March 8, 2010

From the Front: 03/08/2010

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

Zombie Killer 6: Troop Leading Procedures - We were out with our companies yesterday focused on preparing them for their training missions this week. We gave them their orders, then observed while they developed their own plans, then did rehearsals with their men. It was a productive day and we look forward to heading out and executing the actual STX portion of the exercise. I'll be sure to post more tomorrow! (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: pharmacy - Visited a pharmacy near the presidential palace. It is supposed to be the best pharmacy of the ones still standing. There were better pharmacies, we’re told, but they were destroyed. The lady at the counter told us that not too many people come for things. In particular, I asked about insulin – they have none. But apparently one a small handful of people have come asking for insulin, anyway. (READ MORE)

A Major's Perspective: Missing The Point - Something has struck me over the last week or so. Most of the reporting about Operation Moshtarak focused upon what our Troops were doing, and though our Troops did an outstanding job as always, that wasn't really the point that should have been highlighted. This was an operation led by the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They led it, they conducted operations, and in the end it was very much their victory. As we discuss how far the Afghans have come, and what a great job they are doing, that is something everyone needs to keep in mind. An enormous victory against a dug-in and determined enemy force that was conducted and led by them. God Bless America and all of our Coalition Partners. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: What Happened To The Brakes? - We pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for spare vehicle parts and the ANA is still unable to get them through the supply system or the parts are allegedly being stolen and resold in the bazaar. But there is more to this tragedy. We pay even more money to a US contractor who trains these mechanics so the ANA will have the organic capability to repair their own vehicles. If you have been a regular reader, recall my observations of engine oil being placed in the power steering reservoir or substituted for hydraulic fluid. Now here is the real kick in the teeth. The contractor is also responsible for training these mechanics so eventually the contractor’s services won’t be required anymore. In the military, we call this “train the trainer”. The new person being trained will train others and as a result the contractor is no longer needed. Admittedly, this is good in theory. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: AfPak Update - Wanted to highlight a few important developments in the AfPak region: 1) According to multiple reports coming out of Pakistan, senior al Qaeda spokesman and leader Adam Gadahn aka Azzam al Amriki was captured by Pakistani Special Forces in Karachi. For more details, check out Bill Roggio's excellent post at the Long War Journal. If the initial reports are true, this would be a significant capture. Gadahn has quickly risen within the ranks of AQ's senior leadership over the last several years (in part due to his value to the organization as an American citizen). Successful and rapid exploitation of Gadahn could potentially provide actionable intelligence on senior AQ leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al Libi. More to come on this topic as details continue to emerge... 2) Operation Mostarak continues in Marjah (in the southern Afghan province of Helmand). (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber kills 13 in Lahore - After a slew of initial media reports suggested yesterday that "Azzam the American," Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a California-born convert to Islam who has appeared in a number of al-Qaeda videos as a spokesman for the group, was arrested recently in Karachi, Pakistani and American officials now reportedly believe the man captured may be another American involved in militancy in Pakistan. Abu Yahya Mujahdeen al-Adam, who hails from Pennsylvania, is thought to be involved with al-Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan, and a Pakistani government official speculated that "the name and his origin" probably caused the confusion about Adam Gadahn. Gadahn also appeared in a video released yesterday before the reports about his alleged capture, praising the Ft. Hood shooter. (READ MORE)

Erica Gaston: Breaking down doors in Afghanistan - Today International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan (ISAF) released an unclassified version of the new directive on night raids that it issued at the end of January. As I wrote last week, responding to Afghan community concerns over night raids is absolutely essential on both a human rights and a strategic level. ISAF has stepped up in issuing this directive. But if the night raids issue is not also taken up by those Afghan and foreign political officials who have control over the other non-ISAF actors involved in this practice, it will not be enough to address Afghan outrage over this practice. My organization, the Open Society Institute, recently released a report on night raids, based on research we conducted in the southeast of Afghanistan. We found that despite significant policy changes by international forces to reduce harm to civilians -- reductions in airstrikes, for example -- the lack of any real movement on night raids leaves a gaping hole in the new counterinsurgency strategy. (READ MORE)

