Jul 31, 2009

2 Marines killed in Helmand

CNN: Two U.S. Marines were killed Thursday in fighting with insurgents in southern Afghanistan, officials said.

The troops “died of wounds suffered in a direct fire incident with insurgents,” NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said on Friday.

A U.S. military spokeswoman confirmed the report and said the two were killed by gunfire in the same incident. The deaths of one of the service members was reported Thursday and the other died of wounds later.

U.S. Marines have been fighting Taliban militants in Helmand province.

More Troops to Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, U.S. May Shift Strategy
Request for Big Boost in Afghan Troops Could Also Require More Americans

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post
July 31, 2009

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way U.S. and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increas! e in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama's national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.

Senior military officials said McChrystal is waiting for a recommendation from a team of military planners in Kabul before reaching a final decision on a troop request. Severa! l members of the advisory group, who spoke about the issue of force le vels on the condition of anonymity, said that they think more U.S. troops are needed but that it was not clear how large an increase McChrystal would seek.

"There was a very broad consensus on the part of the assessment team that the effort is under-resourced and will require additional resources to get the job done," a senior military official in Kabul said.

A request for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan could pose a political challenge for Obama. Some leading congressional Democrats have voiced skepticism about sustaining current force levels, set to reach 68,000 by the fall. After approving an extra 21,000 troops in the spring, Obama himself questioned whether "piling on more and more troops" would lead to success, and his national security adviser, James L. Jones, told U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan last month that the administration wants to hold troop levels flat for now.

One senior administration official said some members of Obama's national! security team want to see how McChrystal uses the 21,000 additional troops before any more deployments are authorized. "It'll be a tough sell," the official said.

Even so, McChrystal has been instructed by his superiors -- including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen -- to conduct a thorough assessment of the war effort and articulate his recommendations. While McChrystal has indicated to some of his advisers that he is leaning toward asking for more forces, he has also emphasized that his strategy will involve fundamental changes in the way those troops are used.

One of the key changes outlined in the latest drafts of the assessment report, which will be provided to Gates by mid-August, is a shift in the "operational culture" of U.S. and NATO forces. Commanders will be encouraged to increase contact with Afghans, even if it means living in less-secure outposts inside towns and spending more time on! foot patrols instead of in vehicles.

"McChrystal understands th at you don't stop IEDs [improvised explosive devices] by putting your soldiers in MRAPs," heavily armored trucks designed to withstand blasts, said Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington who served on the assessment team. "You stop them by convincing the population not to plant them in the first place, and that requires getting out of trucks and interacting with people."
The report calls for intelligence resources to be realigned to focus more on tribal and social dynamics so commanders can identify local power brokers and work with them. Until recently, the vast majority of U.S. and NATO intelligence assets had been oriented toward tracking insurgents.

The changes are aimed at fulfilling McChrystal's view that the primary mission of the international forces is not to conduct raids against Taliban strongholds but to protect civilians and help the Afghan government assume responsibility for maintaining security. "The focus ha! s to be on the people," he said in a recent interview.

To accomplish that, McChrystal has indicated that he is considering moving troops out of remote mountain valleys where Taliban fighters have traditionally sought sanctuary and concentrating more forces around key population centers.

The assessment report also urges the United States and NATO to almost double the size of the Afghan security forces. It calls for expanding the Afghan army from 134,000 soldiers to about 240,000, and the police force from 92,000 personnel to about 160,000. Such an increase would require additional U.S. forces to conduct training and mentoring.

McChrystal and his top lieutenants have expressed concern about a lack of Afghan soldiers to patrol alongside foreign troops and to take responsibility for protecting pacified areas from Taliban infiltration. In Helmand province, where U.S. Marines are engaged in a major operation, fewer than 500 Afghan soldiers are available to work ! with almost 11,000 American service members.

Some U.S. and Europ ean officials involved in Afghanistan policy warn that the Afghan government does not have the means to pay for such a large army and police force, but McChrystal and his assessment team believe additional Afghan troops are essential to the country's stability. U.S. officials have said that they would like European nations to help cover the cost of training and sustaining additional Afghan forces.

The strategy advocates changes in what happens after Afghan soldiers graduate from boot camp. Instead of just placing small groups of U.S. trainers with Afghan units, the assessment calls for a top-to-bottom partnership between Afghan and NATO security forces that involves everyone from generals to privates working in tandem. "We've got to live together, we've got to train together, we've got to conduct operations together," one senior U.S. military official in Kabul said. "Everything we do has to be done together."

The assessment also calls for U.S. and NATO forces to ! be far more involved in fighting corruption and promoting effective governance, describing the risk to the overall mission from ineffective and venal government officials as being on par with the threat from top Taliban commanders. "These are co-equal ways we could lose the war," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served on the assessment team.

The team, which spent more than a dozen hours meeting with McChrystal over the past month, was made up of several prominent national security specialists from a variety of think thanks in Washington, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Jul 30, 2009

WSJ trashes the "Birthers"

It’s Certifiable
The last word on President Obama’s place of birth.

Wall Street Journal
30 July 2009
Several readers have written over the past few days taking us to task for dismissing so-called birthers as lunatics without bothering to refute their claims. We reluctantly concede their point. The birthers have managed to sow confusion in the minds of some who are not lunatics, and for the latter group’s benefit it is worth clarifying matters.

Compounding the confusion, some rebuttals of the birthers’ claims have been based in part on misinformation. National Review, for example, asserts that it would not matter if the president had been born in a foreign country: “His mother was a native of Kansas, whose residents have been citizens of the United States for a very long time, and whose children are citizens of the United States as well.”

In fact, although some people born outside the U.S. are natural-born citizens (including John McCain, born in Panama, where his father was stationed as a naval officer), the timing and circumstances of Obama’s birth make the place a necessary condition for natural-born citizenship. The State Department Web site explains the law that would have applied if Obama were born overseas:

Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child.

Obama was born before 1986 to married parents, and his father was an alien. Thus if it were an overseas birth, his mother would have to have lived in the U.S. for 5 years after age 14 in order for her child to be a natural-born American. Mrs. Obama was only 18 when Barack was born, so she had not even lived 5 years after age 14.

This is something of a technicality: Someone born overseas and after 1986, but otherwise in identical circumstances to Obama, would be a natural-born citizen thanks to a law signed by President Reagan. We don’t recall any outcry back then about the threat that some such person could grow up to be president, nor, as far as we are aware, are any birthers calling for a change in this law to return to the status quo ante 1986. Even if the birthers’ conspiracy theory were true, it would be hard to square the intensity of their emotion over the subject with the practical effect of Obama’s (hypothetical) overseas birth, which would be roughly nil.

Ah, but the law is the law, the birthers will reply--and who can disagree? The birthers can. Whether out of ignorance or dishonesty, they misrepresent the law at every turn. Back in November, as we noted, the birthers were claiming that the Supreme Court had ordered Obama to “prove” his eligibility for the presidency. In fact, all that had happened was that a lawyer had asked the high court to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision throwing out his frivolous lawsuit for lack of standing. The justices, of course, denied the petition, and all such lawsuits have been summarily dismissed for lack of standing. The law is the law.

The birthers have also misrepresented the law in the claims they have made about Obama’s birth certificate. In truth, Obama has proved that he is a native of Hawaii, and this proof would hold up in any legal or administrative proceeding.

In order to explain the birthers’ deception on this point, it is necessary to delve into the arcana of Hawaiian vital records. The document that Obama has released, which carries the title “certification of live birth,” confirms that the president was born in Honolulu. It is a legal birth certificate, and, as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin notes, it is the only kind of birth certificate the state of Hawaii issues.

FactCheck.org has a close-up photo of the certificate, which states clearly at the bottom: “This copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding.” If a court were somehow to take up the question of Obama’s eligibility, then, the birth certificate would almost certainly be sufficient to resolve the question in his favor. The opposing side would have to provide serious evidence calling into question the veracity of Hawaii’s official state records. Innuendo and hearsay would not be admissible.

Further, if Congress were to pass the so-called birther bill, Obama would be able to comply easily. The bill would require presidential campaigns to submit “a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate” to the Federal Election Commission. The certificate Obama has released publicly would meet this requirement.

Ah, but what about the original birth certificate? This is the nub of the birther “case,” and this is where things get really obscure.

As the Star-Bulletin notes, Hawaiian birth certificates have changed in form since Obama was born. Back then, the official record was a paper document with the title “certificate of live birth” (rather than “certification”), and it included “more information, such as the name of hospital, certifier’s name and title; attendant’s name and title, etc.” Hawaii no longer issues those old-style birth certificates:

[Spokeswoman Janice] Okubo explained that the Health Department went paperless in 2001.

”At that time, all information for births from 1908 (on) was put into electronic files for consistent reporting,” she said. Information about births is transferred electronically from hospitals to the department.

”The electronic record of the birth is what (the Health Department) now keeps on file in order to provide same-day certified copies at our help window for most requests,” Okubo said.

