Nov 29, 2007

Marines in Afghanistan

Training and Surging with the Afghan security forces

Although most of the military and media attention remains focused on Iraq, there is still a vicious war raging in Afghanistan. Islamic extremists from Pakistan cross the border nightly in an effort to destabilize the Karzai government by terrorizing the local populace; home-grown extremists have adapted IED and suicide bomber tactics they’ve seen so popular in Iraq, and the drug lords and local criminal element work hard in advancing their own corrupt agenda.

In the midst of all this are 24,000+ American troops and a large contingent of troops from NATO and other countries who are attempting to stabilize the country, defeat Al-Qaeda, and perhaps drag it into the 21st - or at least the 20th - century.
Col Philip Smith, USMC, currently commanding the Central Region (Kabul east to the border), took time to speak about American and Coalition efforts in Afghanistan.

COL SMITH: I command the adviser group that advises the Afghan 201st, Selab, Central Corps, and the Central Region Police command in an area that is in the central region of Afghanistan that includes Kabul and 10 other Provinces. It’s 13 million people in 300 or so districts. This is about half the population of Afghanistan.

We report to CJTF Phoenix. Underneath CJTF Phoenix there are five Regional Adviser commands for the police and army, of which I command one.

The five regional commanders are the military forces whose principal task is to conduct COIN operations that delegitimize the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and attempt to provide legitimacy to the Afghan Government by fighting alongside the Afghan forces.

The greatest challenge that I have observed in working with the Afghan
National Security Forces is not their fighting capability, or their desire to
create a national army and police. And it's not their willingness to sacrifice. The problem is the creation and sustainment of a national industrial base from which to maintain the army and the police, in the form of logistics, transportation, communications and maintenance of the equipment and weapons and vehicles and aircraft.

As you know, creating a security force during peacetime is difficult enough. Trying to create it from nothing during combat requires even more patience, diligence, money, discipline, long-term vision and communications.

We embed inside the Afghan National Security Forces to provide access to those capabilities that the Afghan National Security forces do not yet possess - things like aviation, Medevac support, medical support, fire support, artillery.

Finally, we advisers do the initial evaluation and assessment on the status of the readiness and development of the Afghan National Security Forces – we work on leadership, personnel, command and control, logistics, intelligence, operations and training.

My command consists of over 900 Army National Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marine, both active duty and reserve, civilian, French, Romanian, German, and soon some Portuguese folks.

A couple of notes about things that I’ve observed while being here since March. The Afghan people are tired of fighting, and perhaps become just a little bit impatient with our impatience. In other words, we are trying to push them towards a capability that they may or may not necessarily want to accept.

We have learned that to be effective advisors, we first must gain an understanding of how the Afghans think. They do have a system in place. They have been able to conduct warfare over the past 30 years. And we have to understand that they are not going to unlearn a lot of things in a very short period of time. It will take time to introduce them to different, improved techniques that lead them to be able to better sustain themselves.

American forces perhaps focus too much on the physical fight rather than on the long-term approach to governance and security. And as you know governance can be either imposed or it can be willingly accepted and sustained.

Q - How is the NCO Corps? Are they getting stronger? Their system is based on the old Russian system where the NCO’s were not important.

A – It’s coming along slowly, but it is coming along. It is one of our major objectives because we understand that in an effective fighting force, a commander has to be able to trust and have confidence in all of his subordinates.

Q - Could you give us an overall perspective on the enemy you face in your battle space right now? What are the engagements that you're fighting?

A - The nature of the fight in the central region is centered around Nuristan and Kunar, and some of it in the Nangarhar Province. Taliban, Hig martyr forces and anti-coalition forces seemed to be coming together in small groups, and they seem to be oriented against the coalition forces. There appears to be a tendency to gravitate towards Afghan security forces.

There does not seem to be so much of a fight when Afghan national forces are in the lead and are trying to conduct operations and trying to convince the local people in these provinces that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is something that they need and want. And of course, the objective of the Taliban and the HIG is to persuade the average Afghan citizen that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is not something that they want to follow, and they try to establish their own small local district provincial shadow government and force the local people to adhere to them.

So the actual fighting -the physical fighting - is against coalition forces. In my zone, I think it might be a little bit different than in other parts of the country. It’s small unit attacks. It's well-planned ambushes across logistical main supply routes. It's planned attacks against combat outposts.

The Taliban, anti-coalition militia, they understand that if the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as represented by the Afghan National Security Forces makes its way into the Eastern Zone and convinces the people that the government can provide security, can provide governance, can provide economic improvement in their economic lifestyle, that the Taliban and the HIG and the AGM are on their way out.

Q -It almost sounds like an outreach mission.

A- That's a good way to describe it. In fact, the coalition force has to approach it like an outreach mission that goes out and stays out. In order to be effective in countering the threats to the Afghan Government, the ANSF and Coalition force has to reach out and they have to stay in these villages so that they can provide permanent presence and permanent continued security.

Thank you Col Smith ///

Nov 27, 2007

Marine help in Bangladesh

From the USS Kearsarge:

U.S. Marine Corps helicopters began delivering emergency supplies Monday to survivors of a deadly cyclone along the southern coast of Bangladesh in a joint relief operation.

Helicopters from the USS Kearsarge, detached from the 22nd Marine Expediationary Unit (MEU) began delivering 5,000 water containers to remote areas of Dublar Char, Bagherat and Barguna, the most devastated districts in the Nov. 15 cyclone that killed some 3,200 people.

Marines will also deliver food and other supplies, help set up water purification plants, and provide medical care to victims in the coming days, Bangladeshi army officials said.

"Our first priority is get food, water and clothes to the survivors," said Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed, the chief of army staff, after meeting U.S. officials.

Marine Brig Gen Ronald Bailey is coordinating the relief operations, "We will fill the requirements as identified by the Bangladesh military," he said. Gen Bailey has been working closely with MajGen Richard Zilmer, CO of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force (3MEF) based in Okinawa, in discussing further American support for the devastated region.

The official death toll rose to 3,243, the government said. Another 1,180 people were missing, and at least 34,500 were injured.

Nov 26, 2007

Syria = Iran at Annapolis

Iran may not be there, but its interests will be represented


By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst
updated 3:52 p.m. ET, Mon., Nov. 26, 2007

Now that the Arab League has agreed to attend this week’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md., many of the major players have the fig leaf required to send their delegations. With the blessing of the pan-Arab organization, states like Saudi Arabia and Syria can attend while expressing the obligatory reluctance.

