June 7, 2010

From the Front: 06/07/2010

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

A Handful of Dust: Enjoying The Little Things - First of all, I’d like to say hello and welcome to the readers of AHOD. Since LT Wompum had to leave, I contacted Sosostris about joining the blog in his stead. Like Wompum, I’m an infantry officer with a non-infantry mission. I have been in country only a few weeks now and don’t have any real job yet other than Gopher LT: running around Camp Phoenix doing various tasks and putting out fires when needed. Hopefully that will change soon enough when they find me a real position, which at least from the chatter I hear, will have something to do with working with the ANA. Either way, though I’ve only been in country a relatively short time, there are already a few random little things that make life so distinct here. –The Bazaars: Although we can’t actually go out into the “real” bazaars in Kabul, the DOD approved venders on or around FOBs often have the same attitude and appearance, if slightly more sterilized. (READ MORE)

Old Blue: Trending Positive - A couple of commenters on the post “Trending Positive” deserve answers. I’m going to take them in logical instead of chronological order. So the first question is, “Is this (COIN) what we our troops should be doing?”. Yes. The why of it requires an answer that spans a number of subjects ranging from the purpose of having armed forces to the dangers of foreign national/regional instability in the era of globalization. We have, in part, created this very situation with our own might. By that I don’t mean that our various “nefarious plots” are coming home to roost. I mean that we are too strong for others to take on toe-to-toe with any reasonable assurance of possible success. Insurgents are not insurgents because they always aspired to be insurgents. They are insurgents out of weakness in the face of vastly superior physical strength. They dare not mass and present targets for overmatching firepower. (READ MORE)

Afghani Dan, Part II: What it's like... - Man, I loved that track back in the day. What ever happened to Everlast? I never expected to be leading off with a quote from the mick-hopper who brought us House of Pain, but the tune is stuck in my head. So that's how you get your post titles people...tunes from my head. And Whitey Ford. Below are samples from some of the rambles I've written to myself, or odd notes just jotted down in between meetings. I realize I haven't much spoken of what life is like here, or what I'm doing, or what passes as an escape besides waiting late enough at night for the wireless to improve enough to post a photo or 12. Life is work here, and work is life. It may get more interesting if I get out of Kabul to where things are more "kinetic", but even here there is no shortage of heavy lifting to be done. It's busy, busy, busy...and answering to eight different bosses sometimes. Cue up Office Space: "I'm sorry, did you say eight?" "Eight, Bob. EIGHT." (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: suicide bombers attack Afghan police - On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted the resignations of the country's interior minister and head of intelligence after the two men failed to provide the president with satisfactory explanations for last Wednesday's Taliban rocket attacks on the much-publicized peace jirga in Kabul. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh reportedly had a "stormy" two and a half hour meeting yesterday in the Afghan capital, and both are said to be pro-Western; the resignations came amid rising tensions over Taliban reconciliation plans between the ministers and Karzai, who some believe is too soft on the insurgency. NATO and U.S. officials and diplomats, who "worked well with both of them," were reportedly taken by surprise, and an official close to top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal called the forced resignations "really not helpful." (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: Gym controversy heats up, then cools down - CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – I went to the gym today at 3 p.m. That may not exactly sound like breaking news, but the time signifies something bigger: Camp Leatherneck’s gym controversy is finally over. About a week ago, Capt. Thano Prontavong, Leatherneck’s camp commandant, made the decision to close the gym from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. after it was discovered that the midday temperature inside was edging toward 120 degrees. Helmand province cracks triple digits regularly now, and when you add in a few hundred men (and a few women) pumping iron in an enclosed tent, it can get pretty ugly. The decision was about as popular as Ozzy Osbourne at a classical music festival. Marine officials were bombarded with angry complaints, and Prontavong’s staff kicked it up a notch to find a solution that would allow the gym to remain open 24 hours a day. Yesterday, a breakthrough occurred: (READ MORE)

