Saturday, August 23, 2008

Minstrel Boy

UnionLeader.com - New Hampshire news, business and sports - Effort afoot to help wounded soldiers reunite - Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008

UnionLeader.com - New Hampshire news, business and sports - Effort afoot to help wounded soldiers reunite - Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008: "MONT"VERNON – Since Sgt. Ryan Pitts was seriously injured in Afghanistan on July 13, his mother, Kelly, has been at his side as he recovers at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Now, Kelly is on a mission to help her son get overseas so he can reconnect with his fellow survivors in the Battle of Wanat and to say goodbye to his friends who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Pitts, a 2003 graduate of Souhegan High School and a member of the 173rd, 2-503 Airborne, was in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province with members of his division, along with soldiers from other groups, at a forward operating base.

The base, which had been established just a few days earlier, according to an article about the battle in Stars and Stripes Magazine, came under attack by between 200 and 400 Taliban insurgents.

During several hours of intense combat, soldiers had to defend themselves against gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades launched by the insurgents. Nine American soldiers died and 15 others, including Pitts, were seriously injured.

Pitts and 10 of his comrades were sent back to the United States after the battle and have spent the past month at Walter Reed.

"They are all friends of Ryan's and Craig (Pitts' father), and I have had the opportunity to meet them and their families," Kelly said.

Pitts' rehabilitation has been brutal, Kelly said. She has kept a blog documenting her son's progress at www.caringbridge.org/visit/ryanpitts (Click for link).

On Thursday, frustrated with the bureaucratic struggles of being a soldier's parent, she wrote: "It is becoming very clear why post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse and drug overdoses are prevalent. So many things are inefficient and downright stupid. Let's just say we are struggling to find that 'new normal.'"

Part of the new normal is giving Pitts a chance to say goodbye to the friends he lost in Afghanistan while allowing him to mourn and reconnect with those who survived.

There are a series of welcome home events in September for the Warriors of the 173rd, 2-503 (INF) Airborne, including a memorial service for the 25 soldiers from Pitts' unit who died in Afghanistan in various battles. There's also going to be a July 4th celebration and a Family Appreciation day.

"We have a tremendous need, an immediate, urgent need," said Kelly. "All of them desperately want to be reunited with their comrades to mourn those lost, reconnect with their buddies, and heal.''

Kelly Pitts would like to see all of the men get to the homecoming events, which will be held in Vincenza, Italy, where the unit is based. Finding the money necessary to get 11 soldiers to Europe is a bit daunting.

"If the 2-503 were based in the United States, things would be quite a bit less complicated," said Kelly, but she believes if people step forward to help, the problems can be fixed.

"We need money," Kelly said. "We need to raise about $20,000 in just a couple of weeks."

Kelly has teamed up with Leda Curruth, whose nonprofit organization, "Americas Wounded Heroes," is collecting tax-deductible donations to help the soldiers get to Italy.

Anyone wishing to donate to Kelly's cause can send a check made out to Americas Wounded Heroes to Jo-Ellen Redmond, 86 Mack Hill Road, Amherst 03031 (Federal ID No. 26-0449825). The checks will then be forwarded to Kelly.

2 Marines found in contempt of court - Los Angeles Times

2 Marines found in contempt of court - Los Angeles Times: "Two"Marines refused to testify Friday against a former squad leader accused of killing Iraqi detainees, angering a prosecutor who said their refusal does grave harm to the government's case in the first civilian trial of a former service member accused of violating military rules of engagement.

The prosecutor asked the judge to jail the Marines for failing to testify, but the judge refused.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson, who is presiding over the trial in Riverside of former Sgt. Jose Nazario, said putting Sgt. Ryan Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson in jail would not convince them to testify. He had jailed both for refusing to testify to the grand jury earlier this year.

Weemer and Nelson face murder charges at Camp Pendleton in the same alleged killings with which Nazario is charged. The prosecution against Nazario is being watched closely because of its unique blend of the civilian and military worlds.

In the past, Weemer and Nelson have given detailed statements about the 2004 incident, which occurred in the first day of the Marines' bloody, 10-day assault on insurgent strongholds in Fallouja, west of Baghdad.


Separately, the two told of taking four Iraqis as prisoners in a barricaded house and said Nazario killed two of them and ordered them to kill one each. The Marines opted to kill the four rather than take time to process them according to the law-of-war rules during the fast-moving battle, the two alleged.

On Friday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jerry Behnke asked Larson to immediately put Nelson and Weemer in jail for six months. Larson refused, but set a Sept. 29 hearing to determine what, if any, punishment the two Marines shud receive for being in contempt of court.

Attorneys for Nelson and Weemer said their clients are concerned that their testimony could be used against them in their upcoming courts-martial. Larson said he has been assured by Marine superiors that the immunity given the two in federal court will be honored.

Still, the two Marines would not budge, to the exasperation of Behnke, who called the move "a fraud on this jury."

"I don't think what is happening now is right and fair to the government and the United States," Behnke said.

Larson said he shares Behnke's frustration but is convinced nothing will coerce the two combat veterans to testify. "My suspicion is, given what the men have been through, there is not a lot they're afraid of," Larson said.

Nazario is charged under a 2000 law that allows federal prosecutors to charge Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors for crimes committed overseas. Nazario's supporters insist a civilian jury cannot understand the chaos and pressures of combat.

