September 2, 2009

From the Front: 09/02/2009

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

Bad Dogs and Such: Ahh - I made it successfully to Hollow Tree, Michigan, where I received the World’s Most Enthusiastic Dog Greeting. That was, of course, after swinging by the hospital to see Mom (interrupting her workday, so my apologies to anyone who may have had a near-death experience in Barry County today – your care may have been quicker if I hadn’t stopped to hug my Mom, but that wasn’t going to happen). Jack did get to me before my Dad, but I got some good hugs from him, to (unlike the lab, Dad did not pee on my foot. Appreciate that, Dad). (READ MORE)

MAJ C: Why Afghanistan Matters... - There has been a great deal of discussion in the past 48 hours about Afghanistan in many of the papers. Most of it focused in the editorial pages by esteemed men like George Will. The peace movements also seem to be mobilizing to try to launch a public relations campaign in October to focus upon pushing for a withdrawal of US Forces from Afghanistan. With all of this being said, the question becomes; why does Afghanistan matter to us? To answer that question, and to try to cover all bases in an objective fashion, I am going to address it utilizing the foundations of the Realist, Liberal, and Idealist schools of thought. I debated long and hard over whether I should address it as an idealist. But, since many of the arguments are being formulated in this fashion, I thought it was only fair. That, and to be honest, I tend to be a bit of an idealist myself. First up, the Realists: (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Thoughts On Karzai - John Manley published an op-ed in the Globe today on the Afghan election. Manley, for anyone not aware, has spoken better on the subject of Afghanistan than any other politician in this country. Sadly, Manley seems to have left politics for foreseeable future. His speech during the release of the "Manley Panel" report on Afghanistan remains the gold standard. If only our other public figures had the intelligence and guts to stand up for the mission as Manley has done. Sample dialogue: “Our presence in Afghanistan is fully justified whether considered from the point of view of international law, humanitarian needs, or Canadian and global interests in security. If we're not willing to lend our military resources when asked to so by the United Nations, in a mission coordinated by NATO, in a country whose democratically elected government wants us, and whose citizens desperately need us, then we wonder: where and when would Canada do so?” (READ MORE)

Doc H: A different perspective of corruption - How many times have you seen an article in the news media start off with "There is rampant corruption in Afghanistan?" We of the US Military abhor corruption. Bribes, kickbacks, skimming things off the inventory; these are things that we simply do not do or tolerate. Sadly there are politicians and other leaders in the US who do not share this standard of conduct. I think I am safe in declaring that almost every citizen of the US would put corruption in the BAD category. Having been in more than a few foreign countries I would like to expand your perspective. We are treated well by our Government. If I am asked to go to city X and stay Y number of days, the Government is kind enough to provide transportation, a place to sleep, a way to get food or reimbursement for all of the above. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: (VIDEO) 8km convoy resupplies troops in Helmand, Afghanistan - A convoy stretching for eight kilometres and consisting of more than one hundred UK, US and Afghan National Army vehicles set off just before the Afghan elections in mid August to resupply coalition bases in northern Helmand. The 116-vehicle convoy, one of the biggest to ever leave Camp Bastion, was travelling a dangerous 70km to bases in the Sangin Valley via the outskirts of Gereshk and then off-road through open desert. Captain Gareth Lowe, the Operations Officer for Camp Bastion's Close Support Logistic Regiment, said, "We're going to fight these vehicles through no matter what the enemy throw at us." (READ MORE)

Iron Camel: FUBAR - Some time ago, a US and Iraqi General flew into our area for a briefing by another unit. Here’s how the comedic tragedy unfolded. D-2: A brief blurb in a report that the two generals were meeting in my area for a briefing. We call the generator of the report and question the validity. He states he heard it from his Iraqi counterpart. He doesn’t have any details about the brief other than what it might be about. D-1.9: We all stare at each other and discuss the situation. No one has any idea about this brief, who started it, where it was coming from or who was going to give the brief. Since it wasn’t our team giving the brief, all we needed to know was what time the brief was so we could plan to secure the landing zone when the aircraft arrived. D-1.5: Still no word about the brief. Flurries of phone calls were made to possible briefers, to include the center of operations of the co-joined unit. Nothing. Business as usual, it’s after midnight, we all go to bed. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): More Brits - Tomorrow I ride with the British contractors assuming they don't have a mission. A few nights ago sat with a couple of contractors near my age. They were from the United Kingdom. One from England, the other from Northern Ireland. The Irish guy was from out in the country, but near Belfast. He has been a contractor since 2004 and doing consulting work he could not talk about. What he could talk about was the work arrangements. He has been flying back and forth from home every six to eight weeks with six weeks off in between work stints. He said they "work our asses right into the ground every day we are here, then give us time to recover at home. So we have a real family life." The English guy echoed his comments saying the American contractor system means a lot of guys fatten up their wallets and ruin their marriages. (READ MORE)

