For Your Eyes Only Military News

AFGHANISTAN: Anger Management Issues

June 10, 2012: Earlier this month police in the north arrested 16 people and charged them with participating in several mass attacks (via poisoned water) against school girls. Police accused the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) and other terror groups in Pakistan of providing cash (for bribes) and technical advice on how to carry out the attacks. A major Taliban goal has always been to limit, or prohibit, education for girls. The Taliban usually attack the schools and teachers, but occasionally students are wounded or killed as well. The mass poisonings are believed to be the result of mass hysteria (common in situations like this) as no toxins have been found in the two major poisoning incidents. But since so many children have been involved, this has become a big media item inside Afghanistan. So the government has been forced to do something, anything.

The Taliban have been generally unsuccessful in getting a terror campaign going in the north, where Pushtuns are a minority. Local opposition to the Taliban is often violent, and fatal. As a result, many who have joined the Taliban (and taken drug gang money) have openly accepted amnesty and left the Taliban. This is dangerous in the south, where Taliban and drug gang gunmen are more numerous and retaliation more certain. But in the north you can go home and you heavily armed tribe will protect you from Taliban retaliation.

Pakistan, which created the Taliban two decades, is now worried that the departure of NATO forces in two years will mean more terrorist violence on the Pakistani side of the border. That’s because the Pakistani Taliban will be able to establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan, something NATO has largely prevented. With NATO gone, the Pakistani Taliban will be able to use bribes and intimidation (of the security forces and local tribes) to establish these sanctuaries, and use them for more attacks inside Pakistan. This is an issue that Pakistani officials will only discuss privately with American and other Western diplomats. The U.S. is sympathetic, but points out that Pakistan created the Taliban and continues to maintain sanctuaries for terrorist groups.

To most American military and political officials, this is all the fault of Pakistan, and now many Pakistanis are openly complaining about the situation. After the U.S. drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001, a Pakistani Taliban developed (with the help of Afghan Taliban taking refuge in Pakistan). In the last decade, the Pakistani Taliban has grown to become a major source of terrorism inside Pakistan. For the past three years, Pakistan has had over 100,000 troops in the tribal territories along the Afghan border fighting Pakistani Taliban attempts to take control of the area. This effort has been largely (but not completely) successful. The North Waziristan district, right on the Afghan border, has been left alone and serves as a refuge for Islamic terrorists (including some Pakistani Taliban factions) who will refrain from attacking the Pakistani government. Pakistan created a lot of this terrorism or sustains it, and is at a loss of how to deal with the growing threat.

Most Afghans expect more violence when the NATO troops leave. This is in recognition of the fact that the large number of NATO troops has reduced tribal feuds and a lot of banditry. Afghanistan is a very violent place, and always has been. For example, when U.S. forces arrived after September 11, 2001, the Taliban were still fighting tribes that opposed them. In addition, the Taliban were using a brigade of al Qaeda gunmen to punish unruly tribes that had already made peace with the Taliban (and had then changed their minds). With the Taliban and al Qaeda gone, Afghanistan went through several years of relative (and uncharacteristic) peace. But the drug gangs prospered, and the Taliban eventually returned from their Pakistan sanctuaries and sought to regain control of their “homeland” (Kandahar and Helmand provinces).

NATO has spent billions to build Afghan security forces and a useful Afghan government. Both efforts have been crippled by the corruption and tribalism that have long defined Afghanistan. The central government, even with all its Western gear, ideas and advisors is still just presiding over a coalition of warlords and tribal leaders in a region they all agree to call “Afghanistan”. Beyond that, it’s every man for himself.

June 8, 2012: Afghanistan has been granted observer status in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). This is a regional security forum founded in Shanghai in 2001 by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. The main purpose of the SCO was originally fighting Islamic terrorism. Russia, however, hopes to build the SCO into a counterbalance against NATO. SCO members conduct joint military exercises, mostly for show.

They also share intel on terrorists, which is often useful. Iran, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mongolia and Turkey also want to join the SCO. These nations are allowed to send observers to meetings and will eventually become official observers and be allowed limited participation in SCO activities. China sponsored Afghanistan to become more active in SCO and has promised more economic and security aid for Afghanistan in return for cooperation in sharing intelligence about Chinese Islamic terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

June 7, 2012:  In the north (Sar e Pul province) a bomb was detonated at the main gate of a police compound prison and 14 prisoners escaped. In addition, guards killed three prisoners and caught others quickly. Some of the escapees were Taliban, who were believed responsible for the operation. But such attacks are sometimes carried out by criminal gangs or tribal militias.

June 6, 2012: In the east (Logar province) two NATO air strikes killed 18 civilians. The NATO commander apologized for this after Afghan and international media expressed outrage. There is less outrage over the larger number (five times more) civilian deaths caused by the Islamic terrorists (usually Taliban). This is largely because the Taliban will kill local journalists who report Islamic radical violence against civilians, or Taliban use of civilians as human shields. Civilian deaths caused by NATO forces have declined over the last few years while Taliban inflicted deaths have increased.

