July 16, 2009

From the Front: 07/16/2009

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

Sour Swinger: Photos From Missions Part 1 - This is the first set of pictures from my platoon conducting missions. Most of these show the greener areas of the farm land found in my units AO (Area of Operation). I picked 5 to show below. Click here to see the entire set. There’s about 50 pics total. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Sangow Bar Village - 16 July 2009 Ghor Province, Afghanistan - On a per capita basis, Afghanistan is becoming more dangerous for British and American troops than Iraq ever was. For those who fought in places like Anbar, Basra, Baghdad, Diyala and Nineveh, that’s saying a whole lot. On a per capita basis, there are strong indications that Afghanistan will prove more deadly than Iraq during 2006-2007. One can only imagine how many days and nights Secretary Robert Gates and his advisors must have agonized over troop levels here. On the one hand, we have a fraction of the troops we need, but on the other, increasing troop levels increases hostility toward us. Secretary Gates has made it clear to me that his biggest concern is that we will lose the goodwill of the people and they will turn against us. This happens to be my own biggest concern. The agony is in knowing we need more medicine and the medicine can be highly toxic here. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Afghan Prez Outlaws Rape (Finally) - Last week I wrote this short essay on the treatment of women in Afghanistan, based on my experiences here and a freshly released UN report. Rather than restate the case I’ll give you the important part: “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.” A few days after the release of the report, President Hamid Karzai signed a law making rape, forced prostitution, trafficking women for sale into marriage and forcible marriage, explicitly illegal. An Afghan legal scholar tells me that before this law, these things were “against Islam” and therefore perpetrators might be punished. But there was no legal recourse for rape victims until now. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Twinkling City - I noticed tonight that Kabul twinkles at night. I don’t know what it is, but the lights of Kabul twinkle much like stars embedded in a fabric that climbs up the mountains like a Christmas tree blanket over a tree stand. They are not all the same dull yellowish color or blue-tinted white of American city lights. There seem to be many colors, from bright white to bright red, muted greens and yellowish glares. It almost seems festive, and I ponder the many lives being lived next to the twinkling points; the children growing up in this dusty city heaving itself slowly out of the quagmire of war’s rubble, barely daring to hope for a future with a bit of liberty. It’s too much to consider. I notice an almost ominous glow behind one of the mountains. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Afghan Component - Via the NYT: “General McChrystal said the operation’s next stage would be to expand to other important towns in the southern Helmand River valley, to clear out militants there, and hold the reclaimed ground until Afghan civilian authorities and officials could take charge. But moving into these new areas will require more Afghan police officers and soldiers than are currently expected to be available, General McChrystal said. As part of a 60-day mission review, the general said he would recommend expanding the Afghan Army, now scheduled to increase to 134,000 troops. He said he would also seek to speed the process to do that before the scheduled completion date of 2011.” This is a ridiculously obvious thing to point out, but expanding the ANA and speeding up the process of training the recruits isn't something you can just decree. Training soldiers from scratch takes a long, long, long time. McChrystal is clearly right in the sentiment, because there will never be enough international soldiers to properly secure Afghanistan--but damn, we're a long way off from being able to reap the benefits of this. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: 'It was like Saving Private Ryan': British soldier recalls Helmand rocket grenade - A British soldier injured in fierce fighting in the biggest offensive against the Taliban since the start of the conflict in 2001 has given a first-hand account of his ordeal. Trooper Anthony Matthews, 20, of the Light Dragoons, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during Operation Panther's Claw in Helmand province last week. He described how he managed to apply a tourniquet to his leg wound and to that of an injured comrade as he returned gunfire. On that day, 7 July, Matthews's close friend Christopher Whiteside, 22, was killed by an improvised bomb in a separate operation in Gereshk. Matthews, nicknamed "Bulletproof Tony", has returned home to Dunston, Gateshead, with a cricket ball-sized wound after a month of fighting that has claimed the lives of 17 British soldiers. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Calling Home During Viet Nam - My Uncle Jack who served in Viet Nam and other parts of South East Asia for several years between 1965 and 1974, had this response to my post on stress: “I was intrigued by your blog about stress. This is completely opposite my experience during remote interludes in the years 1965 to 1974. As late as 1974 calling home from Thailand was impossible. When if you got to the Philippines you had an opportunity. Even then it was a hassle: Go to a special location, file a request with a clerk to call a certain stateside number, then wait. When the call went through you'd be summoned and directed to a booth to which the call would be connected. Then for, as I recall, a dollar a minute you could talk for a limited time, say ten minutes. Pretty much things were even worse in Greenland and other garden spots SAC (Strategi Air Command) populated. There was no internet/email. In those circumstances it was impossible to be involved in the daily life of your family at home. They had to solve their own problems--or, more likely, create them.” (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: FabFi Workshop in Jalalabad - Some local users, including some super long term expats, participated in a FabFi build and configure workshop. We cut out and painted up a few reflector sets before hand to make the build go a little faster. In all, 4 more FabFi nodes were made and added to the network. The public hospital was kind enough to allow us the use of an office and conference room for the assembly and router configuration. Half of the pairs have to be installed on the water tower at the hospital, anyway, so it’s a logical and convenient location to have everyone meet. It’s also really easy to get to for everyone since most everyone lives much closer to the city than to the FabLab. Turns out it is possible to put Kenny’s “it only goes together one way” reflector together incorrectly. It doesn’t quite go together right but all the pieces get used… (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Edgar Allan Poe Works Magic in Baghdad - Did that title catch your attention?? "...let me tell you how healthily, how calmly I can tell you this story..." Since I've started to take over the English portion of the GT Improvement class, I noticed that students have to read passages and then answer questions about main idea, author's point of view, or what a word means in a sentence. They also have the word knowledge portion where they get a word in a sentence and have to pick out the one-word definition from the four answer choices below. One of the small passages on their last homework assignments was the first two paragraphs of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart. Now, if you ever talk to one of my former students, you'd know that I love teaching Poe. I time it to where I can teach all the Poe stuff (Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, and The Masque of the Red Death) during Halloween. I decorate my room and everything. The kids love it and I'm pretty sure a lot of them remember it well. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 15JUL09--Hail and Farewell - Today, my team made its final introductions of the new team to the Iraqi Army and said its farewells. A "hail and farewell" is a customary meeting in the military. Incoming and outgoing personnel are both recognized. The teams not only finalized handing off roles, but we also had a hail and farewell dinner this evening at the U.S. base. In speaking with one of my Iraqi Army counterparts, I said, "This will probably be the last time that we speak." The look of genuine sorrow in his eyes was somewhat of a surprise. Not surprising simply because I am ready to go home to my family and will not miss him. Surprising because active duty service members acknowledge that we will move and change jobs with different fellow Soldiers regularly. Even my team. It is not that we do not care about each other; however, the fact is that we will shortly part ways. Aside from incidental run-ins, this will likely be farewell for the rest of our careers. On top of that, I should hope that there is no reason why I would see these Iraqi Army officers again. (READ MORE)

