March 3, 2010

From the Front: 03/03/2010

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

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Bad Water Flows From The Spring - Today during my mentoring session, the topic of corruption surfaced again. An ANA officer who I don’t mentor summed it up with an Afghan proverb, “Bad water flows from the spring”. He was inferring that corruption starts at the very top and then flows down through the various levels. This officer used to be an inspector or auditor ensuring the ANA soldiers got paid. Previously the commanders would receive the pay for the soldiers assigned to their units. Quite frequently soldiers would go AWOL and not return, but the soldier’s name was not removed from the pay roster. Instead the commanders would allegedly pocket this money. This officer (who seemed to have integrity) complained to the Minister of Defense. He found out this was a common practice and his complaint was ignored. Not wanting to have any part of this corruption, he resigned from this duty and took another position. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: U.S. to send Pakistan smart bomb kits - The United States plans to send 1,000 laser-guided bomb kits to Pakistan later this month and is also on track to deliver 18 F-16 fighter jets, allowing Islamabad to improve the accuracy of its attacks on militants in the restive tribal region of South Waziristan and minimize civilian casualties. The sales reportedly reflect a lessening concern in Washington about Pakistan, as intelligence and military cooperation between the two has deepened in recent months. During yesterday's journalist tour of the recently captured Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold town of Damadola in the northern tribal region of Bajaur, Pakistani security forces showed a network of 156 caves in the mountains that the fighters had used as living space and headquarters, strewn with pillows and blankets. Bajaur was the site of a Pakistani military operation in the fall and winter of 2008, but militants reemerged and a new offensive was launched in late January. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Afghanistan bans live media coverage of attacks - Yesterday, Afghanistan's Second Vice President Karim Khalili, top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, NATO's civilian chief Mark Sedwill, and several other senior officials made a trip to Marjah, the site of a recent coalition military offensive in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, to address local concerns with some 300 tribal elders. The officials received a cool welcome as major operations wrap up; local residents were worried about their poppy crops, corrupt government, and most of all security, and have been skeptical since before the operations began. The shura came on a day when six NATO service members died across the country, and one this morning. Afghanistan's spy agency announced yesterday that live media coverage of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan will henceforth be forbidden, claiming that such coverage can tactically aid the militants and bolsters their cause. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: The Devil is in the Details: Revitalizing America's Military Officer Corps - The Center for New American Security, with a distinguished panel of experts, put forth a proposal that addressed needed changes in officer training and development. You can read the entire proposal here. Al Sahwa's contributors wanted provide some comments, from the perspective of the Junior Officer. First, I want to point out that I agree with the panel's proposals. They provide refreshing ideas that address gaps in our institutionalized training models. Obviously, the 80 page PDF file could not begin to address the details for this proposal's implementation. I think it would be beneficial for us to highlight some of the broader proposals and generate some ideas for future implementation. -On page 6, the authors stated, "A more holistic officer development program is required to counteract a disproportionate focus on tactical training over strategic education." (READ MORE)

