October 21, 2009

From the Front: 10/21/2009

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

Michael Yon: Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark - 21 October 2009 - In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008. During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. (READ MORE)

Julia Mahlejd: May the Best Cheater Win - Nothing quite says ‘democracy’ as a system that sanctions two certified fraudsters to legitimately vie for a presidency. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) findings of widespread fraud in the August 20 presidential elections have led to a rather curious result. The two men now known to have committed the most fraud are not punished but rewarded by being allowed to compete (again) for the top prize of the Afghan presidency. Afghans are incredulous. “How can it be,” says one educated Kabuli, “that we have to choose between two known criminals? Now that we know this, should we not remove them and choose between two others who committed no fraud?” The Afghans I have been speaking to see it this way: they will now know for sure something we have all long suspected, that the president of Afghanistan (whichever of the two it ends up being) is not above nefarious means to get what he wants. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: DoD Announces Units For Afghanistan Rotations And Deployment - The Department of Defense announced today major units scheduled to deploy as part of upcoming rotations of forces operating in Afghanistan. The announcement involves two active duty brigade combat teams totaling 7,700 personnel, and one National Guard brigade with approximately 3,500 personnel. The scheduled rotation for these forces will begin in the spring of 2010. Specific units receiving deployment orders include: 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky. - 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment (SCR), Vilseck, Germany - 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard. The spring/summer rotation of the 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division (3,700 personnel) and the 2nd SCR (4,000 personnel) continues the U.S. commitment to maintain the current level of forces assigned to the NATO-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Runoff election announced - I had to wake up early this morning and pick up one of our teammates from the LZ at Camp Julian. I stopped at the DFAC and grabbed a hot cup of coffee to pacify my caffeine craving along with a blueberry muffin. If I timed it right, we would return in time for breakfast. There was a lot of smog blanketing the city this morning as a result of citizens burning firewood to heat their homes. The mercury has dropped down to the 40’s in the morning and late at night. Soon winter will be upon us. I didn’t have to wait long before hearing the metallic thumping of rotors in the distance. One of our teammates was coming to visit. At first I thought the helicopter was going to miss the LZ and land on top of me. But the pilot hovered for a few seconds, spun around the nose of the helo and touched down perfectly in the center of the LZ. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: host of problems awaits Afghan election runoff - Second time's the charm? Yesterday morning, incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai capitulated to the results of a U.N.-backed fraud investigation that dropped his share of the troubled August 20 presidential ballot below the 50 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah (Financial Times, New York Times, AP, AFP, Independent, Los Angeles Times). U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the Afghan president, though the Taliban were less than thrilled, as a spokesman for the militant group promised a wave of "different techniques" to disrupt the second balloting, scheduled for November 7 and already presenting a host of logistical problems for Afghan bureaucrats (McClatchy, AP, Times of London, Pajhwok). Abdullah reportedly contacted Karzai last night and has agreed to take place in the second round election (Reuters). (READ MORE)

J Alexander Thier: The rule of law prevails - Today in Kabul both President Karzai and the Independent Election Commission announced that they would accept the findings of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and agreed to a runoff election on November 7 this year. The ECC released its findings on Sunday, throwing out some 1.25 million ballots from the August 20 contest due to fraud. With nearly one million of those ballots coming from Karzai's tally, his percentage of the vote dropped to 48.3 percent, below the 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff. Dr. Abdullah had nearly 200,000 votes thrown out due to fraud, but saw his overall percentage climb to 31.5. President Karzai said in a press conference that he and his government "welcome the decision made by the Independent Election Commission, we believe the decision is legitimate, legal and according to the constitution of Afghanistan." (READ MORE)

