February 17, 2010

From the Front: 02/17/2010

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

Dispatches:

A Major's Perspective: What Has Changed....And For The Better! - Wow....that took a lot longer than I thought! Its been almost two months since I posted that I was taking a sabbatical. Since I got back to Afghanistan I have told myself time and time again, "I'm going to write today", and it never happened. One thing would lead to another, and before you knew it, I was falling asleep, drooling on myself. OK, I know not the best mental image, but accurate..... So here we are. I have written a number of times about why Afghanistan matters. But tonight I wanted to take a quick trip down a peudo memory lane and tell you what has changed and why its a very good thing it has. First off, when I left last time, we (ISAF) were firmly in the lead conducting operations. I am quite happy to see that the Afghans are now the ones in the lead completely partnered with ISAF. For example, last time if there was something to do, we would plan it, and tell them what was to be done. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Why Afghans Didn’t Leave Marja Before The Biggest Battle Of The War - This is day four of the largest military operation since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The assault is centered around Marja in Helmand province. Marja isn’t so much a town as it is a collection of family compounds spread over miles of arid, desert terrain. While many have focused on the size of this operation–it involves more than 15,000 Afghan, US and British soldiers–to me the most unique aspect of the assault is the way that the civilian population has been approached. For nearly a month leading up to the operation, Marja was blanketed with leaflets telling people to leave their homes for Lashka Ghar, the largest nearby town. If they refused to leave, the pamphlets said, civilians should at least stay indoors after dark. Meetings were held where Afghan and NATO military leadership warned village elders of what was to come and how best to stay safe. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Interpreters On Facebook - Okay, so perhaps it’s a little weird for me to advertise for anyone’s Facebook page when I’m not using it myself. I’m considering it, but since I can’t seem to keep up a simple blog, it’s almost ridiculous for me to start yet another project that I won’t be able to keep up with. That being said… Some of the interpreters here at the schoolhouse have started a Facebook page. The interpreters are very important to our mission, adding the ability to communicate with and teach Afghans of all types. The Afghan National Security Forces are obviously key partners, and they need to be able to apply the principles of COIN in their own country. It is, after all, their fight as well. They are the ones who are going to have to live here in the future. There are other key stakeholders in this fight, too; we teach and partner with various non-military Afghan government entities as well as non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Nighttime Raid Rules tightened up - I was a little mixed when I first read this article a while back, but after a lot of consideration I think I can agree why they did this. If you balance what our forces achieve while doing these vs. the harm we do to ourselves, I am sure the hard far outweighs the achievements. When you are trying to execute successful COIN strategies and not alienate the people, then limiting the number of nighttime raids to the ones that are absolutely necessary is a pretty good move. Of course like with anything, orders can be misunderstood and not executed as ordered or too much. It takes a fair amount of common sense when trying to execute warfare at all levels. Lets just hope the Commanders between the top and the bottom don’t get overly conservative on this one. “NATO spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that a directive would be issued soon to set down the new rules. Nighttime raids on private homes have emerged as the Afghans’ No. 1 complaint after Gen. Stanley McChrystal limited the use of airstrikes and other weaponry last year.” (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Camp animals - Since today was Liberation Day celebrating the Soviets departure, my ANA counterparts were off. I used this as an opportunity to catch up some administrative work. My Captain had Command Post duty, so I visited him and we worked on the paperwork together. He inspires me while I write bullets for decorations and evaluations. While there, I went outside and watched Vixen chase a much larger dog around in a circle. It was humorous to watch and when I realized this would make a good picture, they stopped chasing each other. Another unnamed dog came over to join in the mix. This new dog didn’t want to play with Vixen and every time she tried to join in, the other dog would nudge her and Vixen would succumb by rolling on her back. There are quite a few wild dogs running around ANA land. Most of them seem friendly, but I know of some areas where the dogs will chase vehicles and based on their demeanor, I would not stop to pet them. Of course GO1B prohibits us from touching them anyhow. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Next in Line: Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir? - By now, we’ve all heard the great news of Mullah Baradar’s capture. As most analysts and experts agree, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was a vitally important figure within the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) – overseeing the day-to-day operations of the group, developing and enforcing the recently released Taliban “Code of Conduct,” serving as an intermediary to Mullah Omar, and running the Taliban’s Shura (and associated sub-committees) based in Quetta, Pakistan. For an excellent profile of Mullah Baradar, check out this article from Newsweek and for some insightful analysis on the potential implications of his capture, check out great articles from The Economist, Josh Foust at Registan, and Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal. While it’s absolutely critical to examine the events leading up to Mullah Baradar’s capture and the implications of his capture on US policy and operations in the wider Af-Pak region, I’d like to focus on a more immediate question: Who will replace Mullah Baradar? (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Taliban's no. 2 commander captured in joint U.S./Pakistan raid - The Afghan Taliban's number two leader and the movement's top military commander was captured several days ago by a joint Inter-Services Intelligence/CIA operation in Karachi, a story first reported by the New York Times, and is now providing intelligence. The capture of Baradar, second in influence only to Afghan Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar and the highest ranking Taliban figure to be held since 2001, signifies greater cooperation between the U.S. and the Pakistani government, which has historically been reluctant to target the Afghan Taliban. A Taliban spokesman and another representative denied outright that Baradar had been captured, while two different Taliban commanders claimed that Baradar, one of the founding members of the Taliban and the group's day-to-day operational, military, and financial leader, was picked up fighting in the southern Afghan province of Helmand over the weekend. (READ MORE)

