Saturday, April 19, 2008

Suspicious Package Industry Falls On Hard Times | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Suspicious Package Industry Falls On Hard Times | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
Suspicious Package Industry Falls On Hard Times"
Suspicious Package Industry Falls On Hard Times

Mugabe orders partial recount as boat containing regime's 77 tonnes of Chinese arms is marooned off South African coast | the Daily Mail

Mugabe orders partial recount as boat containing regime's 77 tonnes of Chinese arms is marooned off South African coast | the Daily Mail: "A"huge cargo of Chinese guns and ammunition sits marooned aboard a ship off South Africa.

It would have been used to arm the tyrant Robert Mugabe's thugs in Zimbabwe.


But dockers in South African port of Durban won't unload the 77 tons of mortars, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

The cargo revelation comes as Zimbabwe began a partial recount of votes from the March 29 elections, despite opposition efforts to block it and widespread fears political stalemate could erupt into violence

...Results of a parallel presidential vote have not been released, but MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai insists he has won.

"The vote recounting process has started, and it's going to be a thorough exercise. We expect it to take about three days," a Zimbabwe Electoral Commission official said.

Meanwhile South African dockers have continued to refuse to unload the Chinese ship over claims that the armoury will almost certainly be used in a brutal crackdown on Mugabe's opponents.

Yesterday Britain, the U.S. and other western nations were preparing to call for urgent United Nations action to bring in a worldwide ban on arms sales to Zimbabwe.

The stand-off in South Africa has returned the world's attention the election crisis in Zimbabwe and Mugabe's desperate efforts to remain in power.


But it is also yet another international embarrassment for Beijing, following the Olympic protests, and highlights China's increasing involvement in Africa.


Earlier this week, Chinese troops were seen on the streets of Zimbabwe's third largest city Mutare.


The order for the shipment was finalised on April 1, three days after last month's elections.


It emerged yesterday that this was when talks on a peaceful transition of power from Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party to the opposition broke down....

The South African government said the paperwork for the shipment was in order and the ship, An Yue Jiang, has been cleared to dock and unload.


However, the dock workers union won't handle four containers of weapons.

These include nearly 3million rounds of ammunition for small arms and AK-47s, about 3,500 mortars and mortar launchers, as well as 1,500 rockets for rocket-propelled grenades.


Gordon Brown, George Bush and other leaders were briefed on the arrival of the weapons ship but British officials were reluctant to criticise China before confirmation that the shipment was from Beijing and destined for the Zimbabwe government.


A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The European Union has a ban on the sale of arms to Zimbabwe and we would encourage others to take the same approach."


Zimbabwe and China have close military ties involving equipment and training.


Three years ago, Mugabe signed extensive trade pacts with the Chinese as part of his Look East policy - forced on him after he was ostracised by western governments over alleged humans abuses.

The deal gave the Chinese mineral and trade concessions in exchange for economic help - mirroring other deals Beijing has signed with regimes all over Africa.


The Chinese soldiers seen in Mutare were accompanying Zimbabwean soldiers, say witnesses.


Workers at the city's Holiday Inn said ten members of the People's Liberation Army checked into the hotel on Monday, carrying pistols.

They were supposed to stay five days but left after three to travel to another town in the country.


Officially they were there to visit strategic areas such as border posts, key companies and state institutions.

However, witnesses found their presence intimidating.


"We've never seen Chinese soldiers in full regalia on our streets before. It was surprising," said one
.


China is under an international spotlight over its human rights record and rule in Tibet ahead of hosting the Olympics in August. Violent protests have followed the Olympic torch across the globe.


Last night Beijing said it "has always had a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms sales".

The unions' action in Durban is also an embarrassment for South African president Thabo Mbeki.


He has been heavily criticised for not taking a tougher line against Mugabe, even claiming there is no crisis in Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe information minister, Bright Matonga, said no party had the right to stop the shipment.

"When they are going to be used is none of anybody's business,' he said.

Yesterday, 84-year-old Mugabe launched a typical tirade against Britain in his first major speech since the elections.


Mugabe told 15,000 cheering supporters in a fiery address to mark independence day: "Down with the British. Down with thieves who want to steal our country."


In a stream of insults against Britain, Mugabe added: "Today they are like thieves fronting their lackeys among us, which they give money to confuse our people."


Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, repeated the line that London and not the MDC were the real enemy.

The MDC accuses him of launching a campaign of militia violence to help him rig victory in an expected presidential runoff against Tsvangirai

[bth: basically the Chinese are willing to do what it take to support autocrats that give them mineral concessions and the South African government is prepared to sell out to support its neighboring thugs.]

Pakistan's ambassador held by Taliban: TV

Pakistan's ambassador held by Taliban: TV - washingtonpost.com: "ISLAMABAD"Reuters) - Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, who went missing in February in the Khyber region, appeared on Arabic television on Saturday saying he was being held by the Taliban and urged Islamabad to meet their demands.

Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin appeared in a video tape on Al Arabiya television surrounded by armed militants to make his first public statement since going missing. ...

[bth: if the Paki government is negotiating with the Taliban under these circumstances, then it is a clear sign of weakness on the part of the government.]

Roadside Bomb in Afghanistan Kills Son of Dutch Defense Chief - washingtonpost.com

Roadside Bomb in Afghanistan Kills Son of Dutch Defense Chief - washingtonpost.com: "KABUL"April 18 -- A roadside bomb attack on a patrol of Dutch soldiers killed the son of the Netherlands' top military officer Friday; the Taliban said it had targeted the young officer.

Lt. Dennis van Uhm, 23, was one of two Dutch soldiers killed in the attack in restive Uruzgan province, spokesman Lt. Gen. Freek Meulman said. Two soldiers were injured, one critically.

Van Uhm's father, Gen. Peter van Uhm, was installed Thursday as the Netherlands' defense chief.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called Van Uhm's death "an unprecedented tragedy."

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the group knew Van Uhm's movements in advance and planted the mine that killed him. ...

America's allies in Iraq under pressure as civil war breaks out among Sunni - Americas, World - The Independent

America's allies in Iraq under pressure as civil war breaks out among Sunni - Americas, World - The Independent:... "US"spokesmen speak of a "spike" in violence in recent weeks but in reality security in Sunni and Shia parts of Iraq has been deteriorating since January. The official daily death toll of civilians reached a low of 20 killed a day in that month and has since more than doubled to 41 a day in March. The US and the Iraqi government are now facing a war on two fronts.

The attack in Ramadi shows al-Qa'ida still has support in Anbar province where al-Sahwa was founded and has greater strength in Diyala, Salahudin and Nineveh provinces. In Sunni parts of Baghdad, al-Sahwa often includes members of al-Qa'ida whose loyalties have not changed or gunmen who think it safest to work for the US and al-Qa'ida. "No officer in al-Sahwa walks home unless he has a relationship with al-Qa'ida," said one al-Sahwa member. "It would be too dangerous for him otherwise."

The American-backed government of Nouri al-Maliki is in the meantime stepping up its campaign against the Mehdi Army militia of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Iraqi troops sealed off the Basra office of the Sadrists yesterday. "Troops from the Iraqi army prevented us from holding Friday prayers and now they are cordoning off the office," said Harith al-Idhari, the head of the office. "They want to storm it and clear everybody out of it."

Mr Maliki is convinced that this is the moment to assert himself against the Sadrists despite military setbacks when he launched his offensive against Basra on 25 March. Two brigades of about 600 men, each from the army's 14th Division whose soldiers come from the city, refused to fight the Mehdi Army as did most of Basra's 11,000 police.

The Iraqi government says that it has purged 1,300 men from its armed forces and police since the Basra operation and is willing to try again against the militiamen. But it has only been able to hold its own in Basra, Baghdad and other cities because of backing from the US.

The Sadrist office in Basra is housed in the building of the old Olympic committee. "We have orders to take back all the government buildings that are occupied by parties and political movements in Basra within 48 hours," said the Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim-Khalaf.

