February 3, 2010

From the Front: 02/03/2010

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


Afghanistan My Last Tour: Dari Keyboard - In high school, I received a little bit of teasing about taking a typing course. Only a handful of guys including me were brave enough to take this class that was dominated by females. But somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that those skills would serve me some day. Since then, it has paid off handsomely. I can type my own research papers for school and still hack out about 50-60 words a minute too. Mrs. Lamp would be so proud of me….lol. But none of my schooling ever prepared me to type on a foreign keyboard or explain how formulas work on an Excel spreadsheet. For the past few days, I have been working studiously with my ANA counterpart on accountability. The tool I’m using is an Excel Spreadsheet. For anyone who has basic knowledge of computers and programs, this program is fairly easy to use once the formulas are created. Then it’s just a matter of populating the data points. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Pakistani Taliban Leader Dead? - Reports continue to circulate claiming that Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), is dead after suffering wounds from a mid-January drone strike. Several Pakistani officials have claimed that Mehsud had died sometime at the end of January based on "word of mouth" (aka HUMINT) confirmation, according to a report today from ABC News. However, US intelligence officials have yet to confirm the EKIA reports and the TTP was quick to issue a statement denying the death of their leader. According to Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal, reports of Mehsud's death are premature. Hakimullah's spokesman (Azam Tariq) issued a statement saying, "Hakimullah is alive and safe." Additionally, one of Mehsud's subordinate commanders, and a potential successor, (Qari Hussein Mehsud) called the Pakistani press to issue a similar statement. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Eyes in the Sky - Being a Soldier in the United States Army is a full-time job. No one understands that more than the Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division’s unmanned aerial vehicle cell. Twenty-four hours a day they monitor the 3rd HBCT’s area of operation from above. “We are always on the lookout for the bad guys,” said Staff Sgt. Ray Lemlin, a platoon sergeant in Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “The goal is always to spot them before they can hurt us.” The section’s commitment to excellence is shaped by their desire to keep their fellow Soldiers safe. “It’s our job to keep our guys out of harm’s way,” said Sgt. Richard Knuth, a maintainer in Company A from Merkel, Texas. “It’s a good feeling, but it requires us to have a pretty high set of standards. We can have a lot of down time between flights so we’ve got to maintain our focus and not let duties become routine.” (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: Not quitting my day job - Everyone who thinks I'm still in Hawaii you are wrong, wrong, wrong. After coming back from Iraq I spent a whole two months in the States and am now back in the Middle East. Hooray!! Actually, Bahrain is nice. No complaints here. Of course, that doesn't diminish the threat of an enemy who wants very badly to take a big wet bite out of us. Although not directly in a combat zone, combating evil doers is still what I do. Specifically, I am the new 1stSgt of FAST Company stationed out of Naval Support Activity Bahrain. FAST stands for Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team and we are part of Marine Corps Security Force Regiment. Officially our mission is to provide limited duration expeditionary antiterrorism and security forces in support of Commander NAVCENT http://www.cusnc.navy.mil/ in order to protect vital naval and national assets. We can also conduct other limited duration contingency operations as directed by Commander, NAVCENT. We kinda do what he says operationally. (READ MORE)

In Iraq Now (at 56): Back to Work - Today I took the 7:06 am train to Philadelphia. This is my first day back at work after just over a year. Annalisa and Nigel drove me to the train station (Annalisa actually did the driving) and I joined the big crowd that gets on the train in Lancaster--more than 150 of the nearly 300 regular riders of the Keystone train get on and off in Lancaster. I saw a lot of faces I recognized. the faces looked a little older than when I left--which means my face looks older too. The 7am train riders are, thankfully, a very quiet group. They file onto the train. The regulars walk the length of the platform and sit in the last car. Sometimes there is no sound all the way to Paoli--two-thirds of the way to Philadelphia. The train was 15 minutes late this morning because we got behind a SEPTA local and could not go around it. After leaving the train I walk across 30th Street and down into the subway station. The El train arrived a couple of minutes later. (READ MORE)

