August 31, 2009

From the Front: 08/31/2009

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

Michael Yon: Precision Voting - 31 August 2009 Helmand Province, Afghanistan - The historical Afghan elections scheduled for 20 August were days away. While the west mostly continued to vote for Afghanistan, the big question was, “Will Afghanistan vote for itself?” The latest media wave splashed into the main voting centers in places like Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Lashkar Gah. The larger cities only account for perhaps 20% of the Afghan population. Whereas the easy and obvious stories are in the cities, a crucial and larger dimension—the other 80%—would unfold in the boonies. Most Afghans would have no chance to vote. The election was to be run by Afghans. In theory and in practice this would be a recipe for disaster. The strategic thinkers cannot be faulted for this; after nearly eight years of war, if the west were still running the elections, the elections and government would be a failure to begin with. (READ MORE)

Cool, Calm and Collected: Precious Memories - I randomly remember things I did with Jim, and it makes me smile. And it makes me sad when the memory is over. One of the last days before he left, we hung out all day. We looked at rings. We got tea at Starbucks. We sat and talked in his truck for hours. We went to Cabela's and found a couch there. We sat on said couch and talked for an hour. We made a Build-a-Bear together. We named him Jimmel. We drove home. We were silent. And I couldn't stop looking at him. I just wanted to memorize his face, because I knew it would be so, so long before I'd see him again. Didn't really expect it'd be this long though. And that's when it gets really tough. (READ MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: On the road again... - Now that we are past the elections, we are able to travel throughout Kabul and revisit many of the places we have been to before. During the past week, I had the opportunity to drive to ISAF for a little NATO medical get together similar to the one I went to several weeks ago, but no BBQ this time. I was the driver for the lead vehicle and it was sobering to survey the damage from the SVBIED. I also drove when we went to NDS Hospital one day this past week. We continue to establish a small mentoring role with NDS but I am 0 for 3 on observing any surgery in the OT there. Each time that I have been there, no surgeries were scheduled. Hopefully, the next time we go in the very near future, I will be able to observe a surgery there. Once I do, I will be able to form a comparison between NMH & NDS, then try and renew the working agreement between the two OT's with regards to training each other. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: US Military Investigates Afghan Desk - This article from Stars and Stripes has a lot of journalists talking. It is about The Rendon Group, a company that puts together background briefs on reporters who apply for embeds with the US military in Afghanistan. Most reporters in Afghanistan know about these reports. I obtained a copy of my Rendon report about three months ago from a friend in the military and I’ve posted excerpts below. I don’t really think the reports are some kind of violation, in fact, I think the military is smart to look into the background’s of people who will be writing about them. Rating the coverage that reporters give the military–”positive,” “neutral,” “negative”–seems a bit silly and slightly Orwellian, but if thousands of reporters were covering my organization, I would want a simple shorthand to indentify them as well. I do think the reports are creepy though. These guys have read almost everything I’ve written in the last few years, even interviews I’ve given to local news blogs. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: Long hair and hiking boots = Taliban? - Narang Valley- He was caught the day after the election, as he passed a checkpoint. The Afghan Army thought he looked suspicious. He had long hair, he'd come from five villages deep into the mountain valley. He had long hair and wore hiking boots. He said his name was Turgul, that he was 20 years old and that he didn't read or write. "I live in the Badel Valley," Turgul said. His eyes were frightened and confused. Or maybe he was a good actor. His beard was scraggly and the v-wrinkle between his eyebrows could have come from squinting down the barrel of an AK. "I came into Qala Una and I didn't find the stuff I needed. On the way to the district center they caught me." I asked why they might suspect him of being Taliban. "I don't know why they caught me. They took pictures of my eyes...I told them I'm disabled," he pulled up a pant leg to reveal a prosthetic leg. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: ANA Library Update - Judging by the grins on their faces, you would have thought we were celebrating a holiday or someone’s birthday. Instead my ANA SGM just recently stocked the empty book shelves with some new books. If you have been following my blog, you will recognize this facility as a former mosque converted into a library to benefit the ANA soldiers. The transformation process is just about complete except for a few outside enhancements. The interior walls have been patched and painted sea foam green with white eggshell trim. Prior to the painting, certain parts of the religious Arabic writing on the walls were carefully removed and given to the ANA religious officer. The flooring is a cheap version of linoleum and the shelving is made of particle board. New window glass and frames were installed along with a sturdy entrance door. The exterior is painted the same colors and outdoor tiling has replaced the former cracked concrete decking. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: A sign that it is time for me to leave Iraq… - Occasionally you have a premonition that it is time to move on. That what you’ve been doing is now concluded and your work here is actually done. Recently I received the below notice on the all hands e-mail here in scenic Al Assad. After reading it, I felt it complete confirmation that it is time for me to leave this country and never return. What I’m not sure about is which is more ludicrous: the idea that MWR is having a haunted house in a combat zone or that some brain surgeon thought it would be a good idea to host a haunted house and invite hundreds and hundreds of people armed with automatic weapons. America’s 1stSgt - Refugee from the island life. (READ MORE)

