April 21, 2009

From the Front: 04/21/2009

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

Joshua Foust: CJ Chivers Continues to Tell These Amazing Stories - CJ Chivers, the former Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times and now a roving foreign correspondent, has written a truly incredible series of stories about the Kunar-Nuristan area in Afghanistan. Last year, he was covering some of the bases in Nuristan, and now he’s writing gripping stories from old ambush sites in Kunar, both the village of Want and the Korengal Valley, in north-central Kunar: first about an ambush that killed several Taliban, and then about how the constant combat makes all the talk about “engagement” one hears in the media kind of moot. As Old Blue argues, and what I can confirm, is that the Korengal is not Afghanistan. The issues, and violence, we see there are not common to the rest of the country—not even otherwise violent places in Sangin or Panjwai (or Sabari, or Andar). It is an especially violent place, in other words, and even while we oooh and ahhh about this ambush or that combat death, we should keep in mind that this is an aberration. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: Final Diary Post From Embed ‘09 - My final night in Kabul was perfect. I got some good eats from the hotel restaurant, we ordered a bottle of Stoli and spent time with some American contractors who had ventured our way for the night. For the most part, we all just hung out talking and playing pool, which is really all you can do unless there’s work to be done. It was during this time I realized just how messed up the procurement system for these wars truly is. I crept in on the backside of a conversation where one contractor was complaining to another about how a new company has a contract for $75,000 per month to maintain their six generators. “Hell, we gotta guy on staff already that can do that,” said one of the men. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Complaining Against God - Tomorrow Remedial PT begins again as does regular PT. The basic drill is the remedial group has PT at 6am Monday - Friday, except 520am on Wednesday. The others have PT Monday-Wednesday-Friday. I caught myself complaining about remedial PT, not that I have to do it, but that I am in charge of it. Again, it is not the exercise, but it is a piece of human nature that I don't like. So when that happens I am complaining against God. The piece of human nature I am complaining against is the universal tendency of people who know a subject but don't do it to be experts in it in their own mind. So as soon as members of the remedial group knew they actually had to do a certain exercise, they immediately have their own grand ideas about what they should be doing for an exercise program. It makes no difference that they consistently have failed to meet the standard of fitness the Army expects--they know better. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Camp Sittin' Around - You know, there are some people who spend their entire tours in Kuwait. I occasionally wonder if those are Soldiers who were ASSIGNED to this country, or whose travel just got delayed long enough that the Army put them to work here. I'm actually not suffering any sort of maltreatment or major delay, but once one arrives here, one is shuffled into a process of twice-daily formations to be told if one has a time at which to report, with all gear, for a flight. We all assembled this morning, lined up behind blue and white signs with major destinations printed on them. Our group was approached first. The troop handler (who had a soft, high, mumbling voice that increases my suspicion she was not selected for the job so much as randomly given it when someone noticed she'd been hanging out here for two weeks) read off the last four of each of our social security numbers. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan targets dangerous Taliban commander - Taliban commander Hakeemullah Mehsud was the target of a series of Pakistani strikes in the Arakzai tribal agency last weekend. Pakistani Air Force attack aircraft and artillery targeted four Taliban bases in Ghiljo in Arakzai on April 19, AFP reported. The military claimed 15 Taliban fighters were killed and the four bases were destroyed in the attack. Hakeemullah was not killed in the attacks. Pakistani forces also hit Taliban bases in Khyber today, but no casaulties were reported. The attack on the Arakzai bases took place one day after a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a convoy as it passed through a checkpoint in the neighboring district of Hangu. Twenty-five policemen and two civilians were killed in the blast, while scores more were wounded. Hakeemullah claimed credit for the suicide attack in Hangu. (READ MORE)

SPC Alperin - My Point of View: Living the legend and other phenomenas... - As I was racking my mind for an interesting topic for this blog I realized I had to address Sgt. Logue's response to me asking her how she was doing the other day. I said, "how's it going, Sergeant?", and she said, "Living the legend, Specialist." At that point, I'm thinking, Whoaah!, hey, that's not fair. She was so matter of fact about it with her business-like manner, leaving no room for me to say, "What the heck does that mean?, explain yourself, because I really want to know." I haven't gotten around to asking her about it, I was only left with thinking about the legend, and thinking maybe she said it because she knew I would include her in a blog specifically about living the legend. (READ MORE)