For its part, Syria has stated that it will not attend unless the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is on the agenda. That’s always the bottom line for Syria, although it has been unsuccessful in this effort since the Israelis took the area in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it. Syria tried to take the Golan Heights back using force by launching the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and failed. Subsequent diplomatic efforts have come close on occasion, but have ultimately failed. The return of the Golan Heights remains a hot button issue for the Syrians.

The conference highlights the difference between Israeli and Syrian approaches to Middle East peace. Israel has sought to make peace with the Arab states in a series of individual treaties, a “divide and conquer” strategy. They did this successfully with Egypt and Jordan, and for a short time in 1982, Lebanon.

The Syrians, on the other hand, have always insisted that peace should be a comprehensive arrangement between Israel and the Arab states as a whole, addressing all of the outstanding issues, primarily Israeli occupation of Arab lands. The Syrian press constantly demands a “comprehensive and just” settlement.

Damascus has paid a price for this stance over the years. Syria had hoped the united stance of the Arab states would result in the return of Arab lands occupied since 1967, the Sinai and the Gaza Strip back to Egypt, the West Bank back to Jordan and the Golan Heights back to itself. Unfortunately for Syria, it did not turn out that way. Both Egypt and Jordan renounced their claims to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, declaring these territories to be Palestinian and not their problems.

Ultimately both countries signed separate peace treaties with Israel. Egypt settled its disputes with Israel in 1979, regaining the Sinai peninsula in the process. This left Syria on its own with little leverage to regain the Golan Heights. This will be the mindset of the Syrian representatives as Israel and the Arab states meet in Annapolis this week.

There is, however, a key regional player who was not invited to the conference: Iran. Although not an Arab state and not officially involved in the Palestinian track of the Middle East peace process, Iran’s influence and intervention in the Middle East, including with the Palestinians, cannot be ignored. It is a major supporter of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both Palestinian groups whose charters call for the destruction of the state of Israel, to be replaced by an Islamist Palestinian state. Iran’s support is not only ideological, but tangible in the form of money, weapons and training. Most if not all of that support is funneled through Iran’s seemingly only ally in the Arab world, Syria.

Will Syria represent Iranian interests at the conference?

Syria will represent its own interests, of course, but those interests dovetail nicely with those of Tehran. Iran wants to maintain pressure on Israel via the Palestinian opposition groups in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and via its other client terrorist organization, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. Syria knows that without continued pressure from these organizations, there is no motivation for Israel to strike a deal with either the Palestinians or with Damascus.

There is an old Middle East adage: “There can be no war without Egypt, and no peace without Syria.” Without a guarantee of the return of the Golan Heights, it is unlikely that Syria will be helpful in any resolution of issues between the Israelis and Palestinians at this or any other peace conference.

So what will come out of this week’s conference? Probably not a lot, but the fact that the Arab League has agreed that its members should sit down with the Israelis is de facto if not de jure recognition of the Jewish state. However, as long as the mullahs in Tehran are pulling the strings that control the dictator in Damascus, Syria will continue to play the spoiler.


Nov 21, 2007

2007 Thanksgiving Message from LTG Caldwell

From LTG William B. Caldwell,IV:

The Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock in 1620 was a monumental event in our history and represents the beginnings of our great Nation. Their first winter was difficult, to say the least, but by faith and perseverance, they endured to plant in the spring, cultivate through the summer, and harvest abundant blessings in the fall. In recognition of those blessings, they set aside a day of feast and thanksgiving.

This holiday season, we have much to be thankful for. Like the Pilgrims we have endured some trying times; especially since September 11th. But on this Thanksgiving Day, we find our Nation and our Army are strong and enduring. Those of us who are at home in the states are blessed to be able to spend this holiday where we choose…with family and friends.

As you bow your heads on Thanksgiving Day, remember to be thankful for your blessings and, most importantly, remember that somewhere… there is a Soldier “ON POINT” serving your Nation and making it possible for you to have your feast in peace. Remember the Soldiers that are in harms way, that need our prayers.

To those of you, who are deployed, thanks… for your service and your sacrifice. When I think of you I am reminded of a quote by Teddy Roosevelt. He once said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how
the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have
done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually
in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who
does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at
the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who
at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so
that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who
neither know victory nor defeat.”

You deserve all the credit… you are in the arena! Your face is marred by dust and sweat and blood and in the end, I am confident that you will know the triumph of high achievement!

And to those families back home. Thank you for your sacrifice. I know it is very difficult to spend the holidays with loved ones absent and in harms way. Know that your contribution to our Nation is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Our thought and prayers are with you on this Thanksgiving… thanks on behalf of our Army for your service, you are making an incredible difference!

Nov 18, 2007


How fitting for this Thanksgiving season:

Launched just months ago, the USS New York was built with 24 tons of steel alvaged from the World Trade Center

She is the fifth in a new class of warship - one that is specially designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists . USS New York will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat- ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.

Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite , LA to cast the ship's bow section. When it was poured into the molds on Sept 9, 2003 , 'those big rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence,' recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing, who watched the bow being cast "It was a spiritual moment for everybody there."

Junior Chavers, foundry operations manager, said that when the trade center steel first arrived, he touched it with his hand and "the hair on my neck stood up. It had a big meaning to it for all of us," he said. "They knocked us down. They can't keep us down. We're going to be back.'

The ship's motto? 'Never Forget'

So as this holiday season arrives, forget all the commercial hype and hoopla for a momnent, and give thanks for our Marines and soldiers in harms way on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nov 15, 2007

Why Marines Fight

Excerpt: ‘Why Marines Fight’

Author James Brady, a former Marine and Bronze Star awardee from Korea, writes that the U.S. Marines are known the world over as among the most dedicated and courageous soldiers ever to have engaged in battle. In his new book "Why Marines Fight", Brady explains what makes Marines so tough. Here are excerpts:

Chapter 1
Hear them, listen to the voices: These are the Marines, the hard men who fight our wars, unscripted and always honest.

Except, of course, when we lie.

