August 18, 2009

From the Front: 08/18/2009

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

P.J. Tobia: Getting Taliban To The Table - The Times has a story today about Thursday’s Afghan presidential election, and how the leading candidates have reached out to the Taliban. The story also mentions an issue that The Desk has written about before: the US, NATO and Afghan government’s likely eventual reconciliation with insurgent groups. Most officials here believe that the only way this war will end is with some kind of agreement or power-sharing deal with Taliban leadership. In a debate last night between President Karzai, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Ramazan Bashardost, Karzai outlined how he would invite top Taliban leaders to a loya jirga (a traditional meeting) and begin a dialogue. “The loya jirga plays an important role in resolving these [security/Taliban] problems,” Karzai told the audience. “These problems can’t be overcome by fighting. We need consensus, to invite the Taliban to the table and have a peace loya jirga.” (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Four days of Hell - That is what I am afraid of. Thursday is the Afghanistan National Election. An election that our Administration has said will be pivotal in determining the strategy and the amount of time we will remain in Afghanistan. An election that the Taliban has publically swore they will do whatever they can to disrupt. An election that is beleaguered with corruption allegations, back-door deals, and talks of run-offs already; long before the first ballot is cast. This is also an election that the US and coalition forces have been working hard to secure so the Afghan people are free to vote in. As you have heard here before, Afghanistan is not Iraq. There are not major population centers that can be cleared of traffic and cleared for only foot traffic where people can put their fingers in purple ink. That is impossible in Afghanistan, so the level of security we witnessed in Iraq is not possible here. We have seen over the last several weeks that the Taliban is capable of striking major government centers. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Elections in 3 days - The clock is rapidly ticking down. In three days the Afghanistan presidential elections will commence. The Taliban have stepped up their antics in attempt to dissuade voters from visiting the polling sites. A few days ago, the capital city of Kabul was attacked by a vehicle suicide bomber. As a result of this heinous act, 7 innocent people died and 91 were wounded including women and children. According to the local newspaper here, the Taliban wanted to show no area would be immune from attack. They have also posted letters in the local mosques warning people not to show up at the polling sites. Today, they threatened to cut off the voting finger of people who still had the indelible ink stain. In previous elections, the people rejoiced and were proud of the purple ink stain. Now the insurgents want these same people to fear voting. To round out their strategy, the Taliban are focusing their energy and attacks in the south, specifically the Kandahar area. (READ MORE)

At War: Who Are the Taliban? - GOJRA, Pakistan — “It was the Taliban,” stuttered the young Christian man, trying to explain who had killed seven family members. “The Taliban came and killed them.” We were standing in his broken house in central Pakistan, next to a collapsed bird cage. The day before, an angry mob had swept through his neighborhood like a storm, pillaging and burning houses belonging to Christians. Little was known about the attackers. They did look like members of the Taliban. Many had beards. Some had wrapped scarves around their faces. Others were brandishing weapons. But as easy as it would have been to think of them that way, the fact was, they were not the Taliban. We were in central Pakistan, far from the western mountains where the Taliban hold sway. They were part of a local sectarian group, Sipah-e-Sohaba. But the man’s assumption raised an interesting question, one that had been nagging at me. As a journalist writing about the war in Pakistan, I thought I should know: Who are the Taliban? (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: The Plates Are Spinning! - This is what it looks like when you are trying to prepare everyone for a retrograde back to planet Earth; “responsible retrograde” that is. All kinds of fun things happen during this portion of the deployment. We have meetings to discuss the outline of the next meeting and perhaps go over a course of action to determine how best to review the score of courses of action available for us to responsibly retrograde a battalion of America’s finest. One of the things I deal with is manifests. Hooray! This is when we put together rosters again and again and again because they are always incorrect. Imagine Mouseketeer role call but it just won’t ever end. It makes you want to punch Mickey right in the liver. “Look SSgt, there are two Taylors in the company. One is a Sailor and the other is a Marine. Two, count’em, two. Please don’t make me kill you right here.” Then after the roster is validated EVERYONE wants to make changes for various reasons. Some of them are even legitimate. (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: Of Course They Are! - Great article here about women serving side by side with men in Iraq: (Thanks to C.A. for the reference) This report will come as no surprise to anyone who has been there. Our hospital in Balad was one team, it didn't matter if the troop was male or female. We surgeons might have been a loud brash bunch, but it wasn't the usual gender stereotypes: Our team included women surgeons and male nurses. All pulled together. The article talks about about sex in theater and pregnancy. We did see this, but it was a surprisingly small number of women who had to leave unexpectedly over the course of the deployment. I agree with the article that it is inevitable when young people are together. It is more upsetting when senior, (supposedly) mature officers fail to obey the no sex in theater rule. After all, the young troops have to get the right example from us. (READ MORE)

