June 9, 2010

From the Front: 06/09/2010

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

A Handful of Dust: Destination Kabul - I have just returned from the sunny Balkans. Really, it was lovely. I went with a motley crew of Londoners who hail from across Europe, and we enjoyed the sunshine, cheap drinks, and warm waters. While waiting for the bus to take us back from Split to Dubrovnik, my companion, a British art dealer, looked at me and said, “It is so weird. I associate all these names with war and now they are holiday spots.” Indeed, Dr. P. is correct. In ten short years, the Balkans have gone from being a place where one dodges sniper fire to a place where one goes to go get tan. My happy holiday in Bosnia and Croatia made me wonder if maybe Iraqi Kurdistan was foolish not to begin a tourism campaign of their own. After all, as the Balkans have shown, it is perfectly possible to go from warzone to tourist trap. And both Iraq and Afghanistan have the kind of stuff tourists, especially European and particularly intrepid American tourists, like: warm weather, old ruins, and cheap prices. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: A Business-like Strategy: Al-Qaeda & Al Shabaab - I cherish those good 'ole days when my colleague Josh was around and posting every other day or so. (Hey Josh, keep trucking over there!). Remember the vibrant discussions we all had on the conglomerate vs. franchise model both here and over at SWJ. Let's revisit! As the Washington Post reported today, "Foreign fighters gain influence in Somalia's Islamist al-Shabab militia." It is not by any means new to us that AQ's ideology is being imported at an increased pace into Somalia and other regions, such as Yemen. Al Sahwa discussed this months ago when Bill Roggio at LWJ reported that Al Shabaab merged with Ras Kamboni Camp. The question is why. To embolden ASMM to fight Hizbul Islam? To prepare for the World Cup? (Here is an AEI Critical Threat's Project report assessing the threat of AQ during the World Cup, Charlie Szrom). No, this is simply short term. (READ MORE)

Kate Clark: Who will replace Saleh and Atmar? - The repercussions of the sacking/resignation of two of the president's three top security officials on Sunday are still sinking in, along with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decree that the status of Taliban prisoners must be reviewed. These major changes on security follow his proclaimed success in demonstrating ‘national unity' at the peace jirga. Despite the tent being packed by Karzai loyalists, it was a beautifully stage-managed event. Those journalists and diplomats who kept saying it would strengthen Karzai's hand seem to have issued a self-fulfilling prophecy. The president is certainly looking more confident. The wrongful detention of Afghan citizens is clearly an issue which needs addressing and which the Afghan president should be apologising for, but rather than issuing a mea culpa, the peace jirga has allowed him to present a Taliban prisoner review as a goodwill gesture towards the ‘angry brothers.' (READ MORE)

