Friday, May 18, 2007

Saboteurs have upper hand in an endless war, says Iraq's Oil Minister

Saboteurs have upper hand in an endless war, says Iraq's Oil Minister - Independent Online Edition > Middle East: "Iraq's Oil Minister has unequalled experience of adversity. As a leading Iraqi nuclear scientist, Dr Hussain al-Shahristani was summoned to see Saddam Hussein in 1979 and asked to assist in a project to make a nuclear weapon. "

He flatly refused to help and was immediately thrown into jail and savagely tortured by being beaten for 22 days as he was hung in the air by his wrists that were tied behind his back. Adamant in his determination not to assist Saddam in developing a nuclear device Dr Shahristani spent 10 years in solitary confinement in a small windowless cell in Abu Ghraib prison.

During the chaos of the Gulf War he succeeded in escaping with the help of a "trusty" who delivered his meals. The man, a Palestinian jailed by Saddam as a favour to Yasser Arafat, agreed to help him get out of the dreaded Abu Ghraib.

Stealing a Mukhabarat (secret police) car, the scientist made his way to Kurdistan and then to Iran.

Sitting in his office in the Oil Ministry on a surprisingly rainy day in Baghdad, Dr Shahristani carries few outward signs of a life beset by danger and suffering. Following the overthrow of Saddam in 2003 he returned to Iraq and became the leader of the independent members of parliament who belonged to the Shia alliance. He became Oil Minister a year ago.

It is not an easy job. Iraq's only revenue is from the 1.6 million barrels a day of crude oil that the country exports out of the 2.2 million barrels a day it produces. Every day saboteurs blow up Iraqi oil pipelines and Oil Ministry teams try to repair them in an endless war to strangle Iraq's oil exports to the Mediterranean. Right now the saboteurs have, perhaps temporarily, the upper hand.

"It is as bad as it has ever been," says Dr Shahristani in an interview with The Independent. "If we can protect the pipeline we can add half a million barrels to our exports immediately."

The main problem is that the pipeline that takes crude oil from the oilfields in northern Iraq runs through notoriously dangerous territory between Kirkuk and Baiji to the west. "As soon as we finish a repair they plant another IED [improvised explosive device]. The pipe is hundreds of miles long and runs through a hostile area where insurgents are very active," he says. As a result all exports have to pass through Basra.

Iraq is trying to reorganise its oil industry. The US is pressing for a draft oil bill that has been in dispute for more than a year to be finally passed by parliament. It has become one of the famous "benchmarks" by which Washington says it is measuring progress in Iraq.

There is some hypocrisy here because the year in which the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority ran the Iraqi oil industry in 2003-04 was famous for managerial incompetence and corruption.

The control of oil and oil revenue is also at the centre of the fraught relationship between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds. The need to share oil money is one of the few things holding Iraq together. The Kurds want to maximise their autonomy and, critically, to make sure that they get their present 17 per cent share of oil revenues. With some reason they are suspicious that money on which they wholly depend will be held up or sequestered by some delaying tactic in Baghdad.

Dr Shahristani says negotiations over the coming week will be crucial in deciding if agreement can be reached with the Kurds on oil and gas. He himself had just returned from Kurdistan. The Kurdish Prime Minister is expected in Baghdad this week. The Kurds are demanding that their share of Iraq's oil revenues be released to them automatically.

"We have had endless problems on getting our share," says Dilshad Miran, a Kurdish official in Baghdad. "They give us figures but we don't know if they are right."

Distrust is deep. The Kurds believe they have been deliberately short-changed by Arab-run ministries.

The Baghdad government suspects what it sees as efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to set up an independent oil industry. Four contracts for oil exploration signed in Kurdistan before the fall of Saddam will be honoured though they may be amended. Dr Shahristani says he told Kurdish leaders that any other contracts "are illegal and I will be writing to any company that signs a contract with the KRG... that Iraq will not deal with them in future."

Iraq: fragmentation and civil wars - new paper

Chatham House - Press Releases: "There is not 'one' civil war, nor 'one' insurgency, but several civil wars and insurgencies between different communities in today's Iraq. "Within this warring society, the Iraqi government is only one among many 'state-like' actors, and is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life.

It is now possible to argue that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation. These are some of the key findings of Accepting Realities in Iraq a new Briefing Paper written by Dr Gareth Stansfield and published today by Chatham House.

The paper also assesses Al-Qaeda activity within Iraq, especially in the major cities in the centre and north of the country. Dr Stansfield argues that, although Al-Qaeda is challenged by local groups, there is momentum behind its activity.

Iraq's neighbors too have a greater capacity to affect the situation on the ground than either the UK or the US. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all have different reasons for seeing the instability in Iraq continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments.

Dr Stansfield argues that with the myriad conflicts in Iraq following societal, religious and political divides and often involving state actors, the multinational forces are finding it exceptionally difficult to promote security normalization.

The recent US 'surge' in Baghdad looks likely to have simply pushed insurgent activity to neighboring cities and cannot deliver the required political accommodation.

A political solution will require Sunni Arab representatives’ participation in government, the recognition of Moqtada al-Sadr as a legitimate political partner, and a positive response to Kurdish concerns. Further, it would be a mistake to believe that the political forces in Iraq are weak and can be reorganized by the US or the international community, there must be ‘buy-in’ from the key Iraqi political actors.

Dr Stansfield says: ‘The coming year will be pivotal for Iraq. The internecine fighting and continual struggle for power threatens the nation’s very existence in its current form. An acceptance of the realities on the ground in Iraq and a fundamental rethinking of strategy by coalition powers are vital if there is to be any chance of future political stability in the country.’

Media Matters - Falwell guest-hosted Crossfire ; said Iraq war "goes pretty well if you watch it on FOX"

Media Matters - Falwell guest-hosted Crossfire ; said Iraq war "goes pretty well if you watch it on FOX": "Falwell said, 'I think [the war] is going well,' adding: 'CNN doesn't always get it right, but it goes pretty well if you watch it on FOX [News Channel].'"

[bth: you can't make this stuff up.]

Armchair Generalist: Incredibly Bad Ideas

Armchair Generalist: Incredibly Bad Ideas: "From Inside The Pentagon (subscription required), this article notes that the Army wants to follow the Marine Corps in the desire to replace all the HMMWVs in Iraq with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles - MRAPs - totalling about 17,000 vehicles at a cost of $8.4 billion dollars (not including the Marine's request for 3700 vehicles). The original Army requirement was 2500 vehicles, but now that's not enough. "

“We’ve got a requirement from the field that’s a larger number than [2,500] and we’re going to take a long, hard look at that,” Pete Geren, the acting Army secretary, told the Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee on April 25. “The number that came from the field was 17,000 -- total replacement of the humvee fleet.”

Officials on the Army staff declined requests to discuss details of the services’ MRAP requirement, which could produce a large unfunded wedge in the service’s modernization portfolio. Estimated per-unit MRAP costs -- including the vehicle, communication gear, electronic warfare capabilities, and two years of contractor support -- range from $1 million to $1.3 million, depending on which of three different-sized MRAP variants is procured, sources familiar with program details said. -----------The Army’s assessment of its total MRAP need comes as the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, the Pentagon’s high-level panel that must approve all new-start weapons programs, was scheduled on May 2 to consider -- and possibly endorse -- the requirement for 7,774 MRAP vehicles.

Even this figure represents recent growth spurred Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command requirements.

On May 1, in another sign of the high profile MRAP enjoys in the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates received a program overview briefing, according to Marine Corps spokesman Bill Johnson-Miles.

Meanwhile, support for the MRAP program continues to grow on Capitol Hill. On May 2, the House Armed Services air and land subcommittee announced it has added $4.1 billion to buy MRAPs in fiscal year 2008, an extraordinary sum -- even in the context of U.S. defense spending -- for an effort that is not a program of record and was not a priority only a year ago.

