Saturday, March 03, 2007

 
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An Iraqi Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays - New York Times

An Iraqi Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, March 2 — The sheik stared at the cake that the hotel workers had brought up to his room as a gift. Across the red gelatinlike surface was written, “God protect you from the enemies and keep you for the Iraqi people.”BAGHDAD, March 2 — The sheik stared at the cake that the hotel workers had brought up to his room as a gift. Across the red gelatinlike surface was written, “God protect you from the enemies and keep you for the Iraqi people.”"

God is indeed his guardian, said the sheik, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi. So were the three burly Iraqi men standing outside the door of his suite here in the Mansour Hotel, and the five others by the elevators at the end of the hall. They had walkie-talkies, Kalashnikov rifles and camouflage vests stuffed with ammunition clips.

The sheik needs as much protection as loyalty and prayers can bring, not to mention money. He is the public face of the Sunni Arab tribes in lawless Anbar Province who have turned against the Sunni jihadists of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, many of whom belong to other, sometimes more militant Iraqi tribes.

“I swear to God, if we have good weapons, if we have good vehicles, if we have good support, I can fight Al Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan,” he said recently as he sat smoking in a dark jacket and brown robes while meeting with a sheik from another Sunni tribe in his hotel room.

Sheik Abdul Sattar, a wiry 35-year-old with a thin goatee who comes from the provincial capital, Ramadi, is the most outspoken Sunni tribal figure in the country who is fighting, at least for now, on the side of the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the American military.

He has met three times with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki since announcing his campaign in September, and there is talk that the sheik has received large amounts of money from the Iraqi government or the Americans. His face has been shown in anti-insurgent commercials on the government-run Iraqiya television network.

But Sheik Abdul Sattar, as he is known to Iraqis and American commanders, complains that he does not get nearly enough financial or military support. “We don’t have enough weapons, cars, uniforms,” he said.

Part of the sheik’s mission is rooted in the tribal law of revenge. His father was killed by Al Qaeda in 2004 for opposing its kind of fundamentalism. Two brothers were abducted and never heard from again, and a third brother was shot dead, he said. He has survived three car bombs outside the home he shares with his wife and five children.

Residents in parts of Anbar say the split in the Sunni insurgency is widening, with moderate tribal leaders and nationalist guerrillas pitted against fundamentalist warriors and rival tribes. That has led to a sharp increase in Sunni-on-Sunni violence across Anbar, especially in the past week, deepening the chaos of Iraq’s civil war.

Al Qaeda remains a major force, and the relentless violence from all sides has turned the province into a failed region, according to a classified Marine intelligence assessment that was leaked to reporters last year.

As part of a broad review of options in Iraq, President Bush is looking at whether to give greater support to Sunni Arab tribal leaders who have grown disillusioned with the radical arm of the insurgency. It is a strategy long urged by officials in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and now vigorously backed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The effort would have echoes of the American military’s promotion of South Vietnamese “village militias” during the Vietnam War, which some American counterinsurgency experts say was a relative success.....

[bth: this is worth reading in full.]

Defense Secretary Sends Stern Message About Accountability - washingtonpost.com

Defense Secretary Sends Stern Message About Accountability - washingtonpost.com: "Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was traveling outside Washington yesterday when he was notified that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, his boss, wanted to see him as soon as possible.Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was traveling outside Washington yesterday when he was notified that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, his boss, wanted to see him as soon as possible."

By the end of the day, Harvey had returned from a trip to Fort Benning, Ga., and was out of a job -- fired because of the scandal over the poor treatment of outpatient soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was the second Army secretary in a row to be relieved.

"The problems at Walter Reed appear to be problems of leadership," Gates said in a brief statement delivered at the Pentagon just after he met with Harvey.

Harvey's firing sent a strong message across the top of the military establishment that the new Pentagon chief, though a newcomer to the world of defense, would not be a passive manager and would hold senior leaders accountable for their actions. "There's a new boss in town, and the message is 'You guys need to do your job right,' " a Defense Department official said yesterday.

Indeed, in an interview shortly after Gates's statement, Harvey said: "We let the soldiers down. I'm the head of the Army. What can I say?"

The move was a "sudden, emotional decision on the parts of both secretaries," an Army official said, though Harvey maintained that it was his own decision to step down.

Pentagon officials said Gates was angry that as the scandal unfolded, the Army relieved the commander of Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who had been in that job for only about half a year, and replaced him with Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army surgeon general, who had previously commanded Walter Reed and was said by soldiers, their families and veterans' advocates to have long been aware of problems at the medical complex.

Harvey defended his decision to temporarily appoint Kiley as Walter Reed's commander. He said Kiley called him a few days ago and lambasted The Washington Post's series on the medical center. "He called me and said, 'I'm willing to defend myself. . . . I want to have an opportunity to defend myself, and it was wrong and it was yellow journalism at its worst, and I plan on doing it. Trust me.' " Harvey said. "I said, 'Okay, Kevin.' " Harvey added that Kiley was to be in the job only about a week until they could make a "thoughtful decision on who should replace him."

The Army's appointment of Kiley also set up a potentially embarrassing situation next week, when the general was scheduled to testify before two Senate committees about the Walter Reed situation.
Yesterday, the Army appointed Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker as the new Walter Reed commander.

The White House also made it clear to the Pentagon that the scandal needed to be addressed more swiftly and vigorously than the Army appeared to be doing, defense officials said.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday, Gates said he was "very concerned" about the situation at Walter Reed and wanted to make clear that "accountability on this will not be limited to a couple of [noncommissioned officers] and a junior officer once we know the facts."
While Gates did not explicitly mention his predecessor, the new defense secretary's approach to the problem has contrasted with the way Donald H. Rumsfeld's Pentagon handled allegations of wrongdoing. In the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Pentagon officials were quick to point the finger at low-ranking soldiers, and only one officer who worked at the prison has faced court proceedings, even after numerous investigations found high-level problems with interrogation policies.

Gates said yesterday that "some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness" of the Walter Reed issue.

Former Army secretary Thomas E. White, who was fired by Rumsfeld in April 2003, said that the country being at war creates unique challenges for the service secretaries, especially the secretary of the Army. "The treatment of casualties is an extremely emotional issue, and there is a tremendous sense that these people should be well treated for the service they've rendered their country," White said. "And when they're not, that's an unacceptable situation."

Staff writers Dana Priest and Josh White contributed to this report.

[Bth: I wish LTG Kiley gave as much care and attention to his wounded soldiers as he did to his career.]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Harvey leaves in disgrace.

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Harvey leaves in disgrace.: "Gates said Harvey had resigned, but senior defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Gates had privately demanded that Harvey leave. Gates was displeased that the officer Harvey had chosen as interim commander of Walter Reed — Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the current Army surgeon general and a former commander of Walter Reed — has been accused by critics of long knowing about the problems there and not improving outpatient care.

'I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed,' Gates said in the briefing room. He took no questions from reporters.' Yahoo"


-----------------------------------------------------------

I met this man a few years ago at a dinner in the "big city." He was smug, arrogant, complacent and unwilling to listen to anyone who was not there to kiss his ---.

The Regular Army colonel sitting next to me who was his military assistant looked like he was about to throw up behind the mask of soldierly submission to constitutional authority. He had been a cadet at West Point when I was a professor there.

Harvey has paid the price.

Now there are more. Obviously the self obsessed LTG Kiley should be next, after that, I suggest that General Cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army should be given a hard look. The Vice Chief is reponsible for watching over the internal functioning of the Army while the Chief takes care of the Army's external business and long term issues. Cody failed. pl



[bth: I have high regard for Patrick Lang who wrote this commentary in his blog.... I wonder why LTG Kiley hasn't been canned?]

NATO general wants more Afghan troops

swissinfo - NATO general wants more Afghan troops: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NATO allies are failing to tackle the drug trade that has funded the Taliban resurgence and the alliance still faces military shortfalls as the Afghan insurgency begins to ramp up springtime attacks, NATO's top commander said on Friday.

Supreme Allied Commander John Craddock, a U.S. general, said allies had offered another 7,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan, including commitments from the United States, Britain and Poland.

But NATO still needs another one or two battalions, Craddock said. A battalion can include 300 to 1,000 troops."...

