August 19, 2010

From the Front: 08/19/2010

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

Kandahar Diary: A Presidential Decree: My Thoughts - The big news around the traps at the moment is Karzai’s announcement that all PSC (local and international) have until 1 Jan 11 to disband and, for the internationals, quit Afghanistan. This is due to the (justifiable) perception that PSCs are running amok, involved in bribery and extortion, are in league – to varying degrees – with the Taliban and are damaging ISAFs counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy. At the outset let me say that my company is held up as an example of how a transparent, compliant and professional PSC should operate in providing convoy security to Host Nation Trucking (HNT) contractors. If it were not I wouldn’t be working for it. However, as a PSC, we are lumped in with the local firms that are nothing more than armed militia for warlords such as Ruhullah (who plies his trade between Kabul and Kandahar) and Matiullah Kahn (who commands 2,000 men in Uruzgan where nothing moves without his approval and his payment of between USD1000 and USD3000 per truck). (READ MORE)

Kanani Fong @ Regarding War: A Military Spouse's Gratitude in Time of War - Preparing for a deployment is an emotional and a physical upheaval. There's a veritable laundry list from writing wills and last-minute home repairs to doing whatever it is the Army needs. Conversations are done on the run, via a phone call, in passing and during goodbye parties. After a flurry of busy days, my husband and I went for a walk. It was dusk, our dog pulled ahead as we made our way down the hill. The night air was just a tad cooler than we would have liked, and we seemed to be at a loss for words as the countdown for his deployment neared. A car passed by, then a kid on a skateboard with his dog running ahead. As we made our way through the neighborhood, we looked at homes decorated with prayer flags for a neighbor's son who had died climbing a mountain in Tibet. Without turning to me, my husband looked straight ahead and spoke. "You know, I'm supposed to set certain things straight with you. I'm not supposed to leave anything unsaid," he said. (READ MORE)

Matt Elliott: Gaining Perspective via Interactive Media - As the war in Afghanistan drags on, it is difficult not only to keep pace with the headlines each day or week, but also to fully grasp the scope of the United States' and NATO's efforts there. One way to better understand what is happening in Afghanistan now and what its future may hold is to look at the past. The Council on Foreign Relations published a instructive and interactive timeline of the war in Afghanistan a year ago today, which it continues to update. It includes a summary of the major events, starting with the United Nations Security Council imposing sanctions against al-Qaida and the Taliban on October 15, 1999. It also includes a great many useful links that will broaden your understanding of the war. The casualties in Afghanistan have risen sharply this summer, as you can clearly see from this interactive guide on CNN. Using two side-by-side maps, it shows each fatality from the war, placing a dot on the map for the hometown of each soldier and another where he or she died in the war. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (In Afghanistan): 909th Sun Deck - I recently saw someone comment on a photo that "there are no blue skies in Afghanistan". He was absolutely adamant. Maybe he should visit here and see for himself. There are some days of brilliantly clear blue skies. Good thing the 909th brings its own handymen. I've never seen a group of folks so talented. These guys can build anything. They're kinda-like McGyver!.... A little mesh, some sticks 'o wood and parachute cord... BAM! A new sundeck. But... these guys weren't done... can you believe a bunch of smelly dudes.. in a third world country.. fighting a war... would actually build a planter box outside the trauma entrance? Well... Shoop.... there it is! (READ MORE)

ACU's, Stiletto Shoes, and Pretty Pink Tutus: Want to know what I fear? - I was so touched by how open and honest people were when I posted my question asking for wives to tell me what they fear. I expected answers to be a little more vague but I'm so glad everyone spoke up! We got comments and emails from spouses who just wanted to express their gratitude. From experience I can tell you it rather sucks to feel like you are the only freak in the world who feels a certain way. So, I can't just let this issue go by without laying out what I fear. Naturally, I fear the fundamentals of Milies everywhere. I worry about G.I. Joe getting hurt, medically discharged, captured, tortured, never being found again, never being the same again and I definitely fear "the worst." Beyond that though I have other specific fears that I have to face each day. Some days I don't think about this stuff much but others I have to work a little harder to live above it. The number 1 fear I have is that G.I. Joe will forget that he loves me. (READ MORE)

