February 22, 2010

From the Front: 02/22/2010

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


TIMOTHY HSIA: Success in Marja Will Hinge on Civilian Surge - While the Battle of Marja has so far displayed how the ongoing troop surge in Afghanistan has given Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal additional flexibility in manpower by pushing into Taliban-held territories, the forthcoming months will indicate if the proposed complementary civilian surge was merely a talking point or an actual enabler. As the Battle of Marja slowly grinds to a halt and the military forces insurgent forces out of the city, the success of the operation will ultimately hinge not just on the actual clearing of the city, but also on the hold, build, and transfer phases of the operation. In the first years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, it could be persuasively argued that the military focused too much on the clearing portion and not enough on the holding and building. As a result there was a perception inside and outside the military that United States forces were chasing the insurgents from one city to another. (READ MORE)

C.J. CHIVERS: Just Who Is Fighting in Marja? - Last Saturday evening, as the first day of fighting in Marja between the Taliban and the Marines of Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines was ceasing with the approach of darkness, two Marine platoons converged for the night on a small Afghan compound. The platoons took cover behind the mud walls. The company manned its guns for the night and began to plan its missions for the next day. The compound had several small buildings, some no bigger than sheds. Gunnery Sgt. James McCarver examined each structure, looking for a place to set up the company’s radios. He settled on a one-room mud building about 10 feet wide by 25 feet long, and led the company command group and its radio operators inside. And there, on an inside wall illuminated by their flashlights, they looked up at a sight out of place: a small poster of battle scenes from Iraq, watched over by the approving face of Saddam Hussein. (READ MORE)

C.J. CHIVERS: Arming Both Sides: The Perils of Ammunition Leakage in the Afghan War - In a previous post, and an article last year, The New York Times examined the question of how Taliban fighters obtain their small-arms ammunition. The limited data available – gleaned from captured Taliban weapons and magazines, or from spent casings collected from Taliban firing positions after firefights – pointed to Afghan security forces as a significant source. A newly captured PK machine gun, seized on Feb. 18 by the Marines of Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, further supports this view. The weapon was picked up by the company’s First Platoon after a several-hour firefight, during which the Marines and Taliban fighters fired at each other across agricultural fields, ditches and irrigation canals. Both sides were bounding between small mud-walled compounds. After Taliban fighters were contained in a compound, a Reaper drone fired a Hellfire guided missile into its northern wall. (READ MORE)

