June 17, 2010

From the Front: 06/17/2010

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

A Handful of Dust: An Afghan Is Something Your Grandmother Knits - Ambrose Bierce said that, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” Studies show that the War on Terror might require God to change his lesson plan. A 2006 study found that 88% of young Americans between the ages of 18-24 could not find Afghanistan on a map. Iraq fared slightly better with 66%. (Perhaps even weirder was the fact that 33% of the respondents could not find Louisiana, but I digress.) Considering these rather humbling statistics, perhaps it is too much to ask Americans even vaguely grasp the complex ethnic makeup of Afghanistan. I, however, like to think that AHOD readers are of a slightly superior intellect and so I present you with a basic primary to Afghans ethnic landscape. The Pashtuns –The Pashtuns are Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group and make up roughly 40% of the country’s population. They speak Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages (the other is a Persian dialect known as Dari). (READ MORE)

Old Blue: RC South - I’ve traveled to the south (Helmand Province) several times now. Much of my time has been spent with the Brits at Camp Bastion, Nad e Ali, and now Lashkar Gah. From a COIN standpoint, while there is work to do, the Brits are doing better. The current Brigadier has taken a quantum step forward with a directive to execute a standardize tool pack that includes an ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk for each operational area. This directive will pay tremendous dividends in each locality. It’s also a change. Using a standard toolset may sound like common sense, but it’s not a forgone conclusion by any means. Because of training, which has been mostly kinetic in focus, units have arrived on the ground in Afghanistan for years knowing lttle about counterinsurgency. The British are by no means alone in this at all, and they are actively addressing the issue. Americans, for instance, have focused largely on kinetic tasks and we have scared the crap out of our Soldiers in training. (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Deployment Question #25--The old fashioned letter - Do you write your husband when he is deployed? Only email? Just wait for phone calls? IM? My husband is usually not in a great location, so our internet time and phone time is very limited, maybe once every week or two for about ten minutes. I do write letters, but not as often as I should because I always choose deployments as a time to make major life changes, you know, like have a baby or change careers. This time, I might actually be able to keep up with letters. Does your husband write back? Gunner is pretty good about writing, sometimes. Maybe once he reads this post, he will realize how important those letters are to me. Nothing can change my day like a letter. Sure emails are great, and a lot of time if I have a question it is time sensitive and I need a reply. But nothing replaces that letter. My friend Peggy came up with a solution for the kids that works well too. She sends Gunner pre-addressed postcards to mail back to the kids. (READ MORE)

Army Live: What’s it REALLY like over there? - Today, we have a blog post from Maj. Chris Auclair is the 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rdInfantry Division Fires and Effects coordinator who is currently serving in Baghdad, Iraq. This week Maj. Auclair and 3 1-3 AAB Soldiers conducted a video teleconference through Skype with over 40-50 students and teachers from a middle school in Atlanta, Ga. Read below an excerpt from Maj. Auclair’s blog post as he talks more about his interview: "Two weeks ago, three 1-3 AAB soldiers and I conducted a video teleconference with 40-50 seventh graders and roughly 10 teachers from a school in Atlanta, Ga. The only reference the students and teachers in this school, in most cases, had of our military was what they saw on television or through a grandfather, who served in Korea or Vietnam. We were really the first “line” soldiers these students had ever seen or met firsthand. This video teleconference was truly a rewarding experience..." (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Pakistani troops missing on Afghan border - Dozens of Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers have gone missing after a cross-border attack by Taliban fighters based in Afghanistan on a security checkpost in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal agency earlier this week. Reports are mixed as to the fate of the troops; a Taliban spokesman told the BBC the group was holding soldiers on both sides of the border, but Zabiullah Mujahid, another spokesman, denied any involvement in kidnapping the security forces to The News. Afghan authorities report that 10 Pakistani soldiers have "wandered" into Afghanistan's Kunar province over the past few days, and have been turned over to the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad. The Taliban executed a 28 year old man in Datta Khel, North Waziristan, yesterday, in the second reported instance of such Taliban justice in the last few weeks. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 16 JUN 2010 "Friendship" - I commented that the 909th FST holds a daily medical lecture series here at FOB Shank. Today, Dr. Aldridge gave another patented white board lecture (The Army generals would love LTC Aldridge's lectures ... the Army command is about ready to ban Powerpoint... Its becoming a pariah).. He covered the microscopic world of our bacterial frenemies (Randy's favorite portmanteau) in preparation for my talk on Antibiotics. Anyhow... the 909th received accolades yesterday from our Ranger friends. On this day, SFC Beisiadecki presented Dr. Luptka of the Czech Republic with a Certificate of Appreciation from the 909th. Dr. Luptka comes over almost every day to attend lectures, and to help wherever he can. He's a gregarious fella and an excellent physician. The 909th is fortunate to have met such a man. He commented "I have hundreds of certificates from the Czech Republic, but this is the first one from the United States". (READ MORE)

