July 20, 2009

From the Front: 07/20/2009

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

Micahel Yon: One Giant Leap - 20 July 2009 - Yesterday, a helicopter crashed on base at Kandahar Airfield, killing sixteen. Later that night we had a minor rocket attack which caused me to roll out of bed onto the floor, while this morning, I got up to the great pleasure of watching Neil Armstrong on the BBC, talking about this historic anniversary, when man first stepped on the moon. I remember that launch as it roared so brightly into space. It remains perhaps the most spectacular day in the history of man. Every worthy endeavor comes with a cost. Around the same time Mr. Armstrong was speaking this morning, roars from war jets rumbled through base as they rushed down the nearby runway. A British Tornado lifted off but did not get far before it crashed and burned. The two crew members successfully escaped and are recovering from ejection trauma. The cause of the Mi-26 crash last Tuesday that killed five is unclear, but a military source mentioned that the helicopter was shot down by an RPG. At least six aircraft—two jets and four helicopters—have gone down this month. Two Americans were lost in a jet crash. (READ MORE)

Ann Scott Tyson: Marines Raid Bazaar - U.S. Marines raided a bazaar in a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Afghanistan, this weekend, turning up thousands of bags of opium poppy and explosive materials. On Sunday the Marines came under repeated attack from Taliban fighters firing machine guns, mortars, and grenades. (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: Photos: Children Of Iraq Set 1 - I’m sure everyone has been really itching to see these. This is my first collection set of the children in Iraq. You’ll see a mix of poverty and middle class. Many of the these kids, like Captain Achmed, we see on a regular basis. You can view the complete set here. There’s almost 60 pictures. Enjoy! (View Photos)

A Year In The Sandbox: Future of AYITSB - I’m in Manas now on my way home, should be there in less than a week! The team that replaced us is interested in keeping this blog going. Once they get settled in and rolling they’ll start posting here. It’ll be nice to keep up with what’s going on in the province and I know some of you still have family there in JBad. So just because I’m coming home don’t delete this site from your favorites! (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: twiddling thumbs, time NOW - After a brief, two-hour frenzy of paperwork in which I built packets for sole sourcing construction of five six-room schools, we again found ourselves staring at the calendar. Two more paychecks, pointed out SSG C. The rest of us nodded numbly. That's still plenty of staring at the calendar. (READ MORE)

Sgt B @ The Sandbox: THE CULLING OF THE CRAP - At the tail end of every deployment, one of the rituals that the deployed soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine must perform is the “culling of the crap". For some reason, we seem to amass a collection of assorted health and comfort items during our stay on foreign shores: Posters that livened the otherwise naked walls of our CHUs, letters, knick knacks that were iconic of the support we received over the course of the mission, and the well-loved debris of a time spent far from hearth and home. Most of it is theater specific, and is boxed up to be passed on to the folks who relieve us, or left out in a public area to be scavenged by our fellow inmates -- all done under the auspices of the original sender, who approved the idea of succoring the poor schmucks who have to stay in residence in this armpit after we have kicked the dust from our boots and departed this blighted land on silver (or grey, or green) wings. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Wondering About Civilians - I’m reading this excellent Pamela Constable story about what’s happening in Helmand, and nodding my head in agreement. “But while U.S. and British officials in Helmand told U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry during a day-long visit that the Khan Neshin operation could be a ‘model’ for Washington’s new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, they also cautioned that an equally important element — the effective establishment of Afghan authority and services in former insurgent strongholds — is still badly lacking.” With a start, I realized that I’ve seen this in other areas, as well—we are very very very good at “sweeping” areas of Afghanistan. We are not good, eight years on, at leaving an Afghan presence in our wake. It’s what I’ve been saying all along: they really didn’t seem to understand at first just how enormous their challenge even was. But this has been the story of the Marines in Afghanistan so far: caught out, and given terrible preparation for their mission. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: Mind on My Money - In post 30 June Iraq we are relying more and more on our Joint Communication Centers (JCCs) in order to stay clued in to what is going on. Having IA, IP, GOI, and CF under one roof helps us coordinate response to events in the area, offer advice, training, and access to our assets-air support, explosive ordnance disposal etc…As we rely more heavily on these and have a permanent presence at them we are making an effort to improve them. The problem is, the budgets we draw from are divided into three categories: ICERP is Iraqi money reserved for ISF, CERP is U.S. money and can only be spent on the civilian populace, and OMA is U.S. money and can only be spent on U.S. forces. So what money do we use to fund refurbishment and improvements to a facility that all three categories use? This is another situation in which the operational environment has changed more rapidly that the military’s support capabilities and puts those responsible for putting the projects together in the position of either being totally incapable of accomplishing his Commander’s mission or having to bend the rules. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: Iraqi Security Forces give back to Anbar citizens - AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq –Iraqi Security Forces visited various locations within eastern Anbar province and conducted repairs at different schools and clinics during a larger security force operation that recently concluded in early July 2009. These missions were made possible by the in-depth coordination between Iraqi Police, Provincial Security Forces, Iraqi army, local contractors and several elements of Regimental Combat Team 6, according to 1st Lt. John D. Adamo, an intelligence officer with RCT-6. Cooperating groups aimed to improve the existing relationship between Provincial Security Forces and the citizens by providing aid and supplies in the areas of al Jazeerah and Saqlawiyah. The first operation took place in Saqlawiyah, a rural area located eight kilometers northwest of Fallujah, Iraq. (READ MORE)

