Saturday, August 11, 2007

U.S. military expands robot patrols in combat zones

U.S. military expands robot patrols in combat zones Tech news blog - CNET "WASHINGTON--We tend to hear more about the growing number of human bodies being shipped off to combat to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the U.S. Army is also dispatching more and more robots. "

Since the conflicts began five years ago, the military branch has been steadily stepping up deployment of both unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, Col. John Burke, the Army's director of unmanned systems integration, said Wednesday.

Burke, who was speaking at the second day of a confab here hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, touted the machines' surveillance capabilities as a proven success, at times, in keeping live soldiers out of harm's way.

On the airborne side, four systems--the Raven, the Shadow, the Hunter and the Sky Warrior--have logged more than 270,000 hours during Operation Iraqi Freedom. When that operation first started, "you could measure the (use of) unmanned aircraft systems in maybe tens of hours a day," Burke said.

By 2005, that number had climbed to about 100 hours per day, and now that figure has reached about 500 hours per day, he said.

Only 180 robots were on the ground in 2004, but that number had grown tenfold by the next year. Now, more than 5,000 are in the theater.

Expect that trend to continue in the future, Burke said, although he noted that the Army believes it's necessary to integrate both manned and unmanned techniques. Thanks to the ready availability of "storage in the terabytes," the Army is also counting on arming soldiers with a heightened amount of "real-time, multidimensional" data gleaned from various kinds of UAV sensors about their surroundings.

A commander, for instance, could pull up archived information about what has transpired at a particular road intersection in the past week and ideally use it to help establish patterns.

The unmanned activity, to be sure, isn't limited to the Army. The Air Force has also come to consider a flying machine called MQ-1 Predator a mainstay of its operations in the theater, with more than 250,000 flying hours logged since it first came into use in 1994. A higher-end aerial drone called the Global Hawk is also flying daily missions in Iraq, according to Lt. Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, an official in the Air Force's acquisition office, who also spoke at this week's symposium.

[bth: I was at the show, met Anne the author of this piece who is quite capable. I don't believe Burke when he says there are 5000 now in Iraq unless he is counting both air and ground assets. I doubt there are more than 2000 meaningful ground robots in operation if one excludes several thousand toy chassis based vehicles - Marcbot and Bombot. Further I think the damage rage is extremely high - at least 500 go to repair depots each week according to the WaPo - and at least 20 Talons are destroyed a week. So if the government is buying about $150 million Talons with each annual contract now, that is roughly 1000 units which tracks out to a little more than 20 per week. I think we're at steady state. ... Now in the last year the number of IED attacks have doubled and the cost to insurgents of making a successful attack - a commission plan - has actually gone down according to Newsweek. We're going to have to make more robots and we are going to have to make them more capable. I doubt any of the robots we ship to Iraq will ever come home - they are going to be destroyed or severely damaged the first year of operation.]

Iraq: Can American Military Stop Deadly IEDs?

Iraq: Can American Military Stop Deadly IEDs? - Newsweek: World News - "Aug. 20-27, 2007 issue " It's bad enough when the insurgents hide the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in animal carcasses or, more ghoulishly, human cadavers. Worse is when they leave the bombs sitting in plain sight. "It makes the hair on the back of our necks tingle," says Command Master Chief Pat McLean, the senior enlisted man in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit 2 battalion in northern Iraq, the specialists who disarm bombs—and who lost three men to exploding IEDs in July. Insurgents sometimes want the Americans to find the IEDs—so they can draw them into an ambush.

The Iraqis are getting cleverer as the Americans try to shield U.S. troops with more and more armor. In a recent incident, insurgents used a small IED to blow out the tires of one vehicle. When the passengers scrambled out to transfer to another vehicle, a larger IED detonated, killing two. "Sadly, it seems that we're the ones lagging behind. They're getting better and better at it," says Robert Lamburne, the director of forensic services at the British Embassy in Baghdad. The Brits and the Americans now have fancy forensic facilities, like the CSI labs on TV, to trace bombmakers. But Lamburne, who has inspected hundreds of devices, notes that the insurgents don't try all that hard to cover their tracks. About one in five leaves behind fingerprints. "It's not ignorance," he says. "They just don't care. They may believe they're going to die fighting anyway."

How do you defeat a foe who can destroy million-dollar machines with devices that can be built off the Internet for about the cost of a pizza, especially if that foe doesn't particularly worry about dying? When the insurgency began, there were about five "master bombmakers" in Baghdad, each with a recognizable style. Their model was the roadside bombs that were used in Lebanon almost 20 years earlier by the Iranian-backed group Hizbullah. Primitive versions used rudimentary triggers—sometimes just a car battery and a long wire. Today's IED makers have inexpensive gadgets like garage-door openers and disposable phones to detonate their bombs.

The insurgents in Iraq have perfected a new way of war. America is still the world's greatest superpower, and the U.S. military's capacity to take out a moving vehicle using a drone piloted from half the world away should still provoke a little shock and awe. But the IED—cheap, easy to make and adapt, and deadly—has in its own way proved equally powerful. The bombs have bled the U.S. military in Iraq.

And thanks to the ubiquitous videos of IED attacks shot by insurgents and put up on YouTube, they will be credited with driving us out of the country whenever we do leave. Guerrillas, even armies, elsewhere are watching: most of the world's conventional militaries would be vulnerable to similar tactics. Already, locally made devices have begun appearing on battlefields from Somalia to Thailand to Pakistan.

The U.S. military hasn't told the public exactly how many soldiers and Marines are killed and injured by IEDs every month in Iraq. Such disclosures would aid the enemy, or so goes the official explanation, though it might also embarrass Pentagon officials who say they have spent at least $6 billion so far trying to defeat IEDs, with limited success. The best estimate is that about one in three soldiers lost in 2004 was killed by an IED. Now it's more like four out of five. About 50 soldiers a month are killed or injured by IEDs, up from about 30 a year ago. Success, such as it is, is measured this way: the insurgents are setting off more and more IEDs every month—perhaps twice as many as last year. The American death toll is not rising as fast. Officials claim that about eight out of nine IED casualties are injured, not killed, which is a consolation of sorts, though not much of one to the maimed and brain-damaged.

The Americans are caught on the wrong end of what military experts call the "offense-defense spiral." In the race to kill better, offense usually stays a step ahead of defense. IEDs are easy to make, and bombmakers don't have to look very hard for ingredients. The highly militarized regime of Saddam Hussein stashed weaponry all across the country. When Saddam fell and the American invaders failed to secure his arsenals, insurgents could and did avail themselves of about 500 million tons of bombs, artillery shells and ammo, basically left lying around. When the Marines finally seized control of Fallujah in 2004, they discovered that munitions were stockpiled everywhere. The insurgents were transporting IEDs around town in an ice-cream truck. The supply of IEDs and the men to deliver them has become so plentiful that there has been a decline of what is known in the narcotics trade as "street value." In 2005, the teams emplacing IEDs were being paid $100 for each successful blast. Now in central Iraq the payoff is sometimes as low as $40.

About two years ago, Americans, especially the ones fighting against Shiite insurgents, began seeing the deadly effects of a new, improved IED, a charge that could blast right through an armored vehicle, even a tank. These explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) are shot out of crude cannons shaped roughly like coffee cans. Making an EFP requires expertise and machine tools, and earlier this year the Americans claimed the devices originated in Iran. According to the military, EFPs accounted for a third of American combat deaths in July.

The U.S. military responded to the IED threat slowly and defensively. More than a year into the insurgency, the unit set up to figure out how to counter IEDs was operating out of what one veteran of the early days called a "converted closet" in the Pentagon. Now the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), formed in 2006, has a staff of 400 and a budget this year of $4.5 billion.

For the first several years, the defensive effort focused largely on building better jammers. None works very well. It is difficult to sort out a single tiny signal in the electronic clutter of an urban environment. For a time, American soldiers were turning off their jammers because they jammed their own communications.

The other defense is more and better armor. For several years, a dispiriting squabble spluttered in Washington over the failure of the military to provide its troops with enough armored vehicles. The Army brass seemed to forlornly hope that the Iraq War was an unfortunate mistake that would never be repeated (shades of Vietnam), so they saw no point in wasting scarce resources on buying vast armored fleets that would never again be deployed. The Army's foot-dragging finally stopped after a briefing for Defense Secretary Robert Gates on May 1. Unlike the Army, the Marines had ordered a disproportionate number of odd-looking vehicles called MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), which have a V-shaped chassis to deflect explosions. According to a source who was present but would not be identified discussing a top-level meeting, Gates turned to one Army commander and inquired: "Tell me, general, what is the difference between a Marine's blood and a soldier's?"

