February 1, 2010

From the Front: 02/01/2010

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

Dispatches:
Old Blue:
Blasphemy - The idea’s being kicked around… though probably not by anyone who is capable or motivated to make a change in the policy… but it has been heard by these ears plenty; and from plenty of people. Most of them have “been there, done that.” They have the little knickknacks on their apparel to show it. The idea itself is about the knickknacks; the badges. “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” ~John Belushi Oh, yes, we do. We really really do. We have a little phenomenon in the Army called, “Badge-hunting.” Although mid-grade officers, very senior NCO’s and fobbits are most often accused of it, everyone wants their “stinking badges.” It affects how those who haven’t yet “gotten some” go about their business. They are looking for the fight that will earn them their combat badge, either the CIB (Combat Infantry Badge) or CAB (Combat Action Badge). Medics are less likely to go way out of their way to get their CMB (Combat Medical Badge), but if they earn it, they want it. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Afghan Desk Weekly Roundup - This week saw the return of Afghan Desk, along with an explanation about where I’ve been and why I’m back. Our return was celebrated with an hour long call-in segment on the Dan Rea radio show, though Kabul was both tense and oddly normal after a series of attacks last week. Next, we shared the story of a woman who was offered a deal by an Afghan district attorney: Sell your daughter to raise bribe money so your son can go free. Then, thanks to a new transparency initiative by the US military, we took you inside the US military’s prison system in Afghanistan. We ended the week with a trip to a dog fight. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: MRAP Certified - For the past two days I have been in class learning about all the gauges, knobs, and devices on various MRAP models. So now I am certified on all 3 of the MRAPs to include the Max Pro, Cougar, and RG-31 models. The only one I haven’t trained on is the new MATV. But the best part of the training was that it was conducted locally. We did not have to go to BAF for our training. The contractors normally conduct the MRAP classes at BAF. Somehow our ETT leader with his power of persuasion convinced them to visit our camp and train our team members. So now instead of the Air Force being the only ones trained on MRAPs, our Army brothers can experience the joy of being behind the wheel. Before long, I might work myself out of a job since they recently qualified on the crew serve weapons too. The first part of the course instruction was “Slow Death by PowerPoint”, but since we already went through the torturous 40 hour course on another model MRAP, we were given the condensed and abbreviated 14 hour course. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Death by drone? - If Hakimullah Mehsud is dead, it is good news for Pakistan. If his deputy Qari Hussain Mehsud is also no more, so much the better. This would mean a potentially fatal double blow to the vicious, al Qaeda-affiliated Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Confusion still surrounds the circumstances of the January 14 or January 17 suspected U.S. drone strikes in Waziristan that were rumored to have left Hakimullah, the current chief of the TTP, dead. The remoteness of the area and the absence of adequate ground intelligence in Waziristan usually makes the verification of such high-profile casualties very difficult. Although the TTP sent out an audiotape purportedly by Hakimullah Mehsud on January 16, it did little to clarify doubts about his livelihood. The fact that it was a brief audio message instead of a videotape that came out of South Waziristan further fueled speculation that Hakimullah was probably dead or seriously injured. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Terrorism on Trial: Countering AQ's Phase IV Strategy - There has been buzz in the news throughout the morning about the legal framework US authorities, led by the Department of Justice, ought to use to try terrorists. Al Sahwa has previously explained the main options available while discussing the case of Nidal Malik Hasan. The reporting, and accompanying conversation, is circling the case of Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day, underpants, would-be bomber. The Washington Post has two articles here and here that beg us, once again, to question the interconnecting elements of terrorism with our Constitution - as well as our social fabric and the values and traditions celebrated by them. You may read complimentary articles on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's (KSM) trial from the NY Times, and/or the implications for our prison population (that I discussed previously in the link provided) from the Philadelphia Inquirer. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Impact of Multiple Deployments on Children - The new reality of repetitive deployments has led to innovative programs and policies designed to assist military children in dealing with the difficulties of deployments. Initiatives—ranging from “flat daddies” replacing deployed soldiers at the dinner table, to senior leaders ceremoniously signing the Army Family Covenant at installations across the world, to the First Lady proposing nearly $9 billion to support military families—point to the growing concern that multiple deployments may be as stressful to Army children as they are to soldiers. Despite the increased attention and seemingly endless resources directed at children in deployed families, however, there has been very little research examining the effects of multiple deployments on children. In March of 2009, Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras from the U.S. Army War College began a two-phase study to examine the effects of multiple deployments on Army adolescents. (READ MORE)

