September 21, 2009

From the Front: 09/21/2009

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

3rd Time, New Country: Bloggin' catch-up - Trading covers... This will be a long-winded catch-up blog because it has been 2 weeks since my last entry. So much has happened yet I have been seriously slacking on updating this blog. Let me recap since I posted last… My first trip was to the Annex Hospital which is part of NMH but approximately 7 or 8 klicks away. It consists of a psych ward, a medical hold ward, and a TB ward. After our visit, we determined that it is mostly a redundant hospital and it would be better to transfer the majority of the staff back to NMH. NMH only has 1/3 of the nurses it needs to provide adequate care to the patients. Tuesday, 08 Sep began as a regular mentoring day at NMH until a SVBIED detonated at KAIA (Kabul Airport). I was in the OR when we got the word. We didn’t know how many patients were wounded so we made preparations for mass casualties. I had to use my outside voice to stop the surgeons from starting their scheduled elective cases. (READ MORE)

MAJ C: Once More Into The Breach.... - Some of you have guessed at it. Some of you know, because I told you:) . Some of you have asked me about it. I have waited until now though, because I wanted to make sure it was certain. As of this weekend, it is very certain. I, and my Blog will be deploying back to Afghanistan for my third deployment. I am honored and completely excited to be given the honor of serving my Country once again in harms way. Nothing will change. I can not promise that I will have the connectivity that I have now. But, I will strive to live up to my mission statement that I wrote when I started this endeavor almost a year and a half ago. To bring you the truth of what is happening overseas with America's Sons and Daughters. To tell you the good news stories that America's precious treasure is accomplishing. To tell you why it is vitally and critically important for us to finish the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

A World Away: I lost my son -- let's save other returning warriors - From Kathy Rodrick of Racine. Hello, I am a mother of a Marine who recently committed suicide. I have a few ideas that I would like someone to listen to and maybe adapt. Let’s do this so we can help our soldiers. First, according to the VFW NEWS WISCONSIN, the VA’s Suicide Prevention Program Adds Chat Service. This is a wonderful idea but I think it is too hard for soldiers to access. How many people do not have a computer and how long will it take to begin talking to a live source. I think that a business card with the front of it saying something like, “SUICIDE IS NOT PAINLESS TO THE LOVE ONE LEFT BEHIND” with the phone number of someone they can speak to instantly. This is something they should be given at their debriefing, something they are told to put in their wallet. At this time, I would impress upon them that it is not the strong person that thinks they can handle this on their own. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My last Tour: Double Mission - This morning when we awoke, the sky was still illuminated by thousands of stars. Surely this was a bad dream, but it wasn’t. The mission for today was to pick up some precious cargo. One of the FOBs does not have any electricity or water, so we were tasked to pick up a large generator and water tanks along with various vehicle parts. Even though we haven’t unpacked all of our bags, nobody complained because we have the luxury of having running water and electricity. So my 6-man team along with 2 other vehicles formed the convoy. We would have to travel through the capital city to get to our destination. In an attempt to avoid traffic and hoping the insurgents were still sleeping or preparing to celebrate Eid (holiday period signifying the end of Ramadan and fasting), we departed early. Some military personnel mispronounce E-i-d and say E-a-t. A common joke even among our interpreters is there is some truth to this. (READ MORE)

Army Household6: Talking with SGT Daddy - If you keep up with me on Facebook, you’ll know at we had a VTC (Video TeleConference ) with SGT Daddy last night. It was so awesome to actually see his face for a change. Even though we talk regularly, (phone and IM) we rarely get to use the webcams, due to the crappy internet over there. I hadn’t told the girls that where we were going or what we were doing so it was a complete surprise to them. They were so happy and so excited to talk to Daddy! The video was the greatest in the world but none of us cared really. It was the first family “chat” we’ve had since SGT Daddy left this summer. On the way home from dinner, both girls couldn’t stop talking about it. Becca commented ” how much I miss Daddy and watching Spongebob with him” and Kiersten said ” it felt like we were a real family again, Mom ” (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: A training vignette - We're in the midst of our final training, a multi-day exercise that involves 24-hour operations. People are getting tired, and I'm hearing more and more of the Soldiers counting down how many days we have left until we get out of here. I'm trying just to take things one moment at a time. Today when I heard someone mention how many days are left I was surprised, because it's a small number and I've been deliberately trying not to take on more than just what's in front of me at the moment. Our Staff worked incredibly diligently on the final orders for this exercise, only to be told the day before the exercise was to start that significant changes had been directed by echelons above reality. Talk about pressure! The Battalion Staff functioned brilliantly, and I heard one of the Company Commanders say, as he was briefing his Officers and senior NCOs, "the Battalion Staff did such a good job on this OPORD (operations order), that everything we need is spelled out in detail, so all we have to do is implement it." Not bad at all! (READ MORE)

