August 7, 2009

From the Front: 08/07/2009

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

Sorority Soldier: Lots of Time - I have lots of time on my hands in Kuwait. So far I’ve read two books, updated my ipod, watched 3 movies and slept… a lot. 6 more days in this place. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Pakistan’s Top Taliban Leader Possibly Killed By CIA - Officials from the US and Pakistan have announced that they have possibly killed Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike on Wednesday. The death has not been confirmed though there are reports of a secret funeral and revenge attacks on rival clans by Mehsud’s followers. Killing Mehsud has been a top priority for the US and Pakistan, and ABC News reports that “Nine of the last 10 drone strikes, since June 23, have targeted Mehsud and his network.” The US would probably like DNA evidence to prove without a doubt that the strongman has departed this life, and I’m betting that as I type this, a team of “specialists” are on thier way to Waziristan to scoop up what pieces they can find of the guy. If Mehsud is in fact dead, it’s is an important step in Pakistan’s summer-long push to reestablish authority over the western part of their nation. (READ MORE)

A World of Trouble: District plans elections while Governor eats grapes - Nugram, district center- Afghan officials and American soldiers were all in place, they'd been preparing for this Shura (meeting) to discuss how to implement the upcoming national elections, for weeks, everyone had a part, everyone except for the governor. While sub-governors and village elders met with the lieutenant colonel of the nearby base, he lounged on the bottom floor eating grapes. “I’m sick," said Gov. Jamaludin Badar, holding his stomach. “I send my sub-governor. I go to a lot of shuras.” The district center is a dilapidated three floor shell of a building, but it is surrounded by police and now a Afghan Army regiment, so it’s quite popular among local officials. The 2nd-77th Field Artillery Regiment of the 4th Brigade 4th ID, has been singularly focused on this pre-election meeting- namely getting the sub-governors, the village elders and the election District Field Coordinators together in one room. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Class time - Of the various duties I have here in Afghanistan: mentoring, teaching, performing physicals and immunizations, I enjoyed teaching the most this last week. We have just finished a mission in Konduz. The Afghan and coalition force camps are located near the airport on a plateau. I caught a glimpse of the deep green valley below and even saw a few wispy clouds. There was a little bit of everything in Konduz. Some rapport was established in a mentoring relationship, many physicals were performed and lots of immunizations were given. We taught about 30 ANP NCO's the basics of the Combat Lifesaver Course in after hours sessions. The lectures were very truncated since they had to be interpreted and therefore took twice as long to go through. Like most of us, they seemed more lively and interested in the hands-on portion where we split into smaller groups and actually practiced bandaging techniques, IV's and so forth. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Remember this picture from the 2004 presidential campaign - The never-very-funny John Kerry stuck his foot way in his mouth and was rightly ridiculed by the soldiers who were serving in Iraq. But this kind of joke can, in the lovely military metaphor, turn around and bite you in the ass. That photo was shot in the building right next door to the motor pool where I work. My tool crib is 100 feet to the right of that memorable banner. I have written lately about volunteering at the education center. Except, it is not an education center in the sense that it has a staff or computers or anything like that. It is just a building. We have been hearing since we arrived there would be an education center. I am one of the volunteers helping people study to retake their Army qualification test. A few medics run the program on their off time, but when two sergeants came in last night at different times asking for things a real education center could do, we had to send them to the Air Force education center to get contact info for an Army Center 200 miles away. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Psychic Readings.. - Some people believe in psychics and some don't. Rarely is there a in between view on the topic. Well I have always believed that the veil between life and life after death is very thin. And I believe that those who pass reach out to us when we need them. The day Pokey came home he began letting us know he was with us and ok. Several things happened that I just knew were his doing. The one that made me laugh was when he picked on his Dad. Fozzy was in the kitchen cooking his comfort food, ramen noodles with eggs in it( YUCK), anyway... the door on the hot water heater closet opened. Fozzy looked at it and thought it was weird and turned back to cooking, 3 seconds later it SLAMMED shut and scared the heck out of all of us. Fozzy cussed his beloved son and left the kitchen. hehe I know it was Micheal messing with him. The next day I went out to try and find something black to wear to the funeral and to escape on my own for a little bit. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 'Baitullah Mehsud is alive' - US intelligence official - Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud was not killed in yesterday's airstrike in South Waziristan, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. "Baitullah is alive," one official old The Long War Journal. "We're aware of the reports that he might have been killed and we are looking into it, but we don't believe he was killed." The late night airstrike on a compound operated by Ikramuddin Mehsud, Baitullah's father-in-law, in the village of Zanghra in the mountains near Baitullah's home town of Makeen, killed Baitullah's second wife and two other Taliban fighters. One of Baitullah's two brothers was also reported to have been killed. Witnesses on the scene immediately said that Baitullah was not among those killed. He reportedly visited his wife but left an hour prior to the attack. But more than one day after the US strike in South Waziristan, rumors have surfaced that Baitullah was killed in the attack. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Afghan and US forces destroy Haqqani Network training camp in Khost - A combined Afghan and US strike force killed 18 Haqqani Network fighters during a raid on a "stronghold in the remote mountains" of Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost. The intelligence-driven raid, which took place on Aug. 4, targeted "a Haqqani commander responsible for facilitating foreign fighters, weapons, IEDs, and other explosive materials in the region," a press release by the International Security Assistance Force stated. The Haqqani commander was not named. The combined force took heavy fire from the Haqqani Network fighters as they advanced on the Haqqani Network's mountaintop base. A Haqqani suicide bomber unsuccessfully attempted to attack the Afghan and US troops, while supporting forces opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. (READ MORE)

