Saturday, July 07, 2007

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US concerns over China weapons in Iraq / In depth - US concerns over China weapons in Iraq: "The US has raised concerns with the Chinese government about the discovery of Chinese-made weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Richard Lawless, departing senior Pentagon official for Asia, on Friday said Washington had flagged the issue with Beijing. In recent months, the US has become increasingly alarmed that Chinese armour-piercing ammunition has been used by the Taliban in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq.

A senior US official recently told the FT that Iran appeared to be providing the Chinese-made weapons. He said Washington had no evidence that Beijing was complicit, but stressed that the US would like China to “do a better job of policing these sales”. Mr Lawless said the question of origin was less important than who was facilitating the transfer.

The concerns about Chinese weapons follow months of allegations from US officials that Iran is helping attack US troops in Iraq, and more recently Afghanistan, by providing technology for bombs that can destroy Humvees and other heavily armoured US vehicles.

Mr Lawless also expressed concern about North Korea’s missile programme. Last week, Pyongyang tested a new short-range missile that could target not only the US military base at Pyeongtaek but also Seoul. He said North Korea was close to being able to field the solid-fuel, highly mobile rocket.

Mr Lawless said the US military relationship with China was “overall, not bad”, but there was a need for more engagement between the militaries, particularly at the senior levels. “They have been more willing to engage, but it is in millimetres and increments,” he said.

He said the Pentagon was disappointed that China had not given Admiral Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations, the same kind of access that his Chinese counterpart received during a visit to the US. Adm Mullen, who has since been nominated as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ended up not visiting China.

Mr Lawless also said it was important for China to hold talks with the US about its nuclear forces. A recent Pentagon report concluded Beijing was developing a more survivable nuclear force, including submarine-launched missiles, and mobile land-based missiles.

Since Presidents Hu Jintao and George W. Bush last year discussed increasing military exchanges, China has not responded to an offer for the commander of its strategic nuclear forces to visit US Strategic Command.

“There is a great shortfall in our understanding of China’s intentions,” said Mr Lawless, referring to the overall Chinese military build-up. “When you don’t know why they are doing it, it is pretty damn threatening . . . they leave us no choice but to assume the worst.”

Mr Lawless also suggested that the Pentagon had refused a request from Japan for extensive data on the F-22 fighter jet. Japan wants the data to consider whether the advanced fighter – which under current law cannot be exported – would meet its defence needs.

Mr Lawless said the Pentagon had offered Japan only basic data, which would not require a change in US law.

[bth: its interesting that we push the propaganda against Iran when it would be evident to the dullest observer that Chinese arms would easily flow across those borders whether the Iranian government sponsored it or simply ignored it. Smuggling is a family tradition in the region. ... Then curiously the commentary shifts to Japan. Why in the world aren't we sharing F22 data with Japan who is likely to buy them from us? Bush can take the time to pardon Libby for revealing state secrets but it can't authorize the release of relevant data to Japan?]

Tribes Stockpile Weapons, Driving up Prices

IraqSlogger: Tribes Stockpile Weapons, Driving up Prices: "Tribes in western Iraq, and in and around Anbar province specifically, have begun stockpiling different sorts of weapons, driving up the prices of weapons in the Iraqi market, al-Malaf Press reports in Arabic."

The agency writes that the alleged tribal buildup focuses on Kalashnikov rifles, in addition to other types of light and medium weapons such as mortar shells and launchers, PKCs and others.

Because the tribal arms buildup has reached unprecedented levels, the prices of arms have spiked to new highs in the area, al-Melaf Press reports.

One Kalashnikov in Anbar province goes for 750,000 Iraqi dinars (ID), while earlier an AK rifle could be had in Anbar province for less than 400,000 ID.

Similar price spikes are observed in the province for other types of arms, al-Malaf Press reports.

While there are differing interpretations of this phenomenon, the agency reports that the most prominent explanations involve the Americans. Many tribal members in Anbar feel that US forces have offered support in a seemingly unlimited way to members of the Anbar Salvation Council, effectively working towards the creation of a kind of Sunni militia in Anbar province, al-Malaf Press writes.

Because of the area’s tribal and clan rivalries, al-Malaf Press suggests, this has left other tribes wary of the possibilities that the hands of some groups could be strengthened at the expense of others, touching off a tribal arms race as a kind of defensive response and self-protection policy.

Still others express fears of fighting between the new Sunni militias themselves, al-Malaf Press points out, writing that at least some see a connection between the phenomenon and the attack at the al-Mansour Hotel last month in which an explosion killed six tribal leaders, and some suggest that the conflict is rooted in government attempts to strengthen one party at the expense of another. The Islamic State of Iraq, an extremist organization with links to al-Qa'ida claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming it was avenging the alleged violation of a young Muslim girl in Anbar by anti-al-Qa'ida forces likely supported by the Iraqi central government or the US.

[bth: I think this is indeed an important sign. Black market prices for ammunition, food, gasoline and weapons are really an important indicators that transcend propaganda and reporting bias. Assuming al-Qaeda hasn't increased its expenditures and that fresh ammunition is available from Iran, China and various eastern european countries, one can only conclude that demand is indeed up. If this were tracked regionally (which it is by the US military) one could determine who the buyers are.]

Policemen Pay Bribes to Receive Service Guns?

IraqSlogger: Policemen Pay Bribes to Receive Service Guns?: "Allegations of corruption within the Iraqi security forces hit a new low with a recent scoop on an Arabic-language news site, in its report that Iraqi policemen are forced to pay bribes to their superiors to receive standard-issue service revolvers. "

Several members of the Iraqi police said that there are many Interior Ministry commando officers who refuse to issue weapons to the police unless they receive a bribe, al-Melaf reports.

The Interior Ministry issues service revolvers to its policemen, and additional arms such as automatic rifles, but many officers refuse to distribute even the service revolvers without a bribe.

The going rate is $100 in exchange for the issue of a service revolver to a policeman, al-Melaf reports.
According to the agency, this practice is widespread among the police forces, and many complaints have been raised by policemen to the Interior Ministry about such corruption.
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Bomb that killed six Canadians in Afghanistan biggest army has seen: colonel

Bomb that killed six Canadians in Afghanistan biggest army has seen: colonel: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Engineers who raced to the scene where six Canadians were killed in southern Afghanistan told the military they had never seen a bomb that big in their entire tour of duty."

The blast left a crater least three metres wide and a metre and a half deep, said Lt.-Col. Rob Walker, commander of the battle group in Kandahar.

"To be quite honest and truthful, when I looked at it I went 'Wow, this is powerful'," Walker said Friday.

"I knew looking at the vehicle these young men died instantly."

The six men and an Afghan interpreter died Wednesday when the RG-31 Nyala vehicle they were riding in struck the roadside bomb 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar.

The military considers the vehicle the safest in its fleet when it comes to protecting troops from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, but Walker said the explosion was simply too powerful.

"There was no vehicle - the RG is one of the best vehicles in the world - and there was no vehicle that was going to survive that," he said.

In addition to the six soldiers killed Wednesday, one other Canadian soldier has died after his Nyala was hit with an IED. Trooper Mark Andrew Wilson of the Royal Canadian Dragoons was killed in October in the same district as this week's attack.

But more Canadian soldiers have died in LAV-3 light armoured vehicles than any other vehicle in Canada's fleet, according to a study in the Canadian American Strategic Review.

Twelve soldiers have been killed while in a LAV-3, considered second only to the Nyala for protection, and 51 have been injured in some way. Eight soldiers have been wounded in a Nyala.

Other military vehicles aren't immune from danger either - six soldiers have died in a G-Wagon, four in a Bison, three in a Coyote and three in the all-terrain-vehicle known as the Gator, since October 2005, the study said.

The military would not reveal exactly what kind of explosive killed the men on Wednesday. IEDs can be made with anything from grenades to anti-tank mines.

But Walker said the bomb rivalled the one that killed six other Canadian soldiers in April when their LAV-3 struck a massive bomb.