Doc H: Eid and Range time - Today is the end of the month of Fasting- Ramadan. For the next 3 to 4 days families all over Afghanistan will be getting together to exchange presents and feast. No mentoring will be going on over this Holiday period. My team will be very busy once Eid is over, but the next three days will be our last leisurely ones for a while. We celebrated today by going out to the Range again. This time my partner Steve took his golf clubs and balls out to get is some practice shots. He got to launch a couple of good shots while several of us were making adjustments to our weapons so they would fire precisely where we are aiming. We zeroed, or adjusted both our regular (iron) sites and optical site or CCO. The picture shows what the CCO site looks like when it is on. The red dot is your aim point, so it is almost like a video game in some ways. The adjusments were a lengthy process for some on the range detail, but it was worth the time we invested. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Bloody Afghan rescue puts journalism in the dock - The bloody rescue of a New York Times reporter in Afghanistan has spurred accusations of media recklessness, a charge the paper's editor denies but one that has prompted some soul searching. Early on September 9, the buzz of military aircraft over northern Afghanistan gave British-Irish journalist Stephen Farrell the first inclination he was about to be rescued. Within moments, the veteran New York Times reporter was free -- wrenched by British special forces beyond the grasp of his Taliban captors, ending four terrifying days of detention. But Farrell's liberation cost the lives of his Afghan colleague, Sultan Munadi -- a father of two, 29-year-old British paratrooper John Harrison, an Afghan woman and child, and scores of Taliban fighters. As details of the rescue emerged they were quickly followed by recriminations. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: So how did it come to this? - Military mentoring, as practiced both by NATO OMLTs or their American equivalents, the Embedded Transition Teams (ETTs) remains poorly understood states-side. The mentor experience also varies greatly depending on where in the country and military hierarchy your Afghans are. At an embattled outpost in Zhari District, it could feel like a bond akin to brotherhood, formed under fire; at the brigade-level or higher, where the job consists of poking into every detail an Afghan headquarters, looking for inefficiencies, communications breakdowns, and opportunities for improvement, mentor teams in some ways more closely resemble a determined if friendly group of management consultants. Like consultants, our ability to effect change was tightly circumscribed, and our ability to influence limited both by our own personal diplomatic skills, and our counterparts' willingness to change. Often times, we found it wasn't the Afghans who needed to change, either: (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: The Planetarium - Here I sit in the dark at almost 1am in my little 4 foot by 6 foot space. I am under 2 layers of cover due to the overactive ECU, and my somewhat stinky PT clothes dangle 12 inches over my head because thats the only hook I have in my spot. There are 8 other people in the newly dubbed “Planetarium” sleeping quietly in their own little 4x6 spaces on their own cots, probably freezing as well. Funny thing is, its probably in the mid-70s to low 80s in the tent, but we are so used to 120+ degrees that 80 feels more like an Alaskan winter than a Florida summer. There are low rise concrete barriers surrounding the tent, and we hope to get the insulating foam covering sometime this week. Wires run absolutely everywhere in order to keep this operation running. Power cables, 240v and 110v electrical wiring, lights, radio antennas, and just about every kind of wire other than ethernet. Interestingly, way out here on FOB Sandflea the ISP uses wireless internet. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Marathon Man - This morning my alarm went off at 0405. I dragged myself out of bed and walked to the latrine to shave and brush my teeth. I was thinking as I walked my heel feels great and I am about to screw it up. Three weeks ago I signed up for the US Air Force half marathon. The plan was that I would walk the 13.1 miles with a few aircraft mechanics and see if I could walk the distance in under 3 1/2 hours. In two weeks our base is having a parallel event with the Portland Half Marathon. Several of the guys in my unit are planning on walking it as a Ruck March--that's a march in boots with a 40-pound pack. I said I would try to do the Ruck March which led me to sign up for today's event. In addition, some Delta Company aircraft mechanics said they would walk the half-marathon distance. So I thought I would have a good walk. Luckily I brought my iPod. Just as this deployment seemed like a good idea until I actually arrived, the marathon walk seemed rational until it started. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Half Marathon the Next Morning - WITH MY RUCK--READY FOR THE MARCH - The first thing I noticed when I got out of bed this morning was my age. It took a while to get out of bed. After the run yesterday my heel ached. I expected worse this morning. But when I stood up for the 200-meter limp to the latrine, my heel felt OK. Swollen. Sore. But not too bad. No sharp ache. My thighs hurt a lot. The front of my shins hurts some. I have upper body aches, but no special pain in my heel. I think this means I can run again. I may even be able to do the 5k Wednesday race. There's a chance that two months of rest from running combined with stretching may have helped me adapt to the bone spur. I don't know. But it is weird not to have acute pain on the bottom of my heel. Now having said all that, it hurts to get on the bike, it hurts to pedal the bike, it hurts to walk. And some Delta guys are doing the Ruck March, so there can be a Delta, Echo competition during the October 3 half marathon. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: A Few Pictures - This last mission was a four day trip and my first one in the turret. Just me, the wind, an M240B, and Elmo. We were escorting what we call jingle trucks. Those are local national (Afghani and Pakistani) drivers contracted to haul American supplies. They have flashy decorations, insane loads, and often pray during our security halts. A bunch of old friends from my home unit (I’m cross-leveled to a new one for the deployment, remember?) just arrived in Afghanistan. They’re stationed in a nearby base with a gun truck mission too. So hopefully we’ll be seeing them a lot. When we have a code red (rocket attack, mortars, anything else from bad guys), we gather in bunkers with our armor, helmets and weapons. Then I usually fall asleep to my iPod. (I was listening to Bob Marley for this one…) (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Skype! - Not sure if I have told everyone or anyone, but I have been able to communicate with Christina over here using a program called Skype. Not sure if it is very popular in the states or if anyone even knows what it is. For the sake of the blog, I'll just assume everyone is clueless about it. Skype is a program you can download to your computer for free. Once on your computer, you can use Skype to make calls to other people who have Skype on their computers. These calls are completely free. To make it even better, if both of you have a webcam, you can make video calls so you can see each other. If that's not enough for you, you can pay a monthly fee and call home and cell phones. There are cheaper ways of doing those though. Its a great service. It's perfect for military on deployment or kids away at college. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Thank you from Downrange - A few weeks ago, I wrote about a little girl who had her leg amputated in a post called, "My daughter's shirt." Here's an update on her: "We were able to arrange for the girl to get a prosthetic leg through the Red Cross. I guess anything like that, just go to the Red Cross. We finally figured it out. I always give her paper and colored pencils because she draws constantly. And she is starting school! That is how you move ahead in Afghanistan. Thank you: From an aunt and uncle along with their friends in Michigan, a man who transports dogs on the east coast, a museum curator from Portland ME, and a busy mother in Texas, people from all walks of life are tapped into that most heavenly of spirits --giving. They buoy the spirits of the team. And to those who sent school supplies --you affirm a belief in education as a stepping stone to the future. "I have been using the yoga DVDs (sent over). They move pretty fast, so I have to stop-action all the time..." (READ MORE)

