August 19, 2009

From the Front: 08/19/2009

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

111 Infantry Recon: There are three photo essays up at the team's blog (View Photos)

Michael Yon: Do Americans Care about British Soldiers? – [19 August 2009 Helmand Province, Afghanistan] - A gunshot ripped through the darkness and a young British soldier fell dying on FOB Jackson. I was just nearby talking on the satellite phone and saw the commotion. The soldier was taken to the medical tent and a helicopter lifted him to the excellent trauma center at Camp Bastion. That he made it to Camp Bastion alive dramatically improved his chances. But his life teetered and was in danger of slipping away. Making matters worse, the British medical system back in the United Kingdom did not possess the specialized gear needed to save his life. Americans had the right gear in Germany, and so the British soldier was put into the American system. British officers in his unit, 2 Rifles, wanted to track their man every step of the way, and to ensure that his family was informed and supported in this time of high stress. Yet having their soldier suddenly in the American system caused a temporary glitch in communications with folks in Germany. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Meet Afghanistan’s Presidential Candidates - Afghan voters head to the polls tomorrow to elect both a new president and members of local provincial councils. There are over 30 candidates for the nation’s top office, but really only three candidates with any serious support from voters or the Afghan/NATO power structure. These are current President Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani. There is also Ramazan Basherdost, who has wide name recognition, but little actual political support. He’s the Ralph Nader of Afghan politics, an idealistic populist with a tent in downtown Kabul that functions as his campaign HQ. A lot has been written about these four men (including at The Desk) but I thought I’d give readers one more glimpse at them before the election ends. The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Killid Weekly’s special election issue. The story is about the final presidential debate last Sunday, which Abdullah skipped. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Election Mission-Air Force Style - At first glance if you read our supply tasking list, it looked rather normal. Sleeping cots..check; sleeping bag…check; cases of water….check; ammunition…check; Then after the essentials are marked off, a few more items were penciled in. Refrigerator…check….folding chairs…check…….volleyball…check….sirloin steaks…check….hamburgers and hotdogs…check…coffee maker..check. It almost appears if we are going on a picnic. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I mentioned previously, securing the elections is paramount and we are not exempt. We will be living side by side with our ANA brothers. Did we take a few liberties with some vacant space on the trailers? You betcha! Instead of eating Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) for every meal, we borrowed a page from Marine Master Gun’s book and secured some food which we will cook ourselves. Since we have a diesel generator, we will plug in the refrigerator so our water is kept cold. When it’s a hundred degrees outside, cold water is greatly appreciated. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan: Elections writeup for worldfocus - Afghanistan’s election is coming up on Thursday. Here in the northeastern part of the country, conducting an orderly election will be a difficult task, to say the least. This region, due to the high mountains and its shared border with Pakistan, is a well-known insurgent haven. Our enemies inhabit the high ground and getting up there to deal with them is tough. Nearly every engagement here involves the insurgents shooting down at us from above. When that hasn’t been the case, the enemy has been shooting at us from inside a village on the other side of a valley. Fighting an enemy while he’s inside a village presents its own set of concerns. Conducting day-to-day operations here is difficult. Holding an election here against the wishes of our numerous enemies will certainly be interesting. Not only are we sure to see more attacks, but we’re also sure to have less support in the form of air since those air assets are likely to be needed everywhere else as well. (READ MORE)

At War: Remembering a Soldier and a Reporter - He wasn’t your typical Marine Corps recruit, this 34-year-old newspaper reporter and former Congressional aide. Doing 84 situps wasn’t enough; he had to talk his way past skeptical recruiters to get an age waiver. But persistence paid off and William J. Cahir joined the Marines in 2003, astounding friends, family, colleagues and the Washington politicians he covered. Last Thursday, Sergeant Cahir was killed by an insurgent’s bullet while on a foot patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was 40, and obituaries can be read here, here, here and here. Sergeant Cahir was widely admired not just by aging recruits but also by fellow journalists. A Washington-based correspondent for Newhouse newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, he wrote about boot camp in a front-page article for the Express-Times in Easton, Pa., that got him in hot water with his commanding officers but amused and impressed his editor. (READ MORE)

