October 19, 2009

From the Front: 10/19/2009

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

Castra Praetoria: Home - According to a news station in Hawaii, America's Battalion touched down in Oahu at about 1130 this morning. Here's the link. Looks like they are home. (MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: A great meal... - Another week in Kabul has been completed. It has been a typical week, but only out on the road once since I last posted and that was too NDS. We did roll through where the last SVBIED tried to take out the Indian Embassy. It never ceases to amaze me as to the amount of destruction explosives packed into an SUV can do. One of the big accomplishments this week was finally taking delivery of a new OSI Ortho Table. This is a special surgical table used for hip and leg fractures. It allows the surgeons to use traction, and it is also big enough that the C-arm can be easily used. Every OR in the US that does ortho trauma surgery will have some type of OSI Ortho table. It got shipped here in 5 separate crates. It was a several day evolution to get it to NMH. On the first day, I went to the National Depot to meet with the vendor. All supplies get delivered to the National Depot which is near the hospital. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: US-Funded Terror Group Kills 31 In Iran - The Iranian terror group responsible for this morning’s attacks that killed 31 people (including some top Iranian military official officials) and wounded 28 others has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the US government for years, according to Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, ABC News, The Telegraph (UK) and other sources. The group, called Jundallah (also spelled Jundullah,) are ethnically Baluchi, a Sunni minority group, native to Iran, Afghanistan and the Western Frontier Province of Pakistan. The US government paid this group, and others, to create instability in Iran and shake the country’s Sunni leadership. The Atlantic reports that other countries (including Israel and Saudi Arabia) were involved in these covert programs. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: "Life in Pain" - A story from the medical front line in Afghanistan - “Attention on the FOB, Attention on the FOB, Shamrock Red, Shamrock Red,” a voice calls over the loudspeakers on Forward Operating Base Salerno. “Shamrock Red” means one patient is inbound for the hospital any minute now. It commands medical personnel to return to their stations immediately. The trauma bay is a broad corridor lined with medical supply lockers, computers and X-Ray equipment. Four examination tables are lined up diagonally in the corridor, each one with different color markings on the floor, corresponding to the call signs. The staff hurries to their assigned positions, making last minute preparations. Located on Forward Operating Base Salerno near the city of Khost in Southeast Afghanistan, the 349th Combat Support Hospital’s (CSH) area of responsibility stretches over six provinces in ISAF's Regional Command – East... (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: The Pull of The Taliban - I’ve been one of the select few who have stood in the rubble at Ground Zero amid the aftermath of 9/11 and stood and fought in Taliban controlled territory in southeastern Afghanistan. Having been in these positions I’ve been able to deeply reflect on these situations. Shortly after 9/11, our country had the support from most of the world as we went into Afghanistan and did what we had to do. Upon doing so we made a lot of promises to the Afghan people, however as you all know, our country’s military focus soon shifted to Iraq. The Afghan people are the most patient group of people I have ever met. By the time I got into Afghanistan in 2006, the average Afghan was beginning to wonder when they should start to see all of these promises we had made to them over the previous 5 years. Most of these promises at the ground level were just your basic quality of living improvements and jobs. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Introduction to ANA colonel - This morning after our daily ETT meeting, we met with our interpreters and walked about ½ mile to ANA land. The plan was to meet the ANA colonel and then be introduced to his staff of officers. Before we had a chance to meet and greet, the colonel whisked away our team leader to attend a Brigade staff meeting. The rest of the ETT team accompanied the Support Operations Officer (SPO) to a large setting room. For the next hour my team peppered him with questions about Afghanistan, election runoff, culture, and our ANA Kandak. The officer was very informative and seemed very relaxed talking to my group. After our question and answer session, we met in a large conference room. The furniture was very crude and older than me. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Runoff - It looks like Afghanistan is heading for a runoff election between Karzai and Abdullah. This is a good thing, I think. A runoff will mean we have to wait longer to know who the President will be, it will be expensive, it will take up a lot of ISAF and ASF capacity, and it is not guaranteed to be any freer of fraud. I'm on the side of those who argue that the Afghan government must have a legitimate mandate from the people of the country in order to rule effectively--and in order to make it absolutely clear that this is a struggle between democracy and theocracy, and not simply a battle of warlords as the cynics see it. But I do worry sometimes that the election fraud is more important to us Westerners than to Afghans, who probably didn't expect anything different. It will be a long time yet until Afghanistan is capable of pulling off a modern, fair election. I dunno--should we just accept that this was a valiant but flawed election, and move on? (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: I Can’t Complain - Today, one of our interpreters came into my office and asked how I was. I gave the stock answer: “I can’t complain.” The truth is that I am often seen mumbling under my breath about something that irks me. After he left, however, I thought about my statement, and some of the things that have happened here in Baghdad over the past few months, and how insignificant my troubles seem in comparison to the events that are affecting people like these: - One of custodial staff is a local Iraqi (there are about 10 total). He’s a wonderful man…a father of four children who drags himself out of bed at 4 a.m. every morning (and I mean EVERY morning — he has no weekends off). He traverses the red zone (where all the bombs explode) and makes his way to the Combined Press Information Center to spend his 10-hour work day providing grounds maintenance (in extreme heat) and cleaning up after we fortunate American Soldiers leave here in a few weeks. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Leaving a mark on Iraq - As the 314th PAOC prepares for its departure from Iraq, we felt we could not return home without leaving something behind. Thankfully, we traveled here with a unit filled with gifted artists, and they collectively took up that challenge. With several cans of paint, some new paint brushes, and a projector, the team of SSG Jeremy Fowler, SSG Paul Roberts, SPC Brittany Gardner and PFC Christine Bernat created a mural that adorns the entrance to the Combined Press Information Center. Senior U.S. and Iraqi military and government officials pass by their work as they prepare to speak to a world audience. The mural includes many pertinent elements, such as the skyline of Baghdad, an expansive desert, the crossed swords located near the Memorial to the Unknown Soldier here, and the frequently stunning sunsets. (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: Supporting troops (6/365) Care packages with AnySoldier - Man, did we love care packages! I remember when SP wrote a newsletter for his church. He told his fellow parishioners back home that we wanted Twizzlers and beef jerky. A few weeks later, we were swimming in the stuff! We had so much beef jerky that I made a big jerky dispenser and hung it on the wall in the surgeons' area. Long nights on call were a little easier when we could reach up and grab a bag of teryaki strips to gnaw on as we wrote the dressing plans and evacuation orders for our patients. If you don't have a special troop of your own to send a package, just go to: http://www.anysoldier.com/ and they well send your package along to a deployed soldier who might not have someone sending them goodies. Just think how that soldier will feel when they get back after a dusty hot mission and there is a package waiting for them, just like Christmas. (READ MORE)

