July 17, 2009

From the Front: 07/17/2009

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

111 Infantry Recon: 5K for Breast Cancer Awareness - Members of the recon platoon recently completed a 5K walk for breast cancer awareness. In recon platoon style, we decided to challenge ourselves and do the walk with ruck sacks. It was a late start - 0700 in the morning. Late start because we had been up the entire night prior on a mission attempting to track down an elusive target (we caught him 3 days later). (READ MORE) (View Photos)

P.J. Tobia: Richard Oppel Perfectly Describes The Government Problem In Afghanistan - Oppel had been in Afghanistan lately. This from today’s Q&A an the NYT: “It was once described to me this way: Say you are a farmer in a rural area and your motorbike is stolen. You can file a complaint with the local prosecutor, who might only have an office in the provincial capital, as it is too dangerous anywhere else. But even if the thief is caught, the authorities may be bribed into releasing him, and if the Talibs discover that you sought help from the government, you and your family are now at risk. On the other hand, if you go to the Talibs for help recovering your bike, you are more likely to get it back.” This is exactly the problem the UN and coalition are having trying to build institutional infrastructure here. (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: Iraqi soccer match defeats terrorists - Every day, explosions happen in and around Baghdad; as well as in other cities around Iraq. Every day, someone is killed. However, for a fleeting moment in time, all danger seemed to cease in the microcosm of the soccer stadium. Inside the stadium, everyone was focused on one of Iraqis favorite activities; enjoying time with friends and family. So, with the smell of victory still in the air, fans poured into the streets cheering and celebrating. On the surface, the celebration painted the sporting victory, but the undertones were of this small defeat against terrorism. Beating terrorism isn’t always tangible. Finding Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), catching terrorists, and finding caches of weapons; are all something that can be counted, touched, and photographed. But it is the act of not emplacing an IED, which cannot be photographed. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Two Notes of Note - First note: I’m wondering how the world could bleed for Michael Jackson for days on end and miss the passing of Shifty Powers, who was introduced to the world as one of the Band of Brothers. One of these two men demonstrated incredible courage and laid his life on the line for his friends and his country. The other was a rich entertainer with a penchant for plastic surgery. Guess which one passed with almost no fanfare? If you Twitter, please participate in #shiftypowers on Monday. All you have to do is tweet “#shiftypowers” and we will recognize the passing of this American hero. He truly had some incredible experiences and demonstrated, with his brothers, incredible courage. I stand in awe of what those men did. Second note: Afghanistan’s Joint Forces Headquarters is holding a video contest on why Afghanistan matters. If you’ve been to Afghanistan and think it matters, put a vid together and participate. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Pre-election security meeting - As United States citizens, voting in elections is one of our constitutional rights. We have a variety of options available to us in how we cast our ballot too. In Afghanistan, voting is now considered a sacred right. Next month on 20 August, over 16 million Afghans are expected to visit the village polling sites throughout the country as they cast their votes for the next President and provincial leadership positions. Unlike in America, the polling stations and ballot boxes here have to be protected with automatic weapons. Today’s mission was to attend a pre-election security meeting. The fear is that the insurgents will attack the polling stations in attempt to disrupt the election process. In support of President Karzai and fair elections, international allies have pledged security and support to protect the polling sites. Without divulging details (OPSEC) our job was to help define these security responsibilities. Our province has 151 polling sites. (READ MORE)

