April 30, 2010

From the Front: 04/30/2010

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

Combat Controller recognized for his bravery and valor - Whenever any service-member gets an award for valor, it is a pretty awesome thing. Medals for Valor are not something that are handed out easily. The Silver Star is one of those and as the 3rd highest medal for valor that is given, it is quite an honor to get one awarded. There are many battles and great things have/are happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places in the world. Many of those great things never get recognized like they should. So this young man, Air Force Combat Controller, SSG Sean Harvell to get recognized and awarded a Silver Star is an impressive thing. You know what is ever more impressive? He was awarded TWO Silver Stars. That means he was in two separate enemy engagements that he performed with superb valor in while in Afghanistan. Not to mention he has a Purple Heart and at least two Bronze Stars already. (READ MORE)

And You Never Did Think: The Milspouse Blog Hop - Last time there was a Milspouse Blog Hop, I looked through some of the blogs but didn’t participate. This time, I’ve decided to participate in the Blog Hop hosted by Wife on the Roller Coaster. So hello new visitors! I’m Sespi, a 26 year old Navy wife. I’m planning to go back to school and get my PhD in Clinical Psychology. My personality is fairly laid back and random, although I’ve been accused of wanting to be an old military man (by the friend who took this picture in fact. “Why else would you be drinking a Manhattan? That’s an old military man drink.”). I got married in August 2009 to this guy. We live in Georgia and I’m loving life in the South — I’m determined to pick up the Southern accent, but so far no luck. Chris is planning to be career Navy, so I’m in it for the long haul. I don’t mind at all though: I love the lifestyle and am looking forward to the travel. In fact, I’m planning to go into the Navy Reserve myself at some point. (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Thursday - Yesterday was rough. I got a ticket. The speed limit on the street is 45, I was going 41, but I was in a construction zone with NO WORKERS, but apparently that doesn't matter in Colorado, so the speed limit was 30. Not only did I get a ticket, I got 4 points (how many till I get in real trouble?), and I HAVE to appear in court. I'm planning on taking toys that the kids can "share" cause we know how that will work. We have to be there 2-3 hours too. On FB someone suggested tambourines and I thought whistles might be a nice addition. If I don't show up, they'll put a warrant out for my arrest. I thought about how nice and quiet it might be in jail with no responsibilities, no laundry, dishes, dog walking, cleaning, or people yelling my name. Very tempting... Junior's last day at his school is Friday. Don't ask. We'll take the summer off and I am looking into some better places. I had a friend come down from Denver last night and today we spent the morning touring the Air Force Academy. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Supper with a Hero - As an Army wife, you quickly learn that living in on post military housing is always an opportunity to learn. My 8 year old neighbor and military child Katherine Birdsong was at our house admiring our Christmas Tree with our son John Jr. I was busy in the kitchen preparing supper when I heard her say, “and tonight we will be eating supper with a hero.” Then I realized that due to a delay the soldiers would not be home til after midnight. What hero I thought to myself? I hadn’t heard on the news or paper about any hero’s coming to our post. So I popped my head in the living room and asked her, “so I hear your eating with a hero tonight. Who is it?” Katherine stood up with the twinkling of Christmas Tree lights behind her, clasped her hands together and then asked “Ms Murray do you know SPC Harris?” Before I could answer she looked down and said in a solemn voice, “he was a soldier with my Dad. But he won’t be coming home tonight. He died in Afghanistan.” (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Pakistan considers North Waziristan ops - Pakistani intelligence officials now believe that Wali-ur-Rehman, a militant commander in South Waziristan who was in the running for the leadership of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan after the death of the group's founder Baitullah Mehsud last August, is now in charge of the TTP's operations. Pakistani officials recently reversed statements claiming a drone strike in January had killed Baitullah's successor Hakimullah Mehsud, and are now saying he was seriously injured and has been sidelined. The New York Times writes that Pakistani officials are coming around to the idea that the military will eventually have to confront the various militant groups operating in North Waziristan, where Hakimullah has reportedly sought refuge. There is considerable debate among military sources over the timing and extent of the operations, even as there is consensus that going into the tribal agency... (READ MORE)

