December 9, 2009

From the Front: 12/09/2009

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

Loving A Soldier Blog: Breaking My Heart - I received an email from my 1st Grader's music teacher requesting that all the children who have family members overseas this Christmas to bring the photo to the Holiday Music program and hold up the picture while they sing Bring Him Home Santa. My heart stopped. I can certainly see how this teacher might think that this would be a touching tribute to deployed soldiers, but all I see are military children who will suddenly think that Santa can bring their Dads home and the heartbreak when Santa doesn't deliver. Elementary kids still believe in the magic of Christmas and my heart aches at the thought of my son singing or listening to this song believing that if he gives up toys Santa will bring his Daddy home. He already has a plan to make the bad guys listen so that all the Dads and Moms can come home. He has been asking me to drive him to the White House so he can tell President Obama. (READ MORE)

Mountain Runner: Report: Al Qaida kills eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims - A recently released and unreported report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has some fuel for the struggle of minds and wills. Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa'ida's Violence Against Muslims (PDF, 875kb) is a survey of attacks carried out by Al Qaeda that should be part of a counter-narrative to Al Qaeda’s broadly accepted proposal that they are the champions of Muslims. For too long we have accepted the propaganda of the enemy, allowing him to set the time, place, and vocabulary, all to his advantage. He declared the war was between us and them and we agreed. It wasn’t and it isn’t. From the report: The results show that non-Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al-Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: Meanwhile, back in Iraq - Horrific news from Iraq today: Coordinated Bombings in Baghdad Kill at Least 121. Here's what American forces are doing in the aftermath: “American helicopters, drones and airplanes circled the city in the immediate aftermath, while sporadic gunfire could be heard. In addition to the aircraft, American troops, including explosives-removal teams, joined Iraqi security forces responding to the attacks, a military spokesman, Maj. Joe Scrocco, said in a statement. In the attacks in August and October, Iraqi forces kept the Americans at arm's length, allowing them to play a minimal, and belated, role in helping assist the wounded and collect forensic evidence.” The account also notes "the attacks came as Iraq's Presidency Council announced a date -- March 6 -- for the country's long-delayed parliamentary elections." That was a good news story from Iraq yesterday: (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan - From The New York Times: “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?’” We dealt with this same thing in Seeking Riskless War based on an experience by Vampire 06 blogging at Afghanistan Shrugged. Illumination rounds were needed in order to conduct kinetic operations against insurgents, with the request to deliver those rounds denied by Battalion command 100 miles away because the eight pound canister might land on a domicile. This same mentality is evident in McChrystal’s tactical directive that essentially promulgates new rules of engagement under a single signature. The rules as they stood were restrictive enough, and if McChrystal had wanted to calibrate his reports a closed door meeting would have been the best option. Instead, publishing the new rules has opened up new space for the insurgents according to the Pentagon. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Reunited in Germany - I looked at my watch and calculated I had at least an hour to kill before Liisa’s plane would land. Standing around looking at the digital flight boards was making me antsy. Originally we planned to meet at the airport terminal and if that didn’t happen, we would see each other at the rental car counter. Our rental car reservation wasn’t until 2 pm, but maybe they would let me check out the car early. I walked outside the Munich Airport and the air was cool and crisp. The outside temperature was about 37 degrees and the only winter jacket I had to keep warm was the one the Army issued me. Liisa was supposed to bring my winter ski jacket along with my other civilian attire. I perused through the various car rental agencies and could not locate the one I made a reservation with. I inquired at the Europcar rental car and the clerk informed me that he never heard of this company. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: What Obama almost said - When President Obama laid out his plans for Afghanistan on December 1, he made it clear -- to many for the first time -- that the war in Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. "[T]he stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan," he said, "because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them." He went on to provide this augury: "Our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan." Pakistan has not been the partner the U.S. had hoped for in combating violent extremism, nor will they be now. Not until Pakistan's fixation with India abates will what's happening on the border with Afghanistan seem purely detrimental to their national interest. The militants there maintain ties to the ones agitating against India, so they serve as a strategic hedge; the bully you tolerate because sometimes he picks on your playground rival too. (READ MORE)

