April 27, 2010

From the Front: 04/27/2010

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

Red Bull Rising: Places, Please - About 300 U.S. Army Reserve soldiers of the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Des Moines, Iowa, participated in a send-off ceremony last Sunday. I wish them Godspeed on their deployment to Iraq, and look forward to reading their public affairs officer's blog on the Des Moines Register website. Over the weekend, I criticized news reporters' difficulties in accurately distinguishing between Army Reserve and Army National Guard. I've received a few notes inquiring about the differences. Usually, the easiest way to explain the distinction is to say that the reserve answers to the president as commander-in-chief, while the National Guard usually answers--until federalized--to the governor of a given state or territory. That's why the National Guard can usually respond more readily to a natural or other disaster: It's not a proximity thing--we're neighbors, after all--it's a paperwork thing. (READ MORE)

270 Days in Afghanistan: Afghanistan Interrupted - Every now and then, a slice of real life comes at the most inopportune times.One minute, you are cruising right along on your glidepath with no sign of trouble, and the next, you've got a flame out in the starboard engine and you're on the radio with the tower trying to arrange for fire trucks upon landing. Such is life. Recently, I received some difficult news from home. My mother, who has been ailing for some time took a turn for the worse. Long story short, a couple of days and one Red Cross message later, and I am packed and bound for the States. Due to the nature of the situation, and the proximity of the conclusion of our mission here, I will not be coming back to the 'Stan with this particular mission. I visited with all my Afghans today and said goodbye. I told them that I admired their courage and their willingness to stand up for their country against those who would snuff out democracy. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Exploiting the Rift in Taliban Leadership - As I discussed in a previous post, it appears that there may be a potential rift developing among the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban. Last month, the Taliban officially announced their plan to replace Taliban Deputy Leader (and de facto leader of day-to-day operations) Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with two different individuals - an unusual move that prompted many to question the decision of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. According to multiple reports, all military operations would be overseen by Mullah Abdul Qayim Zakir (for more on him, see my previous post here) and all logistics/support operations would be the responsibility of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor. A recent article in the UK's Times Online provided additional insight into this developing rift, quoting sources within the Taliban and on the ground in Afghanistan who have confirmed the growing tensions within the Taliban's Inner Shura (top council of leaders). (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: U.N. shuts Kandahar mission - After three explosions in Kandahar city yesterday, the United Nations, temporarily shutting its Kandahar office, relocated several foreign employees to Kabul and told its Afghan employees to stay home because of security threats. Both the coalition and the Taliban have been preparing for the upcoming battle; a senior military official in Kabul said more than 70 insurgent leaders "have been taken off the streets" recently. Also yesterday, a NATO airstrike killed the Taliban's shadow governor of Kunduz province, after his predecessor was arrested in Pakistan two months ago. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's influential and controversial half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai has promised to support the coalition offensive in Kandahar, where he is the chairman of the provincial legislative council, and encouraged the U.N. not to pull out of the southern Afghan city. (READ MORE)

