January 11, 2010

From the Front: 01/11/2010

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


Dan Cnossen: Can you ride a roller coaster on the 4-month anniversary of stepping on an IED? (MORE)

At War: (Video) Father of C.I.A. Bomber Speaks - Khalil al-Balawi said that he was not surprised by his son's actions. (VIEW)

IraqPundit: No Excuse for Murder - Of the various ideas to fight terror, none can be odder than the suggestion that the U.S. change its foreign policy to satisfy the killers. Though there is opportunity for debate and discussion, U.S foreign policy is by no means a reason or an excuse to murder innocents as some somewhat smart people and some fools insist. One of the most prominent fools is Juan Cole, who said on his blog that killing is uncool: "But as the case of the Palestinian/Jordanian double agent, Humam al-Balawi, who detonated a suicide bomb at Forward Operating Base Campbell in Afghanistan showed, as long as the US backs Israeli encroachments on Palestinian land and Israeli attacks on and sieges of Palestinians, winning hearts and minds is complicated and in many cases impossible." Basically what Cole is saying that unless we follow the instructions of al-Qaeda and other pond scum we must face terror from now until eternity. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Back to my ol’ stumping grounds - Just when I thought I finally said goodbye to my former camp, we got tasked with a last minute mission to go there today. Last night around 8:30 pm, we received verbal notification that we were rolling to Camp Blackhorse in the morning. I was rather excited until I was informed we would have to wake up at 4 am. Our goal was to be on the vehicles at 5 am and depart by 5:30 am. Yesterday was a long day and I was already exhausted, but I prepared accordingly. Around 2 am, I woke up thinking I was late until my wristwatch reminded me what time it really was. So after another 2 hours of rest, my alarm clock sounded off and I drug my weary body out of bed and prepared for the mission. I have increasingly grown to hate my alarm clock and the chirping sounds it makes. I met up with my new teammates and we started our usual routine of preparing the MRAPs, mounting weapons, ammunition, checking out the radios, etc. (READ MORE)

Josh McLaughlin: Al Qaeda: Franchise or Conglomerate? - This blog post comes out of a series of email discussions with DP, and is the first of at least two posts. These posts are intended to generate thought and discussion; I need you to challenge this theory! If you are a returning reader, you will undoubtedly recognize the word “franchise” from prior posts as we discuss al Qaeda’s offshoots around the world. If you are not a returning reader, I suggest you read this article from the BBC for background, and click here and here for a few of DP’s recent posts discussing franchise terrorists. These groups include (but are not limited to) al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Harakat Shabaab Mujahideen (HSM), and al Qaeda in the Caucasus (AQC). Over the course of my discussions with DP, I began to visualize al Qaeda and its subordinate “franchises” under a different commercial simile: that of a business conglomerate. (READ MORE)

Shawn Mahood: The Curious Case of Dr. Randeep Mann - In an article dated January 10, 2010 the Los Angeles Times reports that Dr. Randeep Mann stands accused of deploying an IED which destroyed the 2005 Lexus belonging to Dr. Trent Pierce, chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board, who was gravely injured in the attack which occurred in his driveway in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Mann had been investigated on numerous occasions by the Arkansas State Medical Board for questionable practices regarding his prescriptions for controlled narcotics and just prior to the attack, his permit to prescribe narcotics had been revoked. On the surface, this case seems to be one of simple revenge motivated by a perceived institutional slight in the form of a revocation of a professional license. But, if we look more deeply into just who Dr. Mann is, we find a disturbing story which brings up many questions and offers few answers. (READ MORE)

Army Poet: Back in the USA - Back in the good old homeland! Cold, and a bit tired on my arrival. Will be doing some traveling here, and will give my impressions as I perambulate across the USA. When I was in the immigration hall at the airport a small altercation broke out between an older man and a younger one and his family. It resulted in the older man being pushed to the ground...It was all a very bizarre sight...Strange thing to see on my arrival back, and not even 10 minutes on US soil. I found the event disturbing, because it resulted from a misunderstanding, and involved people of different races, and ages. I do feel that in the USA we sometimes take things, (such as presumed slights) too personally. I see this even when I drive on the highways in the USA.... Things seem to come down to a "me vs. you" zero-sum game. I see this also in the false divisions among our people that the talk show pundits attempt to create. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Just A Note Of Clarification - The real war in Afghanistan, which is rarely acknowledged in the columns of dipshit Western pundits, is between pro-government Afghans and the Taliban thugs who are trying to assassinate them. Our job is much less the work of defeating the Taliban than it is defending and supporting the Afghans who are the Taliban's real enemy: "A suicide bomber attacking a pro-government militia commander detonated his bomb-laden vest in a southeastern provincial capital, Gardez, on Thursday, and witnesses said he killed 10 people and wounded 27, most of them civilians. Also on Thursday, the governor of a neighboring province survived a bomb attack. In Gardez, capital of Paktia Province, witnesses said the suicide bomber walked up to the commander, Nasir Paray, who leads one of the many pro-government armed groups in the area, and detonated his vest. The commander died in the blast, which also killed four children." (READ MORE)

