February 5, 2010

From the Front: 02/05/2010

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

Dispatches:
P.J. Tobia:
Afghan Reporters Denied Visas To London Conference On Afghanistan - Last week, the International Conference on Afghanistan was held in London (here’s a link to a wrap-up.) Hundreds of reporters from dozens of countries covered the event, which featured addresses from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But journalists from Afghanistan were desperately underrepresented, with only five Afghan reporters attending the conference. It wasn’t for lack of interest. Editors and reporters in Kabul tell me that 18 journalists applied for visas to cover the conference, but 13 of the applications were rejected. The British Home Office and UK Border Agency, through interviews and a written statement, say that the visas were rejected for sound reasons, specifically because many of the journalists lied in their applications. “I can assure you that [the applications] were all assessed and rejected for valid reasons,” Cubby Fox, spokesperson for the Home Office in London told me. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Bouhammer and the Huffington Post agree? - I would never have imagined that I would have a title like that on a blog posting here. I really would have never imagined that I would have something on my blog that the HuffPo would also have, almost verbatim. I was forwarded this article on the HuffPo and as I was reading it, I kind of felt dirty like I was felt up and violated. I guess imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but I am not accusing anyone there, especially Ms. Kate Hoit from Brandon Friedman’s VoteVets of copying me. I mean I think my opinions of The Hurt Locker are pretty common sense, so I should not be surprised that there are others who identified the same exact mis-representations that I did in the movie. Based on the feedback I have seen of my review both here and on Facebook and the fact that I have been interviewed by USA Today for an upcoming article based on my review must mean I am not the only one who witnessed the B.S. that I did. (READ MORE)

Afganistan My last Tour: Logistics and a Stone Wall - Since the beginning of time when large armies have mobilized, logistics functions have played a vital function. Whether it’s providing subsistence, fuel, firewood, or bullets, the logistician’s role has complemented the effectiveness of an army. The Afghan Army is no different and is faced with a myriad of logistical challenges. This is where my ETT teamplays a fundamental role. Today we held a logistics conference in an attempt to resolve some of these nagging and persistent challenges to the logistical system supporting the Afghan forces. For OPSEC reasons, I won’t divulge the context of the meeting, but I think some of the problems addressed were resolved. Others will take time until an amicable solution and agreement is reached. Although it was not addressed, one of the biggest problems still plaguing the logistical system is the endemic corruption at all levels. (READ MORE)

Brian Williams: In Dostum’s Debt - When the Karzai government announced last week that it would be reinstating Abdul Rashid Dostum, the controversial Uzbek general, as Chief of Staff of the Army, the cries of fowl and protest rang loud. Though the position is largely symbolic, critics of the Karzai government openly accused the president of making a deal with the "notorious warlord." When it comes to Afghan politics there is usually more than meets the eye, and in Dostum's case is no exception. As usual in Afghanistan it involves some back room deals. The roots of which go back to August 2009 when President Karzai allowed Dostum, the paramount head of Afghanistan's Uzbek community (which accounts for 10 percent of the country's population), back into the country after several months of exile in Turkey. Dostum had been expelled (if only briefly) for kidnapping Akbar Bey, a political rival who had betrayed him. Akbar Bey who had previously worked for Dostum turned on him in 2006 and created his own party which aimed to steal members from Dostum's Jumbesh Party. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Crossroads: Al Qaeda & Biological Warfare, Literally - As has been linked on Challenge COIN and reported on The Long War Journal, a female suicide bomber killed 54 victims this past week in Baghdad during an annual pilgrimage to Shit'ite Islam's Holy Shrine in Karbala. The event was in celebration of the end of fourty days of mourning the death of Imam Hussein. (Read a fine historical description of Hussein and the tradition in the link provided). The female was wearing an abaya, covering herself from head-to-toe and thus successfully concealing the attached explosives. The use of female suicide bombers is not new, but the question remains whether the tactic is a trend or a part of the terrorist toolbox. The Washington Post provides a listing of female suicide bombings in Iraq, five of which have been in Baghdad. In addition, see this report by ISI on activity throughout the Palestinian region. For further research, I suggest reading studies and papers from this academic guide, according to your particular interests. (READ MORE)