Deploying in a "Sea" of Sand: It's Over - Not going to deploy... - I can't believe I'm actually writing this - I'm not going to deploy. If you remember in my previous blog, I needed to get a medical waiver approval from the CENTCOM Force Surgeon. Well, he said "Waiver Denied." Yes, that's the end. There isn't any asking someone else, he's the final word on these issues. He stated I needed to have my first follow-up and he was concerned that medical care would be sufficient while in Afghanistan. I'm not going to second guess his decision. He must know more about what care can be provided in theater than the other Docs that approved me. I'm still very upset about this. I really - REALLY - wanted to go. The only thing holding me back was missing my wife and sons - that's it. In fact, I put my B.S. completion on hold, meaning I didn't take any classes this semester, so that puts me behind by one semester (too late to register), I changed all my banking, said good-bye to many family and friends. (READ MORE)

Doc H: MAIL CALL - One thing that has not diminished in twenty years since my first long deployment is the power of mail on morale. Imagine my suprise when I went to the mail room and came out hauling 3 boxes and a post card! Every day with mail like this is Christmas. I would like to thank my Dear Love Tricia for the box from home. It even had cards from each of the kids inside. Very Nice. Now I can also continue to work on my bedside manner with the next episodes from "House". Thank you to my VMI Roomie and Best BR Nat and his bride Lori. We live a somewhat communal life in the B-huts here, so it was nice to be able to share snacks with my hutmates since they have already shared with me, a lot. Finally thank you to Bill, Sue and your Church. Everything you sent will be used and appreciated. Thank you for your thoughts and goods. (READ MORE)

Doc H: 88 Lbs - Today we went out on a Mounted Patrol so that I could visit with my Afghan counterpart in addition to many other tasks. Thankfully the movement there and back was uneventful. Like our previous meetings we had a productive and cordial time. We are working towards a combined training class similiar to the Combat Life Saver program that the US Army has used for several years. We both look forward to Afghan personnel taking over the teaching of this type of class for the benefit of the Police in the Northern Region. We also made progress on several other more mundane topics. It is always a pleasure to visit with him. I conducted a scientific experiment today as well. I weighed myself in my full combat uniform with weapons, ammunition, Body Armor, helmet and Medical Aid Bag. After we returned to base I weighed myself without all the gear. The difference was a staggering 88 pounds! No wonder I feel wiped out and have no desire to exercise today. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Endex - Well, it’s all over now, except the good times and celebrating together when we get home. From the very beginning it was easy to see we had a stellar group of young men in this unit, top to bottom far superior to other units I’ve been in. Today, I feel more proud than ever to have been a part of what we did. And I’m ecstatic to say we’re taking everyone back home with us. We were not without some close calls – the 21 members of our team were involved in over 300 separate troops in contact incidents (TICs...these incidents can range from a round of indirect fire landing on the base to firefights lasting hours) in our 270+ days in Afghanistan, which if averaging more than one TIC a day sounds like a lot, well, it is…but we did provide a lot of targets out there since we manned seven different bases over a wide area. We will collectively receive quite a few awards, including six purple hearts, but none of those injuries were serious enough to remove anyone from duty for more than a couple weeks. (READ MORE)

Michael Fay: Progress - Here's a progress update on my most recent sculpture. Alot of time has been devoted over the past couple weeks to my approaching retirement from the Marines. Between jumping through the variety of administrative and medical hoops related to leaving active duty I've devoted time to fabricating this pieces weapon, a M16A4 and the three-point sling attached to it. Please go over to Sergeant Kris Battles' blog Sketchpad Warrior and check out his latest field work from Afghanistan and the studio pieces he's working on. Great stuff! (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Actions Speak Louder That Words - There is no shortage of news flowing out of Afghanistan concerning election mischief and a ton of low to mid grade mayhem. Just tonight we received a report about a BBIED who walked into the Pakistani Khasadar (Tribal) Guard mess and detonated his rig killing 22 and wounding another 15. This is probably connected to the recent killing of Baitullah Meshud in an excellent drone strike which should help keep Pakistan in the game. Stupid move by the Taliban to target tribal security organizations which are the low hanging fruit in the tribal areas but this area is full of stupid people so it is no surprise. We have been spending an inordinate amount of time investigating the increased number of Anti Government Element (AGE) incidents on the main roads and in Jalalabad City because we need to be thinking and operating in real time so separating criminal from AGE activity is important. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Mission Number Five - Ever have a long, slow day at work? Nothing’s happening, but you have to be there anyway. Welcome to the life of a Polar Bear in Heat. With few missions, most of us are going absolutely stir crazy being stuck on base. The boredom of tent life and details is a scratch so deep that no number of movies or videogames can scratch it away. So imagine my enthusiasm when, a few days ago, the platoon leader alerted us to a mission we’d be conducting the next day! (If you can imagine being excited about driving on roads that sometimes blow up.) That enthusiasm was tempered with a couple disappointments. Somone "important" decided that only gunners who had qualified on a pop-up range during our mobilization could be in the turret or the assistant gunner position. Since I qualified on the M240B, but have little gunning experience in Afghanistan, I was moved from "truck commander" to the back seat to assist the man in the turret. (READ MORE)

