December 3, 2009

From the Front: 12/03/2009

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

Dude in the Desert: update - well, we just had about 10-12 “light” explosions outside… not sure what they were…not mortars for sure… maybe RPGs…doesn’t seem like they hit inside the fence, but I don’t know for sure… I am fine, and our camp seems to be fine…another day in tha hood yo. (READ MORE)

A World Away: Wisconsin soldier describes blast that put him on the cover of Time - The LaCrosse Tribune interviewed Master Sgt. Chet Millard about President Obama's plans to send more troops to Afghanistan. Millard recalled missions that would last for weeks, with scant opportunities for rest. "We were constantly being pushed, with very little down time," Millard said Tuesday from his home in Sparta. Reporter Chris Hubbuch of the Tribune also talked to Millard about the blast the resulted in his appearance on the cover of a national news magazine. He was serving with the 951st Engineer Company with the Wisconsin National Guard, when the truck he was riding in hit a roadside bomb. A photographer from Time came to the scene, and Millard ended up on the cover. (READ MORE)

A World of Troubles: The Iraqi money pit- conflicting views - The U.S. built hospital was full of new equipment: x-ray machines, dialysis machines, even CAT scanners, but none of the Iraqis had been properly trained to use them. The expensive, desperately needed machines would eventually be scavenged for basic parts. Complex oil drilling simulators, designed to train Iraqis how to tap their vast reserves, were delivered at a cost of a million dollars each. But the manufacturing company refused to send any advisors to Iraq, so Iraqi never learned how to assemble them. The simulators gathered dust in their shipping boxes for years. In a Nov. 20th article, Timothy Williams of the NYT lays out the cost to the U.S. taxpayer in reconstructing Iraq- $53 billion, so far. (Some claim the total reconstruction figure is closer to $114 billion including U.S., foreign and Iraqi funds, and projects still in progress.) (READ MORE)

Brian Katulis: Obama failed to outline the way forward in Pakistan - One striking thing about the president's speech last night was how little he actually said about Pakistan, especially in comparison to his speech last March outlining the initial strategy. He didn't ignore Pakistan last night -- the country got around 25 mentions, but that's down from more than 40 references in the March speech, which was actually shorter in length compared to last night's speech. But beyond the simple metric of how many mentions Pakistan received, the speech was particularly empty on the substance of what we are doing and planning to do about Pakistan in our policy approach, and actually offered fewer details than were presented in March. President Obama reiterated many of the main points about why Pakistan is important to Afghanistan and the broader region, and then slipped into vague generalities about what the U.S. is actually doing or trying to do with Pakistan... (READ MORE)

Asma Nemati: The view from Kabul - All eyes were focused on the U.S. early this morning in Kabul, when Obama delivered his long-awaited speech spelling out his new Afghanistan strategy. What are people's reactions? A bit contradictory and halfhearted, like the strategy itself. Obama is willing to support Afghanistan and defeat terrorists, yet also set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. And, likewise, Afghans feel the same way. According to many, the influx of 30,000 U.S. troops starting early next year and an additional 5,000 NATO troops is definitely needed to secure some of the volatile parts of Afghanistan, especially the south -- Helmand and Kandahar. In fact, there was no major debate in Afghanistan about the number of troops coming, like there was in the U.S., as long as there is some sort of military help in not only training but also increasing the number of the Afghan security forces - who lack proper facilities for training, get paid a meager salary, and at least half of whom are illiterate. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Afghanistan: Enemy Situation - Now that a final decision has been made on the number of additional US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, I want to start focusing on refining our picture of the enemy situation and operational environment across the different Regional Commands (RCs). I plan to post a series of articles in the upcoming weeks that will provide a basic "first look" at each of these areas to help us all better understand the challenges our troops are facing. The intent is to help us better visualize the unique dynamics at play in each RC/province/district - specifically in terms of enemy threat, ANSF capability, local governance capacity, economic drivers, and other key factors. To start things off from a big-picture perspective, check out the two graphics below, both courtesy of the Long War Journal. The first is an overall enemy SITEMP, with a rough estimate of Taliban "control/influence" in each province and district: (READ MORE)

Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain: A trip outside the gate - Recently SPC C and I went outside the gate to meet with a couple of local religious leaders. It's one of the things I enjoy most about being here, and is certainly a very different experience from what I was doing (for the most part) when I was in Iraq. Someday I'll go into much more detail, but for the moment, this will have to suffice. Our Albanian-speaking interpreter piled into our little pickup truck (SPC C really has to squeeze in, it's that small) and we took off for a little town that I'd never been to before. The fields have been harvested, but since the snows haven't definitively arrived yet, many have a lush green carpet of something growing on them. Verdant, rolling hills punctuated with houses and barns -- as well as structures (obviously once houses) destroyed presumably during the war a dozen years ago -- under a sky filled with cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds, made for a very pleasant journey. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Strategy Impacts Military Families - Along with the rest of the nation, I sat glued to my TV set last night as President Barack Obama unveiled his Afghanistan strategy at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. During his speech, the cameras often would pan to the audience and focus in on the face of a young cadet for a second or two. The cadets looked so intent, and I wondered what they were thinking as Obama announced his decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. I wondered what the impact would be on them and on their families, and on those military families already taxed by a sustained war effort. The president’s plan is to flow the additional troops in to Afghanistan in the first half of 2010, and then begin to turn over security responsibility to Afghan security forces and withdraw U.S. forces in July 2011. Forces may involve at least two or three Army brigade combat teams and many soldiers and Marines to train the Afghan security forces. (READ MORE)

Captain Doug Beattie: Those who have never been in Helmand give their view, but the soldiers are silent - It is absolutely clear that the campaign in Afghanistan, and in particular Helmand province, isn't fully understood by the UK population. They are force-fed a diet of soldiers dying in a faraway country for a cause they don't understand or believe in, without clear aims or even proper equipment. In their eagerness to show support for the armed forces, they take out their frustrations on the Government's lack of strategy, they finger-point at the MoD and shout about poor equipment and battle plans. Ultimately, they cry for withdrawal of all British troops. But what effect does this negativity have on the soldier getting ready to go to Afghanistan, and what effect does it have on the soldier living, fighting and working in Helmand on a day-to-day basis? "An unwinnable war," say some. "A price not worth paying," say others. "The military presence is making the whole situation in Afghanistan far worse." (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Shoe Karma? - They say what goes around comes around. It seems that saying is true, at least in the case of the Iraqi man who threw his shoes at a visiting President Bush last year. I just read that someone yesterday threw his shoes at a visiting Muntathar Zaidi in Paris. And instead of being offended, Zaidi is miffed that his copyright has been violated. The gesture last year was criticized by Iraqi journalists, who said Zaidi, a journalist himself, disrespected the profession by being rude to President Bush. Others said it was a bad move on Zaidi's part because it disrespected the entire culture. I'd be interested to hear how French people reacted to the Iraqi journalist who reportedly threw his shoes at Zaidi. The BBC says "media reports said the attacker was an exiled Iraqi journalist who defended US policy and accused Zaidi of 'working for dictatorship in Iraq.'" (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: An Empty Stocking - Everyone told us the “firsts” were the hardest. I disagree… I was still somewhat numb and in an emotional fog for the “firsts”. Now I am fully feeling it all and well its harder in someways. And in others, well easier is not the right word, I guess I am just more prepared for things. Christmas is just a few days away. Last year we did our absolute best to skip it. We had a tiny tree and did the gifts but only because the kids needed us to do that much. This year I am torn. I want to pull out the big tree and the ornaments we have collected over the years and touch the memories. I want to look and hang the ornaments the kids made over the years. I want to remember the Christmas of the past. I want to laugh at the memories through the tears I know will come. I want to let the memories inspire me but at the same time I am terrified they may also drowned me. (I pretend to be a lot stronger than I am sometimes but if I pretend long enough maybe even I will believe it right?) (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bomber strikes outside Pakistani naval headquarters - A Taliban suicide bomber detonated outside the headquarters of the Pakistani Navy in Islamabad, killing one security guard and critically wounding two others, in the latest attack against the military. The teenaged suicide bomber detonated his bomb as he was being searched at a checkpoint at the front gate of the Navy Headquarters. "The bomber was about 17 to 18 years old," Fazeel Asghar, the senior administrative official in Islamabad told Dawn. "He was wearing a suicide jacket. He came to the gate and tried to enter the complex." "Security officials checked him and one navy police constable, Mohammad Ashraf, asked him to take off his coat," Asghar continued. "The bomber then blew himself up and the navy constable died in the blast." The Taliban and allied Pakistani jihadi groups have conducted multiple attacks against military and police headquarters over the past year. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 2 Dec 09 - well, today started off crappy…went to take a shower and whatnot…no freakin water…it’s crappy cold, rainy weather and now I have to walk an extra 100 feet or so to go to the other latrines…but, I guess it’s just the crap you have to deal with when living the glamorous life of an Airman living the glamorous life of a Soldier…headed over to the barn and got ready to start the day’s chores…first on the list–get a cup o coffee…that helped things get off to a better start…after the coffee I headed back out to this trailer that needed fuel drained from it…this sounds like a pretty easy chore…a little trailer, two wheels, a hitch, and a fuel tank…well, here’s what goes into this whole ordeal…first, need a place to put the fuel–something large enough…well, the tank holds 50 gallons, so we go find a 55 gallon empty barrel…then, we think about it for a second…once it gets full we need to be able to pick it up… (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Mr. Obama's war - This is a choice that few Americans would wish to make: deepening an American commitment to a military campaign that even the top commander concedes stands a high risk of failure. It is the starkest possible way for a president to demonstrate that he thinks the case of Afghanistan is important enough to send more U.S. troops to a place where some will be killed. President Barack Obama told the nation Tuesday night that he had settled on a policy that sends 30,000 additional U.S. troops to the country with a primary mission of protecting the population and training Afghan soldiers to take over when the foreign troops leave. They will pour in rather quickly to trouble spots like the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where Taliban forces are entrenched and coalition forces have been thinly stretched. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Presidential Ponderings - There’s a lot of discussion today about President Obama’s speech last night. I gotta throw my two cents’ worth in. I read the transcript and thought it was an excellent speech. It shows a deliberate, thoughtful, and reasoned approach. Obama’s refocusing of the mission, I think, is right on target. Our main concern should be in ending the threat from Al Qaeda and other such extremist groups in the border area. Those are the loonies who attacked the World Trade Center and are the threat to the US and other western nations. Lots of people are wondering why we care about Afghanistan. It has nothing in the way of natural resources, no industry, nothing much to trade with the rest of the world. Which is why it’s so poor, and because it’s so poor, the people (young ones particularly) turn to anything that offers them a smidgeon of hope and purpose. Which is what the extremist groups offer. (READ MORE)

