July 10, 2009

From the Front: 07/10/2009

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

Sour Swinger: (VIDEO) More Vids With Iraqi Kids - Another round of videos. This time with more personal interactions of me with the kids. There’s a couple cute ones here, a couple demonstrating the gathering phenomena, and one that a child took himself. Once again thank you to my step mom for taking the time to upload these. Enjoy everyone. (VIEW VIDEOS)

P.J. Tobia: Afghanistan’s Rape Problem - I have seen some awful things in my life, but the worst of them doesn’t come close to seeing the way that women are treated in this country. Dogs are treated with more respect in Afghanistan than most of the women I’ve seen. Kabul is a bit of an exception. I know many professional, educated Afghan women here, who move about freely. But woe to those women and girls in the rural provinces of this country. Today I got a sneak peek at a UN report about violence against women—and it looks like Reuters did too—that has yet to be published. The findings are sickening, and go way beyond Burkas. There isn’t a law against rape in this country, only one for having sex outside of marriage, a crime known as zina. This means that many rape victims are actually punished for being raped. Zina is punishable by death for both parties, but it is more common that the victim be forced to marry her rapist. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Captured Soldier Went AWOL in Afghanistan - On July 2, news broke that a soldier went missing from a base in eastern Afghanistan and ended up in the hands of the Haqqani network. I’ve just spoken with somebody who’s close to the people searching for this soldier. He told me that the guy went AWOL on his own, just wandering off the base. “The guy thinks he’s some kind of Zen master,” my source told me. “He had some crazy idea in his head that he was going to wander the countryside and discover the true meaning of life and death. He’ll probably find the “death” part o.k.” Not surprisingly, military brass and those who have to search for the missing soldier are furious and not a little annoyed. “It’s a Where’s Waldo mission,” my source told me. “Nobody likes that.” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Education is a vital component in winning this war - The past few weeks in my spare time I have been reading about counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine and advice. I am trying to get a better grasp of the mentoring process and hone some of my problem solving skills. There was one piece of advice that really stood out to me in reference to problem resolution. The author said “If you do not understand relationships, people, cultural economics, human terrain, and all those related issues, you will only see the symptoms rather than diagnosing the problem.” I have taken this to heart and agree with the author on this subject. The current situation in Afghanistan is very fluid and we are attempting to tip the balance of the scales by winning the hearts and minds of the people. This is so much easier said than done, specifically when you discuss the dynamics of using non-kinetic forces. In COIN, killing the enemy is easy, but finding him is often nearly impossible unless you have the cooperation of the villagers and the citizens. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: A Rather Tumultuous Day - Iraq experiences the most violent 24 hours since the withdrawal of American soldiers from its cities: upwards of 41 are killed in bombings across the country. Iranian security forces are working to contain mass protests, beating protesters in the streets and arresting at will. Power to the people, man. The Ayatollahs are in trouble. In Afghanistan, we learn that this has been the most violent of month of the entire war for Coalition forces, that IED attacks in the country are "shattering records", two more NATO soldiers were killed in Helmand by a roadside bomb, and that an improvised bomb hidden in a timber truck in Logar province killed 21 civilians and 4 police officers--half the dead are children. Four Canadian soldiers have died in the past 7 days, and at least eight have been injured. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Promotions abound - What a week! In all my years in the Army Reserve, I have never seen anything like this. Am I talking about the dust storms or the 130 degree heat? NO! I am talking about the SIX promotions in the 314th Public Affairs Operations Center in the past 48 hours. Yep, you read that right. The first five Soldiers were recommended for promotion during a junior enlisted board held here in the International Zone on July 7. The enlisted Soldiers recommended were: SGT(P) Jeremy Fowler - SGT(P) Paul Roberts - SGT(P) Bryan Tull - SPC(P) Autumn Hope - SPC(P) Roshonda Thurston - We are hoping to be able to announce their official promotion dates soon, but until then, they will have the (P) behind their current rank. (READ MORE)

