Saturday, December 01, 2007

Card: Rove's Claim That Congress Pushed Bush To War Is Wrong

Card: Rove's Claim That Congress Pushed Bush To War Is Wrong - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Karl told Charlie Rose during a recent interview that Congress had pushed President Bush to go into Iraq prematurely. According to Rove, the White House had been opposed to holding the war vote close to the 2002 elections because "we thought it made it too political."

This morning, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card went on MSNBC's Morning Joe and laughed off Rove's claims. Read part of the transcript from Think Progress:


SCARBOROUGH: We have to start with something that we all are talking about a couple of days ago where Karl Rove went on Charlie Rose and he blamed the Democrats for pushing him and the president into war. Is that how it worked?

CARD: No, that's not the way it worked.

Card went on to explain that sometimes Rove's "mouth gets ahead of his brain":

SCARBOROUGH: Is that just Karl spinning beyond the White House? ...

CARD: Well, Karl is very smart. He's -- sometimes his brain gets ahead of his mouth. And sometimes his mouth gets ahead of his brain.


[bth: moronic liar]

What Murtha Really Said About The Surge - Politics on The Huffington Post

What Murtha Really Said About The Surge - Politics on The Huffington Post: "War proponents have seized on the words of Rep. John Murtha, D-PA, who said Thursday, following a visit to Iraq, that the troop surge is working - a seeming contradiction from earlier criticism.

But the congressman's statement was far more nuanced than what is being reported and echoes his previous statements praising the U.S. military's efforts.

Speaking via teleconference to reporters in four different cities, Murtha did acknowledge that the surge, which he had firmly criticized, has led to military successes. But he also warned repeatedly that the Iraqis were not doing enough to capitalize on those gains.

"I think the surge is working but that's only one element. It's working because of the increase in troops," he said, "but the thing that has to happen is that the Iraqis have to do this themselves..."

(The caveat was all but ignored by some conservative critics, one of whom described Murtha's claim as the equivalent of "hell freezing over.")

Since expressing skepticism over the war in November 2005, Murtha has consistently applauded the capabilities of the troops but also emphasized that, in the absence of political progress among the Iraqi government, their work would be for naught. When President Bush rolled out his surge proposal in the winter of 2007, he opposed the idea, according to the Wall Street Journal, because "it meant depleting readiness at home or extending the tours of troops [currently] in the war zone."

On Thursday, the congressman took a softer but similar stance. Murtha harped on the lack of political and diplomatic progress in Iraq. "The impression I got was that the central government was pretty close to dysfunctional," he said. "They hope the 2008 budget will be passed by 2007 but there are still 17 ministerial seats unfilled."

And he spoke worrisomely about the status of America's armed forces: "I keep stressing we can no longer afford to spend 14 billion a month on the war and let our readiness slip in other parts of the country."

Murtha also offered several more defined criticisms of the Bush administration's war policy. He discussed the violence caused by private contractors. "They are out of control," said the congressman. "There are more of them than there are troops." And he criticized America's military equipment shortage, noting that troops were leasing heavy-lift helicopters from Russia because the domestic crop had either worn down or weren't readily available.

What Murtha's press conference - and the reaction to it - did illustrate was how much of a delicate issue Iraq has become for the Democratic Party. With the levels of violence dropping, opponents of the war have been under pressure to alter their criticisms of President Bush's strategy. The outcome, some observers predict, is playing into the president 's hands.

"While you had very well intentioned and focused people like Congressman Murtha committed to getting the troops out, the Democratic Party as a whole could have won a number of these battles and didn't," Steve Clemons, a fellow at the New America Foundation, told the Huffington Post. "The [Democrats] seem to have been drawn into a fog by President Bush to neglect the larger strategic question and to allow the seduction of the American public into thinking things are improving."

And indeed, during his conference yesterday, Murtha raised the prospect that Democratic leadership could compromise on Iraq war funding (which is currently at an impasse) by extending the time-line for withdrawing troops. Such a move seemed out of the question when he and House appropriations chairman David Obey (D-WI) address the issue only a week ago.

"Congress wants to come up with a agreement," Murtha said on Thursday.

Yet even in opening up the possibility for legislative compromise, the congressman remained convinced that the soldiers in Iraq would best be served returning home. Asked about Sen. John McCain's claim that the troops simply wanted more time to complete the mission, Murtha offered:

"I think that's true. But on the other hand they want to come home. They came up to me and said how much they appreciate what the Congress has done to make sure they had what they need... Sure they want to finish the job, they feel morally responsible I think having said that they are burned out for having been there so often."

Friday, November 30, 2007

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Teacher Hidden As Sudan Mob Urges Death

Teacher Hidden As Sudan Mob Urges Death: "KHARTOUM Sudan (AP) - Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of a British teacher Friday and demanded her execution for insulting Islam by letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Sudan's Islamic government, which has long whipped up anti-Western, Muslim hard-line sentiment at home, was balancing between fueling outrage over the case of Gillian Gibbons and containing it.

The government does not want to seriously damage ties with Britain, but the show of anger underlines its stance that Sudanese oppose Western interference, lawyers and political foes said. The uproar comes as the U.N. is accusing Sudan of dragging its feet on the deployment of peacekeepers in the war-torn Darfur region.

Many in the protesting crowd shouted "Kill her! Kill her by firing squad!"

...In their mosque sermons Friday, several Muslim clerics harshly denounced Gibbons, saying she had intentionally insulted the prophet, but they not call for protests and said the punishment ordered by the court was sufficient.

Still, after prayers, several thousand people converged on Khartoum's Martyrs Square, near the presidential palace, and began calling for Gibbons' execution. Many seemed to be from Sufi groups, religious sects that emphasize reverence for the prophet.

Some angrily denounced the teacher, but others smiled as they beat drums and burned newspapers with Gibbons' picture, waving swords and clubs and green banners, the color of Islam.

Chants of "Kill her!" and "No tolerance: Execution!" rang out as hundreds of police in riot gear stood by, keeping the crowd contained but not moving against the rally.

Protesters dismissed Gibbons' claims that she didn't mean to insult the prophet.

"It is a premeditated action, and this unbeliever thinks that she can fool us?" said Yassin Mubarak, a young dreadlocked man swathed in green and carrying a sword. "What she did requires her life to be taken."

Several hundred protesters marched to Unity High School, where Gibbons worked, and chanted outside briefly before heading toward the nearby British Embassy. They were stopped by security forces two blocks from the embassy. The protest dispersed after an hour.

"I would like to tell the whole world that what happened here from this English teacher is not acceptable to us," said a protester, Sheikh Nasser Abu Shamah.

There was no overt sign that the government organized the protest, but such a public rally could not have taken place without at least official assent.

Gibbons was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation for insulting Islam with the naming of the teddy bear, which was part of a class project for her 7-year-old students at the private school.

She escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine. Her time in jail since her arrest Sunday counts toward the sentence.

The conviction shocked Britons, and the British government said it was working with Sudan's regime to win her release. Muslim groups in Britain and the United States denounced the ruling, saying Gibbons should not have been tried.

Many in the West were mystified by the anger over a teddy bear.

During her trial, a weeping Gibbons said she had intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear, and Muhammad is one of the most common names for men in the Arab world. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic rules against insulting the prophet.

But the case was caught up in the ideology that President Omar al- Bashir's Islamic regime has long instilled in Sudan, a mix of anti- colonialism, religious fundamentalism and a sense that the West is besieging Islam.

"The escalation is deliberate," said Mariam al-Mahdi, a leader of the main opposition Umma party. "There has been a strong official mobilization in the media and mosques against the so-called imperialists and the crusaders."

She pointed to nationalistic songs often played on state media, including one that proclaims, "For you America, we were trained and for you prophet, we were armed."

Gibbons' defense lawyer, al-Gizouli, said that given the strong religious feeling in Sudan, "if you tell the people that someone has done such and such, they get angry ... without (finding out) what exactly happened, the facts, the reality."

By prosecuting Gibbons, the government may have wanted to raise public anger to bolster its resistance to including Western peacekeepers in the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force that is supposed to deploy in Darfur, al-Gizouli said.

"You take an event like this teacher incident, enlarge it and make a bomb out of it," he told AP. The aim is to show "Muslims in Sudan don't want these people (Westerners) to interfere, we want African troops."

Al-Bashir said in early November that he would not allow Scandinavian countries to join the peacekeeping force because newspapers there published the cartoons that insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

But he long resisted any U.N. peacekeepers, denouncing them as colonialists and vowing to lead a holy war against them, until he consented under growing international pressure to allow the joint force earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said the Khartoum regime was still throwing up obstacles to the deployment of the 26,000-strong force.

Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup, supported by fundamentalists rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. His ruling party, dominated by Islamic hard-liners, controls the levers of power in the north, where Islamic Sharia law is in place.


[bth: a pathetic and contrived situation ruining this lady's life.]

Photo of destroyed bridge in Iraq

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Marines to Cut Armored Vehicle Orders

Marines to Cut Armored Vehicle Orders - New York Times: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Marines plan to buy fewer bomb-resistant vehicles than planned despite pressure from lawmakers who are determined to spend billions of dollars on the vehicles.

The Marine Corps' requirement for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles would drop from the planned 3,700 to about 2,400, The Associated Press has learned. The Marines would not comment on the decision, but defense officials confirmed the cut. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.

About a month ago, Marine Commandant Gen. T. James Conway signaled the possibility of a new examination of the commitment to the vehicles, saying he was concerned his force was getting too heavy. ''I'm a little bit concerned about us keeping our expeditionary flavor,'' he said.

At the same time, an independent study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington questioned whether the Pentagon was buying too many of the pricey vehicles, which can cost as much as $1 million each. The study found that in some cases, the heavily armored vehicles, with their bomb-deflecting V-shaped hulls, might not be the answer that many believe they are.

Military officials and other experts have said that while the vehicles, known as MRAPs, are lifesavers in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are not as useful or mobile in some terrain.

The Marine Corps was criticized this year for not responding quickly enough to urgent requests for the vehicles from troops in Iraq. In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the vehicles were the military's highest priority acquisition program.

In his comments last month, Conway said the Marine Corps has emerged as a ''second land Army,'' assigned to secure Iraq, and must buy heavy equipment, including the mine-resistant vehicles, for protection against roadside bombs.

''Can I give a satisfactory answer to what we're going to be doing with those things in five or 10 years? Probably not,'' Conway said at an event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security. ''Wrap them in shrink wrap and put them in asphalt somewhere is about the best thing that we can describe at this point. And as expensive as they are, that is probably not a good use of the taxpayers money.''

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, buoyed by the vehicle's solid record -- to date no troops have died in one -- have consistently said the military must buy more and must buy them faster.

[bth: the reason this is so moronic is that it presumes that insurgents in future wars will forget that MRAPs were required to deal with IEDs. Imagine that, no more IEDs. What a world. What a fantasy. So the fact of the matter is these vehicles are needed and will be needed in future wars because IEDs work. Now are MRAPs the only vehicle we will ever use? No. Will marines still be required to do expeditionary stuff? Sure, but that's not their only mission anymore and we are more likely to fight counterinsurgency wars over any other for the foreseeable future. Get real marines!]
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Home at last, home at last. N. Korea
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Saudi oil plants targeted in missile plot - World

Saudi oil plants targeted in missile plot - World - smh.com.au: "SAUDI "ARABIAN security forces have arrested about 200 suspected terrorists who were said to be plotting to disrupt the kingdom's oil industry.

Saudi authorities said there had been "pre-emptive" raids on members of extremist cells countrywide. About half of those seized were said to have fought in Iraq.

Officials said there were plans to attack oil industry targets and preparations were being made to smuggle missiles into the country. "Security forces foiled an imminent attack on an oil support installation in the Eastern Province after the perpetrators prepared themselves and set a date," the official statement said.

The most serious threat appeared to involve plans to import eight rockets. It was said to have been led by an expert in such attacks who had slipped into the country. Eighteen people were arrested in connection with this alleged plot.

Another 22 were part of a group that plotted to assassinate clerics and security forces, state television said, citing an Interior Ministry statement
.

Those detained also included 32 people - Saudis and foreigners - involved in providing financial support for militants, the ministry said.

A total of six separate groups were broken up, leading to the arrest of 208 people.

More than half of those were described as infiltrators - official code for militants who had arrived from Iraq
.

With the oil market trading high on political risk, the timing of the announcement on Wednesday was particularly sensitive. Experts said it was the most serious report of terrorist activity since 2003, when al-Qaeda sympathisers sought to topple the US-backed royal family.

In an attempt to calm oil market jitters, Saudi Arabia recently announced it would create a 35,000-strong rapid reaction force to protect its installations.

"This was a very large effort by security forces over the past … five months," an Interior Ministry spokesman, Mansour Al-Turki, told state television, adding that the main arrests took place more recently. He said the target was a logistical facility, not an oil refinery.

Al-Qaeda operatives last year tried to storm the world's largest oil processing plant at Abqaiq but were foiled by a perimeter security system.

Security analysts have long feared a spillover of skilled terrorists from Iraq to its neighbours. Saudi Arabia is especially vulnerable because Iraq has more terrorists from the kingdom than from any other nation.

The Government has warned clerics in recent months to do more to stop Saudis heading to Iraq to join al-Qaeda militants who are fighting US forces and the US-backed Shiite Muslim government, considered heretical by hardline Sunni Saudis.

Al-Qaeda sympathisers - boosted by calls from the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden to target the pro-Western Saudi government - have targeted foreign residential compounds, government buildings and energy sector installations since May 2003.

Reuters; Telegraph, London

[bth: I highly suspect this report and think it more likely that a raid was planned or talked about against Saudi oil facilities in order to drive up the cost of oil or negotiate/extort payments from Saudi 'charities' or the royal family for Osama Bin Laden terror groups or similar people. It is important to remember that there have been no oil wells, pipelines or a barrel of oil actually blown up in Saudi Arabia. There were a couple of guard shacks blown up near a refinery and a few non-Saudi engineers shot up and that's it. Be highly suspicious of this report from Saudi Arabia.]

Car bomb found on Sunni leader's premises

Northern Territory News: "IRAQI security forces arrested dozens of people, including the son of a leading Sunni Arab politician suspected of supporting terror, in a pre-dawn raid after a car rigged with explosives was found near the politician's office.



The incident threatened to increase political tension across Iraq's sectarian divide at a time when violence has been falling dramatically in the country.

The Shiite-led government said the politician, Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the main Sunni Arab bloc's Accordance Front, could be stripped of the immunity from prosecution he holds as a member of parliament if he was found to have links to car bombs.

"No one is above the law. Dr Adnan al-Dulaimi has immunity, but this does not exempt him from questioning and accountability," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

"The case is very serious and the accusations against him are very serious. He has to prove his innocence. He will be called for questioning. If the charges against him are proven, his immunity will definitely be lifted."

Seven people were arrested yesterday at Dulaimi's office and 29, including Dulaimi's son Mekki, were seized in a raid early on today at Dulaimi's house, said Brigadier General Qassim Moussawi, security spokesman for Baghdad.

"We have also found quantities of weapons and uniforms of the army and police at the home of Dr. al-Dulaimi," he told Reuters. "Dulaimi's bodyguards are suspected of having links to car bombs and killings. There are confessions against them."

Dulaimi rejected the accusations.

"This is all not true. These are false accusations," Dulaimi told Reuters. "We are the ones who are subject to terrorism."

The wreckage of a four-wheel drive vehicle could be seen on the road outside a charity run by Dulaimi next door to his main offices in Baghdad, where security forces detonated it after discovering it was rigged with explosives.

Windows had been blown out of the charity building, which was covered with black smoke, and its main gate destroyed.

Some Iraqi officials have said a second car was also detonated in the area, but Iraqi Army Lieutenant Hussam Abdullah, at the scene, said there was only one.

Moussawi said the car bomb was found when security forces chased a suspected fugitive involved in a shooting into Dulaimi's compound. Dulaimi's party denied any link to bombs.

"Dr. Adnan al-Dulaimi has been subject to ferocious attacks to distort his reputation," his party said in a statement.

The party said 53 people had been detained.

Two Iraqi armoured vehicles were parked outside Dulaimi's office compound. US Lieutenant Brent Slough said American forces in the area were working with Iraqi troops to keep order.

Iraq has seen a sharp reduction in violence over the past few months, but politicians remain divided on sectarian lines. Iraqi authorities have accused members of Dulaimi's entourage of links with militants in the past.

Dulaimi's bloc quit Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government in August and has so far rejected efforts to lure it back, saying it wants a greater say in security policy.

Dabbagh also said today that Maliki had written to US President George W Bush asking him to order the handover of three former officials, including Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali", for execution.

Maliki's government says it has the authority to execute the officials, who were convicted of genocide for their roles in a campaign against Kurds in 1988.

But President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, have said they must approve any such decision. Hashemi has threatened to resign if the execution goes ahead without a presidential decree.

