January 4, 2010

From the Front: 01/04/2010

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

Michael Yon:
Canadian Cover Up? - 04 January 2010 - (Unfortunately, this news comes as I wait to board a flight from Hong Kong to the United States. It must be written quickly and without editing.) A reporter at Canwest News Service, emailed Saturday asking for information on the four Canadian soldiers and the journalist who were killed on December 30 in Afghanistan. I supplied a portion of the unpublicized information, and the reporter emailed Sunday that the Canadian military is “trying to suppress our telling of your information.” The reporter also wrote, “While the Canadian military confirmed to me much of the information you provided, they are trying to prevent us from publishing it, saying it would breach our agency's embedding agreement.” There is nothing classified or sensitive about the information supplied to Canwest. This smells of a classic cover-up that has nothing to do with winning or losing the war, but more likely something to do with saving embarrassment. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Afghan dust & deployment conditions claim laptop - From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex’s beat up laptop has most likely taken its last breath. It was being held together by tape and sheer good luck when I last saw it in Germany – and now it appears to have died completely. So Rex has to figure out a workaround (hopefully through MWR) or simply go shopping at Bagram. Which means no blog entry or new pictures today. On a totally unrelated note, here is a photo of our dog Charlie after he found Rex’s unwashed clothes from Germany. I was about to do the laundry from the trip but now our “kids” – two Goldendoodle dogs Sam and Charlie – have decided otherwise. Apparently they really like the scent of their “Dad.” And another totally unrelated tidbit – I got this photo from Mark Schreiner at WUSF TV and Radio; all these supplies have come in from the stations viewers and listeners for Rex’s School Supplies for Afghan Children project. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan MY Last Tour: Happy New Year - About 2 dozen people gathered in the MWR center for the New Year’s Eve party. We had a couple pans of chicken wings and snacks from the DFAC. Prior to the official countdown, the entertainment was being provided by camp personnel singing karaoke. I don’t think you will see any of these folks auditioning for American Idol, but they were having fun crooning their favorite songs. Then at midnight, we had an official countdown even though everyone’s watch in the room varied by up to 12 minutes apart. Unfortunately we aren’t allowed any alcohol and had to settle for some bubbly grape juice in a corked bottle. I returned to my room around 1230 am and woke up 5 hours later to prepare for our mission. I don’t plan to make that a habit, because I was a bit tired today. But since we were only going a few kilometers outside the camp, the effect would be minimal. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: The Inherent Dangers of Working By, With, and Through - The story of the Haqqani network's attack on the CIA is not garnering the attention it deserves, because of Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab's Christmas Day attack. Prior to President Obama's decision to send 30,000 troops to bolster General McCrystal's counter insurgency plan, the media pontificated in length about a policy focused more on counter terror (Predator Drones) and sending advisors to train the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). There is a fallacy in the idea that America has the option to send advisors to train foreign security forces instead of sending combat soldiers. The Military Transition Teams (MiTT) and Special Forces ODAs are combat soldiers. We are now sending Assist and Advise Brigades (AAB) to Iraq and Afghanistan which are Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) task organized to train security forces. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Karzai's Cabinet - The majority of Karzai's picks for cabinet were rejected by the parliament. Is this a setback--or a blessing in disguise? One political analyst in Kabul speculated that the slew of rejected nominations could free up the president to appoint qualified professionals rather than settle political debts. "There were lots of demands on Karzai from people asking for Cabinet positions because they campaigned for him," Mohammad Qasim Akhgar said. "This was the only way he could reward them and if parliament didn't approve them, it wasn't his fault. Very soon, Karzai will come out with a new list with the names of people he really wants to have in his Cabinet." (MORE)

Doc H: Combined ANP/US Range and Golf - Weeks ago when we were talking and having chai with our ANP counterparts the topic of weapons came up. Our counterparts relayed to us that they had not been trained on their pistols and were not very comfortable with their use. Since they do carry these weapons and rely on them for their personal safety, we decided to arrange some time together on the range to practice. After a basic range safety lecture through my interpreter, we began. I was expecting their pistols to be old WWII era soviet style weapons. I was quite suprised to find that they carry new Smith and Wesson 9mm pistols. Their pistols did not have a safety, but were light weight and handled well. One of the weapons misfired a few times, but I suspect that more oil was needed. They did fine and improved with only a little practice. We also let them shoot our pistols, which are much older in design comparitively. We ended the shooting with a familiarization fire of the M-4 which was orderly as well. (READ MORE)

