August 20, 2009

From the Front: 08/20/2009

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

111 Infantry Recon: CONGRATS SGT KELLY, ON ARMY ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: PICTURES: Election day picture update from Afghanistan

Mungadai Days: Street Scenes, 19 AUG

Lt Col P: Election Day, Afghanistan - Today's the day here in Kabul, and across the country. If you're the praying sort (and I hope you are), ora pro nobis-- for the brave folks who will stick their necks out to vote, to work the polls, to protect the polls, to clear the roads, to watch the crowds, to do their utmost to make sure that it's a fair, clean and quiet process. Keep your fingers crossed. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Home (not even a little) free - The only thing better than stepping off the the plane in the USA is stepping of the plane in the USA after a 14-hour flight and immediately being bussed to a briefing wherein you are told you are still not allowed to have a beer, wear civilian clothes, leave post or drive a car and will suffer great and terrible punishments if you do. Fort Dix - the only thing that can be said for this place is it's not Iraq. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: Team Lioness - The first time I encountered frontline female soldiers was when I was with BLT 1/6, 22nd MEU, in Oruzgan Province, 2004. Back then Lt. Col. Asad Khan already understood what we are relearning now, which is basically the need for cultural sensitivity. He called his Marines, “Charlie’s Angels” because they were a part of Charlie Company at the time. Their job: Liason between the male soldiers and female civilians the Marines would encounter on combat operations. Keep them company, talk with them, glean intel from them… Fast forward to February 2009: 2/3 Marines operating in Bakwa district, Farah Province, unleash what they believe is the first of unit of its type in Afghanistan: Team Lioness. This unit, like its predecessor, is designed to help fill that cultural gap. (READ MORE)

A World of Trouble: (VIDEO) Fire fight in Narang Valley - Combat Outpost Badel- Charlie Company 2nd Platoon engages in a brief fire fight with Taliban on an opposing mountain top. Soldiers report they've been involved in about 47 such fire fights at this outpost. The Narang valley is common both to smugglers and Taliban and leads into more remote mountains controlled almost entirely by the enemy. (View Video)

Old Blue: Capacity Building As Foreign Policy; A New Strategy? - When George H. W. Bush declared a “New World Order,” many felt that his pronouncement was arrogant, domineering and a bit frightening in an Orwellian way. His words have been mocked, twisted, and held up as an indicator to support conspiracy theories and in the rhetoric of those who oppose American foreign policy. The President may have been correct in his determination that there had been a change, but there was no change in behavior strategically that went along with such a sea change in global politics. The United States simply behaved as if it were the unchallenged superpower, declaring itself the world leader and chief proponent of “freedom.” America announced to the world that the world had changed, but America did not significantly change the way it dealt with this changed world. As globalization changed the world’s markets and political possibilities, the United States remained rooted in foreign policy practices that in many cases exacerbated the very problems that they were intended to ameliorate. Things got worse. (READ MORE)

Afghan War Blog: Her death "killed all of us" - KABUL, Afghanistan -- Simone Robinson was sunny for a soldier, on the receiving end of boyish crushes and professional admiration. The 21-year-old guardsman and single mother from Robbins charmed friends with a little girl's wave and a penchant for raiding cookies from the base dining room. An expert with a .50-caliber machine gun, she guarded a fuel truck at a Kabul base considered so distant from the war that it was nicknamed "Camp Cupcake." And then seven months ago, a car bomb went off, fatally wounding Robinson and setting off shock waves still being felt as her Illinois National Guard unit comes home this week. (READ MORE)

Afghan War Blog: Illinois troops struggle with training Afghan police forces - MUSAHI, Afghanistan — - There were only enough Illinois troops in Kabul province to visit police trainees twice a month. When they got there, they often didn't know what they'd find. "It's hit or miss," said Staff Sgt. Treasure Renton, 28, of Rockford, briefing her replacements from the Georgia National Guard earlier this month in the Musahi district. "Some don't need us. We get others where, if you don't go there, they don't do anything." And in one recent visit to a grassy valley south of Kabul, Renton and her team were left scratching their heads as an officer from an elite unit complained of a migraine he blamed on poorly healed gunshot wounds. He said he was shot by a superior during an argument. (READ MORE)

