November 6, 2009

From the Front: 11/06/2009

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

The Kitchen Dispatch: The Losses - It's been a staggering month of losses abroad. And now, the tragedy at Ft. Hood adds another layer of sorrow and even fear. Condolences to the families and friends of the wounded and of those who did not make it. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: BAF-f-l-e-d – Part 2 - It was pretty obvious we were not going to leave BAF today so we settled into our transitory tents. The tent was rather large and filled with about 65 big stinky men sleeping on cots. I suppose the “fragrance” we emitted only combined with the existing stagnant aroma. Most of the people in our tent were waiting on a space available flight home or a ride to another location. So like good soldiers or cattle we carried our ruck sacks and personnel gear to the tent and set up sleeping quarters on the available cots. Around 1:30 am, the insurgents decided to give us a wake-up call by launching 3 rockets (indirect fire) in hopes of hitting something on BAF, which is spread out over 6,000 acres. Although I am not completely certain, I think the enemy was using 107mm Chinese-made rockets. These rockets make a very distinct whirl and my auditory senses have been attuned to this sound. (READ MORE)

Brian Katulis: Will the U.N.’s withdrawal cancel out the U.S.’s civilian surge? - On Thursday, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan announced that it would relocate hundreds of foreign staff out of the country in response to an attack targeting a U.N. guest house in Kabul last week. U.N. spokesman Dan McNortan told reporters that out of a total of 1,100 expatriate workers, 600 will be temporarily relocated for security reasons. The United Nations has a presence of about 5,600 personnel in Afghanistan, the vast majority of whom are Afghan nationals. Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who heads the UN mission in Afghanistan said, "We will do what we can to avoid disruption of work." What exactly does the United Nations do in Afghanistan? It conducts the sort of work that top U.S. and NATO commander in the country Gen. Stanley McChrystal and key U.S. policy leaders on Afghanistan have identified as essential to the effort of stabilizing the country... (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Strategic Attacks or Unintended Consequences? - Before I post, I offer my condolences to the Ft Hood community. Today's events are completely shocking and utterly disturbing. Following last week’s attack in Kabul, initial reports from the Taliban were that they intended to disrupt the presidential election. Was this the Taliban’s sole logic for the attack, or were there ulterior motives? One unfortunate byproduct of the attack is that it undoubtedly will cut off the UN and NGOs from the populace, which is a strategic victory for the Taliban in and of itself. The UN has responded by announcing increased force protection measures, the consolidation of two-thirds of their 90 guesthouses (perhaps into one UN super FOB?), and the relocation of roughly half of their employees for the time being. There is a larger question that crossed my mind: was last week’s attack on the UN guesthouse in Kabul a replay of the 19 August 2003 attack on Baghdad’s UN compound? (READ MORE)

Pat Ryan: The Story Behind a Firefight - I came across an interesting article this morning by AP reporter David Guttenfelder highlighting the back-story behind a firefight he was recently involved in along with a platoon of soldiers from 2-12 IN (part of the Fort Carson-based 4th BCT, 4ID). This is the same brigade who recently suffered 8x KIA during twin assaults on COPs in Nuristan (for more details on these attacks, see articles from the BBC, LWJ, and CNN). Much more interesting than the details of the firefight itself are the events which preceded the coordinated ambush on the platoon as they departed the small village of Qatar Kala in E. Afghanistan. Guttenfelder explains that ISAF forces had built a small medical clinic in the village last year, which was promptly blown up by the Taliban sometime last spring. US forces continued to visit the village occasionally, but hadn’t been to Qatar Kala in over three months. (READ MORE)

Army Household6: Fort Hood Tragedy - My thoughts and prayers are with all of our military family at Fort Hood as well as those affected directly by this horrific act. If any of my readers at Hood need ANYTHING, please let me know and I’ll make sure to get you what you need! I just want to update real quick about what’s happening at Fort Hood.. these are the facts. I’m not going to speculate on ANYTHING (unlike certain members of the MSM) LTG Cone said all suspects were SOLDIERS! 0 kids were harmed .. they believe the situation is now under control. (at 3pm MT) The initial shooter (an Army major) died and the other 2 are now in custody. Please remember – let’s not jump to conclusions on the speculations or rumors that we are hearing about. Let CID, MP’s and FBI do their job and research the backgrounds of these guys before we start jumping to conclusions about the who and the why! (READ MORE)

Army Live: Keep Fort Hood in your hearts - The Fort Hood shooting yesterday is a tragic blow, and I know the communities of Fort Hood, Killeen, Copperas Cove, and Harker Heights are pulling together to support the surviving Soldiers and their Families. For our Soldiers, who have already given so much, to endure such tragedy so close to home is truly tragic. Across the Army and across the globe we’re sending our thoughts and prayers to the Fort Hood community. Here is what Secretary of the Army John McHugh had to say yesterday: “This is a terrible tragedy that we will know more about in the coming days. For now our focus is squarely on taking care of our Soldiers and their Families. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who have been killed and wounded. The leadership at Fort Hood is marshalling the medical support and counselors necessary to take care of our Soldiers and their Families and to notify the next of kin.” (READ MORE)