The greatest stronghold of the Sadrists is Sadr City in Baghdad, which has a population of two million and is virtually a twin city to the capital. US forces have now started building a concrete wall which will seal off the southern part of Sadr City. The US and the Iraqi government are particularly keen to gain control of those parts of Sadr City used to lob rockets and mortars into the Green Zone.

Despite government purges, it is still unclear how far Iraqi army units are willing to fight Shia co-religionists. Yesterday a company of government troops abandoned their positions in al-Nasir police station in Sadr City when they came under attack from militiamen during a sandstorm. Another company had deserted earlier in the week.

Mr Maliki is eager to show that the Iraqi government is strong enough to overcome its domestic enemies, but the fighting against al-Qa'ida in Iraq in Sunni districts and the Mehdi Army in Shia areas over the past month has proved the opposite. The Iraqi army has appeared as dependent on American support as it ever was in the past.

[bth: there is nothing to indicate Maliki has enough power to besiege Sadr City with its 2 million people. Intense urban warfare, failures in logistics and support to front line Iraqi troops, desertions all show a lack of will or ability. Maliki is using the US support structure while he has it to shove his Iranian backed party over the top of other Iranian backed parties, meanwhile the US pays the Sunnis not to attack us. The seasonal trends are all indicating a substantial increase in violence but perhaps not to last years levels since most Sunnis have been purged from Baghdad. Is this peace? What is victory that McCain talks about. When Americans cannot leave a FOB in Baghdad without being in an MRAP or higher, how does one conclude the surge is working?]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: Shia (and other) Politics in Iraq.

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: Shia (and other) Politics in Iraq.: "Iraqi troops have cordoned off the Basra office of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's followers, preventing them from holding Friday prayers.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the operation is only aimed at recovering offices he said were unfairly occupied by political groups.

Sadr supporters say they have been given 48 hours to leave the premises.

There were no immediate reports of fighting between Iraqi troops and Sadr followers." VOA News

------------------------------------------------------------------

Let's see... What is going on at present in Iraq.

1- The intensive pushing and shoving among the Shia politico-military factions continues with the "Iraq Security Forces" (Dawa/Badr/Hakim/ISCI) seeking to leverage American support for enough power to neuter Moqtada al-Sadr and his band of merry Mahdists (or Mahdinistas if you prefer) before the putative provincial elections in the Autumn. (maybe there won't be elections if the neutering does not go well)

2- The US continues to insist that its chosen Iraqi faction has already achieved the status of "legitimacy" in the eyes of "the Iraqi people." No. It has not, but, you never know, this might work if we stick with that idea for enough years. McCain would give us the chance to find out if that is possible.

3- The Iranians continue to play all sides against the middle waiting to see what happens. Who knows? We might even decide to talk to them on a serious basis.

4- The Sunni international jihadists (AQ in I) are trying to stage a comeback by blowing themselves up in suicide attacks against the "Sons of Iraq." This is unlikely to have much political effect since the Sunni Arabs have pretty much opted against them. (The fish in the sea... Remember that old stuff?)

Bottom line, "there will be blood," but not as much as there used to be. pl

Incidentally, I did not like the movie.

http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-04-18-voa20.cfm

[bth: Col. Lang usually has things pegged well.]

Nato admits mistakenly supplying arms and food to Taliban | World news | guardian.co.uk

Nato admits mistakenly supplying arms and food to Taliban | World news | guardian.co.uk: "Nato"forces mistakenly supplied food, water and arms to Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan, officials today admitted.

Containers destined for local police forces were dropped from a helicopter into a Taliban-controlled area of Zabul province.

The coalition helicopter had intended to deliver pallets of supplies to a police checkpoint in Ghazni, a remote section of Zabul late last month.

By mistake they were dropped some distance from the checkpoint where it was taken by the Taliban, the Internal Security Affairs Commission of the Wolesi Jirga — the Afghan parliament's lower house — was told.

Hamidullah Tukhi, a local politician from Zabul, told the parliamentary commission that the consignment had been taken by a local Taliban commander.

A Nato spokesman said the pallets were carrying rocket propelled grenades, ammunition, water and food.

Afghan politicians have said they do not believe the drop was an accident.

Nato's General Carlos Branco blamed it on "human error" when the navigator confused two very similar grid references.

A spokesman at Nato headquarters in Brussels denied the suggestion the alliance had deliberately armed the Taliban. "We are aware of it but we are not fired up about it. It sounds like someone made a mistake. It was a cock-up rather than a conspiracy.

"The forces on the ground are working to get the message across that we do not deliberately supply the Taliban with arms."

[bth: I'll bet money there is more to this story and that the shipment was a payoff of some sort. Just to point out the obvious, a police check point would look a lot different than a Taliban mob. Usually.]
Informed Comment

Hizbullah militants regroup amid war jitters | csmonitor.com

Hizbullah militants regroup amid war jitters | cs...monitor.com: "New"tactics are being taught, including how to "seize and hold" positions, a requirement that Hizbullah's guerrilla fighters – traditionally schooled in hit-and-run methods – never needed before. One local commander in south Lebanon said that Hizbullah had fought a defensive war in 2006.

"Next time, we will be on the offensive and it will be a totally different kind of war," he says.

Jawad says that the next war will be "fought more in Israel than in Lebanon," one comment of many from various fighters that suggest Hizbullah is planning commando raids into northern Israel.

Hizbullah admits that its rocket arsenal has increased since 2006 and it has the ability to strike anywhere inside Israel.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the party's leader, in February said that Hizbullah had evolved into an "unparalleled new school" that is part guerrilla force and part conventional army.

A European diplomat in Beirut, who has been watching Hizbullah's preparations, likened attacking the organization to "punching a sponge" – it absorbs the blow then bounces back – and questioned whether Israel still fully appreciates what it is up against.

Hizbullah's military buildup is not confined to Shiite Lebanese. Sunnis, Christians, and Druze also are being recruited into reservist units called "Saraya," or battalions.

Building ties to Sunnis serves for Hizbullah the double purpose of expanding support while also helping improve Shiite-Sunni relations, strained due to political divisions in Lebanon.

In the southern coastal town of Sidon, a Sunni Islamist militant group called the Fajr Forces, which fought invading Israeli troops in the early 1980s, has been resurrected as a Hizbullah ally.

Sheikh Afif Naboulsi, a prominent Hizbullah cleric, last month was quoted as saying that next time "the Israelis will find resistance fighters from all sects and denominations."

Hizbullah has been particularly active, according to residents, in the eastern pocket of the zone patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The area is the mainly Sunni Arqoub district and faces the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied mountainside running along Lebanon's border with the Golan Heights.

Having lost ground here to political rivals after the 2006 war, Hizbullah is now seeking to regain its influence through funding a new group called the Arab Resistance Front, a reservist force for local Sunnis. Even former members of the now disbanded Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army militia have joined the new group, according to local residents
.

"Hizbullah will not turn down anyone who wants to join the resistance," says Izzat Qadri, the Sunni mayor of Kfar Shuba and an ally of Hizbullah.

Despite the frequent recruiting in the border zone, officials with UNIFIL say there is no evidence Hizbullah has reactivated its bunkers and rocket-firing positions that the militants abandoned at the end of the 2006 war.

Hizbullah fighters presently are deployed along a new front line above the Litani River, north of the area patrolled by UNIFIL. In the past 18 months, Hizbullah has purchased land from local Druze and Christians, constructed an entire Shiite-populated village, and turned the mountains and valleys of the area into sealed-off military zones.

"There are armed and uniformed Hizbullah men crawling all over the hills. We often hear gunfire and explosions from their training," says one local resident.

[bth: amazing transition going on.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

CQ Today - Huge War Supplemental in Works

CQ Today - Huge War Supplemental in Works: "The"House Democratic leadership is close to finalizing a decision to combine all outstanding Bush administration requests for war funding — totaling at least $170 billion — into one huge bill, according to lawmakers and aides.

Such a move would clear war funding from the congressional agenda until well into the next administration.

On top of the war funding, Democrats also want to attach billions of dollars in domestic spending initiatives to the measure, which could be the only appropriations bill enacted this year.

