July 27, 2009

From the Front: 07/27/2009

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

Sour Swinger: Videos From The JSS - For many of our longer company run missions, we’d setup at a JSS. Here are my videos from within that JSS. Once again (even though I was told I’ve made my point), thank you to my step-mom for uploading these videos. :) (VIEW VIDEOS)

Notes From Iraq: 25JUL09--Kuwait; Next Stop U.S. of A - My team arrived in Kuwait last night and prepares for the coming jet lag of traveling back to the States in the immediate future. We are all excited and very much looking forward to seeing our families. Most of us will see them midway through this coming week after we out process from Fort Riley, Kansas and fly out to finally return to our homes at our next places of duty. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: I'm Back!! - Sorry for the long break in posts but I've been making my way back to the US for the last several weeks. My internet access was spotty and the irregular travel schedule messed with my chances to write. I reached home yesterday and am currently spending time with the REAL VAMPIRE 06 trying to adjust to a world where not everyone wants to kill you and every car on the side of the road isn't a VBIED. I'll see you all soon! VAMPIRE 06 (READ MORE)

Afghani Kush: Sorry Folks - Hey folks. Yeah, I've been really bad about updating this thing. I'm real sorry. So I went on mid tour leave and as expected it was pretty fantastic. The real world was a good place to get back to for a little while. Saw my friends, drank to much beer and over all had a great time. But I got back here about a week ago and it's back to the routine now. I wish that I could tell you guys that a lot of exciting stuff has been going on, but nothing really has. We've been doing some exploring but I guess Taliban doesn't really want to play all that much. We should have some pretty cool stuff headed our way that I'll try and keep you guys updated on. Other than that not a lot. Our CO died while I was on leave. He got hit by an IED. He was a great leader, a good guy and one of the friendliest guys I've ever met, he will be missed. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Memorial Service for Fallen Hero—SGT Raymundo Morales - It was a somber morning; all of the US flags on the camp were flying at half staff in honor of our latest fallen warrior, SGT Raymundo Morales. SGT Morales died from his injuries when the HMMVW he was riding in rolled over near Methar Lam. Today we would honor Raymundo Morales who was posthumously promoted to the rank of SGT. This was the 3rd memorial service I’ve attended since being in country. I had hoped not to see another one for the remaining year. Today instead of standing in formation, I was asked to take the photographs and an Army Specialist would use the video camera. The slide show posted today shows some of the pictures I took. The immediate family members can request through the Casualty Assistance Officer for a copy of all the images. Although I did not know SGT Morales personally, I struggled with my emotions as I watched the emotions of others through the camera lens. A military memorial service is the most dignified and professional ceremony you will ever witness. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Prison and introductions - A couple of days ago I had quite an experience. A contracted mentoring team who is working with the prison systems in our region requested our medical assistance with immunizations. The previous team gave a few immunizations to the women in the prison. This worthy work also gave me the opportunity to actually meet the ANP doctor I am actually supposed to be mentoring. The trip there was one of the most reassuringly secure ones I have taken in country. There is something inherently secure about having a team of folks who have eyes like hawks and probably kukri knives underneath their battle dress. I actually got to see the countryside for once as well. Many of my colleagues here have commented that with the exceptions of the few cars and mopeds, this region of mud brick houses and arid landscape appears largely unchanged since Biblical times. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Selling ammo - We've been getting sporadic mortar and rocket attacks at the base here lately. No damages have been done so far, but if it continues it's only a matter of time. Apparently, recently a round landed next to the local Afghan National Police (ANP) station because the other day the ANA found a mortar round there and brought it up to me to show it off and ask me what to do with it. They were quite proud of themselves, and when my terp took it off their hands he proceeded to handle it a little nonchalantly for my tastes. I can't profess to being very fond of dealing with unexploded ordnance (UXO); I'd just as soon leave that job to the pros. But...sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so I grabbed it and carried it up to the UXO pit where it was destroyed the next day by Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). The whole incident got me thinking about the ANA and ammo. Why is it that we get reports all the time of them selling ammo, but then when they find UXO they bring it right over to me? Why not sell that damn UXO too and keep it away from me...? (READ MORE)

