Saturday, April 14, 2007

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Army officials tout success of reactive armor

Army officials tout success of reactive armor - Military News, Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times: "Army officials credit their effort to install reactive armor on more armored vehicles with cutting the number of casualties from rocket-propelled grenades in Iraq. They also said the armor, which triggers a small explosion to fend off a larger one, has reduced the Army’s immediate need for active protection systems, which are intended to shoot down incoming weapons."

“The reactive armor and slat armor protection systems currently deployed contribute to the effectiveness of our current combat systems to defeat the RPG threat without the use of an active protection system,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the acquisition and systems management deputy to the assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, told lawmakers in September.

Since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, 148 U.S. soldiers have been killed by RPGs, including 10 who died inside armored vehicles, Sorenson told the lawmakers.

Casualty figures compiled by Defense News paint a similar picture, showing 122 RPG-related deaths: 84 from March 2003 through December 2004 and 38 since.

Senior Army leaders decided in late 2004 to start sending more reactive armor to forces in Iraq, Sorensen said April 13.

In 2004, they decided to put reactive armor tiles on all of the service’s Abrams tanks, Bradley armored personnel carriers and Stryker fighting vehicles, he said.

“We had a number of reactive armor tiles that had been built, so we had to go back and buy them and put them on,” Sorensen said.

Today, all of the roughly 1,000 Bradley vehicles in Iraq have received the armor, he said. General Dynamics has made reactive armor for the Bradley since 1995; over the years, its orders have totaled $500 million for 1,450 sets.

GD also is making 500 sets of tank-armor tiles under a 2006 $59 million contract with Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. The first 100 tank sets have been delivered to the Anniston Depot, Ala., and will soon be shipped to Iraq.

The first set of Stryker reactive armor tiles has been completed, said Sorenson.

New armor, new countertactics

Reactive armor works by attaching small packs of explosives to a vehicle’s outer shell. The explosives detonate when hit by incoming fire, blowing the round away from the vehicle.

“We specifically craft the armor to the vehicle,” said Jerry DiGiacoma, who manages the reactive armor program for GD Armament and Technical Products. “Even the shapes of the tiles are customized to the configuration of the vehicle to protect it in vulnerable areas.”

Each tile protects only against a single hit. An enemy good or lucky enough to hit the same spot twice may find it vulnerable. So insurgent teams have attempted to defeat the armor by firing multiple RPGs at once, industry sources say.

But U.S. forces have learned to break up such groups with M-16 rifles and turret-mounted .50-caliber machine guns, the industry source said. Sorensen said these countertactics have also cut RPG casualties.
“Soldiers have become more adept at identifying threats. What I hear from commanders is that most of these engagements are at short range,” said Sorenson.

But that’s hardly the end of enemy attempts to hit the same spot twice. Some insurgent attacks have featured the tandem-charge RPG-29, which fires a small charge followed by a larger one.

Some improvised explosive devices are now being built with multiple explosively formed penetrators that can fire several slugs of molten metal at a single aim point.

“A multi-slug causes a lot of problems,” said Vernon Joynt, lead scientist for Force Protection, the South Carolina-based vehicle maker known for the improvised-explosive-device-stopping Buffalo and Cougar.

“It shoots all the slugs like a machine gun in line. Problems arise with certain kinds of ceramics. They defeat the threat but do not remain in place. They are brittle. If you have one slug hitting them it will defeat the slug but shatter in the process, so if you have a multi-slug the rest [of the slugs] will come flying through like through a tunnel.”

GD says reactive armor can stop multi-slug projectiles.

“The reactive armor on the Bradley defeats all known threats,” said John Suttle, a spokesman with GD Armament and Technical Products.

APS slowdown

Sorensen said the success of reactive armor has eased the urgent need to buy active protection systems that identify, track, and shoot down incoming rounds. But such systems will eventually be needed, he
said, and will be installed on the eight Future Combat Systems vehicles planned for deployment by 2015.
In 2012, the service plans to deploy Raytheon’s radar-driven Quick Kill as part of the second group of technologies developed under the FCS program. Early versions of the launcher controls and interceptor munitions have been tested, Army officials say.

“APS is quite literally a bubble of protection. It includes a number of launchers that have the APS munitions and are tied into a sensor that picks up the incoming round,” said Allan Resnick, who directs requirements integration at the Capabilities Integration Center of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

The Army’s decision to buy Quick Kill was questioned by Raytheon competitors, who wondered why the Army chose an under-development system instead of the on-sale Israeli Trophy. Army officials say they looked at eight systems and chose the best option.

“We have done the analysis on this six ways to Sunday,” said Sorenson

[bth: Gen. Sorensons dismissive statements aside, it appears that firing a couple of $30 EFPs at a single point in space and having them triggered by something like a detonation wire or passive infrared sensor would defeat our best armor by slamming it very rapidly in succession with EFPs.]

Two injured in clashes over thrashing of transvestites in Pakistan

Two injured in clashes over thrashing of transvestites in Pakistan - South Asia: "Islamabad - Two persons were injured and a dozen were taken hostage after clashes broke out between villagers and hardliners over beating of transvestite dancers in northwestern Pakistan, the Dawn newspaper said Friday. "

Both sides used small arms and assault rifles in their fight on Thursday when locals decided to avenge the thrashing of the transvestites for their performance in a wedding at the Dhoda village in the Lakki Marwat district.

The extremists had also shaved the heads of the dancers and destroyed their musical instruments.

Dance performances by transvestites are common during marriage functions in the rural areas of Pakistan, but the practice is widely condemned by religious figures.

Radicals have been trying to impose strict moral codes, which they derive from their own interpretation of religion, on the local communities in the North-West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.

Music stores and barber shops where men get their breads shaved are occasionally blown up by the extremists who had warned the owners of serious consequences if they did not close their businesses.

Wolfowitz Fight Has Subplot

Wolfowitz Fight Has Subplot - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, April 13 — When President Bush appointed Paul D. Wolfowitz as the president of the World Bank two years ago, the White House had to put down an insurrection among European nations that viewed the administration’s best-known neoconservative as a symbol of American unilateralism and arrogance."


For a while, Mr. Wolfowitz seemed to defuse those fears, even taking on the Bush administration over how best to aid the poorest nations of Africa. But now it is clear that the chorus of calls in recent days for Mr. Wolfowitz’s ouster is only partly about his involvement in setting up a comfortable job, with a big pay raise, for a bank officer who is Mr. Wolfowitz’s companion.

At its core, the fight about whether Mr. Wolfowitz should stay on at the bank is a debate about Mr. Bush and his tumultuous relationship with the rest of the world, particularly the bank, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which have viewed themselves — at various moments since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — as being at war with the Bush White House and its agenda.

As finance ministers gathered in Washington on Friday for the bank’s weekend meeting, Mr. Wolfowitz worked behind the scenes, seeking support for keeping his job. But there were few endorsements of his leadership beyond those offered by the Bush administration.

In foreign capitals, and among the bank’s staff members, it has been noted that Mr. Wolfowitz’s passion for fighting corruption, which he has said saps economic life from the world’s poorest nations, seemed to evaporate when it came to reviewing lending to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, three countries that the United States considers strategically vital. Some longtime bank staff members complained that Mr. Wolfowitz relied too little on experts in international development and too much on a pair of aides who served with him in the administration....

[bth: Wolfowitz lied us into a war. He previously lost his security clearance for passing information to Israel and had to get Rumsfeld to step in to get him a new one. He allied us with Chalabi a fraud and a bankrobber. His corruption and managerial incompetence then infected the World Bank. What does it take to send this man packing? Is no one held to account?]

Combat, With Limits, Looms for Hybrid Aircraft

Combat, With Limits, Looms for Hybrid Aircraft - New York Times: "The Marine Corps said yesterday that the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid aircraft with a troubled past, will be sent to Iraq this September, where it will see combat for the first time.The Marine Corps said yesterday that the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid aircraft with a troubled past, will be sent to Iraq this September, where it will see combat for the first time."

But because of a checkered safety record in test flights, the V-22 will be kept on a short leash.

The Pentagon has placed so many restrictions on how it can be used in combat that the plane — which is able to drop troops into battle like a helicopter and then speed away from danger like an airplane — could have difficulty fulfilling the Marines’ longstanding mission for it.

In Iraq, the V-22 will begin to replace the Vietnam-era helicopters that are increasingly facing enemy fire. The limitations on the V-22, which cost $80 million apiece, mean it cannot evade enemy fire with the same maneuvers and sharp turns used by helicopter pilots.

As a result, the craft could be more vulnerable to attack, and may result in the Marines keeping it out of the thick of battle, using it instead for less dangerous tasks.