CI-Roller Dude: It's not the dumb questions, it's the lack of seeming to give a ..... - From the Soldier side: Since I returned to California from serving in Iraq & Bosnia, I've learned more each day about how to help others who've been to war to cope with life. As I've talked about before, one of the most annoying things civilians do is to ask some pretty dumbass questions. It's not really the dumbass questions that I personally find so annoying, but so many times the person ask the question, but they don’t really seem to want an answer. I still recall while working at the Police Department I used to work. When I returned from Bosnia, one of the “Desk Jockey Admin Pukes” (DJAP) asked me: “How was Kosovo?” I responded by looking at him and saying: “I don’t know, I was in Bosnia.” Then he proceeded to tell me how he knew what I had gone through because he did a year of ROTC in college 30 years ago. Wow, no shit? I was impressed. A year of ROTC in college compares to what? (READ MORE)

SSG Penn: Blood Brothers - A Story of Training Afghanistan's Next Generation Of Life Savers - The sun climbs over the eastern mountains near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank in Logar Province, Afghanistan. Its an early morning for the 4th Kandak Afghanistan National Army (ANA) medics as they inspect their medical aid bags, ensuring they are ready for the day ahead. These ANA medics are students of the 173d Airborne and the 909th Forward Surgical Team (FST). They have spent months in lectures, learning how to perform life saving interventions for their brethren on the battle field. The medical lectures were provided by SGT Fielder of the 173d Airborne BSB and SSG Penn of the 909th FST. But what makes this especially difficult was not just the language barrier, but the fact that many of these Afghan medics also required lessons in basic reading and writing. Afghanistan is a country devastated, not only by war, but by lack of education. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: What Is the Problem Here? - The Chim chims are intel weenies as regular readers of the FRI blog have probably deduced. They are all former members of our Armed Forces, they are all working in their field of expertise today with traditional Pentagon contractors and none of them is involved with this supposed “contractor spy ring.” Despite this they have been all over this story and pestering me to post more on it. I get too much attention when I do and remain concerned that blow-back from this story will eventually hit my friends and I who remain in the field working the reconstruction fight. But I’ve been hanging out in Dubai on R&R and it is going to take some time to catch up on the day job so I’m throwing up a Chim chim post on the topic to cover me while I catch up with all the stuff I was supposed to be paying attention to when I was away. My son Logan spent the last three months in Jalalabad with me teaching a class on digital photography for the MIT Fab Folk at the Jalalabad Fab Lab. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Bad Days Ahead? - It's been especially hot. For the people who have a few hours of electricity each day and often no water, it's hard to endure. The oppressive heat has contributed to the already negative mood here. Iraqis have been feeling lousy because of the worthless politicians. And everyone is having a hard time remaining positive about the future. I was in a waiting area today with some people fanning themselves hoping their turn would be next. An older woman covered in her black abaya said, "It's as though the sun fell to the ground today." A few people mumbled agreement. Then the talk turned to the early morning suicide attack that killed four policemen and injured 12. The two members of Allawi's list killed in Mosul was also mentioned. Then one middle-aged man asked out loud why the Americans were leaving when the violence is increasing. "What do they care?" said one guy. A young man shook his head. (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: Loony Tunes - There's always one. It seems at every book event that discusses Iraq or Afghanistan, be it mine or someone else's, there's always one individual who turns the question and answer session into their very own pulpit. Sometimes, they're crazy professors who think that my pro-bacon stance in Kaboom is somehow anti-Islam; others are old hippies still angry about the 2003 invasion/Vietnam/life. No matter the type though, they all try to bait the author into saying something sweeping in nature and inflammatory. My latest dalliance with the bookstore fringe occurred at Politics & Prose in DC, with a Loony Tune of the aging hippie variety. (And BookTV got it all!) Despite the fact that I had already definitively stated I was anti-invasion in 2003, but in 2010, not anti-war, because you know, things change, the aging hippie wanted a less complex answer. He began by buttering me up for a minute or two (always a warning sign), and then launched into a rambling mess of "I thinks." (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Tiger Stripe Making Comeback in Afghanistan - It’s a long way from the steamy jungles of the Laotian border, but when you’ve got a quasi-guerrilla unit on your side, sometimes it’s best to just go totally Old School. We did some missions with a couple operators from the Afghan National Defense Service — their equivalent of the CIA — during our embed, and I saw one of the officers wearing new-school Tiger Stripe cammies and thought it was a one-off. Well, it looks as if it might be part of the issued gear of this shadowy force, based on some shots I found on the ISAF web site. You don’t have to be a photosimulation engineer to recognize that this pattern might not exactly be the most optimal for the NDS’s operational environment. The new versions of the Tiger vary widely, but this one is clearly way too dark for anything other than the deepest, most shadowy jungle battlefields. But there is, of course, the “cool” factor in all this. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander killed in western Afghanistan - Coalition forces killed a Taliban commander with links to al Qaeda and the training of fighters in Iran during an airstrike in the southwestern Afghan province of Farah. Mullah Akhtar and an undisclosed number of Taliban fighters were killed during a series of airstrikes and a ground raid yesterday and last night in the district of Gulistan in Farah. The operation took place in "a known insurgent safe haven," the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. Akhtar coordinated the training of Taliban fighters in Iran and was linked to top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Farah province, in which Akhtar was killed, borders Iran to the west. Mullah Hayatullah, the Taliban's military commander in Farah province, is also closely linked with al Qaeda. He runs suicide training camps and also serves as a spokesman for the group. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Market Rates - A while back, one of the commenters asked about "market rates" for things here in Kabul, including alcohol. Frankly, I don't pay much attention to the cost of things that I buy, partly because a lot of my regular expenses (food, rent, etc.) are covered and partly because I can't be bothered to keep track of these things. However, for those people preparing to deploy to A-stan or considering a position here, I can say that a surprising array of products are available nowadays in Kabul. Although the quality may be an issue, there's not much in the way of necessities that you can't find somewhere in the city. Prices are a bit higher than the States (approximately equivalent to London) for most things, with a few exceptions. Proper, authentic booze is anywhere from $75 to $150 USD a bottle, depending on brand. The fake rotgut stuff distilled from Russian brake fluid is cheaper, but you wake up with your intestines in your socks and can't focus your eyes for 36 hours. (READ MORE)

