November 18, 2009

From the Front: 11/18/2009

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

Sketchpad Warrior: Blasts From The Past - I've been looking through my "catalogue raisonne", and found some of my old sketches I thought I'd post again... Studies for "A Little Light Reading": I had a blast doing each of these sketches, and wanted to show them again to all who might have a blast viewing them. (MORE)

Noah Shachtman: U.S. Turns to Local Guns-for-Hire to Guard Afghan Outpost - The U.S. military is turning to guns-for-hire to guard one of its outposts in Afghanistan. But Blackwaters of the world, take note: simply hiring former G.I.s or American cops or even Nepalese Gurkhas won’t do the trick this time. At least half of the 50-man force has to come “from within a 50 kilometer radius” of the base, according to a contract solicitation issued by the U.S. Air Force. Over the summer, the American military signaled its interest in hiring an army of contractors to help handle security at as many as 50 outposts in Afghanistan. It’s one of several efforts efforts designed to free up uniformed troops for combat and counterinsurgency work. Now, U.S. forces appear to be taking the first step towards building that country-wide private security force, by soliciting bids for a team that watch over Forward Operating Base Lightening, in Paktya province. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: U.S. Air Force Defends Endangered Rescue Mission - It was a mission that stretched the airmen to their absolute limits. Coalition troops were stranded on an Afghan mountain, some 9,000 feet above sea level, somewhere in the country’s north. An element of the 33rd Rescue Squadron, normally based in Kadena, Japan, was tapped for the rescue attempt. Flying from Bagram, outside Kabul, they would recover the troops in a pair of HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. In each armored Pave Hawk ride teams of highly trained combat medics. Door gunners scan for threats and suppress them with bullet-spewing mini-guns. Problem is, the lavishly-equipped Pave Hawk is a less than stellar performer at altitude. Under-powered for its size and over-burdened with armor and weapons, the Pave Hawk can’t reach 9,000 feet under normal circumstances. In Afghanistan flat, low south, where other HH-60Gs are based, that’s not a problem. In the mountainous north, even routine rescues can pose huge challenges. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: The Afghan Army's Logistics Problem - When people talk about the problems besetting the Afghan National Army, three issues usually jump to the head of the pack: the difficulties the ANA has in supplying its soldiers in the field with food, clothing, ammunition, and shelter; the issue of corruption at all levels from the ministerial to the grunts on the ground; and third, the ability—or the willingness—of the ANA to fight. The first two issues were the topic of a conversation I had last month with Major General Richard Formica, commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the organization tasked with training the Afghan army and police. Formica had no qualms about discussing the areas in which the Afghans lack capacity, and described a force that is rapidly increasing in size and fighting effectiveness, (when it fights), but is still years away from being able to stand on its own. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Big Canadian operation at Kandahar ignored/Other CF Afstan news - So far only the Globe and Mail has seen fit to report this; most of our media only pretend to cover the CF at Kanadahar, and don't even use what is reported--see second story: “Canadian offensive sees little action [that's good, right?] Operation Hydra launches with 1,000 Canadian troops [emphasis added, that's big, right?] and 200 Afghanistan National Army soldiers in push toward a known Taliban command post south of Kandahar. One of the biggest Canadian operations of the entire Afghanistan mission launched this week with barely a shot fired. More than 1,000 Canadian troops and 200 Afghanistan National Army soldiers surged towards the village of Haji Baba, a known Taliban command post south of Kandahar, on Sunday, encountering a single belligerent insurgent along with a maze of improvised explosive devices.” A broader story from CP, picked up by almost none of our major media. Fie! “Sizing up new Canadian tactics against changing insurgency in Afghanistan - The Canadian military says its new methods are effectively weakening the insurgency in Afghanistan, but the Taliban's resilience is raising questions about the changing nature of the guerrilla war.” (READ MORE)

