February 19, 2010

From the Front: 02/19/2010

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

A Major's Perspective:
What Hasn't Changed.... - Last post I wrote on how much has changed, and for the better. Tonight I wanted to write about what hasn't changed. You see, I am struck sometimes by certain scenes that play out in front of me. Take the example of walking by and seeing a group of Soldiers crowded around water bottle boxes playing cards, or the Soldiers who have befriended the puppy. I am almost thrown back to remembering photos and stories told by my Grandparents or my Father about World War Two or Vietnam. But there are even more poignant scenes than that. The vision of the young Medic holding the Iraqi child in his arms after an explosion. Children hiding behind US Soldiers after an explosion in a crowded market place because they know where they are safe. Photos from Operation Marjah of young Marines under fire, and at the same time protecting Afghan civilians caught in the cross fire. Any one of these scenes could have been taken from present day, Vietnam, Korea, World War Two, or we can keep going back all the way to the Revolutionary War. (READ MORE)

WO2 Sean Semple: Moshtarak Day 3 - IED Nightmare - IT'S day three of our gripping diary from WO2 Sean Semple - our correspondent who is with Manouevre Support Group in IED-infested Shawal, Helmand Province. It was a long day, and a tense day. Good and bad. Bad because we took two contact IEDs. Good because we sustained no injuries and the vehicles had minimal damage. We spent the morning in our leaguer - that’s where our 44-vehicles are arranged in an armoured metal box with Viking APCs and their weapons systems facing out - waiting for one of the vehicles which was involved in the strike to come back from where it was hit – about 500 metres outside our camp. They were returning from a job, we could see them in the distance, when suddenly there was smoke, and a bang. Contact IED. We waited, concerned about the lads, but they were fine. In the meantime we met some of the locals. Chatted to them, and we had a pretty good reception. I spoke to one of the local elders. He said he was happy we were here. (READ MORE)

WO2 Sean Semple: Moshtarak Day 2 - Staring Down Taliban Spotters - IT'S day two of our gripping diary from WO2 Sean Semple - our correspondent who is with Manouevre Support Group in IED-infested Shawal, Helmand Province. At 38 Sean is a Gulf veteran and has served in Northern Ireland. He's one of the most experienced soldiers out there - at the spearhead of Op' Moshtarak. Here's his second account of being in the once Taliban-ruled Showal, where the insurgent flag was lowered at the weekend. Our troops watched in Shawal as the Afghan flag was raised by proud Afghan National Army. But the Taliban are always watching - as Sean tells us: "Woke up after a night under the stars. No cloud cover all night. Absolutely freezing. Lying in my issue green sleeping bag - it's affectionately nicknamed the bouncing bomb - I couldn't feel my feet and hands. The sleeping bag is good, but this was cold, bloody cold. The Engineers job on Op Moshterak is three fold - and all of its critical to the success of the British end of the Op. (READ MORE)

Home from Iraq: Home from Iraq--"What was it like over there?" - Foreign students entering American culture are usually surprised then dismayed by the question "How are you?" The foreign students, at least the ones who have never been to America before, try to answer the question and say how they are. They soon find that is a mistake. No answer is expected. In America, "How are you?" is followed immediately without a pause by "I'm fine." Then by a monologue such as, "I got this totally awesome new Coach purse just by friending the Coach page on Facebook, like free. So did I tell you my roommate just went totally whole foods. Grrrrross!! . . ." The fifty-year-old-white-guy riff on this I have been hearing lately is, "What was it like over there?" After that question there is a pause and a wide-eyed look that says 'Please don't say anything awful.'My usual answer is, "Hot." After that answer, the person I am talking to exhales audibly, smiles, then says, "I am so busy. We just got this new contract. My oldest is going to college next year. I don't know where we are going to get the money. . . ." (READ MORE)