Ann Scott Tyson: For Marines, War is No Excuse for Looking Shaggy - Even in a war zone, certain customs must be upheld. So when Fox Company of 2nd Battlion, 8th Marine Regiment returned from a several-day mission, the non-commissioned officers were already berating young lance corporals for their shaggy looking hair. The next morning, Fox Company's 3rd Platoon was abuzz -- literally -- with the sound of electric razors. Marines, some quite expert, and others obviously novices, volunteered to execute regulation Marine Corps haircuts by the dozen. From black plastic boxes, the barbers pulled out razors, scissors, and green smocks to drape around their customers. Style-wise, the choices came down to "low", "medium", or "high and tight" -- meaning the level on the head of the distinctive line of the Marine Corps haircut. ("Low" being within regulation, but somewhat frowned upon.) (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Corrections - Shem Bot and I rolled out to look at the tanker which was attacked last Thursday. It is important to get a sense of exactly what is happening in our AO so we often do our own BDA (battle damage assessment) this. Based on our observations I am most pleased to report that we do not believe the RPG mechanic had anything to do with this attack. Looks to be run of the mill fuel theft which is a booming Afghan industry. The Army had a four truck convoy stopped in the middle of the Jbad-Kabul Highway (Rt 1) but I saw no dismounts and have no idea what was up. I’ll tell that story through pictures but I am not the only one issuing corrections – there is something which popped up today about the U.S. Army and the battle of Wanat which occurred over a year ago in Nuristan Province. This topic may not “have legs” in the current news cycle due to MSM infatuation with our President but I will tell you something – it is not going to go away and it could ultimately do significant damage to our military if it becomes politicized. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: The Trailblazer from Hell - Most units receive a couple of Non-Tactical Vehicles when they arrive in theater. This is usually handled through KBR and consists of such vehicles as gators, F-150’s, Pick-ups, and in our case a Trailblazer. I have driven quite a few of our NTVs while in country this time. They are the most useful things to get Class I, move equipment around, transport personnel to the PX, etc. NTVs don’t require you to don all your gear just to drive 3 feet like the humvees do. So you can imagine NTVs get quite a lot of intra-FOB use. These vehicles are not designed for such harsh use in this environment. Things start breaking almost immediately and they just keep getting used till they just stop working. Enter the Trailblazer from hell. This SUV resembles a white Trailblazer era 2007/2008. However, if it ever was such a vehicle, it has long ceased to be. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Afghanistan offensive 'a success' - BBC - The commander of UK forces in Afghanistan has hailed their latest operation a success, as its first stage draws to a close. Brig Tim Radford was "cautiously optimistic" about the future but said there was "a long way to go" to improve security in time for elections. Twenty UK soldiers have died in Operation Panther's Claw - involving 3,000 troops - since its June launch. Troops will now focus on holding ground won from the Taliban in recent weeks. The offensive ends as UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged Afghanistan's leaders to talk to moderate Taliban members. In a speech to Nato, Mr Miliband said a political coalition must be built which included some of the current insurgents. The Ministry of Defence said the first stage of Operation Panther's Claw was the most heavily-militarised phase. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Today the Temp was 133 Before Lunch - I skipped lunch today and rode to the PX to buy new sunglasses. I lost a pair of Army Oakleys two weeks ago then today I lost my backup Army pair at breakfast. They were on my tray and when we leave the DFAC we dump the tray into one of 10 trash cans in rows of five on either side of the exit hallway. I started to ride away, realized where my glasses were then went back. But I could not remember which trash can I had dumped my tray in. I tried to remember, but as I stood there another soldier dumped his tray about every five seconds. I gave up and bought new ones. Anyway, on the ride over to the PX the bike thermometer said 133 degrees. The air was very still just before I left, which may be why the temp was so high. As I left the motor pool, a wind kicked up and in a mile the temp reading had dropped to 127, a nice cooling breeze--from a blow dryer. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Failure - Yesterday, I woke up at 0330 to my cell phone ringing; it now serves only as an alarm clock. I rubbed my eyes, stretched, and curled back up with my cheap fleece blanket. The top-bunk mattress that I sleep on squeaks and I feel the springs in my back each night… but I still didn’t want to get up. Not at 3:30 AM and certainly not to take a PT test. 2 minutes of pushups. Do as many as you can. 2 minutes of situps. Do as many as you can. 2 mile run. Run it as fast as you can. It’s graded on a scale of 0-300, with 100 points per event. I’ve never enjoyed the APFT, but I’ve never failed one since Basic Training in 2003. I hate doing pushups, but I’ve always done more than enough to pass. The situps are my event: I throw myself foward as fast as I can and fall back on the pad just as quickly, careful not to use any energy on the way down. In my prime, I maxed-out on the event with 75-80 situps. The run has never been too tough either; it’s all psychological. Just keep running. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Talking to Pokey - I woke up late this morning and as I was coming out of my room I heard my youngest son talking away. About the time I was in the hall and about to step into the livingroom where he was I heard him say"Pokey" and I stopped. He was talking to his brother and I didn't want to intrude or embarrass him. I listened as he told his brother about the pictures we have hanging on the wall to remember him. It then got quiet and I stepped into the livingroom.. I should have waited. As I stepped in I saw my youngest standing at Pokey's memory table touching a picture of his brother and telling him quietly he missed him. When he turned and saw me he smiled and tried to act like he was just there. I didn't say anything. I knew I had interrupted a private conversation and I felt bad. And I want him to be comfortable and have these conversations with his brother. If it helps him to talk out loud to Pokey I will not stop him or allow anyone to shame him for doing it. Micheal and Anthony were buddies. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US released senior Iranian Qods Force commander - A senior Qods Force officer who led one of the three commands in Iraq assigned to attack US and Iraqi forces was one of five Iranians released by the US military on July 9. Mahmud Farhadi, the leader of the Zafr Command, one of three units subordinate to the Qods Force's Ramazan Corps, was among five Iranians turned over to the Iraqi government and then subsequently turned over to the Iranians. A spokesman from the Iranian foreign ministry identified Farhadi as one of the five men released on July 9, according to a report on Iranian state-run television. Reports initially indicated that five Iranians who were captured by the US in Irbil in northern Iraq in January 2007 were released from custody. But US military intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Farhadi was disguised as one of the Irbil Five to soften the blow of the release. (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: The Future of Iraq, Part IV - Getting an accurate reading of Iraqi public opinion is hard. It might be impossible. I've seen Iraqis cheer American soldiers, and I've seen some Iraqis hug American soldiers in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. A few weeks ago, though, hundreds of thousands celebrated when Americans evacuated Iraqi cities as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement. It's theoretically possible that what we've seen is not contradictory. Some Iraqis are pro-American. Others are not. Those who celebrated when Americans left may very well be, at least for the most part, different Iraqis than those I've seen who greeted Americans warmly. Iraqi public opinion, though, is famously contradictory. And Iraqi public opinion as stated by Iraqis themselves is notoriously unreliable. Most Iraqis, like most Arabs everywhere, are extremely polite and hospitable. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Changes in the IZ - In several posts recently, I've talked about changes that are taking place in Iraq, and especially here in Baghdad. They're being driven by the Security Agreement that was signed last fall, Iraqi eagerness to take control of their own country, and the improving security situation. There are a lot of things going on right here in the International Zone that are part of this. For one thing, my command, the Gulf Region Division (GRD) of the US Army Corps of Engineers, is moving. We're leaving the IZ, where we've been for five years, and going out to Victory Base, which is the huge military operation out at the airport. Some offices have already left. Mine will be one of the last. Good thing, too, since the first couple of groups have had plenty of, shall we say, "learning experiences". Meaning their moves were all screwed up and I'm learning what NOT to do! (READ MORE)

