March 16, 2010

From the Front: 03/16/2010

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

Dispatches:
270 Days in Afghanistan: The Economics of Insurgency - One of the most significant issues ISAF Forces are working on is the elimination of Poppy Farms. Afghanistan produces over 90% of the world's supply of poppies. Poppies, a flowering plant used in the production of opium, are the crop of choice for the Taliban. They coerce or force farmers to produce this crop in order to finance their terror organization both here and across the globe. Suffice it to say, it has been a problem that we have been very aware of since the beginning of the war. This story on MSNBC highlights some of the efforts that the US has developed to impact this problem. It should be a simple enough mission, right? Teach them how to grow wheat instead of poppies. After all, wheat is a sustainable crop, it feeds people, and it doesn't hurt anyone. The Ministry of Defense in Afghanistan has been a willing partner, publishing public service messages in the paper. (READ MORE)

P.J. Tobia: Special Forces Kill Pregnant Women, NATO Covers It Up - The excellent Jerome Starkey broke this story last week, about a night raid conducted on Feb. 12 by NATO and Afghan forces near the town of Gardez. The raid was on the home of a Commander Dawood (who like many Afghans uses only one name,) a well-loved man who had worked closely with US and coalition forces in the area. That night, Dawood was hosting a baby-naming party for his grandson. At around 3 a.m., one of the musicians at the party went outside to use the toilet, saw a group of armed men near the house and ran back inside to warn the others. Dawood went outside and was immediately shot by a man on the roof. Dawood’s brother, a government prosecutor in the district was next to die, as he stood in the doorway shouting that he worked for the government, according to an eyewitness I spoke with today. “He said, ‘We work for the government, we are with you.’ (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Ignorance is Bliss - It is hard to believe that after nine years of war, there are so many people who are ignorant to what our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. I mean I can understand that from 2003-2009 most people were almost completely ignorant that we were even still at war in Afghanistan because the MSM focused almost all of their coverage on the war in Iraq. It was not until President Bush in late 2008 started planning to surge forces into Afghanistan in the spring of 2009 (yes that was President Bush, not President Obama who authorized the original surge) that most news outlets started talking about Afghanistan regularly. To be quite honest, because of GEN Petraeus and President Bush’s push for a surge in Iraq did things calm down in Iraq and many of the daily kinetic battles taper off to the point that MSM was bored there. The combat activity in Afghanistan was there the whole time, with it really starting to ramp up in 2006, but you would not have known it by watching the news. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: S.N.A.B.U. = Situation Normal All BAF-fed Up - After 2 hours of driving and being bounced around on the Afghan highways like a ping-pong ball, we arrived at our destination. Originally we were planning to drive on to BAF and then off-load the Humvees. But when we found out about the mountain of paperwork and coordination required to escort our ANA counterparts on the installation, we opted to off-load outside the base and drive them the remainder of the way. Our convoy pulled off the side of the road and established a security cordon while the ANA and my teammates removed the chains and straps anchoring the vehicle to the trailer. Another teammate drove the Humvees off the ramp and the ANA departed back to camp. We split into teams and were given different tasks to maximize our productivity and use of time at BAF. We were hoping (and praying) to get everything accomplished in one day, but packed an overnight pack just in case. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: suspected U.S. drone strikes northwest Pakistan - Yesterday's big news is that Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban second-in-command who was captured last month in Karachi in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid, was reportedly involved in talks with the Afghan government at the time of his arrest, and had given the "green light" to participating in next month's peace jirga in Kabul. According to an aide, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was furious at the capture, and he and his Western counterparts are reportedly at odds over who should be at the negotiating table. Reuters reports that the U.N. is ready to continue "discreet" talks with members of the Taliban. Meanwhile, U.S. and British intelligence reportedly assess that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, may be in Karachi. Earlier this morning, a suspected U.S. drone strike hit the town of Datta Khel, west of Miram Shah, the main city in North Waziristan, killing around ten people. (READ MORE)