Christopher S. Carson: The Worst of Intentions - Although it hardly made the American news, the Rt. Hon. Anthony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, was called to the hot seat in London in February, testifying before Britain’s Chilcot “Iraq Inquiry” in what was ubiquitously referred to as his “Day of Judgment.” It seemed the political and media classes in Great Britain expected him to beat his breast in biblical lamentation for his vile sin of deposing Saddam Hussein’s monstrous regime in 2003. Perhaps the media and political classes at least hoped to see him sweat, or even see him beg for forgiveness, the way Richard Clarke did when he testified histrionically before the 9-11 Commission just as his Bush-bashing book hit the stores. A ferocious crowd of some 400 protesters, outside the front entrance of the Queen Elizabeth Centre, bayed for his blood like animals—yelling that he was a murderer and a liar. Blair’s car slipped in the back entrance, in what the media all referred to as a “sneaky” maneuver. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Michael... Yawn - Battlespace provocateur Michael Yon is calling for the head of Canada's commander in Afghanistan on his Facebook page, after a suicide vehicle took out a bridge between KAF and Kandahar City, along Highway 4, killing one American. Now, I'm not saying Yon doesn't have a point when he says it's hard to realize there's a war on in KAF. It is a very very bad place that way. But he's still a little erm, offbase on this one. Yon says the Canadians on KAF were distracted by The Big Hockey Game. Now, that's hardly a crazy idea: the game would have started around 0330 Kandahar time and the explosion went off at 0730, and the insurgents do watch the base closely for these sorts of opportunities. The trouble is of course that suicide vehicles meant to go off as stationary bombs on the roadside can be very fast to emplace (park and boom), so it's not clear what any Canadians could have done to prevent something during the time of the game itself or in those remaining hours before dawn: odds are the vehicle wasn't there longer than half an hour. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Operation Moshtarak: finally working together? - Operation Moshtarak is different to other operations in the Afghan war because of the role taken by Afghan troops, writes former Paratrooper and video journalist Josh Fortune. Josh Fortune is a former paratrooper who is now working for as a video journalist. He has been in Afghanistan since April 2008. "They look awfully like UFOs," I thought, looking up at the six glowing lights in the sky, which were hanging ominously above us several kilometers away like some sort of silent sentinels. They were the next wave of Canadian and British Chinook helicopters, preparing to swoop down and deliver their load of Afghan and British soldiers into Northern Nad Ali to mark the start of Operation Moshtarak – which means "together" in Dari, one of the primary languages spoken in Afghanistan. Moshtarak was supposed to herald the first truly joint operation where Afghan and ISAF forces would live, work, and fight alongside each other in clearing out the Taliban and bringing security to parts of central Helmand. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Breakfast with Jack - This morning I had breakfast with my Uncle Jack. He retired from active duty with the Air Force in 1978 and is currently living in the Orlando area. I am attending an analytical instrument conference in Orlando, so we could get together for a visit. At a small table in Einstein's Bagel Shop we talked about the military from various angles. One subject I have not written about that was on both of our minds is how the military evaluates soldiers and airmen and how one bad evaluation can end a career. Jack told me about a colonel he worked for who looked like a future general. this otherwise rising star made a high official in the Ford administration angry and his career ended there. He talked about other people he knew who got the one bad evaluation and Poof! career blows away. And the technique is simple. All evaluations are terribly skewed so that the actual "average" score for any given rank is far above the middle of the scale. When I was on active duty in the 1970s, Army enlisted evaluations were on a 125 point scale. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Jack is Back - My Uncle Jack's response to my blog post on military rating systems: "I believe you captured perfectly the essence of the rating systems for enlisted and officer members of the military. The goals of the troops in the trenches are tacitly accepted but seldom stated. Unfortunately, all the parties involved have different opinions of what the goals really are. The ratings are therefore essentially based on "feelings," the supervisor's perceived needs, personal bias, etc, etc and isolated events, good or bad. I think this applies from the President- Joint Chiefs level on down. Civilian organizations, at least the ones I've been in, don't usually have such clear-cut systems for rating performance but involve high-minded processes that require a development of "goals," which one commits to. This is followed by events and direction from above that ignore the agreed-upon goals and substitute instead the urgent problems at hand." (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: Arrival Iraq - I'm finally here. The trip to get to a combat zone is unbearably long, wrought with legs of travel via air or bus. I have wanted to write - I know it's been over two weeks. The words are there but the attitude hasn't been. And I've been so incredibly exhausted as you can imagine. The week leading up to Violette-Groth exodus from the garden spot of Killeen was incredibly busy, frustrating, yet filled with some very fun and happy times near the end. A dual military household moving to two different locations overseas where one will serve a combat deployment and the other will serve a hardship tour brings about many challenges. The worst being the segregating of the collective amassed "stuff" for the right movers to pick up for the right shipment. And then there are the bags and things that are taken with each of us, not to mention the stuff to be passed off to a friend like the leftover booze! (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Fizzling to the Finish Line - I’m not exactly sure how this post is going to come out… but there’s a lot on my mind. So I’m just going to let it spill out. Lack of Purpose. We’re not doing much of anything as a company. Long gone are those back-to-back-to-back missions, spending days on the road. Being short-timers (we’ve got eight weeks or so left) our battalion has given our mission to other companies and designated us as a detail company. That means that we’re spread across the base: a few soldiers guarding a motor pool, some picking up trash in the supply yard, others counting field jackets and loading containers. When not assigned a meaningless task, we spend our time watching movies, working out, and playing video games. I can’t get a good answer for why a skilled, experienced company has been pulled off the road two months early. "Bullshit" is the only word that really fits. Change. A lot will be changing in the coming months; going home is as much a challenge as leaving. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Terrorists Get Ready for the Vote - According to the AP, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi says security forces had intelligence suggesting that "terrorist plots" were being hatched to disrupt the March 7 vote, but that he was confident authorities would foil them. Moussawi said they captured all sorts of evidence of plots and explosives. Who knows whether he's telling the truth? The terror group al-Qaeda said they would disrupt the coming election. But if I were al-Qaeda, I would relax until the Americans leave. Then I would launch all kinds of attacks to gain control. Why use up explosives now when the U.S. is still here? They already said they would leave in a matter of a few months. Why stress now? It's too easy to wait. (MORE)

