Saturday, July 30, 2005

In sunshine or in shadow. Posted by Picasa

Colonel Offers a Helping Hand

"Camp Lejeune, N.C.

A hospital therapist pressed down hard against a ridge of crimson scar tissue on the shattered left leg of Marine Lance Cpl. Donald Ferguson. The corporal gritted his teeth.

His face red and contorted, Ferguson tried to snap to attention as a Marine lieutenant colonel approached. The officer's hair was cropped close on top and shaved on the sides, revealing a jagged pink scar across his left temple from a combat wound.

'Relax, relax,' Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell said, resting his hand on the corporal's shoulder. 'Just wanted to see how you're doing.'

'Doing good, sir. How about you?'

'I feel like I got no brain left,' Maxwell said. 'My brain got whacked pretty good. I kind of have to fake it to get by.'

On Oct. 7 in central Iraq, mortar shrapnel tore into Maxwell's skull, causing severe brain damage and lacerating the left side of his body. Seventeen days later, a rocket exploded near Ferguson in western Iraq, shredding his lower left leg.

The two Marines had never met before the 40-year-old colonel sought out the 22-year-old corporal in the physical therapy ward of the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune this month. Their encounter was part of an extraordinary endeavor by a Marine officer with a faulty memory and a speech impediment, in which the walking wounded helped care for injured comrades."

Even as Maxwell recovers physically and psychologically, he patrols military hospitals and barracks to comfort and counsel a handful of the U.S. service members injured in Iraq, which number about 14,000.

Sometimes Maxwell's speech is halting, and often his right foot "flops," as he puts it. He struggles to recall mundane words, like "strawberry" or "compass." But Maxwell, who has endured depression and self-doubt during his recovery, says he is determined to make sure that no wounded Marine is left alone to sink into depression or despair.

"People who haven't been wounded can't possibly understand the sense of loneliness and abandonment you feel," Maxwell, a slender, sharp-featured figure in a tan Marine uniform, said as he hustled through the therapy ward.

Maxwell, one of the highest-ranking U.S. service members wounded in Iraq, recalls encountering a 20-year-old Marine sitting alone inside a Camp Lejeune barracks in May.

"The kid couldn't use his arm. He'd seen his buddy killed. His family was in Florida," Maxwell said. "And he told me he felt so lonely and lost. I decided no Marine was going to be left all alone like that."

This spring, his solitary mission evolved into an informal effort approved by Marine brass. Maxwell has recruited several other injured Marines to help wounded comrades — most of them very young and far from home.

They tell them what to expect during surgery, therapy and recovery. They help them negotiate the military health system. They have heartfelt talks with wives and parents.

They also display graphic photos of their own wounds to show that even the most grievous injuries can heal. Mostly, they try to lift spirits during what is probably the most trying period in the lives of these soldiers.

"I want these families to know that their guys aren't forgotten," Maxwell said. "There are Marines here for them, right by their side."

Maxwell says the military will provide a small office and vehicles as he recruits more volunteers. A 10-bed living quarters for wounded Marines will open at the base on Aug. 8, he said.

Sometimes Maxwell brings along his wife, Shannon, on his visits. She helps him finish his sentences and fill in holes in his memory. She urges him to be gentle and patient. "I was a scary guy with a bad temper" as a battalion operations officer in Iraq, he said.

Shannon Maxwell says her husband doesn't remember rolling his wheelchair through a ward at Bethesda Naval Hospital just days after brain surgery in January, searching for Marines. He does remember the first thing he told her after awakening: "I want to be with wounded Marines."

Maxwell still longs for the intense bonds forged in combat. Every wounded Marine he has met, he said, has described a deep emotional void that develops after being ripped from a tightly knit unit.

"Worse than getting hurt is leaving the team," Maxwell said. "These Marines feel guilty: 'Did I abandon my buddies? Did I quit on them? How will they ever get along without me?'

"Their unit — their crew — is all they care about. So we've created a new crew for them."

Maxwell finds camaraderie in what he calls his "wounded warrior team." There's Staff Sgt. James Sturla, 26, a tank commander whose right hand was "de-gloved" — the skin, tissue and muscle ripped from the bone — during an attack in western Iraq in September. And there's Gunnery Sgt. Ken Barnes, 35, whose left arm was shattered by a roadside bomb in central Iraq in November.

Barnes was recovering in the hospital here last month when Maxwell called.

"He was so excited, it took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about," Barnes said. "But once I realized he meant reaching out to wounded Marines, I jumped at the chance."

Barnes has had seven surgeries. His left wrist was broken and his face and arms were tattooed by shrapnel. His left arm has lost muscle tone. His children call his injured hand "The Claw." Once a 225-pound weightlifter, he weighs 180. He can barely do three pull-ups.

"You get discouraged with how slow the recovery goes," he said. "I tell these Marines that no matter how bad things look, they will get better."

Sturla, who was recruited by Maxwell at the hospital in late May, has struggled through 24 surgeries on his hand, arm and back — including skin grafted from his stomach to his hand. His face is dotted with tiny purple shrapnel scars, and his right hand is still bandaged.

He was in the middle of his daily therapy recently when he encountered Ferguson. When Ferguson mentioned that he was awaiting a special shoe lift because he had lost an inch of bone in his injured leg, Sturla said he had just had surgery to remove excess bone growth.

"I wish I could give you my extra bone growth," he told Ferguson.

The two began exchanging war stories. Most Marines will not tell anyone except a fellow Marine the details of their injuries, Sturla said.

"They just don't feel comfortable sharing their stories with outsiders, even the nurses and therapists," he said. "But once I tell them what happened to me, they open right up. There's this huge release — they just talk and talk."

There are two basic questions most wounded Marines ask: Can I go back to my unit? Can I stay in the Marine Corps?

Until recently, wounded Marines who could not perform battlefield duties were forced to leave the Corps. Now the service attempts to find noncombat positions for them.

Returning to combat is rarely an option. Barnes, who is serving as a machine gun instructor while he recovers, says he has accepted, with deep regret, that he will never again be a combat infantryman. Sturla still hopes to return to Iraq with his unit as a tank commander in the spring if his hand heals properly.

Apart from telling severely wounded Marines that they can't rejoin their units, the most difficult part of the team's mission is persuading them to talk to psychiatrists. A 2004 New England Journal of Medicine study of 6,200 Marines and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan found that combat veterans with mental health problems did not seek counseling because they did not want to be seen as weak.

"They're afraid it'll stay on their record," Barnes said. "Plus, they figure they're tough, they're mentally hard, so they don't need a shrink messing with their heads."

Maxwell said he sought a psychiatrist after he realized he was severely depressed. He wept when he was transferred from the military hospital in Bethesda — where he was surrounded by wounded Marines — to a Veterans Administration hospital in Richmond, Va.

"I tell these kids: Don't be ashamed to see a psychiatrist. Don't be afraid," Maxwell said. "I tell them how depressed I felt, that it's normal to be depressed after what they've been through."

For Maxwell, counseling Marines is his own form of therapy. He is still recovering from surgery that removed a portion of his scalp to relieve brain swelling. The scalp flap was sewn to his abdomen in October and replaced on his head in January.

Early on, he said, he was bitter and angry. He had been a triathlete and marathoner and was proud of his physical prowess. Confined at first to bed and then a wheelchair, he had difficulty speaking and walking. Photos of him receiving a Purple Heart show scarlet bruises under both eyes and a raised red surgical scar snaking across his temple.

Shannon Maxwell described his progress: "At first, the doctors said he'd lose a lot of cognitive abilities and some of his personality," she said, sitting at home in Jacksonville with her husband and their two children. "So he's really exceeding the prognosis.

"He has the same personality and energy — he's just more sensitive now."

Lt. Col. Maxwell is able to swim, lift weights and run three miles. He has taught himself to read again, beginning with children's books. His speech pathologist, Anna Jurczynski-Martin, said Maxwell read at a third-grade level when he began seeing her in January. Today, he reads at a seventh-grade level and is improving weekly, she said.

At a recent therapy session, Maxwell held his head in his hands as he struggled to recall the names of everyday objects. He sweated through his uniform as Jurczynski-Martin showed him drawings — an exercise called "confrontational naming."

In January, Maxwell could name just 40% to 50% of the objects she showed him. On this test, he named 80% to 90%.

He was able to come up with "bed," "tree," "book," "pencil," "toothbrush" and "helicopter." But, squeezing his eyes shut, he couldn't remember "volcano."

"It explodes.... It smokes," he muttered.

"Starts with a 'V,' " the therapist said.

"Oh, 'volcano!' " Maxwell said.

She showed him a drawing of a tripod.

"You use it to lay mortar rounds," Maxwell said. He paused and said: "Yeah, 'tripod.' "

He stumbled over "accordion" and "asparagus," got "pyramids" and "tongs," but couldn't come up with "trellis," "protractor" or "abacus." He was sweaty and spent. The therapist ended the session.

"You showed significant improvement; you're doing great," she told him.

Despite his difficulty naming things — a condition called anomia — Maxwell's motor speech is good, and "cognitively, he is absolutely intact," Jurczynski-Martin said. "This man's motivation and focus are beyond anything I've ever seen."