Deploying in a "Sea" of Sand: Much Needed Update - Well...I'd like to report that I'm completely medically cleared - but I'm not! That is very frustrating to me. I am in San Diego and have been for the last 7 days trying to get cleared to go on this IA. I am now tied to a 24-hour BP monitor. My BP seems to not want to cooperate - however, it has come down quite a bit from the 155/105 that it was 3 weeks ago. My Doc got me this last week at 142/86 - that is a vast improvement, but he's still not exactly happy with that. This last week I had a renal arterial ultrasound that turned into a CT with contrast abdomen/chest scan. They have found what they "think" is a cyst on my right kidney. I got back again tomorrow for that news. I must say - will this ever end? All I want to do is go out on my IA and return and move onto my next duty station - is that really so much to ask? (READ MORE)

Doc H: New Clinic - Two days ago we took a little trip to meet with our counterparts at the ANP Regional level. The main purpose of the visit was to tour and get an understanding about how the new ANP Regional HQ clinic would be used. The building is new, nice with adequate facilities. It is a great improvement over their current situation. We will be working very closely with the Regional Medical Director (far right) and his staff to get them situated in this new facility. We also had a great meeting afterwards and worked through various issues with ambulances, medical training, logistics and much more. Afterwards we also visited with the clinic on the ANP recruit training center and gave a class on hypertension diagnosis and treatment. Much like our first set of encounters with the ANP Medical folks, the meetings were cordial, productive and appreciated. Perhaps in a few months I can show you how the clinic looks when it is in use. Another productive day doing the job I was actually sent here to accomplish. Yeah. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan: Ballots - Sometimes it’s really quite amazing to see the disconnect between what the unseen, unknown planners on high come up and the situation on the ground. Let’s just say originally this area was to have quite a number of polling sites. And as the election creeps closer and closer, everyone is coming to the realization that we just don’t have the manpower to provide security for all of these places. In many cases, it’s not so much the number of polling sites as it is the locations. We simply do not control much of the environment out here. Where we are we control, but it’s a big hinterland and we can’t be everywhere. And where we not…the Taliban are. Most of the little valleys out here don’t have a security presence more than a couple kilometers in. To put a polling site out deep in a valley where no Coalition forces go means we have to rely on local elders to provide the security for the ballots and the election itself. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: A couple posts on terps - See Registan and Afghan Quest today for interpreter horror stories. I mean, I almost kinda get the Bagram story. Getting on-the-spot accreditation for base privileges for local Afghans is far more complex than it needs to be, certainly, but I can see any base having problems with two Afghans showing up unannounced and expecting unrestricted access right away. Yes, it sounds like it was more painful for Old Blue than it had to be, but there was always going to be some inconvenience involved there. Josh's story about denying an Afghan-American with a security clearance access to a convoy brief before she departed on that same convoy, however, is just baffling. I can't imagine what those involved were thinking. Some soldiers and airmen are simply not cut out for service involving contact with other humans: sounds like the PRT in question was commanded by one for a while. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Afghanistan forces ready to take over Helmand areas - Military control could be handed over to Afghan forces in parts of Helmand immediately, according to Brigadier Tim Radford, commander of British forces in the province. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is considered strong enough in some areas of Helmand - where most of the UK's 9,100 troops in Afghanistan are based - to assume responsibility for security. Brig Radford, commander of Task Force Helmand, suggested this could happen in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and to a lesser extent in Garmsir. He said: ''I think we could be in a position to transition some places. ''If we wanted to let Lashkar Gah be run by the ANA we could do that now, or in some respects Garmsir. ''Are ANA capable of transition to take security lead? Almost certainly yes - in certain areas.'' (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Army officer defused 13 bombs in just 36 hours - A British Army officer killed in Afghanistan defused 13 bombs in just 36 hours before his death, it was revealed today. Captain Dan Shepherd, 28, died trying to dismantle a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand Province last month. Days earlier he had led his bomb disposal team into a key drugs bazaar near Babaji in Helmand as part of Operation Panther's Claw, a major British-led assault on a Taliban stronghold. The military experts spent three days clearing the area of explosive devices to make it safe for the soldiers of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, and local people. Capt Shepherd, from Lincoln, of the Royal Logistics Corps, was hailed a hero after his death on July 20 for defusing more than 50 IEDs during his time in Afghanistan. This month his colleagues held workshops in Sangin, an area of Helmand blighted by IEDs, to teach local Afghans how to deal with the threat. (READ MORE)