SGT Emily Anderson: Trip to Victory Base Complex - When I was asked if I would like to go back to Victory Base Complex to help members of the 326st Area Support Group with their promotion board, I was very pleased with the idea. Last time I went there I was fortunate to learn a lot of information that I brought back to the unit and eventually used to help the members of our unit with their promotion packets and get promoted. When I arrived at VBC on Saturday, Aug. 1, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Aumiller was the person there to assist me. He ensured that I was happy with the living conditions, food, etc. He also found time to take me along with another Soldier on a tour of Camp Slayer, originally presidential grounds and home to the Republican Guard and Iraqi Military Academy. The entire length of the tour lasted approximately three hours. When I was first told the tour would last that long I was surprised. I did not know what to expect. I did not think I would want to walk around looking at buildings in the heat (it was at least 105 degrees) for three hours. (READ MORE)

SGT Emily Anderson: Thank you goes a long way - Working at the Combined Press Information Center has afforded me with great opportunities. A few days ago, I was able to sit and speak to two journalists at dinner. Our conversation started with them asking basic questions about me. Where am I from, how long have I been in the Army, how do I like being in Iraq, etc. I have been asked these questions so many times now that it is almost like second nature to answer them. After the normal questions, we started talking about their future endeavors. They told me about their previous embedding (embedding is when journalists are able to come to Iraq to stay with a military unit and have one on one time to talk to, see, and learn about what Soldiers do and what it means to be a Soldier. This gives journalists a chance to write about these Soldiers and their mission, their experience trying to get to the CPIC, and other things along those lines. The conversation finally turned to the idea of being young and being in the military. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Foreign forces cannot be here permanently for security - The governor of Helmand Province today expressed his gratitude for what British troops are doing in Afghanistan - but added that he hoped they leave "as soon as possible". Gulab Mangal also predicted that efforts to protect this week's presidential and provincial elections would be a success, although he declined to forecast how many people would turn out to vote. Most of the 9,100 UK troops in Afghanistan are based in Helmand, which is at the heart of the bloody Taliban insurgency that has cost so many British lives. Governor Mangal said he "truly appreciated" the work of British and American forces in his province. But he went on: "The foreign forces cannot be here permanently for security. "We will have to train the Afghan national security forces until they can keep security permanently in Afghanistan ... "We hope the foreign forces will go as soon as possible, when we can bring peace to the country and bring security ourselves. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: In the field with the troops in Helmand - The shadows moved fleetingly in the alley. Then came the shots, staccato bursts from Kalashnikovs forcing us to dive behind a wall. The Taliban would not give up their stronghold without a fight. This was Operation Tor Shadey, the last offensive by British and Nato forces to clear insurgent-held areas before this week's national elections. The target, Gorup-e-Sheshkalay, was of particular strategic significance. A centre for the manufacture of roadside bombs, it sat on a route through which attacks have been carried out on Lashkar Gar, the capital of Helmand province, by a busy Taliban commander. This was the biggest offensive by UK forces since Operation Panchai Palang, Panther's Claw, which ended last month. It was also the first mission undertaken by the Welsh Guards Battlegroup since the death of their commanding officer, Lt-Col Rupert Thorneloe, the most senior British Army officer to be killed in action since the Falklands War. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban suicide bomber strikes in Kabul as election looms - A Taliban suicide bomber struck in Kabul today, killing UN and NATO personnel in a deadly attack on a military convoy. The suicide attack is the second in Kabul in four days and takes place as the Taliban is stepping up attacks just days before the Aug. 20 election. The suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a military convoy as it traveled down Jalalabad Road, a main avenue on the outskirts of Kabul lined with numerous military and international compounds. Seven people were reported killed in the strike, including two workers from the United Nations and an unknown number of Coalition troops. Coalition forces are still "assessing casualties and damage," according to a press release from the International Security Assistance Force. More than 50 civilians were also wounded, and 18 vehicles in the convoy were reported damaged in the attack. (READ MORE)

