August 12, 2009

From the Front: 08/12/2009

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

306 Days: Finally a new post---Trip to Kabul - Well sorry I haven't been able to update this as often as I would like to. It’s a combination of not having fast enough internet access & being fairly busy getting my feet wet in this new job. Well as many of you heard on the news the Taliban had 2 suicide bombers blow themselves up killing 10 civilians and 3 police officers in the nearby town of Herat which was really tragic and sad. Some of the people I work with know those killed and its always a somber day to hear of innocent lives being lost. The Taliban are desperate for ways of interrupting the upcoming elections which the police and army are hoping to secure. Well attached are some of the photos I took on a recent trip to the capital city of Kabul. It appears I’ll be journeying this way somewhat often for different business trips. (READ MORE)

1st Marine Logistics Group: CLB-15 preps for Afghanistan terrain at Fort Hunter Liggett - Once they arrived, they were greeted by their bleak surroundings. To the left, there was nothing but hills; to the right, even more hills than the left; behind them, a big empty space with no sign of civilization. At that point, they knew they were literally in the middle of nowhere. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 15, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, traveled to Fort Hunter Liggett July 27 to conduct training and to familiarize themselves with the heat, sweat and terrain of the battlefield they may face in Afghanistan. An advance party was sent a day before the main party to create the site perimeter and establish communications. "I came here on Sunday (July 26) and prepared the camp site for training before everyone else arrived,” said Lance Cpl. Calvin W. McClain Jr., a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear defense specialist with CLB-15, CLR-17, 1st MLG. (READ MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: Not another Fobbit - I know I have been seriously delinquent in updating my blog. Here it is already the 10th of August. Wow, time flies when you’re having such fun. NOT! My team has also picked up another mentoring job at another hospital here in Kabul, NDS Hospital. NDS stands for National Defense Service, which is similar to our CIA. I went to the hospital once last week and again today. It is a relatively new hospital. If it wasn’t for the signs in Dari, it could be any small, rural hospital in the US. It is a very nice facility. I will of course be mentoring the OR nurses. Last week, we went in the afternoon and there were no cases in the OR. I met the nurses and we began to build a working relationship. When I went back today, again there were no scheduled cases. All of the hospitals in Kabul have begun to cancel all elective cases. They want as many empty beds in the hospitals as possible for the elections next week. (READ MORE)

