Saturday, August 13, 2005

Afghanistan May 2005 173 airborne Posted by Picasa

London bombings: the truth emerges

"on 7 July is not linked to those alleged to be behind the second London attacks on 21 July, according to the initial findings of the biggest anti-terrorist investigation held in Britain.

An investigation into the four suicide bombers from the first attacks and the people alleged to be behind the July 21 plot has found no evidence of any al-Qa'ida 'mastermind' or senior organiser. The inquiry involved MI5, MI6, the listening centre at GCHQ, and the police.

The disclosure that the July 7 team were working in isolation - and were radicalised by Mohammad Sidique Khan, the oldest man - has caused concern among anti-terrorist officers"...

U.S. claims progress in Iraq logistics battle

"The U.S. general in charge of supplying more than 300,000 American and Iraqi forces said yesterday that insurgents have more than doubled the number of bomb attacks on his truck convoys, but improved armor protection has resulted in fewer casualties.

Army Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, who commands the 1st Corps Support Command at a sprawling logistics base north of Baghdad, said he also has been able to reduce battle deaths and injuries by moving more supplies by air, eliminating more than 40 convoys per month.

Gen. Fontaine told a Pentagon press conference via a video hookup from Iraq that his truck convoys are experiencing about 30 improvised explosive device (IED) attacks a week, compared with 15 a week a year ago. He sends out 150 convoys per day carrying everything from bottled water and fuel to meals ready-to-eat (MREs) rations and spare parts. "

Such convoys are a main target for foreign terrorists and Iraqi insurgents, who litter Iraq's relatively few highways with remotely detonated IEDs in hopes of disrupting supplies and reducing troop morale.
"Because we've up-armored our vehicles [casualties have] decreased significantly, even though the IED attack has increased significantly," Gen. Fontaine said. "So now our soldiers are safe in their Humvees and their trucks, and they walk out of the incidents when the incident occurs." ...

A key hurdle for setting conditions for a U.S. withdrawal remains the creation of Iraqi units that can independently sustain their combat battalions.

Gen. Fontaine said his command is now embedded with three Iraqi motorized transportation regiments to prepare them for that role. Ultimately, the goal is 10 such regiments.

"The purpose is to partner with their units to refine the Iraqi logistics operation as they become capable of sustaining the Iraqi army," he said. ...

May 2005 Afghanistan Posted by Picasa

'New demands' from Somali pirates

"Pirates who seized a UN-chartered ship carrying tsunami aid to Somalia have issued fresh ransom demands, the owners of the vessel say.

The MV Semlow and its crew were due to be returned earlier this week.

But a director of the Mombasa-based Mokatu shipping agency, Karim Kudrati, said the hijackers had made new demands, which it could not pay.

The ship was captured at the end of June east of the capital, Mogadishu, as it sailed from Mombasa in Kenya.

It was carrying food for victims of last year's Indian Ocean tsunami, near the port of Bossaso. "...

Police guarding bodies of fallen guards Posted by Picasa

'Blasphemous' author gets life

"Karachi - A Pakistani anti-terrorism court sentenced a man to life imprisonment for writing an allegedly blasphemous book about the Qur'an and the Islamic justice system, said a lawyer on Friday.

Police in the Islamic republic arrested 40-year-old writer, Younus Shaik, early this year in Karachi after he brought out the book called Shaitan Maulvi or Satanic Cleric.

Blasphemy in Pakistan carried a maximum sentence of the death penalty. Although no one had ever been executed, the country's harsh laws for the crime had been heavily criticised by rights groups.

Public prosecutor Naimat Ali Randhawa said: 'The court has sent him into jail for life as he described the four Imams as Jews in his book.'

'Stoning to death not mentioned in Qur'an'

He said the four Imams were the third generation interpreters of the religion after the Prophet Mohammed, and their views on law were widely respected by the world's Muslims.

He said the writer also committed blasphemy by saying that stoning to death for adultery was not mentioned in the Qur'an.
Local newspapers said Shaik was a hotel manager with little academic background and no religious education.

They reported that the author had 5 000 copies of the book published and was caught by police while handing them out.
Pakistan's national assembly last year passed a bill aimed at reducing abuse of the blasphemy law - under which anyone accused of the offence was immediately arrested and charged before any investigation.

Human rights activists said it was often misused to settle personal vendettas and arguments over property or money, particularly against the minority Christian community. "

Americans at War Posted by Picasa

Germany's Schroeder rejects military option on Iran

"BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rejected the threat of military force against Iran on Saturday, hours after U.S. President George Bush said he would consider it as a last resort to press Tehran to give up its nuclear programme.

Schroeder, one of the most prominent European opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, told an election rally in his home city of Hanover that the threat of force was not acceptable."...

Schroeder said he was against the spread of atomic weapons to more countries. But he included a rebuke to the current group of countries which already have the nuclear bomb.

"We don't want atomic weapons to be more widespread. And here, let me say this to those who have atomic weapons: We would all be more credible than we were in the past if getting rid of these weapons were addressed decisively," he said.

June 2005 Posted by Picasa

Robot army ready for duty [13aug05]

"THE US Army has deployed about 30 robots with troops in Iraq to scout out suspected roadside bombs, and has placed orders for several hundred more, an army official said in Washington overnight.

'To me, it's a lot like an Easter Egg hunt: If you have more Easter egg hunters, you'll find more Easter eggs,' said Colonel Gregory Tubbs.

The Marcbot robot is a small, wheeled vehicle that carries a camera atop an arm that can be manipulated by remote control from several hundred feet away.
They are used only to visually identify mines or improvised explosives concealed animal carcasses, or plastic bags -- not to dispose of them.

'There's 30 out there now,' he said. 'I'm in the process, in the next probably six months, of putting another couple of hundred in the field.' He said several hundred were on order. They cost $US8,000 ($A10,350) apiece. "...

