Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pentagon Evacuation due to Earthquake

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By Bob Lewis - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Aug 23, 2011 15:09:27 EDT

MINERAL, Va. — The most powerful earthquake to strike the East Coast in 67 years shook buildings and rattled nerves from South Carolina to Maine on Tuesday. Frightened office workers spilled into the streets in New York, and parts of the White House, Capitol and Pentagon were evacuated.

There were no immediate reports of deaths, but fire officials in Washington said there were at least some injuries.

The National Cathedral said its central tower and three of its four corner spires were damaged, but the White House said advisers had told President Barack Obama there were no reports of major damage to the nation’s infrastructure, including airports and nuclear facilities.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake registered magnitude 5.8 and was centered 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Va.

Two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station, in the same county as the epicenter, were automatically taken off line by safety systems, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The earthquake came less than three weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and in both Washington and New York it immediately triggered fears of something more sinister than a natural disaster.

At the Pentagon, a low rumbling built until the building itself was shaking, and people ran into the corridors of the complex. The shaking continued there, to shouts of “Evacuate! Evacuate!”

The Park Service closed all monuments and memorials on the National Mall, and ceiling tiles fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington. All flights there were put on hold.

In lower Manhattan, the 26-story federal courthouse, blocks from ground zero of the Sept. 11 attacks, began swaying, and hundreds of people streamed out of the building.

The New York police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, was in a meeting with top deputies planning security for the upcoming anniversary when the shaking started. Workers in the Empire State Building spilled into the streets, some having descended dozens of flights of stairs.

“I thought we’d been hit by an airplane,” said one worker, Marty Wiesner.

Another, Adrian Ollivierre, an accountant, was in his office on the 60th floor when the quake struck: “I thought I was having maybe a heart attack, and I saw everybody running. I think what it is, is the paranoia that happens from 9/11, and that’s why I’m still out here — because, I’m sorry, I’m not playing with my life.”

New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance was starting a news conference about the dismissal of the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, when the shaking began. Reporters and aides began rushing out the door until it became clear it was subsiding.

On Wall Street, the floor of the New York Stock Exchange did not shake, officials said, but the Dow Jones industrial average sank 60 points soon after the quake struck. The Dow began rising again a half-hour later and finished the day up 322 points.

In Washington, the National Cathedral said cracks had appeared in the flying buttresses around the apse at one end. “Everyone here is safe,” the cathedral said on its official Twitter feed. “Please pray for the Cathedral as there has been some damage.”

Shaking was felt as far south as Charleston, S.C., and as far north as Maine. It was also felt on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, where Obama is taking summer vacation and was starting a round of golf when the quake struck at 1:51 p.m. EDT.

Obama led a conference call Tuesday afternoon on the earthquake with top administration officials, including his homeland security secretary, national security adviser and administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Around Mineral, Va., a small town close to the epicenter, people milled around in their lawns, on sidewalks and parking lots, still rattled and leery of re-entering buildings. There was at least one aftershock.

All over town, masonry was crumpled, and there were stores with shelved contents strewn on the floor. Several display windows at businesses in the tiny heart of downtown were broken and lay in jagged shards.

Carmen Bonano, who has a 1-year-old granddaughter, sat on the porch of her family’s white-frame house, its twin brick chimneys destroyed. Her voice still quavered with fear.

“The fridge came down off the wall and things started falling. I just pushed the refrigerator out of the way, grabbed the baby and ran,” she said.

By the standards of the West Coast, where earthquakes are much more common, the Virginia quake was mild. Since 1900, there have been 50 quakes of magnitude 5.8 or greater in California alone. There have been 43 of magnitude 6 of greater.

Quakes in the East tend to be felt across a much broader area.

“The waves are able to reverberate and travel pretty happily out for miles,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough.

More than 12 million people live close enough to the quake’s epicenter to have felt shaking, according to the Geological Survey. The agency said put the quake in its yellow alert category, meaning there was potential for local damage but relatively little economic damage.

The USGS said the quake was 3.7 miles beneath the surface, but scientists said they may never be able to map the exact fault. Aftershocks may help to outline it, said Rowena Lohman, a seismologist at Cornell University. There were at least two aftershocks, magnitudes 2.2 and 2.8.

The last quake of equal power to strike the East Coast was in New York in 1944. The largest East Coast quake on record was a 7.3 that hit South Carolina in 1886. In 1897, a magnitude-5.9 quake was recorded at Giles County, Va., the largest on record in that state.

