March 31, 2009

From the Front: 03/31/2009

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

Alex Strick van Linschoten: Wait and See... - Tribal elders in Kandahar like to explain how they're waiting to see what will happen before committing themselves to any particular 'side'. Well, we've all been waiting to hear from President Obama on his grand plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan - or the latest neologism, 'Af-Pax'. Two days ago, finally, we heard. In the words of a colleague, it's "more of the same thing - much much more." There was very little of the so-called radical change that myself and other commentators had been hoping for. Of course there must be things that came out of the 'grand strategic review' that weren't said (and that won't be said), but I'm guessing that they weren't mentioned because people might not be so receptive... Speaking of problems, I read these two reports this morning about problems with the Awakening Councils in Iraq. Remember this is the strategy that they want to start implementing in Afghanistan (and have started doing so in Wardak province under the watchful eyes of the Ministry of the Interior...). (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Catchup Post! - OK, so here we are at Big Base, because someone is getting ready to go on mid-tour R&R leave. In the name of operational sercurity, I won't say who, but the individual in question is abso-freakin'-lutely ready to get out of this country for a little bit. Hooah, cold beer. Anyway. A couple of you asked for followup to the earlier post about SGT B's trip to get meat. He won, and upon his return, SGT C (who does not eat pork) left the FOB for a few days. So SGT B and I did the only thing we could do - Pork Fest 09! My Mom (who rocks), had sent some marinade-in-a-packet with hickory flavoring. So we made up a dry rub. Then, we recalled, some people often roast, simmer or boil their ribs before putting them on the grill. We had only one pan, but sometimes one has to make do. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: The New Plan - Just a little while ago, President Obama revealed his new plan, in broad strokes, for Afghanistan. All in all, the plan makes sense. I do not see an abandonment of Afghanistan's development in favor of counter-terrorist activities, rather a realization that without a lasting framework, the region will have no other result but to slide back into chaos and a home for international terrorism. This recognition that the future of stability in Central Asia is tied to our own national security interests is welcome. Many have argued, including an Air Force Major General, that a "loss" in Afghanistan would not seriously damage U.S. interests or security. Obama's statement has refuted that in at least the sitting administration's opinion. That's a good thing. Michael Yon has already expressed disappointment. He feels that the increased troop levels aren't enough, and that the administration will have to make announcements of further increases in the future. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellent Adventure: Qatar Traffic Safety Week - Sunday 29 March 2009 2000 - Last week was a very interesting week. I’d have written about it sooner, but among other interesting things I managed to get sick, and for the past week I have been doing nothing outside of work but lying in bed alternately sleeping and coughing convulsively. I finally seem to be recovering; although I am still coughing, I can at least think straight and have a modicum of energy. So I finally get write about the cool week I had! Back at the beginning of March (Tuesday March 3d, to be exact), my commander called me into his office and said that he had a request from the Interior Ministry of Qatar to support the Traffic Safety Week exhibition they were sponsoring with the Gulf Cooperation Council. This is a large public exhibition held in downtown Doha, designed to showcase safety technologies, the various government agencies and private enterprises involved in traffic safety, and to promote safe driving practices. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: A salute (and caution) to Iraqi journalists - A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a suicide bomb attack that killed many Iraqis, including two local journalists. After I read the story, I wanted to know more about those two men who worked for Al Baghdadiya television. That led me to the news that for the third year in row in 2008, Iraq was the most dangerous country for a journalist. Sixteen journalists gave their lives here last year while seeking the truth and exercising their newly-acquired freedom of the press. Why are so many journalists dying? It is because they, like terrorists, look for places where people gather. The journalists were there to peacefully collect the news when the bomb exploded. The threat of terrorist attacks is not the only thing that worries journalists here. On Saturday, the CPIC welcomed Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Jerry Kammer to a meeting with local journalists. They listended intently to the stories Mr. Kammer told of his experiences in the United States. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Is Obama’s plan a Surge or the “same thing done better” approach? - When a large bureaucracy like the Pentagon is faced with making a major decision regarding an issue as complex as Afghanistan experienced observers know they will see one of two approaches. The first (and by far rarest) option is a radical departure from current operational methods representing a new way forward. The way soldiers from the SBS and Delta handled the fight in Tora Bora during the opening month of the war on terror… sorry I guess it is now “overseas contingency operations” is a good example. Faced with a complex battlefield containing armed factions of dubious loyalty and motivation they improvised using small units to maneuver firepower in place of the manpower they did not have. Their solutions or “lessons learned” according to the unit commander, Dalton Fury, were not recorded in the Army after action system and they have been forgotten probably because taking a truly decentralized approach when deploying American fighting forces is completely alien to senior Colonels and General Officers. (READ MORE)

