Saturday, February 21, 2009

Video: F-15 Crew Alert

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Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2009 -- Embedded above is a b-roll video of an F-15 crew. Scenes include crew members running towards aircraft, F-15 aircraft leaving hanger, an F-15 taking off, crew members preforming maintenance on a aircraft and scenes of crew members eating a meal. (Courtesy Video; Air Force News. Length: 2:24. No audio.)

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Video: US Air Force F-22A Raptor

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Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2009 -- Embedded above is a b-roll video of the F-22A Raptor aircraft preforming maneuvers in the air. (Courtesy Video; Air Force News. Length: 1:03. No audio.)

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US Investigation Confirms 13 Noncombatant Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Strike

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U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael A. Ryan of U.S. Forces Afghanistan offers his condolences Feb. 20, 2009, to families of those killed during an operation targeting insurgents three days earlier in Afghanistan’s Herat province. (U.S. Army photo.)

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U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael A. Ryan of U.S. Forces Afghanistan offers his condolences Feb. 20, 2009, to families of those killed during an operation targeting insurgents three days earlier in Afghanistan’s Herat province. (U.S. Army photo.)

Dispatches from the Front:

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 21, 2009 -- An investigation into a Feb. 17 coalition air strike in Afghanistan’s Heart province has confirmed that 13 noncombatants and three enemy fighters were killed, military officials reported.

A combined Afghan National Army and coalition forces investigation team, accompanied by international observers, inspected the site this week to determine the identities of those killed.

Investigators found weapons and ammunition at the site, and Afghan army officers met with village leaders following the incident.

“We expressed our deepest condolences to the survivors of the noncombatants who were killed during this operation,” Army Brig. Gen. Michael Ryan of U.S. Forces Afghanistan said at the site of the attack after speaking with local villagers and family members there.

“Our inquiry in Herat demonstrates how seriously we take our responsibility in conducting operations against militant targets and the occurrence of noncombatant casualties,” the general said. “Our concern is for the security of the Afghan people. To this end, we continually evaluate the operations we conduct during the course of our mission in Afghanistan and have agreed to coordinate our efforts jointly.”

Ryan also met with the senior provincial army and police commanders, and separately with the governor of Herat, to discuss the attack.

(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)

Related: OEF Summary, Feb. 20, 2009: Afghanistan Operations Leave 18 Militants Dead

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Friday, February 20, 2009

OEF Summary, Feb. 20, 2009: Afghanistan Operations Leave 18 Militants Dead

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- Recent operations in Afghanistan left up to 18 militants dead and another one captured, and one of the operations has triggered an investigation into allegations of civilian casualties.

A coalition air strike near the Gozara district of Afghanistan’s Herat province Feb. 16 targeting a key insurgent commander left up to 15 of his suspected associates dead, officials said.

Coalition forces targeted Gholam Yahya Akbari through credible reports provided by Afghan civilians, officials said, adding that he is known to hide among the civilian populace to avoid detection. Coalition forces engaged his suspected hideout with a precision strike after he was reported entering a compound east of Herat.

A combined coalition and Afghan team, along with international observers, visited with key leaders in the Gozara district two days later as part of an investigation related to allegations that the strike killed innocent civilians.

Coalition forces and Afghan soldiers had inspected the site the day before, and they recovered weapons and ammunition while the Afghan army representatives conducted a meeting with local leaders.

“We take all reports of noncombatant casualties very seriously and investigate these claims with the assistance of our Afghan forces counterparts,” Army Lt. Col. Rick Helmer, a U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman, said.

“If, during the course of investigation, it is discovered that any noncombatants were killed or injured in the strike, we will take responsibility and make amends,” Helmer said. “However, it has been a past practice of the insurgents to surround themselves with women and children.”

In another recent operation, Afghan National Police, assisted by coalition forces, killed three militants Feb. 17 while searching a compound known for insurgent bomb-making in the Bakwa district of western Afghanistan’s Farah province.

The three militants were killed after attacking the combined forces with small-arms fire. Police discovered bomb-making materials and three AK-47 assault rifles in the compound, and took the targeted leader into custody. After the search, the combined force met with village elders to explain the purpose of the operation.