Ann Scott Tyson: Marines Waiting on Basic Supplies - U.S. Marines pushing deeper into Taliban territory in Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley are short of basic equipment and supplies ranging from radios and vehicles to uniforms. Here in Garmsir District, critical supplies of food, water and ammunition are being dropped to troops by helicopters ferrying sling-loads to bypass roads implanted with bombs, leaving little room to carry other gear. Several Marines from one company, for example, ripped their pants during an arduous foot march and are still waiting for replacements — some in boxer shorts, officers said. “We’re short vehicles, we’re short frog-suits [uniforms] ... radios are trickling in,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Larosa of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Larosa said that the lack of basic gear is unprecedented in his experience, which includes seven other deployments. “This is a first,” he said. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: More Randomness - I got a haircut the other day. Iraqi barbers are just like American ones: they yabber away among themselves the whole time they're snipping away at your hair. And they make sure that some of your curly locks land on top of your nose and tickle the hell out of it until you can sneak a hand out from under the sheet. Our barbers have two real barber's chairs and one that looks remarkably like the chairs that are in all of our offices, complete with those little wheels. Iraqi barbers have one little trick that I've never run across anywhere else: the string. Yes, it's a string. They wind it up around their fingers and use it to pluck extraneous hairs out of your eyebrows and ears and anywhere else those extraneous hairs pop up. Don't ask me how they do it. I always have my eyes scrunched shut and have never actually watched. Suffice to say, it feels weird but it's effective. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Good News: Kabul Is Booming - ISAF put together a helpful video about the progress Kabul has made since 2001. While under the Taliban there were maybe a dozen phone lines in or out of the city, now there is a vast cellular phone network. There are enormous construction projects all over the place, including a standard-issue gaudy mall, and even plans for ridiculous impossible new neighborhoods. Of course, this being an ISAF propaganda video, we must tempter it with a bit of reality. Only Kabul is booming—most other parts of the country, despite some construction projects, are not nearly as connected, powered, or safe (yes, safe). While it’s true half of Kabul has electricity 24 hours a day thanks to a brand new transmission line droped from Uzbekistan, the other 93% of the country still must scratch and scramble for a few hours of juice per day. Even so, the widespread use of micro-hydro plants is a great idea, and one many Afghans asked me to provide for them when I was there (obviously I couldn’t, but the PRTs were swamped with requests). (READ MORE)

