July 30, 2009

From the Front: 07/30/2009

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

Misuchan's Milblog: Hiatus. One month left in country. - I’m going on hiatus with the blog until after September 1st. We have packing, inventories and movements to do. If any of you out there are deploying after September 1st and need some postal assistance (care packages) sent your way, feel free to request things from me at my email: (READ MORE)

A.L.L.: Know your IEDs - As you get ready to deploy to Afghanistan both in pre-mobilization and post-mobilization training and maybe even in your indoctrination training once you get in country, you will get more than your fair share of IED training. You will see many of the same pics, same videos, etc. over and over. You will probably hear about how IEDs work in Iraq and may or may not hear about how they work in Afghanistan. I can tell you that the IEDs in Afghanistan are not as sophisticated as they typically are in Iraq but they tend to be much, much larger. You will learn about the signs to look for on the side of the road, in the road and how to know what areas on the road are the highest risk. In the interest of OPSEC I will not spell out all of those details in this blog, as I don’t want the enemy to know how we know where they bury those nasty things. However I will talk about how you as a service-member may be traveling the roads could make a good guess as to what kinds of IEDs may be on the route you want to take. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Walk Like An Egyptian, Think Like An Afghan - One thing that I’m being reminded of is how differently Afghans view their national issues from the way that Westerners view them. Americans are often the furthest from the Afghan view. If you toss individuals from Afghanistan and, say, seven other nations in a room and have them all come up a viewpoint from an Afghan perspective, the Americans will often miss by the widest margin. It’s in the mindset. That’s not to say that Americans are bad, or that our intentions are less than pure. It just means that we have to ask the right questions in order to reach solutions that are appropriate for the environment and people here. There have been numerous examples of the phenomenon this week. The coursework here involves a number of Practical Exercises. In one group, a mixed bag of Americans, a Canadian, a Norwegian, and two Afghans were working together. All of the Coalition troops were officers. The two young Afghans, Sergeants in a special Anti-terrorism unit that did yeoman’s work during the orchestrated attacks in Kabul recently: (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Mosque conversion and other FOO projects - It’s not often an American soldier is permitted into an Islamic mosque. In fact, we are prohibited from entering a mosque. However, when the “minbar” is removed from a mosque, it’s no longer a mosque or at least this applied to a former mosque that is located inside the Afghan Army base near us. At the request of the Afghans, my team in conjunction with the ANA are converting this building that was previously used as a mosque and refurbishing it so it can be used for other purposes. The building has sat unused for years (maybe even decades) since more modern mosques were built elsewhere on the base to serve ANA troops religious needs. Subsequently, the ANA compound has 2 large domed mosques to facilitate the needs of the ANA parishioners. The goal of this project is to transform this building into a library and a chai (tea) shop for the ANA soldiers. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Never an awesome moment here... - It was 8 million degrees, sunny and there was a mild breeze. Incidentally, the breeze here is not a cooling factor - there's no wind chill of course, there's just wind sucking the moisture out of your body even faster. Anyway - another godawful afternoon, but perfect for one thing: handswashing some clothes and hanging them out to dry. So I did three sports bras, eight socks and three t-shirts and hung them out on the line on my porch. I went inside to collect up some trash, drank a bottle of water, and then opened the door to go outside...and it was rapidly turning orange. I pulled my clothes down before they attracted more than a thin coating of dust, draped them over various and sundry objects indoors, and spent the next hour muttering obscenities about this country. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Little Girl Matters, Ctd - Last week I got pissed off when Spencer Ackerman mocked a Thomas Friedman column about girls' schools in Afghanistan. The part of the column that set off certain people was the last paragraph: 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. I concluded at the time: Ackerman sneers at the image of the girl holding a notebook. Well, sneer away, you jerk: but that girl is actually there. And the future of her and her country depend on the international community understanding that without our commitment, Afghanistan is doomed to another vicious cycle of violence and extremism. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Army pictures highlight Welsh soldiers' battle in Afghanistan - THESE incredible pictures shot by a British Army photographer chronicle the bloody fighting involving soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh during Operation Panther’s Claw. Sergeant Daniel Harmer, who serves with the Royal Logistics Corps, was embedded with the battalion’s men as they took on insurgents in a five-week drive to rid Helmand Province of the Taliban ahead of next month’s presidential elections in Afghanistan. The first stage of Operation Panther’s Claw, which claimed the lives of 11 British servicemen, officially ended on Monday. Now the Army has released these photographs documenting the progress made by 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh, an infantry unit which recruits mainly from South Wales. Using Warrior armoured personnel carriers, also known as infantry fighting vehicles, soldiers from the Battalion’s C Company pushed south-west from Forward Operating Base Price towards the east bank of the Leah Mandeh wadi. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Semester Break Blues - Before we left Pennsylvania the guys who had been deployed before warned us people would start to fall apart at six months. My wife wrote today to remind me of the parallels between how here students feel after parents weekend--missing there family with a long semester ahead--and how I have been feeling lately. Well here we are at six month and the predictions are, unfortunately, coming true. Two mechanics are home in the USA getting knee operations, one from a touch football game and another from a sports injury that was not healing. There have been a lot of jokes about "When's the next football game?" and "Do you need anybody to work on a roof, sarge?" And we are getting lectures on getting slack--except we report for work at 0700 and many of us do PT before work. Some soldiers are getting vehicles. The vehicles are restored wrecks that are less than perfect and an average of 15 years old. And at the same time, the rules about driving them are tightening up. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): More from the Back End of the Chicken - Today we had an NCO meeting to get the latest changes in work-area uniforms. We work in a motor pool consisting of a plywood building, a couple of maintenance tents and conex boxes mostly at one end of a field of gravel and dirt. Next to the rock-strewn work area is a headquarters building and a parking lot. The building and the parking lot are about to be turned over to an active-Army unit. We have two latrines located on the east and west ends of the parking lot. On the east end are two outhouses. On the west end are two latrines--one male, one female--each in a trailer like ones we live in. These deluxe latrines have stalls with doors, sinks and air conditioning--very posh. Now to get into either latrine, a soldier has to step on the parking lot pavement. As of today, we have to be in uniform to step on the pavement. So if someone is changing the oil in a 5-ton truck and needs to use the latrine, that soldier has to put on his uniform jacket and hat and eye protection before walking the 20 feet from the gravel motor pool to the paved parking lot. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Anti-Taliban tribal militia leader assassinated in Pakistan's northwest - The Taliban assassinated a tribal leader who organized resistance to the Taliban in the northwestern district of Shangla. More than 50 Taliban fighters assaulted the home of Khalil Rehman, a tribal leader who raised a Lashkar, or local militia, to battle the Taliban in the isolated district that borders Swat and Buner. Rehman's son and two others were also wounded in the assault. Two Taliban fighters were killed after police and other security forces responded to the attack, Daily Times reported. The Taliban established bases in Shangla, Mansehra, Haripur, Battagram, Mardan, Malakand, and Swabi after the military launched operations to clear the Taliban in neighboring Swat, Buner, and Dir. Taliban units ranging from 50 to 150 fighters fanned out through the districts with no resistance from the military, which claimed it established blocking positions to prevent the Taliban from retreating from the battlefield and bleeding into bordering districts. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 28JUL09--Redeployment Notes - My team arrived at Fort Riley, Kansas a few days ago. We will fly home tomorrow to our families, as we are in the unique situation of not being stationed at the base from which we deployed. This post is a few notes from throughout the redeployment: When redeploying Soldiers layover in Germany, they are bused to a terminal specifically for them and away from the civilian population. Iceland is a very welcoming country. In an effort to increase tourism, they established an ingenious theater, which is free is the public and plays sites and attractions of the county non-stop. I should think that it would be a great idea to have a similar room in Virginia. dozens of Soldiers sat and watched the film just because it was something to do. Before the plane departed, the airport sent a representative to hand out a big pile of CDs with pictures and videos of attractions. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The Strange Contradictions of Andrew Exum’s Afghanistan Trip - So, Andrew “Abu Muqawama” Exum is doing the interview circuit about his experience as a part of General McChrystal’s 60-Day re-review of the Afghan War. It’s interesting to try to make sense of what he said beforehand and what he’s saying afterward—I’ll be the first to admit that going there can significantly change one’s perspective (I, for one, came home convinced the Army is incapable of fighting the war properly)—but some of these changes in attitude, or temperament, or even just word choice are really interesting. To kick things off, we have Exum’s appearance on the Charlie Rose Show, where he said something interesting. Fourteen minutes in, Ex is discussing how leadership and strategy have been largely absent in the first seven years of the war: We haven’t had leadership in Afghanistan that’s really been able to take control of this situation [protecting communities from intimidation]. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: A Girl and her Crew - The NCOIC (broadcast chief) wasn’t here today since he’s going on leave. I’m filling in while he’s gone and got a head start on 4-month list of to-dos. Today’s task - getting the receive dish on a very tall pole attached to a t-wall. It was easy enough to schedule the crane and labor, but once I got them here the real fun started. The ladder we were using stopped about 1/3 of the way from the top of the t-wall, and while the Iraqi scurried up the rest of the way like a spider monkey, SSG Pat had to use his army strong strength to pull himself up. The crane lifted the dish easy enough, but once over the horizon of the t-wall, it started swinging like mad. Pat had enough after it almost knocked him off the thin concrete barrier he was standing on, and then it was Stone’s turn. Stone and the worker were able to get the dish on the pole. YAY! … okay, don’t celebrate yet. The cloth harnesses that we used to hoist the dish were tied above our boys’ heads. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: I Hate Satellite Dishes - I’ve fallen way behind on my blogging. I’ve been operating under the premise that I should keep my negative thoughts to myself. I try my best to not air my grievances on the blog. I don’t always succeed and I start bitching. This could be one of those posts. I’ve been able to set up UHF radio’s, DirecTV dishes, many different DVIDS dishes in many places. Now comes my Waterloo, HughesNet 1.8 meter dishes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get technical. We’ve been working on this commercial internet HughesNet dish for a month now. Everytime we go out to try and point the dish at the stupid satellite, we see nothing. I am so frustrated at this damn thing, I don’t care who figures it out. I’m even willing to humble myself to ask people I can’t stand for help. Hate is a strong word, but it describes how I feel about this dish. OK, I’m done. (READ MORE)

