President Obama Visits Afghanistan to Sign Agreement


President Barack Obama is greeted by Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker as he steps off Air Force One at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan earlier today (Tuesday, May 1). Charles Dharapak/AP

One year to the day after announcing to the world the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama is in Afghanistan, the nation where the al-Qaida leader and his followers planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mark Memmott of NPR reports that the news of the president’s unannounced trip was confirmed just before 3 p.m. Eastern Time Tuesday.

Obama is scheduled to deliver a televised address to Americans this evening at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

On his trip, the president is meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and they will sign the newly negotiated U.S.-Afghan security agreement that defines the two countries’ relationship when U.S. and coalition troops with in 2014.

The Armed Forces Press Service reports:

According to the pool report, “the timing of the trip was driven by the negotiations over the strategic partnership agreement and by the desire of both presidents to sign the agreement in Afghanistan prior to the NATO summit in Chicago later this month.”

This is Obama’s fourth trip to Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden: The Live-Tweeting of His Death

There’s been a rise of “citizen journalists” whether from the bombed neighborhoods in Syria to the tornado ravaged mid-west towns in the U.S.

If you’re in the Tampa Bay region this Tuesday, you have an opportunity to hear from a “citizen journalist” who tweeted live about the raid on the Pakistani compound of Osama bin Laden.

At the time, Sohaib Athar was an IT consultant from Abbottabad, Pakistan. He didn’t know the Black Hawk helicopters he was hearing belonged to U.S. military forces. But, on May 2, 2011, he heard sounds – first helicopters and then an explosion – and started tweeting. It was only later that he learned that he was tweeting about raid that led to the death of the al-Qaeda leader.

There is some question whether Athar is a true “citizen journalist” because he just tweeted about hearing helicopters and an explosion, but Steve Myers, managing editor for, wrote a piece explaining his use of the term:

Here are the journalistic activities that Athar, aka @ReallyVirtual, demonstrated in his tweets during and after the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

He observed something unusual and told others about it. For example:

  • Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
  • A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S”

He answered questions from others seeking information. A Twitter user asked Athar, “@ReallyVirtual Hello sir, any update on the blasts? What has really happened?”

Athar answered: “@m0hcin all silent after the blast, but a friend heard it 6 km away too… the helicopter is gone too.”

Athar is the featured guest for “Tweeting Osama’s Death: From Citizen to Journalist” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 6, at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida. Myers will moderate the discussion with Athar.

To learn more about Athar’s tweets, you can read Myers’ article posted on May 3, 2011 and his defense of the “citizen journalist” term on May 5, 2011.

The event is free and open to the public thanks to the sponsorship of the Eckerd College Organization of Students and the Poynter Institute.

CENTCOM’s Rear Adm. Jeff Harley on Pakistan, Partnerships

Rear Adm. Jeff Harley. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Biographies website.

U.S Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is responsible for some of the most sensitive and volatile regions on the globe such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. And Rear Admiral Jeff Harley is in charge of security cooperation for all 17 countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility.

In a recent interview, Adm. Harley talked with me about his job as Vice Director, Strategy, Plans and Policy (J5) – which is principally about building relationships with other military leaders that can be counted on when diplomacy is failing.

REAR ADM. JEFF HARLEY: It’s about building that special trust that’s required to be able to maintain that type of diplomatic opportunity. It’s more than just military power.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: Building that kind of cooperation beyond military but in the personal relationships – was that best demonstrated most recently in Egypt?

HARLEY: I think one would never really know, but I think there’s certainly been a lot of discussion to that end and in many other countries as well. But, I would say in my heart of hearts that military to military relationship did have a significant influence on the military leadership in Egypt.

We should look at the Arab Spring not just as a crisis. We should look at it as a world of opportunity – a world of opportunity to expand our relationships with the different countries while also reinforcing our values, our national values.

O’BRIEN: There are some concerns obviously with Adm. (Mike) Mullen leaving and his concerns specifically about Pakistan.

HARLEY: I think many people forget how many Pakistani soldiers are lost in the fight against counter terrorism. More soldiers have been killed in Pakistan fighting terrorists than NATO has lost in Afghanistan. They are in the fight against terrorism with us and they do support our efforts in Afghanistan and in a number of other tangible ways. It is a difficult relationship. It is a very complex relationship, but we continue to build a military trust that is enabling our success in Afghanistan today.

O’BRIEN: Rate where that trust is now in the position you’re in now compared to where it was before Osama bin Laden that was before Adm. Mullen’s comments.

