September 9, 2009

From the Front: 09/09/2009

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

James Dao - At War: Leashing the Blogs of War - The Pentagon may have helped invent the Internet, but these days it is vigorously debating just how to use the Web. In the coming month, the Defense Department, citing growing concerns about cybersecurity, plans to issue a new policy on social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. People familiar with the department’s review expect it will set limits on who can access networking sites from their unsecure military computers. A public information officer, for instance, probably could; a cook on an aircraft carrier might not. The debate is fueled by the increasing number of grunts who use blogs and social media to communicate with friends, family and the world beyond their wire. But it comes, paradoxically, at a time when the Defense Department itself is increasingly using social media for official purposes, including public relations, recruiting and policymaking. (READ MORE)

A.L.L.: Donations needed for COIN Reference Library - The Counterinsurgency Academy is located in Kabul, Afghanistan at the base of the ruins of the Queens castle. The purpose of the Academy is to teach and expand the doctrine of population centric concepts for operations in Afghanistan, and beyond. The contributions the Academy is making to Gen. McChrystal's strategy can not be understated, nor can the challenges of implementing an expanded doctrine of population centric operations. In an attempt to support the operations of the Academy, as well as the many soldiers that attend and instruct here, I have developed a "wish list" on of books in hopes of creating an Honorary Counterinsurgency Learning Library made up entirely of donations from our communities back home. The intent is to further expand the awareness of culture, methods and operations that promote the end goal of national unity, governance and security for the people of Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

11 Foxtrot: A question...and an answer - Sometimes I just want to drive away to a new town, a new place, sever all ties with my past and start anew. I dream of it, but know I'll never be able to. We all carry our past around in our heads, emotional burdens, heartaches, pain, joy and a host of other bullshit. By looking at me you'd never know that I had such baggage. I'm a decent looking [I think] guy, relatively smart, an average sense of humor and a charming smile. I've got a wonderful girlfriend, great parents and great friends. I drive a nice car, live in a nice apartment and wear nice clothes. You'd never guess that there's something wrong inside me. I don't know what's wrong but I feel there is something wrong. I seriously think I'm fucked in the head. Maybe it was Iraq, maybe I was dropped as a child maybe I got some kind of disorder from touching something. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Generosity of total strangers - From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is safely back from his mission but the camp has no Internet access right now. But I know he has a couple of really great stories to tell in the next few days from this latest mission. While he was away, I checked his in-coming e-mails and was amazed by how many total strangers across the country are signing up to help with his school supplies campaign for Afghan children. The response has been wonderful and we have so far people promising to collect supplies all over Central Florida and in California, Mississippi, Georgia, Washington (State – not DC) and South Carolina. There is one particular family that deserves a major “thank you.” They listen to Rex every week on WUSF Radio here in Tampa. A few weeks ago Rex mentioned the dart board at the camp was getting pretty “used up” and that the troops only had one set of darts to share and they were getting pretty ragged too. (READ MORE)

