August 27, 2009

From the Front: 08/27/2009

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

MAJ C: SEN Kennedy and Two US Soldiers - In no way, shape, or form is this a detraction to Senator Kennedy's legacy. Whether you personally liked him, or disliked him, he served as a US Senator for generations. Rest in Peace Sir. Should the passing of Senator Kennedy be ignored in any way? No, of course not. It is news, and people need to know about it. Should the passing of two US Soldiers be ignored in any way? No, absolutely not. But, that is exactly what has been going on tonight. I have spent the last 2.5 hours observing on Television and the Internet the news that is being covered. For the great majority of domestic news services, there has been little mention of anything from Afghanistan, never mind the casualties. For example, less then two hours ago there was another explosion in Kandahar City, close to the site of the bombing last night. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Introducing The Case for Afghanistan - Many people I know and respect, like Michael Cohen, have written articles and blog posts explaining why there is little or no strategic rationale for the continued war in Afghanistan, and therefore the U.S. should withdraw from the conflict. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have growing doubts about the war, especially surrounding our willingness to fight it, but despite those doubts I see several very important reasons to say. (I’ll also address some of the concerns I see them raising). For starters, and I mentioned this during the BloggingHeads segment I did with Michael, you cannot ignore the domestic politics of the war. Namely, two administrations now have placed their foreign policy fortunes on defeating al Qaeda because it is a major, strategic threat. I honestly have my doubts—despite actually watching the September 11th attacks from my office window in Arlington, at the bottom of things 9/11 didn’t materially affect the U.S.—the stock market barely paused... (READ MORE)

Afghani Kush: Away for a while - Hey all. Well, I'm sorry that I haven't been updating this thing lately. As many of you know I'm going to be staying down here for another deployment. But as I've been moved around I've had less and less time to write/take pictures and less and less to write and take pictures of. So I'm going to try and update this thing when I do, but I don't think I'm going to be able to do much more of it. Many of my readers were friends and family of the guys in my unit. They should all be home in a few weeks and it's been a great deployment because of them. We've been lucky and have had a lot of close calls. I wish everyone could of made it home alright, but I am glad that those of us that did are safe. I hope that you guys have enjoyed my blog and I wish you all the best. I'll still update from time to time but I can't really promise regular posts anymore. (READ MORE)

C.J. Chivers: A War Won Less by Force Than by Persuasion? - This week, the latest counterinsurgency guidance for the American and international units fighting the Afghan war was released by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who commands the International Security Assistance Force. The seven-page document, as might be expected, contains little new to anyone who has followed the rise of counterinsurgency thinking within the American military after fighting intensified in post-invasion Iraq. The mission, the commander says, is to protect the Afghans. The war will be won not by destroying the enemy, but by persuading the people. The international forces will have succeeded when the government of Afghanistan is supported by the population. The challenge, for everyone from lieutenants in the field to General McChrystal in Kabul, lies in converting this kind of doctrinal distillation into operations on the ground. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan: Leaving - We're on our way out...but it's tough to get too excited about it when the process is going to take two weeks or so. We turned things over to the new team, and they'll begin going through all the things we went through. With the ANA you have to wonder if they purposely hit the rewind button when a new team arrives. By that I mean, the suspicion exists that the ANA play down their abilities for new ETTs in the hopes that the new guys will coddle them and not demand as much of them as they are capable of giving; let the new guys think you're incapable, and maybe they won't ask much of you; show how pathetic and helpless you are and maybe they'll buy and give you more stuff. I won't personally say I saw much of that type of behavior, but I did hear of it from others and it would fit right in with what I know about the ANA. At any rate, the new team will do just fine. They'll find their own way, which will be different from ours in some respects. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: News From Afghanistan: Understatement-ad-Absurdum, Snake Oil and Propaganda - After 15 years toiling for daily newspapers and several more years writing books and working as a freelance writer, I confess to harbouring some occasional cynicism about the journalism trade. When it comes to Afghanistan, in my darker moments I've sometimes wondered whether the Karzai regime would get better press in the rich countries of the world with a simple public relations strategy, along, say, these lines: 1. Incorporate references to the Protocols of Zion in the Afghan constitution. 2. Arrange to have the Afghan parliament sponsor the launching of a few hundred missiles into civilian neighbourhoods in Israel. 3. Sign an oil deal with Hugo Chavez. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: New Taliban chief threatens US - The new leader of the Paistani Taliban threatened to strike back at the US for killing Baitullah Mehsud in a Predator attack earlier last month. "We will take revenge and soon," Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was chosen to lead the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan last weekend, told AFP. "We will give our reply to this drone attack to America." The Taliban claimed Baitullah died on Aug. 23 of wounds suffered during the Aug. 5 airstrike that also killed his second wife and seven of his bodyguards. Hakeemullah and Baitullah were cousins; Baitullah helped Hakeemullah quickly rise through the ranks of the Taliban. Any attack would likely take place inside Pakistan. A successful attack would help cement Hakeemullah's position as the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban. (READ MORE)

