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March 31, 2010

U.S. forces set sights on Taliban bastion of Kandahar

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- U.S. forces have begun the initial phases of a political-military offensive in this Taliban bastion and hope to control the city and surrounding areas by late summer, according to senior U.S. military officials.


By Karen DeYoung and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Officials have pressed local leaders and tribal elders over the past several weeks to begin holding shuras, or conferences, in Kandahar city and outlying districts, telling them that they must improve governance, address corruption and eject the Taliban. Otherwise, their areas will be the focus of expanding military operations scheduled to begin in June with the arrival of 10,000 new U.S. troops, the officials have said.

Among those specifically warned by U.S. military commanders is Ahmed Wali Karzai, the elected head of Kandahar's provincial council. American officials have for years accused Karzai, the unquestioned power broker in the province and brother of President Hamid Karzai, of administering a corrupt regime and protecting narcotics traffickers. He was also accused of orchestrating voter fraud in August's presidential election.

On a visit here Tuesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Kandahar the "center of gravity" for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and compared the importance of the offensive to the 2007 "surge" of U.S. troops that helped turn the tide in the Iraq war.

In interviews, senior U.S. military and civilian officials stressed the difference between the operations in Kandahar, an urban area that is the Taliban's heartland, and operations in neighboring Helmand province, where Marines have taken control of the Marja district and installed government officials appointed by the central government in Kabul.

"Marja is rural and was ungoverned," said Frank Ruggiero, the senior U.S. civilian official in southern Afghanistan. "Kandahar city is controlled by the Afghan government." But 80 percent of the Zhari district to the west is controlled by the Taliban, as is 40 percent of the Panjwayi district, to the southwest. There are scattered insurgent operations in the Arghandab district to the northwest, Ruggiero and other officials said.

Together, the three districts and the city proper have a population of 2 million, making Kandahar Afghanistan's second-largest population center, after Kabul.

U.S. officials, including President Obama during a surprise visit last weekend, have pressed the Afghan president to take long-promised action against his brother and other allegedly corrupt officials. But they acknowledge that their limited knowledge of tribal politics here, the power wielded by Ahmed Wali Karzai and a few others and President Karzai's reluctance to act have made it an uphill battle.

Senior administration officials in Washington said overall transition to stability and vastly improved governance in Kandahar must be completed by December, when Obama has asked Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, for an overall review of how the new strategy he announced last fall is faring. The strategy calls for U.S. military withdrawals to begin in July 2011.

"We really don't have much time," said a senior military official on McChrystal's staff of the Kandahar operation.

The political side of the offensive began in earnest last week with a shura in Arghandab organized by the provincial governor, Tooryalai Wesa. When an unrepresentative group of tribal leaders showed up, Ruggiero said, Wesa sent them home with instructions to widen the net of participation. Similar meetings are scheduled throughout the region over the next several weeks.

U.S. officials have urged President Karzai to travel here next month for a provincial shura. The pitch they have made to him, one official said, is "Mr. President, we've got to get going on Kandahar, and we need your help."

As they constructed the operational timeline for the Kandahar offensive, officials said, they undertook a "deep dive" into the collected intelligence on the area and concluded that "it's amazing what we don't know," a senior military official said. "Our knowledge of the enemy is pretty darn good." But the key to success, he said, "is understanding the tribal nature of what's going on in Kandahar, and we're not there yet."

Ahmed Wali Karzai "presents a huge challenge for us, that's for sure," another senior military official said. Added a Western diplomat in Kabul: "Is it a campaign to liberate Kandahar city from the Taliban or to liberate it from Wali Karzai? The two come together."

One senior U.S. military official described a personal visit he said he made two weeks ago to Karzai in Kandahar to threaten him with arrest or worse. "I told him, 'I'm going to be watching every step you take. If I catch you meeting an insurgent, I'm going to put you on the JPEL,' " the Joint Prioritized Engagement List, reserved for the most wanted insurgents. "That means," the official said he told Karzai, "that I can capture or kill you."

But this official and others acknowledged that they have no real evidence to back up allegations that Karzai has contacts with insurgents and that the threat is largely an empty one.

"We'd rather not have him," the military official said, "but there's nothing we can do unless we can link him to the insurgency." As an elected official, Karzai cannot simply be removed from office, and officials said the only option is to persuade his brother to ease him out of office by sending him to an overseas embassy, something the president has thus far refused to do. He has said that he has repeatedly demanded U.S. officials provide him with proof of specific wrongdoing by his brother, but that none has been forthcoming.

Ahmed Wali Karzai has proved to be a deft political operator, both within Afghanistan's complicated tribal networks and inside the U.S. government.

While he has earned the ire of U.S. military officials and diplomats, he has reportedly cultivated a longtime relationship with the CIA. The New York Times reported last fall that he had received regular payments from the CIA for several years and helped recruit a Kandahar-based militia that works on behalf of the U.S. spy agency.

"No intelligence organization discusses publicly who it may or may not deal with overseas," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said Tuesday. "But if anyone thinks this agency is supporting drug dealers, they're wrong."

A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that allegations of Ahmed Wali Karzai's ties to narcotics traffickers had never been proved. "He's a key tribal leader," the official said. "If you take out Karzai, you don't have good governance, you have no governance. He's done very good things for the United States. He's effective."

Karzai has also consistently denied allegations of corruption and wrongdoing. He did not return phone calls and text messages seeking comments for this report. Other senior officials in Kandahar also have refused to take a stand against him, either from conviction or fear.

"He's the guy who will keep Kandahar stable," Wesa, the governor, said Tuesday after holding a shura of tribal leaders with Mullen. "If he's not here on the scene," Wesa said of Karzai, "you don't want to see what's going to happen."

For now, the strategy is to try to reduce the influence of Karzai and other power brokers by increasing that of other tribal and political leaders and providing them with the economic and good-governance tools to succeed.

The military aspects of the operation began about two months ago with targeted operations leading to the detention of about 70 mid- and senior-level Taliban leaders, with a slightly smaller number killed, according to U.S. officials. The next stage, an official said, will involve a "body blow" to areas under Taliban control, with the arrival of two U.S. combat brigades and Special Forces contingents that will move quickly to take control of the main highway into the city, through Zhari, to the west.

The bulk of U.S. troops will remain outside the city, while a trained and uncorrupt police force -- yet nonexistent -- will be installed inside Kandahar city.

"We have about four months," a military official said. "In that time, we have to flow our forces in and stay on that timeline." If U.S. and Afghan officials have retained and expanded security control in Helmand, while "moving toward a solution in Kandahar that the people support . . . then we've got the momentum," the official said.

The timeline also has larger goals, including a new police training structure and increased recruitment, as well as continued growth in the strength and competence of the Afghan army.

By fall, an additional 5,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to eastern and northern Afghanistan, for a total of 98,000 in the country, with about 40,000 from international partners. At the same time, the four-region command structure under McChrystal, with a U.S. command in the east, British in the south, Italian in the west and German in the north, is to be grown to five regions.

Helmand and the rest of the southwest will be broken off to form a new U.S. command with the Marines and British troops. The British commander in the south, scheduled to depart in November, will be replaced by a U.S. general, leaving the United States in command of three of the five regions.

Whitlock reported from Washington. Correspondent Keith Richburg and special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul and staff writer Greg Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

Harvesting Democracy in Afghanistan

We flew into Marjah over a patchwork of poppy fields — not exactly a sea of poppies, but plenty of them. It was two weeks before the harvest, and the last blossoms were floating away in the dusty haze of Helmand province, leaving the prohibitively weird-looking, blue-gray bulbs bald and ready for processing, like an army of alien vegetative creatures. We landed in a wheat field just across the road from the district governor's pathetic headquarters. It was Day 45 after the operation to retrieve Marjah from the Taliban had begun, and the highest-ranking U.S. military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was paying a congratulatory visit to the area.


By Joe Klein Wednesday, Mar. 31, 2010

Mullen received a briefing from the local Marine commanders. The Taliban had been driven out of town but were still lurking about at night, trying to intimidate the locals. Then he was greeted by the provincial governor, Gulab Mangal, one of the few Afghan officials with a reputation for both probity and effectiveness. A shura consisting of about three dozen tribal elders was waiting under a sheer nylon tent adorned with local rugs. Mangal made an opening statement, explaining that most of these elders had turned against the outlandishly corrupt provincial Afghan government years ago (Mangal's immediate predecessor had been caught with nine tons of opium in his compound). They had supported the Taliban as a more orderly option but were ready, allegedly, to switch sides. What they really wanted was a real government providing real services — although they were adamant about one demand: they wanted the U.S. and Afghan national security forces to police the area, not the local cops who had plundered them at will in the past. And then an extraordinary thing happened: the shura turned into the sort of town-council meeting that you'd see anywhere in the world. One of the elders stood and presented a list of requests — more schools, a decent hospital, paved roads, repair of the irrigation system. "We don't need you to cooperate with the work," the elder concluded. "We know how to work."

Mullen later admitted he was touched by the pride of the elders and the simplicity of the requests. But he had to warn them, "I didn't come here today with any magic formula ... Inshallah, we will provide the services as soon as possible." The entire Marjah project — which is meant to be a model for all Afghanistan — will rest on the ability of the Afghan government to make good on that. The early returns are not promising. Commanding General Stanley McChrystal promised a "government in a box" that would unwrap itself as soon as the Taliban were tossed from town, but several U.S. civilian aid workers told me that the Afghan ministries were slow off the mark and hadn't yet arrived. The real work of winning Marjah hadn't really begun.

And yet there was a distinct giddiness at NATO headquarters in Kabul. Senior military officials briefed the reporters traveling with Mullen and said, in effect, that the tide had turned. In several crucial southern sectors, the Taliban were demoralized. "We're putting unbelievable body blows onto the midlevel Taliban cadre," a senior U.S. official said, adding that he expected to be in a significantly stronger position within four months. The more wary military officers were worried about moving too quickly ahead of the Afghan government's capabilities. One called it "rushing to failure." Another called it "catastrophic success," a term last used after U.S. forces reached Baghdad in three weeks and had absolutely no idea how to control what they'd won.

The optimism will soon be tested in Kandahar, the second largest Afghan city. "Kandahar is as critical to this war as Baghdad was to Iraq," Mullen says. But the military's description of the upcoming battle is curious: there won't be one. There will be a shift in the local gestalt, bypassing or re-engaging or seducing the local strongman, Ahmed Wali Karzai (the President's half brother); the Afghans will cobble together their own political solution, somehow. There will be some operations against the Taliban, mostly to prevent them from entering the city; indeed, U.S. troops may not show themselves in downtown Kandahar. "We can shura our way to success," a senior military official actually said. Really? Not if we're depending on the Karzai regime to deliver the governance goods. I must admit utter confusion; I've never heard the U.S. military talk so ... airily before.

Meanwhile, in Marjah, Mangal was telling the local elders that he didn't want them growing poppies next year. He will offer them cash incentives not to. "When you cultivate poppies, you are not contributing to life," he told them. "You can produce food and build our country." A few of the elders raised their eyebrows and nodded at each other; a few others smiled.

General: 'Finish the job' in Afghanistan

As he prepares to go to Afghanistan, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton says his goal is to build on coalition forces' successes against the Taliban, win over the populace and help Afghan troops develop their own security.


Published: March 31, 2010

Major Gen. Richard P. Mills was in San Clemente on Wednesday, telling the Rotary Club that Marines already in Afghanistan have had "extraordinary success" against the Taliban and that Afghans are beginning to see what a post-Taliban future can hold for them.

"My mission is to build on that momentum ... to finish the job," Mills said, "to institute a good governance – peace in the province – and institute Afghan security measures so they can then stand up on their own two feet."

On April 12, Mills will assume command of nearly 20,000 Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. His command expects to include 5,000 British troops, some Georgians and possibly Jordanians.

Deployment of Marines has been under way for more than a month. "Seventy percent are on the ground," Mills said. "My headquarters moves within the next week."

Mills told the Rotarians that as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Forward, he expects to hand the Taliban defeat after defeat while winning support of the Afghan people. It is important to convince the locals that the coalition's intent isn't foreign occupation but working with Afghans to help make their lives better, Mills said.

Success will be when there is an Afghan government that has security in place and will not tolerate a base of international terrorism on Afghan soil, he said.

Mills' troops are trained in cultural awareness and respect for cultural norms, he said. That includes 44 female Marines who are specially trained in Afghan cultural sensitivities.

Marines will never go out alone but will always be alongside Afghan troops, Mills said. "When we knock on doors to search a house, it'll be Afghan troops that knock on that door," he said.

"The Afghan army is good," Mills said. "They're tough fighters. The Afghan soldiers we are recruiting like to go to the sound of the guns. We will teach them the rest of being soldiers – how you serve your country, what a professional army really does, how you're a tool of the people, not a repressive tool."

A companion goal is to recruit and train Afghan police to serve the people, not repress them or use them for personal gain, he said.

"That will be all about recruiting the right people, identifying the right leadership, providing the proper training for them and then mentoring them through examples that we can set for them," Mills said. "I promise you we will be successful at that, as well."

Contact the writer: [email protected] or 949-492-5127

HMH-466 Provides Heavy Lift for Marines in Marjah

Since the start of operations in Marjah, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, has flown more than 275 hours, carried more than 1,500 passengers and transported more than 500,000 pounds of cargo in support of Operation Moshtarak.


3/31/2010 By Cpl. Samuel A. Nasso , Marine Aircraft Group 40

"I feel that HMH-466 has made a difference by supporting the Marines on the ground in accomplishing their mission of driving Taliban forces out of Marjah and returning the city to its people," said Capt. Andrew Baxter, the safety officer for HMH-466.

The squadron, known as the "Wolfpack," provided heavy lifting capabilities for MAG-40 utilizing the CH-53E "Super Stallion" helicopter. The Super Stallions are capable of carrying more than 70,000 pounds, traveling at speeds up to 150 knots and flying more than 500 nautical miles without refueling.

"We support the Marines up there by resupplying them with water, food and various gear and supplies they need to accomplish the mission," said Capt. Daniel Robinson, a pilot with HMH-466. "Along with the necessities, we also deliver vital mail to the Marines on the ground."

It's been weeks since the beginning of Operation Moshtarak and the Wolfpack has flown seemingly endless numbers of troops and supplies into Marjah.

"By bringing Marines in and out of Marjah, we have helped them accomplish their mission," said Baxter. "Furthermore, we have participated in a number of flights that have brought government officials into Marjah in order to participate in Shuras [a meeting for tribal elders]."

With the initial insert complete, Marines are now focused on keeping the area secure and helping local citizens to return to the formally Taliban-controlled town. The mission in Marjah is now in the build phase, allowing not only the local government to stand up, but facilitating local businesses reopening and operating as well.

Chairman Emphasizes Eliminating Civilian Casualties

KABUL - The coalition record on civilian casualties has improved significantly as a new strategy has gone into place in Afghanistan, but American leaders continue to hammer home how important it is to avoid killing civilians.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.31.2010
Posted: 03.31.2010 08:59

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited with troops serving on the front lines of the war in Regional Command South. Marines in Marjah – the site of the recent offensive in Helmand province – asked him about the rules of engagement. Troops in other venues ask him about the furor over civilian casualties.

One Marine yesterday wondered why the Americans – who try desperately not to kill civilians – are pilloried when an accident occurs, yet the Taliban seems to kill fellow Afghans with impunity.

"The question that surrounds civilian casualties ... takes me immediately to the lack of depth and breadth of understanding that we had ... about the severity of the outcome and the impact it has," Mullen said to reporters traveling with him. "We just can't win it if we keep killing the locals."

The enemy uses any accidental civilian death against American or coalition forces. Mullen said Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in the country, shared with him the results of a study showing what happens in an area when civilian casualties occur.

"When we cause them, they generate a serious uptick in violence for up to five months," he said. "When the Taliban causes them, they generate an uptick in violence for about three months."

Coalition leaders know that civilian casualties have a huge impact on the overall strategy, Mullen said, and the study McChrystal commissioned proves that. "We know that the Taliban use that against us, and we are working hard to both denounce that and take that away, but they are very good and agile in attacking us," he said.

Coalition forces have to get to the point where they are not causing civilian casualties at all, he added, and when the local people know only the Taliban are causing civilian deaths, and it will start to work against the enemy. "We're not there yet," he said.

Challenges Clear to U.S.-Afghan Partnership, Mullen Says

KABUL - After visits to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan's Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today that "never has our partnership ... been stronger, or the challenges we face, clearer."


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.31.2010
Posted: 03.31.2010 09:01

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen completed a rigorous three-day visit to Afghanistan that took him to the region of the recent offensive in Marja in Helmand province. Mullen also attended a "shura" – a meeting of community leaders -- at the governor's palace in downtown Kandahar.

In central Helmand, Mullen saw the results of the offensive. Though combined Afghan and U.S. forces cleared them from many villages, the Taliban remain a presence. Intimidation remains, but the security situation is improving, the chairman said.

Still, he added, the offensive was a good example of how U.S., Afghan and coalition forces can work together to protect the people of Afghanistan, and it certainly has lessons for the upcoming fight for Kandahar.

The city is the very heart of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the chairman said. "Nearly half of President [Barack] Obama's 30,000 troop commitment has made it to theater, with more coming every month," Mullen said. "They are coming to Kandahar – the cornerstone of our surge effort and the key to shifting momentum from the enemy to the Afghan people."

While Mullen said he is encouraged, he added that patience is necessary noting that the operation into Marja was launched only 45 days ago.

The same ideas and elan that went into planning operations in Marja will go into Kandahar operations, the admiral said, but the worlds of the two places are far apart, so the tactical operations won't be the same. Marja is rural, with a population of roughly 70,000 spread over a large area, and the Taliban ruled there for the last two years. Kandahar has a population of more than 2 million and has a plethora of tribes, family groups, local power brokers and drug lords, Mullen explained.

"It's a much bigger challenge," he said, "and I think [it] has a much greater potential to achieve the goal of reversing [Taliban] momentum."

U.S. military and State Department officials talk about using the shura system as a way to work out thorny issues in the country that help to spur people to join the insurgents.

The partnership between U.S. and Afghan forces also has been crucial, Mullen said. "Many of the leaders [at the shura in Marja] told me that the security in many places was much improved – the result of extraordinary partnering and Afghan leadership," he said. "But so too, did they speak of Taliban intimidation, local corruption and a real economic need."

The leaders at the shura spoke of education, roads, health care, help for agriculture, and the need for jobs, Mullen said. He said he was struck by how normal the requests sounded, and that it appeared to him that the people of Marja just want to get on with their lives. Provincial leaders have heard these calls, but the capability to produce is limited.

Mullen said the U.S. military shares the desire for security and stability throughout Afghanistan that the people of Marja and Kandahar want. "We share the view that Afghan security forces, properly trained and equipped, can protect its citizens," he said.

The operation in Marja stands as a testament to that fact. More than 10,000 American troops are in Helmand, serving alongside coalition and Afghan partners.

"We still work hard every day to create security conditions conducive to economic development," the chairman said. "We're undoubtedly making progress, as I saw myself. Many villages are safe again. The streets are filling, and the shops are open.

"I must applaud here the terrific work of the Afghan National Army," he continued. "I heard from more than one American soldier and Marine how far the [Afghan army] has come in a short period of time. They fight bravely, they fight well, and they lead."

Mullen also said he is pleased with the way the Afghan National Civil Order Police operated in Marja. Police training has been under-resourced, and local police often have been put on the streets with no training, he said.

"We know this is a problem, and we are addressing this," he said. The people of the region want the civil order police to stay, he added.

Still, the admiral said, continued progress is not assured.

"We have moved to the 'hold and build' phase in many areas, and we will find ourselves clearing out areas in many others," he said. "The Taliban continue to be pervasive and persistent. It will take more work, and likely more bloodshed, to break it loose.

"Too sanguine an approach is just as treacherous as too little fortitude to see it through," he continued. "We have learned in this long fight that failure makes itself obvious; success takes longer to see."

Wounded find new freedom in scuba classes

By Dan Blottenberger, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, March 31, 2010

BAMBERG, Germany — Spc. Joseph Pickering has found a way to let some of his painful memories of the Iraq war float away.

To continue reading:


Marines, sailor recognized for heroic actions in the line of fire

What they saw as simply doing their duty, many see as an act of heroism.


March 31, 2010 6:25 PM

Four Marines and a sailor assigned to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command received recognition for heroic actions in the line of fire on Wednesday, receiving among them three bronze stars with combat “V” device, a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal with combat device, and a silver star.

While on a deployment to Afghanistan in 2008, the men, all assigned to Marine Special Operations Advisor Group, Marine Special Operations Team 5, came under attack from insurgents on Oct. 28 while on a patrol. Though they were outnumbered nearly three to one, and the Afghan insurgents were skilled, the American troops returned fire and defended each other, continuing to fight in some cases despite gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

The commander of MarSOC, Maj. Gen. Paul E. Lefebvre, presented the awards, pausing first to greet each the family members in attendance personally. For those at the ceremony unfamiliar with the terminology of war, he summed the events up simply.

“All you need to know is, all the guys who are receiving awards today are absolutely heroes,” he said.

And their work, he said, was a part of the larger task Marine Special Operations continues to accomplish.

“We are taking the enemy, and we’re taking senior leadership off the battlefield,” he said. “Thank you,” he said to the family members, “for supporting your warriors in terms of what they are doing.”

Capt. Christian Pfeffer, the assistant team leader of MSOT 5 and the recipient of a bronze star with combat “V” on Wednesday, said he saw the task ahead of him while in the field more simply: “take it to the enemy, and keep my Marines safe.”

Pfeffer received two gunshot wounds to the arm when his team was attacked, according to his award citation, and continued to lead the men, covering over a kilometer of ground under fire and assisting fellow Marines in the fight.

Master Sgt. Richard Wells and Gunnery Sgt. Jody Wagner also received bronze stars with “V” device; Wells, a team chief, for heroism in using accurate small arms fire and grenades to repel insurgent fighters and coordinating friendly fires, according to his citation, and Wagner, a team operations Staff NCO, for clearing enemy compounds and coming to the assistance of a wounded Marine while under fire.

Wells downplayed his role in the conflict.

“As a career Marine, I was doing my job and just doing my best to take care of the Marines in our charge,” he said.

Chief Petty Officer Joseph Clairmont, a Navy chief hospital corpsman, received a Navy and Marine Corps commendation medal with combat distinguishing device for rushing to the side of an injured Marine under fire, treating the injury and then returning enemy fire, using an M9 pistol after his M4 carbine was hit by gunfire.

Wagner and Clairmont were also recognized for heroic actions on Sept. 3, 2008, when their patrol was ambushed by insurgents.

And Staff Sgt. Mark Robinson, a team element leader, received a Silver Star, one of the Marine Corps’ highest honors, for single-handedly holding off an enemy counterattack with his M249 machine gun. When a rocket-propelled grenade blast threw him against a wall, he quickly threw himself back into the fight, according to citations, exposing himself to gunfire so that a wounded Marine could be treated, then fending off about 50 insurgents while the team withdrew from the area.

Robinson said the events of the day had happened so fast that he didn’t think; he just did.

“If you take the time to think about it, it might cost the life of a guy,” he said. “We do what we can for the guys to our left and our right.”

Robinson was joined on Wednesday by members of his family, who have a tradition of serving in the military, he said. But, he said, none of them had received recognition like this before.

“They were excited,” he said. “It was just shock and awe.”

IJC Operational Update, March 31

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound on the outskirts of Marjah, in the Nawah-ye Barakzai District of Helmand province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force detained a few suspected militants for further questioning.


Iraqi Media Engagement Team RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.31.2010
Posted: 03.31.2010 03:41

In Khowst last night, a joint force searched a compound south of Lewan Kheyl, in the Sabari District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force detained a suspected militant for further questioning and found automatic rifles, ammunition and chest racks.

In Pakyiya last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound south of Heybat Kheyl, in the Zurmat District, after intelligence indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Haqqani commander responsible for leading several small groups of fighters.

In the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand this morning, an Afghan-international security patrol found three 105mm rockets and an intelligence radio. The rockets will be destroyed.

No shots were fired and no Afghan citizens were harmed during these operations.

Public Rallies to Marine Dad’s Support

Outraged that the father of a dead U.S. Marine was ordered to pay the court costs incurred by a group that he had sued for picketing his son's funeral, people from across the country have launched a grass roots fundraising effort to help the grieving family.


March 31, 2010
Baltimore Sun

"I was appalled," said Sally Giannini, a 72-year-old retired bookkeeper from Spokane, Wash., who had called The Baltimore Sun after seeing its story about the court decision against Albert Snyder. "I believe in free speech, but this goes too far."

Living on fixed income, Giannini said she could only send $10 toward the $16,510.80 that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Snyder to pay to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., an anti-gay group that travels the country picketing military funerals. The group says Soldier deaths are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

Snyder sued Westboro because its members waved signs saying "God hates fags" and "God hates the USA" at the 2006 funeral in Westminster of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who had been killed in Iraq. A federal jury in Baltimore awarded Snyder $11 million in damages in 2007, saying that Phelps' group intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the family. The award was later reduced to $5 million, and eventually overturned on appeal.

As news of the order to pay Westboro's court costs spread through the media and online, strangers were moved to send money and set up funds to support Snyder's court battle.

On Tuesday, Mark C. Seavey, new media director for the American Legion, posted a message on his Legion-affiliated blog, The Burn Pit, urging readers to donate to the Albert Snyder Fund. The American Legion's message was picked up by conservative political blogger Michelle Malkin, who called the Westboro protesters "evil miscreants" and urged readers to donate.

"Regardless of how you feel about the merits of the Snyders' suit, the Snyders deserve to know that Americans are forever grateful for their son's heroism and for the family's sacrifice. We shouldn't stand by and watch them bankrupted," Malkin wrote.

Money from donations will go toward covering the money owed to Phelps, and beyond that, toward preparing further appeals, Seavey said.

"As soon as we heard this, we just knew that it was going to go through the roof, and people were going to be upset. We seized on it," Seavey said. "On an issue like this that cuts across political lines, it's relatively easy, and it's the kind of fight we want to wade into because it's not right or left, it's right or wrong. We're going to do the best we can to make sure that Mr. Snyder doesn't have to deal with this. We're going to make sure he doesn't have to pay a red cent."

In a phone interview Tuesday, Snyder said he was "exhausted" by the long legal ordeal, but heartened by the outpouring of support. He said he has received about 3,000 e-mail messages from people across the country who wanted to show their support and planned to contribute.

"It kind of restores your faith in mankind after dealing with this wacko church," Snyder said. "Win or lose, I'll know that I did everything I could for Matt, and for all the Soldiers and Marines who are still coming home dying."

From Web sites to Twitter pages, people were galled that the grieving father of a fallen Marine would have to pay a group that uses such inflammatory tactics. A Facebook group called "I support Al Snyder in His fight against Westboro Baptist Church" had drawn nearly 12,000 members by the end of the day Tuesday.

In September, the 4th Circuit Court threw out the Baltimore jury's award to Snyder on free speech grounds. A month later, Westboro filed a motion to recoup court costs from both the original suit and the appeal, for a total of $96,740.21. Friday's judgment covers only costs from the appeal.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this month to hear a new appeal of the case, which experts say is being closely watched by First Amendment advocates. If the Supreme Court sides with Snyder, he won't have to pay Westboro's court costs.

"The most alarming part is that [the 4th Circuit] sat on it for months, and only ruled on it after the Supreme Court agreed to hear it," said Sean E. Summers, Snyder's York, Pa.-based lawyer. "The other troubling fact was that we were trying to raise about $20,000 to file a Supreme Court brief. Now we have [to raise] another $16,500. ...There are definitely extenuating circumstances, given that Mr. Snyder doesn't have the resources to pay."

Snyder, who lives in York, does in-house sales for a small electronics firm and, according to court filings, earns $43,000 a year.

Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., predicted that the Supreme Court will not address issues of where protesters are permitted to demonstrate, as it has in the past in the case of abortion protesters. Instead, he said, the case is important because "it has the potential to define whether we're going to create a new exemption to freedom of speech that is emotionally distressing."

"You can imagine that Martin Luther King and others inflicted emotional distress on people, if they were committed to segregation," he said. "I shudder to think if those people were armed with the weapon of suing him because the issue itself was repugnant to them."

For some supporters, the issue is not so much the right to free speech as the right to a peaceful burial of fallen Soldiers.

Alice M. Johnson, 56, of Lynbrook, N.Y., said she donated $50 to Snyder's cause. Since 2008, Johnson has been a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that sends supporters to troops' funerals to shield their families from protesters.

"I agree that people have the right to free speech," she said, "but that should not be allowed in a place where people are laying their children to rest who died for their country."

Hyperbaric chamber may treat TBI

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Mar 31, 2010 7:47:00 EDT

The Defense Department hopes to find a better treatment for the 100,000 troops who have been diagnosed with mild Traumatic Brain Injury since 2003, and it’s looking at hyperbaric chambers — often used in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning — for the answer.

To read the entire article:


March 30, 2010

Pentagon: Operations Underway Against Taliban in Kandahar

The U.S. Defense Department says efforts to seize control of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar are well underway in advance of what is expected to be a major military operation in June against militants in southern Afghanistan.


Meredith Buel | Washington 30 March 2010

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said U.S. troops for months have been doing the preparatory work for the operation against the Taliban in their spiritual home and birthplace of Kandahar.

Morrell said soldiers are securing routes in and out of the city, which has been rocked this month by suicide bombings and assassinations. "You're seeing additional shaping operations or you aren't seeing them. But they are underway in Kandahar proper by some of our special operations forces, who are right now engaging with tribal elements there, who are facilitating some of the shuras [i.e., meetings with tribal leaders] that are taking place, which are also a critical component to the shaping that's necessary for success in Kandahar and who are also, of course, going after mid-level and high-level Taliban fighters who are holed up within Kandahar proper," he said.

Morrell declined to say when the military will begin significant fighting in Kandahar. U.S. officials in Afghanistan say the offensive is expected in June.

U.S. President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this year - the bulk of whom are to be deployed in Taliban strongholds in the southern part of the country.

The scale of the American offensive in Kandahar is expected to be far greater than the recent attack on insurgents in Marja, where thousands of U.S. Marines and Afghan Army soldiers began clearing the Taliban in February.

The Pentagon's Geoff Morrell says the Marines are continuing their operations in Marja because there still is a Taliban presence there. "That is why our forces remain there and in the same kind of numbers that they were when this operation began. That is why, although we are now in the holding and the building phase of this operation, there is still clearing work that remains to be done. And we are still trying to root out Taliban who are dug in and hiding or blending in," he said.

U.S. officials in Afghanistan say the intense phase of the operation against the Taliban in Kandahar is expected to last about two months and is designed to be complete before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in August.

Morrell says the Pentagon hopes the offensive will deal a fatal blow to the insurgency. "We certainly hope it will be one that will break the back, to a large extent, of the Taliban who have called it home and who have used it as a sanctuary for some time. But I don't think that anybody is of the belief that that operation in and of itself will spell victory in Afghanistan," he said.

Analysts say the military operations in southern Afghanistan are a key test of President Obama's strategy for reversing the rise of the Taliban, while protecting the Afghan population.

Chairman Meets With Kandahar Leaders

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Navy Adm. Mike Mullen attended a meeting of community leaders in the governor's palace here March 30 – a building that used to be the headquarters for Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.30.2010
Posted: 03.30.2010 06:11

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a full day of meetings with Afghan and coalition leaders.

The meeting – called a "shura" -- is the way Afghans get things done, said Frank Ruggiero, the senior civilian official at Regional Command South. It is the traditional way that Afghans discuss and argue and negotiate on matters affecting their community. Shuras are held at all levels of society, from small villages to nationwide.

The Kandahar shura was hosted by provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa and included district governors and sub-district leaders, as well as representatives of the tribes and elders held in respect throughout the province. The subject of the discussion was the way forward in Kandahar.

All in the shura recognized the problems created by corruption, but they disagreed on how to fight it. They also agreed on the need for security, but disagreed on who would provide it or which tactics work. "It's a process," Ruggiero said. "It will take a while."

Earlier, Mullen stopped at Forward Operating Base Wilson and spoke to the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, out of Fort Carson, Colo. Defense leaders had to extend the unit's stay in Afghanistan for 10 days. The unit was supposed to leave at the end of May, but now won't leave until June.

"In particular, I wanted to be with you and talk about your extension," Mullen said. "There were rumors beginning in January, and now that has happened. We worked like crazy to see if we could avoid that extension." He explained to the soldiers that changes to the battle space west of Kandahar made the choice inevitable.

Mullen thanked the troops for their sacrifice and also thanked their families.

"You couldn't do what you are doing without your families, and we really appreciate that they are sacrificing, too," he said.

Mullen moved on to Kandahar, where he met with the soldiers of the 20th Engineer Battalion. The 20th was one of the units processing through the facility at Fort Hood, Texas, when the Nov. 5 shooting rampage took place. The chairman met with soldiers of the unit and then pinned medals on soldiers for their actions that day. He also re-enlisted three soldiers.

Also in Kandahar, the admiral met with Vermont National Guardsmen of the 89th Brigade Combat Team – a unit he federalized earlier this year in Vermont.

Kandahar Offensive to Focus on Good Governance

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan—The American surge into Afghanistan, which kicked off in February with the capture of Marjah, is moving to Kandahar—a far more valuable prize.


* MARCH 30, 2010

The coming operation to secure Afghanistan's second-largest city will look completely different from Marjah, where thousands of U.S. Marines fought their way into rural areas under total Taliban control, say American and Afghan officials drafting the campaign.

"Kandahar is a political problem," Frank Ruggiero, the top U.S. civilian official in southern Afghanistan, explained as he toured the city to prepare the push. "And the campaign in Kandahar will be led by governance."

No combat is needed for coalition or Afghan troops to enter Kandahar city, the Taliban movement's birthplace. Unlike Marjah, this metropolis of one million people has remained under government authority, albeit an increasingly tenuous one, since the Taliban regime's downfall in 2001. U.S. and Canadian patrols rumble through the city every day; a huge coalition base sits in its outskirts.

The Afghan government here, however, has been so weak, predatory and corrupt that more and more Kandaharis have come to view the Taliban as a lesser evil. Changing this perception holds the key to victory in the city—and to the success of the surge, coalition officials say.

"The specific objective is to make the Afghan government a more viable option for people to turn to," says Mr. Ruggiero, whose rank is equal to an army major-general. "It's to show that the government has more relevance to their lives vis-à-vis the shadow governance of the Taliban."

Coalition efforts in coming months will focus on establishing functioning government offices, backed up by Afghan and coalition forces, in all of the city's 10 districts, and on bolstering the authority of provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa and Kandahar Mayor Haidar Hamidi by providing them with more staff, and more sway over how international reconstruction money is spent.

Another priority would be to enforce weapons laws, set up new and more efficient checkpoints all over the city, and overhaul the local police force that, Mr. Ruggiero says, is often "the entity that instead of providing security is taking from the people."

Within this low-rise, sprawling city, the military surge in coming months is likely to be limited to more U.S. military police and military intelligence troops, and to Afghan army, intelligence and plainclothes police deployments.

Things will be very different, however, in the rural districts surrounding Kandahar city, such as Zhari and Arghandab, where large areas are under full Taliban control. Marjah-like clearing operations are likely there this summer, once U.S. reinforcements arrive, American and Afghan officials say.

Afghan officials also see operations in the more-distant districts of Ghorak and Mia Neshin, where the Taliban have completely supplanted government authorities.

There appears to be little appetite for all this fighting among ordinary Kandaharis. "If they put pressure on the Taliban in the districts, the Taliban will retaliate inside Kandahar city—and no one can prevent them," says 26-year-old shopkeeper Mohammad Alam.

Kandahar already is succumbing to panicky rumors about the planned campaign, says Gov. Wesa. "They think it will be bombs, tanks, artillery in the city," he says. He says no decision on combat operations will be made without consulting with Kandahar residents first: "We've learned our lessons in Marjah, and hopefully they won't be repeated here."

One of the first such consultations was a meeting between Gov. Wesa, Mr. Ruggiero and a few dozen Kandahar University students last week at the governor's palace, which faces a shrine where Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar in 1996 wrapped himself in a cloak believed to have belonged to the Prophet Muhammad, claiming to lead all of the world's Muslims.

Student after student hit the same themes—rule of law, corruption, tribal balance—that Mr. Ruggiero had explained as the coalition's priorities in a talk to American and Canadian civilian staff at a military base in the city the previous night.

"If there is a good district chief in an area, there won't be any bomb blasts or suicide bombings," said one student, Abdurahman. "If you get the right people in place, there won't be any need for military operations."

Coalition officials here and in Kabul say they are aware of the popular anger with Kandahar's existing power brokers, among them president Hamid Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali. They hope to marginalize these power brokers in coming months, or at least to pressure them into moderating their behavior—something that would require direct and active involvement by Mr. Karzai.

"As you build up the strength of the formal functions of the state, the informal actors will see some of their powers fade away," Mr. Ruggiero predicts. "Leadership in Kabul will be critical to this."

Greater tribal balance in Kandahar, where Mr. Karzai's Popolzai tribe and the powerful Barakzai tribe wield disproportional influence, would remove another major source of instability. Without redressing this imbalance, officials say, a sense of exclusion from power and economic spoils will continue pushing many other communities—especially the large Ghilzai tribes—into Taliban hands.

Overhauling the somnolent and corrupt justice system, which usually lets Kandahar's powerful men go unpunished, is another priority. "The Taliban, one of the things that they bring, and that the people genuinely want from them, is the sense of justice—quick, brutal, but it's justice," says Mr. Ruggiero. Right now, he adds, "the average Kandahari feels disenfranchised."

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at [email protected]

Mullen Hears From Afghans, Marines

MARJAH, Afghanistan - The Marines who work at the governmental center here would feel right at home at an old cavalry post in the American West.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.30.2010
Posted: 03.30.2010 04:49

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited with local and provincial Afghan leaders and with U.S. Marines here today. The admiral said he wants to talk to the people on the ground to get a feel for how operations in this southern Afghanistan city are going.

The center looks like Fort Apache with razor wire and Hesco barriers. The center itself is a two-story building in the middle of a roughly five-acre piece of property. Guard towers are at the entrance, and the whole is surrounded by a 12-foot mud wall.

On one side of the square, Afghan National Civil Order Police and Marines live side by side in tents. The tents are surrounded by Hesco barriers that are so new that some of them are not filled with dirt yet. On the other side of the compound, Afghans are drilling a well.

"We hope to hook up a shower tent to it," said Marine Corps Cpl. Chris Learish, a communications expert with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. None of the Marines working at the compound has had a shower for almost two months.

In the center of the compound, the Afghans erected an awning where Mullen first received briefings from U.S. and Afghan military and police leaders, then met with about 30 elders and tribal leaders from the surrounding area.

The Afghan leaders came for a shura – a meeting of community leaders -- hosted by Helmand province's Gov. Gulab Mangel. Following the shura, Mullen walked down the street outside the government center. Finally, he sat down and had a field-ration lunch with the Marines doing the tough jobs in Marja.

If there was any doubt about who owned the compound, four Afghan flags flew from its highest points.

The operation in Marja tested the new strategy for Afghanistan, and Mullen said he wanted to hear from the people on the ground how it worked. Afghan leaders – including President Hamid Karzai – helped to plan the operation, and local leaders asked for coalition and Afghan security forces to help them.

Marine Corps Col. Randy Newman, commander of the 6th Regimental Combat Team, briefed Mullen first. He spoke of the fight the Marines had in Marja – a large agricultural area that the Taliban had controlled for more than two years. He was followed by Marine Corps Lt. Col. Cal Worth, commander of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, who spoke of the fight in the town.

Afghan Police Col. Sakhi, commander of the Afghan Civil Order Police partnered with the Marines, spoke of the fight and what his police have been doing to extend government control. Afghan army Col. Nawrooz, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 215th Corps, ended the series of briefings.

The shura hosted by Mangel was an eye-opener for Mullen and for the staff accompanying him.

"They're not shy, are they?" said Navy Capt. John Kirby, the chairman's spokesman. Leader after leader got up and spoke his mind – they were all men – to the admiral and the governor. Some praised the way the operation went. Others complained of the lack of progress in getting services to the people.

All wanted more schools, a working hospital, road projects and electricity. Other leaders railed against the cultivation of poppy in the region, and wanted the coalition and the government to do something about it.

Mangel told Mullen through a translator that his big job "is to get the trust of the people. If we can win their trust, we can win this war."

Mullen also spoke during the shura.

"This is your country, your province, your people," he said. "You have been through very difficult times and lost many friends. But there has been a great change in the past days, and I would like to ensure that the focus is on you and your families.

"It is for you to lead ... and us to support," the admiral continued. "You have to lead so that security that has changed this town in such a positive way can be sustained and the government can provide services for you all."

Later, Mullen said he was pleased with what he learned in the town and that the governor is a very impressive leader.

"I'm encouraged by watching his leadership in that shura," he said to reporters traveling with him. "I was encouraged by the number of people that came out and, recognizing that security was important, still encouraged by the list – education, roads, medical, crops – that they had."

Mullen said the Marines he spoke with were comfortable with the mission, but they did speak to him about the rules of engagement. The rules are written in such a way as to minimize civilian casualties. Right after President Barack Obama announced the strategy in December, the chairman traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., to speak with the soldiers and Marines who would carry out that strategy.

"These Marines certainly represent that, and there are some tough decisions they have to make," Mullen said. "They have some concerns, but they really do get the issue of civilian casualties. Their concerns are the tension between calling in air or artillery support versus the potential of creating civilian casualties."

He said there was no push-back from the Marines that tactical success can lead to strategic defeat.

"I said to them, if we keep killing Afghan civilians, we might as pack it up and go home. It isn't going to work," Mullen said. "They understand that, but it's not easy."

O'Reilly Pays Legal Bill for Fallen Marine's Father

No. 1 cable news host Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday that he will personally write a check to cover $16,500 in legal costs for the father of a fallen U.S. Marine who sued the members of a church who picketed his son's funeral.


Tuesday, 30 Mar 2010 08:19 PM
By: David A. Patten

According to news reports, the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, located in Topeka, Kan., believe that God is punishing the United States because of its acceptance of gay people. The church garners attention for its views by protesting high-profile funerals.

On March 3, 2006, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder died in a non-combat related vehicle accident in Al Anbar province in Iraq.

"He was a hero and he was the love of my life," said Albert Snyder, Matthew's grieving father.

During the wake that was held after his son's funeral, family members turned on the television to view coverage of the massive procession involving over 1,500 persons. They saw the church members waving signs and protesting the funeral.

"I just stood there in shock," Albert Snyder told O'Reilly in November 2007.

"I couldn't believe that somebody would do that to somebody else. I mean, I didn't know what to say.

"Finally, somebody yelled, 'Turn off the television.' But I just stood there in shock. I can't believe there's somebody that would actually do that to soldiers."

Albert Snyder filed a federal lawsuit against the church, and a jury awarded him nearly $11 million dollars for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. But the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the verdict on the grounds that the church's First Amendment right to free expression must be protected.

Adding insult to injury, the court also ruled that Snyder would have to pay $16,500 to church members, to defray what they spent to defend themselves in court.

It was a tough blow for the father, who was already trying to raise the funds needed to appeal the Court of Appeals verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Tuesday's The O'Reilly Factor, however, the host stepped forward.

"That is an outrage," he said. "I will pay Mr. Snyder's obligation. I am not going to let this injustice stand."

O'Reilly added, "It's obvious they were disturbing the peace by disrupting the funeral. They should have been arrested, but our system is so screwed up, so screwed up, that loons are allowed to run wild. Snyder is fighting the good fight, and he is taking his case to the Supreme Court as he should. We are behind him 100 percent."

Snyder's attorney, Sean Summers, says people can contribute to a legal fund established at MatthewSnyder.org. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Snyder's appeal during its October term, with a verdict likely to be announced in mid-2011.

Part II: Afghanistan's future is Now Zad

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan – Cpl. Green radioed the Lima Company compound command post that our four-person patrol had moved "outside the wire."


U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
March 30, 2010

He and fellow corporals Arana and Rodriguez were accompanying me on a little tour of the village of Now Zad. Until recent weeks, the community had been a deserted ghost town, surrounded by mines and built-up areas where the Taliban had dug in for a rare linear confrontation with Marines and coalition forces.

Following Operation Cobra's Anger, the Taliban had been displaced and former residents were coming back to their old homes. A bazaar had reopened, and we headed in that direction.

Green, Arana, and Rodriguez carried locked and loaded M-16s. I had a Beretta M9 pistol in my holster and a digital camera in my hand. Several men were standing near the bazaar, eying us intently as we approached.

Lt. Col. "Fighting Joe" Kenney proved to be a gracious host at the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He'd been serving as military liaison there for almost 11 months, and had developed numerous contacts. After a few days, it was time to get on with my field history mission and travel to the rapidly expanding Marine Corps base known as Camp Leatherneck, in Helmand Province. The teeming desert encampment of over 12,000 people, largely Marines, has a smattering from the other services as well as a security contingent from Bahrain.

I got some space in a corner of a tent, got oriented to the main area, and got an access badge to the central compound.


Cpl. Green waved and smiled at the men, who seemed to recognize him, and they responded warmly, which was comforting. While every Marine is a rifleman, Green was also Civil Affairs specialist. I'd met his boss, Capt. Jason Brezler, the previous day after I'd flown into Now Zad from Delaram. Brezler briefed me on the outreach the Marines had been doing locally, and I'd accompanied him into the adjacent District Governor's Compound for a meeting and a meal with local officials, including, I found out later, a former Taliban minister.


A Marine Expeditionary Brigade had been in place in Helmand Province since the previous May, commanded by Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson. The general presided over twice-daily Operations/Intelligence briefing meetings. Gen. Nicholson projected the aura and presence that one would expect from a Marine flag officer commanding in the field.

His rugged exterior did noticeably soften during a staff meeting in March when he recognized a new face in the back of the conference room -- Navy Capt. Saleem Khan, a surgeon. The general stood up and went and warmly embraced the captain, which told me they knew each other. It turns out that Khan had saved the general's life in Iraq with prompt medical attention after then-Col. Nicholson had been badly wounded in a deadly rocket attack on his headquarters near Fallujah.

The staff meetings covered a lot of material ... with significant attention paid to non-combat/Civil Affairs initiatives, as keys to long-term success in Afghanistan involve engaging the local population and allowing them to generate their own security as this poorest of countries pursues crucial economic development.


The Now Zad bazaar featured very modest stalls with a variety of wares, including clothing, fruits, vegetables, and live chickens. The energy seemed positive, and Cpl. Green was greeted by numerous waves and smiles.

We turned a corner and a gaggle of Afghan youngsters ran to us, or more precisely to Cpl. Arana. Christina Arana was a female Marine who had been working in the aviation ordinance field when she took advantage of an opportunity to support the USMC's Female Engagement Team initiative.

FET Marines connect with youngsters and women in ways that male Marines cannot, particularly in a socially conservative Islamic culture, where women are mostly relegated to domestic life. We saw very few women on our patrol. But the boys and girls recognized Cpl. Arana and seemed pleased to see her.

Helmand Heroics

Much of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade had been in-country for almost a year, and the focus was to have a successful Relief in Place of the Brigade by the larger Marine Force without losing battle rhythm or continuity.

The change of command was slated for the second week in April. The Brigade had received widespread attention for its success in clearing the Taliban stronghold at Marjah, with minimal casualties, but Gen. Nicholson's focus was as much on security for the local population as it was on kinetic military operations. Economic development throughout the Helmand River valley would be essential for long-term success in the region.

The general also repeatedly sought to focus attention on Now Zad, north of Leatherneck, and in the foothills of the great Afghan mountains. Operation Cobra's Anger had cleared the place of organized Taliban resistance, and the ghost town was coming to life. It was no coincidence that Secretary of Defense Gates made an appearance at Now Zad during a visit to the region.

I decided that it was time to leave the relative comfort of my tent at Camp Leatherneck and get out into the field. I got on a CH-53 helicopter and flew up north to the command's most isolated outpost, in Golestan.

Then it was down to Delaram and the long cross-country ride with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment to Bakwa (for the operation described in yesterday's story). Then back to Delaram to continue to interview members of 3 /4, who would soon be departing. The battalion had distinguished itself and its story needed to be recorded. While at Delaram I attended a meeting and a modest dinner at a structure on base, where the District Governor, Asadullah Akdhost, made a special presentation to Lt. Col. Martin Wetterauer, the commanding officer for 3 /4.

During the dinner, I conversed with an interpreter, Fahim Fazli, speaker of five languages. He had been born in Afghanistan but had become a refugee during the Soviet occupation.

He ended up in southern California, and eventually made his way to Hollywood, where he was typecast as a Taliban-like bad guy in movies like "The Beast," "Kite Runner," and "Iron Man." He appeared in similar roles on the television show "24" and had been an advisor for "Charlie Wilson's War." I thought he looked familiar.

He was keeping a journal of sorts and explained that he'd like to turn it into a book. When he learned I had some experience putting words together, he asked for my help. I gave him my card. If Fahim's compelling story gets recorded, then it could end up as a movie where he would finally be a protagonist, instead of a bad guy!


We continued on our patrol and passed a disabled Soviet tank. I thought of the movie "The Beast," about a Russian tank crew trapped by the Afghan mujahedin. I wondered what happened to the tank's crew. I'm sure it wasn't pretty.)

The Now Zad Model

A 2 a.m. helicopter flight finally brought me to Now Zad, where Company Combat Outpost Cafferatta was home to Lima Company, 3 /4. Named after a Korean War Medal of Honor winner, the outpost was not nearly as isolated as Kilo Company's had been at Bakwa. The Lima Company Commander was a Capt. Andy Terrell, who seemed to relish the huge responsibility.

Terrell was assisted by Capt. Jason Brezler, a reserve Civil Affairs officer who had once been a New York City firefighter. Brezler seemed to love his job, and I accompanied him and other Marines on a visit to the adjacent District Governor's compound for a meeting and a meal, hosted by the locals. The Now Zad officials clearly had great affection for Brezler and the Marines, who always showed great deference and respect to the locals while trying to help revitalize the community in every way possible, given resources available. Brezler had been in country for only a few months, but he knew some Pashtun language and occasionally dressed up in mufti, like T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) once did. I called him "Brezler of Now Zad."


Our patrol stopped by a mosque, and Cpl. Green made small talk with the people inside, who clearly knew him. Then we turned down a street toward a school the Marines had just helped start ... The youngsters were in several rooms, and one was full of girls -- very significant for Afghanistan. I'm not sure how the instructors taught, as they didn't seem to have much in the way of materials. Supposedly FDNY was sending school supplies to Brezler.

We shamelessly disrupted the classes and the kids swarmed to us. Cpl. Arana was right in her element, as boys and girls sought to try on her helmet, while she tried on various Afghan headgear.

She asked if I had a pen. I pulled out my pen and suddenly there were countless hands grabbing at it. The biggest kid ended up with my pen. I wished I had brought more.

I thought of how American youngsters had cell phones, Blackberries, iPods, and computers. I wished they could see how little the kids at the Now Zad school had. New Hampshire seemed a world away -- which it was.


After the memorable dinner with the locals, we returned to the Lima compound and that evening I spoke with various Marines about where they came from and what they did.

There was discussion about how much the Taliban hated the imagery of assertive American women who were apparently the equal of their male counterparts. Arana told me that she loved connecting with the locals and had been invited inside homes and had actually met many local women and helped them get to the new health clinic, among other things.

It was a clear, moonless night, and I was awestruck by how bright the stars were, with no light pollution. There was no electricity in the mud huts of Now Zad, but the locals could see heavens that few Americans ever get to glimpse. I understood how the ancients came up with the zodiac constellations. It saddened me to think of how many American city kids would never see stars like this.

The next day I'd fly back to Camp Leatherneck and continue doing history interviews while trying to anticipate future actions. There remained many battles to be won. But what I saw during a peaceful two days in Now Zad showed me how the war would be won.

Man ordered to pay appeal costs of protesters at his son's funeral

Lawyers for the father of a Marine who died in Iraq and whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters say a court has ordered him to pay the protesters' appeal costs.


From Baltimore Sun staff and wire reports
March 30, 2010

On Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that Albert Snyder of York, Pa., pay costs associated with Fred Phelps' appeal. Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which held a protest at the funeral of Snyder's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster in 2006.

Lawyers for Snyder say the Court of Appeals has ordered him to pay $16,510.80 to Phelps for costs relating to the appeal, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Court of Appeals' decision.

The lawyers say that Snyder is also struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We are extremely disappointed," said Sean E. Summers, an attorney for Snyder. He added that the high court will likely hear the case during its October term and make a decision in June of next year.

"The Court of Appeals certainly could have waited until the Supreme Court made its decision," Summers added. "There was no hardship presented by Phelps."

Summers said there is no timetable for when the costs must be paid, but if his client doesn't have the money when Phelps requests payment, the matter would go into collections. Snyder could lose his property or his wages, Summers said.

Snyder's lawyer added that if Snyder pays Phelps' court costs and then receives a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, "imagine him trying to get money back from Phelps."

The high court agreed earlier this month to consider whether the protesters' message is protected by the First Amendment or limited by the competing privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

IJC Operational Update, March 30

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in north Kandahar City last night after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained several suspected insurgents for further questioning.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.30.2010
Posted: 03.30.2010 02:59

No shots were fired and no Afghan citizens were harmed during the operation.

In Paktika last night, a joint security force went to a compound in a village northeast of Serwa, in the Bermal district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. As the security force neared the compound, several militants were killed when they threatened the security team.

During the subsequent call out at the compound and search of the local area, the combined force detained several additional militants.

The security team found additional automatic rifles and multiple rocket-propelled grenades during the search.

No Afghan women or children were harmed during the operation.

In Wardak last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a series of compounds in Salar, in the Sayyidabad District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban weapons facilitator accused of buying and selling large amounts of weapons, munitions and explosives for other militant networks. The security force also detained a few other suspected militants.

No shots were fired and no Afghans were harmed in the operation.

In Zabul last night, a joint security force went to a rural area in the Shinkai District after intelligence information indicated militant activity. As the security force approached two militants engaged the combined force. The two militants were killed. During a follow-on search the joint force found radios, an automatic rifle, ammunition and a rocket launcher with multiple rounds.

In the Shewan District of Farah province yesterday, an Afghan citizen turned in two 155mm rounds and an improvised explosive device to a security force.

Sunday, an Afghan-international security force noticed suspicious movements in an uninhabited area outside of Shindand, in the Herat province, and launched an illumination round. Insurgents then opened fire on the force causing no injuries. The security force returned fire with small arms and mortar fire forcing the insurgents to flee. Upon searching the area the security force found a cache containing 150 kilograms of explosives, an 82mm mortar round, four artillery shells, two grenades, three anti-tank rockets, a 122mm anti-tank round and small-arms ammunition. The cache was destroyed.

No Afghan civilians were harmed in these operations.

March 29, 2010

Marines will parachute into award ceremony

CAMP PENDLETON — Gunnery Sgt. Brian M. Blonder and seven other reconnaissance Marines are expected to parachute onto Camp Pendleton today for a ceremony involving the Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone Award for Courage and Commitment.


Monday, March 29, 2010 at 11:56 p.m.

Blonder will descend from almost 13,000 feet, in front of a 200-man formation, to accept the award from Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Blonder, who enlisted in 1997, is a platoon sergeant for the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. He was nominated for the Basilone honor by senior noncommissioned officers.

His previous decorations include Navy and Marine Corps commendation and achievement medals; the Combat Action Ribbon; the Navy Presidential Unit Citation; and medals for service in various missions, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Basilone award honors exemplary noncommissioned officers and the memory of its namesake, who received the Medal of Honor for his valor in World War II. It was first presented on Basilone Day, Feb. 19, 2004, at the Freedom Museum in Manassas, Va.

Afghan corruption: How to follow the money?

Hamed Wardak, the soft-spoken Georgetown University-educated son of an Afghan cabinet minister, has a Defense Department contract worth up to $360 million to transport U.S. military goods through some of the most insecure territory in Afghanistan. But his company has no trucks.


By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 29, 2010

Instead, Wardak sits atop a murky pyramid of Afghan subcontractors who provide the vehicles and safeguard their passage. U.S. military officials say they are satisfied with the results, but they concede that they have little knowledge or control over where the money ends up.

According to senior Obama administration officials, some of it may be going to the Taliban, as part of a protection racket in which insurgents and local warlords are paid to allow the trucks unimpeded passage, often sending their own vehicles to accompany the convoys through their areas of control.

The essential question, said an American executive whose company does significant work in Afghanistan, is "whether you'd rather pay $1,000" for Afghans to safely deliver a truck, even if part of the money goes to the insurgents, or pay 10 times that much for security provided by the U.S. military or contractors.

President Obama made a surprise trip to the country Sunday to press President Hamid Karzai to do more to clean up corruption in Afghanistan. Congress has warned repeatedly that U.S. assistance depends on progress in this area.

The likelihood that U.S. money is finding its way to the enemy as well as lining officials' pockets -- charges that Wardak says could be true for other transport contractors but not for his company -- is "one of the many very important things that came to light" during last fall's White House strategy review, an administration official said.

The problem extends beyond military supply transport to Afghan-provided security for reconstruction and other U.S.-funded projects, according to John Brummet, audit chief for the congressionally mandated special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, known as SIGAR.

"If you go to the U.S. Embassy, to USAID, to the Army Corps [of Engineers] and ask if they can assure that their money is not going to the Taliban, they'd be hard-pressed to say," he said.

Prime contractors such as Wardak's NCL Holdings, Brummet said, "say that subs take care of their security," but U.S. officials "do not have visibility on who is providing it." According to SIGAR chief investigator Ray Dinunzio, "there is no database in the U.S. government" that provides reliable subcontractor information.

The U.S.-led coalition command in Afghanistan does not dispute that assessment. Although there is "rigorous" oversight of prime contracts, the command said in a statement, "the relationships between contractors and their subcontractors, as well as between subcontractors and others in their operational communities, are not entirely transparent."

Both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the issue in congressional testimony explaining Obama's new strategy. Clinton called "siphoning off contractual money from the international community . . . a major source of funding for the Taliban." Corruption, she said, "frankly . . . is not all an Afghan problem."

Although security for trucks carrying U.S. military supplies around Afghanistan is considered a particularly lucrative source of extortion, the administration has not investigated it or even estimated its scope, according to several officials involved in Afghanistan policy, none of whom was authorized to discuss the issue on the record.

Congressional investigators who have opened a probe into the Defense Department's $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking (HNT) contract described what one called "willful blindness" on the part of a U.S. military that "likes having its trucks showing up and doesn't want to get into the details of how they got there."

Virtually everything used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, from food, water and fuel to arms and ammunition, is imported, most of it overland, through Pakistan or Central Asia.

U.S. military officials say they are well aware that Afghan officials who control the border towns are involved in smuggling and skimming contract money and goods. But the Afghans also facilitate the flow of supplies and provide intelligence. Their criminal activities, although not condoned, are viewed largely as the price of doing business.

Once U.S. supplies enter Afghanistan, most are taken to central distribution points, such as U.S. headquarters at Bagram, north of Kabul, and transferred to a separate fleet of vehicles for distribution to hundreds of military facilities and forward operating bases around the country.

Up to 90 percent of the internal transport is handled by eight firms with a piece of the HNT contract; they include Wardak's NCL Holdings, two other Afghan companies, three based in the Persian Gulf region and two with U.S. principals. Most of them serve largely as facilitators, organizing the local subcontractors who provide vehicles and security.

Gates has said he wants to reduce the number of contractors in Afghanistan, but Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander there, has praised the logistics deals because of their Afghan participation. "They are supporting operations. It's helping the [Afghan] economy," he said in a speech in December. "In many cases, it's developing different processes that'll help them in the future."

Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the national security subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, opened an investigation that month into what he said were "serious allegations . . . that private security providers for U.S. transportation contractors in Afghanistan are regularly paying local warlords and the Taliban for security."

Tierney said many of the allegations were first raised in a November report by the Nation magazine. It described an entrenched system of protection payoffs and the close connections most Afghan contractors have to senior government officials.

In letters to Gates and each of the eight HNT firms, Tierney asked that all documents related to the transport operations and security subcontractors be provided to the subcommittee by mid-January.

"It's a long-standing business practice within Afghanistan to use your control of the security environment in order to extort payment from those who want to operate within your space, whether it's construction of a cellphone tower, a dam, or running trucks," said the House investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the examination is ongoing.

Over the past three months, the subcommittee has examined hundreds of documents and interviewed numerous Defense Department and Afghan officials, as well as Western expatriates working as program managers for the HNT firms who have become their primary sources.

"We have found nothing that would change that original core narrative" of widespread protection payments, the investigator said.

The subcommittee plans a publicly released report and possibly hearings. Its tentative conclusions, the investigator said, do not definitively point to the Defense Department and HNT prime contractors as direct participants in the scheme. But whistleblowers who have met with investigators, he said, spoke up only after failing to get the attention of both.

There is a difference, the investigator said, between not knowing, "and then having people come and tell you it's happening, and still saying 'I don't know.' "

'A wonderful opportunity'

"We welcome this investigation," said Wardak, the son of Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, in an interview at the bare-bones office NCL maintains in McLean. "We think this is a wonderful opportunity to point out that we have the highest ethical standards and the best processes in place. We want to be the premier gold standard of the logistics contract in Afghanistan."

Wardak, 34, left Afghanistan with his family at age 3 and returned only after the ouster of the Taiban in 2001. He said he shares McChrystal's goal of developing Afghan capabilities. His main value to the United States, he said, is the ability to "combine the best Western practices of management and internal financial controls" with "local knowledge and relationships with civil society leaders."

His rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Valedictorian of Georgetown's Class of 1997 and a Rhodes Scholar, he worked briefly in mergers and acquisitions at Merrill Lynch before becoming the "private envoy to the United States" of Ashraf Ghani when Ghani served as Karzai's finance minister early last decade.

According to several U.S. officials involved in Afghan policy, Wardak first appeared on the Washington policy scene as a young protege of Zalmay Khalilzad, who served in the Bush administration National Security Council and as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and of Marin Strmecki, a special adviser on Afghanistan to then-Defense Secretary Donald A. Rumsfeld.

"The first time I met him" during the Bush years, said one Obama official who previously worked outside the government on Afghanistan, "he was accompanied by an emissary of Rumsfeld."