airforcewife: The Godfather as a MilSpouse Movie - No, seriously. It has its moments. It really does. And I know it doesn't seem like this makes much sense now (just like calling a scene from The Incredibles the best mil-spouse movie scene ever didn't make sense at first, either), but just bear with me here... One of the things I have really gotten used to in my years as a military spouse was the family atmosphere that grows on you. If one of my neighbors was running to the store and knew my husband was gone and I was nursing three barfing kids at home, I'd get a call to see if there was something they could pick up for me. If there was a class one of my kids was taking and I had to take another child to soccer practice/Girl Scouts/etc I could usually find someone I knew at Class A to keep an eye on my child while I ran another child to Class B. This also extended to childcare - I often had other people's kids at my house. (READ MORE)

The Torch: Advocating what? - There has been much speculation recently regarding the possibility of maintaining some sort of Canadian Forces presence in Afghanistan post-2011. From what has been reported, one could be forgiven for believing the Liberals on the Afghanistan parliamentary committee have had some sort of epiphany. But Bob Rae angrily clarified his party's position today on CTV's Question Period, and what's being proposed is hardly heavy lifting. Specifically, he said that committee members were open to considering the idea of having some Canadian soldiers training Afghans, but solely "inside the wire." Perhaps there's a role there for us. Perhaps there's value to the Afghans in having trainers who teach theory only, and don't accompany them into the field. Perhaps there's value to our allies in freeing up non-combat troops - backfilling personnel, as it were. I don't know. What I do know is that our current trainers - CF, police, correctional services, even diplomatic mentors: (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: A Bizarre Reversal Of Support For Afghan Mission - When I wrote in the National Post the other day that it should be unsurprising that the Special Parliamentary Committee to the mission in Afghanistan would change its mind about Canada’s military coming home after the summer of 2011, it was only because I think that when it comes to Afghanistan, “seeing is believing.” But to say that I haven’t been surprised by the comments from the Liberals and NDP since the committee returned to Canada, would be dishonest. Verily, I have been nearly floored by the prospect of keeping some kind of role in Afghanistan beyond our parliamentary consensus to leave in 2011. Floored, because the suggestion is coming not from the traditional base of support for the military, the Conservative Party, but from those who have been altogether engaged in smearing the mission for the past year, the opposition parties. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Like a rock - On May 21, Command Sgt. Maj. James Spencer and Maj. Gen. Patricia McQuistion stood in solemn silence to honor a fallen soldier. As the commanders paid their respects at the Vogelweh Chapel on Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the impact of a senseless terrorist attack carried out by the Taliban three days earlier in Kabul was still unfolding. While there is no conclusion to this tragic story, which will haunt loved ones for a lifetime, the chapel's memorial display can help us understand more about its fifth chapter. The tribute's helmet and identification tags signify Sgt. Joshua Tomlinson, who is being remembered for his keen ability to give others a piece of happiness. "[He] always had a smile on his face, and if you didn't have one on yours he'd make sure you got a smile," best friend George Thornton said. "He was a world-class person, a stand-up guy." (READ MORE)

CounterInsurgency Center: CAN COIN PREVENT POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER? - After the last COIN conference, I was talking to a couple of smart young sergeants from the National Guard. One of them said to me that he thought that doing COIN could help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His words struck me. PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope. I first became aware of PTSD in the 1990’s. The media started to report this affliction among troops coming back from peace keeping missions in Bosnia an Africa. My first personal experience of PTSD, in a real way, came in 1994. I was a captain attending a training course with a couple of other officers. One in particular, Ron, was an excellent leader. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Inside Dutch Army Special Forces, Part One - The Dutch have set a benchmark in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, with the way they have conducted counter-insurgency operations in pursuit of the “ink-spot” strategy. This strategy concentrates military and construction efforts around population centers in a bid to “make the Taliban irrelevant.” This summer the Dutch will be leaving the province as a combat force. The Americans will take over. Until then, however, the battle continues beyond the ink spot’s borders. This is where the Dutch Special Forces come in. I paid a visit to an SF facility in The Netherlands to observe their training. We drive through a gate toward a group of heavily armed men chatting in the warm May sun. The men make up a platoon of Dutch KCT commandos from the Counter Terrorism (CT) training wing. After a hectic morning of hostage rescue drills, they are having a spot of lunch. Scattered on the ground around them are a dozen black North Face bags containing their tools of the trade. (READ MORE)

War is Boring: Battle Buggy — Riding into Battle in the Pentagon’s Newest Armored Truck - The Taliban had them surrounded. It was a clear moonlit night on March 28 in Dangam district, in the Kunar River valley in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S. Army patrol, from Battle Company, Second Battalion, 503rd Infantry, was caught on a narrow road between two mountain peaks teeming with Taliban fighters. “They hit us from both sides,” First Lieutenant Cris Gasperini, the patrol leader, would recall a few days after the battle. Rocket-propelled grenades (RPG s), weighing five pounds and tipped with high explosives, lanced from the peaks toward the American vehicles. In quick succession, three rounds struck one vehicle, each exploding with a blinding flash and a thunderclap that left ears ringing. The Taliban might have imagined, for a moment, that they had scored a major victory against the Americans. But when the noise and light had faded, the vehicle bore only dents and streaks of soot indicating it had been hit at all. (READ MORE)