LL @ You Served: Golden Rules of Receiving Care Packages - You know, my friend JP wrote a seminal piece on how not to send crappy care packages when he was in Afghanistan about 5 years ago (It is tongue-in-cheek and STILL riles up the masses). He pulls it out, dusts it off, and updates it occasionally, to remind all us supporters to mind our p’s and q’s. Well, I think it’s time to give a tat for his tit. (Whoa, that SO didn’t come out right, but you know what I mean) 1. Don’t ask for electronics. I’m way better looking than Bill Gates, even though HE could probably get you the iPods and such, and I will send stuff to you, but asking for electronics is greedy. I have 2 kids to fulfill the greedy need-need-wanna-gotta-have hole in my life, m’kay? Unless I squeezed you outta my hoohah, you’re not getting a new iPod, thankyouverymuch, so stop asking. (By the way, I still don’t have one, so I’m considered a luddite in JP’s eyes. Whatever) (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Minor Annoyances - I discovered this morning, as I rolled out of the fart sack, that I had left my deodorant and small liquid soap squeeze bottle in the head, some 12 hours previously. I hurried in to scrape my face, hoping that some kind soul had left them in situ. No such luck; this ain't VMI. The deodorant I replaced easily, the squeeze bottle I'll have to get reach-back support for... it was the perfect size and shape, approx 3 ounces. Know the kind I'm talking about?? Hellfire and damnation! (READ MORE)

