February 17, 2009

From the Front: 02/17/2009

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

A Major's Perspective: The Taliban and Pakistan - There was a lot of news this weekend about the Taliban. The most prominent was that they were trying to strike a cease fire with the legitimate government of Pakistan. Now I heard all kind of issues with this, but the one I felt was the most important was not mentioned. Within most insurgencies there comes a time when they must choose between continued fighting and trying to subvert and undermine the legitimate government inside the norms of that country. Most of the time this takes the shape of making a cease fire, establishing their legitimacy, and then moving on to taking part in the legitimate government processes of the democracy -namely elections and voting. The Taliban have been working for the past few years on establishing themselves as a shadow government. Courts, policing, and administrative functions have all been established within Taliban controlled areas. Now....a cease-fire. If the next step is a legitimate electoral process, well they could achieve their aims without a shot being fired. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: The White House - For some reason, whenever I have to move lately, it comes very early. This time, I needed to be up by 0330 for a 0500 flight to where I will start an embed with 3/8’s Police Mentoring Team in Musa Qala, a Taliban stronghold in east central Helmand Province. With the sky still dark, I waited in a HMMWV (Hum-V) for the chopper to arrive, which came in right on time. The huge Marine CH-53s are designed to carry as many as a platoon, but on this cold morning, just myself and another Marine were picked up and whisked away. The gunner’s doors were open which sent a 120 mph+ frigid wind straight through me, reminding me of a time in Iraq when I made the mistake of sitting in the “hurricane seat”. I had to dig deep to turn off the cold for the short 15 minute ride to Musa Qala. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: Town Hall Meeting - I awoke to the sounds of wind blasting through the tent, not really a good thing when you are dealing with a dusty desert. That forces everyone to hide their electronic gear so it doesn’t get ruined even quicker. It’s especially troublesome for me because of the camera equipment I work with. After all, I just spent $12,000 updating my editing system and camera to Hi Def, so believe you me, I start tripping a little. Things were not helped by the fact that the Marines decided to play a sandlot football game in front of my tent; every single slight movement (and it was not slight) sent plumes of baby powder dust straight into our tent. Like I often do, I made my way to a nearby guard tower to talk to the sentry. Sentry duty is boring as hell and it seems as though my visits break up the monotony. Once up there, I noticed a group of me, most in white turbans, making their way toward the COP with a small contingent of Marines going to meet them. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: The Durand Line - De inimico non loquaris male, sed cogites. She’s sitting there in the corner; we haven’t spoken in about 12 days. Green eyes leer at me each time I pass by; leering at me with a knowing that I’ll be coming back soon. Whether I want to or not. Jealous-no- more a quiet confidence that no matter what in several days I’ll be back. A subliminal Siren’s Song calling me to return and smash myself against the razor sharp rocks of combat. My rucksack. The green illum tape on the frame staring at me from the recess of my garage still covered in Afghan dust. Her ad hoc family is strung out halfway across the world, due purely to my actions. An overprotective, if oft described plump sister and hardheaded brother. My IBA and ACH are stored in a container in Kuwait. Waiting for that metamorphosis from normal human to combat advisor. The final piece of the functionally, dysfunctional family- a short, dark brother prone to loud outbursts- my M4. (READ MORE)

