Saturday, September 16, 2006

US casualties cut by half as Baghdad tears itself apart

Telegraph News US casualties cut by half as Baghdad tears itself apart: "The sectarian violence that has brought Iraq to the verge of civil war has had one unexpected benefit: a marked fall in the number of United States military casualties in Baghdad."

American combat deaths in the capital are down 50 per cent on this time last year and some terrorists say the US has succeeded in deflecting attention from its own troops.

"Now we are fighting each other," said one insurgent. "That is what the Americans wanted and now they are winning."

From July to September last year, 44 US personnel were killed in Baghdad. In the corresponding period this year, the figure fell to 24, a reflection, according to militia leaders, of the changing priorities of the insurgents.

Although the number of attacks on American forces in Baghdad has dropped, sectarian violence in the capital has snowballed in recent months as Sunni and Shia gunmen trade attacks.

Dozens of bodies turn up around the city each day, many the victims of summary execution, as Iraq edges closer to civil war.

Yesterday, another 35 bodies were found around Baghdad, bringing the total since Wednesday to more than 150. Many of the victims had been bound, tortured and shot.

The number of civilian casualties has risen by almost a fifth this year, with an average of 36 deaths a day.
But with Sunnis and Shia concentrating on attacking each other, they admit that they are struggling to find the time and resources to target the Americans.

Hanza al Nasawi, a spokesman for Muqtada al Sadr's Mehdi army, said it was not possible to keep fighting on two fronts.

"We stopped the fight against the Americans and now we are fighting against the terrorists because they are killing the Shia," he said. "We want to defend the Shia."

Nahid al Gertani, a former officer in the Republican Guard and one of the leaders of the Sunni fighters in southern Baghdad, said his forces were defending the Sunnis against the Shia militias. "Our first target is the Shia militia," he said. "We made an agreement with the American army four months ago to stop the fight."

Mr al Gertani said the insurgents had decided to stop fighting against the Americans so that they could concentrate on tackling the Shia militias, but emphasised that this did not reflect any thaw in relations between the two sides. "They are not our friends and we will fight another day," he said.

Iraqi civilians say they had recently been surprised to see American troops in parts of the city where they would previously have been attacked had they ventured out. US forces are also reported to have intervened to keep the warring parties apart, placing guards on the Alkubasey mosque — a known base for Sunni fighters — to protect it from Shia militia attack.

Abu Tayseer, a Baghdad councillor, said he was very angry that the militias were fighting each other instead of the Americans.

"That is what the Americans wanted and now they are winning," he said. The US Department of Defence confirmed that there had been a reduction in attacks in Baghdad.

A US defence spokesman, Lt Col Todd Vician, said: "Under Iraqi leadership, Operation Together Forward is continuing its advances toward reducing sectarian violence and terrorist attacks.

"We are cautiously optimistic that the cycle of retaliatory violence has slowed in targeted areas, but we also recognise that the real measurement of this progress must be seen over time."

A US military spokesman in Baghdad said that there had been no formal announcements of ceasefires, but it was realistic to believe that local agreements could have been reached between US forces and Sunni or Shia militias.

Families of friendly-fire casualties on mission for truth - Families of friendly-fire casualties on mission for truth: "Pfc. Jesse Buryj died 13 days after Cpl. Pat Tillman. Just as his enlistment in the Army attracted none of the fanfare the former pro football player's did, his funeral was a quiet family service, a world apart from the nationally televised memorial for Tillman."

But in both cases, their loved ones initially were told they died either by enemy fire or during movement to evade hostile action. And in both cases, the families only learned later that the truth was far different from what they were told.

Their experiences are common among the family members of troops who died in friendly fire, those killed by their comrades rather than the enemy. Many of these family members told Army Times of deep frustrations with the casualty-notification system and months or years of depressing delays in getting answers to explain the deaths of their loved ones.

The Tillman family has publicly complained about how the Army handled his death, first saying he was killed by enemy forces during a firefight in Afghanistan, then admitting he was killed by another Ranger.

The Army opened a criminal investigation into his death. And the office of the Defense Department inspector general is conducting an ongoing investigation into the Army's handling of Tillman's death and events afterward.

At least 16 soldiers have died as a result of friendly fire during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information obtained by Army Times under the Freedom of Information Act. At least six other incidents involving the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers are still under investigation as possible fratricide.

Of the 16 confirmed friendly fire incidents, the families of at least five soldiers, including Tillman and Buryj, have had to fight to find out what really happened to their loved ones.

Peggy Buryj continues to search for the truth behind the death of her only son. He was 21 when he died in Karbala, Iraq, on May 5, 2004. In January 2006, the Army opened an investigation into his death, largely because of his mother's persistent questioning.

'He's gone'

Jesse Buryj left Canton, Ohio, for basic training Sept. 17, 2002. He was later assigned to the 66th Military Police Company at Fort Lewis, Wash., and he went to Kuwait, headed for Iraq, in February 2004. Less than two months after he arrived in Iraq, Peggy and Steve Buryj were at home when there was a knock on the door. It was a soldier, and their son's wife, Amber.

"I wouldn't open the door," Peggy Buryj said. "She'd been crying, and she looked at me and she said, 'He's gone.'"

The casualty notification officer said Jesse Buryj was thrown from a Humvee after a truck tried to run a checkpoint, and he died from his injuries.

But a few months later, Amber Buryj gave her mother-in-law a copy of her husband's death certificate, which said the soldier was killed by a "penetrating gunshot wound to the back."

"We did not know Jesse was shot," Peggy Buryj said. "From then on, my journey was to find out what happened to Jesse."

It took her seven months after receiving the death certificate to get an autopsy report. Two months later, in April 2005, the family was told in an Army briefing that Jesse Buryj was on a joint mission with the Polish army when he died. Officials didn't know the source of the bullet that killed their son.

"I told them, 'Hey, if you don't want to deal with mourning families, then recruit orphans,'" Peggy Buryj said.

Unsatisfied, Peggy Buryj called the Polish Embassy where officials said their troops had nothing to do with her son's death.

Several months later, in January 2006, the Defense Department inspector general opened a new investigation into Jesse Buryj's death. His mother said she was told investigators have collected the U.S. weapons involved in the incident for ballistics comparisons.

"This is just crap," she said. "I understand the fog of war, I understand friendly fire. I don't understand why they make families wait and wait. I just think it's totally wrong. We lost our son.
"It's not that I want somebody punished. I want to know the truth."

16 friendly-fire deaths

The Army has worked hard to reduce the number of friendly-fire incidents, said Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman, who credited technology, training and capable soldiers for the decrease in fratricide.

The 16 friendly-fire deaths are by far the lowest of any modern war.

"Even though 16 seems like a low number, one is too many," Baggio said. "Even though we're making progress, we're still not satisfied."

Still, "Any cases where a family is told their loved one died in another way than they did is regretful," he said. "It's not something we do in practice. For the most part, we do a pretty good job. Those (incidents) seem like anomalies."

Amid all the reviews and investigations, a July 21 memo from the Army said "posthumous valor awards must always reflect accurately the actual events and circumstances for which the award is being presented."

include casualty reporting, notification and assistance, which cover improved family notification and investigations.

The Tillman case has focused more attention on the issue.

Tillman, who turned down a multimillion-dollar professional football contract to join the Army after 9/11, and his brother, Kevin, were serving together in Afghanistan when Pat Tillman was killed April 22, 2004.

Tillman's family was told that he was killed by enemy fire during a fierce gun battle. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star. Five weeks after the initial casualty notification, the family was told that Tillman's death was fratricide.

Roadside Bombs: The Hydra Effect

TCS Daily - Roadside Bombs: The Hydra Effect: "Here is why we are not going to 'win' the war against roadside bombs like the three that killed six American soldiers in and around Baghdad last weekend and have continued to take a steady toll throughout the Iraq conflict."

Improvised explosive devices" (IEDs), this war's term of art for such bombs, are the chief weapon of the Sunni and Baathist terrorists, accounting for almost a third of American military deaths in the Iraq war despite Herculean coalition efforts to defend against them. The U.S. has reportedly spent well over $6 billion countering IEDs in just the last two years. But the ubiquity of the bombs and the pertinacity of the bombers remain the central "fact of war" in Iraq.

This is due not merely to the fanaticism of the Sunni terrorists and the irredentist determination of the Baathist/Saddamists who are behind the vast majority of these bombings, but also to some pretty mundane economic and social realities in Iraq.

First, as has been pointed out time and again, there is an abundance -- a seemingly inexhaustible supply -- of explosives (120 and 155 mm artillery shells being one of the staples) stockpiled all over Iraq during Saddam's regime. And new, more powerful explosives being brought in from Iran and Syria.

