August 3, 2009

From the Front: 08/03/2009

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

111 Infantry Recon: New pics - hello families and friends… know that we are all looking forward to coming home. i apologize for your soldiers not being able to disclose when we are returning. i am really proud of the work that this platoon has done and the goals that they have accomplished. I wanted to add more pictures, but it gets difficult here. enjoy. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Resurrection - 03 August 2009 - Sangin, Afghanistan - The bugs are not bad in this part of Afghanistan. The scorched terrain is biologically boring. Mice and ferret-like creatures dash around in the evenings when sparrows and doves and a few other sorts of birds flutter through the cool air. But even at sunrise, I cannot make out the songs or see in flight more than ten types of birds, one of which is the rooster. There are no wading birds, not here anyway: no kingfishers, no cormorants or ducks. The dominant hue of land and bird is desert brown. Maybe a bird or two with black feathers, but never one with sharp, primary colors: not even a red wing tip or a white tuft. There are no ornamental birds with glorious plumage or fancy dance, only drab designs, though the lucky ones have short golden legs. There is not a single inspiring song among them. In the dark of night the bats discreetly flutter about, and in most places even the flies and mosquitoes are not too bothersome in July and August. (READ MORE)

Badger 6: "It's gonna be a Long Walk Home." - For those of you who were readers of Badgers Forward, it's great to have you reading my blog again. For those of you that are new to my writing welcome. I started thinking about blogging again in early May, but I had trouble figuring out exactly what I wanted to do and truth be told, I still am not sure what direction this blog will take but the events of last week made it necessary to start writing again. The name of the blog is not very original. Martha Raddatz wrote a book about coming from Iraq entitled The Long Road Home as did Garry Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau you may remember sponsored The Sandbox. The Teflon Don and I both contributed to that book and the online version. My inspiration thought was the Bruce Springsteen song. (READ MORE)

A Year in the Sandbox: Illinois Soldiers Return Home - Here are a couple stories from the Chicago Tribune about our security force company returning home. One has a short video of their homecoming, the other tells the story of the March 15th IED. Reading that story brought back a lot of feelings. Near he end it tells about how SFC Burleson reacted when he found out the other 2 guys didn’t make it. I remember exactly how I felt when I heard that, just crushed. Everybody expected to see SGT Abeyta and SPC Weinger again. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles (Formerly IN-iraq): Re-embedding or "Out to get your war on" - Baghram Air Base- Every time I re-embed I am re-reminded how slow it starts, how much mundane waiting is involved in covering the U.S. military. Again, I am dropped off at the mega-base, this time by an Afghan taxi driver and a local fixer who drove me an hour and a half north from Kabul. The drive was at times a methodical, yet crazed avoidance of potholes, and a picturesque tour of the northern highway's mountains and roadside shops, crammed with Afghan cars and minibuses headed to the mountains for Friday picnics. Then the malaise hits. Baghram Air Base, the U.S. Forces' largest Eastern supply hub, is to speak frankly, the pits. The typical cluster of Army, Air Force apparatchiks, KBR contractors and foreign troops working and socializing in a weirdly alternative world that neither resembles Afghanistan, nor the smaller military outposts which dot the rest of the country. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My last Tour: AF on loan from Marines - The military has established several cross-training programs entitled “Blue to Green” and “Green to Blue”. These programs are so Air Force personnel can transfer to the Army and vice-a-versa. I’ve never heard of a program involving the Marines. In honor of AF Capt Merritt Brockman, a new program may be created. Capt Brockman was the Brigade Medical Service Corp Officer along with being the S-3, S-4, and Senior Medical mentor to the ANA. She worked closely with the Marine “Master Guns” and Marine LTC in the picture. I had the opportunity to see her in action during the Village Medical Operations (VMO). She was constantly on the move and I couldn’t get a clear picture of her. But today, I was able to get a stationary picture of her. The Brigade Marine leadership presented her a token of their appreciation for her hard work, energy, and stamina she displayed during her tour here. Capt Brockman definitely broke the stigma of Air Force being unfairly titled “Chair Force” by our rivalry sister services. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: A good trip - We did a fast turnaround at the Big Base. And although it's nice to come back with some meat and some snack, there's one thing that's it's even nicer to bring back: replacements. I will, however, point out that last night's convoy coming back down here was like having my eyes burned out by capuchin monkeys with smoldering sticks. The straight-line distance is 47km (29 miles), so we figure it's about 35 miles by road. It took 3.5 hours last night. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: IED Kills 2 Canadians - A sad way to start August: “Cpl. Christian Bobbitt, 23, and another unidentified soldier, both based in Valcartier, Que., were killed Saturday in the blast, which occurred around 3:20 p.m. local time Saturday, 15 kilometres west of Kandahar city. They had dismounted from their vehicle to secure an area west of Kandahar after an earlier blast when another improvised explosive device detonated, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said. Another soldier was seriously injured and is in stable condition in hospital, Vance said.” In other news: looks like Rosie is back in Afghanistan. Good. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Pilot Remains Found by World's Finest - Link below is to an article about the recovery of Capt Michael Scott Speicher's remains. He was shot down during a combat mission in an F/A-18 Hornet in Iraq during Desert Storm 1991. What it doesn't say is that it was America's Battalion that found him. Kilo company, my old company from the last deployment were tasked with the mission. Marines sifted the Iraqi sands searching for a comrade that had fallen before some of them were even born. Well done Kilo. Capt Speicher, welcome home and Semper Fidelis. (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: I love my job! (Part Two) - Yesterday I wrote that it had been a long day, and just as I was about to head into the showers, an NCO came into the barracks asking whether the Chaplain was around. So much for *my* plans! I followed him out to his vehicle, in which a young Soldier was sitting. The NCO said he was going to go smoke a cigar, and left the two of us in the vehicle. After our introductions, the young combat veteran began telling me the story of what was going on. As with so many of us returning Veterans, his job had gone away while he was deployed to a combat zone, and though he'd been looking for work ever since he redeployed, he'd not found anything, and had been living in his car for the past couple of months. While he was Down Range, a family member he'd trusted had taken the lion's share of the money he'd saved up while deployed (over $5000) and had spent it on a drug habit the Soldier was not previously aware of. His Dad constantly berates him for not being "a *real* Soldier" -- because he joined the Guard, rather than Active Duty -- even though the man has never himself served in the military. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Dedication of the LT Toner Firehouse - Today was the dedication of the LTjg Francis Toner IV Firehouse on Camp Spann. It was a solemn occasion. LT Toner was an engineer by trade. He was the Northern Region Garrison Engineer, and as such mentored the Afghan base engineers and by all accounts did a superb job. He also planned buildings on the Camp. The most significant of which is the firehouse that now bears his name. He was spoken of as a good friend, a motivator and a Godly man. Like many of us who are here from the Navy, LT Toner was an Individual Augmentee. He was stationed in Hawaii. He went through workup training at Ft Riley. On 27 March 2009 LT Toner was running laps around the perimeter of Camp Shaheen. Camp Spann is located within the limits of Camp Shaheen. He was running with a buddy as were two female Naval Officers. On their second lap around the perimeter an ANA guard came down from the tower and shot the two female sailors. LT Toner with no regard for his own safey charged toward the assailant. He was fatally shot while attempting to protect his comrades. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: The Elections are Coming - The pending Afghanistan election is heating up. The main challenger Abdullah Abdullah has suffered three attacks in three days on different offices around the country and one of his senior aides claimed that if Karzai won they would take up their rifles and fight in the streets of Kabul. The other serious challenger, Ashraf Ghani (a Columbia graduate and a dual citizen of Afghanistan and America) has hired on the “Little Dog” James Carvelle (he whines too much to be a big dog and no Afghan understands a word he says due to speed, pitch, volume and ludicrous content) over here working for him. The Raging Cajun has been babbling something about change, or it’s the economy, or whatever – the locals have no idea what he is trying to say so the TV anchors smile politely and say “the foreigner said interesting things and he helped elect Bill Clinton.” Afghans are mesmerized by Bill Clinton they cannot believe he got on international TV and cried over something as trivial as forcing a subordinate to perform a sex act on him. (READ MORE)