Thomas Ruttig: Capturing the Taliban's second-in-command - With Mullah Baradar's arrest, the operational leader of the Taliban movement has been captured. Mullah Baradar -- a nom-de-guerre; his real name is Abdul Ghani -- had been appointed one of the two deputies of Mullah Muhammad Omar when the movement reorganized after its collapse in late 2001. That made him the movement’s number 3. After the arrest of the other deputy, Mullah Obaidullah by the Pakistani ISI(1), he remained alone at the top of the Taliban’s second-highest authority, the Leadership Council (Rahbari Shura). Only Mullah Omar, as the amir ul-mo’menin, has a higher position. But being underground, only surfacing with indirectly distributed messages from time to time and otherwise, as the Taliban say, ‘giving strategic direction’ -- whatever this concretely means -- the role of Mullah Omar has possibly become rather unsubstantial in practice. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Afghan Strategy Shows Beginning Success - In an interview aired this weekend, Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, noted signs that the new strategy in Afghanistan “is beginning to bear fruit.” The secretary noted signs of a possible turnaround in Afghanistan, as expressed last week at the NATO Ministerial in Istanbul by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander on the ground. “I think we are beginning to see the impact of the Marines going into Helmand province. We are beginning to see the impact of increased forces in other places,” Gates said. “I think part of what many of us are feeling is that there’s an intangible increase in confidence and hope, both on the part of the Afghans, but also on the part of the nations that are with us in there, trying to help.” “There are some small signs that the strategy that General McChrystal is following is beginning to bear fruit,” he added. But Gates emphasized that the fight is far from over. “It is still going to be a hard fight. There’s some very hard days ahead,” he said. (READ MORE)

Tim Hsia: It’s the Economy, Soldier - The recession has greatly altered the American political and social landscape, but one of the few segments in society that has not been affected is the military. In fact, the bad economy has aided recruiting and retention for the military. This comes as no surprise, given that service members are keenly aware of the uncertain economic environment outside the military. With unemployment affecting one in five men in the United States between the ages of 25 to 54, staying in the military and dealing with the risk of another deployment becomes all the more palatable in comparison to being unemployed. Today this seems to no longer be the case, and the dark economic times have changed many civilians’ attitudes. My previous unit’s re-enlistment non-commissioned officer told me that he noticed there had been a jump in re-enlistments after we returned from a deployment. He found this surprising because re-enlistments in a combat zone are often given additional cash bonuses and are tax-free, so it would make more sense for a soldier to re-enlist while deployed. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: These men of steel, men of power... they're losing control by the hour - Is it possible the captured shadow governor of Helmand, forced to flight by the Marjah offensive, is the one singing like a canary? Is it even remotely possible that that's part of the reason why his boss, Mullah Barader, who has more Canadian and Afghan blood on his hands than anyone, is now in custody? Cause that'd be a shame... "The biggest break came in early February, when Afghan intelligence agents, tipped off by a source, arrested the Taliban's so-called "shadow governor" of Marjah, who doubled as the insurgents' military chief, said coalition and Afghan officials. He was grabbed in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's biggest city, and was on his way to Pakistan, where the Taliban's top leadership had ordered him to take refuge, officials said. "They were worried. Taliban has lost so many mid and senior commanders, they are hurting right now; that's clear from a lot of intel," said a senior coalition commander in Kabul." (READ MORE)

Free Range International: The Battle for Marjah - Operation Moshtarak, the assault on the Marjah District in the Helmand Province started today. The press has been looking at it for months from various angles with stories stressing that secrecy has been lost, or that civilians will be killed, or with speculation on why the military is publicizing Operation Moshtarak in the first place. These stories all contain grains of truth but none of them is even close to telling the real story. Here it is: when the Marines crossed the line of departure today, the battle for Marjah had already been won. That is not to say there will be no fighting – there will be – pockets of Taliban will need to be cleared out along with a ton of IED’s. Just as they did last summer in Now Zad the Marines spent months talking about what they were going do in Marjah while focusing their efforts at shaping the fight behind the scene. (READ MORE)

