August 13, 2009

From the Front: 08/13/2009

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

The Long Walk Home: "When They Come Back" - A friend of mine, the father Travis Patriquin, forwarded me this video. It's by an artist named Derek Sholl. He's right - none of us came back the same. And all of us are on our own Long Walk Home. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: (VIDEO) Homestretch - Our embedded journalism student, Jessica Hoffman, reports on the Stryker Brigade's preparations to head home as well as what the soldiers are looking forward to when they return to Alaska. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: (Video) Afghan Journo Gets Beat By Kabul Cops - The brief video posted above is of my friend and colleague from Killid Media, Kanishka, during a rally for better education last year. As you can see, he was pretty much minding his own business, when a cop came up and began to lay into him with a truncheon. After the video cuts out, Kanishka is actually beaten much more severely. He tells me that his nose was bloodied and his body was covered in welts and bruises. Other Afghan journos I know have gotten much worse. One friend was in a northern province, reporting the story of a girl who was being abused by a man in her village. When he went to the police, to ask what they were going to do about it, they beat him senseless. A few days later, he went back to the village to do another interview. He returned to the police station afterward and for his persistence, received another beating. This happened once more before the cops actually looked into the matter and made an arrest. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan May last Tour: Election Update and COIN - Only 8 more days until the Afghan presidential and provincial government elections are held. Unlike the previous elections of 2001, this one holds even more significance. In 2001, the Taliban were on the run from coalition forces. But this time, they have openly vowed to disrupt the polling stations by preventing the citizens from casting their votes. The United States has injected the majority of the $224 million to ensure safe and fair elections are held. As a result, the election process has taken center stage for the ANA, ANP, and coalition forces. A lot of resources have been employed and monumental coordination has taken place to prepare for this day. It will truly be a litmus test to show the joint cooperation and coordination of all these agencies working towards the same goal to ensure the citizens will not be swayed by fear and cast their vote freely. Their vote will help determine the next path that this country will follow. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Sky In Kandahar Is Falling! - Geez. I go away for a few days, and it takes me hours to catch up on the Afghanistan chatter. There's been a lot going on. A minor shitstorm was kicked off when a Wall Street Journal article (with a needlessly sensational title of "Taliban Are Winning") focused on Kandahar and stated that the city was in danger of falling to the Taliban. We learn that American forces are being redirected there, which is okay because Helmand is a "sideshow", in the words of an anonymous official. EXCEPT, as the brilliant Mark Collins points out in an epic post at The Torch, no such redirection is taking place: “In fact there is no ‘shift’ planned of US troops to Kandahar. The Stryker Brigade Combat Team has always been designated for Kandahar province (as well as Zabul province) and its arrival is on schedule and has nothing to do with Helmand--so the ‘only begun’ above is meaningless.” (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: Operation Purple - Today I read about Operation Purple a free summer camp for kids of deployed troops. I think this is a great idea, because it recognizes children for the sacrifice that they too make when a parent is deployed. Not sure where the Purple comes from, but it might be a reference to the organization being applied across all branches of service. (As in green is Army, blue is Air Force, but purple is everyone.) We have a concept in the medical corps that someday we may be "Purple Suiters", that is a group of doctors that serves all branches, not Army docs, Air Force docs, and Navy docs. Who knows, a whole lot of people will have to cooperate before that happens! (READ MORE)

