December 30, 2009

From the Front: 12/30/2009

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

Dispatches:

Free Range International: Counterbureaucracy - I’m back after a month off to find things have changed very little on the Afghan street. Nobody here seems to believe we are going anywhere in 18 months yet everyone I talk with thinks the international military effort is entering its final stage. I have been on the road for most of the week and have had the chance to talk with all sorts of folks from the military, USAID, and many Afghans. The lack of optimism regarding our effort was the common denominator in every conversation. That is not to say morale is down; the military is able to go out and do whatever they plan whenever they want. We are not being beaten by the Taliban; we are beating ourselves. There are military missions underway to be more proactive in making contact with and helping isolated tribal people. One such program is apparently classified but open sources point to series of “fly-away” teams, mostly military, who go into the deep hinterlands and stay in a village complex for weeks if not months at a time. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Ol’ School to New School - Today’s blog post comes from the newest member of our “Social Media Team,” Master Sergeant Alberto Betancourt. MSG B (as we call him), has been an important and exciting addition to the development of our social networking sites because of the first-hand Soldier’s perspective he provides. Check out his entry below to learn about MSG B’s transition to social media. Most Soldiers consider me an “old-school” NCO. Besides the fact that I’m already over 50, my adapting to “change” is slower and I resist it tremendously. It’s not the fear of change that makes me resist. It’s the inability to catch on as quickly as my young Soldiers do. Henceforth, the Social Media “craze” within Public Affairs. I did not see any reason why we needed to go there. As the former CMF 46 Branch Manager, I received numerous emails from Public Affairs Enlisted Soldiers inviting me to places like Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Each time I cringed and reluctantly said “no.” One day I finally gave in and opened a Facebook account. (READ MORE)

Charlie Simpsons War: Dust vs Mud - Those are your two choices in Kandahar. (Well, in the winter, anyway. In the summer it’s more like, “Do you want your baked earth scorched or lightly singed?”) Winter is the rainy season here at the edge of the desert; so far we’ve seen some sort of rain about once a week. Which means we’ve had ample opportunity to observe things like, What is the optimal time to go for an outdoor run after it rains? I say about 30 hours. Unclear how today’s HAIL STORM (!!) affects my math. (Chances I run tomorrow? Low. Chances I feel guilty about it? Only slightly higher.) PS My sister’s care package arrived yesterday. Nobody knows junk-food like Kelsey. I could go into diabetic shock just thinking about it…. (MORE)

Fr. Tim, SJ: Another Christmas miracle - One of the aspects of being here that's been surprisingly difficult, as compared with my deployment to Iraq, has been the fact that I never seem to run into people here who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings. Perhaps because there were two 12-Step meetings per week on the base where I lived Down Range, I was forever bumping into personnel who went to those meetings. There's just something about those people. Whenever I'm around them, I always get a better perspective on what's going on in my own life. Hearing them share their experience, strength, and hope helps me to find, maintain, and improve a sense of gratitude, no matter what's going on. I guess that must be because AA and Al-Anon are spiritual programs. One of my friends who goes to a lot of those meetings claims that if I'm able to be grateful in the midst of whatever's happening, that's a good indication of spiritual health. The attitude is gratitude, I guess. (READ MORE)

