January 14, 2010

From the Front: 01/14/2010

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

Dispatches:
Afghanistan My Last Tour:
Wardak Pre-Mission and Day One - On a concrete basketball court, long strands of white tape formed segmented grids. Each square grid was marked by their respective longitude and latitude degrees. Shale rock would serve as a border outlining the route and signify the mountainous terrain. A toy Jeep was used to demonstrate the route and the various stops that were planned. Our ANA counterparts watched with eager interest as the whole mission was mapped out in front of them. This battlefield drill was one of the many tools used in conjunction with PowerPoint briefings used for our upcoming mission. Our mission was to escort the Brigade ANA General throughout Wardak Province and visit numerous ANA Combat Outposts (COP) and Observation Posts (OP). In conjunction with a platoon of ANA soldiers, my brigade team would provide joint security for the general. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Counter Narrative Information Operations - It is nearly impossible not to notice the media coverage surrounding the Obama Administration's phrasing when discussing terrorism. Many are upset at the administration’s decision to stop using the term "Global War on Terror", or Janet Napolitano's use of "man-caused disasters" to describe acts of terrorism. The President followed up this change in mindset with his June 4thCairo speech emphatically stating, "America is not --and never will be--at war with Islam." This change of mindset is regularly viewed either as soft approach to counter terrorism, or a shocking failure to grasp the situation at hand. I have not found conclusive evidence that would point to the Administration's phrasing as part of a new strategic information operation, which was what I initially thought. The Rand Corporation recently stated that a third of the homegrown terror plots since 9/11 occurred in 2009. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: drone strike 'misses' top Pakistani Taliban leader - The current leader of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was reportedly targeted in the seventh alleged U.S. drone strike in 2010 in the Shaktoi village in the Pasalkot region of North Waziristan earlier this morning, but three intelligence officials, four militants, and a spokesman for the militant group all said Hakimullah Mehsud had left the area before the strike and is alive and "completely safe," according to the spokesman, though around a dozen other suspected militants were. After Hakimullah's predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by a U.S. drone in August 2009, it took the militant group weeks to confirm his death among apparent infighting over his succession -- a struggle during which Hakimullah was also reported killed. (READ MORE)

AfPak Channel: 2009 deadliest year yet for Afghan civilians - 2009 was the deadliest year since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan for Afghan civilians, according to a just-released report from the United Nations, and the Taliban and other insurgents killed nearly three times more civilians than coalition forces; most Taliban-caused deaths were from suicide bombings, executions, and homemade. More than 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed last year, a 14 percent increase over 2008, and civilian deaths caused by Western forces dropped 28 percent from the previous year. Update: the full report is available here. The Obama administration reportedly plans to ask Congress for an additional $33 billion in war funding, most of it to go toward the expansion of the war in Afghanistan. The request is likely to receive support on Capitol Hill, though could expose further rifts between Obama and more liberal Democrats. (READ MORE)

TIM HSIA: Is the Military Getting Soft? - Rank doesn’t matter, nor does it count if your father was a general or a sergeant major: Anyone who reports to his or her unit on Day One in poor physical condition has lost the respect of fellow soldiers. One company commander in my previous unit enjoyed testing his new lieutenants with a five-mile run at a blistering pace the day they arrived, followed by pull-ups, push-ups and a gamut of other calisthenics. Perhaps this commander was channeling his inner Gen. David H. Petraeus, who once said, “When we bring a new guy in, I take him out for a run …. I want to know how he’ll react and respond to the challenge, what his strength of character is.” While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the military’s doctrine and equipment, physical fitness is still a trait that commanders state is of paramount importance. When my unit was deployed, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Rod Coffey, stressed the importance of physical fitness by holding several athletic competitions. (READ MORE)

