December 22, 2009

From the Front: 12/22/2009

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

Dispatches from the Front:
Michael Yon:
Brian Williams to the Troops - 22 December 2009 - Kandahar, Afghanistan - Brian Williams from NBC emailed to me something for the troops. Brian is a Great American. "I was in Afghanistan about two months ago, and as usual the best part of the trip were the Americans in uniform who we met along the way. I think about all of you every day. I tell my civilian friends about you, and about what I've seen. They all know that you are the people I admire most. We toasted all of those deployed overseas at our Thanksgiving table, and we will on Christmas Day and on New Year's Eve. I appreciate your service, and we appreciate our freedom. We owe you all a staggering debt." (READ MORE)

Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger: As Christmas Approaches - I awoke this Saturday morning at PT time (0430), and looked at my surroundings. The worst winter storm in DC for a number of years had arrived in force. Snow, and lots of it. Roads are closed, planes are grounded, and people are huddled comfortably inside their homes or foolishly out trying to learn how to drive in snow. Rather than roll over, I put some warm clothes on, leashed the dogs, and out we went for some exercise and introspection. As I walked, I was trying to imagine being in those winter camps and fights so long ago. I thought of Washington's Christmas raid at Trenton, and his last, lonely winter camp. I thought of the soldiers at Fort Niagara. I thought of the bitter cold of the Argonne, the Huertgen Forest and Bastogne, the Aleutians, the Chosin Reservoir, the Sava River, and Tora Bora. As I thought of those heroes of our past, those legendary Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen that we regularly honor and pay tribute to, I thought of those quiet professionals in current fights that we don't speak of often enough. (READ MORE)

Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid: Home Sweet Home - Almost immediately after US forces overran Baghdad in 2003, they started building large logistical bases, called Forward Operating Bases or FOBs. Not surprisingly, these evolved from austere supply dumps to comparatively lavish posts, with many of the comforts of home. Relatively secure and safe, they serve as the home to maintenance units, administrative units, and pretty much everyone who isn’t going outside the wire on patrols or raids. The denizens of these bases, no longer called REMFs, became known as Fobbits. Given the fairly urban nature of Iraq, even small outposts could quickly come to have some of the creature comforts we Americans like, such as internet access, fast food restaurants, and hot and cold running water. Afghanistan is a little different. It is a largely agrarian nation, with few troops stationed in the cities. Most of the troops are scattered among small villages, many perched precariously on the sides of the rugged mountains that make up so much of the nation. That tends to lead to a very austere lifestyle. (READ MORE)

In the Crosshairs: Releasing High Value Detainees to non-existent countries - Tom Joscelyn has a disturbing piece over at the Weekly Standard about who the Obama team let loose from Gitmo and who we gave them to. Aside from the Yemenis they are using to restock the game ranch over there, it seems a fairly recent capture from Somalia was released to the Somaliland government. Who you ask? That’s right we sent him and a pal to a government we don’t even recognize and holy shit they just let him go. “The Obama administration transferred Arale to Somaliland last week – just two and a half years later. What changed? Does the DOD now believe that Arale was wrongly detained, or that he is no longer a threat? Perhaps that is possible, but there are good reasons to doubt that is the case.” This is not some poor bastard who was scarfed up in Afghanistan and sold to us by some warlord. We conducted a raid into Somalia specifically to capture this guy and now he is just back on the street? (READ MORE)

