February 2, 2010

From the Front: 02/02/2010

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

Troops Feel Growing Anger in Afghanistan - Below is a very interesting read that popped up on military.com this morning. It highlights the pains, frustration, and issues our forces face when we have to fight with an enemy with no morals, convictions, or rules. Our forces are kept to a much higher standard, which is ironic when we engage in actions like combat which are, by their very nature, the most horrific and rudimentary actions we as human beings can perform. "Anger, frustration and a hunger for revenge are running high among U.S. Marines as casualties mount on the frontline of the battle against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. On a base near Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Marines are grieving the deaths of a sergeant and corporal killed by the remote-controlled bombs that have become the scourge of the long-running conflict. Commanders try to keep the men’s rage in check, aware that winning over an Afghan public wary of the foreign military presence and furious about mounting civilian casualties is as crucial as any battlefield success." (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Around ANA Land - Some days I really don’t know what to write about. My day becomes routine and I consider the things I do rather mundane and uninteresting. But for my wife and family members and now seven hundred daily readers, anything I take a picture of or write about draws them closer and helps them understand my year long experience. As such, here is the latest. While walking around ANA land, an AF Captain pointed to a soldier on the hill side. At first I couldn’t understand what the big deal was until he explained it wasn’t a real soldier. After closer look and explanation, I observed an outline of a soldier constructed of large rocks. The only time you can really see it, is when it snows and then the snow melts revealing an outline of soldier armed with a rifle. Perhaps my blinders have been on and I just never noticed it. So now my curiosity is getting the best of me and I hope to find out more information about this artwork. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: rumors fly over fate of Pakistani Taliban chief - Rumors that the current chief of the Pakistani Taliban died of wounds sustained in an alleged U.S. drone strike in mid-January resurfaced yesterday after a state-run Pakistani television station aired reports that he was killed, and two Obama administration officials told the New York Times and the Washington Post they were at least 90 percent certain Hakimullah Mehsud had. The Pakistani channel also claimed Hakimullah had been taken to the tribal agency of Orakzai and buried several days ago in the village of Tajaka. Hakimullah has been reported dead before and later turned up alive, and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) promptly denied the speculation and promised the Taliban leader would appear alive in a video. If his death is confirmed, however, the TTP has two likely successors for him: Wali ur-Rehman, who leads the movement in South Waziristan and is believed to be the group's chief military strategist, and Qari Hussain, who trains suicide bombers. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Crossroads: Jihadi Infiltration in the US - My colleague, JD, analyzed the use of "Counter Narratives" for the establishment of federal-level engagement teams under the direction of the Department of State. Given the need for coalition building between (a) federal law enforcement and policy agencies and (b) Arab and Muslim leaders and citizens, narratives can constructively undertake information warfare. As I discussed last Friday, it is becoming ever more clear that Al Qaeda's Phase IV Strategy incorporates attacks on US economic and legal frameworks as well as emerging US-domestic operational environments. This is being witnessed internationally, too, as the Taliban, AQAP, and Al Shabaab step-up their transnational terrorism efforts in alignment with AQCL ideology. It is in our national security interest - and the interest of the world - to prevent AQ from establishing safe havens in poor socio-economic regions; as we must protect peoples from their false promises. (READ MORE)

