July 14, 2009

From the Front: 07/14/2009

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

Old Blue: Afghanistan Redux - I arrived back in Afghanistan today after the most grueling trip I’ve ever had to get halfway around the world. Kuwait was hairdryer-hot, moving as an individual is murderous, and there are many moving parts. But after sitting in Kuwait for only about a day suddenly everything took off at a rapid pace. Kudos to CSTC-A for having a liaison at Bagram who received us and pushed us on to Kabul in just about twelve hours. Nice. I tried to publish from Kuwait, but couldn’t get it done. The internet there just absolutely blows. Bagram has changed a fair amount. One DFAC torn down to make room for tents, the dining facility moved across Disney. The stop signs at Four Corners are gone. Nice for traffic on Disney, not so nice for those on the cross street or pedestrians. It is still a world unto itself. Still a sniper check salute zone. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Good News: Retaking Bargimatal - Ah ha! A few days ago, the U.S. abandoned Bargimatal, a very isolated area right on the border between Nuristan and Chitral. It was immediately occupied by militants. I saw the news but didn’t really note it anywhere, as it was the latest in a very long line of entire regions we’ve ceded to militants, and as much as I am obsessed fascinated with the area, it’s really of no strategic significance. Because of the area’s geography, there’s no reason to choke it off at the border, and Nuristanis in general seem to want to be left alone by everybody, and not just us. That being said, it looks like Afghan and American forces have retaken the district center. At least two militants died in the fight. That certainly counts as good news for now. Please keep the good news items—any, I’m serious—coming. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Nan Bread anyone? - Today’s mission or tasking was driven by circumstance. Prior to departing for “ANA land” we received information that several hundred soldiers were sick and it might not be a good idea to visit today. We feared a possible epidemic and our level-headed team leader decided to get to the bottom of the “mystery illness” before making any hasty decisions and endangering our well being. Apparently the soldiers were suffering from a mild case of food poison and a few of them had acute botulism problems. As such, my mission was to examine the ANA DFAC and the bakery for possible sources of problems. Also our team is rather fortunate to have someone who is trained in the culinary field and this AF SSgt would accompany me. When we arrived at ANA land we noticed groups of soldiers holding their hands against their stomachs, while others had pale white faces and were being supported on their “wingman’s” shoulders and escorted to trucks for transportation to the medical clinic. (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: The first Mission - The team we are replacing was very quick ensure we hit the ground running. We went to a nearby ANP training facility to inprocess a new batch of Police recruits. There were other teams doing administrative screenings, but we did medical screenings: medical history, abbreviated physicals, immunizations, vision screening, and urine drug screenings. It was in a hot chow hall area of the compound. At one point we were a little suprised by a nearby explosion, which we found out later was a controlled detonation of an old mine. These screenings are a lot of what the last team did. It is essential to have a bountiful and well trained police force to counter the insurgency efforts here in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Keeping supplies to Afghanistan moving - The RAF's Joint Movements Unit plays an essential role in Afghanistan making sure that the RAF's giant Hercules and C-17 aircraft receive everything they need to keep Britain's Armed Forces armed, fed and watered properly. One member of the seven-man specialist logistics team currently deployed to Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan is Senior Aircraftman Jonathan Howes, aged 32, who is a volunteer airman with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAAF). Normally a cycle shop manager in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands, SAC Howes and his colleagues handle a staggering 350 tonnes of freight per week, and support a huge range of RAF and civilian aircraft. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Half of 2009 by the Numbers - Today I passed 3000 miles riding--more than I thought I would have ridden by now. So I figured I could do a short numbers update. In addition to riding 3000 miles in just over 6 months, I have lived (in the sense of having some type of domicile for a week or more) in three countries: United States, Kuwait, Iraq. Two states: Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. Four Army Forts/Bases: Fort Sill, Camp Buehring, Tallil Ali Air Base, Ali Al Salim Air Base. This blog has more readers than ever. When I started it, I wanted to give my friends a way to keep up with what I was doing without me sending emails they might not want. IF they wanted to read the blog they could. Last June I put Site Meter on the the blog. That month I got 370 visits and 503 page views. June of this year there were 4378 visits and 5681 page views. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Explosion in Pakistan's Punjab province kills 11 - An explosion at what appears to be an extremist training camp for children in Pakistan's Punjab province has killed 11 people and wounded more than 120. A massive explosion in the town of Mian Channu in the Khanewal district in northern Punjab province leveled at least 25 homes. More people are thought to have been trapped in the rubble. Seven children and one woman are among those reported killed, and another 12 people are said to be in critical condition. The blast occurred at the home of a local cleric named Hafiz Riaz, who is said to conduct informal religious training for children. "This was not a formal madrassah but children used to come to get a religious education," a Punjab provincial cabinet minister told AFP. But the large explosion, the huge blast crater, and weapons, including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a suicide vest, and a hand grenade found at the blast site indicate Riaz was running a terrorist training camp. Police detained three men after the explosion. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 13JUL09--Introduction; Attacks on Churches - Today, my team introduced the new team to the Iraqi Army. However, many officers were away, reacting to rather serious situations to include attacks on churches. When the U.S. Army patrolled Iraqi cities, insurgents justified their attacks as resistance to an occupation. Now that the U.S. has completely pulled out of the cities and has begun steps for a drastic downsizing, insurgents would be hard pressed to find excuses for violent acts. Under the possible auspice of opposing organized Christianity, an unknown group attacked approximately half a dozen christian churches yesterday, killing at least four civilians and injuring many more. The somber reality is that insurgents will test the organization and fortitude of Iraq forces in the short term. The timing of these attacks has quickly introduced the new team to this reality. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: We Are Not at War with Nouri al-Maliki - Robert Spencer, founder and lead writer for Jihad Watch, has a bit of trouble telling the difference between friend and foe in Iraq and still thinks, despite everything, that the United States is losing the war. Instead of referring to me by name, he sarcastically dismisses me as a “learned analyst,” as he does with President Barack Obama and his advisors, while scoffing at a long dispatch I published last week. “No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten,” I wrote. Spencer acknowledges that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn’t the leader of an insurgent or terrorist group. But he maintains that my statement is “breathtaking in its disconnect from reality” because Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities “a great victory.” We are not, and never have been, at war with Prime Minister Maliki. (READ MORE)