Altogether, IEDs have killed 37 Canadian soldiers since the mission in Afghanistan began, including those felled by suicide bombs which the military considers improvised explosive devices. Glynn Berry, the Canadian diplomat serving with Foreign Affairs in Kandahar in 2002 was killed by a suicide bomb.

Walker said in the last year alone, there have been roughly 150 IED attacks against coalition forces in Kandahar province. Roughly the same number of IEDs have been defused by troops after being spotted by locals or soldiers themselves.

"So relatively speaking, I think, we've been fairly successful, because the IED is just one of the weapons within the arsenal that the insurgents, the enemy, use," he said.

The impact of IEDs on the mission in Afghanistan runs the gamut from being a lethal force to a minor irritant.

Though no other attacks were reported Wednesday, army engineers are often kept busy running from one IED site to the next on the same day.

On June 20, when three Canadian soldiers were killed while riding on an all-terrain vehicle that hit an IED, an RG-31 that had gone to survey the site of the blast was hit on its way back and disabled.

On June 11, the day Trooper Darryl Caswell died when the Coyote vehicle he was riding in struck a bomb, five other IED incidents were reported. An RG-31, a LAV-3 and a heavy engineering vehicle were all hit with IEDs that day, with only minor injuries reported.

One of the soldiers in the heavy engineering vehicle had escaped another IED strike months before.

The two men sitting next to Caswell the day he died also escaped with minor injuries.

Walker said when meeting with soldiers after Wednesday's attack, some were cavalier about the way IEDs have affected them.

"We hit an IED and we laughed it off," Walker said the soldiers told him.

"Because it worked, the RG itself worked."

Despite their faith in the RG-31s, the military quietly snapped up 16 new heavily armoured patrol vehicles in May.

Known as Expedient Route Opening Capability vehicles, or EROCs, the defence department has said they'll be used to conduct mounted searches for buried improvised explosive devices and mines. The vehicles are supposed to be arriving in Afghanistan in August.

Walker, whose troops will likely have completed their rotation in Afghanistan by the time the vehicles arrive, seemed unaware of the purchase on Friday. He said the Canadians weren't involved in mine clearing.

But he said the military is always changing things up when it comes to trying to mitigate the risk from IEDs.

"It the choice of routes, the time of day, the tactics that we use and there's a whole series of other techniques that we use," he said.

"And I have to say that we're successful."

[bth: of note, the RG-31 is what our eod teams use and what much of the US army is moving to. Enlarging the IEDs are a natural countermeasure and I suspect EFPs will increase in number. It is interesting that the Canadians claim that they catch half of the IEDs being planted in Afghanistan. This stat is roughly identical in Iraq for the US army. In a previous post made today it is noted that the cost of the war is up 1/3 year over year. It is heavily due to the cost of stronger and harder vehicles and the early obsolescence of our land fleet which had not been properly accounted for by the Bush administration. The army and marine land fleet will have to be entirely replaced. The cost of laying IEDs may have gone up a few hundred dollars worst case. The cost of our vehicles has risen about a million per vehicle over prior versions. Its financial attrition and we're losing.]

Journalist: Pakistan still using illegal nuclear technology smuggling networks

The Raw Story | Journalist: Pakistan still using illegal nuclear technology smuggling networks: "The journalist who first uncovered the existence of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's atomic weapons trading network told a conference in Washington, DC, last week that Pakistan still using his network to procure materials for its nuclear weapons program. "

The disclosure preceded the revelation that Pakistani authorities have eased the lengthy house arrest to which Khan had been subjected.

A senior editor for Nucleonics Week, Mark Hibbs writes for a specialist journal that follows the nuclear power industry. He published some of the earliest accounts of Khan's illicit trading network, which appears to have hawked uranium enrichment technology and nuclear weapon designs to Iran and Libya.

Speaking at the annual Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference in Washington June 26, Hibbs asserted that Pakistan was still procuring technology for its nuclear weapons program through the network Khan developed.

"We've researched this long after people in the US government suggested to us that the network was dead," Hibbs remarked. "We continue to follow this and find that Pakistan continues to use the network to procure for its nuclear program."

The veteran journalist also said that the broader network Khan built continues to operate.

"I'm satisfied that the networks are still operating," he explained. "The people that are involved in this business...continue to morph over time."

"I know of a case of a company that I was following in the 1980s that was helping Iran get some equipment to power centrifuge machines," he added. "The name of this company has changed six times since 1985."

Hibbs' message varied from one delivered before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs by another specialist versed in the Khan network.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the United Kingdom's International Institute for Strategic Studies agreed that Pakistan continued to seek nuclear technology illicitly, but remarked that the broader Khan network was dormant.

"I do not see any evidence to suggest that the network is currently operating," Fitzpatrick, the lead author of the recently published Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the rise of proliferation networks, said. "I believe some elements of the network are lying low and could, after a period of time, reconstitute themselves.

But he cautioned that other countries' networks might be more dangerous.

"I think the greatest danger today may be that other similar quasi-state-related networks could emerge from countries like North Korea or Iran," he said.

Fitzpatrick testified before a congressional panel that considered the Pakistani government's failure to share information on Khan's network with American authorities. Congressmembers criticized Islamabad for its intransigence.

"I think it's obvious that it's the Pakistani government, not some guy in a basement, that's responsible for the A.Q. Khan program. It is the Pakistani government program," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. "The real question is will that government, that claims to be an ally of ours now, continue to get everything they want from us without sharing information?"

Another congressman also condemned the Bush administration for not putting more pressure on Pakistan over Khan.

"On a government to government level, the Bush Administration has refused again and again to press the Pakistani government for direct access to A.Q. Khan, the one man who could answer all these outstanding questions," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. "Even though the threat of terrorists getting access to nuclear weapons is cited as the greatest threat to American national security, the President has responded by giving Pakistan a squadron of F-16’s, a giant 'get out of jail free card' and has declared that the network has been 'shut down.'"

In his June 26 appearance, Hibbs said that any further Pakistani cooperation with American authorities investigating Khan's network remains unlikely.

"Khan knows a lot more than we do. And he knows a lot more than [International Atomic Energy Agency] knows, and he knows a lot more than the US government knows," he said. "I talked to the chief of the Pakistan Joint Chiefs. This man was the person who was singularly responsible for debriefing Khan after his arrest...he said we could never allow Khan to be interrogated by a foreign govt because 'he has too many of our nuclear secrets.'"

The week after the Congressional oversight and Hibbs' appearance, Pakistani news reports indicated that the terms of Khan's house arrest had been relaxed.

"An Urdu-language daily newspaper, Nawa-i-Waqt, reported Monday that Mr. Khan had recently been allowed to invite six friends individually for lunch or dinner. It quoted an unidentified official as saying that Mr. Khan, who has been treated for prostate cancer, is in good health," according to the New York Times on Tuesday. "The report also said he had been told he would be allowed to go to his favorite restaurant in Islamabad and to visit the hill resorts of Bhurban and Murree."

An AP report went further, quoting a Pakistani government official linked to the nuclear weapons program as stating, "He is virtually a free citizen."

Pakistani authorities denied that Khan's status had changed. The Times report suggested, though, that Pakistan eased up Khan's punishment as a result of the progress in the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement

A webcast of Hibbs' full appearance can be viewed at this link. A webcast of the Congressional hearing on Pakistan's nuclear trading network is available at this link.

[bth: we've cut down on the bribe money being paid to the Pakistan government and we've improved relations with India. We can't guy off the Paki government. We merely rent them.]

U.S. eager and it shows in Iraq

Washington DC (Map, News) - The U.S. command in Baghdad this week ballyhooed the killing of a key al Qaeda leader but later admitted that the military had declared him dead a year ago.

A military spokesman acknowledged the mistake after it was called to his attention by The Examiner. He said public affairs officers will be more careful in announcing significant kills.

The incident shows the eagerness of the command to show progress in dismantling al Qaeda at a time when Democrats and some Republicans are pressing President Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander, has declared al Qaeda enemy No. 1 in Iraq.

Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner began his Monday news conference with a list of top insurgents either killed or captured in recent operations. He said they had been eliminated "in the past few weeks" and were "recent results."

"In the north, Iraqi army and coalition forces continue successful operations in Mosul," he told reporters. "Kamal Jalil Uthman, also known as Said Hamza, was the al Qaeda in Iraq military emir of Mosul. He planned, coordinated and facilitated suicide bombings, and he facilitated the movement of more than a hundred foreign fighters through safe houses in the area." All told, Bergner devoted 68 words to Uthman's demise.

Uthman was indeed a big kill, and the military featured his death last year in a report titled "Tearing Down al Qaeda."

"The more we can bring down al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, the greater probability of reducing violence," Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the command's chief spokesman said, in 2006.

Uthman was listed in the 2006 news release as "the chief of military operations [in] Mosul."

When The Examiner pointed out that Uthman's death had been announced twice, a command spokesman said in an e-mail, "You are correct that we did previously announce that we killed him. This was a roll up to show an overall effort against [al Qaeda in Iraq]. We can probably do a better job on saying 'previously announced' when we do long-term roll ups to show an overall effort."

[bth: so they were exaggerating current successes by bringing up kills from last year and implying that they were the result of current operations. Also this announcing general, Bergner, is the same one that was stating the undeniable links between recent terrorism and Iran only last week. We're going to have to keep an eye on him for truthiness.]

War Costs Soar by a Third; Total Could Top $1.4 Trillion

It's not just the troops that are surging. War costs are up for American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan* -- way up, more than a third higher than last year. In the first half of this fiscal year, the Defense Department's "average monthly obligations for contracts and pay is running about $12 billion per month, well above the $8.7 billion in FY2006," says a new report, obtained by DANGER ROOM, from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

Additional war costs for the next 10 years could total about $472 billion if troop levels fall to 30,000 by 2010, or $919 billion if troop levels fall to 70,000 by about 2013. If these estimates are added to already appropriated amounts, total funding about $980 billion to $1.4 trillion by 2017.

Meanwhile, Inside Defense reports that "top Pentagon budget and program officials have directed the military services to prepare spending proposals to finance Iraq and Afghanistan operations... through fiscal year 2009, which will span the last days of the Bush administration and the early months of the next administration."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sanders prods Army to fully armor trucks

Burlington Free | Top Stories: "An equipment shortage is forcing some Vermont National Guard soldiers in Iraq to use less-than-safe vehicles while out on missions to clear roads of buried explosives, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Thursday. "

"They are doing some of the most dangerous work by trying to determine the location of the terrible IEDs that have been killing our soldiers," Sanders said. "In some cases, the vehicles they are using do not have the proper armor."

Sanders said he first learned of the problem when two Vermont Guard members contacted him by e-mail in late May and said they do not have enough MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to safely clear roadways of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

Sanders responded by writing Acting Army Secretary Preston Geren III on June 8. Sanders said Geren later told him during a phone conversation that he was aware of the problem and was trying to solve it.

"It is almost incomprehensible to me that, after four years of war and dealing with IEDs, we still do not have enough well-enough armored vehicles to protect our soldiers," Sanders said.

An estimated 1,100 MRAP vehicles are in Iraq. This week, after complaints by Sanders and other senators, the Pentagon announced it is making production of more MRAPs a priority and wants 17,770 built soon.

Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, adjutant general for the Vermont Guard, said Thursday 80 Vermonters attached to an Arkansas-based battalion are performing "route clearance" missions in the Baghdad area.

Dubie said he was assured by commanders in Iraq that Vermont Guard members are using "state of the art" equipment to do the job. The Guard members, part of the 131st Engineer Company, hail from the Burlington and Springfield regions.

"When they're sent out to do a route clearance mission, they are moving around the equipment to do the job," Dubie said. "The question is do they have enough equipment. And the answer is, like anyone in the military, they'd always like to have more."

Later, through a Guard spokesman, Dubie clarified his statement, saying soldiers doing the actual removal of the IEDs are riding in the MRAPs, while support soldiers are traveling in armored Humvees.

The MRAPs are considered four times as safe as an armored Humvee because MRAPs have a raised chassis and a V-shaped bottom that deflects exploding bombs away from the vehicle.

Dubie said no Vermonters have died but one Arkansas soldier attached to the battalion has been killed while doing the route clearance work. He said several Vermonters have suffered injuries like concussions and cuts from glass splintering during the missions.

"Thank the good Lord, there have been no serious injuries," Dubie said. "They've done such an impressive job in defusing so many IEDs and saving countless lives. What they've accomplished is incalculable."

Dubie praised Sanders for speaking out about the need for more MRAPs.

"Having Senator Sanders involved ... has given us visibility and made this a national priority," he said. "We are always working within the military system, but it's nice to know there are other leaders out there trying to rectify this on a national level."

Sanders said he was pleased the Pentagon had decided to make production of MRAPs a priority but said he was troubled that the United States has had to rely largely on South Africa for production of the vehicle.

He said he's been told an assembly line for the vehicles will be set up in the United States but that the dependence on other countries for the MRAPs has slowed manufacture of the vehicle.

"It is beyond belief that we do not have the capability in this country to produce vehicles needed to protect our soldiers," Sanders said. "It speaks to the de-industrialization of America."

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at

Fuel efficient air engines

Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Baqubah Update: 05 July 2007

Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Baqubah Update: 05 July 2007: "Today marks “D +16” of Operation “Arrowhead Ripper,” the Battle for Baqubah. Arrowhead Ripper kicked off on 19 June 07. I have several dispatches in the works about the major events since that time. Although the serious fighting seems to be over, there remains a possibility for some sharp fighting in the near future. The morning of 06 July began with the sounds of American cannons firing, shells whizzing through the air, while they checked systems and aiming for combat. Apache helicopters orbited Baqubah as the orange sun crested into view."...

[bth: here is one in a series of superb blog entries by Michael Yon.]
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Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Build up in Lebanon

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Build up in Lebanon: "There's not much doubt about who is behind the military buildup, not to mention the growing violence in Lebanon itself. According to the secretary general's report, "it is widely believed in Lebanon, including by the government, that the strengthening of [Palestinian] outposts could not have taken place without the tacit knowledge and support of the Syrian government." It notes Israel's claim that "the transfer of sophisticated weaponry by Syria and Iran across the Lebanese-Syrian border, including long-range rockets (with a range of 250 miles) . . . [and] anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, occurs on a weekly basis." And it says, "Hezbollah armed elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa valley, including command and control centers, rocket launching capabilities and conducting military training exercises."

When Resolution 1701 was adopted, Israel urged the Security Council to deploy international forces or monitors along the Lebanese-Syrian border to prevent such weapons deliveries. Intimidated by threats of attacks on U.N. troops, the council refused." WAPO Editorial


It was never going to happen that UN forces were going to be deployed along the Syrian-Lebanese border. The UN correctly understood that such a deployment would require it to fight to stop infiltration (not just monitor)while deployed along a front of a couple of hundred miles, facing east in country in which their forces would have had no secure rear at all. Once again, logistics rules, and UN commanders would have had no secure line of communications to the sea if they had done what all the diplomatic people wanted them to do.

"anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems" The Hizbullah Lebanese are preparing for renewal of their war with Israel. They are building new fortified "belts" and "stand alone" fortified zones. The "anti-aircraft equipment" is going to make a big difference this time. Israeli pilots are not used to being shot at from the ground while trying to attack targets. Pilots' aim is not as good under those conditions. Ask a pilot if that is not true.

What are they doing in the Bekaa Valley? Among other things they are training for how they will fight this time. I presume that someone is watching this?

What are the Israelis doing? They are preparing for a drive into Syria across the Golan heights, a "decisive" battle with the Syrians between there and Damascus and then a left "hook" into Lebanon to execute a "turning movement" against Hizbullah.

Will that coincide with American action against Iran? Someone should ask the Chenians that. pl
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Lieberman may back Republican in '08 race

Lieberman may back Republican in '08 race | Politics | Reuters: "HARTFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent who supports Democrats in Congress despite his backing of the Iraq war, said on Thursday he was not ruling out endorsing a Republican in the White House race."