Also on Feb. 17, coalition forces detained a suspected militant in the Tagab district of Kapisa province during an operation designed to disrupt Taliban and foreign-fighter networks in eastern Afghanistan.

No shots were fired, and 11 women and 13 children were protected during the operation, officials said.

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

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OIF Summary, Feb. 20, 2009: Troops Find Bombs in Baghdad

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- Iraqi and U.S. forces found four explosive devices in Baghdad on Feb. 17, military officials reported.

Though two of the bombs exploded, no one was injured.

Iraqi soldiers conducting checkpoint security in the Iraqi capital’s Mansour district found a bomb attached underneath a vehicle. They immediately advised the driver to pull the car over and get out. Moments later, the bomb detonated, damaging the vehicle. U.S. and Iraqi explosive ordnance disposal teams responded to analyze the blast.

In Baghdad’s Rashid district, Iraqi security forces partnered with U.S. soldiers found two roadside bombs.

Police officers and Multinational Division Baghdad security forces discovered one of the bombs during a combined patrol. An EOD unit responded to disarm the bomb, which was made from a 130 mm artillery round and a 30 mm round with detonator cord and a blasting cap.

Later, police officers and their Multinational Division Baghdad partners responded to an explosion in the Hadar community and discovered a roadside bomb. A coalition EOD team responded to the scene to properly dispose of the bomb.

In northwestern Baghdad’s Ghazaliyah neighborhood, Iraqi security forces contacted U.S. soldiers to report a suspicious item on an abandoned house. Police and coalition soldiers cordoned off the area, and a coalition EOD team responded to disarm the device.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)

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US Airpower Summary, Feb. 20, 2009: F-16s Protect Coalition Forces

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An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon conducts close-air support operations over Iraq Feb. 17 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.)

Dispatches from the Front:

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Feb. 20, 2009 -- Coalition airpower integrated with coalition ground forces in Iraq and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan during operations Feb. 19, according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials here.

In Afghanistan, a Royal Air Force GR-9 Harrier used a Paveway precision munition to destroy a building being used as an anti-Afghan firing position. Enemy gunmen had been using the building as a platform to fire on coalition troops.

A coalition aircraft struck an enemy compound near Kajaki Dam using a guided bomb unit-12. The strike took place during an engagement between enemy shooters barricaded in the compound and coalition infantry.

Near Shurakian, a coalition aircraft targeted enemy personnel using a GBU-12 after ground forces called in a request for air support during a firefight. Friendly units had been taking a barrage of mortar, automatic weapon and rocket propelled grenade fire. The airstrike decisively ended the attack.

In the vicinity of Balocan, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and coalition aircraft flew shows of force during engagements on the ground in the area. The jets provided deterrence against enemy action while ground forces conducted security and community development operations in local settlements.

An Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II flew a show of force over Bagram to deter enemy action near a coalition observation post. Coalition troops manning the post called in the A-10s to increase local security when they observed individuals engaged in suspicious activity. The individuals left the area when the aircraft flew overhead.

In the Asadabad area, an A-10 flew a show of force to prevent enemy activity. Coalition soldiers conducting a security operation requested the maneuver to increase presence and deter violence during the operation.

Joint terminal attack controllers assigned to coalition units verified the success of these missions.

In total, 59 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, four Navy and coalition aircraft performed tactical reconnaissance.

In Iraq, coalition aircraft flew 59 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 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 125 airlift sorties were flown, more than 575 tons of cargo were delivered and about 3,150 passengers were transported. Airlift included approximately 45,000 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 Feb. 18, Air Force aerial refueling crews flew 48 sorties and off-loaded approximately 3.2 million pounds of fuel to 287 receiving aircraft.

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

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Pentagon: US Given 6 Months to Vacate Kyrgyzstan Base, Talks Continue

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- Kyrgyzstan has given the United States six months to leave Manas Air Base, but discussions continue for a longer U.S. presence there, a Pentagon official said today.

The Kyrgyz foreign ministry today officially notified the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek that a 180-day withdrawal process is under way, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

But U.S. officials don’t consider the military’s future at Manas, a key logistics hub for military forces in Afghanistan, a “closed matter,” and will continue discussions with Kyrgyzstan about remaining at the base, he said.

