October 14, 2009

From the Front: 10/14/2009

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

3rd Time, New Country: Finally, some pictures... This is what happens when you don't wear your helmet getting in and out of the humvee. (VIEW PHOTOS)

3rd Time, New Country: Another week of mentoring complete… - I am back on my normal schedule of trying to post on each Friday, so it has only been 5 days since my last blog entry. I didn’t post any new pics last time and I don’t have any for this entry. My trip to NDS this week went well. I had the NMH Chief OT Nurse and another OT Nurse meet me at NDS. We met with the NDS OT Nurses and discussed cross-training between facilities. It was decided that the NDS nurses would travel to NMH. Hopefully, we can get this started soon. One NDS OT Nurse should come to NMH for a 2 week period. It will take the first few days to get all the admin completed so the NDS nurses can get onto the NMH campus. Then, they will spend 8 to 10 days training with the NMH nurses and myself. It should work out well. The rest of the week was regular mentoring at NMH. Getting the medical consumables continues to be one of my hardest tasks. (READ MORE)

A Battlefield Tourist: No Ma’am, They Won’t Be Forgotten - I just received a note from the mother of a survivor from Keating and it seems there’s a concern that the sacrifice will be for nothing. While I cannot change the world, I certainly can do my part to prevent that fear from becoming reality. Here’s the note: “Since I found out about this attack I have been glued to the internet looking for any piece of info- perhaps so it will start making more sense. My heart really aches for these guys. People have been so kind and supportive and I think that is the only way their mental anguish will began to heal. I believe that one of their biggest needs is to know that the fight and loss of life will not be forgotten and was not done without a purpose. This unit that lost 8 men only had 30 guys to start with, so as you can well imagine, they were a tight knit group. They have to be asking themselves ‘why?’ I sure wish I could ease some pain for them. Sleep for my son, and I am sure for most of them, has not come easily since the battle. I can not to begin to imagine what it must be like to try to close your eyes and relax after what they have been through. I could go on and on…” (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: First Sight - I will never forget the very first thing I ever saw of Afghanistan back in 2007. I touched down at Bagram Airfield. It was the middle of the night. I was relegated to a large transit tent. As I crossed the street heading to the tent, large yellow floodlights illuminated the flight line where various military aircraft were parked or went through preflight checks, getting ready for a mission that would lead them to a destination somewhere out there in the darkness. I was the only person in a tent twice the size of a football field, laying alone in my sleeping bag on a cot that had its best days already behind, darkness surrounding me. Although I was dead tired, sleep was not an option. F-15 fighter jets continued to take off on the runway maybe 300 meters away with a thunderous roar that left me and the ground literally shaking. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Afghans Do Not Want A Runoff - Afghan President Hamid Karzai went on Good Morning America today to say that he felt the August 20 election was “good and free and democratic.” He managed to say this with a straight face, (under some sharp questioning by Diane Sawyer) despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. As repugnant as it is to write this, I think that it would just be best if everybody overlooked the fraud, let Karzai be president and get on with things in Afghanistan. Because a runoff election is a logistical impossibility. It will take weeks just to print the ballots and by that time, parts of northern Afghanistan will be sealed in by snow. Forget people showing up to the polls, just getting election observers and paper ballots to some of these places will be completely unworkable. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Insurgent Strategy In Nuristan - Josh Foust over at Registan wrote recently about the attacks in Nuristan being part of a larger strategy, and also questioned the possibility that American presence increased violence there. I’m convinced that the latest attack in Nuristan is part of a larger operational strategy on the part of insurgents. Actually, I believe that it ties in to the persistent insurgent presence in the Tag Ab Valley of Kapisa. Numerous rat lines have existed through Kunar and Nuristan, many of them leading to Tag Ab, which ties them in to the ancient smuggling route that avoids the capital… or leads to it. There is no doubt in my mind that the increase in violence is tied to the increase in Coalition (and GIRoA) presence in Kunar and Nuristan. There was no reason for violence prior to the increased presence and control in Kunar and Nuristan, because they had free run of the area. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Battle at Camp Keating - At The Best Defense, Tom Ricks published an “earwitness account” of the battle at Camp Keating in Kamdish in Nuristan province. The account comes via General Barry McCaffrey, and is given by an unnamed military officer serving in nearby Laghman province whose position is not identified, and I won’t speculate further. The full account is published below, with permission of Mr. Ricks. I’ll define the acronyms and other confusing terms in brackets. Here are the facts, without revealing sensitive information. I feel compelled to write this because I heard some very fine, brave Americans fought for their very lives Saturday, 03 OCT 09. They fought magnificently. Eight of them made the Ultimate Sacrifice. I don’t know their names, only their call signs. Though it may have been smaller in scale, and shorter in duration, their battle was no less heroic than the exploits of their ancestors, in places like LZ Xray or Fire Base Ripcord in Vietnam. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Helo mission – Part 1 - Instead of driving our armored vehicles, the Captain and I would be transported by helicopter to visit one of our supported FOBs. This would be a new experience for both of us. While we waited at the LZ (Landing Zone) we were greeted by a stray dog. The Captain is somewhat afraid of dogs and this one stood at the exact spot where we would board the helicopter. It quickly moved when it heard the helicopter approaching. As the helo was touching down it created a large cloud of dust and it was like slow motion as this ball of debris rolled towards us. It only took us about five minutes to board the helicopter, get strapped in and lift off. As we flew through the towering Hindu Kush Mountains, I took note of the isolated villages dotting the valleys between the ragged peaks. At a distance the folds of the mountains resembled a table cloth that was scrunched up. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Helo Mission – Part Two - After inspecting our future office and quarters, we went looking for our platoon of soldiers who were assigned here. We were informed their quarters were outside on the side of the building. As we turned the corner, I noticed a plywood shack with a poncho blanket serving as a doorway. This was the officer’s quarters along with his NCO in charge. He came out of his small shack and greeted us and then invited us inside for a customary cup of hot chai (tea). We sat on a dusty floor mat and waited to be served tea. In each corner was a cot with a thin blanket on the top of it. I noticed the NCO’s cot was obviously broken as the end piece had an unnatural dip and the metal connecting bar was protruding from under the blanket. The Captain and I discussed some small details explaining the purpose of our visit. The ANA officer listened intently and seemed to welcome our presence. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Earning The Prize - "And perhaps the biggest question of all: With the Nobel medal staring down at him in the White House for the next three years or perhaps seven, will the designated peacemaker eventually figure out just what peace means in a land without it? Will he earn the prize he has already received?" The Torch has been doing a very good job of tracking the American debate. My money is on a lot more Yankee troops heading Afghanistan's way. Terry is worried (and also points to a more deserving Nobel candidate.) The Milnews blog (with cross-posts at The Torch) has been doing a very good job of tracking the Canadian "debate". Unlike the Americans, who are trying to hammer out the details of a strategy to go forward with, Canadian politicians are feverishly avoiding as many details as they can. Vagueness means votes--or so their demented thinking goes. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Oh the pressure! - Recently, Greyhawk over at Mudville has declared that I may just be the last Marine mil blogger in Iraq. Great, now the pressure is on for me to document our transition for posterity. The weight of this responsibility is staggering. Hmmmmmmmmm…what are we doing lately? Anything significant? Well, turnover with the unit replacing us is taking place as we get ready to transition ourselves out of here. After the formal Transition Of Authority (TOA) I’m sure I will have some choice things to recount as we sit around in tents waiting for flights to whisk us away (Brains! Brains!). Oh! I think it’s Ice Cream Sundae night at DFAC 1. I’ll submit my report tomorrow. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Let Them Eat Cake - On this date, 234 years ago the US Navy was founded. Since those humble beginnings it has evolved into the most powerful maritime force the world has ever seen. Although there is no ocean for hundreds of miles, a stalwart crew of sailors met together in the chow hall to commemorate the occasion with a few words, a rousing chorus of Anchors Aweigh, and finally the cutting of the cake. Thankfully one of the KBR employees in the chow hall, John, is a retired Navy Senior Chief. He arranged for the cake and all the decorations. Our Navy Augmentees here at Camp Spann work in over 8 different units and staff sections to support the US and NATO mission. The cake was very good as well. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: Two Weeks, No MEDEVAC - So what do you do when there are no MEDEVAC calls? Not a whole lot… As of today it has been 14 days since the last patient was transported by MEDEVAC. That’s generally a good thing. It means no one is getting injured seriously enough to need more than the local care available at the CSH on the FOB, or the BAS out in the more remote areas. However, it leads to very long duty cycles without a whole lot to do. After all, you can only do so many training flights. The days starts off normally enough. We come in, get the morning brief, do daily PMs on the helicopters, set up our gear and prepare for the eventuality of a mission. We are always ready for a mission, whether it comes down of not. However, after we are set for the day, there just isn’t that much to do. Lately, there has been a bit more as we are catching up on mandatory classes and preparing to re-deploy, but still that doesn’t fill the entire day. (READ MORE)

