November 12, 2009

From the Front: 11/12/2009

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

Sorority Soldier: Kuwait - I can’t describe the happiness that’s overtaking me. I’m in Kuwait. Away from Iraq forever. Elation. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Peter Galbraith's Real Job - Who could have guessed? The man who advised Joe Biden and John Kerry on Iraq had his own interests that conflicted with his work with his own country? The NYT reports today that Peter Galbraith "stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract." You gotta admit, to paraphrase the old Donna Summer song about the prostitutes, "he worked hard for his money." He dedicated years of his life to the Kurdish cause, wrote books, lectured, told all sorts of lies. "So hard for it honey." His Daddy would have been proud. Right? (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Another >GAG - Just returned from another wretched trip to Pogadishu, once again challenging my moral endurance. One of the more blatant signs of disconnection from reality; several Soldiers complaining vociferously about Pizza Hut running out of beef while nearby a Soldier who was passing through Bagram to go on leave had come from a FOB where running out of water for days at a time was relatively common, and needed supplies were unable to be delivered due to a lack of airlift capacity. The ridiculousness of the concerns of the denizens of Pogadishu is highlighted in the presence of those who pass through their midst on their way to and from the real war. The Soldiers who pass through are subjected to visions of high-rise (three story) conex condos while they are subjected to the horrors of the “transient tents.” These hovels house nearly two hundred men who share four shower stalls, two urinals and three toilets. Overflow capacity is provided by several porta-johns nearby. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: NATO Weapons Transfer - I was going to say Mikhail Kalashnikov would turn over in his grave if he witnessed what I saw today, but he is not dead and today he celebrated his 90th birthday. Mr. Kalashnikov is best known as the inventor of the Soviet AK-47 assault rifle. The AK-47 rifle is the world’s most popular assault rifle used in 100 countries (including Afghanistan), glamorized by Hollywood in crime movies and is featured on the national flag of Mozambique. But today I would witness history in the making. The Afghan National Army is slowly swapping out their AK-47’s in exchange for NATO rifles, specifically the M-16 rifle manufactured by Colt Firearms Company. Today’s mission was to escort several flatbed trucks loaded with NATO weapons destined for the ANA. After shaving and returning to my b-hut, I noticed the mountains overshadowing the camp. It looked like an artist took his paintbrush bristles and created streaks of snow with a stroke of his brush. (READ MORE)

Afghansitan My Last Tour: 234th Marine Birthday and Sorting School Supplies - While eating dinner tonight, 3 US Marines stood at the serving line at parade rest. Despite being in a combat zone, they were preparing to celebrate an old time-honored Marine tradition. Tonight they would celebrate the Marine Corps 234th Birthday. On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress decreed this date as the official birthday of the US Marine Corps. In this case, we only have 3 US Marines at the camp, so they all played an integral role. The Marine Chief Warrant Officer read the Marine Corps Order and annual message from the Marine Corps Commandant while the LTC and Marine Staff Sergeant stood in front of the traditional cake. When it was time, the Marine Lieutenant Colonel pulled out his bayonet and cut the cake. By tradition, the first slice of cake is given to the oldest member who happens to be our Brigade Team Leader. (READ MORE)

Thomas Hegghammer: The big impact of small footprints - A growing number of people, led by Vice President Joe Biden, are advocating a so-called "small footprint" approach to the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. They propose a significantly reduced military presence that focuses more on destroying al Qaeda than on building Afghanistan, and relies more on airstrikes and special forces than on conventional tactics. America will get about as much security as before, the argument goes, but at a much lower price. A return of the Taliban to power is not necessarily a problem, small footprint proponents argue, because the regime can be deterred from hosting al Qaeda by the threat of U.S. airstrikes or another invasion. One of the many assumptions behind this tempting argument is that there is a certain level of proportionality between the amount of force we use and the level of resistance we encounter. If we stop occupying Afghanistan and limit violence to the really bad guys, al Qaeda will be unable, and other radicalized Muslims unwilling, to attack the United States. (READ MORE)