Bilal Baloch: What's in a name? - A beast has re-awoken in Pakistan, and it's not the Taliban. Renaming the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has been stirring emotions in Pakistan since the creation of the province: many view it as a product of British colonial branding. Last week, the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari signed into law the 18th amendment, which included a clause to rename the NWFP to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The new name seeks to reflect the majority Pashtun community living in the NWFP. While Pashtuns rejoiced throughout the province, dancing and handing out sweets, minority groups in the NWFP were incensed at a name that they perceive as a stamp of marginalization. Let's start with some sweeping history. In 1901 the NWFP was drawn out of neighboring province Punjab. Among the motivations for this was the idea that the creation of their own province would lead to improved relations between local British officials and the independent tribesmen. (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Deployment Question #14--Packing - Things get tense around here when Gunner starts packing his stuff. After this many deployments we know what is coming. Can you tell a change in dynamics once those bags come out and start getting filled? Do you help him, or just sit back and watch? Gunner always gets stressed when he is packing, searching for his missing items, and even though we have about 20,000 pounds of TA50, there are always at least 2 dozen items he HAS to go out and buy. Sometimes I wonder about some of the requirements on the list. Right before Gunner leaves, I tuck a letter into his bag so that he has something to read before the mail kicks in. It usually contains pictures of the kids, drawings from the kids, and a letter from me. The first time he asked what I was sneaking in there, now he just smiles. I think he would miss it if I didn't do it. What little things do you do before they leave? (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iran's Influence - We'll probably have to brush up on our Farsi. There are reports today that the votes for 53 candidates are now void. The candidates were declared invalid to serve Iraq by the deBaathification committee, which now calls itself Truth and Accountability committee. If these reports are accurate, it means Maliki will be the next prime minister. I don't know how it looks to the rest of the world, but my friends and I see it as Iran stealing the election from the Iraqi people. My friends, a teacher, a dentist, and a lieutenant in the Iraqi army all agree that Iran is behind all the legal moves to declare Maliki the winner. Soon the coversation turned to the proposed sanctions on Iran. Someone said the United States will announce the sanctions by the end of the week. Someone else said he swears he heard U.S. vice president Biden say Israel would attack Iran soon after that announcement. I don't know what to think, but my friends swear all of Iraq would side with an Israeli strike on Iran. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Reserve Family Programs Receive Recognition - When our National Guard and Reserve troops get called to active duty and are told they will be sent to a combat zone, it’s only natural that their thoughts turn to the family they will be leaving behind. Recently, the Defense Department recognized five installations for the extraordinary support they give to guardsmen and reservists and their families. My American Forces Press Service colleague, Lisa Daniel, attended the ceremony and wrote about the event, “Department Recognizes Best Reserve Component Family Programs.” “If we lose the support of our families, if we lose the support of our employers, we will be put out of business,” said Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant Secretary of Defense for reserve affairs, during the ceremony. “The sustainment of these family programs isn’t just a nicety. There is a direct connection in their success and our operational readiness and our ability to succeed in combat.” (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban shadow governor killed in Kunduz: Report - Coalition forces killed a top Taliban leader and two of his aides during an airstrike today in Kunduz province. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the commander may be the Taliban's shadow governor of the northern province. The International Security Assistance Force first announced the death of "a senior militant commander of Kunduz province" in a press release, but did not identify the leader. According to ISAF's press release, the senior leader and two aides were killed "by precision air fire" as they drove through "a rural desert area approximately 18 miles northeast of Kunduz City." The senior commander was described as being "involved in all aspects of military operations in Kunduz province" who was "responsible for setting target priorities, weapons distribution and directing attacks against coalition and Afghan forces." While ISAF did not provide the identity of the commander, the description fits that of a Taliban shadow governor. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Friendly Fire? - Update to this post about Louis Maxwell and my earlier posts on the UN guesthouse attack, it now appears that at least some of the UN workers killed at the time were victims of friendly fire.* *A particularly stupid euphemism, as if any fire that kills you can be "friendly." The NY Times is reporting that a UN report has found that perhaps four of the five staff members killed in the guesthouse were victims of the ANCOP rather than the Taliban attackers. As a witness to parts of that attack and the security forces' response to it, I can say that there was an awful lot of firepower directed against that building from the outside. Apparently not all of it was particularly well-targeted. As I've said in the past when talking about the ANSF, I don't fault their bravery, just their judgment. (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: Celebrate Memorial Day with Children - President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the last Monday in May. On May 31, 2010 cities all around the United States will hold their own to pay respect to the men and women who have died in wars or in the service of their country. Teaching the meaning of Memorial Day to your children can be a challenge. To many American’s Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer and is an excuse to get out and barbeque and go camping, but to military families the meaning runs much deeper than a casual barbeque. We want our children to understand why Memorial Day is a holiday and what it means to our country’s history and our warrior’s families. The most simplistic thing you can do to offer explanation and honor this holiday with your children is to spend time talking to them about what Memorial Day means to you. Take the day to talk & reflect on the subject of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. (READ MORE)