“They will plan their missions in Iraq to avoid it getting into areas where there are serious threats,” said Thomas Christie, the Pentagon’s director of operations, test and evaluation from 2001 to 2005, who is now retired. The V-22’s debut in combatends a remarkable 25-year struggle for the Marines to build a craft they could call their own.

In announcing the Iraq deployment yesterday, Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, referred to those efforts as “a road marked by some setbacks, lots of sacrifices and the success of these Marines standing before you.”

The V-22 has been the Marines’ top priority — the Pentagon has spent $20 billion so far and has budgeted $54.6 billion for it. The money has bought a craft that is half-helicopter, half-airplane and whose speed, say the Marines, will save lives.

But the V-22 has also suffered some of the deadliest test crashes in Marine history. It has claimed 30 lives, 26 of them marines, in three test flight crashes. A fourth V-22 crashed, but there were no deaths then. Many more have been damaged in lesser incidents involving fires, stalled engines and software glitches. ...

[bth: this turkey costs so much and is so unstable in maneuvers required in a combat setting that it won't be used in combat. It has an $80 million turkey. What a total waste of marine money. Now they are going to put that other junker, the Growlers, on it which will result in more lance corporals getting killed because that piece of crap has no armor and hence couldn't leave a military base in Afghanistan or Iraq under current rules of engagement. What a total and contested cluster of incompetence.]
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Friday, April 13, 2007

Turkish army pushes Iraq incursion, calls for truly secular president

Turkish army pushes Iraq incursion, calls for truly secular president - Yahoo! News: "ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey's army chief called Thursday for a military incursion into neighbouring northern Iraq to hunt down Turkish Kurd rebels based there, despite US objections. "

In a rare press conference at the army headquarters, the first in almost two years, General Yasar Buyukanit also said Turkey's next president, to be elected in May, should be committed to secularism "in earnest".

Buyukanit's call for a cross-border operation was the latest effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iraqi Kurds, who run northern Iraq, over the presence of Turkish Kurd rebels there.

"If you ask me whether a cross-border operation is needed, yes it is needed," said Buyukanit, though he added that it would require parliamentary authorisation.

"If the armed forces are given this mission, they are strong enough to carry out such operations," he said.

Turkey has accused Iraqi Kurds of tolerating, and even backing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey's southeast since 1984. The conflict has claimed some 37,000 lives.

Ankara says thousands of militants of the PKK enjoy unrestricted movement in northern Iraq and are able to obtain weapons and explosives there.

The group is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community.

Wary of turmoil in one of Iraq's sole relatively calm areas, Washington has warned its NATO ally against a cross-border operation and pledged to curb the PKK through non-military means.

Responding to Buyukanit's comments on Thursday, a US State Department spokesman urged Turkey to refrain from launching raids in Iraq, although he agreed the rebels "need to be dealt with."

"Certainly that's an option that everybody should work to avoid," spokesman Sean McCormack said of a military operation.

He said Turkey and the leadership of the Kurdish autonomous area of northern Iraq should pursue US-brokered negotiations.

Buyukanit said the Iraqi Kurdish region, led by Massud Barzani, had become a "protection zone" for the PKK and could be slipping out of Baghdad's control.

Turkey on Monday handed a stern diplomatic note to Iraq, demanding "urgent" measures against the rebels.

Buyukanit also struck a political note in long-anticipated comments on the army's position on who should be Turkey's next president.

"We want to underline our hope that parliament will elect a president who adheres in earnest, and not just in words, to the basic principles of the republic and the ideal of a secular, democratic state," he said.

He declined to answer further questions on the elections, in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Islamist, is widely expected to run.

The military, the self-appointed guardians of Turkey's secular system, is mistrustful of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The AKP is the offshoot of a now-banned Islamist party which the army forced from power in 1997.

Even though Erdogan has disowned his past and now describes himself as a "conservative democrat," the secularist elite suspects he still has Islamist ambitions.

The president is elected for a seven-year term by parliament, where the AKP holds a two-thirds majority that will allow it to easily elect the candidate of its choice.

The AKP says it will announce its candidate after parliament begins to collect candidacy applications on April 16.

Erdogan's purported intention to run for the presidency has raised tensions in Ankara amid harsh objections by secularists that the AKP wants to seize the "last stronghold" of secularism.

Outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch secularist, has often clashed with the government.

He blocked the appointment of officials he saw as AKP's Islamist cronies and returned to parliament laws he considered breached the country's constitutionally protected commitment to secularism.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Massive explosion rocks the Iraqi parliament

Massive explosion rocks the Iraqi parliament | International News | News | Telegraph: "The Iraqi parliament in Baghdad has been hit by a massive explosion, with many people reported wounded."

The parliament building is within the heavily protected Green Zone of the capital....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

 
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West Point grads exit service at high rate

West Point grads exit service at high rate - The Boston Globe: "WASHINGTON -- Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers."

According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show.

The figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of members of three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave as the military downsized following the end of the Cold War.

In most years during the last three decades, the period for which West Point released statistics, the numbers of graduates opting out at the five-year mark were between 10 percent and 30 percent, according to the data.

The rising exodus is blamed on a number of factors, including the economic lure of the private sector. But interviews with former West Point superintendents, graduates, and retired officers pointed to another reason: the wear and tear on officers and their families from multiple deployments.

The nation's premier military academy has started offering graduates new incentives to keep them from leaving active duty at their first opportunity.

For example, West Point now guarantees its graduates the home bases of their choice, as well as a chance to go to graduate school, in exchange for a commitment to serve at least three years beyond their five-year commitment....

Stink'n badges

ABC News: Taliban Netting Millions From Poppies

ABC News: Taliban Netting Millions From Poppies: "CHINAR, Afghanistan Apr 10, 2007 (AP)— When the Taliban ordered Afghanistan's fields cleared of opium poppies seven years ago because of Islam's ban on drugs, fearful farmers complied en masse. "

Today, officials say the militia nets tens of millions by forcing farmers to plant poppies and taxing the harvest, driving the country's skyrocketing opium production to fund the fight against what they consider an even greater evil U.S. and NATO troops.

"Drugs are bad. The Quran is very clear about it," said Gafus Scheltem, NATO's political adviser in southern Afghanistan. But to fight the enemy, he said, "all things are allowed. They need money and the only way they can get money is from Arabs that support them in the (Persian) Gulf, or poppies."

Corrupt government officials, both low-level police and high-level leaders, also protect the drug trade in exchange for bribes, a recent U.N. report found. Warlords and major landowners welcome the instability the Taliban brings to the country's southern regions, causing poppy eradication efforts to fail.

The Taliban denies it supports poppies. Mullah Abdul Qassim, a top commander in Helmand province, told The Associated Press last month that the militia's goal is to defeat foreign troops and it doesn't have time to regulate poppies. He noted that the militia virtually eliminated poppies after leader Mullah Omar banned them in July 2000.

Diplomats at the time believed the Taliban, pariahs because of their violations of human rights standards, was seeking international respectability and financial aid. Washington sent $43 million in emergency funds to Afghanistan after poppy growing was banned.

But Western officials say it appears the ban was meant at least in part to increase the price of opium stockpiles.

"Originally they said 'It's bad for you, it's against Islam,' but when they realized how much money they could make off of it they said it was OK to grow but not consume it. That's the hypocrisy of it," said Spc. Zach Khan, a cultural adviser in the U.S. Army who was born in Pakistan and lives in Nashville, Tenn.

The Taliban is also telling farmers in the south they must grow poppies but if the militia returns to power, the plants will once again be outlawed, said a Western official familiar with Afghanistan's drug trade who asked not to be identified because of the nature of his job.

Afghanistan's opium crop grew 59 percent in 2006 to 407,000 acres, yielding a record crop of 6,100 tons, enough to make 610 tons of heroin 90 percent of the world's supply, according to the U.N. Western and Afghan officials say they expect a similar crop this year.

The street value of the heroin was estimated at $3.5 billion, said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Of that, Afghan farmers earned an estimated $700 million last year, while the bulk of the rest went to traffickers who smuggled the drugs to the Middle East and Europe.

No one knows the Taliban's exact take from poppy cultivation, and guesses range from the low tens of millions of dollars to an estimate of $140 million by Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister for counter-narcotics. His figure was based on various Taliban taxes that could add up to 20 percent of the farmers' $700 million.

The Taliban uses the money to buy weapons and pay soldiers, and as one Western official put it: "You can buy quite a bit of insurgency for $10 million."

In Helmand province the Taliban's main stronghold poppy farmer Karimullah Khan said the traditional religious tax, called an oshar, used to be paid to religious leaders. Now, he said, "If the government is weak in some districts, and the Taliban is stronger, we give the oshar to the Taliban."