Let me make a few observations. We're talking about making a multi-billion dollar procurement deal on a system that hasn't been run through any operational tests, to replace a system that cost about a fifth of the armored vehicle, and the military wants to rush production of "low rate initial production" vehicles through five contractors to meet the demand. This is a capability that hasn't been analyzed prior to the decision to go with a material solution, because it would make too much sense to suggest that a non-material solution - say, eliminating the source of the IEDs rather than beefing up the protection requirement - might be a really better idea. No, it's always better to go with the high tech solution than the tougher, but more effective, common sense approach.

The testing issue just might be a concern to the guys riding in these vehicles:

While these production orders get under way, the services will continue to test all 36 prototypes at Aberdeen.

Program officials decided to award low-rate production contracts before tests were completed because the vehicles are not entirely new designs and most of their components already have been used by military customers.

“We are buying and testing simultaneously,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Anderson, director of Army force modernization.-------------One major unknown is the survivability of the armor. Of particular concern is whether MRAPs will be tough enough to protect occupants when they are targeted by explosively formed projectiles, which so far have proven to be the most lethal weapons against U.S. troops in Iraq.

According to munitions experts, EFPs have been used to defeat armored vehicles for more than 30 years. The EFP warhead consists of a circular cylinder of explosive, with a shallow cavity in one end that is fitted with a thin metallic liner. Upon detonation, the liner dynamically transforms into an aerodynamic projectile traveling at high velocity. EFPs have been known to penetrate even main battle tanks.
Anderson said that the success of EFP attacks hinges on the size and location of the bomb. Humvees, even with armor kits, no longer offer enough protection, he said. “Just a year ago we were talking about the up-armored humvee as if it were the gold standard. It’s not the gold standard any more.”

The MRAPs are more survivable than up-armored humvees, and provide underbelly protection, which humvees do not.

But one of the sturdiest mine-protected vehicles used in Iraq, called the Buffalo, was destroyed by an EFP for the first time in late 2006. According to unofficial accounts, the vehicle was ambushed and hit by an EFP hidden behind a wall.

Now I know why the politicians will vote for this, because they've got a knee-jerk reaction to any issue that includes the term "protection from IEDs" in the title. But you have to ask, what the hell are the military leaders thinking by rushing these vehicles to the field? "These MVAPs have to work, because... because... if they don't, it's our asses." There's no excuse to short-cutting the operational testing of this vehicle, not when the consequences of failure are so high. My frustration with these kind of decisions is in part fueled by the continued demands by the military leadership to continue modernizing their aging equipment simultaneous with funding the high optempo requirements of the war, while the training and repair infrastructure in the United States continues to crumble.

Hey, as long as they don't raise our taxes, right? We wouldn't want to sacrifice the Republican platform of "no new taxes" to improve our military readiness, would we?

[bth: MRAPs will improve survivability from mines, but EFPs seem to be quite effective against their sides. Good news, EFPs require machine shop grade production whereas normal IEDs don't - not since we left millions of mines and artillery shells unguarded for a few years. Bad news, EFPs are relatively easy to produce and growing in number. Still the MRAPs make sense at many levels, but to suggest that they will solve the IED problem is a gross miscalculation. It will simply mean a change in tactics by the insurgents to EFPs. Even worse, its very easy to raise EFP production 10 fold than it is to produce thousands if not tens of thousands of vehicles before this is over. Insurgents are adapting new tactics every couple of weeks in specific locations and within a few months theater-wide. It takes us 16 months at least just to get production going on major projects - armored humvees, armored kits, jammers. MRAP will be no different. In that time window EFPs will become ubiquitous.]

The INSIDER: May 15, 2007 - Update on MRAP

The Insider: "MRAP Session.'s Jason Sherman continues to own the MRAP story.

His latest concerns not only MRAP but other major weapons programs that could be affected by the Pentagon's mad rush to field as many vehicles as possible as quickly as they can be made:"

Pentagon plans to rapidly produce new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles could stall due to short supplies of key industrial resources such as manpower and steel, which may prompt the Defense Department to divert key commodities away from other weapons programs, according to defense officials and documents.

Even if the materials needed for the new tactical armored vehicle fleet end up being plentiful, a new internal Pentagon report says the maximum monthly MRAP production rate by December 2007 will be no greater than 977 vehicles -- nearly 20 percent fewer than the 1,200 vehicles per month touted by senior military officials as a target for the end of this year.T

he intense demand for steel required to manufacture the V-shaped MRAP chassis -- which deflects the blast from roadside bombs -- could force the Defense Department to redirect steel from other military acquisition efforts in order to feed the high-priority MRAP production efforts, according to Pentagon officials. These findings stem from the closely held “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Industrial Capability

Assessment,” dated April 30 and prepared by the Defense Contract Management Agency. "MRAP Production Surge Could be Hampered by Steel, Other Shortages"More MRAP:

"Gates Calls MRAP Pentagon's 'Highest Priority' Acquisition Program"Defense Secretary Robert Gates has designated the Marine Corps-led effort to acquire a fleet of armored vehicles designed to protect personnel from roadside bomb attacks as the Pentagon's "highest priority" procurement effort and is seeking options to further accelerate fielding plans for a program already moving at an exceptionally quick clip.

Gates, in a May 2 memo to the Army and Navy secretaries following a briefing on the MRAP program the same day, announced that he plans to use the full power of his office -- and possibly the executive branch -- to clear whatever legal and financial roadblocks might impede rapid delivery of the new armored vehicles to Iraq.Corps Truths.The Marines look to the future, behind closed doors:

The Marine Corps is privately reviewing its communications and basing arrangements in Iraq, crafting a plan to help generals tout “progress” there, and reassessing whether the service is properly postured for the future, according to an internal document obtained by Inside the Navy.

These are among 22 tasks and decisions that Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway issued to his generals in a bulletin -- marked “for official use only” -- after an executive offsite meeting in April.The first item on the list directs the Marine component of U.S. Central Command (MARCENT), which oversees forces in the Middle East, to review the recapitalization of communications personnel and equipment due to “commercialization efforts” in Iraq.

Much more in the full story, from Inside the Navy:

"Marines Mull Iraq Plans, Communications Goals and Future Posture"Money Matters.In case you missed our update yesterday:

House Armed Services Committee's FY-08 Defense Authorization Bill and Report Related:
CBO Cost Estimate of the FY-08 Defense Authorization BillIn a May 14 report, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill would include spending that totals $640 billion for the military functions of the Defense Department, for Energy Department defense activities, and for other purposes including $141 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Appropriators' Summary of Vetoed FY-07 Supplemental Spending Bill ProposalThe May 9 House Appropriations Committee statement summarizes how the fiscal year 2007 emergency supplemental spending bill vetoed by President Bush would be reworked and split into two pieces: one bill that would include the Iraq military spending portion of the vetoed legislation (with an added requirement for the president to report to Congress by July 2007 on political progress in Iraq), and another bill that would include funding for the other, non-defense-related programs that were in the original legislation. Gates Letter to Congress on the FY-07 Supplemental Spending BillIn a May 9 letter to Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates expresses his "serious concern over proposals to incrementally fund the fiscal year 2007 emergency supplemental appropriations bill." Senators Hold Hearing on FY-08 DOD Budget RequestOn May 9, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony on the fiscal year 2008 Defense Department budget request. Includes excerpts from the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, as well as the prepared testimony of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace.News:

"House Panel Approves Deep Cuts to Future Combat Systems Program"
"House Committee Would Allow Reprogramming to Fund European Site"
"House Authorizers Add Key Shipbuilding Amendments in Mark-Up"
"Bill Directs Broad Defense Review While Pushing for Drone Czar"
"House Lawmakers Urge Appointment of UAV Executive Agent by 2008"
"Boeing: Funding Cut in FY-08 Authorization Would 'Cripple' ABL Program"
"House Authorizers Agree Not to Retire Any C-5s Until June 2009"

War Report.News on Iraq and Afghanistan:

"Army Adds COIN Training to Iraq, Afghanistan Adviser Preparation"Realizing the need to incorporate unconventional warfare techniques into training for its foreign military advisers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army last year added a counterinsurgency component to the adviser preparation regimen at Ft. Riley, KS.Prior to the addition, “there was no real instruction” within the Ft. Riley coursework or related field exercises “on how to understand counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare,” Maj. Joshua Potter told Inside the Army during a May 8 interview.Related:

Army General’s Memo to Iraqi Security Force Team MembersIn a May 8 memo, Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, discusses guidance and expectations of Iraqi Security Force Transition team members.Board Certified.The Defense Science Board has been busy:

DSB Report on 'Information Management for Net-Centric Operations,' Vols. 1 and 2The first and second volume of the Defense Science Board's April 2007 report on information management for net-centric operations found that a new information management approach and combat information capability is needed to respond to current and future national security challenges.

