August 21, 2009

From the Front: 08/21/2009

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front. (New posts come in below.)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: PICTURES: Polling day in Helmand

Bad Dogs and Such: Things Abby actually DOES miss about Iraq - OK – there’s really only one. FREE WATER. There’s a lot of bottled water in Iraq. And when I say “a lot,” I mean…well, a bunch. And you drink it all the time. And wherever you go, there’s a package/cooler/pallet of water and you’re allowed to take as much as you want. If it’s in a cooler, it’s polite to replace what you take. There are no giant piles of free bottled water around this base. Which is kinda cruel, as the entire section of the base devoted to demobilization is populated by wilted-looking soldiers in grungy uniforms grumbling about paying $1.25 for a water from a machine. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Bravery And Afghan Voters - Much of the reporting about Afghanistan’s election yesterday (my own included) had to do with violence, death, repression and low voter turnout. All of the above did take place in great and depressing abundance, but there was something else too: The courage of Afghan voters. While turnout was generally regarded as low, millions of voters did brave threats from insurgents, awful roads and a perilous security situation to cast a ballot, and that is no small thing. Zulhaija (pictured above), was at the polling station a full hour before it opened, because, she told me “I’m excited to chose our leader. I know things will not change immediately, but we have to make the effort to try. If we do not try, who will?” Said Guhl, (pictured below, right) a 43-year-old shop keeper, brought his two sons to a north Kabul polling station because he wanted them to see democracy up close and know that one day it would be their responsibility. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Old Crusty Cold Warrior Vaguely Uncomfortable Moment - Back when I was a youngin, the idea of being directly overflown by a Hind D (big, evil-looking Russian attack helicopter) was a horrifying prospect. Today I was overflown at an altitude of about 100 feet on several occasions by Afghan National Army Hind D’s. It was vaguely uncomfortable. I knew, on a conscious level, that they were “friendlies,” but all the old aircraft ID classes built in a negative reaction. Something inside me said, “Shoot it! Shooooooot it!” A 5.56mm rifle will not bring down a Hind D, barring divine intervention. Sometimes thoughts are just thoughts. Vaguely uncomfortable, but just thoughts. (READ MORE)

At War: The Day After. Then the Wait - KABUL–On the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, Friday prayers today echoed out over above Kabul’s quiet, checkpointed streets and below the huge, white Baghdad-style surveillance balloon that is a new fixture above the city’s skyline. This week the prayers drifted through the windows of high school classrooms which are now filled with election volunteers slowly counting ballots after Thursday’s Presidential and provincial elections. With counting already under way, the leading Presidential candidates are both claiming success, trying to build momentum for their own post-election campaign and to establish a basis of expectations against which will almost certainly come formal allegations of vote-buying, ballot-rigging and intimidation of election staff, especially in rural areas. Election officials in Kabul have consistently sought to lower expectations of a quick result, or even of early turnout figures. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Kung Fu and Stuff - For reasons I tend to think are unwarranted, America’s 1stSgt kind of has a reputation among the Marines of the battalion. Mostly I figure it’s because I swagger around with my knuckles dragging on ground like a silver-back gorilla baring my fangs at any young Marine that crosses my path. I also kill myself in order to run faster, jump higher, and generally out perform any of them physically (there may be a few that have my number though). Thanks to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) and Ultimate Knuckle-dragger Championship, Marines are enamored with grappling. This is fine as I generally endorse any activity that is tough and physically demanding. Now I could really care less about grappling. I have some familiarity with it having trained with ju-jitsu types before and as a MCMAP instructor myself. According to the Marine Corps, the purpose of grappling techniques is to allow you to get back to your feet to gain the tactical advantage over your opponent. (READ MORE)