Bones: The Backbone of Modern Islam - Like many other Americans I have been pondering the question, “Are there really any moderate Muslims?” After all, so goes the average American argument, ‘where have they been during this jihad? Why haven’t spoke up? Why haven’t they protested?’ Yet when finally they do, in of all places Iran, we all but ignore their plight. Has anybody ever considered that the moderate Muslim does not dare to speak out? Perhaps it is for the very same reason that white Christians failed to speak out against the persecution of blacks in America’s bigoted society of yesteryear. Perhaps it is the very same reason that the average German did not speak out against atrocities perpetrated on Jews in the 1930’s or 40’s, or that the average Russian dared not speak against Stalin and his ethnic cleansing of the Ukraine. How about all that historic rhetoric we hear from the Spanish Christians protesting the persecution of Protestants and Jews during the Inquisition in the 1400’s? (READ MORE)

Fire and Ice: Chapter One. . . .Last Day - With the able assistance of the writer Don DeNevi I'm in process writing a book about my experiences as a combat artist. Here is the first draft of the first chapter for your review. Last Day: “Them good old boys were drinkin whiskey and rye And singin, this’ll be the day that I die, this’ll be the day that I die” Don McLean, American Pie - I woke early. My GI alarm clock, a full canteen drunk just before going to sleep, had worked like a charm with a loud persistent call of nature. For a few minutes I lay in the dark shuffling off the grog of sleep and orienting myself. What’s the date? No idea. Day of the week? No joy there either. Does it matter? Not really. It’s Monday, everyday is Monday. Where am I? At least I knew that. In a farmhouse in a place called Ubaydi. A dull throb at my left wrist reminded me of the previous day’s fighting. A sliver of shrapnel had dug deep into my non-drawing arm just above the head of the ulna. (READ MORE)

Family Matter Blog: Army Addresses Quality-of-life Issues - I found a great article on the Army News Web site by Rob McIlvaine about the Army Family Action Plan conference, which is under way in Arlington, Va., this week. About 350 delegates from across the Army are meeting to discuss 82 quality-of-life issues that originated at the installation level over the past year, he reported. Throughout the week, delegates are discussing and prioritizing issues to whittle them down to a top 16. The top five will be presented to Army senior leaders Jan. 15. After representatives identify the issues that impact quality of life, Army leaders provide policy changes that are aimed at making tangible changes for servicemembers and their families, the article said. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Sanitised war coverage on TV reflects our ambivalence to conflict - There is, as Bill Rammell correctly points out, an extraordinary disconnection between the British people and the warriors sent to fight on our behalf. True, the 24-hour news media constantly pump information from the battlefront into our homes, but often that news is sanitised: it seldom shows the reality of modern war — the periods of boredom punctuated by moments of pure horror and fear. The US ban on showing footage or photographs of soldiers returning in body bags is part of a wider feeling, shared in this country, that the public should not be exposed to such upsetting images. This may reflect a gentler and more humane society, but it also says much about our profound ambivalence about the real nature of war. One effect of this is the absence of military heroes produced by the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. The actions and deaths of soldiers seldom last longer than a single news cycle. (READ MORE)