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Thomson, commanding officer of 2 RIFLES: Britain's success in Afghanistan is measured in small steps - Better security, a health post, more schools – you know of the sacrifices, but let me tell you about the real progress. Both parents were inconsolable. They stood at the front gate of my patrol base in Wishtan, Sangin, and pleaded for help to find their child. We could give no satisfaction — their six-year-old daughter had stood on a Taleban pressure-pad IED (improvised explosive device); there was nothing left of the poor child. The parents continued to plead — a small part of her broken body would suffice. They had to have something to bury. The 2 Rifles Battle Group know about grief: we have seen friends killed but we had at least been able to salute a coffin. With the heaviest of hearts, my riflemen watched helpless as those heartbroken parents returned home to mourn the loss of a Muslim child who could not be buried. (READ MORE)

Maj Rupert Follett, 2 RIFLES BG, FOB Wishtan: Update from Forward Operating Base Wishtan – 23rd September - The end of the tour is almost in sight, the days are ticking by and our replacements have started to arrive. The new Royal Engineer section has now been here for over a week, new signallers arrived today and the first man from 1 SCOTS is in and getting used to his new surroundings. All our replacements will receive a thorough handover during the coming few weeks, so that they are prepared for the challenges of living and operating in Wishtan. The R and R window has now closed so the FOB is as full as it has been for months. Operationally there is no let up and the tempo remains high. 5 Pl under Lt Parry and Sjt Clark deployed on a 4 day expeditionary patrol and worked closely with the Afghan National Army with great results. (READ MORE)

Highland Sailor: Humbled - Today was the most rewarding day that I can remember. I had the opportunity to visit a school for the deaf and those with special needs. Words cannot describe the excitement that those children displayed as our group of US and NATO servicemen and women distributed school backpacks containing pens, pencils, paper, and other miscellaneous school supplies. We also distributed blankets, coats, shoes, etc., which were to be distributed later by the teachers based on need. The best part is we also passed out 20 foot balls (soccer balls). I spent over an hour playing footie (soccer) with the boys and girls. We couldn't have made this trip without the donations from people like you. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Diesel - During the 23 years I was a civilian before coming back to the Army, it was the unexpected smell of diesel that would bring back a flash of memory of being in the Army. When I was in the first time, the primary vehicle--the Jeep--had a gasoline engine. but most everything we drove had diesel engines. Now the Humvees are diesel just like all the other trucks. But on all of the self-sufficient bases in this barren land, all of our power comes from generators. Huge generators, small generators, in-between generators. Last month in the motor pool one of the mechanics got an 110V drill to work on a 5-ton truck. He had to drill a hole once in a while during the four hours he worked on the truck. He fired up a 150hp 6-cylinder diesel generator that happened to be close to his work site. It ran continuously for the entire time he worked on the truck. On this morning's 5k run I ran past several howling generators in containers outside the housing areas. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Four Days on Mission in Afghanistan - We just got back from a long mission, so here’s a long post. Day 1: Drive to FOB ONE. Mission preparation went fine. Had some radio problems: constant static between calls (that’s plain irritating) and one bad headset. I felt more nervous than usual, so between the convoy brief and rolling out I relaxed with an iPod meditation routine, called home, and listened to Audioslave really loud through my headphones. Nothing eventful during the convoy. (That’s a good thing.) Arrived at FOB One in time for dinner at the DFAC. This place has the best cafeteria hot wings in the country. Set up my cot next to the truck, laid out my sleeping bag, and fell asleep watching the Simpsons at about 2030. Day 2: Drive to FOB TWO Lousy night’s sleep. I woke up three or four times from cold… and from drinking too much cranberry juice and Gatorade. Breakfast at this little NATO base is so much better than ours. (If you’re ever in town, get the egg-and-cheese burritos!) (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Election Law - If you depend on WaPo to explain the Iraq situation, God help you. You'll never understand. There is a story today in which the reporter clearly does not understand the simplest things going on in parliament. The reporter says the parliamentarians can't agree on anything when in fact they all agree on an open list. They also all agree that a closed list would keep them in power, but they can't admit that. So in fact, the parliamentarians are in complete agreement! The story says Ayatollah Ali Sistani opposes the closed list. That's exactly right. But the reporter says: "It is politically impossible for any Shiite party or politician to openly contest Sistani's will, meaning that some version of the open list is likely." Actually, no. It would be politicallay impossible for any politician or party to openly contest the open list Every member of parliament declared his support for an open list. (READ MORE)

