Tag: Afghanistan

Russian Defense Ministry confident relations with NATO will be restored

NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

Russia will restore the former format of relations with NATO, including within the Russia-NATO Council, within a couple of years, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle on Wednesday.

“We wouldn’t want that cooperation [between Russia and NATO] to remain prehistoric. We believe that there is history, and there is the present. But I am sure that very soon, there will also be a future,” he said. “And I am sure that we will restore our relationship with NATO and we will return to the wonderful form of cooperation that is the Russia-NATO Council.”

“I think that it will happen in the next year or two at most,» he added.

As for the Russia-Belarus joint military exercise Zapad-2017 (West-2017) that are to kick off on Thursday, they are of purely defense nature, he stressed.

“I can calm our dear neighbors straightaway. The exercise is absolutely peaceful, and absolutely defensive in nature. In this case, the ‘West’ isn’t to be taken in the broad, political sense of the geographic term as the countries of the West, of the European Union or the members of NATO.

The term ‘West’ designates west of the Russian Federation and of Belarus – which is even further west than Russia,” Fomin noted. “There are no plans for any sort of invasion into the territory of neighboring countries. The main goal of the exercise is to practice relevant strategies for the battle against terrorism and to practice the use of the armed forces for that battle.”

The Russia-NATO Council was established in 2002. Before 2014, it met in Brussels at least once a month at the ambassadorial level and twice a year – at the level of foreign and defense ministers and chiefs of general staffs. Over that period, it had three summit meetings. The most efficient areas of cooperation between Russia and NATO were anti-terror efforts and Afghanistan.

Russia-NATO relations lived through three periods of chills due to political crises, namely in 1999-2000 over bombing of the former Yugoslavia, in 2008-2009 over NATO’s negativism about Russia’s actions during the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, and from 2014 to the present over developments in Ukraine.

In April 2014, NATO froze for three months all types of practical military and civil cooperation with Russia to say in June 2014 that there was no resuming strategic partnership with Russia at the moment. However, the Alliance decided to preserve the format of the Russia-NATO Council to continue political dialogue. Since then, the Council has been meeting at the ambassadorial level.

At a regular ambassadorial meeting on July 13, 2017, Moscow briefed NATO ambassadors about the forthcoming Zapad joint drills with Belarus. Following it, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he saw no threats from the drills to the NATO member countries.



Blood test for PTSD on horizon as scientists find genetic changes in traumatised soldiers

A British soldier in Helmand province, Afghanistan, after a patrol. 

Post traumatic stress disorder could soon be diagnosed with simple blood test after scientists found crucial genetic changes in soldiers suffering from trauma after serving in Afghanistan.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful or frightening events which can cause flashbacks, nightmares, depression, sleep problems and guilt.

Until now it could only be diagnosed through self-reported symptoms, which many victims, particularly servicemen, were reluctant to disclose.

But scientists at the University of Maastricht discovered crucial differences in the microRNA molecules of soldiers who had served time in Afghanistan.

Unlike DNA which provides the genetic code for functions in the body, microRNA regulates how active those genes are.

RNA circulates in the bloodstream and could be picked up through a test.

When they looked at eight Afghanistan veterans who had suffered trauma and developed PTSD they found differences in 40 microRNA molecules compared to soldiers who had not fought.

Servicemen who suffered trauma but did not develop PTSD only had differences in 27 molecules. Crucially miRNA can circulate throughout the human body and can be detected in the blood, so a blood test could pick up the abnormalities.

“Most of our stressful experiences don’t leave a long-lasting psychological scar,” said lead author Dr Laurence de Nijs, of Maastricht University, The Netheralands.

“However, for some people who experience chronic severe stress or really terrible traumatic events, the stress does not go away. They are stuck with it and the body’s stress response is stuck in ‘on’ mode. This can lead to the development of mental illness such as PTSD.

“These preliminary results of our pilot study suggest that miRNAs might indeed be candidates as predictive blood markers to distinguish between persons at high and low risk of developing PTSD.”

As well as military combat, people who have experienced serious road accidents, violent assaults, sexual abuse, neglect or terror attacks are also vulnerable to PTSD, which can occur weeks, months or even years after an incident.

PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it’s not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don’t. Individuals with PTSD are six times more at risk of committing suicide.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the European College of Neuropharmacology in Paris.


U.S. Army unprepared to deal with Russia in Europe

Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade take position during a military exercise in Lithuania in 2016. | Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

The U.S. Army’s rapid reaction force in Europe is under-equipped, undermanned and inadequately organized to confront military aggression from Russia or its high-tech proxies, according to an internal study that some who have read it view as a wake-up call as the Trump administration seeks to deter an emboldened Vladimir Putin.

The Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, a bulwark of the NATO alliance that has spent much of the last decade and a half rotating in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, lacks “essential capabilities needed to accomplish its mission effectively and with decisive speed,” according to the analysis by the brigade, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the unit’s paratroopers were the first American troops to reach the Baltic states to deter another potential incursion on NATO’s eastern flank.

But the assessment details a series of “capability gaps” the unit has identified during recent training with Ukrainian troops with experience battling Russian-backed separatists, who have used cheap drones and electronic warfare tools to pinpoint targets for artillery barrages and devastated government armored vehicles with state-of-the-art Russian antitank missiles.

YAVORIV, Ukraine — Sgt. Richard Lacombe, a Soldier from U.S. Army Europe’s Charlie Co., 173rd Airborne Brigade shows Ukrainian National Guard Soldiers the proper procedures for operating an M4 rifle during situational training exercise lanes at Rapid Trident 2014 here, Sept. 16. Rapid Trident is an annual U.S. Army Europe conducted, Ukrainian led multinational exercise designed to enhance interoperability with allied and partner nations while promoting regional stability and security. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard)

Some of the shortfalls, like the brigade’s lack of air defense and electronic warfare units and over-reliance on satellite communications and GPS navigation systems, are the direct results of the Army’s years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy has no air power or other high-end equipment and technology.

“The lessons we learned from our Ukrainian partners were substantial. It was a real eye-opener on the absolute need to look at ourselves critically,” Col. Gregory Anderson, who commissioned the report earlier this year during his stint as the brigade’s commander, told POLITICO after it had obtained a copy of the report. “We felt compelled to write about our experiences and pass on what we saw and learned.”

The report has so far been distributed only through internal channels to the Army staff and other military headquarters.

The analysis comes to light as Russia gears up for one of the largest military exercises in the post-Soviet era — a weeklong war game called Zapad that could involve as many as 100,000 troops and will be held later this month in Belarus. It also comes as the Pentagon seeks to step up its effort to deter Russia, including by rotating other American ground units on a temporary basis into Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries to demonstrate resolve. That’s part of an Obama administration effort known as the European Reassurance Initiative.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, parachuted into Iraq in the early days of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and saw intense combat in Afghanistan. While its roughly 4,000 soldiers would be no match for a Russian assault on Europe on their own, the 173rd is considered a primary element in deterring Moscow from threatening NATO’s borders — particularly since the departure of two U.S. Army tank brigades from Germany was completed in 2013.

Yet years of deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the 173rd mostly confronted ragtag groups of insurgents, have dulled some of its skills in the type of higher-end combat that Russia has been sharpening in Ukraine, the report found.

A paratrooper of the 173rd Airborne Brigade maintains a defensive fighting position with his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon on the streets of Al Hawijah, Iraq.

Some of the problems the report identifies have low-tech solutions that the Army could implement relatively easily. Amazingly, camouflage nets to hide vehicles from enemy helicopters or drones are “hard-to-find luxuries for tactical units.”

To fill other gaps, the report pins hope on a pair of new Army vehicle programs that could help the brigade if they are fielded soon enough.

The 173rd’s aging up-armored Humvees, designed to protect against roadside bombs in Iraq, would be “easy prey” for Russian armored vehicles, and the report recommends replacing them with the forthcoming Ground Mobility Vehicle, a much lighter-weight, more mobile truck. The Army announced this summer that it is buying nearly 300 of these vehicles from General Dynamics to equip the 173rd and stateside paratroop and special operations units, although none will carry the 30 mm guns that the report recommends some be outfitted with.

The report also calls for the brigade to be equipped with a small contingent of light tanks, which would offer much-needed protection to forward scouts against Russian anti-armor missiles. That solution is likely a ways off. The Army is only expected to issue a formal request for proposals for its light tank program later this year, a first step to developing a new weapon system.

