August 24, 2009

From the Front: 08/24/2009

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

A World of Troubles: (VIDEO) Election fraud observed in Kunar, Afghanistan - Dewagal Valley- Election day here was marred by sustained Taliban attacks and underage teens voting; while round-the-clock efforts on part of Afghan and U.S. forces prevented any casualties. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Bad Medicine - 24 August 2009Helmand Province, Afghanistan - The British soldiers of 2 Rifles had a mission: clear and hold Pharmacy Road. FOB Jackson is currently home to Battlegroup headquarters for 2 Rifles. The area around the river is called the “Green Zone,” but just as appropriately could be called the Opium Zone. During season, the area is covered with colorful poppies, whose 2009 products are probably showing up by now on the streets in Europe. European money flows back here and buys fertilizer in the Sangin Market, which can be used to make bombs, produce more opium, get more money and make more bombs and grow more opium and make more money and bombs and grow more opium. Sangin is at once an ATM and weapons bazaar for the enemy. (READ MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: Pictures and elections - So, here it is 2 days after the elections and no official results yet. I didn't see the big three networks (ABC, CBS, & NBC) projecting the winner in each province on election night here in Kabul. Actually, the last thing I heard was that maybe by Tuesday, the Election Committee will release some results. Yesterday, both Karzi and Abdullah were claiming victory. Only time will tell how it plays out... Since I last posted, we had a few more incidents in Kabul. Another SVBIED struck a convoy near Camp Phoenix, where I was last week. We got 8 cases in the OR from that incident. On Wednesday, we had 1 case in the OR which was ANP CTP (Afghanistan National Police, Counter Terrorism Police.) You can look up the incident on the web. It was the ANP exchanged gunfire with some terrorists at a bank in Kabul. I won't go into specifics, but again, you can read about it online. Thursday, was the actual elections and it was eerily quiet. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: (Video) Election Day Combat In Kabul - Friends in the US have contacted me recently to say that reports they’ve heard about Afghanistan’s election stated that violence was “moderate” throughout most of the country. I’m not sure what reports my friends were getting, but take a look at the above video and tell me if you think this violence looks or sounds moderate. The clip was put together by photographer Rafal Gerszak and Carmine Marinilli, who were with me at the sight of this shootout. My voice moderates the piece and I also appear briefly on camera. For a fuller, written account of our narrow getaway, go here. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Day 1 Election Patrol - After numerous delays our convoy was on the road. We drove to another location and swapped out our HMMVWs for some MRAP vehicles. The MRAPs would enhance our capabilities. By mid afternoon, we finally arrived at our staging location. It still looked the same with the drab color landscape and bombed out buildings. The sun was blistering hot and we were all hungry because we didn’t have lunch and breakfast was a Pop Tart or some other readily available snack. Before we could eat we still had to set up the camp site. On a previous scout mission we found the ideal location to establish our camp. This site would provide protection, shade, and be large enough to accommodate the team. We utilized the steel beams of what remained of a bombed out 2 story house to affix our ropes and tarps. We tied 4 large tarps together and then attached them to the MRAPs. It wasn’t pretty, but it would suffice. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Election Mission Day 2 - No sooner did I lie down and fall asleep; I awoke at 0500 hrs. The sun was already blinding and after 3 hours of sleep, it was not a welcome sight. But we had a mission to prepare for. Like a nest of mice, we scrambled out of our cots, shaved, brushed our teeth and disassembled the tarps. We inspected our MRAPs and prepared for the day. We were supposed to accompany our ANA soldiers to a specified location. Our team leader was in contact with the ANA colonel and we patiently waited for the return phone call. Several minutes went by and then several hours, still no response. The adrenalin that was pumping through our bodies ceased and our energy levels diminished. Since the tarps were down, the only shade to find refuge in was from the building’s shadow. It was obvious our services weren’t going to be required, but we would respond should they need us. Some of us to include me stretched out on a cot and took another combat nap. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Election Mission Day 3-Return to Camp - Our team woke up bright and early and prepared for our return to camp. Knowing that we were leaving this place, it didn’t take long for everyone to tear down the camp and pack the vehicles. We still had a long day ahead of us, but were more than ready to leave. The idea of having hot showers, hot food, and real toilets was motivational. Although it was a painfully boring mission, that was a good sign because we didn’t get attacked and we were all returning back safe. Tragically in other parts of the country, we lost 4 coalition forces on Election Day, 2 of them were US. This makes 57 lives lost this month with the majority of them being my US brothers in arms. The elections were still held and around 50% of the eligible population voted despite the threats from the Taliban. Of the 7,000 polling sites, 93% of them were open for voting. Several million people defied the Taliban threats and cast their votes. (READ MORE)

Alex Strick van Linschoten: "Go tell the world about our fake election" - So it finally happened. The election that we've been waiting for and looking forward to at least since last winter took place today all over the country. I'll refrain from writing anything about the rest of the country. There are plenty of places to get a good sense of what happened. Make sure to check out and the various people who've been tweeting news all day from the ground around the country. I'll just be talking about the things in Kandahar that I saw and was able to confirm from here on the ground. There weren't so many foreign journalists down here and most are unlikely to publish detailed accounts of what happened and the things that they saw; NPR decided not to run a piece on the election down here judging that "one piece from Kabul was enough." Things were a lot calmer than anyone would have hoped for, I'm glad to report. Not the mass waves of suicide bombers or IEDs lining the road. (READ MORE)

