March 4, 2010

From the Front: 03/04/2010

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

Bouhammer: Quit bailing the boat with a teaspoon - I get it Gen McChrystal, I really do. I know why you have implemented so many new rule and restrictions as protecting the Afghan people is important and well the enemy is kicking out butt in the Information Operations (IO) campaign. But these little one-off rules that are so micro in nature don’t really do much in the grand scheme of trying to keep the locals happy. Limiting night raids, carte-blanche is like using a teaspoon to bail out your sinking boat. I mean, yeah it may help a teeny, tiny bit but in the overall objective of keeping the boat a float, it will not help any. Our country used to “Own the night” and we did it for a reason. Because it gave us the tactical advantage in combat and I know you know this General. You know it better than most based on your career. Rather than limiting night raids, how about micro-manage the intel gatherers a little more or vett the intel through one or two more loops before acting on it. (READ MORE)

11 Foxtrot: Oakleys and Assault Packs - I left the Army in February of last year, I left with my Assault pack on my seat sporting my Oakley Half Jacket XLJ's. Every time I go outside I sport them. I've noticed that where I live the Half Jackets are very popular. I also realized that I look almost like every other tool that wears them. Except for one thing... My Oakleys have seen things that most men could not and don't imagine. They've seen the most beautiful sunsets imaginable in a country full of people that care only to live their lives. They've seen children playing with wire, tires and other odd toys with no desire for anything other than happiness. They've also seen people in trouble, friends who have been changed, never to return home the same. Power plays, minor miracles, and major tragedies. My Oakleys have seen the the worst in the world and watched the good become better. My Oakleys have seen it all...most importantly I have seen it all. For this reason I know I'm not just another tool concerned with the newest toys, the coolest cars, the hottest girls or the latest drugs. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Lasty Tour: Visiting with Independent Day School - From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is having problems with electricity, which is going on and off at his camp tonight. So I am using the space instead to give credit to some of our amazing school supplies drive volunteers … ***** What do you get when you mix a mountain of school supplies, a determined teacher and 18 students? A beehive of fervent activity resulting in 38 shipping boxes ready for mailing to Afghanistan. Ever since Rex started his school supplies drive in July of last year, we have both been incredibly touched by the generosity of total strangers. Thanks to the Internet, the word has spread and we’ve had people send school supplies directly to Afghanistan from at least 12 states. And the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation continues to get checks that are earmarked for the Afghan School Supplies Fund. (If you would like to sponsor the shipping of a box full of supplies, the cost is $12.50.) (READ MORE)

The AfPak Channel: Al-Qaeda central: the definitive guide - On Feb. 25, 2010, the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative and Foreign Policy magazine hosted "Al-Qaeda Central: Capabilities, Allies, and Messages," a conference about the two strikingly different but simultaneously accurate pictures of al-Qaeda that have dominated recent discussion of the terrorist group: one, a resilient foe still determined to attack the United States and its interests abroad, and the other, a wounded organization whose leaders are being hunted down and killed. The New America Foundation also released a series of papers designed to address the current state of the threat from al-Qaeda's Afghanistan- and Pakistan-based central leadership, its allies, and messaging strategies. Paul Cruickshank, an investigative researcher focused on al-Qaeda, examines the 'militant pipeline' between the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and the west, finding that in more than half of the serious plots against the west since 2004 plotters received training with al-Qaeda or its allies in Pakistan. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: 4 jailed in German terror plot - The international coalition in Afghanistan is moving toward a U.S.-led new regional command structure in southern Afghanistan that would concentrate exclusively on military operations in Helmand province, while the existing British-led command would shift its focus to neighboring Kandahar. The Journal has the best account of the new plan, which would be headquartered at Camp Bastion, a sprawling American base near Lashkar Gah, Helmand's capital. And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen said yesterday that it's "too early to tell" what Afghan President Hamid Karzai has done to combat the pervasive corruption in the Afghan government. The British general in charge of Taliban reintegration gave a rare public estimate yesterday of the Taliban's strength in Afghanistan, pegging the number of "fighters" between 25,000 and 36,000 and estimating that there are around 900 in the movement's leadership. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Iraq’s Fragile Future (and the US Way Ahead) - As Iraqis prepare to vote in this Sunday’s national parliamentary elections, I think it’s critical to take a moment to examine the current state of affairs in Iraq and re-assess the US strategy for the next 12-24 months. Tom Ricks’ recent New York Times op-ed, “Extending Our Stay in Iraq,” offers an excellent summary of the current situation in Iraq and the complex challenges that our military/civilian leaders face in formulating a plan for the way ahead. [Also, check out the full version of Ricks’ report, published by CNAS]. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves two key questions: 1) What will Iraq look like in 2-3 years? (in terms of security, governance, and economics); and 2) How should the US proceed in order to enable the best (or least worst) outcome? Despite the significant progress that has been made in Iraq over the last 2-3 years, it’s clear that there is still a long way to go before the country is likely to remain stable and secure over the long term (10-15 years). (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Frontier justice - Bernard Finel is horrified that the Americans are teaching Afghans how to run a justice system. The WashPost article he's riffing on is another one of those "missing the point" Afghan pieces. The real issue is that because there is no actual Afghan military detention apparatus (and no one wants to strong arm the Afghans into having one), the civilian criminal and prison systems are being used as the only method the Afghans and ISAF have for detaining their insurgents. And this isn't working (see the 96-hour rule, below), because it's the wrong tool for the job. You couldn't have run a POW system in any past war with "habeas corpus" as your primary value. Soldiers need to detain those they capture in arms on the battlefield first, and treat them humanely to make further surrenders more likely, but they need to continue to hold them in anything other than mistaken identity cases until the fighting is over. (READ MORE)

