March 9, 2009

From the Front: 03/09/2009

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

A Battlefield Tourist: Embed in Pictures - Ok, I’m going to try something new, because frankly, it is more time efficient and I have little time. So I’ll be posting my embed pictures on Facebook. I’m still going to put them in SoundSlides… just when I get more time. Here’s the first group of pictures I put together. Most are from Musa Qala, some from Kabul and the rest Farah. Afghanistan 2009 Part 1 - Hope you like them. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: Silly Rabbit I have two F-15s - “I wish I was Spiderman, and then it this would be much easier”. I thought to myself as we scaled the side of the mountain. Afghan soldiers scampered past CPT Brain and I doing their best imitation of Icarus. We slowly plod along through the cracked pieces of shale that populate the slope like broken dinnerware. My wings have already melted and I’m now stuck with my leather personnel carriers to propel me. The ANA look at us as they move by with pity, they’re well aware of how much the equipment we’re carrying weighs. Several of them have tried our equipment on prior to this and been shocked. We have failed to grasp the lessons of medieval knights. Mobility vs armor. I am also 20 years older than many of them. My Afghan counterpart, the Kandak XO , chose to remain back at the vehicles 2000 ft below us. He informed me that he felt it was most advantageous to command from below upon realizing I was serious about scrambling up here. (READ MORE)

Blogs Over Baghdad: Everything happens for a reason - Today was supposed to be my day off. I was really looking forward to it, since it would have been my first day off work since December 27, 2008, back at Fort Dix, NJ. I was supposed to report for a ride in an up-armored vehicle for a short ride to a location about 3-4 miles east of the International Zone. I was planning to spend some time visiting a former Public Affairs colleague I have known for more than 15 years. He works as a Public Affairs advisor for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, and he had planned to show me some of the work American soldiers do training Iraqi police. That never happened because when I called for some last minute information last night, I was given the wrong report time by someone at the unit that was going to be giving me that ride. When I got to the designated location this morning, I was told that the time my ride had left 90 minutes early. I called my friend and left a message, packed up my bag and headed back to work. (READ MORE)

Fraser From Iraq: Monkey-maze - Well a crap load of new guys showed up. It’s funny. Some of them are first timers, most not. They are already counting backward and planning their escapes. Which is funny because you never leave here early. In fact, you never even leave on time. The one constant you can find on the deployment is that you will not get out of here on time. It’s the basic thought to build on. First, people never get here on time because of military airlift limitations. So because the replacements aren’t here on time, you can’t get out of here on time. Second, even when you do get the handshake and the wave goodbye, that doesn’t mean you will get out of here. Because military airlift is either late if your lucky, or canceled if your unlucky. So the veterans of this monkey-maze never plan on leaving on time. In fact, you can usually plan on leaving at least 60 days past the time you were supposed to leave. If you get out earlier then that, then it’s a pleasant surprise. (READ MORE)

From the 'Stan: Q&A with Lt. Col. Odom - Some of you may remember I submitted some questions to Lt. Col. David L. Odom, commanding officer of 3d Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced). Here are the questions and answers I received. I will be posting the story I wrote about this later today. Q1. When you first arrived, was the situation in southern Afghanistan different or similar to what you had expected? In what ways? A1. “Key leaders and our advance party arrived in southern Afghanistan in mid-October 2008 in order to conduct a reconnaissance of the battle space and a relief-in-place with Task Force 2/7. They had been conducting a police mentoring and counterinsurgency mission since April 2008 and had done a superb job while dispersed over a broad battle space. Since we had just completed a comprehensive predeployment training program and an Operation Enduring Freedom-oriented Mojave Viper in 29 Palms, Calif.... (READ MORE)

The Intrepid Reporter: It's been how long? - Wow.... Time flies when you're working your ass off, day after day, slaving for "The Man" and not having any down time.... Yep the IR here with not so much for the scene in The Baghdad Cafe, formerly known as the Saddam-A-Go-Go. The only thing I've been doing is 'ye olde nose to ye olde grindstone.' Seems that "The Big Boss Man" came to town... and I'm burned out for it... Yeah... The Corporate Head honcho showed up and I'm better for it in many respects, especially since he's carried the Corporate Checkcard and Pimp-Roll-O-Cash to smooth out the purchases and such that I've been screaming about over the past few months, it's helped me with my job SIGNIFICANTLY. My biggest issue though is there's hardly any 'skate time' Not when the guy who's in the "make or break" side of your career is sitting right behind you for 12 hours out of the day. Considering the poor bastard is working AS much if not more, then I'd be amazed... He sits and works with us all day long and then he still has to go home and be joined to the computer, as the States are like 8 hours behind us.... (READ MORE)