Charlie Simpson's War: It’s Pedicure Time - I love pedicures. Am I too lazy to cut my own nails? Maybe. Am I too lazy to polish them? Almost certainly. That is until now. I can’t remember when I had my last pedicure. But I can tell you what color I got, because it’s still lingering there on my wee little toes. (I meant to remove it before I left and, well, didn’t.) But now! Thanks to an assortment of care packages, my toes need be neglected no more! First my mom sent nail polish. (Not “I’m not really a waitress”, but it will do.) Next wondergirl Rosina sent a Bliss pedicure kit. Hott. But the final piece arrived from the unlikeliest of places: my DC co-workers included nail polish remover pads in their Berlin-airlift-comes-to-Kandahar morale package. Woohoo! Victory! (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: How a Plugged-In DC Think Tank Published a General’s Brutal Intel Critique - In military circles, the talk all week has been about how and why the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan wound up publishing a scathing critique through a small-but-influential think tank. Now, we’ve got the answers. When Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn published his tough assessment of the military’s spy agencies in Afghanistan, it caught Pentagon officials by surprise — not least because Flynn distributed it through Center for a New American Security. While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said through his press secretary that he thought Flynn’s findings were “spot on,” he made it clear he was a bit uncomfortable with the conduit Flynn used to distribute the report. Reuters, quoting Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, said Gates had “real reservations about the general’s choice of venue for publication.” So how, exactly, did the think tank get picked to publish the report? (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: ‘Afghan Insurgency Can Sustain Itself Indefinitely’: Top U.S. Intel Officer - The Taliban not only has the “momentum” after the most successful year in its campaign against the United States and the Kabul government. “The Afghan insurgency can sustain itself indefinitely,” according to a briefing from Major General Michael Flynn, the top U.S. intelligence officer in the country. “The Taliban retains [the] required partnerships to sustain support, fuel legitimacy and bolster capacity.” And if that isn’t enough, Flynn also warns that “time is running out” for the American-led International Security Assistance Force. “Regional instability is rapidly increasing and getting worse,” the report says. Since General Stanley McChrystal took over as top commander in Afghanistan, there have been a series of dark appraisals about the state of the war. In August, McChrystal warned of an “urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way that we think and operate.” (READ MORE)

Doc H: Still Stuck at BAF - I am still here at Bagram. All things considered it is better than the last time I was here. I am in a better tent. I know where all the chow halls and services are. I found the cleanest bathrooms in our area. There are numerous challenges, but the most problematic is just being here. The Navy has mandated a 3 day Warrior Transition Program at Kuwait. Too bad I will have to wait 2 weeks in order to get to this 3 day program. It is overbooked for the entire month. At this point I am just ready to return and start to readust to life back home. One thing that is truly amazing are the lines. Lines for the phones, computers, food, beverages, toilets, ATM machines, and anything else you can think of. Maybe this is a final dose of deployment just to make me even more appreciative of life at home. I doubt that is possible though. (MORE)