Corporal Steph Hodgson, Emergency Ward Nurse at Camp Bastion Field Hospitall: Nightshift 2 – 3 Mar 10 - Whist writing this blog there is pandemonium going on behind me, banging, raised voices, some in anger…… no, there isn’t a mass tauma situation going on, its Team Alpha playing cards on a nightshift! Thankfully nights are usually calm (you never actually say ‘Quiet’ as that only means trouble!!) My name is Corporal Steph Hodgson and I am a nurse working in the Emergency Department of Camp Bastion. My day job is working the NHS as a Sister in trauma plastics back in blighty, but as I am in the Territorial Army (TA), I have been deployed to Afghanistan. This is my second tour. Now I have been asked to blog a week of my life in Afghan, and as I have never blogged a week in my life anywhere, this is going to be…. interesting for me! But looking on the Brightside I am a woman, so I can talk for ever. (READ MORE)

Tankerbabe: Bolton (Ohio) Brownie Scouts Package 1,151 Boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to send to U S Soldiers - A couple of weeks ago I was copied on an email from my friend Sue asking for addresses of deployed Soldiers to send Girl Scout cookies to. Sue's son, Justin, was wounded in Afghanistan while serving with the 173rd, 2-503rd in OEF VIII. I met Justin at Walter Reed when he was there for medical treatment and had the pleasure of visiting with him at Walter Reed on several occassions. Justin's road to recovery hasn't been easy. When I first met him he was in a wheel chair. He later hobbled around with the use of a cane. Today he is able to walk without the use of assistance after many said he would, most likely, always require a cane to assist with his mobility. Like any mom would, Sue became a huge activist for her son's treatment always feeling as if there was just something more that could be done for him. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Afghanistan downtime sparks discussion - Trooper Pete Sheppard posts his latest blog from Operation Moshtarak, revealing the difficulty of identifying insurgents and the conversations among the troops. Trooper Pete Sheppard is a radio operator with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), which is part of Operation Moshtarak against insurgents in Helmand Province. It was yet another quiet day for the BRF. The troops went out through the night last night on routine patrols to observe any enemy activity. Upon returning to our leaguer they took the opportunity to catch up on much deserved rest. A few of the guys have been talking amongst each other expressing their desire not to come back out here to Afghanistan. Some of the lads want to just leave the army altogether. I can appreciate the stress it puts the lads on with regards to their wife and children if they have any back at home. For me though, the military seems to be the right career. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Voting Begins - If you're watching TV to keep up on the election, you would think we're all scared to death. As usual, the media exaggerate. It's a bit noisy out there, but generally people are okay. The voting began today with the military and police casting their ballots. The rest of us will have to wait until Sunday. People went to work today as always, only schools were closed. The TV reports a couple of explosions one in Mansour at a polling place. There also are reports of an explosion in Hurriya neighbourhood. Otherwise, it's pretty quiet in Baghdad. This doesn't mean there is no threat. But I can't help but ask why the press insist on attributing fine qualities to anyone critical of the U.S., no matter how violent, hateful, horrific, etc. Today's example comes from WaPo who has a story about AAH. AAH is a terror group that's an offshoot of JAM, or Moktada Al Sadr's Jaish Al Mahdi. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Afghan Taliban's 'surge commander' Zakir not in custody - The Taliban’s top military commander in southern Afghanistan has not been detained by Pakistani intelligence officials, despite reports of his capture last month. Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, the leader of one of the Taliban’s four regional military councils, is still directing operations against Coalition and Afghan and Taliban forces, according to US and Afghan intelligence officials. Zakir is a former detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility who was released by the US in December 2007 and sent to Afghanistan, where he was subsequently released by the Afghan government. Zakir, whose real name is Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, quickly rejoined the Taliban and took over operations in the strategic Afghan South. The Taliban designated Zakir as their “surge commander”; he has been assigned the task of countering the Coalition and Afghan surge of forces and change of strategy to deny the Taliban safe haven in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. (READ MORE)

