Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wire: Soldier Who Fought in Pink Boxers Home for Independence Day

Off the Wire
In this May 11, 2009 AP photo, soldiers from the U.S. Army First Battalion, 26th Infantry take defensive positions at firebase Restrepo after receiving fire from Taliban positions in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar Province. Spc. Zachary Boyd of Fort Worth, Texas, far left was wearing 'I love NY' boxer shorts after rushing from his sleeping quarters to join his fellow platoon members. From far right is Spc. Cecil Montgomery of Many, La. and Jordan Custer of Spokan, Wash, center.

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services Saturday reported that the American soldier who was photographed fighting the Taliban in his boxer shorts says he's glad to be back home in Texas after his yearlong deployment to Afghanistan -- especially on the Fourth of July.

Specialist Zachary Boyd says he initially thought he'd get in trouble after an Associated Press photo showed him with other soldiers behind sandbags -- while wearing his pink boxers and flip-flops, plus his helmet and body armor.

The Fort Worth soldier said he had jumped up from sleep when his unit came under fire and didn't want to waste time putting on his uniform.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said of Spc. Boyd, "Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage."

(Report from newswire sources.)

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Wire: Heavy Sandstorm Blankets Baghdad, Socks-in Biden

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services Saturday reported that a heavy sandstorm has descended upon Baghdad, covering the Iraqi capital in dust. Conditions were so bad, Vice President Joe Biden was forced to cancel a planned trip to the Kurdish region in the country's north.

Wind whipped across the streets of the Baghdad, leaving much of the capital hidden in a dusty haze, VOA News reported.

VOA News noted the following details:
Many shops closed their doors, making parts of the city looking deserted. Those who did go outside wore surgical masks to help them breathe. One Iraqi man said there are many reasons for the frequent sandstorms plaguing Baghdad. He blames a lack of rain but also the U.S.-led forces. He says their heavy vehicles scatter the sands when they drive through the desert.

Police and security forces wore surgical masks as they helped direct traffic and keep watch.

Despite the difficulties some Iraqis were glad to see the sandstorm, like street vendor Abdulallah Najem. He said the sandstorms help him sell face masks, enough to make a living.
Many Iraqis headed to hospitals to get help from doctors and from machines as they struggled to get enough air, VOA said.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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Wire: US Offensive in Southern Afghanistan Puts Pakistani Military on Alert

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services this afternoon reported that as thousands of U.S. Marines push deep inside Taliban territory in southern Afghanistan, Pakistani officials worry that fleeing insurgents will cross the porous border, putting more pressure on the army as it wages its own campaign to rid Pakistan of Islamic extremists.

The U.S push in southern Afghanistan is not aimed at directly attacking the Taliban insurgency. Rather, once Marine units arrive in their designated towns and villages, they have been instructed to occupy outposts among the local population, which could have the effect of displacing insurgents.

The issue of how such an occupation would impact Pakistan was already on the minds of some top U.S. policy makers.

The top U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, was very public about his concerns regarding the possible influx of Islamic fighters into Pakistan during a visit to Islamabad last month.

"We are concerned that there may be some spillover effect, as there was in the past," he said. "I've raised it repeatedly in Washington and here [Pakistan] and in Kabul. I don't want to be an alarmist here."

Just hours after the announcement of "Operation Khanjar," the Pakistani military deployed soldiers to the porous border in southern Baluchistan, directly across from Helmand.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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Happy Independence Day

Living History

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock
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Wire: Biden Says Violence Could Cause US to Abandon Iraq

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services Saturday morning reported that Vice President Joseph Biden told Iraqi leaders that the path to a secure peace lies in uniting ethnic and sectarian groups and said the U.S. may disengage from their country if it reverts to sustained violence.

Bloomberg.com reported that Biden said he and President Barack Obama "appreciate that Iraq has traveled a great distance over the past year, but there is a hard road ahead if Iraq is going to find lasting peace and stability," according to a press pool report of the vice president’s visit to Iraq.

Biden was concluding a two-day visit in Baghdad yesterday, where he held talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders. Obama sent Biden to Iraq to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to help the country maintain its security while the U.S. military pullout proceeds there.

Biden told Maliki that if Iraq fell into a period of sectarian violence or engaged in ethnic fighting, such a step would change the nature of U.S. engagement, a senior administration official said, according to the report. The aide did not offer specifics about the change, it said.