Yellow ribbons dwindle with war support

FT.com / World / US & Canada - Yellow ribbons dwindle with war support: "For three years after the invasion of Iraq, it was difficult to drive more than a few miles through middle America without seeing a car displaying a magnetic yellow ribbon."

The magnets, bearing the slogan “Support Our Troops”, became a symbol of patriotism for millions of US motorists.


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But as support for the war fades, demand for yellow ribbons has collapsed.

Magnet America, the largest manufacturer of the product, has seen sales fall from a peak of 1.2m in August 2004 to about 4,000 a month and now has an unsold stockpile of about 1m magnets.

“We have enough supplies to meet demand for years to come,” said Micah Pattisall, director of operations. “Every product has a lifespan and this one has run its course.”

At its peak, the North Carolina-based company employed 180 people to handle sales, marketing and distribution. Today, it employs 11 people.

Mr Pattisall said declining support for the war was not the only reason for the slump.

A flood of cheap imports from China also hurt the company, which has refused to shift production overseas even though it costs three times as much to manufacture in the US.

Only about half a dozen companies are still supplying the magnets compared with up to 200 at the height of the fad, according to Mr Pattisall.

When the company was founded in April 2003, during the initial invasion of Iraq, nearly all its revenues came from yellow ribbons. Today, patriotic products account for only 6 per cent of sales.

The yellow ribbon has been overtaken as the company’s best-selling product by a wristband promoting chastity before marriage with the slogan “True Love Waits”.

“We are growing again and looking to hire additional staff,” Mr Pattisall said.

Yellow ribbons were first displayed widely in support of kidnapped US diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

Some critics have condemned the magnets as a cheap and superficial way to honour the armed forces and highlighted the irony of placing them on gas-guzzling vehicles that deepen the US’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Resentful that the yellow ribbon has become associated with support for the president, George W. Bush, opponents of the war have introduced their own car magnets emblazoned with anti-war statements.

On Ebay, the internet auction site, on Thursday, a black and white ribbon bearing the slogan “Out of Iraq, Bring ’Em Back” was priced at $5.

Traditional yellow ribbon magnets, in contrast, could be bought for one cent.

Friday, March 02, 2007

 
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Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban: "KARACHI - The Pakistani establishment has made a deal with the Taliban through a leading Taliban commander that will extend Islamabad's influence into southwestern Afghanistan and significantly strengthen the resistance in its push to capture Kabul.

One-legged Mullah Dadullah will be Pakistan's strongman in a corridor running from the Afghan provinces of Zabul, Urzgan, Kandahar and Helmand across the border into Pakistan's" Balochistan province, according to both Taliban and al-Qaeda contacts Asia Times Online spoke to. Using Pakistani territory and with Islamabad's support, the Taliban will be able safely to move men, weapons and supplies into southwestern Afghanistan.

The deal with Mullah Dadullah will serve Pakistan's interests in reestablishing a strong foothold in Afghanistan (the government in Kabul leans much more toward India), and it has resulted in a cooling of the Taliban's relations with al-Qaeda.

Despite their most successful spring offensive last year since being ousted in 2001, the Taliban realize they need the assistance of a state actor if they are to achieve "total victory". Al-Qaeda will have nothing to do with the Islamabad government, though, so the Taliban had to go it alone.

The move also comes as the US is putting growing pressure on Pakistan to do more about the Taliban and al-Qaeda ahead of a much-anticipated spring offensive in Afghanistan. US Vice President Dick Cheney paid an unexpected visit to Pakistan on Monday to meet with President General Pervez Musharraf.

The White House refused to say what message Cheney gave Musharraf, but it did not deny reports that it included a tough warning that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy.

A parting of the ways

The Taliban saw that after five years working with al-Qaeda, the resistance appeared to have reached a stage where it could not go much further.

Certainly it has grown in strength, and last year's spring offensive was a classic example of guerrilla warfare with the help of indigenous support. The application of improvised explosive devices and techniques of urban warfare, which the Taliban learned from the Iraqi resistance, did make a difference and inflicted major casualties against coalition troops.

However, the Taliban were unable to achieve important goals, such as the fall of Kandahar and laying siege to Kabul from the southern Musayab Valley on the one side to the Tagab Valley on the northern side
.

Taliban commanders planning this year's spring uprising acknowledged that as an independent organization or militia, they could not fight a sustained battle against state resources. They believed they could mobilize the masses, but this would likely bring a rain of death from the skies and the massacre of Taliban sympathizers. Their answer was to find their own state resources, and inevitably they looked toward their former patron, Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda does not fit into any plans involving Pakistan, but mutual respect between the al-Qaeda leadership and the Taliban still exists. All the same, there is tension over their ideological differences, and al-Qaeda sources believe it is just a matter of time before the sides part physically as well.

Pakistan only too happy to help
Ever since signing on for the US-led "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, Pakistan has been coerced by Washington to distance itself from the Taliban. The Taliban were, after all, enemy No 1 for harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's training camps.

So when the opportunity arose, Islamabad was quick to tap up Mullah Dadullah. This was the perfect way in which Pakistan could revive its contacts in the Taliban and give the spring uprising some real muscle, so the argument went among the strategic planners in Rawalpindi - in fact, so much muscle that forces led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would be forced into a position to talk peace - and who better than Pakistan to step in as peacemaker and bail out its Western allies?

The next logical step would be the establishment of a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul - delivering a kick in the strategic teeth of India at the same time. After all, Pakistan invested a lot in Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation in the 1980s yet itreceived little in return. Whether it was former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or Taliban leader Mullah Omar, they refused to be totally Pakistan's men.

A man for all seasons
Mullah Dadullah, 41, comes from southwestern Afghanistan, so he is "original Taliban", and has a record of being a natural leader in times of crisis.

Mullah Dadullah made a name for himself during the Soviet occupation, during which he lost a leg. And with victories against the Northern Alliance after the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, he pushed the alliance into the tail end of Afghanistan. This made him Pakistan's darling from Day 1.

He was Mullah Omar's emissary in the two Waziristan tribal areas before the spring offensive of last year. Here he brokered a major deal between the Pakistani armed forces and the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan had lost more than 800 soldiers in operations against the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda and it needed a face-saving way to extricate itself from the mess.

Mullah Dadullah's peace deal provided this, and the army made an "honorable" withdrawal from the volatile semi-independent region. Whenever the ceasefire was violated, Mullah Dadullah would settle things down.

The 2006 spring offensive was veteran mujahideen fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani's show. Nevertheless, the main areas of success were not Haqqani's traditional areas of influence, such as southeastern Afghanistan's Khost, Paktia and Paktika. The Taliban secured major victories in their heartland of the southwest, Helmand, Zabul, Urzgan and Kandahar. And their leader was Mullah Dadullah, whose men seized control of more than 12 districts - and held on to them.

Pakistani strategic circles are convinced that as a proven military commander, Mullah Dadullah will be able to work wonders this spring and finally give the Taliban the edge over the Kabul administration and its NATO allies.

This, ultimately, is Pakistan's objective - to revive its role in Kabul - and Islamabad is optimistic that Dadullah's considerable diplomatic skills will enable him to negotiate a power-sharing formula for pro-Pakistan Afghan warlords.

Even if Mullah Omar disagrees about any major compromise, Islamabad believes that Dadullah would by then have made such a name for himself in the battle against NATO that Omar would have little option but to accept whatever terms were agreed on.

A new string in the Taliban bow
A notable addition to what can only be described as a limited Taliban arsenal this year is surface-to-air missiles, notably the SAM-7, which was the first generation of Soviet man-portable SAMs.

The Taliban acquired these missiles in 2005, but they had little idea about how to use them effectively. Arab al-Qaeda members conducted extensive training programs and brought the Taliban up to speed. Nevertheless, the SAM-7s, while useful against helicopters, were no use against the fighter and bomber aircraft that were doing so much damage.

What the Taliban desperately needed were sensors for their missiles. These detect aircraft emissions designed to misdirect the missiles.

And it so happened that Pakistan had such devices, having acquired them from the Americans, though indirectly. The Pakistanis retrieved them from unexploded cruise missiles fired into Afghanistan in 1998, targeting bin Laden. They copied and adapted them to fit other missiles, including the SAMs
.

