December 14, 2009

From the Front: 12/14/2009

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

Afghanistan My Last Tour: School Supplies for Afghan Children on WUSF - From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: While we enjoy our wonderful mid deployment vacation together in Germany, we got a note from reporter Mark Schreiner that his special University Beat radio, TV and web presentation about Rex’s school supplies project is now airing back home in Tampa, Fla. Mark’s series also showcases the work of Nicole Johnson, former Miss America and USF alum, on this project and her recent trip to Afghanistan. (MORE)

Michael Yon: Arghandab & The Battle for Kandahar - People are confused about the war. The situation is difficult to resolve even for those who are here. For most of us, the conflict remains out of focus, lacking reference of almost any sort. Vertigo leaves us seeking orientation from places like Vietnam—where most of us never have been. So sad are our motley pundits-cum-navigators that those who have never have been to Afghanistan or Vietnam shamelessly use one to reference the other. We saw this in Iraq. The most we can do is pay attention, study hard, and try to bring something into focus that is always rolling, yawing, and seemingly changing course randomly, in more dimensions than even astronauts must consider. All while gauging dozens of factors, such as Afghan Opinion, Coalition Will, Enemy Will and Capacity, Resources, Regional Actors (and, of course, the Thoroughly Unexpected). Nobody will ever understand all these dynamic factors and track them at once and through time. That’s the bad news. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Is al-Sahab's Media Darling Dead? - Yesterday as I read that an unmanned aerial system had killed a top Al Qaeda leader other than OBL or Ayman al Zawahiri, I thought to myself, “It would be pretty cool if we got Abu Yahya”. It turns out I may have been correct. The jihadi forums have been abuzz since yesterday with commentary about the Abu Yahya al Libi death rumor. The blog Views From The Occident picked up on this late last night, providing excellent analysis on these forum posts, and their greater meaning to the AQ “brand”. The author writes, “Their passionate exchange suggests that the role of charismatic leaders and ideologues, which has been downplayed or written-off by some analysts, may not be so passé after all.” While obviously not insinuating that the death of Abu Yahya would decapitate the AQ franchise, the author seemingly is reinforcing something the authors of this site learned last year in Iraq: (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Going BeYONd Reason - Michael Yon, whose writing has often induced cringes from me, writes this about Canadian soldiers in Arghandab (via David Pugliese): “Since the 2001 invasion, U.S. soldiers have come and gone from the Arghandab, but we’ve never had enough soldiers to sit still. More recently, the Canadians made jabs at Arghandab but did not get far. Some people believe the Canadians have been militarily defeated in their battlespace. No US officer has told me that the Canadians have been defeated, and none have denied it. There is no doubt that Canadian troops earned much respect, and that more that more than 130 paid the ultimate price.” "No U.S. officer has told me...and none have denied it." So is there any basis for this point other than Michael Yon's brain? Look, I'd be interested to hear what people with more direct knowledge of this have to say, but this looks to be another case of Yon grossly exaggerating what might have been a good point. For four years, we've had a 1,000-strong battle group to cover 54,000 square kilometers of the birthplace of the Taliban movement. To think we were ever going to "defeat" the Taliban with that size of force is preposterous. (READ MORE)

Doc H: FOO-lishness - There are some issues or events that never even make it to a post. Others, like today's, I have to think about for a long time before posting since I endeavor to be positive about our role here. Today's issue still has the potential to be a rant instead of informative. Basic Warfare 101 teaches us that armed conflict is just an extension of diplomacy. There is a published Army Field Manual that provides guidance on the use of money as a weapons system. Out of all the tools at our disposal to effect positive change in this country, money is the most effective. There are several programs by which mentors can buy goods or services for their Afghan counterparts. One of these programs is the Field Ordering Officer or FOO program. Others include the Commanders Emergency Relief Program (CERP), PR&C projects, and many more lesser known acronyms. The only one we really heard about in mentor training was FOO. (READ MORE)