Weemer and Nelson on Friday were dressed in their military uniforms. Outside the courtroom, each embraced Nazario, who wore civilian clothes, and when they entered the courtroom they called one another "brother."

Before Larson decided whether to jail the two Marines, Joseph Low, who represents Nelson, asked the judge to consider "the unique sacrifices Sgt. Nelson has made for all of us -- that we all live under the blanket of freedom he provides with the blood that flows through his veins."

Weemer's attorney, Chris Johnson, asked Larson to "look at the Purple Heart on this decorated Marine's chest."

Weemer and Nelson initially said they would not testify because the immunity from prosecution that they received did not extend to the military courtroom. The letter of immunity came from a top lawyer at Camp Pendleton but not the top general.

But when Larson asked about it, they said they would not testify even if they had a signed letter of immunity from the general.

"Well, this has been a charade then, hasn't it?" Larson said.

Earlier, Larson had told the Marines that "nothing that is said in this courtroom can be used down at Camp Pendleton."

Weemer's past admissions about the killings came during a polygraph test administered in 2006 by the Secret Service when he was applying for a job. His admission provoked the investigation that led to military charges against him and Nelson, and civilian charges against Nazario, who had left the Marine Corps in 2005 after eight years.


Nelson spoke to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent in 2007 and later, at the agent's request, made a telephone call to Nazario and tried to get him to make incriminating statements.

Nelson, in the interview with the agent, said Nazario told him during the battle, "I'm not doing this (expletive) all myself. You're doing one and Weemer is doing one."


Once they hired attorneys, neither Weemer nor Nelson has been willing to discuss the Nov. 9, 2004, incident with investigators for the prosecution.

Both refused to testify before a federal grand jury investigating Nazario's role even though prosecutors promised that nothing they said could be used against them in their courts-martial.

After they still refused to testify, they were found in contempt of court by Larson and jailed.


Nelson, 26, served 18 days in two stretches, and Weemer, 25, served 21 days before Larson determined that keeping them behind bars would not compel them to testify.

The issue of whether a promise of immunity in the federal court can be binding on prosecutors in the military system is one of the legal complexities of the case. Another issue is whether military prosecutors will gain an advantage against Weemer and Nelson by listening to them testify at Nazario's trial.

Several Marine Corps prosecutors from Camp Pendleton were in the audience in the Riverside courtroom

Weemer and Nelson, despite their early cooperation and admissions, face more serious charges than Nazario, who has denied any wrongdoing. Weemer and Nelson face unpremeditated murder charges that could bring life sentences.

Weemer and Nelson are still in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton.

Both have received the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing and been ordered to trial by Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commanding general of the Marine Force Central Command.

The charges against Nazario -- manslaughter, assault and using a firearm in a violent crime -- carry a maximum sentence of about 10 years, according to federal prosecutors. He was charged in federal court because he had left the Marine Corps, and thus was not subject to military law, before the investigation began in 2006.

On Thursday, Nazario's attorneys indicated that they plan to use a two-pronged defense: The killings did not occur, but if they did occur, they were justified during the violent, fast-moving battle in Fallouja as Marines sought to protect themselves against insurgents eager to kill them.

Larson ruled Thursday that if Weemer does not testify, his interview with the Secret Service cannot be used by the prosecution as evidence. The judge did not mention Nelson's tape-recorded interview with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Much of the pretrial discussion has involved whether civilian jurors judging Nazario's actions can understand combat.

But the case could hinge on the issue of whether jurors believe there is sufficient evidence that any killings occurred.

Prosecutors intend to call two Marines who were part of the same squad and allegedly saw the dead bodies minutes after they were shot but did not witness the shootings.

"There was no self-defense, there was no hostile intent [shown by the Iraqis]," Behnke said. "These were executions."

tony.perry@latimes.com
Crooks and Liars

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: Will Maliki "torpedo" the peace?

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: Will Maliki "torpedo" the peace?: "In"restive Diyala Province, United States and Iraqi military officials say there were orders to arrest hundreds of members of what is known as the Awakening movement as part of large security operations by the Iraqi military. At least five senior members have been arrested there in recent weeks, leaders of the groups say.

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

“The state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”

The government’s rising hostility toward the Awakening Councils amounts to a bet that its military, feeling increasingly strong, can provide security in former guerrilla strongholds without the support of these former Sunni fighters who once waged devastating attacks on United States and Iraqi targets." NY Times

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Well, Jalaladeen, if "their days are numbered," then so are yours. In spite of McCain's baloney, it was the rallying of the Sunni Arabs to the common cause against the AQI fanatics that was principally responsible for the security improvement in the country. Men who once fought us and the Shia dominated government can return to fighting us if disappointed.

The Iranian mediated settlement in Basra and elsewhere should not comfort anyone. It is merely a demonstration of Iranian strength among the Shia factions.

"...a bet that its military, feeling increasingly strong, can provide security in former guerrilla strongholds without the support of these former Sunni fighters..."

This would be a fool's wager. It shows the desperate desire of the Shia Arabs to rule over the Sunni Arabs as overlords. IMO, they lack the strength to pacify the Sunni Arabs without resorting to mass slaughter using modern weapons, aircraft, artillery, etc. These weapons would inflict casualties on Sunni civilians that would amount to genocide.