Kalsoom Lakhani: Out of the tribal areas and into the cities of Pakistan - The last week has been tough for Pakistan. A series of attacks occurred throughout the country, including a siege of the World Vision International office in Mansehra last Wednesday that killed six aid workers, and a suicide bombing in Swat over the weekend that killed around a dozen people and wounded at least 37. However, the wave of bombings targeting the city of Lahore garnered the most attention. Last Monday, a car bombing targeted the Special Investigations group of the Federal Investigative Agency, the Pakistani equivalent of the FBI, killing at least 14 people and wounding 89 others. News correspondents said the amount of explosives "was so large it brought down the two-story building." And this past Friday, two suicide bombers struck within15 and 20 seconds of each other in R.A. Bazaar in Lahore, killing at least 45 people and injuring scores more. (READ MORE)

MATTHEW LONGO: Non-Military Solutions: They Also Serve Who … Don’t Serve - NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The war couldn’t feel farther away. New Haven today is deafeningly quiet – it is Spring Break here, so the student throngs have mostly fled to warmer climes. The final days of class were filled with excited chatter of travel and merriment; other concerns paled in comparison. Read Wesley Morgan’s: It’s the Economy, UndergraduateA graduate student in political science at Yale, I lead discussion sections on politics for undergraduates. Building on an argument made by Wesley Morgan on these blog-pages last month regarding the apathy of today’s college students, my experience confirms his observations: the battle for the hearts and minds – and attention spans – of our students has long been lost. There is a feast of reasons: the war is too far away; it does not affect our lives; there are more important issues to focus on, such as the economy and health care, and so forth. (READ MORE)

Combat Boots for Artemis: Artemis in Seoulland - I saw Alice in Wonderland today. I can totally relate to the disorientation of finding myself in a place where I don't know anyone and where they speak in strange tongues. It started with the 14 hour flight that seemed just like falling down a rabbit hole. I ate strange foods and found myself becoming someone other than the woman I am used to being. I am a world traveler. I have been transformed from a civilian wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend into a soldier. There are adventures to pursue, enemies to overcome, people to assist and cases to prepare. It is a busy life. A good life. The only thing that would make it perfect is if I could do this with all my family and friends close by. I would be ecstatic to have my husband here by my side! Soon please! And while I can see several of the characters from the movie in my new life here, I have yet to find the Mad Hatter... I see myself as Alice, but what if, the Mad Hatter, is me? (READ MORE)

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq: Fly Fishing for troops (Helping the troops 21) - As it gets warmer, time to start planning summer trips! I read a great article in the American Legion magazine about organizations that will take veterans fly-fishing. The idea is that if you need to find an activity to help rehabilitate after injury, why not pick one that is a hell of a lot of fun and you might choose even if you didn't have to rehabilitate! Here are some organizations that can help: Project Healing Waters www.projecthealing waters.org Trout Unlimited www.tu.org Federation of Fly Fishers www.fedflyfishers.org Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation www.warriorsandquietwaters.org Rivers of Recovery www.riversofrecovery.org Sun Valley Adaptive Sports www.svasp.org Have fun! (MORE)

David Bellavia: Captain Myer Given Silver Star and Letter of Reprimand for Battle of Wanat - The Battle of Wanat will go down as one of the most ferocious and white knuckled slugfests in Afghanistan for American forces since the 2001 invasion. A small outpost in Eastern Afghanistan, Wanat was hit and hit hard by over 200 Taliban guerillas. At times coming close was feet away from the wire and was close to overrunning American positions. The defending forces from the Chosen company, 2nd Platoon, 2nd of the 503rd from the 173rd Airborne, knocked the enemy back and air power knocked them out. The stories to come out of this fight will rank amongst the most impressive of any conflict. The Infantrymen were outnumbered three to one and although they lost nine brave warriors and took twenty-seven wounded, these studs carried the day. There have been many awards given for this fight. One hopes there will be many more. There is talk that a Medal of Honor is in the works. (READ MORE)

