Saturday, February 23, 2008

Crooks and Liars

The Myth of the Surge : Rolling Stone

The Myth of the Surge : Rolling Stone:... "Now"in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites. Operating as a contractor, Osama runs 300 of these new militiamen, former resistance fighters whom the U.S. now counts as allies because they are cashing our checks. The Americans pay Osama once a month; he in turn provides his men with uniforms and pays them ten dollars a day to man checkpoints in the Dora district — a paltry sum even by Iraqi standards. A former contractor for KBR, Osama is now running an armed network on behalf of the United States government. "We use our own guns," he tells me, expressing regret that his units have not been able to obtain the heavy-caliber machine guns brandished by other Sunni militias.

The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups."

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.
"We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority," says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future."

Maj. Pat Garrett, who works with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment, is already having trouble figuring out what to do with all the new militiamen in his district. There are too few openings in the Iraqi security forces to absorb them all, even if the Shiite-dominated government agreed to integrate them. Garrett is placing his hopes on vocational-training centers that offer instruction in auto repair, carpentry, blacksmithing and English. "At the end of the day, they want a legitimate living," Garrett says. "That's why they're joining the ISVs."

But men who have taken up arms to defend themselves against both the Shiites and the Americans won't be easily persuaded to abandon their weapons in return for a socket wrench. After meeting recently in Baghdad, U.S. officials concluded in an internal report, "Most young Concerned Local Citizens would probably not agree to transition from armed defenders of their communities to the local garbage men or rubble cleanup crew working under the gaze of U.S. soldiers and their own families." The new militias have given members of the Awakening their first official foothold in occupied Iraq. They are not likely to surrender that position without a fight. The Shiite government is doing little to find jobs for them, because it doesn't want them back, and violence in Iraq is already starting to escalate. By funding the ISVs and rearming the Sunnis who were stripped of their weapons at the start of the occupation, America has created a vast, uncoordinated security establishment. If the Shiite government of Iraq does not allow Sunnis in the new militias to join the country's security forces, warns one leader of the Awakening, "It will be worse than before."

...To the Americans, the Awakening represents a grand process of reconciliation, a way to draw more Sunnis into the fold. But whatever reconciliation the ISVs offer lies between the Americans and the Iraqis, not among Iraqis themselves. Most Shiites I speak with believe that the same Sunnis who have been slaughtering Shiites throughout Iraq are now being empowered and legitimized by the Americans as members of the ISVs. On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. "The Americans are donkeys," one boy says. "When they are here we say, 'I love you,' but when they leave we say, 'Fuck you....

But such political maneuvers don't really matter in Iraq. Here, street politics trump any illusory laws passed in the safety of the Green Zone. As the Awakening gains power, Al Qaeda lies dormant throughout Baghdad, the Mahdi Army and other Shiite forces prepare for the next battle, and political assassinations and suicide bombings are an almost daily occurrence. The violence, Arkan says, is getting worse again.

"The situation won't get better," he says softly. An officer of the Iraqi National Police, a man charged with bringing peace to his country, he has been reduced to hiding in his van, unable to speak openly in the very neighborhood he patrols. Thanks to the surge, both the Shiites and the Sunnis now have weapons and legitimacy. And what can come of that, Arkan asks, except more fighting?

"Many people in Sahwa work for Al Qaeda," he says. "The national police are all loyal to the Mahdi Army." He shakes his head. "You work hard to build a house, and somebody blows up your house. Will they accept Sunnis back to Shiite areas and Shiites back to Sunni areas? If someone kills your brother, can you forget his killer?"
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Political Punch - From the Fact Check Desk: Obama's Army Anecdote

Political Punch: "At last night's debate in Texas, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, told an anecdote about an Army captain that is causing a lot of chatter in the political world.

Obama was making a point about what he called "the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq." His point was that in opposing the war he "showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that."

He argued the Iraq war "diverted attention from Afghanistan where Al Qaeda, that killed 3,000 Americans, are stronger now than at any time since 2001."

And then he told the following story to argue that Clinton's vote -- and the larger decision to go to war -- had negative consequences.

"You know, I've heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon -- supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon," he said. "Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq. And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief."

Asked about the story in the Spin Room last night, Obama strategist David Axelrod told the National Review's Stephen Spruiell, "that was a discussion that a captain in the military had with our staff, and he asked that that be passed along to Senator Obama."

Conservatives have weighed in on this story, many of them challenging its veracity (see HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.)

I called the Obama campaign this morning to chat about this story, and was put in touch with the Army captain in question.

He told me his story, which I found quite credible, though for obvious reasons he asked that I not mention his name or certain identifying information.

Short answer: He backs up Obama's story.

The longer answer is worth telling, though.

The Army captain, a West Point graduate, did a tour in a hot area of eastern Afghanistan from the Summer of 2003 through Spring 2004.

Prior to deployment the Captain -- then a Lieutenant -- took command of a rifle platoon at Fort Drum. When he took command, the platoon had 39 members, but -- in ones and twos -- 15 members of the platoon were re-assigned to other units. He knows of 10 of those 15 for sure who went to Iraq, and he suspects the other five did as well.

The platoon was sent to Afghanistan with 24 men.

"We should have deployed with 39," he told me, "we should have gotten replacements. But we didn't. And that was pretty consistent across the battalion."

He adds that maybe a half-dozen of the 15 were replaced by the Fall of 2003, months after they arrived in Afghanistan, but never all 15.

As for the weapons and humvees, there are two distinct periods in this, as he explains -- before deployment, and afterwards.

At Fort Drum, in training, "we didn't have access to heavy weapons or the ammunition for the weapons, or humvees to train before we deployed."

What ammunition?

40 mm automatic grenade launcher ammunition for the MK-19, and ammunition for the .50 caliber M-2 machine gun ("50 cal.")

"We weren't able to train in the way we needed to train," he says. When the platoon got to Afghanistan they had three days to learn.

They also didn't have the humvees they were supposed to have both before deployment and once they were in Afghanistan, the Captain says.

"We should have had 4 up-armored humvees," he said. "We were supposed to. But at most we had three operable humvees, and it was usually just two."

So what did they do? "To get the rest of the platoon to the fight," he says, "we would use Toyota Hilux pickup trucks or unarmored flatbed humvees." Sometimes with sandbags, sometimes without.

Also in Afghanistan they had issues getting parts for their MK-19s and their 50-cals. Getting parts or ammunition for their standard rifles was not a problem.

"It was very difficult to get any parts in theater," he says, "because parts are prioritized to the theater where they were needed most -- so they were going to Iraq not Afghanistan."

"The purpose of going after the Taliban was not to get their weapons," he said, but on occasion they used Taliban weapons. Sometimes AK-47s, and they also mounted a Soviet-model DShK (or "Dishka") on one of their humvees instead of their 50 cal.

The Captain has spoken to Sen. Obama, he says, but this anecdote was relayed to Obama through an Obama staffer.

I find that Obama's anecdote checks out.

Some are quibbling about whether or not the "commander in chief" can be held responsible for how well our soldiers are being equipped, since Congress provides the funding for the military, but the Pentagon (and ultimately President Bush) are in charge of the funding mechanism.

I might suggest those on the blogosphere upset about this story would be better suited directing their ire at those responsible for this problem, which is certainly not new. That is, if they actually care about the men and women bravely serving our country at home and abroad

Lasers Stop Snipers Before They Fire (Updated) | Danger Room from

Lasers Stop Snipers Before They Fire (Updated) | Danger Room from

Poll: Clinton has 7-point lead in Ohio

Poll: Clinton has 7-point lead in Ohio: "An ABC News-Washington Post poll released on Thursday, Feb. 21, has Hillary Clinton's lead over Barack Obama at 7 points. Clinton is at 50 percent, Obama at 43 percent. Clinton holds a 16-percentage point lead over Obama among Ohio Democrats from union households, who comprise one in four of the party's likely voters....

McCain's Alleged Affair

Welcome To Red State Update with Jackie Broyles and Dunlap

Ominous Signs Remain in City Run by Iraqis

Ominous Signs Remain in City Run by Iraqis - New York Times: "BASRA , Iraq — This southern port city has been, in effect, on its own since September, when British forces here moved to the outskirts, yielding authority to local leaders. British and American officials say Basra’s experiment in self-rule could serve as a model for Iraq’s future, but if so — many locals and outside advisers say — that future remains dark.

