April 29, 2009

From the Front: 04/29/2009

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

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Then and Now: Finding My Limits - In 1982 my sister got married on the 4th Saturday in October. That was also an Army Reserve weekend for me. My sister's wedding was near Boston, Mass. I helped set up a range on Friday, got Saturday off, then had to fire the .45 cal. pistol and submachine gun at 0800 on Sunday. (By the way, Happy 54th birthday Jean!) I went to my sister's wedding and reception then drove all night to central Pennsylvania. In 1981 I fired expert with the .45 cal. pistol. In 1982 I fired marksman by just one round. Marksman is the lowest category. Afterwards our commander said, "Don't worry Sergeant Gussman, we now how well you can shoot." I thanked him, but ever since I have known that morning is how I really shoot. I was in a tank unit. If I was going to fire a .45 pistol in combat, that means I am off my tank. So I would be tired, scared, maybe injured. How I shoot after driving all night was a better gauge of how I would shoot when things were less than perfect. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Back from the Desert - We just returned from three days of convoy training. We learn to identify, avoid and react to IEDs, hostile fire and the other hazards of driving on Iraqi roads. We had a full week of the same training in Oklahoma and some of our guys had more convoy training in Pennsylvania before we left. So the training itself was not new, but in the US we had to pretend to be in the desert. Here the biggest training aid was miles of sand in every direction that occasionally blew up into a a sideways sandstorm, not to mention the clear, blue sky and the sun that here travels east to west near vertical. At noon here (actually 1pm because of Daylight Savings Time) my shadow is so small the fatter sand beetles can't get shade unless they crawl right next to my boot. With a mid-afternoon high temperature just over 100 and wearing full battle rattle (We wear a a 35-pound body armor vest, 4-pound helmet, uniform with long sleeves, heavy boots, a 9-pound rifle, and 15 pounds of ammo, knives, and other stuff. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Home, such as it is - I finally escaped Big Base and made it back here. The trip was the usual goatrope of oh-you-needed-to-go-to-FOB-McLazy-you-should-have-told-us-we-went-there-yesterday that always happens when you're trying to get somewhere around here. I hitched a ride in the last free seat on a convoy, and it was only marginally free. I ended up riding with a significant amount of "Class 1 Supplies" (that is, snacks and drinks). My view for the ride looked something like this: They'd used almost every bit of webbing, rope and bungee cord in Iraq, but had run out at the top of the heap. If the world had ended on my ride home, I may have met Saint Peter covered in blue Gatorade and grapes. Everyone's gotta go some way or another, I suppose. But that wasn't the only thing aboard. There were some boxes... We had time to kill, so we opened them up. And what had the Tax Dollar Fairy brought for the grubby little Soldiers? (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: A Need to Know Basis - The list of things I do not need to know is long and varied. But in particular I do not need to know certain things while deployed to areas of the world with a vested interest in my violent death. I appreciate that you are worried about me. However, letting me know that you have a bad feeling right before I go on a road trip through IED infested roadways has an adverse affect on my whole lower GI tract. Recently a friend said something like; “Be careful out there, I’ve been having bad dreams about you.” WELL THANKS A FREAKIN’ LOT! Now you’re getting ready to head out the wire when it abruptly dawns on you, “Hey! I’m MORTAL!” The next forty-five minutes are spent seeing if anyone has an extra SAPI plate they want to give up. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Behind Closed Doors COIN Chatter on Afghanistan - The US Army Combined Arms Center Blogs are good. And the US Army and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog is one of the better ones. Although not as good as Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure or Afghanistan Shrugged as far as military blogs go, but good nonetheless. The Counterinsurgency Center blog pointed out an interesting series of articles…. that were behind some password protection. That calls for cryptome. I found it there and turned it into a PDF (there are no OPSEC or classified issues involved). This is it: Cpt. Carl Thompson, “Winning in Afghanistan,” April 2009. I’ve read some really bad military publications. Reeeeally bad. This one is not one of those. This guy has a clue, beyond the usually “COIN” knowledge (i.e., Malaysia, Galula, blah, blah, blah…) mainly from the ETT perspective. Meaning a lot of ground facts and anecdotes. Anyways, excerpt time (I know: lazy. But I’m busy begging for money and permission for fieldwork).(READ MORE)