If that happens the Islamic World will rally behind the Sunni Arabs in support of an insurgent campaign that will last for a long, long time
. pl

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/world/middleeast/22sunni.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

M of A - Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number

M of A - Around the Hindu Kush, 30 is a Magic Number: "..."-led coalition forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan yesterday, most of them children, the country's Interior Ministry said.

The coalition denied killing civilians. Civilian deaths in military operations have become an emotive issue among Afghans, many of whom feel international forces take too little care when launching air strikes, undermining support for their presence.

"Seventy-six civilians, most of them women and children, were martyred today in a coalition forces operation in Herat province," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province on Friday afternoon, the ministry said. Nineteen of the victims were women, seven of them men and the rest children under the age of 15, it said.

US-led coalition forces denied killing any civilians. They said 30 militants had been killed in an air strike in Shindand district in the early hours of Friday and no further air strikes had been launched in the area later in the day.

[bth: there is every indication that the numbers of Taliban casualties and number of civilian casualties are being largely faked by coalition forces. A stupid and petty loss of credibility results which is very difficult if not impossible to get back.]

Afghanistan: 76 civilians die in airstrike, ministry claims | World news | The Guardian

Afghanistan: 76 civilians die in airstrike, ministry claims | World news | The Guardian: "US"-led coalition forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan yesterday, most of them children, the country's Interior Ministry said.

The coalition denied killing civilians. Civilian deaths in military operations have become an emotive issue among Afghans, many of whom feel international forces take too little care when launching air strikes, undermining support for their presence.

"Seventy-six civilians, most of them women and children, were martyred today in a coalition forces operation in Herat province," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province on Friday afternoon, the ministry said. Nineteen of the victims were women, seven of them men and the rest children under the age of 15, it said.

US-led coalition forces denied killing any civilians. They said 30 militants had been killed in an air strike in Shindand district in the early hours of Friday and no further air strikes had been launched in the area later in the day....

Military Analysis - Russians Melded Old-School Blitz With Modern Military Tactics - Military Analysis - NYTimes.com

Military Analysis - Russians Melded Old-School Blitz With Modern Military Tactics - Military Analysis - NYTimes.com:... "Despite"a recent increase in Russian long-range bomber flights along old, cold war routes near United States airspace, the offensive into Georgia gave little indication of a renewed capacity or renewed interest in global projection of power by the Russians.

But Moscow’s military is wholly capable of pressing the Kremlin’s designs on hegemony over the formerly Communist states along the border that Russian leaders call “the near abroad.”

Russia prepared the battlefield in the months leading up to the outbreak of fighting
.

In April, Russia reinforced its peacekeeping force in Abkhazia with advanced artillery, and in May it sent construction troops to fix a railroad line linking that area with Russia.

Georgia’s overmatched army of about 30,000 was able to field four combat brigades of about 3,300 soldiers each.

At the start of the fighting, the Georgian Army’s First Brigade was in Iraq, and was airlifted home aboard American aircraft — but without their war-fighting gear. The Fourth Brigade was in training for the next rotation to Iraq. The Second and Third Brigades were in western Georgia, closer to Abkhazia than to South Ossetia, where the fighting started.

The American military training for the Georgian troops has been described as involving counterterrorism for domestic security and counterinsurgency for the Iraq mission, with little emphasis on taking ground, holding ground or defending against invasion.

Against the Russians, Georgian command and control withered quickly, and army and police units were operating on their own, often at cross purposes or overlapping missions.

Although the Georgians had been taught that speed of operations brings a mass all its own to the battlefield, and that improving accuracy in firepower brings a mass all its own, the lesson of the conflict is that, in some cases, mass has a mass all its own.

Russia easily smothered the smaller Georgian force.

The west is strategically wrong on Georgia

FT.com / Comment & analysis / Comment - The west is strategically wrong on Georgia: "Sometimes"small events can portend great changes. The Georgian fiasco may be one such event. It heralds the end of the post cold-war era. But it does not mark the return of any new cold war. It marks an even bigger return: the return of history.

The post cold-war era began on a note of western triumphalism, symbolised by Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History. The title was audacious but it captured the western zeitgeist. History had ended with the triumph of western civilisation. The rest of the world had no choice but to capitulate to the advance of the west.

In Georgia, Russia has loudly declared that it will no longer capitulate to the west. After two decades of humiliation Russia has decided to snap back. Before long, other forces will do the same. As a result of its overwhelming power, the west has intruded into the geopolitical spaces of other dormant countries. They are no longer dormant, especially in Asia.

Indeed, most of the world is bemused by western moralising on Georgia. America would not tolerate Russia intruding into its geopolitical sphere in Latin America. Hence Latin Americans see American double standards clearly. So do all the Muslim commentaries that note that the US invaded Iraq illegally, too. Neither India nor China is moved to protest against Russia. It shows how isolated is the western view on Georgia: that the world should support the underdog, Georgia, against Russia. In reality, most support Russia against the bullying west. The gap between the western narrative and the rest of the world could not be greater.