Housefly: News At Eleven - I no longer look forward to situation reports that occasionally come in from my co-workers in Kabul. Last week the capital took nine rockets. This week a truck bomb blew out every window at the guest house that hosted the Halloween party. In the two months I have been out, five of my friends and work associates have been killed. Christian Major “died in his sleep” last month and the other four guys struck a roadside bomb yesterday. I only have one of those names, not sure yet if I knew the other three. But they are a small security contracting company, and we grilled out and drank beer at their compound every Thursday night, so chances are good that I knew them. Last week one of their convoys got hit hard, racking up 39 wounded and 11 killed, all Afghans. I sure hope yesterday’s hit did not include my boy Mick, the Aussie special forces guy from the burned-girl transport job described here back in May. Facts are hard to chase down, even when there on the ground. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Winter is Almost Here!!! - Last Wednesday I woke up at 0530 and checked the temp on the bike. It was 79 degrees. The first time I had seen a temp below 80 since I have been in this country. By 0700 it was already 91 degrees, but at least it was below 80 for a few minutes. This morning it was 79 degrees at 0630. I didn't check at 0530, it could have been 77!! And the high temps are lower also. Today, I rode to the south side of the base at 0930 and it was only 112--I was carrying a 20-pound pack and my weapon and wearing my uniform with long sleeves so you needn't worry. I stayed warm. In the afternoon around 2pm I rode back. It was 122. Two weeks ago it would have been 129. By 5pm is was down to 117 and by 6pm it was 112. Right now it is below 100. I have heard it gets cold here in January. I'll wait and see. In other drama, a friend of mine wrote last night to say that there were two openings for door gunners and I should apply immediately before the openings were public. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Call Me Now.... - I told you so. So this morning when I got off of shift my supervisor called me in to his office and told me that because the guys that took over riding the ATV's for us don't have any law enforcement experience, among a couple other reasons I can't get into for operational security reasons, he doesn't want them going out on the ATV's for SAPP patrol by themselves. Therefore we have to go out with them now. I was a little angry about it for a number of reasons. The main reason is I think it will hurt the morale of my a crew a little bit. Actually I know it did, because when I announced it this evening I heard all the groans. Also, after that duty was taken over, I was able to give the guys an extra day off here and there, and now I'll have to stop. Again, for OPSEC reasons, I can't get into it a whole lot, but there are a plethora of reasons we shouldn't have to conduct this operation this way... (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani Taliban's top spokesman captured in Mohmand - Pakistani security forces reportedly detained the chief spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud and his Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. A senior aide to Baitullah was also captured in Islamabad on Monday. Maulvi Omar and two aides were captured in the tribal agency of Mohmand as he was traveling through the region. Omar was captured with the help of tribal leaders, Pakistani intelligence officials told Dawn. Omar has been the face of the Pakistani Taliban for the past several years. He has been in constant contact with the media and has credited the Taliban with conducting some of the largest attacks inside Paksitan. Most recently, Omar claimed Baitullah Mehsud is still alive after Pakistani and US officials claimed Baitullah was killed in the Aug. 5 airstrike that killed his wife. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 'Good' Pakistani Taliban leader vows to fight US in Afghanistan - A Taliban leader being propped up by the Pakistani government as an alternative to the existing leadership has vowed to continue attacks against US and Coalition forces in Helmand province in Afghanistan. Haji Turkistan Bhittani, a leader in the Abdullah Mehsud Group based in the South Waziristan region, said he would take on NATO forces in southern Afghanistan after defeating his Taliban enemies in South Waziristan. Bhittani claimed to have 5,000 fighters under his command. "After dealing with my opponents in South Waziristan, I will go to Helmand to reorganize my leader Abdullah Mehsud's group against foreign forces," Bhittani told Pajhwok Afghan News. Bhittani reaffirmed his loyalty to overall Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Bhittani and the Abdullah Mehsud Group are being backed by the Pakistani army and government as an alternative to Baitullah Mehsud's Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. (READ MORE)

