March 11, 2010

From the Front: 03/11/2010

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

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Web access down & school supplies drive needs shipping $$ - From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: So the Wi-Fi Internet service for the troops that allows Rex to use his laptop in his B-Hut cubicle went down AGAIN. Luckily Rex managed to get through on the telephone to WUSF’s Bobbie O’Brien after waiting for 1.5 hours; the line for the MRW computers was also another 1.5 hours so no blog entry from him tonight. But if you live in the Tampa Bay area you can hear him on the radio on 89.7 FM around 5:30 pm during “All Things Considered.” Rex did want me to post this excellent piece titled “Fear Of Taliban Hinders U.S. Efforts In Marjah” by NPR’s Corey Flintoff. (March 10, 2010) U.S. and Afghan troops are now in the second phase of an operation to hold the ground they gained last month in the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah in southern Afghanistan. The operation involves building relationships with the locals, who have lived under Taliban control for the past two years. (READ MORE)

Army of Dude: The Best: Yet To Come? - The Hurt Locker was far from my favorite movie of 2009. Out of the ten nominees for Best Picture, I liked four films more than Kathryn Bigelow's entry. It wasn't even the best movie that dealt with the Iraq War; that distinction goes to In The Loop, a comedy about the spread of misinformation that brilliantly leaves the word "Iraq" out of the entire script. But it was The Hurt Locker that won big on Sunday night, to the surprise of few that have been following the awards circuit. Even though it wasn't a box office smash (it made only six million dollars more than its production budget), critics loved the film, as did most of the public sans veterans. More importantly, its win washed away the fear and apprehension studios had about bankrolling a film centered on modern conflict. Every Iraq or Afghanistan themed movie before the The Hurt Locker has tanked in the theater, and you can't blame studio executives for shying away from a broken model. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: House rejects Afghan withdrawal plan - A pair of suspected U.S. drone strikes slammed a village west of Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, yesterday, killing between a dozen and 21 people. Residents of the town of Mizar Madakhel told the New York Times that the dead may have included Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a prominent local militant commander, but the claim could not be verified immediately. There have been 21 strikes reported this year. Drone strikes, major military operations on both sides of the border, and recent arrests of militant leaders have forced the Afghan Taliban's remaining leadership to scatter across Pakistan's cities, writes Matthew Rosenberg in today's must-read. Most members of the group's 'subordinate' shuras, or subcommittees of the Afghan Taliban's main leadership council, are reportedly living in Karachi or Multan, and fear of arrest has kept them from meeting in large groups. (READ MORE)

TIM HSIA: Virtual Reality War - My battalion commander, Lt. Col. Michael Kurilla, gave the directive that my squad leaders, platoon sergeant, and myself had heard countless times: my platoon was to cordon and search a neighborhood that intelligence had indicated might be the whereabouts of a high value target. As our vehicles navigated to the neighborhood through a busy marketplace, an improvised explosive device detonated, and the vehicle became immobile. Then we started taking small-arms fire, and headquarters started peppering us for an immediate situational report. We started taking casualties, and I lost communication with one of my squad leaders. Thankfully this was not an actual patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq. We were in the simulation training center at Fort Lewis, in Washington State, where soldiers undergo virtual reality training on battlefield scenarios. An instant giveaway that this was not a typical army mission was the temperature of the building, kept at low temperatures to cool the numerous computers which were required to run the simulation. (READ MORE)