Mansur Khan Mahsud: Who is Hakimullah? - With the news yesterday that Hakimullah Mehsud, the second chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, may be alive after months of reporting suggesting he had been killed in a drone strike in January, Mansur Khan Mahsud profiles the militant leader. The most recent chief of the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud, was around 30 and of the Woji Khel clan of the Ishangi branch of the Mehsud tribe. He was the son of Abdullah Din Mehsud, and had at least four brothers-two of whom, Ijaz and Kalimullah, died while fighting Pakistani forces in South Waziristan in 2008-and four sisters.[i] Hakimullah was originally from the Kotkai area, in the Spinkai Raghzai region in South Waziristan. The TTP leader had two wives, one from his natal Ishangi tribe and one from the Afridi tribe in Orakzai. Hakimullah received his early education from age 5 at the madrassa of Dar-ul Aloom Sharia in the Sarwakai tehsil (or administrative subdivision) of South Waziristan. He also passed his middle school exams in Kotkai. (READ MORE)

AfPak Channel: The new, new face of the Pakistani Taliban? - Wali ur-Rehman, around 40 years old and the son of Asmatullah, is from a middle-class family in the Mal Khel branch of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. His family lives in Miram Shah, but he moves around Waziristan quite a bit; he is currently believed to reside in the Momi Karam area, and studied in the Jamia Islamia Imdadia madrassa in Faisalabad.[i] After graduating in 1996, he returned to South Waziristan to teach in a madrassa in Kani Guram. Before joining the Taliban movement in 2004, Wali ur-Rehman was affiliated with the Islamist political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), with which he still maintains contacts. Wali ur-Rehman is reputed to be humble, cool-minded, intelligent, and polite. Despite earlier disagreements over the TTP's line of succession, he was believed to be a close ally of the fiery Hakimullah Mehsud and currently serves as chief of the TTP in South Waziristan, as well as the organization's primary military strategist. (READ MORE)

ANNA BADKHEN: Is the U.S. Airlifting Taliban Troops into Northern Afghanistan? - On moonless nights, after the agony of a fuchsia and orange desert sunset fades to complete blackness, U.S. helicopters airlift Taliban fighters from Kandahar and Helmand to highly secretive drop areas on the sedimentary planes of northern Afghanistan. Qaqa Satar, my opinionated driver from Mazar-e-Sharif, believes this. My host in Kabul, a shoe salesman, believes this. His daughter's fiancé, a freelance radio journalist, believes this, as does my old friend Mahbuhbullah in Dasht-e-Qaleh, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kunduz, and the turbaned elder of Naubad and Umakoi, two farming villages just outside the ancient, limestone walls of Balkh, their porous dry clay pale through the fields of unripe wheat like the bones of some prehistoric dragon. Do not rush to dismiss this far-fetched conspiracy theory as the unenlightened jabber of uneducated men. (READ MORE)

