October 29, 2009

From the Front: 10/29/2009

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

Donald Douglas: U.N. Shaken as Taliban Target World Organization in Afghanistan - The terrorists in Afghanistan are hoping to get their own Sergio Vieira de Mello. In August 2003, the United Nations left Iraq after the organization's top diplomat was killed in a massive truck bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. The attack, which killed another 22 along with de Mello, was denounced by then-U.N. chief Kofi Annan - who promptly pulled the organization out of Iraq, signaling a victory for the terrorists. Now, in Afghanistan, Taliban terrorists attacked a U.N. guest house, killing 8, and raising questions about continued multilateral humanitarian operations in the country. From the Los Angeles Times, "Afghan Attack Puts Aid Programs at Risk". There's a horrible irony here for the Obama administration. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency lifted the hopes of liberal internationalists, seeing the Democratic victory as a validation of Obama's call for "a new era of global partnership"... (READ MORE)

Old Blue: War Is Tiring - There are lots of people who are tired of war. The young men and women on their third and fourth deployments are tired of war. Some say that the Afghans are tired of war, while others point out that if they were truly tired of war, they would perhaps cease fighting. Matthew Hoh is tired of war. When you tire of war, the reason for fighting gets lost in the shuffle. The immediate emotion of it all fades and the real work begins. The young often picture war as an adventure. Some picture it as a righteous cause, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” wafting through the whole scene. War is hard work. War is not glamorous. War is dirty, it is occasionally exceedingly violent; but mostly it is tedious and boring. Especially this type of war. There are some areas of Afghanistan that see activity on a daily basis. Most do not. Helmand, Khost, Kunar and some other places in Afghanistan have relatively constant conflict, with active insurgencies that threaten the peace on a daily basis. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Deadliest Month…Again - It is really getting old to keep typing the same posts every month or two about how a new record has been set about it being the deadliest month. August was really bad, but October has gotten much worse and the month is not even over yet. Of course this should come as no surprise. We are actively going after an enemy with more vigor and more troops than ever before during the time that they tend to try and do as much damage as possible before retreating back across the mountains of Pakistan for the winter. October and even November in some places are worse in combat action than the summer months. The fair-weather fighters that normally face off against the coalition don’t like to fight in the cold, and have a hard time with their motorcycles trying to escape in the snow-filled wadis. So they like to go out with a bang and leave an impression that they hope carries the fear amongst the people over the winter months. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Convoy to Airborne – Part 2 - We dismounted from our vehicles and visited the future office building and sleeping quarters. I could tell by the expressions on my teammate’s faces, they weren’t exactly thrilled about their new digs. But I know with a little bit of elbow grease and imagination, they will fix it up. We walked around the corner to visit our Kandak soldiers. It appeared they added additional tarps and covers to their sleeping quarters composed of dirt-filled barriers. Outside two soldiers were preparing some hot chai. They burned firewood in a metal bowl to boil the water for their chai. We took a quick tour of their living quarters. Their biggest complaint is trying to stay warm since they don’t have any heaters or stoves. Not all of the soldiers had cots and they constructed some make-shift beds out of scrap 2 X 4’s and plywood. Their other complaint was about the thin blankets issued to them. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: more than 100 dead in bloody attacks in Kabul, Peshawar - In the United Nations' deadliest day in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Taliban militants wearing suicide vests attacked two guest houses used by U.N. staff in the heart of Kabul this morning, killing six U.N. workers and at least six others. The U.N. insisted that this will not deter the organization from working to rebuild the war-torn country. The Taliban in Afghanistan, who also fired rockets at the Serena Hotel and the presidential palace in Kabul this morning, are apparently making good on their threat to disrupt the runoff election between incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah, scheduled for November 7. Karzai is reportedly already hard at work fixing the second election, according to an unnamed election monitor. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan: Decision Time - The wait continues for the president's decision on General McChrystal's recommendation. The unfortunate aspect of all of this business is that the debate is taking place in the public eye. While having a public debate on the efficacy of sending more troops certainly satisfies the exigencies of American politics, it's most certainly not beneficial to the war effort as a whole. I say this because if the decision is made to not send more troops, or even not send as many as asked for the by the general, we will be perceived by the Afghan government, people, and security forces as abandoning them and losing our will to fight the insurgents. I can confirm that the ANA leaders I habitually talked with were always worried about our ability to stick things out and did not want to see us go anywhere until the country had progressed significantly. Perception is an incredibly important part of any counter-insurgency, as winning the support of the people should ultimately lead to victory. (READ MORE)