Doc H: The Navy Jack - I must admit that I was a little taken aback when I started this mission, since the Navy had us wear Army uniforms. I mean, every other service has its own distinctive combat uniforms. The Navy is still wearing old style desert cammoflage utilities in certain spots of the world. Well thankfully I feel vindicated to some degree now that the Navy has authorized those of us wearing Army Combat Uniforms (ACU's) to wear the Navy Jack on our left arm. The Navy Jack is the earliest flag of the United States Navy. A red and white striped flag with a rattlesnake and the motto "Don't Tread on Me!". Usually this particular jack was only to be flown from the bow of the oldest Navy vessel on active service when secured at anchor or pierside, but since 31 May 2002 the Secretary of the Navy directed all US Navy Ships to fly this flag for the duration of the War on Terrorism. Thus it is an altogether fitting patch for a sailor to wear while deployed with the Army in support of the War on Terrorism. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: Two Years - On August 13, 2007 I lost a friend to a roadside IED. Two other soldiers were also lost that day. I knew them all, but the loss of my friend left an indelible mark behind. It was a day pretty much like any other day we had in Iraq. I was on a PSD patrol to meet some sheik and win some hearts and minds. We received a call that one of our patrols had been hit and that there were casualties. They needed some security on scene, and the commander wanted to make an assessment, so we stopped our meet and greet and sped off to the site of the IED. Somehow, I knew before we arrived that my friend was among the casualties. Maybe it was because I knew his platoon was scheduled to patrol that area, maybe it was because I knew that he liked to sit in the first vehicle, even as a medic. Maybe it was divine intervention preparing me for the next several hours, I don’t know. We pulled up on scene a few minutes after the blast. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): War is Hell--but Dinner is Good - If you say the Sunday Patriot-News article on the brigade I serve with, you might want to go back again and look at the comments with the article: 42 and counting. The writers of these anonymous comments are quite upset about the article, which portrays us as living in a Five-Star resort, in a very hot climate. One guy wrote 500 ALL CAPS WORDS complaining about, well, everything. Others complained that the article was not about them, their job, their difficulties. Those who have asked me what they could send that would be useful could send me disposable razors because our seemingly endless supply has run out. Also packets of Propel or G2 for one drink bottle--they come in boxes of 10 or 20 packets. (Serious request) And you could also send cases of Kleenex for the commenters on the article. (Just kidding) Wow. I don't remember hearing about a resumption of the draft. We all volunteered. This is a war. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: It was soooo hot today - ...that I waterboarded myself. So I guess my requests were heard. They found some volunteers to do the SAPP patrols on the ATV's. Basically a unit here was not too busy on their night shift and their supervisor decided to find some work for them. Luckily for me he found us and asked if we had any work for them. Now I just have to make sure those guys are doing them correctly, and occasionally fill in the gaps they leave. So since I got lucky with my last request, I'll throw another one out there. With my luck this one will most likely backfire and I'll end up back on the ATV's, but I'll go on anyway. Every Wednesday here on base they have a 5k run. Yeah. A 5k run in the desert heat. Who these people are who participate, I'm not exactly sure. I know the majority of the participants are British and the majority of those British runners are Gurkhas. (I Highly recommend reading about the Gurkhas by the way) With that being said, I'm sure you've seen on the news that the British troops are almost completely withdrawn from Iraq, and Kuwait will soon follow suit. (READ MORE)

Omar - Iraq The Model: On Nineveh - Nineveh is rapidly becoming the epicenter for ethno-sectarian conflict of interests in Iraq. Two primary foci of tension exist; the first is Sunni-Shiite and the second is Arab-Kurdish. This is not particularly new as tensions between the three factions have existed for a long time. However, recently there has been a spike in exchanged verbal attacks among them. This wave of tensions first started on the Arab-Kurdish front in the aftermath of provincial elections in January and the subsequent hegemonic activities by the winning Arab bloc. What makes this episode alarming is that this Arab-Kurdish tension has been complicated a resurgence of terrorist attacks in the province. These attacks seem to have caused tensions between Sunnis and Shiites to build up after a period of relative calm. The rising tensions are manifesting themselves in the political debate in Iraq in different forms. Since the country is headed for elections, each faction is using the situation to sell certain perceptions to their respective constituencies. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Football... - A love of football is something Pokey and I shared. We loved the Packers. He spent a large chunk of his childhood living in Wisconsin and in fact just blocks from Lambeau field. I discovered football in my 20s. I thought all good wives should learn about the game to make their hubby's happy. Funny thing is I love football more than my hubby. He can take or leave it. I'm the one who yells if someone walks in front of the TV during the game. Now I talk about this because a friend was comparing rugby to American football and it got me thinking about how much I enjoy watching football. Then I remembered a story on of the guys told me when they got back. It was in the middle of the night in Iraq and everyone was sleeping when Micheal's team leader was walking through the barracks and found Micheal in the community room watching TV. "Phillips what are you doing? Why aren't you sleeping?" "It's the Packers!" As if that explained everything. (READ MORE)