What makes the situation in Basra — Iraq’s second largest city and commercial hub — so alarming, they say, is that it is a test of Iraqi rule under relatively optimal conditions: Basra has the nation’s best economic base, little ethnic tension within a homogeneous Shiite population and no Western occupation force to inflame nationalist tensions.

Yet the city remains deeply troubled. Disappearances of doctors, teachers and other professionals are common, as are some clashes among competing militias, most of which are linked to political parties. Murder victims include judicial investigators, politicians and tribal sheiks. One especially disturbing trend is the slaying of at least 100 women in the last year, according to the police. The Iraqi authorities have blamed Shiite militiamen for many of those killing, saying the militants had probably deemed the women to be impious.

“Most of the killings are done by gunmen in police cars,” said Sheik Khadem al-Ribat, a Basra tribal leader who claims no party membership. He spoke of the militias in an antechamber of his downtown mosque, his voice barely above a whisper. “These cars were given to the political parties. There are supposed to be 16,000 policemen, but we see very few of them on the street, and most of the ones we do see are militiamen dressed as police.”

Two dozen Shiite political parties and their respective militias compete, often violently, over control of the oil sector, seaport profits, smuggling operations across the nearby Iranian border and political authority over Iraq’s economic nerve center. So while the sectarian tension that has marred life elsewhere is missing here, the strife itself is not....

It is this daily violence intermingled with normal politics that seems most worrying, experts here say.

“They have these overlapping spheres of gangsterism and politics, militias and legitimate businesses, and legitimate politics,” said Rob Tinline, a spokesman for the British Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Iraq’s security forces are the most conspicuous example of the tension between politics and violence in Basra, and the aptly named Serious Crimes Unit of the Basra Police is perhaps the most egregious example. The British Army determined that the unit was a death squad linked to Shiite militias and dispatched Warrior tanks in December 2006 to pound the rogue force’s headquarters to rubble....

Mr. Abu Muslim escaped the 2006 British assault and is still a free man.

In fact, he is still a Basra policeman.

“Either he’s still operating as a police officer or he has gotten tacit approval to pose as a police officer,” said Jonathan Ratel, a Canadian contractor working as a justice adviser for the British Foreign Office in Basra.

Mr. Ratel has been working with provincial security and judicial officials for more than a year to help the Iraqi justice system weed out corruption in Basra’s justice system. He suspects that Abu Muslim is receiving protection from high-level members of the Mahdi Army, the armed militia of Mr. Sadr. The cleric on Friday extended a cease-fire declaration he had imposed on his militiamen in August, but Mr. Ratel said the militia’s domination of the Basra police is a kind of loophole. ...

Reported killings peaked in May, when 112 people were murdered. By December killings had declined to 38, finishing 2007 with a total of 848 known homicides. Basra also had 383 reported kidnappings in 2007, according to official provincial tallies.

But British officials, who had kept a lower profile in Basra even at the beginning of the war, now have virtually no presence within the city and acknowledge they are hard-pressed to monitor Iraqi governance on a day-to-day basis.

So although Basra residents generally agreed with the British military’s redeployment, no Iraqis interviewed for this article called the province’s complex and often militant factionalism “manageable.”

Because Mr. Sadr’s followers boycotted the 2004 elections that established the local government, they lack official representation in the local council. The Mahdi Army has compensated for its lack of official authority in Basra by pushing for jobs for Sadr followers in major government sectors, including health, oil, the port and education. Militia elements have also established protection rackets, ransom schemes and smuggling operations, according to American and Iraqi officials.

The militia has had the most success stacking Basra’s security forces.

“The only way to put together a police force was to talk to the militias and say to the agreed militias, ‘You get 100 guys, and you get 200, and you get 300,’ ” said Mr. Ratel, the adviser. He described the police force as “hired mercenaries for the militias,” most of whom are illiterate and have undergone little or no training.

The military withdrawal has made British training and monitoring efforts more difficult, Mr. Ratel said. For example, Westerners have not visited militia-controlled police detention facilities since September, and Mr. Ratel said he feared that human rights violations were taking place at the prisons.

He said three tribal sheiks and one internal affairs police officer were assassinated on one recent day. He blamed militiamen. Sheik Ribat, in the interview at his mosque, said he spent an inordinate amount of time negotiating with militia-affiliated policemen who had kidnapped Iraqi Army soldiers for ransom. He has assisted the release of at least 50 soldiers since the British transfer of authority, he said.

The police can kidnap the soldiers because the soldiers are not militia, and so they are scared,” he said. “The soldiers just want their salaries, so they do not fight...

But General Mohan worries about the more existential threat of the militia-packed police force. He acknowledged that they routinely kidnapped his soldiers. He also complained of militias within his own force.

“Seventy percent of the army is pure,” he said. “The other 30 percent, I don’t know. The militias are like a smoldering fire. They can explode at any time.”

Jaleel Khalaf, a police general, believes that his own men are trying to kill him. The general, who has a penchant for berets and camouflage scarves, leaned back on one of his overstuffed office couches and nonchalantly recounted the 10 assassination attempts he had survived since he started his job in July. He blames militia-affiliated policemen for some of those attempts, most of which were bomb attacks.

General Khalaf said his main challenge was to professionalize the police force and root out corruption. But he acknowledged that serious problems remained beyond his control. When he took over last year he said he discovered that 250 police cars and 5,000 pistols had been stolen by Basra’s various Shiite political parties and that they were being used by militia death squads.

And General Khalaf criticized his police colleagues who “came to their jobs poor, and are now very rich.”

I have fired many of them,” he said. “Hundreds. But we still have militias here. We push them out of the door and they come back through the window.

[bth: according to McCain the war is virtually over. I've come to detest lies.]

Stop the Spying

Crooks and Liars

Turkish Troops Enter Iraq Seeking Rebels

Turkish Troops Enter Iraq Seeking Rebels - The Huffington Post: "Supported by air power, Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq on Friday in their first major ground incursion against Kurdish rebel bases in nearly a decade. But Turkey sought to avoid confrontation with U.S.-backed Iraq, saying the guerrillas were its only target.

The offensive, which started late Thursday after aircraft and artillery blasted suspected rebel targets, marked a dramatic escalation in Turkey's fight with the PKK rebel group even though Turkish officials described the operation as limited.

A military officer of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said on condition of anonymity that several hundred Turkish soldiers had crossed the border. The coalition has satellites as well as drones and other surveillance aircraft at its disposal.

Sky-Turk television said about 2,000 Turkish soldiers were in Iraq, operating against rebel camps about two miles in from the border. NTV television said a total of 10,000 soldiers were inside Iraq in an operation that had extended six miles past the frontier. The activity was reportedly occurring about 60 miles east of Cizre, a major town near the border with Iraq.

It was not possible to independently confirm the size or scope of the attack on the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. CNN-Turk television, citing Turkish security officials, said the operation could last two weeks.

Late in the day, the Turkish military said five of its soldiers and 24 rebels had died in a clash inside Iraq and estimated at least 20 more rebels were killed by artillery and helicopter gunships. It said sporadic fighting was continuing.

Earlier, PKK spokesman Ahmad Danas said two Turkish soldiers were killed and eight wounded in clashes along the 240-mile border, but said nothing about rebel casualties. There was no way to confirm either report independently.

The advance was the first confirmed Turkish military ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Turkey's army is believed to have carried out unacknowledged "hot pursuits" in recent years, with small groups of troops staying in Iraq for as little as a few hours or a day.

Turkey staged about two-dozen attacks in Iraq during the rule of Saddam, who conducted brutal campaigns against Iraqi Kurds. Some Turkish offensives, including several in the late 1990s, involved tens of thousands of soldiers. Results were mixed, however, with rebels suffering combat losses but regrouping after Turkish forces withdrew.

The PKK militants are fighting for autonomy in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and have carried out attacks on Turkish targets from bases in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The conflict started in 1984 and has claimed as many as 40,000 lives.

Turkey's government has complained that Iraqi and U.S. authorities weren't doing enough to stop guerrilla operations. The Turkish air force has been staging air raids on PKK forces in the north since December with the help of intelligence provided by the U.S., a NATO ally.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he called his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, on Thursday night to give him advance warning of the operation. Erdogan said he later briefed President Bush in a telephone call.

"The Turkish armed forces will return after they finish their job," Erdogan said in a televised speech. "The goal of the operation and of operations that will be conducted is just, and only, PKK camps located in the north of Iraq."