William Tobey: Afghanistan is neither Vietnam nor Iraq - As President Obama contemplates a new strategy in Afghanistan, Washington is obsessed with whether the best analogy to the conflict lies in Vietnam or Iraq, with attendant and obvious implications for policy. Of course, Afghanistan has little in common with either Vietnam or Iraq in terms of history, geography, culture, or politics. There is, however, a more apt analogy, and it involves the very area in dispute. Driven by radical Islam, Pashtun nationalism, and armed opportunism, some of the clans in Waziristan -- a pair of currently militant-ridden tribal regions in Pakistan and the site of the recent anti-Taliban Pakistani military offensive -- rose against British rule in 1936. The rebels improvised roadside bombs, ambushed convoys, and launched hit and run attacks on isolated outposts to drive out alien forces. They kidnapped and beheaded British soldiers and civilians. In unprotected villages, they massacred civilians who did not support them. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: The Enemy of My Enemy...but Who is Our Friend? - Yemen is currently all over the news but mostly as a side story. Imam Anwar al Awlaki's current location, Saudi Arabia battling Houthi Rebels, and AQAP's establishment are just a few of the recent news stories. My goal in this post is to begin to provide a common operating picture because it won't be long until Yemen is a continual front page story. A quick political history is necessary for us to understand the culture of strife. Port of Aden has always been a point of contention throughout Yemen's history. The Romans, Ottomans, Ethiopians, and Persians have all controlled the important port city. In 628 AD, Yemen converted to Islam. Yemen was divided between the Imam run Northern portion and the British controlled Southern portion. Egypt, with Russian support as well as Kind Saud of Saudi Arabia and King Hussein of Jordan clashed within Yemen's territory. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Days to Remember - The United States Marine Corps, Established 10 Nov 1775: The Virginia Military Institute, Founded 11 Nov 1839: Veteran's Day 11 Nov: Yesterday was very low key. There are no Marines stationed on Camp Spann. Nonetheless I found several brothers who wore the uniform of the finest fighting force the world has ever known to exchange birthday greetings. We have one retiree and several Guardsmen who are former Marines on the camp. The KBR chowhall was nice enough to commemorate the event with decorations and a cake. Today I proudly displayed the VMI flag my Brother Rats sent me on the door of my office all day long, drawing several comments. I also wore my VMI '89 reunion cap as much as possible, although not strictly allowed in the uniform regulations. VMI continues going strong at 170 years of tradition unhampered by progress. There was a short observance of Veteran's Day in the chapel tonight. Several citations for living Medal of Honor recipients were read. (READ MORE)

Frontline bloggers - Afghanistan: (VIDEO) Life on the frontline with the Afghan Army - Filmed on the 1 November 09. Moving along one of the many canals in the Nad-e-Ali Valley in Helmand Province, Corporal Phillip Hodgson from Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) Four 2 YORKS, noticed something odd about the troops surroundings. The locals we just passed all took off, said Cpl. Phillip Hodgson. So keep a look out for any enemy activity. It usually means we are going to be under attack soon. After being here for five weeks, Hodgson and the rest of the OMLT have started to notice the subtle clues that help keep them on their toes while on patrol. Its like a sixth sense you pick up when you are out on the ground, said Lieutenant Tom Dawson, the team commander. After being out here for a month you start to notice everything going on. Minutes later, the OMLT come under attack from small arms fire. (READ MORE)