Second, Iraq has a complex and sophisticated infrastructure -- shops, factories, industrial parks, highways, lots of vehicles etc. -- that makes it easy to disguise or hide the technological and logistical efforts necessary to make, transport and plant bombs.

Third, and most crucial, the "bomb business" is a cottage industry in Iraq, a decentralized, flexible sub-economy with many autonomous and semi-autonomous participants whose sheer number and shifting alliances give it a peculiar resilience.

Because of the abundance of ordnance available all over the country, the terrorists' most common bombs are large artillery shells. A 155 mm artillery shell is a ready-made and formidable bomb that can be easily wired up to a detonator. Another favorite is a group of abundantly available anti-tank mines or mortar shells wired together with a detonator.

But over the past year true home-made bombs using sophisticated plastic high explosives have been showing up with great frequency. These are often in the form of shaped charges, in which the specially shaped warheads direct a softball-sized slug of molten metal into the side of a vehicle with sufficient force to penetrate armor and cause hellish destruction inside.

American forces have grimly noted the ingenuity and sophistication shown in some of the bombs that have been uncovered in raids on bomb "factories." But such raids have made only a small dent in the bomb making capability of the terrorists. As soon as one bomb making "business" is discovered and taken down, others take its place.

The myriad shops, garages, machine shops, electrical and plumbing shops, home repair and other businesses in Iraqi cities and towns provide excellent cover for these activities and present an ongoing dilemma for Coalition forces and Iraqi police:

Is every auto body shop or repair garage in fact in the business of preparing cars (beefing up suspensions, creating hidden compartments etc.) for bomb transport or suicide bomb work?

Is all that plumber's pipe going into homes or is it being cut into sections and packed with plastic high explosives for shaped-charge bombs?

In a Baghdad street thick with jostling traffic, which panel truck is hauling television sets and which a load of Semtex explosive? Is one of the televisions in one of the boxes stuffed with explosives?

It is easy to see why, amid all the background noise of business and industry as Iraq struggles for normalcy, it is difficult to hear the tick-tick of a bomb.

Hydra Effect

With each bombing cell broken up, the grim Hydra effect has become more obvious to U.S. forces.

Between October 2005 and March 2006, for instance, they found and disabled over 4000 IEDs and raided more than 1800 bomb factories and explosives caches. They killed or captured hundreds of bomb cell members. And yet the bombings continue, killing 49 American soldiers in April, 41 in May, 34 in June, 23 in July.

There are just too many cells -- each a business in the bomb marketplace. And business is the precise word, for most of these cells move through the Iraqi underworld selling their professional services to al-Qaida, or some fanatic Sunni or Shiite group or shadowy cabal of Baathist officers.

It's useful to remember how these sinister small businesses -- usually composed of no more than six to eight people -- work.

Each one is usually headed by a former military officer or member of the old Saddam Baathist elite, still sore that their comfortable little world was upset by the American invasion. However personally motivated they may be, they know better than to believe their "employees" will operate on ideological or spiritual adrenaline. Money talks, and they provide it. Like Mafia dons of old, these terror financiers remain well insulated from their troops and are rarely apprehended.

The Main Man for these cell chiefs is a skilled bomb maker. In the early days, bomb builders were usually former elite military (Republican Guard or "Special" Republican Guard). But now there are many bomb makers with non-military backgrounds who have been trained in the art. Coalition troops find that killing the bomb makers -- a tactic the Israelis employed to good effect against Palestinian terrorists -- no longer has much of a dampening effect on IED operations. Apprentices learn and move up fast.

Early on, most bomb builders were highly motivated, often fanatical, devotees of the fight against the infidels, but now more of them are in it for the money their skills can demand. They may move from cell to cell depending where the jobs and the higher pay are offered.

They have grown very proficient. Information available on the Internet, and training from Syrian and Iranian sources have enabled them to devise and build formidable bombs. In some cases they have moved beyond ordinary shaped charges to even more sophisticated explosively formed penetrators (EFPs).

Look into the top of a cylinder containing a shaped charge and you see the explosive capped with a piece of metal (often copper) forming a pronounced cone shaped concavity. Look into an EFP and the metal cap is shaped like a shallow bowl. Exploding the ordinary shaped charge collapses the inverted copper cone into a molten jet of fragments that are highly lethal and have good penetrating capability but tend to scatter the farther they fly. In an EFP, however, the explosion folds the bowl-shaped copper into a deadly rod that can penetrate 8 inches of concrete or three inches of hardened steel. Once through the armor it creates a high-speed molten spray of metal, including part of the penetrated armor, with deadly effect, inside the vehicle compartment.

Almost as important to a cell is the emplacer, the man skilled in putting the bomb where it will wreak the most havoc. He works for money, hiring out to the highest bidder, and often works hand in hand with one or two scouts. They focus on a particular area, say a suburb of Baghdad. They analyze American military patrol or supply routes through the area as well as the movements of civilian officials or contractors, who usually travel in convoys with their armed guards. Sometimes they plant dummy or "throw-away" devices so they can observe the military's response to their discovery and if possible videotape the encounter for analysis and training.

The emplacer and or his scouts study the ground, looking for convenient potholes or depressions in or along the roadways. He studies the buildings, walls, fences, utility poles, signposts and construction barriers, looking for possible "shoulder high" points where a properly disguised shaped charge might be hidden to inflict maximum damage. He takes into consideration multiple escape routes and lines of sight for remote detonation at the proper moment when a convoy passes (the second vehicle is the one they usually go for).

Some emplacers are strictly that. They don't come into the picture until all the preliminary scouting work is done. They are simply paid, say $50, and told to place a bomb at a certain point at a certain time, while other members of the cell are on the lookout for American or Iraqi patrols or nosey neighbors.

Bomb placement is one of the most dangerous parts of the business. Many emplacers -- perhaps seen from afar in the night vision gear of a patrolling helicopter or UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) -- have been killed on the spot. The most common bomb, a wired 120 or 155 mm artillery shell, can weigh 100 pounds and is not easily concealed or handled. A favorite method is dropping the bomb through a hole cut in the floorboards of a car. It may be dropped in a pot hole and quickly covered with sand or a little asphalt or a board topped with gravel. It may be dropped in a convenient depression along the side of the road. In fact it may have been encased in concrete or plaster and formed to look like part of a curb or culvert.

American patrols have learned to be highly suspicious of any car "broken down" or with a flat tire along the roads, even when it is surrounded by smiling women and children. It may be an emplacer at work.

Shaped charges must be carefully concealed, disguised as, or contained in a familiar roadside object -- an advertising sign or political poster, a trash can, a fence post. An early favorite position for these charges was atop a concrete construction barrier of the type so numerous all over Iraq.

The actual detonation of the bomb is often left to a triggerman, who also hires out to the highest bidder for his risk-laden skills. A variety of remote control devices, from garage door openers, to cell phones to toy car controllers have been used. Coalition forces have learned to jam or remotely deactivate many of these devices, but the triggermen are always coming up with new ways to detonate them. One of the latest: Infrared light beams such as those used in burglar alarms or door openers.

In interviews with captured bomb cell members, U.S. intelligence has noted a rough pattern -- Fifteen-day cycles, with five days spent in scouting and preparation followed by ten days of intense bombing activity.

As we have noted in the past, IEDs are the terrorists' artillery. In World War II, artillery accounted for 58 percent of all casualties. In flat and open areas, like the North African desert and European farm land, artillery caused three out of every four casualties. These casualties were achieved at the expense of millions of tons of artillery shells. It was calculated, for instance, that it took 100 tons of artillery shells to achieve one percent casualties against an armored unit dispersed in a defensive position, and only three percent casualties against a dispersed infantry unit.

IEDs, likewise, are not particularly efficient killers. Almost half of them are discovered and defused or destroyed. Many more simply fail to detonate or are prematurely detonated in failed attacks. But the bombing campaign is relentless and the perpetrators are numerous and the attacks continue. There were over 10,000 IED attacks attempted in 2005 and that figure could well be surpassed this year.

General John Abizaid notes that IEDs are "the single greatest source of our casualties and remain the enemy's most effective weapon." Effective they may be, in a crude and immediate sense, but they are by no means decisive. They have merely evolved as the least costly way for the terrorists to kill Americans without being killed themselves, and in large numbers, by superior American firepower.

The average American during World War II was not treated in the newspapers every day to exact figures on deaths caused by German or Japanese artillery. But every effective bomb attack in Iraq becomes an explicit and detailed news event with disheartening effect.

