March 31, 2010

From the Front: 03/31/2010

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

Dispatches:
Bouhammer: WTF Moment, I have seen it all now - Now let me make sure I understand this correctly. It is bad enough that the Army caved into the Political Correctness pressures that they are so quick to criticize (in the Maj Hasan case) and allow in these Sikh brothers that knew what the Army grooming standards were. Yes the Army let them in and let them keep their beards, etc. in respect of their Sikh religion. But now THIS!!! Is that a ACU camouflaged turban with FRICKEN Captains rank on it? I am thinking I have about seen it all when it comes to an Army that is more concerned with people’s feelings and everyone getting a trophy than developing the warriors we need…warriors that must adhere to the proper discipline. Ohh and don’t even get me F@#$$@# started on the “I am a Sikh Warrior” crap. How about “I am an American Warrior”?? Huh? (READ MORE)

11 Foxtrot: I'm close to the breaking point - VA, when said it brings forth images of WWII vets in front of court houses saluting the flag they defended. Images of Vietnam Vets being spat on, still holding their heads high. Iraq and Afghanistan Vets coming off planes to their loved ones. When I say the the letters VA, it brings new images to mind. I see dumb ass people that don't want to help, stupid people that have no fucking clue what a Vet is going through.* I'm so fucking pissed that I'm shaking as I write this. I'm ready to go to Washington DC and burn the entire fucking city down. The VA has done nothing but fuck me since I got involved with them. I'm sorry to all the rest of the Vets, I'm about to go in and claim everything I can think of. Just got a call from the VA Social Worker. Nicest person I talked to there ever. She thinks I have PTSD, she's going to get me an apt with the Head Dr so I can get some help. I just got done crying because I feel so helpless. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: A Visit to the Past - My curiosity finally got the best of me and today I would pacify it. I’ve driven past it dozens of times and had hoped to see it up close. Today a handful of teammates and I would visit the 14th century ruins that reside on a portion of ANA land. We were a bit skittish at first, because of rumor concerning landmines. But I was assured if we stayed on the paths then it would be safe. I led the way as we followed a dirt path to these ruins. For me it was like taking a trip back into the past. I’m still uncertain of the exact history, but I presume this might have been a garrison fortress at one time. I have been told it dates back to the 14th-15th century. Due to hundreds of years of erosion and war, the structure is in poor shape and badly deteriorating. But the erosion effect provided a glimpse of the construction and architectural methods utilized during this time era. (READ MORE)

Steve Coll: Battlefield tourist - Greetings from en route to Marjah. I’m out in Afghanistan for a spell to do some reporting for the magazine. I thought I would file some posts as I go along, while trying to avoid subjects that might overlap with my prospective print piece—hard to sort out how to do that with precision, but I’ll try. To reach Kabul and beyond I hitched a ride with the press pool accompanying Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, who is in Afghanistan for about forty-eight hours. The pool includes me, two old Washington Post colleagues, Karen DeYoung and David Ignatius, as well as Joe Klein of Time, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, and four or five others. It’s kind of a Bucket List trip for aging national-security reporters. I’ll peel off from the pool tomorrow and report the rest of the way on my own, but for now I’m enjoying a quick inside-the-wire tour. I’m typing this from the cargo hold of a V-22 Osprey, that Star Wars-looking hybrid of jet and helicopter. (READ MORE)