Mortar Section Commander Cpl Stephen Hall - Fire Support Company 1 Royal Welsh: D Day - Op Moshtarak - AS we moved off the helicopter we were expecting the terrain to be boggy, but no-where near as bad as it was. As soon as we were off the helicopter we were up to our knees in mud. With all the weight we were carrying and the mud it was really hard going. As well as our standard kit and the mortar equipment I also had the radio so the total weight I was carrying was huge. Once we were on the ground I had to immediately get the light motor set up in case we were contacted or the entry into our objective needed motor fire. I was soaking wet, very cold and covered in mud, but just kept on going to make sure everything was set up straight away and ready to go. For my mortar section the worst bit was waiting for the initial assault section to go into the Compound. We were hoping for a “Green Knock” – when the lads go in without a shot fired – but we were sitting there in the dark, freezing and soaked to the skin, waiting for it to “Go Red” at any time. That is the nerve racking time for the boys. (READ MORE)

Sergeant Alan Winchester – Air Traffic Control Camp Bastion: A ‘crow’s nest’ view of D Day – Operation Moshtarak - The helicopter flight line had been a hive of activity for days with troops practicing their loading drills and engineers carrying out last minute serviceability checks on the airframes. The pilots; British, Canadian and American, all attended detailed briefs. This was vital considering the scale and complexity of the task. When I attended the initial briefing for the operation it looked as though there some potential ‘pinch points’ within the timescale envisaged. We needed to be switched on in the tower if anything unplanned happened to the Air Traffic plan because we were dealing with so many different aircraft types – Chinook, Merlin, Apache, Lynx, Canadian Griffin, Blackhawk and Sea King. D-1: My night started off as normal at 1900 hours and without incident, setting the scene for the embarkation phase of the operation. (READ MORE)

Major Richard Gregory, Officer Commanding Fire Support Company, 1 Royal Welsh: Attending a local Shura with village elders - I have never felt the burden of responsibility the way I did when we came in on this Operation. Not in Northern Ireland nor in Iraq. Things went smoothly at Camp Bastion getting the guys loaded up and onto the helicopters. It was very tense flying into the landing zones but we were pleased to get out on the ground with very little drama. Heavy mud in the fields made the going tough but when we had made it safely in to our compound after being up to our knees in the mud in the dark I thought - we have got it right. The Patrol Base is now established, however the hard work is still to be done. We now have to prove ourselves to the local population and show them that we can provide them with the security they need. The next phase of Operation Moshtarak has already begun with meetings with the locals set up and patrols sent out to re-assure the surrounding population of the security provided by the ISAF presence. (READ MORE)