Deploying in a "Sea" of Sand: Almost Cleared... - Well, I got the news from my ID Doc. My BP Monitor showed that my BP was not elevated; actually the opposite, it is very good. During the 22 hours that I wore it the average was 119/72 - that is great! So great news - no meds!!! So now that I have been cleared by 2 Cardiologists, Rheumatologist and my Infectious Disease Doc the waiver has been sent to the "Theater Surgeon". Hopefully I hear back in day or so. I'm still set to leave on time and if I don't hear on time, I will still leave as scheduled and deal with it when I arrive the NMPS. So, right now the great news is that I DO NOT have to take any BP meds!! I'll let you know when the waiver comes back and whatever the news is - it will be what it is. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Count begins in Afghanistan as pollling stations close - Afghan officials have begun counting votes as polling sites closed in the presidential election. Taliban threats had appeared to dampen voter turnout in the militant south with scattered rocket, suicide and bomb attacks closing some voting sites. Low turnout in the south would harm President Hamid Karzai's re-election chances and boost the standing of his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Turnout in the north appeared to be stronger than in the south, a good sign for Abdullah. Election officials extended voting by one hour to allow more people to vote. International officials have predicted an imperfect election - Afghanistan's second-ever direct presidential vote - but expressed hope that Afghans would accept it as legitimate, a key component of Western war strategy. A voting official in Kandahar, the south's largest city and the Taliban's spiritual birthplace, said voting appeared to be 40% lower than during the country's 2004 presidential election. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Life, Bladders and Scheduling - As the father of three girls, all of you who have kids, or have been a kid, or known a kid, know I had one kid who had the bladder capacity of a squirrel. That child was my youngest daughter. When she was potty trained, I was sad--at least at the prospect of driving places more than three miles away. Because she would inevitably need a pit stop. Trips to see grandmothers in Massachusetts and upstate New York meant at least three bathroom stops. Actually, I didn't mind because I like to drink coffee when I drive a long distance, and so I had an excuse to stop. Now that I am in my mid-50s I have to go to bed late and wake up early to avoid stumbling across 200 yards of gravel in the middle of the night to the latrine. Lately, I have been staying up till almost midnight and getting up at 0445, so even at my age I can sleep through the night. Even so, when I wake up, I do a fast stretch for the bone spur in my heel then limp quickly across the gravel to the latrine. (READ MORE)

Omar @ Iraq the Model: Who Was Behind Wednesday's Attacks? - There is near-full agreement in Iraq that Wednesday’s wave of attacks were more than indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Most politicians, commentators and observers believe those behind the attacks want to influence political alignments and voter decisions before general elections next January. Most fingers point at a “neighboring country”. This “neighboring country” to some is Saudi Arabia but is Iran to many others. Either way, most people agree that the attacks were beyond al-Qaeda’s or any other individual group’s capability. This is a plausible assumption. Baghdad has not seen a similar wave of highly coordinated attacks and powerful bombings in more than a year. During that time it has been all down hill for al-Qaeda’s network in Baghdad. Most operatives had either been killed or captured or had to flee and find new safe havens around Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk to the north and northeast. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Election Day Kabul - There are actually three or four elections today, depending on the region and province. Some places went smooth. Others...well. Here's a link to Mullah Todd's tracker . Todd is in Jalalabad. In a day or two all the international election monitoring groups will issue statements and preliminary reports. International groups ranging from the EU, NDI, IRI, DI and others were out in force today. Most them have expansive networks of Afghans reporting what happened throughout the country. Any irregularities are being documented and will be reported. I spent the day filming in Kabul. I heard one rocket--a small one--impact near where I was drinking a Coke Light (Diet Coke) and taking some notes. Traffic light, turnout was low, apathy was high in Kabul. Here are some photos from the last polling place I visited and got to watch some of the counting. (READ MORE)