the semi-normal, day-to-day life of a female marine: Military Women in the Media - 22 - Army captain Judith tells how she defused 14 Taliban bombs on her first day at work in Afghanistan:A courageous Scots Army captain defused FOURTEEN bombs on her first day at work in Afghanistan. Bomb disposal expert Captain Judith Gallagher risked her life time and time again during a marathon 30-hour shift in the warzone. She narrowly avoided detonating one booby trap with a trigger disguised as a rock on the desert floor. America's 'band of sisters' taking on the Taliban: Staff Sergeant Quitze Garcia and her colleagues have a potential solution for Afghanistan, with the conflict now in its ninth year and concern growing about a Taliban resurgence. "We say that if this was left up to the women, there would be peace. There wouldn't be this sort of fighting," said Garcia. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Pay to Play - As the cool weather finally moves into Afghanistan I have to tell you that from my perspective not much is happening. I am not talking about security incidents – they almost doubled last week from a near all time high the week before. There is lots of villianary going on – the weather is perfect for it – but nothing seems to be really changing. One gets the impression that the players from all sides want to maintain the current status quo because all the sides are benefiting. Last week yet another story about one of the ISAF countries paying the Taliban to keep things on the down low came out. This story implied the French losses in last August action around the Uzbin Valley were directly tied to them failing to maintain the financial arrangements of their predecessors from Italy. There are hundreds of stories about how the Taliban and their various allies are benefiting from the current war as are various government officials and a rouges gallery of warlords. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Pakistan launches Taliban assault - Fierce fighting has broken out as Pakistan's army launched an air and ground offensive against Taliban militants in the South Waziristan area. Officials said 30,000 troops, backed by artillery, had moved into the region where Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is based. Militants were reported to be offering stiff resistance as troops advanced from the north, east, and west. A curfew was imposed in the region before the offensive began. There have been several co-ordinated Taliban attacks in recent days, killing more than 150 people in cities across Pakistan. Pakistan's top army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas confirmed that a fully-fledged assault had begun and said that an offensive could last up to two months. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Fun With Conspiracies - A guy told me his theory about what will happen in January after the elections. He predicts that the Shiite alliance will win. I said that would not be good for the country. He said what's worse is he predicts Ahmad Chalabi will be appointed prime minister. He said Chalabi, who certainly is a member of the alliance, will sneak in unnoticed. Everyone knows Chalabi has wanted very much to become prime minsiter, and this is a way for him to make his dream come true. Frankly I'm not sure how the Iraqi public will react. My guess is not too positively to a Chalabi-led government. Too many people blame him for much that has gone wrong in Iraq. I don't know what to make of this guy's conspiracy theory, just thought it would be fun to share it. (MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Of All the Stupid Things to Say… - Recently a young friend of mine lost someone he loved very much. His 5 yr old cousin… Someone made the statement to him “I know how you feel my goldfish died this morning” He was incredulous. So was I but I was not surprised. I heard many stupid things following Micheal’s death. I sometimes wonder if people think about what they are saying… I doubt it though. I had one Micheal’s friends mom tell me not to feel guilty for not trying to talk Micheal out of going into the Army… she had tried so hard for me. As if my supporting him was somehow at fault for his death. She didn’t even realize that was what she had implied. Later she would tell me God killed Micheal to bring me closer to him. She was shocked when I asked her if God was a terrorist too. To insinuate God would murder your family and inflict pain and fear to control you and force you to follow him would be the same exact thing the terrorist are doing right? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Jundallah kills senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders - A Sunni resistance movement took credit for killing two senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders and 27 other officers in a suicide attack in southeastern Iran. Jundallah, or the Soldiers of God, detonated a car bomb at a meeting of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commanders and Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in Pishin in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan. Brigadier General Nour Ali Shoushtari, the deputy commander for the IRGC's ground forces, and Brigadier Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, the IRGC's provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan, were killed in the attack, according to Press TV. In a press release on its website, Jundallah, also claimed the commanders of Iranshahr Corps, Sarbaz Corps, the Amir al Mo'menin Brigade were also killed in the attack. Twenty-eight military officers and civilians were reported to have been wounded in the strike. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Boot Mamas will prevail - Since Daniel signed on with the ‘Semper Fi’ folks about three years ago, I can see just about every emotional hurdle I leapt, jumped, and in some cases, staggered over. I was a bit dewy-eyed, to be sure, but I made a conscious effort to look on the positive side of every situation. It’s not hard to travel to the land of worry, negativity, and criticism--I was staying far away from that. Last Monday I listened as new Marine moms talked about boot camp, boot leave, deployments and phone calls. Some stumbled over the acronyms that will become part of their everyday speech. These are the new initiates; the 'boot mamas' of the Marines. It’s tough, being a military mom. We’re not enlisted; we were drafted. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Start and Stop - More and more on Afghanistan-- I wrote below that this whole bit in Afghanistan is about to get more interesting, as well as more exciting, and not necessarily in the good way. Today I would like to offer a few points of discussion from my vantage point, treading lightly as always around terrain that is not mine. We have here a conundrum: sorting out the clear and fair winner of an election, according to the law, is of course the proper thing to do. However, we also need to recognize the practical consequences and understand what is probably going to happen in the interim. In my view, the runoff is going to put the brakes temporarily on strategic progress. The loss of time and momentum will, we hope, be worth the tradeoff if the process and the result is seen as putting a lid on an open question. In another country, the stability of institutions would be enough to carry the people through the period of uncertainty; here, it don't work that way. Not yet. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Soldiers provide security by Chevy Suburban in the Green Zone - Scott Farber is playing the experience card again: "My first jump," he tells a couple of Oregon National Guard soldiers in his squad, "was from a balloon in the Civil War." What else is there to say when you're a decorated former Special Ops Marine and Army Ranger who's now leading a squad of kids more than 20 years younger? What else to do but laugh? This business of providing armed and armored security for dignitaries visiting the U.S. Embassy is one of the cooler missions being conducted by soldiers of the 41st Brigade, but it's hardly Farber's first rodeo. The soldiers in his squad mock his age and experience, but, as one says privately, "I love that guy." His band of soldiers enjoys exposure to the most big shots, with the most autonomy, it seems, of any squad in the brigade. The officers who command the squad are based at Camp Victory, outside the International (or Green) Zone. (READ MORE)