Even if the service quickly settles on an already available prototype, it will be several years before the new vehicles reach the 173rd or other Army units. In the meantime, the brigade will have to rely on heavy armor units that rotate regularly from stateside bases.

Without a light tank, the 173rd will have to rely on heavy armor units to rotate into Europe from the US.

The common thread running through the paper is the challenge posed by Russia’s jammers and other electronic warfare tools.

An enemy equipped with these “could effectively neutralize a GPS system from 50 miles away using one-fifth the power of a tactical radio,” the report estimates, so “we should assume that GPS will be either unavailable or unreliable for the duration of the conflict if the [brigade] faces a near-peer threat or sophisticated non-state actors.”

Here, too, some of the solutions are low-tech. High-frequency or HF radios are more difficult for enemy electronic warfare specialists to pinpoint and jam than the satellite radios that have become the norm for U.S. units over the past 15 years. HF radio equipment and training have fallen by the wayside in the American military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but not in some allied militaries.

The shortfalls have required the 173rd to call on allies from Latvia to help it learn how to communicate in the face of Russian jamming — a stark indicator of how badly knowledge of a key communication method has degraded in the American force.

In February, according to the paper, a Latvian military communications specialist spent a week teaching HF techniques to the 173rd, and since then, the brigade’s paratroopers have honed their HF proficiency during a joint exercise with Latvian troops in Germany. To fix the problem, though, the Army needs to systemically resume teaching HF radio communications stateside, the report says.

The Falcon II AN/PRC-150(C) is a portable HF tactical military radio for voice and data communications from 1.6 to 59.999 MHz. (Photo courtesy of Harris Corps. Tactical Communications).

U.S. artillery also relies heavily on GPS, and as the 173rd has learned during exercises in the Baltic states, there is more to breaking that dependency. Before GPS, artillerymen used a set of star charts called the Army Ephemeris to precisely estimate their positions before targeting the enemy — and the Army has not updated those charts in more than two decades.

To better protect against jamming and spoofing and go on the offensive against enemy drones, the brigade and other Europe-based units have recently bought off-the-shelf commercial systems, and a more capable Army system is scheduled to come online in 2023 — but the report says the 173rd needs better jamming gear sooner than that, along with 10 small teams of electronic warfare specialists to use it.


U.S. Senator Johnson visits Warsaw for Polish-American talks

Wiceminister Tomasz Szatkowski Kongres USA Photo By Robert Suchy

On Tuesday, August 29th, the Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of National Defence Tomasz Szatkowski hosted the US delegation headed by Robert Johnson, Senator of the Republican Party. Senator Johnson is, among others, the Chairman of the National Security Committee and a member of the Budget and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Undersecretary Szatkowski thanked United States for its commitment to strengthening European security. He appreciated the enhanced US military presence on NATO’s eastern flank, including territory of Poland. He also expressed the expectation that this commitment will have a long-term nature and at the same time he stressed the actions taken and planned by Polish side aimed to ensure the best conditions for the Allies stationing in Poland.

The interlocutors also discussed other areas of bilateral cooperation between Poland and the US, including planned acquisition of the PATRIOT missile system by the Polish Armed Forces. They discussed also issues related to European security, including the Russian-Belarusian exercise ZAPAD’17.

Senator Johnson expressed his appreciation for Poland’s high spending on defense and the ambitious program of the Polish Armed Forces modernization. He also appreciated Poland’s involvement in the international security area, participation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan and in the coalition against the so-called “Islamic state”.

Senator Johnson, during his visit to Europe, will also visit Greece, Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo.


Dunford Attends Scottish Tattoo, Discusses Defense Topics With U.K. Leaders

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2017

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford used his invite to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland to visit British bases in the area and speak with senior United Kingdom defense leaders on a wide range of defense topics.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was invited months ago by his U.K. counterpart, British Chief of Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, to visit the tattoo and take the salute from the British units participating in the event.

“I didn’t realize how big the tattoo was when I accepted,” Dunford said during an interview on a flight back to Washington. “I learned.”

The tattoo ceremony is held at the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle the month of August, and more than 210,000 attend the event with about 100 million viewing the event on TV, according to news reports.