CNN has reported--or rather, CNN executive Jon Klein reported to staffers in an email that others reported--that the obsolete paper certificates were destroyed when the department switched to electronic record-keeping. Klein’s information appears to have been in error. The Honolulu Advertiser reported yesterday that Okubo and her boss, Chiyome Fukino, both confirm that Obama’s original birth certificate still exists. Fukino says she has seen it and that the information matches the now-official electronic records reflected on the certificate Obama has released.

So why doesn’t Obama release the original certificate? The Advertiser says it is “unclear” whether the president “would even be allowed to see it if he asked.” It is clear, though, that the Hawaii statute governing disclosure of public records does not prohibit state officials from providing him with a copy, since he is “the registrant” and therefore has “a direct and tangible interest” in the record. One would think that Obama could persuade state officials to give him a copy, even if that is not their usual policy.

But the real question is: Why should he? The demand has no basis in principle and would have no practical benefit.

Obama has already provided a legal birth certificate demonstrating that he was born in Hawaii. No one has produced any serious evidence to the contrary. Absent such evidence, it is unreasonable to deny that Obama has met the burden of proof. We know that he was born in Honolulu as surely as we know that Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Ark., or George W. Bush in New Haven, Conn.

The release of the obsolete birth certificate would not “resolve the issue” to those for whom it is not already resolved. They claim without basis that today’s birth certificate is a fake; there is nothing to stop them from claiming without basis that yesterday’s is as well.

The president would gain nothing politically for his trouble. By acknowledging the birthers’ demands, he would lend them a modicum of credibility. By ignoring them, he actually reaps political benefits from their efforts. His critics, even those who are not birthers, end up looking like cranks by association. His supporters use the birthers to paint Obama foes as racist--which is probably unfair even to the birthers, as we argued Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

In a Commentary article last year, William F. Buckley recounted the way he, Sen. Barry Goldwater and a handful of other top conservatives worked to stigmatize the John Birch Society, whose founder, Robert Welch, maintained, among other things, that President Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the U.S. government was “under operational control of the Communist Party.” The Birchers, like the birthers, made respectable conservatives look like kooks, and in preparation for a prospective Goldwater presidential campaign, Buckley and his associates “thought it best to do a little conspiratorial organizing of their own against it.”

They succeeded in “excommunicating” the Birchers. It’s probably impossible to do the same to the birthers, because today the right wing is too vast to mount much of a conspiracy. The birthers are likely to be with us for as long as Obama is president--and because of them, it is more likely that this will be for the next 7½ rather than just 3½ years.

The Time to Leave Iraq is Now

Military memo on Iraq: Time to leave
Blunt military assessment comes despite Iraqi forces' ongoing problems
By Michael R. Gordon
The New York Times
updated 1545 EST, July 30, 2009

WASHINGTON - A senior American military adviser in Baghdad has concluded in an unusually blunt memo that the Iraqi forces suffer from deeply entrenched deficiencies but are now capable of protecting the Iraqi government, and that it is time “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.”

Prepared by Col. Timothy R. Reese, an adviser to the Iraqi military’s Baghdad command, the memorandum asserts that the Iraqi forces have an array of problems, including corruption, poor management and the inability to resist political pressure from Shiite political parties.

For all of these problems, however, Colonel Reese argues that Iraqi forces are competent enough to hold off Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and other internal threats to the Iraqi government. Extending the American military presence in Iraq beyond 2010, he argues, will do little to improve the Iraqis’ military performance while fueling a growing resentment.

“As the old saying goes, ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ ” Colonel Reese wrote. “Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose.”

Not the official stance of U.S. military
A spokeswoman for Gen. Ray Odierno, the senior American commander in Iraq, said that the memo did not reflect the official stance of the United States military, was not intended for a broad audience, and that some of the problems the memo referred to had been solved since its writing in early July.

Referring to the Iraq Security Forces, the memo said: “The massive partnering efforts of U.S. combat forces with I.S.F. isn’t yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. We should declare our intentions to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing U.S. plans by some 15 months.”

Before deploying to Iraq, Colonel Reese served as the director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, the Army’s premier intellectual center. He was an author of an official Army history of the Iraq war — “On Point II” — that was sharply critical of the lapses in postwar planning.

Colonel Reese’s memo comes at a sensitive time in the Iraq conflict as American forces are gradually shifting to an advisory role. American combat troops moved out of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities last month, as required by the Status of Forces Agreement concluded by the United States and Iraq.

Colonel Reese’s memo lists a number of problems that have emerged since the withdrawal. They include, he wrote, a “sudden coolness” to American advisers and the “forcible takeover” of a checkpoint in the Green Zone. Iraqi units, he added, are much less willing to conduct joint operations with their American counterparts “to go after targets the U.S. considers high value.”

The Iraqi Ground Forces Command, Colonel Reese wrote, has imposed “unilateral restrictions” on American military operations that “violate the most basic aspects” of American-Iraqi agreement.

“The Iraqi legal system in the Rusafa side of Baghdad has demonstrated a recent willingness to release individuals originally detained by the U.S. for attacks on the U.S.,” he added.

The spokeswoman for General Odierno, Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, responded in a e-mail to questions about the memo. “The e-mail was written by Col. Timothy Reese at the beginning of July and sent to selected personnel within Multi-National Division Baghdad on our classified e-mail system,” Colonel Aberle wrote. “It was expressed to a limited audience, and not meant for wider/general distribution.

“The e-mail reflects one person’s personal view at the time we were first implementing the Security Agreement post-30 June. It does not reflect the official views of U.S. Forces in Iraq. Since that time many of the initial issues have been resolved and our partnerships with Iraqi Security Forces and G.O.I. partners now are even stronger than before 30 June.” G.O.I. is the abbreviation for Government of Iraq.

Rapid reduction in American forcesUnder the plan developed by General Odierno, the vast majority of the approximately 130,000 American forces in Iraq will remain through Iraq’s national elections, which are expected to be held next January. After the elections and the formation of a new Iraqi government, there will be rapid reduction in American forces. By the end of August 2010, the United States would have no more than 50,000 troops in Iraq, which would include six brigades whose primary role would be to advise and train Iraqi troops.

Some experts, such as Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to General David H. Petraeus, have argued that this timetable may be too fast given the host of remaining problems in Iraq, including differences between Kurds and Arab leaders, remaining Sunni-Shiite tensions and the possibility that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might become more authoritarian.

“Renewed violence in Iraq is not inevitable, but it is a serious risk,” Mr. Biddle wrote in a recent paper. “A vigorous preventive strategy is clearly preferable, therefore. The most effective option for prevention is to go slow in drawing down the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Measures to maximize U.S. leverage on important Iraqi leaders — especially Maliki — can be helpful in steering Iraqis away from confrontation and violence, but U.S. leverage is a function of U.S. presence.”

During his recent appearance in Washington, Mr. Maliki also appeared to be contemplating a possible role for American forces after the December 2011 deadline for the removal of all American troops under the Status of Forces Agreement.

The Iraqi prime minister noted in an appearance at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based research organization, that the Status of Forces Agreement, would “end” the American military presence in his country in 2011. “Nevertheless, if Iraqi forces required further training and further support, we shall examine this at that time based on the needs of Iraq,” he said.

During his visit to Iraq earlier this week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates indicated that might be a “modest acceleration” in the number of American forces that are withdrawn from Iraq this year. At the same time, Pentagon and military officials indicated that Kurdish-Arab friction remains a serious worry and that the American advisory role is still very important.

'Incapable of change'
But Colonel Reese questioned the value of an extended advisory role.

“If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. U.S. combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it,” he wrote. “The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the I.S.F. is incapable of change in the current environment.”

Colonel Reese appears to have anonymously circulated a less colorful version of his memo on a blog dubbed “The Enchanter’s Corner.” The author is described as an active-duty Army officer serving as an adviser in Iraq who is “passionate about political issues.” Since word of the memo began to spread, the memo has been removed from the site.

Jul 29, 2009

American Airlines - this is customer service ?

American Airlines Customer Service: Are you stupid, or just disinterested ?
One would think that the combination of high fuel prices, a soft economy, and lots of competition would make American Airlines interested in keeping their customers happy. Nope; not these folks. Let me entertain you with the saga of my son’s attempts to fly Philadelphia-Dallas-Palm Springs in order to return to 29 Palms, USMC, as American Airlines lied, dissembled, and treated him with the rudeness and disdain one associates with a 3rd-World airline:

Monday noon: I log-on to the AA website; it shows that his 2:55 flight is leaving-on time so we leave for the airport accordingly.

1:30 PM : Checking in, learn the flight is delayed 2 hours. Phil will miss his Dallas connection to Palm Springs. Asking the gate agent to look for other flights, we’re told by their Mr. M_____ “there aren’t any. What exactly do you want me to do?” We want you to get him to Palm Springs, as per the ticket you sold him, but that seems to be beyond you.

