July 22, 2009

From the Front: 07/22/2009

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

Ann Scott Tyson: (VIDEO) Ordnance Expert on Taliban IEDs - U.S. Marines in Helmand province and coalition forces in many parts of Afghanistan face a growing threat from improvised explosive devices laid by Taliban fighters. An ordnance expert explains why the bombs are so lethal. (View Video)

Old Blue: Calling out Michael Cohen - I’ve slapped Michael Cohen around a bit before for his cowardly and intellectually dishonest “analysis” of the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan. I’ve pointed out before that he is driven by the fear that if we are successful counterinsurgents here, that COIN will become a cornerstone of American foreign policy. I’ve also pointed out that this is self-defeating, given Mr. Cohen’s advocacy of civil capacity-building development within our foreign policy organs. I’ve pointed out his ridiculousness, to be sure. He’s outdone himself today, and he’s drawn my fire. Cohen writes today in rebuttal of an Op-Ed by Thomas Friedman, taking “offense” and taking Mr. Friedman to task for this snippet: “In grand strategic terms, I still don’t know if this Afghan war makes sense anymore. I was dubious before I arrived, and I still am. But when you see two little Afghan girls crouched on the front steps of their new school, clutching tightly with both arms the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first dolls — it’s hard to say: ‘Let’s just walk away.’ Not yet.” (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Clearance Granted: Coming Clean - Today, I got a chance to have my “in-brief” with my new boss, a Colonel who is the Director of the CTC-A, or Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan. It took a week to catch fifteen minutes or so of his free time. He has none, and so what I got was stolen. The conversation went well. Among other things, I am clear to blog. One thing: Don’t ever think that I speak for the CTC-A. I don’t. I speak for myself and myself alone. See the disclaimer for details. CTC-A would fall under at least one of the covered entities that I do not speak for. That being said, I’ve got to say that I’m mui impressed with the curriculum here. I am surrounded by people who get it. Many are former advisors. Evangelists all, our job is to help my Army, and and armies of our allies and the Afghans, and governmental organizations of all of the above… and a few others… to “get” COIN. That in many cases refers to how to operationalize it, not just talk about it. Good stuff. It’s what I volunteered to come back to The Suck for. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Attacks In Gardez And Jalalabad - The bad news, if unsurprising, is that the Taliban are still launching fairly complex suicide bombing missions against government offices in Afghan cities. The good news, and I don't think I'm just wearing rose-coloured glasses here, is that the Afghan security forces--with some Yankee help--are getting pretty good at repelling these attacks. Details are still sketchy, but possibly as many as fifteen suicide bombers (that's a Taliban spokesman claim) were involved in the attack, and many of them were killed or captured before the bombs went off. This was also the case in a large Taliban attack in Kabual in February. When people say there is no exit plan for the Afghan mission, they're wrong. The exit plan is quite clear to me: train and develop Afghan institutions to be able to take care of and protect their democratic government. The only question is how to get there in the most efficient and effective way. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: It's A Boy! - No, America’s 1stSgt is not a proud father. But I know someone who is! The other day one of my S-1 ninja’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. He had been on the phone on and off for hours. She was in labor for 20 of them if that tells you anything! All morning I’d stick my head in the office and loudly ask if we were a dad, yet. “Not yet 1stSgt; but I’m ready.” The young Corporal patted a box of cigars he had purchased for the occasion and was anxious to hand them out in celebration. On a speaker phone he could hear what was going on in the delivery room; the nurse coaching his wife; his wife cursing his very existence; his mother reassuring his wife that today she was allowed to say pretty much anything she wanted about him and receive unconditional amnesty. Regularly he would call back for an update. At one point the doctor told him that the baby was coming soon and to call back in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes later he called back just to have his mother announce: “You just missed it!” (READ MORE)