Fire and Ice: And New Things Begin...... - Well, I'm now officially retired from the Marines. Among other things this means I am no longer constrained expressing my political sentiments and opinions. So first things first, I encourage each of you to contribute, as I just did, to the Senate campaign of Scott Brown . Brown is a Lieutenant Colonel and Judge Advocate in the Massachusetts National Guard. Each of us in the US military takes a sacred oath to uphold and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. As an armed combatant I fought the former with my blood. Now, as an educated private citizen, I can fight the latter with my treasure. I invite each of you to consider doing the same. (MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Spouse Overcomes Reunion Hurdles - I spoke yesterday with Army spouse Kelly Henry, a retired Navy commander and mother of four, about the challenges of reunion and reintegration after a deployment. Kelly’s husband, Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Michael Henry, a family medicine doctor, had recently returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq. The first few days after his arrival were tough, said Kelly, who lives in Fayetteville, N.C. “I’d say it took a good month to get back to normal,” she said. “The first couple of days, a kid was glued to his side constantly. Now we’re a lot more casual. We’re back into our regular routine.” Kelly said it’s important to give the servicemember space and time to decompress. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Cordesman on Flynn - I think Tony Cordesman, a seasoned int veteran, has written the definitive take on the Flynn report, "Fixing Intel." I agree with every word. My favourite quote: "As a final comment, Fixing Intel repeatedly focuses on the need for internal transparency and to fight the tendency towards overclassification and compartmentation. This reflects a valid concern, and a tacit recognition of the fact that one never knows whether one is better off shooting the enemy, or ones own public affairs and security officers. All three actions generally have the same positive effect." It's not all that wry, of course. His comments on the failure of accurate assessments of host nation forces being a major cause of defeat in Vietnam resonate strongly with me. Also what he has to say on intelligence-sharing with Pakistan. It always baffled me that any product about the enemy in Afghanistan, from route names to assessments, to UAV feeds, was classified, and therefore unshareable with any of our Afghan friends. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British Army chief: Afghanistan war under-resourced for years - The international military effort in Afghanistan was under-resourced for years, the head of the Army has said as US troops prepared to take over operations in an area which has seen some of the bloodiest fighting for British forces. Chief of the General Staff General Sir David Richards said US President Barack Obama's surge strategy could see American troops playing a greater role in northern Helmand province. He said he was hopeful casualty levels would diminish towards the end of a ''tough'' 2010 but added that a military presence would be required for up to five years. Gen Richards' comments came as it was announced that Rupert Hamer, the Sunday Mirror's defence correspondent, was killed in an explosion yesterday while embedded with US Marines in Afghanistan. Commanders in Afghanistan, led by US General Stanley McChrystal, are considering using US troops to provide security in the more remote areas of Helmand province. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British journalist Rupert Hamer killed in Afghanistan - It is with great sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm an incident in Afghanistan involving two UK journalists from the Sunday Mirror newspaper, embedded with the United States Marine Corps. The two journalists - the newspaper's defence correspondent Rupert Hamer and photographer Philip Coburn - were accompanying a patrol to the north-west of Nawa, when the vehicle in which they were travelling struck an improvised explosive device. Despite the best efforts of medics at the scene and subsequently Mr Hamer died of his wounds. Mr Coburn remains in a serious but stable condition. One US Marine and a member of the Afghan National Army were also killed in the explosion. Four US Marines were left seriously injured. Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, said: "Both Rupert Hamer and Phil Coburn accompanied me on my most recent trip to Afghanistan. I got to know them well and I was impressed by their hard work and professionalism. (READ MORE)

