Taliban Leader in Secret Talks was Imposter

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The New York Times reports that the “Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor.”  The headline says it all, and I didn’t make it up either. We’ve been duped. No legitimate peace talks have been taken place. So I guess the Power Point slide used for the ongoing Afghanistan policy review describing these peace talks will simply be put on “Hide” mode now. Maybe we should take heed of what Sayed Amir Muhammad Agha, a onetime Taliban commander who says he has left the Taliban but who acted as a go-between with the movement in the past, was reportedly to have said in an interview for this story that, “Whenever I talk to the Taliban, they never accept peace and they want to keep on fighting, they are not tired.”

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North and South Korea Exchange Fire, Killing Two

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The New York Times and other media resources reports that the North and South Koreans exchanged artillery fire earlier today.

The US public today woke up to the news that the situation in the Korean peninsula is in a “crisis status” when it learned that North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire resulting in two South Korean marines being killed and at least 15 other military personnel and civilians being wounded.  This latest “provocation” comes on the heels of an American scientist’s report that he had recently been shown a secret and modern North Korean nuclear enrichment facility.  The following days and months will probably bring further escalation of a deteriorating situation, and nothing good can come of this. 

What we do know is that some policymakers and military staff can kiss their Thanksgiving holiday goodbye as they monitor the “crisis” and prepare options for policy makers and senior military commanders.  And so it might serve them well to take Thucydides’ history of the  Peloponnesian War (431- 401 B.C.) off the shelf and re-read it.  Maybe they will finally understand what happens to great empires when they fight a generational war focused on limited objectives that sap the resources and power of great civilizations, and after empty victories emerge exhausted and are unable to respond in kind to a greater threat that ultimately leads to their demise. 

What US policymakers probably fear the most is this realization, that our military is strategically exhausted with limited options due to overstretched US national security commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the never-ending war against terrorist organizations.   Kind of like Athens.

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MIT study suggests face shields could reduce blast-induced TBI

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A researcher from MIT claims that computer models suggest that face shields added to combat helmets could help reduce blast-induced traumatic brain injury or “TBI” for US military troops serving in combat zones.

Found below is the news release from MIT

QUOTE

MONDAY, NOV. 22, 2010, 3:00 P.M. ET

MIT Study: Adding face shields to helmets could help avoid blast-induced brain injuries

– Researcher releases computer models that show effect of simulated explosions

Simulated Blast Shield

Simulated blast shield (left) and cut-away

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — More than half of all combat-related injuries sustained by U.S. troops are the result of explosions, and many of those involve injuries to the head. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, about 130,000 U.S. service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained traumatic brain injuries — ranging from concussion to long-term brain damage and death — as a result of an explosion. A recent analysis by a team of researchers led by MIT reveals one possible way to prevent those injuries — adding a face shield to the helmet worn by military personnel.

In a paper to be published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Raul Radovitzky, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and his colleagues report that adding a face shield to the standard-issue helmet worn by the vast majority of U.S. ground troops could significantly reduce traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The extra protection offered by such a shield is critical, the researchers say, because the face is the main pathway through which pressure waves from an explosion are transmitted to the brain.

In assessing the problem, Radovitzky, who is also the associate director of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, and his research team members recognized that very little was known about how blast waves interact with brain tissue or how protective gear affects the brain’s response to such blasts. So they created computer models to simulate explosions and their effects on brain tissue. The models integrate with unprecedented detail the physical aspects of an explosion, such as the propagation of the blast wave, and the anatomical features of the brain, including the skull, sinuses, cerebrospinal fluid, and layers of gray and white matter.

“There is a community studying this problem that is in dire need of this technology,” says Radovitzky, who is releasing the computer code for the creation of the models to the public this week (for the code, please email: tbi-modeling@mit.edu). In doing so, he hopes the models will be used to identify ways to mitigate TBI, which has become prominent because advances in protective gear and medicine have meant that more service members are surviving blasts that previously would have been fatal.

