Military Procurement: A Question of Trust

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In a fascinating article by Staff Writer, Andrew Higgins, the Washington Post published an article on November 1 which chronicles the background of an unusual $3 billion fuel contract awarded by the US Department of Defense (“DoD”) to companies whose ownership is apparently not well known to the government.  The article, entitled “Kyrgyz contracts fly under the radar.”

According to the article, “Congressional investigators have spent six months digging into single-source Pentagon contracts, the possibly illegal diversion of Russian fuel and Kyrgyz claims of backroom deals, which have soured ties with a crucial U.S. ally.  The below-the-radar rise of Mina Corp. and Red Star Enterprises – whose ownership, operations and even office locations are shrouded in secrecy – shows how nearly a decade of war has not only boosted the bottom line of corporate behemoths but also enriched unknown upstarts.  In just eight years, Mina and Red Star – both registered in Gibraltar and run by the same people – have come from nowhere to become a key link in the U.S. military’s supply chain. They have beaten out established rivals to supply nearly a billion gallons of jet fuel to a U.S. Air Force base here in Kyrgyzstan, a vital staging post for the Afghan conflict, and also to American warplanes at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.”

“The companies themselves, however, are largely invisible. In dealings with the Pentagon, they have used addresses in Toronto, London and Gibraltar, each apparently little more than a mail drop. Edelman, the former bar owner, who now lives in London, is so elusive that even congressional investigators probing the jet fuel deals have not managed to talk to him. He did not comply with a July subpoena from the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, according to people close to the probe.”

At issue is not the contract per se nor the fact that the owners are apparently unknown to Congressional investigators (let alone the American taxpayer who funds these contracts), but the arrogance demonstrated by the Defense Department in defending contracts without due diligence and/or competitive bidding.

“The Pentagon and State Department ignored widespread Kyrgyz public perceptions of contract corruption engendered by a fundamental lack of transparency,” said Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., chairman of the subcommittee that conducted the probe. “Supplying vast quantities of fuel is an extremely sensitive endeavor with significant political, diplomatic and geopolitical ramifications. It is not merely a logistics matter.”

The White House, alarmed by the unintended consequences of the fuel deals, is pushing for greater transparency, said a senior administration official. “There has been a giant fight with [U.S. Central Command] over this,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Readers of SFTT are all too familiar with the underhanded contract awards and veil of secrecy that surrounds our military procurement process.  It seem like every other month, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) is launching an investigation into some facet of our procurement process. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the military continues to insist that our troops have the best equipment possible.  When will our military leadership apply the same standards of discipline and integrity that they demand of our frontline troops and begin to overhaul the military procurement system?  It is a cancer that undermines the credibility of our military leadership.

It is simply a question of TRUST!  Our troops and our taxpayers deserve more from our military leadership.

See just a sample of related SFTT articles on our broken procurement process:

Body Armor Recall

Body Armor Plate Recalls

Congressional Inquiry into Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

GAO recommendations on Body Armor Testing

Broken Military Procurement Process

Congressional Inquiry into Defective Military Helmets and no-bid contract awards

Flaws in M2 and M4 endanger troops in Afghanistan

DODIG sites fault in spare parts for M2 in Afghanistan

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Coordinated Bombings in Baghdad

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The New York Times reported yesterday on the coordinated bombings that are appearing on a more frequent basis in Baghdad. 

Highlights:

  • Insurgents unleashed attacks across Baghdad on Tuesday night, setting off more than a dozen coordinated bombs in a bloody declaration of their ability to thwart the government’s efforts to secure Iraq’s largest and most important city.   It was among the fiercest assaults on the capital since the United States invaded in 2003, and one that tore across divisions of sect and class. The explosions — devastating car bombs and roadside blasts — struck the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, a Sunni mosque, public squares, a crowded restaurant in the north of Baghdad and middle-class shopping districts.
  • At least 63 people were killed and about 285 were wounded, and the local police said they were under orders to enforce an emergency curfew — the first such measure in years. But some police officers told residents that the curfew had not yet taken effect, while government officials would not confirm that one had been imposed.  “It was just storm and fire,” said Ahmed Said, 22, who said he was stirring his tea and ordering flavored tobacco at a cafe when he was hurled into the air.  Coming two days after a deadly siege of a Christian church in Baghdad, the attacks added to a creeping sense that security in the capital was teetering as Iraq prepared to complete eight months of political stalemate without a new government.  Ministers and spokesmen from the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki quickly appeared on television to assure Iraqis that they were in charge and that the capital remained under control. State-run television said Mr. Maliki was touring the attack sites and visiting victims in the hospital.
  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, but the United States military said the bombings were characteristic of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. A spokesman added that the Iraqi military had not asked for American assistance.   In an interview hours before the attacks, Brig. Gen. Ralph Baker, the deputy American commander in Baghdad, expressed concern that the lingering deadlock could undermine popular confidence in the government at the same time that militant groups continued to try to draw fresh blood.  “We’ve seen the insurgent groups and the terror groups step up their attack against the people,” he said. “The motive is intimidation.” Still, he noted that violence over all throughout the country had fallen sharply from its worst days, and said, “We haven’t seen a degradation in the security environment.” The United States ended its formal combat mission over the summer, and plans to continue to withdraw troops over the next year.  

SFTT Analysis:

  • Church massacres, indiscriminate bombings, and coordinated attacks targeting all sects and class in Iraq is not a “degradation of the security environment” in Iraq.   That’s what the US deputy commander in Baghdad said.    Maybe there is a new definition of “degradation” that we are not aware of?  But maybe it is because US troopers are not being currently targeted by AQM.  I guess when that new calculus returns the General will be able to properly use the term “degradation” again.
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Eickenberry calls for more “assets” on Afghan border

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The Stars and Stripes reports that US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry cites progress and requests more “assets” at the Afghan border.  

Highlights:

  • Nine years into the Afghan war, efforts to monitor the border with Pakistan have met with little success; massive amounts of bomb-making chemicals, drugs, weapons and enemy fighters continue to pour into Afghanistan.  US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry visited Wesh, a town on the road between Kandahar and the Pakistani city of Quetta, one of just two crossings where U.S. forces have any permanent presence. The U.S. also has troops at Torkham Gate in the Khyber Pass, which links Jalalabad and Peshawar in northern Pakistan, according to U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Johnson, an International Security Assistance Force spokesman. U.S. soldiers at Wesh say there is so much explosive material flowing across the border that the Taliban must be hauling it in large trucks through the legitimate border crossings. However, the Afghan Border Police, whose job it is to secure the border, are undermanned and undertrained.
  • “You need a comprehensive approach … that begins with the frontline support of the Afghan Border Police,” Eikenberry said. “You need a strong, coherent customs system … and ultimately you need the help of the neighbor. You need the help of Pakistan.” Eikenberry also chatted briefly with Pakistani officials, who said cooperation has been good on both sides of the border. Daily traffic across the border at Wesh includes 25,000 to 50,000 pedestrians, 4,000 civilian vehicles, 550 commercial trucks and 80 to 125 ISAF supply trucks.  One platoon of U.S. soldiers — the first real U.S. presence here — works with 130 Afghan Border Police at Wesh to boost security.  From their base, soldiers from Troop D, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, can see the “Friendship Gate” that marks the border with Pakistan.
  • New scanners enabling border guards to see inside 12 trucks per hour will soon be introduced to boost security. Right now it takes 15 men two to three hours to inspect a single truck, since loads are irregular and not palletized, and it can take between three hours and two days for a truck to clear the border, said troop commander Capt. Matthew Kelley.  Many of the pedestrians who cross the border live in the nearby Pakistani city of Chaman but cross into Afghanistan each day to work in Wesh or Spin Boldak, he said. “You have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Afghanistan here,” Kelley said.  “There is stability and relative security and there are jobs with the trucks coming across. They need repairs and people need a place to stay and food to eat. And Afghan government ministries are actually doing their jobs here, which is different to other places in Afghanistan.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • One Afghanistan legacy is that its eastern boundaries were established with little regard over ethnic and tribal populations making securing the border an impossible task unless there is a significant government commitment.  Here it appears that progress is being made, but the breadth of the task at hand overwhelms the limited resources being applied.    Additionally, the photo gallery accompanying this story brings a sharp perspective to the daunting task at hand.
  • If border security is a critical task, and if stemming the flow of insurgents and their resources will improve security, than why is it that NATO has only assigned one US platoon to this border post?   FYI – none of the troopers pictured are wearing the complete outfit of issued body armor; no throat, groin, or deltoid protection. 
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Afghan government falls short in Kandahar

