October 30, 2009

From the Front: 10/30/2009

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

Afghanistan Today: Photo Essay By SSG Russell Lee Klika (VIEW PHOTOS)

Family Matters Blog: Family Photo Album: Coming and Going (VIEW PHOTOS)

Afghan Journal: Faces of those fallen - Here in the capital city of Afghanistan, I waited just like everyone back in the States for more news of the eight soldiers who died in two separate insurgents attacks Tuesday in southern Afghanistan. With the latest deaths announced by the Defense Department, the Fort Lewis-based 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has now lost 26 soldiers in Afghanistan since arriving in the summer. The 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, which I joined in late September for about two weeks. has lost 19 of these soldiers. All eight soldiers who died from Tuesday's attacks were with the battalion. (READ MORE)

MAJ C: Schools or Security? - Do you ever sit back in amazement at how short-sighted some people can be. How they can make a fluid and seamless arguement with even the most illogical information. I know I should be surprised, but I'm just not anymore. Today in the New York Times, Nicholas D Kristof discussed his column from yesterday, "More Schools, Not Troops." He is idealistic in his Op-Ed and unfortunately just plain wrong. While no-one argues that building schools is a bad thing, and very honestly is an imperative along with other parts of development, you can not build critical infastructure without security. He builds his arguement around this point: “The hawks respond: It’s na├»ve to think that you can sprinkle a bit of education on a war-torn society. It’s impossible to build schools now because the Taliban will blow them up. In fact, it’s still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan — particularly when there’s a strong ‘buy-in’ from the local community.” (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: A big mistake yet again - There is a well-known saying in Afghanistan: “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.” Yeah I have said that on here several times. It is a very common saying, and even though this may be true in Afghanistan, it does not mean we should be doing it. “The bill includes a Taliban reintegration provision under the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which is now receiving $1.3 billion. CERP funding also is intended for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects at commanders’ discretion. The buyout idea, according to the Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a program used to neutralize the insurgency against Americans in Iraq.” I have also said on this blog more times than I can remember that Afghanistan is not Iraq. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Helo mission to FOB Shank - It was another cool morning and our 72-hour assault packs were packed. I was still feeling a little bit sore from yesterday’s mission. I swear the Captain hits the bumps fast to see if I will hit the ceiling or pop the gunner out of the turret. Anyhow, we went over to the Landing Zone (LZ) to wait for our inbound helicopter. Off in the distance, some of the mountain peaks displayed a light dusting of snow. Winter is quickly approaching and government officials are worried that it might interfere with the election run-off on November 7. Today we were going to escort the ANA colonel along with his two body guards to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Logar Province. He wanted to inspect the troops and visit the Forward Logistics Element (FLE…pronounced flea). We watched as a helicopter circled around the mountains and then landed at the LZ. The helo blades create such a wind storm causing the temperature of the cold air to drop 10-15 degrees. (READ MORE)

Joanna Nathan: Cleaning the U.S.’s house - Much of the recent focus on "corruption" in Afghanistan seems to naively believe that it occurs despite the best efforts of American paymasters rather than because of the very structure of an intervention emphasizing co-option over accountability. With the New York Times now highlighting Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother's alleged CIA connections, there will hopefully be greater awareness that many relatives of the Afghan leadership receive backing by a variety of U.S. agencies often working at cross purposes and sending highly mixed messages about their priorities to the Afghan people. Much of the conduct in the early years of this war was essentially outsourced to the CIA, with little demanded of Afghan allies beyond mouthing allegiance to Kabul and professing hatred of the Taliban. The military has also been to the fore in choosing who to engage, often with little regard for how the population is treated and a blind eye turned to involvement in illegal activities. (READ MORE)

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann: Pakistan drone war takes a toll on militants -- and civilians - The Obama administration has dramatically ratcheted up the American drone warfare program in Pakistan. Since President Obama took office, U.S. drone strikes have killed about a half-dozen militant leaders along with hundreds of other people, a quarter of whom were civilians. As a result of the unprecedented 42 strikes by drone aircraft into Pakistan authorized by the Obama administration, aimed at Taliban and al Qaeda networks based there, about a half-dozen leaders of militant organizations have been killed. The dead include two heads of Uzbek terrorist groups allied with al Qaeda and Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in addition to hundreds of lower-level militants and civilians, according to our analysis. The number of civilian deaths caused by the drones is an important issue, because in the charged political atmosphere of today's Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is rampant: (READ MORE)

