April 8, 2009

From the Front: 04/08/2009

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

CSMBones: Somewhere near Pakistan - Pouring a cup of coffee and I heard the distinct sound of incoming 107mm rockets. Couple in the FOB. Nobody hurt. Missed me again. (READ MORE)

MAJ C: The President in Iraq - Obama also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said afterward that he had "assured the president that all the progress that has been made in the security area will continue." Obama said he had "strongly encouraged" the Iraqi leader to take steps to unite political factions, including integrating Sunnis into the government and security forces. Obama, who opposed the war in Iraq, said earlier that it is time for the Iraqis to "take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty," which will require political accommodations. He said the U.S. "can't do it for them but what we can do is make sure that we're a stalwart partner that we are working alongside them." (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban advance on Buner - Flush with success in forcing the Pakistani government to implement sharia, or Islamic law, in a large region in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban now seek to coerce the tribes in a small nearby district into implementing sharia there as well. On Sunday, a Taliban force of 100 advanced into the district of Buner from the neighboring district of Swat and demanded to speak to tribal elders about enforcing sharia. "The Taliban said they would stay in Buner until their chief had had talks with the local chapter of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law]," Daily Times reported. The TNSM is a radical pro-Taliban group that negotiated the Malakand Accord with the Pakistani government. The accord, which encompasses the districts of Swat, Shangla, Kohistan, Buner, Dir, and Chitral, allows for the enforcement of sharia and put an end to military operations in Swat and surrounding districts. (READ MORE)

Nixon: TIME: Why the Hell Would the Commander-in-Chief Want to Visit Iraq? - You really have to wonder about the American media questioning why a Commander-in-Chief would want to visit the country in which we have been involved in a war for over 6 years. Sure, VIP visits to Iraq are a bag of dicks for the logistics folks, but boosting diplomacy, listening to Generals, riling up morale for the troops is pretty par for the course in what we should expect from the President. However, TIME appears to view the Obama presidency as one big permanent campaign and poo-poos this visit: “Surprise stops on presidential journeys became the norm during Bush era, with the U.S. engaged in two foreign wars — where the Commander in Chief could not be guaranteed satisfactory security if his intention to visit the troops was announced ahead of time. Still, Baghdad was the wrong choice for Obama. Iraq is Bush's war — or Bush's folly, depending on your point of view.” (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: Sadr City After the Fall - One year ago, Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militia strongholds in Basra and Sadr City were two of the biggest threats remaining to the Iraqi republic. Al Qaeda in Iraq had been reduced to a remnant, but the country still was a violent mirror of Lebanon. Hezbollah threatens the Lebanese capital and can start unilateral wars on a whim, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki had to ask himself if that was the kind of country he hoped to be left with as Americans talked of a combat force draw down. Lebanon has neither a capable national army nor tens of thousands of foreign troops on her soil as backup. The Iraqis did, though. Their army, with help from the American military, was ordered into the southern city of Basra to purge the streets of the Shia militiamen. After nail-biting fits and starts, the Iraqis prevailed. Then they stormed Sadr City and took back the last bastion of resistance in the capital. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: President Obama Visits Baghdad - Something pretty cool happened yesterday. I heard that the President was coming to this area and was glad that we didn't have that type of PAO mission (media facilitation) because when a VIP of that stature comes here, things get asinine. Anyways, I thought it was going to be a presidential meeting...like with the Prime Minister of Iraq or something. Nope. Our First Sergeant comes into our office, "OK! The man is here, who wants to go see him?" We all stared at him; silence engulfed the room. "Well?" he said. "You better decide now because you don't have much time." We all jumped at once. I grabbed my personal camera, my cover, and my weapon. "No weapons, leave them with me!" said 1SG. We brought our M4s into 1SG's office and six of us squeezed into the truck. (READ MORE)

