Military News Highlights for November 10, 2010

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235th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps!

To all the Devil Dogs out there today, congratulations on the 235th Birthday of the Marine Corps!

M4 Carbine and Accessories

Mark Fingar M4 Carbine Poster

If there was any question as to whether the M4 Carbine currently issued to Soldiers and Marines will be replaced for a more durable and lethal carbine or not, one only needs to look at the accompanying layout of the M4 Carbine and Accessories to see  how difficult this proposition will be to carry out.  It is not going to be a simple task considering all of the accessories and associated equipment that will be replaced as well.  In fact the M4 Carbine has become a complex system that is modified and tailored to meet individual and unit requirements requiring a dedicated logistics and maintenance support system that oftentimes is not sufficiently responsive on today’s battlefield.  Ultimately the debate to replace the M4 Carbine must take the “accessories”, the logistics and maintenance tail, and the increasing contractor support base into account.  Hopefully this “poster” featured on Mark Fingar’s Blog brings this issue into perspective.

The list of accessories includes the following:

  • Colt M4 (SOPMOD STYLE) with KAC RAS Handguard & KAC Vertical Grip.
  • Optics & Iron Sights:  ACOG; EOTech 552; Aimpoint COMPM2 & 3X Magnifier; Leupold CQ/T MK4; Nightforce NXS Riflescope; Trijicon AccuPoint; Trijicon Reflex; Colt C-MORE Tactical Sight; A3 Detachable Carry Handle; LaRue Tactical IronDot; Troy BUIS; Matech BUIS; A.R.M.S. #40 BUIS; LaRue BUIS; LMT BUIS; Troy Front Sight; PRI Front Sight
  • Lasers:  PEQ-2A; PAQ-4C; DBAL-A2; OTAL; VITAL-2
  • Lights: Surefire L72; Surefire M910; Insight M6; Surefire Millennium; Surefire Scout
  • Silencers & DD’s: Knight’s Armament M4QD; YHM Phantom, and QD Flash Hider; GemTech M496D; Surefire M4FA556-BK; Ops Inc CQB 15th Model
  • M203 Grenade Launcher with AN/PSQ-18A Day/Night Sight
  • Night Vision: PVS-22; PVS-14 & Magnifier; PVS-17
  • Misc Hardware: LMT SOPMOD Stock; Magpul CTR Stock; Colt M4Stock; LaRue Tactical Free-Floating Handguard; TangoDown Vertical Grip; TangoDown Battle Grip; Magpul MIAD Grip; Magpul Magazine Pull; Harris Bipod with LaRue QD mount

Gates: U.S. Open to Talks on Post-2011 Presence in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Gates said yesterday in a news conference in Malaysia that the United States is open to the idea of maintaining a troop presence in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline to leave, but only if Iraq were to make such a request.  Secretary Gates stated that the required conditions for these discussions to take place include: the Iraqis forming an inclusive and non-sectarian government; selection of a president, prime minister, a speaker of the council of representatives; and ministerial-level appointments.  No mention of improving security, no mention of countering Iran’s ascendancy, and no mention of defeating a reemerging AQ in Mesopotamia.

Obviously the US is committed to a strategic partnership with Iraq in the future, but we also know that the Iraqi’s voted on and approved the deadline for all US troops to withdraw from Iraq no later than December 31, 2011.  Any signals contrary to remaining resolute on the deadline will only increase the growing sense of instability and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi’s to govern.  Further, the 50,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq (and subsequent replacements that will serve there until December 31, 2011) contribute to the more than 250,000 US troops deployed in the region.  Maintaining this troop end-strength to allow the Iraqi’s to continue dithering with “democracy” will not increase “dwell time” for the rest of the Army as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Casey recently asserted whereby the 50,000 troops in Iraq that would no longer be required for Iraq as of December 31, 2011 would provide relief to troop deployment requirements.

