December 29, 2009

From the Front: 12/29/2009

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

Family Matters Blog:
Photo Album - Family Holiday Events (MORE)

Afghansitan My Last Tour: Leaving Kuwait - It was a rough night trying to sleep in the tent. Around 3 am, the tent filled up with new tent mates. They turned on the bright fluorescent lights and made a racket trying to unpack their gear. It was about 5 am until they finished taking their showers, got a bite to eat and then settled in for some shut-eye. I tossed and turned and got about 2 hours of sleep. All I could think about was getting on the next plane and flying out of here. The next morning I went over to the warehouse to retrieve my IBA vest and helmet. Previously we turned in these items and they were tagged and assigned a location. The clerk promptly took me to the location where my vest was stored. My name was typed on an inventory sheet and attached to a large tri-wall container. We started pulling out the vests and he could not locate mine. My vest is an older model and is easily distinguishable from the new pullover ones. (READ MORE)

Ahsan Butt: The most important sociopolitical trend in Pakistan in the last decade - For the vast majority of Pakistan's history, its politics have been an elite-led phenomenon. There have been three actors in which have been of prime importance: the military, the land-owning feudal classes, and the business-owning industrialist classes. Representatives of each have controlled Pakistan at various times, and at other times battled each other for power. But the fundamental point would be that each of them remained institutionally divorced from the issues and concerns of, on the one hand, the professional and middle classes in urban centers, and on the other, the rural poor. Lip-service to their demands was paid, to be sure, but little was done substantively to advance their cause. This state of affairs did not prove terribly problematic for the ruling classes. Indeed, why would it? The military, by definition, was not accountable to electoral politics. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Taliban In Kandahar - After having first read about it on Rolston's blog two weeks ago, I finally got down to reading Carl Forsberg's long and comprehensive study of the Taliban in Kandahar. It is excellent. I cannot recommend this piece enough to anyone who wants to understand what has happened there since 2001. Even someone with little knowledge of Kandahar can understand it completely, and even someone like myself, who regularly reads reporting out of that province, will find plenty of new information. (Rolston, who worked there, understandably already knew most of what Forsberg had to say.) A few key takeaways for me: Everything, everything, everything comes down to a severe lack of resources for the Canadians since 2006. (READ MORE)

the semi-normal, day-to-day life, of a female marine: Get Pregnant, Get Punished? - The almost two-month-old addition of pregnancy to the list of crimes punishable by court-martial by one Iraq unit has been everywhere in the news recently, in case you haven't noticed. Now that the furor has died down, I think I can say a few things without any more of my points being unraveled by new developments! First of all, I don't think the general was wrong and a lot of people who aren't familiar with the military got all upset over nothing. Making something "punishable by court-martial" doesn't mean that it automatically goes to a court-martial! It just means that it's available, or possible, or you could even say it's a last resort. Based on his comments and how he handled pregnancies in his unit before this became news, it seems he just wanted to make people stop and think about how what they were doing could affect the unit's ability to do its job. His concern is valid: (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British Army bomb disposal squad is The Times’s Team of the Year - No one can doubt the individual courage required to walk down a road towards a bomb, but it is the collective courage of British bomb disposal teams in Afghanistan that The Times wishes to recognise this year in making 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Regiment our “Team of The Year”. Through the summer months of 2009, ammunition technicians from 11 EOD, working with the specialist search teams of 33 Royal Engineers, disarmed and removed hundreds of Taleban roadside bombs across Helmand province. They took on a level of personal risk unimaginable in almost any other profession, and formed perhaps the Army’s most “mission critical” asset in Helmand. Each bomb disposal expert dealt with between 85 and 100 bombs during their six-month tour. Their job is exceptionally rare in frontline service. They risk their lives to save others. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): For Nigel--Blackhawk Banking Left - Yesterday I was on an all-day flight that lasted into the night. It was the first time I flew in a Blackhawk at night. I flew in a Chinook at night, but I was up inside the fuselage and could not see out very much except through the tail door. I was sitting right behind the door gunner on the Blackhawk and could see all the countryside on the final leg of our trip. The desert is prettier at night than in the brown dusty day. The shallowest ripples look deep in the dark and trace out shapes that are much more interesting than simple sand ripples and ditches. The trip went from here to Kalsu for hot fuel (with the engines running and rotors turning) then to Baghdad and a visit to one of Saddam's bombed out palaces. I'll try to put a few more photos up soon. After Baghdad we flew up to Joint Base Balad, where we should have gone back when we got here. It's a beautiful base. Oh well. (READ MORE)