Frontline bloggers - Afghanistan: Lisa Bandari: Waiting for the election results - First Secretary Political, Kabul - We, like everyone in Afghanistan, are in suspense, waiting for the election results. I attended the first of the long-awaited IEC press conferences on Tuesday 25 August, to announce the first 10% of results for the presidential elections. Everyone was there, from journalists to researchers, to election observers and diplomats. The atmosphere was buzzing, with journalists deep in conversations with contacts at the corners of the room before the conference started, and everyone comparing notes so far. We all eagerly scribbled down the figures when they finally arrived, in Dari and English, checking with each other on decimal points and provinces. Journalists were the first to start calculating what they might mean for the overall turnout and result, ready for release on the wires - although it remains guesswork at this stage. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Helmand Province? Yes, this makes a change from Ardoyne on the Twelfth... - Reforming the Afghan National Police is an essential part of the military effort in Afghanistan. During day two of our special series Lesley-Anne Henry travels to the provincial capital of Helmand to meet the men using the skills honed in Northern Ireland to help build the new force. “This is the first Twelfth of July that I haven't spent standing at the Ardoyne shop fronts since about 1993,” Belfast police officer Peter Leckey said. Instead of policing parades and riots in a soggy north Belfast, the 44-year-old PSNI inspector is training and mentoring dozens of Afghan National Police (ANP) officers in the blistering heat of the Helmand. Based at Lashkar Gah — the British Task Force headquarters in Afghanistan — he has spent the last six months trying to reform the fledgling police force into a credible service accepted by the local population. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog – Afghanistan: Life in Helmand, Afghanistan - My soldiers have fought with resilience... When the Taliban have tried to take them on we have won every time. The Co Down man in charge of British forces in Helmand Province has spoken of pride at his troops' achievements during one of the military's most difficult tours of duty. Brigadier Tim Radford, head of 19 Light Brigade, the first full-sized brigade to deploy from Northern Ireland since WWII, paid tribute to the bravery, courage and sacrifice shown by the 3,000 soldiers who left bases at Antrim, Holywood, Lisburn and Ballykinler for a six-month stint in one of the world's most dangerous places. Speaking during a rarely given media briefing, the Thiepval-based Brigadier said: “The soldiers in my brigade have worked extremely hard over a hard summer and they have fought with resilience and fortitude at every turn. And when the Taliban have tried to take them on with force we have won every time. (READ MORE)