Phil checks in, and after having his Dallas –Palm Springs section re-booked for the next day, M____laughs at our request for a hotel room, and says that the delay isn’t American’s fault, and therefore AA won’t pay. What’s the reason for the delay? He claims he doesn’t know, but it’s not AA’s fault regardless. He suggests Phil fly to Las Vegas, a 3-hr drive from 29 Palms, and take a cab to his base. So American Airlines considers flying you 90% of the way to be a successful flight? Very sad.

3:00: I call AA Customer Service (800-433-7300. A difficult # to find, as it’s been removed from their website). Explaining the situation to Ms. B____, she immediately offers either a hotel room or to rebook him on another airline. Contrary to Mr. M____’s shoddy efforts, both US Air and United have flights out of Philly that will get Phil to Palm Springs that evening; she books him on a United flight, and tells me to have him get his bags back, and check in w/United. Awesome – thank you!!

3:15-5:30: American refuses to give him back his bags. Excuses range from we’ve already loaded the plane (a lie, it hasn’t arrived yet, to ‘don’t worry, we’ve re-booked your bags direct to Palm Springs’). Also, they don’t give him his endorsed ticket (“you don’t need it, your seat is ‘protected’”), so when he returns to United, they refuse to check him in since American still holds his ticket.

As he calls me from the airport, I call AA Customer Service. A disaster: I’m transferred to baggage claim, hung-up on, and then told “oh, we cancelled his United booking, his flight’s now leaving at 6:30”. Really? And if I wasn’t calling, how would he know?

6:30: Phil boards his 2:55 flight which eventually leaves approx 8 p.m.

7:30. I call AA Customer Service to get the hotel room promised earlier. Talk to yet one more uncooperative agent (“we don’t give out hotel rooms”), so I get a supervisor, Mr. G____. He’s equally disinterested, but tells me Phil can ask AA when he arrives Dallas, and perhaps negotiate for a room. I ask for his supervisor, am told someone will call me back when they’re not busy.

8:30. Ms. B____ calls back to tell me that it’s not AA’s fault, they most certainly do not give out hotel rooms, and “really, what do you expect?” Ms B____, since you tell me you’re management, here’s what I expect:

1 – I expect your website to be accurate. Your originating flight hadn’t even left Dallas when I logged-on, yet you were still showing an on-time departure from Philly. You find this to be acceptable level of accuracy?

2 – Are all your gate agents as inept as M_____ ? Or is it corporate practice for him to lie when he said there were no other flights available, so to keep Phil on American? And suggesting Phil fly to Las Vegas and take a 3-hour cab ride…how sad to discover that American fired all its competent gate agents.

3 – In short, Ms. B____, I expect your people to do their jobs. I expect you to take responsibility for your flights, to get your customers to their destinations, and to tell the truth. If you have a weather delay, I expect to be informed. If your flight strands customers in an airport overnight, I expect you to assist; at the very least you can offer meal vouchers. In short, I expect you to act in a professional manner.

But I realize that this won’t happen: since I’m dealing with American Airlines, I’m stuck dealing with incompetents like M____ and G____, and whiners like you.

Jul 27, 2009

Muslim Extremists vs. West; Losing, But Still Here

The Losers Hang On
By Thomas L. Friedman
New York Times
July 26, 2009

Jalozai Camp, Pakistan--After spending a week traveling the frontline of the “war on terrorism” — from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in the seas off Iran, to northern Iraq, to Afghanistan and into northwest Pakistan — I can comfortably report the following: The bad guys are losing.

Yes, the dominos you see falling in the Muslim world today are the extremist Islamist groups and governments. They have failed to persuade people by either their arguments or their performances in power that their puritanical versions of Islam are the answer. Having lost the argument, though, the radicals still hang on thanks to gun barrels and oil barrels — and they can for a while.

Because, while the radicals have failed miserably, our allies — the pro-Americans, the Muslim modernists, the Arab moderates — have not really filled the void with reform and good government of their own. They are winning by default. More on that later.

For now, though, it is obvious that everywhere they have won or seized power, the Islamists — in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon or Gaza — have overplayed their hands, dragged their societies into useless wars or engaged in nihilistic violence that today is producing a broad backlash from mainstream Muslims.

Think of this: In the late-1970s, two leaders made historic trips — President Anwar Sadat flew from Egypt to Israel and Ayatollah Khomeini flew from Paris to Tehran. For the last 30 years, politics in the Middle East and the Muslim world has, in many ways, been a struggle between their competing visions.

Sadat argued that the future should bury the past and that Arabs and Muslims should build their future based on peace with Israel, integration with the West and embracing modernity. Khomeini argued that the past should bury the future and that Persians and Muslims should build their future on hostility to Israel, isolation from the West and subordinating modernity to a puritanical Islam.

In 2009, the struggle between those two trends tipped toward the Sadatists. The fact that Iran’s ruling theocrats had to steal their election to stay in power and forcibly suppress dissent by millions of Iranians — according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iran has surpassed China as the world’s leading jailer of journalists, with 41 now behind bars — is the most visible sign of this. The Taliban’s burning down of secular schools that compete with its mosques, and its peddling of heroin to raise cash, are also not exactly signs of intellectual triumph.

The same day that President Obama spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo University, Osama bin Laden released a long statement on Islamic Web sites and on Al Jazeera. As the Egyptian Middle East expert Mamoun Fandy noted: “Obama beat Osama hands down. Ask anyone about the content of Obama’s speech and they will tell you. Ask them what Osama said and most people will say, ‘Did he give a speech?’”

In Iraq’s elections last January, nationalist and moderate Muslim parties defeated the sectarian, radical religious parties, while in Lebanon, a pro-Western coalition defeated one led by Hezbollah.

Here in Pakistan, the backlash against the Taliban has been building among the rising middle class. It started in March when a mobile-phone video of a teenage girl being held down and beaten outside her home by a Taliban commander in Pakistan’s Swat Valley spread virally across this country. In May, the Pakistani Army began an offensive against Taliban militants who had taken control of key towns in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and appeared to be moving toward the capital, Islamabad.

I followed Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visited a vast, choking-hot and dust-covered refugee tent camp in Jalozai, where some 116,000 refugees have fled the NWFP, as the Pakistani Army moved into their hometowns to smash the Taliban in a popular operation.

“People are totally against them, but the Taliban don’t care,” a Pakistani teacher, Abdul Jalil, 41, told me while taking a break from teaching the Urdu alphabet to young boys in a sweltering tent. “They are very cruel. They chopped people’s heads off.”

To the extent that the radical Islamists have any energy today, it comes not from the power of their ideas or examples of good governance, but by stoking sectarian feuds. In Afghanistan, the Taliban play on Pashtun nationalist grievances, and in Iraq, the Sunni jihadists draw energy from killing Shiites.

The only way to really dry up their support, though, is for the Arab and Muslim modernists to actually implement better ideas by producing less corrupt and more consensual governance, with better schools, more economic opportunities and a vision of Islam that is perceived as authentic yet embracing of modernity. That is where “our” allies in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have so consistently failed. Until that happens, the Islamist radicals will be bankrupt, but not out of business.

Taliban Tough Fighters, Marines Say

Iraq Veterans Find Afghan Enemy Even Bolder
New York Times
July 26, 2009

NAWA, Afghanistan — In three combat tours in Anbar Province, Marine Sgt. Jacob Tambunga fought the deadliest insurgents in Iraq.

But he says he never encountered an enemy as tenacious as what he saw immediately after arriving at this outpost in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In his first days here in late June, he fought through three ambushes, each lasting as long as the most sustained fight he saw in Anbar.

Like other Anbar veterans here, Sergeant Tambunga was surprised to discover guerrillas who, if not as lethal, were bolder than those he fought in Iraq.

“They are two totally different worlds,” said Sergeant Tambunga, a squad leader in Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Marines.

“In Iraq, they’d hit you and run,” he said. “But these guys stick around and maneuver on you.”

They also have a keen sense of when to fight and when the odds against them are too great. Three weeks ago, the American military mounted a 4,000-man Marine offensive in Helmand — the largest since President Obama’s troop increase — and so far in many places, American commanders say, they have encountered less resistance than expected.

Yet it is also clear to many Marines and villagers here that Taliban fighters made a calculated decision: to retreat and regroup to fight where and when they choose. And in the view of troops here who fought intensely in the weeks before the offensive began, fierce battles probably lie ahead if they are to clear the Taliban from sanctuaries so far untouched.

“It was straight luck that we didn’t have a lot more guys hit,” said Sgt. Brandon Tritle, another squad leader in Company C, who cited the Taliban’s skill at laying down a base of fire to mount an attack.

“One force will put enough fire down so you have to keep your heads down, then another force will maneuver around to your side to try to kill you,” he said. “That’s the same thing we do.”

In other parts of Helmand the Taliban have been quick to mount counterattacks. Since the offensive began, 10 Marines have been killed, many of them south of Garmser in areas thick with roadside bombs. In addition, British forces in Helmand, who often travel in lightly armored vehicles, have lost 19 men, all but two from bombs.

