October 5, 2010

From the Front: 10/05/2010

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

Michael Yon: To Follow these Steps - I first met Steve Shaulis about 27 years ago during Special Forces training. We’ve been friends ever since and have traveled many places together. Back in 2001, six months before the 9/11 attacks, we were at his U.S. home in Vero Beach, Florida. We were preparing to swim out into the night in the Atlantic Ocean when Steve began to tell me more about Afghanistan. Steve had been to Afghanistan many times and had been exporting agricultural products from the war-ravaged land since 1997. Steve told me that the Taliban, who were not supposed to watch television, loved professional wrestling. Their favorite was “The Undertaker,” and when Taliban could not get television, they longed for wrestling updates from Steve. That night in Florida, as a full moon was rising over the dark Atlantic Ocean, Steve’s fax machine came to life with business from Afghanistan. While the message pushed out, Steve handed me a book saying something like, “You should read this. It was written by my friend Ahmed Rashid.” (READ MORE)

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: Adult time - I'm in the market for a nanny. There, I said it. Does it make me a bad mom? No. It means I need a little help and I get a little stir crazy on days when it's just me and Ariana. I do like spending time with her, but sometimes I need adult time, too. If Jonny were here, it'd be different. He'd come home from work and there'd be a grown-up to talk to. Or he could stay at the house with her after work if I had to run to the store real quick (like when I have to run out for smokes) or if I wanted to go to a friend's or to dinner. But he's not here. The reality of the matter is it's just me. No matter how sad or unsad that is, it's the truth. And I need a little help sometimes. So, I've thought about it and I think I would like a nanny. No, I'm not posting this for applications I'm just talking about it because it's what's going on in my life. (READ MORE)

Mrs. G.I. Joe: Are we an Army Family? - Our re-enlistment issues went from bad to ugly last week. Many of you know about how a routine trip to MEPS in August turned to a completely annoying mess. All this time we've tried to stay positive and have faith that God was going to work it out but it just wasn't happening. Forget his outstanding service record and incredible test scores, no one could get past a certain office and their "logic." So we kept hearing "We're working on it!" or "Yeah we found someone else who might be able to help." and "We'll get back to you." It was so frustrating it was to hear that stuff for over a month just to keep getting the brush-off. Early last week things got a lot worse. We knew what G.I. Joe was re-enlisting for was our loophole but something fell through with the only method they could use to get him in. I know that's super vague but stay with me. Basically our chance for Army (Active Duty) enlistment was shot. Because we need things like an income and health insurance we had to make a tough decision. (READ MORE)

Bouhammer: Bouhammer.com friend Gina Elise needs your vote - My very good friend and super-patriot and troop supporter Gina Elise needs your help. I have known Gina for a while and I am glad to say that Bouhammer.com has been a supporter of her calendar for two years now. Back in July I was out in Los Angeles for work and was able to link up with Gina for dinner one night for a great dinner. At that dinner Gina and I talked about an idea she had to travel to all 50 states and to visit at least one VA hospital in every state. She wanted to make it a nation-wide tour. Now it seems she may have the chance to do that. Pepsi-Cola corporation has an initiative called the Pepsi refresh project which will give $50,000 to a charity that works in the area of healthcare. Gina’s charity, pinupsforvets.com is in the running but she needs your help. She needs your votes. Watch the video below to learn more about what she plans to do with the money if she wins. (READ MORE)

Afghani Dan - Part II: Kabul from above: Afghan helo! - Last week I got to check a most satisfying box: my first transportation by the nascent Afghan Air Force. Accompanying my advisee General Azimi, I flew with a couple dozen others led by the Minister of Defense to a sprawling military training center just outside of town. Let me tell you...given Kabul traffic, there is no other way to travel! But alas, now I've been spoiled. I've got to tell you, the ride was as smooth as any helicopter ride I've ever taken. Now, for the downer: I was disappointed to meet American pilots as I approached...they seemed like nice enough gents, but it took some of the fun out. There are Afghan pilots flying these birds, however -- just not enough pf them yet. In fact, it was just announced the other day that more selected flight officers will be heading abroad for training. One of the longer-term goals of this extensive and varied NATO training command is an Afghan flight school, along with dozens of other 'branch schools' for military specialties that are only beginning to open. (READ MORE)