the semi-normal, day-to-day life of a female marine: From IEDs to Sewing Circles, Securing Iraq - Boston University: New ROTC instructor Patricia Chapman on Marine training, and gender: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that traditional lines have broken down — from front lines to the line between male and female soldiers. More female troops are squeezing off rounds and tackling high-risk missions. They are the faces of drill sergeants who break down and rebuild recruits. They are scouring for roadside explosives and repelling ambushes. They are U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Patricia Chapman, BU’s new ROTC instructor. During the first of three deployments to Iraq, in 2005, Chapman took part in 87 combat logistics patrols in Anbar province, with Motor Transportation Company, 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group. Riding security for resupply convoys, she found herself on the receiving end of small-arms fire and mortar attacks. (READ MORE)

Fraser From Iraq: Same As It Ever Was - All right, apparently most stuff never changes. The Uniform Police are still alive and well. Their ranks are usually made up of unemployed senior NCO’s that have never been here before. But hey, if they weren’t here, what would we have to complain about? Everyday and twice on Sunday I’d prefer to take the rag-tag uniformed guys into combat over the shiny, pressed, and polished guys looking for a parade. The famous quote in my community is: “I went to war and garrison broke out”. (Attributed to the Red Dragon.) One of the common offenses is “Wrong Uniform”. Well, we have every flavor of military here, not to mention civilian contractors. And if you can keep track of who is who, and what uniform regulation they’re breaking, then you have entirely too much time on your hands. I wonder how much money the military could save by getting together and just having one uniform with different nametags to show what branch you’re from. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: On The Hunt For Roadside Bombs In Afghanistan - The Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment — known as "America's Battalion" — have been fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province since July. They have set up numerous outposts along the dusty roads and cornfields. And now they are moving farther south, looking to extend their area of operation and avoid the deadliest of threats just outside the wire: roadside bombs. On a recent morning, a platoon of Marines from Fox Company leaves the remote patrol base, a small patch of sandbags, camouflage tents and gravel. Within minutes they're cutting through a cornfield, walking in single file. It could be any cornfield in Iowa, except for the Taliban radio chatter the Marines are picking up on their radio. The Marines intercept a radio transmission from the Taliban that says the militants are "ready for the guests." "Guests" is Taliban code for the Marines. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War--Our New Flight Surgeon - Maj. Kevin Scott, 44, joined 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion this month as flight surgeon, replacing Lt. Col. David Doud, who returned to the U.S. recently after completing his tour. Scott has served as the flight surgeon for the 628th Aviation Battalion since 2006. Scott is a neurologist with a civilian practice at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, but Scott did not start his military career in medicine. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1986 and served as an officer in a military police unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he completed airborne, air assault and ranger training. He parachuted into Panama in 1989 when the U.S. captured Manuel Noriega. He served with the 82nd Airborne in Operation Desert Storm. In 1992, he returned to civilian life to pursue a medical career. He first went to graduate school in physiology in New York then to Wake Forest for Medical School, graduating in 1999. (READ MORE)

