May 1, 2009

From the Front: 05/01/2009

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

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Education And Afghanistan's Future - This is the sort of thing that, in some ways, overshadows all the military and political developments that occur day-to-day in Afghanistan. A friend who served in Kandahar told me that the mayor preferred to hire his staff right out of Kandahar University, as the students who graduated there were the only civil servants he felt he could trust. For Afghanistan to have a future that is democratic and stable, a long term plan to build up a professional educated class is absolutely vital. “Under the reform plan, by the end 2010 student enrolments will have reached 100,000, with at least 35% of them female. Universities will have to be prepared to meet the demands of 1 million high school graduates by 2014. The curriculum in public universities will be revised to meet the development needs of the country and private sector growth by incorporating recent knowledge in scientific and technical education, and the education of teachers into the higher education curriculum.” (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: They are still 3rd graders-Updated - I watched this video and I swear my heartbeat raced, the flashbacks came back and my PTS even kicked in. Two years after I left, and there is a lot that has not changed. This video shows you exactly what the American fighting men serving as embedded trainers have to deal with on a very common basis. I have been saying repeatedly since 2006 in many blogs and interviews and screaming ever since that the TOP 3 problems in Afghanistan are: 1. Corruption 2. Lack of spirit (No care for the good of Afghanistan) 3. No accountability or code of military justice. When Commanders in the ANA start addressing these issues, then you will see the ANA move forward and mature into an effective and cohesive fighting force. (READ MORE)

Afghan Lessons Learned for Soldiers: So, you've got Orders - This is a test of the Milbloggers Network! So, you've just gotten your deployment orders. What Now? What will the Army give you? What do you need to buy? What do you need to pack & in what order? A Crusty old Coffee Drinkin', Smokin' PSG, an Upstate TOP, and the loyal Ole Blue have some things to tell ya. And just to make sure it's all good we convince Vampire6 to sign off on it and give you the latest scoop. Ammo is heavy. Do you really need 10 Mags? Yep! Maybe even 20. Can you hump those sapi plates, kevlar, and the pig up the mountain from 7500 feet? Well the guy sitting in Bagram with the video screen doesn't see why not! We're gonna give ya da straight scoop, whether it's here or another site. Top will sell ya some great T-Shirts and Ball Caps as well. Ya know ya wanna buy 'em. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Fighting the War on Terror, One Latte at a Time - OUR STARBUCKS LOOKS LIKE THIS ONE--EXCEPT FOR THE SAND WALLS IN FRONT OF IT AND BLAST BARRIERS ON THE SIDES AND REAR - Now that we are back on base, at least for now, I am back at my favorite place in this sand-covered, blast-wall enclosed corner of the Kuwait desert: Starbucks!! Yes, there is a Starbucks here. More importantly, it is within site of our tent and it is one of the designated Hot Spots that dot the base. We buy Internet service for $12 per week from a local guy who also sells cell phones. But the access card is no gaurantee of service, so the wireless nomads like me move around the base looking for a good signal. Starbucks is one of the best and therefore very crowded nearly 24/7. I get up at 4am to come here and call home on Skype when there is enough bandwidth. At 4am, the place is at least half full. By 6am the 70-odd chairs are full and the good floor spots near the power outlets are filling up. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: The Impact Of Words Part I… - As a leader you can often forget the impact your words make on those around you. Not just in your capacity as a military leader, but even as someone of influence in the everyday lives of your family and neighbors. For instance, I recall having lunch with friends at the Awase Golf Course in Okinawa after church one Sunday. Sitting across from me was a 4 year old girl named Rokeisha. The poor girl was wrestling valiantly with her dessert and losing badly. A massive strawberry nearly the size of her little fist was stubbornly embedded in the ice cream and was shrugging off her spoon as if it were a mere annoyance. Turning her big brown eyes in my direction she pleaded for my assistance in applying a little good order and discipline to the truculent strawberry. Being the kind of mentor that I am; I prefer to teach people to fish. (READ MORE)