CI-Roller Dude: The Seven Army Values - From the Soldier side: For those who’ve served in the Modern American Army, you have been exposed to one of their programs called “Army Values.” To tell you the truth, when I first joined the Army, we didn’t have things like this. It was just expected that you would just know and do The Seven Army Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect. Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage - Today’s topic is going to cover a few of these values. In my National Guard unit we have soldiers who’ve deployed multiple times. One Joe who has been to Iraq 3 times! He changed to our job (MKR) and will go again later. Another just joined my platoon. He was in Iraq for his one year tour and extended a second year. When he tried to stay a third year, they force him to go home for a while. One (who is now in another state) was in the first Gulf War with the 82nd Airborne. Then he went to Bosnia and Iraq with us. He moved to another state and went to Afghanistan…. A four time vet! (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: President Doesn’t Send Suicide Soldier Condolence Letter - Marcus Baram writes a great piece in the Huffington Post about a kid who killed himself and never got a letter from President Obama. Many questions are raised in this piece and are worthy of discussion. Huffington Post’s Marcus Baram: “Last August, Gregg Keesling was at home watching President Obama’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in which the president stated that one of his most solemn duties was ‘signing a letter of condolence to the family of servicemen or women who have given their lives for our country.’ That line resonated with the Indianapolis businessman, because he and his wife, Janet, had not received such a letter from the president after the death of their son, Chance, a U.S. Army Reserve Specialist in Iraq. The family received a folded flag, a 21-gun salute at his burial and financial death benefits, but not a letter of condolence from Obama. After talking to military officials, Keesling realized that he would not be getting a letter for a simple reason: Chance took his own life and the president does not send condolence letters to families of soldiers who commit suicide.” (READ MORE)

Bruce R: The Yon apology, in full - In apology to BG Menard, I should not have demanded that he be fired so early in the process, despite that my assertion that he was responsible has proven true. I should never have mentioned hockey, as that created room for a diversion from the central importance. Brigadier General Menard clearly was not the only responsible party for this strategic bridge that his soldiers depend upon. To single out BG Menard was a mistake, despite that he was ultimately responsible for the ANP... I promised I'd print it. Yon's argument now is that because the ANP guarding the bridge were mentored by American MPs who are currently reporting to the Canadian task force commander, that makes the Canadians responsible for any attacks on that bridge. Pretty tenuous, but let's go with it. Someone has to take responsibility for the ANP at some point. However, Yon also says earlier in the piece, pretty much completely contradicting his own apology: (READ MORE)

Corporal ‘AD’ Adrian Dixon, 28 Section Engineering Support Group: Building a Patrol Base - It’s a bit like being Nick Knowles from DIY SOS. But instead of sorting out a delipidated bathroom in 24 hours we have to make an all singing, all dancing Patrol Base here in Showal, Nad-e-Ali in less than 3 weeks. This is not an easy task when you have to put in a check point first to protect the area. So you have to turn infantryman to make sure there is no IED threat, put your builders on sentry duty and then put in the basics of any checkpoint – sangars, firing points, chicanes and search bays. Now the patrol base we are building required a Medium Girder Bridge to bridge the gap over a small irrigation channel. It was about a 5-6 metre gap and without the bridge no building supplies or stores could be brought in by the 60 vehicle Combat Logistics Patrol. It also had to be sturdy enough to take some significant weight from containerised lorries. We started building it at 0530 and it took us a day to complete. (READ MORE)

The Gun Line Mk III: It’s About Time… - Saving Private Ryan, and HBO’s Band Of Brothers did an absolutely outstanding job of depicting the combat operations of the European Theater in all of its horrific fury, paying close attention to providing an authenticity that was refreshing and revealing. These two productions opened a door into history, and prompted the modern American generation to research the entire scope of the drive to destroy the Axis in Europe. To a lesser extent, but by no means less compelling, The Tuskeegee Airmen and Windtalkers provided a glimpse of the valor of individual units at war, showcasing the courage and contributions to victory of Americans who, despite the prejudices of the time, did their jobs, and did them very well. In the parlance found at the end of just about every award given in the United States Armed Forces, they “brought great credit upon themselves, their unit, and their respective Services”. In short, they gave all of us something to be proud of, irrespective of race, creed, or color, but as Americans. (READ MORE)

