July 31, 2009

From the Front: 07/31/2009

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

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Mapping Operation Panther's Claw - BBC (View Map)

Sour Swinger: Photos From Mission Part 2 - This is the second set of pictures from my platoon conducting missions. These show more of my platoon and the people in my units AO (Area of Operation). I picked 5 to show below. Click here to see the entire set. There’s about 50 pics total. (VIEW PHOTOS)

Ramblings from a painter: A Really Orange Day - It's baaaa-aaaaack. The dust, that is. Yes, it really is this orange. Damn stuff is coming in my air conditioner in my hooch as I write this, getting all over everything - desk, computer, bed, munchies, clean clothes (yes, I do have some ... or at least, I did). (View Photos)

Teflon Don: Shadows of the War - I was driving late Tuesday night, heading home from seeing some friends. The lights were soundless as they came up behind me. I’d had a beer, and I pulled over and worried for a moment as the lights carried on past me into the night. Ahead of me, more lights flew by soundlessly, then more. As I pulled to the curb in front of my house, the first siren split the humid night air, and yet another set of lights burned down the road. Let’s go back to 2006 and meet George Nickel. I’ve talked about him before, though never by name. He’s been in the US Army a long time- he was a private in the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry back when the Tropic Thunder division still had an Air Assault regiment. When I met him, he’d already left the Army and come back to join the Army Reserve with friends of his from his work at Idaho’s State Penitentiary. He’s given this country of ours a lot. On February 8th, 2007, on a narrow road outside of Karma, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Nickel, USAR, very nearly gave it all. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Weapons, vehicles, Afghan elections … and donkeys? - This morning’s tasking was to inspect our HMMVW vehicle fleet. The Army uses the acronym PMCS for Preventive Maintenance Checks. This can be confusing to Air Force personnel because we use the same acronym to identify an aircraft that is Partial Mission Capable for Supply. This means the aircraft is waiting for a part from the supply channels. Anyhow, our fleet of armored vehicles are always inspected, cleaned, and maintained so should a mission come up, they are ready to go. We are all trained on how to inspect the vehicles to include crawling under them and inspecting the armor plating, brake pads, cross members, etc. Every vehicle has an established load plan and they are almost identical. This takes out the guess work where a tool might be located in the vehicle or where the emergency kits are stored. In addition, we all have basic skills on operating radios and changing channels, loading frequencies and loading crypto material into them. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: On The Police - In the previous post, one of the hippie stoppist commenters who used to frequent this blog posted a link to an article detailing the abuse by Afghan police in Helmand, and asked for my thoughts. I took the bait, and responded in what turned out to be a fairly big-picture overview of my understanding of the situation of the police force in Afghanistan. Any of the better-informed readers of this blog who want to take issue with how I've characterized things, please go ahead. "Nobody denies the horrible problems that have plagued the Afghan police force since the overthrow of the Taliban. While the Afghan National Army is generally regarded as effective and trustworthy, the police have been almost universally condemned as corrupt and shady. However, it should also be acknowledged that signing up as an Afghan police officer is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world right now. Police substations are magnets for Taliban attacks, and to work in one is a seriously ballsy job to take on." (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: BG Lanza promotes five 314th Soldiers - Shortly after he completed two live satellite interviews at the Combined Press Information Center, BG Stephen Lanza, the C9 Director for Multi-National Force-Iraq, stepped out of the press conference room for break. As he exited, the Soldiers of the 314th Public Affairs Operations Center filed into the room, with five of them taking the front row — filled with excitement. When BG Lanza returned to the room a few minutes later, LTC Ignacio Perez, the 314th PAOC Commander and CPIC Director, called the room to order, but BG Lanza instructed everyone to relax as he said a few things. What he said next is what every commander hopes to hear about his Soldiers. BG Lanza spoke about the achievements of each of the five Soldiers in the front row — how they were indicative of the entire unit — which he called “high-performing.” When he finished his comments, he told LTC Perez it was time to proceed. With LTC Leela Dawson, former 314th PAOC Commander, at his side, each of the five Soldiers was called forward to receive their much-deserved promotion. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Extremes - Last night I spent the best two hours since I left America. I was at the Army Education Center which does not officially open for another month, but they are holding sessions to help soldiers study to improve their GT score--the overall score that determines whether you qualify for some of the really good jobs the Army offers. Last night I spent two hours helping soldiers solve equations with parentheses, powers, roots, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction--which is the order they are solved. These equations included decimals and fractions so I also was helping with converting fractions, finding common denominators and so forth. If that doesn't sound fun, then I have not done a good job telling you just how strange it is to move from the very quiet home I live in and the very cooperative place where I work to this Lead-Follow-or-Get-Out-of-the-Way environment I am in now. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Fat Boy Sunday - For those of us that are PT Monsters we know that 80% of our body composition has to do with what we eat. But occasionally we just have to get our junk food on. Each week during what we like to call Fat Boy Sunday a bunch of us hit the chow hall and get a little trashy. Normally my breakfast looks like this: But on Fat Boy Sunday it can get really ugly: Note the disgusting waffles drenched in syrup and that ugly blueberry pastry. Sick! This picture is titled: Straight Butt, Extra Heavy. For a few weeks in a row we tackled breakfast like this Sunday mornings and then spent the entire afternoon with various symptoms like headaches, nausea, and waffle induced coma. I think it only illustrates how bad this stuff really is for the human body. Next month a bunch of us are going to lean forward and take on the Primal Health Challenge. That means no more of this trash. I think my body may just thank me for it. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): No Bike Race - One of my big goals, hopes for this deployment was to organize a bike race in Iraq. In case you think this is indicative of severe mental defect or some history of intoxication, a race did not seem crazy to me. Until this month, I thought it was very possible. First, I was initially supposed to go to a huge air base near Baghdad with paved roads, including a six-mile loop around the air field. At the last minute we were re-assigned to another huge base in the south. Here at Tallil Ali Air Base, there is a 15-kilometer perimeter road which is mostly paved. Some of it is bumpy, but a few miles are very smooth. I can ride the loop on a road bike slowing for the dirt stretches and the worst bumps. It's no problem on a mountain bike. Speaking of bikes, I estimate there are about 300 to 400 soldiers, airmen and civilian workers with bikes. There could be more. But whenever I ride in the main area of post I see other people riding and bikes chained up at various buildings. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Good News About the Election - The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the Afghan election next month. “The Taliban in Afghanistan warned on Thursday it would attempt to derail next month’s presidential election, calling on Afghans to boycott the poll and urging them to ‘join the trenches of jihad.’ A statement issued by the Taliban’s leadership council and posted on a website it uses (www.alemarah1.net), said the election was a U.S. ‘invention’ and urged voters to join them instead of taking part in a poll it labelled a farce.” This is wonderful news! Seriously, I was worried when the Taliban hadn’t contested any of the voter registration drives, not even in insurgency-ridden areas like Ghazni or Kunar. To me, that indicated they felt so unthreatened by the election that it was fine to let it proceed—and even worse, the inevitability of Hamid Karzai to lose win could be easily spun into “democracy doesn’t work.” (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Time to Leave Iraq? - Ah, the joys of being scooped. I’ve been trying to get confirmation on an internal Army memo that has been making the rounds the past couple weeks, and have been unable to move the story much—but apparently the NY Times’ Michael Gordon has. Written in early July, the memo by Col. Timothy Reese, a senior adviser to Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, titled “It’s Time For The U.S. To Declare Victory And Go Home,” is a whopper. While it represents the opinion of one (albeit a senior, well respected) officer, the piece is a scathing indictment of the Iraqi government and military, saying that “we aren’t making the [Iraqi government] and the [Iraqi Security Forces] better in any significant ways with our current approach. Remaining in Iraq through the end of December 2011 will yield little in the way of improving the abilities of the ISF or the functioning of the GOI. Furthermore, in light of the GOI’s current interpretation of the limitations imposed by the 30 June milestones of the 2008 Security Agreement, the security of US forces are at risk.” (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Teacher Leads Marines in Iraq - CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq, July 30, 2009 – Being a high school teacher, a professional soccer player and a firefighter in one’s local town all are great accomplishments. But one woman who has been all three still desired to pursue something more. Most second lieutenants serving in the Marine Corps are right out of college or have prior enlisted service. But at 31 and having lived through more real-life experiences than the majority of her peers, 2nd Lt. Suzie McKinley has finally found her calling as a Marine Corps officer. (READ MORE)