SSG Burrell - My Point of View: Easter Sunday - At some desolate Joint Security Station in Northeast Baghdad, Sgt. Erik Fardette and I had an early morning mission on Easter Sunday. In the chow hall this morning most of the Soldiers in JSS Istaqall were either at religious services or sleeping in for once, except a select few. Fardette and I queued up to receive our rations of cereal, warm juice and cold Pop tarts. I commented to the workers on kitchen patrol (KP), "No hot breakfast for Easter?" "Nah sergeant, we are workin' on cookin' chow for tonight," said the unfortunate soul. It must have been an all-day affair because they didn't bother with a hot lunch either I heard. Fardette and I sat down to enjoy our breakfast in the sparsely populated chow hall uttering barely any words to each other. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Baghdad From A Rooftop - A group of us got to do a little sightseeing today. It was a beautiful day, so we went up on the roof of one of the buildings here in the International Zone. Here are a few of my pictures. This shows one of Saddam's parade grounds, with Iraqi government buildings in the distance. You can also see one of the crossed-sword arches on the right. Behind it is the "Flying Saucer", which in reality is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Saddam's palaces were covered with marble. Here's what the brickwork underneath really looks like. This is the Palestine Hotel, right in the middle of the city. (READ MORE) [Visit Site for Pics]

Fightin' 6th Marines: IP investigators uncover new skills in crime scene investigation - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – The Ramadi Training Center was the scene of the crime for Iraqi Police and National Information Investigation Agency investigators conducting a basic criminal investigation course aboard Camp Ramadi, Iraq, April 9, 2009. Criminal Investigation Division agents and Marines with Multi National Force – West’s Joint Prosecution and Exploitation Center trained 18 Iraqi investigators in basic crime scene investigation techniques and proper documentation, said Staff Sgt. Alma Fennell, the chief instructor of the course. The training course consisted of classroom instruction followed by practical application. The first four days included hands-on instruction from Marines and CID agents, and on the final morning of the five-day course, the Iraqi investigators were tested on their newly acquired knowledge. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: Standards - Last deployment I had a soldier who was a former drug user and convicted…felon(?)…well, a convicted criminal. He wasn’t allowed to own a handgun or have a driver’s license in the civilian world. In constant pursuit of irony, we made him a SAW gunner and a driver. Not coincidentally, he didn’t last long in the Army after redeployment. The Army, apparently, has decided that perhaps they don’t need drug using felons in their ranks any longer. A welcome change, I assure you, even if it is a result of a debilitating economic situation in the U.S. In the logistics world…We’re still light years from re-deploying-or so it seems- but I’m already starting to plan. Deployment/re-deployment is, for an S4, his piéce de résistance, my crowning logistical achievement. Its also a pain in the ass and the one time when my generally bad attitude and seemingly inexplicable cruelty to the Company XOs pays dividends. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Flashback: Small Victories in Bloody Iraq - A pall of cigarette smoke lingers over the crowd (pictured) by the time Lt. Col. Bradley Becker takes the stage. It’s the morning of March 26 at a U.S. Army base near Qayyarah, Iraq, south of Mosul. More than 300 tribal sheiks, Muslim imams, police officials, Iraqi Army officers, regional bureaucrats and government engineers have gathered in a brand-new domed theater on the Halliburton-built compound of 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment from Ft. Lewis near Seattle, deployed here since October. They’ve come at the U.S. Army’s invitation. But that doesn’t mean the Army trusts them. To get onto the compound and into the theater, the Iraqis must run a gauntlet of security checkpoints: they’re questioned, searched then searched again and provided ID cards and escorts. From the front gate to the theater, the armed guards - from both American and Iraqi armies - are as thick as camel spiders. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
3 killed, 19 wounded in Baquba suicide vest attack - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – A suicide vest bomber killed three civilians and wounded 19 others, during an attack near the mayor’s office in the Diyala provincial capital, Baquba at approximately 10 a.m. April 20. Among the 19 injured were eight U.S. Coalition Soldiers, two members of the local embedded provincial reconstruction team and three Iraqi police.The bomber, reportedly dressed in an Iraqi police uniform, detonated the vest as members were on their way to visit the municipal leader. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Ethic Center Officers Draft Training Courses - ERBIL, Iraq – Officers from the Iraqi Center for Military Values, Principles, and Leadership Development attended a week-long human rights workshop from 1-7 April. Hosted by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, the workshop gathered Ministry of Defense officers in the human rights field to create training courses on the Law of Armed Conflict and Human Rights. Many of the officers in attendance were Legal Advisors to various brigade headquarters in units throughout Iraq. (READ MORE)

American Citizens Support Iraqi Patients With Valuable Donations - BAGHDAD – Family members of deployed servicemembers in Baghdad donated lots of valuable supplies to show care and concern for the Iraqi patients being treated at Ibn Sina here on Thurday, April 9. Members of the Coalition Air Force Advisory Training Team have been making regular donations to support Iraqi patients. There was a need for children’s and women’s shoes, clothes and toiletries. The call went out to family members and friends in the United States and they responded with overwhelming support. (READ MORE)

New Compound Home to Iraqi Air Force - BASRAH — Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) personnel assigned to Basrah 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’ (USACE) Gulf Region Division (GRD). “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 Basrah province, but in the whole country,” said Staff Gen. Anwer Hamd Ameen, commander of the IqAF. (READ MORE)