John P. Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, estimated the bill would outline about $102 billion in war spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, plus an additional $70 billion or so in fiscal 2009 war spending.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that no final decision has been made on the strategy for the bill, but privately, other lawmakers and aides said that the decision to combine two fiscal years of war funding in one bill was nearly complete.

“This would be a strong possibility,” said one senior Democratic aide, adding that by passing 2009 war funding now, Congress “could provide the next president the ability to use the funds any way they wish.”

The aide said that a Democratic president, for example, would be free to use the money to begin withdrawing troops.

More immediately, Democratic leaders believe that by offering more than $170 billion in war funding, they can blunt Republican attacks on them for failing to support the troops, a senior Democratic appropriator said. The lawmaker, who declined to be identified, said the strategy also would increase Democrats’ leverage to seek extra discretionary funding.

But Republican leaders were quick to warn that the strategy, while generally welcome, would not be a successful way to add domestic funding to the bill.

“That would be OK, but it still doesn’t provide a way for Democrats to get a bunch of extra spending done without both White House and veto-sustaining Republican opposition,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “We are not going to do this supplemental if it includes stuff that is not defense-related.”

The White House declined to comment on the Democratic strategy.

House to Consider Bill Early Next Month...

[bth: this gaming has nothing at all to do with winnig a war. Its about winning an election]

The Prince and the Prime Minister

Bandar and the Brits | Newsweek Voices - Terror Watch | Newsweek.com: "A"scathing British court ruling could create more legal problems for Prince Bandar, head of Saudi Arabia's National Security Council and the former Saudi ambassador in Washington, over his alleged role in a massive multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving a major British aerospace firm.

The Justice Department is investigating allegations that U.K.-based British Aerospace Systems (BAE) paid millions of dollars in bribes to Bandar and other Saudi officials—in possible violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Bandar, whose close ties to the Bush family earned him the nickname "Bandar Bush," has retained former FBI Director Louis Freeh to represent him in connection with the Justice Department probe. A spokesman said Freeh was traveling overseas and could not be reached for comment.

Last week the British High Court ruled that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's government may have interfered with the rule of law in December 2006, when it ordered the British government's Serious Fraud Office to shut down its own bribery investigation, allegedly after Bandar threatened to cut off Saudi cooperation with U.K. terrorism investigations if the inquiry continued. The ruling could pressure the fraud office to reopen its own shuttered investigation into the alleged scandal. (Bandar's representatives have repeatedly denied that he engaged in any wrongdoing)...

[bth: Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is representing Bandar? unbelievable]

Public's View of Economy Takes Fast Turn Downward - washingtonpost.com

Public's View of Economy Takes Fast Turn Downward - washingtonpost.com: "The"public's ratings of the national economy continue to sour, with assessments deteriorating faster than at any point in Washington Post-ABC News polling. Views on the Iraq war have also turned more negative, with six in 10 now rejecting the notion that the United States needs to win there to effectively battle terrorism.

The economy and the Iraq war are the top two issues on voters' minds, according to the new Post-ABC poll, and worsening opinions of both may dampen GOP hopes for the November elections.

Nine in 10 Americans now give the economy a negative rating, with a majority saying it is in "poor" shape, the most to say so in more than 15 years. And the sense that things are bad has spread swiftly. The percentage who hold a negative view of the economy is up 33 points over the past year, and the percentage who rate the economy "poor" has increased 13 points in the past two months. That is the quickest 60-day decline since The Post and ABC started asking the question, in 1985.

Views of the Iraq war have dipped as well. Now, more than six in 10 say that the conflict is not integral to the success of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. That is the most people to reject what is one of the Bush administration's central contentions and a core part of presumed GOP presidential nominee John McCain's stand on the issue.

And for the first time since President Bush ordered additional troops to Iraq early last year, the number of Americans saying the United States is not making significant progress toward restoring civil order there has risen. Negative views of the war had eased steadily from late 2006 through early March of this year, but 57 percent in the new poll said efforts in Iraq have stalled, up six points.

Moreover, while Bush remains committed to keeping more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through the rest of his presidency, 56 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties. This has been the majority view since January 2007.

On several measures, the poll finds Republicans inching away from support for the war. Among them, a sense that progress in Iraq has stalled has increased 13 points from early March, and the percentages who prefer withdrawing troops over risking more casualties (30 percent) and who think that the battle against terrorism can be a success without victory in Iraq (39 percent) are each at new highs.

The percentages of Democrats and independents advocating withdrawal and seeing Iraq as distinct from the U.S. terrorism fight are also at or near high marks. And three-quarters of Democrats and nearly six in 10 independents do not see significant progress in Iraq.

The survey was conducted April 10 through 13, after congressional testimony about the war by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.

Partisan views color public opinion about the nation's economy, as well as those about Iraq.

Two-thirds of Democrats call the economy downright "poor," as do a majority of independents. But while a wide majority of Republicans rate the economy negatively, only about three in 10 describe conditions as that dire, and most have a positive take on the future. Most Democrats and independents, however, hold pessimistic views about the next 12 months.

Economic ratings are flagging across partisan lines, and overall optimism is at a new low among all Americans: Nearly six in 10 said they feel pessimistic about the economy for the coming year, a seven-point increase since early February. And those who think the situation is already in poor shape do not have high hopes for recovery anytime soon; nearly three-quarters of them have a negative view about the next 12 months.

Focusing on their own finances, Americans are generally upbeat, but here, too, opinions have declined somewhat over the past few months. Two-thirds are optimistic about their family's financial situation for the coming year, down seven points since December.

One force behind declining assessments of the economy is the soaring cost of gasoline. With retail prices averaging $3.39 per gallon (a record high, according to the Energy Department), two-thirds of those polled said recent price increases have been a hardship, including about four in 10 who called the cost of filling their tanks a "serious" burden. Among those with annual family incomes under $50,000, 52 percent said gas prices cause serious hardship, double the number of those from higher-income families to say so.

The government's plan to alleviate some of the economic stress -- through economic stimulus rebates and new tax breaks for businesses -- is viewed even more skeptically than it was in early February. Nearly eight in 10 now think the package will not be enough to avert or soften a recession. Republicans in particular have soured on the idea: 68 percent said it will fail to abate the slowdown, an increase of 21 points since February.

This poll was conducted among a random national sample of 1,197 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.


[bth: if the Saudis are true to form, they will lower oil prices about August to assist their friends in the Republican party just before our elections. Americans have short memories and lower gasoline prices always cheers them up.]

US Begins Freeing Thousands of Captives in Iraq

Free Preview - WSJ.com: "WASHINGTON"-- U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun releasing thousands of detainees and expect to free more than half of the 23,000 held by American forces, according to senior military commanders.

The moves are part of a broad effort to reshape the military's controversial detention policies, in part because the large number of Iraqis in U.S. custody is a source of public anger there. U.S. officials also believe freeing the primarily Sunni detainees will help persuade the embattled minority to participate more in Iraq's Shiite-heavy political process.

The releases, the largest since the start of the 2003 invasion...

[bth: does this mean we held 12,000 innocent sunnis? Have we become hostage takers? One wonders how we are able to win hearts and minds as an occupying nation.]

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 04/17/2008 | Pentagon institute calls Iraq war 'a major debacle' with outcome 'in doubt'

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 04/17/2008 | Pentagon institute calls Iraq war 'a major debacle' with outcome 'in doubt': "WASHINGTON"— The war in Iraq has become "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt" despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon's premier military educational institute.

The report released by the National Defense University raises fresh doubts about President Bush's projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions.

The report carries considerable weight because it was written by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official, and was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.

It was published by the university's National Institute for Strategic Studies, a Defense Department research center.

"Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle," says the report's opening line.

At the time the report was written last fall, more than 4,000 U.S. and foreign troops, more than 7,500 Iraqi security forces and as many as 82,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed and tens of thousands of others wounded, while the cost of the war since March 2003 was estimated at $450 billion.

"No one as yet has calculated the costs of long-term veterans' benefits or the total impact on service personnel and materiel," wrote Collins, who was involved in planning post-invasion humanitarian operations.