Flit: Looking down the road with the ANA 2 years or so - When I was in Afghanistan, many U.S. officers, good guys all of them, would frequently offer words of consolation when dealing with the Afghan security forces to the effect, "Don't worry, this is just what I was dealing with in Iraq in 2006." I've been watching the recent post-SOFA drawdown in American support for the Iraqi army with interest, then, because assuming the rule above holds, one would expect something the situation to start looking similar, perhaps as early as 2011 (a year by which I suspect Canada will not be alone in looking for the exits, by the way, so we shouldn't feel so bad.) Col. Reese's memo on why it's time to leave Iraq, specifically because they've passed the point of diminishing returns in security force improvement, should be instructive in this regard, and is worth reading in full. For this is what we should expect to be written about the ANA once we're done with them (and they with us), as well. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Karzai and the Ismaili and his AC/DC Warlord Son - So Karzai wants the Ismaili vote. Why not? So who does he go to? I would go to the Agha Khan, as his network is a genuinely benevolent and effective NGO. But the Agha Khan and his network is not in the business of endorsing candidates. And Karzai needs someone who can get out the vote. And I mean “get.” So who does he go to? NYT with the answer: "Several thousand Ismaili men, women and children gathered from four northern provinces on Friday to meet their spiritual leader, Sayed Mansoor Nadiri, in the Kayan Valley before Mr. Karzai’s appearance. Many came over the mountain passes on foot and stayed overnight sleeping under trees, in gardens and in nearby villages to receive Mr. Karzai on Saturday. Mr. Nadiri declared that the Ismailis had decided to give their support to Mr. Karzai for the Aug. 20 presidential election, and the people agreed without demur." (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Army photographer traded shots with insurgents - Frontline Army photographer Dan Harmer is more used to shooting pictures than Taliban bandits in the lawless badlands of Helmand Province. But the 32-year-old sergeant recently had to aim his standard issue SA80 rifle at the insurgents as he and his men were attacked during a 12-hour patrol. Despite the Royal Logistics Corps soldier seeing his primary role as a chronicler of war, he fought back with relish during a battle in July's bloody Panther's Claw operation. The Barnet FC fan's patrol group had advanced along one dusty, sun-baked road by just three-quarters of a mile in 12 hours because they kept finding improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They were then attacked and Sgt Harmer's commander ordered his men to “engage”. He said: “We were contacted (fired at) by two fighters from about 200 metres away. We were wide open with no cover so the platoon commander ordered us to run diagonally across a field and advance to contact.” (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Eviction Notice - Today my roommate and I returned to the CHU just a few minutes apart around 130pm. I was shooting pictures at the Softball Tournament, he was coming back from being in the motor pool since 7am. I was the first to see an all capital letters paper taped to our door that began: IT HAS COME TO OUR ATTENTION THAT ONLY ONE SOLDIER IS LIVING IN THIS ROOM. THIS ROOM HAS BEEN DESIGNATED FOR IMMEDIATE OCCUPANCY BY A SECOND AUTHORIZED SOLDIER. IF AN UNAUTHORIZED SOLDIER OR CIVILIAN IS LIVING IN THIS ROOM HIS OR HER BELONGINGS WILL BE REMOVED. . .YOU HAVE 48 HOURS TO REPORT TO THE BILLETING OFFICE AND RESOLVE THIS MATTER. "IT HAS COME TO OUR ATTENTION. . ." are they kidding? How? Do they have spies? "They" is, of course, the garrison, who you will remember from all my other posts about Chicken Shit are responsible for health and welfare issues and for security. My roommate and I are each either side of six feet tall, either side of 200 pounds and come in two distinctly different colors. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Two Flags for Pokey - For most Americans when they see the flag they think of the US and all it stands for. For some seeing it reminds them of all the men and women who fought to make and keep this nation what it is. I suppose the same is true for all nations people when they view their flag. It is a symbol of pride. I have flown a flag on my house with pride in my nation, it's history and with hope for it's future for a long time. But now more than ever when I look on it I can not help but think of all those who have fought and died to make this country what it is. It's more than a symbol to me. It is what my son stood for. What he believed it. It stands for freedom, liberty, and sacrifice. Nothing comes for free. There is always a cost. And the price of this nation is the blood, sweat and tears of those who believed in it so strongly that they fought and died for this nation and trying to give a small piece of it to others around the world. On July 4th 2009 a Pennsylvania National Guard unit stationed at Taji Iraq flew a US flag in honor of my son. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan charges Sufi Mohammed with treason - The Pakistani government has charged the leader of a pro-Taliban group and seven of his associates with treason, inciting rebellion, terrorism, waging war, and conspiracy against Pakistan. Police have filed charges against Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the banned pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law], and seven others at the Saido Sharif Police Station in Swat. “We have registered a case of treason, rebellion and terrorism against Sufi Mohammad,” Sajid Khan Mohmand , the chief of police for the district of Swat, told news agencies. “A case of waging war and conspiracy against the country has also been registered.” The charges revolve around statements made by Sufi at a rally in Swat on April 19. (READ MORE)