Omar: Maliki's State of Law bloc to pay for campaign with member donations - The State of Law coalition, which is led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Da'awa Party is soliciting donations from members to finance the bloc's electoral campaign, Aswat al-Iraq reports. An official with the State of Law coalition said donation would be collected at a designated account with the Iraqi Rafidain Bank. This is the first time a major political bloc solicits donations from its members with the declared aim of making these donations the primary source of campaign money. If successful, this initiative could significantly boost the image of the coalition and give it an advantage over rivals whose campaign finances remain much more obscure. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: A Tribute To Our Military Health Care Providers - Well done. I received notice that someone who had received care after being injured in war had put this together with his family. What I like about this is that it shows a constancy of care given to soldiers through the many wars we've been in. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending a graduation at Fort Sam Houston of a class completing OBLC. All of them were health care professionals, and at that moment I felt the dedication and determination of these superb individuals. They come from all walks of life. They are young, middle aged, and some might even say old. (Though age is all relative to one's perspective). So enjoy this moving tribute done by a patient to say "thank you." (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Then He Smiled At Me - A few weeks ago I found an entry on Micheal’s legacy website. It read: Mike, It’s been the greatest honor of my Military career to have met you. I only wish I would have had the chance before pulling you out on 24FEB08. I will always honor you as a hero! Love, 2LT John D. Watrin. Needless to say my heart skipped a beat. I had never heard this man’s name before but I knew he was the one who had pulled Micheal from the wreckage of the blast. It took me a full day to get the nerve up to try and track this man down. I found him on myspace and added him as a friend. I received a message from him the next morning… ” Thank God I found you” We spoke on the phone a few days later. Before I spoke to him I had no idea who he was or that he was responsible for one of the many gifts I had been given after we lost Micheal. he was the CO of the engineering team Micheal had been escorting that day and would later build the barracks at the FOB and name them for my son. (READ MORE)