SPC Logue - My Point of View: Life in Baghdad - President Obama's visit to Baghdad: President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Camp Victory, Iraq yesterday. He spoke at Al-Faw Palace to hundreds of Soldiers, and shook their hands. President Obama told us "You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement." I listened to President Obama's rather brief speech about our progress in Iraq, and how we must transition Iraq back to the Iraqis, and the great job we are doing in Iraq. He then shook our hands and departed. Promotions: Three Broadcasters got promoted last week. We now have Sergeant Anderson, Sergeant Fardette, and Sergeant Logue. We had a pretty cool ceremony. One of my buddies from my last deployment was able to attend. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 07APR09--Presidential Visit - President Obama made a surprise visit to Baghdad today en route to other international visits. Sadly, my team had no interaction with our 44th President. Baghdad is sprawling city with the airport and most government building fairly centrally located. Interestingly, many countries that receive American influence during development have roads that appear to be built on square grids. Countries with heavy British or European influence feature cities in circular shape with a clear center. Baghdad is distinctly a mix of the two. My team resides at a base a good distance away from where our president awarded 10 Soldiers medals of valor. With any luck, we will see him at some future engagement. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Going Through Training - Billy Bad-Ass here with an update from the War on Unemployment. We've now completed two days of training with the Corps of Engineers. Our class is pretty interesting: most are long-time Corps employees, a few of us are new hires, and there are a few others who are being detailed from other agencies. And there's one guy whose status is really in limbo ... neither he nor the Corps have figured out for sure whether he's still owned by his originating federal agency or whether he's the Corps' now. It all makes for some entertaining discussions. Most of class members have been to Iraq or Afghanistan before, some of them for several tours. What's interesting is that we can see the nation's shift in emphasis to Afghanistan, as that's where the majority of our people are heading. Yesterday we were issued all our gear. I was afraid they'd load us up with two or three duffel bags full of useless crap we'd never use, but they didn't. It was all stuff that we need, and all mine fit into one duffel bag. (READ MORE)

Sergeant Grumpy: Dealing with terps, the unoffical *true* version - "Every rotation does it." "No one will ever know." If you are working with an interpreter, and they utter either of these phrases, go ahead and punch them right in the mouth. More Soldiers have gotten into trouble listening to there terps than I care to count. Before I get into this, I do need to make a distinction between military linguists, who are Soldiers who happen to speak a foreign language, contract interpreters, who, by and large, are native speakers of another language, and have somehow immigrated to the US, and local linguists who are, well, local nationals who speak enough english to get a job with US forces. My focus here is not military linguist - they are Soldiers and should be treated as such. I was lucky enough to work with one in Iraq and he was a tremendous asset. The picture at the top is of he and I at rest after a long week. So back to the quotes above, I have heard both of these from terps in the past: (READ MORE)

The Torch: Afstan: Reality and prospects - Paul Wells of Maclean's magazine talks to the former Representative of Canada in Kandahar: “After the Saraposa prison break, I went out every single day that week, out and about into the city to see how things were going. The first three days it was a ghost town.” It's all about the Afghans (Pathans) in the south having confidence that the Taliban are not coming back. Taliban tactics--terrorist suicide bombings against the Afghan population in places that represent the government, along with murdering those representing that government at any level (especially if they are good at their job)--are their effort to implement a strategy to make that return seem either unlikely, or opposing which not worth the cost. To the population at large or to individuals trying to make that government work. That, people, is terrorism pure and simple. In the face of which Afghans, Canadians, and everyone else should simply submit. As should Shia Muslims in Pakistan, also perhaps targets of the Sunni Pakistani Taliban. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Red Horse Squadron - This was a story I did last week and I’m just now getting around to posting it. The Air Force’s Red Horse Squadron can build just about anything. They renovated the building that will serve as our division headquarters. They told me a story about their living conditions in Basra I found amusing. Their building is the crappiest looking building in their area. It is a corrugated metal building that looks like it’s been up 20 years too long. Everyone else here at the time was living in a 30-man tent and they decided that wasn’t for them. Since they are a construction battalion, they decided to build themselves some rooms in this huge barn so they wouldn’t have to look at each other. My piece was also picked up by the Air Force News Service out of San Anton’. It was shown on AFN as a 60 second news story. (READ MORE)