Bill Roggio: Bajaur cleared of Taliban: Pakistani general - A top Pakistani general claimed recently that the Taliban have been driven from a region in the northwest that has served as an al Qaeda and Taliban haven for the past nine years. The Taliban and al Qaeda have been defeated in the tribal agency Bajaur after a two-month-long offensive that began in January, according to Major General Tariq Khan, the commander of Pakistan's Frontier Corps. "The militant command and control centres and their caches have been dismantled or captured," Khan told The Sunday Times. "We have now cleared this area till the Afghan border, military operation is in its final stages and policing has been started," Khan told Dawn. Khan claimed that the Taliban in Bajaur have suffered significant casualties over the past two months, with 75 fighters killed and 76 detained, and another 364 fighters who surrendered. He also claimed that the Taliban have lost more than 2,200 fighters in combat in Bajaur since 2008, while the military have lost only 149 troops there. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Iraqi Elections - Elections in Iraq are just five days away. This is a huge event - probably even bigger than the last round of elections a year ago. In the last elections, the US played an important (and largely invisible) role in getting the ballots out, the polling stations set up, and security arranged. This time, it's the Iraqis who are doing it. Politics in Iraq is a blood sport. If you want an image of an Iraqi politician, think of Tony Soprano. Saddam Hussein was just Tony Soprano on steriods. With him gone, there are now thousands of Tonys all around the country, each doing whatever is necessary to advance his or her interests. And if that means rubbing out a rival, or an associate of a rival, well, many of them wouldn't think twice. It's just politics. Nothing personal. (Well, except here in Iraq, everything is personal). Over the past year, I've seen a change from a general insurgency to specifically targeted attacks. A police chief will be shot by a sniper. A sheikh will have a sticky bomb put on his car. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Contemplating Post-Conflict Governance in Marjeh, Pt. 2 - I have an op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times, further discussing the prospects for securing the peace in Marjeh: THIS year will be the third in a row that tens of thousands of new United States troops have arrived in Afghanistan with plans to “clear, hold and build” areas controlled by the Taliban. Those previous surges have achieved little success at holding or building, as the international coalition and Afghan government have inevitably failed to come up with realistic plans for what happens after the fighting is done. Is the campaign in Marja destined for the same fate? The international coalition’s strategic goal for Afghanistan is to build “an enduring stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state.” Only by focusing on the messy medium-term stages of reconstruction — those months, and possibly years, after the fighting dies down — do we have any chance of achieving such a goal. In this regard, Marja presents us with four distinct hurdles. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Contemplating Post-Conflict Governance in Marjeh, Pt. 1 - I have an article in today’s World Politics Review, discussing one way we can win the peace in Marjeh: The Taliban tax opium for two reasons: It’s profitable, and it’s plentiful. But there is nothing unique to opium that makes taxing it especially attractive compared to other commodities. In eastern Afghanistan, for example, the insurgents tax timber smuggling, chromite, and even cotton. In other words, the Taliban tax commerce — which means that the locals are used to being taxed. This presents an incredible opportunity for the newly installed government to establish a sustainable set of governance institutions. Rather than following the established ISAF model of focusing on law-and-order, which has at best a mixed record, Haji Zahir and his ISAF sponsors should focus first and foremost on establishing a stable tax regime, including checks and balances necessary to minimize the predatory behavior that ruined the previous government’s reputation. (READ MORE)

