May 8, 2009

From the Front: 05/08/2009

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

A Major's Perspective: Afghan Culture 101 Part 3 - A question I received a great deal last night and this morning was just how does the Taliban fund their operations. Well, tonight's post will seek to answer those questions based upon open source information. By open source I refer to newspapers, news reports, journals, and books. There are two main areas that the Taliban use to fund their operations. One of them is the illicit trade of Poppy for Opium, and the second is charities. I use charities loosely, and you will see why. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and can generally be associated with the idea of tithing within the Christian Religions. It is literally the giving of alms to the poor. All Muslim people give to the Zakat. Now, in recent years portions of the Zakat from the Middle East especially but really world-wide have been funneled towards the Taliban. (READ MORE)

A Year In The Sandbox: Earthquake In Sherzad - A couple weeks ago I lucked out and got two days in a row with no mission scheduled, a Thursday and Friday. Most weeks I only get Fridays off, and a lot of weeks there are no days off, so I planned to take full advantage. We spent the day Thursday building walls in our hooch to replace the hanging sheets and blankets. Even though we actually worked the whole day it was much more enjoyable than another combat patrol. Friday I planned to sleep until noon. Friday morning at 8am a guy I work with woke me up. “Hey Brameld, there was an earthquake out in Sherzad, killed a bunch of people. They’re throwing a mission together to take some HA (humanitarian aid) up there, you want it?” “No I don’t want it, I want to sleep till noon!” I thought as I said, “Sure, I’ll take it” and climbed out of bed. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: But, They Are Our Allies - I confirmed our position on the map by cross checking the GPS coordinates, with my map and the local terrain. My small dismounted patrol of 10 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and fellow American Embedded Tactical Trainer (ETT) were walking along the Afghan-Pakistan border, greeting locals and just trying to be neighborly - while at the same time gleaming them for information about recent enemy movement along the border of Paktika Province. While on the way to the first locals compound we spotted a Pakistan Military (PAKMIL) soldier leading a supply donkey towards a PAKMIL observation post that we estimated to be approximately 800 meters from our position. My patrol hollered hello and waved to this PAKMIL soldier and in returned he just stopped and stared at us, then continued along his way. Not thinking much about this cross-border snub, we turned and started a conversation with the compound’s owner and his family. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Kyrgyzstan – we finally arrived - We finally retrieved our bags, ruck sacks, and weapons. I was a bit proactive and my embroidered tags made it easier to distinguish mine from the sea of military bags that were unloaded. The next stop is billeting to get some quarters. As an E-8, I was given a hard billet with only 4 people to a room. My other teammates were housed in a massive clamshell structure that holds several hundred people and has no privacy. At least in my billet we have television, morale phones, laundry room, showers, etc. The best part is they only assigned one other SMSgt to my room. Since its still daylight I decided to walk around the base and try to find out some more information about this country and culture. I found a small library and it was being operated by a local Kyrgyz. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Kyrgyzstan – Part 2 - I had trouble sleeping last night in my semi-private room. Not sure if this was a side effect of my daily malaria preventive medicine or the idea of traveling through a half dozen time zones and only a few hours of sleep. It didn’t help matters that I consumed 3 bottles of water before resting my head on my pillow. So I became quite acquainted with the latrines. Speaking of latrines, I sorely miss my Charmin. The two-ply paper produced in Kyrgyzstan is not the softest for the posterior side. The paper is manufactured here but the labels are printed in Russian. Apparently the languages are very similar and are differentiated by 3 symbols or letters. I can’t read a darn thing and it all looks Greek to me. I’m still trying to figure out what the eggs were made of at the DFAC (Dining Facility). I think it was a combination of eggs, powdered aids and some foreign substance. (READ MORE)