The US military has said it will hand over the men only when it receives an "authoritative government of Iraq request".

Murtha finds military progress in trip to Iraq

Murtha finds military progress in trip to Iraq: "WASHINGTON U.S. Rep. John Murtha today said he saw signs of military progress during a brief trip to Iraq last week, but he warned that Iraqis need to play a larger role in providing their own security and the Bush administration still must develop an exit strategy.

"I think the 'surge' is working," the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president's decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year. But the Iraqis "have got to take care of themselves."

Violence has dropped significantly in recent months, but Mr. Murtha said he was most encouraged by changes in the once-volatile Anbar province, where locals have started working closely with U.S. forces to isolate insurgents linked to Al Qaeda.

He said Iraqis need to duplicate that success at the national level, but the central government in Baghdad is "dysfunctional."...

[bth: the issue now is political reconciliation, disfunctionality or the breakup of the country. We've bought the Iraqi politicians time with blood. There is no indication I can see that they will address the key issues and reach a decision.]

Welcome to 15 days of hell: Teddy bear teacher heads for notorious Sudan jail

Welcome to 15 days of hell: Teddy bear teacher heads for notorious Sudan jail | the Daily Mail: "The British teacher who let her pupils call a teddy bear Mohammed escaped a flogging yesterday - but must now endure 15 days in a notorious Sudan jail.

Gillian Gibbons will be incarcerated at the squalid Omdurman women's prison in Khartoum, which is massively overcrowded and infested with mosquitoes.
The 54-year-old from Liverpool was said to be "stunned" by the sentence imposed for insulting Islam - after which she will be deported from Sudan. ...



The Omdurman prison where Mrs Gibbon will be locked up was built for 200, but now houses 1,200 women and 300 children, most of the adults jailed for illegally brewing alcohol.


Last night, her son John said the family are struggling to take in the news of her punishment. "It's really difficult at the moment, my head is everywhere," the 25-year-old marketing consultant added.


"I don't want the verdict to lead to any anti feeling towards Muslims. Everyone has been very nice, but one of my fears, and I imagine my mother's also, will be that this results in any sort of resentment towards Muslim people."

He is hoping to visit his mother in jail and urged the Foreign Office to help speed up the visa process.


The Muslim Council of Britain called the sentence completely unjustified.


"I'm utterly disappointed with this decision," said the council's Ibrahim Mogra. "We have been calling on the Sudanese authorities to show leniency, that this was a case of an innocent oversight, a misunderstanding, and there was no need for this to be escalated."

The verdict came at the end of a day of drama and farce in Khartoum that saw British diplomats initially prevented from entering the court.


Defence lawyers said they would appeal. But with the Sudan authorities planning a major security operation today amid expected protests by hardline Islamic leaders urging tougher sentencing, there were fears the tactic could backfire. ...

Gillian Gibbons | Charged in Sudan | Teddy name Mohammed

Gillian Gibbons | Charged in Sudan | Teddy name Mohammed | The Sun |HomePage|News: "THE British teacher held for naming a teddy bear Mohammed has been found guilty of insulting religion and has been sentenced to 15 days in prison, her lawyer said.

She will also face deportation.

Looking tired and distressed, Gillian Gibbons, 54, earlier appeared in a Khartoum courtroom for the start of her trial charged with insulting religion and inciting hatred.

She entered amid chaotic scenes, with an offender being whipped outside as part of his punishment and riot police surrounding the area.

Media and school colleagues were banned from the court and police tried to stop Mrs Gibbons’ own lawyer entering.

In a statement read to court, the mother of two, from Aigburth, Liverpool, defended herself by explaining her seven-year-old pupils picked the name.

The judge ordered the prosecution to produce the person who originally sparked the arrest by complaining to the Ministry of Education.

She was revealed as Sara Khawad, an office assistant at Unity High School, where Mrs Gibbons was teaching her class about animals and their habitats.

Gillian, wearing a dark blue jacket and blue dress, was not handcuffed when she walked into the courtroom, according to reporters inside the courthouse.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he raised Britain’s “serious concerns” during the discussions with Ambassador Omer Siddig.

“We believe that this was an innocent misunderstanding,” he said in a statement.

“I reaffirmed that the British Government fully respects the faith of Islam and Britain has a long-standing tradition of religious tolerance.


“There is a large Muslim population in the United Kingdom who make a major contribution to our national life.”


Earlier, Mr Miliband had told reporters that although he respected Sudan’s legal processes, “common sense” must prevail in the case.

Security was tightened around the court as it was feared extremists might stage a kidnap attempt.

Sudanese mobs had also called for the teacher to be hanged, according to reports.

It was feared that the divorcee was to face 40 lashes, a fine or up to a YEAR in jail if found guilty.

Friends said she would be “absolutely terrified”. ...

[bth: There is no reason to respect this ridiculous decision.]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

 
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30% of Florida's immigrants are illegal, report finds

Winston-Salem Journal | 30% of Florida's immigrants are illegal, report finds: "About 30 percent of the nearly 3.5 million immigrants living in Florida are in the country illegally, the Center for Immigration Studies said in a report released today.

Based on “the latest data collected by the Census Bureau,” the report said that the state has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations. It said that 29 percent of the state’s foreign-born population - slightly more than 1 million people - are illegal immigrants.

The influx of immigrants into Florida reflects the national trend, the report showed. The nation’s immigrant population - legal and illegal - reached a record 37.9 million in 2007.
 
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Last Call: An Opportunity is a Terrible Thing to Waste (SWJ Blog)

Last Call: An Opportunity is a Terrible Thing to Waste (SWJ Blog): "The 600-lb gorilla in the living room of the improved security situation in Iraq is national reconciliation.

Washington Post’s Tom Ricks (Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say) addresses the ever-growing concern of U.S. military commanders that the window may be closing and the Iraqi government is wasting away an opportunity to take advantage of the sharp decline in attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians:

Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."
… And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer? "If that doesn't happen," Odierno said, "we're going to have to review our strategy."

Ricks rightly states that the lack of progress on the national political front calls in question the whole rational behind the surge in U.S. combat forces and other capabilities such as the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). The intent of this surge, as part of a population-centric strategy vice the previous enemy-centric, was / and is to provide the breathing room necessary for the government to smooth out power-sharing between the ruling factions.

On what happens if the Shiite-dominated national government does not act now:

Indeed, all the U.S. military officials interviewed said their most pressing concern is that Sunnis will sour if the Iraqi government doesn't begin to reciprocate their peace overtures. "The Sunnis have shown great patience," said Campbell. "You don't want the Sunnis that are working with you . . . to go back to the dark side."

The Army officer who requested anonymity said that if the Iraqi government doesn't reach out, then for former Sunni insurgents "it's game on -- they're back to attacking again."
The SWJ has sat in on PRT roundtables and discussions and corresponded with other non-military personnel working issues that are not directly related to security. If we interpreted what we heard correctly, another trend appears to be taking root – one of political reconciliation at the local level. This is significant (though it has not received the attention it deserves in the MSM) and in the cyclic relationship between political and military initiatives it contributes to increased security which in turn contributes to even further political gains. Still, this is at the local (provincial / city / tribal) level and given several years to play-out could very well force the hand of national political reconciliation, or not.

Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark (and quoted in Ricks’s article) lays out an alternate view on recent success, both political and security related, associated with the “bottom-up” approach:

The officers interviewed in the story are agonizing over whether provincial elections would help bridge the political gap. I understand the hope that this could break the impasse, but I'm skeptical for three reasons.

First, it's important to recognize the intense Sunni-Sunni political struggles unfolding, as I wrote about in some detail the other day, and think about how elections could be a trigger for bringing those undercurrents to the surface.

Second, as I mentioned the other day most Sunnis seem more preoccupied with the national level than the local - the new elections that they want are to the national Parliament. They are also intensely suspicious of anything which smells like partition, and promoting provincial over national elections could well trigger an intensely hostile reaction.
Finally, and most importantly, provincial elections sidestep the really important question: the relationship between these local militias and the central state. Without institutionalized control over the means of violence and a meaningful political bargain at the center, I just do not see any way to prevent a spiral into sectarian warfare. And thus, as Ricks quotes my argument, the current strategy is accelerating Iraq's descent into a warlord state even if violence is temporarily down.

Regardless of what one thinks of the bottom-up approach to COIN (I maintain that as 2007 dawned it was the “only approach” we had as an option), time, resources and patience are not unlimited and if the Iraqi national government does not immediately take advantage of the recent relative calm it may not have another chance.

