February 18, 2010

From the Front: 02/18/2010

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

Foreign Policy:
Operation Marjah - A Photo Essay of Coalition forces are hunting Taliban insurgents in the largest military operation in Afghanistan since the initial U.S. invasion in 2001. (VIEW PHOTOS)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: A Lively ANA Discussion Part One - Last night I couldn’t sleep well and stayed up late preparing for my discussion with the ANA soldiers. I was invited to speak with a group of ANA soldiers attending literacy training. Part of their curriculum is religious studies and one segment of the class covers infidel misperceptions. Although I am not an infidel, but considered by some Muslim extremists as one, I agreed to open myself up for questioning. I was hoping not to get into a theological debate, but just in case, I spent several hours researching the Internet and even read the English translation of the first 2 chapters of the Quran (Koran). To say the least, it was very interesting reading. My interpreter Omid and I visited the ANA Sgt Major and over a cup of chai, we discussed the morning agenda. The Sgt Major would introduce me to the class and then I would take over. We all walked into the classroom and it was completely full of 50-60 ANA soldiers. (READ MORE)

America's 1st Sgt: Boot Camp Letters 2 - You may recall the letter I sent my parents after arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego dated May 9, 1992. Upon arriving at the depot our first stop was at Receiving. This term is somewhat misleading as we were "received" with the same enthusiasm more often reserved for an infectious mob of plague victims. "What are you miserable $&#@ doing here? Did you walk in the wrong hatch? Women's boot camp is in Paris Island!" Around this time we were introduced to the famous yellow footprints. My memory of this is rather vague but I do remember hearing my inner voice trying to be heard over the booming voices of the Drill Instructors: "Just do what they say! Do what they say! For the love of…faster fool!" Early on in Receiving Drill Instructors made us understand in no uncertain terms that even our absolute obedience was woefully inadequate and unsatisfactory. It was also when we began to learn interesting things about our fellow recruits. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: The Necessity of the Fragmentation Grenade - When you got to chow and are carrying two live M67 Frags on your person; you are in a warzone. And the light clank you feel as those 14 ounces of American made vengeance bounce against the hard ceramic protective plate over your chest, is a constant reminder of who you are and what you represent. Then it came time to use said grenade. In my entire company of Infantrymen, four soldiers had tossed a live hand grenade since basic training. And those four had done so in garrison training for another combat deployment outside our Division. I had no idea what it was like. I knew the blast radius. The supposed timing of the fuse. How to toss it and how to carry it safely, but that was it. We placed our grenades upside down in a grenade pouch on our upper left side of our IBA vest. Upside down was the easiest way to remove the grenade hastily during a fight. (READ MORE)

ANDREW BALCOMBE: Dutch Prepare for Afghan Deployment - The next Dutch battlegroup will deploy to southern Afghanistan in March 2010. Task Force Uruzgan 17 is composed of an army airborne company, a company of Dutch marines, a recon platoon, an engineer company and logistics staff. In February, TFU 17 trained at three locations around The Netherlands. They’re depicted above reacting to a simulated suicide-bombing in a crowded bazaar. The troops may be the last Dutch battlegroup to deploy to Afghanistan. The Dutch cabinet will decide on March 1 if the combat mission will continue beyond August. A majority in the Dutch parliament wants the mission to end. The cabinet is split on the issue. Pressure is mounting from NATO, the U.S. and other coalition partners to prolong the mission. Despite the debate in The Hague, the Dutch troops on the ground remain professional and committed to doing their jobs. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: Marines Find Rocket Attack’s Victims as Mystery Deepens - On Tuesday, Company K of the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines visited a house in Marjah, Afghanistan, reduced to rubble by American rockets. Inside were twelve bodies. According to their superior officers, Company K had somehow been involved in the strike from the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System; according to a press release from NATO headquarters in Kabul, the rockets had been a counterattack on a “compound where insurgents were delivering accurate, direct fire.” But “to the Marines of Company K, and an embedded reporter accompanying them, one thing seemed clear: the company had not ordered a rocket strike on that house,” the New York Times reports. “‘The compound that was hit was not the one we were targeting,’ the company commander said.” That’s not surprising. The HIMARS system is a “brigade-level asset,” controlled by the Marines’ top commanders in Afghanistan — not by junior officers on the ground. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: bombing kills at least 30 as U.S. envoy visits Pakistan - A bomb blast near a mosque and a cattle and hashish market in the Tirah Valley in Pakistan's northwest tribal agency of Khyber has killed more than 30 in what might be a turf feud between the rival Islamist groups Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam. There have been reports that a Lashkar commander was killed in the blast, which was apparently also near a base for the militant faction, but no group has claimed responsibility yet. Several more commanders for the Afghan Taliban have been rounded up by Pakistani authorities, two of them "shadow governors" for the Afghan provinces of Baghlan and Kunduz, both of whom reported to the recently captured second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Baradar and who played key roles in the Taliban's expansion into northern Afghanistan. The arrests and the bombing occur as U.S. Special Representative Amb. Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan discussing humanitarian aid and security concerns with Pakistani leaders. (READ MORE)

