May 21, 2010

From the Front: 05/21/2010

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

Dispatches:
Army Live: Strengthening Relationships - Yesterday I listened in on a phone interview with Lt. Col. Michael Marti, the division senior intelligence officer, for 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Tikrit, Iraq, who talked about the partnership between U.S. troops, Iraqi army and Peshmerga Kurdish forces. Recently, a three-phase Iraqi-led operation called Chelan targeted al-Qaeda extremists in Iraq’s Diyala province, resulting in the arrests of eight al-Qaeda leaders and the seizure of weapons caches. This is a notable al-Qaeda-fighting partnership because relations between Arabs and Kurds have long been tense and often violent –- Kurds endured what many consider genocide under Saddam’s regime. It is good to see Iraqis working together toward a common goal: to eradicate those from among their ranks who are causing their country harm. Maybe this is a precursor to strengthened relations in the future? Let’s hope so. (READ MORE)

C.J. Chivers: Revisiting Combat Outpost Reilly - The summer fighting season has returned to southern Afghanistan, which means the Obama administration’s and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency effort here will face some of its most difficult tests. Temperatures are soaring over 100 degrees, the opium crop has been harvested and laborers are freed up for fighting in environmental conditions that strain equipment and challenge even the most fit Western soldiers and Marines. Simultaneously, more American fighting units are arriving in the country, part of the so-called Afghan surge approved by the White House last year, and units that have been here for months are fighting for areas that remain out of government control. Moreover, NATO and the Pentagon have made no secret that they intend to flow more forces into Kandahar Province, and try to unravel the Taliban’s durable hold on its heartland. Busy months are ahead. (READ MORE)

Rod Nordland: A Quiet, Tense Night for a First Patrol - The crescent moon had just risen as the Canadian soldiers crushed their last cigarettes out in the dust and began helping one another put on their heavy packs. There was a soft breeze in the warm night air, pleasantly and unseasonably mild. That wouldn’t last. They were about to go on their first dismounted night patrol; their unit had just rotated in, and most of these men, from India Company, Second Royal Canadian Regiment, were on their first tour of Afghanistan. Their predecessors had over the previous year lost five service members. “This is a presence patrol,” the patrol leader, Sgt. Dan Wiese, told them, “So when it gets too dark to see, use white light. That’s the point, to let them know we’re here.” In a staggered double file, the 20 men marched out the gate of Camp Nathan Smith, on the edge of this city at the heart of the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Major Mark Suddaby: Chocolate and pens: meeting the locals - My forward operating base is home to not only the 1st Kandak, but also 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, known as 1 LANCS. They are the ISAF Combined Force for Nad-e’ Ali, who work in partnership with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to provide security for the farming communities of this district. All I have to do, with my four Advisor teams collocated with Afghan Tolays, or Companies, is provide the Kandak with some British Army expertise and advice. The Afghan Warriors (soldiers) are brave and willing, but it is a new revamped army and you can’t grow an army overnight. It’s taken the British Army (and I serve in its oldest line infantry regiment) nearly four hundred years to develop and we are still learning! The officers try to keep up with us but lack the training and experience of a Western military machine. So, good soldiers but lacking in key skills. (READ MORE)

Lieutenant Colonel G M Strickland: Royal Gurkha Rifles build on Coldstream Guards’ success in southern Helmand - I am writing this from a patrol base in Helmand. It is a fortified outpost on the edge of a village, and the sound of the call to prayer from the local mosque is drifting through the hot and dusty morning air. The 1st Battalion of The Royal Gurkha Rifles came here two weeks ago to help the Afghan government bring security to this area. We took over our task from 1st Battalion, The Coldstream Guards who had spent the last six months pushing back a violent and harsh insurgency so that the families who live in these villages can go about their daily business without fear of retribution. They had some remarkable successes, and the atmosphere in the area is very different to what it was just six months ago. We now have an opportunity. The increase in British troops that we have brought has coincided with an increase in numbers of both Afghan Army and Police... (READ MORE)

Lance Corporal James Atkin: Hard, sad, emotional and expensive times in Afghanistan - First of all I would like to thank the good men of 3 Troop for volunteering me to write this blog! I had never even heard of a blog until today. Bear with me and I will try to keep this interesting. Can I also just say what every soldier wants to say in things like this: ‘HI MUM!’ Now let’s get started. I am a Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers serving out in Afghanistan. I used to be a Plant Operator Mechanic but upon my posting to Ripon last year, like everyone else in the squadron, our jobs soon changed drastically. A vigorous training program commenced about a year prior to our deployment. Although fun at first, the lads were soon bored with training and couldn’t wait to get out here and put their newly acquired skills into action on a real playing field. My job for this tour of duty was to be a Searcher. I was duly trained and my new skills were honed and confirmed on a six week exercise overseas in November. (READ MORE)

