Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gunmen seize Catholic cleric in Iraq

Gunmen seize Catholic cleric in Iraq - Los Angeles Times: "MOSUL IRAQ -- Gunmen kidnapped a Chaldean Catholic archbishop and killed three of his guards Friday in the latest attack targeting Iraq's dwindling Christian minority in this northern city.

The armed group intercepted Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho as he left the Church of the Holy Spirit after celebrating Mass, said Iraqi Brig. Gen. Khalid Abdul Sattar, a spokesman for Nineveh province security forces....

Galloway: Pentagon financed like Enron, run like General Motors

Galloway: Pentagon financed like Enron, run like General Motors - Salt Lake Tribune: "When George W. Bush disappears out the door of the White House, he'll leave his successor a long list of horrendous problems, not least of them a Defense Department budget of more than $518 billion that doesn't even include another $170 billion or so to continue funding a year of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you add in the war money and the bits and pieces of national security spending in other departments' budgets, you begin closing in on the real figure for defense spending, which is close to $1 trillion for the fiscal year that will begin this October and end on Sept. 30, 2009.

Much of that, like all of President Bush's war spending for the last seven years, will be deficit spending. Washington will sell bonds to foreign nations such as China in a continuing Ponzi scheme, assuming that the foreigners haven't noticed by then that the dollar is sinking like the Titanic and our economy is in the toilet.

We might hope that our representatives in Congress, who have to pass this expensive monstrosity of a bill, would hold it up to the light and see how much of our money is being poured down a rat hole. But of course that's much too much to expect of those courageous folks in an election year - or any year, for that matter.

Pentagon procurement spending, according to the experts, is so totally out of control that no one even attempts to separate the good and necessaryweapons programs from the bad, useless and even harmful ones. When money gets tight, the brilliant thinkers in the five-sided puzzle palace even starve good programs to feed bad ones.

Under the Bush administration, defense spending has skyrocketed since 2001, but the money hasn't been spent wisely. With a recession looming, or already here, and the national debt heading north of $10 trillion, the next president and Congress may want to give serious thought to whether we can afford to go on spending like a drunken sailor on a defense establishment that's financed like Enron and managed like General Motors.

The military-industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower, who unlike Bush knew a thing or two about the military, warned about in his farewell speech has had a field day with the Bush administration's laissez-faire defense spending policy.

Consider, if you will, the $22.9 billion we're spending to rush as many as 20,000 mine-resistant ambush protection vehicles to the soldiers and Marines fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This began in earnest only last year - too late for the troops who've been killed and wounded by improvised explosive devices.

The MRAP is a huge, heavily armored truck that can carry a squad of troops, eight to 10 men, in relative safety. It's not a fighting vehicle, just a deuce-and-a-half truck on steroids with a v-shaped bottom that deflects the force of a blast from a landmine or a buried IED around instead of through the vehicle.

Good idea. Where were they when then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was sending everyone to war in unarmored Humvees? Why wait five years, and then suddenly begin buying 20,000 of them? Why wait for American defense plants to produce an inferior version that costs more than $1 million each when Israel and South Africa are selling better designed MRAPs off the shelf for about a third of the price?

Then there's the question of what the hell the Army and Marine Corps are going to do with 20,000 MRAPs cluttering up their motor pools when the Iraq war ends? These beasts can weigh as much as 40 tons. They can't leave the road, and there are few bridges that can bear their weight. They can't turn around on an average road. Their only defenses are their armor and a few small portholes through which soldiers can fire their rifles at targets they can't see.

Are they better than the alternative, the $200,000 unarmored Humvee, which is a death trap when an IED goes off and is destroyed by its own weight in daily use? You bet they are.

But how many do we really need when the current U.S. strategy in Iraq is not to drive up and down roads and streets on ''presence patrols'' but to use dismounted troops patrolling on foot?

Congress hardly blinked when the Pentagon began shifting money from other programs last year to fund all-out production of the MRAPs. Why would they? Think of the jobs created in MRAP plants in South Carolina and Mississippi and dozens of other factories around the country that produce the parts and pieces that go into the vehicle.

MRAPs were a good idea five years ago, when the Abominable No-Man Rumsfeld was running the Pentagon and telling soldiers to quit whining about armored vehicles because we go to war with the Army we have, not the Army we may want to have.

Today both Rumsfeld and the war have moved on, and the defense plants are humming 24/7 making a very expensive ride that's likely to end up as tomorrow's war surplus. Maybe we can sell them off by the pound.

Just think: The MRAP is one little $22 billion program in a trillion-dollar national security budget. How many more outdated, useless widgets are hidden in there like so many termites, eating up your money? How many worthwhile projects have been ignored, vetoed or scuttled to pay for expensive toys that don't work, but will make big money for the military-industrial complex? (Hint: Think border fence.)

The next president might want to know the answer to that question when he or she sits down in the Oval Office on the afternoon of Jan. 20, 2009.
---
* JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers and a former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers.

US military secrets sent to Suffolk tourist site

US military secrets sent to Suffolk tourist site - Telegraph: "A tourist information website promoting a small Suffolk town has had to shut down after it received a barrage of thousands of classified US military emails.

Sensitive information including future flight paths for US Presidential aircraft Air Force One, military strategy and passwords swamped Gary Sinnott's email inbox after he established www.mildenhall.com, a site promoting the tiny town of Mildenhall where he lives, the Anglia Press Agency reports.

As well as Mr Sinnott and his neighbours, Mildenhall is home to a huge US Air Force base and its 2,500 servicemen and women, and the similarity in domain names has led to thousands of misdirected emails from Air Force personnel. Any mail sent to addresses ending @mildenhall.com would have ended up in Mr Sinnott's mailbox.

Now military bosses have blocked all military email to the address, and persuaded him to close down his site to end the confusion. He is giving up ownership of the address next month.

Mr Sinnott said: "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff that I have been receiving - I wonder if they ever had any security training. When I told the Americans they went mental.

"I got mis-sent e-mails right from the start in 2000 but even after I warned the base they just kept on coming. At one stage I was getting thousands of spam messages a week.

"I was getting jokes and videos and some of the material was not very nice - people were sending stuff without checking the address.

"But then I began to receive military communications from all over the world - a lot containing very sensitive information."

Agents from the USAF Office of Special Investigations have visited Mr Sinnott to ask him to delete any classified material he may have received, but concerns have been raised that resourceful terrorists could use similar methods to fool the US military into revealing state secrets.

The senior British officer at Mildenhall air force base sympathised with Mr Sinnott, but said that the problem was hard to solve.

Sqdn Leader Richard Fryer said in a letter: "Unfortunately there is no mechanism to forcibly prevent individuals, when in their private capacity, from sending e-mails to a particular address.

"We take the matter seriously but regret that there is little we can reasonably do."

Mr Sinnott said: "I have tried telling people they have got the wrong address. But some have reacted badly and one person who got really annoyed gave my address to people who send out spam - I was getting up to 7,500 a week from one source alone."

Swedish Meatballs Confidential (PNSfW): Third Wave Jihad - Hodgepodge of Wannabees

Swedish Meatballs Confidential (PNSfW): Third Wave Jihad - Hodgepodge of Wannabees: "You may wish to see David I's recent column in the Washington Post. Like us, our boy manages to shine only when reporting other folks' ideas. Slightly hacked excerpts below:



Politicians who talk about the terrorism threat should be required to read a new book by a former CIA officer named Marc Sageman. It stands what you think you know about terrorism on its head and helps one see the topic in a different light.

Sageman has a résumé that would suit a postmodern John le Carré. He was a case officer running spies in Pakistan and then became a forensic psychiatrist. What distinguishes his new book, "Leaderless Jihad," is that it peels away the emotional, reflexive responses to terrorism that have grown up since Sept. 11, 2001, and looks instead at scientific data Sageman has collected on more than 500 Islamic terrorists -- to understand who they are, why they attack and how to stop them.

The heart of Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat -- and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the current administration, echoed increasingly by certain presidential candidates that, as one particular Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."


It's the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman's account, it's a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls "terrorist wannabes." Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

"It's more about hero worship than about religion," Sageman said in a presentation of his research last week at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank here. Many of this third wave don't speak Arabic or read the Koran. Very few (13 percent of Sageman's sample) have attended radical madrassas. Nearly all join the movement because they know or are related to someone who's already in it. Those detained on terrorism charges are getting younger: In Sageman's 2003 sample, the average age was 26; among those arrested after 2006, it was down to about 20. They are disaffected, homicidal kids -- closer to urban gang members than to motivated Muslim fanatics.


Sageman's harshest judgment is that the United States is making the terrorism problem worse by its actions in Iraq. "Since 2003, the war in Iraq has without question fueled the process of radicalization worldwide, including the U.S. The data are crystal clear," he writes. We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.


The third wave of terrorism is inherently self-limiting, Sageman continues. As soon as the amorphous groups gather and train, they make themselves vulnerable to arrest. "As the threat from al-Qaeda is self-limiting, so is its appeal, and global Islamist terrorism will probably disappear for internal reasons -- if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away."