Badger 6: "Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart" - I am a demonstrative person when it comes to my emotions. Certainly as I have gotten older and more experienced I have worked to reign that in certain circumstances so that I will actually accomplish my goal for that situation. I would think it rare for someone to meet me and not know how I felt about a certain situation or issue. Imagine my surprise last night to find how I had compartmentalized the emotion of grief in my life. Last night Mrs. Badger Six decided we needed to watch Marley and Me on HBO. Now I don't do dog movies. Movies that want to impart us with some sort of life lesson invariably require some form of loss. In dog movies that can only mean one thing. The dog dies at the end. I love my dogs beyond all reason and I suppose I will have to accept that they will most likely not outlive me, but at as they are both seven years old I should have a few years before I have to deal with that fact. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Ilyas Kashmiri survived last month's airstrike in Pakistan - A senior al Qaeda leader and longtime Pakistani jihadi with strong ties to Pakistan's military and intelligence services who was thought to have been killed in a US airstrike in the tribal areas has surfaced. Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational chief of the Harkat-ul Jihad Islami (HuJI) and al Qaeda's Brigade 313, survived the Sept. 14 airstrike in the village of Turikhel near the town of Mir Ali in Taliban-controlled North Waziristan. Kashmiri was thought to have been killed with Najmuddin Jalolov, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, an Uzbek terror group based in Pakistan's tribal areas. Pakistani and US intelligence officials were certain Kashmiri was killed in the attack. Kashmiri was recently confirmed to be alive by Syed Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for the Asia Times. Kashmiri granted an interview to Shahzad, which will be published on Oct. 14. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 11 Oct 09 - well, I am in country and starting another deployment… Afghanistan again…it smells just as bad, looks just as trashy, and is a little more dangerous…I have been keeping track of my travels and adventures up to now, just haven’t had time to sit down and write very much…I am currently in a transient hut and have to walk to a morale hut to connect to the rest of the world, but as soon as I get into my permanent living quarters I will have internet connection and I will sit and tell you all about everything up to this point…as for now I’ll just say that it’s just as crappy as i remember it, but I am now assigned to a camp that has things in perspective…I am pretty much secluded from the politics and BS that the rest of BAF has to deal with…we are our own FOB with our own rules, our own missions, and our own way of life…the rest of BAF kinda hates us because they have an idea of what goes on behind our walls but they can’t come in… (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Looking to reconnect to Oregon troops - Just a quick note from Baghdad International on Wednesday morning ... it's been a very long stretch since getting on the plane, clean and well-fed, in Dallas, Texas Monday. The flight was full of about 200 soldiers, including a half-dozen or so from Oregon. I spent some time with a few of them and will turn in a story about the trip soon. Special thanks to SSG Rod Widows, who was assigned to babysit me until we reached Kuwait. I will spend today trying to reconnect with Oregon soldiers, but I may have to wait for credentials and, as always, transportation, so I'm not sure how soon the next update will come. I hope soon. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Chilling at Ali Al Salem - I'm sitting in an internet cafe at Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait. This is the portal for all US troops going into and out of Iraq. I arrived here yesterday afternoon and will leave this evening. Not much to do here, which right now is fine with me. I'm decompressing. Yesterday was the first leg of the trip home. They picked us up at 8:30 so we could check in at Sather (the USAF base at Baghdad Airport) at 9 a.m. Our flight didn't load up until 1:30 in the afternoon. Think about that the next time you gripe about having to arrive at the airport a half-hour early! I ran into two friends, one from the Embassy and one from my Corps training, who were also on their way out for R&R. You know you're getting to be an old-timer when you're running into friends at the airport, I don't care where you are. (READ MORE)

Ian Wolfe: TWO YEARS HOME - Two years home and Iraq still haunts me. It’s like a stigma that I can’t shake and don’t ever want to forget. I did an interview for my college alumni magazine and the writer titled it “Near Normal.” At first I was a bit offended, but after thinking about it a while I realized it was pretty accurate. Friends of mine have talked about situations where they just didn’t feel like they fit, or where people find out they are veterans and act kind of odd. I've had similar situations. My school only has about twelve vets and no clue, but the campus most of my friends I served with go to has a large veteran’s service center. They are very organized. They show up when anyone is assembling for something to do with the war. It’s nice because some days it seems the only people you can relate to are other veterans. This is odd to me because I don’t think what I or some of us went through was really all that bad. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: Things found on patrol - KABUL -- While on foot patrols in the Arghandab Valley, U.S. soldiers always are on the look out for weapon caches, bomb factories or other signs of Taliban activity. But what they find isn't always what you might expect. I wanted to note three discoveries made by last week by 1st Platoon of Bravo Company, part of the Fort Lewis, Wa.-based 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. On a morning patrol early in the week, we came to a field where all the crops has been harvested. Near the middle, there was a curious site. A relatively accurate model of a nearby base occupied by Afghanistan National Army soldiers and a small contingent of Canadians. The model is quite detailed. It has locations of guard towers, and the tent where the Canadians slept. There were even small clay figurines with weapons. It was probably put together by some insurgent earlier in the year as they were preparing to fire on the base, or make an assault. (READ MORE)

