Prepared by Costas Ioannou exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by Yoana
On March 29, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and Estonian Defence Minister Hannes Hanso met at the Pentagon to discuss the defence relationship between their nations.
Carter expressed his gratitude to Hanso for Estonia’s support in operations at Afghanistan, Africa and the Balkans, and for the support in the coalition’s campaign to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Carter and Hanso discussed Russia’s actions in Europe, including the Baltic region. The defence leaders also tackled the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in their meeting.
The secretary also thanked his Estonian counterpart for hosting U.S. and NATO forces in Estonia, and for Estonia’s leadership in consistently meeting NATO’s defence spending goal.
In addition, the press secretary said, the two defence leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation on a range of fronts, particularly on defensive cyber capabilities through the Tallinn-based and NATO-accredited Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, as well as on defence industrial activities.
On March 30, U.S. European Command officials said that the U.S. Army in Europe will begin receiving continuous troop rotations of U.S.-based armoured brigade combat teams to the European theatre in February, bringing the total Army presence in Europe up to three fully-manned Army brigades.
As discussed during the announcement of the fiscal year 2017 European Reassurance Initiative budget proposal says that the Army has decided to begin storing static equipment, known as Army pre-positioned stocks, within Europe for contingency operations, official said.
The armoured brigade combat teams will be on nine-month rotations from the United States and will bring their own modern equipment to conduct exercises across Atlantic Resolve countries.
The rotations will demonstrate the ability to rapidly deploy equipment and forces to Europe by sending U.S.-based rotational forces with their currently assigned equipment. This equipment will be the most modern the Army has to offer, officials noted, and over the next year will replace the current training equipment in Europe.
When the first rotational armoured brigade combat team arrives early next year, the equipment currently used by rotational forces, known as the European activity sets, will be repaired, upgraded, and converted into the core of the Army pre-positioned stocks announced in February, officials said. The pre-positioned equipment will be stored in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
The equipment will enable rapid deployment of ground forces and additional combat power in response to contingencies throughout the region, Eucom officials said.
By the end of 2017, there will be a continuous presence of three fully equipped Army brigade combat teams, one armoured, one airborne one Stryker brigade, as well as one pre-positioned set of combat-ready equipment sufficient to support another armoured brigade combat team and division-level enablers in Europe.
Breedlove is attending the Northern European Chiefs of Defence Conference in Riga, Latvia, this week, where he is meeting with regional counterparts to reassure allies of Eucom.
On March 31, in cooperation with the Somali government, the U.S. military conducted an airstrike in Somalia against Hassan Ali Dhoore, a senior leader of the al-Shabab terrorist group, who is part of al-Qaida.
In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said officials still are assessing the results of an airstrike in Somalia against a senior leader of the al-Shabab terrorist group.
In addition to being part of al-Qaida, Dhoore was a member of al-Shabab’s Amniyat security and intelligence wing, and he was heavily involved in high-profile attack planning in Mogadishu. He had planned and overseen attacks resulting in the death of at least three U.S. citizens.
Dhoore played a direct role in the Dec. 25, 2014, attack on Mogadishu International Airport, resulting in the death of several African Union Mission in Somalia personnel and a U.S. citizen. He also was directly responsible for the March 27, 2015, attack on the Maka al-Mukarram Hotel in Mogadishu that killed 15 people, including a Somali-American national, and was believed to have been plotting attacks targeting U.S. citizens in Mogadishu.
On March 31, U.S. and Russian defence officials continued their ongoing dialogue on flight safety in Syrian airspace.
Elissa Slotkin, assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven M. Shepro, the Joint Staff’s vice director for strategic plans and policy, co-chaired a video teleconference with Russian Defence Ministry counterparts to discuss ongoing adherence to the U.S.-Russia memorandum of understanding on the subject.
The two sides committed to adhering to the memorandum on flight safety as long as each side is operating in Syria.
On April 1, an Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman stated that the U.S. Coalition efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s leadership have severely limited the terror group’s operations.
Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad that the coalition has remained active in targeting ISIL leadership.
Coalition efforts have dismantled ISIL headquarters and disrupted the terrorists’ efforts to plan attacks in Iraq, Syria or abroad. The coalition is actively searching for ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is believed to travel between Iraq and Syria, Warren said.
Developments in Iraq, Syria
Warren said Iraqi security forces, supported by the coalition, kicked off a new offensive last week in the Tigris River Valley called Operation Valley Wolf.