The Sandbox: THE END OF HEARTACHE - My unit came off orders to Iraq recently. This frees us up to go to Afghanistan. Below are a list of reasons, in no particular order, why it would be a good idea for me to spend 12 of the next 15 months of my life backin that blasted land. 1) We made a commitment to the people of Afghanistan when we invaded their country and toppled the Taliban regime. Unless we feel comfortable allowing adulterous women to be stoned to death, or women in general to receive no education, or whatever non-Muslim culture remaining in the country to be savaged and destroyed; unless we feel comfortable going back on a promise we made to a country filled with poverty, devoid of natural resources, mired in hopelessness and ignorance; unless we are comfortable with an idea of ourselves as individuals who are not capable of making promises as a nation -- we must stay for a little while longer and give these people the legitimate shot at development that we offered them when we first put boots on the ground in 2002. (READ MORE)

Sarah: All Those Moments Are Gone - I took a trip three weeks ago to visit my husband's parents. Even though he's deployed, I wanted them to share in the pregnancy excitement and get to feel like grandparents-to-be for a few days. We had a nice visit, and on the way home I started thinking of the letter I could write to my husband about everything we did that week. And then I got busy, and then I didn't feel so well, and then...the urgency passed. And I never wrote the letter. This, to me, is the saddest part of deployment. While we are separated, so many things happen to each of us. So many things that, if we were sitting down to dinner together in the same house, we would talk about animatedly. Little things, big things, all kinds of things. I am a chip casher; I like to relive every moment of my day with my husband. When he's gone, I usually try to do this in a letter. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Spirit Of The West: Dragoons, Highlanders, Westies, Rangers, B.C. Regiment, Scottish - KANDAHAR - With men and women in uniform from every corner of Canada, it's a rare thing to find a sub-unit platoon of soldiers who all hail from the same province, so while I was running between briefings I couldn't resist stopping to take a quick photo of these comrades: they come from different trades, corps and regiments, but they're all British Columbians. They're outriders, a force-protection crew with the National Security Element. They ride shotgun with convoys, making sure people and supplies get where they're supposed to go. I think I got all their names right, at least (if anyone notices a mistake, drop me a note and I'll fix it). (MORE)

