April 20, 2009

From the Front: 04/20/2009

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

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Sandbox: Good and Bad - Saturday disappeared for us on a flight lasted from early evening Friday till midnight Saturday. Then unloading and loading baggage and travel to our new home stretched until 10 the next morning. At that point we got the very good advice to stay up until eight pm and get our bodies into local time. By 2pm everybody was asleep (including everyone who gave that sage advice) in our new accommodations--a 78-man tent with no empty bunks. A couple of us went to the gym at 4pm. It's a 24-hour gym which is great. The food here is also amazing. Omelettes to order for breakfast, short order and regular food for lunch and dinner, midnight chow for late workers. The internet is spotty, but not as bad as everyone said it would be. And there's lots of sand here. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Suckitude - The flight back to theater from leave is worse than the original flight to the deployment. No matter who you are, how much you like your job, you really, really don´t want to be on that plane. It gets better each leg, but that first jump out from leave...well, it´s a quiet damn bird. On a good note, my leave fell late enough in the deployment that it is all downhill from here. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: Sautalu Sar: A CT Success Story In Korengal - Here's a story which rings bells straight out of Vietnam. Last week an ambush patrol executed by a platoon from 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry had great results. They absolutely kicked ass on a group of Taliban diddy-bopping along a trail on a mountain called Sautalu Sar in the Korengal Valley. Classic Infantry stuff. I felt a visceral Infantry reaction and a heartfelt, "Good job!" in my Infantry heart. It was a night ambush, which we should probably be doing more of. This is a rare story of how Americans actually took back part of the night on the ground in Afghanistan, where we largely cede the night to the predations of the Taliban. That's how night letters get delivered as we sleep peacefully in our FOBs. Now, the Korengal is not like the rest of Afghanistan. The Korengal is an anomaly, and a poor example of Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Bullet Wisdom: Sitting Around a Map - Another crowded, smoke-filled room with forty or so people gathered around another long table with a projector at the end throw up a picture of a map on a too-small screen. From my position, the whiny fan on the aged Canon digital projector obscures the voices coming from the other end of the long, rectangular room. Today at the command center, many of the provincial players from nearby Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) gathered at our weekly meeting. Normally used to discuss the previous weeks SIGACTS, or Significant Actions, the agenda from this week was to highlight the impact of the ISF ongoing turf wars. Now, these are not turf wars where one group encroaches on the territory of another. The problem here is ISF units in our areas are hesitant to engage outside of their given Area of Responsibility. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: How the Spartans Were Conquered - Been on deck nearly 10 days and this deployment may prove to be darkest night as compared to last year’s glorious days of ruggedness. Last deployment I had a rifle company that lived in an OP that looked like something out of the Road Warrior. Watchtowers festooned with machine guns and grenade launchers overlooked the maze of obstacles littering Entry Control Points. The Marines lived in conex boxes which were converted shipping crates covered in sandbags and Hesco barriers. The Company Commander, myself, the XO and our air officer all lived in one room together that used to be some kind of meat locker. Indirect fire from insurgent mortar teams was pretty regular until we killed them all. The chow sucked. It was something known as UGRs or some such acronym. I suspect the name has something to do with the sound troops make while trying to choke down a mouthful of it. “UhhGGhRR!!” (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Afghan Cultural Meal - Last night (shab gushashta) we had a group afhgan cultural meal. The afghans who work with our training command put together a meal from fixings found in the chow hall. The purpose of the meal was to educate us on how to eat afghan style, with our fingers while seated on the floor. My son would not require any special instruction to accomplish this, but I had to practice. The curry chicken and rice was just the right blend of spices. The salate had a nice amount of cilantro, tomatoes, onions and greens. We were shown the proper method is to ball up and load the rice onto your index, middle and ring fingers in a trough, then use your thumb to piston the rice into your mouth. Luckily they did not count off for being messy. I am going to take additional Dari classes at night next week. (READ MORE)
Free Range International: One Step Forward Two Steps Back - Every now and then one stumbles across a story which illustrates deeply held convictions so well that you just have to share. Here is one of those and it is a sad tale of incompetence, risk aversion and just plain clown like silliness. It is amusing (I guess) but it is also so typical of why we are making little progress in our battle to bring security and infrastructure development to Afghanistan. The story is written by Ian Pannell of the BBC and describes his visit with Americans for the Embassy in Kabul who flew into Mazar-e-Sharif to drive out to a school opening. It is a all to familiar tale, the American palm off the Brits on their local hosts and move out in Armored Suburbans with a full security detail. One of the trucks breaks down and they all turn around, go back to the airport and fly back to Kabul. The Brits arrive and, as the only internationals present stand in for the Americans... (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iraq's North - Once again, WaPo misleads its readers regarding the disputed north of Iraq. The reporter writes as though the Kurds are the only original residents of the region. In a story about the people of the area as they await the release of U.N. reports expected to propose joint administration of Kirkuk and make a case for the annexation of some districts to the Kurdistan Regional Government, WaPo ignores entire communities. "Many of the urban areas in the disputed territories were predominantly Kurdish until the 1970s, when Saddam Hussein razed hundreds of Kurdish villages, displacing thousands of people," the reporter says without explaining how he knows this. There has been no census for 50 years, and traditionally Kurds and Turkoman dressed the same, so looking at photos does not determine who belongs to which community. Obviously what Saddam did to the Kurds was wrong. But what the Kurds have done since is no less wrong. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: A mission to focus on..... - Had no choice but to go shopping today. Just picked up a couple of things because I still avoid Wal-mart on Sundays as much as possible. It just takes me back.... Anyway I ran into the only other gold star mom in town. Her son-in-law was killed in al Anbar 3 years ago. She asked me how I can be so positive in such a short time. As my last blog stated I have tried to find my smile again. And when I really think about it I have been amazingly blessed in some ways this past year also. As much and I miss my son and hurt that he was taken from me I am that proud of him also. It is that pride in him that drives me. I have told people often that Pokey is my inspiration and that I hope he and those who served with him will inspire them also. Sgt. Lewis, who knew my son well, told me just a couple days after we lost Micheal that is was easier in theater to loose a man because they had a mission to focus on. It would be some time before I told him that his word saved me from the deepest part of the depression I battled. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike targets Taliban training camp in South Waziristan - The US launched an attack against a terror training camp in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan. An unmanned Predator strike aircraft fired two Hellfire missiles at a Taliban and al Qaeda training camp in Gangi Khel near the town of Wana, a US intelligence official familiar with the attacks in Pakistan's northwest told The Long War Journal. The camp was also used by the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani terror group that has fought in Kashmir but has largely relocated to Pakistan's tribal areas, the official said. Eight Taliban fighters are thought to have been killed in the strike, Geo News reported. No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders have been reported killed at this time. Today's strike in Gangi Khel is the third attack in the village time this year. (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: How Time Flies - It's hard to believe that my time on R & R...military leave...is coming to and end. Only two more full days in San Diego and then off to Dallas on the early (and I do mean early) morning flight. I'll stay there until the next morning then I have to report to the Dallas Airport by noon to the military airline check in. People have asked me how long it will take me to get back to Baghdad and I answer the only way I know how: I'll get there when I get there. I'll leave Dallas when there's a plane (or actually a seat on a plane) available. I'll leave Kuwait when there is a seat on a plane going to Baghdad. Could take 48 hours, could take 4 days. Rumor control from the unit that we replaced hinted that some of the Soldiers waited in Kuwait for up to 7 days waiting for a plane. Oh my, I hope it doesn't take me that long. Don't have that many pair of clean socks! (READ MORE)