A 5.8-magnitude quake releases as much energy as almost eight tons of TNT, about half the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The earthquake that devastated Japan earlier this year released more than 60,000 times more energy than Tuesday’s.

The Virginia quake came a day after an earthquake in Colorado toppled groceries off shelves and caused minor damage to homes in the southern part of the state and in northern New Mexico. No injuries were reported as aftershocks continued Tuesday.

On the East Coast, Amtrak said its trains along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington were operating at reduced speeds and crews were inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal.

In Charleston, W.Va., hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave temporarily.

“The whole building shook,” said Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court. “You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own.”

In Ohio, office buildings swayed in Columbus and Cincinnati, and the press box at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, shook. At least one building near the Statehouse was evacuated in downtown Columbus.

In downtown Baltimore, the quake sent office workers into the streets, where lamp posts swayed slightly as they called family and friends to check in.

John Gurlach, air traffic controller at the Morgantown Municipal Airport in West Virginia, was in a 40-foot-tall tower when the earth trembled.

“There were two of us looking at each other saying, ‘What’s that?’” he said, even as a commuter plane was landing. “It was noticeably shaking. It felt like a B-52 unloading.”

Immediately, the phone rang from the nearest airport in Clarksburg, and a computer began spitting out green strips of paper — alerts from other airports in New York and Washington issuing ground stops “due to earthquake.”

The earthquake caused a stir online, where people posted to Facebook and Twitter within seconds and described what they had felt. The keywords in posts, or hashtags, included “DCquake,” “VAquake” and “Columbusquake,” an indication of how broadly the quake was experienced.

“People pouring out of buildings and onto the sidewalks and Into Farragut Park in downtown DC,” Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, posted on Twitter.

Quake photos and videos also made the rounds. A handful were authentic. Many more were not — they were favorite earthquake scenes from Hollywood blockbusters or footage of people shaking their glasses and plates at an Olive Garden.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Surviving the Cut: 160th Special Ops Aviation Regiment "Nightstalkers"

With extraordinary, unprecedented access, Surviving the Cut takes viewers into the intense world of military elite forces training. From divers and snipers to para-rescue men and bomb specialists, the elite and how they earn a place in the coveted units are the focus in this compelling all new series. This episode features the U.S. Army's 160 Special Ops Aviation Regiment; the "Nightstalkers". -The Discovery Channel

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taliban Who Downed Helo Killed in Airstrike

An airstrike involving American fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft killed the Taliban leader responsible for the ambush that killed 38 U.S. and Afghan forces over the weekend, according to the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

The Tuesday airstrike killed Mullah Mohibullah and another insurgent who fired the shot that brought down a CH-47 Chinook on Aug. 6, killing the 30 U.S. troops aboard.

Military officials announced the airstrike Wednesday morning. Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters about the mission during a video conference at the Pentagon.

Air Force F-16s and an AC-130H, as well as Army AH-64 Apache helicopters conducted the operation, a spokesman for NATO troops in Afghanistan told Air Force Times.

The F-16s dropped GBU-38 and GBU-54 bombs, and the Spectre fired its 105mm and 40mm cannons. The Apaches attacked insurgents with 30mm cannons.

Mohibullah’s death came after an “exhaustive manhunt” stemming from “multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens,” according to a release from the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The two men were killed while trying to flee the country. Troops tracked the men into a wooded area of the Chak district of Wardak province. The F-16 then dropped the bomb, killing Mohibullah, the shooter and several others.

Army Times Link

Monday, August 8, 2011

More Details from the Helicopter Crash

KABUL, Afghanistan — International military forces worked on Monday to recover every last piece of a Chinook helicopter that crashed over the weekend, killing 30 American troops, seven Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter, NATO said.

German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, told reporters that troops had secured the crash site in a rugged area of eastern Wardak province and nobody was being allowed in or out of the area while the investigation was ongoing.

Jacobson said the coalition still had not yet determined the exact cause of the crash, but some officials have said the heavy and lumbering transport helicopter was apparently shot down. Officials said the helicopter was hit as it was flying in and approaching the area.

"We are still investigating this incident so we have no picture of what was the cause for the incident. That is what the investigation is basically all about," Jacobson said.

The helicopter was ferrying a group of Navy SEALs to reinforce a group of Army Rangers who were under fire. It remains unclear if the Rangers and SEALs were taking part in a night raid to capture or kill an insurgent leader.