The report said that the United States has suffered serious political costs, with its standing in the world seriously diminished. Moreover, operations in Iraq have diverted "manpower, materiel and the attention of decision-makers" from "all other efforts in the war on terror" and severely strained the U.S. armed forces.

"Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there (in Iraq) were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East," the report continued.

The addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq last year to halt the country's descent into all-out civil war has improved security, but not enough to ensure that the country emerges as a stable democracy at peace with its neighbors, the report said.

"Despite impressive progress in security, the outcome of the war is in doubt," said the report. "Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after a rapid withdrawal of that army."

"For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a 'must win,' but for many others, despite obvious progress under General David Petraeus and the surge, it now looks like a 'can't win.'"

The report lays much of the blame for what went wrong in Iraq after the initial U.S. victory at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It says that in November 2001, before the war in Afghanistan was over, President Bush asked Rumsfeld "to begin planning in secret for potential military operations against Iraq."

Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney, bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became "the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders."

" ... the aggressive, hands-on Rumsfeld," it continues, "cajoled and pushed his way toward a small force and a lightning fast operation." Later, he shut down the military's computerized deployment system, "questioning, delaying or deleting units on the numerous deployment orders that came across his desk."

In part because "long, costly, manpower-intensive post-combat operations were anathema to Rumsfeld," the report says, the U.S. was unprepared to fight what Collins calls "War B," the battle against insurgents and sectarian violence that began in mid-2003, shortly after "War A," the fight against Saddam Hussein's forces, ended.

Compounding the problem was a series of faulty assumptions made by Bush's top aides, among them an expectation fed by Iraqi exiles that Iraqis would be grateful to America for liberating them from Saddam's dictatorship. The administration also expected that "Iraq without Saddam could manage and fund its own reconstruction."

The report also singles out the Bush administration's national security apparatus and implicitly President Bush and both of his national security advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, saying that "senior national security officials exhibited in many instances an imperious attitude, exerting power and pressure where diplomacy and bargaining might have had a better effect."

Collins ends his report by quoting Winston Churchill, who said: "Let us learn our lessons. Never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. ... Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think that he also had a chance."

ON THE WEB

Read the report by the National Defense University.

[bth: the presidential debates strike me as about tactics - withdrawal now, later, etc. - and not about what we want to accomplish or more to the point CAN accomplish at this point. What does 'victory' mean?]

Al Qaeda's No. 2: 5 Years of U.S. Occupation of Iraq Brought 'Failure' - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Al Qaeda's No. 2: 5 Years of U.S. Occupation of Iraq Brought 'Failure' - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "Al"Qaeda's No. 2 leader claimed in an audiotape released Friday that five years of U.S. involvement in Iraq brought only defeat, and said President Bush will be forced to pass the problem to his successor.

Ayman al-Zawahiri alleged that by heeding advice of his top commanders in Iraq and guaranteeing a heavy American military presence after July, Bush was "covering up for the failure" of his Iraq policies.

"If the American forces leave, they will lose everything. And if they stay, they will bleed to death," he argued.

The authenticity of the 16-minute recording, posted on a Web site known for militant messaging, could not be independently verified. But it carried the logo of Al Qaeda's media wing and was the second in April attributed to the terror network's chief strategist.

He called for Muslim support of jihad in Iraq, and for backing Al Qaeda's affiliate there, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq.

Al-Zawahiri also blasted Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined the American push to pacify Sunni areas of Iraq, the so-called "Awakening Councils."...

[bth: So Mr. Bush why is al-Zawahiri still breathing?]

Terrorists Still Operating Freely on Pakistan Border, According to GAO Report - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum

FOXNews.com - Terrorists Still Operating Freely on Pakistan Border, According to GAO Report - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum: "WASHINGTON"Terrorists are still operating freely in Pakistan along the country's Afghanistan border, despite the U.S. giving Pakistan more than $10.5 billion in military and economic aid, according to a government watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office says in a report released Thursday that the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan to deal with the terrorist threat.

Democrats called the report appalling because of congressional mandates demanding the nation do more to coordinate efforts by federal agencies.

"For anyone wondering how we're doing in the fight to get the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, this report pretty much says it all," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Some federal agencies, including the Defense Department, agreed with the findings. But the State Department disagreed, saying that a comprehensive strategy does exist and is being implemented.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States is dealing with the terrorist threat in Pakistan through a variety of means across political, economic and security fronts.

"We devote resources to health, education, economic development, political reform, as well as going after Al Qaeda with the Pakistani security forces," Johndroe said. "This is going to be a long battle against a determined enemy and I can assure you that the president and his national security advisors focus on this every day and will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people."

Pakistan is widely seen as the linchpin in the U.S. anti-terrorism strategy. After the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters retreated across the mountainous 373-mile border into Pakistan's unpoliced tribal areas.

Last month, CIA Director Michael Hayden said that if there were another terrorist attack against Americans, it would almost certainly originate from that region, where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

But because of a desire to respect Pakistan's sovereignty, the U.S. since 2002 has relied mostly on the Pakistani military to go after the terrorist networks.

Of the $10.5 billion in aid provided to Pakistan since then, about $5.8 billion has been identified specifically for efforts along the border, mostly to reimburse Pakistan for military operations, according to GAO. Federal officials told the GAO that some 120,000 military and paramilitary forces have been deployed by Pakistan and hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured.

"However, we found broad agreement ... that Al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's" border area, GAO stated.

GAO also found that while individual federal agencies, including the Defense and State departments, have efforts under way to address the problem, they do not have a single coordinated strategy "that includes all elements of national power — diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support."

In 2006, the Bush administration began developing plans to ramp up anti-terrorism efforts in the region using such tools as development and public diplomacy. According to GAO, the plans devised by the Defense and State departments and USAID still lack final approval, including from the Pakistan government, as well as money.


[bth: could it be more evident that while we squander our limited military resources in Iraq, that we remain highly vulnerable from al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan?]

The Swamp: Bush: Measure of success, success

The Swamp: Bush: Measure of success, success: "President"Bush was asked today what he says to critics who see no end in sight in the war in Iraq – is it an open-ended war? And he effectively said it is – at least for the remaining 10 months of his presidency.

So long as I’m the president, my measure of success is victory – and success,’’ the president said in the Rose Garden, standing alongside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of a nation that has stood as the staunchest ally of the United States at war in Iraq and Afghanistan but has begun to draw down troops from Iraq and is moving its remaining forces “from combat to over-watch.’’

It hasn’t been easy,’’ Bush said of the war. “It’s been difficult. It’s taken longer than I anticipated. But it’s worth it…. When it comes to troop levels and duration, my question is, what does it take to win?’’...

[bth: idiot]

Thursday, April 17, 2008

YouTube - Red State Update: The Last Democratic Debate, We Hope To God

YouTube - Red State Update: The Last Democratic Debate, We Hope To God: ""

Romney's Top 10 reasons why he dropped out - 2008 Presidential Campaign

Romney's Top 10 reasons why he dropped out - 2008 Presidential Campaign Blog - Political Intelligence - Boston.com:... "Romney"who has been rumored to be on presumptive GOP nominee John McCain's short list for vice president, said the reasons he dropped out, in reverse order, were:

No. 10: There weren't as many Osmonds as he thought.
No. 9: Got tired of the corkscrew landings of his campaign plane while under fire
No. 8: As a lifelong hunter, I didn't want to miss the start of varmint season.
No. 7: There wasn't room for two Christian leaders in the presidential race
No. 6: I'd rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel prize.
No. 5: Got tired of wearing a dark suit and tie, and I wanted to kick back in a light colored suit and tie.
No. 4: When his wife realized he couldn't win the GOP nomination, my fundraising dried up.
No. 2: I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair.
And the No. 1 reason Romney dropped out: His campaign relied on a flawed campaign strategy that as Utah goes, so goes the nation

Tribesmen clash with Islamic militants in Pakistan; 20 dead

Tribesmen clash with Islamic militants in Pakistan; 20 dead - South Asia: "Islamabad"- At least 20 people were killed and dozens injured in overnight clashes between tribesmen and followers of a radical cleric in a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan, media reports said.