1SG Martinez: Enough With the Dust and Heat Already - I'm sure you're tired of hearing about it, but I assure you that you are not as tired of hearing about it as we are in living in it. This is how a dust storm really looks. Imagine having this hanging in the air 24 hours a day for days on end. It gets in your hair, your teeth your throat, your lungs and licking your lips to rescue them from the heat of the day only ends up with a tongue full of dust. I just know the day will come when some medical study, sponsored by the VA, will reveal that soldiers serving in Iraq are likely to suffer from some respiratory disease in connection with breathing this stuff for a year. Mark my words! On a given morning you can wake from a nights rest to find that a layer of dust, not small amount, has settled on every exposed surface in your room. This is a sure sign a dust storm has arrived. Another tell tale sign of the advent of a dust storm is the color of the sunlight filtering through the suspended dust in the air. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: Army Bacon and the Dentist - So this morning I went into our food locker for my daily bowl of Apple Jacks or Frosted Flakes, but all that was left was Special K (ugh!). I was actually pretty hungry as breakfast has become the defacto start to my day lately. Next to the cereal was the unadorned brown and green plastic boxes that are known military wide as mermites, and despised just as widely. For those who don’t know mermites are big insulated plastic boxes that hold food either warm or or cold. They make eggs turn green and hard, toast go soft, and for some reason one always contains gravy, no matter what the meal is. Anyway, this mornings mermites included french toast, eggs, bacon and sausage, and gravy. I grabbed a plate and helped myself to some french toast and bacon. I went and sat down at the table and began eating and talking to some fellow medics. I bit down on some bacon, hit what I thought was gristle, and threw it on the ground. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Kunduz goes into the recycle bin - I will return to the Kandahar incident next week. For now I’m just going to make a short post that will break one of my promises. As an intro, the title above refers to Kunduz, a city/province in the north that is not doing so well lately. The BBC saw fit to do a little write-up recently: “A recent spate of attacks by the Taliban and al-Qaeda has altered the face of Kunduz beyond all recognition. ‘The Taliban have closed girls’ schools in the districts. They collect taxes from people and they have their own courts. The governor was attacked and the Taliban are in the villages. All because Kunduz is ignored by our president and ministers in Kabul,’ said a group of elders over endless cups of green tea in the provincial capital. [...] In recent months, Kunduz has felt the consequences of the Taliban presence – a senior Afghan government official was shot dead while driving to the Tajikistan border and four US soldiers were recently killed by a roadside bomb.” This is not exactly a revelation. Kunduz has obviously, for anyone who cared to notice, been going downhill progressively for at least a couple of years now. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Insurgents begin to feel the pinch of British and American ops - As the British-led Operation Panther’s Claw and US-led Operation River Liberty pushed on across tough terrain, strewn with IEDs, Governor Mangal reassured the Afghan people that very definite progress was being made: “The places that were underneath the insurgents are now with the government. We can now look to the future and reconstruction projects, where the people can have a say in rebuilding their own villages.” Brigadier General Mohaiyodin, local Commander of the Afghan National Army hailed the joint Afghan-ISAF operations as a continuing success. “These operations are different compared to the others. All three sides, British, US and Afghan discussed plans before the operations began and decided on a definite plan targeting places controlled by the Taliban. We feel we can achieve a lot for the Afghan government and the local people in these areas.” (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): The Bike Guy - When I first got to Tallil Ali Air Base, I met a sergeant in public affairs who rides daily and told me that if I ever had a problem with a bike, I should call/email Larry--a civilian computer technician who is retired military and really likes working on bikes. It turns out Larry is also a very personable guy who is happy to help soldiers. Like most civilians here he works 12 to 14 hour shifts with a day or two off each month, so his time is limited. But when he can he works on bikes. While I was home on leave, Larry trued my out-of-round front wheel on the single-speed road bike and cleaned it up. Then when the mountain bike arrived, the rear disc brake rotor had been bent in transit. He could not straighten it completely with the tools he has, but it is nearly perfect now in a less-than-perfect environment. Military communities like this one are very much communities in ways that most American communities are not. (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: Fab Folk return to Af - your help? - A FabFolk session is planned for August 22 to the first couple of weeks of September. Big tasks include finishing settling in to the new fab lab site at the sharwali, upgrading to FabFi 2.0, establishing the tech lending library, and lots of Shopbot and related large scale NC machining skills. Additionally we’ll check up on existing business clubs, encourage the spinning up of new ones, pull together all the “deliverables” from the summer internships, and possibly venture in the digital pathology area. We could use help in country with Shopbot training and uses. You must arrive already knowing how to use a Shopbot PRS Alpha and the Windows based Part Works / Part Wizard. The goal is not for you to make things but to teach Afghans how to use the Shopbot with hands-on projects. We have a high speed spindle in Jalalabad. We also need help getting FabFi 2.0 ready - this is networking, routing, meshing stuff and needs to be done before arriving. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Rubberbands.... - Everyone has a habit that is a little different or strange. That little thing that they do that make people wonder why they do it. Pokey always wore a rubberband on his wrist. Not sure why or how it started. It was just something he had done since early high school. About the same time he became "Pokey". He would say it was lucky and a handy weapon. He could be in a tux and have a rubberband on his wrist. The first box I sent him in Iraq I asked his brothers and sister if they wanted to add anything. Pokey's youngest brother handed me a rubberband. "He needs his rubberband". So I wrote on it.. " from Tojo for luck" (Tojo is the nickname Pokey called his youngest brother) I look at videos and pictures of Pokey in Iraq and sure enough he has that rubberband on his wrist. In January he asked me to have Tojo send him another one cause the one he had was wearing out. So I bought a bag of rubberbands and decided to send him a bunch.. all with messages written on them from his friends and family. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US releases Iranian Qods Force agents - The US military recently released five Iranian Qods Force agents who had posed as diplomats and were detained in northern Iraq in late 2006. The Iranian agents were released to the Iraqi government, which is expected to promptly turn them back over to Iran. In January 2007, the five Iranian agents were detained by US forces in the Kurdish city of Irbil. Iran claimed the men were part of a diplomatic mission in Irbil, and protested the arrest. The men were operating from a liaison office that did not enjoy diplomatic privileges, however. The US military accused the five Iranians of being Qods Force agents assigned to help support Shia terror groups inside Iraq. "The five detainees are connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – Qods Force (IRGC-QF), an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the Government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces": (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: The Future of Iraq, Part III - The United States has basically won the war in Iraq. No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten. America's most modest foreign policy objectives there have been largely secured. Saddam Hussein's toxic regime has been replaced with a more or less consensual government. I doubt very much that Iraq will seriously threaten the United States or its neighbors any time soon. It isn't likely to be ruled by terrorists as it probably would have been if the United States left between 2004 and 2007. It’s a relief. A few years ago, I was all but certain the U.S. would withdraw under fire and leave Iraq in the hands of militias. Even so, many have a hard time feeling optimistic about the future. Iraq remains, in some ways, a threat to itself. The reduction in violence and the winding down of the conflict allowed me to see the country a little more clearly than I could when I first visited Baghdad. (READ MORE)

