April 19, 2010

From the Front: 04/19/2010

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

Dispatches:
A Major's Perspective: Groundhog Day - A lot of you have written asking questions along the lines of, what is it like being deployed? I think I'll take that question a post at a time. But here is something that doesnt seem like a big thing, but it makes life quite interesting. I just yelled across the room at a couple buddies and asked what day is it? Every single one of us had to stop and think for a minute before we figured out its Saturday. Its a funny thing like that...days begin to lose meaning. Now if you ask the question of how long until your R and R Leave or how long until you go home that person comes back within seconds and can give you an answer. It's just a little difference that you don't realize until you take a moment to think about it. But it is a profound difference in how you think about time. Hope all of you are having a great weekend now that I've figured out it's Saturday!:) (READ MORE)

A.L.L.: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan - It is not something a lot of people like to talk about or acknowledge, but it is a factual way of life in many cultures, especially Afghanistan. I have talked about it before on my main blog (www.bouhammer.com), why Thursday nights are so popular over there, why they are called Man-Love Thursdays and I even have talked about "Chai boys" or the young soldiers in the Afghan Army and police who become R&R tools for older, senior members. Well this Tuesday, PBS is airing an "in your face" video titled "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan". It is about the Bacha Bazi or "boy play" that is so popular in Afghanistan. I have told many people in the US that they will never even get close to understanding the culture of Afghanistan and this is one of many reasons why I say that. It is not for us to judge, but to become educated. Personally I think this is a sick practice, but it is their culture....right, wrong or indifferent. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Air Force Band of Brothers - A long year has finally come to an end. We are still spending our last days in Ali Al Salem AB, Kuwait waiting for the “Freedom Bird” to transport us to BWI Airport. Here we will say our goodbyes and each of us will take a different connecting flight back to our homes and to our families who are anxiously awaiting our arrival. It will be a bitter sweet moment when this happens. It has been a long year we’ve shared together. When you live, sleep, and eat with a group of men over a year’s period of time, you develop a bond that is not only professional but personal as well. These are the same team members you entrust your life to when going on a mission outside the wire. But the bond my Air Force brothers shared was rather unique and I never experienced this type of closeness on any other deployments in the past. Prior to this deployment, most of us had never met or knew each other. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Leaving Afghanistan, Parting pictures - As I write this entry, we are on board an Air Force C-17 aircraft flying to Al Udeid AB, Qatar. Originally, we were supposed to fly into Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan. But ever since the uprising it has affected our travel plans. One day they are accepting inbound and outbound flights. The next day all flights are suspended. Nobody on my team projected a regime overthrow in Kyrgyzstan; therefore our departure mission has been see-sawing back and forth. As I write this entry, we are on board an Air Force C-17 aircraft flying to Al Udeid AB, Qatar. Originally, we were supposed to fly into Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan. But ever since the uprising it has affected our travel plans. One day they are accepting inbound and outbound flights. The next day all flights are suspended. Nobody on my team projected a regime overthrow in Kyrgyzstan; therefore our departure mission has been see-sawing back and forth. (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Block Leave Plans - Sometimes I have ideas. Sometimes they are really good, but other times, after they come out of my mouth, I wonder what the heck I was thinking. Today was one of those times. Me: Wouldn't it be fun to go to Utah? Gunner: That's a GREAT idea. Me: We could camp I guess. Gunner: Even better, I love camping. Think of all the fun the kids will have. Me: Okay, I'll try to find a place. Later after I had exhausted my research, I found two campsites located at the same place. There are great reviews. It's a beautiful location. The catch??? There are no showers!!! Gunner assures me that he will arrange a way for me to shower. I told the kids that I had big and exciting news. The girls started jumping around--"Are you having another baby???" I was speechless, no way, no how. When I finally gave them the "good news", Abs was jumping up and down. Em, not so much. (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Deployment Question #8--Does he want to go? - After Gunner's first deployment to Iraq, he received orders for Korea. No one ever gets orders for Korea deleted, except Gunner. Off he went on his second deployment to Iraq. After that was over, he received orders for recruiting. NO ONE gets orders for recruiting deleted. The Friday before he was supposed to be there, they cancelled his orders. Off he went on his third deployment to Iraq. We PCSed to Colorado. When Gunner had orders for Korea and recruiting, he wasn't too excited. It's not that he was dying to deploy, but then again he had spent years and years training for this job, so he also felt a sense of responsibility. I wasn't excited about him deploying, but I also felt that if he didn't go, he wouldn't be using his skills and his training as well, and I know he loves his job. On the other hand, I know people that do anything and everything to get out of deployments. (READ MORE)