Bad Dogs and Such: Super Fabulous - In a note for my military folks, the USO at the Phildelphia airport is one of the nicest I've ever been to. It's a reasonably new facility, with bunkrooms (with sheets, blankets and pillows), a room with fabulously comfy chairs and a bigscreen TV for movies, a couple of video game stations (with the some large, gorgeous flatscreen TV), and working computers with an excellent internet connection. If you find yourself killing six hours here (or, like a few of our guys, a night), it's just what the doctor ordered. It's in Terminal A - just follow the signs. I've always been a fan of the USO, but this one rated a special mention. There was a very nice big German Shepherd here earlier, but he seemed to belong to an Air Force guy. A permanent USO Dog is probably about the only thing this place is lacking. And yes - me chilling at the airport means I'm very, very close to being liberated. (READ MORE)

At War: Night Vision in the Korengal Valley - KORENGAL VALLEY, Afghanistan– While embedded in Afghanistan, I joined Bravo Company for a two-night operation in the Korengal Valley. The mission swept the area to disrupt Taliban movement and to search for weapons caches. The American and Afghan Army have a regular presence in the Korengal Valley, but the terrain is incredibly difficult to navigate. The enemy fighters in this area are mostly local Korengalis. Accustomed to the mountains they can move stealthily in small groups, wearing running shoes or plastic sandals while carrying little more than Kaloshnikov rifles. At the beginning of the mission, we were dropped off in the middle of the night by Chinook helicopters. Compared to the enemy fighters, the American and Afghan soldiers carry a lot of weight. They wear body armor and a helmet and they carry more sophisticated weapons and ammunition. They also carry radio equipment and their own food and water. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Mahalo from Baghdad! - Aloha! I want to personally thank each of you who helped make this a reality —you should know what you did for my Soldiers and the people who attended the luau. The attached pictures are just a sample of the craziness and “aloha spirit” the Soldiers in my 314th PAOC from Birmingham, Ala., created for folks from all over the world here in the International Zone on August 21. More than 300 attended – and of those about 10-15 were from Hawaii and many more had either been stationed there or visited the islands. The Soldiers in my unit are great. I convinced the 314th Soldeirs to wear donated aloha shirts and circulate through the crowd and give everyone a warm welcome and lei. They made everyone feel special — you can tell from all smiles in the pictures. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Election - Speaking strictly, there is no such thing as a pro-war/anti-war debate about Afghanistan. Afghanistan has had war since the spring of 1978, and will continue to see fighting for a long time. War exists in Afghanistan. You either accept the fact or not. For us Canadians, the question is whether we take an interest in that war. If we do take an interest, we need to decide a) what our desired outcome is, and b) the means to pursue that outcome. Among decent human beings, there should be no debate about a). The desired outcome is the only system of governance with a proven history in protecting basic human rights and improving the quality of life of its citizens: a liberal democracy. September 11 meant that for practical reasons, it was no longer possible for our country not to take an interest in Afghanistan's war (though some people didn't need the prompting). What we are debating, then, is b). (READ MORE)