Army Live: Arriving in the Shadows - As I turned on my computer and television in the office at work this morning, the news was overwhelmed with stories about President Obama’s pre-dawn trip to (personally) one of the saddest, yet most honorable places in America-Dover Air Force Base. It is here that Soldiers killed in the war are transported back to their loved ones for final goodbyes and proper burial. It is here that a mother remembers senior prom and how she took a million pictures before her son/daughter ran out of the house with their date. It is here that a father understands there will be no more pleads to borrow the brand new car to go to the movies with friends. It is here family, friends and loved ones come to the realization that person is gone. However, it is also here that the nation pays homage and remembers what this Soldier did to protect, serve, honor and defend the freedom we love and cherish. While we are resting in the comforts of our home, these Soldiers fly in during the dawn hours of the morning in the shadows of the rising sun. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellent Adventure: Farewell to Qatar - Friday 30 October 0830 - Well, today is my last day here. Tonight I go to the airport, and at 0145 I’ll be wheels up on my way to my next duty assignment. This has been a very interesting tour in many ways. It had challenges and frustrations like I’ve never experienced before, but I learned a lot both through dealing with those and also from the staff and civilian contractors I worked with. For much of the time here I felt as though I was swimming upstream, and not always fast enough to overcome the current. I seem to have managed not to be swept out to sea, though, so that’s something. In retrospect I did manage to accomplish some things I’m proud of, although I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped I could when I started. I suppose if you have any kind of ambition or desire to do a good job, it always feels at least somewhat that way, but in this case I really did feel as though I’d been held back or let myself down somehow. (READ MORE)

SPC Mary Lee: Lessons Learned in Baghdad - When I joined the Army Reserve on August 17, 2007, I knew there was a good chance that I would be deployed. Originally, my intention for joining was to become a “weekend warrior.” My plan was to use the G.I. Bill to earn my Master’s degree and pursue a civilian career as a high school teacher. I never thought that the Army would become such a big part of my life. That was until I got the news that I was being deployed to Iraq. Life for me has been a roller coaster since I joined the Army two years ago. I have bounced from state to state, taking part in numerous Army trainings and development schools. I have learned more over these past two years than I learned during four years of college. Most of what I have learned has been in the area of personal growth as a result of being away from the comforts of civilian life. Being in Baghdad has given me a lot of time to think about what is important to me and what I want out of life. (READ MORE)

SGM Troy Falardeau: Inshallah - Tomorrow is the 314th PAOC’s farewell party from Iraq. It’s a chance for us to say ‘thank you’ to the people and organizations that made our time here more enjoyable and more effective. 1LT Larrew is the chief planner of the event, and we are all hoping that it will break us out of the funk we have been in for a few days. You might being asking yourself, ‘How can you be in a funk? Aren’t you coming home soon?’ Yes, the unit is due to return sometime in the next few weeks, but there are still many unknowns, and those unknowns weigh heavily on people who see a light at the end of a tunnel. The travel plans of the replacement unit, the weather, bureaucratic paperwork, missed forms and overlooked emails, or a myriad of other things can slow down a Soldier who is greatly anticipating reunions with family, friends and, yes, even that civilian job they left more than a year ago. (READ MORE)

Doc H: A Tale of Two Words - I got back to Camp Spann the two nights ago. It was so nice to sleep in my own B Hut and cot. It is good to be back. Today let's examine two words used widely in the discussions of Afghanistan. My Interpreter enlightened me as to their meaning. Hazara - The word in Dari for 1000 is hazaar. When the Mongols brutally invaded Afghanistan in the Middle Ages timeframe, a subset of these warriors chose to settle in the central mountainous part of Afghanistan. The Khan reportedly allowed it, as long as they settled in groups of 1000, as it was the standard number for a Mongol military unit. Like many names of ethnic peoples, it is not a name they chose for themselves, but rather were given by those around them. They are a predominantly Shia Muslim people in a Sunni country. Thus you can see there are several reasons why the other ethnic groups: Pashtu, Tajik and Uzbek have long seated traditional dislike for the Hazara. (READ MORE)