Highland Sailor: Belated - Happy Hogmanay! - I've really been looking forward to 2010...now I can say "I get to go home this year", which sounds a lot better then going home next year. To bring everyone up to date, my shop had a small gathering for Christmas and and even smaller gathering for Hogmanay (New Years Eve)...FYI, non-alcoholic beer, tastes like cr@p, even after 6 months without the real stuff. Yes, I am only one in the correct Aloha casual attire. The Army and Air Force just don't know how to dress appropriately for a party. I've gone "outside the wire" on a couple of missions that I won't talk about due to OPSEC. I promoted my Sergeant First Class to Master Sergeant and I was able to recommend and an "On-the-Spot" award (Joint Achievement Medal) to a very talented and hard working Petty Officer. Bravo Zulu (That's Navy for Good job) to MSG and PS1! (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Counting down the Days - Not much new and exciting going on out here. It has gotten a little bit colder, but not much. Temp is in the low to mid 70's during the day, and the 40's at night. I expected a little more rain, but there hasn't been much. I finished my college classes up. They went pretty smoothly overall. Hopefully I will follow up on that when I get home. Last week, I told you about meeting the football players, particularly about the guy behind me having a picture of Brian "The Boz" Bosworth getting trucked by Bo Jackson. I ended up bumping into the guy the other day and asked him how it went, and he said The Boz was really cool about it, and signed the picture "Bo Knows The Boz". Our relief should be getting here in a month to do turnover. It's all down hill from there. Update on Dave: The newest on Dave, is they moved him from ICU to a regular room, and are on there way to moving him to a rehabilitation center in either Philly or Richmond. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Welcome Home! Not So Much - All the time we were in Iraq and using internet at dial-up speeds we thought how great it was going to be to get back to America and have real high-speed internet. We would also have cell phones and text messages and voice mail and all of the lovely ways to keep in touch that we missed. We are in the US. We are almost home. We have cell phones. There is high-speed internet--sometimes. The high temp today was 34, it will be 29 tomorrow. Our cell phones only work outside the barracks. We have been here at the transient barracks at Fort Dix for five days. The internet has been down for two full days and part of every other day. I know I am bitching about very small things, but context is important. A dozen high-ranking officers and NCOs greeted us at the plane when we landed. I have no idea who they were. Many more will greet the rest of our unit as they arrive. Some of them will fly in from Montana, Connecticut, Illinois and other states or just drive from Pennsylvania. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Baathist Plans - If you wonder why Iraqis are paranoid, the Financial Times has a story that might shed some light. The U.K. ambassador talks about Baathist plans to return to power. "John Jenkins yesterday issued the warning over the potential threats to Iraq's democratically elected government during his testimony to the Iraq inquiry in London. 'If you look at the history of Iraq, the history of military coups in Iraq, you have to think that that is always a possibility - a real possibility - in the future,' he said." The story says, "One of the main risks to political stability remained the cadre of senior Sunni officers in the Iraqi army with past ties to Saddam's Ba'ath party. This fear was reflected in the widespread belief in Iraq that Ba'athist factions were behind the most recent bomb attacks." Just because Iraqis are scared, it doesn't mean the Baathists aren't out to get us. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Frightening Scenario - "It's all written," an old man said today. "There's no point in trying to change anything," he said. "It's all written." The man said the winners in the March 7 election will be the Shiite Alliance, and there is no point in fighting it. We must prepare ourselves for the reality. He talked about the attempt to block a dozen or so politicians, including Saleh Al Mutlak, from the upcoming election. "Did you see Saleh Al Mutlak on TV?" The man asked. "He talked as though he gave a damn about the Sunnis in Iraq." He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and said, "He's a thief like the rest of them." What about the others who the committee tried to block, I asked. "Let me tell you about Nehru Kasnazan," the old man said. "He hails from a spiritual family up north." He said they're dervishes who put themselves in a trance. "His father used to run the Abdul Qader Gailani mosque." (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Making it All Better… - As parents we want nothing more than to protect our kids. When they are hurt we want to be able to kiss the boo-boo put a bandaid on it and send them off to play with and " all better". I use to sing the boo-boo song ot my kids which they hated but it took their mind off the whatever injury they had and was an almost instant heal for minor boo boos. When are kids are seriously sick or hurt we feel helpless and would give nothing more than to take on their pain for them so they don’t have to suffer it. But we can’t. And for me that helplessness is increased because I am suffering the same pain as my three younger kids. We all hurt for the loss of Micheal. I can’t heal it for them I can’t carry it for them. And I know that like me this is one injury that will never heal for them. I watch helplessly as they all express their pain in their own ways. And I learn from them as they each find a way to cope with it. (READ MORE)