The fighting between the militiamen of Lashkar Islami, or the Army of Islam, and the tribesmen began late Wednesday and continued Thursday morning in the Khyber Agency.

The groups targeted one another's positions in the mountains with rockets and mortar shells, Geo news channel reported.

Lashkar Islami is lead by firebrand cleric Mangal Bagh, who follows the puritanical Deobandi form of Sunni Islam. The leadership of Afghanistan and Pakistan's Taliban movement belongs to the same sect.

He has tried to enforce strict Taliban-style Islam in the region, provoking the tribesmen.

The highway between Pakistan and Afghanistan was closed because of the fighting, leaving the supply route for NATO forces cut off.

Pakistan's tribal areas are safe havens for numerous armed Islamic groups as well as al-Qaeda militants and Taliban fighters who have launched cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

[bth: the way we're going to get Osama Bin Laden is if one of these disgruntled tribesmen drops a dime on him and we drop a bomb on his compound.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Armed Robots Still in Iraq, But Grounded (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com

Armed Robots Still in Iraq, But Grounded (Updated) | Danger Room from Wired.com: "A"recent news report that armed robots had been pulled out of Iraq is mistaken, according to the company that makes the robot and the Army program manager.

We linked last week to a Popular Mechanics article reporting that the armed SWORDS robots, made by Foster-Miller, has been pulled out of Iraq after several incidents when the robot's gun started swinging around without being given a command.

Here is text from the original Popular Mechanics article:

This is how fragile the robotics industry is: Last year, three armed ground bots were deployed to Iraq. But the remote-operated SWORDS units were almost immediately pulled off the battlefield, before firing a single shot at the enemy. Here at the conference, the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Forces, Kevin Fahey, was asked what happened to SWORDS. After all, no specific reason for the 11th-hour withdrawal ever came from the military or its contractors at Foster-Miller. Fahey’s answer was vague, but he confirmed that the robots never opened fire when they weren’t supposed to. His understanding is that “the gun started moving when it was not intended to move.” In other words, the SWORDS swung around in the wrong direction, and the plug got pulled fast. No humans were hurt, but as Fahey pointed out, “once you’ve done something that’s really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again.”

So SWORDS was yanked because it made people nervous.

One problem: SWORDS wasn't yanked. "SWORD is still deployed," Kevin Fahey, the program manger quoted in the original article, tells DANGER ROOM in an e-mail. "We continue to learn from it and will continue to expand the use of armed robots."

"The whole thing is an urban legend," says Foster Miller spokesperson Cynthia Black, of the reports about SWORDS moving its gun without a command.

There were three cases of uncommanded movements, but all three were prior to the 2006 safety certification, she says. "One case involved a loose wire. So, now there is now redundant wiring on every circuit. One involved a solder, a connection that broke. everything now is double-soldered." The third case was a test were the robot was put on a 45 degree hill and left to run for two and a half hours. "When the motor started to overheat, the robot shut the motor off, that caused the robot to slide back down the incline," she says. "Those are the three uncommanded movements."

Of course, another thing working against this "Terminator robot out of control" story are indications that the armed robots have not really seen any action in Iraq (i.e. aren't really being used). And if they were to be used, it's worth repeating that these are not exactly fearsome Terminators.

"It can't shoot anyone [without orders]," Black says. "It's not an autonomous vehicle."

Update:

It looks we now have a bit more clarity on what is going on with SWORDS in Iraq. Stew Magnuson, a reporter for National Defense, was at the same conference as the Popular Mechanics reporter, and it sounds like the robots, while in no way pulled out of Iraq, have been prevented from the type of combat duty that was originally envisioned:

The first three armed ground robots deployed onto a battlefield are stuck behind sandbags and are not patrolling Iraqi streets as its inventors envisioned, said a senior executive with its manufacturer, Foster-Miller Inc.

Last summer, three special weapons observation remote reconnaissance direct action systems (SWORDS) were shipped to Iraq after three years of development at the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

The robots carry M249 light machine guns, which are remotely controlled by a soldier through a terminal.

Senior Army leadership, however, was not comfortable with sending them out to do combat missions due to safety reasons, and they are now placed in fixed positions, said Robert Quinn, vice president of Talon operations at Foster-Miller.

“If you have a mobile weapons platform that can’t be mobile, and it becomes nothing more than a fixed position, then why not just put it on a tripod,” he told National Defense.

It seems to be a “chicken or the egg” situation for the Army, he said. The tactics, techniques and procedures for using armed ground robots have not been addressed.

But until there is an adequate number of SWORDS to train with, these issues can’t be worked out, he said.

[bth: I was at the conference and heard the presentation. It seems to me the whole comment was overblown by Popular Mechanics. Also the SWORDs aren't suitable for independent operation without supporting protection. That said, sticking them behind sand bags is pretty much a waste of machinery. UGVs should probably stick to recon missions at this point in their development with limited and specialized lethal payloads. The field is just too primitive for anything more elaborate.]

General urges longer tours -- baltimoresun.com

General urges longer tours -- baltimoresun.com: "KABUL"Afghanistan - As the Bush administration moves to end 15-month troop deployments, the top commander of U.S. and allied forces here said tours of that length are critical to making progress in the war against Afghanistan's Taliban and other insurgents. He also said he believes it will be necessary to maintain current troop levels here through 2011.

Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the four-star commander of the 57,000 U.S. and coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan, said in an interview Sunday that the greatest gains in the war have come from soldiers serving the long tours.

"It's not something I advocate we stay on forever," McNeill said. "We've got to ease up on the force a little bit. It's especially an issue for the families."

But he said the most successful units have been U.S. Army troops who have "established relationships with the terrain, with the indigenous people and with the enemy, and have had a good amount of time to exploit those relationships and use them to their advantage

None of the other 39 troop-contributing nations send their troops for 15 months. Many serve for six months and some as little as four months.

In an hourlong interview at his heavily fortified headquarters in the Afghan capital, McNeill said he believes that current force levels "or higher" will be needed through 2011, and that American military trainers will be required beyond that.

Even with that, he acknowledged that there are not enough troops to hold ground that has been cleared of insurgents.

As a result, he said, U.S. and allied troops are forced to play a version of "whack-a-mole" - offensives that aim to chase and destroy Taliban forces - as insurgents reappear in areas recently swept and declared safe
....

[bth: shit. is anybody at the White House or Pentagon paying attention. We need more troops in Afghanistan and we don't have them because they are fighting in Sadr City... For what? So one Shia group can lord it over another Shia group? What about American strategic interests in Afghanistan-Pakistan. You know. The guys that attacked us.]

Iraqi Unit Flees Post, Despite American’s Plea - New York Times

Iraqi Unit Flees Post, Despite American’s Plea - New York Times: "A"company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions on Tuesday night in Sadr City, defying American soldiers who implored them to hold the line against Shiite militias.

The retreat left a crucial stretch of road on the front lines undefended for hours and led to a tense series of exchanges between American soldiers and about 50 Iraqi troops who were fleeing.

Capt. Logan Veath, a company commander in the 25th Infantry Division, pleaded with the Iraqi major who was leading his troops away from the Sadr City fight, urging him to return to the front.

“If you turn around and go back up the street those soldiers will follow you,” Captain Veath said. “If you tuck tail and cowardly run away they will follow up that way, too.”

Captain Veath’s pleas failed, and senior American and Iraqi commanders mounted an urgent effort to regain the lost ground. An elite Iraqi unit was rushed in and with the support of the Americans began to fight its way north....

State Department warns diplomats of compulsory Iraq duty - Politics on The Huffington Post

State Department warns diplomats of compulsory Iraq duty - Politics on The Huffington Post: "The"State Department is warning U.S. diplomats they may be forced to serve in Iraq next year and says it will soon start identifying prime candidates for jobs at the Baghdad embassy and outlying provinces, according to a cable obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

A similar call-up notice last year caused an uproar among foreign service officers, some of whom objected to compulsory work in a war zone, although in the end the State Department found enough volunteers to fill the jobs.