Mohammed at Iraq the Model: Iraq seeks an international tribunal to investigate foreign interference - Iraq continues to insist on internationalizing the crisis with Syria, which began after Iraq demanded that Syria hands over senior Ba’ath Party members. Iraq now plans to persuade the international community to form an international criminal court, similar to the one investigating the assassination of the late Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stressed at a meeting with the Turkish FM that Iraq “will move forward to demand that the UN forms an international tribunal to prosecute those who committed ugly crimes that target Iraq’s stability and people and killed many innocent lives”. Foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari echoed the plan and actually hinted that Iraq would want the tribunal to look into more than just the August 19 attacks. “Iraq is to talk to the UN about forming an international criminal tribunal to investigate all crimes that undermined Iraq’s national security” said Zibari. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: HELLLLPPPP!! - Okay, so I'm not sure I have the stomach for this. The anticipation, the twists and turns, the near misses, the careening downhill and the slow tortuous passes. Of course, I'm talking about a teaching our son to drive, while The Hubs is away. This is the job for a veteran who has seen combat, hence, is far more qualified to dismiss the pit I feel as we merge into busy boulevards. Today, he decided he could turn right on a red light without stopping. Yes, that's right. His rules. My life. Good lord. He has had three weeks practice in New Mexico with his doting grandpa. And of course, now... it's show time and he's practicing to get his license here in California. But really, do I trust a teen, whose idea of "bombing hills" is to take a longboard start at the top and slalom all the way to the bottom? (READ MORE)

Kudzu's Wandering Through the Vines: Just an update - still here in Afghanistan. Been busy but the old connection I had went down for a while then it just flat out sucks. So now I’m paying for it, literally. Anywho. Things are kicking up down south as the news is reporting and the elections are over. Last tiem I looked Karzai was ahead with 46% so there still might be a runoff… personally I think that would be good for this country. A contested election that is settled without bloodshed between the two opponents… hopefully. I’ve ben here for about 4 months now and ever so slowly counting the days till I can go home on R&R. I am shooting for Christmas so I can be with my kids and hopefully back for my son’s birthday in March. We’ll see how that goes. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani military launches operation in Khyber - The Pakistani military has launched an operation against extremists operating in the Khyber tribal agency. The operation was launched after a suicide bomber killed 22 border guards at the Torkham crossing last week. More than 40 extremists were killed, including two commanders, and another 43 were captured, according to Tariq Hayat, the Political Agent for Khyber. Three "militant bases" were destroyed, according to a press release by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, while an indefinite curfew has been imposed in the region. The military is relying heavily on artillery and Cobra helicopter gunships instead of engaging the extremists on the ground, according to reports received by The Long War Journal. Only three soldiers have been wounded during the operation, claims the military. (READ MORE)