Nathan Hodge: High-Tech, Armored Off-Roader Key to Afghan Surge - The new troops headed to Afghanistan are important, sure. But unless those troops can get around the country without getting blown up, this latest surge is going nowhere fast. Which is why the Pentagon is in the middle of a crash program to build and ship to Afghanistan a new generation of bomb-resistant off-road vehicle, equipped with everything from composite armor to “electronic keels.” If all goes to plan, they should have around 1,000 of the high-tech rides in the country by the end of the year. Right after the start of the original surge in Iraq, the Pentagon launched a breakneck effort to send thousands and thousands of hulking Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to that warzone. The vehicles were credited with saving countless lives. But the rides are too bulky for Afghanistan’s rough terrain and primitive roadways. The suspensions took a beating, and the top-heavy MRAPs were prone to rollover. (READ MORE)

Wired: Danger Room: Afghanistan 3.0: Like It or Not, It’s Nation-Building - In announcing the escalation of the Afghanistan war last night, President Barack Obama made an interesting declaration. “Our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended,” he said. “Because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is playing the same tune. In testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said: “This approach is not open-ended ‘nation-building.’” The administration may excise the phrase “nation-building” from the talking points, but whether or not they choose to employ it, that’s precisely what Afghanistan 3.0 involves. Whether it’s soldiers teaching better planting techniques to Afghan farmers, diplomats and aid consultants advising local leaders or provincial reconstruction teams building roads, bridges and schools, Afghanistan has become a major nation-building effort. (READ MORE)

The Burn Pit: Do we want to win? - Sooner or later, America is going to have to come to a point where we decide whether or not we want to win the war in Afghanistan. We’ve been driving down this road for 8 years now, and passed I don’t know how many crossroads. Apparently we’ve come to another one. Last night, against the backdrop of the future military leaders of America, President Obama laid out his new strategy for fighting this war. What still remains to be seen is whether or not this is a war America is committed to winning. So far, I have yet to see the kind of real discussion that is needed to determine the resolve of this country. War is not a place for half measures. War is unforgiving, uncompromising, and demands resolve in the face of adversity. I’m not here to debate the merits of the Obama plan and whether it will or won’t work. My first introduction to being a veteran speaking to members of Congress dates back to the time period prior to the 2007 Iraq “Surge” and my concerns about the labeling of General Petraeus’ strategy a failure before it had even been given the chance to be implemented. (READ MORE)

Cassandra: The Middle Game - Last night, a weary country nervously awaited the end to our long national nightmare. Our patience, we were told, would be rewarded by the release of a comprehensive, new strategy - the result of several months of careful policy review. That last night's speech marked the second "careful policy review" in under a year is an inconvenient fact many thought best de-emphasized. Our job was to be patient while wiser heads mulled over options we - despite this administration's frequent promises of unprecedented openness, inclusiveness, and transparency - never saw except in the form of carefully timed leaks. These options are, apparently, far too complicated for us to understand. They have changed little in the past few years. The framing of these unseen options has been masterful. The number strategically leaked earlier this week is clearly the one we're intended to keep in mind: 35,000. Forget the 40000 requested by the ISAF Commander. (READ MORE)

Jules Crittenden: Fog Of War - Withdrawal will be based on conditions on the ground … in Washington. That’s the best battlefield assessment I can offer, amid the fog of DC war, after scrutinizing this scrambled transmission via CBS’ Political Hotsheet. White House: July 2011 is Locked In For Afghan Withdrawal. During the Senate Armed Services hearing today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. on whether the July 2011 date for beginning to withdrawal troops is “locked in.” Gates seemed to suggest there was some flexibility, that “it was a clear statement of his strong intent” and that “the president always has the freedom to re-evaluate his decisions.” After the hearing Graham said he took that to mean the date is “not locked in” and will depend on conditions on the ground. Let them dicker over whether telling the enemy how long they need to wait is a bad idea, or whether “pull out and that’s final” constitutes a war strategy or a surrender one. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Obama’s Afghanistan Speech - The speech was ghastly, dreary, dreadful and morose, full of wishful thinking and blame of others for the situation we now face. Obama seemed to be unable to stay focused on Afghanistan, appeared bored with the subject, and even seemed a bit peeved that he had to deliver such a speech. The first part of the speech rehashed information that most people alive today already know, and then proceeded to place the blame on Operation Iraqi Freedom for the low troop levels in Afghanistan. That Generals McNeill and McKiernan requested more troops for the campaign in Afghanistan is true, but at least McKiernan’s desires were made known during Obama’s tenure. Even this doesn’t fully explain how the situation in Iraq related to Afghanistan. During much of the time from 2004 (around the time of Operation al Fajr) to 2007, thousands of religiously motivated foreign fighters (AQ) flowed into Iraq per year to fight the U.S. forces. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Iraqi Army Soldiers Graduate Iraqi Army Bomb Disposal School Courses - The bomb disposal school at the Besmaya training center graduated 49 Iraqi army engineer officers from its officer leadership course and 12 Iraqi army students from the bomb disposal school training course on Nov. 26. The nine week leadership course included an overview of bomb disposal training as part of more than 240 hours of classroom training. (READ MORE)