Sic Semper Tyrannis: Hitting the brick wall in Afghanistan - FB ALI - The United States and its allies appear to be preparing for a significant U-turn in their Afghan policy. When President Obama enunciated his new policy in his West Point speech in November 2009, he announced a big increase in US and ISAF troops there. Their mission would be to turn the war around and hand it over to an Afghan government and army able to continue it in order to achieve full control of their country. Within a couple of months this policy has hit the ‘brick wall’ of harsh reality, and all the rosy assumptions upon which it was based (many of them deliberately manufactured by the war party) lie in tatters. The first reality-check was provided by the Afghan elections and their aftermath. They proved that there was no chance of a legitimate, reasonably effective Afghan government emerging to which a handover could take place in two years, as the policy envisaged. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: I SUCK - I do. Haven't been keeping up on the blog. For a bunch of reasons I guess. None of which are because I'm too busy, so really no excuse. Things have remained pretty much the same since I last checked in. Just grinding these last couple months out. We did get some slightly bad news today. The guys/gals that are relieving us were supposed to be here on the 5th. They're not coming until the 12th now. Apparently something to do with ice storms in the states. I have been told that this will not affect our departure date. Just the amount of time we have to train the new guys. I hope this is true because I made reservation to go to Rehoboth Beach on Mar 12/13th to visit the Dogfish Head brewery. They are unveiling a new beer that weekend. One of the reasons I haven't blogged as much is because I can never think of anything to write about that I think people would be interested in reading. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Listen to Dr K - President Obama surely is a busy man, but I hope he took the time to read today's piece by Henry Kissinger. In the opinion piece, Dr K observes that the subject of Iraq has nearly disappeared from discussions and debates of Washington, and he reminds readers that Iraq can't be an afterthought. He says: "The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context." Kissinger says it here: "If radicals prevail in the Shiite part, and the Shiite part comes to dominate the Sunni and Kurdish regions, and if it then lines up with Tehran, we will witness -- and will have partially contributed to -- a fundamental shift in the balance of the region." I really hope Obama gets it. I worry sometimes that the president thinks if Washington closes its eyes, Iraq and the problems of the entire region will just go away. (READ MORE)

Doc H: Arrival at Home- Final Post - I have been home for a few days now. Tricia and the kids met me at the airport around midnight. It was a joyous reunion that was just a little overdue. Amazingly the kids went to school and continued their activities the next day. There was a nice banner on display in the house welcoming me back home. Our trip to home was even more circuitous as time went by. Due to a heavy snowstorm in Baltimore, our transatlantic flight diverted to JFK airport in New York. We had a night in a hotel nearby and completed our journey to Baltimore the next day. Eleven hours after that and two additional flights later I landed at the nearest airport to our home. I was struck time and time again at how many people would stop and go out of their way to thank us for our service in the airport. It was a humbling experience. Now that I am home and have started the process of packing away my gear and reintegrating with normal society I have had a little time to reflect on this long journey. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Predators pound terrorist camp in North Waziristan - A swarm of unmanned US aircraft pounded an al Qaeda camp today in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Five unmanned US strike aircraft, likely the Predators and Reapers, are reported to have fired 18 missiles at a camp and vehicles in the village of Datta Khel, a known al Qaeda and Taliban stronghold. This is the largest recorded US airstrike in Pakistan, indicating a top al Qaeda, Taliban, or Haqqani Network leader, or leaders, may have been present. Seventeen terrorists are reported to have been killed in the missile attack. At this time, no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been reported killed. The US has ramped up the attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of December, after a lull in strikes in October and November of 2009, when only four airstrikes were launched. There were eight strikes in December 2009, and 11 in January of this year. Today's strike is the 12th this year. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Cartwheels in Heaven with Jesus - When the children were babies, I used to tell her with ridiculous certainty that I didn’t believe in spankings. She would just giggle and shake her head with a demure smile. She knew I didn’t have the faintest clue about raising children, but she never criticized me—she taught by example. She used to tuck a five or ten dollar bill into my pocket, or put a casserole dish into my hands, or loan me any other thing we were in need of when the children were small. She was a true, decent Southern lady. She loved Jesus, her family, and everyone else. Every summer she would pack up my kids in her car with whoever else was going along and disappear into the hills of North Carolina for a couple of weeks. When Daniel joined the Marine Corps, she was so proud; and when he got married, nothing could keep her from the ceremony--not even extreme pain from recent surgery. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: The (Taliban) Kite Runner - CJ Chivers sez: “The Taliban and their supporters use other signals besides car horns and pigeons, including kites flown near American movements and dense puffs of smoke released from chimneys near where a unit patrols. ‘You’ll go to one place, and for some reason there will be a big plume of smoke ahead of you,’ said Capt. Paul D. Stubbs, the Weapons Company commander. ‘As you go to the next place, there will be another. Our impression,’ he added, ‘is the people are doing it because they are getting paid to do it.’” A couple of things leap out at me. First off, the previous four surges into Helmand have remarked upon this very tactic, as have the officers in almost any major offensive anywhere in the country. “Afghans use primitive methods to defeat a technologically superior enemy” is a theme about as old as the Anglo-Afghan War—the first one. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Rage, Boredom, Misplaced Offensives - The old saying that war is boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror is very much relevant to the fight in Helmand. Over the summer, when the Marines were advertising their latest “surge” into Helmand (at least the third Marine Surge and at least the fifth misfocused ISAF surge into the province), many expressed surprise at the Taliban’s propensity to “melt away” from a fight—that, rather than facing certain death with the Marines, they’ll just slink away to cause trouble elsewhere. This isn’t a new thing—the Taliban have been doing it since, oh, let’s go with 2001—but the Marine Corps nevertheless seemed surprised by it. And it is indeed a bizarre, frustrating thing to deal with an enemy that generally won’t fight “fairly,” choosing instead to rely on roadside bombs and mortars (the unfairness of such an idea—as if the American reliance on overwhelming air power was any less terrifying to the Taliban—is probably best left for another post). (READ MORE)

