October 28, 2010

From the Front: 10/28/2010

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

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: Move - Have you ever hurt to your soul? If you did, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's a pain unlike any other. It's more than body pain, it's more than heart pain, it's soul pain. You feel it to the very core of your being and beyond. Your whole essence hurts. Maybe it's there every second of every day, maybe it hits you like a brick wall when you're least expecting it. But when it hits, you know. Your soul is aching. My soul hurts right now. There's emptiness and there is pain. This was not the life I had planned. I'm sure anyone in my shoes would say the same. I'm sure people not in my shoes say it, too. But really. This isn't it. When I said "Til death do us part," I didn't think it'd be when I was 23 and you had just turned 26. I didn't think it'd be during your first deployment. I thought we had many deployments ahead of us. I didn't think it'd be before you met your daughter. I didn't think it would be when we were just starting. I didn't think we wouldn't get to grow old together. I didn't think... (READ MORE)

AfghaniDan, Part II: Turkish delight - Even if you've paid attention some to the news from Afghanistan, you're probably mightily confused. Well, join the club. Still wrapped up in the saga of an impending presidential ban on security companies -- something that would almost certainly shut down a massive portion of the country's development programs and projects -- the capital now is awash in rumors of Russia sending trainers to augment NATO here (which goes over like a lead balloon, as you might imagine). When I arrive at the office of my colleagues in the Defense Ministry, I never know what to expect. The other day we watched news coverage of President Karzai's meeting with the President of Tajikistan, and couldn't help but joke to each other about how many sacks of cash were involved (Karzai just copped to receiving payments from both Iran and the U.S. in bags of cash, for which he naturally had a good explanation). (READ MORE)

Joseph Berger and John F. Burns: Leaked Reports Prompt Questions About Civilian Casualties - The whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks posted 77,000 secret field reports this summer, covering six years of the war in Afghanistan, and many of the reports shed new light on civilian deaths. The British newspaper The Guardian, which was one of several publications — The New York Times was another — that printed articles about the leaked field reports, followed up with a Freedom of Information request to the British Ministry of Defense, seeking more information about the civilian deaths. On Wednesday the newspaper, working with the Ministry’s response to that request, said that troops from three British military units had caused two-thirds of the civilian casualties attributed to the British military. In all. more than 200 different British military units circulated through Afghanistan in the years covered by the logs, according to information supplied by the Ministry of Defense... (READ MORE)

C.J. Chivers: One Poor Choice in Arming the Afghans, and Its Repercussions - The United States military has spent nearly a decade providing weapons to the Afghans it has selected as its allies in the current war. In doing so, it has distributed many tens of thousands of rifles, pistols, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The recipients of these arms have taken varied forms. Some were militias on the ground when the Special Forces and C.I.A. teams rushed into the country in late 2001. Others were auxiliary units conjured briefly to existence via American financing and that later disappeared (including the Afghan National Auxiliary Police). The largest are the official structures that thus far have endured, including units of the Afghan ministries of interior and defense. Throughout this long period of arming Afghanistan, the second time the United States has handed out huge quantities of weapons to Afghans in less than 30 years, the distributions have faced substantial Western criticism. (READ MORE)

