February 25, 2010

From the Front: 02/25/2010

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

Dispatches:
THE NEW YORK TIMES: Q. and A. With the Kabul Bureau - Will Operation Moshtarak, the campaign under way in Marja, Afghanistan, reshape the war? How are civilians in the area handling the campaign? How long will it take for a local Afghan government to begin functioning in the area? What is the role of the government of President Hamid Karzai in the ongoing campaign? Are the recent arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan related to the campaign in Marja? The New York Times’s Kabul bureau chief, Alissa J. Rubin, will answer readers’ questions about the campaign. As the operation in Marja continues, other reporters in the bureau will respond as well. (MORE)

A Major's Perspective: Huge Thank You's to Soldier's Angels!!! - So there we were..(all good stories have to start that way)...but there we were....long crazy day, was getting a bit crazier and I walked back into the office. Sitting on my desk was two large boxes from Soldier's Angels filled with Coffee, two awesome Soldier's Angels Coffee Mugs, and a host of well wishes and support from home!! I can't even begin to tell you how far that went to making the day so much better. Well maybe you can see from the smiles around the room. (Yes I know the picture is a little blurry, I'll upload a better one tomorrow.) But the story doesn't end here. You see, Soldier's Angels is doing this everyday, many multiple times a day, all over the world, for our brave young men and women. They never ask for anything, but are always there offering their support. I can not count how many times I have heard from the Troops how much it means to them, and how thankful they are for what you do. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Education & ANA Discussion – Part 1 - Famous playwright and poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Today I returned to the ANA literacy classroom for another interactive exchange of information. This time I was bearing gifts that included notebooks, pens, and pencils for the students. This immediately got the ANA soldiers attention when I entered the classroom. The class just finished conducting a religious ceremony celebrating their Prophet’s birthday and commemorating his death, which happened on the same day but 62 years later. Omid, my interpreter, said it would be appropriate to say “Maloot Sharif” to the class during my introduction out of respect for their Prophet who is responsible for giving Muslims their Holy Quran. So in my best Dari pronunciation, I practiced my Dari and started my interaction with the class. Today’s classroom was filled with more than 100 students/ANA soldiers. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Sustainable Strategy: Mid to High Exploitation - Did it all start with an accident? Since Taliban military commander, Mullah Baradar, was seized by ISI on 8 February, a second prominent leader, Mullah Kabir, operating within the inner circle of Quetta Shura, has been reportedly captured. Now, the latest confirmation of the arrest of nearly half of the Taliban leadership (7 of 15), most of whom are thought to be active decision-makers in Quetta Shura, seems almost surreal. Andrew Exum, Fellow at CNAS and Author of Abu Muqawama even asked, "Woah, did Pakistan just arrest half of the Quetta Shura?" You must read and bookmark as a reference Bill Roggio's intelligence report on Afgahn Taliban's top leaders. Bill raises an important point, stating, "It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban's leadership cadre." Marja's campaign is vital to US success. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Afghanistan to receive captured Taliban commander from Pakistan - Afghan and Pakistani officials said yesterday that when Islamabad receives a formal request from Kabul, it will transfer the recently captured Afghan Taliban number two leader Mullah Baradar into Afghan custody, though he could be tried first in Pakistan. Dawn, a leading Pakistani daily, reports that FBI Director Robert Mueller requested that Pakistan hand over Baradar to U.S. custody, but was turned down. Anand Gopal writes that half of the Afghan Taliban's senior leadership -- seven of the 15 members of the Quetta shura -- has been arrested by Pakistani authorities in recent days, a higher figure than the three leaders previously reported captured. These arrests suggest, as the Times reports this morning, that the CIA and Pakistan's intelligence agency -- Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI -- are cooperating more closely, albeit warily. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: The Preservation of the American Warrior Class - Joseph Brunacini was a Private First Class when he stepped onto the sands of Normandy. Weeks after the initial invasion of D Day the moist sand still showed the signatures of bloody sacrifice. With no ports established in the South, the Omaha beachhead continued to be the corridor into France, this time for reinforcements. From a ridgeline he could see the burned and bullet riddled pillboxes that now sat empty. One German machine gun port opening had an obvious splash of dark rust colored blood. The blood now flowed once again from stout drops of rain that were matted between sand, concrete and mud. Pointed cigar sized rebar jutted out of concrete bunkers. Heavy logs, some still festooned with mines placed to thwart the amphibious assault of the Americans, were tossed harmlessly to the side. Steel hedgehogs intended to slow the approach of the invasion force, were toppled over each other and the prints of heavy tracks of allied vehicles crisscrossed the soil that just weeks earlier puddled with blood. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Blogger Admits Parenting Challenge - My pediatrician pointed out to me recently that my 6-year-old son had exceeded a healthy range for his body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. I knew he liked to snack endlessly and his clothes were getting a bit snug, but I chalked that up to a growth spurt and never paid much attention to his weight. But now I, with as much subtlety as I could muster, took a closer look at my son. His ravenous appetite leads him to dump huge portions of snack mix on his plate late in the evening and he rebels against exercise with the same level of dread and resistance that I usually reserve for a root canal. It’s an enormous contrast to my daughter, who is tiny and active. She dances and runs, skips up stairs and, to the envy of most, has the appetite of a bird. I tried to avoid blame, figuring it was genetics that led to his enormous appetite and lack of interest in exercise. But the more I thought about the situation, the clearer it became. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Skeptics Come Round - It's hard to decide whether to be sad or happy over Thomas Ricks's piece in the NYT. For years, reasonable people tried to persuade others about the serious threat in the Middle East. Too often those people were ignored. I know I have spent a long time arguing that the Iraqi people deserve to be protected from the terrorist al-Qaeda and Shiite militias who target civilians. But honestly, I never thought that was as bad as what President Bush endured. Say what you wish, but the man made sense. Even Ricks admits it now. "Looking back now, I think the surge was the right thing to do." Wow! Is that the same Ricks who argued vociferously that Iraq was a waste of time and money? He continues: "In rejecting the view of the majority of his military advisers and embracing the course proposed by a handful of dissidents, President Bush found his finest moment. That said, the larger goal of the surge was to facilitate a political breakthrough, which has not happened." (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Et tu, Friedman? - When I was in college in the U.S., I spent a lot of time telling people that Arabs and Middle Easterners are not savages determined to kill each other. It was difficult, but then I read Tom Friedman's book From Beirut To Jerusalem and was relieved. It was refreshing to see a book written by a reporter for a top U.S. paper present Middle Easterners as ordinary human beings. He said good things about Lebanese and others. The book helped a lot in persuading Arabs that Israelis are not bad, and it helped me persuade Israelis that not all Arabs are bad. I learned a lot from Friedman, and I was grateful. Well, it looks like that Tom Friedman is gone; he has been replaced. Friedman has sunk back to the common perspective of Middle Easterners are a bunch of savages who cannot be governed by anything other than a tyrant. He argues that it's the culture, supid. Friedman longs for a Mandela. But how useful can a Mandela be if he is faced with people who view him a s a savage. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US hits Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, kills 8 - The US has killed five terrorists while targeting the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network in an airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Unmanned US strike aircraft, the Predators or Reapers operating from secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, fired three missiles at "a fortress-like" Haqqani Network compound and a vehicle in the village of Dargi Mandi just outside the main town of Miramshah, a report at Dawn. Five Haqqani Network fighters and three foreign fighters, a term used to describe al Qaeda members, were reported killed and several more were wounded, according to according to The New York Times. No senior leaders have been reported killed at this time. Haqqani Network fighters surrounded the compound after the attack. The Miramshah region is controlled by the Haqqani Network, the Taliban group that is based in North Waziristan group and operates in eastern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: More on Marjah - This significant battle continues, step by step. The WaPo had a couple of interesting articles on the subject, as well as more of their excellent photography. One article reads, in part: "But in purely military terms, sending 11,000 U.S. and Afghan troops to defeat a few hundred Taliban fighters in Marja won't change much in Afghanistan. The greater significance of the battle is in how it is perceived in the rest of Afghanistan and in America. ... "The other group McChrystal wants to influence is the Afghan people and the Taliban, who saw the July 2011 withdrawal deadline as a sign of wavering U.S. will. "This is all a war of perceptions," McChrystal said on the eve of the Marja offensive. "This is all in the minds of the participants. Part of what we've had to do is convince ourselves and our Afghan partners that we can do this." "A swift victory over the Taliban in Marja, followed with a robust development effort, could sway some Afghan fence sitters." (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: An Audience With Berhanuddin Rabbani, The Grand Old Man Of The Afghan Mujahideen - At his massively fortified residence in this city’s posh Wazir Akbar Khan district, Berhanuddin Rabbani, the godfather of Afghanistan's warlord bloc, uttered a dire warning. Any "exit strategy" from Afghanistan that proposes a power-sharing deal with the Taliban could plunge the country back into the raging, fratricidal warfare that preceded September 11, 2001. “This is possible,” he said. “As I read history, when a nation’s problems become this complex and they are not solved, that could result in violence and revolutions and other unwanted things. Water is very soft, but if you put it under pressure, it will explode.” (READ MORE)