The Intrepid Reporter: Rants and Raves and How Old am I? - OK. Back again but not really motivated to do the “Usual Wrecking Ball” job. Maybe after I warm up a bit on the keys... The Old I.R. of fame & legend (if only in his own mind) is sort of at the burnout stage in this tour. Normal to see as I’m now looking at the One Year Marker in Baghdadland, formerly known as the Saddam-A-Go-Go. Yep. One more year checked off and ‘check the box’ for weirdness, incoming fire, and the usual bullshit that goes along with being here. The past couple of weeks have been the hairiest out of the past twelve months, seeing that the “High Hardheaded Weirdbeards” and associated “Dirty Haj Brethren of Bad Body Odor and Offenses against God and Humanity” have started up to their old tricks, and the incoming has claimed a couple of lives over the past few, Ye Olde Intrepide Reporter is a bit off his stride. Hell… how can one NOT be off one’s game? Another year… this make 6 years of being over here in various positions, with the most common one being BOHICA. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 89 killed in car bomb attack in Peshawar - A Taliban car bomb killed 89 Pakistanis and wounded hundreds more at a bazaar in the provincial capital of Peshawar. The attack is the latest in the Taliban's terror campaign and took place hours after the US Secretary of State touched down for a diplomatic visit in Islamabad. The blast took place at the crowded Meena Bazaar, sowing panic and destruction. The nearby Umme Habiba mosque was leveled and the facades of buildings crumbled from the blast's shock wave. "It was a car bomb," bomb disposal official Shafqat Malik told AFP. "Some people are still trapped in a building. We are trying to rescue them." So far, 89 people have been reported killed and 213 have been wounded, but the numbers are expected to rise with victims still trapped in the rubble, and dozens of wounded are reported to be in critical condition. 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. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 28 Oct 09 - this morning I woke up to go to the showers and stepped out into wetness… it rained last night …not really a lot, but enough that there were some puddles…this is a sign that winter is here–or damn close…the mountains surrounding the base are all covered with snow…of course, we are at about 5000 ft elevation here on base and the mountains are somewhere close to 9-10,000 feet…so it probably won’t snow here for another month or so, but it’s getting there…anyhoo…headed off to work and another day of mind numbing boredom…again, sat around most of the day…we did drian fuel and oil from 4 generators and cut a piece of plexiglass to replace a driver’s side window in an old beat up pick-up truck… all of that work ate up about 53 minutes of the day…I figured it out this evening–well, it didn’t take much figuring, more like I just thought of it for a second….we work 5 hours a day–well, we are there 5 hours a day…you see how much actual work we did today… (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: A Tale of Two Marines - By now everyone has heard of Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and Iraq vet who loudly and publicly resigned from his post as the senior Foreign Service official in Zabul Province. I'd like you to meet Gunnery Sergeant D, who has also recently left Zabul Province. Left, that is, after successfully completing a tour of duty attached to SF and EOD units. He's been put in for the Bronze Star (the real kind, for combat), and for the Soldier's Medal for saving a man's life. Part of his fitrep-- not written by Marines-- reads, "His leadership, decision-making, and recommedations to the supported commanders within the province is [sic] sought out and relied upon. His leadership is of the highest caliber and he is the Marine that everyone wants to work with. In an environment where he is the senior Marine within the province, he has surpassed expectations of those he worked with and set the bar for all that follow." (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: A Battery, Jeremy Pierce, and convoy duty - I watched Alpha Battery, 2/218 stage for a convoy last night and talked at some length with 1LT Eric Zimmerman about SPC Jeremy Pierce, who is recovering at Walter Reed from the wounds he suffered during one of the battery's convoys. Pierce's name and contact info is on a whiteboard in the battery's Tactical Operations Center, and soldiers say he's doing great ... two months ahead of schedule on his recovery. Since the Explosively Formed Penetrator blew through an armored vehicle and took off his leg and part of his other foot, the battery has responded by upping its game, including the times it drives the same route where Pierce was hurt, Zimmerman said. "I can't tell you how," he said, "but we're kicking its ass." The vehicles have stretchers strapped to the outer hull, at the ready, and tourniquets at the fingertips of every soldier. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: A wake up to gun fire - Sometimes, I wake up hear to the sounds of birds chirping in the garden. Sometimes I wake up unexpectedly to an editor's late-night phone call or to the sounds of a cat fight. A few days back, I was jolted awake by the violent shaking of my room as an earthquake struck this land. On Wednesday morning, I was roused before 6 a.m. to the sounds of combat. First, I heard a few machine-gun shots. Then for more than an hour, they waxed and waned sometimes reaching chilling, explosive crescendos. Sometimes gunfire seemed so close, I thought it must be right outside my guest house. Then it would seem more distant. The way the shots echoed in the narrow, wall-lined streets here, it was difficult to tell what direction they were coming from. As I lay in bed, I imagined a gunbattle playing out through different parts of the neighborhood. It seemed imprudent to set outside to investigate. (READ MORE)