MICHAEL R. GORDON: A Critic Returns - Lt. Col. Paul Yingling became a pivotal figure in the Iraq debate when he wrote an article three years ago that faulted the performance of American generals. It was a hard-hitting commentary that broadcast out loud the sort of misgivings that many of the Army’s younger officers had been keeping to themselves. Now, Colonel Yingling is back with a provocative article on the American way of waging war. With his characteristic bluntness, the Army officer has called for the reinstitution of the draft and the reassertion of Congress’s role in deciding when the United States should use force. In a national security debate often filled with fuzz words, equivocation, and not-for-attribution quotes, Colonel Yingling has boldly taken on an issue that has been simmering for years, and that most politicians and policymakers in Washington are happy to avoid. (READ MORE)

C.J. CHIVERS: TAPS - The Marines of Bravo Company left their patrol bases early Saturday morning. To their west were the Taliban pickets who defend the outer limits of Marja, an insurgent enclave in Helmand Province. The Marines turned in the opposite direction, heading to Forward Operating Base Spin Ghar, their company command post. Less than an hour later, after walking in a staggered column through freshly tilled fields and an ankle-deep bog, they slipped inside the concertina wire at Spin Ghar. There they set aside helmets and body armor. Platoons quietly assembled in formation. They had come to bid goodbye to Lance Cpl. Timothy J. Poole Jr., whose portrait rested on the wooden easel beside the base’s small landing zone. A helicopter arrived, carrying Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the commander of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan. A ceremony began. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Operation Spamalot: After Taliban hit supplies, Army chef serves up 42 days of Spam - Being at the front line of a war zone brings countless hardships. But Britain's brave Armed Forces are justly famous for their resourcefulness in times of adversity. And one heroic figure surely deserves a medal for maintaining morale in Afghanistan among the soldiers of the 2nd Royal Welsh Guards - on a 42-day diet of Spam. Army chef Corporal Liam Francis refused to surrender when food supplies were interrupted by Taliban fighters for six weeks. With almost no gastronomic ammunition to hand, the 26-year-old opened tin after tin of the chopped pork and ham and produced a series of dishes to rival the famous Monty Python Spam sketch. 'I was surprised what we could do: Sweet and sour Spam, Spam fritters, Spam carbonara, Spam stroganoff and Spam stir fry,' said the father of one from Tidworth, Wiltshire. 'We were on compo [field rations] for six weeks and we only had one menu - Spam.' (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Press Miss the Story Again - According to the press, another disaster looms on Iraq's horizon because the election campaign has been postponed from Feb 7 to Feb 12. Of course it is true that IHEC delayed matters until after the emergency parliament meeting on Sunday, but the delay hardly means the country is in big trouble. Iraq has no shortage of problems, but the press hang on to one detail and blow it up out of proportion instead of looking into more serious matters. For example, sure the campaign has been postponed, but what does it mean effectively? Some posters already are on the walls, and candidates are on TV several times a day talking about how much better they are than the next guy. What are Iraqis talking about? One thing is that Prime Minister Al Maliki is in a state of panic. He just said [Arabic] officially that he will not permit the U.S. ambassador to overstep his diplomatic limits. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Inside job suspected in suicide attack on US soldiers in Pakistan - Yesterday's attack that killed three US soldiers who were traveling in a convoy in northwestern Pakistan was carried out by a suicide bomber, and was not caused by a remotely detonated roadside bomb as first reported. The suicide attack suggests that the Taliban, who took credit for the attack, had inside information on the presence of US troops in the convoy. The three US soldiers, who have been described variously as Special Operations Forces and civil affairs troops training Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps, were killed when a suicide bomber driving a car rammed into their convoy as it traveled to the opening of a girls' school in the district of Lower Dir. The three soldiers were among nine people killed in the attack; three Pakistani girls, a Pakistani Frontier Corps soldier, and two civilians were also reported killed, and more than 130 Pakistanis, most of them girls at a high school near the attack, and two more US soldiers, were wounded. (READ MORE)

