Saturday, October 27, 2007

Take Me Home Country Roads: John Denver

YouTube - Take Me Home Country Roads: John Denver: ""

Simon and Garfunkel "Sound of Silence" in Central Park

YouTube - Simon and Garfunkel "Sound of Silence" in Central Park: ""

Bin Laden Message Urges Holy War In Darfur, Al-Jazeera Decision To Air Only Excerpts Of Terrorist's Message Angers Militants - CBS News

Bin Laden Message Urges Holy War In Darfur, Al-Jazeera Decision To Air Only Excerpts Of Terrorist's Message Angers Militants - CBS News: "Osama Bin Laden renewed his call for a holy war against a proposed peacekeeping force in Sudan's wartorn region of Darfur in a message that appeared on Web sites Tuesday.

The audio recording was accompanied by a still picture of the al Qaeda leader, and excerpts were aired Monday by Al-Jazeera television.

Bin Laden called for foreign forces to be driven from Darfur.

"It is the duty of the people of Islam in the Sudan and its environs, especially the Arabian Peninsula, to perform jihad against the Crusader invaders and wage armed rebellion to remove those who let them in," he said, according to a transcript provided by IntelCenter, which monitors extremist Web sites.

Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawhiri, made a similar call for jihad in Darfur in a Sept. 20 video message, and bin Laden issued an audiotape in 2006 calling on his followers to go to Sudan to fight a proposed U.N. force there. ...

Tip from Concerned Iraqi Citizen leads to large EFP,

Multi-National Force - Iraq - Tip from Concerned Iraqi Citizen leads to large EFP,: "KHAN KHAN BANI SA’AD, Iraq – A concerned citizen led Coalition Forces to a large

weapons cache yesterday in a home in Sa’ada Village, Iraq.


This cache is one of the largest discoveries of explosively formed penetrators

found in at one location in Iraq. The find included more than 120 fully-assembled EFPs,

more than 150 copper disks of four different sizes used in making EFPs (including 12-

inch disks – one of the largest ever discovered in Iraq), 600-plus pounds of C4 and

other explosive materials, 100 mortar rounds of various caliber, approximately 30

107mm rockets, two mortar tubes and 20 claymore-type mines
.


“A find like this helps keep my Soldiers’ morale up because they know they’ve

made a difference. It makes them feel good that they are saving Soldiers lives through

their work,” said Capt. Jason Rosenstrauch, B Troop commander, 2nd Squadron, 1st

Cavalry Regiment.


“My first concern was for my Soldiers,” added Rosenstrauch. “I was worried that

the room was unstable because it smelled like explosives and nitric acid.”

Last week such information from Concerned Local Citizens in a village near

Muqdadiyah assisted CF to unearth a weapons cache and detain one suspected

terrorist.


Coalition Forces detained the homeowner in the raid.

Rosenstrauch said the citizens of Khan Bani Sa’ad are now working closely with

Coalition Forces to keep insurgents out of the city.


“We have a lot of peace in the city center now,” Rosenstrauch said. “We have

had [many] CLCs reporting on enemy activity. The people are turning on the insurgents

and telling us where they are.”


[bth: note that enough EFPs were seized to equal a full month of attacks on US forces. What does this mean? It probably means that assuming there are other caches and supplies, EFPs are being stockpiled for an increase in attacks. Also the 12 incher tells you that they are going for tanks because diameter determines range and penetration capabilties.]

"The darkness has become pitch black" - Osama bin Laden on Iraq situation - The Long War Journal

"The darkness has become pitch black" - Osama bin Laden on Iraq situation - The Long War Journal: "Recent report from US commanders in Iraq have stated al Qaeda in Iraq has been set back by a combination of the latest offensive and the willingness of local Iraqis to turn on the terror group. Based Osama bin Laden's latest audiotape, al Qaeda central command agrees that the fight against the US and the Iraqi government is not going well.

A clearer picture of Osama bin Laden's view on the state of jihad in Iraq emerges after the release of the full transcript of Osama bin Laden's latest audiotape, Not only does bin Laden admit errors in the Iraqi leader's ability to unite the tribes and Sunni insurgent groups, he views the situation in Iraq as dire for al Qaeda. Bin Laden accuses his foot soldier of "negligence" for failing to properly employ IEDs, laments the unwillingness of Iraqis who do not wish to attack their brothers in the police and army, and closes his statement by saying "the darkness [in Iraq] has become pitch black."

Al Qaeda, IEDs, and "negligence"

Bin Laden addresses a tactical failure of al Qaeda in Iraq's IED cells. He clearly is unhappy with their performance, and indicated the failure to employ IEDs efficiently against U.S. forces is due to "negligence." He is also concerned about the infiltration of Iraqi and American spies.

I tell my brothers: beware of your enemies, especially the hypocrites who infiltrate your ranks to stir up strife among the Mujahid groups, and refer such people to the judiciary. And you must check and verify, and avert the Hudood through doubts. You must protect your secrets and excel in your actions, for among the things which sadden the Muslims and the delight the unbelievers is the hindering of some combat operations against the enemy because of negligence in any of the stages of preparation for the operation, whether it be reconnaissance of the target, training, integrity, and suitability of weapons and ammunition, quality of the explosive device or other such arrangements. And when you lay a mine, do it right, and don't leave so much as one wounded American soldier or spy.
US and Iraqi Security Forces have specifically focused on targeting IED and suicide bomb cells over the course of the summer. In some cases, IED cells have been captured wholesale by conventional and special forces and in other cases IED emplacers have been killed in groups of five to 15 while attempting to plant their weapons by Coalition aircraft. In Anbar province, al Qaeda in Iraq has failed to kill a single US serviceman by IED since September 10. It seems bin Laden is acutely aware of this.

Osama bin Laden is often portrayed as a spiritual leader and figurehead detached from day-to-day operations, but this recent speech merely reinforces what we already know about him. An engineer by training, bin Laden is very interested in the planning and execution of attacks and operations. The 9/11 Commission Report stated bin Laden was personally involved in reviewing the operational attack plans for the embassy bombings, the Cole, and 9/11. He immerses himself in the technical details and the tactics used by his operators, and keeps apprised of the situation on the battlefields.

A split with the insurgency over attacking the Iraqi Security Forces

While bin Laden repeatedly admonishes his leaders for failing to build the relationships with Sunni tribal groups and allied insurgent groups, he continues to push attacks on Iraqi police and soldiers. This attitude has pitted some of the more nationalist Sunni groups away from al Qaeda, as they loath to attack their own countrymen, instead viewing the US and Coalition forces as the enemy.

Bin Laden tells the Iraqi people to "beware of ... those in the land of the Two Sanctuaries in particular, who forbid the Mujahideen from fighting the army and police of the traitors – like al-Alawi, al-Jafari and al-Maliki - although they know that they are tools of the American occupation helping it to kill the people of Islam which is obvious apostasy on the part of the soldiers."

The violent attacks against the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly in Anbar province during the winter and spring of 2007, were accompanied by strikes against the families and tribes which supported the establishment police and army units. Mishan al-Jabouri, a leader in the Islamic Army in Iraq and the proprietor of Al Zawraa, an insurgent TV channel, attacked al Qaeda in Iraq for intentionally targeting members of the Iraqi Army and police forces. Al-Jabouri and other Sunni insurgents believed those joining the security forces were acting in the best interest of Iraqis.

Contempt for the Saudi king

In the next paragraph, bin Laden shows his contempt for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who he describes as "the idol-king of Riyadh" and "the biggest promoter of the American-Zionist project in the region."

And worst of all is that these men of knowledge consider the idol-king of Riyadh to be guardian of the Muslims' affair, and call on the Muslims to rally around him, although they know that he is the biggest promoter of the American-Zionist project in the region, and is one of those who called on it to invade Iraq. These, "they are the enemies, so beware of them. Allah curse them, how they lie!" (63:4)
Earlier in the speech, bin Laden chastises Abdullah for backing the deployment of African peacekeepers to Darfur in Sudan. He refer to Abdullah as "the governor of Riyadh" who "again sought to convince the Sudanese president, this time to implement the demands of the United Atheist Nations to allow the entrance of Crusader forces to Darfur." Bin Laden described the Darfur peacekeeping mission as "a brazen occupation" and stated "only an infidel apostate seeks it or agrees to it."

Darkness. Where are the mujahideen?

While bin Laden clearly sees the situation in Iraq as dire -- he said "the darkness has become pitch black" -- he holds out hope that the vanguard fighters of al Qaeda can hold the line until reinforcements arrive.

In closing, I tell our people in Iraq, the patient ones garrisoned on the first line of the religion and sanctities of the Muslims: the malice has increased and the darkness has become pitch black, and with the likes of you, nations reinforce themselves and climb summits.
He calls on Muslims of the Middle East to rejoin the fight, challenging their honor and willingness to fight when they are needed.