Lt Col Nick Kitson - CO 3 Rifles BG: Dispatch From Sangin, Afghanistan - Christmas Eve seems as good a time as any to provide the latest update from the 3 Rifles Battle Group, based mainly in Sangin, and with elements up in Kajaki, here in Northern Helmand. Since I last wrote towards the end of November, the theme has been one of continued progress on all fronts. The temperature, the reduced winter vegetation and the pressure which the insurgents face – from us and others - have all acted in our favour. We have been ruthless in exploiting these advantages and every soldier in the BG has worked tirelessly, with great commitment, to ensure we press home every opportunity to increase the security in our areas and convince the locals to reject the insurgents. Mobilising the population to reject the insurgency is the name of the game; our Afghan Army and Police partners are working with us towards this goal. (READ MORE)

Major Paul Smyth, RIFLES: Happy Christmas, from Helmand - This year instead of waking up to two very excited little girls with stockings full of presents, I prised myself out of my winter sleeping bag and stepped out into a bitterly cold Christmas day in Helmand Province Afghanistan. I have been in the reserves now for just over eight years and have spent lots of time away in places like Iraq and Kosovo and I have been to Afghanistan once before. But this has been the first time I have spent Christmas out of the country let alone away from my family. In all that time although far from home in some very challenging places I know that it is harder for wives and children than it is for us soldiers. Christmas is such a special day and with the girls just four and nearly six they are very aware that daddy is not there to share it with them. But I was with a small team of British soldiers at Patrol Base Talibjan near Musa Qala, and we were just two kilometres from what is called the FLET or Forward Line Enemy Troops. (READ MORE)