Learning To Live: sort of resolution - So here I sit a few days into the new year . . . thinking about 2009 and wondering what will really happen in 2010. I did not make any real resolutions for 2009 but posted this last year: As for 2009 . . . who cares . . . life will continue and I will continue to live and hopefully be happy and healthy . . . isn't that what matters the most? Well that was pretty bold wasn't it? SO some of you know how exciting a year 2009 was for me (and Colin) . . . never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine my life would change so much. I traveled a road that I never expected to travel again . . . and as I said above, "who cares . . . life will continue." I am at a point where I must make some hard decisions about my future . . . decisions that will bring me happiness but also bring unhappy feelings to people that are important to me BUT I know what I want . . . why is it some times those are the hardest decisions to make? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike kills 4 Taliban fighters in North Waziristan - The US killed four Taliban fighters in the latest strike on a Taliban camp in Pakistan's tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strike targeted a Taliban training camp in the village of Ismail Khan in an area west of Miramshah. The compound is said to be run by Rasta Barkhan, a tribesman closely linked to the Taliban. At least one unmanned strike aircraft fired two missiles into the training center, AFP reported. Five unmanned aircraft were said to be operating in the area prior to the attack. The missile strike took place in territory run by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander who administers North Waziristan. The Pakistani military signed a peace agreement with Bahadar even though he continues to shelter al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and sends his forces to battle the US and NATO in Afghanistan. The last three strikes in Pakistan have taken place in tribal areas run by Bahadar. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Remembering Dane Paresi - Updated: The CIA folks at the funeral were completely close-mouthed, but CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote this piece for Sunday's Washington Post. Portland had a glimpse Saturday of a hidden world, when Dane Peresi was memorialized and buried at Willamette National Cemetery. It's not often that the CIA comes to Portland to mourn one of its own. Here's the story from Allan Brettman, who covered the funeral for The Oregonian: Dane Clark Paresi, a retired Army master sergeant who grew up in Portland, was a hero who saved lives on the day a suicide bomber killed him and six other Americans on a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan, a CIA official said at his funeral Saturday. "His job, simply, was to keep others safe in hostile territory and his diligence with which he worked did just that," said Mary Rose McCaffrey, deputy director of security for the CIA. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: most Afghans optimistic about the future, poll finds - Newly released annual polling in Afghanistan conducted in the country's 34 provinces in December 2009 from BBC/ABC/ARD suggests that Afghans are more optimistic about the future; 70 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, up from 40 percent a year ago . 83 percent of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan are supported by 68 percent of Afghans and the Taliban by 10 percent; 72 percent of Afghans support the more than 30,000 additional U.S. and NATO troops being sent to the country. The full polling results are available here. Karzai submitted a second round of picks for his cabinet on Saturday, after the Afghan Parliament roundly rejected 17 of his 24 original choices, though lawmakers indicated that Karzai faces another uphill battle in getting his choices confirmed as the new nominees have been criticized for lacking necessary credentials, being too close to warlords, or were selected for supporting Karzai. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Smearing The Troops. It’s What The Liberals Do - This is the latest brain child of the Liberal war room. An attack ad which focuses, of all things, on unsubstantiated, unproven, unfounded allegations about our possible complicity in the maltreatment of suspected Taliban detainees. The Liberal Party is now so far removed from the foundations of a morally centred worldview, that rumours spread by the Taliban are now the basis for spending the donations of Liberal supporters to attack the Conservative government. Think about this for a moment. You’re a Liberal supporter. You’re interested in the party because you want them to press the government on economic recovery, jobs, the environment, health care, and education. You donated your hard-earned tax dollars in the hope that the party would do something relevant to achieve these ends. And what you get instead is this. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Militants Moving from Iraq to Northern Afghanistan - The source for this is an eminent scholar whose reputation in the field is rivaled by few. Basically, what he describes is the movement to northern Afghanistan of a local fighter and his large number of followers who withdrew from the fight in Iraq once they released that their position was no longer tenable after a particularly bad defeat near Irbil. In a demonstration of the anger and cruelty this man possesses, he tortured and killed his former leader after determining him to be incompetent. Apparently he feels that he and his men will be better able to fight off the foreign forces and their local allies by basing himself in northern Afghanistan. The foreign forces have responded by making alliances with locals and following a policy of “reconciliation” with some of their former enemies, placing far too much trust in these men of “dubious reliability” according to my source. (READ MORE)

The Belmont Club: Looking out the window - Major General Flynn USA, Captain Pottinger USMC and Paul Batchelor of the DIA recently put together a paper on how to improve intelligence in Afghanistan. It’s opening paragraph is a classic: it at once summarizes the problem of a bureaucracy attempting to escape from its own toils and possibly forced into reliance on foreign intelligence agencies to get eyes “on the ground”. The problem has two roots: the paucity of capability at the grassroots, where much is known but where there is little time for systematic data management and analysis and salvo-chasing. Intelligence assets are focused on the most pressing problem of the moment and the long-term foundations of building a sound intelligence base are neglected. The biggest roadblock to fixing these problems, according to the authors isn’t money, or numbers but attitude. (READ MORE)