Army Live: Shoulder to Shoulder-No Soldier Stands Alone - With the release of two new public service announcements, the Army continues to stress the importance of seeking help. Senior leaders continue to stress how critical it is that Soldiers seek help and support when they need it. These same senior leaders have said post traumatic stress is an unseen wound of war – unseen but still treatable. Our servicemembers deal with a lot, before, during and after deployments. Sometimes it’s even the “little” things that just add up; the increased demands on our servicemembers can make everyday life stressors pile up and seem unmanageable. Keeping and staying mentally fit is just as important and requires just as much work as staying physically fit, and the Army Family is continuing to expand on and strengthen resources designed to help Soldiers do just that. It’s not only OK, but just plain smart, to talk to someone when you’re feeling overwhelmed. No matter what your challenge, there is someone there to help you overcome it. (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: Marjah: ‘It’s like a petting zoo in hell’ - KABUL, Afghanistan — The slower pace of things here in the last few days have given me a chance to reflect on some of the more unexpected things that I’ve seen in the last six weeks while reporting from the southern half of this country. One of those things is just how prevalent animals are — and how differently they are treated than in the U.S. Marines on patrol regularly pass sheep, goats and cattle grazing through the area. When we were in Marjah with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, several things caught me off-guard. Some were sad, while others were simply a jarring reminder that we weren’t in the U.S. anymore. Consider the following: ** On my first patrol outside the wire with 3/6, the Marines I was with searched a deserted compound after finding spent AK47 rounds on a road in front. A note was left by its apparent owner saying that the compound was abandoned ahead of the initial February assault on Marjah, but a dog, chained to a pillar, had been left behind. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: Moussada Jalal Fights Back - The more of this, the better; it's been a shame how the only Afghan woman Canadians ever hear from is Malalai Joya and her stoppist ghostwriters. The first woman to run for president of Afghanistan, Moussada Jalal, told Canadians on Tuesday that engaging the Taliban in a bid to end an eight-year-old war would set back women’s rights. Peace talks with the Taliban is “bad news for women in Afghanistan,” Ms. Jalal, a former minister of women’s affairs, told reporters. “I hope it doesn’t happen.” [...] She said at a press conference, “In the beginning, women were hopeful about changes in Afghanistan [affecting women]. But in recent years we’ve experienced some steps back.” NATO allies funded the construction of schools for girls, for example, but insurgents killed the teachers and female students were marked with acid to discourage them from attending school. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: The Kandahar "Offensive" - The program for agricultural vouchers alone has been given a quarter of a billion dollars to spend in southern Afghanistan, $90 million of that in Kandahar. “It’s huge,” said one official. “We’ve employed 40,000 people in cash for work.” From an NYT story that claims the so-called 'kinetic' portion of American summer operations in Kandahar has been scaled back in favour of a massive push in civilian reconstruction and economic development efforts, supposedly because of lessons learned in Marja. Sounds very sensible to me. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Children of Fallen Express Emotions at Camp - It was a steamy day in the D.C. area, and I already was feeling the heat as I approached a park in Crystal City, Va. A few hundred children were grouped there, mostly clustered under a few sparse trees casting some shade. I had ducked out of my house early that Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, to attend this weekend camp for children who had lost a military loved one. About 375 children had traveled here from across the nation to attend the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors’ Good Grief Camp. TAPS sponsors regional children’s camps throughout the year, but this D.C.-area camp is the largest. Over the weekend, children go through “grief work” customized for all ages, since those who attend range from preschoolers to high school seniors. The younger children, for instance, made life-size self-portraits on which they are asked to express their feelings. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Chinook Pilot Awarded DFC - Flight Lieutenant Marc Heal, aged 29 was amongst personnel from various stations across the UK to be honoured in the Armed Forces Operational Awards for their bravery and service in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in Search and Rescue missions around the UK announced earlier this year. Brighton born Heal was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his actions whilst on operations in Afghanistan in July 2009. As the Captain of the Chinook helicopter Immediate Response Team (IRT) aircraft during Operation PANCHAI PALANG (Panthers Claw), based at Camp Bastion he commanded 8 IRT missions and was regularly tasked into areas with a very significant enemy threat. He consistently demonstrated exceptional levels of professional ability combined with unflinching courage throughout, successfully extracting 29 casualties from the battlefield and delivering them into medical care. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: The Army Job I was Supposed to do is Open - It's strange to think about it, but the job I enlisted to do way back in 2007 is open at Fort Indiantown Gap. Every week I get a list of open Army jobs in Pennsylvania. For the last eight weeks, the list has included a job with the exciting title "Survey Team Member." This is job is for a sergeant who is in charge of keeping WMD detection equipment calibrated and ready for use. He (the job is not open to women, potential for closer combat) also uses the equipment in the field--which could be a football field, baseball field or other place where a WMD might be used. But even if I wanted the job, I am too old. The same arcane rules which keep me from passing my Iraq educational benefits too my kids also prevent me from taking a full-time Army Guard or Reserve job. I need to have five years left on my current enlistment to be eligible. But I can't have five years on my contract because that would take me past age 60. (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: Iraq/Afghanistan fatigue in the book industry - About once a week, I receive an email from an enterprising writer looking to publish his (or her) war tales from Iraq or Afghanistan, seeking advice on how to accomplish such a goal. Of those that share some selections, most really are excellent - after nine or so years, a lot of insanity has ensued that needs to be shared with the larger world. The problem though, is the marketplace is "fatigued with Iraq and Afghanistan stories." (I could attribute this quote to about ten different people in the publishing or literary industry). And for everyone not named Sebastian Junger (whose book, WAR, I loved) it can be a struggle to get the right people to read their manuscript, let alone purchase it. The obvious question is - why is the marketplace fatigued? It's certainly an indictment on American society in general, but that's nothing new. In times of economic turmoil, people don't tend to like being reminded that others are suffering far more than they are. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: TF Rakkasan Commander Responds to MultiCam Moratorium - EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is the response from 3rd Brigade Combat Team — TF Rakkasan — commander Col. Viet Luong to the post on MultiCam restrictions in eastern Afghanistan and the discussion that ensued. I have posted his entire response with only very slight copy edits…] Wow- such harsh words. I don’t ever recall being called a REMF or douchebag in my entire career. One of my Soldiers told me about this article and when I saw it, I felt compelled to respond- because of the lack of veracity of the reporting and the potential for something like this to impact my mission at hand and the characterization of my unit. First off, I’ve been in tactical units all my life- 82d ABN, 173d, 101st. I have commanded at all levels and have never served above the BDE level. I have been deployed to Haiti, Kovoso, Iraq and Afghanistan in multiple command positions. Have been shot at and IEDed many times. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: TF Rakkasan Camo Issue: Kit Up! Responds - First, I write this with all respect to Col. Luong and his long experience as a combat commander and Army officer. He was courteous to both Ward and me during our embed and allowed us unfettered access to his units in Paktika (and anywhere else we might have wanted to go in his AO) which demonstrated to us in no uncertain terms that when it comes to the discipline and combat acumen of his troops, he’s got them solidly squared away. I appreciated his hosting us. Col. Luong is right, it is incorrect for any Kit Up! reader to even get close to inferring that any commander of a Brigade Combat Team in a place like Afghanistan — much less a storied unit like the 101st Airborne Division — is in any way a REMF. There may be different command styles and ways of approaching a problem, but one thing is for sure, you don’t get a job as a BCT commander in such a volatile AO unless you’re good at what you do. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban overrun Frontier Corps outpost in northwest Pakistan - The Taliban overran a Frontier Corps outpost during an assault today in the Arakzai tribal agency. The attack took place just seven days after the top Pakistani military commander declared an end to military operations in Arakzai. A heavily armed Taliban force overran the Frontier Corps checkpoint in the village of Karonchi, killing six Frontier Corps troops and wounding eight more, according to AFP. The Pakistani military conducted a counterattack and claims to have killed 30 Taliban fighters during artillery barrages. On June 1, the Pakistani Army declared that the operation in Arakzai, which began on March 21, was finished and that the Taliban have been cleared from the region. "COAS’ [Chief of Army Staff] visit to Arakzai Agency marks the successful conclusion of operations in the Agency," a June 1 press release at the Inter-Services Public Relations website stated. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Afghan commandos strike at the Taliban in the northwest - Afghan commandos killed 23 Taliban fighters and captured seven more during a raid last night in a terrorist stronghold in the northwest. The Afghan commandos, backed by Coalition special operations forces, battled the Taliban for 12 hours in the village of Darai Bom in the Balamurghab district in Badghis province. "We received some reports about the presence of Taliban in the area planning to attack government locations, and yesterday night we launched a joint operation with the NATO forces which was a success," Zainuddin Sharifi, a senior Afghan Army commander, told Quqnoos. The Afghan Army commander claimed the Taliban left 23 Taliban bodies on the battlefield. Among them were Mullah Sulaiman and two other local Taliban commanders. Twenty-one Taliban fighters were said to have been wounded during the clash. An unnamed provincial official claimed four Afghan soldiers were killed, but Zainuddin denied the report. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: P.A.C.E. Your Family's Communications Plan - I'm really not a survivalist type, but, given the "what-if" natures of both my civilian and military jobs, I can get real paranoid real fast when it comes to safety, security, and emergency preparedness. Still, I'm probably more of a "prepper" than a "survivalist." I tend to make plans rather than all-out preparations. And, given my experience as an Army radio-telephone operator (R.T.O.), I usually focus on communications as a place to start. Most of the time, I try to dial it back a little, so as not to scare others. For example, when I asked my kids' daycare provider about what their communications plan for winter school closings, I forced myself NOT to follow-up with a question about what the plan would be if the high-school next door was locked down for a bomb threat or a shooting incident. (Before you ask--yes, I can either be real fun at parties, or a big downer. Depends on your perspective, I suppose, and whether my glass has yet been half-emptied on that particular evening.) (READ MORE)

