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Army deploying MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to ROK


The Army is deploying the new MQ-1C Gray Eagle surveillance and attack drone to the Republic of Korea (ROK). They'll be permanently based at Kunsan AB, south of Seoul. She is an updated version of the Predator. She will be assigned to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), 2nd Infantry Division. I understand a company will deploy. I am not certain but I have seen reports the company will have three MQ-1Cs to start. An unnamed official told Yonhap News, “In case of a war on the Korean Peninsula, the unmanned aircraft could infiltrate into the skies of North Korea and make a precision strike on the war command and other major military facilities.” She can conduct surveillance and carry the Hellfire air-to-ground missile, and remain airborne for 24 hoursShe can also stream surveillance data to an Apache attack helicopter. (031317)

82nd Airborne alerted to go to Syria-Iraq


Voice of America (VOA), Carl Babb, reported on March 10, 2017 that a plan now before the White House to send 1,000 soldiers to Kuwait is awaiting approval. Babb said soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been alerted. The Army Times reported on March 9, 2017 that 2,500 troops form the 82nd Airborne are going to go to Kuwait and await further orders. Elements of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) will be among those deployed. The 82nd already has 1,700, spread between Kuwait and Iraq. I believe the 2,500 number is an additive. It appears the 82nd forces could be used in the assaults on Mosul and Raqqa.

The photo shows 2 BCT troops boarding an USAF C-17 on their way to Iraq in January 2015. There are also reports National Guardsmen may be sent in the future.

The Marine deployment to Syria that has already occurred involved 300 Marines according to Babb, and 100 soldiers from the 75th Rangers. The Rangers have been deployed in and around Manbij, Syria and are there to prevent further fighting. Captain Jeff Davis, USN, a Pentagon spokesman, said "Manbij is liberated, and there's no need for further fighting there." The concern has to do with Turkey wanting to take Manbij, which is a border town.

More US forces needed Afghanistan and Syria

General Joseph Votel, USA, commander CENTCOM, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9, 2017, that more US forces are needed in Afghanistan and Syria. Votel agreed with the assessment that Afghanistan was at a military deadlock ad more US troops are needed. General John Nicholson, USA, top US commander in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Service Committee on February 9, 2017 he needs more troops, but did not say how many more. Votel and Nicholson are working together to come up with their best advice for the SecDef. Votel also said he needs more conventional forces for Syria and they will have to stay longer. His argument centers on the expected defeat of ISIS and the question of what to do about Syria afterwards. He believes the troops cannot just leave, saying the Syrians will need help to keep a defeated ISIS at bay. This all begs the question about what our strategy is in the region, what are our goals?

My first reaction was, "Are we going down the path of establishing democracy again? I for one say we need to get out of both places, pronto. Our military does not spread democracy. Let the State Department spread democracy and get our troops outta there! But instead, the brass wants to stay and build up forces"

However, I have read more comments coming out from General Votel, and he says he believes Iran is the number one threat in the region, asserting, "We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region ... It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world .. "malign influence across Iraq and Syria," including efforts to prop up the Syrian regime and exploit Shia population centers

His point is clear and well taken. I think what we the people then need is a clear statement of mission for our growing forces in Syria. I understand ISIS first. But then the generals and suits must deal with post-ISIS and I guess Votel is saying that's Iran. Okay, so it's Iran. Is Iran the mission? What missions are we looking at against Iran. That's what we need to know before committing more sons and daughters to more war in that region. (031017)

Marines and Army Rangers deploy to Syria


Marines from the 11th US Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) have deployed to and arrived in Syria. The Washington Post has reported they will establish an outpost near Raqqa and employ artillery to support friendly Syrian forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition (I suspect Kurds are in the mix as well) as they attack Raqqa. The Marines brought M777 Howitzers capable of firing 155mm shells. They departed San Diego by ship in October 2016. Colonel John Dorrian, USA, speaking for Operation Inherent Resolve, said artillery and US Army Rangers have arrived as well. Early reports indicate the 3/75th Rangers were the ones to deploy. The Pentagon said the force would be a Marine artillery unit and Army Ranger, making it sound like the Rangers might provide security for the Marine Artillery unit. However, I have early reports indicating the 3/75th Rangers are going to Manbij. If the Manbij deployment is true, the Ranger move is significant. There has been talk about the US and Russia joining up to block a Turkish force from seizing the border town of Manbij. The photo shows an armored convoy near Manbij, Syria which I believe will be tasked to keep the Turks away. This is an escalation. These are conventional forces. I do not yet know how many, but I have seen the numbers reported in terms of hundreds; Col. Dorrian said about 400 total. General Jack Keene, USA (Ret.) said on Fox News this morning that the SecDef Mattis' plan to defeat ISIS asks for as little as a few thousand more US troops all the way up to 12,000 more. He also said the US would likely bring heavy artillery and Apache attack helicopters. There is also talk about the US and Russia going forces to block a Turkish force from seizing the border town of Manbij. The photo shows an armored convoy near Manbij, Syria which I believe will be tasked to keep the Turks away. All together this is going to get the US more deeply involved and into an increasingly complicated factional war, arguably a regional war. I recommend you read "Middle East Perspectives" by Rick Francona, an expert in military issues affecting Syria and the Middle East region. (030917)