“We will continue our discussions with the government for possible continued future use of the base. But we will certainly abide by the agreement that we have with them,” he said.

The Kyrgyz order became effective today when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reportedly signed legislation that the parliament in Bishkek backed yesterday.

The United States pays $17.4 million a year to use Manas Air Base, a major logistical and refueling center that supports troops in Afghanistan. Officials in Washington and Bishkek signed a deal three years ago allowing the United States to renew the arrangement annually through July 2011.

About 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo reportedly move through Manas monthly.

But Whitman, echoing remarks yesterday by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said the base is “not irreplaceable,” and that the United States will seek alternate supply routes.

“This is an important facility, it has been an important facility, but it’s not irreplaceable and, if necessary, we will find other options,” he said.

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

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Wire: US Navy Report Warns of 'Terminator'-Style Military-Robot Rebellion

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News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- In a story picked up by U.S. news outlets, The Times of London reported autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to live by a strict warrior code, or the world risks untold atrocities at their steely hands.

The stark warning -- which includes discussion of a "Terminator"-style scenario in which robots turn on their human masters -- is part of a report funded by and prepared for the U.S. Navy's high-tech Office of Naval Research.

The report, the first serious work of its kind on military robot ethics, envisages a fast-approaching era where robots are smart enough to make battlefield decisions that are at present the preserve of humans.

Eventually, the report notes, robots could come to display significant cognitive advantages over Homo sapiens soldiers.
"There is a common misconception that robots will do only what we have programmed them to do," Patrick Lin, the chief compiler of the report, said. "Unfortunately, such a belief is sorely outdated, harking back to a time when ... programs could be written and understood by a single person."

The reality, Dr. Lin said, was that modern programs included millions of lines of code and were written by teams of programmers, none of whom knew the entire program.

Accordingly, no individual could accurately predict how the various portions of large programs would interact without extensive testing in the field -- an option that may either be unavailable or deliberately sidestepped by the designers of fighting robots.
(Report from commercial media sources.)

Related ONR Report: Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk Ethics and Design (pdf)

Source: Military’s killer robots must learn warrior code

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Combat Camera Video: Life in Basra

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Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- Embedded above is a b-roll video of the streets of Basra, Iraq. (Produced by Petty Officer 2nd Class Andre McIntyre; Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq. Length: 5:29.)

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US Air Force, Navy Make Global Hawk a Global Mission

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In this file photo, Airmen from the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron and 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group tow a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle back to its hangar after a mission Oct. 3 at a deployed location in Southwest Asia. The Global Hawk can survey large geographic areas with pinpoint accuracy to give military decision-makers the most current information about enemy locations, resources and members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Tudor.)

Focus on Defense:

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Feb. 20, 2009 -- The joint mission of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing expanded with the recent addition of the first operational Navy Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system, part of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS)program.

"It's a good feeling to finally get the aircraft here," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McLellan, the BAMS maintenance detachment officer-in-charge. "Now that we have the launch and recovery element and mission asset, we can finally bring this capability to the fight."

The BAMS is launched and recovered locally but controlled from the mission control element, or MCE, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., much like the Air Force Global Hawk, which is controlled from Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

In an Air Force-developed concept of operations called remote-split operations, the BAMS' arrival marks the culmination of more than five months of joint effort to stand up a maritime surveillance presence in the region.

Navy officials answered a Department of Defense call for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in Southwest Asia, by sending a site survey team here in August to see if the facilities of the 380th AEW could support an added mission and to discuss joint interoperability.

After the evaluation by 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group personnel, it was determined they could support adding the BAMS with shared use of maintenance equipment and facilities, according to Lt. Col. Matt Venzke, 380th EMXG deputy commander. This allows Navy officials to cut down their overall footprint, resulting in lower operating costs and fewer people needed, he said.

"The cooperation has really been there," Venzke said. "We've worked very well together to identify potential problems and de-conflict our work spaces to make sure everything is happening efficiently for both maintenance teams."

The sentiment is echoed by Navy personnel who arrived on station approximately one month ago and began integrating into the 380th.

