October 23, 2009

From the Front: 10/23/2009

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

P.J. Tobia: Afghan Runoff Recap - For Afghan Desk readers who, unlike me, have not been following every twist and turn of this week’s election developments (i.e. people with lives, spouses, hobbies) I put together this little recap of what-all has gone on in the always baffling exciting world of Afghan presidential politics. Just by reading the following paragraphs you will be up-to-speed on the latest from Kabul, and the life of whatever party you’ll be attending this weekend. You’re welcome. For two months after the Aug. 20 presidential vote, there was basically no word about who would be the next Afghan president or if a runoff would be necessary, but all that changed on Monday. It began when the UN-backed body investigating Afghan election fraud announced that nearly one-in-four votes from the Aug. 20 election were fraudulent and more than 1 million ballots would be tossed out. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Afghans Suspect US/NATO Of Aiding Insurgents - Earlier this month, suave Tom Coughlan of London Times, broke this story about the Italian clandestine service paying insurgents in Sarobi district, near Kabul, and Herat province in western Afghanistan, not to attack their soldiers. The Times reported that Italian intelligence service gave “tens of thousands of dollars to Taliban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet.” An anonymous NATO commander was quoted in that story, saying, “It was payments of tens of thousands of dollars regularly to individual insurgent commanders. It was to stop Italian casualties that would cause political difficulties at home.” The Italian and Afghan governments strenuously denied the allegations, though the account was corroborated by a Taliban commander, as well as two Afghan military officials, in a follow up story by The Times. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: 47 paces (to the closest bathroom) - Today’s mission was canceled and will be rescheduled for a later date. I purposely did not take any pictures this morning because I was looking forward to visiting a village. So the only picture for today’s entry is some puppies sleeping by the main gate. They wandered in a few days ago and seem content staying with the soldiers. I went looking for those elusive newborns I heard about, but I haven’t found them yet. Maybe I will have better luck tomorrow. I read today’s newspaper and was surprised the Taliban haven’t commented on the election runoff. I’m sure it will be only a matter of time before they voice their opposition or intentions. In the interim, the United Nations announced they will try to replace 200 of the 380 district election chiefs. Coincidentally the IEC (Independent Election Council) who was handpicked by President Karzai are also the ones who hand-picked the election chiefs. (READ MORE)

Martine van Bijlert: Word on the Afghan street - "Let me tell you, I am afraid. I lived through all the wars, but I was young then. Now I am old and I don't have the patience or the tolerance anymore... We had a lot of fraud in our election. Everywhere in the world there is fraud in elections, but other countries are more developed so their fraud is more developed. Here we somehow didn't know how things work... I used to work in the IEC for many years, but in this election when I saw how dirty the process had become and how the voter cards were being distributed everywhere, I quit. I didn't want to lose my good name for a salary... Karzai announced today that there will be a second round. He was in a bad situation and his speech was all over the place. What he said? Whatever he said, he was forced to say it. He had no choice... We're going to have another election but we still have no candidate we would want to vote for." -- woman at a Kabul wedding (READ MORE)

Army Live: Where is Camp Buehring? - As often as possible, we highlight blog posts from our Soldiers and Public Affairs Officers stationed around the world. This provides first hand insight of the U.S. Army from a Soldier’s perspective. The post today is from Captain Charles Barrett of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. If you know someone who’s in the Army, and has deployed to Iraq, then there’s a chance you’ve heard of a place called Camp Buehring. Most Army units pass through the camp on their way north, steadfast and loyal to their cause, Operation Iraqi Freedom. For those of you who have never been there, I’m reminded of a time many years ago when I first visited Las Vegas, NV. Our family had been driving into the night on just another day of our vacation west. It was as dark as any night in the desert and quiet too; nothing but the hum of our minivan’s tires on the road. (READ MORE)