McQ: Irony - White House "Chafes" At Afghan Surge's "Slow Pace" - The president that decided to again change strategies in Afghanistan after announcing his "new" and "comprehensive" strategy soon after taking office and then dithered for months before making a decision on the "surge" is now concerned that the troops he's committed aren't magically going to be there and ready when he wants them there. Remember the "let me be clear, this decision has delayed nothing" rhetoric"? Well, let me be clear - his inexperience apparently has left him with the false impression that troop deployments are an overnight thing. And now the usual finger pointing from the White House has begun. As you might imagine, it really has nothing to do with the troops per se. They can be loaded up quite quickly and flown into Afghanistan. But, as the old saying goes, "amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics". And the amateurs in the White House apparently don't understand the impact the addition of 30,000 more troops in theater have on an already strained logistics system: (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: No Secrets to Marine Plans for Marja - We have covered the issue of the progressive campaign for Helmand, the poor resourcing of the Now Zad district until recently, and the inadequate resourcing of the border regions. But the Marines have made no secret of their intent with regards to Marja. No, it isn’t a secret, just as the campaign in the Now Zad district wasn’t a secret, and when it was finally fully engaged with the right number of Marines, the Taliban had scurried away knowing that death awaited them if they didn’t leave. Partial success, that was. We cleared Now Zad, but the killers were allowed to escape to Marja and other whereabouts. Nicholson’s statement is troubling. The second option – “make peace with his government and reintegrate” – makes it clear that he is treating this as a classical insurgency / counterinsurgency campaign. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Rules of Engagement Problems in Kunar Afghanistan - For those who haven’t followed events in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, as reported at the end of December, approximately nine people were killed in the Kunar Province during a raid by U.S. forces. "Nine people killed in a military action targeting militants in eastern Afghanistan apparently were members of an insurgent network, a U.S. military official told CNN on Tuesday." The narrative quickly turned ugly, from the U.S. forces killing students execution style, to small children being taken from their bed in the middle of the night, handcuffed, and executed. U.S. Special Forces have in fact been called swine for this behavior. The fact that the narrative has contradicted itself (it wasn’t children at all who died, but children who witnessed their fathers being killed) isn’t important for critics who listen too carefully to Taliban propaganda. Spencer Ackerman has worked himself into a lather over these events. (READ MORE)

Most Certainly Not: Return to Sender - Very excited to report that my husband has been issued an official Mail Stop Date. In military speak, this is the date after which packages and other mail should not be sent to deployed service members as their time where they are is to short to guarantee delivery. That's GREAT news and I'm happy to have at least ONE firm date from the military at this stage of the game. We had a busy, but good day today. My nephew turned 6 and M2 and I went to his house to help celebrate. It was so nice to see family. Also could not get over a 2-year-old adorable little girl calling my younger sister, Mamaw. Yes, my sister is a grandmother. Her husband is a little older than her and his first marriage began when he graduated from high school, so his daughters are up and out. The oldest is married and has a daughter--my sister's granddaughter. So weird! I'm so looking forward to M1's basketball being finished. (READ MORE)

Loving a Soldier Blog: Good-Byes - There are so many wonderful things about the Army...the adventures, the helicopters, the artillery, the opportunities it presents us with. However, there is one REALLY, REALLY hard thing about the Army: the goodbyes it forces us to say. Sometimes, we have to say goodbye to our Soldiers before they go into the field or before they deploy. Other times it's a sad goodbye after a really fun 18 day R&R. Sometimes, it's saying goodbye to family that lives far away. Many times, military families don't get to live in the same town or even the same state as their extended family. Only seeing your family for a few weeks out of the year can make for some pretty tough goodbyes! Perhaps one of the hardest goodbyes for me, as a little guy, is having to say goodbye to my friends. It seems like it was just a few days ago that I was saying goodbye to my friends at Ft. Polk. Now, it's already time to start saying goodbye to my friends at Ft. Sill. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
USO Plans Family Centers at Bethesda, Belvoir - USO officials plan to build family centers at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., and Fort Belvoir, Va., to continue the USO’s tradition of bringing troops a piece of home. The project was inspired by the Army Community Services center at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said Sloan Gibson, USO Inc. president, who toured the facility in March. (READ MORE)

Chairman Calls Strategy Year’s Greatest Challenge - Executing the president’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan presents his biggest challenge, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told CNN host Fareed Zakaria today. However, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he sees progress being made in both countries. (READ MORE)

Adaptive Sports Inspire Wounded Veteran - Wounded military members struggle with an endless set of challenges in overcoming their physical and mental disabilities. And no one may understand what it takes to get past those hurdles better than Army veteran John Register. Ironically, Register’s left leg was amputated in 1994 following an accident in which he jumped across a hurdle. A member of the Army’s World Class Athlete program, he landed wrong and dislocated his knee while training for a track and field event. (READ MORE)

Air Force Studies Brain Injuries - Compression chambers used to treat divers who experienced “the bends” after ascending too quickly may offer clues to treating wounded warriors suffering traumatic brain injuries. An Air Force study at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio hopes to determine if hyperbaric oxygen therapy shows promise in treating patients with mild to moderate traumatic brain injuries. (READ MORE)