Sarah: Living Our Lives - Last week I went to visit my grandparents. They have dial-up. Last year this would have stressed me out immensely but this year it doesn't, because deployments are like snowflakes. And this snowflake is liberating. This is my husband's third deployment, and #1 and #3 are much more similar than #2 was. The first time, he was in Iraq in 2004. Infrastructure was a mess, and he rarely had access to contact home. I went about my normal life and gladly heard from him every two or three weeks. Last year he returned to Iraq in a staff position, which meant he worked regular hours and had good access to Skype. I found myself glued to the computer each afternoon, waiting to see if he'd show up. It was wonderful to get to talk to him so often, but I rarely left the house in the afternoon so as not to miss him. I felt obligated to be there for him every day, which meant I needed to keep the entire afternoon open since I never knew if he'd show up at 1:00 or 4:00. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Morality ends.... - When does morality end and reality start? That was a big discussion between some of the newbies and us. I am of the firm stance that the “detainees” are pieces of you know what and they should be treated that way. Of course that got the attention of a lot of the people around me and I was immediately blasted by them stating that deep down inside they are people also. Obviously they have not seen the carnage that we have been exposed to thus far caused directly by the “detainees who are people deep down inside“, we’ll see how their attitude is about halfway through their deployment. I’ve been in many cases where a coalition fighter has passed due to the piece of crap that is sitting in the trauma bay awaiting treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I will do everything humanely possible to save a life and have done so, no matter who’s it is, but who they are and what they stand for is always in the back of my mind. (READ MORE)

The Torch: As for an Afghan quagmire - ...another view of the primaeval--in current "thinking"--one (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs): “The Real Afghan Lessons From Vietnam - The 'clear and hold' strategy of Gen. Creighton Abrams was working in South Vietnam. Then Congress pulled the plug on funding. In the later years, Abrams ["Gen. Creighton Abrams took command soon after the 1968 Tet Offensive"], along with Ellsworth Bunker (at the head of the embassy in Saigon) and William E. Colby (in charge of support for pacification) devised a more viable approach for conducting the war even as U.S. forces were being incrementally withdrawn. Security for the South Vietnamese became the new measure of merit. Instead of ‘search and destroy,’ tactical operations were now focused on a ‘clear and hold’ objective. Greatly increased South Vietnamese territorial forces, better trained and equipped and integrated into the regular army, provided the ‘hold.’” (READ MORE)

CounterInsurgency Center: HAVE WE PUT TOO MUCH FAITH IN IOs AND NGOs? - Before we, the military, go on any mission, we are briefed extensively on International Organizations (IOs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) and Other Governmental Departments (OGDs). What we learn about these organizations is that we are all on the same side, but they are reluctant to get involved with us because they don’t want to lose their image of impartiality by associating with us. Our military culture clashes with their humanitarian "Birkenstock" image. They, with OGDs, are our partners, but the salvation of failed states lays with them, not us because they will be there long after we have left bringing the long term development that is so important. But have we put too much stock in these assertions? Do IOs and NGOs really merit the faith that we and post-conflict states and world governments have placed in them? (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: The path to enlightenment runs through confusion - For a small update, I'm back in the US, dealing with a little cold and rain, but that's typical for Upstate NY this time of year (expecting snow tonight). As I was flying home, I got the chance to start reading Seth Jones' "In The Graveyard of Empires", and it's been an excellent read thus far. The analysis of the Taliban in this book, coupled with the analysis in War 2.0 have forced me stop and think about our path in Afghanistan. Andrew Exum has frequently admitted to a level of confusion regarding future Afghanistan policy--whether to go with the minimalist approach or to go full-fledged counterinsurgency. He mentioned that he often finds it difficult to debate those who are very sure in their convictions over the issue (e.g., Bacevich). It reminded me of an anecdote about Socrates. Socrates was told by an oracle that he was the wisest person in the world. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Iraqi Politicians Unable to Agree on Election Specifics - American officials in Baghdad urged Iraqi lawmakers Tuesday to pass an election law crucial for organizing a January vote that the Obama administration considers key to withdrawing US combat troops. In a statement, US Ambassador Christopher R. Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno, the American military commander here, said they were concerned that parliament hasn't yet reached an agreement on the law. They urged lawmakers "to act expeditiously on this important legislation that will set the terms for successful, transparent political participation in this milestone event." (READ MORE)