The Torch: "What the Thunder Said"...to me - Back at the beginning of June, I was invited to see LCol John Conrad, a decorated Canadian army officer, speak about a book he'd written called "What the Thunder Said: Reflections of a Canadian Officer in Kandahar." My curiosity was peaked by the fact that it was a book about combat logistics, a topic about which I am almost wholly ignorant. But even more than that, I wanted to attend because it's extremely rare - Haley's Comet rare - to see someone still wearing the uniform write a book about their military experience. Conrad's presentation was fascinating. So, further encouraged by a resounding endorsement from Christie Blatchford in the foreward, I picked up a copy of the book. I'm so very glad I did. I wasn't forty pages into the book before I realized I should start using a highlighter as my bookmark, so that it was never far from hand. Not only is John Conrad a professional leader of men, he's also a damned fine writer. (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Anniversary... - Next Wednesday, July 29th, would have been Rob's and my 9th anniversary. It's so hard to believe we would have been married that long. Next year for our 10th anniversary, he was going to upgrade my wedding ring. The things he did to get out of buying me diamonds! :) Seriously, though, when I think about my first anniversary without Rob, so many emotions go through me. On that day, I can't even look up to heaven and say "Happy Anniversary" to him. It's not happy. So, I'm trying to figure out what exactly I can say. I do know this though: if I knew 9 years ago that this is how it would turn out, I, without a doubt, would still have married him. Of course, I would have done things differently. I would have cherished our time together more, laughed more, loved more, fought less, and hugged tighter. But I will forever cherish the times we did spend together and the 2 beautiful girls we have. So, thank you Rob for giving me a wonderful life with you. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: The party never ends - We've been up at Big Base for a few days now, doing more preparing-to-leave stuff. There's also been some drama, since there was a very ugly collison of bad days between our admin workhorse and an overly sensitive senior NCO. Drama is, of course, annoying. We've been doing our best to ignore that, knock out the tasks we came up here to deal with, and keep our heads down. We've been filling time by eating good chow, enjoying the wireless internet and, of course, giving each other IVs. After the drive up here, our gunner was feeling a little pink and dizzy, so I took that as an opportunity to remember how to stick: Always good to know one hasn't lost one's touch. I was, of course, quite proud of myself. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: SatComms for Soldiers - Sangin, Afghanistan - Have been out with British forces in the area of Sangin in northern Helmand Province. This area appears to be turning into the main effort of the current fight in Afghanistan, but this is unclear to me at the moment. I do know that air assets are heavy. During our mission yesterday, a B-1 could be seen overhead, though it was miles high. On the ground, this place is loaded with IEDs and there were many firefights during yesterday’s mission. My section of eight soldiers did not fire a single round; we did not come into direct contact, though bullets sometimes zipped overhead. Nearly all missions are conducted on foot and the soldiers like it that way. I am with the British battalion called 2 Rifles. The last mission I did with 2 Rifles was in Iraq, and they killed maybe 26-27 JAM members during that fight. Yesterday they only killed two Taliban (Predator actually made the shot), but the mission was well run, and morale here is very high. Everybody is ready to roll again and missions are near continuous. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Opposition Makes Gains in Kurdish Iraq - The ruling parties of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region won a comfortable majority in the region's parliament, unofficial results showed Sunday, but a strong performance by the opposition has already begun to rework the balance of power. In an election Saturday that drew surprisingly high turnout - nearly 80 percent - voters chose a president and a 111-member parliament for the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, a land of stunning geography that enjoys a large degree of independence from Baghdad and has emerged as a success story in an otherwise turbulent country. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Officer Was 'Out of Line,' Maliki Says - An Iraqi officer who ordered the detention of US soldiers last week after they killed three Iraqis while pursuing insurgents acted in error and was "out of line," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday. The officer "did not understand the agreement" governing US military activities since American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities last month, Maliki said in an interview, adding that it "clearly states that American forces have the right to defend themselves, and that's what they did." (READ MORE)