Stryker Brigade News: Stryker Route Clearance Teams Clear Roads for Soldiers, Local Civilians - TAJI, Iraq – Soldiers of the 856th Engineer Company, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team slowly cruise the roads of the Taji area, north of Baghdad, trying to find anything that might hide a roadside bomb. When the engineers find something suspicious, they poke it. It may seem like a strange job but it's a necessary one. Soldiers on the route clearance missions have a goal of finding emplaced improvised explosive devices before they can be used against other Soldiers or civilian motorists. Their toolbox includes Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles equipped with hydraulic arms that can "poke" at suspect items and dig through dirt or piles of trash. The teams also use metal detectors and the engineer-variant Stryker vehicle. Teams don't move very quickly. But speed is not the goal; vigilance is. "It's very interesting because you never know what's going to happen out there," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Bentley of York, Pa., a squad leader with 856th's 2nd Platoon. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Women’s Initiatives May Strengthen Iraqi Economy, by Stephanie Cassinos - I’m glad to see that Iraqi women are moving forward in this country. I wish I could say the same about women inside COB Basra. A picture essay about a visiting band was pulled from the Red Bull Report newspaper. I can only guess it was because the all-girl band known as BandShe likes to dress in short skirts and sports bras. But what’s wrong with that? You’ll let your soldiers see the band and enjoy their entertainment, but refuse to publicize they were even here? The same thing happened when the Raiderettes visited. An article was published and from what I was told - Army wives wanted to know why Radierettes could come to Iraq and see their husbands, but wives and girlfriends weren’t allowed. Seriously, people? After that, I couldn’t even publish their visit in the newscast ticker. In a slightly different example - when the band CatchPenny came, soldiers were stage diving and having a great time. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

US Shifts to Advisory Role in Iraq Deployments - The Pentagon has designated four new "advisory and assistance brigades" among 11 units representing 30,000 troops that will begin deploying to Iraq in the fall, the next step in the phased US military withdrawal from a nation trying to transition from war to stability. The announcement of new Iraq deployments, made Tuesday, comes just two weeks after the US pulled most of its combat troops out of the country’s urban areas under the terms of a security agreement with the Iraqi government and represents the continuing transition for American forces from combat to advisory and training roles. (READ MORE)

Bombing Near Baghdad Funeral Site Kills 5 - Iraqi police say five people have been killed in a bomb blast near a funeral tent in the capital. Authorities say another 28 people were wounded in Wednesday's blast in Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite slum of Sadr City. Elsewhere in the country Wednesday, Iraqi officials say a car bomb blast killed six people, including two traffic police officers, in western Anbar province. (READ MORE)

Bombings in Iraq Kill 11 People - At least 11 people were killed and 61 wounded in bombings in Baghdad and the western city of Ramadi on Wednesday, according to witnesses and Iraqi security and hospital officials. The attack in Baghdad occurred shortly after sundown in Sadr City, a congested and predominantly Shiite district. An improvised explosive device exploded at the entrance of a funeral tent that had been set up on the street, witnesses at the scene said. Five people were killed and 26 wounded, according to the main hospital in Sadr City. (READ MORE)

