Saturday, February 02, 2008

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Internet Traffic Report - Details for Asia

Details for Asia /// Internet Traffic Report This internet traffic report shows a Iran is totally down. Curious. One wonders why alternate routes are not available since the internet is designed to work through interruptions.

Operation Ivy Bells - Wikipedia

Operation Ivy Bells - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Operation"Ivy Bells was a US Navy and NSA mission whose objective was to place wire taps on Soviet underwater communication lines during the Cold War.

During the Cold War, the United States wanted to learn more about Soviet submarine and missile technology, specifically ICBM test and nuclear first strike capability.

In October of 1971, the United States sent the purpose-modified submarine USS Halibut deep into Soviet territory in the Sea of Okhotsk. Its mission was to find the undersea telephone cable that connected the Soviet submarine base at Petropavlovsk on the peninsula of Kamchatka to the Soviet Pacific Fleet headquarters on the mainland at Vladivostok. The mission was a success, and the divers eavesdropped on the wire with an instrument that measured electromagnetic emanations. What they heard was easily understandable Russian conversations with no encryption. The following year, Halibut installed a permanent tap on the line to record the conversations, with a plan to return in about a month to retrieve the records. Eventually more taps were installed on Soviet lines in other parts of the world—the more advanced instruments could store a year's worth of data. The recording device was built by AT&T's Bell Laboratories, and was powered by a tiny nuclear generator.

Other submarines were utilized for this role, including USS Parche. All in all, the intelligence gathered from these exercises helped end the Cold War, as it gave the United States a window directly into the Soviet mind (Sontag and Drew 1998)" from Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage....

[bth: well worth a full read.]

YouTube - Daughtry Home Troop Tribute

YouTube - Daughtry Home Troop Tribute: ""

The Belmont Club: Words beneath the waves Part 2

The Belmont Club: Words beneath the waves Part 2: "Iran has lost Internet connectivity as another undersea cable is cut. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds) A few days ago Egypt and much of the Middle East lost comms as two cables were cut by what was thought to be a poorly anchored ship, an incident analyzed in detail in Words beneath the waves.

It's a little appreciated fact that the world is critically dependent on undersea cables. The information flows of the world go largely through high capacity fiber optic routes under the seas. These cables are also easily interdicted. The technology to harm them is a century old. During the First World War British cable ships pulled up all of Germany's cables. The German navy retaliated by using U-boats with special grapples to yank out British cables in the shallows near the cable landings. The principle difficulty lay in keeping station over a definite spot.

Cable outages happen routinely, due to shifts in the ocean floor, abrasion on corals or anchoring accidents. But there is normally enough spare capacity in the world cable system to re-route comms while the cable repair ships fix the breaks. Just how dependent the world ultimately is on this fleet of ships is often unrealized.

In a real wartime situation, the power with a command of the seas can fix their breaks. The British made good the damage the German U-boats inflicted on their cables. But the Germans, because they could not send cable repair ships to mend their comms, could not. By the end of the war the British had actually stolen the entire German cabling system and redeployed it.

It's highly likely that the three outages are simply due to a run of bad luck. But they are reminder of how vulnerable the arteries of the information economy are.

(Note: the link to the Internet monitoring site for Iran will reflect changes as the cable is repaired. At the time of this posting Iran's packet loss is 100 percent.)

IED-detecting dogs safeguard troops

International Security - Emerging Threats - Briefing - "LASHKAR"GAH, Afghanistan, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- British troops in Afghanistan are averting potential improvised explosive devises and explosives threats by deploying specialized dog units.

Officials say along with advanced bomb detection technologies the British armed forces deploy the Military Dog Support Unit to check routes for mines, IEDs or any other explosives so that convoys can move through the area safely, the British Ministry of Defense reported.

"When you're actively searching, you're the point man, the very front man," Lance Cpl. Adam Milliken, of the 102 Military Working Dog Support Unit, said in a statement. "But to be honest I'm quite happy up there because I've got full confidence in my dog. If I know my dogs got anything, I'd rather be there than someone else, so I'm quite happy to be in the front. I wouldn't have it any other way.

"A lot of patrols won't be happy to go through vulnerable points unless the dog's been there. A lot of convoys insist on search dogs being used in certain areas, for safe passage through the area."

Officials say the dogs are capable of searching a vehicle faster than a human. Additionally the dogs give the troop's confidence before traversing a route.

"(The dogs) provide increased force protection on route searches and foot patrols," Cpl. Charlie Bates said. "It gives the lads more confidence to know the dogs have searched an area and that there are no devices there."

portland imc - 2008.02.01 - Internet ShutDown

portland imc - 2008.02.01 - Internet ShutDown: "Internet ShutDown

An internet blackout throughout the Middle East and Asia (india) has hit internet traffic today except in Israel and Iraq. Many believe this is a preparation for a 911 event or a US assault on Iran. The blame is on cut under sea cables that "accidently" were hit by dragged anchors. Days before 9/11/01 Middle Eastern websites were attacked and pulled down by the FBI.

Be prepared for a shutdown and blackout.


Cable cuts force rerouting of Internet traffic around the world
Carriers report Internet delays with India, Middle East connections
By Matt Hamblen

January 31, 2008 (Computerworld) Two fiber-optic underwater cables that were damaged yesterday in the Mediterranean Sea near Egypt have resulted in Internet traffic delays for some U.S. users trying to link to India and the Middle East.

The congestion and delay on Internet links due to the rerouting of traffic is measured in milliseconds, and while not considered dire, is noticeable, according to industry officials.

A preliminary investigation has linked the cuts to a ship's anchor that dragged and ripped into the two cables while the ship was anchored in an unusual location because of bad weather, officials said. Repairs could take days.

"Any interruption in service is important to us," said Linda Laughlin, a spokeswoman for Verizon Communications Inc. in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Because two cables were cut, the normal rerouting of Internet traffic is more complex than if only one cable had been damaged, Laughlin said. Much of the Internet traffic between the U.S. and India and nearby nations that was normally traveling through the Mediterranean is now being passed the other way around the world, crossing the Pacific Ocean, resulting in milliseconds of delay, she said. ...

Ultimate Concert Experience

Welcome To Red State Update with Jackie Broyles and Dunlap

Third undersea Internet cable damaged in Mideast

Third undersea Internet cable damaged in Mideast: Indian firm: "A"third undersea Internet cable has been damaged in the Middle East, adding to the disruption in online services after two other lines were cut earlier this week, the cable operating firm said.
The Falcon cable was cut 56 kilometres (35 miles) from Dubai, between Oman and the United Arab Emirates, according to its owner, FLAG Telecom, which is part of India's Reliance Communications.

The repair ship had been notified and was expected to arrive at the site in the next few days, the company said on its website.

Flag Telecom owns another cable that was damaged off Egypt on Wednesday. A repair ship was expected to arrive by Tuesday to restore that cable and repairs were expected to take a week, the company said.

The outages have disrupted business across the Middle East and South Asia, including in India, where businesses said it may take up to 15 days to return to normal.

[bth: note there is no statement as to the cause of 3 cables being damaged in a row. One wonders.]

Army's new protective vehicle saved soldier's life in Iraq Metro: Story: Army's new protective vehicle saved soldier's life in Iraq: "FERNANDINA BEACH - Army Cpl. Taylor Harter of Fernandina Beach was working with his infantry division Jan. 19 to clear improvised explosive devices from a rural dirt road south of Baghdad when his vehicle triggered a buried bomb estimated at 600 pounds

Of the four soldiers riding in his armored vehicle, Spc. Richard B. Burress, 25, of Naples was killed, according to the Department of Defense Web site. Of the three others, Harter, 20, was hurt worst: a shattered left foot, a broken nose and several broken teeth.

The vehicle's driver, Pfc. Timothy Pandar, returned to Fort Stewart, Ga., with a fractured foot, and a rear seat passenger, medic Pfc. Andrew Van Meter, was virtually unhurt and returned to duty in Iraq the next day, Harter said Friday in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

But all would have been killed if they hadn't been riding in a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle, which is designed with a v-shaped undercarriage to divert explosions to its sides, Harter said.

"I really don't see how I got out of that with only a messed-up foot," Harter said. "If we had been in a Humvee or a Bradley, everyone in the vehicle would have been dead. I know that for a fact."

The unit had found and detonated another smaller explosive device earlier that day and was returning to base, the second to the last vehicle in a convoy, when the blast happened, he said.

"We were just going down the road - we'd been out all day. It was 5 in the afternoon. We passed that same spot on the road four or five times," he said. "We just happened to hit the pressure plate."

The explosion was under the driver, the engine and himself, Harter said. The blast flipped the vehicle backward and spun it around. After hitting the ground, it rolled over. The explosion threw its engine 100 meters away, he said.