DSB Report on 21st Century Technology Vectors, Vol. 4: Accelerating the Transition of Technologies into U.S. CapabilitiesThe fourth volume of the Defense Science Board's April 2007 report on 21st century technology vectors offers several recommendations to the Defense Department to meet urgent warfighter needs. Also includes links to volumes 1, 2 and 3.We've also got news on a study in the works:

"Krieg Seeks Improvement in DOD Test and Evaluation Process"With nearly half of all Defense Department acquisition programs in recent years found to be neither operationally effective nor suitable during the initial test and evaluation process, Pentagon acquisition chief Kenneth Krieg is launching a study to find out why, according to an April 30 memo.Krieg is calling on the Defense Science Board to conduct a study of the Pentagon's developmental test and evaluation process (DT&E).Here's the paper on that one:

DSB Terms of Reference for DT&E Task ForceIn an April 30 memo, Pentagon acquisition chief Kenneth Krieg requests the creation of a Defense Science Board task force on developmental test and evaluation to improve “capability and sustainability to warfighters.”Change is Hard.Climate change is in the wind, everywhere, and last week it was addressed in a national security context on Capitol Hill:

"Panel: Climate Change Could Hurt U.S. Interests in Mideast, Nigeria"Global warming could have detrimental effects in developing regions such as Africa and the Middle East, creating new challenges for U.S. security interests, according to a group of military panelists.Some of the military officers who issued a report last month on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” testified on May 9 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.The report calls on the Pentagon to review military capabilities that could respond to the consequences of climate change. The Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Security Strategy and the National Intelligence Estimate should address this issue, the report states.The hearing:

Senators Hold Hearing on Climate ChangeOn May 9, 2007, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on climate change. Includes excerpts from the question-and-answer portion of the hearing as well as prepared testimony from retired Navy Adm. Joseph Prueher, former U.S. Pacific Command commander in chief; retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, former U.S. European Command deputy commander; and retired Navy Vice Adm. Richard Truly, former NASA administrator. Also includes opening statements from committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Ranking Member Lugar (R-IN).Check out Defense Energy Watch for more.Grab Bag.More hot news from our latest issues:

"Air Force Delays A-10 Re-Wing Contract Award Until Late June"The Air Force has delayed awarding a $1 billion-plus contract to replace the wings on most of its venerable A-10 attack aircraft fleet, service and industry officials tell Inside the Air Force.

"Boeing Unveils New ARH After Panel Suggests Contract Rebidding"ATLANTA -- Boeing has pre-emptively offered a platform to meet the Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter requirement in the wake of the service’s troubled contract with Bell.

Shortages for New Armored Vehicles?

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "The demand for blast protected vehicles in taking off, with the calls to replace the entire Humvee fleet in Iraq. At a classified summit held earlier this month in Warren, Michigan, military officials said that the requirement for the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAP) could grow to almost 18,000, Jane's Defence Weekly reports: "

While the service has not issued a formal budget request for more of the blast-protected vehicles, officials suggested US Central Command's overall requirement for MRAP vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan may go as high as 17,700 - more than twice the number currently planned for all the services.

In the meantime, Inside Defense notes that a new Pentagon study is warning of possible shortages of key materials needed to build the new vehicles:

Pentagon plans to rapidly produce new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles could stall due to short supplies of key industrial resources such as manpower and steel, which may prompt the Defense Department to divert key commodities away from other weapons programs, according to defense officials and documents.

Even if the materials needed for the new tactical armored vehicle fleet end up being plentiful, a new internal Pentagon report says the maximum monthly MRAP production rate by December 2007 will be no greater than 977 vehicles -- nearly 20 percent fewer than the 1,200 vehicles per month touted by senior military officials as a target for the end of this year.

The intense demand for steel required to manufacture the V-shaped MRAP chassis -- which deflects the blast from roadside bombs -- could force the Defense Department to redirect steel from other military acquisition efforts in order to feed the high-priority MRAP production efforts, according to Pentagon officials.

These findings stem from the closely held “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Industrial Capability Assessment,” dated April 30 and prepared by the Defense Contract Management Agency. It was delivered to the Pentagon’s industrial policy shop.

This report identified potential choke points in the MRAP supply chain, including the availability of steel plates, axles, automotive and chassis assembly and integration as well as ballistic glass and tires, according to Pentagon spokesman Chris Isleib.

Manpower, particularly the availability of welders, is also a factor that could crimp Pentagon efforts -- backed by pledges form Congress to provide any funding necessary -- to build and field as many MRAPs a month as possible.

[bth: last time there were these shortages - a few years ago with the armored humvee surge - almost all of the issues were bureaucratic rather than real. For example with steel, there is a foundry specific for armor at Rock Island that was not turned on and I suspect this will be no different, then there was a case of the pentagon not putting a priority on the steel and passing that information on to the existing manufacturers in the US - specifically steel plants which could shift production with known lead times and finally there were canadian, japanese, european and asian allies all able to produce incremental steel needed, but our bureaucracy would rather have no trucks and dead soldiers than worry about fixing restrictive acquisition policies - all of which are within the power of the Sec. of Defense to correct. As to tires, that's a leadtime matter. As to glass, a problem hardly different than what we've faced so far. .... We would have lost WWII with this procruement system.]

Iraq's Tricked-Out Armored Cars

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "The new run of armored vehicles headed to Iraq won't just have a thicker skin and a bomb-deflecting hull. The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) will roll into the desert with a high-end electronics and weaponry suite that could tack $280,000 each onto an already-hefty $1 million price tag. "

Each armed service wants a slightly different package, Inside Defense notes. The Army, for instance, wants its MRAP fleet to include the Objective Gunner Protection Kit (a defense for those soldier who have to man the gun at the top of the vehicle), FBCB2 Blue Force Tracker (a digital mapping program), the Warlock Duke bomb jammer -- as well as next-gen radios, intercoms, and GPS receivers. The Army also wants to include "Driver's Vision Enhancement," a set of day/night cameras that lets a driver see what's in front of him, despite smoke or fog. Some of the vehicles will even get TOW missile launchers.

Now, as we learned the other day, these vehicles are not going to be all that easy to churn out -- despite calls for replacing every Humvee in Iraq with an MRAP. How much harder are these things going to be to outfit, with all this extra gear

Two officers in Iraq lose their commands

Two officers in Iraq lose their commands: "WASHINGTON - Three U.S. soldiers slaughtered in a grisly kidnapping-murder plot south of Baghdad last June had been left alone for up to 36 hours in a poorly planned mission, a military investigation concluded. Two officers have been relieved of their commands."

Neither of the officers faced criminal charges as a result of the litany of mistakes that left the soldiers exposed, a military official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

A report on the investigation said the platoon leader and company commander - whose names were not released - failed to provide proper supervision to the unit or enforce military standards.

A seven-page summary of the investigation provided to the AP also said it appears insurgents may have rehearsed the attack two days earlier, and that Iraqi security forces near the soldiers' outpost probably saw and heard the attack and “chose to not become an active participant in the attack on either side.”

“This was an event caused by numerous acts of complacency, and a lack of standards at the platoon level,” said the investigating officer, Lt. Col. Timothy Daugherty, in the summary.

Three 101st Airborne Division soldiers were killed in the June 16, 2006, attack. Spc. David J. Babineau, of Springfield, Mass., was found dead at the scene, and two others - Pfc. Kristian Menchaca of Houston and Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, Ore. - were abducted. Their mutilated bodies were found three days later, tied together and booby-trapped with bombs.