Confirming the advance notice, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the Bush administration was urging Turkey to show restraint.

"We were notified and we urged the Turkish government to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK _ to limit the scope and duration of their operations _ and we urged them to work, directly, with Iraqis, including Kurdish government officials, on how best to address the threat," Stanzel told reporters.

Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, issued a statement saying the military would be careful in attacking the guerrillas in tough terrain and weather. "Utmost care is being taken so that innocent civilians living in the region are not negatively affected," he added.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert with at the TEPAV research center in Ankara, said the operation was likely launched to hit at guerrillas before the traditional start of the fighting season in the spring....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Moqtada Al-Sadr Extends Iraqi Cease-Fire

Moqtada Al-Sadr Extends Iraqi Cease-Fire - ..."Sayyid"Moqtada Sadr renewed the decision to freeze the al-Mahdi army for another six months. The extensions will last until the 15th of Shaaban," Asaad al-Nasiry, the imam of Sadr's gold-domed mosque in the city of Kufa, read, calling Sadr by the honorific for those considered descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the Islamic calendar, the eighth month of Shaaban this year coincides with mid-August. ...

Turkish Forces Reportedly Enter Northern Iraq

World Politics Review Blog |Turkish Forces Reportedly Enter Northern Iraq: "A few days ago, Turkish FM Ali Babacan reiterated that Turkey still reserved the option of cross-border incursions into northern Iraq, weather permitting, to complement the artillery and bombing campaign they've been using to target PKK rebel camps in the Qandil Mountains. I figured the remarks were geared towards preparing public opinion for a spring offensive, since the winter weather in the Qandil Mountains is not very conducive to ground operations.

But this morning come reports that the Turkish Army just sent 10,000 ground forces into northern Iraq following an artillery and air barrage. According to Hurriyet (Turkey), the U.S. and Iraqi governments were informed of the operation by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, but the Iraqi FM continues to deny that any Turkish troops have entered Iraq. In the past, Turkey has entered northern Iraq in hot pursuit operations of PKK guerillas crossing back into Iraq from Turkish territory. But sending in 10,000 troops suggests that this is no hot pursuit operation, especially since it follows a coordinated bombardment.

What's even more alarming than the incursion, which in all likelihood is in isolated mountainous terrain, is the standoff between armored troops from Turkey's FOB's in Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish Peshmergas that occurred yesterday. Turkey has maintained a number of these bases in northern Iraq since 1997, with troops (usually described as special forces) numbering in the range of 1,000-plus. Apparently they deployed with tanks yesterday in order to seal off some villages (to deny forward PKK mountain bases access to supplies and reinforcements?), but were prevented from advancing by a Peshmerga force, which proceeded to encircle the Turkish base once the Turkish troops had retreated back to it. Hundreds of Peshmerga reinforcements were then reportedly deployed from Irbil overnight.

So what could trigger this kind of operation? The only thing I've noticed recently that could conceivably be considered a "development" is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced he would travel to Irbil and meet with KRG President (and chief Kurdish hothead) Massoud Barzani during his upcoming visit to Iraq. The announcement was considered a message to Ankara, although a very complicated one, since Iran is engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign with PKK sister-group, PEJAK, which is based in the same mountain range but targets Iran for armed guerilla attacks, rather than Turkey. If Ahmadinejad's visit was in fact a message, it would seem that Ankara has just sent its reply.

According to Hurriyet, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara refused comment but stated that it is "monitoring the situation." Sounds like a good idea.

Update: A quick word about the Turkish FOB's in northern Iraq, since a number of people have expressed surprise about them. They're a remnant of Turkey's last major ground incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan during the 90's, and their rules of engagement are strictly limited to reconnaissance operations. They're not a secret, but no one really likes to talk about them too much on either side of the border. This isn't the first incident between the Turkish FOB troops and Kurdish Peshmergas. Over at HJ, I flagged an incident last June involving a tense standoff at a Peshmerga checkpoint, but that was a case of mistaken identity involving Turkish special ops forces in civilian attire.

What's significant about this latest incident is that it's a case of Peshmerga troops standing down Turkish forces to keep them from overstepping their rules of engagement. As such, it demonstrates that Massoud Barzani is not just blowing wind when he threatens to intervene in the event of a Turkish incursion. My hunch is that he's drawing a line to distinguish what's off limits (ie. Kurdish villages behind the lines). But his reaction to yesterday's developments will be decisive.

Late Update: Hurriyet has got a pretty informative rundown of the breaking developments, both military and diplomatic. Initial American reaction is that in light of the fact that the counterinsurgency tactics already in place had been working well, "a land operation is a whole new level" of operations and "not the greatest news".

Super Delegates

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hot gear for a shooting war Hot gear for a shooting war: "FAYETTEVILLE - If the U.S. military is the best equipped in the world, it's in part because today's soldiers are tactical consumers. They shop before they ship out.

In the early days of the war on terror, the military couldn't adequately supply the troops it sent overseas, but basic needs are now generally well met. Now, soldiers are augmenting or replacing military-issued gear through Internet and retail stores offering accoutrement that could save precious seconds in combat, or just make life more comfortable in the field.

Since 9/11, and especially in the past two years, a thriving industry has emerged to serve the service member who can afford the "high-speed, low-drag" gear of the moment: nylon-and-Velcro storage systems, high-intensity flashlights, sleek ballistic glasses, comfortable boots. A soldier, airman or Marine deploying for the first time can spend thousands to be on the cutting edge.

These are not the old Army surplus stores where hunters dug through piles of used camouflage jackets. These are combat outfitters: REI for soldiers. The stores also attract police officers, security contractors and sportsmen.

Fort Bragg holds events on base through the year where vendors sell similar goods. Crown Expo Center in Fayetteville has a "warfighters" trade show each fall, and in May will be the host of the third annual IED Symposium and Expo, a gathering of experts and manufacturers working to reduce the toll from improvised explosive devices, the homemade bombs blamed for most U.S. casualties.

Those who make and sell military goods say they allow a soldier to customize his setup down to whether he prefers his ammo pouch at the left hand or the right and whether he wants a holster for his iPod. Much of the equipment is designed by former soldiers who know what works and what becomes dead weight.

"It's more than just for comfort," said Malanda Wilson, who runs Future Warrior on Hay Street in downtown Fayetteville. The store primarily sells goods made by its parent company, DK Enterprise of Fayetteville, which also sells directly to the Army.

Wilson describes one item designed by a Special Forces soldier from Bragg who came under fire in a Humvee in Iraq and couldn't find his extra ammunition. DK Enterprise now makes a vehicle seat cover with ammo pockets.

Buyer beware

The business has its critics. Experienced soldiers say recruits may spend their own money on gear no better than what the military provides free. Electronic gadgetry may not work overseas because of frequency differences and a lack of replacement batteries.

Body armor is the most controversial item. The Army and private manufacturers disagree over what works best. Meanwhile, soldiers are told their military insurance may not pay if they're hurt or killed while wearing armor not on the approved list.

In his four and a half years in the Army infantry, Juan Bauza said, he was never "a gear freak." To go to Iraq, Bauza searched home improvement stores for clips that could attach to his clothing anything he might need in a hurry.

Then, as he was leaving the Army in May 2007, he walked into Tactical Assault Gear in Fayetteville. He looked up at the dozens of Velcro-trimmed nylon pouches, pockets and vests printed to match his uniform and thought, "Oh my God. This would have been so handy."

Today, Bauza runs the Fayetteville store for the California manufacturer. He said he has many customers who like TAG gear so much that they stow their military-issued rigs and replace every item, for about $1,400.

Sgt. Frankie Rivera trains National Guard and Reserve troops deploying from Fort Bragg and discourages them from buying a lot of extras. The newest thing is not always the best, he said.

High speed,'' he said, quoting his soldiers. "Everything is high speed, until something happens. When it does, you'd better know how to do what you need to do.''

For those who can afford it, Rivera said, a hand-held global positioning system or a GPS-equipped watch is a good investment, along with extra boots and a small knife. Tinted or clear glasses that block sand and blast debris are popular.

"The Army issues them,'' Rivera said, "but they're kind of ugly.''

He pointed to a stylish pair of $60 Wiley X glasses in a case at Patriot Outfitters.

''They want to be in the war zone,'' Rivera said of his guys. "But they want to look hot, too.''