But, as we pointed out in TCS Daily last November (here), American troops "have learned to live with IEDs (and sometimes die with them) as an ugly little reality of war, like mortar or artillery barrages, strafing or landmines."

The fact is -- whatever the ultimate outcome in Iraq -- we will be dealing with IEDs up to and on the last day we are in that strife-torn country.

Ralph Kinney Bennett is a TCS Daily contributing editor.

AP Wire | 08/31/2006 | Army says Humvee rollover accidents down

AP Wire 08/31/2006 Army says Humvee rollover accidents down: "DAYTON, Ohio - The number of Humvees with additional armor rolling over is down sharply following the implementation of a training program and safety enhancements, the Army says.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey said there have been 24 rollover accidents so far this year, down from 63 over the same time frame last year.

The Army is using Humvees and add-on armor kits to familiarize soldiers with the handling characteristics of the vehicles before the soldiers are deployed, Harvey said in a letter to Sen. George Voinovich dated July 28.

Harvey said several safety features have been added, including restraints designed to keep gunners on Humvees from being ejected, quick-release seat belts and door locks less likely to jam in an accident.

Voinovich had asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld what was being done to minimize the risk of Humvee rollovers following a report by the Dayton Daily News that extra armor on the Humvees makes them more likely to roll over.

In June, the newspaper reported that 60 of the 85 soldiers who died in Humvee accidents in Iraq between March 2003 and November 2005 were killed when the vehicles rolled."

[bth: what also isn't said is that a lot of the Level III and Level II retrofit and hillbilly kits are being supplanted by factory built and installed M1114s with better shocks and suspensions systems capable of handling the heavy armor. Training helps too especially if they can train with equipment they are actually going to use in the field.]

In Iraq, fewer killed, more are wounded |

In Iraq, fewer killed, more are wounded "As the controversial war in Iraq continues, Defense Department officials and civilian experts are getting a clearer picture of American combat casualties.

Among the emerging details: The fatality rate is markedly less than in previous conflicts. But while all wars are different, the nature of combat in Iraq, plus advances in battlefield medicine, mean that the number of wounded remains relatively high. Enlisted ground troops are most at risk, but the young lieutenants who lead them on patrol are even more likely to be killed or wounded. "

Lessons learned and historical context are at stake here. But officials also want to make sure the casualty reporting procedures are accurate and adequate, especially for the families of those lost or wounded.

The US Army acknowledged over the weekend that it is reexamining hundreds of casualty reports in response to criticisms of inaccuracies, such as instances initially attributed to enemy action that turned out to have been by friendly fire.

All unit-level investigations of battlefield deaths are being checked to see if they square with records kept by the Army's Casualty Assistance Center in Alexandria, Va.

Meanwhile, experts at the University of Pennsylvania have examined Defense Department fatality figures for Iraq and Afghanistan to compare levels of risk between the services now and in earlier wars.
What they found, said Professor Samuel Preston, a leading demographer, is that the fatality rate among service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan is "very much lower" than it was in the Vietnam War.

But at the same time, Dr. Preston says, the relative number of nonfatal casualties is not much different from what it was in Vietnam.

"In part, we're able to keep injured people alive in a better way than we did before," he said.

Because of new body armor and advances in military medicine, for example, the ratio of combat-zone deaths to those wounded has dropped from 24 percent in Vietnam to 13 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, the numbers of those killed as a percentage of overall casualties is lower. At this writing, 2,955 American service men and women have been killed (2,622 in Iraq and 333 in Afghanistan), and 20,174 have been wounded.

Experts are also comparing battlefield casualties with other areas of American society, such as young men living in violence-prone urban areas. Young black men in Philadelphia, for example, have a death rate 11 percent higher than troops in Iraq, according to Preston.

Among other things, Preston and University of Pennsylvania student Emily Buzzell found that Hispanics have a slightly higher "death risk" than non-Hispanics and that blacks have a death risk that is lower than nonblacks - both a function of the kinds of units most of those two groups serve in. The Marine Corps, for example, contains a disproportionately higher number of Hispanics than other military branches and also carries a higher casualty rate.

Among both Army soldiers and marines, enlisted personnel have a 40 percent higher mortality rate than officers. The exception is Army and Marine Corps lieutenants - junior officers who typically lead combat patrols and who have a markedly higher mortality rate than all soldiers and marines.

What's not fully clear at this point in the war is the long-term effects of intense combat that involves urban fighting, seemingly random roadside bombs, and suicide bombers targeting US forces. Saving more American lives in the war zones means more people must be treated for amputations and other serious injuries, perhaps for the rest of their lives. Also, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2005 that 19 percent of Marine infantrymen and 17 percent of Army infantrymen studied in four units in Iraq and Afghanistan "met the screening criteria" for depression, anxiety, or postraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For the Army and the Marine Corps in particular, which have some of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, casualty rates can affect personnel recruiting and retention efforts, not only for psychological reasons but because the military must replace the 500 or so troops lost each month to battlefield deaths, injuries, illness, and psychological problems tied to combat.

Still, considering the intensity and duration of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, US losses have been remarkably light, some experts assert.

"Recognizing the political consequences of casualties, US commanders are a good deal more cautious in risking the lives of soldiers than they might have been at Gettysburg or Anzio," says Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

Critics say multiple war-zone tours and the recent involuntary call-up of reserve soldiers and marines amounts to a "backdoor draft" that further complicates recruiting efforts. Some who supported the US-led invasion of Iraq generally agree.

"The message prospective recruits are getting is that if you never volunteered you won't be called, but if you did volunteer, you can be called again and again, even against your will," says Dr. Thompson. "This seems to be fundamentally unfair. The government demands that a small number of citizens who have already served carry even more of the burden, while it makes no demands at all on the vast majority of people."

Joseph Galloway: Once again, truth is a war casualty The Modesto Bee: "It was 41 years ago in a place called South Vietnam where I first saw an American administration begin telling lies so often and so convincingly that officials began to believe their own propaganda."

Then, as now, they did so in an attempt to convince the American public and the world that things were going well in a new and different kind of war far from home.

At first the lies were small: about who we were fighting and where they went when the fights ended.

In President Lyndon B. Johnson's White House, the official position was that we were fighting the Viet Cong, the local South Vietnamese guerrillas. No one else was involved, and no wider war was intended.

That was true for the first few months after the first American troops landed at Danang in March 1965.

But in the fall of that year, in November, in the remote Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands, the battalions of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) clashed head-on with three regiments of the North Vietnamese Peoples Army.

In four days of brutal hand-to-hand fighting, 234 American soldiers died and the North Vietnamese had lost an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 killed. As the fighting waned, the North Vietnamese withdrew across the nearby border into the jungles of Cambodia.

As cables from both military and diplomatic channels flowed into LBJ's White House, someone carefully crossed out the words "North Vietnamese" and replaced them with "Viet Cong." Any mention of the enemy escaping into Cambodia was excised. It never happened.

When the American commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, debriefed 1st Cavalry officers at Camp Holloway near Pleiku after the battles, a battalion operations officer made the mistake of referring to radio reports that soldiers had seen the body of someone who was much larger than the North Vietnamese and wearing a different uniform. There had been speculation that this was the body of a Chinese adviser attached to the North Vietnamese. The Americans had done their best to retrieve the body, but the North Vietnamese had beaten them to it.

Westmoreland became enraged. There were NO Chinese advisers, and no one would ever mention them again. A direct order was given, and it would be obeyed.

Years later, officers who'd fought in that battle dug out the certificates that accompanied their awards of valor and found that the lie extended even to them. They'd been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross or the Silver Star or the Bronze Star with V for gallantry in combat "against the Viet Cong."

A few months later, Lt. Gen. Stanley (Swede) Larsen, who commanded the American corps in that region, was home on leave and gave a news conference at the Pentagon's request. When he was asked where the enemy had gone after the Ia Drang battles Larsen replied: Into Cambodia to rest, reinforce and refit.

Within hours, the secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara, and the secretary of state, Dean Rusk, both gave news conferences denying everything Gen. Larsen had told the press. There were no North Vietnamese troops, and wherever they'd gone, it certainly wasn't into neutral Cambodia.

There's a moral, and a lesson, in this story from a long-ago war: Don't tell lies when you need the support of the American people for something as serious as a war. Never let the truth be the first casualty of any war. Don't build your foundation on a tissue of lies.

This is written in a week when we've learned from McClatchy Newspapers reporter Mark Brunswick in Baghdad that U.S. spokesmen, military and civilian, were able to boast that American operations in Baghdad had produced a 50 percent decrease in Iraqi casualties from sectarian violence because they'd changed how they counted the dead.

