June 3, 2010

From the Front: 06/03/2010

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

Dispatches:
A Handful of Dust:
The Faint Whir of Death - This past weekend another Al Qaeda #3, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, was reportedly killed in a drone attack. Drone attacks have been the order of the day in 2010 with 38 conducted so far, compared to 53 for all of 2009. Drone attacks primarily fall under the counterterrorism umbrella existing to decapitate the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. But within the COIN community they are not without controversy. David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum (aka. Abu Muq) stridently believe drone attacks are counterproductive because of the way they are perceived by Pakistanis. The numbers are hotly disputed, but no one in the U.S. government would claim that civilians aren’t killed in such strikes and that they outnumber the bad guys killed by anywhere from 3 to 50 to 1. Thus the drones are perceived by large swaths of the Pakistani population as indiscriminate killers. The recent saga of Faisal Shahzad in which he claimed that drone strikes were part of the impetus behind his attack illustrates this fact. (READ MORE)

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: Home Sweet (Messy) Home - My daughter staying in bed until a little after 1030 this morning is one indication that we had quite the busy weekend. We did so much while we were in Florida, I think next time we go will need to be just for some relax time because so far all the times we've been down there (including the time I went with Jonny, almost two years ago, for Thanksgiving) has been rushed and jam-packed with stuff. It was good, though. As I was saying in my Pre-Memorial Day post, so many positive things were going on, I can't complain about how busy it was. Memorial Day was nice. We went to Bay Pines for their Memorial Day Ceremony which was really nice. Man, Florida is HOT though. I thought I could hang, living in North Carolina and all, and I could - in the shade - but man once you hit that sun.... woah. Congressman Bill Young spoke and mentioned Jonny by name. That was not something I was expecting, but man did I well up with pride. (READ MORE)