Cpl Lucy Marrow Combat Medical Technician: Prep for OP Moshtarak - I normally train US soldiers in battlefield first aid but we’ve been building up for Op Moshtarak for a few days now, thoroughly checking our medical kits and the equipment in the vehicle. I’ve been training the Gurkha soldiers from the Logistics Regiment here in Camp Bastion as they load up all the supplies ready for the next phase of the operation. Now all the excitement of the helicopter drops is over it is up to these guys on the ground to keep the momentum going. It has given me the chance to work in A&E at the Camp Bastion hospital, working on casualties and practicing my clinical skills. We don’t normally do this but my Squadron took the opportunity to filter us through the hospital to gain additional experience. I’ve been out on several Combat Logistic Patrols, working from a Mastiff ambulance that can carry one stretcher casualty. It’s the same as any other Mastiff out here, but inside it is fitted out like a Battlefield Ambulance – so it can carry oxygen and has places for all our medical equipment. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Taliban forced to retreat as battle for Marjah intensifies - Civilians in the southern Afghan town of Marjah said fighting there continued yesterday at "maximum intensity" as Taliban insurgents were squeezed into ever-smaller pockets. Despite encountering fierce resistance from small bands of guerrillas, the allies claim most of the town in Helmand province is under the control of Nato and Afghan troops. They are unable to take the main bazaar, however, having been forced back twice by heavy fire from Taliban sharp shooters. "The foreign troops have control of all the main roundabouts," Ajmal Gullai, a 33-year-old taxi driver who lives in Marjah, told The Independent by phone. Like many other civilians in the town Mr Gullai has remained indoors, terrified that any attempt to venture out will be met with a bullet or a bomb. "We're learning to recognise the different kinds of gunfire and can tell who is firing what," he said. "The Taliban use small weapons like AK-47s, PKM machine guns and rocket launchers. Most of the fire is coming from foreign troops." (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Operation Moshtarak: 15,000 troops braced for enemy fightback in Afghanistan - It is the biggest offensive against the Taliban since coalition troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001. And Operation Moshtarak - involving 15,000 troops and scores of helicopters - is so far going to plan. One British general said: "It has worked really well... but the threat is still there." And last night, the commanders were under no illusion that the Taliban would soon be mounting counter-attacks. Thousands of British troops stormed three Taliban-controlled points in Our Central Helmand as nearly 8,000 US Marines blasted their way into Taliban-held Majer. Danish and Estonian and Afghan infantry soldiers were also involved. The main UK sectors of the operation are to the north east of Majer in Nad-e-Ali, the Chahe Anjir Triangle and South West Babaji. Crucially, the Taliban flag was lowered by Afghan troops in the area of Shawal, in the north west of the Chahe Anjir triangle. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Adapting to New Environments - I rode 31 miles yesterday. After being off the bike for a week because of the snow, I rode 12 miles Saturday and had a long ride yesterday with five other Lancaster racers who braved the wet roads. I did not ride with them long. In fact, I got dropped on a hill no more than 300 feet long on the 3-mile ride to the meeting point at the official beginning of the ride. After the meeting point, I lasted another two miles, then turned off at the top of the first long hill. I did not want the rest of the group slowing down and waiting for me on every hill and that's what would have happened if I stayed. So I rode south to a 2.5 mile hill in the Village of Buck, rode to the top and rode home in a headwind. After the ride, my wife said that the thing that might take me the longest in getting back to life in Lancaster is being able to keep up with my bike buddies. I think she is right. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Winding Down - Well, our replacements finally arrived two days ago. About 10 days short, but better late than never, right? They have been sitting in classes the last two days experiencing the fun that is PowerPoint presentations. Death by PowerPoint as some would call it. This generations version of a slide projector. Anyway, tomorrow we start what we call left seat/right seat. This is the term used to describe them riding around in the passanger seat observing what we do and asking questions. We'll do that for a few days and then we'll do right seat/left seat, which as I'm sure you can figure out is them driving around while we observe and critique. 10 days is hardly enough time to train these guys. It's kind of like trying to drink from a fire hose. You'll get some of it, but most of it will blow right by. I'm sure these guys are anxious for us to get out of here so they can start doing there own thing. I just hope they use this week to listen to what we have to say and don't act like know-it-alls. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Down Time - I’m back in Afghanistan. My fifteen days of leave were awesome. I’ve got a beautiful wife, a comfortable home, the best friends, and two terrific little girls. We played Candyland, went to a basketball game, shopped for groceries. I fell deeply in love with Taco Bell’s new Beefy 5 Layer Burrito. My wife and I slept closer than ever. But even as I enjoyed the comforts of normal life, it was tough to be very far from Afghanistan in my mind. As my return to the combat zone got closer, I found myself excited to get back into the fight. We’re a gun-truck company. Armed with heavy machine guns and over-sized armored vechicles, we protect Afghan truckers from base to base. It’s certainly not "Saving Private Ryan" combat, but we face threats in the form of roadside bombs, small-arms and indirect fire, and sometimes very challenging terrain. To be among the Afghan people, witnessing a strange Central culture and heart-aching poverty, is a life-changing exprience. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Whose War Is This? - As we go into the eighth year of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I read more and more about how this is Bush’s War or now it’s Obama’s War and even read the statement by a British Military mom stating how proud she was her son who had joined the military and it wasn’t even “their war”. Which got me to thinking… whose war is it? On Sept. 11, 2001 3164 people died in the attacks. More than 90 countries lost citizens that fateful day. So again I ask whose war is this? The Muslim terrorist are not centering out Americans. They are targeting anyone from any country that does not believe as they do and does not live their lives as muslims. And being muslim will not keep you safe from their acts of terror. Click on this Link to the 12 faces of Sharia Law.(Graphic) to see how a woman who refuses a marriage proposal is treated by muslims. To me this is Humanity’s war. This is the time when if good men do nothing evil will win. All people who have any humanity should be calling this their war. (READ MORE)

Last of Iraqis: "Last of Iraqis" is in the States - I know it might be as a shock to most of you because I decided not to talk about it until it happens and now it happened. about a year and a half ago I applied to the IOM (international organization for migration) in Baghdad, the applicants should have worked with the US army or helped US based media organizations and for sure I have been approved because of my activities with the media. After some interviews and CIA checks I have been accepted and given a departure date which was Feb 1st ….We went from Baghdad to Amman and stayed there for a night and as usual the Jordanians were jerks and gave us some really hard time, despite that the trip to Jordan was the shortest but it was the hardest!! next day at 10 am we left from Amman heading to NY in a direct flight…Thank god for the good reading and searches I have done in which I discovered there are cribs for babies in big airplanes like the ones we were traveling by so I booked a seat in front of the crib and that made the trip much easier… (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban confirm Mullah Baradar captured - Two Taliban commanders based in southern Afghanistan have confirmed that the group's second in command has been captured, but claimed he was detained during the Coalition offensive in Helmand province and not in Karachi. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's operational commander and the top deputy to Mullah Omar, was reported yesterday to have been arrested by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency several days ago in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. Baradar has been a longtime leader in the Afghan Taliban and a close confidant of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the group. He is said to direct the Taliban's Shura Majlis, or top leadership council. Baradar directed the Taliban's day-to-day operations, and is in close contact with regional military commanders and the shadow governors. He also is said to control the Taliban's purse strings. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 15 Feb 10 - today was my first mission outside the wire at my new home…it was awesome, but I froze my ass off …first off I rode in the back of an open hummer with my 240B pointing out the back of the truck …the mission was to go out to the “range” to fire off all the big guns and make sure everything was sighted in and operating properly…the “range” was an old Russian military camp…a 10 acre area at the foothills of some mountains with a few old abandoned buildings…I think it was around NEGATIVE 10 degrees the whole day… the sky was an awesome clear blue, but the ground was ice and snow, it was a really sunny, crisp, beautiful day to be out on the slopes boarding and hangin out with a nice hot apples cider–with alcohol, of course… but, that wasn’t in the cards for us …we went out with a bunch of US military and some Afghan National Police…we cruised thru the town and kept our aggressive posture up while waving at the kids…(READ MORE)