C.J. CHIVERS: Counterinsurgency, One Stuck Truck at a Time - Counterinsurgency, in some circles and by some descriptions, can sound like a glamorous military art. More than often it is not. Early last Thursday morning, a group Marines from Bravo Company, First Battalion, Third Marines, was driving the company commander from the battalion headquarters back to Spin Ghar, where the company’s command post is located. They moved in a column of M.R.A.P.’s, the large armored personnel carriers that resemble bank vaults on wheels. M.R.A.P.’s are manufactured in several variants. All of them have weights measured in tens of thousands of pounds. The Taliban’s fighters have been burying bombs and land mines along trails and roads the Marines use. To try to minimize risks, the patrol leader, Sgt. Steven J. Habon, opted to take a less-traveled route home, through a boggy portion of the Helmand Province steppe. In theory, this made perfect sense. In practice, though, it raised questions: (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Lara Does the Special Forces - My morning email contained a heads up from Mullah John, who is home on R&R. 60 Minutes had broadcast a show on the American Special Forces last night and the segment was “disheartening,” to quote the good Mullah. After watching it I was left speechless – it was worse than “disheartening,” it was awful, and I mean everything about it was awful – from the questions asked by reporter Lara Logan, to the conduct of the “Quiet Professionals” both in training and in battle, the story line (which I could not follow because there was none) – the whole segment was awful. It is hard to know what to say when you see stuff like this but not knowing what to say has never stopped me before so here it goes. The segment was called “The Quiet Professionals” which of course is a great name for an organization which invites 60 Minutes along for a two month embed. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Spouse Urges Families to Be Prepared - It was the weekend before Christmas when the city we live in got buried under record amounts of snow. I remember I left work a little early to avoid driving in the snow and dashed over to the grocery store to stock up on necessities, and then stopped by the shoe store to grab their last two pairs of snow boots for the boys. (They’re growing like weeds but hopefully the boots will last them a couple of years at least!) I called my Dad to find out what I needed to do to prepare for the “big one.” I wasn’t able to reach him on his cell phone. I started my list. Since I have a personal emergency preparedness plan, I knew I had candles, flashlights, toilet paper, chocolate and all the other crucial things you need when you might lose power and are snowed in — oh yeah, and a snow shovel! My colleagues at work laugh at me when I start talking about developing my personal emergency preparedness plan. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: On kites and intelligence - C.J. Chivers, on the fight in Helmand: "Mixing modern weapons with ancient signaling techniques, the Taliban have developed the habits and tactics to evade capture and to disrupt American and Afghan operations, all while containing risks to their ranks. Seven months after the Marines began flowing forces into Helmand Province, clearing territory and trying to establish local Afghan government, such tactics have helped the Taliban transform themselves from the primary provincial power to a canny but mostly unseen force." The good news then is that the fight in Helmand in 2010 has begun to closely resemble the fight in Kandahar Province in 2007, basically the default state for insurgents facing overwhelming firepower, nothing but IEDs and small arms harassment. Hey, I didn't say "great news." The bad news is that as Kandahar shows it's possible to keep that fight going a long, long time. (READ MORE)

Major Richard Streatfeild, OC A Company 4 RIFLES: Paradox - It's a paradox. Having achieved relative control of our new area the fight is now on to keep control. The insurgent is tenacious as well as brutal. We treated a local who had stepped on and partially detonated a roadside bomb. He was flown by us to the hospital in Lashkar Gar. During his stay there his family came to the patrol base where he had been treated to see if we had any news. As they departed they were followed. We found out that the insurgent intended to question them and stop them ever talking to us again. The unveiled threat of the bully. We paid for his father to take a taxi to the hospital. Our man now is back, down a foot unfortunately but extremely grateful for his treatment and speedy evacuation. The Platoon Commander who organised the evacuation is now a family friend. An invitation to supper has been extended. Of particular interest to the Afghans is the presence of a female medic. She provokes confusion and admiration in equal measure. (READ MORE)

Frontline Bloggers: Army doctor recalls her biggest challenge - An Army doctor worked in the beam from a tractor's headlights as she battled to save lives after a bomb blast in Afghanistan. Captain Lydia Simpson, said the incident provided her with the biggest challenge of her career. Just a week after she arrived in the battle zone, a lorry carrying Afghan troops was blown up. Capt Simpson had to deal with eight casualties, whose injuries ranged from shattered legs to shrapnel and head wounds. As the sun began to set she had to use the lights from a tractor to help her work. She said: "The ultimate responsibility rested on my shoulders. "It's not something I will forget easily. Hectic "It was quite hectic, especially in the dark. "I was trying to treat people and direct my medics at the same time. "None of the casualties spoke any English and we didn't have any interpreters around." (READ MORE)