Afghani Kush: Another Day, Another Dollar - Hey folks. Well, my posts have been few and far between lately because not a lot is going on here. We had a few missions but nothing came of them. Taliban hasn't wanted to play lately which is sort of disappointing but I think it means that we're doing our job right. Security has improved in the region and we're seeing real results form the locals. They trust us more and they're trying to come up with their own solutions to help us help them. Also we're getting ready for a change of responsibility here so we've been doing a lot of accountability stuff, which is time consuming. We actually had flush toilets out here for about three days, which was pretty awesome. Didn't last but it was a taste of real life for a while. Other than that, a little homesick. Missing the people that are important to me, but so it goes. Take care folks. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Combat Hero SPC Lowe - It’s not too often you get to meet a hero in person, but I’ve been fortunate to meet several of them since being here. You won’t see this in the newspaper, because the media is narrowly focused on fatalities and this hero survived his wounds. But today you can read about a hero I would like to recognize. He is a friend and brother in arms. SPC Christopher Santiago Lowe hails from Savannah, Georgia and is a member of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 108th BCT, 48th Brigade – he’s one of the Alpha Troop and I call them the “Georgia Boys.” I met SPC Lowe shortly after arriving here. Everyone at camp calls him “Lowe”, but his mom calls him “Kit.” Lowe worked in the same building as I did, except our offices are separated by a plywood wall. His primary duty was to manage the ammunitions and munitions for the brigade. In addition, he would accompany his team on missions to the various villages and valleys. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Top Ten Things That Abby Won’t Miss About Iraq - 10 – Chicken. With rice. 9 – Wearing long pants, boots, a t-shirt and a jacket. In the Middle East. In the summer. If you’re going outside the wire, you can exchange the t-shirt and jacket for a long-sleeve fire-retardant shirt , body armor and gloves. 8 – Fleas. 7 – Clear eye protection. We may all be volunteers, but none of us wanted to grow up and look like seventh-grade shop students whenever the sun goes down. 6 – Endless NCO meetings devoted to deciphering the latest memo from yet another sergeant major with nothing better to do than send out strongly worded but vague policy statements on the wear of the fleece cap. 5 – The 200 yard trudge through the dark to the shower trailer. Hell, the shower trailer. I never took any pictures because they would have made you vomit. And the female shower trailer was the good one. 4 – Weird demands from company headquarters to complete online certifications on systems we couldn’t access. Increasingly hostile messages from company ignoring all appeals for some sort of guidance on access issues. (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: Still wheeling strong! - A while back, I blogged about Brad Blauser, an American who started an organization to get wheel chairs to needy Iraqi kids. It's an impressive story. He worked in Iraq as a contractor. A surgeon he met told him how many Iraqi children who suffer crippling injuries or who need amputations never are able to get a wheelchair. This is exactly what I experienced when I was working at the hospital in Balad. There just wasn't the same access to prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs. Children would show up in my trauma follow-up clinic carried by parents, or sometimes wheeled in in a rolling office chair on little casters. Brad took this little bit of information, and he decided to do something about it. He started Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids and organized donation of wheelchairs to those who needed them. A lot of people were impressed by the story, including my mother who donated to finance a chair for an Iraqi child. These chairs are heavy duty, specially fitted for children, and make a huge difference in their lives. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: One more promotee - Fresh from her R&R leave, SPC(P) Roshonda Thurston walked into the press conference room at the Combined Press Information Center thinking it was a supply issue that needed her expertise. Instead, she found a room full of her fellow 314th PAOC Soldiers ready to celebrate her promotion to SGT. MAJ James Lincoln, Acting Commander (and CPIC Director), officiated the ceremony and reminded the group about the role she played, from being a last minute addition to the team to the supply sergeant responsbile for bringing all our Soldiers and equipment home to the United States (no pressure, huh?). Congratulations SGT Thurston….job well done! (READ MORE)

Deploying in a "Sea" of Sand .....: A little snag... - Well folks, I've run into a little snag with my Expeditionary Combat Checklist. Of course it is something out of my control - my medical screening. Not that being diagnosed with Acute Rhuematic Fever (ARF) wasn't enough - now for some reason my BP has skyrocketed. I went to see my Infectious Disease Doctor at Naval Medical Center San Diego on Thursday and found that my BP was 155/105 - I think we can all agree that's not good. So now on top of having to get a medical waiver for the ARF, I need to get this BP down before my ID Doc will consider completing the waiver. I just want to go! First I had to deal with the notion that I was going to get snagged during my shore duty to do an IA - OK, so I dealt with it and so did my wife. We made plans, got many things in order and I've been turning over all my jobs and getting all other parts of my Combat Checklist completed. And now, I run into this crap! I've been healthy for 40 years and now I'm faced with two very big medical issues. (READ MORE)

1SG Martinez: A Different View of Iraq - If you have visited any of my soldiers' blogs (click on a soldier portrait on the right to visit another blog) you have likely seen some of the photos and stories they've produced about our great men and women in uniform serving here in Iraq. In contrast, I thought I'd share a few photos of some of the people in Iraq whom we serve and who we hope will find a positive benefit to our service here. Yesterday I joined one of my soldiers, SSG Mark Burrell, on a mission out to some of the more rural areas of Baghdad. While there, I captured a few images of the men, women and children we met. For the most part these folks were friendly and talkative. I don't mind telling you that there is some reticence for soldiers to totally buy into the friendliness exhibited since there have been occasions in this conflict when once-friendly greetings turned to soured relationships. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Motivations - I appreciate the questions in the comments. I’ll try to answer them as best I can. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do have opinions, which albeit are based on a small part of the country and one particular unit. I’m quite certain what I’ve seen is representative of the country as a whole, but I could be wrong. At any rate, I’ll throw my two cents out there and people can take it or leave it. If anyone has facts that refute what I have to say, I’d be interested to hear them. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s anything I would enjoy more than having my opinions on the ANA attacked by someone who hasn’t lived with them and been on the ground in combat with them. I’ve actually asked various solders in the ANA why they joined, and they all without fail answered that they did it to fight the Taliban and because they like the soldier’s life. In a few cases this may be true, but in my opinion the main reason an Afghan joins the ANA is money. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Past 2011, is mentoring an option? - It's always difficult to read tea leaves, and parse what the government really means when it says Canada will no longer have a "combat role" after 2011 in Kandahar. I'm not sure they know what they really mean. It is, however, a position that now enjoys overwhelming popular and political support. The question is, if we were respondent to American or NATO pressure to continue on in some capacity anyway, what options now remain open with that? Would a continued presence of a Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team still be open for debate? (Probably.) Would the use of helicopters in transport roles be? (Possibly.) How about continuing ANSF mentoring? Maybe not so much. It's not just that mentors, with their ANSF partners, are in combat as much as, if not more than the regular battalion troops in the same province, making their "non-combat" designation pretty much a joke. (READ MORE)