Trooper Pete Sheppard: Well Earned Rest in Afghanistan - We have spent the last couple of days in a really well equipped main base close by. We went there to replenish our water, fuel and rations and also to have a shower, wash our clothes and eat some hot food. We managed to get some more clothing issued to us, which was handy because the days living in the field had started to take their toll on some of the guys' kit. This also gave us the opportunity to ring home, go on the internet and buy some of those little niceties from the shop there before deploying back to our base. Today, at 0815, I went out as part of a small patrol made up of some guys in Squadron Head Quarters (SHQ) to move a bridge crossing a canal. When I say a bridge, it's just two ladders strapped together to increase the length across the canal, but you still get wet just over your boots. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Afghanistan: Moshtarak a we'll rebuild - Aid was ordered into the old Taliban badlands yesterday as our forces declared success in Operation Moshtarak. After weeks of fighting, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander went to the front line to see the results of the huge military operation. And in the Helmand village of Khowshhal Kalay, where just three months ago the Taliban ruled, the Mirror joined the two men on foot patrol. Around 600 insurgents died here in heavy fighting as well as two British soldiers. It is a dusty, dirty place with irrigation ditches filled with green water. Ramshackle mud buildings line the rough tracks, some still showing the damage of fighting. Fresh opium poppies are being grown in small fields. But a road impassable a few months ago now has open shops with people willing to shake hands with British ministers without fear of bloody reprisals. (READ MORE)

Trooper Pete Sheppard: Succumbing to the idea of staying longer - This morning we found out that the brigade want to extend our time on the ground. There were mixed feelings about this. On the whole though it's a good thing as it just makes the time we have left on the ground go quicker. We are also going to be going into Lashkar Gah at some point for 12 hours so we can have a shower, use a proper toilet, get some clothes washed, eat some hot food and get some supplies from the shop there. The food there is immense. We heard across the radio a warning of a controlled explosion this morning from someone else. We passed round our guy's notice of the warning. Not everyone heard the warning. One of the guys came over to me after the explosion and told me that he and the guys were stood around laughing and joking when the bang went off. We had troops out working on a culvert but as it came from that general direction they just all went quiet and looked at each other thinking the worst. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Real Crazies - One of the good things the Army took from us for deployment was cell phones. Not that they confiscated the cell phones, but we were not allowed to walk and talk on cell phones from the beginning of training in Oklahoma through out-processing at Fort Dix. The ban included the blue light blinking ear pieces that allow the user to talk on the phone without holding the phone. For several years before deployment I would be surprised by seeing someone walking toward me talking in an animated way to no one. It usually turned out to be a guy arguing with someone wearing one of the blue light ear pieces. The blue light made the guy look like some kind of animated out-of-shape alien. This morning in Philadelphia a guy was walking toward me on the subway platform talking to himself. I thought he was on the phone because some phones work in stations now. But as he passed by waving his arms I realized he was actually crazy and talking to himself. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Everything Happens For A Reason - There are things that happen that I know is Micheal just messing with me and then there are things that happen and I know there is a reason. And then sometimes the most unexpected things happen and I have to wonder how much of a hand Micheal has had in these events. And yet I know he did…. At the end of January I saw some post on facebook regarding the death of Devin Rowe. He had been killed in a hunting accident. It seemed cruel to me that he had survived 2 tours in Iraq only to die here doing something I somehow knew he loved. Devin had served with Micheal in Iraq. He was one of the members of the company I had not met. But I saw the pain my other solider sons had at the news of his death. I reached out to them and we all tried to find a means to contact his family. I learned from them what an good man Devin was. He was highly regarded and respected. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US airstrike kills 15 in North Waziristan - A swarm of five US unmanned strike aircraft killed 15 Taliban fighters in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strike aircraft, likely the Predators or the newer, more deadly Reapers, conducted two strikes against Taliban fighters in the village of Mizar Madakhel near the Afghan border. A volley of four missiles were fired at a Taliban compound in the first strike, killing eight terrorists, AFP reported. Three missiles were fired at Taliban vehicles used during the recovery of those killed in the first strike, killing four more. The Kuwaiti News Agency reported that 15 Taliban fighters were killed in both strikes, and that more than a dozen fighters were wounded, some seriously. The compound is owned by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. The Pakistani military signed a peace agreement with Bahadar even though he continues to shelter al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and sends his forces to battle the US and NATO in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: Wednesday roundup: Grumpy stuff about morale, reunions - The unpleasant situation in the company described in an earlier post ("Substance abuse in the military") continues as the deployment winds down. Random inspections, tighter restrictions on socializing and lots of accusations and counter-accusations (some of which you can read in the comments section of the earlier post.) At this distance, it's not easy to discern where the fault lies, but it will be interesting to see what the retention rate will be after that company returns home and soldiers face decisions about re-upping. Some tell me they are through with the military forever -- but then, there are always some soldiers who say that. Army officials at Fort Lewis (now known formally as Joint Base Lewis-McChord) will only speak in general terms about the circumstances of the 41st Brigade's homecoming next month, so I can't tell you exactly how many days Oregon soldiers will be required to hang out at the base... (READ MORE)