Down Range 46: Mustache Men in Iraq - Iraq is a country filled with mustache men. I'm just guessing here, but I believe it's one of those "cultural things". Americans have a "cultural thing" too. It does involve the almighty mustache, but it's the motivation behind it that makes it different from the cultural norms we see here in the Mideast. A couple days after we left the states, one of our compadres came up with the great idea for all men in the unit to grow out a mustache. Apparently this is a time honored tradition among many Soldiers as they deploy - a rite of passage, as they say. The end result is that we feel a certain kinship with one another, having shared this hair growing experience. On the other side of the gender line, this rite of passage is equally inclusive. The females in the unit are able to watch a bunch of baby faced goofballs transform their persona's into the rugged Tom Selleck-like men that we wish we were. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Violence and Belonging: Land, Love and Lethal Conflict in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan - I hardly ever buy books. I usually just borrow and scan. But I will be buying this book (that I found out about from The Afghanistan Analyst facebook page): “Are Knudsen, Violence and Belonging: Land, Love and Lethal Conflict in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2009). Link.” Now, I know who Knudsen is by reputation (it’s solid). And that is good enough for me. But the fact that these people think it should be read totally sold me on ordering a copy: “‘We should make the best possible use of this analysis: for its daring perspectives, extreme empirical findings, and wide relevance. It deserves a very careful reading for its contributions to so many aspects of our understanding of honour, politics and human society.’ Fredrik Barth, Professor emeritus, Boston University and University of Oslo” (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan, Taliban battle for control of Buner - The Pakistani military and the Taliban battled for control of the district of Buner for the third day. Heavy fighting was reported in several regions of the district as the military retook control of main town and sought to control the passes that link Buner to neighboring districts. A total of 64 Taliban fighters have been reported killed during the three-day battle. Fourteen Taliban fighters were reported killed in the past 24 hours, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in a press briefing in Rawalpindi on Thursday. Pakistani commandos from the Special Service Group conducted an air assault into the district headquarters of Daggar on Wednesday and secured the town and government buildings. The Frontier Corps has established a headquarters in Daggar, but it is unclear if this is a permanent post or a temporary command post. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: The Taliban and Pashtun Nationalism - Pakistan is looking more dangerous and precarious by the week. The only Muslim country in the world with an arsenal of nuclear weapons is now threatened by a ferocious and rapidly expanding Taliban insurgency. The most retrograde Islamist army on earth has conquered territory just a few hours’ drive from the capital. Though this discouraging outcome wasn’t inevitable, it was at least likely. As Robert Kaplan pointed out in an insightful essay in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine, “the Taliban constitute merely the latest incarnation of Pashtun nationalism.” And ethnic Pashtuns live on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “Indeed,” Kaplan adds, “much of the fighting in Afghanistan today occurs in Pashtunistan: southern and eastern Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan.” Take a look at two maps. The first shows the geographic breakdown of Pakistan’s patchwork of ethnicities. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 30APR09--"Army Wives" - Today, my Iraqi counterpart asked me "'Army Wives.' You have seen his show on television?" I politely responded, "Well, I know the show, but I have not seen it myself. I know that my wife has seen it at least a few times." "Well, my family gathers around the televisions every week to watch 'Army Wives.' The show is in English, but it has Arabic subtitles. Mostly it is about how Soldiers cope with life after coming home from war and how their families live while they are away," the Iraqi captain explained. Nodding in affirmation, I said, "It is nice that you can share it together as a family, you, your wife and your kids. What else do you watch together?" He looked confused for a moment and then responded, "Well, I do not have time to watch more shows. It is not just my wife and kids. My two brothers, their wives, and my three nieces and one nephew, we all watch it together. We like to see how Americans live. The show captures so much for us, especially my wife, she relates to it sort of. She is an Army Wife too." (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: Evolution of Driving in Iraq - The way that US military vehicles travel on roadways in Iraq and interact with local traffic has significantly changed over the last five years, especially throughout the last 12 months. Not even a few years ago, US military vehicles owned the roads. Our vehicles donned signs on their tailgates written in both English and Arabic, "Danger Stay Back 100m. Use of Deadly Force Authorized." The local populace knew to obey those signs, as a warning shot was a likely reaction to a transgression. Even if the US convoy was approaching from the rear, the Iraqis knew to get out of the way. US trucks did not slow down, and the laws of physics, namely mass in motion, would play out on the streets daily. Soldiers were simply mindful first of the constant threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). (READ MORE)