Maliki Teams with US Universities to Rebuild Iraqi Education - Iraq plans to send 50,000 students abroad for advanced studies over the next five years to bolster its once highly respected educational system. Aiming to restore the once renowned prestige of its devastated education system, Iraq plans to send up to 50,000 students abroad for advanced studies over the next five years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a group of educators gathered Saturday in Washington. The scholarship program is set to launch this fall with the arrival of about 500 students in the United States and Britain for English-language training. (READ MORE)

Maliki's Nationalism - Imagine that the Iraqi prime minister comes to Washington for a full menu of meetings with a new American administration. The war in his country is not yet over; 130,000 US troops remain in place; a fateful national election is on the horizon. The night of their summit meeting, the US president holds a televised news conference: Not one question concerns Iraq. Two days later, following the Iraqi's working session with the secretary of state, a joint appearance before the media leads to a newsmaking statement - about US policy in Honduras. (READ MORE)

U.S. troops, Iraqis defuse bombs, take fire on quick-reaction mission - MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq – Iraqi Soldiers learned of an explosion that destroyed an electrical transmission tower south of Baghdad and called for U.S. support, July 25. In a combined effort, Soldiers of Company B, 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team; Airmen of the 447th Explosive Ordinance Disposal Detachment; and Iraq Army soldiers of 25th Brigade, 17th Iraqi Army Division, defeated the explosives planted by terrorists. (READ MORE)

Iraqi police arrest terrorist suspects with warrants - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – Iraqi police arrested three individuals July 22, on warrants for conducting attacks against security forces and the civilian population. Iraqi police from the town of Laylan, supported by Soldiers from the 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, conducted the operation. (READ MORE)

IA soldiers train for route clearance operations - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – As the Iraqi Army develops its capabilities to support the mission of providing for security for the population of Iraq, it is necessary for IA soldiers to hone new skills. Soldiers from the 46th Brigade, 12th Iraqi Army Division, travelled to Forward Operating Base McHenry, near Hawijah, in the Kirkuk province of Iraq, July 22, to continue learning the fundamentals of one of the most critical jobs they are taking over from the U.S.: route clearance. (READ MORE)

U.S. forces use aerial strike on bunker to destroy weapons cache - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, DIYALA, Iraq – In cooperation with Iraqi security forces, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division coordinated an aerial strike on a bunker in southern Diyala province, July 25. The bunker was discovered to contain an active weapons cache during a combined patrol in the area. The cache had been booby-trapped with homemade explosives and the patrol assessed it to be unsafe for Soldiers on the ground to destroy. (READ MORE)

Preventive Medicine Team Protects Troops, Monitors Bugs, Animals, Food - FOB KALSU — A small Preventive Medicine Team (PMT) here does big things in an effort to protect servicemembers from disease-borne food, water, bugs and animals. Insects are not preventive medicine's only concern here. The team also works with vector control to manage the animal and vermin population. Animals found on the base include cats, dogs, porcupines, hedgehogs, snakes, jungle cats, foxes and rabbits. (READ MORE)

Engineer Corps Begins Merging Districts - COB SPEICHER — The Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers here began its transformation as part of the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq when it discontinued two of its three subordinate districts and merged them into the Gulf Region district, July 20. The Division’s Gulf Region North and Gulf Region Central districts became the newly-formed Gulf Region district. The new district, along with the division’s South district, will continue to provide full-spectrum construction management in support of the U.S. government and the government of Iraq. (READ MORE)

U.S., Iraqi Water Initiatives to Breathe Life Back Into Baghdad - BAGHDAD — It's a place that is tainted with seven years of conflict, where dust storms are commonplace, and clean, refreshing water is a scarce commodity. U.S. forces donated much-needed equipment to the office of the Abu Ghraib Director of Irrigation in an attempt to address the Middle-Eastern country's water supply issues during a meeting on a military compound in Baghdad, July 15. (READ MORE)

Clean Water Flows to Ninewa Homes - MOSUL — Ribbon cutting ceremonies were held for two water stations built in the Qayyarah sub-district of Ninewa province, south of Mosul, July 23. These projects will dramatically increase the amount of homes that receive water and are a part of an ongoing campaign to provide the people of Iraq with essential goods and services. The first ribbon cutting ceremony was at the renovated water station in Imam Sharqi. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Obama to Bestow Medal of Honor on Soldier Killed in Afghanistan - WASHINGTON, July 24, 2009 – President Barack Obama will posthumously award Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in Afghanistan, White House officials announced today. The ceremony, scheduled for Sept. 17 at the White House, will mark the first time Obama confers the highest military honor, making Monti the sixth servicemember to receive the Medal of Honor for service in Afghanistan or Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001, all of which have been awarded posthumously. (READ MORE)

