Saturday, February 24, 2007

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Panel to probe conditions at Walter Reed

Panel to probe conditions at Walter Reed - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that those found to have been responsible for allowing substandard living conditions for soldier outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center will be 'held accountable.'

However, no one in the Army chain of command has so far offered to resign.
Gates spoke to reporters after visiting the medical compound, whose reputation as a premier caregiver for soldiers wounded in
Iraq' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Iraq and
Afghanistan' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Afghanistan has taken a hit following a Washington Post series of reports last weekend that documented problems in soldiers' housing and in the medical bureaucracy at Walter Reed.

"A bedrock principle of our military system is that we empower commanders with the responsibility, authority and resources necessary to carry out their mission," Gates said. "With responsibility comes accountability."

His comment suggested that senior officials in the Army chain of command would not be immune from disciplinary action.

Gates announced that two former Army secretaries, Togo West and Jack Marsh, would head an independent panel to review treatment and administrative processes at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. Gates said the group has been asked to report its findings publicly within 45 days.

"After the facts are established, those responsible for having allowed this unacceptable situation to develop will indeed be held accountable," Gates said, adding that so far no one involved has offered to resign.

"We are not going to wait 45 days to begin addressing these problems," he said. "And so there have been some people who are most directly involved who have been relieved. But we will be looking and evaluating the rest of the chain of command as we get more information."

Asked about Gates' statement that some have already been relieved of duty, Army officials said they were unsure that any such actions had been taken. One Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Army is conducting its own review of what happened at Walter Reed, said officials are considering personnel changes.

[bth: its the last paragraph that says it all - for all the talk no one has been relieved of duty and the Army is conducting its own internal investigation is only 'considering' personnel changes.]
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Israel seeks all clear for Iran air strike

Israel seeks all clear for Iran air strike International News News Telegraph: "Israel is negotiating with the United States for permission to fly over Iraq as part of a plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

To conduct surgical air strikes against Iran's nuclear programme, Israeli war planes would need to fly across Iraq. But to do so the Israeli military authorities in Tel Aviv need permission from the Pentagon."...
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Afghan government is returning to eradication of opium poppies

Winston-Salem Journal Afghan government is returning to eradication of opium poppies: "Anguish creased the weathered face of the opium farmer as a U.S.-trained eradication team swept through his farm fields in this southern Afghan village."

As helicopters buzzed overhead, tractors plowed up Sadullah Khan's sprouting poppy plants, which in two months would have yielded the sticky resin used to make heroin - and earned him, by Afghan standards, a generous income.

After failing miserably to curb opium production last year, the Afghan government has renewed its eradication drive, particularly here in Helmand province, which accounted for more than 40 percent of the record yield of 6,725 tons in 2006. The U.S. government estimates that the opium trade generates $3 billion a year in illicit economic activity.

There is some armed resistance to the campaign in Helmand, where drug gangs and Taliban militants form a powerful nexus against President Hamid Karzai's government. Still, counternarcotics officials expect better results this year, if not a resounding success.

That is cold comfort to Khan, a 55-year old father of nine who owns 25 acres of land planted with poppies.

"When they are eradicating my poppy, it's just like they are destroying my home," he said, watching the armed Afghan teams at work.

There are fears that the program could increase support for Taliban insurgents, but Karzai is under international pressure to crack down on Afghan drug production, which accounts for more than 90 percent of world supply.

Last week, President Bush called poppy cultivation a threat to Afghanistan's fragile democracy. Bush said he had told Karzai "to gain the confidence of his people, and the confidence of the world, he's got to do something about it, with our help."

[bth: Rather than turn this farmer and thousands like him into enemies, let's buy his poppy harvest and give him free seeds for an alternate crop. $3 billion is less than we spend per month in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. We can virtually bankrupt them and disrupt their local support by this cost effective measure which the spineless Europeans would likely consider funding since most of that heroin ends up on their street corners in lieu of them sending troops to Afghanistan who won't fight. I don't like the thought of buying the crop, but we have to take some practical approaches and I'd rather have this farmer welcoming our wallets instead of shooting at our helicopters.]

MoveCongress Interviews Rep. Jim Moran (D VA) on Congress and Iraq

Afghan Taliban say rearmed, ready for war

Reuters AlertNet - Afghan Taliban say rearmed, ready for war: "SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Rearmed with new guns the Taliban on Friday vowed this would be the deadliest year for foreign soldiers in Afghanistan since the Islamists were toppled in 2001.

'This year will prove to be the bloodiest for the foreign troops. It is not just a threat, we will prove it,' senior commander Mullah Dadullah told Reuters by satellite phone.

'The Taliban's war preparations are going on in caves and in mountains. Our 6,000 fighters are ready for attacks on foreign troops after the change in weather and as it becomes warmer.'"

Kerosene bombs used to burn the Indian-Paki Peace train
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The Home Front

Iraq 101: Putting A GI Back Together Again: "The death rate for soldiers from rural areas is 60% higher than that for soldiers from cities. Between 2003 and 2005, Army divorces increased by 14%. The Miles Foundation reports that calls to its domestic violence hot line for military spouses jumped from 50 to 600 per month after the start of the Iraq War. In 2004, 1 out of 5 military spouses said they had signed up for government assistance to make ends meet. The wife of a New York National Guardsman deployed to Iraq applied for food stamps while raising three kids on $19,000 a year. “His monthly military salary does not cover one monthly mortgage payment"
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Breaking the Army...

Iraq 101: Putting A GI Back Together Again: "Half of American soldiers think we are likely to succeed in Iraq; more than 1/3 say we shouldn’t have invaded in the first place. It costs $275,000 to deploy a soldier in Iraq for a year. It costs $5,840 to feed him. Army doctrine recommends deploying 20 soldiers for every 1,000 residents of an area with insurgents in it. Baghdad, a city of 6 million, would require 120,000 troops; 20,000 are there now. Nearly 1/3 of the troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have served multiple tours. “I don’t think they can sustain the rotations the way they are right now without really starting to have severe readiness issues in the Army much more than another year,” said retired Brig. General David Grange in December. Some military equipment used in Iraq has experienced the equivalent of 27 years of use in 3 years. It costs $17 billion a year to replace worn and lost equipment."

...and the National Guard and Reserves

The Pentagon has ordered the National Guard to transfer $1.76 billion worth of equipment to the Army. Transferring gear overseas has left domestic Guard units with 1/3 of their essential combat equipment. 7,040 Army National Guard soldiers were deployed to Vietnam; 126 died. More than 100,000 have served in Iraq so far; 392 have died. Deploying reservists in Iraq costs the U.S. economy almost $4 billion in lost productivity annually.
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Iraq: Before and After

Iraq 101: Aftermath - Long-Term Thinking: "In 2006, 30% of Iraqi children went to school. Before the war, attendance was nearly 100%. A 2006 survey of children in Baghdad found that 47% had recently experienced a major traumatic event; 14% had posttraumatic stress disorder. An American psychiatrist says Iraqis are suffering “epidemic levels of ptsd.” 40% of Iraqi professionals have fled, including 1/3 of all doctors. 2,000 doctors have been murdered since 2003. The number of Iraqis in jail or prison is up 30% since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The president of the Iraqi National Council of Women does not go out without bodyguards. “I started with 6, then I increased to 12, and then to 20 and then 30.” One of the 66 women in the Iraqi Parliament told the UK Observer, “This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women’s lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped.”"
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Cost of Reconstruction v. Cost of Solar for Every Iraqi Home

Iraq 101: The Cost - Paying the Price: "Pipe Dreams: Iraq’s Energy Crunch
In 2003, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said oil exports would rebuild Iraq “relatively soon.” But last year, Iraq missed its export goal by nearly 1/3 and spent only $2 billion on reconstruction, while the U.S. spent $5.4 billion. Baghdad gets an average of 4 hours 30 minutes of electricity a day. Estimated cost of boosting Iraq’s power capacity by 2010: $20 billion. Estimated cost of installing enough solar panels to power every home in Iraq: $6.6 billion. (Click image to enlarge)"