Army Household 6: He finally made it home! - It took SGT Daddy almost 5 days to get home but he made it early last week !!! We’ve been having a great time hanging out and being a family again. It’s taken a little bit of an adjustment on everyone’s part to get used to him being back home .. but such is life right!?! We had our first disagreement the other day and now that is out of the way, we can move on with the re-adjustment process while he’s home. Now he does have to go back sometime next week but only for a few more months…. then this deployment is OVER!! (wow that just feels awesome to say) So now I’m off to watch SGT Daddy play some Call of Duty and enjoy having him home! (READ MORE)

PATRICK WITTY AND TYLER HICKS: On Assignment: Into the Maw at Marja - Using one another as pillows, like a family huddled together for warmth in a house without heat, most of the Marines were catching a little sleep before their mission was to begin. But one sat wide awake at the edge of their huddle. Tyler Hicks caught this quiet moment. Another Marine gazed at a snapshot of himself and his wife. The picture’s tattered edge conveyed how well traveled it was. And how often it was so lovingly examined. Mr. Hicks was there. Along with members of Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, Mr. Hicks, a staff photographer for The Times, was preparing to go into battle. I have to carry cameras, lenses, a laptop, satellite transmitter, chargers, batteries and cables. I bring duplicates of some chargers in case one shorts out because if I can’t charge, then I can’t file my pictures. A sleeping bag, enough clothes to stay relatively warm, three days of food and water. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: The Unflappable People of Iraq - Insurgents bombed a polling station and threw grenades at voters Sunday trying to intimidate Iraqis taking part in an election. In a posting on an Islamic Web site, the al-Qaida front group Islamic State in Iraq warned that anyone taking part in the voting would risk “God’s wrath and to the mujahedeen’s weapons.” Thirty-one people were killed, but the attacks didn’t stop voters. Civilians went to the polls even as mortars exploded nearby. In a report by the Associated Press one Iraqi explained “I am not scared and I am not going to stay put at home. We need to change things.” In an attempt to secure the elections, Iraq sealed its borders, closed the airport and stationed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi military and police in the streets. According to reports, the only American military presence was in the air or escorting election observers to the polls. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Army Spouses Urged to Speak Their Minds - I read today about an Army survey that is giving spouses an opportunity to have their voices heard on a variety of issues. Army officials have just sent out the 2010 Survey of Army Families to 75,000 randomly-selected civilian spouses of active-duty soldiers. The survey will be used to assess the support provided to families and soldiers during the past nine years of conflict, Rob McIlvaine wrote in an article published on the Army’s Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Web page. And, Army leaders will use the survey results to plan, develop and improve policies and programs that benefit Army families, McIlvaine reported. “This survey is your chance to tell the Army leadership what it’s like during this difficult period with so many of our soldiers deployed,” Army Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Installation Management Command, told spouses in a letter introducing the survey. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer - I weighed in over three years ago on the merits (or lack thereof) of the M-16 (although not comprehensively). Since then, a certain Marine I know had to put a nine round burst (from a SAW) into an insurgent in Fallujah in 2007, only to see him keep advancing (they suspect that he was high on morphine and epinephrine like so many others at that time). There are advantages (lighter ammunition leading to more ammunition carried on patrols) and disadvantages, e.g., lack of killing power at long range, to the Stoner system of weapons. C. J. Chivers also has two very good articles on the same subject, and much more comprehensive that I have time for. But there is an interesting graduate paper from Leavenworth by Major Thomas P. Ehrhart entitled Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer (PDF here). It is causing a stir, and is more applicable to Afghanistan than Iraq due to the protracted distances of fire fights. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Miscellaneous updates - If it isn't obvious by now, the Pakistani crackdown on Taliban members seems to only extend to those members they catch outside Quetta and Baluchistan. Now, since the number of detained is too large by this point for defections or happenstance to account for it, you have to assume some deliberate intent on the Pak government's part, which leads to only one of two explanations: either Pakistan is signalling to the Afghan insurgents to stop any suggestion of raising hell in the rest of their country and stay where they are permitted to (ie, Quetta), or it's removing a targetted group of people that either it or another Taliban faction views as no longer useful, as this piece suggests. (Or both.) Also, in the Globe today, a letter-writer gives Canada the credit for introducing Afghan soldiers to volleyball. Um, no. I don't know where their unholy passion for the game came from, but it certainly long predates our stay. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Taliban commander surrenders to British Troops - He was the last insurgent boss prepared to stand and fight against Operation Moshtarak, the allied effort to wipe out the rebels in Helmand, southern Afghanistan. Haji Akhundzada was found cowering in a compound in southern Nad-e-Ali after a tip-off from locals. He had co-ordinated attacks and was behind the deaths of several British and Afghan troops. His improvised explosive device (IED) network may have been involved in the blast 20 miles away which killed Sunday Mirror reporter Rupert Hamer, 39, and seriously wounded photographer Philip Coburn, 43. Akhundzada surrendered without firing a shot when a unit of Grenadier Guards and Afghan soldiers surrounded the compound where he was staying. They ordered out those inside by megaphone and 12 women and 17 children emerged. After he was nabbed, seven other men were quizzed, leading to two of them being detained. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Yellow Ribbon Event - We are all in civilian clothes. The shirts vary but the pants are jeans. Not all blue jeans, some of us are wearing black jeans, but worn, comfortable jeans are the uniform of the day for all of us who are not wearing uniforms. Our first presenters are five retired soldiers speaking in turn about the transition back to civilian life. They are all wearing jeans with black short-sleeve polo shirts. The first presenter thanked us for serving and told us about the freedom we defended and should be enjoying now. The second guy told us to think about what we missed by being gone and those we missed. We had a short ceremony in which we dropped coins in a bowl to help preserve a memorial to deployed soldiers at the Valley Forge memorial. The next presenter walked up to the stage with a Claymore sword. It was really shiny. He dropped the sword to get our attention then told us, "You are the weapon. You fly the planes. You go into battle. . . ." (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Of Concern - Monday, 08 March 2010 Kandahar, Afghanistan - Yesterday, an American involved in the war effort handed me a document. It was an email from a Lieutenant Colonel in the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. His unit is in combat seven days a week. To be clear, I did not get the email from the officer and I have never met him. The email is about the abysmal, unsafe conditions which some of our most dedicated troops are living in, at a remote base run by the Spanish military in Afghanistan. All deletions [xxx] are by me. I have the entire email. The serious and disturbing allegations are found in the second and third paragraphs. Please note, that the failure to support permanent US troops at this Spanish base constitutes real negligence about their ultimate safety. And that comes on top of a degree of harassment that is shocking among allies. The message begins: "Gentlemen, I just finished spending a couple days with TF [xxx] at [xxx] and visiting all of our sites that we have troopers located at. Great progress continues to be made in the [xxx], but several items need some help ASAP:" (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: It Went Well - When I read WaPo, I have no idea what election they're covering because I'm certain it's not the Iraqi one. This is what startled me: "The early morning explosions thundered through the capital." Thundered? Come on, people! Didn't you hear the thunder last week? That was genuine thunder that acconpanied rain. That was loud. Today's were more like thuds. (unless you live in Ur, which I don't) They were designed to frighten people into staying away from the polls. And they obviously failed to intimidate voters. Why do reporters engage in this nonsense? Anyway, nearly my entire extended family here voted for Allawi. A few voted for the Shiite Alliance. A few voted for Maliki. We have to wait for the results. I think some people are afraid of how the different parties will react to the results when they are announced. Already some TV stations such as Sharqiya reported that officials slowed the vote at some sites... (READ MORE)