Photography, Software, and Sand: Moving this summer - We got word over the weekend that our company's operations here will be moving to Joint Base Balad, which is north of Baghdad. The US military is looking to start turning significant tracts of land back to the Iraqis, and our compound is high on the list because we are right next to Iraqi neighborhoods already. Fortunately for me it seems like this will be occurring in the June/July timeframe, which is right around when I will be coming back from vacation in Italy with Amanda. Because of this, I will only have a manageable 45-60 days at the new site... I will be able to cope with any inconvenient situations because of this (read: having a roomate). We'll see. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: Sandstorm…a different perspective - I posted a photo a little while ago taken during a sandstorm. Today I managed to get a picture of an approaching sandstorm minutes before it hit. Some have expressed doubt but this is a 100% real picture. It took about 2-3 minutes for the wall of sand to get from where it is in the picture to where I was standing. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Why, you ask… - I’m still sitting in Kuwait.. it’s my fifth night here. I guess I can’t complain too much. I get to sleep all day and use the internet at the MWR if I’m willing to wait in line. No one is telling me what to do, except for the two times I have to show up to roll call, and I’ve got lots of freedom. The downside is boredom. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post once I get to Basra, because Adam hasn’t posted too much. He’s working on getting our regular internet up, but he’s having problems. That means we only have the secured internet that blocks “social networking sites” like facebook and myspace, as well as personal blogs. I’m guessing they have an internet cafe set up there, but probably the kind that costs $5/hour. I just read one of Adam’s post on Basra and want to share it with you. A lot of people are confused as to why we’re moving out of Baghdad and I for one am not ecstatic about it since Basra doesn’t have all the cush amenities to which we’ve grown accustomed. (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: Left Seat Right Seat - With the company reorganized, I found myself in a new platoon and new squad. I think I lucked out as I’ve known my squad leader, Beard, for several years now and we even did PLDC (Sergeant’s school) together. On top of that my fellow team leader, Reese, is a long time army friend. We not only did PLDC but deployed to Germany together. Back then, we were also in the same squad too. So as the three NCOs of our squad, we know each other pretty well. Half of my new squad is made up of my old 2nd platoon members which works out pretty well. Also, now that we are formed more like a front line infantry unit, I actually have 3 guys under me. Yes thats right. I finally have a full fire team. With that said, it didn’t take long for us to start running missions. (READ MORE)