The U.S. military will now be re-equipped with armored vehicles at the cost of billions. The armored-vehicle shortfall has attracted a great deal of attention in the press and in Congress, but it misses the larger point, says JIEDDO chief Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who was brought out of retirement to be the overall commander in the war against roadside bombs. As Meigs acknowledged to NEWSWEEK, defense is not really the answer because, again, the insurgents can always build bigger IEDs. The better approach, says Meigs—and he does not pretend that it is a sure or perfect answer—is to go on offense.

One step is to get soldiers out of the vehicles that have too often become their fiery coffins. "What does barreling down a highway at 45mph, peering through a dust-covered windshield, actually accomplish?" asked a retired general who declined to be quoted by name criticizing his former military colleagues. A veteran of the Balkans, this general recalled that his troops had a term for routine, pointless patrols.

"Dabbing," they called it, from the caustic acronym for "driving around Bosnia." " 'Dabbing' now means 'driving around Baghdad'," says the general. Before he became head of Coalition forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus wrote the Army's new manual on counterinsurgency. For his forces in Iraq, he boiled it down to a series of instructions. Instruction No. 4: "Get out and walk."

Everyone—from the Americans to the British to the Israelis, with their long experience in Lebanon—seems to agree that better intelligence is essential to reducing the IED problem to a mere "nuisance" (Meigs's goal). But good intelligence is hard to come by. Instead, the Americans have resorted to operations like sending out convoys as bait—while drone aircraft loiter overhead to track the bombers, and signals-intelligence teams listen for their communications—followed by a larger force to spring a trap on the attackers. If that tactic sounds a little desperate, a senior military official, speaking anonymously about a sensitive subject, assured NEWSWEEK that such convoys use volunteer crews and very-well-armored vehicles.

The success of the insurgent tactics employed in Iraq seems to guarantee we will see them again elsewhere. In the dry jargon of military thinkers, guerrilla fighting is called "asymmetrical warfare." The asymmetries are not just physical or technological, but moral. Martin Van Creveld, a well-respected historian at Hebrew University, puts the proposition starkly: because occupying powers are automatically cast as the bully, they have to show restraint in the battle for world opinion. "You cannot be both strong and morally right at the same time," says Van Creveld. "But if you are small and weak, then you can do what-ever you want. Necessity does not have any moral bounds."

With reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad, Melinda Liu in Beijing, Joe Cochrane and Danfung Dennis at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Christopher Dickey in Paris, Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai in Kabul, Kevin Peraino in Jerusalem, Zahid Hussain in Islamabad, and Jeffrey Bartholet and Abby Dalton in Washington, D.C.

MSN Privacy . Legal© 2007

[bth: have the patrols lost their purpose? Do they have a mission? The cost ofour vehicles have risen over 10 fold but the cost of an IED or EFP has barely budged, has doubled year over year and actually gone down in labor costs. We simply are not winning this war of financial attrition.]

Iraq Report Hints: More Time Needed -

Iraq Report Hints: More Time Needed - "BAGHDAD - Anyone who still wonders what America's top two officials in Baghdad will report to Congress next month just hasn't been listening. The military and diplomatic public relations machines are running full bore. The message: 'Things are getting better, but we need more time.'"...

[bth: what a surprise. More of the same.]

China's Secret Arms Dealings, Weekly Standard: Beijing May Purposely Be Arming Iraqi Insurgents - CBS News

China's Secret Arms Dealings, Weekly Standard: Beijing May Purposely Be Arming Iraqi Insurgents - CBS News: "This year, many truckloads of small arms and explosives direct from Chinese government-owned factories to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been transshipped to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they are used against American soldiers and Marines and NATO forces.

Since April, according to a knowledgeable Bush administration official, "vast amounts" of Chinese-made large caliber sniper rifles, "millions of rounds" of ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and "IED [improvised explosive device] components" have been convoyed from Iran into Iraq and to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insists there is "no evidence as yet" that Tehran government officials are involved in shipping weapons to Iraq for use against U.S. forces, a judgment that seems to hinge on the view that the Revolutionary Guards are not part of the "government."

But the administration source cautioned, "these are Revolutionary Guards trucks, and although we can't see the mullahs at the wheel, you can bet this is [Tehran] government-sanctioned." In addition, in early June the Washington Times reported from Kabul that the Pentagon had evidence of new shipments of Chinese shoulder-fired HN-5 antiaircraft missiles reaching Taliban units in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. This shouldn't be surprising.

The Pentagon has known since last August that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had supplied Chinese-made C-802 anti-ship missiles with advanced anti-jamming countermeasures to Hezbollah in Lebanon. One slammed into the Israeli destroyer Hanit, killing four sailors on July 14, 2006, during the Lebanon war.

The amount of raw intelligence on these Chinese arms shipments to Iran is growing, according to the official, who has seen it. Some items show Iran has made "urgent" requests for "vast amounts" of Chinese-made sniper rifles, apparently exact copies of the Austrian-made Steyr-Mannlicher HS50 which the Vienna government approved for sale to Iran's National Iranian Police Organization in 2004 (ostensibly to help customs officers police Iran's long and sparsely populated mountainous borders). At the time, the United States and Great Britain glowered at the Austrian government and slapped a two-year sales ban on Steyr-Mannlicher.

Then in February, as if to confirm the worst suspicions, U.S. troops in Iraq uncovered caches of about 100 of the sniper weapons that looked like the Austrian rifles, the Daily Telegraph reported. U.S. officials in Baghdad told reporters that at least 170 U.S. and British soldiers had been killed by well-trained and heavily armed snipers.

On June 22, for example, an Army specialist was struck by a sniper as he climbed out of his Abrams tank during Operation Bull Run in Al Duraiya. Earlier that morning, the same sniper shot out the tank's thermal sights. He was "probably the most skilled sniper we've seen down here," the soldier's platoon leader told National Public Radio.

But were the Iraqi snipers indeed using Austrian-made armor-piercing .50 caliber weapons? Perhaps not. There was little official American reaction to the discovery of the sniper rifle cache in February. In March, Steyr-Mannlicher claimed that U.S. authorities had yet to ask it for help in tracing the weapons, a simple matter of checking serial numbers, or even letting Austrian technicians examine the rifles. The Americans never approached the Austrian firearms firm.

On March 29, Vienna's Wiener Zeitung quoted U.S. Central Command spokesman Scott Miller as admitting, "No Austrian weapons have been found in Iraq." Upon hearing this, Steyr-Mannlicher owner Franz Holzschuh noted that the patents on the HS .50 expired "years ago," and they were being counterfeited all over the world. A quick Google search for "sniper rifles" confirms that China South Industries' AMR-2 12.7mm anti-materiel rifle is a good replica of the HS .50. In fact, Iran's Revolutionary Guards had placed large orders for Chinese sniper rifles, among other things.

According to the administration official, U.S. intelligence picked up urgent messages from Iranian customers to Chinese arms factories pleading that the shipments were needed "quickly" and specifying that the "serial numbers are to be removed." The Chinese vendors, according to the intelligence, were only too happy to comply.

The Chinese also suggested helpfully that the shipments be made directly from China to Iran by cargo aircraft "to minimize the possibility that the shipments will be interdicted." According to sources who have seen the intel reports, the evidence of China-Iran arms deliveries is overwhelming. This is not a case of ambiguous intelligence. The intelligence points to Chinese government complicity in the Iranian shipments of Chinese small arms to Iraqi insurgents.

Yet top State Department and National Security Council officials prefer to believe that the relationship between Chinese government-owned and operated arms exporters and Iranian terrorists is "unofficial." Therefore, they ought not make too much out of it, lest the Chinese government be unhelpful with the North Koreans. This is the "China exception" at work; it pervades both the intelligence and national security bureaucracies.

Moreover, there is a belief in some circles in the administration and on Capitol Hill that Iran's government can be "negotiated" with and therefore the activities of Tehran's Revolutionary Guards must not be seen as reflecting Iranian government policy. Of course, it is inconceivable that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards send convoys of newly minted Chinese weapons into Iraq and Afghanistan without the clear intention of killing U.S. troops there.

And it is equally inconceivable that the Chinese People's Liberation Army facilitates these shipments from its own factories and via its own air bases without the same outcome in mind. If, however, the shipments are occurring against the wishes of Beijing — if the Chinese central government cannot control the behavior of its own army — then the situation is dire indeed: How can anyone expect Beijing to restrain shipments of even more destructive weapons (missiles, submarines, torpedoes, nuclear weapons components) to rogue states?