Omar @ Iraq The Model: Iraq Elects, Again - Here we go again, for the third time since 2003, Iraqis are heading to the ballots to choose their representatives. It’s a little different this time. In some aspects it's a little less "interesting"... In December 2005 we walked from home to the voting center (which also used to be where I went to school as a kid) to a soundtrack of mortars and gunfire. Indeed, that ten minute walk was wrapped in so much fear and worry, but also in so much hope and pride. My trip to the voting center will be less interesting this time because I'll be taking the orange line to Arlington where the place is, which happens to be some hotel whose owner will eventually be Paris Hilton. Yes, that's a little boring. In other aspects, though, the election will be more interesting. It’s more difficult to decide who to vote for this time. The fact that voters can pick individual candidates from within lists gives us more options. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: The Hurt Locker Controversy - "I was shocked -- and I mean shocked -- to discover today that there are some members of the military who think that "The Hurt Locker" is "Hollywood hokum," as my colleagues put it in a smartly detailed front-page story in the Los Angeles Times." - Patrick Goldstein, Entertainment Writer, Los Angeles Times. Dear Patrick, Tomorrow night is the time where America gets to see if The Hurt Locker gets best picture. Last week you were shocked that so many in the military scoffed at the movie. My question to you is why were you surprised? Is it because you have little, to no exposure or interest into military matters? What this might point to is that you probably don't read Military Blogs, or "milblogs" for short. But, walk into this world and you'll learn a lot about the values, ethics, and morals of the men and women who honorably serve, whose overriding concern is for their mission, fellow soldiers, as well as the locals. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide bomber kills 11 in attack on anti-terror unit in Lahore - A suicide bomber killed 11 people and wounded 37 more in an attack on a headquarters of a Pakistani law enforcement agency in Lahore. The suicide bomber rammed his car packed with more than 1,300 pounds of explosives into a Federal Investigation Agency building in Model Town in Lahore, Dawn reported. According to the New York Times, the suicide bomber crashed “into the main gate of a safe house used for interrogation by the Pakistani military.” A building housing the Special Interrogation Unit is also nearby. The blast is said to have leveled the Federal Investigation Agency building. The Federal Investigation Agency building s thought to have had more than 70 people working there at the time of the attack. The casualties may mount as people are thought to be trapped in the rubble. The Taliban have targeted the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore in 2008 and 2009. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Courage from Marjah to Kandahar - Even as the joyful reunions of 87 troops and their families filled the arrival area of the Tampa Airport yesterday, military strategists were planning for the next big push to Kandahar as the war in Afghanistan picks up momentum. "I think General McChrystal's been pretty clear that the focus will turn to Kandahar," he told reporters at the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, CA, referring to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Mullen added: "His main effort is really in the south, and Kandahar will be next,” according to John J. Kruzel. Marjah—a name on a map to many of us—but young Kalandra Rohehorse Yazzie, 5 months pregnant, will probably never forget the name of the place where her husband, 23 year old Marine LCpl. Alejandro Yazzie was killed by a Taliban sniper’s bullet. Sadly, there will probably more stories of loss and heartache in the weeks and months ahead as the mission to eradicate the Taliban from Afghanistan continues. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 8 Mar 10 - wow– can’t believe it’s the 8th already … well, for the past few days I have been takin it pretty easy …not too much work going on …some lights, some tires, some info gathering, etc…nothing really difficult or time consuming …just stuff that needs to be taken care of …the weather was awesome the other day–I decided the next day I would lay out and get some sun on my white, winter skin…but guess what– I woke up to 2 inches of freakin snow on the ground … it was crazy …I heard the rain all night…heavy rain with lots of wind, but I had no idea it would be snow…I guess it was in the wee morning hours when the rain turned to big ol fat flakes…well, it all melted off by lunch time, but it was still too cold to be tanning… today is actually really nice .. I got some sun today because I’ve been hangin outside most of the day …not really working much, but just outside…hopefully the bad shit is gone for good …I really wish it would just warm up already... (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: A Good News Story - It's the day after the Iraqi elections and the initial reports are pretty positive. Despite a lot of rocket and mortar attacks (over 100 in Baghdad alone), the turnout was pretty heavy. Not only that, it looks like the attacks pissed off the normal Iraqis so much, they went to the polls just to spite the insurgents, even if they hadn't intended to vote! Good for them! I haven't seen much in the way of accusations of vote fraud, at least not yet, and that is also good news. There's an excellent article in the New York Times today about it, and another on NPR. Seems like all the other "news" sites I checked were more concerned about the Academy Awards and had only lightweight reporting on Iraq. I'm not really sure what that says about American priorities, except that I don't like it. Here at Victory Base, it was a quiet day. We kept hearing some muffled "booms" in the morning, but it turned out to be just a crane that was moving some empty shipping containers on the other side of the compound. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: How to Move Forward in Marjeh - “As the United States and its Western allies renewed their commitment to the Afghan war in recent months,” reports Alyssa Rubin, “they stressed that it cannot be won without good government.” So what? “But news reports that a newly chosen top leader for that city may have a criminal background underscore the difficulties of finding leaders who are both acceptable to Afghans and palatable to Western allies already concerned about the quality of the Afghans running the government.” C’mon, Rubin—does it raise troubling questions, too? Are you happy Zahir actually has two names so you don’t have to waste space explaining that many Afghans only have one? Buried within that cliché is a very real issue, one Rubin skates around but is actually central to the West’s plans for Afghanistan: is it more important for a leader to be acceptable to Afghans or palatable to the West? (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Vetting Haji Zahir - I’ve been on something of a tear lately about Haji Zahir, the man handpicked by General McChrystal and Governor Mangal (but not Hamid Karzai!) to run the newly liberated area of Marjeh now defined by General Nicholson as anywhere between 200 and 400 square kilometers. The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward: without a firm idea of what you’re trying to govern, you can’t really put into place a realistic plan for how to govern it. I’ve also wondered just how they expect a man who hasn’t seen Helmand for the last fifteen years—surely a period of massive, disruptive change if there ever was one—much less this area of Helmand, could command respect and influence. It seems these concerns were warranted: “But Zahir, who goes by Haji Zahir, arrived at this position after a tumultuous personal history that American and Afghan officials have not publicly disclosed. During more than a decade living in Germany, Zahir, 60, served four years in prison for attempted murder after stabbing his stepson, according to U.S. officials.” (READ MORE)