Doc H: Success with First Mentoring Contact - I have been out at a nearby training facility for the past few days. Ostensibly we went there to provide follow on immunizations for ANP recruits, but I knew better. After just a little effort we were able to find the ANP clinic on the camp. It was a small but well stocked and set up space. My interpreter and I had a very cordial visit with the Dr and his assistant. By the end of the meeting the Afghan medic agreed to assist us drawing up the immunizations that night and both of them participated in the immunization process for the entire time the following day. I was able to spend 3 more hours teaching them on almost a one on one basis- going over some pharmacology based on their medications on hand and trauma bandaging. They were extremely appreciative and by the end of our time there they agreed that they plan to take over running the immunizations for their recruits after a walk through with us next time. We also came up with a training plan for my next visit. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Afghan, US forces repel coordinated Taliban suicide assaults - Afghan and US forces repelled coordinated Taliban assaults in two major cities in eastern Afghanistan. Suicide bombers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles attacked government installations and a US base in the cities of Gardez and Jalalabad. Eight Taliban fighters and six Afghan security personnel were reported killed in the failed attacks. In Gardez in Paktia province, six suicide bombers, some wearing the full-length burkas worn by Afghan women, attacked government buildings, including the provincial intelligence office, but were gunned down as they attempted to storm the buildings. Three intelligence officials were killed when one of the suicide bombers detonated his vest outside the intelligence department. The other five suicide bombers and two policemen were killed during gun battles outside a police station and the governor's house. One of the suicide bombers detonated his vest outside the Paktia governor’s home. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The virtues of doing nothing: Why focusing on Afghanistan’s opium makes the opium problem worse - It would be an understatement to call opium cultivation in Afghanistan America’s headache. The issue of illegal drug cultivation and smuggling has vexed policymakers for three decades, and led to a multi-billion dollar campaign to combat the phenomenon. Opium causes all of our problems, so they say—according to a factsheet at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, opium creates instability, funds the insurgency, and wreaks havoc on the government. They’re not alone - entire books have been written on the subject. The blame game on opium, however, ignores a critical - and quite uncomfortable - fact: it misses the point. The reality is, while the cultivation of opium does not help matters from a Western perspective, in Afghanistan it is actually a healthy economic activity. The concerns over its cultivation, too, are overblown: even a brief look at the numbers show it to be at best a trailing indicator of insecurity, insurgency, corruption, and economic malaise. Opium, therefore, is only an indicator of other, more substantial problems. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Never Forget - Last night, Stone, TyTy, Vaughn and I covered the memorial service for the three soldiers killed here on the 16th. They were killed by indirect fire (used to refer to mortars, rockets, etc.) They were all attached to the 34th Military Police Company, 2 were MPs and 1 was a medic. Spc Carlos Wilcox was 27, Spc Daniel Drevnick was 22 and Spc James Wertish was just 20. They were all from Minnesota. The memorial was packed and if I had to guess, I’d say 700 people attended the service. I set up a stationary shot on the speakers and Stone roamed around to get crowd shots and cutaways. I couldn’t keep my composure for the entire thing and ended up shedding more than a few tears. There are three parts of the ceremony that always get me: The final roll call - where the 1st Sgt calls out the names of people in his company and they sound off, but when he gets to the name of the deceased there is no answer and he calls for him three times, falling on silence; (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Paratrooper Baptized - For those of you following my blog who are brothers and sisters in Christ you will be glad to know that one of my paratroopers was baptized a few days ago. It came as a surprise to me, but it definitely lifted the spirits of the Christian brethren here at tiny COP 763. It was quite the baptism performed by our battalion chaplain, overcoming the obstacle of not having a baptismal in true innovative paratrooper fashion. We filled a deep freezer with water. Quite the scene for a baptism. The paratrooper who was baptized is a big boy, probably 6'4", and barely fit in the freezer. It was truly a baptism to remember. Thanks for your continuing prayers for safety and spiritual well being of the soldiers who are serving over here with me. Your prayers are both appreciated and needed. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Specter of Give-and-Take Looms Over Maliki's Visit - Iraq would like the United States to provide more economic support, help resolve problems with some of its neighbors and - when asked - assist in combating the myriad security problems it still faces. Otherwise, it would like the Americans to leave it alone. For its part, the Obama administration wants Baghdad to stop the sectarian disagreements that continue to impede economic and political progress, show a little more public respect for US sacrifices on its behalf and start behaving like a normal, oil-rich democracy. (READ MORE)

18 Killed, 100 Wounded in Iraq Bombings - Iraqi officials say a series of bombings killed at least 18 people in Baghdad and Ramadi Tuesday, three weeks after Iraqi forces formally assumed security responsibilities in urban areas. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul Karim Khalaf told VOA that Iraqi forces can handle their security duties without the assistance of the U.S. combat troops that withdrew from the cities on June 30. (READ MORE)

At Least 15 Die in Attacks Aimed at Shiite, Sunni and US Targets in Baghdad - A series of bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 100, and there were two separate attacks on American military convoys in Baghdad in which at least three people were killed. The violence was the worst to hit the Iraqi capital since American combat troops withdrew on June 30, providing another test of Iraq’s ability to defend itself as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki left for talks with President Obama in Washington. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Authority Proceeding After Initial Frustrations, Commander Says - Several weeks after American forces in Baghdad handed over security leadership to their Iraqi counterparts, friction is giving way to a smoother transition of power, a top US commander in the Iraqi capital said. Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad, today described “hiccups and friction” that followed the American withdrawal from Iraqi cities in accordance with the June 30 deadline. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Military: No Need for US Troops' Help in Security Mission - The Iraqi military and security forces are saying they have not needed to call upon US troops, since their pullback from Iraqi cities on June 30, and they have also denied US requests to conduct raids. The Iraqi military is becoming increasingly self-reliant, in the words of its commanders, since the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities and towns. (READ MORE)