The Americans stopped counting Iraqis who were slaughtered by car bombs, mortar shells or IEDs.

They were counting only those who were directly executed by the gangs of militia roaming the streets - a change they somehow had neglected to mention.

This is written in a week when the Senate Intelligence Committee made it plain, once and for all, that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had no links with al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations - although some of our civilian leaders continue to suggest, insinuate and even baldly claim that he did.

This is written in a week when the White House, which had vehemently refused to comment on reports that terrorist detainees were being held in secret CIA prisons, suddenly announced that those prisoners had been moved to the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This is written in a week when it should be amply clear to anyone who can read and think that there were no - none - nada - zip - weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when we invaded the country to seize them and make us all safer. A thousand American specialists wasted a year and at least a million dollars searching for even one such weapon without finding anything but a few rusted relics of Saddam's WMD programs.

Yet the administration and its agents hinted, speculated and flatly insisted that there were WMD in Iraq so often and for so long that the number of Americans who believe that lie has grown to nearly 50 percent today from 35 percent in 2005.

The results of these attempts to deceive and manipulate the public are sadly predictable. The American people are turning against the war in Iraq, though thankfully not, this time, against the troops who've been sent to fight it. The administration is so unwilling to acknowledge reality that it can't even recognize it, much less come up with plans to deal with it. And those who were our friends and allies, weary of the bogus cries of wolf about Iraq, are dismissing the cries about Iran.

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail:
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Girl gang-raped for ‘acquiring education’

The News - International: "MULTAN: The Kabirwala police have failed to arrest the accused of a gang-rape case who are said to be the henchmen of a minister of state. "

According to details, Ghazala Shaheen Bathi of a low caste came to her village Chak Sher Khan near Kabirwala to inform her parents that she had passed her Master’s in Education from the Bahauddin Zakariya University on August 25.

The news of her success spread in the village in no time, which instigated the minister’s people and the tribal elders of the upper caste Miralis –- an offshoot of the Hiraj clan.

On the same night, 12 Mirali tribesmen, including five to six armed men of the minister, forced their way into her house and severely beat up her father Muhammad Hussain, a retired militaryman, with boots, iron rods and the butts of guns. Some of the accused were dressed in police uniform.

They allegedly kidnapped Ghazala and her mother Mumtaz Mai and dragged them for about one kilometre while thrashing them all the time.

Both of them were kept in the private custody of the abductors and gang-raped for 12 days.

On September 5, locals informed the police about the kidnappers’ hideout where the girl and her mother were being detained. Sources said Kabirwala DSP Daud Hussain raided the place and allegedly provided a chance to the alleged kidnappers to escape with the abductees.

However, the people caught one car, which was carrying the women and her mother and overpowered three of the accused — one was identified Nazar Muhammad while the other two were allegedly the minister’s guards.

When they all were taken to the Kabirwala police station, the police did not allow Mumtaz Mai and her daughter to meet with their relatives. The DSP arranged a press conference in which he stated that the case was an outcome of old enmity and nothing had happened to the girl and her mother.

The Kabirwala hospital medical report has confirmed that both the victims were gang-raped.

However, police have released a guard and another person who were arrested during the raid.

Other accused, particularly Muhammad Nawaz, who is said to be the right-hand man of the minister, Nazar Muhammad, Abbas, Azhar, Wajid and Ghazanfar, Muhammad Ali and others are still at large.

When contacted, Kabirwala Sadar SHO Mehboob Rabbani denied the minister’s involvement in the case and said there was no pressure on them in apprehending the accused. He said neither the minister was backing the accused nor the accused were his henchmen.

“We are trying to nab the other accused.”

Police officials told human rights activists during their visit to the victims that it was a result of an old enmity, while the girl and her mother had run away from their house on their own.The victim family told newsmen that they were receiving threats from the influential landlords and politicians.
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Tensions Overshadow Gains in Afghanistan

Tensions Overshadow Gains in Afghanistan - "KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 15 -- Despite scattered gains by international troops fighting Taliban insurgents in the country's south, Afghan and foreign analysts here have voiced concern that a recent peace initiative is backfiring and that lapsed Afghan militias could be drawn into the conflict unless it is quickly quelled and replaced by aid and protection."

NATO and U.S. military officials here said this week that an intensive two-week operation against Taliban fighters in Kandahar province had been a tactical success, killing more than 500 insurgents and forcing others to retreat. Afghan and foreign forces also retook a district in neighboring Helmand province that had been seized twice by the Taliban.

But these pockets of progress on the battlefield are part of a larger, murkier political map. As other Afghan militias begin defensively rearming, ethnic tensions have risen, raising the specter of the kind of civil conflict that devastated the country in the early 1990s.

A call for additional troops by NATO's senior commander has so far drawn only one positive response, Poland's offer of 1,000 personnel. Military officials here say pro-government forces need to win key areas soon and to begin delivering aid and security if they are to halt the slide in public support.

"We can't just keep fighting endless battles without having something to offer the next day," a senior Western military official said. "We have killed a lot of Taliban, but they are not running out of foot soldiers, and for every one we kill, we create new families that hate us."

On Sept. 5, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, announced a peace pact with domestic Taliban forces operating in the tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. The next day, he traveled here to promote the agreement and to try to ease tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying the two leaders should work together to fight the Taliban and terrorism.

Under the peace deal, Taliban groups in Pakistan pledged not to cross the border to attack in Afghanistan. But since Sept. 5, assaults on Afghan and foreign forces near the Pakistani frontier have continued.

Musharraf, meanwhile, infuriated Afghan officials by making comments in Europe this week that equated members of the Taliban with Pashtuns, the largest Afghan ethnic group, and suggested they were more dangerous than al-Qaeda.

"Associating the Pashtuns with the Taliban is an affront to a community who is eager to establish security and sustainable stability all over Afghanistan," the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The ministry expressed "profound regret over Pres. Musharraf's attempt to attribute a murderous group and the enemy of peace to one of the ethnic groups living on the both sides of the Durand line."

The Durand Line, arbitrarily drawn by the British in 1893 to separate Afghanistan from what is now Pakistan, is a perennial irritant for both countries. It divides Pashtun tribal lands and is not accepted by many Afghans.

Many Afghans say they suspect that Musharraf's deal with Taliban forces in his own country is an attempt to wash his hands of a domestic problem and push it across the border into Afghanistan. At the same time, they say, he has gratuitously insulted a neighbor that had hosted him just days before.

Musharraf has stood by his pact and denied intending to give offense. He and Karzai are scheduled to meet separately with President Bush in Washington this month. The Bush administration strongly backs both rulers and is eager to patch up their tense relations. Since the overthrow of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in late 2001, the United States has made a major investment in troops and money in an effort to bring stable and democratic rule to the region as an antidote to Islamic extremism.

Inside Afghanistan, persistent and widening attacks by anti-government insurgents have provided ethnic militia leaders in both the north and south with an excuse to regroup and potentially rearm their forces, many of which were disbanded after 2001 under an ambitious, U.N.-sponsored program.

In the Pashtun south, where Afghan army and police forces are underpaid, poorly equipped and scattered thinly across the conflict zone, the government has authorized local police forces to form auxiliary contingents, most likely drawing on idle former militiamen. In some cases, tribal leaders have threatened to form their own defense forces.

In the north and west, dominated by the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups, former Islamic militia figures who fought Soviet troops in the 1980s are said to virtually control daily life in many areas. Despite a new program to disarm and pacify the region, Afghan and foreign observers said some commanders appear to be gaining further strength as the Taliban threat draws closer and villagers seek powerful patrons to protect them.

"In the north, they ask how they can be expected to disarm if the south is arming itself," said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. Ethnic divisions are so deep in Afghanistan, the diplomat added, that if the Karzai government were to fall, civil conflict might resume almost immediately.

"Five years ago, the Taliban were very weak and the warlords had all fled the country," said Sayed Daud, director of the Afghan Media Resource Center, a nonprofit research agency. "Now the Taliban are back and the warlords are back. They have made a lot of money, they have weapons, and the government can't touch them."

The insurgency continues to spread beyond the south. In the past week, fresh attacks have taken place as far apart as Ghazni province in the east, where Taliban and NATO forces have been battling over several villages, and Farah province in the far west, where 150 Taliban fighters stormed the provincial capital and others shot and killed an Afghan U.N. employee.

But the most urgent need, military officials and diplomats said, is to contain the southern conflict, defeat the insurgents in key districts of Kandahar and Helmand, and begin providing support to civilians there.