Ahsan Butt: Four things to remember during the Waziristan war - None of the following are particularly ground-breaking insights, but I wanted to collate a couple of thoughts on this conflict today. 1. None of us can know how the war is actually going. Both the Taliban and the Pakistan Army are opaque organizations that do not like revealing too much about themselves at the best of times. In a guerrilla war, however, you can amplify those instincts a hundred-fold. The war for public opinion in such wars is absolutely vital. Not just in terms of justice and the question of which side is "right" but also in terms of winning and the question of which side is on top. This is especially true of militant organizations such as the Taliban in civil wars, as they must keep morale high for recruitment purposes. If it becomes clear that one side is losing, it will make it very hard to sustain the war-fighting effort. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Request 1: Group Photo - Del, you asked, and here it is. A couple weeks ago, our unit was visited by MG Paul Hamm, Commander, 412th Theater Engineer Command (our higher headquarters). For those of you in Alabama who attended our farewell event at the Army Reserve Training Center on Montevallo Road, he was our guest speaker. Well, this visit gave us lots of opportunities to show off the unit. Each of our section NCOICs got to make a presentation and show off their Soldiers. Here is your group photo from that day Del — it’s outside the Combined Press Information Center. (MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Silver Linings - The lack of election violence is a very good point, one that's not often noticed. (The other "Coll"--Juan Cole, to be exact--has been warning about election violence every day, without ever acknowledging that there hasn't been any.) I still have a problem feeling good about the fact that this runoff came thanks to 1/3 of the votes for Karzai being tossed out. I'm furious at him and the men who work for him for trying to sabotage the brave actions of the Afghans who voted and the security forces who protected them. I must admit, I have some sympathy with this post at Registan (not written by Foust): The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) findings of widespread fraud in the August 20 presidential elections have led to a rather curious result. The two men now known to have committed the most fraud are not punished but rewarded by being allowed to compete (again) for the top prize of the Afghan presidency. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Army Supports Families of Fallen - I’m always on the lookout for articles that would be helpful to military families and found several to share. The Army’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command posted several articles recently that highlight Survivor Outreach Services and the service’s ongoing commitment to families of the fallen. The articles cover everything from changes in survivor support to a feature on Julia Compton Moore, who was a champion of survivor support services. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: On NATO collaboration - I see Gen. Hillier's in the news again for his comments on NATO. Anne Appelbaum said it well yesterday: "Only very rarely do the casualties of one country make it into the media, the political debates or the prime ministerial speeches of another country. There has been an international coalition operating in Afghanistan since 2001. NATO has been in charge of that coalition since 2003. Yet to read the British press, one would think the British are there almost alone, fighting a war in which they have no national interest. The same is true in France and in the Netherlands... There is almost no sense anywhere that the war in Afghanistan is an international operation, or that the stakes and goals are international, or that the soldiers on the ground represent anything other than their own national flags and national armed forces..." (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: No Dateline & Viva Ras Vegas - No, we don't know when The Hubs will be back. As everyone knows, things have changed a lot over there and adjustments have been made. Well, it's war. While we were in Vegas, I realized it was one year ago that he left for Fort Bla Bla and we stayed here to let Kid2 finish out her middle school years, and let Kid1 finish high school. I also had to shut down the practice (which took 9 months) and wait out an unfavorable housing market. Since then, we've seen him ...4 times? Can't complain there are all sorts of people who do with less. I mean, people not even in the military who rarely see their loved ones because of circumstances. But the time has gone quickly, and life is good. In the meanwhile, the 3 of us will just keep trotting along as we have always done! Let's just say, the milblogging community makes the passage a whole lot softer. (READ MORE)

The Life of the Wife: The D word - No, not divorce or even deployment. Dependent. A few weeks ago, I met someone who had only interacted with my husband while on a month long training exercise away from family. When we were introduced, he said, "You're [Hubble's] dependent?" (Turning to Hubble) "Dude! I didn't know you had any dependents!" Now, I don't know why this guy didn't know my hubby was married as he wears his ring everyday. I guess he has never-married bachelor syndrome where he doesn't notice things like that. Hubble told the dude he was a dork and that I preferred the term spouse or wife. The guy didn't seem to get it and kept referring to spouses and children as dependents. Now, I get it--I do depend on him to receive my military benefits, but I don't refer to my husband solely as "service member" or "soldier". I refer to him as my husband or by his actual name. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike targets al Qaeda in North Waziristan - US aircraft have struck at al Qaeda in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Unmanned aircraft, likely Predators or Reapers, operated by the US targeted a compound run by al Qaeda operatives in the village of Spalaga in the Mir Ali region. Pakistani intelligence officials put the number killed at three. No senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied terror group leaders have been reported killed. An airstrike on Sept. 7 in the Mir Ali region was thought to have killed Mustafa al Jaziri, a senior military commander for al Qaeda and a member of the military shura; and Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander of the Harkat-ul Jihad Islami (HuJI), an al Qaeda-linked terror group that operates in Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bombers kill 5 in attack at Islamabad's Islamic university - The Taliban have launched their first counterstrike outside of the tribal areas since the military began its ground offensive in South Waziristan. Two suicide bombers entered the campus of Islamabad's International Islamic University and detonated their vests at the men's Islamic jurisprudence faculty and women's cafeteria. Five Pakistanis were killed in the blasts and 29 more were reported wounded. The suicide blasts were condemned as attacks against Islam. "These so-called Islamists are enemies of Islam and enemies of Pakistan," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Geo News at Islamabad's main hospital. The Taliban have repeatedly attacked their enemies in mosques and other places of worship. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Military moms have plenty of 'care' to spare - Sometimes, a little ray of happiness shines on your day unexpectedly; like this email I got from Marine Mom Janice who described the last homecoming for HMM 166: “Another Marine Mom, Sarah, with a son on the Bonhomme Richard sent me the link to your blog & 'A Son's Story' slide show. She said I should check it out because she saw my son's name listed on the board & she knew my son was in the same unit as Daniel. Not only are they in the same unit/squadron, but they are very goodfriends. Since Daniel & Ashley had Andrew over for BBQ's & other dinners & they 'hang out' together, I wanted to meet him. I had arrived at the hangar at 7:30am and watched as all their gear was unloaded. Since Andrew was arriving by bus with his Dad, (he was on the Tiger Cruise) I had a l-o-n-g wait & spent quite a bit of time looking at all the names on the gear. I was looking for Andrew's but found out later he had it with him." (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Change 1 to Plan B - I must say I didn't give our allies enough credit for being able to grunt out a short-notice runoff-- apparently they're on it like crosshairs on a Kennedy: “Afghanistan's election commission Tuesday ordered a Nov. 7 runoff in the disputed presidential poll after a U.N.-led investigation voided thousands of fraudulent ballots, dropping incumbent Hamid Karzai's votes below 50 percent of the total. Karzai accepted the ruling by the commission ‘legitimate, legal and constitutional,’ agreeing to a second round vote. The announcement came two months to the day after the first round vote and follows weeks of political uncertainty at a time when Taliban strength is growing.” Hell, I'm pleased to retract my previous opinion. But I'll stand by another one-- whatever happens, it won't be dull! STAND BY FOR HEAVY ROLLS WHILE THE SHIP COMES ABOUT... (READ MORE)