Boss Mongo: Combat Advising: Midwifery - Great article on the Strategy Page entitled "Why Iraqis Still Fight Like Arabs" The article highlights the cultural gap between the US and Iraqi militaries. We are hostile and resistant to change; we are pikers compared to the Iraqis, though. The article examines Iraqi military culture through their ineptness at dealing with IEDs, but the traits revealed are true across the spectrum of military endeavors. I find the article reinforces most of my personal findings over the years in dealing with Arabs. While I find the article is accurate in general, I thought it interesting comparing and contrasting with my current experience with the Federal Police, here and now, specifically: Islamic schools favor rote memorization, especially of scripture. Most Islamic scholars are hostile to the concept of interpreting the Koran. This has resulted in looking down on Western troops that will look something up that they don't know. Arabs prefer to fake it, and pretend it's all in their head. Improvisation and innovation is generally discouraged. Arab armies go by the book, Western armies rewrite the book and thus usually win. Despite years of American advice on this matter, many Iraqi police and military personnel stick with the old, less effective, traditions. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: O2BN... AFGHANISTAN! - Greetings to all. I have landed in Central Asia, and while not yet at my final destination I am very very close. I have every expectation of getting there soon. I was pleasantly surprised by the weather. It was hot today, but not the ennervating 29 Palms-like heat I thought it would be. And then, even before the sun went down, it got nice and cool. Needless to say I'm pretty excited about the whole thing. More to follow. Almost Forgot... We rode in on a C-17. Today's strange fact is that it was my SECOND C-17 ride, but only my FIRST C-17 landing. Update... Am sitting in the Pat Tillman Memorial USO at Bagram, waiting for further transport. This is a nice place, you can tell that a lot of thought and work went into it. The USO is a great organization, and well worthy of whatever change you can spare. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: It’s kind of an either/or thing, Andrew - Andrew Exum has finally posted his own thoughts after running a weeklong essay contest to see if we have a strategy in Afghanistan or not. The result is, let us say, incomplete. To his great credit, he is explicit that his thoughts on the matter are incomplete, a courtesy I wish the other certainty-filled Big Thinkers would show us when they write about how Afghanistan is the most mattering war ever or worthless beyond compare. But even Exum’s incomplete thoughts have a curious contradiction I have yet to work through myself. It seems based on two primary assertions: 1) Afghanistan has “clear interests” to American national security interests (e.g. al Qaeda, opium, the Taliban, transnational terrorism) and those interests are “worth protecting”; and 2) If the war does not improve in 12-18 months, we should scale back our efforts and prepare to withdraw. I don’t know how he can square those two assertions, aside from saying “it’s politics.” (READ MORE)