For farmers, poppies pay up to 10 times as much as wheat. Militants protect the poppy fields, and corrupt government officials are paid to turn a blind eye.

"The Taliban need the money and the narco-traffickers need the instability. In chaos, there's profit," U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Mennes said during a recent mission in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban takes a cut all along the way a percentage at harvest, at heroin labs, and to ensure the crop's passage through dangerous lands, said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

"Now if you put all these percentages together, out of an opium economy of about $3.5 billion, you get a significant amount of money which could be potentially seen as the funding of terrorism," Costa said last month.

Of five poppy farmers in southern Afghanistan that spoke to The Associated Press, three paid bribes to the Taliban and to local police, who work for the Afghan Interior Ministry, which a U.N. report said has many officials involved in the drug trade.

Some farmers paid in opium, others in cash. Two farmers who live in more secure areas paid local clerics a 10 percent religious tax.

The mountain town of Chinar straddles the Kandahar-Helmand border and is anchored by a large, mud-brick compound housing district police headquarters. Twenty yards away sits a large field of flourishing poppies, with other fields all around. Khan said most farmers are forced to grow the crop by the Taliban but the police are also implicated.

Capt. Said Farad, an Afghan army commander based just outside the town on a recent NATO operation, said the district chief in the region has to cooperate with the Taliban or face death. The last three chiefs sent here by the governor were killed, he said.

"The police definitely have a hand in the poppies. Those two police vehicles near the compound help with the drug smuggling and run supplies for the Taliban," Farad said. "Nobody will kill the current chief because he has a deal with the Taliban."

At a recent council of elders put together by U.S. forces operating around Chinar, a man with a black turban and gray beard defended the residents.

"The only problem with these people is poverty. Whatever they're doing they're doing out of poverty," he said.

Farid Jan, a poppy farmer in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar, said he pays 10 percent of his crop to the Taliban and negotiates a separate percentage for police.

Last year, a pound of opium fetched up to $100 in the province, though less in other areas, the U.N. said. This year, Jan expects to earn $130,000 before "taxes" on his land, 10 times what he would make from wheat.

"Now you tell me what's the best crop for us?" he said.


Associated Press reporter Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

[bth:I think its important to note that the Taliban seized the harvests when they were in control, they didn't ban the harvests. Then when prices skyrocketed and the US invaded they dumpted their warehouses on the open market. If memory served they cashed in about $400 million worth. ... It should be noted that for $3.5 billion we could buy the entire harvest including cuts for clergy and middlemen and probably $700 million if we paid only the farmers. Compare that the the budget for occupying Afghanistan which is probably 10 times that annually and one wonders why we aren't buying and destroying the crop.]

Monty Python rabbit

Mob parades body of burnt woman

Mob parades body of burnt woman | NEWS.com.au: "ABOUT 200 people paraded the charred remains of a Buddhist woman through the streets of Yala town today to protest the unending violence in Thailand's restive Muslim-majority south."

The 26-year-old woman was shot today and her body then burned beyond recognition in an attack blamed on Islamic militants who have fought the Government for three years in this region on the Malaysian border.

The villagers wrapped her body in a white cloth and placed it at the staircase leading into a government building where General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the head of the Thai junta, was meeting with local leaders.

Angry residents of her village said they wanted to show Gen Sonthi how gruesome the attacks have become and to demand protection for the Buddhist minority in the province, one of three along the border hit by the unrest.

"Eight Buddhists have been killed and burned like this on the same road. All the victims were from our village," one of the victim's said.

Gen Sonthi told them he was working with local officials to find ways of reducing the daily violence that has claimed more than 2000 lives since the insurgency erupted.

"I promise that we will do everything possible to better protect innocent villagers," he said.

Yala has suffered the brunt of a recent escalation in attacks by the shadowy militancy, which never claims responsibility for the violence.

A 19-year-old Buddhist man and his 47-year-old mother were also killed today in Yala in a drive-by shooting.

In neighbouring Narathiwat province, a 50-year-old Muslim village chief was shot in a drive-by killing just 100m from his home, as he headed to a wedding party.

Ten other people were killed on Monday alone, including four Muslims shot dead while returning from the burial of a bombing victim.

In nearby Pattani province, five officials from the Revenue Department were wounded Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded near their van, police said.

Gen Sonthi was on a two-day trip to meet Muslim religious leaders, as well as local government and military chiefs.

Gen Sonthi said as he arrived in Pattani that insurgent attacks had become more lethal even though the number of incidents had fallen.

"The attacks have decreased in number but the militants have adjusted their strategies to be more violent and brutal in order to terrify people," he said.

Gen Sonthi said he feared the Islamic separatists were trying to spark a broader communal conflict, and urged both Buddhists and Muslims to work to reduce tension between the faiths.

"Don't fall into their trap. Villagers must be patient. The militants want to create a sectarian war," he said.

Gen Sonthi is the first Muslim to head the army in mainly Buddhist Thailand. After he seized power in a coup in September, he installed a Government that promptly unveiled a raft of peace measures for the region, only to see the violence worsen.

Thai Buddhist woman killed and burned - World - theage.com.au

Thai Buddhist woman killed and burned - World - theage.com.au: "A Buddhist woman was shot dead and her body set ablaze early today in Thailand's restive Muslim-majority south, police said, as the country's junta leader began a visit to the region."

Police said the 26-year-old's body was burned beyond recognition after she was killed while on her way to work on the outskirts of Yala town.

"It's the work of the same group of militants who are active in this predominantly Muslim village," they said.

The province of Yala has seen a surge in attacks this year, with 10 people killed on Monday alone. Four of them were shot dead while returning from the burial of a bombing victim.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in three years of unrest in the southern region along the border with Malaysia.

Thailand's junta leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin travelled to nearby Pattani province today for a two-day visit to meet with Muslim religious leaders as well as local government and military chiefs.

Sonthi told reporters as he arrived in Pattani that the insurgents' attacks had become more lethal, even as the number of incidents had fallen.

"The attacks have decreased in number, but the militants have adjusted their strategies to be more violent and brutal in order to terrify people," he said.

Sonthi said he feared the Islamic separatists were trying to spark a broader communal conflict, and urged both Buddhists and Muslims to work to reduce tensions between the faiths.

"Don't fall into their trap. Villagers must be patient. The militants want to create a sectarian war," he said.

Sonthi is the first Muslim to head the army in mainly Buddhist Thailand. After he seized power in a coup in September, he installed a government that promptly unveiled a raft of peace measures for the region.

But the violence has escalated, and the government remains uncertain who exactly is behind the attacks. No one has claimed responsibility for them or made any specific demands of the government.

Insurgents burn female villager alive

Bangkok Post Breaking News: "(BangkokPost.com) - Unrest in the deep South continues as a female Buddhist was burnt alive while a few others were injured from a bomb used against a passenger van in two separate incidents on Wednesday morning."

Police said insurgents shot Patcharaporn Boonsamas, 25, off her motorcycle as she was riding to her office in Yala town around 8 a.m. Then, although she was apparently still alive but badly wounded, they set fire to her body, completely burning it.

When police arrived they could not even identify the gender of the remains because it was so badly burnt. However, the victim's relatives appeared at the scene and claimed her body.

The attack took place in the populated municipal district, but villagers living nearby saw nothing at all, and were unable to help police with their investigation.

In Pattani's Yarang district, separatists blasted a van belonging to the Revenue Department, injuring at least two of the five passengers.

The explosion took place at around 8.10 a.m. while the van carrying state officials was heading from Yala to the Revenue Department office in Pattani.

2 suspected terrorists blow themselves up in Morocco; 1 other shot dead

2 suspected terrorists blow themselves up in Morocco; 1 other shot dead: "CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP) - Two suspected terrorists blew themselves up as police closed in Tuesday, killing one officer, and another suspect was shot and killed by police as he prepared to detonate his explosives."...

House Questions Info on Tillman, Lynch

House Questions Info on Tillman, Lynch | The Huffington Post: "SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. House committee announced Tuesday it would hold hearings on misleading military statements that followed the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq."

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said an April 24 hearing would be part of its investigation into whether there was a strategy to mislead the public.

"The truth, the truth, this is only a search for the truth," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference in San Francisco. "It's about holding this administration accountable for the message that it sends out. ... It's about reality."

Word of the hearings comes two weeks after the Pentagon released the findings of its own investigations into Tillman's death, and three years after he was killed.

The committee has been quietly investigating the case since then and decided to add Lynch to the scope of its probe.

One or more members of the Tillman family will probably testify, the committee said. Tillman's mother and father did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.