Coalition Forces work with Iraqi Government to prosecute Detainees for Terrorism - Task Force 134 recently presented its 300th terrorism case for 2009 to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. Of the 309 cases presented to the CCC-I so far, 122 defendants have been convicted. The remaining defendants will be pursued for other crimes against the Iraqi people or eventually released in a safe and orderly manner according to the Security Agreement between the United States and the Government of Iraq. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police pursue ad Duluiyah suicide-bomb facilitator, arrest 4 - Iraqi Police arrested four individuals today during a joint security operation conducted to find and arrest a suspected suicide-bomb facilitator in a rural area located north of Baghdad. The 3rd General Directorate Salah ad Din Police Unit and U.S. advisors searched two buildings for a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq member facilitating suicide bombings in the region. (READ MORE)

4 suspected terrorists arrested, 1 killed, as Iraqi Police pursue AQI - Iraqi Police arrested four suspected members of the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terrorist group today during a joint security operation conducted in the outskirts of As Sadiyah, northwest of Baghdad. Intelligence led Iraqi Police and U.S. advisors to a building in northern As Sadiyah, where an alleged AQI member is known to reside and is suspected of being in direct contact with AQI leadership. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Police continue AQI sweeps, arrests - Iraqi Police (IP) arrested 11 suspected members of the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terrorist group during two joint operations yesterday in northern Iraq. Near Sadiyah, northeast of Baghdad, IP and U.S. advisors searched several buildings for an alleged AQI member believed to have ties to senior leadership. (READ MORE)

Border Police hone enforcement skills - As U.S. forces work toward a responsible withdraw from Iraq, the importance of lessons passed to their Iraqi partners has never been greater. One such effort, the “Train-the-Trainer” (TT) program instituted by Border Transition Team - Scimitar, has vastly increased the technical and tactical competence of Iraq's 3rd Battalion, 11th Brigade, Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) officers. (READ MORE)

Marine Corps Logistics Command (Fwd) Opens Retrograde Lot Aboard Al Asad - After several months of long convoys from Al Asad Air Base to Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, the Marines stationed aboard Al Asad now have the opportunity to turn in their gear to a convenient location on the base. Marine Corps Logistics Command (Forward) opened a retrograde lot aboard Al Asad, Dec. 1. (READ MORE)

Tennessee ANG's Troop G Keeps Northern Iraq Aviation 'moving' - Four, 10–ton MRAP's hum in the dark. As motors idle, Soldiers with headlamps crawl in and around each metal beast, conducting oft-performed pre-combat checks and inspections. Moments later, approximately 20 Tennessee Army National Guard Soldiers of Troop G, 1st Battalion, 230th Air Cavalry Squadron, Task Force Wings, gather around their convoy commander for safety and mission briefs. (READ MORE)

A Marsh Arab 'Mudhif' Rises on COB Adder - Local architecture plays an important role in understanding the culture of the marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq and no structure captures the lifestyle and traditions of the region more than the 'mudhif.' First constructed in the marshes of what is now southern Iraq over 5,000 years ago, the mudhif is a unique local meeting place assembled entirely of reeds, straw and other natural materials. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
IJC Operational Update, Dec. 3: - An Afghan-international security force detained several suspected militants in Wardak province while pursuing a Taliban sub-commander today. The joint security force targeted a compound near the village of Jamad Kheyl in the Sayed Abad district after intelligence sources indicated militant activity. The joint force searched the compound without incident and detained the suspected militants. (READ MORE)

Taliban Compound Struck; Militants Detained in Kandahar; ISAF Casualty - International forces conducted an air strike against a Taliban commander in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan yesterday. The Taliban commander was the target of the precision strike in Kunar province's Dara Noor district, which occurred in an open area away from civilian compounds or infrastructure. Assessment of the strike continues. (READ MORE)

