October 27, 2009

From the Front: 10/27/2009

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

A World of Troubles: Baghdad's deadliest bombing, yet again - "It was something horrible I can't describe," said a friend of a colleague who works in the Provincial Council building, one of two buildings struck by mega-truck bombs yesterday in the middle of Baghdad. Her head was still throbbing late into the night from the impact that toppled blast walls and reduced employees to chunks of flesh. Immediately after the bombing, security told her there was a suicide bomber inside the premises. She thought of hiding her daughter, who also worked in the building. But it was just one of hundreds of crazy rumors circulating, as once again, violence crushed all other senses in Baghdad. Another colleague's wife worked close to the Ministry of Justice building that was bombed simultaneously by another truck bomb. She sustained wounds to her leg and body from flying glass, and went to one of the overloaded hospitals for treatment. (READ MORE)

Peter Bergen: The U.S. is losing Afghanistan on two fronts - We are losing in Afghanistan, on two fronts. The most important center of gravity of the conflict -- as the Taliban well recognizes -- is the American public. And now, most Americans are opposed to the war. For years, Afghanistan was "the forgotten war," and when Americans started paying attention again -- roughly around the time of President Obama's inauguration -- what they saw was not a pretty sight: a corrupt Afghan government, a world-class drug trade, a resurgent Taliban and steadily rising U.S. casualties. Many surely thought: Didn't we win this war eight years ago? Americans, of course, hate seeing the deaths of fellow citizens in combat, but even more they hate to see those deaths in the service of a war they believe they are either not winning or maybe even losing, which is one of the reasons why they largely turned against the Iraq war in 2006. (READ MORE)

Gretchen Peters: British Muslim Gangs and the “Chemical Jihad” - A Taliban fighter killed this spring by NATO troops in southern Afghanistan was found to have a tattoo from the Aston Villa Football Club, indicating he may have grown up in Britain's West Midlands. It was the latest evidence that British Muslims of South Asian origin have joined the fight in Afghanistan. For some time, Royal Air Force spy planes have picked up radio communication between Taliban fighters who speak with thick accents from Manchester, Birmingham, West Bromwich and Bradford, all cities with large populations of British Muslims of South Asian origin. "But it was a shock to hear that the guys we were fighting against supported the same football clubs as us, and maybe even grew up on the same streets as us," the Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed British military official as saying. (READ MORE)

At War: Combating the Stigma of Psychological Injuries - In his most extensive comments on mental health challenges facing American forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that many military personnel fear a stigma if they seek help for psychological injuries. And he criticized a government and military bureaucracy that is “frustrating, adversarial and unnecessarily complex” — even for those who actively seek assistance. The critique was delivered by Mr. Gates as the keynote address during a “Mental Health Summit” convened by Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs who previously served as Army chief of staff. The two secretaries have pledged that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would improve how they share information so that the delivery of benefits could be streamlined, even as both acknowledged that the two current, long wars have brought attention to the types of invisible injuries often ignored in the past. (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: 11/365 Donate a cell phone for the troops - Both times I deployed, I took my satellite phone. It was a big fat brick of a phone, it looked a little like the old briefcase phones, like the drug dealers were using in the movie "New Jack City". I picked it up on ebay, it didn't hold a charge well, and the recharger was a chunky plug that was wired for European outlets. The sandstorms and helicopters would mess up reception, and I needed a direct view of the sky to use it. Still, that phone served me well and I actually completed 1/3 of my MBA from Iraq by teleconferencing with my study group, sitting out on top of the bunkers on moonless nights. Best of all, when times were tough and I was low, I knew I could reach out to Meredith and there was no better way to recharge my spirit. A great way to give a troop a boost is to donate a cell phone. Nothing is more of a comfort than a few minutes talking with a loved one. It can break up a 36 hr journey and transport me home for a precious moment. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: New kids in town - As our frequent blog readers know, the 314th Public Affairs Operations Center is nearing the end of its tour here in Iraq, but the mission goes on. The United States is committed to staying the course and helping our friends in Iraq to rebuild their nation (each of us in the 314th has many friends that we will be sad to leave). Part of that ongoing mission here includes supporting the flow of information, and the Combined Press Information Center and the Media Operations Center at the U.S. Embassy here will continue to be front and center in that important mission. Though the name of the U.S. military heaquarters here will change in the near future, our press conferences, embedded media coordination, English and Arabic language press releases, escort missions, media credentials, and answers to media queries at the press desk will continue. (READ MORE)

SGT Emily Anderson: It’s the little things - A few weeks ago, I was flipping through the pages of the Stars & Stripes, a newspaper that is free in deployed areas. One article that really impressed me was one about a man in Germantown, Md. He came up with the idea of giving every veteran of the Iraqi and/or Afghanistan campaigns a bumper sticker that has the words “I served” printed under either the abbreviations IRQ or AFG. He plans to make sure every veteran who has done a tour of duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan will be able to receive one, even if he has to pay for it himself. Seeing things like this really touch me. I have been deployed for almost a year now. Reading stories like this really inspire me and make me realize why I joined the military. Knowing that a person is willing to pay out of pocket to bring more recognition to servicemembers is an amazing feeling. Sometimes while being over here, the reasons we are doing this are not always remembered. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Afghan Medical Conference - Two times a year the Afghan National Army hosts an 'annual' medical conference in Kabul. I am attending the fourth such event. The conference is more like a report from each of the Corps Surgeons and Regional Hospital commanders to the Surgeon General. The presentations were in powerpoint and were to be given in a rigid statistical format. English speaking mentors had earphones with translation available. A lot was lost in the translation though. It really makes you wonder how good the translation of speeches at the UN or similiar organizations are. A small mistranslation can so many times lead to a significant problem. Normally I do not wear weapons or body armor to medical conferences, but this was a unique conference. The only American to speak was the Surgeon for the Afghan mentorship command. I would tell you the acronym, but I am not even sure I understand it. Besides it will change next week anyway. My point is that it was an Afghan run and operated conference. (READ MORE)

