Saturday, August 09, 2008

High School Tony Awards Honor Nation's Biggest Drama Club Nerds | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

High School Tony Awards Honor Nation's Biggest Drama Club Nerds | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
High School Tony Awards Honor Nation's Biggest Drama Club Nerds"
High School Tony Awards Honor Nation's Biggest Drama Club Nerds

'Cosmopolitan' Institute Completes Decades-Long Study On How To Please Your Man | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

'Cosmopolitan' Institute Completes Decades-Long Study On How To Please Your Man | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
'Cosmopolitan' Institute Completes Decades-Long Study On How To Please Your Man"
'Cosmopolitan' Institute Completes Decades-Long Study On How To Please Your Man

Gates wants to double Afghan army size: report

The Raw Story | Gates wants to double Afghan army size: report: "US"Defense Secretary Robert Gates backs a 20-billion dollar plan to double the Afghan army and reshape NATO and US missions to better confront the resurgent Taliban, US media reported Friday.

The plan, initially announced by the Afghan government, would boost the size of the Afghan force to 120,000 over five years through additional training and equipment and recruitment, the New York Times said.

Quoting unnamed Pentagon and military officials, the report said a Defense Department order to be signed in late August will also give US army general David McKiernan, who currently heads the 45,000 strong NATO force, command of the 19,000 US forces there as well.

"Taken together, the two decisions are an acknowledgement of shortcomings that continue to hinder NATO and American-led operations in Afghanistan," The New York Times said.

Gates was expected to appeal to NATO allies for contributions to the plan's 20-billion dollar price tag, the report said.

[bth: inadequate troop strength, poor deployment, ridiculous rules of engagement, no unity of command. Hard to imagine how we think we can win in Afghanistan without major changes.]

War in Afghanistan: a tour of hell - Telegraph

War in Afghanistan: a tour of hell - Telegraph: "For"all the money, technology and military might America can throw at the Taliban, conditions at the US Army's most attacked outpost in Afghanistan are reminiscent of the First World War trenches. Report by Stuart Webb

Just after dawn at Forward Operating Base Salerno, the Chinooks, Apaches and Black Hawks are starting their engines. Amid the building roar of the helicopters, the camp comes alive. In this part of eastern Afghanistan, Salerno provides the gateway to a string of isolated American military outposts along the frontier with Pakistan. No one is in a hurry to board the helicopter destined for Combat Outpost Margha. As the ground slips away, the tail-gunner takes up position on the Chinook's open ramp and the banter between the men evaporates. The soldiers, 18 of them, have a grim resignation about them now.

Among US forces in Afghanistan, Margha has a formidable reputation, and is the most attacked combat outpost in Paktika province. Located at the top of a mountain on the lawless, porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is one of the farthest flung and most vulnerable outposts in America's global war against terrorism.

Once these troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are dropped here they are effectively cut off from the outside world. Most are young, in their late teens and early twenties. With every pocket and pouch stuffed with ammunition, and chests crossed with grenade belts, they already look battle-hardened. Some were only 12 years old when the Twin Towers came down in 2001 - a stark reminder of how long the war has been going on.

The mountains seem to go on for ever. Under their gaze have passed some of the greatest warriors and empires in history: from Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to the British and Soviet armies. These men are just the latest to pass through.

As we skim the ground, the gunners - fingers on triggers - scan the trees and boulders that flash past. The view is beautiful, yet across this frontier the Taliban come and go freely, mounting attacks, resupplying and regenerating. Looking down at the endless landscape, it seems impossible that all the gaps in this border could ever be plugged. Many commanders in both Britain and America accept that the war cannot be won by military means alone. From up here, you can see why. The most powerful military capabilities in the world count for nothing in Paktika. For all the technology, money and might, the young men in this helicopter are at the sharp end of an old-fashioned war.

A puff of white smoke from a signal flare on the ground guides us in. A pyramid-shaped mountain looms into view - nothing but steep sides and sharp ridges. Army engineers have somehow managed to carve a tiny shoulder for a landing spot and the Chinook hovers for some time to line up. We sit uncomfortably, suspended and exposed, while a Black Hawk swirls around to provide cover. Finally, the ramp lowers and the men pile off, the speed of their exit matched by the speed of the 18 men getting on. Hours before our arrival, Margha had been hit by six Taliban-fired rockets. On this occasion, no one had been hurt.

The soldiers head immediately for cover. Margha is looked down on by a series of towering ridges. The main ridge forms the border with Pakistan and it is from here that most of the frequent rocket and mortar attacks come: the soldiers call it Rocket Ridge. The troops at Margha - always men - come under a serious rocket and mortar attack from the Taliban at least once a week. But this is a significant improvement. The base at the top of the hill is the 'new' Margha, only a couple of months old - it used to be located down the hill, next to the village from which it takes its name, and was attacked constantly.

Specialist Max Dorsa from California is on his first tour and had a miraculous escape at the old camp when a rocket-propelled grenade tore through the back of the guard tower he was in, but failed to explode: 'I never thought it would be as bad as this,' he says. Pte Jason Stewart has equally bad memories: 'We were taking rocket fire every day; they just looked down and shot at us from the hill above. It was insane.' The position became untenable and Combat Outpost Margha was relocated. It is still perilously exposed but the ridges, while within range, are now just over half a mile away.

It is a situation the Americans have to live with: in Afghanistan, they are trying to put into practice the hard lessons learnt in Iraq. General David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, has rewritten the American military's manual on counter-insurgency. Before, the US Army trained to fight wars using overwhelming fire power, but in this unconventional conflict against suicide bombers, hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombs, the old philosophy simply wasn't working.

Under Petraeus, the emphasis now is less on engaging with guns and more on engaging with diplomacy - of having increased contact with the locals in order to win over hearts and minds. The strategy has been to move out of huge 'super bases' and instead install the troops in smaller camps closer to the Afghan people. By showing a highly visible presence and aiding the communities the Americans hope to offer an alternative to supporting the Taliban. But the practice is leaving the Americans more vulnerable than ever.

The platoon commander, 24-year-old Lieut Joe Corsi, tries to build up trust and confidence with the local population by inviting village elders to Margha once a week for a meeting. The local leaders ask for help ranging from drilling wells to power generation, pleas that Corsi will pass on to his commanders at Camp Salerno. In return, Corsi asks if they have seen anything suspicious or any outsiders in their villages.

But Corsi is hampered in what he can do - with only 18 soldiers, he cannot allow his men to patrol the vicinity. There are several reconstruction projects ongoing, but the Americans are largely unable to protect them. All Corsi can do is radio headquarters and ask for air support if he hears of an attack. But in such mountainous terrain reports of incidents can take hours to filter through, by which time the Taliban are long gone.

And with military helicopters and jets stretched to the limit on other operations, support is not guaranteed. Margha is resupplied by private contractors using civilian aircraft. Supplies are parachuted into the base by light aircraft or dropped off by a Ukrainian crew using an old Russian helicopter, flying at high altitude to avoid enemy fire.

The ease of the Taliban's movement leads many of the soldiers at Margha to believe the Pakistani military are at best turning a blind eye, and at worst actively assisting the insurgents. The Pakistan government's remit has never extended much into its tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan and there is a reluctance to get involved. Pakistan also played a key role in supporting the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s and it is believed that sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence services remain sympathetic.

The relationship between the Pakistani and American military along the border is limited and strained. For Sgt Daniel Cowden it is a frustrating situation. 'The worst thing is that they can seek refuge in Pakistan; the Pakistan military really don't do anything so they can come and go real easy. They can fire at us from the ridge and just go straight back into Pakistan

Often, the Taliban shoot from within Pakistan itself. The US soldiers have to get permission from Camp Salerno to return fire across the border - and permission is not guaranteed, in part out of concern that Pakistani civilians could be hit.

The stress of facing repeated bombardment and not being able to fight back makes the soldiers at Margha feel like sitting ducks. Pte Greg Gardiner is in charge of the heavy mortar with which, in theory, they can return fire. 'We take all these rockets and mortars, then we get our big gun ready and then we just have to stand around,' he says.

American troops came to Afghanistan after 9/11 with the intention of defeating al-Qa'eda and ousting the Taliban under Operation Enduring Freedom. After initial success, their attention was diverted by Iraq, and the problems of Afghanistan have returned. Warlords and drug barons hold sway over large parts of the country, corruption in government is endemic, and the Taliban have become a resurgent force. The number of insurgent attacks has increased 300 per cent since September 2006.

Western intelligence agencies believe a future terrorist attack on Britain or America is still likely to have its origins in these borderlands. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, says he would refocus America's attention on Afghanistan and take a much tougher line with Pakistan. He has promised extra troops and funding. But more force and more money could merely provide more cannon fodder for the Taliban unless resources are used in a much more targeted and sophisticated way.

Ask the men at Margha about this and they will usually say, 'Sir, that's way above my pay grade.' Some, like 21-year-old sniper Danny Miller, joined up to be part of the 'war on terror'. 'A big motivational factor for joining the army was September 11,' he says, although he does sometimes wonder how much can be achieved at Margha. 'I'm sure everybody thinks it. Hey, it sucks but you just put it behind you and get the job done.'