August 12, 2005 Posted by Picasa

U.S. Steps Up Role in Iraq Charter Talks

"BAGHDAD, Aug. 12 -- With three days remaining before the deadline for Iraqi politicians to complete their draft of a permanent constitution, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has taken a leading role in negotiations among rival factions, Iraqi lawmakers said Friday.

For at least two days, Khalilzad has huddled in the capital's fortified Green Zone with Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab blocs from the committee writing the document. He presented a written, U.S.-backed approach to unresolved questions such as the role of Islam in determining law and the degree of autonomy to grant regional governments, several committee members said."...

"The Americans say they don't intervene, but they have intervened deep," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the constitution committee who said he met with U.S. officials Thursday and Friday. "They gave us a detailed proposal, almost a full version of a constitution. They try to compromise the different opinions of all the political blocs. The U.S. officials are more interested in the Iraqi constitution than the Iraqis themselves, because they promised their people that it will be done August 15."

Under Iraq's interim constitution, called the Transitional Administrative Law, the new document must be completed by Monday so it can be put to a nationwide referendum on Oct. 15, with new parliamentary elections following two months after that. The process is widely considered a prerequisite to any significant withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq next year.

While Iraqi officials have long vowed to complete their work on time, some have recently suggested that might not happen. The task ahead is "not easy," Othman acknowledged.

Committee members are still debating protections for women's rights and the role of Islam in determining Iraqi law, but federalism has emerged as the most significant barrier to a consensus, several politicians said.

Kurds, who already have a regional parliament and large militia, favor broad autonomy for regional states. But minority Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted Iraq's elections in January, fear that any further extension of a federal system could lead to the dissolution of the country. Meanwhile, Shiite Arabs, who control the government's ruling coalition, appear split on the issue. On Thursday, the leader of a dominant Shiite political party called for the establishment of a Shiite state in central and southern Iraq, but the Shiite-led government denounced the proposal.

Salih Mutlak, a Sunni Arab member of the constitution committee, called the differences among the blocs on federalism and other issues "minor now." He said Sunnis would prefer that, rather than endorsing the principle of federalism, the document should leave "all possibilities open" for future governments to select, "including federalism."

But stronger opposition to the principle was voiced during Friday prayers at Um al-Qura, Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque. Mahmoud Sumaidaie called federalism "a conspiracy to partition the country" and urged Sunnis to be prepared to vote down the document in the referendum if it does not suit their goals.

Jalaladeen Sagheer, the Shiite preacher at the capital's Buratha mosque, focused much of his sermon on the constitution's approach to Islam. Shiites and Sunnis "do not accept to deal with Islam as a neglected item in the constitution," he said....

Afghanistan Posted by Picasa

** ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, JULY 18, AND THEREAFTER ** In this July 2004 photo provided by Michele Elliot, Elliot warms her toes on Chesuncook Lake near Millinocket, Maine, with Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest peak, in the distance. (AP Photo/Michele Elliot) Posted by Picasa

Lessons for an Exit Strategy

[bth: this link takes you to a long Kissinger diatribe comparing Vietnam with Iraq. Here is the ending.]

..."The Iraqi equivalent may well be the ethnic and religious antagonisms between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. In Vietnam, the effectiveness of forces depended on geographic ties, but the provinces did not perceive themselves in conflict with each other. In Iraq, each of the various ethnic and religious groupings sees itself in an irreconcilable, perhaps mortal, confrontation with the others. Each group has what amounts to its own geographically concentrated militia. In the Kurdish area, for example, internal security is maintained by Kurdish forces, and the presence of the national army is kept to a minimum, if not totally prevented. The same holds true to a substantial extent in the Shiite region.

Is it then possible to speak of a national army at all? Today the Iraqi forces are in their majority composed of Shiites, and the insurrection is mostly in traditional Sunni areas. It thus foreshadows a return to the traditional Sunni-Shiite conflict, only with reversed capabilities. These forces may cooperate in quelling the Sunni insurrection. But will they, even when adequately trained, be willing to quell Shiite militias in the name of the nation? Do they obey the ayatollahs, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, or the national government in Baghdad?

And if these two entities are functionally the same, can the national army make its writ run in non-Shiite areas except as an instrument of repression? And is it then still possible to maintain a democratic state?

The ultimate test of progress will therefore be the extent to which the Iraqi armed forces reflect -- at least to some degree -- the ethnic diversity of the country and are accepted by the population at large as an expression of the nation. Drawing Sunni leaders into the political process is an important part of an anti-insurgent strategy. Failing that, the process of building security forces may become the prelude to a civil war.

Can a genuine nation emerge in Iraq through constitutional means?

The answer to that question will determine whether Iraq becomes a signpost for a reformed Middle East or the pit of an ever-spreading conflict. For these reasons, a withdrawal schedule should be accompanied by some political initiative inviting an international framework for Iraq's future. Some of our allies may prefer to act as bystanders, but reality will not permit this for their own safety. Their cooperation is needed, not so much for the military as for the political task, which will test, above all, the West's statesmanship in shaping a global system relevant to its necessities.

The writer, a former secretary of state, is chairman of Kissinger Associates.

[bth: Kissinger holds out hope of international cooperation to help the US extricate itself from Iraq. Fat chance. As he rightly points out the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis (insurgents) have adequate forces to defend their respective territories (with overlapping boundaries, particularly in Baghdad and Mosul), but not the ability to assert or occupy adjacent areas. Why is the US infatuated with a unified Iraq? Let it bust up if the Iraqi politicians can't get it together and if they are willing participants in the looting of the Iraqi national treasury, why should we subsidize this farce? If the UN or our other so-called allies want to jump into the fray then let them, but my guess is that they would be happy to sit this one out.]

Marines on patrol Posted by Picasa

Soldiers for the Truth - Guest Column: The Endgame in Iraq - Chaos, Civil War and A U.S. Strategic Win

... "No matter which scenario takes place, the full-blown civil war that Iraqis have been waiting to have for the last 35 years will then begin in earnest.