John Burns: Q and A - Private Military Contractors - Reading through all the responses we’ve had in the past week on the issue of private contractors, few words have recurred as often as “mercenaries”; I’ve counted at least 26 separate occasions when it’s cropped up in the 80 comments and questions we’ve posted, and I may have missed some. And I must say that I agree with Paco the Reader about the power of a single loaded word to hijack the argument; the avoidance of pejoratives, at least in reporting, is a principle that editors at the Times guard with some alacrity, and it is as well that they do. On the other hand, I often felt that the use of the word “private contractors” in our coverage of the wars, and that of other American newspapers, obscured as much as it revealed. Better, I thought, to use words that described more exactly what the people involved were doing , even if it involved more words. (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: Like you mean it! - The Army supposedly has a rule that someone who's been deployed Down Range for a year can't be compelled to take an APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) for at least ninety days thereafter. Sounds reasonable to me. While I was Down Range, the OPTEMPO (operations tempo) was such that I was often busy all day, for many days in a row. That made getting to the gym on a regular basis at a regular time pretty difficult. If not down-right impossible. I took an APFT while I was deployed, in late November. By that time it was cooler during the early morning than it had been for most of the time I'd been over there. (In other words, it didn't reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit until after the sun had come up, rather than remaining over 100 all night long.) (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Teen Shares Deployment Experience - Yesterday, I wrote about military children and the profound admiration I have for their strength and resilience. In response, a Marine officer contacted me to share a letter his teenage daughter, Meagan, wrote shortly after he had returned from a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The letter describes how she and her family coped with the long separation. The major and his wife found the letter on the Internet last year. He wrote that the letter is something they “will always cherish,” particularly because their daughter passed away in 2006. I was touched by this family’s story and impressed by the maturity and wisdom Meagan displayed in her letter. Meagan’s letter: (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Afghan troop reduction 'by 2014' - The head of the British Army, General Sir David Richards, says it will be "about 2014" before UK troops numbers in Afghanistan reduce. He told the BBC's Caroline Wyatt the war in Afghanistan was "a war very much worth fighting for". He said the army's equipment "is as good as it possibly can be and we continue to address that all the time". Gen Richards replaced Gen Sir Richard Dannatt as Chief of the General Staff in August. Gen Richards was speaking on the day Royal British Legion launched its 2009 Poppy Appeal. This year's appeal is focusing on supporting troops wounded in Afghanistan and their families. He said the armed forces in Afghanistan were currently in "a period of risk" where there were not enough troops to perform the required tasks. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British Army heroes dicing with death in Afghanistan - It's all too easy to think of Afghanistan as being another world – a place that only exists in news reports and in the epic pictures of war photographers. But it all comes to life when the phone rings on my desk, and a satellite call comes through from Camp Bastion. At the other end of the remarkably clear line is Captain Andy Edwards of the 33 Engineer Regiment. He is a long way from his Brislington home. The 29-year-old, who has recently trained as an explosive ordnance disposal officer, is in the British Army's Helmand province headquarters, awaiting the time in a couple of months when he will complete his training duties and head out into the heart of the conflict. Andy, who has been in Afghanistan for just over a week, will soon be joined by a new wave of soldiers, as Gordon Brown has announced plans to increase British troop numbers in the troubled country by an extra 500 – bringing the total number of British soldiers serving in the region to 9,500. (READ MORE)