this is our life: *bittersweet* - A couple days after Ben left I remember thinking to myself, "We (the kids and I) are really alone. It's just us." I was surrounded by family, but I felt lonely and isolated thinking I was the only one who could understand what I was going through. Then we packed up and moved out of my parent's house and into The Village. I was determined to make our new 'home' feel like it used to when Ben was here. The Village is where I met one of my best friends. It's said in the military you make friends quickly because you know you have to hurry and get to know them before you or they move again. That was the case in our friendship. We heard that we were in the same situation and we instantly became friends. We began spending A LOT of time together: FHE, we ate dinner together, movies, bowling, hanging out at the lake. If there was something to do in Rexburg we did it, together with the kids. Because of Angie and her kids I am able to say that we had a fun summer. (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: But You're Right Here - I find myself in a frustrating situation this week. My husband, who is deployed, has come back to the States for some sort of training. He's here, in this country. In my deployment warped brain, this means that I should be able to talk to him, email, or generally make contact more easily than when he's far, far away. Unfortunately, that isn't always true. Yes, he's here, but he's working. And he's jet-lagged. And he may or may not have a decent internet connection. And he can't call our home phone from his cell phone because the kids would see it on the caller ID and know that he's here. I'm having a hard time not getting irritated by this. For goodness sake, you're only four hours away. I should be able to pick up the phone and talk to you. Or hop on the computer and find you online. It is amazing how ones perception gets warped. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Goodbye to Iraq, and thanks - The soldiers of Oregon's 41st Brigade are about halfway through their Iraq deployment, but I'm finally home after a gruelling passage through Kuwait and a misadventure or two. I said goodbye to my last acquaintance in the Oregon National Guard on Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City. SSG Tom McNeil of Central Point was peeling off to fly to Medford, close to his home in Central Point, while I continued on to Portland. Have a terrific Thanksgiving at home, Tom. Thanks to all the folks along the way, especially the soldiers of Oregon's 41st Brigade Combat Team, for the many kindnesses extended to me during my sojourn among them. This toast to you, and I'm starting with you two, since you challenged me to do this, Scott and Mike. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: A few words from medics for the 41st Brigade - I spent an hour or two last month with Oregon National Guard medics who are based at Al Asad Airbase, discussing a little of what they've observed since coming to Iraq this summer. The discussion, as you might think, covered issues in two categories: The physical and the mental. The Physical - CPT Scott Johnson of Newport, who is the highest-ranking soldier in the medical support unit at Al Asad, said that medics are seeing a significant share of orthopedic issues that stem from the heavy loads that soldiers carry. Even though the war has wound down considerably over the last few years, soldiers on convoys and at checkpoints still wear a lot of body armor and carry a lot of ammunition and weaponry, as much as 65 pounds or even more. Over time, even young soldiers experience increased stress on their joints from walking, running and jumping with that much gear. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 16 Nov 09 - well, today I woke up kinda late … stayed up late doing nothing — watching The Office–I love that freakin show…it was a little chilly this morning but not as cold as it has been lately…I still grabbed my thermal shirt…I hopped in the shop truck to head over to the shop…it’s a whole 250 yeards away, but I drive over there every day anyway…mainly just so we have the truck over there, you know, in case we need to actually use it…well, today we didn’t need to use it at all–except to empty the dead batteries and contaminated fuel out of the truck–stuff that was in the back from other work…I got over to the barn and hung out doing nothing again…I did get some news yesterday afternoon that I will be heading out to a FOB for a few days…not sure when I am leaving–in a week or so, and don’t know when I’ll be back–prob only out there for a few days…Ma, don’t freak out…it’s just rollin out to a FOB, do a couple jobs, and roll back here… (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani military hits Taliban in Arakzai - The Pakistani military pounded Taliban strongholds in the tribal agency of Arakzai, a region where Taliban leaders from South Waziristan have regrouped. Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers, Army attack helicopters, and artillery batteries struck enemy hideouts and supply depots in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency on Saturday and Sunday, killing 30 Taliban fighters. On Saturday, Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers hit Taliban ammunition and supply depots that were established in the homes of Sikhs who had been forced to leave the tribal agency. This bombardment reportedly killed 12 Taliban fighters. In December 2008, the Taliban imposed sharia, or Islamic law, in Arakzai and forced the Sikhs to pay jizya, a tax enforced on non-Muslims. Many Sikhs fled their homes, which were subsequently taken over by the Taliban. On Sunday, fighter bombers, attack helicopters, and artillery batteries hit Taliban bunkers... (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: No Man Left Behind - We’ve all heard the military quote “No Man left behind” But it wasn’t until last weekend as I sat listening to a veteran Marine talking to an Army Sgt about how the Army helicopter pilot who saved him and many others in Vietnam by flying in a hot zone repeatedly to save men that it hit home. The words took on a whole new meaning to me. When Micheal was killed the Army did not leave us behind. It started with a visit to tell us the news and they did not leave until there was no more they could do for us in that moment. Then there was the email to let us know no one else had been hurt from one of the medics. The Army did not leave us behind when they assigned us a causality assistance officer who walked us through each step, even offering to go to the store for us at any hour of the day if we needed anything at all. Then the emails, calls and instant message conversations from the men who served with Micheal began. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iraqis Get Democracy - Whether wittingly or unwittingly, the AP wrote an okay story about Iraq today. The reporter says the impact of the recent bombings in Baghdad lingers. That is definitely true. "Recent bombings that hit government buildings in downtown Baghdad killed more than 250 people and wounded hundreds more. The blasts also had a wider effect: slowing down the government services Iraqis use on a daily basis." It is unclear whether the reporter understood that the Iraqi people don't support the attacks that target them. Nobody is certain who the murderers are or what they want. The media often present Iraqis as ones who are taking sides in this murder campaign when in fact they just want to live. There are hints that the AP understands what's going on, but one can never be sure. The story quotes government worker Bosho Ibrahim who said the people who bombed his building and others are trying to undermine the whole government. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Yes Iraq Is Worth the Effort - A WaPo reporter who has been covering Iraq wrote a piece asking whether the war was worth it. The newspaper has largely reported on Iraq as though it's a country of worthless inhabitants -- until, of course, they can be used to support their argument that President Bush was no good at his job. In that case, they're poor victims. Otherwise, they are simply to be written off. The article talks about the role of the U.S. military, and asks whether their work and sacrifices were worth it. Does this god-forsaken place deserve their efforts? Almost begrudgingly the reporter writes that it was worth it. To the people whose lives are affected by the conflict, the U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi people, it's worth it. To the mainstream media, it isn't. That's why it was a surprise to see this story in the paper. "Samarra, where the U.S. military closed a key base this fall, in many ways embodies the Iraq that American forces are leaving behind as the troop drawdown begins in earnest. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Fright Night - At the end of the day today, I was thinking very hard about how much we are the sum of our habits. How what we do again and again becomes what we are, because what we do by habit eats into the 168 hours we have every week to sleep seven nights, eat 21 meals, brush our teeth at least 14 times, take seven showers, dress and undress at least 28 times, maybe triple that if you ride a bike in the middle of the day. I used to smoke. Most of my life from 13 to 33 I smoked. I estimated something on the order of 100,000 cigarettes. I am well past any current desire to smoke, but I still consider myself a smoker--at least in the sense that a long stretch of my life was limited by that bad habit. And now I carry a gun. I have been carrying a gun for a year. I ride my bike with a gun. I wonder about using the gun. As my last day on the range showed, I am only accurate with the gun if it is supported by something. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Today's essential Afghan reading - Gilles Dorronsoro and David Kilcullen are shaping the new Conventional Wisdom on Afghanistan virtually as I write. What's out, in this new CW? PRTs, NATO-style OMLTs, and clear-hold-build at least as a generally applicable model: basically all the assumptions my roto fought under, more or less. The growing consensus of these scholars and others seems to be that 2009, despite all the new resources thrown at it by Pres. Obama, was still another year of stepping backwards, primarily due to an overfocus on Helmand, where whatever payoff it has had on the ground has to be balanced with the spike in casualties that came with it starkly eroding U.S. will and nearly driving the U.K. out of the war; and the election fiasco. Dorronsoro: "A common misperception is that the insurgents are terrorizing the Afghan people and that the insurgents’ level of support among the people is marginal." (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: The Thing I Carried - Special Edition - A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Tim O'Brien speak at Texas State University about the art of writing. He read from a recent magazine article and entertained a few questions. During his book signing I presented a copy of "The Things They Carried" that I literally did carry in Iraq. Its edges were torn and bent, the pages browned by dust and sand. I brought an edited copy of an old favorite entry on here, The Thing I Carried, thanked him for the reading, and handed over the copy. The version I gave him is reproduced here. Enjoy. The Thing I Carried - Out of the Army and into school. That was the simple plan that many of us adopted before we deployed in the summer of 2006. In between crusty Army lifers were shortimers, soldiers approaching the twilight of their enlistment. For some, two deployments to Iraq were enough for a lifetime. Others made plans to get out before desert boots touched foreign sand. (READ MORE)