So where are those who prefer the religion to the lives of themselves and their children? Where are the people of Tawheed and those who topple the banner of unbelief and polytheism? Where are those who find torture to be pleasant and don't fear the blows? Where are those who find difficulty to be easy and bitterness to be sweet, because they are certain that the fire of Hell is much hotter? Where are those who go out to fight the Romans, as on the day of Tabuk? Where are those who pledge to fight to the death, as on the day of Yarmuk? Where are the soldiers of the Levant and the reinforcements of Yemen? Where are the knights of the Quiver (Egypt) and the lions of the Hijaz (western Saudi Arabia) and al-Yamamah (central Saudi Arabia)? Come and aid your brothers in Mesopotamia and relieve them by coordinating with them by way of dependable guides.
An outside view

Al Qaeda, via As Sahab Media, its propaganda arm, resists the interpretation of bin Laden's speech. As Sahab attacked Al Jazeera for "counterfeiting" the facts of his speech. As Sahab posted the video online at the Ekhlaas forum, along with the following note in English: "Note: We are publishing the whole speech of Shiekh Osama Bin Laden After the tremendous amount of Counterfeiting of the facts and altering the purposes and objectives of the Speech by AL-Jazeerah Satellite channel which ignored all the pillars of honor professional media."

Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of al-Quds al-Arabi who interviewed bin Laden in 1996, disagrees. Atwan stated in a published editorial that this is the first time al Qaeda admitted errors and was seeking to rectify the situation in Iraq. He noted al Qaeda's zeal in enforcing its radical ideology on Sunni Iraqis turned the majority of Sunnis against the terror group.

"Launching diatribes against others and imposing a particular theological school of thought on everyone, has allowed al-Qaeda's enemies to gain an advantage," Atwan said. "In particular, it's helped the Americans to win the trust of certain tribal leaders. In this way, for the Iraqis the enemy has become al-Qaeda and not the occupying forces."

In Ramadi, "the city that al Qaeda leaders once declared the seat of a new Islamic caliphate and capital of the Iraqi insurgency," the Anbar Awakening held a march honoring Sheik Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the movement who was slain by al Qaeda 40 days ago. The parade lasted four two hours and Iraqi government officials were in attendance. There were no attacks on the procession.

"Al-Qaeda never wanted to see the sons of Anbar to unite and form security forces. Now I think we have broken their back by building the police and security force," said Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, the brother of Sattar who succeeded him as the leader of the Anbar Awakening. "Let them come forward and show their faces.... Let them come out, we will fight them."


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[bth: this is a very informative analysis and I apologize to Long War Journal for transporting it in full. Has Sunni extremism crested and begun to recede?]

'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life' - washingtonpost.com

'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life' - washingtonpost.com: "Oct 26 Their line of tan Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles creeps through another Baghdad afternoon. At this pace, an excruciating slowness, they strain to see everything, hoping the next manhole cover, the next rusted barrel, does not hide another bomb. A few bullets pass overhead, but they don't worry much about those.

"I hate this road," someone says over the radio.

They stop, look around. The streets of Sadiyah are deserted again. To the right, power lines slump down into the dirt. To the left, what was a soccer field is now a pasture of trash, combusting and smoking in the sun. Packs of skinny wild dogs trot past walls painted with slogans of sectarian hate.

A bomb crater blocks one lane, so they cross to the other side, where houses are blackened by fire, shops crumbled into bricks. The remains of a car bomb serve as hideous public art. Sgt. Victor Alarcon's Humvee rolls into a vast pool of knee-high brown sewage water -- the soldiers call it Lake Havasu, after the Arizona spring-break party spot -- that seeps in the doors of the vehicle and wets his boots.

"When we first got here, all the shops were open. There were women and children walking out on the street," Alarcon said this week. "The women were in Western clothing. It was our favorite street to go down because of all the hot chicks."

That was 14 long months ago, when the soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, arrived in southwestern Baghdad. It was before their partners in the Iraqi National Police became their enemies and before Shiite militiamen, aligned with the police, attempted to exterminate a neighborhood of middle-class Sunni families.

Next month, the U.S. soldiers will complete their tour in Iraq. Their experience in Sadiyah has left many of them deeply discouraged, by both the unabated hatred between rival sectarian fighters and the questionable will of the Iraqi government to work toward peaceful solutions.

Asked if the American endeavor here was worth their sacrifice -- 20 soldiers from the battalion have been killed in Baghdad -- Alarcon said no: "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

While top U.S. commanders say the statistics of violence have registered a steep drop in Baghdad and elsewhere, the soldiers' experience in Sadiyah shows that numbers alone do not describe the sense of aborted normalcy -- the fear, the disrupted lives -- that still hangs over the city.

Before the war, Sadiyah was a bustling middle-class district, popular with Sunni officers in Saddam Hussein's military. It has become strategically important because it represents a fault line between militia power bases in al-Amil to the west and the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Dora to the east. U.S. commanders say the militias have made a strong push for the neighborhood in part because it lies along the main road that Shiite pilgrims travel to the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

American soldiers estimate that since violence intensified this year, half of the families in Sadiyah have fled, leaving approximately 100,000 people. After they left, insurgents and militiamen used their abandoned homes to hold meetings and store weapons. The neighborhood deteriorated so quickly that many residents came to believe neither U.S. nor Iraqi security forces could stop it happening.

The descent of Sadiyah followed a now-familiar pattern in Baghdad. In response to suicide bombings blamed on Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Shiite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army, went from house to house killing and intimidating Sunni families. In many formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, such as al-Amil and Bayaa, Shiites have become the dominant sect, with their militias the most powerful force.

"It's just a slow, somewhat government-supported sectarian cleansing," said Maj. Eric Timmerman, the battalion's operations officer.

The focus of the battalion's efforts in Sadiyah was to develop the Iraqi security forces into an organized, fair and proficient force -- but the American soldiers soon realized this goal was unattainable. The sectarian warfare in Sadiyah was helped along by the Wolf Brigade, a predominantly Shiite unit of the Iraqi National Police that tolerated, and at times encouraged, Mahdi Army attacks against Sunnis, according to U.S. soldiers and residents. The soldiers endured repeated bombings of their convoys within view of police checkpoints. During their time here, they have arrested 70 members of the national police for collaboration in such attacks and other crimes.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the national police, has said that officials are working hard to root out militiamen from the force and denied that officers have any intention of participating in sectarian violence.

But in one instance about two months ago, the American soldiers heard that the Wolf Brigade planned to help resettle more than 100 Shiite families in abandoned houses in the neighborhood. When platoon leader Lt. Brian Bifulco arrived on the scene, he noticed that "abandoned houses to them meant houses that had Sunnis in them."

"What we later found out is they weren't really moving anyone in, it was a cover for the INP to go in and evict what Sunni families were left there," recalled Bifulco, 23, a West Point graduate from Huntsville, Ala. "We showed up, and there were a bunch of Sunni families just wandering around the streets with their bags, taking up refuge in a couple Sunni mosques in the area."

As the militiamen and insurgents battled it out, the bodies mounted up. U.S. troops said that earlier this year it was common for them to find at least half a dozen corpses scattered on the pavement during their daily patrols.

Militiamen in BMWs rode around the neighborhood with megaphones, demanding that residents evacuate. Mortar rounds launched from nearby Bayaa, a Mahdi Army stronghold, began crashing down regularly in Sadiyah. Three mosques in the neighborhood were rigged with explosives and destroyed.

The national police erected checkpoints outside other mosques and prevented Sunnis from attending services. The U.S. soldiers began facing ever more sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs known as EFPs, short for explosively formed penetrators. Some of them were linked in arrays that blasted out as many as 18 heated copper slugs.

Over time, the neighborhood became a battleground that residents fled by the thousands. Hundreds of shops shut down, schools closed, and access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and food deteriorated. "The end state was people left. They felt unsafe," said Timmerman, the operations officer.

"We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn't see it for what it was. In retrospect, I've got to think it was a coordinated effort," Timmerman said. "To this day, I don't think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are" with the militias.

Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, the battalion commander, says his soldiers are playing the role of a bouncer caught between brawling customers. Alone, they can restrain the fighters, keep them off balance, but they cannot stop the melee until the house lights come on -- that is, until the Iraqi government steps in.

"They're either going to turn the lights on or we're all going to realize they've moved the switch," he said.

I'm frustrated. After 14 months, I've got a lot of thoughts in my head. Do they fundamentally get giving up individual rights and power for the greater good?" Glaze said. "I'm going to leave here being skeptical of everything."

Over the past two months, the U.S. soldiers have recruited more than 300 local residents, most of them Sunnis, into a neighborhood defense force. This has proved more controversial in Sadiyah than elsewhere; the Iraqi government has openly accused the force's members of abusing residents and has limited their freedom of movement. In September, after Glaze led an eight-month campaign to kick out the Wolf Brigade, soldiers from the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, which has clashed with Sunni volunteers in the Abu Ghraib area, arrived in Sadiyah.

The Iraqi army's arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.

"This is a dangerous place," said Capt. Lee Showman, 28, a senior officer in the battalion. "People are killed here every day, and you don't hear about it. People are kidnapped here every day, and you don't hear about it."

On Oct. 14, Washington Post special correspondent Salih Saif Aldin was killed while on assignment in Sadiyah.

Those who patrol the neighborhood every day say the fight has left them tired, bitter, wounded and confused. Many of their scars are on display, some no one can see. Sgt. 1st Class Todd Carlsrud has a long gash on the right side of his neck and carries a lump of shrapnel lodged against his spine that his doctors would not risk cutting out. Another sergeant felt the flaming pain of a bullet tearing through his cheek and learned the taste of his own warm blood. He was one of three soldiers that day to get shot in the head -- a fourth was hit in the biceps -- when his squad walked into a house and found two gunmen waiting.