Photography, Software, and Sand: Down to 45 days - We are scheduled for our move to Balad sometime this month ... the day keeps fluctuating but it seems like it is going to be a reality. Our desks are gone, most of our vehicles have been taken to be shipped, and our IT team has wired the new facility up for internet. We're just awaiting final word from the military that our facility is ready for us to move into. It will definitely not be a good time leaving. Some people have been working on this contract here for five years, and the compound we are in now has been home to this support contract since the war began in 2003. For me, though, it will be uprooting my home here and moving it for the last month of my time. Its strange looking back to say that I've lived in Iraq for almost a year... in some ways I feel like I have been here for an eternity, and in others I feel like I just left home. One thing's for sure, though, and thats that I'm looking forward to going home and leaving this country as a distant memory. (READ MORE)

Registan.net: Of Bases and Transit Centers - Russia wants a new CSTO base in Kyrgyzstan near Osh, and it is hard not to interpret its desire as having something to do with the decision to keep the airbase transit center at Manas open to US and NATO forces. It is probably a mistake to interpret this desire as a response to Russia’s “failure” to keep the US out of Kyrgyzstan — Russia has, after all, agreed to allow the US to transit goods bound for Afghanistan and shares NATO’s desire to keep the Taliban from returning to power. It is far more likely that Russia is exploiting the perception that it was beat and/or had to make concessions to the West to quiet any potential objections from the US or EU to its attempt for a new base in Kyrgyzstan. And Russia got what it wants. The US say that any new Russian base is entirely Kyrgyzstan’s business. Uzbekistan, however, is far less interested in Russia setting up a base so close to its border. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Canadian special forces ops in Afstan (and CSIS) - The veil lifted a bit; I trust Sen. Kenny isn't the only source for this story: Elite forces target bomb makers - OTTAWA – Canada's elite special forces soldiers have been launching raids on enemy compounds to directly target insurgents making roadside bombs, the main killer of coalition troops in Afghanistan, the Toronto Star has learned. Using intelligence gathered by Canadian spies on the ground in the troubled country, soldiers with Joint Task Force 2 and the special forces regiment are actively involved in going after the networks that produce the improvised explosive devices. "It's a very high value target for them," said Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the Senate defence committee. While it's been known that members of the special forces group have been operating in Afghanistan, the government has maintained a strict silence about their specific operations. But their website boasts that they work abroad "to destroy, disorganize and disrupt the networks of violent organizations." (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: A Brief Respite - I have marveled several times at just how drastically the standards of living change from a mega-FOB like Liberty to a smaller FOB to one of our small little outposts. Lately I’ve been staying at a tiny little JSS and after a while it starts to wear on you. Plywood walls begin closing in on you. The fact that the AC in your room only cools the room to a barely tolerable 88 degrees and you awake daily to a sweat soaked pillow begins to take its toll. You start craving some fresh fruit and vegetables, even if it is only apples and iceberg lettuce. Long days spent manning a hot joint operations center filled with Iraqis chain smoking cheap cigarettes, constantly offering you chai, speaking a tongue you can’t understand and totally violating the American concept of personal space makes you long for a vacation. As luck would have it my platoon started running short on essential supplies like soap, deodorant, cigarettes and dip so we got sent to a nearby FOB for a couple days of refit. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Trouble in Helmand, Trouble for NATO - Marine Corps Brigadier General Larry Nicholson—who has been heading up Marine Corps operations in Helmand in southern Afghanistan over the past two weeks—told reporters last week at the Pentagon that “the first thing we didn’t want the people of Helmand River Valley to see is Marines arriving and immediately throwing up barriers and hiding…we’re going to be in there with the people.” Nicholson also said that one of his requirements for his commanders is that “within 24 hours of hitting the deck, you will have a shura with the local elders. And that has occurred. I've attended several of those myself.” It’s a version of the now-famous “clear, hold and build” strategy that U.S. forces used in Iraq, but with some notable differences. First and foremost is the lack of a host country presence: among the Marines are a paltry 650 Afghan security forces, a pathetic number considering that standing up the Afghan army has been a work in progress for the last seven years. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

