September 1, 2009

From the Front: 09/01/2009

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

P.J. Tobia: Rendon Group Thrown Out With Bathwater - I’m of two minds about The Rendon Group losing their contract to provide the US military with background on reporters who request embeds. On the one hand, I despise opaqueness of any kind in government. The fact the military denied they were creating these reports is very disturbing. Additionally, a number of reporters contacted me over the weekend saying they asked Rendon for copies of their own reports and were flatly refused. This is ridiculous. Any agency (besides intelligence organs) working on behalf of the US government should be as transparent as possible, especially a company that is putting together creepy background files on journalists. Why wouldn’t Rendon give up the reports? What are they afraid of? Yet I think the military should have some way of evaluating journalists who will be in intimate proximity to soldiers. Soldiers risk their lives on dangerous and sometimes sensitive missions. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My last Tour: Our School Supplies Project - Plato said “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.” I believe this still holds true today and provides a basis for a school project I have been working on. For the past 30 years due to continued engagement of war activities, Afghanistan has been devoid of structured education. As a result, a whole generation of citizens is illiterate and relies heavily on foreign aid donations for survival. After the United States and coalition forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, new schools are being built and old ones refurbished. Yet many students are too poor to purchase basic school supplies such as notebooks, pens or pencils. So my wife Liisa and I have taken up these children’s cause. During the past few months, Liisa and I have been working on a project to provide school supplies for Afghan school children. I am thrilled to say that all of the intricate pieces have come together like a puzzle and we are ready to share with my readers or anyone who wants to make a difference. (READ MORE)

Rod Nordland - At War: Ghosts on the Front - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE– Soldiers believe in ghosts. I know this because when I am with soldiers, it is the only time I believe in ghosts. Not surprisingly, they never talk about this for fear of sounding foolish. Instead, they invest their surroundings with memorials and mementos. They name their DFACs (Dining Facilities, once mess halls), and their MWRs (Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers, or gyms) and any other semi-permanent structures after the fallen. Even the roads in the big forward operating bases, like this one outside Baquba in Diyala province, sometimes take on the names of ghosts. Warhorse, for example, named Faulkenburg Theatre after Command Sgt. Maj. Steven W. Faulkenburg, who died fighting in Falluja in November of 2004. The ghosts of the dead become a reassuring presence, so the living know they themselves won’t be forgotten, and also a sobering one, so everyone can see how often death has visited. (READ MORE)

Pir Zubair Shah - At War: Community Policing: An Early Setback - ISLAMABAD– The attack on Sunday inside the police station of Mingora, the main city of Swat, underscores the dangers of not managing Pakistan’s new community police project properly. In my recent post on community policing I said that while the new initiative has positive and negative aspects, a lot would depend on how well the project is managed, and on the screening process. Some officials believe that Sunday’s bomber was wearing the type of uniform provided to the new recruits, and thus it is highly likely that the bomber was himself a recruit. Although it will take time for the blast to be investigated, and the full circumstances to emerge, that theory cannot be ruled out. If the bomber was a new recruit then it will be a big blow to the government’s effort to regain its writ in Swat. So far only 110 recruits have been inducted, of more than three thousand. The attack on Sunday may deter many from joining. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Safely Handling Radioactive Stupid… - It’s funny how young Marines feel they deal with a lot of stupid stuff. They think getting up in the morning is a pain in the neck. Having to shave is an inconvenience. Keeping their area squared away is imposing on their right to self expression. The list goes on. Often I ask a group of Marines who among them thinks they put up with stupidity. Inevitably a forest of hands goes up until I bark, “Well try putting some rockers on and see how stupid it gets!” Things 1stSgt’s deal with include… Other people’s marriages: Everyone just HAS to get married right before deployment. These individuals are always lined up outside my office with their marriage packages in hand; oblivious too everyone who is getting divorced right before deployment who are waiting in another line to see me. There is a mysterious phenomenon occurring here where these two groups of people are utterly blind to the existence of the other and will heed no one’s advice about waiting until after deployment or at least until he gets to know her better. (READ MORE)

