May 21, 2009

From the Front: 05/21/2009

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

Afghanistan My Last Tour: HMMVW driving + Corrections/Additions - It’s hard to believe but we have been at this FOB for one week! This past week was fast-paced and as you can tell by my blog entries, I’ve been rather busy. Today I had the opportunity to be an up-armored HMMWV driver. I had considerable more leg room and didn’t feel as restrained as I did when I was a dismount in the back seat. Our mission today was to visit 2 different FOBs and take care of some administrative business. The first half of the trip was on dirt roads. Previously I described these roads if you can legally call them that. Erosion and rainfall has carved large potholes and have uprooted rocks to ensure the road is bumpy and bouncy. Back in the US, I could see 4-wheel vehicles having fun bouncing over the bumps and perhaps getting air borne on a few of the natural humps exposed in the road. A HMMVW on the other hand enjoys going down into the pothole so everyone can feel the sensation of the big rubber tires maneuvering it. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: cringe - You know, I'd have thought there was maybe a better way to deal with this, pubicity-wise, than to publicize the resolution this way: Military burns unsolicited Bibles sent to Afghanistan. I don't know how they do it there, but we tend to burn classified stuff, personnel rosters and such, and address labels from our mail. And I mean we burn it (usually in our high speed classified material disposal unit - our grill). The rest of our trash we cart to the burn pit, where a super-healthy fire smolders 24/7, blowing charred bits of refuse and questionable smoke across the FOB. But something about burning Bibles in the name of force protection and then doing media interviews about it strikes me as either creepy or bad public affairs work. Possibly both. Then again, who knows. Maybe Bagram is so very crowded and packed, or there were so many Bibles, than it was impossible to shove the box into the back of the chaplain's conex for eventual transport stateside. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Riding with the Oven Door Open - I try to ride at dawn when it is below 90 degrees or near dusk when the temperature drops below 100, but the last two days, I had to ride a few miles in the middle of the day. Today at 1pm it was 115, yesterday it was 117 degrees. On a hot day in Pennsylvania (at least what I thought was hot last year--between 95 and 100 degrees) I could ride 17 to 20 mph on a flat road and cool down a little. Uphill I was going to drip sweat and downhill would be very cool. Here there are no hills at all, so the high speed breeze is the best I can hope for. It works in the morning or in the evening when the sun is low in the sky, but the last two days, riding at midday, the air felt like I was riding past an open oven. A light headwind kicked up, no more than 10 mph, but that felt like I was riding behind a heater blower. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani Army advances slowly through Swat - The Pakistani military is still facing tough resistance from Taliban forces in Swat and Buner as the operation in the Malakand Division enters its fourth week. The operation, known as Rah-e-Haq 4, is the military's fourth attempt to clear the Taliban from the Swat region since the fall of 2007. The prior operations failed to eject the Taliban and led to peace deals that put the Taliban in control of the district. The Pakistani Army has thrown more than 15,000 troops into the fight against an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 Taliban fighters in Swat. According to military reports, the number of Taliban fighters killed is fast approaching 1,200. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Report: Shabaab leader wounded in Mogadishu explosion - The leader of Al Shabaab is reported to have been wounded and possibly killed in what appears to be an accidental explosion at a safe house outside Mogadishu. Ahmed Abdi Aw Mohamed, the reclusive spiritual leader of the radical al Qaeda-linked terror group, was seriously wounded in the explosion on May 17. He is reportedly being treated at a hospital in northern Mogadishu, according to Garowe Online. Another source, Waaga Cusub, a Toronto-based Somali website aligned with the Hawiye clan in Mogadishu, speculated that Mohamed may have been killed, although the report has not been confirmed. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Department of Interior Affairs leaders visit Kirkuk Oil Police Training - KIRKUK, Iraq – U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commanding general, Department of Interior Affairs, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq made a visit to the Kirkuk Oil Police Training Site May 19. Milano offered the Iraqis training aids for their use. The Iraqis expressed a need for life support help, such as barracks for police recruits to sleep in and dining areas. (READ MORE)