Made A Difference For That One: A Surgeon's Letters Home From Iraq: The Tightrope Gets Thinner - M. and I were shocked to read a 25 JUL story about how an Iraqi commander ordered the arrest of three US soldiers after they killed three insurgents near Abu Ghraib. I will fully admit that it is impossible to know what happened without actually being there. But after meeting so many of these young, dedicated, professional soldiers who are serving in Iraq, and seeing firsthand the deadly injuries that they suffer, I come down 100% on the side of our US troops who have to make life and death decisions in an instant. We read that the troops in this event were in convoy when they received contact in the form of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The troops bravely dismounted, pursued the attackers through an urban environment, and killed three insurgents. Civilians were killed in the gun battle. An Iraqi commander arrived late and ordered the troops arrested. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Getting body armor - "After 15 minutes," said the Army National Guardsman we talked to in the Amsterdam airport, "you won't even remember you're wearing it." If only he had been right. On Saturday, we went to get outfitted for body armor. Two staff sergeants from the Ft. Wainwright's Strykers met us and shepherded us through the process of checking out all the necessary pieces from the supply warehouse, then took us back to the media office to assemble the gear. The vests were much heavier than they looked, but not unbearably so. As it turned out, we only needed three, as a friend of mine in Fairbanks had lent me his own. "You don't want to get all the way over there and find out they don't have your size," he said. "Plus this stuff is better than what they would issue you anyway. People are going to see it and ask you where you got it." He was right. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: The base at night - "I'd rather not get you killed," he said. Sgt. Jeremy Pitcher was tasked with escorting me around base late last night. The night we arrived at Warhorse, I'd noticed how the buildings - unremarkable during the day - were fascinating at night. Under the moon the buildings took on a sparkling, ghost-like quality. Equipped with a camera, tripod and flashlight, I dragged him from site to site on base so I could take my pictures. After nearly two hours, I decided to do us both a favor and call it a night. We drove back to the office, I grabbed the rest of my equipment and we started driving back to the containerized housing units, also known as CHUs (sounds like 'shoes'). Before we made it outside the concrete walls surrounding brigade headquarters, a klaxon broke the silence that had made the base so beautiful at night. Instantly Sgt. Pitcher threw the late-model SUV into reverse and slammed on the brakes about 50 feet later. (READ MORE)

Sketchpad Warrior: Operation River Liberty - Here is a video I took in Afghanistan on the 2nd of July, when Marines of the 2nd Bn 8th Marines (specifically Fox and Echo Companies) boarded CH53s at FOB Dwyer and kicked off Operation River Liberty (AKA Operation Kanjar) the mission being to occupy key points in the Helmand River Valley, provide security and stability to the civilian population, and deny the battlespace to the Taliban. Note: while watching the video, notice how much gear the Marines have to carry. It's a lot heavier than it looks, especially when you add up the weight of the body armor and helmets, the ammo, food and water, and their packs which contain all the necessities of living in the field. It's not too bad if you're young, and if it's in the winter months, and you can put your gear down once in a while...! (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Afghanistan War Lacking Afghans - The Afghan National Army (ANA) draw its numbers from a wide range of recruits including, but not limited to: unemployed young men, tribal fighters, veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War (from both sides) and veterans of the Northern Alliance. This mix, coupled with ethnic and regional differences, contributes to a highly diverse force. This may be both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. ANA troops range from good to less than good. Veterans tell me the ANA tends to be “mostly good guys with some severe dirt-bags.” Like the ANA, the Afghan National Police’s quality ranges widely. But the ANP’s bad reputation often precedes them. Lots of reports of laziness and corruption. The locals often see them as nothing more than uniformed warlords. There are also allegations the Taliban has infiltrated ANP ranks, particularly in the Pashtun south. Part of the problem is that, at the moment, international forces act more like babysitters than teachers. (READ MORE)