this is our life: my love - Oh how I miss this handsome guy! I love talking to him on the computer. I could talk to him forever and it still wouldn't be enough. Our love and respect for each other has grown so much. Whenever we talk to each other we start talking about how our day/night was. And how the kids are doing. But we always end up talking about how much we love each other. I wish words could be enough, but they never are. I can never tell him exactly how much I love him and miss him. I just can't. There aren't words to explain it. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: The pendulum swings? - You may remember that just a few months ago, the milblogosphere was abuzz with debate over whether NATO should pursue a "counter-terror" approach to Afghanistan versus a "counter-insurgency" approach. Both sides had their merits, of course, but neither are really the answer to Afghanistan; if we can even approach such a problem with an all-encompassing, "fix-all" solution to begin with. The COIN crowd failed to really address how a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan served to limit al Qaeda's "freedom of movement"--if such a thing is really an accurate term in a counter-terror campaign. The counter-terror crowd, similarly, failed to answer how they intended to get the valuable human intelligence they needed without large numbers of troops engaged in the areas where our enemies are hiding. Most pundits seemed to lean towards one extreme or the other. (READ MORE)

Defense Update: Psyops and the Battle for Marjah - As the campaign to take over the village of Marjah enters its second day, the fog of battle has somewhat dissipated, bringing to light one of the untold truths over what the real battle is all about. Coalition forces conducting the operation are trying their utmost, to emphasize the role of the Afghan National Army as an equal member of the engaged military force, and lead element representing the interests and authority of the central government in Kabul. But the battle is not fought over the land, but on the hearts and minds of the local Pashtun tribe people, torn between their fear and loyalty to the residing Taliban, and the hope, while suspicion of the foreign-backed puppet regime in Kabul, promising the residents economic development and better living conditions. The military assembled a divisional size battle group, numbering over 15,000 men, including U.S. Marines, British forces and Afghan National Army and police. (READ MORE)

Major Mike Taylor, D Squadron 1 RTR: Manoeuvre Support Group: Op Moshtarak - We are back in from the first phase of Op Moshtarak and it is great to be back in camp with hot showers and fresh food. The last few weeks have been a real experience working as part of the Manoeuvre Support Group; a combination of Viking Armoured Personnel Carriers and the heavy engineering vehicles of 28 Engineer Regiment whose job was to clear a major route into the strategic town of Showal, a settlement with a reputation for being a drug trading haven as well as the ‘seat’ of government for the Taliban. During the pre operational training we really bonded together well. Our role was to provide the firpower and protect the slow moving column of vehicles. So we had to practise our drills together to allow the Engineers to do their job: using new equipment to plough through or explode IED belts, build bridges, fix roads, etc. I’m a tankie by training. I’ve got D Squadron of the Royal Tank Regiment out here. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Working down the list - The CSM is reporting that Abdul Qayum Zakir, who I said here would likely take over Taliban military operational control in the south from the recently detained Baradar, has been picked up as well. It's increasingly sounding like the Pakistanis, for whatever reason, have bought Canadian, ISAF and Afghan troops something of a breather here. For which I for one am happy to say, "thanks." In other news, the Frontline documentary this week, "Behind Taliban Lines," was the funniest thing I've seen on TV in some time. The best part was the earnest recreation of the Joker hospital scene from "The Dark Knight" at the end of their failed ambush. ("The damn thing doesn't work! Here, I'll show you! *Boom*. The way the triggerman's shoulders visibly slump at that point was The Awesome). Of course the title's misleading, as these guys were actually Hekmatyar's fighters up in Baghlan, but it was a useful reminder that one's enemy is undoubtedly having problems of their own. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Half of Quetta Shura Arrested - Pakistan has supported a robust U.S. drone campaign against the Pakistan Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban, because they see them at least somewhat as an existential threat. The Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar is a different story. The leadership is primarily in Pakistan, at first in Quetta and eventually scattered as necessary to avoid detection. There has been no drone campaign against them because the Pakistani leadership and Army has a quaint but wrongheaded notion of using them (throughout Afghanistan and Kashmir) as a counterbalance against what they view as Indian hegemony. That is, until recently. Their top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was recently captured in the port city of Karachi. There is a bit of intrigue surrounding his capture, including the highly plausible hypothesis that Pakistan wants a place at the bargaining table if and when the Taliban ask for negotiations. (READ MORE)