The 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate said he also wants to see if an independent enters the crowded field of 2008 presidential hopefuls.

"I'm going to chose whichever candidate that I think will do the best job for our country, regardless of the party affiliation of that candidate," the Connecticut senator told reporters in the state capital Hartford.

"I'm not going to get involved until after both parties have their presumptive nominees and, frankly, to see if there is a strong independent candidate," he said.

Lieberman was re-elected to a fourth Senate term in November as an independent in Connecticut after his support for the Iraq war cost him the backing of the Democratic Party. He continues to caucus with Democrats in the Senate.

Many Democrats last year abandoned Lieberman in favor of his Democratic rival, Ned Lamont, a millionaire and political outsider who ran on an anti-Iraq-war platform focused on public discontent over President George W. Bush's policies.

Lieberman, 65, described the 2008 presidential race as the most important election of his adult life.

"There's a lot on the line both in terms of the terrorist threat that we face but also all the things here at home that seem broken: our health-care system, our education system, the environmental problems we have," he said.

[bth: there is a real possibility of at least 1 and possibly 2 splinter parties.]
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Iraq PM wants security of Basra in 3 months

World | Africa - "BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wants his forces to take over security in the southern province of Basra from British troops within three months, his office said on Thursday."

Maliki made the comment to new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a telephone conversation on Thursday, the Iraqi leader's office said in a statement.

"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki confirmed the intention of Iraq's forces to assume the security file of Basra within three months," the statement said.

Britain has handed security responsibility back to Iraq in three of four southern provinces, with only Basra remaining.

Maliki expressed his hopes that after three months, British forces would only play a supporting role. He did not elaborate.

The number of British troops in Iraq was recently cut to about 5,500 from 7,000.

More than 150 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Basra, which has a city by the same name, is home to southern Iraq's oil industry.

[bth: the key for Maliki is to retain control of the oil exports through Basra. It is key to the government's survival.]
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- al-Qaida Video Reflects Group's Troubles

My Way News - al-Qaida Video Reflects Group's Troubles: "BAGHDAD (AP) - A new video by al-Qaida's deputy leader Thursday left no doubt about what the terror network claims is at stake in Iraq - describing it as a centerpiece of its anti-American fight and insisting the Iraqi insurgency is under its direct leadership."

But the proclamations by Ayman al-Zawahri carried another unintended message: reflecting the current troubles confronting the Sunni extremists in Iraq, experts said.

The Islamic State of Iraq, the insurgent umbrella group that is claimed by al-Qaida, has faced ideological criticism from some militants, and rival armed groups have even joined U.S. battles against it. A U.S.-led offensive northwest of Baghdad - in one of the Islamic State's strongholds - may have temporarily disrupted and scattered insurgent forces.

"Some of the developments suggest that it (the Islamic State) is more fragile than it was before," said Bruce Hoffman, a Washington-based terrorism expert at the Rand Corp. think tank....

[bth: isn't that obvious from recent activities on the ground? Its like its not official until the Rand Corp. announces it.]
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"Martyrdom" over arrest, says Pakistan mosque cleric

"Martyrdom" over arrest, says Pakistan mosque cleric - Yahoo! News: "ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A cleric holed up in a Pakistani mosque said on Friday he and his followers would choose 'martyrdom' rather than arrest, hours after the government spurned his request for safe passage. "

At least 19 people have been killed in clashes that erupted outside Islamabad's Red Mosque between radical students and security forces on Tuesday, and the compound housing the mosque and an affiliated girls' madrasa has been under siege since then.

Hopes rose overnight of a peaceful end to siege, after cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi said that he and followers of his Taliban-style movement were willing to surrender.

But, the government said an attempt to attach demands, including safe passage, was unacceptable and insisted Ghazi release women and children, but the leader of the radicals said he would not bow to pressure.

"We can be martyred, but we will not court arrest," Ghazi told Geo TV, hours after seeking terms.

One boy, who surrendered himself after sneaking out of the fortified compound housing the mosque and a girls madrasa on Friday, said older students were forcing younger ones to stay.

"Food is running low and water is also limited," Ashraf Swati, 15, told Reuters, adding that there were several wounded students inside and the stench from dead bodies hung in the air.

President Pervez Musharraf has told security agencies to be patient, keep casualties down and allow maximum time for parents to take girls out of a madrasa in the compound, officials said.

Hundreds of troops and police are surrounding the compound, and water, gas and electricity supplies have been cut off.

Tension between authorities and two cleric brothers heading the mosque had been rising for months, and the military had pre-planned an operation to lay siege that was implemented hours after the first casualties from clashes earlier this week.

Ghazi's elder brother, Abdul Aziz, was caught on Wednesday trying to flee disguised in a woman's all-covering burqa. Still dressed in a burqa for an extraordinary interview on state television, Aziz called on his followers to give up.

About 1,200 students have now come out. Aziz said there were still some 850 students inside, including 600 women and girls, and around 15 men were armed. However, Ghazi later put the number of students at 1,900, while officials say they couldn't be sure.
According to Interior Minister Ahmed Aftab Khan Sherpao there were between 50 and 80 hard-core militants armed with automatic weapons, grenades and petrol bombs.

Security forces ramped up pressure with intermittent gunfire and explosions. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said holes had been blasted in the compound's outer walls.

On Friday morning there was burst of intensive firing, trapping inside the compound a handful of parents who had been allowed through to bring out their children. Other parents were held back by soldiers after the shooting broke out, Islamabad's Deputy Commissioner, Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, said.


Ghazi told television channels by telephone from the mosque that he wanted safe passage for himself and his followers, and denied that any students belonged to banned militant groups.

He also asked that he and his sick mother be allowed to live in the mosque "until I make some alternative arrangements."

But the government insisted on unconditional surrender.

"They should leave their weapons in the mosque and come out," Cheema, the Interior Ministry spokesman, told a news conference.

Many Pakistanis welcomed the action against a movement reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and symptomatic of the religious extremism seeping into cities from tribal border areas.

Moderate politicians and the media had urged Musharraf to act sooner, but he cited concern about bloodshed and authorities tried to appease them.

The clerics and their followers, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s, launched an increasingly provocative campaign from January to press various demands, including action against vice. They threatened suicide attacks if suppressed.

Last month's kidnapping of six women and a man from China -- Pakistan's most steadfast ally -- whom the students said were involved in prostitution, was a tipping point, officials said.

[bth: I don't understand how people can claim martyrdom and yet hide behind the skirts of women and children. Don't followers see right through this cowardice?]
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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Body Count In Baghdad Up in June

Body Count In Baghdad Up in June - "BAGHDAD, July 4 -- Nearly five months into a security strategy that involves thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi troops patrolling Baghdad, the number of unidentified bodies found on the streets of the capital was 41 percent higher in June than in January, according to unofficial Health Ministry statistics."

During the month of June, 453 unidentified corpses, some bound, blindfolded, and bearing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad, according to morgue data provided by a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information....

[bth: it could be that searching more neighborhoods is causing kidnap victims to be executed before we arrive. I'm not sure that this statistic viewed in isolation is indicative of a worsening situation.]

US military warns Turkey about Iraq raid

US military warns Turkey about Iraq raid | | The Australian: "THE US military has warned Turkey against destabilizing northern Iraq by carrying out a threatened cross-border raid on Kurdish rebels."

The US armed forces have a "great relationship with the military of Turkey,'' said Brigadier General Perry Wiggins, deputy director for operations of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.

But he cautioned: "As the secretary of defense (Robert Gates) has said, any disruption up in northern Iraq would not be helpful at this time.''

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Friday his country had drawn up plans for an eventual incursion into neighboring northern Iraq to pursue rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) taking refuge there.

Mr Gul warned that Turkey would activate its plans if the Iraqi authorities or the United States failed to curb the PKK, which is listed as a terror organization by both Ankara and Washington.

"Unfortunately, the level of cooperation by the United States is below our expectations,'' he said in remarks published by the Radikal daily.

