May 22, 2010

USMC To Command UK's Helmand Force

US To Command UK's Helmand Force

By James Blitz, Defence and Diplomatic Editor
Financial Times
May 22, 2010

Britain’s 8,500 troops in Helmand province will go under the direct control of a US Marine Corps general next month as Nato restructures its military operations in southern Afghanistan.

Following Washington’s decision to pour an extra 20,000 troops into the south this year, the Ministry of Defence announced on Friday that all Nato forces in Helmand would come under the overall command of Maj Gen Richard Mills of the US Marine Corps.

For the past seven months, a British general, Nick Carter, has been in charge of Regional Command South, Nato’s operational centre at Kandahar airfield, which oversees alliance operations across six southern Afghan provinces, including Helmand.

However, the big increase in US troops operating in the south has taken total NATO forces from 30,000 to 50,000 during recent months. This has forced Nato strategists to divide this single operational command centre, so that military planning can be better focused.

Gen Mills will now take control of a new operational centre, to be called RC South West, which will oversee Helmand and Nimruz provinces.

Gen Carter will now move to lead a newly configured RC South command centre, covering Kandahar, Dai Kundi, Uruzgan and Zabol provinces.

Some unease about Friday’s announcement is apparent within parts of the MoD. The principal concern is that Gen Carter will leave the command of RC South in November – probably to be replaced by an American.

This will leave US generals running the entire Nato mission across the south of Afghanistan at a tactical level for the following 12 months.

“The fear that people have is that, for the whole of 2011, you will have no British tactical input at the two-star [general] level into the operation across the south,” said a senior British military figure. “That is unfortunate, given how critical the next 19 months in Afghanistan are going to be.”

However, UK military chiefs sought to play down any suggestion that the decision to put their forces under US command was an embarrassment for Britain, which has suffered significant casualties in Helmand during the past four years.

They noted that NATO had decided that the command of RC South West would rotate and that Gen Mills would therefore give way to a British commander after a period.

British military chiefs also pointed out that UK troops in Afghanistan had regularly come under the overall command of generals of different nationalities during the past few years – the most recent one being Dutch.

“What is striking about this decision is not that the US is taking over command of British troops now,” said a senior UK military figure. “Instead, what’s remarkable is that the US has accepted that a British general can run RC South West [after an initial period] and put himself in charge of 20,000 American troops.

“Britain is the only country the US would trust to do this.”

May 20, 2010

In Ambush, A Glimpse Of A Long Afghan Summer

In Ambush, A Glimpse Of A Long Afghan Summer

By C. J. Chivers
New York Times
May 20, 2010

BALUCH, Afghanistan — Minutes after surviving the first ambush, Cpl. John M. Boone, a Marine sniper, called over his radio. “We’ve got a civilian here who got shot in his gut,” he said.

The civilian, Mohammed, an elderly Afghan farmer, had been shot through his large intestine when the Taliban fired on a patrol from Third Battalion, SixthMarines. The Marines had just found him curled on the ground. Already time was pressing.

“Hey, this guy is going to die if we don’t medevac him,” the corporal said. “His guts are hanging out.”

It was 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, just over two hours into a patrol that was turning into a gunfight on turf where the Taliban had a persistent hold. For now, the tree lines from where the Taliban had been shooting were quiet. But everyone expected more gunfire, and Mohammed needed help.

A new fighting season has begun around Marja, a richly irrigated zone of farming villages in Helmand Province that was both the center of Afghanistan’s opium production and a haven for its insurgency. Three months ago, thousands of Marines and Afghan soldiers swept into this area. The goal was to chase away the Taliban, disrupt the drug trade and usher in a government presence that might bring Marja under national control.

After roughly a week of often intensive fighting, the Taliban were unable to prevent the Marines and the Afghan soldiers they brought with them from opening roads, building outposts, importing Afghan officials and starting outreach programs for villagers caught between the two sides.

But with the opium crop now harvested, and temperatures rising with summer’s approach, the Taliban have tried to exert influence anew. They do so not just with hidden bombs and a campaign of intimidation against civilians suspected of collaborating with outsiders, but with more direct clashes with Marine patrols.

Fighting is frequent again. Marines, Afghans and an interpreter have been killed in separate firefights in the past week.

Marine commanders had predicted the rise in violence, saying the Taliban and drug lords, for whom the region is financially and symbolically important, would try to undo initial American gains and inflict casualties that insurgents hoped might erode Afghan and American resolve. The same officers have also urged patience, and they have pointed to signs of engagement with civilians that they say are indicators of progress.

For at least the short term, the experience on Tuesday of First Platoon of the battalion’s K Company, which ventured through vegetation on foot more than two miles from a main road, demonstrated the difficulties of fighting in southern Afghanistan during the hot months.

It also suggested that whatever the anticipated pace of an expected American-led push into Kandahar Province, even the most determined effort to defeat the Taliban and drug traffickers where they are deeply rooted would require substantial resources and time.