Jonathan S. Landay: 'We're pinned down:' 4 U.S. Marines die in Afghan ambush - GANJGAL, Afghanistan — We walked into a trap, a killing zone of relentless gunfire and rocket barrages from Afghan insurgents hidden in the mountainsides and in a fortress-like village where women and children were replenishing their ammunition. "We will do to you what we did to the Russians," the insurgent's leader boasted over the radio, referring to the failure of Soviet troops to capture Ganjgal during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation. Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away. U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Political Pundits On Afghanistan - Hitchens is in, Applebaum is in, Will is out, Sullivan is really out, Friedman is on the fence, Wells is leaning out. This is not an orginal thought, but I'm still astounded at the speed at which the American (Wells aside) chattering class has turned on Afghanistan since Iraq calmed down. Much sooner than I would have expected, polls have been showing a majority of Americans opposing a continued presence of troops. With their political support dwindling, I have a somewhat inexplicable confidence that the American military and civilian apparatus is going to turn this thing around, now that they're finally giving it the attention it deserves. I like McChrystal. It's a gut feeling, and not without reservations. But the situation on the ground is going to change dramatically over the next year or two. As much as these analogies generally irritate me, gawd this feels like "pre-surge" Iraq (a point Hitch makes as well.) (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Awards write ups take their toll… - As we prepare for our return, award write ups become a focus of effort for the company. When it is time to do awards, a number of things happen: 1. When the OICs are asked who they intend to submit for an award they immediately turn in a copy of their personnel roster. "Oh really? So because he managed to show up on time for work he rates a medal, sir? That must have been really difficult considering out in the desert Marines have nowhere else to go." 2. Suddenly the awards process is a popularity contest. “Sir, just because you like the Marine doesn’t mean he deserves a medal.” “But he does a good job.” “Yes, as do all Marines.” 3. We discover that a college education does not necessarily guarantee a mastery of the English language. As a matter of fact, I have discovered officers are the worst writers I have ever come across. Here are some examples: “… has displayed exceptional leadership thought this deployment.” I didn’t realize the deployment was thinking about anything. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Massoud Day - 9 September is a National Holiday in Afghanistan. It is dedicated in the memory of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud Day (roz e Massoud) is the only National Holiday dedicated to one person. He is remembered as the most charismatic and effective leader of the mujahideen during the struggle against Soviet occupation and control. He was an articulate man who served as a rally point and focus for the western press during the Afghan-Soviet war. He earned the nickname Lion of Panjshir- which in Dari is a play on words 'Shir e Panjshir' or more literally Lion of the (valley of) the five Lions. It is in the Panjshir valley that Massoud made a name for himself first against the Soviets- who launched 7 unsuccesful assaults into the valley to kill or clear him from the area. It is also the area where he sought refuge after the Taliban started to take control of the country. Massoud warned European and other Western leaders of the dangers of the Taliban, to no avail. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: This wasn't supposed to happen - Every ANSF mentor's worst nightmare came true in Konar today: "U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village. "'We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today,' Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters." That translator was among the KIA, along with 4 Americans and 8 ANSF. God rest them all. (READ MORE)

The Gun Line MkIII: Goddammit… - I just put up an uplifting, sort of meandering post about sitting on my butt and working the issues in my life, and working on my truck. I was looking for pictures of The Armorer’s M38 jeep, when I read about the passing of Jordan Shay, soldier, blogger (”Through Amber Lenses“), son… Well, shit… And now we go through it all over again… The research into the life of a person we didn’t know, to try to find out what we can about this man through past references, because we won’t ever have a chance to read newly penned words or a related “No shit, there I was…” story again, because he cannot speak, or write, or offer his take on world events, local events, personal events… He’s gone… We try to let all of those who loved him know that he will not be forgotten, but compared to the shattering hit that such news brings, our words are dry sawdust, without substance, because the written word will never come close to conveying the depth of sorrow and sympathy our hearts are breaking to express. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Army medic Beth helping save lives on frontline - AN army medic from Whitby, who joined up because she was too young to train as a nurse, is now saving the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan. Corporal Beth Spark (22), who is working with 2 Rifles Battle Group in Sangin, Helmand Province, has been described as "unflappable" by those whom she works alongside. The combat medical technician, who is responsible for providing frontline medical care to soldiers on patrols, said: "I originally thought about going into nursing, but I was too young at 16. So I thought I'd come to the Army and work as a medic instead." Cpl Spark was posted to Afghanistan in March this year and has faced Improvised Explosives Devices (IED) and small arms attacks while dealing with injured soldiers. She prefers not to talk about specific incidents, but Lieutenant Mark Cripps, a platoon commander from 2 Rifles, said she had saved lives on more than one occasion. "Beth was involved in treating a severely injured soldier after an IED explosion. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Konrad, 18, on the frontline in Helmand Province - MANY teenage lads spend their time playing football and socialising with friends. But for 18-year-old Konrad Rowinski, life is rather different. The former Little Lever Language College pupil is a Fusilier serving on the frontline in Afghanistan, training the Afghan Police. He is five months into a six-month tour, based in the town of Musa Qal’eh in the north of Helmand Province, where the regiment conducts regular patrols to provide security for local people. Fus Rowinski is a member of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. He is known to his colleagues as “Ski” and is a combat infantryman, whose job is patrolling the busy streets of Musa Qal’eh or the dangerous “Green Zone” that surrounds it. His platoon is currently training and mentoring the Afghan National Police (ANP). Fus Rowinski said: “The ANP are very different to the police at home. They are less skilled but are very keen to learn and are making good progress. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): September 11 Ceremony - On Friday afternoon the garrison is holding a memorial ceremony for the victims of 9-11. I offered to be one of the speakers if they wanted the perspective of someone who was a civilian and more than 18 years old on that day. There are not a lot of people who fit that description here. Anyway, when I volunteered, I was invited to a coordination meeting for the event last Friday. I found out at that event that I am to be the emcee for the ceremony. One of the people who had been in meetings with said, "Sergeant Gussman can do that no problem." And no one else wanted the job. I got it in that polite, thoughtful Army way: A dozen of us were seated around the table, the sergeant major convened the meeting and said, "Sergeant Gussman will be the emcee for the ceremony." Next item. . . Now I may or may not actually talk about my reaction to 9-11 and joining the Army years later, because they may shorten the program or my talk may not pass review. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Labor Day - Hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day. For most, the holiday is a day of rest, reflection and relaxation. Maybe a BBQ or some housework they've been putting off. The Army, on the other hand, thinks Labor Day is the perfect time to add another 5k "fun run" to this weeks schedule. Now that I've been here for a few months I'm beginning to see a pattern that the Army thinks that's the best way to celebrate all holidays. For example, 9/11 is coming up, and to recognize the day, they've scheduled a 5k. So that's 3 for the week. We all know how much I enjoy these runs. In October they are planning a 10 mile run. I am really dreading that. It's gonna be tough to control traffic for that. Also happening this week, I got a new supervisor. Our old one got a new job and was transferred to another base. The new one is coming from Camp Arifjan. He was in the training with Ft. Lewis with me, but I don't know much about him, or how he likes to run things. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre: Echos of Vietnam - I felt I had said everything I had to say about the debate over the recent AP photograph of a dying Marine in Afghanistan, when a sharp-eyed editor at my new home pointed out its similarity to a 1965 Life magazine cover, which also stirred up controversy for its gritty depiction of the reality of war. The dramatic photograph, taken by Life magazine photographer Larry Burrows, shows helicopter crew chief James C. Farley shouting to crew as wounded comrades James Magel and Billy Owens lay dying at his feet. The story behind the photograph can be heard on the blog USMC81 I also wanted to paraphrase a few comments I got from former colleges who generally agreed that withholding the AP photo was not an effort to sanitize war, but to spare his family additional pain. Still some were questioning if there wasn’t a double standard. One cited a CBS 60 Minutes piece with an embedded reporter, that showed graphic images of enemy casualties. Is that okay? As long as they’re “bad guys?” (READ MORE)