Asher Kohn: Thinking Big, Thinking Small - …or perhaps not thinking. Not at all. Seuss-ian writing aside, there are a few different ways to view how ISAF is trying to change the built environment in Afghanistan. I’ve been bullish on architectural changes for a while now, and the military wings its way besides. I’d imagine the impulse to make wholesale changes is a bit too colonial and a bit too expensive, but the costs of just throwing up a base on the outskirts of town are pretty severe too. More than just creating a divide between the locals and the security, poorly planned bases are at least partly responsible for a couple of serious blunders. This is actual stuff. And its becoming apparent that nobody really knows how to do it. This is all a bit old news at this point – to an extent. There’s still a tremendous confusion over the benefits of going Big or Small Footprint in Afghanistan. Take embassies. The one in Kabul is more known for its guards then what they’re guarding, sure. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Means-testing the Drone War - The London Times runs a story claiming that the U.S. drone war in Northwest Pakistan is creating fear and paranoia: The effects of the campaign, however, are beginning to veer dramatically off course as the strikes intensify, according to tribesmen. “Before the drone attacks began the Taleban weren’t so obvious among us and the militancy wasn’t as strong,” Amir said. “But now every home in North Waziristan seems to have one or two Taleban living in it. The youth are joining them. Feelings against the US and Government are rising because of the attacks. Al-Qaeda has been badly affected by drones — but it has benefited too.” “One cannot deny the effect of the drones in taking out senior leadership, the militancy’s centre of gravity,” a Pakistani army officer admitted. “It has had a huge impact. But at the same time it has become a huge motivation to fight against the Government and the army because of the perception that it is a breach of sovereignty and is killing civilians. All combined, it creates a very negative impact.” (READ MORE)

Zombie Killer 6: AAR - Well, we spent this last week running STX lanes (situational training exercises--which are short training missions) and I'm rolling up my observations before we begin the next phase of the training. After a few training cycles here we can definitely see some trends--some good, some bad. Naturally, some of these things are just plain frustrating. The Afghans can definitely fight. Perhaps their technique is not as polished as our own, but they have no problem closing with and destroying the "Dushman." Their biggest challenge however is logistics. They can't seem to figure it out at any level higher than the company. Just getting a servicable pair of boots for the men is a hurculean task for their logisticians. It is my humble opinion that we should be spending less time "coaching and mentoring" the infantry units of the Afghan Army, and investing a lot more effort focused on their ability to sustain themselves. (READ MORE)

Wife Unit: Our imaginary flag - I enjoy watching military movies and tv shows and documentaries with my husband. Being in the Navy and what he does is such a huge part of him and how he spends his days (and sometimes nights and weeks and months), but it is a part of him that I don't really get to know about. Not with any real depth or context. So glancing over to see his face as he watches Bad Voodoo's War or sitting down together to watch The Hurt Locker is a way to bridge that gap. When my husband returns from deployment we readjust our Married Unit queue on Netflix so we will have things to watch together. When he came home two years ago we rolled through the NCIS series. And he developed a habit that still carries through today. Periodically Seadaddy will reach behind him and pull out the imaginary BS flag to wave around as a signal for me to pause what we are watching. Then I will hear how those socks are not worn with that uniform, or why that chain of events would never occur, and on and on (and on and on). (READ MORE)