The Quatto Zone: The Ten-Percent Solution - While doing some research for a speech, I rediscovered the following gem from T.E. Lawrence's October 1920 article on the Arab Revolt: Nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals. It can only be ensued by instinct sharpened by thought practising the stroke so often that at the crisis it is as natural as a reflex. If generals rise and fall by how they handle the "irrational tenth" of tactics, then the strategic test of statesmen is surely their capacity to stumble to success amidst even greater uncertainty. And, with respect to Afghanistan, greater uncertainty is all we have at the moment, despite a strategic pause that has allowed American and European bloviators to take their best shots at the issue for more than a month. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: Election limbo, and a visit to the Afghan Parliament - When I first arrived in Kabul back in early September, a big tree at the guest house garden was full of fragant figs that ripened in the intense afternoon sun. Now, it's mid-October, and that tree is devoid of fruit.The nights are cold, and the afternoon warmth seems to weaken with each passing day. Yet, still, there is no resolution to the Aug. 20 election to pick a new president. This election aftermath, for sure, can be a bit mind-numbing as you try to track the details of the bureaucratic two-commission process to either declare a winner, or announce a run-off between President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. But this is important stuff both for Afghanistan and the United States now in a ninth year of war in this nation. And the fraud that scarred this election has greatly complicated the Obama Administration's efforts to develop a new Afghan strategy. (READ MORE)