Sorority Soldier: Pampering Yourself is Never a Bad Thing - I believe in spoiling myself every now and then – a massage, maybe a pedicure or a trip to the salon. For my return to the states, I decided a massage in Shreveport just wouldn’t cut it. I deserve a massage on the beach… looking at the ocean… in HAWAII! It was a whim and before I could change my mind or talk myself out of it, I bought my ticket and booked my hotel for mid-December. It’s not that going home isn’t enough to look forward to, but I was craving a trip where I could block out everything from this past year and give myself a jump start in 2010. Sure, London was great – but I had to deal with hate mail and a break up. Going home is great, but everyone wants to talk about Iraq. In Hawaii, there will be no talks of Iraq, no mention of the 34th Red Bulls and no scripts to write. I have no agenda, no schedule and no responsibilities. Make no mistake – I won’t be lounging on the beach the full 5 days. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Afghanistan: It's Always The Context You'll Want To Keep Your Eye On. - "Western skeptics of today´s Afghan mission should make no mistake: unlike those earlier conflicts, the international community´s objectives in Afghanistan align closely with those of the Afghan people. The Taliban cannot win by popular consent — polls regularly show that only 5-7 percent of Afghans support them or their aims. That is why they terrorize civilians through the threat and use of violence — including concerted attempts to sabotage the Afghan elections — and only sustain their campaign through revenues from illegal narcotics, financial support from fellow extremists overseas, and military training by Al Qaeda’s foreign legions. Put bluntly, the Taliban can only prevail if the international community loses its will to help the Afghan people build a functioning state and society governed by law rather than the barrel of a gun." (READ MORE)