"The closer we get to leaving, the more we worry about it," said Alarcon, 27, sitting at a plastic table with several other soldiers outside their outpost in Sadiyah. "Being here, you know that any second, any time of the day, your life could be over."

"Gone in a flash," said Sgt. Matthew Marino.

"We had two mechanics working in the motor pool get hit by mortars," Alarcon said. "You would have never thought." Both died.

Many of the soldiers from the battalion are on their second tour in Iraq. Three years ago, they were based in Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein, a city they entered expecting to fight a determined Sunni insurgency. By the end of their tour, with much of the violence contained, many of them felt optimistic about progress in Iraq.

"I honestly thought we were making a difference in Tikrit. Then we come back to a hellhole," Marino said. "That was a playground compared to Baghdad."

The American people don't fully realize what's going on, said Staff Sgt. Richard McClary, 27, a section leader from Buffalo.

"They just know back there what the higher-ups here tell them. But the higher-ups don't go anywhere, and actually they only go to the safe places, places with a little bit of gunfire," he said. "They don't ever [expletive] see what we see on the ground."

Arms and influence: What exactly is the Iran strategy?

Arms and influence: What exactly is the Iran strategy?: "The Yorkshire Ranter puts the matter succinctly, with a minimum of ranting:


So, yes - Mottaki is quite right. Enough for the description of things as they are, though; what about things as they should be? Daniel Levy, writing in Ha'aretz, is sensible. He points out that the US and Israeli strategy towards Iran is hopelessly confused; the aim is left open between regime change and nonproliferation. The chief motivation for investing in nuclear technology is to prevent regime change, but no-one is willing to offer the regime security in return for nonproliferation; so why would they stop proliferatin'? And if they don't stop, where is your regime change then?

We faced a similar problem during the Cold War, on a much larger scale. We hated Soviet totalitarianism, and we were scared to death of nuclear war. Therefore, even the most bellicose Cold Warriors, such as John Foster Dulles, backed off the idea of "regime change" in Eastern Europe until the Soviet empire collapsed under the weight of its own corruption and stupidity. Better to have a sane, stable, albeit evil regime in Moscow than a bunch of frightened apparatchiks convinced that the apocalyptic confrontation between communism and capitalism was about to occur.

However, the Bush Administration isn't exactly trying to reach a detente with the mullahcracy, unless there's some very sub rosa diplomacy happening behind the scenes. So what exactly is the strategy here?

The Ranter also points out, as other national security bloggers have, that the United States hasn't deployed enough firepower to the Persian Gulf to make even a minimally credible military threat. So what's the point of the saber-rattling, exactly, if the scabbard is empty? Do top Administration officials think that the Iranian government isn't paying attention? Do they want the public confrontation to help cement the regime in place?

Arms and influence: The waste list, part I

Arms and influence: The waste list, part I: "The Department of Homeland Security’s terrorist watch list is practically useless. Now bulging at 755,000 names, 20,000 new records names are added to the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) each month. With the 1,000,000 mark close at hand, the watch list is now unreliable.

The signal-to-noise ratio is enormous, since terrorist organizations are very small. Al Qaeda in 2001 had only 200 members. Larger terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, may only have a few thousand “fighters,” many of whom are soldiers and militia, not terrorists. Just so that we don’t forget the threat of domestic terrorism, only a handful of people were responsible for the horrific Oklahoma City bombing, the most lethal act of terrorism in the United States before the 9/11 attacks. Tragically, for every new Mohammed Atta on the list, there are hundreds of people who should not be included at all, and only confuse efforts to deal with any real terrorist threats....


Tragically, the list has also omitted people who should have been on it. During the tedious review of just 2,686 records, workers from the FBI’s new Terrorist Screening Center found eight people who should have been flagged as high risk. (They also found 2,118 who should never have been on the list in the first place.) Twenty terrorists were missing from a key report generated for the decision-makers who need to act immediately on any possible terrorist threat. The risk of “omission by confusion” is high, since the decision-makers who receive the list are naturally skeptical of it....

[bth: If you retain contractors to find terrorists for a list and don't do a quality check then surprise, surprise you get a big useless list. Where is the management of HLS on this matter?]

Computer system down for a month in Iraq

Computer system down for a month in Iraq - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON " The U.S. spent at least $38 million to give Iraq's government a computerized accounting system — and no one noticed when it was not working for a month, a report said Wednesday.

It was the latest in a series of reports from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., that detailed slow progress on some projects and waste and chaos in the management of another.

In the new report, Bowen recommended that no more money be spent on the system until someone figures out exactly what Iraq's ministries can use and sets out plans for developing such a program.

At issue are several contracts awarded in 2003, 2004 and 2006 for a broad range of work related to economic and financial reforms in Iraq. One of the tasks was to develop and implement a computerized Iraq Financial Management System, or IFMIS, to replace a Saddam-era computerized system.

The new program was undertaken only months after the invasion of Iraq "without the fundamental planning and analysis that should properly precede the whole change" of a country's system and to ensure that it would be "based on Iraqi" ministry requirements, Bowen's report said. Thus, it has turned out that Iraq's government has a distinctive accounting system that is "not easily adapted" into the new system.

"There has not been true (government of Iraq) ownership of the project," he said....

[bth: a funcitoning computer accounting system presumes that the user wants accountablity. What if you don't want accountability? Rather you want to loot what you can of the public resources when you can? That's essentially what has happened with the Iraqi ministries.]

PKK tactics may drive Turkey into a reluctant invasion

PKK tactics may drive Turkey into a reluctant invasion - Independent Online Edition > Middle East: "Soon after midnight last Sunday, a detachment of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) surrounded a 50-strong unit of the Turkish army near the village of Daglica in Hakkari province, three miles from Turkey's border with Iraq.

The operation was well planned. The PKK guerrillas first cut the electricity and telephone lines to the Turkish army post and then isolated it by blowing up a bridge. The besieged soldiers could see the PKK taking up positions through their night-vision equipment and monitored their radio communications.

When the PKK did attack it overran the outpost, killing at least 16 Turkish soldiers, wounding 17 and capturing eight whom the PKK still holds. The PKK claims only three of its men were slightly wounded and later released pictures of the Turkish prisoners.

It was the most effective PKK action for years and the Turkish government's reaction to it has re-launched the PKK as a political player in the region. It is no longer an irrelevant relic of its failed bid to lead the 15 million Turkish Kurds to independence which collapsed after its military defeat in the 1990s and the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.

Sunday's attack had an explosive impact on Turkey because the Turkish army and its civilian supporters are eager to persuade Turks that the moderate Islamist government is insufficiently patriotic. For his part, the Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan had been skilfully threatening to send the army across the border but not in fact doing so.

Talking to PKK leaders in their headquarters in the Qandil mountains it is not clear how far they are trying to tempt Turkey into a trap by provoking it into invading northern Iraq. A Turkish invasion would be much in the PKK's interests since the Turkish army would become embroiled with the powerful military forces of the Iraqi Kurds.

The PKK leaders do not feel themselves in much danger. The mountains and gorges have been a redoubt for guerrillas for thousands of years. "Nobody can get us out of here," says Bozan Tekin, a PKK leader, pointing to the mountain walls surrounding the cluster of stone houses where we met. He claimed that Alexander the Great had been balked by the mountains of Kurdistan and suggested the Turks would be no more successful.

The natural defences of the Qandil are impressive. We started in the plain below the mountains in the village of Sangassar and then drove along the side of steep hills, dotted with small oak trees, which fall away on one side to form a gorge.

At the top of a pass we entered PKK territory, the entrance to which is guarded by a series of checkpoints and PKK fighters in uniform. They told us to keep straight on to the village of Kurtak and not to divert off the road. Diversions were not tempting since the only side roads are rutted paths leading further into the mountains. Houses are few though nomads herding sheep had pitched their tents by the streams and were gathering firewood.

One of several difficulties facing a Turkish invasion force is that they are unlikely to locate the PKK in this wilderness of mountains. The place we met Bozan Tekin was miles away from the nearest PKK camp which, say local sources, can only be reached after an hour in a vehicle and seven or eight hours trek on foot. The base itself consists of scattered houses hidden in a cleft between the rocks.

But the strength of the PKK position has less to do with geography and more to do with the politics of the region. Since it was founded in 1978 the PKK has always benefited from Ankara's refusal to recognise that there is a Kurdish minority and the stifling of all means of constitutional protest. It still does.

Militarily, the PKK are not very strong. The figure given for its forces inside northern Iraq is about 3,000. They claim that they have been trying to abide by a ceasefire since 1 October 2006, but it is a curiously flexible ceasefire that includes the right of self-defence and retaliation. The PKK's pin-prick attacks do not have much military impact on the 100,000 Turkish soldiers massed north of the border. But they do inflict serious political damage on the Turkish government because any Turkish casualties drive it towards an invasion of Iraq that it does not want to carry out.

There is a further problem for Turkey that is also largely of its own making. The only Iraq force capable of evicting the PKK from its mountains is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Massoud Barzani. But Turkey refuses to recognise the KRG because it is Kurdish and will only deal with the Iraqi government in Baghdad which, as one observer put it, has "about as much influence in Iraqi Kurdistan as Britney Spears".

In an interview with Aljazeera English television Masrour Barzani, the powerful head of the Kurdish intelligence service (Parastin), says pointedly that if the KRG is not consulted about an agreement between Baghdad and Ankara then it will not necessarily go along with it. In any case, he says the PKK bases are "in remote and isolated areas" outside his government's control.