Richard S. Lowry: Vertical envelopment - leapfrogging into Marjah - More than 10,000 Afghan, British and American soldiers, along with United States Marines attacked into Afghanistan’s poppy-growing heartland in the predawn darkness Saturday morning. Third Battalion, 6th Marines leapt into combat, hopping over the maze of canals in 60 helicopters of the 40 Marine Air Group and Task Force Pegasus, the Combat Aviation Brigade of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. The Marines were on the outskirts of Marjah’s bazaar before any remaining enemy fighters could get their pants on. Major General Nick Carter, NATO commander for Southern Afghanistan said this about the initial assault in an interview early on Saturday: “The amount of aviation that was used and the way it was used, the number of objectives, and the extent to which the enemy was dislocated in terms of that overwhelming arrival between 2AM and dawn this morning was impressive, to say the least.” (READ MORE)

C. J. CHIVERS: Soldiers Keep Up Push in Taliban Stronghold - Ten minutes after walking out of the small outpost on Monday morning, the Marines of Company K were ambushed again. There was no cover. The Marines dropped, fired, then bounded to their feet, running through muddy gunk. “Break to your left!” one of them shouted. “Go!” So began the third day for a rifle company alone in northern Marja, where four platoons have been in near constant skirmishing with the Taliban since Saturday. They have faced a mix of ambushes and sustained engagements along with intermittent sniper fire. Two Marines were shot and wounded on Saturday. Two Afghan soldiers who patrol with them were gravely injured on Monday, with one shot in the face, the other through the neck. The Afghan government on Monday tried to portray the battle for the Taliban stronghold as all but over, with the resistance light and the Taliban fleeing, a characterization that bore little resemblance to the facts on the ground here in northern Marja. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Flying Things - There's a lot of stuff in the air here. Besides dust, I mean. Birds and bugs and machines. It makes for some interesting experiences. Early in the morning, right around sunrise, our compound is the gathering place for thousands of crows. Literally thousands of them. You see 'em flying in from wherever the spent the night and they converge on top of us. They'll go for the radio antennae, or settle on the barbed wire on top of the walls, or perch on top of the streetlights. Mostly they fly back and forth, pushing and jostling in the air and for landing spots. They're a noisy bunch, too: cawing at each other and raising quite a racket. After a bit of ruckus, they'll settle on the wire fence. Long rows of crows, all lined up next to each other, all facing into our compound. Then it gets quiet, just an occasional squawk. Seems like they're getting their marching orders from their command sergeant major. (READ MORE)

Zombie Killer 6: Trigger Time - We took the time this last week to do some team internal training so we could "re-blue" ourselves on some skills we haven't had opportunity to practice in awhile. The team team rolled out from Zombie Central with full compliment of crew-served weapons and piles of ammo for some quality time out at the range. We spent a good part of the day hammering the targets we had brought along and made excellent progress in improving marksmanship skills. Naturally after the ammunition was expended we went back to ye olde ORP (Zombie Central) to conduct weapons maintenance, which lasted the better part of the day. This is everyone's least favorite part of shooting, but a critically important one nonetheless. Later I shall post some videos of us conducting some combat lifesaver training. You won't want to miss it. (MORE)

Asher Kohn: No Mere Frontier - Stumbling into this project, as well as looking at the maps Mr. Foust put up in his last post, got me thinking. The Rewilding is exuberant, exaggerated, and almost entirely academic at this point, but it is interesting: “A Marshall Plan for the environment, rewilding promotes the expansion of core wilderness areas on a vast scale, the restoration of corridors between them (to fight the “island” effect of isolated parks and protected areas), and the reintroduction or protection of top predators.” The first thing I thought of, however, was this. And this. The dams and irrigation canals will outlast their uses as well. It almost seems as though a place like Kazakhstan, with all of the resource extraction focused in one spot and the rest of the country open, is the dream for folks like Ms. Fraser. Especially when Foust’s map of Marjeh looks a lot like California City. Central Asia is still seen as the great open spaces that brought us Attilla, Cengiz, and the rest. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: In the Graveyard of Accurate Reporting - While the first day of the Marjeh Offensive was low key and quiet, the second day seems to have been more intense. A children’s treasury of today’s Marjeh news. Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported the Marjeh Offensive will have 3,500 troops, 1,500 Afghans, and thousands of support troops for the offensive; Michael Phillips, on the other hand, says there are 9,500 “U.S. Marines and Afghan and British soldiers” actively experiencing combat, with “a few thousand in reserve.” In other words, even the reporters there, on the ground, directly interacting with and personally interviewing the military are getting contradictory reports of what’s going on. Chandrasekaran and Phillips, for example, both datelined their stories from Marjeh, and they couldn’t be more different: Chandrasekaran says it’s less than 4,000 troops encountering heavy and unexpected resistance, while Phillips says it’s almost 10,000 troops experiencing light and expected resistance. (READ MORE)