Doc H: The Guard and Counterinsurgency - I am an extreme minority here at Camp Spann. I am a full time active duty service member. There are very few of us in the Northern Region at least. The bulk of forces and units for the US here are either National Guard or Reservists. I have learned more than a few things about the Guard on this mission. My preconceptions about the National Guard were formed in small town Mississippi. The Armory was a frequent place for Boy Scout camping outings or dances. The Guardsmen were for the most part were not folks you would want in your proximity with many high-powered weapons. It seemed like hunters deer-camp training instead of a true military venture. Well a lot has changed. Nowadays the Army National Guard is now more a true Reserve of the Army. Since 2001 Governors have basically passed control of their units to the DOD and president. The unit I am here with now has been deployed for 12-15 months every 3 years or so since 2001. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan: Election - The election day certainly was interesting; quite a bit more violence around our area than normal, including our base getting attacked with rockets off and on all day, which is something we hadn't seen to that extent before. We spent most of the day driving around checking on polling stations. I unfortunately didn't see a lot of people out in the streets - less than normal really, which seems to have been a nationwide trend. I did see a few people with purple fingers, just not as many as we'd hoped for. The ANA was responsible to pick up the ballots, and we had quite a few boxes of ballots to pick up, but many of those boxes were mostly empty. Of course, we didn't have enough room to fit all of those boxes in the ANA trucks, so we had to wait around for more trucks to help out, but we were able to get the ballots back to the district center without too much problem. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: I Wish There was Something to Write About - There just isn’t that much going on in my world. Flight time is down, mostly because the way flights are handled changed. The bad guys are pretty quiet in this part of the country lately, and we are starting to look at the end game. However, in the vein of trying to keep the handful of readers I have informed I’ll offer the following: I have noticed a plethora of non-combat patched senior NCOs and offers running about the FOB lately. How does that happen 8 years into a two war campaign? Garrisonitis is getting worse as OPTEMPO drops. Since there is less fighting and people are staying “home” more, there are more “Good Idea Fairies” running around the FOB making rules that don’t really make sense. Life is the same in Iraq as it is in Afghanistan. Although we have better living conditions. I am tired of running on Treadmills. Hopefully the dust and wind will start to die down as summer ends. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Soldiers fight off Taliban ambush - British troops have revealed how they fought off a Taliban ambush near an Afghan polling station. They sped to the rescue of Afghan police who came under attack while providing election security south of Gereskh in Helmand Province on Thursday. The UK forces then escorted ballot boxes from the polling station back to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, to be counted. Corporal Pete Swierczek, 34, from Dundee, of the RAF Police, attached to Foxtrot Company of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles, spent two days at an Afghan police checkpoint near a polling station close to the village of Puplazay. The British troops were called out after an Afghan police patrol was ambushed just over a mile south of their position. "We got the report through and thrashed out of the check point to assist," said Cpl Swierczek. "When we arrived we came under enemy fire from two positions, and we returned fire. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Large crowds welcome soldiers back from Afghanistan - THOUSANDS of people lined the streets of the Welsh capital today to welcome home troops from their latest tour of Afghanistan. Soldiers from Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, marched from Cardiff’s City Hall to the grounds of Cardiff Castle where a ceremony is being held in their honour. The soldiers have recently returned from six months of fighting in Afghanistan and took part in Operation Panther’s Claw during a bloody tour that claimed the life of one of their comrades. Lance Corporal Christopher Harkett, 22, from Pontardawe, Swansea, was killed in a blast near Musa Qala, in Northern Helmand, on March 14. L/Cpl Harkett, whose family are at today’s ceremony, was deployed to Afghanistan as a sniper after two tours in Iraq. At the time of his death, fellow soldiers described how he died after moving ahead to allow colleagues to advance. (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: VBIED: Learning security the hard way - As many of you have seen in the news, there have been a string of Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs). The kinds of events tend to keep me and my team members busy with emails, phone calls, and meetings. Realistically, it doesn’t take up all my time. However, because of security reasons, I can’t always write in the moment. The Big VBIED: The one that really made the news happened very close to where I work. On that particular day there were three VBIEDs, a rocket attack and mortar attacks, all in different areas. We heard two of the VBIEDs. The first one was a smaller boom. It was hard to tell if it was a small IED close by, or a large IED farther away, but it rattled our windows. These types of explosions don’t really get much attention because, a. we are used to the explosions, and b. the Iraqi Army does controlled detonations of captured weapons caches that they are destroying. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): My Job and Envy - CS Lewis wrote in many places that the trouble with writing about the Devil, in his book the Screwtape Letters , was that thinking too much about the Devil hurt his own spiritual life. So I have been writing about envy a lot lately concerning the on-line article about our brigade and have been seeing how much envy is in my own life. First, let me make clear that all the fuss I made about my job here had no real outcome. I thought one of the good things about a year on active duty would be I would lead some kind of Simple Life. I would have a job. I would do that job and leave it when I was done. As it turns out, I have a primary job as a squad leader and as Sergeant Tool Bitch in the motor pool, but when they are done, I am also the battalion public affairs sergeant, the PA sergeant for our company, I put together the newsletter, and have a couple of other additional duties. Beginning recently, I do the newsletter and some of my other work during motor pool hours. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): A No-Wind Situation - For the last few days the wind died out almost completely here at Tallil Ali Air Base. The good news is I can ride the perimeter of the base faster than usual because I can ride a fairly steady speed slowing only for the across-the-road ditches, missing stretches of pavement and stop signs. Here as on every base it is AWESOME to ride where people can lose their jobs over their driving. But it means I have to obey the law also (Jan and Scott: No kidding. I stop for stop signs!!) So I circled the 10.2-mile perimeter road in 33:52 on the 29er and 31:40 on the Trek. I also did the 15k (9.3-mile) route in 29:11. These are as fast as I have ever gone around post. At first I was thinking 'Not even 20mph, I must be falling apart!' But with bad roads and single speed bikes I do have a disadvantage. The bad news is that no wind causes two odd effects that have left me with a nasty sore throat and hacking cough. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Scars On Broadway - The band Scars on Broadway, put on a great show last night here on Camp Buehring. They are comprised of a few other bands. One member being John Dolmayan, the drummer for System of A Down. The lead singer in the band, Franky Perez, also gave out a password for a website for us to go and download a song he wrote with Dave Kushner from the band Velvet Revolver. The song is about the troops and is called "Beyond the Wire". I haven't had a chance to download it since the internet in our barracks has been down, but after seeing them perform for us last night I'm sure it's a great song. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Escape From Herat - Green trucks with guys in the back manning PKM machine guns wearing baclavas raced into the parking lot of the Herat airport. That is never a good sign. They were special officers of the Directorate of National Security. Something was up. Dr. Christine Fair and I were on our way out of Herat taking the evening Pamir Airways flight. Dr. Fair and I are working with the same client organization and it made more logistical and security sense to have us as passengers on the same flight out of Herat. Of course like many things in Afghanistan, it was not immediately apparant what a passenger should do. I went in first to recon while Christine stayed behind with the drivers and British gunslingers. Even in an airport like Herat there is security. I stepped through the metal detector and then was throughly patted down by a guy who seemed to really enjoy giving men a hand search. Once inside it smelled like Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Omar @ Iraq the Model: Maliki promises a crackdow that could reach political figures - Prime Minister Nourai al-Maliki announced that there would be new measures to improve security following last Wednesday’s tragic bombings. “We defeated the terrorists, and Ramadan is a great chance to eliminate them once and for all”, Maliki said. He described the purpose behind the attacks as “They target the government which represents the political process and national unity, which they hate”. Here Maliki is clearly referring to some Shiite parties that attacked him over his active non-sectarian approach and increasingly stronger relations with Sunni Arab powers. It can be seen from Maliki’s words that he is determined to move forward with building his diverse political alliance and ignoring the calls for rebuilding the Shiite alliance (UIA). There has been pressure from Iran and Najaf to reconstitute the UIA to enter the elections as one great mass. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban leader challenges appointment of Hakeemullah Mehsud as group's leader - A senior Taliban commander has challenged Hakeemullah Mehsud's appointment as the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the leader of a powerful faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, claimed he has been selected to lead by Baitullah Mehsud, the group's former leader who is thought to have been killed in an Aug. 5 US Predator airstrike. Waliur made his statements in two interviews with the press over the past several days. "Baitullah Mehsud has deputed the organization’s affairs to me two months back," Waliur told Geo News today. On Saturday, Waliur said that a new leader "would be chosen within five days," during an interview with the Associated Press. Waliur did not reference the shura meeting that reportedly appointed Hakeemulah as Baitullah's replacement. (READ MORE)