Far From Perfect: More nothing and a scare - So not a lot going on here outside of the garrison life. I think a persons tolerance for BS goes way down after a deployment and continues downward with each subsequent deployment. You eventually get to the point where you just don’t care about all the garrisonitis and lack of the common sense factor. For example, when its 40F outside and you are still required to wear clothing as though it was -40F outside. No common sense factor allowed. Anyway, things are getting along. Our people are still leaving and the new meat is still a bit off. So everything is getting done with the same small group of people everyday. The thing is - it is getting done. You know you are low in manning though, when officers and senior NCOs have brooms and mops in their hands cleaning bathrooms. We had a real world mission the other day. That came as a surprise considering we are still in “reset” and our equipment is all in different places and different stages of repair. (READ MORE)

Isabel Hodge: Spouse Stresses Importance of Accessibility - I recently received a request from a parent of a school-aged child with special needs. She asked me to write specifically about accessibility issues because, sadly, her son encounters daily challenges that impact his quality of life. When I read her message, I thought back to the multiple times my friends who also have children with special needs have vented about this same issue. I remember on one occasion, a friend called me from the school parking lot. She was furious. Another parent had parked in the handicapped parking spot at the school and didn’t have a handicapped placard displayed or license plate. This wasn’t the first offense — this parent was a repeat offender and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My friend pulled her van behind the car, parked it and called the military police. She had already expressed her concern to school officials and they never took action. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: One last thing - Sorry, but I can't quite leave this alone yet. One more thing needs to be said. This is Sgt. Ian Gelig, aged 25, of the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. On March 1, he died in Afghanistan. A California native, he is survived by his parents and two sisters. He had been in Afghanistan since early last fall; he had previously done 15 months in Iraq. Gelig, a driver by trade, was in a convoy headed north on Highway 4, one of the busiest highways in Afghanistan, connecting the entire south of the country with the Pakistani border. Around 7 am local time, somewhere near the Tarnak River bridge, halfway between Kandahar Air Field and Kandahar City, a suicide bomber somehow got his car close to the rolling convoy and detonated, killing Gelig. He had just made sergeant. Whether the suicide bomber had intended it or not, the massive explosion also knocked the side out of the bridge: (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Kandahar Rocks - I’m still on the road trying to make my way back to Jalalabad from a big implementation working group meeting in Lashkar Gar. Step one of the journey back was to hitch a ride on the CADG plane to Kandahar where Panjawaii Tim promised to pick me up and take me out to his project HQ in the city. It is a large, comfortable place which has something I have been looking forward to ….. a few cold beers. The plane was late which was annoying – driving around Kandahar at night is risky even for guys like us. We were delayed getting across the Tarnak River bridge by an American convoy – the bridge was blown up a few days back and the convoy was trying to maneuver around it in the river bed. Michael Yon has the story about the loss of that vital bridge here. It turns out the delay was a good thing because as we cleared the bridge area and headed towards the city the sky in front of us lit up like a flash bulb. “That’s not good” said Tim as his cell started to ring. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Violence of Action - I have been putting in considerable travel time over the past month both inside and outside Afghanistan, which is why the blogging has been so light lately. My latest trip included a quick stop in a dusty, sparsely populated corner of Afghanistan where I found my best friend Colonel Paul Kennedy USMC. Paul and I were instructors at the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) 20 years ago, after IOC we were both pulled out of the last quarter of the Amphibious Warfare School to work together on a project for then LtGen Krulak. We later ended up in Okinawa at the same time where we were battalion operations officers (we were still captains then and the only two captains in the Marine Corps at that time serving as battalion OpsO’s, a critical job normally held by a major). We both were selected to be Recruiting Station commanders back in the late 90’s when every other service except the Marines were failing to make their annual recruiting quotas. (READ MORE)

Flt Lt Ben “Goody” Goodwin, GR4 Tornado Pilot 9 Sqn, Kandahar Airfield: Operation Moshtarak - Operation Moshtarak was fairly anti-climactic for the GR4s. It was undoubtedly exciting to be involved in the build up, as we all planned for the worst and hoped for the best. The Close Air Support (CAS) preparation we do at home focuses on kinetics, understanding the weapons, how to use them in difficult circumstances to achieve the precise results we aim for. It’s training for the “worst” scenario – everyone being shot at, enemy difficult to spot, friendlies close by. I find the hardest part of CAS is interpreting the situation correctly and concentrating through very long periods of boredom. Every event is different; each presents its own unique challenges. To generate such a training scenario is almost impossible, so we rely on experience and flexibility. The challenges in Moshtarak, as they are mostly in theatre, were staying focused during long sorties operating in busy airspace not designed for only fast air’s requirements. (READ MORE)

