Photo of the Day: Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Conducts Embassy Reinforcement Training

Posted: 12:27 am EDT

 

via Marines.mil

A U.S. Marine with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa emplaces a machine gun on the roof of a notional American Embassy during a training exercise in the urban training facility in Baumholder, Germany, July 6, 2015. More than 78 Marines and sailors conducted the full-mission rehearsal, which demonstrated the unit’s ability to rapidly deploy and conduct embassy reinforcement. (Photo from marines.mil)

U.S. Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa (SPMAGTF) from Sigonella, Italy, conducted a training exercise at an Army training facility in Baumholder, Germany serving as a simulated American Embassy on July 6-9, 2015.

According to marines.mil, the full-mission rehearsal demonstrated the unit’s ability to deploy to conduct embassy reinforcement and validate the communications capability of the platoon. More than 78 members of the SPMAGTF patrolled the urban training facility, and set up communication and defenses to protect the notional American personnel and assets.

“This is the type of mission is what we’ve been training to since before we deployed to Sigonella,said Staff Sgt. Edward Erdmann, the platoon sergeant. “The training was a good test for the Marines because they didn’t know what to expect, and the unexpected is what we need to train to.” A team of Army Green Berets provided the opposing force for the Marines securing the embassy.

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State Department to Get a Holodeck to Train U.S. Diplomats, Star Trek Replicator Not Included

Posted: 2:17 am  EDT

 

The Foreign Service Institute will soon have an  Immersive Virtual Environment to train our diplomats.  The solicitation calls it a “Holodeck Projection Solution” and it is an intended addition to the school’s Innovation Lab.

Really, something like this?

 

In early 2014, Wired reported that the Army Contracting Command issued a Sources Sought notice for companies interested in demonstrating “mature technologies” for military training.  The report noted that Northrop Grumman thinks its Virtual Immersive Portable Environment (VIPE) Holodeck just may be the answer.  The VIPE Holodeck 360 degree virtual training system provides users with a high-fidelity immersive environment with a variety of mission-centric applications, including simulation and training, mission rehearsal and data visualization. The VIPE Holodeck can support live, virtual and constructive simulation and training exercises including team training, cultural and language training and support for ground, air and remote platform training.

The U.S. Army required  white paper and demo from interested companies with the requirement spelled out here.

The announcement said that the Army lacked the capability to rapidly assess, adapt and replicate the complex nature of the operational environment and applicable Joint, Interagency, International, Multinational (JIIM) enablers to conduct realistic training and develop adaptive Leaders at Home Station. Associated Areas of interest for NIE 15.1 Include:

Provide an Augmented Reality (AR) capability that can be utilized by individual Soldiers or Small units (Company & below) to integrate (simulated) Joint and other combined arms enablers (e.g., indirect/FA fires, aerial delivery of supplies, CAS) during live training events, (with the ability to support multi-echelon training at Home Station when required).

It looks like, the U.S. Army was actually looking not only into the capability gaps, it also knows what that immersive virtual environment will be used for.

We can’t say the same for the State/FSI solicitation for a holodeck.

FSI will have an  Immersive Virtual Environment to train our diplomats but it does not say what kind of immersive training it will be used for. It requires vendor to “provide any necessary training” but does not identify what training content is required.  Is this for an immersive congressional hearing environment?  Language training? Death notification simulations for non-consular officers working as duty officers? Will our diplomats be doing intergalactic diplomatic negotiations on alien planets?  The solicitation does not say.  What’s next?  A follow-up solicitation for vendors to write virtual environment simulations for diplomats? A solicitation for the script for those simulations?

Here’s a clip from The Void, a company that says “you will walk into new dimensions and experience worlds without limits. From fighting intergalactic wars on alien planets, to casting spells in the darkest of dungeons, THE VOID presents the future of entertainment. Only limited by imagination, our advanced Virtual-Reality technologies allow you to see, move, and feel our digital worlds in a completely immersive and realistic way.”

Folks, please let us know when the FSI cafeteria gets a replicator.

 

Via fedbiz:

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the Federal Government’s primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington. At the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC), the FSI provides more than 450 courses, including some 70 foreign languages, to more than 50,000 enrollees a year from the State Department and more than 40 other government agencies and the military service branches.

The NFATC is seeking to have an Immersive Virtual Environment display capability added to its Innovation Lab classroom.

Holodeck Projection Solution

FSI has a space that has three walls arranged in a U-shape with 90° angles between each wall. Each wall is approximately 15ft long by 8ft in height. The vendor will provide a solution to project images on three walls (surfaces) in order to produce an immersive space for training.

The solution must include the following:

• A source computer capable of processing, rendering, and outputting high-end digital video and graphics.