US Adviser’s Blunt Memo on Iraq: Time ‘to Go Home’ - A senior American military adviser in Baghdad has concluded in an unusually blunt memo that Iraqi forces suffer from entrenched deficiencies but are now able to protect the Iraqi government, and that it is time “for the US to declare victory and go home.” The memo offers a look at tensions that emerged between Iraqi and American military officers at a sensitive moment when American combat troops met a June 30 deadline to withdraw from Iraq’s cities, the first step toward an advisory role. (READ MORE)

Bomb in Iraqi Political Party Office Kills 8 - Iraqi police say eight people were killed and 10 others wounded Thursday in a bomb attack on a Sunni political party's office in Baquba, north of Baghdad. Police say the bomb exploded inside the headquarters of the Reform and Development Party in Diyala province around the time that some party members were holding a meeting. In western Iraq, police say a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle, killing at least five people and wounding 15 others. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Security Forces Kill 6 and Wound 300 in Raid on Refugee Camp - Six Iranian dissidents were killed and 300 wounded during a massive crackdown by Iraqi security forces on a refugee camp north of Baghdad, it has emerged. The Iranians had been under the protection of the US military from 2003 until last month, when control of most urban areas passed to Iraqi troops, who have asserted themselves much more swiftly than anyone expected. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Troops Blocked by Iranian Exiles - Members of an Iranian dissidents' group formed a human blockade to successfully prevent Iraqi troops from seizing more territory in their camp north of Baghdad, in the third day of a confrontation that showed no sign of ending soon. Hundreds of Iraqi forces occupy just a sliver of territory within the sprawling camp, which is home to over 3,000 members of Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK. (READ MORE)

Tony Blair to be Star Witness as Iraq Inquiry Launched - Tony Blair was yesterday confirmed as one of the witnesses who will appear before Britain's long awaited inquiry into the Iraq war as it was launched with a promise to level criticism where necessary. The former prime minister is likely to be joined by Gordon Brown among those called to give evidence. Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said his committee would look at the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, covering the run-up to the conflict, the military action and the aftermath. (READ MORE)

Kurdistan Contradicts Itself - This is Sulaimaniya. I can see mosques around the city and I can hear their calls to prayer. Against all Islamic principles, I can drink mojitos in my hotel lobby and was once invited to watch pornography on the bellboy’s cellphone. Kurdish politics are just as full of contradictions. Since Iraqi Kurdistan gained de facto independence in 1991, it has been governed by either the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Democratic Party. (READ MORE)

U.S. Forces Send Medical Aid to Ashraf - CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – A team of medical professionals from Multi-National Force-Iraq arrived at Ashraf, Iraq, today to provide assistance to the city’s residents. The medical assessment team evaluated patients, provided treatment and identified the facility’s medical evacuation needs. Some of the more seriously injured residents were transported to a U.S. military facility for further treatment. (READ MORE)

590 Iraqi Army Soldiers Complete Warrior Training Program - AN NUMANIYAH, Iraq - Five-hundred ninety soldiers from 1st Battalion, 33rd Brigade, 8th IA Division completed a 20-day Warrior Training Program here July 20. The WTP is an intensive exercise that trains battalion-sized units on individual soldier tasks and unit collective combat tasks. Individual training includes: small arms familiarization, basic rifle marksmanship, hand grenade training, first aid, map reading, GPS, individual movement techniques, tactical communications, and tactical vehicle driver and maintenance training. (READ MORE)

Humvee Donation Enhances Iraq-U.S. Security Partnership - BAGHDAD – The Multi-National Security Transition Command- Iraq donated 12 new humvees here July 26 to Iraqi Federal Police units that are responsible for providing route security during ground movements of U.S. personnel. The transfer occurred at the Crossed Swords and was attended by members of the Iraqi Federal Police, MNSTC-I Rough Riders, and J-4 personnel. The humvees were off-loaded and driven to the Federal Police headquarters. (READ MORE)