"I just remember hearing a loud boom, my body jerked around and everything faded to black," he said. "I woke up a couple of minutes later, and my head was in the floorboard and my feet were in the air." ...

Allen-Vanguard shares up 41% on Lockheed Martin contract news

Ottawa Business Journal - Home Page: "Allen -Vanguard Corp. has announced that the U.S. army has agreed to buy up to 7,500 electronic bomb jammer systems from its partner Lockheed Martin over a three-year period, a deal which could mean up to $100 million per year in orders for Allen-Vanguard.

The bomb detection and removal products maker said the U.S. Department of Defense had posted a notice of intent to establish an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract to procure up to 2,500 per year of Lockheed Martin's Symphony improvised explosive device (IED) countermeasure systems. Allen-Vanguard makes components for the Symphony system.

The deal was welcomed by investors, who had late last year been spooked by a U.S. army announcement that it had overlooked Allen-Vanguard's partners Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics for a CREW3 jammer contract, with the company's share price taking a 40-per-cent dive at the time.

Allen-Vanguard CEO David Luxton earlier called the heavy trading in December "an extraordinary overreaction" and said fiscal 2008 results would not see a large impact from the CREW3 announcement.

As a result of yesterday's news, the company's stock jumped by roughly 41 per cent Thursday to close at $5.58. ...
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Swedish Meatballs Confidential: War Nerd's USS Sitting Duck

Swedish Meatballs Confidential: War Nerd's USS Sitting Duck: ..."What"happened in Millennium Challenge is that the Navy brass picked a prickly retired USMC vet named Paul van Ripen to play the Iranian commander facing a naval incursion--and van Riper, with nothing but small speedboats, civilian prop planes, and low-tech surface-to-surface missiles, managed to sink two-thirds of the US force by buzzing them with annoying but not openly hostile civilian craft, then attacking simultaneously with everything he had.

I made two important points in that column. The first is that war's entering a new phase where blurring the line between civilian and military isn't just an accident or cheating but crucial to any irregular force facing first-world attackers. It's how they win.

My second point, the one I got a lot of flak for, was that if we send our old-fashioned carrier battle groups into the Gulf in wartime, they won't come out
. They'll make excellent dive sites after all the coral and urchins and other sea critters have colonized them--the Gulf is nice and shallow, so our ships will be resting in really prime diving depth--but they won't come out alive.

Well, durned if the Iranians showed they'd learned from van Riper even if the US Navy refused to. To celebrate the new year, the neocons decided to send another battle group into the Persian Gulf. And guess how the Iranians reacted. Yup: they sent a bunch of small "civilian" speedboats to harass the frigate screen, zipping and zooming in the US Navy's wakes. Waterskiing for all I know, just having a great old time trying to provoke the USN's close-in defense systems into a massacre that they could play for the home audience, tapping into that gigantic Shia lust for martyrdom.

Of course Cheney or whoever else ordered the fleet into a shallow deathtrap like the Gulf was playing the same sleazy game, just with a bigger budget. The only possible reason to send a US fleet close to the Iranian coastline right now is that Cheney and his friends are desperate to provoke a war with Iran fast, before they have to leave office.

And it's harder for them than ever now that we have a new-and-improved Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Rummy bought into all their neocon crap--hell, he was their main wizard!--but Gates doesn't. He pissed off the neocons bigtime at a news conference I just read about by calling Iran a "challenge" instead of a "threat." That may not sound like a big deal to you, but to the Admin crowd it's enough to get you burned at the stake, like calling Jesus "a nice man" instead of "my personal savior" to the churchy crowd.

So there's the US Navy trolling the Gulf trying to draw Iranian fire, and there's the Iranian speedboats trying to draw US fire, like a couple of street whores winking at each other. Naturally, no business resulted because they both want the same thing: an enemy provocation. If you're thinking this means the VP was willing to risk US casualties to get his Iran invasion, you're right, but I hope you're not surprised. In the first place, sacrificing a decoy force for strategic purposes is a classic part of war, and besides, the idea of draft dodgers like Cheney caring what happens to an ordinary squid blasted into fish food by a suicide evinrude attack is just ridiculous. They're coldblooded, which is good for a war chief.

Unfortunately they're also stupid. And the Persians aren't. That bears repeating: the Persians are NOT stupid. In fact, they've always been the craftiest people in the Middle East, because they can yell as loud and act as crazy in public as any Arab--but when it's necessary they can also instantly calm down and plan quietly, a smile on their faces and a dagger under the table.

If the Mullahs in Tehran had wanted a provocation, they could have made one phone call and all those annoying speedboats would have beelined for our frigates at ramming-suicide speed. But Persians are patient; they know that Cheney will be gone in a year, so why risk an invasion? Not that they're afraid of a US invasion; in fact, if they were just typical Middle-East crazies, they'd be scheming to get invaded ASAP. But they don't NEED us to invade right now, which means they feel pretty confident things are going their way without any added aggravation. After all, we just conquered Iraq for them; why not let us bleed out there, with no risk to Iran, then walk in when the US Treasury is empty?

So what the Iranians did was waterski around the fleet and drop "boxes in the water." That's a quote from the Navy's report. The Navy seemed especially pissed off about an enemy who'd do something as low and no-account as dropping "boxes in the water." See, every "box" is potentially a mine, and there's nothing that full-braid Naval officers hate more than mines, because of all the ways you can wreck your ship, steaming onto a floating bomb is maybe the most embarrassing.

See, the Navy brass always plans for a neat, clean hi-tech war. Their real investment isn't the Phalanx or Aegis but the operations rooms deep in the hulls where flabby desk jockeys just like me sit at little screens. Those screens are supposed to show a few dots, nice fair-fighting Soviet surface ships and subs. That's how the Navy wants to play the game. Seeing their beautiful screens clogged up by a bunch of goddamn cheap speedboats full of Revolutionary Guards, not to mention hundreds of "boxes" that might turn out to be mines, ruins everything.

You might wonder, if you were real, real naive, why the Navy hasn't tried to learn from what van Ripen did to them six years ago in the same waters. Well, the truth is that no big, well-funded armed service learns or changes until it absolutely has to, which usually means when it starts to lose a war. And of all services, navies are by far the most stubborn, old-fashioned, snobby, retarded of all. I don't mean the submarine force, which is pretty much God. I mean the brass in their ridiculous floating targets, aka carriers, frigates, tankers and other dive-sites-in-the-making.

If they had any sense they'd realize that the way to deal with big overloaded targets is to saturate their defenses with a swarm of low-cost attackers. If you've got lives to spend, and the Iranians sure do, you spend lives to sink hardware. It's a good trade, when you consider what a carrier costs, and how little the average Iranian life is worth. They're Shia! These guys can't wait to give their lives away. The Kamikazes were squeamish moderates compared to the Revolutionary Guard. And thanks to Silicon Valley and its Chinese knockoffs, you can fire swarms of unmanned rockets instead of Shia martyrs, so you don't even need to spend one life per blip on the US fleet's little screens. You can even send empty rocket tubes as part of the swarm, because in the few seconds the surface vessel has to react, it can't determine which threats are nuke, which are conventional HE and which are decoys.

Of course the Navy will come back with buzz words like Aegis and Phalanx. The Phalanx is a good system, if everybody was still playing by those Warsaw Pact vs. NATO war games. Phalanx, for you rookies, is an automated close-in defense system mounted on the decks of USN surface vessels. It looks like that Star Wars robot R2D2, if R2D2 had a huge penis hanging down that was a multi-barrel 20mm cannon. The R2D2 part houses the radar and computer; the gatling gun spits out 20mm rounds at low-flying SS missiles, incoming speedboats, or diving kamikaze planes.

But the Phalanx was never meant to handle swarms of low-tech attackers. That's not the clean, temperate-zone war the computer dweebs in the Pentagon planned for. See, the original Phalanx only had 1000 rounds in its magazine. The newer models have 1.550, meaning even the USN realized that it was too easy to saturate the target with decoy attacks and deplete the magazine. But 1550 rounds isn't much at that rate of fire--and the Achilles heel of the system is reloading. It's not that easy to hoist 1550 20mm rounds into position, and I don't think either van Riper or the Iranians would be likely to agree to a 15-minute reloading break.

If it was me, and maybe I'm too "cynical" or something, I'd send all my empty missile tubes and expendable suicide squads in the first wave, all at once like van Riper did. I'd count to 90, because 90 seconds would be enough to empty every Phalanx magazine--and you can bet that those scared Navy computer nerds down in the Operations Room would be holding the red buttons down till the barrels were melting when they realized they were under a real attack. Then, while the grunts below deck were hauling the ammo into position, I'd send the second wave with the real stuff. And that, as they say, would be that. A trillion dollars of US Navy hardware becomes an artificial reef

While the Navy was shaking its gentlemanly fists at a bunch of Iranians in Islamic jet-skis, Cheney's propaganda corps was filming the whole ridiculous encounter to try to convince us on the home front that this proved we gotta invade now, right now. This is where they showed that their real talent is for comedy, even though they don't realize it.