It is a prospect that U.S. officials simply cannot handle. After leaks of this alarming intelligence surfaced in Bill Gertz's "Inside the Ring" column in the Washington Times, top Pentagon officials began to acknowledge the troubling truth behind them.

On July 22, Agence France-Presse quoted the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Rear Admiral Mark I. Fox, as acknowledging: "There are missiles that are actually manufactured in China that we assess come through Iran" in order to arm groups fighting U.S.-led forces. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless told the Financial Times on July 7 that the United States has "become increasingly alarmed that Chinese armor-piercing ammunition has been used by the Taliban in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq."

The FT quoted one unnamed U.S. official as saying that the United States would like China to "do a better job of policing these sales," as if China actually wanted to "police" its arms exports.

Lawless, revered in the Pentagon as a steely-eyed China skeptic, evinced less agnosticism to the FT, explaining that the country of origin was less important than who was facilitating the transfer.

One might wonder why Beijing, as a matter of policy, would sell weapons to Iran for the clear purpose of killing American soldiers. "There is a great shortfall in our understanding of China's intentions," said Lawless of China's overall military policies, and "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."

Why China is "doing it" need not be a mystery. In 2004, Beijing's top America analyst, Wang Jisi, noted, "The facts have proven that it is beneficial for our international environment to have the United States militarily and diplomatically deeply sunk in the Mideast to the extent that it can hardly extricate itself."

It is sobering to consider that China's small-arms proliferation behavior since then suggests that this principle is indeed guiding Chinese foreign policy. Beijing's strategists learned much from their collaboration with Washington during the 1980s, when the two powers prosecuted a successful decade-long campaign to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

The trick is to avoid a head-to-head confrontation with your adversary while getting insurgents to keep him tied down and taking advantage of his distraction to pursue your interests elsewhere.

The cynical difference is that in the Afghan war of the 1980s, the U.S.-supported mujahedeen killed tens of thousands of Soviet troops, while in the early 21st century, Iranian (and Chinese)-supported insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq are mostly killing Afghans and Iraqis.

The "China exception" notwithstanding, the ease with which Chinese state-owned munitions industries export vast quantities of small arms to violence-prone and war-ravaged areas — from Iraq and Afghanistan to Darfur — leaves no room to doubt that the Chinese government pursues this behavior as a matter of state policy.

A regime with $1.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves cannot claim that it "needs the money" and so turns a blind eye to dangerous exports by its own military.

But until the scales fall from the eyes of Washington's diplomats and geopoliticians and they see China's cynical global strategy for what it is, few of the globe's current crises are likely to be resolved in America's — or democracy's — favor. In particular, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians will continue to be killed by Chinese weapons.

[bth: Gertz at the Washington Times is a regular unofficial official mouthpiece for Pentagon insiders that want to leak information damning to China. It doesn't hurt that the paper he writes for, the Washington Times, is owned by the Korean Moonies. Also the Telegraph is hardly better. ... Interesting that we don't hear the administration going after China on these matters.

One wonders what would happen if we suddently started seeing Chinese oil facilities in the Sudan being sabotaged by Darfur rebels with the assistance of the US.]
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Information incomplete on contractors in Iraq

Information incomplete on contractors in Iraq | - Houston Chronicle: "WASHINGTON — While acknowledging the death toll of contractors working in Iraq has crossed the milestone of 1,000, the government Wednesday provided incomplete information about the companies the victims worked for or their nationalities."

About 137,000 Defense Department contractors are on the job in Iraq, supporting 162,000 U.S. troops there, according to the latest Pentagon numbers.

And as of June 30, 1,001 civilian contractors working for U.S. firms had died there since the war's start more than four years ago, including 231 in the first six months of 2007, according to Labor Department statistics the Chronicle received Tuesday.

How many of those killed were Americans is unclear, since the Labor Department records do not provide the nationalities of the casualties.

About half of the U.S. company contractors working in the country — 69,000 — are Iraqis, said Navy Lt. j.g. Joseph Holstead, a media officer for the U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.

The contractor fatalities are in addition to the 3,672 U.S. military personnel the Defense Department as of Wednesday had confirmed dead in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003.

While military casualties are updated daily and posted on the Pentagon's Web site, civilian contractor deaths are updated only quarterly by the Labor Department.

White House officials declined to comment on the civilian casualty figures, referring calls to the Labor Department.

The department broke down 776 contractor deaths by company, leaving out almost a fourth for unspecified reasons, and did not include all companies whose employees or contractors have died in the war.

The list of such companies, for example, doesn't include Houston-based KBR, the Pentagon's largest contractor operating in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, which has acknowledged 110 fatalities in the Middle East.

Under a multibillion-dollar Army contract, KBR's more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors in the Middle East build bases, serve meals, deliver mail and provide other services for U.S. troops.

"Obviously, all of our employees that work in the region perform their work under harsh and dangerous conditions," KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne said this week. "We continue to grieve with the families of those we have lost and remain committed to the safety and security of all our employees and subcontractors in the region."

The civilian contractor figures are compiled by the Labor Department's Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation, which tracks workers' compensation claims by injured workers or families of contractors who died.

Because the list only includes fatalities reported to the Labor Department, it doesn't necessarily include all deaths, department official Miranda Chiu noted in a letter to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who has pressed the administration to provide information about civilian contractor casualties.

[bth: without a draft there is no way we will fight a war without an army of private contractors in support.]

Air Power is Peace Power

Kent's Imperative: Let’s go fly a kite…

Kent's Imperative: Let’s go fly a kite…: "As the summer is full upon us, and we occasionally find our counterparts escaping the vault to the beaches and parks (at least in the nicer geographies of community assignments), we would reflect on a fine old intelligence tradition, the use of the humble kite for intelligence and reconnaissance applications. Unlike its more well known cousins in the balloon corps, the kite’s role is usually given short shrift in most intelligence histories."

From the humble hobbyist origins (like much of the intelligence field), the kite would become an occasional player in the early acquisition of military photographic intelligence (as it was called in the day).

Frankly, the kites were probably no more or less effective than the other contemporaneous imagery collection platforms: balloons, pigeons, and compressed air or gunpowder rockets. The kite photography apparatus also provided one of the earliest examples of the use of imagery intelligence to support civil disaster response in wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Later efforts evolved in which the kite would be used as a type of manned reconnaissance platform, the Bachstelze (in English, "Water Wagtail") –towed by a submarine, no less – certainly testing the mettle of those assigned to such a unique watchstanding position.Kite photography has returned to its civilian origins, once again a hobbyists activity.

However, it is intriguing to speculate on what the history of UAV platforms might have been, had the early kite systems not been abandoned in favour of other systems, but continued to progress during the long years of WWII and the Cold War. Such thoughts are a pleasant diversion for idle summer afternoons.
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Kent's Imperative: Cultural intelligence and the underground economies of the dead

Kent's Imperative: Cultural intelligence and the underground economies of the dead: "....The Chinese practice also recalls the Shi’ite tradition of seeking burial near the tomb of Ali in Najaf, Iraq - where it is believed that the rigours of death will be eased and their entrance to Paradise made faster.

Since the medieval age, it has been common for bodies to be sent from around the Shia Islamic world for internment in what has become one of the largest necropolises in human history. This difficult terrain embodied entirely new operational challenges for urban combat during the 2004 actions against the Jaish al Madhi of Moqtada al-Sadr.

The practice also spawned an entire industry of professional mourners, supported by unique memorial foundations and other funding structures that developed under the atypical constraints of Islamic financial restrictions – structures which to this day represent serious challenges to the financial intelligence community seeking to track and interdict terrorist funding sources.Under the British Mandate, a Western power previously had cause to reflect upon these Shia burial practices as an intelligence challenge.

The transport of corpses from abroad was restricted on the basis of sanitary considerations, with regulations prohibiting the transport of “wet” remains, and requiring that all bodies have been temporarily interred for at least one year before being permitted passage through the border as “dry” remains (with less likelihood of creating certain classes of disease in the wake of their passage).

However, the psychological impact of this regulation, particularly on the devout near the seminary city of Qom in Iran, was far more serious than the British would have ever contemplated.

A brisk smuggling trade thus emerged, in which the recently dead of the particularly religious would be moved across the border with false documentation, bribery, and a variety of other means of concealment. These smuggling routes exist to this day, some of them no doubt now being used to transport Iranian manufactured EFP IEDs to cells in Iraq.