HARLEY: I do think that the special trust that we have with Pakistan has been eroded by some of these events and we are working to continue to build that trust. Gen. (James) Mattis in particular has a strong military to military relationship with his counterpart. And we work very closely through our Office of Defense representative in Pakistan to continue the military to military ties that are so critical to being able to help assist in the war against terror in the sanctuary areas of Pakistan.

O’BRIEN: You have mentioned more than once in this interview about “we will be that enduring partner, we will be there.” Is that possibly the biggest concern that you hear from the partners in region? Worry that the U.S. would come in and then leave?

HARLEY: I think that is a concern of our regional partners and it’s one of our enduring themes at U.S. Central Command is that we are a partner and that we are a partner that can be counted on for the long-term. And being a partner doesn’t necessarily mean having bases and facilities in a country, it means being able to establish contacts, maintain those relationships, trade military officers at respective schools. It can be as simple as maintaining a maritime presence which we have for decades and decades.

It’s going to be an exciting future in the Middle East, but it will be that future because of the good foundation of relationships that we’ve created through security cooperation.

Navy SEALs Transfer Command at Special Operations

Departing SOCOM Commander Adm. Eric Olson visited with Afghan leaders as part of his job. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense.

Hailed as a true legend among Special Forces and as the first four star Navy SEAL, Admiral Eric Olson stepped down Monday as Commander of U.S. Special Operations after leading the joint command at MacDill Air Force Base for more than four years.

Olson said his Change of Command ceremony, attended by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, was made even more poignant by the deaths of 22 SEALs, three Air Force and five Army aviators over the weekend.

“This is a force in which America can be and should be intensely proud and it is a force that America surely needs,” Olson said. “Osama bin Laden is dead but Al Qaeda version 2.0 is brewing.”

New SOCOM Commader Adm. Bill McRaven passes the Special Operations Command flag to Command Sgt. Maj. Tommy Smith. Photo courtesy of SOCOM.

The loss of 30 U.S. Special Operations forces was foremost on the mind of Panetta as he oversaw the SOCOM ceremony in Tampa.

“They were far from home, but we know that they were also where they wanted to be doing what they wanted to do alongside men who were perhaps closer to them than their own brothers,” Panetta said making his first public comments since the losses.

“As heavy a loss as this was, it would even be more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan,” Panetta said.

The ceremony was broadcast live from MacDill on the Pentagon Channel and transmitted worldwide to Special Operations teams in remote settings. Those forces witnessed the transfer of the colors from Adm. Olson to their new commander, Adm. Bill McRaven who also is a Navy SEAL.

“The world today is as unpredictable as ever,” McRaven said. “And as such, the American people will expect us to be prepared for every contingency, to answer every call to arms, to venture where other forces cannot and to win every fight no matter how tough or how long.”

McRaven then told the Secretary of Defense that Special Forces will not let him down.

Navy SEALs Recount their Raid on Osama bin Laden

A generic photo of Navy SEALs in training.

An administrator’s note: the Reporter-at-Large Nicholas Schmidle did NOT talk directly with the Navy SEALs as he and this posting suggests – he talked with unidentified people who listened in on the operation.


We may never know who they are – the Navy SEAL team that found and killed Osama bin Laden. But we now know a little bit more of how that team took out the mastermind behind the 9-11 terrorists attacks on the United States.

Reporter-at-Large Nicholas Schmidle talked with several SEAL members who took part in the raid and gives a detailed account in the Aug. 8th The New Yorker – Getting bin Laden – What happened that night in Abbottabad.

Schmidle talked with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about his upcoming article Monday on Morning Edition. The New Yorker article gives a detailed account of the planning for the operation — much of the information has not been previously disclosed — and a play by play of the night the al-Qaida leader was killed.

You can learn more about the SEAL Team Six, established in 1980, in a account of the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

A Special Memorial Day for Special Operations Forces

A bronze statue of a special forces warrior keeps vigil at Special Operatons Memorial on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes – the recent success of U.S. Special Forces taking out Osama Bin Laden is rooted in the failed attempt to rescue the  American hostages in Iran. That 1980 mission also created awareness of the need for better coordination of joint military operations.

In 1987, Congress created the U.S. Special Operations Command, SOCOM, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. Its creation also cemented the mindset of the Special Forces warrior whether Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

They are known as the “tip of the spear” – the first to go into dangerous regions. While the world learned of the Osama Bin Laden operation – most Special Forces’ missions never become public.