Reality Check: Taking Chance - The Albrecht Squad - When I first saw the trailer for Taking Chance, I knew immediately that this was a movie I HAD to watch. I even went as far as to change my Dish Network package to include HBO just so I could watch this movie. As the date approached that it would be on TV, I debated about whether I wanted to watch it right away or leave it on my DVR until after my husband came back from Iraq. I decided that I would watch it right away. I had read the articles about Chance Phelps, so I thought I could handle the movie, I felt prepared. I watched it during the day while my kids were at school. I sat on the couch with a large glass of water and a box of tissues, prepared to sob throughout the whole movie. I mean I cried through the trailer, I felt I needed to be ready for the entire movie. As I already mentioned, my husband was in Iraq during this time. On his previous tour we had lost some good friends. Both of us were very close to the situation. I knew that watching this movie would open up a floodgate of emotions: (READ MORE)

Reality Check: TAKING CHANCE--USMCWIFE8999'S TAKE - Taking Chance is an HBO Movie based upon the experiences of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) escorting the body of a Marine, PFC Chance Phelps. Lt. Col Strobl wrote an “after action” report on his entire journey and the film takes this report, and puts it on the screen so beautifully you feel as if you are on the journey with the Lt. Col and his charge PFC Phelps (Lcpl Phelps as he was promoted posthumously.) I was hesitant to watch this movie, being the daughter of a fallen Marine and the wife of a Marine. I really didn’t know what to expect, I am always very hesitant to watch these types of movies obviously (that is why this blog was created) but decided to go ahead since Kevin Bacon playing a Marine is always reason enough for me to watch (Few Good Men, Frost Nixon..ya I could go on). This movie is a straight forward journey of a fallen Marine and the journey he takes from the war zone in which he fell (Iraq) until he is delivered into the hands of his family. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Preparing for the coming Kandahar offensive - Further to this post: The coming Kandahar offensive and a certain reality - here's a further example of that reality (spot the Canadians)--from the Christian Science Monitor: “Afghanistan war: Fight for Kandahar won't be like fight for Marjah - In the next stage in the Afghanistan war, coalition forces are expected to build up gradually on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, perhaps for months. That strategy departs from the one executed in the Marjah offensive, in which troops entered quickly. Fresh off a recent success, so far, in Helmand Province, American military planners are thinking ahead to the next phase of challenging the Taliban in southern Afghanistan: Kandahar. But the fight for Kandahar – described as the New York City of Afghanistan for its cultural, political, and economic significance – is expected to be more measured than the operation in Marjah in Helmand, which was a precision strike that began with the insertion of hundreds of US marines by helicopter.” (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: The Bridge - Shah Wali Kot, Afghanistan 11 March 2009 - The military axiom that “amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics” has special meaning in Afghanistan. During the Soviet war, though the Bear comprised Afghanistan’s entire northern border, the Afghan resistance was frequently able to block Soviet logistical operations, which were dependent on scant roads, tunnels and corridors. Captured Soviet logistics convoys often supplied the Mujahidin. Logistics in landlocked Afghanistan are exceptionally tough because the country is a transportation nightmare of impassable mountains, barren deserts, rugged landscape with only capillary roads and airports. When we lose a bridge, we can’t just detour twenty miles to the next one, as we might on the plains of Europe. In Afghanistan, there might not be another route for hundreds of miles. Conversely, Afghan fighters, who have used guerilla warfare tactics for decades – centuries even – lack our tanks, vehicles and massive supply lines, leaving them less dependent on infrastructure. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: One More Time, With Feeling - Despite the myriad sources of information from which to draw in order to write a column that has a grain of truth to it, it would appear that the usual suspects from the usual media sources insist on getting it wrong. You can hardly blame them. Well, actually you can, but it will hardly help. At this point, people are merely going to believe what they want to believe, and truth be damned. When it comes to Afghanistan, has it ever been any different? Thomas Walkom, in particular, seems to get it wrong the most frequently. This rather pathetic self-flagellation of Canadians throwing their hands up in the air and making excuses that nothing else could have been done, is as depressing as their inability to get basic facts correct. Journalists are treating this fluid battle with ever-changing dynamics as something static, as though everybody has morphed into Francis Fukuyama, mourning the end of history. Pakistan capturing half the Taliban leadership in the past month? Barely a whisper. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: The Down Side of the Afghan Surge - Standing on a mountaintop, 1st Lt. Maximilian Soto swept his arm from side to side, indicating a 400-square-mile expanse of fields, rivers and streams surrounding the village of Estalef in Parwan province, just north of Kabul. “All this,” he said, “is mine.” With a force of just 26 men from the Special Troops Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, Soto provides security for a chunk of Afghanistan the size of a typical American county. “It’s quite difficult,” he told World Politics Review. In December, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would be sending 30,000 new troops to reinforce the more than eight-year-old Afghan war effort. These forces are now arriving, feeding ongoing NATO offensives in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, as well as efforts to establish a meaningful troop presence in provinces that previously went unpatrolled, such as Logar province in the east. (READ MORE)