Kristinn Taylor and Andrea Shea King: Media Matters Lies to Protect ‘Fallujah Four’ Democrats - Democratic party front group Media Matters for America has lied twice in recent weeks while coming to the defense of Democrats up for reelection who have come to be known as the ‘Fallujah Four’ for allegedly aiding terrorists in Iraq. Democrats Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA), Rep. Henry Waxman (CA), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ) were reported by an Islamic website, Islam Online, to have given diplomatic courtesy letters to Code Pink/Global Exchange to facilitate the delivery of $100,000 cash and $500,000 in humanitarian aid to what Code Pink called the “other side” in Fallujah in late 2004 as the U.S. was clearing the Iraqi city of al Qaeda and other Sunni terrorists. The letter by Rep. Waxman, obtained by Blue Star mother Beverly Perlson, was addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Jordan and requested “Any assistance you could offer… Global Exchange would be appreciated.” (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Program Helps Guard, Reserve Families Reintegrate - I traveled to my old stomping grounds of Texas recently to speak with a group of Texas Army National Guard soldiers and their families about how they’re dealing with the challenges of reintegration after a yearlong deployment in Iraq, and to learn more about a Defense Department program that’s aiding them. I joined nearly 1,800 soldiers of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and their families in Houston for their unit’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program 60-day post-deployment event. This program offers Guard and Reserve members, and their families information and resources to help smooth the process through events held before, during and after deployments. The event featured topics such as relationships and communication, financial management, stress and anger management, and health and education benefits. I spoke with several soldiers, both single and married, and their family and friends. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: "The long term may be difficult but the short term is near-impossible" - Judah Grunstein is basically right, here, when he says that two concurrent wars have broken the British military. This is the inevitable consequence of any operational approach that requires comparative expenditures on the order of 100-to-1 or more against an enemy with essentially inexhaustible human resources and no vital ground to be denied to them. The insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have been succeeding to a significant degree in spending the West into the ground. This is extremely problematic. We are going to see in the coming years an increased interest in military strategies that defeat that spending dynamic: either over-the-horizon, in-and-out sorts of approaches, or possibly finding ways to leverage host nation forces much more economically (both, one notes, traditionally the pervue of SOF; sorry, Herschel!). But barring some kind of a tragic misestimation, it's hard to see another Western-led main-force multi-year COIN fight like Afghanistan in our lifetimes. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: Things going well in Kandahar? - I want to think things are going well in Kandahar Province as much as the next guy, but everyone reading these sorts of stories should really keep in mind it's simply way too early to tell. Violence always dies down to baseline levels this time of year, and the fighters always exfil to Pakistan for winter. This will be the fifth year in a row this pattern has been observed, and every time some reporters have claimed this was the beginning of the end. For instance, here's Matthew Fisher same time a year ago. I hope that's not the case again. But what's needed is a comparison not between a peak and a trough in the violence, but between this trough and the previous troughs; and then, when spring comes, a comparison between that uphill curve and the previous ones. Saying "we're winning" in Kandahar in October is meaningless. We've always been winning... in October. A more accurate assessment might be that ISAF has now recovered roughly the same position around Kandahar geographically as we had in late 2007 or early 2008... (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Foreign Secretary issues first quarterly report on Afghanistan - Foreign Secretary William Hague has delivered the Government’s first quarterly report on Afghanistan in which he said steady progress is being made although serious risks and challenges remain. Delivering the first of the quarterly reports to Parliament that the Prime Minister announced on 14 June 2010, Mr Hague confirmed that progress in Afghanistan is the top foreign policy priority for the Government, linked closely to our foreign and development policy towards Pakistan. Mr Hague began his statement, which is prepared jointly by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, by praising the work of British forces in Afghanistan: “They are the finest any nation could hope to have,” he said. “We should also remember the families of the 341 men and women who have given their lives and the many who have been wounded..." (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: Somebody call ENDEX. - 105 days to go and I believe that to be a somewhat realistic count - give or take a few days. I avoided the eviction scenario by bringing my grievance to an influential sergeant major at the 11th hour. Once he understood that I was being moved, not to another living area, but to another room in a row BEHIND where I currently live, he called the garrison sergeant major. "Captain Violette. Not moving. End of story." In many cases, it takes an NCO to inflict common sense upon another, power hungry, vindictive, lesser NCO. So I'm probably next on the list for a roommate. Whatever. Got a few more races under my belt. Got a few more to look forward to in November. The distances are 4.41 miles (crazy I know), 10K, and 5K. Good stuff. I am experiencing lost time somewhere. Maybe I'm blacking out at work (not the worst thing to happen if so) because I had no idea that it had been so long since I've written. I'm sure that my loyal readers are used to my writing binges and dry spells. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Ripe for Investment - Here's a good news-bad news story from the National newspaper. It says for those who are willing to take a risk on Iraq, there are huge profits. And the problems they face are not what you might expect. The story says having emerged from the violence that has shaken the country since the US invasion in 2003, Iraq is now seen as increasingly ripe for outside investment. The reporter tells us there is money to be made, and the security is better: "While the country's parliament has yet to form a government from elections in March, the bombings and killings that preceded the vote have largely subsided." But here's the problem: "Investors are hungry for the returns it offers but the country's businessmen are unused to approaches from foreigners, and the modern management skills and international know-how that western investors see as necessary are largely absent." Remember those who said Iraq was doing great under Baathist rule? (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Bombing Attacks - What motivates the killers has been a question with no answer for the past several years in Iraq. Today's attacks aimed at government officials, killing at least three people. An army colonel, a general, and an interior ministry official were killed. The attacks raise the question again. Security forces have for a time been the target of attacks. Today's bombs were not different. But there was a curious detail worth nothing. This report says three bombs went off near the site of the Baghdad International Fair. “The ministry has completed preparations to kick off the Baghdad International Fair, scheduled next Monday (Nov. 1), with the participation of 1200 companies from 80 countries,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq.“The fair will be a big opportunity to boost Iraq’s economy,” he added, noting that the ministry rehabilitated and developed the fair’s location. The security forces, as flawed as they may be, are there to stabilize the country. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Have Vest, Will Travel - "Are you a U.S citizen?" (Yes.) "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" (No.) "Do you treat your mother right?" (WHAT?!) Steve at BulletProofME.com of Austin, Texas, gives me a second hanging on the phone before letting me off the hook. "Believe it or not," he says, "I once asked that of a customer, and he not only answered 'yes,' but put his mother on the line, just to prove it." After giving Steve more-humbling body measurements than I'd have needed to rent a tuxedo, I have just spent a substantial portion of this year's contribution to the Sherpa kids' college fund. I have purchased a bulletproof vest. A decidedly non-camouflaged, coyote-brown vest. One featuring a Kevlar lining that will stop small-caliber rounds and shrapnel, and capable of carrying thick ceramic plates that will stop a 7.62mm rifle round. These are, of course, features I hope only to read about, and never to test myself. It's less of an investment, and more of a statement. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Widening The Choices On The Path To Wellness - I'm so grateful for the individuals who are sending me off to Kripalu. This week I've been busy reading the articles provided to the attendees of the first Trauma-Sensitive Yoga-Teacher Training at Kripalu. The workshop is to teach already-certified teachers about the effects of trauma on the body and mind. In addition, they'll be sharing and learning about ways to work with individuals in yoga classes. There's been quite a bit of research on PTSD, and also on yoga as a means to help individuals bring balance back into their lives. Someone emailed me asking if this was in lieu of medications. No, it isn't. On a personal note, I've seen some real improvements for people who need them and are prescribed to them by professionals, and I would never dissuade or use a tone of shame against them. Rather, this is one more workshop that strives to bring an integrated approach to treatment for survivors of trauma. But it's not just for those who have been through war. (READ MORE)