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In an article published by the Washington Post on November 2, it would appear that the Afghan government falls short in Kandahar.  A “learning” experience for the US military.

Highlights

  • Despite months of American prodding, the Afghan government has failed to fill dozens of key positions in Kandahar, leaving an ineffectual local administration that U.S. officials fear will cripple the battlefield progress the military says it is making in the Taliban stronghold.  Just a month before President Obama will review the state of the Afghan war, top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus and other military officers are making their case that the influx of American troops has pushed the Taliban out of key parts of Kandahar. But the Afghan government that U.S. officials hoped could step in to provide basic services remains a skeleton staff of unskilled bureaucrats that is incapable of functioning on its own, according to U.S. officials.  For the past year, the United States and its NATO allies have tried to build a Kandahar administration that can address residents’ grievances and sway them from the Taliban. The U.S. has also embarked on a massive spending spree in order to prop up Kandahar authorities and provide basic services. But with power monopolized by the central government in Kabul, the provincial and municipal offices in southern Afghanistan’s largest city are hamstrung and undermanned.  “The security picture is improving so fast and so dramatically that it puts the shortfall in civilian capacity in alarming relief,” said one U.S. official in Kandahar. “The potential single failure point is the Afghan government.”
  • With little help coming from Kabul, American money is pouring in for Afghans to build roads, dig wells, pick-up trash, repair culverts and refurbish mosques with solar-powered public-address systems. For $2.8 million in U.S. military funds, Kandahar residents will receive a nursing and midwifery clinic, and $4.7 million more will bring a secure housing complex for judges afraid to work in Taliban territory. Hundreds of millions more are being pumped through United States Agency for International Development contracts to supply electricity, water, and new office buildings for Afghan officials who, in many cases, do not exist. “Right now, the government capacity is so anemic we have to do it,” said the U.S. official who, like others, was not authorized to speak for the record. “We are acting as donor and government. That’s not sustainable.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • “Good Governance” is a line of operation that supports a COIN campaign plan and is nested with the other standard “Security, Economy, and the Rule of Law” lines of operation.  The Power Point gods are very familiar with these terms as they frame daily commander’s updates and highlight necessary metrics to gauge progress.  Given that reality, that commanders are fully aware of success and progress, the lack of effective “Good Governance” in Kandahar should not be a surprise to commanders on the ground, but it appears that it is.  The point is that the Kandahar campaign was delayed this past year in order to set the appropriate conditions (i.e. local power broker buy-in; limit Karzai’s brothers influence; check corruption, etc), but now in October 2010 we are beginning to acknowledge that NATO security is operating in a local-government vacuum.  It’s not like this realization of the “Afghan government falling short in Kandahar” happened overnight?  
  • More surprising is the fact that the US military institution is a “learning” organization and conducts numerous after-action reviews and applies lessons learned to ensure future success.  Why is than that after nine-years of slogging through nation-building in Afghanistan, we continue to “clear” but can’t seem to “build”?   Where is the “lesson” in all of this?  Maybe this will become the pillar of rationale to extend the clock past July 2011 – that NATO cannot begin to reduce its presence and effort because the “Afghans aren’t ready” – and that will then be the ultimate lesson learned that we will never admit, that being that we can “clear” but can’t “build”.  In other words we should limit our objectives and simply focus on the kinetic target.
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Equipping the Soldier of the Future

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The Army Times had an interesting article on Equipping the soldier of the future.  Found below are key highlights of the article and SFTT’s analysis.