There are three major issues that, if addressed seriously by the Iraqi national government, would indicate the reconciliation process is working - the oil-framework law, revenue sharing and de-ba’athification reform. To the Iraqi natonal government - move on these or it is indeed 'last call'.

-- Dave D.
 
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IAF Strike Signals New Tit-for-Tat Policy

IAF Strike Signals New Tit-for-Tat Policy - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Arutz Sheva: "IsraelNN.com) The attack on a Hamas position in Khan Yunis Wednesday afternoon which killed two was the first sign of a new IDF policy regarding the Gaza terrorists. Military sources told Maariv/NRG that from now on, the IAF will attack a random Hamas target in Gaza every time a mortar shell or rocket hits an Israeli community, and will no longer limit itself to striking the terrorists who launched the rockets. They said that the IDF has now established that Hamas is behind all of the terror emanating from Gaza and will thus retaliate against Hamas targets regardless of which organization takes credit for terror attacks.

After a salvo of mortar shells landed near the security fence near Nahal Oz at around 3 P.M. Wednesday, IAF aircraft retaliated by attacking a Hamas position in southern Gaza. Gaza Arabs said one of those killed in the IAF strike was Rami Abu-Rus, an active member of Hamas. At least 10 people were wounded in the blast.

For months, the IDF has been forced to comply with the government policy of limiting its retaliation to strikes against terrorists in the act of firing rockets, and immediately before or after launching them. Attacks on terrorists in the act of firing at Israeli civilians were called off if they appeared to entail a danger of hurting non-combatants. This policy caused great frustration among the victims of the Gaza terrorists, many of whom felt that the government prefers the enemies' lives over their own.

6,288 Rockets in Six Years

Gaza terror squads fired one rocket and five mortar shells at Israeli civilians Wednesday morning. The rocket exploded in a kibbutz in the western Negev, causing no casualties. One mortar shell hit a chicken coop in an agricultural community in the area, causing some damage but no casualties. Two additional mortars were fired in the evening, exploding near the security fence and hurting no one.

The counter at the Committee for Secure Sderot website currently shows 6,288 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past six years.

Ten terrorists have been killed since Monday afternoon, most of them in Gaza. One of the terrorists died Monday of injuries sustained in an attack on IDF soldiers two weeks earlier.

Security forces are preparing for "the day after Annapolis." Some IDF experts believe that failure at the summit could lead to a long-awaited "green light" from the Israeli political leadership to launch a massive assault on Gaza.

[bth: ..."green light" to launch a massive assault on Gaza just after the Annapolis summit. Is that a productive step toward anything?]
 
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6,000 Sunnis Join Pact With US in Iraq

The Associated Press: 6,000 Sunnis Join Pact With US in Iraq: "HAWIJA , Iraq (AP) — Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance — called the single largest volunteer mobilization since the war began — covers the "last gateway" for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias — mainly Sunnis — that had turned against al-Qaida and other groups.

Extremists have sought new footholds in northern areas once loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath party as the U.S.-led gains have mounted across central regions. But their ability to strike near the capital remains.

A woman wearing an explosive-rigged belt blew herself up near an American patrol near Baqouba, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military announced Wednesday. The blast on Tuesday — a rare attack by a female suicide bomber — wounded seven U.S. troops and five Iraqis, the statement said.

The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by a dozen sheiks — each draped in black robes trimmed with gold braiding — who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq.

For about $275 a month — nearly the salary for the typical Iraqi policeman — the tribesmen will man about 200 security checkpoints beginning Dec. 7, supplementing hundreds of Iraqi forces already in the area.

About 77,000 Iraqis nationwide, mostly Sunnis, have broken with the insurgents and joined U.S.-backed self-defense groups.

Those groups have played a major role in the lull in violence: 648 Iraqi civilians have been killed or found dead in November to date, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press. This compares with 2,155 in May as the so-called "surge" of nearly 30,000 additional American troops gained momentum.

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq also have dropped sharply. So far this month, the military has reported 35 deaths — including an American soldier killed Wednesday in western Baghdad — compared with 38 in October. In June, 101 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq.

Village mayors and others who signed Wednesday's agreement say about 200 militants have sought refuge in the area, about 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk on the edge of northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Hawija is a predominantly Sunni Arab cluster of villages which has long been an insurgent flashpoint.

The recently arrived militants have waged a campaign of killing and intimidation to try to establish a new base, said Sheikh Khalaf Ali Issa, mayor of Zaab village.

"They killed 476 of my citizens, and I will not let them continue their killing," Issa said.

With the help of the new Sunni allies, "the Hawija area will be an obstacle to militants, rather than a pathway for them," said Maj. Sean Wilson, with the Army's 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. "They're another set of eyes that we needed in this critical area."

By defeating militants in Hawija, U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope to keep them away from Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse city that is also the hub of Iraq's northern oil fields.

"They want to go north into Kirkuk and wreak havoc there, and that's exactly what we're trying to avoid," Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, told The Associated Press this week.

Kurds often consider Kirkuk part of their ancestral homeland and often refer to the city as the "Kurdish Jerusalem." Saddam, however, relocated tens of thousands of pro-regime Arabs to the city in the 1980s and 1990s under his "Arabization" policy.

The Iraqi government has begun resettling some of those Arabs to their home regions, making room for thousands of Kurds who have gradually returned to Kirkuk since Saddam's ouster.

Tension has been rising over the city's status — whether it will join the semi-autonomous Kurdish region or continue being governed by Baghdad.

"Hawija is the gateway through which all our communities — Kurdish, Turkomen and Arab alike — can become unsafe," said Abu Saif al-Jabouri, mayor of al-Multaqa village north of Kirkuk. "Do I love my neighbor in Hawija? That question no longer matters. I must work to help him, because his safety helps me."

In Baghdad, a bus convoy arrived carrying hundreds of refugees home from Syria. The buses, funded by the Iraqi government, left Damascus on Tuesday as part of a plan to speed the return of the estimated 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan...
All the gods are dead
except the god of war


--Soul on Ice, Eldridge Cleaver
 

Trent Lott's Brother-In-Law, Nephew, Indicted On Federal Bribery Charges - Politics on The Huffington Post

Trent Lott's Brother-In-Law, Nephew, Indicted On Federal Bribery Charges - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Prominent Mississippi trial attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, the brother-in-law of outgoing GOP Sen. Trent Lott, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges that he and four other men tried to bribe a Mississippi state court judge.

According to the 13-page indictment, Scruggs and three other attorneys -- including Lott's nephew Zach -- attempted to bribe Mississippi Third Circuit Court Judge Henry L. Lackey with at least $40,000 in cash.

Lackey was assigned to hear a lawsuit in which Scruggs' firm was named as a defendant in a dispute involving $26.5 million in attorneys' fees stemming from a court settlement with State Farm Insurance over Hurricane Katrina claims.

The indictment alleges that the bribe was intended to resolve the case in Scruggs' and his firm's favor. Also charged was Sidney A. Backstrom, an attorney at Scruggs' firm; Timothy R. Balducci, a New Albany, Miss., lawyer; and former State Auditor Steven A. Patterson, an employee of Balducci's law firm.

Neither Scruggs nor an attorney for the firm, Joey Langston, returned telephone messages seeking comment. Langston does not work at The Scruggs Law Firm.

Lott's office did not respond to a request for comment. Lott is not named in the indictment, and has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Lott, the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, announced Monday he was resigning his seat after 35 years on Capitol Hill. Lott's decision to leave Congress came one year after he won re-election to his fourth term....
 
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Houston Police Department Drone in Iraq - Insight UAV

Houston Police Department Drone in Iraq - Insight UAV - Popular Mechanics: "The Houston Police Department wasn’t planning on announcing its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) test program. But when a local news team from KPRC caught the drone on camera on Nov. 16, the department reluctantly released some information, however skimpy. The FAA-approved test took place within a 2-mile radius 45 miles west of Houston, and involved a single fixed-wing drone. The aircraft was remote-controlled from the ground by operators from Washington-based Insitu, Inc., which had also built the UAV.

Now, Insitu has confirmed that the model used in the test was the Insight, a 44-pound, long-endurance drone with a 10.2-ft. wingspan—one that’s currently used by both the Marines and the Navy in Iraq.

The Insight can be equipped with a standard electro-optical camera, as well as an infrared camera, mounted on an inertially stabilized turret. This is a straightforward recon drone, able to operate without a runway, using Insitu’s SuperWedge Launcher for takeoffs and the company’s Skyhook Retrieval System for landings. The Insight aircraft used by the Navy—marketed as ScanEagles—are capable of autonomous flight, but it’s not clear whether those functions were part of the recent test in Texas.

