December 24, 2009

From the Front: 12/24/2009

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

Lt Col P:
Christmas Eve In Kabul - Here I am in Kabul on Christmas Eve, all giddy with anticipation. The powers that be have, in their bottomless kindness, granted us all day off tomorrow. And that is a good thing. Now if only we had beer. (MORE)

David Ignatius: Here's to you, soldiers of the 1-17 in Afghanistan - It's a week before Christmas Eve, and the chow hall of this forward operating base north of Kandahar is decorated with twinkling blue and white lights for the holidays. There are posters of Santa and a snowman on the walls, and in the center of the room there's a big sign that exhorts the soldiers: "Enjoy Meal." Christmas will be "a day to take your boots off" for the 800 members of the Army's 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment based here, says their commander, Lt. Col. Jonathan Neumann. It also will be a day to remember the 21 comrades who have been killed since the battalion arrived in August, and the 41 who have been seriously wounded. The 1-17 has the grim distinction of having lost more soldiers in action than any other battalion in the Army since Sept. 11, 2001. The men's names are recorded on a concrete slab in the center of the compound, bearing the legend "Fallen But Not Forgotten." (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: So you think you know what it is like to be an ETT? - So do you think you know what an ETT (embedded training team) member does? ETTs have been the true tip of the spear in Afghanistan since Task Force Phoenix was first stood up in 2002. Task Force Phoenix and the ETT teams were initially charged with standing up, training, mentoring and assisting the Afghanistan National Army. The first mentoring was done by the active duty 10th Mountain Division. After Iraq kicked off in 2003, it was realized that the mission would need to be transitioned to the National Guard as there were not enough active duty forces to do the Phoenix mission in addition to the other ones they were being tasked. The mission of training and empowering a country’s indigenous Army has always been a mission of the Special Forces and what they have mastered over the last 40 years. However there was not enough of them either, so National Guard was tapped. However if there were a 2nd best option to Special Forces doing the mission, then it was the National Guard. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Senior Leaders Blog too! - Just returned from a great trip seeing our Army’s efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait – followed up by a visit with Soldiers and their medical team at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Spending time with our Soldiers overseas was a real improvement from my usual work week. As much as I value the input of the Army’s great senior military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon and throughout Washington, D.C., you just can’t beat what is learned from a personal view of conditions on the ground. Not surprisingly, the primary intent behind the trip was to get feedback from Soldiers. My job as Secretary of the Army is to organize, train and equip the Army to carry out its mission to fight and win the nation’s wars. Among other issues, I asked Soldiers how well their unit formations function given their set of wartime missions, how we can improve training stateside before they deploy, their experiences with the various MRAP vehicles now in theater, and the medical evacuation process. (READ MORE)

BRIAN TURNER: The Night Visitors - Woke up from a dream… I am on a residential street in Mosul this time. It’s sunny out. Mid-morning, I think. An Iraqi woman is on the street, too, having stepped out from a gate and onto the sidewalk to tell me something important. I can tell that what she has to say is important by the look on her face. It must be around 9 or 9:30. Eucalyptus trees rise above the walls lining the street, growing up out of front courtyards, a common sight in suburban neighborhoods like the one in the University District. Sunlight shines down at an angle over the rooftops on the other side of the street, about the same angle a dud mortar round took once when I was in Mosul and not in a dream. Our squad checked it out. We could see the path the mortar took, striking first the ornate stone parapet fringing the rooftop and shearing off two of its small pillars, the top of the wall by the sidewalk echoing the impact above with its stone gouged in a direct line with the street’s dented asphalt... (READ MORE)