WO2 Sean Semple: Operation Moshtarak battlefield diary: Fighting to build bridges - A slightly frustrating day: full of problems but productive in the end. We were up before first light. Every sinew of you wants to stay inside the sleeping bag, but we needed to crack on clearing the proposed logistic supply route – one of our key tasks. We made a bit of progress - then another IED, dug into the route in front of us. We dealt with it without incident. Back home the public only hear about the few IEDs that go off, injuring or killing guys. What they don’t see are the dozens that we find and make safe. It’s a cowards’ way to fight a war: Indiscriminate. No wonder the locals around here hate the insurgents. They just want peace. Next problem: there’s a large ditch on the route. We could just fill it in and move on, but that would damage an Afghan farmer’s livelihood. So we decide to bridge it instead, which means calling in a Chinook carrying an underslung bridge. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Failure in Kunar - The acting commander and "all commissioned staff officers" failed to "monitor a rapidly degenerating tactical situation," the report said. That mistake "prevented timely supporting fires in the critical early phases of the operation and ensured that higher headquarters did not grasp the tactical situation." Leaving the TOC in the middle of a firefight for 4 hours. No artillery support in 10 hours of fighting. A nearby air asset that refuses to leave its mission to come to their aid. Simply appalling. And note this was U.S. Army failing to support U.S. Marine mentors. The risks for ANSF mentors drawn from one NATO country trying to get the support of another country's battle group in a crisis should be self-evident. Interesting that the piece says that restrictive ROE were not a factor, but also says the reasons artillery fire was denied included "proximity to a village." The conclusion presumably is that the ROE would not have been a factor if they had not been over-cautiously applied by TOC staff. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Marja: not going too well, 2: the ANA performance - The ANA in Helmand is not acquitting itself well in the eyes or Marines or accompanying reporters: Statements from Kabul have said the Afghan military is planning the missions and leading both the fight and the effort to engage with Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and the newly arrived troops. But that assertion conflicts with what is visible in the field. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day. The comparisons with the reporting of Sheehan and Halberstam in January 1963 Saigon should be obvious. We continue to see near Ap Bac levels of discrepancy between the people who call things as they see them, and official estimates of Afghan military capability. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Tribal Engagement - I have been back in America for the past week and it is obvious my prediction that Marjah would unfold in the same manner as the Now Zad fight of last summer was too optimistic. I still think my read on the overall strategy is correct but clearly the fight for Marjah is more difficult and will be more expensive than I had hoped. What is most alarming about the limited number of casualties we have sustained to date in Marjah is the appearance of skilled Taliban snipers on the battlefield. As I have pointed out in previous posts there is nothing more intimidating to humans than another human who has the skill and ability to kill. Bombs, rockets, drones, mines, are all deadly but are easily dealt with psychologically. Skilled human killers are bad for morale, hunting them down should be an urgent priority. I thought these cats would have been identified and dealt with before the main assault which clearly did not happen. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iraq? Where's That? - It seems fair to ask whether President Obama knows what he's doing when it comes to Iraq. WaPo writer Jackson Diehl says today: "How odd, then, that Iraq -- where the United States has invested $700 billion and the lives of more than 4,300 soldiers over the past seven years -- is no longer a top priority for the White House, the State Department or nearly anyone in Congress." A country's leader is the one who sets the tone for what the nation does in everything, and that includes foreign policy. If President Obama disregards Iraq, naturally those around him will, too. The only problem is, the bad guys are not ignoring Iraq at all. And sadly that means the bad guys will have an impact on the entire Middle East. The WaPo writer wonders whether Iraq will be a giant feather in Obama's cap, or a giant nightmare. The view from here is Obama is ignoring Iraq completely, as though it will go away if he doesn't think about it. I hope I'm wrong, but it doesn't look as though Obama is giving Iraq much thought these days. (MORE)