Ahsan Butt: Strategy and war in Pakistan and Afghanistan - On the heels of today's devastating attack in Lahore, which killed 45 people and injured about one hundred, we were treated to a front page article in the NYT that would be of interest to many Pakistanis. The article describes the Obama administration's efforts to cajole the Pakistan government and military to "do more". In essence, the message that has been delivered is: do the job, or get out of the way. The administration has explicitly threatened drone strikes in Quetta and boots on the ground in FATA if Pakistan doesn't act against those actors that threaten Afghanistan and allied forces, but not Pakistan directly. On cue, the NYT editorial page joins in the fun, and urges Pakistani military and civilian leaders to realize that this war is for the nation's survival, and that more must be done in confronting the so-called Afghan Taliban. Well, I love a good lecture from the NYT any time I can get one, so I'm grateful for that. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Newsletter 11 - Today I sent my 11th newsletter in as many weeks. Actually it's 12 in eleven weeks because I also did an Echo Company newsletter in the past 11 weeks. I will do three or four more in Iraq, then one in Kuwait (maybe) then the last one in America--or maybe two. Many things could still change about our trip home. But I am planning for about 16 issues before my newsletter goes into electronic storage, just a memory of being in Iraq. Every time I think about going home the idea is more real, but I just cannot quite believe it. My world is trailers on rocks. I ride an endless circle on my bike. There are so many things I repeat dozens of times that being here has a permanence that is spooky. Even though I have ridden hundreds of times with Scott Haverstick on the same daily ride, I have ridden more than three thousand miles just on Perimeter Road, Tallil Ali Air Base. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: An Old Soul… - While driving home from picking my daughter Bob up from wrestling practice we were discussing her Dad’s birthday gift. I suggested we get him a birdbath for the front yard. “Why does Dad like watching birds? Old people watch birds” I laughed and said “Now wait a minute Micheal liked to watch birds. In fact when he was Anthony’s age I bought him a bird watching book and binoculars.” “Well Micheal was an old person in a young body” Now why I tell you this is because for the past week I have been trying to figure out how to explain something about my son… He was an old soul. Bob simplified in such a way I am think anyone can understand it. In many ways Micheal was your typical teenager. He loved to go out with his friends and do silly stuff. But in other ways he was an old soul who saw things with a wisdom of years beyond his own. It was his old soul that made him hate bullies. It was his old soul that made him want to be a soldier. (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: Someone You Should Know: Lt. Col. Ahmed Subhi al-Fahal - LTC Ahmed, the commander of an elite police unit in Salah ad Din province, was assassinated on by a suicide bomber on Dec. 4th in central Tikrit, Iraq. Ahmed was among the first to step forward in 2003 and 2004 to work with Coalition forces in Tikrit. From the powerful Jabouri tribe centered North of the city, he quickly gained a reputation for being brash, fearless and willing to whatever it took to eliminate terrorists. I met him a few times this past October while embedded with 2-32 Field Artillery, the US Battalion that worked side-by-side with Ahmed. And he lives up to the quotes about him. "He was controversial, flamboyant, brave, and effective," U.S. Col. Walt Piatt told the Associated Press . "He single-handedly disrupted numerous enemy plots during the last election - He was the go-to-guy in the province." (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide attacks killed more than 120 Iraqis in Baghdad - Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out another coordinated mass-casualty terror attack in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. More than 120 Iraqis were killed and more than 200 were wounded when three suicide bombers and two car bombs were detonated in locations throughout Baghdad. The targets of the attacks were a bank, a police patrol, a court complex, a mosque, and a market neighborhood near the Interior Ministry. A police patrol was the first target hit in the attack, which began around 10:00 a.m. local time, The New York Times reported. Three police and six civilians were killed in the blast, which took place near a technical college in Baghdad. Another blast targeted the headquarters of the Rafaidyan Bank. Many employees from the Interior Ministry were based there, following the al Qaeda hit at the ministry headquarters in an August attack. The bombing at the federal appeals court complex killed dozens of Iraqis, including several judges. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: They Deploy By The Horde - The long awaited (?) deployment of Mongolians to Kabul has occurred. For several weeks we had a handful wandering around, now we have what looks to be a company (check below the fold for more). We are certainly glad to have them, and their reception and integration has gone mostly well. However, on the second or third day due to an unfortunate mistranslation of the hours for the mess hall, they ate all the food, carried off everything of value, then burned the place to the ground. The new CG thanked them for the zeal with which they are applying themselves to the task at hand, but asked that they refrain henceforth from that age-old (and otherwise admirable) practice. Speaking of hordes, we've been having a small contest to come up with the best collective noun for Mongolians. "Horde" of course comes to mind first, but we also came up with "pillage" and "sack." (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Road Trip: Ramadi - I took a road trip today to Ramadi. Two of us from my office went out there to meet with some people about two projects that we're about to launch. This was my first trip to that part of the country and it was quite interesting. Ramadi is about 90 minutes by up-armored vehicle west of here, pretty much a direct shot on their major east-west highway. Our little convoy went by the town of Abu Ghraib, including the infamous prison (now run by the Iraqi government). The land out there is FLAT, reminding me of, say the Texas panhandle. It's an odd mixture of desert and prairie, too - the reason is that even though there's almost no rain, the water table is just a few feet down, so trees grow remarkably well. The highway was in much better shape than I would have thought and we zipped along pretty quickly. I did notice, however, that the guardrails had been literally ripped out a few years back so that they wouldn't provide hiding places for IED's. Security now is pretty good. (READ MORE)