LTC John: Dishonor - I just happened to have been in the same Task Force as this admitted criminal. For the first 5 months in country, I was the Task Force XO, and he was the S-4. Really, I was an XO in name only, as my real responsibilities were dealing with the massive influx and departure of thousands of troops through BAF. I clashed with West many times, and thought very little of him - but never got into a position to do anything substantive about him. When our Task Force changed names (from Dragon to Eagle) and mission (we were given Civil Affairs and Security responsibility for a 100km square area around BAF) I moved over to the Civil Affairs job (S-5) and found that while dealing with CERP (Commander's Emergency Response Program) funds, West was sloppy, but not criminal. Probably because I had oversight of the money...and he knew I didn't care for him one whit. Just before we left Afghanistan, one of his partners in crime was caught. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Educational Opportunities Abound for Deployed 1st Cavalry Soldiers - BAGHDAD – One word sums up what a post-secondary education creates for someone: Opportunity. A person with a college degree, on average, can earn twice as much, or more, in their lifetime compared to someone who only has a high school diploma. A degree from an accredited college or university can be a key that opens the door to a promising future. A deployed Soldier, however, cannot always attend the college of their choice and must work around their busy schedule to earn a degree online. An increasing number of Soldiers are doing just that with the help of the Staff Sgt. Russell J. Verdugo Education Center here on Camp Victory. Between 700 to 1,000 service members a week pass through the doors for counseling and assistance in their quest for higher education. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 08JUL09--Making Room - Today, the team spent the day packing, cleaning and moving out of our rooms so that the new team can move in right away. Not always but often times outgoing units vacate their living quarters in order to facilitate the new unit in getting to their jobs right away. The outgoing unit packs up, which prepares them for their upcoming redeployment and squares away odds and ends. Then incoming unit unpacks directly into what might be their living quarters for the next year. My 10-man team now lives in three 18” x 12” trailers that we normally use as our conference and morale rooms. Things are somewhat more cramped, but it is somewhat comforting to have togetherness and shared experiences. Besides we will be home in our own beds in roughly three weeks. No one complains about conditions at this point in a deployment. On the outgoing team, that is. (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Martha Stewart Living, Ranger Style…Part 2 - My first stab at culinary blogging essentially introduced the MRE in all of its glory, or lack thereof, and introduced some basic recipes. Entertaining though those recipes may have been they were the culinary equivalent of making Easy Mac. Not exactly cutting edge. When you are sitting beneath a low slung poncho hooch doing your best to stay out of the driving rain and your buddy comes over to trade a little bull and spoon for warmth (I kid you not, Ranger School during the winter may be the only place in modern society where you can find fully straight men spooning with absolutely no shame) you’ll need a recipe to impress him. My next MRE recipe will do just that, Cherry Cheese Cake made completely from an MRE, astonishingly simple and brilliant in its creative combination of ingredients. If you’ve ever tried these ingredients your initial reaction may be one of appalled shock, it won’t be until you actually try this sterling example of haute cuisine, ranger style, that your mind and taste buds will begin to open. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest 8 suspected terrorists in Baghdad - BAGHDAD – An element of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, along with Coalition force advisors, arrested eight suspected terrorists during an intelligence-driven operation in the Iraqi capital July 9. During the Iraqi-led mission, the Soldiers were operating under the authority of a warrant issued by the Criminal Investigative Court of Karkh. The group of alleged terrorists, suspected to be operating as an insurgent cell, was apprehended in accordance with the Republic of Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Law. (READ MORE)