World-Wide-Matel: Iraq in the Fullness of Time - Memory is never finally fixed. We are constantly editing our memories in the light of subsequent events. Sometimes meaningless event are explained in the fullness of time. Sometimes those events really were meaningless and they take on meaning only because we have jammed them into our narrative of memory. That is why oral histories are unreliable and even things that are written down are subject to continual revision.Telling any story is always an act of choosing and even if we are being fair and thoughtful, our choices will always be subject to revision. We probably cannot arrive at THE truth, but we usually can come up with something useful or at least something that makes sense to us. I have been thinking about these things as I prepare to address a class in public diplomacy at USC. They want to know about strategic communications at a PRT in Iraq. Lucky for me my blog provides a lot of contemporary impressions and pictures. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Confused Narratives on Marjah - The U.S. Marine Corps over the last several years in Iraq and Afghanistan has customarily been engaged in heavy combat operations. More than 1000 Marines perished in Iraq, most in the Anbar Province. Regardless, whatever the Marines are engaged in, they will officially hype their exploits and stretch the narrative, always redounding to the benefit of the Marines. It’s part of the history, mystique and political strategy of the Corps. The U.S. Marines are the best strike fighters and shock troops in the world. No matter, this narrative isn’t enough, and it is crafted and molded until the Corps takes on mythical proportions. The fact that their reputation precedes them and intimidates the enemy only justifies the strategy. That most so-called journalists don’t know enough to be able to effectively cover the Marines is amusing, but it is sad for analysts who spend time asking the wrong questions and reiterating what we all already know. (READ MORE)