All told, Western troops have died in greater numbers in Helmand this month than in any other province in Afghanistan over a similar period since the 2001 invasion.

It is unclear whether the level of casualties will remain this high. But the Taliban can ill afford to lose the Helmand River Valley, a strip of land made arable by a network of canals that nourish the nation’s center for poppy growing.

“This is what fuels the insurgency,” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine brigade leading the offensive.

For now, the strategy of the Taliban who used to dominate this village, 15 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, is to watch and wait just outside, villagers and Marines here say.

“They all escaped,” said Sardar Gul, a shopkeeper at the Nawa bazaar. Mr. Gul and others who reopened stores after the Marines arrived estimate that 300 to 600 Taliban fled to Marjah, 15 miles to the west and not under American control, joining perhaps more than 1,000 fighters.

Marine commanders acknowledge that they could have focused more on cutting off escape routes early in the operation, an issue that often dogged offensives against insurgents in Iraq.

“I wish we had trapped a few more folks,” the commander of First Battalion, Fifth Marines, Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, told the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who visited Nawa. “I expected there to be more fighting.”

When the full battalion arrived in Nawa in early July, the Taliban “knew we were too powerful for them” and left, said Staff Sgt. Michael Placencia, a platoon sergeant in Company C.

But he predicted the Taliban would stand and fight if Marines were to assault Marjah, describing them as a “more efficient” foe than the insurgents he saw as a squad leader in Anbar in 2005 and 2006.

“They will come back, and they will try to take this back and pin us down,” said Maj. Rob Gallimore, a British officer who trains Afghan soldiers here. He hopes that the Marines do not spread themselves too thin and that they focus instead on building a deep bond with locals in places they occupy, a classic counterinsurgency tactic.

So Marines are bracing for a fight against guerrillas who, they discovered in June, are surprisingly proficient at tactics the Marines themselves learned in infantry school.

“They’d flank us, and we’d flank them, just like a chess match,” said Sgt. Jason Lynd, another squad leader in Company C.

In June the Marines ended up in sustained firefights the first four times they left their outpost. The Taliban were always overmatched — attacking the Marines with only one-third the number of men — but they pressed the fight, laying complex ambushes and then cutting off Marines as they made their way back to base.

One fight began after Marines stopped three vans, which they let go. Fifteen minutes later they took fire from two homes near where they had been pursuing a suspicious man they wanted to question. They cleared both buildings, but were then attacked by gunmen behind the homes, some of whom, the Marines believe, had been in the three vans, a few disguised in burqas.

Somehow, none of the Marines were hit in the secondary ambush. “They tried to suck us in, and their plan worked,” Sergeant Tritle said. “They just missed.”

No Marines were killed in the two weeks they were here in June.

In contrast to Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban do not seem to have access to large artillery shells and other powerful military munitions that Anbar fighters used to kill hundreds of Marines and soldiers. The bombs found so far have been largely homemade with fertilizer, though they have still killed more than 20 British soldiers and United States Marines to the north and south of Nawa.

“If they had better weapons, we’d be in real trouble,” said Lance Cpl. Vazgen Matevosyan.

What the Taliban lack in munitions they make up for in tactics, even practicing “information operations” and disinformation, Marines say. Knowing the Marines listen to their two-way communications, they say, the Taliban describe phony locations of ambushes and bombs.

“They’re not stupid,” said Lance Cpl. Frank Hegel. “You can tell they catch on to things, and they don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Jul 25, 2009

On Patrol: With Fox Co, 2/ 8 in Helmand

Patrolling The Challenging Landscape Of Afghanistan With US Marines

By Tom Coghlan
London Times
July 25, 2009

Twenty heavily armed American Marines, five to ten Taleban fighters, a maze of canals and a game of cat and mouse in the long grass of southern Helmand.

In this fight the odds shift from minute to minute. The Marines pack an awesome punch, but they are on unfamiliar terrain and they are being studied for their weaknesses by a hidden enemy.

Two weeks into Operation Khanjar, their largest offensive of the Afghan war, American troops have grabbed a swath of territory in the southernmost districts of Helmand. But, as their commanders acknowledge, that is the easy part.

In the opening days, the Taleban largely disappeared from view in the face of massed American firepower. But they did not cease to exist. And as anticipated they are watching, learning and starting to probe for the weaknesses of their new enemy.

When the Taleban feel the moment is right they will try to suck the Marines into a terrain of their choosing, where firepower doesn?t count, where the Americans are off guard, off balance and momentarily vulnerable.

And so it was on Thursday morning.

By 10am the patrol from 1st Platoon, Fox Company of 2nd Battalion 8th Marines had been moving south for an hour, warily and methodically, strung out in a loose column to limit casualties in the event of sudden fire or bomb blast. The thermometer was already pushing 90C and climbing towards an energy-sapping 125F.

Chest-high reeds and grasses, well-watered fields, walled compounds and a maze of canals and irrigation channels that have lifted this area out of the desert, define the terrain south of the town of Garmsir.

It is scenic but it is hard to conceive of country more perfect for an insurgent.

As the Marines passed, farmers with turbans squatted in their fields, gaunt and inscrutable.

Most, but not all, were what they seemed. The Marines had received intelligence reports from their base at Hassan Abad suggesting that they were being observed from front and rear, roadside bombs were being laid ahead of them and an ambush was being planned.

“Maybe we gonna get some today,” mused a Marine, hawking and spitting the quid of black tobacco that forms a bulge behind the lower lip of most Marines.

Their squad commander, Sergeant Richard Lacey, 23, soft-spoken in private but an assertive figure in the field, made a tactical decision.

From their position in column he shifted his men to a broad front and a bounding formation that moves the unit forward by parts so that one element is always covering the other?s advance.

Later, Marine officers would tell The Times, they estimate that only 30 or so regular Taleban fighters are operating in the area immediately south of Hassan Abad, but they enjoy the co-operation of perhaps 80 per cent of local people. How much of that support is coerced or willingly given is much harder to estimate.

“They are cunning but their command and control is limited and their teams are sparse,” said one officer. “They are usually four or five men strong, but they can reinforce those within 20 to 30 minutes.” Units of hardcore Pakistani Taleban fighters who used to own the area have been pushed a few kilometres south by the American offensive.

As the Marines continued south, the farmers in the fields around them became noticeably fewer and then disappeared entirely. As is so often the case in Helmand, they knew of impending violence long before it arrived. The only movement was flights of swallows wheeling above the canals.

As the Marines approached a village a small boy appeared at a compound door and waved uncertainly in response to the greeting of the Marines. A commanding voice sounded behind him and the boy disappeared abruptly, the door slamming behind him.

The patrol pushed on. Then another intelligence report: the Taleban had set a command-wire bomb on a bridge we had crossed earlier. It had failed to detonate.

As they passed, a local man hissed at the Marines from the shadow of a house. With apparent nervousness he whispered to the unit?s interpreter for several minutes and then disappeared inside again.

“He says that the Taleban pose as farmers and come and lay mines in the fields. There are mines in the field you have just crossed. They have been laid near the banks at the edges so that when the Taleban ambush you the Marines will lie down on them.” But still the Taleban were not showing themselves. Perhaps they had decided to save their attack for another day.

The Marines turned for home and moved back into a column to cover an anticipated threat from a canal to their west, a common Taleban firing point on patrols by the unit preceding them. Things began to seem a little more relaxed. But it was an illusion.

The first shots of the Taleban ambush were well timed and close. The hollow crack of two aimed shots was quickly followed by longer bursts of small-arms fire.

Most of the squad were already back across a canal and lost in a swaying sea of long grass. Only three men remained exposed in a ploughed field. It was a well-chosen moment to cut the tail off the patrol and cause death or injury before American firepower could be brought to bear.

“The first round was real close,” said Corporal Andrew Swoveland, dripping sweat in the aftermath of the fight. On the band holding his helmet cover in place was stencilled the legend “White Trash Workhorse”. From only 40m away, he estimated, the Taleban had failed to hit the Marines as they sprinted for cover, an exposed dash of 50m.

Suddenly rushing with adrenalin, the Marines were wired and shouting, scanning for the attackers and firing back, some from waist deep in the canal.

The Taleban fire came through the long grass close around them, a crack and angry whirr of large lumps of metal rifling through the air at tremendous speed.

“Four men moving left to right at the corner of the compound,” a voice shouted. As the Marines? weight of suppressive fire grew they were wreathed in smoke from their own guns, while the compound ahead of them, the source of the firing, danced with small explosions of dust.

The Marines? forward air controller, Captain Brian Hill, 32, asked for permission to call in fire suppression from mortars at their nearby base. It was denied, the risk to nearby civilians deemed too great.

Instead permission was given for Lance-Corporals Zachary Rash and Brad Stys, so-called “Marine Assaultman” with a 66-millimetre rocket launcher, to open fire.