Earlier in the day, Dunford met with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and Peach to discuss a full range of issues from the South Asia strategy to the situation in East Asia – specifically North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“Both from my trip and the [positive] rhetoric that is coming out of Beijing is that the economic and political pressure is having an effect,” Dunford said. “It remains to be seen if the campaign will be successful, but there are indications that things are heading in the right direction.”

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford receives a shepherd’s crook from his Scottish hosts at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland, Aug.25, 2017. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Dominque A. Pineiro

Chinese officials told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that if he launched a missile toward Guam, he was on his own. China surprised the world by voting for sanctions against North Korea in the U.N. Security Council and now appears to be enforcing those sanctions, Dunford said.

Still, it is “much too early,” he said. “You can’t measure enforcement sanctions in weeks, but again the rhetoric has been positive from Beijing.”

Dunford also discussed opportunities for continued military-to-military engagement between the United States and the U.K. “We obviously have a very strong relationship with the U.K., and they are with us in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dunford said.The chairman visited the future HMS Prince of Wales – a Royal Navy aircraft carrier being built in Rosyth, Scotland. The British ship will field American-built F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

“Any future fight is going to require a coalition, and interoperability is a critical and fundamental element of alliance and coalition warfare,” Dunford said. “This reflects the close nature of the alliance and bodes well for the interoperability.”

The chairman received positive feedback from the British leaders on the new strategy for South Asia announced earlier this week.

“It is fair to say that all of the nations that are currently contributing to the Resolute Support Mission, and certainly all of the nations who have been there since the very beginning like the U.K., … have received the strategy well,” Dunford said.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tours the nuclear-fleet submarine HMS Ambush during a visit to Scotland, Aug. 25, 2017. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Dominque A. Pineiro

Coalition allies tell Dunford they believe the conditions-based approach is the right approach, “and that it will allow us all to have a longer-term horizon to assure our Afghan partners of our continuing support,” he said.

The strategy helps Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with his four-year plan to deal with corruption issues and economic development. “Instead of a one-year-at-a-time campaign, we can start to take a longer term approach and have confidence that the resources necessary to implement this longer term approach will be there,” the chairman said.

In addition to the British allies, Dunford spoke with other NATO allies, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Czech Gen. Petr Pavel and other close partners. He noted that Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Eucom’s commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has also spoken to allies, as has Army Gen. Joe Votel, the U.S. Central Command chief.

“We’ve touched a lot of people this week and there has been universal support for the approach we are taking,” the chairman said.



Secretary General praises Poland’s contributions to the Alliance, visits NATO battlegroup

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with enhanced Forward Presence troops

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised Poland for making important contributions to the Alliance during a visit to Warsaw on Friday (25 August 2017). He highlighted Poland’s contributions to NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, training in Iraq, and thanked Poland for hosting key NATO commands and capabilities. Mr. Stoltenberg also welcomed Poland’s leadership on defence spending, by meeting the NATO benchmark of investing 2% of GDP in defence.

In Warsaw, Mr. Stoltenberg recalled the importance of the decisions taken by Allies at NATO’s 2016 summit in the Polish capital, which led to the greatest reinforcement of the Alliance’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War. “We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force, established new headquarters in the east of the Alliance and enhanced our forward presence here in Poland, as well as in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania”, Mr Stoltenberg said.

Commenting on Russia’s ZAPAD military exercise, scheduled for September in Belarus and western Russia, Mr Stoltenberg said NATO would be watching closely. He further urged Russia to respect its commitments to military transparency and the OSCE. “All nations have the right to exercise their forces, but nations should also respect their commitments to transparency,” he said.

While in Warsaw, Mr Stoltenberg held talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, and Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz. He also participated in a trilateral meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melesșcanu, which focused on current security challenges and‎ preparations for next year’s NATO summit in Brussels.

The Secretary General wrapped up his trip to Poland by visiting a 1,200-strong multinational NATO battlegroup stationed in the northeastern town of Orzysz. The NATO battlegroup is one of four in the Baltic nations and Poland established following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Mr Stoltenberg noted that NATO’s forces in the eastern part of the Alliance were a key outcome of the Warsaw Summit, adding that they show Europe and North America standing united.