TK: Afghan Election Runoff, Redux - It’s official, there will be a runoff election in Afghanistan. I see this ending in similar fashion to the first round, Karzai will win, there will be rampant fraud, and opponents will cry foul. I would say, though, that the runoff – if Afghans vote – could actually legitimize whoever ends up the victor. But, to what degree is it really possible to legitimize any head of state in Afghanistan at this point? Karzai’s 4 year bout with palace fever, combined with blatant fraud and low turnout in the first round, have served to weaken Kabul to the point where it would take a miracle to rescue national government legitimacy. I doubt that a runoff will accomplish this, but it may be a step in the right direction. As Steve Coll writes: “In Afghanistan, despite possibly decisive fraud, the opposition has barely thrown a rock. Abdullah Abdullah, the aggrieved second-place finisher, just holds press conferences in his garden." (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: Lunch at the Herat - The Herat Restaurant sits in the heart of Shar-e-Naw district, an upscale area of shops and offices. Once you step inside, if the sun still has enough warmth, make your way through the restaurant and out a back door. You'll emerge in a huge courtyard roughly the size of a city block. There, you find fig trees, potted geraniums and a curious collection of animals. A ram with a fine rack of horns grazes in the grass. There are chickens, peacocks and turkeys in mesh cages. White ducks bathe in plastic bowls before waddling up to your table. This courtyard menagerie reflects the eclectic tastes of the owner, a businessman from the western city of Herat who has operated this restaurant for many years. Before 2001, the Herat was often frequented by Taliban soldiers and government officials. Today, lots of Karzai administration bureaucrats dine here. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Gobsmacking cynicism, or, gosh, what's an Afghan to think, eh? - First, from Milnews.ca: AGAIN with the "Special Envoy"? Earlier, from Paul Well's blog at Maclean's magazine: Hey look: Holbrooke’s getting a new temp... Then something changed. Instead of the Liberals asking for an interlocutor for Holbrooke, Holbrooke asked. Maclean’s has learned that the Harper government is on the verge of appointing a member of the Canadian government who will work as part of Holbrooke’s Washington team. “Canada is currently considering potential candidates for an assignment in Mr. Holbrooke’s office,” Jamie Christoff, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman, wrote in an email. “This contribution is being considered as we are partnering even more closely with the U.S. to deliver on crucial governance, reconstruction and development work in Afghanistan.”... (READ MORE)

Sarah: Just Another Day - It's been an eternity since I've heard from my husband. OK, it was just last Thursday, but for some reason it feels really long. And it's playing tricks on my head by now. Yesterday I had nothing to do and was wearing sweatpants around the house. I actually had the thought that maybe I ought to dress up or look a little nicer, just in case casualty notification showed up at the door. Then I thought maybe I ought to clean up my bedroom a little, so they wouldn't see the pile of underpants I had folded but not put away. And then I started telling myself I was being silly and to just relax. But part of me was nagging that I would regret it if I had to excuse myself from notification to go put away the laundry. Round and round like a crazy person after only five days of unexpected absence. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Grant Kippen Comes Through, The Rule Of Law Prevails. Afghans Return To Polls Nov. 7. - While scores of greasy diplomats, would-be power brokers and other such backroom characters have been slinking in and out of the presidential palace in Kabul in recent weeks, a quiet Canadian has been doing his job as the head of Afghanistan's Election Complaints Commission. The result of the commission's work is today's news that Afghan law has been upheld, the Afghan constitution has prevailed, and the Afghan people will be returning to the polls November 7. Several weeks ago, I noticed that Grant Kippen's name was about to go down in the annals of Afghan history. This has now happened, although you can bet that everyone from John Kerry to Peter Galbraith will be claiming credit that is rightfully due to Kippen and his Afghan colleagues. While everyone else has been throwing hissy fits, setting their hair on fire or otherwise trying to meddle their way to some pact that would please the Afghan elites: (READ MORE)

