May 20, 2010

From the Front: 05/20/2010

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

Dispatches:
270 Days in Afghanistan:
Texas - I arrived in Dallas on a Saturday morning. One way tickets from Minneapolis to Dallas are only $100 on Saturdays, so we took advantage of that deal. I was worried about mom, and worried about what was going to happen and how I was going to figure it all out. No one plans to have this happen, but I was thinking to myself that I wished I had done better preparation for what I was going to encounter when I arrived. My mother has smoked her whole life. She is a baby boomer, and part of a generation of people who were supremely unconcerned about anything other than what they wanted. As with all generations, there are exceptions to this rule, of course, but for the most part, it was the Boomers who blew the lid off the social, political and sexual revolution. Otherwise known as the "Me" generation, they made decisions based on what they wanted and what most impacted them. (READ MORE)

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: A Little Sweaty - I am NOT a runner. Not in the slightest. However, I FINISHED! I did it, I ran 3.1 miles, a complete 5k. I did not enjoy it, but, I did it! It took me 48 minutes and some odd seconds. It was a decent time though, not as miserable as I make it sound. We had such a huge turnout for our team and we raised so much money. I raised over $1,700 as an individual and we raised over $13,000 as a team! All for our wounded warriors, fighters of freedom!! Ooorah, Team 1/6 RP - so proud! After completing the run, I had a bit of an emotional moment. I wished I could tell Jonny what I'd done, even though he may have seen it from his spot in Heaven (and probably been giggling at me, or maybe even slightly embarassed - sorry babe) I wished that I could tell him. I wished that he could tell me Good job, baby! But instead, I could only hear it from my heart. I shed a few tears wishing that I wouldn't have had the reason to do this. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Calling all Afghanistan Veterans - If you served in Afghanistan or ARE serving in Afghanistan I would like to hear from you. Bouhammer.com has turned into a website much beyond then I ever thought it would. For a blog that started out as a way for me to stay in contact with family and friends, this blog is now the go-to spot for many who are wanting to stay up on things that have happened or are happening in Afghanistan today. My views and those of the few guest bloggers I have every once in a while only offer a limited view of what life is like over there as a soldier. I am rolling out the red carpet to to anyone who has served there (from any country) or is serving there now to write a guest posting for Bouhammer.com. You may think what you experienced or are experiencing are mundane and nobody would be interested, but I am telling you that you could not be more wrong. There is a sizeable contingent of Americans people out there that want to know what you went through. They all have their reasons, but they care. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Afghan government, Taliban meet in Maldives - At least 17 people have been killed in the last day in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi as rival ethnic-based political factions clashed, reportedly sparked on Tuesday night when an office of the Awami National Party, a secular Pashtun nationalist group, was lit on fire. At least 200 have been arrested in a bid to quell the violence. A leading Islamic cleric who had helped broker peace deals between the Pakistani government and militants in South Waziristan was killed by unknown gunmen earlier today. Pakistan is contemplating creating a new military post for Gen. Ashfaq Kayani to ensure that the powerful Army chief retains his influence after his term expires in November. An alternative proposal is for Gen. Kayani to assume the position of chairman of an existing Joint Chiefs of Staff committee, currently a largely ceremonial role. Dawn reports that Pakistan has "in principle" agreed to large-scale operations in North Waziristan, but on its own timeline. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Deployments are Challenging for Families - I have been around the military my entire life. I grew up in the shadow of a major Air Force base. My brother went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and was commissioned an officer in the Naval Reserves. I not only worked as a Capitol Hill staffer during the Persian Gulf War, but as a reporter I was among those evacuated from Capitol Hill on 9/11. And, for the last several months, I have worked as a contractor for the Department of Defense. But, until very recently I didn’t truly understand the toll military service –especially after nearly a decade of war — can take on a servicemember’s family. Two meaningful events opened my eyes. First, a very good friend of mine was recently deployed to Afghanistan. I am even better friends with his wife and adore his kids. I have admired my friend’s wife because she seems to take in stride all of the things about military life that would drive the rest of us crazy... (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: ANA raids capture eight suspected insurgents - In an impressive display of military professionalism, Afghan National Army (ANA) Soldiers from the 2-3-215 Kandak recently planned and executed two highly successful raids in the Sangin Valley. In total eight suspected Taliban insurgents were captured. Military intelligence indicated the insurgents were working for the lead Taliban insurgent coordinator in Sangin’s southern green zone area. As part of the 40 Commando Battle Group, the Brigade Advisory Group from the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 Scots) are working closely with the Kandak. The group’s second-in-command, Captain Ruaraidh Stewart said: “This is one of the strongest operations we [the Advisor Group] have seen the Kandak plan and conduct.” He was quick to point out that there was no requirement for the 1 Scots Advisory Group to participate in either of the arrest operations. He said: “Our presence was purely for back up, which was not needed,” said Capt Stewart. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Lists Fail to Hook Up - If politics make for some strange bedfellows, the Iraqi leaders are having a difficult time getting some action. Today's reports are that the INA and the State of Law can't agree on a candidate. The story is Maliki still insists he should be the prime minister nominee. The Sadr gang refuse to support him and have voted against him each time the politcians take an informal vote. Speaking of Moktada Al Sadr, he says he wants to return to Iraq once a new government has been set up. Allawi's team is trying to move forward. The Kurds wants as many ministries and seats in parliament as possible. And the Accountability and Justice committee say they will file a suit against the court that ruled for the nine winning candidates who were disqualified by the same committee. Meanwhile, the terrorists are getting ready for the U.S. departure. There are reports that al Qaeda is preparing for a huge fight. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Iran's Nukes - An agreement among the politicians doesn't appear likely. The State of Law party and the INA say they will hold a press conference tomorrow to announce how they will choose a candidate for prime minister. INA leader Ammar Hakim says they will announce a candidate within days. And Allawi's list says they will accept nothing less than the prime minister position. The people have grown tired of the politicians. The country needs serious leadership, and these guys are too caught up in themselves to notice. Meanwhile, Iraqis are talking about Iran's nuclear program. The talk is if Israel strikes Iran, Iraqis will cheer for Israel. At least a couple of co-workers predict the Arab countries will side with Israel over this move. I personally don't know, but I fear Iran will hit Iraq in retaliation. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre: Exclusive: First V-22 Combat Crash Likely “Pilot Error” - An investigation of the crash of an Air Force special operations CV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan last month has concluded the pilot of the tilt-rotor aircraft flew too close to the ground, striking an earthen berm, a source who has been briefed on the finding tells Line Of Departure. The conclusions of the accident investigators — which haven’t been released because they are not yet final — rule out mechanical malfunction and hostile fire as possible causes of the first crash of an operational model of the controversial heli-plane. The final report is likely to blame the mishap on pilot error, because the evidence suggests the V-22 was flying at high speed, at very low altitude, in airplane mode, with its massive rotors perpendicular to the ground when it struck the berm. A source says the force of the impact sheared off both engines (nacelles) and both wings before the plane flipped over. (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: Advise and Assist Facepalm - This may be old news in the blogosphere, I don't know. But I heard through the camo-vine that "no more combat troops in Iraq" really means renaming maneuver brigades "advise and assist" brigades. No change in soldiers deployed, and limited changes in their training. Serious change to their mission in country, certainly. I'm all for a slow and gradual drawdown. It's the only logical thing to do for Iraq right now. But I'm also for transparency. And this is ... well, this is straight amateur hour. Did they really think the American people would fall for this? (Don't answer that.) The older I get, the less I feel inclined to believe in Big Brother conspiracies, because Big Brother isn't scary. Or efficient. He's an accident-prone buffoon, just trying to get by like the rest of us. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Wonder Washing Your ACUs - Living in a dusty building for 12 months without running water has its obvious downsides. Keeping your weapon clean is paramount, of course, and trying to knock out a shower every once and a while is key to keeping your squad mates from banishing you to the burn pits. But one of the more overlooked aspects of personal admin and hygiene is laundry. Back in the day, it was two buckets and powdered detergent – a time consuming process of hillbilly-style washing that was marginally effective and at least a half-day evolution. But a couple of the Joes here solved that problem with a cool little gizmo called the “Wonder Wash.” When I first saw one in our hooch here at Yosef Khel Combat Outpost, I thought it was some kind of whiskey still for making bootleg hooch. But the Soldiers who have them swear by their effectiveness. Being a sort of slow day yesterday, some of the Soldiers did laundry, so I chronicled Sgt. Edward Rodriguez as he demonstrated the Wonder Wash outside the platoon TOC. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Night Shoot With Mk-19 and 60mm Mortar - We had the opportunity to watch a test fire drill the other night of the 60mm mortar team shooting illumination rounds and Mk-19 40mm grenade launcher gunners firing at a berm in front of our combat outpost here in Paktika province Afghanistan. We had a great time watching the Mk-19 fire, and it reminded me that the US troops do have a pretty good mix of weaponry to engage enemy attacks. Though the Mk-19 doesn’t have the range of an RPG, its ability to rapidly fire and even defilade targets is pretty impressive. We also talked to the Joes about the Mk-48 – the Army’s new lightweight 7.62mm machine gun. Bottom line is they love it, but they say that it is susceptible to jamming. We owe a very special thanks to American Technologies Network which supplied Kit Up! with two sets of night vision monoculars and helmet mounts. Without them, we would not have been able to shoot the night footage on missions here. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Shadows of Change - While he was at war, the children turned into teens. Son, 6'1", lifting weights, bigger than Dad will ever be. Daughter, almost-tall-as-Mom, has a face that will break hearts. (His breaks just a little as he watches her pack her backpack for school). But the three take little notice of any of this, as he sips coffee made in a French Press --the wife tossed the coffeemaker away. Like soldiers through history, when he came back, all had changed. Even the cat grew fatter, and now the dog has a walker? But some things have remained, To shut the back door, requires a kick. The car still starts with a rattle. The paint peels from sills and the doors. He marvels, but only until someone tears into the room with a new joke, a story, a you-know-what? And like the soldier he is, he falls into line, marching with his small family wondering if they don't see the changes too. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Culture Shock - Most contractors and, I presume, most soldiers who go on leave from A-stan hop a long flight to somewhere in the States, are met at the airport by the wife/girlfriend/parent/child and are safely and securely ensconced at home in a matter of hours. My recent trip back to the States started out similarly, but rapidly descended into some sort of bizarre dystopian fantasy straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel.* *Can fantasies even be dystopian? I would've said no, but recent evidence suggests that they can. Thirty hours after leaving Kabul, I was back at home with family for a brief but refreshing catch-up. Twenty-four hours after that, I made the rather dubious decision to jump back on a plane and head to Vegas for a few days. Those of you who know me will be familiar with my longstanding rule against going to Vegas without proper adult supervision. (READ MORE)