Emergency Response Brigade arrests 2 suspected terrorists in Hor Rajab - BAGHDAD – The Emergency Response Brigade in Baghdad, along with Coalition force advisors, arrested two suspected terrorists during an early-morning operation in Hor Rajab, Iraq, July 13. The elite police force was operating under the authority of a warrant issued by the Criminal Investigative Court of Karkh. The arrested individuals were wanted for kidnapping, murder and targeting Iraqi Security Forces, and are allegedly affiliated with an insurgent cell operating in the local area. (READ MORE)

Arrest leads to discovery of weapons cache near Balad - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Police and U.S. Forces found and removed a weapons cache from a compound linked to a detained individual near Balad, Iraq, July 13. Reports from a previous arrest and information gathered from an initial cache on the compound led members of the Balad Iraqi police and Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division to a second suspected cache. (READ MORE)

New U.S. Advisory, Assistance Brigades to Deploy to Iraq During Next Troop Rotation - WASHINGTON — Four new Advisory and Assistance Brigades (AAB) will deploy to Iraq beginning this fall in the next regularly scheduled troop rotations, a senior defense official announced yesterday. The brigades are specially configured Army units focused on training and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The new AABs are among seven brigade-size elements whose upcoming deployments were announced yesterday. (READ MORE)

Building Bridges With Iraqi Army Engineers - TAJI — Iraqi Army (IA) Field Engineer Soldiers partnered with U.S. Soldiers to train on Mabey and Johnson Bridge emplacements at the Iraqi Army Engineer School here, July 3-13. Like most training the IA receives, a “train the trainer” approach was taken. Students from previous classes can now help new students learn these skills. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Military Academy Instills Leadership, Ethics, Values in New Officer Corps - AR RUSTAMIYAH — The Iraqi Military Academy here graduated 281 Iraqi Army and 86 Iraqi Air Force cadets from its Basic Officers Commissioning Course, July 14. The 12-month commissioning course paid special attention to leadership and ethics training while instilling the values and standards required of the future leaders of the Iraqi military. Additionally, the course syllabus covered tactics, weapons training, physical fitness, first aid, current affairs and geography. (READ MORE)

Elite Iraqi Commandos Complete Training, Stand Ready to Serve - BAGHDAD — Symbolic of the blood – both of fallen fighters and slain foes – that has been shed in the fight for freedom and democracy, the words "fighting the insurgency for a secure and stable Iraq" were written in a dripping red font on a poster affixed to one of the auditorium's pale white walls. Inside, a group of Iraqi Special Operations Soldiers were officially decorated with the highly-respected Commando patch during a ceremony held on an Iraqi military compound here, July 1. (READ MORE)

Forces Detain Insurgents, Seize Weapons in Iraq - WASHINGTON, July 15, 2009 – Iraqi forces, aided by U.S. soldiers, detained five suspects and discovered several weapons caches during multiple operations throughout Iraq on July 13. Iraqi forces, assisted by soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, detained three suspected insurgents and discovered a weapons cache in Rashaad in Kirkuk province. The cache consisted of a 125 mm homemade bomb, a 120 mm round and AK-47 assault rifles. (READ MORE)

Program Bonds Iraqi Women, Strengthens Economy - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, July 15, 2009 – The view from a Humvee window in rural Iraq is a confusing sight. Small, broken structures disrupt long stretches of sand. Closer to town, abandoned vehicles corrode on the side of the road, trash collects in puddles and ditches, and people herd animals mere yards away from shops on the street. It’s almost as if a hurricane swept through a few centuries of development and everything landed at random. There is no rhyme or reason to the landscape, and everything seems out of place. (READ MORE)

Warning From General on End to Afghan Combat - The new American commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that United States Marines had faced less resistance than expected in their operation to clear Taliban safe havens in the south, but that British troops just to the north were running into fiercer fighting than anticipated. The commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, also said that he was surprised by the resilience of pockets of Pashtun militants in western and northern Afghanistan, areas that he expected to be relatively calm but that now needed more troops and stronger local governance. (READ MORE)

