Supply convoys through Afghanistan battle terrain, rough weather and




Supply convoys through Afghanistan battle

terrain,  rough weather and

By Michael Gisick, Stars and Stripes

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — It was three days since they left their base in southeastern Afghanistan and the U.S.-led convoy had traveled barely 40 miles through the desert. Now they were getting bogged down.

With night and a cold rain falling, a broad “wadi,” or dry river bed, stretched across their path. The infantry company at the nearest outpost advised them not to try the crossing in the mud. But the 60-vehicle convoy was under orders to push through to the outpost, where the fuel they were carrying was badly needed, and there was no way around it.

Behind the lead trucks, the convoy stretched for three miles, a collection of super-modern military vehicles designed to withstand bombs and jerry-rigged Afghan fuel tankers decorated with bells and murals, a “Mad Max”-like caravan stalled in the wasteland.

As it turned out, they would make it across the wadi, but not easily. Most of the Afghan “jingle trucks,” named after their tinkling decorations, got stuck in the mud, some more than once. Some of the American vehicles got stuck trying to pull them out. The crossing took three hours.

The convoy finally reached its destination, Combat Outpost Kushmand in Paktika province, but only after a 17-hour day that covered just 20 miles.

As the U.S. ramps up its efforts in Afghanistan heading into next year, supplying units on the front lines remains a monumental task. A sharp spike in roadside bombings and ambushes this year, many of them aimed at relatively easy targets such as fuel tankers, has forced ground convoys to take cumbersome security measures and seek out secondary routes in a country where primary routes are often little more than dirt tracks.

“The fight here is so logistical,” said Capt. James Barger, who commanded the convoy to COP Kushmand. “Afghanistan is not developed like Iraq. It’s really painful.”

Encountering bombs

Barger said his unit, a route clearance team drawn from the 206th Engineer Battalion of the Kentucky Army National Guard, had encountered more than 50 roadside bombs since it arrived in March, far more than the number found by the unit it replaced.

Midway through the first day of this convoy in late December, Barger’s route clearance team found another bomb, halting the procession for two hours.

Farther back in line, other problems arose. Several of the Afghan-piloted jingle trucks came up with flat tires. During one halt, a jingle truck driver apparently intent on jockeying for a better position closer to the American trucks suddenly veered off the road and crashed into a ditch.

“It was a mistake,” the driver said with a shrug.

The military relies on local trucking to move much of the fuel needed to run everything from generators and heaters to Humvees and armored vehicles. But driving jingle trucks is a dangerous occupation, and many of the drivers have little experience, officers say.

“If they get hit, they’re basically driving around in a big bomb,” said 1st Lt. Mark Canary, who led the supply distribution platoon from 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, which patrols this part of Paktika province.

“Then they also have to worry about the Taliban finding out they’re working with us and kidnapping or killing them or their families.”

Even before the rain came, the convoy moved at little more than walking pace, crawling through open desert and dun-colored settlements where the villagers lined the road, watching impassively like spectators at a slow, rather disappointing parade.

The convoy spent the first night outside a joint U.S.-Afghan army base, taking up residence in unpowered huts heated with woodstoves. The jingle truck drivers slept in their cabs.

“At least here it’s not snowing,” said one driver, Jan Mohammed.

Going nowhere

But it rained heavily overnight, and the next day the convoy went nowhere. When the rain lifted the soldiers tossed a football and watched the Afghans engage in what might be described as a large-rock throwing contest. One of the U.S. soldiers drank a bottle of dip spit mixed with Red Bull for money. They bought a sheep from a nearby village and, with the help of a jingle truck driver, slaughtered and cooked it for dinner.

But by the third morning, the mood began to slide. The convoy had been ordered to push on but few believed they’d make it through the mud. Many described their job as the worst in Afghanistan. Their trips often lasted two weeks. On a recent voyage, they’d found 10 roadside bombs, hitting a few of them.

