February 23, 2010

From the Front: 02/23/2010

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

Dispatches:

A Battlefield Tourist: It’s About The People - As anyone who has followed my work over the years knows, on occasion, I get slammed by someone good; a parent of a soldier, a Marine in the field, a journalist on the way to Oruzgan. Yes, even other journalists have given me grief over the years. I’ve had some even say that I was akin to a ‘military stooge’ just because I am former military! How about that. Because I can speak the language and understand what it means, I am a ’stooge’. The problem with that is that I get the feeling people believe my mission is a “pro-military mission”. So I just wanna clear up my anxiety on the issue, even if just for me. Be clear: I do this line of work, when conditions permit, to be able to reach the people that are involved. I have a great passion for understanding “the people”. I absolutely love the thrill of walking down the back streets of Kabul, picking a random bakery, climbing into the small kiln room and having tea with some people I can’t even talk to properly. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Midnight Mission - Yesterday we had a reprieve from a mission, but our midnight mission for today was still a go. So in the afternoon we all met at the vehicles and started to get them ready for the mission. I was going to be the lead driver for the formation. My gunner an Army Specialist put a .50 cal machine gun in the MRAP along with an abundant amount of ammunition should the need arise to reach out and touch someone. The convoy commander an Army E-6 inspected the communication equipment and I crawled under the hood and checked the fluids, cleaned the air filter, and kicked the tires for good measure. While on top of my MRAP I saw my ETT leader an AF Major polishing up his windshield. Great, another picture for my “officers doing physical labor” archive … lol. This isn’t the first time I have witnessed this, but it was the first time I had a chance to take a picture of it. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: ANA Surgeon, Gravel, and Puppies - I suppose when you read the header, you are wondering what these words have in common. Other than this is what I saw today in Afghanistan, they are not related. After the morning Battle space Update Briefing (BUB), I accompanied the Army Lt and the ANA Brigade surgeon to his office to discuss a future project. The ANA surgeon has been active and supportive with our Village Medical Operations and looks forward to more in the future. Coincidentally during my travels here, I visited the village where he was born. It’s a small world, even in Afghanistan. As you can tell from the pictures, the ANA surgeon’s office is very sparse looking. It has a flimsy metal gray file cabinet containing patient records, cheap particle board desks, a dented refrigerator and a rather large television set previously donated by a mentor. Although not in the picture, the patient bed behind the curtains is quite simple too. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Update about SPC Kit Lowe and his recovery - Rex’s can’t post today due to extremely poor Internet connectivity so I am using the space to update everyone on the recovery of Rex’s friend and former camp mate SPC Christopher “Kit” Santiago Lowe. As many of the readers of this blog will remember Kit was wounded in August in a Taliban ambush in Kapisa Province (you can read about the ambush here). Kit has been recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and underwent major surgery in January to repair his right leg (he had no feeling below the knee after being shot). Unfortunately the results of the surgery were less than promising. Although the surgeons tried to repair the nerve damage they could only do part of the needed grafts. The tibial nerve was grafted; this nerve controls sensation on the bottom of the foot. It also may give Kit control to ‘push off’ with his leg and foot and the ability to move his foot side to side to some degree. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: NATO air strike kills at least 27 Afghan civilians - Earlier today, a NATO air strike killed at least 27 Afghan civilians in central Afghanistan, after the aircraft fired on what was mistakenly believed to be a group of militants en route to attack a joint NATO-Afghan convoy; additionally, a suicide bomber has killed around 15 people in the eastern province of Nangahar, reportedly including a former police chief and a tribal leader. The incidents are unrelated to the ongoing coalition offensive in Marjah, for which Afghan President Hamid Karzai castigated NATO forces on Saturday over civilian deaths in only his second public pronouncement about Operation Moshatarak. Civilians in and around Marjah have been expressing their frustrations, including running out of food and water, with U.S. Marines in shuras, and Michael Phillips profiles an example of concern about civilian casualties slowing a potential air strike. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: U.S. Afghan war toll reaches 1,000 as blast kills 7 - At least seven people were killed by a remote controlled bicycle bomb in the provincial capital of the southern province of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen called progress in the ongoing coalition offensive in Marjah "steady if perhaps a bit slower than anticipated," as the United States passed a deadly milestone as the 1,000th U.S. service member was killed in the Afghan war. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, issued a nationally broadcast video, dubbed in Dari and Pashtu, apologizing for the air strike on Sunday that killed 27 Afghan civilians on the border between Uruzgan and Daykundi and was reportedly ordered by U.S. Special Operations forces. Yesterday's suicide attack outside Jalalabad in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan reportedly killed Haji Zaman Ghamsharik… (READ MORE)