Kudzu's Wandering Through the Vines: Agents of Wrath - The chaplain has lead prayers and the flag flies in the coming dusk. High above this mountain valley rests a browning horizon turning into blue. There is a calm over the airfield and all are rested it seems, but that is the lie on the surface. Inside we are a mix of emotions and thoughts. A volcano rumbles within our souls as we deal with what we witness. This day, among all the others, is like so many before us. We want it to end quickly so our emotions will crash down and wash over us, quickly receding to the ocean of thought. We also want it to linger just one more minute, another second to watch it go down and finish our thoughts. You see on this day, we said good bye. Good bye to a comrade who gave the last full measure doing what was asked of him. It was said this day “the enemy could not of been more accurate” and that speaker was correct. War is a complex web of luck and skill, more luck than anything. Skill only comes into play when you get a chance to use it, the rest is up to Fate or Luck or Fortune. On this day the chaplain’s prayer included the words “agent’s of wrath”. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban groups reportedly clash in South Waziristan - A Taliban commander who is an enemy of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed that more than 60 fighters have been killed during clashes between his and Baitullah's groups in the tribal agency of South Waziristan. Haji Turkistan Bhittani, a leader in the anti-Baitullah Taliban force known as the Abdullah Mehsud Group, said the two groups battled near the town of Jandola, which sits on the border between South Waziristan and the district of Tank. More than 1,000 of Baitullah's fighters attacked the village of Sura Ghar, Bhittani told Deutsche Presse Agentur, sparking a five-hour gun battle. The Pakistani military backed Bhittani's forces with helicopter gunships and artillery strikes, forcing the Taliban to retreat. Ten of Bhittani's fighters and more than 50 of Baitullah's fighters were reported killed. (READ MORE)