Headhunter: Marine Officer: Afghan Corruption Runs Deep - "BATAVIA TWP. – After nine months as chief of operations of the U.S. effort to develop Afghanistan’s national security forces, Tom Shoemake said Americans should brace for a long-term commitment if anything is to be accomplished." This is a reserve Lt. Col. With 27 years of service, Meritorious Service Medal (for Afghanistan), a Bronze Star (from a 7 ½ month deployment to Iraq in 2005-2006) and cited as “leading numerous combat patrols, raids and reconnaissance missions.” What all that means to me is that he has a fresh ‘just back from the field’ point of view. And from his perspective, I’ll listen to him. The article gives some good soundbite material as to why the operations in theater lean more toward political and socioeconomic than repeated Majah assaults. Without saying COIN (Counter Insurgency) the Colonel, in my view, is saying that our armed forces are doing a great job in both the COIN fight and OTTW (Operations Other Than War) from the ground up. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: Ouch: Canada Tells Obama Administration, ‘We’re Out of Afghanistan by 2011 - This really hurts morale. Canada, who had been holding al Qaeda fixed in place for much of 2004 to 2008, is done in Afghanistan in 2011. They have suffered 141 deaths in the war. The Canadians have fought in numerous engagements in Afghanistan. I was always impressed with the one waged in September 2006 against an estimated force of over 2000 Taliban forces. It was known as Operation Medusa which ended up leading to some of the fiercest fighting of their involvement in Afghanistan, the second battle of Battle of Panjwaii. There the Canadians took part in a chaotic and stubborn conventional firefight that pitted their forces against a dug in and well rehearsed enemy. Any way you look at this is bad for America, bad for the war effort and humiliating for the Obama Administration. No winners here at all. (READ MORE)

Semperpapa: One Weekend A Month - On March 24, 2010, a convoy of Light Armored vehicles was making its way through the desert of Southern Afghanistan Helmand Province, just as it had done so many times prior to that day. Suddenly, a huge explosion and the one of the LAVs disappeared temporarily in an enormous cloud of fine dirt and smoke. Vehicles in front and behind stopped immediately and Marines scrambled to secure the area and attempt to bring aid where possible. The LAV affected was carrying three men. Two of them were killed instantly, the driver and the vehicle commander, while the Navy Corpsman in the rear of the vehicle survived with just scratches. On March 24, Lance Cpl. Rick J. Centanni, 19, and Battalion Sgt. Maj. Robert J. Cottle died serving their country and giving their highest level of commitment for the cause of freedom. The action was one of those situations one can define as a “silver bullet” as several other LAVs had passed by near the spot and it was that one that hit the mine. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Afghan National Air Corps Spreads Its Wings - The Kandahar Air Wing of the Afghanistan National Air Corps has come on leaps and bounds since its arrival in October 2009. Major General Abdul Raziq Sherzai is Officer Commanding of the Kandahar Air Wing. He said there are 572 personnel established on the wing, including experienced pilots,trainee pilots, engineers, logistics and admin. Wednesday and Sundays are official training days when taskings are concentrated on developing the combat ready capability of experienced pilots, although no operational tasking is ever turned down. Lt Colonel Amanullah had returned from a resupply mission but also told of how the Air Corps had assisted local people during a torrential flood last month. “The river and wadi’s had burst their banks and local people were trapped in their compounds and some were in the water. We landed our helicopters as close as possible, rescuing up to 30 people”. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British soldier's miracle escape after Taliban grenade bounces off his HEAD! - A soldier who dived for cover after a grenade bounced off his head escaped with just a few scratches, blurred vision, and a ringing in his ears. At first when Lance Sergeant Richard French, 28, from Holsworthy in Devon, felt a thump on his helmet he thought his friends were playing a trick on him. But the Coldstream Guard, who was manning the radio at a new command post in Babaji, Helmand, suddenly realised what had happened and hit the dirt. He said: 'I thought the blokes on stag were throwing stones at me as a joke, so I started to shout some friendly abuse at them. 'Then, in an instant, I realised what had happened. 'I shouted "grenade" and dived on the floor to my right. 'It was not clear where it had landed, I just dived right because that's what my instinct told me to do.' A split second later the grenade detonated. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Census Impacts Military Families - I received my 2010 Census in the mail the other day, but didn’t give it much thought. “Just another form to fill out,” I thought and threw it on my “To Do” pile of mail. But the census isn’t something to take lightly I later learned from the 2010 Census Web site. Among other things, the census impacts the number of seats a state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives and also affects the allocation of federal funds for projects such as hospitals and schools. I then read an article on defense.gov by Jordan Reimer (“Military Gears Up for 2010 Census”) about why the census is particularly important for our military families. Reimer interviewed Mary Dixon, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center, who stressed the importance of accounting for all military families, whether stationed stateside or overseas. (READ MORE)