Embedded in Afghanistan...: Getting there - Thankfully the worst part of all of my deployments has been the getting there. The anxiety of the unknown combined with saying goodbye to friends and family, as well as the actual travel involved in getting to yourself and your gear to these places on the other side of the earth combine to wear on you mentally and emotionally. Though my personal exposure to violence has exponentially increased through each successive deployment, I still felt quite a lot of unease before even the first one simply because I did not really know what I was getting into before I got there. One’s tolerance for known dangers can increase over time, but increasing one’s tolerance for uncertainty itself seems tougher to develop. My deployment to Afghanistan has come with a special sense of concern, and is the only time in my life thus far I have felt compelled to buy more life insurance. If the numbers involved put the probabilities in your favor you have to invest right...? (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: McChrystal’s Weak Comments on the Weakening of the Taliban - We’ve heard something like this before: The Taliban is weakening and “prominent” members/commanders are making overtures to the government and would like to leave the insurgency. And so we hear it once again – this time about Taliban “rank-and-file” members lower down the ladder – from General McChrystal on CNN: “‘Their fighters are tired. We see a number that have already made extensive overtures to reintegrate back into the government,’ McChrystal said. ‘So I think we’ve got an insurgency that is sitting safely in what they consider are safe havens. They are trying to exhort their forces who are closer to the fight, but the forces are having a tremendous problem right now and tremendous weakening.’” Well, I would be quite happy if I thought this was actually happening on a broad scale. My skepticism comes not just from the fact that McChrystal is doing his best PAO cheerleader impression, but that the previous meme on negotiations, reconciliation and integration of Taliban commanders and fighters into the government turned out to be quite the fantasy. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Flat Out of Luck - Not me for a change. David, my riding buddy got a flat on Wednesday, fixed it. Broke a spoke on Friday which warped his wheel right away. So he dropped his bike off with Larry the Bike Guy who was kind enough to give him a loaner. Today David wanted to ride 100km before he goes home on Tuesday--just to do it. This morning the weather was cold but better than it has been, maybe 50 instead of low 40s. But if the weather was good, David was not. He is a former body builder and has been dong P90X along with 9-mile runs and biking about 50 miles per week. He hurt his back. But he decided to go anyway this morning. About three miles into the ride as we passed the burn pit, it was clear this lap would be his last. He asked the shortest way back, then got a flat. One of our Apache pilots was driving to the other side of the base and picked David up. So I decided I could at least pass some solo milestones. (READ MORE)

Hope Radio: Mail News from 1st Cavalry - Things really haven't slowed down since Mike left. It's that time of year. I would like to say thank you to Kanani for the gift she sent (blogpost for later in the weekend), tell Paxford I got her Christmas card and let John, Trish, June and Paxford know that Jonathan called this morning and told me he recieved handwarmers, snacks, gloves, candy and a big box of cookies today and that he was really happy about it. He and his have been given extra duties in the last couple of weeks. He said he will send email out to you all individually as soon as he can. He was very regretful he didn't have time to stay in the MWR room longer today (his night), he was coming off of a mission hoping to get some dinner and a nap before he pulled some guard duty. If I'm doing my math right where his schedule is concerned, he's not getting longer than four hour stretches of rest at a whack. On the up side he was excited about all the mail and to know that more is on the way. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): You Win!! Too Bad - At chow tonight I was sitting with a sergeant who just won NCO of the month. The prize is two days at Camp Victory near Baghdad, actually an interesting trip to see Saddam's palace and some other sights of the old regime. I am in aviation so I congratulated him. He didn't look so happy. He said he would rather have two days off here. I started to say how many of my friends thought Camp Victory was cool. He then said, "I'm infantry. If I take the prize I go in a convoy." Great!! He gets to roll for hours in an armored truck hoping he does not get hit by an IED. He's right. If I were him, I would take two days in my room at Tallil before I took my prize-winning trip to Baghdad in the back of an armored truck. We were trying to think of a civilian equivalent. Maybe a trip to Florida by bus stopping in every major city from Boston to Miami--and never being allowed out of the bus. (MORE)