Townie 76 @ OPFOR: Afghanistan A Failed Nation State or Tribes at War Over Who Shall Be the Big Chief - I have a great deal of admiration for General Stan McCrystal. He is uniquely qualified to lead American combat forces, as he is every inch a warrior. He is a warrior, who has served in both conventional and special operations units in the United States Army. He is a proven leader of men, who is more than willing to share the hardships of those he leads. Having given a list of superlatives, I have to wonder if he has fallen victim to the age old disease which seems to inflict political and military leaders of the United States, Westphalian Myopia. Westphalian Myopia is a disease that seems to exclusively inflict political and military leaders of European descent. It is symbolized by a belief that all people wish to shed their tribal heritage, to shed their primitive ways, and to adopt trappings of the modern western nation state. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The Case for Afghanistan: (Recent) Historical Considerations - I’m adding a new consideration in the Afghanistan War Debate, one I did not mention in my introduction, because it seems to be a subtext behind much of the debate over the war’s stakes. That new consideration is history, specifically recent to 20th century history. When I last had this debate, in April of 2008, blogger Fabius Maximus summarily rejected dismissed the history of American inaction in Afghanistan, but I never really understood why—he just asserted that there’s no reason to think history would repeat itself. That thought seems to have been internalized. Take George Will’s column as one example. After quoting a British historian who’s written fifteen books about World War 2 but none about Afghanistan, he says: So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: USING TRIBAL NETWORKS TO PROTECT THE POPULATION: DOES IT WORK? - The mantra of my former commander was Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. Does it work? Can it work for security? One of my jobs in Afghanistan was to travel around the country and convince warlords that they should hand in their weapons to the new UN program Disarmament of Illegally Armed Groups (DIAG). In Logar, a warlord asked me, “if I turn in my weapons, who will protect my people?” Of course, I said, “We would protect him and his people.” In my mind’s eye, I was picturing B52s, attack helicopters, and precision guided munitions. He did not look impressed with my promise of protection. That conversation stayed with me. I realized that, we were not protecting the population and perhaps Afghanistan was not yet ready for DIAG. In order to protect the population, some have posited that it would take a security force of up to 400,000. We did not have 400,000 security forces in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Celestial Junk: Ask a Direct Question - ... get a direct answer. I recently asked my son, who is serving in Afghanistan, if the scheduled 2011 pullout of Canadian Forces had a negative effect on morale. Here's his answer as given to me via email: “... as for the 2011 pullout, to be honest, I think most soldiers are pretty indifferent. 2011 might as well be 2050 from here. Most soldiers are focused on two days, tomorrow, and the day they leave. Personally, I think I'm a little less optimistic about the whole thing than before I came. Interesting post at Defense of the Realm, thinks the big strategy, at least for the Brits, is a dead end. As for our Force, given the right direction, I've no doubt we'd see it through, although the performance of the ANA and ANP, one of the keystones of the strategy, is pretty appalling at times. The biggest problem is probably a lack of will and/or disinterest back home.” (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Happy 8th Birthday Julia! - Yesterday was Julia's birthday. It's so hard to believe my little girl is now 8. I remember 8 years ago being in labor and having to go for an emergency c-section after 25 hours (with NO pain medication--yeah, don't know what I was thinking!). I was completely out of it but mom later told me that Rob was so upset and scared seeing me in so much pain. As they wheeled me to the c-section room, he told my mom that he never wanted to do this again. Mom reassured him that once he held our little girl in our arms, it would all be worth it. She was right. One of our friends told me after Rob died that the day after Julia was born, they came to see us. Rob was in the hallway and told them that he already loved being a dad. And what a great dad he was! This weekend we had a birthday party for Julia. Our family came over and everyone had lots of fun. Thank goodness for our trampoline because the kids were on there the whole time--Julia even opened her gifts on it! (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Flash Flood - Early in the morning of 8/31 a giant thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a stunning amount of water on us. High winds blew open my window which woke me up briefly enough to see the absolute solid wall of water as if Shem’s house had been moved under a waterfall. Lightning lit up the sky with such frequency it was nearly daylight. The next morning Logan asked if it had rained the previous night. The concrete houses are sound insulated enough that on the first floor I would have slept through the storm too had my window not blown open. The front yard didn’t look too different but once the front gates were opened we could see that Jalalabad had been flooded. All over Jalalabad culverts overflowed, low areas became rushing rivers, mud walls melted, and houses were damaged or destroyed. The biggest casualty was Saracha Bridge, about 1 km east of FOB Fenty towards Torkham. Tim and I went out to see the bridge a day later and found two and three story tall bridge footings washed down river and most of the bridge completely gone. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: A Return to Offshore Balancing - The recent chorus of calls for withdrawal from Afghanistan (which I will treat in more detail later) involve a number of different avenues, some liberal, some conservative, some pragmatic, and some nonplussed. Courtesy of Bryan McGrath at Information Dissemination, we have a mythical reason, called A Return to Offshore Balancing (albeit somewhat dated). This proposal assumes first that in using SF and SOF we have the actionable intelligence and logistics to support their interdictions, raids and HVT killings. We will not have that with a small footprint. Intelligence sources are killed in small footprint campaigns because their is no force projection on the ground. Logistics would be nonexistent because every participant in trucking supplies into the FOBs or launch points for these operations would have been beheaded or shot. Thinking that this can all be done from offshore platforms is not serious analysis. It’s wishful and even mythical thinking. (READ MORE)