Maxwell, a 17-year veteran with a chest full of campaign ribbons and awards, says he is determined to stay in the Corps if his condition continues to improve. But, he added, "I'll get out of the Corps if I stay the way, uh ... " — he struggled for the right words — " ... if I stay the way I am."

Maxwell spent much of a recent day patrolling the hospital ward, keeping up a steady chatter with nurses, therapists and wounded Marines. He focused on Ferguson and his badly injured leg.

He asked, as he usually does, about the Marine's family. Ferguson is married, with a 4-month-old son.

Maxwell asked whether Ferguson had spoken with a Marine comrade who was wounded in the same attack as Ferguson. The corporal nodded.

"That's critical," the colonel said. "Keep talking to him. I'm glad you got that going for you."

Maxwell paused, then mentioned how badly he had missed his fellow Marines in Iraq after being evacuated. He had felt helpless and abandoned, he told Ferguson.

"Being alone sucks, huh?" he whispered.

The corporal stared down at his scarred leg. "Yes, sir," he said. "It's awful."

Trend lines in Iraqi. Posted by Picasa

Foreign Policy: The Failed States Index

"America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones." That was the conclusion of the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy. For a country whose foreign policy in the 20th century was dominated by the struggles against powerful states such as Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union, the U.S. assessment is striking. Nor is the United States alone in diagnosing the problem. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that "ignoring failed states creates problems that sometimes come back to bite us." French President Jacques Chirac has spoken of "the threat that failed states carry for the world's equilibrium." World leaders once worried about who was amassing power; now they worry about the absence of it."

...Using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, we ranked 60 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict. (For each indicator, the Fund for Peace computed scores using software that analyzed data from tens of thousands of international and local media sources from the last half of 2004. For a complete discussion of the 12 indicators, please go to or The resulting index provides a profile of the new world disorder of the 21st century and demonstrates that the problem of weak and failing states is far more serious than generally thought. About 2 billion people live in insecure states, with varying degrees of vulnerability to widespread civil conflict. ...

The 10 most at-risk countries in the index have already shown clear signs of state failure. Ivory Coast, a country cut in half by civil war, is the most vulnerable to disintegration; it would probably collapse completely if U.N. peacekeeping forces pulled out. It is followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Yemen, Liberia, and Haiti. The index includes others whose instability is less widely acknowledged, including Bangladesh (17th), Guatemala (31st), Egypt (38th), Saudi Arabia (45th), and Russia (59th).

...The index does not provide any easy answers for those looking to shore up countries on the brink. Elections are almost universally regarded as helpful in reducing conflict. However, if they are rigged, conducted during active fighting, or attract a low turnout, they can be ineffective or even harmful to stability. Electoral democracy appears to have had only a modest impact on the stability of states such as Iraq, Rwanda, Kenya, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Indonesia. Ukraine ranks as highly vulnerable in large part because of last year’s disputed election.

What are the clearest early warning signs of a failing state? Among the 12 indicators we use, two consistently rank near the top. Uneven development is high in almost all the states in the index, suggesting that inequality within states—and not merely poverty—increases instability. Criminalization or delegitimization of the state, which occurs when state institutions are regarded as corrupt, illegal, or ineffective, also figured prominently. Facing this condition, people often shift their allegiances to other leaders—opposition parties, warlords, ethnic nationalists, clergy, or rebel forces. Demographic factors, especially population pressures stemming from refugees, internally displaced populations, and environmental degradation, are also found in most at-risk countries, as are consistent human rights violations. Identifying the signs of state failure is easier than crafting solutions, but pinpointing where state collapse is likely is a necessary first step.

[bth: Give the US's demonstrated poor human intelligence capabilities around the world, one wonders why this list isn't used years in advance of a need tofocus efforts to cultivate CIA contacts within the local populations of these countries. This would seem to me to be a matter of common sense.]

The Price of an Ambassadorship

... "In January, the Timken Co., where Timken is chairman of the company's board of directors, contributed $250,000 to fund Bush's Inauguration festivities."

A White House spokesman says Bush tapped Timken for the Berlin post because he’s an “experienced executive.” Yet Timken has no diplomatic background, and, according to his spokeswoman, does not speak German. ...

Timken is the eighth $100,000-plus Bush fund-raiser to be nominated for an ambassadorship since January. On Wednesday, the White House nominated Al Hoffman, a Florida developer who has raised $300,000 for Bush’s presidential campaigns, to be ambassador to Portugal. Last month, Bush appointed Robert Tuttle, a California car dealer, to be ambassador to the United Kingdom, while Ronald Spogli, a California financer who was Bush’s classmate at Harvard Business School, was named the top diplomat in Rome. Both men were Bush Pioneers in 2004—having raised at least $100,000 for the campaign. In April, the White House named David Wilkins, a South Carolina state representative who raised $200,000 for the 2004 campaign, as the ambassador to Canada. That appointment raised concerns north of the border when Wilkins admitted that he’d only visited Canada once—more than 30 years ago on a trip to Niagara Falls—and that he didn’t speak French (Canada is officially a bilingual country).

All told, more than 30 of Bush’s top fund-raisers in 2000 and 2004 have scored ambassadorships. About one third of Bush’s ambassadors have been political appointees—a statistic on par with that of other administrations. Doling out plum ambassadorships to big supporters may not be anything new, but against the backdrop of the ongoing threat of terrorism and the continued strains of Iraq, the stakes faced by this White House are entirely different. ...

One Person's Terrorist

"July 28 - It was an unannounced visit, but Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proved to be full of announcements as he steamrolled through Iraq on a one-day trip yesterday. And the namesake of 'Rummyworld,' as Iraq is sometimes referred to these days, certainly gave transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari some blunt talk during their private meeting. The message was clear: the United States wants to begin pulling troops out of Iraq within a year, and the country's leadership must start getting tough to ensure that things are stable enough for it to happen."

Armed with a serious to-do list, Rumsfeld told Jaafari that Washington would not look kindly on any delays in submitting a draft Iraqi constitution to parliament by the Aug. 15 deadline. Any postponements caused by bickering among the country's three main factions could push back an October nationwide constitutional referendum and national elections slated for December, ultimately jeopardizing plans to begin withdrawing large numbers of American soldiers in spring 2006. Rumsfeld also told the Iraqi PM to be ready to assume more responsibility for up to 15,000 Iraqi detainees in American custody and to make plans to take over security duties from more than 20,000 foreign Coalition soldiers who are scheduled to withdraw by December.

...In all fairness, U.S. military commanders usually make clear distinctions between insurgents and terrorists during their regular briefings inside the Green Zone in Baghdad. These sessions are slightly surreal—military officers and journalists, inside six square miles of blast walls and barbed wire, debate fighting outside that kills hundreds each month. But why, in between these weekly briefings, do the military's press releases seem to identify everyone against them or the Iraqi government as a terrorist? That in itself raises some other troubling questions: is this deliberate White House or Pentagon spin? Is this an evolution of the cold war mentality of calling people who are perceived threats communists? ...

[bth: this weeks events with regard to Rumsfeld letting the Iraqi government know that we intend to reduce troop strength early next year is enlightening. Only a month ago Bush was telling troops and the country (June 28) that this would not be the case. The statements made by Rumsfeld very closely mirror those articulated in early July by Carl Levin that we needed to make our presence in Iraq contingent upon progress on the constitution so as to spur compromise from hardline Shia. In other words, we aren't going to fight their civil war for them. ... So in all very interesting. We are changing the name of the "war on terror" to a "struggle against religious extremism" and we are now announcing troop strenth reductions we said only last month might take 5-12 years. ... Also of subtle note is the announcement that we will be handing over 15,000 Iraqi detainees to the Iraqi government. Why? Well if you noted late last week, the Pentagon lawyers are refusing to release prison abuse photos required by a federal judge. This is just to delay the inevitable release of classified images that supposedly show on film, the rape of an Iraqi woman and the sodomization of an Iraqi boy by US guards. My guess is that the Rummy plan is to turn over the prison to Iraqi about the same time he meets the requirements of US law to release the videos. Probably not a bad plan given the inevitable muslim backlash. ... Last, it appears to me that the troop reductions in 2006 are inevitable given the loss of almost a division of fresh recruits to basic infantry school this year. The recruiting nightmare in the US is having a disasterous affect on the number of troops we can field in Iraq. What is often missed in the media is that the Navy and Air Force don't share a similar degree of recruiting problems, nor even within the Army in regard to non-combattant MOSs. ... So in sum, I view Rumsfeld's declaration this week in Iraq and putting the best face on an inevitable conclusion, we have to reduce troop levels in Iraq next year and so he might as well jump in front of that parade and look like he is leading it.]

US: Iraqi insurgents have money for indefinite violence

"A senior U.S. intelligence officer says that some terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq have enough financing to continue 'indefinitely' their current level of anti-coalition violence....Temple added that groups linked to the former regime of Saddam Hussein control enough assets to finance increased levels of insurgent violence.

'We believe terrorist and insurgent expenses are moderate and pose little significant restraints to armed groups in Iraq. In particular, arms and munitions costs are minimal -- leaving us to judge that the bulk of the money likely goes toward international and local travel, food and lodging of fighters and families of dead fighters; bribery and payoffs of government officials, families and clans; and possibly into the personal coffers of critical middlemen and prominent terrorist leaders,' Temple added."