Tim Hsia: Training and Trusting Local Forces - When my company commander hesitantly asked me about taking my platoon on a joint patrol I sensed that something was wrong. My commander at the time, Capt. Scott Cheney, never asked me to do something; he was the commander, and his authority was absolute. When I told my platoon sergeant about the accepted mission, he sighed, grimaced and tersely said, “The men will not like this at all.” His reaction caught me off guard. He then explained that before my arrival, the platoon had lost a popular staff sergeant who was killed when an Iraqi policeman negligently discharged his AK-47. Since then, the platoon had avoided the local security forces as much as possible. But the distrust of the men in the platoon, and the unit as a whole, stemmed from more than just that instance of friendly fire. Often United States forces provide security forces of the host nation with equipment, including ammunition, weapons and general supplies. But these host nation policemen or soldiers often lack the basic discipline that American servicemen expect. (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: Helping the troops and families at Ft. Hood - Hello everyone. Some of you may get this email a couple of times due to the way that my Outlook is set up, please forgive me. Our operations are based next to Ft Hood and this tragedy hits very close to home. For anyone that has a passion for the military men and women this type of thing hits hard. Especially if you know someone that is stationed here. I am sending out this email as a way that you can make a specific difference in the lives of the victims of this shooting. We are asking for monetary donations to directly help the families that are affected. There are a number of organizations that are showing support and we all know that the holidays are coming soon. Some of these families will be without someone, making it even more difficult. Children will need gifts, turkey dinners, Christmas dinners and so on. You get the picture. (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: Church of the Black Madonna - The first time I got to go outside the wire here at Camp, SPC C and I went out with the Chaplain whom I'm replacing and his Chaplain Assistant. It's very odd for me, having been in Iraq this past year, to go off-Post without wearing full battle-rattle. I'd never have dreamed of doing such a thing Down Range! But here we just have to have it with us, ready to don at a moment's notice. But we don't have to wear it. Very odd, indeed. And liberating, I must say! CH C suggested that SPC C drive, since he's new to the area and will probably be doing much of the driving once we're on our own. He did extremely well, given the condition of the roads (horrible) and the actions of the other drivers (even worse). I'm grateful I know simple prayers like the Serenity Prayer my friends who go to AA and Al-Anon meetings have taught me. They come in very handy over here, I've already found out. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan: Street smarts - In an insurgency, when so much of the enemy's advantage lies in the element of surprise and its ability to hide among the populace, the power of perception and ability to 'sense' trouble become of the utmost importance. It's a skill we try to acquire in training, but some will always be better than others. I do believe awareness can be developed, and that the mind picks up on much more than we're consciously aware. Some days when we went out, just a few moments in the local area and we could feel that we're were going to receive some enemy 'attention' at some point. It's was not necessarily an absence of people or dirty looks that would alert us, just...something, and in time we learned to listen to those feelings. At any rate, the ANA have their deficiencies, and they don't often bring their "A" game on patrols that have little chance of receiving enemy contact, but the ANA do have a way of doing well when it matters and knowing when to be their best. (READ MORE)

High Heels & Combat Boots: Day 97: Fort Hood & The Holiday Tree - I am so incredibly sad about today's events....Josh and I were well aware of the upcoming deployment before we moved to Drum...and I suggested that we live on post for safety/security. He agreed. Wow. That sense of safety was taken from all of the military families today. You just never know what someone is thinking or what is about to your own backyard. But I am happy to report's Officer Bumbee is safe....Allison and her husband Paul are safe in their home tonight. Jamie and her husband are safe, as well. Whew! (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War? Door Gunner and Runner - Sgt. James McKeithan, a door gunner in Company B, Task Force Diablo, checks his equipment before a flight at Camp Adder, Tallil, Iraq. As a door gunner in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, McKeithan flies the night skies. He said the most exciting mission he would have gone on, a support role in an air assault, actually got canceled. The runner-up was what he described as a hot unloading of pallets at Basra. This means the pallets are dropped from the cargo ramp while the helicopter is still moving. McKeithan said the most difficult part of his job came when he was required to perform overnight missions on eight consecutive nights. A resident of Carlisle, Pa., 22-year-old McKeithan is a full-time Army National Guard Soldier. He served on the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Mobile Event Team before he deployed to Iraq. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War? The Judge - In 1999 Reynaldo Santos of Great Falls, Mont., needed an age waiver to join the Army National Guard at age 36. "It was tough joining at that age, but I had a goal. I wanted to be judge and everyone told me, 'You need to be a Soldier to be a judge.'" And it turned out he needed some actual experience as a Soldier. Santos ran for judge that same year and was defeated. "It wasn't bad though," he said. "I was fourth among 16 candidates, so I knew I could get better." He had the right academic credentials: an associate degree in criminal justice, two bachelor's degrees: one in paralegal studies and one pre-law, and a master's degree in criminal justice administration. Over the following decade, he would get more than enough military experience. Santos trained as a military policeman and began a series of active duty deployments that continue right through today. (READ MORE)