American Troops Under ‘House Arrest’ After Iraq Pullout - When American troops pulled out of Iraqi cities this month they did not realise quite how final their departure would be. The Iraqi military has since barred them from re-entering areas they previously controlled and all but locked them out of towns and cities. US convoys can no longer pass through checkpoints in Baghdad without prior approval and an Iraqi escort. American night-time raids in pursuit of insurgents have also been curtailed by Iraqi officials who gained the right to veto all such missions on July 1. (READ MORE)

Envoy: No Acts Against US by Quds Detainees - The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq says he does not know of any evidence linking three Iranian Quds Force officers to specific acts against US forces even though the three were jailed by US authorities for more than two years. The prolonged detention put the United States at odds with elements of the Iraqi government, which long argued that the men were performing a liaison function with the Kurds in northern Iraq. (READ MORE)

GRD Soldier earns staff sergeant rank through battlefield promotion system - TALLIL, Iraq – In a July 18 ceremony at the Gulf Region South district headquarters, Contingency Operating Base Adder, Tallil, Iraq, Sgt. David Halstead was promoted to staff sergeant, becoming the first person in the five-and-a-half-year history of Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq to advance under the provisions of the Army’s battlefield promotion system. Distinguishing himself by executing his duties to the full measure of Warrior Ethos and Army Values, Halstead earned the promotion to staff sergeant through the battlefield promotion system, available only to Soldiers serving within Iraq or Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. (READ MORE)

Ravens fly Iraqi skies providing “bird’s eye” view - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – Launching an unmanned aircraft by throwing it in the air might not sound too technologically advanced, but with surveillance equipment and auto navigational systems it could be the difference between life and death. This aircraft, known as a “Raven,” is operated by two Soldiers assigned to Forward Operating Base McHenry, with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, who use it as an “eye in the sky” around the base. (READ MORE)

Romania Donates Equipment to Iraq for NATO Donation Program - BAGHDAD – Iraq recently received the last of the three shipments from Romania consisting of military uniform accessories to outfit the Iraqi Security Forces. The donation is the latest contribution to the NATO Equipment Donation Program. NATO Training Mission-Iraq is responsible for providing technical assistance to Iraqi Security Forces. This includes coordinating equipment donations from NATO countries to the Iraqi Security Forces in order to meet the country’s security needs as efficiently as possible. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Join U.S.Cavalry for Taji Air Assault - TAJI — As the Iraqi military works toward its goal of taking control of its nation's defense, the ongoing joint training between it and the U.S. Army is more critical than ever. To that end, the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Brigade is using training and real combat missions to help provide hands-on experience to the Iraqis. Observing from the front row seat of a CH-47F Chinook helicopter was IqAF Lt. Col. Jassim Mohammed, who was invited by Lt.Col. Ralph Litscher, 227th Aviation Regiment, to observe the joint daytime air assault, July 20. (READ MORE)

Soldiers Fly Blimp as Part of New Mission - FOB WARRIOR — Pre-deployment training prepares Soldiers for a wide range of missions they may encounter. Flying a blimp is typically not one of them. Or at least it wasn't for Soldiers here, until a new surveillance blimp took its place in the skies above FOB Warrior. The blimp began operating June 28, and is part of a growing number of these blimps currently being used across Iraq. This equipment takes a special group of Soldiers operating day and night to keep it in the air and out of harm's way. (READ MORE)

Troops Read Stories to Children Back Home - CAMP VICTORY — "I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam I am," read Petty Officer 2nd Class Bobby Joe Holland to his daughter McKenzie back home. Holland's reading was done via the "United Through Reading" program, a service being offered to servicemembers at Camp Victory, as well as many other forward areas all over the world. "I'm just fearful of getting home and my little girl not knowing me," said Holland as tears welled in his eyes. "I'm fearful of her not recognizing who I am." (READ MORE)

Northwestern Guard Units Partner for Medical Evacuation Training - JOINT BASE BALAD — Two Pacific Northwest-based Army National Guard units recently partnered for medical evacuation training here at the Air Force Theater Hospital. Soldiers from the Seattle-based Washington Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment and the Salem-based Oregon Army National Guard's Charlie Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment met far from their evergreen home stations in the sandy Iraqi desert to conduct the training. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Objects to US Expansion in Afghan War - Pakistan is objecting to expanded American combat operations in neighboring Afghanistan, creating new fissures in the alliance with Washington at a critical juncture when thousands of new American forces are arriving in the region. Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that the Marines fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan, with the potential to further inflame the troubled province of Baluchistan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials. (READ MORE)