[bth: So its 3 times cheaper to put solar power to every Iraqi home than it is to rebuild their electrical infrastructure! What are we thinking?]
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That's A Stumper

Swedish Meatballs Confidential: That's A Stumper: "Jay Leno:

'The British announced they were pulling their troops out of Iraq. Dick Cheney immediately called it good news. He said, 'It's a sign that we're winning.' How come when our allies pick up and leave, that's a victory for us? But when we leave, it's a victory for al Qaeda? How does that work?'"
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The Blotter - Firebombs Used in India Rail Attack Have U.S. Officials Worried

The Blotter: "The kerosene bombs that killed nearly 70 aboard a highly symbolic India-Pakistan train Feb. 18 have sparked new worries among U.S. law enforcement authorities, who noted the success of the cheap, lethal, easy-to-make-and-deploy terror device, ABC News has learned. "

Two suitcases packed with plastic kerosene bottles, planted by exits and triggered by a low-explosive, timed black powder fuse sent tongues of intense flame licking through one rail car aboard the Friendship Express in that militant attack.

Only the fact that two others placed in another car failed to ignite prevented further casualties aboard the train put into service between India and Pakistan in 2004.

U.S. authorities and private intelligence firms have expressed concern that the devices could supplant more complex improvised high explosive devices as a terrorist bomb of choice and that they could be used on U.S. subway and commuter rail lines, according to law enforcement sources and written reports.

The successful use of a tactic by terrorists and militants in one sphere of operations has frequently led to the use of similar tactics in other areas of conflict. Most recently, in Iraq, this has been seen in the use of armor-piercing charges that use molten projectiles to maximize damage. Similar charges were used in both Lebanon and Afghanistan, among other conflict zones.

The private intelligence forecasting firm, Strategic Intelligence Forecasting, noted on Feb. 19 that the attack "portends similar attacks against India's highly vulnerable mass transit system by militants.

Moreover, the use of TIDs (Timed Incendiary Devices) easily could spread elsewhere."

"High concept, low technology, that's the most scary," said one northeast U.S. emergency management official. In New York last year, authorities devoted one mass transit rescue drill to a scenario that involved removing numerous victims from a regional commuter line that had been wrought by explosions and the spread of chemical gases.

Sources tell ABC News that following the India-Pakistan attack, U.S. authorities in at least some other urban areas recommended that emergency response teams incorporate knowledge of the devices into future training regimes.

Strategic Intelligence Forecasting noted that the India-Pakistan attack "sets a potentially dangerous precedent, especially since TIDs can be more easily constructed, and with more readily available materials, than more complex high-explosive IEDs. This type of attack likely will be copied elsewhere in India, and beyond."

"Explosive-actuated TIDs, more commonly called firebombs, work by using a relatively small low-intensity explosive charge to ignite a more volatile flammable material. This results in an intense, rapidly spreading fire that quickly can engulf a confined space such as a rail car, subway car or airplane," the brief stated.

Similar attacks were unsuccessfully attempted on trains in Germany in August 2006. The devices used in those plots failed to ignite.
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Afghan Taliban say rearmed, ready for war

Reuters AlertNet - Afghan Taliban say rearmed, ready for war: "SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Rearmed with new guns the Taliban on Friday vowed this would be the deadliest year for foreign soldiers in Afghanistan since the Islamists were toppled in 2001.

'This year will prove to be the bloodiest for the foreign troops. It is not just a threat, we will prove it,' senior commander Mullah Dadullah told Reuters by satellite phone.

'The Taliban's war preparations are going on in caves and in mountains. Our 6,000 fighters are ready for attacks on foreign troops after the change in weather and as it becomes warmer.'"

His comments came as Britain approved a plan to send a wave of extra troops to Afghanistan to repel an expected spring offensive by the Taliban, British government sources said.

Taliban leaders say they expect to be able to field 10,000 soldiers after the bloodiest year since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, with a big increase in suicide fighters after conventional pitched battles brought heavy losses for the rebels.

With winter snows melting, fighting has already picked up dramatically in recent weeks.

Dadullah said the extra weapons the Taliban were being supplied -- he did not say from where -- included the ability to bring down the NATO and U.S. helicopters crucial to their operations in this rugged, mountainous country....

[bth: talk is cheap but the poppy crop was good so that means cash flow. Watch for heavy use of suicide bombers and IEDs this year.]

Iraq Troop Withdrawal: British Leaving Basra to the Mahdi Militia

Iraq Troop Withdrawal: British Leaving Basra to the Mahdi Militia - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News: "Southern Iraq is relatively secure. But the British have not taken advantage of the four years of occupation to develop this bleak region. Now that they are pulling out, the Shiite Mahdi militia are standing by to take over."...

The strategic advantage that the British had from the very beginning was that Basra, unlike other parts of Iraq, boasts a relatively homogeneous population sharing similar religious beliefs. The sectarian wars plaguing the rest of the country never spread here. Shiite-dominated southern Iraq suffered under Saddam, and for this reason, there was less resistance to the presence of foreign troops than was the case in central Iraq.

Added to this, Sunni extremists, al-Qaida in Iraq, and Fedayeen units loyal to the former regime, never gained a foothold in southern Iraq, which meant that Basra was spared the devastating bomb attacks responsible for hundreds of deaths elsewhere in the nation.

The British faced a different set of challenges in their sector, namely to recapture state authority, to mute the influence of Iranian-backed militias, and to focus on fixing war damage inflicted upon this country's poorest region.

Did they succeed? Despite the number of troops deployed here, the answer is no.

Today many parts of the city lack running water. Blackouts are a daily occurrence. Many seriously ill people have to reckon with taking a dangerous journey to Baghdad when they need anything other than aspirin or charcoal pills.

"Before the war we would ask for leukaemia medicine and know that the wait to get it could be long," says an oncologist at Basra's university hospital. "Today, when we make requests, we are pretty certain nothing will arrive."...

Even though southern Iraq's oil industry is producing and exporting less oil than it did before for the war, its pumps and pipelines are actually operating at capacity -- aging, damaged valves, and insufficient storage make production increases impossible. There is scant discussion -- on the British side, anyway -- of how this critical economic jewel might one day fuel Iraqi's economic recovery. It would not be unfair to say that the British missed their chance to build a much-needed infrastructure here in this relatively peaceful region where such projects might have been successful.

75 percent of the police are loyal to Sadr

To be sure, the British have neither improved security in the region nor rebuilt a functioning state apparatus independent of Iranian influence. Thus, while the British army officially handed over power to the 10th Division of the Iraqi Army this weekend, locals like Kassim the pharmacist and others are not sure they are up to the task.

The town's police is efficient, albeit dominated by members of the Mahdi, a Shiite militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr. According to journalist Ghalid Khazal, 75 percent of the city's police officers follow orders from Sadr headquarters. That number is roughly the same as that mentioned by General Major Hassan Sawadi, the former police chief of Basra, one and a half years ago, when he said. "I estimate that 80 percent of the force's members do not obey my orders."...

[bth: so if Sadr has obtained dominance in Basra it means that they have obtained dominance over the cash flow out of that port city. This is of critical importance as it determines who will ultimately be able to pay their militias and survive after the allies leave.]
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Iraq war claims 800 Pentagon contractors' lives‎

Press TV: "At least 800 civilians under contract to the Pentagon have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt in Iraq doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military, AP reported Friday.