Afghan Quest: Strategic Interest - This week, Abu Muqawama is asking if, in 600 words or less, involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is in America’s (and her partners’) strategic interests. Well, that depends on whether you believe in World 2.0 or not. By that I mean not some bizarre New World Order. By that I mean that the world is no longer a place that is compartmentalized and insulated. 9/11 was a symptom, not the disease. The disease is that failed or failing states can, will and do have a profound impact on the rest of the world. If you live in a neighborhood and your next door neighbor, only a few yards away, has major problems with drugs and unruly children, how will that affect you? He has a violent brother-in-law living in a Winnebago in the driveway. Their house and yard will likely be unsightly, which will affect your property values. You will occasionally have trash blown into your yard. Eventually, when they get rats in their garage, you will get them, too. You will be affected, though they do not have the keys to your house. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Living On The Iraqi Frontier - COP COBRA, Iraq - “Ah yes, Cobra,” Maj. Chris Hyde said, laughing nervously and sucking air through his teeth. “It’s nice up there, really nice. But – how shall I say it – very austere.” Austere was the right word. A lone soldier from the 1st Cavalry, 5th Squadron showed up to greet the arriving Blackhawk helicopters at the landing pad, and as he showed us to our quarters, he made no effort to hide either the plainness of Command Outpost Cobra or his affection for it. “Sure, we don’t have a big mess hall here, or some of the other stuff they have at [Forward Operating Bases] Warhorse or Caldwell,” he said. “But I like it. We get our missions done, and it’s a little more relaxed than down at Caldwell. For one thing, there’s no Sergeant Major Greene up here.” Soldiers at COP Cobra tended to speak of Sgt. Maj. Charles Greene, the squadron’s chief non-commissioned officer, with a mixture of mild resentment and respect. (READ MORE)

JASON REICH: Security and Governance in Wardak - I’ve come here to Wardak province, southwest of the capital, to gauge how well the coalition provides basic security and governance in the Afghan government’s own backyard. I’m embedded with the U.S. Army’s Task Force Spartan, composed primarily of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. These troops represent the spearhead of the “Afghanistan surge,” which has moved troops into Wardak districts that haven’t seen foreign soldiers since the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. For the first two weeks of my embed, I linked up with 4th Battalion of the 25th Artillery, tasked with improving governance in Wardak. After that, I headed to the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Infantry, which handles local security. The moment I arrived at 4/25’s Combat Outpost (COP) Conlon, it was clear I would be seeing more security operations than anything else. As I arrived, the battery commander was busy guiding three CH-47 helicopters onto a small landing strip outside the COP. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Perspective - Today, one of my friends who typically flies AH-64 Apache helicopters, got a chance to fly the Black Hawk. His thoughts, via Facebook status feed: "I can't believe that an aircraft that has a max gross weight of 22,000 lbs can't spare a few pounds for an air conditioner" [Note: purists will debate the 22,000 lbs remark, but let's just keep it for the time being] Responses to his status update: Me: "Sure there's an air conditioner. Just take the doors off!" However, it was a tanker that had the ultimate perspective on things: "Try a vehicle that weighs 140,000 lbs and has no air conditioner" (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
US commander in Iraq wants troops in disputed land - BAGHDAD – America's top commander in Iraq said Monday he wants to deploy U.S. soldiers alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops in a disputed swath of northern territory following a series of horrific bombings by insurgents hoping to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict. The move would be a departure from the security pact that called for Americans to pull back from populated areas on June 30. But Gen. Ray Odierno warned that al-Qaida in Iraq was exploiting tensions between the Iraqi army and the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, to carry out attacks on villages not guarded by either side. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police train with their own working dogs - MOSUL, Iraq – Chew toys and leashes in hand, Iraqi Police dog handlers and their working dogs arrived at Forward Operating Base Marez Aug. 16, to fine tune their skill in basic obedience and explosive detection techniques. The class is part two of initial dog training that the Iraqi Police received earlier in the year. The focus for the IPs is to build a relationship with their dogs and refine basic canine obedience and explosive and narcotic detection techniques. (READ MORE)

Ninewah RCB arrests suspected terrorist - TIKRIT, Iraq – The 7th Regional Commando Battalion, with U.S. force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist Aug. 15, during an operation in the Ninewah province. The Commandos arrested the suspected terrorist with a warrant issued by the Central Investigative Court of Al-Karkh for suspicion of recruiting potential insurgents, and for planning and executing numerous attacks against Iraqi Security Forces. (READ MORE)

Multi-National Force-Iraq and Iraqi Leaders Hold Discussions - BAGHDAD – Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general of Multi-National Force-Iraq, met today with Iraqi Government and Kurdistan Regional Government leadership to lay the groundwork for dialogue and progress on security issues concerning the disputed areas in Ninewa, Diyala and Kirkuk. Gen. Odierno joined the ministers of defense and interior from the Government of Iraq, and the minister of interior and the command of the Peshmerga from the Kurdistan Regional Government. (READ MORE)