Trooper Pete Sheppard: closing the gap on insurgents - Yesterday was a quiet day; the troops went out on patrol round the local area. They met the locals and looked for any possible insurgents. Today was different. 2 Troop went out on patrol about 0830. They came under small arms fire shortly after leaving. With good observation and communication between the ground troops being engaged and the guys back at the compound, we managed to get eyes on the insurgents with our air assets. We were able to track the small number of insurgents and the guys on the ground gave chase. Running through fields that had been irrigated and jumping ditches, they finally closed the gap onto those fighters. The insurgents were asking for a re-supply of ammo and for more fighters to come to help. One of the officers who had eyes on the fighters lost sight of them, but then to his west he saw two men on a motorbike, the front person holding an AK47 and the second holding a machine gun and a radio. (READ MORE)

Trooper Pete Sheppard: the uncertainty of war - Today we got up for 0700. It was already quite warm so we knew it was going to be a hot day. The first patrols left our location at 0900 on foot in order to secure a vehicle check point (VCP) and interact with locals. At 1050 another one of our troops got airlifted by helicopter 4km away. The plan was for the guys at the VCP to draw the insurgents out to them and then the guys dropped off by the helicopter could cut them off. Simultaneous to this, another patrol left our location by foot as a back up, in case something happened. Strangely nothing happened. The insurgents were very quiet all day, maybe due to the losses they received yesterday. There were a few suspicious locals but nothing came of this. The patrols returned early afternoon when the sun was in its prime. The thing with this place is you never know what the days going to bring. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Once a Warrior Always a Warrior - Last week I got a book in the mail that I thought was just for real warriors. After all, most of my service was inside the wire on a very big, well-protected air base and when I went outside the wire it was in a Blackhawk or Chinook helicopter, not in a convoy. Then I started reading the book and it reminded me of something a medic told me near the end of my tour. He knew how I got in the Army by very carefully answering questions about the accident I had between my enlistment physical and actual enlistment. I thought it would have been the injuries that disqualified me from service, especially from deployment. But the medic said, "It was the concussion. You lost three days man. You got your bell rung like it was in a Church steeple. They would have sent your ass home if they knew." The title of the book is "Once a Warrior Always a Warrior" by Charles W. Hoge, MD, Col. USA ret. The subtitle is: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and mTBI. (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: The Analyzed Routine - I've been here about a week now and the first order of business was to seek out the "perfect routine." I find that predictability helps to make the most of hours in the day, and helps time pass quickly. It's nice when you can have it all figured out: 1. How long it takes to run or work out based on pre-measured distance and if the gym is involved in this routine. 2. How long it takes to shower and get ready. 3. How long it takes to walk to the DFAC. 4. How long it takes to eat breakfast: a. To get an egg white omelet with tomatoes and mushrooms and eat in the DFAC. b. To get oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, fruit, and eat in the DFAC c. To get either a or b in a "to go" container and bring it to work 5. How long it takes to walk from the DFAC to work. 6. What time I get to escape work and go back to the DFAC for lunch. 7. How long it takes to walk to the DFAC and get through the line, choose either a sandwich or other food, and eat. (READ MORE)

