ZARI, Afghanistan: On March 3, 2008, a Taliban suicide bomber driving a green truck packed with explosives barreled through the front gate of a small U.S. outpost in Sabari district, Afghanistan, and blew himself up next to the dining facility where American soldiers were just sitting down to dinner.
Taliban foot soldiers streamed in, firing their AK-47s. It took the intervention of a Special Forces A Team to push them back. Two Americans died. Around a dozen were wounded. The Sabari attack was one of several catastrophic attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan in recent years. As U.S. forces draw down, there are fewer and fewer troops to spare for guard duty. That’s why, bruised by these attacks, the Pentagon has scrambled to equip its frontline bases with better defenses. Keep reading →
RANGE 24, FORT DRUM, NEW YORK: “That’s awesome,” said Maj. Edward Sedlock, watching another soldier call up data on his militarized Android smartphone. It was such small, unguarded moments — neither officer had noticed a reporter standing nearby — which suggest that, after more than a decade in development, the Army’s struggle to bring wireless networking to the foot soldier is finally yielding fruit, just in time to help secure the drawdown in Afghanistan.
Sedlock and his comrade weren’t part of some special group testing new equipment, like the much-publicized Network Integration Evaluations in the New Mexico desert, AOL D readers are so familiar with. Instead, they belong to an operational unit, the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, training to use the new gear as they get ready for an expected deployment in Afghanistan. (They haven’t yet received their formal orders to go but planning is well advanced, down to designating an assigned area of operations the Army asked us not to name). “3/10″ and its sister unit, the 10th Mountain’s 4th Brigade, are the first combat brigades to receive the technology, as part of an upgrade the Army calls “Capability Set ’13″; two more brigades, from the famed 101st Airborne, are next in line for the new network. Keep reading →
CAPITOL HILL: The commandant of the Marines told Congress today that his service could not handle even one major war if Congress doesn’t undo the $500 billion, 10-year cut to defense spending known as sequestration. The Navy, for its part, would have only one aircraft carrier ready to “surge” in a crisis instead of two or three, allowing it to reinforce only one war zone at a time.
A central tenet of American strategy has been the ability to fight and win two major wars in two theaters at the same time since World War II. How well the military could actually meet that requirement has been open for debate, but it was always upheld as the official ideal — until January 2012, when the Obama administration’s Defense Strategic Guidance downgraded the goal to, in essence, win one, hold one. Keep reading →
Way back in World War II, when my father was in the Army, everybody knew somebody in the military. More than half of eligible males were in uniform. During the Vietnam War, despite the exemptions to the draft, more than three million young men served in Southeast Asia. Today, however, after eleven years of war and with the end only sort of in sight, less than one percent of Americans are in the service, largely because we keep sending the same men and women back “over there” again and again and again. Our veterans have gotten very, very good at what they do, but they and their hard-stressed families are increasingly separated from mainstream America. So how do we bridge the gap?
One man, Paul Gleason, has an answer: one handwritten letter at a time. The retired history teacher, not a veteran himself, started writing soldiers in 1965 when one of his students joined the Army and has kept at it ever since: more than 10,000 letters over almost 50 years. Some go to friends he’s made — though sometimes never met — and corresponds with weekly. Since his retirement, he’s camped out at a side table in a local Burger King and cranked out about three letters a day, totaling about 15 handwritten pages. He’s currently corresponding with 10 people, from a young Marine to the widow of a decorated Green Beret who fought in Vietnam. (Click here to watch an NBC video interview with Gleasonand his young Marine Corps pen pal; click here to read a Springfield State Journal-Register profile with more details). Keep reading →
PENTAGON: “Army Has Biggest Problem.” That’s it. Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale’s official briefing slides for today’s big budget roll-out couldn’t be blunter. Hale has made this point before, but in case anyone imagined Congress rescued the Army when it passed a belated 2013 spending bill last month, the budget presentation today made clear the biggest service is still deepest in the hole — specifically, about $13.7 billion deep.