We can think of few better examples of the kinds of cultural intelligence challenges that will increasingly come to define the hardest issues faced by the community in assessing the developing world, especially when those are mission critical issues encountered in the context of ongoing stability and support operations.

It is exceedingly difficult to inculcate the flexible mindsets and analytical tradecraft practices that will be required to meet these challenges in the future, and this is perhaps one of most significant areas in which the intelligence studies academia could offer substantial contributions to the community. But thus far, cultural intelligence and related transnational issues (especially in the information operations realm) have been regrettably too long ignored…

John Barnes Memorial - Congressional Medal of Honor

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Swedish Meatballs Confidential: The "Fragging Story" Deke

Swedish Meatballs Confidential: The "Fragging Story" Deke: "In the second part of Stan Goff's three-part series on the death of Pat Tillman, he refutes the July 27, 2007 Associated Press report that alleged that Tillman may have been intentionally murdered, and hints that the new 'fragging' narrative was concocted to divert attention from the August 1 congressional hearing into the actual controversy -- the conveniently misreported details of the fratricide incident:"

Let me say for the record, again, that I do not believe that Pat Tillman was targeted for assassination.A second lieutenant and an infantry sergeant are not tasked with anything as politically sensitive as assassination. I am speaking as an alumnus of Delta Force, one of the few organizations that actually might be entrusted with this kind of operation (and then only very rarely). It doesn’t matter what you see in the movies.

The decisions that placed Pat Tillman at exactly the place and exactly the time of his death were made ad hoc, on the spot, at a series of junctures that could not have been controlled, including a vehicle that unexpectedly broke down, one key decision made by an Afghan jinga truck driver and Pat’s own decision (following two on-the-spot decisions by members of his platoon in direct response to a completely unexpected situation) to move forward into the position where he was shot.

The mystique of Special Operations (including the Rangers, who are the Special Operations’ shock infantry component) is useful as a deterrent, but it is not reflective of a reality. The Pentagon and others want you and the rest of the world to believe this mystique, because your fear and the fear of the rest of the world is what maintains the efficacy of a huge bluff.

This government wants us to spin out as many scary fantasies as possible, because it serves the dual purpose of either portraying opponents of the military as “conspiracy nuts” or promoting precisely the myth of spooky invincibility that keeps us in line.I came straight from the bowels of this system, and I have written three books exposing the worst aspects of the military.

If they haven’t yet cut my brake lines or shot me when I’m out fishing, then they didn’t kill Pat Tillman because he criticized the war in Iraq and read a book by Noam Chomsky...There is nothing the Pentagon would rather do with this case, aside from making it evaporate, than turn it into a debate about whether Pat was assassinated or not. He wasn’t, and so they can not only poke fun at any of us who propose that hypothesis, they can relax as we all bark up the wrong tree.

What they do not want is a rigorous examination of the motives, decisions, and events that might lead a larger public to see how they have been spinning prevarications to call an imperial Oil War democracy-building. ...And now, at last, I will briefly describe the cover-up.

Pat Tillman was the most well-known enlisted man in the entire military. When he enlisted, Pat received a personal letter from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thanking Pat for his enlistment. So Pat was on Rumsfeld's radar immediately. The fog of fame began then as the spin on Pat's enlistment was that he took a break from a lucrative football career because of 9-11.

That's not how it was. Pat saw young men being marched off to war; and he didn't want to use his talent as an exemption. It's different.The day Pat was killed outside Manah, officialdom developed a multiple personality disorder. On the one hand, there was bureaucrat's panic, because it was known almost at once that this was a case of "fratricide." On the other hand, the scriptwriters smelled a story with Pat's corpse propped up like a Greek statue that would draw all eyes away from the debacle of Fallujah-Najaf and the wanton racist cruelty of Abu Ghraib.

So there was the bureaucrat's instinct to hide the facts in a period of waning legitimation; and there was the flack's instinct to tell a lie. Hiding a thing and lying about it are two different things, and they can be contradictory. That's how both the hiding and the lying began to unravel.

At the highest levels, there was a decision to be made about how far one could get away with the lie in the short term, and hide their own complicity in case the lie was exposed in the long term.

On April 29, Major General Stanley McChrystal -- commander of the task force that the Rangers served in Afghanistan, and head of the most secretive joint-service force in the US military -- sent a memo to John Abizaid, telling him to warn everyone all the way to Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush, an investigation "will find that it is highly possible Cpl. Tillman was killed by friendly fire... I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public.

"No reference to telling the truth... "which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public."

According to an unnamed source, Abizaid misled Congress on August 1, 2007, when he stated that this memo -- from the General in theater who directed the most politically-sensitive and secret operations in the military, which include units like Delta Force (now operating under a new name) -- did not "reach him" for "10 to 20 days."

This memo, it must be assumed, was a living organism that had to exercise its own initiative to "reach" its intended recipient.

Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire --instead of the enemy fire described in a fraudulent Silver Star citation drafted by officers who knew how Pat was killed -- was explosive news.

Yet on August 1, 2007, Rumsfeld, his former-Joint Chiefs Chair Myers, and the ex-CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid -- not one of them -- could remember when, where, or how they learned of this explosive news.We’re talking about a man at the top whose middle name was "Micromanager".

MoD gags military as soldiers banned from blogging

MoD gags military as soldiers banned from blogging News This is London: "The Ministry of Defence has introduced new guidelines to prevent military personnel talking about their experiences as members of the Armed Forces."

Soldiers, sailors and air force members will be prevented from blogging, taking part in surveys, speaking in public or posting on bulletin boards, according to The Guardian.

They will also be barred from playing multi-player computer games and sending text messages, photographs and audio or video material without permission if they relate to defence matters.

The guidelines say "all such communication must help to maintain and, where possible, enhance the reputation of defence", the paper reported.

They come after the row earlier this year about two members of the Royal Navy selling their stories to the media after being held captive in Iran.

Receiving money for interviews, conferences and books which draw on official defence experience has now been banned.

The rules apparently also apply to Territorial Army members and cadets when they are on duty, as well as to civil servants working for the MoD.

Simon McDowell, the MoD's director general of media communications, told the Guardian: "We are trying to give straightforward, clear guidance that is up to date.

"The existing regulations were confusing and didn't include things like accepting payment. It applies to communicating about defence matters, not personal things. Particular things can impact on operational security; information which somebody can get a hold of."

But they have provoked condemnation from service personnel, some of whom immediately turned to online forums to talk about their incredulity and confusion about the clampdown.

One, named ViroBono, quoted the title of the MoD's update on "rules on communicating with the public and the media" before writing: "Surely 'NOT communicating', since this is the clear intent.

"Clearly they have realised that the veracity of everything Ministers say, and MoD's own media people put out, is doubted, and have decided that rather than cleaning up their own act, they'll try to shift the responsibility."

A spokeswoman for the MoD said that the rules were not new, but had just been updated to include details about receiving payment from the media and about the internet.

She said: "These are not new rules. These or similar have been around for at least a decade. They have
been updated to reflect the findings of the Hall report (payment and authorisation of media contacts) and changes in communications technology (eg: the growth of the web).

"Most public and private organisations of any size - in the UK and elsewhere - have rules on the authorisation processes to be followed before people speak publicly or to the media.

"They are not unique to MoD. We want our people to speak about what they do, but they must be properly authorised."

[bth: I don't see anything good coming from this. Just because two idiots sold their story regarding their shameful abduction in Iran doesn't mean this blanket policy is a good idea. It further isolates soldiers from the community they serve and needlessly stifles many needed discussions. ... As a note, in WWI the Brits banned under penalty of death the use of Brownie cameras by troops at the front on the pretext that it might hurt morale at the home front and recruitment. They were probably right on that point, but was Britain better off? Hiding unpleasant truths are generally bad ideas in democracies.]
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Pajhwok Afghan News - Taliban stick to their guns at rare news conference

Pajhwok Afghan News: "GHAZNI CITY, Aug 11 (Pajhwok Afghan News): At their first news conference over the last five years, Taliban Saturday ruled out any deal with Korean authorities or the Afghan government unless their prisoners were released. "

A two-member delegation, sent by the insurgents to a first hold face-to-face meeting with the Korean authorities in Ghazni City, made the announcement during their rare media appearance after the ouster of their government in late 2001.

Speaking at the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), Taliban representative Mullah Bashir said they were not going to free the hostages as long as their demand was not accepted by the government.

