August 5, 2009

From the Front: 08/05/2009

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

Michael Yon: Common Scenes & Common Thoughts - 05 August 2009 - The helicopter pilot wearing night vision goggles roared in so fast it looked as though he were crashing. The four green Cylums (Americans call them Chemlights) mark the HLS. While the helicopter is above the dust cloud, it melts into the dark, but as it approaches the HLS, dust swirls high, setting the stage for an amazing light show. The Chinook descends through the dry dust and the rotors glitter brightly, creating an eerie glow as if sparklers are attached to the rotors, which in reality appeared brighter to the eye than in the photo below. If the helicopter were not so loud, the millions of static discharges might be heard crackling and popping. Daylight: While walking across FOB Jackson to find Nepalese Gurkhas, this air cooler caught the lens. After sprinkling water on the straw, evaporation cools the air. Construction of air coolers has been taught in military survival classes, yet like much of those classes, the field craft is just part of daily life around the world. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Insurgent Rockets Slam Kabul - I woke up around 3:30 this morning to the sound of exploding rockets on the other side of town. Insurgents had struck Kabul. Reports say that between eight and twelve rockets were fired at the house of a government official (near the US embassy,) the airport and an Afghan army HQ in a nieghborhood about a mile from my bed. Things are getting strange here as the Aug. 20 election approaches. Attacks on government buildings and offices have increased dramatically in the last month, with complex suicide bombings and shootouts in Gardez, Khost, Jalalabad, Nimrooz and other provinces. There was a rumor yesterday of a riot descending on Kabul from the north. Just as quickly as the rumor spread, it disappeared. “Everything is fine,” said the man at police headquarters. (READ MORE)

MAJ C: Advise and Assist BCT's in Iraq - I had the distinct honor of sitting down today with COL Peter Newell in the Army Blogger's Round-Table. He is currently the Brigade Commander of 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss, TX currently serving in Iraq in the southern AO. There was a lot of great questions asked of him, but I am going to concentrate on my two questions. The first question I asked of him, was as a Brigade executing an advise and assist mission, was their additional resources, or force multipliers that he thought he needed to accomplish the mission. In layman's speak this translates to: what else do you need that you do not have. I asked this question because I was curious as to his thoughts on how much inter-agency support he thought he needed. I was not disappointed, COL Newell was dead on the money with his assessment. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: Villagers rely on coalition, but traditions die hard - Zieraf Village- Up windy roads and farmed terraces, high above Forward Operating Base Kala Gush, I saw a red haired man staring in fascination at the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) loaded with guns, body armor, wearing high tech sun glasses, and traipsing around his village to a inspect coalition-funded road. I saw him a few hours later down in the base cafeteria mopping the floor, as if he'd teleported from that other world. He might just as well have been looking for faces he recognized. These villagers lead a more complex life caught between U.S. forces and their own traditions, that often run contrary to the coalition's efforts, than at first seems apparent. In this community of 150 families, the main source of subsistence farming, was poppies, the blooming flower from which heroin is extracted. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: A Week - What a week it’s been. In order to become a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Academy of Bellicose Numismatists you have to study hard, know the curriculum and class materials, and you have to complete the 5 day course as a student. It’s a rite of passage. Well, it’s a little more than that, but I’m simplifying it. So that was fun. After a day to change gears and get prepped, a couple of other instructors and I trundled off early each morning to teach a more focused, shorter course at a branch school for Afghan officers. This was an advanced course. These officers had already completed their basic course. They also had combat experience and knew a fair amount about enemy behavior. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My last Tour: Saffron: Afghanistan’s Red Gold - Initially after arriving in Afghanistan I heard a rumor about the Afghan farmers growing saffron, the world’s most expensive spice. I didn’t give it much thought until recently and started researching the topic. On our last mission, an NGO was supposed to attend the village shura and propose the idea to the tribal elders. The plan was to give farmers saffron bulbs in return for not cultivating poppy. Unfortunately, the area was too dangerous and the NGO did not show up. In addition, we were supposed to drive past a saffron field on an adjoining road leading to the village. Both the AF Captain and I looked for the signs and could not locate them. Nor did we see the bright purple flowers because this takes place in October and the crocus bulbs (corms) are harvested in August. I was a bit disappointed, but this provided me the motivation to conduct some additional research on it. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Shrugged: For Whom the Bell Tolls - For whom does the bell toll? The low dull thud of the rotors signals the end. For the last year that sound has meant many things. Apaches with rockets, HIPs with food and God forbid Blackhawks for MEDEVAC. This time it’s our ride out of Bermel and the end of year in combat. Since the beginning we’ve known this day was coming. It’s hard to describe the want for something to come and the dread that it will actually arrive. Each day I’ve prayed that I’d reach this day safely and in the next breath cursed the onrushing dreadnought. Today is the 4th of July and CPT Brain and I stand on the dusty LZ in Bermel. The sound of the bird slowly crescendos as it approaches low, blending with the brown, washed out landscape. Independence Day has arrived for both the US and us. As we stand waiting for our ride to the rear; the Battle Captain rides out to the LZ on a four wheeler to inform us that a COP to the north is under heavy attack. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Fleet Marine Force Warfare Insignia - The other day it was my pleasure to be a part of presenting two of our Hospital Corpsmen with their Fleet Marine Force pin. This is a pretty big deal in case you didn’t know as it signifies achievement of superior excellence and proficiency. The Navy Hospital Corps was established in 1898 and is the only all enlisted Corps in the U.S. Navy. They have served alongside U.S. Marines since the Revolutionary War and since there are no medics in the Marine Corps we find them pretty handy. Generally Marines refer to all Corpsmen as “Doc” no matter their rank. Except the Chief; we call him Chief. Navy Corpsmen are one of the most highly decorated rates in the Navy. They have the most Medal of Honor recipients with 22 (probably because they are always looking after Marines); Navy Cross recipients 174; Distinguished Service Cross 31; Silver Star 946; Bronze Star 1582. The FMF pin in and of itself is a relatively new thing as it has only been around for eight years or so. (READ MORE)