Sgt Danger: Hasty Post From the Field - Quick updte and the worsst keyboard, very sticcky and falling apart. Limited on time. On mission now far from base with a new company. They’re okay, but knida high strung and not smooth. I suppose we were too. Long drivve; long than should have been. Trouble with slinky-effect. Nrevous with vehicles from the reaer. It’s a little awkward not being ni charge. I’m more of an advisor. Some advisors sit back; I’m a little more proactive. The guys I’m with are really good. I think we’ve actually become friends the last two days. 4 SGTs and a PVT. 2 of us previous combat vets. Trip to D2 was really long. IED ahead, spotted by Polish. EOD called out and blew it in place. pols were worthles in tryning to get us housing on htis base. shrugged, got angry, blew us off, lied/ really pretty embarrasing. stayed in local national tents -not too bad once we got bedded down. its very cold here. we’re much further north and thousands of feet elevated than normal. snow. ice. awesome chow hall. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Mail Call? A Shout Out To The GYC! - During times of war, letters sent from the front were highly coveted and cherished. It has never been easy to get word back and forth, yet in this war we have been fortunate to have technology on our side. Email and skype have been critical in not only keeping the loved ones informed, but gives a dose of morale to the troops. Birthdays have been celebrated, worries conveyed, romances have bloomed, flirtations have gone stale and withered. If you will recall, in November the Gaiam Yoga Club donated and sent a box of mats, blocks, straps and DVD's to The Hubs at the FST. I was amazed because I'd neither asked nor solicited them, they just decided to do it. So Nicole and the staff put together this enormous shipment for the new yoga area that The Hubs and the team set up in the new FST. Unfortunately, the entire shipment got hung up in Kabul. Though The Hubs had an ongoing email with the shipment dude in Kabul, it was clear that he wasn't going to be sussed to get it onto a transport to the FST, which in no means was an easy thing to do. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Another senior Afghan Taliban leader detained in Pakistan - Pakistani security forces detained another senior Afghan Taliban leader in a raid in the northwest. Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the Taliban's former shadow governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar who led the group's council in the city of Peshawar, was arrested in the district of Nowshera in Pakistan's insurgency-wracked Northwest Frontier Province. The arrest of Kabir was first reported on Feb. 20 at the Afghan news site Tol Afghan, and was confirmed by Fox News today. As leader of the Peshawar Shura, Kabir served as a liaison between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's faction of Hezb-i-Islami), and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and the adjoining tribal areas serve as a safe haven for these groups. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Senior al Qaeda military commander killed in Predator strike - The US killed a key al Qaeda military leader based in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan during an airstrike on Feb. 17. Sheikh Mansoor was killed in a Predator attack that targeted a Taliban compound in the village of Tapi near Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. Two other "militants" were initially reported killed in the airstrike; it is not currently known if there were any other senior al Qaeda or Taliban operatives killed. Dawn News reported that the airstrike "left number of other important militants killed." Both Geo News and Dawn reported that a funeral was held for Mansoor, and that Mohammed Haqqani, a mid-level Haqqani Network military commander and brother of the group's top military commander Siraj Haqqani, was killed by another drone strike while preparing to attend Mansoor's burial on Feb. 18. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Farewell, Ezequiel; a final salute - It was a most somber occasion. Hearts were heavy with shock and grief as family, friends and fellow Marines gathered at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Friday to honor a son; a brother, a comrade in arms. Ezequiel was 20 years old when he left this world; but his sister, Carina Piovera, believes his work on earth was done. “He was the youngest one, and he was the best one,” she said through tears at the podium. Strait-backed Marines wiped their eyes as a family shared the love they had for Ezequiel. A cadre of Marines led Ezequiel’s casket down the aisle of the church and out the doors to a waiting hearse. Marines and Sailors, friends of Ezequiel, bunched in the doorway as their friend was carried away from them; away to the Sarasota National Cemetery where Ezequiel was laid to rest with full military honors. A final salute was the last goodbye from the 2/8 Weapons Co. gathered on the gentle slope beside his grave. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Changes - Never volunteer to work in a contingency environment if you can't deal with changes. You may go into the office in the morning doing one thing, and come out in the evening doing something entirely different. It's certainly going on in my world. Two of my projects have been cancelled in the past week. The reason is that the Embassy changed the required completion dates. Where we had been planning on a 1-year period for these projects, from the end of March this year to the end of March next year, suddenly the Embassy moved the required completion dates up to the end of December. That meant that two of mine were no longer viable - there wasn't enough time available to do the required work. So with two whacks of the ax, two projects were gone. More may follow. One of the killed projects was my biggest - a huge effort to provide training to Iraqi provincial governments all around the country. We've been working on developing this thing for nine months. It was extremely complex. (READ MORE)

Zombie Killer 6: Combat Lifesaver Training - As promised I have finally gotten around to posting some video of our combat lifesaver refresher training. Most of the stuff is pretty dry, but we always save the best for last... administering IVs! Now understand that none of our guys are trained medics, so whenever we get to play with sharp objects and medical equipment hilarity ensues... along with a lot of blood. (MORE)

Six Foot Skinny: One step closer to home. - White lights blink and go dark, replaced immediately by red ones. Engine noises increase in pitch and volume. The aircraft lurches forwards as it slips its breaks. We all lean towards the back – my right – as the C-17 accelerates down the runway We remain fixed that way while the pilot gains altitude. I look at my buddy, smile, bump fists, and we were gone. Gone from Iraq. Forever. I can’t say that it was a joyous occasion. The excitement has been building steadily for the last week as we packed bags, made trips to the post office, and cleaned our CHUs. When you’ve been bracing for catastrophe for a year or longer, the absence of that weight is not cause for joy. Just relief. So as we rose over Baghdad I wasn’t ecstatic. I smiled, I do that sometimes. But mostly I just took a deep breath and tried to get comfortable in my seat for the one-hour flight to Kuwait. Which is where I am now but not for too much longer. (READ MORE)

this is our life: I'm weird, I know - So every military wife has her ways of counting down the days. Some people count paychecks. Some people count Sundays. Some people count holidays. I do all of those, but my big thing that I'm way excited about is the expiration date on my orange juice container. 4.10.10 By the time my orange juice gets disgusting enough that we don't dare drink it anymore my husband will be home! I remember looking at the expiration date on our milk the day after he left thinking how many gallons I'll go through before I get to the desired expiration date. And we are there!! So throw back a glass and celebrate with me!! :) (MORE)