[bth: PKK is clearly poking Turkey into a fight. Turkey cannot win a military conflict in northern Iraq. The Iraqi government is effectively useless. Is the end result going to be a recognition by Turkey of a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq because that authority is the only one capable of controlling PKK?]

Iraq Bomber Attacks Sunni Militant Group

The Associated Press: Iraq Bomber Attacks Sunni Militant Group: "BAGHDAD "AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up near the headquarters of a nationalistic Sunni insurgent group that has turned against al-Qaida in Iraq north of Baghdad, killing a woman on her way to the market and wounding four other people, police said.

A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, called on the Iraqi government to stop violence he said was increasingly plaguing southern Iraq and warned the inaction could further alienate Iraqis from the political process.

Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalai said 200 people were killed in the past three months in the city of Basra alone, in addition to kidnappings, and he accused the government of failing to hold the attackers accountable or to stop oil smuggling operations.

Al-Karbalai's figures could not be independently verified, but his complaint was a sign of growing frustration over rampant clashes and violence in the mainly Shiite south largely blamed on rival militia factions.

He urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other political leaders "to activate the security operation and to hold lawbreakers accountable."

"It is the right of the citizen to enjoy stability and security. If these aspirations are not met, who will guarantee that the citizens will continue supporting the political process," al-Karbalai said.

In another sign of internal Shiite unrest, an aide to al-Sadr warned during his Friday sermon that a freeze on militia activities could be lifted if U.S. and Iraqi forces continue with detention campaigns against the movement.

Sheik Assad al-Nasseri also complained that an agreement to end violence between followers of al-Sadr and rival Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim had failed to yield tangible results.

"The reconciliation between the Sadrist movement and other sides did not have any noticeable effect except in some press statements," al-Nasseri said during Friday prayers in the holy city of Kufa.

Al-Sadr earlier this week renewed his appeal to his followers to uphold the six-month cease-fire announced in August and threatened to expel those who don't.

His office in the holy city of Najaf said the statement was issued in response to questions from supporters about whether the order to stand down still applied, even as U.S. forces appear to have escalated their campaign against what the military calls Iranian-backed breakaway militia factions, and clashes between Shiite groups are on the rise in parts of the mainly Shiite south.

Al-Nasseri acknowledged the raids had caused anger among the ranks and warned the freeze could be lifted.

"It was one decision which could end in one minute and then they will be sorry," he told worshippers in the Kufa mosque.

He blamed the security forces for killing civilians during the operations, singling out recent crackdowns against rival militia fighters in Diwaniyah and the holy city of Karbala.

"The detention campaigns against al-Sadr's people were not conducted according to issued arrest warrants as they claim," he said. "This issue went so far as to assault women and children in front of husbands, brothers and fathers. These are shameful things. ... They are more unjust to us than the Saddamists."

The suicide attacker in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, detonated his explosives belt after he was unable to get through the main gate of the headquarters of the 1920s Revolution Brigades.

The brigades is a loose network of Saddam Hussein loyalists that recently broke with al-Qaida and has seen several members join forces with the U.S. against the terror network as part of a power struggle in the volatile Diyala province
.

Elsewhere in Diyala, a bomb exploded near a village south of Buhriz, killing a farmer, and two civilians were killed in a mortar attack near Muqdadiyah, police said.

A roadside bomb also struck a police patrol in the Daghara area, about 12 miles north of the mainly Shiite city of Diwaniyah, killing two officers and wounding three others who were taken to the hospital, a police official said.

Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, has seen fierce clashes between Shiite factions in recent months and violence also has targeted U.S.-led and Iraq security forces.

October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in Iraqi civilian deaths, with American commanders crediting increasing local Iraqi opposition to Sunni and Shiite extremists.

The U.S. military reported that an American soldier was killed and four were wounded Thursday in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad.

The unit was hit with an explosively formed penetrator, known as an EFP. The United States claims Iran supplies Shiite militants with the weapon, which fires an armor-piercing, fist-sized copper slug upon explosion.

[bth: the fact that the US would allow the 1920 Brigade which has been attacking the US for years to have a headquarters is an astonishing shift in developments. It means we're allied with the formr Baathists that stuck it out in Iraq and didn't flee to Syria and Jordan. Its also got to be driving the Shea nuts and if Sadr and Hakim are in bloody conflict, its means that the Shea ranks are now split.]

Marines declare war on garbage -

Marines declare war on garbage - Los Angeles Times: "RAMADI, Iraq — Lt. Sayce W. Falk stopped mid-stride and stood in the dust-fine, silvery sand. He smiled serenely at the scene ahead."

"Good. That is good," the lanky Marine said in a quiet, almost reverential tone as he watched workers load filth into the back of an orange dump truck. "It makes me happy, just to see them working."...

[bth: If Ramadi has become about trash collection and demolition of destroyed buildings instead of a state of seige that existed earlier this year and last, then there is indeed progress being made in Anbar province.]

Aide: Radical Cleric Muqtada Al Sadr Threatens to End Cease-Fire Over Raids on Followers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Aide: Radical Cleric Muqtada Al Sadr Threatens to End Cease-Fire Over Raids on Followers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "BAGHDAD "— Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr could end a ban on his militia's activities because of rising anger over U.S. and Iraqi raids against his followers, an aide said Friday amid concerns about rising violence and clashes between rival factions in the mainly Shiite south.

Al-Sadr's call for a six-month cease-fire has been credited with a sharp drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies that turn up on the streets of Iraq and are believed to be victims of Shiite death squads.

Baghdad police found three people slain execution-style and bearing signs of torture on Friday, compared with the dozens often found on a typical day before al-Sadr's declaration. The morgue in the southern city of Kut received two bodies, including one pulled from the Tigris River.

Another five Iraqis were killed in attacks nationwide, including a woman who was caught up in a suicide attack north of Baghdad while she was walking to the market.

The U.S. military reported that an American soldier was killed and four were wounded in southern Baghdad Thursday when their unit was hit with an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP. The United States claims Iran supplies Shiite militants with the weapon, which fires an armor-piercing, fist-sized copper slug.

The U.S. welcomed al-Sadr's August cease-fire declaration but has continued to target what it says are Iranian-backed breakaway factions of his Mahdi Army militia, and appears to have escalated the campaign in recent weeks.

The military said U.S. paratroopers conducting combat operations Friday in the southern Shiite city of Hillah found a cache of weapons including 27 Iranian-made 107 mm rockets and two launch systems, each capable of firing 20 rockets at once. The military has announced a series of such finds in recent days as it seeks to bolster its claim of Iranian support for rogue Shiite fighters. Tehran denies the allegations.

The U.S. also said this week that American forces killed at least 49 Shiite extremists in a ground and air assault in the militia stronghold of Sadr City. Witnesses and officials said 15 people were killed — all civilians.

Al-Sadr nonetheless renewed his appeal to uphold the cease-fire and threatened to expel Mahdi Army members who don't in what his office called a response to questions from supporters about whether the cease-fire still applied in the face of the U.S. crackdown.

Al-Sadr aide Sheik Assad al-Nasseri said during a sermon in the mosque in Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad, that patience with the U.S. operations was running out and the freeze could be lifted anytime.

"It was one decision which could end in one minute and then they will be sorry," al-Nasseri told worshippers...

[bth: the comments by Sadr and Sistani now seem to be about an internal Shia fight for resources such as oil from Basra and cash collected from pilgrims in Karbala. Note the lasest US casualties are coming from EFPs, the signature weapon of Shia forces particularly Mahdi Army and the discovery of more Iranian rockets and mortars. The EFPs probably are locally produced not from Iran.]

US steering clear of Kurdish fight

US steering clear of Kurdish fight - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON "The U.S. military commander in northern Iraq said Friday he plans to do "absolutely nothing" to counter Kurdish rebels who are staging deadly cross-border attacks into neighboring Turkey.

It was the most blunt assertion yet by an American official in the last few weeks that U.S. forces should not be involved in the fight. The Bush administration has said repeatedly that the border crisis should be resolved through diplomacy.

Asked what the U.S. military was planning to do, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said: "Absolutely nothing."

Turkey's top military commander said Friday that Ankara will wait until its prime minister visits Washington before deciding on a cross-border offensive into northern Iraq.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets President Bush in Washington on Nov. 5.

"The armed forces will carry out a cross-border offensive when assigned," private NTV television quoted Gen. Yasar Buyukanit as saying. "Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to the United States is very important, we will wait for his return."

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the government demanded the extradition of Kurdish rebel leaders based in Iraq's north. Amid talks with a visiting Iraqi delegation, Turkish war planes and helicopters reportedly bombed separatist hideouts within the country's borders.

During a Friday briefing, Mixon said the rebel activity is not his responsibility, that he's sent no additional U.S. troops to the border area and he's not tracking hiding places or logistics activities of rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK.

He also has not seen Kurdish Iraqi authorities move against the rebels either, Mixon told Pentagon reporters by videoconference from a U.S. base near Tikrit in northern Iraq.

"I have not seen any overt action ... But those are the types of activities that are managed and coordinated at higher levels than my own," he said.

Top Defense Department and State Department officials this week said that Iraq's Kurdish regional government should cut rebel supplies and disrupt rebel movement over the border, adding that Washington is increasingly frustrated by Kurdish inaction.