"The support has been outstanding," said McLellan. "We have really been made to feel at home and a part of the team."

The Navy and the Air Force benefit from co-locating Global Hawk operations.

"The similarities between the Air Force and Navy Global Hawk [launch and recovery elements] provide enhanced mission capability by allowing each service to use the other's LRE as a back-up in the event of a malfunction", said Col. Kyle Garland, 380th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.

Navy personnel leverage Air Force expertise and proficiency with the Global Hawk platform to step into a program that has been proven in an operational environment, virtually eliminating the learning curve that usually comes with a new program, said Maj. Ronald Shivers, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron director of operations and safety observer for the arrival of the BAMS.

Operators during the BAMS development phase consisted of contractors and pilots from both the Air Force and Navy. In addition to controlling the aircraft at the forward operating location, Air Force instructors will train naval aviators. The first two scheduled are to take flight control at the MCE sometime in March, said Shivers.

Experts in the two services have been able to come together to develop a process that will ensure differences in operational and maintenance rules and standards are identified and resolved quickly.

"In areas [of maintenance] where we overlap, the BAMS maintenance personnel will adhere to the more stringent standard required by either service," said Venzke.

Though it is the first operational mission for the BAMS, the aircraft has been in service for non-wartime missions during its test and development phase.

"Our Global Hawk has been used to view damaged areas during the California wildfires as well as providing live feedback of the destruction on the Gulf Coast immediately after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike," said McLellan.

The speed at which the Air Force and Navy were able to stand up the new operational capability with minimal difficulties is an example of joint operations at their best, officials said.

(Report by Staff Sgt. Mike Andriacco, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)

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Supercarrier USS Harry S Truman Completes Sea Trials, Returns to Homeport

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NORFOLK (Feb. 13, 2009) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits up the Elizabeth River as it passes the downtown Norfolk waterfront after completing a successful and on-time six-month Planned Incremental Availability (PIA) at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyler Folnsbee.)

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NORFOLK (Feb. 13, 2009) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits up the Elizabeth River as it passes the downtown Norfolk waterfront after completing a successful and on-time six-month Planned Incremental Availability at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyler Folnsbee.)

Focus on Defense:

NORFOLK, Feb 20, 2009 -- USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) returned Feb. 14 after completing two days of sea trials following a nearly seven-month Planned Incremental Availability (PIA) at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.

Truman completed her shipyard stay on schedule and on budget, returning to Norfolk with numerous repairs, improvements and upgrades to ship's systems and the shipboard environment.

"For the shipyard work, there was approximately a five percent savings on what was budgeted," said Matt Durkin, the shipyard's project superintendent for Truman. "We set goals for ourselves during the planning concerning quality, safety, cost and schedule. We actually met or exceeded all those goals."

Completing PIA on schedule is necessary to ensure the ship meets her operational commitments, said Capt. Herman Shelanski, Truman's commanding officer.

"The fact that we were able to finish a bit ahead of schedule is really nice," Shelanski said. "Every at sea period has to be accomplished on schedule, and you can't take time out of that schedule to do major maintenance."

Truman underwent a host of repairs, but the largest project was a Dual Media Discharge (DMD). This is a time-consuming maintenance on the propulsion plant that occurs once every ten years and is vital to the ship's readiness.

"We were able to accomplish it in about four months, which was really record setting," Shelanski said. "The last ship to do it took about nine months."

Truman also completed the reactor training modification, making Truman the third nuclear powered aircraft carrier to do so. Contractors prepared a new training space for Reactor department personnel and completely revamped Media department spaces.

Besides operational maintenance and upgrades, Sailors completed many projects that enhanced the ship cosmetically. Sailors replaced decking, paint, lagging, doors and hatches throughout the ship, and completely rehabilitated many berthing spaces. These projects will improve the quality of life for the crew and help boost morale, said Durkin.

One of Truman's major focuses throughout the PIA was keeping Sailors trained and ready for an underway. The importance of keeping up with training is learned from the last yard period, and it proved to be this PIA's greatest accomplishment.

"The biggest victory was that when we went into the shipyard, we decided we were not going to lose our focus on training and being Sailors, and we were very successful at that," Shelanski said. "After completing this underway period, I can see that there's a little more we have to do to get up to fighting speed, but on the whole, the crew has great spirit and great morale and is ready to get the ship ready for deployment."