Sgt Danger: Details - As I’ve mentioned before, we’re pretty much done running missions on the Afghan highways. For a while that meant lots of time to hang out and play. Then the Army found some things for us to do. Sometimes, we police up trash, like hundreds of wooden pallets. Sometimes we inventory radios, trucks, and sort clothing. But mostly, we guard stuff. A motor pool with dozens of trucks, plots of empty land, piles of airplane wreckage. This means we take our MRAPs out to the site and sit there… watching what trucks, empty land, and piles of wreckage do. It’s not too bad. Since we go in a crew of four, we take turns watching from the night-vision screen… usually three hours each to fill the twelve hour shift. So I take things to do. I read by chem-light, watch movies on my laptop, and take pictures of the jets as they leave the runway. We often light a fire in the evening, and sit around telling stories. We made a friend this week; her name is Delilah and she really likes leftovers. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Uholy Alliances - Iraqis are getting restless waiting for the election results. Critics say the longer it takes the officials to announce the winner, the less faith people will have in the legitimacy of the vote. The officials are to announce today the results of 60 percent of votes counted. The results so far show a very tight race between Prime Minister Maliki and Ayad Allawi. The close numbers are reason for many citics to charge that there was ballot stuffing in some areas. The most interesting news here is the European Parliamentarian, some guy called Stevenson, has been discredited. The dude said he was an elections observer in Iraq and that he was sure there was plenty of voter fraud in the March 7 election. But the IHEC said he was not on any observer list. And there is no record of him having been in Iraq at any time near election day. It's pretty obvious there will not be a clear winner. Maliki and Allawi will have a nearly equal number of seats in parliament. (READ MORE)

Jalalabad Fab Lab blog: empty – please see tent outside - This hospital has 30 doctors and a total of 200 staff. It is completely empty inside except for hospital administration who are adamantly working from their offices as an example to the staff and patients who aren’t willing to be inside the building. The structure was surveyed and bolstered by several international organizations, but still patients refuse to come inside. They see about 70 patients a day. All the tents outside are wards. The big pagoda is the ob/gyn and birthing area. Surgeries are being done in three rooms in a separate single story hard building run by Cuban doctors. The French Red Cross provided a water purification system, but it broke after a few day’s use. Somehow, no one told me – the geek – that it was broken so I didn’t ask for more specifics. I only know second hand, “it stopped working”. Instead, the Red Cross trucks in bottled water. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Why "War Movies" Often Fall Short: Introducing, The "McMovie" - I know, we're being hit with a slough of movies about these wars. Some have big name actors, and many come with a lot of hype. There are movies that are thoughtful, others pushed out there intended to be blockbuster entertainment. After having decades of stereotypes heaped upon them, most veterans and soldiers are receiving them at arm's length. They have seen their honor, integrity and selflessness sold out by "the machine" time and time again. Winning their hearts and minds is no easy task. I've written before that it will take awhile before "the book about these wars" is written and published, and the same holds for a movie. In fact, it won't be one book or movie, it will be more, and some will quietly make their way into the public consciousness. After all, time and perspective come into play, and who knows --it might not even be a soldier who writes the screen play or play: (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Maliki, Allawi surge in Iraq's early vote count - Iraq's Independent High Election Commission has released partial results, by province, for the 2010 parliamentary election. Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law Alliance has taken the early vote lead in Baghdad, Basrah, Babil, Najaf, Karbala, Wasit, and Muthanna, while former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqi National Movement (Iraqiya) party leads in Ninewa, Diyala, Anbar, and Salahadin, and has a slim lead in Kirkuk (Tamin) over the Kurdish Alliance. The Iraqi National Alliance, which is made up of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, and the Sadrists, and is considered to be the favorite of Iran, leads only in Maysan, Qadissiya (Diwaniyah), and Dhi Qhar. The Kurdish Alliance is far in the lead in Irbil, Sulimaniyah, and Dohuk, and is only behind the Iraqi National Movement in Kirkuk by a little more than three thousand votes. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Making things better--in their own way - After a few days of forced rest, I’m thankful that Linda Craig of MOTS and Sgt. Neil McCabe of the 17th Fires Brigade in Iraq have stepped up to provide some enlightening photos and stories—thanks, you two! So read Linda’s description of a sunny day spent fishing with the young relatives of deployed troops and a budding friendship—it’s sure to make you smile. And Neil’s description of the Iraqi elections from COB Basra, Iraq takes you through the steps used to keep the elections safe and secure. Folks working on both sides of the globe; different jobs, maybe, but both are contributing in their own ways to bring something positive to the table through their work. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 12 Mar 10 - well, I have gone past my 19 year mark in the Air Force … and it feels good … it has been very good to me and I’m looking forward to my next assignment…I just can’t believe it’s been that long already .. time flies when you’re having fun, I guess … well, around here things have been pretty quiet …no missions latley, no attacks, no carziness–until last night… the Afghan New Year is coming up so the locals here decided last night was the night to party it up and celebrate…so, they hired a band and set up lights and decorations in one of the tents here on the camp…it was very interesting …the band was playing local music, of course…they cooked up another sheep, and had their “family” dinner…they all live here on the camp with us, so they all treat eash other like family–from what I can tell anyway…it started with some playful wrestling out in the rocks…it was kinda like a free-for-all… (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: AfPax Insider Is Death - In 2008, I mocked Robert Young Pelton. I know, right? Shocking! But read why: “I believe he is saying there is something dishonorable, or unnatural, about people getting paid to participate in a war. This, along with the baseless assertion that ‘mercenaries’ (a general, pejorative, and somewhat meaningless term) are ‘above the law,’ forms the basis of his argument for… I guess more soldiers? Because that’s sort of what he’s saying.” Indeed, the essence of what Pelton was complaining about was the use of contractors replacing soldiers in many aspects of warfare. He even left a comment, complaining that George W. Bush “dove headfirst into the free market model of warfare and it doesn’t work.” He was fairly unequivocal: hiring non-soldiers to do the job of soldiers is an immoral thing, something to be undertaken only with the most serious consideration… Unless your own company is at stake. Then, it’s time to run to the press. (READ MORE)