Life at Joint Base Balad: Blogging in Iraq - There are a few more things that I’d like to say about the deployment to Iraq, so this blog will keep going for a few more months, maybe even longer. The topic for today is blogging itself. When I started this blog, it was for two reasons. First, to keep my family and friends informed about what was going on for me in Iraq. It’s easier to do the blog than to try to explain everything to every one of my friends, and the blog allows the sharing of photos and other files very easily, which makes it a great way to keep in contact with folks back home. So from time to time I’d email my friends and let them know to check on my blog, and kept a link to this blog on my Facebook page. The second reason I created this blog was to let the world know the truth about what life is really like in Iraq, which is a job that the media in general is not doing well. I show pictures and descriptions of real life at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US Army major behind Fort Hood murders expressed sympathy for Islamic terrorists - An Army major behind the murders of 11 US soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, expressed sympathy for suicide bombers and support for terrorists waging war against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Police shot and wounded Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist, after he went on a killing spree outside a readiness center for troops preparing to deploy to Iraq. Hasan, a Muslim American, opened fire with handguns on soldiers at the center. Eleven US soldiers were killed and 31 more were wounded before Hasan was shot by members of a SWAT team and detained by police. Initial reports indicated that Hasan had support from other soldiers. Three soldiers were detained by police, but two have subsequently been released. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Return to the Grind ... but it's a new grind ... - I've been down for the past week with a cold. Picked it up while at home on R&R, evidently, and it finally took off after I came back here. The medical center reassured my hypochondriac self that I didn't have pneumonia again (have had it three times in my life, no fun) and that I wasn't going to die anytime soon - at least, not from a cold. So they gave me lots of good drugs that made my sinuses drier than the Mojave Desert. Yesterday, my body told me that the virus was officially dead, so now I'm just getting over the residual symptoms. As a result, I hit the treadmill tonight after work. It whipped my butt, but sure felt good to get moving again. Tomorrow: weight room. I'm much happier at work these days. My little group of people has transferred into the Gulf Region District, so we have a new set of bosses who are still learning what we're all about, but they're very supportive. Most importantly, my job has completely changed. (READ MORE)

Sailani: The UN shows its glass jaw - In response to continuing threats to its international staff in the wake of the tragic attack on a UN guest house in Kabul it now appears that a decision has been made to withdraw about six hundred UN international staff from Kabul. The details of the move are not clear yet, nor is its permanence, but the messaging is unmistakable; “hit us hard and we will turn tail.” I fully understand the thinking behind this decision, and I sympathize with the responsible parties who have to consider the threat picture and take measures to manage the risk of operating a civilian mission in a warzone. Unfortunately, I think this decision has far greater negative implications than positive ones. While appearing a sensible response to give the UN a chance to review the living arrangements of its staff, I think it fails to take into account the impact it will have on the enemy – as all good strategic thinking needs to. (READ MORE)

Dafydd: Are we quitting? - Today in asia times on line there is the claim that the US/NATO persuaded Abdullah Abdullah to quit the second round of the Afghan election. If that weren’t enough, they also make the claim that the US has agreed that the Pakistani Army will mediate between the US and the Taliban to find a (face saving) way for all NATO forces to, well, cut and run. I really can’t vouch for the veracity of this story, but the fact it is reported means some group or other must believe it, and that is, to my mind, worth noting. Particularly as rumour seems to count for as much as evidence in this part of the world. Furthermore, the same issue has this story regarding the likelihood of a rise of a new nation called Pashtunistan. Taken together, I think that it probably means a fairly significant Pashtun grouping really believe they can get their own state out of this whole thing. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: A gift of water, and life. - Van Hubbard is a tall, lanky 73-year-old who knows how to tap into underground water. Earlier in his life, Van worked for companies that drilled for water in arid expanses of eastern Washington and California. Six years ago, Van and his wife, Janese, moved to this city in the deserts of northern Afghanistan. Since his arrival, Van -- with the help of private donations - has overseen the drilling of about 150 wells that tap into the aquifers here. These wells provide clean drinking sources for more than 55,000 people. That means Van has saved a lot of lives in a nation where dirty water still kills far more children than errant mortar shells, helicopter-fired missiles, Taliban roadside bombs and other weapons. Young Afghan children die from all sorts of diseases linked to dehydration and diarrhea. The United Nations reports about 25 percent of Afghan children die before the age of 5, and a lot of those deaths result from ingesting dirty water. (READ MORE)