Life at Joint Base Balad: Keeping in Touch With Home - Servicemembers here in Iraq have many ways to keep in touch with folks back home. Most soldiers have access to a work computer, and the NIPR on these computers NIPR (Nonsecure Internet Protocol Router Network) is used to exchange sensitive but unclassified information between “internal” users, but basically you can use it to access the internet and send emails. This is in contrast to the SIPR (Secret Network), which is highly restrictive and does not allow communication outside the network. It is acceptable to make limited use of the NIPR network for morale purposes, so long as this does not interfere with your official duties. In addition to having internet on your NIPR computers, there are phone centers all over the place. AT&T has call trailers set up, where they gouge you on AT&T phone card calls. For this, AT&T has earned my enmity. But when you first arrive in the Iraq/Kuwait Theater, you have little other choice. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Chaman border crossing closed to NATO traffic - The Chaman border crossing in Baluchistan province has been closed to NATO traffic for the second time in two weeks as a dispute between Pakistani border guards and truckers continues. Pakistani border guards closed the crossing to traffic entering Paksitan after truckers refused to unload cargo for inspections. The Pakistani guard say weapons are being smuggled from Afghanistan into Pakistan, Dawn reported. Afghan troops retaliated by closing the crossing to vehicles coming from Pakistan. Traffic is reported to have stacked up on both sides of the border while Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps has moved to secure the NATO convoys. The Taliban savaged a NATO convoy further south in Quetta the same day the Chaman crossing was closed. "Eight tankers were completely gutted," a police official told Dawn. The attack was the first in the Quetta region. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 12 killed in second US strike in North Waziristan - The US killed 12 extremists in the second airstrike in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan in two days. Unmanned strike aircraft fired at a Taliban compound in the village of Dargamandi in the Tabi Saidgai area, which is three miles northwest of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. The compound was run by a local tribesman named Maulvi Taib Shah, Dawn reported. Geo News reported the owner of the compound was Ismail Khan. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed at this time, a Pakistani intelligence official told AFP. The Miramshah area is a stronghold of the Haqqani family, which is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani. The attack was said to have targeted the Haqqani Network. The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence, or ISI. These relationships have allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in North Waziristan. (READ MORE)