Months after the carefully planned offensive here, large areas of terrain are not fully cleared. In these areas, fighting continues. And while clearly punishing for the Taliban, the clashes also test American troops and exact a civilian toll.

Outside the Outpost

The patrol began at 5:30 a.m. with a mission to meet with elders in an area where Marine patrols have rarely gone. As the Marines left their outpost, the enlisted men knew what to expect. “You ready to get some?” asked one, as they loaded weapons.
“Let’s go get shot,” a second Marine answered.

A few dozen Marines were on the patrol. As they moved south they fanned out in small groups. Their formations obscured their numbers and gave them flexibility, making it possible for the platoon to move quickly from multiple angles against any gunmen who attacked any of the fire teams.

Staff Sgt. Matthew P. Dalrymple, 30, the platoon’s senior enlisted Marine, walked with Third Squad. He predicted the course of the day. The walk south through the farmland would be quiet, he said, because the Taliban usually did not fight early in the morning. Fighting would begin as the sun climbed. “Like clockwork,” he said. “Between 8:30 and 9:30.”

Two hours later, after the Marines walked through fields and talked with farmers harvesting wheat or tending new plantings of cucumbers and melons, the first bursts of small-arms fire cracked by. The Marines looked through optical sights, seeking targets.

A fire team and snipers walking along the road had been ambushed from the east. The sounds of exploding grenades and M-4s and M-16s returning fire mixed with the incoming Kalashnikov fire. Staff Sergeant Dalrymple looked at his watch: 7:33 a.m. “They’re an hour early,” he said. He wanted information. Had anyone been hit?

The opening skirmish was like many small-unit engagements in Helmand Province. Watching from hiding, the Taliban waited until several Marines were exposed between canals that restricted their movements. Then they fired.

The Marines dropped onto their stomachs or leapt into irrigation ditches flooded with dirty brown water, found their bearings and returned fire. The Taliban stopped shooting, either to pull back or take another position. Then fire came from the south.

The Marines maneuvered, pouring sweat and trying to flank. The second Taliban group ceased shooting, too. The Marines were now spread out and ready, but without targets to shoot. Had the Taliban pulled back? Or were they waiting for the Marines to expose themselves again?

A Wounded Farmer

As the Marines maneuvered, they came upon Mohammed, the wounded farmer, beside where the fire team had been ambushed. He had been shot from behind, struck in the left buttock. The bullet had exited his lower-right front side.

Corporal Boone, 22, radioed for help. The staff sergeant, accompanied by Hospitalman Edward S. Harger, 22, a corpsman, jogged to the wounded man. He snapped on rubber gloves.

Lying on his back, bleeding slowly, Mohammed, 50, said he had been working in the field when the Taliban opened fire. The Taliban had shot him, he said.

He moaned and twisted. Hospitalman Harger examined the entrance and exit wounds, dressed them and checked Mohammed’s pulse. “It’s weak, but he’s going to be fine,” he said. “As long as we can keep him awake and talking,” he added.

Mohammed wanted to sleep. His eyelids drooped. Helicopters had been called but were at least a half-hour away. “Hey!” the corpsman said. “Hey!”

Mohammed barely replied. The corpsman called for an interpreter. “Get his brother out here, or someone from his family!” he shouted. “We need someone to talk to him and keep him awake!” Fire crackled again, this time from the west. The platoon’s Second Squad was under fire. The Taliban had fired now from three sides. Mohammed’s brother took a place beside him, consoling him and keeping him awake.

At 8:45 a.m., two Black Hawk helicopters roared by. Staff Sergeant Dalrymple tossed a yellow-smoke grenade. One of the helicopters swung back and touched down nearby, blasting the group with hot dust and clumps of dried grass. Medics dashed from the aircraft. Soon Mohammed was gone.

Fierce Exchanges

The patrol continued. As the Marines crossed the fields, their backs to where Mohammed had been shot, the Taliban opened fire again.

“Behind us!” shouted Lance Cpl. Samuel D. Lecce, 20, as he jumped into a watery ditch. The lance corporal was not far from a wall. He stood, lunged out of the water, dashed to the wall and took a firing position at its corner, to cover the Marines farther out in the field. “C’mon!” he shouted. “C’mon! C’mon!”

They ran toward him in twos and threes. Incoming bullets snapped by. Within a few minutes, Third Squad reassembled in a mud-walled compound. Its leader, Cpl. Raymond F. Charfauros, checked each team. No one had been hit.

The Marines passed around water and cigarettes. A few men swore. “There is no Taliban in Afghanistan, dude,” said Cpl. Ian E. Bradley, 24, crouched against an entryway.

He had been at the back of the squad. Assault-rifle and machine-gun rounds had whipped past him all around, but somehow missed. “Just give us a couple of weeks and we’ll win their hearts and minds,” he said, and shook his head. Sweat rolled down his face and neck. It was not yet 10 a.m. The temperature climbed toward 100 degrees.

Two more helicopters — this time they were gunships — flew in circles overhead. The Taliban still fired.