The Life: Jacksonian America and Present Day Iraq - There are some interesting similarities between the 1820s-1830s American political scene and today's situations in Iraq. Here are a few: 1. President Jackson believed that all Indian actions were cause by English or Spanish guidance in an attempt to destabilize the American Government. Today, the Iraqi and American Governments both often blame insurgent activities on regional influences. 2. South Carolina wanted to nullify laws and possible secede from the Union, with Calhoun and Hayne arguing for the states' rights over Federal Government laws. Lingston, Jackson, Webster, and Van Buren argued for the consolidation of power in the central government and the presidency. Jackson was often portrayed in the media as being a King and a deposit. South Carolina's arguement for nullification parallels in some ways the current Kurdistan Regional Government in its attempts to act independently of Baghdad's rulings, especially on issues such as oil and security. (READ MORE)

Misuchan's Milblog: Why at least some of the people of Afghanistan will always want to kill us - Sometimes local national women and children were allowed onto our FOB for medical treatment. Me being female, I would have to search the local national women. One day an old woman recognized me, and started giggling when she saw me. So I take her to where I normally search her and conduct it while my buddy is standing guard on her. The whole time the woman is giggling at me because we had gone through this many times before. So the male soldier who had just arrived at the FOB a week or two prior (whereas I had been in country almost a year) asked my “why the fuck so much giggling was going on in there.” I explained it to him that she was glad to see me. He proceeds to tell me to not “be so sociable with the woman.” I have also seen a male US soldier cuss out an interpreter because he got in line to eat with the American soldiers for chow instead of moving to the back of the line as the locals normally do. (READ MORE)