Most Certainly Not: Murphy Visits Hubs - I suppose my husband should have refrained from saying he'd "kick Murphy in the jingle bells" when he arrived home. I can't remember what had happened here, likely the check engine light in my car firing up, that prompted his warning. But, Murphy must have decided to show the length of his reach. Thank goodness Murphy followed his same protocol as he does here--annoying, but not devastating--when dealing with Hubs. Last night, we FINALLY got video to work with Skype. But then, we couldn't hear each other. I could hear him, but he couldn't hear me or vice versa. So we started the chat feature on Skype and typed back and forth. At least I could SEE him laughing at what I'd typed. Then, eventually, even the chat wasn't working so we'd write notes on paper and hold them up to the webcam so we could read them. It was comical. We just figured it was his janked internet connection not having enough juice to support all the fancy stuff. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: Staff Sergeant Michael Cardenaz - Everyone turned their head when Cardenaz drove by. The guy had a late model Lincoln Navigator with every customization you could think of. There was the digital receiver from Power Zone, the Army’s version of “Best Buy”; it had a graphics and lights. Cardenaz had it. Didn’t like, so he bought another one at a better place and threw that one out in the garbage. He had ridiculous rims and scented aromas inside the truck. He took care of that better than most cared for their soldiers. One nasty Bavarian night, we were coming back from the motor pool after a 30 day field problem. Walking a click in the rain to the barracks is never fun. Cardenaz drove by slowly. Through the tinted glass you could see him wrestling with himself as what to do next. We were filthy, covered in grime and wet. He had a meticulous clean vehicle. He looked us over and quickly spun the truck around. He said, “get in. But please don’t move around on my seats, dog.” (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
Friends honor fallen Stryker soldier - Sgt. Adam J. Ray entered the Army in a noncombat role but yearned for the long marches, the weaponry and the front-line missions. So in April 2008, Ray changed from hospital patient administration to the infantry. (READ MORE)

Honoring a soldier with Tacoma ties - Fort Richardson held a memorial service Tuesday for a soldier with Tacoma ties. Sgt. 1st Class Jason Omar Bradley Hickman died Jan. 7 during an attack in Afghanistan. His wife, Tiffany, hails from the Tacoma area. Jason Hickman previously served at Fort Lewis. (READ MORE)

Oregon National Guard job losses - In January, the Oregon National Guard had to tell more than 200 employees that their jobs are going away. I understand that TAG Maj. Gen. Fred Rees and BG Mike Caldwell are in Washington, D.C., today to plead/negotiate/argue with the National Guard Bureau, which had funded the jobs. (READ MORE)

Military Leads Mental Health Care Transformation - The United States is in the middle of a “cultural transformation” in mental health treatment led by the Defense Department and the military services, the department’s top mental health expert told a congressional panel today. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:

Tehran's vote-buying in Iraq - Iran is conducting what U.S. officials say is a broad covert-action campaign to influence Iraq's elections next month, pumping money and other assistance to its allies. The best way to counter this assault, American officials have decided, is by exposing it publicly. (READ MORE)

Sunni Leader Decides to Take Part in Iraq Election - A top Sunni lawmaker, who less than a week ago said he was pulling his party out of the election after he was banned from the race, reversed course on Thursday and said that his party is back in the race. (READ MORE)

In an Iraqi City, the Real Ballot Contest Is for Shiite Leadership - This city along the Euphrates River, whose shabby appearance belies residents’ pride in it, has become the forefront of what may be the pivotal struggle in Iraq’s election for Parliament: which of the country’s myriad Shiite parties will claim leadership of its empowered majority. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Dutch Retreat - After the collapse of its coalition cabinet, the Netherlands is set to withdraw its 2,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. That decision is an embarrassment to the Netherlands, to NATO, and to Washington at a moment when President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy faces a crucial test. (READ MORE)

US Missile Strike Kills 6 in Pakistan - Pakistani officials say a suspected U.S. drone missile strike killed at least six militants Wednesday in a tribal district near the Afghan border. The attack struck an area of North Waziristan that is a stronghold of an Afghan Taliban faction called the Haqqani network. (READ MORE)

Nine Nations Support Afghan Training Effort - Expanding the Afghan army and teaching it to become a force capable of defending Afghanistan in the air and on the ground is no small undertaking, and that’s why nine nations are working together in that mission, a top officer in the effort said yesterday. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Offers Taliban Official to Afghans - Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said after a meeting here with his Afghan counterpart, Mohammed Hanif Atmar, that Islamabad was expecting a formal request from Kabul to extradite Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's operations chief. (READ MORE)