Now, the State Department anticipates another staffing crisis.

"We face a growing challenge of supply and demand in the 2009 staffing cycle," the cable said, noting that more than 20 percent of the nearly 12,000 foreign service officers have already worked in the two major hardship posts _ Iraq and Afghanistan _ and a growing number have done tours in both countries.

As a result, the unclassified April 8 cable says, "the prime candidate exercise will be repeated" next year, meaning the State Department will begin identifying U.S. diplomats qualified to serve in Iraq and who could be forced to work there if they don't volunteer.

The prime candidate list will be comprised of diplomats who have special abilities that are needed in Iraq, such as Arabic language skills, deep Mideast knowledge or training in specific areas of reconstruction....

Jon Stewart Mocks Obama "Bitter" Controversy - Media on The Huffington Post

Jon Stewart Mocks Obama "Bitter" Controversy - Media on The Huffington Post

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lawmakers Want FBI Access to Data Curbed - washingtonpost.com

Lawmakers Want FBI Access to Data Curbed - washingtonpost.com: "Bipartisan"groups in Congress are pressing to place new controls on the FBI's ability to demand troves of sensitive personal information from telephone providers and credit card companies, over the opposition of agency officials who say they deserve more time to clean up past abuses.

Proposals to rein in the use of secret "national security letters" will be discussed over the next week at hearings in both chambers. The hearings stem from disclosures that the FBI had clandestinely gathered telephone, e-mail and financial records "sought for" or "relevant to" terrorism or intelligence activities without following appropriate procedures.

The Justice Department's inspector general issued reports in 2007 and earlier this year citing repeated breaches. They included shoddy FBI paperwork, improper claims about nonexistent emergencies and an insufficient link between the data requests and ongoing national security probes.

"It is clear that the NSL authority is too overbroad and operates unchecked," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the House bill. "We must give our law enforcement the tools they need to protect us, but any such powers must be consistent with the rule of law." ...

[bth: it is only the enforcement of the rules of law that prevent abuses from recurring]

The Palestine Chronicle: global voices for a better world..

The Palestine Chronicle: global voices for a better world..:... "Israel"executed its long-planned offensive against Hizbollah on July 12, 2006, using the excuse of a border skirmish to launch a full-scale and devastating war against Lebanon. They launched massive air and artillery strikes against Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure – targeting Beirut and sites as far north as the port city of Tripoli. Israeli ground forces crossed the Lebanese border the same day, and continued to expand their ground invasion in stages throughout the war. During the 33-day war, the Israeli air force flew more than 15,000 sorties and struck 7000 targets in Lebanon; the Israeli navy imposed a blockade on Lebanon, and bombed 2,500 Lebanese targets; and, all told, the Israelis destroyed 15,000 homes, 900 commercial buildings, 400 miles of roads, 80 bridges, and Lebanon’s international airport. Lebanon’s human toll at the end of the war consisted of 845 dead, including 743 civilians, 34 soldiers and 68 Hizbollah guerillas.[4] In addition, close to a million Lebanese were forced to flee their homes.[5] The intent of these genocidal attacks was to turn the Lebanese against the Hizbollah. The Israelis failed in this objective too.

In all its wars against Arab armies, the Israelis had achieved clear victories within days. In 1956, they had captured nearly all of the Sinai in about seven days. In June 1967, they crippled the Egyptian air force within two hours: and the war against the three front-line Arab armies was over in six days. In October war of 1973, the Israelis recovered from their initial losses to cross the Suez Canal ten days after the start of the war, and five days later they had encircled the Egyptian Third Army, a mere 40 miles from Cairo. On the Syrian front, the Israelis had advanced to within ten miles of Damascus. Since 1973, Israel has many times violated the sovereignty of Arab states with impunity.

In contrast, Israel's full-scale war against Hizbollah’s small guerilla force of some 3000 fighters had lasted for 33 days, without giving the Israelis the satisfaction of claiming victory.[6] On July 12 2006, Israel had started a full-scale war against Lebanon, convinced that it could destroy Hizbollah or greatly diminish its military force within a few days – and do it with air power alone. Israel’s decision to end the war 33 days later, even as Hizbollah kept up its barrage of Katyusha rockets into Israel, was a dark chapter in Israel's military history. Israel's military might had been neutralized by a seemingly Lilliputian adversary.

In July 2006, agility and cunning favored the Hizbollah. Consider the victories that Israel failed to score against this tiny but agile foe: it failed to destroy or jam Hizbollah’s communications network; to knock out Hizbollah’s television and radio stations; to kill or capture Hassan Nasrallah; or to dent Hizbollah’s ability to launch Katyusha rockets into Israel. Hizbollah was firing Katyusha rockets at the rate of 100 a day during July, doubled this rate in early August, and, in the last few hours before the ceasefire came into effect, fired 250 rockets.[7] On the day of the ceasefire, the Hizbollah still had 14,000 rockets in its arsenal, enough to continue the war for another three months.[8]

Contrary to Israeli denials, the daily barrage of Katyusha rockets took a heavy toll on the Israeli economy. Altogether, a quarter of the 4000 rockets Hizbollah launched during the war hit urban areas: they “paralyzed the whole of northern Israel, its main port, refineries, and many other strategic installations. Over one million Israelis lived in bomb shelters and about 300,000 temporarily left their homes and sought refuge in the south.”[9] For a change, the Hizbollah had brought the war to Israel.

Moreover, the Hizbollah scored several clear victories over Israel’s military. According to an IDF Report Card published in the Jerusalem Post, Israel had deployed some 400 Merkava MK-4 tanks – its safest and deadliest tank – in Lebanon: 40 of these were hit by Hizbollah’s anti-tank weapons, 20 of them were destroyed, and 30 tank crewmen were killed.[10] According to a report published by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Hizbollah's success with antitank weapons during the July War reflects many years spent training on these weapons as well as a good plan to use these weapons once the battle began.”

Hizbollah’s infantry or ‘village units’ – deployed along the border to slow down the advance of Israeli ground forces – “made the IDF pay for every inch of ground that it took. At the same time, crucially, Hizbollah dictated the rules of how the war was to be fought.” It is worth noting that the fighters Hizbollah deployed in southern Lebanon were not its best. “One of the war’s ironies,” Andrew Axum writes, “is that many of Hizballah’s best and most skilled fighters never saw action, lying in wait along the Litani River with the expectation that the IDF assault would be much deeper and arrive much faster than it did.”[11]

The Hizbollah scored its most impressive military victory in the area of intelligence. Israel's electronic warfare systems are amongst the most advanced in the world; they are war-tested and developed in cooperation with the United States. Indeed, the Israeli commanders were certain at the outset of the war of their ability to jam Hizbollah communications. They were wrong. Hizbollah’s command and control system remained operational throughout the war; they evaded Israeli jamming devices by using fiber optic lines instead of relying on wireless signals.

The Hizbollah had blocked the Barak anti-missile system on Israeli ships; hacked into Israeli battlefield communications in order to monitor Israeli tank movements; and, they monitored cell phone conversations in Hebrew between Israeli reservists and their families. They intercepted Israeli military communications on battlefield casualties and announced them on their media network.[12] They successfully employed decoys to hide the location of hundreds of bunkers they had built in southern Lebanon to store weapons and shelter their fighters.[13] As a world leader in weapons technology and communications, Israel had held a decisive advantage in electronic warfare in its wars with Arab armies. In July 2006, the Hizbollah had neutralized this advantage.

Israel claims that it killed 400-500 Hizbollah fighters. Crooke and Perry insist that these numbers are exaggerated. “It is impossible for Shi'ites (and Hezbollah),” they argue, “not to allow an honorable burial for its martyrs, so in this case it is simply a matter of counting funerals. Fewer than 180 funerals have been held for Hezbollah fighters - nearly equal to the number killed on the Israeli side.”[14]

The Israeli setbacks in the July War of 2006, then, represents a paradigm shift – not something that can be pinned on careless errors in decision-making. Unlike the Arab armies in the past, the Hizbollah had fought a people’s war. It neutralized Israel's technological superiority by deploying its mobile, elusive, disciplined and skilled guerilla detachments – not a centralized, conventional army – to fight the Israelis.