Sageman's policy advice is to "take the glory and thrill out of terrorism." Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism -- these leaderless jihadists are barely Muslims. Stop holding news conferences to announce the latest triumphs in the "global war on terror," which only glamorize the struggle. And reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which fuels the Muslim world's sense of moral outrage.


If Sageman's data are right, we are not facing what a President called "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation," but something that is more limited and manageable -- if we make good decisions.

THE EXILE - RPG vs. M1 - By Gary Brecher - The War Nerd

THE EXILE - RPG vs. M1 - By Gary Brecher - The War Nerd:..."So"the key doctrine on tank use is either keep them away from the enemy -- which is why you get armies using tanks as dug-in artillery, the way most armies do today -- or send them fast and hard, so the enemy has no time to probe their weak points.

Now think about how we're using our tanks in Iraq these days. We send them slowly through crowded Arab cities, or we set them down at intersections. Bad, bad way to use tanks. Instead of showing their heavily-armored front to the enemy, the enemy has a 3D view of the tank: from the sides, from behind, and worst off all, from above. A tank in a neighborhood of high-rise buildings is a target, that's all. Just ask the Russian what happened when they sent armor into the Chechen capital, Grozny.

What we're doing here is running a very expensive war game to find out what the M1's weaknesses are -- back, sides, whatever. These "weaknesses" don't matter if we were using the M1 right, using its fantastic on-the-move targeting system to blast enemy tanks on an open battlefield. If that's the war you're fighting -- the war we fought in GW1 -- then it's totally smart to put the light armor on those places. If you're fighting in Arab cities, like we are now, no tank is any good. A tank has two assets, firepower and speed. In a city, both those things are gone. It can't fire freely without killing civilians, and it can't move fast without crushing them in their houses. All it can do is sit there waiting for somebody to find the right firing angle to hit it on the lighter armor up top or underneath. It's like taking a knight and stationing him at a corner like a traffic cop: sooner or later somebody's going to slit his hamstrings with a cheap pocketknife...

Friday, February 29, 2008

In The Know: Are We Giving The Robots That Run Our Society Too Much Power? | The Onion - America's Finest News Source


In The Know: Are We Giving The Robots That Run Our Society Too Much Power?

'Phantom' police on payrolls in Iraq - USATODAY.com

'Phantom' police on payrolls in Iraq - USATODAY.com: "BAGHDAD — Iraq's government has spent millions of dollars on "phantom" police officers who left the force or died, but whose names remained on department payrolls while others illegally pocketed their salaries.
An investigation by the Iraqi Interior Ministry in six provinces found that 15-20% of the names on police payrolls there no longer corresponded to active-duty officers. More than 11,000 names have since been purged nationwide as part of a broad effort to cut graft.

The excess money for salaries sent by the federal government in Baghdad often ended up in the hands of other police officers, said Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, the top U.S. adviser for police training.

"A lot of those police officers disappeared — either ran away, didn't come to work, killed, any number of things," Phillips said. "There was still pay going out there … unless someone stopped it."

In recent months, the Interior Ministry has sent officials to provincial police stations, where they refused to pay anyone who couldn't walk in to collect their salary in cash.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Baghdad | al-Qaeda | Iraqis | U.S.-led | Anbar | Sunni | Shiite-dominated | Iraqi Interior Ministry
In Anbar, a Sunni province west of the capital, about a quarter of the names on the police payroll were removed, according to Phillips.

Many commanders probably knew the corruption was taking place because they had to approve payroll lists, Phillips said.

In many cases, commanders found by the Interior Ministry to have engaged in acts of corruption were demoted or reassigned to other units.

Some police forces have been reluctant to take tougher punitive measures such as firing personnel because they don't want to put someone "bitter" on the street "who did something he thought was not that wrong," Phillips said.

Many of the provinces under investigation are Sunni areas where insurgencies were strong and police have only recently begun turning the tide.

The accountability problem reflects the haste of creating much of the security force after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said Maj. Gen. Hussein al-Awadi, commander of Iraq's national police.

Phillips said there was little consistency early on in the way the police were developed and few national institutions existed to track and monitor pay.

The no-show problem was particularly acute in provinces with large Sunni populations. Many police stations collapsed when the insurgency grew in strength in 2004. Sunnis also turned their back on the Shiite-dominated government or were intimidated by al-Qaeda militants who moved freely in many Sunni regions.

A small number of the "ghost" employees were widows who continued to receive their husband's salary because Iraq's system was initially slow in providing death benefits. The bulk of the salaries, however, went to some form of corruption, Phillips said.

The phantom worker problem has been virtually eliminated, mostly under the Iraqis' initiative, Phillips said. New systems to track pay will prevent the trouble from recurring, he said.

The corruption cost Iraq's government millions of dollars, though an exact figure is difficult to determine, since systems in place at the time were not capable of effectively tracking personnel.

New police officers are paid about $6,515 a year.

Al-Awadi said the national police agency returned about $6.7 million to Iraq's treasury after cleaning up its payroll last year. The national police, which number about 32,500, are separate and a much smaller force than local police.

"We fixed the problem 100%," al-Awadi said.

[bth: how about we focus on cleaning up this mess of corruption and training some decent police and military officers in Iraq. Wouldn't that do more to address justice and move toward the goals of both the Iraqi and American public of better government for our people? Isn't the war on corruption something that all parties could agree on and address? Spending $6,500 on an honest cop in Iraq has got to be the best investment we could ever make - unless it's an investment in an honest cop or border patrolman in America.]

Why we need to nail Osama 

Why we need to nail Osama - - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "The recent killing of Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyah, after a quarter-century of pursuit, was met by a mixture of applause and shrugs. It also begged a bigger question: How important is it to take out key terrorists — such as Osama bin Laden?

Indeed, perhaps spurred on by failure, a sense that capturing or killing bin Laden is unimportant appears to be taking hold in influential quarters. In a recent article in the New Yorker, former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin reported the U.S. "is not particularly looking for him." And the FBI's intelligence chief, Wayne Murphy, wondered "if the benefits of getting bin Laden balance out," confessing that he doesn't "know if it buys us anything." Last year, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker questioned whether capturing or killing bin Laden is "all that important, frankly," while renowned counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman argued that "we need to drop our preoccupation with" him.

Though the hunt for bin Laden continues, as evidenced by the recent reported killing of Abu Laith al-Libi, energy for the search is likely dissipating for several valid reasons: frustration with not capturing bin Laden and a concomitant desire to play down the that failure; difficult tradeoffs in dealing with precariously-balanced Pakistani and Afghan regimes; and our success in undermining bin Laden and disrupting al Qaeda even without getting to him. Few contest that capturing or killing bin Laden is important; many simply view the objective as not worth prioritizing it at the expense of other interests.

But the truth is that killing or capturing bin Laden remains a vital national and, indeed, international priority. Not only is it important — it is worth devoting significant resources and making major tradeoffs to do so

No doubt there will be considerable costs in earnestly working to get to bin Laden. These include but are not limited to: the potential for greater friction with Pakistan due to the increased pressure that will have to be applied; the possibility of further radicalization in the tribal areas or in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region generally; the opportunity costs of not using appropriate U.S. and allied resources elsewhere; and, in the event of capture, the awkwardness of a trial, or, in the event of his death, martyrdom. But while these costs are very real and must be acknowledged, they are counterbalanced and, ultimately, outweighed by the following reasons:

• Future deterrence: Bin Laden's fate is inextricably tied to the credibility of the U.S. deterrent against future terrorist attacks. It is vital that the United States show that those who attack us will be punished. This is not to say such a deterrent is sufficient, but it is certainly necessary. So long as bin Laden eludes American and international punishment, especially given his status as a symbol of the entire global jihadi movement, the credibility of the U.S. threat to retaliate against those who attack us is seriously weakened.

Some might say such worries are overwrought, that terrorists know that if they strike us they will pay, but the proof is in the pudding. Al Qaeda itself has repeatedly said that part of its rationale for the September 11, 2001, attacks was the belief that, based on years of experience, America was a "paper tiger."

• Justice: The September 11 attacks resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 people. The strikes were unprovoked under any fair standard, unwarned, directed at persons with no substantial connections to al Qaeda's complaints against U.S. policy, and outside any commonly accepted method of war. Our most foundational notions of justice demand that the chief perpetrator answer for these deeds.

Indeed, one may genuinely ask whether a state that cannot provide justice to thousands of its murdered citizens has fulfilled its cardinal duties to establish justice and provide for the common defense.

• Public confidence: The threat of terrorism, including catastrophic terrorism, is and will be an omnipresent reality. We must meet this threat with the severity and vigor commensurate with the peril. But we must also not overreact. Striking a proper balance between excessive sanguinity and frenetic paranoia requires that the U.S. government instill sufficient confidence in the American public by succeeding in basic key tasks of the counterterror effort. Americans must believe that their government is competent enough to carry through on its basic security responsibilities, especially those it has publicly proclaimed as essential, as President Bush repeatedly did regarding capturing bin Laden in the wake of September 11.