Joan D'Arc: How do you handle "Good Bye?" - I hate to say "Good Bye." Whether I am moving, my friends are moving, or my husband is deploying, I do NOT like it! In the military world we tend to "run into" people we have known from other assignments. Often times saying good bye is really "Until next time..." I learned early on in my milspouse life that I don't do well with good bye. When my husband deploys I can only tolerate staying with him (when I take him to his unit) for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then I need to hug him, kiss him, and go cry my eyes out (for the next 2 or 3 days). I always feel bad when he asks me to stay longer (and I do try to stay as long as I can stand it), but there comes a point where I can't even speak because the urge to cry is in my throat. When I say good bye to my friends I am usually "okay" - except for those few people I bond with so deeply at each duty station. I try to warn them ahead of time that I will cry and I have to say good bye quickly. (READ MORE)

Andi: Of Peace Symbols, Flags and Mental Gymnastics - Several months ago, I was at Macy's and saw the cutest pair of pajamas. They were whimsical, colorful and I wanted them. I took them off the rack and went into the fitting room. It was there that I realized the bottoms were covered in tiny peace symbols. On the rack, I had only noted the vibrant collection of colors. I begged off and exchanged them for this not-as-cute, but still-cute pair of pajamas: I've wanted to write about this for some time now, but found it a difficult topic to address because our perceptions will no doubt vary and despite the fact that SpouseBUZZ never delves into politics, someone would likely feel the urge to start a political discussion. But over the weekend, I read a blog post by another military spouse who unknowingly gave me the perfect jumping-off point for writing this post. I wanted to write about peace symbols, how they're used and interpreted and why some military families may take issue with them. Alison wrote about another symbol - our flag. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: The Kind And Splendid Country You Never Got To Know - BALKH, AFGHANISTAN - Sher Khan, 7, is the serious-looking fellow, second from the left. In the crumbling remains of what was a grand school long ago, Sher Khan took me into his care and served as my guide, with instructions and gestures I couldn't comprehend. The other kids were tending a flock of goats nearby and joined in. Nowadays, Balkh is a sleepy village of farmers, shepherds and orchardists. Merchants move their wares by donkey cart down lanes that wind through groves of pistachio and apple and cherry orchards. There is nothing much to tell you that Balkh is one of the great reliquaries of human civilization, that the melancholy ruins that rise out of the fields and forests here are the remnants of one of the world's oldest cities. Balkh was thriving when Babylon and Nineveh were provincial backwaters. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Dereliction of duty - June 7, 2010 was one of the deadliest days of the war in Afghanistan for coalition troops on the ground. Of the ten allied troops killed in numerous enemy attacks, seven were Americans. While our thoughts are primarily with the families of these exceptional fallen heroes who volunteered to serve their country, the American media's misconduct, especially by cable news channels, is also difficult to bear. At about 1:00 a.m. eastern time, I visited the websites of MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN. On the top half of these three prominent news destinations, I found a grand total of one story about major events in the eight-plus years of violent conflict in Afghanistan. While the U.S. media's lack of consistent war coverage over the past several years is documented and undisputed, a failure of this magnitude, a week after Memorial Day, is inexcusable and shocking. The top story on MSNBC's website was about BP's oil spill, which is a valid news story. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Followup on Patrolling Without Rounds Chambered in Weapons - The practice of blogging makes one fairly insensitive to strange things being said about you. But occasionally, things made up by other writers approach the threshold of bizarre and at least mildly humorous. Recall that Michael Yon reported that he had received a letter alleging that U.S. troops were being ordered to patrol without rounds chambered in their weapons. I followed up Michael’s report by saying: I talked to a certain Marine who said something like the following concerning his time in Fallujah in 2007. “First of all, we employed aggressive ROE, which is why we dominated Fallujah so completely and quickly from the deadly chaos that it was under a different unit early in 2007. This aggressive ROE saved lives – ours and theirs. But as to the issue of weapon status, here it is. When we went on patrol, we had: Bolt forward - Round in chamber - Magazine inserted - Weapon on safe. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Dangerous, but to Whom? - Last week, roaming the wild lands outside Kabul, I called up a local tribal leader and asked if I could come to his house. He lived about 30 minutes outside Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