It is therefore critical for the west to learn the right lessons from Georgia. It needs to think strategically about the limited options it has. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, western thinkers assumed the west would never need to make geopolitical compromises. It could dictate terms. Now it must recognise reality. The combined western population in North America, the European Union and Australasia is 700m, about 10 per cent of the world’s population. The remaining 90 per cent have gone from being objects of world history to subjects. The Financial Times headline of August 18 2008 proclaimed: “West in united front over Georgia”. It should have read: “Rest of the world faults west on Georgia”. Why? A lack of strategic thinking.

Mao Zedong, for all his flaws, was a great strategic thinker. He said China always had to deal with its primary contradiction and compromise with its secondary contradiction. When the Soviet Union became the primary contradiction, Mao settled with the US, even though it involved the humiliation of dealing with a power that then recognised Chiang Kai-shek as the legitimate ruler. The west must emulate Mao’s pragmatism and focus on its primary contradiction.

Russia is not even close to becoming the primary contradiction the west faces. The real strategic choice is whether its primary challenge comes from the Islamic world or China. Since September 11 2001, the west has acted as though the Islamic world is the primary challenge. Yet rather than devise a long-term strategy to win over 1.2bn Muslims, the west has jumped into the Islamic world with no strategy. Hence there are looming failures in Afghanistan and Iraq and an even more hostile environment in the Islamic world.

Many European thinkers are acutely aware of the folly of many US policies. But they are reluctant to confront the dangers of outsourcing their security to US power. In security, geography trumps culture. Because of geography, Europe has to worry about Islamic anger. Because of the Atlantic Ocean, the US has less reason to do so.

In the US, leading neo-conservative thinkers see China as their primary contradiction. Yet they also support Israel with a passion, without realising this stance is a geopolitical gift to China. It guarantees the US faces a hostile Islamic universe, distracting it from focusing on China. There is no doubt China was the bigger winner of 9/11. It has stabilised its neighbourhood, while the US has been distracted.

Western thinkers must decide where the real long-term challenge is. If it is the Islamic world, the US should stop intruding into Russia’s geopolitical space and work out a long-term engagement with China. If it is China, the US must win over Russia and the Islamic world and resolve the Israel-Palestine issue. This will enable Islamic governments to work more closely with the west in the battle against al-Qaeda.

The biggest paradox facing the west is that it is at last possible to create a safer world order. The number of countries wanting to become “responsible stakeholders” has never been higher. Most, including China and India, want to work with the US and the west. But the absence of a long-term coherent western strategy towards the world and the inability to make geopolitical compromises are the biggest obstacles to a stable world order. Western leaders say the world is becoming a more dangerous place, yet few admit that their flawed thinking is bringing this about. Georgia illustrates the results of a lack of strategic thinking.

The writer, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (National University of Singapore), has just published ‘The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresis­tible Shift of Global Power to the East’

Friday, August 22, 2008

""

Predator Drone On L.I. Sparks Terror Investigation - News Story - WNBC | New York

Predator Drone On L.I. Sparks Terror Investigation - News Story - WNBC | New York: "A"predator drone being built by an engineer on Long Island sparked a large counter-terrorism investigation across the New York area, officials tell WNBC.com. Police said they had stumbled upon overnight testing of the drone at a little-used airstrip in Calverton, Long Island.

The investigation began in February of last year, when investigators first learned testing of the drone was underway. Officials said the drone was being designed to carry more than 600 pounds of explosives.

"It could be in the air for 8-10 hours and there's potential harm if it is carrying a large amount of toxic material," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in explaining why his department's counterterrorism officials were concerned.

Police surveillance video obtained by News 4 New York shows a white van rolling onto the tarmac, a small group of men jumping out and ground testing the unmanned flight vehicle.

Kelly said the engineer building the drone never reported his work to any agency including the Federal Aviation Administration or local authorities. Investigators said concern increased for a time when they learned the man behind the project was an Egyptian national who had entered the U.S. on a Sudanese passport.

"It was such a bizarre set of circumstances," said New York State Homeland Security Director Michael Balboni. "Of course we watched it as closely as we did anything that was on our radar screen."

NYPD officials worked with Suffolk County police and the FBI to determine there were no ties to terror. Under questioning, the engineer said he was an inventor hoping to sell this drone model to the U.S. military. NYPD Lieutenant William McGroarty said during the investigation they had other questions.

"What if this individual could not sell to the military?” McGroarty asked. “Would he then turn and sell it to the highest bidder?"

The military uses unmanned aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan. But security officials worry about terrorists acquiring them. Earlier this year, Homeland Security officials issued a general bulletin warning they could be used "as an improvised explosive device.”

In this case, police said there is no evidence any laws were broken as the drone was tested on the ground. Officials said if it had gone into the air without prior FAA approval, it could have been considered a crime.

While there are no terror links, police said their investigation continues. The engineer, who News 4 New York will not name because he was not charged, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. His drone project has now been taken over by a Maryland-based company that has registered with the FAA, officials said. One investigator said the engineer, at best, had showed poor judgment in trying to do the project in a manner that raised so many alarms.

After repeated requests for information about this investigation, law enforcement agencies agreed to talk about the case to highlight the city's "Operation Sentry." This NYPD program enables city and suburban police to better share threat information. Officials said the drone investigation is one recent example of how Suffolk County police officials quickly engaged the NYPD's counter-terrorism division to help investigate the report of a predator drone sighting.