al Sahwa: Greed and Grievance in Kandahar - As the last US elements of the "Kandahar surge" assume battlespace in and around the city, we are at a critical juncture in the ISAF effort to establish what GEN Petraeus describes as an "oil spot" around Kandahar City and its environs. The daunting task of establishing this zone of security, governance, and prosperity falls on a combination of mostly US and Canadian soldiers and officers (from 2/101 ABN, 1/4 ID, and TF Kandahar). Rajiv Chandrasekaran's recent article in the Wash Post does an excellent job of highlighting the challenges that face these forces, drawing a comparison between the US efforts in Baghdad in 2006-07 and the ongoing efforts in Kandahar. Ultimately, though, he concludes (accurately) that the dynamics at play in Kandahar are vastly different than they were in Baghdad. ISAF forces in Kandahar must convince a predominately Pashtun, Sunni populace (vice a split Sunni-Shia populace in Baghdad) that the "legitimate" elected government (and security forces) can provide for them and protect them from the murder and intimidation campaign of the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Wendy Chamberlin: Karachi’s Melting Pot Boils Over - The desperate plight of over 20 million Pakistani citizens displaced and dispossessed by the most ferocious flooding in the history of the young state is heartbreaking. Nature is extracting a cruel price on a population already racked by debilitating poverty and a brutal insurgency. But at the same time, too little attention is being paid to the violent drama being played out in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. The crippling violence of political party gangsterism between Karachi's two dominant parties - the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) - is alarming, especially as the parties align with organized criminal groups and become increasingly indistinguishable from them. Unlike the flooding, this crisis was avoidable and man-made. One of the three largest cities in the world, Karachi has a multi-ethnic population of 17 million people. (READ MORE)

Battle Rattle: Conway, Kent touch down in Afghanistan - It had to come sometime. After four years of leading the Marine Corps in wartime, Commandant Gen. James Conway is making what will likely be his final trip to Afghanistan this week. He touched down at Bagram Airfield on Tuesday, and if he and his traveling party haven’t already made it to Camp Leatherneck, the Corps’ major hub of operations in Afghanistan, they’ll likely be there soon. For security reasons, their agenda is classified. However, it’s likely they’ll tour much of the area. This brief account in the Pakistani media also reports that Conway visited today with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of staff for the Pakistani Army. Conway is expected to retire next month and will be replaced by Gen. James Amos, the service’s current assistant commandant. (READ MORE)

NICK BILTON: Visualizing the Wikileaks War Logs - Last month, The New York Times ran a package of articles called “The War Logs,” based on a trove of military documents made public by the Web site WikiLeaks. The documents brought into question the military’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. A group of faculty members and programmers from Columbia University, New York University and Princeton have used the same set to create the visualization in the video above. The visualization shows activity in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 and maps the “logged events” recorded in the documents. As The Times noted in one article, “The archive is clearly an incomplete record of the war. It is missing many references to seminal events and does not include more highly classified information.” But the visualization shows surges of activity over this five-year period, growing drastically as the war progresses. The programmers describe the map as follows: (READ MORE)

