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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Afghanistan

IRAQ: 'You have to kill them'


A key part of President Obama's strategy for Afghanistan announced Friday is for the U.S. to persuade   "moderate" elements in the insurgency to separate from the hard-core jihadis.

Much of the U.S. success in Iraq is attributed to the decision of the Sunni Arab tribal sheiks in Anbar province to turn against the insurgency in their country and make common cause with the United States.  The U.S. then hired many former insurgent fighters for the Sons of Iraq force.

But no one should expect the process in Afghanistan to be quick, easy or accomplished without further fighting. Not if the Marines' experience in Iraq is any indication.

"There is a certain element: you have to kill them," Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who just completed a year as the top Marine in Iraq, told a San Diego civic group this week. "After that, reasonable men and women will come to the table."

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines in Iraq. Credit: Marine Corps

AFGHANISTAN: Marines patrolling province on Iranian border


Marines are mentoring Afghan forces in Farah province on Afghanistan's western border with Iran in hopes of providing a greater sense of security to nomadic tribes.

Some tribes are already moving back into the area, where bands of Taliban fighters have been known to terrorize locals, Marines say.

— Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Nomads in Farah province. Credit: Marine Corps

AFGHANISTAN: Marines prepare for mountain combat


The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment from Twentynine Palms is training to deploy later this year, probably to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan. Winter. Mountain hiding spots for insurgents. Snow. High winds.

So the Marines just finished 25 days at the mountain warfare training center at Bridgeport, Calif.

P.S.: The Three-Four was the battalion that pulled down Saddam Hussein's statue.

— Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines eating hot chow during mountain training. Credit: Marine Corps

AFGHANISTAN: Wounded Marines receive Purple Hearts.


They were sent to Afghanistan to tutor the Afghan national police. But as soon as they arrived, the Marines of the Twentynine Palms-based 2nd battalion, 7th regiment found themselves in combat with Taliban insurgents.

The Marines pushed the Taliban out of numerous villages and hiding spots. Twenty members of the battalion were killed, and in December, after the unit had returned home, a memorial service was held in their honor.

And now a second ceremony (above) has been held, where Marines wounded in action received Purple Hearts.

In all, 39 Marines and a sailor from the battalion received the medals. "All of 2/7, as a whole, did a damn good job at cleaning up the area we were in,'' said Pfc. Trenton Walter, one of the Purple Heart recipients.

Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Marines from Two-Seven receiving Purple Heart medals. Credit: Marine Corps

AFGHANISTAN: Female Marines provide 'access to half the population'


Marines in Afghanistan are now using a strategy deemed successful in Iraq: an all-female unit to inter-act with women and children.

The 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment has begun to use the unit as it deploys into villages in hopes of winning hearts and minds. Cultural taboos would largely keep male Marines from speaking to Afghan women and girls.

The female Marines give the U.S. "access to half the population that we normally do not have access to," said Capt. Mike Hoffman, a company commander with Three-Eight.

On their first mission, the women wore head scarves as a sign of cultural respect, Marines said.

"If the women know we are here to help them, they will likely pass that on to their children," said 2nd Lt. Johanna Shaffer, the team leader.

— Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine 2nd Lt. Johanna Shaffer with an Afghan girl. Credit: Marine Corps

AFGHANISTAN: National Guard troops talk farmer to farmer


The headlines about the U.S. buildup in Afghanistan emphasize more combat troops to chase the Taliban and more trainers to help the Afghan security forces shape up.

All true enough, but the U.S. is also sending National Guard troops from farm states to help Afghan farmers.

Take the 28th Forward Agribusiness Development Team, which includes National Guard troops from Nebraska — many of them farmers in civilian life.

Troops are working with Afghan farmers on issues like crop rotation, water management, tractor maintenance, livestock health and grain storage.

It's not a quick proposition. "We are doing one field at a time," said 1st Lt. Eric Sattelberg.

— Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Army 1st Sgt. Eldon Kuntzelman talks to farm kids in Janquadam, Afghanistan. Credit: U.S. Army

AFGHANISTAN: Without a road, there is no road to victory


It's been a military truism since the days of Sun Tzu or even earlier: Before you can win a war, you've got to get your stuff to the war.