Badger 6: "This love burns inside me like the last light in the world" - Almost a four weeks ago, SSG Nickel was involved in an incident in Boise, Idaho. The sense of urgency has passed. How quickly most of return to normal. It is surreal. I love the Soldiers I served with in Team Badger. Love has become so associated with sex in our culture that most men seem reluctant to admit that. I refuse to let our culture's reticence to admit to brotherly love to stand it the way of that admission. I want to you to know I love those Soldiers. A few of them were leadership challenges; a few of them did not get awards they felt they deserved; and I had to punish a few. None of that gets in the way of how I feel about them. I love them all. Why do I feel that way? When we were in Iraq those Soldiers saddled up in RG31's, Cougars, and Buffalos; they got in HUMVEEs and HEMITT wreckers. The drove from Ramadi to Balad to get supplies; they cleared the roads of Ramadi, Falluja, and Karma to ensure they had no IEDs on them. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US Predators target the Haqqanis in North Waziristan - An unmanned US Predator aircraft fired missiles at the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal area of North Waziristan. Two Hellfire missiles struck in the town of Darpa Khel near Miramshah, a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network. Twelve Taliban fighters from Afghanistan were reported killed, but no high value Taliban or al Qaeda targets have been reported killed at this time. A senior Haqqani Network commander and an al Qaeda operative were the targets of the strike, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. The official would not identify the names of the leaders targeted. The strike in Danda Darpa Khel is the third in the town since September 2008. The Haqqani Network has a strong presence in the town. The Haqqanis' madrassa, known as the Manba Ulom, is in the town of Danda Darpa Khel. In the two strikes last year, the Manba Ulom compound was struck both times. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Election Day, Afghanistan, Part II - Results are not yet known, but from the local point of view, we had braced for considerable violence and chaos and thank God we got nowhere near as much as we had feared. That is good. On the other hand, turnout appears to have been lower than expected. Again, final results will tell. The WaPo has reporting and photos. David Wood, whom I have referenced before as as a straight shooter and solid reporter, has more, and he strikes a chord. (In a very strange coincidence, Mr Wood was standing at the bottom of the stairs as I climbed down from the C-130 a couple days ago; I hadn't seen him in years.) My take-- We'll have to wait, of course, for the results and the numbers, but the fact remains that the election has come and gone. Imperfect? Probably. Violent? In some places but not so in many others. But, it's good enough for this round. The fact that there was an election is a big step forward, and hopefully it will begin to set a basic expectation of regular self-governance. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Livin' at Victory - I'm settled into my new home at Victory Base. I've got my barracks room slummed out so it's comfortable and have my desk at work arranged just so ... meaning papers all over the place, a coffee cup that needs to be washed, half-empty bottle of water, and a chair set to just the right height. So all is well, no? No. All my email files disappeared in the move. Four months worth of records just *poof* went away. The same thing happened with about half of the people I've talked to as well. Some of them had records that went back several years. At the old compound, we all used a shared drive. It was supposed to migrate into our new network. Well, something migrated, but what we have now is not what we had then. Looks like some things made it, some didn't, and file names and structures were randomly changed. So we can't find the things we need. And to further muck it up, it looks like all the files done between July 22 to Aug 18 were dumped. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: We’re not ready to talk yet - So this was an interesting exercise about the Afghan election today. On Twitter, there was a terrible signal to noise ratio—If you read this AP story closely, you see what I did: the vast majority of input came from Alex Strick van Linschoten and Pajhwok, but like fifteen people were all RTing it. So TweetDeck just gave me many copies of the same tweet—not useful. I tuned it out. Meanwhile, all the experts trying to have their instant analyses seem to have no idea how foolish they look, from Steven Walt refusing to recognize the strawmen he’s arguing against to Tom Johnson popping his head up to remind us that Afghanistan is just like Vietnam (really, Tom? Really?). Then there are the news accounts and “analyses” (no offense, Spencer, you’re convenient and I didn’t want to Google to find others) of voter turn out. We barely know what turnout is in American elections right away, and those are electronic. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: 132.8 Degrees Fahrenheit - Today was the hottest Forward Operating Base Warhorse has experienced this year. The thermometer at the Public Affairs office, our base of operations, pegged the maximum temperature at 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, nobody here - not even the soldiers - had experienced heat that severe before. You may be wondering what it feels like to be outside at that temperature. The answer, as best I can approximate it, is that it feels as though you're inside a sauna that doesn't have any walls. The heat pushes its way into everything - your clothes, the water you're carrying, your body armor, the vehicles (which get too hot to touch without gloves)... everything. There's no escape. It also really makes you understand why it's not a good idea to enter a sauna fully clothed, with body armor and a helmet to boot. Still, there are ways to deal, and the funny thing is that it's not entirely unlike the way we deal with extreme cold in Alaska. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: 17th Fires Brigade - I’ve been busy. The Sorority Soldier started leave over two weeks ago. For awhile we had just three broadcasters to support an entire division. Then, last Monday, I was sent across the street to support the new brigade arriving in Basra, the 17th Fires Brigade. It’s interesting because before the 17th FiB actually takes over, our higher headquarters announced the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division was not being replaced in kind with another Brigade Combat Team. This is due to the “responsible drawdown” of forces in Iraq as directed by the President of the United States. Oh, by the way, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a bill that calls for a popular referendum on the bilateral security agreement a day or two later. IN MY PERSONAL OPINION, if the Iraqis have a referendum on the security agreement and they vote against it, then American forces leaving could accelerate by a year. I don’t see that as a bad thing (Col. Timothy Reese agrees, but Gen. Raymond Odierno disagrees). (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Afghanistan Shrugged, Part III - With elections being held in Afghanistan today, I thought it best to delve into Afghan strategy, despite the eye-rolling that I know I am probably going to receive. First off, though, a little news from the front. A few days ago, you may recall a story in the NYT indicating that the Taliban were threatening to cut off the ink-stained fingers of any Afghan who voted. In response, the local polling stations have been using alcohol swabs to wash the ink from the fingers of voters. If you remember back to the Iraqi elections, you will remember Iraqis proudly waving their ink-stained fingers, announcing that they had voted. The purple ink served as a method of ensuring that no voter ventured into the polls twice. Washing the ink off the fingers of Afghans will, of course, not prevent them from voting twice. Nevertheless, as an officer in the 10th Mountain Division remarked, "I don't care if they vote once, twice or ten times — I just need to demonstrate that voters in our district are safe." (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Iraqi Security Forces: Up to the Job? - “There is infiltration everywhere in the state, especially in the security forces,” an Iraqi told Washington Post reporters in Baghdad after yesterday’s bombings that killed almost 100, while injuring another 500. “Today the entire city was targeted. How do you justify that?” A new report by Iraqi Major General (Ret.) Najim Abed Al-Jabouri put out by the Institute for National Strategic Studies (PDF) points to just such “infiltration” of the security forces by various Iraqi political parties, and outlines how this is contributing to the continuing instability in the country. As the recent spate of deadly bombings attest, all is not well in a land where 130,000 American troops are now largely confined to their bases, and like the Baghdadi in the Post story, Al-Jabouri frets about the continuing politicization of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). (READ MORE)