• The source computer must have the ability to have a WiFi network connection, run on latest version of its operating system, and be capable of outputting four (4) video feeds each 1920×1080 or greater; three for the walls/surfaces and one for local monitoring.

• Video processing must…

* Accommodate to the angles in the U shape layout and adjust for the perspective change (i.e. a “wrapped” image). The system must display images from the perspective of a viewer standing in the center of the U as they look around them.

* Be able to show content independently and in a variety of combinations. (i.e. a separate image on each surface simultaneously; two images split between the three surfaces; and other combinations.)

• An audio solution for the immersive space driven from the controlling PC.

• The walls painted or finished with a suitable projection surface.

• Projectors placed so as to minimize shadows from people standing in the immersive environment.

•Projectors with a native resolution of 1920×1080 or greater and a contrast ratio of 2000 to 1 or greater.

This requirement will include all necessary projection equipment, mounts, PC, installation, cabling, wall plates, video processing and wall surface paint/material for a turnkey room.

• Vendor will document all cabling & design and present to FSI in an editable electronic & printed format when the work is completed.

• Vendor will document all equipment serial information and present to FSI in an electronic format (MS Excel or equivalent) when work is completed.

•  Vendor shall provide any necessary training.

Paging Starfleet, is this all you need for a holodeck?

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Photo of the Day: Little Andrew Evaluates Secretary Kerry’s Haircut

Posted: 2:01 am EDT

 

Photo via state.gov/Flickr

17627487688_74414c3bc5_z

Secretary Kerry Holds 8-Month-Old on Shoulders After Addressing U.S. Military and Diplomatic Personnel at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds 8-month-old Andrew Belz on his shoulders as he poses with the children of U.S. military and diplomatic personnel following a speech to them at the Yongsan Army Garrison amid a visit to Seoul, Republic of Korea, on May 18, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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Tweet of the Day: The Truth Behind The Afghanistan ‘Success Story’

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

 

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Looking at an American intervention that’s going to end, not with a bang, but on a deadline, it can be tough to find the silver lining.

This week Forbes contributor Loren Thompson tried to do that in a piece called “Five Signs Afghanistan Is Becoming An American Success Story,” making the case that staying the course in Afghanistan is “paying off.” His premise that Americans can hold their head high on Afghanistan is based on five points: the solid performance of Afghan forces, the country’s improved political climate, Islamabad’s renewed interest in cooperating with Kabul, a booming Afghan economy, and popular support for Afghanistan’s national institutions. It’s a concise, readable assessment, with one problem: The country Thompson describes doesn’t exist.

Gary Owen is a veteran, development worker, and blogger at “Sunny in Kabul.” He is also a regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and Vice News. Gary Owen is a pseudonym. Follow Gary Owen on Twitter @elsnarkistani.

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Secretary Kerry Makes Brief Stop at Mogadishu Airport, First Ever Secretary of State Visit to Somalia

Posted: 2:10 pm EDT

 

On May 5, Secretary Kerry made a brief stop in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He is the first Secretary of State ever to visit Somalia.  He met with Somalian leaders at the Mogadishu airport but did not go into town. State Department official told the press that this is due to “a huge, huge logistical and security challenge.”

“The last thing we need is something to happen when the Secretary is on the ground. And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him out of – off the grounds of the airport…

[W]e’re making plans to make our presence more enduring in Somalia. As you know, we announced a new Foreign Service career ambassador for Somalia, and once that ambassador is on the ground, our office will continue to be here in Kenya. But once the ambassador is on the ground, we’re going to have a much more enduring TDY footing in Somalia. We’re going to be there much more regularly with a bit of a – a bit more larger footprint.

 

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Below is a quick recap of US-Somali relation via history.state.gov:

1960 | Somalia achieved its independence in 1960 with the union of Somalia, which had been under Italian administration as a United Nations trust territory, and Somaliland, which had been a British protectorate.

1960 | Diplomatic relations were established on July 1, 1960, when the U.S. Consulate General at Mogadiscio (now Mogadishu) was elevated to Embassy status, with Andrew G. Lynch as Chargé d’Affaires.

1969 | The Somali army launched a coup which brought Mohamed Siad Barre to power. Barre adopted socialism and became allied with the Soviet Union. The United States was thus wary of Somalia in the period immediately after the coup.

1977 |  Barre’s government became increasingly radical in foreign affairs, and in 1977 launched a war against Ethiopia in hopes of claiming their territory. Ethiopia received help from the Soviet Union during the war, and so Somalia began to accept assistance from the United States, giving a new level of stability to the U.S.-Somalia relationship.

1980s | Barre’s dictatorship favored members of his own clan. In the 1980s, Somalis in less favored clans began to chafe under the government’s rule. Barre’s ruthlessness could not suppress the opposition, which in 1990 began to unify against him.

