August 6, 2009

From the Front: 08/06/2009

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

Old Blue: Wild Afghanistan - Ahhh, wild Afghanistan. There are many natural wonders here, but to truly appreciate the experience of Afghanistan, you must examine the landscape, the local flavors, and of course the many creatures that inhabit the environment. Tonight we will take a closer look at two of these denizens of Wild Afghanistan. First, we will take a look at the famous (or infamous) creature that has been known to send a shiver through certain French Special Forces Soldiers; the camel spider. This is the creature which evoked a response that had to have been heard in person to be truly appreciated. Bearing in mind the limitations of the medium, you will have to add your own French accent. “Ah do not like zees ahni-mal!” (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: (VIDEO) An Afghan officer's perspective- Pakistan is the problem - Capt. Faisal of an Afghan artillery battery in Nuristan says the Afghan Army is preparing itself to be free of international support, but they still struggle against outside influences. He points the finger at Pakistan, where he says the problems start. The Capt. says their best operations have been to offer fire support to repel an attack on a city center that was called in by fellow Afghan officers. He says insurgents will try to disrupt the Aug. 20th elections. (READ MORE)

Alex Strick van Linschoten: Kandahar: City of Nobody's Dreams - For outsiders, Kandahar was never really somewhere you could fall in love with. You know the kind of thing I mean: places people went to honeymoon, places with a certain ineluctable quality to them... Back in the seventies, when Kandahar was a popular stopover city on the hippy trail to Kabul and India, Kandahar was even described as 'a gentle oasis' by one such traveller. These days, Kandahar is the city of nobody's dreams. Pace Farnaza Fassihi, living in Kandahar is like being under virtual house arrest. Most days I stay at home, travel somewhere only when I have something specific to do there - a meeting, something I want to see - and am forced to enjoy Kandahar at a distance. True, I'm lucky enough to have a great balcony view over the town and all the way down to where the desert starts. (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: The Gamble - The countless poker games in Iraq weren't so much about the money as they were about escapism. Once you get on that plane, there is no going back unless you're injured or dead. The heat, the dust, that saccharine septic smell - it swirls overhead like a black cloud. Distractions like poker and endless DVD libraries prove to be valuable tools to keep that overwhelming feeling from slowly eroding morale into dust. Outside the wire was the time to take it all in, to be masters of our own senses. Back on base though, one has to relax. Tension, they say, is a killer. The Third Stryker Brigade is in the process of heading back to Iraq for the third time in six years. The brigade has proven itself in combat - From Tal Afar, Samarra and Mosul in 2003-2004, to Mosul, Baghdad and Baqubah in 2006-2007. My old company, Bravo 5/20, has been the tip of the spear in both deployments. Bravo company was legendary in its recovery of a Kiowa helicopter in 2005, a story later made into a documentary on the Military Channel. (READ MORE)

