November 15, 2010

From the Front: 11/15/2010

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

Peter Schweizer: Are We At War in Afghanistan: Yes or No? - Both former President Bush and now President Obama have committed to the United States to escalating the war in Afghanistan in an attempt to defeat the Taliban and bring some sense of stability to that country. Afghanistan is but one piece of a larger puzzle that includes Pakistan and the fate of radical insurgents globally. The stakes are incredibly high. But now comes word from President Karzai of Afghanistan that the United States should consider reducing our military operations in the country. ”The time has come to reduce military operations,” he said in an interview. And why does he think this should happen? Because he has had contact with high level officials in the Taliban and Karzai believes a peace agreement may be a real possibility. Fortunately, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have rebutted Karzai. Graham rightfully said he was “stunned” by his comments. (READ MORE)

Brian Liebman: Soldier Suicides: Is it Really Combat Related? Part 3 - In part two my final questions were what types, classes of people are being most affected by the combat experience to the point they are committing suicide. Although I hate to mention class in this day and age, the life experiences that children go through growing up in different levels of society impact a large part in how they will react to different conditions. Are inner city kids that grew up in areas with a large presence of gangs, or even gang members themselves, that for whatever reason joined the military going to respond to the violence of combat as the suburban kid that joined for the sake of school money? Is the country kid that grew up with a strong sense of family, and patriotism; That had a strong moral upbringing; That joined the military for some sense of wanting to help in the defense of his/her nation going to respond to the carnage of direct combat the same as the inner city kid described above? (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 14 NOV 2010 "MRAPs" - I post this photo mainly because I like the colors, composition and moon in the day sky. However, I can add a little this morning and give some factoids about MRAPs (AKA Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles). MRAPs are not a single vehicle type, like the HMMWVs (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles) of old. MRAPS come in many shapes and sizes, from the sexy looking M-ATV, ostensibly created to maneuver through Afghanistan's smaller bridges and roads, to the gargantuan Buffalo for engineering / IED operations. But one thing is for sure, the MRAP is certainly saving lives. In my opinion, and limited experience, I don't think that we are seeing as many of the horrific injuries that our troops suffered in Iraq while in HMMWVs (up-armored or not). As I understand it, Defense Secretary Gates was the driving force behind getting MRAPs deployed into Iraq and Afghanistan. And when I arrived in January, 2010 the MRAP numbers were growing rapidly. (READ MORE)

Free Range International: Healing Ulcer - After only 90 days of fighting to root out the Taliban of a place they have owned for over a decade, Gen McChrystal called Marjah a bleeding ulcer. That was an unbelievably stupid assessment given the nature of the enemy, the rules of engagement placed on the Marines by the General, and the paltry amount of time the Marines had invested in the fight. Marjah is still being called “the most dangerous place in Afghanistan” by embedded media which is, in my professional opinion, not true. I’ve just returned from a three day trip into Marjah after being lucky enough to catch a ride with the CO of Regimental Combat Team 1, Col Dave Furness who was taking a road trip to visit his battalions in the field. There is too much information from that trip to post in one sitting so the first dispatch from the trip will cover Marjah. The other things I saw, like Senators McCain, Lieberman, Graham and Gillibrand in the Nawa District Center will have to wait. (READ MORE)

Insight of the Moment: Musings from self portraits - Not as an act of vanity but more out of curiosity and boredom, I took a few pictures of myself just to see what would happen. I got some comfy loungewear in the mail today (for lounging around the CHU of course). Nothing crazy, just soft sleep pants and t-shirts but all black so the nasty KBR laundry won't mess them up too much. Black is a good color for doing stupid self portrait head shots too. First thing I notice is how exhausted I look. This is how I feel so I guess it should be expected. And then there is this long, unkempt, stupid hair of mine. It's all one length and lifeless. The last time I had it highlighted was before I got married in December '09. I didn't trust the Egyptian hair stylists to highlight it how I wanted. It was enough to have two stupid inches taken off which have since grown back with a vengeance. Yeah, this one is weird but it's a little different. I have lines on my face. Not from being outside. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Even Madeline Albright - Seems like every day someone else surprises us and comes around. This time it's Madeline Albright who just called Iraq "a work in progress." The former secretary of state has a special place in the memories of all Iraqis. The reason is when she was secretary of states she dismissed the deaths of Iraqi children as "worthwhile." That sentence is something nobody can forget. Speed ahead to 2010, and Albright is saying on TV that Iraq is moving along. And apparently she no longer thinks Iraq is a waste of U.S. time. She just said on TV: "I agree that we need to make sure that the place works." Thank you, I think, Mrs Albright for thinking Iraq is worth it. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Good Signs - It's good to know things are better in Iraq. The parties are in agreement, and the economy is good. The Baghdad Fair was attended by 1200 companies from 80 countries. All sorts of companies are investing in Iraq. We all know money is the key to improvement. Allawi returned to parliament, though he feels shoved aside by Nouri Al Maliki. Allawi knows he basically will be powerless. He walked out in that traditional, dramatic Arab way that does little more than humiliate himself and his followers. Fortunately someone persuaded him to return before too long. And ordinary Iraqis? Well, maybe there's good news here as well. After years of reading how sectarian and divided people are, it's kind of interesting to see a guy quoted in the LAT sound flexible: "I think Maliki will be successful," said Felah Abood Qasim who voted for Allawi. "Maliki has a sort of bravery. He can take decisions." The logical conclusion is that things are good, and they will continue to get better. (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Angry Allawi - When I read WaPo's editorial I felt foolish. I was sure that I had misread the situation in Iraq. The piece said that stability had won in Iraq. It also said that those who said Iran won the fight were not considering that Iran wanted an exclusively Shiite coalition ruling its next-door niehgbour. This blog expressed fear that Maliki would isolate Ayad Allawi and render him and his new job useless. I sincerely hope I'm wrong and Allawi was not shut out. But I'm worried I might be right. Today Allawi angrily called the parliamentary meeting "theatre" and declared power-sharing "dead." What's worse is Allawi predicted a return to violence. I hope he is wrong and letting his emotions control him for the moment. He's no prize, but he is the guy who got the most votes. Critics can argue from here until next year that he didn't win, that his votes didn't add up to a majority. But what matters is what ordinary Iraqis say. Those who went to vote for Allawi say he won. (READ MORE)