Afghan War Blog: Heart on the Home Front - KABUL, Afghanistan -- In the predawn darkness, Ashley Calhoun's laptop cast a blue glow over her tiny Army National Guard cubicle as she adjusted her Web camera so she could be seen in her living room back home. Around her in the tight quarters were a still-warm bunk, a folding metal chair, a 9 mm pistol on the floor and 103 photographs fixed to the wall -- all but five chronicling the life of a little girl Calhoun has watched grow up over the Internet during the year she has spent in Afghanistan. "Zoey, come and see Mommy," Ashley Calhoun begged softly in her plywood barracks. "Please?" (READ MORE)

Afghan War Blog: Not everyone comes home - JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- The four-Humvee convoy bounced down the mountain road, one Afghan village blending into another on a routine mission for Delta Company of the Illinois National Guard. The troops were scouting for the best location to build a school. Then the bomb went off. In that instant, the day became the deadliest in the Illinois Guard's yearlong deployment in Afghanistan -- one that will be painfully remembered Thursday as Delta Company returns to a heroes' welcome from family and friends in northwest suburban Woodstock. Since last fall, more than 2,900 "citizen soldiers" from Illinois -- nurses, police officers and chemical engineers -- have performed the ground-level work to help Afghanistan's beleaguered government fend off an extremist Islamic insurgency. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Afghan National Elections and Ramadan - I have been anticipating the arrival of this day since about mid April. That is when I figured out that I would be present in Afghanistan during this historic day. It is a day that the Afghan people and allies of ISAF(International Security Assistance Force) have been planning for a long time as well. A lot hangs on the results of this day. It remains to be seen how many Afghans will be brave enough to risk actually going to the polls and then voting. This is a land steeped in retribution, so lack of loyalty to one's family, tribe or region can have direct and dire consequences. Please remember the Afghan Security forces who are protecting the polling areas, roads and crowds today. Please also remember the US and Coalition forces who are working with or assisting the Afghans in their lofty goal of obtaining a nonbiased and democratic vote. Tommorrow heralds the start of Ramadan. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Election Day - It is hot, humid and sunny this morning in Jalalabad with a pleasant light wind blowing out of the Northeast. The traffic is light, people calm and as we sit here on the Baba deck monitoring the election we are recieving a report about every 10 minutes of mischief and mayhem. I bet less than 50% of them are true. For example, there is a report out of Kunar that the Taliban is shooting “an RPG” off near a polling station “every hour.” We are getting a steady stream of SMS messages out of Kabul where most of the international community is currently located due to potential instability in the countryside that there are several gunfights and a few bombs. As most of the security companies are on complete lockdown it is highly probable that their reporting is BS too. Good companies and good operatives report as fact only those things they have verified themselves – everything else is suspect. So when we hear there is a “gun fight between political parties in Zone 9 of Kabul” we don’t necessarily believe it. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Proud, defiant Afghans trickle to polling booths - Striding out of a polling booth in central Kabul as one of the first Afghans to cast his vote early Thursday, Ramin held aloft an ink-stained finger and proudly proclaimed: "I have voted." "I'm proud of my finger," the 27-year-old security guard told AFP. "It's the symbol of a great day for Afghanistan. "I don't care about the Taliban and their threats. Who do they think they are? We have a government, police, army, the infrastructure of a functioning state. The Taliban are all talk." Ramin was among about 20 people who began queuing outside the Abdul Hadi Dawi secondary school before the 7 am (0230 GMT) start of voting despite fears of violence, to beat the crowds and the heat of the day. Standing nearby, churning a string of white worry beads through hands held behind his back, Omar said he wanted to use his vote to bring honest leadership to his impoverished, corrupted country. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Newsletter, One More Comment on the Patriot-News Article - For the last few days I have been working in earnest on the company newsletter. This will be the third issue of five, maybe six, we ill send to the soldiers and (hopefully) the families of soldiers in this unit. If you want a copy of either of the previous newsletters or the one I am working on now, email me at ngussman@gmail.com. This issue is mostly about the half of Echo Company that does refueling--the company I am in is about half refuelers for helicopters, half vehicle maintenance, plus a few cooks, supply and administrative soldiers. The comments have stopped on the Pennlive article, but I was emailing a friend and it reminded of on big difference between training for the Cold War in the 1970s and our current situation in Iraq: We are six months into this deployment and have not lost ONE soldier. Back in the 70s we had a joint NATO exercise called REFORGER. About 150,000 NATO troops would maneuver on the East-West German border. My recollection is 30-50 soldiers died during each REFORGER. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Election Morning - Kabul is quiet for now. The streets which are normally teaming are not empty, but the buzz of the city is muted. The normal background noise, usually pumped up to 11, is only at 2 or 3. People are getting out to vote in the city. In Afghanistan repeat voters are prevented by the dipping a finger in ink and a triangle punch on the voting ID card. The fear is corrupt/incompetent poll workers not punching cards or ensuring the ink dip is used. Then with a enough corrupt workers in an area, and enough motivated partisans the times a person could vote are only limited by hours in the day. Afghanistan is not known for its civic integrity in, well, anything. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Faqir Mohammed takes command of Pakistani Taliban - The mystery over the status of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud deepened today after his deputy appointed himself acting leader and named a new spokesman for the group. Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban faction in Bajaur and the second-in-command of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said he has temporarily taken control of the group as Baitullah is too ill to carry out his responsibilities. Faqir insisted Baitullah was alive and that he would step down as acting leader once Baitullah was well enough to resume command. "I have taken over the leadership of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan]," Faqir told AFP ."Two days ago our shura held a meeting in which my leadership was endorsed." Faqir said Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, two senior commanders who are thought to be in line for Baitullah’s command, agreed to his takeover of the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Baghdad bombings kill 75 as US prepares to release all members of an Iranian terror group - More than 75 Iraqis were killed and more than 300 were wounded in a coordinated mortar and bomb attack in the Iraqi capital. The attack takes place as the US military is planning on freeing more than 300 members of a dangerous Iranian-backed Shia terror group. The near-simultaneous blasts occurred near government buildings while mortars landed inside the perimeter of the Green Zone near the United Nations mission and near an Iraqi Army base in central Baghdad. A truck bomb detonated near the Foreign Ministry appears to have caused the largest number of casualties. Bombings near the Finance Ministry and the Baghdad provincial government building resulted in five deaths. While no terror group has taken credit for the attack, al Qaeda in Iraq is the primary suspect. Security forces detained two members of an al Qaeda bombing cell as they attempted to plant a bomb to be used during today's attack. (READ MORE)