Thomas Ruttig: Why Afghanistan's Jirga Will Fail - The Peace Jirga that began today in Kabul, will fail its declared main aim: To establish a real national consensus on talks with the Taliban. There are too many relevant political forces absent -- and those who are in attendence are massively monitored and manipulated. The jirga does not bring an end -- or at least a reduction -- of violence closer. This was echoed by the rockets that exploded next to the tent this morning -- the closest one reportedly only one hundred meters away -- during President Karzai's speech. He first told the delegates not worry, but then apparently left the venue himself. The jirga has again resumed its work and but it is unclear whether Karzai plans to continue attending. On the surface, the jirga with its 1,600 delegates bears all insignia of Afghan tribal ‘democracy' which, although, is male-dominated. (The women were only able to push through their 20 per cent attendance quota after Western diplomats intervened...) (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: The Start of a Counter Narrative Strategy - *A successful Counter Narrative Strategy begins with a philosophical foundation for building and employing tactical and operational methods of engagement. My perspective is one of many, as I intend to push the envelope here in order to generate dialogue so that we may arrive at an optimal solution. I encourage you to read John Brennan's full remarks (26 May, 2010) at CSIS, entitled "Securing the Homeland by Renewing American Strength, Resilience and Values." In the first half of his speech, he pinpointed an aspect of an effective Counter Narrative Strategy (CNS) that I have spoken of in the past: Al-Qaeda, and for that matter, all affiliates, are not Islamic. I mean this literally. The US and its allies can not benefit (socially or economically) from considering AQ's and AQAM's thought and action as Muslim in nature. Indeed, AQ's stance rests on a dis-illusionary system of motivation and justification that is insane and self-centered. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: U.N. report criticizes U.S. drone strikes - Afghanistan's peace jirga in Kabul, attended by some 1,600 delegates, continues into its second day as the tribal elders split into 28 different committees to discuss issues from whether the Afghan government should negotiate directly with Taliban leadership and if so, who, to what incentives might be offered to those fighters who lay down their arms. The committees are scheduled to finalize their recommendations today and present them tomorrow. Some 12,000 Afghan security forces are on guard around the jirga. Eight Afghan civilians were killed in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province earlier today, four when a roadside bomb detonated in Nawzad and four in the crossfire of a gunbattle between Afghan forces and Taliban militants in Marjah, site of a major coalition offensive this spring. (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: Lots of questions unanswered with Camp Leatherneck fire - Two weeks ago, this base went up like the 4th of July, with 14 acres of supplies and trailer-sized shipping containers essentially burning to the ground in a spectacular fire. As is common, rumors ran rampant for the next few days, eventually reaching families in the U.S. and combat outposts in locations like Marjah, where I was embedded at the time with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Rumors were spread that the fuel farm at Leatherneck exploded. It didn’t, although there was one nearby the Supply Maintenance Unit that burned. Rumors were spread that the dining hall burned down. It didn’t, although a dining facility – or DFAC, for short – was the equivalent of about one city block away. Rumors were spread that the “Class 1” lot used to store food, water and other essential items caught fire. It didn’t, and Leatherneck never missed a beat with supplying items that are that essential. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 02 JUN 2010 "Legacy" - A father and son came together today while serving as medical personnel in Forward Operating Base Shank - Logar, Afghanistan. It is a rare occurrence, but its not necessarily uncommon. I've met multiple people who have family members serving on active duty in the same theater of war. One of our anesthetists has a brother in western Afghanistan and I've previously posted a PoD ("Generations") with CPT Timms (Charlie Med nurse) and her mother who is serving in northern Afghanistan. However, this is a special treat to have father and son together at the same FOB. PFC Howe just arrived today to serve as a medic with the 173d Airborne BSB, while his father is the 909th's operating room NCO-in-charge. The helicopters landed minutes after this photo was taken. Welcome to FOB Shank, PFC Howe. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: US Marines commend bravery of Royal Air Force firefighters - “It was absolute carnage, the flames, the smoke - the smoke was that dense that you could hardly see the American firefighters who were actually in there dealing with it. We got our guys in to breathing apparatus and got our guys to the front.” The words of Corporal James McInally, from Glasgow, who was the first Brit on the scene when US forces called for back-up. RAF fire crews, based at Camp Bastion, raced to help their US colleagues when a fire at neighbouring Camp Leatherneck threatened to get out of control. The blaze started at dusk in a storage compound that held gas cylinders, adding to the danger the crews faced. Strong winds fanned the flames which could be seen from Camp Bastion, a mile away. And they earned lavish praise and a commendation from a United States Marine Corps General for what he described as their "bravery, courage, skill and professionalism". (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: It's the Attacker Not the Attacked - The Gaza flotilla story still dominates the news. Even though Turkey appears to have toned its rhetoric down a bit. Few people are talking about anything else. I'm still stunned by the comments on this blog. I can't get over that some people think it is not useful or productive to protest al-Qaeda's attacks on the Iraqi civilians. Since when did any marchers in the streets think about the benefits. When I was in college and everyone marched for the Palestinians, nobody thought any government would follow our advice. We didn't picket the Israeli embassy. We just walked in the streets carrying signs. We didn't think Israel would alter its policies. We marched because we wanted to show the Palestinians our support. We wanted everyone to know we were angry at how the Palestinians were being treated. And as for withdrawing ambassadors, nearly all the Arab countries have not had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1948 or whenever. Did it change anything? (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Campaign Season, 2010 - Now that it's June, the campaign season for 2010 is fully upon us. Not that the bad guys waited for June, they actually got started a little earlier with a series of high-profile attacks across the country just to remind everyone that they're still here. Not that anyone had really forgotten. First up was the 18 May VBIED attack on an ISAF convoy in southern Kabul, which killed two colonels (one Canadian) and two lieutenent colonels and their two drivers. A dozen locals were also killed in the blast. From the location of the attack, it looks like the convoy was on it's way to the COIN Academy at Camp Julien. Here's a tip for the Force Protection guys at ISAF: your olive-green, armored SUVs festooned with antennas aren't fooling anybody, especially when you put three of them in close proximity in rush hour traffic. If you're going high-profile, then use an MRAP; if you want low-profile, try a beat-up Surf or a Land Cruiser. You can't do low-profile in a high-profile vehicle. Choose one or the other. (READ MORE)

