November 3, 2009

From the Front: 11/03/2009

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

Michael Yon: Great Britain Loses one of its Finest - 03 November 2009 - British soldiers at war are an incredible group. Courageous, competent, and committed in very difficult conditions. An email came today from London, from a BBC correspondent who has been to Afghanistan saying that Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid had been killed. To see the article in the BBC was deeply saddening: Soldier Killed While Defusing 65th Bomb. On a side note, the British soldiers are conservative. Though this is not very important, it’s difficult to imagine that Olaf had only destroyed 64 bombs before being killed. Just on this single mission, during which all these photos were taken, and during the surrounding few days, his crew must have destroyed several dozen bombs. You had to be there. By the time the mission in these photos happened, the crew was very experienced.Courage is as common as boots among these soldiers, but Olaf stood out even in that company. (READ MORE)

A World Away: Vaulting the Wisconsin-Iraq language barrier - From Nick Druecke at Camp Taji, Iraq, roughly 6,339 miles from home in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Nick recently spent some time on the Iraqi side of the installation. Here are some more of his observations about working with Iraqi soldiers. They love to talk, and they don't seem to mind that we can't understand them. You pick up key phrases pretty quickly this way. We have a few translators here working with us, other wise progress would be kept to a minimum. Most of them grew up and lived most of their lives in Iraq, their reasons for helping the americans are varied. I do know however that they have the ability to become american citizens after certain prequisites are met. There are only a few words you hear here often, the ones you can pick out and understand at least. For the record I don't claim to know how these are spelled, I'm purely going off of phonetics. (READ MORE)

Steve Coll: Abdullah Abdullah - Some of my thoughts on the Afghan presidential election are up over at my New Yorker blog. Like Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah earned the credibility he enjoys among Afghans (hardly universal or complete, but substantial nonetheless) because he worked for the country and for the northern militias grouped around the late Ahmed Shah Massoud during the miserable, isolated years of Taliban rule. I’ve always found him to be measured, dignified, and elusive. Those were certainly characteristics present in his comments about his decision to withdraw from the election yesterday. (Karzai has now been declared the winner and Afghans will be spared the security risks of a cosmetic voting exercise.) Many lesser politicians would have handled themselves less responsibly than Abdullah in such circumstances. He has ample reason to resent Karzai: (READ MORE)

C.J. Chivers: The M-16 Argument Heats Up, Again - Second of Two Parts - A post here yesterday explored some of the background to controversies surrounding the performance of M-16 and M-4 assault rifles in Afghanistan and Iraq. The latest controversy followed the leak of an Army historian’s study that described weapons overheating and jamming in a July 2008 battle in Wanat, Afghanistan. Nine American soldiers died in that fight, at a remote post that insurgents almost overran. Similar reports of malfunctions, and concerns that the M-16 and M-4 and their cartridges lack so-called stopping power, have created a sustained set of criticisms about the United States military’s primary small arms.Some concerns predated the current wars. One study of the M-4 in February 2001, by the Special Operations Command, concluded that the weapon’s design was “fundamentally flawed” and prone to “alarming failures” when subjected to intense shooting. (READ MORE)

John Burns: Q. and A. on Karzai, Corruption and Afghanistan - John Burns, the chief foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is answering questions about a New York Times article about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is accused of having ties to the nation’s opium trade, has been on the C.I.A. payroll since 2001, according to the article. Q.…In life, let alone politics, you have to deal with reality. Corruption is a fact of human nature and exists all over the world, including our own country. If we were to seek out only clean allies, we would have no friends. If, as I believe, we should help the Afghan government and people resist the Taliban, it would be madness to condition our support on “ending corruption.” Will the critics suggest a viable alternative to Hamid Karzai, please?… (READ MORE)