Now that the Taliban and Pakistan have a deal, these missiles will be made available to the Taliban. Much like the Stingers that changed the dynamics of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, the SAMs could help turn things Mullah Dadullah's, the Taliban's and Pakistan's way.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
 
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Heavy Falluja Fighting Kills 80 al-Qa'ida Fighters

IraqSlogger: Heavy Falluja Fighting Kills 80 al-Qa'ida Fighters: "The Iraqi Interior Ministry announced Thursday that 80 suspected al-Qa'ida militants were killed in heavy fighting Wednesday in the village of Amariyat al-Falluja, Aswat al-Iraq reports in Arabic. "

The ministry's official spokesman, Gen. 'Abd al-Karim Khalaf, said that the fighting began Wednesday afternoon and concluded Wednesday evening. At the time of his announcement on Thursday, he said that the bodies of the 80 dead fighters were still lying in the battlefield, adding that 50 others were captured.

The dead and captured included "foreign Arabs and Afghanis," Khalaf said.

The fighting involved Iraqi police, Iraqi Army forces, and "sons of the tribes of the area," he said. An Iraqi police captain added that the American forces provided air support.

Iraqi police officer Ahmad al-Falluji said that the fighting began between local tribes and al-Qa'ida forces, and that the local tribes called for assistance when they were unable to repel al-Qa'ida attacks.

Al-Falluji said that the attackers began to retreat to the village of Zurba' where their remnants were killed and captured by local tribesmen
.

[bth: do we understand what is going on here and is it possible to further isolate alQaida from the population?]
 
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Shortages Threaten Guard's Capability - washingtonpost.com

Shortages Threaten Guard's Capability - washingtonpost.com: "Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated 'not ready' -- largely as a result of shortfalls in billions of dollars' worth of equipment -- jeopardizing their capability to respond to crises at home and abroad, according to a congressional commission that released a preliminary report yesterday on the state of U.S. military reserve forces."

The report found that heavy deployments of the National Guard and reserves since 2001 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for other anti-terrorism missions have deepened shortages, forced the cobbling together of units and hurt recruiting.

"We can't sustain the [National Guard and reserves] on the course we're on," said Arnold L. Punaro, chairman of the 13-member Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, established by Congress in 2005. The independent commission, made up mainly of former senior military and civilian officials appointed by both parties, is tasked to study the mission, readiness and compensation of the reserve forces.

"The Department of Defense is not adequately equipping the National Guard for its domestic missions," the commission's report found. It faulted the Pentagon for a lack of budgeting for "civil support" in domestic emergencies, criticizing the "flawed assumption" that as long as the military is prepared to fight a major war, it is ready to respond to a disaster or emergency at home.

From Virginia and the District of Columbia to Indiana and New Mexico, National Guard units lack thousands of trucks, Humvees, generators, radios, night-vision goggles and other gear that would be critical for responding to a major disaster, terrorist attack or other domestic emergency, according to state Guard officials.

The equipment shortage extends to Gulf Coast states such as Louisiana and Mississippi -- devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina -- where Guard units have only a fraction of what they would need to respond to another large-scale disaster.

The Louisiana Guard, its gear depleted by Iraq and Katrina, is short of Humvees and trucks such as high-water vehicles critical for a major evacuation. "We are really concerned about vehicles," said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the Louisiana Guard. "We would have enough for a small-scale issue . . . maybe a Category 1 tropical storm we could handle -- an event that doesn't involve massive flooding or massive search and rescue," he said. But for bigger disasters, Louisiana would need help from other states.

Mississippi lacks trucks and is relying on contractors to fill gaps in engineering vehicles, according to the state Guard's assistant adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Ike Pylant. "We will make do with what we got," he said.

In the Washington area, Guard officials worry about a catastrophic attack. In the event of "a very large . . . chemical, biological or nuclear incident in the national capital region, I would need every truck I was authorized, and we don't have that," said Col. Robert Simpson, director of the joint staff for the Virginia National Guard. "We are definitely short trucks, all wheeled vehicles," as well as radios, bulldozers and other gear, Simpson said. The state Guard could handle ordinary contingencies such as "bad winter weather," he said.

Other state Guard leaders voiced similar concerns. "What keeps me up at night is, I think I am able to surge . . . for the normal disaster, but if I needed to deploy every bit of my soldiers and airmen, I know for a fact I do not have enough equipment," said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, head of the Indiana National Guard.

Army National Guard units in the United States have on average about half of their authorized stock of dual-use equipment, needed both for fighting wars and for domestic missions, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. The National Guard estimates that it would require $38 billion for equipment to restore domestic Army and Air National Guard units to full readiness. The Army has budgeted $21 billion to augment Guard equipment through 2011.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the use of U.S. military reservists has risen from about 12.7 million days of service in 2001 to an estimated 63 million days in 2006. The current increase of U.S. troops in Iraq is expected to require the call-up of as many as four National Guard combat brigades beginning early next year.

But while the 830,000-strong selected reserves make up more than a third of the total military, they receive only 3 percent of equipment funding and 8 percent of the Defense Department budget, the report said.

In 2006, Army National Guard units preparing to deploy had to borrow on average one-third of their people and 60 percent of their equipment from a dozen other units, making for a less cohesive force, the report found.

National Guard units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been required to leave large quantities of gear in the combat zone. Partly as a result, 88 percent of Guard units in the United States are now so poorly equipped that they are rated "not ready," according to Guard data and the report, which cited the National Guard Bureau chief, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum. Forty-five percent of the Air National Guard is also "not ready," according to Guard data.

The commission called for granting governors more power to handle emergencies, including allowing them to command not only National Guard forces but also federal troops responding to emergencies in their states. The commission also called for the chief of the National Guard Bureau to be elevated one rank to four-star general.

In commenting on legislation known as the National Guard Empowerment Act, the commission disagreed with a proposal to make the head of the National Guard a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in part, it said, because it would complicate the chain of command. Lawmakers backing the act criticized the recommendations as tepid.

The report also said prospects for Guard recruiting and retention remain "highly problematic," despite successes last year. Fewer former active-duty military personnel have joined the reserves over the past 10 years -- they made up 38 percent of the Army National Guard recruits last year, compared with 61 percent in 1997. Polling data for youths and their parents also show that favorable views of service in the Guard and reserves have declined since November 2001, the report said.

The commission is scheduled to issue its final report in January.

Reserves Need Better Resources and Planning Role, Panel Says

Reserves Need Better Resources and Planning Role, Panel Says - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, March 1 (AP) — The National Guard and Reserves do not get enough money or equipment and are left out of important planning for national emergencies, an independent panel concluded Thursday, long after the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina exposed serious stresses on the services."

The report, from the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, reinforces earlier criticism of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. The 151-page report found a significant lack of communication between reserve officials and other military leaders, the Homeland Security Department and United States Northern Command, which is responsible for the military’s national defense.

Guard and reserve troops have been under increasing strain since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq while also patrolling the border with Mexico and responding to hurricanes and other natural disasters. At times in 2005, the part-time soldiers made up nearly half of the American forces in Iraq, with some facing repeated deployments.

At the same time, Guard units have struggled to get the equipment and training needed to go to war, often swapping armored trucks, radios and other equipment between the states to meet battle and disaster requirements. The report said 88 percent of the Army National Guard units in the United States are considered poorly equipped.

The chairman of the panel that wrote the report. Gen. Arnold Punaro of the Marines, who is retired, said federal agencies must get past their turf battles to better protect the public.

“The American people would find it unacceptable,” said General Punaro, a retired Marine Corps general. “These are not problems that have just cropped up in the last two years or five years. These are issues that have been pretty much ignored and glossed over for decades.”

The panel, which was created by Congress, also criticized the Pentagon for not budgeting or planning specifically for civil support missions because they are viewed as extensions of wartime preparation.

“This is not a sustainable course, and their capability to do their mission will deteriorate over time if it’s not changed,” General Punaro said. “The thought that if we are capable of doing the away game, we can do the home game, we believe is a flawed assumption.”

Some lawmakers said that the panel had not gone far enough and that they would push for the chief of the reserves to have more budget authority and to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[bth: the problem has been around for years, but the use of the guard as front line fighters in foreign wars has not. Then unprecedented disasters like Katrina hit taxing resources further. This is simply a costly and unsustainable situation, but Bush has hit this cost from the federal budget, from the normal procurement chain and in most cases left the used and broken equipment in army depots in Texas and Alabama by the thousands.]