Sarah: Trading Deployments Makes Them Go Faster - Air Force wife Darla made me laugh today with this paragraph: A wise woman once told me that those that haven't experienced deployment or long periods of separated time from spouse/partners can't possibly understand how we feel when someone says something like 'oh he'll be home soon' or 'over half way there!' or 'three months will fly by!' She explained it along the lines of 'why don't you try sticking your head in a doorway and slamming it repeatedly with the door for the next three months or 30 days and see how quickly time flies by.' It's funny how grating it can be when people tell you how quickly they think your deployment has gone. I always feel like saying, "Gee, I sure am glad it's flown by so fast for you!" And I try very hard never to tell other military spouses that they're "almost there!" or how quickly time will fly. I know how much it stinks to say that out loud, even though, truthfully, everyone else's deployment goes so much faster than my own. (READ MORE)

airforcewife: We're EVERYWHERE! - For thirty years (since I was about 5 years old) I have wanted to go to Disney World. How much have I wanted to go to Disney World? I would pick Disney over a cruise to Hawaii. I would pick Disney over a world tour (at least the first time). I would pick Disney World over dinner with Abraham Lincoln if a time machine existed and I were somehow able to secure a special invitation to the White House in 1864. Disney World has been a really big deal on the airforcewife list of things to do. After waiting and planning and saving, we decided this year was the year to go. Everything just fell into place, which is particularly helpful. We expected a big expense, and as we started pricing things out on the Disney website, our expectations proved to be right on target. But then I had a chance encounter with another military spouse, and everything changed. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Another Week Down - That’s it, I guess I’m officially Dutch! Thanks to Linda DeJager and team NOODLES for sending out the Dutch wooden clog slippers, they don’t quite go with my Army ACUs though! They are actually coming in handy, it’s getting pretty chilly in the rooms now that the weather is cooling off outside, it’s only 85 degrees during the day now, brrrrrr. Thanks again Linda from Jere and I both, the candy is great! The second picture this week is of the second Dutch team that I’ve worked with while deployed. We have our heads in the middle of the CT scanner, no it’s not a giant doughnut! Haha. The white swirly things on the picture could be one of two things. 1) could be ghosts of CT patients past, or 2) could be the reflection from the flash on the glass ring in the CT scanner. I’d like to think that it’s the previous, because that would be just way cool! (READ MORE)

The Torch: The Taliban are indeed our enemy--but, what, me worry? - Quite a few people are now saying that al Qaeda are the real AfPak threat, and the Taliban are just nasties with a local focus (see below). Those people should read this, by a NY Times reporter held captive for seven months. And that "local threat" includes nuclear-armed Pakistan (again, see below). What, me worry? Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan. Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers [more here and here], I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Special Delivery - The Nevada Air National Guard C-130H2, tail number 79-0475, radio call sign “Torque 41,” lifts off from Bagram air base on an October morning and turns south, Lieutenant Colonel Billy Tony (pictured) at the controls. In the cargo hold, loadmasters Chief Master Sergeant Gary Lanham and Staff Sergeant Renaye Lavin, a reservist and college student, checks the eight pallets of food and water, each attached to a disposable parachute made of recycled plastic that looks and feels like the material your lawn chair is made from. Somewhere over southern Afghanistan, Lavin will open the cargo ramp, Tony will nose up the plane, and the pallets will slide right out — all five tons of them. The ‘chutes will deploy, and meals for a whole battalion of Marines will float to earth, cushioned on landing by cardboard shock absorbers. Afghanistan’s roads are terrible, where they exist at all. To get around, you fly in helicopters. For resupply, you rely on airlift like Torque 41. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: The old school still applies... - Whenever we deploy, we know about it well in advance--sometimes one to two years in advance. We have time to pack shipping containers filled with plasma televisions for our op centers, overhead projectors, personal belongings, bicycles, gym equipment, lawn chairs, you name it. When we arrive in theater, we will have most of our mission-essential equipment waiting for us there. Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs) remain in Iraq and Afghanistan and get swapped out between rotating units, along with much of the base infrastructure and equipment. In many ways, I fear that we've lost our ability to rapidly deploy to hot spots around the world. I've been in light infantry divisions my entire career, and remembered when we used to pride ourselves on the ability to rapidly move ourselves anywhere in the world--be it to Panama in 1989, or to New Orleans in 2005. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Winning Over the Taliban? Fat Chance - U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is premised in part on the hope that the Afghan government can reconcile with “lower case T” Taliban: Fighters who are motivated by the promise of a paycheck, not by ideology. Reading two new accounts of life inside Taliban country, it’s hard to be optimistic about that proposition. Over at Foreign Policy, Afghanistan-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn describe life in Kandahar, the traditional heartland of the Taliban. Living outside the confines of blast walls and secure compounds, the two writers describe the omnipresence of the Taliban, who form a parallel administration in the Kandahar region: In Kandahar, the Taliban are a fact of life — not necessarily liked, but present nonetheless. The traditional Pashtun recourse to healthy dollops of pragmatism means that a government official can enjoy live music with a Talib, even while each has full knowledge of who the other is. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Awakening Leader's Tale Illustrates Iraq's Volatility - The Sunni Muslim paramilitary leader's campaign slogan holds the promise of imminent rescue: "Hold on, we are coming." But the aspiring parliamentary candidate, Mustafa Kamal Shibeeb, may not be in a position to deliver on his slogan: He's a fugitive, with murder charges hanging over his head from events at the height of the US troop buildup two years ago. Already, police commandos have tried to grab him twice, only to be blocked by an Iraqi army unit, with tacit support from US forces. (READ MORE)