Awful, Beautiful Life: The End - This deployment is now over! Stuart got home last night! Between volcanoes and rioting, I wasn't expecting him to be home for a good long while. Honestly, with one disappointment after the other for the last two weeks, finally getting the phone call telling me when his plane would be in was a little unbelievable and I just couldn't let myself get excited. Finally though, when I got the call about two hours in advance, I knew it was true because it is not like they can fly from Europe in two hours, haha. The homecoming was nice but sort of anticlimactic. I am not sure what I was expecting, and maybe it was because it was dark, but we couldn't see anything and good pictures were impossible. There were so many people and I knew I wouldn't be able to find Stuart myself so I just stood in the back and waited. And he comes running at me, jumping over one of the benches, lol. It took about three hours from the time the plane landed to when he was allowed to leave. (READ MORE)

CI-Roller Dude: Good care packages.... - From the Soldier side: Let me say something about all the really nice citizens out there that send stuff to support the troops in war zones. A few years ago, when I was in Iraq, the police department I was working for had a fund raising dinner thingy. There was some nice citizens there and one approached my old Police Chief and said: “We were sending packages to a soldier in Iraq, but he’s home now. Do you know of any troops who might need stuff?” My old chief responded with: “Yep, one of my cops is in Iraq right now.” I was contacted via e-mail and asked if there was anything we/I could use. I responded with: “yes, as a matter of fact, we could use some coffee.” From that point forward, a very nice family started sending me boxes of Pete’s Coffee on a regular basis. When it was found that we actually had electric power, a grinder soon arrived so I could grind the beans fresh. This was a happy moment in my deployment. (READ MORE)

Ssg B: Summer Showdown - American troops are getting ready to kick some Taliban ass. They will lead an operation to push Taliban fighters out of Kandahar, which used to be the Islamist movement’s headquarters. The Taliban is already gearing up for the summer showdown with NATO and Afghan forces. Insurgents are planting bombs and plotting attacks. The goal of this mission is to bolster the capability of the local government to keep the Taliban from coming back. A Taliban commander told The Associated Press that if military pressure on the insurgents becomes too great “we will just leave and come back after” the foreign forces leave. U.S. and other NATO officials hope the Kandahar campaign will prove decisive in turning the tide against the insurgency in southern Afghanistan, a key goal in the war. The clock is ticking on President Barack Obama’s promise to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan starting in July 2011. Dutch troops will leave by the end of this year, and Canada will end its combat role next year. (READ MORE)

Headhunter: SITREP 20100415 - Your military term of the day is OPSEC. It stands for Operational Security. It means the enemy reads blogs, watches news reports and uses every means available to try and determine our next move. In the bad old days of The Cold War it meant that the friendly guy at the bar outside base could have been KGB gathering intelligence about upcoming deployments. These days it means you don’t tweet your fiance back home. There are a lot of news stories and emails coming out of Afghanistan, but a significant LACK of mission specific message traffic. I’m sure everybody has their favorite source for news and information. You can read all about the earthquake in China or terror attack in the Philippines on the mainstream media. There’s a lot more happening all over and available online as you probably already know. I noted several minor skirmishes around Astan as prelude to the ‘Spring offensive’ between 100 mile an hour dust storms, a foiled attack in Iraq, a lot happening along the AfPak border and around the region. (READ MORE)