the semi-normal, day-to-day life of a female marine: Women Marines want a chance outside the Afghan wire - Reuters: U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Tiffany Jones chews tobacco, spitting the juice into the Afghan desert as she talks, and wears her M-16 automatic rifle slung across her chest just like her male colleagues. Jones wanted to be a sniper but, like many women on active service in the U.S. military, she has never been outside "the wire" -- the heavily guarded razor-wire perimeter of her base. "I don't think the American public on a whole is ready to hear about females in the military getting blown up and their body parts everywhere," Jones said. Still, Jones said she would like to see more women in combat. Jones, 20, works in a motor pool at Camp Leatherneck, a sprawling base of thousands of U.S. Marines in southern Helmand province, the heartland of the Taliban-led insurgency. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Flying to Camp Garry Owen - Today I had a fast round trip to one of the bases near the Iranian border. We have fuelers and a MEDEVAC unit at Camp Garry Owen so I went to shoot pictures for an end-of-tour video. I'll try to post some tomorrow after I download them. Camp Garry Owen is small and crammed with soldiers. The facilities are crude--they have dry porta-potties they call poop ovens. Without the blue water, those things smell really bad. The one I saw they had some problem with the toilet seat for which the answer was to screw the toilet seat down. Luckily it was the kind that has a separate urinal, but anyone sitting in this plastic chamber has the head of a self-tapping screw in each cheek of their butt. Sgt. Matt Kauffman gave me the Garry Owen tour in a Gator with a nearly flat front tire. He showed me the PX--a semitrailer, the new coffee bar--which had an excellent latte, the local market--no one was around but the tea service was out... (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Anatomy of a Mission - You know what I listen to, what I wear to work, how an APFT goes, what I’m afraid of, why I’m getting out, what happens when a tractor-trailer rolls in a combat zone, and what my insecurities are. But none of that is what the Army sent my buddies and I to Afghanistan for. It’s pretty simple really: put machine guns on the road to protect convoys of stuff moving from place to place. And here’s how we do it. PREPARATION - My squad leader walks into the tent. "Hey, you’re on mission to go to ‘FOB B’ on Thursday." It’s called a warning order and as a truck commander that’s my cue to get things going. So I gather my crew (a driver, gunner, and assistant gunner) and give them the “who, what, were, how,” and anything else I know about the mission. We pack our gear and clean our weapons. I get my basic to-do items done: laundry, a fresh iPod sync, a call home to the family, and a run to the PX for Red Bull and Hot Cheetos. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Quarrel Over Kirkuk - Nobody is surprised by the fact that Iraq's lawmakers still can't get their act together. There are reports that the politicians once more postponed the vote on the election law until Saturday. The reports on the news say the Kurds boycotted, blaming the Arabs for holding up the process. As though boycotting is a form of cooperation. Another report said not enough people showed up for the vote. The rumour is Masoud Barzani is the obstacle. He wants Kirkuk and will take nothing less that the northern city of various communities. The hitch is the Iraqi government wants the elections held using the 2004 election registery, which would mean Kirkuk would be based on the residents of 2004. But the Kurds want a new election registry, which would include all the Kurds brought into Kirkuk since 2004. Surely some of those Kurds used to be residents of Kirkuk earlier, but nobody believes all the new residents are returned Kurds. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani troops advance on Uzbek stronghold in South Waziristan - Pakistani troops are close to surrounding a key town in South Waziristan that is used by members of an Uzbek terror group allied with al Qaeda and the Taliban. Meanwhile, the military found passports linked to senior al Qaeda operatives, one of whom was involved in the 9/11 attack, at a recently seized terror camp. Eleven Taliban fighters and one soldier were reported killed during the fighting over the past 24 hours. The military claims more than 260 Taliban fighters and 31 soldiers have been killed since the operation was launched against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan on Oct 17. The military is advancing on the town of Kanigorum from Shakai in the southwest, and said it has surrounded it from three directions. The goal is to seal off the exits before launching the final assault. The battle for Kanigoram is expected to be fierce, as fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are known to use the region as a base. (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: Under Pressure - Just a little OBE right now. As anyone who has been in the Army more than one day knows, we have a variety of creative and memorable ways to let people know that we are busy. Not just busy, but overwhelmed, “have more tasks than can be humanly accomplished”, busy. Mine has always been that “I’m a bit OBE right now”. I’ve said that before in my previous civilian jobs and got the deer in the headlights expression from people who have no idea what I’m talking about. Of course, OBE stands for “Overcome By Events” and is a good way to let people know that either there is too much going on or the mission failed because, well, it was overcome by events. Other colorful expressions are “up to my elbows in alligators”, “I’m in the weeds” and “my eyeballs are bleeding”. There are probably as many idioms as there are Soldiers who are busy. (READ MORE)

PRT-Kunar: Kunar Provincial Government holds rule of law training for religious leaders - Kunar Province hosted rule of law training for 70 mullahs and religious leaders Oct. 27 in Asadabad to teach influential people about legal rules and constitutional rights. The rule of law training was held at the Kunar provincial governor’s compound and included the Kunar Chief of Justice, the Kunar Appellate Court judge, an Assistant Kunar Minister of Justice, the Kunar Director of Social Work and Disabled, the Islamic Institute principal and many religious leaders. The training focused on Afghanistan Constitutional law and penal code, women’s rights, security and the upcoming runoff elections. “When people think of rule of law, they think of working with courts and prosecutors. The goal is to spread legal awareness to as many people as we possibly can. So not only are we going to work with the court system, but we are trying to find alternate ways to get the word out...” (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Evidence for the prosecution - Exhibit A: "Hamida Hussan is one of a growing band of gusty, young Afghan women - mostly single, childless and in their 30s - who are doing everything in their power to try and ensure the international community doesn't turn its back on Afghanistan. They are terrified that history is about to repeat itself and that Afghanistan will once again be abandoned. Talk of ''targeted counter-insurgency'' and the US ''reducing its footprint'' in Afghanistan, and negotiations with so called ''moderate'' Taliban, has them lobbying hard against troop withdrawal." Exhibit B: Dick Fadden, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service: “Why then, I ask, are those accused of terrorist offences often portrayed in media as quasi-folk heroes, despite the harsh statements of numerous judges? (READ MORE)

