May 6, 2009

From the Front: 05/06/2009

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

A Major's Perspective: Afghan 101 Part 1 - Due to the increased amount of troops that we are sending to Afghanistan and the complete lack of cultural understanding displayed within the MSM I decided to due a mini-series of articles on Afghanistan. The first couple will focus upon the ethnic groups and culture of Afghanistan. Tonight I am going to try to shed some light on the different ethnic groups within Afghanistan. This is not a complete or scholarly work. This will be generalized in nature in order to keep it relatively short enough for a blog entry. There are entire books written upon the subject. One of my personal favorites right now is, "Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop" by Antonio Giustozzi. I highly recommend it. Not only does it hit on the major elements of the culture of Afghanistan but also the reasons and the way the Taliban have become resurgent within the country. (READ MORE)

A.L.L.: Chapter 5- Welcome to the Real Wild West - For those of you that will be stationed out in Western Afghanistan for your tour as I was, I have some advice for you. 1. Do not listen to the bullshit that people state about the West: ITS DANGEROUS LIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE. 2. The West is mainly desert near the Hari Rud to about Shindad which starts become mountainous, from there to the main city of Heart you will find various build of infrastructure. Herat is the cultural center of Afghanistan. Read "The Great Gamble" this is the only book that mentions so much about Western Afghanistan and how much it played a role in the Afghan-Russo War. 3. The war in the west is as isolated as anywhere else in country, but we are mainly under ISAF ROE. There are many areas in the west that you can stumble into an ambush. We operated in higher terrain, but my Oakley boots did very well there. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): My First Medal in Iraq. . .is for a 5K Race - Each Wednesday, beginning just last Wednesday, The House of Pain gym (no kidding) on our base sponsors a 5K with medals and prizes. This morning a half-dozen soldiers from Echo Company signed up for the race. The prizes were given out by random drawing before the race, the medals were awarded by age group--but only finishers are allowed to collect prizes so the pizza and t-shirt winners did not get their prizes until the race was over. I got medal for being first place in what the announcer called the "51 to Infinity group." Full disclosure rules (that I just made up) require me to say at this point that I was the only entrant in the 51 to Infinity group, but they awarded me the medal anyway. Even with a time of 26:13, I was ahead of some younger people. Although I was so far behind the race winner, I had almost a mile to go when he finished. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Freakin' Lovely - Seriously - if only I could figure out how to buy retirement property here... It's warming up, which is fine. I mean, it is Iraq - it's not supposed to be cool. The warmth brings the flies - fine. Flies are an integral part of the Iraq experience (can you eat with one hand while waving flies off your food constantly with the other and not break up your conversations? We can). The mice are gone, and there are rumors of snakes. Great. I had mice running through my walls all winter and sneaking through holes in the interior of my trailer - I love to visualize sand vipers doing the same thing. Comfy feeling, trying to drift off to sleep, hearing something odd in the wall, thinking it might be a poisonous snake. HAAATE. And now - now the Iraqi mosquitos have come out. Vicious little bastards, with the emphasis on little. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: Never Again - The post regarding Mr. Cohen's articles on Democracy Arsenal on COIN and specifically John Nagl and Brian Burton's article in the April issue of Washington Quarterly was cited on Abu Muqawama and began a lively discussion thread over there. This is good, since the COINtras are raising a point that needs to be discussed, dealt with, and moved past. It is the politics of fear. Mr. Cohen is afraid that if we grasp the doctrine of counterinsurgency well enough to be successful in Afghanistan, we will be, as a nation, forever seeking new venues in which to display our counterinsurgent prowess; that the civilian masters of the military will find a new and irresistible toy with which to play endlessly. The operative word is afraid. It's the operative word in all of the COINtra dialogues. They are afraid that by retaining the lessons learned in Iraq and the lessons being learned in Afghanistan, they will lose control of something. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Karzai Throws Down - Karzai officially declares his candidacy and names "former warlord" Muhammad Qasim Fahim as his running mate. Christian declares (tongue-in-cheekly) Karzai as the winner of the August elections. And from that NYT story, something I didn't catch before: “Over the weekend, a strong rival pulled out of the race, removing one of the main obstacles to Mr. Karzai’s re-election. Gul Agha Shirzai, governor of Nangarhar Province, announced his withdrawal on Saturday, saying he had met for four hours with Mr. Karzai on Friday night, according to Afghan news reports.” Great. Who knows what deals Sherzai managed to wring out of Karzai in order to secure his withdrawal from the race. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Impact of Words Part III - During the first few weeks I came on board with Kilo, the company was in the midst of major transition. All the platoon commanders were brand spanking new. Many of the newly joined Marines out of school had only been in the fleet a month or two. In the next three months the battalion would be deploying and in that time we would get a new company commander. No worries, right? The outgoing 1stSgt and I spent a lot of time with our turnover and one afternoon we decided to go visit the Company out at Schofield Barracks where they were conducting training. An old housing area that was marked for demolition was being used for urban type training, vehicle check points, and other scenario based instruction in preparation for the deployment. (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Machine Guns and Foreign Weapons - We were assigned radios, HMMWV's, and crew served weapons this morning. The afternoon was spent going over the 240G, 249 SAW, and M2(50 cal) machine guns. We had to demonstrate competency in clearing, firing, and assembly/disassembly of these automatic weapons. It has been a long time since I had to set headspace and timing on a 50 cal. We also went over the AK-47, the RPK and PKM machineguns, and the Dragunov sniper rifle with scope. Assembly and disassembly of these were not required, but was so easy I did them a few times each. It is clear why the AK is so ubiquitous and hardy compared to our complex but longer range weapons. Unfortunately no range time with the Russian type weapons. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Karzai the Comeback Kid - Say what you will about Karzai as a leader. But as a politician, I agree with what Jon Boone reports his local critics concede: he is a “brilliant politician.” I generally concur with Boone’s analysis in this 3.5 minute interview (including on soon-to-be VP again Fahim): Really, listen to it. It is three-and-a-half minutes that is well spent. Back to my opinion: despite not using dictator-style threat of death, without control over media, with powerful regional rivals (especially at the beginning), with relatively minimal patronage to distribute, with an extremely weak starting position (i.e., the “Mayor of Kabul”), with foreign diplomats pressuring him to act in a way that may alienate certain constituencies, with a war going in the wrong direction, with civilian casualties caused by foreign militaries, with a massive opium trade creating yet another center of power: (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Just talk to me.... - I was asked to write an article on how to interact with Gold Star families. My first thought was just talk to them! So often people are so afraid to say the wrong thing or have no idea what to say they say nothing at all. That hurts worse than the poorly worded phrases we have heard repeatedly. In the Beginning: When Micheal was killed one thing I heard too much of was how strong I was. In that moment I was so numb that I could not respond to anything. It truly wasn't strength but numbness. later knowing I was expected to be strong made it very hard for me to take my moment in time to openly and truly grieve for Micheal. my younger children were told to be strong for us. Which was unfair to them. they had lost their hero and big brother. they did not need to be strong they needed to grieve and hurt too. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Major fighting in Afghanistan's east and west - Afghan soldiers and Coalition troops have launched offensives against Taliban forces in Farah and Kunar provinces and killed more than 50 Taliban. The remains of a US soldier who was listed as missing in Kunar after a Taliban assault on an outpost on May 1 have been found. The fighting in Farah broke out after the Taliban carried out public executions of three former government officials in the Bala Boluk district. The three men were murdered for working with the government, the provincial governor told Reuters. Afghan soldiers backed by Coalition strike aircraft launched an operation in Bala Boluk, targeting the more than 100 Taliban fighters manning fighting positions in the district. The operation sparked major fighting. Twenty-five Taliban fighters and four Afghan soldiers have been reported killed in the battle, which has been reported to still be underway. Eight soldiers and 11 civilians have also been wounded in the clashes. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Secondary school for boys opened for teaching - RAMADI, Iraq – In downtown Ramadi, Iraq, a new structure stands two stories high with glass double doors and marble steps. Kids play in the courtyards and stand with their friends while waiting for the start of their day. This day, though, was special because it marked the grand opening of the Secondary School of Al-Zaitoon Exemplary for boys, April 21, 2009. In previous years, the focus in the eastern Al Anbar province was increasing the security level. Civil reconstruction and plans to improve the quality of life were put on hold. Now that security situation has dramatically improved, the citizens of this area of Ramadi were finally able to finish something they had been attempting to construct for years – a secondary school for boys. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: Great Moments in Afghanistan - There are some good points to being in Afghanistan; at times their pretty difficult to identify but at others their fairly simple to see. I’ll give you some examples. As we stand in knee deep stinking Afghan Ass mud; with our 14 ton vehicle stuck up to its marker lights. MSG Famine turns to me and says, “Hey Sir, think how great this is for our skin”. Positive time which is hard to identify. Here’s another one. The team is burying a $4 million dollar helicopter. Yes, you read that right burying a $4 million dollar helicopter. If you want; you can email me and I’ll send you the grid and you can go dig it up. There’s not much left of it after we destroyed it with a backhoe, but it’s there. You can’t make this stuff up! (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

