March 23, 2010

From the Front: 03/23/2010

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

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Nowruz Mission – Part 1 - For our ANA counterparts and Afghanistan, Nowruz is the celebration of a new year and for us it would mean a 12-hour mission to new places, new roads, and a new experience. Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of a new year 1389 even though for us and our Gregorian calendar it’s 2010. Nowruz has its origin with the Iranians dating back several thousand years and has been adopted by many Persian or Middle Eastern countries. It’s interesting to note the Taliban banned the celebration of Nowruz, but after their removal in 2001, this rich tradition was restored. Any time the Afghans celebrate a national holiday, it means gridlock traffic and a sea of pedestrians. We knew this before leaving the camp and tried to plan accordingly. The roads through Kabul are like a plate of spaghetti with no real rhyme or reason. (READ MORE)

YASMINE MOUSA: Back to Baghdad - Today I flew into the airport that I helped to build nearly 30 years ago. In 1981 I was a new graduate of Baghdad University’s Civil Engineering department and I was appointed a site engineer at the partly-constructed airport. I worked on the VVIPB – Very Very Important Persons Building – which was a 4,000-square-meter separate building with its own service road. In the two wings were a huge reception hall and Saddam Hussein’s quarters: a bedroom, a living room and so on. The marble on the walls was brought from Italy. It was white with veins running through it. They specified that the veins had to look as if they flowed from one block to the next, and that, for the craftsmen, was a real hassle. There were massive crystal chandeliers brought from Belgium, and the bathroom taps were gold-plated. At the time the whole country was booming. There were tower cranes all over the place, new highways, hotels and bridges being constructed. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: On Intelligence - The World has changed. I hear that a lot. As a matter of fact, I have heard it since I was in grade school. The reality is the World is constantly changing. The Intelligence community is no exception. I generally don’t like blanket statements, but the bureaucracy at the Agency is broken and has been for a long time. Those of us who know have participated and watched the slow death of a once effective organization for a long time. I have been on both sides of the equation. I have sat in DoD meetings dealing with the Agency and Agency meetings dealing with DoD. The relationship has always been dysfunctional and in some cases downright hostile. One could chalk it up to a “language” issue but it really comes down to turf. Folks, “turf” in beltway speak means “Budget.” Budget means power and there in essence is the core of the problem. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Mortuary Center Cares for Families - I traveled to Dover Air Force Base, Del., last month to gather information for a series of articles on the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center. Every U.S. military member who dies in support of a combat operation overseas comes through the center, where the remains are prepared for burial. It’s a sensitive mission, but the staff handles each step with the utmost dignity and attention to detail. From the dignified transfer event that marks a fallen servicemember’s return to U.S. soil (”Dignified Transfer Pays Tribute to Fallen”) to the care taken in preparing a uniform for a burial (”Mortuary Staff Prepares Uniforms for Fallen”) , I was blown away by the attention to detail and the honor infused into every action. Along with caring for fallen servicemembers, the center’s staff also is dedicated to supporting their families. The Center for Families of the Fallen offers families a comfortable place to wait for their loved one to return stateside. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: If you think the 3 Rifles heroes of Afghanistan are brave, meet their families - Captain Craig McBurney quietly leaves the room, his mobile phone pressed to his ear. A mother is on the line, understandably distraught having just learned that her son has been shot. The young man will pull through and has been well enough to call her from his hospital bed in Afghanistan. But she is in shock. 'The poor woman was on the floor in pieces,' says Capt McBurney when he returns. He introduces me to a group of Army wives who can now dare to contemplate that longed-for moment - next month's reunion with their husbands. Are they ticking off the days? Some shake their heads. 'Tempting fate,' says one. Deborah Fleming, on the other hand, tells me she is counting down to the two big stars on her calendar. One marks Rifleman John Fleming's return home. The other, days later, is the due date for their baby. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Troop Support For Newbies: A PDF - I've created a .PDF on how to send things to the troops that was made especially for people with little to no familiarity with troops, want to send things, but don't know how. I kind of got tired of repeating myself, even explaining to aunts, uncles and cousins of deployed troops, while standing around in places like the DMV parking lot. It covers the nuts and bolts of boxing, buying and sending. All the photos are mine, taken during The Hubs' deployment. There are even photos of my cat, which always tend to go over big. I don't know why. He's just an average cat, who gets in every photo I shoot. I left out any military jargon such as "General Order #1," but did put in a request by someone I met from the VFW not to send porn. Seems they once had a box packing party, and to their amusement, someone had dropped off a whole box of it. They decided not to include it, but I didn't have the gumption to ask, "Well, what did you do with it?" (READ MORE)