Rivera was shopping for cold-weather insulation, referred to as "snivel gear," which many soldiers buy for themselves. While the military limits how much soldiers can alter their uniforms, it's more flexible about what's underneath.

For a while, the favored protection against the cold was a lightweight synthetic, usually nylon or polypropylene, that wicks sweat off the body and dries fast.

''Now, you have to be careful,'' said Lee Janney, who works at Patriot Outfitters. ''You don't want to run the risk of having something that's going to melt onto your skin if there's an explosion.''

His store still offers synthetics but has added cotton undergarments as well.

The quest for a jammer

None of the stores around Bragg carries a hand-held device advertised on a local radio station as a personal IED jammer. Jason Humphrey, owner of Comp Nine in Atlanta, said in an e-mail message that he has the jammers made in Taiwan to augment the units the military puts in its convoys that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. His device sells for about $350.

Humphrey said he served in the Army and lost a friend to an IED, prompting him to start his company. Through its Web site, Comp Nine accepts donations that Humphrey said he can use to send jammers directly to soldiers in Iraq at reduced cost.

The Washington Post reported last fall that the Pentagon had budgeted $4.5 billion for counter-IED research and equipment, and so far has found nothing that can stop all IEDs.

"If somebody had something like that, the target [market] would be the mom whose 18-year-old is over there in danger,'' said Bob Sealey, manager of General Jackson's Inc. in Fayetteville. "That would be a huge market.''

Rivera, the Army trainer, recommends one piece of gear to his troops that isn't offered in any of the shops. It's a cell phone with an interchangeable chip that allows the soldier to call home from almost anywhere in the world.

Like nothing else they could buy, Rivera said, "It gives them 10 minutes of peace."

Annals of American History: The Water Cure: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Annals of American History: The Water Cure: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker: ..."Responding to the verdict in the Glenn court-martial, Judge Advocate General Davis had suggested that the question it implicitly posed—how much was global power worth in other people’s pain?—was one no moral nation could legitimately ask. As the investigation of the water cure ended and the memory of faraway torture faded, Americans answered it with their silence"

[bth: this is the ending paragraph of an extensive and fascinating article regarding 'water cure' or water torture as its called today. Military courtmartials were conducted in the US over a century ago for use of this torture technique against insurgents in the Philippines. The article is excellent and worth a full and complete read.]

General David Petraeus reveals plans to scale back Iraq troops

General David Petraeus reveals plans to scale back Iraq troops - Times Online: "General"David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is drawing up plans to pull more troops out of the country after July on the back of a sharp drop in attacks and long-awaited progress on the political front.

The suggestions, which will depend upon conditions on the ground, are due to be presented as part of a new report on Iraq to George Bush, the US President, towards the end of next month, which will be put before Congress by early April.

We have been tasked to provide input to the Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the [Defence] Secretary and the President on the way ahead, obviously on recommendations with respect to further draw-downs beyond those that will be complete by July,” General Petraeus told The Times.

He was referring to a withdrawal of more than 20,000 troops (over one quarter of America’s combat forces in Iraq) that was announced following a previous report to Washington last September. They were deployed as part of a military surge to tackle escalating sectarian killings and other attacks in and around Baghdad.

Asked whether troop levels by the end of 2008 would be less than the force of some 130,000 that will be left following the current reduction, General Petraeus said: “Yes”, emphasising, however, that security conditions at the time would dictate the size and rate of the pullout to prevent gains from being compromised.

“We have a range, but that is not something I would be prepared to share with you at this point in time. We have a range based on various situations.”

He also dodged any question on the potential impact of the US Presidential elections on future plans. Democratic contenders Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton support an early withdrawal unlike Republican frontrunner John McCain. ....

[bth: the timing and configuration of US troops have been about US presidential elections cycles. National Guard and reservist units are generally not used during presidential election years, but the year thereafter. Look for troop levels to be reduced about Labor Day.]

Drawn Out: Danish Caricaturist of Muhammad Fame Now Homeless - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Drawn Out: Danish Caricaturist of Muhammad Fame Now Homeless - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News: "Two"years ago Kurt Westergaard was in his Copenhagen home drawing pictures. One of them was of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. Now Westergaard is homeless.

Draw a picture offensive to Muslim extremists, and you might find yourself without a roof. Ask Kurt Westergaard, one of the twelve Danish cartoonists whose autumn 2005 Muhammad caricatures lead to violent protests throughout the Muslim world. He was booted from his police-protected hotel room on Feb. 15 for being "too much of a security risk." And now the 73-year-old cartoonist and his wife are without a place to live.

Westergaard was forced to leave his actual residence in November after the Danish security and intelligence agency, PET, informed him of a "concrete" plan to murder him, according to the paper that originally published the cartoons, Jyllands-Posten. Westergaard and his wife have been living under police protection since.

PET had been gathering information about the plot for several months, leading to a Feb. 12 raid (more...) carried out in the western Danish city of Aarhus. Five suspects -- "people with a Muslim background," with both Danish and foreign citizenship -- were taken into custody. The Associated Press quoted PET as stating that the raids were intended "to prevent a terror-related murder...[and to do so] at an early phase to stop the planning."

In response to last week's arrest, a number of Danish newspapers republished the original cartoons the following day (more...). Among those reprinted, of course, was Westergaard's caricature: Muhammad with a lit bomb in his turban. "We are doing this to document what is at stake in this case," the Copenhagen paper Berlingske Tidende wrote, "and to unambiguously back and support the freedom of speech that we as a newspaper will always defend."

While protests in Pakistan saw Danish flags burned in response to the republishing of cartoons, reaction in the Danish Muslim community reveals how much attitudes have been tempered. "We are so unhappy about the cartoon being reprinted," said Imam Mostafa Chendid, head of the Islamic Faith Community. "[But] no blood was ever shed in Denmark because of this, and no blood will be shed. We are trying to calm people down, but let's see what happens. Let's open a dialogue." The Islamic Faith Community had led the protests in Copehagen in 2006.

Westergaard, however, has transformed fear for his life into anger at the entire situation. "Of course I fear for my life after the Danish Security and Intelligence Service informed me of the concrete plans of certain people to kill me," he said in a statement printed in Jyllands-Posten. "But I have turned my fear into anger and indignation."

The newspaper's editor, Flemming Rose, also the subject of death threats, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in a recent interview (more...) that, regardless of events, he does not fear for his life and that he will continue to speak out.

Biggest brain drain from UK in 50 years - Telegraph

Biggest brain drain from UK in 50 years - Telegraph: "Britain"is experiencing the worst "brain drain" of any country as highly qualified professionals settle abroad, an authoritative international study showed yesterday.

Record numbers of Britons are leaving - many of them doctors, teachers and engineers - in the biggest exodus for almost 50 years

There are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly-skilled university graduates, say the researchers.

More than three quarters of these professionals have settled abroad for more than 10 years, according to the study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

No other nation is losing so many qualified people, it points out. Britain has now lost more than one in 10 of its most skilled citizens, while overall only Mexico has had more people emigrate....

Attytood: Worse than Watergate: Bush scores lowest presidential approval rating EVER!

Attytood: Worse than Watergate: Bush scores lowest presidential approval rating EVER!: "The"2008 presidential race must be an incredibly welcome development for President Bush and his White House. That's because the American body politic can only really focus on one thing at a time, and so there's little time for anything else aside from the madcap antics of of Gilligan, the Skipper, the Millionaire and his wife, the Movie Star, the Professor and Mary Ann...and the rest. Some liberal blogs and right-wing talk radio are lined up in circular firing squads, and the op-ed columnists have trained their fire on Hillary's lonely teardrops or Barack's Church of the Poison Mind.

While no one was looking, the economy nosedived, gas prices have soared, the war in Iraq is as unpopular as ever and Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. And so while none of us were paying attention, our 43rd president just hit a major milestone.

George W. Bush is now the most unpopular president in recorded American history. (h/t Atrios)

Worse than Richard Nixon in the days before he resigned in disgrace during Watergate, worse than Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis, much worse than Bill Clinton when he was impeached. Just as Roger Bannister raced through what once seemed the unreachable 4-minute mile, Bush has burst through a barrier once also thought impossible, below the 20-percent mark.

Check this out:

George W. Bush's overall job approval rating has dropped to a new low in American Research Group polling as 78% of Americans say that the national economy is getting worse according to the latest survey from the American Research Group.
Among all Americans, 19% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 77% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 14% approve and 79% disapprove.

