July 13, 2009

From the Front: 07/13/2009

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

A Major's Perspective: (VIDEO) Helo Engagement of IED Cell

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Cpl Jonathan Horne, Rfn William Aldridge, Rfn James Backhouse, Rfn Joseph Murphy and Rfn Daniel Simpson of 2 RIFLES killed in Afghanistan - It is with very deep regret that the Ministry of Defence confirms the names of five soldiers from The 2nd Battalion The Rifles, who were killed in Afghanistan on 10 July 2009. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: How The US Will Get Out of Afghanistan - CNN dropped this story on Friday, and though it got little play in US papers, it is an extremely significant development. In short, ISI—Pakistan’s CIA equivalent—has offered to use its Taliban contacts to open a dialogue between insurgent leaders and the US. This is critical because it begins to open the window for a way out of the war. Myself and others have long held that the US under Obama will try an Afghan surge—as we’re seeing now—improve security as much as possible, train the heck out of Afghan police and military—which we’re seeing here—then, sometime before the next US presidential election, strike a truce with moderate elements of the Taliban, declare victory and withdraw the bulk of our forces. This deal may be the first step in a dialogue that will lead to that truce. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Mentoring my ANA SGM - I enjoyed my day off and at night visited the MWR center and shot some darts with the “fellas”. My pinpoint accuracy of earlier years has deteriorated and has been replaced with mediocre precision. Previously in Korea I used to practice 3-4 hours nightly and became quite adept. Now the only time I play is on deployments. Around midnight I called it a night and looked forward to a good night’s rest. Around 2:30 am, my curtain rod decided to fall off the window and land in my bed. I was quite certain what hit me, but had no desire to get up and reattach it. Then about 4:30 am the sun lit up my entire room. It was like someone turned on a bright spot light in my eyes. Initially I thought I was late for work and then a glance at my clock brought me back to reality. So I’m a bit on the sleepy side today, but reattached the plastic holders with glue. My lack of sleep wasn’t going to interfere with mentoring my ANA SGM. Today he acted very squirrely and I couldn’t quite figure it out. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: [head, wall, repeat] - My most "substantial" body of work experience lies in the public affairs/outreach realm, with a heavy emphasis on natural resources and military issues. I've been working through the godawful process of setting up resumes on the "special resume website" that it seems each and every agency in the government has (oh, there's a USAJOBs resume, but the Army, Navy and USDA all have a different one of their own). I was reviewing my info on one of those sites this evening when I spotted a typo... Folks, what one word do you think, given the information in the first sentence, could I have typo'd/misspelled and had missed by automated spell-checkers and multiple proofreaders? (READ MORE)