Houston Central: Apologies - I'm sorry everyone. My blogging efforts have been slim and hard to come by. I promise, once I get back on my feet in Germany, things will be different. Right now, I’m sort of in a transition state right now. I am trying to enjoy my last 10 days here before I leave. I can't say any dates…but know this...Jon will be home not long after I arrive in Germany! Can you even believe that????? As you can imagine, my heart is fluttering like crazy already and I’m beyond THRILLED! So, for now, I’m going to find some cute pictures on Mom's computer! (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Two Helicopter Rides Today - This afternoon I flew on a short mission on Blackhawk helicopter. A film crew was in to shoot pictures for a documentary on the Ziggurat of Ur, just north of our Base. They had an open seat and, better yet, left the side doors of the Blackhawk open so we could see out and down much better. It was also cool to be able to stick my left foot out at 500 feet and hang it out the door opening. I will post pictures tomorrow. They are on a different computer, but I have some good shots of the Ziggurat. That flight was at 2pm. At 7pm the Brigade photographer (a real photographer), brought video camera for a 3-hour (in the air) round trip to Kuwait on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. On the way down we had 25 soldiers who were going on leave in the plane, so they were a happy group. On the way back we had five guys returning from leave--a more subdued group. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Part 3. After War: Writing & Reading - Building upon what Ernest Hemingway said about writing a war story, the first thing to learn is that it doesn't happen in a day. Writing is a craft and there are many forms. It might take a long time for you to get what you envisioned on the page. At times you will be mesmerized, enthralled and also hate the act of writing. This weekend at Blog World Expo, someone mentioned that John Burns of the NY Times had yet to write a book about his experience in Iraq. They weren't sure why the delay, but perhaps I can lend some clarity. A book by John Burns will be well anticipated. He'll not only get the big advance, he'll get the book tour, the Charlie Rose show, print and radio shows (if I'm lucky he'll appear here as well). As I wrote last week Friday, a non-fiction book that goes into print runs between 50,000 - 80,000 words. That's a lot. It's writing full time for as long as it takes. Sometimes it takes a matter of months, for others ...years. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban strike near nuclear facility in Pakistan's Punjab - A Taliban suicide bomber has killed seven people near a nuclear weapons complex in Pakistan's Punjab province. The suicide bomber detonated outside a security checkpoint near the Kamra Air Weapon Complex in the district of Attock, Geo News reported. Three security personnel and four civilians were killed in the blast, and 12 more were wounded. The attack is the latest in a string of suicide strikes and military assaults by the Taliban against Pakistan's security forces, the government, and civilians. Today the Taliban assassinated a senior general and his driver near the general's home in Islamabad. Yesterday the Taliban conducted a dual suicide attack at Islamic International University in Islamabad. The Taliban have announced they are at war with the state so long as South Waziristan remains under military siege. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 22 Oct 09 - today was another long, boring day …I guess that’s a good thing… I can’t complain because I would rather be bored than over-worked…I don’t really mind it–I mean it doesn’t really make sense for so many of us to be here without a real job, but that’s the way it goes…it took me a while to learn why this is–the Army had 3-5 times as many people to do the same job the AF was doing…I thought it was ridiculous…I asked a few people and mentioned it to a lot of people and nobody really could explain it…but one day a Sgt in the Army explained that they man their bases/posts/FOBs/whatever according to the number of people it would take to defend that unit and all the assets on that installation…every soldier is a warfighter first and then they are a cook, mechanic, commo guy, or whatever their MOS is…that made it all clear…they might not need 18 mechanics, but they need those 18 warriors to defend against attacks… (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Touchdown in Balad - I've been offline for about 24 hours while traveling from Camp Victory to Joint Base Balad, where I will meet with COL Dan Hokanson, commander of the 41st Brigade. The base is extremely well-established, with a theater and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. But for a civilian looking to find an Internet connection it's limited. I was briefly at the USO facility, but was kicked out for the crime of being a civilian. I found a bus that runs to the air terminal, and now I'm finally hooked up, alongside a dozen or so soldiers who have their laptops open. Our plan is to take off tomorrow to Al Asad, then continue on to a couple of other places where Oregon soldiers are on duty. Things remain remarkably peaceful, although we did just have a few interesting announcements over the loudspeaker (as you may have seen at twitter.com/oregonianmike). (READ MORE)

PRT-Kunar: Eastern Afghanistan provinces establish regional peace Jirga - NANGARHAR, Afghanistan –In a show of unity, more than 300 leaders and elders from four eastern provinces gathered Oct. 22 for the first regional Jirga to talk about peace, prosperity and the rehabilitation of Afghanistan. The provincial governors of Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Langham and elders representing tribes, villages and districts gathered at the Nangarhar governor’s compound to lay out their homegrown plan to improve the security and development of the four easternmost Afghanistan provinces. “Today is a historical day for the eastern provinces for this peace Jirga. For the last couple of months, the eastern provincial governors have talked about peace and prosperity. Today is the day we will all talk about how we get them,” said Shersha Hamdard, the conference master of ceremony said in his opening remarks. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: More on R&R - I'm thoroughly enjoying myself on this R&R break. My cousin came down from Baltimore for a visit and we had a great time playing tour guide around Asheville. I've spent some time in the studio ... my own studio ... doing some drawing, painting, and just messing around. Most of what I've done has been wiped out or tossed in the trash, and deservedly so, but I think this small panel titled Tent City is a keeper. Art is one of those things you have to really work at to keep the creative juices flowing. I've barely been able to keep the rust off, and haven't gotten the rhythm flowing yet, but in this short time I didn't expect to. It's just nice to know that the eye and instincts are still there, even though they're not fully warmed up. It's been great to see a lot of old friends, too. I've caught up on events with friends in their studios, the grocery store, on the street, over dinner, in the coffee shop, even in the dentist's chair. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: Another 1st Battalion casualty from Fort Lewis - After a day of reporting in northern Afghanistan, I returned Thursday to Kabul to learn of more bad news from southern Afghanistan. Another Fort Lewis-based soldier with the 1st Battalion has been killed in Kandahar Province. His name is Spc. Kyle Coumas, 22 of Lockeford, Califorina, and he died of wounds suffered from an Oct. 21 bomb attack on his vehicle. As I have written in earlier posts, the 1st Battalion, with some 700 soldiers, has one of the toughest assignments in Afghanistan. This unit is part of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and patrols in the Arghandab Valley, an area that has been an important travel corridor for the Taliban near Kandahar City. The soldiers arrived in mid-summer to face a resurgent Taliban bolstered by gains that the insurgence had made earlier in the year. (READ MORE)