Life at Joint Base Balad: At Camp Virginia, Kuwait - My last day in Iraq was delayed for unknown reasons. We finally flew out from Joint Base Balad to Kuwait on Sunday. It was a strange last day. The night before we left, there was a sudden, violent dust storm. I was riding my bike, and ended up cycling right into a wall of strongly blowing dust. This was followed by rain, which lasted off and on until the morning. This was the first rain I’ve seen in Iraq since about April, and I was glad to finally have something to reduce the dust. It was terrible news, though, because a helicopter crashed that night on JBB. According to the newspaper, one person was killed and 12 others injured, and the accident was caused by high winds, and the fierce sandstorm that I had experienced on my final night in Iraq. As I was awaiting the flight home, there was an incoming fire attack, and so I had to get down on the ground and wait for the “all clear”. So my last day brought some grim reminders of how dangerous it can be in Iraq. (READ MORE)

The Life: Breaking Large Events into Milestones - A deployment (or college, distance running, distance biking, saving for a house, weight management, or any other number of long-term goals) takes a very long time. Unless you have been through it several times in the past, which most of us have not, it is hard and frightening to try to comprehend the enormity of the challenge lying ahead. Luckily we have the ability to break down these larger goals into smaller more achievable and easier to comprehend milestones. When I go running, I keep the end goal in the back of my mind. However, foremost in my mind is what pace I am keeping for the next mile. I know how far miles are, often I can even see on the road in front of me when that mile will be, and therefore I can take action to pace myself correctly and finish that mile at the given pace. Before the run, I planned out what pace I would like to keep through each mile in order to generate a coherent plan around the entire run. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Deployment delayed until repairs can be made - Ever arrived at the airport for a long-awaited trip with your bags packed and juiced up with enough coffee to fuel a jet engine, only to discover your flight has been delayed? That’s probably how about 4,500 Marines and Sailors felt when the e-mail went out that “the ship’s ‘broke’” on the eve of their deployment. This well-meaning e-mail probably induced thousands of parents to call their Marine or Sailor to get information, further ratcheting up the stress of these Marines and Sailors who had already gone through the good-byes, farewells, crying mothers and family members’ well-meaning tearful send-offs. But there’s good news. I just found the Bonhomme Richard’s Facebook page. Now I can post lots of little embarrassing requests for information and status updates about how much I miss Daniel on a page where the whole ship can follow along and endlessly rib one another. (READ MORE)

More Than An (Army) Wife: The End - A little less than a year ago I downloaded a deployment countdown onto my desktop, so I could keep track of this year's progress. I set the return home date for one year exactly which would mean according to my countdown Stonewall will be home in 40 minutes. Unfortunately, that is not accurate. He will be home in 40 minutes and 11 hours. In less than 12 hours this year will be over. This sometimes horrible, sometimes wonderful, always uncertain year will come to an end and my husband will finally walk through our front door. I know I kind of left everyone who was reading Twitter on Tuesday hanging. Stonewall made it back to US soil on Tuesday (looks like Murphy was spot on) and we were able to spend a wonderful hour with him in Ft. Dix. That hour definitely made my Top Ten Favorite Hours Ever. (READ MORE)