Combat Boots for Artemis: News from the Front - Hi All, just a quick update. Dela is doing really well. Last Friday they had to march 3 miles with about 60 lbs of gear to the Victory Tower. She made it just fine, and that's one of her graduation requirements. She has to work on her push ups because the way she's been doing them don't count. She's been working after hours with some of the other girls so she can do them right and have them count. She needs to keep working on her PT to meet the requirements: a few more sit ups, a little faster run time, etc. But she has time and is confident she can do it. She's lost a lot of weight and the pants they issued her the first day don't fit anymore. (She said she can put an arm down each side -- inside the waist band -- while wearing them.) (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: I'm Depressed - I have always believed that admitting a problem is the first step in overcoming it. So I am admitting I suffer from depression. I'm not suicidal or in physical pain. I'm just depressed. I have been for a long time now. And I am fighting it tooth and nail.Now don't get me wrong my depression is not so bad that I can't cope or function. I do every day. I get up and get the kids to school, clean my house, write, cook, chat with people online.. I even laugh and joke around. But underneath the surface is a sadness and anger I can not seem to shake. It may never go away.. and in a small way i hope it doesn't. I am however learning to cope. And as much as it all hurts sometimes.. the hurt is better than not being able to feel anything. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Good Reading - For those twelve people in the States who still care about how things are going in Iraq, I offer up a few good articles. The New York Times consistently has the best coverage of Iraq. That's probably because they're the only major US-based news organization that still has permanent staff in-country. Yesterday, they had a very good article about how Iraqis see Americans. It's well-written and discusses some of the subtleties of the relationship that have profound implications for the long term. Last week, they had another article about how Iraqis of all groups are co-existing, and even having fun together. There is a large lake out west, in Anbar Province. Now the lake is a destination for day trips for thousands of people from Baghdad and the surrounding area. People are doing what people do at lakes or beaches anywhere: swimming, playing, dancing to music, flirting, having fun. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: What I Don’t Have in Common with the Rendon Group - Nir Rosen has a pretty sobering look at the profile the Rendon Group assembled of his reporting. It’s interesting to see, because both Rendon and I had serious issues with his “Taliban embed” report from last year (I even accused him in the Columbia Journalism Review of being unable to separate bluster and rhetoric from reality). That being said, Rendon took its assessment over the line. “Rosen’s writing style is typically narrative and highly editorialized, profiling non-officials and his interaction with them… Sentiment from Afghan civilians and possibly Taliban sympathizers and insurgents may be reported. Additionally, the difficulties facing individual US soldiers on the front lines may be covered.” I’m not the first to say this, but that is the great strength of Rosen’s work. He and I disagree politically, and probably have come to different conclusions about the Afghan War (though, as I said to Michael Cohen, I am growing more pessimistic by the day), but Nir Rosen’s greatest strength is avoiding the official perspective on the conflict. Frankly, I wish more reporters did that, and stopped mindlessly reprinting official press conferences. (READ MORE)

The Satirist at War: Preparing to Deploy - As my responsibilities have increased, I find less and less time to reflect, and thus less time to write. A beneficial side-effect of this has been that I spend more time reflecting before I write, which has meant that in previous months or years, where I might have posted frivolous or half-formed ideas, now I limit myself to well-thought-out expositions. Or, at least, thought-out. My current Battalion is at a crossroads. We are part of one of 2 "light" Brigade Combat Teams that I'm aware of that are on the roster to deploy to Iraq. Light, as everyone is (I'm sure) aware, means not motorized or mechanized--hypothetically, we get around on foot, which makes us (again hypothetically) well suited for just about any environment except the desert or the plains. Cities--good. Mountains / hills--good. Forest--good. And so on. In fact, the "light" unit of which I'm a part is technically a "Mountain" unit, so that leads one to believe even more that we would be tasked with a deployment to Afghanistan rather than Iraq. (READ MORE)