"Regional cooperation is the order of the day. Law enforcement gets it and is communicating more than ever before," Kelly said.

[bth: this technology is getting easier and easier. There is no reason Egypt, the Sudan or just about any other country in the world can't be building squadrons of UAVs just like Israel, South Africa, Argentina and many others are doing.]

Excerpt from New Joe Galloway Book: 'On War'

Excerpt from New Joe Galloway Book: 'On War': "NEW"YORK Two weeks ago, E&P reported that the long-awaited sequel to "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young" was about to be published. The book, by legendary war reporter Joseph L. Galloway and Lt. Gen Harold Moore (Ret.), is now here, and it is titled, "We Are Soldiers Still." An excerpt appears below.

The first book was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson as Moore and Barry Pepper as Galloway.

In the new book, Galloway and Moore explore their relationships with 10 American veterans of the 1965 battle at Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, along with Lt. Gen. Nguyen Hu An, who commanded the North Vietnamese Army troops. Galloway was awarded a Bronze Star for valor for his actions then, a rare honor for any journalist.

In a pre-publication review, Publishers Weekly observed: "It would be a monumental task for Moore and Galloway to top their classic 1992 memoir... But they come close in this sterling sequel." Kirkus Reviews: "A worthy and wise successor to one of the best books ever about combat in Vietnam."

The publicity release for the book explains: "Traveling back to the red-dirt battlefields, commanders and veterans from both sides make the long and difficult journey from old enemies to new friends."

Galloway is a frequent columnist at E&P. He covered at least seven wars after Vietnam and recently retired at Knight Ridder/McClatchy. In a note to me this month, he described Chapter 12, titled "On War," a "distillation of our combined 75 plus years of firsthand experience of wars and warriors and offers some lessons applicable to today."
Here is the excerpt from Chapter 12, "On War."
*

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, there’s no one more cautious and conservative when it comes to starting a war than old soldiers and old generals who have spent a career, indeed a lifetime, fighting and commanding in wars and suffering the consequences. In the words of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant: “There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.”

The two of us are, by virtue of our ages, creatures of the last half of the 20th Century and the early years of the 21st and have felt in full the weight of that old Confucian curse “May you live in interesting times.” Our professions—mine as a career Infantry officer and Joe’s as a foreign and war correspondent—have ensured that we have more than a passing familiarity with the wars and upheavals that have ensued.

Neither of us is a pacifist; neither a jingoist or a war lover. Most wars are cruel and costly mistakes whose causes are rooted in the failure of diplomacy and poor judgment in national leaders. It is far easier to get into a war than it ever is to get out of one. The outcome is seldom what those who championed a war, any war, envisioned when first the bands began to play and soldiers began to march. No one at the time reckons that war will consume billions or even trillions of dollars that might have been better spent on the real needs of a nation and people. Few foresee the crowding of military cemeteries and military hospitals that are the inevitable consequence of war, along with grief-stricken families who have lost a beloved young man or woman and lives not yet lived.

War is absolutely the last card any national leader should play, and only when every other alternative has been exhausted. If the hand was being played by an old soldier, a war veteran, I can assure you he would guard that war card to the bitter end and play it reluctantly and with the fear and trepidation of experience.

There are tests to be met and questions to be answered before going to war: Is it truly in the interest of our national security? Do the people support such a decision and are they willing to serve in that war and sacrifice for it? Is the military fully prepared, trained and armed to win that war? Do our military planners have an exit strategy? What of our enemy? Do we understand enough about his culture and history and motivation to fight him intelligently? How long is he prepared to continue the fight? Are we prepared to fight at least that long, plus one day more?...

The questions above demand answers and careful thought before the war drums are sounded and the dogs of war let loose. These times, indeed all times, demand national political leaders who know not only our history but the history of the world and its nations and peoples. We need leaders of principle, courage, character, wisdom and discipline and yet we seem trapped by a system of choosing our presidents that pushes those who possess those traits aside in favor of others who look good on television, are skilled at slandering and demonizing their opponents in a campaign and are able to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars required to ensure election at any cost....

We are six years into this unnecessary war and our military is on the verge of breakdown. The demands of Iraq have eaten up our strategic reserves and we now have no forces available to cope with emergencies in a world made far more dangerous and hostile to the United States by Mr. Bush’s misadventure. I remember with sorrow how low our Army sank in the wake of the withdrawal from Vietnam and how hard and costly it was to repair and rebuild that Army into the vibrant and competent force that swept Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army out of Kuwait in less than a week in 1991.

Those who brought us to this war with such certainty about how easy and quick it would end should be assigned to write long essays on these words from Erasmus: Dulce bellum inexpertis. (“War is delightful to those who have no experience of it.”) George W. Bush should have old Erasmus’s words carved over the entrance to the planned $500 million Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. War is never easy or cheap. Never. When any political leader thinks of starting one he should first seek advice from those who bear the scars and memories of combat and the wives and children of the fallen who live their lives with forever broken hearts.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander-in-chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful and slow—exceedingly slow—to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in 60-second sound bites and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake--and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million other Americans gave their lives to protect and defend
.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Greg Mitchell (gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is editor. Galloway wrote the introductin to his new book on Iraq and the media, "So Wrong for So Long."