The Life: Things We Take for Granted - While I am on leave, it is interesting to note the things that I had taken for granted as a civilian. Some of these are: Having a bathroom (when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee, I can simply walk to the bathroom to do this. No getting dressed, putting on shower shoes, and walking 50 yards to pee), Grass everywhere, Food choices (I have had Mexican, Asian, European, and American foods in this two weeks of leave that soldiers do not have in Iraq, much less the average citizen in Iraq), Clean air (There used to be seven days on average of dust storms per year in Iraq. This year we have sometimes seven days at a time of dust due to the droughts and deteriorating environment. Dust storms have caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to be hospitalized this year, and it gets worse each year. We are very lucky in America to have air that we can breathe), Not carrying a loaded weapon around everywhere I go... (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 23 Aug 09 - today has been pretty damn good … nothing to do all day until about 1615 for some pre-checks, and some staff meeting info …then around 1700 we will get ready to head out to the night driving portion of the hummer driver’s training…I did get a little more info about where i will be deploying…the guy says he wears khaki cargo shorts and sand colored (uniform) t-shirts and never touches his uniform…he also said I will have my own room with wired internet…assigned to the special forces unit and everything is just thru/with them…the unit has it’s own dining facility (the politically correct term for chow hall) and their own gym…he also said to grow out my facial hair to blend in–I probably won’t be able to convince my leadership of that around here, so I’ll just wait till I get to the FOB before I stop shaving…there are also 2 Afghan civilians working with him and they will snatch the wrench out of his hand when he starts to work on something because they really want to work… (READ MORE)

Short Timers: (Video) Training in a Combat Zone - War is often characterized by combat and fire power, what has often been referred out here as “kinetic” operations. But these days Alaska’s soldiers serving in Iraq are finding themselves in less aggressive, supporting roles. To keep skills up to date, the Brigade offers its soldiers training in the warzone. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Venice of the East - I had an opportunity to travel in to Basra proper this past week. I attended a meeting of a lot of Iraqi Security Force officials and American forces representatives. It’s an important meeting because it’s lead by Iraqis and it’s for Iraqis. (Do I get points for incorporating a command message into my personal blog?) It did seem like real issues were talked about. I can’t tell you for sure because the meeting is conducted in arabic and they had 15 of those translator ear thingy you see them using at the UN. I was somewhere around number 16 on the priority list. Since I’m the NCOIC of our public affairs shop, I’m responsible for more than just video product. My soldier had been out on missions three days in a row, and he needed time to write. We were told we would be supporting this mission for various reasons. It was not a video mission, it was a print mission. That means to accomplish the mission I rolled out with Galloway’s Nikon D200. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Resources - I was in the chow hall today and I overheard a conversation between an Army Captain and several enlisted guys. The Captain said that he was finding it really hard to tell his people that they should re-enlist in the Army. Basically because of the stories that I heard from the enlisted guys. One of them has been in the Army for 5 years, 3 years of it has been spent on deployment! That’s outrageous! He stated that it was really hard for him to have a meaningful relationship with anyone since he’s gone all of the time. He also said that he is nearing the end of his enlistment and that even if the Army gave him a gold plated Mercedes he was still going to get out, a few choice cuss words were used! Even though the Canadians do a poor job in utilizing the people with certain skill sets (not the people in this hospital it comes from higher up and yes I’m still pissed about Ron leaving for Kuwait!) they do take care of their deployed personnel. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Rock Star Treatment - A few weeks ago, we got word that none other than General David H. Petraeus would be dropping by our Forward Operating Base (FOB). To say that General Petraeus has reached nearly legendary status within the US military would be an understatement. Colonel Gian Gentile, professor of history at West Point, has noted that there is a "popular narrative" of the Surge of 2007--with General Petraeus placed squarely in the center as the catalyst for turning around the war effort with a new counterinsurgency strategy. While Gentile is correct in that there are noticable flaws within the popular narrative, and that General Petraeus should not receive all the credit for the drastic reduction in violence (Sunni concerned local citizens, the completion of the sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, disbanding of the Mahdi Army, and a myriad of other factors--not the least of which were the tireless efforts of over 100,000 service members), it should be noted that General Petraeus certainly played a key role in organizing and focusing our counterinsurgency efforts. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
US Anxious Over Shiite-Sunni Relations in Iraq - Military officials are anxiously watching the brittle partnership between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq as US analysts warn that renewed waves of violence have put the country at a crucial crossroads. Sunni militants are widely thought responsible for bombings in Baghdad last week that left 95 dead. But a key question being debated in Washington is whether the larger Sunni community has begun implicitly supporting the attacks. For the moment, military officers and American analysts do not believe that a new sectarian war has broken out. (READ MORE)