HERMANEUTICS: AFGHANISTAN: Me and my LTs - My company is blessed to have four Second Lieutenants, each responsible for their own section and eager to accomplish the mission! But it's a blessing and a curse, as it falls upon me to teach and mentor these new officers the ways of the Army. So we meet once a week on my porch after lunch to discuss a broad range of topics, everything from how to handle problem Soldiers to the leadership theory. On Saturday I facilitated a discussion on an article which garnered much disagreement. In essence, is a leader most effective from his desk, as a behind-the-scenes executive planning future operations or is it more advantageous to lead from the front of the formation, earning respect by getting dirty with your Soldiers and thus making better decisions? Of course there is no right answer, and I think a good Commander can balance both aspects depending on the situation. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US strikes kill 6 in North Waziristan - The US struck a Taliban safe house in the lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan as the Pakistani military continues to target the Taliban in nearby Arakzai. At least three missiles were reported to have been fired from an unmanned Predator or Reaper on a compound known to house Taliban fighters in the village of Tapi, near Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. "A US drone attack targeted a compound owned by Zamir Khan, a local tribesman, and used by militants," a Pakistani security official said, according to The News. "Two missiles were fired." A second unmanned strike aircraft fired a third missile into the compound shortly after the first attack, a Pakistani official said. Six terrorists were reported killed in the two missile strikes, but no senior Taliban or al Qaeda fighters have been identified as being among those killed. Tapi is a known haven for the Haqqani Network, the Taliban group that operates in eastern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: Salute Soldiers with the Spirit of America - Military charity Operation Homefront (www.OperationHomefront.net) and Jim Beam recently launched “Salute Soldiers with the Spirit of America,” a program/contest designed to support troops both at home and abroad, and provide family and friends with opportunities to salute their military pals throughout 2010. As part of the program, now through June 21, anyone can nominate their soldier family and friends to win a VIP experience to one of the following events. • A major golf championship at Pebble Beach on June 19 and 20, 2010. • A home game for a professional baseball team on Chicago's South Side on July 10, 2010. • A Kid Rock concert and the opportunity to meet Kid Rock in 2010. To nominate a service member anyone can visit Jim Beam’s Facebook page and/or www.JimBeam.com. Jim Beam and Operation Homefront have also set up a text to donate program. Simply text the word SALUTE to 90999 to add $5 to your phone bill as a donation to Operation Homefront. (READ MORE)

MOTHAX: Put yourself in his dad’s shoes - And then reach into your pocket and help this man. Imagine one day you find government vehicles waiting in your driveway, and you know why they are there. And this is the worst moment of your life. But, you know your son died doing what he wanted to do, and you are so very, very proud of him. And as you get ready to lay him to rest, people from halfway across the country protest outside the cemetery, and you think, this is the very worst moment of my life. As if saying goodbye to a cherished son were not horrific enough for one lifetime, zealots with no sense of taste, decorum or class use your private moment of grieving to pass on their belief that your son died because “God Hates Faggots”. But, you won’t give in without a fight, because your son didn’t either. So you file suit in court, and first you are awarded vast sums of money for the damage that these miscreants had done to you. But, on appeal, the next court sees the situation differently. (READ MORE)