The culmination of the shipyard period was a two-day sea trial, which the ship performed while transiting back to Norfolk. Sea trials allow the command to assess the ship's state of readiness, get Sailors back into an underway mindset and ensure maintenance was properly completed in the yards. The sea trial was special because it marked the last underway for Capt. Shelanski as commanding officer of Truman.

Shelanski relinquished command of Truman Feb. 18.

(Report from a USS Harry S. Truman Public Affairs news release.)

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Supercarrier USS George HW Bush Completes Builder's Sea Trials

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ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 15, 2009) A rainbow appears on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) as Sailors perform the ship's first aqueous film forming foam wash-down. George H.W. Bush is conducting builder's sea trials. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Tackitt.)

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ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 13, 2009) Senior Chief Quartermaster Perry Everix plots the ship's course aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) as the ship makes her way out of port for Builder's Sea Trials. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan A. Bailey.)

Focus on Defense:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- The Navy's newest aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) returned to Norfolk Naval Base Feb. 16 following the completion of builder's sea trials that began Feb. 13.

During builder's trials the ship's crew conducted high-speed maneuvers, systems checks and other tests that are key to the ship's systems.

Following builder's sea trials, the Navy will commence acceptance sea trials, conducted by representatives of the U.S. Navy Board of Inspection and Survey, to test and evaluate the ship's systems and performance. Upon completion of acceptance sea trials, the ship will be formally delivered to the Navy. George H.W. Bush is scheduled to begin operational training later in 2009 with her first operational deployment in 2010.

George H.W. Bush is the 10th and final ship of the Nimitz class and incorporates major improvements from her predecessors, including a composite mast, new JP-5 fueling system, a bulbous bow, redesigned island, and three wire arresting gear configuration introduced on USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). The carrier is powered by two nuclear reactors operable for more than 20 years before refueling, with an expected in-service life spanning about 50 years.

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) is commanded by Capt. Kevin O'Flaherty.

(Report from a Naval Sea Systems Command Office of Corporate Communications news release.)

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Video: Deployed US Servicemembers Comment on Afghanistan Troop Increase

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Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2009 -- Embedded above is a video package of various servicemembers responding to questions about President Barack Obama's decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. (Courtesy Video; American Forces Network Afghanistan. Length: 4:55.)

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Strykers Gear Up for First Crack at Taliban

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2009 -- The Army’s Stryker armored vehicle will get its first crack at the resurgent Taliban and terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan this summer when the 2nd Infantry Division’s 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team hits the ground there.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said at a Pentagon news conference yesterday that he specifically requested the Stryker brigade for its versatility.

“I asked for a Stryker capability, with one of the brigade combat teams, so that it could provide the mobility, the situational awareness, the protection,” McKiernan said. “And, quite frankly, it provides a lot of infantrymen. And that would give us an ability to maneuver capabilities in the southern and southwestern parts of Afghanistan.”

The brigade will bring about 4,000 soldiers and nearly 300 Strykers to the fight in Afghanistan. They will be operating in the country’s southern region and along the Pakistan border, areas that don’t have a sufficient security presence, preventing governance and infrastructure progress, McKiernan said.

“We need persistent security presence in order to fight a counterinsurgency and to shape ‘clear, hold and build’ in support of a rapidly developing Afghan capacity,” he said, referring to the strategy of clearing an area of insurgents, preventing them from returning, then taking advantage of the improved security to build governance and infrastructure.

The additional troops also will have a dual responsibility in training and organizing Afghan police forces and army, he said. Military leaders there hope to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 troops as soon as 2011. Mentoring and training Afghan forces is necessary for success there, the general said.

“Our goal [is] to attempt to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army,” McKiernan said. “But we need to do that in a smart way. We need to do it in a holistic way, so it's not just a question of numbers; it's a question of training, equipping, leader development and their employment.”

The Army brigade’s deployment was officially announced this week as part an additional 17,000 soldiers and Marines President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed the deployment orders at around 7:25 a.m. on Feb 17, and Obama’s announcement was pending notification of the soldiers’ and Marines’ families, Pentagon officials said.