Though in the future we may find it unwise to elevate a single figure into the role of "Enemy No. 1," we have already done so with bin Laden and must deal with this reality. Nor should the concern be confined to Americans: September 11, 2001, was also a blow against the international system as a whole, a point driven home by the ensuing United Nations Security Council and NATO declarations.

• Dampen jihadi enthusiasm: Even though bin Laden may not exercise operational control over the international jihadi movement, he is clearly an olympian figure to active and aspiring radicals of successful resistance to the United States. His ability to elude U.S. and allied efforts to track him down gives credence to the jihadi caricature of the United States as a pitiful, helpless giant.

Capturing or killing bin Laden would by no means "solve" the problem of radical Islamist terror networks, but it would surely dampen the enthusiasm of their members. And history suggests that removing a charismatic leader of a movement, especially one who serves as a rallying point for groups with differing interests, as bin Laden does, can result in a strong blow to its health and popularity. The examples of Che Guevara and Abdullah Ocalan of the PKK support this.

Indeed, especially in a war so influenced by images and symbols, knocking down the most potent symbol of radical Islamist terrorism must be a top priority.

Two days after September 11, 2001, President Bush commendably pledged that the United States would not rest until Osama bin Laden was killed or captured. In the intervening years, the difficulty of the task, support for al Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal regions, foot-dragging by the Pakistani government, the consuming pull of the war in Iraq, the absence of a second attack on the Homeland, and the natural distractibility of the United States have all contributed to a slackened pursuit for bin Laden. Now the temptation is to think that perhaps our first reaction was wrong and we may not need to track down bin Laden.

There will be real costs to redoubling the pursuit. But these costs, real as they are, are outweighed by the necessity of doing all reasonable in our power to kill or capture bin Laden. Even with these drawbacks, our interests and justice demand it.

Elbridge Colby, an adjunct staff member at the Rand Corp., served in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and on the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

[bth: right on!]

Congress: Why should each military branch get same budget? | csmonitor.com

Congress: Why should each military branch get same budget? | csmonitor.com: "Washington - The defense budget has been sliced into virtually the same-sized pieces for decades, with roughly equal shares of resources going to the Army, Air Force, and Navy. In a move analysts say is sure to strike fear among some services, Congress this week will begin asking why.

A bipartisan House panel is nudging the Pentagon to begin a conversation on how to reform itself in many ways. But at the Pentagon, talk of change usually has a budgetary impact.

And, despite the past several years of "nation-building" and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been virtually no change in the way the defense budget is carved up in at least 40 years, says Rep. Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee, who chairs the panel.

"That right there is a statistical indictment of the process," Representative Cooper says. "There had to be a year in which there were greater needs in one area or another, and the system was unable to accommodate it."

The fiscal 2009 budget request released this month, for example, shows the Army requesting a 27 percent share, the Air Force asking for a 28 percent share, and the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, wanting a 29 percent share of the proposed $515 billion budget.

Cooper's seven-member panel is expected to release a study this week on each of the branches' "roles and missions" that may threaten services that are seen to perform more conventional warfare. With the focus on the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that makes some in the Navy and Air Force worry.

Cooper hopes the study will spark a broader debate about the need to reform national security, with new emphases on cybersecurity and nonmilitary government agencies. The panel isn't recommending specific changes to the budget as much as it is raising concerns about the Pentagon's historical aversion to change. More specifically, some services are clinging to a version of warfare the panel believes is dated.

"There should be vociferous support from inside the services, since the military has been left carrying the burden of the failures of our national security institutions," reads a draft of the report, to be released Thursday. "Instead, our military has resisted change just as they have past efforts at reform. The Air Force and Navy are reemphasizing more traditional threats and downplaying the unexpected threats we face today."

In fact, the Navy has tried to emphasize its so-called soft-power capabilities to combat terrorism, and senior Air Force officials seek to remind Congress that conventional threats, like those presented by China, still remain. ...

[bth: go ahead and read the whole article if you've got the stomach. ... The core missing piece of the entire budget conversation is that it has NOTHING TO DO WITH WINNING THE WARS WE ARE IN. Maybe we should think about what it takes to win the wars we are in instead of funding fantasy wars in the future best dreamed up by lobbyists and generals looking for a berth post retirement. Why on earth the Air Force and Navy need the same budget adjustment (rise) that the Army needs is beyond me. Why just look at the attrition of the land fleet in Iraq and the pilfered National Guard units as a demonstrator. Maybe we ought to focus on better body armor, more ammunition, some freaking heavy lift helicopters for the marines, about 20,000 MRAPs and radios and training for forces in combat now in wars we don't have to speculate about. ... And while I'm at it wouldn't be just swell if we increased the number of arabic translators to a meaningful level?]

Semper Fly: Marines in Space | Popular Science

Semper Fly: Marines in Space | Popular Science: "A proposed suborbital space transport will put boots on the ground anywhere in the world in two hours or less. But can it overcome huge technological-and political-hurdles?

As any battlefield commander will tell you, getting troops to the fight can be as difficult as winning it. And for modern-day soldiers, the sites of conflict are so far-flung, and the political considerations of even flying over another country so complicated, that rapid entry has become nearly impossible. If a group of Marine Corps visionaries have their way, however, 30 years from now, Marines could touch down anywhere on the globe in less than two hours, without needing to negotiate passage through foreign airspace. The breathtaking efficiency of such a delivery system could change forever the way the U.S. does battle.

The proposal, part of the Corps´s push toward greater speed and flexibility, is called Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or Sustain. Using a suborbital transport-that is, a vehicle that flies into space to achieve high travel speeds but doesn´t actually enter orbit-the Corps will be able, in effect, to instantaneously deliver Marine squads anywhere on Earth. The effort is led by Roosevelt Lafontant, a former Marine lieutenant colonel now employed by the Schafer Corporation, a military-technology consulting firm working with the Marines. Insertion from space, Lafontant explains, makes it possible for the Marines-typically the first military branch called on for emergency missions-to avoid all the usual complications that can delay or end key missions. No waiting for permission from an allied nation, no dangerous rendezvous in the desert, no slow helicopter flights over mountainous terrain. Instead, Marines could someday have an unmatched element of surprise, allowing them to do everything from reinforce Special Forces to rescue hostages thousands of miles away.

â€Sustain is simply an ability to move Marines very rapidly from one place to another,†says Marine colonel Jack Wassink, director of the Corps´s Space Integration Branch in Arlington, Virginia, where the program is based. â€Space lends itself to that role.â€

The program is quickly gaining traction. Congress has expressed interest, because of the obvious usefulness of the capability it promises. And the technologies necessary to make it happen, from hypersonic propulsion systems to new composite materials needed to make the vehicle lightweight yet strong, are in advanced development in military labs across the country. The Marines expect to fly a prototype in 15 years, most likely a two-stage system using a carrier aircraft that will launch a lander into orbit from high altitude. Production models could show up around 2030, a date that isn´t quite as far away as it seems. Consider that the F-22 Raptor fighter is now entering service after 22 years of development.

But the whole idea still rings of science fiction, and the question is whether its proponents can corral the various technologies together to make the project possible. â€Sustain is not a pipe dream,†Lafontant says. â€It just needs to gel.â€...

[bth: What a waste of money. See article below were the marine corp can't field MRAPS in a timely fashion - a few thousand overpriced overweight trucks that happen to have the potential to save hundreds of lives, or would have if they'd been purchased when the urgent need went out about 4 years ago.... So now we see a program with a 30 year window with pork grease smeared all over it proposing that the marines build suborbital space planes to fly anywhere in the world with 14 men to go kill OBL in a cave. Now we might not need overflight permission from Pakistan to do this as the article points out, but we'd sure need a good long runway and for it to be cleared. ... How to stop a marine invasion from outer space? Well park pickup trucks on the runway that's how. ...Given the extraordinary amount of money this program might require and the lack of any useful deliverable in our lifetimes, I'm sure it will receive enthusiastic support. ... I note with some interest that Franz Gayl mentioned in the article referred to also in the article below as a whistleblower may very well have his name thrown into this Popular Science article to discredit him in public.]

War Is Boring - Franz Gayl: One Man Reforming Machine

War Is Boring: "Franz Gayl is a retired Marine and current civilian science adviser to the Marine Corps. In recent years he has championed a wide range of potentially game-changing technologies: some quite simple, like non-lethal laser “dazzlers,” and others truly cutting edge, such as his proposed squad space transport. The one thing many of his favorite techs had in common: the Marine Corps bureaucracy usually wanted nothing to do with them.