As Iraq Seeks Oil Investors, They See an Uncertain Bet - In its drive to expand and modernize Iraq’s oil sector, the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is stumbling over the competing demands of attracting foreign investment and acting as a vigilant guardian of the nation’s natural resource wealth as parliamentary elections loom in January. The competing strains were on display on Tuesday, during an announcement that Iraq was close to approving two new oil development deals with foreign companies. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan, Pakistan Congratulate Obama on Nobel Peace Prize - The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan separately congratulated U.S. President Barack Obama Friday for winning the prestigious 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee's announcement comes as Mr. Obama considers whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Hamed Elmi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, tells VOA that his country wants to congratulate President Obama. (READ MORE)

Division Commander Focuses on Immediate, Future Fights - As he focuses on a new approach to supporting the fight in Afghanistan, the new 10th Mountain Division commander said he also intends to volunteer his soldiers to serve as an operational test-bed for the Army’s long-term modernization efforts. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry said one of his first big challenges will be determining the best way to support the Army’s new campaign continuity plan. (READ MORE)

U.S. leaves isolated Afghan base after weekend attack - U.S. forces have withdrawn from an isolated base in eastern Afghanistan that insurgents attacked last week in one of the deadliest battles of the war for U.S. troops, the NATO-led coalition said Friday. The pullout from the Kamdesh outpost near the Pakistani border is likely to embolden insurgent fighters in the region. The Taliban swiftly claimed "victory" for forcing the coalition to leave and said they had raised their flag above the town. (READ MORE)

Inside Afghanistan: Making Alliances and Gaining Trust to Fight the Taliban - A new line of communication is being fostered in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan between tribal chiefs and members of the coalition military command in an attempt to bring peace to the war-torn nation. "Human Terrain" teams foster communication between civilians and military.A group of social scientists known as the "human terrain" team, made up of civilian volunteers who are experts in the fields of culture and negotiation, is trying to bridge the cultural gap between the military and local tribes by encouraging the two to sit down and talk. (READ MORE)

'Those attacked Indian embassy are enemies of peace,' says Nirupama Rao - Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Friday said that the people responsible for Thursday's bomb blast outside the Indian embassy here which claimed 17 lives and injured over 60, were enemies of peace, democracy, the people of Afghanistan and the people of India. "I think the investigation should be completed and as I said whoever is responsible for this attack is against peace, is against democracy, is against the people of Afghanistan, is against the people of India," Rao told media persons after surveying the damage caused to the embassy by the suicide car bomber. (READ MORE)

Taliban touts ‘Nobel violence prize’ for Obama - Afghanistan's Taliban mocked the award of a Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday, saying he should get a Nobel Prize for violence instead. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it was absurd to give a peace award to a man who had sent 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to escalate a war. "The Nobel Prize for peace? Obama should have won the 'Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians'," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. (READ MORE)

Sway Over Afghan Insurgents Proves Elusive - As Washington policymakers debate the US role in Afghanistan, most agree that one element will be important to whatever strategy emerges: the need for reconciliation with insurgents who can be bought off or persuaded to lay down their weapons. But those efforts have become increasingly difficult in recent weeks as the Taliban gains strength and as Afghans grow more and more anxious that the United States is not committed to their country for the long term. (READ MORE)

Obama: Afghan Troop Decision in Coming Weeks - US President Barack Obama says he will decide on whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. The White House is adding on more high level meetings to discuss possible changes in strategy. The Afghan review has been going on for several weeks, with the president spending hours huddled behind closed doors with members of his national security team. (READ MORE)

Biden No Longer a Lone Voice on Afghanistan - A few hours after getting off a plane from America’s war zones, Joseph R. Biden Jr. slipped into a chair, shook off his jet lag and reflected on what he had seen. The situation in Iraq, he said, was much improved. In Pakistan, he said he saw encouraging signs. Then he came to Afghanistan and shook his head. “It has deteriorated significantly,” he said. “It’s going to be a very heavy lift (READ MORE)