Alison Buckholtz: U.S. Flag Draws Navy Family Closer - I have a confession: I’ve never flown the flag on Veterans Day before today. I never thought it was necessary, since we always lived in military communities; it seemed somehow redundant. But last summer my two young children and I moved cross-country to the suburbs of Maryland, close to relatives. My husband, Scott, an active-duty Navy pilot, is on a 12-month deployment in Iraq, and after a rough deployment in 2008, we realized that we needed a little extra support. We now live in a civilian community which has welcomed and cared for us. But we’re different; we’re military. I answer many questions about our peripatetic lifestyle, and try my best to translate one America to the other. We are the only military family most of our neighbors know, and I realize that to them, I’m representative of all military families. Of course, every servicemember is unique, and our family is both similar to and different from others in some important ways. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: How a single bullet halted Taliban attack - A sniper ended a Taliban attack in an Afghan village with a single shot, it was revealed today. The soldier, who can only be known as Corporal Danny for security reasons, shot at the feet of an unarmed man who was apparently directing gunfire at his unit, an Army spokesman said. Armed with a .338 rifle, Cpl Danny, from 4th Battalion, The Rifles, serving with the 3 Rifles Battle Group, was watching over his patrol in the village of Sadul Kariz, which lies to the north east of Sangin, northern Helmand. The men stopped to drink tea at a mosque when Danny saw movement in a compound which had previously been used as an insurgent firing point. The sniper warned his patrol over the radio but as the men moved away there was a burst of gunfire, the Army spokesman said. Cpl Danny could not see exactly where the shots were coming from but he saw a man nearby the compound pointing towards the patrol. (READ MORE)

Lt Col Gus Fair DSO, CO Light Dragoons battle group: Our soldiers' sacrifice will be worth it - The Light Dragoons have just finished deploying for the second time as a battle group on operations in Afghanistan. On the previous occasion, in 2007, we were fighting for control of the southern town of Garmsir, at the very edge of the Afghan government's sphere of influence. The main administrative centre was derelict, destroyed by months of fighting as we battled to assert control of the ground only a few hundred metres outside our front gate. In April this year, once again with the outstanding soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, we returned to the same ground, with justifiable trepidation. On our first tour, a Mercian captain under my command had won a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross trying to recover the bodies of two soldiers less than a kilometre south of our main base. The progress that had been made in little over 18 months was beyond all of our expectations. (READ MORE)

Houston Central: Let the countdown begin - YES! We are within days of Jon's arrival...Get excited everyone! Continue to pray for safe travels for all the men coming and going. It's such a bittersweet time of year, we are welcoming home so many brave soldiers, Jon especially, and sadly saying goodbye. Our dear friends Jay and Gina are preparing to say their goodbyes for another deployment! If you all could pray for Jay's safety as he leaves and for peace and comfort as they say goodbye. We heart you guys too! Look for sweet reunion pictures sooooon:) For now...I will remind you what we looked like one year ago at this time: We were celebrating Thanksgiving early... We were saying goodbye... now...Jon will be saying goodbye to this!...:) HOoooooooray! He comes home sooooon!!! GET EXCITED! (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Veteran's Day Ceremony--Emcee Again - The garrison sergeant major asked me to emcee the Veteran's Day program last week so today I had another opportunity to host an event and speak. The talk is below--shorter than the last one, really an intro to the day. Most of the program was music and it was really good. The program began with a solo for the national anthem, then a trio who sings acapella sang Amazing Grace. I wish I could describe how well they sing. After two of these I will be homesick for Army events. To all of my friends for whom some of their job is organizing events: Nancy, Audrey, Sarah, Brigitte, Kristine, Bob and Rick--just try to picture having eight speakers and performers who show up early for each rehearsal, who practice their talks and performances, who speak politely to all of the event staff, who are happy for the opportunity to be part of the performance, an audience that actually shuts off or ignores their phones and Blackberries. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: More Iraqi Than the Next Guy - Politicians often compete with one another. They do so by trying to outdo each other with houses, cars, beautiful wives, and so on. Iraq's political scene has been a bit different because so many of those running the country returned after living decades overseas -- complete with foreign passports in their pockets. The foreign passports come up in just about every conversation, which moves on to naming the parliamentarian and the nationality he carries in addition to his Iraqi passport. Today Iraq's lawmakers are tripping over each other trying to prove who among them is most patriotic, and they hope that the people will overlook their extra passports. Whether or not it's true, Iraqis believe that Ayad Allawi has a British passport; Adel Abdul Mahdi has a French passport; Ibrahim Jaafari has a British passport; Barham Salih has a U.S. passport; Jalal Talabani has a Turkish passport, and the list goes on. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Veterans at Work on Veterans Day - Sala ad Dihn Province, Iraq-- In the US many Americans barely notice Veterans Day. The banks and post offices are closed. Federal Employees have the day off. Some states and local governments may be closed. There are ceremonies and memorial services. But here in Iraq it is another day at work in a combat zone. The Soldiers of the 1-28 Infantry, the Black Lions, went about their work. I went with a Platoon to the city council meeting in Ishaki, a small town south of Samarra. The Platoon Leader sat back during the meeting and let the Iraqis do their work. After the meeting he talked about the timeline of some development projects with the Council President. The meals were the normal rations heated up by Army cooks. The big KBR Dining Facilities are for big bases, not little outposts. The kitchen at the JCC in Samarra is of typical design. If many of the Soldiers realized today was Veterans day, they didn't show it. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban govern in the open in Nuristan - One month after US forces abandoned outposts in the Kamdesh district in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nuristan, the Taliban are operating in the open, without fear of retaliation. The Taliban and their commander Dost Mohammed flaunted their control of the district to Al Jazeera. Dost, who some claimed was killed during US and Afghan raids in Nuristan, granted an interview with the news organization from Kamdesh. Coalition forces attacked the Taliban in mid-October after the battle of Combat Outpost Keating and the subsequent US withdrawal. Mullah Abdul Rahman Mostaghni, a district-level commander, was thought to have been killed in a raid over the weekend. The Taliban created "administrative units and the officials have been appointed," an unnamed commander told Al Jazeera. "We also established the judiciary department and the commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice section," the commander told the news agency. (READ MORE)