TankerBabe: 1ST Burton Gets a Little Extra TLC on His Return to Afghanistan after R&R - A little birdie recently sent word that 1SG Burton, 4th BDE, 4th ID, 3-61 CAV B Troop would be returning to Afghanistan after R&R via DFW (Dallas-Forth Worth) airport. You may remember 1SG Burton's name, sadly, because of what his men endured at the Battle of COP Keating. Even before learning that he would be returning via DFW I had planned to travel to Dallas to volunteer with my buddies Caroline and Jamie aka The USO Girls. Unfortunately it didn't work out for me to be in Dallas but Jamie and Linda (one of the huggin' and kissin' grannies) made sure 1SG Burton got a proper send off. 1SG Burton picked a great day to fly via DFW (well, if anything about going back to Afghanistan can be considered "good"). It was Jamie's 4th anniversary of volunteering at the USO. HOOAH Jamie! 1SG you may not realize just HOW fortunate you where. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Must Be Typewritten! - Today I rode to the gate to fill out the paper required for each visitor. Two of my kids are coming to visit on Friday and a friend from work is coming here on Saturday. I rode the two miles to the visitor's center, walked inside and asked for the form. The officer behind the desk handed me a different form than the last time I was there. I asked for a pen. She said, "The form has to be typewritten." I made an exaggerated gesture for looking for a typewriter. "You need to put this information on a form and return it here typewritten or printed. No more handwritten forms. They are hard to read." In case this sounds like a reasonable request, it is only a hardship to soldiers in transient barracks--the soldiers just going to or returning from Iraq. Soldiers assigned here can drive to the gate. Transient soldiers who walk two miles to the gate and find out the policy changed have to walk back, use the one printer per 100+ soldiers and walk or scrounge a ride back. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Bombs, Buddies, and British Boobs - Our platoon just finished a long mission. Alongside another transportation company, we moved a lot of freight a lot of miles. There were nearly a hundred of us. I took some notes during the two days. Tuesday: They had me brief the rules of engagement again. I do it almost every time. Kind of getting tired of it, but I always try to do it well because I believe it’s really important. The way we interact with people on the streets goes a long way to demonstrate that we’re here to help, not to conquer. That’s a tough message to send from behind a machine gun on top of 30,000 pounds of armor moving at 60mph. But a huge first step is to avoid hurting innocent people. I particularly enjoy working with the Afghan National Army on the road. We’re escorting another Army transportation company this time. I’d rather escort jingle trucks. At least they seem to know how to secure a load on a trailer. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Hakeemullah Mehsud targeted in latest US airstrike in Pakistan - The early morning airstrike that struck a Taliban training camp in North Waziristan targeted the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistani officials claimed Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed but the Taliban commander's spokesman denied the reports. The airstrike was carried out by US attack aircraft earlier today in the Pasalkot region in North Waziristan, a region that borders South Waziristan. Two missiles are said to have leveled a compound that served as a madrassa, or religious school. Ten Taliban fighters were reported killed in the attack, according to early reports. Hakeemullah was one of three senior Taliban leaders present during the attack, according to a Pakistani official. "It is immaterial to say how many have been killed in the attack," the Pakistani official said, according to Dawn, noting that Hakeemullah was indeed the target of the US attack. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike hits Taliban camp in North Waziristan - The US killed at least 10 Taliban fighters in an airstrike on a Taliban camp in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan. Two missiles are reported to have hit "a sprawling compound which has been used as a religious school in the past," according to The Associated Press. A house and a madrassa, or religious school, were both leveled in the strike, Geo News reported. The attack took place in the Pasalkot region in North Waziristan, an area close to the border with the neighboring tribal agency of South Waziristan, where the military is currently conducting an offensive against the Mehsud branch of the Taliban. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was reported killed in the early morning strike in North Waziristan. His spokesman denied he was killed. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 12 Jan 2010 - well there is more moving of people all over the place… lots of people in and lots of people out … this place is getting crowded — at the chow hall they put up a sign — “IF YOU DON’T LIVE HERE YOU DON’T EAT HERE!!” they have plenty of food, but not enough pans, pots, utinsels, etc… they just can’t push all the people thru in enough time to wash, clean everything and set it back out for the next meal …there are pallets and bags and boxes and connexes and all kinds of gear all over the camp …last night I drove the shop truck and it busted a steering hose…so, that was first thing to work on this morning …not too bad of a job, but it took forever to refill the steering fluid … didn’t even get it done until after lunch … then we went out to the junk yard to steal some parts for a window–one of the teams here ran into the gate and busted all the hardware holding in the window…well, we got all the crap off an old blown up hummer... (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Stand By For Heavy Rolls... - If you live in Marjah and you're one of the fuck-os: "WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military is openly telegraphing a plan to clear out an insurgent haven in what may be the first major battle since President Barack Obama's expansion of the Afghanistan war, hoping that all but the most hardcore Taliban will sit out the fight. U.S. military leaders have spoken bluntly in recent weeks about a looming assault on Marjah, a town in the southwest Afghan province of Helmand described as Taliban-owned and operated. "It's been increasingly clear for weeks now about the need to clear out Marjah, so that's going to happen," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan in December. 'It's going to happen ... at a time and place of our choosing, but it's going to happen.'" This is a well-planned and thought-out move, and it will put a huge dent in the Taliban's freedom of movement in Helmand. (READ MORE)