Iraq Military Broadcasts Confession on Bombing - Iraq’s military showed on Sunday what it called the confession of a mastermind of last week’s deadly attacks on two government ministries, and it announced the arrests of police and army officers the man said had been bribed to allow a huge truck bomb through checkpoints into Baghdad. In brief, edited excerpts of videotaped remarks, the man, identified as Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim, calmly explained how he had organized one of the two bombings, which killed almost 100 people on Wednesday and wounded hundreds more. (READ MORE)

Alleged Mastermind Behind Baghdad Bombs ‘Confesses’ on Iraq TV - The Iraqi Government broadcast yesterday the confession of the alleged mastermind behind massive bombings that struck Baghdad last week, killing more than 100 people. Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim, 57, a Sunni, said that he had been a provincial police chief under Saddam Hussein and had paid thousands of dollars in bribes to get two 4,000lb lorry bombs past police checkpoints to the front gates of the Finance and Foreign ministries. Opposition politicians voiced doubt last night that the real perpetrators had been caught and asked if the confession was made under torture. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Official Says Security Forces May Have Colluded in Bombings - Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said Saturday that the coordinated attack that killed more than 100 people, including dozens of his employees, in Baghdad on Wednesday may have been carried out with the complicity of Iraqi security forces. During a strikingly blunt news conference at the severely damaged Foreign Ministry, Zebari, a Kurd, accused Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government of hubris in talking up its ability to protect citizens. "The operation was organized and planned for months," Zebari said. (READ MORE)

Iraq Investigating Security Forces in Ministry Bombing - The suicide bombers who blew up explosives-laden trucks outside government buildings in Baghdad last week may have been aided by members of Iraq's security forces, the foreign minister said Saturday, even as the government insisted Iraqi forces could still protect the nation. Anger is mounting over the security lapses that allowed the bombers to drive trucks past checkpoints and position them close to government targets that included the Foreign and Finance ministries. (READ MORE)

Ramadi Struggles to Instill a Rule of Law - In this city that became synonymous with Al Qaeda-linked violence, Iraqi forces are grappling with corruption and lawlessness so pervasive it threatens to derail the hard-won security of the last two years. Despite a $21 million, US-funded judicial complex opened recently and regular attacks, not a single major case has been brought to justice in at least the last six months, according to US military officials. "My goal is to get them [Iraqi officials] to prosecute and develop a terrorism case," says Lt. Col. Joseph Cabell, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. But the clock is ticking. (READ MORE)

In Iraq's Capital, Fear of Violence Makes for a Quiet Beginning to Ramadan - As dusk draws near during the holy month of Ramadan, the streets of Baghdad are normally filled with people shopping for sweets, snacks and supplies for the iftar, the sunset meal at which Muslims break their daylong fast. But on the first day of Ramadan here Saturday, shopping centers were gloomily empty of people. Instead of buying treats, Iraqis were staying close to home and contemplating the scary reality, in the wake of two devastating bombings last week, that their country may no longer be on a path toward greater stability. (READ MORE)

Sunnis and Shiites See an Omen for Reconciliation in Iraq - On Saturday, the holy month of Ramadan began on the same day in Iraq for both Sunnis and Shiites, the first time that has happened in 10 years. For a country riven by sectarian strife, and plagued by bombings aimed at provoking more such warfare, that was a welcome omen. That portent of a religious reconciliation does not include secular or Christian Iraqis, however, for whom this Ramadan does not augur so well. For the first time, the government has instituted a series of decrees closing nearly all restaurants for the next month during the daylight hours of the Ramadan fast. (READ MORE)

Iraq Showcases Oil Fields for Next Slate of Auctions - Iraqi officials, smarting from a disappointing oil-license auction in June, will showcase a second set of fields this week that they hope will garner more interest from international companies. Oil executives have wanted to enter Iraq's giant and relatively unexplored fields since the US-led invasion in 2003, but they mostly passed on the first opportunity earlier this summer. In late June, Iraqi officials attempted to auction rights to boost output at a number of fields that were already producing. (READ MORE)

Emergency Response Brigade arrests suspected terrorist in Baghdad - BAGHDAD – The Emergency Response Brigade, along with U.S. force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist in the Iraqi capital Aug. 20. The elite police force was operating under the authority of a warrant issued by the Criminal Investigative Court of Karkh. The suspect is allegedly affiliated with insurgent groups and wanted for facilitating and conducting sniper attacks against Iraqi Security Forces operating in the area. (READ MORE)

Basrah SWAT arrests suspected terrorist in southern Iraq - BAGHDAD – A Basrah Special Weapons and Tactics team, along with U.S. force advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist linked to numerous insurgent networks in Basrah province on Aug. 20. The SWAT team was operating under the authority of a warrant issued by the Basrah Court. The suspect has allegedly served as a high ranking official for numerous terrorist groups operating in the area. The suspect is also wanted for alleged attacks against Iraqi Security Forces and civilians. (READ MORE)