Half of Afghanistan Taliban leadership arrested in Pakistan - Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days, Pakistani officials told the Monitor Wednesday, dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement. (READ MORE)

C.I.A. and Pakistan Work Together, but Do So Warily - Inside a secret detention center in an industrial pocket of the Pakistani capital called I/9, teams of Pakistani and American spies have kept a watchful eye on a senior Taliban leader captured last month. With the other eye, they watch each other. (READ MORE)

US, Pakistani Fight Against Taliban Merge, Analysts Say - As the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan increases its military pressure against insurgents, the fight against the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan has also been intensifying. Top U.S. military commanders are describing the recent arrests of fugitive Afghan Taliban leaders as important breakthroughs in the fight against terrorism. (READ MORE)

Nato admits that deaths of 8 boys were a mistake - A night-time raid in eastern Afghanistan in which eight schoolboys from one family were killed was carried out on the basis of faulty intelligence and should never have been authorised, a Times investigation has found. (READ MORE)

Officials puzzle over millions of dollars leaving Afghanistan by plane for Dubai - A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan -- often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport -- as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money's origin. (READ MORE)

NATO Reports Fewer Clashes in Southern Offensive - NATO is reporting that the alliance's offensive against a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan has slowed during the last 24 hours and some residents are beginning to return to cleared areas. (READ MORE)

Afghan Government Claims Taliban Stronghold - The Afghan government took official control of the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, installing an administrator and raising the national flag while U.S.-led troops worked to root out final pockets of militants. (READ MORE)

Operation Moshtarak Update for Feb. 24 - Shuras outnumbered military engagements the last few days. At the invitation of Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, Nad-e Ali deputy district governor Haji Zahir held a shura in Marjah attended by 200 residents. (READ MORE)

Rakkasans Take the Reins - After eight years, the Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) have returned to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

184 Teachers Graduate in Ghowr Province - The Lithuanian Provincial Reconstruction Team participated in a graduation ceremony for 184 teachers at the Chaghcharan Teachers Training Centre in Ghowr province, Saturday. (READ MORE)

ISAF Supports Western Afghan Village - ISAF forces are fighting rocket fire with aid and respect in a western Afghan village. The most recent support came in the form of supplies consisting of nearly 400 blankets, 150 clothing kits for children and 250 backpacks for school children. (READ MORE)

Italian PRT Renovates Silk Factory - The Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team attended a ceremony marking the completion of renovations to a silk factory in the Zenda Jan District, Herat province, Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Afghan government claims Taliban stronghold - The Afghan government took official control of the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, installing an administrator and raising the national flag while U.S.-led troops worked to root out final pockets of militants. (READ MORE)

Pakistan to hand over Taliban Deputy to US-occupied Afghanistan - Pakistan has agreed to hand over to Afghanistan captured Afghan Taliban number two, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and other insurgents, the president's office said on Thursday. (READ MORE)

The Dutch Retreat from the World Stage - The international standing of the Netherlands is in decline. From the climate debate to Afghanistan, the Dutch global presence is no longer what it once was. Since World War II, the Dutch government had never once collapsed due to a dispute over foreign policy. (READ MORE)

Pak accepts Kabul's demand to hand over Baradar - The Pakistan government has agreed to handover the top Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was nabbed in a joint operation by the Pakistani and US officials in Karachi earlier this month, to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

SKorea endorses sending troops back to Afghanistan - South Korea's legislature has approved sending troops back to Afghanistan after withdrawing them in 2007. The National Assembly approved Thursday a government proposal to send 350 troops to protect South Korean civilian aid workers in the volatile country. (READ MORE)

‘Blackwater flouted rules in Afghanistan’ - A US Senate investigation has found that controversial private security firm, Blackwater contractors had no regard for policies and rules in Afghanistan. The investigation, initiated by Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Carl Levin found multiple irresponsible acts by the contractors and troubling gaps in the government oversight. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: Report on Civilian Deaths - The Afghan human rights commission reported Wednesday that 28 civilians had been killed so far in NATO’s offensive on the Taliban stronghold of Marja, and it urged pro-government forces to take greater care in distinguishing between noncombatants and militants. (READ MORE)

Blackwater agents accused of taking 500 assault rifles meant for Afghan police - Agents of America's private security firm, Blackwater, took more than 500 assault rifles that were intended for the Afghan police force and routinely carried weapons without permission, a hearing has been told. (READ MORE)

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Crossposted at Castle Argghhh!

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