Talk of more US troops in Syria builds


Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly reported for The Washington Post on March 4, 2017 "A Pentagon plan for the coming assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria, calls for significant U.S. military participation, including increased Special Operations forces, attack helicopters and artillery, and arms supplies … Officials involved in the planning have proposed lifting a cap on the size of the U.S. military contingent in Syria, currently numbering about 500 Special Operations trainers and advisers to the combined Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. While the Americans would not be directly involved in ground combat, the proposal would allow them to work closer to the front line and would delegate more decision-making authority down the military line from Washington." Recall on February 23, 2017 I reported General Joseph Votel, USA, commander US Central Command (CENTCOM) told reporters that more US troops may have to be sent to Syria to fight ISIS. He said, "I am very concerned about maintaining momentum … It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves. That’s an option … We want to bring the right capabilities forward. Not all of those are necessarily resident in the Special Operations community. If we need additional artillery or things like that, I want to be able to bring those forward to augment our operations.” My experience having done a lot of research on military planning is that the troops and equipment slated to go have already been alerted and are prepared to head on over at the crack of the bat. (030517)

International Waters are International, South China Sea included


Rear Admiral James Kilby, commander Carrier Strike Group 1, told journalists aboard the USS Carl Vinson on March 3, 2017, while sailing through the South China Sea, "We will be here. We're going to continue to demonstrate that international waters are waters where everyone can sail, where everyone can conduct commerce and merchant traffic." The admiral hosted Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II along with three Philippine security officials on the Vinson on March 3. There has as yet been no reaction from China, which claims most of the South China Sea to be in her territorial waters. The Vinson has been conducting F/A-18 flight operations in the region. (030417)

US may expand military capabilities in Somalia

SecDef has reportedly approved a plan to expand the US military's capabilities to fight against al-Shabab in Somalia. Somalia has been a failed state for over two decades. General Thomas Waldhauser, USA, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) told AP, "(Somalia is) our most perplexing challenge … (The US is) trying to take a look at Somalia from a fresh perspective in the way ahead." Apparently the US rotates special operations forces, about 50, in and out and conducts air attacks against al-Shabab. This new plan could result in more US forces being applied on the ground. Somali security forces cannot handle the job. (022617)

US setting up trip wire in Europe again — 2nd Cav to eastern Poland


During the Cold War, the US had significant military resources in Europe to defend against a Soviet attack, but had the Soviets come across the Fulda Gap en masse, the US force would not have been able to thwart their invasion. Placing US forces close to the areas near the border was meat to be a trip-wire. That is, if you come across, you will engage US forces right away, and even if they cannot thwart your attack, your crossing will cause the US to come at you with full force including nuclear weapons. The same thinking applied to the Korean DMZ. Well now the US Army is going to move a battalion sized group, about 1,000 soldiers, to eastern Poland about 100 miles from Russia. It will stay for about six months staring in March 2017, and probably be replaced in kind. Lt. General Ben Hodges, commander US Army Europe, said, "When the U.S. is serious about something, we put money on it and people on it. We need to transition from assurance to deterrence. A big part of this is our enhanced forward presence to Poland.” So the force is meant to be a deterrent, to wit a trip-wire. Those are not enough to stop a Russian invasion. But if Russia were to come across, the force would defend Poland to the last drop of blood and the US would have to retaliate with massive force, including nuclear weapons. Romania will contribute some forces, and the entire force will integrate with the Polish 15th Mechanized Brigade. Hodges said, "Ideally this will deter our enemies by adjusting their planning. They will see that NATO would be too costly to attack." (022417)

US military in sad shape — Generals speaking out

House Armed Services Committee chairman Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has reported on what the chiefs of staff of the military services have testified about the state of health of their service. Thornberry said that the chiefs have been saying they could handle the intense operations tempo, until now. The following is a brief summation of what they are now saying:

Army: Only one third of the brigade combat teams (BCT) and a quarter of aviation brigades are combat ready. Only three of 58 BCTs could go to battle tonight.