Six Foot Skinny: Home - Kuwait: still hot, still flat, still full of sand. And waiting. Ft. McCoy: lines and civilian contract workers and paperwork and waiting and gestures of thanks and goodbye. I probably won’t see many of these people ever again. Late night, early morning, busses. Two coach busses take some of us back to Marquette, Michigan. Two busses take some of us back to Ellsworth, Wisconsin. And then later, after I’m gone, busses take the rest to the airport where they fly home to Oklahoma City. I am on the Ellsworth busses. Three hours west of McCoy. Three hours on the bus for the last time. We meet a county sheriff when we get off 94 and then another squad car, an ambulance, and a fire truck just outside town. They cut all the kids out of school for the afternoon and they line the streets, waving flags and cheering – either for us or for the joy of not being in class. There are old men in hats, saluting and waving again – just as they did when we left. (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: It Is A Miracle We Survived - I love being a two parent household. When my husband returned, I put away my super-mom cape and started behaving as if the world would continue functioning if I didn't take care of every single last thing. Other than a snowpocalypse, nothing spectacular has happened. Things in our house are pretty much the same as they were when he was gone. At first, I was a little disappointed. Surely an extra 24 parenting hours, each and every day, would result in a clean kitchen at all times, or we wouldn't forget appointments, or we would always have the right food when we needed it. The reality is that things are moving along at basically the same rate of organization vs. chaos. Then I realized it: If we were doing this well (or not well, whatever) when it was just me, that was an amazing accomplishment. Somehow the kids and I managed to get through a year, with only half the parenting, and we all survived. Social services never visited, and no one staged an intervention. (READ MORE)

Texas Music: The Wire, and Going Outside It - About a month ago I went outside the wire with the Boss, my battalion commander. If you check out Victory Base Camp on Google Earth, you'll see that to the East is Baghdad, and to the West is farm land. Our unit is responsible for some of that farm land, as it butts up against the wall that separates VBC from Iraq proper. We send out patrols to check the wall, meet and greet with locals and Iraqi Army, and generally have a look around. The Boss wanted to go out and take a look for himself. Before we got here, when I was training my boys back at McGregor Range, we expected to be rolling out with the Boss as a full PSD, our own gun trucks, an independent element, all that. It's what I wanted, but it was not to be. The war is winding down, and as such, the BC's role isn't one that takes him outside the wire often. When he does go out, he jumps in with one of the line companies and one of us PSD guys tags along. It's not ideal, in fact it fucking sucks from my point of view because it puts me and my boys out of a job, but what can you do. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: "We pray to God that they don't come back." - Shamsia Sharifi runs a formerly clandestine operation now called the Hope for Poor Women Organization (HPWO), known as Negeen, for short, from a ramshackle house with a half-collapsed roof down a dusty side street in the Khair Khana district of Kabul. A woman of broad smiles and bright, grey eyes, Sharifi brims with energy. She’s quick to laugh, and is at once at ease and all business in a smart blue-grey suit and black silk shawl. You’d never know what she’s been through. Sharifi was taken out of school when she was 12. She’d had all the education a woman should need, her parents reckoned. But Sharifi demanded more, and against her parents’ wishes, she enrolled at the Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani School in Kabul. During the Taliban years, with no husband or children, Sharifi worked as a home-school kindergarten teacher, supporting herself partly by selling eggs from her small flock of chickens. But on the quiet, she was involved with a group of educated women, teaching poor women how to read. (READ MORE)