TOM CASSONE: Combating Worry - Feb. 19, 2010: I just got off the phone with my son; so, he’s fine today. And as good as that is to know, today is all you get from Helmand Province. A call does disperse the worry that’s gathered since the last time you spoke, but it begins to collect again the moment you hang up. He said he just had a few minutes to make his calls because he was going to be busy for a while, though he wouldn’t say what he’d be doing or where, and now I know better than to ask. Still, that satellite phone is a remarkable thing, conveying your son’s voice from war, through orbital space and down to your anxious ear. It’s so much more than the folks back home got from Vietnam, Korea or France, but I wonder if that makes it any easier. He had also called last Thursday to let me know that he’d been “out” for a couple of weeks and that now he was “back,” but gave no clue as to the location of either place. He sounded confident and relieved and even a bit amused... (READ MORE)

Major Richard Gregory - Fire Support Company 1 Royal Welsh: Op Moshtarak Day 5 - Taliban Flag hauled Down - The Company and our Afghan Army partners have now firmly established a Patrol Base, east of Garbay Noray in Nadi Ali, Helmand Province. For the first couple of days we focused on base security and defensive positions. This involved clearing all the compound areas and surrounding routes for IEDs, filling and placing sandbags for firing points and setting up a home from home in the base. A cooking area, washing area, toilet and even an improvised gym where all quickly created to make life bearable. By the second day we had started to build positive relationships with the elders and families in the area, holding local shuras to discuss their needs and concerns. Meanwhile our Afghan partners proudly raised the Afghanistan flag to fly above the Camp. However out on the ground the Front Line was still clearly marked. (READ MORE)

Padre Mark Christian, Task Force Helmand Senior Chaplain: Thought For The Day - Last night here in Lashkar Gah, in the tent that is our church, we had a simple Holy Communion service, drawing crosses of ash on our foreheads and saying the traditional words from the Ash Wednesday service which marks the beginning of Lent ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’. I am not sure if you could say there's ever a good time to come out on military operations, but the season of Lent reflects the atmosphere here better than any other church season. The men and women serving here live a very simple and basic existence. All the distractions and many of the comforts of home are missing. Everybody works relentlessly, but in the times you do have to yourself, living this life helps you focus on what is important - family and loved ones at home of course, but also the people around you, who serve with you, and upon whom you depend – sometimes to keep you alive. (READ MORE)

Captain Anna Crossley QARANC. Inkerman Company, Grenadier Guards: Part of the Team - Sharzad, Central Helmand, is a long way from the green hills of the Brecon Beacons but here I am, the first female Nursing Officer the Grenadiers have ever had! It’s taken them a bit of time to get used to the idea, but the lads will pop in to see me to discuss any problems they have or just have a chat. I hope this shows that they have accepted me as part of the team. I'd already spent three months working in Bastion, so I've come across pretty much every type of injury you can imagine, which is extremely useful preparation for this job out at the Patrol Base where every injury, no matter how serious, will be initially dealt with by me and my team. The soldiers here have been busy for the last few weeks. Before Op Moshtarak kicked off last weekend they were carrying out what we call ‘shaping’ operations – basically setting up and reinforcing checkpoints in the area to deny the insurgents freedom of movement. (READ MORE)