The Torch: LCol Jeff Smyth - The most exhilarating moments I've ever spent in the air have been in a helicopter. Specifically, one low and fast ride in a CH-135 Twin Huey back at RMC, and more recently, a couple of jaunts between KAF and Camp Nathan Smith (if you haven't watched the shaky video at that previous link, I heartily recommend it). On a less visceral level, I appreciate the fact that Tac Hel's entire focus is on facilitating the operations of another element; it's the most service-oriented pointy-end part of the CF, in my opinion. So I was thrilled to speak recently with LCol Jeff Smyth by Skype from Kandahar Air Field. Not only is he the CO of 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton, but he's also currently Commanding Officer of the Canadian Helicopter Force (Afghanistan). The videos below are about twenty-two minutes long in total, and touch on everything from the type of training and missions Smyth's Griffon and Chinook crews are flying... (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: CONSCRIPTION: A SOLUTION TO AFGHANISTAN’S SECURITY CHALLENGE? - During the January 2010 London Conference, the possibility was raised of introducing conscription in Afghanistan in order to boost the numbers of Afghan Security Forces (ANSF). As ISAF strives to help the Afghan government build up an ANSF that could reach as high as 400 000, is conscription the answer? Although, prima-fascia, conscription sounds like a good idea in that it seems to offer a quick fix to the problem of building up the size of the ANSF, it is prudent to ask if this will contribute to success or further exacerbate the insurgency. Some see conscription as providing a common experience that can bring divergent peoples together and engender a spirit of nationalism. However, conscription was a child of the “LevĂ©e En Masse” nationalism of post-French Revolution Europe. Governments of the people, by the people, and for the people willingly gave up their sons to fight for a common cause. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: U.S. Helicopter Raid Kills 27 Afghan Civilians - A botched assault by American helicopters has killed around two dozen Afghan civilians in Uruzgan province, in the country’s restive south. Voice of America reports 21 killed and 14 wounded in the Sunday attack. A Dutch reporter embedded in the province told our own Andrew Balcombe that the toll was higher. “U.S. helicopters hit three minibuses, thinking they were Taliban,” Andrew recalls Peter Ter Velde telling him. “Turned out to be civilians. Troops on the ground discovered 27 dead men, women, kids. Wounded have been transferred to hospital at Kamp Holland,” the main Dutch base in the province. The incident comes just a couple weeks after a dozen civilians died when a U.S. rocket struck their home in Marjah, where NATO is battling hundreds of Taliban fighters. Those deaths prompted an official apology and a brief suspension of similar rocket attacks. Last fall, Air Force Brigadier General Steve Kwast told me that NATO forces would avoid fighting in areas where civilians might get hurt. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Capt. Roger Hill and NATO’s 96-Hour Rule - Last week, CNN ran this story about US Army Capt. Roger Hill, who, along with other members of his unit were charged with detainee abuse, including a mock execution, war crimes, dereliction of duty and other serious charges. I initially broke the story in The Washington Post back in Dec. 2008. The circumstances surrounding Capt. Hill’s case are extraordinary, but too complex to explain here in great detail. The short version is that Capt. Hill and his men illegally interrogated a group of Afghans working on his base in Wardak province. The Afghans–Capt. Hill’s personal translator among them–were spies for the Taliban, according to classified documents. Because the evidence against the detainees was classified, Capt. Hill could not turn it over to the Afghan police and the spies would therefore have to be released. His only choice was to extract confessions from the Afghans, which he did through illegal means. (READ MORE)