The fight settled into back-and-forth exchanges, with the Taliban firing more than the Marines, who waited for clear targets. During a lull, the platoon commander, First Lt. Jarrod D. Neff, 30, crossed the field with Second Squad and issued an order. The platoon would push back, leaving the safety of the walls to sweep separate compounds and tree lines from where it had been fired on.

After Third Squad moved back into the open, it came under fire again. This time, the men rushed into it. Lance Cpl. Niall J. Swider, 20, saw an Afghan with a PK machine gun at a compound doorway fire a burst at the patrol. His team bounded forward, chasing the man inside, and followed him, throwing hand grenades.

There was a brief, fierce exchange of fire within the tight confines. But the compound was open on the back side. Third Squad flowed in. The Taliban flowed out.

Corporal Charfauros ordered the house searched, and an Afghan soldier called inside to the occupants. An adult Afghan man stepped into the courtyard. He stood almost still, emotionless, overwhelmed. His mother circled him, lifting her veil. She wailed and pleaded with the Marines. “Do not arrest him,” she begged.

The corporals had little time to decide. The man was clean and not sweating — not the condition of a man after several hours of fighting in the heat. Several small children watched from the door. Corporal Charfauros gestured.

Yasin, an Afghan soldier, told the man to return to his home.

Another bullet snapped overhead. The fighters who had run out the back were firing on their pursuers, covering their withdrawal across the open. Then more shooting could be heard, including the distinct sound of American M-16s and M-4s.

By rushing the compound quickly, Third Squad had flushed fighters into the sights of the rest of the platoon. This group of Taliban was scattering under fire.

Eyes in the Sky

Back at the command post, the officers of K Company watched a video feed from a drone aircraft that showed a man set aside a weapon and begin crawling away in a ditch. He was several hundred yards off, moving slowly, apparently wounded. They radioed his location to First Platoon.

Lieutenant Neff ordered Second Squad to search the field and find the man and his weapon. Early in the afternoon, Cpl. Adrian D. Watson’s voice came over the radio. “I’ve got the gun,” he said.

The man had escaped. But his PK machine gun was in Second Squad’s hands. After nearly five hours, the fighting, for these Marines, had stopped. That evening, at their outpost, they heard that a patrol from another company was now fighting, too.

May 19, 2010

Farm Aid - Working Well in A'stan

To Suppress Taliban, U.S. Deploys Farm Aid
By Yaroslav Trofimov
Wall Street Journal
May 19, 2010

BABA SAHEB, Afghanistan— Dozens of goggle-clad laborers converged at the Lalay family orchard at dawn, spraying pomegranate trees with soap water against parasites.

They were paid by U.S. taxpayers, as are tens of thousands of laborers across southern Afghanistan who have been put to work in a $360 million program—one of the biggest yet—aiming to suppress the insurgency in the Taliban's cradle.

Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Production in Agriculture, or Avipa Plus, injects cash into villages, helping farmers with seeds, fertilizer and advice in exchange for collaboration with the Afghan government.

Kandahar and Helmand, the southern provinces where the bulk of this money is spent, are the focus of this year's U.S. military surge that seeks to roll back Taliban advances.

In recent months, as the military pushed back the insurgents, the Avipa program helped jumpstart the economy and prop up Afghan authorities. The program doesn't always work: in some Taliban-heavy areas, such as Marjah, in Helmand province, villagers often spurn American aid for fear of Taliban reprisal.

U.S. officials say disbursing large amounts of cash and supplies from Avipa, which comes up for budget renewal in August, isn't sustainable in the long term. But unless the security situation is turned around in the coming year, they add, there may not be any long-term Western aid presence here.

Avipa has made headway in several strategic districts, including Arghandab, a lush farming belt north of Kandahar city.

Last fall, district Gov. Hajji Abdul Jabbar would drive up to his office from Kandahar city two or three times a week, idle a few hours, and then return home. He had no authority and few locals bothered to visit him.

Then, the Avipa money suddenly rendered him relevant. To get cash and aid, village elders must first pledge to cooperate with Mr. Jabbar against insurgent attacks in their area, and coordinate implementation of the program with his office.

As more American money flowed in, the crowds grew bigger at the shuras, or meetings, at the governor's office on a compound that he shares with the U.S. military. Avipa is spending $23 million in Arghandab, home to 50,000 people.

"This provides leverage: the locals have to provide some security or otherwise they'll lose the economic stimulus," says Lt. Col. Guy Jones, commander of the U.S. Army unit responsible for Arghandab, the 2nd Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

In the previous three years, he adds, insurgent attacks in Arghandab peaked in mid-May. This year so far, despite occasional attacks, the area hasn't seen a similar surge. "Nowadays, when someone shows up from Pakistan and says, here is 5,000 afghanis ($100), go plant a bomb, people won't listen anymore: they already have jobs," the district governor says.

