TIME Military

Pentagon Dispatches 101st Airborne to Africa to Tackle Ebola

Ebola
Transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion Getty Images

Headquarters unit from the storied division to coordinate U.S. efforts to tackle the disease

While the U.S. military has dispatched some 1,600 troops to Iraq in recent weeks to deal with the threats posed by Islamic militants there, it apparently was saving its big guns for a more insidious threat: the Ebola virus.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it will soon have about 1,600 troops in western Africa dealing with the spreading scourge—and that nearly half of them will come from the Army’s storied 101st Airborne Division.

“It’s not an armed threat,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said of the Ebola virus Tuesday. But “just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously.” While U.S. troops will not be tending to those infected with the disease, he said, they will be “trained on personal protective equipment and on the disease itself…we’ll make sure that they’ve got the protection that they need.”

Like the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the battle against Ebola is open-ended, Kirby said. He announced that a 700-strong headquarters unit from the 101st would head to Liberia by the month’s end to help coordinate the response to the epidemic. The virus has so far killed over 1,800 in Liberia, the country worst affected by the outbreak.

A second group of 700 engineering troops are headed there to build treatment units to treat the infected, he said. Nearly 200 U.S. troops are already in West Africa dealing with the threat.

“These deployments are part of a whole-of-government response to the Ebola outbreak,” Kirby said. “The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities.”

Last week, 15 Navy Seabees—the service’s construction arm—arrived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia to begin help building treatment and training centers. “We’re establishing command and control nodes, logistics hubs, training for health care workers, and providing engineering support,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “The protection of our men and women is my priority as we seek to help those in Africa and work together to stem the tide of this crisis.”

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the number of Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had topped 6,500, with nearly half of them dying from the disease.

It was only two weeks ago that President Obama declared the U.S. would dispatch 3,000 troops to battle Ebola. “If the outbreak is not stopped now,” he warned, “we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”

On Tuesday, in another echo of the fight against ISIS, Kirby said that might not prove sufficient. “They’ll come in waves,” he said of U.S. troops deployments. “It could go higher than 3,000 troops eventually.”

TIME Military

U.S. Campaign Against ISIS Has Cost Nearly $1 Billion So Far, Report Says

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments finds the war has cost up to $930 million so far

U.S. military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have cost up to $930 million as of Sept. 24, according to a report released earlier this week, as the Pentagon broadens its air campaign against extremist Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report released Monday found that initial operations against the Islamic State from June through Aug. 26 cost $530 million, a sum which included humanitarian relief missions, surveillance, intelligence gathering, and limited air strikes.

Air operations intensified after President Obama’s Sept. 10 announcement that the United States would strike the Islamic State with the goal of eventually destroying it, and the costs of the campaign increased. The report suggests that from the end of August through Sept. 24, the cost of air and ground operations reached between $250 million and $400 million.

All told, the total cost of operations is estimated at between $780 million and $930 million.

The U.S. military is spending up to $10 million a day on operations against the Islamic State, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday.

The CSBA estimates that if military operations intensify further and the U.S. deploys troops to the region—as some, like House Speaker John Boehner have suggested—costs could expand to as high as $13 billion to $22 billion per year.

TIME Military

Air Force Keeps Pilots Alive with iPlane Upgrade

AFG-121116-001
This graphic shows how the Air Force's new Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System is supposed to work. Jet Fabara / Air Force

New software roboflies F-16s out of trouble

You may have downloaded the newest iOS 8 operating system to your iPhone recently, giving you lots of additional options. The Air Force is doing the same to its F-16 fighters. In fact, its new M6.2+ Operational Flight Program gives those fighter pilots an especially nifty new feature: it keeps them from flying into the ground and killing themselves.

The Air Force has long expressed concern over the fact that the leading cause of fighter-pilot deaths is when perfectly-operating aircraft simply fly into the ground because of poor weather, pilot distraction, or unconsciousness due to extreme maneuvers that can drain the blood from a pilot’s brain. This tendency even has its own grim acronym: CFIT (pronounced see-fit), for “controlled flight into terrain.”

Too often, Air Force accident-investigation boards have ended like this one last year in Afghanistan (“MP” refers to the “mishap pilot”):

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 2.10.22 PMThe Air Force estimates that CFIT has killed 75% of the 123 F-16s pilots—92—lost since the first fatal F-16 crash in 1981. But the software upgrade should sharply reduce such accidents. “This is a significant development and will save lives,” says retired Air Force lieutenant general David Deptula, a fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, including 400 in combat. The system is likely to be added to the service’s F-22 and F-35 warplanes.