Navy: The Navy is the smallest it has been for 99 years. The Navy is now countering threats from North Korea, Iran and ISIS, and attempting to be prepared for Russia and China. Fifty-three percent of Navy aircraft cannot fly. Some air wings may have to shut down. The Navy has 275 ships compared to 319 on 9-11.

Air Force: The USAF is the smallest, oldest and least ready in its history. The average age of aircraft is 27 years, the USAF is short 155 pilots and 3,400 aircraft maintainers. In 1991, for the Persian Gulf War, the USAF had 500,000 active duty people and 135 fighter squadrons. It now has 317,000 people and 55 fighter squadrons. Modernization is being sacrifice.

Marines: The Marines are insufficiently manned, trained and equipped. Modernization is being sacrificed. Marine pilots are inadequately trained, needing 16-18 flight hours per month and getting 12-14. There is a $9 billion backlog in deferred maintenance.

Critics argue the services are now complaining so loudly because they believe they have a more friendly administration willing to spend more. My own view is the services have been complaining for some time, falling on deaf ears. (022317)

More US troops to Syria?

General Joseph Votel, USA, commander US Central Command (CENTCOM) told reporters on February 22, 2017, that more US troops may have to be sent to Syria to fight ISIS. He said, "I am very concerned about maintaining momentum … It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves. That’s an option … We want to bring the right capabilities forward. Not all of those are necessarily resident in the Special Operations community. If we need additional artillery or things like that, I want to be able to bring those forward to augment our operations.” The US now has about 500 special operations forces in Syria. Any added forces would likely come from conventional units. The US would like to equip Kurdish YPG forces, but Turkey has aggressively objected. If President Trump defers to Turkey on this, then Votel seemed to say even more US forces would have to be brought forward. The possibility exists that President Trump may adjust Obama strategy in this region. He might consider terminating support to anti-Assad Syrian fighters and focus mainly on employing the Kurds to fight against ISIS. (022317)

Carrier Strike Group begins operations in South China Sea


Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, including Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 1's Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, began routine operations in the South China Sea, on February 18, 2017. I do not know exactly where they will operate and whether there will be any issues regarding China's wide claim of her territorial waters. CVW-2 includes the "Black Knights" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 4, the "Blue Hawks" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 78, the "Bounty Hunters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, the "Blue Blasters" of VFA-34, the "Kestrels" of VFA-137, the "Golden Dragons" of VFA-192, the "Black Eagles" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 113, the "Gauntlets" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136 and the "Providers" of Fleet Logistic Support Squadron (VRC) 30. (021817)

Navy says F/A-18 barely fit to fly


Vice Admiral Bill Moran, vice chief of Naval Operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that two out of three Navy F/a-18 fighters built in St Louis are not flyable on any given day. He said, “The facts are that for our entire Hornet fleet, that’s the Hornets and Super Hornet fleet, we have 62 percent (that are not fit to fly) on a given day." The aircraft have been worked very hard since 9/11 fighting multiple defense challenges. He also said, “On (Sept. 11, 2001) we had 316 ships and over 400,000 sailors. Today, we have 275 ships and nearly 90,000 fewer sailors. And yet the world has become a lot busier place today.” (021817)
Aviation brigade arrives in Europe

The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade with about 2,000 soldiers, 50 Blackhawk helicopters and 10 Chinooks and support equipment arrived in Belgium, I believe on February 9, 2017. These are meant to add to the air power in eastern Europe. (020917)

Trump orders Pentagon to draft war plan against ISIS


President Trump signed an executive order on January 28, 2017 ordering the DoD to draft a plan to destroy ISIS, a war plan. DoD must submit its draft plan within 30 days.

Part of the executive order says this:

“It is the policy of the United States that ISIS be defeated … Within 30 days, a preliminary draft of the Plan to defeat ISIS shall be submitted to the President by the Secretary of Defense.”