Stryker Brigade News: Cordon and Knock in Afghanistan: Combat Advisors See ANA in Action - Afghan Soldiers in armored humvees led a combined convoy of Afghans and Americans down Highway 1 in the early morning. As dawn broke they passed an Afghan national police checkpoint and dismounted by an ANA combat outpost. Their objective was Shah Hasan Kheyl, a village about a kilometer off the road. Starting in August 2009, small embedded training teams dispersed throughout Afghanistan started getting replaced with combat units from 4th Brigade Combat Team (Task Force Fury), 82nd Airborne Division to serve as combat advisors. The battalion-sized operation involved several companies of the Afghan National Army, their combat advisors, the ANP, and a company from 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. It was the first large-scale mission conducted by 3rd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps of the ANA in conjunction with their new combat advisors from 4th BCT, and was aimed at increasing ANA presence in the village and surrounding communities in Zabul province, Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: Zip, zilch, nada, zero....... - That’s about how many days I have left! Woohoo! After 36 amputations, 21 craniotomies, 12 appendectomies, 46 external fixations, and a multitude of other surgeries, it’s finally time to call it quits. I was involved in a total of 369 surgical cases, 79 of which I scrubbed and first assisted in, not bragging but I am damn proud of that! I have gone through the whole gambit of emotions, sadness, happiness, anger, jealousy, etc. I didn’t experience depression which is a good thing! The “can’t waits” still apply from the last entry, just getting a little stronger now. The emotion that I’m feeling the most right now is HAPPINESS!! I’ll be home on 13 NOV at 2100!!!! I can’t explain how ready I am to have the wheels touch down on American soil. The picture this week is another group shot. This one is unique because it contains people from Napal, Canada, Denmark, Holland and of course the USA. I'm going to miss these guys: (READ MORE)

Axeghanistan ‘09: Mosque Makeover - You can’t swing a dead goat in Baraki Barak district without hitting a mosque. But then, you’d never hit a mosque with a dead goat. That’d be very very insensitive. Around here, religion and farming are the ways to the peoples’ hearts. On October 18, elements of Able Troop head out, on foot, to the villages surrounding their combat outpost. Led by district sub-governor Mohamed Yasin Ludeen, Ronald Barkley from the U.S. State Department (pictured) and Troop commander Captain Paul Shepard, the soldiers drop in at no fewer than four mosques in three villages. At each, Ludeen, Barkley and Shepard ask to speak to the local mullah. They ask him if he needs anything and explain how he can apply for Army funds to refurbish his mosque. At the village of Yahaya, the Americans run into an unexpected cultural barrier. The men hanging out at the mosque seem reluctant to say who their mullah is. It might have something to do with the field next door, said to be a gathering place for local insurgents. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Training Program for Afghan Army Changed - The years-long mentoring program that paired American Embedded Training Teams (ETT) with Afghan National Army units came to an end last month with little fanfare, even though it marked a major change in the way the United States and its allies are trying to stand up the Afghan armed forces. For several years, the ETT mission paired small groups of a dozen or so American soldiers and Marines with larger Afghan units, mentoring them on everything from weapon discipline to mission planning and logistical tasks in the field. This has changed to what Major General Richard Formica, commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) calls the “two-brigade concept” that places more emphasis on partnering and less on mentoring, with the 48th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division focusing their efforts exclusively on the mission. (READ MORE)

The Line of Departure with Jamie McIntyre: Terror at Ft. Hood - So Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan is a “devout” Muslim, we are told, who prayed several days a week at a Mosque in Silver Spring, Maryland. He’s also a native born American of Palestinian parents. My Muslim friends tell me Islam is a peaceful religion, with dozens of references in the Koran rejecting violence. We don’t know if his religious beliefs played any part in his alleged murderous rampage, but the case of Maj. Hasan, who technically at this stage is only a “suspect,” is not helping the image of peaceful Islam. [Latest details on] While we withhold judgment awaiting more facts, it’s safe to say this terrorist act will only deepen the mistrust many Americans have for those who follow the Islamic faith. And that is a sad truth. Right now though my heart goes out to the victims and their families. I asked my friend Ami Neiberger-Miller, over at TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, what we can do. She sent along this tip sheet: (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Pakistani military enters 'final militant stronghold' - The Pakistani Army reportedly entered the hometown of the late Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in early August by a suspected U.S. drone strike, and razed his home to the ground in an act of revenge for the hundreds of people killed by TTP attacks (AP, Reuters, BBC). Makeen is the last of three major militant strongholds targeted in the current operation, and the army says it is fighting bloody street-to-street battles in Ladha and Sararogha as well. The Pakistani military claims it has has killed 446 militants since the operations in South Waziristan began on October 17, out of estimates ranging between roughly 5,000 and 12,000. Independent verification of casualty figures and army claims is impossible because journalists and aid workers are not allowed into the region on their own. (READ MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: Cancelled elections - Another week has gone by and it is time to post. On Monday, DJ, Tim, Holly and I went to Bagram to see the US hospital. It took us over 6 hours to get there, even though it is only a 15 minute flight. We left early in the morning to catch a shuttle to KAIA (Kabul Afghanistan International Airport.) This isn’t like catching an airport shuttle in the states though. We ride on this shuttle in full battle rattle. It is about a 20 min ride to KAIA. We left before breakfast, so we had breakfast at KAIA. We checked in 2 hours before our flight, which was a Canadian C-130. When it was finally time to board, nothing could be carried on. We have to check everything and they put it on a pallet. When it was time for us to leave, we taxied out, and then got held for at least an hour. Our 15 min flight took us 2 hours. Once we finally arrived in Bagram, we had to wait on a bus to take us to the terminal, and then wait in the terminal until they released us. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Why Are The Networks Talking About PTSD? - What part of, “Allahu akhbar!” do they not understand? For the second time in this war, we have had fratricide performed in the military ranks by a “Muslim convert.” Neither of the perpetrators have been combat veterans. Neither of them suffered from PTSD. So why are CNN and MSNBC going on and on and on and on about PTSD? We’ve got an issue to discuss, and I don’t have the solution; but that issue is not PTSD. Not in this case. Let’s talk about what happened, not about diversionary babble that has nothing to do with why twelve Soldiers are dead; murdered by “one of their own.” Let’s address whatever issues we find and not pussyfoot around. That’s not the American way, though. Instead we will make it about handguns or PTSD or some other crap. We won’t really look at the hard questions because someone might get offended. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Mourners Gather Online in Aftermath of Ft. Hood Rampage - A day of mourning has been declared at Fort Hood, Texas, after a deadly shooting rampage that left 13 people dead and 30 wounded. A picture is now emerging of the alleged gunman, Maj. Nidal Hasan,who reportedly opened fire inside a crowded medical processing center; investigators, as well as members of the Fort Hood community, are still trying to piece together what happened. Already, several instant social network support groups have sprung up. This Facebook page counts nearly 10,000 members; this one has 2,200 followers. For news and instant updates, the Killeen Daily Herald has an excellent Twitter feed: Readers can find out where the Red Cross is holding local blood drives, as well as where victims are hospitalized. The Fort Hood Sentinel has posted contact numbers for a family support hotline. On the national news side, the New York Times The Lede blog has an excellent roundup. (READ MORE)