Doc H: The Sunflower - Tricia loves Plants, so this entry is for her. I know that I thought of the common sunflower as a uniquely American Summertime phenomenon. So imagine my suprise when I saw that most gardens on the bases and some in the local Afghan communities have at least a few sunflowers. The seeds are eaten by children as a snack food according to my interpreter. The name is a little different as well. 'gul e aftab parast' translates more literally into -flower which worships the sun. An apt description of this large beautiful flower. Sometimes amidst war and strife we need to take the time God has given us to find the beauty in his creation. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Getting shot at - “To someone who has never experienced danger, the idea is attractive.” – Carl von Clausewitz - There were a number of reasons why I decided to come back into the Marines and do this job, but one of the biggest ones was that I wanted to experience combat, and by combat I mean someone shooting rounds in my direction. I’d spent plenty of time outside the wire in Iraq, but I never had anyone shoot at me or my unit, though I'm confident that any veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan will tell you that the insidious IED threat is much more discomforting than the threat of small arms fire from a ridgeline across the way (though the days of Afghanistan being strictly a 'shooting war' with minimal IEDs are certainly gone for good). Walking around knowing you're being watched by men with machine guns that want you dead can be disconcerting, but I'll take it any time over driving around waiting to get blown up. (READ MORE)

Brigadier Gordon Messenger: Grief will never deflect us from our duty - Despite the rising death toll, British soldiers are kept strong by the knowledge that their effort is bearing fruit in Afghanistan. In my office is a piece of Helmand marble with an inscription from Gulab Mangal, the provincial governor, that expresses his heartfelt appreciation for the sacrifices of the British forces over the period I was in command. It is a reminder that our campaign in Afghanistan is not simply a fight against the Taleban. It is about supporting good Afghans to govern their own country so that we no longer have to fear a threat that emanates from it. Such a goal does not come without cost. I have attended a number of funerals recently. Death in Afghanistan is no respecter of cap-badge or rank. Military funerals have been taking place in all corners of the British Isles; in pretty Cotswolds villages, bleak hilltop cemeteries in Wales, Irish coastal towns and inner-cities in Scotland. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: A Good Thing - It’s been terribly slow here for the last few weeks. Outside of a few “priorities” that were really routines, there hasn’t been anything happening. This means that the Iraqi Army and Police have been able to quell the bad guys,outside of a few incidents in the news, since we left the cities. It also means that U.S. soldiers aren’t getting in accidents, or firefights, or being blown up. The downside is that I am not doing anything (and as such I don’t have much to say). Its that old medical Catch-22 again. For the most part, I have spent my days waiting. I get up, do maintenance on the helicopters, run them up, and then wait. Nothing happens, I do some PT, and go to bed. After all there is only so much AFN you can watch, or DVDs to buy from the local vendors. The most excitement we have seen in a month was the rocket that landed behind our quarters a few days ago. Not close, but close enough to remind you that the bad guys are still out there. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Book Groups and the Education Center - A couple of weeks ago I was worried I was giving a Pollyanna impression of life in Iraq. During the last two weeks you could wonder if chicken shit and job confusion are the sum of my days. That would be just as wrong. Yesterday, after all the job drama was over, I finished my work in the motor pool, then spent a couple of hours before dinner transferring and shrinking photos for the company newsletter. At dinner I saw a young woman in my squad eating dinner with two older female sergeants. This might be the third time I have seen them as a dinner group in the last week. The young sergeant-to-be is 23 and will be a lot better off with female mentors. Next was the first meeting of "Beyond Narnia" as CS Lewis reading group I started. There were four soldiers at the first meeting and four more who should be coming next week. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Iraqi troops detain deputy leader of Ansar al Islam - Iraqi Security Forces backed by US advisors conducted a major bust in northern Iraq. Ten members of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Islam, including the group's deputy leader and the chief fiancier, were captured during a raid in Mosul. Mosul's SWAT and the Iraqi Army teamed up to capture Fakri Hadi Gari, who the US military said is the deputy commander of Ansar al Islam. Gari, who is also known as Abu ‘Abbas and Mullah Halgurd, is thought to be the "operational director" for the group's terror activities. Gari has also served as a recruiter, financier, and a facilitator of Ansar al Islam recruits "across the borders of Iraq." During the raid, Ansar al Islam's emir, or leader, of the financial unit was also captured, along with eight other operatives. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Coming to a Milestone - My group of friends is about to break up. No, we're not at each other's throats, quite the contrary. It's the drawdown, the move, and the restructuring that's causing the changes. Two of our guys are leaving our headquarters unit and going out to work in the field. They're both energetic, ambitious, smart young guys, and they need to be out in the field doing military junior officer kinds of things, and not stuck in headquarters revising Powerpoint charts. Another guy is leaving - his 6-month tour is up and he's heading home. I'll be going on R&R in a couple of weeks, and when I come back, we'll be just about to put all our restructuring plans into place. So tonight we celebrated. We went out to our secret DFAC that makes the killer hamburgers. We haven't been in a while because our movements have been very restricted. But tonight we finagled a vehicle and off we went. As always, the burgers were fabulous! After resting up for an hour, some of us went over to the gym at Liberty and pretended to work out. Difficult to do on a fully tummy. (READ MORE)

Sketchpad Warrior: Afghanistan-- It's Iraq, only dustier! - If you like yellow-brown, and if dust is your thing, you'll love Afghanistan!(Imagine-- they actually say, "One day, son, all this will be YOURS!") I recently returned from a short deployment to Afghanistan, to collect and create images for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. I have many sketches from my time there, as well as more than 1500 photographs, from which I'll create paintings and sculptures for the Museum's Collection. So More Posts to Come-- in the mean time, here are some photos and video from Afghanistan: I went on patrol with 2nd Bn 3rd Marines up near Delaram, with some members of the Afghanistan National Police as well. This video is of the patrol just leaving the town and heading out to a farm in the outskirts... we actually had to ford a river (though we'd have called it a creek back home...). I honestly never thought I'd get my boots wet in Afghanistan! (READ MORE)