Cassandra: "Semper Gumby" - A few days ago I related the daring manner in which The Love of My Life broke the news of an impending deployment: At this point I should probably mention that the joyous news of my impending celibacy came during a week when I needed to be 50 miles away by 8 a.m. every day and my Ukrainian friend was visiting from Seattle. All of which meant that I spent the next 3 days living inside my own head. I couldn't cry, or talk to anyone about it until we told his mother, or talk to him in the hour or so we have between dinner and bedtime. There just wasn't time and even if there had been time I was never far from tears. I couldn't trust myself. But eventually I did cry a few times, locked away in my office where the dog can't nose me with his ice cold proboscis every 20 seconds to see if I'm OK. That supper dish doesn't magically fill itself, you know. I felt very, very angry at times. And extremely put upon. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
11 Iraqi Commanders Detained After Blasts - The Iraqi government on Thursday announced the detention of 11 army and police commanders, accusing them of negligence in Wednesday's massive bombings targeting government buildings in Baghdad. The early morning explosions outside the Foreign and Finance ministries killed nearly 100 people and wounded about 500. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, apparently aware of the likely political fallout of the coordinated attacks, which are certain to paralyze work at the two key ministries for weeks, called an emergency security meeting late Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Bombs Hurt Maliki Case That Iraq Can Guard Itself - In recent months, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has sought to convince Iraq that it is finished with war. He ordered blast walls around Baghdad pulled down, including those near the Foreign and Finance Ministries. He has refused to ask the American military for help in any major way since Iraqi soldiers took full security responsibility in the cities on June 30. Then two trucks drove into downtown Baghdad on Wednesday, detonating huge bombs that killed nearly 100 people and that gravely wounded Mr. Maliki’s case that Iraq is ready to defend itself without American help. (READ MORE)