Pat Dollard’s Young Americans: (VIDEO) Just Two Months After Withdraw: Baghdad Block Decimated By Truck Bomb - BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq’s prime minister has blamed Sunni insurgents for a wave of deadly bombings in Baghdad and says the Iraqi government must re-evaluate security to confront the challenge. Nouri al-Maliki’s statement is the first government acknowledgment of security failings following an increase of attacks since the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. forces from cities. Times Online: At least 95 people have been killed and hundreds injured by a series of co-ordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad today. In the deadliest attack in Iraq this year, and the most audacious one in the capital for several more, truck and car bombs and mortar fire were directed against the main centres of power. The targets included the ministries of finance, foreign affairs, health and housing, as well as the Parliament and Cabinet buildings. Also hit was a checkpoint on the approach roads to the fortified Green Zone. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Army of Sergeants - “Talk to the privates,” Col. Burt Thompson said early on, encouraging us to get the full picture on life in and around Warhorse Forward Operating Base. I have encountered a few privates on missions and other stories we’re covering as embeds with the 1-25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. But soldiers at Beetle Bailey’s end of the pay grades don’t appear that common among Fort Wainwright’s deployed ranks. This is confirmed by the brigade’s top NCO, Sgt. Major Gabriel Cervantes. He said it’s a natural consequence of the 1-25th’s overnight formation as a “life-cycle unit” in 2006, and the U.S. Army’s promotion process. “When they came in, 90 percent of these soldiers were privates. Now all those soldiers who were privates three years ago are sergeants.” (READ MORE)