Fraser From Iraq: So where’s everybody going? I mean when? - We’re all waiting for the whistle to blow to signal that: “Hey guys, game over. Check the score board. WE WIN!” But this thing drags on forever. I thought that the whistle was just about to blow, but now it seems they want us to come to the middle of the field for a coin toss to see who gets the ball for the overtime! Hell they even have a name for our new mission. After September 1st, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) will become [roll the drums], “NEW DAWN”! That’s right, New Dawn. They’re already working on a new ribbon or medal or some such trinket; for people who like those things. I want to read the back of the cereal box for this new product, and see what ingredients are in the New Dawn Corn Flakes. I hope it explains when we can expect our New Dawn asses to be back home. We need to get ready to invade Canada! And I want to know the New Dawn rules. Is it another catch and release program? (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Arghandab follies, redux - The Arghandab District continues to mess with people's careers. Following on the "worst briefing ever" incident, where the American battalion commander in the Arghandab was sent home, allegedly over a risque PowerPoint slide, the wife of his brigade commander back home has now been banned from having anything to do with the formation's soldiers. The unusual move by the division commander lends credence to statements, reprinted in a report in the Fayetteville Observer, by the lieutenant-colonel who was fired, Frank Jenio, appearing to blame his firing in part on undue command influence by the brigade commander's wife: "Mrs. Drinkwine's overbearing influence on the entire command, combined with Col. Drinkwine's [the brigade commander's] self isolation from the battalion commanders and his subordinate battalions, has alienated the battalions from the brigade and created the most dysfunctional military unit I've ever seen or heard of," Jenio wrote in his sworn statement. (READ MORE)