The Armorer: Fort Hood, post the first - I wasn't ignoring the story last night, our internet connection was slower than John Kerry in Cambodia, and I gave up trying to get email to open and realized that the news coverage was just ad hoc crap. It has been interesting (and instructive) to watch the story morph, and how people felt the need to jump on it with all sorts of bullshit analysis when pretty much all they were doing was... guessing. I'm talking the stuff that went out publicly, not conversations that were occurring in email, or around the water coolers and in chat rooms. That's how you figure things out, and gather information - which is different from publicly posting/broadcasting drivel. Twitter counts as that kind of conversation, as well, by my lights. I'm thinking, in a way, assuming this morning's version of things holds up as the story fills out, that we got about the best of the possible outcomes. (READ MORE)

Blackfive: Fort Hood Shooting - Aftermath - First, Soldiers' Angels is gathering cards for the families of the fallen and the wounded. “SOLDIERS' ANGELS STANDING BY FOR FT. HOOD-- Collecting cards and NEW stuffed animals for the families and children of the fallen/wounded heroes. Please send cards and stuffed animals/blankets/anything NEW that may brighten the life of a child to: Soldiers' Angels Warehouse 4408 PanAm Expressway San Antonio, TX 78218” Next, as the media tried to make PTSD an issue (across all networks), I called a few producers to let them know that Hasan had never served overseas. No PTSD. Also, the media tries for victim-hood on Hasan. Apparently, reports are that he was harassed for being muslim. I have sources that have stated that the Army investigated Hasan's claims that he was being targeted for his religion and found that either his reports were inaccurate or that he was faking the harassment. I have seen soldiers harass muslims (one of the best NCOs I had as a young cav scout platoon leader was Sergeant Hassan). I have also seen soldiers harass each other for being Italian and Irish and Jewish, etc. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Sgt. Kimberly Munley - Readiness: The hero cop who ended the bloody rampage at Fort Hood had been directing traffic moments before she confronted the gunman and pumped four bullets into him despite being shot herself. Civilian police Sgt. Kimberly Munley and her partner responded within three minutes of reported gunfire Thursday afternoon, Lt. Gen. Bob Cone said Friday. More: Colonel Steven Braverman, commander of the base hospital and Major Hasan's supervisor, said that Sergeant Munley was in a stable condition in a nearby community hospital. Her Twitter biography reads: "I live a good life ... a hard one, but I go to sleep peacefully @ night knowing that I may have made a difference in someone's life." (READ MORE)
Afghanistan My Last Tour: Leaving BAF-f-l-e-d - My team woke up early eagerly anticipating our departure from BAF with our refurbished MRAPs. We knew we still had a lot of work ahead of us so everyone quickly packed their gear. There was one unwelcome surprise; the main shower house was closed so we had to utilize the small ones on the opposite end of the encampment. This was only a minor setback. The contractors were still actively repairing the MRAPs. Our AF mechanic identified a problem with the engine starter and the ECM issues were being resolved. In the interim, the team worked on preparing the MRAPs for travel. Our AF ETT Team leader and a Navy Petty Officer were working on the antennas, while the rest of us were preparing to turn in the old HMMVWs. These vehicles did their time and like old soldiers they were being laid to rest. In reality, they will probably be refurbished and sold as part of the Foreign Military Sales program. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Headed East - I know I haven't posted anything for a few days, so I at least wanted to give a quick update on our current trip. We have made it after a few days of travel to Feyzabad, which is in Badashan province. It is a beautiful mountainous area with glacial rivers. We are here to look at the construction of a new ANP clinic. Like any good fact finding trip it has brought to light many more questions than answers. Hopefully I will be able to post photos and more information in a few days. (READ MORE)