Mongo's Montreaux: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? - Because of my rather robust deployment schedule (Mrs. Mongo has graciously done the math, and I was gone the last 21 of 24 months), my lovely and engaging wife has signed me up for every parental engagement possible. In the month and a half I've been back, I'm definitely well on the way toward winning back all my Super Dad points. So far, I've chaperoned about five school dances, three field trips, and four or five assemblies. She's kept me away from the PTA meetings because she knows that I'd be me. One of the activities that Mrs. Mongo put on my dance card was going to the 5th grade class for a question and answer session after the school Veterans Day ceremony yesterday. When I was first assigned to a posting in S. Florida, my wife talked to another wife we knew from previous postings who was on the ground, and who said that the best public schools, by far, were down in the Keys. So I bit the bullet (okay, I wasn't given a vote) and accepted the (ass-ripping) commute in order to put the kids in good schools. (READ MORE)

Notes In The Eye of The Storm: One Small Cog - The temperature dropped and the wind picked up this evening. Three days ago my coworkers and I arrived t Kabul International Airport, the acronym of which does not bode well. I’ve arrived here to start work on a new contract that should keep me here in Afghanistan over the next year, maybe longer. Similar to when I arrived in Iraq last January I've come with a book in hand. I was luckily flying commercial into KIA which allowed me to bypass the earthly purgatory of Ali Al Saleem in Kuwait and last year “The Quiet American” helped pass the time while there. Now I have the added pleasure of reading a book written by a good friend. “Still The Monkey” tells the story of a Vietnam Veteran sharing his story, as a mentor to an Iraq veteran rehabilitating from the loss of his legs. Coincidentally both books centers around wars in Vietnam, and the importance of learning from history to repair the present. (READ MORE)

Afghan Journal: The camera guy, and some thoughts upon leaving - After spending two weeks in the field with Stryker Brigade soldiers in southern Afghanistan, my camera was in sorry shape. Dropped once and choked with dust, the Panasonic Lumix managed to capture one last group image of the 2nd Platoon, then quit working. During my time in Afghanistan, that camera had been a trusted friend, and I desperately wanted it healed. Back in Kabul, I took it to a 34-year-old repairman named Ahmad, who had a small, fourth-floor workshop with all manner of camera innards spread out chaotically. I felt like I had walked into Geppetto's workshop, and Pinocchio might be helping out in the backroom. Charmed, I turned over my camera. We returned several days later to pick it up. But as soon I got out the door, the Panasonic malfunctioned. I got it fixed again. It still didn't work. I took it back a third time, having largely lost trust in this guy. (READ MORE)