Lynch's spokeswoman, Aly Goodwin Gregg, said Lynch also will testify. "She was very interested in doing so. She's used every opportunity to tell what really happened and to talk about the real heroes of that day," Gregg said.

Tillman's family has said the previous probes were inadequate and did not sufficiently address the role of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in hiding from them for five week the true circumstances of the former NFL player's death. The Army publicly maintained during that time that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, when in fact dozens of officers knew his fellow Rangers shot him after a chaotic ambush.

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Lynch, a 21-year-old former Army supply clerk, became one of the most visible faces of the war when she was rescued from an Iraqi hospital after being captured by Iraqi forces April 1, 2003. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed where her convoy was attacked, and six, including Lynch, were captured.

Her videotaped rescue by special forces branded Lynch a hero at a time the U.S. war effort seemed bogged down. It also stirred complaints of government media manipulation.

It wasn't clear if the committee planned to call officials with knowledge of the cases to testify during the hearing, titled "Misleading Information from the Battlefield."

The committee, run by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a frequent Bush administration critic, has launched several investigations since Democrats took power in Congress in January. It has not issued subpoenas in any of its probes, including one into the administration's claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger and another into contacts between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House.

The House Armed Services Committee also is considering Tillman hearings, a spokeswoman for that panel said Monday.

"I think it's very important to find out why mistaken, erroneous, false information was provided concerning this tragic death, both to the family and to the American people," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the No. 2-ranking member of the oversight committee behind Waxman.

In all, the Army and Defense Department have conducted five investigations into Tillman's April 22, 2004 death, with the most recent one pointing toward high-ranking military officers knowing the circumstances of his death long before Tillman's family.

One top-ranking officer, then-Maj. General Stanley McChrystal, tried to warn President Bush a week after Tillman's death to avoid repeating in speeches the official Army line: that Tillman had been killed by enemy forces. McChrystal knew an investigation would probably conclude it was friendly fire, according to internal Pentagon memos obtained by The Associated Press.

The White House says Bush never got the message from McChrystal, who still heads military special operations. But Gen. John Abizaid, chief of Central Command at the time, did get the information before Tillman's family.

"The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family," Tillman's relatives said in a news release after the Pentagon's findings were disclosed March 26, "but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation.

"Perhaps subpoenas are necessary to elicit candor and accuracy from the military," they said.

Female bomber kills at least 19 in Iraq

Female bomber kills at least 19 in Iraq - baltimoresun.com: "BAGHDAD // The young applicants gathered early yesterday outside a police station northeast of Baghdad to find out who had clinched a job on the force. But they were not the only ones who knew this was the day the selection would be made."

Shortly after 8:30 a.m., a woman shrouded in black appeared among the more than 200 men milling outside the concrete blast walls of the station in Muqdadiyah. Before anyone could question her, she detonated the explosives hidden under her gown, killing up to 19 people and wounding 33, police and witnesses said.

As the smoke and dust settled, a horrific scene was revealed: writhing bodies, severed limbs and charred, bloodied survivors screaming on the ground....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

 
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Putin is always right, says Russia elections chief

globeandmail.com: Putin is always right, says Russia elections chief: "MOSCOW — The Russian official whose role is to act as an impartial umpire in elections said in an interview published on Monday that President Vladimir Putin is always right."

Kremlin critics have raised doubts about the impartiality of Vladimir Churov, a former colleague of Mr. Putin's who was last month chosen as chairman of the Central Election Commission.

In his first major newspaper interview since he started his new job, Mr. Churov told the Kommersant daily that “Churov's Law No. 1” is that Mr. Putin is always right.

Asked by the newspaper what would happen if it turned out the Russian leader was mistaken on a certain issue, Mr. Churov said: “How can Putin be wrong?”

Mr. Churov worked alongside Mr. Putin in the 1990s in the same local administration department in St Petersburg, Russia's second city.

The new election chief has previously said he will treat all participants in elections fairly and equally.

Mr. Churov will have a crucial role overseeing an election to the federal parliament in December and a presidential poll next March, when a replacement for Mr. Putin is to be chosen.

In Russia, the election chief is often called on to adjudicate on allegations of vote violations, including claims bureaucrats have used their power to influence the outcome of elections.

Mr. Churov replaced the independent-minded Alexander Veshnyakov at the helm of the election commission.

Analysts have interpreted the change of guard as part of a Kremlin plan to ensure a smooth transfer of power to Mr. Putin's preferred candidate in the presidential poll.

Mr. Putin, accused by critics of rolling back democracy, enjoys strong popularity at home after presiding over seven years of stable economic growth which brought relative prosperity for millions of Russians.

Mr. Putin's popularity and his tight grip on power leave little doubt that his preferred candidate will win. But analysts say the Kremlin wants to make the transition as smooth as possible to rule out political instability.

Taliban demands new prisoner swap

Taliban demands new prisoner swap: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The Taliban on Monday threatened to kill four Afghan medical personnel and their driver unless the government releases two Taliban commanders, seeking a deal similar to the prisoner swap that won an Italian journalist's freedom last month."

The threat came a day after the hard-line militia beheaded Ajmal Naqshbandi, an Afghan translator seized March 5 along with journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo of the Rome-based La Republicca newspaper, after authorities refused another prisoner exchange.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing as the work of "enemies of Afghanistan," while Afghan journalists staged a protest in the capital.

A spate of abductions has highlighted the lawlessness of southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban remains strong despite the presence of thousands of foreign troops. The kidnappings have also prompted a debate over the ethics of negotiating with kidnappers.

In the latest kidnappings, the Taliban said it seized a doctor, three nurses and their driver on March 27 in Kandahar province.

"If the government does not release our two Taliban commanders, then we will give the same punishment as we did with Ajmal (Naqshbandi)," Shahabuddin Atal, who claims to speak for senior Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, told The Associated Press on Monday.

The Taliban had made a similar demand in exchange for the release of Naqshbandi, a freelance journalist and translator who was seized in southern Helmand province. Atal said Naqshbandi was beheaded in Helmand's Garmsir district and that his family could find his body there.

Mastrogiacomo was freed March 19 in a swap for five imprisoned Taliban militants. The deal has been criticized by Afghan lawmakers and foreigners working in Afghanistan as an incentive for militants to stage more kidnappings

"In exchange for the Italian journalist, the Afghan government and foreigners together handed over five Taliban. He was a foreign journalist," Atal said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"When we asked for an exchange of two Taliban commanders for the Afghan journalist, the Afghan government did not respond, and they didn't try to negotiate for Ajmal's release," he said.

This proves that "this government is working only for foreigners, not for Afghans," Atal said.

Karzai last week defended the prisoner swap that secured Mastrogiacomo's release by saying the incident had threatened Italian premier Romano Prodi's government. He ruled out further exchanges.

On Monday, a statement from his office said the Taliban were supposed to release both Mastrogiacomo and Naqshbandi in exchange for the five militants, but reneged on the deal. It said the government had continued to push for the translator's release, but received no specific demands from the kidnappers.

The Taliban has also claimed it kidnapped two French aid workers and three Afghan staff members. The five went missing last week in southwestern Nimroz province.

Separately, the founder of an Italian aid organization pressed for the release of an Afghan staff member believed to have been taken into Afghan custody after Mastrogiacomo's release.

On Sunday, Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service, accused Rahmatullah Hanefi of helping the Taliban kidnap Mastrogiacomo, Naqshbandi and a driver who was also beheaded.

But Gino Strada, founder of the aid group Emergency, told Italian Sky Tg24 television in an interview on Sunday that Prodi's government knows that Hanefi was trustworthy because he had been given $2 million to deliver to the Taliban to free an Italian photographer who was kidnapped in Afghanistan last year.

Strada's claims of a ransom paid for Torsello, and the beheading of Naqshbandi despite the prisoner-swap deal, prompted several opposition lawmakers in Italy to demand that Prodi's government brief parliament on the matter. Some even called for a commission of inquiry and the resignation of the foreign minister.

In a statement, Prodi denounced partisan bickering. "No one ... should doubt the correctness of the government's actions in this, as in all delicate international events," the statement said.

[bth: Italy has left a situation in Afghanistan where kidnapping now pays about a million pounds, so multiple victims are now captured leaving the Afghan government with an almost impossible situation. Stunning weakness on the part of the Italians.]
 
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Italy 'paid Taleban £1 million to free photographer taken hostage in Afghanistan'

Scotsman.com News - International - Italy 'paid Taleban £1 million to free photographer taken hostage in Afghanistan': "ITALY'S government paid a ransom of £1 million to the Taleban to free an Italian photographer taken hostage in Afghanistan, an aid group has claimed. "

Gino Strada, the founder of Emergency, a non-governmental organisation, said Romano Prodi's government paid £1 million to secure the release of Gabriele Torsello, a freelance photographer who was abducted on 12 October last year and freed on 3 November.

