December 8, 2009

From the Front: 12/08/2009

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

Dude in the Desert: some pics from my trip - (View Pics)

Sgt Danger: A Few More Pictures - With little time to write, I’ve chosen a handful of photos to tell their own stories. (MORE)

Cool, Calm and Collected: My goodness, God has been good to me - Two years ago today I would have been Mrs. Holtom. And I'm not. But, I do have a peace now. A peace that surpasses all understanding. I don't really know if I'll ever understand how or why God allows things to happen the way that they do, but I also know that no matter what my mind can or cannot fully wrap itself around, I do know this: I serve one very amazing God. One who gives grace, peace, and joy- even through trials. That will be all kids. (MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike kills 3 in North Waziristan - The US has killed three Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in its first strike in Pakistan's tribal areas in two weeks. Unmanned US strike aircraft targeted and hit a vehicle in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Two Hellfire missiles launched from unmanned Predator or Reaper attack aircraft hit the vehicle as it moved in the village of Aspalga, about seven miles southeast of the main town of Miramshah. "A car was hit by two missiles, killing three people and injuring three others," a Pakistani security official told AFP. "The missiles were fired from a US drone," another official told the news service. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not disclose the target of the strike nor would they confirm if any senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders were killed. (READ MORE)

The Burn Pit: …old times there are not forgotten. - On the way into the office this morning, I was reflecting on many things. This time of the year, people take the opportunity to count their blessings, remember times past and generally take an inventory of the last year. Since my office is quite a walk from where I park (about half a mile) this reflection time is even more pronounced, but today’s hike was slightly different than usual. Allow me to explain; see I work smack dab in the middle of Georgia’s capitol, a literal stone’s throw from the Gold Dome. As a result, when I’m schlepping my way from the parking deck to my office, I pass all manner of memorials, statuary, commemorative plaques, historical markers…well, you get the idea. Today, something caused me to truly take in my surroundings and what I discovered spurred me to write this missive. Perhaps it was the 32 degree temperature, or the aforementioned season we find ourselves in, but something sparked me to stop momentarily and observe. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Spineless Killers - Just as Iraq's parliament reached an agreement and announced the elections will be held March 6, a series of car bombs killed at least 120 people and wounded hundreds more today in Baghdad. The explosions were loud, buildings shook, we trembled. We could definitely feel it. At first it was really hard to tell where the killers struck and who was killed. Later we learned that a prestigious university (Technology), a popular old market (Shorja), and the Institute of Fine Arts were among those hit. Why? A bystander told me it's typical of terrorists to target civilians. He said whenever the country stabilizes a little and the economy moves a bit, the population gears up to re-elect whoever's in power. He swore he said that without indicating support for any specific candidate or party. He said one of car bombs went off near the home and headquarters of Ayad Allawi. But he still believes the killers want to scare people into staying home and not voting at all. (READ MORE)

A Soldier's Perspective: Sir, Let Me Tell Our Story - The Military Times family of publications have devoted the lead story in the “Off Duty” section to CJ’s continuing battle with Huntsville City Schools, the PTA, and the Army this week (note, the article is not live online as of this update). CJ’s story is an amazing one and well worth the read if you’re able to pick up a copy of the Times publication in your area. If you’re not able to, our very good friend Troy has posted the article and all pictures to Bouhammer. Go read, then come back. Done already? You speed reader, you. Are you sure you didn’t skim? GO BACK AND FINISH READING! Done this time? Okay, good. There isn’t much new information in the article itself, so make sure you read what Troy had to add at the end. I won’t rehash it all here. It is amazing how something that should have been as small as a uniform discussion between the school staff and parents exploded into something this big. (READ MORE)