Edda2010: CHICKENS, CATS AND BEGINNINGS - The last time I went to Afghanistan there was this thing the soldiers did, something they got from the older NCOs who'd been with the unit for years. They'd meow like cats, then say, "Here, kitty, kitty!" and yowl. I asked one of the NCOs what it meant, and he told me a story about how they'd had a cat in Iraq, after the unit airdropped in to seize the airfield. The cat had disappeared, and for the next two deployments they were always asking after this cat. Even when they weren't in a place where there could possibly be a cat -- come to think of it, especially in those situations, like up at the COP* -- they'd give these cat calls: "Kitty? Kitty!" This was the first exposure I had to deployment psychosis. Until recently I'd put the "Here, kitty" incidents out of my mind. When we were at JRTC* training up for the Iraq deployment that never came (boots are on ground in Afghanistan, just like last time)... (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Airpower in Counterinsurgency - Out of necessity, I've taken a break from drawing parallels between the Iraq War and the Revolutionary War and moved on to something a little different. I'm doing some volunteer work, of sorts, creating a brief information packet regarding the role of airpower in counterinsurgency. Hey, it's what any self-respecting COINdinista would do, right? Fortunately, I've been getting some great help from my fellow COINdinistas, such as Mark Safranski and the Small Wars Journal crew. Special thanks to the gang from CNAS, including Commander Herb "Herbal" Carmen--an E-2C Hawkeye pilot, piracy expert, and producer of some of the finest Youtube videos ever. Another "thank you" goes out to Adam Elkus, my frequent partner in crime, who recommended that I pick up the book "Airpower in Small Wars" by James Corum. After reading it for a day, I've been intrigued by the RAF's experiment in fighting counterinsurgency from the air in Iraq...in the 1920s. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: In About-Face, Marines Embrace Web 2.0 - Last summer, the U.S. Marine Corps took a draconian approach to Web 2.0, issuing a sweeping ban on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social media sites from its networks. In an order issued yesterday, the service changed course, issuing guidelines to encourage “responsible and effective use” of social networking technology. “The Marine Corps embraces and strives to leverage the advances of internet-based capabilities,” the directive states. “Effective immediately, internet-based capabilities will be made available to all MCEN [Marine Corps Enterprise Network] users.” In addition to opening up YouTube and Google tools, it encourages Marine organizations to create a better online presence. Marine recruiters already use Facebook; Marine Corps public affairs uses Twitter. This new guidance gives the green light for other units to use the same tools. It’s a remarkable about-face. (READ MORE)

Colonel Gary Anderson: Iraq: As Good as it Gets - I was not surprised that Ayad Allawi got a lot of votes in the recent Iraqi election. What surprised me is how many of his votes got counted. Allawi is a secular Shiia who ran on a nationalist platform. He ran squarely against the ultra religious segment of the Shiia elites in Iraq who have cuddled up to Iran in recent years, and he also opposed the radical Islamic nationalists in Iraq’s fractious Shiite majority. In this, he gained the overwhelming support of the nation's minority Sunni community. Of nearly 200 Iraqis I polled in the months leading up to the election, virtually no-one I talked to said that he or she would vote for the ruling Maliki block. I wasn’t asking who they would vote for, only if they would vote. However, about thirty percent of those interviewed volunteered their preference anyway. With one exception, Shiia and Sunni, they were for Allawi’s team. The lone Maliki leaning exception was the Deputy Governor of the Abu Ghraib district (Qada’a), and he was running on Maliki’s ticket. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: bicycle bomb kills up to 17 in Afghan market - As many as 17 Afghan civilians were killed earlier today when a remote-controlled bicycle bomb detonated in a crowded market outside Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, as farmers were receiving seeds to plant in lieu of the lucrative and pervasive poppy crops in Helmand. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's controversial half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is in the news today as U.S. officials are worried about his connections to the narcotics trade and the insurgency and eager for him to be removed from his position as the head of Kandahar's provincial council. The Post reports that a senior U.S. military official met with Wali Karzai two weeks ago and threatened to put him on a list that would allow the Kandahari leader to be captured or killed if he is caught meeting with any insurgents. (READ MORE)

Uncle Jimbo: The Battle of Wanat- First Hand - Last night we heard an amazing story from two gentlemen who were there. They are only speaking up now because what was a tough day but ultimately a victory has been turned into a case where they are portrayed as victims. The Battle of Wanat was fought right at the end of the 2nd of the 503rd, 173rd Airborne's 14 month tour. The Taliban had begin returning from their safe havens in Pakistan and they came in force. 2nd Platoon of Chosen Company was building a patrol base so that the unit coming to relieve them would have good eyes and ears on their area of operations. They got hit by 200+ Taliban and although they took some serious losses, they held their ground. 9 good men died that day and 27 were wounded including the two we spoke with last night SSG Ryan Pitts (nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross) and SGT Mike Denton (Awarded the Silver Star). (READ MORE)

