July 22, 2010

From the Front: 07/22/2010

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

Thomas P. Daly: To Go Beyond - “Kastner has been missing for 2 months, they just found his body in yellowstone, self-inflicted gunshot…” Last night I received the above as a text message from James Thomas, “Rage 2 Actual.” Sergeant Peter Kastner was one of his squad leaders. At the moment, I’m still speechless. However, there are a few things I have to say to Peter: It feels like yesterday that you were sitting in my state-room aboard the USS Dubuque, discussing your squad’s affairs with Lieutenant Thomas. You were a strong, disciplined leader, with a John Wayne presence. When other’s would have lost their cool, you were calm, relaying your intent in a soft and resolute voice. You always went beyond the expectation. Even when things started to go wrong. After taking two IED blasts your memory began to erode. Doubt set in. Days later, you watched Clint die. And you collected his remains. I still remember how it affected you. The confidence and strength were visibly removed. And I didn’t know what to say. (READ MORE)

AfghaniDan, Part II: Photos. Cops. And a Conference. - Have we cracked the code on getting photos loaded after a month without?? Apparently we have, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to an IT wizard who must have been sent from above. However, the connection for now is even slower than the last time I had the capability...so expect about one-tenth as many as my photo-happy nature would have posted if speed permitted. There is so much to pontificate about, but as we're once again past the 0200 hours mark, not much time -- if I am to keep from passing out face-first into my chai as I advise my colleagues in the ministries tomorrow, I better catch a couple hours of sleep. Still, some thoughts and some glimpses...mostly of a mass graduation of Afghan law enforcement officers a few weeks back. The Ministry of the Interior and its components (Afghan National Police, ANCOP-gendarmarie, border police, customs, even traffic police) deserve some accolades tonight... (READ MORE)

Austin Long: Going old school: U.S. Army Special Forces return to the villages - The shooting yesterday of two American civilians by a suspected Afghan National Army instructor at a shooting range in northern Afghanistan has thrown into sharp relief one of the challenges of trying to quickly build effective Afghan security forces capable of securing the country. In part as a response to the slow growth in size and competence of the Afghan National Army and Police, the past year has seen a growing international effort to create security at the village level in Afghanistan by working directly with villagers. This effort has been through both formal programs such as the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) and less formal ones such as support reportedly given to members of the Shinwari tribe in the Achin district of Nangarhar. Perhaps the most ambitious and controversial of these efforts is the Local Defense Initiative (LDI), a program created and run by Special Forces. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: Taliban behead Afghan police - A wave of violence swept through Karachi yesterday, and at least 11 people have been killed by targeted gunfire in different parts of the city. Police believe the killings, which touched off a series of riots, were linked to fighting between two political parties, the Punjabi-Pashtun Ittehad (PPI) and the Awami National Party. The Lahore High Court yesterday took responsibility for the investigation of the shooting deaths of two Christian brothers in the city of Faisalabad Monday, ordering the regional chief of police to appear before the court today with an update on the case. The killings occurred while the men were in police custody for allegedly writing a "blasphemous pamphlet" and sparked riots in Christian neighborhoods Faisalabad. Elsewhere, Pakistani authorities claim to have killed 25 militants in clashes in Orakzai agency. According to these authorities, Pakistani security forces have killed 1,500 militants in the last three months; many remaining fighters are fleeing to nearby Kurram. (READ MORE)