Alex Strick van Linschoten: Afghanistan: the forgotten war? - Is Afghanistan at risk of being forgotten by the outside world? Not at the moment, you might think, what with lots of print generated each day at the hands of foreign reporters. Obama, too, is considering his own surge of resources to the country, and it seems the larger newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic (the Guardian, for example, or the New York Times) can't go a day or two before publishing yet another story on the war that never ends. But how much of the real story are we actually hearing? I was surprised last week to hear the editor of a fairly large European news outlet wondering whether Afghanistan would soon fall off our radars and would go the way of so many conflicts. Surely, I said, surely he wasn't serious... US media outlets are sending out correspondents to be based full-time in Kabul, and it's not as if there is a shortage of things to write about... Or so you would think... (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Thoughts on Pants - TOne occasionally wonders, doing this, if one is seeing something significant. I spent today at a district-wide economic development conference. Now, this is the sort of thing that did not happen the last time I was here. But now? There was actually discussion of travel and tourism potential in the southern Kirkuk province. Crazy. Of course, I spent a couple of minutes thinking about the overall significance of this sort of gathering in this country, decided it might be a ground-breaking moment, then lost interest. Hey - your author isn't perfect. And we'd handed off our interpreter to the panel discussion, so... Instead of thinking about the big stuff, I started checking the dudes out. No - not like that. It's a long tour, but it's not that long. I was looking at their clothes. There are two options for Man About Town attire here. You have the Western look, and the Arab look (hence referred to as the Suit and the Man-Dress). (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: Revenge On The Nerds (Exclusive Preview Of The New Movie Due Out Soon In A Theater Or News Show Near You) - The people that Andrew Basevich calls "The Crusaders" and COL Gentile calls "True Believers," the people who are committed to the concept that this war requires consummate counterinsurgency, are the geeks of the Army. The Army is an organization that has embraced an athletic form of elitism that has in many ways helped the organization to transform from the troubled post-Viet Nam Army of Carter to the capable and professional force of today. My whole career has been served under this transformation, from the early days of the revolution that Reagan demanded to the present day problems of embracing the geekery of COIN. Make no mistake; the true COINdinistas are the major geeks of the Army and the supporting actors who operate with us. This is strange, because the Special Forces are the traditional home of the counterinsurgents in the Army. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellent Adventure: A Day at the Beach - Monday 16 February 2009 - 2100 - Last week I had a unique opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of a top Qatari General when we were invited to visit his private beach house for the day. I wasn’t sure if it would be OK to write about it here, but when the PAO press release was picked up by over 500 papers, including the major Qatari English Daily, I decided it was ok. :-) The official story is here: We got organized in the typical military fashion to travel out there by bus, but once we arrived, we were essentially free for the day. We had the run of the entire beachfront property, which included a pool, lots of chairs and chaise lounges along the beach and around the buildings, and a courtyard where some of the activities were set up. (READ MORE)

SGT Jeremy Fowler - Blogs Over Baghdad: Fowler: Something About Rain - There is something about rain. It makes me think. I find myself sitting; listening to it hit the ground, each little drop. Singularly it’s barely audible, but in mass it forms a chorus of sounds, rhythms and melodies. You can hear the frequency pick up, slow down or flat out stop. When interacting with various objects it becomes more interesting. I’d be cliché to say like rain on a tin roof, but it is an addicting sound. I find it much more interesting to listen to rain react with plant life. Some of my deepest thinking has been during a rainstorm. I hunt; to most people this is all about going out to “score the big buck” or to “bag that wild turkey that you’ve seen waddling around the cornfield.” I cannot claim to be a devout hunter, good at it, or even to have a wall of trophies, but it is a sport that I enjoy. It helps yield for a better understanding of nature but further it provides me a reason to remove myself from society. (READ MORE)

SPC Mary Lee - Blogs Over Baghdad: We Are 20% There - According to our countdown calendar, we have completed 20% of this deployment. It seems like just yesterday that I was getting on a plane for Kuwait. I remember getting off the Rhino in Baghdad and seeing all the bombed out buildings. I had a moment of wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. It almost mimicked the feeling I had when I got off the bus at basic training and the drill sergeants started yelling at me. In both cases, I had no choice but to adapt and overcome. Everything felt better the next morning when I was able to meet the unit we would be replacing. I was not expecting to be driving around the IZ in a Suburban or a Ford mini-van. I was also shocked to find out that contracted Peruvian and Ugandans, not U.S. soldiers would be providing security at the checkpoints. I came to Iraq assuming Arabic would be the predominate language, only to find myself learning more Spanish and Swahili. (READ MORE)

Down Range 46: The Hand Off - They call it a RIP-TOA. That, of course, is just another army acronym for some army term that is just to long to say out loud, over and over. What is stands for is Relief In Place - Transfer of Authority. In civilian terms it means replacing one army unit with another in order to seamlessly transfer authority for an ongoing mission without screwing it all up, dropping the ball or losing ground. That's what we are doing now, our RIP-TOA with a National Guard unit made up of Soldiers from Utah and Colorado. They've been handling the public affairs mission here for the last year and now it's time for them to head back to their families and let us take over. They've done a great job at getting things ready for us and now we're up to bat. We'll sit side by side with them for the next several days, learning the ins and outs of all they have accomplished and set up during their tour, then they go home and we'll run with the ball until we do our RIP-TOA next year. (READ MORE)