Maj. Gen. Tim Haake (Ret): High-tech, low-risk wars - Warfare, like many aspects of human activity, has evolved in response to society's moral and technological advancements. How many wars were fought without the protections of the Geneva Conventions? Civil War battles were typified by opposing lines of soldiers firing into each other's ranks until one side withdrew. No general would fight that way today. Compare Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's march to the sea with Gen. David H. Petraeus' counterinsurgency doctrine employed in Iraq and Afghanistan where "the people are the prize." Military doctrine or "how we fight" as it evolves in the future will be influenced by two major forces: the desire to minimize casualties and an ever increasing reliance on technology. Despite an all-volunteer military and the narrowing slice of American society making up that military, the public at large shows an increasing antipathy toward enduring the dead and injured resulting from armed conflict. This was not always so. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Syria's Meddling - There's something going on in the region. Syria knows there are elections coming up in Iraq. And like the rest of Iraq's neighbours, Syria is determined to influence the outcome. The Syrians are cooking up something, though it's not clear exactly what. The Shiite Alliance's Ammar Hakim, backed by Iran, recently visited Damascus. And Ayad Allawi, who rejoined the Baathists, just paid a visit in Damascus where Bashar Assad promised good relations between Iraq and Syria. Sure it may not look like much to outsiders, but to Middle Easterners, it's something. Tony Badran suggests it "paints a telling picture of the geopolitical situation in Iraq, which lies at the heart of Washington’s interests in the Gulf." Badran says Major General Hussein Kamal, the Interior Ministry's chief of intelligence and investigations, claimed that Iraqi officials had suspicions that the August 19 and October 25 bombings were planned at a secret meeting held between Al-Qaeda in Iraq members and Iraqi Baathists in the Syrian city of Zabadani. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Kabul Afghanistan Military District Christmas Devotional - The following message is the Christmas edition of the weekly devotional that LDS soldiers in Afghanistan receive in our email from our Dsitrict Presidency. I‘ve received permission from President Eugene Wikle to publish these messages on Some formatting and all hyperlinks are additions from me and not the author. This message particularly touched me and I want to share it with you. God bless you and your families this Christmas season and into the New Year. "I would like to share with you a story of one of the most memorable Christmas’ in my life. It happened, that at Christmas 1979 I was separated from my family. I was commanding a troop of cavalry soldiers patrolling the border between Germany and the communist bloc of countries tied to the Soviet Union. These were difficult times in the middle of the Cold War. Our mission was to patrol the border, assist those trying to escape from the communists, and watch for signs of the communists attacking across to the West." (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Iraq continues crackdown on Iranian-backed terror groups - As tensions between Iran and Iraq rise over the Iranian occupation of a disputed oil field in Iraq's province of Amarah, Iraqi security forces continue to work to dismantle the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups operating in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. Since Nov. 6, Iraqi security forces have detained 60 members of the Shia terror groups who are collectively known as the Special Groups by the US military, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Eighteen members of the Promised Day Brigade; 13 members of the Hezbollah Brigades, including seven in the past two days; nine members of the Mahdi Army; and 20 operatives only described as Special Groups members have been detained in raids in Baghdad, Amarah, and Al Kut. Among those captured are the leader of the Promised Day Brigade in Amarah, a senior Promised Day Brigade leader in Baghdad, a Mahdi Army cell leader in Diyala, a Hezbollah Brigade cell leader and media specialist in Baghdad, and a Special Groups sniper who killed a US soldier in Al Kut. (READ MORE)

Thomas Joscelyn: Gitmo detainee implicated in Red Cross murder transferred to Afghanistan - The US government transferred an Afghan implicated in the killing of a Red Cross worker from Guantanamo to his home country last week. The former Gitmo detainee, Abdul Hafiz, was reportedly captured by US Special Forces in Afghanistan in April 2003. That raid targeted suspected terrorists who were involved in the kidnapping and murder of Ricardo Munguía, an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on March 27, 2003. “We believe we have killed the assassin that attacked the ICRC worker,” Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Doug Lefforge said at the time. Seven others were captured, including a few who were suspected of involvement in Munguía’s killing. “Now that we have these people, we can verify which group they're from,” Lefforge added. “They are still being interrogated.” Abdul Hafiz was shipped off to Guantanamo, where his interrogations continued. While he was detained at Gitmo, Hafiz was repeatedly accused of being a “suspect” with “links” to Munguía’s murder. (READ MORE)