Among Americans registered to vote, 18% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 78% disapprove.

That is just mind-blowing. How does it compare to other presidents? There's no comparison.

Nixon, as he was hounded out of office in August 1974, never dipped below the mid-20s.

Here's a pretty good compilation of poll numbers from Roper. To summarize the highlights:

Clinton low: 36 percent, May 1993 (early missteps like Zoe Baird)

George H.W. Bush low: 29 percent, August 1992 (recession)

Reagan low: 35 percent, January 1983 (recession)

Carter low: 28 percent, July 1979 (high gas prices)

Ford low: 37 percent, January 1975 (economy, Nixon pardon)

Nixon low: 23 percent, January 1974 (Watergate)

Johnson low: 35 percent, August 1968 (Vietnam)

Lowest ever? That would be Harry Truman during the Korean War, in February 1952, at 22 percent.

And so now George W. Bush has shattered a record that has stood for 55 long years, and there's not any one reason. It's everything, although I suspect that liberals would more likely say Iraq and torture, conservatives would say immigration and runaway spending, and everyone would now say the economy.

It takes more than unpopularity to become the worst president ever, but this may be the straw that broke the camel's back on that front. It should remind us all what the 2008 election is all about, and it's not about Hillary's wardrobe or an off-the-cuff remark or who is the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan.

It's only about who can undo the damage of the last eight years. It's amazing so many people wanted such a difficult task.

[bth: among his failures, loss of public trust is at the top.]

15 police killed trying to dismantle rockets

15 police killed trying to dismantle rockets: "Iraqi police officers attempting to dismantle rockets primed for launching from the back of a truck were caught up in a series of blasts Tuesday that killed at least 15 of them and wounded 27.

There were different reports on what caused the explosions in eastern Baghdad. An official in the Ministry of Interior, which oversees police, said the area around the truck had been booby-trapped with roadside bombs that detonated as police arrived to dismantle the rockets.

But other police reports said at least some of the explosions occurred as police worked to dismantle the rockets. According to one account, two rockets exploded during the dismantling attempt, and three accidentally launched

There was no explanation for the conflicting reports on the incident, which occurred at about 6 p.m. in the Ubaidi neighborhood.

Police were called to the area after a truck containing 16 rockets in launch positions was discovered.

The find came a day after rockets slammed into Camp Victory, the U.S. military's base near the Baghdad airport, and into nearby areas. At least five Iraqis were killed and four U.S. soldiers injured in the attacks, according to the military.

The attacks were among the most intense to strike the capital in weeks. Violence has declined sharply since the middle of last year with an influx of some 30,000 U.S. troops, a Sunni revolt against al Qaeda in Iraq and a cease-fire ordered by militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The United States accuses Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militias of being responsible for rocket attacks, which have ebbed in recent months. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said Sunday that the average daily number of attacks in Baghdad, including from rockets and mortars, was 11 in January, compared with 46 a day in June.

But Smith said the military is seeing an increase in the use of weapons by Iranian-backed militias, which the military calls "special groups."

"I don't want to give the impression that we're seeing an increase in the shipments of arms by Iran into Iraq," Smith said, referring to U.S. accusations, denied by Iran, that the Iranians smuggle bombs, bomb-making materials and other weapons over the border.

Instead, he suggested that the groups are using caches that they have been hiding. "What's significant is there are still attacks occurring daily by Iranian-backed special groups," Smith said.

The Associated press contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"friday-lunch-club": Al Akhbar: "Mughniyeh's assassination is a prelude to an Israeli assault on Lebanon, Syria & Palestine"

"friday-lunch-club": Al Akhbar: "Mughniyeh's assassination is a prelude to an Israeli assault on Lebanon, Syria & Palestine": "Ibrahim Al Amine writes in Al Akhbar, here'

".... A 'report', originated in Moscow speaks of "US Administration Lunacy, committing the worst". Same has been discussed with representatives of IMPORTANT regional powers (KSA?) on US 'Obsession' with Iran, Syria & the insurgencies across the region."

"....Palestinian forces, opposed to the PA speak of a US-Israeli "Cellule Noire", with primary task of removing certain personalities in order to facilitate the "phase ahead in the Palestinian territories."

".... Same applies to Lebanon: An 'unscheduled" trip by a non-civilian representative of a 'key Arab country' to Lebanon (met with pro-government & opposition forces) and relayed to Hezbollah that the "ordre du jour" was to liquidate Hamas & Hezbollah leaders in Beirut & ... Damascus."

".... A Key Lebanese non-civilian 'organizations' completed a file on Jordanian active participation in the training & excution of elements & operations. (with names of Jordanian Officers)"

".... A Key personality in the 'Office of Mahmood Abbas' relays information on contacts between Lebanese & Israeli sides, .... with trickling logistical support through the Iraqi semi autonomous territories ... with key roles of certain US security companies, extending beyond 'perscribed' responsabilities."

".... A senior French intelligence official relayed to 'key Arab players' that the situation in Lebanon has become "most fluid" .... with possibilities of serious repercussion on the Syrian security stage ...with mounting pressures on the Regime in Damascus, with "off the shelf" US-EU-UN sanctions ... The French Senior Intelligence official added that "Mughniyeh's hit should not only be seen as part of an Israel-Hezbollah struggle, ... that any such operation did go through a political & security approval (by the United States) not only because of the repercussions ... but to put the operation in ITS PROPER CONTEXT."

Al Amine (who is close to the Hezbollah Leadership) finished with the fact that "Hassan Nasrallah visited Mughniyeh's grave the night of February 14, read a verse from the Koran, and pledged to Mughniyeh:"You don't need a pledge from me ... I promise you we will leave them no time for regrets!"

Turkey readies for ground operation

TODAY'S ZAMAN: "The"Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is preparing for a comprehensive ground operation into northern Iraq against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) organization, expected to take place in spring. ...

[bth: worth reading in full.]

U.S. strikes in Pakistan — without notice

U.S. strikes in Pakistan — without notice - Washington Post- "In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone's operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

The missiles killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander and a man who had repeatedly eluded the CIA's dragnet. It was the first successful strike against al-Qaeda's core leadership in two years, and it involved, U.S. officials say, an unusual degree of autonomy by the CIA inside Pakistan.

Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation was underway, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. ...

[bth: as this article illustrates we are engaging in Pakistan without their government's approval. This points out the shallow and false accusations against Obama made by McCain with regard to intervention in Pakistan. It is already happening.]

Bush: Rumors of U.S. bases in Africa are 'baloney'

Bush: Rumors of U.S. bases in Africa are 'baloney' - "President Bush sought Wednesday to dispel rumors that the U.S. plans to bring "all kinds of military to Africa," saying that is "simply not true."

He said the United States has no plans to add new bases in Africa but may open an office somewhere on the continent as part of its plans for Africom, a new U.S. military command that will focus on Africa.

The president did not elaborate on the size of such an office but took pains to say it would not be a military base in the traditional sense.

"The purpose of this is not to add military bases," Bush said. "I know there's rumors in Ghana -- 'all Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. Or as we say in Texas, that's bull." ...

[bth: liar]

U.S. learns from Israel-Hezbollah war

U.S. learns from Israel-Hezbollah war - "WASHINGTON — Senior Pentagon officials are using a classified Army study on the 2006 war between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah to retool the U.S. military's combat strategy for future wars.
That means focusing on heavy armor, such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles; more body armor; and unmanned aircraft that can monitor enemy activity and fire missiles at enemy fighters.

Such an approach conflicts with the current emphasis on counterinsurgency operations, which are being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency tactics could leave U.S. forces vulnerable to the kind of coordinated attacks that stymied Israel.

"It's not just counterinsurgency," said Rickey Smith, of the Army Capabilities Integration Center-Forward Office. "This was a wake-up call to all of us as analysts."

The study by the Center for Army Analysis, which provided an unclassified version to USA TODAY, stresses that guerrillas armed with high-tech equipment can fight a modern military force to a standstill.

People think of an irregular force, that they might not be as competent as a regular army," said Col. Tom Slafkosky of the Center for Army Analysis. "In fact, they may be much more dangerous and competent because they're much more motivated to fight, and they will take the initiative."

Israel, center director E.B. Vandiver said, trained its troops for security and police operations, not full combat against a well-trained enemy.