Charlie Simpson's War: Note to Self (4) - Towels. In addition to bringing your own sheets, you also need to bring towels. Sometimes you forget to pack things that you actually thought of earlier in the week. Case in point: belts. Why didn’t I bring any belts? I brought belts last time. It occurred to me to bring them this time. And yet, no belts. But sometimes the thought never makes it into your head. I spent more time thinking about dresses for Marine Corps’ Birthday Balls than I thought about towels. (I even washed and put away a set of towels while packing and never thought to put them in the damn suitcase. Actually, I even packed my travel towel without making the logical leap to packing, you know, real towels.) Someday I’ll have a binder full of packing lists: deployment packing, Hawaii packing, NYC for 2.5 days packing. Until then, I’ll be using a travel towel… (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Tips Ease Transition to New School - I wrote a blog recently about my lengthy, and sometimes painful, house-hunting efforts. I’m happy to say that stage of my move has come to an end. My husband and I now are the proud owners of a small, five-bedroom house in Maryland. Now it’s on to the actual move, and the plethora of minutiae that dominate every house purchase, from gathering financial documents to setting up house inspections. But foremost in my mind are my children. While school starts after Labor Day in Northern Virginia, at my kids’ new school in Maryland, school starts Monday. Due to the time-consuming settlement process, they’re almost certain to miss a few weeks of school, but I’m feeling the time crunch nonetheless. I need to immediately start gathering school supplies and establishing school-time routines and, perhaps most importantly, readying them for a new school. They’ve only been at their current school for the past two years, but that’s plenty of time to create deep bonds and lasting friendships. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 19 AUG 2010 "The Dance" - For our heroes - with respect: And now I'm glad I didn't know / The way it all would end, the way it all would go / Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain / But I'd of had to miss the dance / Yes my life is better left to chance / I could have missed the pain but I'd of had to miss the dance / "The Dance" is a song recorded by country singer Garth Brooks. The song, written by Brooks' friend, Tony Arata, is written with a double meaning - both as a love song about the end of a passionate relationship, and a story of someone dying because of something he believes in, after a moment of glory. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: British and Afghan troops keep Helmand highway open - Soldiers from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards (1 SG) and The Royal Dragoon Guards (RDG) have been working jointly with Afghan National Security Forces to keep traffic moving along a key road in central Helmand. The key access road Route 601 is an important communications route that connects Lashkar Gah in Helmand with the city of Kandahar to the east. The metalled road is a key transport and commercial link for both local nationals and ISAF and Afghan forces. Based in a patrol base (PB) halfway along the road the British soldiers regularly patrol both on foot and in Mastiff and Jackal armoured vehicles to ensure that no improvised explosive devices or blockages are present on the road or in the surrounding area. Daily checks include inspecting culverts along the route, setting up vehicle checkpoints to ensure that insurgents are not using the road as a supply route, and working with the Afghan National Police (ANP) to deal with breakdowns or the occasional road traffic accident. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: That's just the kind of contract you've got to keep - I wouldn't agree that The Magnificent Seven is a perfect allegory for Afghanistan, but there's no doubt my own beliefs on just this kind of issue were shaped by watching it and other movies like it. (In the scene highlighted in the first half of the YouTube clip at the link, I think I have at one time or other been in the frame of mind of each of the Seven debating the right course around the table, in the Afghan context.) It's also fair to say if the West had viewed the Taliban with a mental model something like Calveras' bandidos in mind, as opposed to seeing them as foot soldiers in SPECTRE/KAOS/whatever-International-Terror-Conspiracy-you-care-to-name (a model that is arguably less close to the truth, but makes them seem much more threatening to us personally) we might have approached this whole situation differently much earlier. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Lessons from Helmand are honing skills of Army’s top shots - For sharp-eyed marksmen serving in Britain’s Armed Forces there is no greater proving ground than the ranges at Bisley and neighbouring Pirbright. The Surrey facilities have hosted generations of soldiers keen to show off their shooting prowess by dropping to their belt buckles and patiently delivering ultra-accurate shots into targets hundreds of metres away. But while the sharpshooting set’s actions retain a place in the centres’ folklore, their contemporaries need to display an increasingly different set of skills to earn entry into the crack-shot elite. The annual event for the best Service shooters, the Central Skill-at- Arms Meeting (CENTSAM), is shunning its old-school static serials in favour of action-packed, quickfire versions inspired by the battle-winning techniques being used on Op HERRICK. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Two of My Favorite People Get Promoted - At first formation on Saturday morning two of the best soldiers in Echo Company got promoted. Sgt. Jeremy Houck got promoted to Staff Sgt. and Spc. Daniel Lake to Sgt. In Iraq, Houck was one of leaders on the team that re-built and rewired many buildings all over Tallil Ali Air Base. We were sent at the last minute to a base that was not ready for a Combat Aviation Brigade and Houck helped to change that--in a big hurry. Lake is a smart experienced mechanic who spent a very long year doing whatever was required on maintenance teams. He had a sergeant's responsibilities during most of the tour. His promotion was slowed by several paperwork hassles and long overdue. Because they are in Echo Company, the ceremony ended with a splash!!! (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: Revisiting the WaPo Article - Ever since this Washington Post article by Ernesto Londono came out chronicling the rise and fall of Kaboom the blog, the question of the blog's official registration with my unit has been a point of inquiry for both readers and lecture attendees. Most recently, this came up in an interview for a magazine profile. As best as I can gather, the confusion regarding this emanates from a specific part of the Post article: "Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a military spokesman, said in an e-mail that Kaboom was "deemed by the commander to be counter to good order and discipline of his unit." He added that the blog had not been registered with the military, an assertion Dennis Gallagher disputes." So, here's my take, for what it's worth. There was a form we turned in before the deployment that counted as our "registration." It asked for basic info, like our name, rank, and blog URL. I filled it out in five minutes and turned it in to my troop (company) leadership. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Stop the Madness: FNH Tries Smoke and Mirrors on SCAR-L Debacle… - …and leaves a LOT unsaid. Well, we knew something like this would happen, we just didn’t know how. On Monday, SCAR maker FNH-USA shouted from the rooftops in a vaguely-worded press release that SOCOM had approved full rate production of the SCAR “family of weapons.” The company said it was “ramping up production” to meet the “delivery orders placed by SOCOM.” We sent a note to FNH-USA spokeswoman Elaine Golladay asking for clarification on what “ramped up” means and SOCOM’s “delivery orders” and got no response. Kit Up! played it straight on our initial reporting of this announcement, but it looks as if the folks at FNH-USA tried to pull a fast one on us and tarnish’s reporting and Kit Up! as well. A company rep forwarded the press release to two popular forums, figuring (correctly) the SCAR fans on the board would read the announcement and assume the Mk-16 is being purchased by SOCOM. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Fatah al Islam chief killed while traveling to Iraq - The leader of a Lebanon-based al Qaeda affiliate has been killed while attempting to travel to Iraq to join the insurgency. Abdulrahman Awad, the leader of Fatah al Islam, was killed along with his deputy, Ghazi Faysal Abdullah, by Lebanese security forces during a clash in the Bekaa Valley over the weekend. Fatah al Islam confirmed the deaths of Awad and Abdullah in a statement released on a jihadi website, and said that the two leaders were traveling to Iraq to join up with the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda's front group. The statement was discovered by the SITE Intelligence Group and reported by The Associated Press. According to the Fatah al Islam statement, Awad, a Palestinian, sent his son to Iraq two months ago to become a suicide bomber. There have been no reports of Palestinian suicide bombers carrying out attacks in Iraq in the past two months. (READ MORE)