Temple said the main external sources of financing for the Iraqi insurgents are wealthy private donors in the Middle East and elsewhere, former elements of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, and corrupt members of transnational charities.

Temple said many members of Saddam Hussein's regime fled to Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries where they have established financial bases to support the insurgency.

The intelligence officer said Islamic charities supporting the insurgency effectively conceal terrorist connections and launder funds by mixing them with money destined for legitimate humanitarian projects....

Glaser identified the insurgents as coming from three distinct, but often overlapping, groups:

-- Sunni jihadists, such as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and his network and the Ansar Al-Sunnah/Ansar Al-Islam network.

-- Former elements of Saddam Hussein's regime and their family members and agents.

-- Indigenous tribal groups and local militias whose tribal loyalties, nationalist goals or Islamist ideologies have drawn them into the insurgency.

In addition to funding sources named by Temple, criminal activities, such as kidnapping for ransom, narcotics trafficking, robbery, theft, extortion smuggling and counterfeiting of goods and currency also fund the insurgents, Glaser said.

He said the prime method of transferring funds to the insurgents from outside the country is "the physical transportation of cash into Iraq, particularly across the Iraqi-Syrian border."...

Uzbekistan evicts United States from air base

"Uzbekistan has told the United States to quit a military base that has served as a hub for missions to Afghanistan since shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, a Pentagon spokesman said on Saturday"...

Uzbekistan will give the United States 180 days to move aircraft, personnel and equipment, ...It said the United States expects Uzbekistan to follow through on the eviction notice....

The United States has regarded its bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as vital for operations in Afghanistan. However, the U.S. presence in Central Asia has caused tensions with Russia and China, which joined the five ex-Soviet Central Asian states earlier this month to demand a U.S. deadline for leaving the bases.

U.S. relations with authoritarian Uzbekistan also have been strained by the Uzbek government's bloody suppression in May of a rebellion in the eastern town of Andizhan, which drew U.S. criticism.....

"We Regard Falluja As a Large Prison"

"Eight months after the second invasion of Falluja, there is hardly a street that does not still feature a building pulverized during the assault. I had not been in the city since last July, when I was escorted out by three cars of mujahedeen - that's when things were still relatively nice - and though I had expected it, the destruction was still shocking.

The dome of one mosque I had previously used as a landmark was completely missing, large holes had been blown in others. Houses have been pancaked, it is hard to find a fascade without the mark of at least small arms fire. As many as 80 percent of the city's 300,000-plus residents have returned, but the city has by no means returned to normal. On Sunday, the police were hard at work adding razor wire and new concrete blast barriers to the already sprawling fortifications around their main station in the center of town while US and Iraqi army patrols traversed the main street, the Iraqis firing their rifles in the air to clear traffic. Small arms chattered in the distance, followed by a response from a larger gun. The tension is palpable. Curfew begins at 10 p.m. but low-level fighting continues.

'They are killing one or two of us everyday,' says an Iraqi soldier at one of the checkpoints into the city, a claim confirmed by local doctors.

I have heard Iraqis make comparisons between their occupation and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but it wasn't until I saw families walking through the kilometer-long checkpoint, from a parking lot outside Falluja to one on the other side, that it seemed apt. Once inside, seeing the life continuing amidst the rubble, it was harder still to ignore the physical similarities. "...

At Al-Furqan Mosque, one of the city's moderate places of worship, some of the men stay after the prayers to discuss the situation. Even more than the US military, they feel the new, government, dominated by conservative Shiite parties, has laid siege to their city.

..."We can say the Americans are better than them. Let me speak frankly — the new government has failed." They complain of continued raids and arrests, missing persons, harassment, he says. "Before we were oppressed by invaders. Now it's getting worse."

...The men are afraid of the Iranian influence on the new government, the government that has failed to continue sending aid, something which US-appointed prime minister Ayad Allawi's government, despite supporting November's invasion, did do.

Back at the hospital, Ahmed says he expects the fighting to continue. "Even civilian people will change to be fighters," he says. "We regard Falluja as a large prison." (People in Falluja will not talk directly about fighting, though all indications are that the new attacks are homegrown.)

The Iraqi army in Falluja, who don't mind telling a journalist that they are all from cities in the south, don't seem particularly thrilled to be here. (When the US tried recruiting Fallujis to fight in Falluja, they turned their guns on the US or turned them over to the guerillas.)

"Falluja — death," says one of them, drawing a finger across his throat, a motion that I would like to go one day in Iraq without seeing someone make.

Most of the reconstruction that has taken place since the fighting has been the often partial rebuilding of houses. Iyad Allawi's government sent 20 percent of the promised compensation.

"It costs in Iraq right now at least 50 million dinars to build a house," Salam said. "What is someone supposed to do if he only gets three million dinars? And these people, they have had to spend time out of their houses, and there is not a single family in Falluja that does not have someone killed."

I approach some of the Marines on a base inside the city, to try and find out what life is like for them. They say there is no one at the base who can speak on the record, but I pause for a minute and chat, not terribly excited about walking back outside into the thick dust and, potentially, a line of fire. They ask why I have come, I am the first journalist they have seen in four months.

"No one wants to talk about Falluja," says one of the Marines.

Bush hits new Gallup low

"A new Gallup Poll finds 44 percent of Americans approve of President George W. Bush's job performance, a new low for Bush in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey.

The poll -- conducted July 25-28 -- found 51 percent disapproved of the job Bush is doing as president.

Before now, Bush's lowest approval rating was 45 percent -- which occurred in March and again in June of this year, Gallup said.

The new poll also shows a drop in Bush's favorable rating -- which measures the number of Americans with a favorable opinion of the president -- to 48 percent. It's the first time the president's favorable rating has dropped below 50 percent since Gallup began polling on the question in 1999. ..."

Clifford D. May: The war against the free world

"America is not fighting a war against Islam. America is fighting a war against Islamism.

The difference between Islam and Islamism is straightforward: Islam is a religion, a faith, the basis of a great civilization and culture, one that once dominated the world.

By contrast, Islamism is an -ism- a theory, a doctrine, a political movement. Islamists believe that Muslims have a God-given right to dominate the world; or, as the Islamist theorist Abdullah Azzam phrased it, a duty to establish "Allah's rule on Earth."...

Egyptian-born journalist Mona Eltahawy has lamented the fact that even many Arab and Muslim intellectuals can't quite bring themselves to condemn suicide bombings carried out in the name of Islam. Though they call themselves moderates, she writes, they “are little more than apologists for a terrorism that not only kills innocents in the dozens but ruins the lives of the millions of Muslims living in the West.”

Islamists have been waging war on America for more than a generation. The seizing of the U.S. embassy in Tehran was an act of war perpetrated by the Islamists who came to power in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Hezbollah bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 also was an act of war, as were other attacks in that decade and the 1990s.

After Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden became the world's best-known Islamist. The sophistication and lethality of his attacks made the hostage-takers and truck-bombers look like dilettantes. But long before we were surprised by bin Laden's capabilities, we should have been aware of his intentions. In 1996, bin Laden had published his “Declaration of War Against the Americans.”

America's leaders failed to respond to that threat as they failed to respond two years later when bin Laden wrote: “There are two parties to the conflict: World Christianity, which is allied with Jews and Zionism, led by the United States, Britain and Israel. The second party is the Islamic world.” For good measure, bin Laden issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, in which he called on Muslims to kill Americans – civilians and military alike. ...

One reason that did not happen is fear. Harvard scholar Ahmed H. al-Rahim notes that some Muslims who criticize Islamism – the writer Farag Fouda, for example -- have been assassinated. Others – Sayyid Mahmud al-Qimany, for example – have been threatened, and so “to spare his family the fate that befell Fouda's, Mr. Qimany recanted all his writings, promising never to write again… his only weapon was his pen, which alas he surrendered to the Islamists as others before him surrendered their lives.”

At this point, scholar Mamoun Fandy has written, “we desperately need a series of fatwas that assert that Islam does not condone violence against innocent people. …We also need to exclude those among us who believe that violence is the way to defend Islam. … It is also time to remove the title of 'mosque' from any place in which Molotov bombs are prepared.”

A war is being waged against America and, indeed, against the entire Free World, nations the Islamists view as decadent, weak and Satanic. Mr. al-Rahim has proposed that Muslims who reject the bellicose Islamist interpretation of Islam need to find the courage to say so unambiguously and publicly.

“Why not a ‘Million Muslim March' on Washington,” he wrote, “of law-abiding Muslim citizens clamoring to reclaim their faith from those who would kill innocents in its name?”

And if there were a serious “peace movement” would its members not march with banners saying, “Stop the War Against the Free World”?

Would they not be demonstrating outside the embassies of Iran and Syria and other nations ruled by terrorist masters? Would they not be protesting, too, outside London's Finsbury mosque, one of a number of “houses of worship” where an ideology of hatred and murder is preached and, on occasion, practiced?


... "So, yes, an Iraqi civil war--which could be as bad as, or even worse than, Lebanon's civil war--really is the end of the debate about whether the decision to invade Iraq was justified. (As TNR editorialized a year ago: 'Iraq's political future could well be decided by guns rather than ballots. If another dictator murders his way to power, or the country dissolves into violent fiefdoms, the war will have proved not just a strategic failure, but a moral one as well.') Sure, something would follow a civil war, but our enterprise won't and shouldn't be judged by that far-distant outcome. Instead, it should be judged by the path that led, under U.S. auspices, to widespread sectarian violence."