CI-Roller Dude: Small things can be so important.... - From the Soldier side: For those who’ve read my Blog for awhile, you know there were a few “exciting” moments on my year tour in Iraq from Dec 2004 to 2005. Yep, good times had by some. Like the time we went into the big mess hall in Baghdad and they were out of tomatoes at the salad bar. Wow that was rough. Or the time I got to the mess hall and they had run out of the Baskin Robins Rocky Road ice cream. Wow, that was rough. You wouldn’t believe how some of the REMFs were complaining. “How can you have a salad without tomatoes?” “What, no Rocky Road! This is an outrage!” Or the one night I went to take shower after returning from a mission and all the water had been used up. Man I had to go to bed all stinky. But what really got exciting was the dozen or so times I was on a camp or FOB that got hit with mortars or rockets (we couldn’t tell the difference until some bomb tech went and looked at the blast site) ... (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Happy Mujahedin Victory Day - Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of the Mujahedin expulsion of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and was marked by a military parade in Kabul. “Vice president, Marshal Fahim in his inaugural speech emphasized on the fight against government corruption and reinforcement of the Afghan Army. He also suggested from the anti-government groups to return to mainstream and peaceful life. ‘The negotiation doors are open for those who are interested in peace and participation of normal life processes,’ said Fahim. The Afghan Defense Minister in his speech criticized the international community and said they haven’t helped Afghanistan in a way they should have. ‘The threats in our region and country have been evaluated slight by our international partners, as a result, their aids haven’t been able to meet our needs,’ said Afghan Defense Minister.” Well there you go. I live here, so I’m with the Marshal and I understand that Marshal Fahim is a good man. Without question, Afghanistan would benefit from many more like him. However, Kabul is, for the moment, irrelevant. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Three Different Views Of A Ride - Perspective is personal. How someone sees or feel about something is entirely individual. How it's described can be factual, dry, embellished and even missing key details. Unfortunately, when presented with a story for a writer who can craft breathtaking prose, the reader rarely questions the content. Last month Dexter Filkins, who is no amateur when it comes to the scratch of a pen, gave NY Times readers a glimpse of a road trip in Afghanistan. On Afghan Road: Scenes of Beauty and Death details a road trip both beautiful and dangerous. "The mayhem unfolds on one of the most bewitching stretches of scenery on all the earth. The gorge, in some places no more than a few hundred yards wide, is framed by vertical rock cliffs that soar more than 2,000 feet above the Kabul River below. Most people die, and most cars crash, while zooming around one of the impossible turns that offer impossible views of the crevasses and buttes." In Filkins' version, he survived the drive, only by chance. (READ MORE)

Dafydd: Iranian Weapons - There was some talk of Iranian support for the Taliban a while ago. I was sceptical of any sort of centrally organised support. A new bit of evidence for the mix can be found here. Specific claims are as follows: Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, the commercial attache at the Iranian consulate in Peshawar, kidnapped off a Peshawar Street in Nov 2008 was back in Iran on 30th March this year - Sirajuddin Haqqani was a key broker - Iranians supplied anti aircraft guns as part of the negotiation (it was these that caused the temporary halt to drone attacks in January - There was a prisoner exchange involving one of bin Laden’s daughters (Iman bin Laden). Which is all kind of interesting. There have been many reports of much of the bin Laden family making it to Iran after the NATO invasion of Afghanistan. Here the situation is described as something akin to mass house arrest: (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: New York state of mind - When friends and fellow troops visited Sgt. Jason Santora'sFacebook page, they'd see a biography section pop up that revealed a lot in just a few short sentences. "I'm currently in the Army living in Georgia, but I'm a New Yorker at heart," it begins. Sgt. Santora never lost his New York roots while training at Georgia's Fort Benning or deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq twice. He grew up in Farmingville, a popular Long Island suburb with a heavy Italian-American presence. While he didn't enjoy the winters ("I hate the cold," he wrote on his profile), Santora could often be seen jogging or lifting weights, as physical fitness was an important part of his life. According to the Pentagon, Santora, 25, was killed in combat on Friday in Afghanistan's Logar province, alongside Sgt. Ronald Kubik, 21. The Unknown Soldiers will write more about Sgt. Kubik's life on Friday. Both soldiers were part of the Army's elite raid force, the 75th Ranger Regiment, which conducts dangerous special operations missions. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: The Legal Case for Robot War Gets Complicated - The legal debate over America’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan is getting sharper: In a congressional hearing yesterday, a prominent law professor suggested that drone operators could, in, theory, be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes.” It’s just one of the many sticky legal issues raised by observers of the CIA’s (and the military’s) lethal drone operations. “This is not an academic debate,” Shane Harris of National Journal noted earlier this year. “Quietly, and with little apparent notice from the Obama administration, a broad range of important international actors are raising fundamental questions about the legality of drone strikes, particularly in countries where the United States does not have a military presence.” Kenneth Anderson, one of the law professors involved in the discussion, stated in his testimony (.pdf) that the one of the main challenges to drone campaign comes from the “international law community”... (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: COP Bari Alai - We have discussed the difficulty of combat outposts in the mountainous Eastern part of Afghanistan, and the tactical problems caused by attempting to defend low terrain. This contributed in no small part to the casualties at Wanat and Kamdesh. A fire fight around Kamdesh typically looked something like this (the scene is of COP Keating from OP Fritschie). The terrain surrounding COP Bari Alai is different. Hostile sniper and automatic weapon fire is a normal part of life here, provided by an enemy who strains to dislodge Afghan National Army and International Security Assistance Forces from the mountaintop in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province. For example, in a 74-day period starting in February there were more than 50 recorded attacks against the base, U.S. Army officials said. The Soldiers who live here are well aware of how contested the base is. “If you freeze up in combat, you’re either not ready to be a leader or you aren’t ready for a place like this,” said U.S. Army Spc. Shawn D. Hufford. (READ MORE)