PRT-Kunar: PRT engineers get bird’s eye view of Kunar roads, bridges - CAMP WRIGHT, Afghanistan – Provincial Reconstruction Team-Kunar engineers conducted a joint helicopter flyover Sept. 20 with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Afghanistan Engineer District (North) people to do assessments of current road and bridge projects in Kunar Province. The PRT is working with the regional government to improve infrastructure within Kunar Province to increase governance, security and development. According to Navy Lt. Derek Elling, PRT engineer officer and native of Norwood Young America, Minn., the flight gave PRT and USACE engineers the chance to look at projects each organization is working on throughout the area. “Overall, we all were very happy with the progress on the various ongoing road and bridge projects we saw on the flight, and we’re hoping they’re finished before winter starts,” he said. “These roads and bridges are connecting the people here to their local, provincial and national government.” (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: A Desperate Ploy for Relevance? - I saw this inanity at the “Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy” and wrote it off as a desperate ploy for relevance from an academic field that has tried aggressively to separate itself from the IRL implications of its theories. Seriously, when is the last time a major IR theory or study affected the policy decisions of the foreign policy establishment? You could argue it was the Walt/Mearsheimer book now beloved of Osama bin Laden, but that wasn’t a theory so much an ill-formed and poorly-phrased restatement of common knowledge about ethnic and national lobbying groups in DC. But otherwise? When is the last time an IR scholar produced research that was remotely useful to a policy maker? The Clash of Civilizations? I don’t mean to disparage the whole field, because it does things that are relevant, but not immediately so: (READ MORE)

Joshua Frost: The Importance of Local Relevance - This makes for something of a followup of my critique of the Pentagon’s refusal to consider Afghans on their own terms before designing policies for the country. Ann Jones, an activist who normally writes on women’s rights, recently visited a training center for the Afghan National Army and found something striking: “Their American trainers spoke of ‘upper body strength deficiency’ and prescribed pushups because their trainees buckle under the backpacks filled with 50 pounds of equipment and ammo they are expected to carry. All this material must seem absurd to men whose fathers and brothers, wearing only the old cotton shirts and baggy pants of everyday life and carrying battered Russian Kalashnikov rifles, defeated the Red Army two decades ago. American trainers marvel that, freed from heavy equipment and uniforms, Afghan soldiers can run through the mountains all day — as the Taliban guerrillas in fact do with great effect — but the U.S. military is determined to train them for another style of war.” It’s something I’m sure BruceR would find intimately familiar: a refusal at the top to consider Afghans on their own merits. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: For this Seattle woman, an Afghan homecoming - Back in 1964, Frank Hartung left Seattle to teach biology and math in Afghanistan, bringing along his wife, Ross, and their three daughters. Marnie Gustavson was the eldest daughter, 9, when the family took up residence in Kabul, then a quieter and far more peaceful city of some 500,000 people. She spent five years in Afghanistan as her father worked at a K-12 international school. She could bicycle around the city, and piled into the family car, a black Peugeot, to explore the vast land that lay beyond the capital city. Marnie recalls square dancing at the palace for the Afghan king, and Christmas dinners at a U.S. embassy, where you entered by knocking on the door, rather than making your way past blast walls and metal detectors. In 1969, the family left Afghanistan, heading to Illinois and then back to Seattle, where her father took a job teaching at Lakeside School. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: A morning visit to the palace, and a dark afternoon in Kabul - Kabul -- After another late night filing a story, I was still a bit groggy Thursday morning when my Afghan colleague, Hashim Shukoor, arrived at the guest house with an invite to the presidential palace. The day before, the initial tally of votes from the presidential election had finally been completed amid all sorts of fraud allegations. Karzai was on top with 54.6 percent of the vote. He wanted to talk to the press. We piled in the car and headed down some side streets to avoid the heaviest traffic and finally arrived at a guard station that marked the approach to the palace compound. We got out and walked down a stretch of road fortified with blast barriers and bordered by walls topped with barbed wire. We hit another security point, where I laid out my camera and tape-recorder to be checked by bomb-sniffing dogs. Then there was another search area, where I was allowed to keep all of my gear except my cell phone and ballpoint pens. (READ MORE)