Fightin' 6th Marines: RCT-6 takes control of Camp Ramadi - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – United States Army National Guard soldiers of Headquarters Company, 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, out of Washington state, said farewell to Camp Ramadi, Iraq, after a ceremonial transfer of authority to Regimental Combat Team 6, July 13, 2009. Through a windy haze of Ramadi sand, Col. Matthew A. Lopez, commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 6, took command of Iraqi-owned Camp Ramadi from U.S. Army Col. Ronald Kapral, commanding officer of 81st HBCT after they retired their colors. The soldiers of the 81st HBCT occupied and maintained the camp for nearly nine months, working hand-in-hand with Marines and sailors to support the Iraqi Security Forces. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 17JUL09--Farewell with Interpreters; Posturing for Redeployment - The time has come to turn the page on this deployment. Yesterday evening was my last at the patrol base that my team built and included several farewells. This morning, half my team took its last mounted combat patrol along with half of our gear to the airport, where we await the rest of our team and our flight date. I will no longer meet with the Iraqi Army to offer advice, guidance and friendship. Subsequently, as combat troops are drastically reduced in Iraq, the upcoming 30,000 Soldiers that deploy to OIF will all deploy as combat advisor units with a similar mission to that of my team's. Meanwhile, just as my 11-man team is maneuvering towards redeployment in sections back to the States, so will drawing down troop levels in Iraq. After all, we transported our team in sections to the airport in order to have enough space for bags, weapons, gear and our bodies. (READ MORE)