Lance Corporal John Zoumides: Training the Afghan National Army in basic medical drills - This week we went out on a lot of patrols in the so-called “Green Zone” in Sangin, where we are based, for lots of different missions. It is very green up here, with lots of crops growing and irrigation channels everywhere. We spend a lot of time walking in the water which always makes me worry for the guys’ feet. I don’t want them to develop trenchfoot. We make sure we dry everything thoroughly after every patrol. It helps that it is so hot. Because I am the team medic I have to be ready for any eventuality and I carry about 25kg of medical equipment and supplies in my rucksack. I also carry one of the ladders we use to get up and over compound walls because a lot of my guys have packs far heavier than mine. It can get really hot so it is far better if we patrol in the early morning or evenings. People ask me if it worries me, dealing with injured people, especially when it is your friends. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Signs of Agreement? - The AP says Maliki claims the Allawi-led list is wasting time because they can never form a government. "I say to our brothers in Iraqiya list: You are wasting your time and delaying the political process," he said. It's curious that Maliki makes such confident statements. Sure he has a tentative deal with the Hakim gang of the INA list, but their talks reached a stalemate over the prime minister nomination. Maliki wants only himself, the INA people want everyone but Maliki. Also today President Talabani hosted a lunch at his home for all the top winners of the March 7 election. It reportedly went well. But nobody is expecting any agreements announced soon. It was the first meeting between Maliki and Allawi since the results of the elections were announced. Is this the first step towards a government shared by Maliki and Allawi? (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Afghan forces capture northern shadow governor - Afghanistan's intelligence service has detained the Taliban's top leader for the northern province of Samangan. The National Directorate of Security said that Mullah Gulistan, the shadow governor for Samangan province, admitted to his role in the Taliban during interrogations after his capture, Reuters reported today. Gulistan, who is also known as Ahkundak, was captured while the Afghan National Police were checking cars at the Chawk-e-Samangan. Police discovered documents and contact information that linked him to the Taliban, according to local Afghan press reports. The Taliban establish shadow or parallel governments in the regions they control or where the Afghan government is weak. These shadow governments fill the void by dispensing sharia justice; mediating tribal and land disputes; collecting taxes; and recruiting, arming, and training fighters. (READ MORE)

A Handful of Dust: An AHOD Primer - As traffic increases to this site exponentially thanks to LT Wompum’s piece in the NYTimes, I wanted to provide a quite primer on AHOD for those who are visiting for the first time. We are a group blog that has a dual mission: 1) provide frontline reports in both words and pictures from three U.S. Army infantry officers serving in Afghanistan on all manner of topics; and 2) offer up elucidating commentary on the war in Afghanistan, counterinsurgency, and any foreign policy topic that strikes our interest. Nor do we take ourselves too seriously, as the ‘Dexter Filkins Better Watch His Back. . .” post below demonstrates. LT Wompum is an ANA trainer in Kabul and has been in country since March. Our two other infantry LTs will be arriving in Kandahar in June during the heart of the Afghan surge. I am a former naval officer and soon-to-be grad student at Columbia come fall. We will provide our perspective and opinions; we will not provide propaganda. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Musharraf to return to Pakistan and politics - More details have emerged about the alleged talks between the Afghan government and elements of an insurgent group in the country, as reports indicate that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's son-in-law organized the meeting in the Maldives, and the Afghan militant commander is represented there by his son Feroz. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reportedly unhappy about the meeting because he wants talks to take place at his official jirga later this month, while officials in Kabul don't believe any current members of the Taliban are participating; however, observers from both parties are reported to be there. After last week's warm administration welcome for Karzai, his onetime presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah has so far been unable to get a meeting with the State Department, Pentagon, White House, or National Security Council. (READ MORE)

AirForceWife: Male to Female Militarese - Over the years, we at SpouseBUZZ have addressed the issue of the language that exists for those who sere in or are affiliated with the military (for short, called Militarese). We PCS, our spouses go TDY, we get BAH, and if someone is out of line they get a Come to Jesus. One thing we haven't really gone into, though, is the gender differences within Militarese. Because I can tell you right now that I don't speak the same language as my husband. For instance... A while ago I got a call from my husband that started out this way, "Don't worry, I'm okay!" I realize that he intended this to soothing - after all, he's okay! Right? NO! This just sets the stage for my own nervous breakdown knowing that my husband was in the middle of something scary. Something I try not to think about all too often. Really, that is not the phrasing I would recommend. (READ MORE)