This shaping operation, which is taking place about 45 miles south of Mosul, will help set the conditions for the liberation of Mosul.
Units from Iraq’s 15th Division have already pushed west out of Makhmour, liberating the villages of Kudilah, Kharbardan and Karmadi.
To the west, in the Euphrates River Valley, Operation Desert Lynx continues. The Iraqi 7th Division seized the Kubaysah Cement Factory and cleared Kubaysah. Iraqi forces and tribal fighters are now clearing that town of IEDs.
Meanwhile, in Shaddadi, Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces are improving their defences and preparing for future operations. In the last six weeks, they have gained more than 3,200 square kilometres.
Also on April 1, U.S. and coalition military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
Strikes in Syria
Attack and ground-attack aircraft conducted five strikes in Syria:
- Near Ayn Isa, three strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL vehicle-borne bomb.
- Near Dayr Az Zawr, a strike destroyed two ISIL bulldozers.
- Near Mara, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed two ISIL fighting positions.
Strikes in Iraq
Rocket artillery and fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 12 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government:
- Near Habbaniyah, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
- Near Hit, three strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL vehicle-borne bomb, two ISIL bomb factories, an ISIL vehicle, an ISIL anti-air artillery staging area and nine ISIL tunnel entrances and denying ISIL access to terrain.
- Near Kirkuk, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed two ISIL assembly areas.
- Near Mosul, two strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed two ISIL assembly areas and five ISIL vehicles.
- Near Qayyarah, two strikes destroyed an ISIL tactical vehicle and an ISIL mortar firing position and suppressed two separate ISIL mortar firing positions.
- Near Ramadi, a strike destroyed two ISIL vehicle-borne bombs.
- Near Sinjar, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL assembly area.
- Near Sultan Abdallah, a strike destroyed three ISIL tunnel systems and three ISIL assembly areas.
On March 29, senior military leaders from U.S. 7th Fleet and the Sri Lanka navy and air force met to discuss operational topics aboard the Fleet’s flagship USS Blue Ridge, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Sixteen officials from Sri Lanka attended the bilateral meeting hosted by 7th Fleet, designed to share knowledge and discuss lessons learned within the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
There were also discussions about potential bilateral training between the U.S. and Sri Lanka during Pacific Partnership, a joint effort between the United States, foreign militaries, and other organizations to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian and civic assistance, as well as veterinary, medical, dental and civil engineering support.
Blue Ridge and embarked 7th Fleet staff are in Sri Lanka conducting a port visit to build new ties in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin envisions a stronger partnership with Sri Lanka.
The U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. interests in the Indo-Asia Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build maritime partnerships.
On March 30-31, U.S. Commander of Submarine Group 7 conducted bilateral talks with the Republic of Korea Navy Commander, at Polaris Point, Naval Base Guam.
The 43rd Submarine Warfare Committee Meeting, hosted by Submarine Squadron 15, brought together representatives from the U.S. and ROK navies.
Rear Adm. William R. Merz, commander, SUBGRU 7, met with Rear Adm. Youn Jeong Sang, commander, Submarine Force to discuss planning joint exercises, training and continued development of integrated anti-submarine warfare plans.
The underlying theme of the talks was to leverage the strong relationship between the U.S. and ROK to advance the capabilities of both submarine forces.
At the conclusion of the conference, a formal agreement was signed between COMSUBGRU 7 and CSF. The agreement reaffirms the longstanding relationship and pledges continued support between the two submarine forces.
Established in 1994 during the birth of the ROKN submarine fleet, the SWCM has evolved into a discussion between U.S. and ROKN submarine forces and focuses on submarine tactics, force integration and future submarine development.
The ROKN visit to Guam centred on the 43rd SWCM but also included office calls to the command leadership of Naval Base Guam, Guam Naval Hospital, Andersen Air Force Base and SUBRON 15. COMSUBGRU 7 and CSF also toured the Naval Submarine Training Centre Pacific Detachment Guam and the War in the Pacific Museum.
SUBRON 15 is located at Polaris Point, Naval Base Guam in Santa Rita, Guam, and consists of four Los Angeles-class attack submarines.
The squadron staff is responsible for providing training, material and personnel readiness support to these commands. Also based out of Naval Base Guam are submarine tenders USS Frank Cable and USS Emory S. Land.
The submarines and tenders are maintained as part of the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed submarine force.