The Stone Report: Thank You 17th Fires - Sunday was my final day of work at the 17th Fires Brigade. The three months I spent with this active duty artillery brigade made this deployment worthwhile. It was nice finally being in a public affairs environment were we had a focus and a purpose. The 17th FiB has a great commander and group of officers that get the importance of the media and keeping those informed back about what we are doing in Iraq. The NCO’s I worked with always had two priorities, the welfare of their soldiers and the accomplishment of the mission. I got some good NCO mentorship over there and remembered why I love being an NCO and why public affairs needs good NCOs. Everything I’ve learned about how to run a public affairs shop, I learned from my public affairs officer, 1st. Lt. Chris Dunphy. He has a ton of experience as an enlisted public affairs soldier and did a great job handling his lane while I took care of mine. We made a good team. (READ MORE)

There's sand in my...: On the road again - We are in transit once again. We arrived in Kuwait around 0300 on 8 NOV 09. We immediately went to bed and got up around 0800. I finally was able to run outside again, and did 7 miles on a nice flat surface, without dirt and rocks, woohoo! At 1300 on 9 NOV 09 we turned in our weapons, it was like getting rid of a bad friend, it feels great not carrying around a piece of metal everywhere. I’m getting up at 0430 on 10 NOV to run the Marine Corps 5K, in celebration of the Corps’ birthday, should be fun, I think I’ll be getting another t-shirt for you Shayna, gotta love the t’s! So far the WTP, Warrior Transition Program, has been surprisingly well coordinated, hard to believe being run by the Navy and everything. Haha. After the Marine run we come back and turn in our 2 seabags of gear that was never used, that will be a load off of our minds, literally. After the turn in I’ll be down to a 2/3 full seabag and a carry on, traveling light will be a welcome change. (READ MORE)

this is our life...: November 11 - I'll be honest. When I was growing up I never really payed much attention to Veteran's Day. It was just another vacation day {or assembly day in school}. I didn't realize what it was all about. Now it's different. I went to Smith Park today where the first annual Veteran's Day Program was held in Rexburg. I thought it would be cool for the kids to see the guns, cannons, and airplanes, but really I mostly went for myself. It was refreshing to spend the day with, and to pay tribute to so many people who have sacrificed for our country. Later today I was sitting in Applebees, waiting for our seats, watching all the veterans that came for a bite to eat. I didn't know anyone there {other than Angie} but I felt somehow connected to all those people. It's hard to explain, but I felt like I was a part of something bigger than me. I felt like everyone there {in one way or another} knew what sacrifice for their country was all about. (READ MORE)