The Israelis confronted Hezbollah fighters armed with Russian-made Kornet anti-tank weapons and who used sophisticated computer and communications networks to relay messages to different groups of fighters

The main lesson for the Army from the Israel-Hezbollah conflict: Prepare for a fight more complex and deadly than the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Already, U.S. forces are seeing signs in Iraq of the kind of underground bunkers used by Hezbollah in Lebanon, Slafkosky said.

The Army has identified several lessons, according to Smith. They include:

•Train soldiers to use a full range of combat skills, not just how to conduct counterinsurgency operations against an enemy with limited weapons.

•Equip soldiers with vehicles that can take blasts and shoot down rockets; sensors that can detect enemy tunnels; and unmanned planes that provide video of enemy activity. In President Bush's 2009 budget, the Army asked for $3.6 billion to develop Future Combat Systems, a suite of vehicles, weapons, sensors and communication equipment.

•Conduct a media campaign during such conflicts to get out the U.S. message to local and international audiences. Soldiers skilled in communication need to be on the front line not for propaganda, but to explain U.S. actions.

"It's still going to boil down to a human contest," Smith said. "But we don't want it to be a fair fight. We want to win with overwhelming force."

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Secretary Pete Geren and Marine Commandant James Conway have seen the classified version of the briefing.

"The Army's lesson is that it has to focus on a continuum of threats," said Dov Zakheim, former Defense Department comptroller and now a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. He has not seen the briefing but has studied the conflict.

Spending billions on the Army's Future Combat System to confront the threat would be the wrong approach, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Adding updated communication equipment to vehicles such as Strykers and MRAPs would save billions, he said. "I'd be more inclined to keep a large enough ground force and keep it well trained," he said.

Retired Army major general Robert Scales, who has seen the briefing, called Hezbollah's tactics a revolution in warfare. "This is the first time an irregular force has been equipped with precision weapons," he said.

Scales' solution: more U.S. infantry troops riding to battle in vehicles that can withstand roadside bombs and armed with real-time information about the enemy's movements. While air power is important, he said, ground troops are critical to rooting out the enemy.

"The Israelis could have put 2,000 F-16s over Lebanon," he said, "and it would not have made a lick of difference."

Potential U.S. adversaries know about Hezbollah's success, too, Slafkosky said. "They share this stuff all the time on the Internet."

Such threats, Vandiver said, are "proliferating. They can only get bigger, badder and harder."

[bth: excellent article. Tom Vanden Brook has been writing an excellent series of articles on military preparedness and vehicular needs.]

The Spies Who Love You

Crooks and Liars

US shifts on Africom base plans

BBC NEWS | Africa | US shifts on Africom base plans: "The"US military has decided to keep the base of its new Africa Command in Germany for now, after only one African nation, Liberia, offered to host it.
Most African countries have been wary of plans to base the command, Africom, on the continent.

Africom's commander, Gen William Ward, said there were no plans to create large US garrisons on the continent.

The military command was created last year to unite responsibilities shared by three other US regional commands.

The US plan had been misunderstood by some African countries, Gen Ward told the BBC.

The key aim of Africom was to build the capacity of African countries for security and peacekeeping, he said, adding there were no plans to move the headquarters for at least a year.

African doubts

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua announced in November that he would not allow his country to host an Africom base and that he was also opposed to any such bases in West Africa.

South Africa and Libya have also voiced strong reservations.

Only Liberia, which has historic links to the US, has offered to host it.

There has been concern that Africom is really an attempt to protect US oil and mineral interests in Africa, amid growing competition for resources from Asian economies, says the BBC's Alex Last in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

Then there are fears about the continent being drawn into the US war on terror, our correspondent adds.

Gen Ward said Africom was not about militarisation but consolidating existing operations under one single command, while helping Africans with military training and supporting peacekeeping and aid operations.

Religion and Politics

Rocketboom : Tuesday, February 5, 2008 : God and Politics in Lynchburg Tennessee

Armor: New Chinese Tanks in Sudan

Armor: New Chinese Tanks in Sudan: "February"18, 2008: Chinese Type 96 (also called Type 88C) tanks were spotted in Sudan since last year, indicating that China has exported one of its most modern tanks to Africa. The 50 ton Type 96 has three man crews and modern sensors and electronics. The 90 series tanks are Chinese designs, and there appear to be as many as 2500 Type 90 series tanks in service, with as many as two thirds of them Type 96s. There are another 700 Type 79s and 80s, both of which were stepping stones to the 90 series. Most Chinese tanks, about 5,000, are Type 59s. Most of these have been upgraded from being a clone of the Russian T-54 to T-54 clones equipped with Western guns (copy of the British L7 105mm gun, firing depleted uranium shells) and modern electronics. China also has a copy of the German 120mm gun, which it may try to install in some Type 59 upgrades. Those Type 59s that don't get upgraded are being scrapped. This apparently means that the Type 59 force will shrink by at least several hundred tanks a year until all are gone.

Sudan has, until recently, had a tank force consisting mostly of about 200 Chinese Type 59s, but some of these appear to have been upgraded by the Chinese. Also spotted in Sudan have been Chinese Type 92 wheeled infantry fighting vehicle (similar to the U.S. Stryker).

China is very strict about keeping information on its tank force secret. The most modern tanks they have are the Type 98 and 99, which come close to matching early models of the U.S. M-1.

[bth: compare this with the article on Canadian's buying scrapped German tanks because they want the used spare parts. How is it that Sudanese can modernize but the Canadians cannot?]
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Indonesia accuses US of bird flu plot

Indonesia accuses US of bird flu plot - World - "THE"Indonesian Health Minister has said the United States and the World Health Organisation are part of a global conspiracy to profit from the spread of bird flu and the US may use samples to produce biological weapons.

The views of Dr Siti Fadilah Supari, outlined in her new book, threaten to undermine efforts to control the spread of avian influenza. With 104 deaths, nearly half the world total, Indonesia is the new hotspot for the virus.

Despite claims by the minister that she has agreed to share virus samples and allow all nations access to resulting vaccines, Indonesia is still blocking sharing samples from human victims.

Applications to send more than 200 samples from chickens to an Australian laboratory had also been refused, inquiries by the Herald have revealed.

In the book, Dr Supari writes that WHO laboratories forwarded influenza viruses to Western companies so they could profit by selling vaccines back to developing countries: "The system of world health management has been very exploitative. It has been controlled by inhumanly desires, based on the greediness to raise capital and to control the world."

Some Indonesian samples had been sent to a US Defence Department laboratory, Dr Supari says, adding that "some of our seed viruses had been in a laboratory known as a facility developing biological weapons in a superpower country".

Privately, officials said Dr Supari's belief that she was engaged on a God-driven crusade against an evil and "neo-colonialist" world health system - on the book's cover she describes herself as the "divine hand behind avian influenza" - had caused her to lose touch with reality.

The President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, appears to have endorsed the book, having written its introduction.

Dr Yudhoyono supports Dr Supari's claim that the virus is under control in Indonesia, stating the "occurrence rate and the number of affected areas are decreasing

The WHO declined to comment and no US officials were available.

[bth: dumbshits like this will allow avian influenza to take hold in a broad population.]
Rocketboom : Tuesday February 12, 2008 : Evolution Explainer

Canada to buy old German tanks as spare parts for Afghan mission.

CANOE -- CNEWS - Canada: Canada to buy old German tanks as spare parts for Afghan mission.: "OTTAWA - Canada plans to buy a handful of older, surplus German tanks to cannibalize for spare parts to keep its combat forces on the move in Afghanistan.

The undisclosed purchase is apparently part of the $1.3-billion tank modernization program announced last year by former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.

The current minister, Peter MacKay, says the purchase was necessary.

"Our loaned Leopard 2 tanks are an invaluable asset to commanders in Afghanistan," MacKay said in a statement late Tuesday.

"The procurement of surplus German vehicles will provide the Canadian Forces with valuable platforms for training, testing and, where applicable, spare parts."

This acquisition fills the short term needs of the military, he said while on a trade mission in India.

Defence industry sources said the plan involves 15 Leopard 2A4s, which have already been taken out of service by the Bundeswehr.

A request for proposals is expected to go out to contractors next week, asking for detailed plans to disassemble the 60-tonne iron monsters and catalogue their parts.

The Canadians "are procuring spare parts, but obviously not enough," said a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Last summer, the Canadian army borrowed 20 Leopard A6Ms from the Germans in order to quickly replace its nearly 30-year-old Leopard tanks, which were not suited for the Afghan heat. It has since completed a deal to buy an additional 100 surplus tanks from the Dutch and will return the loaners in September 2009.