Rfn Phil Thomas - 3 Rifles BG: A Day in the Life of A Thinking Rifleman - The day normally starts with a kick to the cot bed I’m curled up on. Its six o’clock in the morning and I can see my breath as a cloud of mist against the dirty white of the wall in my room. “Get up Tommo! Time for a scrape.” My Plt Sjt Tim Exley says. I force myself out of my doss bag, and head down the well. The lads have fashioned a pulley system to get the water out so we don’t have to dip in to our valuable “brew water” supply. We moved into these two compounds about eight days previous and, with the help of an engineer section, have transformed them into something resembling a home. After washing and shaving comes breakfast around the communal fire, the hub of the camp. There is the usual bartering over ration packs (usually with ALOT of corned beef hashes left in the corner, swiftly followed by the platoon commander Lt Dixon sniffing around for seconds). (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Central Asian Dominoes of Doom! - Apparently every country anywhere near Afghanistan is gonna get it, and get it bad. Who’s doing the hyping today? Of course, it’s PBS. Wait, what? PBS? Yes, PBS. It published an article the other day that includes the phrase “arc of conflict,” which I just adore. Although I am somewhat perturbed that conflicts and scary areas are always non-linear (i.e., the “Shi’a Crescent”). When will conflicts appear alongside straight lines? Anyways, google “arc of conflict™” for a laugh. And speaking of clich├ęd phrases, the article even has a heading titled “A New Domino Theory.” This caused me to immediately vomit the breakfast cereal I had for dinner. But I think I’m OK now. So… this is what PBS published: Recent developments in the region, however, have raised the opposite question: Can the war in Afghanistan be contained in that country? (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Brit medics save Afghan child from killer disease - Medics at the British run hospital at Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, have saved the life of an Afghan child who nearly died from Tetanus, a disease now virtually extinct in the UK. Six year old Rahmadullah was taken by his father to a small American base, FOB Dwyer, in southern Helmand Province, where doctors diagnosed the killer disease and advised immediate evacuation to the larger British run medical facility at Camp Bastion. Lieutenant Colonel Andy Johnston, a Royal Army Medical Corps Consultant Physician previously based at the Royal College of Defence Medicine, Sellyoak, said: “When Rahmadullah arrived here at Bastion, he was having severe and painful muscular spasms which were affecting his whole body and interfering with his breathing. He also developed pneumonia and had to be put on a ventilator for two weeks. He was extremely unwell.” (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Where the ANA Once Was - Okay, so I don’t know why they weren’t there… but the Afghan National Army barracks were empty. It was a base we drove to often, and we usually camp out next to our trucks. So it was game on when our interpreter, Papa J, pointed out an empty hardstand building that had power and heating. We moved in for the night. I played cards with the group for a while. (Canasta sucks! I swear these guys were just making up the 10,000 rules as we went along…) I listened to my iPod. Then I got curious, grabbed my flashlight, and went to explore the other abandoned buildings. The dining facility had been emptied, except the picnic tables and some garlic cloves on the counter top. The prayer room was the only room with a tiled floor and curtains. But mostly I found just open, empty bays with Afghan Army recruiting posters on the walls. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War?--Task Force Commander - As his digital watch silently records the time passing midnight Lt. Col. Scott Perry sits at his desk hand writing letters in response to cards, letters and gifts he receives from folks back home. Some of them he never met. “They took the time to write and thank me for my service,” he said. “The least I can do is answer in kind.” He usually gives in to sleep and goes back to his CHU between midnight and 0100 hours. Time! Best use of time. Lack of time. Perry is always aware of time. In the morning he is up early and back in the office. “This is an awesome responsibility commanding a combat Task Force,” he said. “I need to be on top of things. I wouldn’t sleep at all if I could dispense with it.” Each day begins with a calendar review with his assistant Spc. Andrea Magee. She keeps the calendar for Perry and for Maj. Joel Allmandinger, the Task Force Diablo Executive Officer. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War?--Task Force Commander's Assistant - In 2009 her life has gone through more changes than a chameleon walking on a rainbow. Spc. Andrea Magee, 27, of Pleasanton, California, began the deployment as Andrea Whitacre working in flight operations for Task Force Diablo. Also, when the deployment began she was engaged for a year to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Magee, a former Marine Sniper who is an Air Traffic Controller attached to 28th Combat Aviation Brigade. In March, things began to change. On March 18, they changed more. That was the day Andrea and Jeremy got married. They were going to wait, but waiting meant living in separate CHUs for the entire deployment, marriage meant the same CHU. So they were married in their ACU uniforms in Commanche Courthouse. During the next month they made plans to share a CHU at Joint Base Balad. Then in mid-April, the commander of 28th Combat Aviation Brigade decided we would not be going to JBB, but to Tallil Ali Air Base. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Who Fights This War? Executive Officer and Racer - On September 11, 2001, Maj. Joel Allmandinger was visiting his parents in Tehachapi, California, with his wife and two children. He was on terminal leave after eight years on active duty as an Army Aviation Officer and a Blackhawk pilot. The 1993 graduate of West Point was ready to be a civilian. He is a strong advocate of free enterprise and was ready to go to work for a Fortune 500 Company and start on the road to the top of corporate management. Then he heard the horrible news from New York, from the Nation’s Capital, from a field in western Pennsylvania. The nation he swore to defend was under attack just as he finished eight years of peacetime service. It was nearly a week before regular airline service was restored. On September 16, Allmandinger and his family flew home to Macungie, Pa. As soon as he arrived, he drove to Fort Indiantown Gap and signed up to serve in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): One Step Closer - Today we flew to Kuwait by way of Basra stopping at three bases before finally arriving at the transient base. We will be here for several days and, just as when I was stuck here for seven days in July, I won't know when I will leave here until I am on an airplane. Several times on the last trip, my name got called, I was on a manifest, I dragged my bags up to the meeting area, I was ready to board the bus then. . ."Sorry. Come back at 0500 hours." But it's OK with me. We are on the way back to America. I am out of Iraq. I have lots of work to do, assuming I can do it using personal computer on a wireless hookup. Sometime in late January this year will end and I can go back to being a civilian again. I liked some of this year. I hated some of this year. The parts I hated probably helped me grow. One thing it confirmed for me is how very difficult and very worthwhile it is to build community. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: WaPo Reporter Needs Another Job - WaPo gives another reason to be ashamed of itself today with its article about how the United States blew fighting al-Qaeda over the last ten years. Typical of the reporters at the paper, the writer argues that the U.S. and Yemen bungled the effort by misunderstanding the culture and the political terrain of Yemen. I'll never understand why WaPo and other papers think that treating Middle Easterners in a condescending manner will deter terrorism. As an example, the writer cites a boastful U.S. who took credit for succes in Yemen and argues "that decision eroded Yemeni trust in the United States and damaged efforts to combat terrorism, Yemeni officials said." Someone explain to this writer that the people of the Middle East know murder is wrong. There is no need to look at people through special glasses. Back to the story. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Improvements in Iraq - Iraqis are not at all surprised that there were reportedly no combat-related U.S. deaths in Iraq during the month of December. Everybody here knows the terrorists target the unarmed Iraqi people much more so than the armed American soldiers. Also, Iraqis are not surprised to hear the deaths of civilians are reported to be the lowest since 2003. It's much better here than it has been for a long time. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has taken credit for the lower numbers, and he hopes to ride the wave and win another term in March. He might well win, but Iraqis are not happy with the fact that Maliki has presided over an extremely corrupt government. Still, Maliki's team did well last January in the provincial elections, and he expects to repeat that success this time. Just as in many other countries, Iraqis have to choose the least bad option on the ballot. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: SEVEN things never to say to a veteran - The other day, we had the most wonderful party here at the house. I was very selective in making the guest list. I only invited individuals who had proven themselves to be the epitome of grace and encouragement. However, let's just say some of our rather insular neighbors --of whom we only have a passing acquaintance, have not. I'm writing this to ask you to pass it on. It's fair to say that most military families go through what we did: people don't care to ask how you are during the deployment, but they will give you --unsolicited, their two cents about the war. All of this has made a homecoming a little bit uneasier, as even taking the dog out can be like a walk through a social mine field. Their boorish and rude behavior breaks every code of social etiquette. They also stomp without feeling on those who have been through a life altering experience. The following tips have been culled from DiversityInc. (READ MORE)