Kevin Knodell: For Iraqi Terp, A Happy Ending - When I write here, it’s rarely about something uplifting. It’s generally about religious fanatics bombing markets, ethnic militias launching genocidal campaigns, hamstrung peacekeepers fighting a losing battle in some far off land, or about misappropriation of military resources. Every once in awhile though, something good does happen in this world. Awhile back I wrote about the danger faced by Iraqi interpreters hired by coalition forces. Those dangers have not gone away. However, one Iraqi interpreter’s story came to a happy ending, and was recently the center of an AP story. SGT Joey Coon of the Oregon National Guard was able to successfully get his interpreter Bandar safely to the United States: Unlike most other Iraqis who depend on resettlement agencies or relatives to make their way here, Bandar was counting on Joey and a special program that helps translators. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Afghanistan: Door number one, two or three? - A few links today which, once again, explore the various policy options in Afghanistan. What's interesting to note is that it seems that most of these options are actually expressed in far greater detail than they had been before. Anyway, a quick summary of a few of the points. The big debate is whether or not to focus on a counter-terror campaign or a counter-insurgency campaign...both of which involve their own respective Gordian knots of unknowns, variables, black swans, and potential outcomes. Nevertheless, much of the debate has focused on concentrating on one of these two camps--either you're for counterinsurgency or for counter-terror. I'd always hoped that there was something in between these two camps, and I heard it from Tom Ricks just today, during an interview on Fareed Zakaria's GPS (although it's also brought up in CNAS' June publication called "Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan", available on Kindle). (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: Pak Taliban Spooked by Drones, Insider Account Shows - For months, administration and intelligence officials have assured us that the drone war in Pakistan has the jihadists on the run — decimating their leadership, and keeping the rest looking over their shoulders. But there’s been little independent verification of what effect the remotely-piloted planes are really having; journalists and aid workers are kept far from the Predator and Reaper fire zone. The New York Times’ David Rohde offers what I believe is the first inside look at the drone campaign, from the militants’ point of view. It’s part of his sensational series, documenting his kidnapping by the Taliban. And yes, he says, the robotic aircraft have the guerrillas spooked. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Military Seeks Mock Afghanistan for Monster Trucks - The Air Force recently shipped the first batch of lightweight, blast-proof trucks customized for service in Afghanistan, and more are on the way. But lots of heavier Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles are already in the field, and the military plans to retrofit the trucks with a sturdier suspension so they can better handle Afghanistan’s primitive roads. Slapping a new suspension on the MRAP, however, is easier said than done. The requirement for an upgrade first emerged last year; by mid-summer, only a handful of the trucks had been retrofitted. Making matters more complicated, the military has ordered trucks from several different original manufacturers. (READ MORE)

Last of the Iraqis: I’m back (Explosions and H1N1 with neglect) - I know it has been a really long time since I last posted but dear readers it was for many reasons, to begin with I was really busy and I really couldn’t find time to write anything, then there was the internet censorship thing and later I received a threat from an international organization aimed to kill Iraqis!! But here am I again…please spread the word. Let’s begin with the explosion thing, I’m sure most of you haven’t heard about explosions in Baghdad for some time and even if you hear that there was an explosion you wouldn’t hear the accurate number of them or where they happened or how many were killed…well, most recently there was an explosion in Adhamiya/ Raghiba Khatoon (known as Camp) by a wired car that targeted the leader of the awakening in that area and lead to the death of many people and severe damage to the buildings nearby including the clinic of a colleague who miraculously didn’t die: (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Kamdesh Troops Were Sitting Ducks: The Importance of Terrain - "Stationed at a remote, undermanned Army outpost in a dangerous patch of northeastern Afghanistan, Stephan Mace knew trouble was brewing. His father says U.S. military commanders should have known that the troops there 'were sitting ducks.'" Is this a sickness within the American military? Take a look once more at the Wanat video linked in a previous article. Now recall a comment left by Slab at Analysis of the Battle of Wanat. "Where I think you hit the nail on the head is when you mention the terrain. The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population." We know that the Taliban are going to conduct mass assaults against our positions. We know that they want the advantage terrain offers them. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Concerns grow about election law delay - The man charged with organizing next January's crucial nationwide elections is fretting that it will soon be too late to hold the poll unless parliament comes up with an election law this week. Faraj Haideri, the head of Iraq's election commission, had given parliament an Oct. 16 deadline to pass the law, saying he needs three months to plan and prepare for the election, scheduled for Jan. 16, 2010. Then he said he could push the deadline to Oct. 20. (READ MORE)