ETT PA-C: Home - I have no clue if anyone actually reads this any more. I've been home for more than 7 months now and its been great! How does one end a saga, ehhem, such as this? Can I end it knowing that I'll probably have to return back to this place? It's a question that remains to be seen? For the few of you that read this blog I hope I shared a little of a soldier's life. For the medical personnel that never really got to take advantage of any knowledge regarding me being a PA on an "ETT," I'm sorry. Instead, I temporarily crossed branched infantry and gave you and me a view of the people on the ground doing the dirty work. What will I come away with? I'm a little angry, a little frustrated, a little "adjustment disordered," a lot grateful, a lot blessed, a lot glad to be home and more so grateful to be alive! Since my departure, the team I left behind has lost a few men in the area I used to patrol and call home. To them and their families, I am honored by their sacrifice. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Reconnaissance Marines harden Iraqi Special Forces - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – With Iraqi training and partnered operations taking priority in Iraq, Force Reconnaissance Marines have taken it to the next level, incorporating special forces training with an elite group of Iraqi soldiers during a 10-day training exercise that started here, Feb. 7. Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Davis, platoon sergeant of 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, assembled a group of team leaders, assistant team leaders and snipers to lead these classes. “In the long run, the Iraqi Army wants its own reconnaissance unit,” said Sgt. Dwight Anderson, Team 2 team leader, 3rd Platoon. “We are trying to give them a basic understanding of recon operations.” Now conducting their own patrols, protecting their borders, and patrolling their streets, the Iraqi Security Forces have come a long way since the beginning of this war. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: The View From Above - I got to thinking, I can tell people what its like to fly over hostile cities and try to keep an eye out for the bad guy with a missile or some other nefarious means to shoot me down, but can they really relate to what I am saying? Especially if they have never been in a helicopter? Well here is a good idea of what I am talking about. This is the outskirts of a major city, and not a friendly one (are there any here?). Now imagine yourself looking out of a window at this as it passes by trying to identify a single person or vehicle with a missile or other weapon pointed at you before he fires it at you. Even at lower altitudes, this is pretty difficult. On top of that, you have nothing to return fire with as you are unarmed, and you might have a patient in the litter you are trying to work. Such is my life. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Unrewarding Oil in Iraq - Reuters says Iraq is still no good. The big oil company "executives remain concerned about taking on huge risk for little reward." Little reward? The story says Iraq has offered to rework contracts on offer for six of its biggest producing oilfields, after Iraqi oil officials hosted a three-day workshop in Istanbul. "Of course you want access, but you don't want to lose your shirt," said one senior executive with a major oil company on condition of anonymity. "This is going to be difficult to justify to the chief executive. There was quite a negative aura about the companies here." Gotta love the guy who talks about aura. The concern is not so much fear about security. It's that Iraq doesn't want the oil companies to sign up and then not implement the contract. Iraq wants them to act on the flat-fee deal within six months of the date of signing. Oil companies want a share of the profits, and they want to decide when to begin work. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The worst is yet to come - Another tiresome expert, Thomas ("Fiasco") Ricks, has patched up his original story. Earlier he had declared Iraq a failure beyond repair. Later, he changed because pretty much everyone who knows Iraq agrees that Ricks's take on the country was, well, a fiasco. Since that book the WaPo writer has changed gears. His story now is that sure Iraq is okay now, but it will get worse. Earlier, he was sure the Iraqis themselves were the problem. Now his focus has shifted to Iran: "The role of Iran remains problematic. At this point, that country appears to be the biggest winner in the Iraq war, and perhaps in the region. 'Iran's influence will remain and probably grow stronger,' said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency specialist in Middle Eastern security affairs. 'The Iranians have many contacts and agents of influence in Iraq, their border with Iraq is a strategic factor of permanent consequence and their role in the Iraqi economy is growing.'" Fair enough. Iran remains a big problem in Iraq. But why is Iran the biggest winner? (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: "Who is he angry at?" - I spent five days at Ft. Campbell for a Memorial dedication and just hanging out with the guys of my son's company. I had many good times I will be writing about but one particular conversation with my son's Company commander burns in my memory. It was not a serious in depth conversation but it set me to thinking. The CPT. had asked about how my family was doing in all this. I am always honest about the different stages we are all at. With this man I let him peek behind my carefully constructed walls. I made the statement that my son David had finally turn the corner and was moving beyond the anger and starting to learn to cope with the pain. He asked me " Who is he angry at?" And I told him that was just it there is no one to be angry at. You are just angry with no one and no where to direct it at. The more I think about that statement the more I realize I too hold a great deal of anger. (READ MORE)