“Our best favorite mission was to take somebody two plywood outhouses,” one soldier said.

“Down there in Taliban Valley, that’s where both of the Huskies got blown up,” said another.

A single-passenger mine-clearing vehicle that resembles a militarized tractor, the Husky might as well be called the “guinea pig” because it tests the waters, so to speak. It also goes by the nickname “the Purple Heart box.”

Cpl. Dusty Hall, a 26-year-old college student from Virgie, Ky., drove the lead Husky until he got blown up and medically evacuated out in July. But after three other soldiers were blown up on their last mission, Hall was back in front for the trip to Kushmand.

“When you’re just sittin’ there in the dark, just sittin’, it gets a little lonesome,” he said. “But you accept it. It’s a job, maybe not my favorite job, but it’s an important job.”

With little time in any one place, the convoy soldiers say they often feel unappreciated at the bases where they deliver supplies, where amenities are already stretched thin. Internet cafes often mysteriously close when they arrive. Showers are suddenly broken.

The low point came over the summer when they were sent to recover the bodies of U.S. soldiers killed in a roadside bombing. Exhausted, they returned to a base and found nowhere to sleep but the parking lot.

“There was nothing laid on for us,” Barger said. “They saved us some pizza, but we’re sleeping in the parking lot.”

Sometimes it was a challenge, Barger said, to make his troops understand that they mattered in this war.

But after 17 hours in their cramped trucks, capped off with a final delay when a jingle truck tipped over in the last village on the route, at Kushmand the convoy at least found heated tents and some leftover Salisbury steak and chili.

They left the base at first light two days later, and by midafternoon they were out of radio range.

Israeli Army Gets Green Light for Gaza Operation

Israeli Army Gets Green Light for Gaza Operation

Hanan Awarekeh Readers Number : 58

25/12/2008 The Israeli defense establishment is currently preparing for a military move against Hamas targets in Gaza after it received the green light Wednesday from the Israeli Cabinet.

During a cabinet meeting about the situation in and outside the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli occupation army officer gave ministers in attendance an overview of the potential retaliatory moves that the defense establishment is planning against Hamas’ regime. A media blackout was declared on the deliberations.

By late morning Wednesday, the Magen David Adom rescue service declared its highest level of alert.

An Israeli official told Israeli daily Haaretz that Israel’s response will go beyond the air raid, “Our response will be substantial and painful to Hamas,” the official said.

Most strikes will come from the air and be aimed at facilities believed to be of strategic importance to Hamas’ political and military leadership. However, the officer said that weather conditions are currently preventing the air force from launching the raids.

According to officials in Tel Aviv, the overview also included a special reference to the possible implications of attacking Hamas.

“We are not eager to strike, but we will not hesitate to act,” one official said. “If Hamas is looking for noise, we will make Gaza very noisy.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government claimed it had shown restraint until now but vowed to act if the salvoes continued.

The same official said that Israel would be willing to extend the June cease-fire, which expired last week, if Hamas would agree to resume it.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to arrive on Thursday in Cairo for a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose administration helped facilitate the cease-fire. Sources close to Livni said she intended to tell Mubarak that Israel will not accept Hamas’ current terms for a ceasefire. Hamas’ statements also contained a similar mix of threats and assurances.

Meir Yifrach, head of Sdot Negev Regional Council, said that the current situation was intolerable and that “the people of the southern region of Israel are demanding that the government order the army to act in Gaza so that civilian life may be allowed to return to normal.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday night that he had ordered the Israeli army to prepare itself to deliver a “response” to the rocket attacks fired by the Islamic resistance groups in Gaza. He said Hamas was responsible and would pay a price.

“Anyone who hurts Israeli civilians or soldiers will pay the price in a big way,” Barak said in an interview on a Channel 2 talk show. “We will bring the solution, and we will not let this situation continue.”

Israeli defense officials said the army now had approval for a number of operations that would likely include heavy air strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets, as well as pinpoint ground operations against resistance infrastructure.

