July 21, 2009

From the Front: 07/21/2009

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

P.J. Tobia: Bergdahl Deserted - I’ve been reporting for over a week (along with the AP and WaPo) that Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who’s gone missing in eastern Afghanistan, walked off the base on his own accord. Now, somebody close to the people searching for Bergdahl has repeated this assertion saying that the soldier left “a note behind that said he was going to the mountains to find himself. He took a journal and 4 or 5 knives with him.” My source tells me that Bergdahl arrived at a village and asked if anybody spoke English. That’s when he was captured. My source tells me that there is no doubt Bergdahl deserted, which in a time of war is punishable by a court martial at the least, or even execution. I’m not the only one saying this. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret.) told Fox News that Bergdahl is “an apparent deserter,” and intimates that he wouldn’t feel badly if the Taliban killed Bergdahl. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Missing Soldier Update with video of PFC Bowe Bergdahl - As all who have been following this blog or following me on twitter know, I have been following this missing soldier issue ever sine it has happened. I have had multiple sources in and outside of Afghanistan feeding me info that I have pretty much been keeping to myself out of respect for the soldier’s safety, OPSEC, and the family. A week or so ago my fried PJ Tobia put up a blog story about this soldier which told how it is referred in country by the soldiers as Operation Where’s Waldo. Of course that is not the official name of the operation looking for this soldier, but it is what all the troops on the ground have been calling it. Within a day of putting up my posting which pointed to PJ’s, I took it down. In hindsight and after much consideration I decided to not spread the word on this yet. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Little Girl Matters - Friedman hits on something in his column that far too many Americans (but not only Americans) seem to miss: there are people in Afghanistan, and what's at stake here isn't just the national security interests of the Yanks. Once this conversation becomes solely about the minimalist goal of preventing Al Qaeda from gaining control again, everything we've been fighting for since 2001 is lost. Look, I understand that you can't argue for the extraordinary material and human cost of the mission on the superficial image of a little girl with a notebook, but that's not what the Friedman column is about. He's arguing that the only way to achieve long-term, meaningful stability in Afghanistan is to do some of that nation-building stuff: building up schools, hospitals, and governance structures strong enough so that the next generation of Afghans will know a different experience than the previous ones. On that level, then, it is about that little girl going to school: (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: Supporting the troops - While I was deployed, someone tried to access my PayPal account online, so PayPal froze the account. Despite numerous phone and email contacts over five months, they would not restore my access. It took me until I could get home and to a telephone land line before they would reactive the account. I realize that they don't want other people to be able to access my information, and neither do I, for that matter. But there's got to be a better way to handle such a situation when a person is deployed with the military, and unable to be reached by land-line telephones! I've been a member of Bally Total Fitness since I began priest-school in 1987. Their yearly membership has gotten more and more and more expensive over these past 22 years. I was, of course, unable to use my paid-up membership this past year because I was deployed to a war zone. (READ MORE)