The Quatto Zone: Whoever Wins, Afghanistan Wins...Eventually - As much as some Western reporters decry the cultural ignorance of coalition forces in Afghanistan, you would think they would try to avoid mirror-imaging in their election reporting. Yet by and large they seem content to stick with comfortable storylines that are mostly about handicapping the horse race. Hamid Karzai will win in the first round, or the vote will go to a run-off. The incumbent's alleged vote-rigging and deals with tribal powerbrokers will compromise his second term, or it will provide needed stability. Insurgents will unleash a spectacular wave of violence, maybe. A significant minority of voters will be too afraid to go to polling centers, or they will defy attempts at intimidation. The election results will lack credibility, unless Afghans grudgingly accept the outcome. Much of this is beside the point. In two days, despite the best efforts of insurgents, about 6,500 polling centers will be open across the country: one location for every 3,700 Afghans. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: To Herat - This is the most foreign experience I have ever had, domestic air travel within Afghanistan. Alexander the Great may have marched his army to Herat , but flying to Herat with Pamir Airways on a Boeing 737-200. But before that, I had to navigate the domestic terminal of Kabul International Airport. The staff of the International Terminal are used to westerners. The Domestic Terminal...not so much. I just followed the flow of people through the initial hand search of baggage and frisking to the check in counter. No swiping of the credit card here--although you can book your flight with Pamir online and it does work. Then security screening with X-ray and metal detector at which point it is unclear where one should go. You go upstairs to wait. And here I was, among the Jet Set of Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Afghanistan Votes. Who Cares? - There is tremendous buzz about Afghanistan’s elections. Open up any op-ed page, and you can find countless articles about votes and democracy and Karzai not instantly winning, and whatever else. But what I don’t get is why anyone cares. If Hamid Karzai wins, it’s the failing status quo, and a powerful narrative that democracy doesn’t work. If Abdullah Abdullah somehow wins, then he’ll have to deal with the powerful entrenched interests in Kabul that even Karzai couldn’t meaningfully change—which would mean a continuation of the status quo and a powerful narrative that democracy doesn’t work. If somehow the planets align and Ashraf Ghani wins, then Kabul will get to experience yet another America-friendly egotistical technocrat—precisely what Karzai was in 2002—and very little would likely change. You know the rest. While this matters on a theoretical level the chances of it meaning anything in a strategic, pragmatic, or personal level are so remote it’s difficult to understand what all the hubbub is about. (READ MORE)

Andi: The First Time - I was talking to a girlfriend of mine recently and she mentioned that she found out her husband would be deploying on his first combat tour (in 2004) through the grapevine. Apparently, her husband was TDY when the rotation schedule was announced. He was not happy that she heard about it from someone other than him. The conversation made me laugh in that slightly twisted way that military spouses sometimes do. The way that says, "Yep, I hear ya sista." Every family is different and each service member has their preference for how they wish to deliver the news. My husband's hand was forced. We were getting ready for a formal and my husband asked me to sit down. That's when I knew something was up. He said that I may hear some talk that night about a deployment and that yes, he would be deploying soon. It's not that a deployment at some point was unexpected, but you know how it is when you hear those words for the first time. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: Afghanistan Elections: Guns, and Money - The International Council on Security and Development is an international policy think tank working to combine grassroots research and policy innovation at the intersections of security, development, counter-narcotics and public health issues, online at . They have come out with an assessment of the state of the insurgency in Afghanistan and some dire predictions for the 20 Aug Presidential and Provincial Council elections. In their report they have identified that Afghan Presidential Elections constitute a critical moment in Afghan democracy, but insecurity and unfulfilled promises may fatally undermine the elections. Unfortunately, while some Afghans engage eagerly in the democratic process, many watch and wait for answers. There is a possibility of high Tajik turnout and Low Pashtun turnout – an explosive possibility if a Pashtun, (the traditional ruling ethnic group), is not elected. Graphic threats of violence by the Taliban may deter voters. (READ MORE)