It is hard to know at this point what the plan might include. There are many options available. Some I have seen mentioned by the media include the following:

  • Move more arms and heavier arms to the Kurdish militia in Syria
  • Increase the number of US Special forces in Syria. Employ them in combat roles
  • Raise troop ceilings for US forces in Iraq and Syria and send them
  • Revise the rules of engagement, mostly air-related, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere where ISIS might be operating. Be prepared to accept more civilian casualties.
  • Conduct combined Russian-US air operations against ISIS in Syria. Establish a combined command center for this purpose.
  • Conduct combined Turkey-US ground operations in Syria
  • Establish safe zones in Syria for refugees, and defend them
  • Capture and enable US forces to use Syrian bases and defend those bases
  • Continue efforts to capture or kill ISIS leaders-high value targets
  • Stop Iranian weapons shipments to Yemen
  • Destroy offensive Houthi weapons employed along Yemen coast
  • Assure Strait of Hormuz remains open
  • Reduce the requirements for presidential authority to conduct military operations( 0717)

B-21 "Raider" 5th generation bomber now in development


The USAF awarded a development contract for a 5th generation global precision attack platform designated the B-21 "Raider" to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. USAF hopes to buy 100 as a minimum, hopefully more. Initial Operating Capability (IOC) expected by 2030. Somehow I missed this endeavor, but felt I should take note of it today when I learned of it. The graphic shows an artist's view of the bomber, though it could end up looking different. Very few details are available about what its capabilities will be. (020417)

White House said to be to focusing on North Korea


The White House, probably the National Security Council, probably Lt. General Flynn, its director, has taken note of the growing nuclear threat from North Korea. The Financial Times said: "Two people familiar with the review, which the White House has not disclosed, said it was designed to determine what the Trump administration could do differently to address concerns that North Korea could strike the US with a nuclear-armed missile." North Korea has long had bellicose leaders, and its current leader, Kim Jong-un is no exception. In January he suggested his country was finalizing preparations for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). There have long been concerns in the US about North Korea developing an ICBM which could reach the US. AS a result, both the US and Japan have deployed and activated anti-ballistic missile systems to thwart such an attack. Kim said, "The political and military position of socialism should be further cemented as an invincible fortress ... We should resolutely smash the enemies' despicable and vicious moves to dampen the pure and ardent desire of the people for the party and estrange the people from it." In typical North Korean fashion, Kim has said he would reduce the US to ashes. While North Korean leaders have persistently threatened war with the US, one must not accept continuing statements like that as routine. That is the problem when dealing with North Korea --- one never is sure what it might do. As a result, the US has to do strategic planing for any eventuality. (020217)

Iranian backed militia attacks Saudi ship --- meant for US?

An Iranian supported militia employed three small boats to attack a Saudi warship, rammed the ship and set off large explosions in a suicide attack. The Saudi frigate was off the coast of Yemen. Two Saudi sailors were killed and three were wounded. American intelligence officials believe the attack was meant for a US warship. This underscores why it is so important to be prepared for any kind of boat-ship approaching American warships. This attack occurred near the Bab al Mandab Strait connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, the same area where U.S. Navy warships came under missile attack in October.An American destroyer shot down those incoming missiles. The USS Nitze, an American destroyer, retaliated soon after, launching Tomahawk missiles on October 13 at multiple Houthi radar sites in Yemen. (013117)Britain's Financial Times reported on February 2, 2017 that the White House is reviewing North Korea policy. The White H

Shakeup of National Security Council---What?

Addendum, January 31, 2017: It now appears the Director CIA will be invited to the PC meetings, setting off a potential conflict between the CIA and DNI.

On January 28, 2017, President Trump signed "Presidential Memorandum Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council." I was surprised to learn that the Director for National Intelligence (DNI) and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) were not included as regular members of the NSC's Principals Committee.

The memo states:

"The NSC and HSC (Homeland Security Council) shall have as their regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Security Advisor, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Representative of the United States to the United Nations...

"The Principals Committee (PC) shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States. The PC shall be convened and chaired by the National Security Advisor or the Homeland Security Advisor ... The Chair shall determine the agenda in consultation with the appropriate committee members...

"The PC shall have as its regular attendees the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, the National Security Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed."

I was surprised to learn of this memo and read its contents. I will wait for the dust to settle a bit before commenting much further. But on the surface, the DNI and CJCS in my mind have to be considered as major instruments of national security policy, so I do not understand why they are not standing members of the PC.

Michael Flynn, Lt. General USA (Ret.) is the National Security Advisor. It appears he chairs the PC. That means to me he is the one who has pressed for exclusion of the DNI and CJCS, a move that I simply do not understand. For the moment, I agree with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said on January 29, 2017 that removing the two was a big mistake. He said:

"My biggest concern is there are actually, under the law, only two statutory advisers to the National Security Council and that's the Director of Central Intelligence, or the DNI, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think pushing them out of the National Security Council meetings, except when their specific issues are at stake, is a big mistake. I think that they both bring a perspective and judgment and experience to bear that every president, whether they like it or not, finds useful."