Thomas Joscelyn: US judge orders release of 9/11 recruiter - A US federal judge has ordered the release of a top al Qaeda recruiter for the 9/11 attacks from custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was identified by the 9/11 Commission as a key recruiter of al Qaeda’s Hamburg cell, was ordered to be released from the prison by US District Judge James Robertson, according to The Wall Street Journal. Slahi was also allegedly an important facilitator of the failed millennium bomb plot at Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. Robertson’s ruling on Slahi’s detention has not been disclosed, and is currently classified. Slahi is known to have recruited several al Qaeda operatives before his detention in Mauritania in November 2001. His most high-profile recruits were the top members al Qaeda’s cell in Hamburg, Germany -- the key planners and operatives of the 9/11 attack. (READ MORE)

Richard S. Lowry: Nasiriyah revisited - It is hard to believe that it has been seven years since Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company rolled through the dusty streets of An Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003. Eleven of Jessica's fellow soldiers were killed that morning, five were captured and a dozen more injured. Lynch was critically injured and near death when she was brought into a military hospital near the site of her ambush. Within hours of the ambush, the North Carolina Marines of Task Force Tarawa moved to secure the bridges in An Nasiriyah. LtCol Rickey Grabowski's 1st Battalion, of the 2nd Marine Regiment rolled into the city and encountered stiff resistance. By midmorning they had rescued nearly half of the soldiers who had been ambushed and by noon the Marines were charging forward through a hail of RPGs, AK-47 gunfire, mortar and artillery barrages. By sunset, Grabowski's Marines had secured their objectives but at a terrible cost. Eighteen of America's finest died and another dozen were wounded. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 22 Mar 10 - things have been pretty slow here lately … the high command people in charge have been knocking down missions left and right…not sure why… something to do wiht new strategies and policies in the AOR…kinda sucks for these guys…they are being held on a short leash and not allowed to carry out their main priorities for which they are employed…but, I guess that’s the way the military is… too many politics involved…whatever, I am still here just to fix vehicles and I have been doing a pretty good job of that–nothing is broke…well, there are a couple things not fully up to par, but we are waiting on parts…nothing that will keep the trucks from doing what they need to do…also, only a few more days left for me out here at the FOB…I’ll be heading back to Bagram pretty soon…our new guys are supposed to be rolling in the first week of April and I want to make sure I have all my stuff ready to roll out so I can focus on getting the new guys equipped, trained and pushed out to where they need to go… (READ MORE)

Texas Music: Garden Party - I'm standing under the portico, by the cannon, with the rest of the security guys. We all have little curlicue ear pieces coming out of our collars and tucked into an ear. Official Cool-Guy Secret Service style. I'm the only one wearing a uniform. Three of them are wearing dark suits and ties, one wears the typical 5.11 tactical pants and vest over his light dress shirt. His vest is bulky and heavy on him, and I wonder what he is carrying under there. Some sort of subgun, I'm sure. I'm the smallest security guy there. Oldest, too. I have pulled my ACU top down to cover my pistol. I'm not authorized to do this, but nobody else is openly carrying, and well, it just seems more polite somehow. The band plays and a KBR waiter offers me a tall skinny can of Coke. We were greeted at the gate by a British general in dress uniform. He has a bright green beret and red lapels on his tropical khaki uniform. In his hand he clutches a dark carved walking stick. He could have stepped out of a WWI movie. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Holding Afghanistan’s Corrupt Cops To Account - In Afghanistan, the weakest link when it comes to providing security is the country’s cash-strapped and often corrupt police force. But billions of dollars spent by the State Department and the Pentagon haven’t helped matters either: As a recent Newsweek/ProPublica investigation pointed out, outsourcing the training of Afghan police forces has been nothing short of disaster. So it will be interesting this week to see what the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs unearths when it holds a hearing on Pentagon and State contracts for police training in Afghanistan. The hearing will build on a newly released joint audit by State and Defense Department Inspectors General, and will feature testimony from the State Department’s assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia affairs. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants - Take a look at what Tim Lynch has to say about Eason and this whole bunch, and also don’t miss the scathing critique by Brad Thor. Go and read the whole NYT article. Especially take a look at the screen capture of the web site they built. It has the look and feel of Iraq Slogger in which Eason was also involved. So the story line is that Eason and his cohorts were hired to build and maintain a web site similar to Iraq Slogger, except for Afghanistan. I don’t believe that charging for content on Iraq Slogger worked out very well, and they apparently worked a deal with the DoD to fund this new web site with tax dollars. Some of “their” money got diverted to use in actually developing real intelligence and killing the enemy, and they went to The New York Times, complaining and moaning about lost revenue. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Department Authorizes Non-Chargeable Rest and Recuperation for Iraq and Afghanistan - The Defense Department announced today that Iraq and Afghanistan have been designated as non-chargeable rest and recuperation (NCR&R) locations, authorizing service members deployed there (for 270 days or more) 15 days of administrative absence, to be used in conjunction with benefits provided under the R&R leave program. (READ MORE)

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan at fault for rise in drug abuse - USA TODAY's Wednesday front-page story reported on the increasing abuse of prescription pain medications by servicemembers. This increase is unfortunate, but drug abuse is a byproduct of our military being asked for the past eight years to make tremendous personal sacrifices and fight a war against terrorism. (READ MORE)