Michael Innes: The war of leaks - The Obama Administration's social media prowess has been a novelty among latter day political media machines. It helped to crowd-source the campaign funding needed to put Barack Obama in the White House, and generated a populist gloss that was, at the time, convincingly fresh and transparent. What was equally admirable was its apparent internal discipline over when information made the transition from government secret to press release. Controlling the flow of data and keeping secrets secret is a challenge under any circumstance. Combine that with a predilection for Facebook and Twitter, and a hyperactive security officer might expect policy waters to muddy more quickly than they would under normal circumstances. So when U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry's expressed his "discomfort" last week over a possible troop surge, via diplomatic cable to Washington, it's no wonder that the message ended up dominating headlines. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Exporting Afghanistan: A Photo Essay - Last week I wrote this story for the IPS newswire about a program in Kabul that buys fruit from farmers across Afghanistan, packages the produce and exports it to the wider world. The program, based out of the Badam Bagh neighborhood (which means “almond grove” in Dari) also has a model farm where farmers from dozens of provinces come to learn modern organic agricultural techniques. It’s a cool program, funded by USAID and administered by the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, and teaches farmers everything from safe use of organic pesticides to crop rotation methods. This year alone the Badam Bagh shipping center has packaged and shipped 3 million tons of apples from Wardak and Paktia provinces to consumers in other countries The day I was there, a huge shipment of pomegranates came in from Kandahar. I was given a few as a gift, and they were some of the sweetest fruit I’ve tasted. (READ MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: Boondoggle - I know I am a little late on posting to my blog, but I returned from a boondoggle out to Mazar-e-Sharif in the Northern provinces. I even have some pictures to post with this entry. First, let me recap last week. We did make a normal trip to NDS. It was actually a clear, cool morning which is a rarity here in Kabul. The pollution is so thick that it is very rare to see the distant mountains. So, here is a picture of the snow-capped mountains, west of Kabul. This picture was taken last Monday. I haven’t seen the mountains since. Other than that, it was a normal week of mentoring. There are always little things to work on and improve in the OT. Friday was another violent day here in Kabul. The Taliban used a SVBIED outside Camp Phoenix a little before 0800. There were no American casualties, but there were injuries. You can read about it online. Here's hoping the Presidential Inauguration will be less violent than the actual elections. Now, for the boondoggle... (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Patience, please! - No communications. The Bonhomme Richard’s Facebook page is a great way to feel connected to our Marines and Sailors, except when people start to speculate or freak out, and that happens when communications are down for one reason or another. A letter from the Captain reminded us that there are very important reasons for that, and reassured us that our loved ones are well: From the Captain... Greetings family and friends. Life is great on BHR as we sail today. Your Sailors and Marines continue to do remarkable work keeping this great ship humming and ready to perform any mission that comes our way. Rest assured we are safe and mission focused. I would like to remind you that from time to time we may be out of normal communication opportunities. This is a routine part of sailing ships at sea. The reasons for communication challenges range across an entire spectrum, but they are a fact of life. (READ MORE)