Reconstruction in Zabul Province; Casualty Update - The ISAF Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), mid-way through its nine-month tour, has completed nearly 40 projects this year. Operational for several years, the Zabul PRT assists the Afghan government with improving stability through governance, reconstruction and development. The Zabul PRT is a diverse organization with joint, interagency and international components. (READ MORE)

Some Allies Wary of New Troop Pledges - As political and military leaders across the globe pondered President Obama’s announcement of his Afghan strategy, European allies offered a mixed response on Wednesday, with some of the biggest contributors to the NATO coalition withholding promises of immediate troop reinforcements. As political and military leaders across the globe pondered President Obama’s announcement of his Afghan strategy, European allies offered a mixed response on Wednesday, with some of the biggest contributors to the NATO coalition withholding promises of immediate troop reinforcements. (READ MORE)

Obama Team Defends Policy on Afghanistan - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the nation’s top military officer on Wednesday laid out a muscular defense of President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, but they made clear that his plan to begin withdrawing those forces by July 2011 was flexible. At two hearings on Capitol Hill, where they faced deep skepticism about different parts of Mr. Obama’s war plan from both parties... (READ MORE)

Obama's Afghanistan Strategy Has a Familiar Look - In crafting his new Afghanistan policy, President Obama borrowed liberally from an unlikely source: the playbook of George W. Bush. Obama was an outspoken critic of former President Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq in early 2007, a point nearly four years after the US-led invasion when the country was in the midst of a sectarian war. (READ MORE)

Time Limit on Surge Draws Fire - A day after President Barack Obama laid out his plan to send at least 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, his promise to begin withdrawing them as soon as July 2011 had become as divisive as the surge. Republican critics said setting a firm date for starting a troop withdrawal encourages the enemy to simply wait out the US efforts, and many officials in Afghanistan agreed, calling the timeline unrealistic. (READ MORE)

Obama to Let Pentagon Deploy Even More Troops, But Numbers Remain Murky - President Obama has authorized Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to deploy several thousand additional troops, as needed, beyond the 30,000 that Obama on Tuesday said he would send to Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon official. Gates can increase the number by 10 percent, or 3,000 troops, without additional White House approval or announcement, the official said... (READ MORE)

New US Afghan Strategy Raises Questions - In announcing a new Afghan strategy, President Obama hopes to eventually bring to a close a low-level conflict that has been going on for eight years. The shift in strategy is largely due to changes in those intervening years in all of the countries involved in one way or another in the Afghan conflict and its fallout. There is hope, but also skepticism about US plans in Afghanistan and the region. (READ MORE)

Lawmakers Scrutinize New Afghan Strategy - Lawmakers from both parties searched for weaknesses Wednesday in President Obama's newly announced Afghan strategy, focusing on what many said was a contradiction between his promise to begin removing US troops in 18 months and his caveat that departures will depend on "conditions on the ground." Few joined with Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) in categorically rejecting Obama's description of vital US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his deployment of 30,000 additional troops and his plan for eventual withdrawal from both countries. (READ MORE)

Democrats Question Huge Cost of Obama Surge as McCain Pours Scorn - The new war strategy of a Nobel Peace Prize winner came under fire from both left and right yesterday as President Obama’s three most senior lieutenants endured marathon sessions on Capitol Hill to start selling the strategy to voters, Congress and the world. Their toughest challenge was not to explain why a 30,000-troop surge was necessary in Afghanistan, but how Mr Obama could know when it would end. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Timetable Raises Questions - President Obama's timetable for rapidly expanding and then shrinking US force levels in Afghanistan, a central feature of his new war strategy, raised questions from critics and supporters alike Wednesday, and left top administration officials struggling to explain the plan. The war plan presented by the president Tuesday night, which fixes the beginning of troop reductions in July 2011 but does not set an end, was the subject of widespread confusion... (READ MORE)

Gates Explains July 2011 Milestone at Senate Hearing - Setting July 2011 for the beginning of a US drawdown in Afghanistan was intended for two primary audiences: the Afghan government in Kabul and war-weary Americans, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee about the new strategy for Afghanistan, Gates said the 18-month deadline signals the need for Kabul to claim greater responsibility and shows the American public the war isn’t open-ended. (READ MORE)