The Gun Line MkIII: AAR: How Are Things Over There? - I’m going to say it up front… I was a fobbit… I was one of the Command Post guys… I had a set schedule, I didn’t go out on missions. I stayed behind when my guys went out and I manned the various communication systems that monitored them when they went out. I watched them roll, and I waved to them as they headed out of the motor pool on their way to the Entry Control Point (ECP). And I worried about them… I prayed every time they went out, that when I came back on shift the next day, that there wouldn’t be anything other than the list of required checkpoints and the annotation that “BC13 RP JBB 0200 23/6, 34/33.” Most of the times that was true, and even when there was a “significant” event, all my guys made it back inside the wire, a fact for which I praise God, the small unit leaders that motivated the men, and the men themselves… Not bad for a bunch of “weekend warriors”, I’m thinking… (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British troops storm narco labs in night air assault - Hundreds of troops have swooped into a network of narcotics labs in the Sangin valley as part of a massive air assault which saw them bag a huge haul of opium and kill a number of insurgents. Eighteen UK, US and Australian helicopters carrying 300 soldiers from The 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, accompanied by scores of Afghan troops, dropped into the Taliban stronghold just after nightfall on 7 August 2009. The spectre of nine Chinooks, four Apache attack helicopters, three Black Hawk and two Sea King helicopters loomed over the targeted compounds in a vast expanse of open desert, before sweeping into the area to clear it of suspected Taliban fighters. By 2200hrs the soldiers filed off the helicopters against the dramatic backdrop of sheer rock faces and lay low against the ground, waiting for further orders. (READ MORE)

Highland Sailor: NArmy - A few of my civilian friends have asked, “What is the NArmy?” Having assumed everyone knew what the NArmy was I did not provide a definition of the word, and for that I apologize. The NArmy is simply a word merge of the words Navy and Army. Sailors who are assigned to the Army are considered to be part of the NArmy. Sailors in the NArmy are considered ”Sailders” (Sail-jer) again a word merge of Sailor and solider. There are currently 12,000 Sailders in the US NArmy serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa. Until next time: Keep your eye on a shipmate, head on a swivel and stand by to Give'em Hell! Hooah! (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: You Know You're In The Desert When - .... You eat Habanero peppers to cool your mouth off. Work has been pretty busy this week. In addition to my regular work, my collateral duties and volunteering at the USO has been making the days go by fast. Last week I also started doing the Sexual Assault Prevention Patrol or SAPP. We have never had any incidents here, so this is merely a preventive measure. I'm sure whomever created it has it at the top of their evaluation report. Something to the effect of "Spearheaded the creation of SAPP.......as to date, because of my genius program, we have had no incidents" It's a good program to have, but they ask that we ride ATV's so we can get into places our vehicles cant. Which at first sounded like fun, till I got a sore throat from breathing in all of the dust created by the ATV. Also, when I'm done my patrol my uniform is covered in dust, so for the rest of the shift I look like a dirtball. And the kicker...ATV's DONT HAVE AIR CONDITIONING. (READ MORE)