PRT-Kunar: Kunar's First Midwifery Program - The Kunar provincial governor, national and provincial government leaders, and the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team dedicated the province’s first midwifery training center Dec. 22 to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates here. Fazlullah Wahidi, Kunar provincial governor, Dr. Najilla, Ministry of Public Health’s Health Strengthening System deputy, Pashtoon Azfar, Afghan Midwifery Association and Ghazanfer Institute of Health director, tribal elders and Kunar medical professionals gathered in downtown Asadabad and dedicated the province’s first midwifery facility. Along with the ribbon cutting, there was a ceremony recognizing 24 women from around the province currently enrolled in the first midwife program and facility tour. The women were selected from 42 candidates to attend the 18-month long course to learn prenatal and post partum care for expectant mothers and their babies to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates. (READ MORE)

CAPT Benjamin Tupper: GEARDOS - Remember back in high school, when the cool kids had the designer threads and the poor kids wore cheap clothing? The newest, flashiest brand name stuff was a badge of social prowess, and the more you had, the easier it was to climb up the ranks into the realm of popularity. Not much has changed since then, and judging by what I see today in the Army, this game of sporting the newest, coolest gear has continued with a full head of steam. We as soldiers are still contestants in the hunt for the new fashionable item. In Army lingo, the guys who personify this pursuit of new stuff are known as “Geardos” (a fusion of the words Gear and Weirdos). In my unit, I jokingly called the Geardos' endless pursuit of new stuff The Arms Race, and the term stuck as a running joke, especially with the undisputed leader in the race: the Greek. The Arms Race started the first day we arrived at our mobilization training, and it didn’t stop until we all came home a year later. (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: We Are Amazing - Through each deployment, there are days of despair: nothing is going well, and you feel like you haven't accomplished anything, and it seems like deployment will never end. Then there are the Blue Ribbon Days. The days where you accomplish something that was hard, or everything goes well, or you have the opportunity to sit in a clean house and read a book. (Ha!) I've just finished two of those days. When I woke up yesterday morning, I had a messy house, a pile of unwrapped presents, and a 1000 mile drive ahead of me, with four squabbly children. Tonight, I'm safely at my in-laws with a car full of wrapped presents and back at home, things are relatively tidy. I can hardly believe it. Granted, there was a lot of yelling involved, but we did it. Chalk this one up as great big deployment success. That is the upside of deployment - the opportunity to do stuff that seems impossible and occasionally succeed. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: What Child Is This? - Our dear friend Ehsanullah Ehsan, school principal, director of the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar City and a brave leader in the Afghan struggle for the emancipation of women, for literacy and for freedom, sent along this letter. Ehsanullah, a Muslim, intended it mainly as a Christmas message to Canadians, Canadian soldiers, and their families. We asked if he would allow us to circulate it, and he agreed. "Let me wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and would like to take the opportunity to thank you very much for your very noble services, sacrifices, bringing us, the Afghans and the world peace, security and development. I know 2009 was not an easy year for some of us, the families who lost their love ones in fight against terrorism, extremism, warlordism, druglordism, backwardness and human rights violations. We also understand that challenges in Afghanistan have caused some of you to celebrate this great occasion of Christmas and New Year away from your homes and love ones." (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: Can U.S. Troops Run McChrystal’s ‘Soft Power’ Playbook? - America has fought in its fair share of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies — from our own revolution to Iraq. But in Afghanistan, the U.S. military is trying something different. In a rather unorthodox approach, commanders there are radically de-emphasizing the “kinetic,” bombs and bullets fight, and instead putting a premium on persuading the people to side against the Taliban. That may sound similar to the strategy General David Petraeus executed in Iraq, and helped postulate in the military’s counterinsurgency field manual. But General Stanley McChrystal has taken the approach several steps further in Afghanistan — discouraging cordon-and-search raids, all-but-banning air strikes, directing troops to consider retreat rather than attacking a town. “It’s not the number of people you kill, it’s the number of people you convince. It’s the number of people that don’t get killed. It’s the number of houses are not destroyed,” McChrystal told his troops recently. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Pentagon sees big savings in replacing contractors with federal employees - The Defense Department estimates it will save an average of $44,000 a year for every contractor it replaces with full-time federal personnel to perform critical defense jobs, according to the House-Senate conference report on the fiscal 2010 defense appropriation bill. (READ MORE)

