U.S. Troops Hone Cold War Skills

cold war

By Debbie Gregory.

In light of increasing threats from Eastern Europe, the United States Army is focused on relearning Cold War-era skills to confront potential Russian threats.

The adjustments include re-camouflaging vehicles to blend into the terrain, dispersing into smaller groups to avoid sophisticated surveillance drones and the use of netting to hide troop positions.

Senior Army commanders are rehearsing updated tactics and strategies that had been previously used to counter Soviet troops when the Berlin Wall was still standing, although the U.S. Army’s presence in Europe is a far cry from the height of the Cold War, when 300,000 soldiers were stationed there, versus 30,000 soldiers.

Russia’s hybrid warfare combines conventional military might with the ability to manipulate events using a mix of subterfuge, cyber-attacks and information warfare. The U.S. and NATO allies recently positioned some 4,500 soldiers in the three Baltic States and Poland as a deterrent to Russian aggression.

American intelligence is closely watching Russian operations in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria.

The colonels who will more than likely be the next generation of Army generals have spent the bulk of their careers battling Al Qaeda or ISIS.

Col. Clair A. Gill, a 1994 West Point graduate who commands the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum, N.Y. was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division when Russia was still considered a threat. An accomplished Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Col. Gill spent most of his career battling Islamic militants. He has acknowledged that it took a while to adjust to preparing to fight more conventional battles.

Col. Gills’ West Point classmate, Col. Patrick Ellis, studied Russian to learn the language of his potential adversary. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Colonel Ellis was deployed multiple times to Afghanistan with specialized Army Ranger units.

Now Colonel Ellis commands the Second Cavalry Regiment in Europe.

“We know when we wake up every morning who the threat is,” Colonel Ellis said. “We’re very focused on the Russian threat.”

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Troop Surge in Afghanistan?

troop surge

By Debbie Gregory.

Officials have said that some 3,000 to 5,000 extra troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, could be deployed to Afghanistan. Their mission? To stop the Taliban. But instead of hoping to beat the Taliban on the battlefield, the aim would be to negotiate an end to the conflict.

The Pentagon has previously announced plans to expand U.S. military operations in Afghanistan by at least several thousand additional troops, but that number will depend on how many troops NATO partners are willing to commit.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with those partners at the NATO summit in Brussels on May 25th.

There are currently 8,400 American boots on the ground deployed to Afghanistan. NATO partners contribute 4,900 more.

Special Operations troops are waging a direct campaign against the Islamic State’s local affiliate, known as ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K) but the bulk of the forces are focused on training and advising Afghan troops.

However, a raid that took place on April 27th killed Sheikh Abdul Hasib, the emir of ISIS-K, as well as other leading ISIS-K members and 35 ISIS-K fighters

“This successful joint operation is another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat ISIS-K in 2017,” said General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “This is the second ISIS-K emir we have killed in nine months, along with dozens of their leaders and hundreds of their fighters. For more than two years, ISIS-K has waged a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence against the Afghan people, especially those in southern Nangarhar.”

Gen. Nicholson has been pushing for increased troop levels since February, but his request took a back seat to a broader administration review of Afghan policy and a push for NATO to contribute more troops.

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B-2 Bombers Kill Dozens of ISIS Fighters in Libya


By Debbie Gregory.

Last week, American warplanes unleashed a massive attack on at least two Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL) training camps in Libya, killing an estimated 80 militants.

This was one of the last short-notice military operations ordered by President Barack Obama.

“The fighters training in these camps posed a security risk to Libya, to its neighbors, to our allies in Africa and Europe, and to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

The airstrikes occurred in a remote area approximately 30 miles southwest of Sirte, a city along the Mediterranean coast that’s been a focus for U.S. forces.

The Department of Defense showed reporters a rare video of surveillance footage of the ISIS fighters as they loaded what appeared to be shells and rocket-propelled grenades into pick-up trucks. A second video showing the camps being bombed was also shown.

The strike was carried out by two US Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers and an unspecified number of unmanned MQ-9 Reapers armed with Hellfire missiles.

U.S. Navy warships equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles were also on standby, but initial reports indicate they were not needed.

“We are committed to maintaining pressure on ISIL and preventing them from establishing safe haven,” Cook said in a statement “These strikes will degrade ISIL’s ability to stage attacks against Libyan forces and civilians working to stabilize Sirte, and demonstrate our resolve in countering the threat posed by ISIL to Libya, the United States and our allies.”

The U.S. has conducted more than 500 airstrikes in Libya since last winter. The last reported U.S. activity there occurred in December, when a contingent of Navy ships carrying Marine attack jets and helicopters left the Mediterranean and returned home.

No women or children were present, and there were no reports of civilian casualties, officials noted.