this is our life...: thoughts, feelings, comments. . . - This is hard to explain so I will do my best. Everyday for the past 340 days I have told myself to just get through today. Just one more day. And I've done just that. I've gotten through. Some days have been better than others, but for the most part everyday has felt the same. Kinda like that movie Groundhog Day. I'm not exactly sure why everyday has felt the same, maybe because I'm just longing for one thing (to be a family again). And each day that has been all I can think about. When everyday feels the same the days have a tendency to d.r.a.g. on forever, but then when I look back at the last year it seems like o.n.e. l.o.n.g. day. Weird. This deployment almost being over seems surreal to me. Probably because everyday I tell myself to just get through today. I don't think I will be able to believe he's coming home until I can actually see him, smell him, hold him. Even then it will probably all feel like a dream. (READ MORE)

The Torch: The face in the field on our Afghan mission/And in the simulated field - A splendid, lengthy, front page piece of on-scene reporting by the Globe and Mail's Josh Wingrove. One of the best I've seen from a Canadian journalist, take the time to read it: Last exit from Kandahar - With a year left in a mission that’s cost billions and 140 Canadian soldiers’ lives, Canada takes new risks to win over villages – but is it too little, too late? [some headline writer couldn't resist the Globeite agenda; how "too little" with all those US Army forces now involved and coming to Kandahar, more here and here?] Haji Baba, Afghanistan - Standing on the roof of this mud compound and armed with only a bent seven-iron, Corporal James Riley is dealing with the changing nature of the Afghanistan mission, writ small. He has finished the “stick” part of his day, a patrol through the harrowing, bomb-laden dirt roads that connect the nearby villages of the volatile Panjwaii district of Kandahar province. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Another Day, Another Scary Story About Torture - The Canadian Press has released what will surely add to the brushfire burning over the allegations of Canadian complicity, at times changing to direct involvement, in alleged torture of alleged Taliban detainees. But as though the somehow sinister speculation that JTF-2 has been involved in apprehending “high-value” targets, an oft-repeated term found only in testimony from low-ranking diplomat Richard Colvin, wasn’t enough, now we’re told that CSIS has been playing a “crucial role” as interrogators of a “vast swath” of captured Taliban fighters. What’s most interesting about these articles of late, beginning with Professor Amir Attaran’s, and moving on down the line to this latest one, isn’t what is being written. It’s what is not being written. What exactly is a “vast swath” of Taliban fighters supposed to look like? As with the supposed torture, and the supposed involvement of shadowy JTF-2 special forces, we’re supposed to use our imagination. I suppose. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: The Lashkar, the Arbakai and the ANP - There is a huge misperception that within Afghan culture they do not believe in a formal policing system. Nothing could be further from the truth. Keeping in mind that every area in Afghanistan is different, the tribe or Qawm is the foundation of order in the historical context. The Qawm is divided into clans/villages or Khels. The organizing body within the Qawm is the Jirga, which is an ad hoc council formed to make decisions. During the Soviet era a new term, Shora, was used to represent the tribal council. Shora is an Arabic term and has a religious connotation. Shoras normally have a formal membership and consult with the local Ummah, or religious leader. Today Jirga and Shora are sometimes used interchangeably but are actually different. The tribal council stands up militias for policing and protecting called Lashkar and Arbakai. (READ MORE)

