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U.S. Troops Pose With Body Parts of Dead Afghans

The LA Times has photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan posing with body parts of dead Afghans.

The troops were with the 82nd Airborne Division. In one instance, their mission on the first such occasion was simply to :

Check out reports that Afghan police had recovered the mangled remains of an insurgent suicide bomber. Try to get iris scans and fingerprints for identification.

They did the same while investigating another suicide bombing a few months later. The photos were given to the Times by a soldier in the division. A criminal investigation has been launched:

It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes," said George Wright, an Army spokesman. "Such actions fall short of what we expect of our uniformed service members in deployed areas."


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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales: $1 Million in Debt, No Memory of Killings

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was $1 million in debt and has no memory of the killings. He and his wife had just listed their home for $50k less than they paid. He was on his fourth deployment.

How could his superiors not notice something askew? Was he evaluated or taking medication for depression? Taking the wrong combo of meds? He was recently passed over for promotion -- surely his record contains some concerns.

His background does not match the rosy description portrayed by those he grew up with: [More...]

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Army Drops Murder Charges Against Last "Thrill Kill" Soldier

The U.S. military has dismissed a murder charge against Army Specialist Michael Wagnon, the remaining member of the 5th Stryker Brigade charged with pre-meditated murder in the 2010 "Thrill Kill" spree of killings and corpse mutilation of unarmed Afghan civilians.

The dismissal of the case against Wagnon, 31, brought to an abrupt end the Army's prosecution of the most egregious atrocities that U.S. military personnel have been convicted of committing during a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Five members of the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade were charged with killing Afghan civilians in cold blood in random attacks staged to look like legitimate combat engagements. Seven other GIs were charged with lesser offenses in a case that began as an investigation into rampant hashish abuse within the unit.


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Taliban Suicide Attack in Kabul Kills 13 U.S. Soldiers

The Taliban carried out a suicide bombing attack on coalition forces in Kabul today, killing 13 Americans.

The Taliban said the bomber, Abdul Rahman, was driving a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV containing 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives and targeting foreigners providing training for Afghan police.

...It was the deadliest single attack against the U.S.-led coalition across the country since the Taliban shot down a NATO helicopter on Aug. 6 in an eastern Afghan province, killing 30 U.S. troops, most elite Navy SEALs, and eight Afghans.

According to a U.N. report last month, "violence against civilians had risen to its highest levels of the decade-long war."

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"Thrill Kill" Army Private Gets 7 Years For Sport Killing 15 Year Old Afghan

PFC Andrew Holmes, a member of the "Kill Team" of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan that killed villagers for sport, was sentenced today to 7 years in prison for killing an unarmed 15 year old.

Five members of the former 5th Stryker Brigade have faced murder charges in connection with what military prosecutors say were staged attacks on Afghan villagers. In the attacks, prosecutors say, U.S. soldiers fired volleys of guns and grenades at innocent people and then planted weapons to make it look as though the victims had shot first.

Holmes is the 9th soldier convicted. Charges remain pending against two or three others. [More...]

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Taliban Prison Break in Afghanistan

The Taliban spent the past 5 months building a 1,060 foot underground tunnel that led directly into Sarposa Prison in Khandahar and broke out 575 inmates, including about 100 Taliban commanders.

Their tunnel operation was not discovered. They were able to bypass checkpoints and main roads. When asked how the Taliban were able to build the tunnel and effect the breakout, Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said only, "It's under investigation."

This is one of the prisons at which the U.S. has been providing training and funding to strengthen the Afghan secuirty guards.

The facility has undergone security upgrades and tightened procedures following a brazen 2008 Taliban attack that freed 900 prisoners. Afghan government officials and their NATO backers have regularly said that the prison has vastly improved security since that attack.

All the prisoners had left through the tunnel, taking 4.5 hours to do so, before anyone knew they were gone.

Guess they are still not ready for prime-time. How much more will it cost us to stay longer and re-train them?

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Budget Cuts? 1,000 Additional Marines to be Sent to Afghanistan

There are 20,000 Marines in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Apparently, that's not enough as the U.S. is about to send another 1,000.

Overall, there are 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. What about the Pentagon budget cuts announced today?

Cutting up to 47,000 troops from the Army and Marine Corps forces — roughly 6 percent — would be made easier by the withdrawal under way from Iraq, and the reductions would not begin until 2015, just as Afghan forces are to take over the security mission there.

One way the Pentagon plans to recoup some money: charging vets more for health insurance:

To make ends meet, Mr. Gates also announced that he would seek to recoup billions of dollars by increasing fees paid by retired veterans under 65 for Defense Department health insurance, even though Congress has rejected such proposals in the past.

And what won't be affected by the cuts:

The president’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which is due by mid-February, would freeze discretionary spending, but that would not apply to military, veterans and Homeland Security programs.