As Turkey has increased pressure for someone to act, Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that U.S. forces are tied up with the fight against insurgents and al-Qaida elsewhere in Iraq.

Few of the roughly 170,000 U.S. military forces in Iraq are along the border with Turkey. But there is ample air power available.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested this week that airstrikes or major ground assaults by U.S., Turkish, or other forces wouldn't help much because not enough is known about where the rebels are hiding at a given time.

Asked during a NATO meeting in Europe about the prospects of U.S. military strikes, he said: "Without good intelligence, just sending large numbers of troops across the border or dropping bombs doesn't seem to make much sense to me."

Americans also fear that a full-scale battle in the north would destabilize what has been one of the most prosperous and peaceful parts of Iraq in recent years — a region run by Kurds who have some sympathies with the rebels.

Asked if he has detected PKK supply lines running through his area that Iraqi Kurdish authorities could curtail, Mixon said: "That would be speculation ... I don't track the specific locations of the PKK. So you'd have to ask somebody else."

Mixon would not even talk in general about the PKK's fighting abilities. He was asked why such a small group of an estimated few thousand guerrillas is considered so effective, tenacious and threatening to Turkey.

"I have no idea," he said. "You'll have to ask somebody in the Turkish government."

Does he think he has any responsibility to try to avoid a Turkish incursion into the north?

"I have not been given any requirements or any responsibility for that," he said.

But if terrorists are operating in his region, he was asked, why not get involved?

"Let me put it to you very clearly," he answered. The provincial Kurdish authorities have their own Peshmerga militia, Mixon and, "it's their responsibility" in three northern provinces of Iraq.

He said no one has specifically told him to ignore the rebel problem, "but I hadn't been given instructions to do anything about it, either."

If he were ordered to do something, would he have enough U.S. troops?

"That's a hypothetical question," Mixon replied. "I haven't studied it.

"I haven't been given any instructions that would even vaguely resemble what you just mentioned," the general said. "So I don't see any sense in talking about it."

In Washington, Turkey's ambassador responded to Mixon by saying he expected U.S. help.

"We do expect the United States government to use all of the influence they have over the central government and the regional government in the north to deal with this problem," he said.

[bth: I heard part of this interview and for the life of me I cannot understand why in the world the US military put this general up to be interviewed. He clearly had no interest in doing the interview and his statements were unhelpful in the extreme. Was the US military trying to distance itself from State Dept. negotiations with Turkey? Mixon was just awful and I don't believe interviews like this happen by accident.]

US forces in Iraq seize rogue Sadr militant

IC Publications: "US forces in Iraq captured a Shiite militant and killed two others, accusing them of ignoring cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's order to freeze the activities of his Mahdi Army militia, the military said Saturday.

Police said American troops also arrested a senior police officer from Sadr City, Sadr's Baghdad bastion, on Friday evening.

The military said US troops carried out an operation early on Saturday in the village of Fawwaliyah in the restive Diyala province, northeast of the capital, to capture the Shiite militant.

"The operation was targeting a splinter group leader, who was not honouring Moqtada al-Sadr's pledge to cease attacks and who was involved in weapons procurement, kidnapping and explosively-formed penetrator attacks," the military said in a statement.

Without revealing the identity of the militant, the statement said he had ties with an Iranian intelligence cell....

Mahdi army taking control of Basra

AKI - Adnkronos international Iraq: Mahdi army taking control of Basra: "Baghdad"23 Oct. (AKI) - The Mahdi army, the armed group linked to the Shiite Imam, Moqtada al-Sadr, assumed control of the Iraqi city of Basra on Tuesday, according to a report on the Arab satellite TV network Al Jazeera.

The militia took over the city in clashes with the Iraqi police and reports say that the fighting was still going on.

According to Al Jazeera, during the clashes, the local police chief, Muhammad Qaji, was forced to flee the city and the militants took control of the city's main power centres and deployed their men along Basra's main streets.

Currently, at least four people are dead - three Iraqi soldiers and a militant - and at least 10 are injured.

The men of the Mahdi army have also reportedly captured 50 police officers.

The most violent clashes were in the city's central district of al-Andalus district.

Reports say that the police are trying to arrest the leader of the Sadrist militia in order to control the violence that appears to have sparked an urban war.

There are believed to be 60,000 members of the Mahdi army militia.

In April 2007, the US defence department described it as the greatest threat to Iraq's security, replacing al-Qaeda in Iraq as the country's "most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence".

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrists who make up the Mahdi Army, in late August ordered the suspension of militia's activities for six months to reorganise and regain control of the increasingly divided militia.

[bth: this is about controlling the oil export revenue which passes through Basra. Sadr needs cash and what can't be earned from kidnapping, extortion from gasoline and propane sales must be made from smuggling oil out of Iraq.]

DADDY'S $10M 'BAD' MITZVAH

DADDY'S $10M 'BAD' MITZVAH: "October "26, 2007 -- The former CEO of the leading supplier of body armor to U.S. soldiers in Iraq was charged yesterday with looting the company to bankroll a lavish lifestyle that included a $10 million bat mitzvah for his daughter.

In addition to the bat mitzvah - which included performances by Aerosmith, 50 Cent, Tom Petty, Kenny G and the Eagles - prosecutors said David Brooks got the firm, DHB Industries, to pay for other goodies.

Among them were a face lift for his ex-wife; vitamins for his stable of 100 horses; pricey vacations; fancy jewels; an armored car; a $194,000 Bentley; and a $100,000 diamond-studded belt buckle.

The elaborate scheme exploded yesterday when federal prosecutors unsealed a 21-count indictment accusing Brooks, 53, of securities fraud, insider trading, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Sandra Hatfield, 54, the company's former chief operating officer, was hit with similar charges.

Brooks founded DHB, which moved from Westbury, L.I., to Pompano Beach, Fla., last year, and served as its chairman and chief executive officer. He resigned last year as the scandal erupted.

According to the indictment, Brooks lined his pockets by having DHB underwrite his lifestyle and by artificially inflating the value of company stock.

He allegedly reaped $185 million by selling DHB stock when he learned that 6,000 bullet-proof vests the company made were about to be recalled for being faulty and not able to block bullets.

Hatfield, who left the firm in 2005, allegedly made $5 million in the scheme.

Brooks also was accused of evading taxes by giving money to charities he ran.

Brooks made headlines in November 2005, when he rented two floors of the Rainbow Room for the bat mitzvah of his daughter, Elizabeth.

He reportedly sent the company jet to fly Aerosmith in from Pittsburgh, paying them a cool $1 million. In return, they let his nephew play drums.

In honor of the band's appearance, Brooks changed from a black leather suit into a magenta suede biker outfit covered with chains.

The indictment said the body-armor tycoon spent $122,000 of company cash on iPods and digital cameras for his guests. It also revealed he shelled out $20,000 for leather-bound invitations to his son's bar mitzvah in 2000.

Brooks pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in federal court in Central Islip, L.I., and was held without bail pending a hearing Monday.

His lawyer, Paul Shechtman, said Brooks "grew up in Brooklyn and that means he doesn't run away from a fight."

Shechtman asked for bail of a mere $50 million. Prosecutor John Martin asked that no bail be granted, calling Brooks a serious flight risk.

"In my opinion, he will spend the rest of his life in jail," the prosecutor said. "Every couple of months, we uncover new crimes and new frauds he has committed."

Hatfield is expected to be arraigned next week.

The indictment accuses Brooks and Hatfield of falsely inflating the value of the inventory of DHB's top product, the Interceptor vest, to help meet earnings projections.

The scheme boosted the company's stock from $2 a share in early 2003 to nearly $20 a share in late 2004.

selim.algar@nypost.com

'24' VIDEO: TV's Don Kaplan Interviews Chloe

Friday, October 26, 2007

US agency apologizes for news conference on fires

Reuters AlertNet - US agency apologizes for news conference on fires: "WASHINGTON Oct 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. government's main disaster-response agency apologized on Friday for having its employees pose as reporters in a hastily called news conference on California's wildfires that no news organizations attended.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, still struggling to restore its image after the bungled handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, issued the apology after The Washington Post published details of the Tuesday briefing.

"We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment," FEMA deputy administrator Harvey Johnson, who conducted the briefing, said in a statement. "Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received."

No actual reporter attended the news conference in person, agency spokesman Aaron Walker said.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has authority over FEMA, called the incident "inexcusable and offensive to the secretary."

"We have made it clear that stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated," spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. She said the department was looking at the possibility of reprimanding those responsible.

The agency had called the briefing with about 15 minutes notice as federal officials headed for southern California to oversee and assist in firefighting and rescue efforts. Reporters were also given a telephone number to listen in on but could not ask questions.

But with no reporters on hand and an agency video camera providing a feed carried live by some television networks, FEMA press employees posed the questions for Johnson that included: "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?"

According to Friday's Post account, which Walker confirmed, Johnson replied that he was "very happy with FEMA's response so far."

He also said the agency had the benefit of "good leadership" and other factors, "none of which were present at Katrina." Chertoff was head of the Homeland Security Department during Katrina
.

FEMA's administrator during Katrina, Michael Brown, resigned amid widespread criticism over his handling of the disaster, despite U.S. President George W. Bush's initial declaration that he was doing a "heck of a job."

E-mails between Brown and his colleagues over the course of the storm revealed a preoccupation with his media image, including his declaration, "I am a fashion god."