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: The Announcement - I'm currently in Kuwait, trying to find my way to Bagram. I'm going back to Afghanistan for a year. Hopefully I can help make a difference in my small way. Also, this blog is moving to http://afghanquest.com If you have me on your links; first of all, thanks. Secondly, please update your links. I hope that those who have been reading continue to enjoy. ~Blue (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Searching for Kuchi & Finding Lizards -13 July 2009 Ghor Province, Afghanistan - The wake-up alarm sounded at 0345, and by 0430 the Lithuanian soldiers were ready to roll. The Lithuanians had always arrived early, prepared for action before every mission, but this time we relied on an Afghan guide. The first part of the mission was to find the Kuchi. Normally, Lithuanian soldiers perform a reconnaissance before a mission, but they decided to skip the recon to find the Kuchi nomads because, well, they are nomads. Even if the recon were to locate the camel caravan in a specific location, the Kuchis would likely have moved by the time we got there. So we were relying on the local guide who had a cell phone number for the Kuchis. He was 21 minutes late and held up the mission by 27 minutes. One guy holding up about three dozen soldiers and a mission should be flogged. The base at Chaghcharan sits at nearly 7,500 feet above sea level, so at night the Milky Way hovers in magnificence above the clean, dry air. But come morning, the stars fade as the sun rises with blinding vengeance. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: The Daily Routine - 0500: Bounce out of the rack recharged and ready to take on the world! Kind of… Immediately I turn on the news only to discover that Michael Jackson is still dead. This is followed by the traditional Marine Corps ritual of shaving my nasty grill and brushing my fangs. The thought that one day I will retire and never, ever have to shave again is so rapturous that I nearly slit my own throat. 0530: PT at Crossfit Al Asad. This is in a tent stocked with various instruments designed to maximize agony and torment. It’s cool! Well, not while you’re crushing yourself it isn’t. This particular day’s workout involved 45 double-unders, 45 squat cleans with 135lbs, 45 ring dips, followed by a final round of 45 double-unders. All that work is to be done as fast as you can without spontaneously combusting into a living candle and melting into a whimpering pool of spittle and failure. Marines being the kind of guys we are we just have to beat everyone else in the room. (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Arrival at Mazar-E-Sharif - Yesterday was an early day as we yet again loaded our luggage onto another truck. The person who did our transport coordination said we should be there in plenty of time to check in by the required 0730 time for a 0930 flight. Well once we got there the nice folks at the counter informed us that we were scheduled for the 0500 flight!! No not another few days stuck at Camp Phoenix! Luckily there was an additional flight later in the morning on a German plane. The German airman was very strict about everyone staying in their seats, so I didn't get a good veiw of the famed Hindu Kush as we flew over. It was very hot when we arrived at the airport at Mazar-E-Sharif. Amazingly the unit that runs Camp Spann loaded our luggage onto the trucks for transport. I got my first ride in an MRAP and I must say it felt very secure. On arrival to Camp Spann we were quickly introduced to the team we will be replacing. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Heavy Weather - It has been a hectic first week back for me but having cleaned up the inbox I can now turn the gimlet eye onto the state of play in Afghanistan. And the state of play is not too good for the home team at the moment. Let’s review just the major events for yesterday to give all of you an idea on how bad things are getting. Yesterday the three things which popped up on our radar in the east were an ANP ambush which killed four police and dozens of civilians, the loss of Bargi Matal district in Nuristan – the Taliban flag went up over the District Administrative Center (DAC) at 1412 on the 9th of July, and a one round “Tinian shot” into the American combat outpost (COP) located around the Sirkanay DAC which blew up all their fuel stores and half of their vehicles. These incidents are part of a disturbing set of storm clouds on the horizon; we are heading into heavy weather when the storm breaks we are going to start losing people and losing them fast. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Stress in a War Zone - A few days ago I went to a meeting at the base chapel about stress. In particular "Does your family back home raise or lower your stress level?" Since this was a group discussion about stress, I could assume people who were stressed out would attend. I was not quite prepared for how much soldiers are stressed out by their families back home. For much of the hour, I listened to folks who dread the calls home because their parents/significant others are worried sick about them and can't be easily persuaded to talk about anything else. (My family does what they can to keep me informed about their lives and tell me some of the funny things that happen in their lives.) The conversation that got the most nods of recognition was telling Mom that the attack in Baghdad they saw on TV was 300 miles away and had nothing to do with our base. And once they get Mom calmed down, things will be fine until the next time Mom watches the news then they have to go through the same litany again. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Mullah Fazlullah, Swat leadership safe: Taliban spokesman - Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah and the rest of the group's most senior commanders have escaped the Pakistani government's operation, a Taliban spokesman said. Mullah Omar, a spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, denied reports from the government and the military that Mullah Fazlullah had been gravely wounded during airstrikes in his home town of Imam Dehri. "Fazlullah is safe and the government claim is totally baseless," Omar told Pakistani journalists. He also said the Taliban leadership had gone underground "as part of their overall strategy" once the Army launched operations in Buner, Dir, and Swat, Daily Times reported. An unconfirmed report in the BBC seemed to corroborate the government's claims that Fazlullah is near death. (READ MORE)

