Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back to Helmand Province

Big battle being fought by the Marines in Helmand Province. Operation Eastern Resolve II includes the 3rd Marine MEU and and battalion of the Afghan National Army.

When reading of the oepration, the names of the various towns, Sangin, Garmsir, all rung a bell. Almost immediatley I knew why. A few years ago I wrote an article about the emerging Afghan National Army, which talked about a NATO-ANA offensive into Helmand.

An excerpt:

"Operation Achilles involved 4,500 NATO troops supported by Dutch F-16’s and Apaches and one kandak of the 209th Corps out of Mazer e Shariff. ISAF and ANA troops launched a three pronged attack. 1st Battalion of the 508th Parachute regiment hit Taliban positions around Ghorak, while to the east a battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in conjunction with a full kandak attacked Taliban bases in Maiwand. Meanwhile, the 45th commando of the British Royal Marines supported by ANA artillery hit the Taliban at Garmshir (over 50 miles down river), described as the ‘gateway’ of the upper Helmand River Valley, cutting off the Taliban to the north. In a very encouraging sign for the ANA on 23 March, ANA troops attacked and defeated a large Taliban concentration in Gereshk, about 25 miles down river from Sangin Center killing over 50. The battle was fought without the assistance of ISAF troops...."

While the ANA is coming along, there seems to be no solution to the problem of Helmand, as evidenced by the fact that we are once again fighting for it. Helmand is the home of the Taliban, and also the home of Afghanistan's opium industry.

It's not like we messed around in 2007. The assualt force included a battalion of Royal Marines, a battalion of the 82nd Airborne, and a battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. Needless to say, the Taliban took heavy casualties and was expelled from the towns.

Yet here we are again.

Will Stroocks book, A Line in the Desert, can be purchased at Amazon

Africa Command Helps Countries Face Common Challenges

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 13, 2009 - U.S. Africa Command is hitting its stride as it works with African nations to confront common security challenges, a Pentagon official said. The command's main mission is to build the security capacity of partner nations throughout the continent, Vicki Huddleston, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said in a recent interview. The command also works with the African Union and other regional alliances.

"All this folds into the administration's commitment to democracy, overall stability and to working with Africans as partners," said Huddleston, who has extensive experience in Africa, having served in Mali, Ethiopia and Madagascar.

On the threat side, the command works with African nations on common security challenges, which she said "are generally coming from nonstate actors."

The two areas of most concern are the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, the east-west band that stretches along the southern border of the Sahara desert, Huddleston said.

Al-Qaida is operating in Somalia and in Algeria. Somalia is a classic failed state, and the piracy along its coast is only one manifestation of that. Al-Qaida is operating in the country, and indications are that Somali members may try to export terrorism from the area, she said.

In the Sahel, al-Qaida in the Maghrab is believed to be responsible for thousands of deaths in Algeria. The group moves between that country and safe havens in ungoverned parts of the Sahel, she said.

But Africom is about more than just countering threats, Huddleston said. The command works with the United Nations and the African Union in Sudan and Darfur by providing logistics and transportation to peacekeepers in the region.

"You can't have secure environments -- for democracy, education, health, development, or for opportunities for individuals -- if you have failed or failing states," Huddleston said. "We need to assist states as they try to build out of conflict."

Liberia is a prime example, she said. The West African nation is recovering from a brutal civil war. Africom experts are in Liberia to help train the military, not just on combat skills, but also on human rights and the meaning of having civilian control of the military, Huddleston said.

"This also includes working with their civilian leaders so they understand how they should relate to the military -- what they should do, how they should do it, and how they can control and give political guidance to their military," she said.

Accomplishing the command's mission requires a joint effort with the State Department, which trains police and needs more resources in countries recovering from civil war, Huddleston said. "It really calls on the State Department and [Defense Department] to work together in a particularly integrated fashion through the National Security Council, and we're doing that," she said.

Southern Africa -- with the exception of Zimbabwe -- is a bright spot on the continent, Huddleston said. South Africa's military and police are respected and professional. Angola is doing well as are other nations in the region, she said. The command's work with these countries involves professional development and exchange programs.

The command has placed more resources on the continent. "I see more military personnel doing more things and more different things than four years ago," Huddleston said. "I think that it is sometimes difficult given the priorities -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq -- but there are more resources than were there under the three commands that formerly had responsibility for the region."

The command's priority is building relationships with the governments of the continent, as well as nurturing regional relationships.