Logistics Conference Highlights Equipment Accountability - BAGHDAD – To gather information from provinces across Iraq to determine needs and capabilities, the Ministry of Interior’s Assistant Deputy Minister for Infrastructure, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdulameer Abaas Ali, hosted the MoI Information Center Symposium Aug. 15 here. The purpose of the conference was to outbrief a month-long data call from provinces and MoI separate commands. This data call included status on provinces implementing automation capabilities by establishing their own information centers; detailed reports and information on vehicles, weapons, equipment, supplies; and information on arrests made in each province. (READ MORE)

Solar Panels power Baghdad Health Clinics - BAGHDAD — The roof of the New Iraq Health Clinic here in the Gazaliyah district looks a little different from the buildings surrounding it. Two rows of solar panels, collecting the bountiful Mesopotamian sunlight, now provide the building's power through solar powered battery systems. The addition is part of an ongoing effort by the Joint Projects Management Office (JPMO) of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, according to Maj. Andrew Attar, from Bristol, Conn., the JPMO chief. (READ MORE)

Residents return to Village after 3 years - DIYALA — The small Diyala province village of Jiaffra was once a stronghold for insurgent groups, causing village residents to flee for their safety. After three years of displacement, 16 families returned home to a celebration marked with music and dancing, Aug. 15. During the celebration, residents thanked Iraqi and U.S. forces for their help in bringing safety back to the area. (READ MORE)

Clearing Roads from Maysan to Basrah - FOB HUNTER — Combat engineers with Task Force Saber recently performed their final route clearance mission in Maysan, then headed to Basrah to do the same. "It is our job to focus on the road and make sure it's safe for travel," said Pfc. Jeffrey Bernier, a combat engineer from Lebanon, Maine, assigned to the Route Clearance Team (RCT). "We've really gotten to know the area, but it's time to let the new team take charge." (READ MORE)

Iraqi Federal Police fight Hand to Hand - MAHMUDIYAH — Thirteen Iraqi Federal Police (FP) officers participated in a three-day Combatives Course with U.S. Soldiers here on Forward Operating Base Falcon, Aug. 15. Combatives is a U.S. Army fighting system comprised of basic level grappling and grabbing and controlling an opponent with chokes and holds. "It is the quickest way to be an efficient fighter and you can train almost full contact," said Staff Sgt. Terry Thompson of Jacksonville, N.C., a Combatives instructor with the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. (READ MORE)

Reconstruction Team Teaches Basic Skills to Iraqis - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2009 – Members of the provincial reconstruction team in Iraq’s Dhi Qar province are building Iraq’s self-sufficiency by teaching fundamental skills to civilians in the province’s new, specialized training facility. These skills include teaching literacy to Iraqi soldiers, certifying English teachers and educating farmers to enhance the local economy through agriculture, Anna Prouse, a team leader, said. (READ MORE)

Odierno Proposes Three-Part Security Force for Northern Iraq - WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2009 – The top U.S. commander in Iraq has proposed a tripartite arrangement between American, Iraqi and Kurdish forces to shore up security in disputed areas of northern Iraq. The proposal by Gen. Raymond Odierno is only in the discussion phase, but leaders involved in the talks have been receptive, according to a defense official speaking on background. The initiative has been characterized as “a confidence-building measure” aimed at protecting Iraqis and preventing disputed areas “from being used as a seam” by insurgents. (READ MORE)

Troops in Iraq Release Detainees, Apprehend Suspects - WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2009 – Iraqi and U.S. forces monitored the release of dozens of detainees and apprehended nine suspects during recent operations in Iraq, military officials said. During an operation yesterday, Marines from Multinational Force West in Ramadi oversaw the release of 32 detainees from U.S. custody. (READ MORE)

Iraq May Hold Vote On U.S. Withdrawal - BAGHDAD, Aug. 17 -- U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country's north. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year. (READ MORE)

Kurdish Iraq Gets Offer of Troops - The top US commander in Iraq is pushing to send American troops into disputed territory in the north of the country to serve alongside Iraqi forces and Kurdish militia, a tactical shift aimed at tamping down a recent surge of violence in the region. The proposal to deploy fresh forces in the north underscores a growing worry among US commanders over violence there after the June 30 withdrawal of US troops from all Iraqi cities. (READ MORE)