Pentagon Denies Report of 'Unannounced' Troops in Afghanistan - The Pentagon says a Washington Post story claiming it is making an "unannounced" deployment of 13,000 additional troops to Afghanistan is inaccurate. A Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Dave Lapan, says the Post story itself notes that the 13,000 support troops are within the overall maximum authorized by President Barack Obama earlier this year. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan's Karzai Would Welcome More US Troops - Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he would welcome more American troops in his country. Speaking to an American interviewer (ABC-TV) Tuesday, Mr. Karzai said he is aware of reports that the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, will seek up to 40,000 additional troops to fight an increased Taliban insurgency. The Afghan president declined to indicate how many international troops he thinks are needed. (READ MORE)

In Kabul, Little Hope That a Runoff Will Be Fair - As experts pore over ballots to determine whether the fraud in this country’s presidential election was so big that a runoff vote was required, many Afghans interviewed here on Tuesday shared the same view: Why bother? In shops, offices and bakeries around the capital, many Afghans said holding a second round of voting to designate a winner simply did not make sense. It was not that they did not want a final result. Or that they thought the Aug. 20 election had been fraud-free. (READ MORE)

Maybe We Can Buy Our Way to Victory in Afghanistan, Says General - Afghan insurgents should be offered amnesties and removal from the coalition’s “wanted" list if they lay down their arms, says the British general charged with coaxing fighters away from their extremist leaders. “There’s no question about it: amnesty would be part of this initiative,” Lieutenant-General Sir Graeme Lamb told The Times. The insurgents might have blood on their hands, but “who doesn’t?” he asked. “We’ve killed people that they would say ‘these were entirely innocent people’.” (READ MORE)

US Seeks to Ease Pakistanis' Concerns Before Obama Signs Aid Bill - President Obama will sign a bill providing Pakistan $7.5 billion in economic aid this week after Congress issues a statement designed to placate Pakistanis' objections that conditions attached to the legislation violate their sovereignty, US and Pakistani officials said. The joint House-Senate statement, negotiated over the past several days, will emphasize mutual respect between the two countries, officials said, and "clarify" provisions in the bill requiring administration reports to Congress on Pakistan's expenditures... (READ MORE)

US Tries to Soothe Pakistan Worries on Aid - Pakistan's foreign minister won assurances that the US wasn't attempting to use a $7.5 billion aid bill to constrain his country's military. After Foreign Minister Shah Mohammed Qureshi met with senior US officials here on Tuesday, both the State Department and the aid bill's co-author, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), said they would work with the Pakistani envoy to persuade critics in Islamabad that the package doesn't impinge on Pakistani sovereignty. (READ MORE)

Barack Obama’s Pakistan Policy in Disarray after Opposition to $7.5bn Aid Conditions - President Obama’s Pakistan policy was in disarray yesterday after Islamabad raised objections to the stringent terms attached to his new $7.5 billion aid package. Officials of the two countries were locked in last-minute negotiations on how to salvage the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which triples US civilian aid to Pakistan. It seeks to broaden the campaign against Islamic militancy by fighting poverty in regions along the Afghan border and tries to ensure that military aid is not misspent. (READ MORE)

The Taliban Threat - During the past 10 days, Pakistan's conflict with the Taliban movement has escalated toward full-scale war - and the extreme Islamist movement has mostly held the initiative. On Tuesday, government warplanes bombed targets in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan in what may be the prelude to a major army offensive there. Over the previous eight days, however, the Taliban carried out four major attacks that demonstrated both its growing power and its ambitions. (READ MORE)

Not Good Enough - If President Obama can find a way to balance the precise number of troops that will stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, without tipping America into a Vietnam there, then he indeed deserves a Nobel Prize - for physics. I have no problem with the president taking his time to figure this out. He and we are going to have to live with this decision for a long time. For my money, though, I wish there was less talk today about how many more troops to send and more focus on what kind of Afghan government we have as our partner. (READ MORE)

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