Axeghanistan ‘09: Chicken & Egg - Before the roughly thousand troopers of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cav, arrived in Logar in January, there were just 100 American soldiers in the entire province, occupying a tiny earthen-walled compound at the former site of a Turkish gravel company. 3rd Squadron soon began drawing fire, mostly in the form of IEDs and “pray and spray” gunfire. One soldier has died, several have been wounded. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gukeisen wonders aloud whether the American presence caused the violence — or if the potential for bloodshed was here all along, invested in a simmering undercurrent of religious extremism, political factionalism and criminality. It’s the age-old chicken and egg question. There’s no easy answer. In southern Iraq, the British army eventually came to a consensus: the Brits said their presence incited more violence than it suppressed. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Update on this week's crashes - The three aircraft destroyed this week in Afghanistan included a CH-47F Chinook from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), as well as a UH-1Y Huey and AH-1Z Cobra from the US Marine Corps which collided in a separate incident. As of now, no enemy involvement is suspected in either of the two incidents. My condolences go out to the families of the victims in these crashes. In related news, armyaircrews.com has begun to release the names of those killed in the Chinook crash. This appears to have been the third Class-A accident (one which results in either a destroyed aircraft, over $1 million worth of damages, or a fatality) for the 160th SOAR in the past two months, after an MH-60 crashed near Mt. Massive in Colorado in August, and another MH-60 crashed during a training mission on the USNS Arctic last week (ArmyAirCrews reports). Update: Since the Chinook is a 160th aircraft, it's correctly an MH-47 Chinook, not a CH-47 Chinook. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Weighing Options on an Afghan Strategy - Lt. Col. Brian Lamson, military advisor to Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan, insisted that he wasn’t trying to get out in front of the White House. But when an officer in his position declares that “we’re not going to see a shift from counterinsurgency strategy” in Afghanistan, ears perk up. Lamson was speaking at the annual meeting of the International Peace Operations Association, a trade organization and governing body for private military contractors in Washington on Wednesday, and his remarks sounded a bit like those we read in the New York Times this morning about the Afghan options the Obama administration is considering. The president hasn’t yet made up his mind as to what the strategy will be, but the Times reports that “the debate is no longer over whether to send more troops, but how many more will be needed to guard the most vital parts of the country.” (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: IEDs in Kandahar - It’s being reported that the two IED attacks that killed eight American soldiers in Kandahar yesterday were carried out against Stryker vehicles, the quick-moving eight-wheeled tactical vehicles that had so much success in Iraq over the past several years. If the initial reports are true then the attacks would have hit the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based in Ft. Lewis, Washington, who were deployed to Afghanistan in July with the task of carrying out the experiment of being the first Stryker unit to tackle the harsh terrain of southern Afghanistan. Since July, the 5/2 has been in almost constant contact, up until this week losing eighteen soldiers, with the 1st Battalion, 17th Regiment—fighting in the Arghandab River valley north of Kandahar city—taking the brunt of the casualties, losing twelve soldiers. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Pentagon Fights Bombs with… Social Science? - In 2005, Col. Steve Fondacaro, then-head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Task Force in Baghdad, received a laptop filled with software that attempted to map out the country’s cultural landscape. The laptop — designed in part by anthropologist Montgomery McFate — was supposed to help commanders understand the social networks that supported insurgent bombmaking cells. He promptly threw the laptop out. But the idea lived. That effort would lead directly to the Human Terrain System, the Army’s controversial effort to tap social science research to support counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan (as pictured here in Helmand Province). Now things are coming full circle: JIEDDO, the organization that jump-started the human terrain program, is planning a major new investment in social science research. Total price tag: $140 million for the upcoming fiscal year. (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Update - I’ve been remiss in not posting for awhile. Sorry I haven’t kept you updated better. Ordinarily I’d make up some lame excuse about how I’ve been too busy leading my platoon in a war zone to write, however the simple truth of the matter is I lost my muse. That, I suppose, is liable to happen when you spend four months living in a prison that you have to guard yourself. The past few months have been an exercise in patience. I’ve read some good books, pumped some iron, watched movies on my laptop and generally figured out how to make my three to four hours of real tasks a day take twice as long in an attempt to seem like I am really doing something. I even stooped as low as carving a wooden horse out of a two by four. (whose incarceration experience would be complete without carving something out of the few materials around) However now that my time over here is growing short sheer mind numbing boredom is giving way to optimism and I spend my time daydreaming about how great life will be on the outside. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Honoring the fallen - As the Obama administration debated resource requirements, October became the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war. Even before the "record numbers" the president's approval ratings on Afghanistan were in free fall: "In previous polls, Obama received some of his highest ratings in relation to his dealings with Afghanistan, including 63 percent approval in April of his handling of the situation there. In the latest poll, 45 percent approve, down 10 percentage points in the past month alone, and 47 percent disapprove, an increase of 10 points. Nearly a third of those surveyed say they strongly disapprove." How to turn the situation around? Some say more troops, some say change strategy, others say withdraw - but someone in the White House got the bright idea that now would be a good time for a photo op: (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Police arrested over Iraq bombing - Iraq has arrested more than 60 security force members, including 11 senior officers over Sunday's twin suicide bombing in the capital Baghdad. Those arrested include the commanders of 15 checkpoints near to where the attacks took place. The attack in which more than 150 people were killed and 500 injured was the deadliest in Baghdad for two years. (READ MORE)

Iraq to Vote on Kirkuk Balloting Guidelines - A member of the Iraqi parliament's legal committee, Salim Abdullah al-Jibouri, says lawmakers have agreed to vote by Thursday on balloting guidelines for the oil-rich northern region of Kirkuk. A stalemate over the issue of voting guidelines for Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed region that includes Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities, has been jeopardizing nationwide elections scheduled for January 16. (READ MORE)

Deep Corruption Rattles Iraq’s Fragile State - As Iraqi officials work to assign blame for the deadly attacks on the heart of the government on Sunday, concern is rising that a greater security threat may come from within the system in the form of corruption, from the top leadership of ministries down to soldiers who man checkpoints. A recent internal report on corruption by the inspector general of the Interior Ministry specifically mentions the bribery of checkpoint guards: (READ MORE)

Kurds Plan to Boycott Iraqi Vote On Kirkuk - Kurdish lawmakers said they will boycott an Iraqi parliament session on Thursday if members are asked to choose which voter-registration records to use to hold polls in the disputed area of Kirkuk. A national election law has stalled over voting procedures in Kirkuk, a contested, oil-rich region in the north claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen. To move the legislation forward, parliament's legal committee and Speaker Ayad al-Sammaraie wanted lawmakers to vote Thursday over which voter-registration records to use in Kirkuk. (READ MORE)