To create the models, Radovitzky collaborated with David Moore, a neurologist at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who used magnetic resonance imaging to model features of the head. The researchers then added data collected from colleagues’ studies of how the brain tissue of pigs responds to mechanical events, such as shocks. They also included details about what happens to the chemical energy that is released upon detonation (outside the brain) that instantly converts into thermal, electromagnetic and kinetic energy that interacts with nearby material, such as a soldier’s helmet.

The researchers recently used the models to explore one possibility for enhancing the helmet currently worn by most ground troops, which is known as the Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH: a face shield made of polycarbonate, a type of transparent armor material. They compared how the brain would respond to the same blast wave simulated in three scenarios: a head with no helmet, a head wearing the ACH, and a head wearing the ACH with a face shield. In all three simulations, the blast wave struck the person from the front.

The analysis revealed that although the ACH — as currently designed and deployed — slightly delayed the arrival of the blast wave, it didn’t significantly mitigate the wave’s effects on brain tissue. After the researchers added a conceptual face shield in the third simulation, the models showed a significant reduction in the magnitude of stresses on the brain because the shield impeded direct transmission of blast waves to the face.

Radovitzky hopes that the models will play a major role in developing protective gear not only for the military, but also for researchers studying the effects of TBI in the civilian population as a result of car crashes and sports injuries. While the study was limited to a single set of blast characteristics, future simulations will study different kinds of blast conditions, such as angle and intensity, as well as the impact of blast waves on the neck and torso, which have been suggested as a possible indirect pathway for brain injury.

Source: “In silico investigation of intracranial blast mitigation with relevance to military traumatic brain injury,” by Nyein, M., Jason, A., Yu. L., Pita, C., Joannopoulos, J., Moore, D., Radovitzky, R. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 November, 2010.

Funding: The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization through the Army Research Office

Contact: Jen Hirsch, MIT News Office

E: jfhirsch@mit.edu, T: 617-253-1682

# # #

Written by Morgan Bettex, MIT News Office

UNQUOTE

SFTT Analysis

Clearly, this is very exciting information and we have to applaud Raul Radovitzky, his fellow researchers and MIT for sharing the computer modeling simulations with the general public.   Brain injuries are receiving considerable attention by the US Army and the Department of Defense and any improvements in combat helmet designs to reduce brain-related combat injuries  is of the utmost importance to troops serving in harm’s way.

SFTT and its supporters have labored long and hard to make sure our troops have the finest protective gear and combat equipment available.  The fact that better protective gear is available or that the technology exists to dramatically upgrade our existing “kit” doesn’t mean that this state-of-the-art equipment will ever be fielded by our troops.   As we have seen time and time again,  the “best” equipment options are often rejected by a military procurement process that operates with stealth-like secrecy and stonewalls Congress and the public on the efficacy of current combat equipment.

The questions we should all be asking ourselves and, most importantly, our military leaders are these:

  • How fast can current manufacturers of combat helmets produce a face shield based on the  “free” computer simulation information provided by MIT?
  • How fast and easily can a “face shield” be added to the Advanced Combat Helmet (“ACH”)?
  • How long would it take for the US Army and DoD to test combat helmet prototypes using  face shields?
  • Assuming the conclusions of the MIT research are confirmed, how soon can we expect US troops to be equipped with helmets using face shields?

This is a real opportunity for the Department of Defense to take the initiative to provide our troops with a state-of-the-art helmet to avoid the increasing incidence of combat-induced brain injuries that now affect well over 100,000 returning veterans.   The time to act is now!

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TSA and US Troops returning from Afghanistan

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Editor’s Note:   The following story was recently received by SFTT.  We have not been able to determine the veracity of this story, but regular contributors to SFTT believe that many details “ring true.”  SFTT has taken the liberty of changing some of the more obvious details of the story to protect the identity of the author.  

This story in no way reflects negatively on the TSA and the awesome responsibility it has in protecting our transportation security.  Nevertheless, the scene described below – if true – suggests that our  limited TSA resources might best be channeled in a more efficient direction.   We salute our brave troops returning home from the frontline and applaud their common sense and restraint  in dealing with the “stupid.”