In late February, Army budgeteers were talking about an $18 billion shortfall in readiness funding for ’13 that they nicknamed “6-6-6″: a $6 billion cut from sequestration, another $6 billion hit from higher than projected costs for the war in Afghanistan, and a final $6 billion problem from money the Army had but couldn’t spend because of the curious strictures of the Continuing Resolution then funding the federal government. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The cheerfully controversial James “Hoss” Cartwright, retired vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Friday in an intimate and academic setting that allowed the retired Marine Corps fighter pilot to muse aloud about subjects from the Civil War to quantum computing, from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (he’s a skeptic) to aircraft carriers (they’ll endure). Gen. Cartwright even put in a good word for the People’s Republic of China. The focus of his talk, however, was what he considered unappreciated dangers and opportunities in cyberspace.
[Click here for former National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones' comments to the same forum on Syria] Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq one of the Army’s leading thinkers, warned Washington not to learn the wrong lessons.
[Click here from top Army generals on Iraq: Shock and Awe? Never again!] Keep reading →
Half the US forces in Afghanistan may be coming home, but K-MAX, the little unmanned helicopter, will stay until the end. A pair of the remote-controlled cargo choppers arrived in Afghanistan in late 2011 for what was billed as a short-term experiment, but the Marines liked it so much that the trial deployment was repeatedly extended, and now the military has confirmed it will keep them on “indefinitely.” (The extension was first reported yesterday by Reuters). Three love letters to the remote-controlled cargo chopper from military officers, obtained exclusively by Breaking Defense, show why.
Technologically, K-MAX is just plain neat. It’s a small one-man chopper built by Kaman Aerospace Corp. – originally for logging operations, where it airlifted tree trunks out of tight areas . It was converted to a remotely piloted vehicle by Lockheed Martin. Tactically, K-MAX allows delivery of supplies to forward outposts by air, without risking human pilots or, worse yet, sending ground convoys through the gauntlet of Taliban ambushes and roadside bombs.
“What stood out most in my mind … was the permanent scorch marks burnt into the earth up and down ‘ambush alley,’” recalled Marine Corps Maj. Kyle O’Connor, who served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2011. So many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had gone off in one narrow mountain pass, an unavoidable chokepoint for US supply convoys, that “that stretch of road continually had scars marking where explosions had scorched the earth,” O’Connor wrote in a letter endorsing the K-MAX for the prestigious Collier Trophy. “Those memories,” he went on, “are what drove me to be part of a program meant to save lives by limiting the amount of exposure our ground convoys had to danger”: the unmanned K-MAX, whose first six-month deployment had O’Connor in command. Keep reading →
CAPITOL HILL: Sequestration, Continuing Resolution, and snow be damned; the House Armed Services Committee met this morning to wrestle with long-term strategy. In a hearing not only overshadowed but outright interrupted by the House’s desperate effort to band-aid the budget crisis, top HASC leaders from both parties argued for expanding the military’s authorities to work with foreign forces — including those accused of violating human rights.
[Click here for more House and Senate testimony on Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and sequestration] Keep reading →
[updated Tuesday, March 6 with Gen. Mattis's remarks to the House Armed Services Committee] CAPITOL HILL: The US should keep 13,600 troops in Afghanistan to advise and assist the Afghan forces after American combat brigades withdraw in 2014, about a quarter of the current troop level, said Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis, giving his personal recommendation — not the Administration’s final decision — after prodding from the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. Rumored figures have been significantly lower. “We have to send a message of commitment,” declared Mattis, who will soon retire. But with the Navy halving its aircraft carrier presence in the Gulf and all the services cutting corners in expectation of a continued budget crunch, it’s getting harder to project resolve.
“A perceived lack of an enduring US commitment” is the biggest danger to American interests in the Central Command region, which sprawls from Egypt to Pakistan, Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. While the drawdown in Afghanistan unnerves some allies, he said, “our budget ambiguity right now is probably the single greatest factor. I’m asked about it everywhere I go in the region.”
“Already, sequestration is having an operational impact in the CENTCOM area” with the indefinite postponement of the aircraft carrier USS Truman’s deployment to keep an eye on Iran, lamented SASC’s chairman, Carl Levin. Facing a funding shortfall from both the automatic cuts known as sequestration and the Continuing Resolution now funding the federal government I the absence of proper 2013 appropriations, Navy will keep Truman stateside, albeit ready for rapid deployment in a crisis. Keep Reading →