Jan 26, 2011
Petraeus Cites ‘Impressive’ Progress in Letter to Troops
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2011 – Continued hard work will lead to sustained progress in Afghanistan this year, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force there told his troops in a letter dated today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus addressed his comments to ISAF’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians.
They and their Afghan counterparts “did tremendous work in 2010,” Petraeus wrote, terming their progress “impressive.”
ISAF’s core objective in Afghanistan is to ensure that country never again becomes a sanctuary for al-Qaida or other transnational extremists, Petraeus wrote. Achieving that objective requires “a comprehensive civil-military campaign” aimed at helping Afghanistan develop the ability to secure and govern itself, he added.
Additional ISAF forces, the growth of the Afghan army and police, an increase in the number of civilian partners, and the associated funding to enable it all contributed to 2010’s gains, Petraeus wrote. The effort received a boost, the general noted, when NATO leaders at the alliance’s November summit in Lisbon, Portugal, endorsed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s goal of Afghan forces taking the security lead throughout his nation by the end of 2014.
Afghan and coalition forces increased security in Kabul, Helmand and Kandahar provinces over 2010, Petraeus wrote, and advanced security conditions in the east, west and north.
“The beginning of Afghan-led reintegration of reconcilable insurgents, and the relentless pace of targeted operations by ISAF and Afghan special operations forces” also aided security growth, Petraeus wrote.
“Now, in fact, the insurgents increasingly are responding to our operations, rather than vice-versa, and there are numerous reports of unprecedented discord among the Quetta Shura, the Taliban senior leadership body,” Petraeus noted.
Progress in Afghanistan over 2010 was not easy, Petraeus acknowledged.
“To the contrary, our successes entailed hard fighting, tough losses, and periodic setbacks. … You had to transition from intense combat to complex stability operations –- and back again –- on innumerable occasions, sometimes on the same day,” he wrote. “Your versatility, skill, determination and courage have truly been the stuff of history.”
Work ahead in 2011 will remain challenging, Petraeus told his troops.
Afghanistan and ISAF forces must extend the security “bubbles” around Kabul and in the east and west of the country, while halting and reversing insurgent advances in the north and northeast, the general wrote. ISAF must also support increased Afghan self-governance and anti-corruption efforts, he added. “We will need to pursue initiatives to ensure that our contracting and procurement activities are part of the solution rather than a continuing part of the problem,” he wrote.
Given the “skill and will” that coalition and Afghan troops have demonstrated over the past year, Petraeus wrote, he is confident they “will prove equal to the difficult tasks that lie ahead.”
Jan 20, 2011
Quetta Shura is now Karachi Shura
By Ali K Chishti
In the light of recent revelations published by the Washington Post about Mulla Omar, who reportedly suffered a serious cardiac problem and underwent a major operation in Karachi, Daily Times would like to reminds its readers that it was Daily Times that first published a series of reports about certain Arab diplomats and the presence of the members of the Quetta Shura in Karachi.
Karachi, Pakistan’s financial hub, which has been struck by a series of ethnic, political and sectarian killings, which claimed more than 300 lives in the last two months, also happens to be the city where more than two dozens of the top al Qaeda, Taliban and TTP leaders have been caught. The list includes Quetta Shura No. # 2 Mullah Baradar, who only recently was claimed to have been let go for negotiations with other top terrorist leaders. It should also be noted that out of nine supposedly caught Quetta Shura members, five had been caught from Karachi alone.
There had been reports that most of the Afghan Taliban frontier leadership had been sheltered in Karachi under a Pakistani security establishment’s secret programme, the ‘New Karachi Project’. The whole notion that somehow most of the leadership of the Taliban was stationed in Quetta was a “proxy”, a top NATO source told Daily Times. “In reality it's the Karachi Shura.”
Intense investigations reveal that the whole project that initially started as “India centric” has actually taken a global dimension. It was somewhere in 2003, under intense US pressure, that ‘Forward Section 23’ in Azad Kashmir was closed, which provided ‘cover and refugee to top militants’. It was only after the closure of Forward Section 23, the ISI section in Karachi became the hub for anti-India activities from where the Mumbai train bombing to 26/11 were orchestrated. It should be remember that the boat used to travel to Mumbai to carry out the terrorist attack was bought from Karachi as well.