This will not be pleasant for the Iraqi people. But Americans always forget one thing: despite the countless mistakes the United States has made and continues to make in Iraq, the future of Iraq has always been and always will be in the hands of the Iraqi people themselves. At the risk of being termed too cold-blooded, I propose, strategically, that such a thing is not necessarily bad for the United States.

Instead of the U.S. militarily remaining overextended and hemorrhaging money into Iraq, after our departure this will become the fate of other nations, none of them our friends. Iran of course will back the Shia, as they do now. Syria, Saudi Arabia, and quite possibly, Jordan will directly support the Sunnis with help from the rest of the Muslim world - as they do now.

Given the stakes for all sides, and their need to court world opinion, this new conflict will be like the Lebanese civil war, a war of proxies, not armies. And just like Lebanon, external aid will probably ensure that the conflict continues indefinitely. If either side looks to be gaining an advantage, the other's supporters will up the ante. As in Lebanon, and the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1990, mutual exhaustion is the likely result. Which is how the fire of insurgency finally dies.

The Kurds are the tipping point between those two sides. A U.S. ground and air presence in the north (something on the order of our garrison in South Korea) would hopefully save the Kurds from the strategic disaster of declaring (out loud at least) independence. This would also keep our Turkish allies from the strategic disaster of trying to crush them if they did.

Will an Iraq at civil war become a haven for terrorists? Of course.

But Iraq is already a haven for terrorists, including training camps run right under our noses. At least in the future, U.S. Special Operations Forces and Ranger battalions might be able to fly in overnight from the Kurdish region, wipe out a camp and its inhabitants, and be back by morning, at a far lower cost than driving through ambushes and roadside bombs every day.

Considering Iraqi nationalism, and recurring news reports from within even the Sunni Triangle, it wouldn't be surprising if the Iraqis themselves turned on the foreign terrorists in their midst once we were gone. In any case, the foreign terrorists will certainly be kept busy fighting on the Sunni side of the Iraqi civil war to maintain their position in the country. They will not be fighting us.

Will the new Iraqi government survive? In most parts of the world, government survival is a Darwinian process. The fittest survive. Even if the current Iraqi government does not, our strategic situation really hasn't changed for the worse.

Would such a conflict destabilize the region? In case anyone hasn't noticed, the region is far from stable. If Syria and Iran are destabilized by this conflict, all well and good. And as a bonus, their citizens may see this as a consequence of their own governments' actions, not ours. Jordan will reap the results of its own decisions.

What about the supply of Iraqi oil? There is minimal oil coming out of Iraq now. The Kurdish strategic goal, with or without our support, is to take over the oil production of northern Iraq. And where there's oil production, pipelines are built. Even with ruined infrastructure, financial necessity may mean more smuggled Iraqi oil than is currently being produced. If they have to finance a civil war, Saudi Arabia and Iran will both be forced to pump oil.

Then what about Saudi Arabia? The U.S./Saudi relationship has always been defined as an exchange of security for oil. No other nation can guarantee Saudi external security, and no other nation has the production capacity to supply the amount of crude oil that we require. That's not likely to change in the short term.

But we have as little influence over (not to mention solid knowledge about) events inside the Saudi kingdom, reminiscent of the situation in Iran prior to the fall of the Shah in 1979. Even before the invasion of Iraq, the long-term survival of the House of Saud was open to question.

The bottom line is that as much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, the United States will have as much (meaning as little) control over post-Iraq events as we do today over an Iraq into which we've poured all of our power. Events will run their course, regardless of the Bush administration's intentions....

Friday, August 12, 2005

Gary Boggs Posted by Picasa

Audit: Fraud drained $1 billion from Iraq's defense efforts

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi investigators have uncovered widespread fraud and waste in more than $1 billion worth of weapons deals arranged by middlemen who reneged or took huge kickbacks on contracts to arm Iraq's fledgling military, according to a confidential report and interviews with U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, in a report reviewed by Knight Ridder, describes transactions suggesting that senior U.S.-appointed Iraqi officials in the Defense Ministry used three intermediary companies to hide the kickbacks they received from contracts involving unnecessary, overpriced or outdated equipment. "

Knight Ridder reported last month that $300 million in defense funds had been lost. But the report indicates that the audit board uncovered a much larger scandal, with losses likely to exceed $500 million, that's roiling the ministry as it struggles to build up its armed forces.

The episode deprives Iraq's military of essential gear that could help prepare the way for U.S. forces to withdraw. It also raises questions about the new government's ability to provide an effective defense against an entrenched insurgency and win broad acceptance among Iraqis.

The audit board's investigators looked at 89 contracts of the past year and discovered a pattern of deception and sloppiness that squandered more than half the Defense Ministry's annual budget aimed at standing up a self-sufficient force, according to a copy of the 33-page report.

Its revelations offer the most comprehensive look to date at corruption that allegedly thrived for eight months or longer even with about 20 American civilian advisers working alongside Iraqi defense chiefs, including those now under investigation. The report does not suggest that U.S. advisers were involved in any corruption.

"If one dinar is misspent, I ache for it, so just imagine how it feels for such huge sums," Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in an interview Wednesday. "We need it to build the country and, even if we reach the level to where we don't need it, we aren't about to give our money over to corruption."

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which oversees civilian advisers to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, didn't consent to on-the-record interviews about the investigation. In response to a request for comment, it issued a statement that said embassy officials were aware of the allegations and that, even before they became public, "we were advising the Iraqis about our concerns relating to MoD decisions on procurement and the possibility of corruption."

Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi confirmed most of audit board report's findings in an interview last Sunday, saying that at least $500 million in Iraqi money essentially has disappeared. He's removed nine senior officials so far - he fired the ministry's procurement chief and placed his own deputy minister, Bruska Shaways, on leave - and said he was working through a list of other employees who faced dismissal and possible criminal charges.