Lost in the Desert: The kid in the blue-striped shirt - She is sitting on a step that leads to a door in a wall. Surrounded by Iraqi kids. Her rifle, magazine in - no doubt locked and loaded - in one hand, muzzle skyward, butt on the ground. The Vietnam-era flak jacket (yeah, we had those) riding up a little, kevlar helmet askew due to the small boy leaning on her head. And there, sitting next to her and clowning with a younger boy, is a kid in a blue-striped shirt. The kid in the striped shirt is Saef. He was eight years old when that photo was taken. If he survives this war, he will run Iraq someday. If he is alive he is fourteen. When we were first consciously aware of him, his English was limited to “HEY! Jou-need-any-ting? I get Pepsee, Coke-a-cola, cheeken…” A huge voice booming from this impossibly little man. When we moved into the city, to a former Baath Party headquarters-turned Provincial Government Center, he was our lifeline. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Confession - I’m on a small base, much farther forward than where I live. I woke up this morning, just a half-hour ago, to the sound of gunfire. It wasn’t the first time, but usually it’s just the a 6-8 round burst of a test-fire as a convoy rolls out. This was different. These guns were talking. "D-D-D-D-D-D-D," .50 caliber from the left. "D-D-D-D-D-D-D," .50 caliber from the right. "D-D-D-D-D-D-D," from the left. "D-D-D-D-D-D-D," from the right. Then some irregular, but rapid, small arms fire. "d-d-d—d-d—-d-d-d-d-d—d—d-d." A lighter machine gun joined in. "T-T-T-T-T-T-T-T-T…T-T-T-T-T-T-T." I laid in my bunk, listening to the conversation. I wondered what the story was and who the characters were. In the last three days I’ve been with American Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Polish, British, Canadian troops. Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, and Afghan Commandos. Who was shooting this morning. (READ MORE)

The Life of the Wife: Amazing - My dear husband isn't someone who cares about the forefront of technology. It took a bit of convincing to get him to believe that the tiny circle at the top of the laptop screen was actually a webcam. And a bit more that Skype existed, worked and was free (computer-to-computer, of course). Now that he believes all that, he enjoys partaking in all of it! Last night we skyped for the first time and he confessed to the entire tent that technology was amazing and that he probably talked at a louder than normal volume while wearing his little headset. We all agreed. Tomorrow is our anniversary and historically we don't do much. Well, I guess he's only been home for one celebration (last year), so we don't have much to go on. But we don't exchange gifts or cards ever. I certainly don't mind--I would much rather cook a great dinner and wash it down with a great wine than have some cheesy card with gold script on it and the latest heart shaped Diamante object from Zales. But...I don't know if this is normal. (READ MORE)