Sarah @ SpouseBuzz: Thanks, Murphy - Here's another version of Murphy's Law for the milspouse: When your husband has been deployed for three weeks with limited communications options so far, and he finally gets a computer and gets to IM for the first time of the deployment...your doorbell will ring and your phone will ring twice during his allotted 30 minutes of chatting. And the phone will be someone important, like your OB nurse, so you will have to take the call and multitask. Naturally, you've been sitting by the phone all day and haven't had anyone call you...until it matters. Thanks a lot, Murphy. (READ MORE)

Soldier's Angels Germany: The Last Night at Landstuhl - John, this is Chaplain Smith, the ICU Chaplain. I'm here with MaryAnn of Soldiers' Angels. She asked me to visit before you go home tomorrow. I'm looking at a family photo your wife Jane sent her to print out and keep at your side. I'm sure you know it; it's the one where the baby is wearing the yellow sun hat... I want to remind you that you are in the Intensive Care Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. You have your own nurse who is with you at all times, either in your room or sitting right at the door. While you are here you are never alone...Today is Saturday, January 10th. Well, I guess it's January 11th now. You're going home tomorrow. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

US Says Sunni Insurgent Leader Was Arrested During Raids in Northern Iraq - The United States military said Tuesday that a leader of a Sunni insurgent group had been arrested last month during a joint Iraqi-American operation. The man, Fakri Hadi Gari, was among 10 people arrested July 24 during raids in the northern city of Mosul, the United States military said in a statement. (READ MORE)

Glory Days are Over at Iraq Copper Market - For hundreds of years, the Safafeer copper market has been considered hallowed ground. Countless generations of fathers and sons have banged copper sheets into pots, plates and lamps in this narrow pedestrian side street, now home to more fabric shops than coppersmiths. (READ MORE)

Alternative Energy Solutions Power Border Security Checkpoints - BAGHDAD – A lack of traditional power sources to run equipment that produces electricity poses a significant challenge in Iraq. This can be a particular problem for border security checkpoints in remote parts of Iraq where it is difficult to connect them to the national power grid. The engineering arm of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC – I), in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is funding and building alternative energy systems for border security facilities in remote locations. (READ MORE)

VBC servicemembers, Iraqi scouts leave their mark on community - VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, BAGHDAD – Twenty five children lined up outside the entrance to Saddam Hussein’s old Flintstone Palace, on Camp Slayer August 2. The boys and girls formed two groups, each led by a volunteer servicemember. Maj. Gary Farley, an Iraqi Ground Forces Command Military Transition Team advisor for Multi-National Corps - Iraq, led one of the groups up the winding path to the entrance of the main structure while the other group was led around the palace to the edge of a man-made lake. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army, Police and Coalition advisors arrest 10 Ansar Islam operatives - BAGHDAD – Mosul Special Weapons and Tactics and Iraqi Army soldiers, with Coalition advisors, conducted a series of raids on July 24 that targeted and successfully captured key leaders and operatives of Ansar al Islam in Mosul. Fakri Hadi Gari, also known as Abu ‘Abbas and Mullah Halgurd, assessed to be the deputy commander for Ansar al Islam was arrested during this raid. He is believed to be responsible for AAI recruitment and financing efforts and the operational director for AAI attacks. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police Officers Learn First Aid Response Measures - BAGHDAD – Thirty-one police officers graduated from the one-week first aid course held at the Iraqi Federal Police headquarters building Aug.2. The first-of-its-kind course was designed to teach Iraqi police officers how to treat and sustain serious injuries, such as abdominal wounds, head injuries, chest injuries and burns. They were also taught how to control bleeding and treat fractures. (READ MORE)

New Sadr City School Project Complete - BAGHDAD — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently completed a Sadr City school project that will provide education for 600 boys and girls ages six through 12. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting was held July 29 with family tribal leaders, officials from the District Authority Council, the General Director of the 3rd Rusafa Education Headquarters, and contractor employees who worked on the $1 million Ammar Bin Yasir School project. (READ MORE)

Critical Access Road Now Open to Traffic - BAGHDAD — Maya road, the major access road just outside the Victory Base Complex (VBC) here, opened to traffic, Aug 1. For the past three months, the formerly pothole-plagued dirt path underwent a complete overhaul. It is now a smooth concrete means of travel for both military and Iraqi civilian traffic. One of the greatest achievements of this construction project is that it will now reduce the footprint of Coalition forces in line with the June 30 Security Agreement. (READ MORE)