Reich in Afghanistan: Welcome to Bagram Airfield City - The Soviet engineers who first built the control tower at Bagram Airfield in the late 1970s could never have imagined that 30 years down the road, their meager control tower would be surrounded by a Burger King, Pizza Hut, Popeye’s Chicken, and around 20,000 American soldiers and airmen. Since its capture in the early days of the American-led invasion in 2001, Bagram has been growing at a staggering pace. Tents and trenches have been replaced by concrete barracks and paved streets. Most importantly, a critical $68-million upgrade to the runway in 2006 allows even the heaviest cargo planes to unload some of the 14,000 tons of cargo flying into Bagram every day. Most of the changes in Bagram are made with “sustainment” (a.k.a., long-term logistics –ed.) in mind –- a telling sign of the U.S. and NATO’s plans for a long commitment to Afghanistan, or at least to the troops stationed here. In the past few years, the tents that once sprawled across the open landscape have been removed and replaced with B-huts, small wooden caravans with electrical power and in some cases running water. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Gates Spends Final Day in Iraq Meeting Kurds - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates sounded an optimistic note about the possibility of speeding up US troop withdrawals from Iraq, Wednesday, after meeting for a second day with top Iraqi leaders and talking with US and Iraqi military commanders. Defense Secretary Robert Gates painted a mostly upbeat picture of the situation in Iraq, indicating that it was possible that more US troops could come home sooner than anticipated. Gates' stressed that, in any case, he saw no cause for a slowdown in the pace of US troop pullouts, but that any acceleration, would necessarily depend on an assessment of the situation by US Commander Ray Odierno. (READ MORE)

Arrests of Sunni Leaders Rise in Baghdad - The Baghdad police still do not enter the hard-line Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, which continues to suffer an insurgent attack every couple of days. The Iraqi Army mans checkpoints here, but usually jointly with neighborhood volunteers from the Awakening movement, which is made up mostly of former Sunni insurgents who changed sides and helped reduce violence; it now fields as many as 900 paid fighters in Adhamiya. But in little more than a week, the Iraqi Army’s 42nd Brigade has arrested seven Awakening leaders in Adhamiya, a neighborhood in north Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Raid Poses Problem for US - Violent clashes continued for a second day Wednesday between Iraqi troops and members of an Iranian opposition group whose camp the Iraqis stormed Tuesday, presenting the first major dilemma for the US government since Iraq proclaimed its sovereignty a month ago. At least eight Iranians have been killed and 400 wounded since Tuesday, when hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers in riot gear plowed into Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, using Humvees donated by the US military, according to group leaders and Abdul Nasir al-Mahdawi, the governor of Diyala province. (READ MORE)