Short Timers: Strykers search for source of rocket attack - FOB NORMANDY, Iraq -- Capt. Chris Hassan and Second Platoon, Charlie Company had a different mission scheduled with their Iraqi Army partners. Plans changed in the wake of an unsuccessful rocket attack against American forces the previous night. "Jesus, that's down by Warhorse," the 28-year-old Hassan spluttered as the headquarters of 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment radioed the new instructions. Each of the 1-25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team's sub-commands wields responsibility over designated portions of Dilaya Province. The rockets took off from a grove less than 10 miles from the brigade's headquarters at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, near Ba'qubah. The platoon's home borders Muqdadiyah, roughly 90 minutes north. It might have made sense for soldiers from the closer base to respond. But Iraqis call the shots on U.S. involvement since June 30, and the IA command in Diyala Province wanted the assistance of Hassan's Strykers searching the date palm grove linked to the attack. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: No Mochaccinos, No Problem for Marines of Echo Company - MIANPOSHTEH, Afghanistan — By any rational measure, the Marines of Echo company should be miserable. During the day, they trudge through the mud until they got shot at and endure temperatures that regularly spike above 110 degrees. At night, they sleep in holes in the dirt, next to mortar tubes. Dinner for the last three evenings has been something brown called “beef burgundy.” With enough hot sauce, you can keep it from tasting too much like cigarettes. Yet morale here at this converted school compound that serves as Echo company’s headquarters is uncannily high. The things most people would find intolerable – the danger, the Third World living conditions – are exactly what makes Echo company thrive, these troops say. “Marines don’t miss what they don’t get,” Staff Sgt. Timothy Funke tells me. (READ MORE)

Cool, Calm & Collected: Faith - Tonight in church it was like God was sitting in the seat next to me telling me "See? This is what I've been telling you through this whole thing." Also known as a swift kick in the pants. It was exactly what I needed. On my way to church tonight I was feeling sorry for myself. It had alot to do with the fact that I was so, so tired, but alot of it was just a pity party. I felt like turning my car around, going home, curling up on my bed and crying. Cry about how much I still miss Jim. Cry about how much my life has changed and will never be the same again. Cry about my last post. Cry about having a rough day in general. But I didn't. And wow, am I glad. (READ MORE)

Cassandra: Epiphany - At 4 a.m. this morning, the office of the half vast Editorial Staff was still as neat as a pin. Unnatural. Spooky, even. Fresh vacuum marks still showed in the carpet and my desk was momentarily clear of the usual signs of terminal procrastination. No good can come from this. We had The Talk over the weekend. Can't say I came away from it with any new information but still, some things needed to be said. I needed him to tell me what his wishes are if he's incapacitated. Emergency measures and the like. Find the will, the durable power of attorney and the medical POA. Make sure I have passwords to his online accounts. These things will make it easier for me to clean out his bank account, morph myself into a brunette Pamela Anderson and eventually realize my lifelong ambition of embarrassing the living crap out of my progeny. Take him off the auto policy, notify the credit card company that he'll be overseas so they don't do something boneheaded like deny a charge while he's half-way around the world. Check the expiration dates on his debit and credit card. Make appointment for financial counseling. Order him some sunscreen. (READ MORE)

Sarah @ Loving A Soldier Blog:
Kevlar Heart Protection - It is official, I now have food in the refrigerator that will expire after my husband has left for Iraq. I am trying to stay positive, trying to have a HOOAH we can do this attitude. Last night I held my six year old on my lap while he sobbed, so afraid that his Daddy won't come home. I know I have to keep it together because my boys are watching me and gauging how upset to be by how upset I am. I feel like I am on a run away train. I can't stop it, I just have to hang on tight for the ride. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to beg him not to leave. Instead I ordered our Daddy Dolls, our Flat Daddy, and all the deployment books I could get my hands on. I am pulling myself up by my boot straps and wishing someone made body armor for my heart. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:

Baghdad-Damascus feud heats up again after bombings - Iraq and Syria continued to spar verbally after the Aug. 19 bombings at Baghdad’s finance and foreign ministries that killed about 100 people and prompted accusations from the Iraqi government that Damascus was harboring the masterminds of the attacks. Iraq has charged Syria with sheltering leaders from late dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath party and with allowing other militants to operate inside its borders. The government broadcast footage a week ago of a suspected militant captured after the attacks who described receiving orders from Iraqi Baathists in Syria. (READ MORE)

Tim James' journey from NBA to Iraq - The phone rings at 1 a.m. It is Tim James. The connection is tinny and echoing. How are you, Tim? ``It was 125 degrees yesterday,'' he says. ``I've never felt anything like that. It was like working inside an oven. It was 121 in the shade.'' James is in Iraq, in a suffocating desert 105 miles north of Baghdad, but he isn't making one of those celebrity visits to cheer up the troops. No, he is the troops. (READ MORE)