More Than An (Army) Wife: Murphy's Law Says... - Stonewall will be stateside on the 15th. How does Murphy know this? I have three appointments on the 15th. Pip has a vet appointment in the afternoon. At work I have two meetings, one in the AM and one in the PM, I need to be at. Danielle, Stonewall's sister, is in court three times on Tuesday. She wouldn't be able to find three different people to cover for her. Deb, Stonewall's mom, is in training at work the same day. She can't miss it. Murphy's Law says Stonewall will be calling to let us know we can meet him at Ft. Dix on Tuesday. I did get to talk to Stonewall today. It's pretty much a waiting game at this point. He's waiting to catch a flight back to the states. So he could be back in the good ol' US of A in two days or nine days. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: A bomb, an ambush - KABUL -- I woke up Tuesday morning to news of more violence in Kabul. A military gate at the Kabul Airport was hit by a suicide bomber who appeared to target a convoy. As of Tuesday, Afghan officials reported at least three Afghans dead and at least six wounded. Hashim and I headed out toward the airport. We were stopped a considerable distance away from the gate by barrier tape and police. There, other Afghan reporters had gathered with dozens of shopkeepers, kids and nearby residents. We could see a dark cloud of smoke billowing into sky. I was surprised to hear several small explosions, which must have been triggered by the early impact. This was the second time in less than month that a suicide bomber had hit Kabul, the earlier blast striking downtown outside a NATO headquarters' gate. That's still far less than the frequency of such attacks in Baghdad during the worst of the Iraq War. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: I Scream, You Scream - What’s the big news on the warfront in Basrah? Ice Cream! I can’t make this stuff up, people. The paper had to pause production Sunday night to wait on a picture of the Commanding General getting his swirly from the brand new soft-serve machine in the chow hall. (Monty went to take the picture, but the CG never made it over to the ice cream machine that night) Ty, Stone and I tried it out at dinner and it’s not too shabby – but holding up the press and taking up an ad for the rest of the week in the paper?? I guess when our families see the fuss we make over ice cream, they can’t be too worried, right? (READ MORE)

Richard Engel: IEDS take toll on Army Stryker brigade - KABUL, Afghanistan – It is a brutal first impression. The moment my feet touch the sand as I step out of a Stryker armored vehicle, I hear an explosion. It’s far away; about half a mile. I hear a big deep thud and look over my shoulder. I see a cloud of brown dust expanding in an Afghan village. The village walls and houses are all made of mud. One of the houses has just exploded into a brown cloud. American soldiers were inside the booby-trapped structure. Within seconds, we hear radio traffic. One American is dead. Others are wounded. The radio calls are urgent, but formal. No names. They don’t use names so soldiers who listen to the radio don’t become upset in the midst of what is now a rescue operation to save the wounded soldiers. I’ve been here for less than five minutes. The Medevac helicopters fly in. They take away the wounded first. Nothing more can be done for the dead. The wounded are the priority. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Sayed Is Free. Lubna Al-Hussein Is Not. Plus: Who "Deserves" to Be Raped? - When I was in Afghanistan last fall, Jafar Rasuli, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told me that one way or another, Karzai would see to it that Sayed Parvez Kambaksh would be free. Rasuli said that Karzai had assured him that he wouldn't have the young journalist rotting in prison for the rest of his life any more than he'd allow one of his own children to suffer such a fate. As things turned out, Karzai quietly pardoned Kambaksh some weeks ago. This is happy-making, but it's not bloody well good enough. Kambaksh was illegally arrested, illegally tried, and illegally imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. You don't build a free press by leaving it to the whims of your president: "Both the judiciary and the Afghan government must realize that if they are to fully succeed in bringing democracy to the country they must acknowledge the right of journalists to seek, receive and impart information in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: The enemy has figured us out - “Not surprising at all”. That is what first came to mind when I read the story below. It was just a matter of time before all of the most feared facets of being an Embedded Trainer came together to result in one of the most feared outcomes. Air Support is never there when you need it and is never proactively provided to the ETT/PMTs unless they are part of a larger active duty kinetic mission. MEDEVACs typically only fly if Americans are wounded and the area is completely secure, and the thought of calling in Artillery from Big Army was never in my mind because I figured it would have been easier to catch Bin Laden in a traffic stop. That is the life of an ETT/PMT…Tip of the Spear, but at the End of the Line. These Marines are ETTs, even thought the ETT mission is officially over as noted by Scott Kesterson in the Bouhammer Roundtable Podcast from the other day. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Quick response - and otherwise - Our friend Exum has assembled an update on reactions to the latest airstrike in Afghanistan, contrasting the response of the Afghan locals with that of the volk in Germany (until recently the location of my home). I had to read this twice to make sure I understood it: "Regardless of whether most of those killed in the bombing were civilians or Taliban fighters, there was genuine shock among many Germans that one of their military commanders could have been responsible for an attack that killed so many people." I understand (or thought I did) and admire German reluctance for war, but there's a degree of pacifism expressed there that surprised me; perhaps the use of the vague "many" renders the statement factual. (And a blinding stroke of the obvious - "many" no doubt feel differently about the Taliban, it's a big country.) As a long time advocate of swift response I see what's happening as a result of just that. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Reporter freed, captivity reported - NY Times: Seized Times Reporter Is Freed in Afghan Raid That Kills Aide Stephen Farrell, whose captivity Western media refused to acknowledge (and news of which the New York Times actively suppressed), was rescued today by men whose deaths must be photographed and displayed worldwide to show Americans the true cost of war. A British commando was killed in the raid, The Associated Press quoted a military official as saying. In fact, this detail from the AP should come as no surprise: Two military officials told The Associated Press that one British commando died during the early morning raid. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the death had not been officially announced. Even in reporting the rescue of a reporter whose captivity they'd helped cover up they couldn't resist announcing the death of one of the rescuers before the families had been notified. I guess they know a "scoop" when they see one; (READ MORE)