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)

Commander Condemns Baghdad Attacks, Cites Security Lapse - A US commander in Iraq condemned yesterday’s wave of attacks in Baghdad that killed at least 95 people, saying a security lapse allowed the deadly assault. Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick said the Iraqi government is investigating the attack that involved two truck bombs exploding minutes apart near ministry buildings in Baghdad, killing scores and injuring more than 500 others. (READ MORE)

Commandos arrest four in Kirkuk province - TIKRIT, Iraq – The Kirkuk Emergency Service Unit, with U.S. force advisors, arrested two suspected terrorists Aug. 19, during an operation in the Kirkuk province, with warrants issued by the Investigation Court of Kirkuk. The men are suspected of attacking Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. forces with grenades and sniper rifles, as well as conducting kidnappings, murders and intimidation against Iraqi citizens. (READ MORE)

Ninewah RCB removes suspected explosive threat - TIKRIT, Iraq – Commandos with the 7th Regional Commando Battalion, Iraqi Special Operations Force, with U.S. force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist Aug. 19, during an operation in the Ninewah province. The individual was arrested with a warrant issued by the Central Investigative Court of al-Khark for suspicion of attacking Iraqi Security Forces in Ninewah with roadside bombs and car bombs. (READ MORE)

Camp Dublin Opens New Clinic for Federal Police - BAGHDAD – A grand opening for a new clinic at Camp Dublin took place here Aug. 19 to celebrate the additional medical support that is now available to the Federal Police and emergency response brigades. The clinic facility at Camp Dublin will support up to 2,000 students at the Federal Police Training Center as well as some tenet units at Camp Dublin, such as emergency response brigades. (READ MORE)

Despite changes, Soldiers remain vigilant - MA'DAIN REGION – Undeveloped areas and vast farmlands are some of the key characteristics of the southeastern areas outside the Iraqi capital where Multi-National Division - Baghdad Paratroopers operate. For the Paratroopers assigned to Troop A, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, these scenes are a far cry from where these men operated just a few months ago, in the heart of Baghdad's Rusafa District. (READ MORE)

Hotel presented to Government of Iraq - BAGHDAD — The 364th Civil Affairs Brigade (CAB) here signed a memorandum of agreement with the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) turning over control of the Caravan Hotel at Baghdad International Airport to the ICAA, Aug. 19. Distinguished guest, Maj. Gen. James P. Hunt, Multi-National Corps - Iraq deputy commanding general, and Dr. Adnan Al Obaidy, Iraq Department of Transportation, attended the ceremony transferring the hotel to the Government of Iraq. (READ MORE)

Airborne Cavalry Soldiers Stay Vigilant in Iraqi Suburbs - MADAIN REGION, Iraq, Aug. 20, 2009 – Undeveloped areas and vast farmlands are some of the key characteristics that make up the southeastern areas outside the Iraqi capital, where Multinational Division Baghdad paratroopers operate. For the paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s Troop A, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, these scenes are a far cry from the heart of Baghdad's Rusafa district, where they operated just a few months ago. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Obama: Afghan Election 'Successful' - US President Barack Obama says Afghanistan's elections appear to have been successful, despite attempts by the Taliban to disrupt them with violence. He made the comment in a US radio interview Thursday with host Michael Smerconish on Philadelphia's WPHT. Mr. Obama also promised the US military will keep up the pressure on insurgents in Afghanistan to drive them out of their safe havens. With Thursday's voting completed, Afghani officials are calling the election a success. (READ MORE)