An ear-bursting thud was followed by spontaneous cheering as it blew out a plume of dust and smoke close to the Taleban firing point.

“I?d like the readers of your newspaper to know that not only are we some of the best-looking gentlemen you?ve ever seen, but we are also very experienced in war fighting,” Lance-Corporal Stys told The Times, basking in the adulation of his peers after the firefight.

The fighting did not last long. As the Taleban fire slackened after five minutes, the Marines began to advance. Pushing up to the wall of the compound ahead of them, some men claimed that they could hear the attackers shouting to each other inside.

But intuition and earlier intelligence reports suggested that they were being suckered into a trap and their commanders called a halt to the advance. Another large roadside bomb lay close in front of them, a further follow-up ambush to follow once it detonated.

The Marines cursed, grumbled at being denied a decisive encounter and set their sights for home. They were unscathed and they expected that the Taleban might have casualties.

But asymmetric cunning and roadside bombs lie ahead, and so, in all likelihood, do casualties; and the Taleban have not gone away.

Jul 24, 2009

Ralph Peters responds to Rep Marshall-deserting soldier captured by Taliban

July 24, 2009
Your folks may find the response below from Ralph Peters of interest.

COL Zygmunt Dembek, USAR


Thanks for the feedback. No matter what it costs me--and it will cost me--I am sticking to my conviction that Bergdahl is not the heroic martyr portrayed by the media (in the inevitable film, I expect Shia Labouef to play Bergdahl, with Sean Penn as a wicked US general and George Clooney as Mullah Omar...). Before I spoke, I had unequivocal confirmation from a very high military level--on background--that Bergdahl deserted his post. The senior officer also took pains to insure that I understood that Bergdahl "is no hero" and that he lied about being on patrol on the videotape, etc.

I do hope he comes home safely--for his family's sake--and that the Army does not then succumb to leftwing cries that "The poor boy's suffered enough." If, under the provisions of the UCMJ, the evidence shows that we was AWOL in a combat zone, fine. If he is judged as a full-fledged deserter, fine (Articles 85 and 86 leave some gray area). But he must face charges.

I do believe, by the way, that the Taliban, who are very media savvy, may have learned from the backlash against the al Qaeda in Iraq atrocity videos. After another video or two, Bergdahl may be released "for humanitarian reasons," is a further propaganda coup.

At present, our military has diverted a wide array of assets from the fight in order to bring back this PFC (who I believe is in Pakistan, at this point). None of this is addressed by the adulatory media. The confirmed fact that Bergdahl just walked away from his post in the hours of darkness has been in the public domain for weeks. The media ignore that, too. Nor have the media "fact-checked" the Taliban video, in which even the mention of a girlfriend appears to be scripted (note that the reporters who've descended on his hometown have not surfaced this girlfriend for whom PFC Bergdahl pines...). Of course, the anti-American tirade and lies about the behavior of our troops are delicious to our media.

Most of all, I find it despicable that the media (and now some Congressmen) lionize PFC Bergdahl and his family, while largely ignoring those authentic heroes who are struggling on our military hospitals, while their families live with fear and doubt, or those who come home in flag-draped coffins (and their families), or those decorated for valor...who go ignored by the media. I keep asking media figures the same question: Why is it that we all know Bergdahl's name--the name of a soldier who deserted his post and collaborated with the enemy in clear violation of the Code of Conduct--while we don't know the names of a single soldier fighting for his or her life in a military hospital?

Feel free to share this note with anyone. I will not back down and join the Bergdahl lovefest. As for the Congressmen, when was the last time they all circulated and signed a letter praising one of our troops for heroism? I guarantee you that not one of them has bothered to look into the known facts of the Bergdahl matter. But, of course, facts don't matter. And, I suppose, desertion is no worse than calling in sick because you have a hangover...

Best regards,

Biden: More 'Sacrifice' In Afghanistan

Biden Warns Of More 'Sacrifice' In Afghanistan

New York Times
July 24, 2009
By Alan Cowell

LONDON — Entering a debate that has stirred political tumult in Britain, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in an interview broadcast Thursday that more coalition troops would die in Afghanistan but that the war was “worth the effort.”

Speaking during a tour of Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Biden told the BBC that the lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was “a place that, if it doesn’t get straightened out, will continue to wreak havoc on Europe and the United States.”

His remarks have a particular resonance in Britain at a time when the American-led coalition has recorded some of its worst casualties since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Britain has some 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — the second biggest contingent after the United States — and so far this month alone has lost 19 soldiers. That brings Britain’s total since 2001 to 188, higher than its death toll in the Iraq war. The latest fatalities came Wednesday, when bombs killed two United States service members and one Briton in southern Afghanistan.

Before those deaths, July had already become the deadliest month for American service members in the country since the 2001 invasion.

With the newest fatalities, more than 30 Americans have died in the first three weeks of July, surpassing the highest previous monthly toll of 28, reached in June 2008.

The deaths coincide with a major American offensive, supported by British and other troops, in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, in advance of presidential elections next month.

While some British newspaper columnists have questioned the reasons for fighting the war, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is locked in a dispute with the main opposition leader, David Cameron, over the government’s record on providing the right equipment — particularly helicopters — to shield British soldiers from the increasingly deadly roadside bombs planted by the Taliban.

In the interview, Mr. Biden said that in terms of the national interests of the United States, Britain and other European countries, the war “is worth the effort we are making and the sacrifice that is being felt.”

“And more will come,” he said, referring to the current phase of hostilities as “the fighting season.” He did not comment specifically on the debate over British equipment.

He said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region was “the place from which the attacks of 9/11 and all those attacks in Europe that came from Al Qaeda have flowed, from that place between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

He called British soldiers “among the best trained and bravest warriors in the world.”

The debate over British troops’ access to helicopters sharpened Wednesday when a Foreign Office minister, Lord Malloch Brown, told a newspaper interviewer that “we definitely don’t have enough helicopters.”

But he withdrew the comment, apparently under pressure from the prime minister, who has insisted that access to more helicopters would not have saved British lives in the latest wave of fatalities. Mr. Brown’s critics argue that lives would be saved if troops were transported by helicopter rather than by land vehicles, in which they are more vulnerable to attacks.

“In the operations we are doing at the moment, it is completely wrong to say that the loss of lives has been caused by the absence of helicopters,” Mr. Brown said Wednesday. “For the operations we are doing at the moment, we have the helicopters we need.”


Jul 23, 2009

FOX Military Analyst Condemned by Repubs & Dems

Marshall: Fox News Analyst Crossed Line By Suggesting Taliban Should Kill U.S. Soldier

Political Insider
July 22, 2009
By Jim Galloway

U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Macon), a former Army ranger, has signed onto a bipartisan letter from members of Congress condemning Fox News for an analyst’s suggestion that a captured U.S. soldier should be killed by his Afghan captors.

This week, the Pentagon disclosed that Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho had been captured, and that a video of the 23-year-old private was posted online by the Taliban.

On Fox News, Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a military analyst for the network said the following:

Nobody that I’ve heard in the military is defending this guy. He is an apparent deserter. Reports are indeed that he abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and walked off. We’ll see what the ultimate truth of it is.

But if he did, if he’s a deserter at war time, well, as o of my old platoon sergeants used to say, he’s in beaucoup deep kinshee…

We know this private is a liar. We’re not sure that he is a deserter. But the media needs to hit the pause button, and not portray this guy as a hero….

I want to be clear. If, when the facts are in, we find out that through some convoluted chain of events, he really was captured by the Taliban, I’m with him.

But, if he walked away from his post and his buddies in wartime, I don’t care how hard it sounds, as far as I’m concerned, the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.


Wrote Marshall and 22 other members of Congress, Republican and Democrat:

[Peters] implied suggestion that the Taliban should simply kill PFC Bergdahl to, “save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills,” was repulsive and deserves to be repudiated by your news organization.

We recognize and credit anchor Julie Banderas’ efforts to make it clear that Mr. Peters’ positions were not that of Fox News. However, that does not remove the responsibility your network has for the statements of one of its own analysts; especially those that suggest a member of the United States Army should be killed by his captors.

We demand an apology to PFC Bergdahl’s family and to the thousands of soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country. As a member of the military family, Mr. Peters should measure his remarks and remember that the United States will never abandon one of its own.

Jul 21, 2009

Marines Find And Destroy Chemical Cache In Afghanistan

Marines Find And Destroy Chemical Cache In Afghanistan
CNN Newsroom, 11:00 AM
July 20, 2009

TONY HARRIS: U.S. Marines in Afghanistan have found and destroyed a cache of chemicals used to make heroin and explosive devices.

Our Ivan Watson is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Helmand Province, and he has an exclusive look at what is going on.

Ivan, my under! standing is that you were on patrol with the Marines. Explain to us in greater detail what they found.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tony, I'm with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of a force of some 4,000 Marines that earlier this month launched into Taliban-controlled parts of this turbulent Helmand Province, considered by some the opium capital of the world. This is one of the largest U.S. military operations since this war began nearly eight years ago.