The semi-normal, day-to-day life of a female marine: Individual Ready Reserve Muster - The weekend before school started, I had one more official Marine Corps duty to complete: an IRR muster! Sounds exciting right? It wasn't. I drove over there, laughed at the reserve newbies practicing their MCMAP skilz, waited around, took my turn updating my basic information with a gunny sitting at a computer, waited around, sat through several Veteran's Affairs presentations about health care and benefits, listened to a prior service recruiter talk about reserve opportunities, filled out some forms, collected free stuff like pens and chip clips, and then went home. Yawn. It would have been even less exciting if I hadn't gotten stuck sitting next to one of those people who, during presentations, makes comments and then looks around to see who is paying attention to his antics. He tried to strike up a conversation with me and when he asked where I was from, I told him "Maryland" and for some reason, that confused him. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: April Fools - The ever alert FRI regular commentators picked up on this tragedy in near real time. Last Tuesday morning an Army patrol opened fire on a bus on the main road between Kandahar and the large ISAF base just outside the city. They killed four Afghans which sparked protests inside Kandahar City. The NATO statement is pasted below: “NATO said the bus approached a slow-moving military patrol from the rear at a high speed. Troops opened fire after the driver ignored flares and other warnings — including flashlights and hand signals — to slow down, NATO said in a statement. It confirmed four people were killed, adding the alliance ‘deeply regrets the tragic loss of life.’” I have a problem with the “flares and other warnings including flashlights and hand signals.” If a fast moving bus is approaching a slow moving convoy, how much time does the turret gunner have? Subtract the time it takes to bring the machine gun to bear on target and fire, which is 2 or 3 seconds, and I have a hard time seeing how he armed and fired a flare, and used his flashlight and hand signals (which would not have been visible in the pre-dawn gloom). (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Elmo Talks About Grief to Help Children Cope - All of us probably remember the first person we were close who died. It is difficult to accept the death of a loved one as an adult, but it is especially hard for a child. Children often don’t understand or know how to cope with death – especially if involves a parent. It becomes even more difficult when the adults around them don’t know how to help. Earlier this week, I wrote about attending a screening of a Sesame Workshop program, “Talk, Listen, Connect: When Families Grieve.”(Sesame Unveils New Resource for Families) While the Sesame Workshop initiative is aimed at helping children cope, the messages shared by the Muppets on how to handle the death of a loved one are universal. The lessons are also helpful if you are trying to help someone who is grieving. While the Sesame Workshop cast, including Muppets Elmo, Jesse and Rosita, were in Washington, Elmo visited the Department of Defense Centers of Excellence where the blog team interviewed him. (READ MORE)

From My Position... On the way!: Mike Yon has gone Nanners - Depending on your choice of rock to live under, you may not have heard of Michael Yon. Michael Yon is a photojournalist, prior military and Special Forces Soldier. Unfortunately, Michael Yon has the uncanny ability to not just piss people off, but to do so in a such a spectacular manner as to make you wonder if he realizes the consequences of his actions. He "leaks" information that he overhears, he calls out very senior officers in a public forum (making me wonder if he does so for the credibility granted him if they answer him directly, or for the "They are afraid to answer me because they know it's true" mantra of most moonbats. One time would seem like a fit. Twice, maybe a pattern. It's gotten so common that I'm wondering if it's not indicative of a larger problem. In keeping with his multiple (Uncle Jimbo as the count at four) "firings" from embeds, it seems he's been having problems keeping his ability to stay embeded in Afghanistan. Why do you think that is? (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Latest accusations followup - As a followup to this post, you couldn't have had a more straight, flat-out denial than this one from the CDS: "The Canadian Forces DO NOT transfer individuals for the purposes of gathering information." Note that all the objections of Canadian Forces critics given here now mostly relate to a lack of clarity about the shooting incident itself, but not about the reason why the 10 Afghans detained after it occurred were later transferred to the NDS... which was ostensibly the reason this witness was brought before the Commons committee in the first place, as evidence of the "outsourcing of torture". It's classic bait-and-switch. Having failed to get the mud to stick on the outsourcing, Prof. Attaran, et al are now questioning the split-second tactical decisions made by a Canadian soldier facing an armed opponent three years ago, because really that's all the CDS's well-tuned statement has left them to work with. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: 11 EOD Medal Parade in Didcot - 200 soldiers from the Counter Improvised Explosive Device Task Force (C-IED), who have returned from Helmand Province, were officially welcomed back to the United Kingdom today when they marched through the town of Didcot in Oxfordshire and received their richly deserved ‘Herrick’ campaign medals from Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, Mr Tim Stevenson OBE. Didcot is home to 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, the disposal experts within the C-IED Task Force. Along with: Royal Engineer specialists, Royal Military Police, Military Working Dogs and members of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, they worked in teams providing three different capabilities: Improvised Explosive Device Disposal, Conventional Munitions Disposal and High Risk Search teams, all of whom were responsible for finding and disposing of bombs and improvised explosive devices. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Volcanic ash delays 1 Scots soldiers' homecoming - A company of soldiers serving in Afghanistan have finally returned by coach after their journey home was held up by the volcanic ash flight ban. More than 100 soldiers were due to arrive at Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh, on Friday after a six-month tour of duty, but were unable to fly to the UK. The members of B Company, 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, or 1 Scots, had to wait in Cyprus. They then flew to France and travelled the last leg by coach and ferry. Maj Graeme Wearmouth said: "To be perfectly honest it went immensely smoothly and I have to say that, after the last seven months, if that is what it took to get home it wasn't an issue at all for us. 'Kept smiling' "We have got to remember there are still troops out there waiting in the bottleneck to get here so in many ways we are the lucky ones. (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: Kakistocracy (look it up) - It's time for my weekly update. This was the lowest of the low. Later nights, earlier mornings, and no end in sight. I discovered that the human body has limits and work performance is definitely affected. No amount of vitamins or energy supplements can make up for a good nights sleep. So last night I got 10!! I'm definitely not caught up but far more positive than I was this time last night. Ask hubby. :( Monday resumes my schedule of going to the gym at 0415 for an hour, then getting breakfast, and going to work for many hours. I have to remember to pick up laundry though. I'm out of good socks and PT uniforms. No good socks and PT uniforms = no running or gym. We can't have that. I will inevitably combine it with my allotted lunch break. The war goes on. That much I can say. It definitely takes a ton of effort to stop a war or remove yourself from it. The Army's finest brains are at work around the clock trying to figure out how to make this happen successfully. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Cinderella Story - Everyone loves a Cinderella story. At the Olympics, we're all thrilled when a little country does well. At football matches, we rally behind the one expected to do poorly. We love an underdog -- unless it's Iraq. It strikes me as strange. When the plan was for democracy in Iraq, nobody thought it could work. The Iraqi people lacked the sophistication to pull it off, the experts argued. When Iraqis said neighbouring countries don't want Iraq to succeed, we were accused of exaggeration. Now even the liberal NPR is reporting, "Iraq's neighbors are fearful that postelection wrangling could destabilize the country, while some are also disquieted by the display of democracy in their backyard." And remember when the idea was for Iraq to be a model of the Middle East? Remember how that thought was laughed off the pages? NPR quotes an Egyptian as saying "Iraq is now giving a model." Yes, he used the word "model." (READ MORE)