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No. - Pushghar, Afghanistan - I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles. But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand. This week it was something very powerful. I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of “Three Cups of Tea,” open one of his schools for girls in this remote Afghan village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after witnessing the delight in the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, “Let’s just get out of here.” Indeed, Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the “war on terrorism” is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam — a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Taken - Stumbled upon an interesting article by Michael Yon. Kind of nice to see that someone who knows what he's talking about has reached many of the same conclusions about this place that I have. It's tough to avoid the conclusion that we're being taken over here. Taken for everything we can provide, while we can provide it because developing this place is simply a herculean task. If anyone's doing a cost-benefit analysis of what's going on, I find it hard to believe they'd find this endeavor worth it at this point, though as an American I have full confidence that we can achieve anything given enough time. Frankly, I view a lot of what we're doing as enabling. And if there's anything an Afghan is especially good at, it's letting another person do his work for him and clean up his mess should such a person prove so willing. Our being here enables the local forces (the ANA, Afghan National Police) to sit back and let us do most of the fighting. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Helicopter assault starts latest phase of attack on Taliban - Following a Chinook and Apache helicopter assault on the Babiji region of Helmand Province, troops from The Black Watch 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS) and the Light Dragoons have linked up to continue flushing insurgents out of the area. This latest assault which is part of Operation PANCHAI PALANG, or Panther's Claw, was part of a strategic push to flush the insurgents out of towns and villages in order to secure them for Afghanistan's Presidential and Provincial elections taking place next month. The air assault, launched under the cover of darkness and involving four Chinooks and two Apache helicopters, also resulted in the discovery of a large narcotics laboratory in which the soldiers found 750kg of a precursor base chemical required to create heroin and 5kg of a morphine derivative substance. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): More Chicken Shit - I was going to let this subject go, but today I was talking with another soldier about the latest rule and remembered that as Chicken Shit takes over, the divide between higher and lower ranks becomes more obvious. The latest rule says No Tactical Vehicles are allowed to park next to Living Areas. The reason given is that there have been minor collisions between tactical and Non Tactical Vehicles (NTVs). Tactical vehicles are Humvees and the bigger trucks soldiers ride in to go to work, especially when several soldiers work the same hours in a remote area. NTVs are the air-conditioned SUVs and Crew-Cab pickup trucks used by first sergeants, sergeant majors and higher-ranking officers. So when I ride back to my living area, I pass through two rows of gray and white SUVs on the way to my room. So those who drive NTVs walk out of their rooms and drive to work. Those who live in an area without tactical vehicle parking walk to the bus stop. (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: (Part 2) How is Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki connected to Saddam Hussein? - In 1979, Saddam Hussein, who was once backed by the United States, gave Maliki a death sentence. So, Maliki packed his bags and went to Syria, then moved to Iran where he lived for nearly 20 years. During this time, he became a senior leader of the Dawa Party. (An Iranian backed, majority Shia political party who were obviously opposed to Saddam Hussein (minority Sunni) and tried to topple his government). Interesting Dawa Party Facts - One of the founding members of the Dawa Party was Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr (related to our nemesis Muqtada al-Sadr who’s father Muhammad al-Sadr (a good guy) was murdered by Saddam Hussein) In the 1980s, the Dawa party worked hard to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist government. That is the same Saddam Hussein that we lent $40 Billion US Dollars, in order to fight the Iraq-Iran war. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio and Alexander Mayer: US Predator strikes in Pakistan: Observations - The dramatic increase of covert US air power to target al Qaeda and Taliban assets in Pakistan's lawless tribal zones has sparked a controversy in the US and abroad. Critics of the airstrikes, which are carried out by unmanned Predator attack aircraft, contend that the actions violate Pakistan's sovereignty, kill innocent civilians, and make enemies of Pakistani tribesmen. Proponents of the airstrikes say that they a necessary to prevent the next major attack against the West and disrupt al Qaeda and the Taliban's operations directed against Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Whatever the case may be, the directive to ramp up the air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas has been issued, first by President George Bush in the summer of 2008, and continued by President Barack Obama only days after his inauguration. A look at the publically available data on the US air campaign in Pakistan shows a marked increase in the frequency in attacks since 2008. (READ MORE)

