducted shows of force expending flares, to deter anti-Afghan activities and provide armed aerial overwatch for a Coalition ground forces convoy in the vicinity of Ghazni and near Malek Din. The missions were reported a success by the JTACs.

In the vicinity of Kandahar, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle provided armed aerial reconnaissance for a Coalition forces convoy traveling along a high improvised explosive device threat route. The JTAC confirmed the mission successful.

Coalition aircraft performed armed aerial overwatch of a Coalition convoy that had taken indirect fire from a compound located in the vicinity of Moqor. The missions were declared a success by the JTACs.

In total, 72 close air support missions were flown in support of the ISAF and Afghan security forces, reconstruction activities and route patrols.

Fourteen Air Force surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft flew missions as part of operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, two Coalition aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

In Iraq, Coalition aircraft flew 42 close air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions integrated and synchronized with Coalition ground forces, protected key infrastructure, provided overwatch for reconstruction activities and helped to deter and disrupt hostile activities.

Twenty-seven Air Force, and Navy surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft flew missions as part of operations in Iraq. Additionally, three Air Force and Coalition aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

U.S. Air Force C-130s and C-17s provided intra-theater heavy airlift, helping to sustain operations throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.

Approximately 130 airlift sorties were flown; more than 600 tons of cargo were delivered; and nearly 1,700 passengers were transported. This included approximately 33,000 pounds of troop re-supply that was air-dropped in Afghanistan.

Coalition C-130 crews flew as part of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.

On December 30, U.S. Air Force and Coalition aerial refueling crews flew 46 sorties and off-loaded approximately 3.3 million pounds of fuel to 272 receiving aircraft.

(Report from a U.S. Air Force news release.)

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The Hill: US Navy Delays Decision on Homeport of Supercarrier

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In this file photo, USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) makes her final transit into Naval Station Mayport before being decommissioned. As part of an environmental impact statement (EIS), the Navy announced Nov. 17 its "preferred alternative" is to homeport a single nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN) at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Mayport, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tommy Gilligan.)

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1, 2008 -- Writing in The Hill yesterday, Roxana Tiron said the U.S. Navy postponed making a final decision over whether to move a nuclear aircraft carrier that both Florida and Virginia are fighting to attract.
Navy Secretary Donald Winter was supposed to make a decision by the end of December that would have cleared the way for shipping the next available nuclear-powered carrier to Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla., or keeping it at the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. Sources say that decision will now come as early as next week.

Delegations for both states have been lobbying both the Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration, trying to make the case that their respective ports would be a better fit for a nuclear carrier that can generate billions of dollars for the local economy.

The likely candidate is the George H.W. Bush, a carrier that the Navy officially announced this week would stay in Norfolk initially. Mayport is not equipped at the moment to house the carrier, and will not likely be ready until 2014.

Having the carrier in Norfolk for several years could give Virginia leverage in its fight to prevent the move of any aircraft carrier from the largest carrier base on the East Coast. Norfolk is now home to four aircraft carriers.

The carriers represent an economic lifeline for the Hampton Roads region, but moving one could revive the Jacksonville ship-repair industry and economy.

[. . .]

Mayport was home to the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy carrier until it was decommissioned last March. Mayport will lose other ships, too. Ten frigates will be decommissioned by 2014, and the number of sailors will go down from 13,300 to fewer than 9,300.

Unless a carrier or other ships are added, the ship-repair industry around the area will deteriorate. Nelson and the Florida delegation have argued that having too many carriers in one port could create a strategic target for an enemy of the U.S. The Navy also justified its preference to move a carrier to Mayport partly on its desire to disperse the fleet in the case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Norfolk lost one of its longtime carriers — the U.S.S George Washington — which is changing homeports to Yokosuka, Japan, as the nation’s only carrier permanently stationed overseas. Virginians calculate that the economic activity related to one carrier can reach $1 billion a year.

Currently, all the fighter jets that would go on the carriers based on the East Coast are housed at the Oceana Master Jet base near Norfolk.
Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Jacksonville, which was originally projected to be the Navy's largest Master Jet Base, was closed under President Clinton in 1993 and would have been the closest jet base to Mayport.

(Report from commercial media and historical sources.)

Related:
The Hill: Navy holds off on controversial carrier
US Navy Announces Preference to Homeport Nuclear Aircraft Carrier at Mayport
JFK Towed to Philadelphia for Storage
US Navy Set to Commission Supercarrier George HW Bush

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Milestone: US Turns Over Green Zone to Iraq

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1, 2009 -- The United States formally transferred the Republican Palace back to the Iraqi government today, a concrete symbol of the continuing improvement in the country.