JASON REICH: Afghan Forces — the Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Part one, the Afghan National Army - I was out on a daytime patrol with the soldiers of 4/25 Artillery and their Afghan National Army counterparts, when I overheard an interesting exchange. The ANA platoon leader, affectionately dubbed “Rambo” by the Americans, was expressing dissatisfaction with the U.S. soldiers’ house-clearing technique. Rambo argued that there were too many Americans in the courtyard of this khalat, and his men were not able to search it effectively. The ISAF protocol for entering a khalat in Afghanistan is to have the Afghanistan National Police enter first, followed by the ANA, while the Americans guard the perimeter. The Americans rarely ever content themselves to simply guarding the perimeter, however, and usually sweep their way through the entire structure “in order to establish proper over-watch,” one U.S. commander explained to me. For all of its tactical prowess, I can understand why the ANA commander disagrees with the U.S. approach. (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: School has started - [...] I'm still working on getting my house sold in Texas. That is such a big stress for me especially since I am here in Nebraska and can't keep my eye on it. But, I have great friends in TX who are helping me out tremendously with this. I'm also looking into trading in Rob's truck and my vehicle for an SUV. I need something that will pull the boat but is more practical for me to drive. It's going to be really hard to get rid of Rob's truck because that was his "baby" but I know he would understand. It's just too hard for me to drive around a F250 King Ranch diesel truck!!! So, as usual, we continue to be busy. As life continues to move forward, my thoughts and memories of Rob stay constant. I think of him often throughout the day and don't even realize it until I think back on the day. He will always be in our hearts. There's not a day goes by that I don't miss him terribly. I find myself getting really sad/frustrated/angry when the small things happen. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Afghan Independence Day - Afghanistan has two Independence Days. One from Britain and one from the USSR. The 19th of August is Independence from Britain Day, commemorating the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919. It is odd that Britain never really conquered Afghanistan, yet they memorialize this day. Afghanistan is one of the few countries on the planet that withstood the might of the three British Empire campaigns without being conquered. The Afghan people have always highlighted that their country will never be conquered by any invading force. (READ MORE)

At War: With Armed Guards, Afghan Women Manage to Secure Rights - In some urban areas, Afghan women have managed to take part in the country’s post-Taliban government. In this BBC video report from Herat, Jane Corbin reports on the work of the city’s first female prosecutor, Maria Bashir. Ms. Bashir is Herat’s top law-enforcement official, but, because of threats, she is surrounded by armed guards, and her children are unable to leave their home to go to school. Ms. Corbin’s profile of Ms. Bashir is part of a longer report she made for the BBC program Panorama on women struggling for the rights Afghanistan’s Constitution promises them. Several other excerpts from Ms. Corbin’s film have been published on the BBC’s Web site — including: these interviews, with two women’s rights activists and the current minister for women’s affairs in President Hamid Karzai’s government; this interview with Fawzia Kofi, one of a few female members of Afghanistan’s Parliament: (READ MORE)

CJ: Preventing Suicide: Advice to Civilians - I recently wrote a piece on A Soldier’s Perspective about suicide called “Suicide Solution is No Solution.” I’ve gotten a lot of very supportive emails about all my recent posts on suicide prevention and mental health issues. One of the toughest barriers that civilians or non-combat veterans will have to overcome is the combat veteran’s personal bias against those who haven’t “been there.” It’s not that they’re snobbish or “holier than thou” but a feeling that to truly understand what they are dealing with, you have to be there. My grandfather fought in the skies over Germany during WWII in a B-24 and B-17. I remember reading his journal as a young man and just being awe-struck at what these young men had to deal with in the skies during their bombing runs. Yet, whenever I asked my grandfather to talk about these experiences, he closed up and wouldn’t talk. He talked around it or changed the subject completely. My father told me that my grandfather NEVER discussed his combat. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Many Dead as Baghdad Rocked by Massive Explosions - The centre of Baghdad was rocked by seven near-simultaneous explosions this morning, killing an estimated 100 people and wounding 250 more. In the deadliest attack in Iraq this year, and the most audacious one in the capital for a long time, mortar fire and car bombs were directed towards the main centres of power. (READ MORE)

Massive Explosions Rock Baghdad - Huge explosions rocked an area of Baghdad near the heavily-fortified Green Zone security area on Wednesday, sending a huge plume of black smoke spiraling into the sky and prompting the authorities to close bridges linking the east and west of the city, witnesses said. News reports quoted police as saying at least 10 people were killed and 50 wounded. (READ MORE)

Iranian Arms Seized in Iraq, Officials Say - Iraqi and American troops seized a rocket launcher loaded with about a dozen Iranian-made rockets aimed at an American base in the southern city of Basra, Iraqi officials said Tuesday. The United States military said in a statement that Iraqi and American forces conducted a search operation on Basra’s outskirts after hearing explosions near the base Monday night. (READ MORE)