Royal Military Policewoman LCpl Christy-Lee Ray, attached to Fire Support Company, 1 R Welsh: Female Searcher - The last week has been a real experience for me. I have been in the Army for three years now and, in addition to my RMP training, I did a whole year of special training for this tour. Just recently returned from my home leave (R&R), I landed back at Camp Bastion expecting to return to my job with The Rifles. However I discovered that I was being attached to Fire Support Company, 1 Royal Welsh for Op Moshtarak. I was genuinely excited to be part of such a massive operation, yet loading onto the helicopter in the dark and the dust on the first night I was also a bit nervous. But really you just get on with it. The entry into our objective was tough – we were cold, wet and muddy. Also we all had to carry extra equipment as well as our normal kit. I am only 5’3” and so the weight is tough for me. The first 24 hours out here I found it quite hard, but I have got a used to it now. Currently I am one of only two females in the Patrol Base. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Some nice army YouTube work - I really have enjoyed the ISAF public affairs "30 Days Through Afghanistan" project, which spent much of the last week video-logging Canadians. It's definitely worth some of your YouTube time. One I particularly enjoyed was Day Nine, which is spent in the company of 1/205 ANA Brigade's brigade medical officer Jagran (Maj.) Majid, whom I remember well, and his Canadian OMLT mentor. Just so people know, the Major's ZZ Top beard was rather unusual even among ANA officers (who tend to have something more between an "Andrew Sullivan" and a "Jack Conte") but rank and position have their privileges in any army that way. He always struck me as an earnest fellow, open to advice, but obviously extremely constrained in what he could do to save his injured soldiers' lives compared to the world-class facilities western soldiers have (and which frequently treat seriously injured Afghan soldiers). Note a couple things from his discussion that say a lot about how the ISAF-ANA partnership works. (READ MORE)

WO2 Sean Semple: Operation Moshtarak battlefield diary: A night on the edge of a graveyard - UK forces are now well into Operation Moshtarak - driving the Taliban back but living in terrible conditions, freezing cold and thousands of miles from the comforts of home. Here Warrant Officer Class 2 Sean Semple - who has been filing reoports to the Daily Mirrror from the frontline - tells of a terrifying journey and night beside a graveyard. Not very nice as he tells us in his latest report: We spent last night on the outskirts of the largest graveyard in Helmand province; nice. The day started well. We got all the vehicles across the bridge we'd flown in the day before, so the lads' hard work was worth it. We cautiously continued our move - down a route no ISAF vehicle has seen for a year. We dismounted and patrolled along a track, assessing potential vulnerable points - the places the insurgents are most likely to plant IEDs - and also where our vehicles could potentially cause damage to the heavy mud compound walls and dusty roads. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Rank from the Outside - Three officers were in charge of the company I served in. They were all First Lieutenants differing only in date of rank. So the senior 1st Lt. of the three was the commander, next was the executive officer, next was a platoon leader. I got promoted to sergeant the same day as another soldier in our company who is 30 years younger than I am. Since we can't decide who is in charge on date of rank, we would use time in service if one of us had to be in charge. Inside the Army, the rank on our chests is very significant. Outside--not so much. A few nights ago, my wife took our son to movie night at Wharton Elementary School. One of the other parents is full time in the Army National Guard. I had not met him until movie night. My wife introduced us saying, "This is Sergeant ________ that I told you so much about." He looked at me, smiled, shook my hand and said, "Captain ________ . . ." He was nice about it, but he definitely wanted me to know my wife had his rank wrong. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: The Afghan Taliban's top leaders - Over the past two months, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has captured four senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban, including Mullah Omar's deputy who served as the head of the top shura, the leader of a regional shura, and two shadow governors. These captures, combined with the US-led offensive in Helmand which will expand into Kandahar and the Afghan East later this year, have given rise to reports of the potential collapse of the group. The Afghan Taliban's leadership council and its regional shuras and committees have weathered the capture and death of senior leaders in the past. The Taliban have a deep bench of leaders with experience ranging back to the rise of the Taliban movement in the early 1990s. On prior occasions, younger commanders are known to have stepped into the place of killed or captured leaders. It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban's leadership cadre. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 23 Feb 10 - well, not much going on here lately … haven’t been out on any missions … just doing the small amount of work that is needed to get the trucks up to 100% and cruising on the ATVs and shootin some guns …life is good…but, I am ready to get back to normal civilization….6 months out here at the FOB would have been really nice, but I’ll take what I can get …I’ll prob only be out here for a few more weeks–as soon as I find out when the new guys are coming in I’ll head back to BAF to meet them and make sure they are taken care of properly…other than that, the weather is starting to get nicer, sun is out more, it’s warming up…along with the civilian here we mounted a side car on one of the motorcycles– he has been wanted to do that for a while, but just now got an extra tire from downtown… now it’s complete… I’ll get a pic of it in the nect couple days …all is well, and life is good–as good as it can be here in the war…love you and miss you all. (MORE)