1SG Martinez: What It Takes to Tell The Story of the American Soldier - Be there! That's the simplest answer I can offer - not just physically but emotionally. The story of the American Soldier is told from a variety of different perspectives. There are network and newspaper reporters, freelance journalists, comics, entertainers, politicians, commentators, even the enemy who all want to tell our story. But, hard as these folks may try, they can never tell our story the way we can. I'm not saying they are incapable of telling the truth or of relaying the actual facts of our work here but, what they cannot do in their dispatches is tell the story from Our Point of View. My soldiers aren't here for a few weeks to cover an event or operation and then retire for the evening to a well appointed hotel or return to the comfort of their living rooms back home. At the end of the day an Army Journalist puts his camera and pen down but, keeps his rifle only to live the same life as those whose lives he documents. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Why isn't army-building working (pt. 2)? - Lack of advisor continuity could be one reason that army mentoring in Afghanistan and possibly Iraq is not succeeding as we might have expected. I was the third mentor in my particular position that Afghan army staffers could remember; I was succeeded by a fourth, and he'll be coming home himself in a couple months to be succeeded again. Even if we were all of the same mind with all our successors and predecessors what needed to be done (and that's difficult due to the near-complete absence of official doctrine or advice to draw on), and we were fully committed to the task, the overall message we were sending by this sort of perpetual turnover is not one of commitment to the host nation. The effect on the Afghans must be similar to a Canadian workplace besieged by a perpetual stream of management consultants. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Most fighting with Taliban in Afghanistan 'could change sides' - As many as two-thirds of those fighting with the Taliban could be persuaded to change sides, Mark Sedwill, Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan, said today. He expressed cautious optimism about the conduct of the presidential elections later this month, saying that about 70% of the eligible population, even in Helmand, the most violent province, "will be able to vote". However, he said the turnout was likely to be lower than in the last presidential election, in 2004, and British officials conceded that one of the problems was that it was difficult to know the number of potential voters in any given area, let alone the total population of the country. Sedwill was speaking by video link from Kabul to a Foreign Office press conference at which he was asked about recent comments by the foreign secretary, David Miliband, that reconciliation could involve speaking to the "moderate" Taliban. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights this Long War - Today I met a maintenance sergeant, a tall, very upbeat guy from the New York City area. He has "sleeve" tattoos: colorful ink all the way from his shoulders to his wrists. He recently turned 26 and is new to helicopter maintenance, but likes his work. He may try to get civilian work in this field after the deployment, but also hopes to get work as a National Guard technician. Or maybe he will find another unit that's deploying. That would make four deployments. This current deployment is his third. In 2004-5 he was in Iraq as a medic. Within 12 months he had a tour in Afghanistan as an infantryman, returning in 2007. He could not find steady work in 2008, so he volunteered to deploy again, which included retraining as an aviation mechanic. And you should not feel bad for him. By all indications I could get, he thinks this is a perfectly good way to make a living. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: To Read or Not To Read - Tomorrow I will finally receive the AK 15-6 incident report detailing the day my son was killed. I requested it 18 months ago. The first copy was lost before it got to me. When things like this are delayed I have always found that the information comes to me when I am ready or need it. I will admit though I am absolutely terrified to read this report. But there is also a part of me that wants to tear right into it and read every word. I'm very torn. The fact is I probably know 95% of what is in the report. Micheal's guys have been good about answering our questions. But there are still some what I call Rule 32 questions. Rule 32 being "Don't ask questions you don't want the answers to". I have never asked about Micheal's specific injuries. I have a good idea but I am content with the surgeon telling me he died of internal injuries. I also know there are parts they will have blacked out for security reasons. Like the names of the bastards who killed my son. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Baitullah Mehsud's wife killed in Predator attack - The US may have came close to killing Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in an airstrike on a compound in South Waziristan today. Unmanned US strike aircraft fired two Hellfire missiles at a compound owned by Ikramuddin Mehsud, Baitullah's father-in-law, in the village of Zanghra, near Baitullah's home town of Makeen in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Baitullah's second wife and two Taliban fighters were killed in the attack; four children were reported to have been wounded. Baitullah was not killed in the attack, his second wife's cousin told Reuters. It was thought Baitullah was visiting his wife when the strike occurred, a US intelligence official with knowledge of the air campaign in Pakistan told The Long War Journal. (READ MORE)

Made A Difference For That One: A Surgeon's Letters Home From Iraq: Finding my way - I’ve spent the first week of my new job going from orientation to orientation. Today was a day-long class on the electronic medical record. It’s like learning a new language. But it’s worth it to be able to leave the paper record behind. This way when a patient comes in with an emergency at midnight, we don’t have to wait until their chart is retrieved from storage. It’s great to be starting my first civilian job, but it’s been an adjustment on many levels. It still feels weird to walk around outside without wearing cover. Even at home, there are little reminders of my former military life. Every night at 2100 the church across the street chimes the hour then plays Taps. I feel the urge to stand at attention when I hear the first few bars. (READ MORE)

More Than An (Army) Wife: Things That Make You Go Hmmm: Taliban's Code of...Conduct? - I was catching up on my military news and I saw this headline which led to this article: Taliban Adopts a 'Code of Conduct'. First of all, I LOVE that the words Code of Conduct are in quotes in this article. I mean, just say "Taliban Code of Conduct" out loud with air quotes. Does your voice automatically take on that, "Um, yeah, sure" *wink, wink* tone? Because mine does. My favorite part though is that included in the "Code" is the issue of suicide attacks. The Taliban is limiting the use of suicide attacks. I know, I know. Collective groan from the terrorists. You can no longer just blow yourself and many others up whenever you feel like it because it goes against the "Code". (READ MORE)

Short Timers: The Look - Passing people on the street, the convoys always draw stares. It's easy to guess why - the vehicles are imposing, and there are often turret gunners rolling their .50-caliber barrel back and forth, looking for possible vectors of incoming fire. Since July 1, too, the American military has made a concerted effort to stay out of urban areas whenever possible, so the mine-resistant vehicles are more of a novelty than they used to be. There's no mistaking the looks, though, and they run the gamut from idle curiosity to annoyance to suspicion and outright glaring. It's not too often that someone is happy to see the convoys. It does happen, though - while I was in a convoy on the way to a detainee release in Baqubah this morning, a naked boy waved and smiled from a roadside merchant's stand. The merchant, presumably his relative, eyed us less charitably. (READ MORE)