Stryker Brigade News: Pennsylvania Guard Unit Recognized for Electronic Warfare Fight - CAMP TAJI, Iraq – An electronic warfare association has named a 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team battalion as the Army unit to best make use of EW assets and training in the past year. The selection comes at a time when Soldiers in Iraq are relying on EW capabilities to defeat improvised explosive devices. The 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., is the recipient of the "Association of Old Crows Outstanding U.S. Army Electronic Warfare Unit for 2009" honor. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit, currently deployed in Iraq with the 56th SBCT, garnered the Army-wide honor for its extensive use of lifesaving EW capabilities in day-to-day operations in country. "This award demonstrates that the Pennsylvania National Guard is in the forefront of emerging technologies," Capt. Melvin Benson of Abington, Pa, 56th SBCT electronic warfare officer, said. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: Taliban promise to derail elections in Afghanistan could blow up in their faces - Aug 20th is the date for the Presidential and Provincial Council Elections in Afghanistan. They constitute the second round of elections since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001. 3,196 candidates, including 328 women, are competing for 420 seats on councils in the country's 34 provinces. 29 presidential candidates, from a field of 41, including the incumbent Hamid Karzai, are running for the post of president. Unlike the last round of elections, the Afghans are implementing the election process. A rebounded Taliban has vowed to disrupt the elections and punish Afghans who take part. In 2005 I was the lead coalition planner for elections security for the National Assembly and Provincial Council elections. The elections came off with very little violence. Elections were held in all 365 districts and voter turnout was 65%. There were, on the day of the elections, only 17 incidents of violence. We got off easy. (READ MORE)

JASON REICH: Calm Before the Storm - The Afghan general elections are only hours away and the tension here in Wardak is on par with the soaring temperatures. In the past 24 hours, the almost daily rocket attacks have stopped, and the roads have been suspiciously clear of IEDs. These roads are free of traffic anyways, as the people here seem to be holding their collective breath, waiting for the 20th, and the elections, to arrive. Yesterday, I sat in on a meeting between all of the forces responsible for securing the numerous polling stations here in the Nerkh district. The coalition has been insistent that it will play “no overt role” in the security of the polling stations, in order to remove any shred of a doubt that they are influencing the elections — so Afghan troops will be the only forces on site during the elections. On the other hand, the organization and distribution of forces is still entirely American-led. At the district governor’s office sat the head of the Afghan National Army battalion... (READ MORE)

Bill @ Castle Argghhh!: Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday - The MSM is reporting casualties in the hundreds from the VBIEDs, but two of the cadets with relatives in Baghdad say over a thousand people have been admitted to or treated and released from the local hospitals. One of them in particular should know -- his wife works in one of the larger hospitals. The small bright spot is that security forces stopped one of the car bombers before he and his fellow suicider could make it to their target -- the police at one particular checkpoint did everything by-the-book and captured car and occupants intact. Blast walls were recently removed from the Green Zone to demonstrate the government's confidence in the measure of control the Iraqi Army and National Police exerted in the area. (READ MORE)

Armed Liberal: Deployment - The buses pulled away for the airfield about 12:30 am Saturday morning. Up until then, we'd been scattered in little company-centered groups across Fury Field, a grassy quad in the middle of modern office buildings and barracks, some hiding from the intermittent rain under temporary canopies, some of us just standing in the warm rain. Mostly it was soldiers in ACU's; peering at lists illuminated by red-lensed flashlights, moving huge rucks or duffel bags onto flatbed trucks like ant swarms carrying large crumbs or just sitting alone or with wives and children or girlfriends or the occasional parent. We parents had evolved a standard greeting; a handshake, a tight smile, a compliment to each other's kids, a soft "...they look good, don't they...they'll do just fine." line of reassurance. The wives and girlfriends allowed themselves emotion; we kept ours to ourselves. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Police crack down on journalists during Afghan election - KABUL – The Afghan government kept its promise not to tolerate the efforts of the press to report on violent incidents during its national election Thursday. Reporters in Kabul faced arrest, beatings and close calls with angry mobs. In a press release Wednesday, the Afghan government announced that it was placing a ban on all reports of election day violence. Government officials say that they were worried such reports would scare Afghans away from voting. Instead, many journalists caught a fright. Ruben Terlo, a Dutch documentary photographer, was detained by Afghan police because he was taking pictures in the aftermath of a Taliban and police gun battle. “A police officer chased me down the street, beat me up, and confiscated my cameras,” says Mr. Terlo. “I was lying in the dirt and they were hitting me with the butts of their rifles and kicking me with their boots. I was seriously scared for my life. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Deadly Blasts Test Iraq's Grip - A series of car bombings and explosions rocked the capital on Wednesday morning, killing at least 101 people and directly challenging the effectiveness of Iraqi security services amid a US pullback. The blasts, the worst episode of coordinated violence since American forces withdrew from Iraqi cities on June 30, injured at least 563 people, according to Iraqi officials. Another person was killed in Kirkuk in what appeared to be the deadliest day in Iraq in more than a year. (READ MORE)