Ninewah Commandos arrest two suspected assassins - TIKRIT, Iraq – Elements of the 7th Regional Commando Battalion, with U.S. force advisors, arrested two suspected terrorists on Aug. 21, during an operation in the Ninewah province. The Commandos arrested the suspected terrorists with a warrant issued by the Central Investigative Court of Karkh. The men are suspected of assassination attempts and explosive attacks against Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. forces in Ninewah. (READ MORE)

Pedestrian bridge opens in southern Iraq - Al Khidr, Iraq – After 25 years of neglect the community of Al Khidr, population 50,000, received a boost to its quality of life with the opening of a new covered pedestrian bridge. The bridge, spanning the Euphrates River and linking both sides of the city of Al Khidr in Muthanna Province, was dedicated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 18. (READ MORE)

Four Soldiers charged with cruelty and maltreatment - BAGHDAD – Four Soldiers serving with Multi-National Division—South have been charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates. On August 19, charges were preferred against Staff Sgt. Enoch Chatman, Staff Sgt. Bob Clements, Sgt. Jarrett Taylor and Spc. Daniel Weber, all of B Troop, 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Bliss, Texas. The four Soldiers are alleged to have treated Soldiers within their platoon inappropriately. (READ MORE)

Airborne artillerymen get back to basics - FOB HAMMER — Since deploying last December, some artillery Paratroopers here have performed as infantrymen in the urban environment of Baghdad's al-Karradah district. However, with Iraqi Security Forces now clearly in charge of security in the city, the artillerymen now have time to go out to the deserts and work on their signature skill set. (READ MORE)

Soldiers relieve stress through music - MOSUL — Like leaves floating lazily in a warm summer breeze, the notes from a guitarist's strum encircled two musicians and their instruments late one recent evening. The tempo rose, picking up speed, slapping the tiny music studio with a hard metal distortion. The notes stung the guitarist's finger tips and tightened his wrist, hoisting him from his seat. (READ MORE)

Sibling Soldiers reunite, catch up in Iraq - COB SPEICHER — Deployments usually separate servicemembers from their families. However, for one U.S. Soldier here, it provided the chance to reunite with her brother. Sgt. Andrea Wieseler, a telecommunications sergeant with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, hadn't seen her brother, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Heath Wieseler, in more than two years. Heath, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot, is serving here with the 10th Mountain Division’s 10th Aviation Regiment. Upon hearing this, Andrea's supervisors allowed her some time to meet up with her brother. (READ MORE)

Troops search for answers, make friends - BAGHDAD – Recently, U.S paratroopers were attacked by an improvised explosive device here outside of Joint Security Station Cleary. According to 1st Lt. Steven Kelly, a platoon leader in the unit attacked, it was the first time anything like this happened to them in more than nine months in Iraq. On Aug. 18, the paratroopers of Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and their Iraqi Army (IA) counterparts donned their armor, loaded their weapons and went on patrol looking to make some contacts, secure the streets and find some answers. (READ MORE)

US Military Chief: Afghanistan Situation is 'Serious and Deteriorating' - The US military's top officer says he believes the situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating." The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said in an interview on US television CNN's State of the Union Sunday that the Taliban insurgency has "gotten better [and] more sophisticated" in its tactics over the past couple of years. In a separate interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Mullen said the US military is focused on preventing another terrorist attack on US soil and that its current strategy in Afghanistan is intended to disrupt and defeat al-Qaida, the Taliban and its extremist allies. (READ MORE)

Mullen: Afghan Fight 'Serious and Deteriorating' - The situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said Sunday, as the Obama administration awaits an assessment by the new US commander there and a possible request for more troops. Mullen also expressed concern over recent opinion polls indicating that for the first time a majority of Americans do not think the Afghan war is worth fighting. President Obama has described the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the central front against international terrorism and has pledged to give it all necessary resources. (READ MORE)

US Military Says Its Force in Afghanistan Is Insufficient - American military commanders with the NATO mission in Afghanistan told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders. The commanders emphasized problems in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents continue to bombard towns and villages with rockets despite a new influx of American troops, and in eastern Afghanistan, where the father-and-son-led Haqqani network of militants has become the main source of attacks against American troops and their Afghan allies. (READ MORE)

Hard Choices on Afghanistan War Plans - As public support for the Afghanistan war erodes, President Barack Obama is facing with two equally unattractive choices: increase US troops levels to beat back a resilient enemy, or stick with the 68,000 already committed and risk the political fallout if that's not enough. The decision is just a few weeks away. Gen. Army Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is completing an assessment of what he needs to win the fight there. Already, one leading Republican is suggesting McChrystal will be pressured to ask for lower troop totals than he requires. (READ MORE)

More Troops Needed in Afghanistan, Allies Tell US Envoy - Military commanders in Afghanistan have told a senior US envoy that they need more troops to deal with an intensifying insurgency in the country's east, raising the possibility that the Obama administration may refocus the war on the lawless border with Pakistan. Any request to increase overall troop levels to bolster forces in the east could face resistance from Congress, coming at a time when US support for the war appears to be softening. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week showed that a slight majority of Americans now believe the war is not worth fighting. (READ MORE)