Up on the hill, it is a lonely and isolating experience. The outpost is tiny: about half the size of a football pitch. To help protect them from incoming fire, the men live in shipping containers surrounded by earthen blast walls and sandbags. The containers are connected by tunnels of wooden beams and walkways. The scene is reminiscent of the First World War trenches, the claustrophobic feel intensified by the sense of impending attack. Because of the constant threat, the men spend most of their day inside the containers. With summer temperatures topping 50C, conditions can be grim.

The men's routine is one of constantly revolving guard duty in the camp's three watchtowers. There are four to a tower, and they sleep in a shipping container underneath. At night they guard in pairs to keep each other awake. The senior NCOs and Corsi work the same 24-hour shift pattern in the radio room. There are no showers or laundry, just wet wipes for washing and ration packs to eat. The time crawls by. The men pass the long hours playing cards and video games, watching DVDs and listening to their iPods, and waiting for the next rocket attack.

Last month a massed attack by several hundred insurgents on a similar base in Kunar province to the north killed nine US soldiers and injured 15 in one day. The base had to be abandoned. Since the Taliban have regrouped, more of these isolated American camps are at risk of being picked off, though in general the situation remains a bloody, expensive stalemate.

The soldiers will stay at Margha for about a month, when the next Chinook will arrive to take them back to a forward operating base for two days' break - just enough time to rest, take a shower and do their laundry, before they are sent out to one of the other remote combat outposts for another month of relentless guard duty. The men do 15-month tours in Afghanistan.

Many of the soldiers wear black wristbands bearing the names of friends who have been killed. At Margha it seems that everyone has lost someone close. Corsi wears two wristbands. One is for his good friend Cpl Jacob Lowell, who was travelling in a Humvee when the Taliban fired down from the hills; a bullet went through the roof. Corsi has had extra metal plates welded to the tops of all his Humvees.

The other wristband is for his commanding officer, Major Thomas Bostick. 'I knew his wife and two daughters,' Corsi says. 'He was my mentor. It's a way to celebrate his life, and it helps me just remember.' The bands also help Corsi keep perspective. 'When you start to think selfish thoughts, like how close you are to going home, you just look down at your arm and remember that some people aren't able to go home.'

The Americans have lost more than 550 military personnel in Afghanistan since 2001. The British and American sectors are among the most dangerous areas to patrol in the country. US forces have the difficult mountain terrain and cross-border insurgents to deal with. The British in Helmand face threats both from an area that is a Taliban heartland and from warlords and drug barons whose fiefdoms thrive in the chaos of war. British military deaths in Afghanistan now stand at more than 100. The great majority of these have come since 2006 when the British moved into Helmand.

Margha's platoon medic, 22-year-old Specialist Trevor Ramey from Florida, hopes more than anything that his skills won't be needed again. It is only his first tour, but he is already a veteran. On his very first day in Afghanistan, at an outpost just north of Margha, he had a shocking reality check. He had just disembarked from the helicopter and put down his bags when he was called to treat an Afghan commander. 'The round traced the top of his skull and exposed his brain. They brought him in and it just blew my mind. I wasn't prepared for that in any way.'

Ramey's best friend Juan Restrepo, a fellow medic, was killed during a fire fight in Kunar. They had trained together, shared a room and deployed together. 'He was going to try and pull back another dead soldier. He took two AK-47 rounds to the neck. He was the only medic on the patrol, he couldn't tell anyone how to treat him. He died on the Medivac bird. I'm not going to deny it, I cried.' Ramey has lost five close friends during the tour. 'That sticks with you. Being here, it changes you.'

In the middle of my eight-day visit, I prepare to visit the Afghan border police at the old Margha fort to see how conditions compare down in the valley. Even though it is little over a mile away Corsi's men cannot leave the base and so cannot provide an escort. While I wait for the police to come and collect me the platoon sniper Danny Miller, 21, is instructed by Corsi to plot the exact range of points along my route so he can provide covering fire if I get into trouble. Miller has already had the Taliban in his sights - and pulled the trigger. 'It's unfortunate that it needs to be done,' he says. 'To me, when I look through the scope they are an enemy of the United States.' He explains that the police base is at the limit of his range. 'I can still hit someone at that range but it won't be accurate. But in the bazaar [half a mile away], I'll be able to drop the guy standing next to you.'

Within an hour of my return to the American base a policeman is kidnapped in the bazaar by three armed men and thrown into the boot of a car. In the radio room, Sgt Cowden does not rate his chances. 'Being a policeman I think they'll kill him, leave his body by the side of the road as an example not to work with the Americans.'

With the American military fighting simultaneous conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is not uncommon for soldiers to be on their third or fourth tour of duty. Such long deployments and the stress of combat are taking a serious toll. The rates for suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder among American soldiers are at record highs. An influential study estimated that one in five American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from post-traumatic stress.

Dr Ira Katz, the head of mental health services for Veterans Affairs - a government department that looks after the welfare of US war veterans - estimated recently that there were about 1,000 suicide attempts a month among war veterans, the highest number since records began.

The situation has got so bad that about 20,000 troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq have been prescribed antidepressants - 17 per cent of those currently serving in Afghanistan, and 12 per cent of those in Iraq. The drugs help the soldiers cope with the unimaginable stress - for an overstretched military, it helps keep them in the field.

Issuing drugs to armies is nothing new. Amphetamines were issued to various German, British, US and Japanese units during the Second World War to keep the men alert; prescribing amphetamines to American forces during Vietnam was widespread. But the wholesale issuing of antidepressants, sleeping pills and anxiety medicine to a military on active operations is a new and pot­entially shocking development. No one at Margha will talk about taking pills. Some feel they can't in the macho atmosphere of the army; others are worried that by admitting to it they could hurt their chances of promotion

During their 15-month tour the soldiers get two weeks' leave. Ramey knows he has been affected by what he has seen - on his last return home his friends and family noticed changes in him, too. He came to Afghanistan in the hope of saving lives, but in the process he may have damaged his own. 'I guess this place has messed with me, subconsciously,' he says. 'My friend slept over at my hotel with his girlfriend one night. I'd been drinking and passed out drunk and they said I was screaming in my sleep. I had a dream I was still here.'

[bth: so these brave brave men are spending 15 months on a base that they can't travel a mile from, taking casualties without any obvious strategic or tactical plan. What is the plan? What is the COIN here? It would appear to me that we are simply over extended, unable to use this base and unable to accomplish an objective with the resources available or at least as currently allocated. ... resupply is actually done with contractors? Air support takes over an hour? You know, this unit holds my heart because my son died in 2003 in it south of Kirkuk. The same overstretched aspects still seem to pervade. No fucking plan. What a waste. What leadership? These young men deserve better than this.]

Najaf Aims To Be The 'Capital' Of Iraq's South : NPR

Najaf Aims To Be The 'Capital' Of Iraq's South : NPR: "The"southern Iraqi city of Najaf is the center of the Shiite Muslim faith — the sect's equivalent of the Vatican.

About a million pilgrims from Iraq and abroad go to Najaf every year to worship in its gold-domed shrine or to bury their dead in the world's largest Muslim cemetery.

The Shiite sect's key clerics and ayatollahs also train at seminaries in Najaf, and they issue decrees obeyed by millions of people worldwide.

But a number of Iraq's political power brokers believe Najaf should be more than a religious epicenter, and they have quietly begun expanding the city in hopes of turning it into a capital of the south.

It's an expansion some fear could hasten a partition of Iraq....

[bth: this article is worth reading in full. The partition of Iraq seems probable to me with Najaf leading the south and Kirkuk the northern separation.]

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Raw Story | Tape: Top CIA official confesses order to forge Iraq-9/11 letter came on White House stationery

The Raw Story | Tape: Top CIA official confesses order to forge Iraq-9/11 letter came on White House stationery: "In"damning transcript, ex-CIA official says Cheney likely ordered letter linking Hussein to 9/11 attacks

A forged letter linking Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was ordered on White House stationery and probably came from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a new transcript of a conversation with the Central Intelligence Agency's former Deputy Chief of Clandestine Operations Robert Richer.

The transcript was posted Friday by author Ron Suskind of an interview conducted in June. It comes on the heels of denials by both the White House and Richer of a claim Suskind made in his new book, The Way of The World. The book was leaked to Politico's Mike Allen on Monday, and released Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the White House released a statement on Richer's behalf. In it, Richer declared, "I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document ... as outlined in Mr. Suskind's book."

The denial, however, directly contradicts Richer's own remarks in the transcript.

"Now this is from the Vice President's Office is how you remembered it--not from the president?" Suskind asked.

"No, no, no," Richer replied, according to the transcript. "What I remember is George [Tenet] saying, 'we got this from'--basically, from what George said was 'downtown.'"

"Which is the White House?" Suskind asked.

"Yes," Richer said. "But he did not--in my memory--never said president, vice president, or NSC. Okay? But now--he may have hinted--just by the way he said it, it would have--cause almost all that stuff came from one place only: Scooter Libby and the shop around the vice president."

"But he didn't say that specifically," Richer added. "I would naturally--I would probably stand on my, basically, my reputation and say it came from the vice president."