Details of the attack and what led up to it came as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces were scouring the same area near Youssifiyah, in what's called the Triangle of Death, for three soldiers believed to have been abducted last Saturday by an al-Qaida-related group.

According to the investigation of last June's attack, Tucker, Menchaca and Babineau were ordered to guard a mobile bridge over a canal in order to prevent insurgents from planting mines. Other members of their platoon, who were at two locations up to three-quarters of a mile away, heard small arms fire at 7:49 p.m. When they arrived at the checkpoint about 25 minutes later, Babineau was dead and the others were gone.

Daugherty said the soldiers were told to stand guard for up to 36 hours with just one Humvee, and there were no barriers on the road to slow access to them or provide early warning.

To expect them to operate an observation post for 24 to 36 hours was unrealistic, he said. “From the time a vehicle was seen, it would have been in front or beside the (Humvee) in a matter of seconds,” he wrote.

Daugherty concluded that the platoon did not get the supervision or direction it needed. And he said the unit was hurt by the loss of 10 troops, including several leaders, who were killed in action as well as by the need to shuffle the platoon's leadership three times.

The platoon also had been dogged by an ongoing investigation into the rape and killing of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family by several other members of the unit.

Daugherty said there was no malicious intent by the officers who were leading the unit.

“Although the leaders in this platoon care and are staying in the fight, the platoon is frayed,” he said in his report.

Daugherty's investigation found no evidence linking the three soldiers' deaths to the rape-murder, which occurred three months earlier. An al-Qaida-linked group, the Mujahedeen Shura Council, claimed last July that the attack on Babineau, Menchaca and Tucker was revenge for the rape-killing.

Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, who was serving as the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad last year, ordered the investigation, and later handed out the punishments. His decision to remove the two officers - a lieutenant and a captain - from their commands was a harsher penalty than the one recommended by Daugherty, who suggested they get letters of reprimand.

Thurman, who is now commander of Fifth Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, also accepted Daugherty's recommendations that the platoon be ordered to stand down for 10 days to address combat stress and get refresher training. In addition, administrative actions were taken against an unknown number of other officers, but those have not been disclosed because they are protected by the privacy act.

Release of the investigation's results has been delayed for months. The probe was completed and the punishments delivered by last August. Families of the three soldiers were given unclassified briefings on the results of the investigation later in the fall. According to a military official, part of the delay was due to legal reviews and the movement of the units involved out of Iraq.

In the rape-killing case, five soldiers were charged in the March 12, 2006 incident. Three have entered guilty pleas, one soldier's trial has been delayed and the fifth is being prosecuted in federal court because he had already left the military when he was charged.

[bth: a slap on the wrist for gross negligence within the officer corp. No one is held to account but the dead soldiers under their command]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

CBS 2 HD Exclusive: Model Airplane Terror? - CBS 2 HD Exclusive: Model Airplane Terror?: "(CBS) NEW YORK For most, it's a harmless hobby, flying radio-controlled airplanes. But in the wrong hands, the little planes can become big weapons.

CBS 2 HD has learned more on the power of the planes and what the government is doing, if anything, to regulate them.

It could happen in the middle of Manhattan. A remote controlled model airplane, an all-American hobby, can turn into a weapon, in the hands of a terrorist."...

[bth: might as well regulate Ryder trucks as well. this is just stupid.]
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Tensions High on Afghanistan-Pakistan Border

The Blotter: "Tension along the volatile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is quickly increasing as the government of Pakistan is sending troop reinforcements following reports the Afghan National Army had also sent significant numbers of troops and installed extra artillery and mortar guns there."

Villagers in nearby towns in the Kurram Agency of Pakistan began leaving their homes for safer ground after public announcements were made from mosques and vehicles fitted with loudspeakers about the possibility of an outbreak of violence on the Pak-Afghan border.

There were similar reports of villagers evacuating from border towns in the Paktia province of Afghanistan.

While the situation has been deteriorating for some time, tensions quickly escalated earlier this week when the Pakistani and Afghan border forces clashed following a dispute on the exact location of the border. The two countries have long disputed the location of the border. That clash led to the deaths of Afghan troops and civilians, although the countries disagree over the exact death toll.

The next day, an American and a Pakistani soldier were killed in a Pakistan border town following a meeting convened by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

An Afghan government spokesperson later alleged that a Pakistani security official fired at the U.S. and Afghan military officers as they were walking to their helicopter. The Pakistan government blamed "miscreants" for the killings. The ISAF has demanded a full investigation by the Pakistani military.

[bth: border war emerging?]

Thirty-six hours before he was killed by U.S. forces, Taliban Commander Mullah Dadullah said he was training American and British citizens to carry ou

The Blotter: "Thirty-six hours before he was killed by U.S. forces, Taliban Commander Mullah Dadullah said he was training American and British citizens to carry out suicide missions in their home countries, according to a videotape interview to be broadcast on ABC News' 'World News' Monday."...
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Nato calls for inquiry into shooting

Nato calls for inquiry into shooting -DAWN - Top Stories; May 17, 2007: "KABUL, May 16: The Nato force in Afghanistan demanded on Wednesday that Pakistan investigate a border incident in which a US soldier was shot dead by a man said to be in a Pakistani paramilitary unit’s uniform."

About 1,000 Afghans meanwhile demonstrated outside the Pakistan embassy in Kabul chanting “Death to Pakistan” and accusing Islamabad of invading on Sunday, sparking clashes at the weekend that killed 13 Afghans.

Representatives of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were among a delegation that travelled just across the border into Pakistan on Monday to try to calm the tensions.

After the meeting “an individual reported to be wearing a Pakistan Frontier Corps uniform” fired into the group, a spokeswoman for ISAF said in a statement on Wednesday.

A US soldier was killed and three soldiers were wounded, as was a civilian.

“ISAF expects a full investigation of this incident by the Pakistani military,” Lieutenant Colonel Maria Carl said.

Pakistan has said one of its soldiers was also killed.

Afghan officials have said the man who opened fire was a Pakistani military officer but Pakistan has said the identity of the attacker was not known.

It is important that Pakistan “does actually go through a proper investigation into this incident so that we are clear about what happened,” the Nato force's spokesman in Afghanistan said.

“We will be expecting them to fulfil that part of their responsibility,”said the spokesman, Nicholas Lunt.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said he was aware of the ISAF statement “but our investigations are still not concluded. We will respond to their statement once our own investigations are completed.”

Afghan officials also accuse the Pakistani side of starting the clashes on Sunday that continued into mid-Monday, saying they pushed up to four kilometres across the disputed border.

Thirteen Afghans were killed in the fighting, which included rocket fire.

Six of them were policemen and the rest civilians, including two schoolchildren, Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.—AFP
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Three Taliban leaders 'died with commander'

Three Taliban leaders 'died with commander' | "THREE senior Taliban freed in return for the release of an Italian journalist were killed during an operation in which top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah also died, security forces said today."

The trio, including a brother of Dadullah, were travelling with him when they were attacked and killed in a district in the south at the weekend, the Afghan intelligence service said.

"Mullah Shah Mansoor -- Dadullah's brother -- Mullah Hamdullah and Mullah Ghafar, all Taliban commanders, were killed in the same operation," the service said.

The three were among five senior Taliban who were released in exchange for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who had been kidnapped by Dadullah's men in early March.

Mr Mastrogiacomo was held captive for three weeks but his interpreter, Afghan reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi, and driver were beheaded. Dadullah was blamed for the killings.

The US-led coalition said earlier this month that another of the prisoners freed in the same swap had been killed in fighting in the west.

Blamed for kidnappings and beheading of hostages and organising a spate of suicide bombings, Dadullah was the most senior Taliban leader to die since the regime was driven from power in 2001.

The statement said the rebel commander was pursued "with (the) most modern intelligence technology from the Pakistani border before being killed."