Uncle Jimbo: Tora Bora- Revenge of the pundits - One of the favorite tropes of the hater left and the smarty pants crowd is how W and Rummy screwed the pooch and failed to capture bin Laden when he was sitting ripe for the taking in the easily accessible Tora Bora resort. I have been knocking this argument down for more than 5 years now with this being the most recent and succint version when F John Kerry poked his bone head into play. Former CNN Pentagon correspondent and current blogger Jamie McIntyre shows his good judgment in joining me noting this conventional wisdom ain't so established or wise. I almost joined in another beatdown when as he notes the once moistened and now simply arid bint Maureen Dowd saw fit to flap her collagen infiltrated lips. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre's Line of Departure: Tora Bora Hindsight? - It’s so obvious now. If only the United States had sent a few more troops into Afghanistan at the start of the war, Osama bin Laden would have been caught or killed in 2001. And the course of history would have been changed. The failure to dispatch special operations commandos to hunt for bin Laden when he was cowering in a cave in Tora Bora in December of 01, was “one of the greatest military blunders in recent U.S. history,” argues my old colleague at CNN Peter Bergen in the current New Republic. Or maybe not. The proposition that more troops would have cut off bin Laben’s escape might be debatable, but so far as the punditocracy is concerned that debate is over. Noted military thinker Maureen Dowd just accompanied Defense Secretary Robert Gates on a trip to the region, and as she writes, “I asked Bob Gates, as we flew over the notorious terrain, if he had any insights into why such a bellicose team as W., Cheney and Rummy flinched at the very moment they could have captured our mortal enemy. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: (Video) Afghanistan’s Toking Troops Not Exactly Battle-Ready - Top NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal calls training local soldiers and cops “our main effort” in Afghanistan. But whipping recruits into shape is a whole lot harder when they’re stoned out of their minds. “You walk into a whole squad of ANA [Afghan National Army] smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs, it effects the way that they accomplish their mission,” says one disgusted marine. “Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” Obviously, there are plenty of units that are more professional. But this isn’t the first time red-eyed Afghan troops have been caught on tape. (MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: A Deployed Stryker Unit Says Commander Doing it All Wrong - The 2nd Infantry Division's 1/17 has lost twenty one soldiers since deploying to the Arghandab river valley in southern Afghanistan in July, and there looks to be some serious dissent between the enlisted men in at least one company and their batallion commander. The Army Times Sean Naylor does an amazing job of brinign the story home. Just a sample of the goods: "The 1/17’s soldiers said their train-up was also marked by an absence of good intelligence on what they would be facing in the Arghandab. In their zeal to give their men some insight into their future area of operations, noncommissioned officers such as Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Sanders, 1st Squad leader in Charlie Company’s 1st Platoon, resorted to printing out information on the Arghandab region from the Long War Journal, a respected non-Defense Department Web site, and posting it on bulletin boards.” (READ MORE)

Vegetius: End States vs. Strategies - I don’t know who came up with the term “exit strategy”, but if he (or she) is still alive he should be taken out and shot. An exit is not a strategy; it is a retreat. There is nothing wrong with cutting losses and running if the situation dictates, but let’s call it what it is. However, let’s also make sure that the war is lost before we resort to that. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have stated exit strategies, but no clear stated vision of what we want either nation to look like when we are done. If getting out of these two wars is our only objective, we need to fire the entire national security apparatus and replace its personnel with divorce lawyers; they are the true exit strategists. The great strategists in history have always had clear end states of what they had in mind for the strategic landscape that they were dealing with and knew how to match those ends to available means. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: "RUN TO THE FIRE" - Speaking of the Marines in Anbar Province ... In 2004, the 1st Marine Division invited me to visit them in Iraq to explore how Spirit of America could increase our support. Before going I was required to participate in a one-day training session at Camp Pendleton. At the end of the day, I was briefed by a young Lieutenant. He asked if I knew what to do if anyone started shooting at us. Figuring that the Marines would know where to take cover, I said, "I'll do what the Marines do." The Lieutenant gave me a strange look and said, "No. The Marines are going to run TO the fire. YOU are going to run away." I've never forgotten what the Lieutenant said. The Marines run to the fire - meaning they don't shrink from the tough or unwanted situation. They do what needs to be done no matter how hard it is. They "run to the fire." I've come to understand this is an ethos that applies broadly - not only to Marines in combat. (READ MORE)

The Armorer: Four NCOs decorated for valor - More than a year removed from the enemy confrontations where they risked their lives for fellow servicemembers, four former 503rd Infantry Regiment Soldiers were honored for their bravery in combat Monday at the Benning Conference Center. Staff Sgt. Justin Grimm received the Silver Star for gallantry, Staff Sgt. Clifton Anderson and Sgt. Michael Lawrence received the Bronze Star with V device, and Staff Sgt. Zachari Rushing received the Army Commendation Medal with V device. Before pinning the medals, Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning commander, talked about how the Soldiers never wavered during the 15-month deployment, living in a very rugged, undeveloped and contested region in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush Mountains near the Pakistan border. "Where you find the fight and you take the fight, you stand, and you don't give up an inch," he said. "That kind of endurance and courage only comes through training and discipline that starts long before the fight. That's the kind of dedication to duty that we see in out great NCOs." (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
A modern soldier’s story, told on mom’s blog - When a son decides to join the Army, in a country that happens to be at war, this is what a modern mother does: She starts a blog. Rather, she types; the words belong to him. This son who has grown up on e-mail and text messages now has no computer or cellphone, so he puts pen to paper, the only letters he has written to her since he was a boy at summer camp. (READ MORE)

Soldier out shopping gunned down in Baltimore - An Army private on leave from service in Afghanistan was fatally shot while on the way home from grocery shopping with his wife, Baltimore police said Monday. Detectives had no suspects or motive in the slaying of Pfc. Clifford J. Williams, a Baltimore native, said Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman. (READ MORE)

