March 25, 2010

From the Front: 03/25/2010

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

270 Days in Afghanistan:
The Afghan New Year - The Afghan calendar is somewhat different than the standard western calendar. In fact, their whole system of time is different. Some years their celebration of such major holidays as Ramadan and New Year is in the middle of wintertime, other years, right smack dab in the middle of summer. This year, the Afghan new year of 1389 happened to fall in March. And just like Americans, the Afghans like to celebrate! By conservative estimates, about a million people flocked to the Blue Mosque in Mazar-E-Sharif to celebrate. Of course, that is no small feat for the infrastructure and civic planning that the city and province had to do to prepare for the celebration. As a result, our Afghan National Army counterparts were asked to augment Afghan National Police forces in order to make sure that no bad guys ruined the fun for all the peaceful party-goers. (READ MORE)

1st Marine Logistics Group: 1st MLG deploys to Afghanistan - Marines and sailors with 1st Marine Logistics Group said extended goodbyes to their loved ones as they boarded the bus here, March 17. More than 150 service members left Camp Pendleton to join the fight in Afghanistan. During the event, many farewells and words of encouragement were said between friends and loved ones. For some it was a reminder of who would wait their returns, for others it was a reminder of why they were going forward. For those going forward, advice was given by the Combat Logistics Regiment 17 Family Readiness Officer, “While deployed, stay focused on the mission and never get complacent.” Before deploying, Marines and sailors went through training for upcoming tasks but some may find it difficult to stay in the mindset knowing they are away from their families. “It’s really hard, I don’t want to be away from my family but I know what my job entails,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Pena, embark, CLR-15, 1st MLG. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Nowruz Mission – Part 2 - It didn’t take us long to figure out that the bazaar, restaurants and Px were relocated. So we turned around and drove to the other side of the flight line where the military terminal was. We parked our MRAPs and went inside trying to ascertain the arrival time of our guests. The clerk informed my teammate, that the VIP guests would arrive by commercial plane and it would be on the other side of the base. Once again we loaded the team back into the MRAPs and then drove to the other side of the base, the same place we had just left. We were still early, so being late wasn’t a concern and took our time driving around the other side of the flight line back to a desolated parking lot. Two of my teammates talked to some foreign soldiers who agreed to pick up the VIPs in an SUV and then transport them to our awaiting MRAPs. After an hour of waiting we saw what appeared to be a commercial airplane land and were certain this was our party. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: New Taliban Deputy: Mullah Abdul Qayim Zakir - As I predicted last month, it appears that Mullah Abdul Qayim Zakir (aka Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul) has been appointed as the Taliban's Deputy Commander. He will replace Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a highly influential leader and close associate of Mullah Omar who was reportedly involved in high-level reconciliation talks with Afghan leaders (some analysts hypothesize this is why he was arrested). Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai report on their Declassified blog (at Newsweek) that Mullah Omar recently announced the promotion of Abdul Qayim Zakir and Akhtar Mohammed Mansoor as his deputies, according to a reliable source who is a senior Taliban operator. As the Newsweek article mentions, it appears that Zakir is a popular choice among Taliban leadership and members: "The choice of Zakir, who was released from Guantánamo in late 2007, and who returned to join the Taliban in the field about one year later after being freed by Afghan authorities... " (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: U.S., Pakistan set for 2nd day of talks - Reports about the first day of the U.S. and Pakistan's 'strategic dialogue' talks in Washington were mixed: although the U.S. has agreed to speed up delivery of some $2 billion in back military aid and equipment for Pakistan's operations in the tribal areas, U.S. officials continue to be noncommittal about Pakistan's desire for a civilian nuclear deal mirroring the one reached by India and the United States several years. Officials also danced around details about the touchy subject of Islamabad's ties with the Taliban and its involvement in the Afghan reconciliation process. But officials on both sides were enthusiastic about the progress being made, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailing a "new day" in U.S.-Pakistan relations and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi declaring himself a "happy man, a satisfied man." (READ MORE)