C. J. CHIVERS: Afghans Voice Their Fears Amid Marja Campaign - Since the American-led offensive into the last large Taliban enclave in Helmand Province began nine days ago, local Afghans have faced a dangerous and uncertain world. Their homes are now in a region where the Marines have established a presence, the Taliban have moved into the shadows as a potent guerrilla force, and the Afghan government insists it will soon provide services and bring Marja into the national fold. All the while, in northern Marja, the fighting grinds on at a pace of several firefights a day — a climate that has displaced many civilians and kept others hiding inside. Abdul Ajahn, an elder here, voiced a lingering fear. “If the Taliban shoots from that side, and you are on this side, and I am in between?” he said to the Marines at a meeting arranged by a commander and local elders over the weekend. “Then I am sure you will shoot me.” (READ MORE)

Sailani: What does success look like in Helmand? - We’ve now been told that the current operation in Helmand is but the “opening salvo” in a new strategy to seize and hold areas under insurgent control, and that Kandahar is most-likely going to be next on the list. Before we start looking at that horrendous undertaking (I use the word with a hint of irony here) I can’t help but pause and consider what will happen in Helmand after the military mops up the few holdouts that stayed to fight them there. What does success look like for Operation Moshtarak, and more importantly when will we know whether it has been achieved? We have heard much about the kinetic side of things, and much less about what is to follow. A district governor has been recruited and will fly in sometime soon, and a bunch of police are going to be deployed as well. If the insurgents are smart, and they have shown that they can be, then they will wait until US forces lift their heavy footprint from the vast farmlands of Marjeh: (READ MORE)

Dafydd: Winning - It is a common misconception that COIN campaigns are different because body counts and land taken do not guarantee victory. Body counts and land taken do not guarantee victory in ANY war. By way of example, the at the 1918 armistice the triple alliance (Germans, Austrians & Ottomans) had both taken more territory than they had lost, and killed more enemy than they had lost. Yet they came to the table to negotiate terms. Why? Because they had given up. That is what you need to happen to defeat ANY enemy. Keep going until they give up. Whether or not you or your enemy adopt guerila/insurgency or conventional tactics is determined by relative resourcing, but ultimately irrelevant. So the question vis a vis Afghanistan is ‘What will make the Taliban stop?’. Clearly, there is no easy to implement answer. For political and cultural reasons we are not keen on killing every last opponent of occupation in possession of a rifle. (READ MORE)

Zombie Killer 6: McChrystal and McDonalds - General McChrystal has decided to eliminate fast food joints and other amenities over here in Afghanistan. He feels that Burger King and froo-froo coffee is a distraction from the mission so he is getting rid of them. “In Afghanistan, the top U.S. military commander believes life is a little too comfortable for some of the men and women in uniform. One example is a garden at headquarters, featured in CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin's recent ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal.” Frankly, I think this is a great idea. There are far too many rear-echelon types over here living the soft life while the boys and girls on the pointy end of the stick live in their own filth for months on end and subsist on MREs. It should be a nice reality check for some... and naturally there will be some wailing and gnashing of teeth from others. In reality though I think that this has less to do with "sticking it to the REMFs" than it does with logistical realities (although it is a pretty awesome fringe benefit). (READ MORE)

Sarah: The Definition of Insanity - The same scenario happens every deployment. My husband leaves town in a rush, leaving his gear strewn all about the house and car. I clean said gear up and put it in a box or garbage bag. I proceed to trip over it and shuffle it around for months until I finally break down and put it away for good. For "safe keeping." Then my husband returns from deployment and we want to spend time hugging and snuggling. And the night before he has to return to work in garrison, we end up cranky with each other because neither of us can remember where his boots, beret, uniforms, reflective belts, etc are. Seven months later, I've forgotten what I stowed away in that bag and where I finally put it "for safe keeping." He can't even remember what kitchen cabinet our glasses are in, much less where his beret would be. And so it's 11 PM and he's digging through boxes in the garage looking for the uniform he needs for the next morning. (READ MORE)

HellCatBetty: Our Military Story - Part 2 - When LN13 came home from Afghanistan I expected it to be sunshine and roses 24-7... we could finally be together! That's when my real wake-up call began. We fought all the time, he drank constantly, he was distant and had trouble trusting anyone. He'd seen so many military relationships fall apart and he'd had previous girlfriends that cheated on him. It was rough going that summer. There were points where I wondered if it was really worth it. But I'm stubborn and I'm a "fixer." I stuck with him through the drunken yelling matches and stupid comments meant to push me out of his life. He also put up with some crap from me during this time period. One of the underlying issues for us was his loyalty to the military. I hated it. I didn't understand it and I didn't want to learn about it. I was scared... scared of what it meant for his future and for mine. Looking back, I was pretty selfish. (READ MORE)