Abe Rejects Japan’s Files on War Sex

Abe Rejects Japan’s Files on War Sex - New York Times: "TOKYO, March 1 — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Thursday that Japan’s military had forced foreign women into sexual slavery during World War II, contradicting the Japanese government’s longtime official position.

Mr. Abe’s statement was the clearest so far that the government was preparing to reject a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the military’s role in setting up brothels and forcing, either directly or indirectly, women into sexual slavery. That declaration also offered an apology to the women, euphemistically called “comfort women.”

“There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it,” Mr. Abe told reporters. “So, in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly.”

The United States House of Representatives has begun debating a resolution that would call on Tokyo to “apologize for and acknowledge” the military’s role in wartime sex slavery. "...

[bth: this Prime Minister is turning out to be a real loser.]

US Army denies 'gag orders,' but says patients can 'go to Starbucks' to talk to media

The Raw Story | US Army denies 'gag orders,' but says patients can 'go to Starbucks' to talk to media: "The US Army is denying yesterday's claims that some patients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Medical Hold Unit were told not to speak to the media."

Army spokesman Paul Boyce tells Think Progress that patients are free to speak to the media; however, they must receive permission to speak with the press while on hospital grounds.

When questioned further, Boyce told TP that if patients wished to speak to reporters without permission, "They can go to Starbucks."

Think Progress writes, "Asked whether this was a reasonable solution for patients recuperating from physical and mental trauma, Boyce said yes. 'It's just a short trip, and many of them want to get out [of the hospital] anyway.'"

Meanwhile the Army Times reports today that the "Pentagon clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending queries for interviews and filming by CNN."

An e-mail intended for spokespeople, titled "Media inquiries related to Walter Reed," was quoted by the Times as saying, "It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place," referring to an ongoing investigation of problems at the Walter Reed facility.

The Pentagon e-mail sparked a discussion on Capitol Hill, writes Kelly Kennedy at the Times, where Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) issued a press release saying, "Any attempt to silence the very soldiers who brought their own mistreatment to light, or to hide ongoing abuses from the public eye — if such attempts are occurring — would be morally reprehensible.

"It would be an abdication," she continues, "of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our government: the protection of those who have fought to protect us."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Report: Al-Sadr in Qom, Iran

The MEMRI Blog: "MEMRI Baghdad reported on March 1 that according to knowledgeable sources in Baghdad, Muqtada Al-Sadr is staying with his cousin in Qom, Iran, Sayed Ja'far Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Also staying in Qom are many of the commanders of the Al-Mahdi army; they are being housed and financed by the Iranian government.
Source: MEMRI Baghdad, March 1, 2007"

Top Taliban Leader Is Arrested in Pakistan

Top Taliban Leader Is Arrested in Pakistan - New York Times: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 1 — The Taliban’s former defense minister, Mullah Obeidullah, who has remained one of the most senior leaders in the insurgent movement, was arrested in Pakistan on Monday, the day of Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit, two government officials said Thursday."

Mullah Obeidullah is the most important Taliban member to be arrested since the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces in 2001. He is one of the inner core of the Taliban leadership around the Mullah Muhammad Omar who are believed to operate from the relative safety of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, where Mullah Obeidullah was arrested.

It was not clear whether he was picked up before, during or after Mr. Cheney’s visit. But the timing may be significant since Pakistan has come in for rising criticism for not doing enough to stem the Taliban insurgents who have used Pakistan as a sanctuary....


Pakistani intelligence services did assist the American military in tracking another top Taliban official, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Osmani, who was killed in an American airstrike in southern Afghanistan on Dec. 19. Mr. Osmani was the main financial manager of the Taliban and was operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. His death was considered an important blow to the insurgents, said Colonel Collins, who was the United States military spokesman at the time.

Until now, Mullah Osmani was the most important figure in the Taliban leadership to have been killed or captured. The former Taliban foreign minister, Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, was detained by American forces in 2002 but was released in 2005 under a government reconciliation program. One of the Taliban’s top military commanders, Mullah Fazel remains in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, along with the former Taliban governor of Balkh.

Mullah Obeidullah is originally from Panjwai district of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. He served as minister of defense in the Taliban government. As recently as December, he gave an interview to Reuters in which he asserted that the Taliban had gained in strength, could fight the world’s strongest armies and would step up suicide attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

A former Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, who was himself arrested by Pakistani police in Quetta in 2005, said Mullah Obeidullah was one of only two people who had direct access to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. He also said that Mullah Obeidullah had personally ordered military operations, including the slaying of a foreign aid official working in Kabul in March 2005.....
 
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Merrill: BoJ Rate Hike Meant to 'Scare the Pants off Carry Traders' - SeekingAlpha

Merrill: BoJ Rate Hike Meant to 'Scare the Pants off Carry Traders' - SeekingAlpha: "FP Trading Desk submits: Despite the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) decision on Wednesday to raise its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point to 0.5%, it would still take 139 years to double your money in a Japanese bank account, according to Merrill Lynch strategist Michael Hartnett"

He also points out that Vietnam’s equity market recently doubled in only 61 trading days.

In January, a record amount of money (440-billion Yen) flowed into international stock funds in Japan, while February appears to be on course for another record, Mr. Hartnett said, stressing Japan’s increasing importance as a source of buying for Asia and emerging market equities.

Until Japanese interest rates rise or local equity markets offer more competitive returns, this scenario is unlikely to change.

While Mr. Hartnett thinks it is unlikely that Japan’s central bank will crush the carry trade (a strategy where investors sell a currency with a relatively low interest rate and use the proceeds to buy a different currency with a higher interest rate), he does think the hike was meant to “scare the pants off carry-traders.”

But it didn’t, Mr. Hartnett said, which demonstrates that investors may choose risky assets like those in emerging markets, while believing the BoJ’s actions can do them no harm.

[bth: look to this as the cause of a great deal of this weeks stock market volatility. It shoud be more widely reported. Its simple. You borrow qat 0.5% and invest in US treasuries or stock market investments around the world. Fortunes are made this way - at least until things reverse. We may be at one of those points.]

War Debate Keeps the House's Only Iraq Veteran Front and Center

War Debate Keeps the House's Only Iraq Veteran Front and Center - washingtonpost.com: "Fresh-faced and young, Patrick Murphy normally would have fallen into the category of unknown freshman legislator elbowing to make a name for himself.

But attracting attention has been no problem for Murphy."

The Pennsylvania Democrat happens to be the only member of Congress who is a veteran of the war in Iraq, a distinction that has swiftly catapulted him to Washington's front lines of politics and policy with little effort.

Senior members turn to the 33-year-old for policy guidance. Generals are eager to brief him one-on-one. Murphy delivers moving speeches on the floor about the 19 paratroopers he served with who died in Iraq. And he stood shoulder to shoulder with Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference, emotionally talking about flawed U.S. policy.

"Sometimes I feel like the weight of the United States military in Iraq is on my shoulders," Murphy said in an interview in his office this week. "I really have to push myself to focus on my district, this is so consuming."

On Monday, he returned from his first trip back to the Iraq since his 2003-2004 tour, and he said he found conditions there painfully similar or worse. "It feels like Groundhog Day all over again there," he said. "Before it was like, 'It'll take time, it'll take time.' Well, now we're four years later and everyone was unanimous: We need a political and economic solution, and all we have is a military solution."

Murphy was among a dozen veterans of the Iraq war who ran for Congress last year, but only he won a seat. Murphy, a captain, was a paratrooper with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He has co-sponsored legislation calling for a 12-month timeline for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq and allowing for some troops to remain to provide basic force protection and training of Iraqis.

He said he repeatedly heard from officers and soldiers that the United States isn't doing enough to get the Iraqis to step up and assume more responsibility for their country's defense and for combating insurgents.

"I asked one of my former students what's going on, and he said, 'Sir, if the Iraqis don't get off the sidelines, we'll be here forever,' " Murphy said. "They are frustrated because they know what it takes to win there. We are not putting appropriate pressure on the Iraqis."
Asked whether any of the troops were skeptical of him because of his stance on the war, he said those he encountered were nothing but encouraging.

"I'm not necessarily antiwar. I'm anti-failure," he said. "There's a difference."
....