Julia Mahlejd: Debunking the Taliban’s ‘air power advantage’ - ISAF is doing itself a disservice by pandering to those who get their knickers in a knot about civilian casualties and by therefore diminishing its use of close-air support, its strongest advantage over the insurgents in Afghanistan. This is the gist of an op-ed in today’s New York Times by Lara Dadkhah. This logic may work at a tactical level, but on the long-term strategic one I believe it does not. Perceptions are powerful – even (especially!) if they are based on emotions not fact. The use of air power causes the least number of civilian casualty incidents and kills or wounds the least number of Afghans per year. But when such incidents do occur they are invariably spectacular (and not helped by ISAF being slow to show how insurgents use human shields and by Karzai immediately jumping on the anti-ISAF bandwagon). No wonder they cause the most outrage. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Civilians, Schmivilians - What kind of an “intelligence analyst” would write something like this? “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance. Last July, the commander of Western forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued a directive that air strikes (and long-range artillery fire) be authorized only under ‘very limited and prescribed conditions.’ So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim.” (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: A New Wave of Spectacular Attacks - Arguably the worst problem in Afghanistan is the Haqqani Network. While Mullah Omar has at least dropped the hint that he wouldn’t continue to be such a despicable jackass once foreign troops leave Afghanistan, the Haqqanis have not. While there is copious evidence that Omar’s group has soured or at least grown cool toward al Qaeda, there remains equally copious evidence the Haqqanis have not. The Haqqanis are also the deadliest force operating in Afghanistan today. They are responsible for basically all the spectacular attacks on Kabul, as well as several others (especially in Khost City and Gardez). Their fighters tend to be better shots, better at planting undiscoverable IEDs, and better at behaving strategically with their operations. They also, as Thomas Ruttig mentions in the excellent (so far!) Decoding the Taliban, have a thing for revenge attacks: (READ MORE)

Sarah: Tick Tock - The end of a deployment is always excruciating. You do anything you can to keep yourself busy and to stop from watching the clock. And the last few days are the worst, the days when you're pretty sure your spouse has left the country of origin and is on the long, circuitous journey home. And that's where I'm at...but I'm doing it while on bed rest. I have been in bed for two weeks, after learning that I could potentially have my baby pre-term. And bed rest is not exactly the fastest or most distracting way to spend the end of a deployment. Especially not when your bed faces a large-faced clock, tick ticking the minutes away. I have done a pretty good job of staying calm, but now that the call has come in with a potential arrival time, my heart is about to burst out of my skin. This is the time when, during previous deployments, I would bustle around the house getting rid of nervous energy and making sure everything looked nice and was in decent order. Or start shaving and primping and painting fingernails. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: A Lively ANA Discussion – Part Two - Today I was reminded of a famed quote about perceptions or misperceptions by Greek Philosopher Epictetus who said: “We are disturbed not by the events, but by the views which we take of them.” This quote was stuck in the back of my mind as I continued on with my discussion with the ANA soldiers. My ANA Sgt Major in his booming and commanding voice was trying to keep order as many of the soldiers were trying to interject or voicing their opinion among themselves. One soldier stood up and was initially chastising all of the countries trying to help out his country. “We know which countries are really trying to help us,” he claimed. He also kept repeating “We are not donkeys,” referring to the Afghan people as not being dumb. Then he provided a solution by suggesting that each country participating should take one of the 32 provinces. In defense of foreign countries providing aid, personnel, or money, I said, “Every country that is helping is providing something of value.” (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: General: 8-Week Class Could Turn Taliban Into Soldiers - The American exit strategy from Afghanistan not only hinges on beefing up the local army and police. It also requires persuading “small t” Taliban to leave the insurgency and reconcile with the government. A leading U.S. general is pointing the way to tackling both problems at once. In a conference call with bloggers this morning, Major General David Hogg, the deputy of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, said that a program to retrain former mujahideen as Afghan National Army commanders might serve as a template for bringing ex-Taliban into the Afghan military. “If the mission comes up, and they say, we’ve got ‘little T’ guys that want to be part of the program, then what we would probably do is take our mujahideen integration course and modify [it],” he said. But the proposal brings up all sorts of questions: Will Taliban make the switch? And if so, will they stay switched? And is an eight-week course enough to turn enemies into allies? (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province - September 8, 2009, a deadly engagement occurred in the Kunar Province, in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman perished in a well planned and coordinated ambush. I had predicted that the field grade officers responsible for the call to withhold artillery and air support had better be about their business finding new employment because their careers in the military were over. No AR 15-6 investigation would find fault with the tactical directive of a four star general. […] So that’s how it ends. During and after the battle, those under fire might claim that they said certain things over the radio, and they might claim that they heard certain responses back, but if any blame redounds to the tactical directive, we can rest assured that those under fire that day are merely confused because we know better than they do. So that’s how it ends. During and after the battle, those under fire might claim that they said certain things over the radio, and they might claim that they heard certain responses back, but if any blame redounds to the tactical directive, we can rest assured that those under fire that day are merely confused because we know better than they do. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
War in Iraq will be called 'Operation New Dawn' to reflect reduced U.S. role - The Obama administration has decided to give the war in Iraq a new name -- "Operation New Dawn" -- to reflect the reduced role U.S. troops will play in securing the country this year as troop levels fall, according to a memo from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Since U.S. forces charged across the Kuwaiti border toward Baghdad in 2003, the war has been known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. (READ MORE)