For Afghan Women, Rights Again at Risk - KABUL -- When the United States and its allies went to war against the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "liberating the women of Afghanistan" was often cited as one of the reasons to seek "regime change." More than seven years later, however, the situation for Afghan women remains dire. There have been some bright spots: Women now hold seats in the Afghan parliament, and millions of girls have been able to attend primary school. But educational gains plummet when girls hit secondary school, with just 4 percent of female students reaching 10th grade. (READ MORE)

U.S. Intelligence and Afghan Narcotics - The Afghanistan Intelligence Fusion Center, begun in 2004 and run by an American contractor under U.S. Air Force direction, is based at the offices of the Afghan counternarcotics police in Kabul. It produces "time-sensitive, counter-narco terrorism intelligence" that is critical for "compilation of actionable target packages" for U.S. and coalition forces, according to a recent Air Force notice on expanding the operation. (READ MORE)

Militia Commander Campaigns for Karzai - KABUL, Aug. 17 -- One of Afghanistan's most notorious militia commanders took to the campaign trail for President Hamid Karzai on Monday, another sign of Karzai's dependence on Afghanistan's old guard of political musclemen as he seeks reelection this week. After months spent living in Turkey to avoid arrest after an altercation with a rival commander, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, the leader of an Uzbek militia, held a rally on the last day of the campaign in the northern Afghan city of Shebergan to urge his followers to vote for Karzai. (READ MORE)

Taliban needs to be beaten to stop another 9/11, says Obama - Washington, Aug.18 : US President Barack Obama has warned that the Taliban must be defeated in Afghanistan to avoid another 9/11-style attack. Obama was addressing veterans in Phoenix, Arizona, in the run-up to the presidential elections in Afghanistan later this week. According to a Sky News report, he said that US troops were working hard to secure polling stations to enable Afghans to decide their own future. (READ MORE)

Pak-trained militants spreading Islamic radicalism in Central Asia - Kosh-Korgon (Kyrgyzstan), Aug.18 : Some Central Asians are reported to have acquired training from the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and are now spreading Islamic radicalism in the region. Kyrgyz security services recently tracked down three locals soon after their arrival. They stormed a building along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border where they were staying, killed two of them, while a third blew himself up. (READ MORE)

Pak reiterates its demand for drone technology from US - Islamabad, Aug.18 : Pakistan has once again requested the United States to provide it with drone technology, so that it can carry out operations against the Taliban and other extremist groups in the lawless tribal region along the Afghan border. In a meeting with the US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistanis were concerned about the US drone attacks inside their country, and that the missile hits were proving counterproductive in the war on terror. (READ MORE)

Senior Taleban officials captured in Pakistan - Pakistani security forces have captured a senior Taleban commander and a close associate of the slain militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, dealing another blow to the Islamist militant group. Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan, was arrested on Monday night when driving with two associates in the Mohmand tribal region bordering Afghanistan, according to Pakistani intelligence sources. He was believed to be on his way to a secret meeting of top Taleban commanders. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan hit by attacks ahead of vote - A series of attacks across Afghanistan have killed at least 12 people, two days before nationwide presidential elections. Millions of Afghans vote go to the polls on Thursday but preparations have been overshadowed by Taliban threats to attack polling stations across the country which could keep voters away. A suicide car bomb killed seven people this morning, including soldiers serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. (READ MORE)

Once peaceful Afghan province sees violence rise before vote - He is about to move out with his infantry company from Kunduz, the capital of the northern Afghan province of the same name, and then he and his troops would have to sustain themselves on rations provided by the German army that include shrink-wrapped ravioli, sausage, bread and chocolate. When he'll make it back to base, Captain K doesn't know, but it would most definitely be after Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan as the German troops along with Afghan soldiers provide security for the voting. (READ MORE)

NATO to halt military operations during Afghan elections - Kabul - NATO said it would suspend military operations during the forthcoming Afghan presidential elections, as two rockets believed to have been fired by Taliban militants landed near the presidential palace on Tuesday morning, causing no casualties. "In support of the Afghan National Security Forces who lead the security efforts during the electoral process, only those operations that are deemed necessary to protect the population will be conducted on that day," the alliance said in a statement. (READ MORE)