The Torch: "Afghanistan isn't just Canada's war" - Further to this post, Matthew Fisher of Canwest News (winner of the 2007 Ross Munro Media Award for "a significant and extraordinary contribution to increasing public understanding of Canadian defence and security issues") does more to, er, broaden Canadians' perspectives: “LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -- Like most of his countrymen, Pte. Colin Walstow admitted that he ‘did not have a clue’ that Canada was fighting only 60 kilometres to the east of where he was serving as a combat medic for the British army in Helmand Province. Most Canadians suffer from a similar myopia. They have been so focused on Canada's war in Kandahar that most don't know the British have been fighting and dying in almost similar numbers in neighbouring Helmand [see this UK MoD site, "Operations in Afghanistan"].” (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: All’s Quiet on the Western Front… - Well not the Western Front really but all has been pretty quiet in Baghdad lately. Mind numbingly quiet actually, which makes it quite the challenge to keep twenty paratroopers from going stir crazy, however it speaks of US success here. Last night I talked to my beautiful wife, she is taking an international relations course and they discussed Iraq. She complained that everyone in the class spouted off all sorts of ill informed opinions on Operation Iraqi Freedom. I realized that the American people, though entitled to their opinions, love to cling to their ill informed opinions. So I thought I’d post a slightly more informed opinion on our progress here. As a caveat before we begin, I nor anyone else with inside knowledge on this place do not believe America has a perfect track record here, nor do I believe everything that happens here is currently going just as it should. With that being said: (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Camelot-Nearly Upon-Tigris - RABIA–We thought we would go out to visit Sheik Abdullah. The sheik is an al-Yawar, the leading family of Iraq’s enormous Shammar tribe. He describes them as the Kennedys of Iraq, a understated comparison. Framed pictures are scattered on tabletops in his home showing himself, his brothers, his father and grandfather with kings, heads of state and, among the more recent, Gen. David Petraeus. When asked a fairly simple question about his family’s current involvement in politics, he begins “Under the Ottoman rule…” and goes on to talk of the British, of revolts in the 50’s, of long periods in exile. So this is the kind of man Sheik Abdullah Humedi Ajeel al-Yawar is. (READ MORE)