SpouseBUZZ: Doing This Apart - Because it has taken many years to get to this point, my husband and I already had first names picked out for our baby. But we had never settled on a middle name. Since my husband will be deployed for the entire pregnancy, we find ourselves trying to decide this by email. It's not an easy task. If you're in the same room, you can judge your spouse's reaction to hearing a name. "Let's make her middle name Ethel" may elicit an obvious groan or just a polite shaking of the head. You can better judge whether your spouse hates your idea or just doesn't seem to be fully convinced by it and needs more prodding. You can't glean this via email. I wrote my husband a long email with various suggestions, reasons why, links to famous people with that name, etc. He replied with, literally, "Well, I don't know." That's it. Did he hate my ideas, or was he just being noncommittal? I don't know! He also has said that we have "plenty of time" to figure this out, but we sure don't if he's gonna send back one-line replies! (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Peter, Paul and Mary, and Salutin, and Fatah, and Noordin Top - Last month, the International Republican Institute released the results of a survey of Afghan opinion that showed a mood of heightened optimism about security, the Afghan economy, and the country's prospects for the future. But it isn't until you get to the last paragraph of the IRI's findings index [pdf] that you encounter this: "When asked which organizations, groups or countries they view favorably, the ANA ranked number one at 67 percent favorable, followed by the United Nations at 58 percent and the United States at 28 percent. Iran ranked at minus 10 percent followed by the Taliban and Pakistan at minus 49 and minus 50 percent respectively." That sums up my own views almost exactly. I'm beginning to feel a bit warmer about the Americans, though. They've recently made a clear and final break with the "We don't do nation-building" idiocy that encumbered the previous American administration for so long. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: 3 Paydays to go!!!! - Only 3 paydays to go and then I get to see my honey! Woohoo! As in the previous deployments this is the time when you realize just how long you have been gone (since 28 MAR 09), it’s something how fast time flies by. I wouldn’t say that it’s flying by because we are having fun although the Canadian, Danish and Dutch teams have been fun and fantastic, I’d say it’s just because we have been very, very busy. Our monthly case load has been dwindling down as far as cases go, and that’s a good thing. The new people are starting to trickle in and before we know it the old codgers (us!) will be put aside so the young bucks (the new US, Canadian and Danish team) can take over. That will not be a bad day! I've posted pictures of the Qatar trip, again! Haven't really taken any new ones here yet. I did work on a team picture for the OR, but am having trouble getting it to open. As soon as I get it finished correctly I'll post it here, it's pretty funny. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Kandahar province: Endless US Army orbat fun - Further to posts here and here, I think I now really (here's hoping) have it sorted out, information from someone well-informed. The US Army actually has four manoeuvre (combat) battalions at Kandahar province, not three, and only one at Zabul, not two. One battalion, the 1-12 Infantry, is now at Forward Operating Base Wilson in Zhari district and remains under command of the Canadian Task Force Kandahar. It's predecessor, the 2-2 Ramrods, also part of the Canadian task force, had been based in Maywand district. The other three US Army Kandahar battalions (and the Zabul battalion) are from the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. One will be based at Maywand, one at Arghandab, and one in the Daman/Spin Boldak area, to cover the road to Quetta in Pakistan and the border (much of the Taliban leadership is based in Quetta/environs). They will form an arc around Kandahar City from west to north to south/southeast, as Task Force Stryker under US command. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: Why is Population-Centric COIN Important? - Ever wonder about the human side of the new COIN Guidance issued by ISAF Commanding General, GEN Stanley McChrystal? Or why it is so important to implement a population-centric effort to counter an insurgency? Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, in Kunduz Afghanistan, is a reporter for the UK based Guardian, and in his latest, most compelling piece, he paints a very raw picture of the recent NATO airstrike in Kunduz. Abdul-Ahad writes “What followed is one of the more macabre scenes of this or any war. The grief-stricken relatives began to argue and fight over the remains of the men and boys who a few hours earlier had greedily sought the tanker's fuel. Poor people in one of the world's poorest countries, they had been trying to hoard as much as they could for the coming winter.” (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: McChrystal: Afghan War Needs More Troops, Strategy Shift - The war in Afghanistan is winnable — but only if the U.S. can get past the screwed-up strategy, the shortage of troops, the corrupt local government, and the discombobulated coalition. That’s the conclusion from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there. Courtesy of the Washington Post, we can now take a firsthand look at Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the situation on the ground. and it’s not upbeat. The Afghanistan campaign, McChrystal warns, will require more troops and resources; continuing without them, his assessment states, “will likely cause failure.” The document — posted online without a classified appendix — emphasizes more than just boots on the ground. While it points to a need for more resources (i.e., a possible troop increase), the assessment also calls for a broader re-think of strategy. “Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or ‘doubling down’ on the previous strategy,” it states. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Hornet Bane - Today was noteworthy for the stalwart performance of the vector control guy. We have been trying since our arrival at Camp Spann to get the large asian hornets out of the shipping container which we use for storage (CONEX). We move things around, put things in, or take things out of the CONEX as our mission directs. The hornets are not amused by our moving and stomping around. Luckily we were not stung. Since we cannot get any insecticide spray from our supply we have to contact KBR. Today put an end to our uninvited guests. The KBR vector control guy was very friendly as I walked him out to our infested CONEX. He sounded less than impressed when I initially discussed the problem. I guess I can understand why as he described the 6 foot cobra he caught at a nearby camp. He had a can of industrial insect poison in his hand. We opened the CONEX and he bent down to look at the nest. He quickly stood up using some forceful language and said he was going to get more 'ammo'. (READ MORE)

