CENTCOM Investigation of Deadly Pakistan Border Incident

U.S. Central Command on Monday released an unclassified version of the investigation report into the deadly Nov. 25-26 incident near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.

CENTCOM commander Marine Corps Gen. James R. Mattis directed the International Security Assistance Force to take a series of corrective actions after receiving the final report.

As a result of the investigation and report, Mattis directed ISAF Commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen to implement the following actions as soon as possible:

  • Improve mutual trust among those working in the border areas.
  • Clarify authorities, responsibilities and standard operating procedures for command, control and communication in near-border operations and develop formal training exercises and drills.
  • Implement a program of full disclosure of all border area facilities and installations on both sides of the border, with systematic updates based on a common database and map.
  • Before conducting any operation, direct all future coalition units and formations contemplating near-border area operations to confirm all installations near the border and the planned objective.
  • To prevent friendly fire incidents, develop and share with the Pakistan military the common use of force-escalation measures such as show of force and other standard procedures.
  • Consider harmonizing ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom rules of engagement to promote clarity and transparency.

The focus is to ease mistrust and miscommunication among those working in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area which led to the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

“The strongest take-away from this incident,” Mattis said in a statement, “is the fundamental fact that we must improve border coordination, and this requires a foundational level of trust on both sides of the border.”

You can read the full Armed Forces Press Service article on the investigation report HERE.

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U.S. Central Command on the Move, into New Headquarters

Major Gen. Karl Horst, CENTCOM chief of staff.

Twenty years ago, congress was ready to shut down MacDill Air Force Base. That was until the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) got a look at the top-secret work being done by U.S. Central Command at the Tampa base, according to Congressman C. W. “Bill” Young, (R) of Pinellas County.

“They moved our F-16s to Luke Air Force Base, and they set up the process to close MacDill,” Young said.

But instead of cutting the ribbon on a new condominium or commercial center, Young and Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D) of Tampa were at MacDill Monday to dedicate the new 266,000 square foot CENTCOM headquarters. It’s building is proof, Young said, that MacDill is no longer in danger of being closed down.

The new, 266,000 square-foot CENTCOM headquarters.

The joint command, overseeing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has a staff of 2,000 who were previously housed in dozens of trailers, annexes and disconnected buildings. Coordinating that widely dispersed staff is the job of Major General Karl Horst, chief of staff at Central Command.

“When you live in a trailer park and you are sharing a cubicle with four other people, it doesn’t do a lot for morale when you know how important CENTCOM is and all of the missions you have,” Horst said. “So, I would tell you that this is a building that aligns quality of life commensurate with the level of U.S. Central Command has.”

The CENTCOM logo adorns a large carpet in the lobby of the new building that cost $75 million.

The new CENTCOM headquarters is a workplace to be proud of, Horst said. He said one quarter of it,  the entire second floor, is dedicated just to computer servers and switching units for their global communications network. It’s 13 feet above sea level to protect from hurricanes.

The building cost $75 million, but by the time parking and other finishing touches are included the price tag will be closer to $83 million.

CENTCOM Commander Names Pakistan Incident Investigator

Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis has appointed Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from the Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Fla., to investigate the Nov. 26 deaths of Pakistani soldiers during an engagement near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Clark has been asked to produce his  initial report on the incident by Dec. 23 and may ask for administrative support and help from other experts.

“This is a Centcom-led investigation with full NATO cooperation and you will include NATO representation in your investigation team,” Mattis said in an appointment letter sent to Clark Monday according to a report by Cheryl Pellerin of the American Forces Press Service.

The investigation will focus on the facts of the incident, determine which U.S., ISAF, Afghan and Pakistan units were involved and if they crossed the border and under what conditions.

Additionally, Clark is to recommend improvements for near-border operations.

High Tech Training to Counter IEDs – Roadside Bombs

Afghan National Army soldiers from the 205th Kandak detonate an improvised explosive device discovered on a hillside in Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 29. The ANA soldiers found the IED while conducting a security patrol in the area.

BY ALEX COOK and BOBBIE O’BRIEN

The military members came from 45 different countries but all with one purpose – to find better ways to find and disarm IEDs, improvised explosive devices. The roadside bombs have claimed thousands of lives military and civilian in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base hosted a conference for Counter IED Trainers this week. The focus was to teach soldiers how to think like the insurgents they will confront overseas.

Part of the training involved passing through a series of four trailers each detailing a unique aspect of IEDs like one trailer set up like a bomb makers’ shed.

The following video, shot and produced by WUSF intern Alex Cook, takes you through the four trailers for a taste of training on countering IED bomb blasts.

In the high-tech training, service members pass through a series of four trailers, each focused on a unique aspect of IEDs. They received briefings from virtual characters and participate in simulations meant to help them think like insurgents. The new training system is in use at 13 military bases around the country.

CENTCOM’s Rear Adm. Jeff Harley on Pakistan, Partnerships

Rear Adm. Jeff Harley. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Biographies website.

U.S Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is responsible for some of the most sensitive and volatile regions on the globe such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. And Rear Admiral Jeff Harley is in charge of security cooperation for all 17 countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility.

In a recent interview, Adm. Harley talked with me about his job as Vice Director, Strategy, Plans and Policy (J5) – which is principally about building relationships with other military leaders that can be counted on when diplomacy is failing.

REAR ADM. JEFF HARLEY: It’s about building that special trust that’s required to be able to maintain that type of diplomatic opportunity. It’s more than just military power.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: Building that kind of cooperation beyond military but in the personal relationships – was that best demonstrated most recently in Egypt?