Lt Col Rupert Jones: 4 RIFLES CO reflects on OP HERRICK 10 - AS THE Election Support Force elements of 4 RIFLES prepare to fly home, and A Company start their Afghanistan commitment, we can reflect on a period of achievement and uncertainty. The Riflemen operated in the Nad e-Ali District in the extreme south of the UK area of operations in Helmand Province. ISAF moved into the area for the first time late last year, so it is still in the early stages of development and the insurgent threat remains high. The Riflemen faced a constant and debilitating threat from Improvised Explosive Devices and operated, in the main, in austere locations living a very basic existence. B Company operated very much alone, working through the difficult summer to keep the insurgents at bay and protect the ISAF push into Babaji to their north. Progress was deliberate and steady, but in the last month a number of local national families who had moved into the desert for security have started returning home. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: Filling Big Shoes - So I have been thinking a lot about the position I have been told I will be filling here shortly. I am slated to fill one of the Platoon Sergeant positions when we redeploy. This is a big step in the career ladder of NCOs in the Army, generally held by a SFC/E-7. All the positions that fall under that usually have only a handful of subordinates an NCO is responsible for, Team, Squad, or Section. Platoon Sergeant means I am responsible for upwards of 40 people, although probably less given our job. Its also one of the first positions that NCOs have that involve disparate MOS jobs. Positions junior to this usually handle focused teams of people with the same MOS, or at the most similar MOSes. A Platoon Sergeant has to manage very different jobs sometimes, whether he is familiar with them all or not. Being a Platoon Sergeant means you are basically “the old man,” generally regarded as one of the most experienced people in the company. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Ann Marlowe vs Bob Wright - Josh Foust has repeatedly criticized American writer Ann Marlowe for being in the tank with the military as regards Khost Province. I don't find her writing very compelling - although the approach her favourite soldier, Lieut. Col. Scott Custer, reportedly used in Khost in 2007-08 with the local U.S. maneuver force divided into platoon-sized teams living at district centres with the ANP rather than brigaded (and thus shut up) in a FOB, seems worthy of further study and possible broader application as a COIN option for the Afghan countryside. That said, I found her Bloggingheads appearance with Robert Wright deeply uncomfortable "turnaway TV", like watching the David Brent character an episode of the UK series of The Office. She may have a lot of time in country, but she simply doesn't seem very smart: Wright demolished pretty much every non-experiential point she made pretty easily (often with only a studious silence). (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Guards make strong start improving security for Nad e-Ali - Grenadier Guards, Royal Engineers and soldiers of 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancasters Regiment have built a new bridge on the fringes of Nad e-Ali, near the new patrol base they have built. Soldiers of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards Battle Group, in Afghanistan less than a month, have taken over the area around Nad e-Ali from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. Their tour, under the newly formed 11 Light Brigade, builds firmly on the work of the previous battle group and operates in a particularly volatile area known among the soldiers as ‘The Wild West’, due to the amount of insurgent activity. Already, two major achievements highlight the progress being made in this region. We rarely hear of these results following difficult fighting and the ongoing battle against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). However, green shoots of development are appearing in this central, southern district of Helmand province. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): USA Today Coincidence - In the afternoon of the day the USA Today article was published we had our first rocket attack in almost four months. One rocket hit out out in the desert, one hit a CHU in the civilian housing area, and one was a dud but smashed a generator on impact. I was on the other side of the base when they hit. So after no attacks for four months, they send rockets on the day that USA Today says there is not much to do and the war is over. On the day of the missile attack, several mechanics were returning to their living area and saw the dud missile as it was streaking down into the auxiliary generator. They saw the impact and saw clouds of smoke billow into the air from the 8 by 8 by 20 foot metal container that houses the generator. The generator is smoking, could be on fire, and has an unexploded missile inside of it. And one of the dumbest soldiers I have ever known decided that hitting the dirt was not necessary for him. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): "Gay" in the Military - So many gay jokes spin through air in the motor pools on ranges and in the chow halls that I missed a common, but less crude use of the word "gay" in the military. (As far as I can see, the usage varies little from the Army among airmen and sailors stationed here.) Most gay jokes are put downs in which someone accuses someone else of being the passive partner in a homosexual act. So after a thousand or so of these jokes, it occurred to me that a different and also common usage was to ask if something was gay or too gay. In that case, the question was simply: am I making a decision based on emotion when I should be basing my decision on facts? A senior sergeant asked, "Is that gay?" when he was asking me whether he should be concerned with the feeling of his adversary in a dispute over who should get a job they both wanted. The answer was complicated, but the question was simple: should I let feelings guide my decision or should I take the action that benefits me at his expense? (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Terror in Baghdad - Iraqis are frustrated. Everyone is sick of the terror. The general feeling is that we must move on, don't let the attacks stop us. And everyone is fed up with the do-nothing parliament. Nobody knows for certain who is responsible for Sunday's attacks that killed at least 155 people and injured more than 500 near the justice ministry. Of course people speculate, and those theories include that it was the political parties fighting among themselves; that Mossad did it; that Iran was behind the attacks, and that al-Qaeda did it. If we are to believe WaPo's correspondent, then it was the enemies of Nouri Al Maliki behind the bombings. The story says they struck to weaken Al Maliki, who took credit for improving security in the country. Really? He's that secure in his job? (READ MORE)