IraqPundit: The Gardener's Perspective - Iraqis love their gardens. The patch in front of the house is so special that people lovingly plant fruit trees and brightly coloured flowers in designs. People love to sit in the yard on a cool evening and admire the sight. The relationship between an Iraqi man and his yard is really different. Years ago, a guy told me: "It's in our soul." I have visited several Middle Eastern countries, but I have yet to see this connection in other places. One guy I know who went to work in Dubai missed his garden so much that his family emailed him photos of it. He's back now and works in his yard each day. For this reason, I talked with a couple of gardeners today. These men who look after people's gardens are among the most modest imaginable. They know their trees, they know their flowers, but they have had no formal education. The ones I met today told me life is much better than it was before. They can find work here and there, but it remains a struggle. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Businessman's Perspective - There are so many different ways to explain Iraq. But whichever explanation makes the most sense, it must include oil. An Iraqi businessman explained that it's all about the oil. He said last week's car bombs were all because of the oil deals signed yesterday and today. He said it motivates everything and everyone. Iraq signed with Shell and a Chinese company to develop the Majnoon fields. And today I heard they signed with Russia's Lukoil. Iraq is reportedly going to increase production to 12 million barrels a day, up from 2.5 million today. Funny, I remember people told me that the United States wanted to steal Iraq's oil. Here are some hefty deals signed, none of which is with the United States. But back to the businessman's point of view. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Soldier's Perspective - A couple of Iraqi soldiers talked about security problems. I hung out a little today at a checkpoint with them because I wanted to see what they would say about security. A young lieutenant told me one big problem is higher-ups who refuse to be searched. He gave me an example. He said the day before yesterday, a military official was on a private outing in his private vehicle, and he was stopped at a checkpoint. The lieutenant said the soldiers were just doing their job, they wanted to search him. And the general shouted at the young men and accused them of insulting him. The general passed through the checkpoint, and five young men ended up in jail. If the soldiers can't search everyone at checkpoints, how are they to prevent car bombs? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistan signals willingness to negotiate with the Taliban - Senior Pakistani leaders have signaled a willingness to conduct talks with the Taliban, and on the same day the prime minister announced that military operations may be considered in a Taliban-controlled tribal agency. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government will talk to the Taliban before it considers launching an operation in the Arakzai tribal agency, while Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he would discuss Taliban offers with political parties that are sympathetic to or support the Taliban. Gilani indicated that negotiations are on the table and that the government would consider discussing proposals made by Imran Khan, the leader of the Tehrik-i-Insaaf, and the pro-Taliban Jamaat-e-Islami. "We will first try to convince elements in Arakzai to accept a peaceful resolution," Gilani said, according to Dawn. (READ MORE)

Last-Of-Iraqis: Bloody Tuesday (much more beyond terrorism) - Fate is really strange and extremely unpredictable; Tuesday was just another normal day with nothing more than usual, I woke up in the morning and went to work while my wife and daughter were still sleeping (as my wife is still on maternity leave now), I reached the hospital and started working just like any other day with nothing extra on my mind. As it was about 10:20am I heard a far explosion but it was obviously a strong one because of the doors’ shaking, moments later it was followed by another one, I was about to start drilling a cavity for a patient there an extremely loud explosions, the windows were opened and the room was filled with dust. A moment of absolute silence followed and the bullets shooting started. It’s so strange when such things happen how the human mind reacts to it; somehow it’s like everything round you stood still: (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Real smiles pending - Thanks, King James I of England, for allegedly coining the first version of my new No. 1 most-hated phrase: “No news is good news.” It’s true, absolutely. You know if, God forbid, something bad happened, the military would be at your door or ringing your phone ASAP. The ups and downs of deployment feel a bit like a car ride to nowhere; you start out thinking good thoughts, adrenaline humming. But after the car overheats, a burger you wolfed down percolates in your belly and the dog barfs in the back seat, it seems harder to keep the smile pasted on your face. But the smile is pasted on my face. And there it will remain when the next person who cheerily asks me, “Have you heard from Daniel?” hears my reply, and I will keep smiling when I hear the inevitable modern-day version of King James' phrase: “No news is better than evil news.” Yup. But I want to hear some good news...then people will see a real smile on my face. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 12 Dec 09 - the last couple days have been back to the same ol boring stuff… drained some fluids from a generator, had to deal with the POS chow hall truck starter again, it’s been cold and crappy weather, but no more snow…I got some packages in the mail with great home-made goodies–thank you all…I ate some up, and stowed a few things for myself, and took the rest over to the barn today …almost everything is gone already …one day in a barn full of GIs–home made brownies, fudge, cookies, rice krispy treats don’t stand a chance…the locals polished off a pan of brownies before lunch…I haven’t done much else because it’s dark about an hour after I get off work, plus there isn’t much to do around here anyway…so, that’s about all I got going on right now…love you and miss you all… talk to you soon (MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Sunday Morning - I can't believe it's been almost a week since my last post, but Janis was on my case about it this morning. Since my trip on Monday, it's just been Groundhog Day, every day. Not a whole heckuva lot is new. We have a young Iraqi rug merchant on our compound. He's turned a shipping container into a rug store. He's a great young man, full of energy, always with a huge smile on his face. And he seems to be doing a fair business as well. I'm able to get a little painting in once a week. Here's what my "studio" looks like these days, now that I've got an easel. (It's a piece of junk easel, but an easel nonetheless). All of you painters out there will appreciate my fine taste in taborets and lighting. We're starting to get into the Christmas season. Some people are heading home for the holidays, a few decorations are starting to pop up here and there, and we have an inordinate amount of candy, cookies, and other sinful foods floating around the office. (READ MORE)

Sailani: Pundits and Beltway blindness - I suppose I am beating a dead horse here, but it often strikes me how different the Afghan conflict looks to me here on the ground and to Washington DC pundits who triumphantly advocate really simple solutions that are the key to victory, but which cannot stand up to even the most cursory scrutiny. Take Matt Yglesias for example. I’ll confess I know nothing about his background, but he seems to have opinions on a lot of issues and does not appear to lack conviction about any of them – call it a Starbucks-fuelled, over-the-horizon strategic certainty if you will. He recently wrote: On the other hand, as far as problems go it’s an exceedingly correctable one. If there’s anything the international coalition has, it’s more money than the Taliban. If the Taliban pay $300 a month, there should be no problem with the coalition putting $350 or $400 a month together. This sort of thing is one reason why, despite some serious doubts about the strategy being pursued... (READ MORE)

Sarah: It's All Blocked - Dear Army, You are on my list these days. Just so you know. First you take my husband for my entire pregnancy. Fine. I can handle that, because I am a big girl. Then you send him somewhere where umpteenjillion soldiers share one computer. Not good. Then you block Facebook and all blogs on that computer. And now we have to have words... He can't be here for any of the growth of his child and the wild weight gain of his wife. The only way he can participate is if you allow me to take photos and videos and upload them somehow. But you took away all the platforms for him to be able to see these videos and photos. Seriously, I get OPSEC and all, but please don't take these soldiers away from their families for long periods of time and then deny them access to any way to keep in touch with their families. That's just wrong. You need to shape up, Army. (MORE)

Terry Glavin: "Torturegate": The Shocking Truth Revealed. - Explosive, incendiary, bombshell revelations in the Ottawa War Crimes trials: "The first is that the hysteria of this week to the contrary, there is still no evidence that any prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers and handed over to Afghan authorities were tortured. "What there is. . . is one case of an Afghan who was sort of and only briefly in Canadian custody, handed over to Afghan authorities, and then rescued by Canadian soldiers, though not from torture. ". . .Secondly, the MP didn't photograph the man purely to show he was in good condition when he got into the ANP truck. Canadians were routinely photographing every prisoner they detained, in part because most Afghans don't carry identification and sometimes have only one given name, but also so that international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, had solid evidence of who was who. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: The Afghan people are owed "the same rights we enjoy in our privileged and free societies." - From the Afghan human rights activist Wazhma Frogh, and Lauryn Oates, my co-founder at the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, a cri de guerre on the solemn duty we owe our Afghan comrades - and the way the rich world's "anti-war" activism abdicates from that duty: "If western feminists who have staked out a "troops out" position remembered to ask Afghan women their views, they would find that rather than bristling at "masculine militarization," "cultural imperialism," or any other in-vogue sin found on the placards waved at rallies, many Afghan women are haunted by the memory of the Taliban's public stoning to death of women. They recall what life was like when you couldn't leave your home alone, when you could not speak aloud in the streets because your voice was deemed inhuman, subservient, inherently impure. It was not the West's interference that led to their collective misery, but the lack of it." (READ MORE)

The Torch: Canada in Afstan: All the News That's Fit... - ...to Ignore almost completely by our media. On Friday, Dec. 10, the government released its "sixth quarterly report on Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan" (see here for previous one). CP ran this story. Meanwhile neither the Globe and Mail nor the Ottawa Citizen published a word--NOT ONE WORD--about the latest report in their Dec. 11 print editions. As for the rest of the major Canadian media, this is the result of a Google News search using "stockwell bloodiest afghanistan"; here are the results using "stockwell polio afghanistan". This is what appears from the CP story on the Toronto Star's website, no idea if it appeared in print. What almost incomprehensibly irresponsible "journalism". It's all detainee all the time, all politics, and screw trying any longer even pretending to cover the subtance of this country's most important foreign and defence policy commitment. DISGRACEFUL. AND, NOW, ALL TOO TYPICAL. (READ MORE)

SWJ: Does The United States Still Need a U.S. Special Operations Command? - The establishment of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in 1987 with the passage of the Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the Defense Reorganization Act of 1987 was designed to fix the problems with Special Operations that were brought to light after the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt at Desert One in 1980. Congress did what the military establishment would not. This legislation provided unity of command and control for Special Operations Forces and elevated Special Operations to a near peer with the Services giving it “service-like” responsibilities as well as a little used Combatant Command authority. However, in 2009, perhaps it is time for Congress to review their handiwork. Of course many outside the military establishment are enamored with the myth and romanticism of Special Operations. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Abolish SOCOM - Regular readers already know my history regarding special forces (and read here also special operations forces). While on the one hand advocating specialized billets for certain forces that would be too expensive to establish across the board, I have also strongly advocated against the reliance on SOF as direct action troops while relegating GPF (general purpose forces) to counterinsurgency efforts and policing the population. SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred. It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF. Furthermore, it misses the point of why SF were created. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Helmand: Camping Trip to Hell - FOB HASSANABAD, Afghanistan — The young Marines at this outpost could be on a camping trip to Hell. The living conditions in Helmand Province, one of the worst regions for trouble in Afghanistan, are such that most of friends and family in the United States wouldn’t consider putting up with them for one day, much less the months these men will be assigned here. It’s not even officially winter, yet temperatures routinely fall below freezing at night, and there’s no heat in the tents. At night when standing guard in one of the security towers, the Marines put on layer after layer of clothes, including thermal suits. It does little to ward off the chill of the desert air. There is no hot water. The only running water in the camp comes from a 3 inch diameter hose that jets out cold water in fire hydrant fashion. Clothes are washed in buckets, when time permits and the weather cooperates, then strung between tents and dried in the sun. (READ MORE)

The Belmont Club: Civis Romanus Sum - Professor Philip Hamburger at Columbia Law School, in his paper, “Beyond Protection” recalls the nearly forgotten doctrine of Protection in connection with the problem of terrorism. Protection (and my understanding of the term is doubtless imperfect as a layman) is apparently a legal theory in which the legal rights of the defendant vary according to the degree of his allegiance to the country he sets himself against. Professor Hamburger writes: “This Article explains the principle of protection and its implications for terrorism. Under the principle of protection, as understood in early American law, allegiance and protection were reciprocal. As a result, a person without allegiance was without protection, including the protection of the law. Not owing allegiance, such a person had no obligation to obey American law; moreover, not having protection, he had no rights under such law." (READ MORE)

One Marine's View: Your Navy docs Rock! - The other night as we concluded the day, two patrols were under attack and fought off a small group of enemy. Relentlessly pursuing the enemy when we find them they continue to realize we are a force to contend with. With the kinetic operations being conducted on one hand, a surgeon gets notified that a local national is suffering from a separate unrelated injury and is losing a lot of blood. The weather is past deteriorating and is now terrible. Fog so bad you couldn’t see 10 feet ahead of you with drizzle. The docs worked their magical touch and was able to stabilize the local national with professionalism within their bombed out stone structure. The relatives of the injured were very grateful for the doctors help. We planned to medevac the patient but as we tried the first section of aircraft had to wave off because the weather. A more specialized aircraft was brought in and the crew asked us the status of the patient because he was willing to sacrifice the crew to come in, totally blind. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Tigris Riverboats - Amid the near-daily violence in Iraq a new light of hope has shone to take us back to the old, safe, days before the war and make us forget that we are still in a dark part of Baghdad’s history. I found it when I went to see a riverboat entertainment barge that has started working again on the Tigris River near the Sarafiya Bridge, which connects Atafiya, a Shiite neighborhood and the Sunni district of Bab al-Muadham. (READ MORE)

Iraq Strikes Deals on Major Oil Fields - Iraq opened the second round of oil field auctions today, striking deals on two of its largest undeveloped fields with international oil companies desperate to be involved in what may be one of the last great untapped areas of the world. Iraq is selling development rights to some of its best fields to boost its oil production in order to finance reconstruction efforts after years of economic sanctions and war. (READ MORE)

Iraqi official: 13 arrested in connection to Baghdad bombings - An Iraqi Interior Ministry official says 13 people are in custody in connection to last week's coordinated bombings in Baghdad that killed 127 people and wounded 400. Sunday's announcement of the arrests came as lawmakers again questioned officials about security lapses in the capital, where there have been three massive attacks since the beginning of August. (READ MORE)

U.S. firms lag in bids for Iraqi oil - Chinese, Russian and European companies won the right this weekend to develop major oil fields in Iraq, while U.S. firms made a paltry showing at auctions that represent the first major incursion of foreign oil companies into Iraq in four decades. The companies that secured 10 contracts in auctions held over the weekend and in June stand to profit handsomely, but they are taking a significant gamble. (READ MORE)

Iraq war inquiry depicts Britain as sidekick to U.S. - As public inquiries go, Britain’s review of its involvement in the Iraq war had all the promise of a damp firecracker when it was empaneled by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last summer - and there was ample evidence, in the restrictive mandate initially set by Mr. Brown, that he never intended it to be the far-reaching, unsparing inquiry that war opponents had demanded. (READ MORE)

Northern Iraq ERB arrests multiple JRTN terror cell members - Constables from an Emergency Response Battalion in northern Iraq, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested three alleged Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al Naqshabandi cell members under the authority of warrants issued by the Criminal Investigation Court of al-Karkh Dec. 12. Wathiq Alwan al Amiri, Muhanned Muhammed Abd al Jabbar al Rawi and Abd al Majid al Hadithi are suspected of operating within JRTN. (READ MORE)

Constables arrest suspected terrorist cell leader - Constables from an Emergency Response Battalion, with U.S. forces advisors, arrested Mushtaq Nuri Al-Turbuli, a suspected terrorist leader in Mukayshifah, under the authority of a warrant issued by the Salah ad-Din Criminal Investigation Court Dec. 3. Mushtaq Nuri Al-Turbuli is suspected of leading a Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi cell and anti-Iraqi forces responsible for conducting explosive attacks and threatening to kill local Iraqi leaders. (READ MORE)

MoD Human Rights Directorate Improves Quality of Life - The Iraqi Ministry of Defense Human Rights Directorate celebrated its fourth anniversary under the current leadership this week by taking stock of the progress it has made. Ms. Iman Naji, MoD Human Rights Director and her deputy, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Ahmed, have skillfully applied the MoD directives regarding Human Rights mandated by the Iraqi Constitution. (READ MORE)

U.S.-Iraqi partnership halts smuggling across Syrian border - Since U.S. advise and assist forces began partnering with Iraqi border patrols along the Syrian border in mid-November 2009, the instances of smugglers circumventing port of entry stations have all but ceased, according to several sources within the Department of Border Enforcement. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army targets Baghdad PDB network, arrests 1 suspect - Iraqi Army soldiers arrested a suspected terrorist today during a joint security operation targeting a Promised Day Brigade (PDB) network in northeastern Baghdad. Iraqi Army soldiers and U.S. advisors searched one residential building for a suspected leader of a PDB terrorist cell responsible for attacking security forces in the Baghdad region. (READ MORE)

Conference highlights Human Rights issues - The Iraqi Ministry of Interior's Inspector General – Human Rights office recently held a conference at the Ishtar-Sheraton Hotel, marking the 61st International Human Rights Day here. Speakers at the conference, attended by more than 200 people, repeatedly expressed condolences to the victims and the families of those lost during the Dec. 8 bombings in the capital city. (READ MORE)

Troops fund Iraqi baby's gift of sight - One-year-old Noor Hassam Oudah, known as "Baby Nourah," was born blind with congenital cataracts. The condition is reversible with surgery, but out of reach for her family here, as the city's hospitals lack the facilities and physicians to perform such a procedure. (READ MORE)

Deployed Service Members Bring Soul to Al Asad - Service members and civilians filed into the mood-lit great room at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, for a night of soul and poetry, Dec. 4. Neo Soul Night gave more than 200 audience members the opportunity to get up on stage and share their thoughts and feelings through the art of poetry. (READ MORE)

Deployed Embark Marines Master Tricky Logistical Limbo in Iraq - Embarking thousands of pounds of supplies and countless Marines can often appear to be a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, when it comes to moving gear or personnel to, from and around Iraq, the II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward) embark office aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, makes this tricky logistical limbo look like a cake walk. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
IJC Operational Update, Dec. 14 - An Afghan-international security force detained a Haqqani weapons facilitator and a small group of other militants in Khowst province today. The facilitator is responsible for the supply and distribution of weapons to several militant elements in the area. The joint force searched a compound near the village of Paru Kheyl in the Sabari District where intelligence sources reported the facilitator to be located. (READ MORE)

Cobra's Anger: Marines Assault Into Now Zad - After many months of planning, the Marines of Alpha Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion and Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment arose to Afghanistan's 3 a.m. cold winter chill to kick off Operation Cobra's Anger. An unusual silence surrounded the Marines as they boarded their vehicles. No jokes, no talking, just business. The stoic faced Marines in the six wheeled, armored vehicle, known as the "Cougar," listened intently to the chatter over the radio. (READ MORE)

Policemen attacked in Afghanistan raids - The Ministry of Interior in Afghanistan has announced the deaths of sixteen Afghan police at official checkpoints. The ministry said the policemen were killed in two separate actions in southern and northern Afghanistan. The first attack occurred before dawn on Monday in Baghlan province, north of Kabul, when a group of armed militants attacked a police checkpoint and killed eight policemen. (READ MORE)

US to support Pak in war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the America has decided to support Pakistan in a "new and vigorous way" on the appeal of the people of Pakistan who are being targeted by Al-Qaeda and the TTP in mosques and marketplaces indiscriminately. (READ MORE)

NATO: Top US defense official visits Afghanistan - The Pentagon's top military officer visited Afghanistan on Monday as the first of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements prepared to deploy to the 8-year-old war. Adm. Mike Mullen arrived in the Afghan capital Kabul for a series of meetings with the government of President Hamid Karzai, a spokesman for the international coalition force said. (READ MORE)

Taliban blow up school in NW Pakistan - Taliban militants have blown up a girls' school in Pakistan's Khyber district, officials say, as two soldiers and seven insurgents were killed in clashes in the northwest tribal belt. The pre-dawn school attack on Monday took place in Saddokhel town in the northwest Khyber tribal district. (READ MORE)

UK bishop says Taliban can be admired for their faith and loyalty - The new Church of England bishop for the British armed forces has said the Taliban can be admired for their faith and sense of loyalty to one another. The Right Reverend Stephen Venner called for a more sympathetic approach to the Islamic fundamentalists and warned that it would be harder to reach a peaceful solution to the war if the Afghan insurgents are portrayed too negatively. (READ MORE)

MoD slashes civilian budget to divert resources to Afghanistan frontline - Big defence cuts are to be announced this week by the Ministry of Defence as part of an attempt to shift resources to the frontline in Afghanistan. Ministers will today announce a £150m package to tackle the threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan, including the establishment of new specialist training facilities in the UK, a senior government official said last night. (READ MORE)

Sixteen Afghan police killed in assaults on checkpoints - Taliban fighters attacked checkpoints in northern and southern Afghanistan today, killing 16 Afghan national police officers, officials said. Officials said eight policemen were killed before dawn when militants attacked a checkpoint in the northern province of Baghlan. At about the same time, Taliban fighters attacked a checkpoint in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, killing a further eight policemen, the interior ministry said. (READ MORE)

Zu Guttenberg under fire for Afghan airstrike - Germany’s defence minister is under pressure to quit after being accused of knowing more than he let on about a controversial airstrike in Afghanistan which killed dozens of civilians. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg recently forced two top officials to resign, saying they had withheld crucial information; in turn they claim he saw all available reports. (READ MORE)

Obama says Afghan buildup must show results - President Obama said in a taped interview that military officials should know by the end of December 2010 whether a strategy to secure population centers in Afghanistan is meeting its objectives. “If the approach that’s been recommended doesn’t work, we’re going to be changing approaches,” Mr. Obama said. (READ MORE)

Troop surge 'most difficult decision' for Barack Obama - Barack Obama has admitted that the decision to send another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan was the most difficult and emotional of his young presidency. Mr Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last week, told CBS television that it would be clear within a year if the surge was working but he said he would change his strategy if necessary. (READ MORE)

Afghan promises to insurgents often empty - His path marked by moonlight, with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back, Feda Mohammed hiked the well-worn trail through the mountains of Pakistan and into Afghanistan. He had traveled the route dozens of times before to attack U.S. soldiers. But this time, Mohammed was on a secret mission to surrender. (READ MORE)

Special forces troops open up new front against the Taliban in Helmand - British and U.S. special forces are set to open a new front in southern Afghanistan in a bid to "break the back" of the Taliban insurgency. A task force composed of members of British, U.S. and Afghan special forces will be ordered to hunt down and kill or capture senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders... (READ MORE)

For U.S. troops in Afghanistan, supplies are another battle - The White House has settled on sending additional troops to Afghanistan, and now the Pentagon must grapple with another thorny problem: how to support them once they get there. For Ashton Carter, the top Pentagon official in charge of weapons purchases, that has meant focusing on the concrete - literally. (READ MORE)

Drone attacks may be expanded in Pakistan - Senior U.S. officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan's tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in Quetta. The proposal has opened a contentious new front in the clandestine war. (READ MORE)

Europe and Afghanistan - Afghanistan is not and should not be just the United States’ fight. Al Qaeda has used its sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan to plot and launch attacks on European cities. We welcome the news that some of America’s 42 military partners in Afghanistan plan to send more troops. It was not an easy call. (READ MORE)

McChrystal's Afghan strategy attacks on several key fronts - Last month, I sat down for a two-hour talk with Gen. Stanley McChrystal over dinner in Kabul. Our interview was off the record, because President Obama hadn't yet laid out his Afghan strategy. But now that the strategy is unveiled, and McChrystal has testified before Congress, I'm free to use some of the conversation. (READ MORE)

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