30 Days Through Afghanistan: The planes! The planes! - Kandahar Day 14 – It was another travel day for Ken and I and as we were flying over southern Afghanistan in a Canadian Chinook, I realized that now would be a good time to talk about my bosses. I’ve been intimately familiar with close air support for years now. I’ve been a public affairs journalist during three of my deployments and each time something would happen where I would have to learn a little bit more about it. Still, I’m not a pilot and I’m nowhere near an expert on the subject. Every time I’ve visited with infantry the subject of close air support comes up, it must be my uniform or something. Since I’ve always seen the Air Force side, it’s always been intriguing for me to hear about how the soldiers see them. Fast movers, a soldier term for aircraft, are sometimes frustrating but always loved. Fast movers come in a very wide variety of shapes, sizes and uses. (READ MORE)

Cindy Archer: Find Your Escape... - I promised a happier post and here it is! This is something that my husband and I have thought a lot about lately. As we prepare for him to leave, we want to make sure we have things that will help time pass a little easier for us here! Of course there will be the everyday things like school, church and family get-togethers....surviving. but we both want something to do that will bring a little happiness into our lives while we're apart. So after a little brainstorming, we came up with something that will not only help pass the time, but we will also be able to share it with one another! I am a photographer and though my husband won't call himself that, he does it as a hobby. We've decided that we will be taking a picture a day (atleast). It can be anything at all. But it has to something that we put a little thought into. Something that means something to us, if it stirred a certain feeling, provoked a certain thought or just reminded us of each other. We'll be posting the pictures on a blog that we can share with each other and our families. (READ MORE)

Kings of War: Who’s winning? - Maybe it’s just some form of perverse Olympic fever, but with regards to Operation Moshtarak I find myself wondering–given that is has been labelled as ’the largest military offensive of the eight-year war in Afghanistan’–who won? The question, of course, is absurd. In the New Wars one cannot know who is winning at any given time. There is no score board, no order of battle to check against, no way of measuring success. But still…let’s look at the numbers and have a punt. The NATO operation was massive (by contemporary standards). It involved 15,000 ground troops from NATO countries and Afghanistan, as well as number of specialist assets, such as helicopters, UAVs, and other hardware. Beyond ‘mere’ kinetic resources, of course, NATO invested considerable effort in providing economic and developmental assistance to the area, in keeping with current COIN conventional wisdom.
So, how’d they all do? To answer that in Vancouver, we don’t just ask the competitors how much they spent on their skis, or determine how much Lycra they brought to bear on the rink. We don’t measure input, we count output, in terms of fastest time, or most pucks in the net, or best performance, as adjudicated by the judges against set criteria. (READ MORE)

Big Hollywood: Sleeping With The Colonel: Stand-Up Comedy In Iraq - OK, we were just bunking, actually. In a trailer surrounded by cement t-walls in Baghdad. As gigs went, this one was a little OUT there. I’ve recently returned from eight days entertaining the troops in Kuwait and Iraq with four other comics (Carole Montgomery, Felicia Michaels, Leighann Lord and Mark Riccadonna-all are hilarious, btw). We were joined on the trip by Col. Ed Shock, who heads up Armed Forces Entertainment. He’s a clean living, dedicated military professional who I hope we didn’t corrupt too much. At the very least, the good colonel is probably rethinking his “no alcohol” policy now. This experience was rewarding in ways I am only now beginning to process. It’s easy to question one’s decision to opt for stand-up as a career, especially when hanging out with friends who have things like retirement plans, houses and food for dinner. After this trip I wouldn’t trade the job for anything. Even if I win the lottery I’ll show up for work at the crack of 7:00 PM the next night. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Transportation company returns home - About 135 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord return home Saturday from a yearlong deployment to Kuwait. The 513th Transportation Company helped move supplied in and out of Iraq from Camp Arifjan, one of the main logistics hubs in Kuwait. The unit traveled more than 3 million miles of roads throughout Iraq, according to a press release. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Photographic Memories of Baghdad - Mohammed Kasim cast a hesitant glance down at the rickety benches in Baghdad’s Shahbandar Cafe. He was a big man, after all, looking more like a linebacker than an artist. But a few awkward contortions later, he shoehorned himself behind an equally tattered table, sticky from countless spills of sweet tea, and ordered his own. “This place is my crossroads,” he said, “my intersection with everyone else.” (READ MORE)