"As a first step towards the amicable resolution to the kidnap crisis, we want the release of eight prisoners held by the Afghan government," said Mullah Bashir, who ruled out any deal without the detainees being set free.

He made clear they would release eight hostages in exchange for as many Taliban detainees, while the rest of the kidnappees would be swapped for 16 men other imprisoned guerrillas.

He reiterated they would neither water down their demand nor strike a deal with the government or the Korean side without the release of their men. The government had earlier agreed to release 24 Taliban prisoners, Bashir recalled.

Another rebel representative, Mullah Nasrullah voiced satisfaction over negotiations held with their Korean interlocutors. "I hope the talks would yield some result in a day or two," he observed without giving details of the meeting.

Provincial government officials were not immediately available for comments on the Taliban news conference at the ARCS office, where the Korean ambassador and other officials were also present.

The 23 Koreans, two of them already killed, were seized in Lewanay Bazaar in Qarabagh district while coming from the southern Kandahar province to Kabul. Many of the women captives are said to be in ill health.

Sher Ahmad Haidar

[bth: so this news comes from a non-American source. The Taliban is actually able to hold news conferences in Afghanistan to discuss their kidnapping and negotiations. Are we winning this war on terror? Shouldn't these guys be hiding in caves in Pakistan?]

Church Cancels Memorial for Gay Navy Vet - The Huffington Post

Church Cancels Memorial for Gay Navy Vet - The Huffington Post: "ARLINGTON, Texas — A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay."

Officials at the nondenominational High Point Church knew that Cecil Howard Sinclair was gay when they offered to host his service, said his sister, Kathleen Wright. But after his obituary listed his life partner as one of his survivors, she said, it was called off.

"It's a slap in the face. It's like, 'Oh, we're sorry he died, but he's gay so we can't help you,'" she said Friday.

Wright said High Point offered to hold the service for Sinclair because their brother is a janitor there. Sinclair, who served in the first Gulf War, died Monday at age 46 from an infection after surgery to prepare him for a heart transplant....

[bth: ... and what would Jesus do?]
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Marine Released Early From Brig

Marine Released Early From Brig - The Huffington Post: "CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine who was sentenced to eight years in military prison in the case of a slain Iraqi civilian was released Friday."

Pvt. Robert B. Pennington was sentenced in February in a plea deal that included a reduction in rank from lance corporal and a dishonorable discharge. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy; murder and other charges were dismissed.

The Iraqi civilian was pulled from his Hamdania home and shot in April 2006. An AK-47 and shovel were placed nearby to make him look like an insurgent planting a bomb, according to the prosecution.

All eight members of the squad were initially charged with murder and kidnapping. Five cut deals with prosecutors in exchange for testimony and received sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who is overseeing the case, has reduced the sentences of Pennington and others to ensure fair treatment, the Marines said. He has considered the defendants' ages, military experience, rank and involvement in the death.

Mattis decided to release Pennington, of Mukilteo, Wash., from Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar after meeting with him Friday, the Marines said.

An attorney for Pennington did not return a message seeking comment.

Only one of the eight defendants remains in prison: Pvt. Lawrence Hutchins III, who was the only one convicted of murder. He was sentenced last week to 15 years.

[bth: how does this look to the world, to the American people and to the Iraqis? Do they see justice here?]

Army Reprimands in Tillman Case Mild

Army Reprimands in Tillman Case Mild - The Huffington Post: "SAN FRANCISCO — Official reprimands issued to three high-ranking Army officers are only mildly critical of their mistakes after the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman and at times praise the officers."

The Army also said it would not include the reprimands in the officers' military records, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Tillman's direct superiors knew within hours of his April 2004 death in Afghanistan that the former football star had been killed by fellow Army Rangers, but the truth was kept from the public and Tillman's family for five weeks _ in direct violation of Army regulations.

"You should not consider this as an adverse action," letters to the officers say. "This document will not be filed in any system of records maintained by the Army."

Tillman's death attracted widespread attention because he had turned down an NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Subsequent investigations into his death and congressional hearings raised questions both about the circumstances of his death and the immediate follow-up.

Last week, the Army announced that seven officers would be disciplined for critical errors related to the incident. The military laid most of the blame on Philip Kensinger, a retired three-star general who led Army special operations forces after Sept. 11.

Kensinger was censured for "a failure of leadership" and accused of lying to investigators. A stinging disciplinary letter recommending his demotion was released by the Army last week.

But according to three more "memorandums of concern" obtained by the AP, Kensinger was the only one to receive such harsh criticism.

Retired Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, who led one of the early investigations, was criticized by Army Commanding Gen. William Wallace for accepting Kensinger "at his word" and for incorrectly characterizing Tillman's actions in describing why he should be awarded a Silver Star.

The letter from Wallace includes broad compliments, telling Jones he approached his investigation with "due vigor, diligence and professionalism." Wallace writes that misleading Army leaders, members of Congress and the Tillman family was "a fundamental mistake" with "significant consequences," but he says he understands it was "unintentional."

Brig. Gen. Gina Farrisee, director of military personnel management at the Pentagon, was criticized for failing to respond to "red flags" raised by medical examiners who doubted Tillman's mortal head wounds were caused by enemy fire.

"Had you acted differently once the medical examiners raised the red flags, many of the Tillman family's valid complaints that ensued could have been avoided," Wallace wrote.

He continued: "I know that all of this is much clearer with the benefit of hindsight. I suspect that, upon reflection, you wished you had done more to act on the medical examiners' concerns."

Brig. Gen. James Nixon, Tillman's former regimental commander, is cited for his "well-intentioned but fundamentally wrong" decision to keep information about Tillman's death limited to just his staff.

"I am mindful that you never intended to deprive the Tillman family of the truth and only intended to delay notification until you had the facts," Wallace wrote.

Nixon is now a brigadier general and director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

Pentagon investigators recommended in March that Army officials consider disciplinary action against nine officers for their roles in the case. Possible steps by the Army could have included demotions, dishonorable discharges, jail, courts-martial or letters of reprimand.

Asked why the memorandums are not going to be included in the officers' military records, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Friday: "That was the determination by the courts-martial convening authority in this matter."

Some of the details that emerged after Tillman's death included that he was close enough to see the men shooting at him when he was killed; his uniform was burned after his death; medical examiners' suspicions about the bullet holes in his head were ignored; and comrades were also ordered not to discuss his death.

Also, just one day after approving a medal citation claiming Tillman had been cut down by "devastating enemy fire" in Afghanistan, a high-ranking general tried to warn President Bush that the story might not be true.

Messages seeking comment were left with the Tillman family.

The Army has not released a memorandum of concern issued to Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, Tillman's battalion commander, for his handling of the punishment against the Rangers involved in the shooting of Tillman.

Nor has the Army released names or disciplinary letters received by two other unnamed officers.

[bth: you read this and conclude that the Army code of honor within the officer corp is all but nonexistent anymore. There is no accountability here. There is nothing that was done here to fairly treat the Tillman family. There is nothing done to reaffirm duty, honor or country to junior officers who look to see how their senior officers act and are judged. There is no honor here. .... ]

Pat Tillman Portrait at the Faces of the Fallen - Arlington Cemetery

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Friday, August 10, 2007

'We must retake Basra'

The Sun Online - News: 'We must retake Basra': "A FORMER military commander said today British forces in Basra face a stark choice to curb the rising death toll - either retake the city or abandon it. "

Colonel Bob Stewart, who led British forces in Bosnia, said casualties were mounting because the Army was not able to “dominate the ground”, which was allowing insurgents to operate in the area.

He said: “Either we retake control of that ground so that people can’t, for example, rocket the Basra base or put an improvised explosive device at very short notice on to a route that one of our strike forces is going down, or we abandon it.

“The choice is either retake it and dominate the ground or accept that we can’t.”

The retired officer added: “Perhaps we have been a bit too hasty in handing Basra back to the Iraqi army.”

Col Stewart said UK forces in Iraq were in a “pretty invidious position”.

He said: “If we re-dominate the ground, we are then in a position to stop the attacks happening, but then we delay our departure.

“If we don’t re-dominate the ground, we have to accept casualties.

“That’s pretty Catch-22 to me.”

Earlier this week, US officials suggested the British had effectively lost control of southern Iraq.

But US military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox dismissed the claim and told Today: “That is a totally inconsistent characterisation with how we view our coalition partners, the Brits.

“They are professional, they are competent, they are very capable.”