The Belmont Club: Directive Number 9 - During the Algerian war, the terrorists promulgated an order which with variations would provide the backbone doctrine for information warfare into the 21st century. Dr. Cori Dauber, the author of the SSI monograph “The YouTube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone and Photoshop on Every Computer” describes the ground zero of the modern information Jihad. “The Algerians’ ‘Directive Number Nine’ argued that it was better to kill one man where the American press would hear of it than nine where no one would find out. What Khattab realized was that technology had finally put into the terrorists’ reach the ability to cut out the middleman—the Western reporter.” Information warfare, of which terrorism is a subset, consists of the operational art of subordinating actual physical effects to their propaganda impact. The actual physical damage counts for less than the memetic effect. (READ MORE)

Kings of War: The Graveyard of Clichés - Is Afghanistan a Graveyard of Empires? We have heard this rather often since the US-led coalition went to war against the Taliban in 2001. Its one of the eternal historical truths that any half-educated person can recite: its a dangerous place, virtually frozen in time, and everything we’re doing is just the rotten old ‘great game’ all over again. Like many myths, this one contains falsehoods and some half-truths. On Friday I did a little phone interview with CNN on this subject. Not that the views of obscure junior academics matter that much, but here’s some answers I blurted out: First, Afghanistan is not literally the places where empires die, or the country that kills empires off. The graveyard for the British Empire was not Afghanistan. If there was a graveyard, it was World War Two with its vast crippling costs. The British Empire survived its disastrous war of 1842 and was still a considerable force in world politics for the first half of the twentieth century. (READ MORE)

This Ain't Hell: 300 casualties in Iraq bombings - The Washington Times and Associated Press report a series of four coordinated attacks in Baghdad which has caused at least 300 casualties this morning: "At least 103 were killed and 197 wounded in the worst wave of violence in the capital in more than a month, authorities said. A total of four attacks, which also included a suicide car bomb on a police patrol, showed the ability of insurgents to strike high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad and marked the third time since August that government buildings were targeted with multiple blasts that brought massive bloodshed. It also was another embarrassment to Iraqi forces in their expanding role as front-line security as U.S. forces plan their withdrawal." I’m pretty sure this attack was intended to embarrass the Iraqi government and to prove that terrorists in Iraq have more staying power than the US. (READ MORE)

Some Soldier's Mom: PTSD: A Different Perspective, Part II - My blog, Some Soldier's Mom, followed my son through his deployment, his wounding, his evacuation and our journey to Germany, his return home, the memorial services and funerals attended for many of his friends, his efforts to handle his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) himself and his subsequent acceptance of formal care for his invisible wounds. We — his parents, family and friends — were drawn into this nightmare by our love for our soldier; we have spent countless hours researching, learning, supporting and advocating. Through all of this, we have tracked his progress — both the steps forward and the steps back. I have ranted, raved, blogged and asked the obvious questions about diagnosis, treatment and the stigma of PTSD. I have blogged many times about the changes in our son. For those that truly have PTSD — that is, when the symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS) have become chronic — it is the bogeyman behind every door, hiding in every shadow; it is the invisible monster that has stolen the smiles and maybe even a part of these soldiers' souls. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 45 killed in dual suicide attack in Lahore - Fourty-five civilians were killed in the second suicide attack in Pakistan's major cities today. Two suicide bombers detonated their vests near-simultaneously about 100 feet apart in the middle of the Moon Market, a commercial hub in the eastern city of Lahore. "There were two blasts with an interval of about 30 seconds," a Lahore police official told AFP. "One was in front of a bank and one was in front of a police station." More than 100 people have been reported to have been wounded in the dual explosions, which set buildings and cars aflame. The death toll is expected to rise as more casualties are discovered. Today's double suicide bombing in Lahore was the second Taliban attack today. A few hours earlier, a suicide bomber killed 11 Pakistanis outside a Peshawar courthouse. The Taliban have stepped up their suicide campaign in Pakistan's major cities, attacking the capital of Islamabad, the military garrison city of Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Peshawar. (READ MORE)