Sahr Muhammedally: Keep Guantanamo away from Afghanistan - Closing Guantanamo and deciding what to do with future international terrorism suspects has been harder than expected. According to the LA Times, some U.S. officials are considering expanding U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan and creating a prison similar to Guantanamo to hold terrorism suspects in order to avoid trying them in U.S. courts due to lack of evidence. This is a bad idea -- a very bad idea. Although it may be tempting to suggest Afghanistan as an alternative holding site for suspected terrorist from places like Yemen and Somalia, I can say with certainty that establishing mini Gitmos in other countries is not a solution. If we go that route it would undoubtedly lead to a public relations disaster for the U.S. military still trying to mend relations with the Afghan people, and put a strain on diplomatic relations with the Afghan government. Not to mention such a move is legally impermissible. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: Blackwater Still in Crosshairs of Federal Government - These guys have a Navy and Air Force and the Federal Government is upset about 17 Ak-47s. Seriously? 17. Ak47s. I know there is a ton of hating on this whole “private contractor in combat zone” wagon. And I have heard more conspiracy theories of Blackwater taking over the country as I care to hear. Here is the real point: Blackwater and other private security companies are needed in a combat zone. Do I like it? It doesn’t matter if I do or you do. Without them you will need more American servicemen and women deployed and in this political climate that is hard enough to do when they are only combat arms troops. We can hate the Blackwater folks all we want, they have saved American lives, protected America’s most important officials and helped keep our number of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan down to only the most essential. Let’s just quiet down some of the nonsense here. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Everyone Hates JAM - Something that we have noticed here is how well Allawi did in the elections, and how poorly Moktada Al Sadr did. Sure many news reports will tell you that the Sadr gang did well. But talking with people who live in Sadr City, I understand that the majority of Sadr City voted for Al Maliki's State of Law party. A lot of others voted for Allawi, and I'm told about 3 percent voted for Moktada Al Sadr. "Everyone hates them," a friend said. I asked him why, he said: "Let me give you an example," the other evening he was out hanging with some friends. Out of the blue, a guy fired a gun at the young men. "It's just because he's from Jaish Al Mahdi, and he wanted us to know that he can do what he wants." Thank God they were not killed. But the friend said everyone is sick of Moktada's militia. According to news reports, Moktada Al Sadr has made it clear he does not want Nouri Al Maliki to have a second term as prime minister. (READ MORE)

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: Large-scale arrests in Saudi Arabia illustrate threat to the oil supply - Today Saudi Arabia announced arrests of 113 alleged al Qaeda militants (58 from Saudi Arabia, 52 from Yemen, and men from Bangladesh, Eritrea, and Somalia) whom it claims were planning attacks against oil facilities. Saudi security officials said the suspects were divided into three separate cells, according to a Reuters report. Security forces discovered weapons, ammunition, and suicide belts during the raids, suggesting the jihadis were preparing for attacks with suicide assault teams. "The 12 in the two cells were suicide bombers," Mansour al Turki, a spokesman for Saudi security services, told Reuters. "We have compelling evidence against all of those arrested, that they were plotting terrorist attacks inside the kingdom." Turki described the suspects as being members of a "deviant group that has chosen Yemen as a base for the launch of its criminal operations." (READ MORE)

Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio: Former Gitmo detainee targeting Afghan charities - A former Guantanamo detainee transferred from the detention facility to Afghanistan on Dec. 19, 2009, has already returned to the Taliban’s ranks, according to multiple intelligence officials contacted by the Long War Journal. The former detainee was identified in documents produced at Guantanamo as Abdul Hafiz (as well as an alternative name, Abdul Qawi) and given an internment serial number of 1030. During the more than six years he was held at Guantanamo, Hafiz was repeatedly identified as “a suspect in the murder of an International Red Cross worker in Afghanistan.” Memos produced at Guantanamo also alleged that Hafiz participated in the jihad against the Soviets, ran madrassas and recruited young men to fight for the Taliban, was “responsible for maintaining contacts with Mullah Mohammed Omar,” and fought in a 40-man militia comprised of fighters from the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s insurgency group. (READ MORE)