Andi: The Predictably Unpredictable Army Strikes Again - ....but there is good news, folks! My husband has been TDY on many, many occasions throughout our marriage. I wish now that I had kept track of it because I don't know if my guesstimate of 3-4 years is on target. As for non-TDY, more permanent deployment bye-byes, we've had two. One for a year and one for seven months. Both times, we had ample warning. Both times we knew approximately when he was leaving. Both times, the house became cluttered for weeks with gear that would accompany my husband to his destination. On both occasions, I had time to process what was happening, and prepare for it. A couple of weeks ago, my husband came home late at night, quickly packed, and was gone the next morning. It was so odd. There was no warning. No time frame to process. No time to prepare, physically or emotionally. If you had asked me which situation I would prefer before this little episode, I would have told you it would be scenario one. Hands down. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: three U.S. soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan blast - Three U.S. soldiers who were in Pakistan as part of a small, low-profile unit that trains members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps were killed earlier this morning when a remote-control roadside bomb exploded near a girls' school celebrating its opening in the tribal area of Lower Dir. At least seven others, including four schoolgirls and a Frontier Corps soldier, were also killed in the blast, and around 70 children and a few journalists were wounded; the Pakistani Army last year declared Dir free of the Taliban, and this is one of the deadliest attacks on Americans in Pakistan in decades. The Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for the attack and claimed those Americans killed were employees of the security contracting firm Blackwater. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Afghanistan Logistics: It Isn’t Too Late To Do The Right Thing - There is more logistical trouble with the supply lines through Pakistan (lines which supply approximately 85% – 90% of our needs in Afghanistan). The first report has to do with a bridge near Peshawar. “Suspected terrorists on Thursday blew up a bridge on a link road connecting Peshawar’s Badbher village to Khyber Agency’s Bara town, officials and locals said. A police official said the blast took place at around 1:30am. The bridge over the Frontier Road was blown up as police personnel travelled through the area, the official said, adding that the terrorists escaped the scene. He said that a search was being conducted to trace the perpetrators of the blast.” The second report pertains to a tanker attack near Peshawar. (READ MORE)