HERMANEUTICS: AFGHANISTAN: FLÜGEN - Afghanistan is one of the most extreme flying environments in the world, with the high altitudes imposed by surrounding mountains and temperatures that soar during the summer along with frequent wind and dust storms. Besides the environment, the enemy presents their own threat through small arms and sometimes RPG's or other lethal weapons. Further, flying a helicopter is commonly acknowledged as more difficult to learn and maintain than almost any type of fixed-wing airplane. Sounds like fun, huh? The picture below depicts a ' one-wheel pinnacle landing' on a Landing Zone (LZ), often practiced though rarely utilized due to the risk and difficulty of such a maneuver. The terrain in Afghanistan dictates the plan for an Air Assault or Air Insertion more than anything else. The highest I've ever personally flown is 13803 ft to the top of Mauna Kea on Hawaii for a training exercise. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: U.S. Envoy in Baghdad for Talks - U.S. envoy Feltman met with Maliki last night to discuss the stalemate. Nobody knows what will happen next, but the people are getting angrier each day. The minister of electricity famously went on TV to promise the power issue would be solved by June 15. Well, it's the 16th and most people in Baghdad have one hour of electricy each day. It's 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. Trust me. It does nothing in this heat. From what friends say, there are places such as Samawa that have no electricity and no water at all. In this heat. There is no excuse for this situation. As Maliki clings to the prime minister's seat, other lawmakers issue tougher statements. Today there were reports that the Sadrists really want Maliki out of the picture. There also is new of more trouble [Arabic] in the union of State of Law and INA. It's pretty much the same issues of nominating a candidate for prime minister. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Allawi to Withdraw? - One of the television stations today reported that Allawi's Iraqiya list has threatened to withdraw from the political process. There is no way of knowing whether the information is accurate or not. Nobody can blame Iraqiya if it takes such drastic measures. Allawi was interviewed on al-Arabiya television. During the chat the reporter asked him whether he could accept another person as prime minister. Allawi said he had no problem if the person was from the same list. He said he actually would prefer someone else take that position. What a difference from Maliki's position of he and only he can be prime minister. Even Maliki's supporters see his position as childish. Only the people who have jobs in Maliki's government, which are a lot of people, support him. The rest have turned to either the Shiite Alliance or Allawi's Iraqiya list. Naturally the vacuum or stalemate or whatever it is in the Iraqi government angers the people. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre: Afghanistan Sinking - President Obama announced a winning strategy last night, in fact the only strategy can ensure success. He was talking about battling the oil spill, but the same strategy is the only way to guarantee victory in real war as well. The problem is this particular strategy is often THE most expensive option, and therefore the price can sometimes be too high. Here’s what the president said last night: “Make no mistake: We will fight this … with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.” Notably, that is NOT the approach the United States is taking in Afghanistan, where the president’s strategy is more like: “Make no mistake: we will fight this with as much as we can spare, for a least another year.” Here’s the thing about wars. They are either worth winning, or not. They are either vital to our national security, or not. They are either worth a thousand American lives, and untold shattered families, or they are not. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban kill 10 Pakistani troops, capture 40 more in northwest - The Pakistani military was hit hard this week by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban operating in Pakistan’s lawless northwest. Ten Frontier Corps troops were killed and 40 more were captured during fighting in Bajaur and Mohmand, two regions where the military has declared victory in the recent past. The Afghan Taliban captured 40 paramilitary Frontier Corps troops yesterday after clashes along the border between the Pakistani tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand. Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan's top military spokesman, confirmed the attack and said the Afghan Taliban captured the troops after overrunning a Pakistani military outpost, Reuters reported. The Afghan Taliban released five of the troops at the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, while the 35 other troops are still thought to be in the custody of the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Mike Francis, The Oregonian: IAVA: 'We've got your back,' not 'Welcome, hero' - You've probably seen the non-profit ad campaign by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (see video below.) I just had the pleasure of spending an hour with three IAVA members who came out to Portland from the East Coast to talk to Oregon veterans about the issues that matter to them. (One of the three was Marine Todd Bowers, who's the guy extending his hand in the video below to say "Welcome home.") We talked about a lot of things, from problems with employment, to access to the VA, to keeping the civilian world engaged with veterans' issues. One of the things that I found fascinating was when our conversation touched on the terminology that surrounds returning veterans. We talked about how casually people refer to "heroes" when they talk about troops who serve, no matter if a soldier rescued a family of Afghan civilians or spent his entire deployment guarding a warehouse of bottled water. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: The Mayor of Faux FOB-istan - No one elected the Mayor of Camp Ripley, Minn., but he sure seems to think he can abuse the goodwill of the people he serves. Many units are mustering at the National Guard base in order to support the training of approximately 3,000 troops of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division (2-34 B.C.T.) One of the ways they're helping is in logistics--issuing billets and barracks, feeding soldiers, moving and sorting large loads of ammunition. The Mayor isn't technically part of the brigade. He's only helping the brigade. Problem is, he seems to spend more time and effort on trying to put people in their places, than he does providing them places to live and work. Given a job that that would seem to require an attitude of servant leadership, he neither leads nor serves. For example, the Mayor acts put out when tired soldiers drive up after a 12-hour convoy to ask where they're supposed to sleep and eat--"You're the third person to ask me that." (READ MORE)