Artillery Amber: Leave - We just finished our two weeks with our solider. I know that the military calls it leave….I guess because they are leaving their real job as a soldier and reentering the ordinary everyday world….the civilian world. That term has always sounded funny to me. We had a great time together…me, my husband and our two boys. We hit a water park, took in a parade and a wedding and we all passed around the flu for a week. We missed out of several things we wanted to do but we all enjoyed being together. It wasn’t magical like in the movies but I am grateful for the face time I got with my solider. Now I know I am half way thru this third deployment. I am a survivor of this Army wife life. I can survive the rest of the deployment…..just a few more months to go! (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: The cycle of life: the joy, the heartbreak - Through my mail arrives the heralding of a vast array of life’s moments: The birth of little Nevaeh to a proud Marine grandmother, Nanette Readinger, with an amazing photo of the tiny baby nestled in the arms of her father’s dress blues. An announcement of promotion for Manatee High grad Doug Scholfield to Captain in the Marine Corps—football and family apparently prepared him well. Local graduates from the Air Force Academy--we seem to have a lot of those! Robert T. Alley, Kevin A. Scharroo and John T. Constantine are ready to make their mark on the world. And the outpouring of love and support for our troops were apparent at last weekend’s “packing party” at MOTS where folks packed 75 care packages for local troops in about an hour. Sadly, another Florida Marine has fallen in battle. Lance Cpl. Justin J. Wilson, 24, died in Afghanistan just yesterday. (READ MORE)

Andi: From the Mailbag: How Do You Do It? - Reader D needs some advice and support. “My husband is in the Marine Corps Reserves and is preparing for his deployment to Afghanistan in about a month. We don’t have kids, unless you count two hopelessly spoiled dogs, so it’s not like I will have a family to take care of while he is gone like so many other milspouses here on spousebuzz. But I do have one question: How in the heck am I supposed to do this? I feel bad for even asking that, he is the one who actually has to go, but I find myself at a loss. I read this site all the time and have read all the discussions posts on deployment, how you are supposed to feel, the stages that you go through, etc. I know I signed up for this, I married a Marine and knew this was going to be a part of the deal. Each time we talk about it all I can manage to do is cry. I lived on my own just fine before I met him, and now I feel like I won’t be able to function without him here.” (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Free Tuition For Kids Of Dead Soldiers “Glorifies” Afghanistan - A wonderful idea crafted by Toronto businessman Kevin Reed and retired general Rick Hillier to give something back to the families of deceased soldiers has met with opposition from a number of professors at the University of Regina. The scholarship program provided free tuition to the children of dead soldiers in 80 universities and colleges across Canada. Dubbed Project Hero, the program will pay four years of tuition and $1,000 in books for any student who had a parent die in service of our nation. The University of Regina signed on to the scholarship, but apparently that isn’t going over so well with everybody: “Sixteen professors have signed a letter to Timmons stating the program glorifies military action and they don’t want their school to be part of it. Among those with concerns is Jeffrey Webber, who teaches political science and who says the name of the program celebrates military intervention abroad. ‘We think this is a glorification of the Afghan effort,’ he said.” (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: The National Character of IEDs - Part of the difficulty in finding and defeating improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs that have wreaked such havoc for Americans and their allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that they come in so many different varieties. Not only are some command detonated using things like cell phones or garage door openers to trip the fuse, but others are “victim-operated”—meaning they go off when someone steps on top of them. Not only that, but they’re made of different materials. In Iraq, the vast majority of roadside bombs were made from military ordinance like rockets, mortars and mines. As US forces became more adept at figuring out the threat they posed, things like mine detectors, (since most were made of metal) and radio jammers (to thwart the command-detonated threat) worked well. Iranian forces also supplied technologies necessary to make the nightmarish EFP, or explosively formed projectile: (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My last Tour: Licked By A Lamb (for real) - Over the past year, I have taken many photographs of sheep in Afghanistan. I never got very close to them. But on today’s mission, not only did I get close, but a baby lamb got quite “intimate” with me. A few weeks ago we received notice that our AF Group Commander, several squadron commanders and select staff would visit our camp. This would be an opportunity to meet and greet, shoot at the range, and if time permitting, visit some of the historical sites here. The original plan was to meet in the morning and then after lunch drive to the shooting range. Two vehicle breakdowns delayed our guests from arriving on time so we started the day later than planned. While driving to the range I noticed all of the snow has melted and the craggy mountain peaks have returned to their barren ugly brown faces. We set up our targets for the small arm weapons and mounted a 50 caliber machine gun on an up-armored Humvee. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Empowering Iran in Afghanistan - From NPR: “Relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the international coalition seeking to secure and rebuild his country are rocky these days, with both Afghans and Westerners questioning whether Karzai is a partner or a liability. The visit to Kabul two weeks ago by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised eyebrows both in the country and abroad, as did the fact that Karzai stayed quiet as his guest railed at U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had left Kabul just hours earlier. At a joint news conference at his presidential palace, Karzai called the Iranian president ‘brother’ and said Afghans were lucky he had come. But some Afghans felt Karzai had crossed a dangerous line. ‘I think he has been on this confrontational course with the West, particularly the United States, since last year,’ said Haroun Mir, who heads the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.” (READ MORE)