Burn Pit: Stolen Valor & Phony Vets: Is there a silver lining? - This site has followed (actually pursued) two stolen valor cases, the latest being good old Michael Patrick McManus and the other Rick Strandlof which is culminating in the absurd position taken by the ACLU supporting him that wearing unearned decorations is protected as “Free Speech”. Both those cases are being prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act. Beyond that now we also have state lawmakers in Florida adding their voices to an effort to make it a felony to misrepresent oneself as a veteran. The authors of that legislation make the claim that 14 other states already have or are considering similar legislation. I am as outraged as anyone that these people try to use veteran status or phony decorations to draw attention they don’t deserve. Actually it is all about the money that they can pull in through claiming that status, money that would otherwise go to real veterans’ causes. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Still Waiting - It's becoming harder and harder to understand what is going on in life. We hear the results of the election are to be announced only to learn that the announcement is delayed. We think life is getting better only to learn from the newspapers that our lives in fact suck. This story, for example, says it is in fact worse in Baghdad than anyone could have possibly guessed. Some U.S. official knows that Baghdad is a lot more violent than anyone knew, and the official chose to share this secret information with a reporter. It says it's so bad that fewer people voted here than anywhere else precisely because it's so much more violent. I'm so glad the paper told me that I'm surrounded by violence. I had no idea. As for fewer people voting, I can tell you that people here are not familiar with the rules of elections. It sounds like nothing to people who are used to voting, but for people here it's still new. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre: Damned by praise, praised by damnation - Unintended Compliments and Insults - Steve Valley’s Inside the Fortress should be required reading by anyone who wants to understand the often tense and contentious relationship between the military and the media. It’s an easy read, a straightforward, sometimes breezy account of Valley’s time in Iraq, including his many complaints about, and occasional praise of, the “MSM” (Mainstream Media). But in doling out laurels to his favored press corps representatives, Valley doesn’t do them any favors, and in fact he reinforces the corrosive perception that reporters who cover the military are too cozy with the people they cover. Here’s the short version: Valley had a lot of respect for John Burns, the wild-haired veteran correspondent for The New York Times. “John was the writer we picked for every important event we needed to be covered accurately and without bias,” Valley writes in the chapter about the Fourth Estate. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Top North Waziristan Taliban leader Bahadar rumored killed in US strike - Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate that the top Taliban commander in North Waziristan may have been among those killed in yesterday's swarm attack by unmanned US aircraft in the lawless tribal agency. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the powerful Taliban chieftain in North Waziristan, was the target of yesterday's airstrike in the Datta Khel region. Bahadar is rumored to be among those killed in the strike, according to reports in The New York Times and ANI, but his death has not been confirmed. US intelligence officials are "investigating the possibility that he was killed" but could not confirm the reports. The strike was carried out by five unmanned US aircraft, likely the Predators or their deadly older brothers, the Reapers. The aircraft launched the attack in two waves. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Soldier admits to lying - Our story on the deceptions of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier is getting plenty of attention from our readers. The soldier, Spc. Jordan Olson, fessed up to the lies about his rank, injury and uniform embellishment to a TV reporter yesterday. (READ MORE)

McChord crews deliver aid to Chile - Aircrews from Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 62nd Airlift Wing delivered medical personnel and equipment to Chile on Monday. (READ MORE)

Additional Phases Identified for Iraq Campaign Medal - The Department of Defense announced today that additional campaign stars are authorized for wear on the Iraq Campaign Medal (ICM). The campaign stars recognize a service member’s participation in DoD designated campaigns in Iraq. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
For Iraqis, Suffering Is a Reason to Vote - Umm Aws, a 63-year-old sick Iraqi woman woke up on the morning of March 7, 2010 and did the same thing that she has done for years: look at her two brothers’ photos, and pray for their souls to rest in peace. (READ MORE)

Iraq election means life or death for U.S. ally - Hunkered down in a community outside Baghdad, Raad Ali watched the national elections Sunday in anonymity. No one bothers him here. Strangers think he is just another displaced Iraqi from the capital. (READ MORE)

U.S. Troops in Iraq Adopt New Role - Some of the 98,000 U.S. military forces in Iraq already have made the transition from security to stability operations ahead of the September deadline, American military commanders said. (READ MORE)

Iraq Election Assists Drawdown Timetable - As parliamentary election results are tallied in Iraq, a U.S. commander there said it’s unlikely any outcome would require American troops to stay beyond their scheduled withdrawal. (READ MORE)

After playing down election violence in Iraq, U.S. military reassesses - After initially playing down the scope of the violence during Sunday's parliamentary elections in Iraq, the U.S. military has concluded in an internal assessment that at least 37 people were killed in 136 attacks. (READ MORE)

Maliki Holds Edge in Iraq, but Results Are Challenged - Early results in Iraq’s parliamentary elections on Thursday indicated that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s coalition was likely to win a plurality in an exceedingly close race, according to Western and Iraqi officials. (READ MORE)

Interview: ‘My Life With the Taliban’ - Felix Kuehn and Alex Strick van Linschoten, Western researchers who are living without security protection in Kandahar, Afghanistan, spent the past two years editing and overseeing the translation of the autobiography of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and a core member of the early Taliban movement. (READ MORE)