FEMA is reviewing its press procedures and will make changes to ensure they are "straightforward and transparent," Johnson said on Friday.

[bth: you can't make this stuff up. Chertoff needs to resign. He Tefloned his way through Katrina and now this. What does it say that FEMA and HLS is so afraid that they faked a news conference?]

Pakistani Militants Behead 4 Officers

Pakistani Militants Behead 4 Officers - washingtonpost.com: "SWAT , Pakistan -- Islamic militants reportedly captured and beheaded three militiamen and a police officer Friday while government troops and helicopter gunships attacked the nearby stronghold of a radical cleric in northwestern Pakistan.

The fighting came a day after a suicide bombing killed 20 people in another part of Swat district in the intensifying conflict between the U.S.-allied government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and pro-Taliban forces in the volatile tribal region along the Afghan border.

After killing the four security officers, the militants displayed the severed heads in Imam Dheri village near Swat, said Badshah Gul Wazir, home secretary for the volatile North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.

Wazir would not confirm reports that the four slain men were among eight officers captured. "I know they were four, and they have been beheaded," he said at a news conference in the city of Peshawar, the provincial capital about 30 miles from Swat.

A few hours earlier, militiamen of the regional Frontier Constabulary, supported by army helicopters, attacked the redoubt of cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who runs a sprawling seminary in Imam Dheri and leads a band of armed militants....

Yemen Frees Al Qaeda Mastermind of USS Cole Bombing - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Yemen Frees Al Qaeda Mastermind of USS Cole Bombing - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "SAN'A Yemen — Yemen has set free one of the Al Qaeda masterminds of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors, a senior security official said.

Jamal al-Badawi, who is wanted by the FBI, was convicted in 2004 of plotting, preparing and helping carry out the USS Cole bombing and received a death sentence that was commuted to 15 years in prison.

He and 22 others, mostly Al Qaeda fighters, escaped from prison in 2004. But al-Badawi was granted his freedom after turning himself in 15 days ago and pledging loyalty to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The official said police were told by the government to "stop all previous orders concerning measures adopted against al-Badawi."

Witnesses told The Associated Press that al-Badawi was receiving well-wishers at his home in the al-Buraika district in Aden.

The Interior Ministry said earlier that al-Badawi voluntarily gave himself up to police, but media reports said tribal chiefs mediated his surrender after he renounced terrorism and pledged allegiance to the Yemeni leader.

Al-Badawi had escaped prison once before with nine other suspects of the Cole attack in April 2003, but was rearrested
.

Al Qaeda used to have an active presence in Yemen, the ancestral home of Usama bin Laden. The group was blamed for the bombing of the Cole and the attack on a French oil tanker that killed one person two years later.

Also Thursday, a second security official said police have uncovered a terrorist cell composed of four extremists who were recruiting young Yemenis to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq and elsewhere.

The four were allegedly receiving funds from abroad and were recruiting young men in their twenties from mosques and religious seminars during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said the official, citing their confessions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Yemen does not have a law that criminalizes Jihad, or holy war. Detainees remain in prison until they either renounce their commitment to Jihad or are released under pressure from family and human rights groups.

Since the suicide attack in July that killed eight Spanish tourists visiting an ancient Yemeni temple, President Saleh has said in several interviews with local papers that Al Qaeda had reached a truce with the government.

[bth: so is this saying the murder of 17 US sailors was within the law, Jihad, and therefore this murderer was let go? Unbelievable.]

Al Qaeda Takes Aim at Al-Jazeera Over Bin Laden Coverage - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Al Qaeda Takes Aim at Al-Jazeera Over Bin Laden Coverage - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "CAIRO Egypt — Al Qaeda sympathizers have unleashed a torrent of anger against Al-Jazeera television, accusing it of misrepresenting Usama bin Laden's latest audiotape by airing excerpts in which he criticizes mistakes by insurgents in Iraq.

Users of a leading Islamic militant Web forum posted thousands of insults against the pan-Arab station for focusing on excerpts in which bin Laden criticizes insurgents, including his followers.

Analysts said the reaction highlighted militants' surprise at bin Laden's words, and their dismay at the deep divisions among Al Qaeda and other Iraqi militants that he appeared to be trying to heal.

"It's not about Al-Jazeera, it's about their shock from bin Laden," said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Islamic militant groups. "For the first time, bin Laden, who used to be the spiritual leader who gives guidance, became a critic of Al Qaeda and is confessing mistakes. This is unusual."

"God fight Al-Jazeera," railed one militant Web poster, calling the station a "collaborator with the Crusaders" for suggesting the tape showed weakness in Al Qaeda and featuring discussions of how the tape reflected weaknesses and divisions among insurgents in Iraq....

[bth: interesting the degree of response and sensitivity from the viewers. A nerve was hit.]

Return of the 399th Hanscom AFB Oct. 2007

 
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Syria: Here today, gone tomorrow.
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Former CEO Of U.S. Bulletproof Vest Maker Arrested - News Story - WNBC | New York

Former CEO Of U.S. Bulletproof Vest Maker Arrested - News Story - WNBC | New York: "The former CEO of a bulletproof vest-making company for U.S. soldiers was arrested Thursday on accounting fraud, tax fraud and insider trading, law enforcement officials said."




Read Indictment

David H. Brooks, the former head of DHB industries, was arrested in New York by IRS and FBI agents on charges he illegally made tens of millions by allegedly lying about the financial results of his company.

Federal agents were planning to seize assets Thursday morning as part of the raid including Brooks' Ferrari and armor plated SUV at his Old Westbury home.


VIDEO: Vest-Company CEO Not Bulletproof, Authorities Say

“Corporate executives who line their own pockets at the expense of their shareholders flaunt the responsibilities they owe their companies and the investing public,” stated United States Attorney Benton Campbell. “We are committed to ensuring that our markets operate fairly and honestly and will vigorously investigate and prosecute executives who fraudulently enrich themselves.”

Investigators had been looking into whether Brooks took part in an alleged "pump and dump" scheme. Federal prosecutors said Brooks made an estimated $200 million by selling his personal stock holdings just before DHB shares plunged from $20 to about $1 per share.

Brooks made his fortune by reportedly lobbying for an exclusive contract to make and provide bulletproof vests for soldiers in Iraq. There were questions in 2005 about whether the DHB vests worked, or were effective enough, in stopping enemy fire.

Prosecutors said in addition to reaping nearly $200 million through illegal trading, Brooks used his company's money to pay for a personal horse racing business, luxury vacations, cosmetic surgery for relatvies, jewelry and country club bills. Investigators said Brooks spent $106,000 of the company's money on vitamins for his horses in one year.


List Of Luxury Items Brooks Allegedly Bought

The pentagon had been conducting its own investigation into DHP. Investigators said the charges Thursday relate only to the accounting fraud and insider fraud allegations.

Brooks also made headlines in 2005 for a $10 million bash he threw for his daughter at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan. The event was for his daughter's bat mitzvah, and the rock band Aerosmith performed as Brooks himself reportedly danced around in a hot-pink suede outfit.

In August, two other former executives with the company were arrested and charged. IRS and FBI agents arrested Brooks at his Manhattan home Thursday. He will be arraigned on the charges in federal court in Central Islip Thursday afternoon.

Vest-Company CEO Not Bulletproof, Authorities Say

#videoid=172061: "http://video.wnbc.com/player/?id=172061"



Jonathan Dienst reports
The former CEO of a bulletproof vest-making company for U.S. soldiers was arrested Thursday on accounting fraud, tax fraud and insider trading, law enforcement officials said.

[bth: I have to say, watching this video of CEO David Brooks being hauled to jail just brightens my day. What a total scum bag. A worse human being I haven't seen in corporate America. He made shoddy body armor, altered the QA cycle then cashed out before the Marines were forced to do a recall when a magazine broke the story. That the military let defective armor be used until the story broke galls me to no end, but did it bother David Brooks? No Way. He had dumped his stock and options before the story broke then stashed it away while lavishing his money in the most garish fashions. That he is in jail now gives me some sense of justice.]
 
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U.S. Military Ignored Evidence of Iraqi-Made EFPs

POLITICS: U.S. Military Ignored Evidence of Iraqi-Made EFPs: "WASHINGTON Oct 25 (IPS) - When the U.S. military command accused the Iranian Quds Force last January of providing the armour-piercing EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) that were killing U.S. troops, it knew that Iraqi machine shops had been producing their own EFPs for years, a review of the historical record of evidence on EFPs in Iraq shows.

The record also shows that the U.S. command had considerable evidence that the Mahdi army had gotten the technology and the training on how to use it from Hezbollah rather than Iran.

The command, operating under close White House supervision, chose to deny these facts in making the dramatic accusation that became the main rationale for the present aggressive U.S. stance toward Iran. Although the George W. Bush administration initially limited the accusation to the Quds Force, it has recently begun to assert that top officials of the Iranian regime are responsible for arms that are killing U.S. troops.

British and U.S. officials observed from the beginning that the EFPs being used in Iraq closely resembled the ones used by Hezbollah against Israeli forces in Southern Lebanon, both in their design and the techniques for using them.

Hezbollah was known as the world's most knowledgeable specialists in EFP manufacture and use, having perfected them during the 1990s in the military struggle against Israeli forces in Lebanon. It was widely recognised that it was Hezbollah that had passed on the expertise to Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups after the second Intifada began in 2000.