It is not clear how many of the employees are American but the casualty figures make it clear that the Defense Department's count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead does not tell the whole story. "

Employees of defense contractors such as Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenhut cook meals, do laundry, repair infrastructure, translate documents, analyze intelligence, guard prisoners, protect military convoys, deliver water in the heavily fortified Green Zone and stand sentry at buildings - often highly dangerous duties almost identical to those performed by many U.S. troops. The U.S. has outsourced so many war and reconstruction duties that there are almost as many contractors (120,000) as U.S. troops (135,000) in the war zone. ...
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Iraqi allies, U.S. split on Baathist policy

Iraqi allies, U.S. split on Baathist policy - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON — Serious new divisions have emerged between the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies over the Baghdad government's refusal to enact a reform that the White House considers crucial to its new strategy for bringing the country's violence under control."

In spite of a commitment by Iraq's prime minister to its passage, legislation that would ease rules barring former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government service has been blocked by the country's Shiite-dominated parliament. U.S. officials repeatedly have expressed confidence that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki would work for passage of "de-Baathification" reform.

However, they have begun to express disappointment over the Iraqi stalemate, saying that the reform remains a top political priority and is essential to convince the country's Sunni minority that it can receive fair treatment in the new system.

One U.S. official said the reform, far from advancing as promised, was "moving backward" and "almost dead in the water."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and State Department official David Satterfield, her top Iraq advisor, paid an unannounced visit to Baghdad last weekend for consultations with top Iraqi officials.

But on this issue, aides said, they came away discouraged.

Administration officials also have expressed disappointment with the work of a special Iraqi panel on de-Baathification headed by Ahmad Chalabi, the U.S.-trained financier who became controversial as an advocate for the invasion of Iraq.

The dimming prospects for reform hold troubling implications for the administration's new strategy on Iraq, which relies heavily on political reconciliation between Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslims as a way to stem the sectarian violence that has gripped the country for the last year. .....

[bth: if this isn't sorted out, I doubt there will be a political reconciliation between sunnis and shiites which leads to armed conflict as the only alternative.]
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U.S. detention of key Shiite raises ire

U.S. detention of key Shiite raises ire - Houston Chronicle: "BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. troops detained the eldest son of Iraq's most influential Shiite politician for nearly 12 hours Friday as he crossed back from Iran — the same route Washington believes is used to keep powerful Shiite militias flush with weapons and aid.

Even though the U.S. ambassador issued a rapid apology, the decision to hold Amar al-Hakim risks touching off a backlash from Shiite leaders at a time when their cooperation is needed most to keep a major security sweep through Baghdad from unraveling."...

[bth: there seems to be much more to this story.]
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Look at the crap armor on this vehicle
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Friday, February 23, 2007

IraqSlogger: Maliki's Sadr Warning: Real or Hoax?

IraqSlogger: Maliki's Sadr Warning: Real or Hoax?: "A top Iraqi official has returned a significant 'no comment' about a controversy involving an allegedly official document that purports to show that Prime Minister Maliki warned Muqtada al-Sadr of risks that top-tier leaders of the Mahdi Army could be captured or killed by the US. "

Muwaffaq al-Rubai`i, a top advisor to PM Maliki, was named as a key participant in the discussions. IraqSlogger's Eason Jordan contacted him directly, querying the authenticity of the letter, to which al-Rubai`i responded by email with the words, "no comment."

While this is clearly not a confirmation of the validity of the letter, Rubai`i could have easily referred to the document as a hoax if he so desired.

The document, whose authenticity has not been verified, appears on what looks like official letterhead, and names members of the Mahdi Army leadership who are allegedly slated to be relocated to Iran with the full cooperation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The date January 17, 2007 appears at the top.

A second tier of the Mahdi Army is advised to relocate to southern Iraq, according to the letter.

The original allegations of a secret warning from Maliki to Sadr first appeared in Peyamner, a Kurdish news agency.

In an official communication to Sadr, Maliki told the cleric that he should leave with the top rank of the Mahdi Army leadership or risk being killed or arrested by US forces, in view of the launching of the new security plan. ...

Psychics 'hired to find Bin Laden'

Psychics 'hired to find Bin Laden' the Daily Mail: "Psychics were recruited by the Ministry of Defence to locate Osama Bin Laden's secret lair, it was claimed yesterday.

Newly declassified documents revealed that the MoD conducted an experiment to see if volunteers could 'see' objects hidden inside an envelope. "

[bth: freaking brilliant. The Men in Black used tabloids with greater success. Hint. Try Pakistan.]

Why the British are scaling back in Iraq

LONDON — Britain's decision to pull 1,600 troops out of Iraq by spring, touted by U.S. and British leaders as a turning point in Iraqi sovereignty, was widely seen Wednesday as a telling admission that the British military could no longer sustain simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.The British military is approaching "operational failure," former defense staff chief Charles Guthrie warned this week."Because the British army is in essence fighting a far more intensive counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, there's been a realization that there has to be some sort of transfer of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan," said Clive Jones, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Leeds, who has closely followed Britain's Iraq deployment."It's either that, or you risk in some ways losing both," he said. "It's the classic case of 'Let's declare victory and get out.' "...

Long Iraq Tours Can Make Home a Trying Front - New York Times

Long Iraq Tours Can Make Home a Trying Front - New York Times: "In the nearly two years Cpl. John Callahan of the Army was away from home, his wife, he said, had two extramarital affairs. She failed to pay his credit card bills. And their two children were sent to live with her parents as their home life deteriorated. "

Then, in November, his machine gun malfunctioned during a firefight, wounding him in the groin and ravaging his left leg. When his wife reached him by phone after an operation in Germany, Corporal Callahan could barely hear her. Her boyfriend was shouting too loudly in the background.

“Haven’t you told him it’s over?” Corporal Callahan, 42, recalled the man saying. “That you aren’t wearing his wedding ring anymore?”

For Corporal Callahan, who is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and so many other soldiers and family members, the repercussions, chaos and loneliness of wartime deployments are one of the toughest, least discussed byproducts of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and loved ones have endured long, sometimes repeated separations that test the fragility of their relationships in unforeseen ways.

The situation is likely to grow worse as the military increases the number of troops in Iraq in coming months. The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it was planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, causing widespread concern among reservists. Nearly a third of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have done more than one tour of duty.

Most families and soldiers cope, sometimes heroically. But these separations have also left a trail of badly strained or broken unions, many severed by adultery or sexual addictions; burdened spouses, some of whom are reaching for antidepressants; financial turmoil brought on by rising debts, lost wages and overspending; emotionally bruised children whose grades sometimes plummet; and anxious parents who at times turn on each other.

Hardest hit are the reservists and their families, who never bargained on long absences, sometimes as long as 18 months, and who lack the support network of full-fledged members of the military.

“Since my husband has been gone, I have potty-trained two kids, my oldest started preschool, a kid learned to walk and talk, plus the baby is not sleeping that well,” said Lori Jorgenson, 30, whose husband, a captain in the Minnesota National Guard, has been deployed since November 2005 and recently had his tour extended another four months. “I am very burnt out.” ...

Even many active-duty military families, used to the difficulties of deployments, are reeling as soldiers are being sent again and again to war zones, with only the smallest pause in between. The unrelenting fear of death or injury, mental health problems, the lack of recuperative downtime between deployments and the changes that await when a soldier comes home hover over every household.

And unlike the Vietnam era, when the draft meant that many people were directly touched by the conflict, this period finds military families feeling a keen sense of isolation from the rest of society. Not many Americans have a direct connection to the war or the military. Only 1.4 million people, or less than 1 percent of the American population, serve in the active-duty military.

“Prior to 9/11, the deployments were not wartime related,” said Kristin Henderson, a military spouse whose husband served as a Navy chaplain in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose recent book “While They’re at War” explores the impact of today’s deployments. “There were separation issues, but there was no anticipatory grief and no fear and no medical overload.”....

As the war stretches into its fourth year, more troops and their families are reaching out for help, turning to family therapists and counselors. The Army and the Marines, partly in response to a jump in the number of divorces and a rise in domestic violence reports, have created programs to help couples cope, including seminars and family weekend retreats. The Army has also improved the family readiness groups that often serve as a lifeline for spouses. ...