Review Will Influence U.S. Troop Pullout

There will be an increasingly mixed bag of reporting on the pending Afghanistan review this December – shift in strategy; increase of resources; metrics of success; the genius of COIN; the lethality of CT; the increase in casualties; influencing US pullout, etc…as this Reuters news report provides.

What would be useful to keep in mind during this period is to recall exactly what President Obama stated on December 1, 2009 when he announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

“These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”

The intent is pretty clear: the increase of troops would allow for accelerating the handing over of responsibility; the transfer of forces begins in July 2011; the transition will be executed responsibly and be conditions based.

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Military News you may have missed: November 9, 2010

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Gates Hopes Taliban Think U.S. Will Leave Afghanistan

In interviews conducted in Australia, where public support for the war in Afghanistan is faltering, Secretary Gates made it very clear that only one option exists, and that is to maintain an increased US/NATO presence in Afghanistan past the July 2010 date and forgo significant troop reductions.  In fact he wants the Taliban to believe that July 2010 will be the end date for US/NATO operations – he wants them to be surprised.   I always thought the notion of  “surprise” meant to encounter something suddenly or unexpectedly – I guess Gates’ declaration to “embrace Karzai’s goal of completing the transfer of security responsibility to Afghanistan by 2014” and that “that’s the kind of time frame we’re looking at” shoots that down that notion.  

 Military Deployment Stress Seeps to Children; Children With Deployed Parent at Risk for Mental and Behavior Issues, Study Shows

  •  This recent study confirms the additional hardship that deployed servicemembers face and the detrimental effect that repeated deployments are having on dependent children.
  • It is becoming increasingly more difficult for deployed servicemembers who are parents to stay focused on their combat task at hand when their dependent children are increasingly being diagnosed with mental and behavior disorders.
  • The study points out that not all families seek support from resources available from military bases and making it more difficult to accurately gauge the impact that repeated deployments are having on children. Of note is that numerous families opt to return home to live with relatives during a deployment period or are family members of activated National Guardsmen and Reservists who do not have access to resources on military bases – this also adds to the stress to deployed servicemembers because they know that their loved ones may not have proper access to support and resources normally available on military bases.

 ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Hits Store Shelves; New Game Is Sequel to Record-Setting ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’

The new “Call of Duty: Black Ops” video game is being released just in time for the holidays!  .  The video and graphics are so realistic that it’s just like being in combat.  One young player waiting for the video game casually stated that he was going to “blow people’s heads off.” To help with marketing, comedians and professional athletes are featured in action-packed commercials where they are firing every imaginable weapon while engaged in running gun battles with terrorists.  Its release and marketing are guaranteed to set new sales records, while at the same time real US casualty records continue to be set in Afghanistan.  The problem is that the future generation of warriors can’t tell the difference.

Kobe Bryant Stars In New ‘Call Of Duty’ Commercial

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Military News you may have missed: November 8, 2010

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The narrative is set for the Administrations pending Afghanistan Policy Review slated for this December – who to believe whether sufficient progress is currently being made, the lack of viable options to address the ongoing threat that emanates from Pakistan’s tribal regions, and how soon will Karzai’s government be capable of providing security on its own?   The following news reports provide background on this Gordian Knot.

Some Skeptics Questioning Rosy Reports on War Zone

Highlights:

  •  The recent reports circulating in Washington’s national security establishment about the Afghan battleground of Marja show glimmerings of progress: bazaars are open, some 1,000 children are in school, and a new (and only) restaurant even serves goat curry and kebabs.  In Kandahar, NATO officials say that American and Afghan forces continue to rout the Taliban. In new statistics offered by American commanders in Kabul, Special Operations units have killed 339 midlevel Taliban commanders and 949 of the group’s foot soldiers in the past three months alone. At the Pentagon, the draft of a war assessment to be submitted to Congress this month cites a shift in momentum in some areas of the country away from the insurgency.
  • But as a new White House review of President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, the rosy signs have opened an intense debate at the Defense Department, the White House, the State Department and the intelligence agencies over what they really mean. Are they indications of future success, are they fleeting and not replicable, or are they evidence that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is simply more masterful than his predecessor at shaping opinion?
  • The debate centers on the resiliency of the Taliban and the extent to which the group can rebuild from the hammering it is taking. Most involved say that there are positive trends for the Americans, but that the real answer will not be clear until a new fighting season begins as the weather warms next year.  “The fundamental question is how deep is their bench,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led last year’s extended White House review of Afghan strategy that resulted in Mr. Obama’s ordering 30,000 additional United States forces to the country. “By next summer we should have a pretty good idea. If they’re having trouble replacing people that we’re killing on the battlefield, then we’re on the right track. But if by next summer they’re producing new cadres that are on the same order of quality, then we’re in deep trouble.”
  • A former C.I.A. official with longtime experience in Afghanistan said that the recent statements about American progress in Afghanistan reminded him of what was sometimes written about the Russians before they began withdrawing from Afghanistan in defeat in 1988, when they had been at war there for nearly 10 years. “I don’t find many people I talk to who really believe any of this,” he said.  The military’s more positive view is hardly monolithic; doubts also exist within its ranks. The Defense Department’s coming war assessment says that violence once again increased in Afghanistan in the past year, in large part because of the aggressive American military operations in the south, while Pentagon officials readily acknowledge that security has deteriorated in previously quiet areas of the north.
  • “It is certainly true that Petraeus is attempting to shape public opinion ahead of the December review,” said an administration official who is supportive of the general.  “He is the most skilled public relations official in the business, and he’s trying to narrow the president’s options.”  But national security officials across Washington are already saying that the December review will only tweak the policy, not change the strategy, and that the real assessment will come in July 2011, the deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops. “The bidding is still out,” the White House official said.

SFTT Analysis

  • If the data in December proves that the most effective means of reducing the threat has been through targeted Counter-terrorism (CT) operations versus Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, then “a shift of strategy” to recalibrate CT with more resources and effort should be considered – ultimately reducing the threat through increased CT will provide more “security” to the populace which COIN strives for.
  • COIN will naturally continue but the focus should be on those areas where gains can be marginally made and be “tweaked” so that the Administration can “off-ramp” forces as scheduled in July 2011.  The “tweaking” in December 2010 should be made to support CT, not vice versa, which reports indicate is the objective.
  • Waiting until July 2011 to determine whether COIN is the proper strategy and then make a decision then may be too late to create the conditions for Afghan Security Forces to take the lead.