9th Regional Commando Battalion arrests nine alleged al Qaeda terrorists - The 9th Regional Commando Battalion, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested six alleged al-Qaeda cell members on Oct. 14 in the vicinity of Habbaniyah. The warrants were issued by the Republic of Iraq Higher Judicial Council Magistrate Court. The alleged terrorists are suspected of robbery, murder and are believed to be connected to numerous terrorist activities and crimes. (READ MORE)

Terrorist media cell leader arrested in northern Iraq - 4th Emergency Response Battalion constables, with U.S. advisors, arrested the director of a terrorist media cell in the Salah ad-Din province Oct. 16.The arrested individual, Dr. Nusayr Khudr Sulaymen, is suspected of being the director of the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi terrorist media cell who were detained Oct. 4. The media cell is responsible for spreading terrorist propaganda throughout northern Iraq. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police capture suspected al Qaeda VBIED maker - The North Precinct Iraqi Police and Counter Terrorism Unit, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist cell leader Oct. 14 during an operation in the Al Anbar province. Under the direction of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Al Anbar Operations Center, Iraqi security forces arrested a suspected al Qaeda vehicle-borne IED operative and builder suspected to be leading a cell operating in the Ramadi area. (READ MORE)

Suspected al Qaeda terrorist captured in Iraq - Al Qaim Special Weapons and Tactics, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested a suspected terrorist and murderer Oct. 14 during an operation in Al Anbar province. The warrant was issued for the suspected terrorist’s arrest by the Investigative Court of Al Qaim. (READ MORE)

Baghdad VBIED-network member among 7 arrested in Sunday security operations - Iraqi Security Forces arrested seven suspected terrorists today during four separate security operations conducted in the greater Baghdad area and Mosul. An ISF team, with U.S. advisors, arrested a individual in southern Baghdad last night based on a warrant. The individual is a suspected member of an al-Qaeda in Iraq vehicle-borne improvised explosive network responsible for multiple vehicle bombings across Baghdad in April. (READ MORE)

Bomb Disposal School Graduates Training Course - Thirty-four students graduated from the Iraqi Army Bomb Disposal School Level III Training Course located at the Besmaya Combat Training Center Oct. 11. Students completed more than 377 hours of classroom and practical exercise training throughout a 12-week period. The training courses at the Iraqi Army Bomb Disposal School parallel the International Mine Action Standards levels of certification I through IV. (READ MORE)

IA discovers weapons cache in west Mosul - A company from the 2nd Iraqi Army Division discovered a weapons cache in the Al-Yarmook neighborhood in west Mosul while conducting a mission to clear rubble in the area, Oct. 15. The weapons cache consisted of 69 mortar rounds of various sizes to include 11 130-mm and 23 120-mm mortar rounds. Most of the ordnance were empty shells and did not contain explosives. (READ MORE)

Hit SWAT captures former Iraqi security officer after prison escape - Hit Special Weapons and Tactics personnel, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested Akram Hamid Abd Al Fallah Oct.15 after a warrant was issued by the Hit Superior Judicial Council. The suspect, a former member of Provincial Security Force 5, was arrested for allegedly setting up a fake checkpoint and robbing passersby near Baghdad. After his original arrest for corruption charges, he escaped from custody and fled the area. (READ MORE)

Food, water delivered to residents in need - A poor neighborhood near Mahmudiyah, south of the Iraqi capital, was surprised with much needed water and food brought by U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers, Oct. 15. Soldiers with the 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team and the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Battalion, 25th Brigade provided humanitarian aid in the form of water and 275 bags of food; each containing cooking oil, sugar, tea, rice, lentils and evaporated milk. (READ MORE)