Mudhafar al-Husseini: An Iraqi in America: 'Time is like a sword' here - It has been almost nine months since I arrived in the United States. I can't believe how fast life is moving and how different my family’s days are now are from the old days—that was a beautiful time. Everything is changing now. There's no simplicity for us anymore. New Year’s Day 2010 was also my birthday, my first in America. I turned 24. Living in the States is at times funny, at times weird, and at times sad. I have to admit that I rarely feel like a stranger here. I seldom feel that I'm not at home because everybody is friendly and nice, and if not, it’s because they have their own business; they never interfere in your personal life, which is sometimes good and sometimes not because you need people in your life to fill up the space. I have not felt the cultural shock that many people had warned me about. There aren't any major differences because, after all, we are all humans and we share a lot in common. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: What Layton Said - I was waiting to see who the first journalist would be to congratulate Layton for calling for capitulation to the Taliban in September 2006. To bestow that congratulation, you'd have to be under the confusion that the same proposal is going forward now in London. Well, the award goes to Paul Wells, who wrote today: "Kudos to the NDP Leader" and gave his post the galling title "Ahead Of His Time". Here's how Layton is being quoted: "A comprehensive peace process has to bring all combatants to the table." Gosh, that's so vaguely worded it could almost be twisted to mean anything, no? Don't let the euphemism of "comprehensive peace process" fool you: what Layton was blatantly and openly calling for was the removal of international soldiers by way of cutting a deal with senior Taliban members. He wanted troops out, and troops out now. Throwing around sophistries doesn't change that. Adrian gets it. So does Terry. (READ MORE)

Dan Cnossen: January - Hey everyone - thank you all so much for your patience and understanding during my recent absence from these updates. January 2010 has been the busiest month of my entire life! And undoubtedly one of the best. Now, where to start....Dan has been up on the stubby legs for quite a while now, and is doing remarkably well walking on them. He's made all the progress that he can on the stubbies and is actually ready for his C-legs, which are the legs with computerized knees that he will use to walk every day, but wouldn't you know....we are waiting for the parts to come in. So in the meantime, we decided to get crazy and just travel all over the place. Some travel has been for therapy purposes, and some has just been for fun (but we can still use the excuse "therapy", right?). We started 2010 off with a trip to New York City to watch the ball drop in Times Square. We went with a group of guys from Walter Reed and had the best time. (READ MORE)

Doc H: The Odyssey continues - It took Odysseus 10 years to find his way home after the end of the Trojan War. It took me about 4 weeks of steaming home on a very old Naval vessel (LPD-1) to get home from the Desert Shield/Storm. I have to keep these time frames in perspective, since I am still trying to make my way homeward. I left Camp Spann on the 5th of January. After languishing 2 weeks in Bagram and have 4 flights cancelled or held up to leave Kuwait I have a new goal. My new goal is to be out of Kuwait before the 1st of February. I think this is a realistic goal since otherwise we will be entitled to another tax-free month. The list of policies and excuses which have kept us here is lengthy and would be even more humorous if I were not experiencing them: A broken plane, a plane iced in, a warning light, a new plane, a tired crew. In fact some are so absurd I may even use the quote I have heard so often during this deployment "You can't make this stuff up" (READ MORE)