Axeghanistan ‘09: Visa Rush - My Afghan visa expired on November 6. My flight home was on November 9. Before leaving the U.S., I called the Afghan embassy in D.C. and asked how I could get the visa extended a few days. Go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul, they said. “Will it be difficult?” I asked. “No problem, my friend, no problem,” they said. The words raised hairs on my neck. In the Third World, whenever someone says, “No problem, my friend, no problem,” what they mean is, “Yes, this will be a huge problem.” I asked around. Some folks said the penalty for flying home on an expired visa was just a few dollars, paid in cash at the airport. Others said I might be detained, fined heavily, and held in the country for weeks. I should try to do things the legal way. I flew into Kabul from Logar province on Oct. 28, aiming to tackle the visa problem. As I stepped off the helicopter, there were puffs of smoke on the horizon. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: U.S. ambassador to Kabul cautions against more troops - The political balance: U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Gen. Karl Eikenberry reportedly sent two classified memos to Washington in the past week cautioning against sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until Afghan President Hamid Karzai shows he is willing to address the pervasive corruption in his government (Washington Post, New York Times). This seismic intervention, coming amidst reports that U.S. President Barack Obama was nearing a decision about the troops question, pits the former American commander in Afghanistan against the current top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who reportedly favors sending around 40,000 new troops to the country and is said to be "fuming" about Gen. Eikenberry's cables (BBC). At yesterday's two and a half hour meeting in the White House Situation Room with Obama and his national security team, the president reportedly rejected all four of the options presented to him: (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: US Ambassador’s Leaked Opinion Tips Obama’s Hand On Troop Surge - Today, news broke that US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry expressed reservations about an increase in US forces here in Afghanistan. The revelations came in the form of three anonymous “American officials” who spoke with The New York Times. They say that Eikenberry’s opinion was first expressed in a cable and then in a conversation with President Obama yesterday. The sources did not get into specifics about the ambassador’s reasoning behind his opposition to a large-scale troop increase. This is going to make Gen. Stanley McChrystal–the top military commander in Afghanistan–very, very unhappy. McChrystal is pushing for a massive increase of 40,000 soldiers to flood population centers and make serious inroads down south. Eikenberry is no stranger to high command in Afghanistan, having been the top American commander here from 2005-2007. He is also no stranger to Gen. McChrystal. (READ MORE)

Stephan Pastis: In War, No One Retrieves the Golf Balls - I grew up in San Marino, California. It is a conservative, wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. It has a lot of rules, or at least did when I grew up there. For example, when I was there, you could not park on the street overnight (without first calling the police department and getting permission). You could not pump your own gas (the attendant at the station had to pump it for you). You could not blow or wash your leaves into the street. McDonald’s were not allowed. Nor were movie theatres. And you could get a ticket for jaywalking (as my sister did from a police officer who was hiding in the nearby bushes). I have feared jaywalking ever since. It is all about preserving status quo. And it is not a land of surprises. Fast forward 30 years. To midnight in Baghdad. Where I, child of San Marino, am standing outside the palace of Saddam Hussein. The air is warm and still. It is tinged with a hint of smoke. Next to me is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: The Afghanis must contribute to their own security - From Stars and Stripes: “During the three-day mission in the Chinehs, a number of soldiers said that even though the area had been identified as a suspected Taliban stronghold, the villagers were the friendliest of any they had encountered in Zabul. But when officers asked about the Taliban, they were usually met with blank stares or polite, noncommittal responses. Most villagers denied knowing anything about the Taliban. Some made slashing motions across their throats. ‘You stay here for one and a half hours in our village, and when you leave, the Taliban will come in our homes and beat us or worse,’ said one man. Replied 2nd Lt. James Johnson, 23, of State College, Pa.: ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do to help you, if you don’t help yourselves.’” This kind of story is being hawked by advocates of disengagement from Afghanistan. We aren’t wanted, they say. We shouldn’t make too much of a sentiment like this. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Rejects - Official: Obama rejects war options because U.S. envoy resists troop increase, cites Karzai as problem. Ambassador Eikenberry's memos expressed "deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said." Hardly surprising news there, the Obama administration's first priority in Afghanistan has always been Hamid Karzai, with troop levels and strategy a distant secondary concern. (For full coverage start here, the most recent report here.) This isn't a story about anything other than the latest in a series of "leaks" from "officials" in an administration that's probably already set a record for them. Gallup says Americans Split on Afghanistan Troop Increase vs. Decrease. No shocker there, either. And I love my fellow Americans, but most probably can't name the Vice President of the United States, let alone find Afghanistan on a map. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
The Iraqi Elections: Same Names, Different Teams - After much delay, the Iraqi Parliament finally passed a law on Sunday allowing for national parliamentary elections — the third since the American invasion in 2003. Voting is scheduled to take place in the second half of January. For Americans, the elections will be a crucial test of how secure Iraq has become, and thus how quickly U.S. soldiers can leave. The stakes will also be high for Iraqis, who will be putting in place a political infrastructure that, in theory, will outlast the American presence in their country. (READ MORE)