"But there wasn't anything in the writing that you remember saying the vice president," Suskind continued.

"Nope," Richer said.

"It just had the White House stationery."

"Exactly right."

Later, Richer added, "You know, if you've ever seen the vice president's stationery, it's on the White House letterhead. It may have said OVP (Office of the Vice President). I don't remember that, so I don't want to mislead you."

Suskind says decision to post transcript unusual
Suskind posted the transcript at his blog, saying, "This posting is contrary to my practice across 25 years as a journalist. But the issues, in this matter, are simply too important to stand as discredited in any way." It was first picked up by ThinkProgress and Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein.

Suskind's new book asserts that senior Bush officials ordered the CIA to forge a document "proving" that Saddam Hussein had been trying to manufacture nuclear weapons and was collaborating with al Qaeda. The alleged result was a faked memorandum from then chief of Saddam's intelligence service Tahir Jalil Habbush dated July 1, 2001, and written to Hussein.

The bogus memo claimed that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had received training in Baghdad but also discussed the arrival of a "shipment" from Niger, which the Administration claimed had supplied Iraq with yellowcake uranium -- based on yet another forged document whose source remains uncertain.

The memo subsequently was treated as fact by the British Sunday Telegraph, and cited by William Safire in his New York Times column, providing fodder for Bush's efforts to take the US to war.

The Sunday Telegraph cited the main source for its story on Iraq's 9/11 involvement as Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist who rebelled against Saddam and was appointed a government position after the US occupation.

Nothing in the story explains how an Iraqi politician was privy to the fake memo, but the New York Times column alluded to Allawi and described him as "an Iraqi leader long considered reliable by intelligence agencies."

"To characterize it right," Richer also declares in the transcript, "I would say, right: it came to us, George had a raised eyebrow, and basically we passed it on--it was to--and passed this on into the organization. You know, it was: 'Okay, we gotta do this, but make it go away.' To be honest with you, I don't want to make it sound--I for sure don't want to portray this as George jumping: 'Okay, this has gotta happen.' As I remember it--and, again, it's still vague, so I'll be very straight with you on this--is it wasn't that important. It was: 'This is unbelievable. This is just like all the other garbage we get about . . . I mean Mohammad Atta and links to al Qaeda. 'Rob,' you know, 'do something with this.' I think it was more like that than: 'Get this done.'"

Magazine asserts Feith created bogus document
Today, The American Conservative also published a report saying that the forgery was actually produced by then-Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, citing an unnamed intelligence source. The source reportedly added that Suskind’s overall claim “is correct."

"My source also notes that Dick Cheney, who was behind the forgery, hated and mistrusted the Agency and would not have used it for such a sensitive assignment," the magazine wrote. "Instead, he went to Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans and asked them to do the job. … It was Feith’s office that produced the letter and then surfaced it to the media in Iraq. Unlike the [Central Intelligence] Agency, the Pentagon had no restrictions on it regarding the production of false information to mislead the public. Indeed, one might argue that Doug Feith’s office specialized in such activity."

More of Suskind's transcripts are available here.

georgia russia - Google News

georgia russia - Google News

Roadside bombs getting harder to find -

Roadside bombs getting harder to find - "WASHINGTON"(AP) -- Roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan have gotten less sophisticated and as a result harder for troops to find or avoid, a military official said Wednesday.

While the number of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, found and troops injured or killed have plummeted in Iraq, they spiked recently in Afghanistan, reflecting the escalating combat there.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, who heads the military's counter-IED organization, said that in late spring, the number of IED incidents peaked at about 200 a month in Afghanistan. Those incidents, he said, resulted in some of the highest monthly coalition casualties due to roadside bombs in the past four years. The number of IED incidents dipped in July.

Metz, who was the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2004-05, said the enemy was more likely to use explosives triggered by cell phones or other similar radio waves. But now militants on both warfronts have moved to less sophisticated triggering mechanisms, such as command wires or pressure plates.

Some of the shift came as the U.S. developed better sensors and other technologies to detect and defeat the more sophisticated models.

But the low-tech bombs, he said, "create a harder problem for us. We are seeing that, more and more."

Metz said it is difficult for troops -- rolling down the road at about 30 mph -- "to have a device that can look into the ground and detect, at a very low false positive rate, a pressure plate that's under there." A "false positive" refers to an indication that signals a bomb is there when it's not.

Still, he said, it takes longer for militants to bury a pressure plate, making it more difficult for them to plant an IED without being seen. Although the rural, often mountainous terrain in Afghanistan can provide more hiding places.

Roadside bombs have long been the premier killer in the wars, that -- on average in Iraq -- claims one casualty for every eight bombs planted and found. In 2004, Metz said, the average was far worse, at about one casualty for each bombing incident.

Metz is in charge of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which is spending about $4 billion a year to research, develop, and train troops in high-tech equipment to detect and destroy the homemade bombs.

In an hourlong briefing Wednesday, Metz said that part of the spike in bombs and casualties in Afghanistan is due to the increase in coalition forces and combat activity there in recent months.

Pointing to a graphic showing the Afghanistan bombings over the past six years, Metz noted that they are "very seasonal, but obviously going up."

While he would not provide exact numbers because they are classified, Metz said that about 20 percent of the roughly 200 roadside bomb incidents in Afghanistan in April resulted in casualties. In about half of the incidents the bombs were found and removed by troops, in about another 80 incidents the bombs went off but did no damage.

The numbers in Iraq are higher, but the decline in bombings there has also been more dramatic.

At the peak in Iraq, there were as many as 3,000 roadside bombs discovered or detonated in a month, and that total has been more than cut in half, he said.

Metz added that one of his primary worries is that militants around the world will begin to believe that IEDs are the weapons of choice, making them a bigger potential threat to U.S. homeland security. Right now, he said, there are about 300 roadside bomb incidents a month around the world -- not counting Iraq or Afghanistan.

[bth: a couple of points. The 2004 figures had roughly 40% attacks scoring a casualty if detonated in 2004. Of those detonations there were 2.4 casualties hence his statement of about 1 casualty per IED detonated. Then with armor on vehicles the casualty rate per ied attack fell so that if a casualty were scored it was one person not 2.4. Jammers pushed it even lower as it made timing of the IED incident harder. Now the MRAPS have drastically reduced casualties per incident. The exact figure isn't provided for the current period in this AP story but it is perhaps an order of magnitude better than 2004. That IEDs are getting harder to detect is true and EFPs which remain rare but so deadly aren't necessarily even on the road. So very tellingly is his statement that he hopes IEDs don't catch on. Well shit, they are catching on because they work in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Africa. They work and the odds of getting caught are pretty low. So all this talk about not having MRAPS and getting back to our Future Combat world are a denial of reality. IEDS are here to stay and Radio Shack technology is getting easier and easier to implement. The IED is Reality.]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Military -- Part IV: For 2 soldiers, families, lives changed > News > Military -- Part IV: For 2 soldiers, families, lives changed: "In"that dreadful December, every day brought bloodshed, every week hundreds of attacks on Americans and Iraqis.
Car bombings. Drive-by shootings. Kidnappings. Torture. Bullet-riddled bodies. Sectarian fighting. It was a horrible end to a horrible year in the Iraq war.

And for two young soldiers, December 2006 was the month that changed everything, forever.

The sky was clear on Dec. 2 when Sgt. John Kriesel's armored Humvee rolled out to check a report of suspicious activity: people digging on a dirt road near Fallujah.

His Humvee was turning a corner when the left front tire ran over something. Riding shotgun in the vehicle, Kriesel heard a metallic plink – like a rock striking a 55-gallon drum.

Then: BOOOM!

The Humvee flew into the air, its doors blowing open, the gunner shooting out of the turret like a Roman candle before the vehicle crashed down on its side.

Kriesel's helmet and glasses flew off as he was thrown to the ground. Rocks rained down in a concrete storm, and Kriesel heard the screeching of twisted metal, then moans, groans, screams.

Strangely, he was calm. He saw the underside of the Humvee; the axle was blown off.

Then he looked down.

His left leg was nearly severed, still tucked in his pants leg, hanging by a piece of skin. His left thigh was split open like a baked potato, with a bone jutting out and blood oozing.

His right leg, from about six inches below the knee, was badly mangled, as if it had gotten stuck in a wood chipper.

“I'm going to die,” he told himself. “This is how it ends.”

Sgt. Kriesel, the eternal optimist, had lost faith
He tried to get up, but it was useless. The bones of his lower left arm were broken; the arm flapped like a door off its hinge. Kriesel, who had trained to be a paramedic, was clear-minded enough to brace his arm to his chest, hoping to avoid nerve damage.
His right biceps had burst; they were peppered with shrapnel. A bracelet in honor of a fallen soldier sliced his right wrist down to the bone.

Kriesel closed his eyes. He couldn't bear to see more.

“Help me! I need help,” Kriesel cried.

“Stay still,” said Sgt. Adam Gallant, who had jumped out of the Bradley ahead of him and had run back. Gallant did a quick assessment. One soldier was dead, another trapped and likely gone. Two others were walking. Kriesel was top priority.