White Rose: CSI: Miami – Promoting the Good in Iraq - Many of us have seen the MSM misrepresent or not even report the good things that our military is doing in Iraq. We see TV shows and movies on the big and small screen that stand on either side of the issue. Some are very elaborate and in your face while others are more subtle. The latter was the case in last nights episode of CSI: Miami. I don't always watch the show, sometimes I watch "Castle", so I didn't know that Cain's son had enlisted in the Army and been sent to Iraq. At the end of the episode they showed Cain signing into a video conference on his computer. The picture we see on the computer screen is Cain's son, in battle fatigues and in Iraq. There are the usual parent/child pleasantries and concerns passed from one to another. They could have ended the scene with that, but they didn't. They go on to have Cain's son talk about rebuilding the schools and how happy the kids are to have them. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Two months out: Who has jobs for soldiers? - We've arrived at February, which means that we're only 60-90 days away from the return of 2,500 soldiers to Oregon from Iraq. That will be an occasion for much celebration for them and their families, but it's also a time for their communities to step up and welcome them in. Specifically, it's a time when employers who can afford to hire workers should consider hiring a returning soldier. (READ MORE)

More Campbell Troops to Deploy to Afghanistan - The 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division will deploy to Afghanistan as part of the surge of American troops into that country, Defense Department officials said today. The 3,200 soldiers of the Fort Campbell, Ky.,-based unit will deploy in late summer, along with another 900 active and reserve component soldiers. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Watching over Basra - The Blackhawks landed amid swirling dust and gravel. Ten Iraqis, seven American soldiers and an interpreter hurried off the helicopter and instantly fell into the prone position. The helicopters took off. The soldiers scanned for enemies throughout the dusty emptiness of the Shaiba Training Center, in Basra province. (READ MORE)

‘It’s about having a presence,’ soldiers say - Lt. Patrick Pirkle slogged through ankle-high mud to reach the adobe-and-cinderblock barbershop. In the background, an armored Humvee and an Iraqi army truck idled. The glow of Iraq’s second-largest city hung on the horizon. Flames from nearby oil wells lit up the night sky. Pirkle knocked, and seven Iraqis crowded onto the shop’s porch. (READ MORE)

Blair lied in build-up to Iraq invasion, claims Clare Short - Tony Blair “leaned on” the Attorney General to mislead the Cabinet by saying the Iraq invasion was legal, Clare Short told the Chilcot inquiry yesterday. The former International Development Secretary made a damning attack on Labour’s “unsafe” style of Government – accusing it for "secrecy and deceit" and saying too much power now rests with the Prime Minister. (READ MORE)

Blair Called a Liar in Iraq Inquiry - Only days after Tony Blair offered an impassioned defense of his decision to take Britain to war in Iraq, a cabinet minister who resigned over the war delivered a blistering condemnation of the former prime minister on Tuesday, accusing him of “conning” her and of deceiving his cabinet, the Parliament and the public in his resolve to have Britain join the United States in the invasion of 2003. (READ MORE)

Obama's Iraq policy must be focused on more than withdrawal - In a 71-minute State of the Union address, President Obama managed no more than 101 perfunctory words about Iraq. Throughout its term, the administration has recoiled from discussing Iraq's geostrategic significance and especially America's relation to it. Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. (READ MORE)

Remember Churchill when you think of Iraq - On May 13, 1940, shortly after lunch, Neville Chamberlain entered the House of Commons to be greeted by a massive ovation. Order papers were waved, MPs shouted, MPs cheered. And shortly afterwards the Prime Minister followed him. But for Winston Churchill there was only a low murmur. His fellow Conservatives were virtually silent. (READ MORE)

Paratrooper Receives Battlefield Promotion in Iraq - For extraordinary performance of duties above and beyond his current pay grade, Sgt. Patrick Collins received a battlefield promotion from corporal to sergeant halfway through his unit's deployment to the Diyala province, Iraq. Serving his third tour in Iraq, Collins, of Fayetteville, N.C., joined the 37th Engineer Battalion- Joint Task Force Eagle, based out of Fort Bragg, N.C. vertical construction platoon after graduating Airborne School November, 2008. (READ MORE)