Cassandra: Over There! D'oh! No, Over There!.. No...That's Not It - It is so reassuring, after 8 years of listening to Democrats excoriate the Bush administration for insufficient planning, to watch a smart leader who has all his ducks in a row. For years I listened to both the anti-war crowd and too many conservatives berate George Bush for not selling the war to the American people. For not asking us to sacrifice. For failing to make the case for war. We in the armed forces were constantly reminded, usually by folks with no connection to the fighting, that real sacrifices were being made. Who knew? That these sacrifices were voluntary was rarely acknowledged. It didn't seem to matter how military folks felt about the war or what they said. The anti-war crowd discounted the testimony of those who were actually in Iraq. It was so much easier to dismiss our soldiers and Marines as ignorant, gullible victims too stupid to think for themselves. This is an easy thing to believe when "thinking for oneself" means "agreeing with us". (READ MORE)

McQ: Afghanistan - Political Will or Political Cynicism - For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being "the 'good' war" and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around. The problem? As usual it has to do with political will. The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report. “The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.” Read that carefully - two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence - the political. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: The Obama Doctrine - "Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban, so we've got to get the job done [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there. It means that we have enough civilian support, agricultural specialists, people who are engineers, people who are building schools and so forth to help the Afghani government do a better job of delivering on behalf of its people." - Senator Barack Obama, August, 2007 - The world has spun a couple of laps around the sun since the Illinois Senator and would-be Democrat presidential candidate responded to a question in New Hampshire about moving troops out of Iraq, so more than a few folks are probably willing to claim they're too hot and dizzy to remember what he said. Now is the time for an Afghanistan debate, many of those suffering from the most severe form of amnesia insist. Well, this being America it's always time for a debate somewhere. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Monthly death toll highest in over a year - Violence in Iraq produced the highest death toll in 13 months as August was marred by a series of suicide bombings in northern Iraq and a high-profile attack on two government ministries in Baghdad that stoked concerns that security was deteriorating with the removal of most U.S. forces from Iraqi cities and the approach of national elections in January. A total of 456 people were killed in attacks in August, including 393 civilians, a number far lower than the figures at the height of Iraq’s civil war in 2006 and 2007 when Iraq’s monthly death toll sometimes soared past 2,000. (READ MORE)

Government Says August Was Bloodiest Month for Iraqis in Past Year - Iraqi government figures indicate August was the bloodiest month in the last 13 for Iraqi citizens. More than 450 Iraqi people were killed and more than 1,500 were wounded, giving rise to fresh worries over the security situation. August was an extremely bloody month in Iraq, according to an Iraqi government report, with casualties from violence among Iraqi civilians, police and Iraqi soldiers hitting a 13-month high. (READ MORE)

Attacks Prompt Iraqi Security Assessment - Iraqi security forces have undertaken a broad self-assessment in the wake of series of deadly attacks in the Iraqi capital last month, a US commander there said today. A wave of truck bombings in Baghdad killed at least 100 people and injured more than 500 others in a deadly Aug. 19 assault that exposed a lapse in security, according to US defense officials. (READ MORE)

US Proposes Sending Troops to Disputed Area of Northern Iraq - Recently, the top US military commander in Iraq said he wants to send American troops to a disputed strip of territory in northern Iraq - for a limited time - to defuse growing tensions between Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish militia. General Ray Odierno says the goal is to build trust between the two sides and bridge the gap between feuding Kurds and Arabs. (READ MORE)

ERB arrests a suspected terrorist in Baghdad - BAGHDAD – Elements of the Emergency Response Brigade, along with U.S. forces advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist in the Iraqi capital on Aug. 30. The suspect is allegedly affiliated with insurgent groups operating in the area. The suspect is wanted for conducting improvised explosive devise attacks against Iraqi government officials, Iraqi Security Forces and civilians. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. forces recover downed unmanned aerial vehicle - MOSUL, Iraq — A downed unmanned aerial vehicle was recovered by Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. forces after it crashed on a rooftop in the Rashadiyah neighborhood in northwestern Mosul, August 31. Through a request to the Ninawa Operations Center, U.S. forces were granted permission to move through the city of Mosul to recover the UAV. (READ MORE)

ISF derail rocket launcher factory operations in Maysan - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq – The 38th Iraqi Army Brigade and Iraqi Tactical Security Unit Police from Amarah seized a large cache of supplies used for improvised rocket launchers in Maysan province August 31. The operation snared 16 complete rocket rails and over 1300 car jacks and other components used in the assembly of the rails. Hundreds of jacks were smuggled in banana shipping crates marked with Iranian stickers. (READ MORE)