Government Fixing SoI Payment Oversight - BAGHDAD — The Government of Iraq (GoI) is on schedule to assume responsibility for paying all Sons of Iraq (SoI) security volunteers, 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)

Iraqi Army Commandos Secure Owesat - BAGHDAD — The Iraqi Army (IA) took the lead in conducting Operation Al-Sakar, a combined Iraqi/U.S. counterinsurgency operation in the Owesat area southwest of here, April 12. The purpose of the operation was to clear weapons, find any hidden explosives and capture insurgents in the area. "The Owesat area is void of a Coalition forces presence and is a potential location to move accelerants into the Baghdad area," said Lt. Col. Brian Eifler, commander, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. (READ MORE)

Coalition Forces Help Iraqi Police Earn People’s Trust - WASHINGTON, April 20, 2009 – The Iraqi Interior Ministry is making progress toward minimizing corruption and maximizing the trust of the Iraqi people, a military officer involved in the effort said April 17. Air Force Maj. Joseph Musacchia, commander of the 81st Security Forces Squadron, told participants in a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable that to create trust between the Iraqi people and their government, coalition and Interior Ministry officials have instituted courses in the ministry’s Inspector General office and Internal Affairs offices that teach police ethics and focus on anticorruption initiatives. (READ MORE)

Army Troops Pack Up in Iraq, Prepare to Head to Afghanistan - BAGHDAD — Only in Iraq a few weeks, nearly 500 U.S. Army combat engineers who specialize in clearing roads of explosives learned they were being shipped off to southern Afghanistan, one of the clearest signs of America's shifting wartime priorities. The transfer, which moved into its final stages Monday, is the largest movement so far of personnel and equipment from Iraq as President Obama puts the focus on the fight in the Taliban heartland. (READ MORE)

Pinned Down, a Sprint to Escape Taliban Zone - ALIABAD, Afghanistan — The two Army lieutenants crouched against boulders beside the Korangal River. Taliban gunfire poured down from villages and cliffs above, hitting tree branches and rocks and snapping as the bullets passed over the officers’ helmets. An American platoon was pinned in the riverbed, which had blossomed into a kill zone. One squad and the radio operator were trapped in a wheat field on the far side. An improvised bomb had just exploded in their midst. The blast wave had blown the soldiers down, and, though the platoon did not yet know it, killed a soldier on the trail. (READ MORE)

US asks for elite NZ troops for Afghanistan war - WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The U.S. has formally asked New Zealand to send its elite Special Air Service [check the motto at link] combat troops back to Afghanistan for a fourth tour of duty, the foreign minister said Sunday. The U.S. request was made following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington earlier this month, Murray McCully told TV One. While Clinton asked for troops, she did not specifically request the commando unit, he said. (READ MORE)

U.S., Afghan Forces Kill Four, Detain Four - WASHINGTON, April 20, 2009 – Coalition and Afghan forces killed at least four militants and detained four more in recent operations throughout Afghanistan, U.S. military officials reported. Afghan and coalitions forces killed two enemy fighters during a reconnaissance patrol today in Oruzgan province’s Khas Oruzgan district. The policemen and soldiers spotted the two militants setting up an ambush and armed with machine guns when they engaged them, killing both. (READ MORE)

Reconstruction Team Completes Afghanistan Canal Project - NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, April 20, 2009 – Joined by government and local leaders, the provincial reconstruction team here celebrated the completion of the Grand Canal repair project during an April 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony in Jalalabad. The repairs took about nine months to complete and cost $2.8 million, covering nearly 40 miles of canal spanning four districts. The contractor repaired 850 gates and installed five new siphons to help to control water flow and double the irrigation capability. (READ MORE)

US blaming Pakistan to hide own failure in Afghanistan, says minister - Islamabad, April 20 : The US is blaming Pakistan in order to hide the failure of its own anti-terror operations in Afghanistan, says Pakistan's Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Najam-ud-Din Khan. "The eyes of the whole world are on the Pakistani tribal areas, but the Pakistani Taliban is different from foreign Taliban. The Afghan immigrants living there illegally are increasing hardships for Pakistan," the minister said in an interview with the Online news agency Sunday. (READ MORE)

Afghan family mourns young sons killed by suicide bomber - Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan - Haji Niamatullah has a treat in store for his children. It is Friday, a holiday in Tarin Kowt, a town in southern Afghanistan. He sends his oldest son, 12-year-old Sahiulla to the nearby bazaar to buy ice cream for the family on this hot summer day. Hasibullah, 7, wants to accompany his older brother. Niamatullah wonders if the younger one should stay at home, but then decides to let them go. A short while afterwards, a huge explosion rocks the city. Niamatullah runs outside, looking for his children. When the security officers let him through the barricades at the explosion site about one hour later, he finds his sons - both dead. (READ MORE)

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