Death on the Road - ZUMAR–We passed a crowd. Men were standing in solemn clusters on the side of the road, eyeing our convoy of Humvees as we rode slowly by. The police later told us what had happened. A local businessman had been shot by the side of the road. It was the first killing here in a long time. Zumar, a region of Nineveh province spread across the green foothills leading into Kurdistan, is a quiet corner of Iraq, largely unstained by the bloodshed of the rest of the country. Arabs and Kurds here live side by side peacefully; checkpoints fly both the Kurdish and Iraqi flags. (READ MORE)

Iraqis take custody of detainee - AL ASAD, Iraq – The Haditha Special Weapons and Tactics team took custody of a suspected terrorist April 7 in Haditha, Iraq, to process him through the Iraqi judicial system. The suspect, arrested in a SWAT-led operation March 31 in Fallujah, Iraq, was kept in custody by Coalition forces in accordance with the 2009 Security Agreement. U.S. Special Operations Forces transferred custody of the detainee to Haditha SWAT to be tried in the Iraqi judicial system. (READ MORE)

MND–S headquarters stands fully equipped - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – Construction on the new Multi-National Division – South headquarters building has finally concluded after six months of work. At a cost of approximately $26 million, the new division headquarters consists of two one-story, 30,000 square-foot buildings that opened for service members April 8. (READ MORE)

GoI on schedule in responsibility to pay SoI - BAGHDAD – The Government of Iraq is on schedule to assume responsibility for paying all of the nation’s Sons of Iraq, and is working to pay back wages to members of the group who are owed money due to a legislative oversight, Coalition authorities said. “Time and again, the Government of Iraq and the Coalition have demonstrated a commitment to the Sons of Iraq through their actions, and that’s borne out here,” said Maj. Gen. John Johnson, deputy commanding general for operations, Multi-National Corps – Iraq. (READ MORE)

New Iraqi army facility taking shape in southeast Iraq - AMARAH, Iraq -- Construction on the Iraqi army’s new al-Maymona Location Command in southeast Iraq is on schedule for completion by September, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The $35.9 million project, overseen by USACE’s Gulf Region Division, will provide a base for 1,000 Iraqi soldiers. “This location command will support Iraqi army units stationed in our area,” explained Iraqi engineer Ali Abdul, who is overseeing construction for the Gulf Region Division. (READ MORE)

New Basra compound home to growing Iraqi air force - BASRA, Iraq — Iraqi air force personnel assigned to Basra Air Base now have a new compound to call home thanks to a $1.9 million project overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division. “If I use all the words, they won’t be enough to express my great thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their work helping us build the Iraqi air force’s capacity not only in Basra province, but in the whole country,” said Staff Gen. Anwer Hamd Ameen, commander of the Iraqi air force, during his April 14 visit to the air force’s new compound in Basra. “You ensured that a quality facility was provided.” (READ MORE)

Joint Sweeps Aim to End Arms Smuggling - FOB HUNTER — Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers recently joined forces to sweep areas in southern Iraq to deter the suspected smuggling of lethal munitions. “I really enjoy doing these missions with the Americans,” said a Soldier from the 41st Iraqi Army (IA) Brigade. Along the route, the Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers stopped in several villages where they handed out toys and school supplies to Iraqi children. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Learn Advanced Pre-Hospital Care - COB SPEICHER — U.S. Soldiers recently partnered with the Iraqi Ministry of Health to provide a series of training events geared toward creating an emergency medical system program and improving efficiency in pre-hospital care for civilian health professionals from the Tikrit General Hospital and 4th Iraqi Army Division. “Our focus of pre-hospital care will definitely save a lot of lives and give our medical professionals a lot of help as we go out and provide health service to our people in Salah ad-Din,” said an Iraqi civilian medical provider. (READ MORE)

Engineers in Iraq Defeat Tunnel Terrorists - BAGHDAD, April 20, 2009 – When terrorists who discovered tunnels underneath a heavily traveled road in western Baghdad used an improvised explosive device to blow a huge hole in the street to disrupt traffic, 225th Engineer Brigade engineers from Headquarters and Support Company, 46th Engineer Combat Battalion, were called in to repair the road and seal access to the underground tunnels. “The crater was pretty dangerous, and we ended up repairing two holes in that road,” (READ MORE)