Spy Chief in Pakistan to Stay On Another Year - Pakistan’s spy chief has been granted an unusual one-year extension in his job, a move that may also pave the way for a longer term for the head of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is scheduled to step down this year. (READ MORE)

In Kabul, hopelessness weighs on job hunters - The men come at dawn, a ragged, anxious collection of faces peeking through scarves and hoping for work as they stand in a traffic circle beneath billboards advertising war heroes and washing machines. (READ MORE)

Overworked U.S. Embassy in Kabul straining to meet administration's demands - The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, which may soon overtake its counterpart in Iraq as the world's biggest diplomatic mission, is overworked, underappreciated and struggling to meet the demands placed on it by President Obama's new strategy, according to the State Department's inspector general. (READ MORE)

British official urges Afghanistan to negotiate with Taliban, other insurgents - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called Wednesday for early and substantive political negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups, saying that military successes will never be enough to end the war. (READ MORE)

Bipartisan blowout blocks Afghanistan withdrawal - In an overwhelming show of bipartisan support for President Obama's surge in Afghanistan, the House on Wednesday soundly defeated a resolution setting a timetable for withdrawal. (READ MORE)

House Rejects Plan to Leave Afghanistan by Year’s End - In a strong bipartisan endorsement of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, the House of Representatives on Wednesday soundly rejected a call to withdraw American troops by the end of the year. (READ MORE)

Gates: Afghan exit could be accelerated - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates raised the possibility Wednesday that some of the U.S. forces involved in the Afghanistan surge could leave the country before President Obama's announced July 2011 date to begin withdrawal. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan and Pakistan Pledge Cooperation - President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan met with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani here on Thursday in a show of public friendship, with both leaders stressing that stability for their countries hinged on mutual cooperation. (READ MORE)

Militants Kill 6 Aid Workers in Pakistan's Northwest - Pakistani police say militants have attacked the office of a Christian aid group in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, killing six people and wounding several others. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 11 - An Afghan-international security force stopped a vehicle near Ghaziabad in Farah province’s Bakva District yesterday after intelligence information indicated militant activity and detained two suspected insurgents. (READ MORE)

Afghan Children Killed in IED Attack - ANSF forces in the Tagab district of Kapisa province are assisting ISAF with the evacuation of wounded children after an explosion this morning. (READ MORE)

Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika Changes Hands - In a morning ceremony attended by the provincial governor, several line directors and many other influential government leaders of Paktika province, commander Brian Hoyt assumed command of Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika here Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Afghan, International Forces Capture Militants - Afghan and international forces captured numerous suspected insurgents in four Afghanistan provinces during combined operations over the last two days, military officials reported. (READ MORE)

Karzai Welcomes Pakistan's Help in Negotiating with Taliban - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has concluded two days of meetings with Pakistani civilian and military leaders, saying Islamabad has a "significantly important" role to play in peace talks his government is encouraging with Taliban insurgents. (READ MORE)

'Arrest of Afghan Taliban leaders in Pak aimed at derailing Afghan reconciliation' - The recent surge in action by Pakistan against key Afghan Taliban commanders hiding inside the country is actually aimed at destabilising the budding reconciliation process in Afghanistan, experts have said. (READ MORE)

We don't want proxy wars in Afghanistan, Karzai says - Afghanistan does not want a proxy war between Pakistan and India or anybody else fought on its soil, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday during a visit to Pakistan. (READ MORE)

Talking to the Taliban - The insurgents in Afghanistan have shown interest in negotiating with the UN and aid agencies on humanitarian access and aid distributions, according to a purported Taliban spokesman. (READ MORE)

Complaints persist as US frees Afghan detainees - The Pashtun tribal leaders picked at the chocolate cake and fruit laid out for them at the conference table. Politely, they listened to speeches touting a new program to release detainees from Afghanistan's largest U.S.-run military prison if community leaders vouch for them. (READ MORE)

Gates: Iran support for Taliban 'pretty limited' - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that Iranian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is "pretty limited" - so far. Gates noted that he had a public exchange of barbs with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week over which country is doing harm in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

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