Another NATO helicopter made a hard landing Monday in eastern Paktia province, the U.S.-led coalition said. It did not report any casualties and said the cause of the hard landing was under investigation. The coalition said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.

The helicopter was a CH-47 of the same type that crashed on Saturday. It was flying in to pick up special operations troops, but apparently suffered a mechanical failure and crash-landed, an officer in the war zone said. He could not be named because he was not authorized to comment publicly. The crew was rescued by the troops.

The fatal crash on Saturday highlights the risks confronting the U.S.-led coalition as it looks to rely more on special operations forces while reducing the overall number of troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

A current and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force members and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.

All but two of the SEALs were from SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May, officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. None of the SEALs killed in the crash took part in the bin Laden mission.

The Rangers, special operations forces who work regularly with the SEALs, secured the crash site in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak province, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, one of the officials said.

Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing.

Eight Taliban fighters were also killed in the battle, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Jacobson said that despite the tragedy, the coalition was undeterred in its mission.

"The incident as tragic as it was in its magnitude will have no influence on the conduct of operations It was a tragic day. It was a tragic loss," Jacobson said. "The campaign is going to continue. We will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy in the fight that we are taking too them."

SEALs, Rangers and other special operations troops are expected to be the vanguard of the American military effort in Afghanistan as international military forces start pulling out, handing over control to the Afghan forces they have spent billions of dollars arming and training.

Special operations troops are expected to remain in the country after the troop withdrawal for counterterrorism missions and advisory support. Just how many will remain has not yet been negotiated with the Afghan government, but the United States is considering from 5,000 to 20,000, far fewer than the 100,000 U.S. troops there now.

Special forces are frequently used to target insurgent commanders as part of an effort to force the Taliban's leadership to agree to a negotiated peace. The operations, mostly in the form of night raids, are often carried out by Afghan and coalition special operations forces.

Night raids have drawn criticism from human rights activists and infuriated Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who says they anger and alienate the Afghan population.

Army Times Link

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Deal to Cut Defense Spending

WASHINGTON — Cuts to defense spending in the debt reduction bill could total nearly $1 trillion over 10 years — more than double what President Obama had proposed earlier this year — and sap American military might worldwide, say analysts and members of Congress.

Budget cutters may have to consider slashing costly defense systems like the U.S. military’s replacement fighter jet or increase health-care premiums for working-age military retirees to comply with a debt reduction deal that may cut as much as $900 billion from the U.S. military over 10 years.

“They could do this responsibly,” said Todd Harrison, a budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “The reality is that it will be very difficult.”

Thomas Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Pentagon cuts won’t require “long knives so much as chain saws.”

Harrison estimates the reductions in defense spending could rise to $900 billion over 10 years.

The proposed cuts would force critical weapons systems to be trimmed or eliminated along with reductions in military personnel and training while at war, Donnelly said.

“The question will be what do we do when we get a shock to our system like 9/11?” Donnelly said. “The fact is we haven’t turned down wars, not even President Obama.”

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has argued that there is “excessive” military spending that can be eliminated in part by scaling back U.S. commitments overseas. But even Obama’s choice for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, told the Senate last week that $800 billion in defense cuts “would be extraordinarily difficult and very high risk,” prompting some on Capitol Hill to withhold support for the debt-ceiling deal.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of a House Armed Services Committee on military readiness, voted against the bill and described the cuts to the military services as “staggering.” He said the deal would require the Army and Marine Corps to shed needed troops “in a world that’s not getting any safer.”

Among the areas likely to attract budget cutters attention:

• Retirees pay $230 a person or $460 a family each year, along with small co-payments for various types of care. The fees have not gone up since 1995.

• The Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is to replace an aging fleet of Harrier jets and protect troops in infantry assaults. The cost: $385 billion for 2,457 jets.

• The size of the ground forces. Army has about 550,000 soldiers, up about 40,000 since 2006. There are about 200,000 Marines, up from 175,000. The Pentagon already has planned to cut 27,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines by 2015 to save about $6 billion in 2015 and 2016.

If the cuts are targeted, Harrison said, the Pentagon could be forced to make tough choices but still maintain a potent force.

“This will really forces (the military) to rethink its strategy,” Harrison said. “That’s not always a bad thing.”

Last week, in a Congressional hearing on military readiness, the No. 2 officers of the armed services said the services could absorb $400 billion in cuts that President Obama had proposed prior to the debt deal cuts. Anything more would be a problem.

“If they would exceed $400 billion, we would start to have to make some fundamental changes in the capability of the Marine Corps,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant.

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