US Deaths Hit A Record High In Afghanistan - US deaths in Afghanistan have surged to a record high this month and are likely to remain elevated as American and NATO forces settle into outposts in southern Afghan villages and cities where Taliban forces have traditionally been the strongest. A confluence of factors has contributed to July's toll, which is the highest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in any month since the war began in late 2001. (READ MORE)

Warning on Taliban Victory if Troops Go - Afghanistan would descend into civil war, resulting in the defeat by the Taliban of the Karzai government, if NATO were to withdraw its 60,000 troops from the troubled country, Australian defence chief Angus Houston warned yesterday. While good progress was being made improving the military skills of the Afghan National Army, it was unable to mount operations bigger than company (120 troops) level, and Australian trainers would be needed for at least another five years, Air Chief Marshal Houston told reporters during an Afghanistan update. (READ MORE)

Suicide Attackers Hit Government, Military Targets in Two Afghan Cities - A group of Taliban militants strapped with explosives and armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launched assaults Tuesday on Afghan and US facilities in two eastern Afghan cities, killing six security officers. Officials say the gunmen, some wearing suicide vests and disguised in women's burqa robes, tried to storm the local intelligence office, the governor's office and a police compound in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province. Six militants were reported killed in gunbattles with police. (READ MORE)

Taliban Claims Responsibility for New Wave of Attacks in Afghanistan - The coordinated assaults targeting a US military base and government compounds in two eastern cities kill at least six Afghan security officers and eight insurgents. Sowing security fears less than a month before presidential elections, a wave of gunmen and suicide bombers staged coordinated attacks in two eastern cities Tuesday that killed at least six Afghan security officers and eight of the insurgents during hours of chaotic fighting. (READ MORE)

Troops Training Plan to Limit Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan - The Australian Defence Force will adopt greater transparency in reporting claims of military involvement in Afghan civilian casualties. Defence Force Chief Angus Houston made the pledge today, amid growing unease by senior NATO commanders at the rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan, a result of Taliban roadside bombs and indiscriminate coalition air strikes. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Military: 56 Militants Killed in Northwest - Security forces in Pakistan are said to have killed more than 56 Taliban militants in clashes this week in one of the several northwestern districts where a major anti-insurgency operation is underway. Local military commanders say that the militants were killed during, what they describe as, a major search and cordon operation in several villages of the Lower Dir district. They say the clashes also left three soldiers dead. (READ MORE)

Waziristan a Tough Nut for Pakistani Forces - The restive and desolate Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border holds thousands of guerrilla fighters. Islamabad has mostly used air power against them, avoiding combat. Washington has called Waziristan the most dangerous place on Earth. Former Pakistani general Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai knows why. Aurakzai led troops against Taliban militants in the Pakistani region from 2001 to '04, confronting a ferocious enemy able to ambush and then suddenly disappear down goat paths or melt away into warrens of mud-hut villages. (READ MORE)

Malloch-Brown changes tack on helicopters for Afghanistan - A senior government minister was forced to make a humiliating public climbdown today after saying in an interview that British troops lacked enough helicopters in Afghanistan. The Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown, who is leaving the government at the end of this week, also admitted the public had been inadequately prepared for the US and British offensive in Helmand before the recent rise in casualties. (READ MORE)

German military in largest Afghan offensive to date - Berlin - The German Bundeswehr (military) was Wednesday deploying heavy weapons including tanks in its largest offensive to date against the Taliban in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, military officials said. Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said that the deployment was in response to a deteriorating security situation in the province, where German troops have come increasingly under fire from Taliban forces in recent weeks. (READ MORE)

The Burqa-clad bombers who terrorise Afghanistan - Male suicide bombers disguised in womens' burqas stormed government buildings and security headquarters in co-ordinated attacks which killed a dozen people and injured 22 others in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. Hamid Karzai's government described the "commando-style" raids as a new tactic being employed by the Taliban in what has been one of the most violent months in the country's war. (READ MORE)

Attack on mosque kills 11 in N. Afghanistan - Eleven people were killed as Taliban insurgents entered a mosque in Kunduz province in the north of Afghanistan, a local newspaper reported Wednesday. "A group of armed Taliban entered a mosque in Kunduz city, the capital of Kunduz province, when a mine suddenly went off leaving 11 people dead including four children," daily Arman-e-Millie quoting locals reported. (READ MORE)

Taliban may have moved kidnapped US soldier to Pakistan - Lahore, July 22 : The US soldier abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan might have been moved into Pakistan, thus complicating matters for American search teams. ABC News quoted US and Afghan military officials, as saying that 23-year-old Private Bowe R Bergdahl of Idaho and three Afghan soldiers kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban, has now been moved to the South Waziristan Agency. (READ MORE)

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