The Left Captain: A New Year - It's been strange coming back to the US after two months in Army-World followed by six months in Afghanistan. Endless days of anxiety, PT, preoccupation, and future-orientation were replaced with lightning fast days of happiness, listening to my kids, over-stimulation and a world that is much much faster. My family met me at the gate, and when I think of how it felt to have my son and daughter jump into my arms, it still makes me want to cry. A month later, I continue to feel like everyone in my family is just happy to have me back on the continent. The welcome back to my unit at Nellis AFB has been less than inspiring, which is an interesting and unexpected contrast. In December my NCO and I raised our eyebrows when we didn't receive any communication over Christmas and New Years from our unit, but we figured that we would get a good welcome home pot-luck, or at least an invite to go out for beers and dinner at a local restaurant. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US troops kill Taliban's shadow governor for Badghis province - US forces killed the shadow governor of Afghanistan's northwestern province of Badghis and eight other Taliban leaders and fighters during an airstrike on a village near the border with Turkmenistan. Mullah Dastagir, the shadow governor of Badghis province, was killed in the Sunday night airstrike in the Balamurghab district along with his brother Mullah Nabi Jan, another known Taliban commander named Mawlawi Hayatullah, and five other Taliban fighters. US and Afghan Army forces called in the airstrike after surrounding Dastagir's compound. Dastagir commanded more than 300 full-time Taliban fighters and another 300 part-time fighters. Dastagir's rise to power in Badghis was facilitated by an order issued last year by President Hamid Karzai. (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: Days Follow Nights, Nights Follow Days - It's already started...the mingling of the days, the lack of awareness of what day or date it is. It happens in a deployment. Soldiers learn very quickly to wear watches with the date on them so they can absent-mindedly look down and go "oh yeah, it's Sunday". In a civilian job you usually have a 5-day work schedule and 2 days off...most people work Monday through Friday and then Saturday and Sunday are the weekend. There is time for shopping, doing chores around the house, sleeping late, and goofing off. Sunday is a day of worship and rest...the mail stops and people are lazy. Not here. Sunday is just another day here in beautiful downtown Camp Liberty, Iraq. We get a little break on the reporting time (0930 since the DFAC doesn't even open until 0730) but otherwise it's business as usual. A little quieter, but there are still reports to file, meetings to catch, e-mails to open. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My point of View: Working Out the Kinks... - Here at Camp Liberty, I'm getting a little more organized and into the flow of things. Housing arrangements, check, got my CHU...and thanks to SFC Hilton, we have a TV, a fridge, and converters in our room. Food, always good on a deployment...and you can get it anytime. Work, check, I will be working on the 1st Cavalry newspaper layout, The Crossed Sabers. Anyone can access it on www.cavcountry.net. While I'm doing that, I will help out in the print section and maybe even be able to get out a do a story. Most know I like Starbucks. A lot. I've discovered Green Bean Coffee and man, that is some dang good coffee! I've fallen for the iced white chocolate mocha. Every espresso-based beverage they make has two espresso shots--minimum! Mmmmm. I went to the al-Faw Palace again today. A few more needed MND-I badges and the other three wanted to look around. I took a picture of the large chandelier in the middle of the building. SPC Anderson took a picture of me sitting in the famous chair. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Art in Baghdad - There's a very interesting article in the New York Times, from a few days ago, about an art exhibit in Baghdad. The title was "Beacons of Humanity", with 80 works from 39 Iraqi artists. Most interesting, the exhibit was held in conjunction with a Shi'ite religious holiday and was sponsored by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. You may remember al-Sadr. He is an extremist Shi'ite religious leader whose Mehdi Army was one of the most violent paramilitary forces during the height of the Iraqi insurgency. He is a sworn enemy of the United States and almost everything Western. For maybe the past six to nine months or more, he has apparently been living in Iran, maybe pursuing his religious studies, maybe doing something else. Anyway, for whatever reason, al-Sadr left Iraq last year and since then his movement has pretty much fallen apart. The recent elections appear to have relegated his followers to the sidelines. People in Iraq are tired (and afraid) of his extreme religious militancy. (READ MORE)