SFC Burke - My Point of View: Family Guy Fun... - Lots of things have changed since we've started getting ready for this deployment back in October 2008. Met lots of new people, switched from putting magazines together in InDesign to a newspaper, and gotten used to 110+ degree heat...just to name a few. When I met SGT Soles, I figured he was a quiet kind of guy who kept to himself. Back in Bryan, when we were training for this deployment, I had a room by myself at our lovely EZ Travel Inn and, since he showed up late, he roomed with me. Pretty soon we started watching The Family Guy. I never really paid attention to that show. All I remembered about it was the fact that it came on TV and then was taken off due to some of its content. Well, apparently it has a huge following because the more I watched it with him, the funnier it became. I mean some of the stuff you see happening is so crude and funny but it relates to life sometimes and the intro to the cartoon says it all. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Mullah FM back on the air in Swat - As the Pakistani government and military rush to declare victory against the Taliban in the war-torn district of Swat, Mullah Fazlullah has broadcast on the airwaves for the first time in months. Fazlullah has not been heard on the radio for months after the military launched a major operation to clear the Taliban from Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner at the end of April. Fazlullah's broadcasts were infamous for the anti-government screeds and the radical interpretations of Islam. He was nicknamed Mullah FM and Radio Mullah for pioneering the use of illegal radio broadcasts to promote his radical agenda. Residents of Swat would be glued to the radio as Fazlullah would issue lists of government and security officials, as well as tribal leaders, who were to be executed for opposing the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US, Afghan forces overrun Haqqani Network 'encampment' in Paktia - The US and Afghan military have continued attacks against the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan despite a threat from the group that a captured US soldier would be executed if the raids did not cease. Last night, US and Afghan forces conducted two major raids in Paktia and Logar provinces. The raids were aimed at taking down the leadership of the Haqqani Network and gathering intelligence on the location of the captured US soldier. The biggest raid took place against an "enemy encampment" situated "in the remote reaches of Paktia province," the US military said in a press release. The operation was carried out about 20 miles southeast of Gardez City, and was designed to stem the flow of foreign fighters and weapons moving from Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan through the Khost-Gardez Pass to the capital of Kabul. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Waking up... - I was out running errands this morning and the John Mayer song “Dreaming with a Broken Heart” came on. Now I have heard this song 100s of times but today the words hit me different. “When you’re dreaming with a broken heart the waking up is the hardest part.” Never have truer words been spoken. When Micheal was killed my heart broke. It’s not the kind of broken heart you recover from either. And mentally and emotionally we all sort of shut down and went into a numb dreamlike state in a self defense survival mode. Over time the numbness wears off and you begin to wake up. It’s hard to explain but you know that twilight place between asleep and awake.. where you are aware of everything going on but you don’t really comprehend it fully and you can’t react to any of it??? That is almost what it was like emotionally for me when I heard Micheal had been killed. I understood what had happened. I knew what it meant but I couldn’t deal with all the emotions involved with it. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Writing About Soldiers - For the last week I have been splitting my time between resuming my duties as Sergeant Tool Bitch in Echo Company (issuing high value tools from a central tool area) and writing brief vignettes about some of the soldiers in the battalion. Since the higher headquarters (brigade) wants photos also, they gave me a motor-drive NIKON SLR camera with an 18 to 200mm telephoto lens to do take pictures. I don't know much about current camera, but one of my buddies who saw the camera said it costs $3500 new and is "Awesome." In the course of these brief interviews I have learned a lot more about the soldiers in Echo Company and as I move to other companies, about their soldiers. One of the helicopter mechanics I spoke with got fishing gear shipped from the states. One his day off, he fishes on one of the two ponds on Water Street where the water storage and water treatment plants are located. So far he has caught a catfish more than three feet long. He threw it back but it is strange to think someone is fishing in this dust bowl. (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: How did we get into this war with Iraq, anyhow? - Several years prior to 1958, there were a couple of guys in charge of Iraq; Prime Minister Nuri-al Said and King Faisal II. While they were in charge, Egypt was pushing for a pan-Arab movement while also building a friendship with the Soviet Union (keep this in mind). Said and Faisal II had no interest in this, however, Iraqi Officers and the Iraqi rich believed otherwise. So, in February of 1958, Egypt and Syria got together and formed the United Arab Republic. But Iraq and Jordan decided they wanted their own multi-Arab state and formed the Arab Federation. Then, Yemen decided to join Egypt and Syria. Confused yet? Think of it as your neighbors on your street. You’re all kind of the same, but have different views, so you go talk to the neighbors who you like, then talk bad about the neighbors you don’t like. So, since proverbial (and probably literal) lines in the sand had been drawn, Said decided to reinforce the Jordanian Army and send two brigades from Iraq. (READ MORE)