Last-Of-Iraqis: Another day at the office, another bloody day in Baghdad - I was working in the clinic as usual when I heard two explosions, with very short interval between them. Well, that’s something normal, no problem…about thirty minutes later the phone of one of my female colleagues rang and it was her husband, he said he miraculously made it, he was in the ministry of justice when the explosions happened “it was something that can be described, it was something that I have never seen before, it’s really disgusting and frightening” as he said, despite that he was a military jet pilot who was in duty through the Iranian war and the gulf war. That’s when we knew about the terrible disgusting terrorist act that took place in the ministry of justice and Baghdad’s province council because of two explosive trucks… then everybody started calling the people he knows in those ministries and people who live near it... (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban, Army clash throughout Pakistan's northwest - The Pakistani military and the Taliban have skirmished throughout the war-torn northwest over the past several days. Clashes in South Waziristan, Bajaur, and Hangu have reportedly killed 46 Taliban fighters and 12 soldiers. In South Waziristan, where the Army has launched an offensive against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the Mehsud tribal areas, the military claimed success over the weekend after retaking the town of Kotkai. The town is the birthplace of Taliban commander Hakeemullah Mehsud and the hometown of suicide bomber trainer Qari Hussain Mehsud. The Army first took Kotkai on Oct. 19 but lost it the next day in a Taliban counteroffensive. The Taliban claimed to have killed upwards of 45 soldiers in the battle, but the Army denied the report. The military now says it has advanced a mile past Kotkai in its push toward the town of Sararogha, one of the main strongholds of the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 26 Oct 09 - so the other night we had a few mortar rounds hit outside the wire…the first one sounded like something large dropping to the ground–kind of a faint thud…the second was a little louder and made me think “oh shit, incoming”, and the third was without a doubt a mortar round exploding pretty damn close…I happened to be sitting in the chow hall chatting with a friend while we waited on another to use the phone in the office…we just shrugged and waited for a fourth–fortunately the third was the last of them…it’s a little strange to me that we don’t run into the bunkers or grab our battle rattle and hit the wall to prived base defense…but that was out at the FOB and here there are designated people for that type of stuff…we just wait to see what happens next around here…it’s such a large base that if you don’t see the explosion you are pretty much safe…and if it lands on you, you won’t see anything... (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Brief hostilities, thinking of home in western Iraq - For those who have grumbled at me about painting this occupation as an antiseptic exercise, with little exposure to warfare, an acknowledgement. Dangers to Oregon soldiers here take two forms: Indirect fire, which means mortars or rockets lobbed into bases where the soldiers live; and hostile encounters on the roads, which may mean bombs, small-arms fire or other direct attacks. With the exception of a couple of alerts for incoming rounds, it's been quiet everywhere that I've been. And Brigade commander COL Dan Hokanson says he goes to bad some/many nights without having any reports of hostile encounters for his soldiers. Obviously, two very bad things have happened here during this deployment: the bomb blast that killed Taylor Marks and Earl Werner during a convoy in eastern Baghdad was catastrophic. That was presaged by an earlier bomb blast that took the leg of Jeremy Pierce in another convoy. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: Hashing through Kabul - We ran along a route that took us past the poppy palaces built with drug money, and down a side street where a young carpenter tapped together wooden door frames. We ran along the trash strewn course of the weak-flowing Kabul River. We made our way down a slimy tributary that offered whiffs of sewage. We sprinted past dogs, cats, sheep, goats and an irate donkey. Somewhere in the middle of the course, there was a stop for beer. Then, at the end of the course, there was more beer, along with plenty of off-color humor and off-key ditties. This was the 341st run of the Kabul Hash House Harriers. It attracted more than two dozen expats, most of whom opted for a slow-paced walk. Though Kabul may be a somewhat out of-the-way venue, the rituals would be familiar to hashers all over the world, including the Puget Sound area. Hashing is a mix of running, route finding and beer drinking fellowship that traces it roots back to 1938 in Kuala Lumpur: (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Packing Up - We had our customs inspection this weekend. Our conex is now packed and ready to ship back to the states. That’s one more step closer to home. We’re getting mixed information, so we’re not sure if we’re going to make it back for Thanksgiving. I’ve prepared my family for the possibility that I won’t be at the table eating turkey, but I’m hoping that’s not the case. I’d hate to get stuck at Fort Dix, but right now that’s a big possibility. We have a video teleconference with our replacements next week. That’ll be exciting. I’m so glad we’re in contact with them, because it makes us getting out of here seem a little more real. We’ve got about 3 weeks or so left, maybe longer depending on when our replacements get here. Then it should just be 3 or so days in New Jersey, unless we get stuck over the holiday weekend. Everyone is so ready to get out of here and this time is dragging by. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Child's Play - A Canadian Forces report cites 29 incidents in which the Taliban have used children to help commit atrocities in Afghanistan's southern provinces over the past few months, eight since the beginning of October. As many as a dozen children have been killed in three recent explosions during bomb-making classes in Kandahar. Says Major Robert Dunn: "There is one place west of Kandahar City where they shoot at us every day through a shield of children. They actually stack them up, with 8-year-olds at the front and 15-year-olds at the back." Here's today's statement about Afghanistan's recent elections imbroglio from a Taliban spokesman, on behalf of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: "It was all a great big fraud within a larger fraud designed to fool American, Canadian and European voters into believing democracy had flowered in Afghanistan. Cynical Afghans knew the vote would be rigged. Most Pashtun, the nation's ethnic majority, didn't vote." (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: The Home Stretch - College football kills me on Saturdays. It begins at 1900 and the afternoon game doesn’t end until 0200 the next morning. I usually have a half day off on Sundays, but not always. For two weeks in a row I watched the Saturday night games, which started at 0230 Iraq time. First I watched OU lose to Miami and the next week I watched TCU beat Air Force in a 9-degree wind chill sleet storm. This week we saw four of our finest leave early so they can attend Warrior Leadership Course in Fort Dix, NJ. As a reservist you have to take a school when you can get it. This is a school you need as a new Sergeant. One of the guys going has been an E5 for about three years and hasn’t been to the school. He got to watch everyone else get promoted this year while he stayed a Sergeant. It ate at him a little, but now he’s leaving Iraq a month early to take care of his career. I think it’ll all work out. (READ MORE)

