One Company of Marines Finds Success in Afghan Village

Writing today for Slate Magazine, Vanessa Gezari recounts the success of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in securing Nawa, Afghanistan and returning control of the village to its residents. Under the direction of Lt. Col. Bill McCollough, the specially-trained Marine battalion eradicated hard-line Taliban elements and has begun the difficult process of reconciling less-committed insurgents with the community, all while building lasting ties with the village that aim to ensure its long-term security. The 1st Battalion’s success demonstrates the approach Coalition Forces (International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF) should be taking in many parts of the country, but as Ms. Gezari points out, the Marines’ approach is very troop intensive and requires long-term commitment.

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Eight Years Ago Today

Eight years ago today, I was a high-school senior finishing up his second-period math class when one of my school’s headmasters made the announcement that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Like most everyone alive on that day, I will forever remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about the 9/11 attacks. But the tragedy of September 11 also had a profound impact on my life from that point forward. 9/11 marks the day the innocence of my childhood ended and my obsession with NPR, world affairs, and all things news began.

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General Recommends Releasing Majority of Bagram Detainees

As General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, prepares to address Congress on the situation in that country, he was recently presented with a 700-page report on detainee treatment. The report, prepared by Major General Douglas Stone, among other things recommends releasing nearly two-thirds of those individuals being held at Bagram Airfield. Such a move would release approximately 400 individuals, many of whom either are no longer a threat or against whom insufficient evidence exists for prosecution.

General Stone, who oversaw detainee operations in Iraq during 2007 and 2008, was sent to Afghanistan to assess the detainee situation at the behest of General David Petraeus. Given General Stone’s success in Iraq, this assignment is of little surprise. But, considering the vastly different political, social, and legal situations in Afghanistan, the transferability of lessons learned in Iraq is questionable.

According to NPR, General Stone’s report recommends that the US release approximately 400 of its 600 detainees and turn the remaining individuals over to Afghan forces within 12-18 months. Citing growing resentment of US treatment of detainees, General Stone’s recommendations reflect the reality that unhappy Afghans are likely to join the Taliban insurgency. As the focus shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan, military commanders, led by General Petraeus (the general largely credited with the success of the surge in Iraq and creator of the Army’s counterinsurgency training manual), are trying to apply lessons learned in one conflict to the other, hoping to duplicate their success.

Fearing that extended detention is causing more-moderate individuals to join the Taliban insurgency, General Stone’s report recommends transferring or releasing detainees more rapidly, to prevent them from languishing in custody. The complication, however, comes in the mechanics. As previously mentioned, the legal system in Afghanistan is far-less developed than that of Iraq, inherently impeding the process and General Stone’s goal. Furthermore, locating detainees’ families in Afghanistan is far more challenging than in Iraq, further delaying the process. This is where General Stone’s education campaign plays an important role. As in Iraq, General Stone recommends providing vocational training and the counseling of moderate Islamic clerics to prevent detainees from becoming more militant while in custody. Given the success he had in Iraq, General Stone’s plans seem reasonable if his recommendations can be implemented.

Implementing the changes laid out in General Stone’s report may face its largest challenge from a familiar foe: lack of personnel. Funding is a further hurdle. But biggest of all may be the risk of releasing individuals who will join the Taliban insurgency that seems only to be gaining strength. That said, General Stone feels strongly that retraining and releasing the majority of those detainees held at Bagram will serve to blunt the rising Taliban threat by winning the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan population. As the US presence in Iraq is diminished and more personnel move to Afghanistan, Generals Petraeus, McChrystal, and Stone may find that the personnel and funds become available to implement General Stone’s recommendations.

Concerns Surrounding Cyberattacks Mimic Nuclear Concerns of Past Century

As more and more aspects of our daily lives become dependent on technology, the US government is faced with mounting challenges surround cyberattacks that hearken back to last century’s nuclear arms race.

Cyberattacks, put simply, are any type of attack aimed at some type of technology, be it a computer network in an office building, the Internet, or telephone and satellite communications systems. Because so many of these technologies are integrated into everything from banking to communications to defense, cyberwarfare represents a potentially significant risk.