Neptunus Lex: Law of the Navy - The three Navy SEALs accused of detainee abuse, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators have broad public support, but are taking a high-risk gamble. NJP carries only limited punitive potential, but a court martial conviction – should one be made – can have a more permanent effect. “McCabe and Huertas both deferred a decision on whether to be tried by a military judge or jury. Lombardi said they couldn’t choose because they still have not received the prosecution’s evidence. The men could have accepted a nonjudicial reprimand but wanted to go to trial to clear their names, Lombardi said. A reprimand could have resulted in a loss of rank; if they are convicted at trial, they could get up to a year in jail, a bad conduct discharge, or a loss of rank or pay… Military officials have cautioned against a public rush to judgment, saying a true picture will emerge when all the evidence is heard. However, more than 45,000 people have signed onto a Facebook page supporting the SEALs, and U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said in a letter to Gates last week that the prosecution was an overreaction by the military.” The gamble could well work out: (READ MORE)

Right Wing Nut House: THE MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY - “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” (Abraham Lincoln, from his first inaugural address) I often reflect on The Great Emancipator’s words on days like today. The attack on Pearl Harbor has dwindled to insignificance for a large majority of Americans, most of whom were not alive that horrible day. The survivors who recall where they were and what they were doing 68 years ago are now in their 70’s and 80’s. Their numbers are falling with every passing remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day while those left behind have made it their cause to remind us of what it was really like to live in an America when our comfortable illusions about our safety and security were smashed so totally, and with a shocking finality. (READ MORE)

Jules Crittenden: Gates Uses The “W” Word - In Afghanistan, “We’re in this thing to win.” It’s great news, if in fact it reflects the position of the Obama administration. Washington Post: “‘We are not going to repeat the experience of 1989,’ Gates said. As U.S. troops begin to depart in favor of trained Afghan forces, developmental and economic aid will continue to flow, he stressed. ‘We intend to be their partner for a long time to come,’ Gates said. Gates’s remark that the United States is in the battle in Afghanistan ‘to win’ marked an unusual description of the mission here by an administration official. Obama has shied away from such expressive language, either in his speech last week announcing the decision to add at least 30,000 troops or when he first announced an Afghanistan strategy in March.” Since then, messengers have been sent out with all kinds of messages. (READ MORE)

Walid Phares: Taliban's Counter Strategy is based on declared US Strategy - Now that we know the administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan, what is the Taliban strategy against the United States? Such a question is warranted to be able to project the clash between the two strategies and assess the accuracy of present U.S. policies in the confrontation with the forces it is fighting against in that part of the world. So, how would the Taliban/al-Qaida war room counter NATO and the Afghan Government based on the Obama Administration's battle plan? Strategic Perceptions - The jihadi war room is now aware that the administration has narrowed its scope to defeat the so-called al-Qaida organization while limiting its goal to depriving the Taliban from achieving full victory, i.e. depriving them "from the momentum." In strategic wording this means that the administration won’t give the time and the means, let alone the necessary long term commitment to fully defeat the Taliban as a militia and militant network. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Leaving BAF for Germany - It rained all night at BAF and since my cot was positioned close to the tent flap, I was a bit cold. The next morning I went over to outprocess with the Army Liaison office and then visited the Passenger Terminal to find about my flight itinerary. Due to weather, some flights were previously canceled and the backlog of people departing for R&R was growing. I tried to stay optimistic and positive. At the briefing, we were informed a C-17 would be able to transport 150 passengers and I was listed on the manifest. Our lockdown and roll call would begin at 2:30 pm. I was excited and went back over to the MWR building to notify Liisa. While I was there waiting in line for a phone and a computer, I watched part of a movie on the big screen. It’s like a small cinema and can hold over 100 people. Later on I visited the USO building for some hot coffee. It was named in honor of the late Pat Tillman. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: An IO Blunder? - Last Thursday a suicide bomber attacked a Somali medical school graduation in Mogadishu. Among the 22 killed were 3 FTG ministers. Al Shabaab denied any involvement in the attack the next day, which initially confused me because at face value this seemed like a pretty big score on their part. It wasn’t until I came across this today on BBC that I realized this may have been a major setback to their propaganda efforts. It will be interesting to see if this continued anti-al Shabaab energy continues, and how al Shabaab reacts to the negative national and international attention it is receiving from this attack. A decreased group signature in response to the attacks would likely signify weakness on the part of al Shabaab. So while the group may curb operations in and around Mogadishu for a while, they will likely to become more violent in the southern portion of Somalia in an attempt to quell any dissent among the populace. (MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Can't Be Said Enough - It's easy to forget, in fact, how many leaders in Washington had concluded that the Iraq war was, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in April 2007, "lost." Today it's common to hear Democrats, including members of the Obama administration, talk about what a piece of cake Iraq was compared with Afghanistan. Iraq was a unified nation, they say, while Afghanistan is a ragged collection of tribes. Afghanistan is poorer, without oil and without the roads or infrastructure or middle class Iraq enjoyed. Yet when Bush spoke, Washington was full of experts explaining that Iraq was a false construct, cobbled together by clueless British colonialists, and that Iraqis shared no sense of nationhood. The Sunni and Shiite Arabs were predestined to eternal enmity, and both would always hate the Kurds. You couldn't build a national army for a nation that didn't exist. (READ MORE)