Omar at Iraq The Model: Government Formation--Nationalism vs. Regional Agendas - The dust from election day is beginning to settle down and now we can identify the main possible trajectories in which government-formation is going. First of all, it is becoming clear that there are two very powerful regional influences that are pulling in different, but not exactly opposite, directions. On the one hand there’s Iran and on the other there’s Saudi Arabia, and I may say Turkey with it.Second, the US is not a direct player on the stage but is believed to be represented by the Saudis and Turks. Iran is pushing for a government that resembles the one formed after the December 2005 election. That would be a government including Maliki's bloc, along with ISCI, the Sadrists, the Kurds and maybe the Sunni Accord. Iran however, does not want Maliki to be the next PM, and this is the reason why a deal between him, ISCI and the Sadrists isn’t in place yet. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Taking Out The Big Red Pen: Michael Yon - Writers don't necessarily like to rag on one another, but taking out the big red pen is something we do when we sense the writer needs help getting back on the path. Like others, I've been following Michael Yon's latest travails over on Facebook. I have always admired much of Yon's work, and never hesitate to link to him when he posts one of his photojournalism stories. At his best, Yon provides a window into a world and tells it unflinchingly but with compassion. At his worst, Yon can be a tireless self-promoter. This surfaces especially when he doesn't get his way, and unfortunately, Facebook is the perfect conduit for mind-farts. Consider this little snippet, picked up by the National Review: "Life was good before I went to Iraq. But after three friends were killed during the GWOT, and my growing mistrust for the media and for the US Government/Military, I quit traveling the world and went to war..." (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Dear Michael - Dear Michael, It has been over 2 years since I have heard your voice ( not on video) and over 2 years since I last hugged you. I know in my heart you knew you were loved. I hope you knew how proud of you I was and am. But I don’t think you ever realized how much a part of our lives you were. What a huge gaping hole losing you has left in the fabric of our lives. I watch David wondering through life waiting for it to happen and know that you would have been the one he would have listened to. We can tell him over and over again he has to make it happen but it would have been you that made him stop waiting and start doing.. He has no clue what blessings he has. And he can’t see them through his grief. You would have rubbed his nose in them till he did. No one else was or is able to do that the way you could. I see Anthony growing up without you to take him on outings like you use to and know he is missing out on the many things you would have taught him. (READ MORE)