The ‘Karachi Project’ was confirmed by recent revelations from a double agent, David Headley, who had been involved in carrying out the massacre in Mumbai. He said in a recent testimony that he works under the direct supervision of Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, the ISI, which shelters infamous Mumbai mobster Daud Ibrahim to Tiger Memon, to the top tier leadership of the Taliban, which includes Mullah Omar. This explains a top Middle Eastern intelligence official’s secret visit to Karachi, who was actively facilitating the negotiation process between Karzai, the US and the Afghan Taliban. It should be remembered that Mullah Baradar was caught from a Sunni-Deobandi-run religious seminary in Karachi. The seminary, Khudamul Quran, is located 10 to 25kms from the toll plaza on the Super Highway in the jurisdiction of the Lonikot police station in Hyderabad, which is under the influence of Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI-F, whose leaders had previously been caught sheltering high-profile al Qaeda leaders like Sheikh Khaled Muhammad – the 9/11 mastermind. It is shelters like this particular seminary, along with many other “safe houses”, that are termed as “strategic assets” by the Pakistani security establishment.
The Taliban are known to have moved elements of their command to Karachi to avoid potential US targeting in Predator airstrikes, where Mullah Omar is thought to be in a safe house in Karachi, under the protection of the ISI. Since the beginning of February, the authorities have captured seven senior members of the Taliban Shura, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy of Mullah Omar, and four Taliban shadow governors of Afghan provinces, which include names such as Maulvi Abdul Kabir (shadow governor of Nangarhar province), Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who used to co-supervise the military affairs of the militia, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, a former foreign minister in the Taliban regime, Mullah Abdul Rauf, the former chief operational commander of the Taliban in northeastern Afghanistan, Mullah Ahmad Jan Akhundzada, the former governor of Zabul province and Mullah Muhammad Younis, an ex-Kabul police chief.
Jan 18, 2011
Marines Fighting Back in Helmand Province
ISW Scholar Jeffrey A. Dressler examines the heated fight for the Taliban’s financial hub, Helmand province, finding the insurgency has been driven out en masse
Washington, D.C: Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province and the central node of the Taliban’s narcotics empire, generating substantial funds to finance a brutal insurgency. In short, success in Afghanistan requires success in Helmand province.
“Helmand province was formally the economic life-blood of the insurgency, but U.S. Marines and coalition forces have made remarkable gains there by taking back key terrain that was previously controlled by the Taliban,” explained ISW Afghanistan Scholar, Jeff Dressler. “The enemy network is fractured and it proves counterinsurgency can work in southern Afghanistan, while noting that sustainable progress is still elusive.”
Key findings and recommendations:
Helmand is the first province in Afghanistan to receive sufficient force to engage in comprehensive, population-centric counterinsurgency operations. Requisite troop numbers did not arrive in Helmand until the summer of 2009, a full three years after the U.K. arrived in 2006.
The insurgency in Helmand has been significantly degraded over the past eighteen months. Coalition and Afghan forces have removed nearly all insurgent safe havens and are killing, capturing, and denying insurgent’s access to key terrain and population centers in and around the Helmand River Valley.
According to recent polling by the Washington Post, ABC and the BBC, the number of people in Helmand describing their security as "good" increased from 14 percent in December 2009 poll to 67 percent as of December 2010.
Although there have been tremendous strides made in provincial and district governance over the past several years, some critical challenges remain, including identifying and attracting capable civil servants.
In Helmand, insurgent weapons caches and bomb making materials are seized alongside narcotics, highlighting the increasingly cooperative relationship between the insurgency and the drug trade.
Jan 17, 2011
This is what Sect Gates proposes:
Navy end strength 324K cuts 0K 0% cut
USAF end strength 331K cuts 0K 0% cut
Army Guard end strength 358K cuts 0K 0% cut
USAF Guard end strength 106K cuts 0K 0% cut
Army Civ's end strength 250K cuts 0K 0% cut
Navy Civ's end strength 199K cuts 0K 0% cut
USAF Civ's end strength 177K cuts 0K 0% cut
DoD Civ's end strength 126K cuts 0K 0% cut
Army end strength 562K cuts 49K - 8.7% cut
USMC end strength 203K cuts 49K - 9.8% cut
Yet who's putting Boots-on-the-ground...?
Jan 14, 2011
22nd MEU Marine to receive Bronze Star
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE – A Marine from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is scheduled to receive high honors during a ceremony Friday, Jan. 14, for his actions while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lance Cpl. Sean A. Warren, a machine gunner with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU, is scheduled to receive a Bronze Star with a Combat Distinguishing Device, which is added for acts of valor.