Sketchpad Warrior: InSanitation - "Some Things Never Change" This is an old adage, as well as the title of the above watercolor by Marine Combat Artist Mike Fay, depicting Marines in Iraq burning fecal matter in barrels to maintain sanitation. (I reprised it with my own version of that theme below): Marine burning the sh#! in barrels at Fire Base Thunder. As I travelled around the AO in Afghanistan and witnessed various methods of dealing with sanitation in a combat zone, I couldn't help but remember that, yes, some things never change. Today's military uses Port-A-Potties quite often, and it usually doesn't take long at any FOB for permanent bathroom facilities to be brought in. But due to the expeditionary nature of the situation in Afghanistan, many locations utilized some tried and true ways of disposing of waste and filth... (READ MORE)

Sketchpad Warrior: Swelter in Some Kind of Shelter - There were some common themes that ran throughout my deployment experience in Afghanistan, and I think anyone who's been there for any period of time can sympathize with them-- three of which are 1)Dust, 2) Heat, 3) Waiting/Passing Time. I had sketches and watercolors of each of these, and will continue to draw and paint about those things, as well as all the other things common to a combat zone. Today's Theme: Heat (or, Swelter and Shelter) Sleeping was very difficult in the heat, especially for someone who has a shift that requires him to sleep in the day time. And it was strange that the heat of the afternoon made you want to sleep, but rigorously denied you the ability to do so! The tents also (especially at FOB Dwyer) seemed especially designed to keep the heat in... During our visit to Fire Base Thunder (now known as"Fiddler's Green"after the arty legend) we slept under the stars the first night, and then were able to secure some cammie netting, which I'm sure is now being used as the "visitors tent": (READ MORE)

Most Cetainly Not: Amazing Day - These are the days when I really notice my husband's absence. Big days. Big events and decisions. Time passing at lightning speed, never to return and here I sit. Alone on the couch. Blogging. At least these days will be chronicled here and elsewhere (e-mail, snail mail letter, etc.) so we can eventually share them in the same room. First, the HUGE news. I received an e-mail from our caseworker at our adoption agency today telling us that our dossier arrived there this afternoon! This is HUGE. Tomorrow, our dossier will head to Ethiopia. Our referral is expected in a matter of days. When it comes in, a flurry of activity will begin. I have to visit an international adoption specialist at Children's Hospital in a nearby city. Then, I will sign a Child Acceptance Form basically accepting the referral and saying, "YES!!!! We want this child to be our daughter." That's a no-brainer! Because Hubs is deployed, it gets a wee bit complicated, though. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Iraq’s Government Orders Barriers Removed - The Iraqi government is pushing plans to make the nation feel more normal, officials said, including the removal within 40 days of most concrete road barriers in the city. The government is also working to return refugees to some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods and permit civilian traffic on the July 14th Bridge, which connects the fortified Green Zone to the east side of Baghdad, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. (READ MORE)

Partnership between U.S. and Iraqi Forces recognized - FORWARD OPERATING BASE DIAMONDBACK, MOSUL, Iraq – Key leaders from the U.S.and Iraqi Security Forces gathered Aug. 4, to recognize the continuous partnership that has led to many successes in northern Iraq. Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., Multi-National Corps-Iraq commander, and Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan Majeed, ISF ground forces commander, presented the Partnership Excellence Award to Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, Multi-National Division-North commander, and Maj. Gen. Hassan Karim, Ninewa Operations Command commander. (READ MORE)

K-1 Iraqi army location command completed in Kirkuk - Kirkuk, Iraq - With U.S. combat forces out of the cities here, Iraqi army units in Kirkuk are better equipped to deal with potential trouble in the area following the completion of the K-1 Iraqi Army Location Command by the Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq. Kirkuk, Iraq’s third largest city, is of strategic importance because it accounts for 40 percent of Iraq’s oil and 70 percent of its natural gas production, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. (READ MORE)

Airmen Teach Iraqis Aircraft Maintenance - TAJI — Whether it's on the flightline or in a hangar, Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) Airmen are learning to fix their own helicopters, thanks to American Airmen who have shown them how. The Airmen, assigned to the 721st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, take great pride in their work. "Once they can fix their own aircraft, they can make sure they're providing air support for their own forces," said Lt. Col. Mike McNerney, the squadron commander deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. (READ MORE)