Sarah: We Cannot Send Touch - This morning I remembered an old post I wrote on missing our spouses with all five senses. I started thinking about the flip-side, how we can send them little bits of the homefront to satisfy their senses as well. In order to keep my husband in the loop with my pregnancy, I can send him photos and videos of me to see. I can send him audio clips of the baby's heartbeat to hear. I can mail him foods that do or don't taste good to me while pregnant. And while there are indeed certain smells associated with being pregnant, I don't have much desire to send him any of that. He can get the point if I just write about it. But I can't send him touch. I have about six weeks left until my due date. My belly is getting very firm and full. I can feel knees and feet and the baby's head from the outside. She can push and I can push back. She kicks and hiccups and bounces all day long. (READ MORE)

Air Force Wife: For Civilians - SpouseBUZZ is a site by military spouses for military spouses, but I'd like to write this post for someone else - civilians. I live in a civilian community right now, and I've been lucky. I am surrounded by people who have been truly helpful and kind. They want to do what they can for our family while Air Force Guy is deployed and I appreciate it more than I can say. But wanting to help and understanding how to help are two entirely different things. And honestly it really doesn't help that I'm fairly typical as far as military spouses go in not wanting to let people know I need help. Because I'm Superwoman and I can do it all myself, thank you. Don't want to put anyone out - I'm fine... In military-speak we all know that means, "Um, guys? Can I get a hand here?" Actually, it wouldn't come out in military speak because we often tend to just barge in with each other and do what needs to be done. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Maybe some former Liberal ministers should be worrying about their asses - Earlier: Senior Liberal: CF "may have been committing war crimes". Now, if war crimes were committed, Mr McCallum seems rather unconcerned about the possible consequences for some of his erstwhile Liberal cabinet colleagues. Any such crimes were the result of following the government's policy--in 2006 that set in place by the Liberals through the December 2005 detainee transfer agreement with the Afghan authorities. The Liberals themselves had been well warned about the possibility of detainee abuse before the agreement was signed. Those who legally would have prime responsibility for war crimes would the members of the government (first the Liberals, then the Conservatives), the senior bureaucrats and the senior CF officers responsible for putting, and then keeping, that policy in place. The guilt, if any, of field soldiers in theatre would be secondary to that of those who ordered them to follow the policy that resulted in crimes. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: In Afghanistan - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD –It might help to imagine this place as something out of a science-fiction movie, set in the distant future, on a desolate, searing-hot and faraway planet. More than 30,000 earthlings from 42 different countries are hunkered down in a vast and heavily-guarded mining colony in the middle of a windswept plain. Groaning, lumbering vehicles rumble around dusty streets. Strange pilotless aircraft circle overhead. Every once in a while a siren wails and a robot voice announces: Rocket, attack. Rocket, attack. It’s the hostile aliens again, firing explosive missiles into the middle of the place. You throw yourself on the ground. You stay there for two minutes, then you hurry to the nearest bomb shelter. You wait for the all-clear siren. You rejoin the streams of determined and ragged-looking machinists, engineers and technicians constantly shambling to and fro, their trades, nationalities and ranks indistinguishable except for the most subtle peculiarities in the patterns on their overalls, or in the weapons they’re carrying, or in the barely-discernable insignia on their epaulettes. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Afghan Detainees And The Liberals: What Really Happened? - Far be it from me to try and take the bull by the horns and tackle an issue as vast and confusing as the secretive and murky conditions surrounding how detainees in Afghanistan have been handled in the care of Canada’s military. But recent information has come to light which reveals that the former Liberal government was aware of systemic abuse and torture in Afghan prisons, even though the Liberal Party has been hammering on the Harper government over an alleged “cover-up”. I shouldn’t really say “recent information”, since most of this information has been what you might call, “hiding in plain sight”, in the form of old news articles on the internet. From 2002 to 2005, the Canadian protocol for Afghan detainees suspected of Taliban ties was to hand them over to US military authorities. The Liberal government at the time was convinced that the treatment of detainees in American custody would be humane... (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: UN Raps Taliban for War’s Massive Civilian Toll - Over the past few years, U.S. and NATO forces have received a fair amount of blame for failures to prevent civilian casualties. But while deadly incidents still occur, the coalition does seem to be making good on a promise by its top commander to reduce civilian harm. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a new report today on civilian casualties in 2009, and the overall picture is grim: Last year was the deadliest yet for civilians, since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. But according to the report, 2009 also saw an overall drop in the number of civilian casualties caused by U.S., International Security Assistance Force and Afghan government forces. UNAMA recorded 2,412 civilian casualties last year, a year-on-year increase of 14 per cent. Of that total, UNAMA said, “armed opposition” (i.e., the Taliban and affiliated groups) accounted for 1,630 deaths. That’s 4o percent more than in 2008, when Taliban attacks claimed the lives of 1,160 civilians. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: V-22 Osprey Sees Combat, Starts Hauling Supplies - During Operation Cobra’s Anger in early December—in which 1,000 Marines and a handful of Afghan soldiers, reports peg the number at a paltry 150—stormed the Now Zad valley in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, the Corps hit a major milestone. It was the first time the controversial tiltrotar V-22 Osprey was used in a combat situation. The operation was conducted in keeping with ISAF chief Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency guidance, in which major population centers must be cleared of Taliban influence, with coalition soldiers moving in to small outposts in neighborhoods, much like the “Surge” in Iraq in 2007-2008. The assault kicked off in the early morning hours of December 4, when Marine CH-53 helicopters inserted a Marine company at one end of the valley, and two Osprey also made two runs each to drop a recon detachment at the other end. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
Army Family Action Plan conference begins - Looking to tackle problems that impact communities throughout the service, some 350 delegates are gathering this week for the Army Family Action Plan conference. The AFAP is an intensive, week-long event where delegates from across the Army meet to discuss 82 quality-of-life issues originating at the installation level throughout the past year. (READ MORE)