The German tanks, specially armoured to deal with powerful improvised explosive devices, have taken a pounding on Kandahar's highways and are burning through spare parts at a high rate.

Industry sources said stripping the older A4-variants for parts may present a bit of a problem since the tanks in Afghanistan are newer, contain fewer hydraulic systems and "not all the parts are "in the same configuration" as the A6-type.

"It is an issue they will have to resolve," said a source.

The Defence Department would not comment on the plan Tuesday.

The news comes one day after word that the first batch of tanks from the Dutch are being given upgrades in Germany and not in Canada, as the Conservative government initially planned last year.

Part of the problem is that cuts to Canada's defence industry throughout the 1990s eroded its ability to service armoured


It's expected that either Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann, the manufacturer of the Leopards, or Rheinmatell - both German companies - will get the latest contract to cannibalize the older tanks.

During the Cold War, most countries with armoured divisions kept stockpiles with thousands of spare parts.

The Germans, for example, had 2,125 types of replacement parts for all types of Leopard tanks, ready to be slapped on at a moment's notice. But that inventory has dwindled to just over 400, and often when new parts are needed they have to be machined - or stripped off other vehicles.

A former Canadian tank commander says a variety factors, not just the post-Cold War supply chain, are driving the problem.

"We have a shortage of spare parts and the Germans are quite "astounded at the mileage we're putting on these tanks," said Chris Corrigan, a retired colonel.

As the builder of the Leopards, Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann sets guidelines, tolerances and maintenance schedules for tanks, much as car-makers recommend guidelines for service.

Corrigan said part of the problem is that Leopards are designed for combat on the plains of Europe, where distances are not as great and the vehicles don't have to be driven as much.

Also, since Canada has fewer tanks than some of the bigger armies, it uses each vehicle more often, leading to a higher rate of wear and tear.

[bth: our NATO allies unilaterally disarmed due to years of lackluster investment in their own defense infrastructure.]
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U.S. Warns Renewed Sudanese Air Raids Threaten Thousands in Darfur - U.S. Warns Renewed Sudanese Air Raids Threaten Thousands in Darfur - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "KHARTOUM"Sudan — Renewed aerial bombardments by the Sudanese government in West Darfur are endangering tens of thousands of civilians, said the United Nations Tuesday, calling on all parties to exercise restraint in the face of the flare up in fighting between the army and the rebels.

Rebel successes over the last few weeks in West Darfur have been met by government air strikes that have sent thousands of civilians fleeing their homes, many across the border into neighboring Chad, which facing its own instability.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "is extremely concerned by the renewed violence in West Darfur," U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York, citing in particular the bombing of Aro Sharow camp for the displaced Monday and Tuesday.

"Additional reports from Darfur indicating that government and militia forces are amassing in the Jebbel Moon area of West Darfur are a worrying sign that there will be continued hostilities in the area," Okabe said.

For his part, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes noted Monday that "the consequences for 20,000 civilians in this area could be disastrous."

The latest round of violence in Darfur, where 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since rebels took up arms against the central government, follows the renewed fighting between Khartoum and the opposition Justice and Equality Movement at the end of 2007...

[bth: with a clandestine force, shoot the damned planes down. We don't have to take credit. They just start getting shot down - falling out of the air. Until there is a higher price to pay, the Sudanese government will not stop.]

Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows

Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows:... "MJ" Again and again, Israel and Washington too have tried to engineer which Palestinians would come to power, to whom they would speak or recognize, etc. Is this itself problematic? Should the West step back from trying to manipulate internal Palestinian politics?

EH: Yes, for two reasons. First, is the sovereign right of Palestinians to decide who their leadership should be. I think that is the basis of democracy. More than that, it is the best possible way in my opinion for a country or society to determine how it wants to be governed and how it wants to be lead. And second, so far it must be admitted that attempts to do this [manipulate internal Palestinian politics] have not succeeded. After all, in the final analysis, it would not be possible to create and fashion a leadership from without.

MJ: It's not just Washington and Israel, but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who is asking those countries not to deal with Hamas, but rather strengthen him. So do you think it's more of the same phenomenon if the West then picks Hamas as the more legitimate representation of the Palestinians?

EH: I don't think one or the other are the sole representation. But I think that the way things are at the moment, the two of them have a major role in the leadership of the Palestinian people, and to exclude one and to magnify the other artificially will not lead to a productive outcome.

I don't know whether it is Abu Mazen who is pushing Washington and Israel not to deal with Hamas, or Abu Mazen who is acquiescing to them, or some combination of both. I don't know who the stronger element in this policy is.

There is a triangle of forces: Israel, the Abu Mazen–led group in Ramallah, and the [Bush] administration. They have become mutually interdependent on this policy and one cannot rule without the other two. That's the way it is at the moment.

MJ: You are not optimistic that the current administration will change course?

EH: It appears by all indications that neither Israel nor the United States are prepared to contemplate such a test of alternative strategy. Therefore, what we seem to be in for is a period where Israel will continue to negotiate the details of a permanent settlement to the dispute with a rump Palestinian leadership that has already indicated it will not run for re-election in the upcoming elections in 2009.

Randy 'Duke' Cunningham -- Wilkes sentenced to 12 years in prison > News > Politics > Randy 'Duke' Cunningham -- Wilkes sentenced to 12 years in prison: "Brent"Wilkes, the Poway defense contractor who federal prosecutors contend was the mastermind behind the largest congressional bribery scheme in history, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday....
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Radical Shiite cleric threatens to end 6-month cease-fire - Los Angeles Times

Radical Shiite cleric threatens to end 6-month cease-fire - Los Angeles Times: "Radical"Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened to lift a six-month cease-fire, credited with helping to reduce violence in Iraq, by the end of the week, a spokesman and another official said Wednesday.

Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, a spokesman for al-Sadr in Najaf, said that if the cleric failed to issue a statement by Saturday extending the cease-fire, "then that means the freeze is over." Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army is among the most powerful militias in Iraq.

According to al-Obeidi, this "has been conveyed to all Mahdi Army members nationwide." The threat was confirmed by another al-Sadr official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
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Tomgram: Making Iraq Disappear

Tomgram: Making Iraq Disappear: ..."Such a position might be applied to far more than the permanency of bases. Let me offer two linked predictions based on impermanency:

As a start, the surge-followed-by-pause solution the Bush administration whipped up is a highly unstable, distinctly impermanent strategy. It was never meant to do much more than give Iraq enough of the look of quiescence that the President's war could be declared a modest "success" and passed on to the next president. It relies on a tenuous balancing of unstable, largely hostile forces in Iraq -- of Sunni former insurgents and the Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, among others. It is unlikely to last even until the November presidential election.

And let's remember that those on the other side(s) are just as capable of reading drawdown -- and election -- schedules, of gauging weakness and strength, as we are. It's likely that by the fall the surge effect will have worn off -- signs of this are already in the air -- and Iraq will be creeping back onto front pages and to the top of the TV news.

Given that Senator McCain is so tightly linked to the surge's "success," as well as the war itself, he is likely to prove a far weaker Republican candidate than now generally imagined. Similarly, it may be far harder to Swift Boat the Democrats over Iraq by this fall -- if, that is, the Democratic presidential candidate doesn't move so close to McCain on the war as to take the sting out of his situation. Already, as Gary Kamiya has written at, the Democrats' "timid, Republican-lite approach to Iraq and the 'war on terror' has put the country to sleep… Indeed, polls show that the main reason the public has such a low opinion of Congress is that it failed to force Bush to change course in Iraq."

Iraq is a deeply alien land whose people were never going to accept being garrisoned by the military of a Western imperial power. It was always delusional to think that our situation there could be "enduring," no matter how many permanent-looking structures we built. It is no less delusional for Senator McCain to imagine a 100-year garrisoning -- in fact, one of any length -- in which Americans will not be "injured, harmed or killed."

The time for withdrawal from Iraq has long passed. In those endless years in which withdrawal didn't happen, the Bush administration definitively proved one thing: We are incapable of "solving" Iraq's problems, "building" a nation there, or preventing an endless string of horrific things from occurring. After all, it was under U.S. occupation and in the face of the overwhelming presence of American forces that Iraq devolved and massive ethnic cleansing occurred. It was during the months of the President's surge in 2007, with U.S. troops flooding the streets of the capital, that many of Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods were most definitively "cleansed."