Canada at War - For decades, and perhaps not always accurately, many Canadians thought their military’s primary role was to pull on blue berets and act as peacekeepers for the United Nations. A national monument to peacekeeping, a concept whose early advocates included Lester B. Pearson, a former Canadian prime minister and Nobel peace prize laureate, sits across the street from the United States embassy in Ottawa. Afghanistan, however, has made peacekeeping unfashionable in Canadian political circles... (READ MORE)

Christmas in Harm’s Way - Hey, I’m the guy you just about blasted out of his driver’s seat with your horn when we missed the green light at the mall entrance. Anyway, I’m not mad about it. You couldn’t have known, but I was so very far away at the time, in a place that I’ve actually never been. I was in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. I wasn’t paying attention because I was wondering what my son, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, was doing right then, though it’s nine and a half hours later there. (READ MORE)

Redeploying Troops Get Holiday Homecoming - Two days before Christmas, the longest line today at the airport here wasn’t at a ticket counter, or at security checkpoints. It was at the international terminal, where hundreds of well-wishers lined up to welcome about 150 troops home from combat deployments. Families, veterans, beauty queens, students enjoying the first day of their holiday vacations and even Santa Claus began descending on the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in the early afternoon to greet the arriving Air Mobility Command charter flight. (READ MORE)

Retroactive stop-loss payments temporarily halted - The Army and Air Force have temporarily stopped payments to soldiers and airmen who were held under stop-loss between September 2001 and September 2008 because a provision in the recently passed Defense Appropriations Bill makes fewer servicemembers eligible. The bill makes clear that troops who re-enlisted or extended their contract and collected a bonus while being held under stop-loss do not qualify for the compensation. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

2003 U.S. raid in Iraqi town serves as a cautionary tale - Recitation of the Koran, mournful but consoling, played from a scratchy cassette as the men gathered in the funeral tent for condolences. They sipped bitter Arabic coffee, only enough to leave an aftertaste. As they smoked cigarettes, an American helicopter rumbled overhead, its rotors sounding the familiar drumbeat of war. (READ MORE)

Shiites, Christians killed in bombings in Iraq - Bomb attacks targeted Iraqi Christians and Shiite Muslims on Wednesday, killing at least eight people and wounding 48 ahead of religious observances that will take place under heavy guard. Insurgents have routinely targeted Shiites and Christians in an attempt to undermine the country's security gains and its Shiite-dominated government. (READ MORE)

Bombings in Iraq Target Christians, Shi'ite Muslims - At least eight people have been killed in attacks targeting Christians and Shi'ite Muslims as they prepare to observe coinciding holidays. A bomb exploded near a historic church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Wednesday, killing two people in the latest attack targeting the city's Christian minority. (READ MORE)

New Violence Flares in Iraq, With Christians and Shiites as Targets - As Muslims in Iraq observe the 10-day holiday of Muharram, and Christians warily prepare for a subdued Christmas, episodes of violence erupted around the country on Wednesday, some of them aimed at worshipers of each faith. There were four separate bomb attacks in Baghdad on Shiite pilgrims marching toward Karbala in observance of Muharram... (READ MORE)

Iraqi Artillery School does the “Cannoneer Hop” - Iraqi Army artillery soldiers performed disciplined crew drills during a display of proficiency here Dec. 12. The Iraqi Army Artillery School supervised 534 soldiers from five Iraqi Army divisions as they conducted 120mm gun-line drills on a training field at the Iraqi school in Abu Ghraib. (READ MORE)

New Canine Facility built at the Iraqi National Correctional Training Center - Soldiers and Sailors of the 89th Military Police Brigade and 1-128 Infantry Battalion built a new kennel facility for Iraqi corrections officers (ICOs) at the Iraqi National Correctional Training Center Dec. 6-11. The kennel currently houses six of the nine canines the ICOs have received from the Military Professional Resources Incorporation (MPRI) in order to conduct training on various tasks. (READ MORE)

ISF search for northern Iraq AQI member, arrest 4 suspects - Iraqi Security Forces arrested four suspected terrorists today in Rashidiyah, located north of Mosul, during a joint security operation conducted to arrest a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) member. ISF and U.S. advisors searched two residential buildings for a suspected member of an AQI cell that is believed to be responsible for suicide vest attacks in Balad and Muqdadiyah. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest suspected Kata’ib Hezbollah member, 2 accomplices in Baghdad - Iraqi Security Forces arrested a suspected member of a Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) explosives cell and two suspected accomplices today during a joint security operation conducted in southern Baghdad. ISF and U.S. advisors searched a residential building for a suspected member of KH believed to be responsible for deadly improvised rocket assisted mortar attacks conducted in September against security forces and civilians in the Basra region. (READ MORE)

