Monday, July 27, 2009

Communications in Afghanistan

Wired and Michael Yon recently wrote about the status of communications for the troops in Afghanistan, sometimes known as "comfort calls."

Wired pointed out that for some of the troops, limited access to phone and email back home had some positive effects:

Corporal Max Nellis, an Army military policeman stationed here, said that, speaking for himself, he didn’t mind working at such an austere location.

“This is great,” he said. “No internet, no [cell] phones, one call a week to my wife. It’s not sarcasm: It makes it a lot easier for me to focus on my job.”

Satellite phones and high bandwidth satellite-based internet are an indispensable asset for providing reach back communications to military families in an austere environment. But it comes at a steep price. Michael Yon goes into more detail:

Without such a terminal, large numbers of Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors will be without regular communications for much or most of their time in Afghanistan. The infrastructure is Spartan to non-existent. Life here is tougher than it was in Iraq, and the fighting will be tougher still. Yes, there are the gigantic bases—as in Iraq—where everything is available, but little of the war is being fought from the larger bases.

Extended battlefield journalism from Afghanistan is relatively non-existent. Broadly speaking, folks at home will not know how their loved ones are doing unless they can communicate directly. To learn more about the effort to send satellite communications gear to troops downrange, please see Operation AC.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Livin' the dream, Sir!"

"The U.S. Marines are a spectacle for the U.S. Army and also the British Army. The Marines will come in and live like pure animals, and build a base around themselves, whereas the British and American Armies will tend to build at least part of the base before coming in. One Marine commander told me that during the early part of this war, his men didn’t even shower for three months. We talked for a couple of hours and he was proud that his Marines didn’t need a shower for three months, and that his Marines killed a lot of Taliban and managed to lose only one good man. That’s the Marines. They’ll show up in force with no warning, and their reputation with U.S. Army and Brits who have fought alongside them is stellar. A NPR photographer who just spent more than three weeks with the Marines could not praise them enough, saying he’d been with them in Iraq, too, and that when Marines take casualties, their reaction is to continue to attack. They try to stay in contact until they finish the enemy, no matter how long it takes. Truly they are animals when it comes to the fight. Other than that, great guys. Tonight at dinner, a young Marine Lance Corporal sat in front of me at the crowded dining facility. “Good evening, Sir,” he said. I asked, “Are you living like animals out there?” “Livin’ the dream, Sir!” They are fantastic."

Hope In Afghanistan

"Refugees don’t return to places they don’t think have a future, and more than four million Afghan refugees have returned home since the fall of the Taliban. (By contrast, about the same number of Iraqi refugees fled their homes after the American-led invasion of their country in 2003, and few have returned.) There are also more than two million Afghan kids in schools, including, of course, many girls. Music, kites, movies, independent newspapers, and TV stations—all of which were banned under the Taliban—are now ubiquitous. One in six Afghans now has a cell phone, in a country that didn’t have a phone system under the Taliban. And, according to the World Bank, the 2007 GDP growth rate for Afghanistan was 14 percent. Under Taliban rule the country was so poor that the World Bank didn’t even bother to measure its economic indicators."

Who Needs Kentucky Windage?

iPhone Apps and other weapon accessories at Wired.

"It's not a theocracy anymore"

“It is not a theocracy anymore,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert in Iranian affairs and a co-author of an exhaustive study of the corps for the RAND Corporation. “It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Jeffrey Goldberg:

"Jews are floating around in the Persian Gulf with nuclear weapons in German subs that are aimed at the new Hitler. If you step away from your personal feelings about it, it’s just fascinating."

Monday, July 06, 2009

Has The War In Iraq Helped Germinate A Rebellion In Iran?

" is very hard to overstate the significance of the statement made last Saturday by the Association of Teachers and Researchers of Qum, a much-respected source of religious rulings, which has in effect come right out with it and said that the recent farcical and prearranged plebiscite in the country was just that: a sham event. (In this, the clerics of Qum are a lot more clear-eyed than many American "experts" on Iranian public opinion, who were busy until recently writing about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rough-hewn man of the people.)

Which begs the question...

"...Did the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the subsequent holding of competitive elections in which many rival Iraqi Shiite parties took part, have any germinal influence on the astonishing events in Iran? Certainly when I interviewed Sayeed Khomeini in Qum some years ago, where he spoke openly about "the liberation of Iraq," he seemed to hope and believe that the example would spread. One swallow does not make a summer. But consider this: Many Iranians go as religious pilgrims to the holy sites of Najaf and Kerbala in southern Iraq. They have seen the way in which national and local elections have been held, more or less fairly and openly, with different Iraqi Shiite parties having to bid for votes (and with those parties aligned with Iran's regime doing less and less well). They have seen an often turbulent Iraqi Parliament holding genuine debates that are reported with reasonable fairness in the Iraqi media. Meanwhile, an Iranian mullah caste that classifies its own people as children who are mere wards of the state puts on a "let's pretend" election and even then tries to fix the outcome. Iranians by no means like to take their tune from Arabs—perhaps least of all from Iraqis—but watching something like the real thing next door may well have increased the appetite for the genuine article in Iran itself."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

"It'd be so great if we took contact"

The Marines In Afghanistan On patrol in the Afghan heat:

Sweat pours off faces as Marines shift heavy weapons from one shoulder to the other. Everyone still carries all the ammunition they arrived with in the dark hours of early Thursday, because this unit has not yet exchanged fire.

The Marines walk in columns down dusty dirt roads, and every couple dozen steps they bend over at the waist to give aching shoulders a break. During frequent breaks, medics go up and down the line, looking to see if their men are drinking water.

"It'd be so great if we took contact. We'd lose so much weight," said Lance Corp. Michael Estrada, 20, of Los Angeles.

Lance Corp. Bryan Knight, a mortar man, carries one of the heaviest pack. The 21-year-old Cincinnati native weighs a slight 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms) - and his pack almost equals him.

He carries a 15-pound (6.8-kilogram) mortar base plate, four mortar rockets that weigh 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) each, about 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of water and another 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of combat gear - ammunition, weapon and his flak jacket.

Unsurprisingly, he is drenched in sweat. "The only dry parts of my clothes are the pockets," he said.

Squatting in a lean-to made out of a camouflage poncho beside Knight was Corp. Aaron Shade, 24, of Greenville, Ohio, who hadn't realized it was Independence Day back home in the U.S.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Bin Laden in America

The New Yorker:

"The question of whether Osama bin Laden has ever visited the United States, a subject on which I have expended an unhealthy amount of energy in the course of various journalistic and biographical research, has now seemingly been settled. Osama was here for two weeks in 1979, it seems, and he visited Indiana and Los Angeles, among other places. He had a favorable encounter with an American medical doctor; he also reportedly met in Los Angeles with his spiritual mentor of the time, the Palestinian radical Abdullah Azzam. All this is according to a forthcoming book by Osama’s first wife, Najwa Bin Laden, and his son Omar Bin Laden, to be published in the autumn by St. Martin’s Press."

Read the rest.