The Gun Line MkIII: Perception… - The past two months have been frustrating for me. I have been trying to land a job, but I don’t seem to have found the right “groove”. I can write well, but that skill doesn’t seem to carry over to resumes or cover letters, apparently. I am taking advantage of the programs offered by both the VA and the Employment Security Agency, but there was a question of how my schooling fitted into the mix, and so I haven’t received any unemployment benefits for three weeks, and the GI Bill money is beginning to run out. It’s frustrating, but I’m not destitute, just unused to the uneven tempo. There are many out there far worse off that I am, and I am thankful for the roof over my head, the food in my belly, the fact I paid off my truck when I could, and the love and support of friends and family. To vent too very much would be selfish, but not to vent would be to bottle it up and make it fester, so just consider this a bit of house cleaning. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Yet Another Fun Conspiracy Theory - The news is that the UN envoy arrived in Baghdad to discuss with Nour Al Maliki the bombing attacks of Oct. 25. A man today told me that he could save the envoy a lot of trouble because he knows who was behind the attacks. The man said it was not al-Qaeda, and it was not Iran, it wasn't even the Israelis. Who was it? The man says the private security companies. That's right. Remember Blackwater? The man is certain that the likes of Blackwater stirs up trouble in order to stay in Iraq. "It's all about the money," the man said. We talked about the elections, and the man said he plans to vote for Nouri Al Maliki. The reason is not unlike what's in this BBC story about the elections and the fading Sunni-Shiite issues. "The last time Iraq held parliamentary elections in 2005, the Sunni community largely boycotted the poll. But now Sheikh Hatim is throwing his support behind Mr Maliki. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: It Will Have To Do - The perfect is the enemy of the good. Like him or not, and no matter the apprehended fraud committed on his behalf during the recent elections, Afghan president Hamid Karzai is obviously and clearly "the legitimate leader of the country," say the Americans. Like it or not, this is correct. Karzai's closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, may well end up a key figure in Karzai's new administration in Kabul. Then again, he may not. Either way, in Abdullah, Afghanistan now has a credible, de facto leader of the official opposition, and he is a canny fellow: "The future of Afghanistan will be either a moderate, Islamic country based on democratic principles" or a "Taliban-type, al-Qaida-type" regime, which will reverse the course of progress. And that is a very true thing. Sometimes, you just have to choose sides and bloody well get on with it, and the civilized world has chosen sides. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Your Counterinsurgency of the Day - The recent, drastic increase in casualties in Afghanistan--over 1,000 killed or wounded in the last three months--is, unfortunately, par for the course when conducting full-blown counterinsurgency. To steal T.E. Lawrence's old quote, it is slow, and it is incredibly messy, especially when done properly. It also serves as a great source of partisan in-fighting. Take House Minority Leader John Boehner, who said: "We've had the highest casualty troops in years over the last month or two. Why? Because of all the uncertainty around what the president is going to decide." Nice try, but it's nowhere near close. The increase in casualties might be more due to a.) a series of aircraft crashes last week, b.) the battle at COP Keating, c.) a massive offensive in Helmand province by British troops and US Marines this summer, and d.) an increase in the number of NATO troops and their tendency to conduct a large number of dismounted patrols. (READ MORE)

Axeghanistan ‘09: Op Donkey Haul - Able Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, part of the 10th Mountain Division deployed to Logar province, 50 miles south of Kabul, is way too small to cover the entire district of Baraki Barak, where its Combat Outpost is located. So the company uses observation posts, strung out along the district’s mountain peaks, to keep an eye things between patrols. Each OP is outfitted with sensors, rockets, machine guns and, most importantly, radios for relaying sightings of Talibs or other dushman. It was October 16, and the OP on spur near Route Georgia needed a generator to keep all this equipment running around the clock. It wasn’t quite enough to warrant calling in a Chinook helicopter from Bagram. Instead, the job of hauling a 300-pound generator up a 1,000-foot, 30-degree slope fell to 3rd Platoon, the “Dirty Dingos,” who promise that “the Dirty Dingos get it done.” Someone had the bright idea of using the generator delivery to improve relations with the local residents. (READ MORE)

BruceR: Today's... I don't know what this is, frankly - At serious risk of breaking the stones-glass houses rule, I feel compelled to write something here about another Canadian military online essayist. The fellow behind this post has more relevant experience, with the military, with Afghanistan, and probably with life in general than I do. So please take my criticism of his writing with that in mind. It's his attempt at a big solution piece on What to Do in Afghanistan. The synopsis: First, get the world to legalize the consumption of heroin. Check. Second, get Karzai and Abdullah to form a national unity government. Um, check. Third, get the Karzai-Abdullah government to introduce conscription and mass-enrol Afghans into the army and police. (...) Fourth, get Pakistan to "reclaim control" of its FATA territories. (!!!) Fifth, get Afghan and Western forces to "consider the Durand line irrelevant" and chase Taliban onto Pakistani territory whenever required and thus deny them a safe haven. (!!!!!) (READ MORE)