Manatee's Military Moms: I'm heading to Afghanistan! - As I came home from work last week, a parcel greeted me on the worn little table by the door. The same flat rate box that I’ve sent to Daniel during his past two deployments was now addressed to me — from my son. Inside, I found a Camelbak, ballistic eyewear with interchangeable lenses, ear protection in a handy case, a headlamp with a red lens and a book about warfare along with other odds and ends. I didn’t join the military, but I did volunteer to tell their stories. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an intense desire to cover the stories of Afghanistan. I want to find and share the experiences of the military who are serving there and of the people who make their home in a war-scarred land. I was surprised after my most recent pleadings when Joan Krauter, my executive editor, told me to write our Washington bureau and ask them to consider sending me on assignment. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Justice for Navy SEALs - After following the ill-advised prosecution of three Navy SEALs since this blog's inception, The Unknown Soldiers finally has some good news to relay. Two of three elite warriors accused of a role in the alleged assault of terrorist Ahmed Hashim Abed during his capture have been acquitted of charges in the case. Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas are undoubtedly relieved that their legal ordeal is over, but concerned for their brother in arms, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, who faces trial next week. To recap the mind-boggling case against the SEALs, which has been condemned by at least 40 members of Congress and prominent military veterans, Ahmed Hashim Abed was behind the brutal 2004 murders of four American civilian contractors in Fallujah. After the killings, two of the bodies were hung from a bridge by terrorists. While Abed has changed his story several times and now denies his role in the despicable incident: (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: 'A hard charger' - Sgt. Randolph Sigley had lofty goals. While in college at Eastern Kentucky University, 2nd Lt. Troy Walton already admired his future fellow servicemember's ambition. "He was definitely a hard-charger; he was motivated to do everything," Walton said. "I think he was pretty excited actually to go over to Afghanistan." According to the Pentagon, Sgt. Sigley, 28, died on April 18 in Bagram, Afghanistan. The death of the soldier, who served with the the 2123rd Transportation Company, is currently under investigation. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports Sigley was found dead in his bunk by fellow National Guard troops, who attempted to resuscitate him. Sean Rose's article said Sigley was the commander of a mine-resistant ambush protective vehicle, designed to protect convoys from improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists. Originally assigned to a cargo vehicle, Sigley was given the special assignment to an MRAP because of his "dedication to his unit," [Lt. Col. Kirk] Hilbrecht said. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: What's in a Name? - I suspect one of the reasons many Americans don't follow the Iraq War is its sheer complexity. The Second World War felt a little more simple. There were the good guys (The US, the British, and, I hate to admit it, the Soviets) and then there were the bad guys (obviously, Germany, Japan and Italy). The Iraq War, however, baffles many observers. Our allies in the Iraqi government can be, well, unscrupulous to say the least. Furthermore, the insurgent groups (if they can even be called that--few have any interest in governing) often change names, merge with one another, and splinter off into different factions. There's really no clear villain in the war. The most vicious of the insurgent organizations the US has faced off with in Iraq is al Qaeda in Iraq, often abbreviated "AQI". Don't let the name fool you, as they're not quite Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. Often referred to as a "franchise" of al Qaeda, it shares some ideological connections with Osama bin Laden... (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Restrepo: One Platoon, One Year, One Valley. An Interview with the Filmmakers - “I don’t want to not have these memories, because they’re the moments that make me appreciate all that I have.”-From the documentary, Restrepo - Q&A with Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger - How did you come across this particular assignment – what brought you there? why did it appeal to you? Sebastian: We were on assignment for Vanity Fair and ABC News. After an embed with Battle Company in 2005, I’d had the idea of following one platoon for an entire deployment and both writing a book and making a documentary about their experience. We hear the initial reactions of the soldiers upon hearing that they’ve been assigned to the Korengal Valley. What was your initial reaction? Sebastian: When I stepped off the helicopter in June ’07 I was stunned by the ruggedness of the terrain –and the beauty. Then again, I didn’t have to spend a year there, and I assumed the fighting would be minimal, which of course it wasn’t. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Counterinsurgency and Water Polo - As a preface for discussing counterinsurgency and water polo, recall our observations of the Afghan National Army over the past months. We have watched the ANA engage in drug abuse, smoke hashish before patrols, collude with Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops, themselves claim that they cannot hold Helmand without Marines and fear being killed if they even go out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand Province. C. J. Chivers updates us with a view to the ANA’s tactical capabilities (or even basic soldiering abilities). They don’t aim their weapons. They point them. The ANA is not even capable enough to be considered the first line of defense against the insurgency. Across Afghanistan, being in the Afghan National Police is considered to be more dangerous than being in the ANA. Now to water polo. (READ MORE)