Obama: US Combat Troops Out of Iraq By Next August - US President Barack Obama says the United States still plans to remove all its combat troops from Iraq by next August. Mr. Obama met Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After the meeting, President Obama told reporters he assured the Iraqi leader that the United States will stand by its commitment to withdraw its troops on schedule. (READ MORE)

Former State Dept. Employee Charged - A former State Department program manager in Iraq has been charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to Iraqi construction firms, according to court documents. It appeared to be the first time a State Department employee had been charged in federal court in connection with fraud in the multibillion-dollar US reconstruction effort in Iraq, according to officials familiar with that work. (READ MORE)

Cavalry Soldiers sending vehicles home - The sound of heavy steel treads clanking and the rumble of powerful diesel engines was heard as dust filled the air at the Four Corners staging area here, Oct. 19. The noise from the heavy artillery pieces means the vehicles are on the move, not on a combat mission, but on the way south, to Kuwait. (READ MORE)

Army cancels Brigade’s Iraq deployment - An Army brigade slated to deploy to Iraq in January was relieved of its deployment orders this weekend without current plans for a new mission, Pentagon and Army officials said here yesterday. The 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team was off-ramped by Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, because of the improved security situation there, and not to bolster forces in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. (READ MORE)

Troops support Iraqis during market sweep - U.S. Soldiers here served as advisors while supporting the 2nd Iraqi Army Battalion, 25th IA Brigade during a clearance operation in the Mahmudiyah market, Oct.17. "In the last six weeks there have been about four [improvised explosive devices] and a vehicle-born IED," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Stewart, with Company D, 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. "None have actually been in the market, but they've all been in close proximity." (READ MORE)

Water, power projects aid remote area - The local provincial government, a U.S. State Department-led Provincial Reconstruction Team and U.S. Soldiers here have teamed up to meet the basic needs of Muthanna citizens. The Muthanna province in southern Iraq is a vast area, sparsely populated and dominated by wide expanses of desert. Life here remains much the same as it has for centuries. (READ MORE)

Baghdad Brothers Train Iraqis - At first glance, they don't look like brothers. Staff Sgt. Avery Washington is stoic, even-tempered and wears glasses. Sgt. Steven Barner is the youngest and has a smooth southern drawl while Staff Sgt. Joseph Willett is loud, friendly and has a hearty laugh. "We're pretty much brothers," said Barner with a smile. These three tankers aren't related by blood, but that doesn't matter. (READ MORE)

Small Comforts of Life While Deployed - Being deployed is a sacrifice many Soldiers must endure while serving their country. While deployed, Soldiers miss their families and friends, home-cooked meals and the small comforts of life. Fourteen Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, 488th Quartermaster Company from Fort Polk, La., are taking care of one of our smallest comforts of life – clean clothes. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army, 17th Fires Brigade Conduct Joint Medical Mission - Sunlight glared through the entryway of Basrah Operation Center, cascading off a crowd of Iraqi men, women and children seeking help for a variety of minor ailments such as chronic back pain, burns and allergies. The Soldiers of 17th Fires Brigade and 14th Iraqi Army Division conducted their first joint Medical Military Civic Operations clinic at Basrah Operations Center, Oct. 8, drawing approximately 150 people. (READ MORE)

Logistics Battalion Aids in Retrograde of Western Iraq - With the Marine Corps mission in Iraq coming closer to an end, all of the gear and equipment that has been used since Operation Iraqi Freedom first began, now has to be sent back to the states for repair or to support other missions around the world. Units currently deployed to Iraq are conducting missions to decrease the amount of gear and personnel aboard forward operating bases and combat outposts. (READ MORE)

Troops Re-position to Better Protect Afghans - Even as leaders in Washington struggle with the next steps in Afghanistan, troops there are moving to better protect the Afghan people, NATO and Pentagon officials said today. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force is gradually re-positioning its forces as part of the counterinsurgency strategy of protecting the population. (READ MORE)

Forces Kill Militants, Detain Suspects in Afghanistan - Afghan and international security forces killed militants, detained several suspects and seized weapons today in Afghanistan, military officials reported. A combined force killed enemy militants and detained suspected militants after searching two compounds known to be used by a Taliban commander and his element in Wardak province’s Jaghatu district. (READ MORE)