Laws Change for Military, Overseas Voters - Servicemembers and overseas voters shouldn’t assume they automatically will receive ballots for the 2010 elections just because they have in the past. Previously, voters would receive absentee ballots for up to two cycles following their request, Bob Carey, Federal Voting Assistance Program director, said yesterday during the 2010 election year kick-off. He said new laws require voters to submit federal postcard applications for absentee ballots on a yearly basis. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraqis Say They Were Forced to Take Blackwater Settlement - Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by the firm formerly known as Blackwater alleged Sunday that they were coerced into reaching settlements, and they demanded that the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified. (READ MORE)

Privatized War, and Its Price - A federal judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, has provided another compelling argument against the outsourcing of war to gunslingers from the private sector. In throwing out charges against Blackwater agents who killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007, Judge Urbina highlighted the government’s inability to hold mercenaries accountable for crimes they commit. (READ MORE)

Forces Chief Sir Jock Stirrup Faces Calls to Stand Down Early - Britain’s top military commander faces mounting pressure to step down from generals who believe that he lacks the necessary experience to lead the war effort in Afghanistan. Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, is expected to be asked to retire earlier than planned to allow one of the two most senior army commanders to take over the role of principal military adviser to the Government. (READ MORE)

British Journalist and American Marine Die in Afghan Bomb Explosion - A British journalist embedded with an American unit in Helmand Province was killed along with a Marine when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb, the British Defense Ministry reported Sunday. It was the second time in two weeks that a Western journalist had been killed on an embedded assignment, underscoring the increased risk on the roads as military operations intensify in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

British Reporter Hamer and U.S. Marine are Killed by Roadside Bomb in Afghanistan - A British journalist with the Sunday Mirror and a U.S. Marine were killed Sunday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in volatile southern Afghanistan, British officials and the reporter's newspaper said. A photographer with the newspaper was seriously injured in the attack in Helmand province, the newspaper and British officials said. (READ MORE)

Three Days of Violence in Karachi Kill 35 - Three days of violence in Pakistan's commercial hub, Karachi, have killed at least 35 members of various political parties. The French News Agency (AFP) on Sunday quoted an anonymous senior security official as saying the targeted killings by unidentified gunmen began Thursday after police discovered the headless body of a worker from the city's dominant political party, the Mutahida Qaumi Movement. (READ MORE)

How the CIA Can Improve its Operations in Afghanistan - In terms of loss of life, the bombing of the CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, may be the most costly mistake in the agency's history. So it's important to look carefully for clues about how it happened and lessons for the future. CIA veterans cite a series of warning signs that the agency wasn't paying enough attention to the counterintelligence threat posed by al-Qaeda. (READ MORE)

Eastern Afghanistan Coalition Forces Disarm IED - U.S. service members at Forward Operating Base Kalagush teamed up to respond to a call from the National Directorate of Security about an improvised explosive device found in eastern Afghanistan's Nengarach village, Dec. 31. U.S. Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment were on their way to a security shura in Alingar when they received a call from Hanan, the NDS chief, stating there were rumors of an IED located near the Nengarach village. (READ MORE)

Marines Build OPs to Provide Security - The convoy stopped and Marines looked at each other with confused looks, knowing that there are very few reasons a convoy abruptly stops. The machine gunners swiveled in their turrets on high alert, surveying the area. Ironically, their excitement died when the Marines learned their convoy had stopped for a possible improvised explosive device. While convoying down route Cowboys for a mission, a road viscously laden with IEDs, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, found roadside bombs and a weapons cache. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Jan. 11 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound on the east side of Kandahar City and detained suspected militants. In Khowst last night, a joint security force captured a Haqqani facilitator and other militants responsible for bombing attacks, after searching a compound southeast of the village of Sherubawut, in the Nagir Shah Kot district. (READ MORE)

Helicopter Hard Landing in Helmand - During a landing this morning at a base in Helmand province an ISAF helicopter and its crew experienced a hard landing. The helicopter is not flyable. There are no injuries to the crew. The accident is being investigated. There are no indications of enemy involvement. (READ MORE)

Weapons Caches Found - Afghan and ISAF forces found a weapons cache in the Shindand District of Herat yesterday. The cache contained two 107mm rockets, two 82mm mortar rounds, two anti-tank mines, two pressure plates and five artillery rounds. In the Now Zad District of Helmand today, ISAF forces discovered a cache of 320 large-caliber machine gun rounds, three rocket-propelled grenades, two pressure plates, an artillery round, eight mortars and AK-47 ammunition. (READ MORE)