56th Stryker Brigade Homecoming - ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - Members of the National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade are coming come to Blair County Monday. About 700 local soldiers deployed for training last September, and then to Iraq in January. It's been a tough year for many of these soldiers, and their families. (READ MORE)

Syria Dismisses Iraqi Charges it Shelters Bombers - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has dismissed Iraqi allegations that Syria has been sheltering people suspected of planting deadly bombs in Iraq. Mr. Assad said that for Syria to be accused of killing Iraqis while it houses some 1.2 million Iraqi refugees is an immoral and politically motivated accusation. The Syrian leader says he is still waiting for Iraq to send documented evidence of the charges. (READ MORE)

Son to Succeed Father as Iraqi Shiite Party Leader - One of Iraq’s leading Shiite political parties moved quickly on Monday to fill the vacuum left by the death of its influential leader last week, nominating his son to take over a party now poised to challenge Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in national elections next year. The nominee, Ammar al-Hakim, the scion of a respected political and religious family that fought Saddam Hussein’s government from exile and emerged as a political force after its fall, was widely expected to take over the party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. (READ MORE)

Power lines find their way to remote Iraqi villages - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – For the residents of the remote village of Guddah in the Kirkuk province of Iraq, it has been a long, hot summer. Although the village has a few air coolers, there is no electrical power source to plug them into. Soon, that will change. (READ MORE)

U.S. Army donates computers to Kirkuk College of Science - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – For the last seven years, the same computers at the Kirkuk College of Science have endured countless classes of students pounding away at their keys, altering their software and smudging their screens. This is more than a lifetime for a computer, and their age has begun to show. But teachers this year won’t have to worry about trying to install new software on the outdated systems, or think about whether their compact disk drives will last through the semester, because on Aug. 26, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, donated 50 new computers to the college. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest four suspected terrorists, reduce illegal weapons flow - TIKRIT, Iraq – During operations throughout northern Iraq, Iraqi Security Forces, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested four suspected terrorists under the authority of various warrants issued by the Government of Iraq on Aug. 29. Bayji Special Weapons and Tactics arrested a suspected terrorist in the Salah ad-Din province with a warrant issued by the Bayji Investigative Court for suspicion of trafficking illegal weapons throughout the country. (READ MORE)

GRD builds new facilities for Iraqi Air Force - BAGHDAD – The Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq is managing several projects to improve the quality of life for the Iraqi air force. GRD’s Gulf Region District is overseeing construction of new housing facilities for the 23rd Transport Squadron that is approximately 90 percent complete and a C-130 aircraft hangar and ramp project that is more than 90 percent complete. (READ MORE)

Essential services linked to security gains - BAGHDAD — As the role of U.S. forces continues to evolve here, one Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is still focused on keeping the pressure on insurgents through surprising means. Soldiers of 2nd Heavy BCT "Dagger," 1st Infantry Division, maintain 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)

Soldiers provide clean water, fresh start - BAGHDAD — A series of intertwined, water-filled canals create a patchwork of green fields, abundant in crops near the capital city area of Zooba. The irrigation system provided essential water to the local farms but not to citizens. "Potable water makes the difference between getting disease. For us, it's the difference between life and death," said Spc. Stephen Palac, a combat medic, about the importance of available drinking water. "There are all kinds of bad organisms in that canal water which leads to lots of stomach problems." (READ MORE)

Joint Base Balad prepares for drawdown - JOINT BASE BALAD — To further the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, Operation Clean Sweep aims to remove all U.S. equipment before returning this Coalition base to the Government of Iraq. First Lt. Jeffrey A. Kromm, a platoon leader with the 514th Maintenance Company, said his team is coordinating with all units on JBB to assist them with getting unwanted inventory out of Iraq. (READ MORE)

New youth center opens in Baghdad - BAGHDAD — The conflict in Iraq has had a dramatic effect on many Iraqi children, but the children of Shaab now have a fun, safe place to play with the recent opening of the Araby Youth Center here. 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. Local dignitaries, including the Iraqi Minister of Youth Sports, formally opened the center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, August 30. (READ MORE)