In the Afghan Papers: Proselytizing - With the peace jirga over, local news outlets have turned their attention back to accusations of proselytizing by members of humanitarian organizations. Coverage of the issue has been extensive over the last week, occupying the front page in most papers. (READ MORE)

Talking to the Taliban 'bad news for women': activist - The first woman to run for president of Afghanistan, Moussada Jalal, told Canadians on Tuesday that engaging the Taliban in a bid to end an eight-year-old war would set back women’s rights. (READ MORE)

Helping Now Zad Locals Help Themselves - The population of Now Zad is growing at a rapid rate. However, if the towns' medical facility doesn't grow with the population, the people won't be able to get the care they deserve. (READ MORE)

NATO Plan Ties Afghan Economy to Growth of Forces - The economic power of military-fueled industry has been illustrated throughout history, and it looks like the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces will be a boon to developing industries in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

ISAF Forces Push Back Taliban in Southern Nad 'Ali - British soldiers and Afghan security forces have been involved in a dramatic push south into insurgent-held territory to move Taliban fighters away from the population centres of the southern Nad 'Ali district and establish new patrol bases. (READ MORE)

CIA lifts secret cover of Afghan bomb victims - The names of all seven of the CIA operatives killed last year in Khost, Afghanistan, have now been placed in the agency's "Book of Honor," meaning their secret cover has been lifted. (READ MORE)

U.S. hopes to share prison with Afghanistan - The Obama administration wants to retain the ability to hold terrorism suspects from other countries at its largest prison in Afghanistan, even after it hands control of the facility to the Afghan government next year, according to U.S. officials. (READ MORE)

Gates, Fox, Reaffirm Afghanistan Commitment - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his British counterpart today reaffirmed their nations’ commitment to success in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Helmand for U.K. was a ‘Deeply Flawed Gamble’ - Military chiefs and civil servants ignored warnings that Britain was ill prepared to send troops to Helmand and signed off a deeply flawed plan, a succession of senior figures have told The Times. (READ MORE)

NATO death toll hits 24 in June - Two American troops were killed by a roadside bomb and a British soldier was fatally shot on patrol Tuesday, raising the NATO death toll in Afghanistan to two dozen in little more than a week. (READ MORE)

Gunmen Attack NATO Trucks Near Pakistan Capital - Suspected Taliban gunmen in Pakistan set fire to more than 50 trucks carrying supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan, killing at least seven people in the first such attack near the capital, police said on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

6 Die in Attack on Supply Rigs in Pakistan - About 30 NATO trailers carrying oil and other supplies from Pakistan to Afghanistan were burned late Tuesday night while stopped at a depot on the outskirts of Islamabad, killing at least six people, the police and local television reported. (READ MORE)

Suspected Militants Attack NATO Goods in Pakistan - Suspected militants attacked trucks ferrying vehicles for Western troops in Afghanistan early Wednesday outside Pakistan's capital, a bold assault that killed seven people, police and witnesses said. (READ MORE)

Afghan ex-spy boss calls peace strategy dangerous - Afghanistan's former intelligence chief is warning that President Hamid Karzai's strategy of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban is dangerous for the country. (READ MORE)

Troops kill 19 militants in Afghanistan - Afghan and NATO-led troops killed 19 militants in separate overnight operations in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province, officials said Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Japan pledges $11m in aid to Kabul - The Japanese government has pledged $11 millions in aid to Afghanistan for providing improved quality seeds and chemical fertiliser to 39,000 farmers in rural areas, a minister said. (READ MORE)

US urges Afghanistan to detail Taliban reintegration plan - The Afghan government must outline how international funding for a plan to reintegrate Taliban fighters who renounce violence will be overseen before it can begin operating, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said Monday. (READ MORE)

Dutch Afghanistan stance an embarrassment for former NATO chief - Euronews interviewed the former NATO Secretary General (2004-2009), Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in The Hague, about his country’s military involvement in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan: A war we're winning - British forces face a bloody summer in Helmand. The cost is horrific, but we shouldn't dismiss the progress we've made so far, argues Lt Col Nick Kitson of 3 Rifles, the battalion that has suffered the greatest loss of life. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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