Avipa, implemented by Virginia-based International Relief and Development under a United States Agency for International Development contract, usually pays Afghan laborers $5 a day. "Before, we never saw an aid program of such scope," said Abdul Hai, a village elder who came to watch the work in the Lalay orchard before going to a shura. "We're full of hope that we'll increase our harvests this year."

New techniques and supplies provided by Avipa can increase yields by some 30%, significantly increasing revenue, translating into thousands of dollars in additional revenue per hectare, according to Travis Gartner, a Nebraska farmer and former Marine who oversees the program in south Afghanistan.

Parts of the program—such as the orchard pruning—have provided the coalition forces with a direct tactical benefit, denying the Taliban the concealment of overgrown vegetation.

The Taliban have assassinated village elders and farmers who benefit from the program, and attacked a compound of International Relief and Development compound in Helmand.

"The Taliban come at night and insist: 'don't take any benefits from the foreigners and the government,' " says Dad Mohammad, an elder from a village near the Lalay orchard. "But our economy is farming, and we have nothing else here. There is at least one person from every family in the village working on these projects. The Taliban can't stop us."

May 16, 2010

MajGen Mills: "More 'Tough Fighting' Ahead In Afghanistan"

Marine Official Says There Is More 'Tough Fighting' Ahead In Afghanistan

Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, in a teleconference with reporters at Camp Pendleton, says, however, that progress is being made in defeating the Taliban and winning the allegiance of Afghan civilians.

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times
May 16, 2010

Reporting from Camp Pendleton--Marines from Camp Pendleton and other bases are making progress in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan but there is more "tough fighting" ahead as the war enters a critical year, the top Marine general in Afghanistan told local reporters.

Nine Marines have been killed this month in southern Helmand province, on the Pakistani border. A helicopter was downed by enemy fire, a rarity in the nine-year conflict. Buried roadside bombs continue to take their toll on Marines and Afghan civilians.

Still, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said he believed advances were being made in routing the Taliban, winning the allegiance of Afghan civilians, and training the Afghan army and police force. But there will be more combat, he said.

"I think we have some sacrifices we're going to have to make," Mills said Friday in a teleconference from Camp Leatherneck, the Marine base in Helmand province.

Under a surge of forces authorized by President Obama, the U.S. has about 20,000 Marines in Afghanistan, half of them from Camp Pendleton. The percentage of troops from Camp Pendleton probably will increase in the coming months as battalions from Camp Lejeune, N.C., return home.

The Marine leadership, including Mills, is from Camp Pendleton.

Asked about Obama's desire to have U.S. combat troops depart next year, Mills was cautious: "There's a job that needs to be done here and it takes time to do it." The Afghans, he said, are "very, very concerned that we may leave them prematurely."

One key to success, Mills said, is training the Afghan police force, historically beset by corruption and incompetence. He characterized progress as "baby steps but progress nonetheless."

"What you have to do in this area of the world is to manage expectations," he said. "Make sure people know what progress is."

May 15, 2010

A Marine Corps for the 21st Century

Is the Marine Corps just another army?

By Robert Haddick
This Week at War (
May 14, 2010

On May 7, during a discussion with students at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College, Defense SecretaryRobert Gates revealed that he is interviewing candidates to replace Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, who will retire this fall. Gates said he will expect the candidates to explain to him what in the future will make the Marine Corps unique and not just a second - and by implication, wastefully redundant - Army. "We will always have a Marine Corps," Gates said. "But the question is, how do you define the mission post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan? And that's the intellectual effort that I think the next commandant has to undertake."

The Marine Corps has long sought to differentiate itself from the Army by specializing in amphibious operations -- the ability to project military power from ship to shore. But during his talk to the students, Gates wondered whether large-scale amphibious landings would ever again be practical in the age of relatively cheap, numerous, and precise anti-ship missiles. If not, then what will make the Marine Corps unique?

Some analysts have already attempted to answer Gates's questions. Many of these analysts have concluded that security assistance, with numerous small detachments of Marines providing training and support to allied military forces, will be a major mission in the future. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Novack, then a staff officer at Headquarters Marine Corps, described a plan for Marine Corps regiments to each specialize in a particular region of the world, learn its culture, and then deploy security assistance training teams to build partnerships and indigenous military capacity. Analysts at Rand Corp. called for the both the Marine Corps and the Army to permanently designate up to a third of their combat units for security assistance work. Echoing Lt. Col. Novack's plan, Steven Metz and Frank Hoffman suggested assigning Latin America and the Pacific Rim to the Marine Corps and the rest of the world to the Army. Alternatively, Metz and Hoffman would have the Marine Corps be the Pentagon's primary assault force, with the Army specializing in stabilization, security, and counterinsurgency.

By contrast, Dakota Wood, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, thinks the Marine Corps can still perform offensive combat operations from its traditional naval platform. Wood believes Marine units deployed on Navy ships and equipped with air power and landing craft will be useful for counterterrorism raiding and for direct action against nonstate adversaries. Against nation-state adversaries, Wood concludes that Marine Corps operations against adversary shipping lanes are feasible. However, Wood thinks that the Navy and the Marine Corps need to adopt a more decentralized structure to be effective against the most capable opponents.