The Writings of a Man's Man: Risks of Serving Your Country - Some of my soldiers are taking creatine or other supplements to help turn them into ridiculously muscled ogres. To counteract the effects of all of the low grade horse steroids they are on they have to drink a lot of water to prevent them from growing dehydrated. Add into this the heat of Iraq and some of them were drinking ridiculous quantities of water to ensure they wouldn’t become heat casualties. A few weeks ago my platoon got tasked with a patrol that we needed to conduct at night. It wasn’t anything spectacularly long, but part of the way into it one of the guys riding in my truck started complaining about needing to piss. We weren’t about to stop so after a little scrounging around we found an empty water bottle for him to use, not an easy task in the dark being jostled around some bumpy roads, and he let nature take its course. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Should our efforts focus on Afghanistan or Pakistan? - Briefly revisiting Matthew Hoh’s arguments against involvement in Afghanistan, he (perhaps unwittingly) parrots the talking points of the political left. "I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy Western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan." There are so many errors in judgment and contradictions in this brief diatribe that it’s difficult to know where to begin. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Soldiers Aid Unique School in Iraq - Soldiers here visited students in a unique learning environment last month to drop off school supplies, treats and even guitars. The students of St. Efram Elementary School, eager to make the soldiers feel at home, performed a couple of classics in English, including “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and the English alphabet. (READ MORE)

US Concerned About Iraq Election Law Delay - As the commander of US ground forces in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. will play a key role in making the assessments on which the US military will base its final decision on whether to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq by August, the goal set by President Obama. After that, 50,000 US troops will remain to help with training and logistics until the end of 2011. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Security Forces target AQI VBIED networks, arrest 13 - Iraqi Security Forces arrested 13 individuals during three joint security operations today targeting vehicle-borne improvised explosive device network members in areas between Kirkuk and Baghdad. The 3rd Emergency Services Unit arrested a suspected member of the Kirkuk-based VBIED network in southern Kirkuk. Based on a warrant, the suspect is allegedly linked to network members associated with the deadly June 20 VBIED attacks in Taza, which killed more than 90 people. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest 2 during search of suspected terrorist safe house in Baghdad - Iraqi Security Forces arrested two individuals today during a joint security operation searching for a suspected terrorist safe house in northern Baghdad. Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. advisors, searched one building in a northern Baghdad neighborhood allegedly used to house Lebanese Hizbollah terrorist members. (READ MORE)

Maysan Tng Center Graduates 12th Class of Recruits - More than 2,000 Iraqi policemen graduated from basic police recruit training at the police training center here Oct. 29. Graduating students will now be assigned to district headquarters and local police stations to supplement the 13,000 policemen working in Maysan Province. The graduation ceremony was attended by Mohamed Sabir Said Al-Sudani, the Maysan provincial governor; Maj. Gen. Sa’ad Ali Aati Harbiya, the provincial chief of police staff; and members of the Maysan Provincial Council. (READ MORE)

Group addresses Iraqi logistics needs - A joint U.S.-Iraq logistics working group held a conference sponsored by the Ministry of Interior here, Oct. 28, to highlight successes and address concerns with future logistics support for the Iraqi Security Forces. The conference, mandated by the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, was the first to be hosted by Iraqis and held outside of U.S.-controlled bases. (READ MORE)

Soldiers redistribute US armor assets - The mass movement of equipment throughout Iraq is a complex process involving the support and coordination of multiple elements. "[Third Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment] is redeploying and we're repositioning all the equipment down South for the [3rd Brigade with the 3rd Infantry Division]," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donnie Black, a mobility officer with the 49th Transportation Battalion, 90th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). (READ MORE)

Citizen's tip leads to hidden weapons - A concerned local citizen recently contacted U.S. Soldiers about a site insurgents used to store weapons here, just northwest of Abu Ghraib. With the help of local Iraqi Army Soldiers, the Fort Lewis-based troops assigned to Company A, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, quickly sprang into action and dug up the insurgent’s weapons cache, Nov. 1. (READ MORE)

Times Responds on Reporter’s Kidnapping - Several Web sites repeated Monday erroneous allegations that The New York Times had paid a ransom in the case of its reporter David Rohde, held by the Taliban for seven months. Bloggers also accused The Times of hypocrisy in reporting on a British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates while keeping quiet Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping. (READ MORE)

Obama's Decison On U.S. Troops Still 'Weeks Away' - Now that Afghanistan's presidential election has been decided, pressure is intensifying for President Obama to settle on a strategy for the war, and to announce whether more U.S. troops will be sent to Afghanistan. A White House spokesman said a decision by Obama on troop levels is still weeks away. (READ MORE)

Karzai 'Victory' Puts Spotlight On U.S. Troop Decision - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's victory by default in the contested election may resolve the country's immediate political crisis, but it could complicate the outcome of the Obama administration's much-anticipated decision on sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Officially, President Obama welcomed the developments, calling Karzai to congratulate him. But the public message included a plea for a change in tone in Kabul. (READ MORE)