Air Force Wife: Support, Fault, Blame, and the Front of the Commissary Line - When the military lifestyle turns into a soap opera (not one that runs on the Lifetime Network), it does so in A VERY BIG WAY. There has been no avoiding this story, really, since it's all over the place and we all have strong feelings about this sort of activity. Or rather, bullying. Actually, I'm not sure that even the word bullying applies here - but I think that for those of us on the outside of the story, eyebrows raised in horror and a bit of resigned shock. And embarrassment. While the situation at Ft. Bragg is undergoing an investigation it would be unwise for anyone to comment about "the truth". Legally, I mean. When people have sued dry cleaners for sums in the millions of dollars for a pair of missing pants that weren't really missing it's probably wise to err on the side of caution and use those qualifying words like "alleged", "accused", and so forth. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldier: 'A gentle giant' - To say that Sgt. Brandon Bury was an imposing figure is probably an understatement. Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall and wearing a size 16 shoe, the Marines had to special order his boots and other footwear. Yet those closest to Sgt. Bury said that even after a brief conversation with their beloved Brandon, his commanding stature was overcome by genuine compassion. "The funny thing is the way he carried himself, with his presence, you would think he could be intimidating, but he always had this air about him that you knew he was a friend,” his brother [Brian Bury] said. The Houston Chronicle recently spoke to Bury's brother, uncle, and mom about the proud Marine's life and legacy. Lindsay Wise's article leaves no doubt about what the volunteer warrior meant to his family and friends in Kingwood, Texas. "They thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed one another, and they were all so proud of Brandon, and they would all send him packages," his mother [Terri Bury] said. (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: Ignatieff: Time for a "frank, national conversation" about Afghanistan. - Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is finally taking the brave lead of Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae ( "We have an obligation to see this thing through . . . . The door is open to serious discussion in Canada and between Canada and NATO about what the future looks like"), for which Rae has been so churlishly traduced. Ignatieff is calling for a "frank national conversation" about Canada in Afghanistan post-2011. This is good. This is also the view of many Conservative MPs, although it is not the view from the Prime Minister's office, where Stephen Harper sits glumly, wanting no debate about it, and wanting shut of the entire business, content to allow his ministers to look like idiots whenever the subject comes up. So, good for Ignatieff. Set aside the fact that his endorsement of a post-2011 training role for our soldiers provides only slightly more clarity than Defence Minister Peter MacKay's musings. It's a start. (READ MORE)

Zach in Afghanistan: So Your Enemy is an Idiot... - On a combat outpost in Logar Province, a group of young American soldiers sit around on guard duty, bored to tears, swapping stories about the Afghan National Army (ANA). Between drags of his cigarette, one soldier tells a story of his time guarding the COP’s senior medic. One day, it seems, a senior ANA officer came to the clinic complaining of an infection to his penis; after some time and much sheepishness, it emerged that the ANA officer likely contracted the infection when he had sex with a donkey. He was given antibiotics. Around the guard post, the other soldiers nod; they have similar stories. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, Daniel Byman and Christine Fair write about the stupidity of large parts of the jihadi movement, including sordid anecdotes of sex with animals, pornography, suicide bombers blowing themselves up before their meant to, the sheer idiocy of some of the world’s most notorious terrorists. The reminder is a necessary one. (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: ‘Human Terrain’ Chief Ousted - The manager and co-founder of the U.S. Army’s controversial social-science program is no longer in charge. Retired Colonel Steve Fondacaro — a charismatic, mercurial, mile-a-minute former Special Forces operator and East Harlem native – turned the Human Terrain System from an academic experiment into a military reality, embedding social scientists into combat units. Then he waged an internal insurgency to expand the effort Army-wide, despite the service’s dedication at the time to a purely bombs-and-bullets approach to warfare. ”We’re like a germ in the body of [the Army],” Fondacaro (pictured) once told me. “All of their systems are sending white blood cells to puke me up.” But the Army changed its ways. And Fondacaro’s expansion effort was largely successful. At last count, there were 21 Human Terrain Teams operating in Iraq and six more in Afghanistan, offering advice to commanders on the local cultural landscape. (READ MORE)

Anthony H. Cordesman: Realism in Afghanistan: Rethinking an Uncertain Case for the War - There is nothing more tragic than watching beautiful theories being assaulted by gangs of ugly facts. It is time, however, to be far more realistic about the war in Afghanistan. It may well still be winnable, but it is not going to be won by denying the risks, the complexity, and the time that any real hope of victory will take. It is not going to be won by “spin” or artificial news stories, and it can easily be lost by exaggerating solvable short-term problems. Two critical questions dominate any realistic discussion of the conflict. The first is whether the war is worth fighting. The second is whether it can be won. The answers to both questions are uncertain. The US has no enduring reason to maintain a strategic presence in Afghanistan or Central Asia. It has far more important strategic priorities in virtually every other part of the world, and inserting itself into Russia’s “near abroad,” China’s sphere of influence, and India’s ambitions makes no real sense. (READ MORE)