Tim Hsia - At War: When Will it End? - I had several weeks to transition with my counterpart in the unit which was returning home at the beginning of my unit’s deployment in 2007. In a span of two weeks he sought to teach, explain, and summarize all the knowledge he had gained from his deployment. During this time he was professional, gracious, patient, and thorough. As the transition period ended, and as he was about to fly home, our discussions turned from professional to personal, and he slowly began discussing - privately - his personal thoughts. He said the hardest thing about his deployment “was the change in the deployment timeline from 12 months to 15 months. It was a punch in the gut. The night we officially found out that we were going to be extended, the soldiers went crazy. Everyone was pissed, there were bonfires, and people’s attitudes changed instantaneously for the worse. That’s why our soldiers seem like they have a dark cloud over them.” (READ MORE)

Doc H: Konduz and back, 18 hours in an MRAP - We took a whirlwind trip to the Konduz and back in the last 48 hours. At least 18 of which were spent in full battle gear sitting in the back of an MRAP. Konduz is a hot spot of trouble here in the north since there is an isolated Pashto area in the otherwise Tajik and Uzbek areas of the north. It is a 250 km one way trip to Konduz. The day we drove to Konduz was a very beautiful day with plenty of visibility and sunshine. We were able to see snow on the higher mountains, and drove with snow on either side of the road while at the high point of our travels along the passes of Ring Road. Police checkpoints occured at regular intervals along Ring Road, as did stripped hulks of Russian tanks and armored vehicles. Once we arrived on the other side of the pass we followed river valleys to Konduz. Wherever agriculture was possible it was present. The wheat, rice and scant amounts of corn were all harvested already. Cotton was still out in many fields. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Insurgent FAIL/WIN - Insurgents play on US exercise equipment from a base that was “strategically redeployed from” (in the most favorable description I could come up with): Danger Room declares it a “a big infowar fail” because the guys look silly playing on on the health club toys. I suppose that is the best spin that one could possibly take from the Taliban propaganda video. Péter Marton, on the other hand, sees it the way I and likely many, many others see it: a fail for the US military effort in Afghanistan in general and in Nuristan especially. This is clearly an insurgency WIN, not a FAIL. These German soldiers marching through my beautiful Paris do march in such an absurd manner, mock them. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Troops determined to continue mission despite 100th death - When news of the death of the Royal Anglian soldier was broken to the men of the Coldstream Guards there was an inner flicker registering the tragedy but it was quickly replaced by a determination to continue the mission. The troops are so focused on fighting the counter insurgency campaign that very few if any had realised that the soldier’s death was the 100th this year. The inevitable public debate over the mission in Afghanistan that will follow the unfortunate landmark will have very little effect on those fighting on the ground. The wavering on the home front comes at a time that when tangible progress seems to be happening in Helmand, although much of that public wavering can be blamed on the politicians’ inability to adequately explain why we are in Afghanistan and why now that we are here the campaign has to be won. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Forgetful Critics - I wonder how many people noticed how stealthily the transition went from calling Iraq a fiasco to using it as an example of success. It was not so long ago when it was hard to find anyone who had anything good to say about the surge. But in the shadow of Afghanistan, Iraq has a new status. It's now held up as the example of a successful surge. Actually, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't say that the surge worked. The writer is one of few who actually understood the situation. What gets me is that nobody acknowledges how mistaken they were when they called any optimist on Iraq a nutter. Now all the so-called experts are acting as though this has been their position all along. Guess they thought if they would just slide into this current position, we'd forget their original arguments. But then they would have miscalculated again, wouldn't they? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban commander among 20 killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan - A regional Taliban commander and dozens of his followers were killed in a US airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar. US strike aircraft hit a Taliban complex in the village of Tsangar Darah in the contested district of Watapur, killing Taliban commander Noor Akbar and dozens of his followers. "More than 20 Taliban fighters, including their commander Noor Akbar, were killed in the raid," Afghan army General Mohammad Qasim told AFP. According to Pajhwok Afghan News, 36 Taliban fighters were killed in the airstrike. US officials did not provide enemy casualty estimates. The International Security Assistance Force confirmed the strike and said the target was "a known Taliban stronghold consisting of bunkers and prepared defensive positions in Kunar province." "The security force targeted the stronghold near the village of Tsangar Darah in the mountainous Watapur district after intelligence sources indicated militant activity at the location," ISAF said in a press release. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 8 Dec 09 - so, I am back at Bagram, alive and well…had a fun, cold trip over the past few days, but glad to be back…we started out at 0430, Saturday, 5 December…woke up early to ensure I had all me gear packed and ready to rock…0530 me and Joe headed over to the ops center to see if we were in fact flying out…things looked good…around 0600 we headed over to the barn and loaded up a kicker full of mail going out to our same destination…0700 we were at the bird with optimism on getting out…it was cold as hell–sunny, but cold…helped load up the bird with a few boxes of crap going out to different FOBs…the bird was loaded and there were three seats left for me, Joe and a civilian contractor(prior Marine)…as we stood there waiting for the crew to check out the bird and get things ready to fly we talked with this civilian guy…we talked about what we do and where we’re from and all that… he actually told us both that if we wanted a job when we get out to look up his company… (READ MORE)

Pat Dollard: Children Killed And Wounded As School Blows Up In Baghdad - An explosion near a school in the Sadr City district of Baghdad on Monday wounded scores of children, while attacks on Iraq’s security forces continued. Government officials gave contradictory accounts of the school casualty figures, with the death toll from the blast varying from one to 15 children and the number of wounded from 41 to 56. There were competing theories about what caused the blast. In a statement read on state television by Maj. Gen. Qassam Atta, a spokesman for the Baghdad Operation Command, the government said it was the result of an accidental detonation of a cache of explosives hidden near the school. Earlier reports from local security officials, however, suggested that it could have been the result of an errant missile or a planted explosive device. The disagreement over the basic facts reflected the degree to which Iraqi security forces often lack coordination in responding to attacks. (READ MORE)