Marine Wife: Murphy, you've gone too far this time! - The kids have exactly 9 school days left. One of those days includes a meeting to get an IEP for speech to carry with us to the next duty station because our current school waited too long in the school year to actually DO anything except evaluate and schedule meetings. I have 22 days available to me to get ready for this move. Stretch will manage to be gone for a number of those days, not including his normal work days. We still don't know for sure where we will live on the other end of this move. But there's a real possibility that we'll need to put most of our things into storage, so that will affect organization. On top of all that, I have realtors calling me almost everyday wanting to show the house we are currently renting. To say that I'm feeling a tad stressed would be a major understatement. And now we come to the straw that broke the camel's back. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: The war at home - "The Shiites couldn't get him, the Sunnis couldn't get him, if there is al Qaeda in Iraq, they didn't get him. But he comes home, and that's where he meets this devastating fate." When Thomas Wortham IV recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, he immediately got back to work policing the streets of the Windy City. The Chicago police officer took a particular interest in improving the city's Chatham neighborhood, which has been plagued by violence in recent years. According to The Chicago Tribune, he was even president of the Nat King Cole Park advisory council. "He was part of a group of residents concerned about the park," [Ald. Freddenna] Lyle said. "They were working on trying to make sure things went on as they should. He was there all the time. We were getting ready to have a community event this Saturday. ... I don't think we'll have it now." In an unthinkable turn of events, an off-duty Officer Wortham was gunned down last night in the very neighborhood he was trying to save since returning from war. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Why we write - On May 11, I accepted a 2010 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship for The Unknown Soldiers: How the Media Celebrates American Idols and Ignores American Heroes. Several elements of the project will be completed right here on The Unknown Soldiers, which will continue to tell the personal stories of our men and women in uniform. All too often, these extraordinary Americans are brushed aside by a ratings-driven national media that has become obsessed with celebrity flavors of the month. During my acceptance remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., I talked about the sacrifice of Maj. Megan McClung, the highest-ranking female Marine to lose her life in the Iraq war. She was killed in action on December 6, 2006, alongside Army Capt. Travis Patriquin and Spc. Vincent Pomante in Al Anbar province. Since visiting Maj. McClung's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in January, this fallen Marine and her parents have always been in my heart. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: House Panel Puts the Brakes on ‘Human Terrain’ (Updated) - The Army wants to expand its controversial social science program, the Human Terrain System, to 29 of its Brigade Combat Teams. The House Armed Service Committee isn’t so sure that’s a hot idea. HTS, originally designed to provide cultural advisors to combat commanders, has been questioned from nearly every angle: the quality of its “experts”, the depth of its training, the utility to infantry leaders, the competency of its managers, the exposure of civilian researchers to hostile environments, the ethics of turning social science into military intelligence. But despite high-profile missteps and tragedies, the Army’s leadership remains convinced that Human Terrain is worth it. As of this time last year, there were 21 Human Terrain Teams operating in Iraq and six in Afghanistan, each with five to nine members. “We found that Human Terrain Teams have been very valuable in theater,” Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. General Robert Lennox tells Danger Room. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Patrolling With No Rounds Chambered in Weapons? - On his Facebook page, Michael Yon is reporting that “An American soldier emailed from Afghanistan saying that his unit has been ordered to patrol with no round in the chamber.” There is no further confirmation than this, and I have not done my own independent confirmation. But let’s assume for a moment the accuracy of this report. W. Thomas Smith, Jr., calls ordering this practice criminally negligent. I disagree. There is nothing negligent about it. If this order has been given, it is criminal. Negligent means that there was no intent to endanger, and that is clearly not the case. Whomever ordered this intends for the troops to be at increased risk. It is an intentional act, a dispositive action. The commanding officer is disposing of the issue of troop risk by increasing it, and he knows it. But what’s so stunning about this is how far we have evolved from the things we learned in Iraq where we were successful. (READ MORE)

Jules Crittenden: Favor Returned - He buried them on Iwo, they buried him yesterday in Massachusetts. Boston Herald: "In the bloodiest days of Iwo Jima, he spoke the last words over fallen Marines and Navy corpsmen as they were buried in the island’s black sand. Yesterday, Marines, sailors and soldiers returned the favor to the late Rev. E. Gage Hotaling of Agawam, sending the old Navy chaplain on to join his comrades with military honors." Thanks to Joe Galloway and Massachusetts State Trooper Mike Cutone on the headsup. Cutone, an Army Special Forces veteran of Iraq, was on a prisoner watch at Mercy Hospital when he learned from an old Marine that Hotaling was dying down the hall, made some calls and saw to it he was attended at his bedside by Marines in dress blues in his last days as he had tended to them in theirs in dirty, bloodstained dungarees. Not sure if that’s Hotaling in that 1945 Marine photo from Iwo, but based on his remarks, it might be. Close enough. (READ MORE)