Lt Nixon: Should I Bring the Gun or the Flowers? - Wired Danger Room is on an embed in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan and they note the poo-pooing by NGO types of the PRT in carrying out civil-military operations: “Not everyone is fan of the military’s embrace of the humanitarian mission. Since their inception in late 2002 as ‘Joint Regional Teams,’ many in the aid and development community have worried that the PRTs were encroaching on a traditional humanitarian space, blurring the line between civilian aid work and military operations. In a recent opinion piece, Anna Husarska of the International Rescue Committee quotes an unnamed colleague who tut-tutted that the PRTs are ‘Humvees in a china shop.’ For the purists, relief and development work are a task best done by independent aid agencies, not the military.” This isn't the first time that humanitarians have bad-mouthed this entire component of counter-insurgency. As a guy who used to be in the military but is now a tie-dye wearin' NGO geek, I feel the need to comment. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Garmsir, Again - On July 17, 2006, the Taliban stormed the main bazaar and town in Garmser District of Helmand province, claiming full control of the entire area. In doing so, the militants “struck a deal” with the 20 or so policemen besieged in the District Center, basically trading their lives in return for not returning. Garmsir was one of two districts in Helmand captured by the Taliban that week. The other was Nawa—the site of the new USMC offensive to “retake” the province. Again. The day of Garmsir’s fall to the Taliban, the Afghan government claimed it had managed to “retake” Nawa after heavy fighting. Both district captures happened toward the end of the rather pneumatic-sounding Operation Mountain Thrust, an 11,000-man British-led offensive to quell the insurgency in Uruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar that had begun in mid-May after control of Helmand transferred to the UK. After over a thousand dead Taliban… nothing changed. And at the end of this three-month long, 11,000-man push to clear the Taliban from Southern Afghanistan, they were still occupying entire districts. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Crossroads - I stood at the crossroads of civilization Saturday. After a two hour helo flight, I was in Babylon walking the grounds of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. We started at the replication of the Ishtar Gate, that’s only half the size of the actual gate. We walked through the entrance to the Southern palace, where some of the original bricks are still in tact and the rest was built by Saddam. The dictator tried to imitate Neb by inscribing his name on the bricks. In the Throne Room, there’s a 2500 year old inscription on a brick that says “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, who cares for Esagila and Ezida temples, eldest son of Nabopolassar.” It was pretty cool to see. We saw where the hanging gardens were - one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s populated by bats now… tons of them. Then we walked past the original Ishtar Gate (with dragons combining snake, lion and eagle symbolizing Marduk, and Bulls for the storm god, Adad.) and into the Nin-Makh temple. It’s believed the temple was a place for women to worship. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Maliki Remakes Himself Ahead of Elections - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki traveled to Anbar province, a visit that three years ago would have been considered a suicide mission into the cradle of the Sunni Arab resistance. Now the Shiite Muslim leader, famously mistrustful of the sect that dominated Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign, was huddling with the head of the ruling Sunni coalition in Anbar, talking of the need to cut across sectarian lines in upcoming national elections. (READ MORE)

US Troops Complain of Limits in Iraq - Tensions are rising between the US and Iraqi governments over Baghdad's push to restrict American military operations in Iraq, with some U.S. officers complaining their forces are being constrained beyond what is called for in their agreement to withdraw from cities. The complaints come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is about to visit New York and Washington this week, in an important trip for him and President Barack Obama. (READ MORE)

Attacks Kill 10 in Restive Iraqi Cities - Five Iraqi police officers and three civilians were shot dead in a series of seven attacks by gunmen on Monday in the restive northern city of Mosul, and a car bomb near the headquarters of the provincial government in the western city of Ramadi killed two policemen, security officials said. The attacks in Mosul struck at police officers in various sections of the city. (READ MORE)

Issues Before Identity in Iraq - During the first months of the Obama administration, Iraqis watching the appointments of Richard Holbrooke, George Mitchell and Dennis Ross would call me and ask, "Who will be Iraq's special envoy?" After six months of a stance perceived by many Iraqis as "hands off," the administration appears to have realized that political engagement is most important when a military presence is waning. (READ MORE)

Engineers nearing completion of Combat Outpost India construction - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE MAREZ, MOSUL, Iraq – With the sound of hammers and saws resonating in the otherwise still night air at Combat Outpost India¬, Soldiers of the 643rd Engineer Company are making steady progress to complete construction of the outpost. COP India’s completion will facilitate the reduction of U.S. forces from the city of Mosul. (READ MORE)

Detainees released in Fallujah and Karmah - AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Marines from Multi National Force - West facilitated the release of 39 detainees from U.S. custody July 20, in Fallujah and Karmah. MNF-W followed a detailed release process to ensure the security of the people of Anbar and the safety of the detainees were not in jeopardy following the release. Prior to release near their place of residence, detainees participated in a public release ceremony where an oath of good citizenship and renouncement of violence was administered. Individuals were then welcomed by their family and friends. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Children Get a Kick out of Donations - JOINT BASE BALAD — Airmen and Soldiers here recently received donations for Iraqi children who live near this base from a stateside fraternity. The Pennsylvania State University chapter of the social fraternity Phi Kappa Tau supports programs to increase the quality of life for terminally ill children. Through their program Kicks 4 Kids, along with some inquiring by Capt. Craig Bryan, Expeditionary Aeromedicine Squadron psychologist and PKT alumnus, they were able to collect approximately 300 soccer balls to be distributed to Iraqi children via the support of JBB servicemembers. (READ MORE)