Kickin' through the sand: Time, Time, Tickin' Tickin' - WOW!! i cannot believe how fast time has been going, I think this week I have already lost a day! And, i cannot belive how delinquent i have been in posting. Well, things have been a little busy.................. The Brits left, the Danes arrived, we have had the busiest time out here at Bastion, EVER!!!!! i truly miss my friends from the UK, what a great group we had in Theatres!!! I am enjoying making new friends with the Danish, again i think i have the best team to work with. Instead of Alpha/Bravo Teams, we have Viking 1 and Viking 2, gotta love it....... i was even able to make up a cheer for Viking 1 when we need motivation... woo!hoo! As I said, we have been the busiest ever here at Bastion, July brought us a few digits shy of 200 cases in theater, and the extensive traumas are just mindboggling. However, we have a great reputation that if they can get them in the door, we can get them home to see their families!!!! (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US kills 14 in strike on Taliban training camp in South Waziristan - The US has killed 14 Taliban fighters in the latest airstrike in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of South Waziristan. One or more Predator strike aircraft, or possibly the more advanced Reaper, targeted a Taliban training camp in the town of Zangikhel in the Kani Karam area of South Waziristan. Three or more Hellfire missiles are said to have been launched at the training camp. The camp was run by Umer Barqi, a local tribal leader. Eight Taliban fighters were reported killed in the initial strike and four more died while being transported to the hospital, Geo News reported. Residents told Pajhwok Afghan News that 14 Taliban fighters were killed. Five more Taliban fighters were said to have been wounded. There are no reports of senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders killed at this time; all of those killed are reported to have been "local Taliban." (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The Terrifying Consequences of General McChrystal’s New Rules - Last month, I noted a terrible paradox in the new rules coming out of General McChrystal’s command: “There are also concerns from soldiers about whether or not it is prudent to develop a reputation for withdrawing from such firefights. After all, you cannot fight a war — even a counterinsurgency — without fighting or killing the enemy… Gen. McChrystal’s directive, therefore, is fundamentally contradictory: It requires U.S. troops to protect undefined population centers, unless threatened by the very forces that endanger them. Even more ironic is the subtext of Gen. McChrystal’s new directive, which speaks not to protecting the people of Afghanistan, but to protecting the Western troops inside of it. Withdrawing from a populated area when fired upon does not ‘protect’ it any more than dropping bombs on it does. Afghans want America’s protection, not necessarily its absence — and confusing the two will make the situation worse.” (READ MORE)

Air Force Wife: It's Never a Good Time, But do it Anyway - Today I read a story on the main page of military.com that made my heart clench and my stomach hurt - it was all about what happens when a service-member doesn't make their wishes, should the worst happen, perfectly clear. One month ago Roger Hager was killed in action. In that month his mother has had to deal with the horrible emotional side effects - emotions I can't even begin to process or imagine - and also with the details of what must be done when our loved one comes home to us through Dover. Among those details was something that Hager probably never thought would be an issue - his personal effects. And according to the article there isn't much; an X Box and a cell phone and a few other things, as well as items of an emotional nature like letters. Really, who among us thinks about bequeathing an XBox and a cell phone? (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Records - Well it’s official, we had the busiest month EVER recorded at the Role 3 hospital in Kandahar during the month of July! It’s pretty exciting being a part of that milestone. I asked those in charge if we get a t-shirt or something, but they just ignored me! Haha. If we keep going the way we have been during the month of August the previously set record will once again be shattered. Our shift is basically every other day, with being on call on your “off” days, so during July I calculated how many hours were spent at Role 3, here it is: 1st week of July: 57.5 hours in 4 days, 2nd: 45 hours in 3 days, 3rd: 56.5 hours in 4 days, 4th: 45 hours in 3 days. It doesn’t seem like a lot of hours, that’s why I put the qualifier of working every other day. So needless to say we have been pretty tired, but we are doing some amazing surgeries in such a Spartan setting. We still are not beaten so, again, bring it on! (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: IRAQ WITHDRAWAL DEBATE - In a lengthy controversial memo published in the New York Times, COL Timothy Reese, Chief, Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argues that “we should declare our intentions to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq by August 2010.” Although he admits that the Iraqi Army has “defeated the organized insurgency,” Reese bases his contention on what he believes to be an ineffective and corrupt Iraqi government, a festering situation regarding the Kurds, laziness and lack of initiative within the Iraqi Army, and a military leadership that is incapable of change. He concludes that, although the Iraqi Army has improved, “remaining in Iraq through the end of December 2011 will yield little in the way of improving the abilities of the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) or the functioning of the GOI (Government of Iraq).” (READ MORE)