British and Canadian troops have fought intensely and suffered numerous casualties since NATO took over command of the southern front from the U.S.-led coalition on July 31. But military and diplomatic observers cited concern that forces from other NATO countries, operating under narrower mandates laid down by edgy governments, will not shoulder enough of the burden.

"A great deal is at stake here for NATO. It's their first operation outside Europe and an important test case," said one foreign observer. "If the fighting worsens, some members may ask whether it is worth the risk, and some may ask why they should put their soldiers in harm's way while others are sitting in easy places."

Even more is at stake for Afghans, who felt abandoned by their Western supporters after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989 and now fear the same could happen again. NATO and U.S. military officials reiterated this week that their commitment is long-term, but they also said time is running short.

"It took us four years to learn how to operate here. NATO doesn't have four years," a U.S. military official said. "It's not enough to kill Taliban. We're trying to help build a government that is weak and still fighting off the competition. That's the really hard part."

[bth: if we let a village trade hands, each time that occurs, those that came to welcome us or help are killed or terrorized by the Taliban. Soon the help dries up and our friends flee or die.]
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Murtha releases Iraq readiness report as Army backs Rumsfeld

Stars & Stripes: "WASHINGTON — Army officials angrily defended the capability and competence of the service Thursday in response to criticism from a pair of House Democrats who said the fighting force’s readiness is dangerously low."

Outspoken war critic Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., on Wednesday again called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for what they said was his failure to keep the military properly staffed and equipped.

They also released a 12-page report compiled from their staff’s examination of Army reports and congressional information requests, which said funding shortfalls and poor planning have led to “the very real prospect that Army readiness will continue to erode, undermining its ability to meet the theater commanders’ needs …”

But Army officials called the detailed report inaccurate and the conclusion of the congressmen off-base.
“Today’s Army is the highest quality Army this Nation has ever produced — it has not ‘gone south,’” according to a statement released in response to the report. “To imply otherwise is an insult to the young men and women who have volunteered to protect our nation’s freedoms.”

Murtha’s military readiness report describes the Army as “dangerously at risk” and points to equipment and personnel shortfalls as the main reasons. It notes that Army combat units preparing for the next rotations for Iraq and Afghanistan likely will not see a full year of rest and retraining between deployments.

Shortfalls in the number of guardsmen who are ready to fight have aggravated the problem — the report said 80 percent of non-deployed Guard units not already mobilized have received the lowest readiness rating — and equipment shortfalls have left many active-duty units without vehicles and communication devices they need for preparation.

“Many Army officials conclude that current deployment rates cannot be sustained without breaking the force,” the report states.

Paul Boyce, spokesman for the Army, said officials are preparing a point-by-point response to the report but could not provide specific details on the readiness issues brought up by the congressmen.

In their statement, Army officials said they have been working to replace equipment before problematic shortages arise, and they note that every active-duty unit features “better trained and prepared soldiers than we’ve ever put in the field.”

They also outright dismiss many of the congressmen’s claims. The report says the Army may fall 1,000 soldiers short of its recruiting goal this year, but the Army says it expects to reach its 80,000 target for the fiscal year by next week.

And officials said the Congressmen overhyped increases regarding the number of category IV recruits — those with the lowest acceptable score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test — noting that they still represent under four percent of the total number of new recruits, which follows previously established military limits.
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Abu Aardvark: Pope: happy birthday, Osama! Many happy returns!

Abu Aardvark: Pope: happy birthday, Osama! Many happy returns!: "Pope Benedict has set off a firestorm with his comments about Islam, including this already notorious quote from a 14th century emperor: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman.' Muslims, for some reason, are offended. Except for al-Qaeda, which is positively jubilant.

(And al-Jazeera, I suspect, which no doubt sees another ratings winner in the controversy) I've argued repeatedly that the key to al-Qaeda's strategy is its attempt to promote a clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West. Al-Qaeda wants Muslims to embrace Islam as the core of their identities, and to believe that Islam is locked in mortal combat with an aggressive, hostile West. Everything which strengthens the central al-Qaeda narrative of a Crusader war against Islam serves that strategy. Al-Qaeda does not need to win support for itself as a movement for this strategy to succeed - all it needs to do is to shape the political environment towards its 'clash' narrative. "

This is why Bush's recent "Islamic Fascism" speeches were such a gift to bin Laden, playing right to the al-Qaeda script, and seeming to confirm al-Qaeda rhetoric over a Western "Crusade" (and don't even get started on Bush's recent "religious revival" musings). And now the Pope has jumped in to lend a helping hand to al-Qaeda. Couldn't they have just sent flowers? I don't think that this is quite what the Counter-Terrorism Center at West Point meant by "stealing al-Qaeda's playbook" - we weren't supposed to actually run al-Qaeda's plays for them.

From this "clash of civilizations" perspective, 2006 has been a very good year for al-Qaeda. You can see al-Qaeda's success in this realm in the grim, bitter mood of the Arab press reflections on five years since 9/11. The Danish cartoons crisis revealed a phenomenal amount of receptivity to a radical interpretation of a perceived symbolic slight against Islam. Israel's war with Hezbollah deeply radicalized the Arab public mood, regardless of whether Hezbollah temporarily eclipsed al-Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist groups. Each of those cases triggered what I've called "Islamist bandwagons", with virtually every would-be Islamic leader falling over himself to get on record with a tougher, more radical denunciation. I expect to see a similar Islamist bandwagon over the Pope's remarks.

The unprecedented outpour of tapes, videos, and other media productions from al-Sahab shows al-Qaeda actively and successfully working to capitalize and shape this mood. Where earlier this year al-Qaeda Central seemed a bit slow on the uptake (it took Zawahiri over a month to weigh in on the Danish cartoons), it is now releasing a flood of videos and tapes of dizzying variety. My National Interest piece not too long ago noted a fairly sharp difference between how al-Qaeda Central used satellite TV to reach mass audiences, while Zarqawi and the jihadi hard core preferred using the internet to reach an already committed base. Over the last few months I see this breaking down. Videos increasingly move easily and quickly from the internet on to television and on to easily accessible internet sites (including YouTube). Al-Qaeda Central doesn't depend on al-Jazeera now, if it ever did, and it has gotten more effective at getting its media productions into wide distribution.

The accelerating al-Qaeda media strategy is having an impact. Bin Laden's April tape was a tour d'force, offering a detailed explanation of al-Qaeda's "clash of civilizations" strategy, and has been followed up by a number of interventions. Zawahiri is in the news as often as Lindsay Lohan these days. I've almost lost count of his recent statements and videos; the last one I saw was an hour-plus long interview, with Zawahiri calmly and patiently giving long, detailed answers to a series of political questions (about which I hope to blog later if I have time). The distraction posed by Zarqawi's brutal targeting of the Shia has been removed, without hurting the flow of jihadi images from Iraq.

This all came to a head, kind of, when Al-Qaeda's unusually well-made commemorative video of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 turned into a runaway hit. On a recent episode of al-Jazeera's Behind the News, Jordanian bureau chief Yasir Abu Hilala pointed out that the most amazing thing about the video was that al-Qaeda had managed to hold on to this footage for five years without either using it or losing it. It could have been very useful at many points along the way in the media/ propaganda war, but al-Sahab clearly took a longer view of things and withheld it until the fifth anniversary - calculating both that it would have more of an impact then, and that they would still be around producing videos then. Right on both counts. Al-Quds al-Arabi editor Abd al-Bari Atwan argued that al-Qaeda issued the tape to demonstrate that it was still a central actor in world affairs five years after 9/11, and that it considered the media a primary source of its power. In his view al-Qaeda had the upper hand over America in the battle for Muslim hearts and minds, with its sophisticated use of the internet and satellite television.

America spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television stations (al-Hurra) and radio stations (Sawa) but had little to show for it, while al-Qaeda excelled at placing its expertly produced videos on the internet where they reached Muslims all over the world quickly and easily.

So what does this all add up to? First, al-Qaeda's shift to the media realm does not make it weaker or mean that it is weaker - it's a logical and integral part of its evolving strategy of civilizational mobilization. Second, the Bush administration's aggressive new rhetorical campaign against al-Qaeda is playing right into bin Laden's hands by ratcheting up the civilizational rhetoric and helping al-Qaeda stand out from the background noise of Muslim politics... without offering any cooresponding positive strategy. Oh, and the Pope isn't helping.