Caroline Wadhams and Colin Cookman: Keeping Karzai's feet to the fire - On Tuesday, the Afghan government convened an international conference, bringing together more than 70 countries to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan. As in previous conferences, the Karzai government outlined an ambitious agenda to enhance aid coordination, reduce corruption, strengthen the justice system, support job creation and economic growth and more. Unfortunately, most of these commitments are unlikely to reverse the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Even if they are implemented -- far from guaranteed given unfulfilled promises in the past -- most of the technical proposals made by the parties don't address the key source of Afghanistan's insecurity: its political crisis, which drives insurgent mobilization, contributes to declining support for the Afghan government, and lies at the root of Kabul's failure to successfully implement past commitments. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Taliban commander killed while making bomb - A close aide of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah has reportedly surrendered to Pakistani security forces in the northwestern valley. Qari Sohail was in charge of the group's FM radio station during its rule. In nearby Bajaur, a local Taliban commander and his assistant were killed when a bomb they were constructing at home exploded. And in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, some 1,000 people have been arrested including 100 militants in recent search operations, according to the province's information minister. In the last 36 hours, 21 people have died due to targeted killings in the port city of Karachi, sparking riots in areas of the Pakistani financial capital. Many of those killed are political activists affiliated with the Awami National Party and the Punjabi-Pukhtun Ittehad. And across Baluchistan, five people have died from gunfire and landmines in the last day. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 22 JUL 2010 "Afghan Squat" - Have you ever tried to get into a squatting position just to rest your legs? Go ahead... give it a try. I can tell you that it hurts my hips, knees, and ankles. I just can't do it for any extended period of time and it certainly isn't restful. But squatting is the resting position for Afghanistan natives, as well as many 3rd world people. I suppose it may have something to do with needing to learn how to rest without placing to much of yourself on the ground where all sorts of little nasty creatures can get to you. Frankly, its a very good strength to have. But training needs to begin at an early age, allowing for bone, tendon and cartilage modeling to occur. I think I'm too old to ever be able to have this position to work for me. The worst thing about what is otherwise a healthy and fit cultural position is that it carries over to the latrine. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Spouse Jobs Program Resumes in October - I wanted to share the latest news on the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program, commonly known as MyCAA and a hot topic for our military spouses. I learned yesterday that the popular spouse employment program will resume Oct. 25, but with some significant changes, including a reduction in financial aid and a change in the population of eligible spouses from all military spouses to spouses of junior servicemembers. Clifford Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, described these changes yesterday in an interview at the Pentagon. The changes, he said, are designed to bring the program back to its original intent: equip spouses of junior servicemembers for portable careers, such as in real estate or health care. The program was launched in November 2007 for spouses of junior servicemembers, and was expanded to all pay grades and programs of study in March 2009. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Al Sadr Surfaces - OMG. Today I watched Moktada Al Sadr speaking on television and thought he actually made sense. The dude was on Al-Sharqiya, which is clearly supportive of Ayad Allawi. Mookie spoke with his usual speech impediment and his sleepy manner as though he just smoked something. Nevertheless, the guy explained some recent happenings. First, he said he had met with no members of the State of Law party as was reported in the media. He had indeed met with Allawi in Damascus, and he said he hoped the results of the meeting would be "fruitful." He said the Sadr movment continues to oppose a second term for Maliki, and they are not about to change their position. He said no deals were made to release the prisoners. Mookie criticized Maliki's government. He spoke against the random arrests of Iraqis. He said the detentions were not based on law. He said he couldn't accept a government that provides no services. And he said the security in the country is basically a picture, not real. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Highway One - As a follow-up to yesterday's post about Team Canada down in Kandahar, here's a post from the anonymous expat at Kandahar Diary about the dangers of operating in and around Kandahar. The PSC that he works for is heavily involved in some of the most difficult work in this country, escorting fuel convoys to ISAF bases. Highway One is dodgy pretty much anywhere, but it's especially bad between Kabul and Helmand, and KD's guys make the run from Kandahar west on a daily basis. Not a road I'd want to drive regularly. The Rug Merchant has accused me in the past of pricing us out of the lucrative logistics market in Kandahar and Helmand, and in a sense he's right. I won't put my people at risk on that road under those circumstances without a guarantee that we're making enough money to cover our expenses, including the inevitable death benefits we'd have to pay. Can't do it on the cheap, better to not do it at all.* (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: Time Away - What is the most challenging aspect of military life for your family? Sure there are lots of really great things and some more difficult aspects but is there something that stands out as especially challenging? For our family, it is the amount of time that Daddy has to be away from home. He deployed for 14 months the day I turned one month old. Add R&R to the mix and that means in the first 14 months of my life, I saw my Daddy for 46 days. Although it wasn't easy, it also wasn't that difficult. When you're a baby, your mommy provides most of what you need. Sure, Daddy missed me but to be honest, in the first month of my life, he was so busy getting ready to deploy that we didn't get to spend a whole lot of time together anyway. In 28 short days, we didn't have the opportunity to form a close bond. Fast forward to now. I am almost 3 and Daddy and I have had time to form a very close bond. We love to be together, play together and spend time with each other. (READ MORE)