BruceR: A point of clarification - In case anyone was wondering, yes, I was Capt. Rob Semrau's S2 in Afghanistan. I regret I don't know him well personally, and I was a long way away and out of comms when the actions over which his court martial is centred occurred. So I'd have very little useful info to add in any case, even if I wasn't being mindful of the prohibition on Forces members commenting publicly on matters under investigation or before the courts. One point that does bear clarification, though: Peter Worthington's column on the issue is the latest press piece to call Semrau's activities the result of an "ambush" on a "patrol." This couldn't be further from the truth. The battle on the day in the question, which was primarily fought by 200 soldiers of 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 205 Corps of the Afghan army, with Canadians imbedded, was a north-to-south clearance operation, as straight-up a "form up and advance, two companies up" type deliberate offensive maneuver as one is ever likely to see in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Rainy Day in a White City (Updated) - Jalalabad finally has some winter weather with much needed rain. The mountains surrounding the Kabul River plain have little snow; the weather has been unseasonably mild and dry thus far this winter. A dry winter is a real disaster in a parched country, which relies so heavily on small scale farms to feed its people. So the rain is good but only if it stops soon. Nothing is straightforward in Afghanistan even when it comes to rain – a few more days of this will render most of the housing structures unstable. Houses made of mud bricks do not handle the wet well at all. Yesterday Dexter Filkins filed an interesting story on the recent conversion of the Shinwari tribe to the Afghan government side of the conflict. The Shinwaris have around 400,000 or so members in the southeastern portion of Afghanistan and are a major tribe. That they have openly declared themselves to be against the Taliban is significant, but not that much. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: US Marines facing a 'different war' in Afghanistan - Abdul Salam, an elder in this impoverished Afghan village, rose to meet the approaching Marines and Navy corpsman. Behind him, his mosque had a new concrete floor and two windows. Last month, before the Marines paid him to refurbish it, the mosque was windowless and had a dirt floor. The Marines’ investment, $1,200 to pay for building materials and labor, was part of an outreach effort intended to reduce violence in Helmand Province. Following the emphasis on a more assertive counterinsurgency approach mandated last year by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, here on some of the country’s most dangerous ground, infantry units are using this winter to try a soft touch. In the province’s lower Nawa District, many conventional missions for now are a low priority. Airstrikes and high-explosive artillery fire are in disfavor. Even mortar fire is rare. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Looking Towards the Vote - People don't want to make solid predictions about the upcoming vote. It's five weeks away, and there isn't any real way to guess who will come out ahead. In the United States, right before an election there are various polls that hint at who might be the winner on election day. In Iraq there is no such survey that I know of, and even if one existed, it would not be reliable. People in this region tend to tell the questioner what they think he wants to hear. For this reason it's difficult to guess who might win March 7. I went to an office in an important ministry today. There I asked the workers to guess who might win. A couple of guys laughed nervously. One of them said, "May whoever is good for Iraq win the election." A woman in hijab fumbled with her computer mouse and said, "Inshallah our group will win." I asked which group that might be. She said, "Our group." I gathered they were not comfortable talking about it, so I left the subject alone. (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: That Afghan Show - I haven’t been in Afghanistan since September, missing my January window of opportunity this year. Fortunately, our Afghans have discovered Skype and the FabFi-GATR-internet have been sufficiently stable that I haven’t missed much. Having Afghans with high speed internet and skype is pretty much like having TV (something else we don’t have by choice, like heat). The intrepid FabFi team in Afghanistan (now exclusively Afghans) have been expanding at a quick pace and everyone wants to gab. As long as the connection is up it seems at least one is online and wants to chat. Some of it is utterly content-less and we patiently plod through with the idea that it’s good English practice. Keith is fantastic at half-rolling out of bed in the morning for a couple hours of conversing - I’m just not socially presentable until there’s at least a couple cups of coffee in me. Previously on “That Afghan Show”,… (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Reports of Pakistani Taliban leader's death are premature - Rumors that the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has been killed in a US airstrike have resurfaced in the Pakistani press. But the Taliban have denied the reports and the Pakistani Army and US intelligence officials have no indication that he was killed. On Sunday, Pakistan TV broadcast reports that Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud died of wounds suffered in a US airstrike on Jan. 14 in a region along the North and South Waziristan border. The strike, which targeted Hakeemullah, killed 15 terrorists, including two Arabs and several Uzbeks. Hakeemullah has been buried in a graveyard in the Mamondzai region in the Arakzai tribal agency, according to the report. The Taliban have denied that Hakeemullah was killed. "Hakeemullah is alive and safe," Azam Tariq, Hakeemullah's spokesman said. "The purpose of stories regarding his death is to create differences among Taliban ranks, but such people will never succeed. (READ MORE)