Divorces, which had hovered in the 2 percent to 3 percent range for the Army since 2000, spiked in 2004 to 6 percent among officers and 3.6 percent among enlisted personnel. The rate for officers dropped to 2.1 percent in 2006, but the rate for enlisted personnel has stayed level, at 3.6 percent.

Married women are having the hardest time. The divorce rate for women in the Army in 2006 was 7.9 percent, the highest since 2000, compared with 2.6 percent for men.

Demand for counseling has grown so quickly among military families and returning soldiers that the military has begun contracting out more services to private therapists. Reservists must rely largely on networks of volunteers.

“For a while a lot of soldiers coming back were not being seen because there was such an overload of patients and so few mental health providers on base,” said Carl Settles, a psychologist and retired Army colonel who runs a practice near Fort Hood, Tex.

The military recently called him to ask how many of several hundred patients he could take on, Dr. Settles said. ...

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Bureaucracy's Cost

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Bureaucracy's Cost: "Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) is not a Veteran's Administration Hospital (VA). It is a facility of the full time Army which is used to treat a varied population of patients; active service members, retired service people and military families. A VA hospital is quite different. It treats inpatient and outpatient personnel who are eligible under US law for lifetime care for service connected disabilities. Most of these people are former service members rather than retired service members. The latter continue to be eligible for military medical care or for service connected health insurance. The difference in kind between these two types of hospitals seems to be beyond the comprehension of the MSM."

There is a major general of the Army Medical Service who commands WRAMC. He is a doctor. Like all Army officers he is responsible for all that his command does or fails to do. Don't bother to tell me that this is an unreasonable standard. The Army is not a "reasonable" calling, and it should not be.
The general responsibility for the provision of and policy supervision of the functions of the Army Medical Service falls on the Secretary of the Army, the civilian politician who is the departmental head of the Department of the Army.

IMO both of these men failed miserably in their duty, failed to the point of criminality and should be fired at once pending an investigation to see if criminal charges can be justified.

The present sociology of the enlisted force of the US Army and Marine Corps is such that there are a lot of people in the ranks who have no home but the Army or Marines. When wounded and placed in a convalescent status requiring frequent outpatient care, many of them have no civilian home to go to, no disposable funds to deal with the additional expenses of maintaining aplace to live for such close family as they may have, and no one to care for them but the "big green machine." That machine and the two men I named failed miserably in that "familial" responsibility. They should pay for that failure toward those who had every right to expect to be cared for.

Why did they fail? They failed because they had other priorities. The base closing commission's (BRAC) decision to close Walter Reed was probably a factor. A focus on budgetary problems in an atmosphere in which the costs of war are "sucking" so much money into the wars was probably a factor. A stupefyingly bureaucratic approach to problem solving is now pervasive in the Army. That was probably a BIG factor. I am going to write more on that general problem.

Did Dana Priest and her colleague tell the commanding general of WRAMC about this problem before WAPO printed the story? An interesting question, but it does not alter the situation. The general and the secretary are responsible.

That is Dr. Walter Reed's picture at the top. He was a serious Army doctor. He would have burned the hides off these people.

Imagine what George Marshall's reaction would have been if he had discovered something like this on his watch. General cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the army said that he thought it "reflected on him" that he had never been to building 18 at WRAMC. Really? pl

Senate Dems Move to Limit Iraq Mission

BREITBART.COM - Senate Dems Move to Limit Iraq Mission: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- Determined to challenge President Bush, Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq, effectively revoking the broad authority Congress granted in 2002, officials said Thursday.

While these officials said the precise wording of the measure remains unsettled, one draft would restrict American troops in Iraq to combating al-Qaida, training Iraqi army and police forces, maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity and otherwise proceeding with the withdrawal of combat forces. "...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

David Ignatius - Going Nowhere Fast -

David Ignatius - Going Nowhere Fast - "...The polling was done last year by Zogby International in six countries that are usually regarded as pro-American: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

In these six "friendly" countries, only 12 percent of those surveyed expressed favorable attitudes toward the United States. America's leaders have surpassed Israel's as objects of anger. Asked which foreign leader they disliked most, 38 percent named George Bush; Ariel Sharon was a distant second at 11 percent; and Ehud Olmert was third with 7 percent.

The poll data show a deep suspicion of American motives: 65 percent of those surveyed said they didn't think democracy was a real U.S. objective in the Middle East. Asked to name two countries that had the most freedom and democracy, only 14 percent said America, putting it far behind France and Germany. And remember, folks, this is coming from our friends....

Newsweek: US overstates Iran-Iraq link; may be repeating actions that led to 'wrong calls' in Iraq

The Raw Story Newsweek: US overstates Iran-Iraq link; may be repeating actions that led to 'wrong calls' in Iraq: "A US official briefing news media in Iraq 'strayed from script' and overstated the link between Iranian leaders and violence in Iraq, reports Newsweek. The briefing set off a firestorm in the United States, where questions have been raised about the Bush administration's Iran intelligence, and comparisons are being drawn between the buildup to the Iraq war and current rhetoric being bandied about Iran."

"According to several Washington intelligence officials involved in monitoring fallout from the presentation, the Baghdad briefers were supposed to stick closely to a script and slide show about Iranian weapons shipments into Iraq that had been carefully vetted by the National Security Council in Washington," reports Newsweek. The slide show presentation said that Iran and the Quds Force were providing money and weapons to Iraqi militants, but did not mention specific ties to the upper echelons of the Iranian government. At some point in his presentation, says Newsweek, the briefer apparently went off script and said that the Quds Force had been authorized by "senior Iranian officials ... to supply insurgents with weapons designed to kill Americans."

The briefing also called attention to the limits of US intelligence, writes Newsweek. "Unable to recruit enough reliable spies or collect sufficient hard technical intelligence about the country’s military and nuclear programs, U.S. intelligence agencies are being forced once again to fall back on 'deductions' and 'inferences,'" says the article. "In many ways, this is the same 'guesswork' process that a White House review panel later concluded was governed by 'groupthink' conclusions—which ultimately led to wrong calls about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."

Indeed, the briefing in Baghdad, which was touted by the US as "the forum in which the Bush administration would finally lay out its most disturbing findings about Iran's role in Iraq," was acknowledged by officials to be a deduction. "In other words a guess," writes Newsweek....

[bth: this is the gang that couldn't shoot straight.]

National Guard May Undertake Iraq Duty Early

National Guard May Undertake Iraq Duty Early - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 — The Pentagon is planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, shortening their time between deployments to meet the demands of President Bush’s buildup, Defense Department officials said Wednesday."

National Guard officials told state commanders in Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Ohio last month that while a final decision had not been made, units from their states that had done previous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan could be designated to return to Iraq next year between January and June, the officials said.

The unit from Oklahoma, a combat brigade with one battalion currently in Afghanistan, had not been scheduled to go back to Iraq until 2010, and brigades from the other three states not until 2009. Each brigade has about 3,500 soldiers.

The accelerated timetable illustrates the cascading effect that the White House plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq by more than 21,000 is putting on the entire Army and in particular on Reserve forces, which officers predicted would face severe challenges in recruiting, training and equipping their forces. ...

We’re behind the power curve, and we can’t piddle around,” Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, said in an interview. He added that one-third of his soldiers lacked the M-4 rifles preferred by active-duty soldiers and that there were also shortfalls in night vision goggles and other equipment. If his unit is going to be sent to Iraq next year, he said, “We expect the Army to resource the Guard at the same level as active-duty units.”

He also noted that one of the brigade’s battalions that could deploy to Iraq next year was now in Afghanistan and was not scheduled to return until April, which would leave its soldiers with just over a year at home before having to leave for Iraq in June 2008. He said discussions were under way with top Army officials about providing necessary equipment and extra compensation for reservists in the Oklahoma Guard’s 45th Brigade Combat Team if the unit was sent back to Iraq two years earlier than planned.