In 2006 Gayl deployed to Iraq to study Marines’ weapons needs. His experiences reinforced his conviction that the Corps’ weapons-buying bureaucracy in Quantico, Virginia, was fundamentally disconnected from the real world — and that that was costing troops’ lives. The most egregious example: despite repeated urgent requests from Marines on the ground, Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico for years had refused to provide blast-resistant trucks to protect against roadside bombs. It wasn’t until Secretary of Defense Robert Gate called these trucks (then known by the moniker “Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected,” aka MRAP) his number-one procurement priority, that the Marines finally caved, and ordered thousands of the trucks.

Last year Gayl, who had been in touch with media, filed for whistleblower protection. Even so, the Marine Corps asked him to write a study on blast-resistant vehicles. Then, after a scathing A.P. story, the Marines ordered him to stop. After that, Congress got involved. Now the Marines have turned the issue over to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Notably, this is no longer just about MRAPs. The Pentagon has (belatedly) fielded thousands of the blast-resistant trucks — and they, along with sound counter-insurgency tactics, have helped reduced deaths in Iraq due to roadside bombs. What’s really the issue here is ensuring that bureaucracies respond to troops’ needs rather than serving their own narrow agendas and selfish interests.

If — and this is a big if — MCCDC ever changes its ways, we’ll have Franz Gayl to thank.

P.S.: Project on Government Oversight is calling for hearings. Go, POGO!

One whistleblower we have worked with, Marine Corps science advisor Franz Gayl, has suffered reprisals for his disclosures to Congress on unnecessary and egregious delays in the Marine Corps’ acquisition system. His disclosures to Congress have led to heightened attention to requests for non-lethal weapons that could prevent unnecessary civilian deaths, the procurement of significant quantities of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), and surveillance technologies necessary to interdict insurgents in the vast geographies our stretched troops are responsible for covering.

We believe these critical national security issues should be debated at a public hearing. Moreover, without public accountability for the failures that have occurred, additional failures are more likely to occur in the future. Our nation’s uniformed men and women rely on Congress to exercise its constitutional prerogative to oversee the executive branch; hearings on this issue would be an excellent opportunity to do so.
Lawyers, Guns and Money

How Can We Raise Awareness In Darfur Of How Much We're Doing For Them? | The Onion - America's Finest News Source


How Can We Raise Awareness In Darfur Of How Much We're Doing For Them?

YouTube - Magpul Industries SHOTSHOW 2008 Part 2

Two thirds of Ameicans View Traditional Journalism as 'Out of Touch'

MediaChannel.org: ..."Two thirds of Americans – 67% – believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news, a new We Media/Zogby Interactive poll shows.

The survey also found that while most Americans (70%) think journalism is important to the quality of life in their communities, two thirds (64%) are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism in their communities.

Meanwhile, the online survey documented the shift away from traditional sources of news, such as newspapers and TV, to the Internet – most dramatically among so-called digital natives – people under 30 years old.

Nearly half of respondents (48%) said their primary source of news and information is the Internet, an increase from 40% who said the same a year ago. Younger adults were most likely to name the Internet as their top source – 55% of those age 18 to 29 say they get most of their news and information online, compared to 35% of those age 65 and older.

These oldest adults are the only age group to favor a primary news source other than the Internet, with 38% of these seniors who said they get most of their news from television. Overall, 29% said television is their main source of news, while fewer said they turn to radio (11%) and newspapers (10%) for most of their news and information. Just 7% of those age 18 to 29 said they get most of their news from newspapers, while more than twice as many (17%) of those age 65 and older list newspapers as their top source of news and information.

Web sites are regarded as a more important source of news and information than traditional media outlets – 86% of Americans said Web sites were an important source of news, with more than half (56%) who view these sites as very important. Most also view television (77%), radio (74%), and newspapers (70%) as important sources of news, although fewer than say the same about blogs (38%)....

MediaChannel.org - Caught: Comcast paying to push public out of Internet debate

Some Turks Question Timing of Iraq Push

Some Turks Question Timing of Iraq Push - washingtonpost.com: "ANKARA Turkey, Feb. 27 -- Turkey's military offensive in northern Iraq has clear objectives: attack Kurdish separatist guerrillas in their mountain bases, destroy their camps and weapons caches, and show them they can be pursued anywhere, anytime.

But many Turkish observers say that the operation, launched last week, also paved the way for something else entirely: head scarves.

Did the Islamic-oriented government, some Turks ask, use the start of the largest offensive into northern Iraq in more than a decade to divert attention from its controversial decision to legalize head scarves in universities?

"There's an obvious connection," said retired Gen. Haldun Solmazturk, an administrator at Ahmet Yesevi University in Ankara, the capital.

In founding modern Turkey in the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk encouraged Western attire and restricted religious dress in public as principles of the republic.

Turkey's military, which has long viewed itself as the enforcer of Ataturk's secular vision, was angered by recent legislation aimed at lifting the long-standing head scarf ban at public colleges. But the religiously observant president, Abdullah Gul, signed the amendments into law late last Friday, the first full day of the military's strike into northern Iraq.

At the time, "the attention of the Turkish public was firmly focused on the operation," Solmazturk said. For the observant Muslims who lead Turkey's government, "it was a very clear and very successful strategy."

"Many people take it with some worry, that they are trying to take away from the secular republic while keeping the people busy with something else," said Edip Baser, a retired general in Istanbul, Turkey's commercial center. ...

[bth: a flag is more than a sheet and a scarf is more than a scarf.]

Sunni Forces Losing Patience With U.S.

Sunni Forces Losing Patience With U.S. - washingtonpost.com: "BAGHDAD Feb. 27 -- U.S.-backed Sunni volunteer forces, which have played a vital role in reducing violence in Iraq, are increasingly frustrated with the American military and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their growing political clout and insufficient U.S. support.

Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province's Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.

Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq's army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.

The predominantly Sunni Awakening forces, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq or Concerned Local Citizens, are made up mostly of former insurgents who have turned against extremists because of their harsh tactics and interpretation of Islam. The U.S. military pays many fighters roughly $10 a day to guard and patrol their areas. Thousands more unpaid volunteers have joined out of tribal and regional fealties.

U.S. efforts to manage this fast-growing movement of about 80,000 armed men are still largely effective, but in some key areas the control is fraying. The tensions are the most serious since the Awakening was launched in Anbar province in late 2006, according to Iraqi officials, U.S. commanders and 20 Awakening leaders across Iraq. Some U.S. military officials say they are growing concerned that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated Awakening forces in some areas.

"Now, there is no cooperation with the Americans," said Haider Mustafa al-Kaisy, an Awakening commander in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold that U.S. and Iraqi forces are still struggling to control. "We have stopped fighting al-Qaeda."

U.S. military officials and commanders say they are seeking to defuse the rising tensions before hard-won U.S. gains are jeopardized. "Despite some of the frustrations, the frictions and the attacks on the Sons of Iraq, they are continuing to volunteer. As an interim solution, it seems to be working well," said Col. Bill Buckner, a senior U.S. military spokesman. "It's clear Iraq remains a fragile security environment. We want to address many of their concerns as best as we can, so that they continue to be part of the solution to the security situation in Iraq." ...

[bth: rising export prices have expanded the Iraqi GDP. Its government had better get busy putting that revenue to work paying these guys or it has the choice of fighting them. Alternately, their perspective might be that the government will keep the cash and put the Americans in the positin of fighting their newfound allies - the Awakening - or continuing to bribe them with American dollars.... It would be a shame to lose such a hard won opportunity.]

US sending warships to Mediterranean as tensions mount

US sending warships to Mediterranean as tensions mount | Jerusalem Post: "The US Navy is sending three warships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in a show of strength during a period of tensions with Syria and political uncertainty in Lebanon.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the deployment should not be viewed as threatening or in response to events in any single country in that volatile region.

"This is an area that is important to us, the eastern Med," he said when asked about news reports of the ship movements. "It's a group of ships that will operate in the vicinity there for a while," adding that "it isn't meant to send any stronger signals than that, but it does signal that we're engaged, we're going to be in the vicinity and that's a very, very important part of the world."

Another military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because full details about the ship movements are not yet public, said the USS Cole is headed for patrol in the eastern Mediterranean and that the USS Nassau, an amphibious warship, would be joining it shortly. The officer said a third ship would go later, but he did not identify it by name.

[bth: Things are going to heat up in Lebannon.]

Report: American Schools Trail Behind World In Aptitude Of Child Soldiers | The Onion - America's Finest News Source


Report: American Schools Trail Behind World In Aptitude Of Child Soldiers

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Marines halt study critical of MRAP program

Marines halt study critical of MRAP program - USATODAY.com: "WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps has ordered a civilian scientist to stop work on a report critical of its efforts to obtain new armored vehicles, saying he exceeded his authority, a Marine official said Tuesday.
Franz Gayl, a retired Marine officer and civilian science adviser, alleged in a Jan. 22 report that "gross mismanagement" of the program to quickly field Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles had resulted in the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of Marines in Iraq. Gayl had planned to continue his investigation.

"He's been told to stop any further work," said Col. David Lapan, a Marine spokesman. "It's gotten beyond its initial purpose."