Army Live: Art of the American Soldier - More than 15,000 paintings and sketches created by over 1,300 American soldiers in the line of duty have been in curatorial storage in Washington, D.C. for decades, seldom made available for public viewing. Art of the American Soldier will bring these powerful works of art into the spotlight at the National Constitution Center from September 24, 2010 through January 10, 2011. The exhibition, featuring a never before-seen collection, was created by the Center in partnership with the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Museum of the United States Army. (READ MORE)

Brad's Excellent Adventure: Cold War Memories - Tuesday 5 October 2010 - 1300 - During the height of the Cold war in the early 1980s, I was a company-grade officer (lieutenant and captain) in a combat engineer battalion in Germany (23rd Engineers, 3rd Armored Division). The U.S. military was there to guard the border between the NATO nations and the Warsaw Pact nations, to counter the threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Our job was to provide mobility and countermobility support to the maneuver forces (infantry and armor). That meant helping them get where they want to go on the battlefield, and making it harder for the enemy to move so they could be targeted and destroyed. I spent as year as a bridge platoon leader building various types of fixed and floating bridges (mobility). Then I was assigned to be a combat engineer platoon leader in Charlie Company supporting 1/36 Infantry. My job was to support the commander’s plans for defense with a barrier plan (countermobility). (READ MORE)

America's 1st Sgt: Defining The American Warrior - You may have seen articles in the news about U.S. Army Soldiers purportedly forming “death squads” or going on “thrill kill” sprees in Afghanistan. A friend sent me some links on the story. She wasn’t sure what to make of it and was despondent about the reprehensible conduct of the soldiers allegedly involved. “What does this all mean?” she asked me. How could American Warriors conduct themselves in this way? Are these America’s finest? Is this endemic of our so called “warrior culture?” I assure you the answer is no, but it does mean being a reprobate dirt-bag isn’t a character trait belonging exclusively to the Taliban. It’s something we all must guard against daily. It also means being in the military doesn't make one a warrior any more than being in the kitchen makes one a chef. I have often remarked that three months of boot camp does not necessarily repair years of bad habits or a fundamental character flaw. (READ MORE)