Capt. Christopher Heathscott, a spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said the state’s 39th Brigade Combat Team was 600 rifles short for its 3,500 soldiers and also lacked its full arsenal of mortars and howitzers.

Of particular concern, he said, is the possibility that the prospects of going to Iraq next year could cause some Arkansas reservists not to re-enlist this year. Over the next year roughly one-third of the soldiers in the 39th will have their enlistment contracts expire or be eligible for retirement, Captain Heathscott said.

Guard and Reserve units were used most extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004, and have regularly supplied brigades throughout the fighting. The reinforcements now heading for Iraq will raise the number of combat brigades now in Iraq, only one of which is a Guard unit, to around 20 total. Thousands of additional Reserve support troops would also be required sooner, officials said.

To draw more heavily on Reserve units, the Bush administration announced in January that it was revising rules that limited call-ups of Guard members. The previous policy limited mobilization of Guard members to 24 months every five years, but prolonged and large deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan led the Pentagon to abandon that rule.

The new guidelines allow units that have already been deployed in the last five years to be called up again, but the Pentagon has said that it will try to limit the total time Guard units are mobilized to a year, instead of the current year and a half to two years.

Given that they would be in Iraq for about nine months, that would leave only three months for training before they go. In the past, six months of training has been the norm before heading to the war zone.
To make up the difference, officials said the soldiers would get more part-time training, close to home, before being mobilized. That would cut the time they have to spend away from their jobs and families, Captain Heathscott said.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Empress Has No Armor, National Review Online: Sen. Clinton Uses Body Armor As Red Herring - CBS News

The Empress Has No Armor, National Review Online: Sen. Clinton Uses Body Armor As Red Herring - CBS News: "....Capt. Matt Schoenfeldt, who serves as a gunner in Iraq’s Diyala province, also sent me his reaction:
I would first like to point out that this is just one more attempt by the liberals to take an extremely complicated situation, look at one small aspect of the story, and then invent the story that they [want] to tell. We have over 70,000 M1114 Up-Armored HMMWVs in theater right now. With that said, it is remarkable that we would be able to retro-fit this number of vehicles with armor in this short time period while still conducting 24-hour combat operations. … In addition to the upgrades to all of these 70,000-plus M1114s, the Army has upgraded every vehicle that travels out in sector; from ballistic glass for Track Commanders on Tanks and Bradleys, to armored doors and glass for support vehicles, and everything in between. There is not a single vehicle that goes out in sector that has not been upgraded for threats specific to Iraq.

The armored upgrade program is a tremendously successful program and has saved thousands of lives. This story on the armor upgrades has been taken by the media and other uneducated members, and painted a very successful and impressive program as a failure. It is an appalling lack of fact-checking by the media and others that should be informed on the issue."

[Bth: this statement osted by CBS News that we have 70,000 M1114 Up-Armored humvees in Iraq is patently false. It is untrue. We have somewhere around 16,000. This bogus and unedited raw, unresearched or verified news is typical of the crap we call journalism now. What bull shit. How are American's ever going to understand what is going on when news agencies like CBS allow this crap to get through their filters?]

Iraq War Sticker Shock

Iraq War Sticker Shock: "...Mother Jones: Today Bush requested close to a quarter of a trillion dollars for efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan over this year and next. As high as these numbers are, is the administration still cooking the books? "

Joseph Stiglitz: It does appear that they are being more honest than before when they were putting everything into supplemental budgets, dribbling it on, so no one ever saw all the costs put together. But one of the important points that we raise in our paper is that there are costs that are going to be long-standing and deferred, like the costs of the healthcare and disability payments for those who are injured in the war. These are going to go on for 40 years or more.

MJ: What are the hidden costs we are paying today?

JS: The numbers being released today underestimate the full cost of the surge and other ongoing activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. General defense expenditures have increased enormously since the beginning of the Bush administration, with most of that money, in one way or another, related to Iraq and Afghanistan.

MJ: You predicted that the total cost of the Iraq war would top a trillion dollars. Can you put a number like that into perspective?

JS: That was last year. I think it is clear from what has happened since then that a trillion dollars was a vast underestimate. We are talking at least between one and two trillion dollars now. To put that into perspective, President Bush went to the American people at the beginning of his second term, saying that we have a major crisis with our Social Security system. For somewhere between a half and quarter of the cost of the war in Iraq you could have fixed all the problems associated with Social Security for the next 75 years and still have had a lot left over. Put in another way: We are now spending something like $10 billion a month—$120 billion dollars a year—on Iraq. The amount the entire world gives in foreign aid, on an annual basis, is about half that.

MJ: In 2003, many within the administration said that the war would pay for itself. Do you think the administrations’ low-ball estimates and cost-cutting measures, such as not sending enough troops, were simply penny wise, pound foolish?

JS: Clearly. The most dramatic example of this was not providing adequate body armor, which resulted in more people with severe injuries, which we will have to pay for for years to come, without even thinking what the cost is to those individuals. It is unforgivable what they did, but the deeper question is, why did they do it? I think the answer was not so much penny-wise, pound-foolish as it was part of a program intended to deceive the American people. At the very least it had the intention that the American people would not know or feel the full cost of what they were doing. [The administration] was afraid that if the public saw the costs, they might have an objection. If you can’t have a war for free, they said it would lower the price of oil to make it look like a win-win situation.

MJ: The price at the pump seems to suggest otherwise.

JS: The only beneficiaries of this war have been Halliburton and the defense contractors on one hand and Exxon and the oil companies on the other.

MJ: Speaking of Exxon, it just posted the largest annual profits ever posted by an American company. Can you explain the economics behind why these companies, particularly Exxon, are making so much money?

JS: It is very easy to understand. Remember that this is a company that paid its CEO half a billion dollars on retirement. It is the same company that has been funding the so-called think tanks to attack the whole idea of global warming. It is very simple: They own a lot of oil reserves. The war interrupted the normal development of oil fields. The cheapest source of oil is in the Middle East. At the time we went to war in 2003, markets foresaw that there would be an expansion in demand but also expected that there would be an increase in supply mainly from the Middle East. Because of the instability, that supply has not been forthcoming. Demand increased in a predictable way, supply didn’t, so price goes up.
The price of oil has gone up, and those record prices led to record profits.

MJ: An important part of your study was attaching a dollar amount to injuries and fatalities. How exactly do economists put a price tag on a human life?

JS: With a great deal of discomfort. But you have to do it when making any decision. There are a couple of procedures [economists] use to value life, involving estimates of what an individual would have earned during his lifetime or how much an individual would have been willing to pay in order to reduce the probability of death. We don’t differentiate life by life, individual by individual. We used a standard number that the government uses all the time in its regulatory assessments. We did not estimate the value of the lives of the 600,000 Iraqi people who have died as a result of the conflict.

MJ: Why not?

JS: Because it would raise the question of whether you should or should not value an Iraqi life differently from an American life. That raises fundamental ethical issues, and we didn’t want a debate on those issues to detract from the fundamental issue of what America is paying for the war that it brought.

MJ: Estimates of the total costs seem more troubling when you consider who is being asked to bear the largest burden of this war. Did that motivate you to write the paper?

JS: I didn’t think that the American people knew or had been told what this war was costing. They had been lied to about why we went to war, the benefits, the weapons of mass destruction, and I thought there had been just as much misrepresentation on the cost side. Part of the strategy is to make sure the American people don’t face the cost by deferring it through deficit financing. If we are going to have an effective democracy, people have to know what they are getting into and what it’s costing.

MJ: I have heard economic arguments, on efficiency grounds, against the draft. But it sounds like you are in favor of one.