Lapan said Gayl exceeded his authority by writing about MRAPs because the proposal that requested the report never specifically mentioned the new armored vehicles by name

Today, top Marine generals will appear before a House Armed Services subcommittee to testify about the Corps' budget request and the status of the Marines' MRAP program. Rep. Gene Taylor, a Mississippi Democrat and subcommittee chairman, said he would ask about the Gayl report.

Gayl's report was first made public by the Associated Press on Feb. 15. The report said Marine procurement officers spurned requests from commanders in Iraq for blast-resistant vehicles because they didn't want to derail other projects.

On Feb. 20, the Marines asked the Pentagon inspector general to investigate the claims, two days after USA TODAY reported that two U.S. senators had demanded an investigation.

Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who approved Gayl's investigation, never saw the report because Gayl's superiors hadn't verified the conclusions, Lapan said. The charges of gross mismanagement were so serious that top Marine officers asked the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate, he said.

The Marines haven't determined whether Gayl's conclusions are valid, said Lapan, who called the report internal and preliminary.

Gayl's initial proposal indicated he would look at MRAPs and other equipment and weapons systems, said Adam Miles of the Government Accountability Project, a non-partisan Washington watchdog group.

Miles' organization provides legal counsel to Gayl, who filed for federal whistle-blower protection in May. Miles said Gayl had planned further studies on how the Marines had failed to field other needed equipment, including one regarding non-lethal weapons.

Miles applauded the call for an inspector general's investigation. "After the Marine Corps had basically spent a week trying to distance itself from Franz's study, this was important acknowledgement of the serious issues that he's raised," he said.

[bth: Gayl has my highest respect as a Gold Star Family. I hope he reads this and understands that I appreciate the sacrifice to his career he is making to protect hundreds of marines from bureaucratic ineptitude.]

USATODAY.com - Concerns Widen on Waits for Iraq Gear

USATODAY.com: "By Tom Vanden Brook and Blake Morrison
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Four U.S. senators have asked the Defense Department for a sweeping review of the Pentagon's failures to quickly get troops in Iraq "the best possible equipment," including armored vehicles that protect against some of the most lethal types of roadside bombs.

The request, contained in a letter sent Wednesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, comes eight months after a USA TODAY investigation showed top Pentagon officials repeatedly balked at requests from troops in Iraq for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs.

The MRAP's V-shaped hull deflects the force of bomb blasts, and its safety record is stunning. Only one U.S. serviceman has died in an MRAP since the Pentagon committed in May to sending more than 15,000 MRAPs to Iraq. Currently, about 2,400 are being used by troops there. At least 60% of U.S. combat deaths have been caused by roadside bombs.

During a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing Wednesday, top congressmen from both parties also voiced their concerns about the failure to provide troops with necessary equipment, particularly MRAPs.

"I think one thing we can all agree on is that the process was too slow and is still too slow," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, the senior Republican on the subcommittee.

"Frankly, there is a poor track record in this area, " said subcommittee chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss. "Improved body armor, uparmored Humvees, jammers, and finally fielding of MRAPs has taken entirely too long to get to the troops."

In the letter, Republican Kit Bond (Mo.) and Democrats Joseph Biden (Del.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) said they "remain concerned" that troops still are not getting the protection they deserve. In particular, they wrote, the Marines moved too slowly on urgent requests from troops for vehicles that could withstand explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, bombs that can slice through armor.

"We have to make sure what happened with MRAPS never, ever happens again," Biden said in a separate statement.

In May, USA TODAY reported that the Marines filed an urgent request from Iraq in January 2007 asking for more protection from EFPs. Although MRAPs are safer than armored Humvees, they are still vulnerable to EFP attacks.

Despite that request, the senators wrote, "we are still five or six months from fielding even limited quantities of EFP-protected vehicles."

"We urge you to conduct a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of all of our wartime acquisition processes," the letter said. "If the effort to provide EFP protection is any guide, unfortunately we are still not accelerating our development and fielding efforts adequate to meet the current threat."

Last week, Biden and Bond had called for an investigation into allegations contained in a report by Marine science adviser Franz Gayl. In the report, Gayl wrote that procurement officers needlessly delayed responding to a February 2005 request for 1,169 MRAPs. The 2005 request from troops wasn't approved until more than a year later, in May 2006.

Pentagon auditors are now reviewing Gayl's study and previous audits, said Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a Defense spokesman.


[bth: Gene Taylor, Kennedy and Biden have been spot on this issue for some time. Its a crime what's happening at the upper levels in the Pentagon. At least Sec. Gates has his act together and seems very responsive to this issue. Its a shame the Commandant of the Marine Corp isn't.]

In The Know: New Iraqi Law Requires Waiting Period For Suicide Vest Purchases | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

In The Know: New Iraqi Law Requires Waiting Period For Suicide Vest Purchases | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
In The Know: New Iraqi Law Requires Waiting Period For Suicide Vest Purchases"

Karzai Only Controls 1/3 of Afghanistan

Karzai Only Controls 1/3 of Afghanistan - Politics on The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — More than six years after the U.S. invaded to establish a stable central regime in Afghanistan, the Kabul government under President Hamid Karzai controls just 30 percent of the country, the top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.

National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the resurgent Taliban controls 10 percent to 11 percent of the country and Karzai's government controls 30 percent to 31 percent. The majority of Afghanistan's population and territory remains under local tribal control
, he said.

Underscoring the problems facing the Kabul government, a roadside bomb in Paktika province killed two Polish soldiers who are part of the NATO force in the country and opium worth $400 million was seized in the southern part of Afghanistan. That brought the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan to 21 this year, according to an Associated Press tally.

In 2007, insurgency-related violence killed more than 6,500 people, including 222 foreign troops. Last year was the deadliest yet since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Officials estimate that up to 40 percent of proceeds from Afghanistan's drug trade _ an amount worth tens of millions of dollars _ is used to fund the insurgency
.

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the Defense Intelligence Agency director, told the committee at the same hearing that the Pakistan government is trying to crack down on the lawless tribal area along the Afghan border area where Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to be training, and from which they launch attacks in Afghanistan. But neither the Pakistani military nor the tribal Frontier Corps is trained or equipped to fight, he said.

Maples said it would take three to five years to address those deficiencies and see a difference in their ability to fight effectively in the tribal areas.

"Pakistani military operations in the (region) have not fundamentally damaged al-Qaida's position. ... The tribal areas remain largely ungovernable and, as such, they will continue to provide vital sanctuary to al-Qaida, the Taliban and regional extremism more broadly," Maples said.

Under questioning from committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., Maples also said he considers the harsh interrogation technique known as waterboarding to be inhumane. That would put it outside the bounds of U.S. law, which since late 2005 has prohibited cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees.

The Bush administration has refused to rule on whether waterboarding is torture. Waterboarding involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his or her cloth-covered face to create the sensation of drowning. It has been traced back hundreds of years to the Spanish Inquisition, and is condemned by nations around the world.

Waterboarding remains among the interrogation methods potentially available to the CIA but its use must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the attorney general and the president.

The U.S. military specifically prohibited waterboarding in 2006. Maples said the 19 other interrogation techniques allowed under military rules are effective.

"We have recently confirmed that with those who are using those tools on operations," Maples said.

Earlier this month, Congress approved a bill that would limit the CIA to the military's interrogation techniques. The White House has threatened to veto that measure.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said in a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday that other lawful, Geneva Convention-compliant interrogation techniques not in the Army Field Manual would also be outlawed.

"There will be no conditions of threat or danger that would cause us to make an exception. This is an important national decision and it will have a direct impact on our ability to gather intelligence and to detect and prevent future attacks."

Hayden told the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7 that he prohibited CIA operatives from using waterboarding in 2006 in the wake of a Supreme Court decision and new laws on the treatment of U.S. detainees. He said the agency has not used waterboarding for five years.

President Bush could authorize waterboarding for future terrorism suspects in certain situations, including "belief that an attack might be imminent," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Feb. 6. The president would consult with the attorney general and intelligence officials before authorizing its use, Fratto said.

VoteVets.org

Think Progress » McCain: ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ If Indicted Congressman Renzi Is Still Part Of My Campaign

Think Progress » McCain: ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ If Indicted Congressman Renzi Is Still Part Of My Campaign: "Last"Friday, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), who is a member of Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) National Leadership Team and a co-chair of his Arizona Leadership Team, was indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes. Asked that day about Renzi’s indictment, McCain said he didn’t “know enough of the details to make a judgment.”

Later, on a conference call with conservative bloggers, McCain said Renzi “would probably step down as co-chair of his Arizona campaign.” Asked in Ohio today, however, McCain said “it doesn’t matter” if Renzi stays on his campaign or not. ...

[bth: Renzi needs to quietly resign his position with McCain's organization. For that matter Renzi would be doing this country a favor by just getting the hell out of congress.]