The Quatto Zone: I'm Shocked, Shocked - ...to find that public affairs officers consider the likely outcome of engaging with reporters before engaging with them. The suggestion that there is widespread blacklisting of journalists for embeds and other media opportunities in Afghanistan proves that Hell hath no fury like reporters spurned, or the interest group ready to rush to their defense. Today's Military Times includes some of my thoughts on the subject. Here are two others: 1. When you have more requests for media support than you have opportunities, value judgments about which to support and which to decline simply have to be applied. Inevitably, many of those criteria are subjective, but that doesn't mean the selection process is any less objective than news gathering generally. If I asked any news outlet for a list of the criteria it uses to determine which reporters to assign to a story, or which stories are or aren't worth following, I doubt I would get anything much more concrete than platitudes about editorial judgment. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: The Kopp-Etchells Effect, Part II - 27 August 2009 - My embed with British forces has ended. Will be out with U.S. forces for the foreseeable future. After that, will strike out alone into the wilds of Afghanistan. There are two more stories in the pipeline about the British soldiers I was with, who were in a couple of firefights. The bullets got pretty close. The events are worth recounting. Unsure if I will be able to complete those dispatches due to the time wasted with the sudden ending of my embed. Am attempting to publish at least one. The soldiers deserve both, but time is cruel when its wasted. A researcher who studies helicopter "brown outs" contacted me regarding the Kopp-Etchells Effect. Apparently the effect is unrelated to St. Elmo's Fire. In fact, it sounds as though scientists remain unsure of exactly what causes the Kopp-Etchells Effect. The phenomenon remains a mystery. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Missing Subtext, Or Puff the Magic Generals! - What is missing from Spencer Ackerman’s breathless cheerleading of the new McChrystal directives for counterinsurgency operations? Most of them were already put out by McKiernan and his subordinates. The bit about good road manners, which Nathan Hodge thinks is so fetch, actually has its genesis in McKiernan’s rules about road behavior (most obviously represented in a standing order eight months ago from Colonel Spellmon, the commander of Task Force Warrior at Bagram Air Base, to drive slowly through villages—something many soldiers resented as needlessly risky). Then there are the omissions. As Ackerman notes, there is nothing about partnering with civilian agencies. It’s a theme I’ve seen cropping up more and more with all these military types and thinkers discussing the civilian side of things: all non-soldiers are, for lack of a better term, black boxes—clouds on a powerpoint slide (when they’re even mentioned in the first place). (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Keeping the Peace - COP COBRA, Iraq - On a sunny morning at Command Outpost Cobra, Lt. Col. Michael Kasales of the 1-25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team was mending fences. “This kind of cooperation doesn’t exist anywhere else in Iraq,” he told the assembled Iraqi forces at a joint security meeting. “There can be peace and understanding, or it can turn into a fight.” On the border between Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Kasales and the troops of his 5-1 Cavalry Regiment have their work cut out for them, trying to massage egos and build relationships between Arabs and Kurds. It’s a daunting task even under the best of circumstances, and the soldiers are dealing with an active insurgency and infrastructure projects to boot. As the meeting wore on, the magnitude of friction between the authorities became apparent. (READ MORE)

Sketchpad Warrior: Works In Process Update - Here is the oil sketch in process I mentioned in my last post: The subject is the long wait we had one day on a convoy, when one of the vehicles got stuck on a bridge, half hanging over the edge, which delayed our movement for nine hours. We sat in the vehicle, stuck in with our gear, trying not to be bored out of our skulls, and sometimes trying to sleep. Here is pictured HM2 Amesquita, Cpl Rogers, and Sgt Miller of CLB8, trying to sleep. The jumble of Marine and gear lends itself to a sketchy process, with the paint and strokes as jumbled as the gear..! First, the rough sketch (with enough detail to make the composition a success). It's on toned, gessoed Arches 300 lb. watercolor paper (a great weight for watercolor as well as oil sketching); In process, the roughing out, or "blocking in"-- at this point I try to keep what works, expressing in as few strokes as I can, as much detail as possible. (READ MORE)

Guard Wife @ SpouseBUZZ: Why Does It Feel So Different? - My girls started school yesterday. Not just a new school year, but they began their school year at an entirely new school. The first grader showed only a moment's hesitation with the entire process. The fifth grader, however, had more speed bumps. I kept thinking, "This is so much harder with my husband deployed! If only he were here, this would be so different!" I realized as I walked from the school building after delivering each child safely to her respective classroom, that I have taken that walk alone, every year whether my husband were deployed or not. My husband's civilian job is one that starts at the same time every day, give or take, and ends when the truck is empty. There is no 'reporting late' or taking the day off for something like the first day of school (unless, of course, you knew the date in February and scheduled your vacation week around school starting). (READ MORE)