Some attacks are so outrageous (like mass poisonings of girls attending school) that they do get some media attention. But in general the local and international media tend to ignore the culture of violence that has always existed in Afghanistan. The level of violence against children, women and everyone is higher. There are a lot of guns and short tempers. The Pushtun in the south are the worst offenders, and are known, and feared, for their anger management issues and fondness for prompt and fatal retaliation for any real or imagined slight. So journalists in Afghanistan survive by playing up real or imagined insults by foreigners. In the south, this includes any non-Pushtuns (who make up 40 percent of Afghans, although twice as many live in Pakistan, where they are about 16 percent of the population.) Many Pushtun insist they are the majority in Afghanistan, and it’s not safe to contradict this while in Afghanistan.

In Kandahar, three Taliban suicide bombers attacked a market place, killing 22 and wounding over fifty. About a third of the casualties were Afghans involved in supplying goods to NATO bases. These were apparently the primary target as the Taliban are trying to terrorize Afghans into not working with NATO forces in any way. This works with some Afghans, but most are unwilling to give up a good business opportunity and take more precautions, including using unofficial violence against the Taliban. Most Afghans oppose the Taliban, who are seen as a Pushtun terror group. But even in the Pushtun south there are many who join together to violently oppose Taliban terror tactics.

June 3, 2012: NATO has struck deals with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to allow NATO to ship thousands of vehicles and cargo containers out of Afghanistan as NATO forces prepare to leave in the next two years. Similar arrangements were already made with Russia, whose railroads comprise most of the route. All four nations will see their railroads get over a hundred million dollars in additional business because of the NATO movement of weapons and equipment.

June 1, 2012: In the northeast (Badakhshan province) British commandoes freed a British citizen (and her three Afghan companions) in a night operation that left seven armed kidnappers dead. The British aid worker and four companions had been seized by bandits on May 22nd. One of the Afghan aid workers managed to escape. Local Islamic terrorists then got involved, offering the bandits protection and help with the ransom negotiations. The kidnappers demanded $4 million and the release (from prison) of a gang member. American, Afghan and British special operations forces were quickly put on the case and found where the captives were being held. It was also discovered that one of the Afghan aid workers was going to be murdered to speed the ransom negotiations, and this caused the rescue operation to take place when it did. None of the commandos or captives was injured in the operation.

ATTRITION: The Raptor Curse Gets Worse

June 10, 2012: Desperate to find out what is causing disorientation and illness among it F-22 (Raptor) fighter pilots, the U.S. Air Force has spent $20 million on automatic backup oxygen systems for 40 of its F-22s. This is a safety measure for heavily used F-22s, and an attempt to capture data from one of the rare “events” that the pilots have had with their breathing.

Meanwhile, the air force is also taking a closer look at the special vest pilots wear to help them with their breathing in the low pressure of the F-22 cockpit.

The hypothesis is that the vest automatically inflates too much during high-g (gravitational force) maneuvers, making it difficult for pilots to breathe. This would be subtle, so that the pilot would not immediately notice a problem with breathing. Anything obvious would have been noticed when the vest was tested. Pilots have complained about a “strange feeling” when breathing with the vest during high-g turns, but not in such a way that they connected it with the disorientation.

The pressure vest problems may be linked to recently reported instances of excessive coughing by F-22 pilots. It’s being called “Raptor Cough” and is actually a known condition (acceleration atelectasis) for pilots who have just completed a high speed maneuver. But it appears to be showing up more frequently among F-22 pilots. The F-22 pilots are perplexed and a bit nervous about their expensive and highly capable jets, and are reporting things they earlier thought little of.

As a precaution, pilots must now make flights at least 24 hours apart. In training, and combat, pilots would take their F-22s up two or more times a day. The theory is that the pressure vests and acceleration atelectasis will not be a problem if pilots have at least 24 hours to recover.

The air force still believes that something, as yet unknown, is getting into the pilot air supply and causing problems. Despite this the air force continues to fly its F-22s. The decision to keep flying was made because the air supply problems have not killed anyone yet and they are rare (once every 10,000 sorties).

The 14 incidents so far were all cases of F-22 pilots apparently experiencing problems. The term “apparently” is appropriate because the pilots did not black out and a thorough check of the air supply system and the aircraft found nothing wrong. There have been nearly 30 of these “dizziness or disorientation” incidents in the last four years, with only 14 of them serious enough to be called real incidents. Only one F-22 has been lost to an accident so far and while that did involve an air supply issue, it was caused by pilot error, not equipment failure.
Meanwhile the air force has spent $7 million to install commercial oxygen status sensors in the air supply systems of its F-22 fighters. This is part of a year-long effort to find out what’s causing the air supply on F-22s to get contaminated and cause pilots to become disoriented or pass out. Twice in the past year the entire F-22 fleet was grounded because of the air supply problems. The first grounding lasted 140 days and ended last September. The second grounding lasted a week and ended last December.

The F-22s comprise the most powerful component of the air force’s air combat capability and the brass are eager to find out what is wrong. The air force recently received the last of 187 F-22s that will be built. Production was limited because these aircraft were too expensive. It’s very embarrassing that their safety should be threatened by something so basic as the pilot air supply.