The Torch: The "Afghan face", or, problems operating with and mentoring the ANA - Capt. G.B. Rolston gives a lucid account (highlighting US Marines in Helmand) in an article in SITREP, The Journal of the Royal Canadian Military Institute. A particular difficulty is the effective inability to shift units from quieter parts of the country to reinforce or relieve those in more heavily contested ones: [...] Even a one-for-one swap of just a kandak or a brigade between mentor teams on opposite sides of the country would be extremely difficult (I’ve never heard of it actually being done): neither mentoring country involved would likely trust the outcome, if only because Afghan logistical administration is so appallingly poor, with most of the equipment of both kandaks likely “disappearing” during the handover in mentoring. So left unchanged, depending on which corps they were assigned to, some Afghan soldiers in some areas will fight until they die or quit, and some will see very little action for years. (READ MORE)

David Axe -Axeghanistan ‘09: Chopper-Bombing Drone-Killer - Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle tail number 89-0487 is one lucky jet. Deployed to Bagram air base in eastern Afghanistan with the 336th Fighter Squadron, the jet has dropped lots of bombs on the Taliban. But that’s not what makes it stand out. It hasn’t been reported anywhere else, but 89-0487 is the fighter that shot down a “rogue” U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone in September, after the Reaper’s controllers lost contact with the robot and it hurtled towards the Afghan border. Today 89-0487 sports a tiny Sidewinder missile, painted under the canopy, to commemorate the kill. The marking is next to a star marking, indicating that this storied jet was also the one that killed an airborne Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter during Operation Desert Storm, by dropping a laser-guided bomb on it. Most jets are lucky to get one kill, of any type. F-15E 89-0487 has two of the weirdest kills possible. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Regarding Fortresses (Redux) - One of the replies I got to yesterday's post regarding the battles at COP Keating and at Wanat comes from Paul, a Vietnam veteran. I thought I'd discuss it here, as he brings up a lot of great points: "I knew nothing about COP Keating until after the battle. When I saw some of the photos, I said to myself “oh sh*t, I can see why these guys got pounded.” Anytime the opposition can direct fire down on you, you’ve got a big helping of hurt on your hands. On the other hand, it didn’t look like there was much in the way of flat ground, or even a reasonable slope, on which to set up a base in the hills. And locating it too far up the hill would have meant that resupply could probably only be done by helicopter. I gather that that’s not a real solid link at times during the year. I had some questions, though. Did these guys have listening posts out? Did they do nighttime patrols in the village and in the hills around their base?" (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: American Troops Leaving Iraq, Some Gear Staying - The American armed forces are due to end their combat mission in Iraq by August 31, 2010, with 50,000 or so troops slated to remain behind to continue training Iraqi forces and presumably offer assistance if the Baghdad government so requests. The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. That means that over the next ten months, some 70,000 American troops will be leaving Iraq without replacement, and they’ll be taking most—but not all—of their gear with them. Michele Flournoy, the Obama administration’s Under Secretary of Defense told Congress this week that while the Pentagon says that there are about 3.3 million American “pieces of equipment” in Iraq, and that “the majority of the equipment currently in Iraq will not be transferred to the Iraqis, but will remain with U.S. forces,” a significant chunk of gear will stay behind to be used by the Iraqi Security Forces. (READ MORE)