Learning to Live: on hold - I am 'writing' my new year blog in my head . . . so much to write about 2009 and SO much to share about what lies ahead for 2010 . . . SO much I say. The boy got a double ear infection so not to be out done I thought I should catch me a case of pink eye . . . right now only one eye but the other is starting to feel icky! Our Christmas Break is winding down . . . man oh man do I feel sorry for 'real' teachers come Monday morning especially my child's teacher . . . what a long day it will be for him . . . better get that routine a cracking tonight! Hopefully I will be able to open my eyes in the morning when I wake and get my mind a cracking but don't hold your breath as it will more than likely take me days if not weeks! (READ MORE)

The Life of the Wife: I think he's going for some kind of record - New Year's 2004/05, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2009/10 all spent in Iraq for my hubby. He just has crappo luck--he knows it :) Let's see...7 women, all deployment vets, get together to eat eggplant parm, spaghetti, and chocolate fondue. We play a few rounds of poker, some insane games of Catchphrase and then spent several hours "singing" with SingStar. It was hilarious and awful at the same time. I had enough to drink that I voluntarily sang "Baby Got Back". Oh yeahhhhh Today I slept in and recovered, then got ready for the day and went on post to check our mail. We had a bunch of Christmas cards waiting and 2 packages (which I can't go pick up til tomorrow...). Then I went to the PX and return something and buy a new camera since ours just died an unceremonious death. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike kills 2 Taliban fighters in Mir Ali in Pakistan - The US has conducted yet another airstrike in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Two Taliban fighters are reported to have been killed after US strike aircraft, likely unmanned Predators or Reapers, struck a safe house in the village of Mosakki in the Mir Ali region of North Waziristan. "One US drone fired two missiles on a house.... The target was this house and a car parked outside was also destroyed," a senior Pakistan security official told AFP. "Two militants were killed in the attack and we have reports that more militants were hiding there, so the death toll could rise." The strike targeted "the house of a person known as Sadiq Noor in Mir Ali," Geo News reported. Sadiq Noor is a senior Taliban commander in North Waziristan. Both he and Hafiz Gul Bahadar were the principal signatories of the 2006 peace agreement between the North Waziristan Taliban and the Pakistani government. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: PBS series explores emotional issues - Warm up those remotes; there’s a promising new documentary series coming from PBS and it’s aimed squarely at the problems faced by military and their families. Ben Wakana, a rep for the series, sent me this introduction to the show with corresponding links: This is Ben Wakana. You heard from me a couple weeks ago and I wanted to provide some additional information regarding a new PBS documentary called This Emotional Life; airing on PBS on January 4, 5, and 6, 2010, at 8pm. Dan Gilbert, the best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness, has teamed up with PBS and Vulcan Productions to create this groundbreaking program, which explores ways we can improve our social relationships, cope with negative emotions, and become more positive, resilient individuals. You can see the trailer here, and visit the program’s website, which features a lot of additional resources, here. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 3 Jan 2010 - first off — HAPPY 2010 !!! …and thanks to everyone for their wishes, and thanks a lot to all who had a drink for me…well, this year started off with a bang — road trip to Kandahar…it was a long and adventurous trip…we started the year with a pre-mission briefing…there were lots and lots of red spots on the road–indicating found/exploded IEDs in the past 90 days…in one section the entire road was covered with red… we couldn’t even see the road, just hundreds of red marks all jumbled together…we knew there was lots of bad shit out there, but I didn’t realize how bad it was till I saw that intel map…areas of known snipers/shooters, areas of IEDs, areas of ambushes, areas of jingle trucks getting jacked and blown up, and all kinds of other bad stuff in different areas, but most of the way all along our planned route…now, I have been on many missions before and been in bad areas, but this one was a little different …most of my trips were under 8 hours to the destination… (READ MORE)