Key Iraqi Sunni Political Bloc Pulls Out of March 7 Parliamentary Election - A key Sunni political bloc declared Saturday that it would not take part in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election. Saleh al-Mutlak, who was banned from running by a parliamentary committee, is pulling his National Dialogue Front out of the election with just over a week to go before voting is set to begin. (READ MORE)

Popular Sunni political party to boycott Iraqi elections - A popular Sunni party announced Saturday that it will boycott Iraq's parliamentary elections next month, but it stopped short of urging supporters not to vote. The decision by the National Dialogue Front to pull out of the March 7 elections could cement views here that Shiite religious parties have rigged the vote against secular and Sunni candidates. (READ MORE)

In Turmoil, Sunni Party in Iraq Calls for Vote Boycott - The Sunni political party whose two most prominent leaders were disqualified from next month’s parliamentary elections in Iraq because of supposed ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party called Saturday for a boycott of the vote, raising fears of worsening sectarian tensions in an already volatile campaign. (READ MORE)

Sunni party drops out of Iraq elections - The Sunni wing of Iraq's leading nonsectarian political coalition said Saturday it will drop out of next month's election as a result of alleged Iranian influence on a Shiite-led vetting panel that blacklisted hundreds of candidates. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Army Signal Company Improve Communications Through Joint Training - "Your reports are a big factor to conducting operations. The information that you provide is essential to getting help to a wounded Soldier or getting support to troops under attack, so it's vital that those reports be precise," said Sgt. Michael E. Mullins, 14th Division Military Transition Team, U.S. Marines Corps. (READ MORE)

Strike Under Investigation in Uruzgan - Yesterday a group of suspected insurgents, believed to be en route to attack a joint Afghan-ISAF unit, was engaged by an airborne weapons team resulting in a number of individuals killed and wounded. After the joint ground force arrived at the scene and found women and children, they transported the wounded to medical treatment facilities. (READ MORE)

Operation Moshtarak Update for Feb. 21 - Clearance operations continue to make progress and the operation is firmly on track. In Nad-e Ali, the combined force encountered limited small arms engagements throughout the area. On the west side of the city, shuras continue to determine which compounds can be used as patrol bases. (READ MORE)

ANSF and ISAF Force Defuse IED at Girls School - Afghan forces with the support of an ISAF explosive ordnance disposal team succesfully disarmed a radio-controlled IED found at a girls school in Qurghan District, Faryab province yesterday. "By targeting our young children the insurgents demonstrate their resistance to the future of Afghanistan," said Afghan Minister of Interior Spokesman Zemarai Bashary. (READ MORE)

Insurgents Killed, Wounded in Kapisa, Kunar -An Afghan-ISAF patrol in the Tagab District of Kapisa province received small-arms fire from insurgents in a vehicle today. The joint force returned fire and shot a missile at the vehicle killing four insurgents and wounding five others. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update Feb. 21 - An Afghan-international security force detained a militant while pursuing a Taliban facilitator in the town of Alikhel, in the Muhammad Aghah district, Logar province this morning. A joint security force went to a compound after intelligence found militant activity. During the search one militant was detained. (READ MORE)

Karzai Calls on Taliban to Accept Peace in Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has renewed his call for the Taliban to accept peace and join with the government. During his speech at the opening session of the Afghan parliament in Kabul Saturday, Mr. Karzai also urged international troops to prevent civilian deaths. (READ MORE)

Afghan leader urges coalition troops to curb civilian deaths - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday made an emotional appeal for coalition troops to strive to prevent civilian deaths as a major offensive in the south by U.S., British and Afghan troops entered its second week. (READ MORE)

Karzai Urges NATO to Avoid Killing Civilians - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said allied troops battling the Taliban must redouble their efforts to avoid killing civilians, the second time he has castigated coalition forces over the deaths of ordinary people since the start of the Marjah offensive. (READ MORE)

Afghan police say Tora Bora commander killed - Police say a suicide bomber has killed 15 people in eastern Afghanistan, including a key tribal leader who played a major role in a failed attempt to capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001. (READ MORE)

Marines Do Heavy Lifting as Afghan Army Lags in Battle - As American Marines and Afghan soldiers have fought their way into this Taliban stronghold, the performance of the Afghan troops has tested a core premise of the American military effort here: in the not-too-distant future, the security of this country can be turned over to indigenous forces created at the cost of American money and blood. (READ MORE)