"This is not only the Defense Ministry's problem. It affects the image of the new Iraq," al-Dulaimi said. "If we really spent that money in the right way, maybe it would have given us more capabilities to face terrorists."

The Board of Supreme Audit, led by former Human Rights Minister Abdel Baset al-Turki, examined defense contracts that had been signed starting with the transfer of sovereignty June 28, 2004, through Feb. 28, 2005. The investigation's results, supported by bank statements, receipts and internal Defense Ministry memos, were delivered to al-Jaafari's office May 16.

Among the findings:

-Multimillion-dollar contracts were awarded to favored weapons suppliers without a bidding process and without the required approval from the prime minister's office. Investigators wrote that the chief procurer went "beyond his authority" in purchasing equipment.

-Senior Iraqi officials kept little or no record of major purchases, sometimes noting lucrative deals in "undated and unnumbered" memos. Nearly all purchases contained a clause - unusual in international contracting of this magnitude - that required the contract's full value to be paid up front in cash.

-Instead of buying directly from a foreign company or government, Iraqi arms procurers hired third-party companies to negotiate the contracts. When Iraqi leaders later complained about unfulfilled contracts, they discovered they had no recourse to demand a refund because the payments were made to Iraqi middlemen who vanished after receiving the millions. "The undertakings make no obligation ... toward the Iraqi Ministry of Defense," according to the report.

-The sole beneficiary on 43 of the 89 contracts was a former currency-exchange operator, Nair Mohamed al-Jumaili, whose name doesn't even appear on the contracts. At least $759 million in Iraqi money was deposited into his personal account at a bank in Baghdad, according to the report. Internal records incorrectly "indicated that the Ministry of Defense signed contracts with Poland, Arab countries, the United States and Europe, but we discovered that all contracts were signed and executed with Iraqi suppliers," the report said.

The contracts under scrutiny total $1.27 billion, nearly equal to the estimated $1.3 billion allocated for the Defense Ministry's budget this year. The money came solely from Iraqi coffers, not from the training budget of the U.S. military or from NATO and foreign donations to Iraq's military.

"There's no rebuilding, no weapons, nothing," said retired Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdul Aziz al-Yaseri, who worked in the Defense Ministry at the height of the alleged corruption. "There are no real contracts, even. They just signed papers and took the money."

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the U.S. military's training of Iraqi troops, conducts weekly briefings with the defense minister. Other Iraqi defense officials seldom are spotted without American civilian advisers nearby. The close relationship has raised questions as to how $500 million or more could vanish without U.S. intervention to stop the suspicious contracts that flowed for at least eight months.

"Ask them. I have the same question," al-Dulaimi said. "I blame those who posted them (the officials under investigation). And, by the way, the CPA posted them."

He was referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority, the occupation-era administration that American Ambassador L. Paul Bremer oversaw. Al-Dulaimi, other Iraqi politicians and some U.S. military officials blamed the CPA for forcing the Defense Ministry to hire previously unknown Iraqi officials, especially former exiles, without consulting Iraqi leaders.

Petraeus' spokesmen and U.S. Embassy officials said they raised concerns about corruption rumors but were constrained from doing more to prevent the alleged wrongdoing because a sovereign Iraqi government was in place. However, Iraqi politicians, eager to deflect blame ahead of the coming election season, said Americans introduced a culture that allowed room for corruption and that the Americans could have done more to protect the Iraqi public's money.

"Before me, there was another prime minister. His name was Bremer," Ayad Allawi, who served as interim premier when the corruption investigation began sometime last year, told Knight Ridder. "He ran this country, he had this ministry and a lot of the corruption started then. ... There was no auditing. Airplanes were flying in and the money was handed out in suitcases."

Former Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has told U.S. and Iraqi officials that Bremer personally requested that Ziad Cattan - the alleged ringleader of the corruption and the ministry's former procurement chief - stay in his job after sovereignty was transferred last summer.

Bremer said this week, through his former CPA spokesman Dan Senor, that he didn't know Cattan. "At least to his knowledge, he'd never met him," Senor said.

Cattan, a dual Polish-Iraqi national, was fired in May and a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with "the abuse of an employer's funds." He fled Baghdad and hasn't returned to answer the charges.

Col. John Martin, Petraeus' deputy for political-military affairs, said the general as well as high-ranking American and British defense advisers warned Allawi's defense chiefs of "their concerns about the lack of transparency in MoD procurement, the uncoordinated manner in which MoD procurement was proceeding and the possibility for - and rumors of - corruption."

"They also repeatedly warned the MOD that Dr. Ziad Cattan, in addition to procuring items Iraq did need, was also reportedly purchasing items the country did not need and could not afford to purchase, operate or sustain," Martin said. "At the end of the day, however, this was Iraqi money being spent by Iraqi officials of a sovereign country's ministry."

Even as hints of a corruption scandal emerged last spring, Cattan told others in the ministry that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld personally had assured his job and no Iraqi had the power to remove him, al Dulaimi said. Instead of fleeing the investigation closing in on him, Cattan lobbied for even more authority. He wanted to become defense minister, a seat reserved for a Sunni Arab by al Jaafari's Shiite-dominated government, which was elected last January.

Cattan, a Sunni, contacted the Iraqi National Dialogue Committee, the main Sunni faction negotiating with al-Jaafari on Cabinet appointments, and offered members $10 million cash to nominate him as their candidate for the post, said Mohammed al-Daini and two other committee members who heard Cattan's proposal. The group refused, and al-Jaafari handed the post to al-Dulaimi, a British-educated sociologist who isn't implicated in the scandal.

In several e-mail messages last month, Cattan gave Knight Ridder photos and documents purporting to show his close working relationship with U.S. officials and his repeated requests for their help in streamlining the contracting process. He denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged that some Western officials who are accustomed to peacetime standards might take exception to the aggressive weapons procurement he conducted to quickly arm an Iraqi force against the insurgency.