And let's take a look at what we got during an operation last night into a bazaar very close to where I'm standing right now, Tony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WATSON: Right now, the Marines back here are rigging these chemicals with explosives -- C-4 plastic explosives. You can see them getting ready for what will be a controlled explosion in a couple of hours.

Now the reason for this, the reason that these C-4 plastic explosives were being placed here, is because these chemicals ! are believed to be used to process heroin. More than 90 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, and a bulk of that comes from this very province in southern Afghanistan which has not really been under the control of the Afghan central government in years.

Part of the reason why this operation over the course of this month is such a big deal is because the Marines have moved into areas where the Taliban have been able to operate freely, where drug cartels have been able to operate freely in the fields around this town where we're located right now. You can see miles of poppy fields growing there where the heroin is then later produced, using some of these chemicals. In addition to this, the Marines have found chemicals used for improvised explosive devices, these deadly weapons that have helped make this the bloodiest month yet for NATO forces in Afghanistan. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: And Tony, sure enough, before dawn this morning, we did see that controlled explosion, a massive ball of flame, and a chemical fire that t! hen burned for the better part of an hour from this very simple mud brick marketplace not too far from the border with Pakistan -- Tony.

HARRIS: Boy, that's pretty dramatic video there.

Ivan, you were with the Marines in the same province last summer. Has anything changed since then?

WATSON: Well, it's interesting, Tony. I was with a smaller force of Marines probably 25 miles north of here. They had moved in last summer in similar conditions to try to cut off the flow of Taliban weapons and fighters from Pakistan north, and to try to do something to block the flow of narcotics south -- the export -- some of which we believe the money is used to help fund the insurgency.

And the Marines promised to rebuild here. They said that there were going to be efforts to bring the Afghan central government. But right now what we're seeing is that a year later, Marines are fighting battles in some of those same villages that I was in last year.

It shows how! deeply rooted and entrenched the insurgency is here. And it also show s that the promises to rebuild after military offensive are very difficult to fulfill.

We'll see what happens after this offensive, Tony. Definitely, there are far more American and British soldiers this time around -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, clearing is one thing. Holding is a far different proposition. Ivan Watson for us in Helmand Province. Ivan, appreciate it. Thank you.

Jul 20, 2009

2/8 Marines Fighting South of Garmsir

Marines Face Stiff Taliban Resistance

Logistical Difficulties Inhibit Troops During Clashes in Southern Afghan Province

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post
July 20, 2009

GARMSIR, Afghanistan, July 19 -- Marines pushing deep into a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province battled insurgents in a day of firefi! ghts around a key bazaar Sunday, as an operation designed as a U.S. show of force confronted resistance from Taliban fighters as well as constraints on supplies and manpower.

Insurgents at times showed unexpected boldness as they used machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to fight the advancing Marine forces. Although the Marines overpowered the Taliban with more sophisticated weapons, including attack helicopters, the clashes also indicated that the drive by about 4,500 Marines to dislodge the Taliban from its heartland in Helmand is running up against logistical hurdles.

The firefights erupted a day after the Marines raided Lakari Bazaar in Garmsir district, a market that the Taliban has long used to store and make weapons and drugs, as well as to levy taxes on civilians. The Taliban until now had free rein in the area because there had been virtually no Western or Afghan government presence.

"This has been their turf for a long time, and n! ow we are in here, invading their space," said Capt. John Sun, Fox Com pany commander, at his makeshift headquarters in a fabric stall inside the bazaar. "The bazaar was a huge financial and logistics base for the Taliban, and they want to get that back."

The Marine advance began Friday when Fox Company, a unit of roughly 200 Marines, traveled in open-back trucks on a grueling, overnight journey east and south through the desert to avoid routes implanted with bombs. The Taliban has littered the main routes in Garmsir with roadside bombs, called improvised explosive devices or IEDs, forcing U.S. commanders to bar most travel by military vehicles on those roads. The number of IED attacks in southern Afghanistan has surged 78 percent over the past year, with much of the increase in Helmand.

Arriving at Lakari Bazaar at daybreak Saturday for the raid, the Marines went door to door, using explosives, rifles and axes to break into each store.

"Breaching!" yelled Lance Cpl. Travis Koehler, 21, of Fountain Valley, Calif., as he shot o! ff a lock with his MK-12 marksman's rifle and kicked open the door for a team of Marines to enter. "All clear!"

Afghan soldiers advised by British troops searched the market and together with the Marines uncovered mortars, grenades, ammunition, and thousands of 100-pound bags of opium poppy and bomb-making materials, as well as facilities where the bombs and drugs were produced. They found tax receipts and recruiting leaflets calling on young men to join the Taliban and kill British and U.S. troops.

"The bazaar has been used by the Taliban as a staging area, weapons cache and profit base," by taxing local vendors, Sun said.

The Taliban had left the market before the raid, however, and only a handful of shopkeepers were around, leaving it deserted but for a few cats and donkeys.

Late Saturday, Sun received word that the Taliban was regrouping in a nearby village across a canal to the west. At 3 a.m. Sunday, he launched 2nd Platoon, which includes doze! ns of Marines, on a foot patrol to investigate. At about 8, the patrol moved into an open field, where it was ambushed by Taliban fighters positioned in two tree lines to the south and east.

When Taliban fighters fired the first shot with an AK-47 assault rifle, Sgt. Benjamin Pratt thought one of his Marines had discharged a round accidentally, he recounted. "Hey, who shot?" he called back to his squad. But within seconds, the men realized they were under fire.

"Where is the . . . fire coming from?!" shouted Lance Cpl. James Faddis, 21, of Annapolis, Md. Faddis, in his first firefight, was the M-240 machine gunner for a weapons team that had advanced farther across the field than any other Marines and initially took the most direct fire from Taliban rifles and machine guns. Bullets were cracking around their heads and kicking up dust nearby.

"Get your gun up!" yelled Cpl. Jonathan Kowalski, 25, of Erie, Pa., ordering the Marines to fire toward the tree line to the south, where he saw muzzle flashes and Taliban fighters in dar! k dishdashas running between positions.

The insurgents began firing mortar rounds, honing their aim until one landed just 150 yards from the Marines. The Marines called in mortars of their own, which were fired from the bazaar onto the tree line, causing a few minutes' lull in the fighting.

Faddis and his team scrambled and crawled to a better position, but on the way Kowalski dropped his radio. So he and the other machine gunners had to shout to the infantrymen to indicate they could move forward.

Sgt. Deacon Holton bounded into the soggy field along with Cpl. Clayton Bowman and other Marines, running and slipping through knee-deep mud saturated from recent irrigation.

As the Marines maneuvered, a Huey and a Cobra attack helicopter flew in low overhead, circling above to spot the fighters. Capt. Brian Hill, the forward air controller, put on a bright orange panel and wore it like a cape to identify the Marine position.

Often Taliban fighters f! lee when helicopters arrive, Sun said, but this time they stayed, and attempted to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at one of the aircraft. The Huey made two strafing runs with its Gatling guns over the tree lines, while the Cobra fired missiles, finally ending the firefight. The helicopter crew spotted at least two dead Taliban fighters.

Although the Marines asked to pursue the Taliban fighters south, more senior commanders denied the request. Sun said he thinks the problem was a lack of helicopters to provide air power and to evacuate any possible casualties, as well as roads that had not been cleared of bombs.

"Due to the limited numbers of helicopters available, it would not have been in our best interest to get decisively engaged," Sun said. In addition, moving south would leave the bazaar open to attack, he said.

But some Marines voiced disappointment at not being able to track the Taliban, saying that decision may have allowed the insurgents to stage fresh attacks on the bazaar later in the afternoon. Faddis, Kowalski a! nd their machine-gunning team were on guard duty in a mud-brick structure in the market that had a window facing fields to the south when shots broke out from a nearby compound. Faddis spotted a target and fired back. "They're moving out of the compound!" one Marine yelled, unleashing another volley of machine-gun fire.

The gun battle was complicated by the presence of women, children and shepherds in adjacent fields. Having staked out a claim in Lakari Bazaar, Sun said, the question remains whether his company should continue to hold this relatively strung-out position or pull back, knowing such a move would allow the Taliban to return, at least temporarily. "That's a dilemma," Sun said.

Nation At War Loses Its Interest

Nation At War Loses Its Interest

By Frida Ghitis
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
July 17, 2009

As Americans followed the news about Michael Jackson's death with an interest bordering on obsession, the situation for American forces fighting in Afghanistan became deadlier than ever.

The day before Jackson's memorial service extravaganza -- watched by more than 30 million television v! iewers -- brought the worst one-day losses for the United States in almost a year. Seven soldiers died that day in Afghanistan, and the deaths have continued to mount for the U.S. and its allies.

Still, few people seem to have more than a passing interest in a war that seems so distant as to appear almost unreal.