Illegal Drugs, Weapons Seized in Helmand - Afghan National Police working with ISAF air and ground elements coordinated Thursday morning to seize more than 800 pounds of opium in Helmand province. Four individuals were arrested in the operation. Separately, an ISAF patrol operating near Nawah-Ye-Barakzai also in Helmand, discovered a weapons cache including two 155-mm artillery rounds, 15 RPG warheads and other IED making materials, Saturday afternoon. (READ MORE)

Marines, ANA Clear Laki Compounds - Throughout Jan. 4-7, the Marines and sailors of Jump Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, rose from their dew covered sleeping bags, grabbed a meal ready to eat and prepared for a patrol. There were clearing compounds within the vicinity of the village of Laki, in Garmsir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, along with, the Marines and sailors of Weapons Company, 2/2, and their counterpart Afghan National Army. (READ MORE)

Marines Interact With Locals in New Territory - Laki, a village in Afghanistan, located in the southern portion of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment's area of operation in the Garmsir District of Helmand province has never had a conventional coalition force visit or even walk down its streets. The Marines and sailors of Weapons Company and Jump Platoon, 2/2, were the first to break this streak as they entered the village and patrolled the streets of Laki Jan. 4-7, 2010, to familiarize themselves with the local populace and to begin providing security in the area. (READ MORE)

ABC's Sawyer heads to Afghanistan - Diane Sawyer is in Afghanistan, her first overseas trip as anchor of ABC's "World News." She'll anchor from Kabul Monday and Tuesday, and travel with the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. ABC "Good Morning America Weekend" host Bill Weir has been embedded with U.S. forces and will also be delivering reports. (READ MORE)

Taliban commander blows himself up in Pakistan - Pakistani officials have said that a militant commander has blown himself up with a grenade, apparently to escape capture during a police raid in Peshawar earlier today. The authorities said that four police officers were wounded in the blast. Local TV reports said that police, tipped off by an intelligence report, raided a house on the outskirts of Peshawar, where Taliban rebels had been in hiding, and arrested four of them. Security officials then closed in upon Irfan, but he reportedly blew himself up upon seeing them. (READ MORE)

Suicide bomber kills at least eight in eastern Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia earlier today, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 24 others. According to police, 28 more were wounded, some heavily. A spokesman for the provincial governor said a security personnel supervisor was among those killed. The explosion occurred at 16.30 local time (12.00 GMT). (READ MORE)

How journalists embedded in Afghanistan are too close for comfort - Journalists attracted to the warzones of Afghanistan usually jump at the opportunity to get close to the action or, better still, be able to file purple prose about coming under fire. Increasingly the favoured gun battles, which can be watched from a relatively safe distance by embedded journalists, are being overshadowed by the need to drive around unpaved roads of southern Afghanistan which have proved vulnerable to roadside bombs. (READ MORE)

Karzai selects sacked minister for key post in Afghanistan's new cabinet - Hamid Karzai has offered the main responsibility for fighting Afghanistan's narcotics industry to a sacked former interior minister who was widely accused of corruption and incompetence during his time in government. In a move which is likely to infuriate the British, who lobbied hard for his dismissal from his former job running the country's police, Zarar Ahmed Moqbel has been named as one of 16 candidates for posts in Karzai's next cabinet. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan authorities commit to taking over former Bagram detention facility - Afghan officials on Saturday signed a memorandum of understanding to delineate the process through which Afghanistan will take over the US military's Parwan Detention Center that was formerly housed at Bagram Air Base. The transfer of responsibilities may take place within six months, and will initially rely on the Afghan Ministry of Defense to run the facility. (READ MORE)

Xe contender for key Afghan work - Blackwater Worldwide's legal woes haven't dimmed its prospects in Afghanistan, where the company is a contender to be a key part of President Barack Obama's strategy for the country. Now called Xe Services, the company is in the running for a Pentagon contract worth US$1 billion ($1.3 billion) to train Afghanistan's national police force. (READ MORE)

No secret as U.S. Marines plan for Afghan assault - Haji Zair, 45, has just been appointed the new district governor of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in the centre of Afghanistan's Helmand province. His first goal is just to be able to live there. The area is still controlled by the Taliban, the last major bastion of the fighters in the southern part of Afghanistan's most violent province, and for now, Zair only enters the district by day, retreating to his home outside by nightfall. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: Roadside bomb kills 3 charity workers - Afghanistan's Interior Ministry says a roadside bomb has killed three charity workers and wounded two others. The ministry says Sunday's blast struck a vehicle carrying the charity workers to their office in Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province in south-central Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

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