Pakistan denies bin Laden in country

Pakistan denies bin Laden in country - The Boston Globe: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan yesterday rejected a claim by the US intelligence chief that Osama bin Laden and his deputy were hiding in northwestern Pakistan, and that Al Qaeda was setting up camps near the Afghan border."...

Gates: $100M Gitmo Compound "Ridiculous", Defense Secretary Downsizes Planned Facility For Trials Of Suspected Terrorists

Gates: $100M Gitmo Compound "Ridiculous", Defense Secretary Downsizes Planned Facility For Trials Of Suspected Terrorists - CBS News: "AP) Defense Secretary Robert Gates downsized a planned compound for war-crimes trials, telling Congress he thought the initial Pentagon plan for a $100 million facility was 'ridiculous.' "...

Pak girds for blowback on Al Qaeda intelligence

Khaleej Times Online - Pak girds for blowback on Al Qaeda intelligence: "ISLAMABAD - It has been an extraordinarily bloody start to 2007 in Pakistan, and analysts, intelligence officials and ordinary Pakistanis fear it is likely to get worse."

“The Americans will have said: ‘If we find a camp, either you go in and destroy it, or we do it ourselves’,” said Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times.

President George W. Bush is being asked to push Pakistan harder, not just by the American media, the think-tanks, but also by unhappy NATO allies, his own generals, and most recently Democrat lawmakers who want to make aid to Pakistan contingent on counter-terrorism results.

“There’s growing uneasiness, not only among Democrats and not only on Capitol Hill, that things are going in a wrong direction in Pakistan,” Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, said.

Success against Al Qaeda and in Afghanistan depends on Pakistani support.

“Increasingly, people of both parties, as well as apolitical people, understand that there’s a possibility that we might lose this war in Afghanistan and until very recently that was a shocking idea for people who weren’t playing close attention,” Hathaway said.

The United States became intensively engaged with Pakistan and Afghanistan after Al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

The possibility of Al Qaeda planners based in the North Waziristan region mounting another successful terror strike on the West should haunt Pakistan, analysts say.

There are also the allegations, denied by Musharraf, that Taleban leaders actually run the Afghan insurgency from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

“Pakistan could really show it was confronting the Taleban by arresting and putting on trial some of these so-called clerics recruiting and training suicide bombers,” said a diplomat whose country has troops in Afghanistan.

It could also take out of commission any rogue intelligence officers supporting Taleban networks, US-based analysts said.

Retaliation
Having lost over 700 of its troops during three years of fighting, Pakistan signed an accord in September with militants in exchange for guarantees that they would cease attacks on the army, and stop crossing from North Waziristan into Afghanistan.

After the failure of military intervention, Musharraf has said he intends to strike similar agreements in other militancy-prone tribal areas where the state has little writ.

The United States, however, is unhappy with the results of the Waziristan accord, and its generals want strikes conducted against Al Qaeda and Taleban using the area as a safe haven.

A Pakistani army air strike on compounds used by militants in the mountains of Waziristan in mid-January was followed by a wave of suicide attacks killing close to 45 people.

A suicide bomber killed 42 army recruits in November in revenge for another air strike on a militant madrasa in Bajaur tribal region.

“I expect more agreements, more military strikes, and then more blowback,” Sethi said.

A day after visiting Islamabad, a suicide bomb attack outside Bagram airbase in Afghanistan on Tuesday gave Cheney a taste of the threat Musharraf now faces whenever a major operation is launched against a militant target.

“There’s so much anxiety. Everyone is talking about how many suicide bombers there are. How many might be for Afghanistan, and how many for here,” said a resident of Peshawar, the northwestern city suffering a backlash from the conflict in the tribal lands.

The scary trend prompted one Pakistani intelligence official to remark: “We’ve got to stop this place becoming like Iraq.”

Crucial asset

For all the US media reports of Washington getting ”tough” with Pakistan prior to Cheney’s visit, the US strategy of applying private pressure while maintaining public support for General Musharraf is unchanged, analysts say. Musharraf is regarded as a crucial US asset in a country where there is an enduring global threat from Islamist militants and anti-American sentiment is rife.

Should a confrontation with Iran blow-up, Washington will be glad to have a friend in Islamabad.

With elections due this year or early in 2008, critics say democracy-minded civilian politicians should be promoted as an alternative to the president in uniform, but most analysts agree US policy strategists won’t risk undermining Musharraf.

“They don’t want to precipitate a crisis. They don’t have a Plan B for Pakistan, or a Plan B for Musharraf should he react negatively,” remarked Ahmed Rashid, a respected Pakistani journalist and author
.

21 killed in border clashes in Iran

21 killed in border clashes in Iran: "During renewed border clashes in Iran, 17 rebels and four men of the paramilitary revolutionary guards (IRGC) were killed, state news agency IRNA reported Thursday.

An IRGC commander told IRNA that several rebels infiltrated Azerbaijan province in northwest Iran in recent days for what he called 'sabotage operations' but 17 of them were killed and several others wounded."

Azerbaijan province borders both Iraq and Turkey and Iran has had frequent clashes there with members or sympathisers of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

On Tuesday two policemen were killed and four more abducted by a rebel group in the Sistan-Beluchistan province in southeast Iran.

The group had reportedly infiltrated Iran from neighbouring Pakistan for terrorist operations.

Military chiefs give US six months to win Iraq war

Military chiefs give US six months to win Iraq war | Iraq | Guardian Unlimited: "An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat."

The officers - combat veterans who are leading experts in counter-insurgency - are charged with implementing the "new way forward" strategy announced by president George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial "surge" of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.

But the team, known as the "Baghdad brains trust" and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone around the US embassy, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, said a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations. "They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about 'Plan B' by the autumn - meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it's getting harder every day," the former official said.

By improving security, the plan's short-term aim is to create time and space for the Iraqi government to bring rival Shia, Sunni and Kurd factions together in a process of national reconciliation, us officials say. If that works within the stipulated timeframe, longer-term schemes for rebuilding Iraq under the so-called "go long" strategy will be set in motion. But the next six months are make-or-break for both the US military and the Iraqi government.

The main obstacles confronting Gen Petraeus's team are:
· Insufficent numbers of troops on the ground
· A "disintegrating" international coalition
· An anticipated upsurge in violence in the south as the British leave
· Morale problems as casualties rise
· A failure of political will in Washington and/or Baghdad


"The scene is very tense. They are working round the clock. Endless cups of tea with the Iraqis," the former senior administration official said. "But they're still trying to figure out what's the plan. The president is expecting progress. But they're thinking, what does he mean? The plan is changing every minute, as all plans do."
...

U.S. to fund six cellulosic ethanol plants

United Press International - NewsTrack - U.S. to fund six cellulosic ethanol plants: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Energy announced Wednesday it will provide $385 million in funding for six biorefinery projects during the next four years."

Energy Department Secretary Samuel Bodman said the six plants are expected to produce more than 130 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, helping further the government's goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012 and, along with increased automobile fuel efficiency, reducing the United States' gasoline consumption by 20 percent within 10 years.


The projects selected and their funding were the


Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Chesterland, Mo., and its plant in Kansas, $76 million; ALICO Inc. of LaBelle, Fla., $33 million; BlueFire Ethanol Inc. of Irvine, Calif., $40 million; the Broin Companies of Sioux Falls, S.D., and its plant in Emmetsurg, Iowa, $80 million; Iogen Biorefinery Partners LLC of Arlington, Va., and its plant in Shelley, Idaho, 80 million; and Range Fuels Inc. of Broomfield, Colo., and its plant in Soperton, Ga., $76 million.

Liquid Explosives Hunted Across the Atlantic Busted in Lebanon

Naharnet Newsdesk - Liquid Explosives Hunted Across the Atlantic Busted in Lebanon: "Nearly six months after feverish search by U.S. and European intelligence agencies for lethal 'liquid explosives' Lebanese police confiscated the first batch of such deadly weapons, sources told Naharnet Tuesday.

One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said each of the 31 confiscated explosive devices is made up of two tubes filled with blue liquid, fitted on a board and connected to a timer-detonator."

A police communiqué said a squad of its intelligence branch carried out a "swift operation during which it confiscated 31 explosive sets."

The communiqué said the confiscated sets included "sophisticated electro-chemical timers-detonators that can be timed to explode after as late as 124 days."