SFTT welcomes stories from our military forces serving in harm’s way and their family and friends who wish to “Share a Story.”

QUOTE

As the Chalk Leader [army speak for ‘in charge’] for my flight home from Afghanistan, I witnessed the following:

When we were on our way back from Afghanistan, we flew out of Baghram Air Field. We went through customs at BAF, full body scanners (no groping), had all of our bags searched, the whole nine yards.

Our first stop was Shannon, Ireland to refuel. After that, we had to stop at Chicago, Illinois to drop off about 100 folks from the Illinois National Guard. That’s where the stupid started.

First, everyone was forced to get off the plane-even though the plane wasn’t refueling again. All 330 people got off that plane, rather than let the 100 people from the ILG get off. We were filed from the plane to a holding area. No vending machines, no means of escape. Only a male/female latrine.

It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons. Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol. Oh, and our gunners had M-240B machine guns. Of course, the weapons weren’t loaded. And we had been cleared of all ammo well before we even got to customs at Baghram, then AGAIN at customs.

The TSA personnel at the airport seriously considered making us unload all of the baggage from the SECURE cargo hold to have it reinspected. Keep in mind, this cargo had been unpacked, inspected piece by piece by U.S. Customs officials, resealed and had bomb-sniffing dogs give it a one-hour run through. After two hours of sitting in this holding area, the TSA decided not to reinspect our Cargo-just to inspect us again: Soldiers on the way home from war, who had already been inspected, reinspected and kept in a SECURE holding area for 2 hours. Ok, whatever. So we lined up to go through security AGAIN.

This is probably another good time to remind you all that all of us were carrying actual assault rifles, and some of us were also carrying pistols.

So we’re in line, going through one at a time. One of our Soldiers had his Gerber multi-tool. TSA confiscated it. Kind of ridiculous, but it gets better. A few minutes later, a guy empties his pockets and has a pair of nail clippers. Nail clippers. TSA informs the Soldier that they’re going to confiscate his nail clippers. The conversation went something like this:

TSA Guy: You can’t take those on the plane.

Soldier: What? I’ve had them since we left country.

TSA Guy: You’re not suppose to have them.

Soldier: Why?

TSA Guy: They can be used as a weapon.

Soldier: [touches butt stock of the rifle] But this actually is a weapon. And I’m allowed to take it on.

TSA Guy: Yeah but you can’t use it to take over the plane. You don’t have bullets.

Soldier: And I can take over the plane with nail clippers?

TSA Guy: [awkward silence]

Me: Dude, just give him your damn nail clippers so we can get the f**k out of here. I’ll buy you a new set.

Soldier: [hands nail clippers to TSA guy, makes it through security]

This might be a good time to remind everyone that approximately 233 people re-boarded that plane with assault rifles, pistols, and machine guns-but nothing that could have been used as a weapon.

UNQUOTE

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Military News Highlights: November 19, 2010

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U.S. deploying heavily armored battle tanks for first time in Afghan war

Let’s be frank about why a company of M1 Abrams tanks are being added to the fight in Helmand province – because of their survivability and the firepower they bring to the fight against the current threat in Helmand (i.e. IED’s that disrupt lines of communications, concentrated enemy positions supported by complex IED/minefields, lack of local support).  The reality on the ground is that in order to gain an upper hand requires a new combination of light and heavy armor to defeat it.  In simple terms we must escalate to de-escalate.

The Washington Post does not discuss the timing of the M1 Abrams tank deployment or in otherwords when they will be put into action.  But if you really wanted to surprise the enemy, the M1 tanks would be flown in one-by-one on C17 cargo aircraft into Kandarhar Airfield under the cover of night, and then quickly added to the fight.  But, CNN has confirmed that the M1 tanks will not be deployed until early spring.  Really?  Next spring?  Here is the CNN report, read it yourself.

“The U.S. Marine Corps plans to use a company of M1A1 Abrams tanks in restive Helmand province by early spring, said Marine Maj. Gabrielle Chapin.”