I have questions about Flynn's appointment to this position. However, I have enormous respect for his deputy. Ms. K.T. McFarland. It is hard for me to believe she went along with this.

Let's wait for further developments. (012917)

Is it to battle stations with China?


PRC foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a January 24, 2017 news briefing in Beijing "China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters ... The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue." If the PRC chooses to enforce this threat, I believe it will be "battle stations." Voice of America has reported this issue is highest on Trump's China agenda. USN ships and aircraft and USAF aircraft have all gone into the areas China claims as its own. Thus far, no hostilities. But thus far China has done nothing to enforce the claim. SecState Nominee Tillerson has said: "We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed." Hang on Sloopy. (012417)

USMC F-35B deploys to Japan


The first group of USMC F-35B fighter aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 "Green Knights" arrived at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan on January 18, 2017. The photo shows one landing at Iwakuni. A total of ten are expected to arrive this month, and another six over the summer, to total 16. Iwakuni has served as a forward deployed base for a squadron of F/A-18D Hornet fighters. In addition, the USS Wasp will replace the USS Bonhomme Richard at Sasebo, Japan in Fall 2017 as a 7th Fleet's forward deployed naval force. The Wasp has been modified and tested to accept and launch F-35B aircraft. The F-35 has a vertical takeoff and landing configuration. The Wasp has been employing the Av-8B Harrier Jump Jet. I do not know whether the F-35s will remain at Iwakuni with the AV-8s remaining aboard the Wasp, or whether the V-8s will leave the Wasp for other duties. (011817)

US ground forces deploying to eastern Europe


Several US Army units have recently deployed to eastern Europe. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (BCT Armor), 4th Infantry Division (ID) arrived in Poland on January 12, 2017. About 3,500 troops are involved. The unit was accompanied by a full set of tanks and artillery. The equipment has been arriving at Bremerhaven, Germany port and has been transported to Poland by train, commercial-line hack and military convoy, including the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer shown here. It is my understanding such forces will be permanently located in Poland, though different units will rotate in and out. This will be a nine month deployment, after which another unit will rotate in, back-to-back. The 3rd BCT (Armor) will headquarter at Zagan, Poland. Also on January 12, 2017, troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry have arrived in Poland from Germany. They are on their way to Romania. A squadron of troops from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment is due to deploy in April no northeastern Poland. (011217)

US military buildup on Russian border?


news outlets are reporting a US military buildup along the Russia-Lithuanian border. I must confess I was quite alarmed when I saw the headlines. After reading the articles, I have calmed a bit. The Sun for example reported on January 4, 2017:

"Tensions between Washington and the Kremlin have reached Cold War levels amid reports Vladimir Putin is deploying nuke-ready missiles in the Russian province of Kaliningrad – which borders Poland, Belarus and Lithuania.

"And Lithuanian Defence Ministry spokeswoman Asta Galdikaite confirmed America has offered additional military support following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. She said: 'The United States was the first to offer additional safety assurance measures to the Baltic countries following the deterioration of the security situation in the region after the annexation of the Crimea.'”

Once you check into things, you find out that
The Sun, New York Times and others are talking about some US Special forces going to the border area to train Lithuanian forces. I do not know how many, but it is usually a small number, one certainly not able to force aggression with Russia. The US forces are rotating in and out. The opening photo shows a group that arrived in March 2016 and numbered about 250.

So I've decided not to worry too much about this for now, but it is worth keeping an eye open.

Lithuania is a NATO member. And I understand NATO is preparing to station about 4,000 troops in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. RT.documentary said:

"A quarter of the force would be composed of US troops currently based in Germany, who would relocate to Poland. A 1,000-strong German-led force equipped with tanks would be deployed in Lithuania in February. The remaining 2,000 British and Canadian troops would be stationed in Estonia and Latvia."