Most Certainly Not: Crazy Train - All aboard! My husband made it back safely into our arms yesterday. We could not be more thrilled. At the church, while awaiting his homecoming ceremony's beginning, we received a phone call letting us know that our Embassy date had FINALLY been confirmed. Our Embassy date is March 30th. That's next Tuesday! We are leaving THIS Friday at 6:14 a.m. Fortunately, I had to send our itinerary to our agency because that is the first I'd looked at my actual tickets. I thought we had been booked from the travel package with a Saturday departure. Nope. Friday. I'm. Freaking. Out. So much to do. So little time. SRSLY. M1 will be guest blogging here while I'm away so that everyone can stay informed on whatever we are able to communicate while we are away. Having my husband home has been amazing so far. M2 has not wanted to let my husband out of her sight. She has been spending lots of time with Daddy. It's adorable. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Key court ruling favors Marine charged in Iraqi shooting case - The defense for the last Marine facing criminal charges in the fatal shooting of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 won a key ruling Tuesday that could lead to the case being dropped. (READ MORE)

A surprise homecoming - Kirra Reiter buried her face into her father's camouflage jacket and squeezed him hard. Her little brother, Jarrod, stared at his dad and smiled. And Capt. Troy Reiter, a travel-weary Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier back from the war in Afghanistan, soaked in every minute of his children's surprise to see him. (READ MORE)

Pentagon hasn't met main threats - Somali pirates, Mexican drug smugglers and Islamic terrorists are the types of groups that pose the greatest threat to the United States in the coming decades and, according to a report released on Tuesday, the Pentagon is not adapting quickly enough to stop them. (READ MORE)

Caution lights for the military's 'information war' - It has become commonplace since Sept. 11, 2001, to speak of the "war of ideas" between Muslim extremists and the West. But there has been too little attention paid to the U.S. military's mobilization for this war, which is often described by the oxymoronic phrase "information operations." (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

In Baghdad, the Crime Scene Team - In the aftermath of a roadside bomb on Monday, the gray-uniformed members of the Iraqi police forensic unit known as the Crime Scene Team — a “CSI Baghdad,” of sorts — were on the job. (READ MORE)

EOD Iraqi Army Trains on Sensitive Site Exploitation - Two explosive ordnance disposal teams stood in the room, each with a specific task to complete. Their instructors, one for each team, stood ready to assist if needed. (READ MORE)

Suffering and Triumph in Iraq; a Sheikh's Story - "I am responsible for this area," said Sheikh Habib Khazal Karim, of the Al Gawalba tribe. The people of the Al Gawalba tribe in Dojima live along the Diyala River in Diyala province. (READ MORE)

De-Baathification With a Hacksaw - Until recently, it was perhaps the only surviving public image of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. He was portrayed in huge metal relief as Saddam the master builder, personally directing the construction of the twin-decked July 14 Bridge across the Tigris River. (READ MORE)

Preliminary estimates on election results - With final results in Iraq's election set to be announced Friday, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his secular rival, former Premier Iyad Allawi, are neck in neck in the race to form the next national government. (READ MORE)

Iraq's Kurds could lose some of their influence to anti-American Sadr movement - The Kurds, the strongest U.S. ally in Iraq and a leading political kingmaker, appear likely to lose some of their influence to a stridently anti-American group that did surprisingly well in this month's parliamentary elections. (READ MORE)

Bid for Iraq vote recount intensifies - Senior politicians from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ruling coalition warned Tuesday that Shiite Muslim-dominated southern Iraq could severely loosen its ties with Baghdad if the nation's electoral commission failed to meet its demand for a manual recount of ballots in parliamentary elections. (READ MORE)