"We support this when conditions are quiet and normal, but we cannot disregard or overlook the bloody actuality and stick to the ... procedures imposed on us," Cattan wrote to his superiors in a memo dated May 29, around the time of his dismissal. "We cannot stay handcuffed."

When the extent of the alleged corruption leaked to the U.S. Embassy, senior diplomats were "hopping mad," said an official with the U.S.-led Iraq Reconstruction Management Office who has personal knowledge of the Defense Ministry's transactions. He spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because he could face dismissal for discussing the matter without authorization.

"The entire embassy was upside down over this," he said. "I swear to God the advisers didn't know everything going on over there. Where did they get their information? From the Iraqis. I can give you one budget that says this country is flourishing and another that tells you this country is going to s---. The Iraqis told us only what they wanted us to hear."

While many of the contracts did result in useful, if overpriced, equipment for Iraq's 80,000 new troops, contracts involving shoddily refurbished helicopters from Poland, crates of loose ammunition from Pakistan and a fleet of leak-prone armored personnel carriers were among purchases that now are deemed unnecessary or unusable.

With the money paid in advance and no mechanism for a refund, al-Dulaimi said, the Defense Ministry is negotiating with weapons dealers to substitute the equipment for more useful items such as guns, radio communications and other vital supplies.

"It's chaos," al-Dulaimi said, visibly exasperated. "It's a result of all the chaos brought to Iraq."

[bth: if I read this right, least least half if not 80% of the Iraq Defense budget was looted by Sunni appointees that the Coalition Provisional Authority put in place. This is incredible. Why isn't it making headline news across the globe? While our troops were fighting their civil war, their politicians were looting the treasury!]

Bethany Lyons' husband Lance Corporal Christopher Lyons. Marine. Ohio. Posted by Picasa

In Iraq, No Clear Finish Line

"The Bush administration has sent seemingly conflicting signals in recent days over the duration of the U.S. deployment to Iraq, openly discussing contingency plans to withdraw as many as 30,000 of 138,000 troops by spring, then cautioning against expectations of any early pullout. Finally yesterday, President Bush dismissed talk of a drawdown as just 'speculation and rumors' and warned against 'withdrawing before the mission is complete.'

If the public was left confused, it may be no more unsure than the administration itself, as some government officials involved in Iraq policy privately acknowledge."

The shifting scenarios reflect the uncertain nature of the mission and the ambiguity of what would constitute its successful completion. For all the clarity of Bush's vow to stay not one day longer than needed, the muddled reality is that no one can say exactly when that will be.

The events of the past week have brought home once again the difficulties confronting the president as he prosecutes what polls suggest is an increasingly unpopular war. With surging violence claiming more U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq and the angry mother of a dead soldier camping out near his ranch in Texas, Bush plainly cannot count on indefinite public patience.

Administration officials have all but given up any hope of militarily defeating the insurgents with U.S. forces, instead aiming only to train and equip enough Iraqi security forces to take over the fight themselves. At the same time, they believe that the mission depends on building a new political infrastructure, a project facing its most decisive test in the next three days as deeply divided Iraqis struggle to draft a constitution by a Monday deadline.

In the face of all that, Bush is trying to buy time. ...

"The mission in Iraq is tough because the enemy understands the stakes," Bush said, alongside Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "A free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will deliver a serious blow to their hateful ideology. . . . The recent violence in Iraq is a grim reminder of the brutal enemies we face in the war on terror."

Much of the public appears unconvinced. ...

That disenchantment is one reason, some officials privately acknowledge, that the military has begun talking about a potential timetable for partial withdrawal -- to provide a sense of progress and reassure Americans that the deployment is not endless.

"They want to start withdrawing because they can feel the heat here in the United States," said Larry Diamond, a onetime U.S. adviser in Iraq who has since written "Squandered Victory," a scathing appraisal of the postwar occupation. "They know the tolerance for American casualties and this ongoing bloodshed is not going to go on forever."

Pentagon plans call for increasing the 17-brigade U.S. troop presence this fall by a brigade or two, or about 10,000 troops, before bringing it down to about 15 brigades next spring and possibly to about 12 brigades by the end of 2006, according to officers familiar with the planning. The near-term increase would cover the constitutional referendum scheduled for Oct. 15 and national elections set for Dec. 15, a period in which U.S. military authorities expect violence to intensify, much as it did during the run-up to January's interim elections.

Top Pentagon officials have made no secret in recent weeks of their eagerness to begin withdrawing some troops to ease the strain of lengthy deployments. At the same time, military commanders have cautioned against expecting that Iraq's new army and police forces will develop quickly enough to operate on their own within another year or two.

"It's a race against time because by the end of this coming summer we can no longer sustain the presence we have now," said retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who visited Iraq most recently in June and briefed Cheney, Rice and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "This thing, the wheels are coming off it."

McCaffrey said Bush's strategy of building Iraqi political and security institutions makes sense, and he estimated an 80 percent chance of success. Even so, he said the fading public support represents a genuine hazard for the president: "We want to get out of this. . . . The American people are walking away from this war."

... Alarmed by falling domestic support for the war, Bush aides resolved in June to rally the public by having the president take a more visible role explaining his strategy and predicting victory. Bush flew to Fort Bragg, N.C., to deliver a prime-time address pleading for patience, part of what aides said would be a sustained campaign....

Camp Crawford Posted by Picasa

Man says he forgot pipe bomb was in luggage

"OKLAHOMA CITY - An Oklahoma man told federal investigators he forgot a pipe bomb he built for fun was in his luggage when tried to board an airplane, according to court documents released Thursday...."

Afghanistan 173rd airborne Posted by Picasa

Arlington Burial for Iraqi, 4 U.S. Comrades

"Capt. Ali Hussam Abass Alrubaeye died in his native Iraq, where he battled the insurgency alongside American airmen. He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery with four of those men, becoming the first Iraqi national interred there."