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

The Captain's Journal: More Thoughts on Marines and Rules of Engagement - Briefly following up on Taliban Ambush in Eastern Kunar Kills Four U.S. Marines, we know now that there will be an investigation of this incident reviewing whether the ROE was a contributing cause to four Marines perishing. There have been some blog posts and other discussion forums questioning the veracity of the reporting done that day by McClatchy. Christian at Defense Tech (whom I respect) says Jonathan Landay with McClatchy is ”a well-respected journalist whom I’ve known for years.” I see absolutely no reason prima facie to doubt the veracity or accuracy of the report. If the report had vacillated I would be less strident about this incident. But the report was clear. The Marines were under fire and demanded artillery not once, but twice. They were denied artillery and CAS not once, but twice – for the stated reason that the ROE didn’t allow it. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Smoke and Mirrors - (Second in a series, part one here.) RAMADI, Iraq, Oct. 21 -The American military and the interim Iraqi government are quickly losing control of this provincial capital, which is larger and strategically more important than its sister city of Falluja, say local officials, clerics, tribal sheiks and officers with the United States Marines. - From a New York Times report prior to the second assault on Fallujah in 2004. Perhaps I was mistaken to consider that story as implying that what we are actually doing is wrong and that what we should be doing is a very specific something else. The story may have simply been intended to remind us of an obvious truth: that any battle fought at one location can be declared an avoidance of battle at another. But that article doesn't come out and say that (perhaps NYT reporters understand their readers to be sharp enough to figure such things out for themselves), nor does it explain other obvious points. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Internally Displaced Iraqis Lack Basic Needs - A report by the International Organization for Migration finds most of the 1.6 million Iraqis who were forced to flee their homes in the wake of the 2006 bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra still lack the most basic needs. IOM surveyed nearly 224,000 internally displaced families in Iraq's 18 governorates. It has been 3.5 years since the bombing of the mosque triggered one of the worst displacement crises in recent times. Although security in Iraq has improved during this time, apparently the lives of most of these homeless people have not. (READ MORE)

Federal Police continue refining tactics and procedures - MOSUL, Iraq – Iraqi Federal Police have continued to refine and improve their tactical procedures months after the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Mosul. In operations throughout west Mosul, the Mosul Brigade of the 3rd Federal Police Division has been incorporating and refining new tactics into their operations. In an operation Sept. 17, the Mosul Bde. conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the Al Rissala neighborhood of west Mosul. (READ MORE)

With Bucca detention closure, U.S. reaffirms commitment to Security Agreement - CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – With the closure of the Camp Bucca theater internment facility on Sept. 17, the Task Force 134 commanding general said the closure reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the Security Agreement. "Camp Bucca's closure honors the Security Agreement," Brig. Gen. David Quantock said. "It's a testament to the dedication and the hard work of the Government of Iraq and U.S. forces. We've been working side by side with the Iraqi government on detainee issues, and that great working relationship is what has made this closure possible." (READ MORE)

Service member killed in downed aircraft incident - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – One U.S. service member was killed and 12 others were injured when a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter went down inside of Joint Base Balad at approximately 8 p.m. Saturday. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. (READ MORE)

Third Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Course Graduates 15 - TAJI, Iraq – On Sept. 17, 51 Senior Non-Commissioned Officers from all areas of the Iraqi Army and two from the Iraqi Air Force graduated from the third Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Course on Camp Taji. These students trained for 45 days in a course designed as a prerequisite for promotion to Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (E7 – E9). Training began Aug. 5 with an opening-day ceremony. (READ MORE)

11th Police Basic Recruit Training Class Graudates at Maysan Center - MAYSAN, Iraq – Sixteen hundred Iraqi police officers graduated from Basic Police Recruit Training at the Maysan Police Training Center here Sept. 17. Training for BRT Class 09-07 consisted of a four- week/240-hour training curriculum which included courses in Iraqi Police Organization, Police Conduct and Discipline, Uniform and Equipment, Drill and Ceremony, Defensive Tactics, Firearms and Less Than Lethal Weapons, Physical Skills Training, and Human Rights. (READ MORE)

Taji Celebrates Graduation of Intermediate Intelligence Courses - TAJI, Iraq – Two hundred sixty-nine Iraqi intelligence professionals from multiple units throughout Iraq graduated from seven Intermediate Intelligence Courses at the Intelligence and Military Security School here Sept. 10. The majority of graduates were military members from the Iraqi Army but also included civilian and military personnel from the Navy, Air Force and other intelligence organizations within the Ministry of Defense. (READ MORE)

Bomb emplacer killed in Mahus - FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq— One bomb emplacer was killed and another detained following an improvised explosive device detonation near a U.S. convoy north of Hawijah yesterday. A patrol consisting of Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was struck by an IED while en route to the Mahus Police station to conduct a planned combined patrol. While U.S. forces were responding to the IED, two bomb emplacers attempted to flee the scene. The patrol repeatedly warned the two attackers to stop, fired warning shots and then engaged them. One was killed and the other is in the custody of the Iraqi Army. (READ MORE)

Soldiers end Ramadan fasting with Iraqis - BAGHDAD — The Iraqi Federal Police welcomed U.S. Soldiers to an Iftar dinner, which breaks the daily fast of Ramadan, outside Combat Outpost Cashe - South, Sept. 18. The theme for the dinner was reconciliation, according to Lt. Col. Bruce Hoover, assigned to Human Transition Team IZ-8, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. (READ MORE)

Iraqi school named in honor of U.S. officer - KIRKUK — Khalkalan residents and U.S. Soldiers recently celebrated the opening of a new school here, named in honor of Maj. Thomas Weiss, who was injured recently in a vehicle rollover. Weiss is the former executive officer of 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. (READ MORE)