One Marines View: Mission in Afghanistan? - Many have already forgotten the attacks Sept , 11th in NY or subliminally blocked them from their thoughts. There are many that remember it like it was yesterday. Those family members that lost a loved one that day, the spouses and children that have lost a loved one while fighting in Afg & Iraq all remember Sept 11 very well. Many today ask “why” are we still in Afg? Afghanistan is not a Desert Storm and even a little different than Iraq. Afghanistan is a perfect case model for Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations. I am not going into what the Russians didn’t do and we have but I will tell you that the US has mastered the COIN fight by living among the locals, winning their trust, helping them not only build on a national level but help them build themselves. COIN takes time. War takes time. The USMC in “Marineestan” has mastered developing small operating bases among the locals and have won their trust - something the Russians never did. (READ MORE)

Kandahar Diary: Knives, Guns and Ancient Feuds - It’s amazing what you learn when you take the time to ask. I was chatting, through one of my terps, to the 2IC of one of my guard forces yesterday when he said something that struck me as unusual. It had to do with the Taliban and the north of the country, so I asked him to explain. It turns out this man, who I see and speak with daily and who, with his diminutive stature and wrinkled, benign face, looks like an old shop-keeper (or what I’d expect an old shop-keeper to look like), is a former mujahideen commander and, more recently, a commander with the UIF (more commonly known as the Northern Alliance). None of that was much of a surprise – most of our senior men are former Mujahideen – but I was fascinated nonetheless so I pulled up a chair, pulled two ‘Cokes’ from the fridge and we got talking. He joined the ‘Muj’ in the late 70’s to fight the Soviet backed DRA and stayed on to fight the Soviets themselves after the invasion. (READ MORE)

airforcewife: Oh, Now it's ON - I have been chronicling my husband's love of all things Gear in The Geardo Chronicles. It's truly ridiculous. There's gear in every room of my house, and no matter how hard I try to pack all this stuff out of the way, it creeps back into every nook and cranny. I've learned to live with it. I can deal with finding holsters in my child's bedroom. I understand that where other people use bungee cords to tie things down in pick up beds, we use 550 Cord. I understand that body armor is bulky, and that the uniforms, boots, chem gear, and whatever else looked cool the day they had some to give out will take up a decent amount of room. But this time, Air Force Guy's gear has gone too far. The other day I took out my sewing box to put some of those awesome sarcastic patches on my boxing bag, and I FOUND PIECES OF GEAR IN MY SEWING BOX. Is nothing sacred? Can someone tell me how this happened? Because, for one, Air Force Guy is deployed. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: 'He was Specialist Keenan Cooper' - While eulogizing Spc. Keenan Cooper on Friday, Pastor Mike Adams made a remarkable observation. Speaking in front of about 700 mourners, including North Dakota's governor, Rev. Adams imparted wisdom to the audience. "We want to make sure we keep these things in balance. He wasn’t a mythological figure. He was Specialist Keenan Cooper," Adams said. "We’re very proud of him." By all accounts, Spc. Cooper thought of himself as a regular guy. Religion and patriotism were close to his heart, but being a soldier was his job. Inforum reporter Sherri Keaton, who covered the public memorial service in Wahpeton, noted another revealing quote by the pastor. "This is not a political point of view," [Adams] said. "He was where he decided to be. Those are things that the family wants us to remember." As "a man of his word and a man of few words," as an obituary noted, the 19-year-old soldier followed orders and did his duty. (READ MORE)

Phyllis Zimbler Miller: Sponsor a Fort Hood Soldier or Wounded Warrior to a CTS Concert - How would you like to touch a real hero's life in a big way? Well here's your chance to do something great without much expense. On Saturday, Sept. 11th, 2010, rock band CTS will headline the National Gathering of the Guard 2010 for Patriot Guard Riders at Killeen, Texas. Killeen is right next to Fort Hood, Texas, where the tragic shootings took place last year. CTS will headline this amazing event with its "Freedom Rock Experience" multi-media concert honoring our "Real American Heroes." Killeen Convention Center holds 1,400 people and CTS along with Urban Quartet will rock this heroic town. The concert will also feature the local Harker Heights High School Orchestra performing our original song "Snowball Express," honoring the widows and children who have lost a loved one in the military. Your support of this event even if you can't make it will touch a lot of people who give it all for our country. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
DOD to Resume Restructured Military Spouse Career Program - The Department of Defense announced today the resumption of a restructured military spouse career advancement account program - MyCAA, following a comprehensive review. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Unembedded in Saddam’s Iraq - Weeks before the war started, I had promised myself that I would stay in Baghdad through the conflict, whatever the circumstances. (READ MORE)