After leaving Technologists Inc., an Afghan-owned engineering and consulting firm, to start NCL in 2007, building a team of more than 700 Afghan employees, he quickly landed several relatively minor Defense Department maintenance, linguistics and security contracts. He decided to bid for the HNT contract, Wardak said, when he saw it posted on fedbizops.gov, a government Internet site. He and his father, Wardak said, "don't talk about business matters. We only talk about father-son type of relationship issues."

Although he had little direct transportation expertise, he said, it runs in his family all the way back to when "Afghanistan was an important part of the Silk Road," the interconnected trade routes that historically traversed Central Asia. Ethnic Pashtuns from the Afghan province of the same name, the Wardaks "were not only a warring family, but also a transport family," he said.

Trucks for the missions are supplied by subcontractors, who are also responsible for security, he said. "In certain places that are more dangerous," he said, "our vendor adds more security." To ensure that his convoys are not attacked in dangerous areas, he said, he depends on his "relationships with local tribes," adding that it was "inconceivable" that any protection money was being paid.

Although seldom seen in public in Washington, Wardak has a prominent profile. He contributed $20,000 to the presidential campaigns of Obama and Clinton in 2007 and 2008. He also founded an organization called Campaign for a U.S.-Afghanistan Partnership, which promotes an ongoing U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

On several occasions, he said, NCL has received the Pentagon's highest performance ratings for its work on the HNT contracts, which Army Col. Wayne M. Shanks, public affairs chief for the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Afghanistan, confirmed.

The assessment is based on "a variety of performance-based criteria," none of which he was at liberty to reveal, Shanks wrote in an e-mail.

Marine corporal exceeds expectations, helps fight cancer

Dependable. Determined. Motivated. Those are just three of the many words Gunnery Sgt. Derrick Hayes, assistant staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the flammables section, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, uses to describe Cpl. Dana Hineline.


3/29/2010 By Gunnery Sgt. Katesha Washington , 2nd Marine Logistics Group

"She is just simply outstanding," he noted about Hineline. "If you need something to get done the right way, the first time, give it to Cpl. Hineline and she will make it happen."

Her strong work ethic and aggressive attitude towards mission accomplishment are what earned her a meritorious promotion to corporal and are part of the reason why she has been nominated for a meritorious promotion to sergeant.

Hineline first proved her metal during a deployment to Iraq with Combat Logistics Battalion 2 from August 2008 to March 2009 where she was in charge of communications for her squad and taught classes on the Blue Force Tracker equipment. She also provided instruction for counter improvised explosive device courses. After volunteering to stay in Iraq past her required time, she was selected to deploy to Afghanistan from November 2009 to January 2010 where she was responsible for shipping gear to units throughout the NATO's area of responsibility.

But the 21-year-old is known for more than her dogged determination and drive to exceed expectations, she is also known as a philanthropist in her community. As a volunteer with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, she stays awake for more than 24 hours during the walkathon to help raise money and support for cancer patients.

"By helping cancer patients, I have learned how to open my arms to anyone in need of help. It really hurts to know I can live my life healthy and strong while others are counting down their days to survive. The least I can do is spill my heart out to those individuals." she explained.

She also gives her time and money to local animal shelters and rescue and adoption agencies. Her goal is to do whatever she can in her power to make the world a better place, if only with small acts of kindness.

"I think community service starts in small towns and makes a big difference in your country. There are so many things you can do to help better this world and by getting involved, you can meet new people and have fun when it comes to stepping up and leading." she said.

Hineline's go-getter attitude stems from her interaction with her Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor in high school. Encouragement from Gunnery Sgt. Lyndon Smith, a retired Marine, was the main reason Hineline joined the Marine Corps.

"He always encouraged me to better myself. He taught me everything I know when it comes to drill and discipline. So every time I reach a goal or accomplish a hard task, I make a call to thank him for making me such a good Marine." said Hineline.

In addition to her community service and long work hours, Hineline is working towards her goal of helping mentally challenged individuals when she retires. She is currently learning how to speak American sign language through a course from Coastal Carolina Community College. Her drive and determination to be a well-rounded Marine is also preparing her to become a well-rounded woman.

"A real woman always has a goal. She knows what she wants and she strives to better herself. In order for a female to really get respect, she needs to hold herself to a higher standard." she added.

Hineline's next step on her journey to be a standout woman is to become a drill instructor. It is only a matter of when, not if, the motivated Marine will reach her goals.

Troops Kill, Capture Militants, Seize Weapons

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. and Afghan forces killed and detained militants and discovered weapons in operations in Afghanistan in recent days, military officials said.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.29.2010
Posted: 03.29.2010 06:21

Troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force, along with Afghan forces, killed several Taliban fighters while responding to heavy fire during a March 27 operation in the Tagab district of Kapisa province.

The combined force also detained an enemy fighter while searching a compound near Alasay Valley.

One of the militants involved in the operation is suspected of being the senior Taliban commander in the western Alasay Valley, responsible for a number of violent attacks against Afghan government officials and coalition forces.

Troops seized assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and several documents in the operation.

In other operations that day, combined forces detained two suspected militants in the Marja area of Helmand province and four enemy fighters in Kandahar City, near the village of Karz.

Also on March 27, troops seized an insurgent who fired two rockets at the compound where a meeting was being held in the Khakrez district center of Kandahar province.

Combined forces killed and detained militants a day earlier during operations near Kariz Deh Baba, east of Musa Qaleh.

As Afghan force members entered a targeted compound, a number of insurgents fired upon them. The force responded in self defense and killed several insurgents, according to military officials. Troops detained several other insurgents.

Afghan forces also recovered assault rifles, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and other military equipment in the March 26 offensive.

Marines break from training, spread goodwill at orphanges in Djibouti

As servicemembers from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit scaled mountains, shot an array of weapons, and learned to survive in the deserts of Djibouti, Africa, several Marines and Sailors were given an opportunity to break from their training for something the Marine Corps sees as a critical part of their deployment as well - volunteering in local communities of the countries they train in.


3/29/2010 By Sgt. Alex Sauceda , 24th MEU

Here in Djibouti City the Marines and Sailors were able to volunteer at a local orphanage twice in recent weeks as part of a community outreach program organized by The Enduring Chapel of Camp Lemonier, which is the military church aboard Camp Lemonier, a joint military base used by the U.S. and several foreign militaries. The project is set up to allow servicemembers assigned to 24th MEU to pay weekly visits to schools caring for local orphans, in an effort to help strengthen partnerships between the U.S. military and the local community.

“We are bridging the gap between the [Djibouti] locals and the U.S. military more and more everyday,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Norman Otters, religious program specialist assigned to Camp Lemonier. “The 24th MEU’s contribution of volunteers just helps us that much more in getting to know the locals and with helping out wherever we can.”

The chaplain staff of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, sought out and coordinated with Camp Lemonier staff to allow Marines to contribute to these community projects during the MEU’s pre-scheduled bilateral and sustainment training exercises in Djibouti.

“[We] wanted the Marines to leave a footprint in Djibouti that was more than just training out of a forwarding operating base (FOB), and give them a more fulfilling experience by taking care of children and putting some smiles on their faces,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason L. Soderquist, religious program specialist, Headquarters and Support Company, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “It is probably one of the best experiences for some of the young Marines and Sailors and to show a different part of the world that Americans do care and are willing to help.”

The orphanage project split the volunteers into two groups. One group visited an orphanage caring for newborns babies to toddlers; the second group traveled to an orphanage that cares for children from six years old to teenagers.

The Djibouti Community Outreach Baby Orphanage houses and cares for more than 40 orphaned children from Djibouti City. More than a dozen Marines received hands-on experience feeding, bathing, and changing diapers for newborns and toddlers.

“I never thought on this deployment I would get the chance to pick-up a baby, feed them, and put them to sleep,” said Cpl. Estaban Leon, a mechanic for the Motor Transport Platoon, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “It was shock to see how these little kids were eager to see us. It is unfortunate that most of them are orphans, but I was glad I can give them a few hours of my time and attention they deserve.”

With little time and a few toys, the orphanage made the most of the Marines’ help and company.

“These kids don’t have much to call their own, but I was still able to have fun with them,” said Lance Cpl. David Lewis, a motor transport operator also assigned to the Motor Transport Platoon. “We had the chance to draw with the little kids using my field notebook. The children drew me several sketches for keepsake.”

As Marines cradled children to sleep for the evening, the second group prepared for a showdown on a soccer field at the National School for the Protection of Children, which provides housing for abandoned children and teaches them occupational skills.

Marines donated soccer balls for a quick exhibition for the students’ required daily physical activity. The school’s soccer field had no turf, no marking lines, no nets, and most students played in sandals; regardless, the children made it their haven of fun.

“It’s amazing how these kids live with what they have,” said Cpl. Everado Estrada, a water technician assigned to the Engineer Platoon, Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th MEU. “There is no other place I’d rather be right now than with these kids.”

What started as a small group of kids kicking the ball around with the Marines quickly grew as the excitement drew more students out from their dormitories anxious to get in on some competitive action.

“There has been a long relationship with the military coming to play basketball, rugby, baseball, and other sports at our school,” said Mohmed Daud, a student living at the school. “We have met several military members from everywhere coming to play and visit.”

Not all the children had the chance to play soccer with the Marines, but one Marine sergeant left a token of thanks he hopes all of the kids to remember.

“I bought a soccer ball and intended to give it to the school, but when I saw that the younger kids didn’t get a chance to play, I went to the smallest child there and gave it to him,” said Sgt. Martin Hernandez, a maintenance chief for the Motor Transport Platoon, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “I wanted to give something to the kids for all of them to enjoy. The Marines enjoyed their time out here and saw first hand a different way people live and grew up. It was an eye-opener.”

The interaction gave both the Marines and the children a better perspective on each other’s lives, and helped meet the goals of the community outreach program. There are tentative plans for more visits to occur in the coming weeks.

“From the children’s standpoint, they can see the American military doing something other than [fighting and shooting] and from our standpoint we get to see and learn about another part of the world and how they live,” said Navy Lt. Scott Cauble, chaplain, H&S; Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “Even though it’s only a few hours spending time with children, our Marines have been profoundly affected."

Marines Keep Vigilance High During Marjah Patrol

MARJAH, Helmand province, Afghanistan – It's been approximately 45 days since the Marines breached enemy lines into the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, and the Marines remain as vigilant as ever.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs RSS
Story by Staff Sgt. Luis Agostini
Date: 03.29.2010
Posted: 03.29.2010 07:28

Marines from 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, patrol through Marjah daily alongside their Afghan National Army counterparts, keeping their presence known to both friend and foe throughout the area.

"We're letting the locals know we are here, and using the Afghan National Army to communicate with the locals," said Staff Sgt. Nelson A. Adames, a mortarman with 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1/6.

Adames hopes enemy takes notice of their continued presence throughout Marjah as well.

"We're making it hard for the Taliban to do their job," said Adames, 35, from Victoria, Texas. "We aren't going anywhere."

The mortarmen with 1/6 have been here before. Patrolling through poppy fields, alongside tree lines, into residential areas and on barren roads, faces are becoming familiar and Marines are leaving familiar footprints through dusty roads and neighborhoods. That does not prevent a high sense of vigilance on each step outside of their forward operating base in Marjah.

"We might go through areas where we've already swept through, but the enemy is always watching. The moment they see us get complacent is when the enemy changes their [tactics, techniques and procedures] when they see us again. If you don't do the little things, that's when you are going to get hurt," Adames said.

The presence of Afghan children waving at the patrolling Marines and Afghan soldiers brings a small sense of comfort to Adames, father of three.

"You come out here and see these kids as happy as can be, with whatever they have. I'd never allow my kid to sit in the middle of the street like that. It definitely makes me focus on the mission at hand, to do what we have to do, to go home," Adames said. "Some of the Marines have wives that are pregnant, so I want to get them home so they can enjoy what I have for the past 11 years of being a parent."

The comforting sight of children roaming freely lasts momentarily, as Adames knows the Taliban operates under a different set of rules of engagement, if any.

"The Taliban doesn't care, even when the kids are out there," he said.

Decisions made, or not made, on a patrol of less than a dozen Marines can carry strategic implications.

The patrolling mortarmen encountered a poppy stack in a residential area. After clearing the brush, Lance Cpl. William L. Ward, a mortarman with 81 mm Mortar Platoon, received a high, metallic hit from his minesweeper. The patrol leader, Cpl. Joshua D. Sepanski, peeked into the nearby window and noticed a wired, propane tank.

Sepanski suggested a search of the house by the Afghan soldiers. As the patrol closed distance with the locked doors of the compound, a local Afghan notified the patrol that the building was a mosque. Adames, the senior-ranking Marine on patrol, made the strategic decision, pulled his Marines back and ordered the patrol to continue its planned route.

"These guys are young, and they want to do it all. Me, as a staff sergeant, I have to hold them back. I can't let their actions cause consequences larger than the squad's responsibility," Adames said.

The squad departed the residential area, alongside wadis, crossing foot bridges and occasionally making the leap of faith over a wadi to cross onto another side. The Marines remind the Afghan soldiers to keep proper dispersion. Ward and Sepanski continue investigating high metallic hits from the minesweepers with empty results.

After patrolling nearly six miles of neighborhoods, roads, wadis and poppy fields, the patrol returned to its forward operating base. All Marines and Afghan soldiers were accounted for, and it turned out, it was just another routine patrol through Marjah. These grunts seek action. For Marines like Adames, it's a good day when nothing happens on a patrol.

"I'm married, I have kids. I have these Marines under my charge, so they are kind of like my family now, too. It's a good day when you go out and made it back. We are Marines. We run to the sounds of gunfire. We locate, close with and destroy the enemy. As grunts, that's what we want," Adames said.

The father and leader in Adames forces him to place a higher emphasis on the safety and welfare of his Marines, rather than a possible firefight.

"My biggest goal is to get these guys back in one piece. I don't care if we get contact for the rest of the time we are here. At the end of the day, as long as we did our job and everyone is safe, that's the most important thing," Adames said.

A few days later, Adames relaxes with his Marines at Forward Operating Base Marjah. He speaks fondly of his family, and of the challenges his wife faces as a Marine wife, manning the household by herself with their three children. An explosion breaks the mid-morning calm. Hopefully, it's another controlled detonation of an improvised explosive device. Marines sprinting to the mortar platoon's tent confirms it's not.

An improvised explosive device detonated near a squad of Marines patrolling Marjah.

"I didn't go out today, I figured I'd give my legs a rest," said Adames. "That's the last time I'll ever let my Marines go out without me again."

MarForRes seeks select junior officers, NCOs

Slots expected to fill soon, though

By James K. Sanborn - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 29, 2010 7:35:12 EDT

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marine Forces Reserve is in the midst of a major recruiting drive, targeting active-duty lieutenants, captains, sergeants and staff sergeants in select career fields and offering $5,000 bonuses to some who make at least a three-year commitment.

To read the entire article:


In Afghanistan, Soldiers Use Diplomacy to Win the Battle

In this week's "Unplugged Under 40," First Lt. Patrick Nevins shows us how Marines fighting in Afghanistan must use more than military tactics to accomplish their mission.

Click above link for a news video.

March 29, 2010 3:27 PM
Posted by Lauren Seifert
Written by, CBS News' Kaylee Hartung

"It's not a war we're going to win based on conventional means," Nevins says. "It's not a war we're going to win going out and fighting every day. The ability to interact and talk and gain the trust of the local populace is key."

Nevins spent nearly two years preparing for his first combat deployment, but he says nothing could have prepared him for six months deep in Taliban territory of Southern Helmand Province.

"There's no real way to train how to talk to a villager about how you just blew up his home or how you can provide school for his family," he says. "Those kind of things, you kind of learn as you go."

Nevins and the Marines of Echo Company's 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment are now training at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. "Back at step one," he says. He expects they'll re-deploy to Afghanistan "sometime next year," replacing units from this year's 30,000 troop surge.

Part I: A historian heads to Afghanistan

DELARAM, Afghanistan – Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part installment of what will be an occasional series on New Hampshire’s troops in Afghanistan. Groveton native and Plymouth State graduate Lt. Col Michael Moffett is a professor at NHTI-Concord when not in uniform.

I was glad helmets were required when my head smashed against the roof in the back of the MRAP when we hit our first big off-road bump. The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles in our Marine Corps convoy were traveling cross-country to avoid the countless Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) the Taliban had placed throughout our areas of operations.


U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
Monday, Mar. 29, 2010

Our headquarters element of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, was en route to Company Combat Outpost Bakwa, west of Delaram, just north of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. The next day would feature Operation Bakwa Rain, where reinforced elements of Kilo Company, 3/4, would conduct helicopter-borne assaults on suspected enemy drug processing and transit locations. I looked to the front and saw the lead vehicle bouncing over the rocks. I looked to the rear and observed a similar vehicle, relentlessly moving forward. The view was framed by an awesome backdrop of Afghanistan’s towering Hindu Kush mountains.I wondered what the next day would bring.

And then I pondered about how I’d ended up in such extraordinary circumstances.

Pre-Deployment in Quantico

A message from the Marine Corps in December alerted me to expect orders to travel to Afghanistan as a field historian. I’d been doing reserve assignments with the USMC’s History Division at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va., and was collaborating with a retired general on a monograph/book detailing the history of the Marine Corps Cold Weather and Mountain operations at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.

MWTC was once seen as a logical training site to prepare for Afghan operations. Also, my background as an infantry officer, history teacher, college professor and writer meshed well with the mission requirements. And I’d done pretty well on my latest physical fitness test.

I’d also received orders eight years earlier, after 9/11, to serve on Gen. Tommy Franks’ Central Command Joint Staff for the beginning of what came to be called Operation Enduring Freedom. Who knew then that the operation would still be going on in 2010 and that I’d again receive orders to serve in what is now America’s longest war?

So in January I reported to Marine Base-Quantico in Virginia for extended pre-deployment training. There was a lot to do, including much on-line work, weapons training, getting country clearances and making travel arrangements.

A training requirement included egressing from a vehicle that had flipped over.

Then there was dental and medical. Lots of shots and immunizations, for everything from anthrax to smallpox. Malaria pills were prescribed. I had the option of daily pills or a weekly pill that had the likely side effect of inducing vivid dreams.

“Bring on the vivid dreams,” I said, remembering my 1990-91 Persian Gulf deployment when entertainment in the desert was sorely lacking.

Our convoy passed near an impoverished Afghan village. An excited little boy darted between two of our vehicles. I wondered what would become of him. Would our presence in his country give him a chance at a better life?

Travel to Central Asia

As an individual augmentee and a lieutenant colonel, I had some control over my destiny, in terms of dates and travel. I decided to fly out to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to do some advance pre-deployment interviews with personnel from the larger Marine Force preparing to relieve the brigade that had been in southern Afghanistan since last year.

Among the interviews I did in California was one with Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, who would become the senior USMC ground commander in April. I didn’t expect the general to adjust his busy schedule to accommodate me, but when he heard I was an historian, he brought me right into his office.

He’d majored in political science in college and said he loved history. (Would that all students felt that way.) He was certainly aware that he would be making history and offered some salient observations for me and my recorder.

I’d originally planned to fly commercially to Afghanistan. The Defense Travel System set up an itinerary that would involve a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, to Delhi, India, and then to Kabul, Afghanistan. A colleague told me that the last leg would probably be on a propeller-driven plane, accompanied by chickens and pigs, and that I should never expect my gear to get to Kabul. I know he was kidding, but I was apprehensive, nonetheless.

But the February blizzard that closed down Washington, D.C. put the government way behind in terms of official passport and visa processing. So I opted to fly military.

My rotator flight went out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I was the only Marine among 270 soldiers and airmen, sticking out in my brown desert utilities. Everyone else was in green.

We flew into Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, and then went on to Incirlik AFB in Turkey, where weather delayed us for a couple days. Then it was on to Manas AFB in Kyrgyzstan.

That stop was of particular interest to me, as it was in a former Soviet “Republic.” As the Cold War ended 20 years ago, most of my younger “fellow travelers” did not come of age with the threat of a Soviet nuclear showdown and subsequent Armageddon hovering over their existence. So I thought it was an extraordinary rite of passage, to set foot “back in the USSR.”

We deplaned and filed into a tent for some local base indoctrination. There were around 130 soldiers on one side and 130 airmen on the other. And me. I sat with the Army. A briefer said that airmen rated two beers at the recreation facility but that the Army command had decreed that the soldiers could have no beer.

“So does that Marine get all our beer?” asked a soldier, to laughter.

(The answer was no.)

There would be no beer in Afghanistan, General Order #1 precluding military personnel from so-imbibing there.

As our vehicles approached the combat outpost, I thought of that great French Foreign Legion movie, “Beau Geste,” starring Gary Cooper. That movie’s opening scene featured personnel entering a desert fortress, only to find everyone dead. But when we rolled into the isolated Marine compound, we found it full of life. Dirty Marines were busily moving around, doing their jobs. Many were smiling and laughing. I was proud to be in their company.


I was scheduled to fly on a C-130 transport into Bagram AFB in Afghanistan within five hours of arriving in Manas. While waiting for my flight in the military terminal, I was struck by how many women were in the Army and the Air Force.

Females make up about 6 percent of the Marine Corps, but the other services feature far larger percentages of women.

A young, blonde army lieutenant asked me to watch her rifle when she had to leave the hangar briefly. She returned with a pistol. Women with weapons were everywhere. I knew I wasn’t in Washington D.C. anymore.

It was a fairly lengthy flight from Manas to Bagram. Me and a plane full of soldiers. In lieu of earplugs, I plugged into my new iPod and settled in for the ride.

Hours later I was half awake when there were explosions and flashes of light outside the transport’s window. The plane descended rapidly, seemingly doing evasive maneuvers. I figured out this was probably a standard procedure, that the flares the C-130 released were to disrupt any possible surface to air threat. It was not a vivid dream. We soon landed and deplaned.

Bagram was another former Soviet base, around which could be found some of the detritus of the USSR’s disastrous 1979-88 occupation. A Marine major met me as our sea bags were unloaded and said he had a place for me to stay. His boss was in Kabul and I could stay in the vacant room, which was on top of another room, in block style. I was grateful not to have to stay in the terminal. Another C-130 flight would get me to Kabul the next day. The major said he would wake me up at 0400 hours.

At 0300 hours the little building was shaking.

Vivid dream?

No. An earthquake.

With thoughts of Haiti and Chile flashing through my mind, I moved to the door, but the tremors ceased. The major soon came by and asked how I liked the earthquake.

“Just fine,” I replied.

The K-Company Commander, Capt. Geoffry Hollopeter, briefed the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Martin Wetterauer, whose call-sign was “Darkside 6.” Reconnaissance teams had already been dispatched. The assault teams would fly out the next morning before first light via MV-22 Marine Ospreys.

The first flight from Bagram to Kabul was canceled but I was quickly rescheduled onto another. I got out my iPod and within a half-hour of flying we landed on the military side of the main airport in Kabul. Bags were off-loaded and personnel quickly dispersed.

Supposedly another Marine major was to meet me, but there was no one there. Soon everyone had disappeared and some mild waves of apprehension ran over me.

I needed to get to the embassy, but I was in uniform with three sea bags and a backpack.

The only one left in the area was a female army captain with a rifle and cell phone who had been on our plane.

I asked her if I could call the embassy. I left a message there after the captain said she had a ride coming and that they could drop me off.

I gratefully accepted.

A Land Rover soon pulled up. The captain worked for NCIS and two male civilians were there to pick her up. They were armed as well. The captain put a scarf over her head and off we went toward the embassy.

The ride was an eye-opener. Kabul traffic was chaotic. Donkey-drawn wagons interspersed with countless beat-up Toyotas. There were police at various intersections, armed with rifles and ominously wearing masks, ostensibly to protect against the ubiquitous Kabul road dust, but more likely so that the Taliban couldn’t identify them.

We waited in the Bakwa compound for reports back from the assault teams. Eventually the objectives were secured and detainees were brought back to the Kilo Company position. There were no casualties. Darkside 6 was pleased.

My impromptu hosts were tense and I picked up on their unease when traffic came to a stop. They discussed danger areas and sites of previous bombings. I was in uniform and without a weapon and didn’t relish the notion of having to move on foot with all my stuff.

But we eventually closed in on the embassy. Traffic stopped again and tension rose. We were in a prime location for trouble, but eventually got to the gate, through the gate, and then to and through yet another gate. Weapons were trained on us at all times.


Finally we got to yet another gate and my patrons stopped and helped me unload my gear. I was on American soil!

I was soon met by reserve Marine Lt. Col. “Fighting Joe” Kenney, a former N.H. state senator and 2008 Republican gubernatorial candidate, who was working as military liaison at the embassy.

“Live Free or Die!” said Kenney as we shook hands.

Kenney escorted me and my gear to his “hooch,” a one-room pre-fabricated structure surrounded by sandbags on the USAid section of the embassy grounds. I wondered how much he might have preferred to be living at the Bridges House in Concord, the official governor’s residence. He arranged for an extra bed to be placed in his small hooch and I finally got a good night’s sleep, after five days of travel.

I can’t remember if I had vivid dreams that night, but vivid experiences were soon to follow.

Tomorrow: From Kabul to Camp Leatherneck to a former Taliban stronghold.

Obama, in Kabul, Presses Karzai to Root Out Government Corruption

March 29 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to press Afghan President Hamid Karzai on rooting out corruption and improving government functions so the U.S. can begin handing over security.


By Hans Nichols

While saying he’s “encouraged by the progress that’s been made” in Afghanistan, Obama said in Kabul that more must be done to make progress on benchmarks set as terms for U.S. support.

“All of us want to see a day when Afghanistan is going to be able to provide for its own security,” the president said after meeting with Karzai at the presidential palace.

Speaking later to U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield, Obama said the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan is “essential” to U.S. security because if the region slides into chaos, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will have a haven from which to attack.

“If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served I would order you home right away,” Obama told a crowd of soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel. “You will have the support to get the job done and I am confident that you can get the job done.”

Obama went to Afghanistan as the U.S. role there is growing with an escalation of forces that he ordered last December, and as allied troops are engaged in an offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Obama’s brief visit, his first to Afghanistan since becoming president, was intended to emphasize to Karzai that his government must crack down on corruption, fight the drug trafficking that helps fund the insurgency and institute merit- based systems for government appointments, according to James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser.

Attention to Governing

“There are going to be certain things he has to do as the president of his country that have not been paid attention to almost since day one,” Jones told reporters.

“We have to have the strategic rapport with President Karzai and his cabinet to understand how we are going to succeed this year in reversing the momentum the Taliban and the opposition forces have been able to establish since 2006,” he said.

Obama invited Karzai for talks in Washington in May.

“I want to send a strong message that partnership between the United States and Pakistan is going to continue,” Obama said. “We have seen already progress with respect to the military campaign against extremism, but we also want to continue to make progress on the civilian side.”

Karzai said he wanted the U.S. partnership to continue “toward a stable, strong, peaceful Afghanistan” and he thanked the U.S. for its help in rebuilding.

While in Afghanistan, the president also got briefings from the commander he installed last June, General Stanley McChrystal, and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, said press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Nighttime Landing

Landing in darkness at Bagram, Obama travelled the 50 miles to Kabul by helicopter to meet with Karzai at the presidential palace. He had a separate session with Karzai’s cabinet.

The trip, kept secret because of security concerns, capped a week in which the president won a major domestic victory with passage of a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health-care system and announced completion of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Obama campaigned for office on a pledge to shift U.S. military resources to Afghanistan from Iraq. A year ago he ordered 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 trainers to the country ahead of Afghanistan’s elections. In December, Obama ordered another 30,000 forces be sent to the country, which ultimately will expand the number of military personnel to 100,000. At the same time he asked North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries to contribute more resources to the conflict.

Battling the Taliban

The escalation is intended to reverse Taliban gains and train Afghans to take control of their country so American forces can begin withdrawing in July 2011.

The U.S. is leading a drive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. A 30-day offensive by 15,000 Afghan and NATO troops, including U.S. Marines and British forces, culminated earlier this month with allies taking control of the town of Marjah.

It was the biggest operation against the Taliban since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaeda. Officials have said they are making plans for an even bigger assault on the Taliban heartland city of Kandahar.

The increased tempo of the U.S. military campaign has brought higher casualties. In the first two months of the year, 54 U.S. personnel were killed in action in Afghanistan, compared with 27 in the first two months of 2009, according to Defense Department figures. In all, 1,018 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan, 742 of them as a result of combat, the Pentagon data show.

Regional Cooperation

As part of the Obama administration’s strategy, the U.S. also has strengthened its relationship with the government of neighboring Pakistan, whose army has been fighting a rise in terrorism after the Taliban and remnants of al-Qaeda fled Afghanistan and thousands of tribesmen joined their ranks.

Jones and Deputy National Security Adviser Douglas Lute emphasized the importance of a regional approach to Afghanistan’s stability and said the administration is encouraged by the role Pakistan is playing.

In 30 days, Karzai will convene a peace council with Afghan tribal and regional leaders, Lute said. Then in early May he hopes to host a foreign ministers conference in Kabul.

The effort has resulted in the capture of some top Taliban leaders in both countries and increased pressure on remnants of al-Qaeda hiding in tribal areas along the border with Pakistan.

The U.S. is still deploying the 30,000 additional troops that Obama authorized. The U.S. will have 98,000 troops there by Sept. 30 for a total of almost 150,000 from all 34 countries in the NATO-led coalition that aims to reverse Taliban gains and train Afghan security forces to begin taking over by July 2011.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testifying to the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 25 said the Afghan army is making “real strides” and that changes are being made to improve training of Afghan police officers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hans Nichols in Afghanistan at [email protected];
Last Updated: March 28, 2010 15:57 EDT

March 28, 2010

Pakistani army kills 22 Taliban near Afghan border

PARACHINAR, Pakistan — Pakistani troops repulsed a Taliban attack Sunday on an army base and bombed two militant hide-outs close to the Afghan border, killing 22 insurgents in a region where the army is pressing an offensive, a government official said.


By HUSSAIN AFZAL, Associated Press Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 8:31 a.m.

The fighting occurred in Orakzai tribal region where many militants are believed to have fled from a major operation in their former stronghold of South Waziristan.

The official, Samiullah Khan, said a group of militants attacked the base with rockets and automatic weapons. Security forces retaliated and killed 10 attackers. The military helicopter gunships later bombed the hide-outs in nearby Chapri Ferozkhel area, killing another 12 of them, he added.

The government says more than 100 suspected militants and five soldiers have been killed in fighting in the region in the last week.

Officials have said the militants killed so far include Uzbek and Arab nationals.

The region has been the main base of the Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud. A suspected U.S. missile strike is believed to have killed him in another tribal region, North Waziristan, early this year. Taliban have denied that, though they failed to prove otherwise.

Also in the northwest, a bomb ripped through a shop selling movies and music in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said the city police chief, Liaqat Ali Khan. Four people were wounded in the attack.

Many Islamist extremists object to music and television, which they consider un-Islamic. Scores of shops selling movies and music have been attacked by the Taliban in recent years in the country's northwest.

The Associated Press

Abrupt end of college tuition help angers military spouses

By Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers
Stars and Stripes online edition, Sunday, March 28, 2010

WASHINGTON — With her husband deployed in Iraq with a Stryker brigade from Washington state's Joint Base Lewis-McChord, 20-year-old Lauren Silva isn't your typical college student. But when it comes to finding money for tuition, books and other expenses, she's not so different.

To continue reading:


NYPD Marine Serves in Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – He's a Marine reservist by day, a crime fighter by night, and he does everything he can to protect the people of New York City. And now he's doing the same in Afghanistan.


1st Marine Logistics Group Public Affairs RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Khoa Pelczar
Date: 03.28.2010
Posted: 03.28.2010 03:45

Cpl. Ryan F. O'Leary, data network specialist for G-6, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), works as a police officer for the New York Police Department during his time as a Marine reservist for the 6th Communications Battalion of Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I've been a police officer for two years in South Jamaica, 103rd precinct, New York City," said O'Leary, 28, from Sayville, N.Y. "It's one of the busiest precincts in New York City."

To become a police officer, there's a long process that people must go through, O'Leary explained. If they don't pass any one of these steps, then they are kicked out of the police academy. In order to sign up, applicants need to have at least 60 college credits, or two years of active duty military service. Then, they must pass a written exam and go through a physical agility test, which is similar to a Marine Corps obstacle course. After that, they take a written psychological test and then sit down with a psychologist. Once they have passed everything, they'll go through a background investigation.

"Since I have a secret clearance with the military, the process went very quickly for me," said O'Leary. "The people that investigate you, they like military guys because we're very disciplined and we're on time; we take pride in ourselves."

Because of his military background, the academy made O'Leary the company sergeant, who is in charge of 40 police academy recruits. The recruits come to him for everything, and he works as a liaison between them and the instructors, similar to a platoon sergeant.

"It works both ways, my training with the police department also helps me out with the Marine Corps," O'Leary said. "We trained with the M-4 a lot. I feel that I'm more aware of my surroundings and a lot more observant now that I'm a cop, probably the little things that most normal people don't notice. I'm always looking at people's hands and things like that, making sure they won't hurt me."

Growing up in a family of police officers and military members, O'Leary followed the family footstep by joining the Marine Corps as a data network specialist. He knew early on that he wanted to be a police officer.

"I never saw myself sitting behind a desk, so I wanted to do something different. I've always knew that I wanted to become a police officer," O'Leary said. "I don't really consider it work; it's very fun for me, and I enjoy the excitement."

At the 103rd precinct, people call them the "Queens Marines" because a lot of Marines work there, O'Leary said. They wear an eagle, globe and anchor under their badge to show camaraderie. They take pride in the things they do, he said. O'Leary remembers his first arrest as if it has just happened yesterday.

"It was my second day at work, I was on a foot patrol," O'Leary said. "My partner and I saw someone was trying to rob a high school kid for a cell phone. It was a foot pursuit; we chased him for about three blocks and caught him."

Being a Marine and a police officer, it tends to take a toll on his family life, as O'Leary doesn't get to see his wife very often, he said, especially when his shift is from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. It's the busiest shift because that's when the majority of crimes occur, he said.

"Being away from the family, especially on a deployment, it's tough on everyone's family," O'Leary said. "My wife, she doesn't like it, but we were married from my first deployment in 2007, so she's used to it. She knew before we got married that this was my life, so she accepts it."

O'Leary is on military leave of absence with the NYPD so he could deploy with CLR-17, 1st MLG (FWD). Once his tour here is over, he plans to return to New York where he'll continue to do what he does best: protect the people as a police officer, but first and foremost, as a Marine.

First Corporals Course Kicks Off at Camp Leatherneck

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - Becoming a noncommissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps consists of more than an additional stripe above the cross rifles and an increased paycheck. Corporals make up approximately 20 percent of the Marine Corps and are an essential link in the chain of command as small unit leaders.



Marine Aircraft Group 40 RSS
Story by Cpl. Samuel Nasso
Date: 03.28.2010
Posted: 03.28.2010 06:57

On March 14, 38 corporals and one petty officer 3rd class eagerly awaited the start of the first Corporals Leadership Course here, when they were broken up into squads for the first event of the course.

The initial event was a test given by the instructors to measure the knowledge and proficiency of the students. This test will be given again near the end of the course to measure the student's progress following the two week course.

The mission of Corporals Course was to equip and prepare Marines to make the transition from troops following orders to small unit leaders making decisions and issuing orders to their junior Marines. During the course, corporals gained insight on key facets of their rank and responsibilities so they are better prepared to take on future leadership roles.

"Corporals Leadership Course gives noncommissioned officers, future sergeants, the tools to make them more effective leaders," said Gunnery Sgt. Quinn Owens, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Corporals Course from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. "They will use these tools as small unit leaders and it will help them deal with Marines in scenarios they've never been in before."

With the first half of the course finished, the instructors and the students were motivated to finish the course and are satisfied with the progress so far.

"I'm pleased with how this course has gone so far," said Cpl. Ethan Moyer, the class commander from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, MAG-40, MEB-Afghanistan. "Given the amount of resources we have, this has been a great opportunity for me and there are a lot of us that don't get this kind of training."

The students in the course hail from various squadrons within MAG-40, but that does not mean the students bring the same experiences or leadership styles to the class.

"We have Marines from ten different commands and 22 different military occupational specialties, all together for this course," said Sgt. Maj. John Krumholtz, the director of the course and sergeant major of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, MAG-40, MEB-Afghanistan. "The diversity allows the students an opportunity to learn more from each other during the course and build off of each other's experiences."

Along with the different students going through the course together, the instructors came from different backgrounds and brought varied experiences to the table as well.

"We have a few instructors with our squadron, VMM-261, and a few instructors from HMH-466," said Owens. "They volunteered to instruct these young Marines and each offers something different."

Prior to the first day of Corporals Course, the instructors, ran through the schedule to make sure the course would run smoothly. Each day they arrive early and stay late, again ensuring that each series of events are ready to go for the next day.

"They are up before the students at 0400 and are usually still working come 2000, ensuring that everything is prepared for the following training day," said Owens. "They deserve all the credit and are making it happen for the young Marines."

For the first Corporals Course at Camp Leatherneck, a lot of coordination and logistics had to be figured out. Krumholtz got the ball rolling by contacting Headquarters Marine Corps to determine how best to establish this course and draft a training schedule.
Once the schedule was approved, the logistics of the course had to be figured out. Coordination was made between the squadrons of MAG-40 in order to acquire a classroom, designate instructors, obtain needed equipment and coordinate training areas.

"It took a lot of planning, but it is worth it," said Owens. "They only go through this once in their life and even if these Marines get out of the Marine Corps they will always remember Corporals Course in Afghanistan."

Both guest speakers for the course, Krumholtz and Sgt. Maj. Ernest Hoopi, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan sergeant major, couldn't agree more about the benefit of this course for young NCO's.

"You can't buy being a Marine," said Hoopi. "This is the best time of your life, so wear this uniform with pride, hold your head high, stick out your chest and walk the walk."

With a week left in the course, the students have been equipped with the tools to become better NCO's and are eager to learn more.

"Marines that I look up to as mentors have gone through Corporals Course and I have personally seen the difference this course makes," said Moyer. "It makes a Marine more complete and further develops them as an NCO."

Once this class graduates on March 29, the director and staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of this class, hope to see additional courses conducted in the future.

"This is just a start. What we all need to do is come together like we did this time and keep it going," said Owens. "I hope we can get all of our units together and at least four times a year, have a Corporals Course with dedicated billeting and a dedicated classroom."

With optimistic plans for future courses, mission accomplishment in a combat zone will remain the priority of effort for all the Marines in Afghanistan. However, this course will better equip new corporals in their role as small unit leaders, thus improving the overall success of each squadron and in turn MAG-40 and MEB-Afghanistan.

"It is not imperative that we have this course in Afghanistan," said Krumholtz. "But if Marine Corps University offers it to us and if we can have 39 better prepared NCO's running around, then why waste the opportunity."

British forces to withdraw from Helmand under new US plan for Afghanistan

British forces are to be withdrawn from Helmand and replaced by United States Marines under controversial new plans being drawn up by American commanders.

The proposal, which would have to be approved by a new British government, is facing stiff resistance. Whitehall officials fear that a pull-out from Helmand, where nearly 250 British troops have been killed since 2006, would be portrayed as an admission of defeat.


By Toby Harnden in Kabul
Published: 2:00AM BST 28 Mar 2010

Under the plans, British forces would hand over their remaining bases in Helmand to the US Marines as early as this year.

Such a move could bring back unhappy memories of the 2007 withdrawal from Basra in southern Iraq, which provoked jibes about British forces being bailed out by the Americans.

The proposal is linked to a reorganisation of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces that will split the current Regional Command (South) in two after an American-led offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar this summer.

A senior American officer in ISAF said that "the Marines will be the primary force in Helmand and Nimruz" while "British forces will go to a combination of Kandahar and Uruzgan and Zabul".

British officials opposed to the move argue that the ground-level expertise and knowledge of local power brokers in Helmand, which they have built up over many years, would be squandered in apparent contradiction of the "know the people" counter-insurgency doctrine put in place by the Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal.

But while acknowledging the political sensitivities, a senior British officer in ISAF said that a new role outside Helmand would be central to Gen McChrystal's campaign strategy, which is based on protecting the main Pashtun population centres.

"Through the microcosm of the UK media lens, a lot of people will say, 'We fought, we've spilt British blood in Helmand and now we're withdrawing'," the official said.

"Completely wrong. We're going to where the main effort is."

Under Gen McChrystal's plan, Helmand and Nimruz will come under a new Regional Command (South West) while Kandahar, Uruzgan and Kabul will constitute Regional Command (South East).

The US Marines have a strong tradition of independence and a determined preference for operating alone in a single area, as they did in Iraq's Anbar province. Nato has agreed that Major General Richard Mills of the US Marines – who for 18 months commanded ground forces in Iraq's Anbar province – will take command of the new south-western area of Afghanistan.

In a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph, Gen McChrystal stressed that Kandahar was of "tremendous moral importance" to the Taliban because it was their former capital and the birthplace of their leader the one-eyed Mullah Omar.

Asked whether British forces would move to Kandahar, he responded carefully: "There's a lot of politics involved in where forces go, so rather than start a political debate about where forces are what I'd rather do is just move on with where things are now and let things develop."

Canadian forces, 2,500 of which are currently based in Kandahar – where British forces won a decisive battle in 1880 that brought the Second Afghan War to an end – are due to withdraw from Afghanistan next year. Some 2,000 Dutch forces in Uruzgan are due to be pulled out by August.

British forces first deployed to Helmand in significant numbers in spring 2006, when 3,300 members of 16 Air Assault Brigade arrived. Their mission was to restore security so that reconsstruction could begin and the illegal opium trade be disrupted.

But they faced an immediate upsurge in Taliban activity and this has continued ever since, leading to regular calls for greater troop numbers. There are currently around 10,000 from the UK in the region, and 248 soldiers have been killed there.

This would leave a vacuum in south-eastern Afghanistan at a time when US Marines are pouring into Helmand as part of President Barack Obama's surge of 30,000 troops, which will soon bring American forces to a level of 100,000, double what they were a year ago. About 20,000 US Marines will be in Helmand by this summer, more than twice the number of British troops there.

Some senior American officers believe the British have become too attached to "Helmandshire" and have developed tunnel vision.

Although British troops have been praised for their valour, the consensus within the American military is that control of the province has slipped away because of inadequate numbers, poor equipment and thin logistical support.

Senior American officers also believe the British became distracted by defending bases in outlying areas like Musa Qala, Kajaki and Sangin when they should have concentrated on the more-populated central Helmand.

A Washington defence source said that, under the new plan, "Helmandshire will become Marine-istan."

The main British logistics base in Afghanistan is already at Kandahar airfield – a factor that makes a shift from Helmand more feasible. Nato forces in southern Afghanistan are currently commanded by Maj Gen Nick Carter from his Regional Command (South) headquarters at the airfield.

Mark Sedwill, formerly British ambassador in Afghanistan and now Nato's Senior Civilian Representative, acknowledged that withdrawal of British forces from Helmand would make "a lot of sense" when viewed from a "purely military perspective".

This was because "the challenges in Kandahar are very well suited to the resources we can bring and the capabilities" British troops have.

"Could we end up with the Brits in Kandahar?" he said. "I guess theoretically we could and certainly I wouldn't rule it out because from the ISAF perspective we need to look at what is the sensible force deployment as the Canadians draw down after 2011 and given how central Kandahar is to the entire campaign.

"But any shift of that kind is not just an ISAF decision, it would have to be agreed with the British government of the day. There would be enormous political sensitivities to manage just because of the amount of investment of blood and treasure that has gone into central Helmand."

Maj Gen Gordon Messenger, senior British military spokesman, said that there was "no thought at the moment of doing anything other" than "a job which is utterly, utterly needed as part of the coalition force in central Helmand".

He added: "How that function changes over time is clearly being looked at ... and there are any number of options. But it would be unwise to view moving and conducting ground-holding in Kandahar as one of them."

IJC Operational Update March 28

KABUL, Afghanistan – Two suspected militants were detained as an Afghan-international security force pursued a Taliban commander in Marjeh, Nad Ali district, Helmand province last night.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.28.2010
Posted: 03.28.2010 08:04

In a separate operation, an Afghan-international security force detained four suspected militants as they pursued a Taliban sub-commander in Kandahar City, near the village of Karz also last night.

Afghan national army soldiers, with the assistance of ISAF Special Operations Forces, provided security and medical assistance after an insurgent IED strike destroyed a bus, killing and injuring several Afghan civilians, in Pusht Rud district, Farah province yesterday.

The Afghan-led medical and security team arrived at the scene near the Masaw village school and treated and transported wounded to local medical facilities.

ANA forces also assisted Afghan national police in securing and clearing the area.

In a separate ANA operation, soldiers providing security for a shura in Khakrez district center, Kandahar province were able to capture an insurgent who fired two rockets at the compound where the shura was being held yesterday. The man was captured after an ISAF helicopter spotted him and relayed the information to ANA forces. Both rockets fell short and the shura continued.

A joint ANSF-ISAF patrol discovered a weapons cache in Sayyidabad district, Wardak province yesterday.

The cache consisted of 68 kilograms (150 lbs.) of home-made explosives, 12 82mm mortar rounds, 17 RPGs, 23 recoilless rifle rounds, a 105mm artillery round, a rocket launcher, and a spool of wire.

The munitions were destroyed on site.

No civilians were harmed during these operations.

ISAF Special Forces medics treated an Afghan boy after family members brought him to a firebase near Char Chine district, Uruzgan province Friday. The child was unconscious and having trouble breathing. The medics quickly assessed the child's condition and he was evacuated by air to a medical facility at Tarin Kowt where he is under observation.

ANSF, ISAF Conduct Operation Against Suspected Taliban Commander in Kapisa

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan National Security Forces and ISAF partners conducted an operation to capture suspected Taliban fighters near Alasay Valley in the Tagab district of Kapisa province yesterday


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.28.2010
Posted: 03.28.2010 05:56.

As the ANSF and ISAF combined force entered the compound, they received heavy fire. The force returned fire in self defense; several Taliban fighters were killed and one was captured.

These insurgents are suspected of repeatedly entering civilian homes at night to conduct illegal searches, initiating strict curfews on the villages of the valley and conducting illegal patrols to enforce Taliban control on local civilians. One of the militants is suspected of being the senior Taliban commander in the western Alasay Valley responsible for a number of violent attacks against Afghan government officials as well as ANSF and ISAF forces.

Multiple assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade and several documents were discovered during the operation, and were turned over to Afghan officials for further investigation.

Two women and two children were protected throughout this operation, in which no civilians were injured.

March 27, 2010

CLR-2 Transfers Authority to 1st MLG (FWD)

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Combat Logistics Regiment 2 relinquished responsibilities to the 1st Marine Logistics Group Forward during a Transfer of Authority ceremony here, March 24.


1st Marine Logistics Group Public Affairs RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Jerrick J. Griffin
Date: 03.27.2010
Posted: 03.27.2010 11:25

"When we came out there was nothing here," said Col. John W. Simmons, commanding officer of CLR-2. "The Marines got up every morning and did what had to be done."

The ceremony included the casing of the CLR-2 colors by the outgoing commanding officer, Col. Simmons and Sgt. Maj. Craig W. Chaplick, , which signifies the completion of CLR-2's mission. The 1st MLG colors were then uncased by the commanding general, Brig. Gen Charles L. Hudson and Sgt. Maj. Antonio N. Vizcarrondo Jr.

"I'm very confident that (1st MLG Forward) will continue to build on the success Col. Simmons and his Marines and Sailors have been able to accomplish these past eleven months," said Hudson, from Zirconia, N.C.

Other than building on the success of CLR-2, 1st MLG's mission is to help and assist with the redeployment of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade as they return to Camp Lejeune, and support the 1st Marine Division while they conduct counterinsurgency operations, stated Hudson.

After the casing and uncasing of the units' colors, the commanders gave their remarks to visiting guests and Marines.

"I'm very proud of what theses Marines have done, individually, as a unit and as a team," said Simmons.

After 1st MLG (FWD) officially took control, the Marines were excited for what the future has in store for them.

"It's been amazing so far," said Cpl. Jeremy Garland, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st MLG (FWD). "I look forward to doing big things here," said Garland, 23, from Orange County, Calif.

The 1st MLG (FWD) will provide logistical support to Marines for approximately a year, when they will transfer authority to another unit.

Arrival at Camp Leatherneck

Some of the final groups of Marines from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) landed aboard Camp Leatherneck's flight line in the cool morning hours March 27 to begin their one-year deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.


3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd) Public Affairs RSS
Story by Cpl. Ryan Rholes
Date: 03.27.2010
Posted: 03.27.2010 02:06

After a few days of air travel intermittently broken up by short layovers, the 3rd MAW (Fwd.) Marines hit the ground ready to run.

"I'm just ready to get settled and start working," said Lance Cpl. Patrick Fussell, a combat videographer with MWHS-3 (Fwd.) "The MAG-40 Marines have done a lot since getting here and I want to keep it going after they leave."

Camp Leatherneck has expanded rapidly in recent months to accommodate a large increase in numbers prompted by President Obama pledging 30,000 additional troops to help support OEF.

The 3rd MAW will serve as the aviation combat element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force and will relieve Marine Aircraft Group 40 in a transfer of authority in April.

ANSF and ISAF Target Taliban Compound in Kajaki

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan National Security Forces and ISAF partners conducted an operation near Kariz Deh Baba, east of Musa Qal'eh Friday, in which several suspected insurgents were killed and detained.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.27.2010
Posted: 03.27.2010 07:21

The combined ANSF and ISAF force surrounded a compound suspected of being used to train Taliban fighters and store their weapons. Information provided to the ANSF also indicated the compound was a Taliban headquarters, and at times was used as a prison. As ANSF members of the combined force entered the compound, a number of insurgents fired upon them. The force responded in self defense and killed several insurgents. Several other insurgents were detained.
ANSF conducted a search of the compound and found several assault rifles, approximately 10,000 rounds of ammunition, six rocket-propelled grenades, 26 RPG warheads, two grenades, a mortar, all of which were destroyed at the compound.

No women or children were in the compound, and no civilians were harmed during this operation.

IJC Operational Update, March 27

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF partners captured two insurgents in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province yesterday. One of the insurgents is suspected of being a Taliban commander who has planned attacks in Marjah and Nad-e Ali.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.27.2010
Posted: 03.27.2010 06:35

Six women and 17 children were protected throughout this operation, in which no shots were fired and no civilians were injured.

This operation was a continuation of efforts to eliminate insurgent threats against the Afghan people and Afghan and ISAF troops.

Last night an Afghan-international security force searched compounds just east of Marjeh, in the Nad-e Ali district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force detained several suspected insurgents for further questioning.

In Logar last night, a joint security force searched a compound in the village of Mogkol Khel, in the Mohammad Agha district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force captured two Taliban facilitators. Both facilitators had been involved in planning attacks against coalition forces, including improvised explosive device emplacements. Both facilitators admitted their identity when confronted. A few other militants were captured during the search.

An Afghan Border Police patrol set up a road block in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province last night along the border with Pakistan. One vehicle en route to Pakistan failed to stop and was engaged by the ABP. Subsequently, the vehicle stopped and the passengers fled on foot. When the ABP searched the vehicle they found 19 bags of hashish. The driver of the vehicle was arrested for possession of hashish.

In the Nad-e Ali district last night, an Afghan-international security patrol found a cache containing plastic explosives, an improvised land mine, a pressure plate device and a remote-control initiation device.

An ISAF patrol in the same region found a cache last night containing 59 kilograms (130 lbs) of suspected ammonium nitrate, 4.5 kg (10 lbs) of home-made explosives, 20 40mm round casings, 20 feet of detonation cord, 10 pressure plate devices, 280 23mm rounds and 27 kg (60 1bs) of shrapnel. The cache was destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

A joint patrol found three grenades and 2 kg (4 lbs) of TNT during a sweep of an area in Nad-e Ali last night. The cache was destroyed by an EOD team.

An Afghan child was wounded last night in Nad-e Ali when an insurgent threw a grenade at a security post. ISAF forces provided immediate first aid to the child, who then returned home.

Also in Nad-e Ali this morning an ISAF patrol found a cache containing two 105mm rounds, a PKM machine gun, a .303 rifle, an AK-47 rifle with more than 400 rounds of ammunition, and a .22-caliber pistol. The owner of the cache was detained.

Mortarmen Bring 81s to the Fight

MARJAH, Afghanistan – The Marines and Soldiers were going about their daily business, setting up their new company operating base in Marjah, Afghanistan, March 21. There wasn't much going on at the time.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde
Date: 03.27.2010
Posted: 03.27.2010 11:36

Without warning, the dull afternoon was interrupted by gunshots. Insurgents in the area were attacking the troops with small-arms fire.

While Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and soldiers from the Afghan national army shot back, mortarmen from 1st Section, 81-mm Mortars Platoon, attached to India Co., dashed to their pits to prepare their mortars for fire.

"We got on the (mortar) guns and direct-laid on the enemy's muzzle flashes," said Sgt. Dennis Leanes, the first section leader for the platoon.

Direct-laying, meaning to point the mortar tube directly at the target, is acceptable when the mark is in sight, Leanes added.

The firefight was brief, only lasting several minutes before the insurgents stopped shooting. The Marines didn't get to launch any mortars, but they were ready to if necessary.

"(The mortarmen) were ready to drop some rounds and cause havoc on those guys," said Leanes, from Ishpeming, Mich. "As soon as (the insurgents) saw the guns pointed at 'em, they retreated because they knew what was gonna come down on 'em!"

The potential destructibility and altitude of a mortar round when launched from an 81 mm tube has in part caused it to be used sparingly during Operation Moshtarak. Before being allowed to shoot one, the mortarmen must obtain clearance through the battalion.

These Marines shoot larger mortars from 81 mm tubes as opposed to the 60 mm tubes many of their fellow mortarmen shoot from. The two groups of mortarmen are used in different ways.

Mortarmen that fire 81s are usually tasked out to weapons companies while 60s get attached to platoons within the line companies. Eighty-ones aren't as mobile and remain stationary for longer periods of time.

To date, the 81s mortarmens' most significant role during the Marjah offensive occurred days before the coalition's Feb. 13 push into the city.

"The biggest mission that we've had out here was a smoke-screening," said Cpl. Barry J. Herb, a squad leader. "That was right before D-Day."

During the ruse, the mortarmen fired 24 rounds of red phosphorous over the course of several hours, while the light-armored reconnaissance unit with them fired off mine-clearing line charges.

Since that time, the mortarmen have been moving around from place to place, ready for their next big mission.

March 26, 2010

Afghanistan, Mid-War

Camp Delaram, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — This is the second in a series of reports from Afghanistan.

When our Fox News team was here over a year ago, this was a platoon patrol base. Then, this area was a Taliban free-fire zone and rarely did Marines venture "outside the wire" without some kind of engagement with the enemy — usually an improvised explosive device (IED) planted in the moon dust that passes for dirt here in this arid desert.

When we returned to Afghanistan last autumn, this dusty crossroads town had grown to become the headquarters for a battalion. Today, Delaram is "home" to Marine Regimental Combat Team 2 and thousands more Marines are on the way. The "Afghanistan Surge" — 30,000 additional U.S. troops ordered here last December by the president is well underway — and dramatically changing this region once known as "the heartland of the Taliban." By mid to late summer there will be 80,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 30,000 more "boots on the ground" in the shadows of the Hindu Kush than in Iraq.


Friday, March 26, 2010
By Col. Oliver North

At Camp Leatherneck, two hours by paved road east of here, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) that arrived a year ago is being replaced by a Marine Expeditionary Force, more than tripling the number of U.S. and coalition troops in this "battlespace." The new units even include a battalion of troops from Georgia — the country, not the state. Best of all, says Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, the outgoing MEB commander, "Afghanistan National Army units are stepping up to the task of defending their own country." He is starting a boot camp for new recruits.

As base perimeters are "pushed out" to make room for arriving units, Navy Seabee construction crews and contractors are working around the clock to build runways, landing zones, fuel farms, billets, mess halls and command centers. As I write this at 01:30 in the morning, I can hear bulldozers, cranes and heavy trucks loading and unloading. A concrete batch plant, operated by an Afghan company that wasn't here a week ago, is now running around the clock.

The new construction and arriving troops are auspiciously timed. Helmand and neighboring Kandahar provinces produce most of the world's illicit opium — a major source of funding for the Taliban. And this year's harvest is about to come in. That would normally be bad news, but this year it may not be.

If the Marines and special agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) we're with have their way, the net revenue to the Taliban from this year's harvest will drop dramatically. They have launched a concerted campaign, as one senior officer put it, to "turn off the opium spigot without turning the people against us."

Notably, the senior Marine commanders here also fought in Iraq's Anbar Province and were engaged in creating what came to be called "the Awakening." There, prominent Sunni tribal leaders were ultimately convinced to stop supporting Baathist and Al Qaeda terrorists. Here, they hope to do the same thing with "part-time Taliban" and those who have been supporting the movement.

Colonel Randy Newman and Colonel Paul Kennedy commanded Marine Infantry Battalions in Ramadi, Iraq at the height of the Sunni insurgency. Our Fox News team was embedded with both units during the time when Anbar Province was the bloodiest place on the planet. Now these men command regimental combat teams here in Helmand Province.

"It's not the same fight, but there are many common factors in every insurgency," Colonel Newman told me this week. "We won over the Sunni tribes in Iraq with persistence, patience and persuasion. We have some different challenges here, but we also have some great new tools and many of the same great Marines."

Among the new challenges is opium, which funds much of what the Taliban can do. Among the new tools is the DEA, which has the ability to collect very specific, timely intelligence on illicit drugs and the capacity to exploit that information. The upcoming poppy harvest will put all that capability to the test.

Over the course of the next few weeks, while our Fox News team is on the ground, U.S. and coalition forces are going to make the first concerted effort to interdict the harvesting and processing of opium in one of the most dangerous and unforgiving places on Earth. If it succeeds, it could well mean the eventual end of the Taliban insurgency and even Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

— Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and the author of "American Heroes."

Female Marine Leads Platoon, Inspires Others

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Sgt. Tanell Nedd is one of the busiest non-commissioned officers working in the 2nd Marine Logistics Group these days. While she directs and mentors her platoon of young Marines, she is also preparing them for a grueling future deployment to Afghanistan.


2nd Marine Logistic Group Public Affairs
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Katesha Washington
Date: 03.26.2010
Posted: 03.26.2010 05:24

Nedd, a tactical switch operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd MLG, is the platoon sergeant for the S-6 Communications shop. On the surface, she looks like the average hotshot platoon sergeant; slim physical appearance, confident and sharply clad in her camouflage uniform.

It is Nedd's tenacity and dependability to take care of her Marines though, that gives her staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge such a good impression of her; he says she is among the cream of the crop in the battalion.

"Sgt Nedd is the best NCO in the platoon. When dealing with the same rank it can be difficult for some leaders to give orders, guidance, and direction to their peers." SNCOIC of S-6 Staff Sgt. Steven Gabrielson, said. "Sgt Nedd does not have this problem. She is looked up to and respected by all ranks under her charge."

The 21-year-old sergeant did not have an easy road on her journey to becoming a standout NCO. During the first four years of her career, she says her morale was very low and she was looking forward to leaving the Corps as soon as her contract was complete.

"I was having a rough time during my first enlistment. I wasn't being challenged and I didn't feel my job was important to the mission." She said.

But the guidance and mentorship of a special leader during Nedd's deployment to Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq in 2006 completely changed her attitude, and her life.

"Gunnery Sgt. Young was very instrumental in making me the person that I am today," she explained. "His leadership motivated me, strengthened me and changed my life as a Marine.

If he hadn't believed in me and pushed me, I probably would not have re-enlisted." she added.

Jeffrey Young, then a gunnery sergeant, was the Communications chief and Nedd's mentor. Today, he is the first sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. Throughout his career he's dealt with his fair share of Marine NCOs. He saw where Nedd was at one point in her life and is pleased to see the change in her leadership and attitude.

"She was 'a piece of work', foul mouthed, undisciplined, and [had] zero tact. Back then, she was not a Marine worth emulating, or for future service in the Marine Corps.
Now, she is the model Marine. She is very compassionate about her Marines and she demands respect and obedience at all times." Young said.

As a woman, he added, Sgt. Nedd has class, she conducts herself like a lady, and demands others to treat her as such.

Nedd also credits her parents, both of whom served in the U.S. military, and are natives of the South American country Guyana, with influencing her decision to join the Marine Corps. Although she chose a different service, she wanted to follow in her parent's footsteps by making the military a career.

"My father, who was in the Army, had a big impact on my career. I wouldn't really have joined if it weren't for his motivation and dedication to the military. I am fulfilling his dream." she said.

Her mother, a 12-year veteran of the Navy, helped shape Nedd's character into the hardworking, dedicated and extremely loyal woman she is today.

"Watching my mother push herself in the military and take care of her kids at the same time made me see how strong she was and how much I wanted to be like that," Nedd explained. "I think I am."

As she continues on her journey to one day becoming a commissioned officer or sergeant major, Nedd realizes now, just how important her role is as a leader of Marines and as a strong woman. She wants to be a positive role model to all of her Marines, regardless of their gender.

"If they see me striving to be better than everyone around me, they will do the same. I just want what other leaders want from their Marines - for them to do and be the best that they can." she said.

Nedd plans to become a drill instructor possibly after her next deployment, but for now is focused on bringing her Marines back from Afghanistan once they've accomplished their mission there. Her success and transformation is the reason why her former mentor, 1st Sgt. Young worked so hard to help Nedd.

"If we don't develop and train our replacement, then the future of our Corps is doomed. We have a responsibility to make [model] Marines and citizens." He concluded.

U.S. Revamps Afghan Troop Deployments

Pentagon's New System Would Return Units to Same Parts of Country to Develop Expertise, Closer Local Relationships

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon is revamping the way it deploys troops to Afghanistan, putting in place a new system that will return units to the same parts of the country so they can develop better regional expertise and closer relationships with local Afghan power brokers.


MARCH 26, 2010

Senior military officials say the "Campaign Continuity" initiative will determine the specific provinces and regions where many of the 30,000 soldiers and Marines who are being sent to Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration's retooled war strategy will end up serving.

The plan represents a significant change for the military, which has long rotated its combat forces through both Afghanistan and Iraq. Under the new system, the Pentagon will essentially be assigning responsibility for the Afghan war to the same small number of Army and Marine units.

"They'll be going back to the same place and seeing the same faces, so they won't need to relearn everything from scratch," said a senior military official familiar with the plan. "It will allow for continuity of effort in a given location."

The new system is the latest example of the military's continuing effort to remake itself for the long war in Afghanistan. It also reflects the growing influence of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan, who has been able to persuade the military bureaucracy to adopt a series of far-reaching operational and organizational changes.