Iraq Says Raid on Militant Group's Camp Wasn't Iran's Idea - The Iraqi government Wednesday rejected suggestions that Iranian pressure had prompted a raid on a camp belonging to an Iranian opposition group, saying that Iraqi security forces were merely seeking to extend sovereignty over all Iraqi territory. The Mujahedin Khalq, a militant group that has long opposed the Iranian government, said seven of its members had died in clashes with Iraqi security forces after Iraqi police attempted to enter its camp in Diyala province Tuesday to open a police station. (READ MORE)

Who are the MKO and Why did Iraqi Forces Storm their Camp? - Iraqi security forces today violently wrested control of the sprawling compound of an exiled Iranian opposition movement, killing at least seven of its residents in the process. The raid was the latest assertion of total military independence by Iraqi forces from US control. Video of the event, with Iraqi soldiers delivering severe beatings to unarmed residents, adds evidence of brutal tactics within the new Iraqi Army. But it also may be the beginning of the end of the one the strangest sideshows of the entire Iraq war as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flexes its muscles and seeks closer ties with Tehran. (READ MORE)

Two British Hostages Held in Iraq Likely Dead - Families of two of the three remaining British hostages held in Iraq for two years are deeply troubled to hear the men are likely dead. The news was broken to them last week by British officials. The loved ones of the British hostages are going through anguish and torment. While Foreign Office officials will not confirm or deny the widespread media reports here that two Britons employed as private security guards in Iraq have died in captivity, various accounts point to the likelihood that Alan McMenemy and Alec MacLachlan are probably dead. (READ MORE)

Gates Says Iraq Drawdown May Accelerate Moderately - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said conditions in Iraq have improved to the extent that the US combat brigade drawdown from the country may accelerate. “I think there is at least a chance of a modest acceleration” in the drawdown schedule, Gates said during a news roundtable today. Gates visited Iraq yesterday and today, and was pleased with the progress being made. As part of the US-Iraqi agreement signed in December, American forces turned over responsibility for security inside all Iraqi cities and villages to Iraqi security forces by June 30. (READ MORE)

Training Takes Center Stage in Iraq - Training is at the forefront of the new US advisory role in Iraq, and that includes educating both Iraqis and Americans on everything from cultural awareness to flight skills, military officials say. The Iraqi Defense Ministry’s Ministerial Training and Development Center held its first cultural awareness course July 26 under the direction of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq - known as MNSTC-I - for those in the command who are not Iraqi advisors. The center opened in 2007 as a partnership school with Iraqi instructors and US advisors, and hosts a two-day course for new coalition advisors to give them the confidence and essential skills they need to be effective, officials said. (READ MORE)

Gates Encouraged by Iraqi Accomplishments, Goals - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he is heartened by his visit to Iraq, and that he urged Arab and Kurd Iraqis to use the good offices of the United States to help solve their problems. Gates said he is so encouraged by the situation in Iraq that American forces may speed up their drawdown, with an additional brigade coming out of the country before the elections in January. He said his view was bolstered by conversations with Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq. Gates visited Talil, Iraq, yesterday, meeting with US and Iraqi troops and commanders. (READ MORE)

U.S. forces transfer 3 joint security stations in Mosul - MOSUL, Iraq – Three joint security stations within the city of Mosul were transferred to the government of Iraq July 26, in accordance with the U.S-Iraq Security Agreement. Joint security stations Hotel, Castle and Mountain were originally agreed upon by U.S. and Iraq officials to remain open past the June 30 deadline; however, stable security and increased capability by Iraqi Security Forces allowed for the additional closures. (READ MORE)

First Iraqi student graduates from Aviation Leadership Program - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Iraqi air force 2nd Lt. Omar AlNuaimi became the first Iraqi to complete the Air Force Aviation Leadership Program upon his graduation from aviation training July 24 here after three years of training. The Iraqi airman earned his pilots wings with his fellow student pilots of Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 09-12. "It feels great (to graduate)," AlNuaimi said. "Since the Iraqi air force was founded and until this moment, we haven't had students who have graduated from the U.S. It's been great and wonderful to be trained and get my wings." (READ MORE)

Program Teaches Hand-to-Hand Combat to Iraqi Border Enforcers - BASRAH, Iraq – U.S. Army combatives programs teach confidence and aggressiveness through hand to hand combat. Recently, the First Commando Battalion of Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement, along with U.S. advisors from Team Darkhorse, certified nine border police commandos for level one in the program. The commandos were introduced to the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu fighting style of Ultimate Fighting Champion Royce Gracie from which U.S. Army Combatives is based. (READ MORE)