The New York Times featured an interesting article earlier this month about the US government’s 2003 deliberations and concerns regarding cyberwar entitled “Halted ’03 Iraq Plan Illustrates U.S. Fear of Cyberwar Risk.” As the article discusses, both cyber- and nuclear war present many similar concerns.

Killing the ‘Clunkers’

Given that the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program is nearly out of cash, I began to wonder what is happening to all of those clunkers. As it turns out, ABC’s Toledo affiliate WTVG was wondering the same thing.

As their reporter found, the dealers are responsible for permanently disabling the vehicle engines, after which the cars are sent to scrap yards to be recycled within 180 days. Considering how popular C.A.R.S. (the program’s official name, the Cash Allowance Rebate System) has been, it seems that the recyclers are winners right alongside the auto makers in the government’s effort to improve our fuel efficiency.

The most amusing part, to me, about the WTVG video is the dealer’s use of liquid glass to seize the engine; it certainly seems easier than crushing them.

Google Voice Invites for Military Personnel

Google announced yesterday that it is giving priority to Google Voice invitation requests from members of the military with a .mil email address. According to the post on Google’s official blog, invitation requests made with a .mil address should be answered within a day. This is quite the gesture from Google, and a positive sign that Google Voice is scaling well as the invites continue to roll out.

If you’re a member of the military with a .mil email address and you’d like an invite to Google Voice, go to

‘1984’ Comes to Life in UK Surveillance Plan

In an attempt to improve the lives of children in 20,000 “problem” households, the UK government plans to install surveillance cameras in the homes to provide 24-hour monitoring by the government. The program is focused on ensuring children are attending school, eating well, and sleeping enough. Parents will also be monitored for substance abuse problems, and support will be provided. To enforce the program, the British government has created a private guard to perform home checks and ensure that families are abiding by their “behavior contracts.”

The plan, dubbed the Family Intervention Project, is expected to cost £400 million (just shy of $678 million today) and is being put forth by the UK’s Children’s Secretary. In response, the opposition party has blamed the moral decay this program is intended to correct on the ruling party, and said the program is “too little, too late.”

What amazes me most about the program is that 2,000 families are already participating. Given the already-pervasive use of camera surveillance throughout Great Britain, I suppose this announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is strange how much this plan mirrors the telescreens of Orwell’s 1984 though.


The Military and Social Media

In social media’s ongoing expansion beyond the tech-oriented and internet-savvy, the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to struggle to find its role. As Noel Shachtman of writes in today’s Danger Room article “Military May Ban Twitter, Facebook as Security ‘Headaches’,” the DoD may prevent access to certain social media sites from its internal networks (secure and nonsecure—see the article for specifics and links to Wikipedia).

This potential ban comes at an interesting time for a number of reasons. First, as the article mentions, the DoD is preparing to launch a new website with a focus on social media. Second, on May 18 of this year, the Army directed its network operators to provide access to five popular social media sites effective May 22, while simultaneously blocking access to 12 other sites (see the Danger Room article “Army Orders Bases to Stop Blocking Twitter, Facebook, Flickr” from June 10, which includes the full text of the Army order). Third, as Mr. Shechtman alludes to, various departments and individuals within the DoD are using social media for a variety of reasons.

With the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ( and USForces Afghanistan ( on Twitter, among other DoD officials and commands, blocking access could potentially disrupt what has become a useful tool for both disseminating information and recruiting new soldiers. It becomes an even more critical problem when one considers those soldiers now using the services to keep in touch with family and friends. As the Army order concerning Iraq demonstrates, the interest is only in those services used to keep in touch and share information. None of the popular video sharing or music sites are accessible in Iraq, largely for bandwidth concerns. Should the Army move forward with this decision, it may create more headache than concerns it resolves.

For many of the individuals and departments using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, denying them access via the internal DoD network means they will need access to a “dirty” computer, as the article describes terminals with access to the internet the rest of us use. As a result, DoD will be forced to place secure and unsecure terminals in proximity to each other. After all, Admiral Mike Mullen still needs access to the secure DoD network when he’s not twittering.

Undoubtedly, Danger Room will follow up on this story, and I’d be interested to see how this develops. With a brother in the Army, Facebook is one of the few ways we have to keep in touch.