ROGENE FISHER: Reactions to Baradar’s Arrest - As Carlotta Gall and Souad Mekhenet report in today’s Times, Pakistan’s arrest of the top Taliban military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, may be a tactical victory for the United States, but analysts also see it as a potential strategic coup for Pakistan, which has been signaling its interest in participating in any mediation efforts between the West and the Taliban. Steve Coll writes on his “Think Tank” blog at The New Yorker that Mullah Baradar’s arrest is indeed a coup and signals that a new approach toward Pakistan by the Obama administration could bring about a turning point in the Afghanistan campaign. “If, through a combination of pressure and enticement, Pakistan and the United States can draw sections of the Taliban into peaceful negotiations, while incarcerating those who refuse to participate, it will produce a sweeping change in the war.” (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s Capture: What Does it Mean? - Of the recent capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Dana Perino and Bill Burck observed: “Today, the Times is reporting that the real story behind Baradar’s capture is that Pakistan wanted to gain a place at the table in negotiations between the U.S. and Karzai and the Taliban. Specifically, Baradar, it turns out, was one of Karzai’s main contacts with the Taliban for years, and he was at the center of efforts to negotiate a peace with the Taliban. Pakistan was frustrated at being excluded from the talks, so it snatched up Baradar to gain an advantage.” So this analysis relies on the notion that this is more Pakistani duplicity. Ralph Peters, on the other hand, sees the world with much more intrigue (I must quote at length). “The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — the Taliban’s equivalent of Gen. Stan McChrystal — by Pakistani agents and CIA operatives is a big win. Or maybe not. While it’s excellent news that Baradar’s been nabbed, his capture in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, raises questions Washington yearns to ignore:” (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Election Day Security - Iraqi law enforcement personnel proved that they will be ready to provide security for the upcoming elections as they tested their skills though training scenarios that simulated situations they are likely to face come Election Day. The 217th Military Police Company, 49th Military Police Brigade, Alabama National Guard, runs a training academy that provides Iraqi law enforcement and emergency response agencies the opportunity to come together for one day to focus specifically on providing security during election time. (READ MORE)

Iran Continues to Subvert Iraq, Officials Say - As national elections in Iraq loom on the horizon, Iran continues to subvert its western neighbor’s security and political infrastructure, top American military officials said. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq, said Iran aims to foment violence in Iraq and to play diplomatic and other nonmilitary roles that call into question Iran’s respect for Iraqi sovereignty. (READ MORE)

Blast kills 20 in Pakistan - A bomb blast killed at least 20 people, mostly Islamist insurgents, in Pakistan's restive Khyber tribal region near the Afghan border Thursday, officials said. More than 50 people were wounded in the explosion near a militant base in the Akkakhel area in Tirah valley, a stronghold of Islamist insurgents involved in attacks on trucks carrying US and NATO supplies to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

10 killed in Pakistan market bombing - A huge blast ripped through a livestock market in Pakistan's restive tribal region near the Afghan border Thursday, killing at least 10 people and injuring dozens more, officials said. The bombing took place in the area of Darmela in the Orakzai tribal district when scores of people were at the market. The nature of the explosion has yet to be determined. (READ MORE)

Taliban, Qaeda have common foe in West: ex-ISI chief - Former Director-General of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Ehsanul Haq said on Wednesday that the Taliban and al Qaeda are united against the West, which they see as a common foe in Afghanistan. Speaking on the sidelines of an East-West Institute think tank conference, General Ehsan was quoted by the Daily Times, as saying that both groups had different agendas but were held together by the presence in Afghanistan of a "common enemy" - foreign troops. (READ MORE)

'Python' is British Army's winning weapon against Afghan roadside bombs - The British Army is using a 230-metre long snake-like explosive device as an unlikely weapon against roadside bombs, the biggest killer of their soldiers in Afghanistan. The 'Python rocket-propelled mine-clearing system' is attached to a series of rockets and is fired on to an area thought to contain improvised explosive devices (IEDs). (READ MORE)

Captured Pak Taliban commander was training 270 Karachi girls to be suicide bombers - The Crime Investigation Department in Pakistan has claimed that arrested Pakistan Taliban commander Abdullah alias Abu Waqas was in Karachi to train 270 teenage girls as suicide bombers. As per CID officials, Abdullah the Taliban commander for Bajaur's Naimatullah Group, was arrested near Safoora Goth Chowrangi in Karachi. (READ MORE)

US drone strike kills three Taliban in North Waziristan - Three suspected Taliban were killed by a US drone strike on Wednesday at a compound close to the Afghan border in North Waziristan. The Daily Times quoted officials and local residents, as saying that the unmanned aircrafts fired two missiles at local resident Sikandar's home in Tabbi Tolkhel, five kilometres east of Miranshah, which is the headquarters of North Waziristan. (READ MORE)