Shura Members Discuss Upcoming Projects in Kandahar Province - More than 30 shura members gathered, March 22, in Shah Wali Kot, Afghanistan, to speak with the District Governor about proposed projects to better the district. (READ MORE)

Developing Afghanistan's Independence - An Afghan National Army Air Corps C-27 cargo transport plane flew its first operational mission from Kabul to Kandahar with an almost all-Afghan crew. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 25 - A Taliban commander and another militant were captured by an Afghan-international security force in Ghazni last night. (READ MORE)

UN head in Afghanistan meets with militant group - The top U.N. official in Afghanistan met Thursday with a delegation from a Taliban-linked militant group that has extended a peace offer to the Afghan government. (READ MORE)

China says it agrees with Afghanistan on politics - China reassured visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday that it won't be joining the chorus of disapproval at home and abroad over corruption, cronyism and electoral fraud plaguing his government. (READ MORE)

Afghan Taliban chief's close aide arrested - A close aide of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and former governor of Afghanistan's Oruzgan province, Abdul Hai Salik, was arrested here Thursday, a media report said. (READ MORE)

'Pak govt's 'murky' motives over Taliban crackdown source of extreme tension for US' - While Pakistan is seeking a stronger bond with the US through the recent change in its tactics which has seen several top Taliban commanders being nabbed, Islamabad's policy of supporting the US' mission in Afghanistan while simultaneously lending a 'covert' helping hand to the Taliban has become major irritant for American officials. (READ MORE)

Human rights under pressure - Afghanistan’s hard-won post-Taliban human rights achievements are being eroded due to the persistent immunity from prosecution of powerful figures, the intensifying conflict, and the adoption of laws which undermine justice and human rights, a UN official warns. (READ MORE)

Curbing Taliban Opium Trade Risks Loss of Support - Curbing the Taliban's multimillion dollar opium poppy business was a major goal of a military operation to seize this former insurgent stronghold. With the town of Marjah in NATO hands, the Marines face a conundrum: (READ MORE)

Is the Afghan Army in Danger of Growing Too Strong? - In Khost, the Afghan army is quickly beginning to look like the only capable government entity on the scene, and Afghans recognize it as such. On the downside, about 900 of the 3,700 soldiers in the 1st Afghan Brigade, 203rd Corps, were AWOL when I visited, and because of hitches in the personnel system, many were still being paid. (READ MORE)

Civilians Killed in Khowst - A joint Afghan border police - ISAF operational base in the Bak District of Khowst province came under attack by insurgents yesterday, and the unit returned fire. (READ MORE)

Pakistan’s War of Choice - WHAT are Americans to make of all the good news coming out of Pakistan in recent weeks? First, the Afghan Taliban’s military chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was arrested in a raid in February. (READ MORE)

The Pakistan complex - THE COMPLEXITY of U.S. relations with Pakistan has been well reflected in the successive reports about the capture last month of a top Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. (READ MORE)

Airstrikes kill 61 suspected militants - Pakistani military airstrikes killed 61 suspected militants in an area near the Afghan border Thursday, including dozens at a seminary where Taliban commanders were believed to be meeting, officials said. (READ MORE)

In U.S., Pakistan meetings, a chance to move past mutual 'trust deficit' - When Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's commercial flight to the United States stopped in Manchester, England, this week, the U.S. ambassador in London drove four hours to be there for the hour-long layover. (READ MORE)

Dialogue Seeks to Strengthen U.S.-Pakistani Ties - Talks between Pakistani and American officials seek to strengthen, broaden and deepen the ties between the two countries, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said here today. (READ MORE)

U2 eye-in-the-sky spy plane wins new lease of life in Afghanistan - The U2 spy aircraft, famed for high-altitude Cold War espionage missions over the Soviet Union, is enjoying a new lease of life in Afghanistan as the best spotter of Taleban roadside bombs in the allies’ arsenal. (READ MORE)

Insurgent Faction Presents Afghan Peace Plan - Representatives of a major insurgent faction have presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government, the first concrete proposal to end hostilities since President Hamid Karzai said he would make reconciliation a priority after his re-election last year. (READ MORE)


Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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