Key Highlights and SFTT Analysis:

  • The Army has been pushing to identify gear soldiers need or want, find the best solutions and field them quickly. The result is state-of-the-art gear going from idea to inventory in less than a year. Some of these projects have made their way into the ranks; others are just around the corner. 
  • SFTT is encouraged that progress is being made to develop and field new and improved equipment to front line troops.  More encouraging is that feedback from the deployed force was used to bring about change.  In many respects, SFTT has maintained the leading edge in keeping specific items of equipment on the front burner (i.e. Body Armor, the Advanced Combat Helmet, the M-4 Carbine, the 9mm Beretta, and Combat Boots) and credit is due for applying pressure on policymakers while informing the public on the critical need to improve and/or replace them.
  • SFTT supports the following common-sense improvements:
    •  Tactical Assault Panel – This panel is another key piece of the new combat load. It enables soldiers to carry more magazines with wider distribution – and mobility equals survivability. Eight single pouches can be configured to carry either 10 M4 magazines or six magazines with other gear such as the Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio, or MBITR; the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver, or DAGR; or M14 magazines. The design also reduces the soldier’s profile.
    • Medium ruck – Countless troops gave the same report: The assault packs are too small for longer missions and the 72-hour ruck is too big. The new ruck provides a midsize solution – with added benefits. Its detachable harness allows paratroopers to access the pack after they are rigged for jumping without compromising pre-jump inspections. The ruck is one of more than a dozen pieces of gear that comprise a new combat load issued to troops in, and headed to, the ‘Stan.
    •  New boots – Soldiers headed into theater also get two pairs of Danner boots. But Army officials are expected to select a new boot any day. Three lighter, stronger boots are being evaluated, and the Army is expected to take delivery early in 2011. The modular boot will be optimal for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, and will have a sock device that can be pulled over it to keep the soldiers’ feet warm without causing them to sweat.
    • ‘Green ammo’ – A 2006 survey of combat vets found enemy soldiers were shot multiple times but were still able to keep fighting. One in five U.S. soldiers polled recommended a more lethal round. The answer is the M855A1 enhanced performance round, also known as “green ammo.” It provides more stopping power at shorter distances. The older round had to get into a yaw dependency for maximum effect. If it hit the enemy straight, it would punch right through them. The new ammo is not yaw dependent. If it hits the enemy, he is going down. The Army plans to produce more than 200 million rounds in the coming year.
    • SFTT will continue to highlight concerns with the current strategy to improve and replace Body Armor and the M4 Carbine – specifically, the need to replace the “plate carrier” which the Services currently aren’t planning to do, and for the services to issue a “better carbine altogether” versus continued modification to the current M4 Carbine platform.
  • The Army Times’ updates on these two programs include:
    • 2nd-Generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest – The 2nd GEN IOTV uses a plate carrier to allow soldiers to shed up to 15 pounds while keeping vital organs protected from 7.62 caliber, armor-piercing rounds. The IOTV still provides protection from flame and shrapnel. The side plate carrier is adjustable to provide better comfort and protection. The soldier’s quick-release cable is covered to prevent it from being caught during egress. The medic cable is contained in a canal to keep it in a comfortable position. This cable enables a medic access to a wounded area without completely removing a soldier’s body armor.
    • New carbine — Soldiers will soon get either an improved M4 or a new, better carbine altogether. The first part of the Army’s dual strategy is to radically overhaul the M4 to give grunts an improved version of the special operations M4A1. This offers a heavier barrel, automatic fire and ambidextrous controls. The next 12,000 M4s will be A1s. Another 25,000, as well as roughly 65,000 conversion kits, will be purchased. The second path challenges industry to come up with a better carbine. No caliber restriction has been placed on a new design. The Army simply wants the most reliable, accurate, durable, easy-to-use weapon. It will be at least a 500-meter weapon and have a higher incapacitation percentage. This weapon also will be modular and able to carry all the existing attachments soldiers use. The winner will selected by the end of 2011, depending on funding.
    • In regards to improvements being made to the Advanced Combat Helmet, which the Army Times did not mention, SFTT is following the industry as it continues to develop prototypes, and will provide updates as they become available.  For the tech-science reader this article from “Composite World” describes a recent effort to develop a prototype that could meet the survivability standards SFTT advocates for.  One caveat is that this prototype is specifically for the shell and does not address padding and the helmet harness, areas that must be improved to mitigate the concussive effects resulting from blast injuries. 
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2010 mid-term elections and the forgotten heroes