Doc H: New Clinic Open - For those of you who have been following all along you may remember my post from 17 August. In that post I showed you an ANP clinic which was still under construction. Well, yesterday we visited the same clinic and it is now open and operational. Our Afghan counterparts were very creative in furnishing and outfitting the clinic until a package of goods arrives from Kabul to fully equip and stock it. There are still a few minor issues to be resolved, but this clinic is a significant step up in facilities for them. It is new. It has running water. It has a continuous power source. It has heat and air conditioning. The staff who will be running the clinic were kind enough to pose outside of it. I am almost shocked that it only took four months to get this clinic completed and operational. While this may seem like slow progress by our standards, it is light speed for Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Chaplain Shares Reunion Story - Army Chaplain (Capt.) Jesse R. King tackles this topic in a great commentary called “Redeployment Brings Adjustment Period to Entire Family.” He shares a story about his daughter to illustrate how tough it can be to readjust after a deployment and reminds servicemembers and their families of the Chaplain resources that are available to help with the transition. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did: By Army Chaplain (Capt.) Jesse R. King - SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii — I’ll never forget one humiliating and frightening experience I had when I returned from Iraq. My daughter, Olivia, my first and only child at the time, was 3. I hadn’t seen her since my “environmental leave” period ended three months earlier, and that seemed like a long time ago. I wanted to spend some quality time with her, so I took her shopping with me at the furniture store. This turned out to be a bad idea. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War? Public Affairs Officer, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division - Today I have a guest post from Maj. Myles Caggins of the 4th BCT, 1st Armored Division. We have had a chance to work together on a few projects and even to talk politics. Twelve months ago I was in Washington, D.C. having just finished my graduate degree requirements from Georgetown. D.C., the most powerful city in the world, is an easy draw for the media and the military. In contrast, Contingency Operating Base Adder just south of Nasiriyah, Iraq is relatively unknown and military operations here seldom gain wide-spread press attention. At least not until December 18. This day Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our nation’s highest ranking military officer visited my brigade at COB Adder. Mullen was traveling with seven members of the Pentagon Press Pool among the 20+ other staffers and security personnel in his entourage. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Kuwait Stinks! - Seriously. It smells terrible. Hard to describe other than reporting the need to breathe through the mouth. Anyway, today we got a visit from some former football players. It was quite the motley crew. The group seemed to be comprised mostly of great college players that somewhat flopped in the NFL. The tour is officially called The Tostitos Salute to the Troops Bowl tour. They were split of in groups of 2-3. I set out to get some autographs and maybe a couple pictures. I was wearing my Eagles t-shirt. The first table I came to was Brain "The Boz" Bosworth and Tony Casillas. Tony, from the Cowboys, immediately began to blast on me for the Eagles shirt, and spoke of how Dallas was going to smash the Eagles next weekend. The Boz seemed kind of weird. He was talking about "we" gotta get paybacks for last year. I thought he only played for the Seahawks, but I might be wrong, so I just nodded and smiled. He was pretty intimidating sitting down with a smile, so I can just imagine how he was on the field. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Thinker's Perspective - A few young thinkers spoke about the upcoming elections today. One guy, a Christian but don't ask me whether he's Catholic or Orthodox, said he believes Iraqis are tired of being ruled by religious parties. For this reason, he predicts Allawi and Mutlak will win the most votes in March. Another guy, a Muslim but don't ask me whether he's Sunni or Shiite, said he believes the recent car bombs came from Iran, who wants to scare the Shiites into voting the religious list. For this reason, he predicts a big win for the Shiite Alliance led by Ammar Al Hakim. They did not seem to think that Ayad Jamaleldin has much of a chance. "But Ahmad Chalabi is in the Shiite Alliance group," said one. "God can't extract him from this place." "Come on!" said another guy. "The Shiite Alliance has been exposed as thieves," he said. "They will not get many votes." Still another guy said Iraq went through the monarchy, the socialists, the Arab nationalists, and the religious leaders. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Iraqi People Get It - I can't help but wonder whether anyone noticed the differences between this past weekend's events in the region. WaPo reports that about five thousand Iraqis protested the Nouri Al Maliki government of Iraq. NYT also reported on demonstrations in Iran where the government fired upon its own people, killing ten. Of course Juan Cole wrote that all hell broke loose in Iraq, but what else is new? The WaPo reporter said a couple of days ago that Saddam Hussein "discouraged" Ashoura events. Today he writes Saddam banned the observances. Well? Which was it? I thought these guys are supposed to know what they're reporting on. It's odd to me that they don't see that Iran, which so many say turned Iraq into another Iran, greets protesters with violence. But Iraq, which also had demonstrations, did not kill its protesters. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: A new family tradition: serving up good cheer - Ho! Ho! Ho! bellowed the Santa in a small room of the Alvarez Restaurant. Children shyly approached the man in the red suit as happy elves helped them choose a toy on Christmas day. One of the elves smiled as she held up different toys…and I realized I knew that elf. Marine Mom Adria worked as children were funneled into the tiny room before their families were seated for a free Christmas meal. Outside, working at bussing the tables on the crowded patio, was a tall young man with a “high and tight” and a USMC t-shirt. Adria’s son, Alexander, was home for a couple of days leave from North Carolina. The whole family was working on Christmas; Adria’s husband, John, was in the kitchen serving up meals. I only got to speak to Adria for a moment, but she was clearly enjoying the work. And I bet having her son smiling at her as he cleared the dishes contributed to her happy glow. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Where the splinters have fallen - It's timely, in the season of Christmas, Hanukkah and Ashura, to look for things that are shared. It's a good moment, as Iran and Israel near a clash over nuclear weapons and a jihadist seeks to blow up a plane in America, to think of faiths and traditions before they hardened into mistrust and hatreds. There is a place, shadowed by war, where the threads lie close together. It is the ancient city of Ur, now partly covered by a vast and dusty military base in south-central Iraq. It is the place, you might say, where faith grew from a scattered glow to a focused flame. It is the place where Abraham, the father of three great faiths, grew up. He was what scholar David Rosenberg has called "the last Sumerian." When he was born 4,000 years ago, it was into a Mesopotamian kingdom that considered its patron to be the god of the moon. Today, Christians, Jews and Muslims worship a unified god who is connected to this world through the life of Abraham. (READ MORE)