To show how dangerous Iran was, the Navy released a tape of a heavily-accented voice on the radio who supposedly threatened the fleet in the Gulf. If you heard this tape, you have to laugh: "I am comink to blow you up, America!" Oooooh, really scary stuff! That's supposed to scare the most expensive naval force in the history of the world?

Some hairy CB retro nut out there in the Gulf whiling away the time sweating in his radio shack hoping to get an answer 30 years after everybody else gave up CB: "Uh, Breaker, Breaker, this is Greaseball Slacker One-Niner givin' y'all the big Islamic word that y'all is about to get blowed up real good, Good buddies!"

To add to the shame, it turns out the voice wasn't even coming from those scary Iranian Bayliners. Turns out the Navy got punked by a dude (or group of dudes) known and hated by every vessel transiting the Gulf under the name "Filipino Monkey."

You know, in some way this whole episode in military history is like one of those samples rappers make. You'd start out with some video of the fleet zooming around the Gulf with the Iranians zipping in their wake in small outboards. You'd run that backwards and forwards a few times while that video-game voice repeated, "The terrorists win!" Then you'd sample the Filipino Monkey's voice that scared the admirals so much, going, "I am comeenk to keeell you America!" a few times, then the apologetic network correspondents saying over and over, " appears to be a radio prankster known as 'Filipino Monkey.'" Run that a few dozen times: "Filipino monkey! The terrorists win! I am comeenk to kill you!" Put it on random, switch the order around, zip the video of the fleet at keystone kops speed, and you've got the big picture: the Gulf of Tonkin incident replayed as comedy. That's the world from 1962 to 2008, kids: history repeating, first time tragic, second time comedy. Not good comedy--Cheney's no Henny Youngman--but definitely slapstick.

-Jacked & Hacked War Nerd aka Gary Brecher

[bth: the thing is, when its all said and done, it is the Golf of Tonkin all over again. The bad news is that the Irianians can play this game too. When they need us to attack, for their own domestic reasons, all they have to do is provoke the incident and we'll oblige. Is this good planning or policy?]
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THE 'MANCHURIAN MULLAH': "February"1, 2008 -- AS the "student" arrives in a bulletproof limousine with heavily armed guards, his teachers, ignoring that he's two hours late, greet him deferentially.

The scene takes place at the Shiite seminary in Qom, Iran's holy city. The 35-year-old "student": Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army, a militia often deemed one of Iran's chief assets in Iraq.

Sadr has spent much of the last 10 months in Iran, living in a 14-bedroom villa in Tehran's posh Farmanieh neighborhood. From there, he travels 90 minutes to Qom twice a week, for a crash course designed to transform him first into a Hojat al-Islam (Proof of Islam) and then a full-fledged ayatollah (Sign of God).

Sadr hails from an old family of clerics but was never meant for the cloth. His father and uncle were grand ayatollahs - until Saddam Hussein put both to death, then also eliminated Muqtada's elder brothers, who might have emerged as credible clerics. Thus, when Saddam fell in '03, Muqtada, although wearing a turban and a beard, had little religious training.

In the ensuing confusion, he tried to transform himself into a political leader by playing the pan-Arab card. Thanks to his family's renown and to Iraqi Shiites' thirst for power, Muqtada became a player in post-Saddam politics.

But it soon became clear that he would always be hamstrung by his lack of religious authority. Each time he tried to go beyond certain limits, Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, the primus inter pares of Iraq's Shiite clergy, intervened to curtail his ambitions.

For a while, Sadr sought clerical cover from two ayatollahs whom his father had named "worthy of trust": Ayatollah Bashir Fayyadh, an Afghan-born cleric who lives in Najaf, and Ayatollah Muhammad Ha'eri Yazdi, an Iranian theologian based in Qom. They raised millions of dollars for his movement, but neither would endorse his maverick project - which, if pushed too far, could split the Shiites and give Iran veto power over Iraqi affairs.

By the end of '04, Muqtada had become almost dependent on Tehran - which he had castigated as an "evil power" a year earlier. And the Iranian regime, having adopted him, set out to transform him into a religious authority.

It normally takes at least 12 years of intensive studies to become a "mujtahid" (who can offer religious guidance). And the title "Sign of God" can't be secured solely by studying: Ayatollahs bestow it on only a few individuals in each generation. The candidate must author a "resaleh" (dissertation), with at least one grand ayatollah publicly acknowledging its theological value.

Traditionally, no man under 40 could pretend to be a "Proof of Islam," for it was at 40 that the Prophet Muhammad was approached by Archangel Gabriel and informed of his divine mission.

But the "Muqtada Project" envisages shortcuts. Sadr is to complete the 12-year course in four or five years, by which time he'd also be 40. Someone could write a resaleh for him and someone else could attest to the work's authority. He could then receive endorsement (tasdiq) from ayatollahs close to the Tehran authorities.

Sometime in 2012 or so, we may meet Ayatollah al-Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr al-Mahallati al-Tabatabai. By then, Najaf's four aging grand ayatollahs could have passed on, thus making it easier for Tehran to market Muqtada as a religious authority for Iraqis.

To win control of Iraq after the Americans leave, Iran needs to control Najaf. But none of the senior clerics there now is prepared to accept the authority of Iranian "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei (himself the product of a similar political project for manufacturing an ayatollah). So Muqtada's makeover is of vital importance to Iran's strategy in Iraq.

Yet that plan faces other problems. The US may not run away after all. And Sadr's followers may not wait until he has finished his makeover. Several influential mullahs are already calling for the Mahdi Army to end its self-declared cease-fire and resume killing Sunnis and attacking Americans.

Indeed, Sadr's movement is growing fragmented and marginalized. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has all but excluded the Sadrists from his coalition, and is determined not to let them make a splash in the coming municipal elections.

Despite Tehran's largesse, the Mahdi Army can't meet its costs without its usual criminal activities, including oil smuggling, hostage-taking and dipping hands into the government cookie jar.

Muqtada faces a tough choice. Should he continue with the Iranian project, in hopes of winning big in four or five years - at the risk that others will fill the vacuum in his absence? Or interrupt the Iranian project and return to Iraq to reactivate his armed gangs - possibly exposing himself to the Americans' full fire - which, with Sunni pressure almost gone, could crush him?

Sadr's best bet would be to distance himself from Tehran and return to Iraq to lead his faction with full respect for the new constitution and the principle of changing policies and governments via elections, rather than armed action.

The Sadrists represent a real constituency; they pulled almost 11 percent in the last general election. They can and must have a place in Iraq's new pluralist system; they do not need to become Tehran's cat's paw in Iraq.

But does Sadr have the freedom to decide his future? He might be a virtual prisoner, along with his new Persian bride, in that villa facing the snow-capped Towchall mountains.
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Germany Refuses US Request for More Troops in Afghanistan

Germany Refuses US Request for More Troops in Afghanistan | Germany | Deutsche Welle | 01.02.2008: "The German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung has said the German military would not send additional soldiers to southern Afghanistan as requested in an unusually direct letter from his US counterpart.

Jung said the Bundeswehr would not contribute additional soldiers to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, as requested in a letter sent last week by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to European NATO members.

"I am still of the opinion that we will continue and fulfill our mandate in Afghanistan," he told reporters in Berlin on Friday, Feb. 1.

Gates has insisted on 3,200 additional European troops to relieve American soldiers in Afghanistan, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Thursday.

Gates reportedly expressed concerns about the disproportionate burden on US troops in the volatile South, a possible split in the NATO alliance, and a loss of credibility if reinforcements were not sent.

Germany currently has 3,200 soldiers, mainly in northern Afghanistan and the capital city of Kabul, as part of the 40,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The US has some 29,000 troops in Afghanistan. Gates was criticized at home for his recent decision to send an additional 3,200 Marines to the war zone this spring without demanding assistance from European allies.

The letter, which was apparently sent to all NATO states ahead of a Feb. 7 meeting of the organization's defense ministers in Vilnius, was presumably intended to retroactively appease his domestic critics.

The US is not alone in its appeal for back-up. Canada, which has suffered 77 casualties in Afghanistan, has threatened to pull out its 2,500 soldiers if NATO doesn't send reinforcements.....

[bth: Germany is not meeting its obligations to NATO or us.]
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Captain Derrick Foskett - Telegraph

Captain Derrick Foskett - Telegraph: "Captain"Derrick Foskett , who has died aged 93, was an army doctor who was captured on his first patrol in the desert, and then escaped for five months in Italy before being retaken by the Germans

After setting up a regimental aid post on an escarpment outside Tobruk, he came under heavy fire from Rommel's advancing army in May 1942, and received an order to hold out to the last man and then to pull back immediately. He managed to commandeer a truck but next morning it was ambushed. It prompted him to tear off his Red Cross armband, pull out his revolver and shout "Come on, men, follow me", before rushing into a wadi. A private who was present wrote a letter from his prison camp to Foskett's parents, saying that their son had probably been captured; it reached their home after his trunk had arrived, labelled "Deceased Officer's Kit".