OPFOR: Good Luck, God Speed to Col P - Ladies, Gents -- our own LtCol P will be jumping off for the CENTCOM AOR within the next 48 hours or so to do God's work with the Marines (who, by the way, seized a major Taliban stronghold this morning). Good luck Sir! Come back in one piece and leave your enemies in many. And remember Kipling: "they shall praise thy zeal, so long as the red spurt follows the steel." Sayeth LtCol P... many thanks to all for the kind words and encouragement. I will endeavor to live up to expectations. I must also add that OUR MAN SLAB is also outbound, in his case for a year. Make sure you wish him well, also. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: What’s Going on in Laghman? - Laghman province, nestled between Kabul, Kapisa, Nangarhar, Kunar, and Nuristan, rarely makes it into the news. We’ve briefly mentioned the small FOB in Laghman that spends most of its focus on Western Nuristan, but there’s very little news about Laghman itself. But there’s actually quite a bit going on. Up the Alisheng River Valley, which is notorious for ambushing the Laghman PRT and other units in the area, JD Johannes visited a shura. It was pretty interesting: a concerted attempt to resolve a militancy problem through mediation rather than a military rampage. It’s fairly standard, right down to the rosy picture all the West-friendly players given him about how these things work. But he ends with a disquieting anecdote: “As we waited for our Blackhawk to take us back to Mehtar Lam, one officer told me that he can feel the clock ticking. ‘We only have a year, maybe a little more, to start making serious progress,’ he said. The Taliban knows this too.” (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Kapisa Teeters - Kapisa province, Afghanistan, can be seen as a microcosm of sorts for how the war can be won. It is a densely-packed, multiethnic enclave in steep valleys surrounded by tall mountains, and near enough to Kabul and Bagram that managing events there shouldn’t be too hard for the tens of thousands of troops in the area. It has unique ethnicities like the Pashai and Parachi, unique Pashtuns like the Safi, and huge areas of Tajik dominance. It also has had to deal with rather severe political fracture, driven in part by ethnic conflicts. Kapisa has been the site of several failed attempts at counterinsurgency since 2005. There have been at least two special operations sweeps through the area, and at least three major Coalition efforts to clear and hold territory. In stable areas, the PRT has convinced the governor to begin some construction work, but Governor Abubaker is plagued by credible accusations of corruption and ethnic favoritism. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Katal - Just north of the delta of the Alishang and Alengar river valleys, in the middle of a dozen square miles of green rice paddies, are the home villages of the Katal Kheil sub-tribe. We drove in MRAPs out of Mehtar Lam on the asphalt highway for a few kilometers, the winding twisty roads of the city giving way to the rural farm villages, then nothing but a ribbon of asphalt cutting through the irrigated fields. Beyond the rice paddies and irrigated corn fields, the jagged rocky brown of Amber Ghar mountain rose for 2,112 meters at its peak. The mission was what the military calls a KLE or Key Leader Engagement. Only military could give such a sterile, functional name to sitting down with the power brokers of a tribe and laying the foundation of a working relationship. And relationship is the key. Counter insurgency is not about how many bad guys were killed, it is about how many powerbrokers are on your side--especially the ones who are willing to marginalize if not out right eliminate the bad guys. (READ MORE)

Marine Wife: Mission completion - My mission for Summer 2009: Survive almost 3 months of boiling heat with both kids at home all day, every day; without selling either child on e&ay. Do so without going bankrupt. My strategy: a little something I’ll call the reverse deployment. That’s when the family members leave and the service-member holds down the home-front (‘cause they still have a job to do, you know). The kids and I loaded up the car and hit the road. Except for the 1st week, when [*gasp*] Stretch actually took leave and joined us, we were on the road and Stretch was left behind to man the home-front. As it turns out, he didn’t enjoy being the one left at home. I can understand that. I don’t particularly enjoy it, either. We actually reverse deployed twice. The first time was for 4 weeks. It started with a 3-day drive across 6 states to my mother’s home. (READ MORE)

Small Wars Journal: Building Afghan Army Capacity - During a 20 June 2007 press conference in Afghanistan, 82d Airborne Division’s Colonel Marty Schweitzer described the approach to which he and the Soldiers of his 4th Brigade Combat Team had committed themselves during their rotation in the war-weary nation: “The 4th Brigade of the 82d is a subordinate formation to Colonel [sic] Khaliq and the 203rd Corps … [Khaliq] developed this plan that we're currently executing.” Schweitzer added, “We’ve been fortunate . . . to be partnered with General Khaliq.” Incidentally, General Khaliq sits to Colonel Schweitzer’s left - in fact leading the press conference. That press conference was over two years ago, so it was bitter irony to read Joe Giordono’s Stars and Stripes article in February titled Afghans Will Help Plan, Execute Joint Missions. For fifteen months, from about January 2007 to April 2008, Soldiers of the 82d Airborne had set aside stereotypes, preconceptions, pride, fear and their more conventional and familiar tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to grow a significant and productive degree of trust between our Soldiers and the troopers in the Afghan National Army. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Reporting from Afghanistan: Not your typical job - Posted August 12th, 2009 by Leo Shane in Stripes Central - Back in 2006 I spent six weeks traveling around Afghanistan with various U.S. Army units and reporting on what troops were dealing with in the "forgotten" war. Filing stories and calling my editors was always a tricky prospect, even without any of the heavy fighting that reporters there now are seeing. So it's humbling to me to listen to this live interview with Michael Yon from his latest travels into Afghanistan, this time with British troops. Yon has already made a name for himself with his freelance work in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and his latest work has given an up-close view of the tension and danger in Afghanistan right now. But this interview may top all that. At just about the 7:30 mark, you can start to hear gunfire in the background as he talks with Military.com's Ward Carroll about recent violence in the area. A few minutes later, he pauses for a minute to get to a safer location as machine gun fire intensifies and a rocket whizzes overhead. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Iraq:
Iraqi, U.S. Air Force establish weather partnership - KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq - The U.S. Air Force’s 506th Expeditionary Operational Support Squadron weather flight and the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) weather team established a foundational partnership at a signing here July 27. This new agreement fills a crucial role in helping the Iraqi Air Force Weather Service’s ability to sustain independent operations once American weather forces withdraw from Iraq in accordance with the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. (READ MORE)