The Strykers originally were slated for an Iraq deployment this summer, but anticipated the switch “some time ago,” a brigade spokesman said yesterday.

Army Maj. Mike Garcia wouldn’t give specifics as to when the soldiers were notified of their new Afghanistan mission, but said it was enough time to adjust their training before arriving at the National Training Center earlier this month at Fort Irwin, Calif.

“Their training scenario is focused on an Afghanistan fight,” Garcia said. “We knew this some time ago and had enough time to modify the scenario.”

The brigade started its training at the National Training Center on Feb. 15, learning the various cultures within Afghanistan. Persian Farsi, Pashto and Urdu are some of the languages and customs they’ll get a crash course in. They’ll also learn what to expect regarding Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, weather and type of insurgency they may face, based on military experiences there.

Their training will continue through the end of the month, Garcia said.

The Stryker brigade concept has proven successful in urban warfare since it was first introduced to live combat December 2003 in Iraq, but it has never been used in Afghanistan. The Stryker community recognizes the challenges, but is confident in their capabilities.

“Yes, it is a different theater,” Garcia said. “Combat is never easy, but they’re still prepared, mentally and physically, to go to combat. It’s just a different place on the globe to us.”

Afghanistan’s mountainous and rigid terrain, freezing weather and the freedom of movement insurgents have enjoyed there will be new challenges for the Stryker. There are distinct differences compared to Iraq regarding the terrain and culture, but Garcia said, “the basic tenets and concept of fighting a counterinsurgency remain the same.”

“Stryker brigades are very versatile,” he said, echoing McKiernan. Strykers can travel long distances very fast. The 10 different models of Stryker vehicles include infantry, engineer, reconnaissance and medical evacuations variants, and can carry as many as 14 soldiers, Garcia explained.

“With the incredible capabilities they have to conduct reconnaissance and target bad guys with precision operations while mitigating collateral damage, Strykers are probably one of the best formations that the Army has put on the fields in decades,” he added.

The 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team will be making the unit’s first combat deployment. It was activated at Fort Lewis on May 4, 2007, as the Army’s seventh Stryker brigade.

More to follow.

(Report by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service.)

Related: Stryker Vehicle

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Pentagon: Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan 'Not Irreplaceable'

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2009 -- Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted yesterday to close Manas Air Base, a key logistics hub for the U.S. military, but a senior Pentagon official said the base closure would not affect operations in Afghanistan.

“[Manas Air Base] is an important base for operations in Afghanistan, but it’s not irreplaceable,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters here today. “If it’s not available to us, we’ll find other means.”

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev still must sign the bill for the eviction to be official. If he signs the bill, troops will have 180 days to withdraw, based on a previous agreement made by the U.S. and Kyrgyz governments, he said.

Pentagon officials are aware of news reports that Bakiyev intends to close the base, Whitman said, but the United States hasn’t received any official notification or orders to withdraw its military forces. “Our operations there today remain normal,” he said.

Defense Department officials are considering what it may be able to offer the Kyrgyz government to continue operations, but will not agree to any price, Whitman said. Other options in the region are being considered, he said, but he would not give specifics on countries or the status of discussions.

“We remain in close contact with allies in the region,” he said.

Russia and Kazakhstan reportedly have given the United States permission to transport nonlethal equipment and supplies by train into Afghanistan. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also reportedly are being considered.

The United States pays $17.4 million a year to use Manas Air Base, a major logistical and refueling hub supporting international troops in Afghanistan. The United States and Kyrgyzstan signed a “protocol of intentions” in 2006 that allowed the United States to renew the arrangement in one-year increments through July 2011. The air base has been facilitating U.S. troops since 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

About 15,000 people and 500 tons of cargo transit through Manas each month. About 1,000 troops, most of them American, but some from France and Spain, are assigned to the base.

President Barack Obama authorized 17,000 more troops this week to reinforce international forces in Afghanistan, and Whitman said there will be no disruption in current or future operations there.

“The announcements we made are going to go forward with no disruption,” he said. “If we are no longer permitted to use that base, we will start to transition our activities elsewhere.”

(Report by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service.)

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