The Torch: Real propaganda - About a month ago, ISAF released a "Code of Taliban Conduct" (officially "Afghanistan Islamic Emirate Rules and Regulations for Mujahidin" as translated from the Pashto original). At the time, it was rightly censured by spokesman BGen Eric Tremblay as propaganda: When it comes to suicide bombings, the relevant passage is Section 7, Paragraph 41 of the supposed code: Well, surprise, surprise: yesterday's VBIED attack in the city of Kandahar killed at least 41, and wounded over 80 more people. All of them were civilians. Every single one. And yet still, in the AP piece above, you read the phrase "Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment..." What if these lying sacks of shit had been available for comment, folks? Would we have been reading their misinformation in black and white, juxtaposed credibly against BGen Tremblay's words in a pathetic bow to "balanced reporting" - like somehow both should be weighed equally? You bet we would. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: The Human Dimension and Leader Development - “…People accomplish the mission. It is this human dimension with moral, cognitive and physical components that enables land forces to deal with the situational complexity of tactical actions with strategic impacts and adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Leadership is of paramount importance, and land forces must continue to develop agile and adaptive leaders who can handle the challenges of full spectrum operations.” - GEN Casey, Army Chief of Staff, October 2008, Army Magazine. As GEN Casey points out, "people accomplish the mission". The army seeks to develop leaders who are competent, are capable of operating across the Full Spectrum of Operations, and are culturally astute. In order to be able to do this, soldiers need to be innovative and adaptive. The question is what are we doing to train and educate soldiers to be innovative, creative and adaptive? What are we doing to make soldiers better problem solvers? (READ MORE)

David Axe: Pentagon Reporter-Screening Crisis Deepens - The Pentagon has begun using a contractor to rate the attitudes of potential embedded reporters, according to the partially-government-funded Stars & Stripes newspaper. “U.S. public affairs officials in Afghanistan acknowledged to Stars & Stripes that any reporter seeking to embed with U.S. forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group,” the paper reported Monday. Rendon reportedly ranks reporters’ stories as “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” towards U.S. war aims. The Pentagon denied that the ratings were used to screen embeds. Besides, the military stopped using the “positive,” “negative” and “neutral” labels in October, according to Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman. Now the Pentagon simply looks for accuracy in reporters’ stories, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a military media handler in Kabul. “It’s so we know who we’re working with,” Mathias said. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
The Real CIA News - Whoever advised people to be skeptical of what they read in the papers must have had in mind this week's coverage of the documents about CIA interrogations. Now that we've had a chance to read the reports, it's clear the real story isn't the few cases of abuse played up by the media. The news is that the program was thoughtfully developed, carefully circumscribed, briefed to Congress, and yielded information crucial to disrupting al Qaeda. In other words, it worked - at least until politics got in the way. That's the essential judgment offered by former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson in his 2004 report. (READ MORE)

Largest Shiite Party In Iraq Loses Leader - Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Iraq's largest Shiite political party, died Wednesday, creating a leadership vacuum that could weaken the bloc ahead of the January parliamentary election. Hakim, 59, died in Tehran, where he was being treated for lung cancer, his relatives and associates said. Leaders of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq are expected to announce after Hakim's burial in Najaf this week that his son Ammar will become the new head of the party, Supreme Council officials said. (READ MORE)

Shiite Power Broker Dies, in Blow to Iraqi Party - One of the towering figures of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite who had longstanding ties with Iran but was also a supporter of the American invasion, died on Wednesday. His death from cancer, at age 59, was a blow to the political group he led, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, which emerged from the war as the country’s dominant political party. (READ MORE)

MNSTC-I Hosts Budgeting Conference for Iraqi Ministries - BAGHDAD – More than 40 Iraqi national attendees at the Defense Resource Management Institute’s Resource Management and Budgeting Conference received attendance certificates from the Iraq Security Assistance Mission here Aug. 19. Conference participants came from the Iraqi Ministries of Interior, Defense and Justice, along with the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. (READ MORE)

Ninewah Commandos arrest suspected terrorist - TIKRIT, Iraq – Commandos for the 7th Regional Commando Battalion, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist on Aug. 22, during an operation in the Ninewah province. The suspected terrorist was arrested with a warrant issued by the Central Investigative Court of Kharakh for suspicion of attacks on Iraqi Security Forces and facilitating terrorist movement throughout the province. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest three suspected terrorists in Khaladiyah - AL ANBAR, Iraq – Elements of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrested a suspected terrorist plus two others who attacked ISOF Soldiers while serving a warrant on August 24. Another of the attackers was killed. The targeted suspect was arrested in accordance with an Ar Ramadi Criminal Court warrant. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a suspected terrorist in Baghdad - BAGHDAD – An element of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, along with U.S. forces advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist in the Iraqi capital on Aug. 23. The Soldiers were operating under the authority of a warrant issued by the Central Investigative Court of Karkh. The suspect is wanted for kidnapping, murder and attacking Iraqi Security Forces. (READ MORE)