Iraq the Model: And What About Those Uighurs? - After days of deadly ethnic clashes in China more than 180 individuals from the minority Muslim Uighur community located in the northwest region of Xinjiang China have been killed and thousands more injured or arrested. Rebiya Kadeer, representative of Uighur Muslims, in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat pleaded with Muslims across the world to support the Uighur people. Rebiya Kadeer, whose plea was sincere, was misguided to believe that given the gravity of the situation the Muslim world would come to the rescue. Perhaps Rebiya Kadeer expected the plea for support would be answered with angry protests, mobs setting embassies on fire, a fatwa from the Mullahs, or even a declaration of Jihad against China from Bin Laden. The “war”, after all is between Islam and its enemies, or so would the radicals and dictators in the Muslim world like people to believe. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Random Thoughts - It's a scorcher today. We're getting into the full-blown heat of summer, with highs around 115 and lows in the upper 90's. Its the kind of heat that makes your metal eyeglass frames burn when they touch your cheek. Sunglasses are mandatory, or else you'll be blinded by the transition from indoors to out. Those of us who are office slugs almost never go out. I've shifted my jogging from tootling around the compound to pounding the treadmill in the air-conditioned gym. When its 100 degrees at 9 pm, I'm not going to jog outside! Walking over to the DFAC in the morning, I usually pass by a line of Iraqis waiting to go through security. I always say "sabah al khair" ("good morning") or "sala'amu aleikum" (peace be with you). You should see their faces light up! I guess they're used to Americans passing them by, or ignoring them, or something, but give them a greeting in Arabic and they're surprised and delighted. It's always good to start the day out with a smile. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Less than Expected - I was really looking forward to my Sunday off. Finally - a room with a powerful, working air conditioner that would allow me to lay in bed all day vegging out on sour patch kids, hot tamales and movies. The electricity first went off around 9:00. It kicked back on twenty minutes later.. false alarm, Thank God. Over the next hour it cut out twice, each time for about 20-30 minutes and by 1:00 it was worn out. I sat in the room for 30 minutes, getting hotter by the second as the sun baked down on my metal haven. Finally there was a knock at the door - Stone’s electricity was out, too - in fact half the LSA was out - and he was ready to escape to the chow hall for the joke of an a/c they provide. We spent about 45 minutes wasting time, hoping the a/c would be on in our rooms by the time we got back. Sure enough, it was. But the poor window unit just couldn’t catch up to the smoldering heat that had made it’s way into my pseudo-home. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: Security Agreement - We’ve had a Colonel from one of our higher headquarters here recently. As a result we’ve been getting a lot of interesting insight into Commander’s intent and our higher’s overall vision for the area. There have been a lot of nuances introduced to our mission with the implementation of the security agreement and each echelon of command has been issuing new guidance and intent. While I am regularly surprised at how far things have come over here there is still a great deal of impact we can have. Most of that impact is in the realm of stability operations-improving governance, civil services etc…A great deal of that work is done through city councils, police chiefs, and the leaders of various services. The problem is that our mobility is now restricted by the requirement to have ISF escorts-a great improvement and an indicator of their sovereignty but a significant hurdle all the same (note: military convoys in the U.S. almost always require a police escort as do U.S. military convoys in Europe/Japan/Korea etc…this is nothing unusual and a good sign of a return to normalcy). (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: DVIDS Joint Patrol In Abu Ghraib - These pictures are from a patrol conducted in Abu Ghraib by my platoon. The Iraqi Police were there to assist. Unlike my previous DVIDs posts, I remember this mission well. It was here that SPC Chad Edmundson died the very next day due to wounds from an IED explosion. The Army has been occasionally embedding Combat Camera in our missions. Photos were taken by Captain Mindy A. Yu. I linked each pic to its free downloadable high res copy. There’s a total of 12 pics. The DVIDS mission is to serve as a turnkey operation that facilitates requests for Public Affairs video, audio, still imagery and print products; coordinates interviews with soldiers and commanders in a combat zone and provides an archive for ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Basically, DVIDs is where the military official posts audio, video, images, news, etc relating to any current combat operation. Everything is DOD authorized to be released to the public. (READ MORE)

The Torch: US Marines in Helmand: "Operation Khanjar"/ Canadian general's view - Start of a post at The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: I'm a bit worried about linking to this article so early, because I have a feeling that tomorrow I'll read a blog post by a well-informed person (for example) blasting it for naivety or misguided intentions... Not necessarily yet, but an earlier post: US Marine realities in Helmand - Meanwhile, Paul at Celestial Junk posts about a Canadian's opinion: Physically, Morally - Broken In every conflict, climaxes that spell the beginning of the end for one side usually are signalled by increases, not decreases, in casualties on all sides. It happened in Iraq ... are we witnessing the same in Afghanistan? (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: This is what an IED looks like - I took this photo near Kandahar, about an hour’s drive outside the city. I blew the aperture way out so that you can see the bomb in greater detail. I’m told it was about 50 gallons of explosive liquid, hooked up to a cell phone (pictured bottom right.) If the phone rang, we would all have been vaporized. Luckily, US vehicles have cell-phone jammers. The IED was stuck in a culvert and found by some Afghan police before the convoy I was in drove over it. IED deaths and attacks have skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the “surge” began, mostly because insurgents know they can’t fight toe-to-toe with the heavy armor and air support fielded by the coalition. I was maybe twenty-feet from the culvert when I took this picture and the light-spots on the bomb are from mirrors that the soldiers used to reflect light onto the “subject.” (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Medical truck trains Iraqi healthcare staff in equipment operation, maintenance - BAGHDAD, Iraq — Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, renovated a mobile medical equipment training facility here in June for health care providers and technicians at Primary Healthcare centers and hospitals across Iraq. "Originally it was a simple blood laboratory and X-ray truck," said Mohamad Husam, deputy program manager, Operations, Maintenance and Sustainment division, GRD: (READ MORE)

Detainees released in Ramadi - AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Marines from Multi National Force - West facilitated the release of 39 detainees from U.S. custody and transferred five detainees who were wanted pursuant to a valid warrant to Iraqi Police custody July 12, in Ramadi. MNF-W followed a detailed release process to ensure the security of the people of Anbar and the safety of the detainees were not in jeopardy following the release. (READ MORE)

Leaders Attend Iraq Human Rights Conference - BAGHDAD – A 10-day conference on human rights began here July 12 to educate leaders in Iraq’s military and government of the importance of human rights. The conference is being attended by members of the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Justice and the Red Crescent Organization, and is being held at the NATO headquarters. (READ MORE)