Life as an Army Duck: A thoughtful ramble - *** In the interest of full disclosure I must note that I wrote this at work and then emailed it home to post later. The husband then called me on my way home from work to advise that the "guaranteed" job at our current location is no longer available which means more than likely a move around July, pretty ironic really - don't worry we're not dissapointed ;-)*** I really feel like things are starting to fall into place for me here. In just a few weeks we will have been posted here for a year (can you believe that?) The last few weeks have been a little tougher than most for me, there has been a lot of soul searching and question asking, and then in just one night things can suddenly change. I not long ago finished reading this book/memoir Yes Man by Danny Wallace. Most of you may be familiar with the movie Yes Man staring Jim Carrey which is based (very) loosely on the novel. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Top al Qaeda leader linked to 5 Americans on trial in Pakistan - Pakistani prosecutors claim that five Americans currently on trial for attempting to join al Qaeda were in contact with a top leader of the terror group. The five Americans are said to have made contact with Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the radical Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the commander of al Qaeda's Brigade 313. Prosecutors presented evidence, including phone calls, emails, and other documents that linked Akhtar and the five would-be terrorists, according to Dawn. Akhtar recruited the five Americans after watching their videos posted on YouTube, according to Pakistani police officials. Akhtar was able to obtain emails through the YouTube postings and encouraged the men to travel to Pakistan to join the jihad. The five American Muslim men were detained in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province in December 2009 after a family member discovered they were missing and contacted the FBI. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: Korengal, et al. - I chose not to post on this when it first was reported, because I wanted to sit back and let some perspective creep in. A large part of me, which believes in squaring up to the enemy wherever he is, hates the thought of pulling out. Yet, this withdrawal might be the best course of action on a short and ugly list: "For U.S. commanders, the Korengal Valley offers a hard lesson in the limits of American power and goodwill in Afghanistan. The valley's extreme isolation, its axle-breaking terrain and its inhabitants' suspicion of outsiders made it a perfect spot to wage an insurgency against a Western army." We can't be strong everywhere, and given the numbers on the ground we can't even BE everywhere. If it doesn't make operational sense to have a presence in a particular place, then so be it. It's sad-- beyond sad-- that so many good soldiers entered that valley and never left. I salute those who lived and fought there, and never gave up. And I particularly salute CPT Moretti, who had the unenviable task of closing down the base. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Into the Home Stretch - It's been a busy few days since my last post. Yes, you guys back in the States have this thing called a "weekend", but we don't. Saturday and Sunday are just two more days to work 10 hours. We held an evaluation board on Friday to determine which contractor, out of three, would get a contract to help one of the provinces develop a master plan for economic growth. It was a very interesting exercise. We had to go through each of the proposals beforehand, noting what we thought were strengths and weaknesses, and determining how well the proposal matched what we needed. Then on Friday, we got together in one room to hash it all out. With four people doing the evaluations, we had four very different sets of notes, and it was actually fun to kick our ideas back and forth and eventually come to a consensus. It was very clear to us which one should get the contract. What was most interesting to me was how well some of the proposals answered our concerns, and how poorly others did. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hamm: These Stereotypes Brought To You By Reuters - One of the downsides of increased western media attention on Central Asia is a light peppering of dumb stereotypes that look ripped from the pages of the Fake AP Stylebook. A recent Reuters story has several that, if we’re really lucky, we’ll see repeated in every story about Kyrgyzstan until editors again start treating Central Asia like a mist-enshrouded land of dangerous monsters where nothing that could possibly matter to the civilized world happens. First: “Almaz Atambayev, an interim deputy premier, arrived in the ancient Silk Road city of Osh in the south in a show of support.” Okay, nothing unique to Kyrgyzstan here. Everyone knows that any city in Central Asia should be referred to as being on the Silk Road because, unlike other cities between Rome and Beijing, nothing of any other historical significance has taken place in Central Asia. (READ MORE)