PRT-Kunar: Nevada Guardsman Receives Battlefield Promotion - A Nevada National Guardsman received a surprise New Year’s Day gift in the form of a battlefield promotion, Jan. 1. U.S. Army Spec. David Ellis, Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team security force gunner and driver deployed from the Nevada National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 221st Calvary Regiment, was promoted to the grade of E-5 for demonstrating extraordinary job performance while serving in combat conditions. “I’m very happy…it’s a personal gain,” said Ellis, a native of Las Vegas, Nev. “I’ve had my E-4 rank for close to five years and it was something I had my mind set on to get my E-5. I’ve been recognized because I’ve busted my butt to prove myself.” U.S. Army 1st Lt. Stewart Brough, SECFOR platoon leader, relished the chance to recognize one of his soldiers with a battlefield promotion. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Happy New Year - A happy new year to one and all. We had a fairly quiet one here. Our command got together for a party. There was plenty of food, karaoke (not for me!), and games. I got wiped out in blackjack as soon as I got brave. Played some Wii and proved to one and all how uncoordinated I am. Some built a bonfire outside and we roasted marshmallows - first time I've done that in many years. There were some fighter jets that made periodic low-level noisy passes over the base, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And we got to see a partial lunar eclipse from around 10 pm to around 11. A partial eclipse of a blue moon - how cool is that? I got to sleep in today. Actually, I woke up at my usual time and then remembered that I didn't have to get up. So I didn't. Have been pretty much a slug all morning. So goodbye, 2009. Goodbye to a pretty crummy decade in general. Let's hope 2010 and the teens are better. (READ MORE)

Registan.net: What’s the Narrative? - There’s a weird dichotomy between the Orientalizing and Occidentalizing influences of popular (read: non-academic) works on Central Asia. The Kite Runner is probably the most popular of pop history, but it is basically a story of the success of capitalism by infantilizing Afghans, as Matt Miller can say better than me: "The most pernicious element of this novel, however, is also the same aspect that American readers consistently have identified as the most heart-warming and inspiring: the story of the redemption of Amir thorough his harrowing and heroic rescue of Sohrab. [...] Amir’s descent into this Other World, a veritable ‘heart of darkness,’ appears to be the only hope for its victims’ salvation." The other narrative option is that of The Photographer, which is the story of Doctors Without Borders during the Soviet-Afghan war. It tells the story through the eyes of a photographer by way of graphic novel, and is well-worth reading (or looking at: the part drawing/part photograph exposition is pretty impressive). (READ MORE)

this is our life: JUST FUN - We are so glad he got to come home to spend Christmas with us. We are so not ready for him to go back, but we're ready to get this deployment over with. We are so glad he got to come home to spend Christmas with us. We are so not ready for him to go back, but we're ready to get this deployment over with. (MORE)

Terry Glavin: A Letter Of Grief And Hope From Kandahar: "Their Spirit Will Live On Forever." - What follows is a letter from our dear friend Ehsanullah Ehsan, director of the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar, "a school that owes its existence to the sacrifices of the Canadian people." I've passed on the letter directly to Canadian Forces officials in Ottawa and to the editor of the Calgary Herald, so that it might make its way to the bereaved families. To the Highest Esteemed Families of Ms. Michelle Lang, Sgts. George Miok, Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, and Pte. Garrett Chidley, I am writing to extend my deepest sympathies to you, the families of Ms. Michelle Lang, Sgts. George Miok, Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, and Pte. Garrett Chidley, and the government and the great people of Canada, on behalf of the Afghan men, women children who have been given the chance to live a peaceful and prosperous life by virtue of the ultimate sacrifices paid by the Canadian men and women in uniform serving in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Most recent Canadian deaths: A CF "cover up" at Kandahar? - From Michael Yon (via Milnews.ca): A reporter at Canwest News Service, emailed Saturday [Dec. 2] asking for information on the four Canadian soldiers and the journalist who were killed on December 30 in Afghanistan. I supplied a portion of the unpublicized information, and the reporter emailed Sunday that the Canadian military is “trying to suppress our telling of your information.” It seems to me Mr Yon may be rather over-stating things; I do not see that there is any "saving embarrassment". It also seems to me that the sort of details given by him, especially in the last paragraph above, are not reported by our media. For whatever reason, presumably their own view of operational security and not fear of embarrassment, the CF apparently do not want such details made public. This is from a CBC story on the deaths (via Douglas Shimizu in the "Comments" at Mr Yon's post): (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Single-National Force-Iraq - Yesterday, the big news in Iraq concerned the official genesis of US Forces-Iraq, an acknowledgement of the fact that the US is currently the only intervening power in the Iraq War. This actually comes a few months after the British withdrew the last of their forces from Southern Iraq. What amazed me is that it actually came as a shock to many that the US was, as of August, the only member of "Multi-National Force Iraq", as per this conversation. Me: What classification should we use for this briefing? I know it says "releasable to Multi-National Corps-Iraq", but that really only means the US, since everyone else left. Another officer: What do you mean? The British are still here. Me: No, they left last month. Officer: And the Ugandans guard the dining facility... (READ MORE)