U.S. Forces respond to rocket attack in Basra province - BASRA PROVINCE, Iraq – U.S. forces responded to a suspected rocket attack in Basra province today. Explosions were heard in the vicinity of a Coalition Patrol Base at approximately 1:49 p.m. Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 10th Calvary Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, were contacted to investigate the cause of the explosion. (READ MORE)

National Police arrest suspected terrorist supplier - TIKRIT, Iraq – The National Police Justice Battalion, with Coalition force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist July 8, during an operation in the Salah ad-Din province, with a warrant issued by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. The arrested individual is suspected of supplying terrorists in Salah ad-Din with grenades used against the Iraqi people and Iraqi Security Forces. He is also believed to be responsible for emplacing roadside bombs. (READ MORE)

Emergency Response Brigade arrests suspected key leader of terrorist network in Ladafiyah - BAGHDAD – The Emergency Response Brigade, along with Coalition force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist during an intelligence-driven operation in Ladafiyah, Iraq, July 8. During the Iraqi-led, early-morning operation, the elite police force was operating under the authority of a warrant issued by a Criminal Investigative Court in Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Center Declared Fully Operationally Capable - BAGHDAD – U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander, NATO Training Mission- Iraq visited the National Operations Centers here July 6 to declare Full Operational Capability. Helmick presented a certificate to Staff Brig. Gen. Muhamed Fadhel Abbas, deputy director general of the National Operations Center, in honor of the NOC achieving this status. The three National Operations Centers in Baghdad have now achieved full operational capability. (READ MORE)

“Signs” of the Security Agreement - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq— Residents of Kirkuk city can expect to see a new addition to the U.S. military vehicles that sometimes drive through their city. Since the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities, in accordance with the Security Agreement, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, has begun adding signs reading “Iraqi partnership provincial approved convoy. Thank you for your patience and support” to the sides of their vehicles. (READ MORE)

Criminals trigger Improvised Explosive Device near civilians in Amarah - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq – A combined patrol led by Iraqi Security Forces was attacked by a roadside bomb in Amarah July 8. The IED detonated near a U.S. vehicle from the 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, traveling as part of a convoy coordinated between Coalition Forces and Iraqi Police from Maysan province. No Soldiers were injured. (READ MORE)

Engineers Improve Liberty Access Road - BAGHDAD — The U.S. Army Reserve 277th Engineer Company just wrapped up resurfacing and upgrades to the roadways connecting Camp Liberty and Camp Victory, relieving congestion caused from the use of smaller roads. The 277th Soldiers realize their work will assist with transporting various assets and resources. "Local civilians and local Soldiers are stopping and thanking us for the road construction. In our eyes this feels like a success, with hearing the gratitude from fellow Soldiers." said Staff Sgt. George Velez, 277th Eng. Co. (READ MORE)

Vehicle Signs Announce New U.S. Role - KIRKUK — Since the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities, and in accordance with the Security Agreement, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, has begun adding signs reading “Iraqi partnership provincial approved convoy. Thank you for your patience and support” to the sides of their vehicles. U.S. Forces serving in an advisory and assistance role continue to travel within the city to meet with their Iraqi counterparts or government officials. (READ MORE)