I don’t get it.  On one hand the US telegraphs to the world and the Taliban that the US is in a hurtbox in Helmand and requires heavy armor like yesterday to secure victory, but then on the other hand announces that they tanks will not arrive until spring.   If you need tanks in Afghanistan, you can get them there in relatively short order – delaying their deployment until next spring makes no sense.

Details given on attack that killed 5 soldiers

Last weekend was a particularly bloody day for one unit in Afghanistan as it conducted a series of missions in support of Operation Bulldog Bite. Six US soldiers were killed, five of them in a six-hour gunfight, details of which are just being reported.  The firefight was so intense that medical evacuation of the wounded (a figure not released) was not successful until late in the evening.  The commanding general stated that, “this is a huge blow to the enemy” and had broken the morale of Taliban in the area.

U.S. Army to Weigh Buying More FCS Gear

The Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit are the remaining components of the failed Future Combat System.  In short order, top Army officials will decide whether to outfit one Army Brigade in 2012 with these systems.  The systems scored poorly in recent evaluations and were not considered reliable, there are unknown costs, and most importantly a  potential a lack of operational utility.  Given these circumstances, you can bet that Boeing will secure the contract.

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Military News: November 18, 2010

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NATO official: Afghan leader affirms NATO mission  

Not sure how much arm-twisting went on to get Afghan President Karzai to change his mind, but yesterday NATO reported that he was actually on board with NATO’s military campaign and “reluctantly” in support of nighttime SOF raids.  President Karzai nor his staff could be reached for comment, but if the old adage of “the first report is a false report” holds true, we can expect some additional clarifying statements over the next few days as NATO, President Karzai, and regional partners meet in Lisbon to discuss an end state for the NATO mission.  Secretary Gates yesterday affirmed that there was no distance between President Karzai and General Petreaus.  So NATO, the Secretary of Defense and President Karzai are finally all on the same sheet of music.  Finally.

U.S. Must Sustain Military Might, Gates Says

Secretary Gates took on the recommendations to cut defense procurement by 15 percent and its research and development by 10 percent yesterday when he met with the WSJ’s CEO Council.  He called the recommendation to slash the defense budget “math, not strategy” and that the Departments intent was to “figure out how to kill programs that aren’t working.”   Given this position, any effort to review and replace individual equipment and small arms in the near future will compete directly with big-ticket weapons programs and sustaining personnel and manpower requirements.  Yes, it is about strategy, but it is also about math.  Especially if you consider the fact that the Department has embraced a strategic shift to COIN doctrine (and its application), which requires an endless calculus of “counter-insurgents” and proper individual equipment and small arms to support these endeavors.  Unfortunately you can’t have it both ways when trying to sustain US military might under the threats and circumstances that we face.

New Equipment Brings Greater Mobility in Afghanistan

This Youtube video provides some insight into the conundrum troops face when trying to lighten their combat load to improve mobility – a clear sacrifice of safety for survival in higher altitudes.   These troops in the Korengal are now wearing plate carriers instead of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV).  Note that there is an underreported deficiency in the IOTV and the pull tab which sometimes, when used “might get caught on something and fall apart”.  If the plate carrier is being used to give troopers mobility – no issue, understand, and that is a commander’s risk assessment call.  But if the plate carrier is being used to replace the IOTV because it “falls apart”, then fixes to the tab need to be addressed immediately. 

Bugle Calls

“Taps” is played everyday at funerals for our fallen heroes…

“Fading light dims the sight,

And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.

From afar drawing nigh — Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;

All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Then good night, peaceful night,

Till the light of the dawn shineth bright;

God is near, do not fear — Friend, good night.”

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Military News Highlights:

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Despite Gains, Afghan Night Raids Split U.S. and Karzai

Senator Lindsey Graham believes that if night raids end then this would be a “disaster” for  General Petreaus’ strategy – that in effect, he will fail.   The raids, he said, were crucial to the military strategy.   Now wait a minute, night raids run counter to COIN principles, so why all the drama?  Pull out FM 23-4, the COIN bible Petreaus authored and waxes soothingly to elected officials and policymakers, and review its core principles.  To win, you need the support of the populace.  Both the insurgent and the counter-insurgent need the support of the populace to win.  COIN doctrine obviously allows for targeted kinetic operations that are nested to COIN operations, but if you begin to lose support of the population, to the point where their elected leaders condemn a particular targeted kinetic operation (i.e. night raids), then it is time to swallow the truth and adjust accordingly.  Unless, at this point, you really can’t adjust your operational tempo (i.e. over-reliance on CT) because the seeds of COIN and the requisite scrip paid to the death merchant won’t take hold in Afghanistan until after the July 2011 (or for that matter 2014).  Or maybe Petraeus can’t change or adjust night raid tactics, because the truth is, the much heralded COIN strategy is simply a chimera, and he knows it. 

What we do know is that Petreaus will provide metrics of success to the White House during its ongoing policy review, but it will be hard to square the fact that the real successes on the ground these past 10 months have been a result of Counter-Terrorism operations and not the application of Counter-insurgency doctrine.   I can see his first Power Point slide now, an amended opening quote from George Orwell that reads, “No one in Afghanistan sleeps safely at night, because rough men visit violence on them, sometimes as often as 17 times a night . . .”. 

MARSOC to purchase more powerful pistols

More proof that the 9mm Beretta lacks the punch in combat.  Marine Forces Special Operations Command operators will officially be issued .45-caliber semi-automatic pistols and replace the 9mm Beretta because the .45 larger caliber provides more stopping power.  The exact M45 Close Quarter Battle Pistol will be determined by a competition that began in October.  The open question that remains unanswered is when will the entire stock of 9mm Beretta’s issued to all services be replaced with a higher caliber semi-automatic pistol?  Why train troopers to fire two rounds of a lower caliber to defeat a threat when one .45 round is oftentimes sufficient?  SFTT will continue to monitor this development and inform the public, elected officials, and policy makers that troops deserve a side-arm with real stopping power.

GIs testing ‘smart’ weapons that leave nowhere to hide

The XM25 Counter Defilade Targeting Engagement System will certainly compliment Infantry squads and Special Operations units.  If the system works as designed, troopers will have the ability to place an air-burst 25mm round over the threat hiding behind a wall or other cover out to 700 meters.   While being touted as a “smart weapon”, in reality this system will add to the arsenal to apply critical fires where the current inventory of weapons can’t engage.  The program manager states that the XM25 is a “game changer” and that it will “essentially take cover away from the enemy forever”.  But before we place a stamp of approval on the XM25 we still have to take into account: the basic load and weight of the system, maintenance requirements, batteries, spare parts, contractor support issues, training, tactical adjustments, collateral damage, and overall costs – these are issues that SFTT will monitor as the XM25 is fielded and put into active operation across the base force.

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Military News Highlights for November 15, 2010

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Karzai wants U.S. to reduce military operations in Afghanistan

In the starkest terms to date, President Karzai said that the visibility and intensity of US/NATO operations must be reduced and that US SOF night raids end. “It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly,” he said. These were not off the cuff remarks, but instead provided to reporters in an hour-long sit-down interview (an exasperated General Petreaus responded – see associated news report).  Karzai continues to highlight that US/NATO operations are exacerbating the war fatigue Afghans experience daily.

While US/NATO continues to make the claim for a 2014 transition date for full security and the end of combat operations, Karzai increasingly appears to support accelerating the pace of withdrawals and the transition.  His avowed “skepticism” of US policy in Afghanistan will only complicate the next two weeks of debate and the ongoing review, while ground commanders and SOF units continue “endless” operations (to include night raids). 

Karzai did express gratitude for the American support Afghans have received, but questioned the administrations motives.  If this is the “status” of where the US/NATO-Afghanistan relationship, where the President questions “motives”, we have failed in our strategic communications. 

 Petraeus Says Karzai Comments Hurt War Effort – Report

“Astonishment and disappointment”?  Hurting the war effort?  “Undermining General Petreaus?” Hypothetical references to “an inability to continue US operations in the face of Karzai’s remarks”?  The remarks were not a “no-vote confidence of General Petreaus.”    

It is becoming increasingly harder to see the path to any positive outcome in Afghanistan after this recent public rift (of many) between President Karzai and General Petreaus.  The bottomline is that US/NATO policy objectives are at odds.  The US/NATO mission of COIN, with its requisite resources and timeframe, cuts against the grain of Afghan sensibilities, while the reality on the ground is that any progress is not only not welcome but appears counter-productive. Worse yet is that the senior commander and President Karzai continue to raise the stakes of any effective outcome with increasingly public disagreements.  Nothing good can come of this.

Marines Learn Lessons From Tragedy in Afghanistan

Marines deploy for seven-month stints and rotate in and out Afghanistan under a tight set of conditions and protocol.  It has become clear that the most dangerous time for any unit is during this transition period as the new unit adapts to the situation on the ground and the redeploying unit thins their lines.  As this report highlights, even after repeated deployments, this transition often leads to tragedy – but in this instance the Marine unit applied lessons learned to overcome their losses and improve their tactical posture.

As in every conflict, the enemy gets a vote.  Here, in vicinity of Patrol Base Fulod, the enemy has shown its ingenuity and tenacity by improving their tactics and procedures while engaging Marines – and this should not be a surprise.

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Military News Highlights: November 12, 2010

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Future soldiers may be wearing ‘Iron Man’ suits 

Raytheon has developed a XOS-2 exoskeleton “Iron Man” suit, which they hope to deploy to the field no later than 2015 – the initial application is to support material handling and logistics.  It’s incredulous the amount of science and technology creative energy being expended on this project when the obvious emphasis should be placed on improving core soldier platforms (i.e. Body Armor, Helmet, Carbine, Side Arm, and Combat Boots) of which we have seen little improvement?

 Consider smaller Afghan force: US panel 

A Council of Foreign Relations task force released its anticipated study on the war in Afghanistan – bottomline, these experts recommend that if the US reaches a point this summer in 2011 where there is not significant progress and “not working”, then a “more significant drawdown will be warranted.”

Key highlights:

  • “The task force endorses strategies for Pakistan and Afghanistan that place severe demands on the American people. The task force does so knowing that, at best, the margin for US victory is likely to be slim.”
  • “If progress is being made, the United States should be able to draw down its forces starting in July 2011, based on conditions on the ground.”
  • “However, if US efforts are not working, a more significant drawdown to a narrower mission that emphasizes counter-terror objectives with fewer US forces will be warranted.”

The new date to watch in Afghanistan: 2014

 July 2011?  Forget about it…

Stamp released in honor of Beetle Bailey

 If you still use snail mail and you are writing a letter to a deployed trooper, brighten up his day and use a Beetle Bailey stamp.

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Military News Highlights: November 11, 2010

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Colonel (R) David Hackworth – November 11, 1931 – May 5, 2005

Happy Birthday Hack!

History of Veterans Day

Today we honor of all Veterans who put their lives on hold to serve their country – the sacrifices made on behalf of our freedoms are immeasurable.

Thank you for your service!

Is Obama wobbling on Afghanistan withdrawal timeline?

A slight kerfuffle erupted yesterday on the wires when McClatchy Newspapers reported that the Administration was getting wobbly on the plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011.  SFTT has monitored this issue for the past few months because of the implications a policy reversal will have on morale and quality of life for deployed troops and their families – and will continue to provide merited updates as the review continues and the outcomes become known.

What Politico does nicely here is to provide the transcript of the senior administration officials briefing to reporters this past Tuesday (11/9/10).   The official briefed the re-statement of the administrations intent to abide by the Presidents order to begin transition and withdrawal of US forces in July 2011, the mechanics (i.e. metrics, frequency of previous reports and internal policy making reports) of the review, the input of the “outputs” of the pending Bonn Conference to the process, and the timing of the release of the review.  For those interested in these details the exchange is revealing.

What is irksome is the soft-shells that have been recently launched by senior military and civilian leaders describing how 2014 is the preferred “transition date”.  The problem is that these heavyweights probably carry more influence to the outcome than an “unnamed senior administration official”, and that indeed is the issue.

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