1991 | After joining forces, the combined group of rebels drove Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991. No central government reemerged to take the place of the overthrown government, and the United States closed its embassy that same year, although the two countries never broke off diplomatic relations. The country descended into chaos, and a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions began to unfold.

1991| The U.S. Embassy closed on January 5, 1991, and all U.S. personnel were withdrawn after the collapse of the central Somali government.

1992 | In December 1992, the United States began Operation Restore Hope. President George H.W. Bush authorized the dispatch of U.S. troops to Somalia to assist with famine relief as part of the larger United Nations effort.

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

1993 | On October 3, 1993 Somali warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed’s forces shot down two Black Hawk helicopters in a battle which lead to the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. The deaths turned the tide of public opinion in the United States. President Bill Clinton pulled U.S. troops out of combat four days later, and all U.S. troops left the country in March 1994.

See Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

1995 | The United Nations withdrew from Somalia in March 1995.

2013| The United States did not sever diplomatic relations with Somalia. Through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, the United States maintained regular dialogue with transitional governments and other key stakeholders in Somalia, and after January 17, 2013, with the newly recognized central government of Somalia.

2015 | In February 2015, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Katherine S. Dhanani as first Ambassador to Somalia since 1991. If confirmed, Ms. Dhanani will lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia but will be physically based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. See President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991.

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Tweet of the Day: Admiral John Kirby as Next Foggy Bottom Spokesman

Posted: 3:01 pm EDT
Updated: 4:08 pm EDT

 

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US Mission Afghanistan: Insider Attack During Senior U.S. Official’s Visit Kills One, Wounds Several Others

Posted: 1:17 pm EDT

 

Another insider attack out of Afghanistan is in the news today. According to media reports one U.S. service member is dead. The number of those wounded is reportedly between 3 to 7 Americans. The US Embassy in Kabul released the following brief statement:

We are aware that there was an exchange of gunfire involving Resolute Support service members near the provincial governor’s compound in Jalalabad. The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor. All Chief of Mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for.  

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via USConMazar/FB

via USConMazar/FB

Below via LAT

“The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor,” embassy spokesperson Monica Cummings said. “All chief of mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for.”  The U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, P. Michael McKinley, was in Kabul and not part of the visit to Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, embassy officials said.
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Via Stripes:

The attack occurred after a meeting between U.S. Embassy officials and local Afghan leaders at the provincial governor’s home in Jalalabad, said Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal, police spokesman for Nangarhar province.  An Afghan soldier suddenly opened fire on American and NATO troops providing security for the embassy team. The gunman and a member of the security team were shot dead during the exchange, Mashraqiwal said.

Via WaPo:

According to Afghan officials, Ambassador Michael McKinley was not present at the meeting. The U.S. Embassy did not provide further details on which senior U.S. official was meeting with the governor. But Afghan officials in Jalalabad said it was Donald Y. Yamamoto, who also holds ambassadorial rank.
Yamamoto, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethi­o­pia and principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, served as a senior U.S. civilian representative to Northern Afghanistan, based in the U.S. Consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, where he was sent during last year’s elections. He now is the senior civilian representative in Afghanistan for Regional Command North, the State Department said.

According to USCG Mazar’s FB page, the Senior Civilian Representative to northern Afghanistan as of March this year is David Birdsey. Donald Y. Yamamoto currently serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.  He was previously ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti.

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Czech Prez Bans US Ambassador Schapiro From Prague Castle Just Days After Operation Dragoon Ride

Posted: 6:06 pm PDT
Updated: April 6, 2015, 9:17 am PDT

 

Sputnik News says that military parades will be held in 26 Russian cities to mark the 70th anniversary of the Victory over the Nazis in World War II. “Czech Republic Milos Zeman will visit Moscow in May to take part in the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, according to the presidential spokesperson.

The Prague Post reported that at the end of March, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro told the public broadcaster Czech Television (ČT) that while in Moscow, Czech President Miloš Zeman could be the only leading representative of an EU country, which might be somewhat precarious. Apparently, among EU countries, only the top representatives of Cyprus and Greece will go to Moscow for this celebration.  “A number of Western politicians have decided to boycott the Moscow celebrations due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.”  Ambassador Schapiro reportedly also said that it was not his task to tell the Czech president what to do or not to do.

That was the end of March.  On April 5, the Czech President reportedly cited what the American ambassador said on Czech Television (ČT) and declared that “the doors of the castle were closed” to Ambassador Schapiro.

“I cannot imagine that the Czech ambassador in Washington would advise the US president where he should travel. And I will not allow any ambassador to have a say in my foreign travel plans.”

 

Here is Prague Castle, the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic.