The same people who planted "War is Not the Answer" signs in their yards to protest the Iraq conflict have little to say about this war. Afghanistan, after all, is more difficult to paint with broad strokes of black and white.

If you hated George W. Bush, you hated the Iraq war. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has become Barack Obama's war. And Obama, who opposed the war in Iraq, came to office as a hero of the anti-war movement, even if he always said he did not oppose all wars, "only dumb ones."

Perhaps the challenge of deciding if this is a "dumb war" has become a hurdle too high to jump. As a result, people have tuned out.

A look a! t the most popular story lists on news Web sites betrays a lack of con cern for what is happening in Afghanistan that can only bring more despair to the families receiving the throat-closing news that their loved ones' lives have ended.

By some counts, July is already the deadliest month in eight years of war. According to icasualties.org, a Web site keeping track of US and allied casualties, 737 Americans have died in Afghanistan since the war started a few weeks after Sept. 11. At this writing, 45 coalition soldiers had already died in July alone. By the time you read this, the numbers may have grown.

And yet, the New York Times lists of most searched, most e-mailed and most blogged stories in the last seven and 30 days does not even show Afghanistan in the rankings. As I write this, the list for the most popular searches of the past 24 hours, shows Afghanistan at No. 42, far behind queries such as, "Palin," "iPhone" or, of course, "sex."

The British, who lost 15 soldiers in the past 10 days, have engaged in a fierce debate ! over what their troops have faced on the Afghan battlefield. Both major parties agree on the worthiness of the mission, but the government faces angry complaints about inadequate equipment.

As the deadly summer continues to unfold, Americans will eventually, if reluctantly, begin to cast their attention to Afghanistan. Sooner or later we will ponder the key question: Is this war worth the cost?

Some possibly forgot why Americans even went there. In Afghanistan, the U.S. faces the Taliban, religious fanatics who all but imprisoned their women and oppressed the population with a brutally extreme interpretation of Islam.

More importantly for America, they gave Osama Bin Laden a place to train al-Qaida operatives and plan the Sept. 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. The Taliban lost power after the U.S. retaliated. But while Washington focused on Iraq they regrouped and regained territory. The Taliban in Afghanistan are closely linked with their! brethren in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

If Obama faces difficult ch allenges today, what will happen if the current strategy to push back the Taliban fails. Then what? Obama already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. By the time the country holds elections this fall, 68,000 Americans will stand on Afghan soil. If the country begins unraveling, Obama will have to decide whether to double down or accept defeat and withdraw. Withdrawal could hand the Taliban a base from which to attack the West and achieve their stated goal of seizing Pakistan's nuclear weapons. If Obama decides to pour more American forces into the war effort, he could risk the same fate as presidents before him, who have seen their presidencies consumed, almost destroyed, by increasingly unpopular wars.

Whether we like it or not, America remains at war. The stakes remain high, and we will eventually have to pay attention. Until now, most Americans have found it easy to look away, focus on celebrity news and other items that may tug at the heart strings ! but are less consequential to the future of the country. That must soon change.

Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist in Decatur, is the author of "The End of Revolution: a Changing World in the Age of Live Television."

Jul 19, 2009

Sect Gates: Fighting Apathy & F-22 Boondoggle

Americans Won't Accept 'Long Slog' In Afghanistan War, Gates Says
The Defense secretary says forces must show progress in a year or risk losing public support -- especially as casualties mount with at least 50 U.S. and NATO deaths in July, the deadliest month yet.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times
July 19, 2009

Washington, DC. — After eight years, U.S.-led forces must show progress in Afghanistan by next summer to avoid the public perception that the conflict has become unwinnable, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a sharp critique of the war effort.

Gates said that victory was a "long-term prospect" under any scenario and that the U.S. would not win the war in a year's time. However, U.S. forces must begin to turn the situation around in a year, he said, or face the likely loss of public support.

"After the Iraq experience, nobody is prepared to have a long slog where it is not apparent we are making headway," Gates said an in interview. "The troops are tired; the American people are pretty tired."

Deep public unhappiness with the war in Iraq helped sink President George W. Bush's approval ratings, making him the most unpopular president in recent history, according to some surveys.

While not predicting a parallel fate for the Obama administration, Gates emphasized the need for progress in Afghanistan during an interview aboard his plane as he returned to Washington after visiting sailors Friday at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.

Gates has spoken about the need for progress in Afghanistan and the public's fatigue of war. But in this interview, he went further by offering a more specific time frame for needed progress as well as the consequences of failing to meet it. Gates has overseen an overhaul in the administration's Afghanistan strategy in recent months, sending 21,000 additional troops and choosing a new commander to lead the international effort.

"This is where we are really getting back into the fight," Gates said.

The strategy switch came after extremist attacks rose dramatically last year and U.S. and NATO troop casualties surpassed record levels. A U.S. fighter jet crashed today, killing the two crew members and bringing the number of Western deaths in Afghanistan to at least 50 in July, the deadliest month yet.

President Obama said last week that he hoped to "transition to a different phase" after the Afghan presidential election Aug. 20.

During the 2007 buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, military leaders often mentioned the importance of adding time to "the Washington clock" to give their strategy a chance to work.

Gates said that Americans would have the patience to continue the war in Afghanistan only if the new military approach began to move the conflict out of deadlock. "If we can show progress, and we are headed in the right direction, and we are not in a stalemate where we are taking significant casualties, then you can put more time on the Washington clock," he said.

Gates, whom Bush named Defense secretary in 2006, said he acted as soon as he could to overhaul the Afghanistan effort but was limited by the troop buildup in Iraq. "Within the framework of the surge . . . what I did in Afghanistan was about all I could do with the forces we had available."

With the new troop strategy in place, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. forces in the Mideast, are due to provide their assessment of the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan early next month.

Gates said the commanders were free to provide an honest assessment, but also cautioned that additional troops might not be approved. "I did not want either of them to feel constrained in making their recommendations," Gates said. "That is not to say we will accept all of their recommendations."

The war in Afghanistan officially is a NATO mission. Gates said the alliance is facing the challenge of rising casualties just as the overall coalition war effort is beginning to function better. Fifteen British troops were killed in action in Afghanistan this month, and Canada has lost five of its service members.

"There has been an extraordinary amount of political courage as some of our partners have taken some really devastating causalities," Gates said. "The British have had a rough couple of weeks."

F-22 Dispute

Gates is also locked in a budget fight with Congress over his drive to halt further production of the F-22 fighter jet, cancel a new presidential helicopter and push more money into programs closely related to ongoing U.S. combat missions, like unmanned aerial drones.

As House and Senate committees have supported more money for the F-22, the helicopter and other programs, Gates has objected and the White House has threatened a veto if those funds are not cut. In an address last week in Chicago, Gates delivered his toughest comments yet on the budget, attacking the funding for F-22s as a "business as usual" approach that will siphon money from more important programs.

But in the interview, Gates adopted a more cordial tone, noting that Congress had agreed to most of the dozens of spending shifts he recommended. "We are only focused on three or four now. They happen to be pretty important ones, but there has been a fair amount of buy-in," Gates said.

Gates has generally good relations with Congress and described budget negotiations as respectful. "They know where I am coming from and I know what their concerns are," Gates said. "There is no questioning of anyone's motives here. It is figuring out the right direction."

Jul 17, 2009

What Friends Are All About

The war in Afghanistan

Keeping Your Nerve

The Economist
July 18, 2009

It has been a bloody month in Afghanistan but America’s allies, especially Britain, should not lose heart

Afghanistan is said to be the graveyard of empires. The British army came to grief there in the 19th century, the Soviet one in the 20th. Such was Afghans’ reputation for ferocity that Rudyard Kipling told those left wounded on Afghanistan’s plains: “Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.” These days British soldiers are again dying in Afghanistan, along with Americans, Canadians and many others. The Taliban are resurgent. Each fighting season is bloodier than the last.

President Barack Obama is deploying an extra 20,000 troops there this year. But some allies are already on their way out. The Netherlands will withdraw fighting forces next year, followed by Canada in 2011. Now the public in Britain, which has the second-largest contingent in Afghanistan, is agonising over the country’s role in the war after a dreadful month in Helmand.

After eight years of disheartening warfare, it is tempting to see NATO’s mission as a repeat of past misadventures in the Hindu Kush. The Soviets lost even though they had more troops than NATO has today, a more powerful Afghan army and were supported by a cadre of motivated Afghan communists. But such comparisons are wrong. Unlike the anti-Soviet mujahideen, who were backed by America, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Taliban have no superpower sponsor. In the 1980s Soviet aircraft were shot down with American-made Stinger missiles; today NATO has mastery of the skies. The Taliban are a Pushtun faction, not a national movement; their insurgency is largely limited to the southern half of the country.

Afghans may feel anger over the death of civilians killed by foreign forces, frustration at the chaos and insecurity, and dismay at the corruption of President Hamid Karzai’s government. But opinion polls say that most want Western troops to stay; they remember the misery of the civil war and the oppression of Taliban rule too well. They want the West to do a better job of securing the country.