[bth: my guess is that the Brits are pulling out such either/or choices so they can pull out of Basra and increase forces correspondingly in Afghanistan. They will sugar coat things by telling the Americans they don't need US special forces who drop big bombs on civilian in the British section of Afghanistan. They'll make it look like this is all a big shared effort. In the meantime, either Basra is thrown into chaos or the American step in. There is some chance the Iraqis will do it themselves since its where the money is, but one never knows for sure.]

Bush May Try to Cut Corporate Tax Rates -

Bush May Try to Cut Corporate Tax Rates - "President Bush said yesterday that he is considering a fresh plan to cut tax rates for U.S. corporations to make them more competitive around the world, an initiative that could further inflame a battle with the Democratic Congress over spending and taxes and help define the remainder of his tenure.

Advisers presented Bush with a series of ideas to restructure corporate taxes, possibly eliminating narrowly targeted breaks to pay for a broader, across-the-board rate cut. In an interview with a small group of journalists afterward, Bush said he was 'inclined' to send a corporate tax package to Congress, although he expressed uncertainty about its political viability."...

[bth: recognize this framing and posturing for the political stunt that it is. He is simply positioning the Republicans as pro business and the Democrats and tax and spenders. This is all August recess gaming and has nothing to do with reality.]

"No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA" (MountainRunner)

"No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA" (MountainRunner): "General Barry R. McCaffrey's testimony before the the House Armed Services Committee is an excellent summary of the problems were facing today and the real hit America's national security is taking. It speaks for itself and it should be read. "

From a summary he released as his testimony is not yet available from the Committee (h/t Kat):

...the purpose of my testimony is not to talk about the ongoing tactical operations in CENTCOM -- but instead the disastrous state of America's ground combat forces. Congress has been missing-in-action during the past several years while undebated and misguided strategies were implemented by former Secretary Rumsfeld and his team of arrogant and inexperienced civilian associates in the Pentagon. The JCS failed to protect the Armed Forces from bad judgment and illegal orders. They have gotten us in a terrible strategic position of vulnerability. The Army is starting to crack under the strain of lack of resources, lack of political support and leadership from both the Administration and this Congress, and isolation from the American people who have now walked away from the war.

No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA. There is only rhetoric and posturing from the rest of our government and the national legislature. Where is the shared sacrifice of 300 million Americans in the wealthiest nation in history? Where is the tax supplement to pay for a $12 billion a month war? Where are the political leaders calling publicly for America's parents and teachers to send their sons and daughters to fight "the long war on terror?"

Where is the political energy to increase the size of our Marine Corps and US Army? Where is the willingness of Congress to implement a modern "lend-lease program" to give our Afghan and Iraqi allies the tools of war they need to protect their own people? Where is the mobilization of America's massive industrial capacity to fix the disastrous state of our ground combat military equipment?

Recent and related post (among many on MountainRunner): If the surge is working, why are we still losing?

More from McCaffrey:


-- The combat overload on the Army is having a negative effect on readiness. First time active-duty soldiers will spend more time at war than at home.

-- We are encountering a negative effect on the retention of mid- and senior-grade noncommissioned officers. We also are already seeing the impact on the retention of company-grade officers.

-- All "fully combat ready" active-duty and reserve combat units are now deployed or deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. No fully-trained national strategic reserve brigades are now prepared to deploy to new combat operations.

-- Secretary Gates has publicly stated that the 15 month extension recognizes that "our forces are stretched...there's no question about that."

-- We have used a back-door draft to keep 70,000 soldiers in the Army with the "stop loss program" beyond their voluntary commitment. We have jerked 20,000 sailors and airmen into ground combat roles and taken them away from their required air and sea power duties. We have recalled as many as 15,000 IRR (individual readiness reserve) -- in many cases these people had no current, relevant military skills. They were simply needed as bodies.

-- We have called up all of our National Guard enhanced readiness combat brigades at least once for 18 months of combat requirements. The reserve components have been forced to act as an alternate full-time combat extension of our active units with protracted deployments. This is not what they enlisted for -- nor is it a sensible use of the national reserve components.


-- The mathematics of our extended deployments suggest that we will be forced to call up as many as nine National Guard combat brigades plus required support forces in the coming 12 months for involuntary second combat tours -- if we are to re-set the force and create a strategic reserve. (Note that DOD Assistant Secretary Chu states that this is "no big deal.")

-- The second round of involuntary call-ups may begin to topple the weakened National Guard structure which is so critical to US domestic security.

-- 88% of non-deployed Army National Guard units are rated as not ready or poorly equipped. The readiness of our National Guard forces is at a historic low.

-- However, the Washington Post has reported that the Pentagon is still planning to rely on these unready forces to meet surge requirements.

-- The Army Guard/Reserve is anticipated to grow to 20-30 percent of deployed combat forces.

-- We are now seeing a high loss rate in both active and reserve components of senior NCOs, West Point graduates, and many other highly- qualified battle leaders.


-- The Army is lowering standards to meet enlistment goals and initial entry training standards in order to make manpower requirements. Recruitment will continue to be challenging as the Army tries to power up to add 65,000 permanent troops.

-- In 2006, there was almost a 50% increase in waivers of enlistment standards from 2004 -- waivers for moral turpitude, drug use, medical issues and criminal records.

-- Recruitment from least-skilled category recruits have climbed eight- fold over past 2 years; the percentage of recruits who are high school graduates dropped 13% from '04 to '06.

-- We are increasing the age of first-time enlistees -- we are now enlisting 42 year old soldiers. We should only want soldiers in superb health -- from age 18 to about 30 years old. The Army is not push-button warfare -- this is brutal, hard business.

-- The Promotion rates for officers and NCOs have skyrocketed to replace departing leaders. We are short thousands of officers. We have serious mismatch problems for NCOs.

-- We have been forced to use US and foreign contractors to substitute for required military functions. (128,000 contractors in Iraq -- includes more than 2000 armed contractor personnel.) Thousands of these brave and dedicated people have been killed or wounded. They perform most of our logistics functions in the combat zone. (Transportation, maintenance, fuel, long-haul communications, food service, contractor operation of computer based command and control, etc.) Under conditions of great danger such as open warfare caused by Iranian or Syrian intervention -- they will discontinue operations. Our logistics system is a house of cards.

[bth: McCaffrey could and should have said all of these things a year or two ago. He's not a stupid man, after all he's the guy that led us to victory in the war on drugs a decade or so ago. The thing that is consistent about McCaffrey is that he has the uncanny ability to say things that get him on TV. That is the universal consistency. If you follow his comments you always find him speaking for the power structures in place. Now he must think its the congress, the democrats like Murtha that have been stating these obvious points for almost 2 years. When Rumsfeld was paying the freight and hiring 'consultants' to go to Iraq, McCaffrey would much kinder to Rumsfeld. Note how McCaffrey delineates between the officer corp and the civilians at the pentagon. McCaffrey is not a dumb man and no doubt he will be on Fox News telling us all about it. What he lacks is the moral courage to go against the crowd. As I said, he could have made all of these comments one or two years ago, but he didn't.]

Gunmen blow up bridge north of Tikrit

Aswat Aliraq: "Tikrit, Aug 9, (VOI) - Unknown gunmen blew up a bridge linking Salah al-Din and Kirkuk provinces on Thursday morning, a police source said."

"Unknown gunmen planted and blew up large amounts of explosives under the Pitrokimiwiat concrete bridge near Makhoul mount, 50 km north of Tikrit, bringing down a large part of the bridge," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The source added, "the 35 km-long bridge linked Salah al-Din province with Kirkuk."

It was built over the Lower Zab River, a tributary of the Tigris.

Tikrit, capital city of Salah al-Din, is 175 km north of Baghdad.

[bth: so the partition of Iraq continues and our logistical difficulties increase.]

Deported Canadian Was No Threat, Report Shows

Deported Canadian Was No Threat, Report Shows - New York Times: "OTTAWA, Aug. 9 — Canadian intelligence officials anticipated that the United States would ship Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was detained in New York in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism, to a third country to be tortured, declassified information released on Thursday shows."

Mr. Arar was sent by American intelligence officials in October 2002 to Syria, where he was tortured and jailed for a almost a year. Last September, an extensive Canadian inquiry concluded that the terrorism accusations against him were groundless.

Portions of the inquiry’s report were originally removed for security and diplomatic reasons. But a court ruled last month that much of the editing was not justified.