The Life of the Wife: The one where I feel heartless! - Okay, maybe not heartless--just jaded? I dropped my hubby off last night. The ceremony was different (aka...there wasn't one). Family wasn't allowed inside the gym and were told to say our goodbyes at home, despite the fact that we would have to drive them on post to drop bags and get ready to go which is when you actually feel like you have to say goodbye. Anyway, the bags are dropped and it's go time. A few hugs and kisses later, goodbyes are said and we're on our separate ways, no looking back. Here's the thing: I didn't cry. I haven't yet. Yeah, I got a little teary, but I don't know...I just feel like there's nothing to cry about anymore. It's the third time, it's division staff this time...blah. One of his buddies wrote on my fbook wall about where they are, but of course Mr. Workaholic went to a meeting instead of the MWR tent (I kid....sorta). (MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bomber kills 30 Shia mourners in Karachi - A suicide bomber killed 30 Pakistani Shia worshippers as they marched in a procession in the port city of Karachi. The blast also wounded up to 60 more Pakistanis, who were commemorating Ashura, the holiest day on the Shia religious calendar. Riots broke out on the streets of Karachi after the attack. Angry Pakistanis pelted policemen with stones and fired guns into the air. The bombing during the Ashura procession is the latest attack in a campaign against Shia worshippers in Pakistan and Pakistan-held Kashmir. Yesterday a suicide bomber killed 15 Shia mourners and wounded 100 more in an attack on a procession in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir. Two policemen were among those killed. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Road Trip: Kirkuk - Yes, I'm on a road trip to Kirkuk, Iraq. Kirkuk is in NE Iraq. It's a city that is central to the future of the country. Kirkuk sits on top of some of the largest oil reserves in the country. It's claimed by both the Kurds and the Arabs. Years ago, Saddam Hussein forced out a lot of Kurds and bused in a lot of Arabs in a deliberate effort to change the city's ethnic makeup. Now the discussion centers on whether they're going to undo that change, or live with it, or what. There has been no agreement on any way forward yet and there doesn't appear to be any breakthrough on the horizon. It could cause serious trouble to the future of Iraq in the future. But that's not why I'm here. I'm meeting with a lot of different people about how to move one of my capacity development programs forward. It's been a very interesting trip so far and there's still more to come. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Interview with Dutch Major General Mart de Kruif, Former Commander, Regional Command South — Part One - In November 2008, the Dutch army’s Mart de Kruif was promoted to the rank of major general. On the same day, he took over the 12-month command of NATO Regional Command South in Afghanistan and its more than 40,000 coalition troops. He spoke with War Is Boring European correspondent Andrew Balcombe about the U.S. “surge,” British equipment issues and the possible Canadian and Dutch pullout in 2010 and 2011. His replacement, as of November 2009, is British Major General Nick Carter. WIB: What are you doing now? MK: Besides taking leave and trying to reintegrate with my family, my main job is visiting most of the contributing nations to the south of Afghanistan. I am doing this to pay my respects and express my gratitude for the support I received over the last 12 months. Secondly, to visit the family of the soldiers who were in my staff and injured or killed in action. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Interview with Dutch Major General Mart de Kruif, Former Commander, Regional Command South — Part Two - WIB: What challenges does the new British commander, Nick Carter, of NATO’s southern Afghanistan operations, have to juggle? MK: The first main challenge will be trying to bring in additional security forces and sustain them while bringing security to the Afghan people. Secondly, he will have to integrate the military effort with the increased mentoring capability that will be employed with the growth of the Afghan security forces. Last but not least, he will have to integrate the international forces with the Afghan forces with civilian assets. It is imperative to increase and improve governance and development. They are some of the real challenges he has. More on the tactical side, I think the challenge is on the counter Improvised Explosive Device (IED) fight. That is the primary weapon of choice now for the insurgents. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: New Marine Tech Slams into Helmand - During Operation Cobra’s Anger earlier this month near the Afghan town of Now Zad in Helmand province, the Marine Corps rolled out a fearsome new weapon, the 62-ton Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV), a tracked, armored vehicle that can clear a lane through minefields, expose and detonate IEDs and plow a path though obstacles. How does it do it? True to the Marine Corps’ ethos, it blows them to bits. The ABV was developed by the Corps to meet the threat the Grizzly program, canceled in 2001, was meant to defeat. When the Grizzly was cosigned to the dustbin of history, the Marines set to work on a new mine-clearing vehicle by taking the chassis of an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, lopping off the turret, replacing it with a line charge device, and adding a plow on the front that can churn up the ground, exposing any IEDs that might be buried in its path. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: USMC Looks Back at the "Anbar Awakening" - In early 2008, I embedded with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division just north of Baghdad, in the all-important “belts” where insurgents used canals and reed lines to smuggle weapons into the capital. The purpose of the trip was threefold: to see how the Strykers were operating in a combat environment; to get a close-up look at the “surge” by spending time in small, company-sized outposts; and finally, to see how the Sons of Iraq (SoI)—small bands of local—mostly Sunni—Iraqis being paid about $300 a month to keep watch over their own towns, villages, and neighborhoods were faring. I spoke with as many Iraqi SoI as possible over the course of my month-long trip, and was able to begin to piece together some small picture of the motivations some Sunnis had for signing up. (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Merry Christmas - Merry Christmas from the Yllescas girls! I hope you were able to enjoy the holidays with your loved ones. We received a LOT of snow! I got snowed-in in Iowa but it was with great company and we had fun playing games and making forts in the snow. :) I finally made it to my parents yesterday where the girls opened their Santa gifts and next weekend we will have our family Christmas with them since it had to be post-poned. Christmas was less of a blur and a little easier than last year, but we still miss Rob terribly and wish he was here with us. I can't believe how fast the month of December has gone by. The 2nd week of December, Julia and I were invited on the Snowball Express. This is an organization for children who have lost a parent in the war since 9/11. It is an all-expensive paid trip and this year it was in Dallas. The whole experience was so amazing. When we got off the airplane in Dallas, people were clapping for us and waving flags. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Do Marines Know How to Patrol? - From Tom Ricks’ blog concerning one Marine NCO’s view of patrolling: "We have to get back our patrolling capabilities. Ninety percent of everything we do is patrolling but we aren’t good at it. The Iraq experience has done some good things for our Corps but it has diminished our patrolling capabilities." I’ll leave it to the reader to finish the diatribe at Tom’s blog. Every boot learns from the experienced Marines before him, and so on the process goes. Many of the Marines with Iraq experience have since left the Corps, and thus many Marines deploying to Afghanistan have no combat experience. But neither did the Marines who deployed to the Anbar Province the first time. Patrolling in Anbar took on the characteristics that it needed in order to succeed. Patrolling in the Helmand Province will do likewise, retaining some characteristics that have been learned from Iraq and jettisoning others, while modifying the skill set to adapt to the environs. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Leaning on faith in a time of war - The care package his mother sent from Scappoose, Ore., contained all the usual stuff from home: cliff bars, baby wipes, Gatorade, canned ravioli. The package also delivered something not so usual: A book about Psalm 91. In the next couple of weeks, between standing watch at his combat outpost and foot patrols in the Helmand Province of Southern Afghanistan, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Nunnally, 21, devoured the book and reacquainted himself with the psalm that speaks of accepting and being in god's protection. (READ MORE)