Soldier boosts troop morale through music - PB HUSAYNIYAH — Music fills the air of this small patrol base as U.S. Soldiers here collectively notice the song and gather around a multi-talented musician. Lost within the song, Pfc. Andrew S. Wells strums on his guitar as the gathered Soldiers clap and sing along. Music has always been a part of Wells' life. The second oldest in a family of six brothers and one sister, Wells first immersed himself in the world of music with the drums. (READ MORE)

Anbar Combat Outposts return to Iraqi control - AL ANBAR PROVINCE — During the month of August, Multi-National Force - West returned Combat Outposts Viking and Eagle Base to Iraqi control. In accordance with the Security Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, and upon U.S. withdrawal from a base or facility, the bases or facilities will be returned to the control of the appropriate Iraqi entity or demilitarized and closed. (READ MORE)

Power lines strung to remote Iraqi village - KIRKUK — For the residents of the remote village of Guddah, it has been a long, hot summer. Although this village has a few air coolers, there’s no electrical source to power them. But this is all about to change, as local companies have begun constructing power lines here. An initial assessment of the area was completed by the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Aug. 28, when a civil affairs specialist here from Forward Operating Base Warrior traveled to Guddah to see how the project was progressing. (READ MORE)

Army, Iraqi docs hold medical forums - BAGHDAD — Medical forums in Baghdad's Yarnouk Medical Center bring U.S. Army and Iraqi medical experts together to keep the Iraqi medical world linked and informed. Medical professionals from the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division helped the Iraqi Ministry of Health host the 'Grand Rounds' forums; designed to help prevent future medical problems and offer solutions to existing ones. (READ MORE)

A Future Worth Securing - SCANIA, Iraq - Outside the wire, Soldiers they wear full battle rattle. They scout the area for danger: IEDs, mortars, rockets, insurgents or anything that may threaten the lives around them. Alpha Company, 2-162IN's quick recovery force, base security and defense for Scania, is ready for anything. "I am sworn to protect all citizens of Scania," 1st Sgt. Geoffrey Miotke said. "I do so with a posture that has my guys ready all the time." (READ MORE)

Is It Time to Negotiate With the Taliban? - A new report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, in detailing the deteriorating situation there raises the question of whether to deepen American involvement in the war. At the same time, his strategy is not so much to kill Taliban insurgents as it is to isolate them by making ordinary Afghans feel secure — an approach that means less force and more economic development. (READ MORE)

Taliban Surprising US Forces With Improved Tactics - The Taliban has become a much more potent adversary in Afghanistan by improving its own tactics and finding gaps in the US military playbook, according to senior American military officials who acknowledged that the enemy's resurgence this year has taken them by surprise. US rules of engagement restricting the use of air power and aggressive action against civilians have also opened new space for the insurgents, officials said. Western development projects, such as new roads, schools and police stations, have provided fresh targets for Taliban roadside bombs and suicide attacks. (READ MORE)

US to Boost Combat Force in Afghanistan - US officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," Defense officials say. The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of US troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Can the US 'Offshore' Its Afghanistan War? - Pity President Obama having to open the Afghanistan file sitting on his Oval Office desk when he returned to work this week: His hand-picked commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has warned that the war is being lost, and the only way to win it is to increase the US stake - a request for more troops is widely anticipated in the coming weeks. But the war is losing support among Obama's fellow Democrats and a growing share of the US public. (READ MORE)

Nervous Barack Obama Eyes Afghan Surge - The White House has fingered the former Bush administration for under-resourcing the US war against terrorism, as it gets nervous about committing more troops to the fight in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama is fast approaching a crunch point on whether to significantly boost troop numbers, after his top military commander in Afghanistan handed a review of the war to the Pentagon. Mr Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, yesterday responded to questions about the worsening situation in the US-led fight against the Taliban by blaming George W. Bush for past neglect while the focus remained on Iraq. (READ MORE)

Warlord's Defection Shows Afghan Risk - Ghulam Yahya, a former mayor of this ancient city along the Silk Road, battled the Taliban for years and worked hand in hand with Western officials to rebuild the country's industrial hub. Now, Mr. Yahya is firing rockets at the Herat airport and nearby coalition military headquarters. He has kidnapped soldiers and foreign contractors, claimed the downing of an Afghan army helicopter and planted bombs in central Herat - including one that killed a district police chief and more than a dozen bystanders last month. Mr. Yahya's stranglehold over the outskirts of Herat has destabilized a former oasis of calm and relative prosperity. (READ MORE)