For Every Iraqi Party, an Army of Its Own - Sunday's coordinated suicide bombings in Baghdad, which killed more than 150 people, were a brutal reminder of how far Iraq still has to go in terms of security. While things are far better than a few years ago, one huge task remains: getting the public to trust the Iraqi security forces. From 2005 to 2008, I was the mayor of Tel Afar, a town in Nineveh Province in northern Iraq that become the model for the “clear, hold and build” strategy credited with turning the war around during the surge. (READ MORE)

Obama honors fallen Americans at Dover - Standing in the pre-dawn darkness, President Barack Obama saw the real cost of the war in Afghanistan: The Americans who return in flag-covered cases while much of the nation sleeps in peace. In a midnight dash to this Delaware base, where U.S. forces killed overseas come home, Obama honored the return of 18 fallen Americans Thursday. All were killed in Afghanistan this week, a brutal stretch that turned October into the most deadly month for U.S. troops since the war began. (READ MORE)

Afghan commission targets 'fraud-free' election - Afghanistan's election commission said Thursday it would try to avoid a repeat of the widespread fraud that marred the first round in a run-off poll but again rejected calls for its chairman's dismissal. "We will try our best to avoid the mistakes made in the first round to hold a transparent and fraud-free election," Independent Election Commission (IEC) deputy chief electoral officer Zakaria Barakzai told a news conference. (READ MORE)

Afghan election plan criticised as insufficient - Afghanistan laid out plans for the Nov. 7 run-off presidential vote on Thursday in an announcement criticised as insufficient to prevent fraud, a day after a Taliban attack on U.N. staff reinforced concerns about security. Worries about security and a possible repeat of election fraud have mounted ahead of the run-off in Afghanistan's disputed vote which the resurgent Taliban have vowed to disrupt. (READ MORE)

Training Afghan National Police in Ghazni - That same trust and confidence hasn't always been felt for the police force in Afghanistan. Nineteen members of the Afghan National Police from the district of Andar were handpicked by the ANP commander to be given the opportunity to learn engagement skills. These skills will provide improved pro-active policing techniques. Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team, Civil Affairs members conducted an instructional course designed to coach, mentor and train the Andar ANP. (READ MORE)

Operational Update: Militants Detained; ISAF Casualties - An Afghan and international security force detained a few suspected militants today in Lashkar Gah district, Helmand province, during a compound search operation. The compound is known to be used by a senior Taliban commander with numerous connections to other Taliban commanders and leaders of the Taliban shadow government in the region. (READ MORE)

Statement by the Secretary General on Kabul attacks - On behalf of NATO, I stongly condemn the attacks that took place in Kabul today, in which a number of international and Afghan UN staff were killed and injured. The victims of these terrorist attacks were devoted to helping the Afghan people build better lives. In targeting them, the Taliban has demonstrated once again that it is truly an enemy of the Afghan people. (READ MORE)

A Resignation in Afghanistan Reverberates - To the get-out-of-Afghanistan crowd, he is a hero. To the fight-on camp, he is a goat. And to the anguished in-betweeners, he is a conundrum. News about Matthew Hoh, a State Department employee in Afghanistan who resigned out of frustration with American policies, has stirred passionate comment on the Internet that mirrors the debate over whether President Obama should send more troops to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Kabul, Echoes of Saigon - I returned to Kabul last week after three years away. What would I recognize; what would be new; would I like what I saw? It was dusk when I arrived and the smells of early fall hung in the air: wood smoke from fires lit to take off the evening chill; vendors cooking kebabs on open grills and roasting husked corn in pots that look like giant woks. In some neighborhoods the stench of open sewers mixed with friendlier smells. (READ MORE)

Obama Seeks Study on Local Leaders for Troop Decision - President Obama has asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional US troops to send to the battle. Obama made the request in a meeting Monday with Vice President Biden and a small group of senior advisers helping him decide whether to expand the war. (READ MORE)