Half a dozen wars ago, in France, on June 2 of 1918, Marine gunnery sergeant Dan Daly stepped out in front of the 4th Brigade of Marines, mustered for another bloody frontal assault on the massed machine guns of the Germans that had been murderously sweeping the wheat fields at Belleau Wood. Death awaited. And the men, understandably, seemed reluctant to resume the attack. But old gunnies like Daly aren’t notable for coddling the troops, for issuing polite invitations, and Dan was having none of it. Nor was he much for inflated oratory or patriotic flourish. Instead, in what some remember as a profane, contemptuous snarl, and loudly, Gunnery Sergeant Daly demanded of his hesitant Marines: “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”

Is that why we fight? Because we’re cussed at and shamed into it? Was that what motivated the men of the 4th Brigade in 1918 who went into the deadly wheat field? Do today’s Marines who take out combat patrols in Anbar Province and hunt the Taliban somewhere west of the Khyber have the same motivations as Dan Daly’s men? Or the Marines who once waded the bloody lagoon for General Howland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith at Tarawa, scaled Mount Suribachi, defied the Japanese at Wake Island, fought the Chinese in the snows of North Korea, and fought and died on the Perfume River at Hue and in a thousand other bloody places?

The Marines in this book answer those questions; each in his own way attempts to say why we are drawn to the guns.

Dan Daly had his methods: Curse the sons of bitches and lead them into the field. The men were impressed, by the man if not by his shouting, knowing Daly as a legend, with two Medals of Honor already. But was Daly’s leadership and their own training all it took for Marines to get up and run at the machine guns of Belleau Wood? It became a question I kept asking.

General Jim Jones, tall and tough, a former commandant and more recently NATO commander, has a mantra: “Sergeants run the Marine Corps,” he told me once on a rainswept drive from Quantico to the Pentagon. Jones wasn’t just blowing smoke, keeping up noncom morale when he said that. He was attempting to tell me what he believed differentiates the Marine Corps from other military arms. Without its seemingly inexhaustible supply of good, tough sergeants, the Marine Corps would be nothing more than a smaller version of the army. Most Marines, officers or enlisted, would agree. They’ve had their own Dan Dalys. We all have.

I found mine, thirty-three years after Daly, in a North Korean winter on a snowy ridgeline, the senior NCOs of Dog Company, a couple of blue-collar Marine lifers, hard men from the South Pacific and up through the ranks, one hard-earned noncommissioned stripe after another, who tutored me about war, not off their college diplomas but out of their own vast experience of service and combat, and incidentally about life, women, and other fascinating matters. These were the professionals; I was the amateur learning from them, not in any classroom but in a quite deadly field.

Stoneking, the platoon sergeant, was a big, rawboned Oklahoman maybe twenty-eight or twenty-nine, who drove a bootlegger’s truck back home and was married to an attractive brunette WAVE who sent him erotic photos of herself. He had been a Marine eight or nine years, had fought the Japanese, and was in the bad Korea fighting. The men knew that if it came to that, he would (against the rules) strip his blouse and fight another enlisted man who was giving him angst. Stoneking was a cold, distant man with little regard for me or for most people (I don’t believe he really gave a shit about anyone), although for forty-six consecutive nights that winter he and I slept head to toe in our sleeping bags in a stinking, six-by-eight-foot bunker with a log-and-sandbagged roof so low it had to be crawled into and out of. That miserable hole was where we lived like animals and where from Stoneking I began to learn what it was to be and to lead Marines. Once when I’d been in a shooting and crawled back late that night into our bunker to tell about it, Stoneking wasn’t much impressed. “So you got yourself into a firefight,” he remarked, and rolled against the dirt wall to get back to sleep. “Yeah,” I said deflated, and got into my own sleeping bag. A pivotal event in my young life meant nothing to a hard case like Stoney.

The right guide, our platoon’s ranking number three, was the more affable Sergeant Wooten.

We weren’t supposed to keep diaries (in case we were captured or the damned things were found on our bodies) but I wanted one day to work on newspapers and write about people and things, so, to keep a record and get around the diary rule, I wrote long letters home to family and girlfriends for them to save. The mail back then wasn’t censored. Wooten might occasionally have composed a postcard, and little more, but he enjoyed watching me scribble away, marveled at my industry. “You are a cack-ter, suh.” Cack-ter being his pronunciation of “character,” in Wooten’s mind a compliment. He was leagues less surly than Stoney, so I occasionally lured him into deep, Socratic conversation.

“It ain’t much of a war, Lieutenant,” Wooten would concede, having listened to me blather on, and then patiently explaining his own philosophy to a young replacement officer, “but it’s the only war we got.” He had other, maturely and placidly thought out commentaries on life and the fates, remarking with sly, rural witticisms on the nightly firefights and their bloody casualty rolls, “Sometimes you eat the bear / sometimes the bear eats you.” Or declaring as an unexpected salvo of enemy shells slammed into the ridgeline, scattering the men in dusty, ear-splitting, and too-often lethal chaos, sending us diving into holes amid incongruous laughter, “There ain’t been such excitement since the pigs ate my little brother.”

You rarely heard a line like that back in Brooklyn.

I ended up loving these men, as chill, as caustic, or as odd as they may first have seemed when I got to the war, an innocent who had never heard the bullets sing, had never fought, who yet, by the fluke of education and rank, was now anointed the commanding officer of hardened veterans of such eminence and stature. Maybe I could better explain about such men and why Marines fight and generally fight so well if only I were able to tell you fully and precisely about combat as my old-timers knew it, and how it really was. And how I would have to learn it.

It’s difficult unless you’ve been there.

War is a strange country, violent and often beautiful at the same time, with its own folklore and recorded history, its heroes and villains. It is as well a profession, strange and sad, poorly paid but highly specialized. Cruel, too. War is very cruel. And surprising, in that it can be incredibly thrilling and rewarding, though not for everyone. There is a sort of complicated ritual to it, a freemasonry, a violent priesthood. Only fighting men are qualified to exchange the secret fraternal handshake, the mythic nod and wink of understanding.

Not all men are meant to fight in wars and fewer still do it well. Others, revolted by its horrors, its sorrows and pity, yet hold dear its memories, the camaraderie, its occasional joys. I have even heard men admit, without shame and rather proudly, “I love this shit,” speaking candidly about war and their strange passion for it. There are such Marines, plenty of them, men hooked on combat. They love it the way men love a woman in a relationship they suspect will end badly. Others are honest enough to admit they hate and fear it but go anyway. Their reasons may be strangely inspiring, or murky, puzzling.

A few Marines can’t or won’t go to the battle, and they don’t last long, not in the infantry, not in the line outfits. They are transferred out to someplace less. They may still be fine men but they are no longer Marines.