 U.S. concerns grow as militants move bases along Pakistan border

 Highlights

  • The U.S. has been trying to stamp out the Haqqani network, which attacks coalition forces in Afghanistan from its base in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Now its fighters, fleeing drone strikes, are setting up in the highlands of Kurram. The militant network that is a major Western adversary in Afghanistan is expanding its reach into tribal badlands outside its longtime sanctuary in Pakistan, a move that could complicate U.S. efforts to eradicate the group.
  • Pakistani tribal elders in the Kurram region along the Afghan border say large numbers of fighters from the Haqqani network, an ally of Al Qaeda, have been stationing themselves in the highlands of their rugged district and are demanding the freedom to move in and out of Afghanistan at will to carry out attacks in the neighboring country.
  • American military commanders regard the group as a major roadblock to concluding the nine-year war in Afghanistan. Though the U.S. has endorsed Karzai’s push for peace talks with insurgent leaders, many in Washington see the Haqqani network as inextricably linked with Al Qaeda and therefore irreconcilable.  Haqqani militants have long maintained bonds with Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has allowed the insurgents to use the North Waziristan region as their nerve center. A dramatic increase in U.S. drone missile attacks on the network’s compounds and training centers there this fall has helped trigger the movement of the militants during the last two months, experts and Kurram tribal leaders say. Tribal elders in Kurram, who are sectarian rivals of the Haqqani network, say they believe the Islamic militant group views the snowcapped region as an ideal vantage point from which to launch forays into Afghanistan.  Haqqani movement into Kurram could force the United States to expand its missile strike campaign there, a move that might further inflame anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis who see the drone strikes as a gross violation of their country’s sovereignty. Right now, Islamabad tacitly allows the strikes against Al Qaeda, Taliban and Haqqani network targets in North and South Waziristan, and at times even facilitates those strikes with intelligence. 
  • Meanwhile, the appearance of Haqqani network fighters has exacerbated simmering sectarian frictions within Kurram. Large swaths of the region are populated by a Shiite Muslim tribe, the Turi, which has been fending off attacks from local Taliban for years. Like the Haqqanis, the Taliban is Sunni Muslim. The influx of Haqqani fighters has sparked fierce clashes with Turi tribesmen, said Musarrat Hussain Muntazir, a tribal elder.  After the fighting, Turi tribal elders began negotiations with a Haqqani contingent in hopes of ending a four-year, Taliban-imposed blockade of the only road that connects Turi lands in upper Kurram with the city of Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan’s major hub. The blockade has forced Turi villagers to take a circuitous, 230-mile trek into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces and then back into Pakistan in order to buy supplies or get to a hospital.
  • Pakistan, which regards the Haqqani group as a valuable hedge against Indian influence in a post-U.S. Afghanistan, has so far resisted repeated urgings from Washington to launch a major offensive against Haqqani network hide-outs in North Waziristan. A U.S. offer to Pakistan of $2 billion in military aid is seen by many as an incentive for Pakistan to mount an attack on the Haqqani network. Pakistan has told the U.S. it will eventually carry out that offensive, but only when it believes the time is right.  “I think they’ll start the operation,” said Hussain, the think tank analyst, “once every single fighter has moved out of North Waziristan and into Kurram.” 

SFTT Analysis

  • Too often the numerous threats to Afghan stability are labeled as “Taliban”, which can distort the “purpose” of the mission while failing to properly address the scope of the conflict – the Haqqani network is an example.
  • If it is true tha the Haqqani network is decamping from current safe-havens to the Kurram Agency, then critical intelligence and targeting resources that are currently fighting under economy-of-force constraints, may have to shift from the South to the East to counter the network while delicately balancing Af-Pak-US relations. 

Pentagon chiefs: Afghans can manage by 2014

Highlights 

  • Afghanistan should be ready to handle its own security by the year 2014, the top U.S. defense chiefs said Monday.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said NATO should endorse the 2014 timeline proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when the alliance holds its annual summit later this month. “As a target at this point that makes sense, so I am comfortable with it,” Mullen said. The 2014 date would give a symbolic deadline for ending the war and bringing most combat forces home. The war is already in its 10th year and unpopular in the U.S. and Europe.
  • U.S. responsibility will extend for years, Gates said Monday.  President Barack Obama and other NATO allies will consider plans for transition of security control at the November 19-20 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. Although Gates had once said he hoped a few districts could be transferred this year, NATO is now looking at beginning the process in the spring. U.S. officials say the war is beginning to turn around after two years of stalemate. Although eager to underscore that claim of progress by handing over some security control, military officials are worried about backsliding. The first districts to move under Afghan police and Army control will probably be in safer areas far from front line fighting in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
  • Gates also said that although he welcomes preliminary talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the insurgency isn’t likely to cut a deal unless it is weakened further. “The Taliban need to clearly see that the prospects for success have diminished dramatically, and in fact that they may well lose,” before senior leaders would be ready to negotiate a lasting political settlement, Gates said. That tipping point would be difficult to foresee at least until next spring, Gates added. The Taliban deny they are being beaten down.