Kandahar Diary: Contact - Things have quietened down now and I have slept and settled myself. It’s 36 hours since it occurred so I feel it now OK to report that we were hit the night of 27th April. At about 1914 hrs DB and I were standing on the parapet of the Hesco wall on the phone to the Country manager when, without warning, a massive explosion occurred about 50 metres away from us and in front of Gate 1. DB and I were blown off the parapet and by the time we gained our feet, heavy small arms fire had broken out to our front and in the LN compound that borders ours. We bolted for our gear screaming ‘Contact’ at the tops of our voices which, on reflection, was an idiotic thing to do because it was bloody obvious were in contact. My lads were kitted up in no time and we immediately swung into our rehearsed drills. We gathered the client’s people and got them into the bunker. All towers were double-manned with Neps and every tower on our inner compound was reinforced by one of my expats. (READ MORE)

The Armorer: 35 years ago today - Thirty-five years ago today, I was an about-to-graduate high school senior. State wrestling champ, All-state football player, with a scholarship offer from the University of Missouri. Ready to move on to the next phase. I walked down the stairs to where my bedroom was, turned left, and the Auld Soldier was sitting on the couch, watching TV. He was four months away from retiring after 27 years, two wars, a Silver Star, BSM w/v, and seven Purple Hearts. He never noticed me. He was watching the news. He was watching the fall of Saigon, streaming into the family room. I just went to the couch, sat next to him, and took his hand and we watched. I've only one other time seen that look on his face. The morning Mom died. The ghosts in the room watched with us. For many of our readers, the Vietnam War is an item from the history books. For others, like me, it's a life event experienced at one degree of separation, others, at a greater remove. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Air Force awards 3 Silver Stars, 8 Bronze Stars, 2 Purple Hearts to McChord airmen - Eleven Joint Base Lewis-McChord airmen received awards for gallantry and battlefield wounds this morning during a ceremony steeped in patriotic pomp and serious symbolism at McChord Field. (READ MORE)

Fla. boy has special visit with Norfolk SEALs - It's not every day that the U.S. Navy outfits a 10-year-old. But that's what Colton wanted for his birthday this year, and on Thursday he got it. Colton is visiting Norfolk this week with his mom, his dad and his little brother. The Make-A-Wish Foundation paid for their trip. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

The U.S. must defend the integrity of Iraqi elections - Concerns over delays in the formation of a new Iraqi government and the prospects for meeting President Obama's announced timeline for withdrawal are clouding views of a more urgent matter: (READ MORE)

Iraqi Airways flies into decades-old legal row on inaugeral flight - The first commercial flight from Baghdad to London for 20 years has landed the boss of Iraqi Airways in the High Court. (READ MORE)