Basrah SWAT Captures Key Insurgents - BAGHDAD — Iraqi Police from the Basrah Special Weapons and Tactics team, along with Coalition 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)

Governors Visit, Thank Deployed Troops - TAJI — Far away in the hot, arid climate of Iraq, it might be easy for Soldiers to become distant from the places they like to call home, as life goes on without them. However, for some members of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade on Camp Taji, a base camp north of Baghdad, their States came to them, bringing with them a reminder of the homes they left behind to serve their country. (READ MORE)

Leaders Discuss Provincial Construction - AL ASAD AIR BASE — The governor of Anbar province, Qasim al-Fahadawi, and the chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council, Dr. Jassim al-Halbusi, traveled here to meet with leaders of Multi National Force – West, July 16. In a conference room where photographs of the peaceful 2009 Anbar provincial elections hang, MNF-W leaders spoke of a topic that has long been one of the main focuses of the Marines’ mission in Iraq: reconstruction and development. (READ MORE)

Forces Probe Rocket Attack, Detain Suspected Terrorists in Iraq - WASHINGTON, July 20, 2009 – U.S. forces made headway in an investigation of a rocket attack on a base in Iraq, and Iraqi-led forces detained suspected terrorists and seized weapons in recent operations in Iraq, military officials reported. U.S. soldiers pursued criminals suspected of launching a rocket attack against Contingency Operating Base Basra on July 16 that resulted in the deaths of three Multinational Division South soldiers. (READ MORE)

U.S. Forces Provide Training, Humanitarian Aid - WASHINGTON, July 20, 2009 – U.S forces delivered new skills, and hope, to Iraqis in recent training and humanitarian operations, military officials reported. Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, and the 19/5 Military Transition Team recently provided training to their counterparts from 5th Iraqi Army Division’s 19th Brigade. (READ MORE)

Laying Down the Law: US Tries to Make Policemen of the 'Robbers in Uniform' - Bananaman, Super Mario, Popeye, Timmy and Doctor Frankenstein may not know it, but the hopes of the international community weigh heavy on their shoulders. With nicknames bestowed by their US Marine trainers, all are members of the Afghan National Police force entrusted with turning the ground seized around Garmsir during the continuing American offensive in Helmand into something approaching a governable state. (READ MORE)

Debate Over Afghanistan Rages in Britain as Casualties Rise - Another British soldier has been killed in Afghanistan, the 17th this month. Rising casualties have sparked a political debate about the country's involvement in Afghanistan and why more and more of its soldiers are dying. Britain has more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, about one third of them involved in Operations Panther's Claw against insurgents in Helmand province. (READ MORE)

A Deadly Month for US Troops in Afghanistan - Four American soldiers were killed by a roadside explosion in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, making July the deadliest month for American service members in the country since the 2001 invasion and underscoring the frightening rise in the sophistication and accuracy of roadside bombs. With the four newest fatalities, at least 30 Americans have died in the first three weeks of July, surpassing the highest previous monthly toll, 28, reached in June 2008. (READ MORE)

13 Die as Taliban Attack 2 Afghan Cities - Afghan officials say 13 Taliban militants and Afghan security forces have died in insurgent attacks on two eastern Afghan cities. Police official Ghulam Dastagir says five Taliban suicide bombers attacked government centers in the city of Gardez. Five Taliban bombers and five Afghan security forces died in the Tuesday attack. Two bombers were shot while wearing women's burqas. (READ MORE)

Gates: US ‘Sparing No Effort’ To Locate Missing Soldier - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said American commanders are “sparing no effort” to locate a US soldier who went missing early this month in Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters today during a Pentagon news conference, Gates also expressed his disgust at the exploitation of Army Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, who the Defense Department identified as the missing soldier and who is featured in a video apparently released yesterday on the Internet by his captors. (READ MORE)