Afghans Look Beyond Bickering Leaders - Afghanistan will vote next month in its second presidential election since the Taliban were ousted eight years ago. In villages such as Korak Dana, with entrenched tribal traditions, notions of modern democracy may seem remote. Faqirullah says the elders have met several times to discuss how to vote and women tell me they will cast their ballots as instructed by their men. Although only 90 minutes’ drive from Kabul, the village is still waiting for the government to build a road, bring electricity or open a factory that could give work to their young men. (READ MORE)

Hazaras May Play Key Role in Afghan Vote - For generations, Afghanistan's Hazara minority has occupied the humblest niche in the country's complex ethnic mosaic. The political power structure has been dominated by the large southern Pashtun tribes, followed by the slightly less numerous northern Tajiks. During various periods in history, the Shiite Hazaras have been forced from their lands and slaughtered in bouts of ethnic or religious "cleansing." (READ MORE)

US Commander in Afghanistan Shifts Focus to Protecting People - The US and its allies must change their mission to focus on protecting the Afghan people - even if it means temporarily allowing the Taliban to operate relatively freely in sparsely populated areas, the top US commander in Afghanistan said in an interview Saturday. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was appointed to overhaul military operations in the country, discussed his new strategy to shift the course of a war that has become increasingly intense. (READ MORE)

‘You Can’t Drive to this Fight. You Have to Fly.’ - There are few good roads in southern Afghanistan. The dirt tracks that meander through the desert are easily mined, and by the time US and other NATO troops lumber out in heavily armored convoys to their destination, the insurgents have often melted away. US helicopters have become key to fighting the Taliban, restoring the element of surprise with less risk to troops, US commanders say. "When we fly out, they can’t stay ahead of us," said Col. Paul Bricker, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade commander. (READ MORE)

Iraq Veterans Find Afghan Enemy Even Bolder - In three combat tours in Anbar Province, Marine Sgt. Jacob Tambunga fought the deadliest insurgents in Iraq. But he says he never encountered an enemy as tenacious as what he saw immediately after arriving at this outpost in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In his first days here in late June, he fought through three ambushes, each lasting as long as the most sustained fight he saw in Anbar. Like other Anbar veterans here, Sergeant Tambunga was surprised to discover guerrillas who, if not as lethal, were bolder than those he fought in Iraq. (READ MORE)

US Army's Farm Program Tackles Afghan Rebuilding from the Ground Up - Master Sgt. Colin Jones grew up on a farm in Nebraska and earned a degree in farm and ranch management. Now he's gone back to Farming 101, having volunteered for military duty in Afghanistan, where he is helping drag crop practices out of the 19th century and forward to, say, 1940s America. "You have to keep it simple and grounded," Jones said one sunny morning in this picturesque village, where he talked about fertilizer, invasive weeds and beekeeping with one of the top farmers in the area, the weather-beaten Sher Agah. (READ MORE)

Military Weighs Private Security on Front Lines - The US military command is considering contracting a private firm to manage security on the front lines of the war in Afghanistan, even as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says that the Pentagon intends to cut back on the use of private security contractors. On a Web site listing federal business opportunities, the Army this month published a notice soliciting information from prospective contractors who would develop a security plan for 50 or more forward operating bases and smaller command outposts across Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Digger Death Leads to Upgraded Gear - Diggers in Afghanistan will be given lighter body armour following concerns that protective kit worn by Corporal Mathew Hopkins, killed in a Taliban ambush in March, was too heavy and hindered movement. New army flak vests, already issued to members of the Special Operations Task Group, are now on offer to the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force, of which Hopkins was a member. Depending how the new bulletproof vests are configured, they could be up to 3.3kg lighter than standard-issue protective vests, Vice-Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General David Hurley said yesterday. (READ MORE)