The Angry American: Perpetual State of Un-Happyness? - I just got done perusing some Mil-Blogs trying to get back into the swing of things. What I came across was a lot of people who were disenfranchised, IVAW, people just pissed off about the whole thing. I didn't come across a lot of positive feed back. Maybe there isn't, war isn't positive. Did I enjoy it when I was there? I don't think that I did, it sucked some days. Nothing sucks more than losing your friends. I can't by any means say it was for nothing, I refuse to. Call it what you will, opinions are like ass holes and everyone is different and who the hell is right? No one is right. I'm not a politician, I'm not republican, and I'm not a democrat, I don't really know what the hell either believes in. I like some of their views and dislike some as well. I like what our founding fathers set up as the corner stone for American democracy. I certainly don't want to live anywhere else in the world. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my..: Happy 90th Birthday Grandma!! - Just wanted to let everyone know that my Grandma is now 90 years old, and doesn’t look a day over 40! That's a huge accomplishment, I hope to be around as long as she has and still look as good! Happy birthday to you Grandma and I hope you have a great day! Last year my dad told me that she turned 90 so I got some flowers for her and the card said Happy 90th Birthday, the problem was that she was turning 89! Needless to say the Davis males are really bad at remembering people’s ages! Haha. I’ve run over 250 miles since being deployed. To put that in perspective it’s like running from Cincinnati to Cleveland and turning around to start back to Cincy. Not too bad. Speaking of Cincy, I guess we are sharing first place with the Steelers, we’re still in first though! Now we just have to beat the Steelers to retake first, no problem! I’m sure they’ll pull it through. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: There's strong, and there's Army...not...so...strong... - Tom Ricks linked to a great article on CompanyCommand.com (only available to those with an AKO address, sorry) which listed eight lessons to learn before going to Afghanistan. The number one lesson that almost every commander listed was the importance of physical conditioning. Even the most well-conditioned troops get fatigued while patrolling in the thin mountain air of Afghanistan on foot, laden with heavy body armor, helmets, ammunition, water, radios, and night-vision devices. Unfortunately, although the fitness standards are still the same as they have been for the past ten years, they're considerably less strictly enforced now, in an attempt to keep more troops in uniform. Soldiers graduating from Basic Training are no longer required to pass their physical fitness test (which consists of two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups and a two-mile run). (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: Copter Crashes Reveal Achilles’ Heel of Afghan War - Afghanistan is a country the size of Texas, with only a handful of major roads. So when the U.S. military wants to haul gear, supply isolated outposts, reposition forces, or evacuate wounded troops, the first, best and sometimes only option is to do so by helicopter. Which means that the demand for helos at most U.S. bases far outstrips the supply. And the helicopters that do fly operate under unforgiving and often dangerous conditions, as we saw in Monday’s twin copter calamities, which killed 14 Americans. In short, helicopters are the irreplaceable connective tissue of the Afghanistan war effort — and its potential Achilles’ heel. “It’s our strategic weak point,” a defense official told Danger Room. In the 1980s, the U.S. famously supplied Afghan militants with Stinger missiles that began to threaten the Soviets’ helo fleet at risk. It drove up the cost of operating in Afghanistan, and contributed to the Red Army’s eventual defeat. (READ MORE)