Latest Chinese missile to target US carriers: report

The Raw Story | Latest Chinese missile to target US carriers: report: "China plans to equip its upcoming missiles with infrared technology to give them the ability to hit US warships in Asia, a Japanese newspaper said Wednesday."

The upgrade is part of preparations for a potential conflict over Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory and which has a security pact with the United States, the Sankei Shimbun said.

Citing unnamed military sources in Japan and Taiwan, the conservative newspaper said that China was developing an infrared detection system for its medium-range Dongfeng-21 missiles so they can pinpoint warships.

The upgraded Dongfeng would discourage the United States or Japan from sending in their warships equipped with the Aegis technology designed to shoot down incoming missiles, the newspaper said.

The Dongfeng-21 has a range of some 2,150 kilometers (1,350 miles). The Sankei estimated that around 100 are deployed.

Western analysts have also speculated that China is also developing a next-generation long-range Dongfeng-41 capable of hitting the US mainland
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Al Kamen - World's Biggest U.S. Embassy May Not Be Quite Big Enough -

Al Kamen - World's Biggest U.S. Embassy May Not Be Quite Big Enough - "For all those who keep whining about how the government can't do anything right, we're happy to report that the massive New Embassy Compound in Baghdad, the biggest U.S. embassy on earth, is going to be completed pretty much as scheduled in August."

The bad news is that it appears it's not going to have enough housing for all the employees who'll be moving to the 27-building complex on a 104-acre tract of land -- about the size of the Vatican, two-thirds the size of the Mall -- within the Green Zone.

In fact, our new man in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, is said to be concerned that, while there are more than 600 blast-resistant apartments in the NEC, there's a need for several hundred more apartments.

Problem seems to be that the original plans didn't account for hundreds of staff working in reconstruction, development, the inspector general's office and other security programs, who, though considered temporary, will need, at least for a few years, somewhere to live. There are 1,000 Americans working at the embassy, and Crocker is looking to downsize, but we hear he's having trouble finding even 100 to toss overboard.

Also, there are about 200 non-U.S. workers brought in from around the region who are replacing Iraqi staff because it is too dangerous for the Iraqis, who live outside the fortified Green Zone, to work for Americans.

Worst of all, there's no provision for rooms for congressional delegations or other distinguished guests coming to shop in the famed markets. There aren't any safe hotels in Baghdad, much less a decent B&B.

Embassy employees, now living in trailers with no overhead protection, are getting increasingly jittery over mortar and rocket attacks. New guidelines tell them to wear helmets and flak jackets when walking in the open. But some employees, sleeping in those tin-can trailers, apparently would actually like to take off the helmets and jackets while they're in bed.

One speaker at a recent town hall meeting in Baghdad, McClatchy Newspapers reported yesterday, asked for bullet-resistant Kevlar blankets to protect him from shrapnel in case of incoming mortar fire.

There's discussion now of a short-term solution that would put some people in trailers in the 30 to 40 acres not being used for housing. They would be right outside the compound but at least have overhead cover.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week said she dispatched super-competent Patrick Kennedy-- now director of management policy and talked about as a possible undersecretary for management at the State Department -- to Baghdad to assess the situation.

Crocker's home in the NEC -- which one source said was about 16,000 square feet -- is expected to be ready. Ditto deputy chief of mission Daniel Speckhard's cottage, which is a cozy 9,500 square feet. In addition to office buildings, the complex, located on the banks of the Tigris River, will have a pool and gym and a 17,000-square-foot commissary and food court building.

The NEC will also have its own water supply, power plant and waste-treatment facility so it doesn't have to rely on the Iraqis for essential services.

[bth: what a country.]

The Raw Story | Chlorine bomb kills 32 Iraqis as US hunts for troops

The Raw Story | Chlorine bomb kills 32 Iraqis as US hunts for troops: "Insurgent bombers detonated a van carrying a deadly payload of toxic chlorine gas in a crowded Iraqi market, police said on Wednesday, as violence continued to rage around the country."

The latest sectarian attack ripped through a Shiite enclave of Diyala province, northeast of the capital, late Tuesday, killing at least 32 civilians and wounding 65 more, according to local security and municipal officials....

Meanwhile, a truck bomb packed with tanks of toxic chlorine gas exploded in a market in a Shiite enclave in Diyala, a battle ground between US forces, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militia.

Officials said the bombers struck at around 7.30 pm (1530 GMT) on Tuesday in Abu Saydah, an isolated Shiite community.

"A small van with gas canisters exploded in a crowded market, there were many people dead at the scene," said Captain Sadiq Mohammed. Other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke of 32 dead and 65 injured.

Interior ministry operations director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf confirmed there had been an explosion followed by two mortar attacks on Abu Saydah, but was not able to give an official death toll.

[bth: this is likely the 10th publicly acknowledge chlorine attack.]
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IraqSlogger: Iraqi Papers Thur: Clashes in Nasiriya

IraqSlogger: Iraqi Papers Thur: Clashes in Nasiriya: "More than a dozen Iraqis were killed yesterday in clashes between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi police in the southern city of Nasiriya. Among the dead, al-Hayat and al-Jazeera said, was a “high-ranking officer” in the Iraqi police. Az-Zaman identified the officer in question as Major Jawad 'abd al-Kadhim, director of the anti-terror office in the province. Az-Zaman added that 'Abd al-Kadhim was killed along with his brother and two accompanying soldiers. "

Nasiriya is the largest city in the province of Dhi Qar, and, according to Az-Zaman, was seen as a relatively calm and secure zone. Nasiriya was the first Iraqi city to have its security responsibilities handed over to the Iraqi authorities a few months back, the paper added.

Reports remain conflicting as to the cause of the confrontations, but the events of yesterday revealed a little-discussed facet of post-invasion Iraq: the division of the Iraqi South into zones of influence that are under the full control of armed political parties.

Al-Hayat wrote: “the confrontations in Nasiriya between the Mahdi Army ... and the local police, dominated by the ‘Supreme Council’ of 'abd al-'Azeez al-Hakeem, have shown the depth of the discord between Shi'a parties and their competition over the centers of influence and financial resources in southern Iraq.”

Az-Zaman, on the other hand, said that the conflict started when two Sadrist members of the Mahdi Army, accused of planting IEDs, were arrested by the SIIC-dominated police. Upon the police’s refusal to release the two Sadrists, clashes erupted with the Mahdi Amry attacking the police station, in an attempt to release those arrested by force. Soon enough, confrontations between Sadrists and the police were raging throughout the city and spreading to neighboring localities.

According to Az-Zaman, “informed sources” warned that “Nasiriya may have fallen in the hands of the Mahdi Army.” The newspaper also reported that hundreds of Sadrist militiamen have been mobilized throughout the Iraqi south, and that “intelligence sources” indicated that over 200 members of the Mahdi Army were brought into the city of Diwaniya (another potential scene of confrontation between the Sadr Current and SIIC) just before clashes erupted in that city as well.

Iraqi Army sources in Diwaniya said that an Iraqi soldier was killed by a sniper, without specifying the identity or the affiliation of the shooter. Similar clashes erupted, according to Az-Zaman, in the county of Shatra, where Sadrists attacked the police station, resulting in the death of two civilians and the injury of seven policemen. Sources in Shatra told Az-Zaman that a curfew was imposed on the area in an attempt to prevent the militia from calling in reinforcements.

The situation in the South could get more dramatic, as newspapers reported tensions in the city of Basra, Iraq’s second largest, between different Shi'a parties “vying to control the city’s tremendous oil wealth.”

Al-Hayat spoke to a Sadrist leader, Sadiq al-'Abadi, who headed a delegation that was sent to Nasiriya to negotiate a cease-fire. Al-'Abadi told the paper that “the provocations of the security forces and their loyalties for specific parties have flared the confrontations.”

Al-Hayat predicted that similar turf wars will erupt, sooner or later, in Iraqi Shi'a cities, due to a system of “legalized corruption,” whereby parties control the state apparatus and financial resources in the areas where they establish their control. These arrangements –- predictably -- turned into power struggles over contested areas.