Defence Secretary salutes Scots troops who keep us safe at home and abroad

The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots)

The Defence Secretary today met Scottish troops who are about to deploy to Iraq as the vanguard of the UK and allied fight against Daesh and international terrorism.

Visiting Glencorse Barracks, Penicuik, Sir Michael Fallon met 2 SCOTS (2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland) where he praised the contribution the troops would make to helping keep the UK safe and highlighted how the range of their recent and forthcoming deployments “spanned continents” contributing to security “at home and abroad”.

In Iraq on OP SHADER, 2 SCOTS’ non-combat role will strengthen the Iraqi Security Forces as they fight to remove Daesh. They will provide the latest training in urban combat, marksmanship and countering improvised explosive devices.

Troops from 2 SCOTS will shortly also deploy on two United Nations’ missions: joining comrades from the Scots Dragoon Guards in Cyprus over the next few weeks, and deploying on Op TRENTON in South Sudan in 2018

Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said:

The men and women of our Scottish-based Armed Forces perform a pivotal role in keeping the people of this country, and our allies, safe.

From Afghanistan to South Sudan to Cyprus as well as recent deployments in the UK, the strength and versatility of 2 SCOTS allows them to operate in varied roles that span continents and project UK influence across the globe.

The men and women who serve here today can be proud of the valuable contribution they make to our security both at home and abroad.

In May 2017, 2 SCOTS personnel deployed on Op TEMPERER to guard key infrastructure sites in order to release 166 civilian Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary firearms officers in Scotland. This was part of the wider UK response which freed an additional 1,000 armed civilian police officers to help protect the UK public, following the Manchester Arena terrorist attack.

Troops from 2 SCOTS will shortly also deploy on two United Nations’ missions: joining comrades from the Scots Dragoon Guards in Cyprus over the next few weeks, and deploying on Op TRENTON in South Sudan in 2018 to protect the UN forces building hospitals and other new infrastructure.

Previously, 2 SCOTS deployed on NATO’s Op TORAL peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan for nine months in 2015-16 where they helped develop the professionalism of the officer cadre passing through the Afghan National Army’s Officer Academy, and protected UK and allied troops in Kabul.

2 SCOTS will again be part of the UK Standby Battalion in 2018, contributing to an additional force of 2,800 military personnel to support civilian police forces, should they request it.

2 SCOTS are a light role infantry battalion based in Penicuik comprised of 414 Scottish infantry soldiers and 35 officers, supported by 53 Army personnel from other regiments and battalions.


Europe’s military maestros: Italy

Kabul, AFGHANISTAN: Italian soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stand guard near their base in Kabul, 21 May 2007. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema, who is on a one-day visit to Kabul, met with Italian troops and is expected to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta during his stay. AFP PHOTO/SHAH Marai (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

The NATO member may not spend much on defense, but it’s nonetheless pulling a lot of the EU’s weight. It’s time we gave the Italian’s some respect. 


On the face of it, Italy is a woeful member of NATO, spending just 1.11 percent of GDP on defense — far below the alliance’s 2 percent benchmark. Only seven NATO countries spend less. But take a close look at the country’s contribution to European security and a rather different picture emerges.

Between January and June of this year, Italy’s coast guard rescued 21,540 migrants from 188 vessels, while the Italian navy brought 3,344 migrants to safety and its financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, saved nearly 400.

Add to that Italian troops serving on NATO and U.N. missions in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as the country’s participation in Operation Sophia, an EU naval mission that has rescued 5,676 migrants since the beginning of the year, and it becomes clear that Italy has become Europe’s policeman.

“Yes, you can measure defense spending, but it can’t be the only metric,” said Stefano Stefanini, an Italian former ambassador to NATO. “In providing security, deployability and operations matter more than budgets.”

Italy’s coast guard conducts migrant rescue missions that often take its vessels far beyond waters normally considered coast guard territory. So does the Italian navy, even though search and rescue are not part of a navy’s normal tasks. The Guardia di Finanza’s mission is to intercept smugglers of drugs and money, not save asylum seekers.

But with people-smugglers callously overfilling their leaky vessels with people desperate to reach Italy, and with the Libyan government only now starting to assist, it would be unethical to do nothing. So the Italian armed forces rescue the migrants.