USS Thach protects Basrah Oil Terminal - USS THACH, At Sea – The guided-missile frigate USS Thach is providing security for the Basrah Oil Terminal, an Iraqi oil platform that accounts for a significant percentage of the country's gross domestic product. "We're providing security here to help make sure that oil is able to flow freely from the platform to help Iraq's economy to continue to improve and flourish," said Navy Cmdr. David Haas, Thach's commanding officer. (READ MORE)

Turning wrenches with Iraqi Army mechanics - BAGHDAD — In the midst of now-routine training operations here, 299th Brigade Support Battalion mechanics are continuing the effort to train their Iraqi Army counterparts. When it comes to vehicle maintenance, it seems there is a universal language, but translators are on hand to ensure that the machinery of education is running properly. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Air Force boosts intelligence capabilities - BAGHDAD — Intelligence collection has become a valuable capability for the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) in its push to provide security and stability here. Unique to the IqAF, the King Air Squadron 87 boasts the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities necessary for detecting and deterring insurgent activity. (READ MORE)

It's Austere Here! Part Three: Patrol Base Mahawil Offers the Unflushable Toilet - PATROL BASE MAHAWIL, Iraq – There are places in the world that astound you with their beauty: the soaring and ragged vistas of the Grand Canyon in Colorado, the silkily elegant minarets and dome of the Taj Mahal of India, the teeming cobalt zoo that is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Patrol Base Mahawil is not one of them. PB Mahawil is what realtors would call a "handyman special." It is rustic, in the middle of nowhere and free of luxuries. It is also a fitting home for Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, "Spartans." (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Petraeus Predicts Tough Fighting in Afghanistan - The commander of US Central Command said tough fighting lies ahead in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other extremists have expanded their strength and influence, but he cautioned that success there demands more than battlefield victories. With violence reaching peak levels this summer, reversing enemy security gains will require sustained commitment from US and multinational forces, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the American Legion in Louisville, Ky., yesterday. (READ MORE)

Stavridis: Afghanistan War Challenging, But Winnable - The war in Afghanistan is challenging, but winnable, the commander of U.S. European Command - who also serves as NATO’s top military commander - wrote in a “From the Bridge” blog post on Eucom’s Web site yesterday. The situation in Afghanistan is “extremely serious,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis wrote, but he expressed confidence that “the coalition, working with the Afghan people, will ultimately win.” “The stakes are high, [and] the situation is extremely challenging,” Stavridis conceded. (READ MORE)

Alleged Drug Ties of Top Afghan Official Worry US - It was a heated debate during the Bush administration: What to do about evidence that Afghanistan’s powerful defense minister was involved in drug trafficking? Officials from the time say they needed him to help run the troubled country. So the answer, in the end: look the other way. Today that debate will be even more fraught for a new administration, for the former defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, stands a strong chance of becoming the next vice president of Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

US, Allies Plan to Bolster Kandahar Force - The US and its allies are planning to reinforce Afghan police and army units guarding Kandahar with American and Canadian troops, a move that acknowledges the deteriorating condition of the south's largest city. According to senior military officials, US and Canadian soldiers will for the first time deploy to bases on the outskirts of the city. The local Afghan forces will be bolstered by an expanded number of embedded American trainers. (READ MORE)

Tribal Guards Add Little - An Afghan government plan to pay tribal guards for extra security on election day does not appear to have diminished violence across the nation, and it remains unclear how many actually showed up to protect polling sites. Mohammad Halim Fidai, governor of Wardak province, west of Kabul, said 15,000 guards had pledged to work in 17 high-risk provinces. (READ MORE)