“Kries,” he said, “I'm not going to lie to you, man. Your legs are real bad.”

But he tried to comfort him, too.

“You're going to be OK,” he said. “We're going to take care of you.”

Gallant and another soldier wrapped tourniquets on Kriesel's legs. They propped him up on stacked boxes of MREs so blood would flow to his organs. No one knew it then, but beneath his armor the force of the 200-pound bomb had ripped open his abdomen, and his intestines were exposed.

Kriesel closed his eyes. It was almost like the movies: His life really was flashing before his eyes. He thought of Little League back in Minnesota, his elementary school days...

Then he felt someone shaking his shoulder.

“Keep your eyes open,” he heard. He didn't want to.

He thought of his wife, Katie.

His gunner sat by his side to keep him awake. But the blast had left him with a concussion, and he kept asking Kriesel the same questions:

What's your wife's name?

Your kids' names?

What state do you live in?

Kriesel answered over and over, until he lost patience.

“Leave me alone!” he snapped. “Let me die.”

The soldiers needed to move Kriesel so they could tip the Humvee wreckage and remove another soldier trapped beneath it.

“I ain't going to lie to you, buddy,” Gallant said. “This is really going to suck.”

“What could suck worse?” Kriesel said. “Just go! Let's do it.”

As they picked him up, Kriesel's nearly detached leg flopped onto his chest. He howled in pain. No one knew then that his pelvis was shattered.

He was getting cold. Again, he felt sure he was going to die.

“Tell Katie I love her,” he implored.

“Shut up, you're going to tell her yourself,” Gallant said.

When a young medic arrived, he administered morphine, and Kriesel was loaded onto a chopper. The drug was kicking in. But he managed to give his Social Security number.

Then he closed his eyes again.

At the hospital at the Al Taqaddum Air Base, six surgeons worked on Kriesel as a chaplain stood by in a corner. Once Kriesel was stabilized for transfer to another hospital in Iraq and then to Germany, the doctors placed him in a “hot pocket” – a heated nylon bag from which only a breathing tube was visible.

Some of those who saw him wheeled by felt sure he was dead.

A doctor tried to reassure them. His heart is still beating, he said. He's still alive.

It was almost midnight in Minnesota, and Katie Kriesel was asleep when the phone rang.

“Katie, I need you to sit up,” her mother-in-law said.

John must be dead, she thought.

He wasn't, but the news was grim: John had lost both his legs, one above the knee, the other below.

Katie Kriesel started crying. She called her mother, who lived about a mile away, but she was so choked up, her mother thought something had happened to the boys. She was getting dressed, she said; she'd be right over.

The commotion woke 4-year-old Broden, and Katie tried to calm him, stretching out in his bed, where he dozed off again but she simply watched the clock, hour by hour, waiting for morning and more news.

Over the next two days, Katie tried to maintain normal routines – even taking the boys for a breakfast with Santa – and struggled to keep her voice steady and her eyes dry.

As calmly as she could, she told her sons their dad was hurt and she had to go to Germany to help him.

What kind of hurt? they asked.

“Dad doesn't have his legs anymore,” she said.

They looked puzzled.

Everything will be OK, she said. He'll get a wheelchair.

Later as Katie read her sons a bedtime story, 5-year-old Elijah had a question.

“Are Dad's legs going to grow back?” he asked.

“No, honey, they don't grow back.”

“I just don't want to talk about it anymore,” Elijah said.

That Sunday, Sgt. Travis Ostrom received a call at home.

Terrible news for the 1st Brigade Combat Team: Three casualties from an IED attack. John Kriesel was badly injured, and two other Minnesota National Guardsmen – Specs. Corey Rystad and Bryan McDonough – had been killed.

Rystad, just a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday, was an avid hunter and a natural athlete, a quiet guy who was always asking questions, always interested in learning how to be a better soldier. McDonough, 22, liked to crack jokes; everyone enjoyed being around him. But he had a serious side, too. In an online entry, he had written that he was proud to defend his country and there was “no other place I would rather be.”

Ostrom had to start coordinating the military aspects of two funerals.

It was the most unwelcome part of a job he never wanted.

Ostrom, who had served in Bosnia, Somalia and the Persian Gulf, had expected to be a platoon sergeant in Iraq, but he never got there. A knee injury at the worst possible time, during pre-deployment training in Mississippi, had sidelined him.

While his comrades fought, he was assigned to a lonely armory in Minnesota serving those on the home front.

He felt guilty, but plunged into the crucial job helping families with bills, cutting red tape – and, as now, making preparations for final goodbyes.

That December day, Ostrom quickly called other Bravo Company soldiers on home leave. That way, they'd hear the news from him first. Also, some would be among the dozens of soldiers he'd tap for the sad necessities at hand: to carry flags in honor guards, to drive dignitaries at the two funerals, and to serve as pallbearers.

He scheduled rehearsals at the armory, bringing in a borrowed casket. The soldiers practiced folding the flag, synchronizing the 21-gun salute.

The dutiful sergeant had the same message for all of them: You have just one chance to do it right.

“Did everybody make it out OK?”

It was John Kriesel's first question when he woke up more than a week later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He had no memory of the nine or 10 surgeries he'd undergone, first in Iraq, then at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The look on his wife Katie's face gave him the answer even before she spoke. His two buddies had been killed.

Though Kriesel couldn't recall some things, he knew he had lost his legs.

In fact, he had come close to dying: His back was broken, his stomach, arms and face were pocked with shrapnel. His left arm was broken and part of his colon had to be removed. His pelvis and spine had to be fused with screws and pins.

He'd hardly had a day without surgery.

But already, Kriesel looked better than when Katie had arrived in Germany. She had fallen to her knees when she first saw his swollen face and blood seeping from his wounds. She decided immediately to sleep by his side every night, convinced if he knew, he'd fight harder to survive.

Kriesel wanted to see their sons, and in time he was well enough. Katie already had conferred with a child psychologist about how to prepare them and to describe what they'd see. Elijah and Broden had never visited a hospital or been around anyone disabled.

Put one hand under your knee and one hand above the other knee, Katie told the boys. Now pretend there isn't anything below that anymore. That, she said, is what Dad is like.

When the boys arrived in the lobby, they weren't interested in hearing explanations about bandages, machines or wounds. Dad. Dad. Dad. They just want to see Dad.

As Elijah entered his father's room, Kriesel covered his amputated legs with a blanket.

“You don't have to cover up your ovals, Dad,” said the boy, describing the shape of his wounds. “I'm just glad you're alive.”

That bitter December was winding down when Sgt. J.R. Salzman, just back from home leave, heard about Kriesel. His convoy commander happened to be Kriesel's cousin.

On Dec. 19, Salzman was in the scout truck leading three other Humvees and a 20-vehicle fuel tanker convoy through northwest Baghdad to Tallil Air Base. He was talking with his driver, when there was an enormous blast.

He lost consciousness, then woke to the sound of his gunner screaming obscenities; hot shrapnel had spattered over his legs.

Salzman smelled something sickening, like burning wires, mixing with the smell of burning flesh.

Bleeding and trapped in the still-idling Humvee, he thought of his wife, Josie, whom he'd married just nine months before. He muttered her name.

He tried to grab the right door lever to get out. But he couldn't.

He felt terrible burning and when he looked down, he realized why: His right hand and wrist were gone. About six inches above his wrist, he saw two bones sticking out from chewed-up flesh.

Salzman's Humvee had been hit by an armor-piercing bomb called an EFP – an explosively formed penetrator – that was hidden in a pile of rocks on the right side of the road.

Despite excruciating pain, he kept his cool, checking quickly to see if his left hand was there. It was. But it was swelling in his glove, and he couldn't move two fingers.

He continued the inventory of his body. He rotated his shoulders. He felt below his waist. Everything was there.

He shuffled his feet – and at that moment, he had an incongruous thought that carried him far away, if only for a split second: He could still log roll, something he'd loved since he was 5, something that had made him a champion.

Then his mind snapped back: He needed a tourniquet. He carried two but there was no way he could put one on. He tried to call for help, pressing a radio button with his left thumb, but the blast had fried the electronic equipment.

“Get the medic up here,” he ordered his driver and gunner, “... if I don't get a tourniquet on, I'm going to bleed out.”

Salzman wondered if this was the end, then pushed that thought away.

“No. No. NO WAY am I dying here,” he said to himself. “Not here. Not now. Not today. Not in this country, I'm not dying.”


NOTE: The story of 1st Brigade Combat Team/34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard and its tour in Iraq was reconstructed from scores of interviews with more than 20 soldiers and members of their families. Most quotations are as remembered by the speakers. In addition, the series draws upon numerous official documents, including after-action reports; videos of news conferences; correspondence provided by the families (including e-mails and letters); television coverage of the unit's return; personal journals and blog postings.

Pakistan: A Dangerous Neighbor - The Long War Journal

Pakistan: A Dangerous Neighbor - The Long War Journal: "THE"PRE-DAWN SILENCE in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan province was shattered on July 13 by the racket of machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades; the attack on the new base was fiercer and the insurgent force larger than American troops could have expected. The first enemy fire struck the mortar pit, then their RPGs blew up a tow truck. Stars and Stripes, the U.S. armed forces' overseas newspaper, reported that after two hours of combat "some of the soldiers' guns seized up because they expelled so many rounds so quickly."