UPDATE - To put it another way: It is just really dumb to "fight radical Islam" by handing it rhetorical weapons and then doing everything you can to drive ordinary Muslims - the vast majority of which have no truck with al-Qaeda's ideology - in their direction. The point should be to drive al-Qaeda farther away from the Muslim mainstream, not to try to force them together. The sorts of confrontational statements that some folks seem to consider to be courage or moral clarity or whatever aren't.. they're just strategically dumb. They actively help al-Qaeda and hurt al-Qaeda's opponents, whatever the intent behind them.
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Bush Hails ‘Fiscal Responsibility’ As GAO Warns of ‘Ever-Larger’ ‘Out of Control’ Deficits

Think Progress » Bush Hails ‘Fiscal Responsibility’ As GAO Warns of ‘Ever-Larger’ ‘Out of Control’ Deficits: "President Bush on our country’s fiscal health, 9/15/06:
If the American people would take a step back and realize how effective our policies have been, given the circumstances. … I’ve strongly believed the reason it is because we cut taxes, and at the same time, showed fiscal responsibility here in Washington with the people’s money. That’s why the deficit could be cut in half by 2009, or before.

Government Accountability Office on our country’s fiscal health, 9/15/06:

GAO’s current long-term simulations continue to show ever-larger deficits resulting in a federal debt burden that ultimately spirals out of control. … [U]nder either optimistic (”Baseline extended”) or more realistic assumptions, current fiscal policy is unsustainable. … The question is how our current imprudent and unsustainable path will end. At some point, action will be taken to change the Nation’s fiscal course."
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Iraq war's signature wound: brain injury

Iraq war's signature wound: brain injury: "PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Lance Cpl. Sam Reyes bears scars from three horrific attacks in Iraq, but his most debilitating wound cannot be seen.

He recovered from the chest wound delivered by a machine gun-toting insurgent and the bullet wound to his back that came during an ambush. He survived the severe burns and broken ribs inflicted by a suicide bomber who struck a lightly armored 18-wheeler he was riding in - an explosion that killed 12 of his fellow Marines."

One injury initially went undetected. It continues to cripple him long after he arrived home with a clean bill of health.

Reyes suffered a traumatic brain injury in the truck explosion. The blast sent a powerful shock wave through his brain tissue, bursting blood vessels and smacking his brain against the inside of his skull.

"I thought I was a mess-up, just damn near dumb," Reyes, 22, said about the mysterious fogginess that plagued him long after his physical wounds healed. "I thought I was just a failure at this. I was recognized before as being the best. I knew my stuff real well. It made me feel like I wasn't a Marine no more."

Doctors say traumatic brain injuries are the signature wound of the Iraq war, a byproduct of improved armor that allows troops to survive once-deadly attacks but does not fully protect against roadside explosives and suicide bombers.

So far, about 1,000 patients have been treated for the symptoms, which include slowed thinking, severe memory loss and problems with coordination and impulse control. Some doctors fear there may be thousands more active duty and discharged troops who are suffering undiagnosed.

"People who were hit by lightning, a lot of energy goes through their systems and their brains are cooked," said Dr. Harriet Zeiner, a neuropsychologist at the VA hospital in Palo Alto. "A lot of that happens in (improvised explosive device) blasts. Your brain is not meant to handle that energy blast going through it."

The injury, a loss of brain tissue, shares some symptoms with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is triggered by extreme anxiety and permanently resets the brain's fight-or-flight mechanism.

Battlefield medics and military supervisors often fail to spot traumatic brain injuries. Many troops don't know the symptoms or won't discuss their difficulties for fear of being sent home.

"Most of us are used to the Vietnam War, where people didn't trust the government," Zeiner said.

"That's not going on here. A lot of these guys want to go back, they want to go help their buddies."

The most devastating effects of traumatic brain injuries - depression, agitation and social withdrawal - are difficult to treat with medications, said Dr. Rohit Das, a Boston Medical Center neurologist who treats injured troops at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Certain symptoms, such as seizures, can be treated, but after that "we just draw a blank," Das said, adding that doctors are just beginning to cope with the mounting volume of brain injuries as the war drags on.

"We're just unlocking the secrets of the brain," he said. "And when they have memory problems, leg weakness, arm weakness - there's no quick fix for that. We're probably decades away from regrowing brain tissue. Once you lose that, it's permanent."

In Reyes' case, the Purple Heart recipient didn't recognize his father and closest friends when they picked him up at the airport. His math and reading skills had deteriorated to a child's level.

A machine gun operator in the war, he taught recruits while healing at Camp Pendleton, but was relieved of the position after he started to forget the differences among weapons.

After his injury was discovered, he was sent to the Palo Alto VA hospital, where his treatment includes exercises to improve his speed and attention and to control his angry outbursts.

But his memory may never fully recover: He'll watch half of a movie before remembering he has already seen it multiple times. He forgets basic tasks without Post-it note reminders and alerts programmed into his cell phone.

He feels "like I'm back to a little kid," he said. "I've got to go through the whole process. It's frustrating, depressing and very overwhelming."

The spike in traumatic brain injury cases is forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand its treatment. The VA operates four hospital trauma centers specializing in treating traumatic brain injuries, and is creating 21 smaller regional facilities, said Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson.

"This is very high priority," he said. "It's a very serious injury to those young heroes that suffer it. We're pulling out all the stops."

The patients need a combination of psychiatric, psychological and physical rehabilitation that can be difficult to coordinate in a traditional hospital, Nicholson said.

In troops with brain injuries, the loss of brain function is often compounded by other serious injuries.

Eric Cagle, a 26-year-old Army staff sergeant from Arizona, lost his right eye and was paralyzed on his left side when an IED exploded under his patrol Humvee two years ago.

A concussion he sustained in the blast left him with a brain injury that makes math difficult and triggers inappropriate outbursts. He feels its symptoms caused his divorce.

Treatment has improved his outlook, he said. He's been using a wheelchair, but took his first tentative steps last year. He wants to study forensic science and hopes to work in an FBI crime lab.

"I'm getting part of me back here," he said in Palo Alto. "I'm getting my life back."

Iraq to build trenches around Baghdad

Khaleej Times Online - Iraq to build trenches around Baghdad: "BAGHDAD - Iraq said on Friday it will dig trenches around Baghdad and seal off dozens of roads with access to the capital as a new security measure to restrict insurgent movements.

“As a new security measure, access to the capital will be permitted only through 28 roads,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP, adding these roads will have new checkpoints.

“Dozens of other minor roads with access to the capital will be sealed by trenches and barbed wire.”
A top security official told AFP that the plan was to “monitor who is coming into Baghdad and who is going out.”

“This way we will have a better control of movements, including those of insurgents.”
Baghdad is engulfed in a brutal sectarian conflict with more than 100 bullet-riddled bodies found on the streets in the past three days."

Yemeni man accused of terrorist links

Yemeni man accused of terrorist links - Yahoo! News: "FRESNO, Calif. - A California man accused of trying to supply stolen U.S. military equipment and defense secrets to Yemen was denied bail Friday after a prosecutor said he had ties to a terrorist financier who plotted to help al-Qaida and Hamas. "

The allegations emerged at a hearing for Amen Ahmed Ali, 56.

Defense attorney David A. Torres said his client was surprised by the charges.

"But he's also strong. He looks forward to his day in court," Torres said.

In pressing to keep Ali behind bars, prosecutors said that a search of Ali's house turned up contact information for Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad in Ali's address book.

Al-Moayad, a Yemeni cleric serving a 75-year prison sentence, was convicted in New York last year of conspiring to support and attempting to support al-Qaida and the Palestinian extremist group Hamas, and of actually supporting Hamas.

Ali was arrested Sept. 7 at his cigarette shop in Bakersfield. He and two other men, all Yemeni-born U.S. citizens, were charged in the case.

Prosecutors said Ali planned to send chemical suits and body armor to Yemen without State Department authorization.

Ali pleaded not guilty last week to conspiracy to possess and transmit defense information, unlawfully export defense articles, possess stolen government property and attempted unlawful export of defense articles. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

On HBO’s Inside the NFL, Peter King interviewed Denver QB Jake Plummer about the horrific treatment the Tillman family have received over Pat’s death.

On HBO’s Inside the NFL, Peter King interviewed Denver QB Jake Plummer about the horrific treatment the Tillman family have received over Pat’s death. There have been four investigations into what really happened to him and now a fifth one is getting close to being completed. How reprehensible has this been for the Tillman family? Pat is killed and they were repeatedly lied to. The family is not speaking out, but Plummer is. Good for him. Somebody has to.

Video-WMP Video-QT (rough transcript)

King: When you first heard that they hid these irregularities, were you outraged?