Gates's candidates will no doubt explain why the Marines' sea-based tradition will remain relevant into the future. But as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, that argument for what makes the Marine Corps different from the Army will not stop the Marines from jumping into any kind of land war. Even when far from the ocean and appearing to be just another army, the Marine Corps has its own particular way of doing things. That, more than sea-basing, is what makes the Marine Corps unique and a value to the country

May 14, 2010

McChrystal: 'Nobody Is Winning' Afghan War Yet

McChrystal Sees Progress, but 'Nobody Is Winning' Afghan War Yet

The assessment by McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, comes a day after President Obama predicted the war will get worse before it gets better

In a blunt assessment of the war in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal declared in a TV interview Thursday that "nobody is winning," though he also pointed to progress in stopping the momentum of insurgents.

The assessment by McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, comes a day after President Obama, while hosting Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House, predicted the war will get worse before it gets better.

McChrystal was responding to a question posed in an interview that aired on PBS' "News Hour." "I think I would be prepared to say nobody is winning, at this point," McChrystal said. "Where the insurgents, I think, felt that they had momentum a year ago, felt that they were making clear progress, I think that's stopped."

Now it is the U.S. and Afghan forces that have "made a lot of progress," he said.
"I think the insurgency is serious. And it's serious because it has a relative reach around the country ... so it can bring a lot of violence on the Afghan people. It's also not popular."

U.S. and Afghan forces are coming off the relative success of a major offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah intended to sweep the enemy out of that region and restore stability to the local population. A similar approach is planned later this year for Kandahar.

On Wednesday, Obama spoke with Karzai at his side.

"What I've tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months," Obama told reporters in the White House after meeting with Karzai in the Oval Office.

"There is no denying the progress," Obama said. "Nor, however, can we deny the very serious challenges still facing Afghanistan."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

May 13, 2010

Mr. Obama And Mr. Karzai, Take Two

New York Times
May 13, 2010

After months of rancor, President Obama made nice to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Wednesday, and Mr. Karzai made nice back. At a White House press conference, the two men painted a sunny, improbable picture of cooperation and mutual respect. There was no mention of the many failings of Mr. Karzai’s government or his resentment of American pressure.

Confronting the Afghan leader head-on was not working. We just hope that Mr. Obama and his aides have a real plan — beyond lowering the temperature — for getting Mr. Karzai to do what is needed and for building up a minimally effective Afghan government.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has a clear military strategy. We are less certain about the administration’s political strategy.

The gap, and the danger, was on full display in Marja. February’s military offensive drove Taliban forces out of the area and secured the city center. American plans to quickly set up a competent “government in a box” faltered — either because there were too few qualified Afghans, or too few willing to take the risk, or Mr. Karzai’s government wasn’t really interested.

More than two months later, the Taliban are still active, and there is still no effective local government. Washington will need to do better with this summer’s far more important offensive in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai bears considerable responsibility for all that has gone wrong. He has refused to root out corruption. He prefers cronies to competent managers. He has wasted far too much time railing at his American protectors.

The problem is compounded by uncertainties about who is running the civilian side of Afghan policy. Richard Holbrooke was supposed to be the go-to guy. But his ties with Mr. Karzai soured, and now his clout — in Washington and Kabul — is unclear. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s publicized assessment that Mr. Karzai is not an “adequate strategic partner” has left lingering tensions with Mr. Karzai and General McChrystal.

The administration’s goals are rightly focused on building up Afghan government capacity — from Kabul to the local level. Until the government can been seen providing minimal security, jobs, water and electricity, Afghans are unlikely to take the risk of rejecting the Taliban. Progress has been frustratingly slow.

The State Department has deployed 1,000 civilian experts as of March (up from more than 300 last year) to advise Afghan ministries and oversee aid programs. Those numbers mask how hard it was to fill those jobs — and how hard it will be to replace them. Congress needs to fully finance the State Department’s request for $284 million to build a permanent corps of civilian experts to help in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a new report by the Government Accountability Office said violence in Afghanistan is delaying implementation and increasing the costs of American aid programs and making them harder to monitor. This does not augur well for President Obama’s goal to start withdrawing American troops by mid-2011.

We hope all the hospitality does not leave President Karzai thinking he’s off the hook. We assume Mr. Obama was a bit blunter in private. We hope Mr. Obama is also having tough discussions with his own team.

May 12, 2010

DADT statement from Milbloggers

There was a recent exchange of letters between Sen. Levin and Sec. Def. Gates about the study the military is doing about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In it Sec. Gates confirmed that the military was looking at how best to implement the policy on the assumption that the rule would be changed. He also asked Congress to wait until the study was completed so any action they took would be based on the advice of the services. A number of Milbloggers agree with this and are releasing the following joint statement // From Jim Hanson; Blckfive


We consider the US military the greatest institution for good that has ever existed. No other organization has freed more people from oppression, done more humanitarian work or rescued more from natural disasters. We want that to continue.