Brigadier James Cowan, 11 Light Brigade: Initial thoughts after the first week in Helmand - Letter Home on 17 October 09: On the 10th October Brigadier Tim Radford and 19 Light Brigade completed their tour in a short, simple military parade here in Laskhar Gar. After 2 years of preparation and training it’s finally good to get going. The key theme of the tour will be one of consolidation. This does not mean inactivity, far from it. It means understanding that our 6 months is but the next phase in a campaign; recognising we will not defeat this insurgency in our time here, but that we will move the campaign forward. We will sustain this counter-insurgency campaign’s continuity, driving on hard to meet General McChrystal’s imperative for change and passing to our successors, as 19 Brigade have done to us, a situation even further along than we found it. Back home, I sense there is some lack of awareness of the words we use and what they really mean in Helmand. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Possible Election Delay - Because the politicians appear unable to reach an agreement, they are seriously talking about a vote delay. The elections are scheduled, at this time, for January 16. A delay might not be as bad as it sounds. They might be postponed a week or two without too big an impact. The Iraqi constitution requires that the election be held by January 31. The lawmakers are supposed to vote on an election law that requires either an open list or a closed list of candidates on the ballot. Everyone but the Kurds want an open list. The really big disagreement is over the status of Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city the Kurds want to annex and have cleverly advertised it as their "Jerusalem." Reportedly the politicians reached a deal yesterday and will vote on it Saturday. If the Kurds claim that Saddam Hussein made them hate the Arabs and the Arabic language with his policies, the current Kurdish policies are making everyone else in Iraq dislike the Kurds more and more. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Two ISAF troops missing in western Afghanistan - Two soldiers serving with the International Security Assistance Force and operating in western Afghanistan have been reported missing. The two soldiers, whose names and home countries have not been announced, have been missing for two days, ISAF, the umbrella command for NATO and allied forces operating in Afghanistan, reported today. The soldiers went missing during "a routine resupply mission in western Afghanistan," ISAF said in a press release. ISAF and Afghan troops have launched "exhaustive search and rescue operations" in an effort to find the missing soldiers. ISAF will not release the identity or nationality of a missing soldier until the soldier's country releases the information. US, Italian, Spanish, and Lithuanian soldiers are currently operating in Regional Command - West, an area that encompasses Herat, Farah, Ghor, and Badghis provinces. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraq election body seeks vote delay due to law row - Iraq's electoral authorities called on Friday for polls due next January to be delayed after parliament failed once more to agree on how to hold the vote. If parliament insisted on sticking to the scheduled Jan. 16 date, the electoral commission could not guarantee the ballot would meet international standards due a lack of time for preparation, said the Commission's head Faraj al-Haidari. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Security Forces arrest five suspected terrorists - Iraqi Security Forces arrested five suspected terrorists today during two joint security operations in Baghdad and Sharqat. In northeast Baghdad, the 44th Iraqi Army, with U.S. advisors, searched two buildings in search of a Promise Day Brigade terrorist group leader who allegedly coordinates attacks against security forces operating in Iraq. (READ MORE)

New Aviation Brigade to improve safety at Ali Air Base - Construction is progressing well on the $61 million Combat Aviation Brigade Beddown project located on Ali Air Base. The base, also known as Contingency Operating Base Adder and Tallil Air Base is located about 310 kilometers southeast of Baghdad and 20 kilometers southwest of the city of Nasiriyah. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest 6 suspected VBIED-network members - Iraqi Security Forces arrested six individuals during two joint security operations today targeting members of al-Qaeda in Iraq-sponsored vehicle borne improvised explosive device networks. In Bayji, located approximately 102 km southwest of Kirkuk, Iraqi Police and U.S. advisors searched several buildings during a warranted joint security operation in pursuit of VBIED network members operating across Salah ad Din Province. (READ MORE)

US, Iraqi troops furnish new high school - U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces delivered 400 new desks and chairs to the Qosh High School in northern Ninewah province, Oct. 31. The furniture delivery was the culmination of the school's opening and the final project for Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. (READ MORE)

Iraqi water workers honored at luncheon - A group of Iraqis working at the Qayyarah water pump house were thanked while attending a luncheon in their honor at the dining facility here, Nov. 2. Col. Larry Phelps, the 15th Sustainment Brigade commander and Greenville, Ala., native, presented a plaque to the workers and said that it was a small "thank you." (READ MORE)