The Long Walk Home: "Went down to see my VA man - he said 'son don't you understand" - We have now reached a critical stage in the George Nickel matter. As most readers of The Long Walk Home know, last summer Staff Sergeant Nickel was involved in an incident in Boise, Idaho. The most important and salient facts at this point are that no one was hurt and that no one was killed. All the other facts are collateral. In December the prosecutor agreed to dismiss five of the six charges in return for Staff Sergeant Nickel pleading guilty to a charge of discharging a firearm into an occupied building. Sentencing was scheduled for 1 February, however it was continued until April because the pre-sentencing investigation has not been completed. The prosecutor has indicated she would like a maximum sentence in this matter, fifteen years in the state penitentiary, however she is willing to enter into an agreement whereby Staff Sergeant Nickel would enter treatment for his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in a secure medical facility. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: A Breathtaking Amalgam of Arrogance and Ignorance - I liked reading this post discussing the by-now tautological Gant paper—especially the condemnation of a “silver bullet” approach to the country. While Major Springer is just plain wrong in his treatment of Nuristan (there is no such thing as a “Nuristani tribe,” for example, since that would imply the different quasi-ethnic groups shared a common descent), his broad point about developing a certain humility in the face of social relationships we don’t understand while searching for local solutions to local problems, is quite excellent and deserves positive attention. In fact, that post at all isn’t an issue—like most writing at the COIN Center, even if it falls down on some details, it is well reasoned and contains some insight. What grabbed me was the comments that came after. Given the way academics who study Afghanistan professionally have derided Major Gant’s paper, and in a way the entire Special Forces’ approach to the country, it’s understandable that there would be some push back in the military community. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: U.S. Says 200 Troops on the Ground in Pakistan - The U.S. military has 200 troops on the ground in Pakistan. That’s about the double the previously-disclosed number of forces there. It’s a whole lot more than the “no American troops in Pakistan” promised by special envoy Richard Holbrooke. And let’s not even get into the number of U.S. intelligence operatives and security contractors on Pakistani soil. The troop levels are one of a number of details that have emerged about the once-secret U.S. war in Pakistan since three American troops were killed yesterday by an improvised bomb. The New York Times reports that the soldiers were disguised in Pakistani clothing, and their vehicle was outfitted with radio-frequency jammers, meant to stop remotely-detonated bombs. “Still, the Taliban bomber was able to penetrate their cordon. In all 131 people were wounded, most of them girls who were students at a high school adjacent to the site of the suicide attack,” the paper reports. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
New video shows Taliban flogging men in Pakistan - Taliban militants flog two men and a teenage boy in a video that has emerged from Pakistan's tribal belt along the Afghan border, showing the hold of insurgents in at least one area there despite army offensives and intensified U.S. missile strikes in the region. The video was shot on a mobile phone on Feb. 3 and passed to a local journalist who occasionally provides video to Associated Press Television News. (READ MORE)

Blast in S Afghanistan kills two - A bomb planted in a motorcycle in southern Afghanistan's most dangerous province Friday killed two people and wounded at least 26, provincial officials said. The blast took place near a dog fighting match, a traditional pastime where groups of men congregate, in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, said Kamaluddin, a senior provincial police officer who goes only by one name. (READ MORE)

Bomber targets dog fight in Afghanistan - A bomb planted on a motorcycle ripped through a crowd gathered to watch a dog fight in southern Afghanistan on Friday, killing three people and wounding more than 30, officials said. Eighteen children were among those injured after the attack in Lashkar Gar, capital of southern province Helmand, a headquarters for the Taliban insurgency sweeping Afghanistan eight years after the 2001 US-led invasion. (READ MORE)