Richard S. Lowry: Tim Karcher Update - I had the honor of interviewing Lieutenant Colonel Tim Karcher for my upcoming book, New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah. And then, last summer, I told you about LTC Timothy Karcher when he was severely wounded during an attack on his vehicle in Sadr City. I have followed his incredible journey back to life over these last months. Last week Tim Karcher was invited to speak to ROTC students at Harker Heights High School. Take a few moments to read his message to these young men and women. His words will give you a new outlook on facing adversity. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you all tonight. I would like to share with you a story that changed my life. It’s a story of adversity, a story of faith, a story of meeting challenges head on. I don’t expect that this story will change your life, but I hope that when I am done speaking with you tonight, you will see that all of us can overcome any challenges that we face in life.” (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 4 Mar 10 - so today was kinda slow…got up around 0900 and got cleaned up for the day… had some breakfast …while hangin out at the shop the team Sgt. asked me to clean up the area around the trucks, so I organized and cleaned up a bunch of crap that was just lying around … mostly vehicle parts and tools and random stuff…they brought in a barber so everyone could get prettied up for some big wigs visiting…still got the beards and longer hair, but now they look presentable…I just shaved the head–still got the beard tho …then had some lunch…Philly cheese steak sammiches, yummy… then I was walking back to my room and all the ANP guys were standing around with a sheep…of course we all made fun talking about it being their girlfriend for the night and whatnot… one if the guys asked what it was really for and they said “dinner” …oh, right on …well, I had to go with them to witness the slaughter and cleaning and prep of this thing... (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: More on Iraqi Elections - We're getting down to the last few days before the critically-important elections in Iraq. There are some good articles in the news lately. Today, there's a New York Times article on a Shiite candidate for office. He used to be the #2 guy to Muqtada al-Sadr, who led an extremely violent Shiite faction during the worst of the fighting. This gent has tons of blood on his hands, but the Shiite-led election commission is perfectly happy to have him run for, and probably win, a seat in Parliament. Meanwhile, as described in another New York Times article, they've kicked 515 mostly Sunni candidates off the ballots. The claim is that they had ties to the Ba'ath party. However, that's like kicking somebody off the ballots in Russia because they once had ties to the Communist party. The Shia are using every means at their disposal to rig the elections to their benefit. That's normally just politics, but here in Iraq, politics have blood consequences. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Abandon the Drug War to Save It - I wish the Marine Corps would make up its mind: are they going after drugs or not? Okay, so in fairness it’s the DEA continuing to do the DEA’s least effective mission (hunting drugs) while the Marines seem to embody all the wonderful counterinsurgency ideas we expect them to. (Glad to know they’re seizing currency and bagel toppings, right?) That’s a start at least. And it gets us part of the way toward the counterintuitive idea that abandoning the drug war is actually the best way to win it. That doesn’t mean it comes without cost. Russia, on whom the U.S. depends for a growing amount of its supply chain, is pressuring a stepped up drug war. It makes sense from a Russian perspective, as Russia and Iran right now bear the brunt of Afghanistan’s opium traffic (and thus opium addiction). And it’s resulted in the U.S. issuing hasty denials that it is, in fact, walking away from focusing on opium. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Afghanistan: The Media Get On Board. Too Little, Too Late. - After nearly nine years of handwringing and self-defeatism, progress has undeniably been made in recent months against both the Taliban insurgency and the al-Qaeda network that western forces were originally deployed to disrupt. Turning the tide against the Taliban has only really been made possible by recent cooperation from the Pakistani Army, who have managed to round up half the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan in a matter of weeks. The success stories keep coming in. Pakistani forces have taken control of a number of caves that recently served as the command centre of the Taliban and al-Qaeda that sheltered fugitive Ayman al-Zawahiri. With the Taliban and al-Qaeda struggling to escape the Pakistani Army across the border, it makes defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan just a little bit easier. Andrew Potter has just returned from Afghanistan and written an essay in Macleans Magazine which discusses the remaining challenges facing the ISAF in the country. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Former Guantanamo Prisoner Commanding Southern Taliban Military - From AP: "A man who was freed from Guantanamo after he claimed he only wanted to go home and help his family is now a senior commander running Taliban resistance to the U.S.-led offensive in southern Afghanistan, two senior Afghan intelligence officials say." So much for the notion of harmless, innocuous prisoners at Guantanamo. Also, so much for the silly notion that in arresting Mullah Baradar the Pakistanis and CIA took out one of the prime prospects for reconciliation – as if the Quetta Shura would ever reconcile anyway. If Baradar was so anxious to reconcile, had the approval of Mullah Omar, and had the ear of the Karzai government, then replacing him with a hard core, brutal commander would be inconsistent and illogical. The serious Taliban will not reconcile, and Guantanamo wasn’t such a bad idea after all, was it? (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: FRG anyone? Anyone? No seriously, ANYONE? - Hello Ladies! Hope everyone is doing well! We are anxiously awaiting spring here! First, let me start off by saying how much I have enjoyed helping out with our company's FRG! It has been quite rewarding. I always look forward to our activities and the chance to see my husband and his fellow soldiers. It always renews my respect and gratitude that I have for all the men and women that join the armed forces! I've met so many wonderful people over the last 7 years, and in that I find comfort knowing the people my husband will be deployed with. So, because we are a Guard unit, we have people spread out in all sorts of directions. (I think this is the main thing that I miss about regular Army.) Although I go to all the activities, not a lot of other spouses do. I haven't had the chance to get to know very many other spouses. (READ MORE)