The U.S. withdrew combat forces from Iraqi cities on June 30 on a path toward a complete withdrawal of troops by 2011.

(Report from newswire sources.)

Source: Biden Says Violence Could Cause U.S. to Disengage From Iraq

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Wire: Honduras Pulls Out of OAS, Sidesteps Obama

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services Saturday reported that the government of Honduras says it no longer recognizes the charter of the Organization of American States and is withdrawing its membership from the group.

Honduras made the announcement late Friday, a day before the OAS was due to vote on suspending the Central American country, following its refusal to adhere to demands by OAS to return to office President Manuel Zelaya, who was removed by officials for treason and abuse of power.

The OAS has called an emergency meeting in Washington on Saturday.

On orders of the Honduran Supreme Court, the Honduran military removed President Manuel Zelaya from power on June 28, the day he planned to hold a referendum on a constitutional change that would allow him to seek another term.

The Supreme Court of Honduras told OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza Friday that its decision to oust Mr. Zelaya is irreversible, and that the leftist leader would be arrested if he returned home.

Opponents of Zelaya maintain he was overstepping the limits of democracy with his drive to extend the single four-year term of presidents to allow re-election.

Several Latin American presidents, including Hugo Chavez and his allies in Ecuador and Bolivia, have extended term limits and shattered safeguards that were often written into constitutions after decades of dictatorship in the region.

The Obama administration is showing support for Zelaya's restoration in opposition to the actions taken by Honduran officials to preserve constitutional democracy in the country.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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USS John C Stennis Tiger Cruise Underway

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GULF OF ALASKA (June 26, 2009) An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 launches from the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). John C. Stennis and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 are participating in Northern Edge 2009, a joint exercise focusing on detecting and tracking units at sea, in the air and on land. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ron Reeves.)

Focus on Defense:

EVERETT, Wash. (NNS) -- USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) departed Everett, Wash., July 1 with more than 1,000 of the crew's family and friends aboard for tiger cruise.

Stennis and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 arrived in Everett Monday, where tiger cruise participants joined Stennis for the carrier's transit to San Diego.

The tigers will take part in activities that will allow them to see what their Sailors and Marines have been doing during the past six months of deployment.

Yeoman 1st Class (SW/AW) Kevin Williams, Stennis' tiger cruise data manager, said Stennis and CVW-9 Sailors will offer activities such as observing flight operations, a morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) fun day as well as multiple concerts featuring the Coasters and Dana Osborn.

Tigers will also tour work centers aboard the ship, such as the jet shop, medical ward and combat direction center.

"There are a lot of events going on," said Williams. "Besides touring all the spaces, tigers will get to see how each rate works and how the Navy operates."

With tiger cruise bringing Stennis' 2009 deployment to a close, a number of Sailors and Marines wanted to share the at-sea experience with friends and family, including Lt. Christin Crowley, from supply department's aviation supply division, who has five tigers aboard.

"I have a large family, so I passed the invitation to everyone," said Crowley. "I think it's fascinating to them how we operate a ship this size with more than 5,000 people aboard."

As Stennis nears the end of its 2009 deployment to the Western Pacific Ocean, she will pull into San Diego to off-load CVW-9 and many tigers before bringing more than 500 tigers aboard for the trip back to homeport in Bremerton, Wash.

(Report by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Charleston, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs.)

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Wire: 2 US Troops Die in Attack on Base in Afghanistan

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that Taliban militants fired rockets and mortars at a U.S. coalition base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing two American troops and wounding several more in a two-hour battle, officials said.

During the battle, which ended after U.S. forces called in airstrikes, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck (VBIED) toward the base's gates. It blew up when American troops fired on it.

The Associated Press reported that more than 30 insurgents were killed in the clash in Zerok district of Paktika province, according to Hamidullah Zawak, the provincial governor spokesman.

Seven U.S. and two Afghan troops were wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The attack at the base near the Pakistan border happened hundreds of miles from the massive U.S. Marine assault in southern Afghanistan.

This is a developing story.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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Wire: Updated - South Korea Says North Korea Fired 7 Missiles Saturday Morning

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that North Korea fired seven ballistic missiles off its eastern coast Saturday, South Korea said.