SPC Alperin - My Point of View: Going against the traffic... - So far so good. Vacation is coming up and it seems to be the right fit at the right time. I'm feeling a little burnout lately. I'm anxious to see my daughter and see how tall she has gotten. Can't wait for the 12th to come around so we are all together. I have plans for us to spend a few nights in a rainforest in Mindo, Ecuador. Hoping to go hiking, see nature, rest, kayak, rest some more and get in some good family time. Also, hoping to take my father n' law to some Soccer games in Quito. I've been incredibly fortunate in my job duties so far as I detailed before, but I may not have explained some of the fringe benefits that have accompanied the night shift. Going to the gym, bathroom, laundry, internet cafe and dining facility all seem much more pleasant with less people around. Cleanliness and ambience are those subtle factors which make the nightshift such a fortunate experience. When I take my showers, the bathrooms have just been cleaned. When I go to the internet cafe, there is always a computer available. (READ MORE)

Notes From Iraq: 30JUL09--Reunion in Virginia - Stepping off the plane in Richmond, my stride was a bit faster than normal. After all, I had not seen my wife and two kids since February or lived with my family in 15 months. I reached the TSA screening point to the site of my family to include my mother, stepfather, niece and father-in-law all waving American flags. My two-year-old son handed me a "Welcome Home Daddy" sign and then promptly stated, "That's not my Daddy." The long embrace with my wife was as emotional and heart warming as you might expect. And my 16-month-old daughter, whose life I have nearly completely missed, was terrified of me. By the next day, it already started to seem like I had never been gone. A chapter in our lives is now over. This will be my final post. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences with the readers of the greater Roanoke Valley and appreciated the personal exchanges. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. (READ MORE) Gnomes on Tribal Militias - Dan Green has a plan for standing up tribal militias in Afghanistan in the latest issue of Special Warfare and SWJ. And here I was getting my hopes up that the tribal militia fad had died out earlier this year. Anyhow, Green points out that a tribal engagement strategy for Afghanistan should recognize that Afghan tribes are different from Afghan tribes, so lessons cannot be directly transported. However, there’s a much more important point to recognize that Green flies right on past without noticing. Many of Afghanistan’s tribes have been systematically undermined by the Taliban, Pakistani intelligence and local warlords; perverted by the free flow of arms; and weakened by mass migrations of people. Leaders in power may not be the traditional tribal leaders, and some tribes have been so weakened that no single individual leads them. That situation complicates leader selection, legitimacy and efficacy and leads to conflict within and between tribes. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The Virtues of Getting Off the FOB - On my way home from Afghanistan earlier this year, I wrote a long essay about how all the force protection measures the Army has put into place to safeguard the lives of its soldiers have actually been contributing to the insurgency and making their deployments more dangerous. A month later, one of my friends in Khost related a story about how force protection rules made their lives incredibly more difficult and dangerous than they need to be. But the nuts and bolts of why getting off the base, and doing so outside enormous armored trucks, has such an effect aren’t often explored. One of Spencer Ackerman’s guest bloggers linked to this story, however, that makes this point perfectly: The platoon has a small fleet of up-armored Humvees at the base, but they are rarely used, which is just fine by the troops. Combat vehicles are “a magnet for trouble,” said Staff Sgt. Danieto Bacchus, a squad leader here and a former mechanized infantryman with two tours to Iraq. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Suppressing The Urge - All you Facebook friends out there, Twitter devotees and the like, forgive Jessica, Tom and Jennifer for their relative silence during a passage that actually warranted status updates. Look for them to fill in the blanks as soon as they power up. We crossed the globe, passed security checks on three continents and bunked in military tents as a rosy desert dawn lit this gateway camp outside Kuwait City. The name goes unmentioned in accordance with military rules governing our embedding. All the way the professor squashed student passions for updating their every move. Call me paranoid, but it struck me that our group, being unusual in its Alaska student involvement, invited problems from those looking for ways to embarrass the U.S. Or worse. (READ MORE)

S4 at War: ORG, TPE, MTOE - COL Reese’s memo is making the rounds over here. Commander’s warning that whatever we may believe, we aren’t leaving in the next few months and still have a mission, my friends and I in almost total agreement with COL Reese. Now, let’s discuss property. We have two different types out here, organizational (ORG) and theater provided equipment (TPE). ORG property is the equipment that a unit brings from home. A lot of our weapons, radios etc…were all brought from our home station and is on our ORG property book. Our TPE property is the equipment that is already in theater. We signed for it from the previous unit and will sign it over to the next unit. The big pieces of equipment like armored vehicles are TPE. In addition, units get more weapons, radios etc…Who cares? The TPE equipment that an infantry unit requires is different from what a field artillery battalion, cavalry regiment, or support Battalion will require. Let me confuse this further. Units aren’t filling their traditional roles over here. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: What Exactly is the Strategy in Afghanistan? - During a conference call yesterday in which he talked about his recent trip to Afghanistan as an advisor to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day strategy review, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Biddle sketched a somewhat muddled vision of possible ways forward. The two main challenges in Afghanistan, Biddle said, are providing security to the civilian population, and battling the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government and security forces, which he called the “central underlying cause of the insurgency.” While the governance both at the local and national level is the bigger cause for concern, he noted that “either once of these problems is sufficient to lead to mission failure” if not resolved. “Serious movement on both tracks” is going to be needed over the next year if there’s any hope of a positive outcome in Afghanistan, including pacifying “significant pieces of territory…and creating security where there was not security.” (READ MORE)