Small Wars Journal: Secure the cities first? - Taking inspiration from Dave’s “Back Off” post, I was disturbed to read this Huffington Post commentary highlighted at the always readable Abu Muqawama. The assessment comes from a human rights researcher in Kabul asserting the Taliban effectively control Kandahar outside the gates of our bases. It would be presumptuous to rule on the accuracy of the claim, but the assessment (echoed elsewhere) sparks an interesting set of questions about our potential courses of action in Afghanistan. Noted classical counterinsurgency author and Vietnam War veteran Jack McCuen argued in his excellent book The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War that chasing guerrillas around the countryside while leaving the critical provincial and national population centers uncovered played into the hands of the insurgent. McCuen argued allowing the insurgent to establish networks, shadow governments, recruitment cells, and support networks in the cities created a far greater risk than the loss of rural hamlets. (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: Conversation with a Tribal Elder - On one of our battlefield circulations out west, we followed our General to a tribal leader’s house. We stood guard outside while the General went inside to talk and eat. As is typically cultural when someone important comes to visit, they have a lamb pull. There must have been a least a dozen lambs slaughtered for this feast. Tray after tray was brought inside and passed around outside to the Iraqi soldiers and police that attended this meeting. We (the Americans) decided not to partake in the day’s meal. There were just too many dirty hands digging in. We told them we just finished eating at the last place we stopped and that had we known we were going to eat here, we would have waited. As we sat outside waiting for the meeting to end, one of the tribal elders was sitting two seats away from me. His young son of 6 years old made me think of my son. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:

Shiites in Iraq Show Restraint as Sunnis Keep Attacking - Shiite clerics and politicians have been successfully urging their followers not to retaliate against a fierce campaign of sectarian bombings, in which Shiites have accounted for most of the 566 Iraqis killed since American troops pulled out of Iraq’s cities on June 30. “Let them kill us,” said Sheik Khudair al-Allawi, the imam of a mosque bombed recently. “It’s a waste of their time." (READ MORE)

Wells Bring Clean Water to Rural Iraqis - BAGHDAD — Capt. Sara Woods calls it "sweet water;" the clean, potable ground water that hides under the dusty farmland here at a depth of about 20 meters. That sweet water is the key to helping many rural Iraqis enjoy greater health and raise much more productive livestock. Woods is the chief of Civil Affairs Team 31, currently attached to the North Carolina National Guard's 1st Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, and her job is to help Iraqis help themselves by setting up wells and teaching them how to operate them. (READ MORE)

Grants Work to Restore Samarra Economy - COB SPEICHER — The area around the Askari "Golden" Mosque of Samarra once thrived as an open-air market serving thousands of visitors every year. Iraqi and U.S. forces are working to guarantee security, and that means more than safety. It also means rebuilding the economy. Joined by Samarra Mayor Mahmood Khalaf Ahmed, U.S. Soldiers with the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion and the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, distributed $2.5 million in small-business grants to more than 900 local store owners Aug. 3 - 5. (READ MORE)

Comedians Visit, Bring Laughter to Troops - MOSUL — The Combined Activities Center on Forward Operating Base Marez turned into a comedy house when comedians brought the laughs to U.S. Soldiers here, Aug. 8. Scott Kennedy, founder of Scott Kennedy's Comics Ready to Entertain, brought Doug Warren, from the Bob and Tom comedy show, and Ron Morey, from the "Late, Late Show," with him on a round-robin comedy tour of FOBs and Joint Security Stations throughout Northern Iraq, ending here at FOB Marez. (READ MORE)

Federal Police Reach Out to Children - MOSUL — The Mosul Brigade Federal Police (FP) handed out school supplies and children's shoes to the citizens of the Bab Al-Toob neighborhood here, Aug. 8. The humanitarian drop was one part of a larger mission to reach out to the populace of this West Mosul neighborhood. Children and parents alike clamored for the much-needed pencils, notebooks, and other school supplies that will be used when the children return to school in September. Children formed a line in front of Brig. Gen. Majid M. Abaas, the Mosul Brigade FP commander, as he passed out hundreds of bags of school supplies. (READ MORE)