In the waters of the Mediterranean, human decency gives the Italians little choice. But their troops participate in many other missions from which Italy could reasonably ask to be excused. According to figures assembled by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), a Rome-based think tank, last year a total of 6,092 Italian troops served on international missions in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. Some 600 Italians serve in Kosovo; another 1,100 in Lebanon. Italian troops are stationed in Libya and Somalia, too.

Counting Italian officers embedded with other countries’ armed forces, the figure exceeds 7,000. This year, another 140 Italians deployed to Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence initiative. With deployment rotations — each foreign deployment position is typically filled by four service members in rotation — that means more than 28,000 Italian troops are involved in international operations.

“Today’s situation is more complicated than war or peace,” said a high-ranking official in the Italian Ministry of Defense. “We’re stabilizing an entire region.”

Last year, the international missions cost the Italian government more than €1 billion, according to IAI. And that doesn’t count the cost of the navy, coast guard and Guardia di Finanza search and rescue missions.

Soldiers inspect the deck of an abandoned boat in order to sink it, during an Italian Navy operation ‘Mare Nostrum’ in the Mediterran Sea, September 19, 2015 | Giuseppe Lami/EPA

But here’s the paradox: all of these efforts don’t show up in NATO statistics. As a result, a country such as Greece looks like a star member of the alliance thanks to its annual defense expenditure of 2.4 percent of GDP. Though Greece rescues migrants off its coasts, it is not participating in any current EU or NATO military missions.

NATO’s statistics measure how much a member spends on defense, how much is spent in personnel and how much on equipment. But they don’t show how much a country spends on NATO-related activities.

“In addition, some countries put everything they can into the defense budget in order to approach the 2 percent target,” said Stefanini. “But Italy doesn’t; in fact, it plays down what it does in defense for domestic policy reasons.” A large part of the Italian electorate supports the political left and would be unhappy with increased defense spending.

It’s high time Italy’s allies — particularly in the EU — recognize the country’s contributions to regional security.

Many countries are, in fact, getting away with doing close to nothing to shore up Europe’s south in the knowledge that the Italians will take care of it

To be sure, it is in Italy’s interest to stabilize not only the waters surrounding it but the countries too: another exodus of Kosovars would be difficult to handle, not to mention an even larger influx of asylum seekers travelling via Libya. Lebanon faces a potentially explosive situation involving, among other things, spillover from Syria.

But the issues to which Italy devotes manpower and resources — stability in the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa — have implications that spread far beyond the country’s borders. And migration in particular has EU-wide consequences as few of those crossing the Mediterranean do so intending to stay in Italy.

“We’re trying to make allies aware of the threats coming from the southern flank,” said the Ministry of Defense official. “These threats are moving towards all of Europe.”

“No country can guarantee European security alone,” the official added.

Frontex, the EU’s external border agency, does conduct migrant response operations in the Mediterranean, and NATO’s Sea Guardian mission polices the sea. But so far most of Italy’s allies have been content to leave the country to bear the bulk of the southern flank responsibilities — and the costs of doing so.

Many countries are, in fact, getting away with doing close to nothing to shore up Europe’s south in the knowledge that the Italians will take care of it.

By Elisabeth Braw, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.


President Trump Unveils New Afghanistan, South Asia Strategy

President Donald J. Trump unveiled an expansive new strategy for South Asia aimed at bolstering American security.

The new strategy encompasses Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the Central Asian nations and extends into Southeast Asia. He stressed the strategy will not have artificial timelines built into it.

Trump spoke before a crowd of hundreds of service members at Conmy Hall at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.

Trump said the American people are frustrated by the nation’s longest war in Afghanistan, calling it a war without victory. The new strategy, he said, is a path toward victory and will step away from a policy of nation building.

The new strategy, Trump said, is a result of a study he ordered immediately after he was inaugurated in January. The strategy is based on three precepts.

“First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives,” Trump said. “The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.”

No Hasty Exit

Trump said the second precept is that a hasty exit from Afghanistan would simply allow terrorists to flood back into that country and begin planning attacks on America and its allies and partners.

The third precept, he said, concerns the threats emanating from the region, which are immense and must be confronted.

“Today, 20 U.S-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world,” the president said. “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict. And that could happen.”