Houston Central: We're all okay... - Yes...RR finally happened.... We are all okay. More than okay actually. I had no idea how fast 15 days could fly by...but boy did we have fun. I can't believe we were able to do so much around here...we forgot how fun San Antonio was...not to mention all the wonderful family we were able to spend great time with. Jon made it safely to he is waiting to get back to his FOB soon. That's all I know right now. Please continue to pray for a safe journey back for him and continued safety through the remainder of the deployment. I promise to post updates and pictures soon, once I get on my old computer and have some spare time. The time we got to spend with Jon felt like a dream....especially when he left...I kept asking myself, "was he even really here? or was that just a dream?" Stinks! (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: The Day I Lived - Four years ago tonight, near Najaf, Iraq, I experienced the most terrifying moment of my life. It’s amazing how fast you can doubt - milliseconds into the event I’d already thought "This can’t be happening!" a dozen times. I remember my stomach turning as I felt the truck start to tip. I remember watching, through the windshield, the world rotating and my military Freightliner changing shape around me. I remember how silent it was when the truck came to a rest. I escaped with scrapes and bruises, and my friend got out with a torn-up shoulder. I wish I could say that I’ve been more true to the prayer of gratitude I offered God that night… but I meant it when, for sparing my life, I pledged to follow Him more closely. (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: Buried Treasure in Iraq - Several days ago, our General received information that there might be something buried under a building. So once again we mounted up and headed out. Once we arrived at our destination, our General and his entourage met up with another General and his entourage and we retreated to an office that only the primary leaders occupied. In typical Iraqi fashion, business was not the first thing discussed. We drank chai, talked in our small groups and watched the afternoon prayers on the television. The Generals got up and went into their private rooms, each to pray. An hour later, we gathered in another room to a moderate spread of food. Just like many dinners before, there were plates of fish, chicken, vegetables, dates, fruit, bread and soup. Another hour later we went back into the Generals office. We sat back down, drank shots of espresso (we share one cup that is passed around and filled by the Generals helper. The espresso is boiling hot. I never fail to burn my lips and tongue) and then more chai. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Bike Dudes - This morning my bike buddy and I went out for the morning loop around the perimeter and saw two civilians riding past on the main east-west road on the north side. I chased and towed my riding buddy up to what turned out to be two Brits. They are part of a team that flies outside the wire and no one knows what they do--at least none of us mechanics. Anyway, one of the guys is really strong. They were both riding 24-speed mountain bikes with front suspensions and disc brakes. As we catch up to them we are just passing the last motor pool on the north side and turning south toward the mostly nothing area. It is the smoothest, fastest pavement of the whole perimeter. The big guy and I took turns at the front. At the end of the 1.5 mile straight saection we looked back and our buddies were riding together 150 meters behind. We slowed up for the dirt stretch and rode 18 the rest of the way around post. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: An FST At Work (Forward Surgical Team) - Okay, I think I can share this because quite honestly, it looks like every other ER Photo stateside. That's right...down to the chair on the left and the cubbies on the wall. But we all know there are big differences. The FST's take care of not only soldiers, but locals and insurgents as well. They do so with great professionalism and pride. So here it is: A patient has been brought in. The staff works to ascertain what needs to be done. The surgeons stand by to let the team do their job. After surgery and stabilization, the patient will often be at a larger medical center out of the region within 2 - 3 days. During this time, there's constant communication between the team and transport. The Hubs writes: "The team is very, very skilled. We don't even have to talk when injured come in. It is quiet and calm because everyone knows just what to do without instruction, reminders or discussion. And it goes very fast. My job is mostly to tell the soldiers about their next few days and to make sure they get enough pain medication. And, of course, operate." (READ MORE)

Omar at Iraq the Model: New Shiite-Sunni political coalition formed - A new political bloc involving both Sunni and Shiite political and tribal figures was announced in Baghdad yesterday. The new bloc, Bayariq al-Iraq includes 20 registered political entities. Prominent and influential members include Yousif al-Haboubi, the independent politician who won most of the votes in the provincial elections in Kerbala earlier this year. There is also Ali Hatem Ali Sulaiman, chief of the powerful al-Dulaim tribes in western Iraq. According to Suleiman, the coalition involves more than a 100 Sahwat (Awakening) leaders from Baghdad and surrounding areas. However, Suleiman admitted that the other two senior Awakening figures (Hameed Hayis and Thamir al-Timimi) are not part of the coalition. "Hayis found himself in the National Iraqi Alliance (formerly known as UIA) while Timimi has not made up his mind yet" Suleiman explained. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US, Afghan forces strike Haqqani Network bases - Afghan and US forces killed scores of Haqqani Network fighters during assaults on two bases in the mountains in eastern Afghanistan. The first attack took place on Aug. 28 when a joint US and Afghan force assaulted a fortified Haqqani Network base located in the mountains of the Urgun District in Paktika province along the Pakistani border. The US military said "a large number of hostile militants" were killed during a daylong assault on what the US military described as a "logistics base and safe haven for foreign fighters." US and Afghan forces called in air support to help defeat enemy counterattacks. The joint forces found a series of bunkers, buildings, and weapons caches, which included anti-aircraft artillery pieces and other heavy weapons, in the mountain hideout. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 29 Aug 09 - Today was field exercise day for combat medic skills—well, CLS skills—we ARE NOT combat medics…it was pretty fun—I got to be a casualty all day …we started by signing in and then going over to another classroom to get made up and get into character with our wounds…my first wound was a large laceration on the side of my neck…one of the other guys had a bullet hole straight thru his head—the scenario was that he was dead when the team arrived on the scene…the teams were to walk around on a foot patrol and when they encounter enemy contact they had to return fire and gain fire superiority and suppress enemy fire…after they had the enemy down they were to enter the kill zone and remove the casualties from the “X” –the X is where the attack took place and where ambushes are likely to take place … so, you are supposed to run out there, under the cover of your security team, and slap on a tourniquet if needed and move that person to a safe location... (READ MORE)