GRD project manager to receive prestigious award - TALLIL, Iraq – He traveled more than 65,000 miles, endured potential personal risk and returned with the same infectious smile and attitude he deployed to Iraq with a year ago. “Steve Farkus is an X-PM – extreme project manager,” said Lt. Col. David Berczek, Gulf Region South district deputy commander. “He’s personally driven and results-oriented. That’s why we nominated him for project manager of the year.” (READ MORE)

Iraqi Response Shows Good Progress - CAMP VICTORY— The commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq said Tuesday he's extremely pleased with the way Iraqi Security Forces have stepped to the plate following the June 30 withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities and towns. Army Gen. Ray Odierno said he is on track to fulfill the mission he and his command of 130,000 Americans in the country have received. "I've been given very clear guidance: one is that we will have a change of mission on Aug. 31, 2010, and we will no longer have a combat mission," he said during an interview at Al Faw Palace here. "And by Dec. 31, 2011, all U.S. troops will have left Iraq." (READ MORE)

Iraqi Soldiers Complete Grueling Course - BAGHDAD — After five days of intense training and battling a pair of fierce sandstorms, more than 20 Iraqi Army (IA) Soldiers completed the U.S. Paratrooper-developed Combat Outpost Carver Cold Steel Training Academy, July 29. The academy also set the conditions for Iraqi Soldiers to continue maintaining security in the outlying areas of Salman Pak, a southeastern suburb of Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Cultural Awareness Smoothes Transition - WASHINGTON — Training is at the forefront of the new U.S. advisory role in Iraq, and that includes educating both Iraqis and Americans on cultural awareness, 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 Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I), for those in the command who are not Iraqi advisors. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Take Mission Support Lead - CAMP TAJI — U.S. Airmen don't run dining facilities for the Iraqi military here. They don't pump fuel or make runs to ammunition storage points. At least not any more. All of these daily tasks that require the utmost attention to detail and dedication to supporting mission readiness are now handled directly by Iraqi Soldiers. (READ MORE)

Envoy Cites Need to Increase Afghan Security Forces - WASHINGTON, July 30, 2009 – Increasing the numbers of Afghan military forces and police is essential for Afghanistan ultimately to assume responsibility for its own security, a senior U.S. diplomat said here yesterday. “An expansion of the armed services and police of Afghanistan is obviously necessary,” Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters at a State Department news conference. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, US May Shift Strategy - The top US commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way US and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war. (READ MORE)

Taliban Vows to Disrupt Afghan Election - The Taliban says it intends to disrupt next month's presidential elections in Afghanistan, and has urged Afghans to stay away from the polls and attack foreigners. In a statement Thursday, the extremist group called the August 20 vote an "American process" designed to deceive the Afghan people. The group said that, instead of going to what it called "fake election centers," Afghans should fight to free their country from foreign invaders. (READ MORE)

Taliban Actions Speak Louder Than Words, General Says - Although the Taliban recently issued a “code of conduct” booklet aimed at projecting a more positive image to the Afghan people, their actions directly contradict this goal, the spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said yesterday. Canadian Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay told reporters in Afghanistan the Taliban are falling far short of the goals prescribed in their new “Taliban 2009 Rules and Regulations Booklet.” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Faces Growing Addiction Problem - With poppy production still high, and opium and heroin cheap and easy to get, more Afghans, including increasing numbers of women, are becoming addicted. Help is very limited. Afghanistan is notorious as the world's leading producer of opium and heroin, most of it shipped to Europe. Less well-documented is the country's own addiction epidemic. As many as a million Afghans, mostly men but increasing numbers of women, are addicted to heroin or opium, according to Afghan counter-narcotics police. (READ MORE)