Donald Douglas: Classic: 'Newshoggers' Applauds Death of Marines in Afghanistan - Evidence of 'New Quagmire' - This is just what you'd expect from one of most despicable antiwar blogs on the web. McClatchy reports that "4 U.S. Marines Die in Afghan Ambush." And then here comes the nihilist Newshoggers to applaud the event as evidence that the U.S. is bogged down in another "quagmire": The lesson the war supporters have learned from all of this is that the Rules Of Engagement suck ....For the few who still remember Vietnam this should sound very familiar. Once you got out of the major cities in Vietnam the war wasn't about communism VS western capitalism it was about occupation by foreign troops. They supported the Viet Cong because they saw them as freedom fighters.The lesson should be that we are in another quagmire - fighting another war that can't be won without killing most of the population. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Attacks Muddle American Plans to Draw Down in Iraq - In the worst day of violence against American soldiers in Iraq since combat troops moved out of the cities this year, two bombings left four Americans dead, underscoring the dangers troops here still face even as they prepare for their exit from this country. The American military provided little detail about the attacks, saying only that one soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad and that three more were killed in another roadside bombing in northern Iraq. (READ MORE)

Four American Soldiers Killed in Iraq - The US military says four American soldiers have been killed in roadside bombings in Iraq. A military statement says three of the soldiers died in an attack in northern Iraq Tuesday. Earlier in the day, another soldier was killed when a bomb hit a US patrol in southern Baghdad. Monthly death tolls for US troops have fallen sharply this year, as forces shift to a mainly support and training role in accordance with a security pact that took effect January 1. (READ MORE)

Four Killed in Deadliest Day for US Troops in Iraq in Weeks - Four US soldiers were killed Tuesday in two bombings while on patrol in Iraq, in the deadliest day for American troops in two months. In the first incident, military officials said a soldier was killed when a roadside bomb struck his convoy in southern Baghdad. The US Army did not provide details, but an official from the Iraqi Interior Ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the patrol was on its way back to its base when it was hit somewhere between Baghdad and Mahmudiyah... (READ MORE)

Iraqi Forces Make Strides in South, General Says - Iraqi security forces are making tremendous progress throughout southern Iraq, the commander of coalition forces in the region said today. Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, who commands the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division as well as Multinational Division South in Iraq, said the Iraqi army, police and border police are performing very well. “The Iraqi security forces have had tremendous success in establishing security throughout the nine provinces of southern Iraq,” Nash said in a video conference with Pentagon reporters today. (READ MORE)