BBC: Audio slideshow: Soldier artist - Artist Matthew Cook is a serving soldier in the Territorial Army. His work from a recent tour of Afghanistan is the subject of a new exhibition at the Ministry of Defence in London. (MORE)

News from the Front:
General in Iraq ‘Encouraged’ as Elections Approach - Violence in Iraq has dropped to the lowest levels seen since 2003 as the Iraqi people prepare to vote in new legislative and general elections slated for January, a senior US military officer said here today. “I’m encouraged now that violence is at an all-time low; that the levels are down to where they were in 2003,” Army Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, Multinational Force Iraq’s deputy chief of staff for strategic effects, told reporters during a news briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center. (READ MORE)

Counting Backward - America’s top diplomat in Iraq, Christopher Hill, and America’s top commander there, Gen. Ray Odierno, have been wrangling for months over how much United States officials should get involved in Iraqi politics. Mr. Hill, it is said, wants to give the Iraqis more of a chance to find their own way. General Odierno - with his eye on the troop drawdown clock - has been arguing for a more hands-on approach. (READ MORE)

USACE compound designated Camp Wolfe - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) compound on Camp Victory, Iraq, was officially designated Camp Wolfe on Oct. 22 in honor of Navy Cmdr. Duane Wolfe. Wolfe was the officer-in-charge of the Al-Anbar Area Office, killed when an improvised explosive device (IED) struck the vehicle he was riding in on May 25 outside of Fallujah, Iraq. (READ MORE)

MoD Holds First Female Information Assurance Class - The Ministry of Defence held the first female Information Assurance class at the Ministerial Training and Development Center on Oct. 19. Nineteen female employees from the MoD learned basic access functions of the internet and how to keep the workplace secure. Hadi Nima, director general of Communications for MoD, gave opening remarks and stressed the importance of security on the internet in the workplace. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police destroy weapons cache, capture one in Sharqat - Iraqi Police destroyed a weapons cache and arrested one suspect today during a security operation near al Sharqat, located approximately 88 km south of Mosul. Iraqi Police, with U.S. advisors, found eight magnetic improvised explosive devices while searching two buildings. Based on an investigation conducted at the scene, the IEDs were identified as weapons built by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device network operating in Mosul and Sharqat. (READ MORE)

Kids get to know their Iraqi Security Forces - "I like to see them in my village, they make me feel safe," said Huda Akhmed Hussan, a 13-year-old sixth-grader here, about the Iraqi Army Soldiers he sees every day. In addition safeguarding residents, the 12th IA Soldiers here are also trying to build trust and respect with the villagers they work so hard to protect. This was one primary focus behind the “Junior Hero Program” in Arab Koy, Oct. 20, when IA Soldiers distributed backpacks and school supplies provided by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. (READ MORE)

Northern Iraq future bright, General says - The security situation in northern Iraq has improved greatly in recent years, a senior U.S. military officer told Pentagon reporters Tuesday. Al-Qaida, which several years ago launched attacks with abandon in northern Iraq, is now “desperate,” Army Brig. Gen. Robert B. Brown, deputy commanding general for Multi-National Division - North and the 25th Infantry Division, said during a satellite-carried teleconference. (READ MORE)

IZ construction contracts open to Iraqi bids - Military contracting officials here are working to rebuild the Iraqi economy by hiring locals to build and remodel various facilities throughout the International Zone. Air Force Master Sgt. Tommy Robinson is the Joint Area Support Group (JASG) Department of Public Works Team-2 non-commissioned officer in charge. He is responsible for ensuring structures are built according to code and are safe for habitation. So far, Robinson, who is deployed from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., has overseen four projects. (READ MORE)

Iraqis lead joint mission over Baghdad - In a display of strength and partnership, U.S. military aviators with the 1st Cavalry Division and the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) joined forces for an Iraqi-led helicopter mission over Baghdad, Oct. 21. The leadership of 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, has spent the last six months working with the 2nd Squadron of the IqAF to sharpen their skills and strengthen bonds. (READ MORE)