Fallen soldier honored at Fort Lewis - His platoon remembers him as a man with a big heart that never quit. Staff Sgt. David Gutierrez was killed Christmas Day when a rooftop bomb exploded while he was on patrol at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. "I've come to realize that his story is not the story of one man, but the story of our battalion," Cpt. Drew Schaub said during a memorial service for Gutierrez on Monday. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:
Iraqis on Iraq - Falluja and Tikrit - As international attention increasingly shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan — we asked Iraqi journalists working for The New York Times to give a personal view of daily life in the areas where they live. Here, we offer views from Falluja and Tikrit as our colleagues Mohammed Hussein and Timothy Williams report on the escalation of violence in recent weeks and a suicide bombing in Anbar Province Wednesday morning. (READ MORE)

It's like an anti-MRAP - The United States doesn’t have a military presence in Somalia (well, not one the Pentagon likes to talk about), but there’s no reason why soldiers can’t get a bit of the local flavor in Iraq. So here’s the scene: The commander of 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment was due to appear at a parade commemorating the 40th day after the death of Hussein. The platoon drove to the mayor’s office to link up with city officials. Strykers weren’t quite the right vehicle to bring to the solemn Shiite procession. (READ MORE)

Lewis troops monitor the border - American military commanders have left little doubt of their annoyance with Iran’s interference in the internal security of Iraq, and much of it can be blamed on the porous border: Smugglers carrying anything from bootlegged cigarettes to bombs pour into Iraq, and its security forces often can’t stop it. But one Fort Lewis company has the task of tightening the frontier. (READ MORE)

U.S. Companies Join Race on Iraqi Oil Bonanza - A wave of American companies have been arriving in Iraq in recent months to pursue what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar bonanza of projects to revive the country’s stagnant petroleum industry, as Iraq seeks to establish itself as a rival to Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Soldiers face enduring threat of IEDs - The Fort Lewis Stryker brigade serving in southern Afghanistan faces myriad challenges: hostile terrain, a daunting mission, an entrenched enemy and soldiers publicly criticizing their command. But the ever-present threat of the roadside bomb overshadows all. (READ MORE)

Insurgent-Caused Civilian Deaths Jump in Afghanistan - The number of civilians killed by spiraling violence in Afghanistan hit a record high last year, although civilian deaths caused by U.S. and allied forces dropped by nearly a third, the United Nations said, indicating that coalition efforts to cut down on civilian casualties are having an impact on the battlefield. (READ MORE)

U.N.: Civilian Death Toll in Afghanistan Last Year Highest Since 2001 - A U.N. report says the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan last year was higher than in any year since the U.S.-led coalition dislodged the Taliban in 2001 for harboring the al-Qaida terror network. The report says more than 2,400 civilians fell victim to the war-related incidents in 2009. (READ MORE)

United Nations: In Deadliest Year for Afghan Civilians, Taliban Did Most Damage - Last year was the deadliest for Afghan civilians since the U.S.-led war began here in 2001, according to a report by the United Nations released Wednesday. But in a shift from 2008, when the United States and its allies were deemed responsible for nearly half of all civilian deaths: (READ MORE)

Afghan Civilian Deaths in 2009 Were the Most Since the Invasion, U.N. Says - War's violence claimed the lives of more than 2,400 Afghan civilians in 2009, the United Nations said Wednesday, the largest annual death toll for noncombatants since the U.S.-led invasion eight years ago. But the proportion of civilian deaths attributed to Western and Afghan security forces dropped sharply in the wake of strict new rules of engagement issued in the summer... (READ MORE)

NATO Commander: Afghan Civilian Concerns More Important than Battles - The commander of all NATO forces says he is more concerned about his troops in Afghanistan earning the support of the Afghan people and building the size and competence of their security forces than he is about defeating Taliban forces in battle. U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis spoke to VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin during a visit to Washington. (READ MORE)

Stavridis Expects ‘Significant Progress’ in Afghanistan - NATO’s top military commander expects significant progress in Afghanistan before the scheduled departure of U.S. troops begins in July 2011, a timeline that he said lends focus to the mission. The remarks today by Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, add weight to an American troop withdrawal start date: (READ MORE)

Islamists Press Jordan to Stop Aiding U.S. Forces in Afghanistan - Jordan, one of the United States’ closest allies in the Arab world, came under pressure on Wednesday from Islamists to stop cooperating with American forces in Afghanistan. Two weeks after a Jordanian suicide bomber blew himself up at a Central Intelligence Agency base in Khost Province, Afghanistan, the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups demanded that the Jordanian government drop its pro-America stance. (READ MORE)

Officials Say Alleged U.S. Missiles Kill 10 in Pakistan - Suspected U.S. missiles killed at least 12 alleged militants Thursday in a compound formerly used as a religious school in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, officials said, the eighth such attack in two weeks. The strike illustrated the Obama administration's unwillingness to abandon its missile campaign against insurgent targets along Pakistan's northwest border with Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Deaths at Hands of Militants Rise in Pakistan - The number of Pakistani civilians killed in militant attacks rose by a third in 2009 over the previous year, according to a new research report, a toll that exceeded even the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The report, released this week by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an independent research group based in Islamabad that tracks security issues, found that 3,021 Pakistanis were killed in insurgent attacks, 33 percent more than in 2008. (READ MORE)