Knottie's Niche: Take Luck Harding…I Miss You Son - A few days after Micheal was killed we got a call from Iraq.. I knew the number was from Iraq I had spent the last months waiting for that 1191 to show up on my phone. I had to ask 3 times for the young man’s name. He was obviously emotional; PFC Mark Harding was on the other end. I knew the name. Michael had mentioned him often. He was one of the three amigos. Fagan, Harding and Phillips…the morale team. Self appointed. We spoke for some time. Both of us cried together both of us searched for the answer to why that day. He became my son that day. Mark was one of the first to come to our home. He came for New Years 2009. My son David didn’t want to meet any of the guys. But he and Mark hit it off. You see Mark was one of those people you just had to love. I have videos of Mark goofing off with my son and the other guys. I have pictures of his beautiful smile. I have cried with this young man. Laughed with him and sat in silence with him. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Newly minted Taliban shadow governor in Afghan north captured - Afghan and Coalition forces have leveled another blow at the Taliban's top leadership in the northern province of Baghlan. A joint Afghan and Coalition force captured the Taliban's newly appointed shadow governor of Baghlan during a May 31 raid in the Baghlan-i-Jadid district "after intelligence information revealed insurgent activity," the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release today on its website. The shadow governor of Baghlan, whose name was not provided by ISAF, was captured "as he prepared to leave for Pakistan." One of his associates was killed and an undisclosed number were captured during the raid. The joint Afghan-Coalition special operations forces have put pressure on the Taliban to quickly promote new leaders, ISAF said. "This capture marks the third time in as many weeks that the Taliban have had to replace named shadow governors for Baghlan province because of Coalition operations," the press release stated. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Review: 'Restrepo' - From June 2007 to July 2008, documentary co-producers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger repeatedly embedded in the Korengal with the second platoon of Battle Company, 503rd Infantry Battalion (2/B/503 Infantry) in the Korengal Valley. In 2007, nearly one-fifth of the combat in Afghanistan occurred in this valley, which is only 6 miles long. The unit is part of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (A.B.C.T.), headquartered in Vincenza, Italy. Our unit's public affairs officer wanted a couple of Joes' reactions to the film, to see whether they thought it a potentially useful pre-deployment learning tool for our Red Bull soldiers. We've got a good mix of experiences and specialties in the TOC, he knew, and certainly no shortage of opinions. About 90 minutes later, even the combat veterans among us called the film "eye-opening." Said one staff sergeant: "I wish I'd had something like that to show my soldiers before we left for Iraq." (READ MORE)

SemperFi Wife: Goodbye Deployment Mode! - This morning as I was going through emails, my daily blog reads and facebook updates, the doorbell rang. Unexpectedly. And for a moment, my heart raced as I pictured a Marine in dress blues standing there. Then I remembered. The Dark Prince was upstairs sleeping and NOT in Afghanistan. I think, just as it takes us a little while to get into the mode, it takes time to get out of it. And just as every deployment is like a snowflake (although I say it's a yellow snowflake), everybody does different things to cope with it. For me, it was not watching the news after a certain time of the evening, sticking to watching really bad syfy, not turning down my cul de sac before checking to see if there was an official vehicle waiting for me, and not opening the door or answering the phone before seeing who it was. Those were some of the things that I did and as I sat here enjoying the fact that doorbells will not cause me panic anymore, I wondered what you all did or do during a deployment to cope? (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: '110 percent or not at all' - When Lt. Col. Thomas Belkofer put his mind to something, nobody could stop him from reaching his goal. In 18 years of military service, he deployed to Afghanistan and Italy, and often moved around on the homefront to complete various assignments. Yet the challenges of military life only motivated Lt. Col. Belkofer further to achieve greatness. He graduated with a master's degree in business administration from Syracuse University while on active duty. "He wasn't the kind of guy that would take a job, put in his years, and retire," older brother Don Belkofer said. Like fellow Lt. Col. Paul Bartz, the respected Army officer volunteered to travel to Afghanistan last month for a round of leadership training. Belkofer would be completing a full deployment as a war zone commander in a few months. As the soldier and his four brothers in arms completed their preparation in Kabul, everything suddenly changed. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Marine Life in Afghanistan - The names, faces and structures have changed, but the problems remain. Lies, lies, lies, heavy body armor, injuries, surfaces too hot to touch, bad rules of engagement, getting cut by concertina wire, untrustworthy indigenous security forces, destroyed and lost equipment, having to pay the Marine Corps for that destroyed and lost equipment out of your pitiful salary, dreading IEDs and looking forward to firefights, and so on the story goes. At its core it’s no different than the Marine Corps experience in Iraq. The life of a grunt is hard. The training is hard because the life is hard; the training has to reflect the life. The strongest, healthiest and most motivated men can only do it for so long. They need our prayer, and they need our unwavering support. And they need to know that what they’re doing is worth it – that the administration won’t bail on them and their brothers while the mission is incomplete. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
B-17 to drop flowers for CIA killed in Afghanistan - Historic aircraft will escort a B-17 bomber as it drops flowers over the Statue of Liberty in a public Memorial Day tribute to seven CIA employees killed in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