LCpl Paul Livingston: A Day in the life of... - Its 0300 hrs and the Fire Support Group (FSG) A Company 3RIFLES from FOB NOLAY, just south of Sangin are preparing to move out on a Company operation to find and arrest a known Improvised Explosive Device (IED) maker. I am LCpl Paul Livingston, a ‘Jackal' armoured vehicle commander and currently acting as A Company’s FSG second in command. Early starts like this are common because they allow us to move into position without the enemy knowing where we are, giving us the element of surprise. Our role is to secure a route for the Company to move along, and then using the high ground, provide overwatch to allow the Company to move forward safely to the target compound. Not every morning is this busy. Usually my day starts at around 0600hrs. I get into my morning routine, washing, shaving and getting some breakfast, before attending the daily operational brief, which tells us what patrols are happing during the day. This is important especially for the FSG, as we are the quick reaction force (QRF) if any patrols need assistance” (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Confusion Continues - The head of the Sahwa, or Awakening, is threatening to boycott the election. Sheikh Ahmad Abu Risha, who was the key to turning Iraq around, says boycott will lead to chaos. Abu Risha was the person Gen. Petraeus worked with most to win tribes over and cut violence in the country. Abu Risha is angered by the justice and accountability committee's decision to ban some names from the ballot. He doubts the reason behind excluding the 500 plus was ties to the Baathist party. Instead he believes it is certain groups seeking complete control of the government. The renegade committee, which was never approved by parliament, is headed by Ahmad Chalabi and Ali Lami. Lami just said that the publicized lists are not correct. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Determined to Destroy - Persistent as Baghdad flies, the terrorists struck again today. At least 41 people have been killed and 106 injured by a female suicide bomber in northeast Baghdad, an interior ministry spokesman said. The killer hid her explosives under her long black robe and landed among innocents before she blew herself up in the middle of some poor Shiite pilgrims. Why? Maybe the killer hated the fact that the majority of the 500 or so names excluded from the ballot are Sunni. Plenty of Iraqis agree that it's wrong to ban them from the March 7 election. Why kill people in a poor neighbourhood over it? I haven't heard anyone I know speak in favour of the justice and accountability committee. Abdul Rahman Rashed has a good piece [Arabic] in Asharq Al Awsat today. Most people know Ahmad Chalabi is behind this election committee, but Rashed writes the other guy, Ali Lami, has become the scariest man since Saddam Hussein. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Saying Good Bye… - I don’t think I have ever truly said good bye to my son. There was a moment at the funeral when they had put the casket on the hearse and I wanted with every fiber of my being to walk through the parted crowd and kiss it and say good bye..but someone turned me to express their condolences and I miss my moment to say good bye to my son how I wanted to. That I didn’t push through and take those steps still haunts me. Oh I had spent time at the funeral home the night before. But it was that moment I needed to do what my heart begged to do and I didn’t. I hate myself for not walking through that parted crowd. I think fear of falling apart also held me back. I had managed to stay collected on the surface that whole week. My kids needed me to. I also think I just plain did not want to say goodbye. Here it is almost 2 years later and I still don’t want to say it. I never said good bye to him in life. It was always “take luck” between us. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: SHORN - Shorn am I of two constant companions since mid-August of last year-- my 9mm and my M4. I turned both in today, duly cleaned (and with a small net gain of ammo, to boot). I feel oddly under-dressed without them. I also removed the tourniquet and IBD that had been in my sleeve pockets for six months. Again, it doesn't feel quite right not to have them on board. In about 24 hours or so I'll be airborne (!) back to the States, and this whole thing will be nearly done. That is the strangest feeling of them all. (READ MORE)

C.J. SHIVERS: As Marines Move In, Taliban Fight a Shadowy War - The Marine infantry company, accompanied by a squad of Afghan soldiers, set out long before dawn. It walked silently through the dark fields with plans of arriving at a group of mud-walled compounds in Helmand Province at sunrise. The Marine infantry company, accompanied by a squad of Afghan soldiers, set out long before dawn. It walked silently through the dark fields with plans of arriving at a group of mud-walled compounds in Helmand Province at sunrise. Marine operations like this one in mid-January, along with interviews with dozens of Marines, reveal the insurgents’ evolving means of waging an Afghan brand of war, even as more American troops arrive. Mixing modern weapons with ancient signaling techniques, the Taliban have developed the habits and tactics to evade capture and to disrupt American and Afghan operations, all while containing risks to their ranks. (READ MORE)