As the U.S. ramps up its effort in Afghanistan to both confront the Taliban and win the hearts and minds of Afghans, transportation and resupplying troops are a major problem.

Take this winding and treacherous road in eastern Afghanistan that connects Khowst and Paktia provinces.

When the snow melts, the U.S. Agency for International Development plans a $100-million, 62-mile road improvement, one of several such projects.

-- Tony Perry

Photo: A road in eastern Afghanistan. Credit: Fred W. Baker II / American Forces Press Service

AFGHANISTAN: Hearts, minds and do-rah.


Amid a chasm of cultural differences, the Americans and Afghans share a love of sports.

And so U.S. troops helped organize a do-rah tournament in Oruzgan province, one of the areas where the Taliban has been most prevalent. The contest pitted various village squads competing for bragging rights in Deh Rawood district.

The sport is a bit like wrestling, with teams inside concentric circles trying to throw or kick each other. Judges award points for hits and aggressiveness.

About 1,500 spectators were in attendance. Trophies were awarded. U.S. troops and Afghan forces provided security.

-- Tony Perry, San Diego.

Photo: Do-rah in progress. Credit: U.S. Army

AFGHANISTAN: U.S., Afghans celebrate victory over Soviets

AfghanistanmeetingTo know where you're going, sometimes it helps to remember where you've been, right?

And so 200 Americans and Afghans gathered in Nangarhar province to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union fleeing Afghanistan.

Many of the Afghans had fought against the Soviets -- with clandestine help from America. The session came as U.S. and NATO forces, and the Afghans, are battling a resurgent Taliban.

"We were allies then, we are allies now," said Michael Sears, the U.S. State Department representative to the provincial reconstruction team in Nangarhar.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Nangarhar Provincial Council Chairman Fazel Hadi Muslimyar welcoming attendees to the celebration. Credit: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Melinda Johnson

Reenlistment efforts send some U.S. soldiers to the mountain top


With the U.S. military fighting two wars, special efforts are being made to encourage reenlistments.

Among the efforts are bonus money (tax-exempt if reenlistment is done in a war zone) and offers of changes in assignment.

And sometimes special ceremonies are held, such as the one pictured above of a soldier reenlisting on top of Ghar Mountain outside Kabul, Afghanistan. Four soldiers made the the early-morning trek to re-up.

-- Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: U.S. Army

AFGHANISTAN: Seabees redeploy from Iraq to build in hostile areas


More indication that Iraq is the past and Afghanistan is the future for the U.S. military.

Seabees who have been attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Anbar province in Iraq have redeployed to Afghanistan to work with U.S. and NATO troops.

The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 from Gulfport, Miss., will build bases for a troop buildup in southern Afghanistan. First order of business: to build a 430-acre forward operating base in Helmand province.

The Seabees, said Lt. Cmdr. James Brown, are ideal for the Afghanistan mission. They know how "to not only build but to build in hostile areas."

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Seabees arrive in Afghanistan from Iraq. Credit: U.S. Navy

AFGHANISTAN: Expert says U.S. should buy the poppy crop to keep its profits from funding insurgency.


As the Obama Administration reshapes U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, a major issue is the poppy crop that funds the insurgency. Afghanistan is the world leader in the plant that can be made into heroin.

U.S. forces are chasing the drug lords but have declined to attack the crop in the fields. Afghan forces, so far, have proved largely ineffectual.

Defense expert John Pike, editor of GlobalSecurity.Org, has an idea: If the U.S. cannot beat the drug lords, then outbid them. Buy the crop from Afghan farmers and have it processed into medicinal morphine that can be distributed to medical facilities throughout the Third World.

"We are preparing to pour a pretty good-sized amount of new blood and treasure into Afghanistan with no other describable theory of victory today apart from sending more troops," Pike told the North (San Diego) County Times.

"Before we get too far down that road, if outbidding the drug kings is a wrongheaded idea, I would like to see someone prove that to me."

The poppy crop, Pike said, is the "stinking 800-pound gorilla" of the war in Afghanistan.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Afghan family in poppy field. Credit: Canadian Army


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