Afghan Runoff Stirs Concern of Repeat Fraud - Afghanistan is scheduled to hold its runoff presidential election November 7. But can an electoral process that was so deeply marred by fraud the first time around be fixed in a short time? There is concern the second round of voting will prove to be as flawed as the first. The runoff election between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah faces multiple challenges: Taliban intimidation, voter apathy and cynicism, increasingly harsh winter weather, and, most of all, a turnaround time of only two weeks. (READ MORE)

In Afghan Village, French Outreach Yields an Ambush - At 10 a.m. Sunday, a dozen ragged schoolboys, who had been milling around this village's school after a meeting between Western soldiers and local elders, melted away, followed by their white-capped headmaster. Then, 30 seconds after the last boy carried away the blackboard, the ambush began. From crevices in the craggy hills to the north, Afghan insurgents fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at a French Foreign Legion unit that had entered Rodbar earlier in the morning. (READ MORE)

5 UN staffers killed in Kabul - A squad of Taliban fighters disguised as police officers stormed a guesthouse in the Afghan capital just after dawn Wednesday, killing five foreign UN workers, including one American, and leaving three other people dead in a two-hour gun battle with Afghan security forces and UN guards. Taliban spokesmen said the attack was the first in a wave of operations intended to disrupt a presidential runoff election scheduled for Nov. 7. (READ MORE)

Afghan Attack Puts Aid Programs at Risk - The deaths of five UN employees in a Taliban assault on a Kabul guesthouse Wednesday is forcing the world body and humanitarian agencies to reevaluate the way they operate in Afghanistan, officials said, putting at risk programs aimed at helping millions of people and stabilizing the war-torn country. UN special representative Kai Eide said the attack, which killed eight people, including an American, would not deter his organization from continuing its reconstruction and development work. (READ MORE)

UN Chief: Bombing Will Not Deter UN from Afghan Mission - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Wednesday's suicide attack on a UN guest house in Kabul that killed nine people, including six UN staffers, will not deter the organization from its mission in Afghanistan. From UN headquarters in New York, Margaret Besheer reports Mr. Ban said the United Nations would continue to help the country prepare for the second round of its presidential election scheduled for next month. Mr. Ban told reporters today is a very "sad" and "difficult" day for the United Nations. (READ MORE)

Afghan President's Brother Denies CIA Payments - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother has denied an American newspaper report that he receives payments from the CIA. Ahmed Wali Karzai was responding Wednesday to a New York Times report that said he has been on the CIA payroll for much of the past eight years. The newspaper reported that the CIA still pays Karzai, who is accused of being a major player in the booming Afghan heroin trade, for services including recruiting a CIA-run Afghan paramilitary force and providing CIA agents with safehouses. (READ MORE)

Reported Ties From CIA to a Karzai Spur Rebukes - Senior lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday criticized what American officials said were financial ties between the Central Intelligence Agency and Ahmed Wali Karzai, a brother of the Afghan president, with one top Democrat suggesting that intelligence officials had misled him about Mr. Karzai’s role in Afghanistan’s opium trade. The Democrat, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, demanded that members of Congress receive “untainted” information about Mr. Karzai’s drug connections in light of a news report that Mr. Karzai was on the CIA payroll. (READ MORE)

Taliban Stage Pair of Bloody Raids - Taliban groups killed more than 100 people in Pakistan and Afghanistan Wednesday, striking a Peshawar women's market and a Kabul guesthouse used by United Nations personnel, just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the region. Both attacks were extraordinary: Pakistan's was the country's deadliest in two years; Afghanistan's represented a shift by Taliban leaders toward targeting the UN because of its role in the country's election process. (READ MORE)

US Quietly Speeds Aid for Pakistani Drives on Taliban - Even as the Pakistani government plays down the American role in its military operations in Taliban-controlled areas along the border with Afghanistan, the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months, said senior American and Pakistani officials. During preparations this spring for the Pakistani campaigns in Swat and South Waziristan, President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan’s top army general to speed the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop transport helicopters. (READ MORE)

Car Bomb in Northwest Pakistan Kills 100 - A car bomb has killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 200 others in a shopping area of the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan just hours earlier for a three-day visit. The blast in Peshawar was the deadliest single attack this year in Pakistan. Witnesses say the explosion hit a crowded market late in the day, Wednesday, killing mostly women and children. (READ MORE)