One Marine's View: Combat operations have ebbs and flows - Within a blink of an eye there can be more activity and friction that you ever thought could be present, then it grows even more. Usually those types of efforts have results, good and bad. You can measure your past and progress and in our case the result has been a success. Everything has a price, usually a consumable one that can never be replaced. In our efforts our gains have been paid for in blood, however, the accomplishments of your young Marines have put the enemy in a hurt locker. We have been busy, really busy, but we are all doing the things we enjoy, if that makes sense and things have been going very good. We have had some losses but they all died as heroes. The enemy has been dealt a severe blow and was trapped like a dog. There has been fighting and IEDs but nothing your young warriors can’t handle. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

In Iraq, Voters Are Optimistic, but Cautious - In Baghdad, Michael Kamber interviewed Iraqis about their outlook on the upcoming election. On the streets, the mood is subdued but cautiously optimistic that the election would come off without major violence. Many appear somewhat cynical that the election will bring a quick change in their lives. (READ MORE)

New issues push Iraq off radar for Obama, press - Despite persistent violence and a critical election coming up, President Obama hardly ever mentions the war in Iraq - where more 110,000 U.S. troops remain - and leading American news outlets have drastically scaled back coverage of the conflict, moving on to domestic issues such as health care and the troubled economy. (READ MORE)

U.S. Fears Election Strife in Iraq Could Affect Pullout - The deadly suicide bombings in Iraq on Wednesday highlight the central quandary facing President Obama as he tries to fulfill his campaign pledge to end the war there: (READ MORE)

U.S. failure to neutralize Shiite militia in Iraq threatens to snarl pullout - A failed effort by the United States to neutralize a powerful Shiite militant group in Iraq has left in place a dangerous force whose attacks on American troops threaten to complicate the U.S. drawdown, according to American and Iraqi officials. (READ MORE)

Murky Candidacy Stokes Iraq’s Sectarian Fears - A politician widely accused of running death squads might not be expected to have an easy time running for public office. But this is Iraq. In a nation sadly inured to years of sectarian bloodletting, Hakim al-Zamili not only has a place on a prominent Shiite election slate... (READ MORE)

Joint Project Lifts Economy, Skills in Kirkuk - Earning and learning are two concepts used to help the Iraqi people rebuild their nation with pride and dignity. A joint project involving 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Readiness Management Support Engineers and a local contractor are making those basic livelihood necessities a reality. (READ MORE)

Kirkuk's Medevacs: Ready, Willing, Able - When bad things happen outside the wire – improvised explosive devices, attacks, or even accidents – the most comforting sound can be the whir of the medical evacuation helicopter. (READ MORE)