CounterInsurgency Center: Isolating the Critical Element Necessary to Achieve Success in a Population Focused Counterinsurgency Environment: Close Personal Relationships - This morning I pored over my e-mail, wondering in vain how to simultaneously action all 20 urgent tasks in my inbox. I was reminded of how diametrically opposed our culture is to rural Afghan culture, which encompasses over 79% of that country. In the military, we are conditioned to never accept the first 'no', to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, and to get results now, not later. In rural Afghanistan, as Greg Mortensen famously taught us, progress moves at a decidedly slower pace but the relationships run strikingly deep and true. Success in Afghanistan hinges on the ability of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to establish close personal relationships with the local Afghan population we are chartered to protect. Please note I did not say only leaders should maintain these relationships. I said everyone. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Why the Pentagon Doesn’t Want to Friend You - So! The Pentagon’s new “open-door” policy on social networking is, oh, around five days old. How’s that working out? The results of our totally unscientific reader survey are in. Commenter “C2dude” said: “Called the IT help desk yesterday, and they hadn’t even heard of the new memorandum from the DOD … I had to forward it to them.” A reader with U.S. European Command wrote in to complain: “EUCOM is still blocking access to Facebook and Twitter.” An airman working with the Army in Haiti commented: “We have total access to GMail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s pretty good because I can be in practically full contact with family at home while at the work station. My main issue is being friends on FB with my superintendent. He knows now that I am not working. Oops. Unfriend.” Okay, so a mixed bag. Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is cultural. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: A prayer for Matthew - Say a prayer for Matthew Schultz; then say one for his family. Matthew, nephew of local Marine Mom, Tina Fields, was recently injured in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. No one is sure of his injuries yet, but he was able to make a call home to his parents in Texas. General Petreus is predicting a long, hard road ahead for our troops in Afghanistan, which means a long, hard road for their families. Those who have been drafted into the military family know that there is a support network out there for us if we need it—but you have to reach out; you have to speak up. For some, comments on Facebook or brief conversations with friends are enough; for others, organizations like Manasota’s Operation Troop Support or Manatee Marine Moms are life-savers. “To all the Marine Moms; thank you for all the prayers. I am Matthew’s Dad, (Tina's brother) I just wanted to thank you for the prayers for my son.” Via Facebook. (READ MORE)

Major General Bill Mayville: OPS Update - The ISAF Campaign: Separating the Insurgency from the Population - The ISAF campaign is focused on safeguarding the Afghan people. While many acknowledge that is easier said than done, ISAF Coalition Forces and our Afghan partners are initiating many actions to take the oxygen away from the insurgents and separate them from the population. Increasing numbers of Coalition Forces and Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) are being committed to the fight, the operational tempo (OPTEMPO) is steadily increasing, and more pressure is being applied to weaken the insurgent influence in key areas. Having said that, I would like to provide an overview of ISAF’s strategic objectives to provide the context for future “OPS Update” reports. ISAF is working in partnership with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) to conduct population-centric counterinsurgency operations, enable an expanded and effective Afghan National Security Force (ANSF)… (READ MORE)

The Belmont Club: The Rumor of War - What if World War 3 has started and nobody knew it? If conflict in the 21st century takes takes the form of intelligence operations and targeted assassinations is it really war any more? Maybe it’s illegal to attack a government but if you do it slowly, quietly enough, then no red lines are crossed; no Security Council resolutions are enacted. The Daily Telegraph quotes former British Labor Environment Minister as saying his party has been infiltrated by a secret cell of Islamists who are slowly but surely taking parts of it over. “‘They are acting almost as an entryist organisation, placing people within the political parties, recruiting members to those political parties, trying to get individuals selected and elected so they can exercise political influence and power, whether it’s at local government level or national level,’ he said.” But Islamists aren’t the only ones who’ve discovered that it’s possible to conduct war by other means. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Intelligence Ambiguity in Iraq - The mood is tense in the Anbar Province, but more to the point, there is general intelligence ambiguity in Iraq. “U.S. commanders say they are unsure about who is responsible for the persistent violence in Iraq, underscoring the challenge they face trying to keep a lid on it amid parliamentary elections this weekend. While security has improved significantly across Iraq in recent years, in the weeks leading up to the March 7 vote, U.S. commanders have reported an increase in low-level violence: kidnappings, assassinations, and mortar attacks against Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of government power.” Of course the situation is hard to figure out. It’s no wonder that the U.S. Marines are now gone from the Anbar Province. The Status of Forces Agreement tied their hands to the point that they were required to give the Iraqis 72 hours notice prior to troop movements outside of their bases, and then only with Iraqi escort. According to one honest Iraqi Colonel, “They are now more passive than before,” he said of U.S. troops. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Virginia Marine Kielin Dunn, 19, killed in Afghanistan - Kielin Dunn graduated early from high school in Chesapeake, Va., because of his enthusiasm to join the Marine Corps. The honor roll student died Feb. 18 in a job he loved, as his battalion pushed into a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province in Afghanistan, his parents said. (READ MORE)