The sets were confiscated in an area "in the vicinity" of the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, near the southern port city of Sidon, 45 kilometers from Beirut, the communiqué said.

The sets were to be "smuggled and used in terrorist acts," the communiqué added.

The source, however, told Naharnet the sets were busted nearly 12 days ago in the Sikkeh district of Ain el-Hilweh in a "daring, swift and clean raid."

The sets, according to the source, were "assembled and awaiting a squad to smuggle them to another location. Police, apparently, postponed issuing a communiqué on the bust in an effort to tail members of what is believed to be a major network of terrorists operating between various sectors of Lebanon."

He said material used in the sets is of an "eastern European origin." He refused to elaborate.

British, U.S. and European Union intelligence agencies have been searching since August for the lethal liquid explosives after London said it unveiled a scheme to blow up passenger aircraft on flights across the Atlantic.

Stringent security measures have been applied at almost all western airports, banning air passengers from carrying any liquids, even food for infants.

The Lebanese police operation was the first ever reported bust of liquid explosives in the world.

Voice to debate Sheehan can't be found

Times Argus: Vermont News & Information: "MONTPELIER – When anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan testifies against the Iraq war before a Senate committee Friday, the voice in favor of the conflict may be silent."

Committee Chairman Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans said Monday that he has been unable to find anyone to testify in favor of the four-year-old war during the noontime hearing in the Senate chambers later this week.

Illuzzi said he has contacted the state departments of Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, along with representatives of the Vermont National Guard Enlisted Association, but none wanted to come before the committee opposite Sheehan.

"I wanted a balanced hearing to show that there are two sides to the question," Illuzzi explained. "But so far everyone had declined the opportunity to speak in favor of the war."

Sheehan's testimony before Illuzzi's Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs comes weeks after the Vermont Legislature became the first in the country to pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Although the Senate and the House supported a nonbinding resolution earlier this month calling for the end of the war, Illuzzi said Sheehan will be allowed to speak again on that measure during the committee hearing Friday.

The session has been moved from its traditional committee room into the Senate chambers because lawmakers are expecting a large crowd. Sheehan will also be giving a press conference outside the Statehouse following her testimony.

Sheehan's testimony is the first stop on a three-day tour of Vermont aimed at building support for a series of nonbinding town meeting resolutions calling for withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq and the impeachment of President Bush.

Twenty-three towns have the impeachment and end-the-war questions on their warnings, but organizers of the grassroots movement, which started last year in the rural Windham County town of Newfane, say more towns may tackle the issue under other business.

Sheehan will make stops during the tour in Middlebury, Castleton, Rutland and Brattleboro along with a half-dozen more towns, according to Dan DeWalt, a member of the Newfane Select Board who kicked off the grassroots Green Mountain impeachment movement and organized her visit.

DeWalt said Sheehan, who was in Jordan this week, will speak about ending the war during the pre-town meeting stops and efforts to push the U.S. Congress to impeach Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

She also plans to raise the impeachment issue during her Senate testimony, DeWalt said. A bill calling for Bush's removal has been introduced, but the committee it has been referred to is unlikely to act on it.

"The Vermont Legislature seems intent on avoiding the issue of impeachment, but Cindy will talk about the need to remove this man from office before he does more damage," DeWalt said.

This will not be Sheehan's first visit to Montpelier.

Two months before her historic demonstration outside of President Bush's Texas ranch in August 2005, Sheehan and other anti-war activists, including family members of other soldiers killed in Iraq, rallied for peace at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier.

"Our children are cannon fodder for the war machine," she said at that meeting, which occurred about 16 months after her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq. "We have to make it a country we can be proud of again."

Illuzzi said he is looking forward to hearing Sheehan speak Friday. Although her activism following her son's death has resulted in acclaim from other anti-war activists, some conservatives have been critical of some of her comments.

"I'm curious to see which side of that fence I'll be on after hearing her speak," Illuzzi said.

On the Web: www.vtimpeach.com

Contact Daniel Barlow at Daniel.barlow@rutlandherald.com.

Hospital Officials Knew of Neglect

Hospital Officials Knew of Neglect - washingtonpost.com: "Top officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, including the Army's surgeon general, have heard complaints about outpatient neglect from family members, veterans groups and members of Congress for more than three years."

A procession of Pentagon and Walter Reed officials expressed surprise last week about the living conditions and bureaucratic nightmares faced by wounded soldiers staying at the D.C. medical facility. But as far back as 2003, the commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews.

Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, said he ran into Kiley in the foyer of the command headquarters at Walter Reed shortly after the Iraq war began and told him that "there are people in the barracks who are drinking themselves to death and people who are sharing drugs and people not getting the care they need."

"I met guys who weren't going to appointments because the hospital didn't even know they were there," Robinson said. Kiley told him to speak to a sergeant major, a top enlisted officer.

A recent Washington Post series detailed conditions at Walter Reed, including those at Building 18, a dingy former hotel on Georgia Avenue where the wounded were housed among mice, mold, rot and cockroaches.

Kiley lives across the street from Building 18. From his quarters, he can see the scrappy building and busy traffic the soldiers must cross to get to the 113-acre post. At a news conference last week, Kiley, who declined several requests for interviews for this article, said that the problems of Building 18 "weren't serious and there weren't a lot of them." He also said they were not "emblematic of a process of Walter Reed that has abandoned soldiers and their families."

But according to interviews, Kiley, his successive commanders at Walter Reed and various top noncommissioned officers in charge of soldiers' lives have heard a stream of complaints about outpatient treatment over the past several years. The complaints have surfaced at town hall meetings for staff and soldiers, at commanders' "sensing sessions" in which soldiers or officers are encouraged to speak freely, and in several inspector general's reports detailing building conditions, safety issues and other matters.

Retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer Jr., who commanded Walter Reed for two years until last August, said that he was aware of outpatient problems and that there were "ongoing reviews and discussions" about how to fix them when he left. He said he shared many of those issues with Kiley, his immediate commander. Last summer when he turned over command to Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, Farmer said, "there were a variety of things we identified as opportunities for continued improvement."

In 2004, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and his wife stopped visiting the wounded at Walter Reed out of frustration. Young said he voiced concerns to commanders over troubling incidents he witnessed but was rebuffed or ignored. "When Bev or I would bring problems to the attention of authorities of Walter Reed, we were made to feel very uncomfortable," said Young, who began visiting the wounded recuperating at other facilities.

Beverly Young said she complained to Kiley several times. She once visited a soldier who was lying in urine on his mattress pad in the hospital. When a nurse ignored her, Young said, "I went flying down to Kevin Kiley's office again, and got nowhere. He has skirted this stuff for five years and blamed everyone else."

Young said that even after Kiley left Walter Reed to become the Army's surgeon general, "if anything could have been done to correct problems, he could have done it."

Soldiers and family members say their complaints have been ignored by commanders at many levels.

More than a year ago, Chief Warrant Officer Jayson Kendrick, an outpatient, attended a sensing session, the Army's version of a town hall meeting where concerns are raised in front of the chain of command. Kendrick spoke about the deterioration and crowded conditions of the outpatient administrative building, which had secondhand computers and office furniture shoved into cubicles, creating chaos for family members. An inspector general attending the meeting "chuckled and said, 'What do you want, pool tables and Ping-Pong tables in there?' " Kendrick recalled.

Army officials have been at other meetings in which outpatient problems were detailed.

On Feb. 17, 2005, Kiley sat in a congressional hearing room as Sgt. 1st Class John Allen, injured in Afghanistan in 2002, described what he called a "dysfunctional system" at Walter Reed in which "soldiers go months without pay, nowhere to live, their medical appointments canceled." Allen added: "The result is a massive stress and mental pain causing further harm. It would be very easy to correct the situation if the command element climate supported it. The command staff at Walter Reed needs to show their care."

In 2006, Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker in the department of psychiatry, briefed several colonels at Walter Reed about problems and steps that could be taken to improve living conditions at Building 18. Last March, he also shared the findings of a survey his department had conducted.

It found that 75 percent of outpatients said their experience at Walter Reed had been "stressful" and that there was a "significant population of unsatisfied, frustrated, disenfranchised patients." Military commanders played down the findings.

"These people knew about it," Wilson said. "The bottom line is, people knew about it but the culture of the Army didn't allow it to be addressed."