Combat Boots for Artemis: Fitness Findings - I have spent the better part of the last 20 years raising 4 kids, tending house and holding down various jobs. Mostly it was a couch potato existence with a few stints of spelunking (caving) and a few "I've got to lose some of this weight" diet attempts. Nothing. I mean nothing up to this time in my life led me to believe I would be preparing to enter into Army Basic Training at the ripe ol' age of 40. For the last year and a half I have tried every diet program imaginable. I have had some success, overall I have lost oh, about 35 lbs, the last 10 of which I have repeatedly lost over the past 6 months. It never stays off completely. The problem is I want it off yesterday and I get tired of eating healthy... I love food. Honestly there were times when I thought that all I had to do was look at food and I would gain weight. Truly. The other half of the problem is that while I am a woman - I build muscle like a man. I think my dad actually cursed me when he wished I was a boy... (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Wake-Up Call - When we arrived at the transfer base in Kuwait, one of the first things I noticed was the casual atmosphere. Soldiers in logo t-shirts played pickup basketball at two o'clock in the morning, and the recreation tent was full of troops both in and out of uniform, playing games on Nintendo Wiis or watching Fast & Furious on a projector.The military realities of life on base were still prevalent; checkpoints were extremely tightly controlled and there were forms to fill out and command hierarchies to navigate at every turn. Also, the relaxed nature of some of the soldiers could be explained away by the fact that many of them were on their way out of the war, either for a few weeks of leave or for good. Still, you could almost forget that there was a war going on, and how close by the base was to the "front," if the notion of "fronts" still applies in modern warfare. When we boarded the "Daytime Rhino" in Baghdad yesterday, the difference in tone from Kuwait was unmistakable. (READ MORE)

Sarah @ Spouse Buzz: Mail Takes Too Long - I'm having mail anxiety. It just takes too darn long for the mail to travel overseas. And I'm nervous about jinxing myself. It's happened before... My second pregnancy started right before a deployment too. I blogged: I wrote two weeks ago about giving life-altering news over the phone to my husband in Iraq. First I had to tell him I was pregnant. Then I had to tell him the nurse said we'd probably lose the baby. Then I got to happily tell him that I'd had an ultrasound and saw our baby's little heartbeat. And then Thursday I had to tell him that the baby has died and that I have to miscarry without him. But what I didn't mention in that paragraph is that I had mailed my husband the ultrasound photo of our healthy little baby. And then the baby died while the photo was still in the mail. (READ MORE)

Air Force Wife: Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! - Having already established that my life is like "If You Give a Moose a Muffin," a new book has been added into the mix at our house. Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! Trust me, I'm not trying to get rid of my husband and I really would like to keep him home with us for a bit. But if the last two deployments he went on busted the schedule by having him leave earlier than anticipated (and quite suddenly in the case of the first deployment), this one has tried to make up for that by continually setting his date to leave back. This means several things... It means that the gear buying has gotten more ridiculous. The man is already in Deployment Land in his head. The bad juxtaposition of being in Deployment Land but having access to all the gadgets and gizmos and shopping areas stateside while mentally being somewhere sandy, stinky, and with mass shower facilities causes all sorts of strange behavior headed up by things like, "Honey, I need to grab a Sham Wow to use as a towel over there." This unholy item would have never entered my house had Air Force Guy left on time. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Security Pact gives Iraqi Security Forces a New Swagger - Turki Atiah Thamer and Mohrfakh Ali Namdar rolled through Khadamiyah to inspect checkpoints in the well-worn Chevy pickup that is the trademark vehicle of the Iraqi National Police force, wagging an AK-47 out the window while waving traffic to pass. On the bustling streets of this Baghdad neighborhood, there’s no body armor, no hulking, blast-resistant trucks - and no American soldiers in sight. “Iraqis are taking over,” Thamer said. “The people appreciate that.” US troops have become a sort of nocturnal curiosity in Iraq’s cities, rarely seen except for the occasional camouflage mushroom of a helmet peeking out of a gunner’s hatch during a pre-dawn convoy. (READ MORE)

Iraqi and Kurdish Leaders Pledge to End Disputes - In the first such meeting in a year between the two rivals, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani pledged Sunday to resolve disputes over land and oil that have threatened to spill into fighting. The conflict between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish autonomous region is seen as the most dangerous threat to the nation's stability, and US officials have publicly urged both sides to resolve their disputes before most American combat troops complete their withdrawal from Iraq by August 2010. (READ MORE)

In Kirkuk, Iraqis, Kurds Work Toward Common Security Goal - Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have taken steps to overcome their people’s historic enmity and work together in the Kirkuk area, but it’s a delicate situation, a US military commander says. “Even minor misunderstandings could spiral into armed conflict unless we keep the lines of communication open,” said Col. Ryan Gonsalves, head of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “It’s up to us to do as much as we can to avoid some type of incident that sparks violence.” (READ MORE)