IJC Condemns Attack in Musa-Qalah - IJC is monitoring the situation in Musa-Qalah as early reports indicate several injuries as a result of a suicide attack. "We strongly condemn these indiscriminate, cowardly acts of murder," said Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, IJC spokesman. "Such disregard for the lives of innocent Afghans only further proves the insurgents, and their Taliban masters, are the enemies of the people and Afghanistan's future." (READ MORE)

Frontline Females- Unlocking the World of Afghan Women - It's a scene that has played itself out countless times across this war-torn country. A team of Soldiers passes through a doorway into a room. Women and children stare back at them. Their eyes seem to show their resignation, and perhaps, indignation, at the intrusion into their homes. But this time it is different. (READ MORE)

Australians Pay Respects to Fallen Afghan Army Comrades - Australian and other ISAF service members paid their respects to eight fallen Afghan soldiers. A road side bomb planted on a route between two bases in the Chora Valley, Oruzgan province, operated by Afghan and ISAF service members from Australia killed eight Afghan National Army troops on Jan. 7. ANA soldiers from the ISAF mentored 2nd Kandak were conducting a logistics task when the incident happened. (READ MORE)

IJC Comments on Gov. Mangal's Statement - The governor of Helmand province emphatically discounted claims of protesters yesterday during a meeting with ISAF leadership regarding the civil unrest in Garm Ser District. In a Wednesday evening press release, Gov. Mangal indicated he had strong feelings about the allegations but waited until the investigation had completed to call them a hoax. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud killed in US drone strike? - Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is believed to be among the 15 militants killed Thursday in a US drone strike in the country's northwest but this could not be independently confirmed. Quoting a private TV channel, Online news agency reported that Mehsud and 14 other militants were killed when a US drone fired four Hellfire missiles at a suspected Taliban training camp at Pasalkot village in the North Waziristan Agency along the Afghan border. (READ MORE)

Taliban leader escapes US strike - Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was in the area of northwest Pakistan where a US drone strike killed at least 12 people on Thursday but left before the missiles hit, a militant spokesman said. Missiles fired by unmanned US aircraft hit a militant training camp early on Thursday in a remote area on the border between North and South Waziristan, strongholds of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group, officials said. (READ MORE)

Pre-mature explosion kills 4 would-be suicide bombers in S Afghanistan - Four would-be suicide bombers were killed as their explosive-laden car went off prematurely in Taliban birthplace Kandahar, south of Afghanistan, in the wee hours of Thursday, provincial police chief said. "Four suicide bombers were busy in planting explosive devices in a car in south of Kandahar city mid night, but suddenly it exploded killing all the four terrorists," Sardar Mohammad Zazi told Xinhua. (READ MORE)

30 tons of arms, ammunition discovered in NE Afghan - More than 30 tons of arms and ammunition were discovered during an operation in the northeast Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, spokesman for provincial administration Abdul Maroof Rasikh said Thursday. "The operation which was launched Tuesday lasted one day and covered two villages in Wardoch district. It led to the discovery and seizure of more than 30 tons of arms and ammunition," Rasikh told Xinhua. (READ MORE)

Warm, dry Afghan winter raises fears of food shortages, higher poppy production - Nearly half way through the Afghan winter, unusually warm and dry weather is raising fears of a drought that could cause food shortages, undermine efforts to slash poppy growing and worsen security problems. Snowfall has been far below historical averages across key mountainous parts of Afghanistan, which provide much of the country’s water for irrigation when the spring melt starts. (READ MORE)

Two US soldiers among 7 killed in Afghan violence - Two US soldiers and five Afghans were killed in bomb blasts in Afghanistan yesterday, as the UN reported the deadliest year yet for war-weary civilians caught in a spiralling Taliban-led insurgency. Also yesterday, a suicide truck bomb rocked a southern Afghan town, injuring several people, a day after nine people died as violence erupted at a protest against an alleged desecration of the Holy Quran by foreign forces, police said. (READ MORE)