The Life of the Wife: Cats, CF, and Texas - So, y'all have probably been wondering where I've been, how I'm saving the world, etc. I'm taking a week off from CF. I was feeling tired and achy--I knew an injury would come soon if I didn't take a break. Lesson learned from the fractured hip incident of Winter 2010. The obstacle course: I got 3rd and they didn't make us actually hit anything with the paintball gun, just lay prone and fire off 5 shots. It was the first time I'd run since January, so 3rd isn't so bad. I was disappointed that there were no real sandbags or water jugs, though. They are going to do another one in June with the "real" stuff and I plan to go to that one, too. The weather: Still freaking cold!! Portugal weekend after this one. Can't waittt! I need some sun. I mean, this is getting ridiculous. For realz. My dogs: Shedding enough to make me want to throttle them. Howie is doing well in school and gets excellent marks for learning. He loves dog school and I just love the teachers. They are so nice to us Americans! (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani troops beat back latest Taliban assault in the northwest - Pakistani troops beat back yet another massed Taliban assault on a military outpost in the lawless tribal agency of Arakzai. In today's attack, more than 200 Taliban fighters descended on a Frontier Corps outpost in the Dabori area of Arakzai in an effort to overrun the base but were repelled after three hours of heavy fighting, Daily Times reported. The Pakistani military claimed that 60 Taliban fighters and four Frontier Corps troopers were killed during the battle. Twenty-two Pakistani troops and 70 Taliban fighters were reported to have been injured. The Taliban have attempted to overrun the Pakistani base in Dabori three times since May 10. On May 18, the military claimed it killed 28 Taliban fighters during a failed assault in the region. The Taliban were successful in overrunning the Dabori outpost for a short period of time on May 10, when nine Pakistani Frontier Corps troops were killed during the assault. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US troops repel complex Taliban assault on Bagram Airfield - US troops beat back a complex Taliban assault on the largest Coalition base in Afghanistan, killing an estimated 12 Taliban fighters. The Taliban launched the attack late at night and attempted to penetrate a gate at Bagram Airfield, which is north of Kabul. Heavily armed Taliban fighters, including four fighters wearing suicide vests, attempted to storm the gate but were repelled by US troops manning the security perimeter. "The attack included rockets, small arms and grenades," the International Security Assistance Force said in a press release. ISAF estimated that "nearly a dozen" Taliban fighters were killed during the failed assault. "Four of the insurgents killed were intended suicide bombers," ISAF reported. One US contractor was killed and nine soldiers were wounded during the Taliban attack. "Two of the nine wounded were returned to duty, all others are currently in stable condition," ISAF said. (READ MORE)