Keeping Streets Safe Through Partnership - Shi'a Muslims begin their pilgrimage to religious shrines during the observance of Arba'een; in efforts to make their passage a more safe one, U.S. forces partner with the Iraqi army to engage locals and clear the streets of hazards, Feb. 2. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Capture Baghdad Cell Members, Find Weapons - Iraqi security forces arrested a wanted Baghdad cell member and seven additional suspected terrorists, and discovered a large weapons cache during two joint security operations today in Baghdad and northern Iraq. In western Baghdad, Iraqi forces and U.S. advisors searched a home for a suspected al-Qaida cell leader responsible for coordinating several car bombing attacks within the capital city. (READ MORE)

Mullen: Afghanistan success window small - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday the next 12 to 18 months will be critical in reversing momentum gained by insurgents in Afghanistan, with nothing short of the war-torn nation's security at stake. Not only that, Adm. Mike Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee: "Our future security is greatly imperiled if we do not win the wars we are in." (READ MORE)

Afghan President Seeks Saudi Help for Taliban Peace Talks - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai arrived in Saudi Arabia Tuesday for talks with Saudi King Abdullah on ways to reach out to the Taliban. During talks Wednesday with the Saudi king, Mr. Karzai is expected to discuss his reconciliation plan aimed at providing Taliban fighters with an economic incentive to lay down their arms or switch sides. (READ MORE)

Karzai, in Saudi Arabia, Pursues Taliban Talks - Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Saudi Arabia Tuesday in a bid to jumpstart talks with the Taliban's leadership, despite doubts in the U.S., Europe and even among the militants themselves. Most Afghans—from Taliban fighters in the south to Tajik politicians from the north to ordinary workers in Kabul—say there is only one foreign country they can depend on: Saudi Arabia. (READ MORE)

With Raw Recruits, Afghan Police Buildup Falters - The NATO general in charge of training the Afghan police has some tongue-in-cheek career advice for the country’s recruits. “It’s better to join the Taliban; they pay more money,” said Brig. Gen. Carmelo Burgio, from Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri force. That sardonic view reflects a sobering reality. (READ MORE)

U.S. military officers could face punishment over ambush in Afghanistan - A military investigation into an ambush that left nine Americans dead recommends that the Army consider taking disciplinary action against three U.S. commanders who oversaw the 2008 mission to send troops to the remote Afghan outpost, defense officials said Tuesday. The investigation into the bloody battle at Wanat, near the border with Pakistan, was undertaken last fall at the urging of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (READ MORE)

U.S. Drones Kill at Least 10 With Missiles in Northwest Pakistan - A barrage of missiles from U.S. drone aircraft ripped into an area of northwest Pakistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda dominate, killing at least 10 people hours after the Pakistani Taliban again denied rumors of its leader's demise. The sheer number of missiles fired in Tuesday's strike—a Pakistani intelligence official and witnesses estimated 16 to 18 were launched—appeared to be the most employed in a single attack since the U.S. first began using drone aircraft to target militants in Pakistan six years ago. (READ MORE)

U.S. Drones Said to Strike Along Border in Pakistan - In another exceptionally heavy barrage, eight American drones fired at least 17 missiles at suspected militants along the border with Afghanistan on Tuesday, Pakistani security officials and residents said. The targets of the attacks were compounds and militants’ positions in the mountains west of Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan. At least 10 people were killed and the death toll could still rise significantly, residents and security officials said. (READ MORE)

Revenge on the Taliban, from 10,000 feet - In their joint operations against Taliban militants hiding in the tribal areas, the United States and Pakistan seem to have embraced a classic bit of battlefield advice: Don't get mad, get even. Since the beginning of 2010, the United States has stepped up the pace of its Predator strikes, with strong Pakistani support. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Feb. 3 - Yesterday an Afghan-international security force searched a small compound in a rural area of the Nad Ali District, Helmand province, where intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained a pair of suspected insurgents, and found Taliban propaganda and a grenade. (READ MORE)