Iraqi Police officer arrested for leaking information to insurgents

"BAGHDAD, July 30 (KUNA) -- A high ranking Iraqi police officer working in the conferences palace was arrested Saturday for leaking information to insurgents and armed groups on the movements of members of the national assembly and top state officials, an official source said.

Chief Commander in the Interior Ministry, Major General Mehdi Sabeeh told reporters a major in the Iraqi police was arrested for leaking information, giving no further details."...

UAV with hydrogen power Posted by Picasa

AeroVironment Flies World's First Liquid Hydrogen Powered UAV

... "AeroVironment's Global Observer HALE platform will be able to operate at 65,000 feet for over a week with a flexible payload-carrying capacity of up to 1,000 pounds. Using only two aircraft in rotation, with one Global Observer replacing the other on station once per week, this capability will provide seamless communication relay and remote sensing systems at breakthrough affordability. Government and commercial applications include:

� Persistent, global, near-space loitering capability for defense and homeland security missions
� Low cost, rapidly deployable telecommunications infrastructure and GPS augmentation
� Hurricane/storm tracking, weather monitoring, and wildfire detection/support
� Environmental monitoring, agriculture optimization and aerial imaging/mapping capabilities "...

Mrs. Spence and child Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 28, 2005

London Bombing Suspect Arrested in Zambia

"Authorities in Zambia detained Haroon Rashid Aswat (search) in connection with the July 7 London bombings that killed 56 people and injured many more, FOX News has learned.

Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, was detained in Zambia but U.S. officials said he may have been in South Africa in the weeks leading up to the deadly attacks. Both U.S. and British officials said that they are trying to gain access to the terror suspect and FBI counterterrorism officials are on the scene in Zambia, sources said.

U.S. officials said about 20 calls were placed from Aswat's cellphone to some of the men in the attacks.

Aswat was also an unindicted co-conspirator in the case of a 1999 plot to start up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., (search) and has been wanted for questioning by U.S. authorities ever since."...

Bolton Inaccurately Filled Out Senate Panel Questionnaire

While John Bolton (search) has enjoyed renewed scrutiny because of an alleged tie to the leak of a CIA officer's name, the State Department acknowledged Thursday night that President Bush's pick to be ambassador to the United Nations did inaccurately state his role in another probe.

A spokesman said that Bolton had in fact been questioned by the State Department inspector general, contrary to his response in a questionnaire filled out for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (search) during the confirmation process.

'Mr. Bolton was not interviewed as part of the [CIA leak] investigation. When Mr. Bolton completed the forms during the confirmation process, he did not recall being interviewed by the State Department's inspector general.

Therefore his form as submitted was inaccurate. He will correct it,' State Department spokesman Noel Clay said.

Just hours earlier, the State Department said Bolton had filled out the questionnaire truthfully and accurately."...

Turkey urges US to strike rebels

"Turkey has repeated calls for US forces to take direct action to stop Kurdish rebels, the PKK, using bases in Iraq to launch attacks against Turkey.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was a limit to Turkey's tolerance and suggested that if the US did not respond, Turkey would.... "

Vermont marble  Posted by Picasa

London attacks: turning point for US Islamic community

"It was all too familiar. Part of me felt a tinge of desperation, a feeling of inevitability. But this time, there was something else - a feeling that we, the American Muslim community, were now ready to take the steps we should have taken long ago.

Where we had slowly become desensitized by the endless reports of slaughter in Iraq, 7/7 came unexpectedly, forcing our community to finally confront an uneasy reality. On that day, something clicked inside me and so many other Muslims who, in focusing primarily on the threat to Muslim civil liberties, had not paid enough attention to the threat of religious extremism in our own communities."

July 7 will haunt us for the foreseeable future - as it should. As American Muslims, we had seen terrorism as something uniquely foreign - relevant, but remote. But the London attacks were a frightening reminder that if anti-American anger and jihadist sentiment were left unaddressed in our communities, the consequences would be devastating. Too often, in the face of nearly daily terror attacks abroad, American Muslims had wiggled and equivocated. Past condemnations of terrorist attacks have been sincere, no doubt, but they've sometimes had the appearance of being forced. This time around the response from the national Islamic organizations has been more forceful and resolute but that, alone, isn't enough.

First, the July 7 bombings reaffirmed what already should have been obvious - Islam has been hijacked by a band of murderers. It's imperative that Muslims, instead of waiting for others to remedy the situation, offer a stronger, more systematic response to terrorism. Mosque leaders must begin by instituting a policy of zero-tolerance for terrorism. In practice, this means that anyone caught advocating violence against the US government or its citizens should be, first, expelled from mosque grounds, and then reported to the appropriate authorities.

Second, national Islamic organizations and local mosques must do more to encourage political integration of young American Muslims....

Finally, Muslims must rediscover their religion's deep respect for the sanctity of human life - whether the lives in question are British, Iraqi, or Israeli. The Muslim community's inability or unwillingness to speak out against suicide bombing in Israel is reflective of the moral depths to which we've so tragically sunk. Some things in life are morally ambiguous. The killing of Israelis in cafes and pizzerias, however, is not one of them. When we argue that the immorality or illegality of suicide bombing is contingent upon political considerations, we're on a dangerously slippery slope.

If these steps are taken, the preachers of hate will find it harder to gain support in the Muslim community.

Ultimately, American Muslims aren't walking time bombs or potential fifth columns. To see it that way is to misunderstand the nature of the struggle ahead of us. Rather, Muslims here should be seen as one of the best weapons against terrorism. With their diversity and knowledge of Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu, they're an untapped resource. As the US wages not only a war on terror but a war of ideas, American Muslims can do much to strengthen public diplomacy efforts in the Arab world that, so far, leave much to be desired.

The war on terror is a generational battle, and American Muslims, whether they like it or not, will be on the front lines. Muslims have tired of their religion being defined by extremists. ...

In the wake of the London bombings, there is a growing realization in the Muslim community that the intolerance by some of its own can no longer be tolerated.

In these most dangerous of times, the margin for error is small. And considering how small it is, American Muslims now have a unique opportunity to play a greater, more central role in the continuing struggle against those who brandish the name of Islam so selfishly in the service of terror.

Shadi Hamid just returned from Amman, Jordan, where he was a Fulbright fellow researching Islamist participation in the democratic process.

Leading cleric rails at injustice of 'Muslim bashing'

"The most senior Islamic cleric in Birmingham claimed yesterday that Muslims were being unjustly blamed in the war on terrorism and that the eight suspects in the two bombing attacks on London 'could have been innocent passengers'."

Mohammad Naseem, the chairman of the city's central mosque, called Tony Blair a "liar" and "unreliable witness" and questioned whether CCTV footage issued of the suspected bombers was of the perpetrators.

He said that Muslims "all over the world have never heard of an organisation called al-Qa'eda".

Mr Naseem, who was speaking after police seized Yasin Hassan Omar in Birmingham, delivered his unprompted outburst when he was invited to a press conference with West Midlands police and Birmingham city council to help calm fears of racial or religious tension after the arrest.

It was held near the police cordon in Heybarnes Road, where Omar was arrested.

His comments shocked senior police officers.

Sources said that attempts to encourage Muslims to pass them information on the bombers' activities would be hindered. One said: "We are trying to gain the trust of the Muslim community and these kinds of comments have the opposite effect. All they do is encourage communities to close ranks against us."

To the obvious embarrassment of council officials and police standing next to him, Mr Naseem said the Government and security services "were not to be relied upon"....

The roots of Islamic terrorism - Editorials & Commentary

"Most commentators argue that Islamic terrorism is a fanatical perversion of Islam which deviates from its true teachings. They call for a Western-style modernization of the Muslim world, hoping thereby that radical Islam will be tamed.

This analysis misses the point. The nature of the terrorist threat is unambiguously Islamic and is not so much a deviation from Muslim tradition as an appeal to it. Al Qaeda's ideology draws on two traditions to legitimize itself: one classical, the other modern.

Regarding classical Islam, the oft-quoted remark that Islam is a religion of peace is false. It is historically illiterate to claim that war is foreign to Islam and it is theologically uninformed to argue that jihad is merely a personal inner struggle with no external military correlate.

On the contrary, Islam is linked from the beginning with the practice of divinely sanctioned warfare and lethal injunctions against apostates and unbelievers. Islam experienced no period of wandering and exclusion; from its inception, Islam formed a unitary state bent on military conquest..."

Ill-equipped soldiers use excess force

"U.S. Army soldiers have used 'excessive' and 'unauthorized deadly force' in Iraq to defend supply convoys because they did not have the proper weapons, according to a commander's secret internal memorandum.

The memo says soldiers need precision-guided pistols, in addition to heavy-fire machine guns, to ensure that innocent people are not killed.

The memo was written by Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Chaves, who commands an Army National Guard brigade that performs the perilous job of guarding convoys that move in and out of Camp Anaconda, a sprawling logistics base near Balad, north of Baghdad. Such convoys have been the targets of numerous attacks by terrorists using suicide car bombs and other types of ambushes.