Karzai Widens Lead in Afghan Presidential Election - With partial results in, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai saw his slender lead widen Wednesday as the second batch of election returns were announced. President Hamid Karzai has widened his lead over former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. The tabulation of 17 percent of all returns, announced by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission Wednesday, shows the incumbent with a lead of 90,000 votes over his closest challenger. (READ MORE)

Four British Soldiers Die for Sake of 150 Votes - Just 150 Afghan voters dared to go to the ballot box in the area of Helmand province where British soldiers sacrificed their lives to secure a safe election day, it was revealed yesterday. The figures were released as the British Ambassador to Kabul admitted that troops could be engaged in combat in Afghanistan for five more years. The Electoral Commission in Kabul said that early estimates of voting in the former Taleban stronghold of Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, indicated that few exercised their right to vote last Thursday. (READ MORE)

Bombing Deepens Despair in a Stricken Afghan City - This city is no stranger to bombings. There have been many here over the years of war. But the one on Tuesday night - the deadliest - may have done more than any other to deepen Kandahar’s sense of isolation and tip its people into despair that someone, anyone, has the power to halt the mayhem that surrounds them. The bombing produced an entire city block of devastation, gutting shops and homes and reducing many of the structures to mounds of rubble. (READ MORE)

Suspected US missile kills six militants in Pakistan - A suspected US missile strike Thursday in Pakistan's north-western tribal region near the Afghan border killed at least six militants, an intelligence official said. The attack took place in the South Waziristan district, a stronghold of slain Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. (READ MORE)

US soldier, 12 Taliban killed in battle in Afghan clinic - One US soldier and 12 Taliban militants were killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan after Afghan and US forces attacked a clinic where a wounded Taliban commander was seeking medical treatment, officials said Thursday. Afghan security forces got information that the militants had taken one of their wounded commanders to a clinic in Sar Hawza, a district in the south-eastern province of Paktika Wednesday, Hamidullah Zewak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said. (READ MORE)

KARZAI LIMPS TOWARD RUNOFF - KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai extended his lead over his top challenger in the Afghanistan presidential election yesterday, but remains short of the 50 percent threshold that would allow him to avoid a two-man runoff. Final results of last week's election will not be ready until at least mid-September. (READ MORE)

Shortage Of Civilian Experts Slows Afghan Rebuilding - Thousands of American troops are setting up combat outposts throughout Afghanistan. But in order to rebuild the country, U.S. civilian experts in fields such as farming, irrigation and the rule of law are needed. And those experts aren't arriving in Afghanistan quickly enough, analysts say. (READ MORE)

Young Afghan freed from Guantanamo to sue US gov't - KABUL -- The family of one of the youngest prisoners ever held at Guantanamo plans to sue the U.S. government to compensate him for mistreatment and an adolescence lost to nearly seven years in a cell, his lawyers said Thursday. Mohammed Jawad returned to Afghanistan this week after a military judge ruled that he was coerced into confessing that he threw a grenade at an unmarked vehicle in the capital in 2002. The attack wounded two American soldiers and their interpreter. (READ MORE)

U.S. chopper blasts clinic after Taliban checks in - (IDM) KABUL (AP) — NATO and Afghan officials say a U.S. helicopter has attacked a medical clinic in eastern Afghanistan after a wounded Taliban commander sought treatment there. Officials say U.S. and Afghan forces clashed with insurgents at the clinic after militants put up resistance. The militant death toll from Wednesday's fight varied widely from none killed to 12 dead. (READ MORE)

Abdullah's spokesman says Afghan election may be falsified - KABUL, August 27 (RIA Novosti) - The campaign chief of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said they would appeal the results of the poll if it is falsified. Election officials said on Wednesday that Afghanistan's incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, had a 10-point lead over closest rival Abdullah Abdullah with 17.2% of the vote counted after last week's presidential polls. (READ MORE)

Afghan hospital invaded by Taliban - Afghan officials have blamed Taliban militants for entering a hospital in eastern Paktika province with guns. The insurgents sparked a gun battle with coalition forces when they stormed the building. In a fierce battle, around 15 attackers were killed and six others captured. (READ MORE)

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