David Axe: Killer Drones Now Officially Fighters (Air Force Steps Back from the Edge) - It happened without many people noticing. While increasing costs and diminishing utility sapped Pentagon support for the traditional jet fighter — leading to a shrinking and increasingly geriatric fleet — unmanned combat aircraft improved by giant leaps and bounds, rising to meet the challenges of irregular warfare. With quiet engines, long loiter time, sophisticated sensors and precision weapons, a comparatively small force of drones could do the same work as an old-school fighter squadron, better and cheaper. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody is begging for more fighter jets to fight insurgents. But everyone wants more Predator and Reaper drones. The Pentagon under Robert Gates appreciated this. The Air Force’s old senior leadership, hung up on the mythical glory of pilot-on-pilot dogfighting, did not. The Air Force made more manned F-22 fighters its number-one priority, instead of more and better drones. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqis Provide New Line of Security at Joint Base Balad - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq, April 7, 2009 – Another layer of outer perimeter security, provided by Iraqis, was added here April 1 to help protect servicemembers. The new initiative is staffed by more than 100 Iraqis from the surrounding area. "This is a tremendous boost to the ‘Iraqi First’ program," Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Reyes, commander of the Regional Contracting Center here, said. (READ MORE)

Obama Praises Troops During Surprise Visit to Iraq - WASHINGTON, April 7, 2009 – In a surprise visit to Iraq today, President Barack Obama declared to troops in Baghdad that now is the time for Iraqis “to take responsibility for their country.” Obama’s stop to visit some 1,500 troops, government civilians and contractors at Camp Victory’s Al Faw Palace in Baghdad was his first to Iraq as president. Obama promptly thanked the troops for their service and personal sacrifice “under enormous strain … through controversy and difficulty and politics.” (READ MORE)

IRAQI POLICE GRADUATE FROM CARABINIERI TRAINING - BAGHDAD - Under the NATO Training Mission-Iraq at Camp Dublin, Baghdad, 533 Iraqi Police Officers graduated from the Police Advanced Unit training carried out by the Italian Carabinieri Feb. 12, 2009. The specialized course was designed to develop the skills of the Iraqi National Police. During the nine week course, officers studied operational planning, police procedures, police intelligence, counter-insurgency skills, weapons, combat skills, first aid and basic logistics. (READ MORE)

President Obama visits Iraq, addresses MNC-I service members and government employees - BAGHDAD – In an unannounced visit, President Barack Obama addressed approximately 1,500 United States service members, government civilians and contractors assembled in the rotunda of Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, the headquarters of Multi-National Corps – Iraq, this evening. During his remarks, the President lauded U.S. troops and government employees for their professionalism and sacrifice, telling them, “You have performed brilliantly in every mission that has been given to you.” (READ MORE)

Iraqi ERB arrests 11 suspected terrorists in single mission - BAGHDAD – The Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade, with Coalition forces advisors, arrested 11 suspected terrorists in an Iraqi-planned and led operation March 31 in Baghdad. The suspects were allegedly involved in the kidnapping and killing of civilians, emplacement of roadside bombs and conducting attacks against Iraqi Security and Coalition forces. (READ MORE)

Doctor shares tips with Iraqi patients and practitioners - FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq – The combined medical engagement team of 41st Fires Brigade visited the Hawraa Clinic in Kut to share knowledge and conduct joint medical screenings with Iraqi medical personnel April 2. The visit is part of Operation Gunner Med, a joint medical civil-military operation between the Wasit Director General of Health and 41st Fires Brigade. The operation is designed to restore medical service capacity in Wasit and bring medical care up to the regional health care standard. (READ MORE)

COB Speicher stands up Iraqi Facility Engineer Team - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq - As a sign of increasing Iraqi participation in infrastructure and facility construction projects, the U.S. Air Force Facility Engineer Team led the way for an Iraqi Facility Engineer Team to take over base engineering design and construction project management. “We are transitioning the efforts here to provide a more active role for Iraqi’s in infrastructure projects,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Kilbourn, commander, FET 1, Joint Base Balad. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Security Forces Improve Amid ‘Astounding’ Security Gains - WASHINGTON — The improved security and reduced violence in Iraq today is far different than the situation that existed there just a few years ago, a senior U.S. officer posted in Iraq said yesterday. “This is my fourth deployment in Iraq, and I can tell you that the improvements that I have seen –- that I’ve personally seen -- have been astounding,” Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, commanding general of 2nd Marine Logistics Group, told reporters during a satellite-carried Pentagon news conference. (READ MORE)