In the March 15 memo, Gen. Chaves tells top commanders in Baghdad that he does not have the right mix of weapons to fire from the turrets of armored Humvees and other vehicles that guard supply trucks.

'Previously, reports indicated that excessive use of force, to include unauthorized deadly force, was employed by some convoy escorts,' Gen. Chaves writes to the commander of all multinational forces in Iraq in a memo stamped 'secret.' A copy of the memo was obtained by The Washington Times.

'While defending combat logistics convoys, soldiers manning heavy crew-served weapons in turrets of gun trucks are challenged to use the appropriate elevation of force toward hostile acts of demonstrated hostile intents,' he wrote"...

He said soldiers, when attacked, have no time to reach down inside their armored vehicles to retrieve more accurate weapons.

"The speed of our convoys and oncoming threats allow no time for soldiers to alternately reach down to grab an M-16 or M-4 [rifles] in order to ensure that proportionate force is utilized to ensure innocent civilians are not engaged," he said.

Gen. Chaves, who commands the Hawaii Army National Guard 29th Separate Infantry Brigade, said the answer was to equip soldiers with laser-guided 9 mm Beretta pistols.

FBI terror tapes piling up

"The FBI's backlog of untranslated audio recordings from terrorism and espionage investigations grew markedly in the past year, the Justice Department's internal watchdog said Wednesday.

The FBI is capturing and reviewing more conversations than ever in languages associated with terrorists, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said in a report.

'The FBI's collection of audio material continues to outpace its ability to review and translate all that material,' Fine said. His findings were similar in a July 2004 audit, except that he said the FBI now does a better job prioritizing its translation work. "...

There were 707,742 hours of unreviewed recordings at the end of March, a 50 percent increase over the start of 2004, Fine said. The bureau no longer is running behind on intercepts relating to al-Qaida cases.

The FBI said those backlogged recordings include hundreds of thousands of hours of white noise and other unintelligible audio, conversations in closed cases and mistakenly captured exchanges. But even by its own measure, the FBI's counterterrorism audio backlog more than doubled, Fine said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying at the same hearing, said much of the backlog is in obscure languages for which translators are hard to find. He told senators that the bureau is able "to promptly address all of our highest priority counterterrorism intelligence, generally within 24 hours."...

General advised use of dogs at prison, says ex-warden

"The commander in charge of the prison at Guantanamo Bay visited Abu Ghraib in Iraq in 2003 and recommended the use of military dogs during interrogations, the former warden in Iraq testified Wednesday at a hearing for two Army dog handlers accused of prisoner abuse.

'We understood that he was sent over by the secretary of defense,' Maj. David Dinenna testified.

He said teams of trainers were also sent to Abu Ghraib 'to take these interrogation techniques, other techniques they learned at Guantanamo Bay, and try to incorporate them in Iraq.'

The former warden's testimony follows defense claims that using unmuzzled dogs to terrify Abu Ghraib inmates was sanctioned high up the chain of command and wasn't just a game played by two rogue soldiers, as the government claims."...

Investigations into detainee abuse have led to charges against several soldiers at the prison but have found no fault with high-level leaders such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Critics charge the military has been unable to properly investigate its top-level leadership.

The then-commander of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who later went to Iraq to oversee detainee operations and is now in a Pentagon position unrelated to prisons. ...

Washington recasts terror war as 'struggle'

"The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, according to senior administration and military officials.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the country's top military officer have spoken of 'a global struggle against violent extremism' rather than 'the global war on terror,' which had been the catchphrase of choice"...

[bth: since we can't figure out how to win the war after 4 years, perhaps we can reframe it so we don't lose the struggle. I'm not sure America is safer or that Osama Bin Laden cares what we call it.]

Report: Soldier Testified That 'classified U.S. Personnel' Beat Iraqi Detainees

"DENVER (AP) - A National Guardsman testifying at a hearing for U.S. soldiers accused of killing an Iraq general said he saw classified U.S. personnel beat prisoners with a sledgehammer handle and mock the general's death, according to a transcript.
The transcript, obtained by The Denver Post, includes an exchange during the hearing that suggests the CIA was involved.

Sgt. 1st Class Gerold Pratt of the Utah National Guard said he saw unidentified U.S. personnel use the 15-inch wooden handle to hit prisoners.

'They'd ask you a question, and if they didn't like it, they'd hit you,' he said, according to the transcript obtained this week by the Post under a court order. Pratt testified at the hearing in March.

The hearing will determine whether three soldiers from Fort Carson will stand trial for the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush during an interrogation in 2003.

The soldiers have denied wrongdoing and say commanders sanctioned their actions. "...

The Army said Mowhoush died of asphyxiation from chest compression. Documents in the case said he was killed with an electrical cord, and a Pentagon investigation reportedly says a soldier sat on Mowhoush as he was restrained headfirst inside a sleeping bag.

Previous testimony indicated the Iraqi general's body was badly bruised and he may have been severely beaten two days before he was suffocated. ...

Lebanon furious at Syrian blockade

"Severe restrictions by Syrian customs have left hundreds of lorries stranded on the border with Lebanon for more than three weeks in an apparent attempt to strangle the Lebanese economy.

On a six-mile stretch of no man's land at the border crossing of Jdeidet Yabuss in east Lebanon yesterday, more than 300 vehicles carrying perishable Lebanese fruit and vegetables bound for the Gulf were parked waiting for their turn to go through."....

Syrian and Lebanese drivers sat by their lorries boiling tea and worrying about how much they were losing and how long they must wait.

The meticulous inspections by Syrian customs allow only a few across each day.

The Lebanese Chamber of Commerce estimates that 60 per cent of Lebanon's exports move through Syria, the only land route out of the country following the closure of the Israeli border.

The restrictions are seen as a show of power by Syria against its smaller neighbour following mass protests in March that forced the withdrawal of 15,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon after 30 years. Syrian officials claim that the painstaking inspection procedures are a security measure and part of their response to American pressure to prevent militants and arms passing through their country on their way to Iraq....

Senior clerics denounce faxed Zarqawi 'death list'

"BEIRUT: Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani and Higher Shiite Council Vice-President Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan spoke out in denunciation of a recent communique claiming Al-Qaeda is targeting prominent Lebanese Muslims. Qabbani and Qabalan said that the communique aimed to stir sectarian strife among Muslims in Lebanon by attacking religious figures known for their piety and care for Islamic and national interests.

The threats were made in a communique signed by 'Qaidat al-Jihad Fi Bilad al-Sham' and faxed Tuesday to the Shiite community's religious center, known as Dar al-Ifta, in the port city of Tyre.

Qabbani's and Qabalan's word came in reply to the letter's announcement that Al-Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of Iraq has established a cell in Lebanon that is planning to assassinate nine Shiite leaders, including Speaker Nabih Berri and high-ranking Hizbullah leaders."...

Among the individuals marked for assassination are: Sheikh Abdul-Amir Qabalan, senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, the Tyre and Jabal Amel Mufti Sayyed Ali Amin and religious scholar Sheikh Majed al-Khafaf. The death list of Zarqawi's alleged hit team also targets the head of Hizbullah's bloc in Parliament, MP Mohammad Raad, Hizbullah's Commander for the South Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, the party's Shura Council member Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek and Hizbullah's deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassem....

Muslim veil descends on Iraqi women

"SUHAIDA Maya never used to wear a hijab, the headscarf that Muslim women don as a mark of religious modesty. An English teacher from Shattra, a town in central Iraq, she always wore whatever she wanted.

Now she and her daughter both cover up for fear of the rising number of Islamist puritans in the south.
'We have to cover up,' she said, her defiance shown by the bright pink of her unwanted hijab, and the women's rights group she runs. 'The Islamic parties even come into schools' sports lessons and tell girls that they have to wear skirts over their tracksuits. It's like being in Iran.'

Many women in Iraq, especially in the Shia south, are increasingly concerned that Islamic parties are imposing their strict religious ways on women who once enjoyed some of the most liberal rights in the region. "

Leaked drafts of Iraq's forthcoming constitution bear out fears that restrictions on their rights may soon be enshrined in the law. The latest copy of the charter, due to be finalised in three weeks, revealed wording that could roll back a 1959 secular law that enshrined women's equality. Article 19 of the new draft states that "the followers of any religion or sect are free to choose their civil status according to their religious or sectarian beliefs". ...

CIA, Former Officer Battle Over Book

"WASHINGTON � The CIA (search) is squelching publication of a new book detailing events leading up to Usama bin Laden's escape from his Tora Bora (search) mountain stronghold during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, says a former CIA officer who led much of the fighting. ..."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

GMAC says "junk" rating may cause more trouble

"General Motors Corp.'s finance arm could have trouble providing funding support for the auto maker over the long term if access to the unsecured debt market remains impaired by its junk credit ratings, the lender's chairman said on Wednesday.

'If there's a problem, it relates to impaired access to the unsecured markets,' Eric Feldstein, chairman of General Motors Acceptance Corp., said on a conference call.

Although GMAC is meeting its funding needs for now, over the long term 'you may not be able to run a $300 billion balance sheet as a below investment-grade' credit, he said.

Feldstein said GMAC will continue to pursue ways to regain full access to the unsecured market, though that is becoming a smaller part of its funding mix.