The newspaper provided an excellent overview of the competition between Shi'a parties in southern cities. Al-Fadhila, al-Hayat said, controls the local government in Basra, along with the “trade networks, the city’s port ...and the oil-smuggling networks.” SIIC, which has a strong presence in the city’s security forces, competes with Fadhila over influence in the city, along with the Sadrists, who have a more limited presence in the state institutions.

The struggle in the city of 'Amara, al-Hayat said, was largely decided in the favor of SIIC, which also controls the province of Dhi Qar.

In Diwaniya, al-Hayat explained, the local tribes sided with al-Hakeem’s SIIC against the Sadrist Current, which resulted in a round of violence last April, culminating in the intervention of US forces.

Other players may be involved in these turf wars, the newspaper said, chiefly Iran, “which is accused of infiltrating southern Iraq and building influence among the different parties,” the report claimed.

Lastly, it would be relevant to mention that Iraqi and US officials had accused Muqtada al-Sadr of “smuggling” the Mahdi Army fighters from Baghdad into the South, at the dawn of the ‘Security Plan’ early this year.

IraqSlogger: Oil Official Slams GAO on "Smuggling" Report

IraqSlogger: Oil Official Slams GAO on "Smuggling" Report: "The Iraqi Ministry of Oil on Wednesday rejected a report prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and published by the New York Times about the alleged smuggling of 100,000 to 300,000 barrels of Iraqi crude oil a day, a spokesman for the ministry said, according to Voices of Iraq. "...

[bth: the article goes on to point out that NYC may have confused crude oil with petroleum deriviatives. That said, there is no doubt in my mind whatever that smuggling is a huge business in Iraq accounting for perhaps $6 billion per year in revenues if other estimates are accurate. I believe that much of the sectarian violence is really about black market revenues. Sadr for example has control of much of the gas station and propane concessions and Barsa fighting is often about smuggling. The point is that militias require cash flow to survive. Where does that cash come from. Foreign aid, various petroleum black markets and kidnapping are cash generating enterprises.]
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Russia accused of unleashing cyberwar to disable Estonia

Russia accused of unleashing cyberwar to disable Estonia | Russia | Guardian Unlimited: "A three-week wave of massive cyber-attacks on the small Baltic country of Estonia, the first known incidence of such an assault on a state, is causing alarm across the western alliance, with Nato urgently examining the offensive and its implications."

While Russia and Estonia are embroiled in their worst dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a row that erupted at the end of last month over the Estonians' removal of the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial in central Tallinn, the country has been subjected to a barrage of cyber warfare, disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies....

[bth: one wonders what proof there is that this a russian state attack instead of just a russian hacker's attack.]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

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Rockland weeps for Marine

Rockland weeps for Marine - The Boston Globe: "ROCKLAND -- With her brother's wooden casket placed an arm's length from her by Marine pallbearers, 8-year-old Kaylea-Rose leaned into her mother's embrace and cried."

"We can only guess the depths of your sorrow," said Bishop John Dooher, standing in front of Holy Family Catholic Church on Union Street, his eyes locked on the third-grader and her mother, Maureen O'Haire.

"A nation really mourns with you today," he said.

Lance Corporal Walter K. O'Haire, who would have turned 21 yesterday, was killed a week ago during a firefight with insurgents in Iraq's volatile Anbar Province. He had been in Iraq for about two months.

O'Haire's death marked the second time that a service man with ties to Rockland was killed in Iraq. Last month, Marine Sergeant William J. Callahan, 28, was killed there....

Charlie Rose Interviews Iraqi Journalists

U.S. Senate to test support for ending Iraq war

U.S. Senate to test support for ending Iraq war - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will have a chance on Wednesday to show whether it wants President George W. Bush to start pulling combat troops from Iraq or if it prefers to continue funding the war with few or no new restrictions. "

Senate leaders are orchestrating votes on four amendments, two Democratic and two Republican, in the hope of gauging support for the next steps in a war now in its fifth year and showing signs of losing support even among some conservative lawmakers.

The outcome of the votes on the amendments likely will effect negotiations between the House of Representatives and the Senate on an Iraq funding bill Congress is trying to send to Bush by the end of this month.

With existing war funds running low, the Senate on Thursday is expected to quickly pass an Iraq funding bill so that talks can begin with the House on the final product for Bush.

"We're going to finish this bill before leaving for the Memorial Day recess," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), a Nevada Democrat....

[bth: its been obvious to me that the Memorial Day weekend was the timing target as it grabs emotional appeal at so many levels.]

Company hopes robot gives bombs a Black-i

Lowell Sun Online - Company hopes robot gives bombs a Black-i: "TYNGSBORO -- Two years ago, on CNN, Brian Hart watched a car bomb explode in the face of a U.S. soldier using a Humvee to push it off a road. "

"That was the last straw," said Hart, whose 20-year-old son, Army Pfc. John D. Hart, was killed in an ambush outside Kirkuk, Iraq, on Oct. 18, 2003.

The next day, Hart, 47, started buying parts for what is now the first creation of Black-i Robotics Inc., the Tyngsboro-based robotics company he co-founded.

Named the LandShark, Black-i's 250-pound robot is an unmanned ground vehicle able to deactivate booby traps, remotely detonate a bomb, and even tow an 11,000-pound vehicle short distances.

The vehicle makes its public debut at the RoboBusiness 2007 show in Boston this week after two years in development.

Yesterday, Hart's brother, Richard, ran the LandShark through a series of drills using a bulky remote control in the parking lot behind the company's Middlesex Road headquarters.

Although the military uses robots developed by such defense contractors as iRobot and Foster-Miller, the LandShark is unique because it was designed specifically for the Iraq War.

To prove it, Hart takes the vehicle on a test drive through an old pumpkin patch along the Merrimack River that mimics the rugged terrain of Iraq. Resembling a Lunar rover, the six-wheeled vehicle easily plows over bundles of pointy twigs and tall grass, and climbs steep mounds of dirt.

"You have a $20 billion future combat system that supports a company like iRobot, but it's designing to win a war we'll never fight when we're losing the one we're in," said Hart, whose words are soft and seasoned with a slight Texas twang. "I just find that unacceptable."

Hart is no stranger to the fight to protect U.S. men and women in Iraq.

After his son was killed, the Bedford resident quit his career and spent the next three years lobbying Congress with his wife, Alma, to give troops more body armor, armored Humvees and electronic "jammers."

Hart had been president of Telepharmacy Solutions Inc., a Billerica firm he helped found that made an automatic drug-dispensing system to better ensure that pharmacists give patients the correct prescriptions.

Hart started the company after his father died in 1987 when he was given the wrong medication. He sold the company to AmerisourceBergen Corp. in 2002. It's now based out of Chicago.

While the LandShark was developed to save soldiers' lives, it could also provide a pathway for the first affordable robotics able to be mass-produced for what Hart calls "the common man."

The vehicle starts at $25,000. Robots on the market that perform similar tasks go for about $125,000. The LandShark is also more robust than other robotic vehicles used in Iraq.

"The robots now? They ship them back to the States for repairs," said Hart. "Our goal was to build a robot soldiers can fix with socket wrenches and hand tools that can be mass-produced like an automobile."

With only four employees, Black-i is a far cry from traditional defense-contracting behemoths. Although the government has not ordered any of the vehicles yet, Black-i has been taking direction from the Army to build the vehicle to its requests.

If the Pentagon fails to come calling, Black-i's backup plan is to market the vehicle to municipalities and regional SWAT teams. If all goes well, Hart sees the Merrimack Valley becoming a bastion of robotics manufacturing.

"Robotics is like the PC industry in the 1970s right now," said Hart. "It's just emerging."

Iraq Attacks Stayed Steady Despite Troop Increase, Data Show

Iraq Attacks Stayed Steady Despite Troop Increase, Data Show - New York Times: "Newly declassified data show that as additional American troops began streaming into Iraq in March and April, the number of attacks on civilians and security forces there stayed relatively steady or at most declined slightly, in the clearest indication yet that the troop increase could take months to have a widespread impact on security."