What? Mermaids?: the end - My battered and bruised warrior is home from Iraq. He is sleeping, totally exhausted, and snoring from his broken nose. His left foot sticks out below the covers, as the constriction of a blanket irritates his broken knee. Without going into much detail, let me just say that I wasn't sure he'd be home today with the rest of his squadron (they were saying next week or so), but he is home, and it's just so wonderful. For the first time in seven months, I'm going to bed with my phone in another room. On purpose. And I don't care who calls me, I don't even want to talk to them. My world is now complete. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Rae Comes Through - I think what we need to discuss is: what are the needs of the Afghan police and the Afghan security services to advance the security needs of Afghanistan, and how can Canada help do that? There's a variety of ways in which we can do that, given the profound consensus that I think exists in Canada that we do not want to continue with the combat role. Is there a role for training? Is there a role for assistance? What is the nature of that role? And I think that's something we need to discuss. And the trouble is that as soon we start to discuss anything, we say "Well that's a taboo subject, we can't go here or there, or we get in trouble." But I'm going to persist in saying...we have to try to understand: how do we create a greater climate of security in Afghanistan? How can Canada, and NATO, and the United Nations--all of which are working together, this is a UN umbrella that we're all underneath--how can we all work together to sustain that effort, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and in many other parts of the world? (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: Greetings from Kabul, Afghanistan - KABUL, Afghanistan — The end is near. Photographer Tom Brown made it here yesterday, arriving on a Canadian C-130 plane from Kandahar Airfield during one of the last travel legs of our six-week assignment in Afghanistan. The flight put an end to a bumpy 36-hour travel process that began at Camp Leatherneck, where we were summoned Saturday morning for an 11:30 a.m. flight from adjacent Camp Bastion to Kandahar, the home of Regional Command-South’s headquarters. Unfortunately, there was confusion somewhere along the way. It became evident that we were dropped off at 9:30 a.m. for a flight that took off shortly before midnight. GUH. It’s all good now, though. We were in and out of Kandahar Airfield — commonly known as KAF — in less 12 hours. The brief visit gave me a chance to catch some late-night sleep and walk the base’s famous boardwalk, which was hit with an insurgent rocket recently, but remains a place to relax, shop, play volleyball and enjoy the sun. (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: It really is the tribes, stupid... - Dexter Filkins had a good article in the New York Times over the weekend regarding Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan of Oruzgan province. While Matiullah's model of civil administration seems to clash with NATO's vision for stability in Afghanistan, I think it's time we accept the fact that Afghanistan will never be governed as a Western-style democracy--with its headquarters in Kabul--any time soon. In little more than two years, Mr. Matiullah, an illiterate former highway patrol commander, has grown stronger than the government of Oruzgan Province, not only supplanting its role in providing security but usurping its other functions, his rivals say, like appointing public employees and doling out government largess. His fighters run missions with American Special Forces officers, and when Afghan officials have confronted him, he has either rebuffed them or had them removed. (READ MORE)

This Ain't Hell: The face of treason - Specialist Bradley Manning was arrested this weekend for perpetrating the Wikileaks video release. He has bragged that he was also responsible for countless other release according to Wired; He said he also leaked three other items to Wikileaks: a separate video showing the notorious 2009 Garani air strike in Afghanistan that Wikileaks has previously acknowledged is in its possession; a classified Army document evaluating Wikileaks as a security threat, which the site posted in March; and a previously unreported breach consisting of 260,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables that Manning described as exposing “almost criminal political back dealings.” “Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public,” Manning wrote. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Gates Calls Clapper Right Choice for Top Intel Post - James R. Clapper, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next director of national intelligence, is the right man for the job, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
White House Physician Follows Dusty Path to Iraq - It's a long way from the hallowed walls of the White House to the dusty environs of northern Iraq, and for Col. Daniel Parks, the 26th Base Support Battalion surgeon, its been one wild ride. (READ MORE)