US to Urge Bigger Role for Diggers in Afghanistan - The top US military commander in Afghanistan wants Canberra to lift restrictions on where Australian army troops can fight, allowing them to deploy routinely outside their base in Oruzgan province. The request, conveyed to Australian defence chiefs last month, comes as US General Stanley McChrystal completes a fundamental review of the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan, in which he is expected to ask for up to 10,000 extra American troops. General McChrystal wants Australia and other close allies to drop existing "red cards", or national caveats, on where their troops can operate, as he seeks a fuller integration of the coalition's military effort across Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Petraeus to Open Intel Training Center - Gen. David H. Petraeus plans to open an in-house intelligence organization at US Central Command this week that will train military officers, covert agents and analysts who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, to be called the Center for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence, will be led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of the Gen. Petraeus' most trusted analysts during the 2007-08 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Afghan Vote Results May Be Delayed - Complaints about fraud in Thursday's presidential and provincial council elections in Afghanistan may further delay the announcement of official results. Officials continue to issue statments saying claims that anyone is leading the presidential contest are premature, inaccurate and unauthorized. Election officials here are cautioning that previously announced dates to post official returns in mid-September may be pushed back. The hitch lies with an anticipated large number of complaints, including ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. Many of these - and there are more than 225 and the number is growing - will have to be investigated on location in a country with rugged and hostile terrain. (READ MORE)

Karzai Opponent Alleges 'Widespread' Voter Fraud - The main challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that he has received "alarming" reports of "widespread rigging" in Thursday's presidential election by pro-government groups and officials, but he called on supporters to be patient and said he hopes the problem will be resolved through the official election review. "The initial reports are a big cause of concern, but hopefully we can prevent fraud through legal means," Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, said at a news conference. (READ MORE)

Afghan Vote Threatened by Fraud Allegations - Reports of fraud and intimidation from election-monitoring groups are mounting, undermining the legitimacy of Afghanistan's presidential vote and posing a challenge for the US and its Western allies, who initially declared the vote a success. A linchpin of the international community's strategy here, Thursday's election was supposed to shore up the credibility of the Western-backed Afghan government threatened by a spreading Taliban insurgency. Rolling back Taliban advances and reinvigorating Afghanistan's development are the key goals of President Barack Obama's administration, which has poured tens of thousands of additional US troops into the country in recent months. (READ MORE)

Marines Fight Taliban With Little Aid From Afghans - American Marines secured this desolate village in southern Afghanistan nearly two months ago, and last week they were fortifying bases, on duty at checkpoints and patrolling in full body armor in 120-degree heat. Despite those efforts, only a few hundred Afghans were persuaded to come out here and vote for president on Thursday. In a region the Taliban have lorded over for six years, and where they remain a menacing presence, American officers say their troops alone are not enough to reassure Afghans. Something is missing that has left even the recently appointed district governor feeling dismayed. (READ MORE)

Administration Concerned About US Public Support for Afghan War - The Obama administration is keeping a close watch on developments in Afghanistan amidst rising violence and growing tensions surrounding last week's national elections. Meanwhile, US military officials admit they are concerned about signs of slipping American public support for the Afghan war. In an interview with CNN, America's top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen called the Afghan situation "serious and deteriorating." Later, on NBC's Meet the Press, he was asked about the impact conditions there are having on US public opinion. (READ MORE)

Killings Rattle Pakistan Taliban - The struggle among the Pakistan Taliban's leadership intensified Sunday, as members of the militant group killed several people close to slain commander Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistani government officials said. Among those killed, officials said, were Mawlvi Ikramuddin, the father-in-law of Mr. Mehsud, along with Mr. Ikramuddin's two sons and a brother. Taliban militants accused the slain individuals of tipping off authorities about Mr. Mehsud's whereabouts. "According to our information they all have been killed," Rehman Malik, the federal interior minister, told reporters Sunday. (READ MORE)

New Leader of Pakistan’s Taliban Is Named, Though Officials Believe He Is Dead - A senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban announced Saturday that a brash young commander with a reputation for pitiless violence appeared to have won the struggle to lead the group - even as the government wrestles with conflicting information about whether that commander is even alive. Intelligence officials in Pakistan say that the newly proclaimed leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is dead. But Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said Saturday in an interview that he was alive, although gravely injured, and that Taliban fighters were desperately searching for his younger brother as a stand-in. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Taliban Names New Leader - Faced with the prospect of rifts among its ranks after a US drone strike apparently killed leader Baitullah Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban announced Saturday that it had chosen one of his deputies to succeed him. A 28-year-old commander named Hakimullah Mahsud will lead Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a militant organization based in the tribal areas along the Afghan border and blamed for many of the suicide bombings and other attacks that have plagued Pakistan. Experts say Hakimullah Mahsud, who isn't related to the former leader, has a reputation for being just as ruthless but lacking his predecessor's ability to keep rival factions unified. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Taliban Appoints Fearsome Young Gun as New Leader - Hakimullah Mehsud, a young militant with a fearsome reputation, has been named as the new leader of Pakistan's Taliban. The 28-year-old is dreaded even within the militant movement, and has a reputation for killing first and asking questions later. A month ago he is said to have personally executed eight of his colleagues in a single day on flimsy claims of spying. Hakimullah is thought to have been declared head of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), following a meeting of the group's central council. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan is Worth the Fight - America must keep up the fight in Afghanistan despite the polls. Fifty-one percent of Americans now think the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week. That is a dramatic 10-point move since March, when the number of war skeptics was at 41 percent. It's the first time since the question was asked in 2007 that the "not worth it" number was higher than 50 percent. Among Democrats, the antiwar number is 70 percent. The Afghan war is following a pattern established more than 50 years ago. (READ MORE)