Iraqi Government Continues Progress Toward Paying All ‘Sons of Iraq’- BAGHDAD, April 20, 2009 – The Iraqi government is on schedule to assume responsibility for paying all of the nation's “Sons of Iraq” civilian security group members, and is working to pay back wages to members of the group who are owed money due to a legislative oversight, coalition authorities said. "Time and again, the government of Iraq and the coalition have demonstrated a commitment to the Sons of Iraq through their actions, and that's borne out here," Army Maj. Gen. John Johnson, deputy commanding general for operations for Multinational Corps Iraq, said. (READ MORE)

Flight Nurse Provides Care in the Air - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 20, 2009 – While troops on the ground risk their lives fighting terrorism, Air Force Capt. Susan McCormick provides emergency care to wounded troops so they can return to the fight or return to their families back home. "I couldn't picture myself doing anything but this -- giving someone the chance to survive when they risk their lives every day for us," the flight nurse assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight here said. (READ MORE)

NZ wants exit plan for commandos in Afghanistan - WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand's prime minister said Monday that he wants an exit strategy before sending the country's elite Special Air Service combat troops back to Afghanistan as the U.S. has requested. Prime Minister John Key said that sending the commandos for a fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan "would be a very hard decision, not something we would take lightly." (READ MORE)

Missiles demolish Taliban compound - ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Suspected U.S. missiles leveled a Taliban compound in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, officials said, killing three people despite militants' threats of a wave of suicide bombings if the strikes don't end. Meanwhile, a hard-line cleric who mediated a deal that imposes Islamic law in a northwest valley in exchange for peace with the Taliban warned that the Pakistani government must enforce the law, not simply make announcements about it. (READ MORE)

U.S. helps snare top Afghan drug lords - U.S.-Afghan operations have led to the arrests of seven of Afghanistan's most wanted drug lords and revealed the growing involvement of the Taliban in turning opium into heroin and morphine, Pentagon and Drug Enforcement Administration officials said. U.S. and Afghan counternarcotics teams last month demolished a poppy bazaar in the southern Helmand province — an open market where traffickers sold seeds to grow top-quality opium and chemicals to turn raw opium into heroin. (READ MORE)

Karzai Objects To Direct U.S. Talks With Taliban - WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has said U.S. efforts to tame the growing Taliban insurgency through negotiations would fail unless his government agreed to such talks. The Obama administration has announced it will send more troops and economic assistance to Afghanistan as well as intensify diplomacy within the region in a bid to counter the Taliban, who now control large parts of the Asian nation. (READ MORE)

Pakistan on verge of falling into hands of Taliban as insurgents arrive on Islamabad's doorstep - Islamabad, Apr.20 : With the Taliban establishing total control over the Swat Valley following inking a deal with the government to implement Islamic law in the whole region, fears have heightened that Islamabad could be the next target of the insurgents. A report in the Washington Post suggests that the Taliban has arrived on the doors of the country's capital, and is on the lookout for a right opportunity to strike. (READ MORE)

U.S., Afghan Forces Kill Eight, Detain Five - WASHINGTON, April 17, 2009 – Coalition and Afghan forces killed eight militants and detained five in recent operations throughout Afghanistan, U.S. military officials reported. In operations today: - Afghan soldiers, assisted by coalition forces, killed two militants in Farah province’s Khaki Safed district. The combined patrol came under machine-gun, small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from five to seven militants. Shortly thereafter, 20 to 30 fighters joined in from established firing positions. (READ MORE)

International Effort Benefits Afghanistan’s Alasay Valley - ALASAY VALLEY, Afghanistan, April 17, 2009 – The Afghan, French and American militaries conducted a medical operation here April 5 and 6, providing care to more than 600 Afghans from local villages. A joint civilian-military cooperation and provincial reconstruction team also met with students and teachers from two schools in the village to determine the community’s needs. The teams distributed more than 500 school kits in Sultankhel, an area known for attacks on coalition troops. Meanwhile, Afghan and U.S. servicemembers patrolled the bazaar and met with local vendors. (READ MORE)

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