The attack on the small base near the remote village of Wanat drew enormous media attention. It was not just the fact that nine American soldiers lost their lives. A reported 200 well-armed insurgents managed to mass around the base and came close to overrunning it. Stars and Stripes noted that "so many RPGs were fired at the soldiers that they wondered how the insurgents had so many." This early morning attack quickly came to symbolize the growing difficulties of the Afghanistan war.

Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has spiked in recent months. According to Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in the region, there were about 40 percent more attacks in eastern Afghanistan over the first five months of 2008 than during the same period a year ago. Schloesser has also described the attacks as "increasingly complex." A mid-July ABC News/Washington Post poll found that a surprising 45 percent of Americans "do not think the war in Afghanistan is
worth fighting," despite the attacks of 9/11.

A critical factor behind Afghanistan's deteriorating state is the turn of events in Pakistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have found a safe haven in recent years. After the October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan felled the Taliban, most of al Qaeda's senior leadership relocated to Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas, the remote and mountainous regions that border Afghanistan, and set about finding allies within tribal society.

Pakistan's military mounted a campaign to flush al Qaeda out of the tribal areas after the group was connected to multiple assassination attempts against Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, but the military suffered so many losses that Musharraf eventually concluded he had no choice but to deal with his would-be killers. In March and September 2006 he consummated the two halves of the Waziristan accords, peace agreements that essentially ceded Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Musharraf also cut deals with Islamic militants in the regions of Swat, Bajaur, and Mohmand. The treaties, punctuated with frequent skirmishes, symbolized Pakistan's inability to confront its extremists.

The negotiation process only accelerated after a new parliamentary majority rode to power in February on a wave of anti-American sentiment. While negotiations and peace deals with militants have long been part of Pakistan's political landscape, the scale of negotiations under the new majority was unprecedented. Talks opened with virtually every militant outfit in the country, and the government has entered into seven agreements encompassing nine districts.

It was easy to predict the failure of the Waziristan accords, in which the government received only unenforceable promises from extremists, and there is no reason to believe that the new accords will yield a different result. Rather, they are likely to increase the geographic areas that serve as safe havens for Pakistan's extremist groups-with predictable harm to Afghanistan.

The primary advantage that terrorist sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan provide to the Afghan insurgency is the ability to operate with relative freedom in that country. The U.S. military is constrained in cross-border strikes and hot pursuit because Pakistan views the tribal areas as sovereign territory. Not only is Pakistan a U.S. ally, but there are also serious concerns that too heavy a U.S. hand in the tribal areas will destabilize the government and push more members of Pakistan's military and intelligence communities and civilian population into the extremists' camp.

Thus, the American military is handcuffed in its ability to respond to attacks when the enemy melts back over Pakistan's border. Reluctance to strike in Pakistani territory also prevents the U.S. military from disrupting the enemy's bases and supply lines. The safe havens in northwestern Pakistan give the Taliban and allied groups a virtually untouchable rear area, where they can recruit, arm, train, and infiltrate fighters into Afghanistan.

Pakistan is used both defensively and offensively by insurgents. The July attack in Nuristan was just one of many attacks along the border. Militant groups based in Pakistan have been able to carry out a string of fresh attacks and bombings in the provinces of Zabul, Paktika, Paktia, Nangarhar, and Kunar--all of which sit along the border.

The second advantage that Afghan insurgents derive from Pakistan is the ability to train and gain combat experience. American military and intelligence officials have told us that more than 100 training camps are operating in the North-West Frontier Province and tribal
areas, up from an estimated 29 camps last year in Waziristan. The camps vary in size and specialty, and some are temporary.

At these camps, a host of extremist groups--including local Taliban organizations, hardcore al Qaeda recruits, and Pakistani terror groups focused on Kashmir-are trained in a variety of tactics, techniques, and procedures. Training for the Taliban's military arm focuses on the fight against the Pakistani army or NATO forces in Afghanistan. Other camps focus on training suicide bombers or preparing al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West. One camp exclusively services the Black Guard, Osama bin Laden's elite bodyguard.

In addition to the training camps, insurgents have gained experience fighting against Pakistan's military, Frontier Corps, and police forces. Though not all Taliban fighters who battle Pakistan's security forces travel to Afghanistan to fight NATO, some do. The Pakistani theater has allowed the Taliban to refine its tactics against a professional military, and these tactics have in turn migrated into Afghanistan.

The peace treaties that Pakistan's government has entered into with extremists also allow a greater flow of recruits to join insurgent groups. Some are volunteers, while others are draftees. The author of a remarkable travelogue about Pakistan's Khyber agency recently published in the English-language daily The News was told by a local business owner that the Taliban forces families to provide one male to join their ranks. "Those who refuse," he was told, "risk having their homes demolished and a heavy fine ... imposed."

Indeed, once peace agreements are signed, the Taliban frequently establishes a parallel political administration. Two of the top priorities are extracting taxes and recruiting fighters. This provides the Taliban with a robust force that allows it to hold local territory and send more fighters to Afghanistan. In fact, the Nuristan assault was conducted by a broad range of extremist groups. Tamim Nuristani, the former governor of Nuristan, said the attackers were "not only Taliban. They were [Pakistan-based] Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hezb-i-Islami, Taliban, and those people who are dissatisfied with the [Karzai] government."

In an effort to defeat NATO, the Taliban and allied groups are targeting coalition supply lines through Pakistan. More than 70 percent of NATO's supplies pass through the Torkham Gate in the Khyber tribal agency. The Taliban runs much of that province, with Pakistani troops heavily patrolling the road to Afghanistan but little else. Despite this military presence, the Taliban still periodically disrupts supply lines. In March, Taliban fighters blew up 36 parked oil tankers destined for Afghanistan in what appeared to be a chain reaction triggered by an initial bomb blast. In July, an armed Taliban squad in Landikotal smashed the windows and punctured the tires of a NATO supply convoy. The Taliban has distributed leaflets threatening drivers who deliver oil or other supplies to coalition forces.

Insurgents in Afghanistan will continue to use the situation in Pakistan to their advantage. One of the keys to a successful U.S. mission in Afghanistan is a sound Pakistan policy. Otherwise, the war may be lost on both fronts

[bth: successful insurgencies invariably seem to have an outside base for logistics and support.]

War and Piece: More informatio non the Anthrax case

War and Piece:: "Among"the unsealed evidence released today on the FBI's anthrax suspect Bruce Ivins, this:

1) At the time of the attacks, he was the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks; (2) Ivins has been unable to give investigators an adequate explanation for his late night laboratory work hours around the time of both anthrax mailings; (3) Ivins has claimed that he was suffering serious mental health issues in the months preceding the attacks, and told a coworker that he had "incredible paranoid, delusionl thoughts at times" and feared that he might not be able to control his behavior; (4) Ivins is believed to have submitted false samples of anthrax from his lab to the FBI for forensic analysis in order to mislead investigators; (5) at the time of the attacks, Ivins was under pressure at work to assist a private company that had lost its FDA approval to produce an anthrax vaccine the Army needed for U.S. troops, and which Ivins believed was essential for the anthrax program at USAMRID; and (6) Ivins sent an email to-[redacted]! a few days before the anthrax attacks warning that "Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas" and have "just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans," language similar to the anthrax letters warning "WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX . . . DEATH TO AMERICA . . . DEATH TO ISRAEL."

It's hard to understand why they didn't arrest Ivins instead of hounding him and his family for several months until he commit suicide.

[bth: so why wasn't he arrested earlier?]

Maryland teen arrested after bomb materials, Camp David map found

The Raw Story | Maryland teen arrested after bomb materials, Camp David map found: "18"year-old Collin McKenzie-Gude of Bethesda, Maryland, is now under federal investigation after police found a stockpile of weapons and chemicals in his home.

McKenzie-Gude was arrested with a 17-year-old high school friend and his father, 62-year-old Joseph L. Gude, after an attempted carjacking and assault of a 78-year-old man at a local mall on July 29. The FBI, CIA, Secret Service and the Pentagon have joined local police after the discovery of the Camp David map, a presidential motorcade map, a fake CIA identification card, armor-piercing ammunition, two bulletproof vests, and a list "outlining things to accomplish by October 2008," said Assistant State's Attorney Peter Feeney. Also found were bomb-making chemicals, timers, and a list of addresses of faculty members of St. John's College High School, from which he'd recently graduated.

The 17-year-old has been accused of stealing letterhead from the Montgomery 1st District precinct where he interned to help procure materials restricted to law enforcement officers.

McKenzie-Gude is being held in solitary confinement on $750,000 bond, facing weapons and explosives charges, while his friend is being charged as a juvenile with theft, computer misuse and conspiracy. Joseph Gude, accused of buying guns for his son, faces weapons charges.