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Reports Paint Bleak Picture for Afghanistan

President Obama is expected to release a review of the Administration's Afghanistan policy tomorrow. Today, there are two new reports that paint a bleak picture of Afghanistan.

In a rare public assessment of the humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan, the International Committee for the Red Cross said growing civilian casualties, internal displacement and poor medical care have created a dire humanitarian situation and are likely to persist into next year.

...Separately, in assessments reported by the New York Times, US intelligence officials said Pakistan's unwillingness to crack down on militant groups operating in the lawless borderlands had created a major obstacle to progress in Afghanistan.

The LA Times reports that NATO claims the Taliban is forcing farmers to grow poppy instead of saffron. The Taliban denies the charge.

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President Obama In Afghanistan, Meeting With Karzai

President Obmama went to Afghanistan today where he is meeting with President Hamid Karzai and will visit the troops.

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Karzai's Drug Pardons: Yesterday's News and a Bigger Issue

The latest Wikileaks document release has a state department cable from August, 2009 on Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's pardoning of convicted drug traffickers (many of whom were cops.)

This was reported in depth at the time, and I don't see that the cable adds much. But perhaps it will put the spotlight on a bigger issue.

While searching around trying to determine if Ismal Safed ever got his pardon (and why it was considered a big deal since it involved only one sale of three kilos to an undercover agent), I came across this March, 2010 GAO report on the DEA's performance in Afghanistan. It says the DEA seized 4,083 metric tons of heroin in Afghanistan in 2008. (One metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms.) Three kilos out of 4,083,000 kilograms (and considering the opiate/heroin trade in Afghanistan amounts to $3 billion a year)is like a grain of sand. It also notes the pervasive problem of corruption, and interestingly, the high number of Afghan police who use heroin. [More...]

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"Thrill Kill" in Afghanistan

CNN has obtained interrogation tapes of the soldiers charged with murdering Afghan civilians. It was done for sport. Not only that:

The charging papers from the U.S. military paint a picture of a band of rogue soldiers, smoking hash, bored and plotting and carrying out murders of Afghan civilians for sport.

Authorities allege Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from Afghan corpses. Another soldier allegedly kept a skull from a corpse, according to charging documents.... A soldier who tried to blow the whistle was beaten and threatened, some soldiers said....

One soldier is charged with stabbing a corpse. [More...]

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McChyrstal: Afghanistan in "Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare"

Via Real Aspen, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was in Aspen this weekend, for a private Forstmann Little & Company conference. He was interviewed for over an hour by Charlie Rose.

The two were seated on a small stage in an open-air tent in front of a rich and powerful crowd that included Martha Stewart, Peter Ueberroth, Monica Seles, David Stern, Karl Rove, George Lucas, Daniel Snyder, Julian Robertson, Michael Ovitz, Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Mathews, Michael Eisner, Padma Lakshmi and Ted Forstmann, the Forstmann Little co-founder and IMG CEO who hosted the event.

Among his comments about Afghannistan:

“Right now, it doesn't exist,” said McChrystal, noting the perpetual state of civil war that has embroiled the country ever since the late 1970s. “Afghanistan is in some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare.”


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Two Killed in Afghan Protest of Quran Burning

Afghan soldiers have killed two protesters during a protest of the Terry Jones' planned Quran burning.

The protesters in Logar chanted "Death to America" and burned tires, attacked several shops and set election campaign posters on fire, Amin said.

...In a country where most people have limited access to newspapers, television and the Internet, many Afghans seemed unaware of Jones' decision to call off the Quran burning.

More here.

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Taliban Flogs and Executes Pregnant Woman for Adultery

Yesterday, the Taliban publicly flogged and executed a pregnant woman for adultery. She received 200 lashes and was then shot in the head 3 times.

Bibi Sanubar, 35, was kept in captivity for three days before she was shot dead in a public trial on Sunday by a local Taliban commander in the Qadis district of the rural western province Badghis....The Taliban accused her of having an "illicit affair" that left her pregnant. She was first punished with 200 lashes in public before being shot, deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Mohammad Sayeedi said.

The man with whom Sanubar had the affair was not punished. The Taliban is denying its militia carried out the execution. But a local Taliban-controlled district confirms:

Head of Badghis provincial council Mohammad Nasir Nazaari confirmed the execution and said the Qadis district was entirely under Taliban control.

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Af/Pak: What Now?

The recent revelations by Wikileaks regarding the Afghanistan conflict raises many issues, but one, and in my view the most important, is not new - and it is the strength of jihadism in Pakistan. And at the highest levels. The NYTimes reported:

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistanís military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

That powerful forces in the Pakistani government are strongly tied to the Taliban should comes as no surprise to anyone. This has been at the heart of the issue. As a supporter of the President's policy in Afghanistan, I hope, and indeed, feel confident that this is understood. Now what to do about it? Let's discuss on the flip.

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