Joan D'Arc: Just tell me where we're going... - For the past two weeks I have had more anxiety and anger with the Army than I have experienced in a looooong time. No, my husband is not deployed. My husband is currently in an "Army school" and will graduate in late May. We KNOW we will be PCSing this summer and have known this since we moved here last summer. We have known for months that SOME time this month we would find out our next duty station. Two weeks ago my husband met with the guy who is supposed to tell us where we go next. He was told, two weeks ago, that we would find out this past Wednesday. He was also told there are 2 possibilities for our next assignment. Place #1 would be very nice, but far from our families. And DH would deploy to Afghanistan sometime next year. Place #2 would be good for a number of reasons. But DH would deploy to Iraq THIS year. *GULP* I have been able to "ignore" the possibility of deployments for the past 4 1/2 years because my husband was wounded. And now, the reality of a deployment is really scary for me. (READ MORE)

this is our life: I'm still learning, but. . . - I want to write down some things that I've already learned from this deployment: * I am capable of doing a LOT more than I thought. * The little things DO matter {i.e. holding hands, saying I love you, dancing} * My kids are more grown up than I thought. Some days they made it through better than I did. *Skype/email is a miraculous blessing. Without these things I would not have made it through this year. *You can't feel great everyday. But you can make it through that day and maybe feel great the next day. *Family is EVERYTHING. * I have grown closer to my Savior. He has been with me the whole time to help me have more patience. * I have felt the peace and spiritual strength that comes when I go to the temple. * I can and do love my husband more than ever {I never knew you could miss someone so much that it literally hurts}. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Rules of Engagement Slow Progress in Marjah - Recall that the standing rules of engagement (ROE) are modified by theater-specific ROE, such as the rules for Operation Iraqi Freedom (at one time on Wikileaks) and more recently a tactical directive promulgated under the authority of General McChrystal. There are parts of the directive (perhaps large parts) that have not been divulged to the public, but we do know that there are some significant restrictions on troop movement, cordons and searches and kinetic operations. For instance, the ROE prohibits night or surprise searches, and firing at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first. Pentagon officials have admitted that these rules have opened up new space for the insurgents. In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.” (READ MORE)

The Armorer: On the importance of naming... and a reminder about war - Stephen Green, the Vodkapundit, has a good ice-breaker post (what other kind for the Vodkapundit, eh?) up at Pajamas Media, called "One of these things is not like the other." It starts out with a discussion on the naming of military operations, and then moved on to the name of the offensive in Afghanistan - Being a pedant of the first order, I couldn't let this one go unchallenged...I then moved on to different aspects of the issue, and the ones which concern me rather more as this operation goes forward in Afghanistan - how it's going to be conducted, and how that in turn will get reported, and how we, on this side of the big lakes, will react. One man’s “bogged down” is another man’s “I can’t just blow everything away like I did in WWII and Korea so I find that I have to take my time. Oh, and yeah, the Talibs didn’t sign the landmine treaty and the place is lousy with them, and they're covering their obstacles with fires.” (READ MORE)

Robert Stokely: Metamorphosis - 11 FEB 1300 hours: My cell phone rang as I was in the middle of me supervising my Staff Prosecutor presenting evidence in a Driving Under the Influence case. I step outside to take the call. She was hysterical, calling out to me Mr. Stokely, Mr. Stokely, please help me.... I did not know who was calling me and it was a struggle to even get her name and for now I will call her TS. She was crying, sobbing out of control. Finally, she told me her husband was with Bravo 2/121 48th BCT based in Newnan / Coweta County GA where I live and serve as the prosecutor. I am also privileged to serve as the Family Readiness Group Co-Chair for Bravo 2/121. The unit has been in Afghanistan since last June, and the going has not always been smooth. Last Thursday was anything but smooth. When TS called me it was dark there and her husband and many other soldiers were in their sleeping quarters. As I got her to calm down she told me something terrible had happened but she was not sure what. Sobbing and sounds that were words that made no sense. I got her to calm down again - firmly speaking to her to slow down, breathe, breathe, breathe deep. (READ MORE)