World-Wide-Matel: Unlearned Lessons - I participated in a seminar led by guy who had been on a CORDS team in Vietnam. CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) were supposed to do some of the development and coordination activities done by PRTs. I was aware of CORDS but through talking to some older guys who knew about them. You cannot find much about them otherwise. It is the forgotten war and maybe the forgotten victory. The professor pointed out that the insurgency in South Vietnam was decisively defeated after the TET offensive and CORDS cemented the victory. After that, it became a problem of invasion from North Vietnam. The popularly held idea that a bunch of insurgents, living with the people in the countryside, overthrew the South Vietnamese regime is just wrong. We all remember the fall of Saigon, but we often forget that it was conquered by the armies of the North; big armies complete with armor and air support. It wasn’t little guys in black pajamas. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Bed time stories from half a world away - One of the greatest times of any child’s day is bedtime. This is when they get to go to their bookshelf, grab their favorite (and sometimes longest) book, and spend quality time with mom and/or dad. But when a parent is deployed, this time is gone. Check out the guest blog post from Sgt. Ben Hutto, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs and learn how one program allows children and parents to get that special time back. "Mercedes Figueroa has nighttime ritual every night before she goes to sleep at her home in Phenix City, Ala. Every night before she goes to sleep her father, Staff Sgt. Freddie Figueroa, reads her at least three books. 'She loves to be read to,' said Staff Sgt. Figueroa. 'It’s something that is really special for both of us.'" (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Permissive Environment - Gunfire rippled across the morning calm of Jalalabad today. From what we have learned there were up to four gunmen on the lose. Two were detected when they walked out of the Nangarhar Hotel armed with AK 47’s and pistols. Immediately upon exiting the building, which is across a traffic circle from the Provincial Governors compound, they were identified and challenged by one of the 20 or so ANP soldiers who mill about the area and the lead gunmen opened fire. He hit the closest policemen who in turn shot the first bad guy dead and the second bad guy retreated up to the second floor and barricaded himself in his room. The police start to hammer away at the room and wounded the guy who is now in custody. Reportedly there may have been two accomplices who got away. Initial reports in the press reported this to be an assassination attempt on the Governor of Nangarhar Province, Gul Agha Shirzai, but he was not anywhere near the action. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Angry Iraqis - Few seemed to react today when a group with al-Qaeda links took credit for Sunday's suicide attacks. Iraqis are so exhausted that an old man swears that bystanders spat upon the deputy speaker Khaled Attiyah as he passed by. "Curses upon you and your politicians," the man said he heard them shout. "Curses upon you and your turbaned colleagues!" When asked how he plans to vote in the upcoming elections, the old man said it did not matter. He said, "Jesus said you want it one way, I want it another, and what matters is how God wants it to be." Okay, no problem. "If I may borrow from that saying," he said. "You want it one way, I want it another, and what matters is how America wants it to turn out." There was no point in trying to tell him otherwise, so I didn't argue about U.S. puppet works. We talked about the importance of voting. The old man said when he was young, people protested in the streets. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Tough Stuff - The last gun truck in the convoy sends periodic reports (via radio and an Army text-message system) back to the command post. On our most recent mission I screwed it all up. I had never been in that position before, and didn’t do anything to prepare. It wasn’t until we left the gate that began to message my colleagues in other trucks, getting instructions on how to do it. This took my attention off the road* (which sometimes explode), diverted the other soldiers’ attention, delayed the reports, and left our CP without information from us until I got my act together. I had no idea that I was quickly becoming the laughing stock of the mission. I heard about it when we reached our destination: "Geez, I was getting messages from Danger every minute." "Come on, man. You’ve been in for eight years; you should be better." “The guy’s book-smart, but no common sense.” "I’m counting on you to have your shit together. When you’re like this it makes me look bad." (READ MORE)

HERMANEUTICS: AFGHANISTAN: Week One - Well, I know it's not healthy to start counting the weeks or days yet it's good to have this first week behind us. We flew from Savannah through Ireland to Kyrgyzstan and then on to our final destination, about 30 hours total travel time. I am on Bagram, the largest base in the country and also probably the most crowded with a mix of the 3 core branches (Army, AF, Navy) and many other nations (US, UK, Poland, Germany, Canada et al.) I will post pictures of my living quarters once I am fully settled but all in all I'm content if not comfortable. Jocelyn will write more about the emotions of this first week from her perspective as all too often the left-behind spouse's role in the deployment is not fully appreciated. We've been able to talk almost every day and now with Internet in my room we can Skype! Of course we'll continue with the old-fashioned letters but praise God for the technology to bridge the gap. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:
First Impressions - The first Iraqis to invite me into their home were Qisma and Widad Hamza, two sisters taking care of Widad’s twin grandchildren. I’d come to talk to them about swine flu, which had closed the neighborhood primary school. This was three days before Baghdad erupted once again in the horrific violence that people here had started to describe as a thing of the past. The sisters pulled chairs from the concrete house into the neat concrete front yard, protected by an iron gate. (READ MORE)

Iraq Increases Security After Blasts - Iraqi authorities scrambled to reassure the public after the worst bombing attack in two years by increasing vigilance at checkpoints and closing off roads in the Iraqi capital. The government on Monday raised the death toll for Sunday's attacks to at least 155 people. Funerals for the victims were held across the capital. The Interior Ministry said at least 70 people have been arrested so far, but didn't provide further details. (READ MORE)

