December 21, 2009

From the Front: 12/21/2009

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

Army Live: Photo Friday - Wreaths Across America (View)

Sour Swinger: Photos: Children Of Iraq Set 3 - Nothing like more photos of the kids right? And I still have one more set after this one. I picked out 4 to show below. There’s about 59 photos total. Click here to see them all. They’re a good mix of kids posing for the camera and from us handing out donations. (VIEW PHOTOS)

The Torch: "Christmas in Kandahar: A soldier's thoughts" - Pity this sort of piece doesn't get wider play: " Cpl. James Dalton, 21, of the Canadian Scottish Regiment [Princess Mary's] in Victoria, was deployed to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving weekend. He's been writing monthly dispatches from the Canadian Forces base at Kandahar. This is his fourth column. - Last week, I went on a foot patrol through a built-up urban area of Kandahar with some Americans and Afghan police forces. This being my first patrol on foot, I was slightly edgy and careful of every step I took. Every bush I walked by I thought could potentially be a spot where someone could put a bomb. After walking for about 10 minutes, I started to relax a little. Kids come up to you constantly to say hello in hopes that maybe you have something to give them. Two boys asked me if I had money, chocolate or candy. I shook my head and held out my hand to show them I didn't have any, but they still grabbed it and went through each one of my fingers to make sure." (READ MORE)

3rd Time, New Country: Single digit midgets... - All of the new team is here and we have begun turnover. I have just over a week left in Kabul, then I begin the long journey back to the states, and eventually home. It has been a busy week. Last Friday, we drove to KAIA after dark (supper time) to pick up half of the new team. When we got there, we learned that the team had been delayed in Bagram and wouldn’t get to KAIA for a few more hours. We drove back to NKC. I drove lead with Dennis as my TC. It has been a long, long time since we have driven in the dark. Needless to say, there aren’t many streetlights in Kabul. On Saturday, we drove back out to KAIA in the morning to pick up the personnel from the previous evening, with me in the lead vehicle and Dennis as my TC. We brought them back to NKC and helped them move all of their gear into their rooms and showed them around our little FOB. The new team trained at Fort Polk instead of Fort Riley. Fort Polk has taken over the METT training mission. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief - Three suspected U.S.-operated Predator drones have struck the Pakistani tribal agency of North Waziristan in the past 24 hours, hammering an alleged stronghold for al Qaeda fighters and Afghan insurgent commander Siraj Haqqani and killing at least 15 people (Wash Post, AP, Reuters, AFP, Dawn, Geo, NYT). The second of the three assaults hit the hometown of Pakistani Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, with whom the Pakistani military has a truce while it continues to fight in South Waziristan. After the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that insurgents in Iraq had been able to hack into video feed from drones in the country, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen said that no significant military damage had been done (AP). Senior military officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly discussed the potential security shortfalls of the drones feeds in 2004, but did not start securing the signals until earlier this year (WSJ). (READ MORE)

Annie Lowry: My Trip to a Fake Afghan Village - Red and green Arabic-script graffiti scars the worn-down buildings. Concrete rubble and wrecked cars, riddled with bullet holes, line the muddy streets. Emergency trailers huddle along one road, their generators humming like flies. Soldiers carrying machine guns patrol in Humvees. The gray sky spits forth icy snow. Inside one building, the lights are on, but not the heat, despite the freezing temperatures. The walls are bare, save for tacked-up printouts of Hamid Karzai and a ragged Afghan flag; armed and restive guards in fatigues and gray wool pace the perimeter of the room. A handful of elders sit around a table holding steaming cups of tea. One mullah wearing a heavily twisted lungee berates a team of American volunteers, shivering in the cold, flak jackets slumped at their sides. U.S. forces have destroyed two important buildings, and the townspeople expect them to rebuild at least one, he insists, speaking through a translator. (READ MORE)

Christopher Tucker: Unfamiliar Ground - Journalists and commentators covering Afghanistan and Pakistan have addressed everything from geopolitics to tribal dynamics, reconstruction aid, and, of course, terrorism. Even the casual observer has probably read stories that have addressed U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts, most notably the use of Hellfire missile-armed Predator and Reaper drones. In covering these topics, pundits often pause to cite the area's difficult physical terrain, often mentioning it as a factor in the region's long history of repelling foreign armies. However, none of these analysts has yet written about the sad state of the United States' basic terrain data (specifically the Digital Terrain Elevation Data -- DTED) over this region, which has emerged as an obstacle in conducting operations over such complex terrain. This is not a national security secret. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Phases of Collusion: A Study of al Qaeda's Coexistence with Pakistan and Yemen - Two days ago Yemen conducted targeted strikes on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with support from the United States, in form of Cruise Missiles. ABC reported that the primary target was Qaaim al-Raymi, the suspected leader of AQAP. The LWJ reports, the initial post operation assessment is 34 killed, to include Muhammad Salih al Awlaqi, Muhammad al Amburi and Munir al Amburi, and 17 captured. Seventeen captured AQAP members can provide a substantial amount of actionable intelligence allowing Yemen to continue the counter terror (CT) pressure, but will they? The continuation of lethal targeting by Yemen is questionable due to their collusion with AQAP. I would argue that the majority of Americans now understand that the best approach to countering the global aspirations of al Qaeda is to work through the governments in close proximity to al Qaeda centers of gravity. (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: FLIGHT OF TEARS PART III: BUH-BYE MUMBAI - The following morning we enjoyed a fine breakfast buffet where I braced myself for the inevitable. This would take the form of Marines who were going to violate certain parameters we had given them the night before. I had pointed out during dinner that we weren't exactly welcome in Mumbai and the press were looking for opportunities to sell more news at our expense. Our guidance was in no way were they to be wandering around the hotel and they could stay in their rooms or in the dinning room. There was a two beer ration for the night and everyone was to be in the dinning room by 0900 for a head count. While examining the two beer max rule the average person generally exclaims: "Are you crazy? No one is going to just drink two beers!" In particularly Marines who have been dry for seven months are eager to get their "tolerance up" as soon as possible. (READ MORE)

Leslie Cnossen: Five Feet of Accomplishments - When I last wrote anything on this website, we were in a pretty tough spot. Dan was in the hospital again and feeling miserable. Since then he has improved so much every day that I can hardly keep up with him, let alone find time to update everyone on his progress. Thank you for your patience during the drought. Today we are barricaded into our apartment by a foot of snow, and so with nothing to do and nowhere to go, all of a sudden I have some time on my hands! So many people commented on the photo of Dan climbing the rock wall. How amazing was that! We busted him outta the hospital that morning, and after 5 days of laying in the hospital bed, he decided that climbing a rock wall sans legs would be a nice accomplishment. It took him three tries - one of which caused me to almost pee my pants and pray that the floor underneath was cushy enough if the harness didn't hold - and on the third try he made it to the top! (READ MORE)

Doc H: Shab e Yalda - In the western world we think of the 21st of December as the Winter solstice. The night of the 21st is the longest of the year for the northern hemisphere. In Iranian and to some degree Afghan culture the night of the 21st of December is Shab-e Yalda. It is an Iranian festival whose origins go all the way back to Babylonian and Zoroastrian religious rights. It has been adopted over time and is still celebrated as a winter feast, when families will sit up all night around a fire telling stories and eating melons, pomegranate, and nuts. Because Shab-e Yalda is the longest and darkest night, it has come to symbolise many things in Persian poetry; separation from a loved one, loneliness and waiting. After Shab-e Yalda a transformation takes place - the waiting is over, light shines and goodness prevails. Shab-e Yalda is also a very special day to someone very close to me. Someone I hope to see soon. And while it may not be fast enough, sometime after Shab-e Yalda the waiting will be over. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: Milblog Blackout, Twitter Digest, Pictures, and other things - Ok, well I finally posted up some pics from the last year. Not as many as I posted from my last tour, but how many different pictures of helicopters can I post anyway? I also haven’t posted any Twitter digests in a while, and I discovered I can only easily get the last month’s worth of tweets. Besides that, we are just getting ready for all the holidays and birthdays we have coming up. I still got a couple of weeks leave to go, and I plan on getting the most out of it. Also, I would like to join the other milbloggers out there in supporting the milblog cause. I was silent on the Milblog Blackout, but not for any other reason than I was enjoying my time off, so now I will put in my two cents. Our personal freedom of speech as well as your ability to read the stories from those with “boots on the ground” is coming under attack. While I fully support the need for OPSEC, I also feel its penultimately important the we be able to tell our stories... (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Spouse Visits White House - Alison Buckholtz - The scene was familiar, but not our place in it. Our military family had the honor earlier this week of lighting the Hanukkah menorah at the White House, reciting the blessings over the candles, and meeting President Barack Obama, Mrs. Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden. Because my husband is serving a 12-month deployment in Iraq, he was not with us. Our two children, 6-year-old Ethan and 4-year-old Esther, talked about their dad with the president and vice president, who thanked them for their service to the country and sympathized with the difficulty of missing a loved one. In my memoir, “Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War,” I write about our experience during my husband’s deployments, and since the last inauguration I have watched with great interest as Mrs. Obama has met with military families around the country to brainstorm on ways to improve the lives of spouses and children left behind. (READ MORE)

Fire and Ice: All Good Things Must End - Last evening, at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, a retirement ceremony was conducted in my honor. The ceremony was hosted by my good friend Colonel Bob Oltman. Colonel Oltman was the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion of the the 1st Marine Regiment during Operation Steel Curtain. He's currently the CO of Quantico's Security Battalion. My fiance Janis did a super job of inviting everyone and overseeing a lovely reception. What can I's been a great run since I first enlisted on June 11, 1975. I signed up that day alone in the haze of a hangover and under the shadow of dropping out of a third college. Last night I departed active duty in the presence of family and a wonderful circle of friends and comrades. I was completely sober and basking in the glow of a career full of many accomplishments. Thank you Marine Corps. Thank you God. Time to move on. (MORE)

Major Richard Streatfeild, OC A Company 4 RIFLES: THE AFGHAN GAME - If you want to understand the Afghan then look no further than Buzkashi. Not my words but still relevant. The national Afghan game is called Buzkashi. The translation of the name is "goat pulling". It involves two teams of 15 setting off from a single point on horseback. They race towards a dead goat placed in a circle. The goat is grabbed and they gallop towards a second marker. The teams must get the goat round the marker and back into the circle. The game is violent. The peculiarly Afghan element is that once a team has the upper hand the goat will often be stolen by players within that team in order to get the final glory. The game is played in the barren desert with distances of over a mile between the markers and the circle. I have asked our interpreters whether Buskashi is played in this area. The answer is yes but that was before the fighting. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Soviet-American-Afghan History - Said a certain someone about war in Afghanistan: "These regions, which are vast and thinly populated, are considered to be of no strategic value; it is better to leave them alone rather than to pin down large numbers of troops who would be very exposed because the lines of communication would be over-stretched. As a result, since there is no enemy, the network of resistance bases is much weaker there than elsewhere and the most able-bodied men often mount guard at the “frontier,” waiting for an offensive that never comes. The drawback for the [foreign forces] is that these regions provide the resistance with long but safe lines of communication, a place to fall back to a source of supplies in case of hardship. Furthermore, the fact that they control a certain amount of territory adds to their credibility.¹" Just replace the “foreign forces” in brackets with “Russians” and you have the full quote from Olivier Roy, who first wrote this in 1986. The parallels are there in current strategy. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: One unit is fattening a goat for Christmas - The riflemen manning mountainside observation posts around the Kajaki hydroelectric dam in Helmand have grown so proud of their own home-made pizzas this winter that there is little doubt what dish will top their bill of fare on Christmas Day. Yet, when 9 Platoon, C Company, 3 Rifles, deployed in October to Kajaki, the British Army’s most isolated Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan, not one of them had had any catering experience or training. In less than three months they have not only come to terms with their remote location and the difficulties of food supply, but have perfected from scratch the art of pizza-making as enthusiastic participants in their commanding officer Lieutenant Will Melia’s “Kajaki Come Dine With Me” campaign. Some 30km from their nearest friendly neighbours, their base is inaccessible except by helicopters, which drop off all the platoon’s food (largely boil-in-the-bag rations supplemented by fresh ingredients as available), along with their ammunition, fuel and mail. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: The lone rogue post - Yes, this has what the blog has evolved into. Lone rogue posts. Whether it be lack of motivation or excitement, I just haven't had much to write about I guess. Things here are good. We are now considering ourselves on the "home stretch" as we near the last 70-80 days left here. The consensus around here, for the most part, has been "can't wait to get out of here". Believe it or not, there is actually a waiting list of guys who came out here with me, who would like to stay another year. I think the economy plays a part in most of those guys decision to extend another year. Maybe they don't have a job to go back to, or this one pays a little more, either way, to each his own I guess. Not this guy though. Actually, I'm the only guy on this mission that didn't volunteer for it. I guess technically, by joining the Navy I did, but everyone else said, "Please send me on this mission", while I was the recipient of "You are hereby ordered". So yeah, no extensions for me. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iraq's Refugees - The Atlantic magazine has a moving pictorial about Iraqi refugees. The slide show is accompanied by this commentary: "It has been almost seven years since the U.S. invaded Iraq. While the war is officially over, another crisis continues to unfold, attracting far fewer headlines and less public debate. All across Iraq, civilians are fleeing their homes. There are nearly three million of these refugees, according to various NGO and relief-group estimates." No Iraqi would begudge the attention these people are getting. But some of us can't help but ask where this thoughtful commentary was when we were forced to leave Baathist Iraq? Thank God for the agencies that help the great number of refugees who fled since 2003. But trust me, the story is incomplete. Iraqis do not have a tradition of emigration the way the peoples of the Levant do. (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: More Links, Magic Bandwidth - This week, for the first time ever, I witnessed 20 simultaneous nodes running in Jalalabad. In the last week there have been two new links, and now multiple groups are working on adding links. Very cool. The link on the right is the newest one. Where is the water tower? It's not visible at all, but the connection works. H &M are definitely stretching the limit of what we thought would be reliable, but if it works, it works... Even cooler is the network is starting to generate enough load that some of the network services we've put in place are starting to work their magic. JBad has a guaranteed 2Mbit full duplex sat connection. In practice, that means that download speeds max out at about 252KByte/sec (KBps), with occasional peaks above that value. In order to increase the effective bandwidth, we have a local cache that saves pieces of the internet that are commonly accessed and serves them back locally. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: And Preceding Santa: The Hubs! - Well, you might as well know. I haven't said anything because I'm one who waits until all things looks set, and even then I wait. But finally...The Hubs is stateside! He and the team from the 759th took 7 different planes through as many time zones and arrived two days ago. Right now, he's finishing up turning things in at Ft. Benning, and then will go onto his permanent station at Ft. Stewart to check in at work, and see what's brewing at the hospital. When he returns there from leave in January, it's sure to be a moshpit. Traditionally, surgeons are super busy in January. Only after he checks things out, and also checks back in, will he be able to come back home to sweet California. John Coffey, who writes the Coffeypot blog, has agreed to pick him up, and help him get his car. John has been an incredible supporter of not only the 759th (sending shipments of stuff for the kids and the troops), but also of many other units as well. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: 'Good' Taliban destroy Afghan Army base - Forces under the command of a leader considered to be one of the "good Taliban" by the Pakistani military destroyed an Afghan Army camp. Taliban forces commanded by Mullah Nazir blew up an the Afghan Army base, which was just across the border from the Angoor Adda region in Pakistan. The region is under the control of Nazir, a Pakistani Taliban commander. "Sources said the Taliban planted explosives all over the base and blew it up, destroying bunkers and installations," Dawn reported. The based was destroyed after "a contingent stationed there moved out of the fortified compound." The Taliban and "a group of tribesmen" then looted the base. The destruction of the Afghan base by Nazir's forces follows the Dec. 6 attack on a Pakistani Army checkpoint at a bridge in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, which is also under the control of Nazir. The attack resulted in one one soldier killed. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Spend those magic pennies! - I came across a photo this morning which, though not emotional in any way, choked me up. A Marine sporting a jaunty Santa hat was unloading mail from a helicopter aboard the USS Cleveland -- the sister ship of the USS Bonhomme Richard. Those bulging mail sacks were filled with letters, gifts and the telltale shape of flat-rate boxes used by families with the hopes that their loved one would feel our love and appreciation from half a world away. That sentiment was brought home last week when someone forwarded me a photo and letter from a former Manatee High School football player. Manatee was headed to Orlando to play for the 5A state championship, and this Marine in Iraq, along with two other Marines, an Army buddy, and some other alum serving in Afghanistan were following their team from afar. These strong connections to home, family and community run in both directions; to the far reaches of the world and back. (READ MORE)

The Marching Camp: Killing, Just War, and Chivalry - I have a lengthy post percolating on the topic of chivalry. Unusual content for this blog, but that's my prerogative. Unfortunately, the state of society is such that a discussion of chivalry actually requires a previous discussion on violence. I presume my audience is familiar with the metaphor of sheep, sheepdog, and wolf presented by David Grossman. If not, read it first. You see, the common, ordinary decent American (never mind the even more 'civilized' European or Canadian) has such an overwhelming aversion to violence that he cannot be chivalrous. Further, he cannot appreciate the existence of chivalry in its entirety. The culture of the victim shows in every place. Soldiers, we professionals of bloodshed, are described as heros for our sacrifices and casualties, not for our prowess at arms and victories. Passive resistance is hailed as morally superior to armed revolt regardless of the tyrant. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 19 Dec 09 - well, just another long boring day at the barn … altho, there were some interesting events …this morning one of the guys hopped out of a truck and left it in gear–really, he just didn’t move the gear selector all the way up in to Park, instead he let go with it in Reverse…so it went rolling thru the parking area and smacked into a big ol 5-ton truck…didn’t do anything to the 5-ton, but the pick-up sustained some serious damage to the side of the bed…well, Bruce-the driver-kinda freaked out, almost had a heart attack–he is 58 yrs old…but, all was well and nobody got hurt…we pulled the truck over by the barn and I jumped in a big All-Terrain forklift, stuck the forks against the bed of the truck and just turned the forks to the side…almost good as new…pretty much straightened the bed/body, but the tail light is still smashed in and the side of the truck is a little warped…oh well, it’s a POS truck anyway… (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: A USO Christmas Tradition - Last night the USO brought a Christmas show to Victory Base. I went with a small group to have some fun. The turnout was good: several thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians, and contractors gathered by the stage near the Oasis DFAC. I was sitting in the bleachers with a bunch of junior soldiers and sailors - a rowdy bunch, to say the least, but enthusiastic and totally into the experience. There was a large open area in front of us and many people brought fold-up chairs to sit and watch the show. The area filled up until there was only a narrow strip in front of the bleachers. Then along came an older couple (KBR employees, by their tags) who brought, not chairs, but cardboard boxes to sit on. The soldiers and sailors around us thought this was hugely funny. Then it got worse: the woman parked herself on her box, but the guy just couldn't get himself down: (READ MORE) Talking Corruption - Everyone agrees there is corruption in Afghanistan. Not everyone agrees on what corruption is. As the three-day anti-corruption conference in Afghanistan winds down one thing is clear: there is a difference between the Western and the Afghan conceptions. Many Westerners find the culture of nepotism here in Afghanistan appalling, and while it can indeed hinder the development of a meritocracy for the Afghans generally there is nothing abhorrent about hiring a close relative or friend purely on the basis of that personal relationship. Indeed, it is something on-the-whole laudable and to be expected (especially if it is you yourself and not your despised cousin who benefits). It is not ‘corrupt’. On the other hand some of the international aid contracting practises which are perfectly legal in the West are considered ‘corrupt’ by Afghans because only a fraction of the budget ends up trickling down to those for whom it is ostensibly intended. (READ MORE)

Air Force Wife: Militarese to English FAIL - When Air Force Guy came home on R & R it was great. He came bearing gifts (yay! early Christmas!) and he came bearing illness. AFG always comes home from deployment bearing some kind of illness to pass around the house. We like to call it "The Crud". Specifically, we call it the "Wherever-He-Was Crud." So far we've passed around the Iraq Crud, the Korea Crud, the Afghanistan Crud and some kind of weird sneezing-with-cold-shivers thing we assumed was the Greenland Crud. We also all got sick when he got home from an extended training in Georgia. I assume that was the Georgia version of The Crud. So, I'm sure you're a little perplexed here. "But airforcewife!" you're saying. "We ALL know about The Crud! The Crud happens to nearly everyone at least once! It's a part of the post deployment detox!" And yes, I understand that. We all know about The Crud, even if we don't all call it The Crud. (READ MORE)

this is our life...: Our Christmas Present!! - Our Christmas present has arrived!! He flew in at 1PM yesterday. Everything just feels right again. I have my husband back. The kids have their dad. I wish I had a great picture of us hugging him at the airport, but I don't. We will be in the Standard Journal though so watch for us. Now, I'm off to snuggle with my sleeping husband!! :) (MORE)

The Torch: Afstan: Karzai's proposed new cabinet drops key minister/Buying locally - All the Western reporting I've seen, such as this Wall St. Journal story, misses one very important thing. Mohammed Ehsan Zia, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), has been dropped. This ministry, by all accounts, has been the single most effective Afghan government organization in doing effective work to revive the country--largely as a result of Minister Zia's dedication, hard work and ability. The ministry, as part of the National Solidarity Programme, has arranged the creation of over 22,000 elected Community Development Councils in some 70% of the country, with 30% of members being women. The councils have been a real example of grass roots democracy, choosing and implementing projects that they believe are of most direct benefit to their communities. And, at the same time, providing what amounts to a local governance structure run by the people themselves. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Things I Can’t Write About - Over these last 10 months of blogging, I’ve tried to be as transparent as I can: no agenda, no preconceived notions, no trying to make myself look good – just a description of things as they happen from my 5′5" junior-NCO perspective. But my effort to tell things like they are has limits. A handful of things are huge parts of the deployment experience, but I just can’t write about them. A fellow milblogger gave me the following advice at the start of my tour: "Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your commander, Osama bin Laden, or your mother to read." Some of those things: INTELLIGENCE BRIEFINGS - Prior to each mission, the platoon receives a briefing from our S2 officer. This collection of four or five slides shows the area we’ll be working in, recent enemy activity, operations that other ISAF forces are conducting, a weather forecast, terrain conditions, and lots more. It is remarkable, often sobering information. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Abu Ghraib, Restive Again - A sense of normalcy, serenity even, belies the tensions bubbling here. Markets are brimming with shoppers and fresh produce. Iraqi security forces staff checkpoints along the main road. Families are out working their fields, boys herding sheep and women collecting twigs for their clay ovens. (READ MORE)

G.I.’s in Iraq Hope to Heal Sacred Walls - When the 101st Airborne Division captured this base back in 2003, an American tank blasted the turret off a T-72 tank, catapulting it into the side of St. Elijah’s Monastery. The force buckled a wall of mortar and stone that had stood for more than 1,000 years here in one of the earliest redoubts of Christianity. Such is the tragedy of war. (READ MORE)

Baghdad’s Hot Restaurant - Even signs of progress can be disheartening in Baghdad. Consider the case of the Tahrir (Liberation) Tower, a building that is widely known as the Turkish Restaurant. The tower is in the heart of Baghdad, overlooking the River Tigris and the Jumhouriya (Republic) Bridge on one side and Tahrir Square, considered the center of Baghdad, on the other. (READ MORE)

Teamwork Key to Iraqi Security, Mullen Says - The teamwork between Iraqi and American security forces is behind the vast improvements in Iraq, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said during a news conference here today. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters security has improved in the country since the Iraqi government assumed the lead on June 30, but that the price has not been cheap. (READ MORE)

Hill, Odierno Discuss Iraq Election, Relations With Iran - Iraq “is not going to be pushed around” by Iran, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said here today. Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, spoke to reporters traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Forces Target Assassination Cell - Iraqi security forces arrested two suspected members of an al-Qaida in Iraq cell responsible for making bombs and attacking government officials during a combined security operation today in western Baghdad. Iraqi forces and U.S. advisors searched a building for a suspected terrorist who allegedly is part of a cell that manufactures magnetic bombs and attaches them to vehicles to kill government officials and those who oppose al-Qaida in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Contractor Keeps Lights on at Iraq Base - Soldiers who haven’t deployed before or who only recently arrived here may not give much thought to the constant electricity, hot showers and well-lit avenues. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen easily, and it is thanks in no small part to an Iraqi company, Al Harith, that Contingency Operating Base Basra hums along so smoothly. (READ MORE)

Mullen Assesses Strategy During Trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said his trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq has given him an opportunity to assess changes in strategy and meet the men and women who will carry out that strategy. Overall, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he was pleased with the trip. In addition to meeting the leaders of the respective countries and U.S. military and civilians, the trip also gave the chairman a chance to meet thousands of U.S. servicemembers and assess their attitudes, ideas and morale. (READ MORE)

Mullen Praises Stryker Soldiers in Afghanistan - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, for their service in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province here yesterday, saying the unit has made a difference. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the soldiers he appreciates their sacrifices and their flexibility. The Stryker unit was supposed to deploy to Iraq. That mission was changed to Afghanistan, and the soldiers arrived here in July. (READ MORE)

Afghan Town’s Progress Provides Encouragement - An irrigation ditch bisects the main thoroughfare of this town in Helmand province, and shops line each side of the street. The shops sell everything from fresh vegetables to livestock to snack foods and transistor radios. The town looks like nothing special, but it is. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff showed just how special it is when he walked down the street here yesterday, speaking with shop owners and officials and meeting children. (READ MORE)
ISAF Officials Investigate Civilian Casualty Claims - The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is sending a team to work with Afghan officials in assessing reports of civilian casualties as a result of an operation in the Shah Wali Kot district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province yesterday. Initial operational reports indicate that men were planting a bomb next to the road. After firing on the men from a helicopter, ISAF forces discovered civilians in a car adjacent to the site, officials said. (READ MORE)

Drug barons use Herat children for smuggling - Thousands of street children in Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city, are being used as drug couriers, with the authorities seemingly overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. Abdullah, aged 13 and the son of a drug addict, was working as a courier for a drug dealer. (READ MORE)

Afghan Army questions police competence - An Afghan National Army, ANA, commander says efforts to combat the growing insurgency in the previously stable north are being frustrated by police failings General Abdul Rahman Rahmani, commander of the 209 Shahin Army Corps, based in Mazar-e-Sharif, says over the past year the ANA has launched operations in four northern provinces to drive out Taleben and other militant groups: (READ MORE)

Bulgaria may send troops early next year - The Bulgarian contingent in Afghanistan is likely to be reinforced by 30 additional personnel at the beginning of 2010, which may be followed by a further deployment of 70 more personnel by the end of the year, Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolai Mladenov was quoted as saying by the Bulgarian news agency. (READ MORE)

Karzai ousts two over corruption, keeps two with rights accusations - Afghan President Hamid Karzai took a step on Saturday towards reassuring wary Western allies by appointing a new cabinet that sheds two prominent politicians accused of corruption and retains pro-American leaders in key posts. After weeks of consultation with Western diplomats, Karzai selected a new political team that seeks to mollify American officials who have pressed him to crack down on corruption and assuage Afghan warlords who backed him during the fraud-tainted presidential election. (READ MORE)

Group teaching Afghan women literacy, IT skills - Nonprofit organization Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development, or NICCO, has been working to widen career opportunities for Afghan women by promoting literacy and information technology skills. Using ¥171,003 from The Japan Times Readers' Fund, the Kyoto-based group offers women in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, a free course on basic reading and writing in the Dari language, IT training classes and workshops on women's rights. (READ MORE)

Wrong or right, Afghan war too expensive for U.S. to fight - Thirty thousand more troops to Afghanistan is a $30 billion decision because, according to the White House, it costs about $1 million to send one soldier there. That $1 million could be spent in many other ways. It could pay 30 caregiver stipends to family members of severely disabled veterans who have come back from Afghanistan and Iraq, providing them with first-rate care. (READ MORE)

Afghan leader unveils cabinet - Afghan President Hamid Karzai plans to keep most of his top ministers, mainly technocrats favoured by the West, in a new cabinet presented to parliament today, one of his ministers said. Western diplomats have generally welcomed the list of 23 cabinet nominees, which keeps the heads of the key interior and finance ministries unchanged along with other technocrats, but others were concerned Karzai’s lineup simply recycled old names. (READ MORE)

Afghan Killing Bares a Karzai Family Feud - On Oct. 16, four sport utility vehicles barreled into Karz, Afghanistan, the hometown of the country’s president, Hamid Karzai, and pulled up to the home of one of his cousins, Yar Mohammad Karzai. Teams of armed guards blocked the street and herded passers-by into a nearby mosque while seizing their cellphones, then removed the front door of the house, according to Karzai family members and several people from the mosque. (READ MORE)

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