The Torch: No Mission Strip Tease from the CDS - The politicians prevaricate in their messaging on what Canada will in Afghanistan do after 2011. Canada's top soldier, General Walt Natynczyk, states it plainly and clearly, via the National Post and Reuters - highlights depressingly mine: “‘For the Canadian Forces to meet the direction of the government to be out of Kandahar by December 2011, we must begin our planning now …. It is the end of the presence of Canadian Forces in Kandahar province and it is the end of the military mission throughout Afghanistan …. If PRT remain it will still be a team of civilian officials.’” He told the parliamentary committee he was speaking to that a planning team is already in Afghanistan. Something else he said: “We live on fact and we live on orders.” (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Detainee Affair Is Rank Political Opportunism - It isn’t just that the opposition doesn’t show any interest in the mission in Afghanistan unless it somehow impugns our government, although that certainly is worrisome enough. And it isn’t just the selective outrage of alleged incidental prisoner mistreatment when we’re battling an enemy notorious for a brutal rule involving torture and public execution. One can hardly be surprised that the Canadian opposition parties would do everything and anything to undermine the mission in Afghanistan, preparing our self-defeating exit in 2011 with excuses of immorality that they can take to the Canadian people as evidence our presence there was more hurtful than helpful. The disinformation and distractions of the opposition to the mission are at least as damaging as anything the Taliban is accomplishing there. Indeed, the combined efforts of the Taliban and the opposition have been most useful in convincing the western John Q Public that most ridiculous of lies: (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Can the Afghan Government Get Clean? - When Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a new term, he made a pledge to crack down on corruption. Promises, promises. Was Karzai telling foreign leaders what they wanted to hear, or is the country doomed to remain at the bottom of the transparency index? According to Amb. Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, the Afghan government is in fact taking the first steps to crack down on official corruption. Eikenberry is appearing on Capitol Hill today with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and in his prepared testimony, he noted that the National Directorate of Security — Afghanistan’s domestic intel agency — has created a “major case” unit responsible for investigating major corruption. “With the support of the FBI, the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency], and our military, the Ministries of Interior and Counter Narcotics, and the Afghan National Directorate of Security recently created the Major Crimes Task Force: (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Ambassador Eikenberry on the Hotseat - Gen. Stanley McChrystal doesn’t have that rare political star power Gen. David Petraeus possessed when he testified in front of Congress in September 2007 in a performance some say singlehandedly quieted much of the Congressional criticism over the war in Iraq; but the head of NATO and American forces in Afghanistan came to Washington today along with US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry to explain to a skeptical Congress where they see the war headed. The atmospherics around the hearing have focused on the feud between the two men, who have had some very public disagreements over the troop increase McChrystal asked for and was granted by president Obama. Parts of a confidential memo Eikenberry sent to the National Security Council earlier this fall, in which he question what more troops could accomplish, were leaked to the press, and other reports have the men barely speaking. (READ MORE)