The Quatto Zone: The Backbone's Connected to the ... What? - Six days ago, I suggested that President Karzai's ability to connect with the Afghan people -- a compassion and charisma evidenced in his visits with army casualties and police cadets -- could be an important source of the government's public rehabilitation. After the government's reaction to allegations of civilian casualties in Konar Province, it is clear that another important source must be political backbone. Among the early reports of the incident, the only one that touched on the true significance of the government's reaction was the New York Times. The others played a game of follow-the-bouncing demagogue. The first reports by Afghan radio, TV and print outlets on Sunday paired statements from local officials that 10 "militants" were killed with Taliban propaganda claims that said 10 members of the coalition force were killed (although not before the coalition apparently had managed to kill an unspecified number of civilians with an air strike that, according to all other sources, never occurred). (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Road Trip: Erbil - This morning, we headed out bright and early for Erbil, which is one of the major cities in the Kurdish region. We didn't have much trouble with rush hour here in Kirkuk and our little convoy was soon heading out onto the wide rolling flat plains to the north of the city. It was a really gray morning and even more gray looking north. We passed a Hyundai dealership on the way out ... first car dealership I've seen in Iraq. (I know there are some in Baghad, but I've never seen them). We also passed a huge trash dump. They don't have very many regular landfills here, there are just vast areas where they dump trash, and this was one of them. Right in the middle of it was a soccer field that had been carefully graded flat and kept clean. The main highway is in pretty good condition and we were moving pretty fast. Our security team relaxed our security posture a little ways into the drive. (READ MORE)

The Torch: "Torture in Afghanistan: The Liberals knew" redux - Further to this post earlier this month: Afghan detainees and the former Liberal government... I've come across this one from April 2007: A post by CTV's David Akin on his blog... Funny that our major media have completely forgotten about that of late. Shameful. Predate: More from Radio-Canada in April 2007 (via an acute observer): The former Liberal government had been accused by Canadian diplomats in Kabul in 2003, 2004 and 2005 that torture was commonplace in Afghan prisons. A report in 2004 the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and obtained by The News reveals that "the surveillance reports of the Independent Commission of Human Rights in Afghanistan indicate that torture remains a common practice for police officers, including the 'stage of the investigation. This measure is used to obtain confessions from detainees." (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: New Spyplane Lands in Afghanistan, Ready to Snoop - For years, troops in Afghanistan have been short of some crucial assets: Helicopters, blast-resistant trucks and eyes in the sky. But with the influx of new boots on the ground, the Afghanistan theater has the arrival of more gear. The newest addition: The MC-12W, the Air Force’s new piloted surveillance plane. According to an Air Force news release, the newest MC-12W – tail number 090623, for all you planespotters out there — arrived two days ago at Bagram Airfield, the main U.S. hub for central and eastern Afghanistan. The aircraft is part of a new unit, the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, which will operate an undisclosed number of the aircraft over Afghanistan. Like the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, the MC-12W is the result of a crash procurement effort. The surveillance planes are secondhand Hawker Beechcraft C-12s outfitted with full-motion video and signals intelligence sensors. (READ MORE)