Commander Engages Sheiks, Finds Common Ground - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Aug. 31, 2009 – Fostering good working relationships with Iraqi counterparts is an integral part of mission success here. Just as soldiers no longer go into the cities without Iraqi security forces partners, Contingency Operating Base Adder no longer can function efficiently without engaging local sheiks and key leaders. This is especially true for the base’s garrison command, manned by the 1st Armored Division’s 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, and spearheaded by its commander, Army Lt. Col. Alan Shumate of Fayetteville, N.C. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
A Bombing in Baluchistan - A bomb blast set several NATO vehicles on fire in Chaman, a town located on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, late Sunday night. The border crossing had been closed for several days following a dispute between Pakistani and Afghani officials over vehicle inspections, leaving hundreds of trucked backed-up at the crossing. One person was reportedly injured. (READ MORE)

Rough Terrain - Under an experimental program in Afghanistan, teams of anthropologists and social scientists are working alongside soldiers to help win the war by winning over the Afghan people. It may seem like a brilliant idea. But in this battle, nothing is as it seems. - The American soldiers gathered in a makeshift conference room where fine dust coated the long table and maps hung on the walls. The maps showed the area around the base in careful detail: the villages, shallow valleys and fields, the thin band of Highway 1 running west from Kandahar. (READ MORE)

A Worthy Cause - I don’t know if you are aware of Michael Yon. He’s fearless… provides a candid, soldier’s-eye view… from the very unique perspective of being there with them for weeks and months at a time… delving deep into the human component. - General David H. Petraeus Commanding General Multi-National Force, Iraq. Michael Yon is ex-SF, and he brings honor to the Regiment with his heroic work covering the wars going on out there, reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Delivers Afghan Assessment to US, NATO Leaders - The commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan has completed his assessment of the situation there and has forwarded it to NATO and US leaders, Defense Department officials said today. Speaking to reporters during a visit to a Lockheed-Martin F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas, today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he has not yet seen Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s assessment, but expects to read it in the next day or two. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Commander's Report Submitted, But Secret - The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has delivered his eagerly-awaited assessment to his bosses in Washington and Brussels, but the document is being kept secret. Pentagon officials say it will be followed by international consultations and possibly requests for more US and international forces. According to a NATO release, General McChrystal writes that "the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable." (READ MORE)

Gen. McChrystal Calls for New Strategy in Afghan War - The US and its allies need to change course in Afghanistan to salvage the faltering war effort and prevent the Taliban from extending their recent gains, the top American commander in Afghanistan warned in a highly anticipated strategic assessment. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said that conditions on the ground were "serious," but expressed confidence that the war could still be won if the US and NATO better coordinated their efforts and focused more heavily on protecting the Afghan populace from Taliban attack. (READ MORE)

Groundwork Is Laid for New Troops in Afghanistan - A new report by the top commander in Afghanistan detailing the deteriorating situation there confronts President Obama with the politically perilous decision of whether to deepen American involvement in the eight-year-old war amid shrinking public support at home. The classified assessment submitted Monday by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took over American and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June, did not request additional American troops, American officials said, but they added that it effectively laid the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks. (READ MORE)

General: Afghan Situation 'Serious' - The top US commander for Afghanistan called the situation there "serious" but salvageable, in a sobering assessment issued Monday that is expected to pave the way for a request for more American troops, funds for Afghan forces and other resources. White House and Pentagon officials, while welcoming the assessment, cautioned that there is no guarantee such requests would be met. (READ MORE)

Obama Aides See Need for More Troops in Afghanistan - Many of President Barack Obama's top advisers on Afghanistan agree with military commanders that more troops are needed to reverse Taliban gains in the country's east and south, US officials said on Monday. But there is wariness within the White House to another large-scale increase at a time when public support for the eight-year-old war against a resurgent Taliban is eroding, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Urges Closer Ties with Afghan Forces - The top US general in Afghanistan wants a new focus on strengthening and partnering with Afghan security forces "down to the platoon level" and will review the current use of informal "tribal" militia for fear they could lead to the resurgence of warlordism, US military officials and civilian specialists say. As US troops ended their deadliest month in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Monday gave the Pentagon and NATO a long-awaited reassessment of strategy in the 8-year-old war. (READ MORE)