SFTT Analysis

  • The fight in Afghanistan has metastasized to an all encompassing Afghanistan wide provincial 360 degree – north, south, east, and west.  Every province and every district.
  • The start of transferring a few districts to Afghan control was supposed to begin in 2010, but will not begin until spring 2011. If NATO/ISAF cannot hand off a “few” districts anywhere in Afghanistan until spring, then clearly this is another indicator that the “progress” being made is at odds with the reality on the ground.  Not a single district!
  • A “symbolic” deadline for ending the war and bringing most combat forces home by 2014 does not make sense nor should we feel “comfortable” about it.  A sooner date would force Karzai and the Afghan Security Forces to prepare for and accept responsibility for security.  2014 appears to be a Karzai proposal –when will the US and NATO stop coddling him and tell him “no” for a change?
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Goverment Approved Body Armor: Catch 22?

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A week ago, SFTT received a request from a concerned parent (whose son is expected to deploy shortly to Afghanistan) inquiring whether a service member is obligated to wear “US government approved” equipment or is free to use protective gear and combat equipment purchased from other  firms.

The question is in response to numerous reports from the field that suggest that “non-authorized” equipment may be confiscated and, in fact, life and heath insurance benefits may be forfeited if a  service member is wounded or killed wearing “non-approved” gear.   While SFTT has found no written evidence to indicate that this is a standing order, a recently-retired officer confirmed that he has always operated under the assumption that service members may only carry or wear “government approved” equipment.

This issue surfaced a few years ago when service members deploying to Iraq wished to wear Dragon Skin body armor rather than the “government approved” Interceptor Body Armor (IBA).    Specifically, reports circulated that military men and women would be required to pay for his or her own medical expenses and recovery costs for any wounds or injuries suffered while wearing unapproved or disallowed body armor.

Also,  more pervasive reports suggest that service members who sought to wear “non-authorized” body armor and protective gear were advised by Army officers that their Service Group Life Insurance (SGLI) would be denied if troops wearing Dragon Skin body armor were killed in combat.

On behalf of the parents of one of his constituents, Congressman Mike Ross of the Fourth District of Arkansas, wrote to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army in August, 2007  inquiring into these allegations.  In a letter dated September 10, 2007 Mr. Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army responded that the “Department of Defense and Department of the Army have no policy that denies medical or insurance benefits to soldiers injured or killed wearing unapproved body armor.”  Copies of these letters may be downloaded from the SFTT website.  Read Representative Mike Ross’s 2007 letter and Army Secretary Pete Geren’s response.

While one might think that Secretary Geren’s letter should have put an end to these rumors, he goes on to state in his letter that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In effect, while there is no policy denying medical or death benefits to non-conforming service members it is simply not allowed to wear unauthorized or unapproved protective gear.  Call it Catch 22, Beltway Spin or the E-Ring two-step, but it seems to me that Secretary Geren’s response  is akin to saying  “it’s the Army way or the highway.”

Despite Secretary Geren’s strong endorsement of the Interceptor Body Armor system and insistence that “every Soldier . . . is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment” we know of many instances where “non-authorized” body armor is used by officers and enlisted personnel because they believe it provides better protection.  Furthermore, if the IBA system is so darn good, why did the GAO (“Government Accountability Office”)  issue a devastating report last fall which calls into question the Army test procedures and contract awards for body armor?  Similarly, why is the Defense Department fighting tooth-and-nail to withhold autopsy results which suggest that fatalities may have been caused by defective body armor plates?

Congressman Mike Ross has recently requested an updated position on this issue from the Department of Defense.  Personally, I believe that their response will be much the same.  For concerned parents and loved ones of men and women serving in combat, this summary of the government’s official position is hardly reassuring.

If you find the double-talk misleading and harmful write your Congressperson and State Senator and join hundreds of other SFTT Members searching for the Truth to make sure that our troops have the best body armor and protective gear possible.  Frankly, Secretary Geren’s endorsement of the IBA system is not compelling.

Richard W. May

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