Car Bomb Kills 8, Wounds 20 In Baghdad - A car bomb in Baghdad killed eight people and wounded 20 others on Thursday as violence continued to threaten Iraq's fragile stability amid a row over last month's election results. (READ MORE)

Iraq Vote Recount to Start Monday; May Take 3 Weeks - An election recount in Baghdad will start on Monday and may take three weeks, Iraqi officials said on Thursday, further delaying the formation of a new government as U.S. troops prepare to leave. (READ MORE)

'Hodge Hall' Closes Its Doors: 16th Engineer Brigade to Present Memorial Sign to Parents of Fallen Soldier - Over the past several years, the Task Force Iron Claw Academy has been conducting classes inside of a schoolhouse at Camp Liberty, named in memory of the Soldier: "Hodge Hall." (READ MORE)

A Graduation Party in Baghdad - Only a few days after a wave of devastating bombings in Baghdad claimed the lives of 71 people and wounded hundreds of others, the graduates of the University of Technology in Baghdad threw one of their biggest graduation parties since the invasion in 2003. (READ MORE)

U.S. Report on Afghan War Finds Few Gains in 6 Months - A Pentagon report on the last six months in Afghanistan portrays an Afghan government with limited credibility among its people, a still active if not growing insurgency and an enormous reliance on American troops... (READ MORE)

Afghan Taliban getting stronger, Pentagon says - A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication... (READ MORE)

ANSF Members Graduate From Inaugural Combined Noncommissioned Officer Training Academy - Twenty Afghan National Security Force members graduated from the inaugural Combined Noncommissioned Officer Training Academy at Forward Operating Base Joyce in Afghanistan's Kunar province, April 11. (READ MORE)

With three killings in 10 days Taliban haunts Swat Valley again - Months after the Pakistan Army declared the Swat Valley safe claiming that the Taliban has been flushed out of the region, the extremists have resumed their activities killing at least three local leaders in ten days. (READ MORE)

Reports surface that head of Pakistani Taliban still alive - Pakistan and U.S. intelligence wrongly reported the death of the head of the Pakistani Taliban in a CIA drone strike and the brash, ruthless commander is now believed to be alive, Pakistani spies said in what is an apparent propaganda coup for the insurgents. (READ MORE)

Afghan raid goes awry for U.S. - Irate demonstrators burned tires and blocked traffic in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday after U.S.-led forces killed an armed relative of an Afghan lawmaker during a night raid on her home, according to military and Afghan officials. (READ MORE)

US to continue reassuring Pak that it faces no threat from India - A top US official has said that Pakistan must recognise the fact that by taking on the Taliban and other extremist groups threatening its very existence, it is not exposing itself to any risk from India. (READ MORE)

Kabul rejects UN report on killing of staff - The Afghan Interior Ministry has rejected the United Nations report that suggested an U.N. staff may have been killed by Afghan security forces in last October's attack on an U.N. guesthouse here. (READ MORE)

IEC registers 719 candidates for elections - Some 719 candidates, including 106 women, have registered for Afghanistan's upcoming parliamentary vote, said an official at the Independent Election Commission (IEC). (READ MORE)

Farmers, officials say production, revenues in Helmand rising again - Landowner Haji Fateh Khan lives in one of the most violent districts in Afghanistan, but this spring he says is a happy man as deep-pocketed buyers eye the imminent opium yield from his poppy plantations. (READ MORE)

Measles spread in parts of Nuristan - At least 12 children have died of measles over the past two months in the eastern province of Nuristan, where locals say there are dozens more cases. (READ MORE)

Taliban torch NATO logistic vehicle - Taliban attacked a logistic convoy of NATO forces yesterday’s evening in Baghlan province, torching a vehicle, police said Thursday. The NATO supply convoy was attacked in Chashma Sher area of Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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