Diyala RCB arrests 3 suspected terrorists - TIKRIT, Iraq – Commandos of the 8th Regional Commando Battalion, with U.S. force advisors, arrested three suspected terrorists Aug. 12, during an operation in the Diyala province. The individuals were arrested pursuant to a warrant issued by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq for allegedly attacking Iraqi Security Forces and kidnapping and murdering civilians of Diyala. (READ MORE)

Soldiers, Airmen, Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army and civilians honor a fallen Comrade - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – U.S. Soldiers, Airmen, Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army and civilians gathered to mourn the loss of Sgt. 1st Class James Polk in a memorial service held in his honor at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, August 8. Polk died July 31, from wounds sustained from a grenade attack during a mission in Kirkuk, July 23. Polk joined the “Red Dragons” in December 2008. (READ MORE)

MoI, Kurdish MoI Prepare Cooperation and Coordination Conference - BAGHDAD – A preparatory session for the upcoming Conference for Cooperation and Coordination between the Ministry of Interior and the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior was held in Baghdad last week. MoI and KMoI representatives met for two days Aug. 4-5 to discuss plans to unify their efforts to fight insurgency and help strengthen the sovereign nation of Iraq. This was the third series of meetings held between MoI and KMoI since January 2009 to discuss issues of security cooperation. (READ MORE)

JSS Zubaida Returned to Iraqi Landowners - BAGHDAD — The U.S. portion of Joint Security Station Zubaida was returned to its original landowners during a ceremony at this small JSS south of Baghdad, Aug. 10. Capt. Brian Grey, commander of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, and Samir al-Hadad, the chief of staff from the Office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, signed transfer documents releasing the few acres from the Government of Iraq back to the land owners. (READ MORE)

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

Native Basrah Priest Conducts Catholic Mass in Ancient Language for U.S. Soldiers - COB BASRAH — Bishop Imad Al Banna, a Catholic priest and Basrah native, conducted Mass for Soldiers here, Aug. 8, in Aramaic, an ancient language spoken in the time of Jesus. This was a chance for servicemembers to have fellowship with the leader of the local church here and for the bishop to minister to them, said Capt. Kevin Peek, chaplain, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Warriors Remembered, Honored - BAGHDAD — The atmosphere was somber and emotions ran high among U.S. and Iraqi Special Operations Force Soldiers as they mourned the loss of two fallen comrades during a recent memorial service held in the Iraqi capital. The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force sergeant and corporal were fatally wounded during an operation to serve an evidence-driven warrant issued by the Criminal Investigative Court of Karkh, July 27. (READ MORE)

Basra Education Center Introduces Arabic to Troops - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Aug. 12, 2009 – U.S. Soldiers, airmen and civilians here are taking part in a special opportunity to learn Arabic. On the first day of the first Introduction to Arabic class offered here through the Basra Education Center, their teacher, an Army interpreter known as Ms. Lucy, wasted no time with instruction. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
New Army Handbook Teaches Afghanistan Lessons - WASHINGTON — More than a year has passed since an Afghan police commander turned on coalition forces and helped insurgents carry out a surprise attack that killed nine Americans, wounded more than 30 United States and Afghan troops and nearly resulted in the loss of an allied outpost in one of the deadliest engagements of the war. Within days of the attack, Army historians and tactical analysts arrived in eastern Afghanistan to review the debacle near Wanat, interviewing soldiers who survived the intense battle, in which outnumbered Americans exchanged gunfire for more than four hours with insurgents, often at distances closer than 50 feet. (READ MORE)