The ambiguity about the timing of an army operation was in line with what Olmert told the security cabinet on Sunday – that Israel would not give Hamas a “promo” of when and how it would respond.

However, hints that Israel’s response was well on the way could be found in a statement a government official released after the four-hour security cabinet meeting.

“Hamas bears sole responsibility for the deterioration in the South. They deliberately undermined the understandings reached through Egypt, and they acted to destroy the calm,” the official said, in what sounded like an explanation to the world of why Israel needed to act.

Meanhile, the Palestinian resistance factions said that more than 70 mortar shells and Katyusha and Kassam rockets pounded the Negev. The barrage hit communities throughout the South, reaching as far north as Ashkelon and as far south as Kerem Shalom. At least two Grad-model Katyusha rockets were fired into Ashkelon on Wednesday, and a Kassam with extended range hit Netivot. Nearly 60 settlers were treated for emotional trauma and anxiety.

“Hamas will hit not only Sderot, but also what lies beyond Sderot,” Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said, in a possible reference to extended ballistic capabilities.

Other spokespeople said the organization will agree to “resume” the ceasefire, if the organization’s conditions are met. Hamas is demanding an improved ceasefire agreement that also includes the West Bank.

In a statement by Hamas’ military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, a spokesperson warned that “thousands of additional Israelis will soon be within the range of our rockets if Israel continues with its aggression.”

“The residents of the south will stay in the bomb shelters for a long time,” the Hamas statement continued, adding that “threats of an [Israeli] military offensive don’t scare us because we are more prepared than ever.”

All Israeli towns within a 30-kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip were hooked up on Wednesday to an early warning system designed to deliver rocket launch alerts. Among the newly-connected towns and cities are Ofakim and Netivot.

Ashdod, with its center just outside the 30-kilometer mark, is expected to be connected to the system within the next 24 hours. Some towns are already connected to the “Color Red” system, which alerts residents living within a seven-kilometer radius of the Strip.

Pak whips itself into war frenzy

Pak whips itself into war frenzy

Indrani Bagchi

NEW DELHI: “We are all Taliban now” is what Pakistanis might soon be saying. With Baitullah Mehsud of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) openly ranging

himself and his suicide fighters on the side of Pakistan army, the distinction between the army and the jihadi militia has significantly blurred. The danger of “Talibanisation” becoming “mainstream” in Pakistan is now a proximate reality.

On Tuesday, Mehsud, whose TTP is one of the biggest Taliban terror groups in the FATA areas, offered his bombers to the Pakistan army to fight India. In the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammad) in Swat had both offered their respective terror groups to “help” the Pakistan army. The aggressive noises against India were designed to signal that they meant business and to extend their appeal beyond the large sections who have already embraced them.

In the process, however, the lid may have been taken off the tacit alliance that Pakistan army was always suspected to have with Taliban even when the two were fighting in Federally Administered Tribal Agencies and North West Frontier Province.

Bill Roggio, a US counter-terrorism expert, wrote this week, “Baitullah’s commitment to back the government confirms the policy of the Pakistani military and government of creating strategic depth by supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and a host of Islamist terror groups inside Pakistan and Kashmir. The Pakistanis believe that the terror groups will provide manpower and support in the event of war with India, and that Afghanistan and the mountainous North West Frontier Province would serve as an impenetrable fortress in the rear in case of an Indian invasion.”

In public, the Pakistan army, which has fattened itself on assistance from the US to fight Taliban, naturally protests against the suggestion of a clandestine nexus. But a senior Pakistan army official told journalists soon after Mumbai attacks that the military and Taliban were fighting in FATA due to “misunderstandings”. “We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue,” he had said. It was later revealed that the army officer was a corps commander.