Mosul Attacks Reflect al-Qaida’s Plan, Commander Says - WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2009 – Recent high-profile attacks against civilians near Mosul, Iraq, reflect al-Qaida in Iraq’s continued desire to incite sectarian strife, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of Multinational Division North, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference the attacks don’t indicate a statistical spike in violence. (READ MORE)

Kuwaitis Foil Attack on U.S. Logistical Hub - WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2009 – U.S. military officials are crediting Kuwaiti security services with foiling a planned terrorist bombing aimed at a major U.S. logistical hub and staging operation in Kuwait and several other Kuwaiti sites. Kuwaiti authorities reportedly arrested six al-Qaida operatives accused of conspiring to carry out the attack on Camp Arifjan next week, during the opening days of Ramadan. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Marines assault Taliban town in Afghanistan - DAHANEH, Afghanistan – Helicopter-borne U.S. Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday, the launch of a new operation to uproot Taliban fighters from a longtime base and provide security for next week's presidential election. The troops exchanged heavy fire with insurgents, killing at least seven. (READ MORE)

Two AP journalists wounded in Afghanistan bombing - KABUL – A roadside bombing has wounded two Associated Press journalists embedded with the U.S. military in southern Afghanistan. Photographer Emilio Morenatti and AP Television News videographer Andi Jatmiko were traveling with the military when their vehicle was struck by the bomb Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Taliban kill police chief in northern Afghanistan - KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Taliban fighters stormed a district police headquarters in once-quiet northern Afghanistan overnight, killing the police chief and two of his men, an official said, as violence spreads into once safe areas. The attack, which led to a four-hour gunbattle into the early hours of Wednesday in Kunduz, is the latest in a wave of rising violence a week before an August 20 election which militants have vowed to disrupt. (READ MORE)

US Ambassador Seeks More Money for Afghanistan - The United States will not meet its goals in Afghanistan without a major increase in planned spending on development and civilian reconstruction next year, the US ambassador in Kabul has told the State Department. In a cable sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry said an additional $2.5 billion in nonmilitary spending will be needed for 2010, about 60 percent more than the amount President Obama has requested from Congress. (READ MORE)

President Karzai’s Supporters ‘Buy’ Votes for Afghanistan Election - Supporters of President Karzai are preparing to rig voting in next week’s presidential elections in unstable parts of Afghanistan’s south as Taleban violence threatens to intimidate voters and hit turnout in his traditional support base. The Times has talked to several witnesses whose reports will bolster suspicions within the international community that there will be electoral fraud across the south, some of it allegedly orchestrated by Mr Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. (READ MORE)

Marines Storm Afghan Town Long Held by Taliban - Helicopter-borne US Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed into a strategic Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday, battling to gain control of the area ahead of next week's presidential elections. Marines in the first wave storming Dahaneh were met with small arms, mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire as they flew in helicopters over Taliban lines and dropped into the town. (READ MORE)

Three US Troops Killed in Afghanistan - Taliban militants killed three American troops in volatile southern Afghanistan, US military authorities said Tuesday, part of a recent wave of violence that could complicate next week's Afghan elections. The latest US deaths brought to at least 18 the number of American military personnel who have died in Afghanistan in August, and pushed fatalities among foreign troops for the month to 27, according to the independent website icasualties.org. (READ MORE)

Journalists Injured in Afghan Bombing as Violence Mounts - As violence builds across Afghanistan ahead of elections in eight days time, The Associated Press reported Wednesday that two of its journalists embedded with the United States military in the south of the country Afghanistan had been injured, and one of them had subsequently lost a foot, in a roadside bomb explosion. (READ MORE)

Taliban Drug Proceeds Lower Than Thought, US Report Says - The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have concluded that the amount of drug money flowing to the Taliban in Afghanistan is far lower than widely estimated but remains critical to the insurgents' ability to survive, according to a Senate report released Tuesday. (READ MORE)