McQ: The Coming Afghan Decision - How Much Is Driven By Politics? - Richard Fernandez of the Belmont Club writes a very well done essay on the present Afghanistan decision making process. He compares Andrew Sullivan's apologia with David Kilcullen's concerns about the time involved in reaching a decision. You can disregard the Sullivan part except to understand that he thinks it is just marvelous that Obama is taking so much time considering all the options and doing his homework before making a decision to change the strategy there. Fernandez reminds us of a very important point that seems to have escaped many as they await the decision. The strategy President Obama is planning on changing is his own. In March of this year he said: Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Iraqi Kurds Warn of Election Boycott in Dispute Over Seats - Kurdish officials threatened Tuesday to boycott the upcoming national election in the three provinces they control in northern Iraq unless more parliament seats are allocated to the region. The threat came two days after Iraq's Sunni vice president said he would veto the election law passed last week unless more seats are set aside for representatives of Iraqi refugees. (READ MORE)

Kurdish Legislators Threaten Boycott of Iraq Election - Only a week after Iraq’s leaders celebrated the passage of an election law that kept the country on course to hold its first national elections in four years, Kurdish lawmakers threatened Tuesday to boycott the election unless their demand for a greater share of parliamentary seats was met. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest 9 in pursuit of AQI VBIED cell members in Baghdad, Kirkuk - Iraqi Security Forces arrested nine suspected members of al-Qaeda in Iraq-sponsored vehicle-borne improvised explosive device cells today during two joint security operations in Baghdad and Kirkuk. ISF and U.S. advisors searched several buildings throughout Baghdad today during a series of operations searching for a suspected AQI leader believed to be responsible for multiple VBIED attacks in the region. (READ MORE)