The Gun Line MkIII: Just For The Record… - There are some folks out there who took my post entiltled “Privateer…”, and thought that I was beginning to pine for the combination of fast gunboats, hevy automatic weapons, and the possible monetary advantages offered to private contractors in that line of business… Let me just say, don’t worry… While the glamorous aspect of such an operation makes the young machine gunner’s heart go twitter patter, this old dog isn’t going ot be shipping out any time soon… My adventures in privateering will be limited to the 16th century, along previously established guidelines… But I like the way you all think… In other news, spent 5 glorious days in Qatar, on a pass. Spent the days in Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, with “Margaritaville” playing in the back of my mind. I have since returned to Balad, and have found no new brushfires to be extinguished. All is well, and we continue to progress towards the end of this deployment. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban advance on Mansehra - As the government is conducting military operations against the Taliban in Dir and Buner in the insurgency-plagued Northwest Frontier Province, Taliban fighters have moved into the district of Mansehra and established a base and a training camp. More than 100 heavily armed Taliban fighters have established a base of operations in the Kala Dhaka region of Mansehra and set up training camp in Loniyian, Dawn reported. Only 100 poorly armed and trained Levies personnel are said to be on hand to halt a Taliban incursion. Loniyian "once used to be a training camp of militants that was closed after the government launched a crackdown on such camps," security officials told Dawn. "The official sources claimed that the camp had again been made functional where new recruits were being trained." Last summer, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that 157 terror training camps were in operation in Pakistan’s northwest. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban capture 60 security personnel in Buner - The Taliban scored the first major victory in the nascent battle of Buner today after its fighters captured 60 Frontier Constabulary and policemen. Forty-three Frontier Constabulary officers and 17 policemen were captured after the Taliban surrounded their police station in the town of Pir Baba, the home of a shrine of a revered Sufi saint, Dawn reported. Among those captured was the police chief. The Taliban took control of the town after capturing the police station and the security officials. About 250 officers from the Frontier Constabulary, a poorly armed and trained paramilitary police force, were turned back by the Taliban a few days ago after attempting to secure government installations. One officer was killed in the clash with the Taliban. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Scary How Much a Two-Year-Old Knows - So far, my time off from Baghdad has been great. I've been able to relax here at home with my wife, take care of some issues (dog @ the vet, car's oil change, etc). I've been able to visit North Shore, seeing friends and former students (who attack in packs not by themselves). I've taken in a lot of caffeine (Deidrich's and Starbucks) and watched quite a few new movies (Slumdog, The Burrowers, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Let the Right One In, Doubt). The big thunderstorms and flooding that's been going on have kept me inside too. I've also been able to enjoy my little girl and see how much she's learned and grown. She's learned a lot of words and is pretty good at putting them together into phrases and small sentences. She'll say, "Good morning, everyone wake up!" when we go to her room in the morning. She knows almost the whole alphabet (we play with the letters in the tub) and lots of animals. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Why We're Over There - On Friday, Damian had a post up exploring the cynicism of many Canadians when it comes to our role in Afghanistan. When supporters of the mission talk about, for example, the importance of the mission for women's rights, the response is often "don't tell me we sent our soldiers there just to help women--give me a break." There's a sense in which that response is right, and a sense in which it's wrong. First, here's what Damian has to say: “Remember, there's no simple answer to why we're over there. It's in our national interest, yes, but in a vast variety of ways. We need to be there because failed states disrupt the world order, and as a trading nation Canada relies upon a somewhat orderly world for our economic prosperity. We need to be over there because the U.N. and NATO have blessed the mission, and Canada relies upon collective security mechanisms quite a bit. We need to be over there because our single largest strategic ally - the U.S. whether we like it or not - sees Afghanistan as important. We need to be over there because we care about one of the most downtrodden people in the entire world.” (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: 6 Months ago today..... - It's hard to believe that today it has been 6 months since we got the news that would change our lives forever. "Your husband, Captain Rob Yllescas of 6-4 Cav, Bravo Troop has been injured in Afghanistan." I can remember that day in vivid detail. It seems like yesterday. Yet, it seems like years ago. When I really stop and think about everything that's happened in the last 6 months, it almost takes my breath away. I'm proud to say that the girls and I are moving forward. We've started building our lives without Rob. Not that there aren't days that it doesn't hurt. The emotional roller coaster continues. But, through our faith, family, and friends we're getting through it. When there are days I'm feeling sorry for myself, I remember the promise I made to Rob before we took him off life support: the girls and I would be ok. As badly as I wanted it, Rob and my's destiny was not to grow old together. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: So this is Basra… - “It could be worse” - the new army motto, at least among soldiers in Basra. I wrote a long posts on the double standards being set forth by the new division as far as putting their people in rooms and us in tents, but decided to not post it since it doesn’t help anything. I’m happy in a tent, I just wish all of our people were together. I’ve been working some long hours since I arrived and trying to fit in a daily workout at 6:30 AM. I usually leave the office between 9-11 and am trying to not make that a habit. I’m working on building a weekly newscast, so I’ve been building a lot of the elements (intro, lower thirds, over the shoulder, etc.) It’s giving me a chance to work on my editing skills, so I’m enjoying that. For the past three days I’ve been working on a map… just so you know, that’s not in my job description. But, a new pao asked me to help with photo shop and what I thought would be a two hour job has turned into a three day ordeal of minuscule changes and a headache. I think I’m just too nice sometimes. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Mutterings of tribal revolt - By Iraqi standards, Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman is royalty. He's the emir, or prince, of the Dulaim, Iraq's biggest tribe and the one that dominates in the former insurgent stronghold of Anbar province. So when he threatens a tribal revolt, it's worth taking note. For the past few weeks, Sulaiman, 38, has been trying to rally the support of tribes across Iraq for a tribal conference whose goal, he says, will be to replace the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki unless certain, as yet unspecified, demands are met. (READ MORE)