Medal Parade marks missions’ end for UK Platoon at Ar-Rustamiyah - AR-RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq – On July 26th, 36 members of the United Kingdom force protection Platoon from the 3rd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s) were awarded the NATO Medal for serving in Iraq. The simple yet significant ceremony was held here at this military base, home to the Iraqi Joint Staff College and Military Academy. (READ MORE)

Cultural Awareness Course Informs, Educates U.S. Troops - BAGHDAD – The first Cultural Awareness course was held at the Ministry of Defense Ministerial Training and Development Center July 26. While the two-day Advisor School provides new coalition advisors the essential skills and confidence necessary to become effective advisors, this one-day version was designed differently. The course was conducted under the direction of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. (READ MORE)

Troops Help Build School Warehouse - BAGHDAD — With the cooperation of the Iraqi and Abu Ghraib governments, Coalition forces began constructing a 450 sq. meter warehouse to hold supplies for dozens of area schools. Soldiers with the 112th Infantry Regiment "Paxton Rangers" completed the project this past week and opened the warehouse in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, July 27. (READ MORE)

Renovations Start on Iraqi Water Treatment Plant - WASHINGTON, July 29, 2009 – Renovations have begun on a water treatment plant near the villages of Hitaween and Adamiyah, Iraq. The sparsely populated, rural patch of land west of Baghdad relies heavily on the facility for its drinking water. “[The plant] was run-down and hadn’t been maintained,” said Army Capt. Chris Coates of the 1st Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. (READ MORE)

More US Troops May Be Needed in Afghanistan, says Pentagon Advisor - A member of the strategic assessment team working with the new US military commander in Afghanistan says the US government and its allies need to be more realistic about what is needed to win the Afghan war, and he says that may include more troops. Senior Washington analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the United States and its allies need to take the Afghanistan war more seriously. He says they need to be honest about the security and development problems they have allowed to fester in recent years, and about the resources that will be needed to reverse the situation. (READ MORE)

Miliband Says Britain Will Stick with Afghan Combat Mission - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Wednesday that his country is determined to carry on with its combat mission in Afghanistan despite a rise in casualties and skepticism in domestic opinion polls. Miliband discussed the Afghan situation and related issues with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here in Washington. Miliband says the Afghan conflict is in a "tough phase," but that Britain intends to work through the difficulties, side-by-side with the United States as Afghanistan approaches historic elections next month. (READ MORE)

Spain Is Open to Bolstering Forces in Afghanistan - Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said Wednesday that Spain was willing to increase its troops on long-term assignment in Afghanistan, in what appeared to be a gesture of support to the Obama administration. Spain’s Socialist government has long resisted calls from the United States and other NATO allies to increase its Afghan force. Mr. Zapatero said the move could be achieved by prolonging a temporary deployment of forces that had been sent to help with security in Afghanistan ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential election. (READ MORE)

Unreliable Afghan Forces Make Life Difficult, Dangerous for US Soldiers - John Roome was mad. The first sergeant stood in the courtyard of the U-shaped building, where his soldiers were relaxing on cots on covered porches at dusk, and barked an order. “Everyone pack up their stuff. We are leaving,” Roome announced. “The ANP (Afghan National Police) won’t pull guard, we are leaving.” It was a dramatic threat just two days after this new American outpost was set up alongside the local government building at the Charkh District Center. But Roome saw need for drama. (READ MORE)

US Shifting Drones' Focus to Taliban - US military leaders have concluded that their war effort in Afghanistan has been too focused on hunting Al Qaeda, and have begun to shift Predator drone aircraft to the fight against the Taliban and other militants in order to prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy. The move, described by government and Defense Department officials, represents a major change in the military's use of one of its most precious intelligence assets. It also illustrates the hard choices that must be made because the drones are in short supply. Senior government officials say that defeating Al Qaeda remains the overriding US objective. (READ MORE)

Taliban Field Manual: A Kinder, Gentler Militant? - The Taliban is mounting a public-relations campaign to try to win the hearts and minds of Afghans with their own version of a field manual that urges efforts to limit civilian casualties. The little book with a blue cover, Rules for Mujahedeen, directs Taliban militants on how to behave while on deployment and how to deal with enemy combatants, treat prisoners of war and interact with civilians. The manual, which has been given extensive coverage on Al Jazeera's Arabic service, appears aimed at renewing popular support among Afghans in the face of a US-led offensive against the militants. (READ MORE)