Rejoining the Fight - Military structure and discipline are not new to Raheem Mahmmed. Hahmmed was a warrant officer in the former Army of Saddam Hussein but when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked former soldiers to return and serve Iraq again as it reformed itself, he didn't hesitate. (READ MORE)

The Next Deadline - American combat troops are on target to leave Iraq by the end of August. President Obama — with the backing of his generals — is right to keep to his timetable, despite a recent series of bloody attacks by insurgents. (READ MORE)

Iraq car bombing kills at least 15 - At least 15 Iraqis were killed Wednesday in a Diyala province car bombing, the third fatal bombing attack this week in the volatile region northeast of Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Bomb near Iraq mosque kills 15; U.S. soldier dies in road blast - A car bomb outside a mosque killed at least 15 people and a U.S. soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in separate attacks Wednesday in northern Iraq, American and Iraqi officials said. (READ MORE)

Troops Must Understand the ‘Why’ of the Fight, Odierno Says - With his tenure winding down as commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno today shared with reporters some of his lessons learned on asymmetric warfare and the U.S. military’s needs of the future. (READ MORE)

U.S. Military on Track for Iraq Drawdown, Odierno Says - The military is on track to meet its drawdown goals in Iraq, and there will be plenty of troops left until the end of 2011 to help Iraq become fully independent, the commanding general of U.S. Forces in Iraq said today. (READ MORE)

Nations Endorse 2014 Afghan Handover Goal - President Hamid Karzai won international backing for his plan to have his government take the lead in securing Afghanistan by 2014 and play a greater role in deciding how billions in development dollars are spent. (READ MORE)

Karzai's road map for reforms wins diplomats' support at Afghan conference - Afghanistan's first major international conference in more than three decades concluded Tuesday with diplomats from around the world endorsing President Hamid Karzai's commitments to having Afghans in charge of security by 2014 and curbing government corruption well before that. (READ MORE)

Congress' confidence in Obama's war strategy slides - With military progress scarce and doubts remaining about the reliability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, confidence in the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan is deteriorating on Capitol Hill, including among prominent lawmakers who had been firm backers of the plan. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan withdrawal possible from 2011, says Cameron - The withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan could start as early as next year, David Cameron has said. US president Barack Obama has talked about beginning the pull-out of American soldiers from July 2011. (READ MORE)

2nd shooting in month casts doubt on Afghan forces - The second shooting of Western troops by one of their Afghan counterparts this month has highlighted the potential hazards of a push to speedily expand Afghanistan's army and police forces in the next few years. (READ MORE)

Suspected Afghan army trainer opens fire on fellow instructors - A suspected Afghan army trainer on a shooting range in northern Afghanistan opened fire on his fellow instructors Tuesday, killing two American civilian trainers and one other Afghan soldier before being killed himself, NATO officials said. (READ MORE)

Insurgents behead 6 Afghan police in north: NATO - NATO forces say six Afghan police officers have been beheaded by insurgents in northern Afghanistan. The military coalition said in a statement issued Wednesday the militants attacked a number of government buildings, including a police checkpoint... (READ MORE)

Taliban behead six Afghan police in north: NATO - Taliban insurgents beheaded six Afghan police during a raid on government buildings in northern Baghlan province, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan withdrawal possible from 2011, says Cameron - The withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan could start as early as next year, David Cameron has said. US president Barack Obama has talked about beginning the pull-out of American soldiers from July 2011. (READ MORE)

Taliban denounce Kabul meeting as sign of failure - The Taliban denounced this week's international conference on Afghanistan's future, saying the "vague and terrible agenda" shows that the U.S. and its allies intend to abandon the country and blame their ultimate defeat on the Afghan government. (READ MORE)

Afghan interpreters denied Dutch visas, fear being killed by Taliban - Interpreters working with Australian troops in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province fear being killed by the Taliban after being deserted by the departing Dutch troops. Netherlands has refused to grant visas to more than 100 Afghan interpreters. (READ MORE)