U.K. Troops Pave Way For Major NATO Afghan Assault - British troops have launched helicopter advances in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province to prepare the battlefield for a major NATO operation, the British military said. The British operations are on the outskirts of Marjah, a warren of desert canals held by the Taliban, which U.S. marines say they intend to seize soon in what will be one of the biggest assaults of the eight-year-old war. (READ MORE)

Afghan Blast Kills Two, Wounds 26 - A bomb planted in a motorcycle in southern Afghanistan's most dangerous province has killed two people and wounded at least 26, provincial officials said. The blast took place near a dog fighting match, a traditional pastime where groups of men congregate, in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, said Kamaluddin, a senior provincial police officer who goes only by one name. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan 'to stand on its own feet' from 2010, NATO says - Afghanistan will begin to "stand on its own feet" over the course of 2010, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday, striking a note of optimism for the country where the alliance has been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency since 2002. According to Rasmussen, 2010 "will be challenging ... but it is also the year in which we should see Afghanistan's future take shape, when it starts to stand on its own feet and provide for its own security and where terrorists will find no safe haven from which to threaten us all." (READ MORE)

Russia, US vow to step up cooperation in drug fight in Afghan - Russia and the US today agreed here to step up their cooperation in drug fight in Afghanistan, including improving the exchange of information and joint actions. The head of the US office of drug control policy, Gil Kerlikowske, promised sharper monitoring and assessment of efforts to combat Afghan opium production and trafficking. (READ MORE)

Taliban to execute US soldier if Aafia not released - The Afghan Taliban on Thursday demanded the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who has been convicted by the US court on charges of her alleged attempt to murder US soldiers in Afghanistan, and threatened to execute an American soldier they were holding currently. They claimed Aafia Siddiqui’s family had approached the Taliban network through a Jirga of notables, seeking their assistance to put pressure on the US to provide her justice. (READ MORE)

The village that stood up to the Taliban - Volleyball might seem an odd sport of choice in Lakki Marwat, a scrubby district of bearded rifle-wielding tribesmen on the border between Pakistan's "settled" areas and its lawless tribal belt. But it makes perfect sense. Volleyball requires little equipment or land, which suits the poverty-stricken players, and games can be played in small courtyards ringed by mud-walled farmhouses – ideal in a tribal society where blood feuds are common. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan bans 6,000 election workers - Afghanistan’s election commission has banned 6,000 of the 165,000 workers who took part in last year’s presidential election from working on this year’s parliamentary vote, a spokesman said on Thursday. Western countries and Afghan opposition groups want to see wholesale changes in the election commission after a U.N.-backed watchdog found massive fraud in last year’s presidential vote. (READ MORE)

Afghan commander kills 7 Pakistanis over old feud - Afghan Security Force commander has gunned down at least seven Pakistani drivers over old differences near Pakistan and Afghanistan border on Thursday night, Our Sourcess reported. The Afghan officials have been apprised of the inhumane incident while frontier corps did not permit to bring corpses of deceased Pakistani men back to country. (READ MORE)

Afghan women fear peace plans will reverse rights - Farida Tarana defied age-old Afghan tradition, death threats and sexual discrimination to become a pop star and later the public face of post-Taliban women's politics. Now a local legislator, she is a prominent example of the progress Afghan women have made since the 2001 overthrow of the radical Islamist regime that barred them from education and working outside their homes. (READ MORE)

British troops move on Taliban stronghold - The mission to capture Marja, the largest Taliban strongholds in Helmand, has begun with British forces clearing insurgent positions in an airbourne assault. The operation, the biggest in southern Afghanistan since the invasion nine years ago, is a key part of Nato plans to take over enemy positions before opening negotiations with elements of the Taliban. (READ MORE)

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