Erik Wong: Bribe Allegations: DoJ Still Harassing Backwater - The new York Times: WASHINGTON — 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. The inquiry is the latest fallout from the shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which left 17 Iraqis dead and stoked bitter resentment against the United States. A federal judge in December dismissed criminal charges against five former Blackwater guards implicated in the episode, but Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently announced that the Obama administration would appeal that decision. (READ MORE)

Sarah: They Ache - This deployment has flown by for me because I've been distracted with my pregnancy. It's a major event that keeps my mind off missing my husband. When I do think of him, they've been self-centered or baby-centered thoughts: I wish he were here to feel the baby kick, or fetch me a glass of water, or discuss middle names in person. I've also tried to come up with some silver linings for why it's better that I've been alone all this time. And I have contingency plans in case my husband doesn't make it home in time; I've assured him that I am capable of doing this myself and that the baby and I will be fine if he can't make it. I've tried to be mindful of how he must feel too, to be so far away while his only child is growing and developing. To miss out on ultrasounds and milestones. But after I got lukewarm responses to the ultrasound and pictures of my belly that I emailed to him, I figured he's a guy and maybe they don't care about that stuff as much as I would. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Gov't Inspector General Concerned About Afghan Reconstruction - Lost amid all the preemptive defense budget and QDR madness this past weekend came the quiet release of a hugely important quarterly report (PDF) from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) -- an office set up and funded by Congress to keep tabs on where the money it appropriates to the war is going. SIGAR reports that since 2002, the United States has spent a total of $51 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan, with over half of that -- $27 billion -- going to building the Afghan National Security Forces. That number comes as a bit of a shock. Given the spotty nature of the ANSF, and the generally acknowledged woeful state of the police, you have to wonder what that $27 billion has been spent on. SIGAR is trying to figure it out. The organization currently has six ongoing audits examining various aspects of the U.S.-funded reconstruction effort in the security sector... (READ MORE)

Dena Yllescas: Happy 2nd Birthday Eva Grace!!! - Happy birthday Eva Grace! I cannot believe my little girl is 2. Time surely does fly. I remember like yesterday the moment I saw her for the very first time. Rob brought her over to me and it was so surreal to finally have her here. She is so much fun. She’s talking up a storm and it cracks me up with the things she says. She’s definitely growing into her own personality. It’s also hard to believe that another year has started. 2009 seemed to go by so fast. I had a good time at a friend’s annual New Year’s Eve party. This year it was a 70’s theme and the costumes were hilarious! January 24th we added a new member to our family. My brother, Aaron, and his wife, Shelly, welcomed a baby boy Cole Robert. He is an absolute doll and his big sister, Megan, is very proud! :) Of course my girls couldn't wait to see him and Eva wanted to hold him all the time. She's such a good helper! :) The end of December a reporter from The Washington Post flew up and wrote an article about me and this blog. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Pakistan 'captures Taliban base' in northwest - Fierce fighting between the Pakistani military, backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, and Taliban militants continues in the northwestern Pakistani tribal agency of Bajaur, the site of a major military offensive in 2008 that had pushed the Taliban from their strongholds, and troops are reportedly advancing on the militants' main training area in Damadola. The ongoing clashes demonstrate the resiliency of the militant movement in Pakistan's tribal regions; Pakistani authorities have imposed a curfew on several towns in Bajaur, and thousands of local residents have reportedly fled the area. The fighting comes as speculation swirls about the fate of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud; Nick Schifrin of ABC writes that the Taliban is meeting to choose a new chief after Hakimullah reportedly succumbed to wounds sustained in a U.S. drone strike in mid-January, and suggests as possible successors Wali ur-Rehman, the group's military strategist, Qari Hussain, who trains suicide bombers, and Saeed Khan Mamozai, a local commander from Orakzai. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Are the rules of engagement making any difference? - Are the rules of engagement making any difference? They are with the Marines in Helmand. “On a base near Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Marines are grieving the deaths of a sergeant and corporal killed by the remote-controlled bombs that have become the scourge of the long-running conflict. Commanders try to keep the men’s rage in check, aware that winning over an Afghan public wary of the foreign military presence and furious about civilian casualties is as important as battlefield success. ‘It causes a lot of frustration. My men want revenge – that is only natural,’ says First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean, 2nd Platoon commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment Charlie company. ‘But I keep telling them that the rules are the rules for a reason. If we simply go crazy and start shooting at everything, in the long run we will lose this war because we will lose the support of the population.’” To regular readers of The Captain’s Journal, this isn’t news. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
DOD Releases Defense Reviews, 2011 Budget Proposal, and 2010 War Funding Supplemental Request - President Barack Obama today sent to Congress a proposed defense budget of $708 billion for fiscal 2011. The budget request for the Department of Defense (DoD) includes $549 billion in discretionary budget authority to fund base defense programs and $159 billion to support overseas contingency operations (OCO), primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. (READ MORE)