Greyhawk: War Stories - A great bit from the comments on Cassandra's recent (and excellent) post. BillT: I knew a couple of reporters in RVN who wrote accurately and *favorably* about what we were doing in the Delta -- and I'd read what they filed, because they liked to hang around with us whenever they were in the neighborhood. What was published often had nothing in common with what was filed, except the location of the action, the units involved, and the reporter's by-line. Cricket: BillT, a question here: In RVN, those reporters prolly had experience covering wars but things were changing at home. Do you think the editors of their stories changed them to reflect it? BillT: I know they did on at least one occasion, Lady Cricket. We flew an RF/PF platoon into an area on a recon patrol, and they bumped into an NVA recon element. Bear that in mind. We were deep in the Mekong Delta and ran into an element of *North* Vietnamese regulars at a time when the MSM meme was that there were no North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. (READ MORE)

Bill T: TINS! Taxi Driver... - One of the self-deprecating terms we Combat Assault pilots had for ourselves was “Taxi Driver” – as in, “I drive an olive drab taxicab.” It gave outsiders the comforting illusion we were actually humble souls (rather than suicidal maniacs), just doing whatever quotidian job came up, and kept us from getting swelled heads (do you have any idea how *hard* it was to get an X-L flight helmet when the size you usually wore was L?). Besides, it was true. All we did was ferry people from point A to point B – the only difference between dropping them off at Hotel Three VIP pad in Ton Son Nhut and dropping them off next to a treeline in the middle of a firefight was that you *knew* you were gonna get out of Ton Son Nhut alive. Really. Honest. The only difference whatsoever. *koff* Now, we didn’t normally fly reporters around when we were going into that *second* type of point B because normally, the passengers going into the second type of point B didn’t want anyone along armed solely with cameras and notepads... (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint - Elisabeth Bumiller has an amusing, yet serious, article in the NYT today about PowerPoint, the presentation tool which “has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession.” (READ MORE)

Different state, same drill: the 116th Cav is bound for Iraq - About 2,700 soldiers of Idaho's 116th Cavalry, which includes units based in Oregon and Montana, are bound for Iraq. (READ MORE)

Bonds forged under fire - In the crowded bar of the VFW Club in Columbus, Neb., the old Army buddies exchanged glances and clinked long-necked beers. (READ MORE)

The Afghanistan war, through the eyes of a soldier's wife - When you think of the war in Afghanistan, what images come to mind? Taliban fighters? Burqa-clad women? Poppy fields? Debating politicians? War protesters? (READ MORE)

Obama Renews Vow Of "New Beginning" With Muslims - President Barack Obama on Monday renewed his commitment to a "new beginning" with the Muslim world, vowing no let-up in U.S. efforts to promote Middle East peace, curb militant violence and boost economic development. (READ MORE)

DOD Announces Replacement Unit for Iraq Rotation - The Department of Defense announced today a replacement unit mobilized to deploy as part of the force rotation in support of Operation New Dawn. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Gulf War battle reignites as Kuwait tries to freeze Iraqi Airways assets - A bitter legal battle between Iraq and Kuwait dating back to the Gulf War has resurfaced in the British courts. (READ MORE)

Odierno Notes Progress of Iraqi Forces - As the troop drawdown continues in Iraq, the top U.S. commander there said he’s convinced the Iraqi security forces are ready to take over more responsibility, and that the sacrifices the United States has made to get to this point will prove worthwhile. (READ MORE)

U.S. ambassador says Iraq must act faster in establishing a new government - U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill expressed deep concern Monday about how slowly Iraqi officials have moved to seat a new government, saying they need to "get this show on the road." (READ MORE)

Election Ruling in Iraq Favors Prime Minister - Seven weeks after Iraqis went to the polls, a special elections court disqualified a winning parliamentary candidate, most likely reversing the narrow defeat of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s alliance and possibly allowing him the first chance to form a new coalition government. (READ MORE)

Pakistanis Living on Brink, and Often in the Dark - The Taliban may be plotting bombings, and the economy is on the brink. But these days, the single biggest woe tormenting Pakistanis is as basic as an electric light bulb. (READ MORE)