Iraq Bank Robbers were Vice-President’s Security Guards, Police Say - It was a bank job with a very Iraqi twist. Baghdad police said yesterday that the gang of armed men who pulled off the city’s biggest bank robbery since the US-led invasion was made up of presidential security guards. They killed eight bank staff last week and used dynamite to blast open the vault of the Rafidain Bank in the wealthy district of Karrada, making off with £4.3 million. On the run, the men passed through five official checkpoints and defied a night-time curfew in southern Baghdad without being challenged. (READ MORE)

There's Still a War In Iraq. It Isn't Ours. - The Iraq war is over - for us. That doesn't mean that the United States won or achieved all of its aims or that fighting among Iraqis will stop. It doesn't mean that Iraq is stable, democratic and relatively free of corruption. The war is over for the United States because the Iraqis don't really need or want American forces around anymore. Every time US troops roll out of the gate with their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad, they discredit the Iraqi forces in the eyes of their people. They make their Iraqi partners' jobs harder. Although senior US commanders understand and accept this fact privately, they will never admit it. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army Officers Pulled $4.8-million Bank Heist, Police Say - When thieves shot dead eight guards and made off with $4.8 million in one of Iraq's biggest-ever bank heists last week, fingers quickly pointed at the Sunni-led insurgency. Extremists must be turning to crime to finance their activities, so the hypothesis went, and $4.8 million would pay for a lot of bombs. But after a series of arrests and a sweep of a government compound, Iraqi police say the culprits were Iraqi army officers attached to the elite unit guarding Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi. (READ MORE)

Iraqi National Police Renamed Federal Police - BAGHDAD – The Iraqi National Police received a new name as the Federal Police when the name change became effective Aug. 1. The name change to Federal Police “goes side by side with the objectives of the national unity government,” said a spokesman for the police. (READ MORE)

Positive Identification of Captain Michael Scott Speicher - BAGHDAD – The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians of Multi-National Force-Iraq join with all members of the military family in expressing their gratitude that the remains of U.S. Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher have been recovered and returned home. “We send our deepest condolences to the Speicher family for the sacrifice Captain Speicher made in the service of his country,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general of Multi-National Force-Iraq. (READ MORE)

Validating Iraqi Police in Kirkuk - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – For more than 35 years, the doors of the Yaychi Police Station outside of Kirkuk remained closed; its windows shut and its hallways empty. In 2006, as a combined effort between the Government of Iraq and the U.S. military, Iraqi Police finally returned to work at the station. (READ MORE)

Combat outposts in Anbar turned over to Iraqi control - AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – Throughout July, Multi National Force - West returned Combat Outposts Rawah and Sedgewick to Iraqi control in the Al Anbar province. In accordance with the Security Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, when the U.S. withdraws from a base or facility, it will be returned to the control of the appropriate Iraqi entity or demilitarized and closed. These facilities are able to be transferred to Iraqi control because the Iraqi Security Forces have assumed full responsibility for the outposts and security in their respective areas. (READ MORE)

ISF and U.S. forces respond to a rocket attack in Basra province - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – Iraqi Security and U.S. forces responded when COB Basra was attacked by indirect fire at approximately 4:40 p.m. today. Multiple explosions of an unknown type struck near the military base. Soldiers from the 52nd Iraqi Army Brigade and 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, responded to the attack to conduct a joint investigation. (READ MORE)

GoI assumes responsibility of Combat Outpost Rawah - RAWAH, Iraq – Combat Outpost Rawah was transferred from Coalition forces to the Government of Iraq, July 29,, demonstrating the tremendous progress Iraqi Security Forces and the Government of Iraq have made in preserving peace and stability throughout Al Anbar province. The district of Rawah has undergone a monumental transformation in recent years, changing from a war-torn district to a region that continues to grow in prosperity. (READ MORE)

Medical Skills Passed to Iraqi Partners - BAGHDAD — Two U.S. Army medics from the 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron taught Iraqi Army medics Basic Combat Lifesaving skills here, July 29. This was the third class in a series of eight in which squadron medics Sgt. Jim Slaughter and Sgt. Edward Woolwine teach medical skills to their Iraqi partners, then return in two weeks to observe their former students teaching those same skills to their junior enlisted Soldiers. (READ MORE)

Factory Owners Association Brings Promise, Security to Northeast Baghdad - BAGHDAD — In an open-air factory on the outskirts of northeast Baghdad, Iraqi workers diligently polish mosaic tiles with buffers, spraying water in circular, cascading waves. An Iraqi teenager sweeps the water toward a drainage ditch with a determined look on his face as the workers' machines drone on noisily. The owner of the factory, a distinguished Iraqi man with salt and pepper hair, strides toward the wrought iron gate of his factory. With open arms and a wide, beaming smile, he greets American Soldiers and Iraqi Federal Police at the entry gate. (READ MORE)

Airmen Save Iraqi Girl's Life After Improvised Explosive Device Blast - JOINT BASE BALAD — Thanks to security forces Airmen, emergency medics and hospital staff here, an Iraqi girl is still alive after an improvised explosive device detonated at her feet earlier this month. The girl and her family had just attended a Joint Base Balad sponsored clothing-and-toys distribution for local kids at the east entry control point. Shortly after the event ended, Airmen near the ECP heard an explosion. (READ MORE)