New Girl on Post: Good News! - I'm back in Italy with some good news. My friend's husband was discharged from the hospital and actually made the trip back to Italy with my friend and I. Basically what happened is that a bridge collapsed under the truck he was driving and the truck rolled a few times. He ended up hurting his back, but they have sent him back here to do physical therapy and he'll be returning to Germany off and on for the next few months. It's a somewhat similiar situation that Sean has with his back, but Sean's is a bit more serious. Anyway, I was just glad that he was ok. Seeing all the soldiers up in Landstuhl though really made me sad. I saw a lot of physical scars and problems and a lot of mental. I'm sure I didn't even scratch the surface of it though. It was almost overwhelming seeing all of them. Just another sad reminder of what happens during war. (READ MORE)

Joan D'Arc: How many times have you moved? - Today I went to a store and when I went to make my purchase the cashier asked me if I had one of the store's "reward" cards. I told her yes, but I had no idea where the card was located. She asked for the phone number I used when I applied for the card... this can be a difficult question for a military spouse. I told her I was military and had to think about where I applied for the card because we move a lot. Then the conversation went like this: Cashier: How many times have you moved? Me: In the last year, or total? Cashier: Umm... both? Me: Twice in the last year and seven times in the last 13 years (technically 8 moves since we did one on our own when we bought a house). Cashier: (Eyes open wide and jaw hanging open). I don't think I could do that. Me: It's not for everyone, but I love it. Needless to say, I could not remember the phone number I had just one year ago. I could remember my old work number, but not my old phone number. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: They did it - On Wednesday evening, significant news began reaching the United States. American soldiers in the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division had crossed into Kuwait. Almost seven and a half years after the war in Iraq began, the last U.S. combat brigade is out of the country. "To be a part of this historic last brigade combat team in Iraq is like getting closure, because I was one of the first in and now one of the last ones out," Staff Sgt. Matthew Pankey, who was on his first of three deployments to Iraq in the spring of 2003, told Sgt. Kimberly Johnson. The most important aspect of this story will likely be missing from most coverage you'll see on television and read in newspapers. Despite honest disagreements at home over the war's merits and dishonest reporting from the mainstream media, which rushed to judgment against our troops by trumpeting an alleged "massacre" in Haditha, the brave men and women of the United States military persevered and achieved great things. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: March of the Penguins - In the fall of 2006, Maj. Megan McClung called home and asked her parents for an item not typically included in care packages for Marines in Iraq. The 34-year-old volunteer warrior wanted a stuffed animal doll, and it had to be a penguin. Maj. McClung was captivated by the writing of John Bingham, a bestselling author and columnist who aims to inspire runners around the world. Bingham, a slow runner who nicknamed himself "the penguin," believes that finishing a race is more important than winning. He has written several famous passages about his favorite pastime. "As an athlete, when you least expect it, you may find yourself standing on the threshold of an accomplishment so monumental that it strikes fear into your soul. You must stand ready, at any moment, to face the unknown. You must be ready to walk boldly thru the wall of uncertainty." Walking boldly was part of McClung's personality long before she read Bingham's words. (READ MORE)