The Hizbollah fights in small groups, it is evasive, it is secretive, it owns its terrain, it trains, it has high morale, and it enjoys complete popular support amongst Lebanon’s Shi’ites. It can launch thousands of low-tech rockets which rendered sophisticated anti-missile defenses useless. It has also acquired and learned to use with great effectiveness anti-tank missiles that make Israel's most advanced tanks vulnerable. They have successfully targeted even Israeli warships.

If the Hizbollah can extend these advantages, if it can add shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to its arsenal and bring down a few Israeli helicopters and jets, Israel could quickly lose its unchallenged control over Lebanese skies. Israel’s daily and wanton violations of Lebanese airspace would also come to an end.

The Hizbollah offers Israel a new kind of asymmetric warfare: it combines low-tech guerilla tactics with sophisticated missile and communications technology. Understandably, the Israelis find these Hizbollah achievements hard to digest. What the world witnessed in Lebanon in July 2006 were events that contain the potential for shifting the balance of power in the Middle East. Earlier, the Iraqi insurgents had demonstrated that they can make an occupation – even by the world’s greatest power – very costly. Now, the Hizbollah had shown that a disciplined guerilla force, with access to advanced missiles, can repel the most powerful invading army.

It appears that the weapons gap that had opened up in recent decades between Western powers and the weaker, technologically backward nations may be closing. How rapidly this happens will depend on the willingness of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran – with other countries getting ready to join them – to make these weapons available to these movements. Alternatively, if these countries hesitate, the arms smugglers will step in to provide this service. Once anti-tank, anti-ship and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles can be bought on the world’s illicit arms markets as readily as AK-47s, this will begin to alter the fortunes of resistance movements battling great powers.

In the late nineteenth century, the advanced Western nations had opened a lethal weapons gap with their automatic weapons: this gave them a quick, nearly costless colonization of Africa and Southeast Asia. When that gap began to close in the interwar period, it gave an impetus to resistance movements in Indonesia, Vietnam, Kenya and Algeria.[15] Already weakened from fighting their own fratricidal wars, the Western colonial powers retreated: and the Third World was born.

Will the twenty-first century herald the dawn of another era of gains for movements of resistance across Asia, Africa and Latin America?

-M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. He is the author most recently of Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI: 2007). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

[bth: I don't share this guy's conclusions or opinions but it is worth reading in any event.]

Newspaper Carries Word of Another Mysterious U.S. Soldier Death in Iraq

Newspaper Carries Word of Another Mysterious U.S. Soldier Death in Iraq: ..."Today"Blomberg News revealed that current and former military personnel accounted for about 20 percent of U.S. suicides in 2005, according to a government study. Here is an excerpt from their account.\
*
About 1,821 current or former soldiers committed suicide in 16 states in 2005, the most recent year of available data, according to the report published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost half were diagnosed with depression and a third left suicide notes.

A rise in suicides among soldiers serving in the military has alarmed Pentagon planners and members of Congress as the war in Iraq enters its sixth year. An Army report produced last year found the rate of suicides among soldiers deployed in Iraq from 2003 to 2006 was almost 40 percent higher than the military's average suicide rate. An update of the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team report released in March found suicide rates for soldiers in 2007 remained ``above normal Army rates.''

``The frequency and the length of deployments are stretching people to the limit and they can't tolerate it,'' Charles Figley, a psychologist who directs the Traumatology Institute at Florida State University, said in a telephone interview today. ``They're taking risks, taking alcohol and taking their own lives because they want to extinguish their pain.''

While 38 percent of the soldiers who took their own lives had a diagnosed mental health condition, only 27 percent were receiving mental health care, according to the CDC report.

A separate study last year found that combat veterans were twice as likely to take their own lives as people who hadn't been in battle. That study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at 320,000 men who had served in the military from 1917 to 1994.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Israel snubs Carter and declines security help | International | Reuters

Israel snubs Carter and declines security help | International | Reuters: "Israel's"secret service declined to assist U.S. agents guarding former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during a visit in which Israeli leaders shunned him over his plans to meet Hamas, U.S. sources said on Monday.

"They're not getting support from local security," one of the sources said, on condition of anonymity.

An Israeli security source said the Shin Bet security service provided no protection to Carter during his visit to the Jewish state because no request was made.

Asked about the Israeli account, Carter's delegation, which had previously declined to comment, told Reuters in a statement: "The Carter delegation inquired with both the lead agent of the Secret Service detail (protecting Carter) and the State Department Regional Security Officer and were told unequivocally that an official request for assistance had been made."...

[bth: very very poor judgement not to provide security.]

SNL Notices Petraeus, Mocks Clinton's Iraq War Vote - Media on The Huffington Post

SNL Notices Petraeus, Mocks Clinton's Iraq War Vote - Media on The Huffington Post

Army brings armed robots home from Iraq over control issues - Engadget

Army brings armed robots home from Iraq over control issues - Engadget: "Although"other countries have deployed gun-toting robots and there's no shortage of companies trying to develop weaponized bots for Uncle Sam, it looks like the first test of actual killer robots in battle has ended in a whimper: the Army's TALON SWORD gunbots, are headed home, after being plagued with control issues. Yeah, that's right -- control issues. Apparently it was too hard to prevent the Army's gun-equipped robot from moving its gun "when it was not intended to move." Reassuring, no? The Army doesn't sound too enthused about another go-round, saying, "once you've done something that's really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again." Ouch. On the plus side, at least that's 20 more years before we're all put to work in the mines, no?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Other April 19th - Patriots Day

Every year, on April 19th, we are reminded of the minutemen who went
to the bridge in Concord in 1775. Less well known is the story of
other men from Massachusetts who answered their country's call in
1861. Responding to Lincoln's request for volunteer militia to defend
the Capitol, the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia fought their way
through a Rebel mob in Baltimore. Four soldiers and several civilians
were killed. These were the first casualties from hostile fire of the
Civil War, 86 years to the day from the first blood of the Revolution.

China's economy second only to the US | The Australian

China's economy second only to the US | The Australian: "This"startling, although not unexpected, development was revealed in a World Bank report on development indicators for 2008.

The Washington-based development bank used a new formula, based on purchasing power parity, to measure economic activities within countries.

Under this measure, it said China's gross national income was $US6.1 trillion ($6.6 trillion) in 2006, compared with Japan's $US4.2 trillion and the US's $US13.2 trillion.

According to the new data, China's 1.3 billion people had a per capita income of $US4660 in 2006.

Led by China, the world's developing economies produced 41 per cent of the world's output in 2006, compared with 36 per cent in 2000.

The publication said the combined output of the world's economies reached $US59 trillion in 2006.

Five of the world's 12 largest economies now come from the developing world. Aside from China, they include India, Brazil, South Africa and Russia
.

"When we measure economies on comparable global scale, the growing clout of developing countries comes into sharp relief," said the bank's acting chief economist, Alan Gelb.

"We live in a world of highly interdependent markets for goods, services, finance, labour and ideas."

The publication said the East Asia and Pacific region had doubled its output and increased its share of the global output from 9 per cent in 2000 to 14 per cent in 2006.

India and China dominated the growth in the East Asia and South Asia regions.

The bank credited the "enormous increase" in the size of the global economy in the past decade to closer economic ties between countries.

International trade is a critical channel for integration.

Between 1990 and 2006, the Asia-Pacific region's trade rose from 47 per cent of its GDP to 87 per cent. Gross capital flows to the region from international sources increased from 7 to 11 per cent of GDP.

Led by China, whose exports now rival those of the US, developing countries' share in world trade has risen from 16 per cent in 1990 to 30 per cent in 2006.

However, the rapid growth has come at a cost to these countries, with pollution and other problems taking their toll.