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White House Sets New Rules of Engagement for Troops in Afghanistan


By Debbie Gregory.

President Obama has approved new authorities for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in an effort to better use the troops. The new rules give U.S. forces a greater ability to accompany conventional Afghan forces that are fighting the Taliban.

“This makes good sense. It’s a good use of the combat power that we have there,”  he said.

The changes allow an increase of close air support, which could lead to additional airstrikes, and come on the heels of Gen. John Nicholson’s 90-day review.

Since the combat mission officially ended in 2014, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have largely avoided targeting the Taliban.

Since then, the rules of engagement have limited strikes in Afghanistan to protecting U.S. ground troops, targeting al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or protecting Afghan forces when they are in imminent danger of being overrun by the Taliban.

But in the face of a resurgent Taliban and a struggling Afghan military, there has been a push for expanded criteria in the rules of engagement.

Carter pushed back on any notion that expanded authorities mean a change in mission.

“Obviously, our mission is the same, which is to help the Afghans maintain control of the country and to avoid having a counter-terrorism challenge once again from Afghanistan,” he said.

Nicholson’s review also assessed troop levels in Afghanistan. Currently, there are approximately 9,800 U.S. troops there, with plans to drop that force to 5,500 by the end of the year.

Nicholson was largely expected to recommend keeping more troops in the country, but no decision has been made as to whether troop levels will change.

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Eclectic Anti-ISIS Fighters Being Trained By U.S. Military


By Debbie Gregory.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Union, also known by the initials YPG, is a predominantly Kurdish militia taking up arms against ISIS. The YPJ, also known as the Women’s Defense Units, is the YPG’s female brigade, which was set up in 2012.

The Anti-ISIS fighters know firsthand the darkness that is ISIS. Most of the young fighters have lost family members and friends to the terrorist group.

But they are also aware of ethnic and other complexities facing the U.S. military as it seeks to develop a coherent and competent network of local Syria forces to defeat ISIS.

A small group of American military advisers works here with the YPG and other Syrian volunteers — mostly Arab men — who have taken up arms against this threat to both their country and their families.

The Americans said the number of Arab volunteers has surged this spring, following a series of battlefield gains against ISIS.

Rather than committing American forces, the U.S. strategy relies on training, organizing and advising local fighters for combat. Members of the YPG have said that by training to fight against ISIS, they have lost their fear of combat.

The U.S. has organized the fighters into a group it calls the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The SDF is comprised mostly of Syrian Kurds, numbering at least 25,000 fighters, with a smaller element of Syrian Arabs numbering perhaps 5,000 to 6,000.

Compared to other factions engaged in the Syrian Civil war, the YPG has not received significant foreign assistance in the form of weapons and military equipment.

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Top US Commander Makes Secret Trip to Syria


By Debbie Gregory.

On a secret trip to Syria, Army Gen. Joseph Votel,  the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that he went because he felt a moral obligation to check on his troops and see, first hand, the progress of local Arab and Kurd fighters pushing  ISIS out of Syria.

“I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here,” the four star general said.

The visit comes as the first of 250 additional U.S. special operations forces are beginning to arrive in Syria to work with local forces.

Votel, who has headed U.S. Central Command for just seven weeks, is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to travel into Syria during its war. This was the first daylight U.S. transport mission into Syria.

Gen. Votel’s visit to northern Syria was in conjunction with a trip to other countries in the region. It comes amid an effort by the U.S. military to accelerate efforts to bring more local Arab and Kurdish forces into the fight in both Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS.

The U.S. troops are focused on training local forces on very specialized tasks, such as how to call in precise and timely intelligence reports from the battlefield that could result in coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets.

A small group of reporters accompanied Votel under ground rules that, for security reasons, prohibited disclosing his visit until after he had left Syria.

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Navy SEAL Dies in the Fight Against ISIS


By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV was killed during a rescue mission north of Mosul. Keating was part of the Quick Reaction Force team sent in to rescue U.S. military advisors who were under attack by 120 plus ISIS fighters. The advisors and Kurdish Peshmerga forces were overwhelmed by a surprise ISIS offensive in Northern Iraq.

The attack took place near the town of Tel Askuf, about two miles away from the front lines. The team was able to evacuate the advisors, but Keating was struck by direct fire. In spite of the fact that he was received medical attention within an hour of his injury, his wound was not survivable, according to coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren

A 2004 graduate of Arcadia High School in Phoenix, AZ, the star athlete was the grandson of prominent financier and World War II pilot Charles Keating Jr.

His decorations included: the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Medal and Rifle and Pistol Expert ribbons.

The 31-year-old Special Warfare Operator 1st Class was on his third tour in Iraq. Keating joined the Navy in 2007 and graduated from the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 2008. His death serves as a reminder that even in an advisory role, our troops face imminent danger.