Letters to You: Care Package Drive - Was amazing. I'm not even sure if amazing does it justice. In a little over 3 weeks I was able to collect thousands of dollars and countless donations to be sent over to your friends. It really is amazing what people can pull together for. Friday was like a marathon day. I woke up at 11 and didn't stop after that. I had two classes that afternoon. Then me and Kourtney.. Picked up t-shirts, Picked up donations in the collection boxes, Went to the bank, Went to Staples to get paper, Football Game, Dinner, Shopping excursion at Wally, T-shirt organizing, Letter printing, Signs, Bed 5 am, Up 7 am, Loaded trucks until 8, Assembly until 3, 2.5 hour nap, Bank, Shipping t-shirts, Bed Midnight, Up 7 am, Post office 8 to 1130, Nap, Work til 10, Needless to say I am exhausted. At the same time, I don't even care. I'm so happy with what was accomplished this weekend. As of this morning 265 boxes have a one way ticket to trashcanistan. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: The View From Here - Regardless of size or type of unit, the Tactical Operations Center ("TOC") is the nerve-center, the hub of activity, the reptilian brain of the organization. Working in "current operations," the staff tracks where people and equipment are, what they're doing, and to whom they're doing it. Twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, working in the TOC is simultaneously thrilling, infuriating, and boring beyond belief. The TOC is like a casino, in that there are no windows. "The sun never sets in the TOC," the brigade executive officer likes to say. Reports constantly go up, down, and sideways through the TOC. Calls and contacts go out seeking more information, more detail, more ground truth. "We're driving the war from this building," the S3 Operations officer reminds his crew. "But it's the battalions that own the battlespace." It's like playing a party game of "telephone" while simultaneously assembling a jigsaw puzzle and juggling parrots. And at least one parrot is always on fire. (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: Changing Our Colors - I've spent my morning working on Girl Scout uniforms, taking off old insignia and putting on new troop numbers and council identification. It is a ritual that gets repeated every few years or so, as we move from place to place and need to update our uniforms. For me, this is a bittersweet activity for many reasons. First, it is work. If you've sewn the stuff on, it has to be ripped off and I tend to use small stitches because I hate for things to fall off. If you've ironed, there is usually only some minor pulling involved. That super Badge Magic stuff requires the use of Goof Off or dry cleaning. I'm not dry cleaning as I want to keep most of the stuff, so I spent some time with the cotton balls and the chemicals. Fun times, I tell you. Then you have to put the new stuff on...hopefully it is iron-on, but I tend to stitch anyway for my ironing-on often falls off. I do love the Badge Magic, but I'm out right now and my new shipment hasn't yet arrived. The second reason is more emotional. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Petraeus reportedly "frustrated" with Karzai's call to end night raids - Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave an interview to the Washington Post over the weekend in which he called for the reduction in military operations in Afghanistan and the end of night raids. NATO officials said Karzai's remarks frustrated Gen. David Petraeus, top commander in Afghanistan, and that NATO had received assurances that Karzai was on board with the coalition's strategy. Karzai's spokesman said the comments were a sign of a "maturing partnership". At the NATO summit in Lisbon at the end of this week, the Obama administration will reportedly present a plan to begin transferring control of certain areas of Afghanistan to Afghan security forces over the next 18 to 24 months, with the aim of keeping U.S. combat forces there until 2014, a date originally set by Karzai. By the end of 2014, though combat forces could be withdrawn if conditions permit, "tens of thousands" will likely remain in training roles. (READ MORE)