Texas Music: Hedgehog - A few weeks back I accompanied my battalion commander to visit one of the platoons that was tasked with securing a particular place. Without getting too much into the weeds on this, our infantry battalion is made up of several companies, most of which are stationed on Victory Base Camp. They have missions which sometimes take them to other areas in and around Baghdad, and from time to time the Boss or his Command Sergeant Major will make a trip out to visit the troops. The ride through the city was uneventful. We were riding along with one of the line companies, and for all practical purposes I was just along for the ride. If things went south, then I would be responsible for taking care of the Boss. Absent any drama, however, I was just a passenger. There was traffic, and plenty of it, and the days when U.S. convoys could barrel down the highways, forcing Iraqi vehicles out of our way and onto the shoulders of the road are over. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Our own private Afghans - An update on the Uruzgan strike. I was correct below that it was American SF rather than Dutch forces. Compare and contrast these statements, though: "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," the American-led International Security Assistance Force, also known as ISAF, said in a statement released Monday...Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said... there were no Afghan forces known to be operating in the area where the airstrike took place. I'm pretty sure that the Afghan spokesman is right in this case that there were no actual ANA elements in that area. (There's not enough of them in Uruzgan to loan them to the SF.) Which means that, as in so many places, the SF in FOB Cobra may have been arming a local militia to give them their door-kicker contingent. (READ MORE)

Isabel Hodge: Spouse Welcomes Husband Home - I started thinking about what I would write in this blog just a couple of hours before my husband returned from his yearlong deployment. I wasn’t sure what my topic was but then I had an epiphany. I had just completed all the typical rituals a spouse does when her husband returns: shower, color my gray hair, shave my Euro-legs and armpits — you get the idea. We were geographically separated before the deployment and will be until June. I took a week off work and rented a beach house a few minutes away from the military base where he is stationed in North Carolina. I considered myself lucky because I didn’t have to scramble to clean the house before he came home. Although I did get several hints that our house should probably get cleaned before he came to visit us in Virginia from my mother and multiple friends. My daily mantra “don’t sweat the small stuff” was quickly thrown to the wayside. (READ MORE)

Crush @ Blackfive: Victory defined - Can we achieve victory in our current conflict? Although our president won't use the term "victory," we at least owe it to our troops to remember what it means and to keep charging forward. Victor Davis Hanson illustrates: Victory has usually been defined throughout the ages as forcing the enemy to accept certain political objectives. “Forcing” usually meant killing, capturing, or wounding men at arms. In today’s polite and politically correct society we seem to have forgotten that nasty but eternal truth in the confusing struggle to defeat radical Islamic terrorism. Humans have been fighting wars since before Moses was a corporal - and always will - because it's basic human nature for one group to want something they don't have, or want to eradicate people they don't like. And while we would prefer that wars could be executed with technology, non-lethal ammunition, and negotiations, the truth is that war will always be decided by soldiers and Marines with guns. (READ MORE)