Kings of War: The $64,000 Question: What if COIN doesn’t work? - Now, dear Readers, while I do not agree with everything Ms. Marlowe says in her post, I do very much like her line of reasoning. She wonders: What if counterinsurgency has never, ever, anywhere actually worked? What if our military has been chasing a chimera for almost four years — or more? Marlowe states that while “COIN makes sense intellectually” there doesn’t seem to be any increase in security when our troops do the right stuff (getting out among the people, lots of presence, lots of talking). We’ve got it down to a science now: the shuras, the projects, the provincial development plans, the embedded partners…It’s a lovely theory, but it may be a waste of time, and of all those young men and women who get blown up by IEDs while getting out among the people. In so wondering, Marlowe raises several other thorny questions, such as: How do we know if it works? By what measures? In whose opinion? (READ MORE)


News from the Home Front:
Another round in the hex chromium war - They're in front of a federal judge today to argue about why a lawsuit by Oregon National Guard soldiers against contractor KBR should go forward in federal court. (READ MORE)

Hexavalent chromium suit against KBR by Oregon National Guard goes forward in Portland - Oregon Army National Guard veterans suing the largest war contractor in Iraq today in federal court in Portland acknowledge they're waging an improbable fight. (READ MORE)

House Panel Displeased With Human Terrain System - Next year’s defense bill pretty much demolishes the Obama administration’s jury-rigged plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay by exporting detainees to an Illinois prison. But that’s not all the joy it brings into the world: (READ MORE)


News from the Front:
Iraq:
Iraqis demand answers in deaths of 6 detainees who died during transport - Relatives of six detainees from Anbar province were planning a homecoming this week. Instead, they spent Thursday holding funerals and calling on the Iraqi government to account for their deaths. (READ MORE)

Maliki Attends Iraq Leaders' Lunch, Allawi Abroad - President Jalal Talabani's invitation to lunch Thursday led to the largest gathering of Iraqi politicians since the March election and broke "psychological barriers," Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Politicians Break Bread, but Not the Standoff - Iraq’s leading politicians — government ministers, clerics and sheiks, not a single woman among them — gathered Thursday over a lunch of roasted meat and rice at the arabesque Peace Palace on the bank of the Tigris. (READ MORE)


Afghanistan:
Canada's route out of Afghanistan will be bumpy - The Canadian military’s plans to get every last soldier and tank out of Kandahar by the end of next year are detailed and well-advanced, even as it plans for contingencies ranging from exit routes to snap elections at home. (READ MORE)

Wreckage of missing Afghan plane found - The wreckage of an Afghan passenger plane missing since Monday has been discovered in rugged mountain terrain with no sign of survivors, officials said Thursday. (READ MORE)

Taliban Attack Afghan Police Base Camp: Officials - Suspected Taliban suicide fighters were engaged in a gun battle with Afghan police inside a base near the Pakistan border on Friday, officials said. (READ MORE)

Forces in Afghanistan Capture Taliban Commanders - Afghan and international forces captured two Taliban commanders and seized weapons and drugs in recent operations, military officials reported. (READ MORE)

Afghan officials met insurgent representatives in Maldives - An Afghan Government delegation has met representatives of Afghan insurgent groups in the Maldives, it was claimed yesterday, and is to do so again this weekend. (READ MORE)

U.S. Rolls Up Red Carpet for Karzai Rival - The Obama administration, after pulling out all the stops last week to show some love and affection to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, is giving the cold shoulder to Mr. Karzai’s vanquished political rival, Abdullah Abdullah. (READ MORE)

Toll in Kabul Suicide Attack Included U.S. and Canadian Officers - The suicide bomber who struck in Kabul on Tuesday killed four high-ranking NATO officers who had been on a brief visit, military officials confirmed Thursday. (READ MORE)

Suspected Taliban Blow Up "U.S. Spies" In Pakistan - Taliban militants strapped explosives to two men accused of being U.S. spies and blew them up at a public execution in northwest Pakistan, intelligence officials and residents said on Friday. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Widens Online Ban to Include YouTube - Pakistani officials have ordered the country's Internet service providers to block the popular video-sharing website YouTube, saying its contains "growing sacrilegious content." (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, May 21 - An Afghan-international security force detained two militants as they pursued a Taliban commander in Kandahar last night. (READ MORE)

No survivors as bodies found in Afghan plane crash - Afghan authorities have recovered several bodies from the wreckage of a passenger plane that crashed earlier this week with 48 people aboard, which had been carrying 3 Turkish activists and dozens of Afghans, the interior ministry said on Friday. (READ MORE)

German President Koehler makes surprise visit to Afghanistan - German President Horst Koehler visited German soldiers stationed in Afghanistan on Friday, during a surprise stopover in the war-torn country. (READ MORE)

US rifles not suited to warfare in Afghan hills - The U.S. military's workhorse rifle - used in battle for the last 40 years - is proving less effective in Afghanistan against the Taliban's more primitive but longer range weapons. (READ MORE)

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Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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