Over the next six days Foskett walked unknowingly though a minefield, and gradually became separated from his men. He was seeing mirages when an Arab boy brought him food and water, but after a night in a cave, he emerged to be taken by a German patrol.

He was sent first to Tobruk, where he came under RAF fire in the hospital, then to Caserta, where he learned Italian and read Anna Karenina twice. When the Italians surrendered he and some friends decided to ignore orders to remain in camp. He cut through the wire only to come under fire from Germans waiting in the dusk. Next morning he found himself free and unwounded, but in a shrub outside the commandant's house, where two boys urinated over him. Eventually he staggered away to a farm, which gave him food and civilian clothes.

Instead of trying to meet the Allied armies in the south he headed north, travelling along mountain tracks at night while drinking from streams and being sheltered by peasants on poor farms. But when he reached the Pescara river he developed flu, which prevented him from swimming across, and returned to recuperate at a mill where he had stayed earlier; it was there that a German patrol found him hiding up the chimney at 3am.

Foskett was transferred to several more camps in Germany and Slovakia before being asked to help distribute Red Cross food parcels as the war ended. Accompanied by a well-connected German officer who spoke excellent English, and with a Gestapo pass which opened all doors, he toured the broken country in his British uniform. Commandeering an abandoned German staff car, he offered a lift to two female interpreters fleeing the Russians before arriving in Brussels with "PoWS GOING HOME" painted on the car. The son of a medical missionary who later became a GP in Yorkshire, Derrick Foskett was born at Ootacamund, India, on August 18 1914 and educated at Haileybury and Selwyn College, Cambridge. He spent a year at Harrogate General Hospital before becoming surgeon to the passenger ship Hector, which was requisitioned in China by the Royal Navy on the declaration of war....

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Blotter GOP Lawmaker Presses Rice Over Iraq Rape Case

The Blotter: "A Republican lawmaker wants Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to answer questions in person about the high-profile rape case of Jamie Leigh Jones, after lower State Department officials failed to provide information that satisfied him.

Declaring that the State Department's previous written responses about Jamie Leigh Jones' allegations of gang-rape and confinement were "unacceptable" and raised "serious concerns," Rep. Ted Poe of Texas wrote the State Department Monday to request a meeting with Rice. A copy of the letter was shared with ABC News.

In interviews and her lawsuit against her former employer Kellogg Brown and Root, Jones has said she was drugged and gang-raped by her co-workers on her third night in Iraq. After reporting the incident to KBR, she has said the company confined her to a modified shipping container. According to Jones, Rep. Poe played an instrumental role in winning her release by contacting the State Department, which dispatched agents to her location.

Asked if Rice would meet with Poe, State spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said "the secretary's office will respond to the congressman." She declined to comment further.

[bth: Condi couldn't give a damn. The State Dept has been complicit in covering up scandal after scandal regarding KBR.]

Why the Surge Worked - TIME

Why the Surge Worked - T...IME: "Oneyear and 937 U.S. fatalities later, the surge is a fragile and limited success, an operation that has helped stabilize the capital and its surroundings but has yet to spark the political gains that could set the stage for a larger American withdrawal. As a result of improving security in Iraq, the war no longer is the most pressing issue in the presidential campaign, having been supplanted by the faltering U.S. economy. Voters still oppose the war by nearly 2 to 1, but Democrats sense the issue could be less galvanizing as troops begin to return home. Republicans who supported the surge, like Arizona Senator John McCain, have been trying out tiny victory laps lately, but because the hard-won stability could reverse itself, both parties are proceeding carefully. Interviews with top officials in Baghdad and Washington and on-the-ground assessments by Time reporters in Iraq reveal why the surge has produced real gains—but also why the war still has the capacity to cause collateral damage half a world away.

Bush's Plan—and Saddam's

It is an enduring mystery of the Bush White House that no one seems to know exactly when, how or why Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003. But no such confusion clouds how the surge of 2007 was hatched. In December 2006, even as the Iraq Study Group was urging the President to begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq, another group of experts was putting together a very different plan. Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and retired Army General Jack Keane began calling not for a pullout but for an escalation of troops—a one-time infusion of combat soldiers to push the insurgents out of Baghdad. The Kagan-Keane plan found an eager audience at the National Security Council and with Vice President Dick Cheney. Within days, the plan had been sold to Bush, who pulled out a lot of stops to persuade the Pentagon—as well as colleagues in Congress. One Republican lawmaker, having watched his party lose control of both houses because of the war just a few months before, told Bush in a White House meeting that he would support the surge but that the strategy was a little like throwing a Hail Mary on fourth down. At about the same time, Bush told General David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, that he would be getting additional troops.

Petraeus and his commanders had gotten a lucky break when U.S. forces raided an al-Qaeda command-and-control center in Taji, north of Baghdad. Captured in the raid, Odierno tells Time, was a map of Baghdad that outlined al-Qaeda's plan to capture and control the "belt" cities around the capital and then use those as logistical hubs and staging areas from which to mount attacks on U.S. forces inside the city. The telltale map suggested that to stabilize Baghdad, U.S. forces would also have to root out the troublemakers lurking outside the city. "A lot of people thought what we needed to do was put everybody into Baghdad to secure the population," says Odierno. "But what we really thought was causing the sectarian violence were the car bombs, the indirect fire [from mortars and rockets] and the suicide bombers. And we really thought their supply networks were in these belts."

At about the same time Odierno was targeting the Baghdad beltway, he tasked his staff to find out how Saddam Hussein had defended Baghdad against the many secret cells and gangs that wanted to upend his regime. The answer came back: Saddam had always maintained a complex perimeter around Baghdad that on paper looked like a series of concentric circles. Saddam had posted his Republican Guard in various towns that ringed the capital, and inside the city, he had stationed his Special Republican Guard. If it had worked for Saddam, thought Petraeus and Odierno, it might work for them against the insurgents.

But they had to wait. Though Bush announced the surge in January 2007, several months would pass before all 30,000 additional troops reached Iraq and took up their positions. As the troops deployed, Petraeus and Odierno mounted a string of offensive operations against al-Qaeda and insurgent strongholds all over Iraq: in Baghdad, in the belt towns and in cities deeper to the north and south. The idea was to shake the bad guys loose and then chase them down. Even with the extra troops, Odierno and Petraeus didn't have the forces to do this everywhere, but they dispersed their forces so widely that it seemed that way for a while.

Some of the initial results worried Odierno: U.S. casualties in May and June—227 killed—were so high that even he thought he might have miscalculated. But over the summer, the landscape began to change. In Baghdad, GIs moved out of their relatively safe megabases on the outskirts and into smaller bases in the city's violent neighborhoods—to live, form networks and walk patrols. Following Saddam's model, Odierno split his troops between Baghdad and the belt towns on a 3-to-2 basis: 3 soldiers inside the capital for every 2 outside the city. By the end of June, the generals began to notice that sectarian attacks were decreasing.

Antagonists Become Allies

Petraeus and Odierno also realized early on that the insurgents could never be defeated the old-fashioned way. "You cannot kill your way out of an insurgency," Petraeus tells Time. "You're not going to defeat everybody out there. You have to turn them." And many of America's enemies were ripe for turning. Before the surge, elements of al-Qaeda in Anbar province were carrying out grisly atrocities against local Sunnis, including women and children, who refused to join the jihad against Americans. The Sunnis approached the Americans for help, and Petraeus was happy to oblige. The local uprising against al-Qaeda is known as the Anbar Awakening, and it gave the U.S. a model for turning local tribes, clans and whole neighborhoods against the insurgents.

Sometimes the incentive has been simply the will to survive; at other times, the U.S. has rushed cash, logistical help and weapons to local militias in exchange for registration of their names and retinal IDs with U.S. officials. Over the past year, the U.S. has sanctioned more than 125 local proxy armies, an ad hoc force of at least 60,000 that one could call "the other surge." Known as Concerned Local Citizens groups (CLCS), these militias serve as watch groups, police forces and eyes and ears for U.S. forces all over Iraq. But while American commanders are delighted to have help, not all Iraqis are comfortable with the CLCS. Many in the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government worry that the citizens groups—which are mostly Sunni and in some cases are little better than street gangs—will eventually morph into antigovernment militias. Lately al-Qaeda has stepped up attacks on Sunnis who take up arms with the Americans.