Two British soldiers killed helping colleague in Afghanistan - Two British soldiers were shot dead in southern Afghanistan as they tried to rescue a comrade, the Ministry of Defence has announced. The troops, one from the Royal Dragoon Guards and the other from 1st Battalion Scots Guards, were killed yesterday in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province. (READ MORE)

Taliban militants behead six Afghan policemen in new act of barbarism - Taliban militants beheaded six Afghan police officers during an assault on government buildings in Baghlan province, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. (READ MORE)

Women in northern Afghanistan face Taliban revival - Women living in Afghanistan's safest region are retreating behind the veil amid fears they are being stalked by a resurgent Taliban determined to trample their rights. (READ MORE)

Taliban Denounce Kabul Meeting - The Taliban denounced this week's international conference on Afghanistan's future, saying the "vague and terrible agenda" shows that the U.S. and its allies intend to abandon the country and blame their ultimate defeat on the Afghan government. (READ MORE)

British troops may start leaving Afghanistan in '11 - Britain could start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as early as next year, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Western Afghanistan Sees Reduction in Civilian Casualties - In western Afghanistan the incidence of civilian casualties due to combat operations is at an all time low. In every instance where a civilian casualty was caused by combat operations, it can be attributed to the violence of insurgents... (READ MORE)

Better NCO Training Boosts Afghan Army’s Capabilities - The influence of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the development of Afghanistan’s military forces is possibly most apparent in its training regimen. (READ MORE)

Pressure builds for firing of Afghan IG - A call to fire the inspector general charged with sniffing out fraud and corruption in Afghanistan's reconstruction grew a little louder and became bipartisan Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Afghan Deadline Is Cutting Two Ways - When President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan in December, he argued that by setting a deadline of next summer to begin drawing down troops he would create a sense of urgency for the Afghan government to take the lead in the fight, while acknowledging the limits of America’s patience with the longest war in its history. (READ MORE)

Clinton: U.S. Efforts Vital to Afghan Success - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week's conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, where members of the global community gathered to support Afghan goals and policies, represents a milestone in a long and difficult journey. (READ MORE)

Taliban denounce Kabul meeting as sign of failure - The Taliban denounced this week's international conference on Afghanistan's future, saying the "vague and terrible agenda" shows that the U.S. and its allies intend to abandon the country and blame their ultimate defeat on the Afghan government. (READ MORE)

US platoon suffers heavy losses in lush Afghan fields - The soldiers call it ‘the witching hour’, the time when the fierce Afghan heat has mellowed enough for Taliban to sneak into a nearby graveyard and unleash a torrent of rocket grenades, mortar and rifle fire. (READ MORE)

Key Swat Taliban commander surrenders - A senior Taliban commander and close aide of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Swat chief Mullah Fazlullah surrendered to security forces in Swat on Wednesday. (READ MORE)

Taliban chief and helper 'die making bomb' in Pakistan - Pakistan's army has twice claimed victory in Bajaur against militants in the past 18 months A Taliban commander and his assistant died when a bomb they were assembling blew up, Pakistani officials say. (READ MORE)

Death toll in Karachi target killings rises to 19 - The situation remains tense in Karachi as the death toll from recent target killings has risen to 19, in the past 40 hours. (READ MORE)

Karachi tense as six political workers killed - Tension gripped parts of the defunct district East on Wednesday following the targeted killing of six political activists in the city on Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Targeted killings claim six more - Incidents of targeted killings continued in the city unabated claiming six more lives, Geo News reported Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Firing across Karachi, 12 dead - Firing continues in several parts of Karachi including Gulistan e Johar, Malir, Surjani Town and Shah Faisal Colony, on Wednesday, as four more people were shot dead in various areas of the city. (READ MORE)

LHC CJ takes notice of Christians’ murder - Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice (CJ) Khawaja Muhammad Sharif on Tuesday took suo motu notice of the murder of two Christian brothers in Faisalabad. (READ MORE)

Key Pakistani counterterrorism official resigns - The head of a federal group meant to coordinate Pakistan's fight against terrorism resigned Tuesday amid a bureaucratic turf battle waged as the country continues to suffer militant attacks, officials said. (READ MORE)

U.S. Forces Step Up Pakistan Presence - U.S. Special Operations Forces have begun venturing out with Pakistani forces on aid projects, deepening the American role in the effort to defeat Islamist militants in Pakistani territory that has been off limits to U.S. ground troops. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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