Neptunus Lex: CODE - Veteran computer gamers were much astir at the news that Activision was releasing a new “Call of Duty” game last November. Your correspondent is forced to admit that he purchased a copy hisself and loaded it on the Dark Side of the upper deck iMac. From that game I have derived many hours of pleasure to go with the reinforced sense that when it came to service selection, I chose wisely. Too many ways to get morted in a ground scrum. What I did not know, but was charmed to learn, is that Activision has created a “Call of Duty Endowment” non-profit arm that seeks to illuminate the issue of unemployment for returning veterans, which now stands at nearly 20%, according to the Labor Department. This is the kind of issue that the legacy media, for whatever reason, has not done a particularly good job covering. Until the veteran bleeds, the story will not lead, it appears. But private citizens and public consortia have the means to highlight this issue, which verges on a national disgrace. CODE is attempting to do just that: (READ MORE)

Awful, Beautiful Life: Easter (or lack of) - My husband is "thisclose" to coming home. Easter is this weekend and I usually love this holiday. It was always a really important one when I was growing up and going to church at Eastertime is just so great. It must be the deploymones or something. Because I have no desire to do anything else with my husband gone. He has missed enough holidays. ENOUGH. So I am not celebrating Easter this year. We aren't members of a church anymore anyway. I let my kids pick out $20 worth of things for Easter yesterday at Toys R Us. I then explained to them the meaning of Easter on the car ride home but they weren't paying any attention to me. It was a half-hearted attempt anyway. I am just so freaking tired of being by myself. I am tired of spending holidays by myself. This deployment is so freaking close to being over but I just can't suck it up and go on anymore. So I feel like I am punishing Easter because I am in a bad mood but I just can't do it anymore. (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: The Birthday - Before I attempt to get my 6 hours of allotted sleep tonight, I feel that I must take advantage of the good internet connection. Today was birthday number 35. That means after today I start accumulating my 36th year of life. Seems kind of old to be perfectly honest. Kris will waste no time in reminding me that I'm a year older than him (even though it's only a few months) because 35 is more than 34. That's ok, he can say that. ;) Having a birthday over here isn't so bad. My office does a good job of keeping track of birthdays and making sure there is a cake and a brief moment to sing happy birthday to the birthday boy or girl. I have to say, I've never been in the presence of a crowd such as this (think stars and eagles). It's great though. Who doesn't like cake? All day long people were wishing me happy birthday and for lunch, my boss (the one I actually work with every day) took me out for lunch. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Mookie Makes a Move - Often Iraqis become irritated when someone compares the situation Iraq with that of Lebanon. But something going on now is very reminiscent of Lebanon. The lastest move by Moktada Al Sadr sounds very much like Hezbollah action in Lebanon. Al Sadr and his gang are organizing a referendum for the Iraqis to choose their next prime minister. Yes, that's what I said. The elections were just held earlier this month. Not to mention that he's in no position to do anything of the sort. Still, it reminds Iraqis of how much imfluence Iran has here. The call for a referendum to choose a prime minister of Iran's liking is veyr much like when Hezbollah launched a war against Israel without consulting the government in Beirut. It's got Iran written all over it. I can tell you that Iraqis are not taking Mookie's move seriously. Everyone is waiting for the coalitions and alliances to form. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: Noble, patriotic, wacky - “What a great picture,” said a woman in my office yesterday as she gestured towards my desk. “Which one?” I asked, as there are quite a few cluttering up the place. “That one?” I asked as I pointed to a photo which gives me endless amusement, but seems to put others at a loss for words. You see, there is this lovely portrait of my son from his graduation from Parris Island…the flag is unfurled just so behind him, his uniform is immaculate, there is a noble gleam in his eye… …and then there’s one of the photos from his last deployment. That photo kind of scares people, but makes me laugh every time I look at it. Daniel and one of his buddies are sporting “moto-hawks,” and Daniel is doing his infamous Drill Instructor “knife hand” at the camera with a look of maniacal glee on his face. “Is that the same person?” innocently asked the visitor, as she eyed the ‘funny’ picture. “Yup,” but that’s a deployment picture, I explained. (READ MORE)