The President and the 'Necessary War' Myth - President Obama recently defended American combat in Afghanistan as a "war of necessity," not a "war of choice." He borrowed this deceptively neat distinction from Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent book on the subject. And proving how unhelpful it can be, Haass quickly corrected the president. No, Afghanistan is a "war of choice," he declaimed in the New York Times, "Mr. Obama's choice." The president has walked into a murky swamp that is best avoided. There have been few if any clear-cut wars of necessity in America's history. Not the Revolution, where both the colonists and the British had other and, in the British case, better choices. (READ MORE)

War of Necessity or Choice? - Afghanistan is not only President Obama's war, but also what he now calls "a war of necessity." For the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, who was head of policy planning at the State Department in the run-up to the Iraq war, who voted for Mr. Obama, Afghanistan is a "war of choice, not of necessity," that he fears we will learn to regret. This also reflects public opinion: Half the American people are against the Afghan war. Mr. Haass' latest book, "War of Choice, War of Necessity," makes clear that Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity. (READ MORE)

Under Burqas, Afghan Women Voted in Protest - Whether American troops can leave Afghanistan sooner rather than later depends on democracy's gains in that war-ravaged country - and the gains of women, too. Thursday's elections for president and local councils were such a gain - seen especially in the turnout of women to vote in defiance of Taliban threats of retaliation. In some places, women were 60 percent of voters - predictable in part because women far outnumber men in voter registration in many regions - although their presence at voting booths in the Taliban-infested south was low. (READ MORE)

The War for Afghanistan's Women - There are two wars going on in Afghanistan. One is to defeat the Taliban, and that war is not going well. The other is to liberate women, and that war has hardly begun. If the first war is won but the second is lost, Afghanistan will turn into a failed state - a caldron of violence and misery, home to extremism and totally outside the Western orbit of influence. Last week's election, however imperfect, is welcome, but it means little as long as women remain enslaved in this patriarchal, tradition-bound culture. In most of the country, a woman needs her husband's permission to leave her home. Domestic violence is tragically common. (READ MORE)

Taliban goes ahead with threat to chop fingers - It has been reported from Afghanistan that two people had fingers chopped off by Taliban members after they were found to have voted in last week’s election. The ink-stained fingers of the two Afghan voters were lopped off in Kandahar province shortly after voting Thursday. The country’s election monitoring group has revealed the two voters, who had dipped their index fingers in purple ink as a fraud prevention measure, were attacked after the Taliban had threatened to cut off voters’ who were found with ink-stained fingers. (READ MORE)

Taliban quiz Mehsud’s kin over ‘spying’ - PESHAWAR: Taliban have detained four relatives of their leader Baitullah Mehsud, believed to have been killed in a US missile strike, on suspicion of tipping off authorities about his whereabouts, security officials said. A senior intelligence official said Mehsud’s father-in-law, Ikramuddin Mehsud, his son, one of his brothers and a nephew had been detained by the Taliban on suspicion they had passed on information about Mehsud’s whereabouts. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Elections Not Free Everywhere due to Terror - The Friday presidential and local elections in Afghanistan were not free in all of the country because of violence and terror. This was stated in Kabul Saturday by the head of the EU observer mission, Philippe Morillon. "Generally, what we have observed was considered by our observers with our methodology good and fair," Morillon said, as cited by BGNES, stressing it was still too early days to give a thorough assessment of the elections. (READ MORE)

Women and children are defying the Taliban - The results from Afghanistan are fantastic. I'm not talking about last week's elections, obviously, but the interim results of a survey on the number of Afghan children who are now attending school. Published last month by Unicef, they show a "massive return" of boys and girls to schools around the country, with the number of female pupils going up by more than 90 per cent. Two-thirds of the country has been surveyed so far – 2,744 schools – and 1.25 million children are getting regular lessons. If the trend is repeated in the remaining provinces, Unicef believes that the number of children in Afghan schools is likely to exceed all expectations. (READ MORE)

Spectre of unrest looms after Afghan polls marred by fraud - Reports of widespread and systematic fraud and intimidation continued to emerge amid delays in the counting of votes in the Afghan elections, raising the spectre of turbulence when the results are announced. Allegations of ballot-rigging were particularly prevalent in the southern Pashtun belt. The region, which holds the key to the contest, also suffered from drastically low turnout due to Taliban violence and threats. There were accounts of the insurgents' retribution against voters, including fingers being chopped off. (READ MORE)

India hails Afghan polls - NEW DELHI: India has welcomed the Presidential and Provincial Council elections held in Afghanistan on Thursday and is confident that the democratic exercise will strengthen democracy and pluralism. In a statement, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said the exercise was one of the largest in the history of Afghanistan. “As a fellow developing country and democracy, we remain strongly supportive of the election process and democratic institutions of Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

German FM proposes Afghan pullout talks - BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is bidding to oust Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany in an election next month, said he wanted a timetable for a military pullout from Afghanistan. Steinmeier, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) who share power with Merkel’s conservatives, said once it became clear who would lead Afghanistan after last Thursday’s election there, talks should begin over how long foreign troops should stay. (READ MORE)

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H&I FIRES* 24 August 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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