The Torch: Some Germans wondering about their Afghan role - In the wake of Wednesday's Taliban attack on German forces, commentators are losing patience with Berlin's unwillingness to commit more soldiers to Afghanistan. The Taliban's advance in Pakistan also has them worried. A few hours after German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier landed in Kabul on Wednesday [April 29] for a surprise visit, Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan killed one German soldier and wounded nine others in two separate attacks. Steinmeier is in the Afghan capital for two days to talk with President Hamid Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, mainly about Germany's controversial involvement in the NATO mission to quell the Taliban. The first attack, using machine guns and rocket launchers, killed one soldier and wounded four others in a firefight with a German convoy near Kunduz, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Kabul. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Venezuela, Iran Agree to Strengthen Military Ties - CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez's government has agreed to strengthen military ties with Iran. Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar met with Chavez for an hour late Wednesday and said they discussed defense cooperation to "protect peace and tranquility in the region," Venezuela's Information Ministry said in a statement. (READ MORE)

Walking With Warriors - BAGHDAD – At Joint Security Station Hor al-Bosh, the day for Company C, 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, begins around a briefing board mounted on a wall. Soldiers gather around as they receive the day's mission; again reminded of the threats that they could face. "We brief them on the mission, making sure everyone knows what task they will perform and the purpose for performing it," said Staff Sgt. Bert Finland, from St. Mary's, Pa. "We cover the risks we face and if any of those risks become reality, the actions we will take." (READ MORE)

USACE project provides unique solutions to water shortage in Kurdish village - Choman, Iraq – Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Irbil Resident Office and the Irbil regional government literally turned on the tap of a project that will provide much needed potable drinking water to the village of Choman, which is located in the northeastern mountains of Iraq. Gary York, USACE’s resident engineer in Irbil; Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, the Irbil provincial governor; and other local dignitaries presided over an April 22 ribbon cutting ceremony at the site of the water system’s reservoir tank near Chamon. (READ MORE)

MND-N Soldier charged - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – A Multi-National Division - North Soldier was charged April 29 in the shooting death of a fellow Soldier. Sgt. Miguel A. Vegaquinones is charged with one specification alleging involuntary manslaughter under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 119 and one specification of making a false official statement under the UCMJ, Article 107. Pfc. Sean P. McCune died after allegedly being shot by Vegaquinones following the completion of their guard duty shift in Samarra, Iraq, Jan. 11. The apparent cause of death was a negligent discharge from Vegaquinones’ weapon. (READ MORE)

Brigade, PRT relationship creates opportunity in Salah ad-Din - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – Several senior leaders from the U.S. Embassy and Multi-National Corps-Iraq visited Contingency Operating Base Speicher, April 28, to review the progress achieved by the Salah ad-Din Provincial Reconstruction Team. Provincial Reconstruction Teams have often been hailed as a crucial component to creating stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. The team’s relationship with the military units they serve with is a key part of their success -- the stronger the mutual support, the more effective both organizations are.(READ MORE)