Afghan Election Called a Success Despite Attacks - Scattered rocket attacks and Taliban intimidation suppressed turnout in Afghanistan’s presidential election Thursday. But enough voters cast ballots that Afghan officials said they had thwarted efforts by the insurgents to derail the vote. The election is the second in the nearly eight years since an American-led invasion ousted the Taliban, but the security situation in the country has deteriorated so sharply, and the credibility of the Afghan leadership has sunk so low, that the ability of the government to hold the election at all was in doubt. (READ MORE)

Afghans Vote, Against Backdrop of Threats - Defying Taliban threats to bomb polling stations and maim voters, millions of Afghans cast ballots Thursday in a presidential election that was relatively peaceful and orderly despite widespread predictions of violence and fraud. The day was marred by reports of low voter turnout in many areas, however, which could complicate efforts to declare the results legitimate. With no official tabulations expected for several weeks and a runoff likely between incumbent Hamid Karzai and his top challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Afghans face the prospect of a drawn-out period of political tension and uncertainty. (READ MORE)

Attacks Shake Up Afghan Balloting - Amid dozens of election-day Taliban attacks that claimed 26 lives, Afghans voted for president Thursday - but reports of low turnout and fraud made it unclear whether bombs or ballots would ultimately emerge the day's victor. Taliban militants had stepped up attacks for a week and threatened to target polling places with suicide squads to disrupt the vote and force voters to stay home. In the end they managed 73 attacks across the nation amid massive security efforts. The dead included a US soldier and a British soldier. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan Election, Deciding Who Won is the Hard Part - Holding a nationwide election in a vast, impoverished and insurgency-ridden country was the easy part. Now comes the difficult task of determining whether Afghanistan's watershed presidential vote Thursday was free and fair, or enough so that the result, when it emerges, will be credible. A definitive count will take weeks, and the contest may have to be settled with a runoff. The vote, which pitted incumbent President Hamid Karzai against a trio of major rivals and more than two dozen lesser contenders, is viewed by the West as a test for the legitimacy of Afghanistan's central government. (READ MORE)

Taleban Threats and Attacks Take Toll on Polls as Voters Stay Away - The credibility of Afghanistan’s presidential election hangs in the balance today after Taleban threats and attacks severely depleted voter turnout, especially in the southern province of Helmand, and observers reported widespread electoral fraud. The Times has learnt that turnout in Helmand was as low as eight per cent and fewer than 150 people cast ballots in the district where British forces launched Operation Panther’s Claw in June to allow 80,000 more people to vote. (READ MORE)

26 Killed During Afghan Election, Turnout Uncertain - Millions of Afghans braved threats of Taliban attacks on polling stations and retaliation against voters to go to the polls Thursday. There was violence and intimidation across the country, blamed on the Taliban, including rocket attacks, explosions, armed assaults, theft and burning of ballot boxes and blocking of roads. The government says 26 people, including civilians, soldiers and policemen died in election-related attacks. President Hamid Karzai says the election is a success, despite attacks in 15 provinces. The president says the Afghan people dared rockets, explosions, suicide bombers and intimidation. Despite this, he adds, they came out to vote. (READ MORE)

Obama Pledges Increased Pressure in Afghanistan - President Barack Obama pledged today to keep ramping up pressure on insurgents in Afghanistan, citing developments aimed at “squeezing them from both sides” to ultimately “flush them out.” Obama spoke primarily about health-care reform during a call-in program with Michael Smerconish from Philadelphia radio station WPHT. But recognizing the significance of today’s Afghan national elections, Smerconish pressed the president to assess where things stand in the war on terror. The president cited what he said appears to have been a successful election despite Taliban efforts to disrupt it. (READ MORE)

