Dec 25, 2009

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!

The following editorial, among the most famous ever written, appeared in the New York Sun in 1897:

Dear Editor-

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real?

Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Dec 21, 2009

Let the Afgan Army Fight !!

By Andrew Lubin

Training the Afghans how to shoot and move is the easy part. A typical Afghan soldier can probably beat an American tri-athlete up a steep hill; add in the flak, Kevlar and other equipment our troops carry, and they look back at us in amusement.

What’s not so amusing is the drug use, absurdly low pay, desertion, casual corruption, and problems caused in Kabul, much of which affects their ability to fight.

The pay issue was finally addressed last week when Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who now oversees training of Afghans, increased the pay for both the Army and the Police. The pay for a basic soldier is now $ 165/month, and a sergeant is $ 210/ month. While this is still far below the $ 250 or so the Taliban pays its fighters, Afghan patriotism is such that enlistments boomed within the next days. One can imagine the results if we simply paid them close to the same as the Taliban.

The issue facing Gen McChrystal and Gen Caldwell is not just one of increasing the size of the Afghan Army, but rather having an efficient Afghan Army. If the war is to be ‘Afghanized’ then the ANA needs to be an effective army and not just a job-training program where the troop strength numbers look good on paper, instead of in the field. The question is not only how to properly train the young Afghans who enlist so enthusiastically, but also how to better utilize the entire Afghan army.

There are simple solutions here, except both are studiously being ignored in ISAF Headquarters who are actively trying to over-complicate the ANA in their zeal to turn them into mini-American soldiers:

1 – Instead of forming more kandaks (an Afghan Army battalion), increase the size of the existing ones. The ANA is short of good officers and senior enlisted; forming more kandaks will dilute these numbers even further. Inexperienced or incompetent officers and senior enlisted is bad for discipline, bad for morale, and saps the Afghan’s ability to fight.

Increasing the kandaks from the current 670 to say 900 will enable the good officers and senior enlisted to retain control of their troops while incorporating the new and inexperienced troops into their kandaks.

2 – Push the ANA into the fight without any further delay. It’s going to take years to get them spun up to Tier One units; so get their headquarters units co-located with their American mentors. Get the Afghans involved in the planning, in the logistics, and in their own training. Push them into the fighting ASAP; their ‘good enough’ is in fact – good enough. Plus they’re respected by the Afghan people; the more you can get them in front of the locals the more you’ve Afghanized the war.

There is already a program in place, instituted by the 3rd Marine Division, who has been mentoring the ANA’s 201’st Corp for the past four years. It’s called “Muscular Mentoring”, and it’s very effective. Each Marine is paired up with his 201st Corp equal, with the Marine Colonel mentoring the 201st Corp CG. From going into the field together, to planning missions, to sharing chai and quiet chats about leadership the Marines and Afghans work together daily.

The program works; in Kapisa Province’s Tagab River Valley, the ANA built their own FOB, and maintains security in the southern part of the valley. Giving them their own battlespace builds both their expertise and effectiveness, as well as promotes their reputation amongst the locals.

This is a vivid contrast to the situation some 20 miles away in Mether Lam, where an American National Guard unit has no interaction with an 80-man ANA troop with whom they share a base. With an increase in IED attacks on the main road, it is disturbing that the Guardsmen, have not approached the ANA for joint missions, instead continue to patrol from the back of their MRAPS with minimal ANA input on missions, tactics, or strategy.

Last year I interviewed a group of young Afghan enlisted men. “Why’d you join-up?” I asked. “My mother and father fought the Russians,” one soldier told me. “and my great-great grandfather fought the British, as did his grandfather. I hate the Pakistanis, and want to kill them all.” These young men don’t need to sit through yet another Army powerpoint; if we could harness this sort of fighting spirit to some reasonable leadership, we don’t have to worry about withdrawing in July 2011; we can withdraw tomorrow.

Dec 14, 2009

Afghanistan - Marine Style !!!

In Afghanistan, Marines Live A Tough Camp LifeBy Chuck Liddy, McClatchy Newspapers

((compare this to the big Army FOB's in the east-S/F!!)

FOB HASSANABAD, Afghanistan — The young Marines at this outpost could be on a camping trip to Hell.

The living conditions in Helmand Province, one of the worst regions for trouble in Afghanistan, are such that most of friends and family in the United States wouldn't consider putting up with them for one day, much less the months these men will be assigned here.