UN Sees Afghan Drug Cartels Emerging - Though the Afghan opium harvest has declined for the second consecutive year, a new United Nations report says, there is growing evidence that some Afghan insurgent forces are becoming “narco-cartels” - similar to anti-government guerrilla groups in Colombia - that view drug profits as more important than ideology. Afghanistan’s multibillion-dollar illicit narcotics industry finances much of the country’s insurgency, and the influence of drug money is a major reason the Afghan government is considered among the most corrupt in the world. (READ MORE)

UN Reports a Decline in Afghanistan's Opium Trade - Farmers in Afghanistan are growing less opium than last year and prices for the illicit crop have fallen to levels not seen in a decade, according to a new report from the United Nations. The decline in poppy growing is largely the result of years of oversupply catching up to farmers - cultivation climbed this decade as earlier efforts to curb it failed - and newly successful interdiction efforts that have begun to discourage production, the report said. (READ MORE)

Tribal Leaders Say Karzai’s Team Forged 23,900 Votes - Just a week before this country’s presidential election, the leaders of a southern Afghan tribe called Bariz gathered to make a bold decision: they would abandon the incumbent and local favorite, Hamid Karzai, and endorse his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. Mr. Abdullah flew to the southern city of Kandahar to receive the tribe’s endorsement. The leaders of the tribe, who live in a district called Shorabak, prepared to deliver a local landslide. But it never happened, the tribal leaders said. (READ MORE)

Afghans Brace for Unrest Over Vote Tally - As vote tallies keep dribbling out from Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, it appears increasingly likely that President Hamid Karzai will reach the 50 percent plus one vote that he needs to win reelection. But what will happen after that is far from clear, and tension and suspicion have mounted as the vote count drags on amid widening charges of electoral fraud. Afghans are confused, jittery and bracing for street violence - or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift. (READ MORE)

First the Votes, Now the Complaints Pile up in Afghanistan - In a low-slung building tucked behind concrete blast barriers on the edge of the Afghan capital, the plain brown envelopes are opened one by one, and the complaint forms inside smoothed out and scrutinized by weary-eyed workers. One handwritten account tells of a gunman turning up at a polling place. Another describes a candidate brazenly handing out cash bribes. Yet another reports a ballot box filled with votes only moments after the start of polling. (READ MORE)

Experts: Elections Last Chance to Resolve Afghan Conflict - The slow tally of Afghanistan's election returns and the mounting accusations of fraud are raising questions about credibility of the August 20 election. Analysts in Washington warn if the election is widely viewed as illegitimate, the Obama's administration's policy in Afghanistan would suffer a major setback. As the votes continue to be tallied in Afghanistan, it is still not known if incumbent President Hamid Karzai will win outright - or face a second round against the probable runner-up, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But amidst the vote counting, the rising claims of fraud are clouding the election. (READ MORE)

Report Details Misbehavior by Kabul Embassy Guards - Private security contractors who guard the US Embassy in Kabul have engaged in lewd behavior and hazed subordinates, demoralizing the undermanned force and posing a "significant threat" to security at a time when the Taliban is intensifying attacks in the Afghan capital, according to an investigation released Tuesday by an independent watchdog group. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) launched the probe after more than a dozen security guards contacted the group to report misconduct and morale problems within the force of 450 guards who live at Camp Sullivan, a few miles from the embassy compound. (READ MORE)

Misconduct Claimed at US Embassy in Kabul - Security at the United States Embassy in Afghanistan has been seriously compromised by mismanagement and misbehavior among civilian guards and their supervisors, according to reports by a Congressional subcommittee and a nonprofit oversight organization. In a report delivered Tuesday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Project on Government Oversight accused ArmorGroup North America, which was hired in 2007 to provide security, of “a pattern of blatant and longstanding violations:" (READ MORE)

American Embassy Contractors in Kabul Accused of Ritual Abuse - Security contractors at the giant US Embassy in Kabul were accused yesterday of fostering a “Lord of the Flies environment” built on abuse and humiliating initiation rituals. The allegations, made by the independent Project On Government Oversight, are contained in a report submitted to Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. The State Department said that it was treating the allegations “very seriously”. The report is based on e-mails, some of which describe the alleged abuse of Afghan nationals. (READ MORE)