Air Force Course Inspires Iraqi Officers - BAGHDAD — A course was held at the Iraqi Ground Forces Command Headquarters here, July 18 – 21, for staff officers to focus on pre-decision making and critical thinking. "Effective decision making is critical to Iraq's future," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Coggin, currently deployed as the MNC-I deputy comptroller. The goal of the training was to help enable staff officers to assist their leaders in making calculated decisions concerning military operations. (READ MORE)

Coalition Transfers Umm Qasar, Al Qurnah Bases to Iraqi Government - BASRAH — In two separate ceremonies, Coalition forces signed over control of the Umm Qasar and Qurnah bases to the government of Iraq, Aug. 1. Following the implementation of the Security Agreement June 30, Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, stayed at these locations at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi government. Now the Iraqis feel ready to operate these bases independently. (READ MORE)

Soldiers Boost Security for Afghan National Elections - KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Aug. 4, 2009 – Afghan National Police and U.S. military police assigned to Task Force Mountain Warrior conducted training here to boost security for Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election. Army 1st Lt. Michael T. Nicholson, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, 984th Military Police Company, 759th Military Police Battalion, led his unit in a district partnership training with the Afghan police July 14 and 15 at the Manogai Police Station. (READ MORE)

Commentary: More Troops Needed for Afghan War - CNN's Barbara Starr reported last week that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is expected to ask the Obama administration for additional troops and equipment for conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as more military resources to deal with roadside bombs and explosives. (READ MORE)

Senators, Advisers Urge Obama to Double Afghan Forces - President Barack Obama and top US military commanders are under pressure from senators and civilian advisers to double the size of Afghan security forces, a commitment that would cost billions of dollars. In private letters and face-to-face meetings, these supporters of mounting a stronger effort against the Taliban seek to boost the Afghan National Army and police to at least 400,000 personnel from the current 175,000. (READ MORE)

Complementary Operations Improve Afghan, Pakistan Border - Insurgent activity across the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders has declined as a result of complementary operations in the region, a US commander said today. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Army Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 82, which oversees Regional Command East in Afghanistan, noted the reduction in areas of his command. (READ MORE)

Task Force Expands Safe Areas in Afghanistan Province - The increased troop levels in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province has expanded the security envelope to roughly 80 percent of the people there, the former commander of Task Force Uruzgan in southern Afghanistan said today. Security has taken years to establish, but is allowing development to begin in one of the poorest areas of the country, Dutch army Brig. Gen. T.A. Middendorp told members of the Pentagon press corps during a teleconference from Kandahar, Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Neighbors by Day, Soldiers by Night in Afghanistan - As the Obama administration sends thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan, the future of the American strategy for securing the country is already playing out in this verdant triangle of wheat fields and fruit orchards 40 miles south of Kabul. For the last five months, a troop of American soldiers has ensconced itself in the heart of the district’s largest town, living alongside its police officers and public officials, trying to win friends as it struggles to root out enemies. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Helicopters May Get Extra Armour, After They Arrive - Eight Merlin helicopters being prepared for Afghanistan will be required to fly troops into combat zones even though it is yet to be decided whether to fit armour-plating for extra protection. The helicopters being sent over four months after serving in Iraq are being modified to ensure they are safe for the altitudes in Helmand province. Fitting the Merlin Mark 3 with a layer of armour to protect the crew and troop-passengers from ground fire is not part of the basic modifications. (READ MORE)

'Life-saving' Afghanistan Vehicles Stranded in Dubai - Life-saving vehicles built to withstand Taliban roadside bombs have been stranded in Dubai for the past month because the RAF does not have enough planes to fly them into Afghanistan, it can be disclosed. During the bloodiest month for British soldiers in Helmand province, where 22 died and an estimated 100 were wounded, nine £300,000 Ridgback vehicles were left on the tarmac at Al Minhad airbase outside Dubai, The Daily Telegraph has learned. (READ MORE)