The new system is designed to address what Gen. McChrystal and his aides see as a major bureaucratic flaw: the military's long-held belief that it could use Army and Marine units
interchangeably in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. McChrystal has argued that Afghanistan was so complicated that the military needed to allocate specific units solely to that war. He also made the case that the Pentagon should work to send those units back to the same parts of the country in which they had served before.

The troop withdrawal from Iraq has also made it easier for the military to implement the new program, since fewer forces are now required there.

"The idea is that you could then capitalize on the experiences and relationships they'd developed during earlier deployments by sending them back to a specific area," said a military official in Kabul familiar with the deliberations.

Thomas Donnelly, a defense analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Gen. McChrystal "clearly has the strong personal backing" of Defense Secretary Robert Gates as he presses for initiatives like the Campaign Continuity plan.

"It's no longer a question of adapting a previously existing force for a different kind of war," Mr. Donnelly said. "At this point, it's a question of restructuring the entire force for Afghanistan."

In recent months, the Pentagon has created the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell, a fast-growing office charged with improving the military's performance in Afghanistan; an "Afghan Hands" program, which is immersing dozens of officers from each of the military's services in Afghanistan-related issues for the next three to five years; and a new intelligence center at the military's Central Command designed to help troops better understand the country's complex political dynamics.

On the ground in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies will soon create a new American-led military command in the south of the country to set the stage for a large-scale offensive later this year in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

The new Regional Command Southwest will be led by Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, a military official said this week. When Gen. Mills takes charge of the new command, the existing Regional Command South will be redirected to focus exclusively on the coming Kandahar campaign.

In another recent change, nearly all of the Special Operations forces in Afghanistan now report to Gen. McChrystal, whose predecessors lacked similar operational control over the Navy Seals, Army Delta Force commandos and other elite troops.

Military officials here and in Kabul said the Campaign Continuity system was originally going to apply only to the Army, with elements of the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions cycling through eastern Afghanistan on a rotational basis.

But the officials said the plan had since been extended to the Marines, whose forces have primary responsibility for Helmand, Kandahar and the rest of volatile southern Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, said one of the first units affected by the new approach was the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which served in eastern Afghanistan until the summer of 2008 and returned to the same part of the country in December.

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at [email protected]

Helping Marines, one box at a time

To call life difficult at Forward Operating Base Geronimo in Southern Afghanistan means little as we sit in Orange County wondering if we'll make dinner tonight or get takeout.


Published: March 26, 2010

The landscape is nothing but dirt and rocks. A few weeks ago, frost covered U.S. Marines in foxholes. Temperatures will soar toward 120 degrees in a few months. And then there's the war, a war in which suicide bombers or hidden explosives kill without warning.

Many of us push aside the hardships our troops face – or forget about them entirely.

Not Marlene Blaue of Garden Grove.

Working for nothing and relying on only her Social Security checks and the kindness of strangers and friends, Blaue has dedicated more than half her week every week for the past four years to sending care packages to Marines.

That would be 1,983 boxes, 12-by-12-by-5 inches, each stuffed with necessities, a few luxuries and a note to our men and women in uniform. The postage alone, at $12.50 a package, comes to $24,787.50.

Why bother? We have the best equipped fighting forces in the world, right?

We've read about tent cities in Iraq where Marines' biggest problem is deciding what dessert to get. Those facilities are the exception. And it took years before they went up.

The war in Afghanistan is being fought on tougher terrain. And, increasingly, it is being fought by our men and women out of Camp Pendleton, young Marines like my son's best friend and more seasoned troops such as Richard "Ditch" Cordes.

"We just hit the half-way mark and are down to around 100 days," Cordes wrote Blaue last month after receiving a care package she sent.

Cordes, commander for 1st Bulk Fuel Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, added, "We all hope the second half goes faster than the first half. The weather got a lot colder but nothing too bad.

"Please tell all the ladies thank you for the box, and when we see your name on the box we know it's Christmas all over again."

It is sentences such as the last one that make it all worthwhile for Blaue, wife of a former Marine and grandmother of Marine Cpl. John Gutierrez, now stationed in Okinawa.

Blaue launched her care package mission in October 2006 after her husband shared an article by my friend former Register columnist Gordon Dillow.

Dillow reported Marines fighting in Iraq were short on such things as socks, toothpaste and wipes, especially handy when showers are in short supply.

Blaue went to the Web site anymarine.com and discovered Marine after Marine in need. Many were short on hygiene supplies. Some just wanted something to read during the long stretches of boredom that are a part of war. Others hoped for a little taste of home – candy, dried fruit, a can of Chef Boyardee.

"One kid wrote to me that what you might be having as a snack during the football game, might be our dinner," Blaue told me.

What started as a mission quickly grew into a passion.

"I go on that darned Web site and I adopt more than I should," she laughed.

A retired businesswoman who ran her own plant-care operation called "The Plant Lady," Blaue networked with everyone she knew – and had ever known.

She connected with high school classmates from Long Beach Poly. She called sorority sisters at Delta Delta Delta from Long Beach State University. She talked to people up and down her block.

Soon, Blaue found she created a little community. Neighbors dropped off boxes of goods every few days. Nearby companies found items to contribute. Nestlé's offered mugs, cocoa, coffee and creamer. Diamond Baseball threw in baseballs. The Tesoro Refinery came up with Frisbees and sunscreen. Members from her bridge club helped pack boxes.

At the post office, people standing in line sometimes contributed when they discovered what Blaue was up to, $20 here, $100 there.

Traditions started. Every 100 boxes, Blaue packed something extra special. The latest item was a Mickey Mouse watch a man donated – and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

First, Marines wrote thank you notes. Later, they started dropping by if they were in the area. Sgt. Reanne Webster, now a drill instructor, has thanked Blaue in person three times.

Walk into Blaue's home and it's hard to miss her passion.

Near the front door is a replica of the Iwo Jima memorial flanked by two triangular boxes. A flag that flew over Fallujah is in one; in the other is a flag that flew over Ramadi. Both were gifts from grateful Marines.

Then there are the stacks of empty boxes waiting to be filled, boxes that will soon make their way to Afghanistan and into the hands of Marines.

On March 4 at 5 a.m. a half world away from Blaue's home, PFC Kyle Riger with the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, sat down in front of a computer.

"It means so much to us, knowing that there are people back home that support us over here," the young Marine wrote.

"The amount of boxes that are sent out by everyone is amazing. That kind of support is what gets everyone through the hard times here."

Just hours later, Blaue checked her e-mail and brushed away a tear.

This time, it was Blaue who was grateful.

Adviser Training Group Trains Marines on Afghan Customs, Culture

Instructors from the Combat Center's Adviser Training Group are providing cultural awareness and language training to service members deploying to Afghanistan to help them accomplish their mission.



Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Michael Nerl
Date: 03.26.2010
Posted: 03.26.2010 07:57

This training all comes together during the mission rehearsal exercise, said Capt. Jeremiah Root, an assessor with ATG, and a native of Paradise, Calif.

"The MRX is a chance for them to operate as a team with complete immersion," Root said. "They've received plenty of language training and fundamental skills to help them build rapport and understand the culture they'll be immersed in when they are deployed."

"Learning the language plays a huge role in understanding the culture," he said. "It helps the individual Marine to speak and interact with the [Afghan national police] and the [Afghan national army]."

Breaking down the language and societal barrier gives those headed overseas vital reassurance in their skills. This is needed for them to do their jobs effectively when working or living with, and training local forces.

"I personally think its great training," he said. "I went through the course and onto an [Embedded Training Team]. It was just in its infancy, but we learned quite a lot about the language," he said. "The team as a whole is much stronger when the members are able to communicate at a certain level."

Members of one of the five training teams who finished their cycle last week agreed with Root about the benefits of the training.

"Getting to know the people, and learning their customs and courtesies is an important part of winning their hearts and minds over there," said 1st Lt. Sean Lacey, an infantry officer assigned to Police Mentor Team 2, from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, in Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. "If you don't speak Pashtu, then you can't even begin to understand how people live and work, because most importantly, you can't understand them."

The Mansfield, Texas, native said the Marines on his team have adapted quite well to the new language.

"It's good to see and hear the Marines amongst themselves, but more importantly with the role players speaking Pashtu," he said. "They've responded quite well, and I'm proud to have them working underneath me."

Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Wollman, a corpsman on PMT-2 team, said he knows from past experience how helpful learning a language can be when interacting with locals in a foreign country.

"I remember taking German back in high school," said the Moses Lake, Wash., native. "We took a class trip to Germany as part of the exchange program before I left for Navy boot camp, and boy I thought I knew what I was doing before I left."

"Just being in Germany for three weeks really helped me get to know the language, and more importantly the people even more," Wollman said. "I learned a lot more than I thought I even knew to begin with."

PMT-2 and other training and mentor teams with 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, are slated to deploy in the coming months, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Local 'Hurt Locker' Marine receives Bronze Star

Marine Dustin Velzeboer scribbled seven words on a scrap of paper while steering a burning vehicle packed with explosives away from his wounded fellow servicemen.




Published: March 26, 2010

The words are barely legible because the fingers on his writing hand were broken moments earlier when a massive blast detonated and took the lives of three U.S. servicemen and a number of Iraqi police.

Staff Sgt. Dustin Velzeboer is a Marine.

He's always known he wanted to be a Marine. If you call him a soldier, he will correct you.

He's an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician tasked with disarming Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs.

If you've seen "The Hurt Locker," that's him.

He joined up right out of high school and has completed four tours (three in Iraq) before the age of 30.

In April of last year Paige Velzeboer, his wife, was five months pregnant with their first child together (he is also stepfather to her two other children) when his team was called to the site of a weapons cache that was discovered in a community outside Fallujah in Iraq.

The weapons cache consisted of a large number of Rocket Propelled Grenades. His team gathered the weapons and placed them into 55 gallon drums in a trailer attached to their vehicle.

As they were finishing, they received a call from Iraqi police that an IED had been discovered nearby.

So they went to dispose of it.

The device was examined remotely through the use of a robot and then defused. Marine Staff Sgt. Tony Wojciechowski was walking the device to a disposal area when it detonated. Gunnery Sgt. Tony Lino was walking next to Wojciechowski when it exploded.

"That one just went wrong. We were done with everything," said Lino, who was severely injured in the blast.

Velzeboer was standing on the yoke of the trailer 30 or so feet away when it happened.

His head ringing, Velzeboer's training kicked in and he reached for his gun with his right hand and began scanning for targets.

He couldn't seem to grip his pistol.

"I was a little apprehensive to look down and see what might not be my hand," he said.

Instead of looking down, he used his other hand and began feeling from his forearm down. When he found that his hand was there he breathed a sigh of relief. Still, he was unable to use that hand as his ring finger was broken back over the rest of his fingers.

Shortly thereafter he heard rocket fire.

Above the trailer a line of smoke streaked toward the heavens. Shrapnel from the blast, the same shrapnel that was now sprinkled across his body, had blown into the trailer and ignited a rocket. Now, on fire, the rocket-filled trailer was threatening to explode.

Unable to move his fallen teammates and without being ordered, Velzeboer jumped into the driver's seat of the vehicle and started the engine.

While he was driving, he scribbled a note with his left hand. The note bears the names of his wife and kids, "Paige, Sam, Nicole," as well as the words "I love you."

For the unborn child who would later be named Abigail, he rapidly wrote down the word "babye."

He stuffed the note into his pocket and drove the vehicle with the burning explosive-filled trailer away from the blast site.

"It was just one of those things where you've got to get it done. So I took care of that," he said.

Velzeboer's sense of time warped as he drove away.

"I felt like I was in there for a while, and I was driving entirely too slow. I have no idea how far," he said.

Far enough.

He stopped, jumped out of the vehicle and ran back to help secure the blast site and assist the wounded. The trailer later exploded and, according to Velzeboer, did not cause any injuries.

Velzeboer was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor Friday for that act.

The first blast of the IED took the lives of Wojciechowski, Marine Sgt. James McIlvaine and Naval Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan as well an unknown number of Iraqi police, according to Velzeboer.

Velzeboer leaves for another tour later this year, this time in Afghanistan.

Why go back?

"It's the job. If I wasn't deploying, it'd be like a baker who spent his whole life learning to bake cakes without ever actually baking a cake for anybody," he said

As for the note, it sits in a medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and when the grind of chores and the stress of everyday life starts to seem overwhelming, Paige Velzeboer thinks about it.

"When it's the dirty socks on the floor or whatever it is starting to get to me, I just go look at that and remember – this isn't that important," she said.

Marine Dustin Velzeboer lives in Irvine with his family and is stationed at Camp Pendleton.

LAPD officer serving in Afghanistan is killed by roadside bomb

SWAT team member Robert J. Cottle, a Marine Corps reservist, is the department's first member to die in post-9/11 combat. He previously had served two tours in Iraq.

The Los Angeles Police Department on Thursday mourned its first officer to be killed in combat in Afghanistan after a roadside bomb took the life of a highly regarded SWAT team member.


By Jill Leovy and Joel Rubin

March 26, 2010

Marine Corps Reserve Sgt. Maj. Robert J. Cottle, 45, and a 19-year-old Marine were killed while traveling in the Marja area of southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border. The region has been the focus of an intense U.S.-led offensive against Taliban forces, said LAPD Capt. John Incontro, who oversees SWAT operations.

The Marines' armored vehicle struck a roadside bomb Wednesday, killing Cottle and Lance Cpl. Rick Centanni and seriously wounding two others, according to police sources and media accounts.

A veteran of two tours in Iraq, Cottle had deployed to Afghanistan in August and was scheduled to return home this summer. He leaves a wife and 8-month-old daughter.

More than two dozen LAPD officers serve as active military reservists. The department recruits many officers from the military, and leaves for military duty are routine. But until now, the LAPD had lost no one to conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Lanky, blue-eyed and brown-haired, Cottle "loved being a police officer," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Cottle became an officer in 1990 and joined the elite SWAT unit six years later, Beck said. He called Cottle "an effective and compassionate" officer and "a great human being."

He was "almost the absolute stereotype Marine," said LAPD Capt. Phil Tingirides. "He was one who talked about God and country and he really meant it."

Cottle grew up in Whittier and San Diego, said his sister Bonnie Roybal, 49, of Whittier. As a child, he was bowlegged and had to wear leg braces for more than two years, but he grew into an avid runner and athlete, she said.

"He was made fun of as a kid, and he ended up proving them wrong," Roybal said.

A high-energy teenager, his rambunctious exploits and unimpressive grades led him first to military-style camp, then to the Marines at age 18, and finally to the LAPD, she said.

"He didn't have any pretenses or airs. With Robert, what you saw was what you got," Roybal said.

That direct gaze and knack for effortless conversation were traits that served him well as a police officer. But he never lost the taste for adrenaline that first brought him to the LAPD.

"My brother has always lived his life on the edge. He was into risk-taking, wanted to live an extraordinary life" -- and did, his sister said.

Cottle's LAPD assignments took him to the Hollywood Division's vice squad, the Southeast Division in the early 1990s -- one of the most violent locales in the nation at that time -- then to a tactical dive team trained to combat terrorist attacks at the Port of Los Angles.

"He was the kind of guy who, when he spoke, you listened. He only spoke when it was important," said LAPD Cmdr. Rick Jacobs.

But if Cottle was "the most serious guy when the situation called for it," he could also be light-hearted, said LAPD Sgt. Steve Weaver, a longtime friend.

He shifted instantly from solemn military bearing to being "the funniest guy in the room," Weaver said. He made colleagues laugh "just from the inflection of his voice."

A mix of law enforcement and military dedication suffused Cottle's life. He peppered his speech with Marine lingo, and wore Marine T-shirts with his LAPD friends. But on base, among his military friends, he switched to LAPD gear.

Cottle surprised his family by marrying at 43, shifting his focus from constant training and weekend ice hockey games to family.

Fellow SWAT officers recalled a friend who stood out for the intensity he brought to the job, and the care he showed for other officers.

Incontro remembered the night in 2008 when another SWAT officer, Randall Simmons, was killed during a prolonged standoff. After Simmons was rushed to a hospital, Cottle went from one SWAT officer to the next, helping to calm them and keep them focused on the still-unfolding situation, Incontro said.

Cottle was a sergeant major in the Marine Corps Reserve -- the top enlisted position -- with the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based at Camp Pendleton. Among his citations was the Combat Action Ribbon for having been under fire and returning fire.

At Camp Pendleton, his death was announced Thursday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a $13-million facility to train Marines to detect improvised explosive devices.

With emotion, Brig. Gen. Rex McMillian, deputy commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, praised Cottle as a fine Marine who had shown leadership in a variety of assignments since joining the Marine Corps in 1983.

In addition to his wife, daughter and sister, Cottle is survived by his father, Kenneth Cottle of Villa Park; and mother, Janet Deck of Clearlake Oaks, Calif.

Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this report

Afghan Marksmen — Forget the Fables

he recent Marine operations in and near Marja brought into sharp relief a fact that contradicts much of what people think they know about the Afghan war. It is this: Forget the fables. The current ranks of Afghan fighters are crowded with poor marksmen.


March 26, 2010, 8:00 am

This simple statement is at odds with an oft-repeated legend of modern conflict, in which Afghan men are described, in clichés and accounts from yesteryear, as natural gunmen and accomplished shots. Everyone who has even faintly followed the history of war in Central Asia has heard the tales of Afghan men whose familiarity with firearms is such a part of their life experience that they can pick up most any weapon and immediately put it to effective work. The most exaggerated accounts are cartoonish, including tales of Afghan riflemen whose bullets can strike a lone sapling (I’ve even heard “blade of grass”) a hilltop away.

Without getting into an argument with the ghost of Rudyard Kipling, who was one of the early voices popularizing the wonders of Afghan riflery, an update is in order. This is because the sum of these descriptions does not match what is commonly observed in firefights today. These days, the opposite is more often the case. Poor marksmanship, even abysmally poor marksmanship, is a consistent trait among Afghan men. The description applies to Taliban and Afghan government units alike.

Over the years that Tyler Hicks and I have worked in Afghanistan’s remote and hostile corners, we have been alongside Afghan, American and European infantrymen in many firefights and ambushes. These fights have involved a wide set of tactical circumstances, ranges, elevations, and light and weather conditions. Some skirmishes were brief and simple. Others were long and complex, involving as many as a few hundred fighters on both sides. One result has been consistent. We have almost always observed that a large proportion of Afghan fire, both incoming and outgoing, is undisciplined and errant, often wildly so. Afghans, like most anyone else with a modicum of exposure to infantry weapons, might be able to figure out how to make any firearm fire. But hitting what they are aiming at, assuming they are aiming at all? That’s another matter.

There are exceptions. The Taliban snipers in Marja were one recent example. We will revisit them here soon. Now and then a disciplined Afghan soldier or police officer also bucks the trend. Credible accounts of Northern Alliance fighters in the 1990s and early 2000s chronicled impressive shooting skills among seasoned Panjshiris. But the larger pattern is firmly established and consistent with the experience and observations of countless soldiers and Marines we have passed time with, including many people who have trained and fought beside Afghan security forces during the past decade.

Today At War will share a few observations about inaccurate Taliban rifle fire. Naturally, this will deal with what can be assessed of incoming fire; we do not embed with Taliban units and thus we have no chance of an unfiltered side-by-side look at their marksmanship habits. (Watching videos that the Taliban and their sympathizers post on the Internet or circulate in bazaars has its limits; these are self-selected excerpts chosen in part to show Taliban prowess. Taking them at face value would be much like trying to measure the American Army’s performance in the field by watching a recruiting ad, or like sitting through some of the cheery PowerPoint presentations that officials in capitals serve up for visitors.) The next post in the series will discuss several factors that contribute to poor Taliban marksmanship. A post soon thereafter will address the shooting skills and habits of Afghan soldiers and police officers. That third post will cover more fully what can be seen of outgoing fire, accounts that are possible because Afghan government shooting is readily observable, at least for those who log enough weeks in rural firebases or on patrol.

Let’s start with a few rough numbers. During the month and a half we spent in Helmand Province, Tyler and I combined firsthand observations with queries to officers commanding Marine rifle companies we worked beside. Three of these companies had been engaged in what, by the standards of the Afghan war, was heavy fighting. Here is what their experiences turned up.

Before the full offensive into Marja began, the Marine ground unit engaged in the most regular fighting with the area’s Taliban was Bravo Company, First Battalion, Third Marines. The company served for a little more than two months on what Marines call the “forward line of troops.” In this capacity, it rotated platoons through positions several miles to Marja’s east, a pair of lonely outposts on the steppe overlooking Route Olympia, which was the road leading into Taliban turf. The Taliban had an interest in watching for American movement along this road, and the Marines patrolled constantly near it. Thus the tactical climate was violent and busy. The insurgents harassed the outposts and frequently skirmished with Marine patrols.

In this contest, the Taliban also had the sort of local advantages common in guerrilla war. They knew the network of irrigation canals and used them as trench lines. They littered the fields and small terrain features with hidden bombs rigged to pressure plates. They deployed spotters with radios on motorcycle patrols, which tried to find the Marines and relay word of their movements and activities. They also chose when to fight, and often opened fire on the Marines in the late afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky. Why? Because Marine patrols originated to the Taliban’s east, and as the Marines walked generally westward across the flat steppe toward the area where the Taliban hid, the Marines were walking into the angled sunlight, which illuminated them perfectly for the Taliban, but forced the Marines to look into hard light, and squint. This was an environment in which small-arms clashes were almost inevitable, and in which the Taliban would often get to fire the opening shots. It should have been a place where the Taliban might succeed. What did the numbers show? By early February, when Marine units began massing for the push on Marja, Capt. Thomas Grace, Bravo Company’s commander, estimated that his platoons had been in at least two dozen firefights, often in open terrain. Some of the fights lasted several hours. At least one lasted a full day and into the night. How many of the company’s Marines and the Afghan soldiers who accompanied them had been shot? Zero.

Farther west along Route Olympia is an intersection known as Five Points, so named because several dirt roads meet there. The juncture provides access to northern Marja. Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, the command that planned the attack on Marja, deemed this essential terrain for securing the region. In January, another unit — Charlie Company, First Battalion, Third Marines – was assigned to fly in by helicopter and seize and hold the intersection. This happened in February, a few days before the larger assault began. It prompted a determined Taliban response.

Once the Taliban realized the Marines had leapt by air over their outer defenses, they clustered near Five Points and fought Charlie Company intensely, especially in the first few days. During this time, according to the company commander, Capt. Stephan P. Karabin II, his Marines were in about 15 firefights. Again the Taliban had certain advantages. They knew the ground well enough that their fighters stashed small motorcycles in canals that had been drained. After ambushing the Marines, they sometimes dropped into a dry canal, ran through the maze, jumped on their bikes, started the engines and blasted away at speeds that no one pursuing on foot could hope to match. Smart tactics. But the Taliban did not always run. They often held their ground and fought, perhaps feeling protected by the canals that did contain water, which typically separated them from the Marine patrols they chose to fire upon.

To change the character of the fighting, Captain Karabin ordered his Marines to patrol on foot with their .50-caliber machine guns. These would be lugged along in pieces, and when a firefight began, the Marines assigned to them would put them together, mount the weapons on their tripods, load belts of ammunition and open fire. (A M2 Browning machine gun and tripod weighs nearly 130 pounds; this does not include the weight of the ammunition.) The heavy guns tilted the fighting more fully in the Marines’ favor. But the fact that M2s were used this way said something about how the Taliban fought; some of this fighting was pitched. How many of Charlie Company’s Marines were struck by Taliban bullets in these engagements? Once again, none.

Neither of these companies was spared casualties. Four separate bomb blasts killed two Marines from Bravo Company and wounded nine Marines from Charlie Company. But the Taliban’s rifles were another story. Together the two companies were in about 40 firefights against the main guerrilla force in a nation that is considered, by the conventional wisdom, to be a land of born marksmen. And not a single bullet fired by the Taliban found its mark.

Obviously, American and Afghan soldiers do get shot, which brings us to the third Marine company, which suffered the effects of more accurate fire. As Charlie Company was fighting at Five Points, Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, was inserted at night by helicopter into three landing zones in northern Marja, where it was soon met by what may have been the stiffest Taliban resistance of the offensive. For nearly 10 days, Kilo Company was engaged in small-arms fighting. In the first four or five days, the fighting was widespread, often with several firefights occurring simultaneously as different patrols and different platoons on different missions were locked up in skirmishes at once. On the second day of fighting, one skirmish alone, between two platoons and large groups of Taliban fighters, lasted off and on from early morning until night.

Within a week or 10 days, eight of the company’s Marines had been shot, two fatally, and two Afghan soldiers had been shot as well, including one who died. This is a large number compared with the experiences of the other two companies, but it is a small number when set against Kilo Company’s size, and when considered in the context and the volume of Taliban fire.

First, about the size. In all, Kilo Company had on the order of 300 men assigned to it, including engineers, dog handlers, bomb disposal and intelligence specialists, interpreters and an Afghan infantry platoon. (Note: Embed rules forbid precise descriptions of unit and team sizes, so the numbers of the various units that made up Kilo Company on this mission are mashed together here and rounded.)

Now the context. On many days, Kilo Company’s patrols would be ambushed while crossing flat, open ground, with no vegetation concealing the Marines’ movements and no place to take cover without running a couple of hundred yards or more. Often many Taliban gunmen would open fire simultaneously, and a large number of rounds would fly into the area where the patrol walked. Rounds would snap and buzz past helmets. Rounds would thump all around in the dirt. But usually no one would be struck. It happened again and again.

When Marines did get hit, it often appeared that the fire came from PK machine guns or the local contingent of snipers – not the riflemen who make the Taliban’s rank-and-file. One day, after a few hours of fighting in which the Taliban had not yet hit any Marines, a corporal from Second Platoon stood upright, exposing himself above the waist and looking over a wall as bullets flew high overhead. He didn’t flinch. “What’s everybody ducking for?” he said. He cupped his hand to his mouth and shouted an expletive-laden taunt at the Taliban gunmen shooting from concealment on the opposite side of a field. The editors would never allow the corporal’s words to be printed here. But they amounted to this: You guys can’t shoot.

Yes, some of this was probably adrenaline and undiluted cockiness, the kind of behavior that Marines can thrive on. But this cockiness was not just attitude. It reflected a discernible truth. Much of the incoming fire was not coming close. (Later in that same fight, some of the fire did come close, as at least one sniper arrived on the Taliban side; we’ll show video of that soon). But at this point in the battle, any number of adjectives might be applied to the Taliban fighters on the far side of the open ground. They were resourceful, organized, clever, brave. In the main, however, they could not shoot.

For those of you who have served in Afghanistan, or been exposed to gunfighting there via other jobs, your input would be welcome. One of the company commanders shared his insights in an interview soon after the fighting at Marja tapered off. In the annals of the Afghan war, Afghans are supposedly crack shots, some of the best marksmen on earth. Captain Karabin, a veteran of the war in Iraq, summed up neatly a rifle company’s experience that pointed otherwise. “I used to say in Iraq that I’m only alive because Iraqis are such bad shots,” he said. “And now I’ll say it in Afghanistan. I’m only alive because the Afghans are also such bad shots.”

Panama City Mine Rollers: Paving Safe Roads for Marines

Panama City, Fla:
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) celebrated rolling out its 500th Panama City Mine Roller Sept. 16, 2009 at L-3 Communications in Panama City, Florida. It was the third-generation upgrade designed to pre-detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan to protect Marine Corps personnel and their vehicles.


03/26/10 - 09:58 AM
Dan Broadstreet - NSWC PCD Public Affairs

“The mine roller has to go over some very rocky terrain in Afghanistan and I’m not talking about little rocks either – I mean huge boulders, but it holds up.” said 1st. Lt. Rebecca Turpin, commander of Combat Logistics Patrol 1 for Combat Logistics Battalion 3’s (CLB-3) Motor Transportation Company.

Deputy Program Manager for Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) Program Manager for Engineer Systems, Lt. Col. Kevin Reilly, said there were several unique factors making the Panama City Mine Roller the U.S. Marine Corps’ preferred IED mine countermeasures device.

“Panama City’s warfare center is one of the nation’s leaders in mine roller expertise,” Reilly said. “Also, because Panama City designed the roller, the roller designing enemy IED placement tactics, techniques and procedures. If a contractor owned the design the modification process would be costly and time consuming due to contract modification and negotiation.”

In addition, Reilly said NSWC PCD Counter IED Program Manager Alan Canfield was “ideally situated to act as a one-stop-shop,” which enables the Navy lab to respond quickly to the Marine Corps’ needs as they change in the field.

“NSWC has every aspect of what our program requires located at Panama City. They have an intelligence section that tracks emerging IED trends, a solid team of engineers and scientists who really understand the physics of mines and IEDs and can design systems to defeat IEDs, skilled craftsmen who can fabricate the rollers and test facilities to quickly test the new designs,” Reilly said.

anfield said that the Marines responsible for transporting supplies to other warfighters stationed at Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) required timely support, which could make the difference between mission success and saving lives.

“And in this business when you have an adaptive and responsive enemy who doesn’t have a chain of command, a supply system or acquisition process – they just come up with an idea and execute it – that’s an enemy we have to respond to quickly,” Canfield said.

So with the Marines and Navy teaming to supply mine rollers as timely as possible, how does the warfighter in the field grade the system for its capability to protect them and their vehicles?

Lt. Turpin and Combat Logistics Patrol 1 (CLP-1) were in transit to resupply a FOB Dec. 14, 2008 when the mine roller their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle was pushing detonated an IED. The vehicle commander Sgt. Benjamin Chesterbristow echoed Turpin’s assessment giving the Panama City Mine Roller a thumbs-up.

“The mine roller came over the top of the bank and dropped down into a wadi and the IED blew up. We actually laughed out of relief,” Chesterbristow said. “I can definitely say that the Panama City Mine Roller prevented a mobility kill and saved the lives of everyone in our vehicle.”

CLP-1 recovered the damaged Mine Roller, and Lt. Turpin coordinated with higher headquarters for air lift of a replacement mine roller to support their patrol. Lt. Turpin recently received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device (Combat V) for her role in the 54-hour mission.

Fast response to the Marines’ field requirements was another aspect Reilly attributed to Panama City’s success in having supplied 500 mine roller upgrades to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters since supplying the first prototype in 2006.

“After evaluating all industry and government proposals, NSWC Panama City was clearly showing they had all resources in place to deliver the system’s requirements quickly and efficiently,” Reilly added.

“Once the Marine Corps asked us to rapidly develop the design, which we did in less than 60 days, our manufacturing shops went straight into production for the first 20 systems,” Canfield said, adding he immediately began working with local support contractors to fulfill delivery of the 62 mine rollers initially requested.

“So, within 120 days from starting the effort to fielding the last one we were complete before Christmas of 2006,” Canfield said.

Hands-on experience in the field are what Turpin and Chesterbristow relied on to explain the mine roller’s evolutionary progression – from its Iraqi configuration to its current design – to traverse Afghanistan’s more rugged terrain.

“As far as I can remember, the mine rollers were originally designed to go over pavement; or at least improved roads,” Turpin said, describing the system when it was first fielded for Iraq.

“Back in 2006 we didn’t have MRAPs or mine rollers,” Chesterbristow said. “So seeing how we’ve progressed from 2006 to the equipment I’m dealing with now in Afghanistan, especially with the level of protection that you guys offer, it’s definitely amazing. You don’t necessarily have to worry about things going terribly wrong if the mine roller does catch an IED.”

Canfield said he believes the Panama City Mine Roller Program is succeeding at what he believes is the most important objective, “supporting and saving the lives of our warfighters.”

“I believe it was Maj. General Robert Neller who said, ‘If the mine roller works one time, it will be worth the millions of dollars we’ll probably spend on it.’”

Canfield added, “And, we’ve already exceeded that ‘one time’ by hundreds.”

Marines expand program to spot, evade roadside bombs

Troops to get field, classroom training

CAMP PENDLETON — Camp Pendleton officials yesterday unveiled an $8 million expansion of a program that trains troops on spotting and evading roadside bombs. The goal is to give service members more help in battling the deadliest threat they face in Afghanistan, Marine Corps officials said.


Friday, March 26, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

The base is opening three training lanes that feature sidewalks, guard rails, a faux overpass and other aspects simulating rural and urban roadways, thanks to funding from the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

Besides the field training, troops will use a new classroom to study techniques for evading bombs left on roadways, driven in cars and carried by suicide attackers, including a new initiative to use forensics to analyze bomb sites like a crime scene to gather intelligence on militants.

“This is one of the most realistic training settings available when it comes to dealing with what service members may come into contact with when deployed,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Atchue, a Camp Pendleton spokesman.

Roadside bombs are “one of the most difficult things to be able to see,” he said, and every Marine will benefit from added training to help them detect the threat. “Everyone goes on convoys and that is always a hazard for us,” Atchue said.

The expansion at Camp Pendleton is part of a three-part counteroffensive that the Defense Department’s organization said is meant to “attack the network, defeat the device and train the force.”

Roadside bomb attacks are by far the greatest cause of injury and death to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Afghan militants more than doubled their use of homemade bombs to attack U.S. and NATO forces last year, from 3,867 in 2008 to 8,159 in 2009, and the number of attacks is expected to increase.

The Pentagon’s roadside-bomb organization expects to boost its budget from about $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2010 to about $3.5 billion for the next year.

The organization’s director said last week during a House Armed Services Committee hearing that U.S. troops face an increasingly lethal threat from improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, where homemade materials and mountainous terrain make them more difficult to detect.

Despite the use of robots and drones, most roadside bombs are found by troops on the ground who notice something amiss.

IJC Operational Update, March 26

KABUL, Afghanistan - In Ghazni province last night, an ISAF patrol recovered a weapons cache after it was reported by an Afghan citizen. The cache contained a hand grenade, 62 mortar fuses and shotgun ammunition. The cache will be destroyed.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.26.2010
Posted: 03.26.2010 07:51

In the Maidan Shahr District of Wardak province last night, an ISAF patrol found a weapons cache containing a 107 mm rocket, four rocket fuses, two 82 mm mortar rounds, two mortar fuses and nine Russian-made projectile fuses. The cache was destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

An Afghan-international security force searched a compound on the southeast side of Marjah, in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand province, yesterday after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained several suspected insurgents for further questioning.

In the Bala Boluk District of Farah province yesterday, a joint security patrol found a cache containing 500 kilograms of suspected ammonium nitrate. The cache will be destroyed.

In the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand yesterday, an Afghan-international security patrol found a cache containing seven AK-47 rifles, two shotguns, a rifle, two 9 mm pistols, various machine-gun ammunition, pressure plate initiation devices and various improvised explosive device-making materials.

Another Afghan-international patrol in Nad-e Ali found a cache containing 15 82 mm mortar rounds, a rocket-propelled grenade and two fragmentation charges each containing 11 kilograms (25 pounds) of home-made explosives. The cache was destroyed by an EOD team.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 25, 2010

Dogs becoming essential in fight against IEDs

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 25, 2010 18:41:32 EDT

MARSTON, N.C. — Panting heavily on an open field, Staff Sgt. Boomer doesn’t look like your typical Marine. With floppy ears and a shiny yellow coat, he enjoys horseplay, chasing plastic batons and getting scratched behind the ears.

To continue reading:

Click above link for a video.

Marines display versatility in every clime, place

Marines participating in Exercise Key Resolve 2010 woke up to heavy snowfall at Camp Mujuk, Republic of Korea March 9.


3/25/2010 By Lance Cpl. Thomas W. Provost , Marine Corps Bases Japan

Overnight, the camp received more than six inches of powder that continued into the morning.

But the Marines from sub-tropical Okinawa, Japan, had prepared themselves for the weather and took action.

The Marines immediately put on layers of clothes to protect them from the cold.

“The layer system of dressing for the cold is the best to use, especially for prolonged exposure to the cold,” said Cpl. Tyler P. Fleetwood, a reconnaissance Marine, with 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

A benefit of the layer system is the ability to remove layers if it gets too hot or add layers if it gets too cold allowing personnel to easily control their body temperature.

Once protected from the cold, Marines also had to contend with another challenge - snow build up.

“The word was passed in the morning that all the tents needed to be cleaned off before they caved in,” said Fleetwood.

“The snow was heavy and needed to be removed,” said Sgt. Justin D. Hullett, a reconnaissance Marine, 3rd MarDiv.

After Hullett organized his Marines from the G-3 platoon, they collected shovels, E-tools, brooms and other tools then removed snow from the tents.

But all the snow created another hazard for the Marines.

That evening and the next morning, melted snow froze on the roads and paths, making them very slippery. Some Marines used Marine Corps training to overcome this hazard.

“If Marines were to slip, head injuries could become a problem,” said Fleetwood. “That’s where the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program comes in. If a Marine were to slip, he or she should execute a proper break fall to avoid injury.”

“That’s what happened to me,” he added. “When I slipped on the road this morning, I did a break fall and didn’t get hurt at all.”

During Exercise KR ’10, Marines, more used to the subtropics of Okinawa, showed their adaptability by staying warm and safe during the harsh winter weather of the Korean peninsula.

New Afghan cops closely watched as fighting force

MARJAH, Afghanistan – Maj. Mubarak Shah strode confidently into the U.S. Marine combat center with important intelligence: Three Taliban fighters were preparing to attack a nearby checkpoint.


By Dion Nissenbaum
Published: Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010 - 12:00 am

The Afghan police commander, part of Afghanistan's new elite police force, pointed out the Taliban ambush spot on a wall-sized satellite map as his men and a team of Marines prepared for a fight.

When the Afghan police officers suited up and led the way through the busy Marjah market, however, they immediately threw the patrol a confusing curve.

"We're heading in the opposite direction of what Maj. Mubarak pointed out on the map," said Tim Coderre, a veteran sheriff's deputy from Wilmington, N.C., and former Army sniper who's working as a law enforcement adviser with the Marines.

Shah had identified the wrong spot on the map, and his officers now were leading the team to the right place. However, the suspected Taliban fighters had quietly disappeared back into the surrounding fields long before the quick response team arrived to check out the report.

Shah's police force, a relatively new creation that's akin to the U.S. National Guard, is a work in progress, and how it performs in Marjah is pivotal for American plans to transform this opium heartland into a tranquil breadbasket.

The United States and its allies in the international military force are hoping that the Afghan National Civil Order Police, or ANCOP, will be a model for the much-disparaged Afghan National Police force, which the United States and its allies have been struggling to rebuild for more than seven years at a cost that now exceeds $6 billion.

ANCOP shows "what the potential might be," Royal Marines Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger, the top British military spokesman on Afghanistan, said earlier this week in Washington.

While ANCOP may be able to set an example, there are fewer than 4,000 of them, a tiny percentage of the Afghan National Police.

ANCOP also has a higher turnover rate than the Afghan National Police does, in part because better-paying private contractors often scoop up the more professional officers, said Brig. Gen. Carmelo Burgio, the Italian general who heads the international military coalition's police training in Kabul.

The Marines at Combat Outpost Turbett almost universally consider ANCOP police more motivated than the Afghan soldiers who followed U.S. forces into battle against Taliban fighters last month.

At the outpost, Shah's police have nearly supplanted an equal number of Afghan soldiers as the go-to force for Marines from Bravo Company.

Marjah residents, like many Afghans, regard the Afghan National Police with contempt. The police who controlled Marjah before the Taliban seized it were seen as corrupt cronies interested mainly in their own enrichment.

If the new ANCOP force gains the same reputation, the U.S. campaign to win the trust of Marjah – and of wary Afghans around the country – could founder quickly, dimming the Obama administration's hopes to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011.

The force's effectiveness across Marjah has been uneven, with Shah's forces apparently performing the best.

Marines in other parts of Marjah have faced early problems working with ANCOP leaders who have blunted their effectiveness, said Army Lt. Col. Bob O'Brien, 40, from Fort Bragg, N.C., who commands one of the military coalition ANCOP advisory teams. A few officers have had to be pushed out.

Photo gallery: Fight in the field

Photos and text by Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Online Edition, Thursday, March 25, 2010

A platoon of Marines from Company L, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, along with Afghan soldiers, had been on patrol for two days near a school in Marjah, Afghanistan, that Taliban fighters had been reportedly using as a base. Graffiti inside the school indicated that Taliban had been active in the area, and just the previous day, March 10, a Marine had been shot in the back after a running gunbattle with insurgents that had lasted most of the afternoon.

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Click above link for Photo Gallery

Afghans Assume Control of Kabul Airport

KABUL, Afghanistan - Control of key facilities at Afghanistan's largest civilian airport were handed over to the government of Afghanistan by the International Security Assistance Force, March 25.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.25.2010
Posted: 03.25.2010 02:04

A ceremony for the hand-over of the south-side of Kabul International Airport was attended by representatives from ISAF and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, including the Acting Minister, Dr.

Mohammadullah Batash and ISAF Deputy Commander British Lt. Gen. Sir Nick Parker.

"This hand over is significant in that it allows GIRoA to further develop their civilian capacity at the airport," said General Parker.

The transfer of the airfield is the final step in the move towards shifting control for KAIA South back to the government of Afghanistan.

ISAF had been utilizing the facilities for the past eight years, and had made a commitment to hand over the facilities as soon as practical.

IJC Operational Update, March 25

KABUL, Afghanistan – A Taliban commander and another militant were captured by an Afghan-international security force in Ghazni last night.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.25.2010
Posted: 03.25.2010 03:37

The security force searched a compound in the village of Sufrah, in the Qarah Bagh district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured the Taliban commander connected with foreign fighter facilitation, buying and moving weapons and directing attacks against coalition troops. Another militant was also captured.

In Khowst last night, a joint security force searched a compound outside of Zerah Ghar, in the Terezayi district, after intelligence information confirmed militant activity. During the search the joint force captured two Taliban sub-commanders, both closely involved with intelligence gathering, kidnappings, attacks on coalition forces and arranging for the construction of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices. The security force captured several other insurgents during the search. A large amount of money was also recovered.

An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in the town of Adirah, in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province last night, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force captured a Taliban facilitator responsible for the delivery, storage and distribution of weapons. He was also involved in delivering explosive materials and IED components to various Taliban networks. The targeted facilitator identified himself and several other insurgents were also captured.

In Kandahar yesterday, a joint security force went to an area southwest of Jazah in the Arghandab district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. The security force stopped two motorcycles and detained two suspected militants for further questioning.

In Ghazni province yesterday, an Afghan-international patrol found two IED's in the Muqer district. The first IED consisted of a directional mine with 7 kilograms of home-
made explosives and the second of three mortar grenades with 20 kg of home-made explosives. The devices were disabled by an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team.

In the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, an ISAF patrol found an IED consisting of six 82mm mortar rounds yesterday. The device was destroyed by an EOD team.

In the Nawah-ye Barakzai district of Helmand, an ISAF patrol found a cache containing five rocket-propelled grenades, a mortar round and 24 cases of small-arms ammunition. The cache was destroyed by an EOD team.

Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF partners captured several suspected insurgents Monday, including an IED facilitator, southwest of Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province.

After surrounding the compound in which suspected insurgents were located, Afghan forces called for the people to come out. After questioning, several of the men were detained.

One woman and eight children were protected throughout this operation.

These operations were a continuation of efforts to eliminate the IED threat against the Afghan people and Afghan and ISAF troops.

No shots were fired, and no Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

Bataan, 22nd MEU headed home from Haiti

Staff report
Posted : Thursday Mar 25, 2010 15:23:29 EDT

The amphibious assault ship Bataan was released from the humanitarian assistance mission off Haiti on Wednesday, marking the end of a Navy response that, at its peak, included an entire armada of warships, Coast Guard cutters and other U.S. vessels.

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Pendleton E-9 killed in Afghanistan

The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Mar 25, 2010 21:58:29 EDT

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles SWAT team officer, who was on active duty as a Marine, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, police officials said Thursday.

To read the entire article:


Milton Marine loses leg in blast in Afghanistan

Central graduate stepped on IED in Afghanistan

About 5 a.m. Saturday, Becky Palmer, 25, got the phone call.


Travis Griggs • [email protected] • March 25, 2010

There had been an explosion near her husband's patrol in Afghanistan. He'd caught shrapnel from the blast. His right foot was gone.

As the Marine Corps official on the other end of the line listed the bad news, Becky said her thoughts focused on the one piece of good news.

"I was thanking God that he is alive," Becky said. "It is a bad situation all around, but it could have been a lot worse."

Becky's husband, Lance Cpl. Joseph Daniel Palmer, 24, of Milton suffered shrapnel wounds and had his right leg amputated below the knee after stepping on an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan, on Saturday, family members said.

Palmer was taken to a German hospital Tuesday in stable condition and will be flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland late this week or early next week for further medical care and rehabilitation.

Becky said she and the couple's 15-month-old son, Cameron, are packing their belongings and moving to Maryland next week to be with Palmer during his rehabilitation.

"All I can think about is we're still going to get to see him and hug him and be with him. Our son will get to grow up and actually be with his dad, and not just know him from pictures," Becky said.

Joseph Palmer, a 2004 Central High School graduate, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2008.

Becky said she married Palmer during his 10-day leave after boot camp graduation. She said they lived together for a short time last year while Palmer was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., but she moved back to Milton so she and Cameron could be with family during Palmer's deployment.

Palmer deployed to Afghanistan in January as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Lima Company. Becky said this was his first overseas deployment.

The couple's son doesn't fully grasp the situation but is eager to see his father next week, Becky said.

"(Cameron) knows something's going on, but he doesn't quite understand," Becky said. "I've told him we're going to see Daddy. We haven't seen him since Christmas, so he's really excited about that."

Joseph Palmer's brother-in-law, John Hoyt, 28, of Milton said family members have spoken with Palmer several times since his transfer to the German hospital, and they have been impressed by his positive outlook.

"He doesn't have any regrets," Hoyt said. "He said he was fulfilling his duty, and he was loving what he was doing."

Hoyt said Palmer is looking forward to moving on with his life and doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for him or treat him differently when he returns.

"One of the things he did tell me is that he can't count on both hands how many guys he knows who aren't coming home alive," Hoyt said.

"It's unfortunate what happened, but he knows he's fortunate to come home. It could have been a whole lot worse."

Face of Defense: Health Care Provider Saves Lives

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - A U.S. military health care provider now serving with a reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Paktika province said the austere conditions that exist there fail to deter his commitment to help the Afghan people.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.25.2010
Posted: 03.25.2010 10:12

By Air Force 2nd Lt. Mark Lazane
Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team

"There are definitely obstacles to overcome," said Navy Lt. j.g. Vincent "Doc" Lopez, a physician assistant from Phoenix, the team's medical officer. "But with help from the dedicated Afghan people, little by little, we can provide them with stability and improve their quality of life."

The provincial reconstruction team's mission is to assist in the stabilization and security of this large province on Afghan's border with Pakistan. The collection of military and interagency partners focuses on helping the province's residents in areas such as health care, development, governance and agriculture.

Lopez takes care of the roughly 100 military and civilian members of the team and ensures they are mission-capable every day. His secondary role is to assist the Afghan government in improving the quality and quantity of health care for the people of Paktika. He provides mentorship and guidance to the medical directors in the young provincial government to help them become public health directors.

Prior to becoming a physician assistant, Lopez spent several years as an enlisted Sailor, serving first with the Navy's presidential honor guard, and then training as a corpsman. Five years later, he accepted an honorable discharge and attended Stanford University, earning a physician assistant degree and a degree in business administration. Following graduation, he moved back to Phoenix and started working in an orthopedic surgery clinic.

Life seemed to be good for Lopez, his wife, Regin, and their three sons. The money was good, he said, and job satisfaction was high, but he knew his skills could be put to even better use. He decided to become a Navy officer, beginning a new career 10 years after leaving the military.

Less than two years later, Lopez arrived here.

"I wanted to be a Navy officer," Lopez said. "I wanted to come to Afghanistan. I knew I'd deploy. That's why I signed up. I knew there were people I'd be able to help, and I wanted to help them."

With medical facilities and equipment often in short supply, basic medical care for the people of Paktika can be problematic, an Afghan health care provider said.

"We have good health care for the facilities and equipment that we have," said Dr. Ahmad Baseer, surgeon and public health advisor for the province. "The problem is we lack a lot of the specialty services that hospitals in Kabul and other places have. With the limited facilities and equipment, as well as the lower wages, it's difficult to recruit doctors, especially specialists, to come practice here."

It's the sort of situation that can frustrate even the most optimistic volunteer, but Lopez is undeterred.

"The medical situation in this province is coming along quite nicely, actually," Lopez says. "If we can increase the amount of health care workers in the province, provide increased medical facilities and increase the amount medical providers are paid, we can significantly help the health care system of this province."

Still, Lopez acknowledged, measuring success can be difficult to do here.

"I measure my success directly from comments from my troops as well as comments from medical providers around the province," he said. "If they feel more capable of performing their job, then I know I am doing mine correctly."

Navy and Marines Aim for a Leaner, Greener Fighting Machine

LAUREL, Md. -- Going green and renewable doesn't just save money, it may save lives of U.S. soldiers, according to military leaders who argue that a push for energy efficiency and a move away from fossil-based fuels could strengthen America's military.


By LAUREN MORELLO of ClimateWire
Published: March 25, 2010

"Every dollar spent on gasoline is a dollar that could be better spent on armor, or artillery, or machinery," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said, speaking here at a conference at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory.

A benefit that may be less evident to civilians, according to Mabus, is that switching to renewable and more efficient fuel sources will mean undertaking fewer supply convoys to supply military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's important because those convoys are ripe targets for enemy attacks.

And that vulnerability is evident in the supply chain that brings gas to Marine platoons in Afghanistan. Transporting a gallon of gas there begins with a journey by ship to Pakistan, then a truck convoy through the Hindu Kush. Every stage of that process adds to the total cost of that gas and diverts fighting power.

"You take a Marine way from doing things a Marine ought to do," Mabus said. "And you expose them to one of the most dangerous tasks in that theater, guarding a fuel convoy."

When it comes to energy, there are also larger geopolitical considerations at stake.

Blunting future oil price shocks

"Petroleum is sold on a world market," said Jeffrey Werling, executive director of the University of Maryland's Interindustry Forecasting Project. "We don't import much from the Middle East. But if there's a disruption in the Middle East, Europe might do what it can to bid away oil from Nigeria or Venezuela. We're not insulated from shocks in Syria or Iran. We all buy out of the same bucket."

Recent history shows just how quickly the market can veer between highs and lows. Oil went from $147 per barrel in 2007 to $33 per barrel the next year, after the recession hit. The Navy felt the brunt of those price swings. It spent $5.1 billion on fuel in 2007, a sum that dropped to just $1.2 billion in 2008. Those types of price swings are difficult to manage within the confines of the military budget process.

"At the end of the day, in restricted budgets, it's got to come from somewhere," said Rear Adm. Philip Cullom, director of the Navy's fleet readiness division. "Maybe you won't buy planes, maybe you won't buy ships. There is a ramification for it."

With those concerns in mind, Mabus recently set ambitious energy targets for U.S. naval forces. They include switching half their energy consumption to renewable and alternate sources by 2020, making half their installations "net zero" energy consumers over that same time period and, by 2016, sailing what Mabus calls "The Great Green Fleet" -- nuclear- and hybrid-powered ships and aircraft that run on biofuel.

For a fighter pilot, having a plane that's 4 percent more efficient than today's aircraft "is one more pass around the boat, one more chance to catch the wire for the pilot, more time to execute your mission," said Cullom, the officer in charge of the Navy's Task Force Energy. "That's pretty important stuff for a warrior at the end of the spear."

In addition to plans to remake its energy mix and launch the "Great Green Fleet," the Navy has opened a 270-megawatt geothermal power plant at its China Lake testing range in California, set up a wind farm at its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and installed solar photovoltaic panels at its facilities in San Diego.

A need to cut supply lines

Next month, on Earth Day, the force will conduct an airborne test of an F/A-18 aircraft powered by biofuels. And Mabus said the Navy will shortly announce a joint project with the Agriculture Department to grow camelina, a type of flax that can be used to make biofuel, in Hawaii.

Military leaders said they're convinced that those actions will eventually pay dividends in lives, time and money.

"We need to get off the roads hauling fuel and water," said Col. Robert Charette Jr., director of the Marine Corps' expeditionary energy office, which was created to improve energy efficiency throughout the force. "For us, the energy and climate issue is one of maintaining combat effectiveness at a reasonable cost to the American people -- but also making us more combat-effective, because we're less reliant on supply lines."

Charette said those supply lines can have hidden costs, beyond putting soldiers into harm's way and ratcheting up the cost of fueling military aircraft, ships and artillery.

"As we found out in Afghanistan and just about every war we ever fought in, some of that money goes into the hands of people we're fighting," he explained. Contractors are responsible for transporting much of the fuel destined for Afghanistan's Camp Helmand. As they traverse the 45-day land route to the camp, some end up paying bribes to the Taliban and other enemies of U.S. military forces.

But one stumbling block for naval forces' energy push is the reality of how the military orders its equipment, and how long it's expected to last.

"Ships stay in the fleet for 30, 40 years -- and the same for airplanes," said retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, the former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command.

Retrofits and biofuel from poppies

Some models are expected to last even longer. Wald said that he expects that B-52s in use today will retire at 90 years old. A new Air Force tanker now in development will be part of the fleet for 50 to 60 years, he said.

Navy and Marine Corps leaders say their solution is to push for new engines and other modifications that can be "dropped in" to existing equipment without expensive alterations.

The Marine Corps is also exploring now whether it can use those advances not just to improve its equipment in the field, but also as technology it can transfer to villages in places like Afghanistan to help develop relationships with local people.

Charette said the corps is attempting to procure oil extruders to send to Afghanistan's Helmand province before the next poppy harvest, four weeks from now. Their plan involves giving the extruders to locals to extrude oil from their poppy seeds, which the U.S. forces would then buy back.

"We're skirting fine lines," Charette said. "The American people expect us to be a war-fighting element. The stuff we buy, they expect us to hand back. So we're working with other agencies to try to help seed them money to do those things."

"What have [we] been for the most part of our lives? Consumers of everything," Cullom said of the current generation of Americans. "After 9/11, what did we do? We spent money in a mall. That's the way we contributed. Is this the way we want to go down in history? Or do we want to be part of a different generation, the regeneration generation? I think the military can help lead the way."

March 24, 2010

St. Charles ex-Marine shares memories of Iwo Jima

William Faulkner was 21 when he landed on Iwo Jima for what would become one of history's bloodiest battles.


March 24, 2010
By Josh Stockinger | Daily Herald Staff

Sixty-five years later, the St. Charles man says he still can't explain how he survived 18 days on the tiny Pacific island where so many of his fellow troops died.

"I had a lot of friends right next to me get killed," he said. "You often wonder, How does that happen to them and not to you?"

Faulkner rarely speaks about his service in World War II but agreed to do so in commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which ended after 35 days of intense fighting on March 26, 1945, and was forever memorialized in an iconic photo of six U.S. troops raising a flag on Mount Suribachi.

Faulkner said he wants people to know that "war is horrible."

"The Japanese fought for their country just like we did. They just had different ideologies," Faulkner said. "It's not the people that make war; it's the governments."

Born in downstate Belleville, Faulkner followed in the footsteps of an uncle and enlisted in the Marine Corps upon graduating from high school in 1941.

After several campaigns as a paratrooper in the Solomon Islands, he was among the first wave of troops to go ashore at Iwo Jima shortly after 9 a.m. Feb. 19, 1945.

The battle, during which nearly 50,000 American and Japanese troops were killed or wounded, was the first U.S. attack on Japan's home islands, and U.S. citizens largely viewed a victory there as indicative of the overall war effort in the Pacific.

"We had no idea how bad it was going to be," Faulkner said. "They told us three days, but we all knew that was a lie."

Faulkner's company landed near Mount Suribachi, along Iwo Jima's southern tip. He said an initial calmness greeted Americans, but the Japanese were only lying in wait.

"They didn't start firing and shelling the beach until probably an hour after we landed," he said. "We crossed the island in 90 minutes under all that intense fire."

In the following days, Faulkner's group faced "constant shelling and fighting" as they overtook Japanese forces on miserable terrain, which was covered in volcanic ash and sand and had been obliterated of all vegetation in prior bombing campaigns.

He said men slept on the ground and in foxholes when they weren't fighting. For fresh drinking water, he said, troops had to retrieve canteens from the bodies of the fallen.

"I never ever once thought that I wasn't going to make it, that I was going to die," he said. "You don't have time to worry about that."

At times, he said, survival seemed like a matter of chance.

"One day, we were caught out in the open and pinned down pretty bad," Faulkner remembered. "Something told me to move, and I got up and moved. About that time a hand grenade landed right where I was at. If I hadn't moved when that little voice told me to move, I wouldn't be here today."

Faulkner didn't witness the historic moment captured in Joe Rosenthal's iconic photograph of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising an American flag after overtaking Mount Suribachi five days into the battle, but he said he did know Ira Hayes, one of the men setting the flag.

"All we knew was the flag must have been raised because all the ships out in the ocean were firing their guns and blowing their whistles," he said. "The word spread like wildfire that the flag had been raised."

Faulkner's service on Iwo Jima ended on his 18th day, when he was injured in a mortar attack that left pieces of shrapnel embedded to this day in his right arm and leg.

He said the attack happened right after his company overtook Hill 362, a major strategic point on the island.

"They tell me I was standing up helping the sergeant direct new people as to where to get going and what to do when a mortar shell landed right in the middle of us," he said. "I was so nervous and scared I couldn't even shoot myself with my morphine. I remember a sergeant grabbed it and said, 'Give me that, I'll give it to you,' and jammed it in my leg."

Later, while recovering in a military hospital, Faulkner learned the battle had ended.

"I stood in the street and cried," he said, fighting back tears at the recollection. "Wouldn't you? If you knew you weren't going to get your butt shot off anymore?"

After the war, Faulkner returned home, earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, and started a family.

He went on to own a land surveying business in Decatur, where he worked until he suffered a stroke last year at age 85. Since then, he's been recovering at Delnor Glen, an assisted living center in St. Charles, where he's near a daughter who lives in Elburn.

Looking back, Faulkner said it's "hard to believe" 65 years have passed.

"Iwo Jima was a very fierce, bloody battle," he said, "but there were other battles in the Pacific that were more horrible. Iwo Jima just got all the credit."

Last March, Faulkner returned to Iwo Jima for the first time since his military days.

The trip came courtesy of Portillo's Restaurants owner Dick Portillo, a Marine veteran and self-described "history buff" who heard Faulkner's story after taking another World War II veteran to revisit the Pacific island of Guadalcanal.

Portillo, who accompanied Faulkner on the trip, said it was "quite an experience" revisiting some of the places where Faulkner had fought, and hearing his stories firsthand.

"Not enough can be said about these men," Portillo said. "The freedom we all have now is because of what they did more than 60 years ago. Most people will never understand what it took."

Curbing Taliban opium trade risks loss of support

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Curbing the Taliban's multimillion dollar opium poppy business was a major goal of a military operation to seize this former insurgent stronghold. With the town in NATO hands, the Marines face a conundrum: If they destroy the crops and curb the trade, they lose the support of the population — a problem for which they have no easy solution.


By HEIDI VOGT (AP) – March 24, 2010

U.S., Afghan and NATO forces that stormed Marjah in February were ordered to seize large opium stashes but leave farmers' poppy fields alone. Destroying crops and farmers' livelihood would undermine the broader goal of winning the support of a population that long embraced the Taliban over an ineffective Afghan government.

"We just let them grow it," said Capt. Carl Havens, the 38-year-old commander of Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "If we just went in and destroyed every poppy field, then they'd immediately turn against us."

Before the offensive, the military estimated Marjah's poppy crop was worth about $40 million, said Lt. Col. Jeff Rule, the head of current operations for the Marines in Helmand province. Nationwide, the Taliban earn about $300 million a year from the opium trade, according to the United Nations.

Afghan government officials in Kabul say they'd like to start destroying crops immediately, but are holding back in Marjah because the town is still so volatile.

"Once they have no more fighting, then we can deal with the eradication," said Mohammad Zafar, the country's deputy counter-narcotics minister. He said the Marines and Afghan troops need to concentrate on establishing security, and that adding poppy eradication to their tasks would be too much.

"We cannot be in a situation where we remove the only source of income for people in the second poorest country in the world without providing an alternative source of income," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Wednesday in Brussels.

With the harvest season starting, the poppy crop will be the first real test of the military's control of the town of 80,000. Poppies give residents a reason to support the Taliban because the insurgents buy the crop.

Although Marines won't destroy the crop, they will make it difficult for farmers to sell their product anywhere in Marjah, whose economy rests entirely on poppies.

"They are not going to be able to sell in the bazaars, because we're going to be there," said Lt. Joseph Reney, a Marines spokesman.

Doing so without alienating the farmers is not going to be easy.

The plan is to compensate farmers to cover the cost of preparing their fields for next season. A number of strategies are being considered, most including a combination of cash along with seeds and fertilizer to encourage them to switch to a legal crop like wheat or soybeans.

Such formulas have had some success elsewhere in Helmand. Opium poppy cultivation dropped 33 percent last year in the province, according to the U.N.

But the reductions have all been in areas where the Afghan government has first established the security and control needed to combat the Taliban full-package deal of seeds, fertilizer, crop protection and guaranteed payment.

It's unclear if the 2,200 U.S. forces and their Afghan counterparts in Marjah have enough control to prevent black-market selling. A lull in fighting after the three-week offensive appears to be ending, with snipers reappearing to ambush troops. Taliban bomb-makers are adjusting their tactics to hit foot patrols rather than heavily armored vehicles.

The harvest coincides with the start of the traditional "fighting season" in Afghanistan. Taliban have historically regrouped over the cold winter months and then returned to launch offensives in the spring and summer.

NATO officials say it's slow but that the troops in Marjah are making drug busts on patrols and whittling down the illegal business.

"We are making finds, we are making arrests and we are making progress," said Wing Commander Richard Connelly of the British Royal Air Force, who works on counter-narcotics policy for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The farmers, meanwhile, say they're worried that no one has offered a real alternative yet.

Abdul Ghani, a farmer in central Marjah, said he has three acres — two of wheat and one of poppy. But it's the poppy crop that provides most of his money.

"Tilling the land, fertilizer, all this stuff costs a lot. Wheat would not be enough even to cover that cost," said Ghani, a bearded man with a sun-toughened face. Ghani says he knows that American and Afghan officials want them to stop farming poppy, but he's waiting to see what alternatives they offer.

"If I had other income, I wouldn't farm poppy," he said. "Maybe if I had a job working as a laborer or if I became a sharecropper for a rich man."