On climate change, the report said the rate of warming has been nearly twice as fast in the last 15 years as in the last 100 years. Thirteen of the warmest years since 1880 occurred in the past 15 years.

Since 1978, annual mean Arctic sea ice has been declining. Temperatures at the top of the permafrost have increased by up to three degrees centigrade.

It said the power sector contributed almost a quarter of global greenhouse gases, and transport, industry, buildings and other energy-related activities accounted for another 41 per cent.

The biggest growth between 1970 and 2004 was from power generation, the bank said.

Fossil fuels, led by coal, account for three-quarters of energy used in the power sector.

With some 1.6 billion people lacking electricity, cheap and abundant coal is the fuel of choice in much of the world.

Coal has powered economic booms in most developing economies. It generates 78 per cent of China's electricity and 69 per cent of India's.

YouTube - Red State Update: Obama Bashes Small Town America

YouTube - Red State Update: Obama Bashes Small Town America: ""

Secret Iraqi Deal Shows Problems in Arms Orders - New York Times

Secret Iraqi Deal Shows Problems in Arms Orders - New York Times: ..."American military officials and the Iraqi authorities alike point to the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales program as the reason the Serbian arms deal was pursued in the first place. After that, however, their versions of events diverge sharply.

Under the sales program, used by more than 100 allied nations, Pentagon officials serve as intermediaries for government-to-government defense procurements, handling administrative issues, logistics, delivery, maintenance and training. Clients sometimes get the benefit of American economies of scale, American expertise regarding weapons systems and quality control and built-in transparency and corruption safeguards. Defense contractors also benefit to some extent, because the program often channels clients to American companies that produce arms and other equipment.

American officials hoped the program would help Iraq spend more of its own money on defense. Last year, for the first time, Iraqi military expenditures of $7.5 billion surpassed the $5.5 billion in American financing for Iraq’s military. But the program is intended for peacetime, and with protocols spanning hundreds of pages, it is built more for transparency and standardization than for speed.

Beginning in late 2006, the Iraqi government deposited $2.6 billion in an account for Foreign Military Sales procurements. But by September 2007, less than $200 million worth of badly needed equipment had been delivered, and many of those items were stockpiled because of poor distribution and accountability systems. And that, the officials pointed out, was during one of the most violent periods on record.

“The problem with F.M.S. is that it didn’t deliver on time,” a senior Iraqi official said, “and this was used by some in government to say, ‘Look, this is deliberate. The U.S. is trying to keep us unarmed so that we’ll always be in need of the Americans.’ ”

General Dubik, in an interview in his office in the Green Zone, acknowledged, “There was an issue of credibility in our system.”

But there were problems on the Iraqi side as well, American military officers said. A bureaucracy used to functioning under a command economy during the reign of Saddam Hussein had little use for formal procurement protocols and was unaccustomed to such basic practices as writing detailed specifications.

“I mean literally, the Iraqis had some letters of request that said, ‘We want to buy 1,000 trucks,’ ” said Joe Benkert, an assistant defense secretary for global affairs who manages the Foreign Military Sales program.

Some critics, all of them high-ranking Iraqi and American military officials, made the more serious charge that senior Iraqi officials intentionally obstructed American-sponsored procurements because they feared the sales program would prevent them from siphoning off a share of the money. But they offered no independent corroboration.

“The defense minister is playing games,” said an official with Iraq’s Defense Ministry who spoke out because of his concern about corruption, but also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “He is stopping F.M.S.,” the official said. “Contracts just sat on his desk waiting for approval for six or seven months sometimes.”

American procurement experts were so mystified by some of the delays that they set up a new office to track procurements and found that many of the delays led straight back to Mr. Qadir’s desk. Mr. Qadir denied delaying contracts or making money from them.

After months of delays and an overhaul of the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy, the program increased the value of its delivered equipment to $1 billion by this February. But in the absence of a comprehensive distribution and inventory system in Iraq, much of that equipment remains locked in Iraqi storehouses, American officials said.

Mr. Qadir, who made headlines during a January visit to the United States, when he said Iraq could not take full military responsibility for itself until 2018, blamed the slowness of the Foreign Military Sales program for his decision to deal directly with Serbia. “Foreign Military Sales is a system built to provide weapons systems to a national force in a peaceful time,” he said....

Dan Froomkin - Cheney on the Warpath Again? - washingtonpost.com

Dan Froomkin - Cheney on the Warpath Again? - washingtonpost.com: "Vice"President Cheney went on right-wing talk radio yesterday with a dramatic new argument for preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, casting the Iranian leadership as apocalyptic zealots who yearn for a nuclear conflagration.

Cheney also notably refused to comment about any recent conversations he may have had with Israeli leaders about the possibility of their bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. Some observers suspect Cheney of encouraging Israel to attack Iran as a proxy.

Conventional wisdom in Washington has it that Cheney and other supporters of military action against Iran were sidelined after a National Intelligence Estimate last November reported that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

But the vice president sounded anything but chastened yesterday, speaking with two of his favorite media enablers. In fact, he sounded like the NIE never happened.

Here he is talking to Sean Hannity:

Hannity: "What did you make of Senator Barack Obama's comments that he would talk to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who's repeatedly threatened to blow up and remove Israel from the state -- from the map, the world map, and obviously is pursuing some nuclear capability?"

Cheney: "Well, he is, and I think the position we've taken with respect to that is that we would be prepared to talk when they stopped enriching uranium. Of course, they've never met that condition, so we haven't had talks at that level.

"But Ahmadinejad is I think a very dangerous man. On the one hand, he has repeatedly stated that he wants to destroy Israel. He also has -- is a man who believes in the return of the 12th Imam; and that the highest honor that can befall a man is that he should die a martyr in facilitating the return of the 12th Imam.

"It's a radical, radical point of view. Bernard Lewis once said, mutual assured destruction in the Soviet-U.S. relationship in the Cold War meant deterrence, but mutual assured destruction with Ahmadinejad is an incentive. You have to be concerned about that."

The 12th Imam? What's that about? Just over two hours later, Hugh Hewitt was happy to indulge Cheney on that very issue.

Hewitt: "Do you -- Mr. Vice President, do you have a personal sense of whether or not the Iranian leadership is actually motivated by this end-times, bring-back-the-12th-Imam sort of theology that we've read so much about?"

Cheney: "Well, I've read about it, too. I don't know that that motivates all of the leadership. The one guy who talks about it repeatedly is Ahmadinejad. And -- in other words, a report even at one point that when he went to Iraq on a visit, that at least on one occasion, he insisted on there being a vacant chair at the table for the 12th Imam. And it's a -- it's hard to tell. I mean, if I look at what his beliefs supposedly are, the allegation that the -- a return of the 12th Imam is something to be much desired, and that the best contribution that a man can make is to die a martyr facilitating that return, and all that goes with it -- I always think of Bernard Lewis, who said that mutual assured destruction during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets meant peace and stability and deterrence, but mutual assured destruction in the hands of Ahmadinejad may just be an incentive. It's a worrisome proposition." ...

[bth: This article is worth reading in full not so much for any particular point but to get a flavor of what is happening across multiple fronts in Washington. Are Cheney and Israel gearing up to attack Iran's nuclear facilities? Very likely, but when? My guess not until they see how the US presidential elections play out or are going to play out. If McCain is elected then Israel would be better off with the US in Iraq for years to come. If O'Bama is elected then I think Israel will see a strike on Iran as their best move and the sooner the better. If Clinton is elected it isn't as clear - probably to keep the US engaged as long as possible as the ultimate buffer in Iraq. Is Iran building nuclear weapons? Almost certainly. Has Iran invaded another country in over a century? No. Does it use surrogates? Yes. Do we share some common interests with Iran? Yes. Perhaps we should be exploiting them. Also Israel would wait for all checks from Iran to Russia for nuclear plants to be paid for. Israel doesn't need to invent trouble with Russia if it can avoid it. ... Last item, the article goes on to discuss whether we have 'permanent bases' in Iraq. As Sen. Webb points out, we don't have permanent bases in Korea either. We've just had them for a very, very long time.]