Iraq Carnage Shows Sectarian War Goes On - The massive car bombs that killed about 100 people and wounded more than 500 in Baghdad on Wednesday morning offered powerful new evidence of the enduring strength of Sunni extremists nearly two months after US troops all but disappeared from Iraqi cities. The early-morning blasts, by far the deadliest attacks since the June 30 withdrawal of US troops from cities, raise fresh questions about whether American troops disengaged from Baghdad too quickly and whether the recent violence will lead them to try to assert more control over security, at the risk of embarrassing and unsettling Iraq's government. (READ MORE)

2 Blasts Expose Security Flaws in Heart of Iraq - Insurgents struck at the heart of the Iraqi government on Wednesday in two huge and deadly bombings that exposed a new vulnerability after Americans ceded control for security here on June 30. Nearby American soldiers stood by helplessly - despite the needs of hundreds of wounded lying among the dead - waiting for a request for assistance from Iraqi officials that apparently never came. “As much as we want to come, we have to wait to be asked now,” said an American officer who arrived at one site almost three hours after the blast and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. (READ MORE)

Iraq Bombings Kill 95 - Thunderous truck bombs targeted the heart of the Iraqi government Wednesday in a blunt challenge to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his assurances that Iraqi police and soldiers will be able to maintain control as US forces pull back. Most of the 95 dead and 536 wounded were casualties of attacks on the foreign and finance ministries. The blasts took place on the sixth anniversary of the bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which is regarded by many as the start of the insurgency that gripped Iraq until the United States sent more troops and cut deals with former insurgents two years ago. (READ MORE)

Shattered in Baghdad Blasts: Iraqi Faith in Security Forces - At the site of the deadliest Baghdad bombing in 18 months, Iraqi faith that their security forces could protect them lay shattered in the wreckage. Outside the Foreign Ministry in central Baghdad, residents and security people gathered around tangled heaps of the frames of burned cars, some of them still smoldering into the evening. "Iraqi security forces aren't strong enough - you see the police talking on their cellphones and listening to music," said Harath, a Foreign Ministry guard sitting under the dangling wires of a broken light fixture. (READ MORE)

Suicide Bombings Bloody Baghdad - Iraqi efforts to take over security in major cities from US troops faltered Wednesday in a cascade of suicide bombings that bloodied Baghdad and forced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reconsider the security posture of his military and police. The attackers caused the greatest damage directly in front of the Foreign Ministry, zeroing in on a site where Iraq forces dismantled a joint US-Iraqi security checkpoint one week before American combat forces exited Iraqi cities June 30. (READ MORE)

US Pullout in Doubt after Day of Slaughter on Streets of Baghdad - Extremists struck at the Iraqi Government with a wave of bombings and mortar attacks, killing at least 95 people and injuring more than 560 and raising new doubts about the withdrawal of US soldiers from the country. The bombings were directed against the main centres of power, including the ministries of finance, foreign affairs, health, education and housing, as well as the parliament and cabinet buildings. A lorry packed with explosives that went off within 30ft of the Foreign Ministry is reported to have killed up to 59 people and injured 250. (READ MORE)