The Intrepid Reporter: R&R - Whooo. OK How many days since my last posting? When was the last time I had internet? How about fucking hot water? Geez... So much has happened, and yet not. Well, lets get to the story as it stands now... Your Intrepid Reporter is in Baghdad, Land that Sanitation and Good Manners Forgot, and will be for the next 24 hours. Then, I sky. YES!!! R&R after 5 or so months... 5 and some change actually. Time to kick the dirt offa da bootz and roll to the House, Cold Beer, kids and a warm and (hopefully) Willing Wife... truthfully, she'd damned well better be willing after this long assed enforced celibacy... anyways... Well, lets see... When we last left the IR, he'd been forced to work long hard assed hours. Nothings changed there. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Calm Returns After Clashes - It appears that nearly everyone agrees the fighting has ended in Fadhil. We read that the Baghdad neighbourhood has calmed after the clashes following the arrest of Adel Mashhadani. Though some ask whether this tests the loyalty of the Awakening, it is worth mentioning that Mashhadani is the only leader accused of serious crimes. Most are reporting relative calm. That is everyone but Juan Cole, who writes today that the crisis has entered its third day and that hunger and disease are spreading. Cole quotes Azzaman newspaper, which proudly states that its editor in chief is ex-Baathist Saad Al Bazzaz. Meanwhile, the NYT explains that Iraq is in the process of taking over most of the responsibility for paying the Awakening Councils, which formerly was done by the Americans. Control of the councils passed from the American military to the Iraqi Army on Jan. 1. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Thunder and Lightening - It is days like today I think of Micheal a lot. Thunderstorms rolling through. He would have been out in the middle of them. I have a more than a few thunderstorm related memories of Micheal. When he was very little, not more than two, we lived in northern California. Well thunderstorms were very rare. One night one came through. It was a good one. Big booms and flashes of light. I went to the back of the house to his room to check and make sure he was not scared. There he stood in his crib the curtain pulled back jumping up and down yelling "Do it again, do it again". Then it would thunder and lightening and he would laugh. Seems he loved thunderstorms from the very start. He loved the rain even without the thunder. It meant puddle stomping. Oh I remember he would drag out his old shoes and beg to go on a puddle stomp walk. We had so much fun doing that. How may kids get encouraged to stomp puddles and try and splash mom? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Waziristan-based terror group takes credit for Lahore assault - An obscure terror group based out of South Waziristan took credit for today’s deadly military assault on the Lahore police training center. Pakistani officials are still sifting through the aftermath of the attack. Officials said between 8 to 25 terrorists assaulted the police compound and killed between eight to 34 police recruits and police officers. Several of the attackers were captured, including one that linked the attack back to South Waziristan. A spokesman for the Fedayeen-e-Islam said it conducted the attack in response to the deployment of Pakistani soldiers in the tribal areas. “As long as the Pakistani troops do not leave Tribal Areas, these attacks will continue,” Omar Farooq, a spokesman for the terror group told The Associated Press. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: Baghdad in Fragments - Many third world cities look better at night than during the day. Darkness hides shabbiness. You have to imagine what the city actually looks like. If you live in a first world city yourself, you might fill in the blanks with what you’re familiar with. It's only during the day that you can see just how run-down the place really is. Baghdad isn't like that. Baghdad looks worse at night because you can barely see anything. When your mind fills in the blanks, real and imagined roadside bombs, militiamen, booby traps, and snipers lurk in the shadows. The city can be spooky at night. Millions of people live in Baghdad, but it’s dark after hours. Few lights illuminate the mostly empty sidewalks and streets. The city’s electrical grid is still offline half the time and must be replaced. Homes without generator power are dark more often than not, and almost everyone who owns a generator turns it off when they go to sleep. Baghdad after sundown is as poorly lit as a remote mountain village. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Some Things I Expect - Mobilization kicks off Sunday: a few months of training, a 24-hour flight, and my friends and I will be driving Oshkosh’s and Freightliners in a tough country on roads that sometimes… explode. Here’s what surprises me: I’m cool with it. M and I decided that the big difference is that I’ve done it once before. There are a few general things I’m expecting: Communicating back home isn’t that tough. From a "military-cities" like LSA Anaconda (grab some Subway on the way) to remote Ramadi outposts (sometimes interrupted by mortar fire), internet and phone centers abound. Last time, M and I talked about once a week. We found that if we called more often we would have stupid conversations: like what we had for lunch. A full week gave us things to catch up on. We also built a huge archive of emails that I think will be fun to read and share with our kids and grandkids in years to come. (The "love letters" edited for young eyes, of course…) (READ MORE)