USA and USMC Counterinsurgency Center Blog: INSURGENT CAREER PLANNING OR INSURGENCY DARWINISM - When I was a young Capt in the 90’s and the Canadian Army was going through enormous cutbacks as a result of the "peace dividend" at the end of the Cold War and promotions were down to almost zero, I used to muse about the wisdom of the Navy toast calling for "A bloody war or sickly season;" in order to speed up promotions in the Corps. Of course now I realize that I was on the cutting edge of "leadership targeting." In our war in Afghanistan we seem to be doing a lot of leadership targeting by UAV. But, are we doing leadership targeting because it is a worthwhile war winner or because we can? I think is more the latter than the former. There is no doubt that the capture/kill of an insurgent leader deals a blow to the insurgency and creates an IO opportunity for the home team. But, how much of an effect remains to be seen. Obviously we've been going after insurgent leaders for a while and what has happened? The insurgency got stronger. (READ MORE)

DAVID AXE: Easier by the Day - The job’s never easy. But it does get easier. That’s what 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Ryan Phillips told me as we shared a pair of rear-facing jumpseats in the cargo hold of an Alabama Air National Guard KC-135R tanker bound from Ramstein, Germany, to Bagram, Afghanistan on March 7. Phillips is an aeromedical evacuation technician. He and his teammates transport injured troops from Afghanistan to hospitals in Europe and the U.S. On this day, they had brought along 12 stretchers, stacked three high in four columns bolted to the tanker’s floor. At high altitude, the 1962-vintage tanker gets cold, real cold, so in addition to monitors, bandages and defibrillators, the medical techs also brought plenty of blankets. They would pick up their patients at Bagram in the dead of night and head right back to Germany. In this job Phillips has seen amputees, burns and other serious injuries. But he said his previous job helped prepare him. Before becoming an aeromedical tech, he worked in the Intensive Care Unit at Balad, Iraq. (READ MORE)

Katie Drummond: DARPA Pushes for Fail-Proof Prosthetics - Better prosthetic devices have been a major Pentagon priority for years. Now, they want to make the devices longer-lasting, more reliable and better able to integrate directly with the human brain. DARPA, the military’s risk-taking research agency, is launching the next phase of its Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which was started in 2000 with the goal of creating a fully-functioning, neurally-controlled human limb within five years. Since then, the agency has made plenty of progress. They’re currently doing human trials of the DEKA Arm, a prosthetic that allows users to complete day-to-day tasks with unprecedented ease. That arm uses a joystick-style interface, with a user tapping commands with their toes to trigger movements with the arm. At Johns Hopkins, DARPA-funded researchers are still working on an arm that uses a 100-sensor neural interface to create a brain-body meld much like what’s inherent in natural limbs. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Faqir Mohammad survived airstrike in Pakistan's tribal areas - A top Taliban leader has refuted reports from Pakistan's Interior Minister that he was killed during airstrikes in the Mohmand tribal agency in the northwest. Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in the Bajaur tribal agency, contacted a reporter to deny reports of his death. "I'm fine. It's just propaganda," Faqir said in a telephone conversation to a Reuters reporter who has spoken to him before and recognized his voice. "I was in Bajaur, not Mohmand that day," Faqir said. "None of our commanders were killed in the attack. We lost some fighters and women." Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Interior Minister, insisted that Faqir was killed in a helicopter strike in Mohmand on March 5 that killed that also killed Qari Zia Rahman, Mohammed Fateh, and more than 30 Taliban fighters. (READ MORE)