David Axe: Pentagon Cancels Controversial Reporter-Screening Contract - The U.S. military public-affairs apparatus in Afghanistan has been paying an American media firm to review the work of reporters covering the eight-year-old war. The reports, by the Washington, D.C.-based Rendon Group, have been used to screen journalists requesting embeds with U.S. forces. Newspaper Stars & Stripes, which receives some government funding, broke the story last week. Rendon’s reports rated journalists’ work according to whether it was “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” towards official U.S. policy. The military had denied that it rejected potential embeds based on the reports, but one former U.S. Army public affairs officer contradicted that claim, in a follow-on interview with Stars & Stripes. Now the military says it is canceling the $1.5-million contract. “It was clear that the issue of Rendon’s support to U.S. forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction from our main mission,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a military spokesman. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Section Training - We do section training here every saturday at 1700. Today, a very keen LCpl of the Royal Engineers took us through an oh-fuck-we-got-hit-by-an-IED evolution. The objective was to rehearse the actions of reporting, securing, defending, evacuating the wounded, destroying any gear left behind, and bugging out. And we did it in full "kit'. VERY VALUABLE TRAINING. So, one of us played the wounded guy, two young Sappers played the drivers; two more officers got to make the initial contact report, and then haul the wounded guy out of his vehicle and into the other one. That's a bitch; it's hard enough to lift a guy in full gear, then his vest got hung up on something, and so on. It was not a pretty scene. Lesson learned. Practice, and practice realistically. The real thing will be considerably less pretty. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Musings on a Friday Night - I like Fridays. Friday morning is my weekend. You guys at home get two whole days off every week; we get either Friday morning or afternoon off. It's a 65-hour workweek out here. So on Friday mornings, I sleep in late ... this morning was a whole 20 minutes extra. Then I got dressed and strolled over to the DFAC to have a nice, leisurely breakfast. Ran into a couple of friends and we sat there nursing some really bad coffee and yukking it up for an hour. Then back to the barracks, where I did some laundry and worked on a watercolor for a while. This was my first time playing with paints in a month or more, so let's just say I'm a little rusty. Okay, a LOT rusty. Still, it was good to push some paints around again. The other day, I got hold of the vehicle keys and decided that I wanted something other than DFAC fare for dinner. So I drove down to the BX and treated myself to a Taco Bell dinner. Never been a big fan of Taco Bell, and this stuff was nothing to post in a blog about, but hey, it wasn't DFAC, and that was good enough for me! (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Why Do We Persist in Trying to Turn Afghanistan Into Colombia? - I just don’t know how to square this circle: “As the United States retools its counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, officials are looking to Colombia for lessons. The two nations share many burdens: Colombia is the largest supplier of cocaine in the world, Afghanistan of opium. Both have impoverished rural communities easily enticed into trafficking webs. Both are vulnerable to the sway and command of insurgent groups that finance their fight with proceeds from the drug trade...For example, instead of pouring money into crop eradication as it did in Colombia, the new US strategy in Afghanistan will phase out eradication, and place a new emphasis on the interdiction of opium shipments and encouraging farmers to adopt alternate crops.” This is treating the drug campaign in Afghanistan as if it didn’t exist before this year. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Homecoming - The team arrived home safely last night on Northwest Flight 405. We were met by our loved ones at the airport. Even UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and his wife Sherry Modrow showed up to welcome us back, which was really nice of the two of them. Jenny rushed to catch a flight back to Anchorage - after all of our traveling, she still had one leg to go. We caught up with our families as we waited for our checked bags. After we had all our things, we said goodbye to one another and stepped out into the darkening Fairbanks night. A temperate 50-degree Interior night never felt so cool before. I can only hope that every soldier with the 1/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team has an equally happy homecoming. And I hope that the new soldiers with the 3/2 SBCT coming into Warhorse now work to help the Iraqis of Diyala Province - it's going to take a lot of work by all involved to return the area to its former prosperity. (READ MORE)

Air Force Wife: The End of an Era - Changing My Venn Diagram - Yesterday my 6 year old son told me something that nearly made my heart stop. "Mom," he said. "I think I want a normal haircut now." I know that I had to have let out a good gasp at that one. A "normal" haircut? His haircut IS "normal"... for us. But he made it known in no uncertain terms that he was tired of having his trademarked mohawk and wanted to go "Army Guy Style". I tried to negotiate with him. "Well, how about we get you an "Army Guy" haircut, and then we dye the tips of your hair blue!" "Mom, I don't think you understand what normal is." I was devastated. Not literally, but for a moment I was pretty darn sad. For one thing, I understand very well what "normal" is. It's a line that military spouses have to walk fairly carefully, because there's so much on the line in our world. We need to be able to get along together, because we are all we have when push comes to shove. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Goodbye Dutch, Hello Dutch - Well today we said goodbye to the first Dutch team we worked with and said hello to their replacements. I’m sure that they will have the same work ethic as the first team, hopefully they’ll be as nice and calm! That’s very important in stressful situations. It’s too bad that the first Dutch team is leaving, we were a well oiled machine when it came to getting through tons of cases, piece of cake. We have broken the record set in July for the numbers of cases completed since the inception of a medical facility in Kandahar. The previous record was set in July at 155 as of today, 28 August, we are at 176 cases. Again, not a record we wanted to break, but we blew it out of the water anyway! There was a coordinated suicide vehicle bomber attack this week in Kandahar. There were 5 cars loaded with explosives that hit a Japanese construction company that employs Pakistani engineers. (READ MORE)