Even the suggestion of a slight decline could be misleading, since the figures are purely a measure of how many attacks have taken place, not the death toll of each one. American commanders have conceded that since the start of the troop increase, which the United States calls a “surge,” attacks in the form of car bombs with their high death tolls have risen.

The attack data are compiled by the Pentagon but were made public in a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office. It analyzed the effect of the attacks on the struggling American-financed reconstruction program in Iraq, especially the program’s failings in the electricity and oil sectors.

A draft version of the report, obtained by The New York Times last week, indicated that every day during much of the past four years, somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels of oil, valued at anywhere from $5 million to $15 million, had been unaccounted for. But the draft report did not contain the attack statistics.

When asked about the new data, Barham Salih, an Iraqi deputy prime minister, said in an interview that the troop increase was having a positive impact in specific neighborhoods in Baghdad, particularly in the Shiite-dominated eastern half of the city. But he said Iraqi intelligence had concluded that Al Qaeda was in effect surging at the same time in Iraq to counteract the American program, damping any immediate gains.

Mr. Salih also said that insurgents had to some extent fled Baghdad, where the increase is concentrated, to outlying areas like the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, the Kurdish north and the ethnically mixed province of Diyala, north and west of Baghdad, where major attacks have taken place in recent weeks.

“Al Qaeda has adapted, first by pushing a surge of its own, and by escalation of its own attacks across Iraq,” Mr. Salih said. “It is a deliberate attempt by Al Qaeda, an escalation, to get us to change our tactics.”

Over all, the attack statistics, which the accountability office has been compiling since the early days of the conflict, paint a sobering picture of where the country is headed. The number of daily attacks remained low through 2003 and the early months of 2004, but then began a relentless climb even as the United States promoted what it saw as important political milestones in Iraq.

Those milestones included the transfer of the country to a sovereign Iraqi government, several elections and eventually the creation and ratification of a new Iraqi Constitution. Despite those developments, the statistics show, the number of attacks averaged 71 a day in January 2006, and rose to a record high of 176 a day in October 2006.

By February of this year the number had dipped to 164 a day. The troop increase, which is not expected to be fully in place until sometime this summer, began in earnest that month, with several American-led sweeps through Baghdad and plans for permanent new outposts in restive neighborhoods put into effect.

As troops continued to arrive, the statistics show, the early effect on countrywide attacks was at best marginal, although there does appear to have been a slight decrease. The daily attack figures for March and April, released yesterday for the first time, were 157 and 149, respectively.

“The improvement is too small to be meaningful, but it’s too soon to declare defeat,” said John Pike, director of, a research group that closely follows the conflict.

Aside from the considerable human toll of the attacks, the report says, their impact on the reconstruction program has been devastating.

“Insurgents have destroyed key oil and electricity infrastructure, threatened workers, compromised the transport of materials, and hindered project completion and repairs by preventing access to work sites,” the report says.

In addition, it says, the looting and vandalism that American and Iraqi officials have vowed to stop has continued to destroy infrastructure that billions of dollars in American and Iraqi money have refurbished.

The report also contains the analysis of what appears to be billions of dollars of oil that is unaccounted for over the past four years. The report says smuggling, sabotage or colossal accounting errors could potentially account for the discrepancy.

A senior Iraqi official said yesterday that the Iraqi government believed the most likely explanation is a major smuggling effort by Shiite militias in the oil-rich south of Iraq.

IraqSlogger: Senator Demands DoD Explain WWW Restrictions

IraqSlogger: Senator Demands DoD Explain WWW Restrictions: "
Sen. John Warner (R-VA), member of the Armed Services Committee, vowed on Tuesday to investigate the Pentagon's rationale for cutting off troop access to YouTube, MySpace, and other popular user-interface Internet sites on DoD networks."

The senator said he has already put in a call to the Pentagon to ask for an explanation, according to Daniel Reilly at, and said “Believe me, I am going to jump on that like a June bug right now."
“There is nothing more important to the men and women of the armed forces than to have that connection to home,” said Warner, who served in the U.S. Navy. “I will be looking into it today.”

[bth: I hope Sen. Warner follows through with his actions}

IraqSlogger: Army Faces Shortage of Junior Officers

IraqSlogger: Army Faces Shortage of Junior Officers: "The US Army is showing the strain of maintaining its current level of operations, with the number of senior captains, or captains closest to promotion, standing at only 51 percent of the Army's requirements, according to a memo from Col. George Lockwood, director of officer personnel management at the Army's Human Resources Command."

Reuters acquired the document, and reports that Lockwood said the strains of the U.S.-declared "Global War on Terror" has contributed to the shortage of officers at the rank of captain.

Previous decisions to promote officers more quickly to meet targets for Army majors -- the rank above captain -- also had hurt the number of junior officers available, he said.

Lockwood also reportedly urges officers to encourage more junior officers to remain on active duty.
Reuters says the memo outlines how the Army will offer $20,000 bonuses and a limited number of slots for civilian graduate school, military school and language training.

"If you're in a leadership position, you must scan your officer's records and identify those eligible for this program, and counsel them as soon as possible," Lockwood wrote.

[bth: I wonder if this partially explains the decline in commissioned officers deaths as a percentage of all US combat fatalities in the last year or so?]

IraqSlogger: DoD Flip-Flop: YouTube Banned, But Watch It

IraqSlogger: DoD Flip-Flop: YouTube Banned, But Watch It: "
One day after the Pentagon banned US military personnel worldwide from accessing the wildly popular YouTube Web site via DoD computers and networks, the weekly electronic newsletter of the US-led Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) today makes a banner appeal for US forces and others to watch MNF-I's new YouTube channel."


Unless the Department of Defense lifts (or doesn't fully apply) its YouTube ban, US military personnel won't be able to watch their own Iraq-focused YouTube channel unless they do so on non-DoD computers and via non-DoD Web connectivity.

Yesterday, the Pentagon began enforcing a ban prohibiting DoD computers and computer networks from accessing YouTube, MySpace, and 10 other popular Web sites, saying military personnel using the Web sites were hogging precious DoD computer network bandwidth and posing operational security risks.

Two months ago, with much fanfare, MNF-I launched its own YouTube channel -- a belated but nevertheless critically important entry into the Iraq-focused electronic battle space previously dominated by Web-savvy insurgents and terrorists.

The MNF-I YouTube channel has garnered more than a million video viewings -- many surely from US military personnel who are featured on the channel, whose contributions to the channel are sought by commanders, and who as of yesterday are banned from accessing YouTube via their DoD computers and DoD Web connections.

The Pentagon says military personnel can access YouTube via non-DoD computers, but many forward-deployed DoD personnel have access to the Internet only via DoD computers or DoD Web networks.
So will the US military permit its personnel to watch the MNF-I YouTube channel but nothing else on YouTube?

And, aside from the dozen Web sites announced banned by the DoD yesterday, what about the countless other video, music, and social networking sites in cyberspace?

Are they not a real or potential drain on bandwidth, or an operational security risk, or both?
Will they all be banned on DoD computers and networks?

This is a slippery slope.

If this is truly about operational security risks, forward-deployed US forces would and should lose all uncensored means of communications.

But we're four years into the war in Iraq and nearly six years into the war in Afghanistan, and there's been no need for draconian, sweeping censorship of US forces.

So it's unlikely the operational security risk is the genuine driving force in the DoD banning its personnel from using its computers and computer links to access certain Web sites.

Now if this is about DoD Web pipe bandwidth challenges, the Pentagon should ban access to all high-bandwidth sites -- video and otherwise -- includings its own site, which streams 24/7 and provides video clips on demand.

Or maybe for the sake of consistency the Pentagon should ban DoD access to its own site and then call on US forces to watch it.

Meantime, US troops in Iraq are already warning that their morale will take a hit because of these new DoD restrictions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What is Andrew Bacevich's Son's Life Worth?

The Washington Note: "May 14, 2007
What is Andrew Bacevich's Son's Life Worth?