Until that flight, and an announcement on Tuesday by the Miami-Dade Police Department that it would begin its own FAA-approved tests of Honeywell’s Micro Air Vehicle next year, the use of drones by law enforcement has been limited. In 2006, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department conducted a test using a tiny, hand-launched UAV, but the FAA grounded the program immediately. And police in the United Kingdom are currently field-testing small, rotor-propelled drones.

But if the Insight is approved for use by Houston’s cops, it could put those other UAVs to shame, with the ability to take off and land autonomously, and stay airborne for 20 hours or longer, with a top speed of 86 mph and a maximum altitude of 19,500 ft. It could also pose serious legal questions, since its daylight camera’s range is listed at 100 km, with, according to Insitu, “an acuity about 50 percent better than that of the unaided eye at the telescopic end.” Search and surveillance warrants aren’t required for helicopters, but when a robot is scanning your bedroom from miles away, the prospect of plain-view seizures takes on new meaning.

This month’s Insight demonstration might not lead to anything—Insitu claims that the Houston police won’t be deploying UAVs in the near future, and that regulations still need to be developed to fully integrate drones into civilian airspace. But that won’t stop you—or us—from peering out from behind the blinds, scanning the skies for the robots scanning back.
 
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The autonomous warbird

The autonomous warbird - Los Angeles Times: "It was considered a stunning turn in warfare when a remotely controlled aircraft on a reconnaissance flight over Afghanistan spotted a Taliban convoy and fired a jury-rigged Hellfire missile, striking and destroying the target.

The headline-grabbing flight in late 2001 -- though rudimentary and under remote human control -- marked the first search-and-destroy mission by a flying drone, and it propelled robotic warfare from the pages of science fiction to the battlefield.

Now, behind a barb-wired fence and double security doors in Palmdale, Northrop Grumman Corp. engineers are building what could become the ultimate flying robot: a jet fighter controlled by a computer. It would take off from an aircraft carrier, drop a bomb on an enemy target and then land back on the carrier, all autonomously.

The first carrier test flight of the X-47B -- including a shipboard take-off and landing -- is slated for late 2011. If successful, the flight could redefine naval aviation, analysts said.

"If you were to think of major milestones in aviation history, it will be on the shortlist," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and space policy research website.

The Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence agencies have long used flying drones to survey a battlefield or spy on the enemy. They are typically equipped with powerful cameras and are controlled remotely by humans much like hobbyists flying model aircraft, though the military versions are controlled from far-greater distances.

But no aircraft, besides those in science fiction movies, have been able to carry out a combat mission controlled entirely by a computer.

Moreover, landing on an aircraft carrier plying the ocean at 30 knots (or 34.5 mph) and pitching with the waves is considered an extremely difficult feat for even the most seasoned pilot.

"The performance of the aircraft isn't an issue anymore," said David Ochmanek, Rand Corp. senior defense analyst of unmanned planes. "The sole remaining issue that hasn't been addressed -- because it is so difficult -- is landing them and having them take off." ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Saudi holds over 200 militants, foils oil attack | International | Reuters

Saudi holds over 200 militants, foils oil attack | International | Reuters: "RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it had arrested 208 militants for involvement in cells planning an imminent attack on an oil installation, as well as attacks on clerics and security forces.

State television in the world's biggest oil exporter said one of the cells was planning to smuggle in missiles. Al Qaeda sympathizers have mounted a campaign against the U.S.-allied monarchy since 2003.

A cell of eight militants led by a foreign resident planned an attack on an oil facility in the Eastern Province, it said. Saudi Arabia has been building a 35,000-strong rapid reaction force to protect installations after a failed al Qaeda attack in 2006 on the world's largest oil processing plant at Abqaiq.

"Security forces foiled an imminent attack on an oil support installation in the Eastern Province after the perpetrators prepared themselves and set a date," it said.

The report, citing an Interior Ministry statement, said 18 of those arrested belonged to a cell led by an "expert in launching missiles" who had slipped into the country. It said they planned to smuggle eight projectiles into the kingdom.

Another 22 were part of a group that plotted to assassinate clerics and security forces, it said.

The government has warned clerics in recent months to do more to stop Saudis heading to Iraq to join al Qaeda militants fighting U.S. forces and the U.S.-backed Shi'ite Muslim government, considered heretical by hardline Sunni Saudis.

Al Qaeda militants regard many clerics in Saudi Arabia as having been co-opted by the authorities into supporting the policies of the royal family, which dominates government.

Al Qaeda sympathizers -- boosted by calls from Saudi-born Osama bin Laden to target the pro-Western Saudi government -- have targeted foreign residential compounds, government buildings and energy sector installations since May 2003.

MAJOR SECURITY OPERATION

"This was a very large effort by security forces over the past ... five months, Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki told state television, adding that the main arrest operations took place more recently.

The report also said the arrests included a "media cell" of 16 in Medina which aimed to promote "takfiri thinking" -- the ideology of Sunni Muslim radicals that supports violence against Muslims branded as infidels and apostates.

Those arrested also included 32 people -- both Saudis and foreigners -- involved in providing financial support for militants, the ministry said in the statement.

After the February 2006 failed attack on the Abqaiq plant, authorities have announced the break-up of cells involving several hundreds of people.

"They are unraveling networks but these are not hardcore people, they are peripheral," a Western diplomat said, adding the government was worried about public "complacency" that the militant campaign was over.

"These are people caught by monitoring Web sites and looking at financial flows. The hard core is really decimated already," said the diplomat.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond and Inal Ersan; Editing by Charles Dick)

[bth: this highly contradicts the article below that says they let 1500 go this weekend.]

Reporters say Baghdad too dangerous despite surge

Reporters say Baghdad too dangerous despite surge | Reuters: "WASHINGTON"Nov 28 (Reuters) - Nearly 90 percent of U.S. journalists in Iraq say much of Baghdad is still too dangerous to visit, despite a recent drop in violence attributed to the build-up of U.S. forces, a poll released on Wednesday said.

The survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed that many U.S. journalists believe coverage has painted too rosy a picture of the conflict.

A separate Pew poll released on Tuesday showed that 48 percent of Americans believe the U.S. military effort in Iraq is going very or fairly well, up from 34 percent in June, amid signs of declining Iraqi civilian casualties and progress against Islamist militants such as al Qaeda in Iraq.

But most journalists said they believe violence and the threat of violence have increased during their tenures.

Much of the danger for journalists is faced by local Iraqis, who often do most of the reporting outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the data showed.

Fifty-eight percent of U.S. news organizations have had local Iraqi staff killed or kidnapped within the past year, the survey said. About two-thirds of news outlets said local staff face physical or verbal threats at least several times a month....

Trophy - Active defence developed in Israel

YouTube - Trophy - Active defence developed in Israel: ""

YouTube - Real life "phaser"

YouTube - Real life "phaser": ""

U.S. Military Fumbles Requests for Nonlethal Weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan

World Politics Review | U.S. Military Fumbles Requests for Nonlethal Weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan: "On Oct. 19, NATO troops on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province fired a warning shot to stop a civilian vehicle that had come too close to the soldiers' convoy. The round ricocheted, killing a two-year-old girl outside her home, according to Agence France-Presse.

It's an old problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, where occupying troops find themselves targeted by suicide bombers in chaotic urban environments where it's impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. Most soldiers have no peaceful way of communicating with civilian drivers other than with vague hand gestures -- and few means short of a rifle to stop potential attackers.

For that reason, the U.S. military for years has been working to get so-called "nonlethal" weapons into the hands of deployed troops. The potential of such weapons to help U.S. troops fight the kind of insurgency warfare that they face in Iraq and Afghanistan has been recognized almost since the insurgency in Iraq began.

In a February 2004 report on nonlethal weapons, an independent task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations highlighted the need to boost nonlethal capabilities for U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Wider integration of existing types of nonlethal weapons (NLW) into the U.S. Army and Marine Corps could have helped to reduce the damage done by widespread looting and sabotage after the cessation of major conflict in Iraq," the report of the task force stated. "Incorporating these and additional forms of nonlethal capabilities more broadly into the equipment, training, and doctrine of the armed services could substantially improve U.S. effectiveness in achieving the goals of modern war."

Despite the early recognition of the need for nonlethal weapons, however, the Defense Department has struggled to develop such weapons and quickly get them into the hands of troops.

One key need in Iraq, according to Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jimmie Harmon, is to allow troops manning checkpoints "to gain the undivided attention of approaching vehicles without risking injury or death of innocent civilians."