Georgie Hanlin: A slice of life from an Army wife - I recently found myself in a conversation with someone at a cocktail party in San Francisco. The topic of my husband came up when the person to whom I was speaking asked where he was that evening. "Well," I began, as I figured she expected me to say he's just running late, "He's in Afghanistan." She raised both eyebrows. "Where?" "He's in the Army, deployed for a year to Afghanistan." As we bantered back and forth about my husband, his deployment, and the war, this person asked a reasonable question, one that I'm asked all the time: "How often do you get to talk to him?" "It depends, he calls or e-mails when he can, usually every few days," I replied. "Oh, well then, that's not too bad. At least you're able to talk to him." I smiled and nodded. "Yeah, it's not too bad," I replied. I wondered if it would still be "not too bad" if it were her husband, not mine? He's not, after all, on the Riviera, he's in combat. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Sergeant major of the Army tours Camp Cropper - CAMP CROPPER, Iraq – Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston arrived here Aug. 3 in order to discuss detainee operations in Iraq with members of Task Force Griffin. During his tour here, Preston visited the Combat Support Hospital, Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, and the Remembrance II Theater Internment Facility. After the tour, Preston held a town hall meeting where he discussed the topics he had brought to President Barack Obama in his first office call with the top noncommissioned officers of each service. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Officers Graduate Project Management Course - BAGHDAD – Nine Iraqi Ministry of Interior officers graduated from the Project Management Course at the Baghdad Police College, Aug. 4. The course, offered through the college’s Defense Resource Management Institute, was taught over a five-day period, covering topics such as resource allocation, managing risk, program management overview, project charter, sequencing, cost estimation and running the project. These are all very critical skills for planning officers involved in project management. (READ MORE)

Basra project provides job skills, employment opportunities - Basra, Iraq — A vocational school renovation project here is slated to help residents of Al Hyyaniya, a densely-populated neighborhood in Basra, learn job training skills that should increase their employment opportunities. Funded by the Commander’s Emergency Relief Program, the $2.5 million Al Basra Institute for Vocational Training renovation project is being managed by the Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq. “The renovation project will have a big impact for Basra Community,” said Todd Harter, Gulf Region South Basra Area Office construction representative. (READ MORE)

Command Fosters Unified Medical Effort - WASHINGTON — Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I) 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)

Business Women Meet, Talk Contracting - BASRAH — More than fifty Iraqi women met with U.S. Soldiers and contractors recently at the Basrah Airport to discuss opportunities in business development and business contracting. A large portion of the conference was dedicated to explaining opportunities with Joint Contracting Command – Iraq's (JCC-I) Women-Owned Business Initiative, a program that reserves Department of Defense contracts for businesses primarily owned by women. (READ MORE)

Bombs Kill Seven Shiite Pilgrims in Baghdad - A series of roadside bombs struck Shiite pilgrims returning from the southern holy city of Karbala to the Iraqi capital Friday, killing at least seven people, Iraqi police and medical officials said. The incidents are the latest in a series that have targeted Shiites, raising concerns that insurgents are stepping up attacks, hoping to reignite sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Speak of Random Killings Committed by Private Blackwater Guards - Guards employed by Blackwater, the US security company, shot Iraqis and killed victims in allegedly unprovoked and random attacks, it was claimed yesterday. A Virginia court also received sworn statements from former Blackwater employees yesterday alleging that Erik Prince, the company’s founder, “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Freed by US Face Few Jobs and Little Hope - One day in early February, after a year and a half in various American detention centers, detainee No. 318360 was handed a letter that he was to give to his mother. With that, $25 in cash and a new set of civilian clothes, the detainee, Alaq Khleirallah, 27, was back out onto the streets of Baghdad. He is one of roughly 90,000 detainees who have been released from American detention centers in the past six years, a process that will end sometime next year, when the last center is to be transferred to Iraqi control. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Take Lead in Southern Iraq, General Says - Iraqi soldiers and police serving in the southern part of their country are performing the lion’s share of security duties, a senior U.S. military officer posted in southern Iraq told reporters today. “Iraqi security forces are fully in the lead to secure their country and their population,” Army Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, commander of Multinational Division South and the 34th Infantry Division, a National Guard unit from Rosemount, Minn., told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference. (READ MORE)

Basra Police Arrest Suspected Terrorist Commander - WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2009 – Iraqi police from the Basra special weapons and tactics team, along with U.S. advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist commander yesterday in an Iraqi-led operation in southern Iraq, military officials reported. The SWAT team was operating under the authority of a warrant issued by a Basra-based court. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Women Take Business Into Their Own Hands - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Aug. 6, 2009 – Iraqi women discussed opportunities in business development and contracting with U.S. soldiers and contractors during a meeting at Basra Airport in Iraq. The conference highlighted opportunities with Joint Contracting Command Iraq’s women-owned business initiative, a program that reserves Defense Department contracts for businesses primarily owned by women. (READ MORE)