Emergency has been involved in negotiating the release of a number of Italian hostages in Afghanistan.

The Taleban said on Sunday that it had beheaded an Afghan journalist and interpreter working with another Italian journalist who was freed after a much-criticised prisoner swap with the Taleban last month.

The interpreter, Ajmal Naqshbandi, was kidnapped along with Daniele Mastrogiacomo of the Rome daily La Repubblica and a driver on 5 March. The driver was beheaded and Mastrogiacomo was released on 19 March after five Taleban militants were released.

Mr Strada is pressing for the release of Rahmatullah Hanefi, who worked in Emergency's hospital in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province. He was believed to have been taken into Afghan custody after Mastrogiacomo's release. The hospital played a key role in negotiating the photographer's freedom.

On Sunday, Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service, accused Mr Hanefi of helping the Taleban kidnap the three.
Mr Strada said that Mr Prodi's government knew Mr Hanefi was trustworthy because he had been entrusted with £1 million to deliver to the Taleban in exchange for Torsello's freedom.

Several members of Italy's parliament are now pressing the Prodi government to brief them on the claims.

[bth: when did Italy get so stupid - they trust him because they gave him 1 million pounds and he delivered it. stunning. And where were the Italians when it came to the driver that had his head chopped off?]
 
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Army Is Cracking Down on Deserters

Army Is Cracking Down on Deserters - New York Times: "...The Army prosecuted desertion far less often in the late 1990s, when desertions were more frequent, than it does now, when there are comparatively fewer. "

From 2002 through 2006, the average annual rate of Army prosecutions of desertion tripled compared with the five-year period from 1997 to 2001, to roughly 6 percent of deserters, from 2 percent, Army data shows.

Between these two five-year spans — one prewar and one during wartime — prosecutions for similar crimes, like absence without leave or failing to appear for unit missions, have more than doubled, to an average of 390 per year from an average of 180 per year, Army data shows.

In total, the Army since 2002 has court-martialed twice as many soldiers for desertion and other unauthorized absences as it did on average each year between 1997 and 2001. Deserters are soldiers who leave a post or fail to show up for an assignment with the intent to stay away. Soldiers considered absent without leave, or AWOL, which presumes they plan to return, are classified as deserters and dropped from a unit’s rolls after 30 days.

Most soldiers who return from unauthorized absences are punished and discharged. Few return to regular duty.

Officers said the crackdown reflected an awareness by top Army and Defense Department officials that desertions, which occurred among more than 1 percent of the active-duty force in 2000 for the first time since the post-Vietnam era, were in a sustained upswing again after ebbing in 2003, the first year of the Iraq war.

At the same time, the increase highlights a cycle long known to Army researchers: as the demand for soldiers increases during a war, desertions rise and the Army tends to lower enlistment standards, recruiting more people with questionable backgrounds who are far more likely to become deserters.

In the 2006 fiscal year, 3,196 soldiers deserted, the Army said, a figure that has been climbing since the 2004 fiscal year, when 2,357 soldiers absconded. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 871 soldiers deserted, a rate that, if it stays on pace, would produce 3,484 desertions for the fiscal year, an 8 percent increase over 2006.

The Army said the desertion rate was within historical norms, and that the surge in prosecutions, which are at the discretion of unit commanders, was not a surprise given the impact that absent soldiers can have during wartime.

“The nation is at war, and the Army treats the offense of desertion more seriously,” Maj. Anne D. Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said. “The Army’s leadership will take whatever measures they believe are appropriate if they see a continued upward trend in desertion, in order to maintain the health of the force.”

Army studies and interviews also suggest a link between the rising rate of desertions and the expanding use of moral waivers to recruit people with poor academic records and low-level criminal convictions. At least 1 in 10 deserters surveyed after returning to the Army from 2002 to mid-2004 required a waiver to enter the service, a report by the Army Research Institute found. ...

Monday, April 09, 2007

 
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How to Get Out of Iraq

How to Get Out of Iraq: "Both houses of Congress have now backed a timeline for withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq in 2008, which George W. Bush has vowed to veto. He gives two major rationales for rejecting withdrawal. At times he has warned that Iraq could become an Al Qaeda stronghold, at others that 'a contagion of violence could spill out across the country--and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.' These are bogeymen with which Bush has attempted to frighten the public. Regarding the first, Turkey, Jordan and Iran are not going to put up with an Al Qaeda stronghold on their borders; nor would Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis. Most Sunni Iraqis are relatively secular, and there are only an estimated 1,000 foreign jihadis in Iraq, who would be forced to return home if the Americans left. "

to avoid it. One Saudi official admitted that if the United States withdrew and Iraq's Sunnis seemed in danger, Riyadh would likely intervene. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has threatened to invade if Iraq's Kurds declare independence. And Iran would surely try to rescue Iraqi Shiites if they seemed on the verge of being massacred.

But Bush is profoundly in error to think that continued US military occupation can forestall further warfare. Sunni Arabs perceive the Americans to have tortured them, destroyed several of their cities and to be keeping them under siege at the behest of the joint Shiite-Kurdish government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. American missteps have steadily driven more and more Sunnis to violence and the support of violence. The Pentagon's own polling shows that between 2003 and 2006 the percentage of Sunni Arabs who thought attacking US troops was legitimate grew from 14 to more than 70.

The US repression of Sunnis has allowed Shiites and Kurds to avoid compromise. The Sunnis in Parliament have demanded that the excesses of de-Baathification be reversed (thousands of Sunnis have been fired from jobs just because they belonged to the Baath Party). They have been rebuffed. Sunnis rejected the formation of a Shiite super-province in the south. Shiites nevertheless pushed it through Parliament. The Kurdish leadership has also dismissed Sunni objections to their plans to annex the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which has a significant Arab population.

The key to preventing an intensified civil war is US withdrawal from the equation so as to force the parties to an accommodation. Therefore, the United States should announce its intention to withdraw its military forces from Iraq, which will bring Sunnis to the negotiating table and put pressure on Kurds and Shiites to seek a compromise with them. But a simple US departure would not be enough; the civil war must be negotiated to a settlement, on the model of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Lebanon.

Talks require a negotiating partner. The first step in Iraq must therefore be holding provincial elections. In the first and only such elections, held in January 2005, the Sunni Arab parties declined to participate. Provincial governments in Sunni-majority provinces are thus uniformly unrepresentative, and sometimes in the hands of fundamentalist Shiites, as in Diyala. A newly elected provincial Sunni Arab political class could stand in for the guerrilla groups in talks, just as Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, did in Northern Ireland.

The United States took a step in the right direction by attending the March Baghdad summit of Iraq's neighbors and speaking directly to Iran and Syria about Iraqi security. Now the United States and Britain should work with the United Nations or the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to call a six-plus-two meeting on the model of the generally successful December 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan. The Iraqi government, including the president and both vice presidents, would meet directly with the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to discuss the ways regional actors could help end the war as the United States and Britain prepare to depart. Unlike the Baghdad summit, this conference would have to issue a formal set of plans and commitments. Recent Saudi consultations with Iranian leaders should be extended.

The Saudi government should then be invited to reprise the role it played in brokering an end to the Lebanese civil war at Taif in 1989, at which communal leaders hammered out a new national compact, which involved political power-sharing and demobilization of most militias. At Taif II, the elected provincial governors of Iraq and leaders of the major parliamentary blocs should be brought together. Along with the US and British ambassadors to Baghdad and representatives of the UN and the OIC, observers from Iraq's six neighbors should also be there.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has credibility with Iraq's Sunnis, especially now that he has denounced the US occupation as illegitimate. They could trust his representations, which would include Saudi development aid in places like Anbar province. Since the Sunnis are the main drivers of violence in Iraq, it is they who must be mollified, bribed, cajoled and threatened into a settlement. The Shiites will have to demobilize the Mahdi Army and Badr Organization as well, and Iran will have to commit to working with the Maliki government to make that happen. A UN peacekeeping force, perhaps with the OIC (where Malaysia recently proffered troops), would be part of the solution.

On the basis of a settlement at Taif II, the US military should then negotiate with provincial authorities a phased withdrawal from the Sunni Arab provinces. The Sunnis will have to understand that this departure is a double-edged sword, since if they continued their guerrilla war, the United States could not protect them from Kurdish or Shiite reprisals. Any UN or OIC presence would be for peacekeeping and could not be depended on for active peace-enforcing. The rewards from neighbors promised at Taif II should be granted in a phased fashion and made dependent on good-faith follow-through by Iraqi leaders.