Mountain Runner: The Real Psychological Operation for Afghanistan - On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy and what immediately followed was an expected and unoriginal cacophony of sound bites based on selective memories of the past and shallow and ignorant visions of the present and future. The decline in the public’s support for the struggle is surely a delight for Al Qaeda and the Taliban who, unlike our pundits and some in Congress, understand this is foremost a psychological struggle for the minds of people in “Af-Pak” and around the world to affect their will to act. It is time to stop accepting the propaganda of our enemies. This is about them not us. But exposing the Taliban and Al Qaeda for what they are – a threat to all societies, rapists of men and women, killers of children, drug users and traffickers, violent criminals, and religious hypocrites – is just part of the solution. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan II - [W]hen you’re carrying a Blackberry which receives an e-mail every 30 seconds, you know that you’re micromanaging your reports. It’s a model taken from American Corporate conglomerates, and it isn’t appropriate for the U.S. military. It’s why General McChrystal feels that it’s appropriate to issue tactical directives that govern rules of engagement in very localized and unique situations, settings and situations about which he knows absolutely nothing. It’s the same mentality that dictates that a Battalion of Marines in Fallujah in 2007 must jettison their lighter, more dust and desert friendly Bates Tactical Boots (purchased at TAGs before deployment in lieu of the heavier clodhopper Marine Boots) because they don’t all look quite the same as the issue boots to a camera mounted in Fallujah streaming to the Pentagon. Or because of a MARADMIN on equipment. That’s right. Eight Hundred Marines throw away their boots with logistics having to ship that many more pairs to Fallujah because – they need to look the same as each other. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Counterinsurgency at a Sprint - Analysts and pundits were quick to dismiss Mr. Obama’s intention for beginning troop level drawdown in Afghanistan in 2011 as mere pressure on Hamid Karzai and the balance of the corrupt Afghan administration. But Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson has no illusions about the task ahead. “I can’t tell you where we’re going to be in July of 2011, but I can tell you that we understand what the commander-in-chief has said, and that’s when he wants to draw down, and we are sprinting,” Nicholson says. “The message to our Marines every day is that the clock is running and the world is watching.” In the coming assault on the town of Marja in the Helmand Province – current stronghold of the Taliban – the U.S. Marines want the ANA (Afghan National Army) to take the lead. Nicholson said Afghan security forces would hopefully head the Marja operation, with extensive training planned for the next few months. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
We Just Don’t Fit In - Part of my interest in war is how the brutality of the experience often appears to be at odds with the nature of the people fighting in it. In August 2009 I spent several weeks embedded with American Marines in Helmand Province. We eventually made our way down to the battalion’s southernmost outpost. They had established the base about six weeks before we arrived, and their patrols were still fired on nearly every day. (READ MORE)

Millersville University Students Remember Deployed Air Force Personnel - Air Force personnel make up a small percentage of the populace here, but more than 200 Air Force members have not been forgotten by students from Millersville University, Pa. this holiday season. Kiel Sigafoos, son of first sergeant Senior Master Sgt. Alan Sigafoos of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group, saw his family members sending packages and letters to the Airmen and decided he wanted to do something as well. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:
ISF arrests 4 suspected terrorists in Baghdad, Bayji - Iraqi Security Forces arrested four suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terrorists today during two joint operations conducted Baghdad and Bayji. Intelligence sources led ISF and U.S. advisors to search a residential building in Baghdad for a suspected AQI leader believed to have direct involvement in several deadly, large-scale bombings targeting government buildings in Baghdad. (READ MORE)

ISF arrest 1 suspect in security operation targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah network - Iraqi Security Forces arrested a suspected terrorist today during a joint security operation conducted in northern Baghdad to arrest a suspected weapons facilitator for the Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) terrorist group. Pursuant to a warrant issued by an Iraqi court, ISF and U.S. advisors searched a building for the suspected KH member who acquires weapons, for the terrorist group to use when conducting attacks in the capital city. (READ MORE)