The Fire Under the Ash? - SADR CITY– Tension, fire and dust ruled in Sadr City immediately after last week’s bombings, not the Iraqi Army. The streets were empty and dozens of men and women were pushing each other in front of the Imam Ali hospital, which had received the majority of the casualties. They were trying to force the policemen at the door to let them enter. Some of them came to look after their injured relatives or to receive bodies. But most of them were seeking shelter from Iraqi soldiers who were firing in every direction for about a hour after the explosions. (READ MORE)

Location Commands Increase Iraqi Army Command & Control Abilities - An NUMANIYAH, Iraq – Throughout Iraq, Location Commands are being planned, designed and developed in close coordination with coalition forces and private Iraqi construction companies in order to consolidate and coordinate Iraqi Army training and maintenance activities. Currently the Iraqi Army is spread out over vast areas in facilities poorly designed for command and control of training and maintenance operations. These Location Commands will bring an Iraqi Army division together, to work closely with one another, ensuring unity of effort and standardization of training and maintenance programs. (READ MORE)

Coalition detainee population falls to 11,999; lowest since November 2005 - BAGHDAD — Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and the Government of Iraq (GoI) march steadily closer to ending the coalition detainee operations mission as the total detainee population falls to 11,999. In accordance with the Security Agreement between the GoI and the US, all detainees in coalition custody will be released or transferred to the Iraqi legal system. As an early sign of success in this GoI/MNF-I detainee affairs relationship, the Ministry of Justice has issued about 400 detention orders or arrest warrants following their review of the files of the first 4,500 low threat detainees considered for release. (READ MORE)

Provincial police in Tikrit train to better serve Salah ad-Din citizens - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – After three days of training and instruction, Iraqi policemen listened intently to questions about first aid, vehicle maintenance and driving tactical vehicles — questions they quickly met with enthusiastic answers, proving what they had learned. Salah ad-Din provincial policemen from the 3rd Emergency Response Unit in Tikrit increased their knowledge of these procedures to better serve the citizens of the province. The policemen trained with Soldiers of Company G, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Forward Operating Base Danger during the last week of April. (READ MORE)

Former Diyala Governor celebrated for service - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, DIYALA, Iraq – Coalition leadership gathered to wish farewell to former Diyala provincial governor Ra’ad Hameed Al-Mula Jowad Al-Tamimi at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, April 29. Brig. Gen. James Nixon, deputy commanding general of operations for Multi-National Division – North, Col. Burt Thompson, commander of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, along with 1-25 SBCT battalion commanders and Iraqi Security Forces leaders from around the province attended. (READ MORE)

Leaders Host Iraqi Media Open House - BASRAH — "We're doing business with the Iraqis the way the Iraqis do business," said Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, 34th Infantry Division public affairs officer. As the members of the Iraqi media were gathered in the meeting room, American and Iraqi styles of doing business were enmeshed. The Iraqi journalists and news editors were treated to a smorgasbord of traditional Iraqi foods, and mingled with senior leaders from the 10th Mountain Division, 34th Infantry Division and 14th Iraqi Army Division. (READ MORE)

Shaykh Gets Down to Repair Business - JOINT BASE BALAD — Shaykh Shehab Ahmed Saleh Altmime has been running a non-tactical vehicle business here since August 2008, employing local nationals while providing a service to military members on base. "As reward of my work and my sincerity ... [a] contract was signed between the Iraqi non-tactical vehicle oil station and Joint Base Balad about establishing the Iraqi Base Industrial Zone to do a lot of projects in an American base," Shehab said. (READ MORE)