The Gazette reported that a concerned aunt had attempted to report McKenzie-Gude to 1st District police on July 22, the day after he brought an AK-47 to the home of his unnamed friend. "When I went to the police they said all kids are interested in guns," the unnamed aunt said. "That it's no big deal." On July 23 the Gaithersburg Police Department took a report, but the aunt continued to press the issue, delivering a letter to county police chief J. Thomas Manger on July 28 saying that she had found items in her nephew's bedroom, including research on the chemicals later found at McKenzie-Gude's residence.

The home search was conducted after the 1st District questioned McKenzie-Gude on July 29 on the aunt's reports. He reportedly "said no and ran to the parking lot and sped away," allegedly attempting the carjacking later that day.

"Corrective action" has been taken in handling citizen reports like the one the companion's aunt made, assured 1st District commander Capt. Darryl McSwain

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Demetri Martin Stand Up Presentation from Demetri Martin

Demetri Martin Stand Up Presentation from Demetri Martin: "
See more Demetri Martin videos at Funny or Die
See more Demetri Martin videos at Funny or Die

Killing Friends, Making Enemies: The Impact and Avoidance of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan by J Alexander Thier and Azita Ranjbar: USIPeace Briefing: U.S. Institute of Peace

Killing Friends, Making Enemies: The Impact and Avoidance of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan by J Alexander Thier and Azita Ranjbar: USIPeace Briefing: U.S. Institute of Peace: "Synopsis"

This USIPeace Briefing discusses the enormous problem of civilian casualties in Afghanistan; the “troops-in-contact” dilemma regarding air power; challenges in intelligence gathering; losses in the information war with Taliban forces; and policy recommendations to mitigate this trend.


The inadvertent killing of Afghans by U.S. and NATO forces undermines the international community’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and has resulted in a decline in approval and support for international military forces in the country. While the U.S. is in its seventh year of intervention in Afghanistan, the insurgency continues to grow. From 2002 to 2006, insurgent-initiated attacks increased by 400 percent and deaths resulting from these attacks jumped by 800 percent.1

The low number of ground troops stationed in Afghanistan, combined with an increase in insurgent attacks, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of air power from an average of 5,000 pounds of munitions per month in 2005 to an average of 80,000 pounds per month since June 2006, peaking at 168,000 pounds in December 2007. As a result, civilian casualties increased by 62% in 2008, compared to figures from the first six months of 2007.2 According to the Afghan government, an air strike by international forces on July 4 in Nangrahar province allegedly killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, although NATO has claimed that those killed in the strike were insurgents.3 This incident came just 1 day before a terrorist car bomb in Kabul killed 41 and injured 130, mostly civilians.4

Reducing civilian casualties is a moral and strategic issue. The overall effectiveness of air strikes in a counter-insurgency environment is debatable, as a large number of civilian deaths undermines battlefield successes. In order to win the confidence of the Afghan people and to counter the growing insurgency, it is critical that civilian casualties be minimized.

USIP’s Afghanistan Working Group hosted three experts to discuss this important and timely issue: Elizabeth Rubin, The New York Times; Nader Nadery, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; and Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch.

The Cause of Civilian Casualties

Stabilizing Afghanistan requires the support of the Afghan people. This presents a fundamental dilemma in that stability requires security, and security requires targeting insurgents, which, in turn invariably leads to civilian deaths. These civilian casualties have led to the erosion of civilian support for the counter-insurgency.

Troop levels in Afghanistan have been insufficient given the geographic and demographic scope of the challenge, resulting in increased reliance on air power as a substitute for ground forces. In early 2004, prior to the resurgence of the Taliban, the total combined International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was 6,500 troops, with an additional 12,000 troops in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Overall troop levels have tripled since then, with approximately 65,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including 30,000 non-U.S. soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), 23,000 U.S. ISAF troops, and an additional 12,000 mostly U.S. forces under Operation Enduring Freedom command. The U.S. continues to lobby NATO allies for a greater commitment of troops and military assets for Afghanistan.

Although air strikes have somewhat successfully targeted militants, they have also significantly increased the number of innocent deaths. The correlation between the increase in insurgent attacks and air strikes parallels the relationship between utilizing aerial munitions and civilian casualties.

“Troops-in-Contact” Dilemma

NATO and the U.S. military use both preplanned and spontaneous air strikes based on combat conditions. Largely due to increased intelligence, strikes planned in advance have caused zero civilian casualties in the past two years. Collateral damage mitigation procedures range from requiring positive identification to altering the angle, depth, and type of bomb used. Approximately two-thirds of bombs currently used are low-collateral munitions. A “pattern of life” analysis—an assessment of who lives in a particular structure or area—is also required prior to calling in an air strike. The daily activities of suspected militants are tracked and analyzed to ensure that civilians are not mistakenly targeted.

The second type of air strike is a result of “troops-in-contact.” This generally occurs when a small number of troops confront militants and, after an initial exchange of fire, call in an air strike. During impromptu strikes, there is not sufficient time to complete a formal collateral damage assessment, resulting in property damage, injury, and death of innocent Afghans. In 2006 and 2007, almost every civilian casualty caused by NATO was a result of this type of incident. The increase of insurgent tactics that include firing from homes and other populated areas has significantly boosted civilian casualties. Instead of calling in troops-in-contact air strikes, soldiers are increasingly being encouraged to withdraw and disengage when confronted by overwhelming force.

The Intelligence Challenge

One of the main challenges that NATO and the U.S. military face in successfully targeting militants is incomplete or faulty intelligence. There are many instances where soldiers have to make quick decisions based on incomplete data that is difficult to verify, and even some cases where the military has been manipulated into targeting the rivals of informants. Often, if soldiers wait for confirmation of intelligence, the suspected militants have already moved. Other means of gathering intelligence can often conflict with Afghan culture. Searches of compounds and forced entry into houses are deeply offensive, especially when women and children are present. Arbitrary detentions also provoke anger and frustration.

The military needs better intelligence to avoid civilian casualties and seeks cooperation with local Afghans in order to acquire information. Civilian casualties, however, lead to a lower probability that Afghans will provide accurate information in the future. Even if intelligence is accurate, if Taliban reside in a particular locale, strikes against them are also likely to take civilian lives, further decreasing the likelihood of any future cooperation. Knowing this, the Taliban provoke air attacks and use civilians as human shields. The Taliban also threaten and kill alleged informants.

Losing the Information War

Given the remoteness of many Afghan villages and the difficulty of distinguishing between civilian victims and combatants, it is difficult for international forces and the Afghan government to release casualty figures immediately following air strikes. Even when the numbers are available, these forces frequently refuse to comment. Meanwhile, the Taliban have become increasingly effective at manipulating the media by providing inflated numbers of civilian casualties immediately following air strikes and inciting anger against international forces through exploiting such incidents in frequent propaganda campaigns.

The Way Forward

It is critical that international forces continue to develop collateral damage mitigation procedures in order to prevent civilian casualties. International forces should avoid calling in air strikes whenever possible until thorough collateral damage assessments are completed. It is also necessary for forces to conduct thorough evaluations following each air strike to evaluate the effectiveness of preventative techniques and intelligence sources.

In order to decrease the frequency of close air support strikes, long-term strategies must be developed, including an increase in the number of ground troops engaged in offensive and defensive operations to decreased reliance on air power. Such an increase in ground forces should prevent troops-in-contact incidences, which typically occur when militants outnumber NATO troops patrolling the ground. Recent announcements by the U.S., Germany, Britain, and France for planned troop increases are a step in the right direction, but these forces must also be equipped with sufficient maneuverability to get to less accessible areas.5

Collateral damage assessments require greater transparency, and investigations of alleged civilian deaths should be carried out in conjunction with the government of Afghanistan. Partnering with the Afghan government will increase the legitimacy of these evaluations and demonstrate international commitment to preventing future causalities. International forces must also become more effective at communicating openly with the media and Afghan people to counter Taliban propaganda. Therefore, results of collateral damage assessments should be published and provided to the general public in a timely manner, and families impacted by U.S. and NATO actions should be offered condolence payments, as well as reparations for property damage.

This is a critical time for NATO to reevaluate its strategy in Afghanistan. International forces face challenges, particularly the growing insurgency and mounting instability along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. If NATO hopes to successfully counter these challenges it must retain the support of the Afghan population by preventing further injury to innocent civilians.

[bth: there is a real trade off. If troops are in contact then overwhelming power needs to be used. There is a school of thought that more US troops aren't necessarily the best ways to fight a counterinsurgency in a muslim country. So there are trade-offs. Nevertheless the increase in the use of airpower is just staggering. Is it the use of 'smart' munitions that is kicking it up or the availability of more UAVs? Or is it that the Air Force is desparate to get into the fight?]

"War on Terror" reconsidered

Blog: Nukes & Spooks: ..."Fast"forward nearly seven years. The new conventional wisdom says that military force, while a necessary part of the "toolkit," is not the main way to fight terrorism. Some go further, saying the whole idea of a "war on terrorism" misconstrues the problem--and the solution.

Exhibit A is a new report entitled "How Terrorist Groups End," by Seth Jones and Martin Libicki of the RAND Corp. The authors surveyed 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, looking at how those groups ended. They found that nearly half (43 percent) of the groups ended their terrorism by joining the poltical process. Of the remaining groups, another 40 percent were defeated via intelligence and police work. Ten percent of the terrorist groups ended by achieving their goals through violence (not a good percentage from the terrorists' point of view), while just 7 percent were defeated by military force.