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The Washington Post analyzes the impact of the 2010 Mid-term Elections and its impact on current administration policies.

SFTT Analysis:

  • To be clear, SFTT is an apolitical and non-partisan organization, regardless of the 2010 mid-term election results, or any future elections for that matter.  However, it is prudent to monitor the political calculus now emerging in Washington as it affects national security policies and the resources required to sustain our fighting men and women engaged in perpetual combat.
  • Of note, as Americans exercised their right to vote these past three weeks (i.e. early voting and absentee voting) more than 300,000 servicemembers were serving on the front lines of democracy securing that right.
  • Tragically the immeasurable price of freedom during this US election period was forty-two American lives and approximately 315 wounded in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not a single politician, that raised their hands in victory last night, made mention of this sacrifice.
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The “Golden Hour” in Afghanistan

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Read this fascinating and rather frightening dialogue published by ABC News (Australia) on The Golden Hour

MAJOR MATT HUEMAN: The golden hour is when the person has an injury . . .within the first two to five minutes there’s a certain number of people who will die that are not saveable. The next hour is where a lot of people, if they don’t get to a place that has surgical capability and the full gamut of taking care of them, will die as well. So the golden hour really reflects those people that are saveable if you’re able to get them to a place like a forward surgical team.

MAJOR BRYAN HELSEL: We provide 21st century intensive care, critical care for patients that would otherwise die. I mean there’s no way around, some of these people would have died.

CORCORAN: Too many soldiers wounded on Afghanistan’s remote battlefields were bleeding to death before reaching surgery at the big military hospitals. So last year, army surgical teams were moved much closer to the fight, to beat the golden hour.  For those who make it here alive, often with horrific injuries, there’s now a 98% chance of survival. A young female solider pulled from the wreckage of the MRAP has multiple fractures. For her comrade, Sgt. Adam Sandifer, hit by the massive concussive blast, the injuries are less clear.

MAJOR MATT HUEMAN: We try and get the chest and pelvis within the first ten minutes with all the other things that we do like checking the airway, making sure that they’re breathing, making sure they have a pulse, getting an IV in, doing an ultrasound making sure that they don’t have blood in their abdomen.

CORCORAN: Matt Hueman and Bryan Helsel both served in Iraq. They’re well practised in treating IED victims – but this is a different war, with different injuries.

(TO HUEMAN) So even if they are travelling in the new armoured MRAP’s they still can suffer severe injuries?

MAJOR MATT HUEMAN: They can, and it’s deceptive because it tends to be internal injuries so you know in my last deployment, we would see amputations, significant like above the knee amputations with the Hummvees. In this deployment the leg still appears to be functionally intact, but it’s still a significant injury inside so it’s actually sometimes a little bit harder to figure out.

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Task Force Shadow in Afghanistan

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Highlights on the brave efforts of the Angels of Mercy published by Stars and Stripes entitled:  More missions, more contact’ for Task Force Shadow

Highlights:

  • Hardly a day passes when the American flag above the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade’s headquarters here is not flying at half-staff. With U.S. and other coalition forces stepping up operations against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, more dead and wounded are being pulled off the battlefield than ever before. Since deploying in March, helicopter ambulance crews with the brigade’s Task Force Shadow have flown more than 2,000 missions, evacuating more than 2,500 patients, according to Maj. Jason Davis, commander of Company C, 6th Battalion. That’s more than twice the rate that helicopter ambulance crews in southern Afghanistan were flying this time last year, he said.
  • The increase reflects just how sharply fighting in the region has spiked in recent months, a result of President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy 34,000 additional U.S. troops. Most were deployed to southern Afghanistan, where they, along with mostly British and Canadian forces, are trying to wrest control of strategically important areas from the Taliban, including the city of Kandahar and the Arghandab and Helmand river valleys. “You’ve got more people fighting the enemy in places where we haven’t been in a long time,” said Davis, 35, of Steilacoom, Wash. “And when you’ve got more people fighting, you’re going to have more missions.”
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Medics Improvise to save lives on killing fields of Afghanistan

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In a compelling story published today by the Washington Post, “Military medics combine ultramodern and time-honored methods to save lives on the battlefield” of Afghanistan.

Key Highlights:

  • At 6:09 p.m., Dustoff 57 has just left this base deep in Taliban-infiltrated Kandahar province, headed for a POI, or point of injury. Somewhere ahead of the aircraft is a soldier who minutes earlier stepped on an improvised explosive device, the signature weapon of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All the helicopter crew knows is that he’s “category A” – critical.  The trip out takes nine minutes.  Fifteen minutes have now passed since the soldier was wounded. Speed, simplicity and priority have always been the hallmarks of emergency medicine. The new battlefield care that flight medics and others on the ground practice takes those attributes to the extreme.
  • Four people run to the helicopter with the stretcher holding the wounded soldier. He lies on his back partially wrapped in a foil blanket. His chest is bare. In the middle of it is an “intraosseous device,” a large-bore needle that has been punched into his breastbone by the medic on the ground. It’s used to infuse fluids and drugs directly into the circulatory system when a vein can’t be found. It’s a no-nonsense technology, used occasionally in World War II, that fell out of favor when cheap and durable plastic tubing made IV catheters ubiquitous in the postwar years. Until they were revived for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, intraosseus devices were used almost exclusively in infants whose veins were too small to find. On each leg the soldier has a tourniquet, ratcheted down and locked to stop all bleeding below it. These ancient devices went out of military use more than half a century ago because of concern that they caused tissue damage. Now every soldier carries a tourniquet and is instructed to put one on any severely bleeding limb and not think of taking it off.
  • Tourniquets have saved at least 1,000 lives, and possibly as many as 2,000, in the past eight years. This soldier is almost certainly one of them. They’re a big part of why only about 10 percent of casualties in these wars have died, compared with 16 percent in Vietnam.  On the soldier’s left leg, the tourniquet is above the knee. The tourniquet on his right leg is lower, below the knee; how badly his foot is injured is hard to tell from the dressings. His left hand is splinted and bandaged, too. Whether he will need an amputation is uncertain. The hospital where he’s headed treated 16 patients in September who needed at least one limb amputated. Half were U.S. soldiers, and the monthly number has been climbing since March.
  • After three minutes on the ground, the helicopter takes off.  Eleven minutes after lifting off from the POI, the helicopter lands at the so-called Role 3, or fully equipped, hospital at Kandahar Airfield, about 30 miles to the east of the also well-fortified Forward Operating Base Wilson. There, surgeons will take care of the injuries before transferring the patient, probably within two days, to the huge military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and there, after a week or so, to the United States. It’s been 28 minutes since the helicopter left Forward Operating Base Wilson.

SFTT Analysis:

  • Before every Grunt leaves the wire, they want to know if air or artillery support is readily available and more importantly, if required, will an aerial medevac be responsive – in Joe speak “Time on Target for Air and Arty and a quick Nine-line medevac request . . . how quick will the angels of mercy get here?”.   Quick means quick, the sooner the better obviously, since every minute counts.  Secretary Gates figured this out when he began his battlefield circulation tours in Afghanistan when he became Secretary of Defense and quickly realized that the “Golden Hour”, that period in time that is the standard from time of request for a medevac to arrival at the point of injury and back to medical care on a base, was not being met in Afghanistan due to lack of medevac resources and the distant out-posts that troopers were operating from.  Secretary Gates made it a personal mission to close the gap and ensure that troopers were supported by the “Golden Hour” standard and personally kept the pressure on logistics planners to increase medevac resources and establish medical unit facilities in support of all forward deployed personnel.   The only question SFTT raises regarding this issue is why did it take the Secretary of Defense to correct this situation?  
  • The Washinton Post online article provides a remarkable photo gallery,  – of note is:
    • the destructive nature of an IED that targeted a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).  The simplicity of a pressure plate device loaded with hundreds of pounds of fertilizer (and other components) can defeat US “resistant” vehicles.  More telling is that a device of this size takes time and local support to emplace;
    • grunts not wearing all of their protective gear – no throat, deltoid, or groin protectors – obviously a commanders call, but is the decision not to wear the complete armor suite because of weight and comfort?;
    • the chinstrap for the Advanced Combat Helmet is a flimsy strap of material – no chin pads are provided and the harness is simply used to hold the “brain bucket” in place.  At least the trooper is being medevaced for treatment of a possible TBI.
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Pentagon worried about Striker Brigade in Afghanistan

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According to an article published by the Christian Science Monitor, the Pentagon had red flags about the command climate in ‘kill team’ Stryker brigade.

Key Highlights:

  • As the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, which Colonel Tunnell commanded for three years, was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in June 2009, senior Army officials questioned Tunnell’s leadership focus with growing concern, and discussed the possibility of removing him from command.  Now, Tunnell’s tenure is raising fresh questions in the halls of the Pentagon.  Five soldiers in Tunnell’s brigade stand accused of war crimes, including creating a self-described “kill team” that allegedly targeted unarmed Afghan men and cut off their fingers as war trophies. The narrative of Tunnell’s leadership is particularly significant to the Pentagon now, however, as it endeavors to instill in troops a new ethic of fighting in its current wars – using the least force necessary rather than the maximum force permissible.  Some sources suggest that Tunnell set a tone that was not only out of line with Pentagon doctrine, but was inflammatory and potentially dangerous.
  • “When you feel violent intent coming down from the command and into the culture of the brigade, that’s when you end up with things like the rogue platoon,” says a senior US military official who worked with the brigade in early 2009 at the National Training Center before it deployed to Afghanistan. “He established a culture that allowed that kind of mindset to percolate. And there are second- and third-order effects that come with that. Clearly, the guys who were pulling the trigger are the proximate cause of the crime, but the culture itself is the enabler.” Others argue that Tunnell’s aggressive posture was fair enough, and even necessary, for infantry troops who must prepare to kill, and also to be killed, on behalf of their country. They point out that the brigade was, after all, equipped with Stryker vehicles designed for soldiers working in some of the most violent regions of any conflict. And Kandahar Province – the cradle of the Taliban – was precisely where the 5/2 brigade was headed for a year-long tour.
  • Other officers within the battalion shared their concerns, says the senior official. “I had two staff officers [in Tunnell’s brigade] separately tell me that they were afraid that the brigade was going to end up on CNN for ‘all the wrong reasons,’ ” he says.  In response, trainers tried to help officers in the brigade take steps to “lead from the middle to ensure that didn’t happen,” says the senior official, who adds that some other military officials raised the possibility of removing Tunnell from command in discussions that included a two-star general.

SFTT Analysis:

If it is true, that senior leaders and general officers considered relieving or replacing Colonel Tunnel prior to the Brigade’s combat deployment, but chose not to, then their lack of moral courage is worse than anything the colonel may eventually be found culpable of “enabling”.  Then again, the time for “relief” is over, but if anyone really believes that any Brigade senior leader will eventually be held accountable for the heinous crimes that occurred during their watch, you only need review the Army’s track record in this regard to see to see other examples of failed leadership and lack of accountability – i.e. Abu Graib, where only enlisted soldiers were charged with crimes; and Wanat, where commanders where ultimately absolved of failed leadership; it seems that the list will keep on growing.

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