A heightened pace of military operations and the nature of the threats confronting U.S. troops call for improvements in personnel rescue techniques and equipment, said officials.
Although each service has specially-trained personnel recovery forces, the Pentagon is pushing for joint tactics and procedures. A new multi-service computer program to manage personnel recovery missions, for example, is now in use, and a new Defense Intelligence Agency analytic cell has been established to work cooperatively on personnel recovery issues.
"Personnel recovery is critical to our nation and to our forces. It also denies the enemy a key source of intelligence," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, director of operations for the U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for the war in Afghanistan.
He spoke at a conference sponsored by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Office (DPMO) and the National Defense Industrial Association.
In the Afghan conflict, the United States Central Command has conducted the highest number of rescues since the Vietnam War. More than 170 individuals have been rescued so far, said Renuart.
CENTCOM combines the services' capabilities with various other joint capabilities, to assist in what is "an uncertain operational environment with a low- to medium-threat risk," he said. Elements from all sectors of the military have been employed, such as search and rescue (SAR), combat search and rescue (CSAR), joint combat search and rescue (JCSAR), and non-conventional assisted recovery (NAR).
Renuart cited the challenges posed by the Afghan terrain, which is extremely mountainous--49 percent of it is 2,000 kilometers above sea level. Helicopters often lose their effectiveness at that altitude, he said, which can impede operations. Climate factors also have made certain recoveries difficult. "It was an extremely cold winter with little rainfall," he explained.
A successful personnel recovery last November occurred when an MH-53 helicopter was forced to conduct a hard emergency landing. "An 11-man crew was isolated behind enemy lines," he said. Using near real-time notification, recovery forces took action in a dangerous terrain at a 3,000-meter elevation. "It took three hours, but joint recovery forces recovered all personnel," he said. "In earlier times, this would have taken many hours or days," he said.
There were four serious injuries and cases of hypothermia. The aircraft was unrecoverable, but troops managed to destroy the aircraft so that it could not be used by enemy forces to gather intelligence or for any other purpose.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, in September 2001, launched a prisoner of war/missing-in-action analytic cell to improve the intelligence involved in soldier rescue. The move "represents a new direction in the intelligence community's support to the warfighter, the policy maker and the joint staff," said Tom Brown, of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The cell provides "direct intelligence support [to help recover] isolated captured or missing personnel," he said.
Brown said the cell was established because of shortfalls in coordination between the national intelligence community, the operators and the soldiers on the ground.
The mission of the analytic cell is to establish and maintain an interagency, joint capability to support activities relative to prisoners of war and missing personnel, as well as provide baseline assessments. One goal is to establish a "crisis surge capability," Brown said.
The cell is "up and running," and has been working in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the war on terrorism, said Brown.
The POW/MIA analytic cell has been preparing studies on potential adversaries, Brown reported. "We get there by predictive analysis," he said. The cell identified four basic scenarios that characterize personnel recovery missions. …