"Militaries tend to be most effective when used against terrorist groups engaged in an insurgency in which the groups were large, well-armed and well organized. Insurgent groups have been among the most capable and lethal terrorist groups, and military force has usually been a necessary component in such cases," Jones and Libicki write. "Against most terrorist groups, however, military force is usually too blunt an instrument."

What does this mean for the struggle against al Qaida? The two analysts say that U.S. strategy against the group has largely failed to achieve its objectives, as al Qaida remains "strong and competent," and in some areas, resurgent. They say that policing and intelligence should be the backbone of a U.S. strategy. Military force will be necessary, but it should be primarily local military, not American. "The U.S. military ... should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment," the study says.

Most of all, the pair favor ditching the phrase war on terror. It gives the false impression that there's a battlefield solution to the problem, they write, and elevates criminals and murderers to the status of holy warriors.

Exhibit B is the new National Defense Strategy released today by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates sees a years-long struggle against violent extremist groups--a struggle he pointedly does not call the war on terror but rather the Long War.

Much like the RAND study, Gates says military force is not the most important tool in dealing with terrorism.

"The use of force plays a role, yet military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies," the report says.

"For these reasons, arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves," it says.

So there you have it. The new conventional wisdom. For now.

War Is Halo - Telepresence Options

War Is Halo - Telepresence Options

YouTube - Will Ferrell IPod

YouTube - Will Ferrell IPod: ""

NW Pakistan ‘On the Brink of Civil War’ - NW Pakistan ‘On the Brink of Civil War’: "Pakistan’s"military claims to have killed at least 94 Taliban militants in stepped-up operations in the North West Frontier Province’s Swat valley, following the collapse of a truce.

Amid reports that the militants are trying to get reinforcements into the affected area from neighboring tribal regions, the Taliban has denied the casualty claim, saying on the contrary that it had killed 70 security force members in a week of fighting, while sustaining only nine losses.

The military action was launched after Islamic militants last week attacked security checkpoints and killed three intelligence officials. More than 20,000 troops are reported to be involved in the fighting, targeting forces loyal to the Swat-based radical cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, head of the Swat faction of the umbrella Pakistan Taliban Movement or TTP.

Army Brig. Zia Anjum Bodla told reporters in Swat that the Taliban had repeatedly violated a peace agreement signed last May with the NWFP government. The military action would continue until the area was cleared of insurgents.

“This time we will fight decisively to achieve our ends,” he maintained.

Bodla said apart from the enemy casualties, at least 15 security forces and 28 civilians had also been killed.

The provincial government negotiated a peace agreement because, it said, a military-driven strategy to restore calm to that area had failed – a view shared by the national government in Islamabad. But the U.S. and Afghan governments and NATO officials in Kabul say peace deals in the tribal and border areas have merely worsened security inside Afghanistan, while doing little to curb violence on the Pakistan side of the border either.

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan contested the military casualty figures, and vowed that the fighting would continue.

“[The] NWFP government has deceived us by launching the military operation and we will avenge it for this. It is following Washington’s policies but we will continue to fight against United States both in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said by phone from the Matta area.

“They are in the mountains and they are in the villages among the civilian population,” said Matta resident Khan Nawab, who also voiced concern about the army tactics.

“The military is using gunship helicopters to flush them away but sometimes it kills more civilians than the Taliban,” he said. “It creates resentment among the local population and the government should consider this issue seriously.”

Under the peace agreement signed on May 21, the Taliban demanded the implementation of Islamic law in the area incorporating Swat, and the withdrawal of security forces and police from the valley.

It also expected the release of 19 Taliban fighters, and when this did not materialize, it intensified attacks against security personnel.

Girls’ schools were also targeted by the militants, who view education for girls as un-Islamic. The NWFP ministry of education reports that at least 58 girls’ schools had been attacked or torched

“I fail to understand how you can sign peace with a group that is adamant on bringing destruction to the region and its people,” said Zia-ud-Din Yousafzai, a political analyst based in Swat.

He said this was the government’s last chance to put an end to the violence.

“We are virtually at the brink of a civil war,” Yousafzai said. “It the military fails to curb militancy then I fear people themselves will fight for their survival. They have no other choice.”

Taliban sources said Fazlullah has asked TTP leaders in neighboring tribal areas – the Mohmand and Bajaur agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – to send fighters to help in the fight against security forces in Swat.

District officials in Swat, however, said security along roads leading to the valley had been tightened. At least 30 suspected militants heading for Swat had already been captured by the security forces, they said

As Iraq Surplus Rises, Little Goes Into Rebuilding -

As Iraq Surplus Rises, Little Goes Into Rebuilding - "Soaring"oil prices will leave the Iraqi government with a cumulative budget surplus of as much as $79 billion by year’s end, according to an American federal oversight agency. But Iraq has spent only a minute fraction of that on reconstruction costs, which are now largely borne by the United States

The unspent windfall, which covers surpluses from oil sales since 2005, appears likely to reinforce growing debate about the approximately $48 billion in American taxpayer money devoted to rebuilding Iraq since the American-led invasion.

In one comparison, the United States has spent $23.2 billion in the critical areas of security, oil, electricity and water since the 2003 invasion, the report said. But from 2005 through April 2008, Iraq has spent just $3.9 billion on similar services.

Over all, the report from the Government Accountability Office estimates, Iraqi oil revenue from 2005 through the end of this year will amount to at least $156 billion. And in an odd financial twist, a large amount of the surplus money is sitting in an American bank in New York — nearly $10 billion at the end of 2007, with more expected this year, when the accountability office estimates a skyrocketing surplus.

The report was requested by two senior senators, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and on Tuesday they were quick to express strong dissatisfaction over the contrast between American spending on reconstruction and the weak record of spending by Iraq itself.

“The Iraqi government now has tens of billions of dollars at its disposal to fund large-scale reconstruction projects,” Mr. Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a joint statement with Mr. Warner. “It is inexcusable for U.S. taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for projects the Iraqis are fully capable of funding themselves. We should not be paying for Iraqi projects, while Iraqi oil revenues continue to pile up in the bank.”

From the beginning of the conflict, American officials assured taxpayers and the world that Iraq would use oil money to pay for reconstruction. But that has not happened. Several senior Iraqi officials were either traveling on Tuesday or declined to comment, saying they were not familiar with the report.

Sinan al-Shabibi, governor of the Central Bank of Iraq, which the report said was holding $5.7 billion of the surplus at the end of 2007, said that while he could not speak for the government, problems with spending money often had to do with continuing security problems and a shortage of expertise in Iraqi ministries.

“Yes, there are problems, but that does not mean those problems are going to continue,” Mr. Shabibi said. “In all developing countries you put objectives, and sometimes you don’t reach them.”

“But,” he said, referring to the government, “they are determined to spend this money on development. They see it as a priority.”

Senators Levin and Warner pointed out that in 2007, for example, Iraq actually spent only 28 percent of its $12 billion reconstruction budget, according to the accountability office. But even that number could overstate the success rate in most of Iraq, because $2 billion of the spending took place in the relatively peaceful confines of the northern Kurdish region.

And in another troubling sign, the report said that from 2005 to 2007, Iraq devoted only 1 percent of the operating expenses in its budget to maintaining reconstruction projects that had been built with either American or Iraqi money. That finding raised fresh questions over whether the huge investment in some of those projects would have any long-term impact....

[bth: rising oil prices TRIPLED the GDP of Iraq. There is no excuse other than incompetence and corruption. Fact is there is so much oil money flowing into Iraq that on a per capita basis they would rival the American middle class economically. ... See the article below about the Iraq army not having trucks. This is pure incompetence and corruption. Its as simple as that.... Has anyone stopped and asked what the American public gets out of this adventure besides dead soldiers, a huge deficit and $120 bbl oil?]

Tales of Addiction, Anxiety, Ranting -

Tales of Addiction, Anxiety, Ranting - "Late"last fall, Bruce E. Ivins was drinking a liter of vodka some nights, taking large doses of sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, and typing out rambling e-mails into the early morning hours, according to a fellow scientist who helped him through this period.

It was around the time that FBI agents showed Ivins's 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims who had died in the 2001 anthrax attacks and told her, "Your father did this," the scientist said. The agents also offered her twin brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case -- and the sports car of his choice.

Ivins "was e-mailing me late at night with gobbledygook, ranting and raving" about what he called the "persecution" of his family, said the scientist, a recovering alcohol and drug user who had been sober for more than a decade. The scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he had been contacted by a co-worker of Ivins's at the sprawling Army biodefense laboratory in Fort Detrick and that the co-worker said the veteran anthrax researcher "has really gone down the tubes."

The scientist agreed to help Ivins, focusing on a 12-step recovery program. He was one of many people who intervened in Ivins's life before he committed suicide last week as law officials were preparing to indict him in the anthrax attacks that killed five people.