Former special forces officer Geoff Barker oversees the memorial and raising money to keep it going.

A handful of military professionals wanted to assure that their fellow Special Forces’ comrades would not be forgotten. So they conceived of the Special Operations Memorial and raised money to build it.

“A special operations’ warrior is a volunteer, who has seen where the action is and wants to go into where the action is,” said Geoff Barker, who served with both British and U.S. Special Forces. “There’s a vast huge bond between all of the services and all of the special operation forces. We all work together.”

Barker is a co-ounder of the memorial and serves as president of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation. He carries with him a thick notebook that includes the names of all those killed, each has an engraved tile on the wall. He places each tile himself.

There also are tribute tiles – on the exterior walls for donors – the interior walls are only for those who have qualified as special forces.

One donor purchased tiles for Special Forces members he fought with in WWII, another for his Special Forces’ teammates from the Vietnam War.

The memorial’s first design had four walls clad in tiles. The four walls formed a square. In the middle was a bronze statue of a Special Forces’ warrior holding his weapon – at the ready – peering out to the street and further to the bay.

That bronze warrior is all that is left of the original memorial which held 306 names of special forces members killed in action or training  from 1980 through 9/11 including the name of one Special Forces officer who was killed on 11 September 2001 when the aircraft crashed in to the Pentagon.

But due to those very terrorist attacks, there’s been a dramatic increase in special operations and in the loss of personnel. It required a redesign so the memorial could hold more names.

The new design was completed in 2007. Its black walls now curve to form the shape of a spear tip.

A gray brick walkway forms the shaft of the spear. The bronze statue of the special ops warrior remains at the center. Behind him is the wall that holds the names of all Special Forces members who have been awarded The Medal of Honor or the Victoria Cross.

Three flags fly above – the U.S. Flag, the MIA/POW flag and the Special Operations Command flag.

“It’s a beautiful place and there’s a lot of beautiful people  on that wall,” Barker reflected pointing out friends and men he’d served with.

Since the 9/11 attacks,  441 names of lost special forces have been added to the memorial. There are 27 new names since last Memorial Day:

Army SGT Jonathan K. Peney

Army SGT Andrew J. Creighton

Army SPC Joseph W. Dimock

Marine SSGT Christopher J. Antonik

Army SGT Justin B. Allen

Army SGT Anibal Santiago

Army CPT Jason E. Holbrook

Army SSG Kyle R. Warren

Army MSG Jared N. Van Asist

Army SGT Andrew C. Nicol

Army SPC Bradley D. Rapphun

Navy SOC Collin T. Thomas

Army SPC Christopher S. Wright

Army SGT Martin A. Lugo

Air Force SrA Daniel R. Sanchez

Army SFC Ronald A. Grider

Navy LT Brendan Looney

Navy SO3 Denis Miranda

Navy CTRCS David McLendon

Navy SO1 Adam O. Smith

Army SFC Calvin B. Harrison

Air Force SrA Mark Forester

Army SFC Lance H. Vogeler

Army SSG Kevin M. Pape

Army SFC Daehan Park

Army MSG Benjamin F. Bitner

Marine Sgt. David P. Day

Their names will be read aloud at a ceremony Friday at the memorial for family, friends and Special Forces personnel.

A Reservist’s Parents Pay a Price for the War

The Holt Family. Photo courtesy of VAntage

Army Reservist Katie Holt wrote a heartfelt entry about her enlistment after the 9-11 attacks and what happened to her parents  after she  deployed. The full article is available in the Department of Veterans Affairs electronic newsletter VAntage Point.

Holt, in retrospect, wishes she had given her parents this advice as she left for Iraq in 2004:

The next year or so of your life is going to suck. In fact, you’ll probably find yourselves mad at me for joining the Army. My war is your war and war is hell. . .on both fronts. There will be times when you’ll have no one else to turn to but each other. Embrace it and be thankful that at least one other person gets it. Go to therapy, you’ll need the support.

She writes about visiting her father at his nursing home to share the news about the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden and the war was worth it:

I realized reassurance wasn’t what mattered. I leaned over, kissed my dad on his head and said thank you. Military parents and family are sometimes forgotten, their sacrifices during wartime ignored and support for them can be miniscule. My family, and many others, will forever be changed by the ongoing conflicts, and to them I say thank you.

Highlighting the sacrifices of all military family members and helping civilians understand and support them is the mission of this blog. Thank you Katie and Mr. and Mrs. Holt.

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