IN-iraq: The spirals of violence in Iraq - Much has been made of the downward spike in violence in Iraq. It's touted as the most encouraging news for Iraqis and for American troops and advisors. But how do we measure improvements versus the costs? Besides the billions expended, the only way to measure victory is less death. The problem is there's no way to measure the cost of a human life against how many lives are saved or how many civilian lives are improved. There is no metric, although it's been attempted by life insurance accountants from post 9-11 NYC to field commanders who have to deal with the unenviable task of paying a couple thousand to a grieving Iraqi mother. But to the majority of us arm-chair Americanos, war deaths have become just statistics. Over six years, they have lost their capacity to bite, unless we know the soldier from back home, or can literally see the life draining from their body as in the case of Neda, the young woman in Iran whose last moments flashed across hundreds of thousands of screens. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Operation Panther's Claw: how British troops are hunting the Taliban to the end - It was at first light of dawn on July 3 that the tanks began to roll in the most dangerous phase of Operation Panther's Claw - the offensive in Helmand province that is being seen as the biggest British engagement since the invasion of Iraq. More than two weeks later, the same units were still engaged with an increasingly desperate enemy - several hundred Taliban fighters being pushed steadily westwards towards what military planners hope will be their nemesis. Only sporadic details of the protracted military operation have been revealed by the Ministry of Defence so far. But now The Sunday Telegraph has assembled the first full account of the unfolding battle which has already left an estimated 200 enemy fighters dead, and claimed the lives of nine British soldiers. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Tainted Love - Last week the auntie of a local girl came from London to assist in her arranged wedding. The bride had little interest in the cousin to whom she had been engaged for the last 15 years but lots of interest in the boy next door so the English Auntie provided the age old remedy for situations like this; poison. It didn’t work but the Auntie made a clean getaway before her involvement was revealed and the young bride has gone missing as has the neighbor kid. The groom is reportedly recovering in Peshawar where the physicians have much experience treating this sort of problem. The crime of passion game is a dangerous one to play in Afghanistan. This kind of thing gets my local guys asking many many questions about us western folk. Tainted love is a bad deal everywhere but here the boys get the poisoning part but the concept of romantic love? That is confusing for them. (READ MORE)

Doc H's International Adventure: Jumaa - Today is Jumaa, or Friday. In Islamic countries it is the most important day of the week. It is the day of the week that most Muslims go the mosque and then spend time with the family. Since many of us at Camp Spann are here to interact with and mentor our Afghan counterparts, it is the closest thing we have to a weekend. In order to match the schedule, or battle rhythm, of our Afghan allies we take time for church services today instead of Sunday. It was very comforting and moving to worship with fellow Christians of all types and denominations. The singing was especially good. The sermon today was primarily on the 23rd Psalm, one that I am sure has seen a lot of use in combat situations. I am thankful that we do have the opportunity to gather in His name and worship. (READ MORE)

BruceR: Reasons for positive thinking - I and others may cavil about long-term sustainability of our plans, or note disappointment wastes of time or money, or wonder aloud whether our priorities as Afghanistan's allies need to be re-ordered a little. But there can be no question that Afghanistan is still on the whole a nicer, safer place than it was in 2001, or 1991 for that matter. Kabul is booming. And Peter Bergen is right that the majority of Afghans' war for a better future for themselves is far from lost, for reasons he aptly outlines here. The cause that we committed to, and in which Canadians continue to die, is still a just one. If I didn't continue to believe that, I frankly wouldn't care about the problems that have been identified as much as I do. (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: A banner day - About the time Stephen Colbert came to Baghdad (but didn't come to Mass, even though I left word with his handlers that it was an option!), I purchased a number of U.S. flags to give to family and friends as gifts, figuring I'd take them over to Al Faw Palace and ask that they be flown above that facility before I sent them home. I'd heard that the people in charge of that sort of thing would generate a rather impressive certificate to accompany each flag, indicating officially that it had been flown over the Multinational Forces - Iraq Headquarters. Wouldn't you know, but that program was undergoing a 'transition' just at the time I showed up with my flags, so there was some confusion as to whether it would even be possible. However, SFC McG (as was his wont) worked his 'Senior NCO magic' and a very helpful (even-more-) Senior NCO from the Navy told me he'd make it happen. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: In and Around the Camp - Some days I just take photos at the camp for the sake of taking pictures in hopes that I will have time to write a small blurb about it. There is always something happening at the camp. This is why I make a habit of keeping my camera with me. You just never know what you might see. Today’s entry is a good example of camp activities. The first picture is the US Marines practicing martial arts in the sand at the volleyball court. The Marines have their own martial arts program. Some of these guys were testing for their brown belt. Unlike most martial art classes, the Marines do not restrict their punches or throws. I saw several Marines grimace in pain but still continued with the testing. The next photo is when our convoy was stopped and some donkeys were out for a stroll. Fences are almost nonexistent here and the livestock roams freely. Since everyone here seems to own an AK-47, theft of livestock is a rarity. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: This is what happens… - This is what happens when you go downrange as an individual; you are forced to meet new people. You can’t predict what these brand spanking new relationships will look like a year from now. It forces one to live in the moment and to really try to do your best. And hope that it’s good enough. It’s a new test, a new challenge. It’s also a bit unnerving. It’s strange how you can spend years and years proving over and over that you can meet new people, be put into a team with them, and thrive. There are those, like SFC (soon to be 1SG) O, Jacques Pulvier, LTC Stone Cold and some others from my last tour that I will keep up with for the rest of my natural life. There are others that I don’t care if I ever see again. That’s the way of it. It’s not the ones that I don’t care to see again that matter. It’s the ones that I have bonded with so strongly that we will keep in touch over the course of years. Some with regularity, some with irregularity… that doesn’t matter, either. It matters that you do reconnect. (READ MORE)