Big US Bases Are Part of Iraq, but a World Apart - It takes the masseuse, Mila from Kyrgyzstan, an hour to commute to work by bus on this sprawling American base. Her massage parlor is one of three on the base’s 6,300 acres and sits next to a Subway sandwich shop in a trailer, surrounded by blast walls, sand and rock. At the Subway, workers from India and Bangladesh make sandwiches for American soldiers looking for a taste of home. (READ MORE)

Renovations, school supplies ease Iraqi children back to school - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq – The once shattered windows of the Burhiema Primary School in Kirkuk province, Iraq, are now intact, and through them, the children of Burhiema village can be seen smiling as they dig through bags of new school supplies. The school — once abandoned because of its poor condition — is once again filled with life and optimism as children returned from their summer vacations Sept. 2, to find their local Iraqi Police, assisted by Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, waiting to greet them with a few surprises. (READ MORE)

Ever vigilant: IA keeps eye out for IED - BAGHDAD — Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) are a deadly part of the landscape here, and it takes sharp eyes and keen knowledge of what to look for to stay out of harm's way. Soldiers of Company B, 163rd Combined Arms Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, created a counter-IED class here designed to give a helping hand to Iraqi Army (IA) Soldiers, Sept. 6. (READ MORE)

Restored water plant serves millions - BASRAH — Some citizens of Basrah lived without clean, running water for cooking and hygiene. Following a recent inspection of the Hartha Water Treatment Plant here, the 17th Fires Brigade aimed to change that. The plant, located 12 miles north of Basrah, was working at 30 percent capacity and considered almost non-operational by the time the U.S. contracted the Farden Group to renovate the plant for $420,000. (READ MORE)

Iraqis, With U.S. Advisors, Arrest Suspected Terrorists - WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2009 – Iraq security forces, working with U.S. advisors, arrested eight suspected terrorists in Iraq in the past week, including a suspected terrorist leader who was a general in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, military officials said. Two other suspects were killed Sept. 6 after firing on forces as they tried to arrest them. The special operations forces and U.S. advisors were on a mission in Basra to deliver court-issued warrants to charge them with smuggling and distributing arms to terrorist groups. (READ MORE)

Commandos Free Seized Times Reporter in Afghanistan - Stephen Farrell, a New York Times reporter held captive by militants in northern Afghanistan, was freed in a military commando raid early Wednesday, The Times’s Eric Schmitt reports, but his Afghan interpreter was killed during the rescue effort. Armed gunmen seized Mr. Farrell and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, four days ago while they were working in a village south of Kunduz, reporting the aftermath of NATO airstrikes on Friday that exploded two fuel tankers hijacked by Taliban militants. (READ MORE)

German Troops Bemoan 'Critical' Deficits in Training and Equipment - Damning reports are emerging from Germany's military forces in Afghanistan, claiming that cooperation with civilian agencies is abysmal, equipment is lacking and training is insufficient. With the US preparing to pressure Berlin to send more troops, there are now increasing calls for "urgent improvements." German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is not a big fan of change. When he speaks about the Bundeswehr, Germany's military forces, and their missions abroad, he has a tendency to always use the same expressions. They seem to somehow keep him grounded. (READ MORE)

Preliminary Afghan Election Results Give Karzai Clear Majority - For the first time since the August 20 presidential election in Afghanistan, the preliminary vote totals now show incumbent Hamid Karzai with a percentage high enough to avoid a runoff. But the country's electoral watchdog, backed by the UN, says it has found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud." It is ordering a partial recount. With more than 91 percent of polling stations tabulated Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission says President Hamid Karzai is now the clear leader. (READ MORE)

UN-Backed Panel Finds Fraud in Afghan Vote - Afghanistan's troubled presidential election was thrown into further turmoil Tuesday when a UN-backed complaints panel charged widespread fraud and ordered a partial recount, just as election officials announced that President Hamid Karzai appeared to have gained enough votes to win. The growing political crisis threatens to set off a direct confrontation between Karzai and his Western backers, who have been increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities, much of it reportedly benefiting Karzai's campaign. (READ MORE)

US in Delicate Spot as Fraud Claims Mount in Afghan Vote - On Monday, as the vote-counting in Afghanistan was nearing an end, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was briefed by the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry. The same day, the ambassador delivered a blunt message to the front-runner, President Hamid Karzai: “Don’t declare victory.” The slim majority tentatively awarded Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan’s fraud-scarred election has put the Obama administration in an awkward spot: (READ MORE)