From all this the Sunni Arabs would get an end to the US occupation--among their main demands--as well as an end to de-Baathification and political marginalization. They would have an important place in the new order and be guaranteed their fair share of the national wealth. Shiites and Kurds would get an end to a debilitating civil war, even if they have to give up some of their maximal demands. The neighbors would avoid a reprise of the destructive Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, which killed perhaps a million people and deeply damaged regional economies. And by ending its occupation, the United States would go a long way toward repairing its relations with the Arab and Muslim world and thus eliminate one of Al Qaeda's chief recruiting tools. A withdrawal is risky, but on the evidence so far, for the US military to remain in Iraq is a sure recipe for disaster.

[bth: the withdrawal of US forces would encourage compromise because it would intensify the prospect of sustained and full blown civil war. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with Cole, I'm just saying the missing part of that discussion is that things get worse, much worse before they get better. Also he's right, we need a negotiating partner representing the Sunnis. So how do we get one? Do we bust up Iraq first to get it? The Shiite government has no interest in seeing the Sunnis get politically organized. They've got power and have no intention of giving it up. Would they fight for it in Anbar province if the US left? I doubt it since they have no useful logistics train to support military or police outposts in Anbar. So where do our mythical negotiating partners come from? Are they old Baathists, local tribesmen, the Saudis or Jordanians as surrogates? Given the choices I'd suggest foreign surrogates such as the Saudis might be most acceptable to the local populations. As to the Kurds, I see no reason to abandon them one more time. We did it in the 90s with devastating consequences. As to the Shiites, what happens when Sistani, who is in the hospital now, dies? Then what? Do we deal with Sadr? His position with regard to the US are consistently in opposition. He have no friend there.]
 
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Insider: Missteps Soured Iraqis on U.S.

Insider: Missteps Soured Iraqis on U.S. | The Huffington Post: "NEW YORK — In a rueful reflection on what might have been, an Iraqi government insider details in 500 pages the U.S. occupation's 'shocking' mismanagement of his country _ a performance so bad, he writes, that by 2007 Iraqis had 'turned their backs on their would-be liberators.'"...

[bth: besides America's shocking mismanagement, one might add the incredible capacity for corruption among the Iraqis themselves including the Allawi family which so to it that the Defense Ministry stole approx. 2/3rds of its budget, which we gave them, under Bremer's watch.]

Pakistan helps in al-Qa'ida assault

Pakistan helps in al-Qa'ida assault | The World | The Australian: "PAKISTAN'S army is back operating in a combat role in important tribal areas bordering Afghanistan for the first time in almost two years, moving in to occupy areas abandoned by al-Qa'ida's Uzbek and Chechen fighters."

The Uzbeks, reported to be suffering heavy casualties in the face of a concerted drive against them by local tribal militants, are said to be fleeing northwards from their main stronghold in the mountainous Sheen Warsak region, near the South Waziristan town of Wana.

Military sources say that as the Uzbeks retreat, they are being replaced by reinforced Pakistani army units that have previously been largely holed up in their cantonments and barracks since President Pervez Musharraf signed the first of his peace deals with the tribal militants in South Waziristan in 2005.

Pakistan's standing force of 80,000 troops deployed in the region was beefed up last week with the arrival of 8000 crack soldiers from the Punjab as a prelude to what now appears to be a new strategy in the area, following the onslaught against the al-Qa'ida militants by the tribal fighters.

More than two weeks of heavy fighting, including prolonged artillery duels, have resulted in an estimated 300 casualties, most of them claimed to be Uzbeks from a force estimated to be between 1000- and 2000-strong.

After Pakistan signed the first of its peace deals with the tribal militants in South Waziristan almost two years ago, Islamabad's forces withdrew to a few strongpoints and seldom ventured out of their bases.

But according to military sources and Pakistani media reports from the region, that has now changed, with the Pakistani army answering a call for help from the tribal militants and actively assisting in capturing Uzbek strongholds.

The Pakistani air force has been called in to assist with the softening up process, bombing the Uzbek fighters and allowing the tribal militants and the army soldiers to overrun them in the difficult mountainous terrain.

In the view of strategists, the combat action represents a significant change of tactics on the part of Islamabad.

One source in Islamabad said yesterday: "For the first time in a long time, the army is going into battle against the al-Qa'ida elements in the area using ground troops, and that has to be a major development."

[bth: the article says there were artillery duels, but what artillery would Uzbeks have in Pakistan?]

US Navy builds Stingray-esque base in Indian Ocean

US Navy builds Stingray-esque base in Indian Ocean | The Register: "Reports have emerged that the US Navy is upgrading its submarine base at the isolated tropical atoll Diego Garcia, which is formally British territory."

The base improvements will allow its new class of SSGN nuclear submarines to operate from Diego Garcia, which is potentially noteworthy. The tiny island group is situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, giving the US and its allies access to various strategic maritime choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz – the entrance to the Gulf – and the pirate-plagued waters of the Bab-el-Mandeb at the foot of the Red Sea.

Perhaps even more significantly in the light of recent events, Diego Garcia is a useful base for operations off the south-eastern coastline of Iran, close to the border with the lawless frontier regions of Pakistan.

Normally, a few tens of millions of dollars in base improvements wouldn't raise eyebrows even at a critical harbour like this one. But an increased presence of SSGN subs will be well worth bearing in mind for the various military forces active in the region.

This is because SSGNs aren't your average nuclear submarine. They are converted Ohio-class Trident ballistic-missile boats, recently retired from their old job under the terms of strategic arms-limitation treaties. But the US Navy saw no reason to get rid of the submarines themselves, and the removal of the Tridents left them with plenty of room for other things.

The rebuilt vessels can nowadays carry 66 elite special-forces frogmen, who will typically be Navy SEALs or possibly members of the new US Marines MARSOC outfit. Some reports suggest that up to 102 underwater warriors may be able to cram in for short periods. The subs will have a "dry hangar", an underwater docking bay allowing the frogmen to deploy from their mother ship aboard SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs), minisubs which can carry them in to enemy coastlines.

One variant of the SDV is said to be armed with its own torpedoes, though these would probably be for use against anchored ships rather than Stingray or James Bond style undersea dogfights. There has also been some suggestion that the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) might deploy from the SSGNs. The ASDS is a larger, enclosed mini-sub which can carry SEALs in warm dry conditions rather than delivering them into battle shivering and frozen. However, reports suggest that the ASDS programme has hit problems; it may be that only a single prototype craft will be available.

Once the frogmen are in action, perhaps ashore in coastal regions, in enemy harbours or far inland by river, they won't be lacking support. A normal submarine can, of course, launch cruise missiles to attack targets inland; but the SSGNs are something special in this regard. Each sub is said to carry up to 154 Tactical Tomahawks, robot kamikaze jets which can be remotely piloted to strike locations a thousand miles inland.

The UK lags well behind the US, as ever, in the field of amazing Team America-like organisations – despite the fact that the converted Ohio boats' Marineville-esque base will be located on nominally British territory.

However, the Royal Marines' Special Boat Service frogmen are well thought of in the international underwater-scuffler community ("the SBS are as hard as woodpeckers' lips"," one SEAL once told this reporter). The British Troy Tempests are somewhat lacking on the kit front, though, with the UK possessing only a single dry hangar attached to a relatively normal mothership. As for vessels capable of carrying 60 frogmen beneath the waves for months on end, or cruise missile firepower in the hundreds, for now the SBS can only dream.

Being submarine-based, all these things can be used even against countries with fairly capable air forces and surface patrols. The presence of SSGN-type platforms in a theatre means that any large body of water connected to the sea suddenly becomes a danger, potentially full of heavily-armed SEALs or underwater robot platforms such as the Talisman.

Various people in the Indian Ocean area will be viewing the announcement of the Diego Garcia upgrades with interest. ®
 
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Hunter's son to run for dad's seat 

Hunter's son to run for dad's seat - Nation/Politics - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "Duncan Duane Hunter's goal of winning the San Diego-area congressional seat that his father will vacate after 14 terms has one new, major obstacle: He probably won't be able to campaign personally. "...

MTRS to the Rescue! RadioShack Replaced? (updated) (defense acquisition, defence purchasing, military procurement)

MTRS to the Rescue! RadioShack Replaced? (updated) (defense acquisition, defence purchasing, military procurement): "In May 2005, DID covered the use of remote-control toys in Iraq, as improvised robots to check out possible roadside bombs. It would appear that someone took notice, because there has been a flurry of activity on the robotic explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) front. Meanwhile, deliveries of smaller and cheaper MARCBOTs and BomBots are underway."