Truck bomb rocks southern Afghan district - A truck bomb has exploded near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, with initial reports indicating that several people have been injured, a regional official said Wednesday. The bombing in Daman district, about 10 kilometers (six miles) east of Kandahar, the capital of Kandahar province, bore the hallmarks of a Taliban attack, though the militants usually use smaller passenger vehicles, said district chief Sirajuddin. (READ MORE)

Explosion wounds 5 Afghan police personel - Five Afghan police personnel were injured as a blast rocked Ghazni city, capital of Ghazni province in southern Afghanistan, on Wednesday. "The blast occurred in the fourth precinct of the city this morning wounding five police constables," senior police officer Abdul Rahman said. (READ MORE)

Taliban Strongest in Southern Afghanistan, Where Most 2009 U.S. Casualties Were Concentrated - The Taliban is strongest in the southern region of Afghanistan, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), part of a delegation of GOP senators that just returned to the nation's capital from a visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan over the congressional recess. Southern Afghanistan is also home to the largest concentration of U.S. military casualties in 2009, according to a tally by CNSNews.com, and the center of opium cultivation, which is used to finance insurgent operations. (READ MORE)

Franken 'cautiously optimistic' about Afghanistan - Minnesota Sen. Al Franken says he's feeling more optimistic about the war in Afghanistan than he did before visiting the region and meeting with top American commanders and ordinary troops from his state. Franken spoke with reporters Wednesday from Dubai after finishing a tour of Pakistan and Afghanistan with Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. (READ MORE)

Afghan town may be first battle in bigger war - The U.S. military is openly telegraphing a plan to clear out an insurgent haven in what may be the first major battle since President Barack Obama's expansion of the Afghanistan war, hoping that all but the most hardcore Taliban will sit out the fight. U.S. military leaders have spoken bluntly in recent weeks about a looming assault on Marjah, a town in the southwest Afghan province of Helmand described as Taliban-owned and operated. (READ MORE)

Kabul's Taliban Reconciliation Strategy Gains Momentum - Senior Afghan officials have unveiled a plan to reconcile with up to 35,000 Taliban insurgents by offering jobs and vocational training, in the hope that the scheme will gain traction in the lead-up to a major international conference on Afghanistan in London later this month. Elements of the plan, which could cost more than $1 billion to see through, were discussed during a one-day summit in Abu Dhabi on January 12. (READ MORE)

US to release 200 million dollars for Pak under Coalition Support Fund soon - US President Barack Obama's Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has said that the US would be releasing 200 million dollars for Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) soon. During his meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani here, Holbrooke assured that the Obama administration would continue to help Islamabad to overcome the current turbulent situation. (READ MORE)

Afghan parliament to vote on Karzai cabinet on Saturday - Afghan lawmakers will vote at the weekend on President Hamid Karzai's second list of cabinet nominees, after vetoing most of his first selection, parliamentary officials said Thursday. Parliament wrapped-up the fourth and final day of hearings to grill Karzai's new replacement candidates and will vote on them for a second time on Saturday. (READ MORE)

Deadly blast hits south Afghan bazaar - A suicide attack killed at least 16 Afghan civilians and wounded 13 more in a bazaar on Thursday in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province, officials said. "This was a suicide bomber on foot who detonated himself at the gate of a money exchange market," they said. Three of those killed in the blast were children, provincial police chief Juma Gul Himat told Reuters by phone. (READ MORE)

Bomber hits busy Afghan market, killing 20 - A suicide bomber apparently planning to attack a meeting of NATO and tribal officials blew himself up in a busy market district Thursday in central Afghanistan, killing at least 20 people, officials said, making it the deadliest attack against civilians in more than three months. The attack came a day after the U.N. released a report showing that the number of Afghan civilians killed in war-related violence was at its highest level last year, and suicide bombings and other attacks blamed on insurgents were the leading cause of death. (READ MORE)

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