In 2005 Harmon, then deployed to western Iraq, sent an "urgent needs statement" to his commanders asking for $2 million to buy 400 hand-held green-laser "dazzlers" manufactured by L.E. Systems of Hartford, Conn. The L.E. Systems dazzler can temporarily blind ("dazzle") at a range of 400 meters; it has proved popular with police forces.

Despite Harmon's request and others, the L.E. Systems dazzler and other nonlethal weapons have been held up by bureaucratic waffling and, in the case of some of the more exotic devices, by poor test results that have resulted in injuries to test subjects. More than six years into the U.S.-led war against terrorism, just a handful of nonlethal weapons have entered service, while the need for them has only grown as major combat operations in Iraq become rarer and daily patrols in crowded cities become more common.

In the wake of Harmon's needs statement, the Marine Corps tested two dazzler designs, comparing their "nominal ocular hazard distance" -- in other words, their minimum safe ranges -- before ultimately selecting a dazzler built by Redmond, Wash.-based B.E. Meyers. The Marine Corps' choice was made against the advice of the Air Force, which had conducted its own testing and believed the L.E. Systems dazzler was safer. Instead of the 400 dazzlers urgently requested by Harmon, the Marines got only a couple dozen, shipped late last year after an 18-month delay.

Now it appears the Marine Corps was wrong about the relative merits of the B.E. Meyers design versus that of its rival L.E. Systems. An independent test conducted by Laser Compliance, based in Utah, has confirmed what the Air Force tried to impress upon the Marine Corps last year: that the L.E. Systems dazzler is much safer. According to Laser Compliance, the L.E. Systems dazzler has a nominal ocular hazard distance of just 30 meters, compared to 70 meters for the B.E. Meyers device. So not only did the Marines have to wait more than a year to get their hands on a reduced quantity of dazzlers, the weapons they ultimately received were of the lesser design. One Marine Corps science advisor called the mix-up "plain incompetence."

The dazzler situation unfortunately is typical of star-crossed military efforts to field non-lethal weapons. Another promising technology, which was also the subject of an urgent request dating back to 2005, has been interminably delayed by testing. The Active Denial System, which fires a 130-degree-Fahrenheit microwave "heat ray" out to 500 meters or more, began life more than a decade ago as a Pentagon experiment and is now overseen by the Air Force Research Laboratory. In as many as 10,000 test firings, the system has caused around six unintended injuries, including one in April that landed an airman test subject in the hospital. Safety concerns have prompted the military to push back fielding to 2010.

If there's a bright spot in the world of nonlethal weapons, it's the Long Range Acoustic Device built by American Technology Corp. based in San Diego. Originally designed as a "hailer" to project voice messages over long distances, the device can be dialed up to cause pain. Hundreds have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the manufacturer. In 2005, a cruise ship crew used one to fight off pirates off the Somali coast. There have also been reports that police in the Republic of Georgia used similar devices this month to break up protests.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP), based in Quantico, Va., continues to develop new nonlethal weapons designed to address urgent needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The systems it is currently developing include a Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Device, a "pre-emplaced net" that is "ideally suited for stopping vehicles" in urban environments and at checkpoints; and the Individual Serviceman Non-lethal System (ISNLS), a shoulder-fired launcher that fires nonlethal projectiles at greater distance and with better accuracy than is currently possible. The ISNLS is sufficiently light and compact to be carried by individual warfighters.

In the meantime, funding for the development of nonlethal weapons is ramping up. From the fiscal year 2007 to FY-08 Defense Department budget, the request for "Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Technology Development" increased from $1.4 million to $10.9 million, according to Defense Department budget documents.

Back in 2004, the Council on Foreign Relations task force that studied nonlethal weapons recommended a much more massive increase in funding for the overall JNLWP, from about $43 million per year in the FY-04 budget to an eventual $300 million. The JNLWP did not respond by press time to requests for an aggregate JNLWP budget number in 2008. But Defense Department budget documents suggest the directorate's budget is nowhere near the $300 million that the task force said was necessary if "the United States is to benefit fully from nonlethal weapons and capabilities."

Given the history of Defense Department efforts to get nonlethal weapons in the hands of soldiers, however, more funding will need to be accompanied by better program management if troops in Iraq and Afghanistan can expect to get the nonlethal capabilities they need when they need them.

David Axe is the military editor of Washington, D.C.-based Defense Technology International magazine and a frequent WPR contributor.

Caution: Taliban Crossing - New York Times

Caution: Taliban Crossing - New York Times: "IN the early 1900s, a crusty British general, Andrew Skeen, wrote a guide to military operations in the Pashtun tribal belt, in what is now Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. His first piece of advice: “When planning a military expedition into Pashtun tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat. All expeditions into this area sooner or later end in retreat under fire.” This was written decades before the advent of suicide bombers, when the Pashtuns had little but rifles yet nevertheless managed to give their British overlords fits.

These same tribal areas are now focus of Pakistan’s struggle with the Pakistani Taliban, particularly the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas on the Afghan border and the Swat region further north. The government trumpets it has more than 80,000 troops in the tribal areas, fighting bravely to root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, these troops — supported with tens of millions of dollars in American aid — appear even less able to police this wild frontier than were the canny British.

Despite the government’s claims of a successful offensive over last weekend, for the most part the Pakistani Army is totally on the defensive and doing almost nothing to bring the fight to the militants. Yes, there have been heavy casualties in recent months, but this is very misleading: they are largely coming from roadside-bomb attacks against convoys and Taliban assaults against Pakistani military bases and checkpoints. There are relatively few reports of casualties during foot patrols, raids or any offensive assaults.

The only consistent reports of offensive action by the Pakistani Army involve the use of helicopter gunships and artillery to attack militant compounds. Aerial assaults, when carried out without support from “boots on the ground,” serve but one purpose: they help sustain the illusion that the Pakistani government is taking effective action.

The truth is that the soldiers have lost the will to fight. Reports in the Indian press, based on information from the very competent Indian intelligence agencies, describe a Pakistani Army in disarray in the tribal areas. Troops are deserting and often refusing to fight their “Muslim brothers.”

Nothing illustrated this apathy more clearly than the capture of hundreds of troops in August by the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud with nary a shot fired in resistance.

While the Pakistani Army has been giving up, the Taliban has been on the offensive, and not just in combat operations. The Pakistani Taliban churns out a stream of propaganda videos and radio broadcasts from “black” stations, aimed at undermining morale within the army while cutting away support for the military within wider Pakistani society. If the Pakistani Army is too weak to act effectively, what about cooperation on the intelligence front? After all, most major Qaeda members now in United States custody were captured with Pakistani cooperation. Unfortunately, that relationship, too, now appears to be losing steam.

This year has seen a notable lack of Qaeda members killed or captured in Pakistan. The Afghan government has turned over detailed lists of names and addresses for Taliban members residing in Pakistan, particularly in the city of Quetta. Not only has this information not led to arrests, Pakistan has routinely continued to deny that the Taliban’s leadership is in Quetta. A Pakistani military officer told me last year (in an uncharacteristic fit of honesty): “If we are not catching the Taliban, it is not because the Taliban is so clever, or so good at hiding. We just aren’t trying.”

So what is America’s retreat strategy? We should not divert our attention from the frontier, which is home to so much Qaeda and Taliban activity. We should, however, stop blindly supporting President Pervez Musharraf, his army and intelligence services.

As in Iraq, we should make financial support contingent on benchmarks. If the Pakistani Army claims it is effectively battling militants in Waziristan and elsewhere, great — but such claims need to be verified by military observers accompanying the Pakistani troops on offensive raids.

Likewise, the Bush administration and Congress could demand concrete measures of Qaeda or Taliban members killed and captured, proof that actionable intelligence passed to the Pakistanis by American or Afghan sources is being acted on rather than ignored.

Yes, this may well weaken President Musharraf, whom we have given a great deal of support over the years. But our expensive investment in him has yielded little in the way of tangible results. We need policy based on what is actually happening along the Afghan frontier, not on wishful thinking that someday Pakistan will become an effective partner in the war against terrorism.

Arthur Keller is a former C.I.A. case officer in Pakistan.

[bth: Indian intel sources should be taken with a grain of salt though I agree with the author's points. Unfortunately his prescription for action on our part is not very helpful. One thought, payment for results may be more effective as the author suggests than our current approach. Specifically, if we are willing to pay billions to a corrupt Pakistani government because of our fear of OBL and friends, what real incentive do they have to bring this group down? The Pakis know our money will dry up when our fear does.]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Don't Send A Man To Do A Machine's Job", Robotics, December 2007; Volume 1, Issue 1 from Holland & Knight LLP

Robotics, December 2007; Volume 1, Issue 1 from Holland & Knight LLP:
"Guest Author: Brian Hart, Black-I Robotics, Inc.