Blast Eclipses Clinton's Pakistan Visit - The deadliest bombing in Pakistan in two years quickly overshadowed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's first official visit here Wednesday, drawing attention away from her goal of promoting a broad US-Pakistan relationship based on more than the shared fight against terrorism. In a dinner toast to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Clinton tried to address the military's battle against Taliban insurgents as well as the US development assistance she came here to highlight. (READ MORE)

Deadly Pakistan Attack Hits Market Filled With Women - The locale of the latest spasm of violence to strike Pakistan - a car bomb attack that killed 100 people - wasn't surprising. Perched on the fringe of the Taliban-infested badlands along the Afghan border, Peshawar has been hit several times by bombings that have claimed scores of lives this year. But the target Wednesday marked a disturbing twist in the Islamic militants' agenda: a bustling market that catered to women, many of them with children in tow. (READ MORE)

Transcripts of Defeat - The highly decorated general sat opposite his commander in chief and explained the problems his army faced fighting in the hills around Kabul: “There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” he said. “Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize. “Our soldiers are not to blame." (READ MORE)

Troop Level in Afghanistan is the Easy Part - President Obama's in-house debate on troop levels in Afghanistan isn't over yet, but it's a safe bet what he'll do: split the difference. Obama's military commander, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, requested between 10,000 and 40,000 additional troops. The president appears headed toward a number in the middle. But the number of troops, as both McChrystal and Obama have said, is not the most important thing. More important are the answers to three questions: (READ MORE)

Counterterrorism Begs for a Strategy - The world is watching as the United States government grapples with the next steps in Afghanistan. Whatever strategy is finally determined to be appropriate, this will be a decision just for Afghanistan, and perhaps Pakistan. It will not be the development of a global strategy to deal with worldwide violent extremism. The answer in Afghanistan perhaps might be more discernable if viewed in the context of a strategy that dealt with the broader issue of violent extremism. (READ MORE)

Keeping Our Allies On Our Side in Afghanistan - 'There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies," observed Winston Churchill in 1945, "and that is fighting without them." It's a truth worth recalling as the Obama administration nears crucial decisions on Afghanistan. American commentators often shortchange allied efforts in Afghanistan, ignoring the facts and insulting our friends. The European allies and Canada provide about half of the 73,000 troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, and they account for nearly 40% of Western combat deaths since 2001. (READ MORE)

Obama Must Provide Better Leadership on Afghanistan - Afghanistan and Pakistan are being shaken by attacks, and the Taliban is dictating the course of the war. US President Obama has been silent about the situation for far too long and European countries like Germany and France are correct to demand better American leadership on the issue of Afghanistan. The most important piece of news from the most recent meeting of NATO defense ministers was that there was no news. (READ MORE)

Clinton says Taliban must be defeated - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday praised Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda near the Afghan border, saying 'this is a fight that has to be won'. Speaking at the prestigious Government College University in the eastern city of Lahore, Clinton said militants were "slowly but insidiously" gaining territory after undermining the government's writ. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan to open more voting centers for runoff - Afghanistan will open more voting centers in next week's presidential runoff than in the fraud-tainted first-round vote, officials said Thursday, rejecting U.N. recommendations that they cut sites to prevent cheating. The decision highlights the deepening rift between the Afghan election commission and international advisers pushing for a credible vote on Nov. 7. Increasing the number of voting centers for the second round also would mean more security forces would be needed to protect them. (READ MORE)

Northern returnees need aid - Several thousand people returning to their homes in the northern Afghan provinces of Sar-i-Pul and Jowzjan need help before winter, according to aid agencies and local officials. Aid agencies say most are returnees from Iran and from a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan calms security fears after UN attack - Afghan authorities played down fears Thursday of the Taliban wrecking next week's presidential election run-off and tried to assuage worries of a repeat of the rampant fraud which tarred the first round. As the international community insisted a Taliban attack on a Kabul hostel, which killed at least five foreign UN staff, would not disrupt the November 7 poll, Afghan officials said the threat from the Islamists had lessened. (READ MORE)

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