German Party Calls for Plan for Removal of Troops From Afghanistan - After ignoring the issue of Afghanistan for much of the federal election campaign so far, the Free Democrats, an opposition party that hopes to join Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in the next government, have called for a plan to bring home the 4,500 German troops serving in the NATO force there. In doing so, the party has broken ranks with most of the major parties, which have tried to keep the issue of Germany’s controversial Afghan presence out of the public eye. “The next government must formulate a precise plan that spells out how a pull-out of the German Army over the coming years would look...” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Votes - Millions of Afghans, determined to shape their own future, defied Taliban threats and voted Thursday in the country’s second-ever presidential elections. That courage deserves to be rewarded with far better governance than Afghans have experienced in the four years since the last presidential vote. President Obama has rightfully defined success in Afghanistan as essential to America’s struggle against Al Qaeda. He has backed that up with more troops - there are 62,000 now with 6,000 on the way - stronger American military leadership and a more careful use of air power devised to limit civilian casualties. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, the Choice Is Ours - Speaking on Monday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, President Obama could not have been more definitive. “We must never forget,” he said of the conflict in Afghanistan. “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.” The president did not break new ground so much as reinforce existing policy. Earlier this year, he decided to send an additional 17,000 combat soldiers and 4,000 trainers to Afghanistan, raising American force levels there to more than 60,000. And in March he articulated a broader mission: (READ MORE)

Marine Engineers Construct Major Fortifications in Helmand's Hostile Territory - KOSHTAY, Garmsir District, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The mission for Marines here is to seize ground controlled by Taliban insurgents, hold that ground and build on it. Building in this case means fortifying their exposed position on the very front lines of this conflict. However, Marine infantrymen are not known for their carpentry and construction skills. That responsibility falls on the engineers. (READ MORE)

Commander International Security Assistance Force Commends Afghan National Security Forces for Afghan Election Security - KABUL, Afghanistan – Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, offered his compliments to the Afghan national security forces' successful efforts in ensuring Afghans' secure access to voting polls. "Regarding security, the Afghan national security forces did a commendable job addressing all security issues they encountered," said McChrystal. (READ MORE)

Afghan, Coalition Forces Catch Four IED Makers - KABUL, Afghanistan – Four suspected Taliban insurgents were captured Tuesday during a search by Afghan national army and International Security Assistance Forces after receiving a tip from an Afghan civilian in the Sayed Abad district of Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan. Task Force Spartan received information from a local civilian and, under the lead of the ANA, searched a location in the Tangi Valley, resulting in the capture of two insurgents notorious for improvised explosive device production, and two alleged accomplices. (READ MORE)

Taliban Blast Kills and Injures Innocent Afghans - KABUL, Afghanistan – A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near ISAF Headquarters, Kabul, Afghanistan, around 8:30 a.m. today. Afghan and international security force partners are assessing casualties and damage. Reports indicate that there were several civilians killed, a number of civilians wounded. There were injuries to several ISAF service members; no ISAF personnel were killed in the blast. (READ MORE)

Vehicle Detonates on Jalalabad Road in Kabul - KABUL, Afghanistan – A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated on Jalalabad Road in Kabul, Afghanistan, around 1 p.m. today, Aug. 18. Afghan and International Security Force partners are assessing casualties and damage. Reports indicate both Afghan civilians and ISAF service members were killed and wounded in the blast as the vehicle exploded near an ISAF convoy and other civilian vehicles. (READ MORE)

2/8 Marines See Regular Enemy Activity in Afghan South - MIAN POSHTEY, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines poured into southern Helmand province when Operation Khanjar kicked off July 2, marking the largest helicopter insertion of any U.S. military force since the Vietnam War. Some units found conditions on the ground to be relatively quiet, but other Marines encountered heavy contact from Taliban militants upon their arrival. Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, is one of the units that have been heavily engaged with insurgents over the last five weeks. (READ MORE)

Clinic Traffic Downrange Shows Need for Hearing Protection - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2009 – When gearing up for a mission in Afghanistan, servicemembers don’t forget their helmet, gloves, weapon, eye protection or body armor. But what about hearing protection? Air Force Staff Sgt. Lee Adams, an ear, nose and throat technician here, said more than half of the patients seen in the ENT walk-in clinics are there for hearing related issues. (READ MORE)

Georgia Guard Mentors Afghan Forces During Election - ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 20, 2009 – Soldiers from the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are playing a supporting role in today’s elections in Afghanistan, the unit commander told reporters yesterday. “[It] is a very big day,” said Army Brig. Gen. Larry E. Dudney Jr., commander of Task Force Phoenix 9 in Kabul. “We’re excited to be a part of it. The Afghan people are taking an active role in the election. There are some that really want to keep this election from going off in a very successful manner. However, the will of the Afghan people will prevail. The Afghans are taking the lead in this, and … we’re here if they need us.” (READ MORE)