I never knew better, truer men than in the rifle company ranks in which I served, bold and resourceful Americans, beautiful men in a violent life. What each of them was and did later at home and at peace, having let slip the leash of discipline, I can’t always say. But in combat such men, even the rogues and rare scoundrels, were magnificent, hard men living in risky places. In this book, I write about some of them. Forget my commentary; hear the Marines, listen to their voices.

The third platoon’s right guide, Sergeant Wooten, that salty career man, was a crafty rifleman who knew a little about demolitions. He once volunteered in North Korea to blow a Fox Company Marine’s body out of the ice of a frozen mountain stream; using too heavy a charge, he got the guy out, but in two pieces. When he came back to us at Dog Company he looked terrible, like a man after an all-night drunk. “You okay, Wooten?” “No, sir, I ain’t. After I got that boy out that way, I threw up on the spot.” A three-striper who had fought the damned Japanese for three years, all across the Pacific, Wooten took a drink. He’d been up and down the noncommissioned ranks, as high as gunnery sergeant and then broken back to buck sergeant, a lean, leathery, drawling rustic maybe fifteen years older than I was and lots wiser. Sometimes Wooten lost patience with those who were critical of the Korean War we were then fighting. He was pretty much enjoying himself and thought those people ought to shut the hell up and cut the bitching. As, giving me that flat-mouthed grin of his, Wooten declared with professional regret: “It’s the only war we got.”

Excerpted from “Why Marines Fight” by James Brady © 2007 James Brady. All rights reserved. Excerpted with permission of St. Martin's Press.

Nov 14, 2007

Observations from Ramadi

So Much Has Changed…
Observations from Ramadi

By Douglas Halaspaska, Special Correspondent

This was my first assignment to Iraq, and I had expected it to be both rough and dangerous. My editor had embedded in Ramadi during 2006 and 2007, and shared his improvised explosive device (IED) experience and some other stories with me before I departed, so I had strong concerns about embedding with the Marines. While I’m pleased to say that the living conditions of the Marines at the joint security stations are still rough – Marines wouldn’t have it any other way – the dangers related to being in Ramadi have virtually disappeared..

“As though waking from a nightmare and not being sure if the dream was real or not”, was the example a Marine used in describing the differences between being deployed to Ramadi during 2005 versus what he sees here every day. As a first-time observer, I look at the thriving and friendly Ramadi streets, and frankly cannot comprehend what these Marines experienced one and two years ago.

Today many of the Marines tell me that they would prefer to patrol without body armor and helmets, since they no longer feel endangered. They have requested to their chain of command that they be allowed to drop this gear, but have been told not quite yet.

Again and again the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 7th Marines (3/7) would point out significant changes that they believe best demonstrated the Ramadi resurrection.

I asked Cpl Brett Prochaska, a member of a 10 man Marine Augmentation Team (A-team) assigned to Iraqi Police Station of Thaylat, about his present duties as an A-team member. As the intelligence section leader of his A-team, Prochaska lives with 100 plus Iraqi Police for 24 hours a day – 7 days a week and has done so for 7 months.

Prochaska was an infantryman in Ramadi during the worst of the fighting in 2005, so I asked him about his relationship with the Iraqis before becoming an Augmentation team member. What I heard surprised me, “My roommate was killed during that first deployment to Ramadi – I hated all Arabs, not just Iraqis.” “What are your feelings now after living with the Iraq police,” I asked. “They are my friends and I will miss them,” was Prochaska’s final comment on the topic.

Another experience was during a patrol through the Ramadi market when I was motioned to an Iraqi store by 1st Lt Mauro Mujica. “At the beginning of the deployment that store keeper would not sell to Marines,” stated Mujica. Minutes before his comment, I watched Cpl Alexander King walk into the same store and buy a pack of cigarettes. “What was his reason for refusing to sell to Marines?” I asked. “He lost a family member during the war and blamed the Marines,” said the Lt. But now he either forgave the Marines or simply felt it bad business to turn away steady customers, and I purchased a can of soda from the shopkeeper before pushing on with the patrol.

Later the same day came an event that demonstrated how the differences between the Ramadi citizens and Marines have come to an end.

As I was sitting atop a sand bag wall interviewing a sergeant, a Marine 1st Lieutenant approached me. He explained that he was going to confront an Iraqi Policeman (who we’ll call Mohammad to protect his true identity) who was suspected of being involved in the insurgency during 2005. The situation was all the more extraordinary since Mohammad and the lieutenant are friends. As the Lt. casually mentioned that I would be able to ask some questions, I jumped off the wall, quickly gathered my gear, and wondered about what I would be witnessing.

Sitting in a small room lined with cots and gear, the lieutenant talked to Mohammed through an Iraqi interpreter. “We know you were an insurgent during the fighting – you’re in no trouble – I just want you to tell me the truth.” Mohammad was now visibly shaking and appeared nervous before he quietly answered “yes.” “Did you ever fire on any Marines,” was the lieutenant’s first question. Mohammad was clearly concerned and replied with a long answer, but ultimately ended with a simple yes. “I was in Ramadi during the same time, so you could have possibly been shooting at me,” stated the lieutenant. “It’s okay Mohammad - if you were shooting at me then I was firing back at you,” joked the lieutenant. The rest of the session involved the lieutenant and Mohammad exchanging promises to never fight again, and to work together to protect the city of Ramadi. Furthermore, pledges were exchanged that this new understanding, between friends, would not affect their friendship.

It was beyond heartwarming to see these two former advisories – one a Marine, and the other an Iraqi Policeman – now working together as friends and comrades for a common cause. I came to Ramadi expecting a war and what I found was a city that has grown from the carnage, and all its inhabitants – both Iraqi and American – healing.

I was not expecting what I found in was better then all of that.

Nov 13, 2007

The Next Few Months...

An Army Brigade, part of The Surge, is being withdrawn from Iraq in the next few weeks. The Advance Party is in the United States, and the Cav BCT is withdrawing from Diyala – they did their job well: driving the insurgents (or Iranians, or whomever) and various bad guys out of the Province, they gave the local Iraqis the time and the courage to do the rest themselves.

And as a result of this co-operation is that the Iraqis run their villages, towns, and cities with an increasing confidence and professionalism – and the Americans can begin to come home.

As I’ve written in the past two-plus months, this scene is being increasingly repeated throughout the country. It’s substantially quieter and peaceful in the “southern belts” below Baghdad, as well as in the Wasit area to the east, on the Iranian border. And with the Marines winning in Anbar, that sums up most of the country.