The Air Force began grappling with the problem 25 years ago, but crashes persisted. “By the early 1990s, several F-16 mishap boards had made strong recommendations that such systems be installed,” says Alan Diehl, a longtime Air Force safety expert, now retired. “But these recommendations were always rejected by senior Air Force leaders.”

The push to do something finally kicked into high gear in 2003, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld challenged the military to cut its accident rate in half. “World-class organizations,” he told the Air Force and the other services, “do not tolerate preventable accidents.”

But more training could only accomplish so much. “Reductions in the [CFIT] rates have long been stagnant and no large improvements from training are envisioned for the future,” an Air Force report said in 2006. “The human being is now the limiting factor because he or she cannot always recognize a warning or respond appropriately to prevent a mishap.”

 

For years, the service has used posters like this to impress upon pilots the dangers posed by “Controlled Flight into Terrain,” or “CFIT.” Air Force

That’s when the Air Force, with help from NASA and F-16-builder Lockheed Martin, got to work on the robo-pilot now being installed on F-16s (109 already have them, and all 631 are slated to by next summer, according to Air Force spokesman Daryl Mayer. The fix is not planned for the 338 F-16s built before 1989 that lack digital flight-control systems).

Here’s how it works: when an F-16’s sensors and digital map detect that the plane is getting too close to the ground, an alarm sounds. It is triggered by a complex formula involving speed, trajectory—and what might be just ahead. The alarm goes off when the plane is in a place where a 5 G escape maneuver would be needed to avoid crashing into the ground (the F-16 can maneuver at up to 9 Gs, or nine times the force of gravity. That can make a 20-pound head feel like 180 pounds, and makes for a very stiff neck for passengers flying in the back seat of a two-seat F-16 trainer).

Shortly after the alarm sounds—the duration depends on the flight’s specifics—the plane’s “Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System” takes over. It quickly rolls the plane upright and pulls it upward, away from the ground. The pilot can reassert control of the plane at any time; the software is designed not to interfere with low-level bombing or strafing runs.

In the past, such alarms would sound—but it was up to the pilot to respond to the warning. At high speeds close to the ground, a delayed response can be deadly, as apparently was the case in that 2013 crash in Afghanistan. “Prior to impact, the mishap aircraft provided low-altitude warnings,” the probe said. “However the mishap pilot did not take timely corrective action.”

Too often, the pilot’s attention has been “channelized”—so focused on completing a demanding maneuver—that while the alarm may be heard, it is unlistened-to. Combined with frequent false alarms, the alarm-only setup hasn’t made a major dent in CFIT accidents.

The Air Force believes the new software will reduce the number of perfectly-fine F-16s flying into the ground by 90%. The service has estimated that could save 14 jets, 10 pilots, and more than a half-billion dollars in hardware.

But it’s also going to save something impossible to calculate. “From the human standpoint, nothing destroys morale like losing a squadron mate and friend,” Lieut. Colonel Robert Ungerman said two years ago, during development of the software upgrade at California’s Edwards Air Force Base. “The prevention of CFIT mishaps will avoid that anguish for dozens of spouses, parents, and children of lost pilots.”

TIME Military

The War Against ISIS: Operation Fingers Crossed

Airstrikes in Syria
A KC-135 Stratotanker begins a mission refueling U.S. warplanes attacking Syria. Senior Airman Matthew Bruch / U.S. Central Command

History offers a checkered record on its chances of success

For more than a week, U.S. and allied warplanes have bombed targets inside Syria every day. While that may seem an awful lot like war to those being pounded, it hardly feels that way to most Americans. When U.S. troops are in combat, on the ground, they’re generally accompanied by reporters, who in recent conflicts have been able to fill TV screens and the Internet with up-close scenes of the action.

But when the U.S. elects to conduct an air war, Americans generally witness the action from airborne targeting cameras, or social-media posts from the ground. Both of those, of course, have their own problems: footage released by the Pentagon has been edited—scrubbed, if you prefer—and represents only a tiny fraction of what was recorded. The provenance and, indeed, the authenticity of cell phone videos allegedly capturing what is happening on the ground gives a similarly incomplete, and often suspect, picture of what’s happening.

The U.S. military’s assault against targets belonging to two groups of Islamic militants inside Syria has become almost background noise for most Americans. Granted, the airmen involved are at risk, but the nation generally seems to focus on war—and holds its breath—only when U.S. ground troops are involved in combat.