The Torch: Afstan post 2011: Why should MND MacKay care very much? - After all, the prime minister said recently: ... "Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011," Harper told reporters. "And we will not be extending the military mission, period."... So I guess Mr MacKay is musing about something that really will not concern his department: Too early to decide post-2011 role for Canada: MacKay - Canada is awaiting an election decision in Afghanistan and a U.S. military strategy review before setting a course for its post-2011 Afghan mission, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says. Those issues must be dealt with before figuring out where Canada fits in the multinational effort to secure and rebuild Afghanistan. A runoff presidential election is set for Nov. 7 after vote fraud forced officials to throw out thousands of ballots for incumbent Hamid Karzai in a probe of the Aug. 20 poll. A ruling on a new U.S. military strategy that could send up to 40,000 additional soldiers to the country is also expected soon. (READ MORE)

Axeghanistan ‘09: With Friends Like These … - It’s easy to slam America’s NATO allies in Afghanistan. According to stereotype, the Brits are hamstrung by stingy politicians who refuse to give them the gear they need. Likewise, the Canadians fight like wolverines but don’t have the political backing to stay more than another year or so. The Germans are lazy, scared and spoiled. The Dutch lose a couple guys and slip into a deep, institutional funk. But our NATO allies all have something useful to contribute to the war effort. Sometimes they just need to be enabled by the bigger, wealthier, more experienced U.S. military. Take the 275-strong Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar. “They’re better than any American PRT I’ve worked with,” says Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gukeisen, commander of the 3rd Squadron of the 71st Cav, deployed to Forward Operating Base Altimur, in Logar province. He points out the Czech team’s unusual skillfulness. The team is led by nine highly-experienced civilian engineers “motivated by altruism,” Gukeisen says. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Diplos Get Their Own Armored Vehicles, War Zone Survival Gear - As part of a push to create a cadre of muddy-boots diplomats ready to serve in conflict zones, the State Department is buying a fleet of fully armored vehicles — along with range of communications, first-aid gear and protective kit. The new equipment is supposed to help government civilians work where they are most needed: outside the protective bubble of the embassy. According to a recent post on Dipnote, the State Department’s official blog, the Civilian Response Corps — a newly created organization that has 50 active members, and another 200 on standby — will be receiving a fleet of 28 “fully armored vehicles” next year. “The vehicles will also be available for use by other U.S. Government employees supporting reconstruction and stabilization missions abroad,” the post says. In addition, the Corps will receive additional gear to become more self-sufficient in the field: (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Afghanistan is a Test for NATO Says Former CENTCOM Chief - Speaking at the annual meeting of the International Peace Operations Association, a governing body for private military contractors earlier this week, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former head of CENTCOM and current chairman of BAE Systems Inc. said that he doesn’t think that the case for the war in Afghanistan has properly been made to the American people. “I’m still waiting for the fireside chat,” he said, adding that the case has to be made not only to the American people, but to NATO allies, as well. “This can’t be America’s war, this has to be internationalized,” he continued, adding that the fight in Afghanistan “ought to be a question of defining NATO,” and what kind of security organization it is, if some NATO allies will deploy their troops but not allow them to engage in combat. (READ MORE)

The Burn Pit: Why We Do This… - The uninitiated, the people who haven’t been there, they don’t tend to understand the emotions revolving around an event like this… You have to have been there to understand how far away Home feels. What struck me about today was how easy it is to forget how great it is to have Home all around you, and how little you appreciate it until it’s gone. Today, at American Legion Post 28 in Dumfries, Virginia, a group of people gathered to call attention to the efforts that have gone into giving a little piece of Home back to soldiers who have given up so much of it. You follow this Blog, you are well aware of what Mothax has shepherded together in this project to give back to COP Keating. In three weeks, through the efforts of The American Legion, Target, and others, over $100,000 of funds and materials have been raised to give back to soldiers who lost everything calling fire in on their little piece of Home in a hellish, foreign land. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Hearts and Minds. Who’s First? - President Obama… this morning you went to welcome home 18 Fallen men. You watched as their flag draped caskets were walked solemnly from the plane. You saluted and I assume you looked into the eyes of their families. I hope you listened to their words. I hope you asked about who these men were in life and not simply how they died. You see, how they lived is so much more important than how they died. I hope you understand that exhaustion played a role in their death because the request for more support troops is being ignored and “thought about” by you. I hope you understand that we the families of the military now hold you accountable and do not care what the past administration did or didn’t do. Now of us can change the past we must deal with this moment. I hope you know every single one of those men took upon the responsibility and role they played in this war voluntarily knowing they would be deployed. (READ MORE)