Some hotspots remain, but are hotspots primarily due to Shia vs. Shia rivalry. Basra’s a problem, as is much Baghdad, but that’s the problem of Maleki and his government. Marines and Soldiers will continue to be killed, but now it’s sporadic, as opposed to the street fights of a year ago.

In short, “The Surge” worked; we FINALLY had the necessary troop strength on the ground, and the Iraqis FINALLY stood up and did their share.
So what’s next - where will I be ?

Afghanistan – Pakistan – Horn of Africa

In the past few weeks I’ve written more on Pakistan; you can expect more of that. You’ll see far more news from Afghanistan, because as Pakistan continues to implode, the Taliban will continue to increase their efforts to destabilize Afghanistan.
Somalia and that whole ugly part of the world is heating up again, and as problems in Somalia create refugees, instability, and retaliation, I’ll be writing on HOA as appropriate.

And who knows what might happen with Iran?

We’ll continue to cover Iraq; no one’s going to forget our Marines and Soldiers, at least as long as I’m writing The Military Observer

But that’s the direction we’ll be taking in the upcoming months – let me know what you think, and if you have any ideas, suggestions, or comments – sing out!

Nov 12, 2007

In Every Clime and Place...

In Every Clime & Place…

U.S. Marine Corps Birthday in Iraq celebrants at Tallil include US Army Corps of Engineers personnel
Submitted By John Connor
Gulf Region South district

TALLIL, Iraq – On this spacious military base in southern Iraq, amid thousands of U.S. Army and Air Force personnel and Australian and Romanian troops, a band of 20 men gathered on Nov. 10 to celebrate the 232nd Birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

The traditional ceremony included a reading of the Commandant’s Birthday Message and a cake cutting involving the oldest and youngest Marines present. The youngest, Benjamin Young, later spoke briefly but movingly of a comrade wounded in Iraq. Young, like most of those in attendance, currently wears the uniform of the U.S. Army. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine.

Marine Corps Commandant James Conway’s message was read in its entirety by an organizer of the event, Paul O’Friel, a Lt. Col. in the Marine Corps Reserve. “On our 232nd Birthday, to every Marine—those still in uniform and those who have served honorably in the past—be proud of what you are and what you do,” Gen. Conway said in part. “Know your citizenship dues have been paid in full...."

Those attending the Tallil ceremony listened attentively as O’Friel read Gen. Conway’s words, including the general's remembrance of the wheat fields of Belleau Wood, the snows of the Chosin, the streets of Hue. They later stood at attention for the Marine Corps Hymn and then Taps, in honor of fallen comrades.

Several of those present wore civilian clothes. Among them were O’Friel, a State Department Foreign Service Officer who heads the Muthanna Province Reconstruction Team, and Jeff Stanton, a governance specialist on the Muthanna team, as well as Clayton Waller and John Connor (the oldest present), both civilian employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Most wore the uniform of the U.S. Army; men who for one reason or another switched branches but were proud to have once worn the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps and were proud to join in celebrating another Corps birthday. (No active duty Marines were present because there are not any serving here, although one Soldier received a special dispensation from his Sgt. Major to don Marine garb for the occasion. And yes, a Soldier of long military service was heard to say, ‘I never should have left the Corps”).

One distinguished American, the late Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., was a big-time military branch switcher. He served as a young man in three branches of the U.S. Armed Forces—in order of service, in the Navy, the Army, and the Marine Corps.

Mansfield returned to Montana after the Marines, got married, caught up on his schooling, went into politics, and eventually became the leader of the U.S. Senate. After the Senate, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. His grave marker in Arlington Cemetery bears the simple inscription, “Michael J. Mansfield, PFC., U.S. Marine Corps.”

Nov 9, 2007

232 Years and Counting...

10 November. Today is the 232nd birthday of the Marine Corps. It’s the day when Marines throughout the world – both active service and former – will be attending celebrations and galas. Young Marines in their first set dress blues, accompanied by their equally young girl friends stuffed in their old high school prom dresses, will proudly rub elbows with the Captains, Majors, and other senior officers under whom they serve.

In many cases, being a Marine is a family tradition. There are many Birthday Balls where sons, fathers, uncles, and cousins attend en-masse – a family fire-team, or Arty Battery, if you like, and they’ll tell you, if asked, that becoming a Marine was one way of following in Dad’s footsteps. In many cases, becoming a Marine was something they’d wanted to be since they were little boys.

It’s hard to know what came first; the mystique of being a Marine, or the history and traditions that built the mystique; regardless, these Marines grabbed the concept and never let it go. Maybe they liked the way Dad carried himself, or maybe the stories of Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir, or Hue City appealed to them down deep. But being a Marine was part of their essential nature; part of their essential reason for being.

There are some careers that come with their own lasting dignity: hard jobs, like steel worker, policeman – or Marine. Jobs where by the end of the day I-Beams have been produced, drug dealers arrested, or Iraqi cities are cleared of insurgents. Jobs where sweat – effort – blood is equally important to education.

It’s an unusual thing about these jobs; those who have them look at life in moral, instead of economic terms. These men tend to ignore income levels, job titles, and frequent flyer miles earned, and instead tend to rank other men in terms of who can provide for their families, or who has the courage to dash under fire out into the street to drag back a wounded buddy. You can spot them by the look in their eyes and the way that they carry themselves.

Somehow trading bonds, lobbying for a tax break, or being a lawyer just doesn’t have the same moral clarity of these jobs, which is why Marines can stand straighter and look you in the eye with far more confidence than someone from Wall Street or Washington DC.

When people around the world view America, they understand the moral certainty of hard work equaling success; that’s their definition of ‘The American Way.” It’s not just the opportunity to make money, its’ the ability to earn a living by hard work and determination - and to be a part of something larger than themselves - that that brings them here.

And that’s what brings us back to today; the 232nd Birthday of the Marine Corps, where being part of something larger than themselves, where hard work, sweat, brotherhood, and sacrifice are part of every day, and where terms like “Honor – Courage – Commitment” remain the way of life for “The Few – The Proud : The Marines.”

Semper Fi.

Nov 6, 2007

Sitrep Improves south of Baghdad

Crime in Mada’in Qada Drops, Matches Iraq Trend
From Maj. Joe Sowers, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Officers in the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division completed an analysis Nov. 2 of local crime statistics in the Mada’in Qada, an area southeast of Baghdad, following a recent decrease in violent crimes.