Soldier Starts Recycling Effort in Iraq - BAGHDAD, Aug. 6, 2009 – The Army teaches soldiers to leave a place better than they found it. One soldier has applied this adage to the Multinational Division Baghdad area of operations by thinking “green.” Army Sgt. Tanisha Manning, with 1st Cavalry Division’s Company B, Division Special Troops Battalion, has started a recycling initiative at Camp Liberty, Iraq. (READ MORE)

Infantrymen Maintain Austere Base in Afghanistan - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 6, 2009 – U.S. forces in Afghanistan are spread throughout the desert, countryside and mountainous terrain at small forward operating bases. At Forward Operating Base Baylough, infantrymen from 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, are tasked with patrolling the Hindu Kush Mountains in the Deh Chopan district of Afghanistan’s Zabul province. Along with that mission, they also maintain and operate Baylough. (READ MORE)

Air Strike Said to Kill Pakistani Taliban Chief - The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a drone strike by US forces, Pakistani officials said. Pakistani news accounts previously reported that the air strike, carried out early Wednesday morning, had killed one of the wives of the militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud. But Pakistani officials said Friday Mr. Mehsud is dead and that the Taliban had cordoned off the area, stopping anyone from getting near the site. Reports of Mr. Mehsud's death have circulated in the past, but a US defense official said Pakistani officials appeared to be more certain this time that Mr. Mehsud had been killed. (READ MORE)

Officials Seek to Confirm Death of Taliban Leader - Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan’s fearsome Taliban militia, was reported to have been killed in a CIA missile strike, and Pakistan’s main television networks said Friday that senior Taliban leaders were meeting to choose a successor. The strike, launched from a remotely-piloted drone early Wednesday, morning hit a compound in the remote village of Zanghara, in South Waziristan. Reports of Mr. Mehsud’s death began to circulate one day later. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Taliban Chief May Have Been Killed - Baitullah Mehsud, the al-Qaeda-allied Taliban commander who rose to become one of Pakistan's most feared terrorists, may have been killed in a US airstrike inside Pakistan this week, US officials said Thursday. Hours after reports of Mehsud's death began to circulate in Pakistan, US counterterrorism officials said they were evaluating evidence that appeared to support the claims. "There is reason to believe that reports of his death may be true, but it can't be confirmed at this time," said one US official briefed on the evidence. (READ MORE)

White House Struggles to Gauge Afghan Success - As the American military comes to full strength in the Afghan buildup, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a long-promised plan to measure whether the war is being won. Those “metrics” of success, demanded by Congress and eagerly awaited by the military, are seen as crucial if the president is to convince Capitol Hill and the country that his revamped strategy is working. Without concrete signs of progress, Mr. Obama may lack the political stock - especially among Democrats and his liberal base - to make the case for continuing the military effort or enlarging the American presence. (READ MORE)

Afghans Pin Hopes on Mining As Taliban Attacks Intensify - Afghanistan's mining ministry, emboldened by its first copper tender and undeterred by escalating violence, is inviting more bids in hopes the industry can eventually drive economic growth and help bring security. The rising number of attacks by Taliban insurgents around the country is already deterring investors with a high resistance to risk. In the latest in a series of incidents in which civilians were victims, roadside bombings in Southern and Western Afghanistan this week have killed at least 15 people. (READ MORE)

4 Marines in Afghanistan Killed by Roadside Bomb - Four US Marines were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy in western Afghanistan on Thursday, the latest attack amid escalating violence ahead of a presidential election here this month. The death toll among American forces is rising as thousands of additional troops move into Taliban strongholds. At least 15 NATO troops have died so far this month, putting August on pace to surpass July, when 75 US and allied troops were killed, the highest monthly toll for Western forces in Afghanistan since the war began in late 2001. (READ MORE)

Three Special Forces Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan - Three British paratroopers working with the special forces have been killed in Afghanistan. The three soldiers were all members of the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) which was formed to add extra firepower and assault capability to the SAS and the Special Boat Service (SBS). They were killed when the Jackal armoured vehicle in which they were travelling was hit by a roadside bomb in the southern province of Helmand. Another soldier was critically wounded. (READ MORE)

3 NATO Troops Killed in Southern Afghanistan - Three NATO troops were killed in a Taliban attack on their patrol in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Friday, raising the number of international forces slain in the first week of August to 18. NATO said the troops' vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb before insurgents opened fire. The NATO forces fired back, but the three were killed. Attacks killed at least 75 troops from the US and other international military forces in July, the highest death toll for a single month since 2001, according to military reports. (READ MORE)

Diggers help capture Taliban leaders - AUSTRALIAN soldiers in Afghanistan have helped capture four Taliban leaders who had planned to detonate explosive devices ahead of upcoming elections in the war-torn country. The insurgents were captured last weekend in a sweep operation in the Muzazai and Kushkel districts, near Tarin Kowt, in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Linked by: H&I FIRES* 07 August 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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