Ann Scott Tyson: Injured Afghans Cautiously Trust Marine Doctors - The young Afghan boy cried silently, his hand bound loosely in bandages. Underneath the wrappings, four of his fingers were severed at the knuckles by a mine he picked up in a field on Wednesday as he gathered grass for his cow. “Are you doing ok?” asked Navy hospital corpsman 2nd class Russell Vinson through an interpreter. Vinson applied a dressing to shrapnel wounds that speckled the boy’s legs. Ibrahim, 15, nodded, wiping away his tears. Afghan civilians with trauma injuries are turning up at least once a week at the U.S. Marine base in Garmsir District seeking care for wounds suffered in criminal attacks, local disputes and past and present wars. The visits reflect both the violence of this volatile town perched on the Helmand River and a cautious trust Afghan civilians place in Marines encamped nearby. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: A Canadian Casualty; A Canadian Poll - A Canadian soldier fell to his death today in Panjwaii. – “Pte. S├ębastien Courcy from 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, based in Quebec City, was killed in an incident that occurred approximately 17 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city at around 6 a.m., the military said in a statement.” Earlier today, CBC released a poll showing that 54% of Canadians "oppose" a continued military involvement in Afghanistan. I have to say that number is smaller than I might have expected given the way things have gone in the past year or two. (I've also long been convinced that any poll on an important issue needs to take into account a 10% idiot factor--i.e., if you asked whether President Obama was an alien from Venus, around 10% would answer in the affirmative.) Let's say the question was asked whether Canadian soldiers and police should be training Afghan soldiers and police, helping them become a professional and effective security force--what would the results show? I'm guessing very high, in the 70% range. (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: We get letters.... - When I was discerning whether to seek a commission as an Army Chaplain at such and advanced age, among the myriad concerns which beset me was the fear that my background and experience would be so foreign to that of the people I would attempting to serve that they'd not find my presence and ministry helpful. I recently received a note from a Field Grade Office who's still Down Range, in which he addressed those fears precisely: “One will always wonder what was your calling to join when you did, but I have little doubt you were told and moved out with vigor once you realized it was your calling. St Martin would be happy you did what you did - as would St Loyola himself. Somewhere along your tour here - you became a career warrior as well, and I think you will find it even more so when you are in Kosovo and your experiences are needed to be drawn upon. I think you proved to yourself in this outing that you can do just about anything. With the scope of the mission in Kosovo - I am pretty sure you are going to figure a way to challenge yourself there - and with good results coming from it.” (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Why I’m Getting Out - For a couple years now I’ve been trying to decide if I would "re-up" when my enlistment expires. Well, that date came and went during mobilization training in Wisconsin. So if I don’t reenlist while I’m here in Afghanistan, my Army career will be nearly over when the deployment is. Is that what I want? The reenlistment bonus is pretty big right now… and, while in a combat zone, the IRS doesn’t get a penny of it. But for me, it’s not about the money. My proudest time in the service was in June of 2006. Another sergeant (E-5) and I were in charge of leading 14 specialists on a two-week mission in the city of Fallujah. We ran two missions a night, hauling concrete barriers from Iraqi checkpoints back to base. We were professionals, overcoming maintenance, logistical, and tactical obstacles. We slept in our trucks in the city. We drove in blackout with NVGs. We recovered from IED blasts. I loved every minute of it. I’m proud of my profession. So it’s been tough to come to the conclusion that I’m getting out. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Haqqani Network threatens to execute captured US soldier - A senior commander in the Haqqani Network has threatened to kill a captured US soldier unless Coalition forces end operations in two districts in Paktika and Ghazni provinces in eastern Afghanistan. Abdullah Jalali, a spokesman for Mullah Sangeen Zadran, who claimed to have captured the soldier in late June, said the US military must end the search operations in the Giro district in Ghazni province and the Khoshamand district in Paktika or the soldier would be killed. Jalali made the statement in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. But Jalali also said the fate of the soldier will ultimately be decided by Mullah Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US military has launched an intensive operation in eastern Afghanistan in an effort to recover the soldier, who went missing on June 30 after leaving a small combat outpost in Paktika province along with three Afghan soldiers. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 16JUL09--Red Pigeons - Today, one of my interpreters explained to me about a common Iraqi hobby: pigeon training. My interpreter tells me that every large city will have pigeons circling the skies in accordance with their training. The flocks will likely contain 'hamrohwees,' which are red pigeons. Apparently, Iraqis will buy pigeons at the market and then train them to fly loops around the city and then return. A keeper may keep one hundred pigeons, and part of the goal to is have other pigeons return with your pigeons, growing one's collection. This is especially true about the pigeons that others' train and keep. Normal gray pigeons are not particularly valuable. However, various varieties can become quite expensive with some fetching $300. Red pigeons, or 'hamrohwees,' are a less common variety. Their name literally stems from the color red, 'hamar.' The pair that I saw today had white streaks on their heads. Since they are impure, they may sell for $50 at the market. (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Rude Awakening - This morning I woke up still tired (due to the shift I work times rotating 6 hours every three days I live in a perpetual state of jet lag, in fact because the shift is 6 on 6 off and it changes opposite every three days it is like going from the US to Japan and back every week) ready to face my shift in the Joint Tactical Operations Center, hopefully in relative silence. I wanted nothing more than an uneventful morning sipping a few cups of freshly brewed French Roast coffee and, once I woke up, to do a little reading if all was quiet. Once I got to the Joint Tactical Operations Center and sat down ready to sip my coffee the delicious and strong brew was immediately overwhelmed by the nauseating stench of the few Iraqis in the room with me. *Note: they do not all smell this bad but some certainly do, so don’t start accusing me of racism until you’ve been over here nose to pit with some of the worst offenders* It was a typical smell for them. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Joint Dental Clinic Operation Cleans Teeth, Brightens Smiles of Baghdad Children - BAGHDAD — Dozens of Iraqi children scampered from one station to the next during the first "Smile Day" at the Iraqi Special Operations Forces’ Dental Clinic here, June 28 and 29. A cordial staff of Iraqi dentists and dental hygienists, along with Coalition volunteers, conducted the event that introduced approximately 50 young visitors to dental care. (READ MORE)