AQI network at center of ISF security operations, 8 suspects arrested - Iraqi Security Forces arrested eight suspected terrorists today during three joint security operations conducted in northern and central Iraq to arrest suspected members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. (AQI) In western Baghdad, ISF and U.S. advisors searched two residential buildings for a suspected AQI leader in the Karkh region. (READ MORE)

Building for the Future; USACE completes Al-Mazraa School - The future of Iraq lies in the hands of its youngest citizens, and the future of those children lies in their ability to get a quality education. The Gulf Region District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq recognizes this important connection and places a high priority on the construction and renovation of schools as part of their reconstruction mission in Iraq. (READ MORE)

‘Operation Proper Exit’ helps injured combat vets heal emotional wounds - “Alive Day” is a term used by a number of injured combat veterans to describe the day they escaped death. Some were left with scrapes and bruises, others lost their limbs, and for some, there are emotional wounds they will struggle with for the rest of their lives. (READ MORE)

Engineers Improve Ammo Supply Point - Engineers from the 317th Engineer Company, 101st Eng. Battalion, have spent the past week working to improve the drainage system at the ammo supply point, on Victory Base Complex. The ammo supply point distributes and stores ammo for a number of units located in and around the Baghdad area. (READ MORE)

Support From Home Boosts Troop Morale Through Video Teleconference - During the holiday months in a deployed environment, one of the most comforting things for Soldiers is communicating with home. According to Salt Lake City, Utah, resident, Maj. Jeffrey Cutler, the combat service support automations officer and Freedom Calls Center manager, with the 96th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), there has been 11 video teleconferences conducted since October, with schools, community groups, a church and family groups. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Forces Arrest Terrorist Suspects - Iraqi forces, aided by U.S. advisors, arrested nine suspected terrorists today in Iraq, military officials reported. In western Baghdad, Iraqi forces and U.S. advisors searched two residential buildings for a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq leader in the Karkh region. (READ MORE)

Bombs kill more than 30 in Iraq - Twin suicide bombs killed at least 24 and wounded more than 100 in Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland on Wednesday and a roadside bomb killed seven pilgrims returning from a major Shi'ite Muslim religious festival. U.S. forces transported Qassim Mohammed, Sunni governor of the vast desert province of Anbar west of Baghdad, to the Iraqi capital for medical treatment, a U.S. military spokesman said after the attacks targeting him and other officials in Anbar. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
A Shiite Ritual Returns to Kabul - Shiite Islam again came under assault by Sunni radicals Monday when three bombs exploded in Pakistan during the Shiites’ annual observance of Ashura, which commemorates the death of the revered Shiite martyr Imam Hussein. Shiites have faced persecution in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. (READ MORE)

Female Marines, Sailors Assist Afghan Women - Throughout Afghanistan’s Garmsir district, Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, interact with key leaders and locals to learn the needs of local Afghan villagers. However, there is one gap that is hard to bridge -- the interaction between Marines and Afghan women. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Dec. 30 - Partnered forces killed several insurgents while responding to an attack against Afghan national army soldiers and Afghan national police in the Baghlan Jadid District of Baghlan province yesterday. The initial insurgent attack left two Afghan national service members dead and several wounded. No civilians or international forces were injured or killed. (READ MORE)

Forces Capture Taliban Commanders in Afghanistan - Afghan and international security forces captured some Taliban commanders and other suspected militants and seized weapons yesterday in Kandahar and Khowst, Afghanistan, military officials reported. The forces captured a Taliban commander believed to be responsible for homemade bomb attacks during a series of raids in Kandahar. They also detained three other suspects. (READ MORE)

Afghan investigators: Children killed by troops - The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in eastern Afghanistan concluded Wednesday that civilians - including schoolchildren - were killed in an attack involving foreign troops, disputing NATO reports that the dead were insurgents. (READ MORE)

Taliban claim Karachi attack, strike called - Pakistan's Taliban on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 43 people in the commercial capital Karachi. "My group claims responsibility for the Karachi attack and we will carry out more such attacks, within 10 days," Asmatullah Shaheen, one of the commanders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, who spoke by telephone to a Reuters reporter in Peshawar. (READ MORE)