So there is obvious concern. (010417)

Marines support liberation of Sirte, Libya


The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked on a Naval strike group in the Mediterranean Sea supported the Government of National Accord's (GNA) liberation of Sirte, Libya. The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been executing "Operation Odyssey Lightning" since August 1, 2016. AFRICOM has said it conducted 495 air strikes against ISIS in that area. The USS Wasp had led a strike group but was relieved by the USS San Antonio on October 21, 2016. This is interesting as the San Antonio cannot handle the AV-8 jet fighter whereas the Wasp could. The Marines embarked on the San Antonio used the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1W SuperCobra helicopter gunships. The San Antonio is qualified to receive and launch the MV-22 Osprey but I do not think it was used in this operation. I believe the 22nd MEU served on both ships. The photo shows a SuperCobra launching from the San Antonio on October 27, 2016. (122016)

Air Force retiring the last F-4 Phantoms this week


The USAF plans to retire the last F-4 Phantom fighters on December 21, 2016 at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. McDonnell-Douglas built more than 5,000 F-4s for the USAF, Navy and Marines. Production began in 1985. Those still flying have been used as targets and test aircraft. Following their retirement, they will be used as ground targets. They were used for air-to-air combat, air-ground combat, suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) and reconnaissance missions. The Phantom has the distinction of being the last U.S. fighter flown to attain ace status in the 20th century. While your editor was stationed at NKP Royal Thai AFB (RTAFB) in Northeast, Thailand, he got to visit Udorn RTAFB just south or Vientiane, Laos got to visit Udorn RTAFB just south of Vientiane, Laos and Ubon RTAFB along the Mekong in southeast Thailand. Both bases had quite a few F-4s during the Indochina War. He recalls watching them take off in two ship formations, one set of two after the other, headed to North Vietnam. The noise of those takeoffs literally caused his rib cage to vibrate. The smell of the JP-4 fuel was astounding, and led to the quip, "Ah, the smell of JP-4 in the morning." So long to a courageous old veteran. (121916)

US now at risk of armed confrontation with Turkey in Syria


Richard Sick, reporting for Military Times on December 10, 2016, suggests that the 200 additional US troops heading into Syria could face armed conflict with Turkish forces in Syria. He said the additional US troops heading into Syria will support Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, and that Turkey might well attack these YPG forces, an action which will put US forces at risk. Turkish forces are in Syria, having crossed over in August 2016. Their mission was to clear out ISIS from the border areas, but also to attack YPG forces operating there. Turkey's President Erdogan has proclaimed the YPG a terrorist organization. Sick also suggests the Turks may come up against Syrian forces of Assad who are supported by Russia. Sick reported, "Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that U.S. and coalition warplanes had carried out nearly 300 airstrikes over the last month to support the advance on Raqqa of the mixed force of Kurdish and Arab fighters led by the YPG and known collectively as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)." There have been times when Turkish and SDF forces have clashed. (121216)

US sending more troops to Syria

SecDef Carter, while in Bahrain, said on December 10, 2016 the US will send about 200 more troops of Syria to fight against ISIS. They will include special operations forces, trainers, advisors and explosive ordnance disposal teams. Shannon Collins, reporting for DoD News, said, "Carter said the Middle East region is home to a strong U.S. military posture comprising more than 58,000 American personnel ashore and afloat -- including more than 5,000 on the ground in Iraq and Syria -- along with air, ground, maritime and ballistic missile defense assets." Collins quoted Carter saying, "As we meet today in Bahrain, American and coalition forces are engaged in an intense effort to help isolate and collapse ISIL’s control over Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, bringing the great weight of our entire range of capabilities to bear in the enabling of capable and motivated local forces … The seizure of these two cities is necessary to ensure the destruction of ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria -- the primary objective of our military campaign -- and put ISIL on an irreversible path to a lasting defeat.” Collins reported the US has three objectives: "Destroy the ISIL cancer’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria; combat ISIL’s metastases everywhere they emerge around the world: in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere; work with U.S. intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement partners to help protect the U.S. homeland and its people from attack." (121016)

US and Coalition aircraft destroy 168 ISIS oil tankers in Syria

The Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve issued a news release of December 9, 2016 said, "Coalition airstrikes destroyed a fleet of 168 ISIL oil tanker trucks near Palmyra, Syria, Dec. 8, 2016 …The Coalition is systematically targeting ISIL-affiliated oil infrastructure to eliminate millions of dollars in potential revenue. This most recent strike resulted in estimated lost revenue of more than $2 million." The photo is an air attack video grab from the attack aircraft showing four trucks destroyed on this run. From the footage provided, it appears these trucks were sitting out in the open in the desert. (120916)

US escalating combat operations in Somalia


Looks like the US is getting more involved in yet another war. this one in Somalia. The New York Times said the US is escalating its military engagement in Somalia. The Obama administration has determined that Shabab, the Islamist militant group in Somalia, to be part of the armed conflict that Congress authorized against the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations has said, “It’s crazy that a piece of legislation that was grounded specifically in the experience of 9/11 is now being repurposed for close air support for regional security forces in Somalia." There is a massive play on words in the administration saying Somalia is not an “area of active hostilities,”Saying that would enable the US military to conduct air attacks against low level militants more expansively. On March 5, the US conducted a large air attack in Somalia that killed over 150 people said to be Shabab fighters. The US is now at war in Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been participating in combat operations across the African Sahel. (112916)