Before he died July 29 of a Tylenol overdose, Ivins, 62, had two inpatient stays at Maryland hospitals for detoxification and rehabilitation and attended two sets of therapy sessions with a counselor who eventually sought court protection from him.

Ivins had just returned from a four-week stay at a psychiatric hospital in Western Maryland in late May when he wrote the fellow scientist in recovery a calm, six-sentence e-mail. "I hope," it said, "that both of us avoid relapsing into our previous substance abuse." Since his death, Ivins's long-term mental health and the psychological effects of the investigation have become increasingly prominent questions

The counselor he saw for group therapy and biweekly individual sessions, who would eventually tell a judge that he was a "sociopathic, homicidal killer," had a troubled past. Jean C. Duley, who worked until recent days for Comprehensive Counseling Associates in Frederick, is licensed as an entry-level drug counselor and was, according to one of her mentors, allowed to work with clients only under supervision of a more-seasoned professional.

Shortly before she sought a "peace order" against Ivins, Duley had completed 90 days of home detention after a drunken-driving arrest in December, and she has acknowledged drug use in her past.

In a 1999 interview with The Washington Post, Duley described her background as a motorcycle gang member and a drug user. "Heroin. Cocaine. PCP," said Duley, who then used the name Jean Wittman. "You name it, I did it

Ivins starting working with Duley after a stint in rehabilitation about six months ago. It was not the first time, though, that people sensed that he had an addiction problem. W. Russell Byrne, an infectious disease specialist who worked with Ivins in the bacteriology division at Fort Detrick until Byrne's 2000 retirement from the Army, has kept up with his former colleagues. Byrne said he remembers offering Ivins a beer one night several years ago when Ivins made a rare appearance at a party at Bushwaller's, an Irish pub in the heart of Frederick where their crowd of scientists sometimes gathered. "He declined," Byrne recalled. "He said he had a family history of alcoholism."

Gerry Andrews, who worked with Ivins at Fort Detrick for nine years and was the bacteriology division's chief from 2000 to 2003, said that it was rare for Ivins to join the other researchers after work for beer and that Ivins drank so little he was kidded about being a teetotaler.

Andrews said that after he retired from the Army, he kept in touch with Ivins via e-mail, sharing jokes and pondering scientific questions. Then in fall 2007, Andrews said, "he kind of fell off the radar screen. I found out that there was some issues with his house being surveilled."

According to the scientist, who said he spent about 80 hours with Ivins to help him recover from his addiction, the FBI agents pressured Ivins's children, and they were pressuring Ivins in public places. One day in March, when Ivins was at a Frederick mall with his wife and son, the agents confronted the researcher and said, "You killed a bunch of people." Then they turned to his wife and said, "Do you know he killed people?" according to the scientist.

The same week, Ivins angrily told a former colleague that he suspected his therapist was cooperating with the FBI. On March 19, police were called to Ivins's home and found him unconscious. He was evaluated at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

Ivins was an inpatient in April at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, the scientist said, and it was during that time that Ivins and the scientist had especially intense visits. And in a late morning e-mail to him on May 26, Ivins wrote: "I just came back from 4 weeks of rehab at the Massie Unit of the Finan Center in Cumberland. It was a good program. . . . They talk about relapse triggers, relapse prevention, stress management, etc."

It is unclear when Ivins began to see Duley at Comprehensive Counseling, 1 1/2 miles from his home. According to a court filing last month, Duley said she had known Ivins for six months. Another source said Ivins began to see her after he left Suburban Hospital.

A spokeswoman at Suburban, while not confirming whether Ivins had been a patient, said the behavioral medicine department there sometimes gives patients lists of places near their homes where they can pursue outpatient therapy, including Comprehensive Counseling.

According to court records, Ivins also saw a psychiatrist, David Irwin, at Shady Grove Psychiatric Group in Gaithersburg, although it is unclear when he was a patient there. Neither Irwin nor Duley have returned repeated phone calls. Allan Levy, Duley's boss and the director of Comprehensive Counseling, declined to comment

Duley, seeking the protective order against Ivins, testified before a Frederick County judge last month, saying that Ivins had said during a July group therapy session that he had bought a bulletproof vest and a gun to carry out "a very detailed plan to kill his co-workers." When she sought to have him committed, she said, he threatened her. To this day, Duley is the only person who has said publicly that Ivins intended to kill. In court testimony, she said she was cooperating with the FBI.

Staff writers Aaron C. Davis and Michael E. Ruane and staff researchers Julie Tate and Meg Smith contributed to this report.

[bth: so Duley, who is the only person that claims to have been threatened by Irwin was a drug addict and cooperating with the FBI while being his therapist? What the? So what if any evidence whatever does the FBI have in this case besides Ivins having access to anthrax and a potential, thin theoretical financial motive in finding and licensing (via the government) a vaccine? ... So far as I can tell, Duley's credibility just went right out the window. Gone. ... Now what? Does the Ivins family sue the FBI and win a settlement just like Hatfield? Is this the best we've got?]

YouTube - Critical Mass Bicyclist Assaulted by NYPD

YouTube - Critical Mass Bicyclist Assaulted by NYPD: ""

Moqtada Packs It In -

Moqtada Packs It In - "Good"news out of Iraq is becoming almost a daily event: In just the past week, we learned that U.S. combat fatalities (five) dropped in July to a low for the war, that key leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq have fled to the Pakistani hinterland, that troop deployments will soon be cut to 12 months from 15, and that Washington and Baghdad are close to concluding a status-of-forces agreement.

Now this: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr plans to announce Friday that he will disarm his Mahdi Army, which was raining mortars on Baghdad's Green Zone as recently as April. Coupled with the near-total defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, this means the U.S. no longer faces any significant organized military foe in the country. It also marks a major setback for Iran, which had used the Mahdi Army as one of its primary vehicles for extending its influence in Iraq.

The story, broken yesterday by the Journal's Gina Chon, marks the latest of serial defeats for Mr. Sadr, beginning in February 2007 when he was forced underground (reportedly to Iran) in anticipation of the surge of U.S. troops. More recently, the Mahdi Army was defeated and evicted from Basra and other southern strongholds by an Iraqi-led military offensive. The Mahdi Army capitulated without a fight from its Baghdad enclave of Sadr City. Now the young cleric will focus his group's efforts on politics and social work, perhaps while he pursues theological studies in Iran. He wouldn't be the first grad student in history with a tendency toward rabble-rousing....

[bth: it could be that he has lost his funding - lost control of Basra, lost control of his extortion racket over petrol, lost his extortion racket at the markets and didn't gain access to the collection boxes and the main tourist mosques. If the Iranians cut him off then what does he have? No cash flow, no army.]

Iraqi Army Is Willing, but Not Ready, to Fight -

Iraqi Army Is Willing, but Not Ready, to Fight - ..."But"asked whether that army is ready as a national defense force, capable of protecting Iraq’s borders without American support, Lieutenant Mahmoud gestures toward his battalion’s parking lot. A fifth of the vehicles are rotting trucks and bomb-demolished Humvees that, for some complicated bureaucratic reason, are still considered operational.

“In your opinion,” Lieutenant Mahmoud says, “do you think I could fight an army with those trucks?”

While Americans and Iraqi civilians alike are increasingly eager to see combat operations turned over to the Iraqi Army, interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province, at the outset of a large-scale operation against insurgents led by Iraqis but backed by Americans, reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness.

The army has made huge leaps forward, most of the soldiers agreed, and can hold its own in battles with the insurgency with little or no American support. But almost all said the time when the Iraqi Army can stand alone as a national defense force is still years away.

“You can’t go from a lieutenant all the way to a general at once,” said one Iraqi officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “The army needs more time.”

While the infantry is strong enough, Iraq needs viable artillery units, armored divisions, air force support and more reliable battlefield equipment, the officers said, plus the training all that requires. The soldiers and officers are for the most part zealously patriotic, but their zeal is tempered by the knowledge that they are the ones who may face the armies of neighboring countries, like Iran, after American combat forces withdraw.

“It is 2008,” said Lt. Col. Muhammad Najim Khairi, a young officer in the Third Battalion of the Iraqi Army’s 19th Brigade. “We are too many years behind other countries. We need the coalition forces until 2015.”...

These discussions boil down to one complaint: that the Americans have stopped providing them with batteries, fuel, tires and other basic equipment they need, and that the Iraqi military authorities have not picked up the slack.

That led Lieutenant Mahmoud to say that because of corruption and logistical problems this army was years away from being able to protect the country on its own. The Iraqi Army, he said, is up to the task but lacking the tools....

Because of his successful approach, he runs one of the few battalions in Diyala that does not have its own dedicated American military transition team.

But Colonel Mahmoud is more pessimistic than most about an Iraqi future without American combat troops.

“Believe me,” he said. “There will be a big disaster.”

Sitting at his headquarters, Colonel Mahmoud sees signs of the future: continuing supply problems and the involvement of Iran in Iraqi affairs. When his troops come across insurgents’ weapons caches, they sometimes find what he says are Iranian weapons that are more up to date than anything in his arsenal.

“The Iranian side will play their game,” he said with a tone of resignation, “once the coalition forces pull out.” ...