The Diplomat: Can Afghanistan Help Itself? - A pair of Afghan helicopters swoop down onto a farmer’s field in Mahageer, outside the city of Bagram, and disgorge squads of Afghan commandos carrying free radios and school supplies for local residents. It’s only a training event, with a small humanitarian component, but its narrow scope belies the mission’s importance — it is one of the first times that Afghan soldiers and pilots have worked together on an operation planned by Afghan officers, with no NATO input. In Salang, the capital of Parwan Province just north of Bagram, a U.S. Army patrol, part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force, arrives for a visit with Gov. Abdul Basir Salangi. In February, Salang suffered a devastating series of avalanches that killed nearly 200 people. NATO helped Afghan forces rescue thousands of people from the snow. Now the Americans want to know what Salangi is doing to prevent such huge death tolls in future disasters. What they learn is perhaps both unsurprising, and deeply discouraging. (READ MORE)




News from the Home Front:
O'Reilly Pays Legal Bill for Fallen Marine's Father - No. 1 cable news host Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday that he will personally write a check to cover $16,500 in legal costs for the father of a fallen U.S. Marine who sued the members of a church who picketed his son's funeral. (READ MORE)

Force Structure Actions at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington Announced - The Department of the Army announced today the planned activation of the National Center for Telehealth and Technology at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (READ MORE)

More help for TBI, psychological health on way - The Army will soon activate a program at Madigan Army Medical Center that will develop, research and use technology solutions for psychological health and traumatic brain injuries for service members wounded in combat. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:
Back in Iraq, With Fresh Eyes - Yasmine Mousa is an Iraqi-Canadian journalist who left Iraq in 2003. On March 22 she wrote about her arrival back in Baghdad. Here she records impressions of her first week back home. (READ MORE)

Who will lead Iraq? - In Iraq, winning the vote and winning power are two entirely different propositions. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqiya bloc has garnered the most seats in parliament, beating current Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's predominantly Shiite State of Law coalition. (READ MORE)

Maliki is block in Iraq coalition merger talks - Disagreement over a second term for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is snarling merger talks between his coalition and a fellow Shi'ite bloc with close ties to Iran, sources close to the talks said on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Iraqi PM fights to hold power, risks sectarian war - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's postelection strategy suggests he is prepared for a long and bitter fight to hold on to power, even if it alienates the country's Sunni community and risks new sectarian warfare. (READ MORE)

Micro Grants Shape Future - In the village of Chemin near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, only two small stores serve the rapidly growing population, there are currently no activities for youth to do, but thanks to small grants that are scheduled to be given out within the next few months all of this could change. (READ MORE)

Suspected High-value Terrorist Detained - Iraqi security forces, with assistance from 1st Battalion, 37th Armor, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division soldiers out of Fort Bliss, Texas, conducted a joint operation that resulted in the arrest of five suspected terrorists near Kirkuk, Monday, March 29. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
ISAF Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance - ISAF's mission is to help the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) defeat the insurgency threatening their country. Protecting the Afghan people is the mission. (READ MORE)

Explosion in Helmand Causes Civilian Casualties - An explosion near a local market in the Nahr-e Saraj District of Helmand province caused a large number of civilian casualties this morning. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 31 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound on the outskirts of Marjah, in the Nawah-ye Barakzai District of Helmand province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. (READ MORE)

U.S. forces set sights on Taliban bastion of Kandahar - U.S. forces have begun the initial phases of a political-military offensive in this Taliban bastion and hope to control the city and surrounding areas by late summer, according to senior U.S. military officials. (READ MORE)