Scenario: It’s spring 2008 and a supply convoy of U.S. civilian trucks guarded by armored humvees and huge armored trucks called MRAPs proceeds north out of Kuwait on Main Supply Route (MSR) “A.” Bridges have been blown up and the convoy is routed along the edge of a town when up ahead a large object is spotted blocking the road.

Is it junk or a deadly bomb? The convoy stops and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team is called forward. They send forward their unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). As it approaches the road obstruction it is destroyed in a ball of flames by an improvised explosive device (IED) composed of wired artillery shells hidden in a refrigerator.

Now other explosions erupt from the left and right as the convoy trucks try to move. At over a million dollars each, with their V-shaped hulls the MRAPs can roll over mines, but an extremely lethal form of IED called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that look like coffee cans with concave copper bottoms, start to fire off. Semi-molten slugs of copper blast through the MRAPs 10-foot-high sides severely injuring or killing the soldiers inside. The EFPs aren’t buried on the road this time like typical IEDs but are hung from trees, attached to lamp posts and buildings.

The impact is devastating and accurate as they are triggered by passive infrared sensors (modified porch lights sensors) which fire from 30 yards or more away. The $300 million in UGVs that the U.S. purchased in 2007 are ineffective against these new weapons for the simple reason that the UGVs can’t reach the EFPs to disarm them. We only have three UGVs with weapons on them in all of Iraq and those aren’t really working. They just can’t reach the EFPs.

By placing the EFPs up high, the insurgents counteract the military’s UGV strategy and expose $15 billion in MRAPS, and their crews, to death and destruction – all for less than a couple of hundred dollars a blast. By stopping a convoy with an IED decoy and then attacking its vehicles with EFPS, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and mortars in a complex attack, insurgents can cut off our main supply routes. MSR “A” alone moves 70 percent of our supplies to Iraq.

Adapting Faster Is a Necessity

How can we win a war where, as The Washington Post put it, the Flintstones adapt faster than the Jetsons? There have been 81,000 IED attacks in Iraq alone in the last four-and-one-half years and IEDs account for the majority of our combat casualties. In 2006, despite the heavy use of robotics, bomb disposal teams had more casualties than any year except 1945. Robots save the lives of U.S. and coalition forces – without a doubt – but what else can be done when a bed sheet or bucket of paint thrown on a robot renders it blind and useless? The age of The Terminator has not arrived. The U.S. government says 5,000 unmanned ground vehicles have been fielded but what isn’t said is that around two-thirds of them were modified toy radio-controlled cars that are obsolete or long since destroyed. Far less than 2,000 robots are actually running on a daily basis and most of those designs preceded the war and were designed to climb stairs, not quickly navigate rubble strewn streets.

Because UGVs cost about $140,000 each, only EOD teams get them and those are often rationed. Basic infantry, combat engineers and other less specialized troops won’t get UGVs until they can be cost effectively mass produced. MRAP armored trucks cost over a million dollars each and $225,000 for armored humvees, but IEDs may cost less than $150 and in Sadr City they pay orphans $3 per day to build them.

Spending five times more than the GDP of Iraq to occupy it, means financial attrition is a real concern. We have to adapt our strategy and tactics to the war at hand.

A New Generation of UGVs

Using a new generation of low cost, adaptable and robust UGVs for government and commercial customers by focusing on an aggressive price-performance criterion is in everybody’s best interests. Cost is critical because unless robotics drop substantially and become more versatile in performance, they aren’t going to be ubiquitous because the infantry just won’t be issued them.

A country that can build a prototype Mustang fighter in six weeks and dozens of aircraft designs and tens of thousands of planes in WWII can certainly do better with today’s UGVs. A developmental timeline of no more than two years is a good place to start because one can design for a known threat. At Black-I Robotics, we are concentrating on a common robust chassis with adaptable mission modules. This is a way of getting economy of scale quickly. By designing ruggedness and cost effectiveness into the product from the outset, life-cycle costs can be held low.

Moreover UGVs aren’t very smart but have been proven to work well in small tele-operated teams – especially if each UGV brings a unique capability. People are more adaptable than machines so it’s no wonder that the concept of one-third of the U.S. Army ground fleet being autonomous by 2015 is a concern to many. By keeping focused on deployable concepts in less than two years, we can stay relevant and accurate in our forecasts for what the troops actually need. Having our procurement process more flexible, more adaptable to the war at hand and as innovative as possible is in everybody’s best interests.

One thing that the U.S. government is doing well is driving contractors to commit to common software interfaces and operator control boxes. Some contractors may not like this requirement, but open source software provides the benefit of allowing modules, such as arms and grippers, to be swapped quickly. This reduces programming time, increases interoperability and should ultimately make training troops easier.

With the proliferation in the last few years of small companies making specialty components such as stereo vision systems, mechanical arms, drive trains and radios, we may be approaching a point where small companies can do what they do best – quickly innovate – while larger companies integrate these components.

We at Black-I Robotics suggest that adding mass production to the requirement list should also be considered. At this late date in the war, few systems offer as much long-term and cost-effective potential as mass producible, robust UGVs. We can and must do better at fielding new varieties, quickly, cost effectively and in quantity.

As Agent Smith said in the movie The Matrix, “Never send a man to do a machine’s job.”

For more information, email Brian Hart at brian@blackirobotics.com or call 978-703-1236.

About our Guest Author:

Brian Hart, President, Black-I Robotics, Inc.

Black-I Robotics was incorporated in 2006 though work began in early 2005. The founders of Black-I Robotics started the company due to their alarm at the slow rate of fielding robust and cost-effective robotic platforms which save lives of soldiers and innocent civilians. A founder, Brian Hart, started the company with business partners Richard Hart and Arthur Berube after Brian’s son, PFC John Daniel Hart, was killed in Iraq at the age of 20. Brian Hart: “We understand the full cost of war through our own deep personal loss of a beloved member of our family
.”

Soldiers get shorter, an unexpected and painful result of carrying a heavy load of gear

TwinCities.com - Soldiers get shorter, an unexpected and painful result of carrying a heavy load of gear: "After 16 months in Iraq, Minnesota National Guard members who came home this summer expected aches and pains.

They did not expect to shrink.

Brian Hesse figures he lost an inch or so - a consequence of the heavy body armor and the gear he toted on convoy and security missions. The armor alone weighed more than 30 pounds. And then there was the 4-pound helmet, the 7.5-pound loaded M-4 rifle, the 10 pounds of extra ammunition and other necessities.

"I shrunk," the 25-year-old from Minnetonka said, "and got a bit wider. It's like my body said, 'OK, I need a wider base.' "

It's no myth. Some returnees and their doctors agree they did get shorter - if at least temporarily. The 60 to 90 pounds of gear around their torsos, shoulders and heads likely caused their spinal discs to compress, making the soldiers shorter and causing back pain.

Guard officials expected the 2,600 members of the state's returning 1st Brigade Combat Team to suffer from a host of physical ailments. While less dramatic than gunshot wounds or brain injuries caused by blast exposures, musculoskeletal injuries are easily the most common health problems for Iraq returnees.

"A good chunk of what we're seeing is actually overuse that we would really anticipate would get better in a short period of time," said Dr. Michael Koopmeiners, who directs community clinics for the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

The key question , now that returnees have been home for three months, is how many are in fact developing chronic problems and how many are getting better.
The answer will become clearer over the next month as Guard members report to Camp Ripley in central Minnesota to complete a post-deployment reassessment. A questionnaire asks soldiers about physical injuries and their risks of combat stress or traumatic brain injury.

The reassessment is a follow-up to one the soldiers completed either in their final days in Iraq or when they reached Fort McCoy in Wisconsin en route home. The questions are identical, but history shows that returning soldiers either don't recognize their symptoms during the first survey or don't want to admit any problems.

About 1,300 Minnesota National Guard members returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan before the return of the 1st Brigade Combat Team. Of those, 716 were referred for health care services after completing their reassessments, according to the Minnesota National Guard. The majority reported "nagging injuries" to their joints and muscles, the Guard reported.

Nationwide, more than 96,000 National Guard members and reservists have completed reassessments since October 2006, and 49 percent reported health problems unrelated to combat wounds, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

Low back problems are most common, Koopmeiners said, followed by neck, shoulder, knee and ankle injuries.