Sarah: A Holiday Is Not a Date On the Calendar - By the time Christmas rolls around, I will be too pregnant to travel. My family is trying to decide how to make sure I'm not alone. Both my father and brother will have to work on Christmas. My father suggested to my mother that she could come see me by herself so I'd have someone to spend Christmas with. My mother was telling me this suggestion on the phone when she wistfully said, "But that would mean I would spend the first Christmas apart from your father in 34 years..." And then she trailed off, because she obviously realized what she had just said to her pregnant daughter whose husband is deployed for the second year in a row. She continued, "But I suppose if you can celebrate multiple holidays over the years without your husband, then I can manage one time without mine." My husband and I have been married seven and a half years. We have a decent track record as far as the military goes: (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: How the Afghanistan Air War Got Stuck in the Sky - For the first eight years of the war in Afghanistan, America and its allies relied heavily on air power to keep militants in check. Then, in July, top U.S. commander General Stanley McChrystal issued tough new guidelines that made it infinitely harder to call in a strike from the sky. The idea was to eliminate the civilian casualties that were alienating the Afghan population. But the effect of the new rules has been to make life much more dangerous for the U.S. troops on the ground there. With a single stroke, McChrystal not only took America’s biggest technological advantage in the war off the table. In the name of a more humane air war, he all-but-eliminated the tools and processes most likely to keep air strikes from killing innocents. My article in the upcoming issue of WIRED goes inside the Afghanistan’s stunted, possibly over-cautious, often-dangerous air war. (READ MORE)

Andrew C. McCarthy: Moving forward in Afghanistan - In his heroic service to our country, Pete Hegseth has forgotten more about warfare than I could ever hope to know. But his NROarticle on Monday, offering -- in rebuttal to my column from last week -- a defense of President Obama’s political decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, is ill-informed. Hegseth caricatures my views, and he fails to address -- much less to answer -- most of what I actually did say. He also attributes to me an assertion I’ve never made and to which I don’t subscribe, claiming that I believe “counterinsurgency is nothing more than glorified nation-building.” He purports to quote me as having written that the strategy of surging troops to conduct counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare is a “nation-building, soft-power strategy.” He doesn’t link to anything I’ve written in which that quote appears (it certainly does not appear in the one column of mine to which he directs readers). (READ MORE)