The administrative chief for the town of Marjah, Abdul Zahir, said he doesn't expect the legal crops to garner the same profit, but he hopes farmers will accept less money in exchange for better governance and security than the Taliban provided.

"I think they'll be happy with half the price because they'll have real government and safety, and they'll be working legally," Zahir said. He said his hope is to use the next few months to persuade the farmers to make the switch.

The Americans are trying to jump-start the process with jobs. They're employing hundreds of men to clean out irrigation canals, dig wells and build footbridges, said Maj. David Fennell, the 1st Battalion's chief civil affairs officer.

All this comes at a cost. Fennell's team has disbursed well over a quarter million dollars already in a combination of restitution payments and quick-impact projects like the canal-clearing. It's unclear how long the U.S. money will keep coming and how much of it the Afghan government will be able to continue.

U.S. officials have praised ministers in Kabul for getting quickly involved in the push to establish local government in Marjah. But remote towns often languish without funds or attention from the capital, Kabul. Marjah could easily drop on the priority list once the military refocuses its attention on neighboring Kandahar province, where another offensive is expected this summer.

Associated Press Writer Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report from Brussels.

Afghanistan Troop Level to Eclipse Iraq by Midyear

WASHINGTON - This summer will mark the first time since 2003 that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will overshadow the American presence in Iraq, the top U.S. military officer told Congress March 24.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Story by John Kruzel
Date: 03.24.2010
Posted: 03.24.2010 04:23

Driving the eclipse is the 30,000-troop surge President Barack Obama announced for Afghanistan in December, roughly a third of which is in place, and with 18,000 of the additional forces expected to be in Afghanistan by late spring as troop levels in Iraq continue to drop.

"Indeed, by the middle of this year, Afghanistan will surpass Iraq, for the first time since 2003, as the location with the most deployed American forces," said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mullen told members of the House Appropriations Committee the remainder of the 30,000 will arrive as rapidly as possible over the summer and early fall, making a major contribution to reversing Taliban momentum in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. forces in Iraq is set to fall to 50,000 by Sept. 1, in accordance with an agreement between Washington and Baghdad. Some 97,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now, compared to 83,000 American and 45,000 allied forces in Afghanistan, defense officials said.

In Afghanistan, the battle last month that routed the Taliban from its former stronghold in Marja was cast as an early test of the strategy that includes increasing the number of American and allied troops in NATO's International Security Assistance Force and ramping up operations against militants in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.

For months before the operation in the central region of Helmand province, U.S. and NATO military officials noted the strategic importance of the southern Afghanistan area and the goal to clear the area of Taliban fighters. The rationale for such a declaration of intent before the Marja offensive was to allow low-level Taliban fighters the chance to flee and to warn civilians of the impending attack, officials said. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, called Marja the "initial salvo" in a campaign that could last 12 to 18 months.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, appearing alongside Mullen at the hearing, said "shaping" that took place ahead of the battle was a key to helping troops move beyond the initial phase of the operation.

"A big part of the focus was on both our own civilian capacity and that of the Afghan government, to come in behind our troops in the hold and build phases of the operation," he said.

Mullen, who earlier this month said the focus would shift to Kandahar after Marja, told Congress the "hold" phase in Marja still is nascent, but that the plan to implement governance following the battle has been successful.

"I know [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] has visited that area and has certainly heard the local people from Marja and what they need from their government," the chairman said. "And we know that that's a very critical part of the long-term success here."

In Iraq, meanwhile, officials continue tallying the results of a parliamentary election that took place earlier this month. Despite a relatively mild incidence of violence, no polling stations were forced to close.

An estimated 12 million Iraqis, about 62 percent of the electorate, cast votes in the March 7 election that will appoint parliamentary seats and possibly a new prime minister, pending results. Gates told Congress today that the turnout was a cause for optimism, noting a video teleconference he had with Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, before the election. "He said if we get 50 to 55 percent turnout, that will be great," the secretary said. "If we get 55 to 60 percent -- that would be exceptional.

"We ended up with 62 percent turnout," Gates continued. "The Iraqis are trying to solve their problems politically instead of shooting at each other. And frankly, I think we're modestly optimistic that this thing is going to go forward without any need for changing the plans."

IJC Operational Update, March 24

KABUL, Afghanistan - In Nangarhar last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound in a rural area south of Ahmadkhel, in the Khogyani District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.24.2010
Posted: 03.24.2010 02:38

During the search the assault force captured a Taliban sub-commander involved in kidnappings, weapons purchase and reconnaissance of coalition forces. The security force also detained another insurgent at the compound.

During the search two militants approached the security force.

One of them rushed the joint force and, after ignoring demands to surrender, pointed a weapon at the security force. The security force then engaged and killed the armed militant. The other insurgent

Several suspected militants were captured by an Afghan-international combined force in Helmand last night.

A joint security force searched a compound in Marjah, in the Nad-e Ali District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity and detained the insurgents for further questioning.

In other operations last night, an ISAF patrol found a weapons cache in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand province. The cache contained six 66mm rockets, seven 40mm rounds and an unidentified warhead. The cache will be destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

In the Qalat District of Zabul province last night, an ISAF patrol found two Chinese-made 107mm rockets. An EOD team rendered the rockets safe and transported them to a base for destruction.

In the Sayyidabad District of Wardak province last night, an Afghan-international security patrol found a cache containing a mortar round, six recoilless rifle rounds and two armor-piercing rounds. The cache was destroyed.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

Marines Conduct Census Patrols to Better Understand Surrounding Villages

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, along with soldiers from the 6th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205 Corps, Afghan National Army, conducted a census patrol in the vicinity of Mian Poshteh, Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 19.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 03.23.2010
Posted: 03.24.2010 10:09

Marines conduct census patrols to learn the names of each village, and who the residents are along with other information to have a better understanding of the villages surrounding Combat Outpost Sharp.

The Marines started patrolling early in the morning, moving along streets and through fields, and stopped to talk to any males 18 years of age or older. The Marines would ask them for their name, father's name, and grandfather's name.

"I like talking to the people," said Lance Cpl. Bruce M. Roberts, a riflemen with Fox Company, 2/2. "I like interacting with them and not only learning from them, but they learn from me."

The Marines would also get the names of the village elders and mullahs.

"With their power, it's good to know those people," said Roberts.

With the patrol on a Friday, the day most people go to the market to buy goods, most compounds were empty, which makes it difficult to census any village.

"On a bazaar day, you're not going to get as many as you hope," said Roberts. "In the first village we actually got more names than we expected."

Marines would try to stop and talk to the locals on their way to the bazaar. They would get the information they needed and then would try to locate which compound the local lived in through the help of kids or by the directions of the owner. Some, who were not in the bazaar, would come out of their compounds and greet the Marines as they passed.

After collecting the information they needed, Marines would get the grid coordinates of each compound.

"If the intelligence guys give us a name we can check to see if we have them on a census," said Cpl. Matthew D. Clingan, a squad leader with Fox Company, 2/2. "If we did then we can know what building he lives in."

The interaction with the locals, along with the census allows the Marines to know who should be in each village and who shouldn't.

"You go into villages and you talk so we can go back there and we can know when someone is there that's not supposed to be," said Roberts. "It could be people the family knows, but it could be bad guys moving in."

According to Capt. Scott A. Cuomo, the commanding officer of Fox Company, 2/2, a large reason behind their success has been the relationships that they have built with the locals.

Marines will continue to build those relationships using tools such as census patrols to further the success they have had.

26th MEU to train at Fort Pickett, Va.

The Marines and sailors will conduct individual and small unit training to certify across a wide range of skills, including weapons firing, foot and vehicle maneuver, urban operations, breaching and demolitions, hand grenade practice, as well as other training events, according to Maj. Cesar A. Unzueta, assistant operations officer for 26th MEU.


3/24/2010 By Lance Cpl. Santiago Colon , 26th MEU

The exercise is the first in a series for the MEU that will culminate in its deployment aboard the ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in the fall. The 26th MEU is one of seven MEUs, the Corps’ smallest permanent Marine Air Ground Task Force, comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors.

The training at Fort Pickett will lay the foundation for more complex training evolutions throughout the MEU's six-month pre-deployment training period.

The Marines hope to develop cohesive relationships between the different components of the MEU and identify deficiencies in order to work on them, said Unzueta.

Unzueta added the offsite training will also address Marine Corps-wide pre-deployment requirements. The Marines are going to work on the “shoot, move, communicate” mindset, he said.
The offsite will set the tone for the MEU's upcoming deployment, said Unzueta.

Milton Marine hurt in blast

A Marine from Milton is recovering in a German hospital after being severely injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Saturday.


Travis Griggs • [email protected] • March 24, 2010

Joseph Daniel Palmer, 24, of Milton, suffered shrapnel wounds and had his right leg amputated below the knee after stepping on an improvised explosive device while patrolling in Marjah, Afghanistan.

Palmer was transported to a hospital in Germany for treatment, and will be flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland late this week or early next week for further medical care and physical rehabilitation.

Palmer’s wife, Becky Palmer, 25,of Milton said she and the couple’s 15-month-old son, Cameron, are moving to Maryland next week to be with Palmer during his treatment.

“I was thanking God that he is alive. It is a bad situation all around, but it could have been a lot worse,” Palmer said.

“All I can think about is we’re still going to get to see him and hug and be with him. Our son will get to grow up and actually be with his dad, and not just know him from pictures,” Palmer said.

Joseph Palmer graduated from Central High School in 2004, and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2008. He deployed to Afghanistan in January as a member of the Third Battalion, Sixth Marine regiment Lima Company.

This was his first deployment overseas, Becky Palmer said.

Uphill task for US Marines on Afghan healthcare

MARJAH, Afghanistan, March 24, 2010 (AFP) - When US Major James Coffman presented a plan to restore healthcare to a southern Afghan town after years of Taliban rule and weeks of fighting, he thought it was a winner.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010

"We need your advice on what and how to bring assistance, training, equipment," he told four Afghan doctors and pharmacists, who stroked their beards after braving bombs and Taliban threats to meet US Marine commanders.

Too bad for Coffman that the Afghans were unconvinced.

"It's best for us at the moment if you don't help. At least not until security returns," said Doctor Azim softly. His colleagues agreed.

"Crossing Marjah to get here, I was stopped three times by the Taliban who asked me where I was going, if I was working for the Americans. It's too dangerous," he said.

The Marines looked like they had been punched.

Last month they led 15,000 troops into Marjah in a massive effort to wipe out Taliban insurgents and return control to the government in what was billed as the biggest military offensive since the 2001 fall of the Taliban.

With the main fighting phase over, Marines are under orders to move to the next level - develop reconstruction and restore services to make it harder for the Taliban to come back, and bring a quick end to the war, in its ninth year.

Criticised by aid groups for not doing enough to protect civilians after the Marjah offensive began on February 13, soldiers want to help the local population.

Despite their best intentions, 3rd batallion, 6th regiment Marines Corp found it difficult to get healthcare workers onside in the rural settlement where homes are built of mud and poppy fields run to the horizon.

"You were brave enough to come this way. We know about the IED (improvised explosive device) threats and Taliban retaliation," said Coffman, trying to cajole the doctors on Forward Operating Base Sharwali, the US Marine base north of Marjah.

"Afghanistan will be rebuilt by strong men like you," he said.

US Marines recently conducted a 27-hour operation searching more than 60 farms around Marjah, looking for remnants of the Taliban and defusing bombs left behind by insurgents in the fields and on the roads.

In a small cemetery, the biggest grave contains the remains of a Taliban member killed by "American animals," according to an inscription.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian Christmas, the Marine commander for northern Marjah, listened to the doctors' concerns and promised to take action and continue night patrols.

"If it's a day where we don't find IEDs, that I don't have my guys under small arms fire, that people go to the bazaar and my guys come back safe, it's a good day," he told AFP.

"The Taliban are here. They haven't left. They look at us as well as we look at them."

To the doctors, he said: "Security is here. There will always be a threat, but the Taliban won't prevent you from helping your people."

Doctor Azim appeared to disagree. "The Taliban glue pamphlets on our doors banning us from opening our pharmacies," he said.

The four visitors were unanimous - there can be no direct contact with American forces. It would be "too dangerous."

A suggestion that they nominate a trusted go-between to pass on messages was greeted by a polite silence.

But Christmas refused to take no for an answer.

"There are Taliban, but at some point good people from Marjah have to stand up and do something. We'll work to help you. It's time for you to stand up and say 'we want clinics'," he said.

Doctor Noor Ahmad, who studied at university in Kabul and whose long white beard and golden glasses lend him an air of wisdom, suggests the tribal leaders return. "They are the solution," he says.

Christmas closes the meeting, acknowledging that the longer they wait to ask the elders to return, the more difficult it will be to get them to come back.

To Azim he says: "I'll give you my number. Any time you have decided to do something, you tell me."

Azim's response is pragmatic: "If they know I've got your number, I'll end up with my head on a spike."

"Memorise my number then," fires back Christmas.

"They don't say 'no.' Only the fact they are here means they said 'yes.' We just have to find the way out," the commander sighed.

Nekqadama: a woman bridging cultures in Afghanistan

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Nekqadama was just a baby when she left Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Thirty years on, she is back in the country in US Marine uniform, an interpreter on the insurgency's front line.


By Karim Talbi (AFP) – March 24, 2010

Thirty years of Afghan history are reflected in the life story of this young woman with brown hair and rosy cheeks -- from the Soviet Union's shadow to US dominance, from a refugee camp in Pakistan to a military camp in Helmand.

"Marines treat people very good, they help people," she said, opening a carton of "Mediterranean chicken" -- halal rations made in the United States for Afghan troops.

The American-Afghan, or "Americano-Afghan" as she prefers to call herself, sat in the shade of a bunker in the Sherwali camp, protected by enormous sandbags against possible gunfire or rockets.

She had arrived the previous day at the camp, which has been held for the past month by men of the 6th Marine Regiment, deployed in the Marjah district of Helmand as part of Operation Mushtarak ("Together"), the biggest NATO offensive in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The international forces employ thousands of translators, mostly Afghans speaking Dari or Pashto, integrated into military units to communicate with local people.

More unusual is 31-year-old Nekqadama: both a woman -- a point of interest to the Marines who have spent months without female company -- and an American.

"For the Americans I'm American. For the Afghans, I'm an Afghan sister," she said.

In 1979, Nekqadama lived with her parents and two brothers in Jalalabad, in the east of Afghanistan. The family are Pashtun, her father was studying to be a teacher.

"There was a war or something -- the Soviets, I think that's how they are called -- that's why we left," she said.

The whole family fled across the border to Peshawar, in Pakistan, living in a refugee camp before moving into the city, her home for 22 years.

"In Peshawar refugee camp, I've been taught (to be a) housewife," she said. Her parents banned her from going to school and she gained three sisters and three more brothers as the family grew.

At the age of 22 she was introduced to Roz, an Afghan cousin living in California.

"He was living in the USA. We met in Peshawar, we got married, we went to the USA and we divorced," she said, explaining that she then moved in with her father, who had settled in Riverside County, and a sister.

Her father worked as a security guard and she worked first at a McDonald's and then as a cashier in a 99 cent store. The family got a jolt in September 2008 when her mother was killed by a train that hit the car she was in.

Losing her job after the accident, Nekqadama did little for a year.

"I was watching Afghan news and saw an ad for translators," she said.

She called and had a telephone interview in Pashtu, followed by another in Baltimore, and was soon undergoing military training.

"My father told me 'I don't want you to go'. In our culture we don't do that kind of thing. 'I'll go,' I told him anyway."

Nekqadama left the United States on December 28 last year, travelling via Qatar to Bagram Air Base, then on to Kandahar and finally Camp Leatherneck, the Marines' base in Helmand.

"My first job was to translate what Talibans were telling on the phone or something. That was funny," she said.

She then joined patrols, always wearing the desert uniform of the Marines and a bullet-proof vest.

"It's been a month since I started patrol and I didn't have a shooting. I'm very afraid of IEDs," she said, referring to the improvised bombs that are the main killer of troops in Afghanistan.

"When local villagers see me talking Pashtu, they smile and say 'Ah, she is Afghan'," she said.

"Usually Afghan women can talk to me, since I'm a woman. If their husband disagrees, I don't push, don't insist."

A Marine officer underlined that Nekqadama's ability to talk with women was a real advantage as male troops and translators could not.

"Afghan women talk a lot, but they keep saying the same thing," Nekqadama said dismissively.

One day, an Afghan soldier told her to cover her hair with a scarf, she recalls. "Buy me one and I'll wear it," she replied. But he did not.

In the bunker, three Afghan soldiers argue over this unusual interpreter. The senior officer tells her: "You'd be more pretty with a scarf.

"It's fine with the new generation (of Afghans), but the old ones will shout at you."

Afghan soldiers way below standard, exasperated Marines say

MARJAH, Afghanistan — If the U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Turbett have any problems with their Afghan colleagues, they're with the Afghan soldiers who followed them into battle against Taliban fighters, not with the elite police officers who've stepped in to help fill the security vacuum.


Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By Dion Nissenbaum | McClatchy Newspapers

While the Marines praise the Afghan National Civil Order Police force, they can barely conceal their contempt for the Afghan soldiers who live alongside the Americans in this one-time drug den in Marjah.

The greatest concern is that the shortcomings of the Afghan soldiers could undermine U.S.-led efforts to present ANCOP as the new, more respectable face of the Afghan government.

Marines routinely disparage soldiers in the Afghan National Army as lazy and incompetent. One platoon leader recently avoided taking Afghan soldiers on patrol in favor of ANCOP officers because the soldiers were hours away from ending their tour of duty.

"I'm not f***ing with the ANA," the platoon leader said. "F*** those guys. They don't give a f***. They're leaving tomorrow." He asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The simmering frustrations boiled over last weekend as the Afghan force that fought alongside the Marines prepared to hand things over to a new batch of incoming soldiers.

During the transition, an Afghan soldier was caught trying to steal a care package for a Marine sent from the United States. One of the new arrivals collapsed from a suspected heroin overdose and had to be spirited away on a helicopter.

On their last day, the departing Afghans refused to clean up their cluttered living space, prompting the Marines to threaten to seize the Afghan soldiers' ammunition until they complied.

Covert hashish use among the Afghan soldiers was so prevalent that the Marines adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy unless they were directly confronted with the problem.

Tim Coderre, a sheriff's deputy from Wilmington, N.C., who's working with the Marines as a law enforcement adviser, spent part of the weekend trying to figure out how to reimburse a local storekeeper after discovering that an Afghan soldier apparently had stolen cell phones and SIM cards from the shop.

Since the Afghan soldiers present as much of a public face in Marjah as the Afghan police do, their shortcomings could reflect poorly on the overall campaign.

Top U.S. general in Afghanistan gives order: Close TGI Friday's

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — By American standards, the boardwalk at Kandahar Airfield isn't much to write home about.


* Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By Dion Nissenbaum | McClatchy Newspapers

There's no roller coaster, mirror maze or carousel with unicorns. There's no cotton candy to buy, no candied apples, and no annoying mimes trying to get out of imaginary boxes.

But this little square of Western culture in the Taliban heartland has served for years as a rare oasis for international forces embroiled in the ongoing Afghan war.

The Kandahar boardwalk now has a Burger King, Subway sandwich shop, three cafes, several general stores, a Cold Stone Creamery, Oakley sunglasses outlet, hockey rink (thanks to the Canadians, of course), basketball court, and tiny stage where members of Bachman-Turner Overdrive (the 70s band that brought the world "Takin' Care of Business" and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet") recently performed on a cool southern Afghanistan evening.

The most recent addition is a TGI Friday's, complete with the Americana kitsch, Rihanna videos playing on the flat screen behind the bar (which serves no alcohol), fried mozzarella sticks, and a life-size Yoda action figure with a light saber looking down on patrons from on high.

"The intent, it seems, is to create a surreal slice of Western material comfort where inhabitants can momentarily forget that they are living in one of the world's most benighted countries," Julius Cavendish recently wrote in The Independent.

Well, now's the time to say goodbye to all that.

By order of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, ISAF is shutting down most of these reminders of home.

"This is a war zone — not an amusement park," Command Sgt. Major Michael T. Hall recently wrote on the ISAF blog.

The decision is likely to prove unpopular with ISAF forces working and living in southern Afghanistan.

Where else will they pick up their "Taliban Hunting Club" T-shirts?

"Some will say the decision to do away with these amenities is meant only to make things harder for deployed service members, but nothing could be farther from the truth," Hall wrote. "Closing these facilities will free up much-needed storage facilities at both Bagram and Kandahar, space which is critical as 30,000 additional American and up to 7,000 international troops flow into Afghanistan over the next several months."

That's all well-and-good, but where are soldiers supposed to get their hand painted, $280 Afghanistan U.S. v. Taliban chess sets featuring (for the Americans) Bush as king, the Twin Towers as rooks, and the Statue of Liberty as the queen v. (for the Taliban/insurgents) Osama bin Laden as king, a woman in a burqa as queen and suicide bombers as bishops?

Privately, some ISAF officials say the closure is as much about perception as logistics.

Rock concerts, hockey games and Americana kitsch in the Taliban heartland might not create the impression McChrystal is trying to convey that the U.S. has no intentions of transforming Afghanistan into the U.S.

But not all is lost. The new order exempts the Green Beans coffee house, AT&T; phone stores, fitness centers, some Afghan-run stalls and a few other essentials for ISAF forces.

"We have an important mission here in Afghanistan, and its one the world is watching and paying attention to," Hall wrote. "We have a responsibility to outfit our troops with everything they need to be successful. Efficiently providing troops what they need to accomplish the mission is the right thing to do."

Heroics illustrated, comic-book style

By James K. Sanborn - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Mar 24, 2010 16:57:18 EDT

Blazing guns, explosions, epic battles and superheroes are common elements of most action comics. But in a new comic series debuting this month in Marines Magazine, the heroes are Marines, and the stories of combat are unembellished, real-life accounts of how they earned valor awards.

To continue reading:


Local Marine injured in Afghanistan

MILTON, Fla. (WALA) - A Milton Marine stepped right onto a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His foot had to be amputated and he's being treated for injuries in Germany. His family is keeping in close contact with him and is thankful he's still alive.


Updated: Thursday, 25 Mar 2010, 8:56 AM CDT
Published : Wednesday, 24 Mar 2010, 9:53 PM CDT

* John Rogers
* Photojournalist: Jason Caldwell

As Flora Jean Palmer looks at a picture of her son, Joseph Daniel Palmer, she fondly recalls a young boy who could take a hit.

"He was always getting hurt, he was very rough and tough, always falling down. Just taking bumps and bruises, that's just him," Palmer said.

Daniel, as they like to call him, joined the Marines nearly two years ago. In January he was sent to Afghanistan as a machine gunner.

"This is what he wanted to do, and I was really proud of him," his mother said.

The family said on Saturday, Daniel started walking with fellow Marines looking for roadside bombs.

"He was on foot patrol. Routinely, they had seen some, they had been looking for these. They found some and this one he didn't see and he stepped right on it," she said.

She said after the explosion, Daniel's right foot had to be removed.

Palmer was devastated when she heard the news.

"I knew it was bad, it was terrible. It was not what I wanted at all," his mother added.

Her son was sent to Germany for treatment, and on Friday he'll be flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland.

Palmer has spoken with him since the accident, and said he's still the tough dude he's always been. She thinks he might still remain a Marine.

"He would love to, if he could I know he will," said Palmer.

Just like when he was a kid, Daniel can still take a hit. These recent scars may now be permanent, but at least he's still around. And for his family, that's more than they can ask for.

His wife and mother will take a trip to Bethesda, Maryland to spend time with him.

March 23, 2010

Mujahedeen Protect Provincial Reconstruction Team Base

ANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The fierceness of the fighters and the security of the valley have allowed Forward Operating Base Lion to be one of the few, if not only, bases in Afghanistan guarded solely by an Afghan security forces.


Combined Joint Task Force - 82 PAO RSS
Story by Staff Sgt. Donald Reeves
Date: 03.23.2010
Posted: 03.23.2010 05:18

Panjshir province has been a center of resistance for Afghanistan. The people of Panjshir pushed back the Soviets in the 1980s and resisted Taliban rule in the 1990s.

FOB Lion draws its security force from a group of fighters known as the mujahedeen. The name comes from the Arabic word for "one who struggles," and is often used to refer to Islamic fighters from all different sects around the world.

In Panjshir the locals know the mujahedeen as the group that ousted the Russians and kept their province from falling to the Taliban according to several Panjshir interpreters.

FOB Lion houses the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team. This U.S. multi-service and civilian team works with the local government on strengthening Panjshir's security, governance, and reconstruction. Having a local guard allows them to move about the province freely and accomplish their work.

Jamie Bowman, a civilian member of the PRT, travels about the province in her job as a field development officer. Her team never goes far without an interpreter and a mujahedeen guard. She touted the professionalism of the security force.

"They are always alert," she said. "They are always attentive to what they have to do."

Bowman told a story about an incident when a misunderstanding had local civilians upset and blocking the road. Before she could figure out what was happening, the mujahedeen sprang into action.

"Our guard was out of the car so fast," Bowman said.

The mujahedeen, who was also a local resident, quickly took control of the situation and "made sure that we were able to deal with the people in a professional, non-confrontational way," said Bowman.

All of the mujahedeen guards are from the area. They are specially selected by the provincial governor and rely on a tight-knit community to keep the peace.

Ahmad Jan, one of two team leaders of the mujahedeen guard force said through an interpreter, "The provincial government all know us, and they picked us to be here. All of the guards that they have here are from different districts of this province, not from other provinces."

Being part of the community allows the guards to spot anything out of the ordinary.

"Most of the guards here know about 80 percent of the population," said Jan.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, PRT commander, says that this link to the population gives them advantages over Coalition guards.

"They can anticipate because they are indigenous to the area and are familiar with the atmospherics," said Velasquez. "They know the issues with the local population and villagers."

The strong sense of community is a large part of the stability in the valley. After decades of war, Jan said the people work together to keep the peace.

"We are tired of Taliban," said Jan. "Our people don't want them here. The locals, they know each other from this valley. If they see someone from another province looking suspicious they ask him what they are doing here. They will grab him and take him to the [Afghan national army] or [Afghan national police] and let them know that this guy is doing something suspicious."

U.S. Army National Guardsman Sgt. Tommy Olivio, from Crossville, Tenn., said the guards have a vested interest to protect the forces at the FOB.

"They don't want the Taliban here. This is one of the safest places in Afghanistan," said Olivio. "What would this place be like for them if they let something happen?"

The mujahedeen security force is made up of proven fighters with years of experience. Most of the mujahedeen who guard FOB Lion have fought against the Taliban. Many of the older guards resisted the Soviets.

Jan said, "I joined because I needed to be a person of good discipline. But during the Soviets the reason a person became a mujahedeen was because the [Soviets] attacked their provinces.

"The [Soviets] did very bad things," continued Jan. "Then everyone, if they had a weapon, became a mujahedeen and started fighting."

Before becoming one of the elite guards, Jan said that his troops went through extensive training.

"Before we came here, we already knew how to fight," said Jan. "The Americans taught us to search suspicious vehicles and people, and gate guarding procedures."

Afghan troops also went through background checks.

"The provincial government will only pick a person who has never had a criminal background. He needs to have a clear background and be well respected," said Jan.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lawrence McKnight, in charge of security at the FOB, has been won over completely. McKnight has worked closely with the mujahedeen on security issues concerning the base.

"These guys would get in front of a bullet for you," he said.

Jan said, "A person can only be a mujahedeen if he is a good guy, if he never bothers people. He needs to defend his own country, his own people."

And now, in addition to defending their own country, they are defending those trying to help them rebuild it.

Velasquez said the mujahedeen have accepted the PRT as their extended family and that he has full confidence in their capability to accomplish the mission.

According to the counterinsurgency guidance put out by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander, International Security Assistance Force, in 2009, "We must get the people involved as active participants in the success of their communities... Live and train together, plan and operate together."

This is the model displayed in the relationship between the Panjshir PRT and its mujahedeen protectors

"It's the people in Panjshir that ultimately guarantee our security in this permissive environment and it is a privilege to be part of the community," said Velasquez.

Marines Film "Real" War Movie

Documentary of footage shot by troops will screen in Dallas

The subject of a documentary made entirely of video footage shot by Marines says he hopes the award-winning film will show what war is really like.


Updated 10:45 PM CDT, Tue, Mar 23, 2010

"Severe Clear " was shot by First Lt. Mike Scotti and other members of his battalion with their personal cameras in the early days of the Iraq War. The documentary by Kristian Fraga is based on their video, as well as Scotti's journal entries and letters home.

"I captured the sights and sounds of war,” Scotti said.

Scotti said he shot the video while he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 to remember his experiences.

"I realized how impactful showing that footage to my family was to get them to understand what it was that I had just went through," he said. “And it wasn't a picture, it wasn't some scribbling notes in a journal, it was real, and it was a motion picture, and there was sound to it."

Scotti said he wants military families and others to see and share the film to get a better understanding of what combat is like.

"I just hope they're enlightened when they leave there," he said. "I think they might be a little shocked. It's not an easy film to watch."

Scotti is also a founding board member of the Dallas-based nonprofit Reserve Aid, which delivers need-based grants to military reservists and their families.

"We support the families back home,” he said. “It could be a Walmart gift card so they can buy diapers for their children. It could be fixing a car so that the injured National Guardsmen or reservists can make it to their physical therapy. It could be paying the electric bill, to keep the lights on in the house.”

"Severe Clear" was awarded Special Mention for Cinematic Excellence at the 2009 International Rome Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Salem Film Fest and the 2009 Barrymore Award. It was also an official selection at the South By Southwest, Big Sky, Lone Star, Palm Beach, San Diego and St. Louis Film Festivals.

The documentary is being screened at the Studio Movie Grill Royal in Dallas at 8 p.m. Wednesday. "Severe Clear" is also available for pre-order on DVD at deepdiscount.com.

Uneasy quiet, then a Taliban ambush

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Lance Cpl. Matthew W. McElhinney faded in and out of consciousness as the morphine kicked in.

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Click above link for photos.

Flags Lowered Tuesday to Honor Fallen Hero

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff across the state Tuesday to honor a soldier from Harrison township who was killed in Iraq.


Last Update: 3/23 7:26 am

29-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Richard J. Jordan of Macomb County died March 16 of injuries suffered in a vehicle rollover in Mosul, Iraq.

A memorial service is to be held Tuesday at the Light Guard Armory in Detroit. The service is set to get underway at 6 p.m. Sgt. Jordan's funeral will be held Saturday in Ohio.

Jordan was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

The Detroit Light Guard Armory is located at 4400 E. 8 Mile. You can get information on the memorial service by calling (313)957-6506.

Taliban say not involved in Kabul peace talks

(Reuters) - The Taliban are not involved in peace talks between an insurgent faction and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and will not agree to talks until Western troops are withdrawn from the country, a spokesman said on Tuesday.


Hamid Shalizi
Tue Mar 23, 2010 5:48am EDT

Karzai's office said on Monday he had held his first direct talks in Kabul with a senior delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the three main insurgent groups in the country and rivals to the Taliban.

The meeting was an unprecedented success in Karzai's efforts to reach out to insurgents this year, a crucial time when Washington is sending a "surge" of extra combat troops before planning to start withdrawing next year.

Although the talks appeared to be preliminary, the publicly acknowledged face-to-face meeting was a significant milestone: previous contacts with insurgents have been furtive and conducted through mediators, mostly overseas.

The Hezb-i-Islami team, which included the son-in-law of the group's fugitive leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, brought a 15-point peace plan including a call for all foreign troops to withdraw this year, though a spokesman said the demands were negotiable.

A separate peace with Hezb-i-Islami could markedly change the balance of power on the ground in the east and northeast of the country where the group is mostly active.

But the main prize would be talks with the Taliban themselves, more powerful than at any time since they were driven from Kabul in 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan militia.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said his movement, which refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the country's name when it ruled from 1996-2001, had not altered its position: that no talks could be held until troops withdraw.

"The Islamic Emirate has a clear position. We have said this many, many times. There will be no talks when there are foreign troops on Afghanistan's soil killing innocent Afghans on daily basis," Mujahid said.

"If the representatives from Hezb-i-Islami are in Kabul for talks, it's their choice," he added.


The Taliban, the biggest insurgent group, have their bases in the south, but operate throughout much of the country and have encroached on Hezb-i-Islmai turf in the northeast and east in recent months.

Taliban fighters clashed with Hezb-i-Islami militants in the north of the country two weeks ago, which the government said led some Hezb-i-Islami guerrillas to seek its protection.

Although direct contacts between the government and senior Taliban officials have been denied by both sides, Western officials say they believe indirect and lower-level contacts have taken place throughout eight years of war.

The outgoing U.N. mission chief in Kabul, Kai Eide, said last week he had held meetings with Taliban representatives over the past year, which ended abruptly this year when Pakistan arrested the number two Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Some Afghan officials have said the government had made contact with Baradar, and blame Islamabad for arresting him to ensure that it has leverage over any future talks.

Karzai's spokesman has said the government had no "direct" contacts with Baradar, but declined to comment on whether it had had "indirect" contacts.

World War II vets honored on the grounds of their memorial

All eyes were on World War II veterans as they were honored and recognized at the World War II Memorial in Washington March 11 for their participation in the Pacific Campaign more than 65 years ago.


3/23/2010 By Lance Cpl. Benjamin Harris , Headquarters Marine Corps

The 250 veterans attending the ceremony were flown in by the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization that provides trips for military veterans to the nation’s capital to see the memorials dedicated to their service. The ceremony, hosted by Home Box Office, coincided with the premiere of the “The Pacific,” a ten-part miniseries on HBO that highlights three Marines and their participation in the Pacific Campaign from 1941 to 1945.

“It’s about your service, and it’s about the whole legacy of the Marine Corps and the Army and the other branches of the military that fought and died and sacrificed so much, but built so much for all of us to enjoy today,” said Steven Spielberg, an executive producer of the miniseries.

Some of the veterans in attendance had never visited the memorials dedicated to their service. Frank Jurek, a World War II and Korean War veteran, said the chance to visit Washington for the first time was the greatest opportunity he’s ever had. During the ceremony, Jurek had a chance to reflect on the men he served with in the Pacific.

“They all had courage, believe me,” said Jurek. “Kids my age did everything we had to do, and we enjoyed every minute of it. It was something we had to do and that was it.”

The desire to honor the men who fought in the Pacific was always prevalent, said Tom Hanks, an executive producer of the miniseries. The final piece needed was a story to tell, which the producers found with two Marine memoirs: “With the Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge and “Helmet for My Pillow” by Robert Leckie. What interested Hanks the most was what was required of Marines to survive the war in the Pacific.

“They all have to be able to do the same thing, even if you’re a clerk,” said Hanks. “You have to get that marksmanship badge, you have to be physically fit, you have to be able to do anything.”

“The Pacific” premiered March 14 on HBO, and will run every Sunday night through May. The series also runs on the Armed Forces Network’s Spectrum channel every Saturday at 6 p.m. EST.

Military plans to give troops longer rest time

Wars: Change meant to address stresses such as divorce, violence, suicide

The U.S. military is taking steps to keep service members home longer to rest, re-train and be with their families – a sign that the stress caused by years-long engagements and extended combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan may begin to ease.


Staff, news service reports
Published: 03/23/1012:05 am

Starting this fall, the Marine Corps will guarantee nearly all Marines 14 months at home for every seven months they spend in war zones.

The Army hopes to make a similar change by the end of 2011, guaranteeing soldiers two years at home for every year they’re gone.

The lack of time at home between repeated combat tours – what military planners call “dwell time” – has been blamed for exacerbating a range of woes, including divorce and domestic violence among returning troops and a record-high suicide rate in the Army.

Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander who recently returned from Iraq, told reporters this month that the Army is making the changes, but it could be a while before the effects are felt.

“There’s a positive, downstream effect that will be felt in the military as we hit the transition in Iraq and reconcile that with the buildup in Afghanistan,” Jacoby said. “I’d say we’re still a couple of years out.”

The eventual scale and duration of the war in Afghanistan and other unforeseen conflicts could change that, he added.

Last year, the announcement of additional troops in Afghanistan cut severely into the dwell time of a Fort Lewis Stryker brigade. The 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division returned home from its first Iraq deployment during summer 2008 and expected to have two years of dwell time. They were counting on the break after their combat tour was extended from 12 to 15 months.

But the deployment of Fort Lewis’ 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was switched from Iraq to Afghanistan, and soldiers from 4th Brigade learned in March 2009 their departure date would be accelerated.

The unit’s 4,000 soldiers returned to Iraq in August, giving them only about a year at home.

More time at home between combat tours also will allow the military to address what commanders say is a huge backlog in training that has left forces with little preparation for events once considered routine.

News Tribune staff writer Scott Fontaine contributed to this report.

IJC Operational Update, March 23

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound northeast of Divalak, in the Reg-e Khan Meshin District, near Marjah, Helmand province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.23.2010
Posted: 03.23.2010 02:55

During the search the security team captured a Taliban commander responsible for placing improvised explosive devices, and the movement of militant personnel and weapons to various insurgent networks. The joint team also found a large amount of cash on the captured Taliban facilitator.

Also in Helmand last night, a joint security force searched a compound southwest of Lashkar Gah, in the Nad-e Ali District, near Marjah, after intelligence information indicated militant activity.

During the search the security force detained a few suspected insurgents for further questioning.

In Khowst last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound west of the village of Ya qubi, in the Sabari District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity.

During the search the security force detained several suspected militants for further questioning.

In other operations, an ISAF patrol found a weapons cache in the Nad-e Ali District last night. The cache contained two grenades, an AK-47 rifle and small-arms ammunition.

Yesterday in the Nad-e Ali District, an Afghan-international patrol found a cache containing 45 kilograms (almost 100 lbs.) of raw opium, an AK-47 rifle and ammunition, four 30mm rounds and a bag of electronic components. The drugs were destroyed.

In the Reg-e Khan Neshin District of Helmand yesterday, an ISAF patrol found three unexpended rockets in an open area. The rockets will be destroyed.

In the Tarin Kot District of Uruzgan province yesterday, an ISAF patrol found several ammunition caches in close proximity to each other.

The caches contained a mortar round, 1,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition and a 1-kg bag of home-made explosive. The caches were destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 22, 2010

Combat troops get 15 extra days of leave

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 22, 2010 17:42:12 EDT

A new nonchargeable rest and recuperation leave policy for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan announced by the Pentagon on Monday gives those deployed for 270 days or more 15 days of administrative absence on top of their regular annual leave.

To continue reading:


Marja Embed: Six Weeks in Helmand Province

After spending more than six weeks with the Marines and Afghan National Army in Helmand Province, Tyler Hicks and I left Afghanistan in early March. We plan to return a few times this year. Meanwhile, our colleagues will follow developments there, as Rod Nordland just did. But even as the conversation pitches forward, there are items from the opening of the Marja offensive that merit more attention. The limits of space in the newspaper, as well the shortages of electricity and time while on the ground, meant that material worth sharing at the outset never found an outlet.


March 22, 2010, 7:00 am

For these reasons, At War will offer a series of blog posts and at least two video segments made from footage of the offensive’s first days. The posts will examine the Taliban’s often-poor marksmanship, notwithstanding the unusual use of snipers in the recent fighting. It will also provide a closer look at those snipers, explore what seemed to be a Taliban funeral and describe a decision, made by one Marine commander, intended to build trust in a village where Afghans had expressed deep misgiving about the arrival of outside troops. Further, a Marine lance corporal shared his Helmand diary with me; we’ll publish excerpts. In a final post, we’ll offer more detail about the challenges of reporting on a rifle company alone in an isolated place.

But let’s begin with the beginning: more pictures and scenes of the Marines in the days and nights just before the offensive began. It’s worth restating that this particular unit, Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, was part of a so-called surge battalion — an outfit sent to Afghanistan after President Obama decided last year to increase the American effort on the ground. Its Marines were mostly young and new to war. Very few of them had been in combat before. In the context of the Afghan war, which long ago established patterns and rhythms, their introduction to fighting was unusual. Upon deploying to Afghanistan, most units move into existing firebases and outposts, and gradually start patrolling on territory that is reasonably well known. In such cases, a unit’s acclimation to the war is gradual, even piecemeal. The unit’s members typically become engaged in combat in small groups and over a fairly long period of time. Patrol by patrol, a unit learns the enemy and the ground, and becomes experienced, or, as Marines often call it, salty. Kilo Company was to have a different start. Its Marines were to be inserted by helicopter all at once into what they were told was a hornet’s nest of Taliban fighters. There they would be alone until other companies, which would be traveling over the ground with armored vehicles, would catch up to them, perhaps in a few days or a week. This is what was to happen. And the Taliban’s fighters, in a similarly unusual move, did not melt away, as they often do when Western forces mass. They fought Kilo Company intensively for several days, seemingly sensing that these Marines were more vulnerable than ordinary and were isolated, too — which meant that they could be fought in rifle-on-rifle battles for hours on end. As action goes in Afghanistan, this was out of the norm.

The Marines of Kilo Company sensed this before their attack. In the last days leading up to the assault, the company was billeted in two large tents at Camp Leatherneck, where the Marines bided time. The ammunition had been issued, the plans long ago made and practiced. Sleep was required at night. The noncommissioned officers rigorously enforced a no-talking and no-lights policy after 10 p.m.; this forced the troops to rest before whatever was ahead. The sounds and scenes during the long nights were almost timeless, blending boot-camp memories with the ambience of the crowded confines of troop ships: long rows of sleeping men, the still air made loud with snores and the footfalls of guards on fire watch, pacing between the rows of cots. (The guards were not just there to alert others of fire; they had also been ordered to make sure the Afghan National Army soldiers also living in the tents did not steal anything from the Marines.)

The air within the tents was filled as well with something else: the almost continuous sounds of deep, labored coughing. The Marines of Kilo Company were fighting chest and sinus infections. The outbreak was severe enough that at least 10 of the company’s Marines were hospitalized with pneumonia and would miss the opening fighting. Others refused to acknowledge their illness. All night they coughed. Many would not speak of their infections with their officers, fearing they would be evacuated, miss the battle and leave their friends alone. Kilo Company’s wet, ragged cough became a characteristic sound and enduring memory. It was heard first in the tents, and then, later, it was heard again and again while huddling for a few hours at nights in the low-slung, mud-walled buildings of Marja, or while on post under the stars in the lulls between firefights. A large fraction of Kilo Company was sick. Almost none of the Marines would admit it – not on an operation in which, by their view, they had been assigned the most coveted role.

Officials Give Update on Afghanistan Operations

WASHINGTON - International Security Assistance Force Joint Command officials in Afghanistan provided details on various operations conducted in Afghanistan in recent days:


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.22.2010
Posted: 03.22.2010 02:47

-- A combined Afghan-international patrol stopped a vehicle and found 1,600 pounds of hashish in Helmand province's Registan district yesterday. Two people in the vehicle were detained. They admitted their intent was to deliver the drugs to Taliban members in Barham Chah, and that the route the combined forced was traveling was a main drug-smuggling conduit.

-- An ISAF patrol found three 82mm mortar rounds in the Garm Ser district of Helmand province today.

-- A 9-year-old Afghan girl was treated by international forces after receiving shrapnel injuries during an insurgent attack on Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province yesterday.

-- In Khost province, March 21, international forces treated three Afghan children who were wounded during an insurgent attack. The children were evacuated to a hospital after they were stabilized.

-- In the Arghandab district of Kandahar province, March 21, an Afghan-international patrol found a cache containing six Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades and six Chinese-made RPGs. Two people were detained.

-- In the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand, March 21, a combined force detained an insurgent and confiscated two assault rifles and two vests containing ammunition. The patrol also found two containers of small-arms ammunition near where the insurgent was detained.

-- In the Daman district of Kandahar, March 21, an Afghan police patrol found a 107 mm Chinese-made rocket with wires attached.

-- An Afghan-international patrol in Kandahar, March 21, found a half-buried artillery shell in a grape field.

-- A combined Afghan-international force killed two militants while pursuing a Taliban commander in Zabul province, March 20. When the security force attempted to stop a motorcycle carrying two suspected militants, the militants began firing on the combined force. The security force returned fire and killed them. The search team found an automatic rifle, a pistol, ammunition and a grenade.

-- An ISAF patrol found six mortar grenades in Ghazni province's Gelan district, March 20.

-- Afghan forces with ISAF partners captured several suspected insurgents, March 18, including a senior roadside-bomb facilitator, in Helmand province. The combined force also seized more than 130 pounds of opium.

-- An Afghan-international security force detained two suspected militants for further questioning in the Now Zad district of Helmand province, March 19, after intelligence information indicated militant activity there.

-- An ISAF patrol found six mortar grenades in the Gelan district of Ghazni province March 20.

-- Also, March 20, an Afghan police patrol in the Kandahar district of Kandahar province found an improvised explosive device consisting of a rocket head with wires protruding from it. An explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed the device.

-- A local resident handed over an IED made of more than 30 pounds of fertilizer to a combined force in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, March 19. The device was subsequently destroyed. Another civilian told the force where to find a cache containing five pressure-plate devices and other items.

-- In the Sabari district of Khost province, March 18, an Afghan turned in 76 rocket-propelled grenades to ISAF forces.

-- An ISAF patrol in the Murqur area of Badghis province was attacked by small-arms fire from insurgents, March 17. The unit remained engaged with insurgents throughout the day, and remained in the area throughout the night. The next morning, the patrol again came under attack from insurgents. The patrol called for air support, and aircraft dropped several bombs on positively identified insurgent positions throughout the day. The firefight ended that evening, and the patrol subsequently reported several insurgents had been killed in the engagement. No civilian casualties were observed or reported, and there was no damage to civilian infrastructure, officials said.

In other news from Afghanistan, officials reported the circumstances that led to a civilian being shot and killed, March 21, during an operation conducted by an Afghan-international force searching for a Taliban commander in the Chak-e Wardak district of Wardak province.

The combined force had gone to the village after intelligence discovered militant activity. Despite repeated requests in Dari, Pashtu, and Urdu for everyone to come out of their homes, a man was found inside one of the buildings. Officials said the assault force reacted to what they thought was hostile intent and shot the man.

It was subsequently determined the individual was an elderly man. No individuals were detained during this operation.

"We regret this loss of life and offer our condolences to the family," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, ISAF Joint Command deputy chief of staff for joint operations. "Our combined forces take numerous precautions to prevent civilian casualties, and this incident is being reviewed together with our Afghan partners."

ISAF leaders will meet with local officials to discuss how to minimize future incidents, and the family will be offered compensation according to local customs.

VA focuses on needs of more female vets

Medical providers stress that there's a commitment to serve all military personnel.

CHEYENNE -- Veteran health care is changing along with changing military demographics.


Monday, March 22, 2010
By Michelle Dynes

Nearly two million American veterans are women. Almost half a million female veterans get health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the number is expected to grow by 30 percent in the next five years.

But a VA health-care system used to providing care for men had to adjust to accommodate the growing female population.

The Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center opened its Women's Health Program in 1999 with the goal of providing comprehensive care for female veterans. Today, the clinic offers primary care, gynecological and preventive services, as well as the expertise to address military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. The clinic's staff also strives to make sure that female veterans know the service is available.

A separate entrance and separate lobby maintain privacy for these patients, said Women Veterans Health Program Manager Brandy Marshall. Women who had been sexually assaulted were intimidated to walk into a clinic waiting room full of men. Other female patients weren't sure whether the VA's medical providers could meet their unique health-care needs.

Enlisted women also are now exposed to the same things as enlisted men, said Gerrie Evans, a family nurse practitioner with the program.

"There's no firm line of where the combat line is," she added.

But a regular clinic may have a patient population split evenly between men and women, while a VA clinic would see more male patients, said Dorena Determann.

"Men have different questions, different needs and different requirements," she added.

Determann said she didn't ask about health care for female veterans because she had private insurance. She also didn't know the service existed until she visited the VA for another appointment.

Marshall said the women's program offers a one-stop shop, regardless of whether patients need contraception, hormone replacement therapy or an annual exam. The clinic also connects with any other VA medical providers a patient sees. Determann said she knows she's getting comprehensive care because all of her physicians communicate.

"I think because of the continuity it's better care," she added.

Marshall said last year the clinic served 1,342 female veterans, and the patient population continues to grow 2 to 3 percent each year. She added that there's a commitment to meet the needs of all veterans, and that includes the unique health-care needs of female veterans.

IJC Operational Update, March 22

KABUL, Afghanistan - An ISAF patrol found three 82mm mortar rounds in the Garm Ser District of Helmand province today. The mortars were destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.22.2010
Posted: 03.22.2010 06:55

A 9-year-old Afghan girl was treated by international forces after receiving shrapnel injuries during an insurgent attack on Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar yesterday.

In Khowst province yesterday, international forces treated three Afghan children who were wounded during an insurgent attack. The children were evacuated to Khowst hospital after they were stabilized.

In the Arghandab District of Kandahar province yesterday, an Afghan-international patrol found a cache containing six Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades and six Chinese-made RPGs. Two people were detained.

In the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand yesterday, a joint force detained an insurgent and confiscated two AK-47 rifles and two vests containing ammunition. The patrol also found two containers of small-arms ammunition in the area near where the insurgent was detained.

In the Daman District of Kandahar yesterday, an Afghan national police patrol found a 107mm Chinese-made rocket with wires attached. An Explosive Ordnance Disposal team rendered the device safe and will destroy it soon.

An Afghan-international patrol in Kandahar yesterday found a half-buried artillery shell in a grape field. The device was destroyed by an EOD team.

Afghanistan: Who are Hezb-i-Islami?

(Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has met a senior delegation from the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami, Karzai's office said Monday, a first step toward a possible separate peace with a militant faction that rivals the Taliban.

The meeting amounts to Karzai's first confirmed direct contact with the faction, one of the three main groups fighting his government and the U.S. and NATO troops that support it.


Mon Mar 22, 2010 11:32am EDT

Below are five facts about Hezb-i-Islami:

* Founded in the mid 1970's by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-i-Islami -- "The Islamic Party" -- was one of the main mujahideen groups fighting the Soviet invasion in the 1980s from its base in Pakistan. It received the lion's share of U.S. and Saudi arms and money channeled through the Pakistani intelligence service.

* In 1979, Hekmatyar clashed with another leader inside the faction, Mawlawi Khalis, splitting Hezb-i-Islami into two groups. Hekmatyar's faction, the larger of the two, is now commonly referred to as Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). There have also been other minor offshoots since then.

* After the Soviet withdrawal Hekmatyar fought and made fleeting alliances with most other mujahideen factions during the resulting civil war and is blamed for killing thousands in Kabul with indiscriminate rocket attacks on the capital.

* In 1994, Pakistan dropped support for HIG in favor of Mullah Mohammad Omar's Taliban, and after losing to their forces when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Hekmatyar fled to Iran. Many of his fighters joined the Taliban ranks. He served briefly as prime minister in 1996 before the Taliban took control.

* After the September 11 attacks Hekmatyar declared himself against the U.S. invasion, was expelled by Iran and returned to his homeland to take up the fight in alliance with the Taliban. Hezb-i-Islami is one of the three groups that NATO forces recognize as the main insurgent factions responsible for attacks against them and Afghan forces. Its fighters are most active in the east of the country and in pockets in the north.

(Compiled by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Alex Richardson)

MAG-40 Corpsman Recognized for Heroic Actions

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – "Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don't have that problem," former president Ronald Reagan once said.


Marine Aircraft Group 40 RSS
Story by Cpl. Samuel Nasso
Date: 03.21.2010
Posted: 03.22.2010 12:44

Marines are known to do great things and hold themselves to the values of honor, courage and commitment. What must not be forgotten is these core values were derived from the Naval traditions of the Marine Corps.

One sailor, Hospitalman Kyle Peterson, a casualty evacuation corpsman with Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, exemplified these core values and because of the heroic actions he displayed, Aug. 7, 2009, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Chief Petty Officer Edwin Brannan, the leading chief petty officer for the MAG-40 CASEVAC team, read the summary of action for the medal while 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Command Master Chief Petty Officer Christopher Aldis presented Peterson with the medal, March. 5.

On Aug. 7, 2009, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772, MAG-40, was flying a typical resupply mission when they were called to conduct an air casualty evacuation mission for two seriously wounded Marines from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, MEB-A.

The Marines were injured by an improvised explosive device near Garmsir District, Helmand province. Although CASEVAC was not a normal mission for HMH-772, the squadron was close to the company's location and had a corpsman on board their aircraft to tend to the wounded Marines.

Within minutes, the CH-53E "Super Stallion" helicopters landed and Peterson, along with an air crew Marine, rushed toward the casualties. Once loaded on the aircraft, Peterson assessed the casualties and saw that one was a double amputee with a weak pulse while the second patient was in stable condition. He noticed that one of the tourniquets on the double amputee patient was loose and the patient was losing blood.

Peterson quickly reacted and tightened the tourniquet to completely stop the bleeding. He later said that if the aircraft he was on did not take the CASEVAC mission that the double amputee patient would have bled to death.

An excerpt of Peterson's summary of action for his medal stated, "Hospital Apprentice Peterson's attention to detail and thorough medical evaluation directly contributed to two urgent casualties safely arriving at the next higher level of medical care. Peterson quickly made an accurate and level headed assessment of the patient's conditions while constantly communicating the status of the patients to the helicopter aircraft commanded and crew."

"On Aug. 7, then HA Peterson flawlessly applied the skills and knowledge he had attained from numerous medical courses during the treatment and transport of two combat casualties," said Brannan. "His actions on that day are what being a corpsman is all about."

At only 21-years-old, Peterson exemplifies the maturity and knowledge that is essential to being a corpsman.

"Peterson is a young corpsman, but this is an occasion that he'll look back upon throughout his career and know that all the training, hard work, and dedication was worth it," said Brannan.

"At the time, being a seaman apprentice in a situation like that, he fell back on his training by tightening the tourniquet, making it possible for the Marine to make it to the next echelon of medical treatment," said Aldis. "It's pretty incredible."

Aldis, during a three day visit to Camp Leatherneck, jumped at the opportunity to present Peterson his award.

"It basically broke me down to tears," said Aldis. "Honestly, it tugs my heart because that's what they are trained to do and shows the caliber of the guys and girls we have as hospital corpsmen serving with the fleet marine force. It's incredible, when I was their rank and age, I was nowhere near the level they are now and Peterson receiving this award is just one example of what every one of them would do if given the situation. The pride I feel is unbelievable."

The Marines and Sailors of MAG-40 work hard every day and it is not every day an individual gets recognized for their work.

"It's an honor to get the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal," said Peterson. "I was just doing my part. I don't feel like I've done more than anyone else and I know anyone of us could have done it. I was in the right place right time."

Peterson's award is another notch on the belt of the CASEVAC team. Many of the CASEVAC corpsmen qualified for their Fleet Marine Force. In addition the team has received 13 Combat Air Crew Wings, two MEB-A Junior Sailors of the Quarter awards, more than 3,000 flight hours qualifying them for 42 air medals, eight promotions, two flag letters of commendation and one command advancement.

"My team can be summed up in two words 'The' and 'Best,'" said Brannan. "When we were put together a little over a year ago, I didn't know what to expect. Normally, when you get folks from several different units, all of them around the same rank, you have issues to deal with. With this crew it took all of two days for them to come together and over the last year they have become a family more than a team."

What Peterson did, Aug. 7, 2009, is one example of why corpsmen are essential to the Navy and Marine Corps team. In a crucial moment on the battlefield, a corpsman stepped up and proved his worth for his team.

"The impact that corpsmen bring to the fight is immeasurable," said Aldis. "Marines are always confident they can go into battle and do anything knowing that corpsmen are beside them. They are confident in their corpsmen's medical skills and capabilities and confident that they will step up and do their job when it counts."

March 21, 2010

IJC Operational Update March 21

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan-international combined force killed two militants while pursuing a Taliban commander in Zabul province yesterday.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.21.2010
Posted: 03.21.2010 07:16

The security force attempted to stop a motorcycle carrying two suspected militants. As the security force approached, the militants began firing on the combined force. The security force returned fire and killed the two militants.

The search team found an automatic rifle, pistol, ammunition and a grenade.

In another operation, an ISAF patrol discovered six mortar grenades while on patrol in Gelan district, Ghazni province yesterday. The rounds were destroyed.

No civilians were harmed during either operation.

Reuters photographer and Marine meet again in Helmand

Almost two years ago, Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic captured a dramatic shot of U.S. Marine Sergeant William Bee, from Wooster, Ohio, the moment a Taliban bullet hit a wall inches from this head.

Click above link for photos.

Mar 21, 2010 20:20 EDT
Helmand | marjah | photography | U.S. Marines

In the photo Bee is just about holding on to his rifle as he is hit by a spray of rocks and dirt when the bullet hits a compound wall in front of him.

When the photo was published by Reuters, in May 2008, it was picked up by several newspapers, widely distributed over the internet and has become one of the defining images of the war in Afghanistan.

Last month, en route to Marjah to cover the U.S. Marine-led operation in the town, Goran bumped into Bee for the first time since he took that photo. Bee was on Camp Dwyer, a large base home to mainly Marines in southern Helmand province. Bee was also on his way to Marjah with Alpha Company of the First Battalion, Sixth Marines.

“I was doing change over, getting dressed, getting washed, stuff like that. We heard one gun shot by one of the posts, I went over there to check and make sure it was alright. I’ve seen this guy, I drew down on him and the world went black. Then I came to, I was on a stretcher, everybody thought I got shot. But I was fine. Had a couple of Tylenol. Goran came up to me with a big smile on his face and said ‘dude, you got to see what I got’. That was pretty much it,” Bee said. “I was hoping Goran was out here, I like him a lot. He’s probably the best embed I’ve ever worked with, plus he gave us a shit load of cigarettes when we didn’t have any.”

At the time, Bee’s wife was seven months pregnant with their first child. The shock of seeing the picture sent her into false labour. ”My wife’s not too keen on having the prints up on the house.”

“I saw the picture about five or 10 minutes after it happened, I laughed, I thought it was hilarious … My wife had already seen the picture and knew it was me by the time I’d called her — so that was an interesting conversation.”

Asked if he has acquired any nicknames from his platoon on account of the photograph, Bee joked: “mostly ‘that dumb ass who wasn’t wearing his gear in the picture’.”

Newest Taliban tactic in Marjah: IED blasts

By Heidi Vogt - The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Mar 21, 2010 8:43:10 EDT

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Explosions rumble through this former Taliban stronghold three or four times a day — an ominous sign that the insurgents have not given up despite losing control of this town to U.S. and Afghan forces about two weeks ago.

To continue reading:


Marines offer cash in fight against Afghan opium

(Reuters) - After weeks of intense fighting over the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, U.S. Marines are now taking cautious aim at the drugs trade, with a program designed to pay opium farmers to destroy their own crops without a fight.


Mark Chisholm
Sun Mar 21, 2010 10:35am EDT

The goal of the new program is to tackle the drugs trade that fuels the insurgency -- without alienating farmers whose livelihoods depend on a crop they planted last year.

Last month, thousands of Marines fought to drive the Taliban out of Marjah, a major hub for the trafficking and trade of opium in southern Helmand, the province that produces most of the world's raw material for heroin.

Now, with opium poppies blooming and at waist height, some of those forces are pushing into surrounding areas of Marjah where the Taliban's footprint is still scattered across poor farming communities that depend on modest incomes from the drug crop.

"I spent a lot of money on these poppy fields, until now we haven't made enough money. We just make money to buy bread from the profits," 70-year-old Mohammad Hanif, who lives in a village about 11 km (7 miles) from Marjah, said.

When a team of Marines paid him a visit on Saturday, Hanif was afraid they would destroy his crop -- a past strategy employed by NATO forces and the Afghan government which has sown resentment among farmers and increased support for the Taliban.

The new strategy, the Marines wanted to inform Hanif, involves paying farmers the value of their next harvest in return for them destroying their poppies themselves and growing legal alternatives using seeds provided by the Afghan government.

"For this program I am happy, as they gave me money for the damage," Hanif said.

"They are positive and open to the new Afghanistan rules as far as burning the poppy fields and giving them money for that. They are ready to burn their poppy fields because they have not had anything like that before," said Corporal Junior Joseph of Kilo Company of the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines.

Hanif's neighbor Mohammad Gul also welcomed the program after cautiously greeting the Marines and initially denying he was growing opium poppy at all. After a Marine interpreter assured him that his trade was an open secret, he agreed to the scheme.

"We think it's a good program, we are homeless and must support our children. If the government destroys everything there's nothing left for us. So it's a good program," Gul said.

The meeting between the farmers and Marines from Kilo Company marks the unit's first foray into tackling drug cultivation in Nad Ali since landing in Marjah, a key plank of NATO's strategy in the district which ultimately seeks to establish full Afghan government control in the area.

Corporal Joseph was hopeful that the poppy scheme would pay-off and took comfort in the initial positive response from Hanif and Gul.

"Before it was the Taliban, pretty much taking over and doing whatever. So with the government willing to buy it, they are pretty open to the new rules," he said.

The Marines stir mixed feelings among residents. One young man complained to the Marines that they never leave his family alone and asked why they kept bothering them. He declined to give his name.

At a shura -- or council meeting -- earlier this week, other villagers complained about Marines entering their homes when women were present, failing to show enough cultural sensitivity in a devoutly Islamic and rural place, and failing to adhere to their own rules on searching civilian homes.

(Writing by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Peter Graff)

March 20, 2010

Taliban adjust, wage bomb attacks in Afghan town

MARJAH, Afghanistan -- Explosions rumble through this former Taliban stronghold three or four times a day - an ominous sign that the insurgents have not given up despite losing control of this town to U.S. and Afghan forces about two weeks ago.


The Associated Press
Saturday, March 20, 2010; 1:11 PM

This week, Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, the U.S. general in charge of a Pentagon program to combat roadside bombs, told a congressional committee that the number of homemade explosives in Afghanistan had nearly doubled in the last year and "the number of casualties has reflected that."

The disturbing trend is starkly clear here in Marjah, which had been the biggest community under Taliban control in the south until a major military operation was launched last month to push out the insurgents.

Taliban fighters scattered but have not abandoned the fight - and are using homemade bombs as their weapon of choice.

New bombs are planted every night, even though Marines say they find and render safe more of them than explode. The bombs are often placed in spots where the Marines stopped on patrol the day before, or into holes from previous explosions so the upturned earth doesn't look suspicious.

Since U.S. and Afghan forces seized control of Marjah about two weeks ago, they have been working to build up trust in the community. They hope the strategy will pay off with more and more tips about where the Taliban have planted bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices or IEDs.