Pillows for the 41st - Today we published a bunch of photos and a Julie Sullivan story about Katie Hartvedt, daughter of OANG SSG Fred Hartvedt. Katie has taken to making custom fleece pillows for members of the 41st Brigade. Katie Hartvedt is a high school student who makes pillows for deployed soldiers, including her dad, who is on his second tour of Iraq. (READ MORE)

Dreaming an end to PTSD - For 42 years, Terry Allen has had nightmares about his 13 months as a Marine in a helicopter assault unit in Vietnam. He came home, but his friends who didn't began to haunt him at night. In his dreams, he saw their disembodied heads talking to him. (READ MORE)

Gates Issues Terms for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Review - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today released the guidelines and parameters of a Defense Department review of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in preparation for its potential repeal. (READ MORE)

Army paratrooper Ian Gelig of Stevenson Ranch, dies in Afghanistan - An Army paratrooper from Stevenson Ranch has been killed while serving in Afghanistan. Ian Gelig, 25, died Monday in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense announced. (READ MORE)

Marine from Orem killed in Afghanistan - A 19-year-old Orem man was killed in Afghanistan on Monday while serving with the U.S. Marines, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Aragon, died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Triple suicide blasts in Iraqi city kill 30 - A string of three deadly suicide bombings killed 30 people in the former insurgent stronghold of Baqouba on Wednesday, including a blast from a suicide bomber who rode in an ambulance with the wounded before blowing himself up at a hospital, police said. (READ MORE)

Free land, weapons and petrol help buy Iraqi votes - The Arabic word that has delivered land, money, weapons, clothes and numerous other perks for Iraqis in the run-up to Sunday's parliamentary election is "rashwa." The English word is bribe. (READ MORE)

Iraq’s Hot New TV Show: Candidate Debates - For the first time in Iraq, voters are getting acquainted with their politicians through an old bit of political theater that is something rather new in Iraq: televised debates. (READ MORE)

Power to the People. And Garbage. And Fences. - In the once lawless and still unruly wilds of Anbar Province, Col. Mark R. Stammer had the equivalent of an election-week skip in his step. A South Dakota native, his booming voice was more West Texas than Black Hills, with the twang of a steel guitar, and he had a message to deliver in the town of Qaim: get out to vote. (READ MORE)

Maliki's hold on power uncertain - Since taking office in 2006, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has defied expectations, proving to be a canny and often bold leader who has transformed himself from a virtual unknown into possibly the single most popular politician in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Iraq’s Top Cleric Refuses to Influence Elections - No one man in Iraq has more power to change the outcome of the country’s elections on Sunday than a frail cleric who lives in an ascetic house in this holy city. And yet he has refused to wield it, shaping the relationship between Islam and the state at a crucial juncture in Iraq’s history. (READ MORE)

Sunnis emerge from political wilderness to stand and vote in Iraqi election - A man in a brown robe and white headscarf springs around on stage at an election rally, waving his arms and reciting poetry in a high-pitched voice as snipers scan the crowds from the rooftops of surrounding buildings. (READ MORE)

U.S. Unsure Who's Behind Iraq Attacks - U.S. commanders say they are unsure about who is responsible for the persistent violence in Iraq, underscoring the challenge they face trying to keep a lid on it amid parliamentary elections this weekend. (READ MORE)

Interference Seen in Blackwater Inquiry - An official at the United States Embassy in Iraq has told federal prosecutors that he believes that State Department officials sought to block any serious investigation of the 2007 shooting episode in which Blackwater Worldwide security guards were accused of murdering 17 Iraqi civilians, according to court testimony made public on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Iraqi, U.S. Soldiers Conduct Joint Aerial Recon Mission - Nine officers from the 14th Iraqi Army Brigade conducted an aerial reconnaissance of their brigade's area of responsibility with support from Company D, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Arrest 3, Seize Illegal Weapons - Iraqi forces arrested two suspected terrorists today during a combined operation conducted in western Baghdad targeting the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist group to hinder planned attacks preceding the country's upcoming election. (READ MORE)