Insurgents Share a Name, but Pursue Different Goals - As it devises a new Afghanistan policy, the Obama administration confronts a complex geopolitical puzzle: two embattled governments, in Afghanistan and Pakistan; numerous militias aligned with overlapping Islamist factions; and hidden in the factions’ midst, the foe that brought the United States to the region eight years ago, Al Qaeda. But at the core of the tangle are the two Taliban movements, Afghan and Pakistani. (READ MORE)

Obama Team Meets on Afghanistan Runoff - US President Barack Obama has held consultations with the American ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, on efforts to prevent voter fraud in the country's upcoming presidential election. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said officials from Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) also took part in the one-hour video conference call with the president Thursday. (READ MORE)

Afghan Ballots Go Out, by Air and Donkey - Afghan authorities and the United Nations, supported by US-led international forces, began distributing millions of ballots, tamper-proof ink and equipment for a runoff presidential election on Nov. 7. Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission decided to cut the number of polling stations that will be open during the runoff, officials said. The closings will be in areas where the central government has no control and the security threat is high - and where, according to observers, ballot boxes were stuffed by corrupt poll supervisors in the first round of voting on Aug. 20. (READ MORE)

A New Vote Poses Similar Troubles for Afghans - The serious fraud that clouded the credibility of Afghanistan’s presidential election last summer is unlikely to be repeated on the same scale in the runoff set for Nov. 7, but it cannot be altogether eliminated, said Afghan and international officials here as they scrambled to prepare for the vote. At least as worrisome is the likelihood of low turnout caused by continuing threats from insurgents, winter weather that has already brought subfreezing temperatures to some areas and a deep sense among Afghans that there is little reason to vote a second time. (READ MORE)

Gates Asks NATO for More Help in Afghanistan - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew to Slovakia to ask NATO defense ministers to help the United States respond to the request for more resources made by the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. Secretary Gates is in the potentially awkward position of asking NATO allies to do more in Afghanistan, while the US government is still reviewing its own plans. But he told reporters on his aircraft it makes sense to have these talks now because the effort to stabilize and develop Afghanistan is a NATO mission, not just an American one. (READ MORE)

White House and Cheney in a War of Words over Afghanistan - White House press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out at former vice president Richard B. Cheney on Thursday, dismissing the Republican's criticism of delays in President Obama's decision-making on Afghanistan strategy. In a speech Wednesday night, Cheney offered the latest in a series of harsh assessments of the president's conduct of foreign policy, accusing Obama of "dithering" in his weeks-long review about whether to add 40,000 new US troops to the fight in Afghanistan. Cheney said Obama "seems afraid" to make a decision. (READ MORE)

US Aiding Pakistani Military Offensive - The US military is providing intelligence and surveillance video from unmanned aircraft to the Pakistani army to assist in its week-old offensive in South Waziristan, marking the deepest American involvement yet in a Pakistani military campaign, officials said. The assistance includes imagery from armed Predator drones that Defense officials say are being used exclusively for intelligence gathering in the offensive. (READ MORE)

Kerry Visit Underscores Power Still Wielded by Pakistani Army - Sen. John F. Kerry briefly swept through the Pakistani capital this week to allay politicians' concerns about a new US aid package that has sparked public outrage. But Pakistani media reports focused on his meeting with the person who seemed to really matter - the army chief. With furor simmering over the conditions attached to the $7.5 billion in development aid, the Massachusetts Democrat's stopover underscored the power the Pakistani military, which has ruled the nation for half its existence, continues to wield in Pakistan's political theater. (READ MORE)

Attack in Pakistani Capital Kills Senior Military Officer - Gunmen on a motorbike opened fire on an army jeep traveling through thick traffic in the Pakistani capital Thursday, killing a senior military officer and his driver, authorities said. The morning attack in Islamabad, which police officials said was probably carried out by Islamist militants, displayed a new tactic in insurgents' continuing assaults on Pakistan's security forces. It was the latest in a chain of attacks in recent weeks, and it came as the army entered the sixth day of a major ground offensive to purge Taliban fighters from the volatile tribal region where authorities say the violence has been plotted. (READ MORE)