MAJ C: Humanitarian Assistance - I have posted a great deal of videos and picture for the last week on the site regarding US Soldiers and their interaction with Iraqi and Afghan Children. But the question is; Why have I done this? The simple answer is that, the Main Stream Media does not cover the good acts that our Soldiers are doing. That is a very true statement, and directly at the point, but it does not get to the root of the issue. The deeper answer is that, at no time in the history of the world have we seen a Military Force that is so concerned with helping the local populace. Our men and women overseas have a mission to destroy enemy insurgent elements. But they have made it their own, the support and assistance of the local people because quite simply put, they are exemplary human beings. That is the story the Main Stream Media is missing. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
US Troops in Iraq Find Little Leeway - The tip was as alarming as it was unusual. A Sunni insurgent cell was planning a mortar attack on a large US base adjacent to Baghdad's airport. A credible informant told US intelligence officials Tuesday morning that several mortars launching from nearby Amiriyah, a quiet neighborhood that had not been a staging ground for rocket or mortar attacks since 2007, would rain down shells on the base that night. (READ MORE)

Challengers Face an Uphill Battle in Elections in Iraq's Kurdish North - The campaign season is in full swing in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections Saturday. The two groups in Rasch's office represented supporters that even the 58-year-old presidential hopeful acknowledges are scant, in a bid for office that he acknowledges is quixotic. (READ MORE)

Iraq Leader Plans to Visit Arlington - It's a gesture that couldn't have been made while US forces were breaking down the doors of Iraqi homes and detaining residents by the thousands. Or when civilians were being killed by frightened American soldiers in sometimes careless shootings that have claimed an untold number of Iraqi lives. (READ MORE)

Americans Held in Iraq say FBI Violated Rights - For more than a month, two US citizens who worked for contractors in Iraq were held in prison with no formal charges against them. They were pressed to sign an Iraqi government statement but refused, their attorneys say, and waited 43 days for their day in court before being released on bond after a hearing in Iraq's Central Criminal Court over the weekend. (READ MORE)

5 Killed in Violence Across Iraq, but a Pilgrimage Ends Quietly - Violence across Iraq claimed the lives of at least five people on Saturday, but an annual Shiite pilgrimage to a Baghdad shrine that attracted more than four million people concluded without major trouble. In previous years, pilgrims on the traditional walk to the gold-domed shrine in the Kadhimiya district of Baghdad to commemorate the death of an eighth-century imam have been attacked by Sunni extremist groups. (READ MORE)

Suspect Arrested in Attack on US Base in Iraq - Iraqi police said Saturday that they have arrested a member of an Iranian-backed militia suspected in an attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in southern Iraq. Meanwhile to the west of Baghdad, a bomb killed three people, including the son of a tribal leader. (READ MORE)

Water, Sewer Projects Impact Environment in Iraq - BAGHDAD, July 17, 2009 – Sewer projects and other capacity-building projects managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division are positively affecting the environment in Iraq, said the commander of the corps’ Gulf Region Central District here. For example, solar-powered street lights installed in Fallujah use the sun’s renewable energy, balancing the needs of the environment and communities by providing power, conserving natural resources for other uses, and improving air quality through reduced air emissions, Army Col. Ronald N. Light explained. (READ MORE)

Tikrit ERB arrests suspected bomb maker - TIKRIT, Iraq – The 4th Emergency Response Battalion, with Coalition force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist July 19 during an operation in the Salah ad-Din province. The arrested individual is suspected of building and emplacing roadside bombs in support of a terrorist cell targeting Iraqi Security Forces’ convoys. (READ MORE)