For Americans, that’s a double-edged sword. For sure, it cuts down on the risk to U.S. military personnel. But it also makes accomplishing President Obama’s declared mission—the destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Khorasan Group—tougher to achieve.

That’s why Pentagon officials have made clear that the aerial campaign is open-ended and likely to be lengthy. Inflicting real pain on the jihadists is going to require ground troops, and U.S. officials say they’re more than a year away from training the first batch of 5,000 to take on an ISIS force estimated at 30,000.

“I don’t see the political strategy, at least a realistic one, in Syria,” Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told CNN Sunday. “That begs the question, how long are we going to be there and is there any end? There’s just no appetite in the American public for an open-ended military conflict in Syria.”

Todd Harrison of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates that the cost of the U.S. war against ISIS is approaching $1 billion, and could end up costing $6 billion annually for an aggressive, sustained bombing campaign. While significant, that’s far less than the roughly $150 billion the U.S. spent during the peak years of the Afghan (2011) and Iraq (2008) wars.

At best, the daily bombing will likely only freeze ISIS’s grip on eastern Syria. “Combined with our ongoing efforts in Iraq, these strikes will continue to deny [ISIS] freedom of movement and challenge its ability to plan, direct, and sustain its operations,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday. In western Iraq, reinvigorated Iraqi army and peshmerga forces are more likely to regain ground lost to ISIS over the past year.

Such campaigns have a mixed history. When the U.S. and its allies forced Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm, it took a 43-day aerial bombardment before ground forces swept in to finish the job.

The 1999 NATO-led air campaign to drive Serbs out of Kosovo in the Balkans, Operation Allied Force, required 28,000 high-explosive munitions. It cost an estimated $3 billion and killed nearly 500 civilians. The 78-day barrage did highlight airpower’s ability change the reality on the ground.

But both of those examples pitted the U.S. and its allies against organized state militaries commanded by dictators: Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. As heads of state responsible for far more than battlefields, they were subject to pressures the zealously-driven ISIS is unlikely to feel.

The air war that most closely parallels what the U.S. is now conducting against ISIS is Operation Unified Protector, the U.S.-led seven-month effort over Libya in 2011. Launched by the U.S., with NATO eventually assuming a larger role, it began as a humanitarian effort to protect Libyan rebels from Muammar Gaddafi’s army. While air strikes played a critical role in Gaddafi’s ouster and eventual killing, the country has since been wracked by conflict among its warring factions.

Two years ago, terrorists took advantage of the chaos to attack U.S. diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. “Where you’ve got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive,” Obama told CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday night, referring to ISIS. But he just as surely could have been speaking of Libya, where the war he launched more than three years ago initially was hailed as a victory for U.S. leadership. Two months ago, the U.S. shuttered its embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and evacuated its diplomats.

“The fate of that country has been largely absent from discussions about the new war,” the New York Times warned Sunday, “which is certain to last longer and unleash a wider array of consequences.”

The Pentagon, thus far, has declined to name that new war.

TIME Foreign Policy

Boehner: U.S. May Have ‘No Choice’ But to Send Troops to Fight ISIS

House Speaker Boehner Holds Weekly News Conference
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during his weekly briefing at the US Capitol on Sept. 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

"At some point, somebody's boots have to be on the ground."

House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview aired Sunday that the U.S. may need to commit ground troops to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), despite widespread opposition at home to putting American boots back on the ground in Iraq.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s gonna take more than air strikes to drive [ISIS] outta there,” Boehner told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “At some point, somebody’s boots have to be on the ground.”

Boehner went on to say that if the United States can’t train sufficient forces to secure the region or find allies willing to commit enough ground troops, he would recommend sending American troops. “We have no choice. These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don’t destroy them first, we’re gonna pay the price,” the Speaker said.

More than 70% of U.S. soldiers oppose committing to combat operations in Iraq, according to a recent poll, and a CNN poll released earlier this month showed that 61% of Americans oppose placing U.S. troops in Iraq. President Obama has repeatedly pledged there will be no ground troops used in Iraq.

U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John Miller told ABC that “progress [is] being made” with the current strategy of using airstrikes combined with Kurdish and Iraqi troops, mentioning the recapture of the Mosul dam, reinforcing the Haditha dam and securing Baghdad, as well as Sinjar mountain, among others.