Navy Gal: Glimmer - There is finally a glimmer of hope sprouting through. The meds are making me feel MUCH better. I think there is a normal person in here somewhere trying to get back out. Anyway, I have had some positive things starting to happen. I've gotten some monkeys off of my back and I can let a huge sigh of relief go now. I see the stresses I was experiencing last week starting to melt away. I'm starting to find peace again. This is such a great feeling. I'm still going to keep my appt. at the VA, because I think talking about it and letting it go will be a huge step on the road to getting my life back. My contract is up next May, and I am really unsure about what I'm going to do. I like having the military as a safety net in case the "real" world doesn't provide income for me, but part of me just wants to walk away and not look back. I feel I have fulfilled my duty to myself and to my country. I think I can walk away with my head held high. But, I'm not going to make this decision overnight nor in the present time. Just something to be thinking about. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 29MAR09--Days Go By - I have received a few emails recently asking me, "What's new? Why have you not written as frequently as you did in the past?" It is not that nothing is happening or that we are less active. The Iraqi Army becomes stronger every day, and we are there with them every day. Everything seems so familiar, and our days seem to run together. I have written less, because things seem less unique and interesting to me. Perhaps what I need to do is examine some things as if I am seeing them for the first time. Some of our surroundings seem mundane to us but would be interesting to others back in the States. (READ MORE)

Dispatches from FOBistan: The Power of Waiting - FT. BENNING, GA — At seven p.m., our hearts began to sink. Two hours earlier, we were meant to be lining up to board our plane back to the United States, but instead an enlisted Navy Petty Officer yelled to the room that our flight had suffered yet another two-hour delay. Four more hours of sitting in this badly ventilated tent, balefully staring a stack of bright orange MRE containers and wondering if we should drink coffee to stay awake or bow our heads and nap to pass the time. It was the perfect end to a shit day, begun at 6:30 a.m. as we dragged our bags over to the customs building then stood in line in the rising sun as a Sergeant barked formation orders. After thirty minutes of milling about, they lead us into a big room where we were instructed not to carry ammunition, explosives, drugs, or body parts onto the aircraft. Right. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Ramadi citizens help rebuild local school after fire - RAMADI, Iraq – In January 2009, fire engulfed the Al Yemen School for Boys in Ramadi, Iraq, destroying a wing of the school containing classrooms, furniture and ceiling fixtures. The fire galvanized Ramadi citizens and a group of Marines from Regimental Combat Team 6 who worked together to put the school back into business. First Lieutenant Jean Paul Rivera, a platoon commander with Company E, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, RCT-6, was a catalyst in this humanitarian operation for the Marines, and he partnered with Captain Omar Aboud Aveda, police chief of Al Hussein Police Station. Visiting the school with Capt. Omar, Rivera saw the damage that resulted from the fire. Because of their small budget, the school administration was unable to make repairs and the children were forced to study in classrooms with no windows to block the cold winter wind. (READ MORE)

Whatever It Takes: Forty-seven days on the ground - Forty-seven days on the ground. Thirty-nine days since the transfer of authority. Your Soldiers have conducted daily patrols and missions throughout our operational area. Each day they put relentless pressure on the enemy denying them safe havens to hide, locate their weapons caches, and intercept their movements. Each day our Soldiers work with the Iraqi Army and Sons of Iraq in order to strengthen security. Each day they meet someone new...a student, a shop keeper, a barber or a farmer. I ask so much of them every day and they perform amazingly. Regardless of what training that they have received, nothing can really prepare you for what happens here. Our Soldiers have to think, act and make decisions within seconds. Decisions that could possibly have global repercussions. Not just the leaders, but the youngest most inexperienced Soldier. They all perform amazingly, day in and day out. I am proud of them and what they are accomplishing. I would like to mention and thank our Translators. (READ MORE)

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