Basrah SWAT delivers major blow to insurgent cell, arrest 2 suspected terrorists in southern Iraq - BAGHDAD – Iraqi police from the Basrah Special Weapons and Tactics team, along with Coalition force advisors, arrested two suspected terrorists during an Iraqi-led operation in southern Iraq, July 18. The SWAT team was operating under the authority of a warrant during the intelligence-driven mission. Court documents indicate that the police force arrested the suspected insurgents in accordance with the Republic of Iraq’s terrorism law. (READ MORE)

Iraqi National Canine Program Deters Explosive Attacks - BAGHDAD – The Baghdad Police College’s canine program hosted National Public Radio here July 13 to inform listeners of how this invaluable program counters terrorist attacks that employ explosives. Iraqi Brig. Gen. Mohammed, director general of the Iraqi National Canine Program, spoke with National Public Radio. He attributed the success of the canine program to the great work and dedication of Iraqi canine handlers and the U.S. advisory and training teams who brought modern and practical training techniques to the program. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army MP Hone Marksmanship Skills - CAMP MEJID — As a string of Iraqi Army vehicles arrive and park side-by-side, Iraqi Soldiers spill out from their vehicles with ammunition cans, ready to train. Military Transition Team (MiTT)-7 Marines normally do most of the work, but today they’re simply observing as the Iraqis prepare to train without American assistance. Iraqi Military Policemen (MP) are conducting what will soon become annual sustainment training. During the course of their training, they fired a multitude of weapons, from vehicle-mounted machine guns to sniper rifles and pistols. (READ MORE)

Baqubah Receives First Humanitarian Aid Drop Following U.S. Withdrawal From Cities - DIYALA — Soldiers of the Iraqi Army’s 5th Division and the U.S. 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team conducted the first humanitarian aid drop in this province since U.S. combat forces left Iraqi cities, June 30. The drop lasted nearly seven hours and served hundreds of Iraqi families in Mujema, a neighborhood in Baqubah, July 15. Five large trucks, filled with approximately 1,000 bags of rice and flour, 600 bags of sugar and 600 bottles of cooking oil, were unloaded by local citizens and Soldiers of the Iraqi Army. (READ MORE)

Troops Foster Cross-Cultural Bonds - AL ASAD AIR BASE — Wathaha stands close to seven feet tall from toe to hump. She has sandy brown hair, four thin legs and she is 100 percent Iraqi. Wathaha is a camel, and she has temporarily made this Air Base her home. When Coalition troops requested a small piece of Iraqi culture to be brought to their base in Anbar province, Ali Nowaf Hemreen was quick to respond. He promptly purchased the camel near Rawah, and brought her here. (READ MORE)

End of Mission for a Coalition Partner - CAMP LIBERTY — Members of the multi-national, multi-service team known as Task Force Troy gathered on July 15 at the 1st Cavalry Division's Moral Welfare and Recreation's Field House gym on Camp Liberty to say goodbye to their comrades from the British army with a flag casing ceremony.Task Force Troy, Multi-National Corps-Iraq's counter improvised explosive device team, is charged with countering the IED threat posed to coalition forces by gathering and examining evidence left by IEDs. (READ MORE)

Mullen Reflects on Latest Trip to Afghanistan - KHANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 17, 2009 – After spending the better part of a week meeting with coalition leaders and troops in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he is returning home with a sense that the overall situation there will improve with trust from the Afghan people. The international force’s mission throughout Afghanistan is focused on the Afghans and gaining their trust and support, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said today. (READ MORE)

Coalition, Afghan Troops Raid Terrorist Compounds - KABUL, Afghanistan, July 17, 2009 – Coalition and Afghan forces raided several terrorist compounds in eastern and southern Afghanistan in the past two days, disrupting bomb networks and seizing suspects and weapons, military officials reported. The combined forces killed several insurgents in a gun battle in Paktia province last night, and a dozen militants were detained in raids in Logar, Paktika and Khost provinces in the East and Helmand province in the South. (READ MORE)

Nebraska Community Lends Helping Hand to Afghan Farmers - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 17, 2009 – Members of the Nebraska National Guard's Task Force Warrior agribusiness development team visited several villages in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province July 13 to assess grain bins that once occupied farmlands in Imperial, Neb. Development team members relocated and reconstructed the bins to help Afghan farmers with grain-storage issues. (READ MORE)