U.S. intelligence also knew that Hezbollah was conducting the training of Mahdi army militants on EFPs. In August 2005, Newsday published a report from correspondent Mohammed Bazzi that Shiite fighters had begun in early 2005 to copy Hezbollah techniques for building the bombs, as well as for carrying out roadside ambushes, citing both Iraqi and Lebanese officials.

In late November 2006, a senior intelligence official told both CNN and the New York Times that Hezbollah troops had trained as many as 2,000 Mahdi army fighters in Lebanon.

The fact that the Mahdi army's major military connection has always been with Hezbollah rather than Iran would also explain the presence in Iraq of the PRG-29, a shoulder-fired anti-armour weapon. Although U.S. military briefers identified it last February as being Iranian-made, the RPG-29 is not manufactured by Iran but by the Russian Federation.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, RPG-29s were imported from Russia by Syria, then passed on to Hezbollah, which used them with devastating effectiveness against Israeli forces in the 2006 war. According to a June 2004 report on the well-informed military website Strategypage.com, RPG-29s were already turning up in Iraq, "apparently smuggled across the Syrian border".

The earliest EFPs appearing in Iraq in 2004 were so professionally made that they were probably constructed by Hezbollah specialists, according to a detailed account by British expert Michael Knights in Jane's Intelligence Review last year.

By late 2005, however, the British command had already found clear evidence that the Iraqi Shiites themselves were manufacturing their own EFPs. British Army Major General J. B. Dutton told reporters in November 2005 that the bombs were of varying degrees of sophistication.

Some of the EFPs required a "reasonably sophisticated factory", he said, while others required only a simple workshop, which he observed, could only mean that some of them were being made inside Iraq.

After British convoys in Maysan province were attacked by a series of EFP bombings in late May 2006, Knights recounts, British forces discovered a factory making them in Majar al-Kabir north of Basra in June.

In addition, the U.S. military also had its own forensic evidence by fall 2006 that EFPs used against its vehicles had been manufactured in Iraq, according to Knights. He cites photographic evidence of EFP strikes on U.S. armoured vehicles that "typically shows a mixture of clean penetrations from fully-formed EFP and spattering..." That pattern reflected the fact that the locally made EFPs were imperfect, some of them forming the required shape to penetrate but some of them failing to do so.

Then U.S. troops began finding EFP factories. Journalist Andrew Cockburn reported in the Los Angeles Times in mid-February that U.S. troops had raided a Baghdad machine shop in November 2006 and discovered "a pile of copper discs, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order".

In a report on Feb. 23, NBC Baghdad correspondent Jane Arraf quoted "senior military officials" as saying that U.S. forces had "have been finding an increasing number of the advanced roadside bombs being not just assembled but manufactured in machine shops here."

Nevertheless, the Bush administration decided to put the blame for the EFPs squarely on the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, after Bush agreed in fall 2006 to target the Quds Force within Iran in order to make Iranian leaders feel vulnerable to U.S. power. The allegedly exclusive Iranian manufacture of EFPs was the administration's only argument for holding the Quds Force responsible for their use against U.S. forces.

At the Feb. 11 military briefing presenting the case for this claim, one of the U.S. military officials declared, "The explosive charges used by Iranian agents in Iraq need a special manufacturing process, which is available only in Iran." The briefer insisted that there was no evidence that they were being made in Iraq.

That lynchpin of the administration's EFP narrative began to break down almost immediately, however. On Feb. 23, NBC's Arraf confronted Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who had been out in front in January promoting the new Iranian EFP line, with the information she had obtained from other senior military officials that an increasing number of machine stops manufacturing EFPs had been discovered by U.S. troops.

Odierno began to walk the Iranian EFP story back. He said the EFPs had "started to come from Iran", but he admitted "some of the technologies" were "probably being constructed here".

The following day, U.S. troops found yet another EFP factory near Baqubah, with copper discs that appeared to be made with a high degree of precision, but which could not be said with any certainty to have originated in Iran.

The explosive expert who claimed at the February briefing that EFPs could only be made in Iran was then made available to the New York Times to explain away the new find. Maj. Marty Weber now backed down from his earlier statement and admitted that there were "copy cat" EFPs being machined in Iraq that looked identical to those allegedly made in Iran to the untrained eye.

Weber insisted that such Iraqi-made EFPs had slight imperfections which made them "much less likely to pierce armour". But NBC's Arraf had reported the previous week that a senor military official had confirmed to her that the EFPs made in Iraqi shops were indeed quite able to penetrate U.S. armour. The impact of those weapons "isn't as clean", the official said, but they are "almost as effective" as the best-made EFPs.

The idea that only Iranian EFPs penetrate armour would be a surpise to Israeli intelligence, which has reported that EFPs manufactured by Hamas guerrillas in their own machine shops during 2006 had penetrated eight inches of Israeli steel armour in four separate incidents in September and November, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Center in Tel Aviv.

The Arraf story was ignored by the news media, and the Bush administration has continued to assert the Iranian EFP charge as though it had never been questioned.

It soon became such an accepted part of the media narrative on Iran and Iraq that the only issue about which reporters bothered to ask questions is whether the top leaders of the Iranian government have approved the alleged Quds Force operation.

*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.

[bth: based on my own research I believe this author's points are correct even down to the dates of factory finds. He didn't mention two discoveries around Baghdad. It may be that some explosives used in the Iraqi made EFPs came from Iran. Slight rifling around the edges of the copper discs to give them spin and accuracy may be the differentiating factor. Also there pattern referred to is that the penetrating holes in the armor become a pattern instead of one solid slug. This is being compensated for by Iraqi bomb manufacturers by making them bigger and clustering them together in strings of six. There is probably a forensic trail related to the formation of the copper disc, the welding or brazing of that disc to the pipe and how the charge is triggered and detonated. Likely PIR sources for the switch may be commercial light dimmer switches and activators from Taiwan and China (Evergreen) which can be purchased over the Internet or from any retail hardware store.]
 
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Livni behind closed doors: Iran nukes pose little threat to Israel - Haaretz - Israel News

Livni behind closed doors: Iran nukes pose little threat to Israel - Haaretz - Israel News: "Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.

Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.

The article also reveals for the first time a document Livni prepared and sent to Olmert a few months after the Second Lebanon War proposing a new division of labor between the two. "Enclosed is a proposal for work procedures between us, with the aim of providing an answer to Israel's strategic needs and facilitating early planning and the formulation of coordinated Israeli positions ... within the framework of cooperative relations, full transparency and continuous mutual updates," wrote Livni...

Photos show cleansing of suspect Syrian site

Photos show cleansing of suspect Syrian site - International Herald Tribune: "New commercial satellite photos show that a Syrian site believed to have been attacked by Israel last month no longer bears any obvious traces of what some analysts said appeared to have been a partly built nuclear reactor.

Two photos, taken Wednesday from space by rival companies, show the site near the Euphrates River to have been wiped clean since August, when imagery showed a tall square building there measuring about 150 feet on a side.

The Syrians reported an attack by Israel in early September; the Israelis have not confirmed that. Senior Syrian officials continue to deny that a nuclear reactor was under construction, insisting that Israel hit a largely empty military warehouse.

But the images, federal and private analysts say, suggest that the Syrian authorities rushed to dismantle the facility after the strike, calling it a tacit admission of guilt.

"It's a magic act — here today, gone tomorrow," a senior intelligence official said. "It doesn't lower suspicions; it raises them. This was not a long-term decommissioning of a building, which can take a year. It was speedy. It's incredible that they could have gone to that effort to make something go away."

Any attempt by Syrian authorities to clean up the site would make it difficult, if not impossible, for international weapons inspectors to determine the exact nature of the activity there. Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna have said they hoped to analyze the satellite images and ultimately inspect the site in person. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that released a report on the Syrian site earlier this week, said the expurgation of the building was inherently suspicious.

"It looks like Syria is trying to hide something and destroy the evidence of some activity," Albright said in an interview. "But it won't work. Syria has got to answer questions about what it was doing."

The striking difference in the satellite photos surprised even some outside experts who were skeptical that Syria might be developing a nuclear program.

"It's clearly very suspicious," said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the Center for American Progress in Washington. "The Syrians were up to something that they clearly didn't want the world to know about."

Cirincione said the photographic evidence "tilts toward a nuclear program" but does not prove that Syria was building a reactor. Besides, he said, even if it was developing a nuclear program, Syria would be years away from being operational, and thus not an imminent threat.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on the satellite pictures.

The new satellite images of the Syrian site were taken by DigitalGlobe, in Longmont, Colorado, and SPOT Image Corporation, in Chantilly, Virginia. They show just a smooth, unfurrowed area where the large building once stood.

The desolate Syrian site is located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River some 90 miles north of the Iraqi border and 7 miles north of the desert village of At Tibnah. An airfield lies nearby. The new images reveal that the tall building is gone but still show a secondary structure and a pumping station on the Euphrates. Reactors need water for cooling.

The purported reactor at the site is believed to be modeled on a North Korean model, which uses buildings a few feet longer on each side than the Syrian building that vanished.

Albright called the Syrian site "consistent with being a North Korean reactor design." Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, denied in an interview last week with The Dallas Morning News that his country was trying to build a reactor.

"There is no Syrian nuclear program whatsoever," he said. "It's an absolutely blatant lie."