Marine Commander Sees Progress in Afghanistan - The general in charge of US Marines in Afghanistan said Monday that progress is being made in wresting a key southern province from Taliban control but cautioned that process will be slow and difficult to measure. Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland also said the Marine Corps was ready to send more troops to Afghanistan if asked by top US officials. "Everything we're doing is preparing to put more forces in theater," Helland said. The Marines' goal is to train the Afghan security forces to carry the fight to the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Capture Key Taliban Leaders - Afghan forces and NATO-led International Security Assistance troops captured two key Taliban leaders, including a commander, during a joint operation in the Kanday village of Chapa Dara district in Afghanistan’s Kunar province Aug. 29. Qari Azimullah is a Taliban commander in the district, and has been directly linked to several roadside-bomb attacks in the province, one of which resulted in the recent death of a US servicemember. (READ MORE)

West Faces Losing Battle Over Afghan Poll Fraud - Widespread and systematic fraud during the Afghan presidential elections has tarnished the legitimacy of any future government and undermined the Nato campaign there, Western and Afghan officials have admitted. Two more British soldiers were killed yesterday and the commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan warned President Obama that the eight-year war was in a “serious” state and that big changes were needed if victory was to be achieved. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Army Reports Killing 45 Taliban Militants in Swat Valley - Pakistani soldiers killed at least 45 Taliban militants in scattered gunbattles across the northwestern Swat Valley after a suicide bombing on a police station killed 17 cadets, the army said Monday. Hundreds of miles away, a southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan reopened after an administrative dispute culminated in an attack on a line of waiting NATO fuel tankers. (READ MORE)

Time to Get Out of Afghanistan - US strategy - protecting the population - is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined US involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible. The US strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that US forces will forever be too few to hold gains. (READ MORE)

Swat Valley's Hidden Crisis - Confusion continues to reign over what is happening in Pakistan's unstable Swat Valley and its neighboring districts. The Pakistani government says that the "emergency" fighting that displaced more than 2 million people earlier this year "is over." The Taliban has been defeated, Islamabad claims, and the area is returning to normal. (READ MORE)

Measuring Progress Toward Peace - Afghanistan's important Aug. 20 vote is over. Whatever the outcome, a poll by the International Republican Institute, completed just before the vote, shows a fresh burst of hopefulness among Afghans, with optimism about the future back to the 60 percent level for the first time in years and renewed faith in the United States as well as NATO. (READ MORE)

2 Americans, 2 Brits are killed by bombs in Afghanistan - KABUL — Bombs killed four NATO troops Monday — two Americans and two Britons — ending the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces as the top NATO commander called for a new strategy to confront the Taliban. The U.S. military said the two Americans were killed in separate explosions in southern Afghanistan but gave no further details. (READ MORE)

US, British troops inflict 'vast damage' on Taliban - US and NATO troops have inflicted "vast damage" on the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, seizing strongholds and making a dent in the Islamic militia's drug trade, US envoy Richard Holbrooke says. Mr Holbrooke, who travelled twice to the southern Helmand province in recent weeks, told France 24 in an interview that a major US offensive launched last month was showing results. (READ MORE)

(VIDEO) Fuel Trucks Attacked at Afghan Border - At least one driver was killed and 16 NATO fuel trucks destroyed on the Pakistani side of the Chaman crossing with Afghanistan late on Sunday, Pakistani police said. (Aug. 31) (VIEW VIDEO)

Pentagon worried about Obama's commitment to Afghanistan - WASHINGTON — The prospect that U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal may ask for as many as 45,000 additional American troops in Afghanistan is fueling growing tension within President Barack Obama's administration over the U.S. commitment to the war there. On Monday, McChrystal sent his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan to the Pentagon , the U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and NATO . Although the assessment didn't include any request for more troops, senior military officials said they expect McChrystal later in September to seek between 21,000 and 45,000 more troops. (READ MORE)

Karzai keeps on leading Afghan presidential polls - The incumbent Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been leading the partial results of the August 20 held presidential election as on Monday he again tops his rivals. "Out of 2,869,562 valid votes counted so far, Karzai has bagged 1,317,121 and thus is in the lead," chief electoral officer Daud Najafi told newsmen while releasing partial results of polls. (READ MORE)

Taliban chief in threat to Prince is killed - A Taliban leader who threatened to kill Prince Harry has been assassinated, it was revealed yesterday. Mullah Abdul Karim was killed by Australian forces in the Oruzgan region of southern Afghanistan earlier this month. Last year Karim described Prince Harry as an "important chicken". The Prince had previously been serving in Helmand Province but was withdrawn after news of his secret deployment leaked and his involvement was reported worldwide. (READ MORE)

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