Contractors Outnumber US Troops in Afghanistan - Civilian contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan not only outnumber the uniformed troops, according to a report by a Congressional research group, but also form the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel recorded in any war in the history of the United States. On a superficial level, the shift means that most of those representing the United States in the war will be wearing the scruffy cargo pants, polo shirts, baseball caps and other casual accouterments favored by overseas contractors rather than the fatigues and flight suits of the military. (READ MORE)

Taking Kabul by the Horns - Democracy is not just an ink stain on a finger. It is the will of the people at the ballot box, and it has not been seen in Afghanistan. As the results add up from last month’s presidential elections, President Karzai is inching towards a significant first-round victory over Abdullah Abdullah, his principal challenger. Meanwhile, a picture is emerging of widespread vote rigging, ballot stuffing and intimidation. On Monday, the toll of British war dead in Afghanistan reached 210. They did not die for this. (READ MORE)

A Middle Way On Afghanistan? - It's the nature of Afghanistan that nothing there ever works out quite the way outsiders expect, and that certainly was the case with last month's presidential election. Rather than producing a mandate for good governance, as US officials once hoped, the balloting has instead brought allegations of fraud, political squabbling and delay, and a new set of headaches in the war against the Taliban. The Obama administration has talked of Afghanistan as the "good" war (as opposed to the "bad" one in Iraq), where more US troops and a smarter strategy would produce results. (READ MORE)

What's Right With Afghanistan - The national mood on the Afghanistan war has soured fast, and it's not hard to see why. American combat deaths have exceeded 100 for the summer, the recent Afghan election was tainted by accusations of intimidation and fraud, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen says the security environment there is "deteriorating." Meanwhile, congressional leaders worry about the war's impact on the health-care debate and the Obama presidency more generally. Antiwar groups are starting to talk about "another Vietnam." (READ MORE)

Suicide bomber kills 20 at Afghan mosque - A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing the deputy head of Afghan intelligence and more than 20 other people, officials said. High-ranking officials were killed and dozens of people wounded when the bomber detonated his explosives in a crowd of people outside the main mosque in Laghman's provincial capital Mihtarlam, officials said. (READ MORE)

Afghan intelligence chief killed in blast - Afghanistan's deputy chief of intelligence has been killed in an explosion, officials said today. Dr Abdullah Laghmani died in a blast during the inauguration of a new mosque in the city of Mehterlam in Laghman province, 60 miles east of Kabul, said Sayed Ahmad Safi, spokesman for the province's governor. (READ MORE)

World envoys ask what next after Afghan elections - Richard Holbrooke and 26 other international envoys face a touchy task in meetings Wednesday in Paris: how to rescue their costly effort to rebuild Afghanistan, after elections marred by alleged fraud and amid mounting bloodshed. Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, joins counterparts from Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and other countries for talks about how to deal with ballot-stuffing charges tarnishing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the man who once embodied the world's hope for the country and its democracy. (READ MORE)

UN says 'bottom is starting to fall out' of Afghanistan's huge opium market - KABUL (AP) -- Afghanistan's opium production fell 10 percent last year and prices are at their lowest in a decade, meaning "the bottom is starting to fall out" of the world's largest opium market, the U.N. said Wednesday. A key finding of the 2009 Afghan Opium Survey, released Wednesday, was that cultivation in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold where U.S. and British troops have launched major operations this summer, dropped by about a third from 2007 to 2008. Helmand produces almost 70 percent of Afghanistan's opium. (READ MORE)

Can the U.S. 'Offshore' Its Afghanistan War? - Pity President Obama for having to open the Afghanistan file that was sitting on his Oval Office desk when he returned to work this week. His handpicked commander, General Stanley McChrystal, has warned that the war is being lost, and the only way to win it is to increase the U.S. stake — a request for more troops is widely anticipated in the coming weeks. But the war is losing support among Obama's fellow Democrats and a growing share of the U.S. public. (READ MORE)

4 insurgents killed, 3 wounded in explosion in S Afghanistan - Four Taliban insurgents were killed and three others were wounded as a mine they were planting exploded prematurely in Taliban birthplace Kandahar south of Afghanistan, a press release of Interior Ministry said Wednesday. "Seven militants were busy in planting a mine on a road in Arghandab district Tuesday night but suddenly the device went off, killing four on the spot and wounding three others," said the press release. (READ MORE)

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