Iraq Reaches Voting Deal as Toll Rises in Bombings - Iraqi officials reached a tentative agreement on a new election law on Monday, even as workers continued to recover more bodies from the wreckage of Sunday’s bomb attacks, including an uncertain number of children from two day care centers. The toll climbed to as many as 155 dead, with more than 500 wounded and an unknown number still missing. The violence appeared to have jolted members of Parliament into action: (READ MORE)

Death Toll Nears 160 in Baghdad Attacks - Iraqi officials on Monday began assessing the scope of the damage from two devastating bombings carried out Sunday that are expected to cripple key government agencies for months, as the death toll climbed to nearly 160. The attacks targeted the Justice Ministry, the Baghdad Provincial Council and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, and appeared designed to portray the Shiite-led government as feeble and rudderless ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January. (READ MORE)

Iraq Beefs Up Security in Baghdad After Bombings - The Iraqi government launched a massive security operation in Baghdad as Iraqis buried their dead Monday, a day after a pair of suicide attacks against government buildings killed dozens of people and exposed the fragility of Iraq's fledgling institutions. The death toll increased to 155, including about 30 children, some of whom were killed in a bus that was taking them to kindergarten, Interior Ministry officials said. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Arrest Bombing Suspects in Baghdad - Iraqi forces, with US advisors, conducted a series of operations today resulting in the arrest of 11 suspects in vehicle-bomb networks operating between Baghdad and Mosul. Iraqi forces searched several buildings in western Baghdad for a suspect believed to be responsible for a truck bomb that struck government buildings in Baghdad and killed at least 150 people. The cell leader also is suspected of staging the deadly Aug. 19 attacks in the Iraqi capital. (READ MORE)

Auditor Faults Work on US Embassy in Iraq - As the measure of success in Iraq shifts from peacekeeping to reconstruction, one showcase for American aptitude is the new United States Embassy, the most expensive in the world. The embassy compound, which cost more than $700 million to build, covers 104 acres along the Tigris River and was built in a rapid 34 months amid often unstable conditions. But according to a report issued last week by the State Department’s inspector general, the complex is a monument to shoddy work and incompetent oversight. (READ MORE)

ISF search Baghdad, Tigris River Valley for VBIED-network members - Iraqi Security Forces conducted a series of operations today resulting in the arrest of 11suspected members of vehicle-borne improvised explosive device networks operating between Baghdad and Mosul. Iraqi Security Forces, with U.S. advisors, searched several buildings in western Baghdad for a VBIED network leader allegedly associated with those responsible for the deadly bombing yesterday, which struck government buildings in Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army arrests 14 in search of Mosul-based AQI leader - Iraqi Army soldiers arrested 14 suspected terrorists associated with a Mosul-based al-Qaeda in Iraq cell leader today. Intelligence reports led the 6th Brigade, 2nd Division and the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division Iraqi Army units, with U.S. advisors, to a location in Mosul where a recently appointed AQI Wali is known to hide. Acting on a warrant, the security team searched several buildings and apprehended 14 individuals suspected of working for the Mosul-based AQI leader. (READ MORE)

Kurdish kids get back-packs, school supplies and new school - Engineers and soldiers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Kirkuk Resident Office recently served up back-packs and schools supplies to elementary students of the Shalaw School in Sulayamaniyah. However, the students are in for a bigger surprise after the first of the year when they move into their new school thanks to the efforts of the USACE Gulf Region District. The school supply giveaway was orchestrated by Army Sgt. 1st Class Donna Sendelbech, the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Kirkuk office. (READ MORE)

In Sadr City the water taps are open - In what is considered to be the largest reconstruction effort the United States has undertaken since the Marshall Plan following World War II, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division has completed thousands of reconstruction projects in Iraq including construction of roads, schools, military facilities and oil production infrastructure. The most essential of these projects are those that provide the basic amenities to the Iraqi people to include water and electricity. (READ MORE)

Iraqis nab suspect in Iraqi Police murder - The Qaim Special Weapons and Tactics unit, with U.S. advisors, arrested a suspect in an Iraqi Police murder, Oct. 19, based on a warrant issued by the Republic of Iraq Higher Judicial Council Magistrate Court. According to the arrest warrant, the suspect is also accused of having al Qaeda in Iraq ties and involvement with insurgent activity. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Obama Defends Approach to Afghan War Planning - President Obama fired back Monday at critics who accuse him of taking too long to review war strategy in Afghanistan, telling an audience of military personnel he will not rush his decision on whether to send additional troops there. Before 3,500 members of the military and their families in a hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Obama said US troops deserve a clear strategy and full support to fulfill their mission (READ MORE)

No Rushing on Decisions, Obama Says - President Obama defended taking his time as he rethinks his strategy in Afghanistan and considers whether to send more troops, telling a military audience on Monday that he would not “rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way.” “I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary,” Mr. Obama said. “And if it necessary, we will back you up to the hilt.” The president’s speech at Naval Air Station Jacksonville offered few clues about where the review of his policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan was heading. (READ MORE)

Obama: 'Will Never Rush' Afghan Decision - President Obama, hours after holding a sixth meeting in the last month of his war council at the White House, told a crowd of 3,000 Navy sailors and Marines that he will not rush his decision on a strategy for the war in Afghanistan. In an image that will boost the president being criticized by former Vice President Dick Cheney for "dithering," Mr. Obama appeared in front of an enormous American flag and three rows of Navy sailors in dress whites. He spoke to a large crowd in a hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. (READ MORE)