Damascus Agrees to Help Monitor Iraqi Border - The Obama administration and Damascus tentatively agreed to establish a tripartite committee, with Baghdad, to better monitor the Syrian-Iraqi border as the Pentagon draws down American troops from Iraq in coming months, said senior US officials. The proposed three-way border-control assessments could boost Iraqi security and patch one of the region's most volatile fault lines. (READ MORE)

Odierno Proposes Three-Part Security Force for Northern Iraq - The top US 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. (READ MORE)

US Offered Assurances About Iranian Exiles Days Before Iraqi Raid - The Obama administration downplayed international fears about the safety of Iranian dissidents living at a camp in Iraq as recently as mid-July, days before a raid by Iraqi security forces killed 11 of the exiles and left scores wounded. The deadly clash has sparked public protests in Washington and around the world, with dozens taking part in hunger strikes to emphasize demands that the Obama administration provide better protection for the exiles. (READ MORE)

ISF detain 3 suspects after rocket attack in Basra province - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – Iraqi Security and U.S. forces responded when explosions were heard near Contingency Operating Base Basra at approximately 9:40 p.m. yesterday. Multiple explosions of unknown type were heard near the military base. The Iraqi police along with Soldiers from the 50th Iraqi Army Brigade and 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, responded to the attack to conduct a joint investigation. (READ MORE)

ISOF’s 9th Battalion arrests alleged cell leader and two cell members - AL ASAD, Iraq – Iraqi Special Operations Force’s 9th Battalion personnel arrested a suspected terrorist cell leader and two other cell members on Aug. 16. The suspects, arrested in accordance with Central Investigative Court-issued warrants, were allegedly involved in IED attacks, murder of innocent Iraqis and attacks against Iraqi Security Forces in the area. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest two suspected terrorists in Baghdad - BAGHDAD – Iraqi Special Operations Forces, along with U.S. force advisors, arrested two suspects during an intelligence-driven mission in the Iraqi capital Aug. 17. The operation was conducted under the authority of a warrant issued by the Central Investigative Court of Karkh. The apprehended individuals are allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and responsible for conducting terrorist activities against Iraqi government officials and its Security Forces. (READ MORE)

Soldiers Improve Conditions at Patrol Base - PATROL BASE MAHAWIL, Iraq, Aug. 18, 2009 – Despite the threat of sandstorms and extreme heat Aug. 6, the Multinational Division South command sergeant major visited soldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, to view the improved living conditions and morale at this patrol base. “I came to see how conditions have improved since the last time I was here,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Doug L. Julin. “I have to say I’m very impressed by the leadership and the spirit of the soldiers here.” (READ MORE)

Afghan media refuse to censor election reporting - KABUL -- Afghan journalists on Wednesday rejected a Foreign Ministry demand that they suspend the broadcasting of news about attacks or violence on election day, accusing the government of unconstitutional censorship. The Taliban have ramped up attacks ahead of Thursday's vote, including two suicide bombings against NATO troops, rocket fire on the presidential compound and an armed assault on a bank in recent days. The militant group has also threatened to attack polling stations on Thursday. (READ MORE)

Not much to show after eight years of Karzai - It was a key moment of change: At Afghanistan's first free presidential election in October 2004, long queues snaked in front of the polling stations in Kabul, and the hope for freedom and a better future was palpable. A majority voted for then-interim president Hamid Karzai. At his swearing-in ceremony two months later, he said: 'We have now left a hard and dark past behind us, and today, we are opening a new chapter in our history.' (READ MORE)

Zardari claims that Taliban has been defeated in Swat - Islamabad, Aug.19 : Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has claimed that the Taliban has been defeated in the Swat Valley. In an interview with the News ahead of his meeting with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, Zardari said Pakistan was a united nation and would always stand united against its enemy. "We are one nation and would stay united at every crucial moment to defeat the enemy," Zardari said. (READ MORE)

Police kill 3 attackers in Kabul on the eve of Afghan election - KABUL, Aug. 19 (AP) - (Kyodo)—At least three gunmen who stormed a bank building in Kabul on Wednesday were killed after hours of gunfire with police, just a day before the Afghan elections, officials said. Police initially said the attackers might have been bank robbers, but they later confirmed that the attack was carried out by "enemies of Afghanistan," a term usually used to refer to the Taliban. "The attackers have been killed and the building is cleared," said Zemarai Bashari, the Interior Ministry spokesman. (READ MORE)