The Life: Leaving My Second Home - Though going home is definitely an exciting time, there are certain aspects of Iraq that I will miss. This is definitely not a complete list, but it should provide some insight into the parts of Basra that will be hard to leave behind: The comraderie, friends, and knowing that you are never alone; Structure, schedules, and defintive plans; Free laundry service, food, fuel, pop; Workout facilities, with no monthly dues; No need to worry about what to wear on a given day; Free travel (even though it is only around southern Iraq and Kuwait); Feeeling of job security; Winter weather, which is quite nice. Note that I will have no trouble leaving behind summer's weather; Sense of purpose; The area in general. Despite being a desert, there are many beautiful marshes, structures, etc., that provide a sense of belonging here; Our Iraqi partners. I know they are in good hands with our replacements, but it will still be bittersweet to know that I may never see them again... (MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Inspired care packages...any ideas? - The dog days of deployment. Past the halfway mark, but not close enough to homecoming to start planning any visits. Even when I do have a return date, those plane tickets better be changeable; the military loves to throw curveballs at the last minute. This is when the care packages start to feel obligatory. Not that I don’t want to send great stuff; I’ve just exhausted the fake mustache/easy button that spouts bad language/do-it-yourself S'mores creative juices. Ideas! I need ideas to round out this deployment on a high note! Hmmm… It’ll come to me, the perfect care package idea. Until then, feel free to help me out with your great ideas! Please keep praying for our troops and their safe return. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Ghilzais and Durranis, Sittin’ in a Tree - The New York Times should know better. Spencer pokes fun that I’m out to prove small errors as examples of mendacity, but I don’t assume mendacity on their part—just deep, deep, really surprising ignorance. Let’s start with this graphic: It’s difficult to know where to begin, so we’ll start at the top. The first point the NYT makes—that Pashtuns make up only 38% or so of the population—is correct, but this graphic misses that the other 62% of the population is non tribal. So when they discuss “traditional Afghan tribes,” they are really discussing Pashtun tribes. The distinction matters, since in that same point they correctly point out that ethnic distinctions carry weight—if only about a third of the population is tribal, and the ethnicity of those tribal people is at the “top” of the rung, then you’re not really discussing Afghanistan, you’re discussing those tribal people. So from the start, the Times is misleading its readership in labeling this a discussion of “Afghanistan’s traditional tribal structure.” (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The PRT Underwear Gnomes Come Out in Force - It’s sad to think about the extent to which American foreign policy is guided by magical thinking (by almost any definition). This is especially so in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where policymakers, pundits, and think tankers seem especially opposed to viewing the region as it actually is, rather than what they wish it to be. One of the ideas people are convinced will “fix” Afghanistan is the Provincial Reconstruction Team. These teams, usually a company of soldiers headed by a Navy or Air Force field grade officer and a few USAID or USDA officials, are meant to kickstart development efforts, mentor the local governor on how to administer his area, and administer government programs. It all sounds very lovely in concept. But what’s the end state? PRTs were originally called Provincial Transition Teams, since they were meant to transition administration from the U.S./ISAF to the Afghans. You don’t hear PRT people talking about transition much anymore, at least officially. (READ MORE)