"Advisory" operations in Somalia getting dicey for US forces


General Thomas Waldhauser, AFRICOM commander, has said US special forces in Somalia on an advisory mission face increasing risks. He said, “When you get into that phase of (troops) accompanying that should tell you that the units you’re working with are at a point where the military operations they undertake become a little more complex and a little more dangerous." He has acknowledged that US forces are now stepping into harm's way. The enemy in Somalia at this time is al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has been designated by the US as a terrorist organization. It's composition is multiethnic, with its leadership positions mainly occupied by Afghanistan- and Iraq-trained ethnic Somalis and foreigners. African Union forces mainly from Uganda and Kenya are participating with the US special forces. US air attacks have increased in 2016 over previous years. (112216)

Operation Odyssey Lightning Update — Libya


The US has been conducting Operation Odyssey Lightning in Libya for about the past three months. It began on August 1, 2016. This operation involves the US conducting precision air strikes against ISIS targets in Sirte, Libya and conducting intelligence operations to track where ISIS fighters are going and what they are doing. The Pentagon has said the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) requested the help. The Pentagon estimated there were approximately 1,000 ISIS fighters in Libya, but a
Stars & Stripes report of November 17, 2016 said last summer the estimates were as many as 4,000.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) has been conducting most of the operations, first aboard the USS
Wasp (LPD-1)through to October 23 and now aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD-17). The Wasp is leading an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) of which the San Antonio is a part. The amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LPD 17) is also part of the Wasp ARG. Capt. F. Bryan Ogden, commodore, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 6is in command of the ARG.

The 22nd MEU, with about 2,500 Marines, is now employing AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and AV-8 Harrier jet fighters from the San Antonio.

There has been speculation, however, that the USAF is also employing drones and perhaps even F-15Es based in England.
Air Force Magazine reported on February 22, 2016, "US Air Force F-15s and remotely piloted aircraft conducted an air strike against an ISIS training camp near Sabratha, Libya, in the early morning hours of February 19, killing a senior leader and likely dozens of recruits to the terror group ... The strike was conducted by F-15s assigned to RAF Lakenheath, UK. So the speculation appears to have been confirmed, at least for the attack on that date.

Washington Times reported on November 6, 2016, "U.S. bombers and fighters have launched over 360 air strikes against Islamic State positions around Sirte since American operations began in August."

Libyan forces on the ground loyal to the GNA are in the fight as well. (111716)

ICC may investigate alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan

The AP reported on November 15, 2016 that Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, the chief prosecutor for International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague, has issued a report that alleges "Members of US armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014." This same report alleges CIA operatives may have committed war crimes as well against detainees in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania. ICC prosecutors said they will decide soon whether to open a full investigation, one that could lead to war crimes charges. The US is not a member of the court. During the summer of 2010, the US military charged five members of the 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment and 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division with murder of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar Province and collecting their body parts as trophies. This group became known as the "kill team." The DoD has said this was a rogue group. In addition, seven soldiers were charged with crimes such as hashish use, impeding an investigation, and attacking the whistleblower, Specialist Justin Stoner. In March 2011 one of these pleaded guilty to three counts to premeditated murder of three Afghan civilians and testified against the others. All together 11 soldiers were convicted of crimes while the military dropped charges against a twelfth. It appears the ICC investigation will go way beyond these events. (111516)

Coast Guard has record year seizing cocaine on the high seas


The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) marked the end of a record year in counterdrug operations. It and its interagency partners removed more than 416,600 pounds of cocaine worth over $5.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2016. The service’s previous record was 367,700 pounds of cocaine removed in Fiscal Year 2008. Coast Guardsmen also apprehended 585 suspected drug smugglers in Fiscal Year 2016, which is also a new record for the service, up from 503 suspected drug smugglers in Fiscal Year 2015. Of those apprehended, 465 were transferred to the U.S. for prosecution, another service record. The photo shows Coast Guard Cutter Waesche crewmembers offloading seized cocaine from the cutter in San Diego. (111516)