Troops maintain water pumps, friendships - CAMP ADDER — Soldiers with the 546th Maintenance Company's Water Pump Team work tirelessly to keep the water flowing here and to those in the surrounding communities. "It's essential to get water out here for drinking, showers, sewage, everything," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey King, non-commissioned officer in charge of the pump team and an East Orange, N.J., native. (READ MORE)

Solar energy powers Baghdad clinic - BAGHDAD — The New Iraqi Clinic in northern Ghazaliyah, which treats nearly 300 people a day, was reopened to the public, Sept. 16. The clinic used to receive only two hours of power per day, but can now operate around the clock. "It's important because this system that we've installed will power this clinic continuously whether or not the national grid is working," said Bristol, Conn. native, Maj. Andrew Attar, joint project management officer, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. "It gives the community here that utilizes this clinic healthcare 24/7." (READ MORE)

One-time enemies become ‘brothers’ - BASRAH — The moon was full the night of Jan. 17, 1991, and Air Force Capt. Bill Iuliano, an F-111 bomber weapon systems officer, was in the air. It was the second night of Operation Desert Storm, a U.S.-led combat operation in opposition to Saddam Hussein's forces. "We were flying from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey that night to take out some targets in northern Iraq," Iuliano recalled. "We flew south down the border between Iraq and Iran, turned southeast toward Baghdad, and were going to head back north to hit our targets on the way back to Turkey." (READ MORE)

CIA expanding presence in Afghanistan - The CIA is deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence "surge" that will make its station there among the largest in the agency's history, U.S. officials say. When complete, the CIA's presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. Precise numbers are classified, but one U.S. official said the agency already has nearly 700 employees in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure' - The top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." (READ MORE)

General Calls for More US Troops to Avoid Afghan Failure - The top military commander in Afghanistan warns in a confidential assessment of the war there that he needs additional troops within the next year or else the conflict “will likely result in failure.” The grim assessment is contained in a 66-page report that the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, submitted to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30, and which is now under review by President Obama and his top national security advisers. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Warns of Failure in Afghan War - Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a confidential report that without additional forces, the war against insurgents there will end in failure, The Washington Post reported Monday. McChrystal's grim assessment of the war was published on the Post's Web site, with some portions withheld at the government's request. "Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall effort is deteriorating," McChrystal wrote in his summary. (READ MORE)

Changes Have Obama Rethinking War Strategy - From his headquarters in Kabul, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal sees one clear path to achieve President Obama's core goal of preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing havens in Afghanistan: "Success," he writes in his assessment, "demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign." Inside the White House, the way forward in Afghanistan is no longer so clear. Although Obama endorsed a strategy document in March that called for "executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy," there have been significant changes in Afghanistan and Washington since then. (READ MORE)

Obama: No Snap Decisions on Afghanistan - US President Barack Obama says he has no deadline for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, but will not further expand US military operations without a strategy for success in the country. Opposition Republican lawmakers accuse the president of wavering on his commitment to the fight in Afghanistan, which he previously characterized as a war of necessity that the United States must win. Appearing on five television networks Sunday, President Obama was repeatedly asked if America's open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan since late 2001 will continue. This was his response on NBC's Meet the Press program. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Strategy Must Focus on al-Qaeda, Obama Says - The fight in Afghanistan must be narrowed to its original intent of stamping out al-Qaeda and hunting down Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama said today. “We’re there because al-Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans and we cannot allow extremists who want to do violence to the United States to be able to operate with impunity,” Obama said this morning on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. The president appeared on a handful of news talk shows this morning, all taped in the White House on Sept. 18. (READ MORE)

Obama Questions Plan to Add Forces in Afghanistan - President Barack Obama on Sunday voiced skepticism that more troops would make a difference in Afghanistan, suggesting he might not rubber-stamp military officials' expected request to send more forces to that country. "I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question," Mr. Obama told CNN's "State of the Union." "There is a natural inclination to say, 'If I get more, then I can do more.' But right now, the question is - the first question is - are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?" (READ MORE)

One in 4 Afghan Ballots Face Check for Fraud - Nearly one in four votes in last month’s Afghan presidential elections were cast at polling stations now subject to a recount and audit for possible fraud, a huge number that underscores the possibility that President Hamid Karzai could face a runoff, according to an analysis of Afghan national election commission data by The New York Times. About a third of Mr. Karzai’s 3.1 million votes were cast at polling stations that face a recount and audit of ballot boxes, according to The Times’s analysis of data released by the country’s Independent Election Commission. (READ MORE)

Afghan Election Woes Raise Taliban's Stock - The big winner in the fraud-ridden, never-ending Afghanistan elections is turning out to be a party not even on the ballot: the Taliban. A stream of revelations about systematic cheating during last month's vote has given the Taliban fresh ammunition in their propaganda campaign to portray President Hamid Karzai's administration as hopelessly corrupt. Infighting among US, UN and European diplomats over whether to accept the results with Karzai the winner or force a new round of voting has also fed the Taliban line that the government in Kabul is merely a puppet of foreign powers. (READ MORE)