Rajiv Srinivasan: Routine - “Attention campers, this is Attack 46,” I called over the COP internal radio, “Today is evaluation day. The keyword here is value. Do you have any? Not yet. But by the end of the summer this camp is going to be filled with skinny winners!” The company command post radio guards cracked up laughing as I returned the hand mike to their desk. I’m not sure if I’m going crazy in the 7th month of my Afghanistan adventure, but I seem to have adopted a peculiar alter-ego in my spare time; that of fitness guru Tony Perkis from the movie Heavyweights. My random movie quote announcements seem to bring up the spirit on the COP, so I didn’t fight the change. They’ve actually become part of my morning routine here in Zhari District; or at least as close to a routine as one can have living two kilometers from Mullah Mohammed Omar’s home street. I wake up every morning around 6 AM. Most of the COP is still sleeping, so I fumble around in the dark to find my toothbrush, a water bottle, some dental floss, a jump rope, and my IPod before heading outside into the shivering cold. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: COP Keating: Politics and Warfighting - Spencer Ackerman is conflicted over leaving COP Keating open. Jim Hanson agrees with the commenter that has Spencer thinking – and supports the notion that a commander should be allowed to amend, caveat and stipulate in order to manage the campaign. Starting this kerfuffle, Spencer’s commenter says: “McChrystal is well within his rights to make individual exceptions to his overarching ruling of giving up the countryside to protect the population centers — and it seems pretty dumb to give up a known avenue of approach like this rat line, especially when the governor is requesting protection.” Well, maybe. But there is more to this than meets the eye. I had known for some time that COP Keating had been left open for political reasons at the request of the Provincial officials. In fact, the politics gets rather ugly. Richard Engel tells us: (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Politics, Media, and the Lebanese Babe - They say that actions speak louder than words, and that's especially true when the words come from the media. If we are to believe the press reports in pretty much any language, then we must all think that the Kurds hate anything Arab and refuse to speak Arabic or hear Arabic spoken. Well, it appears the media got yet another story wrong. A friend told me that Lebanese singer Elissa was just in Erbil, in the Kurdish north of Iraq, where she performed [Arabic] before enormous crowds of fans. The crowds went wild over the babe who was as entertaining as ever. As far as I know, Elissa is famous for singing in Arabic. Of course politicians and official spokesmen will always say that Kurds feel pain each time they hear the Arabic language. But Elissa proved them wrong in Erbil. Because when Elissa sings instead of feeling pain, everyone feels a need to dance. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
Community Backs 48th Brigade Soldier After Robbery - Spc. Jeffrey Farmer, Company D, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was scuba diving in Australia during his rest and recuperation leave last August when he got a message to call home. "I was told I'd been robbed and everything was taken," he said. "Needless to say my R&R went downhill from there." (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Odierno: Iraq Can Help Stabilize the Middle East - Iraq presents a solid opportunity to help in stabilizing the Middle East, the commander of forces in that country said here today. “We have an opportunity that we might never have again,” Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said during a Pentagon news conference. “We have the opportunity – potentially – to have a moderate democratic government in the Middle East.” (READ MORE)

Shi'ite family of 8 fatally shot, beheaded south of Baghdad - Eight members of one Shi'ite family were killed south of Baghdad on Monday in the worst incident of a bloody day across Iraq that left at least 23 dead. The spate of attacks raised fears that insurgents are trying to re-ignite sectarian warfare at a time when the country is preparing for critical March elections. (READ MORE)

Spike in Iraq Violence as Vote Nears - A series of bombings, beheadings and shootings rippled through Iraq on Monday, leaving at least 23 people dead, including 9 children, and intensifying concern about a spike in violence with less than two weeks until national elections. (READ MORE)

Gates: Only Serious Change in Security Would Delay US Troop Withdrawal from Iraq - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that there would have to be a "pretty significant" deterioration in the security situation in Iraq before he would consider delaying the planned withdrawal of nearly half the remaining U.S. troops in the country by September 1. (READ MORE)

U.S. Will Slow Iraq Pullout If Violence Surges After Vote - The top U.S. commander in Baghdad said some American combat forces could remain in Iraq after this summer's planned withdrawal date if the country's feuding leaders are unable to quickly form a new government. (READ MORE)

U.S. plans for possible delay in Iraq withdrawal - The U.S. military has prepared contingency plans to delay the planned withdrawal of all combat forces in Iraq, citing the prospects for political instability and increased violence as Iraqis hold national elections next month. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Suicide bomber kills eight in Swat Valley - A suicide bomber targeting Pakistani security forces set off a blast that ripped through a busy market in the northwestern Swat Valley on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens of others, officials and witnesses said. (READ MORE)

Blasts Kill Civilians in 2 Afghan Provinces - Separate explosions in the country’s southern and eastern provinces on Tuesday killed at least nine civilians and wounded 20 others, officials said. (READ MORE)

Bicycle bomb kills seven near bus station in Lashkar Gah - A bomb concealed on a bicycle killed seven people in the capital of Helmand today and injured 14 others, officials said. The explosion, next one of Lashkar Gah's two bus stations, came as thousands of Nato and Afghan forces continue to battle insurgents for control of densely populated farmland around 20km outside the city. (READ MORE)

Blast Kills 8 in Southern Afghanistan - Afghan police say an explosion killed eight people and wounded 16 others in Helmand province, where Afghan and NATO forces are conducting a major offensive against Taliban militants. Police say the bomb went off in front of a government building Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province. (READ MORE)