Petraeus: Afghan ‘Surge’ to Target Terrorist Leaders - Tens of thousands of additional US forces slated for deployment to Afghanistan will be employed to target and eliminate terrorist leaders and assist the Afghan government to better safeguard and provide a brighter future for its people, the commander of US Central Command said today. President Barack Obama last night announced the deployment of 30,000 extra US forces to Afghanistan over the next several months, which would bring the total US troop strength there to about 100,000. (READ MORE)

McChrystal: Surge Marks Turning Point in Conflict - President Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan signifies a dramatic turning point for the US and coalition mission there, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal told his staff in Kabul today. McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, cited British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s November 1942 speech following the allied forces’ victory over Axis troops at the Second Battle of El Alamein. (READ MORE)

Clinton Expects Significant Afghan Troop Pledges from NATO - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress Wednesday the Obama administration expects significant commitments of additional troops for Afghanistan from NATO allies to supplement the surge of US forces. Clinton flies to Brussels Thursday for key meetings on Afghanistan at NATO headquarters. (READ MORE)

Some Allies Wary of New Troop Pledges - As political and military leaders across the globe pondered President Obama’s announcement of his Afghan strategy, European allies offered a mixed response on Wednesday, with some of the biggest contributors to the NATO coalition withholding promises of immediate troop reinforcements. The NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said he believed other members of the alliance would contribute 5,000 soldiers - and possibly more... (READ MORE)

Afghanistan and Pakistan Rattled by Plan for Drawdown - President Obama’s timetable for American forces in Afghanistan rattled nerves in that country and in Pakistan on Wednesday, as American diplomats worked to convince the two countries at the center of the president’s war strategy that the United States would not cut and run. In Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, said the announcement that American troops could begin leaving in 18 months served as a kind of shock therapy, but caused anxiety. (READ MORE)

Afghan Reaction Mixed Toward New US Strategy - US President Barack Obama has announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, which has military and civilian goals. Mr. Obama spoke directly to the people of Afghanistan as he outlined his new strategy for their country. "I want the Afghan people to understand - America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country," he said. (READ MORE)

Pakistanis Voice Concerns About Obama's New Afghanistan Plan - President Obama's new strategy for combating Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan fell on skeptical ears Wednesday in next-door Pakistan, a much larger, nuclear-armed state that Obama said was "at the core" of the plan and had even more at stake than Afghanistan. Analysts and residents on both sides of the 1,600-mile border expressed concerns about Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan... (READ MORE)

What Mr. Obama Changed - Now that President Obama has unveiled a strategy for Afghanistan whose bottom line - 30,000 more troops - looks a lot like the one Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal proposed three months ago, an obvious question arises: Did the president's prolonged deliberations produce any significant change in Gen. McChrystal's plans? Vice President Biden and some of the president's aides describe the revision as massive. (READ MORE)

This Will Not End Well - A traveler asks a farmer how to get to a particular village. The farmer replies, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Barack Obama, who asked to be president, nevertheless deserves sympathy for having to start where America is in Afghanistan. But after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world. (READ MORE)

A Wartime President - When it comes to President Barack Obama's long-awaited decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are three main points to consider: the decision itself, the manner in which he made it, and the way in which he sold it. He could not, in the end, have decided on a very different course of action. Having replaced the previous commander in Afghanistan with one of the outstanding soldiers of this generation, how could he deny Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for some 40,000 troops? (READ MORE)

Obama's Folly - Which is the greater folly: To fancy that war offers an easy solution to vexing problems, or, knowing otherwise, to opt for war anyway? In the wake of 9/11, American statecraft emphasized the first approach: President George W. Bush embarked on a "global war" to eliminate violent jihadism. President Obama now seems intent on pursuing the second approach: Through military escalation in Afghanistan, he seeks to "finish the job" that Bush began there, then all but abandoned. (READ MORE)

Despite Some Questions, Obama's Afghan Policy is Sound - The questions that remain unanswered after the president's West Point address: Will the troops have the time and resources needed to win? "Win" is a word that Obama avoided. He cited his long-standing goal of "disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist allies," but he spoke merely of his desire to "break the Taliban's momentum" rather than defeat it altogether. (READ MORE)

Obama Can Win in Afghanistan - President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night deserves to be cheered. Over the objections of his vice president and despite opposition from his political base, the president is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists. But praise for Mr. Obama's decision needs to be qualified. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, had said he could use as many as 40,000 troops... (READ MORE)

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