6 years after Iraq, hexavalent chromium exposure weighs on veteran - The Naylor living room is all playroom, cleared to toddle, cuddle and roll. But when Dad's home, the children often head to the back bedroom to play quietly with Mom. Six years after Guy Naylor returned from Iraq, he can't stand the clamor of his own family. The soft-spoken dialysis technician shouted at other drivers so often, his family moved to Rockaway to escape Portland traffic. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Taji NCO Academy Produces Well-Rounded Graduates - Noncommissioned officers from training centers across Iraq graduated from the Iraqi Army’s Master Instructor Course here Dec. 24. This intensive and dynamic 21-day course is designed to provide Iraqi NCOs with the knowledge, skills and abilities to conduct a well-rounded training event using the Eight-Step Training Model, resulting in training that is battle-focused, challenging, resourced and executed in accordance with the commander’s intent. (READ MORE)

Tal Afar SWAT returns fire, kills suspected terrorist - Tal Afar Special Weapons and Tactics, partnered with U.S. forces, shot and killed a suspected terrorist after he fired at them during an arrest operation Dec. 27 in Ninawa. Constables served a warrant to detain Mu’ayid Farhan Salah Mustafa and suspected members of his terrorist cell in Ibrat Kabriah. After Mu’ayid’s arrest, the team moved to find Rafiz Muhammad Yunis, another suspected cell member. (READ MORE)

56th Brigade Soldiers Graduate from Iraqi Armor School - Soldiers in the Iraqi Army’s 56th Brigade, 6th Division completed mechanized infantry courses and qualified on the M113A2 Armored Personnel Carrier at the Camp Taji Armor School Dec. 22. These 135 IA soldiers return to their brigade as qualified M113A2 APC crew members. (READ MORE)

IA Soldiers Complete Tactical Communication Training - Iraqi Army soldiers from the 11th IA Division graduated from the IA Tactical Communications Center courses here Dec. 23. The soldiers began their training Nov. 21 with a two-day block of basic communications skills followed by two 8-day blocks of theory and practical classroom instruction on the single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS) and the Harris radio. (READ MORE)

Change of Command Ceremony in Gendarmerie Training Division - All NATO Training Mission-Iraq carabinieri gathered near the Baghdad International Airport for the Gendarmerie Training Division change of command ceremony here Dec. 27. Col. Mauro Isidori replaced Col. Luciano Zubani as the GTD NTM-I commander. (READ MORE)

Soldiers assemble wheelchairs for children - In an effort to help the Government of Iraq build civil capacity and essential services, U.S. Soldiers here recently assembled wheelchairs that were given to the local children's hospital in Al Kut. The 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment troops were happy to assemble the urban-style wheelchairs, specifically designed for use on rough terrain. (READ MORE)

US Army Scouts conduct joint operations, training with Iraqi Commandos - The citizens of Iraq took a more independent role in securing their country with the signing of the Security Agreement, June 30. In support of this goal, U.S. Scouts are conducting joint operations and training with Iraqi Army Commandos. The Scout platoon, from Headquarters & Headquarters Co., 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, is developing the 38th Iraqi Army Brigade Commando leadership through instruction on how to be more effective trainers for their Jundee. (READ MORE)

Attack Puts Afghan Leader and NATO at Odds - The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents. (READ MORE)

Karzai Says International Raid Hit Civilians - Ten civilians, including eight schoolchildren, were killed in an attack by Western forces in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said Monday. A "series of operations by international forces" resulted in the deaths, Mr. Karzai said in a statement. The incident happened in a remote part of the northeastern province of Kunar, an insurgent hotbed. (READ MORE)

Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 30 Amid Shiite Observances in Karachi, Pakistan - A day of religious gatherings by Shiite Muslims across Pakistan was violently disrupted Monday when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid thousands of marchers in the southern port city of Karachi, leaving at least 30 dead and 60 injured. (READ MORE)

Death Toll Is Said to Reach 40 in Attack on Shiites in Pakistan - The death toll from a suicide bomber’s attack on a Shiite religious procession in Karachi was reported to have risen to 40 on Tuesday, as the city reeled from rioting overnight amid fears that extremist groups already waging a multifront war against the government were now trying to foment sectarian violence against the country’s minority Shiite Muslims. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Blast Targets Shiite Ceremony - A suicide bomber struck a religious procession Monday in Karachi, killing more than two dozen people in the latest attack on Pakistan's minority Shiite Muslim community. The bomber blew himself up before thousands of people processing through the city to mark the holy day of Ashura, police said. (READ MORE)

U.S. and Allies Must Detain Afghan Prisoners - Canada, one of the largest contributors of troops to the war in Afghanistan, is embroiled in a controversy over the treatment of prisoners captured by its army. Its policy has been to turn detainees over to the Afghans, whose prisons are not exactly run according to Amnesty International standards. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Strategy Should Also Focus on Improving Quality of Life - The Obama administration has outlined a three-pronged strategy in Afghanistan, focusing on security, governance and economic development. But the implementation of those elements has been woefully lopsided. (READ MORE)