Zombie Killer 6: R.I.P. - Last Friday two of our teams suffered casualties while operating south of our current location. After heading out to conduct a Kandak assessment one our vehicles was struck by an IED and destroyed. The vehicle had a composite crew aboard from two different transition teams. Team Plissken suffered three wounded. Sergeant First Class Michael Hack, Captain Eric Lorence and their interpreter Mr Tariq were injured in the blast. The two service members were both evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany and are doing well. Captain Lorence is recovering quickly and may return to duty with his team in the near future. Mr Tariq was not injured nearly as badly, and is convalescing at his Forward Operating Base down south. Tragically, Team Archangel lost Sergeant First Class Jake Whetten. Jake was killed instantly and did not suffer. Later this week we will be having a memorial service for Sergeant Whetten and we are expecting many people in order to arrive to honor him. (READ MORE)

Guard Wife: Up In The Air - Although it is grammatically incorrect and it may make a nice title for a movie, the title of this post is not my favorite way for things in my life to be. The end of deployment is upon us. I'm not trying to be sly when I say I'm not sure when my husband will be home, but that I just know it's soon. Not that I have to tell YOU that because you get it. It's everyone ELSE who seems to think I'm keeping secrets. This deployment has been different in many ways. I'm much more capable of handling the business that goes on here...if only it were the same level of business I had last time, though! This time, the girls are older, into more things and I'm run ragged daily. This year, we started a new school, continued through the process of adopting our daughter from Ethiopia, lost loved ones and gained a new nephew. I've attended weddings, funerals, school events, and witnessed countless milestones alone. Again. (READ MORE)