Russia ramping up likelihood of confrontation with US


The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports that Russia's sole aircraft carrier, the
Admiral Kuznetsov, is expected to arrive off the Syrian Coast in the coming days.ISW believes Russia is about to launch a major assault on Syrian rebels who the US is supporting. If true, then the US faces an increased likelihood of conflict with Russia in the air and at sea. (110416)

US Marines in Norway to stay


The Norwegian parliament approved a plan to maintain a steady rotational presence of about 300 Marines near that country’s border with Russia. The US began a program in 2012 to reconfigure and modernize a facility deep some eight Norwegian caves near the Russian border to support a modern US Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF). The idea was a Cold War one for defense of NATO against the USSR. The first cave opened in 1982. The Marines' Blount Island Command oversees the program. Christopher Cavas reported for Defense News, "The equipment in the caves, according to the Marines, can support an expeditionary brigade of roughly 15,000 US Marines, with enough supplies to operate for 30 days." The photo shows some motorized equipment in one of the caves. (102516)

USAF F-16s deploy to Djibouti

USAF F-16 fighters and KC-135 tankers deployed to Djibouti in July 2016. Djibouti has been the hub for US military counterrorism in Africa. The fighters were based out of Aviano, Italy while the KC-135s came from RAF Mildenhall. Stars & Stripes reported on October 13, 2016 that "they remain on standby amid concerns over threats to Americans in South Sudan." (101316)

Navy attacks targets in Yemen


The USN struck three radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen on October 13, 2016 in retaliation for Houthi attacks against USN ships in international waters. President Obama is said to have authorized the strikes. I understand the Navy employed Tomahawk cruise missiles. The guided missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) launched the attack and successfully struck the sites. The Navy has said these radar sites enabled the Houthi to launch missiles at US warships. Hours later, pro-Houthi Iran announced it is sending two warships to the Gulf of Aden offshore Yemen. (101316)

Philippines puts combined US-Filipino patrols of S. Tina Sea on hold

PI DefSec Major General Delfin Lorenzana told US military on October 7, 2016 that plans for combined patrols and exercises in the South China Sea have been put on hold. Furthermore, the PI has asked the 107 US forces operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants to leave once the PI acquires those capabilities. President Duterte also wants to halt 28 military exercises with the US held each year. Duterte apparently has instructed Lorenzana to go to Beijing and Moscow to explore military deals. Lorenzana on occasion does seem to contradict Duterte's hard lines against the US, having worked with the US military for a long time. (100716)

US bombing of ISIS in Libya intensifies


John Vandiver, reporting for Stars & Stripes, said, "U.S. warplanes bombarded Islamic State group targets Sunday (October 2, 2016) in Libya, knocking out a command and control facility, nearly 70 enemy fighting positions and several other sites in what was the heaviest day of bombing since the two-month-old operation began, according to U.S. Africa Command data." The overall operation has been nicknamed "Operation Odyssey Lightning." Most targets are in the Sirte area. Most air attacks are coming from the USS Wasp positioned offshore Libya. Marine fighters and helicopters have been participating.

Wasp (LHD-1) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked departed Norfolk on June 25, 2016. This is the Wasp's first deployment for the past ten years. (100416)

US Army strained, ops tempo very high

Lt. General Joseph Anderson, the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7, told leaders of veteran service organizations and military service organizations who were visiting the Pentagon on September 28, 2016 that the US Army is a "strained force." He said told the operations tempo for Army units today is just as high as it was a decade ago.

General Anderson added:

"Stress to the force is just as bad as it was back in 2005, if not worse ... Every division headquarters is either deployed somewhere, getting ready to go, or just got back ... The demand is not going down. And of course we're getting smaller at the same time, but demand is staying the same if not increasing ... The bottom line is we are a strained force." (100416)

US building up air power in Philippines in response to South China Sea contest


The US and Philippines have signed a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement agreement to build up bases inside the country to increase the US rotational presence. The Philippine government is building up Basa Air Base, which could be a new location for US rotations. It is located at Floridablanca, Pampanga about 40 miles northwest of Metro Manila. In April, Air Force A-10s from the 51st Fighter Wing, Osan AB, South Korea lingered for 45 days at Clark Air Base for new training missions along with patrols in the contested South China Sea. The Pacific Air Force (PACAF) has said these patrols are "to provide greater and more transparent air and maritime domain awareness to ensure safety for military and civilian activities in international waters and airspace." patrols are When that rotation ended, US Navy aircraft deployed to the base. Those aircraft have not been replaced. The SecAF said Clark would be a site for new US aircraft deployments to the Philippines while Basa's infrastructure is being improved. (091016)