Marine Wife: PCS? What PCS? - This summer will be my 10th move and 7th PCS in 12 years of marriage to my Marine. So, you would think that I would have this whole moving thing down to a science, or at least an art. Not so much. For one thing, my middle name might as well be Procrastination. And for another, life just manages to keep getting in the way. 3 weeks ago, my husband’s parents came for a visit. Then the girls had Spring Break. Then my mother flew in for a visit. Just a week ago, I spent all day (literally) on a field trip with my4th grader. We arrived at the school at 0530 and didn’t get home until around midnight. The field trip involved a 4-hour bus ride...each way! Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except the next day I drove 3 hours to see my sister and her family who were in the state to visit the Mouse for the first time. It was another 3 hour drive to get back home on Sunday night, after a full day with the cousins. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Naming Names: Tehran's Operation In Toronto And Its "Anti-War" Friends - Michael Petrou reports on an organization in Toronto that describes itself as a non-partisan centre for Iranian culture and scholarship, but is in fact funded by the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. Founded by a well-connected Iranian diplomat, The Center for Iranian Studies, located at 290 Sheppard Ave. W., was incorporated in January 2008. One of its three directors at the time was Fazel Larijani, who was then Iran’s cultural attaché in Ottawa. He is the brother of Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, and Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary. It is now time to begin to name names, dates, and places, writes Samira Mohyeddin, whose torments readers will remember from this column. "These students, a lot of them bursary students, were in many of my classes and were adamant supporters of the Islamic Republic. It was often noted by other students that these students from Iran would spy on those of us who would vocalise our opposition to the Iranian regime. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Our towns - Ramsey, New Jersey, is over 900 miles away from Tyrone, Georgia. Ramsey is a borough with 15,000 residents, while Tyrone is a town with about a third of the population. Other than being near major cities, New York and Atlanta, respectively, the areas have little in common. But tonight, citizens of both communities are bonded by something that transcends geography: the pride and pain of sacrifice. At almost the same moment the flag-draped casket of 1st Lt. Robert Collins, 24, was driven down the grieving streets of Tyrone on Thursday, a hearse bearing the remains of Cpl. Michael Jankiewicz, 23, slowly traveled the solemn paths of Ramsey. Tragically, the post-9/11 similarities don't end there for these suburbs. A plane carrying another fallen hero, Sgt. 1st Class John Beale, of nearby McDonough, Georgia, landed in June 2009 at the same Peachtree City airfield where 1st. Lt. Collins' parents tearfully welcomed their son home on Thursday. (READ MORE)

David Axe: Recalling the Battle of Chora, Part One - It was in the fledgling days of War Is Boring when David Axe flew into Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan, to report on Australian and Dutch involvement in the Afghanistan war. When David narrowly missed a suicide bombing that devastated a Dutch convoy, neither he nor the Dutch realized it was the beginning of a major Taliban offensive. At home, the Dutch politicians had sold the country’s Afghan operation as a strictly peacekeeping and reconstruction mission. But on the ground, the Dutch troops were fighting a war. For the first time since Srebrenica, in Bosnia in 1995, they faced an overwhelming and savage enemy. Would they stand and fight? The Battle of Chora marked a turning point for the Dutch troops, not only in overcoming the Taliban and Al-Qaeda force attacking them, but also the haunting legacy of the Srebrenica massacre. The following is an account of several individual acts of bravery under fire, belatedly recognized three years later, just a few months before the Dutch are to pull their fighting troops out of Afghanistan for good. (READ MORE)

War, the military, COIN and stuff: Armor and Counterinsurgency - “Over the last 9 years of doing irregular warfare we have eviscerated the Armor Corps to the point of its extinction…But what if the American Army has to fight somebody in the future beyond insurgents laying IEDs and small arms ambushes that is usually handled effectively by infantry platoons? What if a heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq was told to pick up and head east and do a movement to contact into a threatening country?” So writes U.S. Army Col. Gian P. Gentile in a recent Small Wars Journal piece echoing the concerns of some others that the U.S. Army has become too fixated on irregular threats to the determent of traditional combined arms skills. The debate in many ways mirrors the very messy, and very public fallout that occurred in Israel after its botched invasion of southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006. The American debate, of course, is absent any sense of real urgency. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Contractors in the Crosshairs, in Washington and Afghanistan - Over the past five years, the U.S. government has spent a combined $80 billion on contractors to support its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that has U.S. military leaders concerned: On Friday, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan suggested that the coalition had become too dependent on private contractors to carry out its mission there effectively. On a visit to France’s Institut des hautes études de défense nationale, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said that the military had “gone too far” in hiring private contractors. “I actually think we would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved,” he said. McChrystal’s remarks are likely to come up when the Commission on Wartime Contracting convenes today for a hearing on oversight of the private-sector workers who provide everything from Pashto interpreters to guns-for-hire. The hearing will include testimony from Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s director of defense procurement: (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: 4 blasts batter NW Pakistan - As many as 47 refugees from ongoing fighting in Orakzai were killed on Saturday when a pair of burqa-clad suicide bombers just minutes apart attacked a line of people waiting at a food distribution point at a refugee camp in Kohat in northwest. According to the BBC and CNN, the Sunni sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the blasts, which specifically targeted a line of Shia. A day later in the same area, a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan suicide bomber armed with a truck filled with 550 pounds of explosives rammed into a Pakistani police station in the town of Billitung, killing seven and wounding around two. TTP commander Qari Hussain, widely believed to be a trainer of suicide bombers, said the attack was in revenge for a recent Pakistani Army strike on a militant-run hospital in South Waziristan. The AP has a fascinating look inside the head of a failed suicide bomber and his trainer. (READ MORE)