Plummer: It just made you feel kinda sick that they’d cover up something like that to–for whatever reason. We were all led to believe he died in leading his troops up the hill and then they come tell us it wasn’t–it was friendly fire. What can you do– you’re at their mercy just feel for the family…

U.S. soldier missing in Iraq after blast

U.S. soldier missing in Iraq after blast - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. soldier was missing Friday, a day after a suicide truck bombing killed two soldiers and wounded another 30 west of Baghdad, U.S. military officials said. "

The soldier "has been reported as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown," the military said, without elaborating.

Neither U.S. military officials in Iraq' nor in Washington would say whether they believed the soldier had been abducted or whether he may have been killed in the attack, and his remains had not been recovered.

"I'm sorry to add that we now have a soldier that we are counting as missing," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli said in a video news conference from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon' .

The attack occurred Thursday, when a truck driven by a suicide bomber exploded near an Iraqi power substation about 12 miles west of Baghdad, in an area where the U.S. troops were.

The soldiers had been guarding the power substation, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said, adding that the blast occurred near concrete barriers, causing debris and shrapnel to be scattered across the area and inflicting many of the wounds.

Johnson could not comment on what type of explosives were used, whether there was more than one suicide bomber or whether the U.S. soldiers took any action against the vehicle before it exploded.

"The whole incident remains under investigation to determine how this happened and why," Johnson said.

Of those wounded in the attack Thursday, one was listed as very seriously injured and one as seriously injured, the military statement said. Eleven returned to duty, and 17 were slightly wounded, it said.

A total of five American soldiers died Thursday, making it an especially bloody day for U.S. forces. On Friday, a U.S. Marine was killed in Anbar province.

At least 2,678 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Friday, September 15, 2006

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No FBI Investigation Into U.S. Embassy Attack in Syria

The Blotter: "After the smoke cleared from Tuesday's terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, the charred shell of one exploded vehicle used by the attackers lay near the Embassy entrance alongside the bodies of three attackers killed by Syrian forces responding to the assault, U.S. officials told ABC News. At another entrance to the embassy, the site of the second attack, another attacker had been shot in the leg by Syrian forces and taken into custody alive. "

But within 90 minutes of the attack, U.S. officials report that Syrian authorities had cleared the crime scene of debris, including the destroyed vehicle and any forensic evidence which could have been used in an investigation. The Syrians also removed the bodies of the three attackers killed by security forces during the attack. All of this before any proper investigation could be conducted by the FBI into the details of the attack.

The FBI, which usually sends a team of investigators to the crime scene whenever US facilities are attacked, appears not have not done so this time. According to FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko: "The FBI had sent an assistant legal attaché to Damascus to advise the U.S. Embassy. This Agent has departed Syria. No other personnel were sent or requested." Kolko deferred to the State Department for additional information.

"The Syrians are leading the investigation and the RSO (Regional Security Officer) is coordinating with the Syrians," said a State Department official on Friday, declining to elaborate on the level of cooperation between Syrian and US officials or if the investigation has yielded any new information.

[bth: there is a distinct possibility the event was staged by the Syrian government]
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TPMmuckraker September 15, 2006 02:06 PM

TPMmuckraker September 15, 2006 02:06 PM: "We've been following the growing concern among senior senators that the White House pressured top military lawyers to weaken their opposition to the administration's torture policy.
Now, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) are asking for an investigation.
Text of the letter after the jump.
Update: Here's an image of the letter.
September 14, 2006

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Committee on Judiciary
United States Senate
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510"

Dear Chairman Specter,We recently learned of allegations that, in meeting earlier this week, the White House and Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes pressured senior judge advocates general into signing a letter on the Administration’s proposed revisions to the War Crimes Act and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It is alleged that the JAGs were kept in this meeting for several hours, until they agreed to sign the letter. That letter was subsequently used to suggest that the JAGs supported the Administration’s proposals.These allegations are disturbingly similar to other allegations that Mr. Haynes has ignored, circumvented, or overruled the nation’s senior military lawyers.
The Judiciary Committee has explored Mr. Haynes’ attempts to overrule the JAGs in preparing interrogation guidelines that departed from long-standing military tradition and led to detainee abuses.We believe these new allegations raise serious further questions about Mr. Haynes’ fitness to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. We urge you to thoroughly investigate and hold hearings on these claims and others relating to Mr. Haynes’ treatment of the JAGs before the committee takes any further action on his nomination.

Sincerely,Edward M. Kennedy Richard J. DurbinCc: Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Ranking Democrat, Committee on Judiciary
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Turkey's Ruling Party Official Says Pope is Like Hitler, Mussolini - Europe - Turkey's Ruling Party Official Says Pope is Like Hitler, Mussolini - Europe: "ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's ruling Islamic-rooted party joined a wave of criticism of Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, accusing him of trying to revive the spirit of the Crusades with remarks he made about Islam. Muslim leaders in the Middle East expressed dismay and Pakistan's parliament unanimously condemned him. "...

[bth: so is it that muslims are now going to threaten violence to prove they aren't intolerant?]
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Al-Qaida joins Algerians against France

Al-Qaida joins Algerians against France - Yahoo! News: "PARIS - Al-Qaida has for the first time announced a union with an Algerian insurgent group that has designated France as an enemy, saying they will act together against French and American interests. "

Current and former French officials specializing in terrorism said Thursday that an al-Qaida alliance with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French initials GSPC, was cause for concern.

"We take these threats very seriously," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said, adding in an interview on France-2 television that the threat to France was "high" and "permanent," and that "absolute vigilance" was required.

Al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, announced the "blessed union" in a video posted this week on the Internet to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
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Yemen 'foils oil refinery attacks'

Aljazeera.Net - Yemen 'foils oil refinery attacks': "An attempt by four suicide bombers to attack two oil refineries in Yemen is reported to have been foiled.

The gunmen had been preparing to carry out the attacks at oil installations in the southeast of the country using four cars, Aljazeera reported.

Aljazeera's correspondent said two refineries, in Ma'rab and Hadramout, had been targeted."

The four attackers and one security guard were killed in the attack, a security source said.

The attempted attack comes just days after Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, warned that the Gulf and Israel would be the next targets of Al-Qaeda, in a video message on Monday coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Suicide attacks

"The two attempts, at around 5:30am local time, were foiled by the forces in charge of security at oil installations," a security source said.

"The first attempt, by terrorists in two booby-trapped cars, was aimed at the Safer oil refinery in Ma'rab, and the second, also by two terrorists in booby-trapped cars, was aimed at oil storage depots at the Al-Dhabba terminal in Hadramout," the source said.

Yemen is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden and in October 2000, 17 US sailors died when suicide bombers aboard a small boat attacked the destroyer USS Cole off the southern port of Aden in an attack claimed by the al-Qaeda network.

Yemen has vowed to crack down on attacks by al-Qaeda-linked militants and kidnappings by tribesmen.

Yemen is due to hold presidential and municipal elections on September 20.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rasmussen Reports™: George W. Bush Job Approval Rating

Rasmussen Reports™: George W. Bush Job Approval Rating: "Forty-seven percent (47%) of American adults approve of the way that President Bush is performing his job. Fifty percent (50%) disapprove. Those are by far the best numbers for the President since mid-February.

The spike is fueled largely by a resurgence of support among the President’s base. Eighty-five percent (85%) of Republicans now offer their approval. At its low point earlier in the year, just 66% of the GOP faithful approved of his job performance.

In January and much of February, the President’s Job Approval ratings were in the mid-40s. Then, they fell sharply and have hovered around 40% ever since. Fifty percent (50%) of men and 44% of women now say they somewhat or strongly approve of the President’s performance. Overall, 24% of Americans Strongly Approve and 38% Strongly Disapprove."....

Canada loans Dutch armoured vehicles

CANOE -- CNEWS - Canada: Canada loans Dutch armoured vehicles: "OTTAWA (CP) - Canada has loaned its Dutch comrades five heavily-armoured Nyala patrol vehicles for use in southern Afghanistan. "

And in an exchange steeped in irony, our European ally has offered up flight time on helicopters - some of which more than likely belonged to Canada and were sold to the Netherlands by the Mulroney government in 1991.

A defence spokesman said the loan of the armoured vehicles will not affect the army's ability to carry out operations - nor will it imperil Canadian troops who routinely face roadside bomb attacks.

"It's a temporary loan until the Dutch are ready to receive their own vehicles," said Maj. Luc Gaudet, a spokesman for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Two of the five are brand-new vehicles, while the others are models previously used by Canadian engineers to clear roadways of booby traps.

In June, the Dutch cabinet approved the $31.7 million purchase of 25 Australian Bushmaster armoured patrol vehicles in order to provide more protection for troops operating in Uruzgun province, north of Kandahar.