Holbrooke rejects reports about stationing Marines in Islamabad - Islamabad, Aug.19 : US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has rejected reports about the stationing of US Marines in Islamabad. Sources said during his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, Holbrooke clarified that the massive expansion of the US embassy in Islamabad was primarily to accommodate all US staff. Foreign Minister Shah Ahmed Qureshi also endorsed Holbrooke's statement saying: "'We know that no US Marine is coming to Islamabad ... Some media outlets have wrongly reported in this context." (READ MORE)

Business As Usual Before Afghan Election - There has not been a bazaar of any sorts in this part of Helmand province for months but there is now. Teeming with people haggling over a bewildering array of domestic and farming goods it is a remarkable achievement - normal life, and there has not been much of that in this war-torn province for a very long time. Barometers of normality and security are hard to come by. But the fact that hundreds going on thousands are prepared to gather together despite threats from the Taliban is as good a security indicator as one is likely to find. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Imposes Censorship on Election Day - The Taliban and the Afghan government escalated a war of attrition and propaganda on Tuesday, two days before the presidential election, with the Taliban unleashing suicide bombings and a rocket assault at the presidential palace and the government barring news organizations from reporting on election day violence. The attacks, aimed at the heart of the capital and the workplace of President Hamid Karzai, provided yet another indication of the insurgents’ determination to keep people away from the polls and undermine Thursday’s election... (READ MORE)

10 Killed, 55 Injured By Bomb Near Kabul - A suicide bomber blew up a car near a NATO convoy on the dusty outskirts of Kabul on Tuesday, and mortars or rockets struck near the presidential palace, as the Afghanistan government moved to stop the media from reporting on violence during this week's presidential election. The government issued two decrees calling for a ban on news broadcasts about violence as voters go to the polls on Thursday in an attempt to keep Afghans from being frightened away from voting. (READ MORE)

Just Before Afghans Vote, a Rush to Prepare vs. a Rush to Impair - On the eve of landmark presidential elections, the rattle of gunfire and the thunder of explosions again echoed through in the capital - part of a pattern of escalating violence that threatens to keep some Afghans away from the polls Thursday. Gunmen early today seized a major bank and battled security forces in an hours-long confrontation in the center of Kabul that ended when police stormed the building and killed the three assailants, authorities said. (READ MORE)

Violence Surges Ahead of Afghan Election - Gunfire and explosions reverberated through the heart of the Afghan capital Wednesday on the eve of the presidential election and a day after insurgents fired at the presidential palace and unleashed a suicide car bomb on a NATO convoy in Kabul. Three or four armed men took over a branch of the Pashtani bank early Wednesday in a section of Kabul's old city still in ruins from the country's 1990s civil war, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. (READ MORE)

'We Don't Have Any Alternative to Karzai' - From the gravel lot where he repairs cars, Babarak Shinwari can see the spot where the suicide bomber killed three of his cousins last year. At his home nearby, where his four children live without electricity, he says he prays to God for a president who can bring peace and security. But on Thursday, Shinwari plans to vote the same way he did five years ago: for Hamid Karzai. (READ MORE)

Afghan Long Shots Seek Presidency, or Another Job - Away from the big rallies and famous candidates, there are several dozen barely known candidates running for president of Afghanistan in Thursday’s election, among them two women, a 62-year-old mullah, a caretaker and a fortuneteller. The vast majority of them will not win even 1 percent of the vote, let alone dislodge President Hamid Karzai, yet the interest in running for president has only grown since Afghanistan’s first nationwide presidential elections five years ago. (READ MORE)

Taliban Escalate Attacks on Kabul Two Days Before Presidential Election - Eight people died, including two Afghan staff members of the United Nations and at least one foreign soldier, while more than 50 other people were wounded, in the latest wave of Taliban violence around Kabul. The insurgents, who are vowing to disrupt Thursday's national election, have escalated strikes on the capital and other parts of the country. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, a Gang Takes over a Kabul Bank and a Bomber Strikes a Military Convoy - In another burst of preelection violence, a suicide car bomber targeted a Western military convoy Tuesday in Afghanistan's capital, killing at least 10 people, including a soldier with the NATO-led force and two Afghan employees of the United Nations. More chaos broke out today, the eve of the presidential vote, when a gang of armed men took over a major bank in the heart of Kabul and got into a shootout with police. (READ MORE)