Army defends choice of unproven plate carrier - The Army is trying to quell criticism of its decision to buy an unproven plate carrier for soldiers in Afghanistan rather than the combat-tested model special operations forces wear today. Soldiers have been questioning why equipment officials chose KDH Defense Systems to make the Army’s new plate carrier. (READ MORE)

Defense bill comes at a price for taxpayers - President Obama won most of his spending fights with Congress over the Defense Department this year, but it cost several billion dollars of taxpayers' money to buy legislative peace. The $636 billion defense spending bill that Mr. Obama signed into law Monday fully funds his plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but Congress added $465 million for an alternate F-35 engine that the Pentagon says it doesn't need or want. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Seven soldiers punished thus far under pregnancy ban - Seven U.S. soldiers, including three men, have already been punished under six-week-old rules making pregnancy a violation of military law in northern Iraq. Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, who commands Multi-National Division - North, said he instituted the ban when he took over in early November to prevent the loss of valuable female soldiers, since troops who become pregnant are sent home. (READ MORE)

The Greatest gift of all: Giving - The old saying of “It is better to give than to receive” rings true for members of the Gulf Region District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq.Because of the generosity of individuals and groups in the U.S., GRD is doing more than just brick and mortar reconstruction projects—they are touching lives and bringing smiles to Iraqi children. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest 7 suspected AQI explosives cell members - Iraqi Security Forces arrested seven suspected terrorists today in during two joint security operations conducted to arrest al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) members operating in northern Iraq. In western Mosul, ISF and U.S. advisors searched a residential building for a suspected AQI member who coordinates funding, weapons and equipment for an improvised explosive device cell that conducts attacks in the region. (READ MORE)

ISF target Kata’ib Hezbollah network, arrest 4 suspects - Iraqi Security Forces arrested four suspected terrorists today in northeastern Baghdad during a joint security operation conducted to arrest a suspected member of the Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) terrorist network. ISF and U.S. advisors searched several residential buildings for an alleged KH member who acquires and distributes weapons and improvised-explosive devices to terrorist-group members who conduct attacks in the capital city. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army arrests 4 in security operation targeting AQI network - The Iraqi Army arrested four individuals Sunday and today during two joint security operations targeting suspected members of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) cells operating in northern Iraq. Each operation was conducted pursuant to a warrant issued by an Iraqi court. (READ MORE)

U.S., IP arrest terrorism suspect in Bayaa - Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Division—Baghdad Soldiers arrested one individual on charges of involvement with terrorist groups in the Baghdad area, Dec. 19. Based on a warrant issued by an Iraqi judge in Bayaa, U.S. troops of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team and Bayaa police apprehended Sayf Ali Abbas, who is believed to be responsible for kidnapping and emplacing roadside bombs. (READ MORE)

Officer who stole $690K in Iraq nabbed by IRS - Capt. Michael D. Nguyen was entrusted with hundreds of thousands of dollars in Iraq reconstruction aid. He betrayed that trust. The 29-year-old West Point graduate stole $690,000 to buy a luxury laundry list of flashy cars, widescreen televisions, BowFlex home gym equipment, guns, electronics and furniture, according to federal authorities. (READ MORE)

N. Iraq suicide bombing kills district council chief - Iraqi officials say suicide bombing in the north killed 2 people, including a district council chief. Police say the attacker targeted the local politician's car Monday in the city of Tal Afar. One of the politician's bodyguards also was killed. (READ MORE)

Mullen releases goals for Afghanistan, U.S. force in 2010 - Traveling in Afghanistan last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke often about the ticking clock to get the job done there. But laying out his objectives for 2010, Adm. Mike Mullen only hints at the challenge presented by the 18-month window before troops will start to withdraw from the country. (READ MORE)

Troops In Afghanistan To Receive Major Christmas Present - The Air Force as soon as Christmas Day will deliver to Afghanistan the first of 24 new Hawker Beechcraft Corp. planes modified by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. to support ground troops with video, still images and eavesdropping. The four-man, twin-propeller plane “should arrive on or shortly after Dec. 25th,” about one month ahead of schedule, Lieutenant General David Deptula, who oversees Air Force intelligence and reconnaissance, said in an e-mail today. (READ MORE)

US forces mounted secret Pakistan raids in hunt for al-Qaida - American special forces have conducted multiple clandestine raids into Pakistan's tribal areas as part of a secret war in the border region where Washington is pressing to expand its drone assassination programme. A former Nato officer said the incursions, only one of which has been previously reported, occurred between 2003 and 2008, involved helicopter-borne elite soldiers stealing across the border at night, and were never declared to the Pakistani government. (READ MORE)