Guard Wife: Hearts Aren't For Sleeves - I can tell the end of this deployment is in sight. Aside from the long to-do lists, the bags beneath my eyes, the new white hairs popping up all over my head (note to self: root touch-up tomorrow night...STAT!), and my constant desire for but inability to sleep, I'm also not explaining myself anymore. I've kind of decided it isn't anyone's business what's going on with me and, especially if you don't know me, if you have an issue with how my show is running at this point? Well, too bad. At the beginning of deployment, I live under the disillusion that I will be able to be all things to all people. Then, the deprivation of some of my favorite things (sleep, sex, help at the house) sets in and I have moments where I cannot even remember important things, let alone peripheral ones. In those moments where I'm caught, I'm self-deprecating. I apologize profusely. I trot out that my husband is deployed, I'm just a girl in the world, and I realize I'm an abysmal failure and could someone please just put me out of my misery and forgive my ineptness? (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: If Jack Layton Wants Credit For This, By All Means, Let Him Have It. - Of course it would be both a farce and an irony of the most absurd kind, but what the hell. Now that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is pouring his old appeasement wine into a new bottle he calls "peace at any cost" and Afghanistan's feminists, secularists, human rights activists and democrats are once again overcome by that sickly sensation of having knives thrust into their backs, some people have become absolutely giddy with the idea that we should all thank Jack Layton for what has happened. Over at Macleans, under the headline Ahead Of His Time, Paul Wells writes: "Kudos to the NDP leader." Wells recommends his readers to his colleague Aaron Wherry, who has strung together a bunch of quotations from people in such a way as to imply that everyone had been far too beastly when they mocked 'Taliban Jack' in response to Layton's September, 2006 remark: “A comprehensive peace process has to bring all the combatants to the table.” The headline on Wherry's quote collection: And You All Laughed. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Talking to the Taliban/ANA Update - Not as simple as many Canadian opposition politicians and pundits (really disgusting example here) seem to believe. A good piece of real reporting in the Globe and Mail: If the West reaches out, will the Taliban talk? Like previous failed attempts to negotiate, it remains unclear who from the Taliban is at the table, and whether they have their leader's blessing... And another side to the matter: Wooing Taliban could backfire, envoy warns - Canada's top envoy in Afghanistan warns wooing the Taliban could backfire on coalition forces if peaceful Afghans feel put out. William Crosbie, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, told reporters yesterday the gesture is pointless if others perceive the Taliban as being favoured... (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Crisis averted, or more of the same in Iraq? - Glenn Reynolds links Paul Mirengoff at Powerline, who infers that a crisis has been averted in Iraq. "I wrote here about the disturbing prospect that the disqualification of hundreds of Sunni candidates in the unpcoming Iraqi elections would degrade those elections and perhaps prompt a surge of sectarian violence. But now, as Max Boot reports based on statements by General Petraeus, it appears that, not for the first time, Iraqi politicians have averted the crisis through a compromise. According to Petraeus, the disqualfication list is no longer weighted against the Sunnis. (There are no doubt many Iraqi figures who richly deserve to be disqualified)." But the Fadhil brothers who write for Iraq the Model are as good of Iraq political analysts as can be found anywhere. Mohammed writes: "Feeling the need to provide an explanation, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki asserted that the decision to ban 500 candidates from general elections is not targeting Sunni Arabs." (READ MORE)

Maj Pain: Al Qaeda blamed for Quran burning - Gang- Below is an article of yet another attempt by the enemy to action a desperate tactic against us. It didn’t materialize as we mustered locals, silenced crowds and educated locals to ensure they understood that the enemy is desperate and apparently has no respect for their holy book or religion as they destroy it during lies against their own people. Your Marines continue to take the fight (daily) to the enemy despite dozens of planted pressure plate IEDs and ambushes. The winter hasn’t slowed any attacks, only the high tempo is squashing the enemy’s actions. You would be very proud of your Marines and what they are doing, even if it doesn’t ever get recognized by the press or anyone else but here. Semper Fi-time for a cigar! (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
Cousin answers call to service - When Army Sgt. Joshua Brennan of McFarland was killed in Afghanistan in 2007, it only stiffened the resolve of his 17-year-old cousin, Joseph, to join the fight. “After Josh died, I told Joseph, ‘You can’t be getting out there for vengeance to find Josh’s killer,’ ” said Joseph’s father, Terry Brennan of Mequon. “But that wasn’t it. He was proud of what Josh did and wanted to follow in Josh’s footprints.” (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Leaving Nebraska for Iraq - Laura al-Asadi has found her heaven in a cold and dusty apartment in Baghdad’s Red Zone. Mrs. Asadi, a 49-year-old from Lincoln, Neb., has married an Iraqi and moved to Iraq’s violence-ridden capital. Mrs. Asadi, formerly Laura Jane Galter, met her future husband on MySpace on March 17, 2009. They fell in love online within days and in May 2009 began to make arrangements to marry. (READ MORE)