Canadians pick up pace to keep Taliban off-stride - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Canadian troops have moved into several villages to the southwest of Kandahar City in the past few days to live among the population and be much closer to the heart of the Taliban insurgency. The move to have troops dwell in small communities, such as Zhalakhan and Baladay, coincides with orders by U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan appointed by President Barack Obama, to focus on populated areas in order to separate the Taliban from the people. (READ MORE)

As Afghan Vote Nears, Taliban Intimidation Rises - The Taliban have escalated a campaign of threats and intimidation ahead of the presidential election next Thursday, warning voters in mosques and through leaflets and radio announcements not to vote, or face “strong punishment.” One Taliban commander stood up in a mosque in the southern province of Zabul and warned people that the Taliban would cut off any finger stained with the indelible ink that marks voters, a witness said. (READ MORE)

Fighting Fraud in Afghanistan's Elections - Afghanistan's presidential election next week is proving to be a complicated exercise in democracy. A raging insurgency threatens to close voting centers. Some of the 38 candidates maintain ties to armed militias. Others have threatened violence if they lose. And reports of widespread fraud endanger the poll's credibility. It is Grant Kippen's job to keep the process honest. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, A Test of Tactics - The new US strategy for Afghanistan, as articulated in military headquarters and congressional hearing rooms, puts the emphasis not on killing Taliban fighters but on winning over the local people. But in this highly contested swath of Helmand province, Sgt. Anibal Paz's squad is likely to be ambushed before he has time to sit down for tea. The sergeants' war that Paz fights is often craftier and more complex than the war mapped out by generals, and it's always dirtier and bloodier. (READ MORE)

US Marines in Afghanistan Storm Taleban Town in Second Helmand Offensive - Hundreds of US troops stormed a Taleban-controlled town in Afghanistan yesterday in a new offensive to drive out militants before next week’s presidential election. Amid heavy exchanges of fire, 400 Marines, with 100 Afghan soldiers, killed at least seven militants as they pushed into the mountains of Dabaneh, 10km south of Nawzad, a Helmand town held by insurgents since 2006. (READ MORE)

Marines Raid Taliban-Controlled Town in Helmand Province - Helicopter-borne US Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed a Taliban-controlled town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday, the launch of an operation to uproot Taliban fighters from a long-held base and to provide security for next week's presidential election. The troops exchanged heavy fire with insurgents in Dahaneh, in the southern province of Helmand, killing at least seven of them. (READ MORE)

Taliban, Foes Clash In Pakistan - Taliban fighters attacked rival militants backed by the government in Pakistan's tribal areas, sparking clashes that intelligence officials and tribal elders said left dozens dead. There were few details of Wednesday's fighting, on the edge of the isolated South Waziristan tribal area, a key Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold. Two intelligence officials in the area said it began when the region's dominant Taliban faction - whose leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was believed to have been killed last week in a US missile strike: (READ MORE)

Deadly Contractor Incident Sours Afghans - Mirza Mohammed Dost stood at the foot of his son's grave, near a headstone that read, "Raheb Dost, martyred by Americans." His son was no insurgent, Dost said. He was walking home from prayers on the night of May 5 when he was shot and killed on a busy Kabul street by US security contractors. "The Americans must answer for my son's death," Dost said as a large crowd of young men murmured in approval. (READ MORE)