Last October, Joyce Rumsfeld, the wife of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, was taken to Walter Reed by a friend concerned about outpatient treatment. She attended a weekly meeting, called Girls Time Out, at which wives, girlfriends and mothers of soldiers exchange stories and offer support.

According to three people who attended the gathering, Rumsfeld listened quietly. Some of the women did not know who she was. At the end of the meeting, Rumsfeld asked one of the staff members whether she thought that the soldiers her husband was meeting on his visits had been handpicked to paint a rosy picture of their time there. The answer was yes.

When Walter Reed officials found out that Rumsfeld had visited, they told the friend who brought her -- a woman who had volunteered there many times -- that she was no longer welcome on the grounds.


Last week, the Army relieved of duty several low-ranking soldiers who managed outpatients.

This week, in a move that some soldiers viewed as reprisal for speaking to the media, the wounded troops were told that early-morning room inspections would be held and that further contact with reporters is prohibited.


Yesterday, Walter Reed received an unscheduled inspection by a hospital accreditation agency. Members of the Joint Commission, formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, began a two-day visit "for cause" to examine discharge practices that have allowed soldiers to go missing or unaccounted for after they are released from the hospital.

[bth: several things, in 2004 Alma and I were visiting with the Schieders, a friend of John's who was seriously wounded in August 2003. They told us that Rep. Young and his wife were regular visitors and that his wife Beverly was a saint that watched over them. At that time they told us that she was raising holy hell with the Walter Reed administrators about the callous treatment of some patients.

The other person they mentioned that gave a damned about them was Murtha who showed up there weekly. It is a shame that the Youngs had to go elsewhere to help. ....

Then to read about Mrs. Rumsfeld and her friend being 'no longer welcome on the grounds' is just utter nonesense. Who do these administrators think they are? How is it that they are not held to account, only the NCOs seem to be in trouble over this disasterous situation.

Now we come to the Joint Commission. The loss of records, the lost patients, those are all serious violations of JACHO standards and the Joint Commission would and can shut down accredited hospitals in the private sector. The Dept. of Defense a few years ago came under JACHO standards which means Walter Reed has at least one regulatory body - Joint Commission - to report to. The issues raised in the articles by the WaPo are enough to get their accreditation revoked. Perhaps the Joint Commission will be the only ones really willing to step up and challenge this adhorent situation.]

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stop Iran War.com

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet - Military News, Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet - Military News, Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times: "Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media."

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

They were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.

The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Army public affairs did not respond to a request sent Sunday evening to verify the personnel changes.

The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: “It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place,” referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.

[bth: retribution, plain and simple. Where are the officers in all this? They skated, the major general - slips away. There is no accountability. ... The Pentagon thinks the problem is the publicity, not the rat infested shithole they kept soldiers in and out of the public eye.]

Iraq Bill Vexes Democrats

Iraq Bill Vexes Democrats - washingtonpost.com: "House Democratic leaders offered a full-throated defense last night of their plans to link Iraq war spending with rigorous standards for resting, training and equipping combat troops, saying that they would hold President Bush accountable for failing to meet those readiness tests."

But after a fractious meeting of the House Democratic caucus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said Democratic members still have not united around the proposal.

More than a week after Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.) detailed plans that he said would curtail deployments to Iraq, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders said the coming debate on war funding would be about forcing the administration to live up to existing military requirements. War funds would be redirected toward equipment, such as night-vision goggles, that some troops lack. Democrats would insist on giving combat troops a year off between deployments, and they could impose restrictions on Pentagon policies that extend combat tours.

They would also condition some war funding on benchmarks for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

But some Democrats, especially those from conservative districts, remain wary. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (Va.), who supports the plan, said many Democrats "want to make sure this is still President Bush's war.

It's his war to manage, and it's his war to end."

Members of Congress are not "the only ones conflicted," said Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.). "The country's conflicted. We don't want to do the same thing we've been doing for 3 1/2 years that hasn't worked, but we don't want to pull the plug."

In the Senate, the Iraq debate may be on hold for a week or longer while Democrats address concerns about a new effort to limit Bush's war authority.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) had said that Iraq-related amendments may be considered on a homeland-security bill now before the Senate. But families of Sept. 11 victims fanned out across the Capitol yesterday, saying that a war debate could slow progress on the legislation, which would enact security recommendations by the bipartisan commission that studied the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We're going to do our utmost to finish the 9/11 [bill] before we move to Iraq again," Reid said.

Meanwhile, Democrats who have opposed the war from the start are protesting the language of the new Senate Iraq measure, which would repeal the 2002 resolution granting Bush the authority to invade, while limiting future military action and setting a March 31, 2008, goal for withdrawing combat troops.

Its cosponsors are Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Armed Services Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.).

Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), a prominent war opponent, said he rejected a draft of the new resolution because it appeared to grant Bush too much leeway to continue the conflict. In effect, he said, Democrats would be reauthorizing a war while trying to end it. He was particularly bothered by a provision that suggested an open-ended U.S. commitment to providing border security.

"It's crazy to create a new military mission in Iraq when we should be getting out of there," Feingold said. "I didn't vote for it in the first place. I'll be darned if I'm going to vote for it now."

Senate Democratic leaders said Feingold's concerns are not insurmountable. To the greatest extent possible, they are seeking to maintain public unity on Iraq, despite a wide range of views within the party.

[bth: the Democrats in congress are about to choke. Murtha's approach is approved in polling by 58% of the American public - far higher than any other option. .... The problem with the statement "Its his [Bush's] war to end...] is that 14,000 Americans will be wounded or killed in 24 months.]

U.S. Displays Bomb Parts Said to Be Made in Iran - New York Times

U.S. Displays Bomb Parts Said to Be Made in Iran - New York Times: "...Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, “plastic made in Haditha,” a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq."

The box marked U.A.E. provided a phone number for the manufacturer there. A call to that number late Monday encountered only an answering machine that said, “Leave your number and we will call you back.”

Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that despite those confusing new elements, the United States has been cautious in how it has presented the possible evidence of Iranian involvement.

“The case that has been made has been very careful and very restrained,” Mr. Cordesman said. “If this is unrealistic, it can’t be blamed on the intelligence community. This has had the highest possible policy level review, and credibility on an international level is clearly the major criteria in reviewing everything that was said.”

Other analysts have expressed skepticism that the American military has made a strong case for the Iranian origin of the E.F.P.’s as tensions are running high between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.

Items in the cache included the concave copper dishes called liners that cap the canisters and roll into deadly armor-piercing slugs when the explosive detonates. There were also various kinds of electronics, presumably for arming and triggering the devices, the PVC tubes, and two types of rockets and mortar shells that Major Weber said had markings and construction that identified them as being Iranian in origin.

The PVC tubes, of several different sizes, appeared to be fittings of the kind of used to splice two stretches of PVC tube together in routine applications.

“It’s worth pursuing that it’s machine-made and you can track the country of origin,” said Maj. Jeremy Siegrist of the First Cavalry Division. “And it’s manufactured for a specific purpose.”

That raised the possibility that the parts were purchased on the open market and that the liners were then manufactured to the right size to cap the fittings.

Captain Combs said the cache was hidden in buried freezers and an 80-gallon water container. “What they couldn’t bury, like the 122-millimeter rockets you see in front of you, was covered in tarps,” he said.

U.S. Find Stokes Fears Of Iraqis' Bomb-Making Ability - WSJ.com

U.S. Find Stokes Fears Of Iraqis' Bomb-Making Ability - WSJ.com: "BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An American military raid in southern Iraq uncovered a makeshift factory used to construct advanced roadside bombs that the U.S. had thought were made only in Iran. The find raises fears that Shiite Muslim insurgents across Iraq may be able to manufacture large quantities of such weapons on their own."

The Saturday raid in the small town of Jedidah marked the first time U.S. forces found evidence that militants inside Iraq are assembling "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs, which can punch through the armored shells of U.S. military vehicles. U.S. officials said they found components for building about 150 of the devices, one of the largest caches of such weapons found to date in Iraq.

This find -- separate from one made in the southern city of Hilla a week ago -- is forcing U.S. officials to reassess their belief that such bombs were being built in Iran and smuggled fully assembled into Iraq. U.S. commanders briefing reporters here said Iraqi militants appear able to construct the bombs out of materials purchased locally or shipped into the country from Iran.