As Marja assault progresses, coalition considers challenges in rebuilding area - On the satellite photographs of Marja that Marines scrutinized before launching a massive assault against the Taliban a week ago, what they assumed was the municipal government center appeared to be a large, rectangular building, cater-cornered from the main police station. (READ MORE)

U.S. commander urges town near Marja to help keep Taliban out - Intelligence reports and a new flurry of roadside bombs suggest that Taliban fighters pushed from their sanctuary of Marja are trying to return to communities they fled last year, Marine commanders said Saturday. (READ MORE)

Strict battle guidelines hampering British troops in Afghanistan - BRITISH soldiers have been catapulted into a deadly and often frustrating game of cat-and-mouse with the Taliban, played out in poppy fields and mud compounds, where dirt tracks are still thought to be littered with mines. (READ MORE)

Drone pilots have a front-row seat on war, from half a world away - From his apartment in Las Vegas, Sam Nelson drove to work through the desert along wind-whipped Highway 95 toward Indian Springs. Along the way, he tuned in to XM radio and tried to put aside the distractions of daily life -- bills, rent, laundry -- and get ready for work. (READ MORE)

Mullah’s arrest is ‘own goal’ for US - ON the face of it the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top strategist, as he came out of a madrasah in Karachi seemed a coup. Jubilant American officials described it as a “game- changer, even more important than the battle in Marjah”, where 15,000 Nato and Afghan soldiers are engaged in their biggest offensive. (READ MORE)

Dutch Government Collapses Over Its Stance on Troops for Afghanistan - A last-ditch effort to keep Dutch troops in Afghanistan brought down the government in the Netherlands early Saturday, immediately raising fears that the Western military coalition fighting the war was increasingly at risk. (READ MORE)

Dutch PM: troops to leave Afghanistan this year - Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said Sunday Dutch troops will begin leaving southern Afghanistan in August, since his caretaker government has no authority to accept a NATO request to stay on. (READ MORE)

TTP confirms death of Taliban leader's brother in drone attack - Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman confirmed Friday that Mohammed Haqqani, the brother of senior Taliban commander Siraj Haqqani, was killed in a U.S. missile strike in northwest Pakistan, local TV channel reported. (READ MORE)

Military operation continues, reconstruction starts in southern Afghanistan - The Operation Mashtarak, which means together in local language, which was launched to clear Marjah district in southern Helmand province of Taliban militants, entered its seventh day Friday while reconstruction have started. (READ MORE)

US military deaths in Afghan region at 911 - As of Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, at least 911 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. The AP count is four more than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EDT. (READ MORE)

Peace through reconciliation in Afghanistan - IT may or may not be coincidental, but as United States President Barack Obama's military offensive in Afghanistan gets underway, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has at long last embarked on a serious effort at national reconciliation. The prime focus of this process is to find some means to reintegrate at least parts of the Taliban into society and into productive activities. (READ MORE)

US Marines dropped behind Taliban lines to find snipers - Skimming in low over fields turning green with poppy shoots, helicopters dropped elite US Marine reconnaissance teams behind Taliban lines yesterday as the first week of Operation Moshtarak ground to a close. (READ MORE)

US soldier: Turks see Afghanistan as more than just crisis - Married to a Turk, a US soldier working for both the American and Turkish militaries in Afghanistan says: 'The Americans have a tendency to look at Afghanistan as a problem or as a mission, and as targets and as threats. But for the Turks, you don't just see things as objects but as something that relates to you' (READ MORE)

Intelligence Analysts Getting New Marching Orders in Afghanistan (Kabul, Afghanistan) - On their first day of class in Afghanistan, the new U.S. intelligence analysts were given a homework assignment. First read a six-page classified military intelligence report about the situation in Spin Boldak, a key border town and smuggling route in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

4 killed in roadside bombing in S. Afghanistan - Four civilians were killed by roadside bombing Friday in Afghanistan's restive southern province of Kandahar. The incident happened in Dand district of the province, Ahmadullah Nazik, the district chief told Xinhua through telephone. (READ MORE)

Crossposted at Castle Argghhh!

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