Market Opening Highlights Continued Progress West of Baghdad - BAGHDAD — The Abu Ghraib district is undergoing a joint effort to not only provide security for the population, but also improve essential services and strengthen the local economy. Over the past 12 months, U.S. Soldiers have planted the seeds for security and infrastructure through projects like the opening of the new Abu Ghraib market in western Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army, CF Address Villagers’ Needs - TIKRIT — A battalion of Iraqi Army Soldiers, along with Coalition forces medics, provided humanitarian assistance to villagers in Bazunah, April 19. Combining educational and medical assistance, IA Soldiers handed out school supplies to the children, while CF medics performed medical screenings. (READ MORE)

Mosul SWAT Prevents Large-scale Attack on Coalition Forces Bases - TIKRIT — 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 April 22. 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)

Renovated Center Increases Job Training in Iraqi Province - BABIL PROVINCE, Iraq, April 30, 2009 – Community leaders, media and coalition representatives gathered for a grand opening to showcase the newly renovated $5.4 million Iskandariyah Vocational Technology Center here April 22. Reyad Hassan, executive general manager of Iraq’s Labor Ministry, officiated with the assistance of newly elected Babil provincial leaders. (READ MORE)

Airman Provides Legal Advice on Detainee Operations - CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, April 30, 2009 – Many Air Force attorneys spend their days providing legal counsel and preparing documents, but for one Air Force captain here, being deployed means serving in a one-of-a-kind legal position. Capt. Sophia Crawford, detention, judicial and legal policy attorney in the Multinational Force Iraq staff judge advocate’s office, provides a service that she would never get to do outside of Iraq. She is the U.S. legal representative on issues pertaining to detention facilities. (READ MORE)

Afghan, Coalition Forces Kill Four, Detain Two - WASHINGTON, April 30, 2009 – Afghan and coalition forces killed four men and detained two others in operations overnight to disrupt bomb-making networks in Afghanistan’s Lowgar and Helmand provinces. In Lowgar’s Charkh district, Afghan and coalition forces conducted an assault to dismantle a Taliban network responsible for planning and conducting attacks. When the forces arrived at the rural village, they spotted several men moving in a field near the targeted compound. (READ MORE)

Taliban promises violent, multipronged defense - KABUL — The Taliban vowed Wednesday to launch a wave of attacks in a spring offensive as a surge of American troops arrives in Afghanistan. Mullah Berader, a top deputy to Taliban commander Mullah Omar, said the Taliban would unleash ambushes, roadside bombings and suicide attacks against foreign and Afghan troops, government officials and "whoever is supporting invaders in our country." (READ MORE)

Afghan Tribal Leader Gets Life In Prison In New York - NEW YORK (Reuters) -- An Afghan tribal leader was sentenced to life in prison on April 30 for heroin smuggling after a judge rejected his argument that he had helped the United States for years in its war against the Taliban. Bashir Noorzai, a leader of the one million-member Noorzai tribe in Afghanistan, was convicted in September of two charges of conspiring to import heroin into the United States and conspiring to distribute it. (READ MORE)

Pakistani troops move against Taliban militants - Islamabad, Pakistan -- Soldiers sent to halt a Taliban advance toward the Pakistani capital fought their way over a mountain pass Thursday, killed at least 14 militants and narrowly escaped a wave of suicide car bombers, the army said. Troops ousted militants from the Ambela Pass leading over the mountains into Buner and were inching toward the north, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. (READ MORE)

Taliban abduct 10 Pak soldiers in Malakand - Peshawar, May. 1 : Taliban militants have kidnapped 10 Pakistani soldiers from their local headquarters in Dir town, which borders the troubled Swat valley. The abduction took place in the Upper Dir district of Malakand, where an ongoing military offensive is taking place against the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Despite peace deal, Taliban militia tightening grip in Swat valley - MINGORA, PAKISTAN -- On the back road to Buner from Mingora, fierce young Taliban operate an impromptu check post. Half a dozen bearded militants, with AK-47s slung over their shoulders, ammunition vests and walkie-talkies, stop traffic and search cars. What they are looking for is unclear, but locals said they are mainly there to exert their presence, show people they have not gone away. (READ MORE)

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