HARLEY: I think one would never really know, but I think there’s certainly been a lot of discussion to that end and in many other countries as well. But, I would say in my heart of hearts that military to military relationship did have a significant influence on the military leadership in Egypt.

We should look at the Arab Spring not just as a crisis. We should look at it as a world of opportunity – a world of opportunity to expand our relationships with the different countries while also reinforcing our values, our national values.

O’BRIEN: There are some concerns obviously with Adm. (Mike) Mullen leaving and his concerns specifically about Pakistan.

HARLEY: I think many people forget how many Pakistani soldiers are lost in the fight against counter terrorism. More soldiers have been killed in Pakistan fighting terrorists than NATO has lost in Afghanistan. They are in the fight against terrorism with us and they do support our efforts in Afghanistan and in a number of other tangible ways. It is a difficult relationship. It is a very complex relationship, but we continue to build a military trust that is enabling our success in Afghanistan today.

O’BRIEN: Rate where that trust is now in the position you’re in now compared to where it was before Osama bin Laden that was before Adm. Mullen’s comments.

HARLEY: I do think that the special trust that we have with Pakistan has been eroded by some of these events and we are working to continue to build that trust. Gen. (James) Mattis in particular has a strong military to military relationship with his counterpart. And we work very closely through our Office of Defense representative in Pakistan to continue the military to military ties that are so critical to being able to help assist in the war against terror in the sanctuary areas of Pakistan.

O’BRIEN: You have mentioned more than once in this interview about “we will be that enduring partner, we will be there.” Is that possibly the biggest concern that you hear from the partners in region? Worry that the U.S. would come in and then leave?

HARLEY: I think that is a concern of our regional partners and it’s one of our enduring themes at U.S. Central Command is that we are a partner and that we are a partner that can be counted on for the long-term. And being a partner doesn’t necessarily mean having bases and facilities in a country, it means being able to establish contacts, maintain those relationships, trade military officers at respective schools. It can be as simple as maintaining a maritime presence which we have for decades and decades.

It’s going to be an exciting future in the Middle East, but it will be that future because of the good foundation of relationships that we’ve created through security cooperation.

Multiple Deployments: A New Reality for a New Military

Master Sergeant Nation holds a photo of he 8-year-old daughter - he's been deployed for half of her life.

I wrote a headline earlier this week that the “military continues to pay the price for 9/11.” Not all of that cost is in blood, the price also is exacted in how military families live their lives.

“You deploy for a year, then you come back, you have another honeymoon, then you deploy for another year,” said Master SG Milt Nation, a military policeman who joined the Army in 1989. He joined because he always wanted to be a cop. He’s deployed a lot to Bosnia and Croatia “but those were peacetime deployments.”

Nation has deployed five times since 9-11, three times to Iraq, once to Afghanistan and once to Qatar. He’s currently assigned to U.S. Central Command Headquarters at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. I met him at the CENTCOM 9/11 ceremony on Friday.

With so many deployments I asked how that affects his family. He pulled out a photograph of his daughter, Alexandria.

Nation has deployed five times since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he is currently assigned to CENTCOM.

“She turned 8 years old, but I’ve only known her four years of her life with all the deployments that I’ve gone on,” Nation said. “I’m just actually balancing it out right now, to know her, to see her and be a dad. So, I have fun.”

“All soldiers know they’re going to have to deploy to one of those two places (Afghanistan or Iraq) and they expect that and the leadership expects that,” Nation said adding that today’s soldier is different, “I joined a long time ago in ’89 for a different reason, for college and for an  experience to be a police officer. But they joined just to help out our country combat on terrorism and I thought that was very honorable, it surprised me just young kids just joined to come over and deploy

He said families learn to deal with deployments taking it day-to-day and technology has been a great help – with the internet and phones – keeping families connected. But he added that it’s important they don’t get distracted.

“Sometimes you’ve got to stay focused about what’s happening with the mission and the families they have to focus what’s going on at school or with the kids,” Nation said. “At the end you’ve got to have that relationship where you come back and try to bond with each other again.”

Nation has two Purple Hearts from his deployments in Iraq and he still loves what he does being a military policeman.

U.S. Military Continues to Pay the Price for 9/11 Attacks

Members of the CENTCOM staff salute during the singing of the National Anthem.

Under a cloud dappled sky at the U.S. Central Command Memorial on Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base – a brief remembrance was held Friday for those lost during the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Civilians, first responders, firefighters were remembered along with the men and women of the military who continue to fight overseas long after the smoke has cleared from the Twin Towers, Pentagon and Pennsylvania field.

Some of the honored guests included a few of the doctors from James A. Haley VA Medical Center and members of the CENTCOM Coalition Force.

Most in attendance were men and women in uniform who stood throughout the brief ceremony.

It is they, those wearing the uniform, said CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis, who continue to pay the price of 9-11. He called Al Qaeda an enemy that attacked more than New York City – but also Bali and Moscow – London and Madrid.

CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis pledges to continue the fight for those lost on 9/11.

“It’s an enemy of all civilized people everywhere and an enemy who thought by hurting us on 9-11 he could scare us,” Mattis said. “And with the Americans, he was not aware of the descendents of Valley Forge, of Shiloh, of Midway and Normandy, of Ploiesti and Iwo Jima, Vietnam and more are not made of cotton candy.”

His remarks were brief, but Gen. Mattis reminded his troops that they must, “pledge to fight for enlightenment and tolerance and fight tyranny to the last full measure. The losses of our fellow citizens from so many nations only remind us that the innocents on 9-11 our stalwart brothers and sisters in uniform since who we’ve lost have only made us more determined.”

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