GMAC has increasingly turned to sales of auto loans and secured borrowings to fund itself since its ratings were slashed to junk status earlier this year, causing its unsecured borrowing costs to surge.

GMAC will have completed its U.S. term funding needs for 2005 on Wednesday with a sale of $5 billion in loans to Bank of America Corp., Feldstein said.

That sale is part of an agreement announced on Tuesday to sell up to $55 billion in car loans to Bank of America over the next five years. The deal will secure near-term funding for GMAC and help it finance sales of GM (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) vehicles.

GMAC accounts for about $251 billion of GM's $284 billion of total debt. The finance division has been key in limiting the severity of this year's financial crisis at GM, which has struggled with surging employee health-care costs and brutal competition from foreign rivals....

[bth: in 2006-07 watch GMAC be spun-off from GM and after increasingly contentious union negotiations over healthcare costs, watch for GM-North America to file or bankruptcy protection. This will unequivocally shift public attention to a neglected domestic agenda. At least that is my prediction.

Iraq Wants Quick Withdrawal of U.S. Troops

"Iraq's transitional prime minister called Wednesday for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops and the top U.S. commander here said he believed a 'fairly substantial' pullout could begin next spring and summer.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said at a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the time has arrived to plan a coordinated transition from American to Iraqi military control throughout the country.

Asked how soon a U.S. withdrawal should happen, he said no exact timetable had been set. 'But we confirm and we desire speed in that regard,' he said, speaking through a translator. 'And this fast pace has two aspects.'

First, there must be a quickening of the pace of U.S. training of Iraqi security forces, and second there must be closely coordinated planning between the U.S.-led military coalition and the emerging Iraq government on a security transition, he said."...

Optimism stays with soldier

"A massive roadside bomb hurled the armored Humvee into the air, sending shards of shrapnel into his flesh. When the 5-ton Army vehicle came crashing down, the impact shattered his legs and right foot.

But 2nd Lt. Tim Bomke, a 29-year-old Redlands native, says he's grateful to be alive.

Bomke was leading the three-Humvee patrol through the predawn blackness searching for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) when it passed over two bombs hidden in paved-over potholes in the road.

The June 3 roadside blasts near Kirkuk, Iraq, injured 10 members of Bomke's Alpha Company platoon, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry of the Oregon National Guard.

Just days before, Bomke's Humvee was upgraded with better armor and he wore full body armor, possibly saving his life, he said...."

Plan to Shift Army Units Is Complete, Officials Say - New York Times

"The Army has completed plans for bringing home 50,000 soldiers living overseas, mostly in Germany and South Korea, and settling them in bases across the United States where families will move less often and troops will be closer to training centers and ports, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Several states with large bases - Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Texas - will have their Army populations grow, with the addition of at least one brigade, or about 5,000 soldiers, and their families...."

Egypt Absolves 5 Pakistanis in Bombings - New York Times

"CAIRO, July 26 - Egyptian officials said Tuesday that five Pakistani citizens wanted for questioning in connection with the bombings of the resort at Sharm el Sheik had nothing to do with the attacks and that it appeared the deadliest terrorist strike in the country's modern history was carried out by its own citizens.

As Pakistani officials trumpeted Egypt's declaration vindicating its citizens, officials in Egypt faced the prospect that the attacks represented a broader and perhaps more sophisticated homegrown terror network than had previously been known - though investigators were cautious on Tuesday, insisting they had not yet concluded that there was no foreign involvement.

Ruling out a Pakistani role in the attack also did little to diminish rising concern here and in other countries in the Middle East that the kind of Muslim-on-Muslim violence that has bloodied Iraq is now spreading, threatening to sow a new level of chaos in a region already roiled by instability.

It is not that a Muslim life is valued more highly than a non-Muslim life - according to religious leaders and experts in political Islam - but that the attack may represent the growing appeal to some of an ideology that allows self-selected individuals to effectively excommunicate anyone they deem impious, and then kill them. "...

"With this style, targeting Egyptians and non-Egyptians, it appears part of that takfir trend," said Jamal A. Khashoggi, a leading Saudi Arabian expert on political Islam and an adviser to the Saudi ambassador to Britain. "Even the radicals, yes, they do shun those kind of activities, and they do not understand why they attacked Sharm at this magnitude."

The concept of takfir effectively says that people who cooperate with an organization, system or even an individual who is deemed un-Islamic can themselves be deemed un-Islamic, or impious. In his book, "Jihad," Gilles Kepel, a French expert on the Middle East, wrote, "Takfir is a sentence of last resort." He added, "Used wrongly and unrestrainedly, this sanction would quickly lead to discord and sedition in the ranks of the faithful."

That is exactly what some are worried is occurring....

[bth: I find this fascinating. The discussion of what is going on really hits home when someone blows a bomb up on your street. The Egyptians seem more concerned that the Egyptian security guards were blown up than that some fanatic wanted to blow up a hotel full of European (non-muslim) tourists just down the street. Credit goes to the guards that prevented a far worse loss of life. Oddly though such thanks is not even mentioned in this article, the underlying implication of which is that it is ok to kill non-muslims, or certainly not as wrong as killing a muslim.]

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Staff Sgt. Ray returns. Posted by Picasa

Blair: Britain Won't 'Give One Inch' to Terrorists

..."'Sept. 11 for me was a wake-up call,' he said. 'Do you know what I think the problem is? A lot of the world woke up for a short time and then turned over and went back to sleep again.'

But a new poll showed that a majority of British Muslims surveyed believe Blair's decision to join the U.S.-led war in Iraq was one of the reasons behind the bombings.

The ICM poll for The Guardian newspaper said 58 percent of British Muslims responding agreed 'a lot' with the suggestion that the decision to join the invasion of Iraq was a reason for the attacks, while 21 percent agreed with the statement that the war was 'a little' bit responsible, and 10 percent said it had nothing to do with the bombings.

The poll also said about two-thirds of Muslims surveyed after the bombings said they had thought about moving away from Britain.

It said 63 percent of Muslims asked said they had considered whether they wanted to keep living in Britain. Older Muslims were more concerned about staying, with 67 percent of those over 35 saying they had thought about moving away.

One in five British Muslims said they or a family member had faced abuse or hostility since the July 7 attacks, according to the poll."...

Up to 50 Taliban said killed in Afghan fighting

"KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. and Afghan forces killed up to 50 Taliban fighters in central Afghanistan, a provincial governor said on Tuesday after the latest burst of violence in the run-up to crucial September elections.

A major Taliban ammunition depot was destroyed and 25 guerrillas captured in the fighting late on Monday in Deh Rawud district of Uruzgan province, Governor Jan Mohammad Khan said.

'We have suffered some losses too, but I do not know how many,' he told Reuters. 'Between 40 and 50 Taliban men died in the fighting and bombing.'
U.S. and government forces have been responding to a surge in militant violence ahead of Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, the next big step in the country's difficult path to stability.

Monday's fighting followed a clash in a village in the same district earlier that day in which six Afghan troops and one American soldier were killed, Khan said.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi confirmed the loss of a major ammunition dump. But he put guerrilla losses at four and said more than 20 Afghan and U.S. troops died. ..."

Funeral for Navy Seal killed in Afghanistan. Posted by Picasa

BBC NEWS-- US Navy Seals' Afghan disaster

"The four American commandos were approaching a small Afghan village of tightly-packed wood and mud-brick houses, deep in the mountains of Kunar province.

They were close to their target, according to an Afghan official from the area.

What the commandos - all from the elite US Navy Seals - did not know was that the target, a Taleban commander suspected of close ties to al-Qaeda, was waiting for them.

'Informers in the village saw them coming, with their backpacks,' the official said. 'They told Ismail's men.' "

But several Afghan sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the mission was compromised even before that. The four Seals had landed in a trap.

'Tipped off'

It was 28 June. Within hours, three would be dead and a US Chinook helicopter sent in to rescue them shot down, with the loss of all 16 troops on board. ...

And the target - Ismail - got away. Not once but twice. Three days later, he escaped a US air strike on a compound where he was hiding - because yet again he was tipped off, according to the official from Kunar. ...

From early spring, reports started coming in from informants in Kunar of growing numbers of Arabs arriving from across the border with Pakistan.

"We had reports of Arabs paying hundreds of dollars a week," said one Kunar provincial official. In an area where an average household survives on less than $200 a year, that kind of money buys a lot of help.

Defence Minister Wardak said they had also gathered evidence of different militant groups working together.

"Wahabi elements [from Afghanistan], Hekmatyar followers all together have teamed up in this part of the country," he said...

Late on 1 July, a B-52 dropped at least two guided bombs on a residential compound in a village called Chechal. It soon became clear many of those inside were women and children.

Unusually in such cases, the US military admitted some "non-combatants" had died. But it insisted its intelligence was sound and that "enemy terrorists" had also been killed. American spokesmen refuse to give details of their identities.

Local fears

Two Afghan sources have since told the BBC Ahmad Shah was in that compound until just minutes before the strike. Somehow, they say, he had been warned. He was seen leaving with three Arab men, according to one of the sources...

He argues though that any success it has is increasingly dependent on cash handouts to poor people in these remote border areas "who don't know what they are doing".

"This is not a cause to fight for," he says. "It has become a kind of business."

Yet with so much money still flowing, he admits there is no sign of this business fading.