JS: President Bush has persuaded me that we need the draft. Our political system isn’t able to adequately take into account the costs of war. War should be a very important decision that one takes with a great deal of care and reluctance because it is matter of life and death. But unfortunately, what we have seen is that this kind of careful calculus was not undertaken. I think the absence of draft is part of the reason.

MJ: Are there are dangers if we start to think of what we spent in Iraq as a sunk cost?

JS: Actually, I think there is enormous benefit to think in that language. People say that we can’t allow those who died to die in vain. That kind of language does not recognize the importance of sunk costs. The answer is if we do continue fighting more people will have died in vain—a lesson we should have learned from Vietnam.

MJ: Has anyone criticized your study?

JS: It is clear that our numbers were conservative. The numbers of injured people were vastly underestimated. The criticism that one has heard from the White House has been, “We don’t go to war on the basis of calculations.” The other criticism, from very conservative people, was that we didn’t include the benefits. Which is true; we didn’t. But I think most people would probably question whether there were any benefits. If the benefits that were promised were lower oil prices, those weren’t realized. If the promise was more stability or a march to democracy in the Middle East, those were not delivered. As difficult as it would be to measure the benefits—and we never claimed that we were going to do that—the benefits that were promised simply were not there.
Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell is a Mother Jones editorial fellow.

[bth: staggering. We cannot continue to hide the cost of war. It is just too easy to send someone else to war.]

How Long Will Turkey Tolerate PKK in Iraq?

IraqSlogger: How Long Will Turkey Tolerate PKK in Iraq?: "Last summer, the Turkish army massed on the border of northern Iraq, launching regular bombardments toward Kurdish camps in the Kandil Mountains until the PKK declared a ceasefire--one which only shakily holds today."

Christopher de Bellaigue, writing in "The Uncomfortable Kurds" in the March New York Review of Books, says that Turkey's decisions at that critical juncture...

"shows how constrained it feels in comparison with the final years of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, when it mounted large-scale annual operations in the Kandil Mountains. Turkey is still feeling the effects of its parliament's decision in 2003 to refuse a US request to use Turkey as a launch pad for the Iraq invasion. This decision infuriated the Bush administration and limited Turkey's ability to influence postwar Iraq. America's occupation of Iraq has curtailed Turkey's freedom to move forces in and out of Iraq when it likes; but the Americans have not themselves taken action against the PKK in Iraq, as Turkey has demanded."

De Bellaigue also reports that certain unnamned Turkish officials suspect the U.S. is allowing the PKK free movement in northern Iraq so its Iranian cousin, the PJAK, can keep attacking Iran.
It has been four months since President Bush appointed General Joseph Ralton (ret.) to head a special Iraqi-Turkish Kurd taskforce, but since that symbolic announcement, no further movement has been made.

The majority of "The Uncomfortable Kurds" covers the Turkish side of the Kurdish question, mostly regarding PKK activities, and the bulk of that original reportage is in the first three-quarters. The last section is about Iraq, but doesn't really contain any new revelations. Still, it's a good read for the regional context.

[bth: the Kurds are probably one of the few groups we can really call friends in the area. It would be a shame if we turned our back on them as we've done in the past. It makes a lot of sense for us to keep as a permanent base the air base outside Kirkuk]

Mahdi Army in Iran

IraqSlogger: Iranian Arabs: Mahdi Army in Iran: "
Sources in the “Ahwazian Revolution Information Center” have alleged the presence of Sadrist elements and cadres in the Ahwaz region of southwest Iran, which has a large ethnic Arab population. "

In a statement, the center says its sources have observed some of the leadership of the Mahdi Army and its elements in the two border cities of Muhamra and Abadan, with the escort of Iranian guards, and under the auspices of the administrative area (qa’im maqama) of Abadan.

The Sadrists arrived in “not insignificant” numbers, the statement says, and their appearance was noticed on Sunday in these two cities on the border near Basra.

This area of Iran, also known as Khuzistan, has a large Arab population. The Ahwazian Revolution Information Center represents an ethnic Arab movement within Iran, and is opposed to the Iranian regime.

The Ahwazian Center's statement alleges that the administrative area of Abadan prepared the facilities for the Sadrists travel in these two cities, and has supplied them with identification and Iranian permits, so that their presence can go unnoticed.

IraqSlogger: $200 for Families Returning Home

IraqSlogger: $200 for Families Returning Home: "Displaced families who return to their homes will receive a sum of 250,000 dinars (about US$200), the Iraqi minister for displacement and migration has announced."

The government will also organize a center to provide help and support to the displaced, added the minister, Abd al-Samad Rahman Sultan, Aswat al-Iraq reports in Arabic.

The modest offer of government support for returning families comes at a time when it is hoped that Baghdad families will be able to begin moving back to their homes in the context of the security plan.

Earlier this week, for example, the local council of the Baghdad neighborhood of Baghdad al-Jadida invited its displaced residents to return to the area, according to another report.

The issue of displaced people is one of the most challenging issues facing Iraq today. The UNHCR estimates that the number of internally displaced stands at about 1.7 million, with a further 2 million living outside the country as refugees.

At this point it is unclear how many of the displaced will return and how successful their reintegration into the social fabric of Iraqi society will be.

[bth: airfare to Jordan round trip is $800. Round trip purchases are required by the Jordanian government. So what does $200 mean?]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

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Jihad Watch: Afghanistan's upper house of parliament approves resolution granting "mujahedeen" immunity from war crimes charges

Jihad Watch: Afghanistan's upper house of parliament approves resolution granting "mujahedeen" immunity from war crimes charges: "'If they bring leaders of the mujahedeen to court it will tarnish the name of jihad,' one legislator argued. An update on this story. 'Afghanistan weighs amnesty in war crimes,' by Matthew Pennington for AP: "

KABUL, Afghanistan - The upper house of parliament passed a resolution Tuesday that calls for an amnesty for Afghans — including some lawmakers and members of the government — who are suspected of war crimes during a quarter-century of fighting, an official said. President Hamid Karzai will now decide whether it should become law, said Kadamali Nekpai, chief of the upper house's press department.

The resolution, which has been condemned by the United Nations and international human rights groups, was passed by the lower house Jan. 31 and covers the mujahedeen leaders who led the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and plunged Afghanistan into civil war in the early 1990s. Many of them sit in parliament.

Senators on Tuesday approved the same resolution by a 50-16 majority, Nekpai said.

Although lawmakers describe it as a resolution rather than a bill, they also say it would be made law if Karzai approves it.

Sen. Abdullah Haqahaqi said if Karzai rejected the resolution, it would be voted on again by the lower house and if two-thirds of lawmakers were in favor, it would still become law.

And that law would set a precedent for upholding a double standard where crimes were committed under the banner of "jihad."

Karzai has not made any public comment on the resolution, but his chief spokesman has said the president will not sign anything that goes against Afghanistan's constitution and has asked his lawyers to assess its legality.

The resolution only applies to those who accept Afghanistan's constitution and government authority, so an amnesty would apply to a minority of former Taliban who have reconciled with the government, but not for current insurgent leaders such as Mullah Omar.

Tens of thousands of Afghans died during the years of civil conflict that followed the Soviet occupation.

"One thing must be very clear, and it should be clear worldwide: amnesty for gross violations of human rights and for war crimes shouldn't exist," Tom Koenigs, the U.N.'s special representative to Afghanistan, told reporters Monday.

A U.S.-backed invasion in late 2001 toppled the hard-line Taliban regime and ushered in an era of democracy, but it also has seen a number of powerful warlords elevated to high office or seats in parliament.

"Unfortunately, the majority of the lower and upper houses of parliament are warlords and people with blood on their hands," said Nafas Gul, a female senator for Farah province who voted against the resolution. "It's a betrayal of the rights of Afghans."

But another senator who voted in favor said it would promote national unity.