Troops help open school, more to come - Children laughed and talked excitedly throughout the re-opening ceremony of the Zuhair Bin Abysulma Primary School in western Baghdad, Oct. 15. The $67,000 refurbishment project was a joint effort between U.S. troops and the local government that came to fruition after three months of hard work, said Navy Lt. Ross Simpson, a civil affairs officer, from Dalton, Ga. (READ MORE)

White House Seeks to Explain its Hesitations on Afghanistan - The White House has issued its strongest warning yet that President Karzai cannot count on continued US support if he fails to accept that Afghanistan’s fraudulent election has critically undermined his authority. President Obama was said yesterday to be more concerned at “whether there’s an Afghan partner” worth defending than with the politically fraught question of how many more troops to send, according to Rahm Emanuel, Mr Obama’s chief of staff and a central figure in White House deliberations on Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Decision on Afghan Troops May Wait - The White House signaled Sunday that President Obama would postpone any decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan until the disputed election there had been settled and resulted in a government that could work with the United States. As an audit of Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 election ground toward a conclusion, American officials pressed President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff vote or share power with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. (READ MORE)

US Says Credible Partner in Afghanistan is Crucial - Before President Obama commits additional troops to Afghanistan, the US needs assurances that Afghan leaders preside over a stable government that is legitimate in the eyes of its citizens, top Democratic officials said in TV appearances Sunday. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, on CNN's "State of the Union," said the overriding question facing the Obama administration is whether it has "a credible Afghan partner for this process that can provide the security and the type of services that the Afghan people need." (READ MORE)

Questions About Al Qaeda's Next Move - The plot for the Sept. 11 attacks was set in motion in late 1999 from a cluster of Al Qaeda training camps near Kandahar. In those dusty Afghan compounds, Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants signed off on the plan, set up a special training program, and selected lead members of the hijack team. Ten years later, could Al Qaeda return to Afghanistan and use it again as a launching pad for terrorist strikes? The question has taken on heightened urgency as the Obama administration searches for a new war strategy, and Pakistan carries out its first major military offensive in the tribal region that Al Qaeda has called home since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. (READ MORE)

US Sets its Sights on Taliban's 'Little T' - "Not every Taliban is an extremist ally," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week. One of the primary tasks of President Obama's Afghanistan strategy review, she said, is "trying to sort out who is the real enemy." Trying to persuade those insurgents deemed less extreme to lay down their arms or switch sides will be a major component of the Obama administration's new approach, regardless of whether the president approves the massive troop deployments requested by his military commander, according to administration officials. (READ MORE)

A Variety of Sources Feed Into Taliban’s War Chest - The Taliban in Afghanistan are running a sophisticated financial network to pay for their insurgent operations, raising hundreds of millions of dollars from the illicit drug trade, kidnappings, extortion and foreign donations that American officials say they are struggling to cut off. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed an elaborate system to tax the cultivation, processing and shipment of opium, as well as other crops like wheat grown in the territory they control, American and Afghan officials say. (READ MORE)

Diplomats Urge Karzai to Accept Election Results - Global pressure continues to mount Sunday on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a possible runoff in Afghanistan's disputed election. Senior foreign officials have urged Mr. Karzai to accept the findings of a fraud investigation by a UN-backed panel that could decide whether the nation's disputed election goes to a runoff. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, US Senator John Kerry and former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met with Mr. Karzai in Kabul Saturday ahead of the long-delayed announcement by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). (READ MORE)

Emanuel Says US Must Gauge Viability of Government in Kabul - White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday that before a decision is made on whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan, the United States must assess the strength and viability of the Afghan government. "It would be reckless to make a decision on US troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the US troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country," Emanuel said on CNN's "State of the Union." (READ MORE)

Karzai Backers Take Harder Line on Recount - Supporters of incumbent President Hamid Karzai demonstrated to protest "foreign interference" in Afghanistan's drawn-out election process, as results of a vote recount were postponed and Karzai campaign officials suggested his camp may not accept the official results. As they await the recount, which aims to throw out fraudulent votes, officials from the Karzai campaign cast aspersions on the process, centering their criticism on the United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which is re-tallying the numbers. (READ MORE)

Afghan Leaders Under Pressure to Avoid Election Run-off - Afghanistan's political leaders are coming under intense pressure to do a power-sharing deal to avoid a second-round run off which would put the lives of Nato troops at risk. An Electoral Complaints Commission investigation into allegations of fraud is understood to have knocked support for Hamid Karzai, the president, down to between 47 and 49 per cent. Under electoral rules, the result should trigger a run-off between him and his nearest rival Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in the Aug 20 poll. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Troops Battle Militants in South Waziristan - Pakistani forces exchanged heavy fire on Sunday with militants defending their heartland in the mountains of the South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Pakistani troops, backed by fighter jets, continue to advance into the main sanctuary of militants, on the second day of a full-scale ground offensive against Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents. Officials say 60 militants and five Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the first 24 hours of the operation. (READ MORE)