 

TIME Military

7 in 10 U.S. Troops Oppose Boots on the Ground in Iraq

Pessimism about success of Iraqi mission growing, with almost 60% saying the war was not very or not at all successful, up from 31% in 2013

A large majority of the U.S. military’s rank and file are opposed to sending troops back to Iraq in combat roles, according to a new Military Times poll, even as the Pentagon commits to a broadening program of air strikes against Islamist extremists in the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The poll of active-duty members also showed a sudden hike in negativity over the past year about the success of the army’s combat mission in Iraq, with a large number of troops now questioning what U.S. military operations in the country had achieved.

Just over 70% of the troops polled were opposed to the U.S. military sending a “substantial number of combat troops to Iraq to support the Iraqi security forces.”

Of the 2,200 U.S. troops surveyed in the Military Times poll, just under 60% said the war in Iraq was not very or not at all successful, up from 31% in 2013; just 30% thought the war was very or somewhat successful this year, compared with 53% last year.

The mounting pessimism among troops over the U.S. involvement in Iraq could explain why more than seven in 10 troops support President Obama’s commitment not to get “dragged into another ground war” in Iraq. Many troops have adopted a non-interventionist attitude, with one Army infantry officer telling the Military Times, “It’s their country, it’s their business.”

One officer said troops should have stayed in Iraq longer to secure the country. “I know there are other political issues, but for our job, we should have stayed until it was secure,” said Army Capt. Eric Hatch, a logistics officer at Fort Bliss, Texas. “I think we were close to being done [in 2011], but I think we could have stayed another year or two.”

[Military Times]

TIME Syria

This Time, U.S. Goes to War Against Oil, Not For It

U.S. and allied warplanes attacked a dozen ISIS refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday. DoD

Attacks on ISIS refineries are designed to choke off funding for terror group

Some maintain that the Pentagon is a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated to its own preservation. If that’s true, it’s also worth noting that an expanding terrorist state is an oxymoron—one that will eventually collapse from its own internal contradictions.

The fact that the U.S. and its allies attacked a financial hub of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Tuesday–the first day of strikes in Syria—and spent Wednesday and Thursday bombing its oil-production facilities, highlights ISIS’s predicament.

Unlike a smaller terrorist organization—al-Qaeda, for example—ISIS now occupies, and purports to govern, a wide swath of desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border. It needs the estimated $2 million a day it’s grossing by smuggling oil because many, if not most, of its 30,000 fighters are in it for the cash, not the ideology. But the refineries represent only a small slice of ISIS’s oil revenues. It makes most of its money from crude oil, and the U.S. has refrained so far from attacking oil fields in the region.

If the money eventually dries up, Pentagon officials believe, many ISIS fighters will head back home. The terrorists control about 60% of Syria’s total oil production, according to a Syrian opposition estimate.

“Substantial uncertainty pervades our understanding of the mechanics, volume, and revenue associated with the terrorist group’s black market petroleum operations,” the Senate Energy Committee said in a report released Wednesday. “Depriving ISIS of whatever dark revenue pool it generates from its sales of oil will put additional strain on an organization with little capacity to expand its oil field operations.”

The U.S. and its allies damaged a dozen small ISIS refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday. DoD

Wednesday’s attacks by six U.S. and 10 Saudi and United Arab Emirate warplanes took all 12 targeted refineries offline, U.S. intelligence believes. “They’re not going to be using these refineries for some time,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said. “We’re trying to remove the means through which this organization sustains itself.”

Generating such revenue requires industrial-like facilities, which can go from money-makers to targets in the flash of GPS-guided bomb.

That highlights an edge the U.S. and its allies have on ISIS. Sure, the terror group’s recruits, armed with AK-47s and pickup trucks sporting machine guns, can take over small refineries sprinkled across eastern Syria. But once they have them, they can’t keep them running under aerial assault.

Pentagon officials acknowledge they don’t know how long it will take for the lack of oil money to begin having an effect. But they know what they are looking for. “We’ll know when they have to radically change their operations,” Kirby said. “We’ll know when we can see that they no longer are flowing quite as freely across that [Syrian-Iraq] border. We’ll know when we have evidence that it’s harder for them to recruit and train, or they just aren’t doing as much training and recruiting.”

That’s the conundrum ISIS faces as it tries to expand and become a functioning state: so long as the rest of the world isn’t willing to let that happen, ISIS eventually will have to revert to becoming a poorer and smaller—though still dangerous—group.

TIME Japan

The High School Where Japan’s Kids Learn to Become Soldiers

A look inside the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's High Technical School

Playing soldier isn’t what many Japanese kids today grow up doing. After its brutal march across Asia was halted by the Allies in World War II, imperial Japan accepted a U.S.-written constitution that limited its armed forces from engaging in offensive action.