Coalition Provides Medical Outreach in Afghanistan - Men, women and children from villages near here came to a cooperative medical engagement near Camp Zafar to receive medical care Oct. 6 through 8. Afghan soldiers and civilian medical personnel, with the assistance of Italian, Spanish and U.S. forces, treated more than 300 people every day of the event. (READ MORE)

Pentagon Officials Announce 2010 Afghanistan Deployments - Pentagon officials today announced additional replacement units scheduled to deploy next year to Afghanistan as part of the requirement to maintain the current level of security efforts there, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. More than 11,000 soldiers from three units – two from the active duty Army and one from the Army National Guard - will rotate into Afghanistan in the spring, summer and fall of 2010. (READ MORE)

UN says Afghanistan fires most election officials ahead of run-off - Half of the most senior Afghan district election officials will be replaced, U.N. officials said on Wednesday, to prevent more fraud in a run-off presidential poll. A run-off will be held on Nov. 7. Concerns about a repeat of the widespread fraud that tainted the first round in August cast a long shadow as hasty preparations for the second round kicked off on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

U.S. envoy Holbrooke missing from Afghan talks - President Obama called Richard Holbrooke "one of the most talented diplomats of his generation" when he named the globe-trotting foreign policy expert to be special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But 10 months later, Mr. Holbrooke was anchored in Washington and far from the front lines of diplomacy that led to Tuesday's Afghan election deal. (READ MORE)

Punjabi Taliban threat growing - While U.S. forces battle ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan, Pakistan's dominant ethnic group from its most populous province, Punjab, has increasingly taken control of Taliban forces targeted by the latest Pakistani army offensive. Pakistani authorities say they are concerned that Punjabi Taliban will flee the tribal areas and return to their home province, which already has been the scene of multiple suicide bombings as the army geared up for the ground offensive along the Afghan border that began Oct. 17. (READ MORE)

UN Seeks to Fire 200 Afghan Election Officials Before Runoff Vote - The United Nations says it plans to replace more than half of the top officials involved in overseeing Afghanistan's flawed presidential election before the November 7 runoff. U.N. officials say investigators found that 200 of the 380 district election chiefs in August's presidential vote were linked to polling irregularities or fraud. (READ MORE)

Pakistan hits Taliban, urges NATO to seal border - Pakistani helicopter gunships attacked Taliban bases near the Afghan border on Wednesday as the army urged NATO forces to seal the frontier to stem cross-border movement of militants. Pakistani forces launched an offensive to wrest control of the lawless South Waziristan region on Saturday after militants rocked the country with a string of bomb and suicide attacks in recent weeks, killing more than 150 people. (READ MORE)

Shortage of EU observers for Afghan vote, warns Bildt - The EU will be unable to get its election observers to Afghanistan on time for the second round presidential vote, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt warned on Wednesday. "To mobilise a large contingent in a short time will not be possible. Moreover, the safety situation, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the country is obviously troublesome," Bildt told Swedish public radio. (READ MORE)

France flies three illegal Afghan immigrants back to Kabul - France has flown three Afghan citizens, who were illegally on French soil, to the Afghan capital Kabul, Immigration Minister Eric Besson said Wednesday. The flight, made jointly with British authorities, left Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport near midnight Tuesday and was the first such "charter" carrying forcibly expelled immigrants from France back to their home country in four years. (READ MORE)

Another Afghan Vote Masks U.S. Predicament, AP Says - President Barack Obama's relief at an agreement that could quiet the political crisis over Afghanistan's spoiled election masks his predicament as he weighs an expansion of the unpopular Afghanistan war. The administration says its ambitious plans for Afghanistan rely on a "credible partner" in Kabul. But there is no guarantee that the hastily arranged voting will confer the legitimacy the fraudulent Aug. 20 election lacked. (READ MORE)

Obama Congratulates Karzai on Agreeing to Run-off - US President Barack Obama has called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to personally congratulate him for agreeing to take part in a run-off election on November 7. Afghanistan's election commission called for another round of voting after a UN-backed commission determined the original August balloting was rife with fraud. President Obama says he contacted Hamid Karzai shortly after the Afghan president said he would abide by the results of a presidential election held in August. (READ MORE)

Winter Election Looms as Hamid Karzai Bows to Pressure - President Karzai caved in to intense international pressure yesterday and agreed to compete in a second round run-off to decide Afghanistan’s fraud-ridden presidential elections. Mr Karzai, after days spent threatening to boycott the findings of an inquiry into vote rigging, finally accepted a decision by the country’s two electoral bodies to slash his tally by nearly a million votes, leaving him with 49.67 per cent, just 0.33 per cent below the threshold for an outright win. (READ MORE)