Or any of our sons? or daughters? on any side of this incredibly reckless escapade in Iraq?"

Boston University Professor Andrew J. Bacevich is a brave, thoughtful public intellectual who has tried -- in reserved, serious terms -- to challenge the legitimacy of the Iraq War. He has been one of the most articulate leading thinkers among military-policy dissident conservatives who have exposed the inanity of this war and the damage it has done. He authored the critically-acclaimed book, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War.

Now his son by the same name who was serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom is dead -- announced today by the Department of Defense:

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, of Walpole, Mass., died May 13 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat patrol operations in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq.He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

To get some insight into the pain Professor Bacevich, who teaches at Boston University, must now feel, read this clip from a moving and important article he wrote titled "What's an Iraqi Life Worth?" [Washington Post, 9 July 2006]:

As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn't know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll -- and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands -- there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.

Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege "force protection" over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?

There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that "stuff happens," as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.

Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications. Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians -- and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally -- are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim's death helped clarify her brother's perspective on the war. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here," he declared after the incident. "They have no regard for our lives."

He was being unfair, of course. It's not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it's just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy -- the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian -- makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments -- about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.

For all the talk of Iraq being a sovereign nation, foreign occupiers are the ones deciding what an Iraqi life is worth. And although President Bush has remarked in a different context that "every human life is a precious gift of matchless value," our actions in Iraq continue to convey the impression that civilian lives aren't worth all that much.

That impression urgently needs to change. To start, the Pentagon must get over its aversion to counting all bodies. It needs to measure in painstaking detail -- and publicly -- the mayhem we are causing as a byproduct of what we call liberation. To do otherwise, to shrug off the death of Nahiba Husayif Jassim as just one of those things that happens in war, only reinforces the impression that Americans view Iraqis as less than fully human. Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.

Now we must add to the count of this tragic conflict another American son -- and of course, more Iraqi sons and daughters and American daughters.

I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Bacevich at the home of former Congressman Dave McCurdy this last holiday season. We spoke for a bit about the Iraq war as well as the absence of American strategy and dearth of strategists in government today. I had no idea his son was serving until now.

But this young man did serve his nation -- but his death is so incredibly tragic, like the others -- but his even more because his well-respected father has been working hard to end this horrible, self-damaging crusade. It's incredibly sad.

To answer my own question above. Andrew Bacevich's son's life was precious -- and his life and his untimely death matter greatly for just waking up and realizing we are achieving nothing in Iraq today and that responsibility must be borne by the perpetrators of this mess.

My sincere condolences to the Bacevich family.

-- Steve Clemons

U.S. official: Peace effort aimed at lessening Arab, EU pressure

U.S. official: Peace effort aimed at lessening Arab, EU pressure - Haaretz - Israel News: "U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish Republicans Thursday that the effort the United States is investing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is aimed at lessening the pressure from Arabs and Europeans who weren't happy with the U.S. in its past approach.

Abrams was quoted by sources at the meeting as saying that Arab and European countries want to see that there is at least an attempt or energy being exerted by the U.S. to move the peace process forward. ..."

[bth: First off Abrams who is a convicted then pardoned criminal should be allowed in government. What he is saying is that the discussions are for show, not for results.]

ARTICLE: Defense Department blocks YouTube, MySpace, other sites

ARTICLE: Defense Department blocks YouTube, MySpace, other sites (The Virginian-Pilot - "WASHINGTON — Lt. Daniel Zimmerman, an infantry platoon leader in Iraq, puts a blog on the Internet every now and then “to basically keep my friends and family up to date” back home. "

It just got tougher to do that for Zimmerman and a lot of other U.S. soldiers and sailors. No more using the military’s computer system to socialize and trade videos on MySpace, YouTube and more than a dozen others Web sites, the Pentagon says.

Citing security concerns and technological limits, the Pentagon has cut off access to those sites for personnel using the Defense Department’s computer network. The change limits use of the popular outlets for service members on the front lines who regularly post videos and journals

“I put my blog on there and my family reads it,” said Zimmerman, 29, a platoon leader with B Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment.

“I keep it as vague as possible,” he said. “I’m pretty responsible about it. It’s just basically to tell a little bit about my life over here .”

He’s regularly at a base where he doesn’t have Defense Department access to the Internet, but he has used it when he goes to bigger bases. He’ll have to rely on a private account all the time now.

For a few shipmates on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, the Web sites are more than a diversion – they’re a lifeline to the civilian world.

Seaman Jimmy Cooper, 21, uses the site to check on local parties, meet new people and keep in touch with friends and family.

MySpace is the jam,” he said Monday afternoon outside Norfolk Naval Station.

Seaman Apprentice Kody Ziemke, 19, said he uses the sites to stay in touch with his brother, a Navy corpsman who is about to make his first deployment to Iraq.

MySpace is faster than e-mail and offers videos and photos, he said. It’s a better way to stay in touch.
The Carl Vinson already blocks many sites to protect security, said Seaman Apprentice Josh Pinault.

Like his friends, Pinault, 19, visits networking sites every day.

But he understands why the military would ban the sites because of the top-secret material on the ship’s network.

“Some people get into MySpace way too much,” Pinault said. “If I had to go without it, I wouldn’t cry.”

Memos about the change went out in February, and it took effect last week. It does not affect the Internet cafes that soldiers in Iraq use that are not connected to the Defense Department’s network. The cafe sites are run by a private vendor, For US By Iraqis , or FUBI.

Also, the Pentagon said that many of the military computers on the front lines in Iraq that are on the department’s network had previously blocked the YouTube and MySpace sites.

The ban also does not affect other sites, such as Yahoo, and does not prevent soldiers from sending messages and photos to their families by e-mail.

Internet use has become a troublesome issue for the military as it struggles to balance security concerns with privacy rights. As blogs and video-sharing become more common, the military has voiced increasing concern about service members revealing details about military operations or other information about equipment or procedures that will aid the enemy.

At the same time, service members have used the Web sites to chronicle their time in battle, posting videos and writing journals that provide a powerful, personal glimpse into their days at war.

“These actions were taken to enhance and increase network security and protect the use of the bandwidth,” said Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Pentagon said that use of the video sites in particular was putting a strain on the network and also opening it to potential viruses or penetration by “phishing” attacks in which scam artists try to steal sensitive data by mimicking legitimate Web sites.

“The U.S. Army’s not going to pay the bill for you to get on MySpace and YouTube,” said Maj. Bruce Mumford of Chester, Neb., who is serving as the brigade communications officer for the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Iraq. “Soldiers need to know what they can and cannot do, but we shouldn’t be facilitating it.”

After the warnings of the shutdown went out, military members were allowed to seek waivers if the sites were necessary for their jobs. Often, insurgent groups post videos, including ones of attacks or – in some high-

profile cases – of U.S. or coalition soldiers who have been captured or killed.

“I guess it’s a good general policy,” Zimmerman said about the ban on MySpace and YouTube. “If people could be trusted not to break operational security, then they wouldn’t need to have the policy.”

If the restrictions are also intended to prevent soldiers from giving or receiving bad news, they could also prevent them from providing positive reports from the field, said Noah Shachtman, who runs a national security blog for Wired Magazine.

“This is as much an information war as it is bombs and bullets,” he said. “And they are muzzling their best voices.”

Among the sites covered by the ban are the video-sharing sites YouTube, Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos and FileCabi; social networking sites MySpace, BlackPlanet and Hi5; music sites Pandora, MTV, and live365 ; and the photo-sharing site Photobucket.

Many similar sites don’t appear to be covered by the ban, including video sites such as LiveLeak, Dailymotion and Google Video; the social networking site Facebook; countless other music sites, including iTunes; and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa.

This story was compiled from reports by The Associated Press and staff writers Louis Hansen and Chris Dinsmore.

Fox News 25 Interview Brian Hart did on Black-I Robotics' LandShark

Here is a link to an interview Arthur Berube and Brian Hart did for Fox News 25 of Boston regarding Black-I Robotics' new LandShark series C chassis for military and civilian applications.