Today, it appears inevitable to us that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and law restricting those displaying open homosexual behavior from serving will be changed. And yet, very little will actually change. Homosexuals have always served in the US Military, and there have been no real problems caused by that.

The service chiefs are currently studying the impact and consequences of changing the DADT policy, and how to implement it without compromising the morale, order and discipline necessary for the military to function. The study is due to be completed on Dec. 1st. We ask Congress to withhold action until this is finished, but no longer. We urge Congress to listen to the service chiefs and act in accordance with the recommendations of that study.

The US Military is professional and ready to adapt to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell without compromising its mission. Echoing Sec. Def. Gates and ADM Mullen, we welcome open and honorable service, regardless of sexual orientation.

Matt Burden- Warrior Legacy Foundation & BLACKFIVE
Jim Hanson- Warrior Legacy Foundation & BLACKFIVE
Blake Powers- BLACKFIVE
Fred Schoenman- BLACKFIVE
David Bellavia- House to House
Bruce McQuain- Q&O
JD Johannes- Outside the Wire
Diane Frances McInnis Miller- Boston Maggie
Mark Seavey- This Ain't Hell
Michael St. Jacques- The Sniper
Mary Ripley- US Naval Institute Blog
John Donovan- Castle Argghhh!
Andrew Lubin- The Military Observer
Marc Danziger- Winds of Change
Greta Perry- Hooah Wife

May 8, 2010

Hey Mom - you're not forgotten!!

A stand-in Mother’s Day card
By Luke Larson

On this Mother’s Day millions of heartfelt cards will be sent. When opened they will reveal great appreciation for all the sacrifices mothers endured for their children. However there will be one group who desperately would love such a card - although their mailbox has the highest chance of remaining empty - they are the mothers of the 180,000 service members presently in Iraq and Afghanistan. These moms would gladly forfeit their card for the knowledge that their grown children are safe.

So I offer this letter as a stand-in to my own mother for my twin-brother, a Marine officer, who is currently deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan I also offer this to all the mothers whose adult children are in a combat zone a world away in dangerous cities such as Ar Ramadi, or Marjah.

During my two tours to Iraq in 2005 and 2007 I did not write my dear mother on Mother’s Day. It was not for lack of appreciation but rather my total commitment to the task at hand. As an infantry officer I felt tremendous pressure to get my platoon and company back to the States safely. While some in uniform had an opportunity to send a card or an email, my focus on men and mission too often blocked out my duties to my own family- like writing Mother’s Day letters.

I do not envy what a mother experiences during a deployment. What the wives and mothers experience is far worse than that of the Marine or soldier experience because they are thinking worst case. They need to be consoled in knowledge that the soldiers and Marines fight hardest to bring each other home.

In these years of multiple deployments, many mothers wonder “Do they appreciate that I’m worried sick about them?” I can assure you they do. After yet another long day in Ramadi, I found no greater joy than to open a letter from my mom and read about how, “They’re calling for rain and everything’s same ol’ same ol’ in Johnsonville.”
So to the Mother’s of sons and daughters deployed on this day I offer this as a stand-in Mother’s-day card, and convey my deepest gratitude for your continued support of your children’s service to our country. Don’t take an empty mailbox as lack of gratefulness, but rather their commitment to send their fellow sons and daughters home safely to you.


Luke Larson served two tours in Iraq as a Marine Infantry Officer. He lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife, Kristen and is author of “Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel

May 7, 2010

Marjah deemed 'succces" (nothing new to Marines)

U.S. Calls Marja Offensive A Success

But concerns remain about shoring up local government throughout Afghanistan, officials say. The Marja campaign offers lessons for the upcoming U.S. offensive in Kandahar.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times
May 7, 2010

Washington DC--The U.S.-Afghan military operation in Marja succeeded in securing the town, but American officials said Thursday that steep challenges remain to improving local government functions throughout Afghanistan.

Senior U.S. diplomats and military officers said developing stronger governments would require a greater number of capable Afghan officials.

The assessment of the Marja operation, which began in February, came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai prepared to travel to Washington next week. Karzai has recently sounded more equivocal in his position on U.S. operations, including an expected offensive in Kandahar.

But Pentagon officials hope the upcoming visit will be a chance for the U.S. to improve relations with Karzai and solidify his support for the U.S. and allied strategy.

Lawmakers, military officers and other officials are looking closely at the Marja campaign and its aftermath for lessons that can be applied to the upcoming offensive in Kandahar.

As they did in Marja, U.S. officials will try to build up and improve local government in Kandahar concurrently with military operations in the city, pushing out some corrupt officials and replacing them with technocrats.

But the Taliban has begun an assassination campaign in Kandahar, using motorcycle teams to target U.S.-backed Afghan government officials, Frank Ruggiero, the senior State Department representative in southern Afghanistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Appearing alongside Ruggiero, Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., who directs the Pentagon's Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell, called Marja a "work in progress, but trending in the right direction."