Romanian Soldiers Train Iraqi Army Commandos - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq , April 28, 2009 – Romanian soldiers are helping train Iraqi commandos on Camp Ur, near Contingency Operating Base Adder in Iraq. Soldiers of the 26th Romanian Infantry Battalion mentored Iraqi soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 39th Iraqi Army Brigade, through the first four weeks of tactical, physical and weapons training of an eight-week commando training course. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Navy Flagship to Set Sail - LA SPEZIA, Italy - The Iraqi Navy has been conducting training over the last several months to prepare for the maiden voyage of the Fatah, Patrol Ship 701 in mid May. The Italian patrol ship will be reflagged to the country of Iraq on May 15. The 34 member Iraqi crew traveled to Italy in January to begin their training on PS 701. The training encompassed all aspects of shipboard operations to ensure the crew would be ready to sail the ship from La Spezia Italy to Umm Qasr, Iraq. (READ MORE)

Local leads ISF to roadside bomb, prevents detonation - TIKRIT, Iraq – Acting on local intelligence, Tikrit Emergency Response Brigade and Coalition forces advisors located a sizeable roadside bomb April 21 in Tikrit, before it could be detonated. According to the source, a terrorist cell planned to move the IED from its location to a busy driving route before detonation. With a 24-hour window before the move, it was critical to act fast. (READ MORE)

Mosul SWAT prevents large-scale attack to Coalition forces bases - TIKRIT, Iraq – On April 22, Mosul Special Weapons and Tactics, with Coalition forces advisors, detained a suspected terrorist planning an attack against two large CF bases, during an operation in Qayarrah. According to intelligence sources, the suspected terrorist had already constructed two capable improvised rocket launcher platforms and planned to build more. The plan was to fire five rockets simultaneously on Forward Operating Bases around Mosul, from hidden locations in the surrounding city. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army battalion, CF take time addressing villagers’ needs - TIKRIT, Iraq – A battalion of Iraqi Army Soldiers with Coalition forces medics provided humanitarian assistance to villagers April 19 in Bazunah, Iraq. Combining educational and medical assistance, IA Soldiers handed out school supplies to the children, while CF medics performed medical screenings. “The teams’ ability to work together allowed for the medical screening of more than 100 Bazunah villagers … and the distribution of school supplies to 150 children,” said the ground forces commander present during the operation. (READ MORE)

NPS brings special skills to Iraqi Police - BAGHDAD – Two senior lecturers with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Defense Resources Management Institute instructed Ministry of Interior Iraqi policemen on resource management at the High Institute of the Baghdad Police College here Apr. 15-23. The 52 students represented all provinces and included a cross-section of expertise ranging from budget and program managers to Personal Security Detail personnel. Each student is, in some way, responsible for compiling budget requirements for their subordinate organizations. (READ MORE)

Local Shaykh assists ISF, turns in suspected bomb maker - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, Kirkuk, Iraq — A local Shaykh fulfilled promises made to both Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces by helping convince a suspected insurgent to turn himself in. Shaykh Nizar, a tribal leader in a village near Daquq, Iraq, was directly involved in bringing an alleged bomb maker to ISF custody April 16. The suspect is believed to make bombs in the area. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police Demonstrate Capability, Penetrate Terrorist Cell in Diyala Province - TIKRIT — Baqubah's Iraqi Police forces, with Coalition forces advisors, infiltrated a once-impenetrable terrorist cell April 20 to arrest nine individuals allegedly responsible for attacks against Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi Army during an operation in Diyala Province. According to joint intelligence sources, the suspects are responsible for small-arms attacks against patrolling forces in Baqubah and Balad. In the past, the cell’s location and early warning networks obstructed ISF’s ability to detain cell members. (READ MORE)