MAJ Daneker - My Point of View: Was it real? - It's hard to believe that it's been a year since I posted the question, in the form of lyrics of a song from "Rent"..."how do you measure a year?" How do you measure a year of your life? Time you consider well spent but...difficult. We found out that there are many ways, indeed: in cups of coffee, in missions completed, in bitching sessions, in calendars marked with an 'x' at the end of the day. Time alternatively moved quickly and stood still. It's been two weeks now since I said difficult and heartfelt farewells to the Soldiers of the 211th MPAD at the Philadelphia airport. It was time to move along...people were happy to get to their gates and wait for their flights and get back to their spouses, children, family, friends and their lives. Most of these Soldiers will not return to the 211th...they were "cross-levels", i.e. we borrowed them from other units throughout the Army Reserve. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Rough times in the Arghandab - The Americans fighting in the Arghandab valley this summer had a rough go. Sean "Not a Good Day to Die" Naylor takes the first hit at explaining why. There appears to be a lot of masked discontent with the first bite of the Kandahar apple by the 5 BCT (and the lead unit, 1/17 Infantry). Naylor relates how first the US battalion commander apparently fires the lead company commander, and then the whole brigade got reassigned. There's a lot of debate about whether large wheeled APCs like the US LAVs and their Canadian equivalents are good vehicles for the Arghandab terrain, which is very similar to the Zhari terrain, that frustrated Canadians for three full years (possibly even more restrictive, in fact). You've got to go dismounted. A lot. Going with tracked instead of wheeled APCs wouldn't help much, either: (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Businesswoman's Perspective - "There's a lot of development and construction in Iraq," a woman said. Her company takes good sized contracts from the government, she said. "I started out five years ago," she adjusted her loose scarf, which barely covered her greying hair, "in a very small office." Now, she proudly has several employees and operates out of her own building. How are things for women today? "Not very good," she said. "But really it's not very good for anybody." Many people here are struggling to get by. "It will take us years to reach the level we want." Who will she vote for? "Mithal Al Alousi," she said without hesitation. She said he was the only straighforward candidate. The rest all talk around the issues. They tell people what they want to hear. "They are all dishonest," she said. "He's the only one we can trust." (MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Do we need a less aggressive force posture in Afghanistan? - From Stars and Stripes: "Coalition troops will have to accept more risk as commanders push for a major turnaround in the Afghan war over the next 18 months, according to the commander of day-to-day operations across Afghanistan. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez said a renewed emphasis on developing a rapport with the Afghan people will mean an increase in the kind of “chai ops” — casual interactions with local leaders and residents, often over tea — that have been common in Iraq for the past year and a half. This includes an emphasis on taking a less aggressive posture, removing helmets and body armor when appropriate, and living alongside Afghan security forces, Rodriguez said." The transcript of the conversation with General Rodriguez doesn’t reveal use of the phrase “chai ops.” That’s a function of the reporting. But in a manner the actual transcript reveals even more troubling information about what Rodriguez thinks about counterinsurgency. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Kits help children cope with deployments - Each year thousands of military children are affected by either a mother or father deploying, and when this happened to the Choate family here, it sparked an idea helps prepare military children deal with deployments. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Iraqracy - The old year ended here with mortar shells falling on the heavily fortified Green Zone and with the sounds of scattered gunfire, another reminder of how horrible that past decade had been. The New Year began with an assurance and a continuing mystery. (READ MORE)

No Cheer for Iraqi Christians - It was another bad year for Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority. Although they were granted more representation in Parliament under the new election law that was finally approved in early December, they continued to be besieged on many fronts, especially in northern Iraq. (READ MORE)

Fort Lewis brigade uses art of persuasion in Iraq - The American soldier and the Iraqi villager stood in a tidy dirt courtyard and talked about electricity. They discussed clean drinking water and tribal politics in this rural corner of Baghdad province. And then Sgt. Sam Harper – a member of a Fort Lewis Stryker brigade’s psychological operations detachment, known as “psyops” – cut to the chase. (READ MORE)