Warren will receive the award for his actions while deployed with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division(Fwd) in March 2010.
During combat action, according to his award, “in order to retrieve a wounded Marine and gain fire superiority, Warren led his squad of Marines through flooded fields and chest deep canals while aggressively pursuing the enemy. Without hesitation and in total disregard for his own safety, Warren ran into the middle of a road exposing him to enemy fire impacting within inches of his position and concentrated his fire towards the enemy. Over the course of a 6-hour firefight, Warren led his squad for more than 15 km distance and evacuating two urgent casualties while suppressing Taliban fighters.”
The award goes on to say, “Warren displayed complete control over a tremendously stressful situation and conducted himself in a highly professional manner displaying an impressive ability to lead and inspire in a combat environment. He kept his Marines focused on their mission and ultimately prevented further casualties.”
When given for valor, the Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Military.
Jan 12, 2011
Biden calls on Pakistani's to step up
By Patricia Zengerle and Chris Allbritton
ISLAMABAD — Vice President Joe Biden attempted on Wednesday to dispel what he called common anti-American misperceptions in Pakistan while urging the government to fight growing religious extremism.
Biden's comments at a news conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani come as the United States seeks to put further pressure on Pakistan to take on Islamist militants who have taken refuge in Pakistani border sanctuaries from where they attack Western forces in Afghanistan.
Commenting on the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last week at the hands of his own bodyguard for supporting changes in a controversial blasphemy law, Biden said the United States was "saddened by cold-blooded murder of a decent, brave man."
"The governor was killed simply because he was a voice of tolerance and understanding," he said.
"As you know all too well ... societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions."
Earlier, Biden called Amna Taseer, the widow of the slain governor, to express his condolences on behalf of the president and the American people.
In addition to economic, political and security crises, Pakistan is beset by a growing religious extremism among the poor and middle class, which often translates into suspicion toward the United States and the West in general.
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Militant groups have exploited grievances, exacerbated by U.S. drone attacks in the west of the country, to build support.
"We know that there are those -- I am not talking about leadership, I am talking about the public discourse -- that in America's fight against al Qaeda, we've imposed a war upon Pakistan," Biden said.
"They (al Qaeda) continue to plot attacks against the United States and our interests to this very day," he said. "They have found refuge in the most remote portions of your country."
Pakistan often denies the presence of al Qaeda leadership on its soil.
SELF-INTEREST OF BOTH
But Biden also expressed American support for Pakistan in the form of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Law, which provides $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years. Biden was an early sponsor of the bill when he was a senator.
"A close partnership with Pakistan and its people is in the vital self-interest of the United States of America," he said. "And ... in the vital self-interest of Pakistan as well."
The vice president arrived in Islamabad after two days in Kabul, where he said Pakistan needed to do more to help the United States in its battle against Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan as it prepares to withdraw its troops from there.
Pakistan is one of the largest non-NATO recipients of U.S. military aid -- it is expected to receive about $3 billion this year -- but ties are constantly on edge because of conflicting interests in the region.
Pakistan most pressing worry is the tentative 2011 timeline for the beginning of a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan. It wants assurances that its interests in Kabul will be protected -- and Indian influence checked -- while at the same time the United States won't leave chaos for Pakistan to clean up, as happened in the early 1990s after the Soviet pull-out.
Washington's concern is that it won't be able to begin its drawdown if Pakistan continues to refuse to crack down on militant safe havens in its ethnic Pashtun border areas.
Washington has been pressing Islamabad to move against militants in the North Waziristan region as it has in other parts of the country. Pakistan's military has launched several offensives in the northwest but has said it does not have the capacity to do more.
Jan 7, 2011
Letter from Karachi
By Taimur Khan
"An influx of working poor into Pakistan's cities is leading to violent competition over land and political loyalties -- not to mention changing the very social fabric of the country. Will Karachi, and Pakistan as a whole, be able to adapt?"
Read in on Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/node/67173
Soldier Suffering from PTSD Threatened with Redeployment
January 6, 2010
(FORT CAMPBELL, KY.Less than two months after surrendering himself at Fort Campbell from AWOL status, Army Spc. Jeff Hanks awaits imminent redeployment to Afghanistan without having received treatment for war wounds.
Hanks, who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, returned to the U.S. on leave this past September suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and likely Traumatic Brain Injury. He sought treatment on two military bases before refusing to redeploy and going Absent Without Official Leave in order to get civilian medical attention.