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That was March, this is now April.  Did something else happen? Why yes. According to the Economist, “neither rain nor sleet nor snow, to quote the American postal service’s motto, have kept Czechs from lining the routes followed by three American military convoys through their country over the past few days.”

Operation Dragoon Ride saw units from the United States Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment travel through the Czech Republic from March 29th to April 1st, the final stretch of an 1,800km jaunt through six eastern NATO countries. 

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In any case, Ambassador Schapiro did not even know that he’s been banned from the Prague Palace Castle. The Czechs have been sounding off on Twitter, with some apologizing for their president and others saying their houses are open for the ambassador.

 

Click here for photos of hundreds of Czechs who welcomed 15 commanders of the U.S. army convoy and Ambassador Schapiro, as they laid flowers and wreaths to the Thank You America Memorial in Plzen a week ago.

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Update:

Congressional Research Service Reports and Briefs – October 2014

via state.gov

-10/31/14   Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Port of Entry  [502 Kb]
-10/29/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [497 Kb]
-10/29/14   U.S. and International Health Responses to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa  [633 Kb]
-10/28/14   The Ebola Outbreak: Quarantine and Isolation Authority – Legal Sidebar  [55 Kb]
-10/27/14   Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief  [340 Kb]
-10/23/14   Iran Sanctions  [709 Kb]
-10/22/14   Political Transition in Tunisia  [437 Kb]
-10/22/14   The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy  [594 Kb]
-10/21/14   A New Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State: Comparison of Current Proposals in Brief  [302 Kb]
-10/21/14   Turkey-U.S. Cooperation Against the “Islamic State”: A Unique Dynamic? – CRS Insights  [170 Kb]
-10/20/14   Palestinian Authority: U.S. Payments to Creditors as Alternative to Direct Budgetary Assistance? – CRS Insights  [58 Kb]
-10/17/14   U.S. Citizens Kidnapped by the Islamic State  [60 Kb]
-10/10/14   Al Qaeda-Affiliated Groups: Middle East and Africa  [1119 Kb]
-10/10/14   Increased Department of Defense Role in U.S. Ebola Response – CRS Insights  [48 Kb]
-10/07/14   As Midterm Election Approaches, State Election Laws Challenged – Legal Sidebar  [53 Kb]

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U.S. Consulate Herat Officially Relocates From 5-Star Hotel to ISAF’s Camp Arena

— Domani Spero

 

In December 2009, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry signed the lease for the 5-Star Hotel property in Herat, Afghanistan, identified as the site of the future U.S. Consulate in Herat, the post that would  cover the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah.

Two and a half years after that lease signing, the U.S. Consulate in Herat officially opened. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attended the opening ceremony on June 13, 2012. He made the following remarks:

And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate — this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.
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This consulate, built with so many Afghan hands and so much Afghan talent, is a small reminder of what the people of Herat can accomplish. And it gives us hope for the greater effort facing Afghans—which is not merely the building of a single structure, but the building of an entire nation that deserves a future better than its recent past. Let this building stand as a sign of our commitment: As you build this future, one day at a time, you can count on the steadfast support and friendship of the United States of America.

Related posts:

 

This past September, we’ve blogged about the 2014 OIG report on Mission Afghanistan noting the rebuilding of the Consulate Herat building following the September 2013 attack:

Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.

We have yet to confirm if  the rebuilding was completed this past summer (see * below).

However, on October 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement of its official notification to the Government of Afghanistan that it is consolidating the State Department operations in Herat at ISAF’s Camp Arena effective October 23:

On October 18, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that the United States intends to move its diplomatic and consular presence from its current location on Qol-e-Urdu Road to Camp Arena of the International Security Assistance Force effective on October 23, 2014.  Following the September 13, 2013 attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Herat, the staff has been working from Camp Arena, and due to operational considerations, we have decided to continue to operate from Camp Arena.  The U.S. Consulate Herat staff remains committed to engaging with the Afghan people.

Camp Arena, the main Italian base near the city of Herat is home to 2,000 Italian soldiers and 400 Spanish troops (2012 numbers).

So.  That’s where we are right now. * Word on the corridors is that this $10 million refurbished/repaired/hardened building will be a returned to the municipality and will be treated as a write-off. We anticipate that Consulate Herat will be operating out of an ISAF base for the foreseeable future but we don’t know at this time how many of these bases will remain in Afghanistan when troops are reduced to 9,800 after this year and cut in half at the end of 2015.  The reduction of forces in Afghanistan only calls for “a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy” at the end of 2016.

With that in mind, the big question is — where would this plan leave the U.S. Consulate in Herat, currently located in Camp Arena and U.S. Consulate Mazar e-Sharif, currently located in Camp Marmal?

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