American Adviser to Kurds Stands to Reap Oil Profits - Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution - tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth. (READ MORE)

Operational Update, Nov. 12: - Afghan and international security forces killed several enemy militants and detained a group of suspected militants in Zankhan district, Ghazni province, today. Those detained included a sought after Taliban commander who was in charge of as many as 50 fighters. During the operation, the joint force received fire and returned fire, killing several enemy militants. A security element of the joint force searched the enemy position and recovered an RPK rifle, multiple grenades, ammunition and communication gear. (READ MORE)

Obama Security Team Considers Afghan Strategy - US President Barack Obama met with his national security team at the White House Wednesday to consider whether to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan. A US official said after the meeting Mr. Obama wanted to make clear to the Kabul government that the US commitment in Afghanistan is not "open-ended." The White House said earlier Mr. Obama is considering four options for Afghanistan to turn around the eight-year-old war. (READ MORE)

US Envoy Resists Increase in Troops - The US ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more US troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior US officials said. (READ MORE)

US Ambassador Warns Against Afghanistan Troop Buildup - In an unexpected dissent at a critical moment, the US ambassador to Afghanistan has warned in classified cables against any further buildup of American forces in the country, senior US officials said Wednesday. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a retired Army general and former commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, objected in two cables delivered to the State Department saying that additional troops would be unwise because of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government, the officials said. (READ MORE)

Doubts on Karzai Complicate Troop Plan - President Barack Obama expressed fresh doubts about the credibility of Afghanistan's government in high-level discussions Wednesday over what troops to send there, after his ambassador to Kabul warned against any reinforcements until the Afghan regime cracks down on corruption. US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent two classified cables to Washington in recent days raising serious concerns about the military's recommendation to increase troop levels, according to three US officials. (READ MORE)

US Afghan Envoy Urges Caution on Troop Increase - The United States ambassador to Afghanistan, who once served as the top American military commander there, has expressed in writing his reservations about deploying additional troops to the country, three senior American officials said Wednesday. The position of the ambassador, Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general, puts him in stark opposition to the current American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal: (READ MORE)

In Leaning on Karzai, US Has Limited Leverage - When President Obama delivered a rare and public call last week for President Hamid Karzai to crack down on corruption in Afghanistan, there was one glaring omission from his remarks - an “or else.” Mr. Obama’s exclusion of the obvious threat - that he will pull American troops out of Afghanistan if Mr. Karzai does not comply - reflects a stark conundrum: How much leverage does the United States really have over the Afghan leader? (READ MORE)

Pakistan Seeks Role in US-Afghan Policy - A top Pakistani official says his country wants a role in helping the US shape a new policy for Afghanistan. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani says the US should take Pakistan into "confidence" as it reviews its new policy. He also says stability in Afghanistan is vital for his country. The prime minister commented Wednesday after meeting in Islamabad with a US congressional delegation led by House of Representatives member John Tierney, a Democrat from Massachusetts. (READ MORE)

Taleban Spin Doctors Winning Fresh Ground in Propaganda War with NATO - Images scroll across the computer screen: crowds lining the streets of Wootton Bassett, coffins draped with the Union Jack and the faces of British soldiers killed last week in Helmand. Above them a banner reads “Voice of Jihad” and a ticker tape entitled “Hot News” announces a stream of alleged military successes. This is the website of the Taleban, infamous for their wholesale rejection of modernity, who have banned television and the internet. (READ MORE)

Afghans Flee Their Homes as Fighting Intensifies - A month ago, poppy farmer Rostam and dozens of relatives fled the fighting in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. Now, their new home is a mud hovel topped with a plastic sheet in the outskirts of Kabul, in a mushrooming camp that houses thousands of similar war refugees. "The Taliban often came into the village to ambush convoys, and then almost immediately the foreign airstrikes hit us," said Mr. Rostam, a turbaned 60-year-old who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. (READ MORE)