Kabul Is Shelled By the Taliban - Taliban militants fired rockets into Afghanistan's capital from about 12 miles away before dawn Tuesday, feeding fears that violence will undermine presidential elections already tainted by concerns about fraud. The attack was the first on Kabul in nearly six months, and relatively minor, wounding two people and damaging a few buildings. (READ MORE)

Rare Rocket Attack in Afghan Capital Injures 2 - With just over two weeks remaining before presidential elections in Afghanistan, insurgents rattled nerves Tuesday by lobbing rockets into the capital, injuring two people. A separate suicide attack killed five people in the south. The Taliban claimed responsibility for firing rockets into an upscale residential neighborhood of Kabul that is home to a number of diplomatic missions and international organizations. (READ MORE)

Strike Kills Relatives of Taliban Chief - A suspected US missile strike destroyed the home of a close relative of top Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a volatile tribal region, killing two people early Wednesday, two intelligence officials said. The officials said the missile targeted the Akramud Din's home in South Waziristan, part of the lawless tribal region along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and where Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding. (READ MORE)

Why Stay in Afghanistan? To Help its Women - The trial of Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese journalist sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public, was postponed yesterday, a tribute to her gamble in choosing worldwide publicity rather than accepting the sentence, as most do. The Khartoum police promptly found others to beat - the women who had come to protest. (READ MORE)

NATO OKs new Afghan operational command - BRUSSELS -- NATO's governing body approved a plan on Tuesday to reorganize the alliance's command structure in Afghanistan by setting up a new headquarters to handle the day-to-day running of the war. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the new Intermediate Joint Headquarters in Kabul will be commanded by U.S. Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez. Rodriguez participated in Tuesday's deliberations of the North Atlantic Council governing body by videoconference along with his boss, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Kidnapped boys 'brainwashed' to die as suicide bombers - SWAT VALLEY, Pakistan (CNN) -- The boys shuffle into the room in a remote army base high in the mountains of Pakistan's Swat Valley. They are disheveled, disoriented. There are no smiles, their eyes stare at the floor. These are the lost souls of Pakistan's battle with the Taliban. Each has a story of terror to tell, but the trauma runs so deep they can't even begin to properly find the words to describe what they have been through. (READ MORE)

Two Diggers hurt by Taliban bombs - Two Australian soldiers in Afghanistan were injured in separate incidents when suspected Taliban insurgents detonated explosive devices, the Defence Department said yesterday. An Australian injured on Saturday on a security patrol near Tarin Kowt, in southern Afghanistan was in a satisfactory condition in hospital. A soldier injured on Monday by a roadside bomb was being treated and would return to active duty. (READ MORE)

U.S. Officials Protect Pak Military on Aid to Taliban - WASHINGTON, Aug 4 (IPS) - Despite evidence implicating the current Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, in a major military assistance program for the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan over the past few years, senior officials of the Barack Obama administration persuaded Congress to extend military assistance to Pakistan for five years without any assurance that the Pakistani assistance to the Taliban had ended. (READ MORE)

Threats Cloud Afghan Women's Political Ambitions - Women in record numbers are seeking office in Afghanistan's presidential and provincial elections later this month. The participation is a major change in a country where women weren't even allowed to attend school eight years ago. But the election milestone masks a far darker reality for women in Afghanistan: Many female candidates and voters are facing oppression, threats of violence and fraud. (READ MORE)

Patients at Private Doctors' Mercy - KABUL, Aug 5 (IPS) - Thirty five-year-old Habibulah Khan walks out of a private clinic in the Afghan capital, covered in dust and looking dog-tired. "The doctors," he says, "told me to buy medicine from a nearby drug-store and bring the bottle back to him. He says his prescription cannot be found at other pharmacies." Critics say that doctors at private clinics require patients to visit certain pharmacies and that the doctors somehow profit from this scheme. (READ MORE)

Wife of Pakistani Taliban Leader Killed in Missile Strike - Relatives of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud say one of his wives has been killed in a suspected U.S. missile strike on his father-in-law's house. At least one other person was reported killed in the attack early Wednesday in the South Waziristan tribal region. Relatives say four children were wounded, while Mehsud's father-in-law was unharmed. (READ MORE)

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