Army chief Yasar Buyukanit has long been calling for a strike against PKK rebels based in Kurdish-run northern Iraq where, Turkey says, the PKK enjoys free movement and obtains arms and explosives for attacks on its soil.

But US officials, fearful of havoc in the only part of Iraq that has enjoyed relative calm, are anxious to forestall any Turkish intervention.

"We hope there is no unilateral military action taken on the other side of the Iraqi border,'' Mr Gates said on June 3.

On June 18, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured Ankara that the United States and Iraq were against any "terrorist'' actions conducted from Iraqi territory against Turkey

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On War #224: The Death of the RMA

: "By Willliam S. Lind

In the 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article where I and four colleagues first laid out the Four Generations of Modern War, we foresaw two potential futures. One, the way the world has gone, was 4GW. The other, the direction the Pentagon has taken, became known as the Revolution in Military Affairs, or, more recently, Transformation. This vision of future war, a vision anchored in hi-tech, high-price "systems," is, I am happy to report, militarily dead.

While its corpse still twitches in Iraq and Afghanistan, its obituary was published in April, in Israel, when the Winograd Commission published its report (is Winograd, one wonders, the city in Galicia where old Polish generals go to die of cirrhosis?) On May 29, a summary of its findings by Haninah Levine was made available by the Center for Defense Information. The defense industry fat cats must have read it and wept.

The Winograd Commission was established to examine the Israeli debacle in Lebanon last summer. According to the Levine summary, its first lesson is, "Western militaries are in active state of denial concerning the limitations of precision weapons." Speaking of the then-IDF Chief of Staff General Dan Halutz -- Israel's first and, I suspect, last Chief of Staff drawn from the Air Force -- Levine writes:

Halutz encouraged the civilian leaders to believe that Israel could launch a precision air and artillery offensive without getting dragged into a broad ground offensive. ... the failure of Halutz and the General Staff to appraise the enemy's abilities: correctly at the outbreak of the war stemmed not from incorrect intelligence or analysis, but from a willed denial of the limitations of the IDF's precision weapons.

In how many valleys of Afghanistan is the same sad lesson being taught? In how many towns of Diyala province in Iraq, or streets in Sadr City?

Levine continues,

The Winograd Commission traces studiously the origins of the General Staff's error of judgment. The commission outlines the changes which took place in Israeli military doctrine over the preceding decade in response both to strategic developments…and to technological developments -- the so called "revolution in military affairs,” whose keystone is the advent of precision air-to-surface and surface-to-surface weapon systems…

The first lessen of the Second Lebanon War is… that wishful thinking concerning the capabilities of precision weapon systems overpowered the General Staff' s analytical abilities.... Faith in advanced air and artillery systems as magical "game-changing" systems absolved the General Staff from the need to consider what capabilities (such as distributed and hardened facilities) the enemy possessed, and led the IDF into a strategic trap it had recognized in advance.

This lesson, I think, can be extrapolated in two useful ways in the American context. First, the strategic or more precisely doctrinal, trap set by the RMA has long been recognized. The trap, quite simply is that for the RMA to succeed, it had to contradict the nature of war.

The RMA reduces war to putting fires on targets. It promises to use new technology to make everything targetable. But this means it also promises to eliminate uncertainty, to make war transparent, to eliminate the quality that defines war, the independent hostile will of the enemy. In other words, it is bunk. The fact that it is bunk was evident to a great many people from the outset, even people in Washington.

Why, then, did it get as far as it did (it remains DOD policy even today)? Here we can extrapolate again from the Winograd Commission's finding: the RMA's hi-tech systems are indeed magically "game changing." But the game they change is the budget game, not war. The RMA has given the Pentagon such magical results as bomber aircraft that cost more per unit than the Navy's ships (the B-2), three fighters for one billion dollars (the F-22), and the most magical system of all, the Army's Future Contract System, a system no one can describe but costs more than any program in any other service. Boy, that's magic! Even the Wizard of Id must be jealous.

The fact is, Pentagon policy has nothing to do with war, which has a great deal to do with why we are losing two wars. The Pentagon is the last Soviet industry. It is not about producing a product, least of all a product that works. It is solely, entirely, about acquiring and justifying resources. That the RMA does supremely well.

The defeat in Lebanon seems to have confronted the RMA in Israel with the unpleasant reality of the outside world. Will two defeats have the same effect on Washington? Perhaps, but don't bet on it. Half a trillion dollars a year can buy a great deal of political magic

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact:

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
717 Second St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Pakistani cleric captured under burqa

Pakistani cleric captured under burqa - Yahoo! News: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Security forces besieging a radical mosque in the Pakistani capital captured its top cleric Wednesday as he tried to sneak out of the complex in a woman's burqa, and more than 1,000 of his followers surrendered. "

But heavy gunfire raged into the night, and it was unclear if his capture would lead other hard-liners to give up the fight at the mosque.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf deployed the army to subdue the militants holed up at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, whose clerics have boldly challenged the government for months with a drive to impose a Taliban-style version of Islamic law in Islamabad.

Several explosions were heard near the mosque early Thursday, but their cause wasn't immediately clear. Troops ringing the mosque pushed reporters far back from the area.

The peaceful arrest of the mosque's prayer leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz, was a coup for the government. The firebrand Aziz has been a vociferous opponent of Musharraf and threatened suicide attacks to defend the mosque. His thousands of male students have been at the forefront of anti-government and anti-U.S. rallies.

Tensions exploded into a daylong battle Tuesday between security forces and militant students, some heavily armed and masked. Officials said 16 people died, including militants, security officers and bystanders. Mosque leaders put the death toll among just students at 20.

The government ordered the militants to lay down their arms and surrender by Wednesday morning as it positioned armored vehicles and helicopters around the mosque in a show of strength.

A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists, said Aziz was captured when he tried to get away disguised as a woman, wearing a full-length black burqa, and a female police officer tried to search him.

The officer began shouting "This is not a woman," the official said, prompting male officers to seize Aziz. "The suspect later turned out to be the mosque's chief cleric," the official said.

An AP Television News cameraman saw plainclothes police bundling the gray-bearded cleric into the back of a car, which sped away.

Javed Iqbal Cheeman, an Interior Ministry official, said Aziz's wife, the principal of the mosque's religious school, was also arrested.

"The entire operation will end in further success, and we will be able to give you and the nation more good news," Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Iqbal Warriach said.

He said the whereabouts of the mosque's deputy leader, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who is Aziz's brother, was unclear. Ghazi said earlier Wednesday that "we will continue to defend ourselves."

Cheema said at least 1,100 people surrendered during the day, with some of the women in tears. All women and children will be granted amnesty, but males involved in killings and the top mosque leaders will face legal action, Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said.

Cheema claimed that "not many more" people were left inside the mosque complex.

One who decided to give up, 15-year-old Maryam Qayyeum, said those who stayed in the seminary "only want martyrdom."

"They are happy," she said. "They don't want to go home."

Qayyeum said mosque leaders were not trying to stop students from giving up. But her mother, who had come to take her home, disputed that "They are making speeches. They want to incite them," she said of the leaders.

Over the past six months, the Red Mosque clerics have challenged the government by sending students to kidnap alleged prostitutes and police in an anti-vice campaign.

The bloodshed has added to a sense of crisis in Pakistan, where Musharraf — a major ally of President Bush — already faces emboldened militants near the Afghan border and a democracy movement triggered by his botched attempt to fire the country's chief justice.

The mosque siege sparked street protests Tuesday in the cities of Lahore and Quetta organized by radical religious parties.

On Wednesday, officials said a suicide car bomber rammed a vehicle into a Pakistan army convoy near the Afghan border, killing five soldiers and five civilians. In northwestern Pakistan, unidentified assailants fired a rocket at a police station, killing one officer and wounding four, and an explosive killed four people and injured two district officials.

It was not known if the incidents were linked to the mosque crisis
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Iraq and Afghanistan missing from the top five news topics
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Hundreds of Pakistani militants surrender Hundreds of Pakistani militants surrender: "ISLAMABAD — About 700 followers of a radical mosque surrendered Wednesday as government troops with armoured personnel carriers tightened their stranglehold on the building a day after clashes killed at least 16 people, officials said."