Task Force ODIN welcomes new crew, commander - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq – The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Task Force ODIN welcomed a new crew and commander Aug. 14. Lt. Col. Dave Holt took command of the ODIN mission from Lt. Col. Mark Moser during a transfer of authority ceremony, heralding the Task Force’s third year of operations in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Special Forces launch 2nd Brigade - BAGHDAD — Over the last couple of months, much has changed here, and the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) are certainly no exception. Brick by brick and layer by layer – the elite fighting force has been laying down the foundation of the much-anticipated ISOF 2nd Brigade. Although the new ISOF headquarters has been functioning since early March, the 2nd Brigade was officially activated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on a military compound in the Iraqi capital, Aug. 4. (READ MORE)

Trainers see Iraqi weapons loaders excel - KIRKUK — Three Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) squadron-3 Airmen recently achieved a significant accomplishment, becoming the first Iraqi weapons loaders certified as a Lead Weapons Crew. "As a lead weapons crew, they are not only qualified to load weapons, but now they can train and evaluate their fellow Iraqi servicemembers to load weapons as well," said Tech. Sgt. Shawn Mullins, 521st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron weapons advisor. (READ MORE)

U.S. Paratrooper ‘metal men’ up-armor Iraqi Security Force tactical patrol trucks - BAGHDAD — As security improves here, U.S. forces are patrolling the streets much less. But behind the scenes, U.S. Paratroopers are helping their Iraqi partners in other ways. While tactical improvements are evident, some Iraqi Security Force (ISF) units still lack sufficient protection needed during mounted movements throughout the capital city. (READ MORE)

Air Cavalry continues training Iraqi Army - BAGHDAD — American servicemembers here continue to train the Iraqi Army (IA) using the same methods available to U.S. military forces. Starting off with the basic steps and procedures, a crawl, walk then run approach helps the Iraqis attain professional military standards. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
As Afghans Vote for President, Turnout Appears Low - Taliban threats kept voter turnout low in the capital and the militant south Thursday as Afghans chose the next president for their deeply troubled country. Militants launched scattered rocket and bomb attacks but no major assaults. Turnout, particularly in the violent south, will be key to the vote's success in the country's second direct presidential election. Taliban militants have pledged to disrupt the vote and circulated threats that those who cast ballots will be punished. (READ MORE)

A Tense Afghanistan Gears Up for National Elections - As Afghans venture out Thursday to choose a president for the second time ever, they hope the election will produce a historic leap forward for the country's precarious young democracy, but they fear it could just as easily mark a disastrous plunge backward into the chaotic civil conflicts of the past three decades. The concern is not so much who will come out ahead as whether the process will be secure and credible enough for all groups to accept. President Hamid Karzai is expected to win a plurality over three major rivals, leading to a second round of voting that he would also probably win. (READ MORE)

As Afghan Polls Open, Contest for Presidency Tightens - Afghanistan’s presidential race is proving tighter than expected as polls opened in an election that has become a critical benchmark of the nation’s progress for the Afghan government and the Obama administration. The major question, diplomats and analysts said, is whether President Hamid Karzai will succeed in winning over 50 percent of the vote in the first round Thursday, securing a victory, or be pushed into a second, more unpredictable round of voting. A vast field of 34 opponents and a last-minute surge by his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, as well as Taliban intimidation in the volatile south... (READ MORE)

Afghans in Kabul Brush Aside Jitters to Cast Ballots - Mohammed Yosin was 9 when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, not long out of his teens when terrifying rocket duels between rival warlords leveled whole swaths of Kabul, a young man when the Taliban came to power, and breadwinner for his fast-growing family when US-led troops arrived nearly eight years ago. Like many in the Afghan capital, he views today's presidential election with more than a touch of fatalism, brushing aside jitters over a wave of insurgent attacks and threats in advance of the vote. "I've seen so much war," Yosin said, pausing for a moment in the potholed roadway, balancing a battered bicycle with a load of tomatoes strapped to the back. (READ MORE)