Hanks has demanded that the Army respect his right to heal. With the help of the Operation Recovery campaign [http://www.ivaw.org/operation-recovery], he turned himself in to Fort Campbell on Veterans Day, ready to face the consequences but demanding treatment. Since then, he has been juggled between a series of military counselors who have provided no diagnoses, and proposals for long-term treatment have been denied by his commanders.
This week, Jeff Hanks’ commanders informed him he was scheduled to redeploy to Afghanistan on January 9. The Army's mandatory pre-deployment mental health screenings denied Hank's PTSD, contradicting positive diagnoses by three separate civilian therapists he received while AWOL. Results of an MRI test yesterday will not be available until after he is in Afghanistan. Like many soldiers have reported lately, the Army behavioral health specialist who screened Hanks suggested he seek treatment while deployed in Afghanistan.
“Four different mental health providers have diagnosed Jeff with PTSD, have advised treatment, and he has been denied treatment every single time. I am very worried about him,” says Johanna Buwalda, a licensed clinical counselor who counsels war veterans and has worked directly with Hanks since October. “Our soldiers deserve the right to heal.”
Hanks’ lawyer reports that Jeff’s situation remains tenuous but all signs point to orders to redeploy. For now, it is unclear how Jeff will react if officially ordered to redeploy, but he continues to stress his demands for adequate treatment before redeployment.
Operation Recovery is a national effort led by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to stop the deployment of traumatized troops and the abuse of troops’ right to heal. For more information, go to: http://www.ivaw.org/operation-recovery.
Jan 4, 2011
Fire Capt. Honors? Not So Fast
By J.D. Gordon
January 4, 2011
As the mainstream media passes the megaphone to those calling for the ouster of Navy Capt. Owen Honors for his lewd videos shown years ago on board the USS Enterprise while serving as the ship's second-in-command, let's hope Navy leadership takes a hard look at his case before simply caving into political pressure and ending Honors' career prematurely.
Now the carrier's commanding officer, and just weeks away from leading the "Big E" on a six-month deployment to support combat operations in Afghanistan, Honors has been put on report by at least one sailor, who leaked the videos to The Virginian-Pilot, the ship's home port newspaper in Norfolk, Va., thus generating the current buzz.
While Honors' "Saturday Night Live"-style video clips, designed to introduce movie nights on the carrier, were patently raunchy, they should also be viewed in the proper context.
Though clearly inappropriate, as the Navy acknowledged in a statement over the weekend while announcing an investigation, the videos were taped during deployments supporting Iraq and Afghanistan combat operations, and were intended as a stress relief for some 6,000 sailors who were at work 24x7 over a six-month stretch at sea with only a few weeks in port.
Movie nights at sea have been around since World War II and provide sailors a chance to relax, even if for a couple of hours. As a recently retired Navy public affairs officer, I have helped produce my share of movie night clips on deployment, though they were admittedly tame by comparison.
The Tailhook scandal and resulting trial that sunk Adm. Frank Kelso, the chief of naval operations and the careers of dozens of other top naval officers in the early 1990s shook up the Navy's culture, making it considerably more politically correct. However, the salty talk and lewd behavior featured in the Enterprise videos is still not uncommon in the Navy, especially after long periods at sea.
One anonymous sailor, a videographer who helped make the videos, had it about right, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot, "In his defense, I'll say that sometimes, when you've been out to sea for a while, cut off from everything, you start to think things that you would never normally do are actually a good idea," he said. "You do stupid stuff to stay sane."
As Navy leaders conduct the investigation, they should consider the overall crew reaction and Honors' reputation with the men and women he served alongside. According to a Time magazine report, it seems the Enterprise's crew has overwhelmingly expressed support for the embattled skipper, with 1,200 clicking "like" on his Facebook page, along with ringing endorsements in the comments section.
Whatever one thinks of the videos, it does appear that Honors is guilty of poor taste and failure to keep up with the times, which have become more politically correct even since the Tailhook scandal's aftermath.
News reports late Monday suggested that the Navy will probably relieve Honors of his command. But while doing so might solve a short-term PR problem for the Navy, it would be counterproductive in the long term and unfair to Honors' distinguished military career, and would likely drive down morale.
J.D. Gordon is a communications consultant to four Washington, D.C.,
think tanks and a retired Navy commander who served in the office of
the secretary of defense as the Pentagon spokesman for the Western
Hemisphere. For more info, visit www.jdgordoncommunications.com.