Iraqi military, government officials tour Camp Bucca TIF - CAMP BUCCA, Iraq — A delegation of 20 local Iraqi military and government officials visited and toured the Camp Bucca Theater Internment Facility July 9th to observe the care and custody of detainees. During the afternoon tour, the delegation from the area surrounding the facility had the opportunity to see where the detainees eat, sleep, learn and recreate. (READ MORE)

MND-N Soldier sentenced - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – A Multi-National Division - North Soldier was sentenced July 11, in the shooting death of a fellow Soldier. Sgt. Miguel A. Vegaquinones was sentenced to three years confinement, reduction in rank to private/E-1 and a dishonorable discharge. Vegaquinones pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of Pfc. Sean McCune. (READ MORE)

U.S. Air Force builds new Diyala Operations Center - BAGHDAD – Diyala, Iraq – After years of cooperation between Iraqi and U.S. security forces at the Diyala Operations Center, local ISF leaders and senior leaders of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division agreed to move the DOC to a new location outside Baqubah’s city limits. In conjunction with the June 30 deadline for U.S. combat forces to move out of Iraq’s cities, the DOC, a combined Iraqi – Coalition base located within the Diyala Governance Center, needed to be moved outside the provincial capital. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Air Force, Army Deliver Supplies to Local Communities - NAJAF — With the recent help of many organizations back in the United States, the Iraqi Provincial Government received three pallets of humanitarian relief supplies June 21 for distribution to the local populace here. “Helping people who are less fortunate is always a good thing whether in your home town or across the world,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Fred Harmon, deputy team leader for provincial reconstruction and project coordinator at Najaf. (READ MORE)

Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar Soldiers Scan the Basra Skies - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA — Pfc. Dustin Clark was manning the night shift when he heard the warning system go off. Beep, beep, beep. For six months, Clark, a Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar systems operator, watched the skies above Contingency Operating Base Basra for indirect fire attacks. For months there had been nothing. Now the system was alerting him to the fact that someone, somewhere, was firing rockets toward COB Basra. "Now it's time to do my job." (READ MORE)

‘Camouflage Angel’ Spends Last Moments With U.S. Combat Casualties - JOINT BASE BALAD — The emergency-room trauma call and the medical staff's immediate action upon his arrival is only a memory to her now; sitting quietly at the bedside of her brother-in-arms, she carefully takes his hand, thanking him for his service and promising she will not leave his side. He is a critically injured combat casualty, and she is Army Sgt. Jennifer Watson of the Casualty Liaison Team here. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Forces in Afghanistan Detain Militants, Seize Weapons - WASHINGTON, July 10, 2009 – Afghan and coalition forces detained several suspected militants yesterday during operations to disrupt Haqqani terrorist network activity in Afghanistan, military officials reported. Afghan and coalition forces searched two compounds last night in Khowst province in an effort to disrupt the flow of weapons, suicide bombers and foreign fighters into the region. (READ MORE)

Obama: 'Long way to go' in Afghanistan - London - The United States and its NATO allies have a long road ahead in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama told Britain's Sky News in an interview on Saturday during his visit to Ghana. "We knew this summer was going to be tough fighting... we still have a long way to go," he said in the interview which is to air Sunday. "All of us are going to have to do an evaluation after the Afghan election to see what more we can do." (READ MORE)

British leader defends Afghanistan mission - LONDON - The deaths of eight British soldiers in Afghanistan within 24 hours triggered a debate in Britain on Saturday that could undercut public support for the war just as the U.S. is ramping up its own participation in the conflict. With pictures of hearses and anguished relatives splashed across Britain's influential media, the government is under pressure to explain the reason for the soldiers' sacrifice and to defend the quality of its support for combat troops. (READ MORE)

Rethinking Strategy in Afghanistan - (CBS) Four thousand U.S. Marines pounded into Afghanistan's hostile Helmand province this month to take back territory from the Taliban. But they only had 600 Afghan troops fighting alongside them, reports CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier. The Marine commander there said he cannot hold this territory unless he gets more Afghan forces to help win the people's trust. (READ MORE)

Fresh violence in Afghanistan kills 30 militants - Four security guards were killed in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan yesterday, Afghan authorities said, also claiming to have killed up to 30 rebels amid a surge in violence. The new violence followed a bloody day for the Nato-led British force, which lost eight soldiers in attacks blamed on Taliban insurgents in the country's southern province of Helmand. (READ MORE)

White House: No grounds to probe Afghan war crimes - WASHINGTON Obama administration officials said Friday they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who human rights groups allege were killed by U.S.-backed forces. The mass deaths were brought up anew Friday in a report by The New York Times on its Web site. It quoted government and human rights officials accusing the Bush administration of failing to investigate the executions of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of prisoners. (READ MORE)

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