Marine Gen. John Allen to Retire, Turns Down European Post

Gen. John Allen, ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

Gen. John Allen, former ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

Citing his wife’s poor health, Marine Gen. John R. Allen asked President Obama to remove him from consideration for supreme allied commander in Europe according to the Washington Post. He plans to retire.

In a statement, Obama said he had granted Allen’s request. “I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps,” the president said.

Allen was the longest-serving leader of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and directed the shift from counterinsurgency operations to training Afghan and local forces. During his command forces were reduced by some 33,000 U.S. troops.

The four star general told the Post that his decision to retire had nothing to do with the investigation into his email correspondence with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. However, Allen said that investigation did take a toll on his wife.

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Afghanistan: U.S. Strategy Hit with Two Setbacks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP) Date not available.

KABUL, Afghanistan – The American campaign in Afghanistan suffered a double blow Thursday: The Taliban broke off talks with the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai said NATO should pull out of rural areas and speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces nationwide in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians according to Associated Press reporters Deb Riechmann and Amir Shah.

The moves represent new challenges to America’s strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the U.S. exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it’s unclear that there has been any progress since January.

Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the apparent call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, in what appeared to be a move to push the U.S. toward an earlier drawdown.

You can read the full article HERE.

Taliban Vows Revenge for Afghan Civilian Killings

English: Afghanistan Opium Production for 2005...

Image via Wikipedia

The U.S. Embassy and American Forces are on alert for possible retaliatory attacks after the deaths of 16 Afghan civilians reportedly were killed by a lone U.S. Army soldier.

Taliban Retaliation (Associated Press)

The Taliban vowed revenge Monday after at least one American soldier shot to death 16 civilians in southern Afghanistan and burned their bodies, an attack that has fueled anger still simmering after U.S. troops burned Qurans last month.

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have stepped up security following the shootings Sunday in Kandahar province out of concern about retaliatory attacks. The U.S. Embassy has also warned American citizens in Afghanistan about the possibility of reprisals.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for several attacks last month that the group said were retaliation for the Americans burning Qurans. Afghan forces also turned their guns on their supposed allies, killing six U.S. troops as violent protests wracked the country.You can read the full Associate Press article HERE.

Rapid, Thorough Investigation Promised (The Telegraph)

The International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, is promising a thorough investigation into the killing of civilian Afghans. The NATO coalition spokesperson, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, promised a “rapid and thorough” investigation after a US soldier reportedly killed 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar.

You can read a full article from The Telegraph HERE.

Six Marines Killed in Helicopter Crash Reports AP

Anonymous Defense Official

Associated Press is reporting that all six forces killed in the crash of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan were U.S. Marines according to an anonymous defense official. You can read the AP update HERE.

An earlier AP report:

A NATO helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing six members of the international military force, the U.S.-led coalition said Friday.

The cause is still being investigated, but a coalition statement said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of Thursday’s crash, which brought the number of international forces killed in Afghanistan this month to 24.

The coalition did not disclose the nationalities of those killed and would not release details of the crash until the families of the dead were notified.

The helicopter crash occurred on the same day that a suicide car bomber killed at least seven civilians outside a crowded gate at Kandahar Air Field, a sprawling base for U.S. and NATO operations in the south. The Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility, saying they were targeting a NATO convoy.

You can read the initial news article HERE.

CENTCOM Commander Names Pakistan Incident Investigator

Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis has appointed Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from the Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Fla., to investigate the Nov. 26 deaths of Pakistani soldiers during an engagement near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Clark has been asked to produce his  initial report on the incident by Dec. 23 and may ask for administrative support and help from other experts.

“This is a Centcom-led investigation with full NATO cooperation and you will include NATO representation in your investigation team,” Mattis said in an appointment letter sent to Clark Monday according to a report by Cheryl Pellerin of the American Forces Press Service.

The investigation will focus on the facts of the incident, determine which U.S., ISAF, Afghan and Pakistan units were involved and if they crossed the border and under what conditions.

Additionally, Clark is to recommend improvements for near-border operations.

U.S. Central Command Cuts Forces in Iraq and at Home

Major General Karl Horst, Chief of Staff at U.S. Central Command.

U.S. Central Command and MacDill Air Force Base help make up the backbone of the Tampa Bay economy. So it’s no surprise that news of job cuts sent shivers down that spine. CENTCOM plans to eliminate more than 20 percent of its workforce.  That’s around 1,100 jobs while also drawing down troops in Iraq.

Major General Karl Horst, Chief of Staff at CENCOM, told reporter me Tuesday that the budget cuts will not hurt their efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq or the 18 other countries CENTCOM is responsible for including Yemen and Syria.

MAJOR GEN. KARL HORST: We’ve been working hard to allay peoples’ fears, give them the facts about where we’re going and what we’re doing. More importantly, why we’re doing it and how fits into the grander scheme of the Dept. of Defense and the  efficiencies we’ve been asked to look at.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: So what kind of fears are you hearing? What are they worried about?

HORST: They’re worried about 1,100 jobs going away overnight and the fact of the matter is we’re going to reduce 1,100 across about a three year period. It’ll come through normal attrition. We’re not going to hang pink slips on peoples’ computer screens that say don’t come to work on Monday because we no longer need you. What we’re going to do is as people rotate out of the command, we’re just not going to request people to replace them.