Abass, 34, was with members of a U.S. Air Force team when their plane crashed May 30 about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province. Their deaths were classified by the Air Force as "non-hostile."

Most of the men's remains were returned to their families for private burials, but officials said some could not be identified. They were interred yesterday in a single-casket group burial.

The Americans honored were Maj. William B. Downs, 40, who lived in Winchester, Va., until his family moved to Shalimar, Fla., in 2001; Capt. Derek M. Argel, 28, of Lompoc, Calif.; Capt. Jeremy J. Fresques, 26, of Clarkdale, Ariz.; and Staff Sgt. Casey J. Crate, 26, of Spanaway, Wash.

Yesterday, Abass joined 62 other foreign nationals who have been interred at Arlington since World War II. The first were British airmen shot down while flying in U.S. aircraft. The most recent was Ilan Ramon, an Israeli who was aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003. Unidentified remains from the crew were placed at the base of a memorial.

Arlington Cemetery historian Tom Sherlock said that when some remains can't be separated or identified, bringing them to the cemetery is the "compassionate and right thing to do."

The last group burial including foreign military members was Nov. 8, 2002, when the remains of seven South Vietnamese soldiers were interred in a grave with three American soldiers. The men died in the crash of a U.S. Army helicopter in Laos in 1968. Remains at the crash site were recovered in 1990.

To date, 184 men and women killed in the Iraq war have been buried at Arlington in similar ceremonies....

Wounded soldier in transit Posted by Picasa

9/11 Panel Decided to Omit a Reference to Atta

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Sept. 11 commission knew military intelligence officials had identified lead hijacker Mohamed Atta as a member of al-Qaida who might be part of U.S.-based terror cell more than a year before the terror attacks but decided not to include that in its final report, a spokesman acknowledged Thursday.

Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the commission's follow-up project called the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, had said earlier this week that the panel was unaware of intelligence specifically naming Atta. But he said subsequent information provided Wednesday confirmed that the commission had been aware of the intelligence."...

Afghanistan Posted by Picasa

An Army Affair

"DESPITE MYRIAD hearings, investigations and prominent trials of privates and specialists, no commissioned officer has received serious punishment for any of the many confirmed cases of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two of those involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal have received letters of reprimand. One was demoted. None has been court-martialed.

By contrast, Gen. Kevin P. Byrnes, 55, a four-star general who served 36 years in the Army, was abruptly relieved of his command on Tuesday. According to his attorney, Gen. Byrnes, who is now divorced, stands accused of having had an extramarital affair with a civilian who is not his colleague, is not his subordinate and has no connection to the military. An officer familiar with the case told The Post that despite the apparent irrelevance of the affair, the harsh verdict -- apparently the only such demotion of a four-star general in modern times -- was justified: 'We all swear to serve by the highest ideals, and no matter what rank, when you violate them, you are dealt with appropriately.'

From this incident, it is possible to draw only one conclusion: It's okay for officers to oversee units that torture civilians and thereby damage the reputation of the United States around the world, do terrible harm to the ideological war on terrorism and inspire more Iraqis to become insurgents. Having an affair with a civilian, on the other hand, is completely unacceptable and will end your career.

It's true, of course, that we don't know all the details of this case, and it is possible that some aspect of it will justify the dismissal of Gen. Byrnes. But if there is a justification, it had better involve national security at the very highest level. As it stands, the case reminds us of nothing so much as Voltaire's paraphrase of a British justification for the pointless execution of an admiral in the 18th century: "In this country it is found requisite, now and then, to put an admiral to death, in order to encourage the others to fight."

Fallujah. August 8th Posted by Picasa

Jihad agitators 'tried to recruit teenagers for training camps'

"ISLAMIC radicals from a supposedly disbanded organisation clashed violently with mosque elders while trying to recruit teenage worshippers to extremist training camps.

Fights broke out as angry parents prevented agitators from entering the Islamic Centre in Redhill, Surrey, during an hour-long confrontation. They say extremists are now operating covertly by following people to their homes. ..."

Helicopter in Afghanistan Posted by Picasa

Police arrest armed man�at U.N. garage - Aug 12, 2005

"UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- A California man -- allegedly armed with two guns, a large knife and over 200 rounds of ammunition -- was arrested Thursday as he tried to enter a United Nations parking garage, authorities said.

Vernon J. Welker, 59, is to face charges of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, police detective Kevin Czartoryski said.

He said Welker had a .22-caliber revolver, a .22-caliber Winchester rifle and a large knife in his car when he tried to enter the U.N. parking garage about 10:30 a.m. ET. Czartoryski said both guns were loaded and that Welker had more than 200 rounds of ammunition."...

Shiites Call for Own State in South

"NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 11 -- Waving posters of Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, thousands of chanting Shiite Muslims signaled approval for a call Thursday by their leaders for a separate Shiite federal state in central and southern Iraq.

The demand by one of the government's dominant Shiite religious parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, came five days before a draft of Iraq's new constitution is due.

The call, which triggered immediate protests by Sunni Muslim leaders and some Shiite officials, capped increasingly assertive moves by the party to influence the new Iraq as it takes shape."...

An Iranian-influenced Shiite state in the south would be contrary to what U.S. leaders hoped for when they invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003. A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad on Wednesday identified relations with Iran as the biggest long-term challenge facing Iraq's central government.

In Baghdad on Thursday, political leaders representing Shiites, Sunnis, ethnic Kurds, secular Iraqis and other interests wrestled again over the issue of federalism and other disputes blocking the completion of a draft constitution. The draft is due Monday.

Under the interim constitution now governing Iraq, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's government and the parliament must dissolve if Monday's deadline is missed. Elections would then be held to elect a new parliament that would take another try at drafting the charter.