This study matches a trend across Iraq reported by the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Capt. Colin Donlin, from Jonesboro, Ga., a staff officer with the 3rd HBCT, conducted the study. He analyzed crime statistics reported by the six Iraqi police stations in the Mada’in Qada. The Mada’in Qada is a portion of the Baghdad province and is home to almost 900,000 Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia.

“Our studies have shown a distinct decrease in violent crime since the introduction of the Hammer Brigade into the Mada’in Qada,” Donlin said. “We are optimistic this trend will continue with the increased capability of the Iraqi Security Forces and Concerned Local Citizens. These statistics are a great measure of effectiveness of our goal to secure the population of the qada.”

One of the most striking declines was reported homicides. Iraqi police from the qada reported eight murders in October. This marks a sharp decline from the monthly average of more than 21 murders. The study did illuminate spikes of homicides in May and September, numbering 37 and 29 respectively.

Estimating that homicides will occur at the same monthly rate for the remainder of the calendar year, the 3rd HBCT expects to see the qada’s total reported homicides for the year at approximately 245. This would be less than half of the 2006 total of 631.

Murders increased dramatically during 2006 following the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra, yet estimated totals for 2007 are still lower than the 2005 total of 355 reported homicides.

Capt. Elizabeth Cain, from Wynnewood, Pa., commander, 59th Military Police Company, Fort Carson, Colo., attributes the decline to the improved performance of the Iraqi police.

“Now the Iraqi police are better trained, better equipped, and now have leadership that is knowledgeable, as well as confident,” Cain said. “This results in more IPs doing their job and doing it well.”

Cain’s company assists in the development of the local police forces of the qada. Currently, more than 900 Iraqi police patrol the qada and man its six police stations.

“The police now have a better understanding of investigative techniques and how to put a case together with proper evidence collection,” Cain said. “The IPs understand how to maintain the integrity of a crime scene and build a case. More people now get convicted and go to jail, therefore dispelling a climate of lawlessness. Your average person doesn’t commit a crime if they don’t believe they’re going to get away with it.”

The study also showed a slight decrease in the number of reported kidnappings in the qada. There were 13 reported kidnappings in October, slightly below the monthly average of 13.6.

“Due to numerous factors – the surge, the development of 1,500 concerned citizens, the Sadr ceasefire and gradual improvements made by the Iraqi police – murders continue to decline here in the Mada’in,” said Maj. Dave Fivecoat, from Delaware, Ohio, 3rd HBCT operations officer. “Over the coming months, we’ll continue to work with the IPs and concerned citizens to try and sustain this trend.”

The 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div., is from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

Nov 5, 2007

Ramadi: Success feeds Success

Five months ago Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) infiltrated the small village of Tash, located just south of Ramadi. The enemy fighters, 70 heavily armed men were killed or captured when a small US Army patrol stumbled onto the fighters and a vicious firefight broke out.

When the fight was over, known now as the battle of Donkey Island, the battlefield was littered with dead enemy bodies and foreign weapons. Aside from the size and ferocity of the attack there was a curious observation I noted from a military brief received prior to embedding. The hand grenades used by the fighters were homemade - fashioned from plastic bottles filled with explosives and nails.

Why would an AQI infiltration force choose to use homemade hand grenades in a country awash with weapons?

During the last four years the insurgents and AQI have hidden or buried weapon caches across the country. But since the Sunni’s joined forces with the Marines in forcing AQI out of Anbar, AQI weapons caches are regularly uncovered and destroyed. A correlation can be made from the decrease of such weapon caches and the use of homemade hand grenades by AQI at Donkey Island.

These successes are directly related to the investigative efforts of the local Iraqi Police. On November 1st Iraqi Police uncovered a large weapons cache located six kilometers south of Ramadi at an agricultural region as Hamayrah. The weapons find was the direct result of a ten-day investigation that was guided by Lt Col Rafaa Hamid Sharki who is the Intelligence Officer of the Northern Iraqi Police Precinct. Sharki is called “Doc Hollywood” by the Marines for his cool demeanor and his preference for wearing dark suits in place of his police uniform.

As I inspected the weapons seized in the Nov. 1st raid, I was appalled at both the volume of arms, as well as their pristine condition. The first thing I noticed was that some of the weapons, primarily the missiles and rockets, had either English or Russian writing. Marine Sergeant January Adams said that the two TOW’s were in perfect working condition. Going so far as to point out the intact forward handling rings, working electrical caps components, and “good to go” humidity indicators – despite being buried. Turing toward four other guided missiles I asked another Marine if they would function – the missiles were stamped in white lettering that read “MILAN”. “Not sure sir, but I know they [AQI] could find a way.” Worse – no one could answer how AQI could gain access to 2 working TOW’s.

Then I stepped over a pile of rockets to get a better look at a collection of cell phones, wires, and car radios. Cpl Joseph Wiseman walked up and volunteered “This is the worst stuff”. He pointed to a set of wires next to my feet as he picked one up. “This is the trigger,” he said, which was a simple thumb depress button at one end of the thick wire. “This is the oh-shit switch, which is used as a safety by the bomber,” commented Wiseman as he fingered the trigger. I was surprised to hear that the insurgents used safety devises when planting improvised explosive devises (IED). Later I learned that patrols from last years deployment would hear random explosions, and would afterward find body parts at the explosion sites. AQI learns from their errors as much as the Marines and Army.

Several more IED safety devises were shown to me – one was even made from a washing machine timer. After setting the trigger on the ground, Wiseman told me that the same trigger devices are used by suicide bombers.

When talking with LCPL Nicholson Weston, who works with the intelligence section of Lima Company 3/7. I asked him if this was the largest weapons cache found this year, “I’m not sure if it was the largest this year but it’s the largest since I arrived in Iraq”. Weston has been in Iraq for seven months.

Walking around the weapon display before departing I noticed a black mask for the first time. Kicking at it I wondered if indeed there are fewer weapons in Iraq for AQI. Not sure of the answer to my question I was however pleased to see the EOD personnel loading the weapons onto a 7-ton truck. “What are you going to do with this stuff”, I asked. “Going to blow it sir”, replied someone from the dark – at that time the sun had already set. I thought that was a perfect close to the day – hoping I would be around to see the fireworks.

Iran and the United States

The Iranian problem is far worse than their trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Not that a “Persian Bomb” is a good thing, but legitimate sources say that they are 3-5-6 years away – assuming the Israeli’s don’t launch a pre-emptive strike like they did against the Iraqi reactor at Osirak.. The real danger is the continued Iranian de-stabilization of Iraq, and their de-facto control of the southern oilfields, the pipelines, and Iraq’s only seaport- Basra.