Government of Iraq listens to Sons of Iraq leaders’ concerns - BAGHDAD – Iraqi government representatives gathered with leaders of the Sons of Iraq in a packed Baghdad theater Tuesday to field questions from the men and respond to their concerns about the program’s progress. Roughly 400 shaykhs and respected elders from around the country took helicopters or vehicle convoys into the International Zone to attend the conference, hosted by the government’s Implementation and Follow-up Committee for National Reconciliation. (READ MORE)

USACE completes three new schools in northern Iraq, provides facilities for nearly 2,500 students - IRBIL, Iraq - Three new schools were recently completed in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division in Iraq. Ribbon cutting ceremonies celebrating the opening of the new educational facilities were recently held at the Bin Beriz and Hassarok schools in Irbil and the Saraway Khwarw Secondary School in rural al-Sulaimaniyah. The three schools provide much needed classroom space for close to 2,500 local students. (READ MORE)

Camp Bucca leaders host base tour for Iraqi leaders - CAMP BUCCA, Iraq — A joint U.S military leadership team representing Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bucca and Task Force Bucca hosted a “Friendship Social” and Theater Internment Facility (TIF) tour for Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and local Basra province community leaders May 16 here. The event was a continuation of prior relationship-building meetings and events Camp Bucca began in late 2008, and provided many of the guests with their first opportunity to see the operation and detainee care provided in the Camp Bucca TIF. (READ MORE)

A Wet Future for Saab Al-Bour Irrigation - BAGHDAD — The Directorate General of Water Resources for Baghdad, Thair Dahri, visited Pump Station One in Saab al-Bour, May 16, to encourage students learning new skills and see firsthand the recent increase in irrigation. "This increase means [more than 6,000 acres] of land will be irrigated," said Thair. "We are committed to increasing the ability to maintain this pump station as well." (READ MORE)

IP, PA Guardsmen Give Aid to Taji Widows - CAMP TAJI — Iraqi National Police, working with Pennsylvania National Guardsmen, distributed more than five truckloads of food and household supplies to needy women here, May 16. Women lined up with their children to receive food donated by the United Nations that was made available to them at the Taji Council building. Many of the women said they had lost husbands in the war and have been struggling to provide for their young children. (READ MORE)

Corrections Training Facility Breaks Ground - BAGHDAD — “All of Iraq needs to work hand-in-hand to rehabilitate its citizens and give the same opportunities to all citizens so they can have a better future,” said Iraqi Minister of Justice Dara Noor al-Din to the more than 100 attendees at the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Iraqi Corrections Training Facility here, May 16. Located near Victory Base, the new Forward Operating Base dubbed “Future” is a vital part of a training academy for correction officials in charge of Iraqi citizens’ rehabilitation efforts. (READ MORE)

U.S. Military Shepherds Humanitarian Aid to Pakistan - WASHINGTON, May 20, 2009 – Two Air Force C-17 airlifters have begun delivering humanitarian aid to internally displaced people in Pakistan’s northwestern provinces, the chief U.S. defense representative said today. For Navy Rear Adm. Michael A. Lefevre, who works out of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the humanitarian effort to help the estimated 2 million Pakistanis displaced by the fighting against the Taliban brings a sense of déjà vu: the admiral headed the U.S. relief effort after an earthquake in Pakistan killed 73,000 people, injured 100,000 others and displaced more than 3.5 million Pakistanis in 2005. (READ MORE)

Central Command Team Releases Interim Findings on Farah Battle - KABUL, May 20, 2009 – A U.S. Central Command investigation team today released its interim findings here after reviewing information on recent events in Afghanistan’s Farah province associated with alleged civilian casualties. The investigation remains ongoing, officials said. Investigators said they reviewed weapon-sight video from the aircraft supporting the coalition rescue of Afghan forces in Bala Baluk on May 4 that clearly depicts insurgents entering the buildings which were then targeted in the final strikes of the fight. (READ MORE)