Drifter Abroad: Burkas burkas everywhere - Taken on the drive back. Friday is the big day off here - Saturday and Sunday not so much - and we hit BIG crowds of people out shopping coming back. I drove "dash two" coming back, so my boss took this shot. For the Drifters and other OIF alumni, lots of people, lots of mopeds, lots of squirley dudes in dish-dashas with cell phones, and everyone driving like it was Mad Max. Logically, I knew that all was OK, and there were no atmospherics about anything bad, but DAMN was it stressful. In Iraq, we would have rolled up half the MAMs we drove past. I was glad to get off the street. P.S. Uncle Barry: this pic reminded me of that flyer you made a few years back. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Blogger Tackles Move-in Day - The walls are bare, my clothes are scattered across the floor and my garage is packed from floor to ceiling with boxes, but I’ve decided to overlook all of that. I’m just glad to be home. Last week, I moved from Virginia to Maryland, a journey I’ve been documenting in blogs in hopes of passing on some helpful tips and picking up a few along the way from our moving-savvy military families. I wrote about tackling the tasks of finding a new home in “Blogger Heads Out on House Hunt,” prepping my family for a move in “Blogger Gears Up for Move” and transitioning my two older children to a new school in “Tips Ease Transition to New School.” But no matter how tricky all of that seemed at the time, it pales in comparison with my actual move-in day. I’ll never forget that moment when the movers first left after a day of unloading. I stood there dwarfed by towering pillars of boxes, feeling like a child lost in a cardboard forest. (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 05 OCT 2010 "Busy" - This is what it looks like when times are busy at an FST. In the above photo, medical teams are moving patients to multiple MedEvac helicopters for their flight to the next level of care. As best as I can tell, the team is busier than ever. Let's pray that it slows down soon. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Former Afghan refugee returns to Helmand with UK’s Stabilisation Unit - A former refugee who fled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has returned to the country with the UK’s Stabilisation Unit to work as a Cultural Affairs Advisor in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand. Pamir Patang fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2000. He has since become a deployable civilian expert for the UK Government’s Stabilisation Unit, owned jointly by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the MOD. A 37-year-old Pashtun from Kabul who is now a British national and lives with his family in west London, Pamir is fluent in Pashtu, Dari, English and Russian; linguistic skills that are vital to the Stabilisation Unit’s work in Helmand. Utilising these skills Pamir was deployed in October 2009 by the Stabilisation Unit to work as a Cultural Affairs Advisor in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand where he helps deliver cultural and political advice to Governor Gulab Mangal, Helmand’s provincial governor. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: The Girl in the Sparkly Top - By an Officer on Patrol with 51 Sqn RAF Regiment: I stood in the vehicle watching down the dusty road for signs of the Afghan National Police or ANP. We were here to help them set up a new permanent check point outside a sizeable Afghan village. We had cleared the site with our search teams and the contractors who I had arranged were now busily engaged in building a Shura House, a place where the locals could meet with the ANP and discuss security. The village had a troubled past. The headman, or Malik, had been murdered by insurgents just a few weeks before; dragged from his bed with his eldest son and the pair of them gunned down in front of his 2 younger sons. Two weeks later the Malik’s brother had been gunned down on his way to visit his brother’s grave. The new checkpoint would hopefully bring some much needed security to the place. As I looked down the heat haze of the road a sudden flash of colour caught my eye. Something very bright was moving slowly down the road. (READ MORE)

Omar @ Iraq the Model: Government formation update - The government formation process seems to have reached critical mass and I suspect we’re going to see some interesting developments within the next couple weeks. Here’s where the different groups stand as of now: The Sadrists (40 seats) made a 180 degree turn earlier this week by supporting Maliki’s bid for a second term. Apparently a fatwa from Ayatollah Ha’iri (Moqtada’s mentor) forced him to change his mind, even though he had been consistently and adamantly opposed to letting Maliki stay for a second term. But Sadr isn't particularly famous for being consistent! His followers are confused to say the least, because Sadr has more than once referred to Maliki as a liar and a hypocrite. Now Sadr is telling his followers that his decision to support the same hypocrite is “in their best interest.” This change in Sadr’s position has brought the Iraqi National Alliance (INA: Sadrists, ISCI, and Fadheela) to the brink of collapse. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Assad in Tehran - The AP says Syrian President Bashar Assad is in Iran for talks that are likely to include the effect of international sanctions on Tehran and the political struggles in neighboring Iraq. "Syria and Iran wield considerable influence in Iraq among different groups — Syria with Sunnis and Iran among Shiites," typical reporting here. Syria and Iran wield influence among political groups, not ordinary Iraqis. Care to know why that's irritating? Because nobody is speaking for the Iraqi people. The ordinary people, who don't want either Syria or Iran to run the country, voted. The results of the election are now being ignored, and nobody appears to commenting on that matter. Perhaps some will argue that it doesn't matter because Iraq is so far away. Sure it is far, but its outcome will have an impact on the entire region. Okay. I'll stop talking. (READ MORE)