Karzai Accepts Runoff, Ending Political Deadlock - President Hamid Karzai yielded to international pressure and accepted a runoff in Afghanistan's controversial presidential election, ending a debilitating political deadlock and triggering preparations for a new vote on Nov. 7. Mr. Karzai's decision, after days of meetings in Kabul with Sen. John Kerry and phone conversations with world leaders, opened a way out of the political crisis that undermined the legitimacy of the country's democratic process and reinforced the spreading Taliban insurgency. (READ MORE)

Karzai Bows to Pressure, OKs Runoff - President Hamid Karzai's decision to yield to US pressure and accept an election runoff has opened the way for the Obama administration to settle on a strategy for dealing with Afghanistan, including whether to approve the Pentagon's request to send thousands more troops to the fight. The hard-won agreement reached Tuesday sets an 18-day clock ticking on a vote that many fear will also be marred by fraud and violence. (READ MORE)

Karzai Voiced Doubts About Runoff Until Last Moment - After nearly 20 hours of tense, exhausting talks over four days, Sen. John F. Kerry was convinced by midday Tuesday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had accepted the need for a runoff election. But as dignitaries and reporters gathered at the presidential palace in Kabul for the 1 p.m. announcement, Karzai was still not ready. While the world waited, Karzai and Kerry took a long walk through the secluded palace grounds. (READ MORE)

With New Afghan Vote, Path to Stability Is Unclear - President Hamid Karzai’s concession of the need for a runoff election in Afghanistan appears to have prevented his country from slipping into paralysis, but has created a new landscape of risks and uncertainty. Mr. Karzai’s concession was a critical first step toward creating a credible Afghan government, coming after heavy pressure from European and American officials, including veiled threats that his actions could affect pending decisions about troops levels: (READ MORE)

Obama Not Yet Sure of Afghanistan Troop Decision Timing - President Barack Obama has not yet determined whether he will make a decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan before the November 7 election runoff, a US official said Tuesday. "The UN, NATO, the US stand ready to assist the Afghans in conducting the second round," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "Whether or not the president makes a decision before that I don't think has been determined. (READ MORE)

Gates: US Decision Can't Wait for Afghan Legitimacy - The United States cannot wait for problems surrounding the legitimacy of the Afghan government to be resolved before making a decision on troops, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said. Gates, speaking to reporters on board a plane traveling to Tokyo, described the situation in Afghanistan as an evolutionary process that would not improve dramatically overnight, regardless of what course is taken following the country's flawed August election." (READ MORE)

Strategy Review Will Continue to Move Forward, Gates Says - Questions about the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s national elections are a complicating factor, but President Barack Obama’s strategic review doesn’t hinge on the outcome, and ongoing military operations aren’t being affected, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. The Afghan election issue has “complicated the situation for us,” Gates said, but he said he doesn’t expect it to delay Obama’s decision on the larger issue of charting the way forward in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Gates: US Effort Not On Hold During Afghan Election Dispute - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States and its allies must work with whatever Afghan government emerges from last month's disputed election, offering a somewhat different view than the White House Chief of Staff expressed on Sunday. Secretary Gates told reporters on the plane that US and NATO decisions about strategy and troop deployments do not have to wait until the new Afghan government takes office, which could be several months. (READ MORE)

US Envoy Steers Clear of Afghan Vote Crisis - President Obama called Richard Holbrooke "one of the most talented diplomats of his generation" when he named the globe-trotting foreign policy expert to be special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But 10 months later, Mr. Holbrooke was anchored in Washington and far from the front lines of diplomacy that led to Tuesday's Afghan election deal. The Obama administration used other intermediaries to apply the pressure that got Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff after fraud-tainted elections. (READ MORE)

UN Chief Learns 'Valuable, Painful' Lessons From Afghan Vote - The UN secretary-general says having learned "valuable and painful" lessons from the widespread fraud that plagued the first round of Afghanistan's presidential elections, the United Nations would do its best to assist the Afghan people in having a credible and free second round. But Ban Ki-moon warned that it will be a "huge challenge" to hold the runoff on November 7. (READ MORE)

Punjabi Taliban Threat Growing - While US forces battle ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan, Pakistan's dominant ethnic group from its most populous province, Punjab, has increasingly taken control of Taliban forces targeted by the latest Pakistani army offensive. Pakistani authorities say they are concerned that Punjabi Taliban will flee the tribal areas and return to their home province, which already has been the scene of multiple suicide bombings as the army geared up for the ground offensive along the Afghan border that began Oct. 17. (READ MORE)