Later in the interview, he said, "We understand that if Syria even contemplated nuclear technology, then the gates of hell would open on us
 
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Father: Funeral protest made him sick

Evening Sun - Father: Funeral protest made him sick: "BALTIMORE -- The father of a Marine killed in Iraq took the stand in his invasion of privacy suit against a fundamentalist church that pickets soldiers' funerals, saying protesters carrying signs at his son's burial made him sick to his stomach.

Albert Snyder said Wednesday he had hoped for a private funeral for his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder.

"They turned this funeral into a media circus and they wanted to hurt my family," Snyder testified. "They wanted their message heard and they didn't care who they stepped over. My son should have been buried with dignity, not with a bunch of clowns outside."

Snyder is suing the Westboro Baptist church, whose members have picketed the funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming the deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality. The York resident is seeking unspecified monetary damages in the case for invasion of privacy and intent to inflect emotional distress as a result of the Topeka, Kan., church's protest at his son's funeral in Westminster in March 2006.

The church's protests have inspired several state laws and a federal law about funeral protests, but the Maryland suit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman.

Asked Wednesday about a sign that read "Thank God for dead soldiers," Snyder said he thinks about it daily.

"I see that sign when I lay in bed," Snyder said.

Asked about statements issued by the group that his son was raised to support the "Roman Catholic monstrosity" and then sent to fight for the "United States of Sodomy," Snyder said "they have no right to do this to people they didn't know."

During cross-examination, defense attorney Jonathan Katz focused on obituaries and death notices and questioned Snyder on whether they said the funeral services were private. Snyder replied that the notices said friends and family were welcome, but admitted that he did not know all of the 500 or so people who attended.

The case tests the limits of the First Amendment right to free speech.

U.S. District Richard Bennett instructed jurors at the start of testimony Tuesday that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements. Bennett said the jurors must decide "whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous, and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection."

Church members said they are motivated by the fear of God and their need to warn America about its moral decay, rather than a desire to hurt anyone.

Katz told jurors Tuesday the protests took place 1,000 feet away from St. John Catholic Church, where the funeral was held, down a hill and out of sight and hearing from participants.

Snyder said American military personnel are in Iraq fighting for freedom of speech "they're not fighting for hate speech." One photo showing a child holding a sign at the funeral protest was particularly disturbing, the father said.

"I pray for their children. Their children need help. To be brought up with that kind of hatred," Snyder said.

"My God is loving God," Snyder said, adding later "I don't look for hatred in the Bible."

The church's founder and pastor, Fred Phelps, took the stand after Snyder and prompted a strong admonition from Bennett when the pastor said he had not considered whether children would see a sign carried by protesters with the words "Semper Fi Fags" and two stick figures that appear to be engaged in sodomy.

"No, it's an irrelevancy," Phelps said.

Bennett then interjected sharply.

"Just answer the question, sir. Don't determine what's relevant or not relevant. You just answer the question," Bennett said.

Phelps said he chose to use the term "fag" in the group's signs because it comes from scripture but could also have used Sodomite or dog. When asked by Katz why the group made a "Semper Fi Fags" sign, Phelps said it was in response to the need for a warning to the country "that your wicked ways are going to be your doom shortly."

Worcester Korean War Memorial Expanded to Current Wars October 2007

 
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

British troops 'to depend on rented helicopters' - Telegraph

British troops 'to depend on rented helicopters' - Telegraph: "British "troops in Afghanistan could soon be relying for their resupply on rented civilian helicopters.

Nato defence ministers meeting in the Netherlands last night were discussing the plan after several European members refused to meet a shortfall in transport helicopters.

Although not named, Germany, France, Turkey, Spain and Greece were reportedly the target of Robert Gates, the United States defence secretary, when he reminded member states of "their moral responsibility and collective commitments" to support their allies by responding to requests for reinforcements and materiel.

He said yesterday: "I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over two million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan."

The new plan is to rent 20 large transport helicopters from civilian contractors. They would be used in the south of the country, including Helmand province, to meet the needs of Britain, Canada and Holland who have troops engaged in heavy fighting....

Extremists losing Pakistanis' support

Extremists losing Pakistanis' support - USATODAY.com: "ISLAMABAD" Pakistan — The Taliban and their extremist allies have been winning territory but losing hearts and minds in Pakistan, where they are meeting fresh resistance and polls show the broader population turning against them.

The Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups along the lawless border with Afghanistan have alienated the Pakistani public with harsh tactics even as they have seized more territory, said Latif Afridi, a politician in the unruly Northwest Frontier province.

"Ordinary people are fed up with Talibanization," Afridi said. "They have killed hundreds of people and have burned down homes."

Pakistan's government has sent 90,000 troops to drive militants from the tribal zone but has unable to stop the Taliban.

In remote villages, militants are imposing a strict version of Islam: beheading moderate clerics and pro-government officials; closing girls schools; ordering women indoors; banning computers and TV; torching video stores; and bombing barbershops out of a belief that Muslim men should not be shaven.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Afghanistan | Taliban | Pakistan | Islam | Pervez Musharraf | Maj | Waziristan | KARACHI | Pakistanis | Arshad | Islamic groups | Extremists
U.S. intelligence agencies, in this year's National Intelligence Estimate report, warned of a "heightened threat environment" partly because the tribal areas have become a haven from which al-Qaeda can plan and train for terror attacks.

Militants have already spread terror into Pakistan's cities with suicide attacks. The latest came a week ago, when a suicide bombing in Karachi killed more than 130 people and disrupted the homecoming of exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

After the slaughter in Karachi, "more people will come forward and offer information" about the extremists, said Ikram Sehgal, political analyst and editor of Pakistan's Defense Journal. "It was pure carnage. … It will turn the majority against them."

The fight seems to be shifting:

•Some local militias have taken up arms against the Taliban's al-Qaeda-linked allies.

Early this year, tribal leaders backed by the Pakistani government, drove extremists from Uzbekistan from parts of South Waziristan, a border district. A similar campaign against foreign fighters began this week in North Waziristan, said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad. Anti-Taliban tribal forces have attacked militants near the Khyber Pass, Afridi said.

"In the entire tribal area, people hate them," said Sailab Mahsud of the Tribal Union of Journalists.

The percentage of Pakistanis supporting suicide bombings has fallen to 9% from 33% in 2002, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released in July.

•The percentage of Pakistanis who call extremism a serious problem for the country rose to 74% in August and September from 64% in June. One factor: terror attacks that followed the government's decision to storm a radical Islamabad mosque. The figures come from a poll of 4,009 Pakistanis by the International Republic Institute, democracy-promoting arm of the U.S. Republican Party
.

Reached by telephone, Taliban spokesman Isa Khan denied the movement is losing support. "This is just propaganda," he said. "Our movement is expanding. … (There) is ample proof that our movement is getting stronger and stronger."

Khan sought to distance the Taliban from last week's Karachi bombings, despite previous Taliban threats to send suicide attackers against the returning Bhutto: "It was a horrible attack against the people," Khan said. "Islam does not allow us to kill innocent people. Our fight is not with the people. … We are fighting a defensive war being imposed on us by American and Pakistani troops."

Islamic militants enjoyed strong support in Pakistan's tribal areas after U.S.-led forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban government in 2001.

The Taliban members are Pashtuns, an ethnic group that makes up about 15% of Pakistan's population and lives on both sides of a border they consider irrelevant. Since 2001, the Taliban has found refuge in Pakistan, regrouped and begun to exert their influence in backward villages. "People considered them holy warriors," Mahsud said. "They thought they would bring Islamic law. … (The Taliban) thought they were the chosen ones."

Instead, the extremists have alienated locals with harsh edicts, beheadings and bombings that appalled many villagers. They lost support when they recruited criminals into their ranks, Mahsud said.

Disgust with militants has not translated into public support for the United States or the pro-U.S. government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who took power in a 1999 coup.

Under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani army mounted an aggressive military campaign in the tribal areas in 2003. The offensive caused extensive civilian casualties among the region's 3.2 million people. Public sentiment turned against the Pakistani troops. "They are considered the puppet army of America," Afridi said.

Later, the military campaign bogged down. Army casualties rose — to 1,000 dead so far, Maj. Gen. Arshad said. The army was humiliated in August when the Taliban captured 248 soldiers, apparently without firing a shot.

Retired brigadier general Mahmood Shah, a former administrator in the tribal areas, said the army made serious mistakes: becoming overconfident; refusing to learn historical lessons on fighting insurgencies; and ignoring the counsel of civil servants who understood tribal politics.

Temporary cease-fires in the area have given "pro-Taliban elements a free hand to recruit, train and arm," according to a report by the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organization. The U.S. military said cross-border attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan tripled after a brief truce last year in North Waziristan.

"The government is lacking an overall strategy," Shah said. He said Musharraf has been distracted by the need to find political support to extend his rule as president and didn't want to alienate his occasional allies among a coalition of pro-Taliban Islamic political parties.

What is needed, Shah said, is a mix of diplomacy, massive aid and limited military force against recalcitrant militants. Instead, the aid has come in a trickle, often siphoned off by corrupt officials, Alfridi said: "We're not getting anything. The tribal areas remain as barren as they ever were."

Mahsud said bringing stability to the tribal belt wouldn't be difficult if the government came through with aid: "You would get results in three months," Mahsud said.