This would give them control of 80 % of Iraq’s oil exports, which would certainly roil the economies of the free world.

An Iraq with an Iranian-friendly, Shia south would give Tehran the geopolitical and economic leverage which would make them a regional and international power-broker, giving them the respect they crave.

To do this, they need to continue to weaken the Maleki Government, which is complicit in this goal. On 20 Sept, US Army forces captured an Iranian Quds Force leader, who was posing as a businessman. Entering under a false name, Col Donald Bacon (Strategic Communications – MNFI ) today told ON POINT that “the Quds commander has 10 years experience in Iranian Intelligence – on their Iraq Desk”. He later added “we are finding more and more Iranian heavy ammunition, in addition to the lethal EFP’s. Their 120 and 240mm mortar rounds are also used for IED’s, and are just deadly.”

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maleki’s reaction to the arrest was one of outrage, and when in New York ten days ago said that the Iranian was “a legitimate businessman who had been invited, and should be immediately released.”

Too often in the last few months American troops are rolling up Iranians posing as businessmen, and the Maleki government tries to get them released.

The American general staff is aware of these issues, and tries to work around them. When asked yesterday at the National Press Club about the threat of Iran -- money, training, EFP technology, General Ray Odierno answered:

“I would say I'm focused inside of Iraq. I think anything outside of Iraq is a very sophisticated question that goes on several different levels, and I think I'll leave that to the policymakers.

But inside of Iraq, there's several things we're doing. First, it's about, again, having the people of Iraq reject Iranian -- what I call malignant Iranian influence. And the reason I say that is because there's going to be influence of Iran. They're the neighbors of Iraq. There's always going to be influence. There's going to be commerce. There's going to be other things. So it's not eliminating Iranian influence completely, but it's the malignant Iranian influence and having them reject that and start to assist us to get inside of these networks.

Also, to put a little bit more pressure in improving the borders -- the border, the ports of entry, along the Iranian border -- and improve the capabilities of Iraqis -- and we've increased our oversight in these areas.

But the bottom line is, the extremist militias that I still see that are supported by Iran, I still see conducting EFP attacks, shooting 240-millimeter mortars at coalition forces, trying to move Sunnis out of certain neighborhoods in Baghdad and outside of Baghdad."

Gen Odierno is correct in his assessment; Iranian activities and actions are posing some very sophisticated challenges. But perhaps there is a middle way; instead of bombing the scattered and highly reinforced underground nuclear sites, the plan to hit Iran should not be about nuclear proliferation.

What America needs to do is to reduce Iran’s support of the extremist Shia militias who are killing Americans every day with sophisticated improvised explosive devices, as well as focus Iran’s attention to the fact that America will strike them, and can up the ante to strike again as necessary.

Iran is responsible for many of our casualties. IEDs cause the majority of killed and wounded, and our armored vehicles remain vulnerable to the EFP’s (explosively-formed penetrators) that are manufactured in Iran. Their 240mm mortar rounds cause horrendous casualties amongst our military and Iraqi civilians. As Col Jack Jacobs (USA, ret) said last evening “if there is to be any strike against targets in Iran, it will be against the facilities that manufacture these.”

Ahmadinejad has far less power than the West understands, it is understood that he is widely disliked beyond his band of religious zealots; a focused, directed attack on the EFP factories, the munitions factories, and Quds headquarters would send a “hands-off” message to the ruling Mullahs, as well as message to the Iranian people at large that our quarrel is not with them, but with certain levels of their government.

Will such a limited strike like this help reduce Iranian influence in Iraq? It should – but if nothing is done, the probability is that our limited troop strength cannot keep the Iranians from gaining influence and power - at the expense of a stable Iraq. And when that happens? Get ready to buy your gas at $ 6.00 / gal.

Note : Here is the link the the Iranian arms manufacturer and exporter who ships arms and munitions into Iraq:

Nov 4, 2007

Ramadi: Success feeds Success

Last October I was embedded in Ramadi with 1st Battalion 6th Marines as they kicked in doors, fought insurgents, and began to clear the city block by block. It cost the lives of a lot of good Marines, most under age 25, but their efforts and sacrifice convinced a few local citizens that the Marines understood the difference between “Iraqi’s” and “Al-Quada” – and so the charismatic Sheik Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sons of Anbar, and began co-operating with LtCol William Jurney’s young Marines.

What a difference a year makes.

From 200 local citizens joining the Iraqi Police forces in 2006, there are now in excess of 8,000 trained Police in Ramadi today. There is more electricity in Ramadi than any other city in the country, normally including Baghdad. Schools have re-opened throughout the city; the two grade schools once guarded by Alpha Co. 1/6 today have 2,000+ students studying daily. They ran a 5K race through the center of the city in September, as a way of announcing to the world that “Ramadi has survived.” Essential services such as sewers are being repaired, and water treatment and sewage plant was rebuilt also – much to the relief of the local citizens.

It is important to note that much of the success here was achieved at the cost of Ramadi blood and treasure also. The 5K race run triumphantly through the city was named after Captain Ali; an Iraqi policeman who was killed last November stopping a suicide bomber headed for a Police outpost. When the insurgents attacked the townspeople at his funeral the next day, they rose up and drove the insurgents off, and from that day onward, the people of Ramadi joined the Iraqi Police’s by the thousands. The attack at Capt Ali's funeral is routinely cited today as one of the tipping points that turned public opinion against the insurgents

Sheik Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sons of Anbar after his father and three brothers were brutally killed by Al-Qaida –Iraq. An intelligent and compelling man, Sheik Sattar was sickened by the violence against his family and tribe, and by force of will and the 1/6 Marines, convinced his fellow tribal leaders to stand and fight against AQI. Success begat success, and by Feb-March-April, the Iraqi Police, Ramadi citizens, and the Marines were driving AQI from the city and surrounding areas.

But success comes at a price, and in September Sheik Sattar was assassinated in his front yard. Yet the city did not fall apart, and according to Col John Charlton, the current American commander in Ramadi, the people declared Sattar to be a martyr, and worked even harder to complete his vision of peace in Ramadi and friendly co-operation with the Americans.

On October 23, the end of the 40 mourning period for Sheik Sattar, the city sponsored a parade in his honor.