Uncle Jimbo: Report says fire support denied to Marine team - I have consistently supported Gen. McChrystal's decision to tighten the rules of engagement in Afghanistan to try to limit collateral damage and safeguard the population. It is a necessary step if we are to win hearts and minds. But Houston, we have a problem. There are allowances in these for troops in contact and they explicitly state that if other methods to break contact are not effective, then even civilian buildings can be hit with air strikes. There is a case where a Marine team in the Ganjgal Valley came under fire and when they called for fire support, it was denied, even though they repeatedly stated there were no civilians in jeopardy. Even worse, the requests were about to be granted and were over-ruled by higher HQ. “Nearly two hours after the initial call for help, helicopter air support arrived — but not before the unit took heavy casualties.” (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
President Obama Congratulates Iraqis on Vote - In a statement released by the White House Sunday morning, President Obama praised Iraqis’ resolve as they defied a wave of bombings across the country and turned out to vote in parliamentary elections that are seen as a crucial test of Iraq’s democracy nearly seven years after the American-led ouster of Saddam Hussein. (READ MORE)

Where are Obama's foreign confidants? - I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. (READ MORE)

Group wants same military benefits for gay spouses - A leading gay rights group says married gay service members should have the same rights as straight couples once President Obama ends the military's ban on open homosexuality in the ranks. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Viewing the Iraqi Elections Across the Middle East - Were Arab leaders and voters disappointed, angered, or inspired by what appears to have been a successful vote in Iraq? The answer appears to be none of the above. While newspapers from the Arab world made mention of the elections, many led their Web sites with news of the weekend’s fighting in Jerusalem. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Elections – Change in Kurdistan? - “Go, go to vote, for renewal and change” starts a song that has rallied voters, particularly the young, around the political movement trying to end the decades-long domination of the two parties in Iraq’s Kurdistan region in Sunday’s elections. (READ MORE)

Iraq Elections: Courting African Iraqis - During the past few weeks, most of the country’s major political candidates or their aides have come to Zubair, a poor, mainly-Sunni neighborhood on the outskirts of this oil-rich Shiite city, to campaign to a population that is as disaffected as any in Iraq. (READ MORE)

IRAQ: Exiled former Saddam Hussein aide says Baathist resistance is 'ready to fight' - Some in the United States harbor hope that Sunday's elections in Iraq will help the country move away from its sectarian troubles and toward democracy. But according to one former aide to Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has already stolen Sunday’s election by destroying the Sunni Arab vote. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Brave Bombs and Mortars to Vote in National Election - Polls closed across Iraq on Sunday as the war-weary population awaits results from the national election that will decide the future of the country's still-fragile democracy. (READ MORE)

Iraqis Vote for New Parliament - Iraqis voted Sunday in national elections, despite a string of attacks across the country that left more than 38 people dead. Security is a key issue in the campaign, as whoever leads the new government will oversee the withdrawal of American troops. (READ MORE)

As Iraq Tallies Vote, U.S. Says Pullout Plans Are ‘on Track’ - As Iraq tallied the votes from Sunday’s nationwide elections to choose a new Parliament, the top American military commander in Iraq on Monday praised the Iraqi military’s performance during the vote and said the United States would proceed with plans to withdraw troops from the country. (READ MORE)

In Iraq, a day of votes, violence - On a day that began with the thundering explosion of insurgent mortar rounds and ended with outbursts of celebratory gunfire by hopeful political activists, millions of Iraqis voted Sunday to elect lawmakers who will rule this country for years as U.S. forces withdraw. (READ MORE)

Iraq election: Iraqis defy bombs to vote - Iraqis across large parts of the country defied bomb blasts and the threat of more attacks to vote in the Iraq election, in what appeared to be a sweeping desire for change after four years of sectarian division and a lack of basic services. (READ MORE)