But the process is slow. Lt. Col. Calvert Worth, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, said his troops found or hit more than 120 homemade bombs in their first 30 days in Marjah.

"We've found most of them, we've hit some of them and we've taken some casualties," he said, adding that his battalion had suffered no fatalities from the bombs.

Still, coping with the daily blasts and hunting for bombs takes up time that could be send helping set up a local Afghan administration which NATO considers essential to keeping Marjah from sliding back under insurgent control.

Whenever the Marines meet with Marjah residents, they make the point that the Taliban bombs pose a threat to Afghan civilians in the town too.

"It's not really stopping us because we're still going out and talking with the people," said Capt. Carl Havens, commander of Alpha Company whose unit has had three vehicles hit by bombs in the last week. "We talk about how the Taliban don't care about you or us."

Nevertheless, the fact that militants can still plant a significant number of explosives serves as a reminder that the Taliban are still around, making it harder to convince Afghan civilians that the insurgents will never return to power here.

As the Marines improve their bomb-detection skills, the insurgents have begun to adapt to Marine tactics.

Units have found decoy bombs planted in the middle of the road. That forces Marines out of their vehicles to make sure the bombs are fake. Real bombs are planted along the roadsides in hopes that some of the Marines may step on them, according to Capt. Michael Woodie, intelligence officer for Alpha Company.

At least one bomb was floated down a canal. Someone detonated it remotely, likely by cell phone, when it got close to a military vehicle.

"There's a lot of eyes and ears watching," Woodie said. "On patrols, there's guys 'turkey-peeking' on top of roofs. Sometimes you see a guy pointing and counting. They're watching what we do when we find IEDs."

On Thursday, two Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles - heavily armored personnel carriers known as MRAPS - struck bombs within a couple of hours. No one was seriously wounded because the hulls are so strong. But the vehicles were damaged and need to be replaced.

"They'll just expect us to do the same with less," said Lt. Shawn Miller, the executive officer of Alpha Company. Soon after he spoke, a bomb exploded on a vehicle belonging to another rifle company.

With the Americans using more heavily armored vehicles, the Taliban are increasingly planting smaller bombs to target foot patrols.

In one attack this week, a bomb filled with shrapnel exploded near a patrol, wounding several Marines. Then snipers started shooting at the Marines, Havens said. The Marines gave chase and killed the man they believe was the shooter, he said.

The hit-and-run bomb attacks show that the Taliban have limited types of weaponry and resort to more indirect, low-risk attacks, Worth, the battalion commander, said.

"The IEDs are cheap, easy to make, and that's why they use them," Worth said.

He said he's encouraged because more and more Marjah residents are tipping off international forces to the location of bombs, and he hopes this will soon lead to tips on bomb-makers' hideouts.

"That's when we'll really know, when we start being handed some of these folks on a platter: 'He's here; they're making the materials right now if you get to this spot'" Worth said. "That's really where we want to get to. We're not there yet in Marjah."

IJC Operational Update, March 20

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the village of Bar Nowzad-e Gharbi, in the Now Zad district of Helmand province, last night after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force detained two suspected militants for further questioning.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.20.2010
Posted: 03.20.2010 04:55

In other operations, an ISAF patrol found six mortar grenades in the Gelan district of Ghazni province early this morning. The grenades were destroyed.

In the Kandahar district of Kandahar province this morning, an Afghan National Police patrol found an improvised explosive device consisting of a rocket head with wires protruding from it. The device was destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

An Afghan citizen handed over an IED made of 15 kilograms of fertilizer to a joint force in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province yesterday. The device was subsequently destroyed. Another citizen told the force where to find an IED cache containing five pressure-plate devices and other items.

In the Sabari district of Khowst province Thursday, an Afghan citizen turned in 76 rocket-propelled grenades to ISAF forces. The rounds were destroyed.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations

March 19, 2010

9th ESB completes training for Afghanistan deployment

Marines and sailors from 9th Engineer Support Battalion from Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, wrapped up their Enhanced Mojave Viper training at the Combat Center with the completion of building a forward operating base March 12.


3/19/2010 By Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Thorburn
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

The battalion had one week to tear down the old FOB and finish building FOB Viking.

“This helps us to get used to working with a lack of resources,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Roderick Coleman, the operations chief for 9th Engineer Support Battalion.

During the training, all the resources were delivered on 7-ton trucks; the battalion had no other way of gathering supplies.

Despite having limited resources and supply lines, the battalion had demolished the old FOB and turned the area into landscape similar to the surrounding area in only three days.

“It took us two days to put the burm up, with vehicles providing security until the watch towers were finished,” said Sgt. Tim Patterson, a platoon guide for Company A, 9th ESB.

The battalion’s first priority once they started the actual construction of the FOB was to secure the area until the fortifications could be completed.

“Our security has been doing well throughout the exercise,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Gilmore, a combat engineer with 9th ESB. “We had a white truck pass through the area the other night, and our sentries spotted it and stayed on it until it headed out of sight.”

During the training the leaders noticed the Marines and sailors growing as a unit and learning more about their military occupational specialty.

“At the start of this exercise, the work was a little slow and the Marines were not communicating very well with one another,” Patterson said. “Now my Marines know what they’re supposed to do and can give the commands needed without a lot of mistakes.”

The battalion is now home on leave before deploying to Afghanistan this spring. For more information on the battalion, log onto http//www.9thesb.com.

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3rd LAR remembers, honors unit's war-fighting legacy

Third Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion displayed pride in their Operation Iraqi Freedom deployments March 15 when they unveiled a rocked-propelled grenade launcher at their battalion headquarters.


3/19/2010 By Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl , Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

The RPG-7 was a war trophy recovered in 2003 during the battalion’s first deployment in support of OIF, said Lt. Col. Ken Kassner, the battalion commander, and a native of Coupland, Texas.

“We recovered the RPG during the battalion’s first OIF deployment in 2003,” said Kassner. “It was displayed to honor all the Marines and sailors who so valiantly served this battalion during all the OIF deployments.”

Kassner said the unveiling was special for multiple reasons.

Luckily, the former battalion and company commanders who recovered the RPG were both aboard the Combat Center at the same time. Brig. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy III, then a lieutenant colonel, was the ‘Wolfpack’ commander, while Maj. Jon Custis, then a captain, was the company commander. Custis is now the executive officer of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Kassner said it was an honor for him to be involved in the unveiling.

“I have made three of the battalion’s five deployments,” he said. “I know first hand the many heroic contributions made by all the Wolfpack Marines and sailors to the war effort.”

Clardy, now the Combat Center’s commanding general, told those in attendance why the war trophy was chosen.

“All the companies at the time suggested different weapons,” said the former battalion commander, and native of Pawleys Island, S. C. “We chose it over the RPK, mortar and other weapons to take home because it was the most dangerous one.

“We faced its capabilities throughout the entire deployment,” he said.

Clardy also thanked the Marines and sailors both past and present who have made 3rd LAR the outstanding unit it is today.

“The battalion is as good, or better, than it was when I was here,” he said.

Cpl. Robert Ray, an optics mechanic with the battalion’s Headquarters and Service Company, said the RPG will serve as a good historical link for current and future unit members.

“It’s really important to remember where you came from,” said the Kenton, Ohio native. “Marines have been earning names like ‘Devil Dog’ because of what we’ve done.

“Marines have built a reputation and trust for doing what we do and doing it well,” he said. “It’s only fitting that we pay tribute to those who went before us.”

To connect and interact with the Combat Center, visit our Facebook page.

An up close look at the military life in Marjah

-- EDITOR'S NOTE - Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder was embedded with U.S. forces during the offensive in Marjah, Afghanistan. Here is his account of some of the photos he made of the soldiers' daily lives.


MARJAH, Afghanistan (AP) - For months, the U.S. military had been openly saying it was getting ready to crush the Taliban in its last stronghold in Afghanistan's Helmand province - the world's opium bazaar.


The Associated Press
Friday, March 19, 2010; 5:08 PM

So in early February, just weeks after President Barack Obama announced 30,000 new boots on the ground for Afghanistan, the Pentagon launched the largest military offensive in the country since the 2001 invasion.

Thousands of U.S. Marines, Army soldiers and Afghan army troops poured into this southern town for an offensive that would test the new American counter-insurgency doctrine and the U.S.-Afghan military partnership.

The Marines sent to Marjah were often younger and less experienced than the other men I've watched during my nearly nine years working in Afghanistan; many were still in grade school when al-Qaida attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Many of the Americans were on their first deployment. Fresh out of high school and leaving their home country for the first time, they found themselves battling through Marjah canal by canal, taking cover from Taliban snipers in poppy fields and spooning together for shared body warmth in frigid fighting holes, barnyards or in a desert so desolate and rock-strewn that it might as well have been Mars.

After three weeks of fighting, Marjah is now largely under Afghan government control and the military operation has been judged a success. The Afghan government must now keep the Taliban at bay and win the support of the people.

Afghan authorities have been in Marjah before, and their corruption turned the locals toward the Taliban for protection.

These photographs, shot with an iPhone I carried in my flak jacket pocket, are not about the fight for Marjah. Instead, they are an attempt, during my downtime, to show something of the daily lives of Marines and Afghan soldiers as they moved through the city and set down their packs each evening in a harsh, isolated place.

I used an everyday phone camera trying to reproduce the gritty keepsake photos the Marines would take themselves.

Marine patrols still meet snipers in Afghan town

MARJAH, Afghanistan -- The first shots came from the north, sending Marines ducking into the nearest ditch - some filled with putrid water. More shots rang out from the southwest: a possible ambush from two sides.

Click above link for slideshow.

The Associated Press
Friday, March 19, 2010; 12:28 PM

The southern Afghan town of Marjah is still contested even though U.S., NATO and Afghan forces wrested control from the Taliban in a three-week offensive in February and early March. Marines go on patrol to meet with village elders about jobs programs or starting schools, all part of a campaign to win over the population.

But the troops still have to watch out for hidden bombs or Taliban snipers.

On Friday morning, about a dozen Marines and a handful of Afghan soldiers trudged through the fields on a routine patrol when they heard a few gunshots in the distance. Over the radio they heard that Afghan soldiers had fired on some men carrying suspiciously large bags. The Marines went to check out the report.

Suddenly, the handful of farmers working their fields disappeared. Shots rang out from two sides.

The radio crackled: Shots were coming from a building known as "compound 19." Squad commander Sgt. John Trickler said he'd check it out. Five Marines and four Afghan soldiers went forward but found the building and those around it deserted. An ammunition belt and spent cartridges lay on he ground.

After the shooting stopped, a few children reappeared outside houses and in nearby fields. Afghan soldiers found a bearded man and used his white turban to tie his wrists behind his back. Trickler had met the man a few days earlier and hoped to get information from him about the shooting.

The dark-skinned man trembled as he stood under a blazing sun answering questions. He said that the Taliban had warned people in the area to leave. His brother had passed the message to him, but he had stayed behind with his family because he didn't want to abandon his house.

Trickler reminded him of a telephone number the Marines have given out for people to call in tips of Taliban activity. He told the man to call next time and let him go.

"Now that we've kicked them out, they're going to be coming back in small teams like that," Trickler said.

A boy came up on the road and said he had seen the Taliban. He said their weapons were rusty and covered with dirt, as if they had been recently dug out of hiding places.

Trickler asked him why he didn't call the tipline. The boy - who looked around 13 years old - said he had tried, but nobody answered.

A check of the cell phone confirmed his story: He had called but not gotten through.

Afghan, International Forces Help Villagers After Operation

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan and coalition soldiers recently visited the village of Kandu-Ye Bala, in the Kajran District of Uruzgan province, to distribute condolence payments and assist the people following an incident involving the tragic death of several villagers.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.19.2010
Posted: 03.19.2010 03:20

By Sgt. Debra Richardson

The team was greeted by elders and served hot chai before being asked about events leading up to civilian casualties two weeks ago.

"We are grateful you have taken the time to be here with us today," remarked a village elder. "This is the fourth time civilians from my village have been killed or wounded by coalition forces. This is the first time anyone has shown up to assist during our suffering, and for that, we are thankful."

The Afghan national police commander and the Special Forces commander vowed to explain the incident and offer condolences at a later Shura when the family members of the deceased would be present.

"We are here to help you," the coalition forces commander explained. "With your permission we have a few projects we would like to start today."

With the village elder's permission, 30 men were hired to carry the humanitarian assistance and medical supplies that had been dropped by an aircraft in a wheat field to the village center. Another 20 men were hired to clean out a drainage canal leading into the village. The men were hired through a civil affairs project called cash for work, which allows international troops to hire local villagers to work on small projects for the overall improvement of the village.

With the men hard at work, a compound was rented from a local villager to host a medical outreach program designed to provide immediate medical attention and distribute medicine as needed. Two rooms inside the compound were converted to exam rooms. Two Afghan doctors were in attendance as well as a coalition forces female nurse and four SF medics.

Villagers waited patiently as coalition soldiers examined patients, provided medicine and distributed humanitarian assistance while ANP patrolled the village, inviting men, women and children to attend the medical outreach program.

"Many of the children suffer from malnourishment," explained the coalition nurse as she distributed eye drops to an elderly woman and lotion to two small children. "Many of these women are struggling to produce enough breast milk to feed them. I've handed out hundreds of packets of multi-vitamins for the moms and the babies. Even though this is a rural area and most families raise goats and sheep, they don't eat much meat, preferring to sell their livestock at market and live off rice and bread."

As sunset approached, the remaining men and women waiting to be seen were ushered home with promises to continue the next day at first light.

As the coalition forces gathered inside the rented compound, huddled around a fire, the village elder ushered in five men carrying huge pots of rice, potatoes and boiled goat.

"Thank you for coming here today, for being our guests," he said. "Tonight, we welcome you to eat this food and know you are among friends."

The team began the second day's events early, hoping to beat the midday sun. At first light, shepherds herded more than 1,000 animals to receive veterinarian treatment. The majority of the animals, consisting of sheep, goats, cattle and camels, were a little under-weight but appeared to generally be in good health, said the coalition veterinarian.

"I'm exhausted," he exclaimed wiping de-wormer off his shirt after a baby goat spit it back up on him. "The villagers are doing a great job of helping us hold the animals, but the donkeys and especially the camels are feisty and it feels like we're part of a rodeo, without the points."

The second day of medical evaluations was a success, with the final count of patients treated reaching 650. By noon, all supplies were depleted, with nearly every family receiving pre-packaged Halal meals, toiletries and various articles of clothing and shoes.

The setting of the sun also brought the final, and most important, shura with village elders and the families of those killed.

The men listened attentively as the SF commander calmly explained the events that lead to the deaths of their family members. He offered his condolences and assured the families that the ongoing investigation into the circumstances behind the tragic mistake will bring changes to help prevent incidents of this type from happening again.

"I, too, am truly saddened by their deaths," he explained, speaking directly to two brothers of two of the men killed. "Although I didn't know them, I will always remember them."

Since September 2003, the U.S. military has had the ability to give a condolence payment to families suffering a death, injury or property damage due to U.S. forces. The payments are considered a gesture of sympathy only, given to ease the pain of the family. The payments are not meant as an admission of fault or negligence.

The brothers of three of the deceased were each given an envelope containing roughly five times the average yearly income for an Afghan citizen. The men expressed their gratitude for the payment and for the explanation regarding the circumstances surrounding their brother's death.

"This money will help us pay for food and clothes for their children," they said, explaining that the men have taken in their brothers' family and will continue to support and care for them in their brothers' absence.

During a previous shura, the coalition forces commander learned that a group of family members live to the north of Kandu-Ye Bala and was unable to travel to receive their condolence payments. As a result, a group of coalition soldiers flew to their village to meet with them.

The SF commander conducted another Shura to explain the circumstances leading to the death of their family members. Condolence payments were distributed and the families expressed their gratitude.

Back in Kandu-Ye Bala, two young boys who were injured during the incident were flown back to the village via helicopter after receiving treatment at a coalition hospital.

The fathers of the two were also provided condolence payments for their sons' injuries.

"We came here to re-establish rapport with the people of Kandu-Ye Bala and the people of the Kajran District and this was accomplished far better than we expected," noted the coalition forces commander after completing the final shura before departing the village. "We talked to the people and demonstrated we're here to help them, and that's what they needed to see."

Insurgents Killed in Badghis Operation

KABUL, Afghanistan - An ISAF patrol in the Murqur area of Badghis province was attacked by small-arms fire from insurgents, March 17.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.19.2010
Posted: 03.19.2010 03:11

The unit remained engaged with insurgents throughout the day, and remained in the area throughout the night. On March 18, the patrol again came under attack from insurgents. The patrol called for air support, and aircraft dropped several bombs on positively identified insurgent positions throughout the day.

The firefight ended the night of March 18 and the patrol subsequently reported several insurgents had been killed in the engagement. No civilian casualties were observed or reported and there was no damage to civilian infrastructure.

Marine dead, 1 injured in crash near Miramar

Staff report
Posted : Friday Mar 19, 2010 13:41:42 EDT

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — A 21-year-old Marine died and another Marine was critically injured Thursday after their car plowed through a guard rail and went into a ravine near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

To continue reading:


Corpsmen Teach Afghan Soldiers Basic Medical Skills

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Corpsmen with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, showed Afghan national army soldiers from the 6th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps, how to save lives on the battlefield on March 9-11.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 03.18.2010
Posted: 03.18.2010 01:55

The corpsmen taught the soldiers about controlling bleeding, maintaining breathing, and administering intravenous fluid. They were taught by using the equipment from a combat-lifesavers bag that was given to the ANA to carry on patrol.

Lt. Eric D. Morrell, the battalion medical officer, added that the point of the course was to show them the equipment in the bag they would be given and to encourage the soldiers to partner with other corpsman on patrols to build on their basic knowledge.

The corpsmen started with basic knowledge, emphasizing that the two most important things when treating an injured solider is keeping them breathing and stopping the bleeding.

They went on to teach the soldiers about hemorrhage control, which included the proper use of multiple pressure dressings and tourniquets.

The Afghan soldiers witnessed proper application of pressings and tourniquets, and then applied what they learned on each other.

Some of the soldiers would answer questions or bring up important points before the corpsmen talked about them.

"I didn't expect them to know that," said Petty Officer 1st Class James G. Ping, a corpsman with Fox Company. "There was one guy in particular who probably had some prior experience. I was thoroughly impressed with the way they grasped everything."

The second day's theme was breathing, where the corpsmen showed the soldiers how to use different types of tubes, including some that went through the nose and others that went through the mouth to clear airways.

To show proper use, one of the corpsmen even used a nasal nasopharyngeal airway, a small tube that goes through the nose into the trachea, on himself. The corpsmen offered the soldiers a chance to do it on themselves.

"It doesn't hurt, it's just uncomfortable," said Ping. "I did what I could for it. The way we work, the best way to teach is to see one, do one, teach one."

How to properly insert IVs was taught on the third day. The corpsmen placed an IV in one of the soldiers to show the others how to properly administer one.

"The IV was very good," said Khan Mohammad, one of the soldiers from the class. "It was very interesting to me."

"Anything we do with these guys, even if it's just an introduction, they can build upon it so they're not as dependent on us when we're gone," said Ping.

"The good thing about them is they showed us the material and how everything works," said Mohammad. "It was very good, I liked it. In the future I'd like to see it again and maybe teach other soldiers."

Joint Force Discovers Large Cache in Zeerko Valley

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan and ISAF forces conducted an operation Wednesday in the Zeerko Valley region of the Shindand district, Herat province, capturing a prominent Taliban leader and discovering a weapons cache.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.19.2010
Posted: 03.19.2010 05:48

The cache contained five units of TNT, five 60mm mortars, two heavy anti-aircraft artillery rounds, an explosive vest, four rocket-propelled grenades, an anti-tank mine, 11 hand grenades, two pressure-plate triggering devices, 31 fuses and more than 3,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition.

The cache was destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during the operation.

Later, the commander of Task Force Center, Col. Francesco Maria Ceravolo, conducted a meeting with key representatives of the surrounding villages to involve local communities, show them the success of the operation and build consensus against hostile elements.

IJC Operational Update, March 19

KABUL, Afghanistan – Earlier today an Afghan-international security force searched a compound near Molla Dust, in the Panjwayee district of Kandahar province, after intelligence information verified militant activity. During the search the joint force detained several suspected militants for further questioning.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.19.2010
Posted: 03.19.2010 03:01

Last night, a joint security force searched a compound south of Kandahar City, in Ali Kuzu Gushkhaneh, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban improvised explosive device facilitator responsible for planning complex attacks, developing methods to conceal IED materials and building vehicle IED's. The security force also detained several other suspected insurgents.

In Khowst last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound north of the village of Samalo, in the Khowst district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Haqqani sub-commander accused of organizing suicide bombings, planting IED's and attacking coalition forces. Two other insurgents were also apprehended. The assault force recovered a shotgun and an automatic rifle during the search.

In Paktiya last night, a joint security force went to a compound outside of the village of Chawni, in the Gardez district, after intelligence information confirmed militant activity. During a call out at the compound the insurgents threatened the security team, and in an escalation of violence one militant was killed and another was wounded. The wounded militant was immediately provided medical assistance. The combined force detained the wounded militant and two others. A search team found automatic rifles, grenades and IED material.

In the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province last night, an ISAF patrol found a weapons cache buried in a vacant compound. The cache contained five Russian-made hand grenades, six rocket-propelled grenades and various small-arms ammunition. The cache was destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

Another patrol in the district found 23 pressure-plate triggering devices for IED's yesterday. Joint forces destroyed the pressure plates.

In Kandahar province yesterday, an Afghan National Police patrol found a weapons cache containing a grenade launcher with nine rounds, four AK-47 rifles with hundreds of rounds, 10 pistols with more than 600 rounds and three pistols with silencers. Three people were detained and the cache was confiscated.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 18, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Embarkation, Logistics

Living in an area without food, water or shelter can make survival very difficult, especially in a hostile environment. Even in garrison, without supplies, mission accomplishment is an impossible task to complete.


Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort RSS
Story by Lance Cpl. Joshua Pettway
Date: 03.18.2010
Posted: 03.18.2010 06:24

Embarkation and logistics Marines keep accountability of supplies, personnel and millions of dollars worth of equipment during and after its transport - without them Marines cannot do their job.

During deployments, embarkation is also utilized to ensure supplies are provided in a timely manner. The aircraft aboard the Air Station cannot be employed if they are in need of unavailable parts.

"It is very important to have the proper supplies during deployments," said Staff Sgt. Tobias Lance, the logistics chief for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251. "When you run out of supplies, it is difficult to accomplish your mission, and gear cannot be maintained without the tools to fix them."

Embarkation Marines also tie-down equipment or package it to mitigate potential damage during shipping. The average number of Marines in an embarkation shop is three to five, but despite the small number, they still manage to accomplish their goal whether deployed or in garrison.

"Embarkation and logistics Marines have to decide how the gear is stored to ensure it does not interfere with the function of the ship or aircraft that transport it," said Cpl. Wilifrido Camacho, the embark noncommissioned officer-in-charge for VMFA-251. "If one side of an aircraft was loaded too heavily, it could cause it to fly poorly. So, a lot rides on our shoulders."

Embarkation also requires each individual to plan ahead for every transport to ensure that there is enough time for the shipment to arrive.

"We plan for as many different outcomes as we can, and it can be stressful because there are also deadlines we have to meet," Lance said. "If a foreign species was introduced into the environment, it could destroy the ecosystem by disrupting the food chain."

The supplies are not allowed to be transported until they pass inspections. To ensure the equipment meets requirements, embarkation and logistics Marines clean the supplies.

"When it comes to getting gear and personnel where they need to be, we have to get them there by any means necessary," Camacho concluded.

Marines try to buy good will in Marjah

Goal is to persuade wavering Afghans to turn away from the Taliban

MARJAH, Afghanistan - Crouched on packed earth at a barricaded Marine encampment, the village elders issued their complaint: U.S. troops had killed an innocent 14-year-old boy. Secretly, the Marines didn't believe them. No matter. They apologized, called the death a tragedy and promised to offer a condolence payment to the boy's family.



Associated Press
updated 3:25 p.m. CT, Thurs., March. 18, 2010

It's all part of a strategy that sometimes involves swallowing their pride in an effort to persuade wavering Afghans to turn away from the Taliban.

Since U.S., Afghan and NATO forces wrested Marjah from the Taliban, they've been going to extraordinary lengths to cultivate townspeople who had lived under insurgent control for years. That's a tall order in a place where many Taliban fighters still hiding here are from Marjah — supported or at least tolerated by the surrounding communities.

Winning over the population, including former Taliban fighters, is considered more important than hunting down insurgents. The strategy is expected to serve as a model for a bigger operation planned for later this year around Kandahar, the largest city in the south.

Buying good will
In order to make the locals happy, the Marines use money everywhere it seems like it can buy a little good will. Shopkeepers are paid for locks broken in the fighting and farmers for damage to their fields when helicopters land.

Marines have disbursed more than a quarter million dollars in battle-damage payments in central Marjah alone, said Maj. David Fennell, head of a group of civil affairs Marines handling the disbursements.

They're also trying to be careful about where they tread. The Marines moved a new battalion base out of an abandoned high school when residents complained they were living in a building that they should be for students.

Then they decided to shrink the new base to accommodate locals who were worried about its walls cutting off a footpath. When residents decided they wanted enough room for a vehicle to get through, they agreed to reduce the size of the base some more.

And sometimes the strategy involves accepting the word of village elders, some of whom may be Taliban sympathizers themselves, to keep the peace.

That's what unfolded Monday night as three Marine snipers hid knee-deep in water in a ditch, watching for militants at a spot where they'd found two bombs in the past week. The snipers saw people moving around a building believed to be an insurgent hideout. Then someone released dogs that charged them.

In the middle of this, the snipers saw a male with a shovel and a yellow jug — the type insurgents use for bombs — on the roadside. They shot and killed him, then started taking rifle fire from a nearby building. The Marines rushed out of the area and made it back to their base.

Tuesday morning the elders arrived to complain. They identified the person who was shot as a boy trying to collect water for his mother.

‘He appeared, not to be a kid’
Officers of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment apologized, describing the death as a tragedy and offering a condolence payment to the boy's family.

Not that they believed the elders.

"The kid looked taller than me. He appeared, not to be a kid," said Sgt. Ben Parker, a 24-year-old from Atlanta who was one of the three snipers and stands 5-foot-8 inches.

Lt. Shawn Miller, the executive officer of Alpha Company, met Wednesday with town elders, who raised the issue of the boy's death again.

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Miller apologized but pointed out that bullets were being fired and his Marines were being chased by dogs. Miller said he could see the shots from where he was at the nearby base.

"If you could see the bullets, why couldn't you see he was a child?" one of the elders asked.

"This was a tragedy," Miller said, again, to the group of about 10 assembled bearded men. "Because of a very sad misinterpretation, an innocent person was hurt."

He also said, for the second day in a row, that the Marines would pay his family.

Elders berated
During Wednesday's meeting, the Afghan army commander attached to Alpha Company passed no public judgment on the boy's innocence, but berated the elders for not watching over their children better.

"Why did someone send him out at night to get water? Why are you letting your children out like that?" Capt. Iqbal Khan asked.

After the meeting, Khan said he would not say that the men were lying, but that the evidence was not in their favor.

"First, 8 p.m. is not a proper time to go out and get water for the household. Second, the boy must have been older because parents wouldn't send such a young boy out like that," Khan said.

Most suspicious: Though Miller has offered condolence payments to the boy's family, no one has come forward to claim them.

"The father is the only one who hasn't shown up," Miller said.

Sgt. Parker says he doesn't mind his commanders going out and apologizing for a shooting. He and the officers are sure they killed an insurgent.

"We haven't had any bombs in that spot since," Parker said.

French Army teaches 24th MEU Marines desert survival skills

The desert is an unforgiving and potentially lethal ecosystem; and where most Marines find themselves operating while deployed. This makes garnering basic desert survival skills essential to every Marine.


3/18/2010 By Lance Cpl. David Beall , 24th MEU

Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit acquired the knowledge, confidence and experience of what it takes to survive in the dessert without the comfort of pre-cooked rations and canteens of water during a desert survival course Mar. 11.

These Marines received a 24 hour course taught by French Army, 5th Regiment instructors as part of their sustainment training package in Djibouti..

“A lot of times we find ourselves working independently from the rest of the BLT, if something were to ever go wrong, this gives the Marines the confidence to be able to survive if they were out on their own,” said Gunnery Sgt. Devlin D. Root, platoon sergeant, 2nd LAR platoon, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU.

The classes covered techniques such as; capturing, preparing and cooking wildlife, water filtration and purification, booby trapping enemy forces and general desert survival skills.

“It was pretty shocking when we had to catch and clean our own food, I had never seen that done before, let alone performed it myself,” said Sgt. Randall P. Moury, maintenance chief, 2nd LAR platoon, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “I figured the course would be just a bunch of classes, I didn’t expect it to be so hands on.”

The training was beneficial for most Marines; it’s not often a Marine gets the chance to learn how to make water from a piece of plastic and some digging or how to set a trip wire with a grenade and some metal wire.

Along with the new skills and techniques Marines interacted and gained an invaluable experience working with foreign forces. Marines now better understand how to coexist and work with foreign military personnel, something that will be useful not only during this deployment, but for any future deployments.

“I feel that it is always good to keep good relations with the foreign nation forces, plus they know a lot more about the terrain and environment than we do so we were able to learn what they know and at the same time teach them some of the things we know,” said Moury.

At the end of the course, both the U.S. Marines and French soldiers were able to go their separate ways having gained something.

“I think the training was a good thing, I really hope we taught them some things and we were able to learn a lot from them as well,” said Damien Sailleau, instructor, 5th Regiment, French Army. “I enjoyed meeting with so many Americans and being able to practice my language with them, it’s just a pity that we only a short time together.”

The 24th MEU is conducting sustainment training in Djibouti throughout March, rotating different sections through a cycle of live fire ranges and courses to ensure Marines retain skill-sets they developed prior to deployment.

IJC Operational Update, March 18

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in the village of Pasab, in the Zharay District of Kandahar province, last night after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained several suspected insurgents for further questioning.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.18.2010
Posted: 03.18.2010 06:29

In Helmand last night, a joint security force searched a compound outside of Kariz-e Seyy, in the Nad-e Ali District, after intelligence information confirmed militant activity. During the search the joint force detained two suspected insurgents for further questioning.

In Kunar last night, an Afghan-international security force went to a compound near the village of Wotalah, in the Chapa Dara District, after local Afghan citizens requested help in removing the local Taliban threat. Intelligence information confirmed militant activity and the location of a Taliban commander responsible for planning complex attacks against Afghan and coalition troops.

As the joint force surrounded the target compound, several armed militants threatened the combined element forcing them to engage the insurgents. The armed militants, one of them the targeted Taliban commander, were all killed. They called for the remaining Taliban to lay down their weapons; however the insurgents continued to engage the security force.

The joint force, led by Afghan national security forces, had attempted to peacefully request the militants to come out of the residence without incident when they engaged them. As the hostile fire continued, the decision was made for the combined Afghan-coalition force to withdraw to minimize the chance of civilian casualties. The Taliban in the area have a reputation of using innocent civilians as human shields.

As the joint force left, close air support was called in to safeguard their departure. The security force returned to base.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

'Flaming Joe' returns to Iwo Jima 65 years later

Marine Corps veteran and Broomfield, Colo., native, Joe Weinmeier, also known as "Flaming Joe," 83, gave serious thought about returning to the place where he fought in one of the fiercest battles of World War II and where he witnessed so many pay the ultimate sacrifice.


3/18/2010 By Cpl. Megan Angel , Marine Corps Bases Japan

It's only been about five years that Weinmeier has been telling his story about his experience during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Not even his family knew.

"The majority of men just didn't talk about (war)," Weinmeier said, only a day after returning from his recent pilgrimage to Mount Suribachi. "My family asked why I never told them about anything and I said, ‘You never asked!'"

But for the past several years, Weinmeier became involved with The Greatest Generation, an organization that brings veterans back to their old battlefields. Being a part of the organization has taken him all over the world to tell his story and made him a subject in several World War II documentaries.

In light of the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Weinmeier and 10 other Marine Corps World War II veterans returned to the island, renamed Iwo To in 2007, and shared their stories of what happened more than half a century later.

Still a senior in high school, Weinmeier knew if he didn't volunteer for the military, he would eventually get drafted. He didn't want to join the Army because his older brother was already serving there. His choice was the Marines.

However, his father would only agree to sign for him if he graduated high school. As soon as he graduated, at the age of 17, Weinmeier enlisted in the Marine Corps and was shipped off to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., on June 8, 1944.

Weinmeier spent two months at boot camp and was then sent to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., for about four months conducting nothing but weapons training, where he learned about and became familiar with the M2 A1-7 flamethrower.

On Dec. 1, 1944, he was put on a troop train and sent to MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he would join the still-developing 5th Marine Division, 3rd Battalion Headquarters Demolition Platoon.

"I heard the platoon sergeant yell, ‘I need a flame thrower!' And I raised my hand," said Weinmeier. "We worked and trained with tons of explosives every day."

Around the beginning of February 1945, there was all kinds of activity going on around Camp Pendleton, but the Marines never really knew what that activity was about.

"We knew we were getting ready to go. We just didn't know where or when," Weinmeier said while sipping on a cup of coffee. "Then, we were loaded up on ship and went to Maui (Hawaii) where we conducted more training and mock beach landings."

After a brief stop in Honolulu, the Marines were back on ship and two days after shipping out of Hawaii, were told they were headed to a little island most of them had never heard of, Iwo Jima. On the way, 5th MarDiv ships stopped in Saipan to meet up with 3rd and 4th Marine Divisions.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 1945, the three Marine Divisions arrived off Red Beach, the allies' amphibious landing sight on Iwo Jima.

"Ships were already there, and the island was all shelled up," said Weinmeier. "We were told we were only going to be there for three or four days then we would be going to Okinawa."

Little did he know, he would be there for 36 grueling days, and in just the first day of fighting, 600 of the men around him would lose their lives.

"They waited for the first wave of Marines to get to the top of the mountain, and then they attacked almost completely wiping them all out," said Weinmeier about the Japanese defenders. "We were in the rear echelon and weren't supposed to go i n until later that evening, but because the first wave was hit so badly, we ended up getting called in early at around noon. When we started going in, the wounded were already being brought out."

Flame throwers were paramount for the progression up Muont Suribachi. Their job was to shut down the network of caves and tunnels, which was one of the defenders' advantages against the Marines.

In a classroom of the Headquarters and Service Battalion building at Camp Foster March 5, Weinmeier described briefly about what combat was like for him.

"It was unbelievable for an island that small to have so many people on it … all fighting," he said. "They were attacking us from on top of the mountain and from underneath. They could see us, but we couldn't see them. The daytime was nonstop fierce fighting and at night time, it would quiet down a little, but they would come out at night as well.

"Combat is a funny thing. You are always so busy. You had to always be alert," he said. "Your mind is so numb from everything that's going on, but you had a job to do and you had to keep moving. It became common to see a guy get hit with a shell or shot by a sniper. The majority of the time, you just took it how it was."

Weinmeier was good friends with Ira Hayes, the Pima Native American who helped raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi, Feb. 19, 1945.

"(Hayes) saved many men on that island," said Weinmeier. "He was a true hero."

Weinmeier knew this year's trip back to Iwo To would be emotional. He was reluctant to come back, but was told by other veterans planning to make the trip, it would be the chance of a lifetime.

"I didn't think too much about it, until I saw the island … then I fell apart," Weinmeier said referring to March 3, the day he flew on to the island's airstrip, as he fought back his emotion. "When I stepped onto the island, I dropped down to my knees and said a prayer for the fallen and that I was fortunate to have survived."

Weinmeier said he felt better after returning to Iwo To and towards the people he fought against 65 years ago.
"All these years, I always had something in my mind about Japanese people," he said. "But I know it wasn't the Japanese people who were at fault. I blame their leaders – their leaders who started everything, their leaders who convinced the people in Japan that we were bad – their leaders who took 27 months of my life."

After Weinmeier got out of the Marine Corps, he still didn't really know what he wanted to do as far as a career. He loved to roller skate and got a job at a local roller rink as a roller guard.

"I was actually pretty good at skating," he said with a chuckle. "My manager approached me and said I should try out for the roller derby. He told me I was young and single and should give it a try. So, I did."

He ended up spending three years on a professional roller derby team, traveling all over the country for regularly televised matches and performances. He married a girl from his team, got a job as a speedometer technician and moved to Denver. They had two sons, then divorced a few years after.

A year later, he would meet his second wife, Florence, and they would be married for 46 years until she died in 2007 from Parkinson's disease.

Weinmeier retired after 20 years as a speedometer technician and now spends the majority of his time golfing.

"A lot of the guys who came back from the war did not take care of themselves and suffered from severe depression and other mental problems," Weinmeier said. "I attribute my good health to my time in the roller derby. It was its own therapy because it was something I loved to do and it kept my mind off from what I had been through."

Weinmeier says his memories of the Battle of Iwo Jima are still very clear and he still thinks about it. But returning here with some of the men he fought next to for 36 days, has given him much needed and deserved closure and peace of mind.

Bazaar flourishes after nine months of closure

Just outside of Combat Outpost Sharp, in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, there sits the Zan Zier bazaar. What was just months ago completely abandoned, is now home to 66 different shops that provide the Mian Poshteh area with goods.


3/18/2010 By Lance Cpl. Dwight A. Henderson , Regimental Combat Team 7

About one and a half months ago, approximately two weeks after the first payment, the first shop in the bazaar opened.

Fighting broke out between the local Taliban fighters and Marines back in July, 2009, as they moved in to secure the Mian Posteh area.

As the firefights intensified, shop owners began closing their shops, some fled to other countries like Pakistan, while others just hid in their compounds.

“I was in my house, I didn’t go anywhere,” said Wali Jan, a 31-year-old owner of a small shop that sells electronics. “Sometimes I went away because of the firefights.”

Jan added that his small shop was destroyed, not only from the fighting, but from looting.

“Shop owners were afraid to go to their shops because it was too dangerous,” said Jan.

The fighting continued on for months as Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, took over the area of operations and worked to push the Taliban from there.

“I can tell you that for all months there were firefights going on,” said Muhammad Dine, a 20-year-old owner of a small shop, which sells basic groceries. “The security came after seven months.”

Shop owners were still afraid to return to the bazaar even after security came. Taliban intimidation and the uncertainty of how long security would last made the locals hesitant.

“When I found out what was going on, I talked to the elders and said listen, let’s fix this problem,” said Afghan National Army Lt. Siufurhman, a platoon commander for the 6th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps. “I said if you give me your hands and help me, we can open the bazaar.”

The Marines and ANA soldiers began to hold shuras, with local elders, to prompt the shop owners to return and rebuild their bazaar. The shuras were small at first, but as the locals began to see increased security, they began to participate as well.

“We had a shura with the local elders, and before you knew it, we had the next shura and all the shop keepers were there,” said Staff Sgt. Robin J. Reyes, a civil affairs Marine currently attached to Fox Company.

They talked to the elders and shop keepers and listened to their concerns about Taliban intimidation and security for the area.

“One of the conditions from their side is, are you guys going to be here if we reopen the bazaar,” said Reyes. “Are you guys going to provide security? That is why we have security posts on the corners.”

The Marines gave the locals money to clean the bazaar once they were on board. The months of fighting had left the bazaar nearly destroyed.

The next step was to begin to assess which shop owner owned which shop, and how much damage was done to each shop. They were given money for the repairs but, it was up to the shop keepers to actually do, or pay for, the work. .

“The way they get motivated is by the success of others,” said Reyes. “Once the shop keepers were getting paid, everybody started working hard.”

Since early February 66 shops have reopened in the bazaar.

“My best guess is if we keep the security it will continue to go up and up,” said Reyes. “We already have problems with people building new shops and the other guys not wanting them. So that shows interest to keep up the bazaar and improve the economy.”

The opening has begun to bring prosperity as the amount of patrons to the bazaar begins to return to what it was before.

“It’s no different from what it was before,” said Jan. “I earn enough money for myself with this kind of work. Right now, we have a comfortable life.”

Another sign of increased interest in the bazaar, and feelings of security, has been the increase of traffic on the road, known as Route “Cowboys,” that runs through the bazaar.

“When the shops were closed I saw maybe a tractor pass by a day,” said Reyes. “It went from almost zero to now you have bikes and bus routes going through there. They’re going to add speed bumps to reduce the speed of the traffic.”

After nearly seven months of fighting, $130,000 of investment, and two months of rebuilding, the bazaar has begun to flourish, and the shop owners are happy but are still uncertain about the future.

“I am happy right now,” said Jan. “We are so use to years of war we cannot hope for the future.”
The Marines will continue to provide security for the area and help the continuing process of the bazaar and hopefully, one day, erase the uncertainty of the locals.

Just outside of Combat Outpost Sharp, in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, there sits the Zan Zier bazaar. What was just months ago completely abandoned, is now home to 66 different shops that provide the Mian Poshteh area with goods.

About one and a half months ago, approximately two weeks after the first payment, the first shop in the bazaar opened.

Fighting broke out between the local Taliban fighters and Marines back in July, 2009, as they moved in to secure the Mian Posteh area.

As the firefights intensified, shop owners began closing their shops, some fled to other countries like Pakistan, while others just hid in their compounds.

“I was in my house, I didn’t go anywhere,” said Wali Jan, a 31-year-old owner of a small shop that sells electronics. “Sometimes I went away because of the firefights.”

Jan added that his small shop was destroyed, not only from the fighting, but from looting.

“Shop owners were afraid to go to their shops because it was too dangerous,” said Jan.

The fighting continued on for months as Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, took over the area of operations and worked to push the Taliban from there.

“I can tell you that for all months there were firefights going on,” said Muhammad Dine, a 20-year-old owner of a small shop, which sells basic groceries. “The security came after seven months.”

Shop owners were still afraid to return to the bazaar even after security came. Taliban intimidation and the uncertainty of how long security would last made the locals hesitant.

“When I found out what was going on, I talked to the elders and said listen, let’s fix this problem,” said Afghan National Army Lt. Siufurhman, a platoon commander for the 6th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps. “I said if you give me your hands and help me, we can open the bazaar.”

The Marines and ANA soldiers began to hold shuras, with local elders, to prompt the shop owners to return and rebuild their bazaar. The shuras were small at first, but as the locals began to see increased security, they began to participate as well.

“We had a shura with the local elders, and before you knew it, we had the next shura and all the shop keepers were there,” said Staff Sgt. Robin J. Reyes, a civil affairs Marine currently attached to Fox Company.

They talked to the elders and shop keepers and listened to their concerns about Taliban intimidation and security for the area.

“One of the conditions from their side is, are you guys going to be here if we reopen the bazaar,” said Reyes. “Are you guys going to provide security? That is why we have security posts on the corners.”

The Marines gave the locals money to clean the bazaar once they were on board. The months of fighting had left the bazaar nearly destroyed.

The next step was to begin to assess which shop owner owned which shop, and how much damage was done to each shop. They were given money for the repairs but, it was up to the shop keepers to actually do, or pay for, the work. .

“The way they get motivated is by the success of others,” said Reyes. “Once the shop keepers were getting paid, everybody started working hard.”

Since early February 66 shops have reopened in the bazaar.

“My best guess is if we keep the security it will continue to go up and up,” said Reyes. “We already have problems with people building new shops and the other guys not wanting them. So that shows interest to keep up the bazaar and improve the economy.”

The opening has begun to bring prosperity as the amount of patrons to the bazaar begins to return to what it was before.

“It’s no different from what it was before,” said Jan. “I earn enough money for myself with this kind of work. Right now, we have a comfortable life.”

Another sign of increased interest in the bazaar, and feelings of security, has been the increase of traffic on the road, known as Route “Cowboys,” that runs through the bazaar.

“When the shops were closed I saw maybe a tractor pass by a day,” said Reyes. “It went from almost zero to now you have bikes and bus routes going through there. They’re going to add speed bumps to reduce the speed of the traffic.”

After nearly seven months of fighting, $130,000 of investment, and two months of rebuilding, the bazaar has begun to flourish, and the shop owners are happy but are still uncertain about the future.

“I am happy right now,” said Jan. “We are so use to years of war we cannot hope for the future.”

The Marines will continue to provide security for the area and help the continuing process of the bazaar and hopefully, one day, erase the uncertainty of the locals.

March 17, 2010

Taliban using fear campaign in Marjah

By Heidi Vogt - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Mar 17, 2010 20:22:02 EDT

MARJAH, Afghanistan — A month after losing control of their southern base in Marjah, the Taliban have begun to fight back, launching a campaign of assassination and intimidation to frighten people from supporting the U.S. and its Afghan allies.

To continue reading:


Marines endure fleas, flies, filth in Marjah

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Wednesday, March 17, 2010

KAREZ-E-SAYYIDI, Afghanistan — By any estimate, the living conditions at Combat Outpost Coutu can only be described as grim.

To continue reading:

Click above link for photos.

A Small Victory in Afghanistan

Last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the district of Now Zad in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province. To many, it probably didn’t seem like significant news. Gates reportedly went no farther than a 100 meters outside the forward operating base and there were fully armed Marines posted at short intervals not far from where he was walking. They had probably been in position for at least 24 hours before Gates arrived and the area was likely swept for explosives and insurgents multiple times in the days prior to his arrival.


March 17, 2010, 9:00 pm

This surely reeks of political theater to the skeptical, but for those of us who have experienced the brutality of Now Zad’s history first-hand this news brings us one page closer to the end of long chapter in our lives.

This time last year I was second in command of the approximately 300 Marines fighting it out in this very district. Daytime temperatures were approaching intolerable levels and I could hardly wait for my time there to come to an end. With two and a half months left before I could render my final salute to the place that had taken so much from me, taken so much from us, I was tired. I was becoming ever more frustrated with what we were doing there and became doubtful of our purpose.

Now Zad had been locked in a stalemate since 2006, when British forces attempted to regain control of the district after several years of Taliban rule. Around the time that the U.S. launched the initial invasion in 2001, Now Zad was actually a relatively peaceful place — a thriving district in the Pashtun-dominated south. The United Nations, the European Union, and several N.G.O.s even managed to build a school and a health clinic, and install wells throughout the town. The calm was of the fleeting type, though, and by 2006 the town had become a major Taliban command center and logistics hub.

The devastating fighting between British forces and the Taliban prompted the estimated 30,000 residents to flee. Some moved north, some moved south, and some fled to other parts of the country, but none of them stayed.
Home Fires: Retelling the War

Veterans discuss how books, movies and other tales of combat shaped their outlooks on war.

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Neither the British nor the Taliban had enough manpower to drive the other out and the battle for Now Zad deteriorated into deadlock. With no hearts or minds to win, placing troops in Now Zad had been called into question at various points in time. But with blood already spilt, it had become a gem too precious for either side to give up but not valuable enough to warrant the resources to win. It was a precarious equilibrium in which both sides were tremendously fearful of the other gaining any kind of advantage. It was nothing more than a bloody tit-for-tat game in which the enemy and international forces were both continuously winning and losing.

By the time I arrived the stalemate was approaching its third birthday. Little had improved over the years and you still couldn’t move more than 300 meters outside the base without expecting to take contact or stumble upon an I.E.D. As a 26-year-old officer on my first combat tour, I was determined and convinced that we would be the ones to finally break the impasse.

Our commanding officer repeatedly reminded us that we were placeholders, expected to do no more than retain the hard gained territory until more forces could come and take the entire district. For young, aggressive, and well trained Marines, this was a deeply unsatisfying mission and we constantly pushed the boundaries by conducting patrols farther and farther into enemy territory.

It didn’t take long before the enemy pushed back and we started to take casualties. At first it hardened our resolve to fight. But as time went on and the number of those hurt and killed mounted, attitudes began to shift. For some it was a slow transition that took months, for others it only took a single, horrible event. However it came, we all got to the point where we wondered if there was anything we were doing out there that justified these Marines, these men, these boys, dying and getting hurt.

Since I was responsible for planning all daily operations, the mounting casualties began to weigh on me — they still do. After a string of hard missions that resulted in four dead Marines, it just felt like no matter how meticulously we planned, how precise our patrol movements, or how unwavering we were in the face of the enemy, we were just destined to get more of our own hurt. And for what? We were fighting for a war-ravaged town of mud huts in which no Afghans lived. There was no Afghan army or government, just us fighting against a ruthless and uncompromising enemy. It all just seemed like some sadist’s game that we had to endure.

Every casualty left me more and more dejected. I knew the mission but, with little to show for our efforts, I doubted its usefulness. We tried so damn hard to improve the situation in Now Zad but it all just seemed futile. It became incomprehensible how anything positive could ever come of the place, and that is how it remained, until last week.

Initially lured by the promise of a modest wage, men and boys started to return to Now Zad only a couple of weeks ago. The Marines paid them to clean up debris and ruined buildings in the hopes of making Now Zad habitable again one day. Entrepreneurial Afghans soon recognized the new economic opportunities that came with the Afghan National Army and opened up a few shops. The Marines, with the help of their Afghan interpreters, opened up two schools, one for boys and one for girls.

The repopulation effort happened much more quickly than anyone expected and there are now 2,500 Afghans who, once again, call Now Zad home. Entire families have moved back into that very same town of mud huts ravaged by time and war. Life is constricted to the security bubble that the Marines are able to provide and it is by no means normal or ideal. But all this has occurred in a place plagued by conflict, a place that has not been home to Afghans in four years. It is still political theater to some.

The 2,500 Afghans who returned is a paltry sum compared to the 30,000 who once thrived there, but value in war is a relative concept. With a tense security situation and against the backdrop of very real threats, the Afghan people have demonstrated their indomitability by moving back into Now Zad. They have broadcasted their resilience and determination in the face of extreme hardship, the likes of which no people should have to know. Now Zad is a ghost town no more, and in no small way this is an Afghan victory in a fight that has lasted so long. And, in no insignificant way, this is my victory too.

Michael Buonocore spent four years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He returned in June 2009 from a seven-month tour in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where he was the executive officer of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. He is currently a graduate student at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Corps pushes tighter Internet ban than Pentagon

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Mar 17, 2010 10:15:00 EDT

The Defense Department has loosened guidelines on the use of social-networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but Marine officials say a servicewide ban on them remains in place with limited exceptions.

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New Building Number System Benefits Nawa Citizens, Afghan Government

NAWA, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Usually tagging a wall with spray paint is grounds for punishment, but for Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, it's all in a day's work in Afghanistan



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs RSS
Story by Sgt. Brian Tuthill
Date: 03.17.2010
Posted: 03.17.2010 04:48

Since February, Marines and Afghan national army soldiers have conducted partnered patrols through Nawa and spray-painted a building numbering system as part of a new efficiency and organization initiative.

The system was requested through Nawa's community council to the Afghan government, and then coordinated and implemented with the help of coalition and Afghan national security forces.

The Pashto numbers and letter combinations are painted on exterior walls of compounds and buildings, providing various benefits for both the citizens of Nawa as well as security forces, said Maj. Michael L. Mayne, operations officer, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Although there are estimated to be nearly 10,000 total buildings in Nawa District, not all the structures will be individually marked.

"For coalition forces, it will help us better understand where we are doing [construction] projects, and help us better understand the population to know who their leaders are," said Mayne.

For the people of Nawa, it is not only a location reference system, but can be applied to a census for individual villages, tribal associations, knowing an area's elder representative, and current political and economic statuses.

"In the future, this will let us know more about the elders and how many people he speaks for," said Mayne. "For instance, a man representing a village with 2,000 people instead of a handful will have greater credibility in the eyes of the Afghan government."

At Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Marines of Guard Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 1/3, regularly conduct security patrols in neighborhoods surrounding the base, and usually bring with them stencils and spray paint to mark buildings.

"We've done about 90 buildings so far just in our area of operations," said Sgt. Mason L. Crawford, a squad leader with Guard Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company. "Each of our bases throughout Nawa are doing this in their areas as well.

"At first there was some hesitation from people, but they quickly came around," said Crawford, from Baton Rouge, La. "It gives them a sense of ownership and legitimacy because their house or compound can now be identified by the government."

One significant advantage for both coalition forces and people in Nawa is the ability for Afghans to report unexploded ordnance or other dangers and for Afghan or coalition security forces to quickly and directly respond to it, said Mayne.

"We get UXO reports often, but usually directions are as vague like 'the third oak tree on the left past the big rock' can be hard to follow," said Mayne. "Now they can say they are at building 1-2-3-4-5-6 and we can go right to building 1-2-3-4-5-6 and help them out."

Crawford said he hopes as the paint begins to fade over time that people in Nawa will maintain the numbers and use them to better organize their communities in the future.

Afghan poppy harvest is next challenge for U.S. Marines

MARJAH, Afghanistan -- U.S. Marine Sgt. Brad Vandehei stood on the edge of the small opium poppy field that serves as a central helicopter landing zone for the new military compound that's rising nearby.


Posted on Wednesday, 03.17.10
McClatchy Newspapers

"Those are poppies, sir?" Vandehei, 25, of Green Bay, Wis., asked Maj. David Fennell as they gazed at the spiked young plants that should be ready for harvest next month. "Let's burn it down, sir."

Fennell was scoping things out for another reason, however: That morning, the poppy farmer turned up with a dozen neighbors to complain about the Marines transforming his lucrative field into a rural helipad.

The swift American-led military offensive that drove the Taliban from power in this southern Afghan farm belt came at an inopportune time for the area's poppy farmers. That's created a quandary for Marjah's new, U.S.-backed leaders and for the American military as they try to transform this sweltering river valley, whose biggest cash crop is opium poppy, into a tranquil breadbasket.

"The helicopters are landing in my field," the weathered farmer told Fennell as they sat in the dirt outside the Marines' newest forward operating base in Marjah. "You have to stop landing there. Next time, the Taliban will put an IED in the field," an improvised explosive device, the military's term for a homemade bomb.

Using his skills as one-time trial lawyer, a few essential Pashto words and an evolving understanding of local tribal culture, Fennell sought to reassure the farmer.

"I apologize for your inconvenience," the 36-year-old Denver reservist told the farmer. "We're here to provide security, and one person must be inconvenienced to provide security for 1,000. But we're not like the Taliban. We're not just going to take; we're going to compensate you."

Unswayed, the Marjah men again pressed Fennell to stop using the field as a landing zone. When it became clear that the Marine wasn't going to budge, they asked for money to pay for the damaged poppy field.

"We're not here to eradicate your poppies, but we won't pay for damage to your poppies," Fennell said. "What we will do is pay for the inconvenience and for any damage to your wheat."

Marjah leaders and the U.S. Marines so far have no clear answers for farmers such as these. The Marines and the new Marjah government are still trying to figure out how to persuade poppy growers not to harvest their crops this spring.

"We are entering the poppy harvest season, which will also put us at great risk for having instability," Marine Col. Randy Newman warned Marjah leaders this past weekend. "So we must talk to the people with one voice about how we will deal with the poppy."

For years, Marjah has been the center of the drug trade in Afghanistan, which provides about 90 percent of the world's opium. About 50 percent of Afghanistan's poppy crop is grown in surrounding Helmand province, and much of the multibillion-dollar industry is centered in and around Marjah.

The opium trade supports tens of thousands of local farmers and fuels the Taliban, who taxed the crops to pay for weapons and supplies.

"If I was a farmer here I'd be growing poppies," said Mike Courtney, the senior field director in Marjah for Adam Smith International, a global consulting firm that's working in Afghanistan. "It's a Catch-22. How do you win over the population and, at the same time, stop the drug trade?"

U.S. officials largely have given up on destroying Afghanistan's poppy fields as the best way to combat the drug trade. Razing the fields was seen as counterproductive.

Instead, the American-led coalition in Afghanistan launched programs meant to encourage farmers to plant wheat, cotton and other alternative crops. They've had modest success.

The wheat-for-poppy projects have been undermined by corrupt Afghan officials who've given mediocre fertilizer and inferior seeds to farmers and have siphoned off money for themselves.

At the end of the day, poppy brings in more money most years than wheat or cotton does.

"The opium issue takes time," said Haji Abdul Zahir, the newly appointed district governor of Marjah. "It's like if you swat a bee, 1,000 bees will come and sting you. It takes time to stop the drug trade. But we won't do it through eradication."

The Marines have developed a new plan to hand out modest grants to farmers who show that they're planting legal crops. But the grants - some $500 per hectare, about two and a half acres - don't compare with the money made from poppy harvests in good years.

Plowing under the poppies also could be a dangerous gamble for farmers who took money from drug dealers and Taliban financiers, who might come back to collect the harvest.

At the moment, Afghan and U.S. leaders are betting that the insurgents won't feel bold enough to come looking for their poppies if they have to deal with thousands of American and Afghan fighters.

Some officials have suggested that they simply buy this year's harvest and take it off the streets. Buying millions of dollars in opium could be politically unpalatable, however.

"There's a problem with buying it. There's a problem with burning it," said Marine Capt. Matthew Andrew, of Boise, Idaho, the 30-year-old judge advocate for the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "The larger problem is security. If they don't have poppies, there's no point in sticking around. The real test is going to be next year."

As the farmers pressed Fennell last weekend to pay for the damaged poppies, he pulled out another weapon in his verbal arsenal: guilt.

"We're not here to eradicate any poppies," Fennell told the men. "But we're worried, because we've seen the addiction to opium among Afghans and we know that good Muslims don't want that."

The men shifted uncomfortably and assured Fennell that they agreed. Then they asked him again to stop helicopter landings in the poppy field.

Fennell patiently told the men that that wasn't going to happen. He asked them to figure out what they thought was a fair price for the adjacent wheat field.

He's still waiting for them to return.

JC Operational Update, March 17

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force conducted a search and detained one insurgent near Sar Banader in the Garmsir District of Helmand province today after intelligence information indicated militant activity.

Jump Platoon has one mission: Protect the Battalion Commander as he moves in his battle space. Where he goes, they go.



March 16, 2010 8:05 AM
Posted by Mandy Clark

For Jump Platoon 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, "he" is Lt Col Brian Christmas. The Colonel hand-picked many members of the team. "I trust them completely," Christmas says. "They do a great job and work hard."

Each member of the platoon brings a different set of skills.

"It's always interesting about Jump platoons. They always get the orphans from each company so you get a rag-tag band, but when they come together, they are quite an impressive group," says Chief Warren Officer, Marine Gunner, Joshua Smith. Smith is the platoon's weapons expert, and his skills have paid off.

On a recent patrol, he spotted a wire coming from a house that led to explosives.

"It was so obvious that it looked like a set-up." It was. On his advice, the Marines did not enter the house. Instead, they set off a small charge just inside the door.

The charge triggered the bombs inside the rigged house, leaving only a pile of rubble where it once stood. Gunner Smith estimated that about 40 pounds of explosives were likely hidden in the home. "We would have lost Marines that day, I'm just glad I caught it."

Lt Col Christmas has a slightly different style to most Battalion Commanders -- he likes to be on the front line most of the time. That means his Jump platoon sees more action than others.

"I love jumping to the fight, it's what we do," says platoon leader Sgt Dennis Derr.

"We've taken fire from machine guns, RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), we've been mortared on the move, we've hit a number of IEDs," recounts Derr. "We pretty much have encountered every possible scenario."

Cpl Joshua Bower is the Platoon Sergeant. Serving his third tour of duty at just 21, he's seen a lot of action. In Iraq, a sniper's bullet hit him in the back of the neck, just missing his spine.

Bower says the injury has made him more keenly aware of the dangers he and other U.S. troops face on the frontline. "I signed up to do this job and I love it, but don't get me wrong, I don't want to die."

Constantly moving around the battle space means the platoon needs to cover more terrain, and that means there's a greater danger of roadside bombs.

Cpl Paul Mauser is commander of Jump platoon's lead vehicle of. Nicknamed "Mighty Mouse," his MRAP has been hit twice in a short space of time.

"I'm 0-2, I would like to get the guy who is trying to kill me," he says, admitting that riding in the lead vehicle can take a toll on his nerves. "I'm proud to do what I can to protect the Colonel."

But Lt Col Christmas sees the platoon as more than just his own personal body guards.

"They are a great group of guys, and even though some of them are close to my age, I do feel like they are like my sons."

Marines would be required to make green belt

Program review could result in streamlined training, new martial arts standard

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Mar 16, 2010 19:43:38 EDT

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — If you had hoped to skate by with a tan belt for the rest of your enlistment, think again.

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Pacific theater Marines happy to have story told

A new series follows soldiers who fought in that war on the islands.

I whispered goodbye to the men of Fox Company

and all the other men in green

that we left on the beach at Iwo.

Cal Atwood, a Marine corporal wounded in battle on Iwo Jima, wrote those words about 30 years ago, decades after saying goodbye to his fallen comrades from a hospital bed in Guam.


By Timothy J. Gibbons
Story updated at 8:32 AM on Tuesday, Mar. 16, 2010

It's not a time he talks about much, in part because of the difficulty in describing the heroism he saw that day.

"You're just stunned by the magnitude of their selflessness and sacrifice," Atwood said, sitting in an office filled with Marine Corps memorabilia in his home on Amelia Island.

Still, like many veterans of the Pacific theater, Atwood is excited that the producers behind "Band of Brothers" are now telling the story of that campaign. The 10-part miniseries, titled "The Pacific," debuted Sunday on HBO with repeats tonight and Wednesday. It will run through May 16.

For the veterans who fought their way from flyspeck island to bloody atolls, their war was overshadowed by the fighting in Europe, both contemporaneously and more recently.

"We were falling into the same trap in the popular media that the nation was in in the war years," said retired Marine Capt. Dale A. Dye, actor and senior military adviser on the production. "The Pacific was always an afterthought. People were focused on their ancestral homelands."

The islands so fiercely fought over in the Pacific were less familiar, less understandable than the European countries whose emigrants were now Americans.

"It was a different kind of war," said Matt Blakely, a Jacksonville resident who as a Marine first lieutenant fought at Iwo Jima and was awarded a Silver Star. "The battles were different. We fought on lonely islands. They fought in cities and fields."

The miniseries tries to tell the story of that war by following three real-life Marines as they fight on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Much of the details are pulled from books written by two of the Marines - Robert Leckie's "Helmet for My Pillow" and Eugene Sledge's "With the Old Breed" - as well as other research, the network said.

Among that research were interviews with veterans who fought in the Pacific.

Tapping into such real memories while it's still possible are why, Atwood said, programs like "The Pacific" are important, as those service members are passing away.

"There are so few left," he said, "and so many going every day."