It seems that the alleged threat from India will serve as the excuse or justification to resolve the “misunderstandings”. While this will not surprise India or the US who have viewed Taliban as Pakistan’s proxy, an open alliance has reinforced the fear that creeping Talibanisation of Pakistan’s establishment has gathered pace.

Fanatical jihadi troopers are moving determinedly out of FATA and into the settled areas of western Pakistan. A US Congress report in November said “so-called settled areas” of Pakistan beyond the tribal regions have come under attack from pro-Taliban militants. Indeed, the “Talibanisation of western Pakistan appears to be ongoing and may now threaten the territorial integrity of the Pakistani state”.

While India is a lot more cognizant of this reality, Mehsud’s anti-India rhetoric should serve as a wake up call for western governments who still prefer to look at the thin sliver of army leadership who appear to be moderate. They are neither innocent about Pakistan’s sponsorship of Taliban or that the collaboration has continued even after Islamabad signed up for the “war on terror”. They have, however, winked at evidence of continued camaraderie because of Pakistan’s promises of a new beginning and because of their dependence on the Pakistani army for success in Afghanistan.

A few weeks ago, the British press revealed that the UK had hushed up its success in a significant anti-Taliban operation in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2007 after discovering that the jihadi commander killed was a serving senior level officer in the Pakistan army. His military ID was found on him.

Another US officer, Chris Nash, went on record recently to say Pakistani forces flew repeated helicopter missions into Afghanistan to resupply a Taliban base camp. “On numerous occasions, Afghan border police checkpoints and observation posts were attacked by Pakistani military forces.”

Recently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he had given GPS coordinates of Mullah Omar to US and Pakistan but nobody took him out. Pakistan’s reluctance to act against Taliban should not surprise. It considers the swelling jihadi army as a strategic asset crucial for its ambitions in Afghanistan.

It is the long lance of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the region, to keep India unsettled and bring Afghanistan under control. Besides, the facade of fighting the Taliban is the best way the army-ISI establishment can get funds, technology and equipment from the US and Europe. That’s a powerful incentive as well. Pakistan’s foreign policy games have become profitable — it’s the best way of keeping the army flush.

John Negroponte, US deputy secretary of state said in October, “The US and our allies face near-term challenges from Pakistan’s reluctance and inability to roll back terrorist sanctuaries in the tribal region.”

That is the reason why the military leadership does not find anything amiss about Mehsud — accused in the murder of Pakistani President Asif Zardari’s wife Benazir Bhutto — saying that his militia would fight alongside the army against India.

India yet to share evidence: Interpol

India yet to share evidence: Interpol

* Agency chief says information given to media should be shared if accurate
* Says Pakistan most proactive associate of Interpol

By Tahir Niaz

ISLAMABAD: India has neither shared information about the Mumbai terrorist attacks with the Interpol so far nor asked the agency for assistance in the ongoing probe, Interpol Secretary General Ronald K Noble said on Tuesday.

He was addressing a news conference after a meeting with Interior Adviser Rehman Malik in Islamabad.

“The information Interpol has is the same information that you have. It’s information that we’ve read in journals, that we’ve read on the Internet or that we’ve seen on TV,” he said. “We can’t enter newspaper information in our police databases, we can only enter information that we receive from police authorities.”

He expressed satisfaction over the measures taken by Pakistan following Mumbai attacks, adding no other country had co-operated more with the Interpol than Pakistan. “Pakistan is the most proactive associate of Interpol.”

Rehman Malik said Pakistan was prepared to co-operate with India “but they have to bring us credible evidence”.

The interior adviser said National Database and Registration Authority records do not include a citizen named Ajmal Kasab. A letter from the man to Pakistan “has been handed over to legal experts for thorough examination and details in this regard will be issued by today or tomorrow”, Malik said.

During the meeting, Pakistani authorities considered Interpol’s offer to install by 2009 a system known as MIND/FIND, which enables immigration officials to carry out direct screening of passports and identity documents on a real-time basis against Interpol’s global database of more than 16 million stolen and lost travel documents.