Spencer Ackerman: David Petraeus: The Danger Room Interview - My 45-minute interview Tuesday with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was considerably less physically taxing than the last time we talked in person. While on a military base in Mosul, Iraq, in March 2007, I learned that Petraeus, then the commander of the Iraq war, was on his way there. I put in for an interview request. The only time he had available was during early-morning physical training. Over two painful hours, I learned why Petraeus’ reputation as a fitness freak and champion runner is well deserved. Once again, Petraeus is in charge of a controversial, faltering war. To learn how he intends to reverse U.S. fortunes in Afghanistan, I met Petraeus at his commanders’ compound, an elegant multistory building in a quiet, green spot of NATO headquarters in Kabul. From the way he discussed the challenges ahead — both before and after the July 2011 date to begin a “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces — Petraeus’ endurance will be tested in a marathon-length sprint. (READ MORE)

Danger Room: Drones Surge, Special Ops Strike in Petraeus Campaign Plan - Ever since the Afghanistan war became a counterinsurgency fight, critics have charged that commanders’ cautions about using force only inhibit the fight against the Taliban. But in the shadows, NATO Special Operations Forces are engaged in an intensely lethal war of their own. According to information provided to Danger Room by Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, in just the past 90 days these elite units have captured or killed 365 militant leaders, detained 1,335 insurgent foot soldiers and killed another 1,031 insurgents on top of that. Yes, some units once engaged in armed coercion have de-emphasized taking direct action against insurgent bombers. But the rough stuff against the networks that create improvised explosive devices has been part of the special forces’ hot summer –- represented by green, blue and orange bursts on the map of Afghanistan that Petraeus compiled into a briefing slide. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: floodwaters to stay until the end of August - The U.N. announced yesterday that up to 4 million people have been made homeless as a result of flooding in Pakistan, as increased aid struggles to keep up with demand and Pakistan's top meteorologist said the floodwaters would not fully recede until the end of this month. The U.N. will convene a conference today to push governments to give more to Pakistan's relief effort, and the U.N. official in charge of the response to the 2004 tsunami said of the response, "[i]t's been abysmal, it's been terrible. There is no relationship between the number of people in acute need of help and what has actually been provided in this first month". Disease continues to break out among those displaced by flooding, especially children. The United States has increased its aid to Pakistan to $90 million, as Senator John Kerry, currently in Pakistan to tour flooded areas and meet with officials, said that number would climb to $150 million. (READ MORE)

Chuck Z: No, Virginia, there are no combat troops - The last combat troops have left Iraq! The war is over! Except, of course for the fact that many, many (like 50,000) remain, and more are on the way to replace them as they continue to withdrawal, which will take until the very, very end of 2012. But... but... he said.... No, Virginia, there are no more combat troops in Iraq. Technically, what remains in Iraq are Advise and Assist Brigades. If you look very closely at the force structure of these brigades, and their associated equipment, you'll see they are pretty damn close to Brigade Combat Teams. They are comprised of Soldiers, all of whom are Lawful Combatants--but somehow not "Combat Troops." Guess what? All Soldiers are "combat troops." No Solider is a "combat troop." You are either a cobatant or you aren't. The soldiers in Iraq are still going to be under fire, getting blown up by IEDs, shot at by snipers and mortared. The difference now is that they will "advise" and "assist" (for varying degrees of advise and assist) the Iraqi Army and Police into capturing the bad guys. (READ MORE)

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