Zach Rosenberg: Afghan Elections = “Last Fresh Start” - During Afghanistan’s national elections two weeks ago, election workers and the electoral commission worked mostly as advertised, the Afghan army and police kept most voters safe despite more than 300 attacks and observers pronounced the elections mostly free and mostly fair. Yet turnout was low: only about 30 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. That was the view of four panelists at the Brookings Institution’s discussion on Afghanistan last week. Michael O’Hanlon, Anthony Cordesman, Kimberly Kagan and Bruce Riedel are all highly-respected scholars. Most were involved in General Stan McChrystal’s recent strategic review of the Afghanistan conflict. In many Afghan districts, particularly in the south and west of the country, the low turnout is being blamed on Taliban interference. The 2004 elections saw a turnout of around 70 percent. Riedel doesn’t think those numbers are representative, since the election was “more like a coronation”: Karzai had the backing of every major warlord and faction. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Remnants of Iraq Air Force Are Found - Iraqi officials have discovered that they may have a real air force, after all. The Defense Ministry revealed Sunday that it had recently learned that Iraq owns 19 MIG-21 and MIG-23 jet fighters, which are in storage in Serbia. Ministry officials are negotiating with the Serbs to restore and return the aircraft. The Serbian government has tentatively promised to make two of the aircraft available “for immediate use,” according to a news release from the ministry. (READ MORE)

Al Araby Youth Center opens in Baghdad - BAGHDAD, Iraq – Mahatma Gandhi stated that, “If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.” The conflict in Iraq has had a dramatic effect on Iraqi children, but the children of Al Shaab now have a safer place to play with the opening of the Al Araby Youth Center. The center is a result of the efforts of the Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, and its partnership with the local Iraqi government. (READ MORE)

Two months later: Iraqi city still recovering from bomb blast - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – Life is beginning to return to normal on the streets of Taza, Iraq, after a car bomb devastated the primarily Turkish city in Kirkuk province, in late June. Lt. Col. Hugh McNeely, the deputy commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was welcomed by Taza city mayor, Talib, and street vendors alike Aug. 24, as he came to see how the city has continued its recovery. (READ MORE)

Vital Fallujah electricity project nears completion - FALLUJAH, Iraq – A 132-kilovolt substation in Fallujah, projected for completion in October, will result in more consistent and stable electricity for Fallujah residents. The $14.8 million project is being managed by the Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, and funded by the Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund. (READ MORE)

Amusement park hosts Iraqi Police, families - FOB WARRIOR — The high-pitched sound of children laughing and a rollercoaster's rumble were heard at the Kirkuk Amusement Park on the outskirts of Kirkuk City, Aug. 18. Iraqi Police (IP), their children, and U.S. Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, traveled in groups, wandering the park looking for the best rides. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army, Police learn to train their own - PATROL BASE HUSAYNIYAH — Soldiers of the 563rd Military Police Company prepared Iraqi Police and Army members to train there own forces through the Train the Trainer program here, Aug. 20. The Train the Trainer program instructs one group, who in turn go back and instruct their fellow Police and Soldiers on the unit level. (READ MORE)

MNC-I details latest drawdown plans - BAGHDAD — Multi-National Corps – Iraq recently began phase two of its safe and responsible withdrawal, and now looks to the challenge of shipping 80,000 troops and their equipment out of country. Although MNC-I just finished phase one – setting the conditions – it moved into phase two without pause, said Lt. Col. Tammie Pettit, MNC-I logistics plans chief, at an MNC-I conference in Camp Victory’s Al Faw Palace, Aug. 15. (READ MORE)

Honey bees work to deliver liquid gold - KIRKUK — U.S. development and reconstruction teams recently visited local farmers in the village of Qaytul to check up on those who had received bee farming equipment as part of a year-long project designed to increase the income of small farm owners here. "The Honey Bee Hive Development Project intends to help farmers in Kirkuk province increase household income through the inclusion of honey production," said Sana Rajah, a representative for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). (READ MORE)

Personal Security Team Soldiers Prepare for Mission's End - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE Q-WEST, Iraq — The gray Opal, on what the Army refers to as main supply route Tampa, had flipped over twice and come to rest on its wheels. An Iraqi woman was lying on the ground next to the vehicle and her husband was sitting on the ground behind it with head injuries. Iraqi villagers had gathered around the vehicle trying to help. (READ MORE)