Taliban and Afghan Government Agree to Cease-Fire in North - An Afghan official says the government and a Taliban commander who controls a small part of northwestern Afghanistan have agreed to a cease-fire. Seyamak Herawi, a spokesman in President Hamid Karzai's office, says the agreement will allow a road construction project to move forward and for presidential candidates to open offices in the region ahead of the country's Aug. 20 election. The agreement covers the Bala Morghab district of northwestern Badghis province, an area where the Afghan government has little or no control. (READ MORE)

Afghan Vice Presidential Candidate Escapes Assassination Attempt - Afghan officials say one of President Hamid Karzai's vice presidential running mates in next month's elections escaped unharmed after Taliban insurgents ambushed his convoy Sunday. The officials say Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former war lord and defense minister, was traveling in northern Kunduz province when insurgents opened fire on his convoy. In southern Helmand province Sunday, a soldier from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force died of his wounds suffered in an insurgent attack a day earlier. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Helps US Search for Captured Soldier - Intelligence sharing and military cooperation have begun to increase between Pakistan and the United States, according to American officials, who say their efforts to cultivate key leaders in Islamabad may be beginning to pay dividends. Pakistan, they say, has stepped up its cooperation along its border with Afghanistan for the first time in recent years, informing Afghanistan and the US about operations it is conducting and seeking a coordinated response to trap Islamist militants. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Arrests Cleric Who Brokered Swat Peace Deal - Pakistan has arrested a pro-Taliban cleric, Sufi Mohammad, for helping militants and undermining the government's anti-terrorism campaign in a northwestern region. The hard-line Pakistani religious leader, Sufi Mohammad, went missing three months ago when the military launched a major offensive to flush out Taliban militants from the northwestern valley of Swat and several neighboring districts. In February this year, Sufi Mohammad negotiated a peace deal with the government to end violence in and around Swat. (READ MORE)

Taliban Resume Attacks in Swat Valley - Taliban militants driven from the Swat Valley by Pakistan's army in recent months are again infiltrating the region's towns and villages, kidnapping and beheading perceived enemies and ambushing soldiers, as hundreds of thousands of refugees return home. Whether the latest violence represents the last gasp of a dying insurgency or the first sign of the militants' recovery is hard to tell. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Pledge to Rout Taliban In Tribal Region Is Put on Hold - Soon after Pakistan launched its offensive against the Taliban this spring, President Asif Ali Zardari declared that the mission would go beyond pushing the Islamist militia out of the Swat Valley. "We're going to go into Waziristan," he said. More than two months later, that still has not come to pass. Instead, the planned invasion of South Waziristan, a Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuary along the Afghanistan border, has been delayed by the refugee crisis spawned by fighting in Swat... (READ MORE)

Teenage Bombers are Rescued from Taleban Suicide Training Camps - Murad Ali, one of five schoolboy suicide bombers rescued from a Taleban training camp, looks haggard beyond his 13 years. He was thrilled at first when he was given a gun, but Murad told The Times last week of his ordeal at the hands of the Islamists, who have kidnapped 1,500 children like him to prepare for their fatal missions. Murad was studying in class five in Mingora, the main city in northwest Pakistan’s Swat Valley, when the Islamists abducted him and took him to their remote mountain base in Chuprial. (READ MORE)

No Substitute for Victory - President Obama isn't sure if victory is the US objective in Afghanistan. On July 23, ABC's Terry Moran asked the president to define victory in Afghanistan. He responded, "I'm always worried about using the word 'victory' because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur." Fidelity to history requires us to note that Emperor Hirohito did not sign the Japanese articles of surrender on the Battleship Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, and was not even at the ceremony. Historical accuracy aside, Mr. Obama was trying to reiterate part of what George W. Bush said on many occasions during his presidency: (READ MORE)

Forces Kill Militants, Detain Suspects in Afghanistan - WASHINGTON, July 24, 2009 – Afghan and international forces killed several enemy fighters, detained nine suspects and destroyed a weapons stockpile in recent operations in Afghanistan’s Ghazni, Khost and Kandahar provinces, military officials reported. Acting on intelligence that indicated militant activity, a combined force searched a compound last night in the Ghazni village of Jahangir Kalay. The compound was known to be used by a Taliban fighter responsible for supplying weapons and ammunition to local militants for attacks against Afghan and international security forces. (READ MORE)

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