MINNESOTANS AT GREATER RISK

The risk appears even greater for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, whose 16-month deployment in Iraq is the longest of any U.S. military unit. Research has shown that deployment length increases injury risk.

"The longer they're deployed," Koopmeiners said, "the more likely that they have injuries, especially to the musculoskeletal system." ...

POLITICS: Soldiers of (Mis)Fortune

POLITICS: Soldiers of (Mis)Fortune: ..."According to conservative estimates, there are more than 25,000 security guards in Iraq alone.

The companies providing security services include Armor Group, Control Risks Group, Custer Battles, Blackwater, Global Risks Strategies, Dyna Corporation and Edinburgh Risk and Security Management and Sabre International Security Inc.

The London Economist said that by some estimates the private security industry has an annual turnover of over 100 billion dollars
.

In a report released in October, the United Nations asked the United States to help prevent military excesses by multinational troops and private security firms accused of using indiscriminate force against civilians in Iraq.

"The U.S. government should take steps to ensure that offences committed in Iraq by all categories of U.S. contractor employees are subject to prosecution under the law," according to the 37-page report released by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has found that the killings of at least 14 of the 17 civilians in Baghdad in early September were "unjustified and violated deadly force rules".

The investigation, currently underway, involves Blackwater, a U.S. security firm hired to protect mostly U.S. diplomats in the Iraqi capital.

But a team of independent U.N. experts said in early November that most of the private security firms are "engaging in new forms of mercenary activity" and that member states employing them "could be liable for human rights violations committed by these personnel".

The experts, who are part of a U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, expressed concern that the recruitment of former military personnel and ex-policemen as "security guards" seems to be continuing.

"They represent a new form of mercenarism," the experts said in a statement released in early November. ...

ArmorGroup ousts boss and warns on Iraq

ArmorGroup ousts boss and warns on Iraq | This is Money: "The going is so tough in Iraq that even private military contractors admit it's a mess.

Military contractor ArmorGroup today unveiled a profit warning and ousted chief executive David Seaton as it attempted to get a fresh grip on its troubled operations.
Armor blames government bureaucracy, rising costs and the Blackwater incident, where staff of the US security group are accused of murdering Iraqis in cold blood in Baghdad on 16 September, for its strife.

Blackwater is still being investigated and the shootings have delayed the award of contracts Armor was hoping to land. Seaton is leaving 'with immediate effect' - there is no replacement yet.

Profits for the year to the end of December will be lower than the $10.6m (£5.1m) reported last year, Armor admits.

It expects Iraq to remain difficult for the 'near future' but believes its 'exemplary operational and ethical reputation' will prove a winner.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary who is chairman, said: 'It has been a deeply disappointing and frustrating period for the group with a number of major projects being undermined by significant delays and unexpected contractual issues.'

Armor is responsible for the security of the US Embassy in Afghanistan, but says it has issues with the 'onerous administrative and human resource requirements' necessary.

The shares dived 18¾ to 31p.
 
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1,500 Qaeda Members Freed After Counseling

1,500 Qaeda Members Freed After Counseling - November 27, 2007 - The New York Sun: "WASHINGTON — On the eve of the Annapolis summit on the Middle East conflict, the Saudi royal family released 1,500 members of Al Qaeda from prison, requiring them only to promise to refrain from jihad within the Arabian Peninsula.

The presence of the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, at the peace parley has been touted by the White House and the State Department as an important diplomatic breakthrough...

[bth: and these folks are our allies?]

Citigroup to sell $7.5 bln stake to Abu Dhabi group

Khaleej Times Online - Citigroup to sell $7.5 bln stake to Abu Dhabi group: "NEW YORK - Citigroup Inc is selling up to 4.9 percent of itself for $7.5 billion to the investment arm of the Abu Dhabi government, giving the largest US bank fresh capital as it wrestles with the subprime mortgage crisis and the resignation of its chief executive.


The capital injection will shore up Citi’s balance sheet, which has been hurt by some $6.8 billion of writedowns and losses in the third quarter, and the potential for another $11 billion in the fourth quarter. Many investors feared Citi would have to cut its dividend to boost its capital base.

The sale may also signal the freefall in U.S financial stocks is close to ending, analysts said...

Blackwater Probe Stifled by Conflicts

Blackwater Probe Stifled by Conflicts - Politics on The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — The State Department's acerbic top auditor wasn't happy when Justice Department officials told one of his aides to leave the room so they could discuss a criminal investigation of Blackwater Worldwide, the contractor protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

The episode reveals the badly strained relationship between Bush administration officials over the probe into whether Blackwater smuggled weapons into Iraq that could have gotten into insurgents' hands.

As a result of the bureaucratic crosscurrents between State's top auditor and Justice, the investigation has been bogged down for months.

A key date was July 11, when Howard Krongard, State's inspector general, sent an e-mail to one of his assistant inspector generals, telling him to "IMMEDIATELY" stop work on the Blackwater investigation. That lead to criticisms by Democrats that Krongard has tried to protect Blackwater and block investigations into contractor-related wrongdoing in Iraq.

"Instead of cooperating, Mr. Krongard apparently created a series of obstacles to the inquiry," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee examining Krongard's performance as the State Department official responsible for stamping out waste, fraud and abuse.

Krongard, whose credibility was damaged by the recent disclosure that his brother had a business affiliation with Blackwater, has disputed the charge, though he recused himself from Blackwater matters after the potential conflict of interest emerged.

His aide, Terry Heide, who was kicked out of the July 31 meeting, also says she's been unfairly blamed for slowing the Blackwater probe. Her role was to collect State Department documents for the investigators - a job she did well, according to her lawyer. But even Krongard's own staff saw her as a hindrance.

Brian Rubendall, a senior State Department investigator, has questioned the halt in the inquiry, telling the oversight committee in an October interview that there was no justifiable "reason for us to stop that investigation. None."

Krongard said he put the brakes on because he was concerned a separate audit of Blackwater contracts might "contaminate" the Justice Department's work.

Blackwater has called the smuggling allegations baseless. However, earlier this year two former Blackwater employees pleaded guilty to possession of stolen firearms that were shipped in interstate or foreign commerce. They are cooperating with federal agents. Blackwater said the two were fired after it was learned they were stealing from the company.

Altogether, the trail of internal e-mails, testimony from a Nov. 14 oversight hearing and interviews with participants form a picture of bureaucratic infighting with consequences far beyond Washington.

The State Department's role in the Blackwater weapons probe began months before the Sept. 16 Baghdad shootings by Blackwater guards that killed 17 Iraqis and escalated public scrutiny of the company.

In March, Ron Militana, a special agent in the investigations unit, received Rubendall's approval to interview State Department personnel and meet with Blackwater attorneys about allegations the company was illegally transporting arms into Iraq. Militana also discussed potential criminal proceedings in the case with a federal prosecutor....

2008 'final year for US troops in Iraq'

2008 'final year for US troops in Iraq' | NEWS.com.au: "PRIME Minister Nuri al-Maliki said today that 2008 would be the final year for US-led forces in Iraq under a UN mandate which would be replaced by a new pact between Washington and Baghdad.

"The United States has promised that the multinational forces will stay under a United Nations mandate only until the end of 2008," Mr Maliki said in a televised address.

"The final extension for the multinational forces under the UN mandate will finish in 2008."

Mr Maliki said Iraq was not a threat to any of its neighbours as it was now a "democratic state".

"It is no longer a danger to the interests of the region. We are saying frankly that there is no justification for Iraq to stay under Chapter VII. All the justification created by the former regime is now over," he said.

Mr Maliki also said that Iraq had reached the stage where it did not need multinational forces and that the country should be allowed to become a "normal state".

His remarks came hours after he and US President George W. Bush had agreed to hold formal talks next year to decide the future of US forces in Iraq.

Washington hopes to complete those negotiations - meant to institutionalise a long-term political, economic and military partnership between the United States and Iraq - by July, the White House said.

US Lieutenant General Douglas Lute said at a White House briefing that issues such as how many US soldiers would stay in Iraq and for how long, and whether there will be permanent US bases, would be decided in next year's negotiations.

"The shape and size of any long-term, or longer than 2008, US presence in Iraq will be a key matter for negotiation between the two parties, Iraq and the United States," the general said.

The new pact assumes that the UN Security Council will renew for another year its mandate for US forces to stay in Iraq, before it is replaced by a US-Iraq arrangement, Lt-Gen Lute said.

The current mandate expires on December 31.

The agreement signed today also covers economic and politics ties, said Lute, who suggested that the pact could help foster elusive political reconciliation among Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurd factions.