Uncle Jimbo: FireDogLake Buttheads clueless about Bush and our war dead - I never cease to be amazed by the sorry haters on the left and their inability to understand the military, respect, dignity and the difference between a gesture and a heartfelt gesture. They are busy hating on George W because he failed to go to Dover and get photo-opped like our current Commander in Chief. Now first of all I will give Obama credit for gong to Dover, but as soon as it became a photo op it was cheapened as Matt noted. Anyone smell the stench of Axelrod and Emanuel? Well the brain-addled, land apes at FireDogLake are calling out the former CinC for not being so blatant. Admire their bile. This is what a president does. US President Barack Obama has paid his respects to 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan, the first time he has honoured the fallen in this way. Let me help you with that you pathetic, whiny little bitch. Turning a solemn occasion into a photo op that becomes about you is not respectful, it is sorry. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Sons of Afghanistan? - The sons of Iraq program followed heavy kinetic operations to ensure that joining the insurgency was unappealing. It was implemented from a position of strength, not weakness. The troops were in place, we were committed to the campaign, and the U.S. Marines weren’t leaving the Anbar Province until they had achieved success. The U.S. Marines were the stronger tribe, and the indigenous insurgents knew it. We are in a position of relative weakness in Afghanistan, more troops are needed, and the Taliban now control the countryside (while they have eyes for the larger cities such as Kandahar). A program like this will only work if the Afghans are convinced that we will be there for the long haul and help to protect them against retaliation and retribution from the Taliban. Some of the Afghans may team with us – but none will go it alone. (READ MORE)

Chuck Z: My own words cannot express - My words cannot express here how I feel about the administration's use of bodies returning to Dover as a photo op. Blackfive asks some poignant questions that I doubt will be answered by this administration. I won't republish these photos, because I am not a journalist. I have a personal code of honor that will not tolerate even one single visit by someone searching for pictures of wounded or the bodies of our dead. I cannot express here the rage that I feel when I look at these pictures. It's too coincidental--an administration that is taking weeks to consider urgent requests, losing points daily in public opinion, foreign policy and approval polls, now arrives at Dover AFB to pay respects to the return of our heroes. In an administration whose Chief of Staff once said: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." I wonder what opportunity they are seeking here? (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: The New York Times rewrites - ...the Obama at Dover story. Oops! The New York Times original report on the president's midnight trip to Dover said: The images and the sentiment of the president's five-hour trip to Delaware were intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste. ...but somebody didn't like that. The new version (hat tip to Nice Deb) reads: The trip was a symbolic one for Mr. Obama, given the gravity of his coming announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan. The image of the commander in chief standing on a darkened tarmac, offering a salute to one of the soldiers, highlighted the poignancy of a decision he is facing. ...which undeniably does a great job of conveying to Americans that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste - without saying that's the intent. (READ MORE)

ROFASix: Blood for Nothing - WHY? - I have been asking for a while what in the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?. Blame Michael Yon for providing the kernel that got me asking that. His wonderful reporting from Afghanistan made it apparent we had shifted our mission and our warriors were being ordered to put their lives at risk now for altruism, not US national security. Ralph Peters asked pretty much the same question yesterday in his column titled, "Blood for nothing." What worries me is as the question is asked we lose sight of the fact that real warriors and their families depend on the answer. They have only one mission in their view ... fight alongside their brothers on their right and left and come home whole to their family. Inherent is all that, is the belief that what we ask them to do is for our national interest. We tell them is to protect us and their families and when we say that, it must be true or they will sense the lie. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Iraq Arrests Security Personnel for Sunday's Deadly Explosions - Baghdad's top government security official has announced the arrest of close to a dozen officers and around 50 members of Iraq's security forces for alleged involvement or negligence in Sunday's suicide bombings in the Iraqi capital. Iraqi TV reported that Major General Qasim Atta, acting as a military spokesman for the Iraqi capital, announced the arrests of 11 officers and 50 members of the military and police for alleged responsibility or negligence in Sunday's attacks in Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Iraq Makes Sweeping Arrests Over Baghdad Blasts - Iraq announced Thursday that it had arrested dozens of police officers and soldiers responsible for security in the neighborhood where car bombs killed and wounded hundreds of people outside government buildings this week. The attacks on Sunday, aimed at the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad provincial council buildings, occurred in a heavily protected section of the capital, prompting accusations that Iraq’s security forces had been complicit in the bombings. (READ MORE)

Iraq Arrests 61 Officials in Fatal Blasts - Iraqi authorities on Thursday announced the arrest of 61 police and army officials responsible for the central Baghdad district where two bombs killed more than 155 people Sunday. The arrests, like others following security breaches, reflect the Iraqi government's strategy of holding soldiers and law enforcement officials criminally responsible for attacks carried out in their areas. (READ MORE)