Tension High with Afghans Preparing to Vote - Afghanistan remained tense on the eve of Thursday's elections as Taliban militants threatened attacks in the capital, Kabul, and President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking re-election, urged voters to participate without fear. Six campaign workers died in militant attacks Wednesday. The US military announced the deaths of six more soldiers, making August one of the deadliest months for US troops since the war began in 2001. While the threat of violence has either crimped or crippled all campaigns, female candidates also have encountered resistance from a strict Islamic and tribal culture that opposes political ambitions of women. (READ MORE)

Taliban Gunmen Killed in Kabul on Eve of Vote - Three gunmen with grenades stormed a bank in downtown Kabul on Wednesday morning, creating a standoff with Afghan soldiers and police that ended with the killing of the gunmen, according to officials and residents. The violence on the day before Afghanistan's presidential election raised alarm across the capital that the radical Islamist Taliban movement or other fighters were intent on carrying out further attacks to disrupt the voting. In the days before the election, the Taliban has exploded car bombs in front of US military and NATO bases, as well as launched rockets at the presidential palace. (READ MORE)

High-Tech Balloon to Help Forces Keep Watch - A state-of-the-art observation balloon with round-the-clock video and sound surveillance capability has been installed several thousand feet above Kabul to monitor Thursday's elections in Afghanistan, according to US and Afghan military officials. The "aerostat," which looks like blimps that fly over American sporting events, has a full-motion video camera that can pan 360 degrees and provide nonstop, instant surveillance. "With that camera, we can go anywhere in the city to allow us to look for any threats or any intentions from the insurgency," according to Col. Marilyn H. Jenkins, an Army intelligence officer. (READ MORE)

Public Opinion in US Turns Against the War - A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more US troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Most have confidence in the ability of the United States to meet its primary goals of defeating the Taliban, facilitating economic development, and molding an honest and effective Afghan government, but few say Thursday's elections there are likely to produce such a government. When it comes to the baseline question, 42 percent of Americans say the United States is winning in Afghanistan; about as many, 36 percent, say it is losing. (READ MORE)

US Officials Get a Taste of Pakistanis’ Anger at America - Judith A. McHale was expecting a contentious session with Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist known for his harsh criticism of American foreign policy, when she sat down for a one-on-one meeting with him in a hotel conference room in Islamabad on Monday. She got that, and a little bit more. After Ms. McHale, the Obama administration’s new under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, gave her initial polite presentation about building bridges between America and the Muslim world, Mr. Abbasi thanked her politely for meeting with him. Then he told her that he hated her. (READ MORE)

Deputy Says He Will Lead the Taliban in Pakistan - The deputy head of the Pakistani Taliban said Wednesday that he was temporarily assuming the helm of the militant group because its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was ill, although Washington and Islamabad have said that Mr. Mehsud almost certainly was killed by a recent missile strike. The announcement by the deputy leader, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, was another sign that Taliban commanders were jockeying for power after the reported death of Mr. Mehsud in an Aug. 5 missile strike in northwestern Pakistan’s tribal belt. (READ MORE)

The Afghans Vote - It's easy to enumerate all of the ways in which today's election in Afghanistan will fall short of Western democratic norms - or even of what Afghans themselves might have expected when they voted in the first presidential election four years ago. Violence has been escalating all year - civilian casualties were up by a quarter through June - and there has been a rash of major attacks in and around Kabul in the past several days. In parts of the country it will be impossible, or very dangerous, to vote. And many may feel uninspired: (READ MORE)

Afghan Businessman Helps Girls School - LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2009 – With help from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, a local businessman and contractor in the Alingar district of Afghanistan’s Lagham province delivered enough school supplies to the Parwai Girls School here Aug. 17 to keep more than 50 children supplied for a year. Abdullah Ajabgul, owner of Homyoun Rafi Construction Co., identified the students’ need for supplies while building a protective wall around the school as a Commander’s Emergency Relief Program project. (READ MORE)

Afghan official says voting appears 40 percent down on the country's 2004 presidential election - KABUL (AP) _ A voting official in Kandahar says voting appears to be 40 percent lower than during the country's 2004 presidential election. The official in the south's largest city and the Taliban's spiritual birthplace, asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release turnout figures. Associated Press journalists reported low turnouts in Kabul compared with longer lines seen in the 2004 vote. (READ MORE)