Despite these constraints, some young Japanese are eager to serve their country. Each year, 4,500 students apply to gain admission to the sole high school run by the nation’s army, which is known as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Only 300 applicants gain admission.

Nearly all of the JGSDF High Technical School’s students pursue army careers. They could well see more action. In July, Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a reinterpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow the nation to engage in what’s called collective self-defense, or the ability to defend allies that are under attack.

But all that war-gaming is in the future. As photographer Chris McGrath shows, life at the JGSDF High Technical School, which opened in 1955, is a mash-up of boot camp and science fair. Students build robots then retreat to bunks in Spartan dorms. There’s plenty of marching, plus the rigor of Japanese martial arts like judo. What could be more enticing for a patriotic young Japanese?

TIME Afghanistan

Senior Democrat: We Should Be Proud of Afghanistan Progress

Levin Briefs On Investigation Into Private Security Contractors In Afghanistan
Carl Levin, retiring chairman of the armed services committee, thinks Americans have a "distorted" view of what the U.S. has accomplished in Afghanistan. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D—Mich), chairman of the armed services committee, says things are getting better all the time in Afghanistan

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the armed services committee, is leaving the Senate after 36 years. He spent Wednesday’s breakfast with a bunch of defense reporters responding to their questions on the U.S.-led attacks against Islamic militants and the Pentagon’s budget crunch.

Levin is no bomb-thrower or partisan hack. When we offered him the chance to say a final word at the end of his final breakfast with us, we listened:

Thank you for the years that we’ve been having breakfast together. I guess my one request, which I have feelings about, is our view of Afghanistan. I’ve been there a dozen times…they’ve made some amazing progress…The people of Afghanistan, by al measure, are glad we came. Eight million kids in school now, versus 800,000 kids under the Taliban; 40% girls, 40% women teachers. Universities now have formed.

Kabul, you can move in. Yea, there’s bombings and they’re covered all the time, and I understand it. But is it a glass half full? I think at least half full and I think, more importantly, it’s getting fuller…

I feel so strongly that the American public view of Afghanistan is distorted—it’s highly negative, they feel we failed. They have a right to feel some real satisfaction because we didn’t fail—quite the opposite. They haven’t succeeded yet, but with our help they have made some real strides, and it doesn’t come through.

So my plea would be, since this may be my last opportunity, would be to somehow or other cover the positives that have occurred in Afghanistan…

I just quote these public opinion polls: Americans, 70% or 65% think we have not achieved anything. In Afghanistan it’s 70 or 80% think we have. How does that happen that the people who are in the middle of that war think we’ve really done some good, and the people who are 10,000 or 15,000 miles away think we haven’t?

Particularly our troops and their families, they’ve got a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have.

The American people, taxpayers, have a right to feel they’ve accomplished something, ‘cause they have…

I’m just going to hope that somehow or other [ex-defense secretary Robert] Gates’ point, his statement, will no longer prove to be true after a couple of more years. The statement that he made was that Afghanistan is the only war he’s ever seen that the closer you get to it, the better it looks.

I believe that that’s true, and I hope a couple of years from now, when I find a way to visit Afghanistan, that we’ll not only see more progress, but the American people finally realize that `Hey, it was worth it.’

 

 

U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Afghanistan
Carl Levin, center, on a 2011 visit to Afghanistan. U.S. Navy / Getty Images
TIME Syria

U.S. and Allies Launch New Strikes Targeting ISIS Oil Fields

President Obama Delivers Statement On Recent Airstrikes Against ISIS In Syria
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the recent air strikes against ISIS on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 2014 Win McNamee—Getty Images

The Pentagon says the targets included oil refineries that produce about 300 to 500 barrels of petroleum per day

The U.S. and partner forces launched additional strikes in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Wednesday, the Pentagon said. Forces from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly launched 13 air strikes against 12 oil refineries controlled by the Islamist group.

“We are still assessing the outcome of the attack on the refineries, but have initial indications that the strikes were successful,” U.S. Central Command said Wednesday. “Producing between 300-500 barrels of refined petroleum per day, [ISIS] is estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day from these refineries. The destruction and degradation of these targets further limits [ISIS's] ability to lead, control, project power and conduct operations.”

The strikes are a part of the U.S.’s ongoing effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for beheading two American journalists and one British aid worker, among other Western casualties. During a speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on more American allies to join in the fight to “dismantle this network of death.”

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