Afghan challenges for President Karzai - After being declared the victor of Afghanistan's fraught presidential election, Hamid Karzai now faces the prospect of governing a country blighted by insurgency and corruption. As Western governments insist the money they pour into the country be spent effectively, the BBC considers some of the challenges facing the new government. (READ MORE)

Karzai calls for unity, end to corruption in Afghanistan - Making his first public appearance Tuesday since being declared the winner in a disputed election, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai vowed to stamp out corruption and work with the Taliban in his third term in office. "Afghanistan is accused with mass corruption. I will try to clean it up," Karzai said. After three decades of war, Afghanistan faces challenges, he said. (READ MORE)

Hundreds of Afghan Police Graduate in Herat - More than 250 Afghan National Police graduated from basic training Oct. 29 at the police headquarters in Herat, Afghanistan. The graduates were some of the first to be trained in an effort to boost the national police’s current strength of 81,000 to 161,000 by 2013, officials said. (READ MORE)

Afghan, NATO Forces Detain Insurgents - Combined Afghan and NATO forces detained several insurgents in operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan in recent days, military officials reported. A combined Afghan-International Security Assistance Force operation detained an insurgent in Kandahar province yesterday while in pursuit of a Taliban district leader and senior commander of a sizable militant element in the area. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Taliban: 'We are prepared for a long war' - A Taliban spokesman denied Tuesday that Pakistan has won a series of battlefield victories in its offensive in tribal South Waziristan, saying the militants are drawing government soldiers into a trap. "We are prepared for a long war," Azam Tariq told an Associated Press reporter by telephone. "The areas we are withdrawing from, and the ones the army is claiming to have won, are being vacated by us as part of a strategy. The strategy is to let the army get in a trap, and then fight a long war." (READ MORE)

French military effort in Afghanistan earning respect of U.S. troops - After several years of enduring Americans’ scorn for sitting out the Iraq campaign, the French military is going toe-to-toe with the Taliban, shedding blood and proving a worthy partner in Afghanistan, U.S. officers say. While some knock the French for not empowering junior officers more or being aggressive enough in some instances, U.S. servicemembers serving with them northeast of Kabul generally spoke well of their ally. (READ MORE)

Afghan Presidential Runoff Is Canceled - Afghanistan's election commission declared incumbent Hamid Karzai the winner of the country's presidential contest and canceled a second round of voting, ending a political drama that had thrown the country into two months of turmoil. The commission acted a day after Mr. Karzai's challenger dropped out of the race and hours after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived to press Mr. Karzai to abandon his plan to press on with the Nov. 7 vote unopposed. (READ MORE)

Afghan Election Officials Cancel Runoff, Declare Karzai Winner - Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission says it has canceled the presidential runoff, originally scheduled for this Saturday. The announcement came a day after President Hamid Karzai's challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race. After enduring months of political uncertainty, Taliban violence, and the realization of massive fraud in the first round of voting, Afghans now know who their president will be. (READ MORE)

Obama Warns Karzai to Focus on Tackling Corruption - President Obama on Monday admonished President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan that he must take on what American officials have said he avoided during his first term: the rampant corruption and drug trade that have fueled the resurgence of the Taliban. As Mr. Karzai was officially declared the winner of the much-disputed presidential election, Mr. Obama placed a congratulatory call in which he asked for a “new chapter” in the legitimacy of the Afghan government. (READ MORE)

Obama Warns Karzai to Clean up Afghanistan's Government - President Obama, facing an unanticipated setback to his goals in Afghanistan as he weighs whether to send in more troops, warned the country's leader Monday to get serious about eradicating corruption and developing a stable government. Obama's administration faces a more difficult job in achieving his objectives after Afghan election officials canceled a runoff vote that had been scheduled for this weekend and declared President Hamid Karzai the winner of a new five-year term. (READ MORE)

Obama Calls Karzai, Urges 'New Chapter' in Afghanistan - US President Barack Obama is urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to open a new chapter in his country's history by taking action against corruption and implementing reforms. Mr. Obama called the Afghan leader just hours after he was declared the winner of a presidential election marked by controversy and accusations of fraud. President Obama acknowledges the election process in Afghanistan was difficult. (READ MORE)

In Kabul, a Collective Sigh of Relief - Election officials declared Afghan President Hamid Karzai the winner of a new five-year term Monday, canceling Saturday's runoff election just one day after Karzai's sole challenger quit the race. The decision ended weeks of political drift since a first presidential poll in August was found invalid because of massive fraud. In the capital, a sense of relief was instant and palpable. (READ MORE)