USO holiday show entertains deployed troops - The United Service Organization brought some Christmas spirit to the troops here, Dec. 19, as well-known celebrities took to the stage to show support. "To see the smiles and reaction of the troops is truly a precious gift," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who opened the show. (READ MORE)

General cites reasons for pregnancy rule - One general in Iraq is going beyond the typical protocol to ensure every able-bodied Soldier in his unit stays fit to fight, even if it means punishment for engaging in sexual activities while deployed. Through the Multi-National Division - North command's General Order No. 1, Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III formally prohibits deployed Soldiers under his command from becoming pregnant or impregnating a Soldier. (READ MORE)

Platoon helps PRT build, improve province - One platoon here is supporting the Department of State Provincial Reconstruction Team for Muthanna province in building a better future for the province's citizens. The Soldiers of 2nd Platoon, "A" (Able) Company, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment are leading the way in the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division's advise and assist mission. (READ MORE)

Marine squadron exits Iraq after 6 years - U.S. Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-269 gathered at their headquarters building here for a bittersweet ending to their six-year presence in Iraq, Dec. 15. "For more than half a decade, HMLA-269 has made Iraq a second home," said Lt. Col. Jon Hackett, commanding officer of the unit. "This marks the end of an era." (READ MORE)

Air Force nurses train Iraqi colleagues - Seventeen Iraqi medical care providers recently attended the December installment of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group's Iraqi nursing partnership program here. As the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq continues, the program is intended to further the medical capabilities of local care providers. (READ MORE)

Afghan town reborn after U.S. routs Taliban - Signs of rebirth are growing in this former Taliban stronghold in Helmand province just days after U.S. Marines stormed it in a ground-and-airborne assault that caught its Taliban occupiers by surprise. In the once deserted bazaar area in the western portion of town, hundreds of men from nearby villages defy Taliban threats and clear debris from fighting in exchange for pay from U.S. troops. (READ MORE)

Jihadi culture on the rise in Pakistan - Despite 'war on terrorism' and Pakistan's war against Taliban and massive propaganda against Muslim militants 'Jihadi culture' is on rise not only in FATA but in various parts of Pakistan, including Punjab. Renowned Pakistani writer and defence analyst, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa writes: "Madrassas nurturing armies of young Islamic militants ready to embrace martyrdom have been on the rise for years in the Punjab. (READ MORE)

Obama, Pakistan and Mullah Omar - No matter how many troops President Obama orders to Afghanistan, victory will also require a surge across the Pakistan border that the Taliban and al Qaeda—but not American GIs—cross easily. The President knows this, but he hasn't made Pakistan's help any easier to obtain by signaling his intention to draw down a mere year after his surge troops arrive in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Relearning Santayana in Afghanistan - There is no shortage of "expert advice" on what we should do in Afghanistan in light of the shortcomings of the Karzai government. Several writers argue that the best way to fight the Taliban is to support and strengthen the traditional tribal system by dealing with individual tribes rather than working to build a national police force and army. While this might offer a short-term advantage over a more comprehensive "nation building" strategy, this approach proved disastrous in both Iraq and Vietnam. (READ MORE)

Remote Areas at Risk as NATO Acts to Protect Afghan Cities - Families in remote parts of southern Afghanistan will be left to fend for themselves as a result of NATO’s plan to switch the focus of the campaign to securing towns and cities. The top general in the area told The Times that most of the surge would be deployed to five districts in central Helmand and the area around Kandahar city, where most of the region’s population lives. (READ MORE)

Report Says Afghan Drug Effort Lacks Strategy - The United States-led counternarcotics effort in Afghanistan, viewed as critical to halting the flow of funds to the Taliban and curtailing corruption, lacks a long-term strategy, clear objectives and a plan for handing over responsibility to Afghans, the State Department inspector general said in a report released Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Afghan Senator Killed in Police Shooting - Afghan police have shot and killed a lawmaker who drove into an ambush targeting militants. Police in northeastern Baghlan province say Senator Mohammad Yunos was driving home early Wednesday when his car entered an area of the provincial capital that had experienced heavy fighting the day before. (READ MORE)