Wanted Iraqi Terrorist Apprehended - BAGHDAD — An improvised explosive device cell leader was apprehended during a civil affairs mission just west of here, 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. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Officers Integrate with U.S. Units, Keep Lines of Communication Open - MOSUL — Iraqi Security Force officers were recently brought into the Tactical Operations Centers (TOC) of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team to act as liaison officers. The Iraqis act as a direct line of communication between the 3rd HBCT unit and their own Iraqi parent unit. This increase in communications not only strengthens the bonds between 3rd HBCT and Iraqi forces here, but they also build a flow of information that is timely, direct and allows a faster response by U.S. and Iraq forces when a significant event occurs. (READ MORE)

Ambassador Praises Task Force for Contributions in Iraq - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, July 16, 2009 – The U.S. ambassador to Iraq met with soldiers and leaders of Task Force Pathfinder here July 12 to thank them for their contributions and to discuss military support of provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. “What we’re seeing is a crucial year, and it’s good to see the military working with the [provincial reconstruction teams],” Christopher R. Hill said. (READ MORE)

A Shiite Schism On Clerical Rule - NAJAF, Iraq -- As Iran simmers over its disputed presidential election, Shiite clerics in Iraq are looking across the border with a sense of satisfaction that they have figured out a more durable answer to a question that has beset Shiite Islam for centuries: What role should religion play in politics? No one in this city, which stands as the world's most venerable seat of Shiite scholarship, is boasting. Nor is there any swagger among the most senior clerics and their retinue of turbaned students and advisers. (READ MORE)

Kurdish Leaders Warn Of Strains With Maliki - IRBIL, Iraq, July 16 -- Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and the Iraqi government are closer to war than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Kurdish prime minister said Thursday, in a bleak measure of the tension that has risen along what U.S. officials consider the country's most combustible fault line. In separate interviews, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and the region's president, Massoud Barzani, described a stalemate in attempts to resolve long-standing disputes with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's emboldened government. (READ MORE)

Khanjar Operation Marks First of Many Under New Afghan Strategy - WASHINGTON, July 16, 2009 – Defense leaders are encouraged about operations in Afghanistan, but meeting long-term objectives there will require “an enormous” worldwide commitment to train and grow Afghan forces, a Pentagon spokesman said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates “is encouraged thus far by how things are going operationally” in the U.S. Marine-led offensive that began two weeks ago in Afghanistan’s southern provinces, Geoff Morrell told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing yesterday. (READ MORE)

Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Shares Strategy - KABUL, July 16, 2009 – Patience and time are keys to success in Afghanistan, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan told reporters here yesterday. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal discussed his views on what it will take to bring and maintain security in Afghanistan and the importance of helping the Afghans establish governance throughout the provinces. (READ MORE)

Celebrities Entertain Troops in Afghanistan - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 16, 2009 – Celebrities stopped by here yesterday to entertain troops as part of the star-studded USO’s Summer Troop Visit. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the celebrities are travelling throughout the U.S. Central Command area of operations to thank troops for their service and sacrifice. (READ MORE)

Pressure on PM as he ducks Afghanistan troops questions - GORDON BROWN ducked questions yesterday over whether military chiefs had asked for 2,000 extra troops in Afghanistan. Mr Brown’s insistence that Britain has enough soldiers to do the job came as the Commons Defence Select Committee said a shortage of helicopters was undermining the protection of troops in Helmand province. (READ MORE)

Roadside bomb kills 11 civilians in Afghanistan - KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A roadside bomb tore through a vehicle in southern Afghanistan on Friday, killing 11 civilians, including five children, a border police official said. A British solider died in another explosion. The bomb exploded in Kandahar province's Spin Boldak district as the civilians were travelling toward a shrine, said Gen. Saifullah Hakim. (READ MORE)

Gates says Afghan troops may increase - CHICAGO — The Pentagon's chief said Thursday he could send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year than he'd initially expected and is considering increasing the number of soldiers in the Army. Both issues reflect demands on the growing stresses of American forces tasked with fighting two wars. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' comments came during a short visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York, an Army post he said has deployed more soldiers to battle zones over the past 20 years than any other unit. (READ MORE)

Afghan blast 'kills at least 11' - At least 11 civilians, including five children, have been killed in a blast in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar, officials say. The blast reportedly hit a vehicle travelling towards a shrine in the Spin Boldak district of the province. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Kandahar is regarded as the Taliban's spiritual homeland. (READ MORE)

Judges Don't Belong on the Battlefield - Earlier this year, a Washington D.C.-based federal court extended the constitutional right to habeas corpus to three foreign nationals detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The case, Maqaleh v. Gates, represents yet another step in the federal judiciary's transformation from Alexander Hamilton's "least dangerous branch" into a fully active policy maker. Historically, the constitutional right to habeas corpus -- an ancient process permitting prisoners to challenge the legality of their confinement -- was available only to individuals present in the U.S., or to American citizens held by federal authorities overseas. (READ MORE)

Gunmen Kill UN Worker in Pakistan - A senior Pakistani staff member of the United Nations refugee agency was shot and killed Thursday morning in an apparent kidnapping attempt while leaving a refugee camp near this northwestern city, according to UN officials. Zill-e-Usman, 59, was one of three people in a marked United Nations vehicle on their way out of the Katcha Ghari refugee camp about 11:30 a.m. when another vehicle intercepted their path and gunmen opened fire, said Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency. (READ MORE)

Taliban Threatens to Kill US Soldier - Local Taliban commanders threatened Thursday to kill a captured American soldier unless the US military stops operations in two districts of southeastern Afghanistan. Also Thursday, Canadian authorities announced that a Canadian soldier was killed southwest of Kandahar, bringing to 47 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this month. That makes July the deadliest month of the war for foreign troops - with nearly half the month to go. (READ MORE)

Losses in Afghanistan Stir Anxiety in Britain - Britain buried its highest-ranking army officer to die in combat in nearly three decades Thursday amid a growing public and political outcry over the presence and preparedness of the country's troops in Afghanistan. Lawmakers and ordinary people are angrily questioning whether a lack of helicopters and other equipment have been at least indirectly responsible for a recent wave of combat deaths in Afghanistan, where Britain's deployment of 9,000 soldiers to fight the Taliban has become increasingly unpopular here at home. (READ MORE)

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