As former Sunni insurgents have made common cause with the U.S., one of Iraq's largest Shi'ite factions has been eerily quiet. In late August, for reasons that are still a little mysterious, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to desist from attacking U.S. forces. U.S. officials believe al-Sadr's move was less about helping the U.S. than about purging unruly elements from his 60,000-man militia. Another interpretation is that al-Sadr is simply waiting out the surge and that his fighters will return to the fray when U.S. troops have withdrawn. Whatever the reason, Odierno reckons that al-Sadr's cease-fire is responsible for a 15%-to-20% reduction in attacks on U.S. forces over the past year. U.S. military officers are now in touch with their counterparts at all levels of al-Sadr's operation, trying to persuade them to join the peaceful coalition, as some Sunni tribes have done. But whether that invitation will be accepted—or how long the cease-fire will hold—is anyone's guess.

The surge's proponents say the main reason Iraq is quieter now than it was a year ago is that Odierno and Petraeus simply kept after the bad guys. "They went after about every safe haven at the same time," notes Kagan. "They followed up, they didn't give the enemy time to regroup and set up command-and-control centers." The strategy has been costly: 901 American troops died in Iraq in 2007, the deadliest year for U.S. forces since 2004. But Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has dropped dramatically since the surge began, and U.S. fatalities decreased from 126 in May to 23 in December.

How Long Can It Last?

One of the most striking changes of 2007 is the relative candor with which U.S. military officers now talk about Iraq. Unlike most of their starry-eyed predecessors, when asked, Petraeus and Odierno are quick to list what isn't working well. Iraqi security forces remain unable to mount operations without the logistical help of U.S. forces. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is on the run, but it has not been routed, and it still enjoys free rein in some parts of the country. Murder, death threats and kidnappings are still commonplace; more than 100,000 sections of concrete car-bomb barriers now snake around Baghdad's neighborhoods. And in something of an understatement, even Petraeus calls the progress toward political reconciliation "tenuous." The largest Sunni bloc in parliament, known as the Accordance Front, walked out in August. In January, the parliament passed a measure that would extend to former Baathists and supporters of Saddam a measure of eligibility for service in the new government, which is largely controlled by Shi'ites. The move was long overdue, and no one knows whether the measure will ever be implemented; Sunnis are skeptical, and so, at times, is Washington. "We nudge. We push. We prod. We pull. We cajole," says U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker. But he adds that the Iraqis "have to make the decision."

And that's the trouble. "The big problem remains that you've got a central government that is dysfunctional and disorganized, and that's being kind," says Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who has been to Iraq seven times. Cole believes that the only thing that will compel Iraq's various factions to work together is the threat of U.S. withdrawal—something the Iraq Study Group proposed more than a year ago.

In fact, that's already happening. Several thousand troops involved in the surge have quietly begun to pull out. For now, Petraeus and Odierno are sticking by their plan to draw down U.S. forces by roughly 4,000 troops a month through July. Left unchanged, that would return U.S. forces close to their pre-surge level. But both men caution that it could be halted if violence flares up. Petraeus says further withdrawals depend on a matrix of unknowns: military and economic conditions, and whether the Iraqis are showing signs of governing themselves.

Uncertainties of that size make it impossible to know where the U.S. will be in Iraq in six months, and that's something the presidential candidates would be better off not trying to predict. Iraq is an undoubtedly safer, better place than it was 12 months ago. Yet the ultimate outcome in Iraq is out of the hands of Petraeus and the U.S. military. After a yearlong surge, the U.S. is about to move from the relatively safe ground of betting on its troops to betting on Iraqis. And that's a very different kind of wager....

The Plane Debate: Giuliani, Edwards Out

Welcome To Red State Update with Jackie Broyles and Dunlap

Iraq Turkmen plead protection from genocide

Iraq Turkmen plead protection from genocide | Iraq News | Alsumaria Iraqi Satellite TV Network: "Iraqi"Turkmen Front (ITF) called the government to establish Turkmen Army units within Iraq Army in order to provide security for Taza, Dakuk, Tozkhormato, Amerli and Sulaiman Beik regions south of Kirkuk. In the same time, the Front warned from Turkmen “genocide”. The front affirmed that local authorities did not take any serious measure until now and that Iraq government did not take any serious action until now and that Iraq government did not make any move in order to limit criminal acts carried out against Turkmen.

Vice President of the Turkmen Front, Ali Hashem affirmed that organized annihilation and extermination operations are taking place in addition to abduction and blasts in restaurants, kids play zone and schools he also added that the aim of these operations is to exterminate Turkmen. Hashem warned that Turkmen would be impelled to use their own arms if they lose patience and would work within the army to assure their regions.

Mentally Disabled Female Suicide Bombers Blow Up Pet Markets in Baghdad, Killing Dozens - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Mentally Disabled Female Suicide Bombers Blow Up Pet Markets in Baghdad, Killing Dozens - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "BAGHDAD"— Militants strapped a pair of mentally retarded women with explosives and blew them up by remote control in two pet bazaars Friday, killing at least 73 people in the deadliest day since Washington began pouring extra troops into the capital last spring.

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Iraq's chief military spokesman in Baghdad, said the women had Down syndrome and may not have known they were on a suicide mission. The tactic would support U.S. claims that Al Qaeda in Iraq may be increasingly desperate and running short of able-bodied men willing or available for such missions.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the bombings showed that a resilient Al Qaeda has "found a different, deadly way" to try to destabilize Iraq.

"There is nothing they won't do if they think it will work in creating carnage and the political fallout that comes from that," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the State Department.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said bombing in Iraq proves Al Qaeda is "the most brutal and bankrupt of movements" and will strengthen Iraqi resolve to reject terrorism.

The first bomber was detonated about 10:20 a.m. in the central al-Ghazl market. Four police and hospital officials said at least 46 people were killed and more than 100 wounded

Local police said the woman wearing the bomb sold cream in the mornings at the market and was known to locals as "the crazy lady."

The weekly pet bazaar had been bombed several times during the war, but with violence declining in the capital, the market had regained popularity as a shopping district and place to stroll on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.

But this Friday offered a scene of carnage straight out of the worst days of the conflict. Firefighters scooped up debris scattered among pools of blood, clothing and pigeon carcasses....

[bth: what is there to respect about someone that does this?]

Video: John McCain is Dr. Strangelove

Video: John McCain is Dr. Strangelove: ""
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Detonating an IED in Iraq (Tech Talk)

Detonating an IED in Iraq (Tech Talk): "I got to blow up an IED yesterday.

It was very satisfying. It smoked afterward.

I went out with a Navy EOD team to do "route clearance" on what the coalition calls Main Supply Route Tampa.

It was my second route clearance. I'd gone out Saturday but it was cut short because fog rolled in and the medevac status went "black," meaning the medevac helicopters couldn't get to us if we needed them.

MSR Tampa is what the coalition calls the main north-south highway through Iraq. We started at COB Speicher, where the team is based, and went about 90 kilometers north and then came back.

There was a briefing in the predawn darkness, eighteen of us standing around in a circle in the light of our huge armored vehicles. The EOD team I was with went out with 16 Army "engineers" (not really engineers) who were in RG-31s and Buffalos, armored and equipped with optics, robot arms, or other systems to help them spot and manipulate IEDs. The briefing covered recent intelligence on insurgents in the area, procedures if we were to be attacked, if medevac were necessary, if we found IEDs. We got our call sign ("trip wire.")

Then a tall African American soldier said a prayer. All the soldiers looked like high school students. They were prancing and talking sh#t like it was a pep rally. By contrast the Navy EOD guys looked like grizzled veterans. Then I realized I was old enough to
be their father.

We got in the trucks and rolled out. The two EOD operators and I were in a Joint EOD Rapid Response Vehicle (JERRV. Google it.) We listened to loud thrash metal on an iPod plugged into a fairly amazing sound system. No, the $740,000 JERRV doesn't come with a HiFi system; the operators put them in themselves because route clearance takes 9 -- 10 hours, you go about 20 mph, and you would lose your mind without a sound system. After 20 minutes, I would have traded $500 for the opportunity to listen to Mildred Bailey or Frank Sinatra.

I asked the EOD team leader why he became a Navy EOD operator. He said, "I wanted to dive and blow sh#t up." Indeed. Who doesn't?

After about an hour we started skirting the sprawling city of Bayji. To a middle class Westerner, it seems sort of decrepit and depressing, trash strewn in parts, like most of the Iraqi cities I've seen so far.

About 40 minutes after we hit the outskirts of Bayji we held up because the lead vehicle, one of the RG-31s, spotted something suspicious in the road. It turned out to be a big metal box with two bricks in it and some wires attached; apparently a standard dummy IED. Word came back over the radio, and wecontinued to hold up while the engineers searched for other devices. The Navy guys noted that the insurgents often place fake IEDs for several reasons: (a) to videotape how route clearance teams deal with IEDs, in
order to refine their methods of attack; (B) to halt the teams so they can fire a rocket or
rocket-propelled grenade or EFP at one or more vehicles; (c) to distract the teams from a real, better concealed IED nearby.