Counter-claims erupt in Afghan election - Contenders in the race to become Afghanistan's next president claimed on Friday to be heading for victory in polls acclaimed by the West but undermined by complaints of ballot-stuffing and low turnout. Election officials called for calm ahead of definitive results next month as President Hamid Karzai declared a decisive win and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, insisted that he was in fact ahead. (READ MORE)

60 Taliban, commander surrender in Swat - Islamabad, Aug 21 : At least 60 militants, a Taliban commander among them, have surrendered to security forces at the Kanju airport in Swat Valley. A military spokesman in Swat where troops have been battling Taliban militants since May, said Akbar Zada, the Taliban commander of Koza Bandai in Matta area, was among the 60 insurgents who surrendered at the airport. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Plots Next Move Against Taliban Militants - The Taliban in Pakistan appear to be on the defensive. The challenge for Pakistan's government and military is how to consolidate some recent gains. The U.S. is urging Pakistan to press ahead, but the Pakistanis say that's not as easy as it sounds. (READ MORE)

Karzai, US term Afghan polls a success - Afghanstan President Hamid Karzai and his Western allies have pronounced the country's election a success, after voting passed off largely peacefully on Thursday. Karzai hailed Afghans for braving Taliban "bombs and intimidations". His praise was echoed by the United States and NATO. There were some attacks, but the United Nations (UN) claims that the vast majority of polling stations were able to function. (READ MORE)

Karzai, Abdullah teams claim wins in Afghan vote - KABUL - Campaign teams for President Hamid Karzai and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah each positioned themselves Friday as the winner of Afghanistan's presidential election, one day after millions of Afghans braved dozens of militant attacks to cast ballots. Partial preliminary results won't be made public before Saturday, as Afghanistan and the dozens of countries with troops and aid organizations in the country wait to see who will lead the troubled nation for the next five years. (READ MORE)

Finnish Peacekeepers Under Fire Again - Finnish peacekeepers in Afghanistan were fired at again early Friday morning. None of the peacekeepers were injured. The fighting broke out in northern Afghanistan where Swedish and Finnish troops are stationed. On Thursday, election day, a bomb was fired at a Swedish vehicle in the area. The vehicle was damaged but no one was injured. Finnish and Swedish reinforcements were then sent to the bomb scene. Early Friday morning, shots were fired at the peacekeepers. (READ MORE)

Two main Afghan presidential candidates claim victory - Afghanistan's election commission said Friday that it was too early to declare victory in the presidential election as the two leading candidates both claimed themselves the winner and said no runoff would be necessary. 'No one can be declared the winner before the official result is announced by us,' said Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission. (READ MORE)

Over half of Americans polled say Afghan war a wasted effort - Washington, Aug.21 : Despite President Barack Obama's attempts to prepare the American people for rising casualties in Afghanistan, a new poll shows most Americans see the war as a wasted effort. The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 51 percent of people say the war is not worth fighting. That sentiment was particularly high among members of the president's own party, with seven in 10 Democrats saying the war is not worth its costs. (READ MORE)

Crashed Brit Chinook destroyed to keep it out of Taleban hands - Kabul, Aug.21 : British troops have lost a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan after it was hit by ground fire and destroyed by a NATO bomber to keep it out of Taleban hands. The Chinook was hit by small arms fire as it was taking off north of Sangin, in Helmand province. A Special Forces unit had disembarked with their kit only minutes earlier, but when it lifted off with its four-man crew on board, it came under attack. (READ MORE)

NATO wants to double Afghan forces - NATO called on Thursday for a doubling of the size of Afghan security forces to about 400,000 personnel to allow them to take over security from Western troops who hope eventually to withdraw. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was premature to present any timetable for the task but NATO should aim gradually to transfer the main responsibility for security to Afghans. (READ MORE)

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