By Air and Ground, Pakistani Soldiers Penetrate Militant Heartland - The Pakistani military moved deeper into South Waziristan on Sunday, hitting Taliban targets with F-16 fighter jets, as troops supported by helicopter gunships climbed higher into the mountainous terrain, according to military personnel and a spokesman for the militants. Pakistani Air Force fighter jets struck the militant-held towns of Makeen, Ladha and Kotkai in the heart of Taliban territory, and ground forces have occupied territory on the edge of the militant enclave, Pakistani military personnel said. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Claims Gain In Offensive On Taliban - Pakistan soldiers moved to try to encircle Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the South Waziristan mountains near the Afghan border, in a high-stakes offensive aimed at crushing the insurgency in its toughest stronghold. Military reports Sunday indicated soldiers, whose offensive began before dawn Saturday, were making advances amid stout resistance. Some 30,000 Pakistani soldiers were moving into the area from three directions to face as many as 10,000 Pakistani and foreign militants, many of them veterans of battles in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Presses Drive Against Militants - The Pakistani army pushed farther into a mountainous Taliban and al-Qaeda haven Sunday, as civilians continued to flow out of an area that has become a full-fledged battleground. On the second day of a ground offensive in the restive border region of South Waziristan, the military said at least 60 militants and five soldiers had been killed. The Pakistani Taliban, which the government says has plotted a cascade of recent attacks on security forces from its base in the area, told the Associated Press that its fighters had inflicted "heavy casualties" against the army. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Closes in on Taliban Leader's South Waziristan Strongholds - Pakistan's armed forces are closing in on the stronghold of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, with heavy losses reported on both sides. Troops were advancing towards the towns of Makeen and Ladha in the mountainous region of South Waziristan, in a military offensive that could prove decisive in the country's struggle against Islamic extremism. On the second day of the long-awaited ground operation, soldiers on three sides approached the area held by the fearsome Mehsud tribe, which forms the backbone of the Pakistani Taliban movement. (READ MORE)

Taliban Resists Major Assault by Pakistan - Pakistani troops pounded Taliban forces for a second day yesterday in the lawless South Waziristan tribal area as reports emerged that as many as 12,000 local and foreign militants were fiercely resisting the long-awaited ground offensive. As many as 28,000 soldiers have flooded the South Waziristan tribal agency in recent days, sealing off the Taliban stronghold in the central west of the Mehsud clan-dominated region, away from the Afghanistan border, and seizing several Taliban bases. (READ MORE)

Taleban Militants Put Up Stern Resistance to South Waziristan Offensive - The Pakistani Army faced resistance from the Taleban on the second day of an assault on the mountainous tribal region of South Waziristan yesterday, raising fears of a drawn-out battle. The army said that it had made significant advances and killed at least 60 militants in the first 24 hours of the long-awaited ground offensive on a region considered to be the main Taleban and al-Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan. Residents and local officials from the area on the Afghan border said that the insurgents were attacking military convoys as they advanced from three directions on the area controlled by Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taleban leader. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Says 60 Militants Killed; Taliban Says it Pushed Back Troops - On the second day of Pakistan's major offensive to uproot the Taliban from tribal areas along the Afghan border, the military claimed to have killed 60 militants, while the Taliban countered that it had fended off the troops' initial onslaught. Wildly differing interpretations of progress being made on both sides are expected to continue as the military proceeds with its most crucial ground operation so far in its war against Islamic militants. Pakistani army officials said Sunday that 60 militants and five soldiers were killed during the first 24 hours of the offensive... (READ MORE)

Flow of Terrorist Recruits Increasing - Midway through a propaganda video released last month by a group calling itself the German Taliban, a surprise guest made an appearance: a cleanshaven, muscular gunman sporting the alias Abu Ibrahim the American. The gunman did not speak but wore military fatigues and waved his rifle as subtitles identified him as an American. The video contained a stream of threats against Germany if it did not withdraw its troops from the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Why South Waziristan Offensive Won't Help US in Afghanistan - Pakistan's offensive into South Waziristan is targeting the terrorists who have wreaked havoc in Pakistan during recent weeks and not those attacking American troops in Afghanistan. None of the three terror groups singled out as the greatest threat to American troops - according to the commander of US forces in Afghanistan - is based in South Waziristan. This has been a notable feature of Pakistani antiterror efforts from 9/11 to today. (READ MORE)