Project improves mobility in Iraqi village - Driving from one end of Bidawa village in Kirkuk province to the other used to be a challenge, but thanks to the addition of two new road culverts, the trip is now much easier. After nearly 70 days of construction, these new road culverts are ready for use. The concrete culverts span over a 50-meter waterbed, linking one side of the road to another. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Again Fail to Approve Election Law - The Iraqi Parliament failed again on Thursday to approve a law to regulate a national election in January, deepening doubts about whether the nation can hold the vote on schedule. American military officials have said a postponement of the country’s Jan. 16 parliamentary election could delay the withdrawal of American troops out of fear for Iraq’s political stability. (READ MORE)

Exxon Mobil-led Consortium to Develop Major Iraqi Oil Field - The Iraqi government Thursday signed a deal with a consortium led by US oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. to develop a major oil field in southern Iraq, marking the first entry by an American-dominated group into Iraq's oil industry since it was nationalized in 1972. The deal coincides with a flurry of activity this week that suggests major oil companies are finally poised to return to Iraq: (READ MORE)

Gordon Brown threatens to end Afghan mission unless corruption is tackled - Gordon Brown warned the Afghan government today that he will not continue to risk the lives of British troops to defend a corrupt regime. In a clear policy shift, the Prime Minister cautioned President Karzai that unless he quashes endemic corruption he will have “forfeited” his right to international support. (READ MORE)

Forces Kill, Detain Militants in Afghanistan - Combined Afghan and international forces killed or detained suspected militants in Afghanistan’s Wardak and Khowst provinces yesterday, and officials are investigating whether an International Security Assistance Force rocket attack caused civilian casualties, military officials reported. A combined force targeted a compound near the village of Babur Kheyl in Wardak’s Sayed Abad district after intelligence indicated militant activity there. (READ MORE)

NATO: 2 U.S. soldiers die in Afghanistan - NATO is reporting the deaths of two more American service members in Afghanistan. A NATO statement says the two Americans were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan but gave no further details. The deaths bring to three the number of U.S. service members killed in the Afghan war so far this month. (READ MORE)

U.K.'s Brown stands firm on Afghanistan - Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Afghanistan's government on Friday to take action against corruption, saying he would not risk more British lives there unless it reforms. Brown said in a speech that success in Afghanistan is vital to Britain's security -- but declared that if the Afghan government does not mend its ways it will forfeit the world's support. (READ MORE)

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan shocked at Fort Hood shootings - The shooting deaths of at least 13 people at an army base in Texas has shocked U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. While details were hard to come by, soldiers in Kandahar say they were surprised to learn an army psychiatrist had allegedly opened fire at Fort Hood. (READ MORE)

Preparation begins for 2011 Afghanistan pullout - The Defence Department says preparations have started for the withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan as the 2011 deadline for the pullout approaches. The department says Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk has ordered preparations to get under way involving the return of thousands of troops and their equipment from Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

NATO chief Rasmussen and Norwegian PM call for Afghan self-reliance - Helping Afghans claim their future was the main theme of a meeting between NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo Friday. "The way forward is that the Afghan people and government take responsibility for security in Afghanistan," Rasmussen said. (READ MORE)

Reviews Raise Doubt on Training of Afghan Forces - A series of internal government reviews have presented the Obama administration with a dire portrait of Afghanistan’s military and police force, bringing into serious question an ambitious goal at the heart of the evolving American war strategy — to speed up their training and send many more Afghans to the fight. As President Obama considers his top commander’s call to rapidly double Afghanistan’s security forces, the internal reviews, written by officials directly involved in the training program or charged with keeping it on track, describe an overstretched enterprise struggling to nurse along the poorly led, largely illiterate and often corrupt Afghan forces. (READ MORE)

British troops in Afghanistan warned of possible attacks in future - After the massacre of five British soldiers by a policeman in Afghanistan, the troops have been warned that the attack 'probably won't be the last'. The killing of the five soldiers in Nad-e-Ali, one of many bases where British troops are training the allegedly corrupt Afghan National Police (ANP), has heightened the fears about the enemy being within the bases. (READ MORE)

Pakistan army captures third key Taliban town - Pakistani troops entered the last of three Taliban strongholds targeted in a major offensive in the north-west today. The operation in South Waziristan, the main Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuary in Pakistan, has sparked a wave of retaliatory attacks that have killed about 300 civilians and security forces in the past month. (READ MORE)

Minn. Guard welcomes 12 troops from Afghanistan - The Minnesota National Guard is welcoming home 12 soldiers on Friday from a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. The soldiers from the Guard's first Operational Mentoring Liaison Team are scheduled to arrive about 12:30 p.m. at the Cedar Street Armory in St. Paul. Family and friends are expected to attend the welcome home ceremony. (READ MORE)

Hatoyama eyes 400 bil.-500 bil. yen aid to Afghanistan - Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Friday his government plans to extend to Afghanistan support steps worth a total of 400 billion to 500 billion yen for five years. He told a House of Councillors' Budget Committee session, "I'm thinking about presenting roughly that size of civilian aid (to Afghanistan)," in response to a question by Yoriko Kawaguchi of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party about whether the amount would come in at around 400 billion to 500 billion yen. (READ MORE)