U.S. and Iraqi leaders have warned that instability and political violence -- including attacks by an insurgency composed of Iraqi and foreign Sunnis that has claimed thousands of lives since Jafari's government took power April 28 -- will likely increase if politicians miss Monday's deadline....

FOB Iskandariya training program Posted by Picasa

Al-Qaeda says will kill Iraq constitution drafters

"DUBAI (AFX) - Al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch said it would kill anyone taking part in drafting the country's new constitution or in the ensuing referendum to approve the document, according to Agence France-Presse, citing an Internet statement.

'The tribunal has decided to apply the order of Allah: kill whoever assumes the right to be a partner of God and draws up a null and void constitution ... the tribunal has also decided to ... strike at referendum voting stations,' it said.

The authenticity of the statement from the Islamic Tribunal of the Organisation of Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers could not be verified. "

[bth: looks like an uptick in violence is planned for Oct 15 and Dec 15 if the Iraqi government stays on its schedule.]

Barefoot Angel Posted by Picasa

Bush, Under Pressure to Cut Troops, Faces Dilemma in Iraq

"Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush and his defense and foreign policy advisers meet at the president's ranch today facing a dilemma on Iraq, with pressure to start bringing troops home balanced against the risk of destabilizing the new government if the U.S. withdraws too soon.

The administration has settled on a ``rolling target'' for troop reductions as the Iraqis approach another political milestone next week by drafting a constitution, according to administration officials and defense analysts.

``We can't ramp up because we don't have the forces,'' said Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, a defense policy research group in Arlington, Virginia. ``That leaves two choices: we stick it out for years to come or come up with some excuse to draw down our forces'' he said. ``It is abundantly clear that the Bush administration wants out.''

Bowing to U.S. demands, Iraq's interim government has vowed to meet an Aug. 15 deadline for a draft constitution, an October referendum and a December general election. With those dates on the calendar and continued efforts to train Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon is forming plans to cut the number of troops in Iraq to 100,000 by mid-2006 after raising the number to 160,000 from the current 138,000 for the elections.

``We are going to have a rolling target'' for troop reductions that lets U.S. forces withdraw as Iraqi units are able to take over security, White House Counselor Dan Bartlett said. ``What has been coming out of the Pentagon has been very carefully discussed in terms of a conditions-based strategy.'' ..."

[bth: Observing that (1) we do not have enough troops to put down the insurgency much less hold territory in occupation in Western Iraq for long periods of time and (2) the observation that our presence as a safeguard against civil war has allowed the Shia to avoid the hard political compromises needed to encourage the Sunnis to stay in a centrally controlled Iraqi government, has led me to conclude that civil war is virtually inevitable if not already here and that a withdrawal from Iraq in an orderly and expeditious fashion is probably our best course of action. I agree with Bush that an immediate withdrawal is not realistic or wise, but one in 2006 is entirely workable if the political will exists with the Administration.]

Charlie Co. 1-508th in Afghanistan Posted by Picasa

Deadliest Month for Nat'l Guard and Reserves in Iraq

"WASHINGTON - The National Guard and Reserve suffered more combat deaths in Iraq during the first 10 days of August - at least 32, according to a Pentagon (search) count -than in any full month of the entire war.

More broadly, Pentagon casualty reports show that the number of deaths among Guard and Reserve forces has been trending upward much of this year, totaling more than 100 since May 1. That ranks as the deadliest stretch of the war for the Guard and Reserve, whose members perform both combat and support missions."...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Here is a picture of Reagan at Camp Lejeune, NC in November 1983. The caskets are from Beirut and contain marines killed there. His simple acknowledgement was felt by the country. Bush should have done the same in my opinion in Ohio but instead he is on vacation. It makes him look like he is dodging the reality of war and its cost. Whether true or not, the fact is he has attended nothing like this kind of ceremony and the country has taken notice. Posted by Picasa

503rd Infantry Regiment weaponry. Note muzzle of the shotgun. Posted by Picasa

Invention: Phone-bomb hijacking

... "Cellphones provide a simple yet effective way for terrorists to remotely trigger a bomb. But now a portable device devised by US defence contractor Raytheon could quickly identify and disable such weapons.

The device includes a transmitter that mimics a cellphone base station and a metal horn to concentrate the signal from a 10 milliwatt power source in a single direction. Scanning suspicious luggage with the tool tricks a concealed phone into thinking it is in range of a new network base station and blocks it from any genuine stations in the vicinity.

The suspect phone will also respond with a "handshake signal" containing its phone number, allowing a network operator to temporarily disconnect it from the real network, and preventing it from receiving a detonation call.

If the suspect phone turns out to be innocent, the worst that happens is that the phone needs re-connection.
Read the phone-bomb hijacking patent here (pdf). "

[bth: this is a very clever means of identifying the phone number which controls the bomb and also deactivating it.]

Afghanistan patrol by 173rd Airborne Brigade. 2005. Note lack of ballistic glass or door paneling. Almost certainly no undercarriage protection nor a gun shield. Posted by Picasa

Soldiers rely on heavy metal | The 48th goes to war

"48th soldiers (from left) Spc. Joseph Popp of Statesboro, Spc. Ignatio Mendez of Puerto Rico, and Sgt. Yolanda McDaniel of Hinesville replace the turret ring of a beefed-up Humvee at Camp Striker.

Camp Striker, Iraq = First Sgt. Bobby Barnes pointed to two heaps of mangled, metal contraptions sitting on the far side of a sand berm, behind a maintenance depot affectionately known as "the Alamo."

Melted magnesium and aluminum. Crushed steel. Burned out seats and radio equipment. "

The wreckage used to be Humvees that soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade Combat Team drove outside Camp Striker for missions in the Baghdad area. The vehicles were torn apart by 155mm artillery shells buried in the ground and detonated as the soldiers passed over them, Barnes said.

He said the factory-manufactured armored Humvees came with the highest class of armor, known as Level I, which includes bulletproof glass in all the windows and heavy steel protection on the top, bottom and sides.