Militants Kill Pakistani Pro-Government Tribal Leader - Police say suspected Taliban militants have killed a pro-government tribal leader in Pakistan's northwest. The tribal leader was shot and killed Wednesday in Shangla district near Swat Valley. The Pakistani military launched an offensive in the region against the Taliban about three months ago, after the collapse of a peace deal to impose strict Islamic law (Sharia) in Swat Valley. Militants have retaliated by stepping up attacks, including a suicide bombing last month in Lahore that killed a prominent Islamic cleric, Sarfraz Naeemi, who supported the military crackdown on the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Injects Precision Into Air War on Taliban - Pakistan’s Air Force is improving its ability to pinpoint and attack militant targets with precision weapons, adding a new dimension to the country’s fight against violent extremism, according to Pakistani military officials and independent analysts. The Pakistani military has moved away from the scorched-earth artillery and air tactics used last year against insurgents in the Bajaur tribal agency. In recent months, the air force has shifted from using Google Earth to sophisticated images from spy planes and other surveillance aircraft, and has increased its use of laser-guided bombs. (READ MORE)

Brothers Provide Support From Above - CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan, July 29, 2009 – Marine Corps Maj. Richard “Bart” Bartolomea says he feels at home serving with his brother, Bill, in an operational environment. "It's awesome," he said. "I brought the board games, but haven't had the chance to break them out yet." The officer in charge of the Scan Eagle detachment from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, Bart was commissioned as a Marine officer after earning a bachelor's degree at Pennsylvania State University in 1994. (READ MORE)

Four Afghan guards killed in blast - (IDM) KABUL (AP) — The government says a roadside blast has killed four Afghan guards in the south of the country. An Interior Ministry statement says the explosion hit the guards' vehicle in Helmand province on Thursday. The victims worked for a private security company. Thousands of U.S. Marines are conducting an anti-Taliban offensive in Helmand province, one of the centers of the Taliban insurgency. (READ MORE)

Taliban call for boycott of Afghan polls, 'jihad'- Afghanistan's Taliban movement on Thursday ordered voters to boycott August elections and wage holy war to "free" the country from Western troops, raising the stakes in their lethal insurgency. The latest in a surge of attacks killed eight Afghan soldiers and guards, raising concern that insecurity will see poor voter turnout and jeopardise the legitimacy of the August 20 presidential and provincial polls. (READ MORE)

AFGHANISTAN: Elections may jeopardize education, says NGO - KABUL, 30 July 2009 (IRIN) - The use of schools as polling and vote-counting stations during Afghanistan’s upcoming elections could provoke anti-education activities, an Afghan rights watchdog warns. Polling for simultaneous presidential and provincial councils has been scheduled for 20 August and hundreds of schools across the country will be used as voting and vote-counting centres, according to Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission (IEC). (READ MORE)

Taliban to Afghans: fight against NATO forces instead of voting - Kabul - The Taliban insurgent movement demanded on Thursday that all Afghan people take up arms against the NATO-led forces in the country instead of going to "fake polling stations" during the August 20 presidential election. "In order to gain real independence, instead of going to fake polling stations, they (Afghans) must go to jihadi trenches and through resistance and jihad (holy war) they must get their denied rights from the foreign invaders," the Taliban said in a statement posted on the rebel website. (READ MORE)

Angry Judge Considers Fate of Young Gitmo Detainee; May Return to Afghanistan - Washington (AP) - A judge who has grown impatient with the Obama administration's handling of a young Guantanamo Bay detainee is preparing to decide whether he'll go home to Afghanistan or to the United States for prosecution. U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle was scheduled to hear arguments Thursday in the case of Mohammed Jawad. He has been held for 6 1/2 years at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba for allegedly wounding two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter by throwing a grenade at their jeep in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Pakistan opens new battleground against Taliban - Pakistani security forces have opened a new battleground against the Taliban in the country's Ashrai Dara area in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), a media report said Thursday. The authorities have also clamped an indefinite curfew Wednesday in Almas and Palaram areas, in the Upper Dir district of the NWFP, The Nation newspaper reported on its website. (READ MORE)

Linked at: H&I FIRES* 30 July 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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