Fashion Week held in Pakistan, defying Taliban threats - Defying Taliban's threats, the fashionists in Pakistan clustered in the southern commercial hub for the ongoing Karachi Fashion Week to showcase a different side of the terror-torn country. Intricate and colorful fabrics lit up the catwalk as bold models shrugged off all security fears as well as local social norms. But hopes of attracting top international designers and models to Karachi were scuppered after a wave of high profile terror attacks across the country, killing over 300 people in October. (READ MORE)

U.N. to move 600 staff from Afghanistan - The United Nations announced Thursday that it would begin moving hundreds of international staff members in Afghanistan to safer locations after a suicide bombing demonstrated that the blue U.N. flag increasingly has become a bull's-eye for terrorists instead of a security blanket for local populations. The exodus will take place in the coming weeks and affect about 600 U.N. workers, more than half of the world body's foreign staff in Afghanistan, U.N. officials said Thursday. (READ MORE)

Defusing "poor man's minefield" in Afghan south - Coming face-to-face with Afghanistan insurgents' deadliest and most effective weapon -- improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- is a near daily event for U.S. Marine Staff Sergeants Tony D'Amato and Aaron Irvin. Irvin and D'Amato are stationed in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province where they defuse the home-made bombs and where some 10,000 Marines have been deployed to try to turn the tide on the Taliban insurgency there. (READ MORE)

Obama Faces Competing Demands on Afghanistan Strategy - As President Obama struggles over a new military strategy for Afghanistan, his advisors are trying to satisfy sharply divergent demands: assuring Americans that any military buildup will be limited while convincing Pakistan and other wary allies that the US presence is substantial and not about to end. The difficulty in determining a strategy that can mollify both these conflicting constituencies helps to explain why the administration's months-long search for a new approach to Afghanistan remains unresolved. (READ MORE)

Going Tribal in Afghanistan - In Washington, the debate over Afghanistan seems to center around two broad ideas: counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism. Should the United States add troops for a more population-centric strategy, as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal advocates? Or should it use a less ground-heavy approach, disrupting Al Qaeda with Special Operation Forces and unmanned drones, as Vice President Joseph Biden argues? (READ MORE)

Powerful Afghan Governor Challenges President - An escalating quarrel between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a powerful governor is stoking fears of bloodshed in one of the country's more peaceful and prosperous provinces. During this year's presidential election, Balkh Gov. Atta Mohammad Noor was alone among Afghanistan's 34 governors - all of whom were appointed by Mr. Karzai - to openly back challenger Abdullah Abdullah. (READ MORE)

Rare Virus Poses New Threat to Troops - US military officials sent a medical team to a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan this week to take blood samples from members of an Army unit after a soldier in the unit died from an Ebola-like virus. Dr. Jim Radike, an expert in internal medicine and infectious diseases at the Role 3 Trauma Hospital at Kandahar Air Field, told The Washington Times that Sgt. Robert David Gordon, 22, from River Falls, Ala., died Sept. 16 from what turned out to be Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever after he was bitten by a tick. (READ MORE)

Obama's Unrealistic Afghan Assumptions - 'The proof is not going to be in words, it's going to be in deeds." That is how the White House summed up what Barack Obama told Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a runoff election was called off recently, handing the Afghan leader a new term in office. That's an interesting marker and one Mr. Obama would do well to heed himself. The surest path to better governance in Afghanistan is a US military strategy that gives Mr. Karzai's government a little breathing room. (READ MORE)

Pak troops storm Taliban bastion - Pakistan's military said yesterday that its forces had stormed into yet another Taliban stronghold and killed 28 militants and five troops during a major ground and air offensive about to enter its fourth week. Pakistani forces have captured the strategically important town of Ladha from the Taliban in ongoing clashes in South Waziristan, officials say. (READ MORE)

2 GIs missing; Afghan Taliban claims to have 2 bodies - Two U.S. soldiers transporting supplies in Afghanistan were reported missing on Friday and the Taliban said they were holding the bodies of two drowned foreign soldiers. The Islamist militants’ spokesman, Qare Yousuf, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location that they had recovered the bodies of the drowned soldiers on Wednesday in the western Badghis province. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Detain Suspected Bomber - Afghan and international forces detained a group of suspected insurgents, including a Taliban leader, in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province yesterday, military officials reported. The Taliban leader is believed to be responsible for financing suicide bombings and planting roadside bombs in the area. He also is linked to Taliban leadership outside of Afghanistan, officials said. (READ MORE)

Brown: UK staying in Afghanistan, but wants reform - Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Washington's closest ally in Afghanistan, toughened his tone Friday with this harsh message for the Afghan leadership: Clean up your act—for real this time—or risk a cutoff of support. In what 10 Downing Street billed as a major speech, Brown reflected public outrage over troop casualties by threatening to pull back support—and perhaps even additional troops—unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai cracked down on corruption. (READ MORE)

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