Governor Schwarzenegger visits Iraq, meets troops - Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, met with Servicemembers today at Camp Victory where he shook hands and thanked them for their service in Baghdad, Iraq. Additional photos and videos of the governor’s visit with troops are posted on the Digital Visual Information Distribution System website: (READ MORE)

Bazaar raises money for widows, orphans - The Daughters of Iraq, a national womens' organization here, held a bazaar on Combat Outpost Meade to raise money for local widows and orphans, Nov. 13. Soldiers of the 113th Field Artillery Battalion's Civil Affairs Team, based at the COP, hosted the bazaar that featured the work of several female Baghdad-area artists and tailors. (READ MORE)

Iraqi forces arrest 21 terrorism suspects - Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), working with U.S. advisors, arrested 21 terrorism suspects in various recent operations, military officials reported. In southern Baghdad, Nov. 16, ISF and U.S. advisors searched a building for a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader alleged in an arrest warrant to be responsible for multiple vehicle-borne bomb attacks in the region. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Commandos, US Paratroopers prepare for joint air-assaults - Iraqi Commandos and Reconnaissance Scouts partnered with the "All American" paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division here, Nov. 15, to train for future joint helicopter air-assault operations. The 1st Iraqi Army Division Soldiers trained with Paratroopers of the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade), on loading and unloading from assault helicopters. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Afghan Rocket Attack Spurs Concern Over Taliban - A rocket attack apparently targeting French forces that killed ordinary Afghans raised concerns Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan about international troops' ability to secure a volatile valley despite a major offensive. Monday's assault in Tagab missed the shura — a traditional meeting called by French officers to explain their operation to local elders— but hit a crowded market area. Fourteen Afghan civilians were killed and dozens more wounded, said Afghan Gen. Paikan Zamaray. (READ MORE)

Soldiers to bribe Taleban recruits with hard cash - British soldiers should buy off potential Taleban recruits in Afghanistan with cash, according to a new Army field manual. Army commanders should also talk to insurgent leaders with "blood on their hands" to speed up the end of the drawn-out conflict , the guide said. The edicts, contained in rewritten counter-insurgency guidelines, will be given to all new Army officers, the Times said. (READ MORE)

Civilian death toll almost trebled in Afghan attack - Afghan officials said Tuesday 14 civilians had been killed by rockets fired by the Taliban into a crowded market a day earlier, almost trebling the original toll given for the attack in the country's northeast. "In total 14 people were martyred and 38 of our countrymen were wounded," Afghan Army General Paikan Zamaray told reporters after visiting some of the wounded at a medical facility in a NATO military base at Kabul airport. (READ MORE)

Khazei calls for Afghan military mission transfer - The United States should not send more troops to fight the war in Afghanistan, but instead should slowly draw down its own forces and transfer counterinsurgency operations to the Afghanistan government, Democratic Senate candidate Alan Khazei said Monday. Khazei, one of four Democrats running to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was to speak Monday at Harvard University to outline the details of his proposed new U.S. approach. (READ MORE)

UK urges 'clear political strategy' in Afghanistan - Success in Afghanistan can only come with a clear political strategy, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told a NATO gathering Tuesday. He also said Britain is ready to raise its "already high contributions" to the country on the basis of an agreed strategy. While Miliband did not specify whether that meant troops, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will commit at least 500 more to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghan, NATO forces kill 5 Taliban insurgents, arrest 17 near Kabul - Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers backed by NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) eliminated five Taliban insurgents and detained 14 others in separate operations outside the capital city Kabul, officials said Tuesday. "Acting upon intelligence reports the joint forces raided a compound in Syed Abad district of Wardak provinces 40 km west of Kabul on Monday, killing four rebels on the spot," Shahidullah Shahid the spokesman for Wardak provincial administration told Xinhua. (READ MORE)

NATO Chief Confident Afghanistan Will Have More Troops - The NATO secretary-general says he is confident the United States and other NATO allies will send more troops to Afghanistan, where insurgent attacks have surged in recent months. He spoke at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Meeting in Edinburgh, where Britain's foreign secretary outlined the strategy his nation would support. (READ MORE)