To Have and To Hold - Detention policy is one of the least discussed but most important aspects of the war in Afghanistan. The handling of prisoners gets publicity only when there is a major screw-up such as at Abu Ghraib or the smaller-scale abuses that occurred in Afghanistan in the early years of the US presence there. But properly handled this can and should be a major element of any successful counterinsurgency strategy. (READ MORE)

Team Works With Afghans to Address Timber Issues - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 30, 2009 – Members of the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan’s Kunar province facilitated a July 28 meeting between Afghan government officials and provincial leaders to address Kunar’s timber situation. Gov. Fazlullah Wahidid met with the Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal and other officials at his compound in Asadabad to discuss the two main problems in the province: what do with piles of cut lumber and how to stop illegal timber cutting. (READ MORE)

Young Afghan to head home after years at Gitmo - WASHINGTON -- A young Guantánamo detainee appears likely to be sent home by late August after a federal judge concluded Thursday that he had been held illegally and ordered him released after almost seven years. "After this horrible, long, tortured history, I hope the government will succeed in getting him back home," U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle told Justice Department lawyers during a court hearing Thursday. "Enough has been imposed on this young man to date." (READ MORE)

2 indicted in $1 million Afghanistan bribe scheme - WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury has indicted two men for allegedly trying to bribe a U.S. Army contracting official with $1 million to win a road construction project in Afghanistan, the Justice Department said Thursday. Rohullah Farooqi Lodin of Irvine, Calif., and Hashmatullah Farooqi of New York City each are charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit an offense against the United States and one count of attempting to bribe a public official. (READ MORE)

Disease Threatens Afghan Wheat Crop - WASHINGTON, Jul 30 (IPS) - Agronomists and crop experts fear that an aggressive disease that attacks wheat crops could soon reach Afghanistan, potentially threatening food security and initiatives to curb the cultivation of illicit crops. The Ug99 fungus, so named for its identification in Uganda in 1999, is a strain of black stem rust, a fungus that kills plants by leeching water and nutrients from them. (READ MORE)

US general may ask for more troops for Afghan war - WASHINGTON — The U.S. general in charge of turning around the war in Afghanistan is likely to recommend significant changes to U.S. and NATO operations, military officials and others familiar with his forthcoming report said. Those changes could include additional U.S. troops despite political headwind against further expansion of the war. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal readies his assessment of the war, due next month, numerous U.S. officials and outsiders apprised of his thinking suggest McChrystal will request that more American troops, probably including Marines, be added next year. (READ MORE)

UN: Civilian deaths up 24 percent in Afghanistan - GENEVA — The United Nations said Friday the number of civilians killed in conflict in Afghanistan has jumped 24 percent so far this year, with bombings by insurgent and airstrikes by international forces the biggest single killers. In a grim assessment of the first half of 2009, the U.N. assistance mission in Afghanistan said the Taliban and other anti-government militants have become more deadly by shifting from ambush attacks to suicide bombings, roadside explosives and targeted assassinations. (READ MORE)

Taliban code seen as bid to spruce image as a legitimate resistance group -KABUL (AP) -- A Taliban code of conduct that pledges to limit attacks on civilians and curb suicide bombings appears aimed at mustering support among the Afghan people and refurbishing the militants' international image ahead of peace talks widely expected after next month's presidential elections. The code, which NATO officials say was published in May and distributed to Taliban fighters, requires that members of the hard-line Islamist movement undertake the "utmost effort" to avoid killing civilians, limits the use of suicide bombers and mandates that prisoners cannot be harmed or ransomed without the approval of a Taliban regional commander. (READ MORE)

Roadside Bombs Make For Deadly July In Afghanistan - July has been the deadliest month for the U.S. military in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 — with at least 39 service members killed. NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, who recently spent more than a month with U.S. forces in the country, talks to Steve Inskeep about the reasons behind the spike. Steve Inskeep: What is making Afghanistan more dangerous now? (READ MORE)

US medics help British Army treat Afghanistan casualties - Add a commentRecommend ARMY casualties in Afghanistan have been so high this month that British surgeons have had to call on the Americans to help treat the wounded. In the first two weeks of July alone, 57 UK troops were wounded in action – compared with 46 in the whole of June and 24 in May. (READ MORE)

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