Future Hero Project Brings Soccer Balls, Backpacks to Thousands of Children - CAMP TAJI — More than 2,000 children from the Tarmiyah area received soccer balls and school supplies, July 29, thanks to a combined effort between the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team (Independence), Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Iraqi Ministry of Education. In the past, the Independence Brigade Soldiers and their ISF counterparts have facilitated many school drops under the Junior Hero program, but the Future Hero program took things to the next level by involving Iraqi officials and recognizing the academic achievements of the students. (READ MORE)

Basra Continues Cleanup Campaign - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA — Local leaders met with members of the Basra Provincial Reconstruction Team and the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team at the city’s trash dump July 23 to assess the progress of a month-long project to facilitate the mass cleanup of trash. The government hired local civilian contractors to assist in cleaning up and transporting Basra province’s overwhelming volume of accumulated trash for the recently launched project. (READ MORE)

School, Bridge Highlight Progress in Afghanistan - LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan, July 31, 2009 – An agreement for a new school to be built and a new bridge over the Kunar River highlight continued improvements in Afghanistan. An Afghan construction company here agreed with Task Force Mountain Warrior servicemembers July 29 to build a primary school in the province’s Qhargayee district. (READ MORE)

Troop Deaths Rise in Afghanistan - Afghan insurgents killed nine foreign soldiers - six of them Americans - on Saturday and Sunday, in one of the deadliest weekends in Afghanistan for the US and its allies since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The bloody opening to August came after the most lethal month for the coalition in the nearly eight-year Afghanistan campaign. In July, 75 foreign troops were killed, more than 40 of them Americans. US, Afghan and allied officials say the spike in deaths is the result of two colliding factors: (READ MORE)

9 Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan - Insurgents killed nine American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan over the weekend, underscoring the alarming increase in the sophistication and frequency of roadside bomb attacks that contributed to making July the deadliest month of the allies’ eight-year campaign against the Taliban. Three American soldiers were killed on Saturday in Kandahar Province, and three more were killed on Sunday in Wardak Province. Two Canadian soldiers were also killed Saturday in Kandahar, and a French soldier died Saturday after a gun battle with guerrilla forces north of Kabul. (READ MORE)

UN Chief Scorns Miliband Plan for Taliban Talks - Talks with the Taliban must include the movement’s leadership or they will not result in peace, the top United Nations official in Afghanistan has warned as differences emerge within the international community about a strategy to end the eight-year war. “If you want important results you need to talk to people who are important,” said Kai Eide, the special representative for the UN secretary-general, in an interview with The Sunday Times. “We won’t get where we want by negotiating with local commanders on the ground. That’s an inadequate peace process and that won’t work.” (READ MORE)

Tell Us Why We're in Afghanistan, MPs Say - There is a “serious risk” of the Government losing public support for the mission in Afghanistan unless it better explains why British soldiers are fighting and dying there, the chairman of an influential panel of MPs said last night. Mike Gapes of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee also questioned why Britain had the lead role in fighting the Afghan drugs trade when it lacks the resources to do the job. Bill Rammell, the Armed Forces Minister, accused the committee of “wildly exaggerating” the level of British resources dedicated to counter-narcotics in response to a scathing report by the MPs about the Afghan mission. Mr Rammell will deliver his first major speech on Afghanistan today. (READ MORE)

2,000 Extra Troops to be Sent to Afghanistan - Britain is expected to send up to 2,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of an effort by General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander, to train more Afghan soldiers and police. At talks in Washington last week David Miliband, the foreign secretary, discussed with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, the idea of Britain supplying more soldiers as part of a plan that would see Afghan forces more than double. “We obviously have talked about it with not only those like the British troops and government who are so supportive, but those who don’t have troops on the ground but understand the importance of this,” said Clinton. (READ MORE)

British Lawmakers: Afghan Mission Falls Short of Expectations - The international military mission in Afghanistan has delivered "much less than it promised" due to the lack of a realistic strategy, an influential committee of lawmakers said Sunday. In a report, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said without a clear strategy stabilising Afghanistan had become "considerably more difficult than might otherwise have been the case." Lawmakers criticised US policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and warned the "considerable cultural insensitivity" of some coalition troops had caused serious damage to Afghans' perceptions that will be "difficult to undo". (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, Taliban Kills More Civilians than US - Civilian deaths in the Afghanistan conflict surged 24 percent in the first half of 2009, according to a new report from the United Nations. Anger over the misuse of force has become a top issue among Afghans, prompting leaders on both sides recently to issue directives to their fighters to minimize civilian casualties. The UN report is a bad news, good news document for the US and its Afghan allies. The 21-page report (PDF), issued July 31, found that insurgents killed almost twice as many civilians in the first six months of the year as the coalition did (595 deaths against 309). (READ MORE)

'You Have to Learn This Now' - On a bleak and sweltering plain littered with rusty Soviet tanks, pairs of grimacing military recruits crawled beneath a barbed-wire net one recent morning, dragging their rifles through the dust. Two trainers followed, shouting at them to move faster and stooping to correct their movements. "You have to learn this now. I am not going to be out there in the battle with you," Master Sgt. Wahidullah told his new batch of 200 soldiers, each nervously waiting his turn. "Crawl with the opposite hand and foot. Don't point the gun at your chin. Don't move until the other man is covered. Don't touch the barbed wire, because it may be rigged to kill you." (READ MORE)