Afghans Will Vote Despite Violence, General Says - Despite the wave of violence this week in Afghanistan’s capital, military officials there believe Afghans will turn out to vote in their national election Aug. 20, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said today. Suicide bombings in Kabul today and Aug. 15 killed three ISAF troops, several Afghan soldiers, United Nations employees and more than 50 innocent civilians, Canadian Defense Force Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay said in a video news conference from Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghan Forces Lead Election Security Efforts - When Afghans go to the polls to cast their votes Aug. 20, they’ll see Afghans providing for their security, not US or NATO forces. In a video news conference today from Kabul, Australian Defense Force Brig. Gen. Damien Cantwell, chief of the election task force for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, stressed that the Afghan security forces are completely in charge of planning and implementing security efforts for the elections. (READ MORE)

British Town Becomes the Epicenter of Mourning for the Nation's War Dead - The hearses roll through with grim regularity now, bearing the heavy weight of flag-shrouded caskets and a nation's accumulating grief. When the jet-black cars reach Wootton Bassett's modest monument honoring the dead of wars past, the cortege stops. Bystanders bow their heads. A church bell tolls into the aching stillness. This small town, inhabited since Saxon times, is now the epicenter of national mourning over the fallen of a 21st century war. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Arrests Top Taliban Aide - Authorities in Pakistan say they have captured the chief spokesman for Taliban insurgents along with two companions in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The arrest comes nearly two weeks after a suspected USmissile strike is believed to have killed the top commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud. The detained Taliban spokesman is said to have confirmed to his interrogators that Mehsud was killed in the attack. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Catches Taliban Operative - Pakistani security forces captured a close associate of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was believed slain in a US missile strike this month. The capture of Mr. Mehsud's close associate, Maulvi Umar, deals another blow to a Taliban insurgency that has racked Pakistan but now appears in disarray. Mr. Umar's arrest turns a key Taliban aide into a potential source of information on the militant network operating on Afghanistan's border. (READ MORE)

US Presses Pakistan on Taliban - Obama administration officials, trying to capitalize on recent and rare military successes in Pakistan, have been delivering strong private messages to military and civilian leaders here to aggressively pursue the Taliban and other militants, including some with close ties to Al Qaeda. In a series of high-level meetings and phone calls that began after reports that an American airstrike this month had killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, administration officials said they had been prodding the Pakistanis to keep up pressure on the militants. (READ MORE)

India Befriends Afghanistan, Irking Pakistan - After shunning Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, India has become a major donor and new friend to the country's democratic government - even if its growing presence here riles archrival Pakistan. From wells and toilets to power plants and satellite transmitters, India is seeding Afghanistan with a vast array of projects. (READ MORE)

US Envoy has 'Useful Dialogue' with anti-American Pakistani Leader - Obama administration officials have pledged to talk to world leaders no matter their views. On Tuesday, they showed that the offer extends to Islamists who spend the day denouncing America from the street corners. US envoy Richard C. Holbrooke met with Liaqat Baloch, a leader of Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami party. (READ MORE)

The Afghan Vote - Democracy in the Muslim world is sometimes said to be a matter of "one man, one vote - one time." Tomorrow's presidential election in Afghanistan, the second since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, is a useful reminder that the line does not qualify as some kind of iron rule of history. Much has gone wrong in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Why Afghans Need a Vote - It minced no words, the Taliban, in the leaflets that it scattered across southern Afghanistan last weekend. In one of the missives, the Taliban threatened to cut off the noses and ears of anyone who dared to vote in Thursday's presidential election. Another leaflet said that anyone whose fingers were stained with ink -- a sign that someone has voted -- risked losing those, too. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan's Elections - On Thursday, Afghans will brave extensive Taliban intimidation and sometimes travel great distances to vote in presidential and provincial council elections. The optimism among the Afghan population following the rout of the Taliban from power has largely dissipated, expectations of vastly improved lives have been fulfilled for only a few, government corruption and ineffectiveness run rampant, and Taliban resurgence threatens the lives of people in much of the south and east of the country. (READ MORE)

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