Suicide Bomber Kills 7 in Pakistan - A suicide bombing at Pakistan’s premier aeronautical manufacturing complex killed seven people on Friday morning, the ninth attack on major government installations this month. The bomber blew up himself up at the checkpoint at the entrance to the complex, 40 miles northwest of Islamabad, as workers arrived for the morning shift, said a district police official, Fakhur Sultan. Two men guarding the checkpoint and five civilians were killed, Mr. Sultan said. (READ MORE)
Taliban leader Sufi Muhammad's confinement extended - Pak-Taliban leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad's judicial confinement has been extended for a month. The Daily Times quoted DCO Peshawar Sahibzada Muhammad Anees, as saying that Sufi Muhammad's detention has been extended by 30 days. The leader of banned Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi was arrested from Peshawar in August along with his two sons-Rizwanullah and Ziaullah-for fomenting violence and terror. (READ MORE)

South Waziristan locals doubt Pak Army's motives in 'mother of all battles' - The Pakistan Army may have pledged that it is going to root out the Taliban from its den in South Waziristan through the operation named 'Raah-e-Nijaat', but local residents are far from convinced that the government is really determined to wipe out the extremists, that it once nurtured. Despite repeated claims from the Pakistan Army that it is going to crush the extremists once for all in what has been termed as the 'mother of all battles', people see little change in the military's tactics. (READ MORE)

U.N. envoy says Afghan vote fraud cannot be eliminated - Organisers of Afghanistan's presidential run-off will be able to reduce but not eliminate the kind of election fraud which marred the initial vote, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan said on Friday. "I do not expect I will be able to eliminate fraud in two weeks' time. I think that is beyond the realm of what is possible in such a short time," Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide said during a NATO meeting of defence ministers in Bratislava. (READ MORE)

Taliban attacks claim more victims in Pakistan - A suicide bomber killed seven people near a major air force complex in north-west Pakistan today while an explosion killed 17 on a bus heading to a wedding elsewhere in the region. The bloodshed has coincided with the run-up and first week of a major army offensive in a Taliban and al Qaida stronghold along the Afghan border. (READ MORE)

NATO members: no more troops to Afghanistan now - NATO members the Netherlands and Denmark said Friday they will not send more troops to Afghanistan unless its Nov. 7 presidential runoff creates a legitimate government and until President Barack Obama decides on a new strategy. Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said his country, with 2,160 troops in Afghanistan, is awaiting the final election results "because the legitimacy of the Afghan government is key," as well as a decision by the Obama administration. (READ MORE)

Karzai says wants 'better' Afghan election run-off - Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai said he wants a better and cleaner presidential election run-off in November to bring stability at a time when Taliban violence is at its worst in eight years of war. Karzai agreed to face his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, in a November 7 run-off after a U.N.-led fraud inquiry annulled enough of his votes from the first round in August to trigger a rematch. (READ MORE)

Rasmussen seeks 'shared' view on Afghanistan as NATO meeting begins - NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for a "shared view" on Afghanistan and a future missile shield for Europe, as defence minister from the North Atlantic alliance began a meeting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava Friday. "Today we will discuss how to take this mission forward," said Rasmussen, the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "And while it is too soon to get final answers I hope we will get a clear shared few on these questions." (READ MORE)

White House Says Bush Administration ‘Unserious’ About Afghan War - The Obama administration and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued their verbal jousting Thursday, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs accused the Bush administration of not taking seriously requests to increase troops in Afghanistan. The strong words from Gibbs came the day after Cheney delivered yet another withering critique of the administration on foreign and national security policy on a number of fronts, including what he called President Barack Obama’s “dithering” on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

NATO Members Waiting for Obama’s Troop Decision Before Sending More of Their Own to Afghanistan - Two NATO members said Friday they will not send more troops to Afghanistan unless its Nov. 7 presidential runoff creates a legitimate government and until President Barack Obama decides on a new strategy there. Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said his country, with 2,160 troops in Afghanistan, is awaiting the final election results "because the legitimacy of the Afghan government is key," as well as a decision by the Obama administration. (READ MORE)

Operational Update, Oct. 23: Afghan, International Security Forces Kill, Detain Militants; ISAF Casualty - An Afghan and international joint security force killed a couple of suspected enemy militants and wounded one on Oct. 22, after forcefully entering and searching a series of compounds in Wardak province. The compounds were known to be used by a Taliban commander and his group believed to be responsible for several attacks in the area. (READ MORE)

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