Back In the Army Now (at 54): Gossip! - My roommate goes off in the evenings to spend time with two guys from his home town. The three of them deployed together before almost five years ago, but can happily spend an evening talking about things that have nothing to do with the Army or the current deployment. He says the alternative to talking with each other is talking about each other. The main topics of conversation on deployment are home, complaints and gossip. And gossip quickly takes center stage. When people see each other as much as we do, we know each others foibles and weaknesses to a degree that is only possible in families in civilian life. At this point, it's clear that simply mentioning some soldier's name will lead a group at dinner to groan, laugh or shake their heads depending on the person. And because it is such a close group, the comments circulate quickly. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Wild and crazy - I tell you what, there's no bored like bored in Iraq. Well, actually, I bet bored in Afghanistan is pretty similar, as is bored in Kuwait (but that bored lack indirect fire, so maybe it's not the same). But, the World's Coolest Grandmother used to say that only boring people get bored, so we do our best to resist. I thought I'd bring you a couple of bits of recent things that have passed for diversions. I was playing with my knife (Benchmade Nimravus tanto - significantly less than MSRP thru AAFES - seriously, less than half. It's a pretty nice knife, but not that nice) when I noted that it had degraded to only sorta sharp enough to shave hair, but that it was reaping an impressive quantity of dry skin. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani Army to 'eliminate' the Taliban in Swat: Prime Minister Gilani - The Pakistani government is preparing to launch a military offensive in Swat as security forces suffered heavy casualties during the past two days of fighting. The military is being dispatched to "eliminate" the Taliban after the Taliban violated the peace agreement, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said during an address on Pakistani television. The government has "decided not to bow … [their] … heads in front of terrorists… The army has been called in to eliminate the militants," Dawn reported. The government "implemented the Swat peace accord because of the people… [and] implemented the Nizam-e-Adl [Islamic law regulation] despite both domestic and international pressure," Gilani said. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Pizza Night - Friday is the weekend in Iraq, meaning our Thursday night is like your Friday night. (Except for college kids, for whom every night is Friday night). Tonight I met up with some of my friends from the Embassy and we went out for pizza at our favorite Green Zone pizza joint. It also happens to be the only Green Zone pizza joint. After wolfing down two pizzas, we retired to the hookah room for smoke and chai. This is the "chai" part. Chai is tea, which Iraqis love. Americans drink cold tea by the gallon, but Iraqis drink hot tea by the milliliter. And they dump an amazing amount of sugar into it. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Commandos root killers out of river valley - TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Army Commandos, with Coalition forces advisors, arrested two suspected terrorist cell members in the Tigris River Valley April 30 pursuant to a warrant issued by the Al Shargat Investigative Court. According to Iraqi intelligence sources, the detained individuals are allegedly responsible for conducting roadside bomb attacks against the Sons of Iraq leadership. “The detention of these individuals may lead to the acquisition of key information that could further disrupt terrorist operations in the Tigris River Valley and Mosul,” said the ground forces commander. (READ MORE)

Glad Tidings of Benevolence II shows early success in Baqubah - DIYALA, Iraq – Iraqi Security Forces along with their Coalition partners have begun a major operation to improve the security and stability of the Diyala Province. Recent operations in Baqubah have yielded early success with 14 people detained by Iraqi forces. Additionally, 158 AK-47s have been taken off the street in the four days since operations began. Two weapons caches, one pistol, one hand grenade and one semenov rifle have also been confiscated from the area during this period. (READ MORE)

Substation upgrade improves reliability of Dhi Qar electrical distribution system - Dhi Qar Province, Iraq— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division has completed and delivered a modern, reliable electrical distribution system to the Minister of Electricity in Dhi Qar province. The $24 million effort that spanned three years will provide residents of Dhi Qar with stable, reliable electricity. The electrical work was done as two separate projects. The first project, which began in 2006, was the construction of a new $14.8 million, 132-kilovolt overhead transmission line linking the al-Shatra substation and the Nasiriyah power plant. (READ MORE)

Leaders Bid Farewell to Diyala Governor - DIYALA — Coalition leadership recently gathered to bid farewell to former Diyala provincial Governor Ra’ad Hameed Al-Mula Jowad Al-Tamimi here at Forward Operating Base Warhorse. The event was planned as a way to thank Tamimi for his service to the province and country while serving as the Diyala governor for the past four years. Soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division worked for the last seven months with Tamimi, who has also partnered with four other Coalition brigades and interacted with countless servicemen and women, as well as members of the State Department, during his tenure as governor. (READ MORE)

Tikrit IP Continue Training, Sharpen Skills - TIKRIT — After three days of training and instruction, Iraqi Policemen (IP) 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 IP from the 3rd Emergency Response Unit (ERU) here increased their knowledge of these procedures to better serve the citizens of the province. “The training was truly beneficial to me, because in these three days of training, I have learned things that I did not know before,” said Rasool Khalil Esmail, a Policeman with the 3rd ERU. (READ MORE)

Leaders Gauge Provincial Reconstruction Team Progress in Salah Ad-Din - TIKRIT — Several senior leaders from the U.S. Embassy and Multi-National Corps – Iraq recently visited Contingency Operating Base Speicher to review the progress achieved by the Salah ad-Din Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). PRTs have often been hailed as crucial components in creating stability here. 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. In Salah ad-Din, that relationship is strong and growing daily. (READ MORE)

IA Commandos End Grueling Course - COB ADDER — After an intense eight weeks of training, 65 Commandos from the 10th Iraqi Army (IA) Division marched across the Camp Dhi Qar parade field near here signifying the completion of training, May 2. "Training's been hard from the beginning," said Maj. Gregory Stroud, a Military Transition Team chief with the 1st Cavalry Division. "But they worked just as hard and it definitely shows." Stroud worked closely with the Romanian Special Forces from the 26th Infantry Battalion to train the Iraqi Commandos on various tactical skills such as small unit tactics and patrolling. (READ MORE)