Taliban Uses Afghan Fear to Fight Surge - The Taliban is seeking to blunt the surge of an additional 20,000 US troops through stepped-up attacks on Afghans working with the US-backed government, US and Afghan officials say. For much of the past year, the militant group has worked to weaken the link between the government and citizens through targeted assassinations of people who work for or with Afghan institutions. This wave of intimidation is an enormous obstacle to Afghan officials and local tribal council members trying to reach out to Afghan citizens, often in areas where the government has lacked a firm grip. (READ MORE)

Clinton to Taliban: Forsake al Qaeda - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday offered reconciliation and a chance to reintegrate into Afghan society to any Taliban members who quit fighting and renounce al Qaeda ahead of presidential elections next month. Although the Bush administration tried to reach out to some Taliban elements at the end of its term, Mrs. Clinton's call was more forceful. It was timed to encourage maximum participation in the Aug. 20 vote, which the United States hopes will produce a government more willing and able to fight corruption and improve Afghans' lives. (READ MORE)

Scarcity of Copters Fuels British Debate Over War - When Britain’s top army commander visited British frontline troops in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on Wednesday, his means of transport - a United States Army Black Hawk helicopter - made almost as much news back home as the fact that he was in Afghanistan at all. The commander, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, acknowledged that he had been forced to fly in an American helicopter because British forces, with only 30 helicopters for their 9,100 troops, could not spare one. (READ MORE)

British Army Chief Forced to Use US Helicopter in Afghanistan - The head of the Army was accused of playing politics after he flew around Afghanistan in an American helicopter and demanded more equipment for British troops. General Sir Richard Dannatt made clear that he would have flown in a British helicopter if one had been available and called for greater urgency over the supply of new equipment. Hours later David Cameron confronted Gordon Brown in the Commons about the provision of helicopters. (READ MORE)

The Baptist and the Mullah Launch a Faith-Based Attack on the Taliban - In a country soaked with religion, it has fallen to an Oklahoma Baptist to turn Islam into a weapon against the Taliban. The US military, eager to hand the war over to the Afghan government, has placed mentors throughout the Afghan National Army. The Americans help commanders command, fliers fly and spies spy. US Army Capt. James Hill, a baby-faced 27-year-old from Lawton, Okla., drew the job of mentoring Lt. Col. Abdul Haq, a 51-year-old army mullah who has never shaved. (READ MORE)

At Jail in Bagram, A Detainee Protest - The prisoners at the largest US detention facility in Afghanistan have refused to leave their cells for at least the past two weeks to protest their indefinite imprisonment, according to lawyers and the families of detainees. The prison-wide protest, which has been going on since at least July 1, offers a rare glimpse inside a facility that is even more closed off to the public than the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Information about the protest came to light when the International Committee of the Red Cross informed the families of several detainees that scheduled video teleconferences and family visits were being canceled. (READ MORE)

UN Official Shot Dead at Pakistan Refugee Camp - A senior police official says a UN employee and a bodyguard have been killed in a shooting at a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan. Local police chief Ghayoor Afridi said gunmen shot the UN employee and his bodyguard Thursday at the Kacha Garhi camp near Peshawar. Afridi said the assailants tried to kidnap the UN official and opened fire when he resisted. Afridi said two Pakistanis working for the UN were also wounded in the attack. (READ MORE)

Routing Taliban 'may take time' - The top military commander in the US, Adm Michael Mullen, says he does not know how long it will take for security to improve in Afghanistan. He warned that the Taliban were "much more violent, much more organised, and so there's going to be fighting that is associated with this". But he said that if the US gets its strategy right, the Afghan people themselves will turn the Taliban out. (READ MORE)

2 from Md. die in Afghan war - He was a cross-country star in high school, an incurable optimist and a young man who wanted to be a Marine so badly that he signed up when he was 16, two years before they could take him in. Now Michael W. Heede of Edgewood, a combat engineer on his third tour of duty overseas, has become one of the latest casualties in the increasingly deadly U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. "I'm now a member of a club I never thought I'd join - mothers of young people killed in the war," his mother, Gloria Crothers, said Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Taliban holding missing US soldier - A Taliban commander in south-eastern Afghanistan said that a missing US soldier was being held unharmed by insurgents, but warned he would be killed if efforts were made to find him. The soldier has been missing in Paktika province since late June, just before thousands of US Marines began a major new offensive. The US military has said he was presumed captured. (READ MORE)

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