Sporadic firing erupted around the mosque and an adjacent women's seminary in the early evening while three helicopter gunships circled overhead.

Minister of Information Mohammed Ali Durrani said that "a few hundred" militants could remain inside the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, whose clerics have challenged the government by trying to impose a Taliban-style version of Islamic law in the capital.

One of those who decided to give up, 15-year-old Maryam Qayyeum, said many were not leaving the seminary. "They are happy. They only want martyrdom. They don't want to go home," she said.

The militants had been ordered by the government to lay down their arms and surrender by 11 a.m. Wednesday, following a day of bloody clashes between security forces and militants living inside the sprawling mosque compound.

All women and children who surrender will be granted amnesty, but males involved in killings and other crimes as well as the top mosque leaders would face legal action, said Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim.

The number of militants remaining inside the complex by evening was not known.

"The deadline has expired but we are not going to start any action immediately. We do not want bloodshed. We are reasonably sure that better sense will prevail," said the capital's top security official Khalid Pervez.

He said the government is giving about $83 (U.S.) to each person who surrenders to help them return home.

As the deadline passed, the mosque's deputy leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi said he was prepared to talk with the government but added, "We will continue to defend ourselves."

Ms. Qayyeum said mosque leaders were not trying to stop students from giving up. But her mother, who had come to take her home said, "They are making speeches. They want to incite them."

Johar Ali, 20, who had come to the mosque to support the militants several days ago said there were still hundreds inside, but he did not see any suicide bombers the mosque leaders claimed were ready to launch attacks.

The violence started Tuesday when male and female student followers of the mosque — some of them masked and armed — rushed toward a police checkpoint. Gunfire broke out among the students and security forces, sparking a daylong series of clashes.

A senior government spokesman, Anwar Mahmood, said the death toll in Islamabad had risen to 16, but declined to give a breakdown of the victims. Earlier, the government said they had included militants, innocent bystanders, a journalist and members of the security forces.

Mr. Ghazi told The Associated Press that 20 of his students had been killed by security forces, including two young men climbing to the top of the mosque for morning prayers Wednesday.

A young woman was also shot and wounded on the roof of the women's seminary, he said.

"She was shot by sniper fire. They are shooting directly at us," he said in a telephone interview. Mr. Ghazi said there were no negotiations under way with the government to end the standoff.

After a meeting of top officials early Wednesday including President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Warriach said the government had imposed an immediate curfew on the area around the mosque. He said authorities had run out of patience after a six-month standoff with the hard-line clerics at the mosque.

"The government has decided that those people from the madrassa who are defaming Pakistan and Islam will face an operation," Mr. Warriach said.

In the past six months, the clerics have challenged the government by sending students from the mosque to kidnap alleged prostitutes and police in an anti-vice campaign.

The bloodshed has added to a sense of crisis in Pakistan, where Mr. Musharraf — a major ally of President George Bush — already faces emboldened militants near the Afghan border and a pro-democracy movement triggered by his botched attempt to fire the country's chief justice.

The mosque siege sparked street protests Tuesday in the cities of Lahore and Quetta organized by radical religious parties.

On Wednesday, officials said a suicide car bomber rammed a vehicle into a Pakistan army convoy near the Afghan border, killing five soldiers and five civilians. And unidentified assailants fired a rocket at a police station in northwestern Pakistan, killing one officer and wounding four.

It was not known if the two incidents were linked to the mosque crisis.

Canadians killed in Afghan attack

Canadians killed in Afghan attack - "CNN) -- The six soldiers killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan are Canadians, Canadian Forces have confirm.
An Afghan interpreter was also killed in the attack Wednesday, which occurred in Kandahar province, where Canadian troops are based."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the people were all in the same vehicle.

"The ISAF community mourns the loss of these brave soldiers," said Lt. Col. Maria Carl, ISAF spokeswoman. "They gave their lives to improve the lives of the Afghan people."

The attack is the latest of many in the south, where Canadian, Briton, American, Dutch and other soldiers have been have been slugging it out with Taliban militants.

The deaths brings the number of Canadian military fatalities in Afghanistan to 66, with 22 this year alone. The last previous attack against Canadians was on June 20, when a roadside bomb killed three soldiers.

Six other Canadian troops were killed on April 8 when their vehicle was struck by an explosive device in the south
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Pakistan street battle

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Limey Humor

The Agonist | thoughtful, global, timely: "The British are feeling the pinch in relation to recent bombings and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." Londoners have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorised from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

Alas, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Surrender" and "Collaborate." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.

It's not only the English and French that are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels
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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Convoys Expendable Little Brother

A Convoys Expendable Little Brother: "Troops are still buying remote control toy trucks, for use in checking out possible roadside bombs. This, despite the fact that nearly 6,000 combat robots have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan so far. The problem is, there are never enough droids to go around. So the droidless troops have been improvising. Radio controlled (RC) cars and aircraft are readily available from hobby stores, or their web sites. Items can be sent via air freight to Iraq. The high end RC trucks cost several hundred dollars, but can be controlled from as far away as 200 meters. These are used for checking out items on, or alongside, the road that might be bombs. Just shooting at the suspicious objects doesn't always set them off. But run an RC car up to it, and ram the object, and you quickly know if it is heavy (and possibly a bomb), or light (and likely just some garbage.) These vehicles can also be equipped with wireless video cameras, perfect for checking out what's around the corner. RC aircraft, especially the high end ones that cost $500 or more, can also, with some effort, be equipped with a wireless vidcam. However, using off-the-shelf equipment, your transmission range is only a few hundred meters. Most RC aircraft can be controlled up to 500 meters away, and with more expensive commo gear, nearly twice that.

[bth: hard to believe this is still going on.]

\At least 9 killed in clashes at Pakistan mosque

swissinfo - At least 9 killed in clashes at Pakistan mosque: "ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Nine people were shot dead on Tuesday in clashes between Pakistani paramilitary forces and radical Muslim students at an Islamabad mosque run by a Taliban-style movement, officials said."

Sporadic firing between paramilitary forces and the student militants inside the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, rang out for hours in the heart of the leafy capital.

Hardline religious students campaigning for observance of strict Islamic law have been confronting authorities for months and liberal politicians have been pressing President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on them.

The government had refrained from using force for fear it could provoke suicide attacks, or lead to casualties among female students at a school, or madrasa, in the mosque compound.

Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Warraich told a news conference nine people had been killed in the violence and authorities were trying to defuse the situation.

A cleric inside the mosque, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, told Reuters eight students had been killed.

"A state within state is never a good situation anywhere, in any country," Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told the news conference.

He declined to say if security forces would storm the mosque which has long been a centre of Islamic radicalism.

An Interior Ministry official said four students, a paramilitary soldier and a Pakistani television cameraman were killed. A total of 148 people were taken to hospital, 30 with bullet wounds, others suffering from teargas.

The clashes began when about 150 students attacked a security post at a government office near the mosque, snatched weapons and took four officials hostage, according to police.

Paramilitary forces fired teargas to disperse hundreds of students outside the mosque, and then came under fire.

Someone in the mosque later used a loudspeaker to call for suicide attacks, though a cleric there denied to Reuters that any such order had been given.


The violence comes at a bad time for Musharraf who has been facing a campaign against him by lawyers and the opposition since he suspended the country's top judge in March. He is also preparing for a presidential and general elections.

The 5,000 or so students affiliated with the mosque range in age from teenagers to people in their 30s, many from conservative areas near the Afghan border. They study under firebrand clerics and have been campaigning against vice and for Islamic law.

Burqa-clad women stood on the roof of the madrasa shouting anti-government slogans, while men, some wearing gas masks, brandished Kalashnikov rifles and pistols. Students set alight government buildings and cars opposite the mosque.

"Kill us. We will die but we will not back off from our demands to enforce Islamic sharia," female student Mahira told Reuters by telephone.