Crackdown on Alcohol Seen as Part of Conservative Moment in Iraq - The banner appeared mysteriously this fall on a railing along Abu Nawas Street, the hub of nightlife on the banks of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, where the atmosphere in recent months has grown markedly more subdued. "Damned is he who sits at a table with alcohol," the handwritten sign said. (READ MORE)

The Real Blackwater Scandal - No, not as the left would have it, that Blackwater still exists. The scandal is that the Justice Department's case against five former security guards for the military contractor unraveled late last week in what appears to be another instance of gross prosecutorial misconduct, as abusive Justice lawyers went after an unsympathetic political target. (READ MORE)

Meeting addresses domestic violence issues - To better understand the root cause of domestic violence, Iraqi Police, Pena Women's Cultural Center members and U.S forces conducted a meeting on the subject here, Dec. 21. Domestic violence is any form of physical, non-physical or sexual abuse, which takes place either in or outside of the home, according to James, a law-enforcement specialist working with 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment. (READ MORE)

Joint mission delivers supplies to school - To help with their education, three hundred Iraqi children near here in the village of Faylaq were treated to a surprise donation of school necessities, Dec. 22. In an effort to improve education here, Iraqi Police and members of the Atyah Women's Organization (AWO), assisted by Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, donated the school supplies for the children. (READ MORE)

Rule of Law director talks Iraqi transitions - U.S. forces in Iraq are training and advising senior Iraqi officials in forensics, evidence collection, human rights and how a legal system is managed in a democracy. U.S. Marine Col. Darrel Halse serves as the Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission's Rule of Law director. He discussed the Iraqi transition from dictatorship to democracy during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable, Dec. 23. (READ MORE)

U.S., FP conduct patrol, search - For U.S. Soldiers and Air Force military dog handlers working jointly with Iraqi Federal Police, the mission was clear: conduct a cordon and search of the Abid Allha ibn al-Khabib graveyard, near the town of Abu Roesh, east of Baghdad, Dec. 29, to either confirm or deny that some sort of cache was there. (READ MORE)

Arab and Kurd Iraqis Graduate Waterborne Operations Course - Iraqi police officers, including nine Arab and eight Kurdish officers graduated from the Waterborne Operations course here Dec. 24. The graduation ceremony was the culmination of an intense six-week class that challenged the officers both physically and mentally. (READ MORE)

Baghdad Police College begins cultural awareness curriculum - An American cultural awareness class started at the Baghdad Police College here Dec. 22. The American cultural awareness class is a small part of the three–year police college curriculum, but it plays a major role in shaping the hearts and minds of the students here, said Col. Randall Twitchell, Iraq Training and Advising Mission-Police Training and Qualification Institute Director. (READ MORE)

New Recruits Get a Leg Up With ‘Top Off’ Training - In the U.S. Armed Forces, Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors have a parade at the completion of basic military training to celebrate their achievements. More than 330 Iraqi Air Force recruits, the largest graduating class since 2007, marched in a parade before even completing a single day of the initial BMT course here Dec. 28. (READ MORE)

Rebuilding the Jewel of Majarr Al Kabir - Escorting and assisting Provincial Reconstruction Team efforts to build up the civilian infrastructure is almost a daily task for many Soldiers deployed to Iraq, however, the project that members of Task Force Pathfinders participated in Dec. 18, could be considered extra sweet. (READ MORE)

Air Force Medics Partner With Iraqi Ministry of Defense Hospital - Members of the Air Force Theater Hospital took the first step in partnering with members of Iraq's Ministry of Defense Hospital, Dec. 22, to form the American-Iraqi Air Medical Evacuation and Medical Provider Training Course. The first installment of training allowed the Iraqis to study burn care as well as practice proper medical evacuation techniques when transporting patients. (READ MORE)

Making Their Way - The day starts bright and early for the escorts on Sgt. Keith Paulson's team, and even earlier for the "Bumblebee Crew," the Iraqi workers they escort on Contingency Operating Base Basra. This is the third group of local workers for COB Basra. They used to be called "The Blue Man Crew," because when they first started here they had blue jumpsuits. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Jan. 4 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound north of the village of Seyyed Amon, in the Nawah-ye-Barakzai District of Helmand province last night after intelligence confirmed militant activity in the area and detained the suspected militants. In an operation in Kandahar last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound in north Kandahar City and detained suspected militants. (READ MORE)