Tainted Afghan Vote Tally Gives Karzai Majority - Afghanistan's election commission announced a tally giving President Hamid Karzai a majority of votes in the Aug. 20 presidential election - potentially enough to avoid a runoff and claim victory - after the commission decided to include thousands of suspected fraudulent ballots that helped to put him over the top. The commission's decision came in response to intense lobbying by aides to Mr. Karzai's campaign, two election commission officials said. (READ MORE)

Partial Recount Ordered in Afghanistan Election – A [sic] UN-backed watchdog group cited "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" as it ordered a partial recount Tuesday of Afghanistan's deeply troubled presidential election, dealing a new blow to the Obama administration's hope that the balloting would help stabilize the country. The finding by the Electoral Complaints Commission in effect rendered meaningless the release of an almost complete tally hours later that for the first time put President Hamid Karzai over the 50% threshold he needs to achieve a first-round victory in the Aug. 20 vote. (READ MORE)

US to Karzai: Accept Vote Recount - The Obama administration, debating whether to send thousands more US troops to Afghanistan, has intensified pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai not to declare victory and to agree to a partial recount of votes in an election tainted by massive fraud. Administration officials said the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, pressed Mr. Karzai in meetings Monday and Tuesday to allow the fraud investigation to play out before claiming publicly that he has been re-elected. (READ MORE)

Election Monitors Cry Foul as Karzai Vote Hits 54% - A UN watchdog ordered a recount of suspicious ballots in the Afghan elections yesterday, citing “clear and convincing evidence of fraud”, even as the authorities declared President Karzai the outright winner. The confusion set the scene for a clash between Afghanistan’s own Independent Election Commission (IEC) - accused of being in the President’s pocket - and the international community, which has been watching the tidal wave of fraud allegations with growing alarm. (READ MORE)

Watchdog Orders Afghan Recount - Afghanistan's independent election watchdog ordered a nationwide audit and recount of the August presidential poll last night after confirming what most already suspected - the country's democratic elections were subject to widespread fraud. The order came as the European Union Election Observer Mission claimed close to 15 per cent of all polling stations tallied as of September 6 had been tampered with, representing more than 700,000 votes. (READ MORE)

US Says Legitimate Election Vital to Future Partnership with Afghanistan - The United States said Tuesday that a "legitimate" electoral process in Afghanistan is vital to future US-Afghanistan partnership. The comments came amid reports of evidence of fraud in the August 20 presidential election in which incumbent President Hamid Karzai is reported to have a wide lead. The Obama administration is serving notice on Afghan authorities that the future US relationship with the Kabul government depends on an election process seen as credible. (READ MORE)

‘Convincing Evidence of Fraud’ - No one ever expected Afghanistan’s presidential election - the country’s second - to be squeaky clean. But the charges of official fraud are now so widespread and so disturbing that we fear many Afghans may never accept the results. That in turn will play right into the hands of the Taliban and other extremists. On Tuesday, the United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission - the Afghan and international panel that is the ultimate arbiter of the election - said that it had found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud in a number of polling stations” in the southern and eastern provinces. (READ MORE)

Gates Tells Al-Jazeera US Cannot Think of Afghan Withdrawal - The United States cannot think about a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the Arabic television network Al-Jazeera. Gates spoke for an hour with Abderrahim Foukara, the network’s Washington bureau chief, Sept. 4. Al-Jazeera is the most-watched news network in the Muslim world. “He’s been trying to sit down with Al-Jazeera for months,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. (READ MORE)

US Learned Its Lesson, Won't Abandon Afghanistan, Gates Says - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview broadcast this week that the United States would not repeat the mistake of abandoning Afghanistan, vowing that "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term." In his first interview with the al-Jazeera television network, Gates said the United States made a "serious strategic mistake" by turning its focus away from Afghanistan after Soviet occupation forces were defeated there two decades ago. (READ MORE)

Angela Merkel on Defensive After Afghan Tanker Attack Blunder by German Forces - It was the end of Germany’s “Don’t Mention the War” election campaign. In an impassioned parliamentary session yesterday Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, was forced to fight off her critics and try to persuade a sceptical nation that German troops should stay in Afghanistan. The bombardment of two fuel trucks, hijacked by Taleban geuerrillas last Friday, led to the death of over 59 people. (READ MORE)