The Associated Press reported that the launches, which came two days after North Korea fired what were believed to be four short-range cruise missiles, will likely further escalate tensions in the region as the U.S. tries to muster support for tough enforcement of the latest U.N. Security Council resolution imposed on the communist regime for its May nuclear test.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said three missiles were fired early Saturday, a fourth around noon and three more in the afternoon. The Defense Ministry said that the missiles were ballistic and are believed to have flown more than 250 miles (400 kilometers).

"Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations based on strong South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture," the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

AP noted the following details:
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted military officials as saying the missiles appeared to be a type of Scud missile. North Korea's Scuds are considered short-range, the South's military said.

But Yonhap also said it is possible they could have been longer-range Rodong missiles fired a shorter distance.

Scud missiles have a range of up to 300 miles (500 kilometers), which could hit most of South Korea. The Rodong has a range of up to 800 miles (1,300 kilometers), putting most parts of Japan within striking distance.

North Korea is not allowed to fire Scuds, medium-range missiles or long-range missiles. They are banned under U.N. resolutions, including Resolution 1874 passed after North Korea's May 25 nuclear test, that prohibit any launch using ballistic missile technology.

Thursday's launches, on the other hand, did not violate the resolution, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry. Kim Tae-woo, vice president of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said it was believed North Korea launched cruise missiles Thursday.

Ballistic missiles are guided during their ascent out of the atmosphere but fall freely when they descend. Cruise missiles fly low and straight to their target.
This is a developing story.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Wire: South Korea Says North Korea Fired 2 Missiles Saturday Morning

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2009 -- Newswire services late Friday reported that North Korea fired two missiles off its eastern coast Saturday local time, South Korea said.

The Associated Press reported that the missiles were fired between 8 a.m. (2300 GMT) and 8:30 a.m. (2330 GMT), South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It did not say the range of the missiles.

"Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations based on strong South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture," the statement said.

A Yonhap news agency report said North Korea fired two short-range missiles that appeared to be Scud missiles. The agency quoted a South Korean government official it did not identify. Yonhap originally reported the missiles were mid-range.

There was no immediate comment from North Korea on the missiles.

North Korea fired four short-range missiles off the east coast on Thursday.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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Combat Camera Video: Firefight in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan

video

NOTE: News readers click here to watch the video.

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2009 -- Embedded above is a video package of two soldiers involved in a mission that ended in a battle retelling and re-enacting their story. (Produced by Sgt. Justin Puetz, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Length: 00:01:35.)

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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Pentagon: Marines, Afghans Continue Operation Khanjar, Establish Bases in Helmand

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2009 -- U.S. Marines and Afghan security forces are continuing Operation Khanjar in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, NATO officials said today.

Almost 4,000 personnel from the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan have moved into cities and towns along the Helmand River and are digging in for the long haul.

The addition of nearly 22,000 American personnel in Afghanistan will allow the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to institute a “clear, hold, build” counterinsurgency strategy. Before, small numbers of coalition forces would enter an area and clear it of Taliban, but the shortage of forces meant that when they pulled out, the Taliban flowed back in.

Now, Marines and Afghan personnel are clearing the region of Taliban and establishing bases among the people. They will stay to ensure the Taliban or other terrorist groups do not move back in.

The strategy calls for experts to move into the region and work with local residents to build the economy and governance.

The forces are operating in the districts of Nawa and Garmsir in central Helmand province. The Marines are operating as far south as the vicinity of Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district in the region of the Helmand River valley known as “The Fishhook.”

The effort is part of a larger strategy in Regional Command South. British and Afghan forces also are operating in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Few coalition or Afghan government forces have been in Helmand province. It is a center for the poppy trade, and has been a safe haven for the Taliban who used violence and other methods to intimidate the people.

“The Marines and Afghan forces are continuing to patrol and have begun engaging with key leaders in the districts to better understand the concerns and needs of Afghans in the area,” said Marine Corps Capt. Bill Pelletier, a spokesman for the command. “Once security is established, civil affairs personnel and other nongovernmental organizations and agencies will begin establishing programs aimed at building long-term governance and development throughout the Helmand River valley.”

One Marine has been killed in action, and several others have been injured or wounded since the operation began. Officials in Kabul said the Taliban have not directly confronted the massive operation, but rather are melting into the populace.

Also, an Afghan man was wounded when he failed to heed warnings to halt as he approached a Marine position south of Garmsir. No need has arisen for close-air support, officials said.