NATO Secretary-General Expresses Regret for Civilian Afghan Casualties - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed regret over a NATO air strike that Afghan authorities say killed 27 civilians in Afghanistan. Speaking to a forum at Georgetown University here in Washington, Rasmussen said he telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to apologize for the air strike in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Gates, Mullen Regret Civilian Casualties - Expressing deep regret over civilian casualties resulting from a NATO air strike yesterday, Pentagon civilian and military leaders said today they support the strategy that puts as much emphasis on protecting the Afghan population as capturing or killing insurgents. (READ MORE)

U.S. Special Operations Ordered Deadly Afghan Strike - U.S. Special Operations Forces ordered an airstrike that killed at least 27 civilians in southern Afghanistan and the soldiers may not have satisfied rules of engagement designed to avoid the killing of innocents, Afghan and coalition officials said Monday. (READ MORE)

NATO airstrike in Afghanistan kills 27, including women and children - Swaying with the weight of their human cargo, two overloaded minibuses and a truck crept through a steep mountain pass, heading in the direction of Kandahar, the southern Afghan city the Taliban movement regards as its spiritual home. (READ MORE)

US Military: Marjah Battle Progressing Steadily but Slowly - Top U.S. military officials said Monday that progress in the battle to rid the southern Afghan town of Marjah of Taliban fighters is progressing steadily, but more slowly than expected. The evaluation came the same day that Afghan officials condemned a NATO strike that Afghan authorities say killed 27 civilians in Uruzgan province. (READ MORE)

Afghan official who will govern Marja pays first visit, makes plea to residents - The Afghan official responsible for governing Marja paid his first visit to this strife-torn community Monday, imploring residents to forsake the Taliban and promising employment programs as an inducement for local men to put down their weapons. (READ MORE)

Helmand Start of Broader Offensive, Officials Say - The coalition’s operations in Helmand province are the first stage of a broader offensive to change the course of the fight in Afghanistan, Defense Department leaders told the Senate Armed Services Committee today. Operation Moshtarak, as the offensive launched Feb. 13 is known, is “going well so far,” Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said in a briefing to the committee. (READ MORE)

Hamid Karzai seizes control of Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission - President Karzai has seized control of the independent election watchdog that ruled more than a million votes invalid in August’s polls. Diplomats said that Mr Karzai issued a decree last week giving himself the right to appoint all five commissioners on the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). (READ MORE)

Company D, Task Force 1-121 Defies All Odds in Ghazni - A platoon of Soldiers from Milledgeville, Ga., partnered with a section of Afghan national police, to conduct a dismounted patrol through the remote village of Lagawat, in southern Deh-Yak District. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Feb. 23 - Afghan soldiers from the 207th Commando Kandak, assisted by coalition forces, captured a Taliban leader and known weapons facilitator, in Gerani village, Bala Balouk District, Farah province Sunday. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Kill, Detain Militants - Combined Afghan and international forces in Afghanistan killed or detained militants and seized enemy weapons in recent operations, military officials reported. In Logar province yesterday, a combined force detained a militant while pursuing a Taliban facilitator. (READ MORE)

Taliban fighters hinder offensive - Senior defense and military officials said Monday that the U.S. and allied military offensive in southern Afghanistan is making steady progress although it has been slowed by resistance from insurgents. The offensive near the town of Marjah in Helmand province, led by U.S. Marines and now 10 days old, is encountering moderate resistance, mainly in the form of Taliban snipers and hidden roadside bombs. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: A different kind of war - Britain’s foreign secretary testifying before a Senate committee. Russian airspace opened to American cargo planes carrying lethal military supplies. High-level consultations with China. Shared border intelligence at the Khyber Pass. (READ MORE)

Eight die in Afghan bombing as US loses 1,000th soldier - A bomb strapped to a bicycle exploded near a busy bus terminal in Afghanistan, killing eight people Tuesday as the death toll of U.S. troops in the Afghan war surpassed the grim milestone of 1,000. (READ MORE)

NATO seeks more trainers for Afghan army, police - Military officials from NATO's 28 members and other allied nations met Tuesday to work out how they will pledge at least 2,000 new instructors to train the fast-expanding Afghan security forces. Alliance members have indicated they would commit the numbers needed, but it remains unclear if they will have enough trainers with the qualifications requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (READ MORE)

Australia warns it can’t replace Dutch in Afghan province - Australia has warned it can’t “take up the lead” in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province if Dutch soldiers withdraw, after a row over the mission brought down the Netherlands’ government. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia had already raised its concerns with both Nato and the United States following the Dutch government’s collapse over the weekend. (READ MORE)

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Crossposted at Castle Argghhh!

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