C.J.Chivers: In Ambush, a Glimpse of a Long Afghan Summer - Minutes after surviving the first ambush, Cpl. John M. Boone, a Marine sniper, called over his radio. “We’ve got a civilian here who got shot in his gut,” he said. “Hey, this guy is going to die if we don’t medevac him,” the corporal said. “His guts are hanging out.” It was 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, just over two hours into a patrol that was turning into a gunfight on turf where the Taliban had a persistent hold. For now, the tree lines from where the Taliban had been shooting were quiet. But everyone expected more gunfire, and Mohammed needed help. A new fighting season has begun around Marja, a richly irrigated zone of farming villages in Helmand Province that was both the center of Afghanistan’s opium production and a haven for its insurgency. Three months ago, thousands of Marines and Afghan soldiers swept into this area. The goal was to chase away the Taliban, disrupt the drug trade and usher in a government presence that might bring Marja under national control. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Lots of Alliteration, and the Hiss of 11 S's - To paraphrase Gregory "Pappy" Boyington of Black Sheep Squadron fame, "combat is hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror." This week, I've been participating in some more "Warrior Task" training and testing. Our mornings have been filled with hours and hours of PowerPoint slides, while our afternoons have been punctuated with sheer fun. It's included some real why-we-joined-the-Army stuff, like driving gun trucks and throwing grenades and using radios. Yee-haw and hoorah! On the other hand, despite the afternoon delights of running and gunning, the briefings have consistently proven more deadly than we have. It's not the briefers faults, of course. Some of their material is pretty dry, and often rife with technical and specialized terms. Uncle Sam attempts to make these subjects more memorable by reducing them into acronyms and catch-phrases. (READ MORE)

Two Brothers, Two Countries, One Army: Short and Sweet - Well, nothing sweet about it. We are in a HOT dry climate that is killing us. Not literally....yet. I ran about 2.5 miles this morning and thought I was gonna die because I pushed it too hard and ended up puking all over my self and almost my soldiers. It was rough one this morning. I am writing to tell you and I am finally in a long term spot and can start receiving mail. I will give you my address and a few things we know we need. We do not have a PX to speak of and rely on a convoy to take us down the road or a heli flight to another FOB. The PX we do have is only open for 2 hours a day. I have yet to make it in there to see what they have. I have no desire actually at this point. I am pretty set except for a things. I already made one trip to FOB Fenty to take care of a few things and pick a little bit of stuff I needed. I will make a short list of things we could use. I could put the things I want, but will wait for Christmas on those things. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Into the sunset - It is a cloudy, cool morning in Frederick, Maryland, where at this hour, thousands of hearts in the large suburban community are beating as one. Today, a favorite son is laid to rest. Beginning at sunrise, flags across the state were lowered to half-staff to honor a young man who dreamed of being a Marine since age three. WRC-TV reports that Cpl. Kurt Shea grew up with pictures of his uncles, who served in the Marine Corps, on the wall of his bedroom. Even as he excelled as a championship wrestler at Frederick High School, he never lost sight of his ultimate goal: serving his country with quiet dignity and grace. "The Unsung Hero Award was one of the last awards he had gotten before he graduated," [Future Farmers of America adviser Edward] Mayne said. "It was very typical of Kurt. he always did things behind the scenes. He always helped support everybody. And he was recognized for that." (READ MORE)