A while later we heard over the radio that Iraqi Police detained five men in a car shortly after we were there-- they had the standard kit- long-range cordless phones (used to trigger IEDs), assault rifles, and video camera. There was also apparently a sixth man, who escaped, who supposedly had an IED. How the police surmised what he had without catching him I could not pin down.

The fake IED was near the intersection with a route that bypasses Bayji; the coalition calls this route the Hershey Bypass. It's notorious for many large IEDs. (There's a 10-sec. video of a big blast bareley missing a humvee.) When an IED detonates, the Army engineers fill in the blast crater with concrete, because the insurgents used to use the same craters to plant new IEDs. Parts of Hershey bypass are pocked with concretem patches. As we went by various patches, the EOD guys gave me a guided tour of some of the more notorious

We got to the top of our route around mid day. We turned around and came back down and dropped in for lunch on a forward operating base called FOB Summerall. It was not a relaxed place; there are few people stationed there and the surrounding area is still pretty hostile. But the food at the DFAC was good.

We dropped off a coffee machine for the EOD team there. The operator we met there had that "really happy to get company" demeanor. The pathway leading to their tactical operations center was a line of captured brass artillery shells, laid side by side.

We continued south on Tampa. More thrash metal and hip hop. Besides the music blasting in the cabin, we were wearing headphones that let us talk to each other and also to the other vehicles in our group. So sometimes you were hearing three different things: thrash metal, an internal conversation, and an external one. It gave me a headache, but the EOD guys seemed used to it and could somehow process all three noises separately.

There was a bit of a weird dynamic in the JERRV, because the driver/team leader was actually a lower rank than the robot operator, who was a college-educated lieutenant. But the team leader was on his third deployment to Iraq; had been on more than a hundred IED missions, had seen more than a dozen vehicles hit by IEDs, and had himself survived a hit on his vehicle. The officer/robot operator was basically almost as new to all this as I was.

About 20 km north of Speicher we heard on the radio that the lead vehicle of a supply convoy had seem something that looked like a possible IED in the road and had held up the convoy (and all other traffic on the highway).

We went by two donkeys grazing in the median and arrived at the scene around 2:45. Some of the other vehicles in our caravan blocked traffic. Our team leader leaned out the window where a soldier was standing and said, "what's going on?" He said the thing looked like two 120 mm artillery rounds in a burlap bag with wires coming out of it.

We were about 125 meters north of the thing. The robot operator sent the robot out; it has a video camera sensitive to three different spectra. On the screens in the JERRV we saw a burlap bag with two bags of something inside it, and 2 wires running to the west. Each of the bags was too big and heavy for the robot to push. "That's UBE or sand," the operator said.

"We'll find out when we blow it." UBE means unidentified bulk explosive.

He steered the robot back to the JERRV. The team leader tied a big knot in some detonation cord and taped it up with three blocks of C4. He put it in the robot's manipulator and the operator steered the robot back to the IED. Manipulating the controls inside the back of the JERRV, he commanded the robot to put the charge in between the two bags. Then they let me pull the pin on the igniter.

There was a big orange fireball, a thump that felt like a punch in the chest, and then acrid-smelling black smoke. "Yep, that was definitely some sh#t," the team leader said. The initiator kind of sparked and sizzled in my hand, so I threw it down, and it left burn marks on my sweater (souvenirs!).

The black smoke was a hallmark of homemade explosive, the team leader explained. Military explosive usually gives off white smoke when it blows up.

Then he informed me that according to Navy EOD tradition, I owed him a case of beer. He keyed the iPod, and blasted "Play that Funky Music, White Boy," while the two of them played air drums.

It was a big enough blast to damage a Humvee, maybe even kill someone inside, they guessed. We found frag in the road around the blast, which meant that there was also almost certainly an artillery shell in among the bags of UBE, to create shrapnel.

We gathered up the command wires, which were the standard enamel-covered copper wire that the insurgents use all over Iraq; it seemed to me to be the wire used to wind coils in motors and transformers. I think it might be called Litz wire. It's thin and easily concealed but sufficiently conductive to carry the power needed to pop a blasting cap.

The wires from the IED we detonated went off quite obviously to a 1-story building, about 25 meters square, about a kilometer away. The driver and the robot operator got into a slightly tense discussion about what to do. The operator wanted to go kick in the door, but the more experienced team leader (but remember, he's junior in rank to the operator) thought it wasn't a good idea. The engineers we were with weren't really trained for that kind of fight, if it came to that. And we had no interpreter with us, so if we found people in the house we couldn't ask them why there were copper wires leading to their residence. Plus, unspoken, was the fact that I was there, I guess, another encumbrance.

In the end, the team leader's will prevailed. He said to the lieutenant, "Are you disappointed in me? Did you want to go out there and kill somebody?" But the lieutenant agreed in the end that it was a job for a QRF (quick reaction force) team, which is specially trained for that sort of thing.

The team leader mused aloud, I guess for my benefit, "Where do you turn off your aggression level?" He'd been in several situations like this one, except in those cases there was also a combat-trained team, the commander of which was "basing his decision on what you say--whether they destroy a house or knock down a building."

My happiness was short lived. When we got back to the Navy EOD tactical operations center at Speicher, we learned that five soldiers in a Humvee were killed in an EOD blast and coordinated ambush from a mosque in Mosul, north of where we were.

I'm in Kuwait now, on my way out. See y'all soon.
Detonating an IED in Iraq (Tech Talk)
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Afghan student's death sentence hits nerve

Afghan student's death sentence hits nerve - "KABUL Afghanistan — A 23-year-old journalism student languishes in an Afghan jail, facing execution for insulting Islam in a case that has aroused worldwide outrage.
The death sentence handed to Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh on Jan. 22 is a sign of repression that still exists in Afghanistan more than six years after the fall of the fundamentalist Taliban regime.

The United Nations, citing "possible misuse of the judicial process," has urged the Afghan government to review the case. The U.S. State Department has criticized the ruling. Human rights activist Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, called Kaambakhsh's sentence by a court in northern Afghanistan's Balkh province "an insult to all Muslims of conscience, who must demand his immediate release."

On Thursday, about 200 Afghans belonging to the small Solidarity Party of Afghanistan demonstrated in front of the main United Nations office here in the capital calling for his release.

Kaambakhsh was convicted of downloading blasphemous writings from the Internet and distributing them to fellow students at Balkh University, says Sham ul-Rehman, the court's chief judge: "He insulted the prophet Mohammed. He called him a murderer and a womanizer."

Kaambakhsh's brother says the case goes beyond religious freedom. Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, an Afghan investigative journalist, says his brother was denied a lawyer and signed a confession after being held eight days and threatened by officials from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's version of the FBI. Directorate spokesman Sayeed Ansari denied the agency had anything to do with the case.

"They didn't listen to my brother's defense," Ibrahimi says. "They decided everything beforehand."

Kaambakhsh is appealing his conviction, but still hasn't found a lawyer.

Ibrahimi suspects that he is the real target in the case. Ibrahimi has written extensively about the criminal activities of northern Afghanistan's warlords. One recent article, published by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, documented the way powerful officials have broken the law by rounding up handsome young "dancing boys" and abusing them sexually.

Kaambakhsh's conviction is "indirect pressure on me," Ibrahimi says. "After that, I stopped writing strong stories."

Rahimullah Samander of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association agrees that warlords are "behind the case. They are telling us: Don't talk about our corruption and our crimes."

Judge ul-Rehman denies that the case has anything to do with political pressure from local strongmen: "That is totally propaganda. No one is behind this."

The Internet writings that got Kaambakhsh into trouble were written by an Iranian atheist who lives in Europe and uses the pen name Arash Bikhoda ("Godless").

Journalism activist Samander says that Kaambakhsh may have read Bikhoda's writings, but never added any comments and never distributed them. Samander, who has investigated the case, suspects that the students who brought the complaint "were competing against (Kaambakhsh) in the classroom."

"The only mistake Parwez made was reading something," Samander says. "We don't have the freedom to read an article and think about it. What kind of democracy is this?"

[bth: very hard to respect a religion or government that allows this to happen. So where are the moderates? Cat got their tongue?]

FISA: GOP Blinks (Somewhat)…Let’s Get To Work

Firedoglake - Firedoglake weblog » FISA: GOP Blinks (Somewhat)…Let’s Get To Work: "I'm sure Dick Cheney's admission that telecoms handed over private communications records without a warrant to the Bush Administration had nothing at all to do with this. (H/T to C&L.):

...But the moment he says anything else, any doubt that the telecoms knowingly broke the law, is out the window, and with it, any chance that even the Republicans who are fighting this like they were trying to fend off terrorists using nothing but broken beer bottles and swear words couldn’t consent to retroactively immunize corporate criminals.