Perilous patrol through heart of Taliban territory - Villagers stared at the Americans as they made their way into a small bazaar where goat meat hung from hooks amid stands of used clothing, pots, pans and various trinkets. For the Afghans, the big Americans in full battle gear looked like beings from another planet. (READ MORE)

Taliban: CIA Attack Was Retaliation for Drone Strikes - A senior commander connected to the Afghan Taliban and involved with the attack against the CIA that left eight people dead said Saturday that the bombing was retaliation for U.S. drone strikes in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. (READ MORE)

Afghans Answering the Call to Fight - Bakhtiar Ludin looks like a rogue, with a roughly tied checkered scarf for a turban, a Kalashnikov and a band of similarly tough, armed men for company. But much of the hopes of Afghan and American officials to turn around the eight-year war here rests with him and those like him. (READ MORE)

Marines Coaxing Residents Back to Helmand Ghost Town - Now Zad was a bustling city, the second largest in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, before Taliban fighters moved in and made it a stronghold several years ago. Now it is largely abandoned. (READ MORE)

4 U.S. Troops Die in Afghan Blast - Military officials today reported the year's first U.S. combat casualties in Afghanistan - four troops killed a day earlier in the country's violent south. In addition to the Americans killed in Sunday's blast, a British soldier died in a separate explosion, also in the south. (READ MORE)

Many Karzai Afghan Cabinet Choices Are Rejected - In a clear signal to President Hamid Karzai that he cannot count on Parliament for support, lawmakers resoundingly rejected most of his nominees for cabinet posts and expressed discontent with the candidates’ competence. Of Mr. Karzai’s 24 cabinet nominees, 17 were rejected and 7 approved. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Parliament's Rejection of Karzai Cabinet Picks Signals Power Shift - The Afghan parliament's rejection of most of President Hamid Karzai's proposed cabinet this weekend dealt him a major setback and has created more political turmoil that could last months. (READ MORE)

Karzai’s Cabinet Fails to Get Backing of MPs in ‘Victory for Democracy’ - President Karzai has suffered an embarrassing blow to his authority after the Afghan parliament rejected two thirds of his nominees for his new Cabinet, including the only woman and a warlord accused of human rights abuses. (READ MORE)

4 Afghan War Veterans Look Back, and Ahead - One of them, an Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, led a team into a treacherous mountain ravine to recover the remains of 16 American commandos shot down in a helicopter crash. He still remembers how only their boots had been taken off their bodies by the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Hazaras Hustle to Head of Class in Afghanistan - For much of this country’s history, the Hazara were typically servants, cleaners, porters and little else, a largely Shiite minority sidelined for generations, and in some instances massacred, by Pashtun rulers. (READ MORE)

Bombing and Fire Disrupt a Fragile Peace in Karachi, Pakistan - When a bomb exploded during a Shiite religious procession here last Monday, killing 44 people and touching off hours of violence that left hundreds of shops burned to ashes, it shattered the sense that Pakistan's largest city and financial hub was immune to the plague of Islamist violence that has swept this nuclear-armed nation. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan, Now and Then - EAs the new year begins, the Afghanistan surge is underway. Army brigades and Marine regiments have been alerted to deploy, and their lead elements are on the move. Even in these early stages, it is not too soon to begin to think about how this year will end in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

'I Am For Sale' - A passionate young Afghan has dreams for her life, but her three brothers have another plan: Marry her off to an older cousin for $20,000. The scenario is not uncommon. American thinking about Afghanistan these days is largely focused on figures: troop numbers, casualty tolls, war chests, withdrawal dates. (READ MORE)

Is power in Afghanistan returning to ethnic fault lines? - Voting patterns in Afghanistan show strong overlap with ethnic identity. (See map.) Afghanistan was torn apart in the 1990s during a civil war among ethnic-based warlords, and the outcome of the controversial election in August threatens to rekindle ethnic tensions and burnish the power of the old warlords. (READ MORE)

French journalists, guides missing in Afghanistan - Two French journalists and their local guides have gone missing in Afghanistan, the French government said Thursday in what one Afghan official called a kidnapping. The journalists for France-3 television went missing Wednesday while traveling in Kapisa province, where French soldiers are fighting Taliban and other insurgents as part of a NATO mission to help bring more stability to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)
Afghan attacks kill 7 CIA employees, 5 Canadians - A suicide bomber penetrated a base used by the CIA in Afghanistan and killed seven officers from the U.S. intelligence agency, the second deadliest attack in CIA history and its worst in the eight-year-old Afghan war. The Taliban claimed the attacker as a sympathizer from the Afghan army who detonated a vest of explosives at a meeting with CIA workers on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

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