Forces Join for Kut Medical Engagement - FOB DELTA — The combined medical engagement team of 41st Fires Brigade visited the Hawraa Clinic in Kut to share knowledge and conduct joint medical screenings with Iraqi medical personnel, April 2. The visit is part of Operation Gunner Med, a joint medical civil-military operation between the Wasit Director General of Health and 41st Fires Brigade, designed to restore medical service capacity in Wasit and bring medical care up to the regional health care standard. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Facility Engineer Team Controls Combat Outpost Construction - COB SPEICHER — As a sign of increasing Iraqi participation in infrastructure and facility construction projects, the U.S. Air Force Facility Engineer Team (FET) recently led the way for an Iraqi FET to take over base engineering design and construction management here. “We are transitioning the efforts here to provide a more active role for Iraqis in infrastructure projects,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Kilbourn, commander, FET-1, Joint Base Balad (JBB). (READ MORE)

Earth Movers Remove Remnants of War - BAGHDAD — One month after U.S. and Iraqi Army Soldiers worked together to complete an eight-day mission in a southeast area of Baghdad, the streets here are now free of old fighting positions and the concrete barriers that dotted the landscape. “The work that was conducted out here a month ago has definitely improved the living conditions for everyone in this area,” said Capt. Jeremy North, a 2-6 Infantry Task Force engineer. (READ MORE)

Task Force Soldiers Build Relationships in Central Afghanistan - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 7, 2009 – Soldiers from Task Force Catamount recently met with village elders to address concerns, build relationships and inform residents about ongoing operations in central Afghanistan’s Wardak province. The province’s Nerkh district comprises several remote areas that are known safe havens for Taliban. During a recent mission, soldiers from Blackhawk Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, noted the importance of building relationships with villagers in remote areas. (READ MORE)

Soldier’s No-frills Workout Primes Him for Afghanistan Mission - WASHINGTON, April 7, 2009 – Bathed in the light of a bright, winter moon, just outside of a small village in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, Army Spc. David Helton sits on the edge of a black metal bench. It is spattered with red mud, and duct tape holds most of the padded seat in place. The display on his iPod glows and rock music blares through the ear buds. The squat, 200-pound infantry soldier reaches to the dirt at his feet and picks up a dusty, heavy metal plate and slides it onto the end of the barbell balanced on the bench. (READ MORE)

Battle kills 5 as Taliban move beyond stronghold - PESHAWAR, Pakistan — At least five people died in a gunbattle with Taliban militants trying to expand their stronghold in the Swat valley, police said Wednesday. The clash puts more strain on government efforts to reach a peace accord in the troubled region, which critics including U.S. officials warn could amount to a surrender to extremists. (READ MORE)

Fewer airstrikes in Afghanistan mirrors tactical shift - WASHINGTON — Military commanders in Afghanistan reduced their reliance on airstrikes in 2008, records show, a change that experts say reflects the limitations of air power against a resilient insurgency. From 2004 to 2007, the overall tonnage of munitions dropped from planes rose from 163 tons to 1,956 tons, a 1,100% increase, Air Force data show. (READ MORE)

21 killed in militants-police clashes as Taliban enter Buner district in northwest Pakistan - Buner, 08 April, (Asiantribune.com): As many as 12 people including three police officials, two lashkar (militia) men and sixteen militants were killed in overnight clash between Taliban and Qaumi Lashkar (a tribal force) in Buner district in northwest Pakistan, police and residents said on Tuesday. The fierce fighting erupted on Monday night when the local tribal force (Qaumi Lashkar) and local police force made efforts to enter Gokand valley via Rajagaly Kandow from Pir Baba area side to flush out Taliban militants who had sneaked in to the district on Saturday from neighbouring Swat. (READ MORE)

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