UN extends assistance mission in Afghanistan for 12 more months - The United Nations Security Council on Monday renewed the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for one year, till March 23 of 2011. (READ MORE)

Deadlocked presidency keeps Bosnian troops from departing for Afghanistan - Bosnia and Herzegovina has formally agreed to send a contingent of soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), yet a deadlocked collective presidency is keeping troops from this Balkan country at home, Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serb member of the collective presidency, told reporters on Monday. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
U.S. Officials Meet Iraqi Leader After Recount Call - The two top American officials in Iraq met Monday with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki after his endorsement over the weekend of a recount in the parliamentary elections incited fears of a political crisis in a country not accustomed to peaceful transfers of power. (READ MORE)

Ex-spies still agitated over CIA's Afghan losses - Nearly three months after an al-Qaeda double agent obliterated an important CIA team in Afghanistan, veteran spies remain agitated over the incident and the agency’s seeming inability to fix longtime operational flaws. (READ MORE)

Pakistan army chief begins US strategic dialogue - Pakistan's army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani has met US defence leaders in Washington as the two countries begin a week-long strategic dialogue. (READ MORE)

Uneasy quiet, then a Taliban ambush - Lance Cpl. Matthew W. McElhinney faded in and out of consciousness as the morphine kicked in. Other Marines grasped his hand, squeezed it and talked to him, trying anything to keep him awake. (READ MORE)

U.S. air support troops learn to hold back - At the nightly "hot wash" debriefing on the Dwight D. Eisenhower, a pilot from the Pukin' Dogs squadron was explaining how he dropped a 500-pound bomb on a Taliban target in Afghanistan -- and why. (READ MORE)

Afghan warlord Hekmatyar talks peace, but brings little to table - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is holding peace talks with a top envoy from one of the three main insurgent groups, but analysts caution that any deal may not dramatically change the course of the war. (READ MORE)

Afghan official: At least 35 die in avalanche - The bodies of 30 people were recovered Tuesday from the site of avalanche in a remote area of northeastern Afghanistan, a police official said. (READ MORE)

Helicopter mishap in Afghanistan injures occupants - A helicopter operated by a Turkish reconstruction team made a "hard landing" in central Afghanistan on Tuesday, injuring at least two people. (READ MORE)

Afghan President Meets With Insurgents - A delegation from one of the most important insurgent groups fighting Afghan and NATO forces met for the first time with President Hamid Karzai on Monday for preliminary discussions on a possible peace plan with the government. (READ MORE)

Karzai Meets with Taliban-Allied Insurgent Group - Spokesman for President Hamid Karzai says the Afghan leader has met with a delegation of Hezb-e-Islami, one of the major insurgent groups fighting Afghan and coalition forces. (READ MORE)

Officials Give Update on Afghanistan Operations - International Security Assistance Force Joint Command officials in Afghanistan provided details on various operations conducted in Afghanistan in recent days: (READ MORE)

ISAF Casualty - An International Security Assistance Force service member died following an improvised explosive device strike in southern Afghanistan yesterday, March 22. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, March 23 - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound northeast of Divalak, in the Reg-e Khan Meshin District, near Marjah, Helmand province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. (READ MORE)

Old Rivals Battling Entertains Troops in Afghanistan - In the early morning hours of March 23, a Detroit Red Wing fan showed up at the dining facility of Forward Operating Base Lion, Afghanistan, looking for revenge. (READ MORE)

Joint Patrol Discovers 725 Kg of Hashish - Afghan national security forces, assisted by international forces, discovered 725 kilograms of hashish while conducting a patrol in Registan district, Helmand province, Sunday, March 21. (READ MORE)

New Police Headquarters Opens in Herat - The new Police District 3 Headquarters facility opened in Herat province yesterday. The two-story building, surrounded by a solid brick wall, has a total area of 1,000 square meters (10,763 square feet) and contains 20 offices, a guard house, and a mosque. (READ MORE)

Karzai meets envoys of Taliban-linked group - President Hamid Karzai has met with representatives of a major Taliban-linked insurgent group in a step toward national reconciliation, presidential spokesmen said Monday. (READ MORE)

Pakistan's Swat promises justice, to fight Taliban - Zarbakht Khan is still waiting for Swat Valley's corrupt and slow-moving courts to settle an eight-year land dispute which has drained his bank account and eroded his confidence in the state. (READ MORE)

UN envoy backs talks with Afghan militants - The new U.N. mission chief in Afghanistan said Tuesday that he backs the Afghan government's peace talks with a major Taliban-linked militant group. (READ MORE)

Stuck in the Afghanistan pipeline - A garden hose just doesn't deliver as much water as a fire hose. As operations pick up pace in support of the surge of forces in Afghanistan, the dynamics of trying to push more though an existing system built for less capacity are apparent. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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