Jules Crittenden: WWBD - Turns out a quick exit on a partial surge is easier said than done. Who would have thought? As I recall, some people were hoping for something for, not quite nothing, but as little as possible, with politcal cover. Starts to look like a miscalculation. So what to do. Democratic war strategy in recent decades would suggest the choices are either massive irrational escalation or precipitious abandonment. Last year’s remarkable departure from past precedent, a sort of a three-quarter What Would Bush Do, suggests that a full WWBD might be worth considering. After all, he’s the guy who cracked the code on that other intractable mess … leaving us with a Saddam-free, democratic, largely quiet Iraq. Bush liked a surge. Surge strategy calls for the military isolation and elimination of the enemy to be coupled with economic development. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that figuring a way to turn that $1 trillion worth of buried Afghan treasure into a big carrot to get everyone onside with peace and prosperity could be a big piece of that. (READ MORE)

Neptunus Lex: Boulevard of Broken Toys - Surprisingly, given the kind of economy that usually increases the quality of personnel recruited for military service, the vaunted Warrior Transition Units – developed to help wounded troops return to service or prepare for civilian life – have become something of a dumping ground for non-deployables, according to Noel Koch: To meet their quotas people who are physically unfit; mentally unfit; emotionally unstable; or, who have criminal histories and disciplinary problems are recruited. Commanders refuse to deploy with these people. So, commonly, they are put in the Warrior Transition Units, which is why these are called “warehouses” and “dumping grounds.” Here’s a snapshot: I am in a room with 35 soldiers. The one first in front of me is glassy-eyed, staring into the middle distance, and I have to raise my voice to get his attention. We do not recruit exclusively from the ranks of the Vienna Boys Choir, and not everyone we access will eventually meet standards: (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: The Path - "Where are you flying today?" the Delta Arlines agent asked. "Kansas City to Atlanta, Atlanta to Paris, Paris to Dubai. Then I take a small regional airline to Kabul, Afghanistan." "Sounds like the trip of a lifetime!" I've made the trip of a lifetime several times. This will be my seventh trip to the wars in five years. One trip may be an outlandish mid-life crisis. Seven surely qualifies me for some type of clincal diagnosis. I am certain that multiple trips to wars have changed me, but I am not sure what those changes are. Every story, at least every narrative story people will actually pay attention to is about how a person changes. The 12 Steps of the Path of the Hero, also known as the monomyth, articulated by Joseph Campbell result in the hero changing. I am not a hero by any stretch, and luckily classical heroics are not required for the path, just the 12 steps, one of them being a change or transformation. (READ MORE)

This Ain't Hell: Goodbye Don - Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Corporal Donald Marler, who was killed in action along with two other Marines in Helmand on June 6th. At the time he was serving with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (3/1), which was on its sixth combat deployment in support of the war on terror. I served with Don for two years, first at Marine Barracks Washington and then as part of the Marine security detail at Camp David. Don was an outstanding Infantry Marine and I am not just saying that because he was killed. He skipped his high school graduation in order to ship to boot camp earlier and excelled in his initial training. While at Camp David, he filled billets that normally would have been held by Sergeants and Staff Sergeants. He also was Marine/NCO of the quarter and successfully completed some of the toughest schools in the Marine Corps. When he received orders to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5), he found out he would be unable to deploy with them since they deployed after he would have left the Marine Corps. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Arlington National Cemetery headstones found lining stream bed - Several mud-caked headstones line the banks of a small stream at Arlington National Cemetery, the country's most venerated burial ground. Farther upstream in a wooded area, a few others lie submerged with the rocks that line the stream bed. (READ MORE)

Valley of Death: One Platoon’s Tour of Duty - ASK almost any American, even those opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they will state that they “support our troops.” (READ MORE)

A Gay Veteran Seeks the Freedoms She Defended - As a citizen of a democratic society, with freedom as its foundation and core, I stand, proud to serve my country and defend all this nation stands for. (READ MORE)

3 more Lewis-McChord soldiers charged in Afghanistan deaths - Three more soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord had been charged in the deaths of three Afghan civilians earlier this year. (READ MORE)

DOD Announces Recruiting and Retention Numbers for May 2010 - The Department of Defense announced today its recruiting and retention statistics for the active and reserve components for May 2010. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Human Rights Watch slams high rates of female genital excision in Iraqi Kurdistan - "I still feel the fear,” Runak recalled as she told her story of undergoing genital excision at age 7. (READ MORE)

State Department creating mini-army in Iraq - The State Department is quietly forming a small army to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq after U.S. military forces leave the country at the end of 2011, taking its firepower with them. (READ MORE)