(Report by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.)

Related Imagery:
Combat Camera: US Marines Launch Operation Khanjar in Afghanistan, Part 1
Combat Camera: US Marines Launch Operation Khanjar in Afghanistan, Part 2

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Combat Camera: 10th Mountain Soldiers Patrol Kunar Province, Afghanistan

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Spc. Rufino Persaud, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., watches over the Afghan country side while fellow members of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, speak with members of the Afghan border police, at an Afghan border patrol outpost, June 30. The 10th Mountain Division Soldiers work closely with their ABP counterparts in order to help stop illegal activity along the border with Pakistan. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Spc. Rufino Persaud, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., scans for suspicious activity from an Afghan border police outpost while fellow members of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, speak with members of Afghan border police, June 30. 1st Bn., 32nd Inf. Regt., Soldiers work closely with their Afghan counterparts, in Kunar province, in order to help stop illegal activity along the border with Pakistan. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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U.S. Army officers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, set up a defensive position with a M-240B Machine Gun on a road outside Forward Operating Base Joyce, June 30. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Army Capt. Christian Lightsey, of Jacksonville, Fla., looks out over the village of Sarhani during a patrol, June 30. Lightsey, and fellow Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, have been patrolling Afghanistan's volatile Kunar province since arriving in early January. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, patrol the rocky cliffs near Forward Operating Base Joyce, in Kunar province, June 30. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, patrol outside Forward Operating Base Joyce, in Kunar province. During the Patrol, the Soldiers met with Afghan border police officers to discuss continued security along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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OEF Update, July 3, 2009: US Marines Continue Pressing Forward in Operation Khanjar

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, July 3, 2009 -- U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers and police are continuing clearing operations in key population centers along the Helmand River valley in an effort to secure the local population from the threat of Taliban and other insurgent intimidation and violence.

Almost 4,000 Marines and sailors from Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, along with more than 600 Afghan national security forces, are currently operating in the districts of Nawa and Garmsir in central Helmand province. MEB forces are operating as far south as the vicinity of Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district in the region of the Helmand River valley known as “The Fishhook.”

The Marines and Afghan forces are continuing to patrol and have begun engaging with key leaders in the districts in order to better understand the concerns and needs of Afghans in the area. Once security is established, civil affairs personnel and other non-governmental organizations and agencies will begin establishing programs aimed at building long-term governance and development throughout the Helmand River valley.

One Marine has been killed in action, and several others have been injured or wounded since the operation began. Yesterday, south of Garmsir, one Afghan man began to approach a group of Marines and was warned to stop. He did not stop, despite a series of warning indicators being employed. The man continued to walk toward the Marines at a rapid pace without saying anything to them. A warning shot was fired, and when he still did not stop, a Marine fired a single shot, wounding the man. U.S. Navy corpsmen immediately treated the man, and he was evacuated by MEB forces to Bost hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, where he is in stable condition.

MEB-Afghanistan is a subordinate unit of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. The combined U.S. and Afghan mission is to provide security for population centers along the Helmand River valley and connect local citizens with their legitimate government while establishing stable and secure conditions for national elections scheduled for August as well as enhanced security for the future.

(Report from a Marine Expeditionary Brigade - Afghanistan news release.)

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Photo Essay: US Navy's New Littoral Combat Ship Independence (LCS 2)

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GULF OF MEXICO (July 2, 2009) The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) underway during builder's trials. Builder's trials are the first opportunity for the shipbuilder and the U.S. Navy to operate the ship underway, and provide an opportunity to test and correct issues before acceptance trials. (Photo courtesy Dennis Griggs General Dynamics.)

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GULF OF MEXICO (July 2, 2009) The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) underway during builder's trials. Builder's trials are the first opportunity for the shipbuilder and the U.S. Navy to operate the ship underway, and provide an opportunity to test and correct issues before acceptance trials. (Photo courtesy Dennis Griggs General Dynamics.)

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GULF OF MEXICO (July 2, 2009) The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) underway during builder's trials. Builder's trials are the first opportunity for the shipbuilder and the U.S. Navy to operate the ship underway, and provide an opportunity to test and correct issues before acceptance trials. (Photo courtesy Dennis Griggs General Dynamics.)