It is a delusion to believe that the U.S. military is a force that stands between Iraqis and catastrophe. It is a significant part of the catastrophe and, as long as Washington is committed to any form of permanency (however euphemistically described), it cannot help but remain so.

Every day that passes, the Bush administration is digging us in further, even though surge commander General David Petraeus recently observed that "there is no light at the end of the tunnel that we're seeing." Every day that passes makes withdrawal that much harder and yet brings it ineradicably closer.

Getting out, when it comes, won't be elegant. That's a sure thing by now; but, honestly, you don't have to be a military specialist to know that, if we were determined to leave, it wouldn't take us forever and a day to do so. It isn't actually that hard to drive a combat brigade's equipment south to Kuwait. (And there's no reason to expect serious opposition from our Iraqis opponents, who overwhelmingly want us to depart.)

When withdrawal finally comes, the Iraqis will be the greatest losers. They will be left in a dismantled country
. They deserve better. Perhaps an American administration determined to withdraw in all due haste could still muster the energy to offer better. But leave we must. All of us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Officers: U.S. military stretched 'dangerously thin'

Officers: U.S. military stretched 'dangerously thin' - "The Iraq war has strained U.S. forces to the point where they could not fight another large-scale war, according to a survey of military officers.

Of those surveyed, 88 percent believe the demands of the Iraq war have "stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin."

On the other hand, 56 percent of the officers disagree that the war has "broken" the military.

Eighty percent of officers believe it is unreasonable to expect the U.S. military to wage another major war successfully at present.

Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for a New American Security on Tuesday issued the U.S. Military Index, a survey of 3,400 present and former U.S. military officers.

"We asked the officers whether they thought the U.S. military was stronger or weaker than it was five years ago," said Michael Boyer, who helped write the report.

"Sixty percent said the U.S. military is weaker than it was five years ago," Boyer told reporters.

The report found that officers "see a military apparatus severely strained by the grinding demands of war." More than half of the officers responding cited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the "pace of troop deployments" needed for those conflicts, the survey said.

The report comes a few weeks before the five-year anniversary of the Iraq war, where a troop "surge" is winding down by summer. The U.S. military is proposing a pause in troop reductions for a period of review before any more decisions on withdrawals.

The officers have "an overwhelmingly negative view" of many of the early decisions shaping the Iraq war, but most believe the present U.S. counterinsurgency strategy and troop increases are good omens for success in Iraq.

A majority of officers in the Iraq war say some policy decisions have "hindered the prospects for success there."

"These include shortening the time units spend at home between deployments and accepting more recruits who do not meet the military's standards. Even the military's ability to care for some of its own -- mentally wounded soldiers and veterans -- was judged by most officers to be substandard," the survey found.

At the same time, 64 percent of the officers believe morale in the military remains high.

Nearly three-quarters of the officers believe civilian leaders set "unreasonable goals for the military in post-Saddam Iraq."

"They believe more troops were needed on the ground at the start of the fighting. They believe disbanding the Iraqi military was a mistake," the survey said. However, nearly nine of 10 think the surge and Gen. David Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy are "raising the U.S. military's chance for success there."

The officers believe "that either China or Iran, not the United States, is emerging as the strategic victor" in the Iraq war.

"The United States has been preoccupied away from Asia," said Kurt Campbell, the head of the group that conducted the survey.

China's rising influence worldwide predates the war but is part of a "great game under way in Asia for influence, for relationships," Campbell said.

The U.S. focus on Iraq "sends a message to our friends and others that maybe we're not as focused on the drama that's playing out there," he said.

Iran has gained from the war because of the removal of Iraq "as a strategic counterweight," the report said.

The survey portrayed Iran, the Taiwan Strait (where tensions have flared between China and Taiwan), Syria and North Korea as four potential hot spots and sought opinions of how prepared the U.S. is "to successfully fight a major combat operation there."

Officers were asked to judge the preparedness of the U.S. on a scale of one to 10, with 10 meaning "fully prepared" and one indicating "unable to execute."

Iran was rated 4.5, the Taiwan Strait ( where there have been tensions between China and Taiwan) 4.9, Syria 5.1, and North Korea 4.7.

The officers ranked the Navy and Air Force readiness the highest at 6.8 and 6.6, respectively. The Army and Marines, which have assumed the "bulk of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan," ranked 4.7 and 5.7, respectively.

Other results of the survey:

Officers call for more Special Operations Forces, improvements in intelligence, and better space and cyberwarfare capabilities for the military's fight in the war on terror.

To improve recruitment efforts, nearly 80 percent back "expanding options for legal, foreign permanent residents of the United States to serve in exchange for U.S. citizenship."

When asked if they agree or disagree with the statement "torture is never acceptable," 53 percent agreed and 44 percent disagreed.

Officers have relatively low confidence in civilian institutions -- giving the presidency a 5.5 rating and Congress 2.7. The Defense Department received 5.6, the CIA 4.7, Department of Veterans Affairs 4.5, and State Department 4.1.

"Sixty-six percent of the officers say they believe U.S. elected leaders are either somewhat or very uninformed about the military," the survey said.

The survey found nearly nine in 10 officers "agree that, all other things being equal, the military will respect a president of the United States who has served in the military more than one who has not.
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Victims of Hezbollah: Kidnapped Israeli Soldiers Believed to Be Dead

Victims of Hezbollah: Kidnapped Israeli Soldiers Believed to Be Dead - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News: "IsIsrael"now believes two Israeli soldiers kidnapped before the Lebanon war are dead. Jerusalem may come forward with the information to keep Hezbollah from demanding a high price for their bodies -- although it would be a setback for Ehud Olmert, who made the soldiers' return an objective of the 2006 war.

Karnit Goldwasser has tried just about everything in her power to find out what happened to her husband. She has appeared on talk shows with Larry King and German talk show host G√ľnther Jauch. She approached Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to the United Nations in New York. And she met with politicians almost weekly, listening to them declare their solidarity with her cause with carefully chosen words.

Recently, when yet another political luminary -- United States National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley -- paid his respects, Goldwasser finally lost her patience, telling Hadley: "I don't want them to pity me. I want to be told the truth."

The truth could be revealed soon. Nineteen months after the kidnapping of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev by the Lebanese Hezbollah, there has been a dramatic shift in the negotiations for their return. Until now, the Israeli government assumed that at least one and perhaps even both of the soldiers survived the Shiite militia's attack on their border patrol on July 12, 2006. But intelligence information suggests that this assumption was wrong (more...). According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, Jerusalem has now concluded that the two soldiers are dead.

Even in the absence of unequivocal evidence, the negotiators have already abandoned hope. Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is hesitant to publicly pronounce Goldwasser and Regev dead. It would be a bitter setback for Olmert, who defined the return of the soldiers as the objective of the Lebanon war in the summer of 2006. In addition, under religious law clear evidence is needed to pronounce a Jew dead.

Originally, Jerusalem would have been prepared to release Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese who brutally murdered an Israeli man and his daughter in 1979, in return for getting the soldiers back alive. This plan, already controversial in Israel, is now irrelevant. To expose Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and prevent Hezbollah from demanding a high price for the return of the soldiers' bodies, Jerusalem is considering going public with the truth in the coming weeks.

[bth: with the Saudis roaming the halls in Moscow and Washington looking to line up support for action in Lebanon and with the assassination of an assassin last week by presumably Israel, one wonders what is in store for Lebanon in 2008. Civil war?]

US Court shuts down leaked doc emporium

The Raw Story | US Court shuts down leaked doc emporium: "Wikileaks, the Web site that has revealed countless government secrets, has been forced offline by a California judge.

The site, which allows whistleblowers to post documents anonymously, is being sued by a Swiss banking group implicated in money laundering in documents obtained by Wikileaks. The BBC reports:

However, the main site was taken offline after the court ordered that Dynadot, which controls the site's domain name, should remove all traces of wikileaks from its servers. The court also ordered that Dynadot should "prevent the domain name from resolving to the website or any other website or server other than a blank park page, until further order of this Court." Other orders included that the domain name be locked "to prevent transfer of the domain name to a different domain registrar" to prevent changes being made to the site.
Versions of Wikileaks from Great Britain and other countries are still accessible.

In taking Wikileaks offline, the US joins China and Thailand in censoring the watchdog site.

In its report on the injunction, Wikileaks compares the case to the New York Times being ordered not to publish the Pentagon Papers.