New Strategy Treats Afghanistan, Pakistan as Integrated Theater - WASHINGTON, May 20, 2009 – The new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan treats the area as an integrated theater of operations, the Defense Department’s policy chief said today. Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, spoke of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, dangers from Iran and detainees during a wide-ranging interview with the Defense Writers’ Group. “We have to regard Pakistan and Afghanistan together, because each affects the other so profoundly,” Flournoy said. (READ MORE)

U.S., French Soldiers Train Afghan Artillerymen - WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan, May 20, 2009 – Five Afghan National Army forward observers completed a 30-day training program with the 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, at Forward Operating Base Airborne here. The class, which graduated May 5, was the first of the year, with more scheduled for the near future, officials said. A forward observer is a soldier responsible for calling for fire, serving as the eyes for indirect-fire assets. During the training, Afghan, French and U.S. forward observers worked together to instruct, train and learn from each other. (READ MORE)

Afghan Commandos Kill 18 Enemy Fighters in Helmand Province - WASHINGTON, May 20, 2009 – Afghan army commandos, assisted by coalition forces, have killed 18 enemy fighters and confiscated significant arms and drug caches in the city of Marjeh in the Nad Ali district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province yesterday and today, military officials reported. Heavy fighting ensued when the combined elements launched a multi-day operation to secure the city’s Loy Cherah Bazaar yesterday. The bazaar is a militant stronghold and narcotics processing hub for southern Afghanistan, officials said. (READ MORE)

Official: Pakistanis in Swat town fend off Taliban - ISLAMABAD (AP) - A local official says residents in a Pakistani town have fought back a group of Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley. The town's deputy mayor says about 50 militants tried to enter Kalam, but armed residents quickly gathered to fight them off. They captured eight Taliban amid a shootout and are expecting another attack. (READ MORE)

U.S. probe finds 20 to 30 civilians may have been killed in Afghanistan battle - Kabul, Afghanistan -- Disagreement over the civilian death toll in a battle this month in western Afghanistan sharpened Wednesday when the U.S. military estimated that 20 to 30 noncombatants were killed in the fighting. Afghan officials say 140 civilians were killed. Civilian deaths have for months been a major source of friction between Western forces and their Afghan allies, and the incident in the village of Garani, in Farah province has triggered a huge outcry here. (READ MORE)

US troops kill 9 suspected insurgents in central Afghanistan - Kabul: US forces say its troops have killed nine suspected insurgents in separate clashes in Afghanistan. The military says in a statement seven militants died Wednesday in a firefight and airstrikes in the central Ghazni province. Troops were after a Taliban sub-commander involved in attacks in eastern Afghanistan at the time of the clash. (READ MORE)

200 Taliban die in Maidan operation - TIMERGARA: Security forces on Wednesday claimed to have killed over 200 militants during the ongoing military operation in Maidan area of Dir Lower since the launch of the offensive. Operational Commander Brigadier Amal Zada, in charge of the ongoing military operation in Dir Lower, told reporters here at the Dir Scouts Headquarter that over 200 Taliban militants had been killed so far, while 14 security forcesí personnel were martyred and 30 others injured. (READ MORE)

80 militants killed as Pakistani army takes Taliban base - Pakistani soldiers have captured the main Taliban stronghold in a district 100km (60 miles) from the capital in heavy fighting in which 80 militants were killed, the military said yesterday. Fighting in the Swat valley and the neighbouring districts of Buner and Dir has forced about 1.5 million people from their homes in addition to about 550,000 people displaced earlier. (READ MORE)

Attacks threaten gains for Afghan girls - After several years of progress, girls' education in Afghanistan has been set back by recent attacks on schools that have frightened parents into keeping their daughters at home, a UN official said. Daniel Toole, South Asia Director for UNICEF, said families are becoming fearful about educating their daughters as the Taliban insurgency gathers strength, despite an enormous appetite for them to learn. (READ MORE)

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