Suicide Bomber Kills 35 People Near Pakistan's Army Headquarters - Police in Pakistan say a suicide bomber killed at least 35 people Monday near the country's army headquarters in Rawalpindi, where gunmen kept up a nearly 24-hour hostage-taking assault last month. Monday's blast occurred in a parking lot outside a government bank, just a few kilometers from the capital, Islamabad. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Militants Kill 35 in Latest Attack - Militants continued Monday to exact a price on Pakistan for the government's ongoing offensive against the Taliban near the Afghan border, killing 35 people in a suicide bombing attack on military personnel and civilian workers lined up at a bank to get their monthly wages and pension checks. The midmorning blast in the city of Rawalpindi, was followed by another suicide bombing at a highway checkpoint outside the eastern city of Lahore that injured at least 15 people. (READ MORE)

Officials Showcase Armored All-terrain Vehicle - Senior Defense Department officials today showcased a more agile, downsized version of the military’s family of super-armored vehicles now arriving in Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain requires a more agile vehicle than the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles used in Iraq, the MRAP vehicle was modified to produce a lighter, all-terrain vehicle known as the M-ATV, said Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. (READ MORE)

US Deploying New Armored Vehicle to Afghanistan - The US military has begun deploying a new generation of relatively light-weight all-terrain armored vehicles to Afghanistan, which have enough armor to protect troops from deadly roadside bombs but are not too heavy for the country's relatively undeveloped road network. This report is about the latest effort to reduce the record and rising casualty levels among US troops in Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama considers sending tens of thousands more troops into harm's way. (READ MORE)

President Karzai’s Second Term - We regret the decision by Afghanistan’s opposition leader, Abdullah Abdullah, to withdraw from this week’s runoff election for the presidency. After President Hamid Karzai’s supporters tried to steal the first-round vote, Mr. Abdullah had strong reason to mistrust the process. But Afghan voters deserved another chance. And Afghanistan’s government - under assault from the Taliban and its own corruption and incompetence - desperately needed the legitimacy of a cleaner vote. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: Now What? - In the first round of balloting, Afghan President Hamid Karzai received 1 million "ghost votes" from people who simply didn't exist. When those were eliminated, he lacked the requisite plurality and was pressed by his Western backers into agreeing to a runoff - only to see his challenger drop out in anticipation of further fraud. Faced with a one-man race, the Independent Election Commission on Monday canceled the second round and returned Karzai to power for a second five-year term. (READ MORE)

Waiting for Obama - Afghanistan's messy election ended yesterday with President Hamid Karzai securing another five-year term after his challenger withdrew and a run-off was called off. Maybe now President Obama can get on with his job as Commander in Chief of deciding whether this really is the "war of necessity" he pledged for two years to fight. (READ MORE)

DC Cabbies on Afghanistan - And herein lies the lesson for the Obama administration: decide already. No matter how many more opinions you seek, they will be contrasting and conflicting. There is no hidden oracle within the Beltway or beyond that will provide the answer. No doubt, this is a difficult decision, and its effects are far-reaching. The ultimate strategy for Afghanistan has ramifications beyond our diplomatic and military strategy for the region. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan's Drug War: The Farmers Aren't the Enemy - There is concern that our continued efforts in Afghanistan are being undermined by widespread corruption within the administration of President Hamid Karzai. What few people are talking about is the opium cultivation and heroin production that is fueling this corruption. But should we do anything about it? Can we do anything about it? Not really. Controlling opium production is a Sisyphean task - hopelessly futile. (READ MORE)

Still no count of U.S. contractors in Afghanistan - The U.S. government does not know exactly how many contractors it employs in Afghanistan, a U.S. commission said on Monday, raising basic questions about oversight of wartime operations. Contractors in Afghanistan outnumber U.S. troops there and scandals involving misconduct by employees of private firms on the U.S. payroll in Afghanistan and Iraq have prompted calls by Congress for greater accountability. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Army Takes Control of Taliban Stronghold - Pakistani forces say they have seized control of the town of Kaniguram in South Waziristan, one of the Taliban's key regional strongholds. The army said it had full control of the town, the latest capture in an offensive against militants that began in South Waziristan on 17 October. (READ MORE)

Pakistan: Taliban demands Christians to convert - A copy of the letter, sent by Taliban on Oct. 6, obtained by ICC warns Christians to convert to Islam, pay Jizya tax (an Islamic tax imposed on religious minorities) or leave the country. If Christians refuse to accept the choices given to them, the letter explains that they “would be killed, their property and homes would be burnt to ashes and their women would be treated as sex slaves. And they themselves would be responsible for this.” (READ MORE)

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