Building Schools in Afghanistan: Not as Simple as ABC - In the broiling sun of the relentless Afghan summer, four heavy armored trucks labor up a boulder-studded mountain path. Jolting in their turrets, US Army gunners can see hundreds of miles of jagged skyline and rocky uplands, an immense, barren vista where the United States of America has come to win a war through generosity. Specifically, the US military is spending $312,000 to build a school on a windswept plateau here. (READ MORE)

Why Are Afghans Smiling? - Afghanistan has been at war more or less continuously for more than 30 years. The country has been invaded and effectively destroyed multiple times. With frequent reports of clashes and strife over the upcoming presidential election, most polls depict Afghans on the brink of an abyss and cite growing frustration with the violence, the United States and the international community. (READ MORE)

Growing Afghan Air Corps Provides Election Support - WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2009 – While building its capabilities from the ground up, Afghanistan’s National Army Air Corps is deeply involved in an operational mission in direct support of the upcoming elections: ferrying candidates and election materials around the country and helping to provide security. “The air corps has been very heavily involved in the run-up to the elections in several ways,” U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Walter D. Givhan, commander of the Combined Air Power Transition Force in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters today via satellite feed from his Kabul headquarters. (READ MORE)

Effort Aims to Secure Southern Afghanistan for Elections - WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2009 – Hours into the new Operation Eastern Resolve II in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, defense officials report that U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers are confronting “some resistance” as they work to secure the area for the Aug. 20 elections. The Marines and Afghan soldiers launched the offensive earlier today in Helmand province’s Now Zad district. Much of the operation is centered on Dahaneh, a Taliban-held southern Afghanistan town, and the surrounding mountains. (READ MORE)

Pakistan pounds Taliban commander's bases, 12 die - APPARACHINAR, Pakistan — Helicopter gunships pummeled a key Taliban commander's bases in Pakistan's northwest, killing at least 12 insurgents Thursday as government forces ratcheted up pressure on the militants following their top leader's reported death, officials said. Military helicopters destroyed several bases and hide-outs Thursday morning near the Kurram and Aurakzai tribal regions run by militant commander Hakimullah Mehsud, three intelligence officials said. (READ MORE)

Afghan tribesmen to guard voting sites - MAIDAN SHAR, Afghanistan The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai plans to hire thousands of tribesmen as guards to compensate for a lack of official security forces, prompting fears in the U.S. military of confusion and bloodshed during Aug. 20 elections. The guards are to be drafted by local district councils in at least 17 high-risk provinces and will be paid $160 for one month, coalition and Afghan officials said. (READ MORE)

U.S. General: Taliban 'Comfortable' In Kandahar - The U.S. effort in Afghanistan's Helmand Province is pushing the Taliban into neighboring Kandahar, putting the city and its surrounding area under stress, the general who leads the U.S. intelligence efforts in Afghanistan says. "Kandahar city is ... a city that is probably a city under duress right now," Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn tells Renee Montagne. "The surrounding districts around the city ... the Taliban feels pretty comfortable there right now." (READ MORE)

Pak didn't capitalise on disarray in Taliban: US - The United States has blamed Pakistan for not striking the iron when it's hot, just after Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in the US drone attack. It said Pakistan military did not capitalise on the apparent disarray in the Taliban leadership, and mount an offensive in the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan, as promised by President Asif Ali Zardari back in May. (READ MORE)

Alabama Marine on first deployment dies in Afghanistan - MOBILE -- A 21-year-old Marine from Perdido in north Baldwin County was killed in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb exploded during a routine foot patrol near Kandahar, family members said. Lance Cpl. Bruce "Bubba" Ferrell Jr. was reported killed Sunday after stepping on an explosive. (READ MORE)

U.S. Sees Limited Iranian Aid To Afghan Insurgency - WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States believes that Iran has supplied arms to insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan but top advisers to President Barack Obama have said that the information was conflicting and any threat appeared unsubstantial. Shi'ite Iran is not a comfortable ally of the hard-line Sunni Taliban, but analysts say Tehran may be providing some support to tie down and irritate U.S. forces in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

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