DefenseLink notes in its announcements that "The increase in production quantity is due to the urgent and compelling need for units that are forward deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan." So, what exactly is the MTRS program? DID explains, and covers the latest news and contract information for MTRS robots. This update to DID's MRTS FOCUS Article includes new information regarding the latest variants, and adds orders from Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA....

[bth: excellent composite article on the status of robotic systems in theater.]
 
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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Guns, TNT found at Sunni lawmaker's home

Guns, TNT found at Sunni lawmaker's home - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD - U.S. and Iraqi troops found a huge stash of weapons in a raid on the home of a Sunni lawmaker and detained at least a dozen men for questioning, officials said Sunday. "

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, said the raid targeted a house of legislator Khalaf al-Ilyan — one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats in parliament.

"During the search, we discovered many weapons and explosive materials," al-Moussawi said at a news conference. He did not say when the raid took place, but a U.S. military statement said it occurred Tuesday.

Among the weapons found in the house were 33 Kalashnikov rifles, three pistols, one hand grenade, 4.4 pounds of TNT and 13 82-mm mortar rounds, al-Moussawi said.

The U.S. military said eight 57-mm rockets and 5,000 rounds of ammunition were also seized, along with photos of burning British soldiers and American flag-draped coffins. A detailed search revealed buried mortar rounds with new explosive timing and initiation devices.

Al-Ilyan was believed to be in Jordan at the time of the raid, and was unreachable for comment.

Al-Moussawi said troops detained 12 people for questioning. A U.S. military statement put the number of detainees at 14, and said they were al-Ilyan's personal bodyguards.

As a parliament member, al-Ilyan has immunity from prosecution. But al-Moussawi said "no one is immune when it comes to the law, and if anyone is convicted the person will be detained by security forces."

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, suggested U.S. officials would not back away from prosecuting a parliament member.

"Anytime we find someone operating outside the law, not following the rules that have been set by this government, they are subject to being detained and arrested," Caldwell said.

Last month, Iraqi security forces raided the home of another prominent Sunni lawmaker, Dhafer al-Ani, and seized four vehicles, confiscated weapons and detained seven suspects.

[bth: I don't see how Gen. Caldwell can say that with a straight face when Sadr is actively seeking to kill Americans and is now in the process of leading his third uprising.]

Military families show contempt for Hodes at Concord gathering

Nashuatelegraph.com: State/New England: "CONCORD – Families with loved ones serving in Iraq lashed out at U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, questioning how he can claim to support American troops while backing a deadline for bringing them home."

Hodes recently joined a majority in the House in voting for an Iraq spending bill that set a timeline for a troop withdrawal.

He spent one hour Saturday meeting with military families, many of whom became angry when he tried to explain his position.

One woman stormed out of the session after Hodes said he didn’t know whether the spending bill would have passed without the millions of dollars in unrelated spending for pet projects it included.

“I’m done,” said Gerry Duncan of Nashua, whose husband was injured in Afghanistan.

Another woman whose nephew served two tours in Iraq said Congress should remain in session until funding is resolved.

“While they’re serving this nation in harm’s way 24-7, you get to take vacation,” Gail Giarrusso of Stratham said.

“You should be in Washington until this is resolved, until they have the support they deserve while they’re at war. You should not be paid until this is resolved.”

The families had numerous questions for Hodes, a Democrat serving his first term, but frequently interrupted him when he tried to answer.

“I haven’t gotten to finish a single sentence yet,” he said 15 minutes into the meeting.

When Hodes said he doesn’t believe their are any “good options” left in Iraq, Natalie Healy cut him off.

“I think winning is,” she said, drawing applause from the other 10 members of the group.

Healy’s son, Dan, was killed in Afghanistan in June 2005.

Although she later called the meeting “very rewarding for everybody,” she delivered a stern message to Hodes.

“My son will never come home,” Healy said. “He would be horrified and ashamed of this country for what it has done to the troops.”

Near the end of the session, Hodes again tried to get in a few sentences.
“I’ve let you folks shout at me for nearly an hour,” he said.

Hodes said he was “moved and touched” by what he had heard.
 
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Brockton soldier killed in Iraq, palermo - ABC6.com

Local News: Brockton soldier killed in Iraq, palermo - ABC6.com: "A Brockton Army captain has been killed in Iraq.

27-year-old Anthony Palermo Junior died early Friday when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee.

Palermo was due to fly to Germany later this month to be with his wife when she gave birth to their first child.

His cousin, Meredith Griffin, said the family is devastated.

She told The Enterprise of Brockton that Palermo was always more worried about his men than himself.

Palermo was in R-O-T-C at Norwich University in Vermont, where he attended for four years before graduating from Bridgewater State in 2003.

He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. "

Did the FBI Flub a Major Terror Investigation?

The Blotter: "FBI agents downplayed evidence of burgeoning cooperation between a domestic white supremacist group and an Islamic terrorist supporter, documents reviewed by ABC News show."

By curtailing its undercover investigation of the two groups, the bureau lost a "golden opportunity" to infiltrate a potentially deadly union between two violent radical organizations, according to a former FBI agent involved with the case.

The document reviewed by ABC News contained several redacted excerpts of a 157-page FBI transcript from a secret recording on Jan. 23, 2002 between a known Islamic terrorist supporter and an established member of a white supremacist group in Florida. It shows the two men discussed killing Jews and journalists, praised Hitler and Palestinian suicide bombing efforts in Israel and discussed general ways the two men could work together by using front companies and sharing resources.

"[T]he enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Islamic terrorist supporter said to the white supremacist at the 2002 meeting, according to the transcript, which was recently obtained from the FBI and entered into congressional testimony by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

"That's where we're comin' from," the supremacist responded.

"Anybody that's willing to...to shoot a Jew or to hit a Jew is my friend. Automatically," the transcript shows the Islamic terrorist supporter saying in response.

ABC News was allowed to take notes from the transcript excerpts, which are set for imminent publication in the Congressional Record, but was not allowed to make a verbatim copy of the entire document.

The FBI and the Department of Justice Inspector General have insisted the conversation had no significant connection to terrorism. But one veteran FBI counterterrorism agent told ABC News that's hard to fathom.

"There's no way you can discount this," Jack Cloonan, an ABC News consultant, said. Cloonan, who spent 27 years with the bureau and was the senior agent of its bin Laden unit, cautioned that it was hard to make conclusive statements about the transcript after reading only excerpts, but that he was alarmed by what he saw.

"I'm shocked, frankly, that this is the position the bureau is taking," Cloonan said. A discussion between known Aryan and Islamic extremists in which they praise violence and talk warmly of working together -- "this is what the FBI has said it's worried about," Cloonan said. "As a counterterrorism agent, this is what you live for."

The FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a secret FBI informant helped agents from the Tampa, Fla. FBI office surreptitiously record the meeting between a man the bureau knew to be a known Islamic terrorist supporter and another man, an established member of a white supremacist group, in Florida.

Neither the men's identities nor the identities of the groups they represented were included in the transcript. At one point, the supremacist referred to the Palestinian group Hamas, which has staged suicide attacks against Jews in Israel.

"Just like Hamas. Not everybody in the occupied territories has that determination, that will, to do what has to be done," the supremacist states, according to the transcript.

After an FBI agent who was called in to consult on the operation raised concerns about how the recording was made and how the case was being documented, the office cut short the undercover investigation.

At first, agents from the case denied any recording had been made, according to a January 2006 Justice Department Inspector General's report.

The Inspector General concluded that FBI agents mishandled the case, falsified records and made misleading statements in connection to the recording. The report also confirmed that senior FBI officials had retaliated against the agent who had called attention the problem, Michael German.

German, a veteran undercover FBI agent who specialized in infiltrating white supremacist groups, left the bureau in 2004, after being barred from helping train new FBI recruits in undercover tactics. German has said that the FBI lost a "golden opportunity" by failing to conduct further investigation into the possible union.

The transcript "flatly contradicts statements made by bureau officials trying to downplay the incident and discredit Michael German," said Sen. Charles Grassley at a recent hearing. Grassley also challenged the reasoning of Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, whose report agreed with Tampa FBI officials that "no terrorist threat was missed."

This post has been revised.

A Shock Wave of Brain Injuries

A Shock Wave of Brain Injuries - washingtonpost.com: "By Ronald Glasser
Sunday, April 8, 2007; Page B01

'We can save you. But you might not be what you were.'
Neurosurgeon, Combat Support Hospital, Balad, Iraq"

This is the new physics of war. Three 155mm shells, linked together and combined with 100 pounds of Semtex plastic explosive, covered by canisters of butane or barrels of gasoline, can upend a 70-ton tank, destroy a Humvee or blow an engine block through the hood of a truck. Those deadly ingredients form the signature weapon of the war in Iraq: improvised explosive devices, known by anybody who watches the news as IEDs.