Wired: Danger Room: Human Terrain Teams MIA in Afghanistan? - How do you properly vet the insurgents you’re trying to “win over” to your side? Is simply promising not to attack your forces enough, or should you press for a formal integration with the government? At what point do a militant’s activities make him irredeemable? Those are just some of the difficult choices facing U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan – questions explored in a fine, fine dispatch by the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe. In it, he tells the tale of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Brown, who led a group of soldiers during last year’s insurgent assault on Camp Keating, in Kamdesh district of Nuristan province. After the attack, Lt. Col. Brown faced a difficult choice: whether or not to align himself with a local warlord and militant, Mullah Sadiq, who promised to repel future Taliban attacks. It seems like the sorts of question were designed to be answered by the Human Terrain System. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
The Counting Behind a Grim Milestone - Exactly how many American service members have died in the war in Afghanistan? The question is not as simple as it might seem. (READ MORE)

The Say-Do Gap and Obama’s Engagement Strategy - The Center for a New American Security released an in-depth report assessing President Obama’s global engagement strategy today. (READ MORE)

Army brass will confront National Guard fairness complaints - A contingent of high-ranking Army officials will speak to the news media at Joint Base Lewis-McChord today to address concerns raised by Oregon politicians that National Guard soldiers have been treated unfairly and disrespectfully compared to active-duty soldiers returning from a war zone. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:

Iraq's political crisis disheartens the middle class - When American tanks tore through her neighborhood, ripping up the roads as they uprooted a nation, she stayed put, refusing to move abroad like many of her wealthy friends. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Some US troops in Afghanistan may patrol with no rounds chambered in weapons - Commanders have reportedly ordered a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan to patrol in a manner that could handicap them. (READ MORE)

Three-way stalemate in Afghanistan - According to U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the good news from Afghanistan is that the Taliban are not winning. The bad news is that the coalition isn't either. (READ MORE)

Hamid Karzai’s half-brother accused over theft of Defence Ministry land - Long the subject of allegations of criminality, a half-brother of President Karzai has for the first time faced public accusation from within the Afghan Government. (READ MORE)

Illiteracy, Corruption Hamper Afghan Police: NATO - An 80 percent illiteracy rate, corruption and a lack of trained personnel are hampering Afghan police, the NATO commander overseeing the training of Afghan security forces said on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

U.S. contractor killed, 9 soldiers wounded in Taliban attack on Bagram air base - The Taliban's brazen assault against the heavily fortified, city-size Bagram air base Wednesday demonstrated again the insurgents' penchant for headline-grabbing strikes at the most potent symbols of foreign power in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

U.S. aims to protect innocent Afghan civilians first - A key to the U.S. approach to fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is this seemingly backward logic: The more aggressively you protect your own troops, the less secure they may be. (READ MORE)

New U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan quickly learn about challenges - The soldiers who will lead the buildup of U.S. forces in Kandahar this summer began arriving this week and immediately dove into a crash course on the problems they will face in Afghanistan's most critical battleground. (READ MORE)

Bold Taliban Afghan attacks appear to send message - With back-to-back strikes at symbols of American power in Afghanistan, the Taliban movement appears determined to show strength and build prestige in advance of an expected confrontation on its home turf of Kandahar province. (READ MORE)


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Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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