Pentagon turns focus to fighting insurgents - The Pentagon is reorienting U.S. military forces toward battling insurgents and terrorists, and on Monday released its new four-year strategy and a $708 billion defense budget request to support it. Despite the cancellation of numerous weapons projects, the defense spending request to Congress grew by 3.4 percent from 2010, with $159.3 billion to be allocated for U.S. military missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. (READ MORE)

Budget, Defense Reviews Key on Current Wars - When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates came to his post two years ago, he recognized a glaring deficiency in the defense budgeting process: “Those fighting the current war had no seat at the budget table at all.” That’s changed significantly, Gates told Pentagon reporters today in discussing the fiscal 2011 budget requests, as well as the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and Ballistic Missile Reviews, all released today. (READ MORE)

Review Upgrades Personnel Status; Budget Confirms It - The Fiscal 2011 Defense Budget Request and the Quadrennial Defense Review look at personnel as a strategic asset, the Joint Staff’s director for force structure, resources and assessments said today. Navy Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley spoke during a Pentagon news conference explaining both documents. (READ MORE)

Iraq Veteran Leads 'Don't Ask' Push - The Obama administration's staunchest ally in the uphill fight to allow gays to openly serve in the nation's military is a little-known Democratic congressman named Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran who has written the only legislation that would repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" restrictions. (READ MORE)

The Distant Executioner - Outside of Austin, Texas, where the farming begins in earnest, the land turns suddenly to the deepest sort of country, with no hint of the city that stands nearby. Russ Crane prefers it that way. Crane is not his real name. He wants to remain obscure. He is an experienced military sniper, a serious man in a serious profession that, however, excites a fringe of pretenders and psychopaths. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Suicide Bomber Kills Shi'ite Pilgrims in Iraq - Iraqi police say a female suicide bomber has killed more than 40 Shi'ite pilgrims and wounded more than 100 others in Baghdad. For several years, sectarian violence has plagued the pilgrimage that marks the death of a revered Shi'ite figure. Iraqi authorities say the bomber joined the pilgrims as they walked through a Shi'ite neighborhood in the capital. (READ MORE)

Female suicide bomber kills at least 41 in attack on Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad - A female suicide bomber targeting Shiite Muslim pilgrims killed at least 41 people and wounded scores more Monday in northern Baghdad, Iraqi authorities said. The bomber detonated explosives in a crowded tented area where women were being searched along a main road in Bab al-Sham, Iraqi officials said. (READ MORE)

Speaking Freely Where Fear Rules - At the end of a week that included two spectacular bomb attacks, Ali al-Nijar left his home to talk about poetry. Mr. Nijar, a retired professor of agriculture, was squeezed in among 60 others at a weekly literary salon on Baghdad’s Mutanabi Street, one of about a dozen salons that have sprung up around the city in the last two years as violence has dropped. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Capture Suspected Explosives-Cell Member - Iraqi security forces arrested a wanted Baghdad explosives-cell member and a suspected accomplice today during a combined security operation in a rural area south of Baghdad. Based on tips, Iraqi forces and U.S. advisors searched a building complex for a suspected al-Qaida cell member who assembles car bombs used in attacks within the capital city. (READ MORE)