U.S. NCOs mentor Iraqi counterparts - A dedication to leading and training Soldiers sets a non-commissioned officer apart from all other ranks of military service, but in order to lead, a good NCO knows you must first learn to follow. This lesson could not be stressed enough to a group of NCOs from the 9th Iraqi Army Division taking part in a program to develop leadership skills. (READ MORE)

Gear inventories save taxpayers millions - U.S. Soldiers here recently began “Operation Clean Sweep," finding $2.9 million in excess equipment that can be reused here or by other units throughout the world. "Army and Air Force personnel came together for the kickoff of the 15th's program to rid Multi-National Division – North's units of unneeded equipment while saving the military time and money," Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Adkins, the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)'s clean sweep representative for the 15th Sust. Bde., said. (READ MORE)

Civil Affair Team helps expanding clinic - The 364th Civil Affairs Brigade, along with bilingual, bicultural advisors, recently met with eight Iraqi Soldiers and a nurse at the Hero Clinic here at Camp Iraqi Heroes, to conduct the first in a series of training sessions designed to expand the clinic's reach. "Today is the first of what will be weekly classes held on Tuesday to teach medical skills," Sgt. 1st Class Markay Tracy, Stevenson, Wash., native said. (READ MORE)

Trading a Guitar for a Gun - Seven years ago, then 18-year-old Nicholas Raia of Altoona, Pa., brought his trumpet to an audition for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard band. He aced the audition and until last summer was a member of several performance groups within the band. Over those seven years he performed more and more with the band and ensembles playing the guitar for recruiting events and celebrations. For more formal military ceremonies he now plays the baritone—a small tuba. (READ MORE)

Comforts of Home Packaged, Delivered - Everytime the whir of a helicopter is heard, Soldiers located here at Forward Operating Base Wilson hope it's the sound of the "mail bird" flying in some of the comforts of home. Thanks to the combined efforts of one the Soldier's wife and several stateside businesses, Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment have received more than 250 packages addressed to "Any Soldier" since arriving to Afghanistan in June. (READ MORE)

Eight Afghan civilians killed by roadside bomb - A roadside bomb killed eight civilians in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, the latest attack in a surge of violence before a presidential election run-off next week. The blast in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan's east followed a similar bombing in the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar which killed four Afghans, including a child, on Thursday, the Interior Ministry said. (READ MORE)

Obama considering scaled-down Afghan war plan - President Barack Obama is considering sending large numbers of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan next year but fewer than his war commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, prefers, U.S. officials said. Such a narrowed military mission would escalate American forces to accomplish the commander's broadest goals, protecting Afghan cities and key infrastructure. But the option's scaled-down troop numbers likely would cut back on McChrystal's most ambitious objectives, amounting to what one official described as "McChrystal Light." (READ MORE)

Simple Afghan mission turns deadly for U.S. soldiers - The mission was simple. Some 20 U.S. soldiers were to patrol a riverbed in the dead of night, camp until morning, and provide backup to Afghan troops and their Canadian mentors in a clearing operation in Chahar Bagh village, an insurgent hotbed on the outskirts of Kandahar City. Less than 12 hours later, seven of the soldiers and their Afghan interpreter would be dead, killed by a massive homemade bomb buried deep under pebbles along the dried-out riverbed. (READ MORE)

South Korea to send troops, engineers to Afghanistan - South Korea will send a security contingent of police and troops to Afghanistan to guard the work of a new and larger team of civilian engineers, its Foreign Ministry said on Friday. South Korea will not allow the troops to engage in combat operations, a ministry spokesman said. Seoul has been under pressure to contribute troops to U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan but has said it would not send combat forces. (READ MORE)

Taliban charges US security firm Blackwater for 'devastating' Peshawar blast - The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has once again denied its hand in the devastating Peshawar blast, which killed over 100 people, mostly women and children, and blamed the private US security firm Blackwater for the blast. TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud said if the Taliban could target the Army General Headquarters and other major security installations in the country, then why would it target general people. (READ MORE)

Afghans caught between Taliban and US promises - "We're caught in the middle," Abdul Rahim tells United States Marines as they try to induce his fellow Afghan villagers to turn on the Taliban fighters in their midst. As Rahim mulls the Marines' offers, he sums up the no-win situation that rural populations find themselves in, trapped in a vicious Taliban insurgency but with US troops stretched too thin to provide lasting protection. (READ MORE)

Poppy sales resume amid Afghan war - It's an 11-day tradition that honours Canadians who lost their lives in war. Starting today, the Royal Canadian Legion's annual poppy campaign will invite Londoners to pin a symbolic flower to their collars and lapels in the memory of fallen soldiers. Robert Walsh, a London spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Legion, said headlines related to Canada's military focus extra attention on Remembrance Day. (READ MORE)