Uncle Jimbo: Michael Yon wake up call - I did not want to write this, but I think it is important to do so. I'm not the only one who believes that either; the sentiment is fairly widespread. A number of members of our community have reached out to him and tried to help Yon out but have seen the same kind of behavior that has caused him trouble on his embeds. This isn't about slamming him, it's about telling him to wake the hell up. Michael Yon has done some excellent reporting from both Iraq and Afghanistan, but if my count is correct he has now been kicked off four embeds. Each time he has excoriated those who booted him and blamed them for his predicament. There comes a time when you have to look in the mirror and accept responsibility. It is not a collection of incompetent public affairs officers or some conspiracy to silence truth telling, it is his own fault. He has broken the rules time and time again and then when that bit him in the ass, he bit back. (READ MORE)

The Armorer: I likes me some Michael Yon - He went in early, on his own (and subscriber's, in a sense) dime, and took with him a greater understanding of what he was seeing and who he was walking with that informed his reporting on the war in ways that the MSM reporters didn't/wouldn't/couldn't. To me he's at his best when he's covering the troops, doing it the Ernie Pyle way. But that's my bias - if I had it in me to do what Mike does, I'd be doing the units, the grunts, the infantillery, the tankers-who-are-dragoons. The kids that drive the trucks along the IED and ambush-beset MSRs. The Medics, god love them. And there's no doubt that in the early days, when the Army was doing long-war OJT in a microscope world, that there were lots of issues about handling the press in all its forms and associated vainglory. And that it was really really really frustrating when you were a shoestring operation like Yon. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
Statement by Secretary Robert M. Gates - The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the National Security Advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content. (READ MORE)

Good news for disabled veteran golfers - The News Tribune has written in the past few years about American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Lakewood and its big efforts to cater to disabled veterans who want to swing a club – with a special emphasis on disabled vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (READ MORE)

DOD Announces Recruiting and Retention Numbers for March 2010 - The Department of Defense announced today its recruiting and retention statistics for the active and reserve components for March 2010. (READ MORE)

Dueling views on robotic drones meet in Hood River - Dan Rowe stood just inside the Riverside Community Church on Saturday, serving as gatekeeper. The Vietnam-era Marine opened the heavy wood door for friendly visitors only, keeping hostiles at bay. (READ MORE)

Sen. Lieberman ‘Startled’ by Pentagon’s Failure to Mention ‘Islamic Terrorism’ In Report on Ft. Hood Massacre - Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he was “startled” that the Pentagon does not mention “radical Islamist extremism or Islamic terrorism” in its report about the Ft. Hood massacre. (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Baghdad: The Traffic Is Murder - I heard a thud, but did not think much of it. The car picking me up arrived on time that morning, so everything was normal, I thought. (READ MORE)

Zac Brown Band Misses Academy of County Music Awards for USO Tour - Soldiers from the Regimental Fires Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) were treated to a live concert here, on Saturday evening, April 17, by the Zac Brown Band. (READ MORE)

Secret prison revealed in Baghdad - Hundreds of Sunni men disappeared for months into a secret Baghdad prison under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's military office, where many were routinely tortured until the country's Human Rights Ministry gained access to the facility, Iraqi officials say. (READ MORE)

People No Longer Fleeing Homes In Iraq - International Organization for Migration says people in Iraq no longer are fleeing their homes to escape violence. (READ MORE)

Violence highlights fears of Iraqi security forces taking over after U.S. leaves - Raw welts and purple bruises run down the backs of dozens of Sunni Muslim men in a small village west of Baghdad -- evidence, local residents say, of abuse by the Iraqi army that threatens to widen a sectarian rift. (READ MORE)

PM Says 2 Top al-Qaida in Iraq Figures Killed - Iraq's prime minister says two of the most wanted al-Qaida in Iraq figures have been killed in a joint operation with the U.S. (READ MORE)

Iraq's Maliki makes case for holding on to post - Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, in his first interview with a Western media outlet since last month's bitterly fought elections, vowed Saturday that Iraq's Sunni Arabs would be major players in the next government, as he cast himself both as peacemaker and front-runner to lead the country. (READ MORE)