Iraq election: Purple fingers, but hard work ahead - Throughout Iraq, fear gave way to defiance Sunday as voters, even in the most volatile areas, cast ballots in landmark parliamentary elections that militants tried their best to disrupt with dozens of explosions that shook Baghdad even before the polls opened. (READ MORE)

G.I.’s, New to Iraq, Hear the Election Explosions - “You’re hearing a lot of booms out there,” Lt. Ryan P. Alexander told his soldiers, briefing them ahead of their platoon’s anticipated operation as mortar fire and explosions rained on Baghdad early on Sunday while Iraqis began voting in the parliamentary elections. (READ MORE)

Endgame in Iraq - PRESIDENT OBAMA has so far made foreign policy priorities out of turning the tide of the war in Afghanistan, "resetting" relations with Russia, stopping Iran's nuclear program and relaunching the Middle East peace process. Yet the most important foreign policy test of his presidency may begin Sunday in a country he has held somewhat at arm's length: Iraq. (READ MORE)

After Iraq's election, the real fight - I still remember shuttling all night between my office at the National Security Council and the State Department's Election Watch Task Force. It was Jan. 30, 2005, Iraq was holding its first meaningful elections in decades, and I was supposed to brief President George W. Bush in a few hours. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 8 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in a rural area northeast of Khowst City, in the Sabari District of Khowst province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained a few suspected insurgents for further questioning. (READ MORE)

Army faces Afghan gag for election - British journalists and TV crews are to be banned from the Afghan front line once a date for the election has been set, while senior officers will be prohibited from making public speeches and talking to reporters. (READ MORE)

18-year-old soldier died in Afghanistan before meeting son - Rifleman Liam Maughan, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was shot dead in Sangin in Helmand Province on Saturday. His family said his death left ''a massive irreparable hole'' in the lives of all whose knew him. (READ MORE)

Gordon Brown makes surprise Afghanistan visit - Officials travelling with the Prime Minister said full details of a £100 million investment in the new British-built vehicles, which should arrive in Afghanistan by late 2011 to replace the lightly-defended Land Rovers, would be announced within weeks. (READ MORE)

Gates Visits Afghanistan to Meet With Karzai - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday morning to meet with President Hamid Karzai and NATO commanders, and to review plans for a major American-led offensive into the Taliban heartland of Kandahar. (READ MORE)

Karzai Visits Town Captured from Taliban - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai made an unannounced trip Sunday to Marjah, the former Taliban stronghold recently retaken in an offensive by U.S., British and Afghan forces. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan’s President Receives a Mixed Reception in a Visit to Newly Won Marja - Once a Taliban refuge, Marja has come a long way since the Marines invaded four weeks ago, so much so that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, arrived Sunday with top American and Afghan officials to speak to several hundred residents crammed inside a mosque. (READ MORE)

Karzai offers families ‘blood money’ for sons killed in raid - President Karzai has paid “blood money” to the families of nine children killed in a brutal night raid after Nato admitted that they were gunned down by mistake. (READ MORE)

Clashes between Afghan militants, Taliban leave at least 50 dead - Fierce weekend fighting in the north of Afghanistan between Taliban forces and another militant Islamist group has left an estimated 50 people dead, and the clashes were continuing late Sunday night, according to reports from the area. (READ MORE)

Signs of life return to an Afghan ghost town - Under a late winter sky, surrounded by mountains left verdant by recent rain showers, is one of Afghanistan's spookiest-looking and most dangerous places: the once-vibrant but now war-ravaged and virtually empty city of Now Zad. (READ MORE)

American al-Qaida Fugitive Reported Captured in Pakistan - Pakistani intelligence agents say they have arrested Adam Gadahn, the American-born al-Qaida spokesman who has been wanted by the FBI since 2004. (READ MORE)

Suicide car bomber strikes Pakistani intelligence unit - A suicide car bombing at a building that houses terrorism investigations in Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded 80 others Monday, the first terrorist strike to hit a major city in the country's heartland this year. (READ MORE)

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