Trouble began in January when students occupied a library next to their madrasa to protest against the destruction of mosques built illegally on state land.

They later kidnapped women, some from China, at two places they said were brothels. They also abducted police.

(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony and Robert Birsel)

[bth: this Red Mosque situation is going to grow and could be real trouble.]

Colonel: Iraqi forces still need help from U.S. troops

Colonel: Iraqi forces still need help from U.S. troops - "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military virtually abandoned an area southeast of Baghdad known as Salman Pak two years ago, leaving behind a refuge for insurgents to operate and allowing them to establish a key explosives smuggling route to Baghdad. "

Now, with 28,000 additional troops deployed to Iraq under the military's so-called "surge," U.S. troops are back in Salman Pak in force. They are working with Iraqi security forces to retake lost ground, break up insurgent supply lines and clear the area of al Qaeda fighters and insurgents.

But their presence demonstrates a problem for U.S. forces trying to secure Baghdad and its perimeter: Iraqi security forces are not yet able to secure and hold areas on their own.

"Do I think the Iraqi security forces are improving? Yes," said U.S. Army Col. Wayne Grigsby of the Third Infantry Division. "Are they where they need to be? No."

With Congress intensifying its calls for an exit strategy for Iraq, a report released last week by a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee said the United States has spent $19 billion training and equipping 346,500 members of the Iraqi security forces. That $19 billion has "yielded mixed results," according to the report.

The report found that the U.S. Defense Department doesn't know how many of those forces are operational today or even if they are fighting on the U.S. side. "Of those forces trained by the coalition, there is strong evidence that some are independently committing sectarian violence and other illegal activity," the 205-page report said.

The Iraqi forces, the report adds, are "not yet ready to take full responsibility for their nation's security."

Last Thursday, President Bush defended his administration's surge policy and urged patience on Iraq. "This new strategy is different from the one we were pursuing before," Bush said in a speech to the U.S. Naval War College. "It recognizes that our top priority must be to help the Iraqi government and its security forces protect their population from attack, especially in Baghdad."

Back in Salman Pak, the U.S. military is fighting to interdict a key insurgent supply line that leads directly to Baghdad. Explosives, charges, accelerants and other material used to build roadside bombs and car bombs go through here and are then smuggled on to Baghdad.

Short of manpower, U.S. forces left much of the area two years ago, leaving only a few hundred troops for the whole region. The streets of Salman Pak, once a resort area for members of Saddam Hussein's regime, are littered with empty bottles and plastic bags, and many of the buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

As a convoy of U.S. Humvees moved cautiously through the area this week, Grigsby pointed out holes in the ground along the side of the road -- places where U.S. military vehicles have been targeted by roadside bombs.

Some of the bombs were planted less than 100 yards away from Iraqi police checkpoints. "Some of the Iraqi police are complacent when insurgents place bombs," Grigsby says. "They have gotten better, but in many cases we can't really trust them yet."

Farther down the road, U.S. soldiers battled insurgents, cleared the area and then set up a checkpoint at a major road along the Tigris River that leads into Baghdad. After the three days of fighting, U.S. forces turned the checkpoint over to the Iraqi National Police.

At the time, the Iraqi commander, Col. Shakr, who would not give his full name due to security concerns, told CNN he hoped his forces would be able to hold the outpost, with its two battle tanks, strong weaponry and a guard tower overlooking the entire area.

But just two hours later, the insurgents struck in broad daylight from a nearby mosque. The attackers engulfed the checkpoint in a barrage of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, taking out the guard tower and killing several Iraqi officers.

Shakr called in coalition reinforcements in the form of an airstrike and moments later, a British Tornado strike aircraft dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on the insurgents, obliterating the building they were in.

Grigsby directed the airstrike. He said he was pleased with the results, especially because U.S. forces rarely see insurgents mass in a single area that allows coalition forces to use their bombs effectively.

But the incident also demonstrates just how much coalition forces are still needed -- that American forces are often called back to places they secured only hours before because their Iraqi counterparts are not up to the task.

The House panel's report said Iraqi forces may not reach full operational capability until early 2009. Even then, it says, "the Iraqis will still require trainers and advisers, as well as critical combat enablers including logistics and intelligence support."

U.S. military leaders in Iraq say they are determined to see the surge through.

"There has to be persistent security presence, and that has to be Iraqi security forces. So we continue to work with the government of Iraq and the leaders of the Iraqi security forces to get that persistent presence," said Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch

[bth: so if we're at the maximum troop level we can muster and we only have half Baghdad covered and when we pull back the positions are lost - how do we finish this job? It seems that the logic for not giving a deadline to withdrawal because the insurgents will only wait us out belies the obvious - that they can wait us out in half of Baghdad or adjacent suburbs anytime they want. ... This also points out another obvious - the Iraqi forces do not have the logistics, artillery or air force to hold ground which is in hostile neighborhoods. This is the clearest proof to me that as soon as we leave, Iraq will break up into permanent ethnic enclaves or federalist regions. Its just reality. Anbar is going on its own and the Sunnis will never be able to suppress the Shea majority in the south. ... Iraq is going to break up. Are we doing our troops a disservice by keeping them driving up IED infested roads for another two years to get to the same damned point?]

Wolfowitz Joins Think Tank as Visiting Scholar

Wolfowitz Joins Think Tank as Visiting Scholar - "He was an architect of the Iraq war who was forced from the World Bank presidency amid allegations that he improperly acted to benefit his girlfriend. Now, Paul D. Wolfowitz will turn his attention to the relatively calmer waters of Washington intelligentsia, as a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute."

His stormy tenure came to an end after his role in arranging a pay raise and a new job at the State Department for his girlfriend, bank employee Shaha Riza, came to light, prompting withering staff criticism and international calls for him to resign....

[bth: the last time I saw this sorry SOB he was posing in front of portraits at Arlington - the Faces of the Fallen. He disgusts me and should be in jail, but instead he negotiated a buyout of his contract with the World Bank and is back at AEI spreading his poison. Next Scooter Libby will join AEI.]

Pakistan Eases Curbs on A.Q. Khan -

Pakistan Eases Curbs on A.Q. Khan - "Authorities have eased the virtual house arrest imposed on A.Q. Khan, the disgraced scientist who sold Pakistan's nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya, officials said Monday."

In what is believed to be his first public comment in about three years, Khan told The Associated Press that he was recovering from treatment for cancer, but declined to discuss other topics.

Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, confessed in 2004 to heading an international ring of smugglers that supplied sensitive technology to Iran and others.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pardoned him while confining him to his tightly guarded villa in the capital, Islamabad. He has been permitted few visitors.

However, two senior government officials told the AP that the restrictions were eased several months ago and that Khan could now meet friends and relatives either at his home or elsewhere in Pakistan.

"He is virtually a free citizen," said one of the officials, who is attached to the nuclear program.

However, the second official said Khan was only allowed to meet associates and relatives on a list approved by authorities, who would continue to provide him with a security detail that will restrict his movements.

Both asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of Khan's case.

Reached by telephone at his residence in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad, Khan declined to discuss the restrictions.

"I am feeling much better, though I can't say I am 100 percent fit," said Khan, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August last year.

[bth: this is amazing. His work may very well result in the nuking of a city, but here he is walking around.]

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bush commutes sentence for Libby Bush commutes sentence for Libby: "President Bush commuted the sentence of former aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby Monday, sparing him from a 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case."

Bush left intact a $250,000 fine and two years probation for Libby, according to a senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.

Bush's move came hours after a federal appeals panel ruled Libby could not delay his prison term in the CIA leak case. That decision put the pressure on the president, who had been sidestepping calls by Libby's allies to pardon the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby was convicted in March of lying to authorities and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative's identity. He was the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.

[bth: of course. sorry bastards.]

Truck bomb damages bridge over Euphrates River in Iraq the oldest city's home on the Net: "BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A dump truck laden with explosives detonated on a bridge over the Euphrates River on Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Iraq's bridge network."

The 3 p.m. suicide bombing damaged a large section of the bridge, which is along the main road north of Ramadi in the western province of Anbar. Two civilians were injured and evacuated to a hospital, according to U.S. military officials.