The United States and its allies and partners are committed to defeating these terrorist groups, Trump said.

“Terrorists who slaughter innocent people will find no glory in this life or the next,” he said. “They are nothing but thugs and criminals and predators and — that’s right — losers.”

Trump added, “Working alongside our allies, we will break their will, dry up their recruitment, keep them from crossing our borders, and, yes, we will defeat them, and we will defeat them handily.”

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States will work to stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America, Trump said.

“And we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world, for that matter,” he said.

Conditions-Based Strategy

Trump emphasized the strategy will be conditions based and not set to a timetable. “I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options,” the president said. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”

Trump said the new strategy will involve all aspects of American power, employing diplomacy, economic might, intelligence and military power to advance American interests and ensure the safety of the homeland and American allies and partners.

The United States, he added, will continue to support the Afghan government and its military.

“Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society and to achieve an everlasting peace,” Trump said. “We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Trump said Pakistan is a major concern, and he said Pakistan must stop providing safe havens for terrorists who rest and refit for actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan,” the president said. “It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”

Pakistan Must Change

Trump noted that Pakistan has worked with the United States in the past, but the nation’s policies must change.

“No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials,” Trump said. “It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.”

Trump said India will be a key component in any strategy in the region, and the president wants to work with India’s leaders to provide more economic assistance and targeted development to the people of Afghanistan.

“We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

The president pledged that service members will have the rules of engagement they need to take swift, decisive actions. “I have already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters that prevented the secretary of defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy,” he said. “Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles. They’re won in the field, drawing upon the judgment and expertise of wartime commanders, and front-line soldiers, acting in real time with real authority, and with a clear mission to defeat the enemy.”

‘Victory Will Have a Clear Definition’

The president described what he believes victory will look like. “From now on, victory will have a clear definition: Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge,” he said.

NATO allies and global partners like Australia will support the new strategy and have already pledged additional troops and funding increases, the president said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he has directed Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to prepare to carry out the president’s strategy. “I will be in consultation with the secretary general of NATO and our allies — several of which have also committed to increasing their troop numbers,” Mattis said in a written statement. “Together, we will assist the Afghan security forces to destroy the terrorist hub.”

The president concluded his speech speaking directly to service members in the hall and around the world.

“With our resolve, we will ensure that your service and that of your families will bring about the defeat of our enemies and the arrival of peace,” Trump said. “We will push onward to victory with power in our hearts, courage in our souls and everlasting pride in each and every one of you.”



Russia Plans Joint Military Drills With Central Asian Allies, Citing Afghan Conflict

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

The Russian military said it will conduct joint military maneuvers with its allies in Central Asia in response to regional threats arising from the war in Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with Russia’s top military brass in Moscow on August 18 that the conflict between Afghan government forces and the Taliban poses a threat to the Central Asia’s stability.

Shoigu said that Russia will hold joint war games later this year with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia has military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

He said that as part of efforts to prepare for potential threats, Russia staged joint maneuvers with Tajikistan earlier this year. The drills in July involved launches of the Iskander-M missiles, one of the most advanced weapons in Russian military arsenals.


UK Special Forces Support Group (SFSG)

SFSG aboard an HMT400 ‘Jackal’

The Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) is a special operations unit of the British Armed Forces. The SFSG is the newest addition to the United Kingdom Special Forces. It was formed officially on 3 April 2006 to support the Special Air Service, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment and the Special Boat Service on operations. The 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment (1 PARA), a company strength group of Royal Marines, and a contingent of RAF Regiment personnel form the UK’s Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). The SFSG may provide extra firepower from land or air to fulfil their mission.

During the Iraq War, the SFSG was part of Task force Black which was composed of a rotational British SAS sabre squadron and a platoon of paratroopers from the SFSG (also known as Task Force Maroon). During the Basra prison incident, a platoon of SFSG accompanied A Squadron 22nd SAS to Basra to assist in recovering the two detained SAS operatives. Paratroopers from the SFSG supported SAS operations around Baghdad usually cordoning off areas where the SAS were carrying out their missions. In late 2005/early 2006, the SFSG took part in Operation Lightwater  The SFSG platoon in Iraq supported B Squadron 22nd SAS during Operation Larchwood 4, killing one terrorist when he ran out of the target building and hid under a car. members of the SFSG and the SAS often wore Army Combat Uniform (ACU) OR Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU)to blend in when operating alongside American JSOC units.