"It's a good step because we want the unity in Afghanistan. If they bring leaders of the mujahedeen to court it will tarnish the name of jihad (holy war)."
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Somalia: 10 killed and 100 wounded in Mogadishu overnight attacks

SomaliNet News: Somalia: 10 killed and 100 wounded in Mogadishu overnight attacks : SomaliNet > Somali > Somalia and Somalinad: "(SomaliNet) At least ten civilians have been killed and about 100 were wounded in artillery explosions that rocked the Somalia capital Mogadishu on Monday night as violence increases to its highest level. "

The explosions came shortly after unidentified militiamen fired several mortars into three main compounds based by the allied forces of interim government and Ethiopia in the capital Mogadishu.

The targeted positions include the presidential palace, former Difger hospital but now Ethiopian forces base, and former defense ministry compound where gunmen fired mortars.

In return of the mortar attacks, the Somali and Ethiopian forces reportedly fired around 20 artillery shells into Mogadishu villages leaving the death of 10 people and injury of 100 others all of them civilians, as medical sources confirmed.

The dead include children, women and old men whose houses were hit by artillery shells fired by the Ethiopians along with the interim government troops.

In Wardhigley district, the bombs killed a pregnant woman and her three year old son.

On the allied forces’ side, it is unclear the exact casualty on them so far.

In Hodan neighborhoods alone, south of Mogadishu, six people have been killed and other more got inured in artillery blasts which destroyed their homes around 8:15pm local time last night after the Ethiopians stationing former Digfer hospital gunned several rockets.

Other artillery rounds hit villages in the suburbs of Mogadishu where it is unaccounted for the casualties resulted.

Last night’s attacks were the worst and bloodies since the interim government backed by the Ethiopian forces took control of the Somalia capital late December last year.

After ousting the Islamic Courts Union which had controlled much of southern and central Somalia for six months with peace and stability.

The latest attacks came day after a car mounted with explosives rode by insurgents went off in the capital killing all four men who burnt beyond recognition.

Meanwhile, after night time terror attacks, many families began this morning to flee their homes heading to safe grounds as the already suffered civilians became target for the exchanging fires.

For further details keep update with Somalinet

[bth: I wonder if returning mortar fire with an artillery barrage has a deterrent effect or not?]
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Muqtada Sadr office bombarded

Kuna siteStory pageMuqtada Sadr office bombarded ...2/20/2007: "BAGHDAD, Feb 20 (KUNA) -- A joint force of the Iraqi Army and US troops Tuesday bombarded the office of Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr in Al-Shula area, west of Baghdad, a security source told KUNA.

The source said some 14 military vehicles are now surrounding the office and Iraqi and US soldiers could be seen confiscating material and documents.

Muqtada Al-Sadr himself is out of the country over fears for his safety."

Female Pakistani Minister Shot Dead for Refusing to Wear Veil - Female Pakistani Minister Shot Dead for Refusing to Wear Veil - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News: "A Pakistani minister and woman’s activist was shot dead Tuesday by an Islamic extremist for refusing to wear the veil."

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said.

Usman, 35, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not cover her head.

The attack happened in Gujranwala, 120 miles southeast of Islamabad, where the minister’s office is based. As Usman, 35, stepped out of her car – where she was greeted by her co-workers throwing rose petals - the attacker pulled out a pistol and fired a single shot at close range, hitting her in the head. She was airlifted to hospital in the provincial capital Lahore, but died soon afterwards....

[bth: how can anyone think that God would want them to shoot women over a veil?]

Blair 'to confirm Iraq timetable'

BBC NEWS UK UK Politics Blair 'to confirm Iraq timetable': "Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq. "

Mr Blair is due to make a statement about the 7,000 British troops serving in Iraq at the Commons on Wednesday.

The BBC's James Landale said 1,500 troops were expected to return home in months, rising to 3,000 by Christmas. ...

[bth: this should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention.]

Remember Al Qaeda? They're baaack - Los Angeles Times

Remember Al Qaeda? They're baaack - Los Angeles Times: "'AL QAEDA,' President Bush declared confidently in October, 'is on the run.' The extremists, he said, had 'played their hand.' The masterminds of the organization had been 'brought to justice.' "

But just as we underestimated Al Qaeda before 9/11, we risk making the same mistake now. Although Al Qaeda is often spoken of as if it is in retreat — a

broken and beaten organization incapable of mounting attacks, its leadership cut off, living in caves somewhere in remotest Waziristan — the truth is that the organization is not on the run but on the march. It has regrouped and reorganized from the setbacks it suffered during the initial phases of the global war on terrorism and is marshaling its forces to continue the epic struggle begun more than 10 years ago.Rather than being degraded to the point that it can threaten only softer, more accessible targets like hotels and mass tran

sit, Al Qaeda is very much sticking with its classic playbook of simultaneous, spectacular strikes against even hardened objectives. In other words, we have more to fear from this resilient organization, not less. Ongoing investigations increasingly suggest that recent terrorist threats and attacks — the foiled 2004 plan to stage simultaneous suicide attacks in the United States, the 2005 suicide bus and subway bombings in London and the August 2006 plot to blow up 10 planes over the Atlantic — were all coordinated in some way by Al Qaeda and not by homegrown terror groups.

Consider what we have learned since the London bombings. Initially, British authorities concluded that the attacks were the work of disaffected British Muslims, self-radicalized and self-selected and operating purely within the country. We have subsequently learned, however, that the cell's ringleader, Mohamed Sidique Khan, and a fellow bomber visited Pakistani terrorist camps between late 2004 and early 2005 and met there with Al Qaeda operatives. In addition, following the London attacks, a reliable source working for Britain's security service recognized Khan from news reports and claimed to have seen him at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1999 or 2000.

The London bombings' pedigree is familiar. Exactly a year earlier, British and American authorities had disrupted a plot by a London-based Al Qaeda cell to carry out simultaneous suicide attacks on the New York Stock Exchange, the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington. The trail again led to Pakistan.

And this summer's plot to simultaneously bomb U.S. airliners was foiled after arrests in Pakistan again led British and U.S. officials to another British terrorist cell planning to attack American targets. Rather than "Al Qaeda R.I.P.," we face an Al Qaeda that has risen from the grave. It has been able to adapt and adjust to the changes imposed on its operations by the U.S.-led war on terrorism and reestablish its command and control over international terrorism from the sanctuary it has established in Pakistan's North Waziristan. Just last month, this alarming development produced a dramatic reversal in the Bush administration's public assessment of the Al Qaeda threat.

In contrast to long-standing White House claims, the annual threat assessment presented by outgoing National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence painted a disquieting picture of a highly resilient terrorist movement that, he said, is cultivating stronger operational connections to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Al Qaeda's stunning resurrection, before the very eyes of American military forces stationed across the border in southern Afghanistan, begs the question of how the most powerful country in the world can launch a six-year, no-holds-barred, global war on terrorism — at great cost to its pocketbook and international standing — only to find the main target of these Herculean efforts still alive and kicking.

In retrospect, it appears that Iraq blinded us to the possibility of an Al Qaeda renaissance. The United States' entanglement there has consumed the attention and resources of our country's military and intelligence communities — at precisely the time that Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda commanders were in their most desperate straits and stood to benefit most from this distraction. What's more, even as we took solace in the president's argument that we were "fighting terrorists over there, so that we don't have to fight them here," Al Qaeda was regrouping. Pakistan is both the problem and the solution to the most salient terrorist threat still directed against us. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies could not function without the passive connivance of Pakistani authorities. Moreover, agreements concluded over the past two years between President Pervez Musharraf and the restive tribes along the Afghan border have assured Al Qaeda the noninterference with its activities that enables it to thrive. At the same time, the pivotal role played by Pakistan in the disruption of major attacks and the arrests of low-level plotters shows how dependent the U.S. remains on even this partial cooperation.