[bth: ironically this story which seems to piece together what happened to the Seals came from BBC and not american news sources. Its kind of a sad commentary on the state of investigative journalism in the US]

July 24, 2005 in Baghdad sandstorm. Posted by Picasa

Saudi prince: Zionism to blame for terror attack

"Last month, an attack on contractors at the Saudi oil facility in Yanbu killed six Westerners, two of them Americans. Senior Saudi officials told the world al-Qaida terrorists were to blame and al-Qaida claimed responsibility.

But tape obtained by NBC News reveals that, inside Saudi Arabia, on Saudi television, Crown Prince Abdullah told a strikingly different story about who was to blame.

NBC News translated Abdullah's remarks from Arabic: "Zionism is behind it. It has become clear now. It has become clear to us. I don't say, I mean... It is not 100 percent, but 95 percent that the Zionist hands are behind what happened." ...

[bth: hard to believe Saudi Arabia is an ally. Further down in the article is goes on to describe how funding sources for al-Qaeda remain unprosecuted.]

Homeless widow begging on streets of Kabul with her children Posted by Picasa

Titan worker claims he was abandoned in Iraq

"As U.S. soldiers advanced on Baghdad in March 2003, Mazin al Nashi was in a Titan Corp. conference room in Fairfax, Va., preparing for his own deployment. "

At 50, the Iraqi-born La Mesa resident was too old for the military. But he was fluent in Arabic, French and English, a valuable skill to the San Diego defense contractor as it scoured the nation and beyond for translators willing to help the war effort.

Nashi was more than willing. He felt a duty to serve his adopted country.

"When President Bush said, 'You are either with us or against us,' I wanted to serve because I knew for sure that I could help," Nashi said recently.

He quit his job as a private security guard to join Titan as a translator, a job that would pay more than $70,000 a year. By April 2003, he was on the ground in Iraq.

Seven months later he was back home, a victim of a friendly-fire accident that he said left him blind and in constant pain.

Nashi said going to work for Titan was the biggest mistake of his life. ...

[bth: this article is well worth a full read. If true its a terrible abuse of its employees by Titan.]

As Recruiting Suffers, Military Reins In Abuses at Boot Camp - New York Times

... "Pentagon leaders reject the notion that training is aided by humiliation and hazing. And now, as the military struggles during wartime to fill its ranks, commanders appear to be more sensitive than ever to accusations of abuse.

Their rapid, public response in the Fort Knox cases reflect a concerted effort to demonstrate, to the public and to the trainers, that such behavior will not be tolerated.

'We will hunt down and prosecute those who mistreat recruits,' said Col. Kevin Shwedo, chief of operations for the Army's recruitment and training command.

'If we don't do that, we won't get the support of the mothers and fathers,' Colonel Shwedo said in a telephone interview from Fort Monroe, Va. 'We won't attract the right kind of people into the military

Maj. Gen. Terry L. Tucker, the commander at Fort Knox, said procedures for uncovering abuses there had been strengthened in the last two years.

'This may have resulted in an increase in the numbers of allegations reported since 2003,' General Tucker said in an e-mail message. 'We have improved the ability for trainees to communicate their concerns,' including giving them access to senior officers, he said....

"Hazing is neither useful nor necessary," said David M. Brahms, who retired from the Marines in 1988 as a brigadier general and top legal officer and who is now a lawyer in California. "You can't create people who are disciplined, who are law-abiding and who will adhere to the buddy system by the use of brutality."

Drill sergeants still get carried away, commanders say, but not often. The Army, the largest branch of the military, had about 2,600 drill sergeants training almost 180,000 recruits in each of the last two years. It received 99 complaints of abuse in 2003 and 109 last year. Investigators deemed that 86 of those were "founded" in 2003 and 76 in 2004, with most involving physical abuse, sexual misconduct or verbal abuse.

The complaints led to six courts-martial in 2003 and eight in 2004; the outcomes were not available. Other punishments included counseling, reprimands or removal from drill sergeant status.

In the first five months of this year, the Army trained 102,000 recruits and received 59 complaints; data on the outcome was incomplete...."

[bth: looks like a very positive step for the Army.]

ABC News: Pentagon: Morale Among U.S. Troops in Iraq Improving

"The morale and mental health of soldiers deployed in Iraq and Kuwait is better than it was two years ago, but still remains low, according to a new study conducted by the Army.

The report found that among deployed units, 54 percent of troops classified their unit's morale as low to very low. That is up from 72 percent a year earlier, however. "...

The report, commissioned by the Operation Iraqi Freedom Mental Health Advisory Team, concluded that the mental health and well-being of soldiers has improved overall. The report followed up on a similar study in 2003.

U.S. forces in Iraq face considerable stress not just from the threat of insurgent attacks, but also from the uncertainty of not knowing when they will be able to return home, the study found. Forty-one percent of the soldiers surveyed said their redeployment date was their most stressful concern. The figure is down from 87 percent in the 2003 survey.

The report also noted an increase in combat-related stressors, including a higher rate of incoming rocket and mortar attacks and an escalation of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.

Overall, the study found only 40 percent of soldiers who report mental health problems seek the help they need, and that 17 percent of soldiers said that they had experienced moderate or severe stress or problems with alcohol, emotions, or their families. Two-thirds of the soldiers said they had received some type of training on how to handle deployment and/or combat related stress, but less than half of these soldiers reported that the stress training was adequate enough. ...

The report also found that mental health problems were more prevalent in National Guard and Reserve Units, and that they also had lower perceptions of combat readiness and training than soldiers in other units.

"Anybody that works 39 days a year is not as good as someone who works 365 days a year," said Nash. "Reserve units, even with six months of intensive training are never going to feel as confident as a soldier who receives 365 days a year worth of training."

Reservists and National Guardsman make up roughly 40 percent of the 137,000 troops in Iraq....

[bth: my casual observation is that better armored equipment especially for national guard units was a big difference year over year. Also those with families away, especially older national guardsmen have more to worry about than 19 year olds with no similar obligations.]

New U.S. Envoy Will Press Iraqis on Their Charter - New York Times

..."With less than three weeks to go before the country's permanent constitution is supposed to be completed, the new ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, indicated that the United States would play an active and, if need be, public role in brokering what he called a 'national compact' among the country's ethnic and sectarian groups.

In remarks at his residence inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, Mr. Khalilzad spoke twice of the need to avert a civil war, a possibility that Iraqi and American officials speak of here with growing frequency. To reach an accommodation, he said, it would be necessary for each of the main ethnic and religious groups to 'accept less than its maximum aspirations.'

'You don't want to do things that build the infrastructure for a future civil war or warlordism,' said Mr. Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who recently completed a stint as the American envoy to Afghanistan, which was ravaged by years of civil war. 'The lesson is that, if good faith efforts are made, with a sprit of realism, flexibility and compromise, even fundamental divides can be bridged.'"...

[bth: the words 'civil war' are now being spoken in polite company.]

Monday, July 25, 2005

U.S. military admits error in news releases - Jul 25, 2005

"BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The U.S. military expressed regret Monday for issuing news releases about two separate attacks in Iraq that included almost identical quotes attributed to an unidentified Iraqi.

In both statements, the military quoted an Iraqi calling the attackers 'enemies of humanity' and vowing to 'take the fight to the terrorists,' the latter an expression President Bush frequently has used in speeches.

In the first news release, issued after a July 13 Baghdad bombing that killed mostly youngsters, an unidentified Iraqi spoke of terrorists attacking 'the children.'
In the second release, sent out after an attack Sunday near a police station in the capital, an unidentified Iraqi referred to strikes on 'the ISF,' or Iraqi Security Forces.

...Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, also spoke Sunday of an 'administrative error.'

Kent did not explain why the quote apparently was changed to apply to the latest attack.

Below are the two news releases from the U.S. military with the similar quotes:
From Sunday:

" 'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the ISF and all of Iraq. They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified."

From July 13:

" 'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the children and all of Iraq,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified. 'They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists.' "

[bth: Very likely both quotes were fabricated. This is regrettable as it only reduces our credibility.]

In harm's way: Titan in Iraq [story about contract translators]

"Frank Sellin went to work in Iraq for San Diego's Titan Corp. to serve his country -- and because the job paid far better than any other work he could find in Southern California.

He knew it would be dangerous; he is an ex-Marine.

But his attitude about the job changed one blistering July morning in 2004, as he drove a Nissan SUV down a street in Mosul past a group of men crouched around a red Opel sedan.

He heard the distinctive 'pop-pop-pop' of an AK-47 assault rifle, then a series of 'tick-tick-ticks' as slugs punched through the SUV's thin metal sides. A bullet ricocheted into his ankle, and he felt searing pain.

It was an ambush.

Sellin hit the gas pedal, but the engine died as more bullets slammed into the truck and blasted through the windows. Bullet fragments ripped through the upper back and neck of Scott Mahler, a former Riverside County sheriff's deputy who was seated next to Sellin. "

Bleeding and terrified, the Titan employees jumped from the crippled SUV and scrambled into a friendly truck that was following them in the convoy.

"That ambush really changed our minds," said Sellin, who returned home to Kearny Mesa in November after more than a year in Iraq. "After almost dying, I realized it wasn't worth the $125,000."