Flight Surgeons Train Iraqi Counterparts - NEW AL MUTHANA AIR BASE — Air Force flight surgeons continued their mission to train Iraqi Air Force and Army flight surgeons here recently, better preparing the Iraqi officers to eventually take over the aerospace medicine mission. "The Coalition Air Force Training Team is conducting a flight surgeon training course here in Iraq," said Col. William W. Dodson III, Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq CAFTT surgeon. "It is a four-week course and at the end we will graduate seven new Iraqi Air Force and Iraqi Army flight surgeons." (READ MORE)

Deal Could Be Near to Extend Use of Manas Air Base - WASHINGTON, April 28, 2009 – The United States could be nearing a deal with the Kyrgyzstan government to extend U.S. access to Manas Air Base, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today. Morrell reported progress in negotiations he called “reason for hope” about reversing Kyrgyzstan’s previous decision regarding the base. (READ MORE)

DoD Supports Pakistan’s Anti-Taliban Operations, Hopes for Sustained Effort - WASHINGTON, April 28, 2009 – Defense leaders are “clearly pleased” to see the Pakistani military take action against increasingly emboldened Taliban forces, and have offered additional support if Pakistan’s government will accept it to promote a sustained effort, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. (READ MORE)

Toby Keith Entertains Troops in Afghanistan - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan, April 28, 2009 – Country singer and troop supporter Toby Keith finished up a 15-show tour in Afghanistan yesterday as he drew near the end of his seventh tour with the United Service Organizations. Keith spent five days criss-crossing the war-torn country visiting bases large and small in a whirlwind of handshakes, autographs, photo-ops and of course – country music shows. (READ MORE)

Afghan Police Play Critical Role in Country’s Future - WASHINGTON, April 28, 2009 – Afghanistan really will be secure only when Afghan police enforce the rule of law in the country, said a senior officer in the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan. Army Brig. Gen. Anne F. Macdonald, the command’s assistant commanding general responsible for police development, said during a recent interview on Afghanistan’s Camp Eggers that Afghan police forces are critical to success in that country. (READ MORE)

U.S. Soldiers Struggle to Save Afghan Boy - KONAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, April 28, 2009 – Raziqullah laid motionless on the green stretcher as blood oozed across his forehead, dripping onto the floor of Forward Operating Base Blessing’s aid station. Army Maj. Durren Hightower, a physician’s assistant, looked up from the massive head wound that exposed the 15-year-old’s brain, and sighed, “You know he isn’t going to have a good outcome, right?” (READ MORE)

Soldiers Bring Light to Afghan Marketplace - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan, April 28, 2009 – A busy marketplace is a common sight in the city of Nangalam during the day, but as night falls, the lack of electricity turns the bustling Konar province commercial center into a ghost town. “By 6 p.m. all the shops would close and people would head back home, that way they wouldn’t be frightened by the [anti-Afghanistan forces], or injured when they were walking down a dark street,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Campos of the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion, based in San Diego, Calif. (READ MORE)

Pak Army says over 50 Taliban killed in Buner - Islamabad, Apr.29 : Pakistan military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas on Wednesday told a press conference here that over 50 Taliban militants have been killed in the ongoing military operation in Buner. Major General Abbas also confirmed the death of one security official and the rescue of 18 Frontier Corps personnel. (READ MORE)

Taliban threatens spike in violence - KABUL — A top Taliban commander warned Wednesday that militants would unleash a wave of ambushes, roadside bombs and suicide attacks in a new spring offensive. In a possible harbinger of coming violence, coalition and Afghan troops killed 42 militants in three operations, officials said. Mullah Berader, a top deputy to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, said the Taliban plan to launch a new offensive Thursday against international and Afghan troops, government officials and "whoever is supporting invaders in our country." (READ MORE)

Pakistan Reports Gains Against Militants - Pakistan's military said attack helicopters have killed more than 50 Taliban fighters in Buner district, which was overrun by militants last week. Just 24 hours after the Pakistani military launched the operation against an estimated 500 Taliban fighters in Buner, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said troops have taken control of the main town of Dagar and several police stations. (READ MORE)

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