Troop Levels Must be Reviewed - Our servicemen and women are doing an outstanding job in Afghanistan. They deserve our full and total support. To do anything else at this critically important time can only serve to make their mission harder. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: Troops are More Important than Political Points - General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, believes that one of his fundamental duties is to ensure that British soldiers are not required to sacrifice their lives unnecessarily. He thinks that when British soldiers are asked to risk their lives in a war, they should be adequately equipped for battle - and it is his responsibility to make sure that they are. (READ MORE)

A Sad Loss, A Just Cause - Another soldier has died defending Australia and its allies. For those who loved the soldier who died on active duty in Afghanistan on Saturday, this morning's sunrise can have brought no solace, just a reminder that a young man will never again enjoy the opportunities of a new day, which the army's rising sun badge signifies. (READ MORE)

Labour at War over Afghanistan - In an exclusive article for The Sunday Telegraph, John Hutton, the former defence secretary, joined calls for extra troops and helicopters to be provided for British forces in Helmand. Mr Hutton’s comments - his first on the subject since leaving the Government last month - were highly significant as they followed similar public demands by senior military figures in the face of an insistence by Gordon Brown that British troops were properly equipped. (READ MORE)

Refugees Forced Home to the Taliban - Thousands of refugees from Pakistan's troubled northwest are being sent back to Taliban-infested regions as the government rushes to close camps before the monsoon season. Rations and services within refugee camps across the North West Frontier Province are being slowly turned off to force as many as two million refugees back to the homes they fled in May. (READ MORE)

Captors Release Video of US Soldier Who Went Missing in Afghanistan - Posing an emotional new complication for the expanding US military effort in Afghanistan, Islamic militants released a video of a captured American soldier whom US military officials identified for the first time Sunday as Pvt. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. (READ MORE)

Pentagon Seeks Prison Overhaul in Afghanistan - A sweeping United States military review calls for overhauling the troubled American-run prison here (Bagram Air Base) as well as the entire Afghan jail and judicial systems, a reaction to worries that abuses and militant recruiting within the prisons are helping to strengthen the Taliban. (READ MORE)

16 Killed in Copter Crash at Afghan Base - Sixteen civilians were killed Sunday when a transport helicopter working for the NATO-led military coalition crashed as it tried to take off from the military base at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, officials said. Five others were injured. (READ MORE)

Afghan Villagers Turn Against Taliban - Villagers attacked the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, a rare instance of locals turning on insurgents after being promised aid money and security by the government. Friday's confrontation was welcome news for Afghan and US authorities in what is shaping up to be one of the bloodiest months for the USled coalition since the start of the war. (READ MORE)

Gates: US Has One Year to Make Progress in Afghanistan - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday that US forces in Afghanistan must make progress within a year to head off the public perception that victory is out of reach. That warning was underscored on Saturday by a fighter jet crash in eastern Afghanistan that pushed the number of US service members killed in July to 50, making it the deadliest month yet in the eight-year old war. (READ MORE)

Hamid Karzai Says Bring Taliban to Table - The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has urged the West to develop a new strategy for his country, warning that more troops will not necessarily improve security. “Military operations are no longer enough,” he said as the deaths of British and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan reached their highest monthly total of the eight-year war. (READ MORE)

US Increasing Counter-narcotics Efforts in Afghanistan - The US government is deploying dozens of Drug Enforcement Administration agents to Afghanistan in a new kind of "surge," targeting trafficking networks that officials say are increasingly fueling the Taliban insurgency and corrupting the Afghan government. (READ MORE)

Tories denounce Afghanistan helicopter 'scandal' - The Tories have called the Government's failure to supply more helicopters to British troops in Afghanistan "a scandal". Leader David Cameron said a Conservative Government would prioritise the needs of frontline troops over long-term defence spending plans - which currently see billions tied up in projects like the Trident nuclear programme, aircraft carriers and the Eurofighter jet. (READ MORE)

PM hints at more troops for Afghanistan - The Prime Minister has given his strongest hint yet that New Zealand will again send special forces troops to fight in Afghanistan. John Key says the death of a New Zealander in the Jakarta bombings was a reminder that no nation can escape the effects of global terrorism. (READ MORE)

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