Asher Kohn: Building a Better Afghanistan - The USMil plan for Afghanistan is to protect the population centers. Lots of things have been said about this, and I’m on the record now for support Joshua’s thoughts on it. I suppose the heart of my version of the argument is that the urban population of Afghanistan is only ~30% of the total population. Even allowing that this is a low estimate due to refugees flocking to cities (or just the heck out of Afghanistan), it’s easy to see that the vast majority of Afghanistan is NOT living in urban populations. So between that and the fact that Afghanistan’s economy is still mostly agricultural/mining based, protecting population centers tactily means not protecting the economic and social base of Afghanistan. It is giving up on the historic understanding of what Afghanistan is. The major refutation of my argument is that the “old” Afghanistan was obviously broken if it was taken over by Taliban, so now the idea is to recreate a new, better, Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Clear, Hold, Build: The End Of The Beginning In Afghanistan - We're not quite on the home stretch, but still. When you look back at where we've been, and you look at the distance we've managed to travel over these long and bloody years, the picture looks anything but grim. Every inch of progress is precarious. We win ground and we lose ground. But we're winning, and anyone who can't see that just hasn't been paying attention. This is now true even in Kandahar. With the exception of Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, Afghanistan's Kandahar province contains what is arguably the nastiest stretch of lawless and bandit-infested territory between Tehran and New Delhi. It is in Kandahar that Canada has made its greatest efforts and sacrifices in the UN-mandated, 42-nation effort to bring some semblance of peace, order and good government to the Afghan republic. It really is the "pointy end of the stick." But even in Kandahar, we're finally starting to see what the end of the tunnel looks like. (READ MORE)

Flight Sergeant Tony Kyle: Mother of all baptisms on first tour of Helmand - The Bishop Auckland-born nurse had been in Helmand Province only a matter of hours when he was faced with a major incident. The 38-year-old arrived in Camp Bastion at the start of last month, but was almost instantly plunged into an emergency. Multiple injuries were reported to the Medical Emergency Response Team (Mert) and once he had flown via Chinook helicopter out to the scene, miles outside of Camp Bastion, he discovered four patients – all with legs severed and bleeding heavily, more victims of improvised explosive devices – the Taliban’s deadliest weapon. It was the Mert’s job to pull them out of trouble, treat them and make sure they arrived at the medical centre, at Camp Bastion, in the best possible condition. All the patients survived – it was the mother of all baptisms for Flt Sgt Kyle. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Priority - The need for speed: Four days later, at a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 30, [Obama] emphasized the need for speed. "Why can't I get the troops in faster?" he asked. If they were going to do this, he concluded, it only made sense to do this quickly, to have impact and keep the war from dragging on forever. <...> The plan, called Option 2A, was presented to the president on Nov. 11. Mr. Obama complained that the bell curve would take 18 months to get all the troops in place. He turned to General Petraeus and asked him how long it took to get the so-called surge troops he commanded in Iraq in 2007. That was six months. "What I'm looking for is a surge," Mr. Obama said. "This has to be a surge." That's from the New York Times version of the White House press release. The Washington Post's version doesn't need quoting beyond the headline: Obama pressed for faster surge. Well, very nice. And a very nice counter to accusations of "dithering." It may even be true. But what follows is what didn't make the press release. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Jesus Day, Baghdad - On the banks of the Tigris, Santa Claus — wearing a tatty red robe, stringy white beard, and frightening caucasian mask — was being mauled by children as he tried to pass out some trinkets. Poets on a nearby stage recited odes to Jesus, beneath a massive banner emblazoned with Christ’s image. (READ MORE)

Coordinated Bombings Kill at Least 101 in Baghdad - In what appeared to be a coordinated assault, a series of car bombings across Baghdad on Tuesday killed at least 101 people and wounded scores more, according to preliminary accounts by police and hospital officials. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army Wants US Help Past Withdrawal Deadline - A senior Iraqi military official says the Iraqi army wants to continue a long-term training relationship with the United States beyond the 2011 deadline for a US troop withdrawal. (READ MORE)

Breakthrough in Iraq - President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan resembles in many respects the surge launched by the Bush administration in Iraq nearly three years ago - though the president, who opposed the surge, hasn't advertised that fact. (READ MORE)

U.S. Forces assist Iraqi Security Forces in arrest of 5 individuals near Joint Base Balad - Five individuals were arrested by Iraqi Security Forces after an indirect fire attack on Joint Base Balad, today. AH-64 Apache helicopters responding to the mid-morning attack observed five individuals burying an improvised launch-rail system at the point of origin of the attack. (READ MORE)