"It's not the enemy that concerns me as much as this ability of the government to connect with the people," Nicholson said.

Ruggiero said security concerns continued to hamper the development of local government.

Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr., speaking earlier to reporters, compared Marja to Fallouja, the Iraqi city that U.S. forces retook from insurgents in 2004. Rebuilding Fallouja's government took three years, he noted.

"You just don't build effective governance in two months," he said.

May 4, 2010

To finish strong in Afghanistan - where's NATO??

The Way Out
New York Times
May 4, 2010

President Obama made a convincing case last December for sending an additional 30,000American troops to Afghanistan. Most of those new forces, plus 58,000 already in country, would fight the Taliban. A smaller number would mold Afghan recruits into an indigenous Army and National Police force that could in time assume responsibility for protecting their country so the Americans and NATO allies could go home.

That handoff, so central to Mr. Obama’s strategy, has little chance of succeeding unless NATO gets more military trainers on the ground. Of the 5,200 trainers the United States and its NATO allies in January agreed were needed, about only 2,700 are there. All but 300 or so are Americans.

Illiteracy, corruption and other problems are not unexpected in a country as poor and undeveloped as Afghanistan. But a disturbing Pentagon report to Congress last week acknowledged that one of the “most significant challenges” to fielding qualified Afghan security forces is a shortage of “institutional trainers.”

The training effort — like everything else about Afghanistan — was shortchanged for years under President George W. Bush. It has received more attention and resources under President Obama. In November, the United States and NATO opened a new integrated training mission. Its leader, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who previously led leadership schools and training programs at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was a West Point classmate of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan.

General Caldwell has brought a new coherence and purpose to the mission by revamping the Afghan Army leadership program and standardizing police instruction, among other innovations. And he has managed to double his number of trainers from 1,300 when he started to roughly 2,700 today. But he — more to the point, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General McChrystal — is having a very hard time getting the rest of NATO to deliver on commitments.

NATO agreed that non-American members would provide half of the 5,200 trainers. Since December, those capitals have pledged to send only 1,000 trainers, and they have been very slow to deliver. Mr. Gates is now expected to send Americans to cover 600 of these slots for 90 days.
While the Americans are close to complement, General Caldwell also had to fight hard to secure enough troops to fill the American slots as well as management positions on his staff. For all of the talk about new missions and new thinking, there are still a lot of brass — and those who want to become brass — who don’t consider training a warrior’s job or a path to promotion. That culture needs to change.

American and NATO officials also need to look seriously at creating a standing corps of combat advisers who are trained and equipped to develop indigenous national security forces in overseas conflict zones.

The hurdles in training even a minimally effective Afghan force are daunting. There has been some progress. New initiatives like pay raises and mandatory literacy training should begin to improve professionalism and competency. None of these efforts have a chance if there are not enough NATO trainers to teach the Afghans how to defend their country.

May 2, 2010

Why Men Love War - from Newsweek

May 10, 2010
WAR STORIES: A NEWSWEEK special report on the how and why of warfare.

Why Men Love War
The reasons and causes—territory, ideology, may change with the times, but is the lust for war etyernal?

By Evan Thomas

Theodore Roosevelt wanted a war, and almost any war would do. In 1886, when he was a 27-year-old gentleman rancher in the Dakota Territory, he proposed raising "some companies of horse riflemen out here in the event of trouble with Mexico." He wrote his friend Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge: "Will you telegraph me at once if war becomes inevitable?" In 1889, while agitating for military "preparedness," he wrote British diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice: "Frankly, I don't know if I should be sorry to see a bit of a spar with Germany; the burning of New York and a few other seacoast cities would be a good object lesson on the need of an adequate system of coastal defenses." Roosevelt loved hyperbole, but he was apparently serious. He wrote Spring-Rice, "While we would have to take some awful blows at first, I think in the end we would worry the Kaiser a little." A few years later, in 1894, he wrote a family friend, Bob Ferguson, that he longed for "a general national buccaneering expedition to drive the Spanish out of Cuba, the English out of Canada."

In my new book, The War Lovers, I tell this story—of Roosevelt, and of how we became involved in the Spanish-American War—as a way of understanding the ancient pull of the battlefield. I was, in part, trying to understand my own attitude on the Iraq War. As a NEWSWEEK journalist writing about that conflict (from a safe distance), I had initially been hawkish, then regretful as the costs mounted. The war may, in some muddled way, achieve some of its objectives, but it is clear that too many journalists, including me, caught at least a mild dose of war fever between 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I looked to the past to come to terms with those impulses.

Now we're almost a decade into "the Long War," as some call our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing struggle with Islamic extremism. A kind of war weariness has set in. To most people the fighting seems far off and, in a way, easy to ignore. Not coincidentally, perhaps, a recent spate of books and movies has arrived seeking to make graphic and realistic the true experience of war, most notably the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Lockerand War, the Sebastian Junger volume of war reportage we excerpted in the previous article. These are cautionary tales that seek to make us understand and remember. They may for a time dampen the age-old atavistic lust for war, though war fever, I believe, never really goes away. It is too fundamental to the male psyche.