International soccer returns to Baghdad - Iraq’s future might be fraught with peril. Bombs explode daily around the country and its myriad political problems remain unsolved. But on Tuesday night, Iraqis’ desire for ordinary lives was on display as international soccer returned to Baghdad. For the first time since 2002, a team from abroad dared venture to Baghdad to engage in the national pastime. (READ MORE)

Iraq Tightens Security Around Churches, Christian Towns After Wave of Attacks - Iraqi authorities on Monday tightened security around churches across Baghdad and in two Christian towns in the northern province of Nineveh, amid fears that a series of attacks against them could escalate. The security measures were imposed a day after bombings in and around churches in Baghdad killed four people and wounded many others. One of the bombs went off as worshipers were leaving Mass in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood. (READ MORE)

Wanted Iraqi terrorist apprehended - BAGHDAD – An improvised explosive device cell leader was apprehended during a civil affairs mission west of Baghdad July 12. The suspected criminal, who admitted he is a member of an insurgency group, had a warrant issued for his arrest by the Government of Iraq. Iraqi Army Soldiers have been actively searching for the terrorist for nearly a week. Civil affairs officers from C Troop, 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron went to the man’s house on Sunday to pay for damages to his front door caused during a previous attempt to capture the known criminal. (READ MORE)

U.S. Army Mechanics Train Iraqis on Humvee Maintenance - BAGHDAD – U.S. military advisors provided training in vehicle operation and maintenance with 22 new humvees purchased through the Iraqi Security Forces Fund program. U.S. Army mechanics Sgt. Brian Coots and Spc. Jarrod Reinhardt, expertly explained the operations of the humvee to drivers and mechanics of the Warrant Service Team, which is part of Internal Affairs in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. (READ MORE)

Soldiers charged with misconduct - BAGHDAD – Soldiers serving with 266th Military Police Company, 8th Military Police Brigade in Basra, Iraq have been charged with misconduct during the unit’s pre-deployment training at Fort Dix in the fall of 2008. Charges were preferred against Sgt. Gilbert Parker and Spc. Matthew Delia, July 3 and July 7, respectively. Both Soldiers are National Guardsmen activated with the 266th Military Police Company out of Manassas, Va. (READ MORE)

First U.S. Air Force officer takes command of Gulf Region Division South district - TALLIL, Iraq - The Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq made history July 9 when Col. Jeffry D. Knippel became the first U.S. Air Force officer to command a USACE District. Col. Jack Drolet relinquished command of the Gulf Region South district during a one-hour ceremony in the Post Chapel, Contingency Operating Base Adder, Tallil, Iraq. Gulf Region Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Michael R. Eyre presided. (READ MORE)

Iraqis, Coalition Soldiers Partner to Build Business Initiatives - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER — Coalition Soldiers partnered with local Iraqi business leaders to teach business skills at an extravaganza bazaar here July 4. The civil military operations office of the 287th Sustainment Brigade invited 14 local Iraqi businesses to take part in a shopping extravaganza that will serve both Soldiers wanting to purchase items from Iraqis and as a way for Iraqis to learn how to build strong business strategies. The goal is for the Iraqis to sustain their business after the drawdown of Coalition forces. (READ MORE)

Engineers Make Streets of Baghdad Safer - BAGHDAD — Route sanitation remains a vital piece in the war on terrorism. When piles of trash and debris are removed from the side of the roadway it eliminates places for terrorists to hide bombs and improvised explosive devices that would disrupt the lives of the neighborhood people. The Soldiers of the 277th Engineer Company work diligently with their combat arms brethren to ensure the main and alternate supply routes of Baghdad are clear of debris. (READ MORE)

Soldier Helps Iraqi Division Develop Public Affairs Officer Skills - MAHMUDIYAH — Soldiers of 17th Iraqi Army Division trained with a sergeant of 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team recently to establish a public affairs unit at the joint communications center in Mahmudiyah, which is located south of Baghdad. Sgt. Waine Haley, the non-commissioned officer in charge of public affairs, taught a week-long class at the 17th Division compound, focusing on writing skills, basic camera techniques and helping assess the unit's broadcasting equipment and skills. (READ MORE)