Some of the impact of these roadside bombs is brutally clear: Troops are maimed by projectiles, poisoned by clouds of bacteria-laced debris and burned by post-blast flames. But the IEDs have added a new dimension to battlefield injuries: wounds and even deaths among troops who have no external signs of trauma but whose brains have been severely damaged. Iraq has brought back one of the worst afflictions of World War I trench warfare: shell shock. The brain of a soldier exposed to a roadside bomb is shocked, truly.

About 1,800 U.S. troops, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, are now suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) caused by penetrating wounds. But neurologists worry that hundreds of thousands more -- at least 30 percent of the troops who've engaged in active combat for four months or longer in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are at risk of potentially disabling neurological disorders from the blast waves of IEDs and mortars, all without suffering a scratch.

For the first time, the U.S. military is treating more head injuries than chest or abdominal wounds, and it is ill-equipped to do so. According to a July 2005 estimate from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq who don't immediately return to duty have traumatic brain injuries.

Here's why IEDS carry such hidden danger. The detonation of any powerful explosive generates a blast wave of high pressure that spreads out at 1,600 feet per second from the point of explosion and travels hundreds of yards. The lethal blast wave is a two-part assault that rattles the brain against the skull. The initial shock wave of very high pressure is followed closely by the "secondary wind": a huge volume of displaced air flooding back into the area, again under high pressure. No helmet or armor can defend against such a massive wave front.

It is these sudden and extreme differences in pressures -- routinely 1,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure -- that lead to significant neurological injury. Blast waves cause severe concussions, resulting in loss of consciousness and obvious neurological deficits such as blindness, deafness and mental retardation. Blast waves causing TBIs can leave a 19-year-old private who could easily run a six-minute mile unable to stand or even to think.

Another problem is that these blast-related brain injuries differ from other severe head traumas, and the complexity of treating returning troops with "closed-head" injuries is taxing an already overburdened military health-care system. There is not a neurosurgeon who works in a trauma unit anywhere in the United States who doesn't know what to do when an ambulance brings in a biker who has suffered a severe head injury in a highway accident. The standard care involves using calcium channel blockers to protect damaged nerve cells against further injury, intravenous diuretics to control brain swelling and, if the swelling becomes too great, removal of the top of the skull to allow the brain to swell without increasing neurological damage. This is what surgeons did in the case of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff, who suffered severe brain injuries from an IED blast in Baghdad last year.

All this works with the common types of severe head injuries, but it does not work with brains damaged by shock waves. Despite the usual interventions and treatments, the majority of blast-injury patients who have neurological damage do not fully recover. There is a growing understanding within the neurosurgical community that blast injuries are different from those caused by penetrating or skull-fracture trauma. It is thought that shock waves damage the brain at a microscopic, sub-cellular level. That's why surgeons who are quite capable of reconstructing the skull of a motorcycle crash victim -- something for which they have been well trained -- struggle to come up with treatment and rehabilitation techniques for the explosion-damaged brains of troops.

"TBIs from Iraq are different," said P. Steven Macedo, a neurologist and former doctor at the Veterans Administration. Concussions from motorcycle accidents injure the brain by stretching or tearing it, he noted. But in Iraq, something else is going on. "When the sound wave moves through the brain, it seems to cause little gas bubbles to form," he said. "When they pop, it leaves a cavity. So you are littering people's brains with these little holes."


Almost as daunting as treating TBI is the volume of such injuries coming out of Iraq. Macedo cited the estimates, gleaned at seminars with VA doctors, that as many as one-third of all combat forces are at risk of TBI. Military physicians have learned that significant neurological injuries should be suspected in any troops exposed to a blast, even if they were far from the explosion. Indeed, soldiers walking away from IED blasts have discovered that they often suffer from memory loss, short attention spans, muddled reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, depression and irritability.

What's baffling is the Pentagon's failure to work with Congress to provide a steady stream of funding for research on TBIs. Meanwhile, the high-profile firings of top commanders at Walter Reed have shed light on the woefully inadequate treatment for troops. In these circumstances, soldiers face a struggle to get the long-term rehabilitation necessary for a TBI. At Walter Reed, Macedo said, doctors have chosen to medicate most TBI patients, even though cognitive rehabilitation, including brain teasers and memory exercises, seems to hold the most promise for dealing with the disorder.

Oddly enough, having more military patients than can be adequately treated is, in terms of warfare, a gruesome kind of success. These are the war injured who once would have been the war dead. And it is the unexpected number of casualties who in a previous medical era would have been fatalities that has sunk the outpatient clinics at Walter Reed and left those in the VA system lost and adrift.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the ratio of wounded service members to fatalities is 16 to 1, if the definition of "wounded" is anyone evacuated from a combat zone. During the Vietnam War, according to the VA, the ratio was 2.6 to 1. U.S. troops no longer die from the kind of injuries that killed many thousands in Vietnam. The majority of combat deaths there occurred right where the soldier was hit. If you were going to die, you were dead before there was any need of a medevac chopper. If you'd had an arm or leg blown off, the chances were that you had also suffered a penetrating chest or abdominal wound and would bleed to death waiting to be taken to the nearest surgical hospital.

But if the bleeding could be staunched and you were still breathing when the medics got to you, the odds on survival were in your favor. The military medicine practiced in Vietnam wasn't so different from what World War II medics practiced: Stop the bleeding and hope for the best until the helicopter shows up.

It wasn't until October 1993, when a U.S. combat assault team rappelled down from a helicopter into a 72-hour gunfight in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, that the notion of military medicine changed from basic life support to intensive care. In that siege situation, medics had no choice but to care for a growing number of wounded on their own, because evacuation was impossible. But without clear intensive-care procedures, they ran out of medications and fluids to treat the most severely injured.

In the civilian world, trauma medicine had progressed throughout the 1970s and '80s, well past the simple expedients of tourniquet, plasma and keeping an airway open. Mogadishu forced the military to abandon the last of its medical practices from Vietnam. It was time to teach the medics a new trade.

Pentagon officials increased the training period for a 91W, or combat medic, from 10 to 16 weeks. Medics now trained on patient simulators that would "bleed to death" if blood loss was not stopped or "suffocate" if chest tubes weren't correctly placed or a tracheotomy wasn't performed within three minutes. Medics learned the new intensive-care theory of "hypotensive resuscitation," in which intravenous fluids are given only in minimal amounts solely to keep the heart pumping, as opposed to the old Vietnam method of keeping blood pressure elevated, which only added to blood loss. Medics today use better-designed tourniquets and hemostatic bandages -- dressings that act to stop bleeding for better hemorrhage control. They administer the latest non-opiate painkillers, which, unlike morphine and Demerol, do not slow breathing. This is the first war in which troops are very unlikely to die if they're still alive when a medic arrives.

Another large part of the 16-to-1 wounded-to-fatality ratio has to do with advances in body armor. Today's body armor is dramatically effective in preventing fatal wounds of the chest and upper abdomen. There is not an orthopedic or general surgeon in Iraq or Afghanistan who hasn't been astonished the first time a trooper with two missing limbs and a traumatic brain injury is carried off in a chopper and the surgeon removing the armor cannot find a scratch from the chin to the groin.

But the unseen damage can be long-lasting. Most of the families of our wounded that I have interviewed months, if not years, after the injury say the same thing: "Someone should have told us that with these closed-head injuries, things would not really get all that much better."

Now in its fifth year, the Iraq conflict is not a war of death for U.S. troops nearly so much as it is a war of disabilities. The symbol of this battle is not the cemetery but the orthopedic ward and the neurosurgical unit. The men and women inside those units have come home alive but missing arms and legs, many unable to see or hear or remember who they were before being hit by a roadside bomb. Survival clearly represents as much of a revolution in military medicine as does the dominance of the suicide bomber and the roadside bomb in the age of "shock and awe." But now both the medical profession and the country are left to play a terrible game of catch-up.r

Ronald Glasser is a pediatric nephrologist and the author of " Wounded: Vietnam to Iraq," published last year. From 1968 to 1970, he was deployed at the U.S. Army Hospital at Camp Zama, Japan, treating U.S. soldiers wounded in Vietnam.

[bth: I'd guess then from 9,000 to 45,000 severe traumatic head injuries exist. 26,000 injured x .5 3days or more x 2/3 =8710 or alternately 1.5 million through Iraq x 10% in combat x 30% = 45,000]