[email protected], (904) 359-4103

New Protocol to Provide Early Brain Injury Detection

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Defense Department is rolling out a new set of guidelines for the treatment of mild traumatic brain injury among service members in combat areas.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Story by Christen McCluney
Date: 03.16.2010
Posted: 03.16.2010 01:49

"We're morphing from a symptom-based approach in theater to an incident-based approach," a senior official said yesterday, March 15, during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.

"The tenet behind this is we strongly believe that early detection and early treatment decrease the complaints of post-traumatic brain injury after sustaining an injury," said Kathy Helmick, interim senior executive director for traumatic brain injury and director of TBI clinical standards of care at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The new protocol will go into effect soon and will make head injury evaluations mandatory for service members who have been involved in incidents such as being close to explosions or blasts. In the past, Helmick explained, servicemembers simply decided for themselves whether to report symptoms. Moving forward, the medical staff will check everyone involved in such incidents.

To get the incident-based protocols going, officials are using an "educate, train, track and treat" sequence, Helmick said. This involves:

-- Ensuring awareness at all levels in recognizing symptoms of brain injuries;

-- Training health care providers in evidence-based treatments;

-- Treating incidents early; and

-- Tracking progress to yield metrics that would show where improvements are needed.

"We are fast-tracking our research portfolios so that we can translate the findings from research being done into clinical practice and improve care on the battlefield as soon as possible," Helmick said.

Researchers are looking at blast dynamics related to the direction of explosions and relationships between the magnitude of explosions in enclosed and open locations, Helmick explained. This could help in determining ways to decrease the incidents of brain injury along with examining the nature of attacks, she said.

Research also is under way to explore psychological health and TBI, Helmick said.

"We are trying to really help bring the disciplines together so that we can provide more clarity to the timing of treatment for specific psychological health conditions and how that marries up with traumatic brain injury," she said.

If a patient is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, she noted, traumatic brain injury clinicians need to be in sync so that therapy can be maximized.

The department also is working with the National Football League to share information on TBI research. Helmick noted that both the NFL and the Defense Department have stepped up efforts to learn more about brain injuries and implement measures for prevention and treatment. "So the groups are working on creating a change in attitude so that service members, like athletes, don't discount symptoms but get early treatment, which will lead to early recovery," Helmick said.

Part of the Defense Department's effort focuses on educating commanders and supervisors. "We've really stressed with the line command that this is not about taking someone away from mission," Helmick said. "This is about keeping them in the safe zone while they are vulnerable for a second injury -- making sure they get checked out and then getting them back to doing what they love."

Helmick added that one of the strongest initiatives in treating TBI is educating service members about the importance of sharing their symptoms, knowing what to expect for a natural recovery and developing strategies to deal with the symptoms. This, she said, has been shown repeatedly to help in decreasing symptom reporting and enhancing recovery.

"Our real message to send out to everyone is, 'Protect your greatest weapon -- your brain,'" Helmick said. "The cornerstone is early detection and early treatment, and that these are recoverable injuries."

The shattered Marine

The shattered Marine Part 1
“I was killing myself without even knowing it,” said Pvt. Travis Westhoven, an inmate at the Camp Lejeune Brig.


3/16/2010 By Cpl. Katie Densmore , Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune

However, this is not where Westhoven’s story begins, only where it almost ended.

As a lance corporal, he was a machine-gunner with Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, who was looking forward to his first deployment to Iraq.

The deployment began during September 2007 and started out smoothly. Westhoven had always wanted to travel and see different cultures. He was enjoying his experience overseas, but that would change with two incidents mere weeks apart.

“I was really excited to deploy,” he said, almost with a smile. However, the glimmer of a smile quickly faded as he began to talk of the dark memories that would change his personality. “We didn’t have any problems at first. The road we used for convoys was called Black Alley. The road got its name because it was filled with potholes from improvised explosive devices that had gone off in the past.”

Although the road had an ominous name, it had seemed to be a fairly quiet route that was swept every day for IEDs with none being discovered until Jan. 4, 2008.

Westhoven was part of a convoy driving back to his forward operating base after helping train Iraqi police, when an IED went off behind his vehicle and just in front of the next.

“That woke me up,” said Westhoven sharply. “I was dazed and confused. There was dust everywhere. The worst part was we drove over that thing for four months and never knew it was there. Later, we found out it was 120 mm mortar round packed full of explosives and buried under two feet of concrete.”

The shock of being hit drastically changed Westhoven’s perspective and outlook on the deployment, but the most solid hit he took was to his confidence as turret gunner.

“It hit me so hard because as the turret gunner, I am the eyes of the vehicle,” he said with tears welling in his eyes because years later he still holds the guilt in his heart for hitting the IED. “You have your driver and assistant driver, but the window is three inches thick, covered in dirt and all scratched up. They can barely see through it. All you’ve got is your turret gunner.”

This was the moment Westhoven began to exhibit symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

“After that, I got really nervous going out,” he said. “I started not wanting to go out and dreaded putting on my gear. I was afraid, always wondering where the next one would be.”

The amount of trash on the road made the convoys difficult because Westhoven began to make the humvee stop for trash piles, despite the rest of his team’s protests.

“I started having anxiety problems. We would be driving down the road, and I would make the humvee stop for every little thing. They would tell me not to worry, that it’s nothing. I would reply, ‘But what if it is,’” he said animatedly with gestures signaling his buddies’ frustration with his overprotective behavior.

IEDs had now become an overbearing distraction in Westhoven’s daily routine, especially with the locals pointing them out every day. However, things began to settle back down. So much so, the battalion held a soccer game with the locals, Jan. 19.

“During the soccer game, I was in the turret watching the perimeter toward the Euphrates (River),” Westhoven said recalling one of the few moments since the blast he felt safe. “All kinds of people were out there playing. The Iraqi police, children, and I think even our first sergeant was out there playing. It was a peaceful time.”

The peace was quickly broken by unexpected machine-gun fire off in the distance. Then the radio call came in. Second platoon was engaging insurgents and was being hit by multiple suicide bombers.

The soccer game quickly dissipated as Marines ran to their vehicles to assist their brothers. When they arrived at second platoon’s location, the battlefield was a mess with Ips standing next to insurgents.

“Bullets were flying all over the place,” he said. “They were coming from every direction. I was ducking behind the glass as I heard them whizzing past.”

This is when Westhoven witnessed a horrific sight: the death of one of the Marines from second platoon.

“A suicide bomber was running toward (1st) Lt. (David) Borden and Lance Cpl. (James) Gluff,” he labored to get the words out and tried to suppress his emotions. “Gluff shot him twice, but he kept coming. He exploded, and I saw pieces of flack and bodies go everywhere. Gluff was dead and Lt. Borden got his leg blown off.”

Several other Marines were injured in the explosion and a medical evacuation promptly took place. They collected the injured Marines and what they could of Gluff, but Westhoven’s unseen injury would continue to haunt him.

“It was a mental change, not physical,” he said. “I had nightmares right after the incident. It was like someone hit rewind on the tape, rewind on the tape. I started taking sleeping aides. The whole squad did. I was getting hard to deal with.”

The rest of Westhoven’s deployment was relatively quiet, but the damage was done. He tried to put the incident behind him as he prepared to return home, but the memories haunted him.

The shattered Marine Part 2
A moment in his past had now become an uncontrollable demon constantly tearing his mind apart. The demon would shred his sanity with questions of, “What could I have done different, why not me and why didn’t I do something to stop this?”

However, he kept his suffering quiet. He was excited to return home and see his family. Westhoven desperately clung to the idea that when he returned home everything would go back to normal, but normal is not what awaited him.

At the homecoming celebration, his family was excited to be reunited with Westhoven, but they were surprised at the man who stood before them. He was almost unrecognizable.

“I didn’t tell anyone any of this back home, but my mom immediately noticed a change in me at the homecoming,” he said as he looked off in the distance as if remembering the look of surprise on his mother’s face. “Not just in my size because I lifted a lot while I was over there, but a change in my eyes. She said there was a force behind them. It wasn’t there before.”

When the command released Westhoven to be with his family, they headed out to dinner. But this was not the happy occasion he and his family were expecting.

“I had an anxiety attack as we were driving down the road,” he said. “I began smoking cigarette after cigarette. I did not have a weapon on me. I was on the ground and not in the turret. In Iraq you were surrounded by the unknown, but at least you had protection.”

For Westhoven’s mother, Maylia Marshall, the change in her son was overwhelming and immediately recognizable.

“I noticed the first day how nervous and anxious he was,” she said. “When we sat down in the restaurant, he had to make sure he could see all the exits. He kept reaching to the side like he was reaching for his weapon.”

Shortly after being seated, Westhoven ordered his first beer. This simple, seemingly natural act was the beginning of Westhoven’s downfall.

“When the beer started kicking in, I started feeling alright,” he said unabashedly, knowing this first attempt at normalcy is what indirectly led to his imprisonment. “I finished six or seven before our food got there. We got our check early, because I was falling asleep at the table. It was the first time I didn’t have control over how much I drank. On the way back to base I was hanging my head outside the car puking.”

The ruined family dinner was a sign that Westhoven’s hopes of simply putting his deployment behind him were not attainable on his own. Westhoven, like many others in his battalion, was starting to exhibit signs of post traumatic stress disorder through drinking and behavioral problems.

Unfortunately this is when the command rotated and new leaders came in. They had not deployed with the battalion and only saw the Marines’ problems without knowing the cause.

“We went from black collar to shiny collar,” he said with subtle angry undertones. “Guys were having issues with their marriages and drinking, but the command had no idea what we went through.”

Westhoven began telling his section leaders that he had a problem about five months after he returned from deployment, but the new command was not sympathetic. His desperate cries for help were falling on deaf ears.

“I was told I don’t have PTSD because I don’t jump when mortars or rounds go off, but I was having difficulty handling everyday situations,” he said. “If anyone would approach me, I would feel threatened. I felt so small and fragile inside of a big tank of a body. I felt like everything was going to hurt me.”

Cpl. Chad Tompkins, who also deployed with Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, said he saw a huge difference in Westhoven over the deployment. However, he saw many changes in other Marines in the battalion and to a certain degree changes in himself.

“I had no idea how bad things really were for him,” Tompkins said. “A lot of guys were drinking heavily and having problems. I even found myself just trying to live a little more.”

Tompkins, who has known Westhoven since recruit training, was only seeing the surface of his problems. He had no idea how deep they truly ran.

Westhoven’s nightmares began to seep into the day blending reality with his personal hell. They were so bad he would wake up tired and soaked in sweat not knowing where he was, if he was able to sleep at all. He began to feel as though he had lost control over his own mind.

All of his old hobbies were tossed to the side in pursuit of alcohol. Now he only drove to get alcohol and back to his barracks. He was terrified that the rage, which sat just at the edge of his consciousness, would overcome him, and he would hurt or possibly even kill someone. Just for saying the wrong thing.

As Westhoven’s drinking increased, his life began spiraling out of control. When he went home on leave in October 2008, he almost didn’t make it back. He overdosed on alcohol and Oxycotton. To this day, he does not remember most of the evening, or taking the drug.

“I woke up three days later. I was strapped to a hospital bed. I had IVs on top of IVs and a very painful tube down my throat. My family was all around me, but for some reason I was deaf and couldn’t hear anything,” he said as his right hand traversed his left arm from wrist to shoulder in remembrance of the IVs.

As he slowly regained his hearing, friends, family and doctors filled in the blanks in his memory about what had happened.

“I guess I passed out on my back,” he said with little emotion merely repeating what he was told. “I vomited and it went into my lungs. When my friends found me I was cold and blue. My heart was only beating about five or six times a minute. They didn’t think I was going to make it.”

Despite beating the odds and living through the overdose, Westhoven was extremely depressed. Horrible thoughts of death clouded his mind as he was recovering.

“I felt guilty. I just kept wishing they would have found me a little later, or I threw up sooner, so it would be all over,” he said with a hint of remorse and shame for his thoughts. “The nightmares and hell I was living would stop. My life didn’t matter anymore.”

Westhoven said he wasn’t suicidal, but he wouldn’t care if a lighting bolt struck him down either.

The overdose may have seemed like his ‘rock bottom’ moment, but unfortunately for Westhoven things were far from over.

The shattered Marine Part 3
The overdose, which nearly took Westhoven’s life, landed him a lengthy hospital stay. The time he spent healing was not his own; it was time he owed the Marine Corps. He was late returning from leave.

His command was unforgiving of this offense and he received a nonjudicial punishment. However, it was a wake up call for Westhoven’s leaders. They realized his desperate cries for help could no longer be ignored.

Westhoven was immediately sent to see the substance abuse rehabilitation program counselors aboard Camp Lejeune. There they determined that his drinking was so severe he needed inpatient-treatment.

For the first time, Westhoven was making some headway in battling his personal demons in alcohol rehabilitation. He believed he was taking the first steps toward conquering his addiction. It appeared as if he was going to recover, but the 28th day came much too soon.

“I begged them to let me stay,” he said, referring to both his unit’s leadership and staff at the treatment facility. “I knew I needed more treatment, but the command wanted me back. As soon as I got back to Lejeune, I started drinking again.”

Westhoven had fallen back into his old routine of drinking to block-out the world. He was then sent for outpatient-treatment and finally doctors saw the underlying cause, PTSD, which in turn created insomnia and depression.

Although he had known deep-down the deployment had caused a complete shift in his personality, an answer and treatment was not enough to slay the addiction that was consuming him.

However, there was one glimmer of hope left in Westhoven’s heart, the chance at redeploying with his unit. He continued to grasp at the idea that if he just immersed himself in his job he could simply overcome his problems.

In preparation for the Marines’ upcoming deployment, the battalion went to Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, Calif., for Exercise Mojave Viper.

Westhoven’s doctors strongly recommended that he stay behind and focus on his treatment; however, the doctors’ recommendations were treated as such and he went with his unit to the desert.

His experience at Mojave Viper destroyed what little hope he had of returning to normal and continuing to do his job.

“They took my weapon from me and wouldn’t let me train with the Marines,” he said as he stared at the ground in shame. “That was the hardest part. All they had me doing there was meaningless tasks.”

Tompkins witnessed Westhoven at Mojave Viper and believes he should have never gone with the unit.

“He should not have gone to California,” Tompkins said emphatically. “When he got out of rehab he still needed to be watched. It was a really hard situation because he wanted to deploy so bad, but needed to stay and focus on treatment.”

Tompkins believes the doctor’s orders should have overruled Westhoven and the command.

Westhoven came back from the desert bitter and heartbroken. He was merely a shell of a man. He thought he could take no more, but then he was then hit with the news he dreaded. He wasn’t deploying, but it was much worse than what he expected. He was also being transferred to medical platoon, 2nd Marine Regiment to stay behind.

Westhoven felt powerless he was being left behind like a discarded piece of trash. At first, he was in denial.

“After (1st Bn., 8th Marines) left, I stayed in their old barracks like a homeless guy,” he said. “I would go to the formations and then head back to my old room. I stayed there as long as I could until another battalion moved in, and I was forced to go to my new barracks.”

When he finally moved to the barracks he had two new roommates. Westhoven worried about having to deal with new people let alone living with them. However, he was surprised by the almost instant bond he had with one of his roommates, Lance Cpl. Douglas T. Baumgardner.

“We started hanging out and drinking,” he said with a slight smile on his face that was overshadowed by the sadness in his eyes. “We got to know each other very quickly. We didn’t have friends outside of each other. I loved him because of his past, and the way I bonded with him over the use of drugs and alcohol. He told me things that not even his brother knew. We had instant trust. We just clicked. ”

Westhoven’s new found friendship allowed him to feel closer to normal than he had in a while, but also fueled his addictions. Westhoven’s and his roommate’s habits escalated into disaster that culminated in tragedy.

The shattered Marine Part 4
It was a regular Tuesday night. Westhoven and Baumgardner were drinking and getting high as normal, while their other roommate managed to slumber through the commotion.

“Right before our other roommate woke up, I watched Doug do some Heroin,” Westhoven said. “He seemed fine. Then I used mine. Of course, I didn’t (care) if I woke up or not.”

Westhoven and Baumgardner decided to skip the morning formation because they were too stoned to go. They told their other roommate they were going to medical instead.

“Right before I passed out Doug told me he loved me and he is never going to forget me,” he said regretfully. “At the time I didn’t think anything of it.”

They never went to medical, and no one ever checked on them to see if they were alright. It wasn’t until 3 p.m. that Westhoven woke up. By this time, he had missed the afternoon formation as well.

At this point Baumgardner was still passed out, but Westhoven began to sense something was not quite right.

“I feel so guilty,” he said holding back tears. “I should have called an ambulance right then, but I thought he was OK. He was slouched beside the bed in an awkward position, so I put him on the bed lying on his stomach. I had learned from my experience not to put him on his back. I took his shirt off and put a fan on him.”

Westhoven was concerned about his roommate, but he was still breathing and had a pulse. Westhoven had taken the same drugs, so he went about his normal waking routine, while at the same time checking his roommate’s pulse and breathing periodically.

“I began doing all of my morning stuff, except it was the middle of the afternoon,” he said. “I shaved, washed my face, brushed my teeth and covered the needle marks from the night before; just my normal morning stuff.”

Part way through brushing his teeth, he noticed his roommate had stopped snoring.

“I walked over to make sure he was alright,” he said. “There was wetness around his mouth, his lips were starting to turn blue and his eyes were wide open. (Our roommate) walked in, and I sent him to get help. I started doing a crappy job of (cardio pulmonary resuscitation.) Vomit was coming out of his mouth, but I didn’t care.”

The paramedics quickly came and immediately tried to revive him, but they could not. He was gone.

The horror of seeing his closest friend’s life slip away before his eyes woke Westhoven. He was reborn with a passion to relearn what living is like instead of being entombed in a zombie-like trance.

“It was like a weight was taken off my shoulders,” he said. “Finding Doug like that, it was truly my rock bottom. When I overdosed I didn’t care if I died, but seeing someone else like that affected me. I was seeing from an outside view what my family had with me.”

He finally saw the pain he had caused his family and friends. He now knew he was not just killing himself, but his pain had spread like a disease to those who he cared for the most.

It was at this point Westhoven made a decision. He decided to own up to his role in Doug’s death. He knew there would be an investigation and they would quickly find the drugs. He made no effort to hide or destroy them. He wanted to get caught.

“He had plenty of time,” said Tompkins. “He could have flushed all of the evidence and claimed he had no idea what happened, but he didn’t. He gave it to (the police.) I really respect that. It says a lot about his character.”

Westhoven was court-martialed and sent to the brig for his role in Doug’s death. He is currently serving an eight-year sentence.

For most Marines going to the brig would be a terrible experience, but ironically for Westhoven it was one of the best things that could have happened to him.

“When I visited him in the brig, I noticed an awesome change,” said Tompkins.
“He explained to me he was leading a double life, at least to some extent. It wasn’t until it all came out that I could see how bad off he was, but now he’s doing stellar. He is getting the counseling and the proper medications he needs.”

For months Westhoven was unable to contact his family. The first time he was able to call them, all he could tell them was he was in the brig.

In later calls, he began to slowly reconnect with his family. He was finally able to swallow his pride and expose the depths of his drinking problem and his experiences in Iraq.

“He has really opened up,” said Marshall. “He has been able to block out the memories and is looking forward to moving on. He accepts responsibility for his actions and now he is able to communicate with us. He has really grown up.”

She added Westhoven’s incarceration may have physically separated them, but it has also brought them closer than they had ever been. She feels she finally has her son back.

Westhoven offered advice for anyone who may be silently suffering or trying to drown their problems in alcohol.

“Take what other people say seriously,” he said. “If everyone is telling you that you have a problem, you probably do. If you are embarrassed or afraid of being singled-out, Military One Source gives you a few visits to a psychologist for free. Take care of yourself. No matter what get help.”

Westhoven regrets what has happened, but has accepted the consequences of his actions. His focus now is on healing not only himself, but helping fellow inmates who are also struggling with PTSD. He hopes to be able to speak to different commands about his experience and the importance of seeking help.

“I wish I would have known what I know now,” he said. “That is why I want to tell my story to everyone to prevent anyone from experiencing all the pain, terror and horror I went through. I don’t wish that on anybody. If it saves one life, all the time I spent in the brig and everything else is worth it.”

March 14, 2010

Vail ski program gives boost to injured vets

By Lauren Glendenning - Vail (Colo.) Daily via AP
Posted : Saturday Mar 13, 2010 16:15:15 EST

VAIL, Colo. — Sgt. 1st Class Joe Kapacziewski’s 2005 injury in Iraq might have gotten the best of his right leg, but it certainly didn’t get the best of him.

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Senior Taliban Commander Killed in Lashkar Gar

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan national security forces with International Security Assistance Force partners conducted an operation east of Gavragay, Lashkar Gar District, Helmand province, Friday afternoon. Muhammad Yah, a senior Taliban commander in the Lashkar Gar area, was killed during this operation.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.14.2010
Posted: 03.14.2010 04:33

Muhammad Yah was known to have planned and facilitated both improvised explosive device attacks and to have directed suicide attacks around Lashkar Gar. While he primarily targeted Afghan forces and international partners, his attacks often killed or injured innocent Afghan civilians.

No civilians were injured in this operation.

IJC Operational Update March 14

KABUL, Afghanistan - A Taliban improvised explosive device facilitator was captured by an Afghan-international combined force in Logar this morning.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.14.2010
Posted: 03.14.2010 03:52

The facilitator, responsible for the placing of IEDs throughout the district, was captured during a search of a compound outside the town of Lashkari Khel in the Muhammad Aghah District.

In another operation, a Taliban sub-commander and another militant were captured by an Afghan-international force in Kandahar last night.

During the search of a compound outside the village of Ghariban, in the Zharay District, the combined force found IED materials to include a rocket propelled grenade, an artillery round, empty mortar cans, and rocket and mortar charts. The sub-commander is responsible for acquiring explosives and IED materials and moving militant fighters to various safe-houses.

A separate Afghan-international combined force captured a Haqqani commander and two other militants in Khowst last night. The combined force captured the insurgent during a search of a small compound outside of Mocay Kalay in the Jaji Mayden District, after intelligence information verified militant activity. He is responsible for directing attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.

The search team found several weapons, to include a shotgun, an automatic rifle, a grenade, armor-piercing rounds, time fuses, blasting caps and a small amount of dynamite. Two other militants were also detained.

Another Afghan-international force detained two suspected militants while pursuing a Taliban commander in the village of Shelgad, Zurmat district, Paktika province last night.

A joint Afghan-ISAF patrol discovered a weapons cache consisting of 11 RPG warheads in Nad Ali, Helmand province yesterday.

Also in Nad Ali yesterday, a separate joint patrol discovered 75 lbs. of home-made explosives and IED making materials.

A separate joint ANSF-ISAF patrol detained two men after discovering 20 pounds of opium in Nawah-ye-Barakzai District, Helmand province yesterday.

No shots were fired, and no Afghan civilians were harmed during any of these operations.

At Afghan outpost, Marines gone rogue or leading the fight against counterinsurgency?

DELARAM, AFGHANISTAN -- Home to a dozen truck stops and a few hundred family farms bounded by miles of foreboding desert, this hamlet in southwestern Afghanistan is far from a strategic priority for senior officers at the international military headquarters in Kabul. One calls Delaram, a day's drive from the nearest city, "the end of the Earth." Another deems the area "unrelated to our core mission" of defeating the Taliban by protecting Afghans in their cities and towns.


By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010

U.S. Marine commanders have a different view of the dusty, desolate landscape that surrounds Delaram. They see controlling this corner of remote Nimruz province as essential to promoting economic development and defending the more populated parts of southern Afghanistan.

The Marines are constructing a vast base on the outskirts of town that will have two airstrips, an advanced combat hospital, a post office, a large convenience store and rows of housing trailers stretching as far as the eye can see. By this summer, more than 3,000 Marines -- one-tenth of the additional troops authorized by President Obama in December -- will be based here.

With Obama's July 2011 deadline to begin reducing U.S. forces looming over the horizon, the Marines have opted to wage the war in their own way.

"If we're going to succeed here, we have to experiment and take risks," said Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the top Marine commander in Afghanistan. "Just doing what everyone else is doing isn't going to cut it."

The Marines are pushing into previously ignored Taliban enclaves. They have set up a first-of-its-kind school to train police officers. They have brought in a Muslim chaplain to pray with local mullahs and deployed teams of female Marines to reach out to Afghan women.

The Marine approach -- creative, aggressive and, at times, unorthodox -- has won many admirers within the military. The Marine emphasis on patrolling by foot and interacting with the population, which has helped to turn former insurgent strongholds along the Helmand River valley into reasonably stable communities with thriving bazaars and functioning schools, is hailed as a model of how U.S. forces should implement counterinsurgency strategy.

But the Marines' methods, and their insistence that they be given a degree of autonomy not afforded to U.S. Army units, also have riled many up the chain of command in Kabul and Washington, prompting some to refer to their area of operations in the south as "Marineistan." They regard the expansion in Delaram and beyond as contrary to the population-centric approach embraced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and they are seeking to impose more control over the Marines.

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, recently noted that the international security force in Afghanistan feels as if it comprises 42 nations instead of 41 because the Marines act so independently from other U.S. forces.

"We have better operational coherence with virtually all of our NATO allies than we have with the U.S. Marine Corps," said a senior Obama administration official involved in Afghanistan policy.

Some senior officials at the White House, at the Pentagon and in McChrystal's headquarters would rather have many of the 20,000 Marines who will be in Afghanistan by summer deploy around Kandahar, the country's second-largest city, to assist in a U.S. campaign to wrest the area from Taliban control instead of concentrating in neighboring Helmand province and points west. According to an analysis conducted by the National Security Council, fewer than 1 percent of the country's population lives in the Marine area of operations.

They question whether a large operation that began last month to flush the Taliban out of Marja, a poor farming community in central Helmand, is the best use of Marine resources. Although it has unfolded with fewer than expected casualties and helped to generate a perception of momentum in the U.S.-led military campaign, the mission probably will tie up two Marine battalions and hundreds of Afghan security forces until the summer.

"What the hell are we doing?" the senior official said. "Why aren't all 20,000 Marines in the population belts around Kandahar city right now? It's [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar's capital. If you want to stuff it to Mullah Omar, you make progress in Kandahar. If you want to communicate to the Taliban that there's no way they're returning, you show progress in Kandahar."

Until earlier this month, McChrystal lacked operational control over the Marines, which would have allowed him to move them to other parts of the country. That power rested with a three-star Marine general at the U.S. Central Command. He and other senior Marine commanders insisted that Marines in Afghanistan have a contiguous area of operations -- effectively precluding them from being split up and sent to Kandahar -- because they think it is essential the Marines are supported by Marine helicopters and logistics units, which are based in Helmand, instead of relying on the Army.

After concern about the arrangement reached the White House, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who heads the Central Command, issued an order in early March giving McChrystal operational control of Marine forces in Afghanistan, according to senior defense officials. But the new authority vested in McChrystal -- the product of extensive negotiations among military lawyers -- still requires Marine approval for any plan to disaggregate infantry units from air and logistics support, which will limit his ability to move them, the defense officials said.

"At the end of the day, not a lot has changed," said a Marine general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as did several other senior officers and officials, to address sensitive command issues. "There's still a caveat that prevents us from being cherry-picked."

The Marine demand to be supported by their own aviators and logisticians has roots in the World War II battles for Guadalcanal and Tarawa. Marines landing on the Pacific islands did not receive the support they had expected from Navy ships and aircraft. Since then, Marine commanders have insisted on deploying with their own aviation and supply units. They did so in Vietnam, and in Iraq.

Despite the need to travel with an entourage, the Marines are willing to move fast. The commandant of the Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, offered to provide one-third of the forces Obama authorized in December, and to get them there quickly. Some arrived within weeks. By contrast, many of the Army units that comprise the new troop surge have yet to leave the United States.

"The Marines are a double-edged sword for McChrystal," one senior defense official said. "He got them fast, but he only gets to use them in one place."

Marine commanders note that they did not choose to go to Helmand -- they were asked to go there by McChrystal's predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan, because British forces in the area were unable to contain the intensifying insurgency. But once they arrived, they became determined to show they could rescue the place, in much the same way they helped to turn around Anbar province in Iraq.

They also became believers in Helmand's strategic importance. "You cannot fix Kandahar without fixing Helmand," Nicholson said. "The insurgency there draws support from the insurgency here."

'Mullahpalooza tour'

The Marine concentration in one part of the country -- as opposed to Army units, which are spread across Afghanistan -- has yielded a pride of place. As it did in Anbar, the Corps is sending some of its most talented young officers to Helmand.

The result has been a degree of experimentation and innovation unseen in most other parts of the country. Although they account for half of the Afghan population, women had been avoided by military forces, particularly in the conservative south, because it is regarded as taboo for women to interact with males with whom they are not related. In an effort to reach out to them, the Marines have established "female engagement teams."

Made up principally of female Marines who came to Afghanistan to work in support jobs, the teams accompany combat patrols and seek to sit down with women in villages. Working with female translators, team members answer questions, dispense medical assistance and identify reconstruction needs.

Master Sgt. Julia Watson said the effort has had one major unexpected consequence. "Men have really opened up after they see us helping their wives and sisters," she said.

The Marines have sought to jump into another void by establishing their own police academy at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand instead of waiting for the U.S. military's national training program to provide recruits. The Marines also are seeking to do something that the military has not been able to do on a national scale: reduce police corruption by accepting only recruits vouched for by tribal elders.

"This is a shame culture," said Terry Walker, a retired Marine drill instructor who helps run the academy. "If they know they are accountable to their elders, they will be less likely to misbehave."

Then there's what Marines call the "mullahpalooza tour." Although most U.S. military units have avoided direct engagement with religious leaders in Afghanistan, Nicholson has brought over Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena Saifulislam, one of only two imams in the U.S. Navy, to spend a month meeting -- and praying with -- local mullahs, reasoning that the failure to interact with them made it easier for them to be swayed by the Taliban.

At his first session with religious leaders in Helmand, the participants initially thought the clean-shaven Saifulislam was an impostor. Then he led the group in noontime prayers. By the end, everyone wanted to take a picture with him.

"The mullahs of Afghanistan are the core of society," he said. "Bypassing them is counterproductive."

Reviving a ghost town

In December, columns of Marine armored vehicles punched into the city of Now Zad in northern Helmand. Once the second-largest town in the province, it had been almost completely emptied of its residents over the past four years as insurgents mined the roads and buildings with hundreds of homemade bombs. Successive units of British and U.S. troops had been largely confined to a Fort Apache-like base in the town. Every time they ventured out, they'd be shot at or bombed.

To Nicholson and his commanders, reclaiming the town, which the Marines accomplished within a few weeks, has been a crucial step in demonstrating to Helmand residents that U.S. forces are committed to getting rid of the Taliban. To other military officials in Afghanistan, however, the mission seemed contrary to McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy.

"If our focus is supposed to be protecting the population, why are we focusing on a ghost town?" said a senior officer at the NATO regional headquarters in Kandahar.

Nicholson notes that Helmand's governor supported the operation, as did many local tribal leaders. Hundreds of residents have returned in recent weeks, and at least 65 shops have reopened, according to Marine officers stationed in Now Zad.

"Protecting the population means allowing people to return to their homes," he said. "We've taken a grim, tough place, a place where there was no hope, and we've given it a future."

Nicholson now wants Marine units to push through miles of uninhabited desert to establish control of a crossing point for insurgents, drugs and weapons on the border with Pakistan. And he wants to use the new base in Delaram to mount more operations in Nimruz, a part of far southwestern Afghanistan deemed so unimportant that it is one of the only provinces where there is no U.S. or NATO reconstruction team.

"This is a place where the enemy are moving in numbers," he said, referring to increased Taliban activity along a newly built highway that bisects the province. "We need to clean it up."

Nicholson contends that if his forces were kept only in key population centers in Helmand, insurgents would come right up to the gates of towns.

Other U.S. and NATO military officials say that what the Marines want to do makes sense only if there were not a greater demand for troops elsewhere. Because the Marines cannot easily be moved to Kandahar, U.S. and British military and diplomatic officials have begun discussions to expand the Marine footprint into more populous parts of Helmand with greater insurgent activity where British forces have been outmatched. That shift could occur as soon as this summer, when a Marine-run NATO regional headquarters is established in Helmand.

Until then, however, Marine commanders want to keep moving.

"The clock is ticking," Nicholson told members of an intelligence battalion that recently arrived in Afghanistan. "The drawdown will begin next year. We still have a lot to do -- and we don't have a lot of time to do it."

Ermey speaks his mind on Corps issues

By James K. Sanborn - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Mar 14, 2010 9:12:23 EDT

R. Lee Ermey made his reputation using words and expletives as blunt-force instruments as a drill instructor in the iconic movie “Full Metal Jacket.”

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March 13, 2010

Joint Force Operation Targets Al-Qaida Leader

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force conducted an operation targeting militants while pursuing an al-Qaida commander in a rural area of the Asmar District of Kunar province early March 13.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.13.2010
Posted: 03.13.2010 12:52

When the unit approached the compound they conducted a call-out for the militants to peacefully surrender. Shortly after the call-out, the joint force received fire from militants in a nearby compound.

The joint patrol returned fire killing six militants, all of whom were apparently foreign fighters. Initial reports are that a woman was also killed during the cross fire. A thorough, joint investigation is being conducted.

A search of the compound revealed several automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and a landmine.

ISAF takes every precaution to minimize civilian casualties.

IJC Operational Update, March 13

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force killed eight militants and captured a foreign fighter facilitator in Farah March 12. Three of the eight militants killed were identified as foreign fighters.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.13.2010
Posted: 03.13.2010 11:27

A joint security team went to a small compound in a rural area north of the village of Shir Sorkh, in the Gulistam District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. As the joint force arrived they immediately came under fire from the insurgents inside. The security force returned fire and cleared the enemy from the compound. One militant, who was wounded, was a foreign fighter facilitator responsible for the moving and equipping foreign militant fighters coming into Afghanistan.

A search of the building found multiple weapons, to include rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and hand grenades.

In Khowst March 12, a joint security force searched a compound outside of Mirzagol Kala, in the Khowst District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Haqqani sub-commander responsible for buying improvised explosive device components and giving them to cell members, recruiting and training militants, and conducting attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. Two other insurgents were also detained.

The security team recovered rifles, a blasting cap and a large amount of cash.

In Kandahar March 12, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound near the town of Nagzhan in the Arghandab District after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban leader responsible for planning attacks against coalition forces. When confronted by the security force, the Taliban leader identified himself. Two other militants were detained during the operation.

In other operations, a joint patrol found three weapons caches within 100 meters of each other in the Tarin Kot district of Uruzgan province March 12.

The caches contained three RPGs, a mortar round, two grenades, 20 meters of detonation cord and 350 rounds of small-arms ammunition.

The caches were destroyed.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 12, 2010

A life more ordinary in Musa Qala

Musa Qala, in northern Helmand, will shortly become the first British base in Afghanistan to be handed on to US Marines.

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt visited the town to see whether there are any lessons to be learned.

Back in 2006, it seemed unlikely that the Taliban's then stronghold of Musa Qala, a centre of the opium trade, would be persuaded to listen to the voice of the Nato coalition and the Afghan government.


Friday, 12 March 2010

But the defection of a local Taliban commander, Mullah Salaam, helped turn the tide after a controversial deal between British troops and tribal elders to keep the insurgents out had collapsed.

The town was recaptured in fierce fighting between the Taliban and the Nato coalition and Afghan forces in Operation Snakebite in December 2007, with Mullah Salaam ready and waiting to be district governor.

He may not be the most effective administrator, but he remains a rare symbol of Taliban re-integration.

At the shura or gathering in a small bare room with the the local police chief, Commander Koka, and the local Afghan Army head, Colonel Rasoul Kandahari, they talk out - rather than shoot out - their disputes.

That in itself is progress. At the same shura, the British military commander here, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Fullerton, and the rest of his team - including police mentors, an intelligence officer and a political officer - play the tricky roles of referee and mentor simultaneously.

Different tactics

At their latest meeting, Mullah Salaam is complaining that the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, which has been here for nearly six months, simply isn't violent enough.

He says that the Russians would have been much tougher with the remaining insurgents to the north and south of the town, and gone in all guns blazing.

But Captain Roly Spiller, the headquarters' British intelligence officer now on his second tour of Afghanistan, is unfazed by the governor's complaints.

"He spent his youth fighting the Russians, and he's used to the Russian way of flattening villages that got in their way, whereas we have taken the approach of waiting until a village is ready to fall, without forcing fighting in the streets," he says.

"It may mean slower progress but it does mean that when we have taken villages, it's been a lot easier to manage them after that."

The build-up of the Afghan police and Afghan National Army here, under local leaders who are competent and - crucially - not corrupt, has also helped create something approaching peace, at least in the town centre.

Returning Taliban

As we walk through the bazaar, protected by a British patrol and still wearing flak jackets and protective helmets, it does appear to be thriving by the standards of rural Helmand.

The shops stock everything from DVDs of Bollywood favourites to shiny new motorbikes.

The shelves are no longer filled with opium, as they were three years ago - although it is still traded more discreetly elsewhere. The Afghan police headquarters is now based in what used to be the main opium bazaar.

And it is Afghan police who are in the lead in this joint patrol with British soldiers from a TA Regiment, 3 Royal Anglians.

One policeman tells me that the Taliban do sometimes return to the town at night, to ask for food or shelter from people, who then complain to the police.

Sometimes they send threatening "night letters" to intimidate people seen working with or for the coalition. But the insurgents do not come into town with guns any more, and the local police regularly patrol the streets.

But Angus Stewart, a diplomat who is spending two years as Musa Qala's political officer, isn't sure whether what has happened here can be replicated elsewhere in this troubled province.

That is partly because of its geography - which helps protect the town - and its tribal make-up.

'Way to go'

"There are many factors that have come together in Musa Qala," he says. "Just one of those is a tribal structure prepared to engage with central government, and I'm not sure that's the case across Helmand."

"We also have very effective local Afghan security forces."

That does not mean that the guns have fallen silent. Only this week, British troops launched a fresh offensive against insurgents several miles to the north of the district centre in Karimanda - aiming a deafening 105mm light gun at their position.

British convoys and outlying patrol bases remain a target for roadside bombs, and in all, some 21 British lives have been lost in Musa Qala over the past three years.

But Lt Col Fullerton is confident that the relative calm will persist.

"It's been hard, there's no doubt about it, but we've convinced the local population that this is the way to go."

Yet neither he nor the other soldiers I speak to have any qualms about handing on Musa Qala to the US Marines.

There is instead a quiet sense of achievement, that they are leaving a town that the Americans will hardly recognise as the one they helped British soldiers to re-take from the Taliban in 2007; a town in which years of effort and a nuanced approach to counter-insurgency may gradually be bearing some fruit.

IJC Operational Update, March 12

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan-international security force searched a compound near the town of Senjaray in the Zharmi district of Kandahar province today after intelligence information indicated militant activity.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.12.2010
Posted: 03.12.2010 03:20

During the search the joint force captured a Taliban facilitator responsible for improvised explosive device attacks in the province. Two other insurgents were detained in the operation.

In Paktika province last night, a joint force searched a compound south of the village of Heybat Khey, in the Zurmat district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban sub-commander responsible for participating in attacks against coalition forces, executing Afghan citizens and conducting battle damage assessments after Taliban attacks.

The assault force also captured two other insurgents and recovered multiple automatic rifles, grenades, ammunition and explosives.

In other operations, an Afghan-international patrol found a cache in the Garm Ser district of Helmand province today. The cache contained three bags of opium weighing 10-20 lbs each, a bag of hashish, a 105mm shell and 200 meters of command wire. The joint force apprehended the suspected insurgent in possession of the cache.

In the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand today, a joint force found a cache containing six rocket-propelled grenades, a pressure plate detonator and 400 rounds of small-arms ammunition. The cache will be destroyed.

In the Chorah district of Uruzgan province yesterday, an Afghan-international patrol found a cache containing 12 illumination artillery rounds and five mortar casings.

Wednesday, Afghan National Army forces working with ISAF arrested three suspected insurgents after intelligence indicated they were operating in Torghondi area of Khashroad district in Nimroz province.

In a separate operation Wednesday in the Sunjari Village of the Jharai district, Kandahar province, ANA forces captured two insurgents who had been under surveillance for several weeks.

Also, in operations in Maidan district of Wardak province, elements of the 201st Corps killed one insurgent and captured four others Wednesday. Soldiers in the operation recovered a Kalashnikov rifle, a pistol, and small-arms ammunition.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

Unfounded Allegations Against ISAF

KABUL, Afghanistan – On Wednesday an international security force unit patrolling in southern Afghanistan came under small arms fire from an insurgent position. The patrol returned fire and requested support from ISAF aircraft. Reports from the patrol, after they inspected the area, confirmed that one insurgent had been killed.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.12.2010
Posted: 03.12.2010 12:41

The patrol also verified that there were no civilians in the area and that no civilian property was damaged during this engagement.

On Thursday, ISAF became aware of an allegation that 16 civilians had been killed in an air strike in the same area as Wednesday’s patrol. There was also a report that international security forces had killed three children in the same district on Wednesday.

"We are here to support the Afghan Government and to protect the Afghan people," said Maj. Gen. Michael Regner of ISAF Joint Command. "We take accusations like these extremely seriously, so we do everything we can to discover the truth. When we do find we are at fault we never hesitate to accept responsibility. In these two cases, though, our investigation has shown that the charges are completely groundless."

Marjah push: Ups and downs are lessons for future

EDITOR'S NOTE: Alfred de Montesquiou, an Associated Press correspondent embedded with U.S. Marines in the battle for the Afghan town of Marjah, was able to observe some of the lessons of the fighting and hear from the officers in command how they are being absorbed.

MARJAH, Afghanistan (AP) — After a day spent pinned down in gunbattles or caught in a maze of roadside bombs, with little hope of air support and an erratic Afghan army to coax along, Lance Cpl. Travis Anderson reflected on the frustrations of the campaign U.S. forces were fighting.


By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU (AP) – March 12, 2010

"I understand the reason behind it, but it's so hard to fight a war like this," the 20-year-old from Altoona, Iowa, said as his company of Marines spearheaded the ground assault to reclaim Marjah from the Taliban.

Three weeks later, the Marjah insurgents have been largely defeated. The offensive on the southern Afghan town — NATO's largest combined operation in Afghanistan — is described as the first step of an 18-month push to push the Taliban out for good.

Now it's time to figure out what went right and what didn't work. Addressing questions raised by the battle is viewed as key to how the overall Afghan war could unfold. All the more so because the offensive was the first full-fledged reality check for the counterinsurgency warfare that the top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has pledged to achieve.

Winning here, and holding the ground in the months to come, would be a first step for the Afghan exit strategy President Barack Obama hopes to start implementing next year.

There appears to have been some success for the so-called "McChrystal Doctrine," of focusing on winning over civilians rather than killing insurgents, then beefing up Afghan forces to replace the Westerners.

More than 10,000 NATO and several thousand Afghan troops took the town in a few days, fighting some intense gunbattles against an estimated 600 insurgents. Casualties were low: 15 NATO troops and 21 civilians killed as of Friday, according to the international force. The Afghan Human Rights Commission has counted at least 35 civilians deaths.

Sporadic fighting continues.

A week into the battle, Marjah's civilian chief was brought in to raise the Afghan flag over the town center, and Marjah residents who fled have begun to return.

Cooperation between NATO and Afghan forces showed improvement. From the rank to officers, the Marines in the offensive all seemed determined to fight alongside Afghan soldiers, rather than instead of them. Most appeared to take pride in whatever cooperation they managed to achieve with their Afghan counterparts, overcoming language and culture barriers.

And despite intense doubts from Marjah residents, a new Afghan police force was brought in after the offensive. Many of the previous policemen were so brutal and corrupt that residents expelled them even before the Taliban took back control of the area in 2007.

But the offensive also highlighted the many pitfalls ahead.

Stringent rules of engagement limit the use of force in every way possible to spare civilians. It means troops can't shoot at anything but an insurgent seen with a gun.

That requires getting close enough to see the enemy, and fighting an old-fashioned, exhausting war on foot, carrying heavy backpacks, pressing against Taliban positions one field and one house at a time.

Though Marines often stretched the rules by pointing small-arms fire at compounds or bushes where hidden fighters shot from, the guidelines severely curtailed their options. Several times, the AP saw insurgents simply stroll out of a battle, having hidden their guns to flee once they were cornered. They were clearly familiar with NATO's rules.

NATO announced its plans to attack Marjah loud and clear to give civilians time to leave, but that gave the insurgents plenty of time to plan. Capturing them wasn't NATO's priority, and the leaky cordon set up around the town allowed many to slip away. That means well-trained fighters and snipers, some of whom came from abroad, may rejoin the battle elsewhere.

Some have questioned the significance of taking Marjah and involving thousands of troops just to secure a collection of farming hamlets that account for only a tiny fraction of Helmand province, itself just a small part of Regional Command South.

In Brussels, the Russian ambassador to NATO said he was puzzled by allied claims that the offensive was a success. Dmitry Rogozin noted that a firefight this week between two rebel factions in northern Afghanistan had in fact resulted in more deaths among the insurgents than the entire Marjah operation.

"So the result (of the Marjah offensive) was that the mountain shook, but only a mouse was born," he said citing a Russian proverb.

The restrictions on fire also put the NATO forces at much bigger risk by greatly limiting whatever air or artillery support they can expect. Even while pinned down in an intense gunbattle, it could take Marines as much as 40 minutes to clear all the steps for an airstrike to take place, AP reporters saw.

At least 12 of the civilians were killed early on in the fighting, one of the few times U.S. forces shot a surface-to-surface missile at insurgents. The military said the high-precision, GPS-guided missile did hit some Taliban. But it also killed women and children, and the outrage, which drew a public apology from NATO, means artillery support will be even harder to obtain — a changed reality that drew repeated expressions of concern from NATO officers.

Throughout the fight, the Taliban were accused of relying heavily on human shields, and as the days passed, they were often more brazen about holding a position — despite drones and helicopters overhead — when they felt they couldn't be spotted from above.

And blending in with civilians has also let the Taliban stay behind the lines even as NATO troops push forward. Every night, insurgents can creep up to American supply lines to plant roadside bombs.

"We've achieved the first phases, but some of the most challenging efforts are still ahead," said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, a Marine officer whose company led the ground assault.

The military's first main phase is "clear," meaning chase out the Taliban. Next, and equally important, it says, is "hold" — preventing them from coming back. And then there's "build": new schools, roads, clinics and a generally better life than under the Taliban's Islamist theocracy.

Winfrey's troops are due to spend the next several months scattered in outposts around Marjah, patrolling streets and manning checkpoints. Insurgents are sure to throw ambushes, suicide bombers, roadside bombs and snipers their way, especially once smaller units operate without much backup.

Finally comes the step that will allow NATO troops to go home: Making sure Afghan forces can shoulder the burden alone.

The Afghan army units sent into Marjah with the Marines seemed much better trained and more determined to fight than many forces in previous years. But still, they didn't follow orders well, they rarely turned up for their assignments on time, some started their day with a joint of marijuana, and orders often got lost in translation.

Shakier still are the Afghan police, who are supposed to start securing the town in the coming weeks. Fresh out of training, they vow they'll track the leftover Taliban and win the civilians' trust. But one of their first moves in Marjah was to take for themselves all the transistor radios they had been given by the Marines to distribute to villagers, an AP reporter saw.

If they lose their grip, American forces may have to reconquer the town street by street.

Insurgents are well aware of all this. The lessons learned from Marjah are likely also being learned by the Taliban as NATO generals prepare an even bigger offensive in the coming months, focused on neighboring Kandahar province.

Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

March 11, 2010

Marines Practice for Real Thing

After pounding targets in the California desert Wednesday until almost midnight, Marines with the Marines' 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion spent Thursday morning cleaning and reloading before heading north deeper into the Air Ground Combat Center at 29 Palms. By midday the massive 155mm Howitzer cannons were firing again, softening targets for three-companies-worth of tanks and LAV-25s to finish off.


March 11, 2010 - 5:26 PM | by: Rick Leventhal

Air support came in the form of Cobra Attack Helicopter gunships, raining missiles, cannon fire and TOW rockets on the desert floor while fixed wings dropped real 500-pound bombs on burned-out hulks of old tanks, vehicles and other designated targets.

"Pretty successful" is how the battalion commander summed up the overnight assault, admitting there were some timing issues with artillery that needed to be addressed.

Lt. Col. Scott Leonard seemed more pleased after the daytime ops, saying his Marines made great time and reached all their objectives, navigating remote sections of rugged terrain for the first time with maps and GPS.

Sunday they'll move to a Forward Operating Base at 29 Palms and begin integrating with hundreds of Afghani actors living in a mock-up of a village nearby, learning how to interact with locals while searching for potential threats from insurgents within the community.

The commander says his men take the training very seriously, knowing full well when they get to Afghanistan, the targets and dangers will be real.

March 10, 2010

Armored Trucks Shield Marines From Taliban Bombs

The shooting is largely over in the Marjah area of southern Afghanistan that was recaptured by U.S. and Afghan forces last month. But a deadly threat remains: homemade bombs.


by Corey Flintoff
March 10, 2010

Taliban fighters have seeded the area with thousands of IEDs, and U.S. and NATO convoys run the risk of hitting one or more of them every time they patrol.

Mine-resistant armored trucks have reduced the casualties from these attacks, and many crews have survived, uninjured and in surprisingly good humor. While the latest generation of the truck — known as the M-ATV — isn't exactly a comfortable ride, it's turning out to be much safer than the armored Humvees it is replacing in Afghanistan.

Marine Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Smith was the commander of one vehicle whose crew walked away from a potentially deadly hit.

"We found a monster IED that day," says Smith, referring to the improvised explosive device that destroyed his armored truck.

Smith is a gunnery officer for the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment in Marjah. His truck was leading the convoy when it hit what the Marines estimate was at least 70 pounds of homemade explosives buried in the road.

Surviving The Blast

"During the blast, it launched our truck up into the air. The back rear tire went into the hole, threw us down to the ground," Smith says. "The cabin filled with dust everywhere; we couldn't really see anything."

Oddly though, Smith says he didn't really hear anything much, either.

"Initially when the blast went, it was surprisingly quiet," Smith says. "The vehicle inside — if you ever get in one — it's very quiet. Just the initial shock of the truck lifting up, everybody who was in there, to include the gunner, we all lifted up out of our seats. Luckily, we were all wearing our seat belts."

As the dust began to clear, Smith says the first thing he heard was radio calls from the trucks behind, asking if the crew was safe.

"The first thing I did was I started looking, looking for my Marines and my crew," he adds. "And the first thing I saw them doing was doing a knuckle bump with each other and laughing."

The Marines didn't laugh quite so hard when they got out of the truck and saw what had hit them.

"The whole front left end of the vehicle, it disintegrated — the springs, the wheel. I actually saw the tire," Smith says. "It was about 200 meters up the road from us. The hood disintegrated."

'Sorrrry, Taxpayers'

In fact, Smith says, the only thing left of the front end was parts of the engine. The vehicle is designed so that parts of the front can come apart in an explosion, while the armored cabin remains intact. The M-ATV is one type in a class of military vehicles called MRAP — mine-resistant ambush-protected.

Smith, who read up on the specs of his truck, just as any new car buyer might, says it was an expensive couple of seconds.

"It is $1.4 million," he says. That's the cost of the vehicle fully loaded with all its electronics and safety options.

"The base price is, if I'm not mistaken, $437,000, so when you burn through one of these, you're kind of, 'Oooh, hah, sorrrry, taxpayers, I really am, but I'm going to need another one,' " Smith laughs.

The truck he is riding in now is brand new. And he might sound a little sheepish about the damages, but Smith says his earlier truck did what it was supposed to do — saved the lives of its crew.

Marines Live Fire Training

Marines with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (1st LAR) out of Camp Pendleton, CA will soon be deploying to Afghanistan to join the surge in the fight against the Taliban (the details of their travel is classified).

Click above link for a news video link.

March 10, 2010 - 1:39 PM | by: Rick Leventhal

Before they ship out, every Marine headed to a combat zone gets 30 days of live fire training at 29 Palms Air Ground Combat Center in the California desert, roughly 180 miles east of Los Angeles. The "Mojave Viper Exercises" are a combined-arms dress rehearsal for war, involving all platforms of Marine assets. In other words, they use infantry, Light Armored Vehicles, Tanks, Howitzer Cannons, attack helicopters and fixed wing fighters and bombers in offensive and defensive operations against an "enemy" (empty structures, vehicle hulks and other targets) in urban and rural environments in an expansive area closely resembling conditions in the middle east.

At 932 square miles, 29 Palms is the largest live-fire training base in the world. It's bigger than the state of Rhode Island. It's so large you could fit every other Marine base within it's borders, yet only 7 of it's square miles are built up so instructors say you could fire a 155mm Howitzer cannon in any direction and not hit anything besides desert.

2nd Dental Battalion Female Marine Makes Waves in Local Community

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - The antiquated thought that a woman's place is 'at home, in the kitchen' is not long gone, but steadily fading away. Women are more educated today, work in more demanding jobs than in years past and are more globally diverse than their foremothers.


2nd Marine Logistic Group Public Affairs RSS
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Katesha Washington
Date: 03.10.2010
Posted: 03.10.2010 03:13

As a result of the shift in women's roles in America, more opportunities have become available for young women like Lance Cpl. Jessica Hardyway to have successful careers while leaving a positive footprint in the world. Hardyway, a warehouse clerk with 2nd Dental Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, is taking her success as a Marine to new heights.

While she currently pursues an Associate's Degree in General Studies from the University of Phoenix, the 19-year old Marine also gives back to her community by volunteering with the North Carolina Adopt-A-Highway program, a state-ran initiative aimed at decreasing the amount of litter on the country's highways and roads. She also volunteers as a road guard for unit runs, helps wash vehicles for fundraising events, and helps other community organizations in Onslow County whenever volunteers are needed.

Volunteering, Hardyway says, has mutual benefits.

"Becoming involved in the community is very important because you have to get out there and show people that you don't just go to work everyday, get off, and go home," she said. "I like to get out and meet people so helping out in the community is a good opportunity for me. You get to meet some crazy and fun people once you step out of your boundaries."

When she's not volunteering in the community or studying for a test, Hardyway is running up and down the basketball court as a member of the 2nd Dental Battalion Women's Intramural Basketball Team. Her never-ending quest for activities that mentally and physically challenge her is the same reason she joined the Marines in June 2008.

"I didn't want to take the same path that everyone else around me in high school was taking. I wanted a challenge, something that wasn't easy to do," she explained.

Her parents, James and Elizabeth Smith, realized their daughter would become a magnificent woman early on.

"She was so energetic and athletic in school, a quick learner and very dutiful at home," Mr. Smith said. "We wanted her to go to college, but when she told me she wanted to join the Marines instead, I told her to go for it!"

Smith said he knew his daughter would be successful in the Corps because she is tough and has a strong mind.

"I told her as long as she keeps the Lord first, she would be ok," he added.

Hardyway says that her mother is one of her biggest role models because she taught her the most important lesson in life - how to be a woman.

"My mother has inspired me throughout my life because she wants me to have the life she could not have. Looking back on the hard times I have dealt with in my youth life, my mother has always encouraged me to be strong, be independent, and be successful," Hardyway said.

As the young lance corporal continues her career in the Corps, the sky is the limit for what she can achieve. Her independence and mental strength to give more to others than what she takes on are only a few reasons why she is one of 2nd Dental Battalion's phenomenal women.

March 9, 2010

Gates tours broken, abandoned market that has come to symbolize progress in Afghanistan

NOW ZAD, AFGHANISTAN -- This southern Afghan city has been touted as a symbol of the progress U.S. troops have made in recent weeks. But when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates swung through the main market on Tuesday, it seemed mostly to be a symbol of the work that remains to be done.


By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; 3:27 PM

One of the main streets was empty. Shopkeepers' stalls were abandoned. There was no electricity and no sewer system.

Still, Marine Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, who escorted Gates through town, said: "This represents the rebirth of a city that had been dead."

Although Now Zad hardly appeared to be the picture of health, senior Marine officials pointed out it had been a virtual no-go zone for U.S. and Afghan government forces for the past four years; the Taliban had seeded the city with as many as 5,000 land mines, which kept large swaths of Now Zad off-limits to average Afghans.

In December, though, Marines mounted a major push to drive the Taliban from the area and reestablish an Afghan government presence. The operation, dubbed "Cobra's Anger," helped clear out Taliban fighters from the city, located in Helmand province. But the land mines that remain in the city have slowed the return of locals who had fled. Even now, on most days, only about 70 of the 1,500 shops in the Now Zad's main bazaar are currently up and running.

Dressed in a blue-and-white-striped shirt, khaki pants and a blue Marine Corps baseball cap, Gates chatted with a half-dozen shopkeepers in Now Zad who were manning their small stalls. Spools of razor wire ran down the middle of the street. Helicopters circled overhead and a squad of Marines, carrying rifles, stood watch on the roofs of nearby buildings

"I am glad your shop is open," Gates told one shopkeeper whose small store consisted of a few bottles of soda and a few boxes of potatoes. The store owner told Gates that the massive number of land mines left behind by the Taliban was making it difficult for local residents to return to the city and for him to restock his store. Most of the shopkeeper's customers were local Afghan army and police officers.

As Gates chatted with the shopkeeper, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the second highest-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan, bought a soda from the market stall. He was the only customer.

Asked about the absence of people on the streets during his visit, Gates said that he tried to remind himself that when the Marines pushed into Now Zad town months ago the city was completely devoid of Afghan citizens and under the control of insurgents.

Nicholson, the brigadier general escorting the secretary, said that a "security bubble," designed to protect Gates, had made the streets appear more desolate and deserted than normal. "I wish you could come back tomorrow," the Marine commander told reporters. "We call this [place] the Christmas miracle."

Marines said that about 15 families a day were returning to Now Zad, which prior to 2006 was home to about 20,000 people. About 1,000 residents currently live in the city.

U.S. officials have plans to refurbish the local government offices, the city's main mosque and the area's irrigation canal system, said Marine Capt. Andrew Terrell. But the reconstruction work can't begin until local Afghan firms clear the town of explosives. The Marines said that the de-mining work will provide jobs to dozens of Afghans.

Despite the difficult conditions in town, Gates said that his trip to southern Afghanistan and his walk through the Now Zad market reinforced to him that U.S. forces were now on the right path in Afghanistan. "This is a poor country to start with and has been through 30 years of war," he said. "So it is important to keep some context and perspective here. It seems to me that somebody having a roof over their head and being able to work their farm and send their children to school for a lot of Afghans today sounds like a pretty good life."

Prior to visiting Now Zad, Gates visited a U.S. base just north of Kandahar, which is likely to be the site of a major push by U.S. and NATO forces this summer. He met with troops from an 800-soldier Stryker battalion from which 21 soldiers had been killed and 62 wounded during its deployment, making it one of the hardest-hit units of the nine-year war. The battalion, which had been focused on clearing a dense sector of farmland and irrigation canals of entrenched Taliban forces, was recently reassigned to provide security on the main roads surrounding Kandahar. Since its reassignment, the unit had suffered fewer serious casualties.

Surrounded by soldiers in dirty camouflage uniforms, Gates praised the battalion for its resilience in the face of heavy losses and noted that the unit's commander had written with a series of suggestions for bolstering its armored vehicles against roadside bomb attacks.

Gates also told the troops that they would face more tough missions in the near future as U.S. forces and Afghan forces focused on driving the Taliban from the districts around Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city.

"Once again you will be the tip of the spear," he told the troops.

Afghanistan war: Fight for Kandahar won't be like fight for Marjah

In the next stage in the Afghanistan war, coalition forces are expected to build up gradually on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, perhaps for months. That strategy departs from the one executed in the Marjah offensive, in which troops entered quickly.


The operation that American and coalition forces are planning for Kandahar in southern Afghanistan won’t look like D-Day, the top commander there said Tuesda


By Gordon Lubold Staff writer / March 9, 2010

Fresh off a recent success, so far, in Helmand Province, American military planners are thinking ahead to the next phase of challenging the Taliban in southern Afghanistan: Kandahar. But the fight for Kandahar – described as the New York City of Afghanistan for its cultural, political, and economic significance – is expected to be more measured than the operation in Marjah in Helmand, which was a precision strike that began with the insertion of hundreds of US marines by helicopter.

“There won’t be a D-Day that is climactic,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander there told reporters in Kabul, during a trip in which he escorted Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “It will be a rising tide of security when it comes.”

The operation in Marjah included about 2,500 marines and 1,500 Afghan soldiers – with as many as 10,000 troops in support. The top Marine commander in Marjah said last week the objective there was to come in “big, strong, and fast, [to] put the enemy on the horns of a dilemma.”

By contrast, the mission in Kandahar, expected to begin by summer, will be more gradual. Few details are clear, even in a counterinsurgency in which the NATO command has telegraphed its intentions before starting an operation, such as in Marjah last month. But military officials say Kandahar will require a more nuanced, measured approach in which forces will build up slowly, probably on the outskirts, before entering the city itself perhaps months later.

Kandahar is a much larger city and province, and coalition forces will take their time to enter due to the area's more complex political and tribal nature.

Marjah in 'hold and build' phase

McChrystal has had his eye on Kandahar, which the Taliban took over years ago, for a long time. But when he took charge of the mission last year, many American forces were already amassed in Helmand to the west.

While Helmand was a Taliban stronghold and much of the poppy crop that provides financial support for the insurgency grows there, many experts say it is not a strategic prize. Nonetheless, McChrystal mounted his first operation there under the new US strategy (and increased troop strength), as a demonstration of what could be done. Citing the clear-hold-build approach, military officials say that most combat operations are over in Marjah and that it is now in the “hold and build” phase.

That leaves room to begin planning for Kandahar and the districts that surround it, including Zhari, Panjawai, Khakrez, Arghandab, and Dand. (Monitor report: the importance of Kandahar to winning the Afghanistan war.)

Counterinsurgency experts say these outer areas hold the key to success for coalition forces entering Kandahar itself.

Gates warns of 'dark days' ahead

While not referring to operations in Kandahar specifically, Secretary Gates sought to prepare the military and the American and international community for the likelihood that the next few months will be no cakewalk.

“There is still much fighting ahead, and there will assuredly be more dark days,” Gate said at a press conference Tuesday with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, in Kabul. But there is reason to be hopeful that Afghan and coalition forces can rout the hardest elements of the Taliban and establish security for the rest of the population, he said.

“Looking forward," Gates said, "there are grounds for optimism as our countries pursue what President Karzai has called an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned initiative to ensure peace and stability.”