At Least 10 Soldiers Killed in Pakistan Clashes - At least 10 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in two incidents Wednesday near the country's border with Afghanistan. Pakistani officials say at least eight paramilitary soldiers died in a landmine explosion in the northwestern Mohmand tribal region. Separately, Pakistani officials say two soldiers were killed in clashes with militants in the same region, and at least eight soldiers are missing. (READ MORE)

Vietnam, Afghanistan and Learning from History - As President Kennedy pondered the risks of accidental war in the nuclear age - a nightmare he would confront head on in the Cuban missile crisis - he asked his senior advisors to read Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August," a narrative tracing the chain of events that led to World War I. Today, President Obama is also reflecting on history's lessons, asking his advisors to study the past as they help him chart America's future course in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

The US Needs to Teach Hamid Karzai a Thing or Two - Hamid Karzai begins another term as Afghanistan's president with a long to-do list. The Obama administration has made clear to him that he must crack down on corruption, install a team of technocrats to run the country and weed out warlords and narco-traffickers. Those are all important priorities, but there is something else he should be doing as well: acting as a wartime leader. (READ MORE)

Afghan Taliban surpasses weakened al-Qaida - As violence rises in Afghanistan, the power balance between insurgent groups has shifted, with a weakened al-Qaeda relying increasingly on the emboldened Taliban for protection and the manpower to carry out deadly attacks, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials. The ascendancy of the Taliban and the relative decline of al-Qaeda have broad implications for the Obama administration as it seeks to define its enemy in Afghanistan and debates deploying tens of thousands of additional troops. (READ MORE)

Civilians bear brunt of Afghan fight - Ahmed Shaw - his wizened face creased by worry - should have been enjoying his retirement but a bomb blast changed all that. His son, Abdul Wakeel, was killed in September and now Ahmed is rebuilding the family shop, which was also destroyed in the explosion. The shop hires out chairs, forks and knives to wedding parties. (READ MORE)

Military sees increase in wounded in Afghanistan - Far from winding down, the numbers of wounded U.S. soldiers coming home have continued to swell. The problem is especially acute among those who fought in Afghanistan, where nearly four times as many troops were injured in October as a year ago. Amputations, burns, brain injuries and shrapnel wounds proliferate in Afghanistan, due mostly to crude, increasingly potent improvised bombs targeting U.S. forces. Others are hit by snipers' bullets or mortar rounds. (READ MORE)

Missing US soldier’s body found in Afghanistan - Military divers have found the body of one of two U.S. soldiers who disappeared last week as they tried to recover airdropped supplies that fell into a river in western Afghanistan, NATO said Wednesday. The two paratroopers, from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, disappeared in Badghis province, a remote area that borders Turkmenistan, on Nov. 4. Local police had said the two had been swept away by the river as they tried to recover the supplies. (READ MORE)

Outrage Over Vaccine for Afghan Detainees - Canadian military officials in Afghanistan said detainees are being offered swine flu vaccinations — a decision the federal health minister on Tuesday denounced as "outrageous" at a time there is a shortage of the vaccine in Canada. The Defense Department later said there is no plan to vaccinate Afghan detainees in Canadian custody. (READ MORE)

Partner of killed GI wants new Afghanistan mission - On March 29, 2006, uniformed soldiers showed up on her doorstep to give her the bad news: Her live-in partner, Sgt. First Class John Thomas Stone, a 52-year-old Army National Guard medic, had been killed in action in Afghanistan. Now, as the world waits for President Barack Obama's decision on the U.S. military's future role in Afghanistan, she's not rooting for withdrawal, and she isn't sure more troops is the answer. Her idea: Change the mission to include more emphasis on building schools. (READ MORE)

Japan, U.S. vow tie-ups on Afghanistan, U.S. backs Japan's new aid - Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed on Wednesday tie-ups in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, with Clinton voicing appreciation for Japan's fresh aid plan to the country worth $5 billion. They also agreed that the two countries will try to reach a conclusion on the relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa Prefecture "as quickly as possible" through a new ministerial-level working group. (READ MORE)

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