The transfer came about as the status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq took effect.

The agreement replaces the United Nations mandate under which the coalition went into Iraq and has conducted operations there since. Under the agreement, Iraqi forces are now in the lead with U.S. forces in a supporting role or in overwatch.

Officials said that American troops are still on duty at some of the checkpoints in Green Zone, but they are there to train their Iraqi counterparts rather than with operational control.

“When you come up to a checkpoint, the Iraqis will check your identification. They will make the decision if you come in or go out, ” said Army Maj. Gen. Dave Perkins, U.S. spokesman in Iraq. As a colonel, Perkins led the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division that conducted the Thunder Run in April 2003 that first entered Baghdad.

"We will continue to be there to provide some technical capacity, to provide some mentoring, but you will see less and less American forces and more and more Iraqi forces – and they will have the majority of the responsibility for making those key decisions which determine the security of the capital,” Perkins said.

The American effort has shifted down the river to the embassy. The new embassy – the largest U.S. embassy in the world – is open for business. Officials at the embassy are working with the Iraqis in detailing how other portions of the SOFA agreement will play out.

Iraqi security forces have made tremendous gains over the past 18 months, officials in Baghdad said. The U.S. surge of five brigades into Iraq announced in January 2006 brought security and stability to the country. Behind this, the Iraqi army and police were able to develop and train. The agreement recognizes this progress and now Iraqi forces have primary responsibility for security in the country.

The agreement also calls for all American combat troops to be out of cities and villages by June. Planning is underway for this move already, U.S. officials in Baghdad said. The agreement says all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

The transfer of responsibility for security of the Green Zone is the most visible outcome of the agreement. The palace on the banks of the Tigris River was the seat of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. U.S. servicemembers called the building the “three-headed palace” because of three huge busts of Saddam that decorated it.

Soon after American soldiers rolled into Baghdad, the palace became the headquarters of the coalition forces in the country. It also served as the U.S. embassy in the country.

While spared any direct attack in the “shock and awe” campaign in March 2003, the building still had no glass in the windows and American soldiers bunked in some of the rooms decorated with pictures of missiles and other portrayals of Saddam’s might.

The palace became the hub of the Coalition Provisional Authority – the coalition group that ruled Iraq before the first government. U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer transferred sovereignty back to the Iraqis in a ceremony at the palace in June 2004.

The grounds behind the palace was filled with hundreds of trailers that coalition officials lived in as they worked with Iraqi governmental departments.

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

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Combat Camera Video: US Soldiers Celebrate New Year in Kabul, Afghanistan

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Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2008 -- Linked above is a b-roll of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VIII soldiers at a New Year's Eve celebration counting down into the new year. Scenes include solders watching a count down on a projection screen and interviews of their New Year's resolutions. (Produced by Spc. Nathan Hastings.)

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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Combat Camera Video: US Soldiers Celebrate New Year in Iraq

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Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2008 -- Linked above is a b-roll of U.S. soldiers having a New Years celebration in Balad, Iraq, December 31. Scenes include soldiers playing in a band, soldiers participating in a count down and soldiers singing. (Submitting Unit: 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary); Length: 5:36.)

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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OIF Summary; Dec. 31, 2008: Iraqi Civilians Lead Troops to Bombs

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2008 -- The “Sons of Iraq” civilian security group led coalition troops to their biggest operations in recent days – disarming a bomb at a security checkpoint and finding one of their largest weapons caches to date, military officials reported.

Coalition forces responded to a Sons of Iraq checkpoint to disarm a roadside bomb Dec. 29 in Baghdad's Rashid district. An explosive ordnance disposal unit disarmed the bomb.

Tips from Sons of Iraq members in the Tikrit area led soldiers to several large weapons caches Dec. 29, one of which is the largest discovered since 25th Infantry Division units began arriving in Salahuddin province in November, officials said

In a cache southwest of Samarra, troops found 153 artillery rounds, 130 mortar rounds, 81 rocket rounds, 21 rocket mortars and 36 empty rounds of various munitions that could be used to make homemade bombs.

In another large weapons cache southwest of Samarra, troops found more than 250 munitions, including mortar rounds, high-explosive rounds and propellant charges.

All of the weapons were safely destroyed by explosive ordnance disposal personnel.

Also on Dec. 29, coalition and Iraqi soldiers confiscated weapons in the Saydiyah and Jihad communities that included six AK-47 assault rifles, three 60 mm mortar rounds and a rocket.

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

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