Roosevelt was a true war lover. Whether he was trying to compensate for his beloved father, who bought a draft substitute in the Civil War, or because, as he often wrote, he feared that the Anglo-Saxon "race" was becoming "overcivilized" and weak, Roosevelt wanted to test himself in the crucible of battle. He got his wish on July 1, 1898, charging up Kettle and San Juan hills with his Rough Riders in Cuba. ("Did I tell you that I killed a Spaniard with my own hand?" Roosevelt exclaimed in a letter to Lodge.) That seemed to satisfy his war lust, for a time. As president, TR preferred to "talk softly but carry a big stick." Still, in 1917, overweight and increasingly infirm at 58, the former president of the United States volunteered to raise a division to fight in France. (Not wanting to make Roosevelt a hero or a martyr, President Woodrow Wilson declined.)

Roosevelt was an extreme case. But how many men, over how many millennia, have wanted to know how they would do in combat? Would they be brave and fight? Or would they cringe and run? War has been, for almost all peoples and all times, the purest test of manhood. It is a thrilling addiction and a wretched curse—"a force that gives us meaning," as former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges has written—and the ruination of peoples and nations.

Men and (now increasingly) women fight wars for all sorts of reasons, sometimes out of nobility or at least necessity. We think of the "Good War," World War II, whose warriors are fast dying off now, honored in their passing. But before the Good War was the Great War, as it was known at the time. The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 was greeted with something like euphoria by the young men who flocked to the colors. British schoolmates and teammates formed "Pals Battalions," and sometimes advanced on German positions while passing a soccer ball. They were slaughtered. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, roughly 20,000 British soldiers perished in a single day.

"Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected," wrote Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory. "The Somme affair, destined to be known as the Great F--k Up, was the largest engagement fought since the beginning of civilization." There have been larger and deadlier battles since, though, as war has become at once more modern and more primitive; the armed conflicts increasingly involved civilians, not just soldiers.

And yet, somehow, we forget. A collective amnesia afflicts young men who wish to live up to their fathers, and old men who missed war as young men. In the 1890s, not just Roosevelt but a good slice of his countrymen were possessed by a hunger for war. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., later perhaps the greatest of U.S. Supreme Court justices, put on his Civil War uniform and lectured young Harvard students that war was "divine," not to be missed. The U.S. president, William McKinley, who had seen the dead stacked up at Antietam as a Civil War soldier, tried to resist the rush to battle. But he was swept aside by hawks like Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher who would claim, with some exaggeration, that he personally caused the Spanish-American War with his sensationalist crusading.

"It was a splendid little war," John Hay, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, wrote Roosevelt in August 1898. The Americans had driven the Spanish from Cuba. But another, unexpected conflict was just starting in the Philippines, halfway around the world. The U.S. Navy had defeated a Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, and now the Americans were unintentional occupiers of a country that President McKinley said he could barely find on a map. The fighting in the Philippines dragged on for four more years and cost 4,000 men, roughly the same number we have lost so far in Iraq. There were atrocities on both sides in the long-forgotten counterinsurgency against the Filipinos, and for the first time Americans used an interrogation method called waterboarding.

My own appreciation of war, while particular to my generation, is an uncomfortably familiar history lesson in war and remembrance—or forgetting. I graduated from college in 1973, too late for Vietnam and in any case shielded by a high number in the national draft lottery. I was, like almost all my peers, opposed to the war and glad to miss it. Yet as time went on I felt increasingly uneasy about the realization that my type had been able largely to avoid the war, while less well-educated and poorer young men were drafted and killed. (In Memorial Church at Harvard, one can read the names of 234 students and faculty who died fighting in World War II, which cost 405,399 American lives, and 22 who perished in Vietnam, where 59,000 Americans died.)

For a long time, it seemed, we wanted to forget about Vietnam, to turn away from its cost and futility. But watching the movie Forrest Gump in 1994, I had a flash of recognition. The unlikely hero was Gump, unself-conscious in his Army dress uniform with combat medals at a peace rally on the Washington Mall. The villains were the scruffy antiwar protesters (Gump got the girl). It was apparent to me that the national mood was changing; Hollywood certainly could sense it. We were over Vietnam—and ready for the next war.

The Gulf War of 1991 was, curiously, not sufficiently bloody to be glorious—fought and won in less than 100 hours at the cost of fewer than 300 Americans (half of those the result of noncombat accidents). It was quickly overlooked. As the 1990s went on, there was a feeling that we hadn't finished the job of getting rid of Saddam Hussein—I know I felt it. But since 9/11, with the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we've now had our fill of fighting. We're back to the phase where movies and memoirs capture war's darker side. War should not be mythologized, but it should be remembered. "It is well that war is so terrible," Gen. Robert E. Lee once observed, "lest we grow too fond of it."