Inside the Islamic Emirate - I was one of dozens of journalists who had written articles detailing how Al Qaeda and the Taliban had turned the tribal areas into their new stronghold after being driven from Afghanistan in 2001. I had watched the Pakistani government, then led by President Pervez Musharraf, largely stand by as the Taliban murdered tribal elders and seized control of the area. Now, an abstract foreign policy issue was deeply personal. When my wife and family learned that I was in the tribal areas, their distress would increase exponentially. They would expect that I would never return. (READ MORE)

An Intermediate Option - Many ideas for "intermediate options" for Afghanistan are gaining momentum in the Washington debate. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's request for tens of thousands of additional NATO (meaning US) troops stands at one extreme, and a return to the minimalist counterterrorism strategy associated with former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld stands at the other. Those uncomfortable with both are proposing alternatives. (READ MORE)

Yes, the Taleban are Being Thumped But... - The Pakistani Government and Army have finally decided to heed the words of a former ruler: “No patchwork scheme - and all our recent schemes, blockades, allowances etc are mere patchwork - will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end will here be peace.” Did Pervez Musharraf, the former President, say that? No, it was Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, more than 100 years ago. And for both strategic and humanitarian reasons Curzon added: “I do not want to be the person to start the machine.” (READ MORE)

Europe's Angst over Afghanistan - As the president and his National Security Council privately debate whether to send tens of thousands of troops to war, America's European allies watch with a mixture of anxiety and anguish. They know that if the deployment goes forward, they will be asked to make their own difficult and politically costly contributions of soldiers or other personnel. But they are, if anything, even more worried that the American president will choose a feckless strategy for what they consider a critical mission. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Kill, Detain Militants - Afghan and international forces killed militants today in a clash in which a woman and child died in the crossfire, killed several more enemy fighters in a separate operation, and arrested more than a dozen militants yesterday who had set up an illegal checkpoint, military officials reported. Militants attacked Afghan National Police and an international security force working to interdict suspected militants believed responsible for attacks in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province today. (READ MORE)

Roadside bombing wounds 8 police in E. Afghanistan - Eight Afghan National Police (ANP) were wounded on Saturday as their van hit a roadside bomb in Paktia province of eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, police said. "The incident occurred at around 10 a.m. local time (0530 GMT) in Ibrahim Khil area near the capital city Gardez when an ANP unit was on routine patrol by their vehicle," deputy to provincial police chief Ghulam Dastgir Rustamyar told Xinhua. (READ MORE)

French FM pays unannounced visit to Afghanistan - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner paid a surprise visit to Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday, a private television channel reported. During his stay to Afghanistan the French Foreign Minister would hold meeting with his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta and other Afghan officials. (READ MORE)

Afghan leader won't commit to accepting voter fraud rulings - Afghanistan’s election crisis deepened Saturday as President Hamid Karzai resisted international pressure to accept fraud rulings that could force him into a runoff with his main challenger. Meanwhile, three more American service members were reported killed in separate bombings as the U.S. and its international partners sought a way out of Afghanistan’s political impasse, a crisis that threatens the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the future of the U.S.-led military mission. (READ MORE)

Unresolved Afghan vote revives fears of looming civil war - The still unresolved presidential election in Afghanistan is having a disruptive effect throughout the country, with the possibility of outright violence between political rivals in a key northern province. The growing dispute pits the governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, an ethnic Tajik, against Juma Khan Hamdard, an ethnic Pashtun commander who once served as governor of a neighboring province and who now governs Paktia province in the southeast part of the country. (READ MORE)

11 militants killed in latest Pakistan offensive - Pakistani fighter jets have pounded the militants' hideouts in South Waziristan, killing at least 11 insurgents, as the security forces began a fresh offensive against the Taliban in the area, the Online news agency reported. Sources said the latest offensive that began Saturday has left two soldiers dead and five injured. (READ MORE)

The knock at the door: three Afghan war widows talk about the day they lost their hero - The knock on the door can come in the middle of the night, or while you're feeding the kids their breakfast. For the wives and girlfriends of men serving in Afghanistan, it's the sound they most dread. They say afterwards they knew who it was and what it meant before they even opened the door. At the time of writing, 221 British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan. By the time you read this, only a miracle will prevent there having been more. (READ MORE)

US senator warns on Afghan troops - US Senator John Kerry has said it would be irresponsible to send more US troops to Afghanistan before the result of the presidential election there is clear. Mr Kerry's comments came as foreign officials pressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept that he might have to face a run-off. (READ MORE)

Pakistan takes fight to Taleban - PAKISTAN launched a full-scale ground offensive on Taleban militants in South Waziristan yesterday as 30,000 troops backed by artillery advanced from three directions. The assault follows a string of militant attacks that have killed more than 175 people in recent weeks. They began with the suicide bombing of a UN office in Islamabad and included assaults on the army headquarters, police and the public. (READ MORE)

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