Taliban threaten further Pakistan attacks - Pakistan's Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 43 people in the commercial capital Karachi on Monday, and threatened more attacks. 'My group claims responsibility for the Karachi attack and we will carry out more such attacks, within 10 days,' said a spokesman. (READ MORE)

Afghan 'ally' murders GI -An Afghan soldier killed a US service member and wounded two Italian soldiers yesterday when he opened fire on the allied troops at an army base in western Afghanistan. The shooting is the latest in a string of such incidents, at a time when Western countries are pouring resources into training Afghan soldiers and police to fight the Taliban insurgency. (READ MORE)

Multiple Deployments To Iraq, Afghanistan Adversely Affect Mental Health Of U.S. Soldiers - A new study reports that repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan may adversely affect the mental health of these deployed soldiers. Researchers assessed the effects of prior military service in Iraq or Afghanistan on the health of New Jersey Army National Guard members preparing for deployment to Iraq. (READ MORE)

Civilians killed in NATO attack, Afghan official says - The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in a village in eastern Afghanistan said Wednesday the team has concluded that civilians — including schoolchildren — were killed in an attack by foreign troops last weekend. (READ MORE)

The accidental Afghan war veteran - Thirty years ago, on 24 December 1979, the Soviet Union started deploying troops in Afghanistan. But some of those who were sent had no military training at all, as Katia Moskvitch from the BBC's Russian Service found out. "Just before boarding the plane, an officer told us to hand over our passports. In exchange, we received guns," said the leader of the group, Ervand Ilynski. (READ MORE)

Pak, Afghanistan and NATO military chiefs review security situation in tribal areas - Senior military representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO forces held a tripartite meeting in Kabul on Tuesday to review the security situation on the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Afghanistan's army chief Bismullah Khan and General Stanley A McChrystal, Commander International Security Assistance Forces, Afghanistan discussed measures to improve the effectiveness of ongoing operations on the Pak-Afghan border. (READ MORE)

Afghan civilians 'shot dead' by foreign forces - An Afghan government investigation into the deaths of 10 civilians in the country's east found they were dragged from their homes and shot dead by foreign troops, the president's office said Wednesday. The dead included eight school students aged between 13 and 17 years old, a statement from President Hamid Karzai's office said. (READ MORE)

Afghan soldier opens fire on NATO troops, one dead - An Afghan soldier opened fire on NATO troops in western Afghanistan, killing one US soldier and injuring two Italian troops, officials said Wednesday. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement that one of its soldiers from the United States was killed in a shooting on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

U.S. lawmakers push for Afghan election delay - Members of Congress said Tuesday they are urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to delay the next parliamentary ballot until electoral reforms are in place or risk American financial support for his government. Karzai insists the elections must be held in May despite widespread concerns about their credibility, the U.S. legislators said. (READ MORE)

The giant ship trying to cut civilian deaths in Afghanistan - From the nuclear-powered ship’s deck, planes that provide reconnaissance and close air support for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) over Afghanistan take off and land day and night. Their missions are taking place amid a new coalition effort to eliminate civilian causalities associated with air strikes against militant strongholds in the country. (READ MORE)

Taliban courts more popular than 'corrupt' Karzai government in Afghanistan - More and more Afghans are turning to Taliban courts to get speedy justice, as the corrupt and incompetent government of President Hamid Karzai has proved to be futile to resolve disputes - particularly at local level. When Habiba's elderly husband was badly beaten in a village brawl there was only one place that she could turn to for help and justice. (READ MORE)

UK selects 7.62 mm Sharpshooter weapon for Afghan operations - UK forces are to receive a semi-automatic 7.62 mm x 51 mm ’sharpshooter’ weapon to combat Taliban forces engaging beyond the maximum effective range of the 5.56 mm L85A2 assault rifle. In a USD2.5 million deal the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has contracted Law Enforcement International (LEI) to supply 440 LM7 semi-automatic rifles. (READ MORE)

China Willing to Spend Big on Afghan Commerce - Behind an electrified fence, blast-resistant sandbags and 53 National Police outposts, the Afghan surge is well under way. But the foot soldiers in a bowl-shaped valley about 20 miles southeast of Kabul are not fighting the Taliban, or even carrying guns. They are preparing to extract copper from one of the richest untapped deposits on earth. (READ MORE)

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