30 Days Through Afghanistan: Bad timing - Camp Hero Day 9 – A Marine, I highly respect, told me before 30 Days started, a massive operation in the South would limit our project and in some regards overshadow it. I told her our project wouldn’t be affected because we weren’t trying to tell the operation’s story, but sideline next to it and share the stories behind the headlines. I never took into account the massive amount of resources an operation can take up. We weren’t able to make it to Bastion, as we hoped we would over the weekend because the massive influx of international media heading into the area. As much as Ken and I would like to pretend we compete with the big boys out there, it’s just not the case. Military resources go to those who utilize them to the greatest effect and unfortunately, they have a lot greater audience than we do. Ken and I have been quite disappointed in ourselves for lacking the opportunity to showcase what southern Afghanistan is like. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
741st EOD returns from Afghanistan - The citizen-soldiers of the 741st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion have returned from Afghanistan. The 25 Washington National Guardsmen of the battalion’s headquarters detachment were mobilized for a year and provided command and control for Task Force Paladin, the main counter-IED effort throughout the country. Bombs are by far the top killer of American and coalition troops throughout the country. (READ MORE)

Military chiefs' views crucial in gay ban row - The military service chiefs will soon present their views to Congress marking the next stage in the debate on gays in the military amid signs they will not be as effusive in endorsing an end to "don't ask, don't tell" as has Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The flag officers who lead the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps have been especially guarded in public on providing their views. During last year's budget hearings, none was pressed to give an opinion, as required for various issues involving the Joint Chiefs of Staff by the Senate Armed Services Committee. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:
Iraq targets tailors to curb militant attacks - Iraq is cracking down on shops and tailors who sell and make police and military uniforms after attackers disguised themselves as security forces to slip through checkpoints and carry out suicide bombings in heavily guarded Baghdad. Security lapses that allowed bombings at government buildings and hotels in Baghdad in recent months were an embarrassment to the Iraqi government ahead of parliamentary elections next month. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Marja: From USAID to U.S. Marines - American, other NATO and Afghan forces are attacking into the canal-laced region of Marja, a Taliban stronghold that, as Stephen Farrell wrote last week, was built from scratch with American money and resources in the late 1950s. Not many people outside the Marine Corps had heard of Marja until this winter. But for more than two years, the area next door to Marja in the Helmand River Valley, Nad-i-Ali, has been a scene of intense fighting between the Taliban on the one hand, and Afghan police and NATO troops on the other. (READ MORE)

Nation and Region-Building in Afghanistan: The British, Pakistani, Soviet (& American) Experience - A major new operation has been launched in the Taliban stronghold of Marja – an area reshaped 50 years ago to be “model villages” under an Afghan and American scheme to rejuvenate the Helmand River Valley. An Obama administration adviser said the offensive is “not about the battle, it’s about the postlude” and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, that “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in.” (READ MORE)

Half of Town’s Taliban Flee or Are Killed, Allies Say - As heavy fighting in the insurgent stronghold of Marja carried into its third day, the number of Taliban fighters in the area has dropped by about half, American and Afghan commanders said Monday. About a quarter of the 400 Taliban fighters estimated to be in Marja when the Afghan-American operation began early Saturday have been killed, officers said. (READ MORE)

Military says Afghan Offensive Making Steady Progress - Top military commanders in Afghanistan say a major anti-Taliban offensive in the southern Helmand Province is making steady progress. But the United Nations has expressed concern over reports of civilian deaths in the fighting and has called for warring sides to ensure protection of non-combatants. About 15,000 U.S, British and Afghan forces are targeting the southern town of Marjaha, which is considered a major stronghold of Taliban militants and a hub of narcotics traffickers. (READ MORE)

U.S. curtails use of airstrikes in assault on Marja - To the Marines of Bravo Company, the black-and-white video footage from a surveillance drone seemed to present the perfect shot: more than a dozen armed insurgents exiting a building and heading to positions to attack U.S. and Afghan forces seeking to wrest control of this Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. Facing stiff resistance from Taliban fighters, the Marines radioed for permission to call in an airstrike on the insurgents at midday Monday. (READ MORE)

Hidden enemy delays advance in Marjah - US Marines and Afghan troops were bogged down by sniper fire and home-made bombs on the third day of their biggest offensive since the overthrow of the Taleban in 2001. Nato and allied forces were meeting fierce resistance in their battle to seize the Taleban’s main stronghold in southern Afghanistan, and were able to advance only 500 yards yesterday. (READ MORE)

Taliban Resist Afghan Offensive - U.S. and Afghan commanders braced for stiffer Taliban resistance and ramped up the public-relations effort as U.S.-led forces pushed ahead with a major offensive into the southern Afghan town of Marjah. The coalition said at least 15 Afghan civilians have been killed since the operation kicking off the U.S. surge began Saturday, but U.S. commanders said that toll hasn't cost them the ability to win local support. (READ MORE)