Female suicide bomber hits Iraq pilgrims, kills 46 - A female suicide bomber walking among Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad detonated an explosives belt on Monday, killing at least 46 people and wounding more than 122, officials said. The bombing was the first major strike this year against pilgrims making their way to the southern city of Karbala to mark a Shiite holy day. (READ MORE)

U.S. Examines Whether Blackwater Tried Bribery - The Justice Department is investigating whether officials of Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi government officials in hopes of retaining the firm’s security work in Iraq after a deadly shooting episode in 2007, according to current and former government officials. The officials said that the Justice Department’s fraud section opened the inquiry late last year to determine whether Blackwater employees violated a federal law banning American corporations from paying bribes to foreign officials. (READ MORE)

Russia's Lukoil Wins Iraqi Contract to Develop Major Oil Field - The Iraqi government has awarded a contract to Russian energy company Lukoil and its Norwegian partner to develop a major oil field in southern Iraq. Iraq signed the deal Sunday with Russia's Lukoil and Statoil of Norway for expansion of the West Qurna Phase 2 oil field, one of the country's largest. (READ MORE)

Incremental Steps in Iraq to Let Kurdistan Oil Flow - The semiautonomous region of Kurdistan is the one place in battered Iraq that promised economic boom times, but some of the foreign oil companies that rushed in over the past few years are becoming increasingly restless. Their multibillion-dollar deals are still mired in a bitter political dispute between the Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Tony Blair's Iraq Statesmanship - The British media are outraged that Tony Blair still does not regret toppling Saddam Hussein. Pundits from left and right are aghast that the former premier, testifying at yet another Iraq war inquiry on Friday, offered no apology for his role in deposing a man who had repeatedly invaded his neighbors and massacred his own people by the hundreds of thousands. We're not sure what real purpose the so-called Chilcot Commission—named for its chairman, retired civil servant John Chilcot—is supposed to serve. (READ MORE)

Shock, Awe and Abracadabra - The full history of war profiteering in Iraq may never be known, but it will be hard to top the magic wand known as ADE 651 as a symbol of corruption. The hand-held wand, wielded by Iraq’s security teams at hundreds of checkpoints, is supposed to detect car bombs and weapons. But the battery-free device — supposedly powered by the static electricity of a soldier’s body — turns out to be a very expensive hoax, no more reliable than a coin flip or a Ouija board. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Scandinavia at War - The NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, must know as a Dane that his fellow Scandinavians won’t be contributing much to the troop surge he has promised in Afghanistan. With more than 1,600 soldiers in the fight (or in Afghanistan anyway) the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian militaries say they’re already going full tilt. They will stay — but expect no Viking surge. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Taliban deny reports their leader died - The Pakistani Taliban on Monday denied reports that their leader died from injuries sustained in a U.S. drone strike in mid-January, saying they would try to provide proof he is alive in the next few days. The denial came a day after a state television report of Hakimullah Mehsud's death set off a flurry of speculation and prompted the government to announce it was investigating. (READ MORE)

NATO Commander Sees Pivotal 2010 for Afghanistan - Just returned from an international conference on Afghanistan, NATO’s top military commander expressed confidence that the critical pieces are being put into place to make 2010 a turning point for Afghanistan’s future. Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who participated in the Jan. 28 International Conference on Afghanistan in London as part of the NATO delegation, said he’s seeing the international community coming together in an unprecedented way to ensure the new strategy succeeds. (READ MORE)

U.S. makes small strides in getting Afghan army fighting fit, but hurdles remain - As part of President Obama's plan to dramatically increase the size of the Afghan National Army, the first contingent of additional U.S. troops has arrived and begun taking over the training of new Afghan recruits, hoping to build up the local force to 134,000 battle-ready soldiers in 10 months. (READ MORE)

A Look at America’s New Hope: The Afghan Tribes - For three decades now, Communism, civil war and Islamic fundamentalism have laid siege to Afghanistan’s tribes. In many ways, Afghanistan’s tribal structure is arguably the weakest it has been in the country’s history. Nonetheless, American civilian and military leaders are turning to some of these tribes as potentially their best hope for success against the resurgent Taliban after being frustrated by the weak central leadership of President Hamid Karzai. (READ MORE)