[bth: I have corresponded periodically over the last five years with Mr. Galloway. I just admkire his columns and his perspective. In a word, wisdom. Wisdom.]

How To Burn the Speculators

How To Burn the Speculators: "Whenever"economies sour, politicians blame speculators. But on occasion, they are right to do so. Speculators did wreak havoc in 1630s Holland, 1720s France, and in the American stock market in 1929. That crash led to the Great Depression and 60 years of tight controls on speculation. Now, thanks to our 30-year infatuation with free markets, the controls are off, and the mad gamblers are at it again. Yesterday's burst bubble was housing; today's expanding ones are energy and food. True, we have major long-term energy problems that cannot be laid at the feet of speculators. To avoid catastrophic global warming, we will be obliged to reengineer the country, from housing to transport to forests, and also to develop and export the technologies required for the rest of the world to do likewise. Eight years of George W. Bush's policies have made this much harder, and during that time the world may have passed "peak oil"—that moment when half the recoverable reserves of conventional oil have been drained and burned—so that from now on short supplies will be endemic. Meanwhile, demand grows, notably from China and India, which account for nearly 40 percent of the world's population.

But do supply and demand explain oil prices at $140 per barrel, with voices from Goldman Sachs projecting $200 for next year (a figure that would push gas prices above $5 per gallon) and Russia's Gazprom saying $250, despite a likely US recession? Do they explain the historic price hikes in rice, corn, and wheat, leading to hunger in the developing world? Do they explain the absolutely stratospheric price of copper? No they do not.

Yes, Virginia, speculators can affect the price—if they are large and relentless enough to dominate a market, and especially if they can store the commodity and keep it off the market as the price rises.

Futures markets exist to permit commercial interests to hedge their business risks. For a fee, a farmer (or oil producer) can put a floor under the price at which his product will sell. The forward price is normally a bit lower than the current price, but the contract protects the farmer from a catastrophic price slump—such as may occur in (for instance) bumper years. Speculators buy the futures on the chance that the market price will be substantially higher. They make a respectable profit on what is in effect an insurance function, and a killing in years of drought, flood, and war.

This system works reasonably well so long as speculators do not actually control or manipulate prices. For if they can drive prices way up, they can obviously cash in while the farmer (who has presold his crop) cannot. Strict regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (cftc) is supposed to prevent that.

But thanks to Phil "nation of whiners" Gramm—the former Texas senator who was until recently John McCain's top economic adviser (see "Foreclosure Phil")—futures market regulation went to hell. Under the "Enron loophole" pushed through by Gramm in 2000, energy futures were allowed to escape all federal and state regulation. Gramm embedded that loophole in a surprise 262-page rider, drafted at the behest of Wall Street and Enron, in an 11,000-page appropriations bill on a Friday evening two days after the Supreme Court handed down its Bush v. Gore ruling and as Congress was rushing home for Christmas. In a separate bit of absurdity, in January 2006, the Intercontinental Exchange (ice) of Atlanta, which trades benchmark US oil futures (West Texas Intermediate or wti), came to be treated by the cftc as a British market (the "London loophole") so that US regulators do not even track what is going on. (Even more surreal, the cftc was going to allow trades of US oil futures on terminals located in America to be "regulated" in Dubai; political pressure put an end to that idea in July.)

Worse still, Gramm's Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 also opened the way for growth in deregulated "credit default swaps"—a way in which financial institutions "insured" that bad loans would not cause them losses. This, combined with other deregulatory moves by the cftc, broadened the "swaps loophole," an enormous backdoor into the commodities markets, basically permitting speculators making bets off the commodities exchanges to be treated as "commercial interests"—like say, farmers—and hence avoid the scrutiny (including limits on the size of their bets) normally applied to financial players. Thus today, when officials like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson say that speculation is not a factor in the commodity markets, they're not counting hedge funds and investment banks as speculators—even though that's what they really are.

According to Senate testimony on June 3 by Michael Greenberger, who used to head the cftc's division of trading and markets, if swaps were properly labeled, about 70 percent of the oil futures now traded on the New York exchanges would be deemed speculative, not commercial, and subjected to a high degree of regulatory scrutiny.

Okay, let's think this through. First, vast sums of money are flowing through regulatory loopholes into the commodities markets, particularly for oil. Second, spot prices (those charged for immediate sale) in all commodity markets have been soaring. In particular, Americans now pay an average of $4 per gallon for gas. Is it possible that these two events are unconnected? Is it possible that Paulson—former ceo of Goldman Sachs—is right when he says that the price of oil is being driven mainly by supply and demand?

No, and Senate testimony in May by Michael W. Masters, a hedge fund manager, illustrates why not. Masters points to the spectacular rise of "index speculation," in which pension funds and other investors invest in the commodities futures markets according to formulas created by, among others, (guess who?) Goldman Sachs. Index speculation investments have risen from $13 billion to more than $250 billion since 2003. Masters calculates that the speculative demand for Texas oil futures from this source is now five times the actual 2003 stockpile (the baseline he used); for corn and aluminum the figure is about nine times; for silver it's a phenomenal fourteen times. There is of course no way that the orders represented by all those futures contracts could be met.