Spanish Minister of Defence Visits Afghanistan - Spanish Minister of Defence Carmen Chacon made a surprise visit to Afghanistan Monday, her fourth in the past 20 months. Arriving at the local airport and greeted by Col. Manuel Sierra, PRT commander, Chacon thanked the troops for their commitment and encouraged assigned soldiers to continue with the important mission of training Afghans. (READ MORE)

Operational Update, Dec. 29 - Afghan-international security forces captured Taliban commanders and several militants in Kandahar and Khowst last night. A Taliban commander responsible for several IED attacks was captured during a series of raids in Kandahar. Three other suspected militants were detained. (READ MORE)

Marines Serve in Afghanistan With Pride - Marines of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion are serving in southern Afghanistan with pride, despite the hardship of being away from their families during the holidays. The Marines are working hard, building observational posts, searching for improvised explosive devices and providing route clearance. (READ MORE)

Afghan govt: 4 held in death of intel deputy - The Afghan intelligence service says four people have been arrested in connection with a suicide bombing that killed the country's deputy intelligence chief and 22 other people. The intelligence service said in a statement released Tuesday that all four had confessed to organizing the Sept. 2 bombing, which occurred as Afghan officials were leaving a mosque in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghan delegation investigating civilian deaths - Afghan President Hamid Karzai sent a government delegation Tuesday to investigate reports that 10 civilians, including eight students, were killed in fighting involving international troops in a tense area of eastern Afghanistan. Karzai condemned the deaths that reportedly occurred Sunday in a village in the Narang district of Kunar province. (READ MORE)

NATO acknowledges deaths in Afghanistan - NATO officials on Tuesday admitted that a weekend operation in northeastern Afghanistan's Kunar province killed nine people but would not say whether they were civilians or militants. The governor of the province told CNN on Monday that 10 people were killed and that all of them were civilians. (READ MORE)

Taliban Briefly Captures Afghan Town - In a surprise attack Monday night, Taliban militants briefly captured a key town in northern Afghanistan before the army and police forces reclaimed it in hours of fierce fight. Dozens of militants stormed police posts in Kuhna Qala area of the Baghlan-e-Markazi district in northern province of Baghlan, where the forces "tactically retreated" for two hours, reports quoting Abdul Wakil Hasas, an army commander in the region, said. (READ MORE)

Karzai, NATO dispute identity of victims in attack - The killing of at least nine men in a remote valley of eastern Afghanistan by a joint operation of Afghan and American forces put President Hamid Karzai and senior NATO officials at odds on Monday over whether those killed had been civilians or Taliban insurgents. In a statement e-mailed to the news media, Karzai condemned the weekend attack and said the dead had been civilians, eight of them schoolboys. He called for an investigation. (READ MORE)

Taliban blow up girls school in Pak - A government primary girls' school has been blown up by suspected Taliban insurgents in Shabqadar region of North West Pakistan. Sources said the five-room school was completely destroyed in the bomb blast, which was triggered off by the Taliban. (READ MORE)

UN food agency says shocked at killing of staff member in Afghanistan - The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Monday expressed its deep distress over the killing of one of its staff members in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar, UN officials said here. The WFP employee, 24, was among the eight people killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives hidden in a horse-drawn cart in central Kandahar on the evening of Dec. 24, said the officials. (READ MORE)

Taliban insurgency seen expanding in Afghanistan - As the U.S. and its allies try to overcome logistical hurdles and rush some 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan in 2010, intelligence officials are warning that the Taliban-led insurgency is expanding and that "time is running out" for the U.S.-led coalition to prove that its strategy can succeed. (READ MORE)

Mystery over attack on Afghan family fort - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the killing of 10 civilians in an attack in the country's remote north-east on Saturday night, promising an investigation. A statement from the President's office said one of the dead was a school student who was killed in what the police chief of Kunar province described as a "commando-style" assault on a fort where two or three families live. (READ MORE)

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