Sun, Wind Power Border Checkpoints - BAGHDAD — A lack of traditional power sources to run equipment poses a significant challenge here, particularly for remote Border Security Checkpoints unable to connect to the national power grid. The engineering arm of Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I), in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, has found a possible solution through alternative energy systems. The command’s engineering team has designed a unique system that leverages solar panels along with a large wind turbine. (READ MORE)

Kirkuk Residents Helped by Iraqi Police - FOB WARRIOR — In several sub-districts of Kirkuk city in northern Iraq, some of the less fortunate occasionally need assistance to make ends meet. That assistance arrived in late July with the delivery of humanitarian goods to the sub-district of Arafa and Aruba by Iraqi Police (IP) and U.S. Soldiers. The IP delivered bags of food to families and school supplies and toys to waiting children. (READ MORE)

Soldiers Run with the Big Dogs - FOB WARRIOR — No matter how fast the dozen or so Soldiers ran, they couldn't outrun Buli and Capka, a pair of German Sheppard military working dogs, during a demonstration here, Aug. 1. Soldiers from the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, volunteered to don bite suits and were given a head start before the dogs were released. Spc. Corey Jones, a water purification specialist with 15th BSB, sprinted with all his might, and although he made it farther than most, his run ended with him in the dirt and the dog still tugging on his arm. (READ MORE)

Basrah SWAT arrests suspected terrorist commander in southern Iraq - BAGHDAD – Iraqi police from the Basrah Special Weapons and Tactics team, along with U.S. Forces advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist commander Aug. 5, during an Iraqi-led operation in southern Iraq. During the early-morning mission, the SWAT team operated under the authority of a warrant issued by the Basrah Court. Court documents indicate the police force arrested the suspected insurgent leader in accordance with the Republic of Iraq’s terrorism laws. (READ MORE)

Kirkuk residents voice their opinions through their community leaders - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – Hearing the opinions of every resident in a politically, religiously and ethnically diverse city like Kirkuk, is an important task for forward progress, according to Lt. Col. Terry Cook, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. In order to expedite this process, the Raheem Awa Police Station hosted a meeting Aug. 3, where local community leaders met public officials face-to-face and addressed the concerns of Kirkuk residents. (READ MORE)

New fuel depot helps expand capacity of Iraqi Army - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – The military strategist Sun Tzu said, “the line between disorder and order lies in logistics.” These words, repeated by Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre, the commanding general of Gulf Region Division, highlighted the increase in logistical capabilities gained by the completion of a new fuel point and two warehouses on K-1 Military Base, Kirkuk, Iraq, Aug. 3. (READ MORE)

U.S. Nurses Aid Iraqi Counterparts - HILLAH, Iraq, Aug. 5, 2009 – In the United States, patients typically see a nurse or technician first at a doctor’s appointment, but the same does not hold true in Iraq. In Iraq, doctors normally are in the lead. They write down a patient’s history, take vital signs and direct the nurses. “The nurses here aren’t allowed to do some of the same things that nurses back in the U.S. are allowed to do,” said Army 1st Lt. Betty Moore, general medical surgeon nurse for the 10th Combat Support Hospital. (READ MORE)

Command Fosters Unity of Medical Effort in Iraq - WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2009 – Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq officials are working to create a unified, sustainable medical service in Iraq, a senior medical advisor there said. “[We are] trying to create a unity of medical effort between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health within the government of Iraq,” Army Col. (Dr.) Bernard L. DeKoning, advisor to Iraq’s defense and interior ministries, told bloggers and online journalists during an Aug. 3 “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable. (READ MORE)

Marines Train Afghans During Live-fire Exercise - NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Aug. 5, 2009 – A 46-pound artillery round explodes into the hills surrounding Forward Operating Base Kalagush here as Afghan National Army forward observers watch patiently, consulting their maps. After an adjustment, Afghan officers from the 4th Kandak enter new data into their computers and relay updated coordinates to the artillerymen waiting to fire. Within moments, the 7,000 pound D-30 122 mm howitzer artillery cannon blasts another round; this time it’s a direct hit. (READ MORE)

Afghan Voters Turn to Warlords for Help in Picking Candidates - Leaning on his spade, Gul Mohammad said that he intended to vote in the Afghan presidential elections. “They are important,” the farmer in the Helmand district of Garmsir said. Asked how he would vote, he replied: “We are waiting to be told. We depend on our community leaders. They will tell us how to vote.” In many parts of Afghanistan the elections will be decided by processes different from the ideals of individual freedom that British soldiers may feel they are fighting to establish. (READ MORE)