Clean Water Flows in Mosul Rural Areas - MOSUL — In the rural areas outside this city, U.S. Soldiers are helping local villagers obtain running water by repairing and building water pumping stations in eight different locations of the Qayyarah Sub-District in Ninewa province. Four of the water stations were completed June 27, which included a ribbon cutting ceremony at each of those stations. Lt. Col. Michael J. Fadden, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment commander, attended each of the ribbon cutting ceremonies with the mayor of Qayyarah, who thanked Fadden and his Soldiers for their assistance and financial support. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Lead Convoy Through Baghdad - BAGHDAD — The Iraqi National Police (NP) and Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I) joined forces for convoy operations July 5 - 6, to comply with U.S./Iraq Security Agreement articles. The NP led a convoy through the streets of the Iraqi capital, supporting a U.S. Army mission to transport Americans to various locations. The well-coordinated movement took the convoy through city streets and on highways. The convoy aggressively moved through the traffic as Iraqi citizens moved to roadsides to let the convoy through. (READ MORE)

Airmen Attain Combat Milestone in Afghanistan - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 10, 2009 – Airmen here hit a major milestone July 8 when they completed their 2,000th combat mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. An EC-130H Compass Call crew assigned to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron and deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., flew the milestone mission, providing direct support to coalition ground forces in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Mechanics Keep Troops Rolling in Afghanistan - NANGAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, July 9, 2009 – The eastern Afghanistan terrain is demanding, not only on soldiers, but also on their equipment. Keeping vehicles running is essential to mission success. That’s the job of Army Pfc. Jonathan M. Hall, a native of Elizabethtown, Ky., and a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic who serves with Task Force Mountain Warrior here with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, out of Fort Carson, Colo. (READ MORE)

Soldier Honored for Valor, Recalls Ambush - WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – The fifth Army Reserve soldier to earn the Silver Star since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 spoke about his experience in a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable July 6. Army Spc. David Hutchinson of the 420th Engineer Brigade discussed the actions that earned him the third-highest award for valor in combat. On May 21, 2008, Hutchinson said he and his fellow soldiers from the 420th Engineer Brigade were en route to Sharana, Afghanistan, in preparation for relieving the 36th Engineer Brigade when they were ambushed. (READ MORE)

Afghans’ Attitude Will Be Measure of Success, Vice Chairman Says - WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – A key measurement of success in Afghanistan will be the attitude of Afghans affected by U.S.-led operations, the military’s second-ranking military officer said today. Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan elevates the civilian population as a main determinant of success or failure, much as it did in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Partnership With Pakistan Key to Regional Stability, Mullen Says - WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – A long-term partnership with Pakistan is key to promoting stability in Afghanistan and the region, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. “I’ve been to Pakistan 11 or 12 times over the last year, year and a half,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a National Press Club audience. “And I think it represents the importance of both the engagement of the Pakistan military … and the importance of the country, and in fact, the importance of the region, to try to create stability.” (READ MORE)

More Mine-resistant Vehicles Flow to Afghanistan - WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – Because improvised explosive devices pose the biggest threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the nation’s top military officer said yesterday, the military is flowing thousands of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles there until new versions built specifically for the Afghan terrain are ready for shipment. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a National Press Club audience that IEDs have become “more and more sophisticated over time.” Combined with increasingly sophisticated Taliban attacks, they pose an increasing threat to deployed troops, he said. (READ MORE)

Remains of Seven U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan Returned Home - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., July 8, 2009 – The remains of seven American troops killed July 6 during combat operations in Afghanistan returned to their nation during a dignified transfer here this afternoon. Twenty-six family members from every region of the country stood on the tarmac witnessing their loved one's return. Subdued voices of the carry team leaders directed their teams to perform precise movements as they transferred their comrades-in-arms from the C-17 aircraft to a waiting vehicle. (READ MORE)

Protecting Civilians Leads New Afghanistan Strategy - WASHINGTON, July 8, 2009 – Combat operations with some 4,000 Marines began last week in southern Afghanistan and an influx of additional forces represents a big step toward carrying out a more comprehensive U.S. strategy there, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a National Press Club audience today he’s encouraged by the regional focus of the strategy and its emphasis on building capacity in the economic, agricultural, governance and other civilian realms. (READ MORE)

Linked by: H&I FIRES 10 June 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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