A lot of the folks that are going to be affected are transitory in nature anyway. They’re not permanent party. They don’t live on base, they don’t live in houses and their families don’t go to school and so it doesn’t really affect the tax base. It doesn’t really affect the overall population. As things change in the AOR (Area Of Responsibility), the manpower requirements will diminish a bit and all we’re doing is is we’re just following consistently with what’s going on in the theater and we’re following the guidance that the Secretary of Defense gave us which was look at your manpower numbers, make sure we’re doing things effectively, efficiently with the manpower you’ve got and cutback where you can possibly do so.

OBRIEN:  Any idea yet how many civilians and how many military?

HORST: What we’ve asked each of the directors to do is to look at their organizations and tell us looking at your permanent manpower, look at your temporary manpower, look at your civilians and look at your contracts. Tell us how you can better do your job efficiently with fewer people and fewer dollars.

OBRIEN: Let’s talk about doing your job. Your responsibility is for 20 countries and CENTCOM is probably responsible for the hottest area on the globe, or AOR, Area Of Responsibility, I think you call it. What about doing that while you’re still talking about cutting forces?

HORST: With two major conflicts going on, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. It took a good amount of increase of manpower to sustain those fights. As those fights come to a close and as we reduce the manpower footprint, the folks, the staff that was supporting those operations there’s less of a need for some of the skill sets.  We’ll still maintain vigilance over the 20 country AOR, but the level of activity in Iraq right now is coming down.

OBRIEN: So, as U.S. troops leave, what kind of dangers is Iraq going to face?

HORST: The biggest threat to Iraq right now is the malign influence of Iran on the eastern border. There are Iranian forces that are supporting the militias that are operating inside of Iraq right now and frankly I believe the greatest threat to the long-term stability of Iraq and the government of Iraq are the malign influences of Iran and illegal militias.

OBRIEN: Are the Iraqis cable of handling the militias?

HORST: Well, I think that its incumbent upon the Iraqi security forces both the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police to work very hard to limit the influence of those militias. What you’re seeing in militia activities is predominately sectarian in nature. The militia supported by Iran are Shia militias and so the violence is against Sunnis. I think also as American forces leave, there is indication of a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq which is predominately Sunni backed. And you see that violence occurring against Shias.

And so I think it’s going to be a very fragile situation when we leave and it will be important upon the Iraqi security forces to stand up to do what they’ve been trained to do, follow the rule of law in Iraq and do what is best for the country of Iraq not for individual groups or militias.

OBRIEN: Can you describe the transition in Afghanistan? What kind of progress is the U.S. making? Are there some successes?

HORST: If you look at Kabul, Kabul has transitioned and its Afghan National Security Forces partnered with NATO  troops that are providing security in that area. There are very few U.S. troops in Kabul providing support to Afghan National Security Forces because they’ve already transitioned so I think that’s a very positive step.

O’BRIEN: But what about somebody who just looks at the headlines – they’re going to see that the U.S. Embassy was just attacked in Kabul.

HORST: It was and the Afghan National Security Forces responded to it with the help of their NATO partners. And they took on the insurgency and there was an attack but it was not successful from a Taliban standpoint.

Prayers for Those Lost in This and All Conflicts

I, like most, am struggling with the devastating loss of the 37 Americans and Afghans in a helicopter crash. I do not know how to respond. “Old-school” journalists are supposed to remain objective, emotionally detached. Yet, whether it’s 37 or just one death, there now are families without a father, a son, an uncle, a brother, a spouse.

My response was to turn to a friend, a trained minister and Off the Base blog contributor Dorie Griggs. I asked if she could write a short prayer to share. And, the great friend that she is she offered me, fellow readers and the families of those killed this comfort:

BY DORIE GRIGGS

Our hearts ache with the tragic news of Saturday morning’s helicopter crash in Afghanistan and the death of so many of American the Afghan soldiers. Prayers of condolence are sent to the families and friends of the fallen, their battle buddies, and to the scores of soldiers and support personnel who are in mourning today. Help us to be mindful of ways in which we can reach out to the families of these soldiers and the scores of soldiers carrying on throughout the world.

She also shared this prayer received from the National Chaplain:

REV. LIN MCGEE, National Chaplain

I come on my knees this day to beseech each and every member of our organization to stay in constant prayer for our beloved troops and their waiting families.

This morning, in Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents shot down a United States Chinook helicopter, killing 31 (UPDATED reports now say 30 Americans were killed) of our precious children along with the 7 Afghans that were also aboard.

Gracious God above, how long will this war go on and how many heroes will we loose!  The Department of Defense has issued a statement — yet no statement will ever bring these children back to their waiting mothers and other loved ones.  Our hearts are broken!

Please pray for these families ~ please pray for all of our families that are enduring this war from the front lines!!  Please pray that the devastation and loss from the war will soon be over!

People see us and they think our lives are as others — but they are not.  Each day we await our heroes, each day our stomachs burn, our throats are filled with lumps, and our eyes tear in a moment.  Some days it is difficult just to get up, brush our teeth, and get our cloths on.  Some days are impossible – like today.  We are the families whose loved ones guard the world with commitment, dedication, and often the giving of their own lives.

I shall pray for you throughout the day.  I know each of our lives has been shattered by this horrific tragedy.

PRAYERS FOR PEACE, IN TEARS.

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