Pakistan seizes aide to "dead" Taliban chief - ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has captured a senior aide to Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief believed to have been killed this month in a missile strike by a U.S. drone, military officials said on Tuesday. Maulvi Omar was captured by a pro-government militia in the Mohmand region on the Afghan border on Monday and had been handed over to government forces, one official said. (READ MORE)

Six killed, 44 wounded in Kabul suicide attack - A suicide bomber attacked an international military convoy in the Afghan capital Kabul Tuesday, killing six people and wounding 44 others, officials said. Another bomber attacked an army checkpoint in the southern province of Uruzgan, killing five people. The attack in Kabul occurred when a bomber rammed his explosives-filled vehicle into a foreign military convoy on the Jalalabad road in the eastern part of the city, police official Abdul Manan said at the scene. (READ MORE)

Suicide attacks kill 12 before Afghan vote - KABUL (AFP) – Attacks battered Afghanistan Tuesday as suicide bombers killed 12 people and a rocket slammed into the presidential compound two days before elections that the Taliban have threatened to disrupt. Millions of Afghans vote for a president Thursday for only the second time in history but preparations have been overshadowed by Taliban threats to attack polling stations across the country which could to keep voters away in droves. (READ MORE)

Taliban Kills Provincial Candidate In Afghanistan - (RTTNews) - With the Afghan general elections just two days away, Taliban militants have shot dead a candidate to the provincial council. Abdul Rahim, contesting from the relatively-peaceful northern province of Jawzjan, was fatally attacked by the militants Monday. The police had cautioned candidates to take security escorts with them during campaigning, which ended Monday. (READ MORE)

Numerous Challenges Confront Afghanistan’s Second Democratic Election - Female supporters of Afghan presidential candidate and current President Hamid Karzai attend his election campaign rally in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday, Aug. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Fradioon Pooya)( – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has assured the people of Afghanistan of U.S. support as they prepare to go to the polls Thursday amid challenges ranging from violent intimidation to fears that the vote will be rigged. (READ MORE)

Security ramps up for Afghan election - KABUL, Afghanistan As Afghanistan's second-ever presidential campaign season came to a close Monday, authorities moved to tighten security in the face of Taliban threats to disrupt the vote with attacks on polling stations. Fears persist that militant violence could affect balloting in the Pashtun-dominated south with adverse results for President Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun front-runner. Mr. Karzai needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. (READ MORE)

Peace Talks With Taliban Top Issue in Afghan Vote - KABUL, Afghanistan — Whether and how to negotiate peace with the Taliban has become the one issue that no candidate in the Afghan presidential election can avoid taking a stand on. There is broad agreement that the war must end, but debate swirls around whether the government of President Hamid Karzai is moving effectively toward persuading the Taliban to end their insurgency. Although Mr. Karzai has often talked about negotiating with the Taliban, little concrete has happened. (READ MORE)

Bomb attack kills 7 in Kabul; UN staff among dead -KABUL -- A Taliban suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy Tuesday on the outskirts of Kabul, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 50, officials said, just days before the presidential election that the militant group has vowed to disrupt. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three wounded in a separate blast, the U.S. command said. (READ MORE)

Obama Defends New Tack in Afghanistan - President Obama on Monday defended his administration's new approach to the fierce fighting that rages in Afghanistan, calling it "not only a war worth fighting" but also one that "is fundamental to the defense of our people." Speaking to the annual gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Obama praised the American troops in Afghanistan who are helping to secure the country ahead of elections there this week. (READ MORE)

Mortar Shells Strike Near President's Palace in Kabul - A pair of mortar shells slammed into Afghanistan's capital early Tuesday, landing near the president's palace two days before Afghans cast ballots in the second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban. The shells could be heard whistling over the center of Kabul before exploding. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Captures Aide of Taliban Commander - Pakistani security forces have captured a close associate of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was believed slain in a US missile strike earlier this month. The capture of Mr. Mehsud's close associate, Maulvi Omar, deals another blow to a Taliban insurgency that has wracked Pakistan but now appears locked in disarray. (READ MORE)

Linked by: H&I FIRES* 18 August 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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