Updates: Military Week in Photos (With Breaking News)
The Pentagon has announced that the United States has begun a new military exercise with Estonia amid no indication of a Russian troop pullback from its border with Ukraine.
Pentagon Spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren announced today that Exercise Spring Storm began earlier this week. At the same time, he said there has been no change in the Russian posture along its border with Ukraine, despite statements yesterday by President Vladimir Putin that Russian forces would pull back from the area.
Spring Storm is the latest exercise announced by the Pentagon since Russia annexed Crimea in March and is aimed at reassuring the region of NATO’s resolve. Warren called the exercise with the NATO ally “the first of three annual, multinational and bilateral exercises that will occur in the Baltic region,” with U.S. Special operations forces training with their Estonian counterparts.
Two more bilateral special operations exercises — Flaming Sword and Namejs — will be held over the next two months. More information about these exercises will become available later, Warren said.
There are 41 personnel participating in Exercise Spring Storm, officials said. Exercise Flaming Sword will involve 140 personnel.
U.S. special operations forces will also participate in a number of joint, combined exchange training events in five countries throughout the Baltic republics and Eastern Europe through the next two months. Eight countries are participating in this training — Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States.
The exchanges give American special operators valuable experience in the language and culture of the region and provide opportunity to hone their tactical skills with NATO allies, Warren said.
In the Black Sea, the USS Taylor, an Oliver Hazard-class destroyer, is visiting the Georgian port of Batumi today.
“While in Georgia, Taylor will conduct training with the Georgian coast guard,” Warren said.
Lead photo: U.S. paratroopers engage opposing forces while clearing a simulated village during exercise Rock Proof in Postojna, Slovenia, April 27, 2014. The paratroopers are assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Airborne. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Franklin R. Moore
Michigan National Guard soldiers prepare to board a military aircraft that took them to Latvia. The soldiers arrived in Latvia on May 7, 2014. They are scheduled to be deployed in Latvia for two months practicing unmanned aircraft system operations with their Latvian army counterparts. Courtesy photo
The Stars and Stripes provides a few more details on the Pentagon’s plans to help rescue the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by the Islamic militants in Nigeria:
The U.S. military team will consist of fewer than 10 uniformed military personnel, who will advise and assist the Nigerians with communications, logistics, and intelligence, according to [Pentagon spokesman] Warren.
Warren would not say whether the U.S. will send surveillance drones to Nigeria to search for the girls, but did say that the “we are discussing with the Nigerian government any type of information sharing arrangements that we can — that we can agree to.”
The Defense Department does not have any intention of using American special operations forces against Boko Haram to liberate their captives, according to Warren.
“[The team’s] mission there is to simply assess and advise … At this time we are not considering a U.S. operation to help rescue the girls,” he said.
The advisory team will augment the existing U.S. military presence in Nigeria. There are currently about 50 American troops stationed at the embassy in Abuja, including embassy security, Office of Military Cooperation and defense attaché staff. There are also 20 U.S. Marines temporarily in country participating in training exercises, according to Warren.
The Marines won’t be part of the efforts to help the Nigerians find the abducted girls, but the other U.S. servicemembers will.
The Stripes adds:
Some lawmakers are pushing the Obama administration to take a stronger approach. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced that he will hold a hearing to examine the administration’s response to the kidnappings and to the threat posed by Boko Haram.
In a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, Royce criticized the administration’s approach as shortsighted.
“While I welcome the Administration’s efforts in response to the kidnapping, including offering a team of military and law enforcement officials to the Nigerian government, I believe this temporary response will not sufficiently combat Boko Haram’s long-term threat to the region and U.S. interests,” he wrote.
Read more here
After President Vladimir Putin said Russian troops had pulled back from Ukraine’s border and urged a delay in a separatist referendum, the Obama administration says the U.S. has not seen any evidence of such a withdrawal, according to the New York Times.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren also said today that contrary to reports from Russia, there is no evidence of any troop withdrawals from its shared border with Ukraine. “We have seen no change in the Russian force posture along the Ukrainian border,” Warren said and added, “We would know.”
In the meantime our forces continue to train, and prepare.
Air Force Maj. Barak Amundson and Air Force 1st Lt. Matthew Scott fly over Lithuania during a training mission with the Lithuanian air force, April 23, 2014. Amundson and Scott, pilots, are assigned to the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which conducted the Baltic Air Policing mission since January and will be handing over the mission to the Polish air force.
In other breaking news, President Obama has directed the formation of an interagency coordination and assessment cell after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accepted a U.S. offer of assistance to help in Nigeria’s efforts to find more than 250 schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. About 10 U.S. Africa Command military personnel will be part of a U.S. team assisting the Nigerian government, according to the American Forces Press Service.
The interagency team will include representatives from the departments of State and Justice and other law enforcement elements, Pentagon spokesman Warren said. The team is expected to begin arriving “within days” at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, he added.
There are no plans for broader military operations, Warren said.
“The personnel that we’re sending to Nigeria now, … their purpose is to coordinate with the Nigerian government and assess what assistance we can provide them,” the colonel said.
The military personnel will provide a wide range of expertise in support of the Nigerian government’s search efforts, including communications, logistics and intelligence, he said.
After the tornadoes and ravaging floods came the wildfires this past week.
While driving towards Oklahoma City on I-44 yesterday, we could see the blue haze and smell the smoke of the fires just 30 miles north. We drove past them, but our military stayed there.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter assists local firefighters near Guthrie, Okla., May 5, 2014, as they attempt to contain wildfires that claimed more than 6,000 acres of land and numerous homes in less than 24 hours. A Black Hawk can carry 660 gallons of water in a “Bambi Bucket,” which crews refill in local ponds and reservoirs.
Tennessee National Guardsmen speak with residents in Lincoln County, Tenn., April 29, 2014, where extensive damage occurred following a deadly tornado that hit small communities in part of the state, April 28.
A Mississippi Guardsman surveys damage on several streets in Tupelo, Miss., April 29, 2014. About 50 Mississippi Guardsmen responded to help, performing a variety of missions, including traffic control, patrolling and assisting local law enforcement officers.
And there were other daring humanitarian missions:
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Young, 48th Rescue Squadron Pararescueman, observes two 55th RQS HH-60G Pavehawks prepare to land at Cabo San Lucas International Airport, Mexico, May 5, 2014. The Pavehawks conducted four hoist operations to extract two injured sailors and six Guardian Angels from a ship 540 nautical miles off the Pacific coast of Mexico. A 79th RQS HC-130J Combat King II then transported mission essential personnel to Naval Air Station North Island, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Grant)
Also, justice finally done:
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, right, presents the Prisoner of War medal to 1st Lt. James Mahon as Army Maj. Dwight Mears shakes Mahon’s hand during a ceremony at the Pentagon, April 30, 2014. Mahon and seven other aviators, all bomber crew members shot down flying missions over Germany, were held in a prison camp in Wauwilermoos, Switzerland. The men originally were denied POW status.
My favorite images — two this time:
Construction Electrician 1st Class Jason Van de Walker, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 28, holds his four-month-old daughter for the first time after his return from an eight-month deployment in Afghanistan.
Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Jeremiah Miller, assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70), greets his daughter upon the ship’s return to homeport at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-HIckam from an independent deployment to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro)
In the meantime, our troops continue to slug it out and re-enlist in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brian Godwin administers the oath of enlistment to U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan Conover during a ceremony on Forward Operating Base Lightning in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, April 27, 2014. Goodwin and Conover are assigned to the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
All photos and captions DOD.