Lt Col P: "Afghan colonel vital to U.S. despite graft allegations" - Here is a fascinating article from the WaPo that encapsulates the obstacles and opportunities in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Although I never met the good Colonel, I know his type. Take the second paragraph for just a second: "U.S. officials say Razziq, who is illiterate and just 32, presides over a vast corruption network that skims customs duties, facilitates drug trafficking and smuggles other contraband. But, he also has managed to achieve a degree of security here that has eluded U.S. troops elsewhere in the country: His force of 3,000 uniformed policemen and several thousand militiamen pursue the Taliban so relentlessly that Spin Boldak has become the safest and most prosperous district in southern Afghanistan." 32 years old. Let's examine that for a minute. If he's 32 he was born around 1978. What was going on in Afghanistan in '78? Nothing good. In fact, '78 was about the time that the nails were hammered into the coffin of the old Afghanistan... (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: German militants said killed in Pakistan drone strike - As many as eight German militants -- alleged members of a militant group called Jihad Islami -- were said to be killed yesterday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, as the German government played down warnings about a possible attack in a major European city. It is unclear whether yesterday's drone strike was related to the Europe plot; the militants killed were said to be visiting a tribal leader linked to local Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. A law enforcement official told ABC that major airports in Europe could be targets, and Fox reports that tourist attractions in Paris and Berlin are potential sites of attacks. The FT writes that Germany's interior minister said the sites in Berlin had all been identified as targets a year ago, and CNN reports that a group from Hamburg, Germany, members of which allegedly joined an Uzbek militant organization linked to al-Qaeda, is believed to be at the center of the current plotting. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: One Year, COP Keating - I suspect among milspouses, that there is always one morning, day or night, which stands out as the point where the inherent danger of their loved ones is brought to the point of ripening. Despite reports of mortars or small arms fire being aimed at the FST, mine came to fruition on October 3, 2009. Early in the morning, I checked my email and found a very short note from my husband. Something was going down, and he said he might not be online for awhile. When a surgeon at an FST says this, one knows it's going to be bad. Immediately I contacted a contractor downrange who is in the know. They in turn had heard something similar and started to gather facts. He wrote me back: "Everyone is being very tight lipped about this." Indeed, I had scanned the mail and found very little. All I had was this single email without details. A year ago, near the village of Kamdesh in the province or Nuristan, COP Keating was overtaken. Eight Americans were killed, and 22 were wounded. After waiting, I received a brief email: (READ MORE)

The Angry American: IT PUTS THE LOTION ON ITS SKIN - I'm coming into the realization that I will just never ever be happy with anything ever. Except maybe if I win the lottery then I might have some sort of joy. I would pay bums to fight each other and be over excessive with my money and blow it all in 2 and a half weeks, if that just to be miserable again. I think that I enjoy it. No I really don't. I hated Fort Jackson, well no I hated Fort Jackson but I loved South Carolina, I loved the Columbia area and Myrtle Beach and Charleston but hated the job. I only hated the job because the hours were obsessive. I loved the people that I worked with but not so much the people that I worked for. They had their days but what made the job tolerable were the friends that I made there. We partied hard and had a great time. Even now when the occasional Soldier I had sees me or writes an e-mail to me (in which I do not respond) and tell me how I helped them or thank me for helping them, that is actually pretty rewarding. (READ MORE)

To Afghanistan and Back: Today I had the day! - So this morning I, which was really awesome because I have been wanting to for like months now. I couldn't believe how quickly it all, because you rarely expect to do that either. Afterward I went which required me to put on a different pair of shoes. CPT and I just laughed our off when he saw what SSG had put in his. When several words are missing Doesn't make much sense does it? I hope that I will not have to write my blog like that in the future. Apparently someone back in the states felt that I should edit my blog, or at least one of my entries because he or she felt that I was violating operational security (OPSEC). Just to appease that person, I did edit my blog just in case. Even though I was certain that I was not in the wrong. Strangely though that person was to scared to send me an email themselves, so they sent a message to my friend, who is also deployed with me, so that he could council me on OPSEC. (READ MORE)

Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio: Al Qaeda's #3 misidentified again - Ahmad Siddiqui, the German-Afghan at the heart of al Qaeda’s latest plot against European cities, has reportedly fingered a previously unknown terrorist as al Qaeda’s #3. According to Der Spiegel, Siddiqui has told his interrogators at the detention facility in Bagram that Sheikh Yunis al Mauritania (“the Mauritanian”) was both al Qaeda’s external operations chief and third in the chain of command, behind only Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. However, US intelligence officials contacted by the Long War Journal denied that Sheikh Yunis al Mauritania is as senior as Siddiqui has reportedly claimed. Sheikh Yunis is involved in al Qaeda’s plotting against the West, these officials said, but he is not al Qaeda’s #3. In fact, it is likely that no such position even exists within al Qaeda. Al Qaeda does not publish organizational charts, of course. So, much of the organization’s internal structure remains obscured from public view. (READ MORE)

Kalsoom Lakhani: America's Image Problem In Pakistan - Drones have been the tactic of choice in targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in the past few years. The strikes have increased significantly under President Obama’s administration, with the New America Foundation noting 79 reported attacks in 2010 so far compared to 53 in all of 2009. In September alone, the CIA reportedly conducted 22 drone strikes, “the most ever in a single month and more than twice its monthly average.” The tactic, despite killing at least around 380 militants this year (high estimates suggest about 620), is immensely unpopular among Pakistanis, and has contributed to rising anti-American sentiment in the country. On Thursday, the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow released a new poll highlighting perceptions in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The poll consisted of face-to-face interviews conducted from June 30 to July 20 with of 1,000 residents age 18 or older across 120 villages/sampling points in all seven tribal agencies, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent. (READ MORE)

Pat Dollard: Breaking: French Police Arrest Twelve Al Qaeda Terrorists - 3 of the men allegedly linked to man caught with bomb-making kit in Naples; arrests come as US, France, others step up terror vigilance. French authorities arrested twelve men on Tuesday morning on suspicion of involvement with al-Qaida and terror plots, news agencies reported. AFP reported a police source as saying the men were detained in the southern French cities of Marseille and Bordeaux. According to an official, police seized “some weapons, including a Kalashnikov and a pump-action shotgun, as well as ammunition.” Also on Tuesday, French police arrested three men said to be linked to a man of Algerian origin taken into custody by Italian police in Naples on Saturday, who is due to be extradited to France. Police reportedly found the phone numbers for the three men in the mobile phone of the Algerian man. (READ MORE)

Knights of Afghanistan: Kunar Shakedown - Last week, a Scottish development worker with DAI, Inc. was kidnapped on her way back to Jalalabad from the city of Asadabad in Kunar province. That’s “out east” to those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Afghanistan. According to reports, her two-car convoy was stopped by armed men on the road south of Asadabad and herself and three Afghans traveling with her were marched into the mountains at gunpoint. The official Taliban spokesman has said, “It wasn’t us,” but that’s really beside the point. If, as seems likely, she was grabbed by a criminal kidnap gang, the Taliban (assuming they want the hostage) will simply buy her off them for a small cash payment. The ANP immediately rounded up some village elders from the area and asked them to negotiate her release, but they were unsuccessful. According to one of my guys who is related to one of the proposed negotiators, the elders basically said to the ANP, “You want us to go up in those mountains with a police escort and try to save a foreign female infidel. Are you shitting me?” (READ MORE)

RAJIV SRINIVASAN: After Afghanistan: Risk-Averse - Upon returning from our tour in Afghanistan, the leadership of our brigade decided to provide its soldiers with a series of adventure team-building exercises. My platoon was assigned to a whitewater rafting trip. We started out slowly, on a few Class 3 and 4 rapids on Washington’s White Salmon River in the Columbia River Valley. The initial few rapids were gentle, but as our journey progressed we encountered a vigorous notch in the river’s formation that would throw our crew of rafters head first into a rock wall. Our guide maneuvered the raft to the east bank of the river, and we walked onto shore while a second guide trailed our raft over the dangerous obstacle. We skirted the river up a steep hill for almost 300 meters. Upon reaching the top, our guide introduced us to Decision Rock. “You’ve got two choices here, boys,” the guide said. “You can walk over to that rope and gently lead yourself to the raft, or you can jump off this rock wall into the river and swim. It’s your choice.” (READ MORE)

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