Operational Update, Oct. 30: Militants Detained - An Afghan-international security force detained a group of suspected militants in Paktya province after searching a number of buildings known to be used by a Haqqani facilitator responsible for the financing and supply of terrorist camps in the Khowst-Gardez Pass area. The partnered security force targeted the buildings near the village of Kandaw Kalay after intelligence indicated militant activity. (READ MORE)

Obama Honors Americans Killed in Afghanistan - US President Barack Obama says the sacrifices of Americans serving in harm's way are very much on his mind as he ponders America's war options in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama left Washington in the middle of the night to be on hand when the bodies of 18 recent casualties of the war came home. The president has been seeking advice on Afghanistan from generals, diplomats and members of Congress. But late Wednesday he sought a different guidance. (READ MORE)

Support Grows for Pursuit of Peace Deals With the Taliban - The idea of talking to the Taliban - a strategy advocated by Afghan officials - has become increasingly seductive as the Western death toll in the conflict mounts. Obama administration officials openly ponder an outreach to the leadership of Islamist militants, something that has been long advocated by European allies. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has already told the US-led forces under his command here that "reintegrating" lower-level Taliban gunmen into Afghan society is as desirable as killing or capturing them. (READ MORE)

Special Forces for Special Afghan Rescues - The past week has brought plenty of heartache for the medical combat specialists, considered the "special forces" of the Air Force. A day earlier, they had spent an afternoon airlifting 17 severely wounded members of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team to the trauma center at Kandahar Air Field. One American and one Afghan soldier were killed in that IED attack. A rash of combat deaths elsewhere in the Afghan theater has made this the deadliest month of the eight-year-old war for American forces. (READ MORE)

UN Reviews Security After Deadly Kabul Assault - Most United Nations workers here were confined to their living quarters on Thursday in the aftermath of a deadly assault on a United Nations guesthouse, and some were moved to more secure housing as foreigners working in Kabul reassessed their security. On Wednesday, gunmen associated with the Taliban entered the compound of the guesthouse and killed eight people, including six foreign staff members. The authorities said the gunmen would have killed far more people had they not been held off by United Nations guards: (READ MORE)

UN Evacuates Non-essential Staff After Deadly Attack on Kabul Guesthouse - The United Nations started evacuating “non-essential” staff from Kabul yesterday after the Taleban killed five of its foreign employees at an international guesthouse in the deadliest attack yet on the UN in Afghanistan. Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general, said the organisation might move UN staff now living in guesthouses in Kabul and elsewhere into more secure compounds, and hire private contractors to guard them. (READ MORE)

Afghan Officials Unveil Plans for Runoff - Afghan election officials said Thursday that they would increase the number of voting centers for next week's presidential runoff election, disregarding UN advice to open fewer sites to prevent the rampant fraud that characterized the first round of balloting. The announcement deepened fears that the Nov. 7 poll would be as tainted as the August election. US and allied officials had hoped that the showdown between President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah would result in a government that can be a credible partner in efforts to stabilize the country. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Increases Polling Stations for Election - Afghan election officials say they plan to increase the number of voting stations for next week's presidential runoff election, despite concerns that could lead to more fraud than in the first vote. Afghanistan's independent election commission says it will slightly increase the number of polling centers to 6,322 and have enough staff to ensure a credible process. Foreign election observers had recommended reducing the more than 6,000 polling centers used in the first round after auditors found more than one million fraudulent votes. (READ MORE)

Afghan Panel Overrides Warnings - Rejecting advice from UN officials, Afghanistan's election commission announced Thursday that it would open more than 6,300 polling centers for the upcoming runoff vote, far more than international experts here say can be adequately protected and monitored. The announcement surprised UN officials, who had recommended that only about 5,800 voting centers be opened because of the danger of insurgent attacks in some areas, the likelihood of fraud in others and the short time available to prepare and staff the Nov. 7 presidential election. (READ MORE)

In Military Campaign, Pakistan Finds Hint of 9/11 - Pakistani forces pushing toward a lair of hard-core Taliban fighters found documents this week linked to a member of the Hamburg cell of Al Qaeda that is believed to have planned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In a small village in the dun-colored hills of South Waziristan, soldiers found a German passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a German citizen and associate of Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers. The passport was issued in Hamburg in January 2001 and was accompanied by a Pakistani visa dated March 2001. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Army Picks Up Trail of al-Qaeda Operative Wanted for 9/11 - Pakistani troops fighting Islamist militants in the mountains of South Waziristan have picked up the trail of a leading al-Qaeda figure wanted in connection with the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. The Times was shown yesterday the German passport of Said Bahaji, a close associate of the September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. The army said that it found the passport and other documents in a mud compound in the village of Shawangai. (READ MORE)

Clinton Seeks to Strengthen US-Pakistani Relations - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan's cultural center, Lahore, Thursday for a spirited town hall discussion with university students. It is the second day of Clinton's three-day visit, which is focused on strengthening bi-lateral relations with Pakistan. Secretary Clinton urged students from the Government College University in Lahore to unite against extremists who threaten to destabilize the country. (READ MORE)