Kerry Says McChrystal's Troop Request 'Reaches Too Far, Too Fast' - Sen. John F. Kerry declared Monday that he opposes sending more US troops to Afghanistan unless the government and military there improve their performance, and said the top American military commander in the country is moving "too far, too fast" in recommending an increase of more than 40,000 troops. Kerry (D-Mass.) spoke in what was billed as a major address at the Council on Foreign Relations, after he returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

US Official Resigns Over Afghan War - When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan. A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior US civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed. (READ MORE)

Helicopter Crashes Kill 14 Americans in Afghanistan - Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan killed 14 Americans Monday, the deadliest day for the US in the country in four years. Also Monday, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah demanded the removal of the country's top election official and several members of President Hamid Karzai's cabinet before the two men face off in elections on Nov. 7. Mr. Karzai refused to comply. Dr. Abdullah didn't say what he would do if his demands aren't met, but aides said he was considering a boycott. (READ MORE)

14 Americans Killed in Helicopter Crashes in Afghanistan - NATO officials in Afghanistan say three coalition helicopters crashed Monday in two unrelated incidents, killing at least 11 US troops and three American civilians. NATO officials say one helicopter crashed in western Afghanistan after US and Afghan forces raided what was described as a militant hideout. Earlier Monday, two coalition helicopters collided and crashed in southern Afghanistan. In both cases, authorities say they believe hostile fire was not involved. (READ MORE)

14 Americans Killed in Two Helicopter Crashes in Afghanistan - In a day of military tragedy and political drama, 11 American troops and three US civilians died Monday in two helicopter crashes in rural Afghanistan, while President Hamid Karzai and his top political rival escalated their dispute over conditions for holding a runoff election scheduled for Nov. 7. Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah demanded that the nation's top election official and three cabinet ministers be fired before the runoff, but Karzai refused. (READ MORE)

Push for Afghanistan Troop Increase Continues on Deadly Day - On a day when 14 US servicemen and drug agents were killed in helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, the largest such toll in more than four years, momentum continued to build to send more troops to the war zone. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a Washington address that he would support a decision by President Obama to "send some additional troops" provided improvements are made in Afghan troop training and government, and civilian aid efforts are increased. (READ MORE)

Afghan Death Toll for US Nears Record - Helicopter crashes Monday put October on pace to become the deadliest month for Americans in Afghanistan since the war started in 2001. One helicopter crashed in the western part of the country after leaving the scene of a firefight with suspected drug traffickers, killing seven US troops and three agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Eleven US troops, a US civilian and 14 Afghans were injured, according to the Associated Press. In southern Afghanistan, two helicopters collided, killing four US servicemen and wounding two others. (READ MORE)

Karzai: Top Election Official will Keep Job - The challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday called for the removal of the head of Afghanistan's election commission, the suspension of cabinet ministers, the removal of an unspecified number of provincial police chiefs, and the closure of some 500 polling stations as his conditions for participation in the runoff election scheduled for Nov. 7. Abdullah Abdullah gave Karzai five days to comply with his list of demands - which aides said would include about 17 points in total - but he remained coy about whether he would boycott the vote if these were not met. (READ MORE)

German Limits on War Facing Afghan Reality - Forced to confront the rising insurgency in once peaceful northern Afghanistan, the German Army is engaged in sustained and bloody ground combat for the first time since World War II. Soldiers near the northern city of Kunduz have had to strike back against an increasingly fierce campaign by Taliban insurgents, while carrying the burden of being among the first units to break the German taboo against military combat abroad that arose after the Nazi era. (READ MORE)

Pressure From US Strains Ties With Pakistan - The Obama administration is putting pressure on Pakistan to eliminate Taliban and Qaeda militants from the country’s tribal areas, but the push is straining the delicate relations between the allies, Pakistani and Western officials say. The Pakistani military’s recent heavy offensive in South Waziristan has pleased the Americans, but it left large parts of Pakistan under siege, as militants once sequestered in the country’s tribal areas take their war to Pakistan’s cities. Many Pakistanis blame the United States for the country’s rising instability. (READ MORE)

Pakistan: 19 Militants Killed in S. Waziristan - The Pakistani army says it has killed 19 militants in a battle for control of a Taliban stronghold in South Waziristan. The fighting came amid an ongoing air and ground offensive to defeat the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistani officials say troops captured the village of Ghalai after meeting strong resistance that also left six soldiers dead. The casualty figures, announced Monday, could not be independently verified because journalists are not allowed to travel with the troops. About 30,000 Pakistani troops have been advancing on an estimated 10,000 militants from three directions. (READ MORE)

A Lesson for Afghanistan? - Pakistan's military offensive in Waziristan, and the negotiations that preceded it, may be a paradigm for the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan as well as for the fight against al-Qaeda and other extreme Islamist groups in the Afghan-Pakistani border area. That view emerged from a presentation on the fighting in Waziristan last Tuesday by Frederick Kagan and colleagues Reza Jan and Charlie Szrom at the American Enterprise Institute. Kagan was among those who promoted the idea of "surging" troops into Iraq, and in July he was one of the civilian experts who put together recommendations for Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