Pakistan's Army takes control of al-Qaeda cave network on Afghan border - Pakistani forces have taken control of a warren of caves that served until recently as the nerve centre of the Taleban and al-Qaeda and sheltered Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command to Osama bin Laden. (READ MORE)

Gen. McChrystal Urges Troops to Serve As Role Models - As more U.S. and coalition troops arrive in Afghanistan, their top commander there has some requests for them: Recognize the impact of every action you take, and serve as role models for Afghan security forces as they build leaders and weed out corruption from their ranks. (READ MORE)

Afghan Officials in Nangarhar Discuss Training Opportunities for Women - The Female Engagement Team of Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team met with the Mohmand Dara District sub-governor and local leaders to discuss training opportunities for women in the Hazar Naw Village district, March 1. (READ MORE)

Joint Approach to Stabilise and Rebuild Afghanistan - Working together, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), AusAID, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), are improving security, governance and development in Uruzgan Province. (READ MORE)

In Afghanistan, Karzai's invitation to Taliban creates discord and confusion - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's public invitation to the Taliban to attend a peace conference this spring has sparked disagreement and confusion among the many players in Afghanistan over the shape and speed of negotiations and what they should ultimately accomplish. (READ MORE)

U.S. to Offer Smart-Bomb Kits, Drones to Pakistan - The Pentagon will transfer sophisticated laser-guided-bomb kits to Pakistan, escalating the Obama administration's recent push to better arm Islamabad for its military campaign against the country's Islamic militants. (READ MORE)

Major-General Richard Barrons puts Taleban fighter numbers at 36,000 - The general in charge of persuading Afghan fighters to put down their weapons has estimated that there are as many as 36,000 insurgents, giving a rare appraisal of the fighting force at the command of the Taleban. (READ MORE)

Marja Clearing Phase Nears Completion - As the military operations of the roughly 15,000 NATO and Afghan forces that have been engaged in Operation Moshtarak since Feb. 13 begin to wind down, the focus in the Marja section of central Helmand is shifting from clearing out the enemy to holding the gains the operation has brought about. (READ MORE)

More Afghan Taliban Members Arrested by Pakistan - Pakistani officials say they have captured at least seven senior members of the Afghan Taliban hiding in Pakistan. The militants are known to have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Quetta near the Afghan border and are known as members of the "Quetta Shura". (READ MORE)

Afghan Border Police Train on Improvised Explosive Device Exploitation - A week long training course designed to help Afghan border police recognize and exploit IED sites began Monday at Camp Arena, Herat province. The week-long Exploitation Training Course is being taught by the Italian Counter-Improvised Explosive Device branch. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 3 - An Afghan-international patrol found a weapons cache in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand province while supporting Operation Moshtarak yesterday. A joint patrol in the Kash Rod District of Nimroz province found a drug cache containing 2 kg (4 lbs) of amphemetamines, .5 kg (1 lb) of opium and 18 liters (five gallons) of acid. (READ MORE)

Who are the Taliban? - On a recent panel presentation in Canada, I was asked the question: How can we Taliban-proof Afghanistan? In formulating a response, I realized we must first define Taliban: Who are they? Where do they come from? What does it mean to be one of them? What does a Talib look like? (READ MORE)

US general says risk was needed in Afghanistan - The general commanding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan said Tuesday the military took a calculated risk when it warned people in the Afghan city of Marjah of a major offensive designed to clear the area of insurgents. (READ MORE)

Taliban, not drugs, focus of US-Afghan offensive - Even by Afghan standards, it was a startling find: An opium packaging workshop, buried under donkey dung and old hay in a stable that U.S. Marines turned into a patrol base in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Pak Army drops pamphlets linking Taliban with India in North Waziristan - The Pakistan political leadership maybe calling for 'peace talks' with India, but the country's military continues to spread propaganda by dropping pamphlets in North Waziristan that link the Taliban with India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). (READ MORE)

Afghanistan protects newly rediscovered rare bird - Afghanistan's fledging conservation agency moved Sunday to protect one of the world's rarest birds after the species was rediscovered in the war-ravaged country's northeast. (READ MORE)

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