Commanders Visit Kurdish President - MOSUL — When most people think of Iraq they probably don't think of lush, green valleys, twisting ravines, rushing rivers and snow covered mountaintops. Usually, people think of miles and miles of empty desert, with no water in sight. For Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, deputy commanding general (support), Multi-National Division - North, and Task Force Lightning Soldiers, the greener landscape was the reality during their recent trip to Barzan. Brown met with the president of the Kurdish regional government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, to discuss the current relationship between the new government of Ninewa province, the government of Iraq, and the KRG. (READ MORE)

‘Alpha Dog’ Oversight Means Quality of Life for Iraqis - BAGHDAD, May 5, 2009 – They call him “Alpha Dog” for staring down a vicious dog, but Army Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Nordby, who serves with the 225th Engineer Brigade, really is more of a gentle giant who oversees construction work being done at various sites throughout the Abu Ghraib area here. Nordby is the Task Force Paxton engineer projects noncommissioned officer in charge for the 225th, responsible for quality assurance and quality control of some 27 projects that run the gamut from patching a hole in a local clinic’s bathroom to renovating a huge cold-storage building for Iraq’s largest milk factory, which reportedly was destroyed by terrorists in 2006. (READ MORE)

Sisters Serve Together in Baghdad - CAMP STRIKER, Iraq, May 5, 2009 – Some soldiers turn to friends within their unit for the support they need during a deployment. Others are lucky enough to have a family member serving with them. Army Staff Sgt. Melodie A. Hunt and Army Pfc. Mallorie A. Hunt, Lumberton N.C. natives, are sisters who are currently deployed to Baghdad. Although they serve in different units, they said, they still find time to get together. (READ MORE)

Karzai to raise deadly US airstrike with Obama - American jets have bombed two villages in western Afghanistan during a battle with the Taleban, killing at least 30 men, women and children. No exact casualty toll can be confirmed after the incident in Farah province, but the provincial governor and police chief estimate the civilian deaths at over 100. (READ MORE)

Taliban closing in on nuclear supplies in Pakistan - ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Armed Taliban insurgents seized control of the main town in Pakistan's Swat valley, sending thousands of residents fleeing in advance of a possible showdown between the Islamic militants and the army that could help decide the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan. ''You may say the city has fallen to the Taliban,'' school principal Zia-ud-Din Yusufzai told McClatchy by phone, as he followed the advice of Pakistani authorities and fled the valley's main town of Mingora on Tuesday. ''Not everyone could leave. Those who stay will be hostage'' to the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Diggers kill Taliban leader in Afghan tunnel - The Defence Department says coalition forces including Australian commandos have killed a senior Taliban commander in Afghanistan. The Department says Mullah Noorullah and another insurgent were killed in a tunnel system in Uruzgan Province. It says no civilians died in the "targeted operation". (READ MORE)

Almost 200 Afghan drug cartels traffic heroin to Russia - MOSCOW, May 6 (RIA Novosti) - About 180 Afghan drug cartels are trafficking heroin to Russia, as drug production has increased more than 40 times since 2001, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service said on Wednesday. "The majority of these 180 drug cartels are based in the U.S. and NATO areas of responsibility," Viktor Ivanov said. (READ MORE)

Children caught up in crossfire in Pakistan - Children at an orphanage in Pakistan's restive district of Swat were Wednesday caught in crossfire between the security forces and Taliban militants, the administrator of the facility said. Mohammad Ali said the military troops took positions on the roof of the four-storey building of 'Our Home' orphanage, located in Swat's main town Mingora, Tuesday and were targeting militants from there. (READ MORE)

Pakistan forces attack Taliban in Swat valley - Pakistani troops launched a fresh offensive on Wednesday to retake government buildings occupied a day earlier by Taliban militants in the northern Swat valley. Security officials said the fresh surge, which comes ahead of a crucial meeting between Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and US President Barack Obama in Washington, was aimed at clearing Taliban from Mingora, the region’s administrative capital. (READ MORE)

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