Many of Africa's problems are regional. The AIDS/HIV epidemic knows no boundaries. Drug and human trafficking are transnational scourges and will require cooperation among a number of different nations to erase. Terror groups will operate where and when they can, Huddleston said.

But Africa is improving, she said. "Two-thirds of the states in Africa are making progress," she said. "That means one-third isn't making progress, and that's what we concentrate on."

The command had a rough go of it on the continent when plans for the command were first announced. Huddleston thinks much of that criticism has blown over. "African nations are coming around in regard to Africom," she said.

The nations appreciate the civil-military teams that help local governments dig wells, hold clinics and build infrastructure. "I felt a strong buy-in from the leaders in Africa," she said. "I still think there is a hesitancy about the command's motive in some areas."

President Barack Obama addressed some of that hesitancy during a visit to Ghana last month. "Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold on the continent, but on confronting common challenges to advance the security of Africa, America and the world," he said.

The command allows the Defense Department to pay more attention and deliver more aid to the continent, and leaders are seeing this, Huddleston said.

"What I would like to see next is that we could work closely within the regions," she said. Peacekeeping forces are needed throughout the continent and regional brigades are particularly effective. The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, provided peacekeepers in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire, for example.

A goal of the African Union is to build-up these regional brigades, Huddleston said. "If you look at Africa, the first responders to these crises are these regional brigades –- ECOWAS in West Africa, the regional units in Somalia," she said. "I believe that's a harder piece. I think we have to do more and better particularly when we look at the issue strategically."

The United States would like to see more security cooperation with foreign partners -- Britain, France, Spain and the European Union. "We also need to work more closely with the United Nations," she said.

The Africom partnership looks to make improvements that are in the strategic interests of Africa and the United States. "They reflect our national security priorities: threats, genocide, failed states and illicit activities," she said. "On the other side are prevention activities, and we must provide for those and fulfill the three Ds of U.S. policy in Africa: development, democracy and defense."

Face of Defense: Paratrooper Fulfills Dream of Being 'All-American'

By Army Pfc. Kissta M. Feldner
Special to American Forces Press Service

Aug. 13, 2009 - As an 8-year-old boy sitting on the roof of a friend's house in war-torn Haiti in 1994, Claudy Bellanger saw a sight that captivated his attention: helicopters speeding past carrying American soldiers. "I'd never seen them with my own eyes before, only on television," he said.

Bellanger's boyhood experiences with U.S. troops in his home country set him on a path that eventually led him to join the U.S. Army.

Today, Bellanger, 23, is an Army specialist assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

His journey began in Jacmel, Haiti, where he was born and lived for the first 18 years of his life.

For much of his childhood, Haiti was a military dictatorship. The government took money from its citizens, who couldn't afford to buy food or go to school, Bellanger said. "As a Third World country, it's pretty rough to live there," he said.

Bellanger recalled participating in protests against the government as a young boy, waving tree branches in the air and yelling. At these riots, the government's paramilitary police force would gas the crowds. The larger the crowds became, the more people were hurt or killed, he said.

President Bill Clinton sent U.S. forces into Haiti in September 1994 as part of Operation Restore Democracy. The goal was to end human rights abuses against the people of Haiti and reinstate the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On Sept. 18, 1994, Haitian leaders learned that paratroopers with the "All-American" 82nd Airborne Division were on their way to conduct a parachute assault into Haiti. They quickly agreed to give up power, and the aircraft carrying the paratroopers were called back.

Later, soldiers from the 82nd's 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment deployed to Haiti to support the peacekeeping operation. Bellanger had several memorable interactions with the soldiers, including eating his first meals, ready-to-eat beef dinner. "I think that was the best meal," he said. "It was good compared to what I was eating."

A more significant experience came when Bellanger approached two American soldiers on guard duty and asked how he too could join the U.S. Army. One of the soldiers gave him a recruiting business card, and Bellanger ran home to make the call. He was told that, in addition to being too young, he needed to become a U.S. citizen. And that's what he did.

At 18, Bellanger left Haiti to live with his father in Jersey City, N.J., where he spent two years learning English and earned his GED diploma. "I didn't want to waste any time," he said.

Bellanger again called the number on that business card that he had kept for 12 years, and joined the Army at last. "I was so focused and determined to make it, that I did everything that I could," he said. "I just wanted to be in the Army. Now I'm in the 82nd. It's a dream come true."

(Army Pfc. Kissta M. Feldner serves with the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)