'NATO Has the Watches, We Have the Time' - Those of us in the Bush administration who were responsible for its "Afghan Strategy Review" kept our mouths shut when we handed over the document to the Obama transition team last fall. We didn't want to box in the new administration. And when President Barack Obama and his advisers rolled out their own Afghanistan strategy on March 27, I was quietly pleased. It came to basically the same conclusion we had: The paramount goal was to squash terrorism through counterinsurgency and better governance in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. (READ MORE)

Britain Resolves, US Wavers - In Afghanistan there’s the United States, Britain and then the rest. Britain has lost 85 soldiers this year, more than all other European NATO allies combined. For both countries the annual death toll has been rising steadily since 2006, and with it the drumbeat of public opposition to the war. In all, more than 1,100 US and British troops have died. Special relationships are forged in blood; the US-British bond is no exception. So, as President Obama hesitates, his decision on American troop levels ever “weeks away” as the weeks pass, the British view of the war offers as good an indication as any of what Obama will do. (READ MORE)

Counterterrorism Gains - In today's debates about how to proceed in Afghanistan, the relationship between counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations needs to be clearly understood. First and foremost, we should acknowledge that, in light of our original counter-terrorism goals, our Afghan and Pakistan policies have been remarkably effective. There is no need to panic. We invaded Afghanistan eight years ago to prevent another terrorist attack on our nation, and we have been successful. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacked us three times in three years: at our African embassies in August 1998; the USS Cole incident in October 2000, and finally on our homeland on Sept. 11, 2001. (READ MORE)

Bring the Troops Home - Barack Obama didn't set out to be a "war president," but that's what history compels him to be. The nation and the world are fortunate that he doesn't have the reckless, ready-fire-aim mentality of George W. Bush. But Afghanistan doesn't present the kind of "false choices" that Obama, by nature, habitually rejects. The choices are real and awful, and no amount of reframing and rephrasing will make them go away. Monday's tragic events - 14 Americans killed in helicopter crashes in Afghanistan -- remind us of the decisions Obama faces. (READ MORE)

General Fallibility - Years ago, I bought an old Time magazine - the issue with the 1965 Man of the Year on the cover. I stuffed it into an old picture frame and kept it around to remind me of the fallibility of men, and, even, of Time magazine. It was of Gen. William C. Westmoreland. He was the Vietnam era's Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Westmoreland was an utter failure, and I do not mean to suggest that McChrystal is the same. Yet at the time the square-jawed Westmoreland appeared on the cover of Time, he was seen as something of a savior - the man who would lead America out of the swamp of Vietnam. (READ MORE)

Taliban vow to derail Afghan run-off vote - The Taliban has called on Afghans to boycott next month's presidential election run-off and vowed to disrupt voting in a repeat of their threat to derail the disputed first round. Election officials are hastily trying to prepare for the November 7 run-off, which removed one stumbling block for United States President Barack Obama as he weighs whether to send more troops to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban. (READ MORE)

Pakistan retakes Taliban stronghold - Pakistani forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery recaptured a strategic town from Taliban militants after fierce fighting, officials said yesterday. Kotkai town in South Waziristan has changed hands three times since the army launched a major offensive on Taliban strongholds a week ago, highlighting the difficulty of seizing territorial advantage in the rugged mountains and valleys near Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Karzai was pressured to accept run-off - Afghan President Hamid Karzai says British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other world leaders personally pressured him to accept an election run-off after a fraud-marred first round. But the incumbent, whose saw his announced majority in the initial August 20 vote reduced to just below the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory, stressed he agreed to a second round out of security concerns and commitment to “democratic traditions.” (READ MORE)

Troops kill four Afghan civilians - Western troops shot dead four civilians and wounded three others yesterday when they opened fire on a vehicle in southern Afghanistan, officials said. A convoy of troops serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had opened fire at the civilian vehicle in the main southern province of Kandahar, said a statement from the provincial government. (READ MORE)

Britons losing confidence in Afghan victory - The British public is losing confidence that the war against insurgents in Afghanistan can be won, according to a new poll published on Saturday. The YouGov survey for Channel 4 News found 48 per cent of respondents thought British troops were not winning the war with the Taliban and victory “is not possible” — a surge from 36 per cent in August 2007. A further 36 per cent thought British troops were not winning yet but victory was possible eventually, down three points since 2007. (READ MORE)

Several Taliban killed, detained - A combined Afghan and international security force killed several Taliban fighters and wounded another after forcefully entering and searching a series of compounds in Afghanistan’s Wardak province on Friday. The compounds were known to be used by a Taliban commander and his group believed to be responsible for several attacks in the area. The combined force initially searched a building in the province’s Chaki Wardak district without incident. (READ MORE)

Poland to send 600 troops - Poland is to send an additional 600 soldiers to Afghanistan next year to strengthen there its force of 2,000, the daily Wyborcza reported - citing an high-ranking army source. But Poland would be unable to send any more than a total of 2,600, the daily reported, and the boost in forces will be more difficult to organize as Poland will have to pull soldiers from other areas. The report comes after a visit from US Vice President Joe Biden. (READ MORE)

8 US troops die; new deadliest month in Afghan war - Eight American troops were killed in two separate bomb attacks Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, making October the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban. In one of the insurgent assaults, seven Americans were killed while patrolling in armored vehicles, U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Vician said. He said an Afghan civilian died in the same attack. (READ MORE)

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