Adm. Mullen Decries 'Culture of Poverty' in Afghanistan - The top US uniformed military officer Wednesday offered a bleak assessment of the war in Afghanistan, saying that years of neglect before the Obama administration had starved the US-led effort of funds and diplomatic heft - a condition he called "a culture of poverty." Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that nearly eight years after the war began, the US military is still digging its way "out of a hole" and has not reached "year zero" in the campaign to turn back Taliban advances and gain the trust of the Afghan people. (READ MORE)

Official Explains Process After Afghanistan Assessment - If more resources are required after the commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan completes his assessment of the situation there, a separate process would follow, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. The Afghanistan review and reports about Russian submarines patrolling off the East Coast of the United States were among topics Morrell discussed at a news conference. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s assessment will not contain any requests for resources, Morrell said. (READ MORE)

New NATO Chief Visits Afghanistan - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is in Afghanistan for his first visit as chief of the 28-nation alliance. The former Danish prime minister says one of his key goals will be to gradually transfer security responsibility from international forces to the Afghans. Another concern for the alliance is limiting civilian deaths. On Wednesday, villagers in southern Afghanistan said an air strike targeting a house killed four civilians, three of them children. (READ MORE)

Roadside Bomb Kills 21 Afghans - As violence mounts in advance of elections two weeks from now, at least 21 civilians, mainly women and children riding to a wedding party, were killed by a roadside bomb on Wednesday in the restive province of Helmand in southern Afghanistan, police said Thursday. In another development, local officials in the neighboring province of Kandahar said Thursday that five civilians had been killed in an airstrike by a United States Apache helicopter as they were attempting to bring cucumbers from their farm to a bazaar. (READ MORE)

Taliban Training Leaves Children Traumatized - In a voice barely above a whisper, I.H. stared at his feet as he recounted haltingly how the Taliban had kidnapped him and a classmate as they had played in the street. They cleaned dishes for a few days in a militant training camp in northern Pakistan before escaping during Friday prayers, he said. (READ MORE)

Rasmussen Vows Renewed Efforts in Afghanistan - He is only a few days in office and has already visited the alliance's most controversial battleground. New NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen traveled to Kabul on Wednesday and assured Afghanistan that the Western military alliance would stay put "for as long at it takes to finish our job." "Priority" was a word mentioned in almost every sentence during the Kabul visit. They stood side by side in the presidential palace, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and brand new NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and showered each other with warm words. Rasmussen assured his host that Afghanistan will be his "highest priority." (READ MORE)

Afghan President Karzai Rallies Support - August 6, 2009 - Afghans vote later this month in presidential elections. Incumbent Hamid Karzai has been campaigning to keep his job. Karzai recently held a rally in a remote village, where he struck a deal with an influential religious leader that virtually assures Karzai will carry the entire area. (READ MORE)

"Reward the peaceful and poppy-free" Afghan provinces - KABUL, 6 August 2009 (IRIN) - Development aid should be targeted at stable provinces in central Afghanistan where projects can be more successful and effective than in conflict zones, says the UN. "We focus too much on conflict provinces and we spend enormous amounts of money there and it does not have much impact because of the conflict," said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, during a recent visit to Bamyan Province. (READ MORE)

Germans question Afghan war - For many Germans, deployment in Afghanistan meant delivering aid and reconstruction to the country's relatively peaceful north. But now the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous. And Germany seems to have found itself unwillingly dragged into a war. This is a pivotal moment in German military deployment abroad. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Vigilantes Claim To Have Killed 167 Taliban - PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP)--Local vigilantes allied with Pakistan soldiers on Thursday claimed to have killed at least 167 militants in two months, an indication of the growing reach of private armies in the northwest. Officials have said up to 1,000 villagers in Upper Dir formed a vigilante mob two months ago to avenge a mosque bombing that killed 38 people June 5 in the village of Hayagai Sharqai. (READ MORE)

Tajikistan smashes gang linked to Taliban - DUSHANBE: Tajikistan said on Wednesday its security forces had destroyed "an armed terrorist gang" with links to Afghanistan's Taliban, after a string of gun battles near the Afghan border. The Central Asian state first reported clashes with the militants in early July when they attacked a police checkpoint. It said it had since killed 11 militants and detained 30 men. (READ MORE)

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