Afghan, ISAF Forces Find Explosive, Military Caches - Afghan and ISAF troops found several caches of explosives and military hardware yesterday. A joint Afghan-ISAF force discovered an IED cache while on patrol in the Spin Boldak District of Kandahar province. (READ MORE)

Forces Detain Suspected Militants in Afghanistan - A combined Afghan and international security force detained several suspected militants in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province during two operations yesterday. During the first operation, the combined force searched a vehicle after intelligence information indicated militant activity, and detained several people for further questioning. (READ MORE)
'Pakistan pussyfooting on Taliban' - Pakistan's refusal to crack down on the Afghan Taliban in a bid to achieve 'strategic depth' against India will weaken global efforts to negotiate a peace in Afghanistan, a senior British expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said Wednesday. Pakistan has been fobbing off pressure from the NATO forces in Afghanistan - the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - to move against the Afghan Taliban, arguing its forces need more money first... (READ MORE)

U.K.: One In Five Afghan Taliban 'Not Hardcore' - There is no room for compromise with hardcore Afghan Taliban but the Afghan government and its allies hope to lure away many of the up to 80 percent of Taliban who joined for economic reasons, a British minister said. At a conference in London last week, Afghanistan's allies backed its efforts to start talks with the Taliban and donors promised hundreds of millions of dollars for a fund to pay fighters to lay down their arms. (READ MORE)

NATO, Afghan forces brace for Taliban battle - U.S. troops and their Afghan and NATO allies are planning their biggest joint offensive since the Afghan war's start, targeting a town in the volatile south known as a Taliban stronghold and a hub of their lucrative opium trade, officers said Wednesday. No date for the start of the offensive has been released for security reasons. But U.S. commanders have said they plan to capture the town of Marjah, 610 kilometres southwest of Kabul, this winter. (READ MORE)

Defence analysts warn Taliban reintegration plan could be 'complex' - The strategy to reach a "negotiated peace" in Afghanistan by wooing moderate elements in the Taliban insurgency are welcome, but could turn out to be more complex than expected, defence analysts in London warned Wednesday. "The Afghan insurgency is complex," the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in its Military Balance 2010 - the group's annual assessment of global military capabilities. (READ MORE)

Pupils And US Troops Die In Taliban Attack - The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a bombing outside a school in northwest Pakistan which killed three schoolgirls, three US troops and a Pakistani soldier. "We claim responsibility for the blast," Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Azam Tariq said. (READ MORE)

Afghan leader cancels meeting with Muslim body - Afghan President Hamid Karzai canceled a meeting on Wednesday with a major Muslim group in Saudi Arabia that had been aimed at helping reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. The meeting was called off because Karzai had reservations about the agenda, a senior official from the group, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), said. (READ MORE)

Istanbul to host NATO meeting on Afghanistan - Istanbul will host an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers with focus on Afghanistan, Turkish daily Turkey's Zaman reported Wednesday. The two-day meeting will take place on Feb. 4-5 under the chairmanship of the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the report quoted NATO spokesperson James Appathurai as saying. (READ MORE)

Attack halts Un food deliveries in North-Western Afghanistan - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has temporarily suspended deliveries in north-western Afghanistan after a convoy was attacked over the weekend, resulting in the loss of over 100 metric tons of food aid. A 19-truck convoy was stopped for the night in the Sang Atash area of Badghis province on 30 January when it was attacked. (READ MORE)

AFGHANISTAN: A tight squeeze on humanitarian space - Whilst there is evidence that some civilians and businesspeople pay protection money to Taliban insurgents especially in southern Afghanistan, such an option simply does not exist for aid agencies - even if they need to ensure safe passage for vital humanitarian aid. For Haji Abdullah, doing business in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, is impossible without bribing insurgent commanders who often approach him for cash, telephone top-up cards, clothes or motorcycles. (READ MORE)

Marines brace for new push in southern Afghanistan - .S. troops and their Afghan and NATO allies are planning their biggest joint offensive since the Afghan war's start, targeting a town in the volatile south known as a Taliban stronghold and a hub of their lucrative opium trade, officers said Wednesday. No date for the start of the offensive has been released for security reasons. (READ MORE)

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