Dispatches from FOBistan: “Tribal” Engagement, or How We Lost Kapisa… And Are (Slowly) Regaining It - BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN — The Small Wars Journal points to a pair of essays from the latest Special Warfare (pdf). Of interest is the cover story, “Tribal Engagement in Afghanistan.” Now, ignoring the fact that way too many soldiers write like poorly trained robots, it contains some great ideas—especially how to manage an engagement with relatively few soldiers. My only big beef with this is that they were in Eastern Paktia, which is an area renown for its especially strong, hyper-local tribal communities. The rest of Afghanistan is decidedly less tribal, and much more aptly described as “communal.” But looking at Afghanistan from as local a level as possible, which these authors argue is a Best Practice, is absolutely essential… and actually helps to highlight that what is needed in all the hullabaloo about a new strategy isn’t tribal engagement, but community engagement. Then there was this: (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Baghdad Sweet Baghdad - I got back to Baghdad yesterday, exhausted and sweaty. I’m not sure why two weeks of guard duty have that effect on me, but I was literally drained by the time I hauled my bags to the unit vehicle. As much as I wanted to just shower and take a nap, I stayed at the office because being around my friends seemed like much more fun. I came back to a plethora of care packages - from craig, mom, mammaw and pappaw… Mom sent a mother load of V-day candy and cookies, and the frosted two-bite brownies were gone in less than ten minutes. I think the 20 frosted sugar cookies took at least an hour to disappear, but the tray was emptied none-the-less. We hung out in the studio last night, playing rockband and setting up skype on my work computer. We tested it out with a test call to TyTy’s family in Seattle and after fixing a few technical difficulties, we got to chat with them for over an hour. The quality of the picture and sound was much more than I expected with this internet connection, so I’m going to call Craig tonight and maybe Cade if he’s home to set it up. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: More Transitions - I often hear leaders in the Army talk about the challenge of quickly and effectively moving from kinetic operations to COIN operations, frequently in the same day if not hours or minutes apart. Calling it a challenge is an understatement, nonetheless, I think we do well at it. But their is a broader application to that transition. The unit we replaced here spent the first half of their deployment in a predominantly kinetic fight, the area was still quite violent. During the last half of their rotation the effects of the surge and the SOI was fully realized and the area was largely pacified (as I’ve mentioned, I primarily credit the awakening for this, not the surge). In this case, it was the entire unit who transitioned from kinetic to non-kinetic operations in the course of a single deployment. That means, in order to be effective, the mindset of every soldier and officer in the unit had to adjust. (READ MORE)

Big Tobacco: Ripple Effect Part I - I wrote this while smoking a Partagas. I am made of sweat. The mileage counter on the treadmill reads 5.55. My legs move at a nice 6.5 mile per hour pace. Kai Ryssdal drones on through my headphones about the ripple effect of layoffs. 5.61 mi. For every job that is lost in the professional sector, another job is lost in the service sector. The theory seems proper to me. 5.63 mi. Why is the last 4/10ths of a mile always the hardest? It’s like some sort of relativity problem where time slows down as you run faster. 5.75 mi. That’s better. Things are a lot easier on the quarter mile. I bump up the speed to 7.5 and finish strong at six miles. My legs wobble as I cool down and stretch out. All I want now is some breakfast and a cranberry juice. I walk my sweat stained body to the dining facility and notice that the Sandbox Blogger is not at his normal perch near the hand washing station. “Odd,” I think as I dry my hands. (READ MORE)

Whatever it Takes: In the Lead - Our Soldiers have taken the lead on missions here. They do the planning, the briefings, rehearsals, and execution. The company that we have replaced have only a handful of key leaders on the ground. They accompany us on every mission and share information and tips about the area. It has been great working with them. We are still learning much each day as we conduct operations. One of the areas with the biggest learning curve is our command post operations. There is so much that goes into operating an efficient command post it is overwhelming at times. Your Soldiers are getting up to speed and doing a fine job. 1LT Brennan is overall in charge of the CP but he could not do it without the hard work and expertise of the NCOs and Soldiers assigned to work in there. It is starting to get warm during the day but no where near what it will be in August. We are next to the Tigris River and the humidity will be tremendous. Luckily we have plenty of air conditioners here and on the Strykers so there will be some relief. (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Rob's Oil Painting - Here is the oil painting I was telling you about. I know many of you wanted to see a picture of it. I've also included the actual photograph the artist used for the painting. Now you can understand what I meant when I said I was floored! He did an absolutely amazing job. Project Compassion is a wonderful foundation. Their work means so much to people like myself. It is something that will always be cherished. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Nice Iraqis Make the News - Critics of Iraq must be terribly disappointed in the Iraqi people. Civilians must annoy the critics because the majority are not interested in killing each other as the analysts claim they are. Gangs of thugs are still a threat, but they do not represent the population. The AP reports, "Roadside bombs struck a pair of minibuses filled with Shiite pilgrims returning to Baghdad on Monday, killing eight people, officials said, in the latest of a series of deadly attacks targeting the pilgrims." If we are to believe the "experts," this is representative of the hatred Iraqis have for each other. The Iraqi people know this is nonsense, and here's a story that shows that journalists are finally discovering the Iraq we Iraqis know. The reporter tells of Sunni Iraqis helping Shiite pilgrims during this week's religious observances. (READ MORE)

No comments: