Military News Highlights: February 2, 2011

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Losses at Afghan Bank Could Be $900 Million

“Fraud and mismanagement at Afghanistan’s largest bank have resulted in potential losses of as much as $900 million — three times previous estimates — heightening concerns that the bank could collapse and trigger a broad financial panic in Afghanistan, according to American, European and Afghan officials.”

The missing $900 million and the zero-balance payroll for Afghan security forces, just might be the “Tunisian” type spark to engulf Karzai and Kabul.

And if anyone is wondering if the “illiterate Afghan” can tweet or Facebook, check this out:

Arab world transfixed by Egyptian protests

Why does this matter?  You know, the potential and likely domino falling effect of autocratic governments throughout the Middle East, sparked by Tunisia, and now engulfing Egypt?

A simplistic strategic calculus would find that US military capabilities and deterrence options are stretched to the breaking point already.  And while it is too early to say how this will eventually play out throughout the arc of instability; what we can agree to is that the US mission, role, and security in the region just got decidedly more difficult.

Lest we forget that the US continues to provide the bulk of Multinational Forces and Observers supporting the Sinai mission.  Currently there are 440 National Guard troops assisting in this mission.

Stryker unit’s early arrival in Afghanistan means Germany brigade coming home early

Bravado and Beethoven!

“The enemy left southern Afghanistan because we kicked his ass out,” Colonel Blackburn,  told the town hall meeting. “All over southern Afghanistan, you will find Dragoons with their foot on the throat of the enemy.”

Colonel Blackburn showed an aerial film, accompanied by Beethoven, that recorded the last moments of an insurgent leader before he disappeared in a cloud of smoke from an air-strike.

“Dragoons are doing that all over southern Afghanistan,” Blackburn said.

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Facebook brings the Afghan war to Fort Campbell

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The Washington Post reports how social media and instant communications are rapidly changing the way the military community learns of events that happen halfway around the world. 

Highlights:

  • At  Fort Campbell, Kentucky Emily Franks was playing with her toddler when a soldier called from Afghanistan with devastating news. A massive roadside bombing had killed five soldiers from her husband’s 120-man infantry company. The soldier was calling Franks, who was at the center of a wives’ support network, in violation of a military-imposed communications blackout on the unit. Using an Afghan cellphone, he told Franks that her husband was safe, but that the company commander was probably dead.
  • Franks’s cellphone beeped. Kitty Hinds, the company commander’s wife, was calling. “I gotta go,” Franks told the soldier. She was sure that Hinds was going to tell her that her husband had been killed. Hinds, however, was oblivious to the events 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. It was a perfect afternoon and she was driving her three boys home from baseball camp. Franks struggled to mask the dread in her voice. Her pulse raced as she said goodbye. “It was horrid,” she recalled. “Absolutely horrid.” To ensure that a service member’s family does not receive the news of a death by e-mail, phone or an errant Facebook posting, the military temporarily shuts down Internet access to deployed units that suffer a fatality. In today’s era of ever-present connections, such blackouts are rarely enough to cut off the flow of information.
  • Only hours after the explosion on Monday, June 7, the news that something terrible had happened spread among the three dozen wives of Gator Company through social-media sites and text messages. Worried spouses called the battalion’s rear-detachment headquarters at Fort Campbell, searching for news. They posted prayers on Facebook. They scoured the Internet for scraps of information about their husbands’ fates. With each successive year of war, new technologies and social-media sites have narrowed the distance between the home front and the frontlines. In the early days of the Afghan war – before Facebook existed – troops typically e-mailed home a few times a week. They called even less frequently. Today spouses and troops, based in even the most remote areas of Afghanistan, can trade messages and phone calls dozens of times a day. In good times, the minute-by-minute status updates provide peace of mind.
  • In moments of crisis, the connectivity can make the looming possibility of death seem almost suffocating. The spouses jump with each phone call. Ringing doorbells spark tremors of terror. Franks and her husband, Michael, had already weathered a tough Iraq tour in 2008. She thought she knew what it was like to live with the anxiety of having a love one deployed in a dangerous place. On June 7, she would learn how much had changed in just two years.

SFTT Analysis:

  • The forgotten front of the war is the homefront – a daily battle filled with dread for  every family that has a loved one deployed .  Share this.
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Facebooking from the Pat Tillman USO Center

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Today I want to tell you about one change in Afghanistan:  Now the troops have access to social network sites while previously the command restricted access under the guise of operational security.  The donnybrook over this issue raged until the policy changed last year, due largely—or so I hear—to Chairman Mullen using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the troops.  The thought probably was if the top uniformed officer in the services can tweet, why shouldn’t a Private? 

The other evening I received the following message, “I’m at the Tillman Center in Bagram.  Waiting for my flight out.  Headed home finally!” I checked my watch, calculated the time zone difference (10 hours) and logged on my Facebook just in case he was still online.  His chat icon was green.  

“Hey brother, glad to hear you’re headed finally headed home.”

“Thanks man.  And you, how goes it?”

“All is well on my end.  You?”

“Unit is starting to flow north and we should be state side in 48 hours if the Manas birds hold out.”

“Where you at?”

“Tillman Center, Bagram.”

“Is Bagram still nuts?”

“It’s bursting at the seams.  Traffic jams.  But they still have Salsa Night.  I don’t get it.”

“Sorry to hear about the losses your unit suffered.”

“Thanks.  It’s been a tough slog this past year.”

“Were you in K-Valley?”

“No, P2K, Shkin and Tillman.”

“Still getting attacked constantly?”

“Yeah.  There was no let up the entire time – constant TIC’s and targeting.  Relentless.  Some attacks were hours long.  Tribal bloodlust I guess.  But SOF has a better fight – they’re not trolling or static waiting for contact.  They’re pure direct action.  Probably about the only thing we can do over here.”

“Was Salerno able to sustain gunship and Medevac support throughout?”

“Most of the time.  When they were maxed out we were able to get a lot of support out of Orgun-E.”

“Any improvements to FOB Tillman?”

“Some.  More internet – some QOL type of stuff for the boys.  A little more force protection.  But it’s still a rocket magnet.”

“Any improvements with the local support?”

“Yeah, right!”

“ANA? Are they getting any better?”

“Only the ANA that SOF/ODA trains and employs.  Conventional ANA units? Forget it.”

“Any new roads to facilitate access?”

“PRT’s and USAID are still working them.  I think the it’s the same road-to-market plan we put together in ’05.”

“Any ground movement on ‘the road’ past Sperra en route to the FOB?”

“Just once.  A GAC from Salerno to the FOB.  The rest of the time was strictly via air.  But, we still don’t own the terrain nor does the ANA.  Just the tribes do.  They still cross back and forth across the border with no respect for the boundary.  The Pakistani Frontier Corps still let’s them cross the without disrupting their movement.  They don’t consider themselves to be Afghans.  They’re Pashtuns.”

“ Yep, that’s the problem.  No national identity.  Sounds like nothing has changed.”

“No, just a recycling of events.  Same patch of dirt, same miscreants, same thing day after day after day.  Gotta log off.  I’ll keep in touch.”

“Keep me posted.” 

I sat with mixed emotions after his chat icon disappeared.  Happy and relieved on one hand that he was on his way home safe and unharmed.  Frustrated on the other hand that after all these years nothing has really changed in Afghanistan.  Same bad guys, different units, no positive results—year in and year out.  The only real differences are the rising US casualty rates—and now our warriors can tweet. 

I also couldn’t help but notice how many times we mentioned “Tillman” without considering his legacy.  Indeed, a forlorn base or a comfort zone is worthy of being named in his honor, but the truth is still M.I.A. This isn’t the case with The Tillman Story, a just released documentary which recounts his killing by friendly fire, the cover up and the propaganda machine that peddled his tragic death to promote a failing war.  

All of this makes me question whether we’ve forgotten Tillman’s ultimate sacrifice and those made by thousands of others like him.  But why bring up a problem without offering a solution, right?  Well then, here’s one idea: air the documentary at the Tillman USO Center in Bagram to troopers waiting for their flight home.  You know, play the truth channel for a change.  Let them know if it can happen to Pat, it can happen to them.

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