The air force has already found some problems with the air supply system (too much nitrogen and other contaminants). The main problem was always about something bad in the air supply. But the air does not go bad in any predictable fashion nor does it become bad enough to cause problems for the pilot. So the air force is still looking for causes. Thus F-22 pilots, for example, give blood samples after most flights and maintainers pay extra attention to the oxygen system. And now there will be all the data from all the new oxygen sensors.

The air force woes began when it appeared that the F-22 might be having a problem with its OBOG (OnBoard Oxygen Generating) system. OBOGs have been around for over half a century. It’s only in the last two decades that OBOGs have become compact, cheap, and reliable enough to replace the older compressed gases or LOX (liquid oxygen) as a source of breathable air for high flying aircrew. Each aircraft, especially the F-22 and F-35, gets an OBOG tweaked for space, weight, or other conditions specific to that warplane design. It’s this custom design that was also closely studied, to find out how the toxins got in.

One problem is that aircraft have been staying in the air longer (because of in-flight refueling) and carrying enough compressed oxygen has become untenable requiring OBOGs to solve the problem. Since the 1990s, most American military aircraft have replaced older oxygen systems with OBOGs.

Most Western nations, and Russia, have followed, at least with their latest model aircraft. Most OBOG systems work by using a chemical reaction to remove carbon dioxide from the air taken in to the OBOG and then sending out air with the proper amount of oxygen to the aircrew.

LOGISTICS:  Déjà Vu In The West Pacific

June 10, 2012: Two decades after U.S. forces left their two major bases in the Philippines (Subic Bay port/air base located 100 kilometers northwest of Manila, and Clark Air Base located 65 kilometers northwest of Manila), the Americans have been invited to return. Not to use the two facilities as exclusively American bases, as they were for over 70 years, but as needed.

Both facilities were largely converted to civilian use after 1991. The Americans left because the Filipinos were asking for a hike in rent the U.S. didn’t want to pay. In addition, the Cold War had just ended and there was a big push on to shed expensive overseas facilities. Finally, Clark Air Base had recently been heavily damaged by the eruption of a nearby volcano and the U.S. did not want to pay to rebuild a base it didn’t need and couldn’t afford the rent on.
What is bringing the Americans back is growing Chinese aggression against Filipino efforts to control coastal waters, and explore for nearby offshore oil and natural gas. The Chinese Navy has grown much larger in the last two decades, and the Philippines can gain more security, and more income by hosting American warships and aircraft once more.

These two Philippines bases were major links in the supply system that sustained American forces during the Vietnam War (1965-72). Another major logistics base in that conflict was Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have invited the United States to use Cam Ranh Bay once more, because Vietnam, like most of China’s neighbors, wants Americans close buy as protection against growing Chinese aggression.

LEADERSHIP:  American Warships Mass Off China

June 10, 2012: The U.S. announced that it will have 60 percent of its 270 warships in the Pacific by the end of the decade. Actually, this is just a continuation of a process that began when the Cold War ended in 1991. But these changes move slowly. Largely this is the result of political problems that arise when you try to transfer the home ports (where the ships are when not at sea and where the families of the crews live, and spend their money) from one coast to another. The politicians representing states on the east coast raise a major stink when the navy tries to move the home ports. It’s taken the navy a decade to muster the political clout to make the changes happen. Meanwhile, more and more ships based in east coast ports were serving temporarily in the Pacific or Middle East. Now the big shift has been taking place officially. There have been other indicators that this was happening.

For example, six years ago the U.S. Navy eliminated the Atlantic Fleet, after a century of existence. First established in 1906, the Atlantic Fleet was the first, world class, high seas, naval force from the Americas. At the time, there was fear that Germany’s ambitious warship building program might someday endanger the United States. The Atlantic Fleet did go to war with the Germans in 1917, and again in 1941.

After 1945, the Atlantic Fleet remained a mighty force, in preparation for a potential battle with the growing naval power of the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, their fleet wasted away within a decade. So the American Atlantic Fleet no longer had a major opponent. Meanwhile, China, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran provided plenty of work for the Pacific Fleet (which normally supplied ships for Middle East and South Asian emergencies.)

The Pacific Fleet still had a full plate after 1991, so the Pacific Fleet remained. The Atlantic Fleet was actually be renamed, and reorganized, into the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which will be responsible for the training, maintenance and operation of naval forces (ships, aircraft and land installations) on both coasts. The Pacific Fleet will still stand ready to deal with potential problems in Asia.

Actually, the Atlantic Fleet did have its name changed once before, in 1922, to “Commander Scouting Force”. It was changed back to Atlantic Fleet in 1941, just in time to fight the Germans once more. But the Russians are not expected to be a threat again, at least not any time soon.

For most of the past century, the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets were basically the two major parts of the U.S. Navy, and each developed unique customs. Sailors would often spend their entire careers in one fleet or the other. But when one was transferred, it was immediately apparent, once the transferred sailor arrived at the new location, that the two fleets were quite different. From now on, however, there will be the Pacific Fleet, and, “the rest of the navy.”

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