Which is why the Vice President probably shouldn’t have phoned in to the Rush Limbaugh Propaganda-Festival yesterday.

Sixth sentence out of Mr. Cheney’s mouth: The FISA bill is about, quote, “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.”

Oops. Mr. Cheney is something of a loose cannon, of course. But he kind of let the wrong cat out of the bag there.

Good one, Dick. In my business, we like to call this an "admission against interest."

The Senate agreement? Via CQ (sorry, no link), a bit of procedure is explained:

...After days of complex negotiations over a floor procedure for legislation (S 2248) rewriting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, PL 95-511), Senate leaders reached agreement Thursday evening on which amendments to allow.

The Senate is now set to hold a debate, beginning Feb. 4 and lasting two days, on a dozen amendments that will address some of the bill’s most controversial aspects.

McJoan has more, including descriptions of the amendments. cboldt lines out the vote requirements for each. Marcy parses Dick. (Hmmm...that doesn't read well.) And, for fun, Glenn has some thoughts on "bi-partisanship" and "trust us" that are quite applicable here.

It is worth saying, again, that a lot of this could have been avoided had Majority Leader Harry Reid opted to use his power under Rule 14 to use the SJC bill as the base bill -- or the House-passed RESTORE Act, which includes the good amendment provisions already. But we've run a flood under that bridge, and can't go back. The good news in all of this is that the GOP blinked, and with some serious work, we may be able to pull off some of these amendments. So let's get to work....

[bth: so violating our rights to warrantless search we are asked to give them retroactive immunity. NO. NO.]

Report: Military Not Ready for US Attack

Report: Military Not Ready for US Attack - The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON"— The U.S. military isn't ready for a catastrophic attack on the country, and National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job, according to a report.

Even fewer Army National Guard units are combat-ready today than were nearly a year ago when the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves determined that 88 percent of the units were not prepared for the fight, the panel says in a new report released Thursday.

The independent commission is charged by Congress to recommend changes in law and policy concerning the Guard and Reserves.

The commission's 400-page report concludes that the nation "does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available" to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons incident, "an appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk."

"Right now we don't have the forces we need, we don't have them trained, we don't have the equipment," commission Chairman Arnold Punaro said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Even though there is a lot going on in this area, we need to do a lot more. ... There's a lot of things in the pipeline, but in the world we live in _ you're either ready or you're not."

In response, Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, chief of U.S. Northern command, said the Pentagon is putting together a specialized military team that would be designed to respond to such catastrophic events.

"The capability for the Defense Department to respond to a chemical, biological event exists now," Renuart told the AP. "It, today, is not as robust as we would like because of the demand on the forces that we've placed across the country. ... I can do it today. It would be harder on the (military) services, but I could respond."

Over the next year, Renuart said, specific active duty, Guard and Reserve units will be trained, equipped and assigned to a three-tiered response force totaling about 4,000 troops. There would be a few hundred first responders, who would be followed by a second wave of about 1,200 troops that would include medical and logistics forces.

The third wave, with the remainder of that initial 4,000 troops, would include aircraft units, engineers, and other support forces, depending on the type of incident.

Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, had sharp criticism for Northern Command, saying that commanders there have made little progress developing detailed response plans for attacks against the homeland.

"NorthCom has got to get religion in this area," said Punaro. He said the military needs to avoid "pickup game" type responses, such as the much-criticized federal reaction to Hurricane Katrina, and put in place the kind of detailed plans that exist for virtually any international crisis.

He also underscored the commission's main finding: the Pentagon must move toward making the National Guard and Reserves an integral part of the U.S. military.

The panel, in its No. 1 recommendation, said the Defense Department must use the nation's citizen soldiers to create an operational force that would be fully trained, equipped and ready to defend the nation, respond to crises and supplement the active duty troops in combat.

Pointing to the continued strain on the military, as it fights wars on two fronts, the panel said the U.S. has "no reasonable alternative" other than to continue to rely heavily on the reserves to supplement the active duty forces both at home and abroad.

Using reserves as a permanent, ready force, the commission argued, is a much more cost effective way to supplement the military since they are about 70 percent cheaper than active duty troops....

Berkeley council tells Marines to leave - Berkeley council tells Marines to leave: "Hey -hey, ho-ho, the Marines in Berkeley have got to go.
That's the message from the Berkeley City Council, which voted 6-3 Tuesday night to tell the U.S. Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station "is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders."

In addition, the council voted to explore enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the Marines because of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy. And it officially encouraged the women's peace group Code Pink to impede the work of the Marines in the city by protesting in front of the station.

In a separate item, the council voted 8-1 to give Code Pink a designated parking space in front of the recruiting station once a week for six months and a free sound permit for protesting once a week from noon to 4 p.m.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak opposed both items.

The Marines have been in Berkeley for a little more than a year, having moved from Alameda in December of 2006. For about the past four months, Code Pink has been protesting in front of the station.

"I believe in the Code Pink cause. The Marines don't belong here, they shouldn't have come here, and they should leave," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates after votes were cast.

A Marines representative did not respond to requests for comment.

The resolution telling the Marines they are unwelcome and directing the city attorney to explore issues of sexual orientation discrimination was brought to the council by the city's Peace and Justice commission.

The recommendation to give Code Pink a parking space for protesting and a free sound permit was brought by council members Linda Maio and Max Anderson.

Code Pink on Wednesday started circulating petitions to put a measure on the November ballot in Berkeley that would make it more difficult to open military recruiting offices near homes, parks, schools, churches libraries or health clinics. The group needs 5,000 signatures to make the ballot.

Even though the council items passed, not everyone is happy with the work of Code Pink. Some employees and owners of businesses near the Marines office have had enough of the group and its protests.

"My husband's business is right upstairs, and this (protesting) is bordering on harassment," Dori Schmidt told the council. "I hope this stops."

An employee of a nearby business who asked not to be identified said Wednesday the elderly Code Pink protesters are aggressive, take up parking spaces, block the sidewalk with their yoga moves, smoke in the doorways, and are noisy.

"Most of the people around here think they're a joke," the woman said.

Wozniak said he was opposed to giving Code Pink a parking space because it favors free speech rights of one group over another.

"There's a line between protesting and harassing, and that concerns me," Wozniak said. "It looks like we are showing favoritism. We have to respect the other side, and not abuse their rights. This is not good policy."

Ninety-year-old Fran Rachel, a Code Pink protester who spoke at the council meeting, said the group's request for a parking space and noise permit was especially important because the Marines are recruiting soldiers who may die in an unjust war.

"This is very serious," Rachel said. "This isn't a game; it's mass murder. There's a sickness of silence of people not speaking out against the war. We have to do this."

Anderson, a former Marine who said he was "drummed out" of the corps when he took a stand against the Vietnam War, said he'd love to see the Marines high tale it out of town.

"We are confronted with an organization that can spend billions of dollars on propaganda," Anderson said. "This is not Okinawa here; we're involved in a naked act of aggression. If we can provide a space for ordinary people to express themselves against this kind of barbarity, then we should be doing it."

[bth: Code Pink is way out of line here. It didn't help that the military investigated them as terrorists when they are in fact a bunch of grand mothers. But there you are. Only in Berkeley. The whole thing is enough to make you sick.]

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Asia Times Online A China base in Iran?

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs: "In the aftermath of President George W Bush's recent tour of the Persian Gulf, coinciding with a similar trip by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, culminating in a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a small French base, Iran's security calculus has changed. It has almost reached the point of Tehran considering the option of reciprocating the perceived excess Western intrusion into its vicinity by allowing a military base for China at one of Iran's Persian Gulf ports or on one of its islands.

Without doubt, this would be a significant geopolitical move on both Iran's and China's part, bound to unsettle the US superpower that enjoys unrivalled hegemony in the oil region and which has unsettled China with its recent civilian nuclear agreement with India, widely interpreted as a long-term "containing China" initiative.

In the tight interplay of geopolitics and geo-economics, with China heavily dependent on energy imports from Iran and other Persian Gulf states, the trend is definitely toward China's naval complement of its flurry of energy deals in order to secure its precious oil and (liquefied) gas cargo ships exiting through the narrow corridors of the Strait of Hormuz.

Presently, China's strategy is confined to the port city of Gwadar along the southwestern coast of Pakistan in Balochistan province, strategically located near the Hormuz Strait. Yet, due to the close US-Pakistan relations, it is highly improbable the US would permit Islamabad to enter into strategic relations with Beijing so that China, still lacking a formidable navy, could utilize it for power projection in the region.

Not so with Iran, which is constantly threatened by the US, and now France, and which already enjoys observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), headed by China and Russia. Iran's bid to join the SCO has been stalled partly as a result of the standoff over its nuclear program, but will likely succeed in the not too distant future should the present patterns of Iran-Russia and Iran-China cooperation continue.