...They complained of flak vests that lacked body armor, satellite phones that never worked and unsafe vehicles. Some say they were asked to drive Iraq's perilous roads in "thin-skinned" trucks while carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll cash, but weren't allowed to carry guns.

"We called it 'the Wild West.' It was uncontrollable," said Marc Hill, a Titan manager from Arizona who was based near Baghdad from June 2003 until March 2004. "There was very poor planning, and they put people's lives in danger."

Rick Inghram, who was Titan's highest-ranking executive in Iraq for most of 2004, acknowledged that "a working experiment" aptly describes Titan's experience in Iraq. But he said the company has worked with the Army over the past year to better protect its employees.

169 employees killed

Titan and its subcontractors have lost 169 employees, more than any other contractor in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The company's fatalities outnumber the casualties of any coalition force other than those of the United States and Iraq.

The defense contractor is among the three largest U.S. civilian employers in Iraq. More than 4,000 translators and interpreters work there for Titan under what has become a billion-dollar contract with the Army that also includes 1,000 translators in 23 other countries.

...Like everyone else in Iraq, the linguists and their managers have had to cope with an increasingly deadly insurgency. The turning point for many Americans came in April 2004 with the grisly killings of four U.S. civilians in Fallujah. The four, including Oceanside resident Scott Helvenston, were working for Blackwater Security Consulting of Moyock, N.C.

From March 2003, when the war began, to March 2004, before the attacks in Fallujah, 48 U.S. civilian contract employees were killed in Iraq and 379 were wounded.

Over the next 15 months, from April 2004 until June 30, 2005, 283 died and 3,018 were wounded, according to data kept by the Labor Department.
Titan's Iraqi employees typically live in the communities where U.S. military units are based and are paid about $800 a month, company officials said. A second category of Titan linguists come from outside Iraq, mainly from the United States, and earn $70,000 to $100,000 a year. A handful of translators with "top secret" security clearances work for Titan under a third category.

The site managers, who are usually stationed on a military base, sometimes develop close relationships with the Iraqi nationals they supervise. They "start feeling about these linguists the way they feel about their own personal family," Inghram said.

By late 2003, it had become clear that insurgents were hunting down Iraqis deemed to be cooperating with the U.S. occupation, including those working for Titan.

...Drew Halldorson found himself playing such a role as an employee of SOS Interpreting, a Titan subcontractor. Halldorson started his tour in Iraq as a site manager but ended up with an U.S. Army combat unit patrolling downtown Mosul, one of Iraq's more dangerous cities.

Attached to the 82nd Airborne Division and with an assault rifle strapped to his shoulder, Halldorson spent January kicking in doors, rounding up suspected insurgents and "shooting and being shot at" as he helped make the streets safer for the Jan. 31 election.

In just under a month, he completed 40 combat missions, he said.

"In January alone I fired between 300 to 500 bullets in self-defense," Halldorson said in April from his Maryland home.

It wasn't what Halldorson had in mind four months earlier when he went to Iraq to serve as a Kurdish-language specialist. In fact, the terms of the contract forbade Halldorson from even possessing a gun.

"What I was doing was in direct violation of Titan's contract with the Army, but everybody knew about it," he said.

...Halldorson says he was fired by SOS in February for selling assault rifles and handguns to fellow contractors and other civilians in Iraq. The Brookings Institution's Singer isn't surprised by Halldorson's story, but said it's something that should raise serious concerns among policy-makers.

"We are talking about a sea change not only in what people are doing, but what we are paying for," Singer said.

He added that Titan and other companies are working under contracts with the Army that were signed in the late 1990s. The language and terms of those contracts, which were written during a time now looked upon as a bygone era, don't fit the realities of today's Iraq, Singer said.

For example, some civilian interrogators at the U.S.-run prisons in Iraq were hired under a 1998 contract the Army awarded to Virginia-based CACI International for computer services.

...Last week, the Army extended the contract until May, when it would be open to competition. Wall Street analysts view Titan as a leading contender to win a five-year renewal. They say it would be difficult for another company to supplant the San Diego company, which agreed in June to a $2 billion buyout offer from L-3 Communications.

Army spokeswoman Debrah Parker said contractors have always supported the Army on the battlefield, "but never as many as lately. That has put a new dynamic in the situation. The world has changed tremendously."

Titan's contract is governed by a multipage "statement of work" that is considered the operating manual for the company's employees in Iraq. The statement, drafted for the original contract in 1999, was geared toward an office setting, where linguists would work in shifts to translate documents.

'Overly vague' guidance

Inghram acknowledged that the statement of work "is overly vague" and "can be improved upon." Hill, the paymaster, said inconsistencies on contractor travel and other work requirements make the document "divorced from reality."

Hill added, "I wouldn't be here today if I had followed the statement of work by the letter."

When he first arrived in summer 2003, Hill was told that he would have to pay each linguist in person. So he would load as much as $700,000 in cash into the back of an ordinary Nissan SUV and drive throughout the bases and battlefields of Iraq, passing out monthly stipends.

Hill said he realized after experiencing some close calls with enemy fire that he was unnecessarily putting his life in danger.

"It was ridiculous, totally insane," said Hill, who eventually stopped making the paycheck runs.

The most contentious section in the statement of work has to do with gun possession. It states, "Contractor personnel are not authorized to carry or possess personal weapons to include, but not limited to, firearms and knives with a blade length in excess of 3 inches."

Yet a gun is among the first items many contractors seek when they arrive in Iraq, say the former Titan employees. Anyone whose job takes them off a protected military base needs to be armed, the contractors say.

Former employees say the company's unofficial policy about weapons was "don't ask, don't tell." Inghram disputed that characterization.

The guns usually come from Army units that have stockpiled weapons confiscated from insurgents. If one can't be obtained from an Army unit – and contractors say they're easy to get that way – Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles are readily available.

"You can buy an AK-47 for $40 in the streets," said Mazin al Nashi, a La Mesa man who worked for Titan as a linguist in Iraq from March to December 2003. "They sell guns as they sell eggs."

Inghram said the company has asked the Army to loosen its restrictions on firearms for some contractors but has faced resistance from Army commanders who worry about the many ramifications of arming civilians. ...

Intelligence Threat Handbook

The nature of the foreign intelligence threat to the United States is characterized in a recent "Intelligence Threat Handbook" prepared for the government's Interagency OPSEC Support Staff.

Along with perfunctory discussions of economic espionage and computer security issues, the Handbook provides concise and intermittently interesting accounts of the foreign intelligence services of Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea, and their collection practices.

Thus, "China has seven intelligence services, but only three conduct the PRC's covert intelligence operations against the United States." (p. 19).

The Chinese Ministry of State Security "operates under different intelligence concepts than the West, although some of its techniques are completely familiar." (p. 21).

"Chinese HUMINT operations primarily rely on collecting a small amount of information from a large number of people." (p. 24).

The Handbook, which is based entirely on published sources (including the FAS web site), is unclassified, but is marked "For Official Use Only."

[bth: go to the link for more information.]

Female Iraqi soldier on patrol in Baghdad. Posted by Picasa

Livermore scientists develop truck armor

"When the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee comes knocking, government labs jump to deliver -- in this case, resurrecting Vietnam War-era gun trucks for Iraq. "

...Livermore scientists made it easier with an armor kit for converting a standard, 5-ton Army truck into an armored weapons carrier. The lab now is overseeing manufacture of 80 gun-truck kits — a bolt-on shell of triple-layer steel and ballistic fiberglass, with three or so heavy machine gun mounts on the truck bed and bullet-proof windows surrounding the gun nests. The new gun trucks passed live-fire tests with small arms and shrapnel at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. In Iraq, soldiers are fitting the first 31 gun trucks with .50-caliber machine guns and using them to protect convoys and set up checkpoints.

Scientists left a space between the double-steel plating to catch shrapnel and lined the floor and walls with ballistic fiberglass, which looks like regular boat fiberglass but does a good job of capturing shrapnel.

One of the first trucks, nicknamed Iron Horse, hit a roadside bomb recently and was totaled, but its seven-member crew lived to strip off the armor and bolt it on a new truck. Hunter, himself a Vietnam War vet, was impressed. ...

Near Mosul Posted by Picasa

Vandals torch 20 U.S. flags, car

"American flags, lining the lawn of the mother- and father-in-law of fallen U.S. Army Pfc. Timothy Hines Jr., were heaped in a pile early Saturday and burned under a car parked in front of the home - less than 24 hours after Hines was buried in Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery...."

Staircase Posted by Picasa

Recruits to terrorists' cause are increasing, warn experts

"TERRORISTS are drawing from an ever-growing pool of recruits bound by motives and cause rather than a single al-Qaeda mastermind, say experts.

With havens in Afghanistan under pressure and their finances under scrutiny, experts say that while militants may take guidance from the likes of Osama bin Laden, they rely largely on themselves to carry out operations. "

"They all want to be part of this phenomenon," said Loretta Napoleoni, the author of Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks.

Attackers may have taken note of the London bombings and opted to accelerate their plans, hoping to make the terror wave more widespread.

"It's more about the timing - to overwhelm the West," said Dr Magnus Ranstorp, the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University.

The recent spate of attacks can be seen as an attempt to demonstrate al-Qaeda's prowess in the face of the United States-led war on terrorism, said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre. ...