Silly String and the War on Terror

Main and Central

Marines Call New Body Armor Heavy, Impractical - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Marines Call New Body Armor Heavy, Impractical - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "BAGHDAD Iraq — The Pentagon and Marine Corps authorized the purchase of 84,000 bulletproof vests in 2006 that not only are too heavy but are so impractical that some U.S. Marines are asking for their old vests back so they can remain agile enough to fight.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway wants to know who authorized the costly purchase of the nearly 30-pound flak jackets and has ordered the Marine procurement officers at the Quantico base in Virginia to halt the rest of an unfilled order, FOX News has learned.

"I’m not quite sure how we got to where we are, but what I do know is it is not a winner," Conway told FOX News at the end of his recent trip to Iraq.

"I think it is foolish to buy more."

• Click here to view photos.

Twenty-four thousand more vests were scheduled to be shipped to Iraq in the coming months, but Conway halted that order during his trip.

"I’ve asked them to tell me — to walk me through — the whole process ... how it evolved," Conway said.

"It goes back a couple of years. I think the vest has its advantages. It fits pretty well on the waist. The weight is distributed more evenly on the hips than shoulders, but Marines don’t like it. I didn’t like it when I put it on."

The protective jackets, manufactured by Protective Products International in Sunrise, Fla., are known as Modular Tactical Vests, or MTVs. With heavy plates, known as sappis, on their sides, they provide more coverage than the older vests. That makes them much safer but also much heavier. The MTVs have more protection than the older "Interceptor," made by Point Blank, and they distribute weight more evenly.

The new vests, weighing in at about 30 pounds each, are three lbs. more than previous regulation body armor. Marines, who are already carrying up to 95 lbs. depending on the mission, say they feel the difference.

The vest slips over the head, but one Marine said that because of its weight, it often rips the skin off one’s nose and scrapes the ears.

It also has a rip cord that allows for quick release should the fighter fall into water. But many Marines say the cord is hard to reach and often gets caught on equipment in their vehicles. They say it literally falls apart; one Marine said it was like getting caught in battle with your pants around your ankles.

Marines are issued an instructional video to learn how to use the vest properly.

The Marine commandant and his sergeant major, Carlton Kent, became aware of the problem during a Thanksgiving visit to Iraq. At town hall meetings, few Marines raised their hands when asked if they liked the new equipment.

Conway and his team refused to wear the vests during their visit to Iraq last week due to their weight and impracticality.

Marine Corps Systems Command, in a written statement to FOX News, said it responded in January 2006 to an Urgent Universal Need Statement from the field for better protective gear and awarded the contract in September 2006 after a series of user conferences at Quantico and in consultation with the Marine Expeditionary Forces.

The order was placed before Conway became commandant in November 2006.

Marine spokesman Lt. Col. TV Johnson said the problem with the vests is not that they are unsafe or impractical.

"Marines are still able to run and climb walls with the gear. The fact that the additional protection adds weight, and that the means of getting in and out of it "over-the-head" seem to be the chief complaints," Johnson told FOX News in an email.

"In Desert Storm, we wore flack jackets that were a fraction of the weight of the lighter vest we wore before the MTV. They wouldn't, however, stop a bullet or even a knife, so if I were going to a gunfight, I know what piece of gear I'd take," said Johnson.

[bth: one should remember that literally hundreds of marines are alive because they got neck and side-body protection that didn't exist in marine equipment a few years ago. A story by Michael Moss from the NYTs established that 1/3 of the KIAs died because insurgents were shooting them in the sides where the marines had no protection. Conway is off base on this issue by any statistical measure I'm aware of. He also wants the marines to reassert itself as an expeditionary force and not be required to fight in Iraq. Good luck on that one. I think the war picks the marines, the marines don't get to pick the war. The equipment then is just a function of the conflict - hence you have marines for years driving around the desert in amphib equipment. 14 Ohio reservists died in one incident which finally put an end to that abortion in planning.]

YouTube - Metal Storm ADWS

YouTube - Metal Storm ADWS: ""

Danes 'won't set foot in Sudan again'

Danes 'won't set foot in Sudan again' | Herald Sun: "SUDANESE"President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said overnight Danes will not be allowed to set foot in his country after Danish newspapers reprinted a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Protests and rioting erupted in 2006 in Muslim countries around the world when the cartoons, one showing the Prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily. At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies attacked.

Most Muslims consider depictions of the Prophet Mohammed offensive. Danish newspapers have reprinted one of the drawings in protest against what they said was a plot to murder the cartoonist who drew it.

Sudan has banned Danish imports, mainly dairy produce.

"We are capable of delivering the decisive response ... boycotting personalities and companies," Mr Bashir said.

"We tell you that no Dane will foul the land of Sudan again," he told thousands at a rally organised by his ruling party.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig later said: "We will implement the president's decision. We will ban all Danes from entering Sudan."

He would not say if the decision included diplomats.

Danish consulate officials in Khartoum were not available for comment.

[bth: if the EU had any balls they'd ban all Sudanese from entering the EU in return. But then this is a hypothetical conversation isn't it?]
 
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Pakistani military 'misspent up to 70% of American aid' | World news

Pakistani military 'misspent up to 70% of American aid' | World news | The Guardian: "America's massive military aid package to Pakistan is being scrutinised after allegations that as much as 70% of $5.4bn in assistance to the country has been misspent.

Since 2002 the US has paid the operating costs of Pakistan's military operations in the tribal belt along the Afghan border, where Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are known to shelter.

Pakistan provides more than 100,000 troops and directs the battles; the US foots the bill for food, fuel, ammunition and maintenance. The cash payments - averaging $80m (£40m) a month - have been a cornerstone of US support for Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf.

But over the past 18 months, as militants have seized vast areas of the tribal belt and repelled a string of Pakistani offensives, the funding has come under the microscope.

American officials processing the payments at the US embassy in Islamabad have concluded that the Pakistani expense claims have been vastly inflated, two western military officials have told the Guardian. "My back of envelope guesstimate is that 30% of the money they requested to be reimbursed was legitimate costs they had expended," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said that the US did not know what had happened to the remaining 70% of the funds - amounting to approximately $3.8bn - but suspected that some of the money might have been spent on F-16 fighter jets or "a new house for an army general".

Other than those possibilities, he said, at least half the money was thought to have disappeared. "Who knows, the roads on Constitution Avenue [in Islamabad] may have been paved with part of this money," he added
.

The Pakistani military denied the claims. "As far as the military is concerned, I can assure you we have full account of these things," said its spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas. He admitted that there had been some American complaints but denied serious irregularities. "Yes there are minor issues they keep raising, but at no stage have we received any formal complaint from any official channel."

The controversy highlights not only strains in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad but also the limits of George Bush's "war on terror". Pakistani officials say they have lost more than 1,000 soldiers in the tribal areas since 2002 - twice as many as the US has lost in Afghanistan - and caught or killed more than 1,000 "terrorists".

US officials, who have propped up Musharraf as militants have rampaged across the tribal belt and beyond, feel they have received bad value for money.

Pakistani civilians are angry with both sides. Anti-American sentiment has hit a new high, while anger towards Musharraf contributed to the thrashing his party received in last week's election.

The scale of US military assistance was shrouded in secrecy for years. When it became public, so did its extraordinarily lax accounting procedures.

Every month the Pakistani military submits expense claims averaging $80m to the US embassy in Islamabad. No receipts are provided to support the claims, and the money is paid directly into the finance ministry.

Poorly accounted-for claims for payment caused the US to suspend payouts several months last spring, a second western official said. The Washington Post reported last week that a claim for "roads and tracks" from the Pakistani navy had been rejected. Abbas claimed that the navy was "also involved in the war on terror" in having to "guard against infiltration of arms and explosive from abroad".

The scale of the problem has led US officials to share their worries with other allies in Pakistan. American politicians have used the payments to exert pressure on Musharraf. On the eve of last week's vote, Democrat senator Joe Biden, head of the Senate foreign relations committee, warned that funding could be slashed if there was widespread rigging. But analysts and officials say the US is unlikely to turn off the cash tap any time soon given Pakistan's importance in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other foreign fugitives.

[bth: Musharraf will retire in Saudi Arabia with a cut from this aid package. Pakistani troops sent into the territories often don't have ammunition. That money isn't going to the front line. Its lining pockets. Given this situation, what real incentive does the Paki government have to catch Osama? Doesn't his presence cause us to offer the Paki government bribes? If Osama were found and killed would those payments end?]

Turkish troops entering Iraq

The Long War Journal

Missile hits Pakistan's Waziristan

Missile hits Pakistan's Waziristan - Yahoo! NewsWANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A missile struck a house in a Pakistani region known as being a safe haven for al Qaeda early on Thursday, killing 10 suspected militants including foreigners, intelligence officials and residents said

The attack took place near Kaloosha village in the South Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border.

"The blast shook the entire area," said resident Behlool Khan.

A security official said he believed the missile was fired by U.S. forces who are operating in neighboring Afghanistan, and the house that was hit belonged to a Pashtun tribesman, Sher Mohammad Malikkheil, also known as Sheroo, who was known to have links with militants.