So the futures price goes up. As it does, supplies actually disappear. For instance, copper expert Frank Veneroso believes that 800,000 tons of copper has been hidden away in China, waiting to emerge closer to the market top. For Saudi Arabia and perhaps Russia the matter is simpler: Oil stays in the ground, and the oil not sold boosts the price of the oil that is. As current prices soar, the index speculators obey their computer programs, which tell them to pour still more money into the commodity markets.

There may be a further element at play, according to an April speech by Attorney General Michael Mukasey: "International organized criminals control significant positions in the global energy and strategic-materials markets. They are expanding their holdings in these sectors, which corrupts the normal functioning of these markets and may have a destabilizing effect on US geopolitical interests." To whom exactly Mukasey is referring, he does not say. But that organized criminal interests have the motive, means, and opportunity—handed to them by Phil Gramm—to destabilize the world energy markets seems quite clear.

On these matters, there is a quick fix. Under pressure, the cftc is closing the London loophole. Early in the next administration, Congress must slam shut the Enron and swaps loopholes. Index speculation should be curtailed by making such strategies illegal for regulated pension funds and by imposing limits for all traders on how much they can buy or sell. Investment banks using credit default swaps to enter the commodities markets should be regulated to the standards that apply to speculators, not as if they were heating-oil vendors hedging against a warm winter. Investigations now under way at the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Justice should be intensified, and criminal manipulation of the markets, if detected, should be punished.

Finally, the federal government should burn the oil speculators by selling up to 4 million barrels a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And as economist Tom Palley has pointed out, consumers can help too. An awful lot of gas is stored in cars. If people stop topping off and make do with half a tank, they'll back up supply and lower demand. It's a brilliant suggestion and definitely worth a try.

And while this is being done, and especially if all this smoke leads to fire, someone should ask, "What did Henry Paulson know, and when did he know it?"


James K. Galbraith is a contributing writer for Mother Jones.

[bth: of course this same approach can be used by terrorists or governments that are able to cause fear in the markets or disrupt supplies. Billions cna be made. Putin et al, Sunni terrorists, all they have to do is pay a car bomber to blow himself up outside a refinery or invade Georgia while having their surrogate brothers over in Switzerland hold then dump a large futures position. ... If a person can make the news, they can make the markets. This can't be lost on Russia oligarchs or their political patrons, or on families like the Bin Ladens.]

War and Piece: Oil Speculators

War and Piece:Oil Speculators. WP:

Regulators had long classified a private Swiss energy conglomerate called Vitol as a trader that primarily helped industrial firms that needed oil to run their businesses.

But when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission examined Vitol's books last month, it found that the firm was in fact more of a speculator, holding oil contracts as a profit-making investment rather than a means of lining up the actual delivery of fuel. Even more surprising to the commodities markets was the massive size of Vitol's portfolio -- at one point in July, the firm held 11 percent of all the oil contracts on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange.

The discovery revealed how an individual financial player had gained enormous sway over the oil market without the knowledge of regulators. Other CFTC data showed that a significant amount of trading activity was concentrated in the hands of just a few speculators.

The CFTC, which learned about the nature of Vitol's activities only after making an unusual request for data from the firm, now reports that financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency. That figure may rise in coming weeks as the CFTC checks the status of other big traders. [...]

CFTC documents show Vitol was one of the most active traders of oil on NYMEX as prices reached record levels. By June 6, for instance, Vitol had acquired a huge holding in oil contracts, betting prices would rise. The contracts were equal to 57.7 million barrels of oil -- about three times the amount the United States consumes daily. That day, the price of oil spiked $11 to settle at $138.54. Oil prices eventually peaked at $147.27 a barrel on July 11 before falling back to settle at $114.98 yesterday.

The documents do not say how much Vitol put down to acquire this position, but under NYMEX rules, the down payment could have been as little as $1 billion, with the company borrowing the rest..

So much for supply and demand. More on Vitol:
A British oil company which once employed senior Tory Alan Duncan as a consultant paid $1 million to the Serbian war criminal Arkan to settle a score over a secret oil deal to supply Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia with fuel.

An investigation by The Observer has established that millionaire oil trader Bob Finch, director of Vitol, based in Knightsbridge, London, used Arkan as a 'fixer' after a controversial oil deal in the former Yugoslavia collapsed.

Documents obtained by The Observer reveal that in 1995 Vitol signed a deal with a Serbian company, Orion, to sell thousands of tonnes of oil to the former Yugoslavia.

The deal was struck with Belgrade-based businessman Zveto Dragovic in June 1995 while the Bosnian conflict was still raging and UN sanctions were in place. Vitol insists the oil was delivered only after sanctions were suspended and the deal was therefore entirely legal.

Only weeks after the deal was struck Serb forces walked into the United Nations 'safe area' of Srebrenica and led 6,000 Bosnian Muslims to their deaths. [...]

Vitol's involvement with Arkan came to light as a result of a £122 million court case involving a controversial oil deal in Iran. British businessman Kaveh Moussavi accuses Vitol of cutting him out of a deal to transport millions of gallons of oil from the Caspian Sea in the north of the country to the Gulf in the south.

Also see James Galbraith's "How to Burn the Speculators."