Date set for attack on Kandahar - US and NATO forces will begin the most important phase of Barack Obama's military surge in June when the battle for Afghanistan moves to the Taliban heartland of Kandahar. (READ MORE)

Kandahar 'Shaping' Operations Under Way, Official Says - U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated efforts to combat extremists in Kandahar, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in a Pentagon news conference today. (READ MORE)

Canada tells Clinton troops are leaving in 2011 - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011 despite U.S. hopes of an extension. (READ MORE)

PM stresses security, but holds firm on Afghan withdrawal - Progress on the world’s economic woes “risks being undone” if the world’s pressing security and development issues are not addressed with equal vigour, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday at the opening of a G8 foreign ministers meeting. (READ MORE)

Full Afghan withdrawal ‘wrong,’ top Tory says - A senior Conservative party caucus member wants a military commitment to Afghanistan after 2011 to ward off a security nightmare for civilian workers and protect Canada’s global good name. (READ MORE)

Taliban IEDs `are harder to detect' - TALIBAN bomb-makers in Afghanistan are becoming more sophisticated, building explosives that are increasingly harder to detect. (READ MORE)

Afghan president wraps up talks with insurgents - President Hamid Karzai and representatives of a major militant group wrapped up a first round of peace talks Tuesday, reaching no final deal but pledging to continue a dialogue that if successful would split the ranks of the Taliban-led insurgency. (READ MORE)

Top U.S. military officer gets earful from Afghans - From the litany of requests made to Mike Mullen on Tuesday -- from asphalt for roads to fertilizer for fields -- one might think he was a visiting aid worker, not the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. (READ MORE)

UN report: Afghans plagued by poverty, corruption - Afghanistan remains mired in poverty, corruption and violence, despite an estimated $35 billion in aid being poured into the country between 2002 to 2009, the United Nations said Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Destroying morale in Afghanistan - The coalition commander has declared war on comfort. Nonessential morale, welfare and recreation facilities in Afghanistan are being shuttered. The list of casualties will include Orange Julius, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway, TGI Fridays, Popeye's and Dairy Queen. (READ MORE)

This Time We Really Mean It - This newspaper carried a very troubling article on the front page on Monday. It detailed how President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had invited Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul — in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration... (READ MORE)

Bomb attack kills 13 in crowded Afghan market - A bomb attack in a crowded market in southern Afghanistan killed 13 people and wounded dozens more on Wednesday in an area at the forefront of the US-led war against the Taliban. (READ MORE)

At Least Seven Dead In Southern Afghan Blast - Officials say at least seven people have been killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province. (READ MORE)

Miliband echoes plea for Canada to stay in Afghanistan - The British foreign secretary became the second cabinet minister in two days to say that Canada should remain in Afghanistan past 2011, during an interview with CTV's Power Play. (READ MORE)

Karzai’s brother thought to be corrupt, but known to be indispensable - Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, may maintain links with drug dealers and insurgents, as some U.S. officials and Afghans believe. (READ MORE)

Afghan peace talks end with no headway - A guerrilla group has met Afghan President Hamid Karzai a second time, bringing an initial round of peace talks to a close with no breakthrough but with a commitment to continue, a member of the team said on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Top US military official: Kandahar operation is 'cornerstone' to reversing Taliban momentum - The Pentagon's top military officer says wresting control of the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is a key to stopping the Taliban's growing influence. (READ MORE)

Taliban attack checkpoint, kill 6 Pakistani troops - Pakistani troops repulsed an attack by dozens of armed Taliban militants on a checkpoint close to the Afghan border Wednesday in fighting that killed six soldiers and at least 20 insurgents, the armed forces said. (READ MORE)

The opium wars in Afghanistan - In ways that have escaped most observers, the Barack Obama administration is now trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and death in Afghanistan from which there is neither an easy end nor an obvious exit. (READ MORE)

Afghan women flex economic muscle - Makai is so engrossed at the clattering sewing machine that she barely notices as visitors enter her new workplace. (READ MORE)

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Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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