Withdrawal from Iraq on track - The planned withdrawal of nearly 45,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of August is on track in spite of a recent increase in attacks by militant forces, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Sunday. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Midwives Deliver Hope for Afghan Women - Stretch marks, maternity leave, baby names, mood swings, morning sickness; these are some of the many concerns that weigh on a woman's mind during pregnancy. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, April 19 - Initial reports indicate that an Afghan-international security force killed several insurgents and captured one while the force was searching for a senior Taliban commander in Ghazni this morning. (READ MORE)

"I Just Graduated Yesterday and Now I'm in the Middle of a War!" - Upon graduation from recruit training and the School of Infantry, infantry Marines usually go to their permanent duty stations where most experience life in the Marine Corps operating forces for months or even years before deploying overseas. (READ MORE)

Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team Works to Improve Life in Eastern Afghanistan - U. S. Army Capt. Phillip Stone, the civil affairs team chief and officer in charge of the Orgun detachment of the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team, has a plan to improve governance, security and overall quality of life for members of the eastern part of Paktika Province, a large province located in eastern Afghanistan not far from the Pakistan tribal areas. (READ MORE)

Strengthening the Rule of Law in Afghanistan - A conference focusing on the programs and initiatives to further develop the Rule of Law in Afghanistan is underway at International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters. (READ MORE)

Key to success lies with Afghan officials coming through - On a visit to Marja, the top U.S. military officer and the governor hear what residents want. The list is met with promises. (READ MORE)

Quake Hits Central Afghanistan, At Least 7 Killed - An earthquake of 5.3 magnitude hit central Afghanistan early on Monday, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 30, a provincial official said. (READ MORE)

Italian medics accused of bomb plot are freed - Three Italian medics accused of plotting to blow up the governor of Helmand province have been released without charge after interventions by their Government. (READ MORE)

Italy: Afghanistan Frees 3 Italian Aid Workers - Italy's foreign minister says Afghan authorities have released three Italian aid workers detained in southern Afghanistan earlier this month. (READ MORE)

Karzai's rants for half-brother not against Obama - When Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai lashed out at the United States and NATO earlier this month, the conventional wisdom said he had been taken to the woodshed by President Obama — and didn't like it. (READ MORE)

American Aid Official Visits Kandahar After Attacks on Contractors - The top American aid official in Afghanistan traveled to this embattled southern city to reassure Afghan officials here that assistance programs would continue uninterrupted after a series of attacks on United States contractors, including devastating car bombings three days ago. (READ MORE)

Taliban’s supreme leader signals willingness to talk peace - The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has indicated that he and his followers may be willing to hold peace talks with western politicians. (READ MORE)

2 suicide bombers kill at least 40 at Pakistani refugee camp - Two suicide bombers struck at a Pakistani refugee camp Saturday, killing at least 40 people who had sought sanctuary from fighting in the militant-plagued tribal belt. (READ MORE)

2 Bombs Hit Northwestern Pakistani City; 22 Dead - Two bombs, hours apart, exploded in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, killing 22 people and underscoring the reach of militants despite successive military offensives close to the Afghan border, police said. (READ MORE)

Court action to prevent UK complicity in Afghan torture - The British government was being challenged Monday to prevent allegations of its complicity in torture in Afghanistan by stopping the transfer of prisoners captured by UK forces into Afghan custody. (READ MORE)

Taliban say Afghan buildup under way - The Taliban are moving fighters into Kandahar, planting bombs and plotting attacks as NATO and Afghan forces prepare for a summer showdown with insurgents, according to a Taliban commander with close ties to senior insurgent leaders. (READ MORE)

29 Taliban die in north Afghanistan fighting - At least 29 militants, including two commanders, were killed over four days of intense fighting aimed at protecting supply routes through northern Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. (READ MORE)

No talks with US, say Taliban - Afghan Taliban on Sunday rejected media reports that their leader Mulla Omar had shown willingness to hold direct talks with US and given pledge to stay away from mainstream politics if foreign forces left Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

At least 7 killed, 30 injured after magnitude 5.3 earthquake hits northern Afghanistan - A magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck in mountains north of Afghanistan's capital early Monday, killing at least seven people and injuring 30, officials said. (READ MORE)

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claims responsibility for Kohat car bomb attack - The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for Sunday's suicide car bomb attack in Northwestern Pakistan's Kohat region. (READ MORE)

NATO oil tanker blown up in Pakistan - A powerful blast hit an oil tanker carrying supplies for NATO forces in Pakistan's northwestern region bordering Afghanistan Monday, a media report said. (READ MORE)

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Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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