The Duck of Minerva: Selling the Afghan Surge - As you might expect, I've had a number of conversations with friends and colleagues about the prospects for the so-called "Afghan surge." Boosters like to point to the alleged success of the Iraq surge, but many of them ignore some salient points. For example, the U.S. also changed its military tactics in Iraq even as it implemented the surge. The military embraced counterinsurgency tactics, something it had been reluctant to do since Vietnam. Moreover, the surge coincided with the so-called Anbar awakening. Sunni tribal sheikhs split from al Qaeda and ended up working with the U.S. military instead of against it. A lot of money apparently changed hands to grease this process. Matt Yglesias had a fine post Monday noting that the Iraqi national security advisor at the time is not willing to credit the surge with success in his country. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: The Phrase That’s Screwing Up the Afghan Air War - he rules of the new Afghanistan air war appear to be pretty straight-ahead. If a commander on the ground declares that his troops are “in contact” — coming under fire — then drones and fighter jets and attack helicopters will immediately streak to his location. Otherwise, the commander’s chance of getting air support are fairly slim. So it’s no surprise that “troops in contact,” or “TIC,” has become the most abused phrase in the Afghanistan campaign. What started as a cry for help has now come to mean… well, almost anything. And that’s putting at risk troops who are really in harm’s way. “The most abused thing in this war is declaring a TIC,” says a senior Air Force officer. Over the past year reporting on the air war, I’ve seen TICs “opened” because of rockets were fired in the general vicinity of a rather large base; the immediate danger to western forces was negligible. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: To share, or not to share... - It’s beginning to look a lot like “I’m over this deployment!” I know…I know. I am totally in support of my son and the troops and all they do. I’m just selfishly missing my son. He’s a good sounding board; a friendly ear; a good ‘commiserator.’ I’ve known exactly the problems and situations I should tell him about while he is deployed…or I have until now. What to do? Damn. So…there’s a potential ‘something’ in the family right now, and I don’t know if he’ll be mad I didn’t tell him about it; or upset that I worried him while he’s far away and unable to do anything except worry. Well, I guess I just answered my own question. He can’t do anything about it and it will make him worry—don’t share. Problem solved. I hope. (READ MORE)

Sour Swinger: The Ziggurat - Throughout most of our area of operations, you could see the Ziggurat. What exactly is the ziggurat was a topic of discussion as each interpreter gave me a different semi unsure answer. According to wikipedia: Ziggurats were massive monuments built in the ancient Mesopotamian valley and western Iranian plateau, having the form of a terraced step pyramid of successively receding stories or levels. When time was available, my platoon decided to make a pit stop to check out the Ziggurat. After setting up a 360 perimeter, we sent groups of soldiers up armed with their cameras. This was the one and only time I actually felt like a tourist. It didn’t take long for kids to show up from the local village wondering what we were doing. It was pretty amazing to see something so old and yet still standing. One thing you won’t get to experience in the United States. Below are a couple more pics from our trip. Click here to see the entire set. There’s about 35 total. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:
Baghdad Bombings Kill at Least 127 - Four large bombs exploded near education facilities, judicial complexes and other targets in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 127 people and triggering recriminations against the Iraqi government and its security forces. (READ MORE)

Baghdad Bombs Kill 127 as Iraq Vote is Set - As Iraqi officials prepared to announce a date for delayed national elections, car bombs detonated Tuesday at government buildings and in crowded Baghdad streets, killing at least 127 people and wounding nearly 500. (READ MORE)

String of Bombings Kills at Least 127 in Iraq - A series of five bombings Tuesday rocked Baghdad with officials reporting at least 127 dead and nearly 500 injured at sites across the capital. Residents said they heard a large explosion shake the city shortly after 10:15 a.m. local time, followed by several more blasts. (READ MORE)

Bombs Shatter Iraq Government Buildings, Kill 127 - A massive terrorist attack on government buildings in central Baghdad - the third since August - left at least 127 people dead, hundreds wounded and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political future in doubt. (READ MORE)

Odierno Cites Iraq’s ‘Deliberate, Steady Progress’ - On the eve of holding parliamentary elections early next year, Iraq continues to make steady progress as a sovereign country that is a valued US ally in the Middle East, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq said in Killeen, Texas, yesterday. (READ MORE)

ISF capture senior Promised Day Brigade leader - Iraqi Security Forces arrested a senior leader of the Promised Day Brigade (PDB) terrorist group today during a joint security operation conducted in northern Baghdad. Based on joint security team intelligence, ISF and U.S. advisors searched residential buildings for the PDB senior leader believed to be facilitating the distribution of weapons and funding to PDB attack groups throughout Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Detainees released in Anbar - Multi National Force - West facilitated the release of 19 detainees from U.S. custody and transferred two detainees who were wanted pursuant to a valid warrant to Iraqi Police custody Dec. 8, 2009, in Anbar. MNF-W followed a detailed release process to ensure the security of the people of Anbar and the safety of the detainees were not in jeopardy following the release. (READ MORE)