Lead by a troop of Ramadi Boy Scouts, and followed by a new unit of Ramadi Girl Scouts, approximately 2,000 Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army marched through the streets of Ramadi in the Al Anbar Unity Parade which was held in honor of Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha. More that 300 sheikhs and dignitaries attended the parade which was planned and executed by provincial and tribal leadership. The event was covered on Iraqi television, and in the Iraqi news, as some twenty Arab media attended to cover the event.

The western mainstream media, unfortunately, missed covering it, as well as the significance that in no other city in Iraq can such a parade be safely held. And while an AP article of 28 October mentioned disapprovingly that 135 Army and Marines have died in Anbar Province this year, a interesting comparison is that these 135 deaths are less than half the 2007 murder rate in Philadelphia – it’s measurably safer to live in Ramadi than Philadelphia today.

While Al-Qaida has been driven from the city, it has not been driven from Anbar Province, nor from Iraq. But in Ramadi – which the Marines thought in August 2006 was fully under control of the insurgents, is THE example of Iraqi-American co-operation.

There is an economic boom taking place: there are rebuilding projects; the porcelain factory is being re-opening next month, shops are re-opening, and better-quality food and goods are for sale in the markets - and salaries have risen 20 % in the last six months. For as Mayor Latif Obaid said to me in April when I attended his 3rd Economic Development Conference,” Ramadi is open for business – come visit us!”

AFRICOM : America discovers Africa

October 2007 marked the birth of America's newest initiative for global peace and security, as the Pentagon announced that "Africom", was up and working.

Until this year, American affairs in Africa were primarily handled out of Europe, with some specific countries assigned to Pacom and Centcom. Since 9/11, however, with the spreading of Al-Quada and Muslim Fundamentalism from Somalia to Morocco to Kenya, as well the Darfur genocide, HIV epidemic, and the usual problems posed by abject poverty and endemic corruption, it was determined that Africa needed to given a special priority – hence U.S. Africa Command (known as Africom) was formed.

But unlike the other unified commands that focus on the military side, Africom focuses on other than war-fighting; its mission will be focused on building local economic and security on the continent. Even the structure is different; while it is still lead by a military officer, Gen William Ward, Africom has two deputy directors; one military, and the other a civilian. I talked with Ms. Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs about this new strategy, and how the situation in Africa as it pertains to the United States:

Q – How does Africom differ from Centcom and the other commands?
A – It’s much different. First; war-fighting is not the sole mission. its mission will be focused on building local economic and security capacity in Africa and building partnerships with Africa in order to enable African nations to try and address their security challenges themselves, so that we don't get into situations where security challenges in Africa go unaddressed until the point they become such a major crisis that the international community, including the United States, is forced to respond. So the focus is essentially on security capacity building, not on war fighting.

Q – So you’re de-emphasizing military action?
A – Yes and no. What we're changing is how we do business, not what we do. And it is true, in Africa our focus has been basically around three issues - we call them the legs of the stool -- but they are -- and they are interrelated. The first is civil control of the military and defense reform, which we see as sort of two sides of the same coin. The second is military professionalization, and the third is capacity building. And those three things are the things that DOD has been focused on in Africa for probably about the last 10 years. And those three things will continue to be DOD's focus in the context of capacity building and the mission of the command.

Q – This sounds like the DoD is still in control?
A – The State Department remains in the lead on foreign policy. The fact that DOD is establishing a unified command for Africa does not mean that DOD becomes the foreign policy leader; State stays in the lead. The ambassadors on the ground in Africa will continue to hold their position as the president's representative, and they have the supreme authority from a U.S. standpoint in terms of what the U.S. does or doesn't do vis-a-vis those countries. And DOD falls in line behind them and in support of them.

The other thing that doesn't change is that the Africans themselves remain in the lead in terms of determining how they want to structure their security relations with the United States and also how they want to structure their security relations internally to the continent -- whether it be on a continental basis through the A.U. or a regional basis through regional economic communities.

They still have the lead in all of that. The fact that the United States has decided to, again, establish or reorganize its unified command system to have a command focused on Africa does not mean that the United States is in charge. It just means that we're organized differently and hopefully more effectively to do business with the Africans.

Lastly, the other thing that doesn't change is we are not going to be building new bases or putting troops, operational forces, on the continent. We have no intention of doing that.

Q- Much is made of the African Union and “African peacekeeping;” would that apply to the Somalia problem as well?
A - Sure. The general idea is that the African countries want to be able to try and address the security problems that they face in their own backyards. And their challenge that they have had is just simply not necessarily having the wherewithal to do so. And I think you've seen with the establishment of the A.U. as a successful organization to the OAU and the A.U.'s plan of action in the area of security -- you've seen the desire that has been growing since the Economic Community of West African States made its first foray into multilateral security in Liberia. And this has become something that's important to the Africans, to be able to address these crises in their backyards so that they don't necessarily spread and become larger problems.

Q - Somalia seems more complicated than some of the training and airlift support that's that U.S. forces have provided to peacekeeping in Darfur; the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia had direct U.S. action in support of that, with Special Forces gunships and all. Will direct action be a part of AFRICOM, that despite this focus on new training and capacity-building?
A - Well, you’re absolutely right with regard to the complexity of Somalia. Somalia defies the imagination in terms of its complexity because of its political structure with the clans, subclans, and sub-subclan system that dominates their internal politics. It even has defied the African ability of helping the Somalis help themselves.

The solution in Somalia really isn't a military one, it's -- it is a political one. We did act kinetically. We struck a place against two terrorist targets because no on else was in a position to strike, and these individuals had been involved in the bombings of our embassy in Kenya and Tanzania, and also the subsequent action in Mombasa.

But that was completely separate from the problem of instability and lack of governance in Somalia. It was a symptom that these terrorists could find Somali groups and Somalis that were willing to harbor them that was all sort of part of the Somali political game. But it isn't directly causing the chaos in Somalia. The chaos in Somalia is because various Somali clans can't seem to agree on how they want to govern themselves.

Q - The poster child is Zimbabwe. What can AFRICOM do?
A - Well, actually, that's a case that’s not a problem that lends itself to a military solution. It is a political problem within Zimbabwe, and it is one that the Zimbabweans have to solve themselves, and maybe with a little help from their neighbors.

There's room for international diplomatic pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to change its behavior, although unfortunately they seem to have been immune to it. But that is one of those incredibly sad cases where there isn't really much anyone other than Zimbabweans can do about it. And it certainly is not a problem that falls into the military solution set.

Thank you Ms Whelen !!