Christopher Hitchens: Iraq through night-vision goggles - Since the first engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have been fed a morbid two-tone diet of casualty data, consisting either of the full names of our own casualties, printed every day, or reports of actual or possible civilians who have fallen victim to our own firepower. I don't see any reason at all to object to the stress laid on the above. But it began to seem a touch surreal when wholly unconstrained by balance. Were there no Taliban or al-Qaeda or Mahdi Army soldiers who found the strain too much for them, or wondered how long they could go on taking this proportion of dead and wounded, or even wondered whether what they were doing was justifiable? And why should the combats in Afghanistan and Iraq be the only conflicts in history where at least one rough measure of battlefield outcome--the comparative casualty estimates--was never to be published? So I was interested to read recent reports from certain provinces of Afghanistan... (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US Predators kill 7 'militants' in Datta Khel strike - After a nine-day lull, the US launched its third Predator strike in two days, in the al Qaeda hub of Datta Khel in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Unmanned Predators or the heavily armed Reapers fired two missiles today at a compound in the village of Ismail Khan in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, AFP reported. Seven "militants" were reported killed and two more were wounded. "The target was a militant compound," a Pakistani official told AFP. "Three Arabs, one Afghan and one local were killed in the attack." No senior Taliban or al Qaeda leaders were reported killed. The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar also provides shelter to top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups. Today's strike follows two others yesterday, in which six Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were killed in strikes in the Mir Ali and Datta Khel areas of North Waziristan. (READ MORE)

Etta2010: 48 HOURS OF BLUNDERS: PT 1 - So much frantic energy has been invested in keeping my spirits up, and the company's momentum moving forward (against everything), that it seems like I haven't had the opportunity to step back and appreciate the humor and joy of what's actually going on around me. Rather than take a bit of time for myself I allow the situation to overwhelm me and dictate my emotions. Stupid. Thankfully, I was recently blessed by a period of two days that captured all the best things in life -- shared happiness, shared sorrow, with plenty of tomfoolery in between to keep things interesting. I always have my Platoon Leaders develop their own plans when it's a Platoon mission, and if I see an interesting mission I want to jump on, I tag along. Obviously they have no choice when it come to participating in my operations, although I should make it clear that everyone loves my missions, and wants to go on them, not only because they're brilliant, but because they're also sure to see contact... (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: An emotional journey - It was a gray, windy fall afternoon in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where I spent part of my Tuesday after a meeting in Washington. While paying respects to several heroes I have had the honor of writing about on this blog, my emotions were all over the place. As someone who hasn't served in the military, walking among the spirits of my protectors made me question whether I've given all I can to my country. I also felt a strange mixture of grief, pride, resolve, and even panic. Are the greatest men and women of my generation getting the credit they deserve outside this cemetery's walls? Please join me in looking back at the stories of five post-9/11 heroes resting peacefully at Arlington National Cemetery. Visiting their graves was a solemn, poignant experience that I will always cherish. 1st Lt. Scott Fleming, 24, made the ultimate sacrifice on September 17 while protecting Afghanistan's parliamentary election. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: new bin Laden tape threatens France - A new audiotape from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatens to kill French citizens in retaliation for France's presence in Afghanistan and a new French law that would ban women from covering their faces in public places. France, which has around 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, may begin a withdrawal next year. A naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan was arrested by federal law enforcement yesterday in connection with an alleged plot to carry out bombings at the Court House, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Arlington National Cemetery metro stops in the Washington, DC area. Farooque Ahmed, a 34 year old husband and father with a degree in computer science who lives in a suburb of DC, is said to have met with federal agents he believed were al-Qaeda members beginning in April and turned over sketches and video of the stations. He faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: High Value Target Campaign is Failing in Afghanistan - From Greg Miller with The Washington Post: "An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan." Say it ain’t so? The high value target campaign conducted by special operations forces is failing in Afghanistan? Ten months ago I said: SOF troops come in the middle of the night and kill high value targets (always members of some one’s family), disappear into the night, and leave the GPF to explain the next day why it all occurred. It’s horrible for the campaign, bad for morale within the GPF, bad for maintenance of capabilities within the GPF, and bad for the overall qualifications of SOF and SF. Three months ago I gave the counterexample to this bad policy: (READ MORE)

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