Regarding the latter, China has already surpassed Germany as Iran's number one trade partner. Sinopec, China's largest oil refiner, has just finalized a multi-billion dollar deal to develop the giant Yadavaran oil field, and this is in addition to the "deal of the century" contract for natural gas from Iran's immense North Pars field. Chinese contractors are also busy constructing oil terminals for Iran in the Caspian Sea, extending the Tehran metro, building airports, among other projects. And this while China arms sales to Iran have included such hot items as ballistic-missile technology and air-defense radars. ...

Asia Times Online :US homes in on militants in Pakistan

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan: "KARACHI Another piece of the United States' regional jigsaw is in place with the completion of a military base in Afghanistan's Kunar province, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational. (This correspondent visited the area last July and could clearly see construction underway. See A fight to the death on Pakistan's border Asia Times Online, July 17, 2007.)

The new US base is expected to serve as the center of clandestine special forces' operations in the border region. The George W Bush administration is itching to take more positive action - including inside Pakistan - against Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants increasingly active in the area and bolstering the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has officially rejected US proposals to expand the US presence in Pakistan, either through unilateral covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces, but this is not necessarily the end of the matter, especially as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates. According to reports, Mike McConnell, the director of US national intelligence, and CIA director General Michael Hayden visited Pakistan this month to meet with Musharraf.

A senior Pakistani security official explained to Asia Times Online, "American special forces have carried out clandestine operations in the past, and Pakistan was not informed. The Taliban and al-Qaeda also did not realize what was happening with the quick-as-a-wink hit-and-run operations in the tribal areas. Pakistani intelligence only knew of the operations after they happened. They included the killing of high-value Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders and high-value arrests," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"However, with the new Kunar base, American special forces will carry out extended operations, which means a limited war against Taliban and al-Qaeda assets in the tribal areas. These clandestine operations can be done with or without Pakistan's consent."

In response, the initial militant action is expected to be the relocation of its key leadership away from the immediate danger area. Efforts to disrupt the vital supply lines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)from Pakistan into Afghanistan will be stepped up. A further option is to increase terror operations inside Pakistan as a warning that the militants should be left alone.

The Taliban leadership is aware of the danger posed by the new American base. Several powerful attacks were mounted while it was under construction, but they only managed to cause delays.

The pressing problem is to find a new safe haven for the high profile al-Qaeda leadership. The area on both sides of the border - the Chitral - is characterized by inhospitable jungles and mazes of mountains and rivers, stretching from Noorestan and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan to the Bajaur Valley. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is known to have stayed in the area. It is now a question of finding a safer location for him - if he is still in the area - and his colleagues.

US intelligence spotted bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, twice in Bajaur Agency and attacked the area with Predator drones. Zawahiri was unscathed, but several militants and civilians were killed. Local Taliban sources tell Asia Times Online that Zawahiri had been moving in the area for more than 30 hours before he was spotted and targeted. Apparently, he was to meet with bin Laden.

Going after NATO's arteries
When Pakistani militants occupied Pakistan's strategic tunnel, which connects Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the cantonment town of Kohat in NWFP, the aim was to attack military convoys. These, the Taliban realized, were transporting supplies to Kohat air base, from where they were being flown to the American base in Khost in Afghanistan.

This move has effectively opened a new front in Kohat and Darra Adam Khel - the biggest arms and ammunition-manufacturing area in the region. There were four attacks last week.

Another senior security official told Asia Times Online, "Pakistan has conceded to many of the [Pakistani] Taliban's demands for peace, such as the release of fellow tribesmen. But if they demand something like the closure of NATO's supply lines from Pakistan, it is beyond Pakistan's orbit. The Americans sought Pakistan's cooperation [in the "war on terror"] , in return they pledged billions of dollars in aid. But they wanted steady supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan," the official said.

"Pakistan has stretched itself to the limit for the sake of peace in the country, it has even struck deals with al-Qaeda for it to stop attacking Pakistan. But if they [al-Qaeda and militants] don't appreciate Pakistan's interests and compulsions, then, like [US President George W] Bush said after 9/11, defeat is not an option. This is 2008, and we have the world's most modern army and equipment. This is not the time of British India, when only a regiment could fight against tribals, and defeat them. We can spare far more force and if we want to, we can destroy them," the official said.

Change in militants' tactics
Last week, militants used improvised explosive devices near Peshawar to blow up a military convoy. This is the first such incident of its kind near a city against the Pakistani army. Previously, such events only happened in the tribal areas.

This indicates that while the tribesmen might be facing a modern army, rather than the thin British force of years ago, the army now faces an urban guerrilla battle, not one limited to remote mountains.

Clearly, the militants, linked to a particular branch of al-Qaeda called the Tafkiris, are preparing for an Iraq-style guerrilla battle against Pakistan. The Tafkiris - who class as infidels all non-practicing Muslims - include Tahir Yuldashev, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Sheikh Essa, Pakistani Baitullah Mehsud and some factions of banned Pakistani militant organizations.

The overriding objective of the Tafkiris goes beyond simple terror attacks. They aim to force Islamabad to either follow their dictates or become ensnared in the conflict against NATO. Better. Pakistan would stand neutral in this regional war theater. (See Military brains plot Pakistan's downfall Asia Times Online, September 26, 2007.)

Last Saturday, Pakistani security forces unearthed a militant cell operating from the military city of Rawalpindi and recovered a huge cache of weapons. It is believed militants were planning devastating attacks on military installations. However, massive terrors operations in the federal capital of Islamabad are the biggest fear. Some believe these might be just round the corner.

But the real danger is the aim to drive a wedge between Islamabad and the NATO-Washington nexus, which would leave Pakistan potentially fatally exposed to the militants

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

U.S. forces drawdown hinges on July review

U.S. forces drawdown hinges on July review - "WASHINGTON — — Gen. David Petraeus isn't ready to commit to additional force reductions until after the 30,000 extra troops added last year leave this summer, U.S. military officials say.
Instead, Petraeus will tell Congress and the White House in April what he thinks the overall security situation in Iraq will look like, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a military spokesman in Iraq. Then, Smith said, Petraeus will have to "confirm that assessment" after the initial cuts in U.S. troops are completed in July.

President Bush has said he could accept a recommendation from Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, that did not include a continuation of the drawdown after July.

"My attitude is, if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me," Bush said recently.

Bush ordered a new counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq a year ago, combined with the increase of 30,000 extra servicemembers. When the last of those troops leave in July, there will be about 130,000 U.S. servicemembers left in Iraq....
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Soldier Suicides at Record Level

Soldier Suicides at Record Level: ..."Suicides"among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980, according to a draft internal study obtained by The Washington Post. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006.

At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide, compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

The Army was unprepared for the high number of suicides and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among its troops, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued far longer than anticipated. Many Army posts still do not offer enough individual counseling and some soldiers suffering psychological problems complain that they are stigmatized by commanders. Over the past year, four high-level commissions have recommended reforms and Congress has given the military hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its mental health care, but critics charge that significant progress has not been made.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe stress on the Army, caused in part by repeated and lengthened deployments. Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas, but that trend has reversed in recent years. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 -- the lowest rate on record -- the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006...
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Missile strike in North Waziristan kills 12 - The Long War Journal

Missile strike in North Waziristan kills 12 - The Long War Journal: "A"suspected Taliban hideout in North Waziristan was hit with missiles as peace negotiations in North Waziristan are underway between the Taliban and the provincial government. Twelve have been reported killed in the strike, according to AFP.

The attack occurred in the town of Khushali Tari Khel near Mir Ali on the Pakistan-Afghan frontier. "The identities of the dead are not ascertained but we had reports that suspected them of being linked to the Taliban," an intelligence official told AFP. Locals claimed "tribesmen" were visiting the home of a "local elder."

The Pakistani military has not confirmed or denied the incident. In the past, Pakistani and US Special Operations Forces have conducted strikes inside the tribal areas in an attempt to eliminate high-value Taliban and al Qaeda targets.

The last major strike occurred in August 2007 when Pakistani forces hit two Taliban and al Qaeda bases in the village of Daygan, North Waziristan. Camps and bases in Damadola, Danda Saidgai, Chingai, Zamazola, again in Danda Saidgai, and Mami Rogha were hit over the course of 2006 and 2007. These strikes have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan.

Today's strike in Khushali Tari Khel mirrors the Chingai, Bajaur attack, which occurred at the end of August 2006. The government was negotiating with Faqir Mohammed and his local Taliban forces in Bajaur. The bombings, which leveled a Taliban training camp at the Chingai madrassa, killed more than 80 Taliban. The peace talks with the Taliban in Bajaur were sabotaged, but a deal was cut six months later in March 2007. ...

[bth: we may be trying to break up the deal?]