Stolen Land and Political Power - KABUL, Aug 20 (IPS) - Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission says that in the last seven months they have received 12 complaints about stolen land. The complaints cover the map, ranging from Wardak, Panjsher and Kapisa, to Parwan and Kabul. Shamasullah Ahmadzai, who sits on the commission, says that these complaints generally don't specifically name the powerful people who took the land because the complainants fear reprisals. "This fact alone paves the way for land-thieves to steal more." (READ MORE)

Afghanistan turns out to vote - Afghans have voted to elect a president. For only the second time in history, large portions of the Afghan population turned out to the polling booths despite sporadic violence by Taliban militants. In the south of the country, where Taliban militias have more authority, the turnout was weaker. (READ MORE)

Afghan government trying to censor reports of election day violence, journalists say - KABUL — Afghan journalists charged Wednesday that their government is violating the constitution by trying to censor reports of violence on election day, and they vowed to flout the order issued by an administration that appears increasingly hostile toward the media. The Taliban have ramped up attacks ahead of today’s presidential vote and threatened to attack polling stations. (READ MORE)

Credible outcome is key in today's Afghan presidential vote - KABUL — Threats of Taliban violence and rumors of fraud cast a shadow over Afghanistan’s election, in which millions of voters will choose a new president today to lead a nation plagued by armed insurgency, drugs, corruption and a feeble government. International officials predict an imperfect outcome for a vote that they hope Afghans will accept as credible — a key component of President Barack Obama’s war strategy. (READ MORE)

Taliban commander surrenders with 60 comrades - Islamabad, Aug.20 : A Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan commander, Khurshid, said to be a close ally of Mullah Fazlullah,surrendered before the District Coordination Officer Mingora at Saidu Airport along with 60 of his comrades. The Dawn quoted the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), as saying that the surrender was witnessed by a number of notables of the area, while the operation, Rah-e-Raast is continuing in Swat and Malakand Division. (READ MORE)

26 Afghans killed in election day attacks - KABUL — Taliban threats scared voters and dampened turnout in the militant south Thursday as Afghans voted for president for the second time ever. Insurgents killed 26 Afghans in scattered attacks, but officials said militants failed to disrupt the vote. After 10 hours of voting, including a last-minute, one-hour extension, election workers began to count millions of ballots. Initial results weren't expected for several days. (READ MORE)

Pakistan hopes Afghan vote will bring stability - ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's government has expressed hope that elections in Afghanistan will bring stability to its western neighbor. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told a news briefing Thursday that the fate of the two countries were intertwined. He wished Afghanistan peace and prosperity as a result of the vote. (READ MORE)

Violence forces polls to shut amid low Afghan turnout - The Taleban stormed a town in northern Afghanistan and launched sporadic rocket and other attacks across much of the rest of the country today, severely depleting turnout as Afghanistan voted in its second presidential election. As polls closed, an hour later than scheduled to allow for late voting, UN, American and Afghan officials hailed the election as a success, saying that the Taleban had failed in its efforts to deter voters. (READ MORE)

Despite Fear, Afghan Voters Chose To Vote - Sporadic violence was reported throughout Afghanistan as voters went to the polls to elect a president. Election officials said voter turnout was light. Much of that has to do with whether voters feel safe enough to head to their polling stations. The Taliban had been threatening to disrupt the election. (READ MORE)

Donkeys Enable Voting In Afghanistan's Remote Areas - Donkeys are playing a key role in helping Afghanistan stage its presidential election. In rural areas — where roads are almost impassable — 800 of these sturdy creatures delivered polling booths and ballot boxes. The donkeys traveled rickety bridges and steep mountain trails; in some cases, helicopters dropped off the materials in the most remote regions. (READ MORE)

Voting brisk in Afghan north but optimism tempered - MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AP) - Even in one of Afghanistan's safest, most progressive regions, the men and women who lined up to vote in Thursday's presidential election kept a check on their optimism. There was broad agreement that the insurgency that has infected other parts of the country, especially the south, could soon reach Afghanistan's north without proper leadership from the central government. (READ MORE)

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Linked by: H&I FIRES 20 August 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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