“None of the guys in these two vehicles died,” said Barnes, of Glennville, who runs the vehicle maintenance and repair shop at Camp Striker. “The armor [installed at the factory] is helping save lives.”

But even the top-of-the-line, factory-installed armor can be defeated, as insurgents proved in recent weeks. In separate attacks six days apart, two massive bombs killed eight 48th Brigade soldiers — all from Alpha Company of the 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment — while they were patrolling in factory-armored Humvees. Officials believe the bombs each had 500 to 600 pounds of explosives. Three other 48th Brigade soldiers died in a car bomb attack days later.

Makeshift bombs — what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs — planted under or alongside roads have become the number one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Of the 1,310 American combat fatalities reported by the Pentagon since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1, 2003, 450 deaths, or about 35 percent, have been caused by IEDs.

This year alone, IEDs have caused just over 53 percent of American combat deaths — 204 of 382.

In addition to the eight 48th Brigade soldiers who died within a week, 14 Marines were killed when an IED exploded under their lightly armored amphibious assault vehicle last week....

Leonard said that of the 40,000 vehicles in use in Iraq, more than 85 percent are armored in some fashion.

Gary Jones, a spokesman for 3rd Army in Atlanta, which oversees equipping and supplying units in Kuwait before they head to Iraq, said the number of armored vehicles in Iraq continues to increase.

Jones said there are about 7,700 Level I Humvees in the country plus 18,000 Level II and 7,500 Level III Humvees and trucks.

“We have enough vehicles with Level I or Level II armor to do the job in Iraq,” Leonard said. Ultimately, the goal is to replace the entire fleet with the factory-produced armored Humvees. But that has not happened yet.

The production rate for factory-armored Humvees is 550 a month, according to a House Armed Services Committee fact sheet on military force protection issues. Level I Humvees cost about $250,000 each, about double the price of an unarmored model.

Chief Warrant Officer Robert Tadlock, the 48th Brigade’s maintenance manager, said only factory-armored Humvees leave the gates of Camp Striker, where a majority of the brigade is based.

‘Like a duck shoot’

Still, not all of Georgia’s citizen soldiers feel they have adequate protection to navigate the streets around the Iraqi capital. The sense of vulnerability was heightened after the brigade’s heavy casualties.

“I tell these guys, it’s like a duck shoot at a carnival,” said Staff Sgt. William Taylor, a police officer from Valdosta who serves in Alpha Company. “You have no control.”

The soldiers say the factory-armored vehicles provide excellent protection against small-arms fire, but can’t withstand the kinds of bombs they are encountering. The IEDs have become larger and some are being designed to better focus the force of the blast at the more vulnerable undersides of the vehicles. Soldiers of the 48th say they average six to 10 roadside bomb attacks a week.

The military says about 40 percent of the roadside bombs in Iraq are intercepted before they detonate, either because of more frequent patrols or the use of jamming devices. Bomb-detecting vehicles called “Buffaloes,” which have V-shaped hulls and a robotic arm with a camera that can see into hard-to-reach places, also are being used, but to a limited degree.

Sgt. Peter Satele, the gunner on Barnes’ Humvee and who routinely goes out on vehicle recovery missions, said the Level I, factory-armored vehicles are very much a necessity but they are by no means totally safe....

Satele said some soldiers find the factory-armored vehicles restricting and unfamiliar, especially since the 48th Brigade did most of its training in Humvees without armor.

“It can be hard to get in it,” Satele said. “It can be even harder to get out.”

Doors on the factory-armored Humvees can weigh up to 500 pounds, he said, making it difficult to get out from a ditch or on an incline.

Barnes, however, said he’d take that chance any day. He looked at the “Cadillac” of Humvees and shook his head. “Boy, I’d hate to know I was out there in anything but one of these.” ...

[bth: I believe the level 1 count is approaching 10,000. I hear from several people in the know that the Level 2 armor is no longer adequate to the insurgent attacks and the Level 3 hillbilly armor was always a joke and just makes the folks back home feel good. In April 2005 the Army and Marines told Congress in writing that they did not need any more M1114 armored humvees. We were able to keep the plant running on a 61-39 vote led by Kennedy and supported by McCain. Then a few weeks ago the Marines came back and said they needed about 2200 of them so hopefully that production will be funded with the latest DOD appropriation which did not get cloture in the Senate at the end of July and will still be debated into September.]

Photographing bomb crater left by suicide car bomber that killed 1 American and 3 Iraqis Posted by Picasa

Britain and US warn Iran over links with Iraq rebels

"Britain formally protested to Iran yesterday over its growing interference in Iraq's internal affairs, citing the smuggling of sophisticated explosives that threaten to send coalition casualties soaring.

The move came after British and American intelligence officials said they uncovered evidence that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was providing deadly 'shaped' charges to Iraq's insurgents."...

A British intelligence source said there were indications that the devices are "increasingly being designed and built in neighbouring Iran and then transported to Iraq".

American and British officers say the new bombs are similar to those used by Hizbollah fighters against the Israelis in southern Lebanon.

"These are among the most sophisticated and most lethal devices we've seen," an American offiicer told The New York Times. "It's very serious."

A well-placed shaped charge, which is designed to concentrate the effect of the explosive's power in a small area, can penetrate up to several inches of armour.

A British intelligence source said: "Given that just 1lb of C-4 explosive in a crudely-packed shaped charge could pierce seven inches of steel, the larger quantities of explosive that have been uncovered recently have the potential to cause significant damage."

Iran yesterday denied that it was smuggling arms. "Rumsfeld is trying to cover the US mistakes in Iraq,'' said a foreign ministry spokesman.

"The American leaders are under pressure from the international and regional public and the Iraqi Muslim people and to justify their failings they invent a fictitious enemy," he said.

Ceremony honoring marines in Ohio. Bush should have gone to this instead of holding out at the ranch. Posted by Picasa