"Ten people, most of them believed to be of Arab origin, were killed and seven wounded," said an intelligence official, who declined to be identified.

He said it was not known if any top militant leaders were among the dead.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said he was not aware of any such attack.

U.S. forces have fired missiles at militants on the Pakistani side of the border several times in recent years, most recently on January 28 when one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a strike in North Waziristan.

That missile was believed to have been fired by a U.S. pilotless drone.

However, neither U.S. nor Pakistani authorities officially confirm U.S. missile attacks on Pakistani territory, which would be an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty.

SANCTUARIES

Pakistan, an important U.S. ally despite widespread public opposition to the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban, says foreign troops would never be allowed to operate on its territory.

Many al Qaeda members, including Uzbeks and Arabs, and Taliban militants took refuge in North and South Waziristan, as well as in other areas on the Pakistani side of the border after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

From sanctuaries in the lawless border belt, the Taliban have orchestrated their insurgency against the Afghan government and the U.S. and NATO forces supporting it.

Increasingly, so-called Pakistani Taliban have been mounting attacks in Pakistani towns and cities, many aimed at security forces and other government targets.

Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, vowed revenge for Libi's killing.

"No chief of ours had died of a natural death, nor has our blood been spilled without a response," Zawahri said in a video posted on an Islamist Web site on Wednesday, referring to Libi's killing.

Up to 13 foreign militants were killed in the late January strike
.

(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and David Fox)

[bth: this sort of belies the debate between Obama and McCain over Pakistan.]
 
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Terror suspect escapes in Singapore - International Herald Tribune

Terror suspect escapes in Singapore - International Herald Tribune: "A"Singaporean man who was once one of the most hunted terror suspects in Southeast Asia escaped Wednesday afternoon from a detention center in Singapore, the Singaporean government announced.

The suspect, and now fugitive, Mas Selamat Kastari, was a senior operative with Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesia-based Islamic movement associated with Al Qaeda.

He was at a meeting in 2001 with Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, the military commander of Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia, when a decision was made to go after undefended targets, according to a report by the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group. That meeting led to the bombings of the Bali nightclubs in October 2002, which killed 202 people.

Hambali, who was held in one of the CIA's secret sites after his capture in 2004 until he was taken to Guantánamo Bay last year, had also appointed Kastari to be the head of Jemaah Islamiyah's Singapore cell....

[bth: not good. Amazing how often these guys seem to escape.]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Our Troops Send Holiday Wishes For Peace, Goodwill, And Body Armor | The Onion - America's Finest News Source


Our Troops Send Holiday Wishes For Peace, Goodwill, And Body Armor

GOP Sen.: Iraq bill "a bullet right in the hearts of our troops"

GOP Sen.: Iraq bill "a bullet right in the hearts of our troops" - The Crypt's Blog - Politico.com: "In the war of words over Iraq, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) may want this one back.

Speaking about a Democratic proposal to force Iraq troop withdrawal within 120 days, Hutchison said Tuesday that such a proposal would "put a bullet right in the hearts of our troops who are there."

Hutchison had joined fellow Republican leaders to question the political motivations behind the 35th Iraq related vote in the Senate over the past year, and was trying to make the point that mandatory withdrawal on the heels of recent military success would undermine the troops.

But her choice of words made it sound like Democrats were advocating something that would kill U.S. troops, and it didn't go over well with Democratic leaders.

"Poor choice of words from a senator who voted against providing our troops with the body armor needed to stop bullets in the first place," said Rodell Mollineau, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Indeed, Reid's office was quick with the oppo research, producing a 2003 vote in which Hutchison joined other Republican senators to kill an amendment that would have provided $322 million for body armor and other equipment while reducing funds for Iraq reconstruction.

Hutchison spokesman Matt Mackowiak said his boss meant to say "bullseye" and has used that phrase in the past, even though the transcript of the comments say "bullet."...

[bth: poor choice of words from a normally intelligent senator. Wish she'd voted for the damned armor too.]

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results of 2008 Election Early


Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Marines want probe into armored vehicle program delay

Marines want probe into armored vehicle program delays - CNN.com: "Casualties could have been reduced by half among Marines in Iraq if specially armored vehicles had been deployed more quickly in some cases, a report to the Pentagon says.

Marine Corps spokesman Col. David Lapan said the Defense Department's inspector general wants to investigate the report's claims that bureaucratic delays undermined the program to develop the armored vehicles.

The program was designed to provide combat forces with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, known by the acronym MRAPs.

The Marine Corps requested an investigation last week after receiving Marine technology expert Franz Gayl's report.

"If the mass procurement and fielding of MRAPs had begun in 2005 in response to the known and acknowledged threats at that time, as the USMC is doing today, hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented," Gayl wrote in the report.

The report concluded that bureaucratic delays plagued the program at the height of the insurgency, when U.S. troops were regularly being attacked and killed by roadside bombs. Watch an MRAP roll with gun blazing »

Until MRAPs began arriving in Iraq in large numbers in 2007, troops had limited protection in armored Humvees.

The MRAPs, which are the newest armored vehicles, have a V-shaped hull that helps deflect the blast of a roadside bomb.

Gayl wrote the January 22 report about the MRAP program, but it is not considered an official document.

"In the past, Gayl has leveled serious charges about the wartime acquisition process; therefore his supervisors provided him an opportunity, on government time, to conduct a series of case studies to attempt to validate his arguments," the Marine Corps said in e-mail response to a CNN query.

"If Gayl was able to provide compelling evidence of flaws or errors in the system, his supervisors would then determine how best to address his concerns with senior Marine Corps leaders in order to effect positive change."

In the same e-mail response, the Marine Corps explained that several improvements to acquisition have been made, and officials note that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made MRAP a top priority.

"However, because of the seriousness of the allegations," the Marine Corps decided to ask for the investigation.
...

[bth: the marine corp is trying to get ahead of the congressional hearings which are coming. The IG is the way they will try to head it off until the officers in charge at the time can retirel.]

Terrorist or Nationalist? It depends, but either way, you need to know to counter the message effectively - MountainRunner

Terrorist or Nationalist? It depends, but either way, you need to know to counter the message effectively - MountainRunner

[bth: Mountain Runner has a short discussion on this propaganda piece which is worth reading via the links. I'm impressed by the sophistication of the piece. Use of the Internet isn't just for amateurs. Its cost effective and powerful as this demonstrates. Is the message that Hezbollah protects Lebanon and has become the government?]

Wholesale Prices Jump in January

Wholesale Prices Jump in January: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance: ..."The"January surge left wholesale prices rising by 7.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest pace in more than 26 years, since prices had risen at a 7.5 percent pace in the 12 months ending in October 1981.

The worse-than-expected performance was certain to capture attention at the Federal Reserve, which has chosen to combat a threatened recession by aggressively cutting interest rates in the belief that weaker economic growth will keep a lid on prices.

But the combination of rising inflation and weaker growth raises the threat of "stagflation," the economic malady that plagued the country through the 1970s, when a series of oil shocks left households battered by the twin problems of stagnant growth and rising inflation.

The 1 percent jump in wholesale prices followed a 0.3 percent decline in December and was the biggest one-month increase since a 2.6 percent increase in November. That gain had been driven by sharply higher energy costs.

The big jump in wholesale prices followed a report last week that consumer prices had risen by a worse-than-expected 0.4 percent, reflecting higher costs for food, energy and health care.

The wholesale report said that energy prices jumped 1.5 percent, as gasoline prices rose by 2.9 percent and the cost of home heating oil jumped by 8.5 percent.

Food prices, which have been surging because of increased demand stemming from ethanol production, rose by 1.7 percent last month, the biggest monthly increase in three years. Prices for beef, bakery products and eggs were all up sharply.

Core wholesale inflation, which excludes food and energy, posted a 0.4 percent increase, the biggest increase in 11 months. This gain was led by a 1.5 percent spike in the cost of prescription and non-prescription drugs.

The cost of book publishing was up 1.7 percent while the price of light trucks and passenger cars both rose by 0.3 percent.

Prices excluding food and energy are up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest 12-month gain since a 2.5 percent rise in the 12 months ending in October.

[bth: the terrible battering of the dollar, the surge in imported fuel prices, the huge and off the books federal deficit not to mention rising local and state taxes all signal a stagflation scenario for the coming year.]

Big Wheels for Iraq’s Mean Streets - Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles - MRAP - New York Times

Big Wheels for Iraq’s Mean Streets - Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles - MRAP - New York Times: "ON the first day of his third deployment to Iraq, Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Spurlock was traveling in a convoy that was helping to clear roadside bombs in Ramadi. Sergeant Spurlock was riding in an armored transport known as an MRAP, and his vehicle, a Cougar, was fourth or fifth in line.

“We were traveling, at the most, 10 miles an hour,” he said. “Then we came up to a really bad intersection. The next thing you know, I was being flipped upside down into the air. I had been sitting on the driver’s side of a six-wheeled Cougar and ended up face-down on the passenger side.”