Taliban: Bomb the Ban - The Taliban, hardly proponents of the First Amendment when they ruled Afghanistan, have suddenly decided that freedom of speech can be useful, and the Fourth Estate worth protecting. (READ MORE)

Military rebuffs blogger’s call for top Canadian general to be fired - The Canadian military in Afghanistan emphatically denied Wednesday a claim by an American blogger popular among soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan that Canada's commander, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, should be fired for not having prevented an attack on a bridge near the Kandahar Airfield where an American soldier and four Afghan civilians died Monday. (READ MORE)

Kapisa Provincial Reconstruction Team Visits Nejrab District to Check on Progress - The Kapisa PRT is a U.S. military team inserted with French Task Force La Fayette that enforces different development projects in the province. (READ MORE)

Avengers, ANA Take Historic Trip - Just a few short weeks ago a historic convoy traveled along two of arguably the most dangerous highways in southern Afghanistan and through several provinces to deliver a new fighting force to Helmand province and Operation Mostarak, the largest military operation since 2001. (READ MORE)

ISAF Soldiers Renovate Farah Orphanage - Italian soldiers from Regional Command West's Task Force South recently renovated a children's orphanage in Farah province. An earlier visit to the orphanage found it in need of numerous repairs to include correcting unsanitary conditions. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 4 - An Afghan-international security force searched a rural compound and detained two suspected insurgents outside of Marja, in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand province after intelligence information indicated militant activity. (READ MORE)

To Pakistan, almost with love - One of the problems with the U.S.-Pakistan relationship over the decades has been that the two sides tend to fall in and out of love like a tempestuous couple, rather than maintain a steady and dependable bond. (READ MORE)

Former Pakistani Officer Embodies a Policy Puzzle - With his white turban, untrimmed beard and worn army jacket, the man known uniformly here by his nom de guerre, Col. Imam, is a particular Pakistani enigma. (READ MORE)

U.S. Redraws Afghan Command - The U.S. and its allies are working to create a new American-led military command in southern Afghanistan, setting the stage for a large-scale offensive into the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. (READ MORE)

Momentum Shifts in Helmand, Pentagon Spokesman Says - Operation Moshtarak, now in its 18th day in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, is “progressing extraordinarily well” and is moving from the clearing phase to the holding phase, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. (READ MORE)

Mullen Urges More ‘Soft Power’ in Afghanistan - Speaking to an audience at Kansas State University here, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, underscored the need for a “whole-of-government” approach to Afghanistan, with greater input from so-called “soft power” agencies such as the State Department. (READ MORE)

11 men involved in Mumbai attack in Pakistan's terror list - Eleven people wanted for the Mumbai terror attacks that left 166 people dead are on a terror list prepared by Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The country's top Taliban leadership, however, isn't mentioned in it, a media report said. (READ MORE)

India concerned over supply of sophisticated US military equipments to Pak - India has expressed its concern over supply of sophisticated US military equipment to boost Pakistan's ability crack down on the Taliban and Al-Qaida. The US will supply sophisticated laser-guided-bomb kits, 12 American-made surveillance drones and 18 late-model F-16 fighters jets to Pakistan. (READ MORE)

Holbrooke distances Kashmir issue from Afghan trouble - Stressing that the United States would not play the role of an arbitrator between India and Pakistan to resolve issues pending between them, President Obama's Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, has rejected the notion that to bring stability to Afghanistan, it is also necessary to address the Kashmir issue. (READ MORE)

Taliban militants 'attack army in north-west Pakistan' - Dozens of suspected militants have attacked an army checkpoint in the tribal Mohmand region of north-west Pakistan, a military source says. More than 30 militants and one soldier were killed in the clash, according to the source. (READ MORE)

UN envoy says it's 'time to talk' to the Taliban - The head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said Thursday that it's "high time" a political solution is found with the Taliban to resolve the more than 8-year-old conflict. "It's time to talk," Kai Eide said. (READ MORE)

Former Gitmo detainee running Afghan battles - A man who was freed from Guantanamo more than two years ago after he claimed he only wanted to go home and help his family is now a senior commander running Taliban resistance to the U.S.-led offensive in southern Afghanistan, two senior Afghan intelligence officials say. (READ MORE)

Taliban decry ban on live coverage of attacks - Taliban on Wednesday termed the ban on live coverage of their attacks as a step to stifle freedom of expression. Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has issued the following statement. The Afghan Islamic Press is releasing it verbatim. (READ MORE)

Crossposted at: Castle Argghhh!

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