Votes in Afghan Province Could Turn on Loss of Poppies - The economic fortunes of Badakhshan province, a remote and wildly beautiful corner of far northeastern Afghanistan, have risen and fallen over the past seven years with the production of opium poppies. Not long ago, emerald fields with nodding pink poppy flowers were everywhere, and Badakhshan was one of the country's fastest-growing poppy producers. Today, its golden hills are dotted with freshly harvested wheat stacks, and its 95 percent drop in opium production last year has been hailed as a model by international anti-drug officials. (READ MORE)

Five Security Officers Killed in Pakistan - Gunmen ambushed a police patrol in Pakistan's volatile northwest Monday, killing four officers while a roadside bomb killed a member of another security unit elsewhere in the region. Two officers died during the ambush on the outskirts of Peshawar city early Monday, while two others died later at a hospital from multiple bullet wounds, senior police official Nisar Khan said. (READ MORE)

Convoys Roll Through Danger to Deliver Goods - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 20, 2009 – As combat missions increase in Afghanistan, a Maine National Guard battalion here is getting increasingly busy delivering supplies to forward operating bases under dangerous conditions. Riding in mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, also known as MRAPs or “gun trucks,” soldiers of the 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion escort Afghan army “jingle trucks” and military palletized load system trucks, all loaded down with U.S. military cargo. (READ MORE)

General Mourns Airmen Killed in F-15E Crash - WASHINGTON, July 20, 2009 – The commander of U.S. Air Forces Central expressed condolences to the families and friends of two Air Force officers killed early July 18 in the crash of an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet that was flying in support of coalition operations in eastern Afghanistan. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and loved ones … and to the airmen and the joint and coalition team members who called them friends and will miss their fellow warriors," Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North said. (READ MORE)

Forces Kill Enemy Fighters, Detain Others in Afghanistan - WASHINGTON, July 20, 2009 – Afghan and coalition forces killed enemy fighters, detained others and seized weapons in Afghanistan in the past four days, military officials reported. Afghan National Army and NATO International Security Assistance Force soldiers killed 10 anti-Afghan fighters in Pech district of Afghanistan’s Kunar province July 17 after receiving small-arms fire while on a routine patrol. Coalition close-air support from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield aided the force. (READ MORE)

Defence chief warns against Afghan withdrawl - Premature withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan would lead to a civil war the Taliban would probably win, Australia’s defence chief has warned. Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston says such an outcome would likely see the Taliban re-establish training camps for terrorists who would unleash attacks around the world. (READ MORE)

Taliban attack town in Afghanistan - Taliban guerrillas staged a series of attacks on government buildings in a town in eastern Afghanistan, residents said, with gunbattles and at least one large explosion heard. There were no immediate reports of any casualties from the attacks in the town of Gardez in Paktia province, or explanations of why the fighting had broken out. (READ MORE)

EU's Solana in Afghanistan visits - The European Union's (EU) foreign policy chief has arrived in Afghanistan for talks with the president and other politicians ahead of key elections. Javier Solana is to discuss the major developments in the country and region as well as the upcoming electoral process, the EU said. (READ MORE)

Afghan Bill Aims To Criminalize Discrimination Against Women - In Afghanistan, anyone who bars a woman from attending school, going to work, or visiting a doctor could soon face prison time. A bill on "eliminating violence against women" that has been in the works for years is taking final shape, and is expected to be among the first pieces of legislation discussed once Afghan parliamentarians return this week from summer recess. (READ MORE)

Pak troops kill 114 Taliban in Dir, Swat - Islamabad, July 21 : Pakistani security forces have killed at least 114 Taliban militants in two separate operation in Lower Dir and Swat regions, while three army officials have also lost their lives, a private TV channel has claimed. During the operation, troops managed to destroyed many bunkers and hideouts in Lower Dir, after they targeted the headquarters. (READ MORE)

Houston touts Taliban kill, training efforts - The chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston says a senior Taliban commander was recently killed in the Uruzgan province by Afghan and Australian forces. Air Chief Marshal Houston says the dead Taliban leader had been directly responsible for attacks on Australian and Afghan soldiers. (READ MORE)

Linked By: H&I FIRES* 21 July 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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