The newly released sections indicate that neither the Syrian government nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation were convinced that Mr. Arar was a significant security threat. They also suggest that the investigation of Mr. Arar was prompted by the coerced confession of Ahmad Abou el-Maati, a Kuwaiti-born Canadian who was also imprisoned and tortured in Syria. And despite claims by the United States government that Mr. Arar’s removal to Syria was mainly an immigration matter, the new material suggests that the Central Intelligence Agency led the action. ...

[bth: so we sent an innocent canadian to syria to be tortured on our behalf? ... You know for all this torture and disgusting activity we got virtually no useful information - if useful means getting OBL and friends. We destroyed our rightful position among nations as a champion of human rights. We have lost allies and prestige... For what?]

Cheney urging strikes on Iran

McClatchy Washington Bureau 08/09/2007 Cheney urging strikes on Iran: "WASHINGTON — President Bush charged Thursday that Iran continues to arm and train insurgents who are killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and he threatened action if that continues."...

For now, however, the president appears to have settled on a policy of stepped-up military operations in Iraq aimed at the suspected Iranian networks there, combined with direct American-Iranian talks in Baghdad to try to persuade Tehran to halt its alleged meddling.

The U.S. military launched one such raid Wednesday in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite Sadr City district.

But so far that course has failed to halt what American military officials say is a flow of sophisticated roadside bombs, known as explosively formed penetrators, into Iraq. Last month they accounted for a third of the combat deaths among U.S.-led forces, according to the military.

Cheney, who's long been skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, argued for military action if hard new evidence emerges of Iran's complicity in supporting anti-American forces in Iraq; for example, catching a truckload of fighters or weapons crossing into Iraq from Iran, one official said.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about internal government deliberations.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opposes this idea, the officials said. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated publicly that "we think we can handle this inside the borders of Iraq."

Lea Anne McBride, a Cheney spokeswoman, said only that "the vice president is right where the president is" on Iran policy.

Bush left no doubt at his news conference that he intended to get tough with Iran.

"One of the main reasons that I asked Ambassador Crocker to meet with Iranians inside Iraq was to send the message that there will be consequences for . . . people transporting, delivering EFPs, highly sophisticated IEDs (improvised explosive devices), that kill Americans in Iraq," he said.
He also appeared to call on the Iranian people to change their government.

"My message to the Iranian people is, you can do better than this current government," he said. "You don't have to be isolated. You don't have to be in a position where you can't realize your full economic potential."

The Bush administration has launched what appears to be a coordinated campaign to pin more of Iraq's security troubles on Iran.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq, said Shiite militiamen had launched 73 percent of the attacks that had killed or wounded American troops in July. U.S. officials think that majority Shiite Iran is providing militiamen with EFPs, which pierce armored vehicles and explode once inside.

Last month, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a multinational force spokesman, said members of the Quds force had helped plan a January attack in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, which lead to the deaths of five American soldiers. Bergner said the military had evidence that some of the attackers had trained at Quds camps near Tehran.

Bush's efforts to pressure Iran are complicated by the fact that the leaders of U.S.-supported governments in Iraq and Afghanistan have a more nuanced view of their neighbor.

Maliki is on a three-day visit to Tehran, during which he was photographed Wednesday hand in hand with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Unconfirmed media reports said Maliki had told Iranian officials they'd played a constructive role in the region.

Asked about that, Bush said he hadn't been briefed on the meeting. "Now if the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don't believe they are constructive. I don't think he in his heart of hearts thinks they're constructive either," he said.

Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai differed on Iran's role when they met last weekend, with Karzai saying in a TV interview that Iran was "a helper" and Bush challenging that view.

The toughening U.S. position on Iran puts Karzai and Iraqi leaders such as Maliki in a difficult spot between Iran, their longtime ally, and the United States, which is spending lives and treasure to secure their newly formed government.

A senior Iraqi official in Baghdad said the Iraqi government received regular intelligence briefings from the United States about suspected Iranian activities. He refused to discuss details, but said the American position worried him.

The United States is "becoming more focused on Iranian influence inside Iraq," said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss private talks with the Americans. "And we don't want Iraq to become a zone of conflict between Iran and the U.S."...

[bth: the missing ingredient in the Cheney-AEI driven media campaign to talk the US into a war with Iran is the total lack of trust the American people have in this administration. ]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Security Contractors: Riding Shotgun With Our Shadow Army In Iraq

Security Contractors: Riding Shotgun With Our Shadow Army In Iraq: "'
There are more than 125,000 U.S.-funded contractors in Iraq, doing everything from maintaining supply lines to building hospitals to performing clerical work to guarding U.S. officials; this equates to about two-thirds the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, and does not include all subcontractors. Some contractors have only a few employees in country, while the largest—kbr, which is being spun off from Halliburton—has 50,000 workers there. The surge reflects the administration's privatization philosophy, former Halliburton ceo Dick Cheney's influence—and just how thinly stretched the military now is in Iraq. All those nonmilitary personnel need guarding, and as of November, at least 177 private security companies employed 48,000 people in Iraq. The State Department reports that security costs account for 16 to 22 percent of reconstruction projects—a considerable part of the overruns plaguing such contracts; so far $4 billion in U.S. tax dollars has been spent on private security contractors. Despite these efforts, more than 800 contractors of all nationalities have been killed and 3,300 injured; 119 American contractors (95 of them kbr employees) have been awarded the Defense of Freedom medal, described as "the civilian equivalent of the military's Purple Heart."

....We're never going to war without the private security industry again in a non-draft environment,' says former Marine colonel Jack Holly. As director of logistics of the embassy's Project and Contracting Office, Holly, who's an Army Corps of Engineers civilian employee, monitors all the private supply convoys bringing goods and equipment to Iraqi ministries. He tracks about 15 convoys a day. In 2003, 1 in 11 were attacked. Now 1 in 4 are, he says. In all, he's lost 129 men to insurgents."....

Mahaney brought 22 years of policing experience with him, preceded by military service. He's studying Spanish, hoping to be a part of the DynCorp mission he is sure will soon head to post-Castro Cuba. "I can't wait," he says....

The Kurds make an average of $300 to $500 a month. On average, American security contractors make between $9,000 and $12,000 a month. Wade, for example, earns $13,000 a month; his National Guard officer's pay had been $5,000 a month....

Buddha is not optimistic about the war his Army friends are fighting. "I've never seen a war of occupation that worked," he says. "This is an unconventional war being fought by a conventional army."

And like other contractors, he says the war depends on the likes of him: "Without us, they could crunch numbers and lie to the public all day, but they wouldn't be able to do it." Long after the American military withdraws, security contractors will remain: "The Iraqi government will have to come to the private security industry because the Iraqi government will face the same problems the U.S. government faces."

Since the invasion, various events have called into question the use of private security contractors: the Blackwater incident, Titan Corp.'s involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal, each new report of cost overruns or of a particularly unsavory Serbian, South African, or Chilean found to be taking extrajudicial measures. But the truth is more complicated: Because there's also the fact that we decided to invade, and to do so with an inadequate force, and to cover our asses by deploying a shadow force. One for which there will never be flag-draped coffins, or a monument on the Mall. In World War II and Vietnam, the cooks, the truck drivers, the ditch diggers, and, yes, the bodyguards, were all military personnel. Now, with little regard for the consequences, we outsource such dirty work to those who will, for whatever reason, decide the rewards are worth the risk....

[bth: this is a fascinating must read article. So 1 in 4 private convoys are now ambushed. That's something you don't read every day. Also he makes a point, the private contractors are here to stay unless we institute a draft and even if we pull out its going to be the private contractors that keep whatever government remains, in power. Very serious food for thought. We may very well end up with a mercenary army in charge of Iraq when we finally pull out. .. Is this the outline of things to come?]

British Criticize U.S. Air Attacks in Afghan Region - New York Times

British Criticize U.S. Air Attacks in Afghan Region - New York Times: "SANGIN, Afghanistan — A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people."....

[bth: this article is worth reading in full. The brits may have a point as the Afghani interviewed said, you kill me then you rebuild my house. On the other hand, the Brits haven't exactly done a bang up job in Basra which they are busy abandoning...]

Romney Speaks Up for Sons' Decisions

Romney Speaks Up for Sons' Decisions - The Huffington Post: "BETTENDORF, Iowa — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Wednesday defended his five sons' decision not to enlist in the military, saying they're showing their support for the country by 'helping me get elected.'"

Romney, who did not serve in Vietnam due to his Mormon missionary work and a high draft lottery number, was asked the question by an anti-war activist after a speech in which he called for "a surge of support" for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also saluted a uniformed soldier in the crowd and called for donations to military support organizations. Last week, he donated $25,000 to seven such organizations.