Capture of Taliban military commander 'significant win': US - The capture this week of the Afghan Taliban's military commander was a 'significant win' in the efforts to rid the region of extremists, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. The Pakistani military earlier Wednesday confirmed that it had Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in custody. Baradar heads the Taliban's military wing and is second in command only to the movement's founder Mullah Muhammad Omar. (READ MORE)

Police Discover IEDs and Explosive Material - The Afghan national police discovered 25 kilograms of explosive material in the Spin Boldak District of Kandahar province yesterday. A vehicle loaded with explosive materials was detained by the national police after identifying the vehicle. (READ MORE)

Operation Moshtarak Update for Feb. 17 - Yesterday, Gov. Gulab Mangal travelled to Marjah to observe Operation Moshtarak. During his visit an Afghan flag was raised over the town, and the governor met with some of the combined-force service members who are conducting counter-insurgent operations. Subsequently, the governor travelled to Camp Bastion to visit with injured civilians from Marjah. He was accompanied by Deputy District Governor Haji Zahir, three Marjah elders and members of the local Afghan media. (READ MORE)

Development Projects Completed in Herat - Two development projects sponsored by the Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team were inaugurated this week. The Herat Department of Education and the Herat PRT equipped 12 high schools, two universities, and a center for higher education for teachers, with new computer labs. The labs, equipped with personal computers, printers and scanners, costing more than €130,000. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Feb. 18 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the town of Waser, in the Washer District of Helmand province after intelligence information indicated militant activity. The security force detained two insurgents during the search. As the joint force was leaving, a small team of militants attempted to set up a small-arms ambush. (READ MORE)

Afghan Army Claims Part of Town at Center of Southern Offensive - Afghan soldiers raised their national flag Wednesday over the main market in the southern town at the center of a major offensive against the Taliban. Officials said that while troops have captured the main bazaar in Marjah, they are not yet fully in control of the former rebel stronghold in Helmand Province. (READ MORE)

Coalition Prepares to Set Up Authority in Marjah - Afghan and coalition officials are preparing what they say is the most important phase of the operation to secure the southern town of Marjah: rolling out a new administration and pouring millions of dollars into a place held by the Taliban for the past two years. It's also the phase with the most uncertain prospects. (READ MORE)

Snipers Imperil U.S.-Led Forces in Afghan Offensive - In five days of fighting, the Taliban have shown a side not often seen in nearly a decade of American military action in Afghanistan: the use of snipers, both working alone and integrated into guerrilla-style ambushes. Five Marines and two Afghan soldiers have been struck here in recent days by bullets fired at long range. (READ MORE)

Taliban resistance slows coalition forces in Marja, Afghanistan - Lt. Col. Cal Worth, who commands one of two Marine battalions leading the offensive against Taliban fighters here, set off at 7 a.m. Wednesday for the return journey to his battalion headquarters from a combat outpost less than four miles away. In a place where homemade bombs are buried under seemingly every road, this trip was supposed to be safe and easy: (READ MORE)

Flag raised in Marjah as Taleban retreat to edge of Helmand stronghold - The centre of Marjah looked battered and abandoned yesterday as soldiers raised a makeshift Afghan flag after days of intense fighting between the Taleban and US Marines. The symbolic gesture was designed to demonstrate Afghan government control but commanders acknowleged that the fighting was far from over and the local population were nowhere to be seen. (READ MORE)

Afghans greet Marja offensive with anger, hope - Now that Abdul Ahad has lost his mother and father, two brothers, two sisters and four other relatives -- all killed, he said, by a U.S. rocket -- the young farmer is quietly seething over the U.S. and Afghan military offensive in Helmand province. "The Marja operation will bring us nothing," Ahad said from a hospital in southern Afghanistan. "And now I am alone." (READ MORE)

Some Taliban leaders seek reintegration - Some Taliban leaders caught during the U.S.-led offensive are seeking Afghan and U.S. military help to reintegrate into Afghan society amid mounting evidence that other Taliban commanders have fled the country, leaving fighters to fend for themselves, according to a senior U.S. military official. (READ MORE)

Afghan Push Has Iraqi Precedent Article - The next phase of the Marjah offensive in southern Afghanistan could look a lot like a 2008 operation in Iraq's Diyala province, the last time the U.S. military caused large numbers of militants to flee a stronghold by publicly announcing an impending invasion. In Iraq, U.S. forces tracked the movements of the militants who left Diyala and worked to interdict them before they could set up new bases of operation, with mixed success. (READ MORE)

U.N. Rejects ‘Militarization’ of Afghan Aid - Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized NATO forces for what one referred to as “the militarization of humanitarian aid,” and said United Nations agencies would not participate in the military’s reconstruction strategy in Marja as part of its current offensive there. (READ MORE)

Marines still looking over shoulder for Taliban - It's only been six days since NATO launched a major assault against the Taliban and some Afghans are already asking Marines when they can reopen their shops. But it's hard to say whether that's a sign the Taliban had faded away, or just a false sense of security in Marjah, the heart of the last Taliban stronghold in Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province. (READ MORE)

Crossposted at: Castle Argghhh!

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