With Steel and Asphalt, Bridge Helps Seal Baghdad’s Division - On a bend in the Tigris where caliphs summered when Baghdad was the City of Peace, the pontoons came first. Steel and asphalt followed. Now, two years on, the Greihat Bridge, a gesture of wartime expediency, has become permanent, traversing the river, joining two Shiite Muslim neighborhoods and, some fear, going too far. (READ MORE)

Iraq Suicide Bomber Strikes in Anbar - A suicide bomber struck near the government headquarters in the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province on Thursday, the latest in what Iraqi and American officials warned would be a wave of violence before next month’s parliamentary elections. The attack — in Ramadi, an overwhelmingly Sunni city — occurred amid heightened sectarian tensions and came only days after insurgents vowed to disrupt the elections. (READ MORE)

NATO Says 30 Days Needed to Secure Marjah - A top NATO commander in southern Afghanistan said Thursday that allied troops will need another 25 to 30 days to overcome tough resistance from Taliban fighters to secure the town of Marjah, six days after international forces launched a major offensive there. At least five NATO soldiers, 15 civilians and 40 Taliban militants have been killed since the start of the operation on Saturday. (READ MORE)

Assault on Taliban Stronghold Yields Early Progress - NATO and Afghan forces have made early progress in an ongoing offensive on a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, but have encountered some stiff resistance and may need another 25 to 30 days to secure the entire area, a top military official said. (READ MORE)

Four NATO troops killed on sixth day of Marja offensive in Afghanistan - The sixth day of the military offensive in southern Afghanistan proved the deadliest so far as four NATO troops were killed in bombings and gun battles during the painstaking push to take back a Taliban stronghold. From the beginning of the operation in Marja, coalition troops have encountered sporadic gunfire and a host of roadside bombs, many detected before they could cause damage or injury. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, Marines handling detainees by the book - The three men were blindfolded, their hands bound in front of them with plastic flex cuffs, and each was in the firm grip of a Marine. Their loose-fitting clothes were faded and dusty, their thick beards beginning to show gray. They had been spotted outside the town of Marja in southern Afghanistan carrying a shovel near a spot where a roadside bomb had been planted. (READ MORE)

Troops Face Pockets of Resistance in Marjah - The Taliban grenade that whizzed overhead was John Kael Weston's first indication that this embattled town might not be ready for an influx of diplomats, agriculturalists and economic-development specialists. The State Department official visited Marjah Friday to see whether the week-old allied military offensive had made enough progress to allow the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government to launch their main mission: (READ MORE)

U.S. Bets Best Ally in Surge Is Old One - A few hours after dusk last Friday, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, stepped into an armored car for the short drive from his headquarters to the presidential palace in Kabul. The time had come to decide whether to assault the Taliban town of Marjah. It was up to President Hamid Karzai to make the call. (READ MORE)

Afghan Governor: Two Senior Taliban Leaders Arrested in Pakistan - Afghan officials say authorities in Pakistan have arrested two senior Taliban commanders, who were acting as "shadow governors" in northern Afghanistan. The reported arrests come days after U.S. and Pakistani officials revealed they have been interrogating the Taliban's top operational commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani, also known as Mullah Baradar. (READ MORE)

Weapons cache seized in Afghanistan - The Afghan and NATO-led international security forces have seized a weapons cache in Afghanistan's northeastern Nuristan province, officials said in a statement Friday. The weapons, seized late Thursday, included 12 rockets, two rocket-propelled grenades and 22 mortar rounds, Xinhua reported. (READ MORE)

US pressure led to Afghan Taliban insurgents' capture in Pakistan - Months of pressure by the Barack Obama administration on Pakistan's powerful security establishment to side with them led to the capture of senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a media report said quoting US and Pakistani officials. (READ MORE)

US strike kills Afghan Taliban leader's son in Pakistan - A son of senior Afghan Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani was among four militants killed in an overnight US air strike in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, a security official said Friday. Two missiles fired from a US drone struck a house and a car outside the building in the Dande Darpakhel area of North Waziristan district Thursday, killing four people. (READ MORE)

Elite U.S. Marines Airdropped Into Taliban-Held Territory - Elite Marine recon teams were dropped behind Taliban lines by helicopter Friday as the U.S.-led force escalated operations to break resistance in the besieged insurgent stronghold of Marjah. As the major NATO offensive entered its seventh day, about two dozen Marines were inserted before dawn into an area where skilled Taliban marksmen are known to operate, an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. (READ MORE)

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