U.N. Report Highly Critical of U.S. Drone Attacks - A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects was undermining global constraints on the use of military force. (READ MORE)

U.N. report faults prolific use of drone strikes by U.S. - The campaign of CIA drone strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan has made the United States "the most prolific user of targeted killings" in the world, said a United Nations official, who urged that responsibility for the program be taken from the spy agency. (READ MORE)

U.N. official urges U.S. to stop CIA drone attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban - A senior U.N. official said Wednesday that the United States should halt the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan, charging that the secrecy surrounding the strikes violates the legal principle of international accountability. (READ MORE)

2010 DACOWITS Committee Members Announced - The Department of Defense announced today selection of the new chairwoman and nine appointees to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:

Iraqi Kurdish Leader In Turkey For Landmark Visit - Turkey and Iraq already enjoy burgeoning trade and security cooperation, but Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's first visit to Ankara since the U.S. invasion in 2003 is a breakthrough for regional stability. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Three wounded in roadside bombing in W. Afghanistan - Roadside bomb targeted NATO-led troops convoy in Herat province west of Afghanistan, wounding three persons -- one Afghan police and two passersby -- on Monday, police said. (READ MORE)

Civilian, NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan - NATO said Monday that one of its soldiers was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, where another foreign soldier was killed in a small arms fire. (READ MORE)

Nato launches Afghan air strikes - Nato has launched air strikes against Taliban insurgents who had forced government forces to abandon a district in eastern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

US seeks to balance India's Afghanistan stake - The Obama administration is grappling with how to balance India's role in Afghanistan as arch-rival Pakistan also jostles for influence there ahead of Washington's planned troop withdrawal to start in mid-2011. (READ MORE)

Expectations not so great for Karzai's 'peace jirga' - In the cavernous tent where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to convene a grand tribal gathering this week, rows of chairs sit empty, waiting for turbaned elders to fill them. (READ MORE)

Proselytizing charges need fair probe - Two international NGOs facing accusations of religious proselytizing in Afghanistan have rejected the charges and an umbrella body has demanded a fair and impartial inquiry into the case. (READ MORE)

Ministry signs contract for designing water reservoir - An Iranian company will design a water reservoir to provide drinking water two villagers in eastern Nangarhar province, an official said. (READ MORE)

Senate calls for trial of Governor and Police Chief - While accusing two top government officials of being reckless, MPs in Afghanistan said the capture of Barg-e-Matal district by the Taliban indicates the government’s weakness. (READ MORE)

‘Attacks not to affect jirga’ - The attacks conducted by Taliban today (June 02) in Kabul when the peace jirga was in progress did not cause any casualties, an official said Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Afghans begin second day of debate on peace plan with Taliban - Afghan delegates on Thursday began the second day of debate on ways to end Afghanistan's nearly nine-year conflict at a peace assembly in Kabul. (READ MORE)

20 Taliban dead in Orakzai - Forces, backed by helicopter gunships, killed at least 20 militants after a security checkpost was attacked in Orakzai on Wednesday, a day after the military announced victory there. (READ MORE)

Karzai escapes attempt on life - Amid rocket attacks and gunfire, Afghanistan's three-day peace assembly of elders that could help expand President Hamid Karzai's support base and improve chances of stability began in Kabul on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Differences remain at Afghan peace conference - Hundreds of Afghan leaders held hours of talks Thursday on ways to end the insurgency wracking their country, but remained divided over whether to reach out to Taliban leaders and a host of other issues. (READ MORE)

Taliban Attacks Dominate First Day of Peace 'Jirga' - The Afghan government turned to an ancient tradition to try to end a modern war today, launching a national peace assembly designed to create a road map for reconciling with the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Afghan leaders set to debate how to bring peace - With the reading out of a traditional Koranic prayer, 1,600 Afghan leaders from across the social and political spectrum will open an important meeting on Wednesday that aims to find an end to war. (READ MORE)

Punjabi Taliban have grown dangerous: Malik - Punjabi Taliban holed up in south Punjab have become more dangerous and are geared up for large-scale sabotage in the country, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Wednesday. (READ MORE)


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Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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