'There is No Refuge, No Place to Go to Deal with Your Grief' - My motivation is simple. Writing this helps vent off some of the frustration at what is happening out here in Afghanistan to those serving in the British Army, where death and serious injury are sickeningly common occurrences. Before coming here, I had done two tours in Iraq which saw fierce fighting against the enemy. But, sometimes out here I feel I might as well be on my first tour, as a novice second lieutenant instead of a so-called senior captain with over eight years experience in the Army. (READ MORE)

Pakistan: US Missile Strike Kills 10 Militants - Pakistani officials say a suspected US missile strike has killed at least 10 militants in South Waziristan. The officials said the apparent drone aircraft attack Tuesday targeted a suspected militant camp in the northwestern tribal area near the Afghan border. A strike in the same region last week was reported to have killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. (READ MORE)

US Strikes Mehsud's Stronghold In Pakistan - A US missile slammed into a suspected Taliban camp in a lawless Pakistani tribal region Tuesday, intelligence officials and Taliban commanders said, killing six to 14 people, a week after the group's leader reportedly died in a similar strike. Officials in Washington and Islamabad say they are almost certain that last Wednesday's drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's most wanted man, although Taliban commanders insist their leader is still alive. (READ MORE)

Coalition Ready for Afghan Elections, Official Says - WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2009 – Nine days before the Afghan national elections, coalition forces are prepared to back up Afghan security forces as necessary to ensure 17 million registered voters have safe access to the polls, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. “Huge expectations and huge consequences are associated with the upcoming election” on Aug. 20, Morrell told reporters. Even President Barack Obama has called the elections “probably the most important event to take place in Afghanistan this year,” he noted. (READ MORE)

US Marines stage Afghan helicopter assault - KABUL: Four hundred U.S. marines staged a helicopter assault in the mountains of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, part of efforts to secure Taliban-held areas, eight days before a presidential election. The 10,000-strong U.S. Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) in Helmand is the biggest element of a wave of reinforcements sent this year by President Barack Obama in an effort to turn the tide in an eight-year-old war commanders have described as stalemated. (READ MORE)

Midwives defy tradition and save lives - BAMYAN, 12 August 2009 (IRIN) - When the first and only midwifery school was opened in 2004 in Bamyan city, central Afghanistan, not a single application was received for the 18-month course. Today, the school has to turn down dozens of applications from women all over the province because it cannot accommodate more than 25 students at a time. “We have earned the peoples’ trust in our work,” Saleha Hamnavazada, coordinator of Bamyan Midwifery School, told IRIN. (READ MORE)

Police chief, three bodyguards killed in northern Afghanistan - Kunduz, Afghanistan - Taliban militants attacked a district centre in northern Afghanistan, killing four police officers including a police chief, local government officials and a rebel spokesman said Wednesday. Noor Khan, police chief of Dasht Archi district in northern Kunduz province and brother of Mohammad Omar, the provincial governor, was killed along with his three bodyguards in a Taliban attack on Tuesday night, Shaikh Sahdi, administrative chief of Dasht Archi, said. (READ MORE)

Australian troops kill Afghan officer - An investigation has been launched after Australian troops in Afghanistan shot dead an Afghan police officer and wounded another. The Australian Defence Force says soldiers opened fire when the police officers failed to stop at a checkpoint at Dorafshan, north of Tarin Kowt. The troops came under small arms fire after the incident. (READ MORE)

Stryker soldiers retool for Afghanistan - KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — More than 100 soldiers in the brigade studied Arabic for 10 months. Their officers boned up on Iraq by reading dozens of books. Then, five months ago, the 5,000 troops of the U.S. Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade were told they were headed to Afghanistan instead. The Obama administration’s decision to switch America’s main battlefront from Iraq to Afghanistan is more than a geographic shift. (READ MORE)

Lack of crew delays copters for Afghanistan - LONDON: The demand for more support helicopters in Afghanistan cannot be met fully because there are not enough crew to fly them, Royal Air Force (RAF) commanders have acknowledged. Merlin helicopters, returned from duty in Iraq and currently being modified for Afghanistan at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, will start to be deployed to Helmand province in December, but the commanders said that five trained crews were required for each one to ensure safety. (READ MORE)

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