Mother Sacrifices Tradition for Country - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, May 7, 2009 – While deployed mothers will miss out on their traditional Mother’s Day celebrations May 10, some are making the best of the situation. “This is not forever. This is a temporary stomping ground in your overall life,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Angela Amundson, actions and awards noncommissioned officer in charge for 34th Infantry Brigade. (READ MORE)

Doctors Provide Design Input for Hospital in Iraq - IRBIL, Iraq, May 7, 2009 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division used a partnership with emergency room doctors in designing a new hospital here. The Irbil resident engineer design team incorporated preconstruction input from the doctors into the construction plan for the $12.6 million, state-of-the-art medical facility. (READ MORE)

Gates: History Shows Cost of Turning Backs on Afghanistan - FORWARD OPERATING BASE AIRBORNE, Afghanistan, May 8, 2009 – History provides an important lesson on the perils of ignoring Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today as he visited this remote site in Wardak province. “We don’t dare turn our backs on Afghanistan,” Gates told reporters after meeting with local elders and tribal leaders and 10th Mountain Division troops deployed here. “If there is one lesson that I draw from the past, it is the importance of our staying engaged, and the international community staying engaged.” (READ MORE)

More Ospreys Will Deploy With Marine Unit, General Says - WASHINGTON, May 7, 2009 – After three successful combat deployments over more than 19 consecutive months, Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys will begin a global deployment with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, a senior Marine aviation official said yesterday. “The Marine Corps views these first three deployments of the Osprey into combat as marvelously successful,” Lt. Gen. George J. Trautman III, deputy commandant of aviation, said during a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable. “The aircraft completed every assigned mission, and it did so flying faster, farther, and with safer flight profiles than any other assault support aircraft in the history of military operations.” (READ MORE)

Gates’ Afghanistan Visit Focuses on Troop Needs - KABUL, May 7, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today visited two remote outposts being built here to accommodate incoming troops and thanked the men and women in uniform who provide the security foundation he said is needed for the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to succeed. The visits were part of a packed schedule that kept the secretary hopping from one session to another. Gates also stopped in Kandahar to check out facilities there, and he visited a classified intelligence fusion center and a sensitive-site exploitation lab. (READ MORE)

VHP, Bajrang Dal call for shutdown in Jammu - Jammu, May 8 : The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal on Friday called for a shutdown in protest against atrocities being committed on Hindus and Sikhs by the Taliban in Pakistan. Appealing to the Indian Government to exert pressure on Pakistan against the Taliban, the activists blocked the Jammu-Pathankot Highway. (READ MORE)

Islamabad calls off Swat deal, vows to eliminate Taliban - The fighting has intensified in Pakistan's Swat Valley after the country's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called off the peace pact late on Thursday night. And India reacted to that by stressing the need to contain the Taliban, saying it is a dreaded terrorist organisation. (READ MORE)

UN opens 19th office in Afghanistan - The United Nations has opened its 19th office in Afghanistan in Tirin Kot, the capital of the southern province of Uruzgan, as part of its continued expansion across the strife-torn nation. "We are here to reach out to all citizens of Uruzgan, to meet their humanitarian needs, to help build institutions and to support development," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moons Special Representative Kai Eide said at the opening. "I hope our presence will be welcomed by allincluding the armed opposition", he said. (READ MORE)

Afghan surge troops begin arriving - WASHINGTON (AP) - The first of President Barack Obama's surge troops have arrived in Afghanistan. Officials say dozens of Marines set down in southern Afghanistan this week. They're described as small advance units who'll be followed in coming weeks by much larger waves. The president has ordered some 21,000 new U.S. forces there in a bid to turn around a war commanders say they're not winning. (READ MORE)

Villagers flee as military tackles Taliban in Swat - Standing on the roadside in Hasan Abdal, a town 50km from Islamabad, Amina Jan recalled an ordeal that began on Tuesday when officials in the Swat valley, Pakistan, relaxed a curfew and urged local people to leave quickly in anticipation of a military offensive. Ms Jan, 35, wiped away tears and told of her escape from the Swat valley with her four children as the military stepped up its efforts this week to block the most formidable Taliban advance in Pakistan's history. (READ MORE)

US House committee approves $400 mn for Pakistan counterinsurgency - A House of Representatives committee has approved $400 million for a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, but not before a key member expressed doubts about US strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The $400 million requested by the Obama administration for the fund to bolster efforts against the Taliban and extremist groups forms part of the 2009 Supplemental Bill funding ongoing US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and supporting economic and other needs in Pakistan. (READ MORE)

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