Baqubah RCB arrests five suspected terrorists - The Baqubah Regional Commando Battalion, advised by U.S. forces, arrested five suspected terrorists under the authority of warrants issued by the Government of Iraq in Diyala province, Dec. 5. The men are suspected of kidnapping, smuggling lethal weapons, explosive attacks and the extortion of local Iraqi citizens. (READ MORE)

Soldiers invest in Iraq’s next generation - For the Soldiers here with Task Force Pathfinder, helping the next generation of Iraqis obtain a basic education is a critical part of their mission. In order to leave a safe, stable nation when American Soldiers depart, Iraq must develop the social infrastructure required to sustain the progress made. (READ MORE)

Team assesses water filtration systems - U.S. Civil Affairs Soldiers assessed solar powered water filtration systems installed by Iraqi contractors here in the Zadan village area of Abu Ghraib, Dec. 5. Soldiers and engineers of the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion (CAB) rolled out to various villages within the Zadan area, in western Baghdad, to inspect the filtration systems constructed to provide clean drinking water for Iraqis. (READ MORE)

School remodel aids economy, education - U.S. Soldiers visited the village of Abu Simich here to join residents in celebrating the opening of a newly-refurbished school following 30 days of renovations, Dec. 5. Along with completely new wiring and paint inside and out, to include the roof, the once run-down al-Wissam school now has air conditioning units in every room, light sockets installed, a new septic tank and a new generator. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Karzai, Gates Agree Afghans Need Long-Term International Commitment - Afghan President Hamid Karzai says it could take 20 years for Afghanistan to be able to pay for its own security, although he has said he hopes his new army and police force will be able to take over security control in five years. (READ MORE)

Afghan Says Army Will Need Help Until 2024 - President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, underscoring his government’s long-term financial dependence on the United States and NATO even as President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops in 2011. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Will Need US Help for 15 to 20 Years, Karzai Says - Afghanistan's security forces will need US support for another 15 to 20 years, President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday in the latest in a series of indications that US involvement there is likely to last far into the future. (READ MORE)

Gates to US Troops: 'We're in... to Win' in Afghanistan - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew into Kabul on Tuesday to tell Afghan leaders that they need to move faster to increase the size and competence of their security forces, and to tell embattled U.S. troops that the United States is "in this thing to win." (READ MORE)

General Offers Assurances on Afghan War - The US general in charge of the Afghanistan war assured lawmakers Tuesday that an additional 30,000 troops, combined with changes in the overall war strategy, would trigger a demonstrable change on the ground before US forces start to come home in 18 months. (READ MORE)

Two Top Aides Show Unity on Afghan Strategy - The top military commander in Afghanistan told Congress on Tuesday that he had been granted all the forces he needed, was confident of success and did not expect to have to request more troops at a later date, although he said he would base his advice on conditions as they unfolded. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Expects Effects of Surge Within a Year - The top US commander in Afghanistan said he expected the Obama administration's retooled war strategy to show clear results by the end of next year, paving the way for some of the 30,000 planned reinforcements to begin returning home in the summer of 2011. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Says he Backs Obama's Afghan Timetable - The leader of US forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday that President Obama's decision to increase troop levels and then draw them down in 18 months was not his call, but he supports the plan. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Says Pieces in Place for Success - The core goal of American forces in Afghanistan is to defeat al-Qaida and disrupt and degrade the Taliban, the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan told Congress today. (READ MORE)

McChrystal Calls Afghan Training Crucial to Mission Success - The training of tens of thousands of additional, capable Afghan soldiers and police is among the crucial tasks necessary to achieving success in Afghanistan, the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan told Capitol Hill legislators here today. (READ MORE)

US Commander: Next 18 Months Decisive for Afghanistan - The top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan told a congressional panel Tuesday that the next 18 months will be decisive. The US Ambassador to Afghanistan also spoke to a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing. (READ MORE)

Eikenberry Stresses Civilian Component in Afghanistan - While the increase of 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan has garnered most of the headlines, a concurrent increase on the civilian side also is occurring, the US ambassador to Afghanistan told Congress today. (READ MORE)

US Seeks New Guards in Kabul - The State Department plans to seek new bids to protect the US Embassy in Kabul after the current firm ran into staffing and oversight problems. The company, ArmorGroup North America, a unit of Wackenhut Services Inc., will be allowed to bid on the new contract, the State Department said. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Leader Faces Court Test, Militant Attacks - Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari holds $1.5 billion in assets across the world, Pakistan's main anticorruption body alleged in a report delivered Tuesday to the country's Supreme Court. (READ MORE)

US Ready to Expand Military Help for Pakistan - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States is prepared to expand defense cooperation with Pakistan as quickly as that country wants, particularly in the wake of continuing attacks inside Pakistan by groups linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida. (READ MORE)

Bomb Blasts Across Pakistan Kill More Than 70 Since Monday - Pakistani officials say since Monday, more than 70 people have died in bombings across the country. In the latest attack, police say a bomb blast near an intelligence office in the central city of Multan killed at least 12 people and severely damaged several buildings. (READ MORE)

Twin Attacks in Pakistan Kill Dozens - Continuing a string of attacks against civilians and government offices, militants set off two bombs in one of the busiest markets of this eastern Pakistani city, killing at least 54 people and wounding at least 150 others, Pakistani authorities said on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Holbrooke Says More German Troops 'Welcome' in Afghanistan - With the US now sending 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, the pressure is growing on Washington's NATO allies to send more too. On Tuesday, US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke told two German papers that a greater number of German troops would be welcomed. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan situation 'undeniably difficult' - The top US commander in Afghanistan has insisted in a speech to Congress that insurgents in Afghanistan 'will not win' the war. General Stanley McChrystal confirmed in Congress that President Obama's review of the strategy had allowed for 'greater clarity' to the mission. (READ MORE)

Pak Taliban chief vows to strike Army in winter with devastating force - The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakeemullah Mehsud has warned that the Taliban would take on the Pakistan Army with more intent during the winter season. “We will wait till January for our offensive since we are stronger during the snowing season,” Mehsud told CNN over telephone. (READ MORE)

Snow, fuel and food in the mix - An increase in fuel prices and winter-related road blockages in different parts of Afghanistan are driving up food prices, despite a bumper 2009 wheat harvest, according to Kabul traders. Petrol, heating oil and propane gas have gone up at least 10 percent over the past three weeks, they say. (READ MORE)

Taliban dynamite schools in Pakistan - Taliban insurgents on Wednesday dynamited two schools in Pakistan's Khyber district, officials said, as a wave of attacks by Islamist fighters avenging military action gripped the nation. (READ MORE)

Lawmakers slam office overseeing Afghan rebuilding - The U.S. office overseeing billions of dollars for Afghanistan's rebuilding lacks leadership and focus at a time when aggressive, independent oversight of the country's reconstruction is more important than ever, three senators told President Barack Obama on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan Dropped 70 Percent from Oct. to Nov., But Why? - U.S. casualties in Afghanistan dropped by about 70 percent from October to November, falling from 58 to 17, but that still left November 2009 the deadliest November in the 8-year war. (READ MORE)

Taliban warns Seoul against sending more troops - The Taliban Wednesday warned the South Korean government against sending 500 soldiers to Afghanistan to take part in the fight against insurgents, saying Seoul must be prepared for 'bad consequences' if the troops are deployed. (READ MORE)

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