Texas Music: Hitting the Ground Running - I've been outside the wire six times in the last four days. That really isn't a big deal, except for the fact that prior to Friday, I had only been outside the wire twice in three months. Friday morning I was picked up by SSG Rod, a big New Yorker stationed in Hawaii. His six man PSD has been protecting the outgoing major general (two star) for the past year, and he and his guys were a wealth of information. The last four days have been a blur of introductions, briefings, and missions. It's been like trying to drink from a fire hose, but I feel like I've been set up for success. I'm living in a CHU now, which stands for Containerized Housing Unit. Not too bad, a little small, but I have to walk about a million miles to the latrine. Also, there's an enormous generator right outside the T-wall, so it sounds like a damn eighteen wheeler is running just outside the window. Other than that, hey, it's Iraq. (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: Honesty - My blogs won't be what I want while I'm here, in Iraq, living a relatively simple life with very little to keep my mind engaged on things outside the palace walls. I've accepted this and I hope you do too. Every night I come home late. Tonight was even later - I got out around 2200. I have failed to get many nights of good sleep here and it's all my fault. How do you go from having at least 16 hours in the day to yourself to less than 2? It's a violent adjustment. So, dear readers, nothing profound from me tonight. Just a desire to keep writing as often as I can. It's after midnight, which means less than 5 hours of sleep for me at this point. Sleep is an obsession if you haven't figured it out. You have to manage it so strictly to get the right amount and I guess I'd rather go without if it's between that and talking to Kris or letting my mind wander while I do something mundane like check facebook and emails. I have a couple books by my bed... I should probably read those. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: The Rescue Gov - On February 8, heavy snows and high winds triggered avalanches in the mountains of Parwan province, north of Kabul. In the Salang Pass, around 500 cars and buses were trapped. Nearly 200 people died. Afghan cops and police battled snow-covered roads to come to the rescue. Riding along, with his personal security guards beside him, was Parwan governor Abdul Basir Salangi. Afghan troops rescued 1,500 people in the days following the storm. To hear him tell it, Salangi, at right in the picture, pulled the majority of the survivors out of their vehicles with his own two hands. On March 13, the U.S. Army’s Task Force Gladius, which helped coordinate rescue efforts, dropped by Salangi’s office to talk about preparing for similar disasters in the future. Instead, they wound up the live studio audience for the pilot episode of The Salangi Show. The governor recounted, step by step, for more than an hour, every move he made in the three days beginning February 7. Then he yelled at one of his staff to roll tape. (READ MORE)




News from the Home Front:
Considering Service in Sentencing - American judges are increasingly finding ways to provide leniency to veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan when they run afoul of the law at home, reports The Times’s John Schwartz. In handing down lighter sentences to the veterans, the judges are bucking guidelines, taking into account the stresses of war. (READ MORE)

Mission complete, I Corps comes home - Give credit to the soldiers of I Corps: They know how to arrive in style. A C-17 Globemaster III aircraft landed on Gray Army Airfield at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Sunday afternoon. The 50 soldiers filed onto the flight line, uncased the unit colors and stood in formation by a nearby hangar. (READ MORE)

Eagerness on the home front - Anticipation is building as families look forward to the return of their deployed soldiers, coming home from Iraq next month with the 41st Brigade. (READ MORE)

Army Releases February Suicide Data - The Army released suicide data today for the month of February. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 14 potential suicides: one has been confirmed as suicide, and 13 remain under investigation. For January, the Army reported 12 potential suicides among active duty soldiers. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Flags on the Fault Line - Ahmed Sheik-Mohammed and his friends confronted a group of Iraqi police officers who wanted to bring down a flag fixed to an electricity pole with this warning: “you have to shoot us first.” (READ MORE)

The Days After - The latest election results in Iraq point to a heated and possibly lengthy power struggle between the Shiite coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the rival secular slate led by Ayad Allawi. (READ MORE)

Car Bomb Kills 7 in Western Iraq's Fallujah - Iraqi police say a car bomb has exploded on a busy street in the western city of Fallujah, killing at least seven people and wounding more than two dozen others. (READ MORE)

Vote Counting Continues in Iraq, Coalition Government Likely - Votes are still being counted in Iraq and preliminary returns indicate that no party will win an outright majority. This means the leading factions will likely need to form a coalition government and negotiations could take months to complete. (READ MORE)

Iraq Election Results Hint of Political Shift - Partial election results released Monday suggested a sharp and divisive shift in power in Iraq, with a secular candidate challenging Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and old alliances fracturing against a surge of dissident movements. (READ MORE)

Preliminary vote results give Maliki narrow lead - Iraq's electoral commission announced Monday that it has counted two-thirds of the nationwide vote from the March 7 parliamentary elections, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political bloc still holding a narrow lead over his closest competitor, former prime minister Ayad Allawi. (READ MORE)

1-36 Infantry Scout 'earning His Spurs' in Northern Iraq - In today's Army, the cavalry scout is considered the commander's eyes and ears on the battlefield. Scouts engage the enemy with anti-armor weapons on their scout vehicles in the field, track and report enemy movement and activities, and direct the employment of various joint weapon systems against an adversary. (READ MORE)