Clinton In Afghanistan For Karzai Inauguration - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday to attend the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai and meet with top U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChystal. Karzai is under stiff pressure from the U.S. and other nations to fight pervasive corruption in his government. Clinton — one of more than 40 dignitaries from the U.S., Europe and other countries scheduled to attend the event — has said the U.S. will not provide civilian aid to Afghanistan unless it can be sure the government can be accountable for the funds. (READ MORE)

Ridding Afghanistan of corruption will be no easy task - Afghans have a name for the huge, gaudy mansions that have sprung up in Kabul's wealthy Sherpur neighborhood since 2001. They call them "poppy palaces." The cost of building one of these homes, which are adorned with sweeping terraces and ornate columns, can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many are owned by government officials whose formal salaries are a few hundred dollars a month. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Successes May Sway US Troop Decision - A month after the Pakistani military began its push into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, militants appear to have been dispersed, not eliminated, with most simply fleeing. That recurring pattern illustrated the problems facing the Obama administration as it enters its final days of a decision on its strategy for Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Army Shows Off Captured Taliban Posts - A toy car booby-trapped with explosives, chemistry textbooks and handwritten case files from a Taliban court were among the debris left behind by fleeing Islamist militants in this remote village in the conflicted tribal region of South Waziristan. The now-deserted village, which was retaken by Pakistani army forces two weeks ago and visited by Western journalists on Tuesday for the first time since... (READ MORE)

Prolonged Struggles Loom in Pakistani Battle Zone - Troops from the Pakistani army are pressing deep into a tribal region along the Afghan border as they try to defeat one of the country's most powerful Taliban factions. But commanders say the bulk of the estimated 10,000 militants who were believed to be in South Waziristan when Pakistani forces began the offensive about four weeks ago have now fled, raising the prospect of a drawn-out guerrilla conflict in the region. (READ MORE)

Afghan, Pakistani Taliban Diverge on Goals - Both go by the name "Taliban," but militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan are increasingly diverging in their ultimate goal. The Pakistanis have joined al Qaeda's campaign to attack Western targets and spread radical Islam while the Afghans want to rid their country of foreign troops but harbor no global ambitions, according to a number of prominent analysts. (READ MORE)

Poll Finds Guarded Optimism on Obama's Afghanistan Plan - Most Americans say they think President Obama will come up with a successful strategy for Afghanistan, but few are "very confident" that he will do so, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The president is expected in the coming weeks to roll out a new approach for handling the conflict in Afghanistan... (READ MORE)

Afghan Corruption Concerns US Policy Planners - Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has been roundly criticized in the international community for presiding over a corrupt government. A new report reinforces the perception of widespread corruption in Afghanistan, naming it the second most corrupt country of all those surveyed. That worries American policy makers as they deliberate on the future US strategy in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghan Minister Accused of Taking Bribe - The Afghan minister of mines accepted a roughly $30 million bribe to award the country's largest development project to a Chinese mining firm, according to a US official who is familiar with military intelligence reports. The allegation, if proved true, would mark one of the most brazen examples of corruption yet disclosed in a country where the problem has become so pervasive that it is now at the heart of Obama administration doubts over Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reliability as a partner. (READ MORE)

NATO Chief Predicts ‘Substantially More Troops’ in Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen today predicted the alliance’s future mission in Afghanistan will entail a counterinsurgency approach with “substantially more troops.” The NATO chief, speaking to the alliance’s Parliamentary Assembly, said he expects NATO will reach a troop-level decision in a few weeks for the International Security Assistance Force it leads in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Team Combines Civilian, Military Expertise - The provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan’s Panjshir province serves as a model for the continued integration of civilian assets into military operations to achieve a unified strategic goal. The Panjshir team is the only US provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan that is civilian-led and military-commanded, combining resources from the Air Force, Army, Navy, State Department, US Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture into one unified effort aimed at economic, judicial, social, educational and infrastructure development. (READ MORE)

Vision for Victory, Part I - The news from Afghanistan all year has been dispiriting, and the last few weeks have been especially tough in terms of the violence. Yet most foreign and Afghan officials and officers who I encountered on a recent weeklong visit sponsored by the U. military are guardedly optimistic about our prospects. How can this be so? (READ MORE)

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