Lawmakers Urge UK to Drop Afghan Drugs Mission - Britain should abandon its anti-drug role in Afghanistan and focus on securing the country against the Taliban insurgency, a prominent group of UK lawmakers said Sunday. Britain, along with the United States, is one of the leading contributors to the international campaign to eradicate Afghanistan's opium crop. But nearly $267 million were spent on its counter-narcotics role between 2004 and 2008, to little effect. The UK also supplies the second-highest number of troops to NATO's military campaign against the Taliban. Its 9,000-strong contingent has taken heavy casualties in the past month. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Valley Tries to Heal, and Fears Dark Battles Ahead - Schools have officially reopened. Soldiers stand guard at checkpoints and have established a semblance of order. Many thousands have returned here to a town that is mostly intact, if still under a military presence. But Mingora, a battle-scarred city in the Swat Valley, remains tense. Pakistan’s efforts to restore normalcy - a vital test of the government’s resolve to stand up to the Taliban - waver between fear and hope, leaving an enduring victory over the militants a distant goal. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, a Time to Debate and Decide - In the run-up to Afghanistan's presidential and provincial council elections on Aug. 20, Afghan and international political elites and journalists will pass judgment on the past five years. But only the Afghan people can decide who will best lead their country for the next five. Afghanistan's elections present an opportunity for the country's citizens to create a future of prosperity and peace for their children. Five years ago, with guidance from the international community, Afghanistan held its first elections and began the process of building a new state - a complex and difficult effort following 25 years of invasion, civil war, oppression and foreign-inspired terrorism. (READ MORE)

U.S. may ask for more troops for Afghan war - WASHINGTON -- U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal may soon ask the Obama administration for extra forces for the Afghanistan war. Gen. McChrystal is preparing a report reassessing the war and advisers who helped him say he needs more soldiers. In interviews with Reuters and public comments, prominent analysts advising him say he will need more boots on the ground even after force levels reach 68,000 U.S. troops - on top of more than 30,000 from allied nations - later this year. (READ MORE)

Pashtuns dream of one homeland, play key role in Afghan election and war - KABUL (AP) -- In a recent debate leading up to the presidential elections here, the first question was not about terrorism, or violence, or even opium. It was about how candidates viewed a jagged line casually drawn on a map 115 years ago by British colonial rulers. For the West, this border separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, and it is a source of great frustration that neither country seems able or even willing to enforce it. But for many Pashtuns, the most powerful ethnic tribe here, the line runs through what they call "Pashtunistan" and is no more legitimate than the border that once divided East and West Germany. (READ MORE)

Afghan poll workers ambushed; U.S. soldiers killed - KABUL (Reuters) - A convoy of campaign workers for Afghan President Hamid Karzai was ambushed five times on Saturday, officials said, as Taliban insurgents step up efforts to disrupt the presidential election. The U.S. military also said three U.S. troops were killed in the south, while a French soldier died and two were wounded in fighting in Kapisa province in the east, French officials said. (READ MORE)

Karzai promises voters a brighter future - President Hamid Karzai held his first campaign rally outside of the capital in a small village yesterday, promising a welcoming crowd a brighter future if elected this month. The leading contender in the August 20 elections addressed the boisterous rally of several thousand people alongside the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Shia sect that dominates this area, who told his followers to choose Karzai. Villagers held up placards of the president and shouted slogans such as "Karzai will succeed" at the gathering near a village six hours' drive from Kabul, at the end of a rocky road in the relatively stable northern province of Baghlan. (READ MORE)

‘Obese UK troops hampering war in Afghanistan’ - Obesity among its soldiers have undermined “operational effectiveness” of British forces, leading to shortage of fit soldiers who could be deployed to fight the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, according to a leaked Army memo. “War effort is being hampered by troops too unfit to deploy. Leaked army memo reveals many British soldiers are so obese they cannot be sent to Helmand Britain's war effort is being hampered by the number of front-line troops who are too fat or unfit to be deployed to southern Afghanistan," the Observer said in its report. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: Top UN envoy urges election calm, praises anti-fraud measures - 2 August 2009 – The top United Nations official in Afghanistan today condemned violent attacks on presidential hopefuls ahead of this month's national and provincial elections, urging all parties to concentrate on the political debate. “There has been – and there is – concern about irregularities, and those are concerns that I share and I condemn, in particular, the attacks that have taken place on candidates and on supporters of candidates,” Kai Eide, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul. (READ MORE)

Britain should give up lead role in Afghanistan, say MPs - Britain should give up the lead role it shares with the US in Afghanistan after a dramatic rise in troop deaths and a slump in public backing, a parliamentary report urged Sunday. There had been 'significant mission creep' of extra roles for British troops since their initial deployment in 2001, according to the report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, a body which includes both governnment and opposition MPs. (READ MORE)

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