Defeating Al Qaeda requires, foremost, that our assessments and analyses be anchored firmly to sound, empirical judgment and not blinded by conjecture and wishful thinking. Second, we need to refocus our attention and efforts on Pakistan and Afghanistan, where, in the months after 9/11, Al Qaeda was indeed on the run. Third, Al Qaeda cannot be defeated by military means alone because it relies on propaganda and radicalization.

Accordingly, the U.S. needs a strategy that better combines the tactical elements of systematically destroying and weakening Al Qaeda's capabilities alongside the equally critical imperatives of countering the resonance of that movement's message and breaking the cycle of terrorist recruitment and replenishment that has both sustained and replenished Al Qaeda.

Farsi, Anyone?

...Farsi, Anyone?: "MR. RUSSERT: The Americans are going to have a surge, more troops. We hear a lot of conflicting reports. They’re going to go after the Shiite militias, the Sunni militias, but that there’s the sense that some of these may go underground, play possum, and just wait for this operation to end, and hopefully for—in their minds—for the American troops to leave and then re-emerge and start all over again. What’s your... "

MR. ENGEL: That’s exactly what’s happening. The Shiite movement, in particular, has gone underground. There’ve been very specific orders by Sadr, who himself has gone into hiding. There’s conflicting reports about his own location. The U.S. military says he’s in Iran or apparently out of the country. His organization says that, “No, he’s still in Iraq, but is in hiding.” And there’s a very specific reason that he’s doing this. They’re—part of this new security plan, which is already under way, is to eliminate some of the rogue elements from Sadr’s militia. And he doesn’t want to be around while this is happening. So he’s trying to lay low while his allies in the Shiite government, with U.S. forces, take away some of the more extremist elements in Sadr’s own militia. That way, he doesn’t have to get blamed for a purging of his own organization.

MR. RUSSERT: Based on your experience, and you’ve lived there for four years, a year from now, what will we see going on in Iraq?

MR. ENGEL: A year from now? I think you’ll have the Shiites in control of Baghdad. There’s a major power struggle with Shiites coming across from the east, moving into the west. I think they will consolidate that control. And the U.S. forces will have declared victory, and will have been moved out to the Anbar province, and will end up fighting al-Qaeda in Anbar. So you’ll have a situation where there will be a more stable, but very Shiite partisan government in control of Baghdad, and the U.S. fighting al-Qaeda in, in western Iraq. So both sides get to declare victory. The government says there is more stability and a representative of a democratically elected government, and the U.S. administration gets to say, “We’re still fighting the war on terrorism; we’re still fighting al-Qaeda.”

MR. RUSSERT: What happens to the Sunnis?

MR. ENGEL: The Sunnis, I think, are in a very difficult situation. They are fundamentally—have a failed state on their hands. And I think, no matter how much success there is in Iraq in the south and in the north, if you have even a small failed state in the center of the country, it will be a serious, serious problem for decades, that will plague this entire region.

MR. RUSSERT: How much influence does Iran have on Iraq, the Iraqi government?

MR. ENGEL: Tremendous amount of influence. I mean, most of the senior Iraqi politicians spent time in Iran, have close relations with Iran. Look at al-Hakim, the most empowerful political figure in Iraq, aside from the prime minister. He has a very close relations with Iran and wants to form a Shiite southern state that would have an economic alliance with Iran. So right now it is—it is by far the most influential nation across Iraq, outside of the U.S., and really wants to replace the United States as the main power broker in Iraq. ... ..

MR. RUSSERT: You tell me that if you want to reserve a hotel room in a southern Iraq hotel...
MR. ENGEL: Call in Farsi. Yeah. They will ask, when you make reservations in Najaf or Karbala, they’ll answer the phone in Farsi, they will quote you the price...
MR. RUSSERT: The Iranian language?

MR. ENGEL: The Iranian language. They’ll quote you the price in toman. They—it is very much an Iranian—part of the Iranian sphere of influence. .. ..
"Meet the Press" transcript...

Purges in Mahdi Army Organization

IraqSlogger: Purges in Mahdi Army Organization: "The Mahdi Army is shedding unwanted weight, according to Slogger's sources in Iraq.

At Friday prayers, mosques with a relationship to the Sadrist current have featured posted lists of individuals dismissed from the organization, eyewitnesses say. "

Purged individuals were often those who had a record of “bad behavior,” said one source, that is, criminal or disloyal activity. Others are suspected to have been dropped from the rolls for want of favorable connections to the top tiers of the organization, sources said.

Slogger's eyewitness report comes amid continuing crackdowns among Mahdi Army members around the country. In Samawa, in Muthanna Province, police pointed to a list of 75 individuals targeted in a large-scale arrest raid on Monday, according to Voices of Iraq.

In the South, British forces have also produced an arrest list of Mahdi Army activists, and local residents have reported to Slogger that the joint operations appear to be a crackdown on the Sadrist militia.

At the same time, the top tiers of leadership of the organization are believed to be safely removed from the theater of conflict, and the disciplined cadre seems to be lying low.

Purges in the organization in the middle of a crackdown may give support to the idea, suggested earlier, that the militia is using the security plan to give up unwelcome elements within its organization.

It should be made clear that the Mahdi Army is not a highly centralized organization. Its organizational structure is very fluid, and in many ways it is not the same organization from place to place. In some areas, the Mahdi Army functions as a virtual state within a state, whereas in other areas groups affiliated to the Mahdi Army are merely neighborhood toughs with little authority.

In some areas the arrest campaign against the group may actually be netting loyal activists in such a way that will hamper the organization's ability to operate after the end of the security plan.

[bth: put simply the leadership of the Mahdi Army has cut a deal.]

Monday, February 19, 2007

Note this general is posing in front of a gas wellhead in Anbar province with a news crew in tow. The well has been swept (note piles of direct in background) and evidently it has just been washed as evidenced by the damp spots on the concrete, around the well itself and to the extreme left. Think of the logistics involved in th is photo and note his security which is probably surrounding this site is curiously not in the photo. This is a highly planned and staged news event issued on Monday for maximum coverage. One must always ask why and more pointedly why now? Last week's monday story was the Iranian weapons. .. Note the well has no pipeline connecting it.
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‘New type’ explosive used in train blast

Khaleej Times Online - ‘New type’ explosive used in train blast: "NEW DELHI - A ‘new type’ of explosive mix was used to firebomb a train from India to Pakistan that left 67 people dead, India’s Home Minister Shivraj Patil said Monday.

Patil, who is in charge of India’s internal security, also said detectives had found vital clues that could lead to those who attacked the ‘Samjhauta (Friendship) Express’."

‘A new type of explosive material has been used,’ Patil told reporters in New Delhi.

‘It was incendiary in nature and as a result two bogies (carriages) of the train were charred from inside,’ he said of the intense heat following the blasts that nearly melted the bombed carriages.

These explosives were packed in suitcases,’ Patil said.

Forensic experts said a cocktail of easily-available kerosene, sulphur and potassium nitrate was used, a different mix from previous such blasts which involved a plastic explosive known as RDX.

‘These materials were packed in clothes and armed with timer devices,’ the Press Trust of India said, quoting unnamed government officials.

Patil declined to give details about the progress of the investigation into the firebombing, which also left 13 people hurt near Panipat district, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of New Delhi.

‘We have got enough inputs, but we are not going to divulge them at this moment as this would hamper our investigation ... No names should be hastily concluded,’ he said.

So far none of the two dozen Islamic rebel groups fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir or other ethnic separatist organisations have claimed responsibility for the attack.

The carnage was the bloodiest since July last year when at least 185 people were killed and more than 800 others hurt in a spate of bombings of seven commuter trains in India’s financial capital of Mumbai.

[bth: there is absolutely no reason whatever that this couldn't have happened in the United States. We somehow believe this myth that by fighting in Iraq we prevent terrorists from coming into the U.S. and blowing up our trains, planes and buildings.]