Marines in Afghanistan inch forward against Taliban - Ambushes, sniper fire and a labyrinth of buried bombs again slowed a drive by U.S. Marines and Afghan troops Monday to rid a former Taliban stronghold of insurgents. The arduous progress on the offensive's third day appeared to bear out commanders' predictions that clearing the town of Marja, in troubled Helmand province, could take weeks. (READ MORE)

U.S., Afghan forces face tough resistance - Taliban insurgents appear to be using the cover of darkness to slip behind U.S. lines in this southern Afghanistan town that is the key objective of a major U.S.-led military offensive. Marines and Afghan soldiers came under repeated counterattacks in the Taliban's Helmand province stronghold on Monday. Small, mobile teams of insurgents fired rifles, rockets and grenades at the joint force from the cover of compounds already deemed free of weapons and explosives. (READ MORE)

Afghan Suicide Attacks Seen as Less Effective - The Taliban’s suicide bombers have been selling their lives cheaply of late. From Jan. 24 to Feb. 14, a total of 17 suicide bombers took aim at one coalition member after another but failed to kill any of them, according to a compilation of reports from Afghan police and military officials, and from the American-led International Security Assistance Force. (READ MORE)

Suspected US Drone Strike Kills 3 in Pakistan - Pakistani officials say a suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least three militants in a northwestern tribal region Monday, a day after a similar attack in the same area. Officials say a missile fired from an unmanned aircraft struck a vehicle traveling through Tapi village in North Waziristan. (READ MORE)

Operation Moshtarak Update for Feb. 15 - The clearing phase of operation Moshtarak continued yesterday. The combined force continues to face sporadic fire fights. The combined forces have incurred casualties. A press conference held yesterday in Lashkar Gah included General Abdul Rahim Wardak, minister of Defense; Mohammed Hanif Atmar, minister of Interior; Mohammed Gulab Mangal, governor of Helmand province; Brig. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai, ANA 205 Corps commander; and General Stanley McChrystal, ISAF commander. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update Feb. 16 - An Afghan-international force interdicted three vehicles in three separate engagements, resulting in more than 10 militants killed while pursuing a Taliban commander in Helmand province yesterday. The joint force was sent to a rural area in the Washir District after intelligence information revealed militants were in several vehicles. (READ MORE)

Afghans Reach Out to U.S. Route-Clearance Patrol - As Army 1st Lt. Phil Kirk pulled the walkie-talkie from his hip, disappointment was obvious on his face and in his voice. “Did you hear that?” Kirk asked, shaking his head. “Sounds like medevac is ‘red.’ We’re not going anywhere.” The lieutenant was referencing radio traffic from the tactical operations center informing him that his newly formed route clearance patrol’s first mission would be delayed for several hours because helicopters were unable to fly, presumably due to poor weather. (READ MORE)

Taliban using civilians as human shields in Marjah - Taliban fighters are increasingly using civilians as human shields in the assault on the southern town of Marjah, according to an Afghan official. The claim came as military squads resumed painstaking house-to-house searches in the Taliban stronghold as part of Operation Moshtarak. (READ MORE)

Pakistan's romance with Afghan Taliban far from over - The capture of Taliban's second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar represents a rising level of cooperation between Pakistani and US intelligence agencies, but it remains far from clear if Pakistan's 15-year Taliban romance is over. Afghan Taliban can hardly survive without hiding places inside Pakistan, and the country has yet to find an alternative for the militia that has served as its proxy in Afghanistan since 1994 when the Taliban movement was founded. (READ MORE)

Obama administration silent on Taliban leader's detention - The White House has so far revealed very little about how Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy commander of the Taliban, was captured. There is also no news about where he is being held and what intelligence, if any, he is providing. (READ MORE)

US offensive runs into 'human shields', Taliban bombs - Thousands of US-led troops battling to capture a militant bastion in southern Afghanistan ran into fresh resistance Wednesday from Taliban using "human shields" and hidden bombs. US, Afghan and NATO generals spent months planning the assault on the drugs and Taliban nexus of Marjah, home to around 80,000 people in southern Afghanistan, which gave insurgents time to mine roads, buildings and trees. (READ MORE)

What Does ‘Victory’ In Marjah Mean? - After eight years of war in Afghanistan marked by inept military planning and support for corrupt politicians, brutal mercenaries, drug lords, and capricious regional chiefs, the U.S. government and media are placing considerable emphasis on a new war strategy inspired by President Barack Obama's "surge" of 30,000 troops into the fray and General Stanley McChrystal's policy aimed at reducing civilian casualties. (READ MORE)

NATO airstrike kills more than a dozen Taliban fighters - Update - A NATO-led airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed at least a dozen Taliban insurgents, while four Afghan police were killed in a blast in the south of the country, officials said Wednesday. The airstrike took place Tuesday when NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel observed a group of militants close to border with Pakistan, the alliance said. (READ MORE)

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