Warren said there were also Peshmerga casualties in addition to Keating, but did not have the figures on hand. He did say it was the largest clash between ISIS and collation forces at least since December.

We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of this American hero, and thank them for their family’s sacrifice.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Can Terrorists Detonate a Dirty Bomb?


By Debbie Gregory.

Radioisotopes are capable of causing radiation poisoning and sickness, making them a potential tool for terrorists seeking to build a “dirty” bomb that could cause widespread contamination.

Belgian authorities believe that a group of Islamic terrorists were trying to figure out a way to collect such materials to build a bomb. They have suspicions that a plot to kidnap an employee of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre might have been in the works in order to secure the  materials needed.

Didier Vanderhasselt, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry, said that the security of their nuclear sites is of the highest concern, and that the country’s counterterrorism experts were “constantly monitoring the situation of all sensitive potential targets, including nuclear sites.”

Vanderhasselt  added that “as far as we know we have been implementing the same measures as the French did the last few years,” and that Belgian security precautions meet the International Atomic Energy Agency’s standards.

So just how worried should we be?

The real threat from dirty bombs lies in their psychological and economic effects, a fact that often sees these devices described as weapons of mass disruption rather than weapons of mass destruction.

A dirty bomb detonated in a major urban center would be sure to cause widespread fear and panic. Additionally, the economic costs associated with a dirty bomb would be considerable. The clean-up after such an attack could figure in the billions of dollars, if detonated in a high-value area such as city center or port.

So while the thought of ISIS using dirty bombs to further its terrorist agenda is unsettling, the threat should not be exaggerated, particularly when it comes to its impact on public health.

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Yazidi Women Who Escaped ISIS Ready to Fight

sun ladies

By Debbie Gregory.

They are the survivors, these young women. Most of them were taken from in and around the town of Sinjar, Iraq, which fell to ISIS in August, 2014. They witnessed the slaughter of their families on Mount Sinjar, and then were forced by ISIS into sexual slavery. Now the “Sun Ladies,” Yazidi women who have signed up to fight ISIS, are ready to take up arms against their former capturers.

Calling themselves “Force of the Sun Ladies” and driven by a collective desire for vengeance, the battalion is preparing for an offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, where many were exchanged by militants to serve as their sex slaves.

Some 123 Sun Ladies, ranging in age from 17 to 37, have undergone training and have taken their place alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. There are another 500 who are awaiting training.

The “lucky” ones managed to escape after being sold off to low-level fighters, while others were ransomed back to their families. The Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights runs a small clinic in the Kurdish city of Duhok where Yazidi women can receive medical care and psychological treatment.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a 21 year old Yazidi survivor, has addressed British Parliament and the U.N. Security Council, asking for help in freeing the thousands of women and girls who remain captive. She has travelled to Egypt, Greece, Kuwait, Norway, the United States, appealing for aid for displaced Yazidis living in refugee camps. She has also asked for an investigation as to whether ISIS has committed genocide against the Yazidi people.

The Sun Ladies may come up against Yazidi boys who were kidnapped and brainwashed, and could now be fighting their mothers and sisters under the black flag of ISIS.

Capt Khatoon Khider, a member of the Sun Ladies, said, “… we are defending ourselves from the evil. We are defending all the minorities in the region. We will do whatever is asked of us.”

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DoD’s Proposed 2017 Budget Comes in at $583 Billion


By Debbie Gregory.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter submitted a proposed $583 billion Defense Department budget for 2017 that focuses more on high-tech future conflicts and less on counterterrorism operations against militants such as the Islamic State group. But the budget does include a significant increase in funding for the fight against Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, or ISIL.

“The [fiscal year 2017] budget reflects recent strategic threats that have taken place in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe,” the Pentagon said in a statement accompanying the budget documents released on February 9th.

The budget request includes a quadrupling of the funds to support NATO’s effort to counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, raising the current amount of $789 million to $3.4 billion. This increase will allow for the rotation of more U.S. units in Europe, additional training, and the pre-positioning of gear.

“All of this together by the end of 2017 will let us rapidly form a highly-capable combined arms ground force that can respond theater-wide if necessary,” Carter said.

Fiscal year 2017 begins on October 1, 2016.

Carter called Russia, along with China, “our most stressing competitors,” which “reflect a return to a great power competition.”

With Russia’s seizing of Crimea from the Ukraine and China’s claims on disputed islands in the South China Sea, Carter said “we cannot blind ourselves to the actions they appear to choose to pursue.”

The Defense Department budget will shift in focus away from one potential enemy to multiple threats.

“We don’t have the luxury of just one opponent, or the choice between current fights and future fights — we have to do both. And that’s what our budget is designed to do,” Carter said.

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