Mindful of Civilians, Pilots in Afghanistan Alter Tactics - After taking repeated fire from Taliban fighters holed up in a building last week, a group of American Marines in southern Afghanistan called in airstrikes to wipe out the threat. But the Navy F/A-18 fighter pilots who responded worried that bombing the militants could hurt civilians, and suggested a different solution to the ground troops. The airmen then roared in low and fast, without firing a shot, in a deafening pass that frightened the militants into silence. (READ MORE)

Verdict on the Afghanistan Campaign: Exactly What are We Fighting For? - Public confusion over the principal objectives of the military campaign in Afghanistan has forced ministers to try to explain why so many British soldiers are dying and for what cause. Initially, the reason for the mission in Helmand province was to ensure that al-Qaeda was prevented from ever again using Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorism which would be damaging to Britain’s national security. (READ MORE)

British Army Asked for 2,000 Extra Troops, Government Sent 700 - Gordon Brown rejected a recommendation by military chiefs to send 2,000 more troops to Afghanistan despite being warned that not doing so could jeopardise the mission against the Taleban, The Times has learnt. The Government instead chose to send only 700 extra troops, taking the total from 8,300 to 9,000 - and only on a temporary basis in the run-up to the presidential elections in August. (READ MORE)

Gordon Brown Says Troops in Afghanistan Have Right Equipment - Gordon Brown has insisted that British troops are equipped well enough to succeed in the increasingly bloody war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister admitted that the death toll in recent days had made it "a sad and difficult time" as he warned that people should be braced for more losses. But David Cameron told Mr Brown that he should not have cut the budget for vital helicopters, describing their lack of availability as a "scandal". (READ MORE)

Explosion Kills Afghan Police Chief and 3 Officers - The police chief of a district south of Kabul that the Americans had sought to make a Taliban-free model of safety and security was killed Monday along with three of his officers in a roadside blast. The deaths cast a blow to the American effort and suggested that Taliban operatives had re-infiltrated the district, Jalrez, in Wardak Province. (READ MORE)

Taleban Plant their Homemade Bombs in Afghanistan with Lethal Effectiveness - Fertiliser, batteries, blocks of wood, saw blades, copper wire, a car inner tube, perhaps some foam packaging and ball bearings - it takes little more than the contents of the average garden shed to gather the basic ingredients of a Taleban bomb. Most of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that the Taleban’s bombmakers produce use home-made explosives and are simple in their design and construction, British bomb disposal experts say. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Refugees Return to Swat - Zahid Hussain and Matthew Rosenberg, Wall Street Journal. Thousands of people began returning to Pakistan's Swat Valley after nearly three months of fighting that drove the Taliban from the region and created the country's worst refugee crisis in six decades. Pakistan earned praise at home and abroad for its offensive in Swat, which began in April after the collapse of a peace deal that handed the valley just 100 miles north of Islamabad, the capital, to militants. (READ MORE)

Joint Force Detains Suspected Militant in Afghanistan - WASHINGTON, July 13, 2009 – A joint Afghan and coalition force detained a suspected militant after searching a compound last night in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province as part of an ongoing effort to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters into the region. The force targeted a compound near the village of Jahangir Kalay, southwest of Ghazni, after receiving intelligence indicating militant activity. (READ MORE)

Cooperation Key to Success Along Afghan Border - KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, July 13, 2009 – Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, Pakistan and Afghanistan not only have shared a border, but also a common threat. Using early breakdowns in communication along that border to their advantage, insurgents often would attack in one country, only to flee into the other with little or no resistance. (READ MORE)

NATO: 6 killed in Afghanistan helicopter crash - A helicopter contracted by the NATO-led force in Afghanistan crashed in southern Helmand province Tuesday, killing six civilians, an official said. Two U.S. Marines died in the same region. The white helicopter crashed and caught fire around daybreak in Sangin district, said Fazel Haq, the top district official. (READ MORE)

British to send 140 more troops to Afghanistan - LONDON (AP) - Britain is sending an additional 140 troops to Afghanistan to bolster the war effort there. The Ministry of Defense says the soldiers will be transferred from a British base in Cyprus to the war zone. The troops will join more than 9,000 British soldiers already in Afghanistan as an offensive against Taliban positions in Helmand Province continues. (READ MORE)

Bodies Of Eight British Troops Returning From Afghanistan - LONDON (Reuters) -- The bodies of eight soldiers killed during the bloodiest 24-hours for British forces since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 are due to be flown back on July 14. The men were killed in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan where British and U.S. forces are involved in a major operation to try to recapture territory from Taliban militants. (READ MORE)

Linked by: H&I FIRES* 14 July 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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