IN-iraq: An Iraqi perspective on today's suicide bombing - He said the bomber struck just before the taxi he was riding in entered the area. Then Iraqi security forces swarmed in, and began shooting as they're apt to do, seemingly more out of frustration, than a deterent. The carnage had already been done. Bloody shoes littered the streets. The AP reported a suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck police recruits lined up at the entrance of the main police academy in Baghdad on Sunday, killing almost 30 people and wounding dozens of others. According to, Mustafa, a young Iraqi I spoke with, (who declined to use his real name), he was on an errand to the Ministry of Electricity. The area has a lot of security he said, a lot of checkpoints. Mustafa shook his head. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: An Increase in Bomb Attacks? - We already know how most people feel about the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq set for August 2010. But we don't know how the terrorists and other enemies of the Iraqis feel about it. Perhaps today they gave us a hint. A suicide bomber killed 28 people queuing outside a police recruitment centre in Baghdad. At least 57 other people were wounded in the attack, carried out by a bomber on a motorcycle. If the killers are indicating that they are increasing their attacks, it could mean this is their answer to President Obama's announcement for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Meanwhile, the U.S. military says it is to reduce troop numbers in the country by 12,000 in the next six months. The British also announce their departure. Major-General David Perkins, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, told reporters in a news conference that in coming months 4,000 British troops also would depart Iraq. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: "That's a When I Get Home Story Mom" - Pokey never told us much about what was going on in Iraq of a personal nature. He would mention little things or funny stories. I think he told his father more than he told me. He would often say he took pictures or this or that happened but "That's a when I get home story". Obviously he never got to tell us his stories. His band of brothers share some. They are still careful about what they share though. I don't think they quite yet understand that no matter how scary they think it is for me to hear I have faced the scariest part. And also they have put those stories away so they can adjust back to life here. Some day they will pull then out again when it is safe for them too and share them with me then. It is hard for me to know there was a facet of my son I will never know. I will never know the combat soldier. The man he became while he was in Iraq. Not saying he wasn't a man before but I know being there and fighting for what he believed in, gave him a strength of character and a perspective on life different than anything he could have had here in the civilian world. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: The Personal and the Political in the Middle East - Roger Cohen is taking heavy criticism for a piece he recently wrote in the New York Times in which he said the “annihilationist” anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Iranian regime tells us less about Iran than the fact that he, an American Jew, was treated with “consistent warmth” on his trip to Tehran and Isfahan. I can’t say I agree, but I sympathize to an extent with what he’s saying because I've had similar surprises in the Middle East, happening upon hospitality instead of expected hostility. Arabs, Persians, and Kurds are so well-known for their considerate treatment of guests it has become a guidebook cliché. No one expects rudeness in, say, Tunisia or Morocco, but I can see why a Jewish visitor might be startled by a warm welcome in a country whose government threatens to incinerate the Jewish State. I imagine he felt a bit like I did when I first visited Baghdad in the scorching summer of 2007 when violent insurgents still waged pitched battles with American soldiers. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: A Few News Stories - From Reuters: Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers and intelligence, will not be replaced,” the U.S. military said in a statement. Don’t know for sure which two but I have my theories. Also, from The Christian Science Monitor an article on the Ugandan security contractors in Iraq. Money quote: “It’s not like Uganda. You sweat and sweat and sweat,” says Mr. Mugabe, a former soldier in the Ugandan Army. “It is the most dangerous place in the world. It’s even worse than Congo.” Really? I know Mosul is the sketchiest part of this country but most dangerous place in the world? I’m not sure I’m buying that. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Sensationalizing from the Other Direction - Bamian is one of those great provinces of Afghanistan that combine a rich history—aside from the giant Buddha statue creches, there are fortresses dating to Alexander the Great—with a permissive security environment. There is even a stunning lake, called Band-i Amir, that has become one of the centerpieces of a nascent tourism industry. At the same time, it is not a perfect, or even particularly cheerful place. The Hazara areas of Afghanistan are frighteningly poor, and even without the Taliban imposing a blockade vast swaths of the province face near-starvation in the winter-time. The northeast section of the province, hosting some large non-Hazara communities, must deal with regular incursions from a Baghlan-based Taliban cell. Yet, despite the good news coming from provinces like Bamian, it is just ridiculous to argue that the bad news journalists, whom I sometimes skewer, are completely disconnected. Max Boot does his best anyway: (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Keeping a promise, honoring the memory of a friend - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – Every Marine has their own reason why they become one of “The Few and The Proud” -- passion, patriotism, and seeking self-improvement. While these are common reasons for enlistment, a corporal with Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 6, joined the Marines to fulflil a promise to a friend. Growing up in the small town of Severville, Tenn., Christopher Carter and his friend Robert Owens always wanted to join the Marine Corps together and serve their country. Carter was slightly older and graduated from high school before Owens in 2004, but promised he would wait to join the Marine Corps until the two close friends could enlist together. While waiting for his friend, Carter became anxious about deciding his future and chose to enroll in college to become a preacher. He attended Hyles-Anderson College, a private school in Crow Point, Ind., and studied Bible Studies. After Carter spent a year pursuing his goal, his friend graduated high school and was ready to become a Marine. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Central Euphrates Farmers Market - Tyler and I finally got out on a mission Tuesday! We went with BG Smith and his entourage to the Central Euphrates Farmers Market outside of FOB Kalsu. The market isn’t open yet, but hopefully will be operational in May. The Army, United States Agency for International Development and Iraqi Sheiks (community leaders) are all working on it and the 4 Iraqi tribes are 50/50 Sunni and Shia which is huge for an area that has had some sectarian violence in the past. It was pretty difficult to get a good story out of it because of the lack of b-roll. Since the market isn’t open, the only action was of Ali (a 15 year old)and his older brother painting, a men sawing some metal and the meeting with the General and the Sheiks (but meetings are always boring video so I didn’t get a lot of that). I’m hoping to go back to the market when it’s open. It’s a wholesale produce market and farmers are going to have a 12% increase in profit mostly due to transportation costs. (READ MORE)