"We originally thought these came into Iraq already created, and now that intelligence has been totally relooked," said Capt. Clayton Combs, who led the raid. "It's like a playground kit you get in the mail: You can plot the instructions and start putting it together on-site, and that's what we have here."

U.S. commanders said the discovery raises concerns that the weapons could go into wider use, if militants no longer depend on receiving fully assembled devices from Iran or other sources. U.S. officials say the bombs, used mostly by Shiite militants, are more lethal than conventional roadside bombs used by Sunni insurgents.

U.S. military commanders said many of the weapons seized in the Saturday raid -- including mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and large quantities of plastic explosive -- had markings indicating they had been manufactured in Iran. That could be used by the Bush administration to bolster its allegation that Iran is funneling weapons to Shiites in Iraq.

The U.S. commanders said they hadn't found evidence linking the weapons to Iran's government, army or paramilitary forces -- a connection the U.S. has yet to firmly establish despite its accusations. Tehran has denied the White House allegations and has accused Washington of fabricating evidence to justify a possible military strike on Iran.

The raid followed a call to a U.S.-run hotline from an Iraqi reporting that weapons were stored in a palm grove in Jedidah, a town near the Shiite city of Baqubah. U.S. forces searching the site found two freezers and a large water container that had been buried up to their lids and covered with palm fronds. Inside were dozens of rocket-propelled-grenade warheads, rocket launchers, mortar rounds and other weapons, U.S. commanders said.

The most important find was a mound of 150 concave copper caps, the main ingredient in EFPs, they said. When EFPs detonate, the caps turn into molten balls that can pierce the armored shells of Humvees or other vehicles, killing or maiming the soldiers inside.

Capt. Combs said the copper caps were smooth and perfectly symmetrical, suggesting they had been made with a high degree of technical precision. He said he didn't know where the caps came from or whether they had been made in Iran. "That's the hard thing about this war," he said.
Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com

[bth: there was of course a second site where these were manufactured discovered in November in Baghdad.]

Army says new Iraqi arms cache shows link to Iran - Los Angeles Times

Army says new Iraqi arms cache shows link to Iran - Los Angeles Times: "...Weber said that technical expertise was required to cut, stamp and mill the copper plates, as well as to arm and trigger the EFPs. Iran has the necessary expertise, he said. That country provides weapons and technical support for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which has used similar explosive devices in southern Lebanon.

Referring to the C-4 explosives, rockets and mortar rounds, Weber said, 'You can establish the country of origin, and that is a fact.'"

Capt. Clayton Combs, the company commander whose 1st Cavalry unit uncovered what officers called "an IED factory," said he found it "interesting" that explosives, rockets and mortar rounds from Iran were among the EFP-making materials.

Asked to elaborate, Combs replied, "I'm not willing to go beyond that."A location in Hillah, south of Baghdad, where U.S. troops last week found a cache of EFP materials, was probably a transit point for materials to be assembled elsewhere, Weber speculated.

The Hillah cache — and many others found by U.S. troops — included C-4 explosives made in Iran, Weber said.

Mortar rounds and rockets are commonly used in other types of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

The rockets and mortar rounds found in Diyala, a province north of Baghdad, were manufactured in 2006 and 2002, respectively, officers said, and thus were not left over from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.EFPs have killed at least 170 U.S. troops, according to U.S. officials.

So far, 3,157 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war, according to icasualties.org.

The Bush administration is mounting a campaign to isolate and discredit Iran over its nuclear program and its role in Iraq.

It has accused the Quds Force, a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, of supporting Shiite Muslim attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.Siegrist said U.S. troops were tipped off about the bomb facility in Diyala by a resident.

The materials were hidden in two freezers and a water container buried in a palm grove.

The cache included plastic plumbing pipes that formed EFP housings, along with metal rings used to secure the devices.

Also found were detonation cord, blasting caps, fuses, voltage regulators and ball bearings.On display Monday was a fully formed EFP, which Combs said had been found at the site, fitted with a C-4 charge. The device is the size and shape of a large coffee can.

It was fitted with what Weber said was a sighting device and topped with a copper disk the size of a bread plate.

Also seized from the Diyala site were 15 122-millimeter rockets, two dozen 120-millimeter mortar rounds, mines, antiaircraft ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Combs said.

The most significant items were the copper plates, made from 5-millimeter copper sheets, Combs said.

"They're the hardest part to make," he said. "You need good quality copper and it has to be done just right, so this is a major find."

[bth: the copper plates can be pressed in justed about any machine shop. A reporter should ask whether the tooling marks on the Diyala find matched those from the Hillah site. ... As to the anonoymous tip and the conveniently stashed Iranian weapons, my guess is that the tip came from rolling up a network and not a tip. The timing is just too damned convenient... Do I think Iran is providing funding and weapons? Sure, but so is Hezbollah and lots of others. This isn't the smoking gun required to push us to war with Iran.]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Blotter - CIA: Bin Laden In Pakistan Establishing New Camps

The Blotter: "In the most definitive statement in years, America's top intelligence official said Tuesday Osama bin laden is in Pakistan actively re-establishing al Qaeda training camps."

The newly appointed Director of National Intelligence Jack McConnell made the assertion about bin Laden and his No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahri, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Referring to Pakistan's rugged tribal area, McConnell said "to the best of our knowledge that the senior leadership, No. 1 and No. 2, are there, and they are attempting to re-establish and rebuild and to establish training camps."

Until now, U.S. intelligence officials had declined to publicly identify, with such certainty, the location of bin Laden although he has long been suspected of hiding in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.

McConnell's testimony came the day after the CIA deputy director, Stephen R. Kappes, flew to Pakistan to confront President Pervez Musharaff with "compelling" evidence that new al Qaeda training camps were being established on Pakistani territory.

U.S. officials would not describe the evidence in any detail, but people in the intelligence community have speculated recently that the CIA may have obtained surveillance photos of either bin Laden or Zawahri in Pakistan.

McConnell's public testimony was followed by a closed, secret session with senators

[bth: would somebody go in there and kill these bastards before they kill another 3,000 people in our country?]

Appeal for Redress

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=2512323n

Go to this link to watch a 60 Minutes interview with soldiers who are serving their country but protesting the war in Iraq and who have formed a new grass roots organization called www.APPEALFORREDRESS.ORG
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The Blotter - Jury Slaps Defense Giant for Neglecting National Security

The Blotter: "A jury awarded nearly $5 million to a worker at a top secret research laboratory who was fired after trying to catch foreign hackers stealing sensitive information from U.S. computers."

On Feb. 13, a jury in New Mexico concluded Shawn Carpenter had been wrongfully terminated from his job as a computer security expert for the Department of Energy's Sandia, N.M. laboratory. His bosses had told him not to pursue the hackers or discuss the matter outside of work and fired him after he cooperated with FBI counterintelligence investigators.

Sandia National Laboratory develops nuclear weapons for the American military, among other functions. Since 1993, it has been managed by government contracting giant Lockheed Martin.

After discovering the lab's computers had been broken into, Carpenter retraced the hacker's steps, eventually "backhacking" into machines they controlled, where he discovered the sensitive data.

Carpenter refused to obey his bosses' orders to end his efforts and keep the information within Sandia; he instead contacted the FBI and worked for months with counterintelligence agents, who told him his information was aiding numerous ongoing investigations. Soon after his bosses found out, they fired Carpenter.

"I think...he thought that his motive was noble, but I also recall that he was very clearly told the process that had to be followed," a senior executive for the company said in a sworn deposition introduced at the trial. "We have to be able to trust our employees to do the right thing, to follow our direction."

When asked if she thought her corporation had been concerned because Carpenter had put national security ahead of the company's interests, vice president for human resources Kimberly Sue Adams said no. "Phrased in that way, absolutely no."

But jurors didn't appear to buy it. After delivering their verdict -- twice what Carpenter's lawyers had requested -- they expressed shock and outrage at the company's actions. "If they [Sandia] have an interest in protecting us, they certainly didn't show it with the way they handled Shawn," one juror told a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal.

"We are of course highly disappointed in the verdict," said Michael Padilla, a spokesman for the lab who said he also spoke for Lockheed Martin. "However, we are considering whether or not to appeal."

[bth: since when did officials at Lockheed Martin and Sandia stand above the law and willingly coverup a breach of security by China?]