Afghan President Calls on Taliban to Join Peace Process - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has marked the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr with a call for peace. Mr. Karzai called on Taliban militants Sunday to renounce violence and join the peace process. He says insurgents can lay down their arms and help rebuild their war-torn country. Meanwhile, the Taliban's leader has made his own statement for the festival of Eid. Mullah Omar warns that US and NATO forces will face defeat in Afghanistan. In a statement Saturday, Omar said Westerners need only study Afghanistan's history to see that they will fail. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Says Top Commander With Taliban Died in Custody - A spokesman for the Pakistan military in Swat said Sunday that a top Taliban commander who was wounded last week while he was being captured died Sunday morning. The commander, Sher Muhammad Qasab, was arrested along with one of his sons on Sept. 16, the spokesman said. “We had arrested Mr. Qasab when he was severely injured and was under treatment, and he died of his multiple bullet injuries this morning, the spokesman, Col. Akhtar Abbas, said. It was impossible to verify the military’s claim. (READ MORE)

US Fears That Pakistan Aid Will Feed Graft - As the United States prepares to triple its aid package to Pakistan - to a proposed $1.5 billion over the next year - Obama administration officials are debating how much of the assistance should go directly to a government that has been widely accused of corruption, American and Pakistani officials say. A procession of Obama administration economic experts have visited Islamabad, the capital, in recent weeks to try to ensure both that the money will not be wasted by the government and that it will be more effective in winning the good will of a public increasingly hostile to the United States, according to officials involved with the project. (READ MORE)

Back to Bagram - As it works to shut down the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, the Obama administration faces a no less pressing challenge in bringing the larger military detention center at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan squarely within the rule of law and fundamental notions of fairness. Recent developments are cause for both real encouragement and serious concern. There are 600 or so prisoners at Bagram, north of Kabul. Some have been there for years, detained under harsh conditions without charges or access to lawyers, and with only rudimentary reviews of their status as “enemy combatants” - a shameful legacy of the Bush years. (READ MORE)

Japan may provide more aid to Afghanistan - Tokyo is considering sending more financial aid to Afghanistan after its current naval refueling mission supporting the U.S.-led coalition ends next January, but has no intention of sending ground troops to the region, Japan's new foreign minister said Sunday. Japan has long been one of Washington's closest allies, but a new government that took power last week has said it wants to reframe its relations with the U.S. and will not extend the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Soldiers' bodies returned to Italy as Afghan bomb toll rises - KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The number of people killed in a car bombing in Afghanistan's capital rose to 26, including six Italian soldiers, Afghan authorities said Saturday. Sixteen people died in the blast Thursday, and at least 55 Afghan civilians were wounded. Ten have died from their injuries since the bombing. (READ MORE)

Further Delays Now Expected in Afghan Election Result - Results from Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election remain uncertain. The Independent Election Commission, announced it will once again delay the release of partial results until Saturday at the earliest. In results made public so far, President Hamid Karzai holds a slight lead - with 44.8 percent of the vote versus 35.1 percent for former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. (READ MORE)

Taliban leader taunts NATO, U.S. with jihad success stories - KABUL, afghanistan — The Taliban's reclusive leader said in a Muslim holiday message Saturday that the United States and NATO should study Afghanistan's long history of war, in a pointed reminder that foreign forces have had limited military success in the country. The message from Mullah Omar comes less than a month before the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. (READ MORE)

Police say attack on Pakistani minister foiled - PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Police officers foiled a plan to assassinate a regional education minister in northwestern Pakistan when they engaged four militants in a gunbattle Monday that ended with a teenage suicide bomber blowing himself up, police said. An informant tipped off officers that insurgents had gathered in a government high school in North West Frontier Province after midnight and were planning to kill provincial Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak and attack government installations and security forces, police officer Noor Jamal Khan said. (READ MORE)

Bodies of six Italian soldiers' killed in Afghanistan returned home - Rome - The bodies of six Italian soldiers killed in Afghanistan last week were returned home Sunday. Senior officials from the government and military and relatives of the soldiers lined the tarmac at the military base in Rome as the caskets carrying their remains were unloaded from the plane. The troops were killed when their convoy came under attack in in the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday. The suicide bombing also claimed the lives of 10 Afghan civilians. (READ MORE)

Fracture healed by US forces, Afghan boy goes home - DAY KUNDI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The Afghan father left the mountains on foot, carrying his 2-year-old son, but the health clinic could not treat the skull fracture that blinded the toddler and immobilized his left side. By chance the next day, two American medics stopped by the clinic in Day Kundi Province to check on another patient. The rooftop fall that cracked Malik's skull Aug. 19 set in motion a chain of events that took the boy from his remote village to the U.S. military hospital in Kandahar, where doctors patched the tear in his brain and replaced the bone. On Saturday, his crescent-shaped wound healed, Malik — the baby in the family of five children — headed home with his father, Khodadad. (READ MORE)

Linked by: H&I FIRES* 21 SEPT 2009 at Castle Argghhh!

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