Air Force says goodbye to Camp Bucca - The 586th Air Expeditionary Group's 887th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron ended operations during a deactivation ceremony here, Dec. 3. The furling of the squadron’s colors marked the end of the its three-year partnership with the Army providing counterinsurgency, detainee operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. (READ MORE)

Reactionary Force teaches IA commandos - A group of 14th Iraqi Army commandos recently underwent an intense week of training here at Camp Wessam, honing their helicopter familiarity. The course, taught by U.S. Soldiers with the 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, "B" Battery (Bulldogs), Air Reactionary Force (ARF), was more of a refresher, as many of the commandos had already gone through similar training in the past. (READ MORE)

Blind in Basrah get talking software - Under the former regime, many elements of civil society were neglected here, including the handicapped. Upon hearing of the needs of the Basrah Blind Association, the U.S. State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Team asked how it might help. (READ MORE)

Camaraderie to Be Found in the Night Time Soccer Games at Camp Savage - They play soccer every night at Camp Savage, every night except Sunday. They are Soldiers from America, Sabre International guardsmen from East Africa and translators from outside the gates. Speakers of a menagerie of tongues -- English, Ugandan, Swahili, Arabic -- But this game -- this soccer, football, koura el-khadim -- connects them. (READ MORE)

Multi-National Force - West Sees the Last of the CH-47 Chinook - The CH-47 Chinook, a powerful and hefty helicopter, has passed over the heads of service members aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, for the past months. The rapid beat of it blades is still enticing enough to catch eyes from the pedestrians below after hundreds of sightings. Among the screeches and thumps that compose the daily aerial symphony of the flight line, the Chinook's sounds won't add to the melody of combat aviation in the days to come at al Asad. (READ MORE)

Gates: 'We're in this Thing to Win' - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in this war-torn country Tuesday morning on an unannounced visit, prepared to offer US troops a message from Washington after President Obama's decision to boost troop levels significantly: "We are in this thing to win." (READ MORE)

Gates in Kabul to Meet With Karzai - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates landed in Kabul on an unannounced visit on Tuesday to meet with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan about how the United States plans to use 30,000 additional American troops that will be arriving in the country in the coming months. (READ MORE)

Gates Arrives in Afghanistan, Stresses US Commitment - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan with plans to assure officials and American troops there that the US is committed to winning the war despite plans to begin pulling forces out in 2011. (READ MORE)

Officials Try to Unite on Afghan Plan - On a seven-hour trip from Kabul to a NATO meeting in Brussels last week, the two men in Kabul most responsible for American policy in Afghanistan exchanged few words, according to administration officials, holing up in separate compartments on their military plane. (READ MORE)

Along with Pep Talk, Marines Get Warning - Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned troops on Monday to exercise greater discipline in Afghanistan to minimize civilian casualties and to win Afghans' support as they implement the administration's new war strategy. (READ MORE)

Taliban Shadow Officials Offer Concrete Alternative - Like nearly all provinces in Afghanistan, this one (Laghman) has two governors. The first was appointed by President Hamid Karzai and is backed by thousands of US troops. He governs this mountainous eastern Afghan province by day... (READ MORE)

Pressure From All Sides as Karzai Picks His Team - President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan faces a decisive test of his pledge to reduce corruption and cronyism when he names members of his new government as early as Tuesday, Afghan and Western officials say. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Told to Ratchet Up Fight Against the Taliban - The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan... (READ MORE)

At Least 44 are Dead in 3 Pakistan Blasts - Three bombings killed at least 44 people in the eastern city of Lahore and the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, as Pakistan's Supreme Court began hearing petitions against an amnesty that has protected President Asif Ali Zardari and his allies from facing graft charges. (READ MORE)

At Least 46 Killed in Pakistan Bombings - Two near-simultaneous bomb blasts tore through a crowded market in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday, killing at least 36 people and injuring more than 100. Police said many of the dead were women and children. (READ MORE)

Pakistan and the War - President Obama has articulated a reasonably comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan, but there is no chance of defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda unless Pakistan’s leaders stop temporizing (and in some cases collaborating) and get fully into the fight. (READ MORE)

The Next Surge: Counterbureaucracy - The Taliban commander was back in the village. Our base roared to life as we prepared to capture him. Two Chinook helicopters spun their blades in anticipation in the dark. Fifty Afghan commandos brooded outside, pacing in the gravel. I was nearby, yelling into a phone: “Who else do we need approvals from? Another colonel? Why?” (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update: An Afghan-international security force killed seven militants and detained four others in Laghman province early today while pursuing a Taliban IED facilitator responsible for several suicide attacks in the region. "We are aware of civilian casualty allegations, however there are no operational reports to substantiate those claims of harming civilians, including women and children during this operation," said Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, IJC spokesperson. (READ MORE)

Officials Announce First Afghanistan Surge Units - About 16,000 Marines and Soldiers have been notified they will deploy to Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's new strategy. Obama announced his decision to deploy 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in the first half of 2010, Dec. 1. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Disrupt Taliban Operations - Afghan and international forces detained several suspected militants, including a bomb cell leader and Taliban commander, in operations in Afghanistan over the past three days, military officials reported. (READ MORE)

Soldiers Support Base Expansion in Afghanistan - Earlier this year, troops from the Maine National Guard’s 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion supported the first Afghan buildup by transporting equipment, supplies and building materials to numerous forward operating bases. They’re scheduled to return home by January, but they show no signs of stopping. (READ MORE)

Afghan war, Obama get opinion poll boost - Public support for the Afghan war and for US President Barack Obama have jumped nearly 10 points since his decision last week to send 30,000 additional troops to the war-torn country, a new poll has found. Americans support the troop surge by a 58 to 37 per cent margin and back Obama's plan for a drawdown - to begin in July 2011 - by a 60 to 32 per cent margin, according to the poll published on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Gates says US withdrawal from Afghanistan will take 'several years' - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan would take 'several years' as Afghan forces needed to be strengthened by recruiting more soldiers and police to take charge of the country's security. (READ MORE)

US warns Pakistan to get tougher with Taliban - The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively, the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on US forces in Afghanistan, US and Pakistani officials said. (READ MORE)

Afghan gov't says NATO attack killed 6 civilians - The Afghan government said NATO forces killed six civilians during a pre-dawn operation Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan. NATO disputed the allegation, saying only militants died. Hundreds of people marched on the provincial capital to protest the raid, and an official said one demonstrator died Tuesday in clashes with police. (READ MORE)

NBC sends Lauer, Roker to Afghanistan - NBC's "Today" show will broadcast from Afghanistan this week. Matt Lauer and Al Roker will anchor the show Tuesday and Wednesday from the country, a trip that comes in the wake of President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he's sending 30,000 more troops there. Lauer and Roker will spend time on the ground and in the air reporting on U.S. forces. (READ MORE)

Feds had 'key messages' for Afghan prisoner issue - Federal officials assured the Red Cross in 2006 that Canada would take an active role in monitoring the fate of Afghan prisoners -- but for critical months behind the scenes did little more than manage the political spin, secret memos show. (READ MORE)

MoD chief makes trip to Afghanistan - Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit, the Ministry of Defence said. He landed in Helmand Province where he will meet British troops and commanders as well as Afghan officials. The trip is due to last several days, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said. (READ MORE)

S Korea to send up to 350 troops to Afghanistan - South Korea says it plans to send up to 350 troops to Afghanistan next year to protect its civilian aid workers. South Korea currently has no deployment in Afghanistan, after withdrawing some 200 troops in 2007. The pullout, though previously planned, followed a hostage standoff in which the Taliban killed two South Koreans after demanding Seoul immediately withdraw its troops. (READ MORE)

Kabul mayor sentenced as US pressure Karzai - Afghan authorities announced today that the mayor of Kabul had been sentenced to a four-year prison term for abuse of power after what they called a major corruption probe. The mayor’s office, however, claimed he was at work as usual. The move comes amid mounting pressure from Afghanistan’s Western allies… (READ MORE)

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