It's not even officially winter, yet temperatures routinely fall below freezing at night, and there's no heat in the tents. At night when standing guard in one of the security towers, the Marines put on layer after layer of clothes, including thermal suits. It does little to ward off the chill of the desert air.

There is no hot water. The only running water in the camp comes from a 3 inch diameter hose that jets out cold water in fire hydrant fashion. Clothes are washed in buckets, when time permits and the weather cooperates, then strung between tents and dried in the sun.

There are "sun" bags that can warm water to a tolerable temperature but they're used outside in a small wooden enclosure where the wind wreaks havoc on the bathing experience. Some of the men go for a couple of weeks without a real bath, using cloth sanitary wipes. Many just use the cold water from the hose and get clean as fast as possible without succumbing to uncontrollable shivering.

Meals come in a box. After a few days they all taste the same: Chicken with salsa, meat loaf, pork loin patty, cheese tortellini. The men gruble, as military nmen have for centuries.

Toilet facilities are wooden stalls with canvas doors and plastic commode seats where WAG (Waste Allocation and Gell) bags are used.

Mice are everywhere, pouring in from the surrounding cornfields. The men have adopted several kittens, even outfitting them with flea collars. The arrangement benefits t the cats and the Marines; the cats crave the attention and they have a healthy appetite for the mice.

But the Marines of Golf Company don't mind the austere conditions. Most shrug their shoulders and say they don't like spending much time in the base camp anyway, they'd rather be out on patrol chasing the bad guys.

There's no shortage of bad guys in Helmand, scene of some of the most intense fighting in Afghanistan. It boasts the highest casualty rate in the country.

But the Marines say they don't mind. After all they are Marines.

Dec 11, 2009

USS Somerset keel laid

Pascagoula, Miss.: A ceremony steeped in shipbuilding tradition kicked off major construction Friday on a U.S. Navy assault vessel named in honor of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

At the Northrop Grumman Corp. shipyard, the keel of the Somerset - named for the Pennsylvania county where Flight 93 went down, killing all 40 passengers and crew members - was authenticated by the ship's sponsor, Mary Joe Myers, the wife of retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."Out of tragedy, we can now turn our focus to a tribute to those brave men and women of Flight 93," Myers said. The ship will "take the power and courage of the United States to the four corners of the world."

Myers initialed a plaque stating the keel-the ship's basic foundation- has been "truly and fairly laid." Afterwards, Northrop Grumman welder Lanford Bridges cut the initials into the plaque with a torch.The $1.2 billion vessel is expected to be delivered to the Navy in 2012.

The Somerset is 684 feet long, is serviced by a crew of 350 sailors and can carry up to 800 Marines into assault operations. It has a flight deck that can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Flight 93 had left Newark, N.J., for San Francisco when four terrorists commandeered the cockpit. "We continue to inspired by the selfless courage of those on Flight 93," said Gordon Felt, who has worked at the Avondale yard for 19 years and lost a brother, Edward, in the crash. Felt is president of Families of Flight 93.The ship is a San Antonio-class amphibious dock vessel.

Dec 4, 2009

New Marine Offensive !!

Dec. 4, 2009

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan –

More than 1,000 International Security Assistance Force personnel partnered with Afghan National Security Forces personnel have begun operations in northern Helmand province to clear insurgent forces from a key area.

More than 150 Afghan soldiers and police and approximately 900 U.S. Marines and sailors from Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan and British forces from Task Force Helmand are participating in Operation Khareh Cobra (Cobra’s Anger) to clear insurgent forces in the Now Zad valley.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7 and 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion are partnered with Afghan Army and police and with Task Force Helmand’s Battle Group (North West) and Brigade Reconnaissance Force. The forces began heliborne and ground insertions into the Now Zad valley early Friday morning to secure key terrain and allow the introduction of follow-on forces.

Now Zad was once Helmand’s second-largest city, but is now empty due to years of fighting. Insurgents have heavily mined the area, and a key purpose of the operation is to provide enough security for the Afghan government and non-governmental organizations to begin clearing the mines and improvised explosive devices in order to enable eventual repopulation of the city.

A company of Marines from 3/4 is stationed in Now Zad, along with 150 Afghan soldiers and police.