Stability Operations in Iraq Making Headway -Though the U.S. has been building up the civilian infrastructure of Iraq since 2003, the sense of ownership and level interest of the people has never been as great as it is now, and that makes all the difference. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Australian-Afghan Forces Make Progress in Uruzgan Province - Special Force reservists from 1st Commando Regiment have successfully completed their mission in Afghanistan of providing protection for the local Afghan population. Thanks to their efforts in Uruzgan province, Taliban insurgents now have less access to the population and local Afghan police have a stronger presence. (READ MORE)

Launch of Ghazni City Hospital and Orphanage Brings Hope to Afghans - The Ghazni hospital and orphanage project launched, March 9, in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, and construction began, March 11, with the support of the Central Asia Development Group, an implementing partner of the United States Agency for International Development, and Food Insecurity Response for Urban Populations program, a USAID program. (READ MORE)

Mongolian Unit Trains ANA at Kabul Military Training Center - The flames from the D-30 artillery piece briefly warm the chilly morning air as the roar of the cannon echoes across the valley of the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC). With arms crossed and a stern countenance, COL Damdindorj Tsevegsuren of Mongolia nods as his unit’s Afghan National Army trainees break into applause at their success in hitting the target. (READ MORE)

Rocket attack kills 1 at Afghan NATO base - A rocket attack on the largest U.S. military hub in Afghanistan killed one person Monday, NATO said, while Afghan authorities in the country's east prevented three would-be suicide bombers from attacking a security post. (READ MORE)

Official: Pentagon probing alleged spy operation - A Defense Department official is under investigation for allegedly hiring private contractors to gather intelligence on suspected insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a U.S. official said Monday. (READ MORE)

US Had 'Private Spy Network' in Pakistan, Afghanistan - The U.S. Defense Department says it is reviewing media reports that a Pentagon official hired private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to track and kill suspected insurgents. (READ MORE)

Afghan Forces Kill 5 Suicide Bomber-Suspects in Eastern Afghanistan - Afghan authorities say security forces have killed five militants suspected of planning to carry out suicide bombings in the country's east. (READ MORE)

GAO blocks contract to firm formerly known as Blackwater to train Afghan police - Federal auditors on Monday put a stop to Army plans to award a $1 billion training program for Afghan police officers to the company formerly known as Blackwater, concluding that other companies were unfairly excluded from bidding on the job. (READ MORE)

Afghanstan war: Are some Taliban ignoring Mullah Omar's ethics code? - In fact, the killings of Nabiullah, a 29-year-old police colonel who'd been held for 10 weeks, and Junid Hejeran, a 26-year-old translator with U.S. special forces in southern Zabul province, who'd been held for days, violated a new set of ethical principles that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the top Afghanistan Taliban commander, issued last summer. (READ MORE)

Afghan women fear loss of hard-won progress - The head-to-toe burqas that made women a faceless symbol of the Taliban's violently repressive rule are no longer required here. But many Afghan women say they still feel voiceless eight years into a war-torn democracy, and they point to government plans to forge peace. (READ MORE)

Holbrooke Hails Marja Operation, Relationship with Pakistan - The ongoing U.S.-Afghan operation in Marja, Afghanistan, probably is the greatest in the history of counterinsurgency, the United States special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said in a weekend television interview. (READ MORE)

U.S. Is Reining In Special Forces in Afghanistan - Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has brought most American Special Operations forces under his direct control for the first time, out of concern over continued civilian casualties and disorganization among units in the field. (READ MORE)

Senior Taliban Commander Captured in Nad-e Ali - Afghanistan national security forces with International Security and Assistance Force partners captured several men, including a senior Nad-e Ali Taliban commander, suspected of providing insurgents with weapons and illegal explosive material. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 16 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the village of Paru Kheyl, in the Sabari District of Khowst province, after intelligence information verified militant activity. During the search the joint force captured four insurgents. The security force also found rifles and hand grenades. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan suicide bombings kill 31 - Four suicide bombers struck the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Saturday evening, killing at least 31 people and destroying houses and shops, according to investigators. (READ MORE)

New UN Envoy to Afghanistan Takes Over Troubled Mission - The new United Nations mission chief in Afghanistan arrived in Kabul Saturday to take up his post, after a difficult year that saw the mission plagued by divisions and violence. (READ MORE)

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