6 Killed in Pakistan Suicide Bombings - Two suicide blasts at a university in the Pakistani capital have killed at least six people and wound many others, mostly female students. The violence comes as Pakistani security forces are engaged in an offensive aimed at eliminating extremists that authorities blame for sponsoring most of suicide bombings across the country. Police and eyewitnesses say that two suicide bombers struck the capital city's International Islamic University, where thousands of students, including foreigners are taught modern as well as religious subjects. (READ MORE)

At Least Six Killed in Pakistan as Suicide Bombs Shatter Islamabad Campus - Two suicide bomb attacks killed six people on a university campus in the Pakistani capital yesterday as the Taleban retook a key town from the army in the militant stronghold of South Waziristan. One of the bombers blew himself up outside a girls’ cafeteria during the lunch break at the International Islamic University on the outskirts of Islamabad. The other struck a faculty building on the same campus. At least two female students were among the dead. (READ MORE)

Five Killed in Bomb Attacks at Pakistan University - After unleashing a vicious wave of attacks on high-profile security buildings and crowded marketplaces in Pakistan this month, militants set their sights Tuesday on one of the capital's schools. Two near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks on an Islamic university killed five people and wounded 22. The assault on an academic building and a women's cafeteria came on the fourth day of a long-awaited military offensive to uproot the Taliban and Al Qaeda from their stronghold in South Waziristan: (READ MORE)

Pakistanis Continue to Flee South Waziristan - The UN refugee agency says Pakistani civilians are fleeing South Waziristan by the thousands following the start of military operations against Taliban insurgents over the weekend. The UNHCR says it has begun distributing non-food relief to the displaced. The UN refugee agency says local authorities have registered some 32,000 internally displaced people since October 13. He says this brings the total number of registered people who fled South Waziristan since May to more than 112,000. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Offensive Heightens Fear of Refugee Crisis - Thousands of refugees fled a Pakistani offensive against Taliban militants Tuesday, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis compounded by dangerous conditions and the onset of winter weather. Aid agencies said there were as many as 150,000 refugees already, and the number could rise to 250,000 in coming weeks as the fighting intensifies. Pakistan's military, spurred by a rash of militant bombings across the country, began an offensive this week against the main Pakistan Taliban faction in South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Finds Local Allies Against Ferocious Foe - As Pakistani soldiers fought their way into the forbidding heartland of the Mehsud tribal territory on Tuesday against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, they faced the most ferocious fighters in Pakistan, men whose ancestors were legendary for never succumbing to the British. A British governor of Waziristan, Sir Olaf Caroe, once wrote that the Mehsud tribesmen were the toughest opponents because, like wolves, they hunted and fought in packs. (READ MORE)

In Cultural Hub, Mixed Feelings About Army Effort - Police Superintendent Mobashir Ullah was en route to a graduation ceremony Thursday when word reached him that armed men had stormed a training academy under his command. Just seven months before, terrorists had seized the same compound near this provincial capital, taking 800 recruits hostage before being overpowered. "This time they came straight from the main road, firing and trying to climb the walls. Our police acted fast and kept shooting until they finally killed themselves," Ullah said. (READ MORE)

A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope - It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be immolated without warning. Our guards believed the drones were targeting me. United States officials wanted to kill me, they said, because my death would eliminate the enormous leverage and credibility they believed a single American prisoner gave the Haqqanis, the Taliban faction that was holding us. (READ MORE)

Afpak Progress - America's political class has developed a habit of talking itself into defeat. Yet the predictions of doom in Afghanistan and Pakistan are as misplaced there as they were in Iraq, as events in the last week show. Afghanistan yesterday demonstrated political maturity by moving to resolve a dispute over a fraudulent election. On Sunday, Pakistan's military launched an offensive against the Islamist sanctuary in the mountainous tribal region of South Waziristan. (READ MORE)

Mr. Karzai Relents - Before Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, acceded to a runoff election on Tuesday, you could almost hear his arm being twisted. And it took a lot of top-level talent to do it. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, all insisted that Mr. Karzai accept an international audit that found that nearly one-third of his first-round votes were stolen driving his final count to below 50 percent. (READ MORE)

Nobody Wins in the Afghan Runoff Election - Politicians love photo-ops. So when Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) appeared alongside Hamid Karzai as the beleaguered Afghan president announced that he would agree to a runoff election, it was hardly surprising. Kerry was doing what politicians do. Moreover, the senator was in Kabul to supplement the Obama administration's efforts to lean on Karzai to hold another presidential vote, given widespread evidence that the one held in August was rigged. (READ MORE)

Evening the Score in Afghanistan - With Osama bin Laden reportedly hobbling on dialysis near the Afghan border, and President Barack Obama heading to Norway to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, the American public is debating whether we should increase or draw down our troops in Afghanistan. Some argue that we should end the war altogether. After all, it has been eight years since 9/11, and there has been no other terrorist attack on US soil. (READ MORE)

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