The proliferation of deadly road-side bomb attacks has sent many of Canada's NATO allies in Afghanistan scrambling to replace - or upgrade - lightly armoured jeeps.

Gaudet said it's not clear when the vehicles will be returned, but he expects it to be sometime this fall.

While there is no specific exchange outlined in the memorandum between the two countries, the Dutch Defence ministry noted Canadian troops need help getting around the far-flung desert battlefield and have put forward routine access to CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

Gaudet was asked whether it was a formal exchange.

"Yes and no," he replied.

Given that Canada sold its 12 Chinooks to the Netherlands as a cost-cutting measure, the collegial offer wasn't something the Canadian army was eager to trumpet.

"All countries contribute to the overall success of the mission in southern Afghanistan," said Gaudet.

"Everybody shares. As part of the overall effort some resources from the Dutch, as well as resources of other allies, have been put at the disposition of the commanders in the field."

The Americans and British also maintain fleets of Chinook helicopters in Kandahar, which Canadian troops have used on occasion.

Military officials both in Afghanistan and at home refuse to say whether the Dutch aircraft used by the Canadians the spring are the refurbished ones sold to the Netherlands.

The absence of heavy-lift battlefield helicopters has long been a bone of contention for the chief of defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier.

Early this summer, the new Conservative government said it intended to buy 16 brand new medium-to-heavy lift helicopters, which will more than likely be Boeing Corp.'s CH-47 Chinook helicopters at a cost of $2.7 billion.

The delivery date remains unclear, but a defence analyst said the federal government should negotiate something more substantial for troop transport than the informal arrangement with the Dutch.

"The objective is to get the capability as quickly as possible," said Don Macnamara, a retired air force brigadier-general and member of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies.

Failing a quick purchase, he said Canada could get into some kind of lease arrangement, likely from the United States "if they're the same kind of helicopter we're going to be flying the future."

The military has stepped up purchases of long-neglected equipment since 2,200 Canadian troops deployed to southern Afghanistan last winter.

Last November, the Liberal government rushed through the purchase of 50 new patrol vehicles and followed up in February with an order for an additional 25.

Both the Nyala and Bushmaster have heavily reinforced V-shaped hulls, which are better able to withstand mine blasts than most other armoured vehicles.

The Dutch have agreed to replace any of the $1.3-million vehicles that are destroyed in combat.

Army Secretary Reveals Combat Death Plan -

Army Secretary Reveals Combat Death Plan - "SAN FRANCISCO -- Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey says he is aiming to 'achieve perfection' in a new drive to inform families of soldiers killed in combat about the circumstances of their deaths."

In a memo obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, Harvey outlines a far-reaching review he recently initiated of some 2,000 casualty reports from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In the Sept. 1 letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Harvey reveals a previously unknown element of the reforms: Commanders in the field must investigate even if the cause of death was apparent. Previously, such investigations were conducted only when there was uncertainty about the circumstances, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

The review follows highly publicized mistakes in what families were told about their relatives who had died. The best-known error involved Cpl. Pat Tillman, who quit professional football to join the U.S. Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan in April 2004. His family was originally told he had been killed by enemy fire, but five weeks later they learned that fellow Rangers had accidentally shot him.

Harvey offers heart-rending new details on the mishandling of one such case: A medic apparently misjudged a soldier dead and ordered other wounded soldiers treated first.

"As part of this program, numerous improvements have been made to the casualty reporting, notification, and assistance process in order to prevent the mistakes of the past, such as those that were made in (the) Sgt. McCaffrey and 1st Lt. Tyson case," Harvey wrote in the memo to Boxer.
He referred to two California soldiers shot to death in June 2004 by Iraqi civil-defense officers whom they were training: Spc. Patrick R. McCaffrey Sr., promoted posthumously to sergeant, and 1st Lt. Andre D. Tyson.

The Army initially told the men's families that they had died in a conventional ambush. Two years after their deaths, and nine months after its investigations were completed, the Army informed their survivors that the two were deliberately killed by Iraqi trainees patrolling alongside them.

According to Harvey, the mistake was the result of a bureaucratic oversight. The soldiers' unit had redeployed by the time Army investigators completed their probe in September 2005. By then, the soldiers' brigade had "lost visibility" of the investigation.

Additionally, the Army Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center did not know of the existence of that last investigation, he said.

The Army secretary said he remains deeply involved in the reforms he recently initiated. "I personally review this program monthly," Harvey wrote, adding that he tracks individual cases where families have raised concerns about information they have or have not received.

"The objective is to achieve perfection _ no errors at any time in any part of the process," he wrote.

Attached to the memo is a 2 1/2-page list of answers to questions Boxer had posed to Harvey regarding the circumstances of McCaffrey and Tyson's deaths.

McCaffrey's mother, Nadia McCaffrey, believes her son was left to bleed to death after he was shot repeatedly. According to the investigation completed in September 2005 and obtained previously by the AP, a crew of medics rushed to the scene to treat the wounded soldiers, driving straight into the "kill zone" with little protective cover.

A medic who assessed the wounded soldiers' condition said McCaffrey was dead. But another combat lifesaver checked McCaffrey's pulse and couldn't tell whether he had one or not, so he helped load him onto a truck, then gave him CPR. About halfway back to Camp Anaconda the soldier heard faint gurgling from McCaffrey and later felt a faint pulse, he wrote in a sworn statement the next day.

McCaffrey had a bullet and bullet fragments in his lungs, plus one in his abdomen and another in his chest cavity.

The document obtained Tuesday says, without naming names, that "the soldiers responding to the incident prioritized the casualties," starting with Tyson, who had a bullet in his brain, the projectile entering just below where his Kevlar helmet's protection stopped. "Other soldiers also at the scene related that Sgt. McCaffrey appeared dead due to the extensive visible injuries."

"This medic needs to be punished," Nadia McCaffrey said in a telephone interview.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command, which conducted the 2005 investigation, has found no other cases in which Iraqis who infiltrated the country's young security services have deliberately killed U.S. soldiers, according to the memo to Boxer.

[bth: This is a strong step in the right direction. We are going through this now with John.]

Baker surfaces as key adviser to Bush on Iraq

Insight: "President Bush has acceded to his father's urging and has made former Secretary of State James Baker a leading adviser on Iraq. "

Administration sources said Mr. Baker, head of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, has been discussing with the president recommendations on an exit strategy that could begin after the November elections. They said Mr. Baker's approach to Iraq differs sharply from that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The sources said Mr. Baker has maintained an extremely low profile and slips in and out of Baghdad without fanfare. They said that unlike the elder Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Mr. Baker has avoided stepping on the toes of such senior officials as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been wary of Mr. Baker's access to the president.

"The president has understood that he needs a trusted outsider without any personal stake in U.S. policy on Iraq," an administration source said. "Jim Baker also has a lot of clout and credibility on the Hill."

Over the past two months, Mr. Baker has been shuttling to Baghdad where he has been meeting U.S. diplomats, military commanders as well as Iraqi politicians. The sources said Mr. Baker has also been quietly meeting with leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The sources said Mr. Baker's increasing access to the president comes amid declining confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld. They said that until June 2006 Mr. Rumsfeld consistently reassured the White House and Congress that the Sunni insurgency war would diminish.

"Those who sought to join Baker and Bush came from the circle around the former president [Bush]," a source said. "But in this case, there was clear support from Republican leaders in the Senate and House."

One such Republican was Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia. Mr. Wolf said Mr. Baker, who in 2004 was the president's envoy to win debt relief for Iraq, was serving the role of a physician solicited for a second opinion.

"What the United States needs on Iraq is some fresh ideas from people able to speak out, and no one is more qualified to do that than Jim Baker," Mr. Wolf said.

Mr. Baker's role has already resulted in quiet agreement by Congress to support the war in Iraq through 2006. On Sept. 7, the Senate agreed by a 98-0 vote to allocate an additional $63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Mr. Baker is not expected to simply draft recommendations. The sources said the president has been quietly using the former secretary of state to convince key Arab allies to support Washington's strategy in Iraq. They said the most important of those allies is Saudi Arabia, which has been highly skeptical of the administration's policy.

Mr. Baker has been in his post since March 2006 and was said to have urged for a clear exit strategy in 2007. At the same time, the former secretary was said to have envisioned a long-term regional and international effort to stabilize Iraq. Last week, the Pentagon reported that 145,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq, the highest level since December 2005.

"It is clear that the president will make his decision based on his own judgment," the source said. "But there are already signs that Baker has become an influence."

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