Stryker soldiers say commanders failed them - The view west from the roof of the Arghandab district center at sunset in mid-autumn is breathtaking, the remaining leaves turning the valley into a sea of green and gold. But the beauty deceives. Beneath the branches, the Arghandab’s signature pomegranates lie in rotting piles and the orchards are strewn with booby traps ready to sever a limb or take a life. (READ MORE)

Troops, Taliban race to build up governments - The governor of this remote district in southern Afghanistan has employees he can't afford to pay, a school he struggles to staff with teachers, a clinic where doctors are scarce and a police force of mostly illiterate farmers. That's actually progress in an impoverished area that had no school, doctor, police or even a governor before U.S. Marines arrived about six months ago. (READ MORE)

Taliban, police clash in eastern Afghanistan - Five militants armed with guns and suicide vests attacked a building in an eastern Afghan city early Monday, officials said, sparking a battle with police that left at least three of the attackers dead. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which was still continuing at midday with police and two remaining gunmen firing at each other in central Gardez, the capital of eastern Paktia province. (READ MORE)

Afghan forces kill Taliban militants who seized building in east - Afghan officials say security forces have killed two heavily-armed Taliban militants who seized a building in an eastern provincial capital. Officials say the two militants stormed the building Monday near a police station in Gardez, the capital of Paktia province. (READ MORE)

Long firefight with militants immobilizes Afghan city - A provincial government official said that Afghan security forces and American troops killed five heavily armed men who attacked a police headquarters in the center of Gardez, the capital of the southeastern province of Paktia Province. (READ MORE)

UK soldier, 26 militants killed in Afghan violence - Police fought a three-hour-long gun battle in a provincial capital on Monday, killing two Taliban, who stormed a multi-storey market with dozens of civilians inside, an official said. Three civilians and one police officer were wounded in the fighting in the Paktia province, said the deputy provincial police chief. (READ MORE)

US troops to use 'eavesdropping spy planes' in Afghanistan - US troops stationed in Afghanistan will soon use spy planes, that will provide them crucial information about Al Qaeda and the Taliban, with the help of its technology that can capture still images, video and even eavesdrop. Bloomberg quoted Lt. General David Deptula as saying that the first of the 24 new Hawker Beechcraft four-man twin-propeller plane is expected to arrive by Christmas -- a month ahead of schedule. (READ MORE)

Karzai orders investigation into cousin's slaying - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he has asked the Interior Ministry to investigate the slaying of a young relative in a possible revenge killing connected to a family feud. The October killing of 18-year-old Waheed Karzai in southern Afghanistan had apparently attracted little attention in Afghanistan before it was reported this week by the New York Times, but Karzai was asked about it during a news conference with the visiting NATO chief. (READ MORE)

Scarred by Afghan war, Moscow mulls more help for NATO - Thirty years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the start of a 10-year occupation that ended in defeat, Russia remains on the sidelines of the ongoing war there. During a visit to Moscow shortly before the anniversary, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appealed yet again for more Russian help in fighting the Taliban insurgency. (READ MORE)

Take politics out of Afghan detainees affair: lawyer - Civil liberties lawyer Paul Champ plans to tell a House of Commons committee Tuesday that the Afghan detainees affair should be moved away from "the hyper partisan process" on Parliament Hill. "My clients believe this is an issue that should be totally depoliticized," said Mr. Champ, the lawyer for Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association. (READ MORE)

Right strategy in Afghanistan, says Brown - The Prime Minister admits it has been a difficult year for British troops but insists the UK is pursuing the right strategy in Afghanistan. In an interview with the British Forces Broadcasting Service, Gordon Brown rejected the idea that security could be achieved by withdrawing troops, saying he has "absolutely no doubt" that Britain is making the right decisions. (READ MORE)

NATO chief stresses support for Afghanistan - Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said in Kabul Tuesday that the NATO troops would not withdraw from Afghanistan until the nation would be able to take on its own security responsibility. The NATO chief made the remarks at the joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace here. (READ MORE)

Karzai repeats offer for talks with Taliban - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday described peace as the utmost demand of the Afghan people, saying he would repeat his offer for talks with the Taliban to ensure durable peace in the war-torn country. "If Taliban refuse our offer for talks for million times, we would repeat our offer for million times, because bringing about peace is necessary and this is the prime demand of our people," he told a joint press conference here at the presidential palace. (READ MORE)

NATO chief predicts 'new momentum' in Afghanistan in 2010 - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday that with tens of thousands of more troops to arrive in Afghanistan by next year, there would be "new momentum" for the country to turn the tide against the insurgents. "In 2010 there will be new momentum," Rasmussen, who was in Kabul for a one-day-trip, said at a joint press conference with President Hamid Karzai. (READ MORE)

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