IJC Operational Update, March 9

Afghanistan - In Khowst last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the village of Galyan, in the Sabari District after intelligence information indicated militant activity.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.09.2010
Posted: 03.09.2010 02:57

KABUL, Afghanistan - During the search the joint team captured a Haqqani commander, the military leader of a substantial number of fighters responsible for planning and executing attacks against coalition forces throughout the district. Several other insurgents were captured during the search.

The assault force also found several automatic rifles.

In the Washir District of Helmand province an Afghan-international security force searched a compound in a rural area, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban commander, responsible for multiple attacks against coalition forces and Afghan citizens, and a few other insurgents.

In a separate Helmand operation, a joint security force stopped a vehicle near Gorazan in the Washir district after intelligence indicated militant activity. During a search of the vehicle the force detained two suspected insurgents.

In the Garm Ser District of Helmand, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the village of Fatehjang Ziarat after intelligence information indicated militant activity.

During a search of the buildings the combined force detained several suspected insurgents.

In Kandahar last night, a joint security force searched a compound in the town of Sonjaray, in the Zharay District after intelligence information indicated militant activity. While searching the compound the force detained a few suspected insurgents for further questioning.

In other operations yesterday, a joint security force found a weapons cache in an abandoned compound in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand. The cache contained 15 rocket-propelled grenade warheads and 1,100 rounds of 7.62mmammunition. The cache was destroyed.

Another joint force in the same district searched a suspected insurgent site and found 25 bags of ammonium chloride and various Afghan documents. Afghans in the area said the shop had been closed for several months. The ammonium chloride was destroyed and the documents were seized.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 8, 2010

From fighters to fixers: Marines woo villagers

Yesterday I wrote a piece for Afghanistan Crossroads touching on the main challenge facing the coalition now that the fighting in Marjah has come to an end: winning over the local population.


March 8th, 2010
Posted by: CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman

Today, Monday, we saw first hand what that means. We went to the rough base of the Charlie Company to join a patrol heading to the village of Nasiri, outside Marjah. Mad-dogs, Englishmen and the Marines go out in the midday sun.

The purpose of the patrol was not to engage in combat with the Taliban, however. It was essentially a social call, intended to build relationships between the Marines and the people around Marjah.

After trudging through muddy fields (some growing opium) and jumping (with packs and flak jackets) across irrigation canals, we came upon a group of farmers taking a tea break.

Twenty-two-year-old patrol leader Jerrod St. Orge greeted the farmers through his translator, and explained he wanted to meet the village elders to discuss their concerns. St. Orge was accompanied by 2nd Lt. George Russo, a Marine civil affairs officer.

“Can we continue to grow opium?” one of the farmers asked Russo.

He hesitated for a moment. “Yes, you can, but we’ll try to find you alternatives to opium as soon as possible,” he replied.

The farmers told Russo their irrigation canals needed repairs, that they needed new pumps, that they wanted schools to be built, they wanted electricity and they wanted more jobs for the people of the village.

Their wish list was long. The Marines have money to compensate for war damage to civilian infrastructure and to fund small local projects. At some point, however, real aid agencies will become involved, in addition to the Afghan government.

But in this day in Nasiri, the only representatives of the Afghan government, so to speak, were the 10 Afghan Army soldiers accompanying the Marines.

I found it ironic that the Marines, the same men who just a few weeks ago had been fighting, were now in the business of reconstruction.

Russo is bemused as well. An architect, he then became a Marine. “First I studied to build, then I was trained to destroy,” he told me. “And now I’m doing this.”

With their base — a dusty outpost next to an irrigation canal and a field of opium — on the edges of Marjah, the Marines patrol the area on a daily basis. Our patrol was one of the least tense I’ve ever seen either here or in Iraq. Villagers weren’t ordered to keep a distance or go away, kids trailed along, the Marines had learned a bit of Pashtu, the kids a bit of English so there was constant banter, none of it hostile. The Marines took advantage of their outing to buy potatoes to supplement their rations, along with cartons of cigarettes.

This kind of close contact, Russo says, helps in the transformation of their role from fighters to fixers. “We’re the ones there, up front, working day in and day out with these people, so they know more than some of the big agencies that work from a planning room.”

Training, Investment Create Sustainable Afghan Army

Training and financial investment are critical to helping Afghanistan's security forces become self-sufficient, a senior participant in the effort said.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Story by Ian Graham
Date: 03.08.2010
Posted: 03.08.2010 09:38


Army Brig. Gen. Gary Patton, the deputy commanding general for programs with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, shared his insights during a March 6 "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable on how U.S. and NATO forces are supporting the training and growth of Afghan security forces.

Patton has direct oversight of Afghan army programs and is responsible for generating and sustaining them. By integrating infrastructure construction, equipment procurement and training contracts, Patton said, he provides the Afghan army the tools it needs to reach self-sufficiency.

"What I'm doing is generating the new units with equipment, with basing, and combine that with the training piece," Patton said.

Patton used his experiences in Iraq -- comparing his observations from deployments early in the war and deployments later in the war -- to illustrate the kind of growth he wants to see in Afghan self-sufficiency.

During a deployment in Ramadi, Iraq, Patton said, he didn't have much support in the form of Iraqi military or police officers. While deployed to Tikrit during his second Iraq tour in 2006 and 2007, he said, he saw quite a bit more support from Iraqis. Now, he said, his mission is to help Afghanistan move to a point of self-sufficiency the way he saw it happen in Iraq.

So far, he said, significant progress is evident toward that goal. In eastern Afghanistan, 82nd Airborne Division soldiers are embedded with the 201st and 203rd Afghan army corps. The units live, eat, sleep and work together in the field as one combined force.

"The 82nd and their subordinate units literally are embedded and intermingled with their Afghan partners at every level, starting with the corps, the brigade and all the way down to the platoon," Patton said. "It's a pretty remarkable and efficient form of partnership. We're generating Afghan army units at a pretty rapid pace."

But no matter how well recruiting is going, Patton noted, growing the Afghan army will fall short of its goal without experienced officers. That's where partnerships such as the one in which the 82nd is engaged come in handy, he said.

"What you don't get when you generate units at such a rapid pace is leader development, because it takes a lot longer to develop a leader rather than a soldier from a recruit," he said. "What you get from the partnership and combined action is the role-modeling of the U.S. soldiers and U.S. Marines. ... You get leadership by example. A big part of leader development of our Afghans is just being connected at the hip with their coalition partner."

A major way U.S. and NATO forces are helping to create a sustainable military in Afghanistan is to take an "Afghan-first approach" to supplying the Afghan army, Patton said. First, they'll direct funds to Afghan industry to build the army.

"We're going to invest about $1.5 billion in the local economy this year, in buying sustainment and equipment items for the Afghan army and police," Patton said. "We're buying [equipment] on the local economy, and what that does is create jobs."

That money will buy things such as boots, poncho liners, blankets, web gear, socks and T-shirts. Patton said a recent review of contracts found that, for example, six out of seven U.S. and NATO boot contracts had required boots to be imported.

As a result, the general said, those contracts were eliminated and resources were directed to bolster the Afghan manufacturing industry. This assists in the mission, he explained, because it gives the local population confidence in the way their country is run.

"Now, all of the boots for the Afghan army will be made in Afghanistan by Afghans," he said. "It's important, because ... that's a lot of jobs. An Afghan that has a job is less likely to be an Afghan getting recruited by an insurgent or the Taliban."

Helmand Will Serve As Template, NATO Official Says

Operations in Helmand province will serve as a template for future operations elsewhere in Afghanistan, NATO's senior civilian representative here said today.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.08.2010
Posted: 03.08.2010 07:44

Ambassador Mark Sedwill, who served as British ambassador to Afghanistan, said the operation is different from others in three basic ways. The first, he said, is that from its inception, NATO's regional commander, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, and his Afghan counterparts planned the operation "from the end-game backwards."

"And the end-game is the civilian delivery of governance and development," Sedwill said.

The second difference, Sedwill said, is the integration of Afghan and coalition forces. The operation was authorized and led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his team, the people of Helmand wanted the operation to proceed, far more Afghan troops are on the ground, and the Afghan government has led the effort totally, he noted.

The third difference is the integration between the provincial and national governments, he said. National ministries have been intimately involved with the planning and allocation of resources to the effort, Sedwill said. Karzai traveled to Helmand and held a meeting with the elders of the province yesterday.

As the effort in Helmond transitions into the "hold and build" portion of the strategy, some quick projects already have begun. Bazaars, schools and clinics are re-opening, and money is flowing to clear irrigation ditches. "All this is just to get normal life moving again," Sedwill explained.

The government also is totally revamping the police in the province. "One of the reasons the Taliban [were] able to control this area was the police had, in effect, been captured by some local warlords who were using them against the population," Sedwill said. "The people told Karzai that they would not accept the old police force, and in fact said they would fight again should that be the case.

"It is absolutely critical that policing, in particular, delivers what the people of the area require: honest and decent policemen," he added.

The answer was to bring the Civil Order Police into the region, and they will stay there for months, the ambassador said, while new local police are recruited and trained.

Because many of the same problems exist elsewhere in the country, Sedwill noted, the experiences in Marja and Helmand are transferrable. "Dealing with those political issues ... is going to be a big part of how we are going to shape the campaign as we bring it forward," he said.

McChrystal Details Lessons of Marjah Offensive

The Taliban flag no longer flies over Marja, and the operations in the central region of Helmand province have lessons for the rest of Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country said today.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.08.2010
Posted: 03.08.2010 07:47


Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and Ambassador Mark Sedwill #150; NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan #150; spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at International Security Assistance Force headquarters here.

The Marja operation is a tactical and operational effort to liberate 75,000 Afghans from Taliban tyranny, the general said. "There was a Taliban flag flying over the place," McChrystal said. "There was also extensive narco-trafficking and production in the area."

The military part of the operation in the region is not over, but the high-profile part of security operations is, the general said. Following the strategy of "clear, hold, build and transfer," the clear portion of the operation will continue for months, he said. "But we have essentially gotten control of the area now, and we have begun moving into the next phase #150; the hold and build," McChrystal said.

Establishing effective government control in the region is key to success as the operation continues, he said. The governmental part of the operation concentrates on the people and allows the national government to show its leadership in a critical area. It also telegraphs where the military and government will move next.

"Many people talk about Kandahar," McChrystal said. "We are absolutely going to secure Kandahar. We are already doing a lot of operations in Kandahar, but it is our intent under [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai's direction to make an even greater effort there."

Operations in Kandahar will be different from those in Marja, McChrystal said. Some 30,000 coalition troops already are in and around the city, he said, but more are needed. The general said Kandahar operations will be more like a rising tide than a D-Day invasion, and that he anticipates it will reach its zenith in the summer.

"Kandahar has not been under Taliban control; it's been under a menacing Taliban presence, particularly in the districts around it," McChrystal said. "We have put additional forces in the districts, and we will reinforce that over time." The general added that he anticipates a lot of "political shaping" of Kandahar in advance of any offensive in the city.

The operation in Marja has a strategic importance as well, McChrystal told reporters. "As it becomes a steppingstone to further ops," he said. "It's also a demonstration to the Afghan people, the international community, to the Pakistanis, and -- importantly -- to the Taliban as well, that things have changed."

Narcotics bankrolled the Taliban in Helmand. "Security is the way we attack the problem long-term," McChrystal said. "In my view, you can never reduce the [narcotics] problem until you get governance and rule of law there."

As the region becomes more secure, McChrystal said, officials are finding that drug lords are moving their operations elsewhere in the country. "As we expand security," he added, "it makes it more difficult to find places to relocate."

The operations in Helmand have proven the strategy works, McChrystal said. ISAF and its Afghan allies are not trying to bring the insurgents into a toe-to-toe battle, McChrystal said.

"We were trying to take Marja with no fight or as little fight as possible," he explained. "We want the Afghan people to see the approach of security does not necessarily mean there will be a set-piece battle in their neighborhood." The coalition wants the insurgents out of the area so the people can make the decision to reintegrate without pressure from the Taliban, he said.

Cultural aspects in the country really define the strategy, the general noted. "What I think we've learned ... is if you try to push against the culture, you have huge problems," he said. "So when we have military operations here, I don't think of pushing them somewhere. I think of pulling somewhere.

"In Marja, we were pulled in." he continued. "We launched the final operation as a result of a signed resolution by the [community council], asking us to do the operation. They pulled us in."

Marines' mothers turn Lititz red, white, blue

With springlike weather and many American flags flying, it looked more like Memorial Day in Lititz than a Sunday in early March.


Mar 08, 2010 00:02 EST

There were small flags stuck in window boxes and in flowerpots outside Main Street businesses and homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. The 8-inch-by-10-inch flags were among the 500 distributed by four Lititz-area mothers whose sons are serving in the U.S. Marines.

"We needed a way to channel our nervous energy into something positive," Linda Cunningham said of the effort, in which the women gave flags to their neighbors, along with letters asking them to display the flags Sunday.

Cunningham said the response has been overwhelming.

"I think we far exceeded what we hoped. We were just looking at our little neighborhoods," she said, but flags were flying in Ephrata, Manheim Township and elsewhere, she said.

"This is far bigger than our sons," she said.

Cunningham's son, Jonathon, is serving in Afghanistan. So is Pamela Harnish's son, Tyler Harris, and Penny Treadway's son, Dan. Kelly Newswanger's son, Ralph, is serving in Okinawa, Japan.

The four Marines were friends at Warwick High School and graduated together in 2008.

The sons are always in their mothers' thoughts. The flag initiative began as a way to remind others about all the men and women serving in the military.

"I think we get complacent with our freedoms here in the U.S.," Harnish said.

She said she seldom thought about those freedoms, or the men and women who protect them, until her own son was in uniform.

"I've had a kind of awakening. There are men and women every day putting their lives on the line so that we can live the kind of life we live," she said.

Treadway said she believes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are sometimes close to people's minds. "I think it kind of drifts in and out," she said of public attention to the wars, which have been ongoing since 2001 (Afghanistan) and 2003 (Iraq).

She said the flag initiative is a chance "just to renew and refresh in people's minds that we still have men and women serving."

Flags and yellow ribbons that show support for U.S. troops serving overseas fade and shred in the wind, she said. She hopes people will show their support by replacing tattered flags and flying them.

Treadway comes from a military family. She served in the Army; her older son, Edward, served two deployments as a Marine in Iraq.

She said she grew up with an American flag flying outside her house and continues that in front of her East New Street home today.

On Sunday, that flag was joined by many others on her neighbors' homes.

"It's an overwhelming feeling to know that there are so many people who do support the men and women over there," she said.

Newswanger said all the flags were quickly distributed by the other mothers. She distributed letters near her Brickerville home asking people to fly their own flags.

On Sunday, many did, she said.

"People were happy to do it," she said.

She said that many people have been supportive since her son, Ralph, joined the service nearly two years ago. Strangers have walked up to him to thank him, she said.

Cunningham said it is important for the troops to know that they are appreciated and remembered.

She said her son is in a very dangerous and stressful environment in Afghanistan. The landscape is desolate, and people have abandoned the area. Only the Taliban fighters remain, she said.

"Just having the memory that people at home are supporting him helps him to cope with being in a place that is so dangerous," Cunningham said.

"Just the knowledge that friends, family and community members are putting flags out with the specific goal of honoring their efforts is huge."

She said she and Harnish have talked about holding the flag day again next year -- even if their sons are back in the United States.

Although there are holidays, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, when military service is honored, she said those holidays have become more about having parades, picnics and family gatherings.

The March 7 event was a grass-roots effort.

"For this day, our goal was to send a special message for each and every one of those soldiers that we appreciate you and honor you for what you are doing to protect our country," she said.

Newswanger said she hopes people continue to fly their flags.

"Hopefully people keep them up, at least until the ones in Afghanistan return home," she said.

[email protected]

Gates Seeks 'Ground Truth' in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is visiting Afghanistan to get what he called the "ground truth" from service members.


Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 03.08.2010
Posted: 03.08.2010 07:50


Gates flew all night and landed at the international airport here. He immediately began a series of meetings with Afghan and NATO leaders.

"I hope to use this time to get out to some of the forward bases to thank the troops and talk with them," Gates said during an interview aboard the aircraft. "It's always interesting. I get briefings in the Pentagon about how things are going, and then I go out and visit an Army post or Air Force base and discover that they are living in a parallel universe. It will be good to get ground truth on some of these issues from the troops themselves."

Gates said he is going to Afghanistan "to get an update on the campaign not only in Marja, but [also on the] the next steps as we look to the spring and summer."

Marines and soldiers #150;accompanied by a significant number of Afghan security forces – are fighting the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies in Marja, a strategic area west of Kandahar. U.S. and Afghan forces announced months before the offensive into the area that they were coming. What's more, they pledged to clear the area of Taliban and then establish security so that development and governance could immediately follow.

The secretary said he also wants to examine efforts to counter the biggest killers of U.S. service members and Afghans: car, roadside and suicide bombs. He particularly wants to see how U.S. forces can help allies combat these threats.

Gates said he wants to see for himself that troops in Afghanistan are getting what they need, when they need it. "I want to get a picture on the ground from the other end of the force flow," he said, "and in particular, whether the equipment for the surge troops is arriving in a timely way."

He said he also is interested in checking on the timeliness of medical evacuation out of the country and the flow of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities into Afghanistan.

The secretary said he wants to speak with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about his visit to Marja and the community meetings he held there. He also hopes to speak with the president about Karzai hosting a "loya jurga" #150; a grand council of tribal leaders -- in April.

Gates said he sees no disagreement among nations regarding reconciliation and reintegration of former Taliban members and that he expects to learn more about the process in his visit to the country.

However, the secretary said, he suspects the Taliban will not be amenable to participating in a reconciliation process just yet. The Taliban still believe they are winning, he explained, though commanders #150; including Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the NATO and U.S. commander in the country #150; believe the Taliban momentum has been blunted. And this is happening with only 6,000 of the 30,000 new American troops having arrived in Afghanistan to date. All will be in the country by the end of August, Gates said. "We ought not get too impatient," the secretary said.

Once the Taliban realize the new NATO strategy is working, Gates said, many will see reconciliation and reintegration as options.

Meanewhile, Gates has adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude about efforts in Afghanistan. "There are bits and pieces of good news," he said. "I think we should stick to the McChrystal position #150; that the situation remains serious, but has stopped deteriorating. There are positive developments going on, but I would say it is very early yet, and I think people need to understand there are some very hard days ahead.

"The early signs are encouraging," he continued, "but I worry that people may get too impatient and think things are better than they actually are."

Gates also is going to check on the status of the more than 1,000 all-terrain mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles that are now in Afghanistan. He wants to hear from the troops how these vehicles are doing and what other things they need. He also wants to check on progress in an initiative to building a warehouse of capabilities to counter improvised explosive devices at the battalion level, he added.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad will be visiting Afghanistan this week too. The secretary said Iran is playing a double game in Afghanistan. Iranian leaders want to maintain good relations with their neighbor to the east, but they do not want the United States to be successful in Afghanistan, he explained.

Building governmental capacity is a key to success in Afghanistan, Gates noted, and he said he wants to find ways to better coordinate the efforts of provincial reconstruction teams to enhance the capacity of Afghan governmental structures. He wants to look at "how to make the development projects more Afghan-centric, and how do we use [the teams] to build capacity at the subnational and national level in Afghanistan," he said.

Operation Combats Insurgents, Uncovers Weapons

WASHINGTON - Afghan troops, assisted by coalition forces, cordoned and searched an insurgent supply route used to transport and harbor roadside bombs in Afghanistan's Helmand province late last week.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.08.2010
Posted: 03.08.2010 11:14

During the combined force's helicopter insertion, insurgents attacked the inbound aircraft with small-arms fire. While providing security for the combined force, helicopters and close-air support aircraft returned fire, killing two insurgents and allowing the force to land safely.

As the force began its movement on the objective area, attack helicopters identified and engaged five armed insurgents moving toward the force, wounding two. Commandos detained the two wounded insurgents and provided medical attention.

During a search of the area the force found and safely destroyed suicide vests, homemade explosives, rocket-propelled boosters, shaped charges and pressure-plate bombs.

As the mission continued, aerial scout teams and attack helicopters providing security for the force were engaged by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades from 11 insurgents. The helicopters returned fire without causing civilian causalities or damage to property.

Later, the force discovered a second cache hidden inside a mosque. The cache consisted of homemade explosives, pressure-plate bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun ammunition. The Afghan commandos were the only personnel to enter the mosque.

One insurgent leader was captured and is being held for questioning.

In operations, March 7:

-- Combined security forces searched compounds in Khost following reports of militant activity and detained several suspected insurgents for questioning. The search force also uncovered several rifles and a shotgun.

-- A security force in Nangarhar province captured a Taliban deputy commander. The force searched a compound after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search, a suspected militant fled and was wounded. He was pursued and apprehended by the force. The man identified himself as a Taliban deputy commander responsible for leading attacks and ambushes against coalition forces. He was treated for his wounds on the scene and was medically evacuated to a nearby base.

-- In another Nangarhar operation, a security team searched a compound and captured a Taliban weapons operator responsible for acquiring weapons and ammunition for militant cells and involved in ambushes against coalition troops.

-- A combined security force searched a compound in Paktika province when intelligence information confirmed militant activity. The force captured a terrorist cell subcommander responsible for ordering the killings of Afghan citizens who cooperated with the government. When directly confronted, the man identified himself and surrendered.

-- In Zabul province, a combined security force searched a compound and captured a Taliban weapons facilitator responsible for weapons and supply movements to various militant cells.

-- A security force searched a compound in Zabul after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force captured a Taliban facilitator who participated in attacks on coalition forces and runs an early warning system for various militant networks.

-- An Afghan civilian told forces about a weapons cache in Herat province. When a security force investigated the report, it found two rockets and detonation cord. The items were destroyed.

-- Afghan forces discovered a weapons cache in a cave in Kunar province consisting of assault rifle magazines with 1,440 rounds of ammunition.

-- In Paktika province, Afghan police worked with international forces to find a weapons cache consisting of 46 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, 191 high-explosives rounds, two white phosphorous rounds, 69 recoilless rifle rounds, 43 primers, 16 rocket-propelled grenade boosters, 34 assorted fuses, 88 cases of rounds, and assorted small-arms ammunition.

In operations March 6:

-- A force captured a Taliban weapons facilitator in Ghazni province. The man, responsible for supplying arms to various militant networks, was captured during the search of a compound.

-- A combined force discovered a weapons cache after receiving a tip from a resident in Helmand province. The cache consisted of four hand grenades, 76 boxes of rounds, 125 rounds of ammunition, two mortar fuses and other munitions. They were destroyed on site.

-- A combined force searched a compound in Kandahar province after getting reports of militant activity. During the operation a few suspected militants were detained, one of whom was identified as a Taliban subcommander responsible for controlling weapons caches and explosive attacks.

-- A force found a weapons cache in Kandahar province that had six homemade bombs, each containing 40 to 60 pounds of homemade explosives, a 20-pound jug of homemade explosives and small-arms ammunition. The cache was destroyed.

-- In Farah province, an engineer patrol found seven Russian cluster bombs. The weapons will be destroyed.

In operations March 5:

-- An insurgent commander was killed while attempting to plant a homemade bomb in Helmand province.

-- Afghan forces operating with international forces in Kandahar province discovered a weapons cache including a rocket-propelled grenade, three grenades, a jug filled with various types of small-arms ammunition, multiple assault rifle magazines and a blasting cap.

IJC Operational Update, March 8

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in a rural area northeast of Khowst City, in the Sabari District of Khowst province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained a few suspected insurgents for further questioning.


Courtesy Story
Date: 03.08.2010
Posted: 03.08.2010 02:31

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in a rural area northeast of Khowst City, in the Sabari District of Khowst province, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained a few suspected insurgents for further questioning.

In another operation in Khowst last night, a joint security force searched a series of compounds outside the village of Ya qubi, in the Sabari District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the searches the security force detained two suspected insurgents for further questioning. The search force also uncovered several rifles and a shotgun.

A Taliban deputy commander was captured by an Afghan-international security force in Nangarhar province last night. A joint force searched a compound outside the village of Sanganay, in the Khogyani District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search a suspected militant fled and was wounded.

He was pursued and apprehended by the joint force.

The militant identified himself as a Taliban deputy commander responsible for leading attacks and ambushes against coalition forces.

He was treated for his wounds on the scene and medically evacuated to a nearby base.

In another Nangarhar operation last night, a joint security team searched a compound in the village of Adowr, in the Khogyani District after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban weapons facilitator responsible for acquiring weapons and ammunition for militant cells and involved in ambushes against coalition troops.

In Paktika province last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the village of Mohammad Kor, in the Orgun District, when intelligence information confirmed militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Haqqani sub-commander responsible for ordering the killings of Afghan citizens who cooperated with the government. When directly confronted, the Haqqani commander identified himself and surrendered.

In Zabul province last night, a joint security force searched a compound in Jarollah, a village in the Qalat district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force captured a Taliban weapons facilitator responsible for
weapons and supply movements to various militant cells.

In a Zabul operation yesterday, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound in northeast Qalat City, in Qalat District, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security force captured a Taliban facilitator who participated in attacks on coalition forces and runs an early warning system for various militant networks.

In other operations, an Afghan civilian told ISAF forces about a weapons cache in the Shindand District of Herat province yesterday.

When a security force investigated the report it found two 107mm rockets and detonation cord. The items were destroyed.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 7, 2010

Signs of life return to an Afghan ghost town

A campaign has begun to lure residents back to war-ravaged Now Zad in Helmand province, with Marine and Afghan guards posted 24 hours a day to ward off Taliban attacks.

Reporting from Now Zad, Afghanistan — Under a late winter sky, surrounded by mountains left verdant by recent rain showers, is one of Afghanistan's spookiest-looking and most dangerous places: the once-vibrant but now war-ravaged and virtually empty city of Now Zad.


By Tony Perry
March 7, 2010

For decades, it was among Helmand province's largest and most prosperous cities, thanks at least in part to the profitable opium poppy crop grown by local farmers, many of whom are sharecroppers.

Dozens of shops, numerous schools, government offices and mud-built homes for 25,000-plus residents were arrayed in a crowded pattern that resembled the Western idea of a city. One bakery produced 1,200 loaves of stone-baked bread daily; the main school had 2,500 students.

But residents fled four years ago amid fighting between the Taliban and the U.S.-led coalition. Only howling dogs remained.

The Taliban, seizing the city as a buffer against U.S.-led forces to the south, swooped in and planted hundreds of roadside bombs to block their enemy from using the streets to mount an advance or to set up more than a tiny outpost.

In the middle of last year, 200 Marines assaulted the Taliban in Now Zad and an encampment north of the city, but the result was a stalemate. Then, in December, the Marines launched a new assault, this time with 1,000 troops and several 70-ton assault breacher vehicles to clear a path through the buried bombs.

After several days of fighting, the Taliban dispersed. The Marines and Afghan soldiers and police moved cautiously into Now Zad.

Now there is a campaign to lure the residents back with promises of security, healthcare and schools. A few thousand have returned and Marines and Afghan forces have posted 24-hour guards in a city where nearly all the structures show the ravages of bitter war and harsh winter weather.

"There is no place like Now Zad," said Michael Ronning, a U.S. foreign service officer and Agency for International Development official, noting that the city's history makes it unique among the communities where the U.S. is attempting to persuade the population to turn on the Taliban.

The threat of bombs remains high despite the efforts of Afghan contractors, paid by the U.S., to find and dig up the explosives. Large areas remain off-limits, red-tagged as too dangerous while the slow work of de-mining continues, giving the city the look of a ghost town.

Eleven members of a family were killed by an explosion Feb. 28 just a few blocks from their home. That day, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro was visiting U.S. troops in Now Zad.

Despite some setbacks, U.S. officials present Now Zad as a story of how a more-aggressive use of military power, backed by a well-organized reconstruction effort, can wrest control of former Taliban strongholds. More VIP visits are expected.

Although Now Zad is nothing like it was before 2006, there are encouraging signs, including a willingness by early returnees to defy the Taliban, officials said.

A health clinic has opened, with a midwife. A school, for boys and girls, is open. Some shops in the main bazaar are selling goods again.

The Taliban is no longer inside the city limits, but fighters can strike on the surrounding roads. Marines based in Twentynine Palms, Calif., provide security in the city and constantly patrol the surrounding foothills.

And five Marines from Camp Pendleton, assigned as part of a "female engagement team," are hoping to arrange classes and outreach for women. But first they need to convince the women's husbands of their good intentions. "The men are curious, at least they haven't said no," Cpl. Christina Arana said.

In many Helmand province communities, having boys and girls in the same school is unthinkable because it might draw an attack by the Taliban. Nawa, for example, has 11 public schools, but none enroll girls. In Now Zad, the school is open to all, but girls and boys are in separate classrooms.

"I'm not sure what victory looks like, but I think it looks like this," said Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson as he looked at a classroom where giggling girls read from spelling books provided by UNICEF.

[email protected]

Afghanistan’s President Receives a Mixed Reception in a Visit to Newly Won Marja

MARJA, Afghanistan — Once a Taliban refuge, Marja has come a long way since the Marines invaded four weeks ago, so much so that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, arrived Sunday with top American and Afghan officials to speak to several hundred residents crammed inside a mosque.


Published: March 7, 2010

But the visit made clear how much further there was to go if the people of Marja were ever to throw their loyalty behind the Afghan government.

On his visit to Marja, Mr. Karzai tried his best to play to the crowd, and appeared to win it over on occasion with his crisp and simple language, spoken in the accent of his native Kandahar, the neighboring province.

But residents made it painfully clear that his government was despised here for the corrupt, violent officials who preyed on Marja for much of the past decade before the Taliban arrived.

In fact, residents say, the depredations of government officials here largely explain why the Taliban and their more effective administration of power and justice became so dominant in Marja in the first place.

“We will tell you that the warlords who ruled us for the past eight years, those people whose hands are red with the people’s blood, those people who killed hundreds — they are still ruling over this nation,” Hajji Abdul Aziz, a leading elder of Marja, said, referring not to the Taliban but to government officials. “The people here could not dare to mention their problems.”

“For so many years there were only promises,” he added, shaking his finger at Mr. Karzai as he spoke on behalf of the people of Marja, “and the people have run out of patience.”

Mr. Aziz and others — some shouting at Mr. Karzai — recounted past abuses by the Afghan government now vying for credibility in Marja, including the case of a young boy plucked off the street and raped and imprisoned by local officials.

And they outlined newer complaints: Innocent farmers arrested by the Americans. No doctors. Destroyed irrigation canals. Schools and homes taken over by American troops. Other homes wrecked.

“You have said on the radio that you want our children to be educated,” Mr. Aziz said. “But how could we educate our children when their schools are turned into military bases? The Taliban never built their military bases in the schools.”

But Mr. Karzai warned against shunning the Americans, saying the country would fall under the influence of neighboring states.

“We need their help to rebuild ourselves,” he said. “As soon as we rebuild ourselves they will leave.”

A man shouted from the crowd, “Are they promising to leave?”

“They would leave now, but we are holding them back,” Mr. Karzai said, drawing laughter.

Though he was a punching bag for every manner of complaint, Mr. Karzai energized the crowd, some of whom stared at the president wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He even managed on occasion to turn the complaints to his favor.

When a police officer brusquely told an older man to sit and calm down, Mr. Karzai barked at him: “Let him say whatever he wants. Don’t touch him. Don’t bother him.” He ordered the officer out of the mosque.

At one point, he asked the assembly, “Are you going to stand beside me?” And the crowd cheered.

One unifying presence appeared to be the newly appointed district chief of Marja, Hajji Abdul Zahir. Revelations in recent days that Mr. Zahir reportedly served time in a German prison for stabbing his stepson did not appear to be an issue for the Marja residents who, despite their dislike of the government, praised Mr. Zahir.

“You represent the entirety of Marja,” Mr. Karzai told the crowd, then asked, “You are happy with him?” The crowd cheered in response; no one appeared to dissent.

Mr. Zahir continued to deny that he was ever convicted of attempted manslaughter in Germany, calling the charge “absolute lies.”

The American-led NATO military command in Afghanistan continues to support Mr. Zahir so long as his boss, Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province, supports him as well.

NATO commanders have not taken any steps to remove Mr. Zahir or to press the Afghan government to remove him, said Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the NATO command in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

“We’re happy with the job he has done because his boss is happy with the job he has done,” Colonel Breasseale said, referring to Mr. Zahir and Governor Mangal.

Sangar Rahimi reported from Marja, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Kabul, Afghanistan.

IJC Operational Update March 7

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan-international force captured a Taliban weapons facilitator in Ghazni province last night.


Courtesy Story
Date: 03.07.2010
Posted: 03.07.2010 05:08

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan-international force captured a Taliban weapons facilitator in Ghazni province last night.

The weapons facilitator, responsible for supplying arms to various militant networks, was captured during the search of a compound outside the village of Khanzama Kheyl, Qara Bagh district.

In a separate operation, a joint Afghan-international force discovered a weapons cache after receiving a tip from a resident in Dishu district, Helmand province yesterday.

The cache consisted of four hand grenades, 76 boxes of 14.5 mm rounds, 125 rounds of 12.7 mm ammunition, two mortar fuses and other munitions. They were destroyed on site.

No shots were fired and no Afghan citizens were harmed during the operation.

March 6, 2010

Afghan Drug Trade Complicates U.S. Task in Marjah

The impetus for the U.S.-led assault on Marjah began one moonless night last May when a squad of American and Afghan anti-narcotics agents, backed by U.S. Marines, slipped through the town's empty streets and raided the Lachoya opium bazaar.


By Tim McGirk / Kabul Saturday, Mar. 06, 2010

rashing open shutters, they found shop after shop stacked to the ceiling with bundles of opium, heroin, hashish, guns and improvised explosive devices used in roadside bombings. "If anybody needed proof that there was a nexus between the Taliban and drug traffickers, this was it," says a Western counter-narcotics agent in Kabul.

Marjah was at the center of a dozen international drug networks reaching as far as Europe, Russia and the Far East. When the haul was later tallied — 18 tons of opium, 1 ton of hashish, and 46 kilos of pure, crystal heroin — it was probably the largest drug seizure on record, anywhere.

Not surprisingly, the raid displeased the town's drug lords and their Taliban protectors. They rushed to Lachoy bazaar and kept the U.S. and Afghan drug force pinned down under fire for four days, say counter-narcotics agents in Kabul.

Unlike that raid, NATO's 15,000-troop assault on the town last month was no secret. Alliance commanders had broadcast news of the planned attack to give civilians time to get out of the way. The drawback of the U.S. and its allies telegraphing their intentions was predictable: Three months ago, locals told TIME, every drug trafficker dismantled his labs, grabbed what remained of his stash, and slipped away. "We knew this was going to happen," griped one drug expert. "To catch these guys, you need the element of surprise." (See pictures of British soldiers in Afghanistan.)

Having captured the town, NATO and Afghan officials face a quandary that, if mishandled, could jeopardize the operation's goal of turning Marjah's people against the Taliban. Local farmers are just a month away from harvesting the area's primary crop, opium poppy. Playing by the rules, the crop should be destroyed, but such an action could swiftly turn the local population against the Western alliance, and the "government in a box" they brought to Marjah. Says one farmer, Mohammd Rahim Khan, "I spent lots of money on my field and so did my neighbors. If the government officials destroy the fields, nearly all the people will rise against them." That's why, according to highly placed Afghan officials, U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal opposes wiping out this particular poppy harvest. (See pictures of Person of the Year 2009 runner-up General Stanley McChrystal.)

McChrystal is expected to win the argument. Concedes one western drug expert in Kabul, "We just can't go in and burn down their fields."

But some Western counter-narcotics officials in Afghanistan would like to do precisely that, offering the Marjah farmers payment for the loss of their opium poppy crop. But as one drug expert complains, "You'd be rewarding criminality." He adds: "These people knew about the offensive and they planted the crop anyway. They wanted to make a profit."

These counter-narcotics officials point out that other swathes of eastern Afghanistan have been cleared of opium poppy without igniting revolt. They also argue that if the poppy is allowed to ripen, wily drug traffickers will find ways of harvesting it even if Marjah is ringed by 5,000 Marines. Says Gretchen Peters, author and expert on Taliban drug ties with traffickers: ""Counter-narcotics, just like counterinsurgency, is like playing the arcane game of whack-a-mole. You knock it out in one place and it pops up somewhere else."

Marjah's poppy planters, for their part, insist they had no choice but to plant. The Taliban, some say, told them to grow the crop to fund the insurgency. But farmer Khan disagrees. "Nobody forced us," he insists. It's simple economics: Opium pays far better than the wheat and grapes that Marjah's farmers used to grow. The same goes for the Taliban, of course. According to U.N. experts, the insurgents last year reaped nearly $300 million from the drug trade, though Afghan officials put the figure far lower, at between $80-100 million. (Watch TIME's video "The Challenge on the Ground in Afghanistan.)

"Even if it's 'only' $80 million, that's still enough to fuel the insurgency for a year," says one counter-narcotics agent. And nearly all of the Taliban's drug profits came from Helmand province, and from Marjah in particular, an area experts say is probably the world's biggest illegal producer of opium poppies.

The local drug lords make themselves inconspicuous in the town. Marjah has no gaudy narco-mansions — Afghan drug lords build their palaces, and bank their money, in Dubai — and there are none of the vicious turf wars that characterize the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. "There's enough to go around for everybody," says one Western drug agent who visited Marjah.

In Marjah, Taliban commanders had a hand in every facet of drug operations, according to agents. They collected a tithe from farmers (as do corrupt government officials in other areas); at harvest time, Taliban fighters put down their AK-47s and help in the poppy fields; they guard heroin labs and ride shotgun on smugglers' convoys across trackless deserts into Pakistan and Iran. Says Gen. Daoud Daoud, the Interior Ministry's chief of Counter-Narcotics, "The Taliban are involved in international networks, along with Iranians, Pakistanis, Tajiks and Germans."

Having decided to flee ahead of NATO's arrival in town, some of the traffickers — locals and drug experts believe— fled south to Pakistan's empty Baluchistan desert, while others are holed up in the nearby mountains of Musa Qala and the rest de-camped to Nimruz province, along a major smuggling route.

Fresh challenges await McChrystal's plans to bring good governance to Marjah. The drug traffickers can still flash around large wads of cash, and it may be difficult for some Afghan officials, newly arrived in town with their slender wage packets, to resist a bribe. Farmer Khan has noticed that in the past, "when there is no Taliban, the government men are taking money from the smugglers to help them move drugs across the border."

Some locals fear an upsurge in confrontation in the weeks ahead. Says Shaistah Gul, "When the trees and fields get greener and bigger, the Taliban will show themselves again, and the Americans will start their raids. It will be hard for us."

With reporting by Muhib Habibi/Kandahar

Letting Women Reach Women In Afghan War

The Marines in a recent “cultural awareness” class scribbled careful notes as the instructor coached them on do’s and don’ts when talking to villagers in Afghanistan: Don’t start by firing off questions, do break the ice by playing with the children, don’t let your interpreter hijack the conversation.


Published: March 6, 2010

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The Marines in a recent “cultural awareness” class scribbled careful notes as the instructor coached them on do’s and don’ts when talking to villagers in Afghanistan: Don’t start by firing off questions, do break the ice by playing with the children, don’t let your interpreter hijack the conversation.

And one more thing: “If you have a pony tail,” said Marina Kielpinski, the instructor, “let it go out the back of your helmet so people can see you’re a woman.”

These are not your mother’s Marines here in the rugged California chaparral of Camp Pendleton, where 40 young women are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in one of the more forward-leaning experiments of the American military.

Next month they will begin work as members of the first full-time “female engagement teams,” the military’s name for four- and five-member units that will accompany men on patrols in Helmand Province to try to win over the rural Afghan women who are culturally off limits to outside men. The teams, which are to meet with the Afghan women in their homes, assess their need for aid and gather intelligence, are part of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s campaign for Afghan hearts and minds. His officers say that you cannot gain the trust of the Afghan population if you only talk to half of it.

“We know we can make a difference,” said Capt. Emily Naslund, 26, the team’s executive officer and second in command. Like the other 39 women, Captain Naslund volunteered for the program and radiates exuberance, but she is not naïve about the frustrations and dangers ahead. Half of the women have been deployed before, most to Iraq.

“We all know that what you expect is not usually what it’s going to end up being,” said Sgt. Melissa Hernandez, 35, who signed on because she wanted something different from her office job at Camp Victory, the American military headquarters in Baghdad.

As envisioned, the teams will work like American politicians who campaign door to door and learn what voters care about. A team is to arrive in a village, get permission from the male elder to speak with the women, settle into a compound, hand out school supplies and medicine, drink tea, make conversation and, ideally, get information about the village, local grievances and the Taliban.

Whatever the outcome, the teams reflect how much the military has adapted over nine years of war, not only in the way it fights but to the shifting gender roles within its ranks. Women make up only 6 percent of the Marine Corps, which cultivates an image as the most testosterone-fueled service, and they are still officially barred from combat branches like the infantry.

But in a bureaucratic sleight of hand, used by both the Army and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan when women have been needed for critical jobs like bomb disposal or intelligence, the female engagement teams are to be “attached” to all-male infantry units within the First Marine Expeditionary Force — a source of pride and excitement for them.

“When I heard about this, I said, Oh, that’s it, let’s go,” said Cpl. Vanessa Jones, 25.

The idea for the teams grew out of the “Lioness” program in Iraq, which used female Marines to search Iraqi women at checkpoints. Over the past year in Afghanistan, the Army and Marines have assembled ad hoc female engagement teams, but the women were hastily pulled from work as cooks or engineers.

The women at Pendleton are among the first to be trained exclusively for the mission. “Every Marine wants to go outside the wire,” said Cpl. Michele Greco-Lucchina, 22, referring to assignments off the base. “We all join for different reasons, but that’s the basis for being a Marine.”

The women said they were not looking for combat and would work in areas largely cleared of militants. But in a war with no front lines, to be prepared for ambushes and snipers, they have taken an extended combat-training refresher course.

On patrols, the women will carry M-4 rifles, which are shorter and more maneuverable than the military’s standard M-16s, but once inside an Afghan compound, and with Marine guards posted outside, they have been instructed, assuming they feel safe, to remove their rifles and take off their intimidating “battle rattle” of helmets and body armor.

They have also been told to be sensitive to local custom and to wear head scarves under their helmets or, if that is too hot and unwieldy, to keep the scarves around their necks and use them to cover their heads once their helmets are off inside.

Marines who have worked with the ad hoc teams in Afghanistan said that rural Afghan women, rarely seen by outsiders, had more influence in their villages than male commanders might think, and that the Afghan women’s good will could make Afghans, both men and women, less suspicious of American troops.

Capt. Matt Pottinger, an intelligence officer based in the capital, Kabul, who helped create and train the first engagement team in Afghanistan, recently wrote that when one of the teams visited a village in southern Afghanistan, a gray-bearded man opened his home to the women by saying, “Your men come to fight, but we know the women are here to help.”

The man also sheepishly admitted, Captain Pottinger wrote in Small Wars Journal, an online publication, that the women were “good for my old eyes.”

Rural Afghan women, who meet at wells and pass news about the village, are often repositories of information about a district’s social fabric, power brokers and militants, all crucial data for American forces. On some occasions, Captain Pottinger said in an e-mail message, women have provided information about specific insurgents and the makers of bombs.

As part of their conversations with Afghan women, the Marines are to ask basic questions, including what is the most difficult problem facing the village. The answers will go into a database to guide the military and aid workers. As Ms. Kielpinski, the instructor, told the Marines, “If the population has told you that their biggest problem is irrigation and your unit does something about it, that’s a huge success.”

For now, the Marines remain apprehensive about the unknowns they will encounter. Capt. Claire Henry, 27, the top commander of the team, said she worried, like any officer, about her responsibilities to the women working under her. “You’re about to take Marines into harm’s way,” she said, “and at the end of the day you want to make sure you give them the right training and that they’re physically and mentally prepared for it.”

Right to Bear Arms: Ordnance Marines Arm MAG-40

CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The ordnance technicians for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 "Scarface," Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, sat and waited for the troops-in-contact call, and when it came, without hesitation, they sprinted through the gravel toward the helicopter landing zones to arm aircraft and get them back into action for combat operations in Marjah.


Marine Aircraft Group 40 RSS
Story by Cpl. Samuel Nasso
Date: 03.06.2010
Posted: 03.06.2010 01:53

"The tempo will definitely be higher," said Sgt. Terence Boyle, a Scarface ordnance technician, days before the assault. "We are as prepared as we can be though."

With thousands of Marines and coalition forces in Marjah for Operation Moshtarak, the ordnance section has been able to rearm aircraft in a matter of minutes using the flight line here.

"The Marines in the ordnance division responded perfectly in the last two days," said
Boyle. "While supporting a 24-hour flight schedule, both day crew and night crew Marines fell back on their training and performed weapon system checks, reconfiguring of the aircrafts' ordnance and countless hours of preventive maintenance on all of the AH-1W weapons systems."

Though they didn't prepare any differently, they take pride in being involved with a major operation like Operation Moshtarak.

"I feel that the difference we have made is not just the physical aspect of what we do, these aircraft are made for CAS and when Marines and other forces are in need of it, we respond within minutes to help neutralize the threat," said Boyle. "We also, in many ways, protect the Marines on the ground merely with our presence in the air. By using the aircraft as a show of force, we can help keep Marines safe. And by not even firing a round, we also show the people of Afghanistan that we are not here to harm everyone, but to help."
Operation Moshtarak

Early Marine Marathon registration begins

Military eligible to register at discount before public

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Mar 6, 2010 8:38:28 EST

If you want a leg up on fellow runners, active-duty and reserve service members can register now for the 35th Marine Corps Marathon at a 15 percent discount.

To continue reading:


March 5, 2010

Afghanistan-bound Marines use assets to engage IEDs

Combat engineers and a company of attached tankers with 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion wrapped up a week-long mission rehearsal exercise here Feb. 28.


3/5/2010 By Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly , Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

The self-sustained exercise marked the first battalion-level field exercise since the unit was reactivated in 2009, and the final stages of training for their upcoming deployment this spring.

“The MRX enables the Marines of 3rd CEB to train to and be evatuated on their core engineer functions of mobility, counter mobility and survivability in support of the MAGTF,” said 1st Lt. Craig A. Zoellner, the adjutant for 3rd CEB.

The training was focused to support two main tasks, Route Reconaissance and Clearance [R2C] and mechanized breaching operations. In theatre these tasks will be essential to ensure the freedom of movement for friendly forces within an area of operation.

One enabler utilized in the R2C mission are dogs. The dogs, which began their service during World War II, possess a keen sense of smell which enables Marines to safely search for and locate IEDs in both larger and more complex areas in a shorter amount of time.

The dogs are used to detect the device by literally using their noses to hunt down the IEDs, explained 2nd Lt. Marcelo Garcia, 3rd CEB’s counter-IED officer, and a native of Severna Park, Md.

“Having dogs internal to CEB helps the mission a lot because the dogs can smell small things we may have missed or where [Husky Towing, Mine Detection Vehicle and Mounted Detection Systems] can’t get to,” said Lance Cpl. Chad M. Specht, a dog handler and machine gunner with 2nd Platoon, Company A, 3rd CEB, and a native of Cheyenne, Wyo. “Having the dogs makes us more effective in route clearance.”

In addition to handling the dogs, the route clearance patrols ensure surveillance and security for the roads, Garcia said.

“Route clearance is important in our Afghanistan mission because we are the lead element to allow follow on forces to reach their objective; we provide road security so logistics trains can get from point A to point B,” said 1st Lt. David A. Sierleja, 2nd Platoon’s commander. “We have to be able to detect the presence of IEDs and be able to neutralize those IEDs while eliminating all enemy threats located around the routes we are going to clear.”

The Mentor, Ohio native, went on to explain the engineers did that by employing the Huskies to detect the threat, then using a category three Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle with a modified arm, dubbed a “Buffalo,” to interrogate the threat. Once a threat has been determined to be an IED, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams embedded with the battalion neutralize and exploit it.

“The idea of route clearance has been around and isn’t new to CEB, but at this level with this many platoons working exclusively and independently to clear routes, it’s a whole new mission for us,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert D. Ogle, the platoon sergeant for 2nd Plt., Co. A, 3rd CEB, and a native of Sevierville, Tenn.

First Tank Battalion reinforced 3rd CEB with tank crewmen and mechanics in order to establish an Assault Breacher Vehicle platoon.

ABVs are a modified version of the M1-A1 Main Battle Tank, which carry and launch two line charges. Each linear charge contains 1,750 pounds of Composite Four explosives attached to a rocket used to breach proof and mark complex obstacles, said 2nd Lt. Matt D. Humiston, the platoon commander for ABV platoon, 3rd CEB, and a native of Kennedale, Texas.

“The ABV is comprised of two separate fields, the bottom is tanker specific and the upper part is engineer specific,” said Staff Sgt. Shawn M. Hicks, the ABV section leader. “It’s important for us to work together because the engineers are teaching tankers how to operate the line charge and breach, while we are teaching them how to tactically employ and maintain tracked vehicles.

“Being a part of this MRX is also important because the battalion needs to learn how to support track vehicles before we get into country,” added the Kingsman, Ariz., native.

“We have different tools to tackle and sort out any IED related problem that the enemy throws at us,” Garcia concluded.

The MRX also allowed battalion staff to control units effectively and exercised the support staff of those units, whether it be in the same training area or as if we were in country, said 1st Lt. Sergio L. Sandoval, the 3rd CEB assistant operations officer.

“The operation allows for interoperability between all of the engineer, EOD and tanker assets in the battalion,” said Sandoval, a native of Pico Rivera, Calif. “Which is how they will be used in country.”

With the operability gained, the knowledge learned and the implementation of the skills taught, 3rd CEB will be better able to conduct safe and successful route clearance when they deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Deploy the MEF: Not just a saying, a way of life

Deploy the Marine Expeditionary Force is not just a saying for the Marines of Combat Logistics Company 21, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, it’s a way of life. The Marines from CLC-21 work tirelessly seven days a week to ensure Marines and gear from II MEF and the other units in the Marine Corps get where they need to go.


3/5/2010 By Cpl. Meghan J. Canlas , 2nd Marine Logistics Group

“Anything that travels anywhere on the east coast—Marine Corps related—goes through us,” said Sgt. Joseph D. Baehman, the operations chief for the Aeriel Port Of Embarking/Debarking Platoon, CLC-21. “We’re the main hub for the east coast.”

In fiscal year 2009, 94,667 service members and 22,638 tons of gear went through Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point on a total of 634 flights.

“We’re the largest aerial port in the Marine Corps,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Brooks, the port chief for APOE/D Platoon.

During the busy season it’s not unusual to see 30 flights in a week said Brooks.

Two 11-man teams work 12-hour shifts everyday, to ensure units properly track Marines and gear en route to a deployment and to ensure all gear is stored and loaded properly according to Department of Defense and civilian guidelines.

“The war and flights don’t stop on the weekends,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mark D. McLaughlin, the platoon commander of APOE/D platoon. “We work when everyone else is off. During weekends or [96 hours off,] these Marines bust their tail because if we fail, it’s felt throughout the Marine Corps.”

Working a schedule like they do, the Marines of APOE/D platoon, develop a combat mindset.

“We have such a high work tempo that we develop a deployment mentality and leadership style,” said Brooks, who’s deployed three times to Iraq. “This becomes a second home to us, and we become a big family.”

Different stressors affect the Marines’ families similarly to spouses with deployed warfighters.

“If it weren’t for understanding spouses, this job would be 10-times more difficult,” Brooks said.

“We try to ensure that Marines get ample rest and time off to increase morale and mission accomplishment,” said McLaughlin, who’s deployed several times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

Mission accomplishment for CLC-21 means that everyone works together from the engineers who fix broken equipment, to supply Marines who make sure the warfighers have the equipment they need. Every job is integral to deploying II MEF.

“Team work drives the mission forward,” said Lance Cpl. Wesley D. Swindle, a team member with Team One, APOE/D Platoon. “It’s not just me doing something; it’s everyone working together.”

Command Issues New Rules for Night Raids in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan has issued new rules governing night raids, acknowledging that although they can have value militarily, they also can foster ill will toward international forces on the part of the Afghan people.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.05.2010
Posted: 03.05.2010 10:07

In a written statement, International Security Assistance Force officials released unclassified portions of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's new guidance "to ensure a broader awareness of [its] intent and scope."

"We are in a war of perceptions," the new guidance says. "Our forces operate far from home with selfless courage, admirable intentions, and impressive precision and effects. But ultimately, how the Afghan people judge our conduct and perceive our intentions will be decisive factors in their decision to support their nation's struggle against the insurgency. We must remember that their protection, their respect, and their support are the critical objectives for everything we do. And that reality must govern how we operate."

The guidance notes that operations conducted at night are "an essential component of our campaign, delivering often decisive effects in disrupting and defeating some of the most dangerous insurgent groups" and reduce the potential for civilian casualties.

"That said," the guidance continues, "in the Afghan culture, a man's home is more than just his residence. It represents his family, and protecting it is closely intertwined with his honor. He has been conditioned to respond aggressively in defense of his home and his guests whenever he perceives his home or honor is threatened. In a similar situation, most of us would do the same."

That reaction is compounded when forces invade a home at night, particularly when women are present, the guidance points out. "Instinctive responses to defend his home and family are sometimes interpreted as insurgent acts, with tragic result," it says. "Even when there is no damage or injuries, Afghans can feel deeply violated and dishonored, making winning their support that much more difficult."

In the new guidance, McChrystal says that despite their effectiveness and value, night raids have a steep cost in perceptions. "The myths, distortions and propaganda arising out of night raids often have little to do with the reality -- few Afghans have been directly affected by night raids, but nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant," McChrystal says in the new directive. "Night raids must be conducted with even greater care, additional constraints, and standardization throughout Afghanistan."

Under the new rules, commanders must first explore all other feasible options before conducting night raids on compounds and homes. Afghans must be in the lead wherever possible, and whenever possible, the operations must be coordinated with Afghan government officials, Afghan security forces and local elders.

"When properly executed, night raids remain a viable and advantageous option. But if we do not conduct ourselves appropriately during night raids, we cede credibility to insurgents who can exploit our insensitivities in a persuasion campaign," the guidance says. "It would be a tragic irony if operations we conduct to protect the population by ridding villages of insurgents are distorted to convince Afghans that we are unfeeling intruders."

Other requirements include:

-- Afghan security forces must be included in all night raids, and must be in the operations planning process at the earliest possible time;

-- Afghan government representatives must be notified before any night operation begins;

-- Afghan security forces should be the first force seen and the first voices heard by the occupants of any compound entered;

-- All searches will be led and accomplished primarily by Afghan forces and conducted with regard for the dignity of occupants, including searches of females by females; and,

-- Property seized or damaged must be recorded, and detailed receipts with a point of contact must be provided to local elders or other leaders within the compound, and instructions on how to claim compensation must be provided if damage occurs.

Off to war again for 1st Marine Division

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Mar 5, 2010 7:37:57 EST

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — With its first groups of Marines leaving home Friday for the military surge into Afghanistan, the 1st Marine Division gathered this week to honor its combat heritage and march off again to war.

Please go to the following link to read the entire article:


IJC Operational Update, March 5

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan-international security force searched a compound south of the village of Chalghowi, in the Panjwa'I district of Kandahar province last night after intelligence information indicated militant activity.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.05.2010
Posted: 03.05.2010 06:10

During the search the joint force detained three suspected militants.

In Khowst last night, a joint security force searched a compound northwest of Goldar, in the Sabari district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained a suspected insurgent and found weapons parts.

In Paktika province last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound south of the town of Orgun, in the Orgun district after intelligence information indicated militant activity.

During the search the security force captured a Haqqani weapons facilitator responsible for the purchase and movement of weapons, including machine guns and antiaircraft components.

Another insurgent was also detained.

In Wardak province this morning, a joint security force searched a compound outside the village of Lala Khel, in the Chak-e Wardak district, after intelligence information indicated militant activity. As the assault force approached the compound an armed insurgent fled. A part of the security force followed and called for him to surrender. When the insurgent tried to engage them with a machine gun, the security force killed the insurgent.

The joint force found several weapons in the compound and on the insurgent, including grenades, an automatic rifle, a machine gun and a rocket-propelled grenade.

In other operations, an ISAF patrol searched a vehicle in the Reg-e Khan Neshin district of Helmand yesterday.

During the search the patrol found two 107mm rockets, an RPG warhead, two anti-tank land mines, a Chinese mortar round, three 107mm rocket fuses, 20 14.5mm rounds and a 122mm projectile. An explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed the weapons.

In the Chorah district of Uruzgan province, officers from the Afghan National Police on a joint patrol with ISAF servicemembers discovered a weapons cache Wednesday.

The cache contained four RPGs, an 81mm mortar and seven RPG fuel cells. An EOD team destroyed the cache.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

Leading Taliban Facilitator Killed in Afghan Operation

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan National Security Forces with International Security and Assistance Force partners killed a Taliban commander in Northern Helmand Feb. 20. He was involved with the facilitation of improvised explosive device components and the planning of Taliban attacks.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.05.2010
Posted: 03.05.2010 06:59

When ANSF forces approached the compound in which the commander was located, he displayed hostile intent with a deadly weapon directed at the ANSF. He was subsequently killed.

Two other men from the compound were detained on suspicion of IED network involvement.

Planned as part of Operation Moshtarak, this operation took place 7 kilometers Northwest of Malmand Chinah Bazaar, Sangin, Helmand province, and is tied to two other operations which resulted in the capture of five Taliban and 143 detonators. The intent of this operation was to help fracture the supply lines which feed weapons to the Taliban further south.

There were five women and six children in the compound who were protected throughout the
operation. No civilians were injured in the ope

3/4 kick starts effort to hold the Buji Bhast Pass

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – There are many stories surrounding the area in southern Afghanistan known as the Buji Bhast Pass. The pass has proven to be a strategic military stronghold and allowed Afghans to delay the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and the former Soviet Union.


Cpl. Zachary J. Nola

With rocky cliffs flanking a single lane road, the pass resembles a choke point similar to the Hot Gates at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. It is no wonder why Taliban forces, utilizing small arms and improvised explosive devices, have used the pass to turn the most direct route from the southern urban district of Delaram to the northern district of Golestan into a severe hazard for coalition forces.

However, the pass’s ominous reputation did little to stop the advance of Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, during a clear of the pass and surrounding villages Jan. 25 - 28.

Platoons from India, Kilo, and Weapons Companies inserted into areas surrounding the pass and began the tedious, multi-day process of clearing towns to the north and south.

Thanks to 3/4’s overwhelming show of force, the Marines received little resistance from enemy fighters but did find stark reminders of the Taliban presence in the area.

“We found a real nice house. The nicest house I’ve ever seen in Afghanistan. We did our sensitive sight exploitation and found it was clearly an IED-making factory,” said 2nd Lt. Robert R. Fafinski, 24, a platoon commander with India Co., 3/4. “It just shows that the Taliban here were pretty strong and the locals were afraid enough of them that (the Taliban) were allowed to occupy the nicest house in the village.”

The Marines also located IED-making materials and spoke with villagers about local concerns and needs during their search of the area’s homes, compounds and fields.

While the “Thundering Third” is not the first unit to clear the pass and surrounding villages, they have taken operations in the area to the next level with the creation of Combat Outpost Buji. With the construction of the COP, which was built during the operation, 3/4 established a means of holding the pass and helping the local populace regain control of their land.

“I told (the villagers), ‘I know you’re probably afraid and I know some of your kids need medical attention, so bring them (to the COP) and we’ll take a look at them and let you farm in peace,’” said Fafinski, a native of Chaska, Minn. “That’s our goal; to let them farm in peace.”

“All the locals seem pretty friendly and willing to work with us,” said Lance Cpl. David Cantu, a rifleman with India Co., 3/4. “A lot of the locals said it’s a good thing we built (the COP) because of the Taliban.”

In addition to providing overwatch of the pass, COP Buji will help the Marines launch a two-pronged attack against negative Taliban influences. Marines from India Co. will provide security patrols to thwart direct attacks by enemy fighters while 3/4‘s Civil Affairs Group will help with economic and education issues.

The Marines and sailors at COP Buji are aware that during the operation, enemy fighters followed what has become a normal Taliban tactical procedure and retreated to fight another day. However, the Marines of 3/4 are ready for that day and what may lie ahead.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve killed a good number of Taliban around here. I’m sure they’re still smarting from that and they didn’t want to get rolled over initially,” said Fafinksi. “They’re going to come looking for us and we’re right here ready for them.”

Flags Lowered In Honor Of Marine

LANSING (AP) -- Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff to honor a Marine from suburban Detroit who was killed in Afghanistan last month.


Friday, March 05, 2010 at 8:40 a.m.

Flags are to be lowered Monday for 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Jacob Turbett of Wayne County's Canton Township.

The Defense Department says Turbett died Feb. 13 during an offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province.

Turbett wrote on his Facebook page that he was a 2007 graduate of Canton High School and was serving as a combat engineer. He was assigned to the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Sheila Turbett says her son is to be buried Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Taliban Seen Using Infants As Human Shields

KABUL, Afghanistan – ISAF and Afghan forces have recently observed militants using infants as human shields during hostile acts against Afghan and international forces operating throughout Afghanistan.


ISAF Joint Command RSS
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.05.2010
Posted: 03.05.2010 03:34

During an operation Feb. 12 in Farah province, a combined Afghan-international force attempted to arrest a Taliban commander. During the operation, the militant commander exited a compound surrounded by women and children and was carrying an infant. Repeated demands by Afghan members of the combined force to put the infant down were ignored and his response to repeated warnings was to hold the infant between him and members of the combined force. The man was eventually arrested and the infant returned unharmed to its mother.

In a separate Feb. 12 operation also in Farah, an individual was observed on top of a nearby compound using a radio to report on the combined force's movement and activity. After spotting the joint force closing in, he went into the compound and returned to the roof carrying an infant. He continued to use the radio to report on the force's movement for the rest of the operation with the infant at his side.

On Feb. 17 in Helmand's Washir district, two suspected militants fled from a vehicle into a nearby compound. After the compound was surrounded, one of the men emerged holding an infant in front of him. He repeatedly moved the child so that it was between him and the combined force. The man was eventually arrested and the child returned unharmed to its mother.

"The Taliban's actions that endanger civilians, especially children, show complete disregard for the people of Afghanistan," said ISAF Joint Command Deputy Chief of Staff for Joint Operations Maj. Gen. Michael Regner.