MEB-Afghanistan is a subordinate unit of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. The combined U.S. and Afghan mission is to provide security for population centers and connect local citizens with their legitimate government while establishing stable and secure conditions.

Dec 2, 2009

McChrystal Says He Has What He Needs

Obama's Commander Says Now Has Tools For Afghan War
Filed at 8:31 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - The top U.S. battlefield commander said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama's 30,000-strong troop increase for the Afghan war would make a huge difference, as the White House prepared to sell the new strategy to Congress.

Rising combat deaths and military costs have sapped U.S. public support for the eight-year-old war and Obama's troop increase plan has prompted protests from left-leaning leaders of his Democratic Party ahead of congressional elections next year.

Within hours of Obama's speech announcing the extra troops -- delivered as Wednesday dawned in Afghanistan -- top U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal set off on a battlefield tour to rally his forces.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill in a rousing speech by videophone to his commanders, McChrystal called Obama's pledge of reinforcements "the end of the beginning" of the war.

But the Taliban, in a statement issued by email, said the increase would only increase their resolve.

"This strategy by the enemy will not benefit them," it said.

McChrystal told his commanders the additional forces would at last give them the troops they need to speed up the training of Afghan security forces and protect towns and villages.

Trainin g Afghan troops was now their "main effort," he said.

"At the end of the day, the success of this operation will be determined in the minds of the Afghan people," he said.

"It's not the number of people you kill; it's the number of people you convince. It's the number of people that don't get killed. It's the number of houses that are not destroyed. It's the number of children that do get to go to school."

Asked later if he was getting enough new troops, he told reporters: "I think it is going to make a huge difference. I think we'll be in great shape."

Top Obama administration officials were due in Congress later on Wednesday where they can expect a grilling from Democrats dubious of escalating the war, and Republicans suspicious of Obama's call for an 18-month timeline to begin withdrawing.

In his televised speech on Tuesday, Obama said the goal of raising U.S. troop levels to nearly 100,000 was to step up the battle against the Taliban, secure key centers and train Afghan forces so they can take over, allowing for a U.S. withdrawal.

"We always wanted to take over the responsibility for the destiny of our nation," Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters, adding that Obama's speech confirmed that the U.S. wants to help them do that.

"We just asked the international community to equip us quickly, to train us quickly, so that we can fulfill our historic responsibility."

Allies were also expected to send more soldiers, with Obama saying "the common security of the w orld" was at stake.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged coalition countries to back Obama's initiative. French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed the plans, but did not commit France to following suit. Poland said it might send 600 troops to boost its contingent of 2,000.


There was no initial word from President Hamid Karzai, whose relations with the Obama administration are strained amid a re-election which involved widespread voter fraud.

But after meeting Karzai, McChrystal said the Afghan president backed the plan. "It was really positive. The president was very upbeat, very resolute."

Karzai is due to announce the makeup of his new government in coming days, and Washington says it is watching closely for signs he will combat corruption and appoint competent ministers.

Obama's pledge to start bringing U.S. troops home in 2011, provided conditions on the ground allow it, may help him contain rebellion among Democrats but drew swift condemnation from Republicans, who argue that setting withdrawal timelines emboldens the Taliban and undermines support for U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Congressional committees scheduled hearings on Wednesday and Thursday to review the revised strategy, estimated to cost $30 billion this fiscal year. Obama has the authority to send the soldiers, but Congress must approve the cost.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, are scheduled to appear before Congress.

McChrystal, who had recommended sending 40,000 troops, will testify next week.


Major U.S. troop movements are likely to begin in January and all 30,000 should be in place by the end of August, far faster than planners had earlier suggested but in line with McChrystal's request for reinforcements before the summer fighting season.

Other NATO members are expected to commit between 5,000 and 7,000 additional troops, although some of them are already deployed as part of the alliance's 42,000-strong contingent.

Marking a major shift in U.S. strategy, McChrystal said the "vast majority" of the new combat troops would be fielded in partnership with Afghan units, a counter-insurgency mentoring tactic he said had not been fully possible in the past because the Afghan army and police were too small.

In his speech, Obama also focused on Pakistan, saying a cancer had taken root in its border region with Afghanistan and promised U.S. help to end it. Some officials in Islamabad fear the U.S. surge in Afghanistan will further destabilize their country.