Merkel Warns It Is Too Soon to Judge Fatal Airstrike - German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to quell an international outcry over a German-ordered airstrike in Afghanistan that left dozens dead, offering regret for the potential loss of innocent lives but no apologies for a mission she described as crucial to German security. In a forceful address to parliament, Ms. Merkel vowed "to gloss over nothing" in determining the circumstances surrounding the controversial bombing, while urging her countrymen not to lose sight of what was at stake. (READ MORE)

German Lawmakers Question Involvement in Afghan Airstrike - German lawmakers demanded explanations Monday for how and why their soldiers in Afghanistan, normally restricted to peacekeeping duties, triggered a NATO airstrike that killed approximately 100 people. Political fallout from the attack jolted Germany's election campaign just weeks before the vote and threatened to sour relations with the United States. (READ MORE)

Seized Times Reporter Is Freed in Afghan Raid That Kills Aide - Stephen Farrell, a New York Times reporter held captive by militants in northern Afghanistan, was freed in a military commando raid early Wednesday, but his Afghan interpreter was killed during the rescue effort. Armed gunmen seized Mr. Farrell and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, four days ago while they were working in a village south of Kunduz. (READ MORE)

British Commando Dies in Raid to free NYT Reporter - British commandos freed a New York Times reporter early Wednesday from Taliban captives who kidnapped him over the weekend in northern Afghanistan, but one of the commandos and a Times' translator were killed in the rescue, officials said. Reporter Stephen Farrell was taken hostage along with his translator in the northern province of Kunduz on Saturday. (READ MORE)

Suicide Bomb Blast Kills 3 at Airport in Kabul - Officials in Afghanistan say a suicide car bomber struck near a military base at the international airport in Kabul early Tuesday, killing three civilians and wounding six. A Kabul police official, Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, says the attacker struck a convoy of NATO vehicles outside the east gate - the airport's military entrance. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which also wounded three international soldiers - two Americans and one Belgian. (READ MORE)

Heron on the Wing to Guide Diggers - Australian troops in Afghanistan have gained a major new platform to assist in the fight against Taliban insurgents with the RAAF acquiring Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicles. The Rudd government has rushed through the multi-million-dollar lease of the one-tonne aircraft to provide troops on the ground with far greater situational awareness thanks to its superior infra-red cameras and other high-tech sensors. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Tops List of Challenges, Gates Says - Of all the challenges and potential problems the United States faces, Pakistan tops Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ priority list, he said yesterday. “[Pakistan faces] a lot of problems right now,” he said during an interview on the “Charlie Rose Show” on PBS. “I think … they have always thought of India as the existential threat to Pakistan, [but] I think they are beginning to understand that the extremists in the ungoverned spaces in their west have become an existential threat.” (READ MORE)

Four US, 10 Afghan soldiers killed in clash - Four American and 10 Afghan soldiers were killed on Tuesday in a clash in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, local authorities and the US military say. "Fighting is continuing" in the district of Sirkanay, the head district official, Hamisha Gulab Shinwari, told AFP. "The Afghan and international forces confronted the Taliban.... in the clash, 10 Afghan soldiers and four American soldiers were killed and 10 other soldiers were injured," he said. (READ MORE)

Afghan election result in limbo - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has passed the magic 50 per cent of votes needed to avoid a re-run in Afghanistan's presidential election, but his apparent victory is clouded in uncertainty. The United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) says it now has clear and convincing evidence of electoral fraud. (READ MORE)

Mission creep in Afghanistan - On Aug. 29, The New York Times carried a front-page headline that should make your blood boil: “Karzai Using Rift With U.S. to Gain Favor.” The article said that Obama officials were growing disenchanted with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, whose supporters allegedly stuffed ballot boxes in the recent elections, while Karzai struck deals with accused drug dealers and warlords, one of whom is his brother, for political gain. (READ MORE)

Dem leader wants 'successful' plan for Afghanistan - WASHINGTON (AP) - House and Senate lawmakers are expressing increasing skepticism over the prospect of ordering thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, saying they want to see strong evidence that such an increase would dislodge insurgents from safe havens there and in neighboring Pakistan. "We'll want to see a plan, a plan that members conclude can be successful," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday. (READ MORE)

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