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MOBILE, Ala. (July 2, 2009) The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) prepares for builder's trials from the Austal USA shipbuilding facility in Mobile, Ala. Builder's trials is the first opportunity for the shipbuilder and the U.S. Navy to operate the ship underway, and provides an opportunity to test and correct issues prior to acceptance trials. (Photo courtesy Dave Hinds General Dynamics.)

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GULF OF MEXICO (July 2, 2009) The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) underway during builder's trials. Builder's trials is the first opportunity for the shipbuilder and the U.S. Navy to operate the ship underway, and provides an opportunity to test and correct issues prior to acceptance trials, and will include demonstration to the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). (Photo courtesy Dennis Griggs General Dynamics.)

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MOBILE, Ala. (July 2, 2009) The Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Independence (LCS 2), the U. S. Navy's first trimaran littoral combat ship, departs Mobile, Ala. to begin builder's sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico July 2, 2009. LCS is a fast, agile, focused-mission ship designed to defeat asymmetric "anti-access" threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines and fast surface craft. The 417-foot Independence is designed and built by the General Dynamics Littoral Combat Ship team. Builder's trials test the vessel's propulsion, communications, navigation and core mission systems, as well as all related support systems. Following the completion of builder's trials, Independence will prepare for acceptance trials that will be conducted by the U.S. Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey later this summer. Independence will be outfitted with reconfigurable payloads, called mission packages, which can be changed out quickly. These mission packages focus on three mission areas: mine counter measures, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. Independence is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy later this year and will be home ported in San Diego, Calif. (Photo courtesy of General Dynamics.)

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MOBILE, Ala. (July 2, 2009) The Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Independence (LCS 2), the U. S. Navy's first trimaran littoral combat ship, departs Mobile, Ala. to begin builder's sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico July 2, 2009. LCS is a fast, agile, focused-mission ship designed to defeat asymmetric "anti-access" threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines and fast surface craft. The 417-foot Independence is designed and built by the General Dynamics Littoral Combat Ship team. Builder's trials test the vessel's propulsion, communications, navigation and core mission systems, as well as all related support systems. Following the completion of builder's trials, Independence will prepare for acceptance trials that will be conducted by the U.S. Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey later this summer. Independence will be outfitted with reconfigurable payloads, called mission packages, which can be changed out quickly. These mission packages focus on three mission areas: mine counter measures, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. Independence is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy later this year and will be home ported in San Diego, Calif. (Photo courtesy of General Dynamics.)

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Independence in front of construction shed a few days after launch. (Photo by Donovan Ravenhull.)

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The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) is the second ship in a new design of next-generation combat vessel for close-to-shore operations is seen here in this May 2008 file photo. The ship will have a crew of less than 40 Sailors and will be able to reach a sustained speed of more than 50 knots. The larger flight deck will accommodate two SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters or one CH-53-class helicopter. (U.S. Navy Photo.)

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Wire: US Marines Push Deeper Into Southern Afghanistan

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that U.S. Marines moved into villages in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan on Friday, meeting little resistance on the second day of the biggest military operation in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

The Associated Press reported that one Marine was killed and several others injured or wounded on Thursday, when some 4,000 Marines launched the operation Helmand province -- a remote area that is the center of the country's illegal opium cultivation, which helps finance the insurgency.

So far there has been little resistance from the Taliban, according to military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier.

The goal of the operation is to win over the local population, Pelletier said.

"We are not worried about the Taliban, we are not focused on them. We are focused on the people," Pelletier said. "It is important to engage with the key leaders, hear what they need most and what are their priorities."

AP noted the following details:
As the operation entered its second day, the units secured control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser, and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, Pelletier said.

"They waited for the local and village elders," outside Khan Neshin and "with their permission they went in and now are engaged in talks," Pelletier said.

As the Marines in the village of Nawa sat for a meeting with a group of 20 Afghan men and boys who were squatting on dirt ground, they listened as list of their concerns came in a form of questions.

[...]

Three years ago, only a handful of U.S. troops were in Helmand, Afghanistan's biggest province that is bisected by the Helmand river.

While Pelletier said winning hearts and minds was the mission's main focus, other military officials have said the immediate goal of the offensive is to clear away insurgents before Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Without such a large Marine assault, the Afghan government would likely not be able to set up voting booths where citizens could safely travel.
President Barack Obama has ordered the Pentagon to deploy 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

This is a developing story.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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