Turkish Military Kills 4 Kurdish Rebels In Iraq - Turkish military forces killed four Kurdish separatists in a raid into northern Iraq on Wednesday, the military said, as fighting escalates between the rebels and Turkish security forces. (READ MORE)

Military: Turkish Troops Cross Into Northern Iraq - Turkey sent hundreds of elite troops into northern Iraq on Wednesday to chase Kurdish guerrillas in an operation that could increase tensions within the region. (READ MORE)

U.S. mission in north Iraq: Get Kurd and Arab forces cooperating - At a small but heavily fortified outpost on the edge of this dust-blown town, a contingent of American soldiers has recently taken up residence alongside Kurdish and Arab forces in what is likely to be one of the last new missions undertaken by the U.S. military in Iraq. (READ MORE)

Iran Tests Iraqi Resolve at the Border - This remote village high in the rugged mountains along the border with Iran has been deserted, its people having fled Iranian air and artillery bombardments with everything they could carry and whatever livestock that could be coaxed down the steep mountain trails. (READ MORE)

Dozens of Pakistani troops 'captured by the Taliban' - The Pakistani army is often attacked by the Taliban in border areas The Afghan Taliban says it has captured dozens of Pakistani soldiers after attacking their checkpoint in a cross-border raid. (READ MORE)

Pakistani troops missing after cross-border Afghan Taliban raid - Several dozen Pakistani paramilitary troops are missing after Afghan Taliban militants launched a cross-border raid on a remote checkpost and dragged the hostages into Afghanistan, it emerged today. (READ MORE)

Ignatieff calls for Afghan training past 2011 - Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says Canada should commit its military to training Afghanistan's police and soldiers after its combat mission in Kandahar ends in 2011. (READ MORE)

U.S. Bolsters Afghan Police to Secure Kandahar - The American paratroopers climbed down from armored vehicles and spread out along Highway 1, Afghanistan’s main road. An Army engineering team moved behind. (READ MORE)

Taliban Attack Police in SE Afghanistan - The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing Thursday morning outside a district police headquarters in southeastern Afghanistan that wounded four Afghan policemen, one critically. (READ MORE)

Afghan Civilians Help Police Repel Taliban Attack - Afghan civilians helped police to repel an attack by an estimated 50 Taliban fighters against a police checkpoint in Afghanistan’s Daykundi province June 14, military officials reported. (READ MORE)

Mullen: Kandahar Vital to Success in Afghanistan - Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, is the key to success in Afghanistan and the U.S. military is working with Afghan forces to turn the tide against the insurgents, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee today. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan Timeline Not a Withdrawal Date, Officials Say - President Barack Obama’s directive calling for the start of a conditions-based drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 shouldn’t be considered as an exit date, but rather the beginning of the transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghans. (READ MORE)

US General: Afghan War like a 'Roller Coaster'- The head of U.S. Central Command said Wednesday that the withdrawal date for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan is the beginning of a process and not a rush to leave the country. (READ MORE)

Pentagon Decries Bleak Views on Afghan War - The Pentagon decried overly negative assessments of the Afghan war on Wednesday, telling Congress the conflict is a "roller coaster" of ups and downs but insisting progress is being made. (READ MORE)

Lawmakers hear different take on year-end review of Afghanistan war effort - Senior defense and military officials Wednesday played down the importance of an end-of-year review that President Obama has described as crucial to assessing whether his Afghanistan war strategy is working, saying that it would have little bearing on decisions about troop withdrawals scheduled to begin in July 2011. (READ MORE)

Taliban 'captures' dozens of Pak soldiers in FATA - Dozens of Pakistani soldiers are reportedly been held captive by the Taliban following an attack on a border checkpost between the Mohmand and Bajaur agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). (READ MORE)

Dem lawmakers challenge Pentagon on Afghan war - A schism deepened Wednesday between U.S. war leaders and Congress as lawmakers -- crucial Democrats among them -- challenged Pentagon assertions that progress is picking up in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan's Kabul Basin Faces Major Water Challenges - In the next 50 years, it is estimated that drinking water needs in the Kabul Basin of Afghanistan may increase sixfold due to population increases resulting from returning refugees. (READ MORE)

Taliban demands ransom from Afghan gov't for Japanese journalist - Taliban militants have demanded that the Afghan government pay a ransom for a Japanese journalist who went missing in late March in northern Afghanistan, it was learned Thursday from Afghan security authorities. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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