Since April, when bombers destroyed a large portion of Baghdad's historic Sarafiya bridge over the Tigris River, attackers have systematically taken out bridges in and around the capital, clogging traffic and isolating neighborhoods. In early June, insurgents damaged the Sarha bridge on a main route to northern Iraq, about 100 miles from Baghdad.

After the explosion Sunday, cars were still able to travel on what is one of the major thoroughfares through Anbar to Iraq's border with Jordan...

[bth: it isn't clear to me why this bridge was taken out by insurgents.]

US to hunt the Taliban inside Pakistan

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - US to hunt the Taliban inside Pakistan: "KARACHI - Since last September, North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan have been pressing Islamabad for the right to conduct extensive hot-pursuit operations into Pakistan to target Taliban and al-Qaeda bases. "

According to Asia Times Online contacts, NATO and its US backers have gotten their wish: coalition forces will start hitting targets wherever they might be.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf is expected to

make an important announcement on extremism during an address to the nation in the next day or two.

The ATol contacts in Islamabad say that coalition intelligence has pinpointed at least four centers in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan from which Taliban operations inside Afghanistan are run. These bases include arms caches and the transfer and raising of money and manpower, the latter in the form of foot-soldiers to fight with the Taliban-led insurgency.

Operations inside Pakistan might be carried out independently by the United States, probably with air power, by Pakistani forces acting alone or as joint offensives. In all cases, though, the US will pull the strings, for instance by providing the Pakistanis with information on targets to hit.

Musharraf has apparently already told his military commanders, the National Security Council and decision-makers in government of the development.

Officially, both NATO and Pakistan deny any agreement on hot-pursuit activities. Major John Thomas, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, told Asia Times Online, "The ISAF would not strike any targets across the border. That is not part of our mission. We work with the Pakistani government closely on cross-border issues. The ISAF does not have a counter-terrorism mission that I know of."

Similarly, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations of the Pakistani Armed Forces, Major-General Waheed Arshad, said NATO forces would not be allowed to intervene in Pakistani areas. He conceded that Pakistan is wary of growing extremism in the country, but said there is no threat of Talibanization.

"The Taliban are a problem for Afghanistan, not Pakistan. There are a few extremist groups operating in Pakistan and we have our own indigenous mechanism to counter them through law-enforcement agencies, and through paramilitary and military deployment," Waheed said.

Nevertheless, the ATol contacts are adamant that an agreement is in place for increased operations on Pakistani soil, given the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and US fears of al-Qaeda using Pakistan as a base for planning operations in the West. There are precedents.

Last month, US Central Intelligence Agency drones targeted a madrassa in North Waziristan, and 20 people were killed. CIA drones tried to take out al-Qaeda No 2 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2006 in Bajur Agency. Zawahiri survived, but 18 people died. In December 2005, al-Qaeda leader Hamza Rabia was killed by a CIA predator aircraft in the town of Mir Ali, North Waziristan.

However, new operations, which could begin within weeks, if not days, are expected to be much larger in scale.

A border in name only
In recent meetings at both the policy and operational levels between Washington and Islamabad, it was acknowledged that Pakistan simply cannot control its border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has established numerous military posts in the tribal areas, but with distances of as much as 20 kilometers between them they can't stop the cross-border flow, especially given the rugged nature of the terrain.

On the Afghan side of the border, NATO and the Afghan National Army have also established posts, but they are even less numerous than on the Pakistani side and, given their isolation, are open to enemy fire.

While most of the Taliban's cross-border activity takes place from the Waziristans, it extends to Chaman, Zhob and Noshki in the southwest and Bajaur and Mohmand in the northwest.

In North West Frontier Province, the settled towns of Tank, Laki Marwat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan have all but been taken over by the Pakistani Taliban and they recruit from these areas. The circle is expanding up to the Valley of Peshawar, which includes Peshawar city and Mardan. However, the Taliban's influence in the Valley of Peshawar is still basic.

On the other hand, a pro-Taliban force named Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) has spread rapidly, and its influence ranges from Bajaur, Malakand, Swat Valley and Mingora. The TNSM sent 10,000 men to Afghanistan in 2001 to fight against the US-led invasion. The organization is dedicated to the enforcement of Islamic laws. Like the Pakistan Taliban, the TNSM uses scores of illegal FM radio stations as a propaganda tool, and its popularity increases with every passing day.

All roads lead to the mosque
All these pro-Taliban/al-Qaeda zones on the Afghan border have connections with the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, run by outspoken brothers Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed. The brothers are openly pro-Taliban and also run large Islamic seminaries for boys and girls.

The Pakistani establishment believes Aziz is in fact the new leader of all the Taliban and al-Qaeda assets spreading through northwestern Pakistan, especially the zone commanded by the TNSM. Aziz delivers lectures by telephone every evening to TNSM members.

Lal Masjid has had numerous high-profile run-ins and standoffs with the government, but Islamabad has never risked an outright confrontation, given the power and influence of the brothers and their standing in the jihadist world.

They can be expected to organize sustained resistance should NATO/US forces launch attacks into Pakistan. Some reports claim that about 70 suicide bombers are waiting to be unleashed from the mosque. But any attack on the mosque could set off a chain reaction all the way from Islamabad to the Afghan border and beyond, in the process throwing Pakistan further into turmoil.

At this point in the "war on terror", this is something the US does not want, at least not until it has had one more crack at rooting out the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Pakistan. Washington has paid Pakistan about $1 billion a year for the past five years for its efforts in tackling terrorism. Now the US administration wants more return on that money.

Musharraf already faces intense opposition over his suspension of his chief justice on charges of malfeasance. Both political and religious opponents are riding the bandwagon with a vengeance, especially as the country faces presidential elections this year.

Senior US officials, including John Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, and Richard Boucher, the assistant secretary of state, recently visited Pakistan to spell out to opposition leaders that the US is still behind Musharraf, although it will support the participation of secular, democratic political parties in government.

This development occurred even as Washington voiced its dissatisfaction over Musharraf's performance with regard to the Taliban: it pointed to Pakistan's clear involvement in supporting the insurgency in Helmand province since last year.

Indeed, the US was even prepared to withdraw its support of Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, but after a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan, the general remains in favor. Cheney's office is believed to run the United States' Pakistan policy.

The reasons are probably twofold: the US needs Pakistan's support should it attack Iran (covert operations into Iran are reportedly already taking place from Pakistan), and the US is concerned over the revival of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

With regard to the latter, the head of the US Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, followed up Cheney's visit, warning Islamabad that the US needs Pakistan's assistance and approval to confront the bases. He also made it clear that any delay on the part of Pakistan to allow NATO operations could result in another major terror operation in the West. And if that happens, Pakistan will face the music.

Musharraf has already agreed to take some prisoners from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay (see Pakistan to help as the US's jailer, Asia Times Online, June 29). Now he's opening his doors to the United States' soldiers. It's a move fraught with danger for Musharraf and Pakistan, and one that could influence the direction of both the war in Afghanistan and the "war on terror".

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

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

[bth: this will be an interesting development]

Bomb at Ancient Yemeni Temple Kills 8

Bomb at Ancient Yemeni Temple Kills 8 - "SAN'A, Yemen -- A suicide car bomber blew himself up Monday at the site of an ancient temple popular with tourists, killing eight people and wounding seven, police said."

Police in the province of Mareb said six of the dead were tourists, believed to be mostly from Spain. The other two were Yemenis, police said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Witnesses said a car drive through a gate then exploded at the site of temple, which was built about 3,000 years ago at the time of the ancient Queen of Sheba.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but police in Mareb said they had received information last month about a possible al-Qaida attack.

Al-Qaida has an active presence in Yemen, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, despite government efforts to fight the terror network. Al-Qaida was blamed for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden that killed 17 American sailors and the attack on a French oil tanker that killed one person two years later.

[bth: note that this Yemeni, the London and Glasgow bombings are targeting tourism and transportation as opposed to say schools, oil installations or movie theaters.]