The price of friendship

For America Afghanistan is a war of necessity; it is from there that Osama bin Laden ordered the attacks of September 11th 2001. For many European allies, though, it is less vital—a war of solidarity with America, a war of choice. Such operations quickly turn unpopular when they go badly, and governments tend to inflate their aims. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, talks of promoting “an emerging democracy”.

Critics say the effort is misconceived: the real danger is in Pakistan, where al-Qaeda’s leaders are now hiding. But helping Pakistan fight Islamic militants will only be harder if the Taliban and al-Qaeda can claim victory in Afghanistan. Others say the West is being over-ambitious. It can never hope to create a stable democracy in Afghanistan; all it needs is a small contingent to protect Kabul, and some special forces and bombers to deal with any returning al-Qaeda fighters. But such a minimalist approach is what allowed the Taliban to regroup.

The cost to NATO countries is immediately apparent: tens of billions of dollars and the lives of more than 1,200 soldiers. The cost of leaving is harder to measure but is probably larger: the return of the Taliban to power; an Afghan civil war; the utter destabilisation of nuclear-armed Pakistan; the restoration of al-Qaeda’s Afghan haven; the emboldening of every jihadist in the world; and the weakening of the West’s friends.

America will naturally take on most of the task in Afghanistan. But allies are vital. They share the burden, they confer political legitimacy and their joint commitment makes it harder for too many to drop out. Yet some are expending a disproportionate amount of blood. Britain is among them, but it is not alone. As a share of their population Canada, Denmark and Estonia have suffered more military fatalities.

Friends and allies

Britain’s ambition to be a global “force for good” comes at a cost. As America’s best friend, with privileged access to intelligence, it feels compelled to take part in America’s wars. As the most capable militarily of NATO’s European members (together with France), it helps to rally others. But fighting in Afghanistan is not just about prestige. With its large population of Pakistani origin, it has much at stake in helping to maintain the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan. London has been attacked by al-Qaeda more recently than New York.

So what should Britain do? To begin with, the government must act with conviction, rather than wish the problem away. It cannot be at war with a peacetime mind-set. As a share of the budget, defence spending has shrunk since 2001. The defence ministry is a parking place for weak ministers or a stepping-stone for strong ones. Priority should be given to manning fully the army’s ranks, and probably expanding them. More must be done to provide helicopters, transport aircraft, drones and better-protected vehicles. This would wreck budgets and upset the navy and air force. So be it. Losing a war is even more demoralising than losing ships or jets. The government should have announced a Strategic Defence Review a long time ago, not delayed it until after the election.

At the very least Mr Brown should agree to the army’s request for a permanent uplift of 2,000 troops for Helmand. Western forces are never going to garrison the whole province, let alone Afghanistan. But what they hold must be held securely. And above all, they must train and expand the Afghan army and police so they can gradually take over. That will not be cheap, but it is the best way to bring home Western troops.

In many ways, the push to pacify Afghanistan is only just starting, now that the war in Iraq is ending. America’s Marines launched a big operation in Helmand on July 2nd. Afghanistan’s presidential elections take place next month. It will not be clear until the autumn, and probably not until late next year, whether Mr Obama’s “surge” has worked.

This is not the time to lose heart. Security must be improved, economic activity encouraged, government strengthened and insurgents offered inducements to defect. But for those things to happen, the Taliban must see that the Afghan government and its foreign friends are winning, not losing.

Jul 16, 2009

Pentagon Backs Off Smoking Ban - Common Sense Prevails

Pentagon won't ban war-zone smoking, despite study

By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 31 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Smoke 'em if you got 'em. The Pentagon reassured troops Wednesday that it won't ban tobacco products in war zones. Defense officials hadn't actually planned to eliminate smoking — at least for now. But fear of a ban arose among some troops after the Defense Department received a study recommending the military move toward becoming tobacco-free — perhaps in about 20 years.

Press secretary Geoff Morrell pointedly told a Pentagon news conference that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not planning to prohibit the use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco or other tobacco products by troops in combat.

"He knows that the situation they are confronting is stressful enough as it is," Morrell said, noting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I don't think he is interested in adding to the stress levels by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve stress."

Gates will review the new study to see if there are some things than can be done to work toward the goal of having a smoke-free force some day, Morrell said.

"Obviously, it's not our preference to have a force that is using tobacco products," he said, noting health concerns and the high cost of caring for health-related problems.

The study, commissioned by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department, recommended that the military start making incremental moves toward becoming smoke-free. The report by the Institute of Medicine suggested the services could start by banning smoking at military academies, then among recruits. It said the VA and Pentagon should eliminate use of tobacco on its facilities and the military should stop selling tobacco products at its commissaries.

The military and VA have been working for years to reduce smoking among soldiers and vets through a number of programs. The Pentagon laid out a plan in 1999 to reduce smoking rates by 5 percent a year and reduce chewing tobacco use to 15 percent by 2001 — and still wasn't able to achieve the goals.

"Tobacco use declined overall from 1980 to 2005, but there has recently been an increase in consumption, possibly because of increased tobacco use by deployed troops," the study said.

The military hasn't placed a high enough priority on reducing tobacco use, according to the study, and that while smoking has declined in the U.S., it remains higher in the military than in the civilian world.

In 2005, a third of members of the active-duty military smoked compared to a fifth of the adult U.S. population, the study said, adding that it "has been implicated in" higher dropout rates during and after basic training, higher absenteeism in the military and other problems.

Criticism of the proposals spread across the Internet and among troops.

"Our troops make enough sacrifices to serve our nation," said Brian Wise, executive director of the advocacy group Military Families United. "They give up many of the freedoms civilians enjoy already without being told they cannot partake in yet another otherwise legal activity."


Jul 14, 2009

Stupidity from the Pentagon

Proposed smoking ban angers some in military
Gates considering report urging total prohibition for active-duty personnel

By Alex Johnson
updated 6:42 p.m. ET, Tues., July 14, 2009

A Pentagon-commissioned report urges the Defense Department to ban smoking in the military, even by combat troops in battle zones, a proposal that quickly ignited a controversy among service members.

The study, which was completed late last month by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, recommends closing “the pipeline of new tobacco users entering the military” by prohibiting tobacco use in the service academies and officer-training programs like ROTC and eventually instituting a total ban on all use of tobacco by active-duty personnel.

The Defense Department said military health officials were studying the report and planned to make their recommendations to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The proposal, if accepted by Gates, could take more than a decade to implement, said the report, which the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs requested in 2007.

However long it takes, it will be too soon for some in uniform — “especially guys that are in combat,” said Bobby McCarter, a retired veteran who served 20 years in the Navy.

“They need that cigarette break for stress relief,” McCarter said at a bar popular with the military in Norfolk, Va., home to a large naval base. “I’m totally against that, and I think the Pentagon should leave it alone.”

McCarter echoed the sentiments of many active-duty and retired military personnel when they learned of the proposed ban this week. Message boards on popular military forums like military.com, armchairgeneral.com and officer.com were burning up with reactions like “what a CROCK” and “If they really do ban tobacco in the military there are going to be some ****ed off troops.”

Rakeshia Baity, a member of the Kentucky National Guard, doesn’t smoke, but she said at a recruitment center in Paducah, Ky.: “That’s not right. That’s not right at all.

“It’s your right” to smoke, she said.

Smoking blamed for billions in Pentagon, VA costs
The study, led by Stuart Bondurant, a professor of medicine and emeritus dean at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said smoking and tobacco-related illnesses cost the Pentagon more than $800 million a year in lost productivity and health care expenses.

The bill for the VA is much higher, it said, saying more than 80 percent of the $5 billion annual cost of treating pulmonary disease among military retirees was directly attributable to smoking.

The Defense Department already restricts smoking on military installations, much in the same way airports and other public buildings set aside designated smoking areas. But smoking in the military remains much more common in the military than in the general public, the report found — smokers have dropped to only about one in five Americans overall, but they make up more than one in three service members.

While the Pentagon offers quit-smoking programs, “tobacco control does not have a high priority” in the Pentagon or at the VA, the report charged. “Neither department has instituted a comprehensive tobacco-control program.”

The report particularly criticized the Pentagon for selling cigarettes and similar products at a discount at many military installations, which the report called “unfortunate” and a “contradiction.”

“The committee believes that [the Pentagon] should not be selling products that are known to impair military readiness and health,” it said. But it noted that such sales are protected by Congress, a provision it called on lawmakers to overturn.

If the monetary costs of smoking don’t get the attention of Pentagon brass, the report also identified what it said was a “strong association between tobacco addiction and mental-health problems, among them mood disorders, schizophrenia and substance abuse” — not exactly the state that generals and admirals want their gun-toting charges to be in.

The bottom line, it said, is that while the Pentagon and the VA have made strides toward reducing smoking and chewing, “tobacco use continues to impair military readiness.”