Dispatches from FOBistan: The Persuadable Taliban - BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN — One of the most stupefying encounters I’ve had these past six weeks amongst the fobbits centered, quite naturally enough, around the Taliban. I was out in a village, talking to people from an area (what, you think I’ll name names here?), and one old man told us that he knows a local commander who would like to “reconcile.” I am instinctively suspicious of a militia commander who would like to lay down his weapons and join the government, but it can happen. In this case, my sense was that he was either tired of fighting and wanted to do good, which is the story this man told me, or he saw dollar signs at the prospect of being a government official, which seems more likely. Either way, he’s not actively joining the insurgency. Corrupt officials can be tweaked into being less corrupt—I would argue that is a lower-order problem than someone actively planting bombs, or actively involved in the bomb-planting chain. So I approached the local American unit (what, you think I’ll name names here?) and told them that this figure would like to discuss reconciliation. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: More on Contractors - My last post on contractors has generated a discussion or two. It looks like a few military folks and some contractors have commented on the port-o-potty incident over at the small wars journal. A few other comments left on here, I suspect, have come from people with nothing less than a modicum of military experience and make some good points. I don’t loathe all civilian contractors. I know how much of a difference it can make. On my last go around out here we would no sooner get back inside the wire than my soldiers were up in guard towers, at the DFAC serving food, or doing some other task which is done by civilians this year. For them its the difference between getting to sleep and going days on end with no down time. But the problem is that many of the civilians we deal with have no idea what our job consists of and how difficult they can make our lives. I could write pages of examples I’ve encountered (I’m experiencing one of them as we speak but that post will be a little bit long if I’m going to explain the civilian induced logistical catastrophe unfolding right now). (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqi Army uncovers weapons cache in Diyala - DIYALA, Iraq – Soldiers from the 18th Iraqi Army Brigade, 5th Division, working alongside U.S. Soldiers with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, uncovered a weapons cache in Diyala province, Iraq, March 5. The cache included 47 blasting caps, 36 pressure plates,10 pounds of homemade explosives, nine rockets, two bags of propellant, and two hand grenades. (READ MORE)

Multi-National Force-Iraq Announces Force Reductions - BAGHDAD - Multi-National Force-Iraq announced today that two Brigade Combat Teams, who are scheduled to redeploy in the next 6 months, along with associated enabling forces such as logistics, engineers, and intelligence, will not be replaced. Additionally, an F-16 squadron recently redeployed and will not be replaced. (READ MORE)

Joint IA, MND-B Patrol nabs suspect in Kadamiyah - BAGHDAD – Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Division—Baghdad Soldiers detained a suspected criminal March 8 in the Kadamiyah district of northwest Baghdad. At approximately 4 a.m., Iraqi Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 22nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division working with Soldiers from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, detained the individual with a warrant and seized firearms, a computer, several cell phones and other materials. (READ MORE)

Fourteen new tractors given to Lutifiyah farmers - COMBAT OUTPOST MEADE, Iraq – Multi-National Division—Baghdad Soldiers presented 14 new tractors to local Sheiks from the Lutifiyah Nahia during a ceremony held at Combat Outpost Meade March 5. Each Arma Trac 602 tractor should help to cultivate an area over 25,000,000 square feet. Troops from Task Force 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division used funds from the Commander’s Emergency Response Program to purchase 14 new tractors. (READ MORE)

Iraqi, U.S. Police Deliver Donated Supplies to School Children - BAGHDAD — More than 500 students at Tadhia Primary School watched as boxes of donated school supplies were distributed by local Iraqi Police (IP) and U.S. Military Police, Feb. 25. The IPs distributed basic school supplies, clothing and sporting equipment to the students to further develop the positive relationships between the IPs and their New Baghdad neighborhood. (READ MORE)

JSS Shulla Transferred to Iraqi Control - BAGHDAD — Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Soldiers made another necessary step toward total Iraqi control in securing northwest Baghdad, as Joint Security Station Shulla was transferred to Iraqi control, March 2. Iraqi and Western media were invited to the transfer ceremony and had a chance to walk the streets to see first-hand the security and infrastructure improvements in Shulla. (READ MORE)

Samarra’s Improving Electrical Grid Brightening Lives - FOB BRASSFIELD-MORA — Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) met with U.S. Army Soldiers and members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team recently to assess the current state of electric utility service throughout Samarra. Director General of Electricity for Samarra, Mr. Hameed, escorted ISF, members of the Salah ad-Din PRT and U.S. Soldiers on a tour of various power substations in the city. (READ MORE)

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