Afghan Police Mistakenly Kill Parliament Member - National police hunting for a wounded insurgent commander mistakenly ambushed a vehicle carrying a member of the Afghan parliament, killing him and his son, provincial officials said Wednesday. President Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation of the incident, which took place overnight in Baghlan province in Afghanistan's north. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Kill, Detain Militants - Afghan and international forces in Afghanistan killed or detained numerous militants today in various operations, military officials reported. In an operation led by the Afghan general directorate of special operations, several known instigators of a kidnapping group were detained. (READ MORE)

Soldiers Work With Afghan Border Police - On a rugged mountaintop bordering Pakistan, less than two miles from Northern Waziristan, sits Combat Outpost Chergotah in Afghanistan’s Khost province. Here, U.S. Army soldiers work with Afghan border policemen to sustain border security and maintain peace among local people. (READ MORE)

Audit raps US antidrug effort in Afghanistan - The State Department’s internal watchdog yesterday criticized the agency’s nearly $2 billion antidrug effort in Afghanistan for poor oversight and lack of a long-term strategy. The department’s inspector general said the Afghanistan counternarcotics program is hampered by too few personnel and rampant corruption among Afghan officials. (READ MORE)

Over 10 suspected Taliban militants killed, wounded in North Afghanistan - In a joint operation carried out by Afghan National Army (ANA) and police in northern Baghlan province, over 10 Taliban militants were killed and wounded, provincial governor Mohammad Akbar Barikzai said on Wednesday. "ANA and Afghan National Police killed and wounded more than 10 suspected Taliban militants in a cleanup operation conducted in Baghlan-e-Markazi district on Tuesday," Barikzai told reporters at a press conference. (READ MORE)

Bicycle bomb kills 3 Afghan civilians - An explosive device planted on a bicycle was detonated in Helmand province south of Afghanistan, killing three civilians and wounding five others on Wednesday, a local official said. "The gruesome incident occurred in a bazaar in Nadali district this morning," spokesman for provincial administration Daud Ahmadi said. (READ MORE)

Rebuilding Afghanistan: Locals Want More Say - Since 2002, international donors have pledged nearly $56 billion to build and develop Afghanistan, making it one of the largest recipients of foreign aid in the world. The United States is by far the largest donor. The U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, told Afghans in a speech last week that they can expect billions more from Americans in the coming year. (READ MORE)

Taliban Blow Up Girls' School - Suspected Taliban militants blew up a girls' school in the Khyber area in Pakistan's restive North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), officials said. They stacked explosives overnight at the government-run school in Bazgarah town, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of capital Peshawar, the officials said. Then, they detonated the stored explosives early Wednesday morning, razing all the 21 class-rooms of the school to the ground. (READ MORE)

Remote areas at risk as Nato acts to protect Afghan cities - Families in remote parts of southern Afghanistan will be left to fend for themselves as a result of Nato’s plan to switch the focus of the campaign to securing towns and cities. The top general in the area told The Times that most of the surge would be deployed to five districts in central Helmand and the area around Kandahar city, where most of the region’s population lives. (READ MORE)

With UN in disarray, Karzai lacks guidance - Hamid Karzai has cleared the first hurdle of his presidency with an acceptable cabinet but faces the hazards of bringing peace and democracy to Afghanistan with a UN mission in disarray. The United Nations, with an international mandate to advise the government, is in flux following a leadership crisis and Taliban attack, and the imminent departure of its boss, special representative Kai Eide. (READ MORE)

Civilians train in ‘Afghan City’ in the Midwest - For American civilians serving in Afghanistan, the last stop before they ship out to Kabul or Kandahar is a dilapidated, vaguely foreboding institution that once served as a farm colony for “feeble-minded” boys, and later was a state mental hospital. The Army and the Indiana National Guard have turned the windswept complex, known as Muscatatuck, into a simulacrum of a war-torn Afghan city: (READ MORE)

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