Baghdad's Version of the DMV Staffed by the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Over the low, crackly hum of an overworked air conditioner, Sgt. First Class Gerald Collier, patiently answers questions presented by the customer standing in the middle of the placard office on Forward Operating Base Prosperity, Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Car Bombs, Gunmen Kill 10 in Iraq Attacks - Ten people died in a series of attacks in Iraq on Monday, including three killed when a car bomb exploded in a Baghdad shopping area. (READ MORE)

Gunmen in Iraq Kill Politician Aligned With Allawi Coalition - Attackers dressed in military uniforms on Saturday gunned down a politician aligned with the secular coalition that won the most seats in Iraq’s elections in March, the police and relatives said. (READ MORE)

At Least Five Killed in Iraq Explosions - Several bomb attacks killed at least five people in and around Baghdad. The violence occurred as Iraqi leaders wrangle over formation of a new government, three months after an inconclusive parliamentary election. (READ MORE)

Car Bomb Kills Police in Baghdad - A car bomb exploded outside a Baghdad police station on Sunday, killing four police officers and wounding 12 other people. (READ MORE)

Frustrated Iraqis Wait, Hope For Government In Summer Heat - Fridays were a favourite of Sunni insurgents in Iraq; rich pickings for suicide bombers among the Shi'ites at prayer. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, June 7 - An Afghan-international security force detained an individual suspected of insurgent activity in Kandahar province today. The combined force went to a compound in west Kandahar City, after intelligence information indicated insurgent activity. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan not prepared to go 10 years back, says Afghan MP - Afghanistan's Member of Parliament, Fawzia Kofi, has said that the nation or the Hamid Karzai-led Government is not ready to accept any path which threaten to throw the country back in time. (READ MORE)

Twin roadside bombs kill 6, wound 11 in Afghanistan - Taliban-linked attacks in the restive southern region and peaceful north claimed the lives of six persons and injured nearly a dozen others on a single day on Sunday. (READ MORE)

Gates courts put-out Azerbaijan, a key Afghan hub - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried on Sunday to soothe the put-off president of this former Soviet republic that helps move supplies and soldiers to the U.S.-led war in landlocked Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghan forces stop rockets, 15 Taliban from attacking peace jirga - Afghan security forces arrested 15 Taliban fighters, including would-be suicide bombers, and seized 700 rockets meant to attack the site of a peace assembly in Kabul, the Interior Ministry said Sunday. (READ MORE)

Russia urges fight against Afghan drugs - Russia today urged US-led forces in Afghanistan to crack down harder on drug production there, and offered to help put a security "ring" round the country. (READ MORE)

Karzai orders review of Afghan Taliban detentions - President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered a review of all cases of Taliban suspects being held in Afghan jails and said those being detained on doubtful evidence must be released. (READ MORE)

Bazaar School Opens at Kandahar Airfield - A new Kandahar Airfield school opened Saturday to provide the sons and nephews of local vendors a better place to learn and play. (READ MORE)

Convoy Guards in Afghanistan Face an Inquiry - For months, reports have abounded here that the Afghan mercenaries who escort American and other NATO convoys through the badlands have been bribing Taliban insurgents to let them pass. (READ MORE)

Taliban can join Afghan reconciliation, says US - The US backs the inclusion of Taliban insurgents into an eventual Afghan reconciliation process if they agree to certain conditions, including breaking off any relations with Al Qaeda, a US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said Monday. (READ MORE)

Karzai defends removal of Afghan security chiefs - President Hamid Karzai's office on Monday defended his decision to remove two of Afghanistan's top security officials, conceding they would be missed but insisting they must be held accountable for a recent lapse - an attack on a major peace conference. (READ MORE)

Bulgarian Troops Shoot Down Trespasser in Afghanistan - Bulgarian soldiers on duty have taken down a local man who attempted to cross into their zone of responsibility in Afghanistan’s capital Kabil. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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