It was just a scratch - BRITAIN'S first woman soldier to lose a leg in combat dismissed her terrible injury last night as "just a scratch" compared to other heroes. Courageous Captain Kate Philp coolly told doctors to cut off her left leg so she could get on with her life after it was shredded by a bomb blast in Afghanistan. And, recalling her months in hospital, she insisted: "When one of the first people you meet is a triple amputee, you realise you're incredibly lucky." (READ MORE)

Wrong Exit in Afghanistan - It's not what Afghans want, but that didn’t dampen the euphoria about a cheap and easy "exit strategy" from Afghanistan that was the talk of the town leading up to the big international gathering in London last Thursday. Foreign ministers, diplomats and mandarins from more than 60 countries washed into Britain on a tsunami of upbeat messaging: President Hamid Karzai had come up with a bright and shiny new peace-talks plan. This time, it's going to work. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Feb. 2 - An Afghan-international security force detained several suspected militants in Kandahar during two operations yesterday. During the first operation, the combined force searched a vehicle near Lowy Manarah in the Arghandab District after intelligence information indicated militant activity, and detained a few individuals for further questioning. (READ MORE)

Rockets Discovered in Kabul Destroyed - Afghan and ISAF emergency ordnance disposal teams destroyed two Soviet-era surface to air missiles at a munitions range near Bagram Airfield Friday and Saturday. The rockets, discovered in Kabul late December, could not safely be destroyed in the city as each contained warheads with 195 kilograms of high explosives. (READ MORE)

Local Farmer Turns in Fertilizer - ISAF forces patrolling in the Arghandab District of Kandahar province traded 10 bags of fertilizer with a local farmer Monday. The farmer, who was unaware of the recently announced ban on ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer, agreed to accept a voucher for an equal amount of legal fertilizer after discussing the issue with a village elder. (READ MORE)

U.S. Plans Defense of Kandahar - Each spring as the weather warms up, Taliban fighters return from wintering in Pakistan to intensify attacks and intimidation in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's biggest city and the Islamist movement's birthplace. But coalition commanders and Afghan officials say that in the coming months the U.S. troop surge and a new strategy will allow the coalition to block the annual militant advances—and possibly change the course of the war by reversing the Taliban's momentum. (READ MORE)

U.S. Steps Up Missions Targeting Taliban Leaders - The tunnel entrance was no more than 18 inches high. Matt, a U.S. Special Forces soldier, stripped off his body armor, dropped his rifle and wriggled through the gap, pistol and flashlight leading the way. Some 150 feet in, his beam caught a shape: a bearded man hiding behind a pile of rocks. (READ MORE)

Four NATO Troops Killed in Afghan Attacks - Four NATO soldiers, including one American, were killed in separate attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan Monday, three of them the victims of improvised bombs that have been taking a heavy toll on coalition troops. The deaths made Monday the deadliest day for the NATO forces in the last two and half weeks. (READ MORE)

Pakistan's army chief seeks stable Afghanistan - Pakistan's army chief said Monday that his country wants a "peaceful, stable and friendly" Afghanistan as its western neighbor and that achieving this goal would guarantee Pakistan the "strategic depth" it once sought by supporting the Islamist Taliban regime in Kabul. (READ MORE)