Essential Services Linked to Security Gains - BAGHDAD – As the role of U.S. forces continues to evolve in Iraq, one brigade combat team is still focused on keeping the pressure on insurgents through a surprising means. Soldiers of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team "Dagger," 1st Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad maintains their work with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces through funding and managing essential services projects in northwest Baghdad and the rural areas around Abu Ghraib. (READ MORE)

Dragons Move to Taji, Prepare for Tough Mission - CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Versatility is vital to the ultimate success of any organization. On today's modern battlefield a unit's versatility is more valuable than any weapon. Troops of 1st "Dragon" Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division once again proved their versatility that makes them one of the most trusted and respected artillery units in today's Army. (READ MORE)

New Footbridge Eases Movement for Locals, Marines in Helmand - CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – "Building bridges," as the expressions goes, is a vital task in connecting with the people in a counterinsurgency environment. But the Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company C, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan didn't stop at expressions, they actually built a bridge. (READ MORE)

US Sets Metrics to Assess War Success - The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy. Administration officials are conducting what one called a "test run" of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories - including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised US resources - with baselines set earlier in the year. (READ MORE)

US Fears Clock Ticking on Afghanistan - The Obama administration is racing to demonstrate visible headway in the faltering war in Afghanistan, convinced it has only until next summer to slow a hemorrhage in US support and win more time for the military and diplomatic strategy it hopes can rescue the 8-year-old effort. But the challenge in Afghanistan is becoming more difficult in the face of gains by the Taliban, rising US casualties, a weak Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt, and a sense among US commanders that they must start the military effort largely from scratch nearly eight years after it began. (READ MORE)

New Army Chief in Private War for More Troops - The new head of the army is to direct all its efforts towards winning the war in Afghanistan. General Sir David Richards is expected to push hard in Whitehall for more British troops, both on the ground in Helmand and to train the Afghan forces - though he will do so in private. He is determined the British Army will not suffer a repeat of the damage caused to its reputation by its withdrawal in southern Iraq. Richards, who is 57 and married with two daughters, took over as chief of general staff on Friday when General Sir Richard Dannatt retired. (READ MORE)

Major Fraud Allegations Top 550 in Afghan Election - Independent Afghan election monitors say allegations of major fraud have more than doubled in the past two days and that investigators are now looking into more than 550 reported incidents. Investigations into the latest fraud allegations, reported by the Electoral Complaints Commission, could further delay a vote counting process that has been much slower than officials predicted. (READ MORE)

Increasing Accounts of Fraud Cloud Afghan Vote - Afghan election officials said Sunday that the serious fraud reports that they were considering had suddenly doubled - to 550 from 270, in a development likely to stoke public outrage and perhaps even delay the official results past September. By law, each of the more serious cases, out of more than 2,000 complaints of irregularities so far, must be investigated before the elections results can be certified. (READ MORE)

Major Fraud Allegations Double in Afghan Election - Major fraud complaints in the Afghan presidential election surged Sunday to nearly 700, raising concern that the volume of cases that must be investigated will delay announcement of a winner and formation of a new government. President Hamid Karzai is leading with 46.2 percent of votes from the Aug. 20 ballot, followed by ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah with 31.4 percent, according to official figures from 35 percent of the polling stations. (READ MORE)

Many Women Stayed Away From the Polls In Afghanistan - Five years ago, with the country at peace, traditional taboos easing and Western donors pushing for women to participate in democracy, millions of Afghan women eagerly registered and then voted for a presidential candidate. In a few districts, female turnout was even higher than male turnout. But on Aug. 20, when Afghans again went to the polls to choose a president, that heady season of political emancipation seemed long gone. (READ MORE)

US Walks Fine Line in Afghan Vote - The US and its allies are walking a thin line by trying to monitor the count in Afghanistan's presidential vote without influencing the outcome, as results from the election trickle into public view. Rampant allegations of electoral fraud, combative statements from candidates, and popular speculation about the US's role as kingmaker have made the balancing act more difficult. According to the latest results, released Saturday, President Hamid Karzai's lead has widened, with votes from a third of the polling stations counted. (READ MORE)

British Chinook Helicopter Destroyed in Afghanistan Following Crash - NATO forces in Afghanistan have been forced to destroy a crashed British Chinook helicopter to keep it out of the hands of the Taliban for the second time in 10 days. None of the 15 soldiers and four crew on board was injured in the crash, described as a “hard landing,” which is not thought to have been caused by enemy action. But the £40 million Chinook sustained damage to its undercarriage, nose and front rotor, making it unflyable, and a decision was taken that it could not be recovered safely. (READ MORE)

Suicide Blast Kills 16 in Pakistan's Swat Valley - Officials in Pakistan say a suicide bomb has killed at least 16 police recruits in the Swat region, where Taliban insurgents have had their stronghold until recently. This is the second major suicide bombing in the country's northwest within the past week, raising fears Taliban militants have regrouped and are hitting back. Provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain tells VOA the deadly suicide attack in Mingora, the main town of the Swat Valley, targeted a police training facility and instantly killed 14 people. (READ MORE)