Officials: US Drone Strike Kills 5 Militants in NW Pakistan - Pakistani officials say missiles fired from a U.S. drone aircraft have killed at least five suspected militants in the northwest tribal region near the Afghan border. (READ MORE)

Afghan crunch time: Obama must decide whether to talk to the Taliban - Before President Hamid Karzai arrives in Washington next month, President Obama has to make clear key decisions on the course of war and peacemaking in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Taliban Commander, Advisers Killed in NATO Air Strike in Afghanistan - NATO says a senior Taliban commander and two advisers in northern Afghanistan were killed in an air strike Monday. (READ MORE)

Air Strike in Afghanistan Kills Senior Insurgents - A senior militant commander in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province and two of his top advisors were killed in a precision air strike in northern Kunduz this morning, military officials reported. (READ MORE)

Karzai's Brother Says UN Should Not Leave South - The powerful half brother of President Hamid Karzai urged the international aid community Tuesday not to pull out of the troubled southern city of Kandahar, where a deteriorating security situation prompted the U.N. to scale back its operations. (READ MORE)

U.N. Shuts Mission In Afghanistan's Kandahar - The United Nations said on Tuesday it had temporarily withdrawn foreign staff and shut its mission in Kandahar, the Afghan city where security has deteriorated ahead of a major military offensive. (READ MORE)

U.N. pulls foreign workers out of Afghan city of Kandahar - Reflecting the sharply deteriorating security situation in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest metropolis, the United Nations on Monday pulled foreign staff out of the city and instructed hundreds of local employees not to come to work. (READ MORE)

U.S. training Afghan villagers to fight the Taliban - Taliban fighters used to swagger with impunity through this farming village, threatening to assassinate government collaborators. (READ MORE)

Government, PRT Work on Development Projects in Pusht Rod - Pusht Rod district leaders met with civilian, engineer, and civil affairs members from Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah to propose a road construction plan in Chin Farci recently. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, April 27 - In the Arghandab District of Kandahar this morning, an ISAF patrol found an improvised explosive device near the Kuhak school. (READ MORE)

Afghan Civilians, Government Join Forces to Defeat and Remove Taliban - Gizab District, locked centrally in the Hazarajet region of Afghanistan, recently was the scene of community resolve and determination when citizens took action to remove a Taliban threat from their village. (READ MORE)

Pak forces kill six key Taliban commanders in Swat - At least six key Taliban commanders were killed in two different encounters with security forces in the Swat Valley, Pakistani security officials have said. (READ MORE)

Afghan Peace Talks Await A Karzai-Obama Confab - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Washington next month for meetings with President Obama and other administration officials. (READ MORE)

Despite mounting death toll, Afghan war barely an issue - As a single church bell tolls, total silence falls on the market town of Wootton Bassett, punctuated only by the sobbing of young widows, relatives and friends mourning the death of a British soldier in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: 2 U.S. Soldiers Killed During Search - NATO and Afghan forces came under heavy fire while searching a compound in the eastern Afghanistan province of Logar, setting off a gun battle that killed two United States soldiers and five insurgents... (READ MORE)

Three Afghan kids killed in donkey-drawn cart bombing - Three children were killed and four people were injured when a bomb hidden in a donkey-drawn cart exploded in southern Afghanistan, officials have said. (READ MORE)

NGOs urged to help quake victims - The Rural Rehabilitation and Development Minister has asked local and foreign aid-giving organisations to help the earthquake-affected people in northern Samangan province. (READ MORE)

RCMP to train police - Royal Canadian Mounted Police say they’re preparing to stay in Afghanistan to train police officers after Canadian troops pull out next year. (READ MORE)

Three explosions hit Kandahar, two dead - Three explosions struck Kandahar on Monday morning, killing two civilians amid a wave of violence that has swept the key southern Afghan city where the U.S. is planning an offensive to clear out the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Marines Stabilize Afghan Town Of Marjah - U.S. forces have been focused on southern Afghanistan in recent months. Earlier this year, the military drove the Taliban out of their stronghold in the town of Marjah. (READ MORE)

In their own words, Black Watch troops tell of Afghanistan tour - THEY hung to canvas straps inside Chinooks and flew through the Afghan night as part of the largest aviation assault in recent British history. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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