Clinton Presses Pakistan on al-Qaeda - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed doubt Thursday over Pakistan's failure to locate top al-Qaeda leaders in the eight years since they escaped over the border from Afghanistan, telling a group of Pakistani journalists that she found "it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to." "So far as we know," she said, "they're in Pakistan." (READ MORE)

Clinton Challenges Pakistanis on Al Qaeda - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on a visit meant to improve relations with Pakistan, strongly suggested Thursday that some Pakistani officials bore responsibility for allowing terrorists from Al Qaeda to operate from safe havens along this country’s frontier. “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get to them if they really wanted to,” she said to a group of Pakistani journalists on her second day here. “Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” (READ MORE)

Hillary Clinton Tells Pakistan it's Doing Too Little Against Al Qaeda - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting Pakistan on a fence-mending tour, turned unusually blunt Thursday, accusing the government of failing to do all it could to track down Al Qaeda. Clinton told a group of journalists in Lahore that she found it "hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to." Al Qaeda, she said, "has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2002." (READ MORE)

US Seeks to Counter Enemy’s ‘Weapon of Choice’ - The Defense Department expects US forces in Afghanistan to continue to be targeted by improvised explosive devices -- which have claimed more lives there than any other weapon - while it seeks ways to counter the threat, officials said. As President Barack Obama and his advisors weigh decisions on the next phase of the Afghan war, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is working to protect against and defeat the growing threat from IEDs, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today, noting that October has been the deadliest month for US forces in the eight-year war. (READ MORE)

Department Takes Steps to Reduce Casualties - Defense Department officials have taken steps to stem mounting casualties in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today. October has become the deadliest month for American servicemembers in Afghanistan, with 56 killed, and Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has no higher mission than ensuring troops have everything they need to protect themselves from improvised explosive devices and other threats. (READ MORE)

The Commander’s Duty Done - In his midnight mission to honor the returning war dead, President Obama did more than personally extend the nation’s condolences to grieving families gathered at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Without uttering a public word, Mr. Obama erased President George W. Bush’s shameful attempts to hide the pain of war from Americans and to shield himself from paying public tribute to the thousands who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The long-overdue display of national gratitude and regret by the commander in chief rekindled a note of most solemn ritual that the country owes sons and daughters in uniform sacrificed in war. (READ MORE)

Muddled Thinking on Afghanistan - It's been more than two weeks since President Obama announced that a decision on courses of action in Afghanistan would be made "in the coming weeks." Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a decision would wait until "sometime after the Afghan election is finally resolved." Given the fluid nature of Afghan politics, it's hard to say what "finally resolved" means. We doubt it will be anytime soon. The Taliban are not waiting for Mr. Obama's decision. (READ MORE)

Mrs. Clinton in Pakistan - Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first trip to Pakistan as secretary of state was never going to be easy. The day she arrived, extremists detonated a car bomb at a crowded market in Peshawar that killed at least 100 people. The Nation newspaper dismissed the visit as a mere “PR exercise, but who will buy what the US is selling is difficult to imagine, beyond the already compliant government.” Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis dislike and mistrust the United States. (READ MORE)

On the War's Front Lines - Here's what you would see if you traveled this week to Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the two big battlegrounds of the Afghanistan war: a conflict that is balanced tenuously between success and failure. The United States has deployed enough troops to disrupt the Taliban insurgency and draw increasing fire, but not enough to secure the major population centers. That's not a viable position. I visited four US bases in the two provinces this week, traveling with the military. I was able to hear from local commanders and talk with a few Afghans. (READ MORE)

The Tenacity Question - Today, President Obama will lead another meeting to debate strategy in Afghanistan. He will presumably discuss the questions that have divided his advisers: How many troops to commit? How to define plausible goals? Should troops be deployed broadly or just in the cities and towns? For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do. I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. (READ MORE)

What We Can Achieve in Afghanistan - As governments reconsider strategies in Afghanistan, stories abound about why achieving progress in this "graveyard of empires" is so challenging: The country is racked by violence and opium production; confidence in the government is weak; its neighbors meddle; and fiercely independent tribes distrust any intruder - whether from Britain, the Soviet Union, NATO or Kabul. The World Bank Group's experience in Afghanistan reflects all these problems. This is one of the most difficult environments in which we work. (READ MORE)

A Familiar War in Afghanistan - The opium poppy was introduced to Afghanistan more than 2,300 years ago by the armies of Alexander the Great. His forces were eventually driven out, like those of every would-be conqueror since. The poppy has proved more tenacious. On Monday, three US Drug Enforcement Administration agents - Forrest Leamon, Chad Michael and Michael Weston, all from the Washington area - were killed in a helicopter crash in western Afghanistan. US officials have released few details about the incident. (READ MORE)

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