Taliban Hits NATO Fuel Convoy - Bombings set a NATO fuel convoy ablaze, threatening the supply line to international forces in Afghanistan. A separate attack targeted a Pakistani police station, killing 16 cadets in the northwest's Swat Valley. The two blasts hours apart and hundreds of miles from each other came as Pakistani officials said Taliban militants were ramping up strikes to avenge recent setbacks, including the loss of territory to the military and the death of their top leader in a CIA missile strike near the Afghan border. (READ MORE)

How to Lose in Afghanistan - The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months - any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new US commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost. (READ MORE)

Afghan, NATO forces kill 35 insurgents, 2 children killed in blast - Kabul - Afghan and NATO-led forces killed 35 Taliban fighters in an operation in eastern region, while two children were killed by a roadside bomb and a government official was gunned down by militants elsewhere in the country, officials said Sunday. Troops conducted an operation against a large group of insurgents in south-eastern province of Khost which ended at midnight Saturday, Abdul Qayum Baqizoy, the provincial police chief said. (READ MORE)

Roadside bomb kills 2 children, wounds 4 in N Afghanistan - A roadside bombing against police left two children dead and four others injured in the relatively peaceful northern province of Kunduz, provincial police chief said on Sunday. "A roadside bomb, planted by anti-government elements against police vehicle in the main road from Kunduz city to air port, killed two children and wounds four other of them Saturday evening," Abdul Rizaq Yaqubi told Xinhua. (READ MORE)

35 Taliban insurgents killed in E Afghanistan - Afghan Troops backed by the U.S.-led Coalition Forces in an operation begun Saturday night eliminated nearly three dozens of Taliban insurgents in remote area of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, provincial police chief said on Sunday. "Joint forces launched an operation against Taliban militants in Sapera district from Saturday night till Sunday morning, during which 35 militants have been killed," Abdul Qaum Baqizoi told Xinhua. (READ MORE)

Karzai increases lead to 46 pct in elections - KABUL (AP): President Hamid Karzai widened his lead in Afghanistan's presidential race as new vote tallies were released Saturday, inching closer to the 50 percent threshold of votes he needs to avoid a run-off. As Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission slowly releases partial results from the Aug. 20 presidential election, accusations of fraud have poured into the Electoral Complaint Commission. Videos of alleged fraud have been posted on the Internet, and Karzai's top challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has made multiple complaints of cheating. (READ MORE)

Taliban growth in northern Afghanistan threatens to expand war - BAGHLAN-I-JADID (Agen-cies): Taliban insurgents have taken over parts of two northern provinces from which they were driven in 2001, threatening to disrupt NATO's new supply route from Central Asia and expand a war that's largely been confined to Afghanistan's southern half, U.S. and Afghan officials said. Insurgents operating out of Baghlan district along the highway from Tajikistan launched coordinated attacks during the Aug. 20 presidential elections, killing the district police chief and a civilian, while losing a dozen of their own men, local officials said. (READ MORE)

Timetable for American exit demanded - NEW YORK (APP): A key United States senator has called for a flexible timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying an increase in American presence in that war-torn country could destabilize Pakistan. "There is a very real possibility that our military presence in Afghanistan will drive militant extremists south and east into Pakistan...," Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in The Wall Street Journal's Saturday edition. (READ MORE)

Turkey urged to do more in Afghanistan - ANKARA, Turkey -- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Turkey on Friday (August 28th) to beef up its contribution to missions in Afghanistan. During a visit to Ankara, Rasmussen also noted that the lack of a security pact between NATO and the EU has posed a threat to the two organisations' military forces in Afghanistan and has resulted in "absurd" consequences. (READ MORE)

Counterterrorism Chief Killed in Afghanistan - Militants gunned down a provincial counterterrorism chief in eastern Afghanistan after ambushing his convoy, an official said Sunday. Fayez Khan, who headed counterterrorism operations for Khost province, was driving home Saturday evening in a convoy with police and bodyguards when he was ambushed, said Tahir Khan Sabari, the province's deputy governor. Khan was killed immediately, though a short gunbattle ensued as the security forces battled the attackers, Sabari said. (READ MORE)

NATO supplies for troops in Afghanistan suspended - Islamabad, Aug 30 : Fuel and other supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan were stopped as traffic on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border remained suspended yesterday because of a row over search of goods trucks coming from Afghanistan. Hundreds of trailers carrying fuel and other supplies, including food, military equipment and vehicles, were stuck up in Pakistan's southwestern border town of Chaman, the second major supply route for NATO after the northwestern Khyber tribal region. (READ MORE)

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