"The good news is that we have a volunteer Army and that's the way we're going to keep it," Romney told some 200 people gathered in an abbey near the Mississippi River that had been converted into a hotel. "My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard."

He added: "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."....

[bth: I'll give Romney and his wife credit, they came to our sons funeral and I personally saw him at several others. For a Republican that's pretty good. You'll never see a ranking Administration figure at one. I think asking about his sons is important at this point. Its a valid question for a commander and chief.

It has become too easy to send another man's son to war.

And by the way, knocking on a door in Iowa isn't the same as kicking one in in Fallujah. His handlers should tell him that.]

Gunmen blowup bridge in Yathrib neighborhood

Aswat Aliraq: "Salah al-Din, Aug 8, (VOI) – Unidentified gunmen blew up a major bridge in Salah al-Din's Yathrib neighborhood, which linked it to Balad district, a local police source said on Wednesday."

The gunmen detonated a truck bomb on the bridge by remote control, leading the 30-meter long bridge to collapse and causing severe damage to nearby houses," the source said in statements to the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).No further details were given by the source.The Shiite district of Balad is located 110 km north of Baghdad.

[bth: these are almost certainly defensive moves. It further Balkanizes the area neighborhood by neighborhood. It also makes US logistics more and more difficult.]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

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Bush levels dubious Iran nuclear arms charge

The Raw Story Bush levels dubious Iran nuclear arms charge: "US President George W. Bush charged Monday that Iran has openly declared that it seeks nuclear weapons -- an inaccurate accusation at a time of sharp tensions between Washington and Tehran."

"It's up to Iran to prove to the world that they're a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon," he said during a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But Iran has repeatedly said that its nuclear program, which is widely believed in the West to be cover for an effort to develop atomic weapons, is for civilian purposes.

Asked to provide examples of Tehran openly declaring that it seeks atomic weapons, White House officials contacted by AFP said that Bush was referring to Iran's defiance of international calls to freeze sensitive nuclear work.

They explained that he was referring to Tehran's uranium enrichment -- a process that can yield nuclear bomb material -- and resulting worries by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"After keeping their nuclear program secret for a decade, the Iranian government has refused the offers of the international community to provide nuclear energy and continues to flout the inspectors of the IAEA," said national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"Unfortunately, their intentions seem clear," Johndroe said.

[bth: I have little doubt Iran intends to build nukes, but it is interesting that this statement by Bush seems to be timed well with Michael Gordon's article posted below. Its like the White House and DOD scream on cue with regard to Iran.]

Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in Iraq, U.S. Says - New York Times

Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in Iraq, U.S. Says - New York Times: "By MICHAEL R. GORDON

BAGHDAD, Aug. 7 — Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military."

The devices, known as explosively formed penetrators, were used to carry out 99 attacks last month and accounted for a third of the combat deaths suffered by the American-led forces, according to American military officials

July was an all-time high,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in an interview, referring to strikes with such devices.

Such bombs, which fire a semi-molten copper slug that can penetrate the armor on a Humvee and are among the deadliest weapons used against American forces, are used almost exclusively by Shiite militants. American intelligence officials have presented evidence that the weapons come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, although Tehran has repeatedly denied providing lethal assistance to Iraqi groups.

In recent weeks, the American military has focused on mounting operations in sanctuaries used by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni group that is predominately made up of Iraqis but has foreign leadership. But, as the information provided by General Odierno shows, Shiite militias remain a major long-term worry.

In focusing on Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the American goal is to reduce the number of car bombings and spectacular suicide attacks that have aggravated sectarian tensions, encouraged Shiite retaliation and undermined efforts at political reconciliation.

While the group is seen by the American military as the most serious near-term threat, there are other signs that Shiite militias remain active. According to General Odierno, the day-to-day commander of American troops in Iraq, Shiite militants carried out 73 percent of the attacks that killed or wounded American troops in Baghdad in July.

Though explosively formed penetrators account for a small fraction of roadside bomb attacks in Iraq, they cause a disproportionately large number of casualties.

Of the 69 members of the American-led forces killed in action in July, the lowest toll in months, 23 died as a result of attacks with the devices, according to data supplied by General Odierno’s command. Of the 614 allied troops who were wounded that month, 89 were hit in penetrator attacks

Penetrator attacks have been a worry for years. In 2005, the United States sent a private diplomatic protest to Tehran complaining that its Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah had been training Iraqi Shiite insurgents in Iran and providing them with bomb-making equipment.

American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on a technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogations of Shiite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Iran’s border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.

Some critics of Bush administration policy, saying there is no proof that the top echelons of Iran’s government are involved, accuse the White House of exaggerating the role of Iran and Syria to divert attention from its own mistakes.

According to American military data, penetrator attacks accounted for 18 percent of combat deaths of Americans and allied troops in Iraq in the last quarter of 2006. The number of such attacks declined in January, and some American officials thought at that time that this might be a response to their efforts to publicly highlight the allegations of an Iranian role.

But in recent months such attacks have risen steadily.

The July figure is roughly double the number for January. The total for July is also 50 percent higher than in April, when there were 65 penetrator attacks, according to American military officials.

Many of the penetrators faced by American forces are difficult to counter. Because they fire from the side of the road, the militants do not need to dig a hole to plant them, making them well suited for urban use. Because they are set off by a passive infrared sensor, they cannot be thwarted by electronic jamming.

General Odierno said Iran was increasing its support to Shiite militants in Iraq to step up the military pressure on the United States at a time when the Congress is debating whether to withdraw American troops.

“I think it is because the Iranians are surging support to the special groups,” he said, referring to the American name for Iranian-backed cells here. “Over the last three to four months, it has picked up in terms of equipment, training and dollars.”

“I think they want to influence the decision potentially coming up in September,” he added.

General Odierno said Iranians had also provided Shiite groups with 107-millimeter rockets and the launchers for firing them, as well as 122-millimeter mortars.

American forces, he said, recently thwarted an attack at a military base used by forces from the Third Infantry Division. Fifty launchers equipped with rockets were discovered within range of the facility and struck by allied aircraft. Serial numbers taken from the rocket launchers, he said, indicated that they were made in Iran.

Iranian and American diplomats held talks in Baghdad on Monday on security in Iraq. Ryan C. Crocker, the American envoy in Iraq who led the discussions for the United States, said there had been “an escalation, not a de-escalation” of Iran’s support for militias in Iraq since an earlier May meeting.

The Iranians, Mr. Crocker added, maintained their position that they had “absolutely nothing to do with” the attacks.

[bth: Michael Gordon and Odierno keep wanting to talk up Iran. There is no new evidence regarding Iran in this article. What is news is that EFP attacks are steadily rising, doubling since January and up 50% since April. Michael Gordon in his usual Iran baiting way fails to mention the EFP factories found in at least two Shiite neighborhoods so far this year. Curious oversight no?

EFP attacks are going to continue rising and it is amazing that more aren't occurring now. My guess is that they may be being stockpiled by Hezbollah, Iranian and Shiite forces. Sadr sent men to Lebanon last year and this year and last he got technical help - EFPs.

The reason EFP attacks will continue to rise at a steady pace is simple - they WORK against MRAPs, our latest vehicles which seem to cost about $1 million per copy once they've arrived in Iraq. Our cost of vehicles as rising geometrically but the cost of destroying them has barely budged. Contrary to Gordon, EFPs are easy to make and Hezbollah actually published handbooks on it.

EFPs are about to make our current generation of EOD robots obsolete. EFPs are mounted from the sides of roads and activated often by passive infrared sensors straight out of Evergreen in Taiwan (dining room light dimmers and two stage perimeter sensors that hang over most peoples' garages and can be purchased at Home Depot (its the thing that turns the garage light on when you get out of the car).

MRAP vehicles have a side profile over a yard taller than humvees. They are tough tough tough for mines which blast from underneath and to which we left millions of them in the hands of sunni insurgents (former army officers and NCOs). But MRAPs get cut open by EFPs the same way tanks do. EFPS work well from the sides and MRAPs have big fat sides. Its not quite like hitting a barn door but close. So we put up heat blowers and things to throw off the aim of EFPS, but that is countered by clustering several together and creating a crossfire or a double tap.

The Israelis have been dealing with this stuff for years. Some years better than others. We need to be asking them for best practices and doing it quickly.

Our $24 billion MRAP program will be made obsolete by these $30 devices used in quantity.]