Members of 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment heading out on patrol. The lead gunners carries an M240 7.62mm

An SFSG company was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 to support the SBS and SRR as part of Operation Kindle-the UKSF deployment to Afghanistan (known as Task Force 42). On September 9, 2009, the Special Boat Service, supported by the SFSG, conducted a mission to rescue Stephen Farrell; a journalist captured and held at a Taliban safehouse in Char Dara District, Kunduz province, by Taliban insurgents. The UKSF team was inserted by helicopters from the 160th SOAR, the SBS assaulted the safehouse whilst the SFSG set up a cordon. Farrell was rescued and a number of Taliban were killed, however one member of the SFSG was killed as well as Farrell’s Afghan interpreter and two civilians.

SFSG, SBS and SRR Afghanistan

The SFSG have been known to carryout operations in Helmand Province with the United States Marine Corps; they also often conduct unilateral raids (similar to the US Army Rangers), but typically act as both blocking and quick reaction forces for ‘Tier 1’ units.In August 2013, the Daily Telegraph reported that the SFSG, worked hand-in-hand with an elite unit of Afghan commandos, known as Task Force 444, throughout Helmand province.

Afghan Commandos ( ANA Special Forces )

The unit’s A Company arrived in Afghanistan in January for a six-month tour and went on to mount relentless raids against the Taliban. The Ministry of Defence sources confirmed that the SFSG and Afghan strike forces led a series of raids on suspected Taliban bomb-makers in May after three British soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb at the end of April; the raids continued for two or three times a week afterwards. Also the unit targeted insurgent supply lines in the desert near the border with Pakistan, and Taliban bases in the centre of the province. In 2014, The SFSG maintained a high operational tempo months after the official end of offensive operations by UK forces.

An SFSG member and a US Marine disembarking from a CH-53 Sea Stallion after a joint operation in Helmand Province 31 August 2013

The SFSG also act as the hunter force during the SERE phase of the UKSF Selection; in addition, the SFSG also have a rotating company group trained in Counter Terrorism (CT) to support the on-call SAS or SBS squadrons on CT rotation.

The unit’s creation stems from the need to provide infantry support to the United Kingdom Special Forces, which became evident after the Battle of Tora Bora during which two Special Boat Service (SBS) squadrons assaulted the al-Qaeda cave complex. Previously, this support was carried out on an ad hoc basis, with infantry units assisting special forces teams when needed.

The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain.

During Operation Barras in Sierra Leone, soldiers from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment were deployed alongside troops from the Special Boat Service (SBS) and D Squadron SAS. This was successful, as the SAS soldiers attacked the encampment containing the hostages while the soldiers from The Parachute Regiment attacked a second encampment.

D Squadron SAS at Gberi Bana, Sierra Leone

In December 2004, it was announced that a unit would be formalised for this role as part of the wider future army structure. It was initially conceived as a battalion of “Rangers”, similar to the United States Army Rangers. The SFSG’s formation was announced officially by the then Secretary of State for Defence John Reid in Parliament on 20 April 2006. It was established to support British special forces units in battle overseas and on domestic “counter-terrorist” operations. Most unit personnel are Parachute Regiment soldiers, Royal Marine or Army commandos, or RAF Regiment gunners.

All infantrymen selected for the SFSG have passed either the P Company selection course run by the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines Commando course or the RAF Regiment Pre-Parachute selection course. Royal Marines and RAF Regiment gunners are sourced from across their respective Corps.

The Royal Marines elements comprise approximately one platoon strength within each of A, B, and C Companies.

A Royal Marine from 42 Commando (Cdo) is pictured on patrol in Afghanistan

The RAF Regiment also provide a platoon in B company and forward air controllers to direct close air support. The Support company comprises mortar, sniper, and patrol platoons. The Patrol platoon operates vehicles, including the Jackal.

There is also a RAF Regiment CBRN unit assigned to the SFSG to provide specialised knowledge and capability to military and civilian agencies in detection and handling of chemical, biological, and radiological/nuclear weapons and materials.

Special Forces Support Group