Imtiaz Gul: Karachi's Newest Threat - Thursday's combined arms attack on the criminal investigation department (CID) in Karachi, which has so far killed 18 people and injured over 100, underlines a new reality; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is now Pakistan's sworn enemy. Earlier in the week, CID agents arrested six LeJ activists allegedly connected with past and future potential acts of terrorism. Officials said the suspects were being held at the CID office when the building was attacked on Thursday. Although the vicious Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the al-Qaeda linked militant group based along the border with Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the bloody incident, the presence of LeJ activists in the building would seem to indicate at least a level of LeJ involvement in the attack, if not responsibility; Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said as much yesterday, adding that the attack showed that the TTP and LeJ "have penetrated into the city. It seems as though these people have gained strength in Karachi." (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: PTSD: A different way of seeing the present - "What? Studies to show what we've already known for a long time?" - Clinician's response to a study showing a correlation between yoga and decreased anxiety levels. The importance of studies of yoga on survivors of traumatic stress are important because they gather data using the scientific method. There are intake forms, study groups, and ways of measuring the effect to gather evidence to see how and whether or not it works. The net result? Well, a study can have an effect on whether or not yoga is going to be used by the medical community. For instance, because of a study or probably several, PTSD was able to gain a place in the DSM-IV (309.81). This opens the path for treatment of, and as importantly, for funding. Funding covers everything from being able to fold in trauma-sensitive yoga classes into the plan of treatment, helping clinicians get paid, and the ability to gain funding to start programs at veterans centers and hospitals. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US Predators kill 4 in North Waziristan - US Predator strike aircraft fired missiles at a compound and a vehicle in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan today, possibly killing four civilians. Unmanned Predators or the heavily armed and deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at compound and a vehicle in the village of Ahmad Khel in the Mir Ali area in North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials claimed that four "militants" were killed, but a Geo News reporter on the scene of the attack said that those killed "seemed to be ordinary citizens, not terrorists." The Central Intelligence Agency, which directs and executes the Predator campaign in northwestern Pakistan, has sought to limit civilian casualties and has claimed that few civilians have been killed in the strikes - less than 20 in total as of December 2009. Information gathered by The Long War Journal shows, however, that 108 civilians and 1,606 Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terror group fighters have been killed in the campaign since 2006. (READ MORE)

ArmySailor: GETTING IT OFF YOUR CHEST - Sometimes coming home, and being home, is the hardest part of war. I am beginning to think that leaving the war may be more difficult than serving in it. While you are in theatre, things tend to be pretty cut-and-dried, pretty black and white. You know what your mission is, you know your orders and you execute. You don’t think about the “why” of it all, or whether or not what you are doing is right or wrong, because you don’t have the time, nor the luxury, to do so. You sure do think about it when you come home though. When you come home, you will replay in your mind every significant event you experienced while you were in theatre, and a lot of insignificant ones as well. You’ll replay them over and over in your head and analyze them. You will think about your mistakes and lapses in judgement. You will think back and discover new mistakes, realizing that you could have, and should have, done something differently. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Walking through a grocery store - Something an Iraq war veteran told me during a February interview for a USO article stuck with me since the day we spoke. He said that after returning home from combat, simple things like walking through a store were suddenly difficult. Whether it was carefully surveying the people around him or becoming disgusted when a shopper in line complained about frivolous problems, going out in public was often a high-stress experience that spurred some very uncomfortable emotions. In 'Wartorn: 1861-2010', the new HBO documentary that premiered on Veterans Day, we actually see a combat veteran struggling with the very issue I first heard about over the winter, which was difficult for me to understand since I haven't served in the military. The film, which focuses on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Civil War to the War on Terror, introduces us to Sgt. 1st Class William Frass Jr., pictured above, who we accompany on a harrowing journey to a local Wal-Mart with his wife and daughter. (READ MORE)

Spencer Ackerman: Out of Afghanistan in 2014? Fat Chance - Remember how the U.S. got its military out of Iraq in 2010? Us neither. But on Friday in Lisbon, NATO is going to announce a light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan, set to flicker in 2014. Only just like Iraq, it won’t actually mean the decade-old war will end. But that’s not the message that the Obama administration is sending in the press. Facing a protracted, unpopular war, President Obama will give his NATO colleagues a plan to start withdrawing U.S. forces in July and “ending the American combat mission there by 2014,” the New York Times reports. Blink and you’ll miss it, but the the key word there is combat. The U.S. does much more in Afghanistan than just fight the Taliban, like training Afghan soldiers and police. And after 2014 passes, they’ll continue doing just that. Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan forces, made that explicit last week. (READ MORE)

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