Sergeant Spurlock’s 20-ton transport had been hammered by an improvised explosive device, better known as an I.E.D. When the sergeant and his men stumbled out, ears ringing, they were astonished to find that the smoldering truck’s massive six-wheel-drive transfer case had been blown off.

“Gears were sticking out and everything,” he said. “And there was a huge hole in the ground where the bomb was. But everyone was O.K.”

MRAPs, shorthand for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, are essentially troop carriers designed to withstand land mines. Hardly new technology, they were developed in South Africa in the 1970s. Engineers deduced that mine blasts could be directed out and away from a vehicle by elevating it and creating a V-shaped hull along its base.



Despite that military provenance, most MRAPs coming out of American factories are made with so many components from International Harvester and Mack — including drivetrains and chassis — that long-haul truckers would feel at home behind the wheel. While the United States military had a handful of these vehicles at the start of the Iraq war, their ability to protect troops from I.E.D.’s has made them vital, igniting a manufacturing frenzy.

The most widely used vehicle in Iraq is still the Humvee, but the bottom of even the most heavily armored of these is flat. This provides far more surface area for an explosive impact and allows the shock wave to ricochet from the Humvee to the ground and then back. “A bomb like that would toss a Humvee, split it and penetrate it,” Sergeant Spurlock said.

Last May, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a measure that would allow the Army to replace its armored Humvees in Iraq with MRAPs. In early October, he spoke in support of the measure by citing an I.E.D. attack on an MRAP in Ramadi. The vehicle was blown so high that it literally took down telephone wires. But all seven occupants were relatively unharmed. By the end of 2007, $22.4 billion was earmarked for the MRAP in the military spending budget, with the eventual deployment of about 15,400 vehicles.

“Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has said that you have a 300 percent better chance of surviving a blast in an MRAP vs. an up-armored Humvee,” Senator Biden said.

In January, the military reported its first death in Iraq from an attack on an MRAP, when an I.E.D. destroyed a Navistar-made vehicle, wounding three soldiers and killing one, the gunner, who had been partly exposed outside of the vehicle. A few days before the attack, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had called the vehicle “a proven lifesaver on the battlefield.”

He cited Army reports that said since last summer, there had been 12 bomb attacks, with no deaths, on the vehicles.

But Force Protection, the Charleston, S.C., company that makes the Cougar, said that over a longer time frame, from shortly after the war began in 2003 through last month, its MRAPs had been attacked with explosives about 3,200 times, resulting in the deaths of five servicemen.


Although some current and former marines are critical of relying too much on the vehicles, fearing that they might change the fast-moving nature of the force, by mid-January about 2,500 MRAPs were in Iraq, up from about 100 in June. By this June, the military expected it would have more than 6,000, the bulk in Iraq.

Cheryl Irwin, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said nine manufacturers originally competed for contracts to build the vehicles and four were chosen: the Navistar International Corporation, manufacturer of International Harvester trucks; a partnership between Force Protection and General Dynamics; and BAE Systems of Rockville, Md.

Visits to the huge, frenetic manufacturing plants of Navistar in Mississippi and Force Protection in Charleston are sobering, but also offer an impressive display of the improvisational thinking that has helped to meet dizzying production demands. As recently as last May, Navistar’s plant in West Point, Miss., was a mothballed factory that once made industrial boilers. Today, the 400,000-square-foot plant has about 900 workers. Tim Touhy, a Navistar spokesman, said the company received its first order, for 1,971 vehicles, which Navistar calls the MaxxPro, last May. Navistar’s total order is for about 4,470 MRAPs and Force Protection’s is for about 3,400.

“The whole plant is aware of the seriousness of this work,” said David Creasap, the plant operations development manager. “Many folks have children or parents over there.”

Navistar imports its blast-resistant steel hull from Plasan Sasa, an Israeli armor manufacturer. The hull is then shipped to Navistar’s plant in Garland, Tenn. There, it may share the assembly line with a cement mixer or a tractor-trailer body. Bolted to the chassis of International’s 7400 Severe Service truck, the hull is shipped to Mississippi where an Allison 4-by-4 drivetrain is bolted to a 8.7-liter, 330-horsepower six-cylinder International turbodiesel motor.

Reaching the assembly team, the four-wheel eight-passenger MaxxPro is part Blade Runner, part Smokey and the Bandit. Any trucker would recognize its cigarette lighter outlets, cruise control, wipers and gauges. But when the doors thunder closed with an ear-popping airlock hiss, it becomes obvious that this is no dump truck. A barometer monitors the interior air pressure, part of a deafening chemical/nuclear/biological air-conditioning and filtration system. Four-point harness seats swing from straps attached to the ceiling.

“When a bomb hits, the shock wave rolls up through your legs and the seat,” Mr. Creasap said. “We performed blasts with mannequins and found that putting all the seat stress at the top is the safest way to mount them.” (In the January attack that killed the gunner, the injuries included broken feet).

When Tommy Pruitt , the communications director of Force Protection, joined the company in 2005, it was making “from one to four vehicles a month,” he said. “Now it’s a hundred plus.”

Force Protection moved into a 550,000-square-foot campus in 2006, once home to a General Electric turbine engine plant. The plant has about 500 workers.

The 4-by-4 Cougar and MaxxPro are Category I, the smallest of three MRAP classifications, while the 6-wheel, 10-passenger models are Category II. The 45,000-pound, six-seat, six-wheel Buffalo occupies Category III by itself.

During construction, the Cougar is turned upside down and bolted to a 330-horsepower Caterpillar C7 turbodiesel and an Allison four- or six-wheel-drive transaxle. Unlike the MaxxPro, the vehicle’s padded seats are mounted to the floor.

Aside from burly windshields, the front third of the Cougar looks remarkably like any International truck, from the raked hood with shark-gill-style air slots to the trademark split grille. The thickness of the ballistic glass is classified, but Sergeant Spurlock’s Cougar was once attacked by insurgents with AK-47’s. “We just pressed up against the glass and watched the rounds hit,” he said.

Outside of the Force Protection plant, a cluster of white Mack semi-trucks line the plant where the Buffalo is built. Inside, crews cannibalize the Macks for engines, transmissions, gauges and other components. Aside from its size and height (the driver sits four feet higher than he would in the Mack or in a Cougar), the most obvious feature of the Buffalo is its remote-controlled arm. This Terminator-worthy appendage uncovers and detonates roadside bombs.

Force Protection found that the most effective means of keeping troops planted to the rear seats are simple Corbeau four-point auto racing harnesses, while seats in the driver compartment are the same basic shock absorbing design you might see supporting an M.T.A. bus driver. The telescoping steering wheel in the Buffalo is straight off the Mack. The one in the Cougar is from International Harvester.

Height and ungainliness are among the issues critics have with the vehicles.

Taylor Biggs, an Iraq veteran and Marine captain, said the MRAP’s weight does not necessarily mesh with the Marine Corps’ lightweight, fast-moving expeditionary nature. He would prefer, he said, to see MRAPs in combination with lighter vehicles like the Humvee, rather than a complete replacement. Indeed, The Associated Press reported recently that it was partly this debate over weight that kept the MRAP from being deployed in large numbers until now.

“This is the debate among many Marines, ‘Do we go heavy or stay light as possible?’ ” he said. “You could wrap a Marine head to toe in Kevlar and make him the most survivable guy out there, but he can’t chase down the guy who just threw the grenade at him. Some people would slap me, but I think the up-armored Hummer’s a good truck for what it was designed for. I don’t see the Cougar in places other than on hardball roads or other passable terrain.”

The weight issue has not been lost on Force Protection. The company is testing the Cheetah, a far smaller MRAP that the company hopes will become a replacement for the Humvee in many applications.

Despite his reservations with MRAPs, Captain Biggs enthusiastically acknowledged their benefits.

“When I first showed up in Iraq, we were duct-taping Kevlar to the side of our trucks,” he said. “Still, I had no problem doing a mission in them. But then we got the 1114’s (up-armored Humvees) and said, ‘This is awesome.’ Then when we got the Cougars I felt extremely confident that I could put marines on that road in front of me and if they got hit, I wasn’t going to be calling in a helicopter to pull them out of there.”

[bth: there is no question that MRAPs are life savers. There is no reason to stop production of fully armored humvees, the mix just needs to be altered. It hardly makes sense to go all or nothing. Further there are terrain issues such as in Afghanistan and in marshy areas where the selection of vehicles is dictated by geography. .... Marine high command thinks that MRAPs cramp their mobile style and that someday they will be wading ashore at Iwo Jima wishing they had those aluminum hulled amphib vehicles, but that day is a long way off. In the meantime, it is better to drive a vehicle like the MRAP which its obvious benefits for the terrain of Iraq. Because of troop shortages, we no longer have the luxury of picking and choosing our battles and whether marines are only going to be shock troops or nation builders. Such days are long gone. We must prepare and equip for the wars we are in or soon to be in and let the long-term future take care of itself.]