NATO Still Short on Afghan Trainers - NATO has almost met its target for extra combat troops in Afghanistan but will press allies this week to meet a shortfall of up to 2,400 people to train Afghan security forces, its secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Monday. Mr. Rasmussen said that almost all of the nations contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force had offered to send more troops and that it was now close to the 40,000 additional soldiers it needs. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Offers to Train Afghan Soldiers - The chief of Pakistan's powerful military offered his country's help in training Afghan soldiers, and suggested his forces were already acting against a major staging area for Taliban fighters battling U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The military is Pakistan's most powerful institution, and the comments from Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, made during a rare briefing Monday for reporters, appeared to signal the South Asian nation's increased willingness to publicly cooperate with U.S. efforts to beat back the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Taliban leader's death would be 'fatal blow' for group, analyst says - The reported death of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a violent Islamist group with close links to al-Qaeda, leaves the predatory and feared militia effectively decapitated, with its fighters on the run from the Pakistani army and public sympathy running low. (READ MORE)

15 Militants Killed in Clashes in Pakistan - Pakistani officials say security forces backed by helicopter gunships have killed at least 15 suspected militants in clashes near the Afghan border. Officials said Monday at least one soldier has been wounded in the gunbattles that erupted over the past two days in Bajaur, an ethnic tribal region that has been a Taliban stronghold. (READ MORE)

Afghan Official Dismisses Taliban Denial of Talks - The Afghan official in charge of reconciliation acknowledged Monday that the government had been in talks for some time with Taliban leaders to bring them into the government and end the war, dismissing the Taliban’s denials. The official — Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a top security adviser to President Hamid Karzai — made the statement at a news conference to discuss last week’s international Afghanistan conference in London and later elaborated on his announcement in an interview. (READ MORE)

US Terror Suspects in Pakistan Allege FBI Torture - Five American terrorism suspects detained in Pakistan have declared their innocence and say they have been tortured by U.S. investigators and Pakistani police in jail. As the five suspects arrived in a police van for court Tuesday in the eastern city of Sargodha, one of the suspects tossed a scrap of paper to reporters. (READ MORE)

Taliban warn 'big war' against Pakistan army offensive - Taliban militants in North Waziristan, the bastion of Al Qaeda terror network, have warned Pakistan government of a 'big war' if it launched any military offensive in the region. The militants have distributed pamphlets in the area and asked the residents to form a council of elders and seek safe passage from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in case a war breaks out, according to SITE which monitors websites of extremist groups. (READ MORE)

Karzai Says Afghanistan Ready To Stand On Its Own -- With Help - Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his government is ready to begin assuming responsibility for running the country, but will need international support to do so. Karzai made the comments to officials of some 60 countries and organizations who gathered today in London for a one-day conference on Afghanistan. "I believe the aspirations and demands of the people of Afghanistan today can be summarized in four simple words: Afghan leadership, Afghan ownership," Karzai said. (READ MORE)

NATO Lauds Ukraine Contribution, Resumes Military Links With Russia - Ukraine made history this week by becoming the first non-NATO-member state to contribute forces to the alliance's flagship NATO Response Force (NRF). The Ukrainian contribution to the force reflects the strains operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans have put on NATO budgets and manpower. It does not represent a real advance towards formal alliance membership. (READ MORE)

Germany Plans Afghan Troop Increase - The German government has said it will send at least 500 extra troops and nearly double its civilian aid to Afghanistan in a bid to create the conditions to begin a withdrawal from next year. Under pressure from the United States and NATO to provide more forces, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin would also offer a "flexible reserve" of 350 more to step up training programmes and improve protection to civilians. (READ MORE)

Afghan president to meet Saudi king over peace talk with Taliban - Afghan President Hamid Karzai left for Saudi Arabia Tuesday to discuss his new reintegration plan aimed at luring Taliban away from violence. The president is scheduled to visit religious sites before meeting King Abdullah, Karzai's office said in a statement. Karzai is expected to ask the Saudi ruler to play a role in guiding the peace process, it said. (READ MORE)

Taliban: Terrorist or not? Not always easy to say - Once considered so entwined that they were twin targets of a U.S. invasion, al-Qaida and elements of Afghanistan's Taliban are now being surgically separated-one careful stitch at a time. The move by the United Nations last week to remove five former Taliban members from its official sanctions list reflects a growing belief by U.S. and international officials that some less-active leaders of the Afghan Taliban are no longer tightly linked to the al-Qaida network they sheltered before the terror attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. (READ MORE)

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