HBO paying for honor flight for Marine vets

By David Bauder - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Mar 5, 2010 18:08:33 EST

NEW YORK — HBO is paying to send 250 veterans to Washington next week to visit the World War II memorial, coinciding with the networks’ premiere of a miniseries about the war.

To read the entire article:


March 4, 2010

In Marjah, now comes the hardest part

Analysis: After fighting, troops try to help set up a functional government

Associated Press correspondent Christopher Torchia was embedded for four weeks with U.S. Army units supporting a U.S. Marines offensive against the Taliban in the Afghan city of Marjah. He reflects on the military operation and its implications for Afghanistan's future.

KABUL - The hardest fighting is over, but the battle for Marjah is just beginning.


Associated Press Writer
updated 2:20 p.m. CT, Thurs., March. 4, 2010

KABUL - The hardest fighting is over, but the battle for Marjah is just beginning.

The outcome of last month's military campaign was never in doubt. With 15,000 combined NATO and Afghan troops pouring in to oust an estimated 400-1,000 insurgents, it was simply a question of how long it would take to clear the southern Afghan city that belonged to the Taliban for years.

Now, the fight for Marjah focuses on keeping the population safe and — perhaps harder — setting up the first clean and effective civilian administration there in decades.

The war in Afghanistan is not just about seizing territory. Western forces, in enough numbers and backed by enough firepower, can do that almost anywhere against scattered insurgent squads with inferior weaponry, however determined the Taliban are, however inventive and deadly their boobytraps and ambushes.

In the long term, the war is more about perceptions of authority and commitment than casualty tolls and objectives cleared, more about the Afghan civilians and what they believe and fear.

NATO saw Marjah — a Taliban logistics center and drug-smuggling hub and the largest southern city under Taliban rule — as a key prize in Helmand, the southern Afghan province they've struggled to reclaim from the insurgents.

But even more than its strategic worth is Marjah's value as a symbol. The operation is intended to showcase how NATO plans to win the war — by putting civilians first. Successfully grafting in a workable government could provide a model for allied advances into more parts of the south, where the Taliban still control large swaths of the countryside.

'Holding phase'
In Marjah, the challenge was never the "clearing phase," as military commanders call the military offensive. It's the "holding phase" that follows: getting functional Afghan forces to control the area for good.

In fact, Marjah already has been "cleared" at least three times: first shortly after the 2001 invasion that ousted the Taliban's hard-line regime, again in 2007 and, most recently, in March of last year.

In 2002, this AP reporter witnessed similar scenes to today: government agents with rifles and stacks of American dollars trying to establish control.

"We're trying to walk in step with the international community," a deputy police chief said at the time.

But the Western-backed government did not sustain its efforts. The difference this time, according to the plan, is that at least 2,000 Marines and half as many Afghan forces are slated to stay and keep the insurgents from returning.

Building trust
Much will depend on whether the Afghan government, plagued by corruption, can put a convincing Afghan face on what happens in Marjah; on whether cash will come to fix roads, bridges and houses, to build schools and clinics; on whether farmers will hew to a planned seed program for legitimate crops instead of poppy; and whether NATO troops will stay long enough to see through change and stabilization.

"We need time. We need to build the trust of the people because the people are scared," Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Thursday in Kabul.

Neither the Taliban nor the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, can prevail without the backing, willing or forced, of Afghanistan's civilian population.

Both sides know this, and so they fight a parallel conflict, without bombs and bullets. Like campaigners in a heated electoral contest, they make promises and proclamations, and trash-talk their adversary's claims.

Retreating insurgents, endured or tolerated rather than loved by many Afghans in areas under their control, told Marjah's villagers that Americans would rape and plunder. That didn't happen.

Civilians, in fact, led American forces to 70 percent of concealed insurgent bombs that have been discovered in an area near Marjah where the U.S. Army 5th Stryker Brigade operated, said Capt. Nolan Rinehart, a U.S. Army intelligence officer. That shows some degree of cooperation, even though many villagers are wary.

"They're very hesitant because we're new; we're foreign," Rinehart said. "It's hard to maintain a good perception (of international forces) if we keep jumping around from place to place because the Taliban will move right back in when we leave."

Taliban propaganda
U.S. Marines are settling in for a while in Marjah, but the civilians will be watching closely and judging harshly. The Western-backed Afghan government has a public platform there for the first time in a long time; the insurgents' pitch comes from the underground, or proxies.

A meeting last week between village leaders near Marjah and a district official was a case in point. The official, Asadullah, spoke softly about how the government can only provide services with public support; how Western troops pay compensation for damage to property, unlike Russian invaders during the Cold War in the 1980s; and how the Taliban creed of holy war was defunct.

Then a man leaped to his feet and denounced U.S. troops for disrupting lives.

American soldiers said the speech was Taliban "IO," a reference to Information Operations, a military term for propaganda and other efforts to influence people. They later pulled the man aside and used a hand-held biometrics device to store his retina image and other data.

There will be distractions in Marjah. Big military operations will get under way elsewhere. Attacks in Marjah won't stop, even though most of the Taliban who once ruled there are either dead or injured, lying low or relocating to more friendly turf in the south.

"This is a 12 to 18-month campaign we are embarking on. It's not going to be easy," Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Tuesday. He asserted that after more than eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, the U.S. is finally getting enough troops, diplomats and organizational structure to be able to keep extremist groups from taking over again there. President Barack Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.

Of course, Afghan forces must provide security long after Western troops are gone, and whether they are up to the task is a question. Some Afghan soldiers fought aggressively in the Marjah campaign, and some were unreliable.

American restraint on the battlefield almost certainly reduced casualties among the civilian population, but soldiers sometimes struggled to connect with villagers. In one awkward exchange, a soldier from a military intelligence battalion told a villager that he wanted to build a hospital closer to his home. A soldier next to him interrupted before the Pashto-speaking interpreter could translate.

"Don't make any promises," he said quietly. The translator remained silent, and the conversation ended there.

Marines Prepared for Land, Sea, and Air

By land, sea, or air - wherever combat leads them, Marines are prepared.

Click above link for a news video.

Posted: 3:27 PM Mar 4, 2010
Reporter: John DesRivieres

In the first week of boot camp, each recruit is issued an M-16 semi automatic rifle, and the Marine Corps takes pride that every
Marine is rifleman.

They train for two weeks, learning how to shoot the Marine way.

"They're gonna be firing the M-16 service rifle which will give them an opportunity if they never fired a rifle before, to find out what it's like and if they have fired a rifle, to figure out how to fire one properly," says Staff Sgt. Joseph Paulsen with the U.S. Marine Corps.

From square one, recruits learn how to position the body, hold the rifle and fire accurately on target from 200, 300, and 500 yards.

Recruits are trained for combat water survival during swim week.

They have to meet and maintain a minimum swim qualification.

"They have to be able to save themselves with full gear, as well as wounded marines, helping them to shore, so it's really important they are able to swim at least able to save themselves," says Kennith Oldham, the swim qualification instructor.

Like so much of recruit training, it's not just about meeting a qualification, it's about believing in yourself.

"Swim qualification teaches confidence in the water, self confidence, saving oneself and another, it's not really a skill, it's more of a confidence builder to me," says Staff Sgt. Matt Levritz, with the United States Marine Corps.

Now you've seen the ground and the water training, but what happens when the two meet.

Some Marines are trained to operate special combat vehicles, like vehicles that can travel both on land and in water.

The AAV-7 can transport 21 Marines and their gear.

It's armed with a grenade launcher and a 50 caliber machine gun that can hit targets from a mile away.

"We're on the flight line at Miramar Airstation, a lot of times you think of training for Marines, you think of infantry and tanks, but the 3rd Marine aircraft wing here at Miramar is for aircraft support," says Corporal Michael Stevens.

The 3rd Marine aircraft wing plays a big role in the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine pilots provide air support to ground troops, help evacuate the wounded and attack ground targets.

"Pilots take a lot of pride in supporting troops on the deck and the troops like that they have some of their own boys in the air looking out for them," says Captain Ramsey Brame.

By land, sea or air, Marines are trained to get the job done, and they love doing their job.

Captain Brame says, "The best part is going up and flying, making the sky your playground, it's the best job in the world."

IJC Operational Update, March 4

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a rural compound and detained two suspected insurgents outside of Marja, in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand province after intelligence information indicated militant activity.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.04.2010
Posted: 03.04.2010 03:46

In a separate operation, members of the Afghan national army's 201 Corps, while on patrol with international forces in the town of Nawrooz Abad, Kabul province, found a significant weapons cache Tuesday.

The combined force found six machine guns, 30 IEDs, including two anti-vehicle and 28 anti-personnel devices, along with more than 1,000 explosive fuses.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

March 3, 2010

U.S. Redraws Afghan Command

Coalition Prepares to Establish New Military Headquarters in South Before Major Surge Offensive

WASHINGTON—The U.S. and its allies are working to create a new American-led military command in southern Afghanistan, setting the stage for a large-scale offensive into the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.


MARCH 3, 2010

Senior military officials say the new command will manage all military operations in Helmand province, including the continuing campaign in Marjah. The plan would allow the existing British-led command in southern Afghanistan to focus on the Kandahar campaign.

Many of the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements being deployed to Afghanistan will take part in the assault on Kandahar, the most populous city in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban's spiritual birthplace.

U.S. and British commanders plan to deploy the additional troops to build a security cordon around the city to make it harder for Taliban fighters to intimidate local residents or assassinate Afghan government officials and security personnel there.

As with Marjah, senior U.S. personnel are publicly telegraphing the Kandahar campaign, which will likely start this summer. A senior White House official said last week that the Marjah campaign—the coalition's largest offensive since 2001—was a "tactical prelude" to a substantially bigger assault on Kandahar.

"Bringing security, comprehensive population security, to Kandahar city is really the centerpiece of operations this year," the official said.

All military operations in both Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province are currently managed by Regional Command South, which has its headquarters at the sprawling Kandahar Air Field and is currently led by a British general. Under the new plan that organization will be renamed Regional Command Southeast and directed to focus exclusively on the upcoming Kandahar campaign.

At the same time, the U.S. will build a new command, Regional Command Southwest, at Camp Bastion, a rapidly expanding American base near Lashkar Gah, Helmand's capital. The command will be headed by a two-star Marine general, who hasn't yet been tapped for the post.

This is the answer to how we'll array our troops and reorient the commands to meet the mission on the ground," said a senior military official familiar with the plan. "It's basically a done deal."

The new command would work closely with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who senior U.S. officials are trying to turn into more of a wartime leader. Mr. Karzai was briefed repeatedly on the plans for the Marjah offensive and asked to give it his formal approval, in part so the Afghan government would feel ownership of the campaign there. Mr. Karzai is likely to have a similar role in the run-up to the Kandahar campaign.

The idea for the changes in the command structure originated with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top Western military officer in Afghanistan.

Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for Gen. McChrystal, said the commander's strategic review of the war effort last summer concluded that the main military offensives going forward would all be in southern Afghanistan and "that the number of forces would exceed the command and control capacity of a single regional commander."

Adm. Smith said he expected a final decision on the command changes within the next month.

Regional Command South is led by British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the architect of the Marjah offensive. With a new command established, Gen. Carter would shift his focus to Kandahar, leaving the incoming U.S. general to oversee operations in Helmand.

Gen. Carter is set to relinquish his command to a U.S. army general late next year as part of a standard rotation of authority, putting American officers at the helm of military headquarters in eastern and southern Afghanistan, the war's main battlegrounds.

The Taliban's fugitive leader, Mullah Omar, was born in Kandahar and governed Afghanistan from the city during the years the Taliban ruled the country.

The Taliban have mounted several unsuccessful attempts to conquer Kandahar militarily.

In 2006, Canadian forces blunted a major Taliban offensive into the city, with heavy casualties on both sides. Two years later, the Afghan army rushed 1,000 soldiers into Kandahar to rebuff a similar Taliban advance.

But the Taliban have made deep inroads into the city. They run shadow courts, tax local businesses and have stepped up a campaign to intimidate or kill Afghan government and security officials, as well as citizens who don't abide by their decrees.

The Afghan central government has little sway in Kandahar, a city of over 800,000 people, and many residents say they have been effectively abandoned by Kabul.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials say the Taliban have been able to take advantage of the paucity of foreign troops in and around Kandahar. Kandahar Air Field is one of the largest NATO facilities in Afghanistan, but most of the Western troops who live there stay within the confines of the base.

Until recently, there were 2,000 Canadian and American troops patrolling Kandahar province, a small fraction of the troops deployed to Helmand and other regional hotspots.

Those numbers will increase substantially in coming months. The U.S. will send at least one new brigade from the Army's 101st Airborne Division to Kandahar later this spring, which will push Western troop levels up by at least 4,000.

A senior military official said another incoming brigade may also be sent to Kandahar this year, and other troops will be redeployed from within Afghanistan for the offensive. "There won't be a shortage of manpower, and that's a huge change from every earlier attempt to secure the city," the officer said. "Kandahar had always been the definition of an 'economy of force' mission, and the Taliban exploited that to the hilt."

Gen. McChrystal and other top U.S. officials hope the upcoming offensive will bring the city back under Afghan government control.

"If our overall goal for 2010 is to reverse the momentum and gain time and space for the Afghan capacity, we have to get to Kandahar this year," a senior administration official said.

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at [email protected]

Pendleton Marines set to deploy to Afghanistan

OCEANSIDE - In a symbolic 30-minute Camp Pendleton ceremony on Wednesday, attended by 1st Marine Division veterans from various eras and marking the impending departure of some 7,000 Marines and sailors from the division to Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said this and past deployments are not about commanding generals.


Published: March 3, 2010

"It's about the Marines and sailors who do the heavy lifting in this division," Mills told those in attendance

Mills, the division commanding two-star general, will take over duties as commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) as that headquarters replaces the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, currently conducting combat operations in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, according to a news release.

The deployment – some advance personnel from the division are in Afghanistan but the bulk of them are expected to leave later this month – adds another streamer to the division flag that was handed Wednesday from Marine to Marine wearing outfits from the six previous forward deployments of the division nicknamed the Blue Diamond.

Among those deploying from Pendleton include about 800 Marines constituting the command element that are part of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan troop increase announced late last year.

The 1st Marine Division (Forward) – serving under the I MEF (Forward) – will assume command of ground combat forces in Helmand Province, according to a release.

The Department of Defense deployed about 16,000 additional forces to Afghanistan late last year as part of the surge, the initial elements of the 30,000 troops authorized by Obama on Nov. 30.

The Marine Corps is scheduled to deploy approximately 8,500 Marines and sailors to Afghanistan in response to the president's announced buildup of forces, according to the Corps headquarters at the Pentagon.

In the rare ritual under windswept skies at Pendleton, the 1st Marine Division held a Battle Colors March Off To War ceremony representing the division's deployment to Afghanistan and honoring its six other forward deployments in the Blue Diamond's storied 69-year history.

The majority of those who are set to deploy will stay in theater for seven months, while members of the command element will be in Afghanistan for a year.

While it's tough to leave families behind, Mills said in a brief news conference after the ceremony that he is leading Marines who are ready, motivated and anxious to go to war, which he described as a "dirty job."

"It involves hardships, it involves injuries," he said, "We're gonna have casualties; we know that. It's not an easy task ... Sure, it's a dirty war. Anybody who tells you war isn't has never been there."

The division colors will be forward deployed for the seventh time in the Blue Diamond's history.

"The measure of success (of the war) will be the willingness of the Afghan people to look to their own government and their own security agencies to provide security and services to them," Mills said.

Read more about the 1st Marine Division at http://www.i-mef.usmc.mil/external/1stmardiv/

Contact the writer: 949-465-5424 or [email protected]

Even His Red Squeak Toy Can't Get First Sgt. Gunner, USMC, to Fight

Despite Rehab, the Yellow Lab Won't Sniff For Bombs in Combat; He's 'a Lover'

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan—When the Marines cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war, one remains in his kennel. Quivering.


MARCH 3, 2010, 7:01 P.M. ET

Out of the 58 bomb-sniffing dogs the Marines have in Afghanistan, only one—a brown-eyed, floppy-eared yellow Lab named Gunner—is suffering from such severe canine post-traumatic stress disorder that he had to sit out the ongoing offensive in central Helmand Province.

"He's the only combat-ineffective dog out here," says his kennel chief, Cpl. Chad McCoy.

Like their human comrades, some war dogs can handle combat, and some can't. One Marine Corps explosives dog, a black Lab named Daisy, has found 13 hidden bombs since arriving in Afghanistan in October. Zoom, another Lab, refused to associate with the Marines after seeing one serviceman shoot a feral Afghan dog. Only after weeks of retraining, hours of playing with a reindeer squeaky toy and a gusher of good-boy praise was Zoom willing to go back to work.

"With some Marines, PTSD can be from one terrible event, or a cumulative effect," says Maj. Rob McLellan, 33-year-old operations officer of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, who trains duck-hunting dogs back home in Green Bay, Wis. Likewise, he says, the stress sometimes "weighs a dog down to the point where the dog just snaps."

Gunner snapped.

He graduated from bomb-dog school in Virginia. He could hunt and tolerate gunfire. He could sniff out explosives, including the homemade ammonium-nitrate fertilizer bombs that inflict most allied casualties in Afghanistan. But he was skittish even before he arrived in the combat zone in October and was posted to a front-line battalion. He reached a crisis soon afterwards.

He reacted so nervously to the rattle of gunfire and deep boom of artillery commonplace around military outposts that he never even got a chance to test his mettle on a real patrol. His handlers aren't sure what pushed Gunner over the edge. His official record is damning, however: Gunner, it reads, "is not mission capable and is a liability if he is to leave the wire."

Capt. Michael Bellin, an Army veterinarian working with the Marines, says he's seen canine post-traumatic stress disorder cases before. "I think it's possible, depending on what they went through," says Capt. Bellin, 33, from Delafield, Wis.

Gunner was sent to the main kennel at Camp Leatherneck, a rear base. There, bomb dogs recuperate from illness or injury, under the care of Cpl. McCoy, a 25-year-old member of the famed feuding clan from Hickman County, Tenn.

Cpl. McCoy, a sandy-haired man with sunburnt cheeks, tries to strike a balance between encouraging the dogs' natural whimsy and keeping his own emotional distance. The handlers can't grow so fond of their charges that they hesitate to send them into danger's way.

Still, it's hard to stay very aloof from the slobbering, enthusiastic Labs. Although the dogs generally live in 9-by-9-foot aluminum cages, Cpl. McCoy sometimes lets Gunner sleep on a camouflage-patterned sheet on a cot in his tent.

The Marine Corps gives each dog a military rank, one notch above his handler's, to reinforce the idea that the dogs deserve respect. Gunner is formally assigned to a gunnery sergeant, so he's a first sergeant, a high rank among enlisted Marines, human and canine.

For weeks after he arrived at Camp Leatherneck, Gunner refused to leave the kennel compound. Even now almost any sound sends him into a panic. If a shipping container door slams somewhere nearby, Gunner hunches down and bolts for an open cage door. If an artillery round goes off in the distance, he races into Cpl. McCoy's tent, then weaves around the cages, his tail low and twitchy. Even the click of a camera shutter can send him flashing back to some bad experience only he can recall.

Lately, the corporal has been able to persuade Gunner to take walks around camp, though the dog tugs at his leash in fear and appears to take no pleasure in the activity.

There are moments, however, when Gunner resembles his old self. On a recent day Cpl. McCoy drove him out to the training area to try his nose at finding hidden bombs. The corporal buried three sticks of C-4 plastic explosives in a few inches of dirt.

"He won't make it 20 feet," Cpl. McCoy predicted, letting Gunner off the leash some 100 yards from the hidden C-4.

But Gunner surprised him. Despite the roar of helicopters overhead, he ventured out in the direction of the buried explosives, dodging left and right in response to the corporal's whistles and hand signals.

At no time, though, did he drop his nose to the ground to sniff for explosives. "It's a miracle he did that well," the corporal said afterwards, tossing Gunner his red-rubber toy as a reward for his effort.

Next he let another Lab, Mag, give it a try. Mag was in rehab for a condition from which he tired quickly and lost mobility in his tail and legs. But Mag is an enthusiastic bomb hunter.

At Cpl. McCoy's command–"Back!"–Mag sprinted across the rocky desert, sniffing and searching in instant response to the signals. Soon he caught a whiff of something and dropped to his belly–directly on top of the spot where Cpl. McCoy had buried the C-4.

The corporal assured him he was a good dog and let him play fetch for a few minutes. "This is a constant game to them," says Cpl. McCoy. "They don't know it's life or death."

Gunner gives the impression that he understands exactly what's at stake. On the next trial, Cpl. McCoy dispatched him to find explosives buried under a soda can on the side of a dry ditch. There was machine-gun fire audible in the distance, and Gunner got no more than 20 or 30 feet before he changed his mind and circled back to the corporal's side.

"Gunner's a lover," Cpl. McCoy says. "Mag's a fighter."

The corporal holds out little hope that Gunner will one day be fit for combat, searching for hidden bombs amid the din of war. He'll consider it a success if Gunner casts his demons far enough aside to be a good pet for someone back home.

"We're trying to get him into the dog mind-set," Cpl. McCoy says.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at [email protected]

As Marjah offensive ends, a crucial test for peace in Afghanistan

The coalition's Marjah offensive against the Taliban in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, has made gains. But to succeed, Afghanistan, the US, and aid agencies must quickly move in to build up the area's security, government, and infrastructure, showing fence-sitters the benefits of peace.

As the US Marjah offensive in Afghanistan, winds down, the next challenge will be to maintain the newfound security of the area and to begin to reintegrate former Taliban fighters into Afghan society.


By Gordon Lubold Staff writer / March 3, 2010

It has been more than two weeks since American Marines, along with Afghan and other security forces, began what has been billed as the largest offensive against the Taliban since the US invasion of the country in October 2001. After initial exuberance over early success, military officials attempted to manage expectations, saying that there are hard days ahead.

This is a critical period, say experts. The Afghan government – with the US military and development officials closely behind – must quickly demonstrate what they can do for the population, or the success of the combat phase will quickly fade, experts say.

No one knows how many Taliban fought in this region of Helmand, and how many may have fled prior to the assault. So it's unclear how many Taliban fighters might now be willing to get on board with the Afghan government.

President Hamid Karzai’s government is developing a formal reintegration strategy that will culminate in April with what is known as a “peace jirga,” or a legislative meeting at which all parties with a stake in security will meet.

“Some of what we’re seeing now in places like Marjah is a lot of the people who have been fighting have simply stopped – they are in wait-and-see mode,”
says one a senior military official with the International Security Assistance Force who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity.

“It takes a little bit of time for the government and for the local Afghan and [coalition force] leaders to build that kind of credibility in the minds of the people where an individual decides to vote one way or another,” he says. “A lot of it is how well the Afghans begin building these relationships with the people.”

Still, fighting is expected “for weeks” as remaining Taliban holdouts are cleared, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell at the Pentagon Wednesday.

“There are still pockets where we believe the Taliban to be hiding out, perhaps lying in wait,” Mr. Morrell said. “We are determined to clear out those pockets as well.”

Next on the “to do list” will be Kandahar, the longtime spiritual home of the Taliban that lies just to the east of Helmand, says Morrell.

“It will likely have to be dealt with sooner or later,” he says.

Israel Scraps Raid after Facebook Slip

Soldier Court-Martialed after Posting Details of Operation in West Bank Village Online

(AP) The Israeli military says a planned raid on a West Bank village was called off after an Israeli soldier disclosed its details online.


JERUSALEM, March 3, 2010

The military says the combat soldier posted the time and location of the raid on his Facebook page saying that troops were planning on "cleaning up" the village.

Fellow soldiers reported the leak to military authorities, who called off the raid fearing that the information may have reached hostile groups. The soldier was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 days in prison.

The military's statement Wednesday added that it is cracking down on soldiers' use of social networking Web sites and has launched a campaign warning of the dangers of sharing military classified information online.

IJC Operational Update, March 3

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international patrol found a weapons cache in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand province while supporting Operation Moshtarak yesterday.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.03.2010
Posted: 03.03.2010 03:38

The cache contained two 23mm artillery shells, four rocket-propelled grenades, an 81mm mortar, a 105mm mortar, a 107mm mortar, two metal rods packed with home-made explosives, two 18 liter (five-gallon) jugs filled with HME, 18 kilograms (40 lbs) of loose explosives, 1 kg (2 lbs) of TNT, .5 kg (1 lb) of propellant and 20 pressure plates. The cache was destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

In the Chorah District of the Uruzgan province yesterday, a joint patrol found a weapons cache containing two bags of HME, a bag of black powder, eight 303 rounds and improvised explosive device components. The cache will be destroyed.

A joint patrol in the Kash Rod District of Nimroz province found a drug cache containing 2 kg (4 lbs) of amphemetamines, .5 kg (1 lb) of opium and 18 liters (five gallons) of acid. The cache was destroyed.

Taliban, not drugs, focus of US-Afghan offensive

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Even by Afghan standards, it was a startling find: An opium packaging workshop, buried under donkey dung and old hay in a stable that U.S. Marines turned into a patrol base in southern Afghanistan.


By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU (AP) – March 3, 2010

Two U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration employees nosing around the base found more than two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of opium, five large bags of poppy seeds, some 50 sickles, jugs and a large scale for measuring opium.

When the Marines leave the compound this week, though, they won't detain the old, bearded Afghan man suspected of owning the hidden cache. Instead, they'll hand him $600 in rent for using his place as a base.

It's a story that illustrates the shift in strategy to stall the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan. The more than 2-week-old military offensive on the town of Marjah — NATO's largest ever combined Afghan offensive — is a war on the Taliban, not drugs.

The opium workshop, on a compound near the entrance to the former Taliban-controlled town of Marjah, was found mostly out of luck and idleness.

"I just decided to start poking around," said Joe, who like his colleague, Jack, only went by his first name because they work for a DEA special intervention unit stationed in Afghanistan. "I've had plenty of time on my hands."

The two DEA agents, both bearded and wearing military fatigues, had been stuck on the compound in Helmand province for the past several days because every Marine convoy heading in and out of the area had struck a roadside bomb, knocking out armored vehicles and considerably delaying travel plans.

Their find went far beyond the staple signs of Marjah's booming opium business. In nearly every farmer's compound, Marines and the DEA have seen piles of dried poppy hay stacks, small doses of opium for local consumption and spent syringes.

"This cache shows that processing was taking place here on a pretty large scale," said Jack, pointing at the number of plastic spoons and ladles, indicating that up to 50 people could have been working here. Though quantities are uncertain, the makeshift assembly plant was geared to process several hundred pounds (kilograms) of opium at any given time.

For years, the Afghan government and its U.S. backer tried to eradicate crops, only to swell insurgent ranks across Afghanistan with impoverished and infuriated poppy farmers. Now, farmers are left alone, even though Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the heroin worldwide, with Helmand province alone responsible for nearly half of this.

"There sure is a lot of it," said Jack last week, somewhat dismayed as he and the Marines plodded four days in a row through field after field of poppy. The local tribal overlord owns nearly 3,000 acres of the crop, but U.S. forces aren't going after him. In fact, they're wooing him at meetings, trying to win him over to the government's side.

The official U.S. policy is now to go after the traffickers and the heroin labs, not producers.

Word of this shift apparently hadn't reached the Haji Murad, owner of the cache on the Marines' compound. He'd kept 250 kilograms of poppy seeds — enough to replant numerous acres of drugs in case U.S. forces did destroy his fields.

Murad could face arrest and prosecution. "But then the whole 'hearts and minds' thing kicks in," Joe said, referring to the U.S. military's policy of doing its best not to antagonize local Afghan civilians.

Anyhow, the cache wasn't substantial enough to go through the wobbly legal system in Kabul. "It doesn't meet the threshold," said Jack, stating the best bet for prosecution would be at the local level in Marjah, with the council of elders.

But Murad, as it turns out, heads the local council, making him an unlikely target for prosecution.

"I'd like his case to be investigated," said Lt. Scott Holub, of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, who negotiated renting the compound with Murad. "But the squeeze isn't worth the juice."

Soon afterward, they piled up all the evidence and set it on fire.

RCT-2 Puts Boots on Ground in Afghanistan

CAMP DELARAM II, Afghanistan — While gentle winds blew through the rotors of a CH-53 D helicopter, the final group of Regimental Combat Team 2 Marines and sailors dismounted, completing the unit's transition into Camp Delaram II, Feb. 27.


3/3/2010 By Sgt. Dorian Gardner, 2nd MEB

Marines with RCT-2 deployed to Afghanistan in support of the troop-surge in Helmand province, working by, with and through the Afghans and Afghan national security forces to rid outlying areas of insurgent groups and Taliban presence.

Though a large threat lies outside the rows of concertina wire and dirt barriers that surround Camp Delaram II, regimental personnel are prepared to dig in, and begin their year-long deployment. While 12 long months lie ahead, RCT-2 has big plans for the province.

"The RCT exists to provide operational guidance and logistical support to the subordinate units so they can fight the enemy," said Capt. Larry R. Iverson Jr., Headquarters Company commanding officer, RCT-2.

The regiment can support an infantry battalion in many ways, from providing food and water, to ammunition and fuel for their vehicles.

Within the unit, it is the job of the Headquarters Company to ensure Marines within the RCT are receiving the support they need so they can conduct their daily operations to support other units, according to Iverson.

At the moment, Marines are focused on finishing construction and connectivity, ensuring Marines can communicate through the phone lines, radio equipment and emails.

Pfc. Christopher Tillett, a 24-year-old field radio operator, is one of the many Marines who ensure other units as well as Headquarters Company, have those capabilities. Fairly new to the Fleet Marine Force, Tillett is happy to deploy as quick as he did.

"I've always thought of combat deployments to be a good learning experience," said Tillett. "A lot of Marines don't deploy straight out of school. It's good to learn in the states, but you learn more in a deployed environment."

The communications section not only wires the base for phone lines and computer connectivity, but ensures infantry battalions and artillery batteries have the same capabilities, according to Tillett.

"We keep [communication] up and get it done as fast as possible," said Tillett.

Nearly settled in, RCT-2 is working hard to ensure upcoming units will have what they need in order to continue the fight. With a full staff ready to assist Marines throughout the province, RCT-2 looks forward to the upcoming year with high expectations of success.

HBO Brings Marines' History to Life

SAN DIEGO -- Many local military leaders, members of the military community and veterans attended the San Diego premiere of "The Pacific" aboard the USS Midway, Feb. 25.




Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
Story by Cpl. Aubry Buzek
Date: 03.03.2010
Posted: 03.03.2010 01:13

The event included a special screening of the 10-part miniseries and a chance to meet the actors, writers and producers of the series at a reception after the showing.

"The Pacific" is based on the true stories of three Marines fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II: Sgt. John Basilone and Pfc.'s Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie. One of the Marines highlighted in the series, John Basilone, won a Medal of Honor for his valiant efforts during the Battle of Guadalcanal and is also honored in San Diego's Little Italy at "Piazza Basilone" and on Interstate 5 near Camp Pendleton at the "Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Memorial Highway."

John Seda, who stars as John Basilone in the miniseries, said that playing the famous Marine was a "huge responsibility."

"He was an incredible force. He loved to be a Marine and he loved to be in the fight," said Seda. "I tried to portray the humanity in who he was. I hope [Marines] will feel that I did a good job representing him."

Although the mini-series was filmed almost 68 years after the island hopping campaign, maintaining historical accuracy was important for the creators of the show. From the costumes to the set design, more than 18 months of research went into making the story, battle scenes and islands accurate.

"We try to get the best information we can get to respect the subject matter, to respect the Marines, of course, and to tell the story as truthfully as we can," said Gary Goetzman, executive producer of the series. "The truth is always much more amazing than any story you can make up."

Although the most common comment from former Marines after the screening was that "the actors needed a haircut," many of the veterans attending the event were impressed with the historical accuracy and realistic footage of the battle scenes.

"If you want to put it in one word, it was the best military combat scenes I've ever seen," said Raymond M. Owen, Sr., a former Marine and a Purple Heart recipient from the Korean War. "It was wonderful, it was very accurate."

For one veteran attending the event, the story hit very close to home.

Retired Navy Commander Herb Franck is a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which prompted the United States' entry into World War II and began the Marines island hopping campaign months later. He said the most important part of the show is enlightening younger generations.

"We have to remember our history," said Franck. "I thought it was terrific. For the first time on a screen they've shown how combat really was."

"The Pacific: Part One" debuts on HBO March 14 at 10 p.m. PST with the other parts debuting on consecutive Sundays through May 16.

Phase 1 of Boot Camp

Marine boot camp lasts for 13 weeks, during that time, recruits go through three distinct phases of training.


Posted: 3:40 PM Mar 3, 2010
Reporter: John DesRivieres

The first phase introduces recruits to the Marine's values, history and the physical demands of life in the Corps.

Recruits have to conquer the 'Confidence Course,' a series of obstacles meant to test the recruits' mental and physical toughness.

They also receive martial arts training, for close combat situations.

They also go through the Bayonet Assault Course, all of this with drill instructors barking orders at them.

"I wouldn't say our job is so much causing stress, our job is evolving them for civilians that you see on the yellow footprints, to the marines that you see today," says Staff Sgt. Shundricus Garrett, a drill instructor.

And while I was there, I met two recruits right here from Northcentral Wisconsin going through boot camp, Micah Joosten of Wisconsin Rapids and Anthony Patterson of Merrill.

Anthony says, "If you come here with a weak mind, it's gonna be a lot more difficult, if you come here with a positive attitude, it's gonna be a piece of cake, a cake walk."

Recruit Anthony Patterson graduated Merrill High School in 2009, the 18-year-old is about halfway through boot camp, he says one of the hardest parts, is missing the Wisconsin winter.

He says, "Way too hot, I miss my negative 10 degree weather, it's a lot of fun going sledding, snowmobiling, all the fun stuff, just having a snowball fight, it's the little things you miss."

Recruit Micah Joosten is from Wisconsin Rapids, the 20-year-old is less than 3 weeks from graduating boot camp.

Micah says, "The first phase was extremely difficult sir, very mentally challenging, not so much physical, they play a lot of games with you, it gets very stressful sir, very stressful.

Joosten was helping take care of his grandfather before he came to boot camp, someone who influences his decision to become a marine.

He says, "My grandfather was in the Navy, he wanted me to go into the Marines, he thought it would be a better place for me."

Both recruits say they have felt a transformation within themselves, and want their families to know they are okay.

"This recruit is doing just fine, it's getting better and better everyday, I'm just gonna push through, this recruit is gonna make it and this recruit will be home before they know it," says Anthony.

"I just wanna tell everybody I love them, I miss them, I hope they're having a fun time because I know I am," says Micah.

Bot of these recruits expect to graduate boot camp.

Nad-e-Ali Insurgent Commander Captured

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan national security force and International Security Assistance Force team captured the southern Nad-e-Ali Taliban commander during a joint operation in Nad-e-Ali, Helmand province, March 2.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.03.2010
Posted: 03.03.2010 11:35

He is known to have planned and coordinated attacks leading to the deaths of civilians, ANSF and ISAF forces.

Two other suspected insurgents were detained during the operation.

March 2, 2010

IJC Operational Update, March 2

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan-international security force searched a compound in a rural area of the Nawah-ye Barakzai District, Helmand province after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the security forces detained a couple of suspected insurgents.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.02.2010
Posted: 03.02.2010 03:13

Another joint security force in Helmand searched a compound outside the town of Khugyani Gundey, in the Nahr-e Saraj District after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the joint force detained a pair of suspected insurgents.

In Khowst last night, an Afghan-international security force searched a compound outside the town of Surwapan Tuy, in the Sabari District after intelligence information confirmed militant activity and captured several insurgents.The joint force also found multiple rifles, shotguns and grenades.

In a separate Khowst operation yesterday, an Afghan-international security force searched a pair of compounds near the village of Karizownah in the Sabari District after intelligence information indicated militant activity. During the search the team detained several suspected insurgents including a known Haqqani facilitator responsible for the purchase and movement of weapons for the network.

In other operations, international forces found a cache of 24 Chinese mortar grenades in Ghazni province. The munitions were destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

A joint security patrol in the Reg-e Khan Neshin district of Helmand found a drug cache yesterday. The cache contained 90 kilograms of marijuana, 22 kg of hashish and 45 kg of seeds. Three suspects were detained. The drugs will be destroyed.

No Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.

Military Police Marines Attend Mine Detector Course

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Marines with Military Police Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, attended a two-day mine detecting course aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 22 -23.



2nd Marine Logistic Group Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. M. M. Bravo
Date: 03.02.2010
Posted: 03.02.2010 09:02

The purpose of the course was to teach the fundamentals of using mine detectors to find improvised explosive devices. These fundamentals include the basic sweep techniques, the proper sweep speed and the correct operator stance.

The Marines first received the information in a classroom setting and then participated in practical application to test out what they learned.

Sgt. Jeremy D. Mitz, an engineer training area instructor, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, said with the Marine Corps' current presence in Afghanistan, the training will better prepare individuals for finding IEDs underfoot.

"Afghanistan's terrain is difficult to traverse in vehicles," Mitz said. "Dismounted patrols are mandatory [in country]. This [training] is important for Marines to learn."

The instructors, who are all combat engineers, teach according to Marine Corps standards, but they also pass on their personal experiences.

"It's a very effective course for Marines who have no prior knowledge of mine detecting," Mitz said. "It's designed to develop a baseline to go from, but this is our job. It's what we do."

Lance Cpl. Johnilea E. Petty, who has deployed to Iraq, said she learned a lot from her instructors, especially since she has no prior experience with a mine detector.

"I've never touched one before we came out here," she said. "It's interesting to hear what different sounds metal makes, like rounds or a bolt or a nut."

"The guys that have [deployed to Afghanistan] said we're going to be doing this in country a lot," she continued.

Cpl. Patrick B. Winslow has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Winslow said the majority of their patrols in Iraq were done in vehicles and they didn't use the hand-held mine detectors. In Afghanistan though, they conducted a lot of foot patrols and used them regularly.

"When we were in Afghanistan we used [mine detectors] all the time," he said. I was part of a route clearance team and we'd go out and clear roads all day. We used several mine detectors at a time to find IEDs."

Winslow said because of his deployment, he already knew how to use a mine detector prior to this training, but it was very effective for Marines who have no prior experience with the equipment.

"This training lets these Marines get a feel for this before they go," Winslow said. "It gives them a chance to get hands on training and learn how [the detector] works so when they deploy they can get the job done."

McChrystal, others visit Marja, Afghanistan, as offensive enters governing phase

MARJA, AFGHANISTAN -- The initial phase of the military offensive in southern Afghanistan to wrest Marja from insurgent control has largely ended, but the more daunting task of building a credible government in the place of Taliban rule has just begun, according to senior U.S. and Afghan officials.


By Joshua Partlow
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Helicopters bearing Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan; Karim Khalili, Afghanistan's second vice president; and a host of other senior officials touched down Monday afternoon next to a sandbagged, bullet-pocked school that now serves as Marine headquarters here. The officials entered a town now controlled by U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers, where the fierce gun battles that punctuated the early days of the offensive have ceased.

"We're not at the end of the military phase, but we're clearly approaching that," McChrystal said. "The government of Afghanistan is in the position now of having the opportunity, and the requirement, to prove they can establish legitimate governance."

The farmlands of Marja, once a Taliban stronghold and drug-trafficking hub, remain a treacherous place. During the two-week-long offensive, 5,000 Marines and Afghan soldiers have encountered hundreds of mines and homemade bombs, and the troops still plan another detailed, house-by-house clearing of the ground they've passed through. More than 100 insurgents have been killed in the fighting, along with at least six NATO troops; six more NATO troops were killed Monday in violence across the nation.

But the Afghan flag now flies over Marja, a place where no government presence existed before the offensive, and the shooting has stopped, at least for now.

"Ten days ago there would have been firefights right on this street," Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the Marine commander in Helmand province, told McChrystal outside the government center.

"There has not been a shot fired in Marja for seven days. Not one shot. Marja's quiet," Nicholson said. "We're very happy with the progress."

Whether the Taliban has fled or just chosen to stop fighting remains an open question. McChrystal said some Taliban fighters may have started to function as "sleeper cells," waiting for orders, while "some of them probably just put the gun away and are waiting to see what's going to happen." He said he didn't expect the quiet to last unchallenged, because the Taliban would try to create the perception of insecurity. "I think they may test it with suicide bombers," he said.

The more difficult test will probably be how the people of Marja take to their new government, embodied by Haji Zahir, the newly installed town leader. He stood alongside Khalili on Monday, the most senior Afghan official to visit Marja since the offensive began.

Speaking to a crowd of residents who sat on the ground in a dozen even rows, Khalili said the Afghan government would "exhaust all avenues to bring peace and security."

"We will stay, we will fight with all our forces, we will defend you," Khalili said. "We will be next to you, shoulder to shoulder."

But skepticism toward the government runs deep among many Afghans, and many see the police in particular as a corrupt and predatory organization. Some in Marja are angry about damage to homes and fields during the fighting. One elderly Afghan man with a long white beard approached Khalili after his talk and began shouting that his home had been destroyed in the operation. Khalili stood silent as the man went on, then told him that his home was too close to the road, according to a translation of his remarks.

Earlier in the day, McChrystal toured a combat hospital to speak with the wounded and met with about 75 U.S and British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. He told them about his counterinsurgency philosophy and the need to operate with utmost care to avoid civilian casualties. Last month McChrystal apologized to President Hamid Karzai twice for U.S. attacks on suspected insurgents that killed nearly 40 civilians in Helmand and neighboring Uruzgan province.

While Marja, part of the Nad Ali district, was an important target as an insurgent sanctuary, the piece of ground is "not particularly valuable," McChrystal said. "The operation is about changing everyone's mind-set."

McChrystal said he wanted the operation to convince Afghans far beyond Marja that U.S. troops and the Afghan government had the momentum, that they would stay and hold areas they had moved into, and that Afghan security forces and local government could lead the way. "We're trying to convince everybody, okay, we've now figured this out," he said. To convince them that "now we're winning, and we're going to win."

US Marines land on Iwo Jima to mark anniversary

IWO TO, Japan – Hundreds of U.S. Marines landed on the remote island of Iwo Jima on Tuesday to prepare for the 65th anniversary of one of World War II's bloodiest and most iconic battles.


By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Writer Eric Talmadge, Associated Press Writer – Tue Mar 2, 8:00 am ET

The Marines flew in trucks, water and food from Washington to support Wednesday's commemorations of the 1945 battle that was a turning point in the Pacific theater. It claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives in 36 days of intense fighting. A drill team also arrived on the island.

The commemoration was to be attended by about 1,000 people, including Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway, members of Japan's parliament and representatives of the Iwo Jima survivors' association.

Only about two dozen American veterans of the battle are expected to attend the "reunion of honor" ceremony because few of the survivors — now in their 80s and 90s — are able to make the trip.

It was not known if any of the fewer than 1,000 Japanese who survived the battle would be able to attend.

Inhabited only by about 300 Japanese troops, Iwo Jima, a tiny island the size of Manhattan, is a maze of tunnels, caves and dense, scraggly underbrush. It is believed to be covered with too much unexploded ordnance left over from the battle to be developed, and has been largely untouched since the war.

It is, instead, an open tomb.

Though dozens of remains are recovered every year, about 12,000 Japanese are still classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the island, along with 218 Americans.

The island formally reverted to its old name of "Iwo To" in 2006. Both "to" and "jima" mean island, but the name of "Iwo Jima" carries the stigma of the treacherous battle and subsequent two decades of occupation.

The Marines who arrived Tuesday from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on the island of Okinawa, many of whom have been to battle either in Iraq or Afghanistan, said they were visiting hallowed ground.

"I can't imagine fighting in this kind of terrain," said Cpl. Daniel Flynn, 24, of Mount Airy, North Carolina. "I fought in Afghanistan, but that was in open desert. I probably would not have had the same experience here had I not been to Afghanistan."

Joined by Japanese troops and U.S. Navy sailors, many of the Marines trekked down to the beach where the invasion of the island began on Feb. 19, 1945, and filled bottles with its famous black volcanic sand. Others jogged to the top of Mount Suribachi, where the U.S. flag was raised on Feb. 23 — an image captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal that became one of the most enduring ever taken of war.

Iwo Jima was declared secured on March 26, 1945. Japan surrendered in August of that year.

"It's like going back in time," said Staff Sgt. Daneil Dumas, 28, of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The picture of Marines: past and present

NEW YORK — For a civilian it's a source of inspiration. For a photographer it's a dynamic study of composition and structure. For a historian it inspires debates on amphibious tactics and whether an island a third the size of Manhattan should have been bypassed in favor of other objectives.


Negative of Flag Rasing at Iwo Jima photo:

3/2/2010 By Sgt. W. J. Ferris, 1st Marine Corps District

"It's arguably the most famous news photograph ever taken, maybe the most famous photograph period," said Chuck Zoeller, a 23-year veteran of the Associated Press. Many of those years have been working with and caring for the photograph.

According to Chuck, Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima holds a very special place for those at the AP.

For a Marine, it's more like the Holy Grail.

Or at least, it feels that way, ascending to the 15th floor of the AP's New York headquarters.

The original film negative is a long way from its place of birth on hot, sandy Iwo Jima. Deep within the AP's photo archive is a reinforced metal gate. Never mind that I had passed through a security checkpoint in the lobby, and been escorted through several electronically locked doors; the gate bore a substantial padlock.

"They get choked up when they see that negative," Chuck tells me of other Marine visitors.

I felt underdressed. I half expected to see the film in some ornate display.

The photo of five Marines and their Navy Corpsman raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi is clothed in no such gaudiness. Its light-brown cardboard box has a white label that runs left to right. Tiny metal rings reinforce its corners. In the fluorescent light, to me, the line of rings looks like scarlet piping.

I'm reminded of my dad, who not only was a Gunny but who was born on the same day the photo was taken, explaining to me when I was young why Marine uniforms don't have all the pins, badges and stuff that other military uniforms have.

Marines don't need all that junk, he told me. He said to Marines, having nothing more than the eagle globe and anchor on the uniform was enough. He did admit that my Mother was fond of his dress blues.

I'm jerked from my thoughts by the sound of the light board turning on. The negative is now brightly lit from below, taking on a glowing, other-worldly look.

As I focus on the image with my camera, I'm struck by how clearly I see things-but not the things I expected.

I have seen the picture thousands of times. The image that represents me, my father, all the Marines I've admired, learned from, and led is flawed. It has rust spots, chips and scars.

I try to appreciate the blemishes and keep taking pictures. I feel frustrated because no matter what perspective or view I take there's a reflection of me in the photo.

Sometimes the story you look for isn't the one you find.
I had gone into the AP like it was a shrine. I expected some sort of spiritual experience that would mark my soul by being in the presence of greatness and history. When I left, I felt cheated. The only new things I saw were blemishes and reflections.

It's easy to see great lessons of the Corps in the photo. It shows a group a warriors working together. They're striving toward a common goal, much greater than themselves. They are so close they almost merge into one.

You can see leadership in the photo as well. Marines have their hands right on another's, helping each other with the burden.
Yes, you can see blemishes too. And maybe some reflections.
But you don't have to look at the photo for that and I didn't have to go to the AP to see it.

You can see this all right next to you. Look no further than to the Marine to the left and right of you and you'll see it. Inspiration, in spite of blemishes; courage in spite of scars.

When you look at Rosenthal's photograph, I hope you see your Marines. When you look at your Marines maybe you'll see a piece of that famous photo.

If you have a picture of one of them near your desk or in your shop, why not put a picture of the other next to it. Both are inspirational.

Insurgent Attacks Continue to Take Toll on Civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan - While progress is taking place in southern Afghanistan following Operation Moshtarak, insurgent attacks have continued to harm civilians and impact their freedom of movement in Kandahar and Helmand.


ISAF Joint Command
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.02.2010
Posted: 03.02.2010 02:31

"Monday's attacks in Kandahar killed and injured innocent civilians, Afghan national police and ISAF personnel. And these attacks came a day after an IED strike on Sunday that killed a family of eleven in Helmand. These indiscriminate attacks show the devastating impact of the insurgents' actions on innocent civilians," said U.S. Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, ISAF Joint Command spokesperson.

Afghan forces, with limited support from ISAF troops, responded to each of these incidents, helped secure the sites and provided medical assistance to the injured. ISAF and Afghan forces have also begun repairs to the bridge damaged in Monday's IED attack near Kandahar airfield.

Marjah Effort Shows Values, Flaws Of Afghan Forces

When the U.S. military began its counterinsurgency offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand River valley last summer, some 4,000 Marines took part in the operation aside about 300 Afghan forces.


by Tom Bowman
March 2, 2010

By autumn, the number of Afghan troops participating more than doubled, according to Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the Marine commander in southern Afghanistan. Nicholson told NPR that a major challenge in building local relationships was the lack of Afghan soldiers and police.

"We are vetting our police. And my assessment is that probably 3 to 4 out of every 10 we have probably need to really go home," Nicholson says.

More Afghan Troops In Marjah Operation

But senior U.S. officers say the current operation against the Taliban-stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province is far different.

Several thousand Afghan soldiers and police are participating alongside U.S. Marines in the operation that began in mid-February. Afghan national police were brought in from elsewhere in the country to replace corrupt local cops, U.S. officers say.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, points out that there are about 4,500 Afghans with U.S. and coalition troops in Marjah. "It's well planned," Mullen says. "Afghans are in the lead."

But a senior military official tells NPR that the U.S. definition of "in the lead" means Afghans are planning the operation, and sitting down with Afghan elders in mosques or in meetings known as shuras.

The Afghans are not leading in combat, says the senior official.

The combat performance of Afghan soldiers is spotty, according to numerous reports from the field. Reporters on the ground report Afghan soldiers in the rear, sometimes smoking hashish or looting, as U.S. Marines move forward to secure Marjah.

American and British troops provide the artillery, the airpower and the logistics. They are also suffering the bulk of the casualties — at least 10 times that of Afghans.

An Uneasy Partnership

James Danly, a retired Army officer who trained Iraqi forces, says the problem in Afghanistan is that for years Afghan units were kept on the periphery of U.S.-led operations. They were never real partners, although that is now beginning to change.

"You don't forge armies out of nothing. It takes a long time for units to become cohesive and to learn their tasks properly," says Danly. "It could take a long time."

Just how long that will take is central question of President Obama's Afghanistan strategy. Obama wants to start removing some U.S. troops by the summer of 2011, turning over responsibility to Afghan forces.

But the Afghans may not be ready.

In a secret memo last fall — later leaked to the press — the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, wrote: "We overestimate the ability of the Afghan security forces to take over."

Eikenberry, who served as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until 2007, expressed doubt in the memo that Afghan forces could assume full security even by the target date of 2013.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno thinks that may be too pessimistic. Like Eikenberry, Barno once commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Barno says success in the Marjah operation could turn things around in southern Afghanistan, much like the "surge" of American forces in Iraq in 2007 changed the security calculus there.

Afghanistan "could look a lot different in the next six months or a year from now," Barno says. But that will depend on better governance — as well as security, he says.

"I think the Afghan army is going to provide a key part of that," says Barno says. "In some ways maybe this is the first time that the people actually see their army in action. And I know during my experience there that was an eye-opening experience."

An Effort To Recruit In The South

Just getting the Afghan army into the field has been a struggle. The Afghan government has increased pay in an effort to lure and retain recruits. But illicit drug use and illiteracy are common in the ranks.

Senior U.S. trainers, including Maj. Gen. David Hogg, are having a hard time recruiting, especially among the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

"Now we do have an issue as far as getting Afghans from the south, Pashtuns mainly, and so that's one of the things that will be a challenge as far as maintaining an ethnic balance," Hogg says.

Hogg says part of the problem in increasing the army's ranks in the south in that the region is the heartland of the Taliban movement.

Officials estimate that three-quarters of insurgents in the southern Afghanistan were born and raised there, and did not come from neighboring Pakistan — which is the case for many insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.

But for the Afghan army to be seen as legitimate in the south, more soldiers have to come from there. Most military-age males in the south are already fighting — for the Taliban.

Hogg also says that large numbers of Afghan soldiers are going absent without leave or not reenlisting.

"What that means is we've got retain more and we've got to recruit more to make up for the attrition," Hogg says.

But recruiting is going better outside the south. Hogg says nationwide in December there were nearly 9,000 recruits for the army, double the number from just a few months earlier.

Hogg says his command is hopeful it can meet its target of 134,000 Afghan soldiers by this fall.

But that recruiting success has revealed still another problem: Finding instructors from NATO countries to turn the Afghan recruits into soldiers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pressed NATO countries to send more trainers. But Hogg says the allied training effort is still short about 1,900 trainers.

If NATO doesn't send more, the U.S. may have to fill that void, even as the already expanding U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is expected to reach about 100,000 this fall.

New rules for troops hit by IED blasts

By Gregg Zoroya - USA TODAY
Posted : Tuesday Mar 2, 2010 17:33:08 EST

WASHINGTON — Troops caught near a roadside blast will be pulled out of combat for 24 hours and checked for a mild traumatic brain injury, even if they appear unhurt or say they are fine, according to a new treatment policy the Pentagon is planning to release.

To continue reading:


Boot Camp for Marine Recruits Begins

United States Marines no doubt have a tough job.

Click above link for news video.

Posted: 5:17 PM Mar 2, 2010
Reporter: John DesRivieres

But before the training to become a Marine actually begs, the recruits have to be received and processed.

That's when they get the initial shock of arriving at boot camp, and first impressions are everything.

Most of the images we have of the Marine Corps come from Hollywood films, but nothing can duplicate the feeling these recruits have when they step off the bus for the first time at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

They meet the drill instructors and get into formation on the famous yellow footprints.

It's here that civilian life ends and life as a Marine recruit begins.

"It's the first time away from home for a lot of them. Pretty much stress already going through their heads, anxiousness. They might be scared coming here to MCRD, it's fear of the unknown.

The first night of boot camp, the rigorous training program begins, and 13 weeks later, they emerge as U.S. Marines.

McChrystal, others visit Marja, Afghanistan, as offensive enters governing phase

MARJA, AFGHANISTAN -- The initial phase of the military offensive in southern Afghanistan to wrest Marja from insurgent control has largely ended, but the more daunting task of building a credible government in the place of Taliban rule has just begun, according to senior U.S. and Afghan officials.



By Joshua Partlow
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Helicopters bearing Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan; Karim Khalili, Afghanistan's second vice president; and a host of other senior officials touched down Monday afternoon next to a sandbagged, bullet-pocked school that now serves as Marine headquarters here. The officials entered a town now controlled by U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers, where the fierce gun battles that punctuated the early days of the offensive have ceased.

"We're not at the end of the military phase, but we're clearly approaching that," McChrystal said. "The government of Afghanistan is in the position now of having the opportunity, and the requirement, to prove they can establish legitimate governance."

The farmlands of Marja, once a Taliban stronghold and drug-trafficking hub, remain a treacherous place. During the two-week-long offensive, 5,000 Marines and Afghan soldiers have encountered hundreds of mines and homemade bombs, and the troops still plan another detailed, house-by-house clearing of the ground they've passed through. More than 100 insurgents have been killed in the fighting, along with at least six NATO troops; six more NATO troops were killed Monday in violence across the nation.

But the Afghan flag now flies over Marja, a place where no government presence existed before the offensive, and the shooting has stopped, at least for now.

"Ten days ago there would have been firefights right on this street," Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the Marine commander in Helmand province, told McChrystal outside the government center.

"There has not been a shot fired in Marja for seven days. Not one shot. Marja's quiet," Nicholson said. "We're very happy with the progress."

Whether the Taliban has fled or just chosen to stop fighting remains an open question. McChrystal said some Taliban fighters may have started to function as "sleeper cells," waiting for orders, while "some of them probably just put the gun away and are waiting to see what's going to happen." He said he didn't expect the quiet to last unchallenged, because the Taliban would try to create the perception of insecurity. "I think they may test it with suicide bombers," he said.

The more difficult test will probably be how the people of Marja take to their new government, embodied by Haji Zahir, the newly installed town leader. He stood alongside Khalili on Monday, the most senior Afghan official to visit Marja since the offensive began.

Speaking to a crowd of residents who sat on the ground in a dozen even rows, Khalili said the Afghan government would "exhaust all avenues to bring peace and security."

"We will stay, we will fight with all our forces, we will defend you," Khalili said. "We will be next to you, shoulder to shoulder."

But skepticism toward the government runs deep among many Afghans, and many see the police in particular as a corrupt and predatory organization. Some in Marja are angry about damage to homes and fields during the fighting. One elderly Afghan man with a long white beard approached Khalili after his talk and began shouting that his home had been destroyed in the operation. Khalili stood silent as the man went on, then told him that his home was too close to the road, according to a translation of his remarks.

Earlier in the day, McChrystal toured a combat hospital to speak with the wounded and met with about 75 U.S and British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. He told them about his counterinsurgency philosophy and the need to operate with utmost care to avoid civilian casualties. Last month McChrystal apologized to President Hamid Karzai twice for U.S. attacks on suspected insurgents that killed nearly 40 civilians in Helmand and neighboring Uruzgan province.

While Marja, part of the Nad Ali district, was an important target as an insurgent sanctuary, the piece of ground is "not particularly valuable," McChrystal said. "The operation is about changing everyone's mind-set."

McChrystal said he wanted the operation to convince Afghans far beyond Marja that U.S. troops and the Afghan government had the momentum, that they would stay and hold areas they had moved into, and that Afghan security forces and local government could lead the way. "We're trying to convince everybody, okay, we've now figured this out," he said. To convince them that "now we're winning, and we're going to win."

March 1, 2010

3/4 Preparing Afghan National Security Forces for Success

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Before coalition forces can leave Afghanistan, they must first make sure the government has a reliable and proficient fighting force. Without one, the country is vulnerable to invasion and insurrection.



2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Courtesy Story
Date: 03.01.2010
Posted: 03.01.2010 12:54

By Cpl. Zachary J. Nola

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Before coalition forces can leave Afghanistan, they must first make sure the government has a reliable and proficient fighting force. Without one, the country is vulnerable to invasion and insurrection.

Both an Afghan army and police force exist, and the training of these forces is ongoing, but coalition forces must ensure Afghan national security forces aren't pushed through training quickly just to get them into the fight.

Through on the job training, Marines of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, have found a way to ensure ANSF members are well trained and an immediate asset in the fight against the Taliban.

ANSF members recently got some of this training when they joined Marines from India Company, 3/4, for an operation to clear the Taliban presence from Buji Bhast Pass and the surrounding towns.

While the Marines of India Company admitted their Afghan counterparts still need additional training to be a premier fighting force, they were impressed with the knowledge and effort ANSF members put forth.

"The ANA did well," said Lance Cpl. Jordan T. Stevenson, 21, a rifleman with India Company, 3/4. "You go [into a compound] and they'd do everything you need them to do. You'd point out a locker and they'd know how to search it."

Marines take pride in knowing they can trust the Marines to their left and right during critical situations. Stevenson said he felt no different when it was an ANSF member instead of a Marine.

"I felt completely confident that the ANA were doing their job just as well as we were doing ours," said Stevenson, a native of Fletcher, Okla. "They did their job efficiently and effectively."

This training implemented by 3/4 is paying dividends since it is providing ANSF members with strong training and providing the Marines a helpful tool when interacting with Afghan locals.

"They know how to handle the people," said Lance Cpl. John J. Seguna, a rifleman with India Company, 3/4. "They're very important when it comes to the females and other cultural aspects. They know what's normal in a house and what to search."

While a language barrier existed during the operation, the Marines and ANSF members did their best to communicate through hand signals. Both groups also made sure to learn each other's names and shared chow and the occasional laugh.

Throughout the operation, the Marines and ANSF had to battle inclement weather. Rain, sleet, high winds and low temperatures attacked the clearing force throughout the day.

While the situation was less than perfect, it allowed the Marines and ANSF to share an experience that neither will forget for some time. Sharing these experiences will hopefully break down any barriers remaining between the two forces and create a sense of brotherhood between all those who were there, no matter their nationality.

Afghanistan Bound, MTACS Marines Train to Fight

Before Marines go overseas, they must learn skills beyond their primary job and be ready for deployment.


Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
Story by Lance Cpl. Manuel Guerrero
Date: 03.01.2010
Posted: 03.01.2010 12:09

More than 100 Marines from Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 38 traveled to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to participate in their final Battlefield Zero exercise for their deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The BZO exercise helped the Marines fine-tune their M-4 or M-2 rifles by shooting dozens of rounds on targets 36 feet away. After the last rounds were fired, the Marines' shot groups were tight and centered on the black.

Before the MTACS-38 Marines conducted the final BZO exercise, they participated in their Mission Rehearsal Exercise, a three-week exercise, which gets them ready for deployment.

"It's always important for them to pick up these skills again because they are basic Marine skills they need to know," said Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Lundgreen, who will be the training officer for MTACS-38 during the deployment. "The training is essential for the deployment."

The MTACS-38 Marines also learned how to maintain, check and fire .50 caliber and M240B machine guns with classes and practical application; two weapons they weren't familiar with using. After receiving several tutorials on the weapons, they got a chance to use their skills on the range. The Marines fired more than 1,000 rounds from each weapon. For many of them, it was the first time firing the different weapons systems.

"It was a lot of fun firing the weapons," said Lance Cpl. Steven R. Weinberg, an operations clerk with the squadron. "I learned how to function check it, and it's good to learn how to use them."

Although the role of Marines will be to provide air support to ground units with their Tactical Air Command System this coming deployment for a year, the more skills they know, the more they can do during deployment, added Lundgreen.

With the added training and preparation, the MTACS-38 Marines will be prepared to face the challenges while deployed as well as have additional skills if they are called upon to do so.

‘Caregiver Kits’ campaign under way

THE VILLAGES — Organizations all over the nation send packages to U.S. troops overseas, but it’s their Marines connection that makes Operation Caregiver stand out.


Monday, March 1, 2010 12:14 AM EST

Established in 2004 in San Diego, Calif., Operation Caregiver is a nationwide volunteer organization that provides “Caregiver Kits” to U.S. troops serving in the war zone.

Packages — which include hard candy, toiletries and letters of appreciation and encouragement — are sent directly to Marines serving on the front lines in Afghanistan.

The group, led by its founder Michael “Doc” LaMar, is gearing up to send out its next shipments of kits.

It will cost $50,000, and they’ve asked numerous organizations for help, including the Phillip C. DeLong Detachment of the Marine Corps League in The Villages.

“If we as a group of local Marines and our friends each give $60,” said Jack Maiz, a member of the detachment, “and then ask others we know to do the same, we could help tremendously with their efforts and directly support our troops.”

Maiz said the collection in The Villages began recently.

“At this