May 22, 2009

From the Front: 05/22/2009

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

SGM Troy Falardeau: Welcome to my office - Now that you know where I live (see last week’s entry about my CHU), I guess it’s time to unveil the 314th PAOC’s new digs at the Combined Press Information Center on FOB Prosperity…including a few of the folks who work with me. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: IED kills and we’re back to medical training - I took another picture of one of the camp vehicles that was engaged in a fire fight with the enemy yesterday. Once again the armor and protective glass did their jobs and nobody was injured. However, there is one less bad guy to deal with [crowd cheers]. On a tragic note, the Air Force lost a female Lieutenant to a roadside bomb along with the life of a government contractor yesterday. Ironically we traveled this same road a few days ago. It’s no secret, every time we leave the confines of the FOB we become a target. This is the reality of combat; this is the reality of war. This morning I did not have the opportunity to visit my Sergeant Major. Instead I stayed at the camp and performed some administrative duties. Apparently I am the only SMSgt on the camp and by position of rank; I am the senior enlisted member for the Air Force. As such, I am the enlisted representative or “go to guy” for AF enlisted matters. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Road trips - The Bossman was recently out of town (yet again), hanging out in a much nicer and more Kurdish area, doing...well, field grade stuff (naps and PowerPoint). Or something. Word was passed that he should return to Big Base on Tuesday, or perhaps Wednesday, and then he might begin to try to find a way down here. Our manuever battalion is doing most of our job at this point, so we're a little underemployed. Given that, we decided the best way to ensure Bossman made it home (rather than hanging out with the wireless internet and good chowhall for days on end) was to go fetch him back. We packed our assault packs, loaded the radios, stuck SGT B in the turret, SSG C in the driver's seat and Yours Truly in what I like to refer to as the "aircraft commander" seat. Trading an open seat in the back for a spot in an outbound convoy, we hit the road. (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure: Implementation - The "surge" of troops into Afghanistan is something that most of us who have been there have been recommending for years... as long as the added troops do helpful things. It does matter what they do, not just that they are there. It's important that we change not just the numbers that are in-country, but also the way in which they are used. Most of us who have been there have pointed out the FOB mentality that reigns in Afghanistan, that ISAF forces withdraw into large FOBs at night and cede control of the countryside to the ACM, primarily operating under the name of the Taliban. An article recently published details the problems that came up with the attempt to expand FOB Wolverine in Zabul Province. CPT Paul Tanghe, an ETT advising the ANA operating in the area, warned of the backlash that the locals would have against interfering with their water supplies, which run through an underground channel called a "karez." (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: The weather is here. I wish it were beautiful... - The end of May is the time of year out here when it is starting to get warm. Well, hot really; but considering what the temperature is going to be like in July and August I like to think that what we have right now is merely warm. Soon enough the oppressive heat will make a mere walk to the chow hall seem down right volcanic. If you want to know how hot it is here turn on your oven all the way and then stick you head in. To experience Iraqi summer temperatures at home simply climb into an asbestos sleeping bag, have someone ram a flamethrower in one end and let her rip. There are other interesting weather phenomena occurring at this time as well. On any given day dust devils and high winds are capable of blasting nearly a pound of sand right up your colon. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Afghan and US forces battle Taliban in northern Helmand stronghold - Afghan commandos and US troops are battling the Taliban for control of a region in northern Helmand province that serves as a command and control center as well as a major drug processing center. The combined forces launched an attack against the Taliban in the town of Marja in the Nad Ali District late at night on March 18. The town is described by the US military as "a main command node" and a "hub of narcotics processing" for the Taliban in Helmand province. According to Quqnoos, an English language Afghan news outlet, Marja has been under Taliban control for more than a year and a half. Afghan commandos and US forces took control of the center of the town and targeted the bazaar, which is described as "a nucleus of militant activity." (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The Folly of Lashkars When Pakistan Is Impotent - In Afghanistan, the meme of “tribal militias” is still batted about by the ignorant, who think tribes are cohesive units to be coopted into unified resistance movements. As David Axe, among many others, has noted, they pose significant problems and challenges, ranging from recruitment to retention to just sheer effectiveness (many of those recruited either walk away or sell their weapons to the Taliban). But Pakistan’s Pashtuns are different. They are much more cohesive—which helped legends like Frederik Barth and even Akbar Ahmed make their names. There is at least an understanding of institutional ties to a central government—Political Agents (as Ahmed was in the 1970s, and Caroe before him), talibs, jirgas, and Lashkars all had if not defined then at least understood roles in setting policy and enforcing judgments. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Drones, Civilians, and Propaganda - The increasingly contentious American drone strikes in Pakistan and the climbing civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan moved front and center this week with the publication of an op-ed by counterinsurgency think tankers David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, who called for an end to the predator strikes, and an incident in Afghanistan where at least 30 Afghan civilians were killed during a firefight turned airstrike in which Taliban fighter used civilians as human shields—until an American B-1 bomber dropped two 2-ton bombs on the problem. The civilian casualties and the drone strikes—which are killing and wounding civilians in Pakistan as well—are both harming the American effort while giving the Taliban and other insurgent groups fodder for propaganda and information ops campaigns, not to mention seriously pissing off the Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border. I’ve come across a few bits recently that on some level speak to the problem, and I think they’re worth reading. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:

Tip leads ISF, MND-B Soldiers to cache in Aqur Quf - BAGHDAD – At approximately 2:15 p.m., Guards from the Ministry of Interior and Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, operationally attached to the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, discovered the cache consisting of 18 rocket propelled grenade warheads, 44 60mm mortar rounds, 31 RPG motors, one set of binoculars, 100 ft. of detonation cord, six RPG launchers, one 60mm mortar base plate, one Motorola cell phone attached to military grade explosives and one RKG-3 anti-armor grenade. (READ MORE)

Suspected criminal arrested in Kadhamiyah - BAGHDAD – Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Division—Baghdad Soldiers, conducting a joint operation, detained a suspected criminal on a warrant, May 20, in northwest Baghdad’s Kadhamiyah district. At approximately 2:20 a.m., Iraqi Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division and Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, arrested a warranted individual suspected of promoting sectarian violence in the Hurriyah neighborhood. (READ MORE)

1,000 New Iraqi Police graduate in Ninewah - MOSUL, Iraq — More than 1,000 Iraqi Police recruits stood at attention on the Mosul Public Service Academy parade field as dignitaries and guests gathered to celebrate their graduation from basic police training May 11. Their graduation signifies Ninewah’s compliance with an Iraqi Ministry of Interior directive requiring all currently-employed IPs be formally trained by June. (READ MORE)

New Schools Complete in Northern Iraq - IRBIL — 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 here. 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 students. (READ MORE)

Food Donated to Firra Shia Villagers - BAGHDAD — Iraqi Army (IA) and U.S. Soldiers did their part to help some citizens here during a humanitarian food drop in Firra Shia village, May 17. The joint mission highlighted the use of both American and Iraqi military assets to meet the needs of the community where the Soldiers live and work. First Lt. Michael Neel, 8th Cavalry Regiment, said humanitarian missions show the many facets of the American and Iraqi Soldiers' ability to improve life for Iraqis. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan:
Coalition, Afghan Forces Kill 25 Militants, Detain Seven - WASHINGTON, May 21, 2009 – Coalition and Afghan operations in the past 24 hours have left 25 enemy fighters dead and seven in custody. In the city of Marjeh in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, forces killed 16 enemy fighters and confiscated and destroyed drugs, drug-refining materials and weapons. Security forces there launched an operation to secure the bazaar in Marjeh, thought to be a militant stronghold and hub of narcotics processing for southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Civil Affairs Team Brings Change to Afghan Province - KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, May 21, 2009 – The civil affairs soldiers based at Forward Operating Base Blessing here have one goal for the province: change. “That’s what it’s all about, change,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Campos, the civil affairs team’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “You have to show the people that change is coming, and it’s coming soon.” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan-Pakistan Conflicts Tied to U.S. Security, Mullen Tells Senators - WASHINGTON, May 21, 2009 – Helping the Afghan and Pakistani governments defeat Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents is tied to U.S. national security interests, the Pentagon’s senior military officer told Capitol Hill legislators here today. “As you know, Afghanistan and Pakistan are two very different countries very much linked -- not only to each other, but inextricably to the national security of the United States,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (READ MORE)

U.S. Envoy To Afghanistan Has Seen War Up Close - The new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is a retired Army general who used to be the top military commander in that country. Karl Eikenberry, a soldier turned diplomat, took over earlier this month at the heavily fortified American embassy in Kabul at a critical moment: (READ MORE)

US troop surge in Afghanistan 'could push Taliban into Pakistan' - The buildup of US troops in Afghanistan could force more Taliban fighters into neighbouring Pakistan, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff conceded last night. Admiral Mike Mullen told the US Senate's foreign relations committee: "We can't deny that our success may only push them [the Taliban] deeper into Pakistan." (READ MORE)

Taliban agrees to pull out from some parts of Lower Dir in NWFP - Islamabad, May 22 : The Taliban has agreed to move out of the Asbanr and Gulabad areas of the Lower Dir region of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) within the next two days. Sources said the Taliban has assured a local jirga in Adenzai tehsil of Lower Dir district that they would pull out of the region soon. (READ MORE)

Pakistanis in Swat town fend off Taliban infiltration - ARMED residents foiled an attempt by Taliban fighters to expand their reach in Pakistan's Swat Valley as foreign aid for refugees fleeing an army offensive in the northwestern region passed US$200 million ($300 million), officials said yesterday. The attempted infiltration in Kalam indicated rebels are feeling pinched by an army offensive and are seeking new shelter, while the local resistance suggested growing public confidence in an anti-Taliban operation supported by the United States. (READ MORE)

U.S.: Drugs seized, militants killed in Afghanistan - KABUL - American and Afghan forces seized 16.5 tons of drugs and killed 34 militants during a three-day operation against a key insurgent stronghold in southern Afghanistan, a U.S. military statement said Thursday. The seizure was one of the biggest by foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2001 and an indication of a nexus between the insurgency and the drug trade that fuels it. (READ MORE)

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