President Karzai invites Taleban to join peace talks with Government - President Karzai announced a timetable for the first round of peace talks with the Taleban yesterday as US troops admitted that they may have bombed an Afghan army base by mistake. The Afghan President said that a grand assembly would be convened within the next six weeks to give the Taleban and other insurgent groups the opportunity to speak face-to-face to the Government. (READ MORE)

Karzai Appeals to Taliban to Put Down Weapons - Afghanistan's president appealed to Taliban fighters Sunday to put down their weapons and accept Afghan laws as the government and its international allies push a program to entice militants away from the insurgency.President Hamid Karzai spoke three days after he and Western backers agreed at a conference in London to create a more comprehensive program to bring Taliban insurgents over to the government's side in order to reduce violence that has raged in recent years. (READ MORE)

Afghan President Calls for Reconciliation with Taliban - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has renewed his call for Taliban militants to stop fighting his government and accept Afghan law. During a news conference in Kabul Sunday, Mr. Karzai urged Taliban members to work for peace. The president spoke three days after he and Western allies agreed to a comprehensive program aimed at providing former Taliban fighters with jobs and housing in exchange for renouncing extremism. (READ MORE)

Hamid Karzai fails Taliban who gave up arms - The room the Taliban commander Mullah Mohammad now calls home, after bringing his 21 fighters to join the Afghan government’s reintegration programme earlier this month, is barely more comfortable than the mountain redoubt he left. He sits on a thin mat and leans against the wall, his skin dark and weathered, facing the battered Kalashnikovs and a vintage Russian mortar launcher he surrendered in return for promises of money, jobs and land for him and his men. (READ MORE)

Taliban denies reports that leaders met with U.N. envoy - The Taliban on Saturday denied meeting with the United Nations' special representative in Afghanistan and vowed to persist in its war "against the invaders." The denial came in response to news reports that Kai Eide, the outgoing U.N. envoy, held a meeting in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, this month with members of the Taliban leadership. (READ MORE)

Kazakh official warns against quitting Afghanistan - When Kazakhstan's foreign minister, Kanat Saudabayev, begins a five-day U.S. visit in Washington on Monday, one of the main topics of discussion is likely to be a proposal to hold a summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Taliban Leader Is Reported Dead - Pakistani and American officials said Sunday that they were increasingly convinced that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s chief domestic enemy and the man behind the suicide attack on a C.I.A. base in Afghanistan in December, had died from wounds sustained in a drone strike. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Army Investigates Report Mehsud is Dead, Taliban Denies Report - The Pakistani army said Sunday it is investigating reports that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud died from injuries sustained in a U.S. drone missile strike in mid-January. The army's announcement followed a report on Pakistani state television that Mehsud had died and has been buried. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan's corruption poses dilemma for U.S. military - The meeting in a muggy tent at Kandahar Airfield was dragging on when a lieutenant colonel with the Army Corps of Engineers broke in with an uncomfortable question. "I'm not sure how to put this," he told some 40 American soldiers and civilians gathered here two weeks ago in the heart of Taliban territory. (READ MORE)

Thirty Days Through Afghanistan Project, Web Site Announced - The ISAF Joint Command announced a new web site today to support a public affairs project titled "30 Days Through Afghanistan." The web-based project kicks off Feb. 8 and aims to bring the people, the mission and the experiences of ISAF's 44 participating nations to a worldwide audience through the eyes of U.S Air Force Technical Sgts. Nathan Gallahan and Kenneth Raimondi. (READ MORE)

Afghan Civilian Turns in Cache of Explosives - An Afghan civilian turned in a cache of explosives to ISAF forces in the Badghis province this morning. The cache consisted of more than 70, 82mm mortar grenades and two, 82mm recoilless rocket projectiles. Since September, more than 252,000€ ($350,000) in cash rewards has been paid to Afghans for turning in weapons or for providing tips leading to the recovery of weapons. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Feb. 1 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in the town of Chahar Bagh, in the Nahr-e-Saraj District of Kandahar last night and detained several suspected insurgents. In Khowst province last night, a joint security force searched a series of compounds south of the village of Goldar, in the Sabari district and detained several insurgents. (READ MORE)

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