Iraq Takes Aim at Leaders of U.S.-Tied Sunni Groups - NYTimes.com

Iraq Takes Aim at Leaders of U.S.-Tied Sunni Groups - NYTimes.com: ..."The"state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”

The government’s rising hostility toward the Awakening Councils amounts to a bet that its military, feeling increasingly strong, can provide security in former guerrilla strongholds without the support of these former Sunni fighters who once waged devastating attacks on United States and Iraqi targets. It also is occurring as Awakening members are eager to translate their influence and organization on the ground into political power.

But it is causing a rift with the American military, which contends that any significant diminution of the Awakening could result in renewed violence, jeopardizing the substantial security gains in the past year. United States commanders say that the practice, however unconventional, of paying the guerrillas has saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers.

“If it is not handled properly, we could have a security issue,” said Brig. Gen. David Perkins, the senior military spokesman in Iraq. “You don’t want to give anybody a reason to turn back to Al Qaeda.” Many Sunni insurgents had previously been allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist groups.

Even before the new pressure from the government, many Awakening members were growing frustrated — and at an especially delicate time. United States and Iraqi negotiators have just completed a draft security agreement that next year, Iraqi officials say, would substantially pull American forces back from cities and towns to be replaced by Iraqi security forces. ...

And while American officials are insistent that the program to pay militia guards continue to operate, General Perkins said it was not yet clear what recourse the military would have to prevent the Iraqi government from ending the program once it took control. “We don’t want this to be a dead-end, kick them to the curb kind of thing,” he said.

Despite the threat of arrest by General Nassir’s troops if he returns to his home village west Baghdad, Abu Azzam, who had been an Awakening leader between Abu Ghraib and Falluja, said he has been able to travel to Baghdad to meet with aides to Mr. Maliki to discuss how the Shiite-dominated government and former Sunni guerrillas might be able to reconcile.

“Our men worked hard and deserve appreciation and not punishment from the government,” he said.

He described the discussions as “not going well,” though he said some Maliki aides preferred a more conciliatory tack.

“For now, everything is stopped,” he said. He also said he feared the pullout of American troops, whom he saw as restraining the Shiite government from taken even harsher action against the Awakening. “America is the only one asking us not to fight the Maliki government.”

As part of the Awakening’s efforts to transform itself into a political movement, Abu Azzam has organized a political slate for the coming provincial elections and says he has renounced violence for good. He is optimistic that some former fighters will not return to armed conflict if the government refuses them jobs, he said.

But he acknowledged, “Part of them will fight the government if they are not recruited into the security forces.”

64 in Pakistan Die in Bombing at Arms Plant - NYTimes.com

64 in Pakistan Die in Bombing at Arms Plant - NYTimes.com: "Two"suicide bombers killed at least 64 people outside Pakistan’s biggest weapons factory complex on Thursday, in the deadliest attack by the Taliban since they began hitting Pakistani government sites with suicide bombers more than 18 months ago.

The Taliban said the bombings were in response to a fierce Pakistani military campaign, including fighter jets and helicopter gunships, that has unfolded over the past two weeks in the tribal region of Bajaur.

The insurgents warned of more attacks if the government continued its campaign, which the military says has led 200,000 people to flee their homes
. ...

The fighting in Bajaur has been the most intense since then, and the Taliban attacks on Thursday made it clear that, even with Mr. Musharraf gone, any attempt to challenge the militants’ strongholds would be met with retaliation — suicide bombings aimed at bringing the insurgent war home to the heart of Pakistan.

The vivid displays of carnage pose one of the greatest challenges to any post-Musharraf government that might be willing to meet Washington’s demand for greater action against the militants, who have used the tribal areas to stage attacks on American forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistanis suffered 56 suicide attacks last year, killing more than 400 civilians. The previous biggest attack came during the election campaign in February, when a suicide bomber at a rally in the tribal areas killed 55 people, according to a tally by the daily newspaper Dawn.

The attack on Thursday was directed against the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, a complex of more than 16 factories with about 20,000 workers. It seemed timed to cause maximum casualties, coming as it did during the afternoon change of shifts.

The complex, which makes ammunition, rifles, pistols and explosives both for the Pakistani Army and for export, is only about 20 miles north of the capital, at a place called Wah.

A retired general who headed the ordnance factory at Wah, Talat Masood, said that in choosing the weapons complex, the Taliban had selected a symbolically important industry, and one that Pakistanis had thought virtually impregnable.

The insurgents were also intent, General Masood said, on trying to intimidate the new civilian government. “They are trying to give a signal that they can hit at any defense installation,” he said of the Taliban. “And they are intensifying the pressure on the civilian government to stop the Bajaur operation.”

Since Mr. Musharraf resigned on Monday, the leaders of the two main political parties, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, have been embroiled in a power struggle over who should replace the president. ...

Though the Pakistani military has offered no explanation for the fighting, it called in airstrikes starting on Aug. 8 after a ferocious Taliban ambush of three convoys of the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary group under the command of the army.

After three days of fighting, the corps was forced to retreat to its headquarters in Khar, the capital of Bajaur.

The government’s airstrikes since then appear to have hurt the Taliban, analysts say. The army says about 400 Taliban were killed, a figure that analysts described as substantial but that could not be independently verified.

The airstrikes, however, have also exacted a heavy civilian toll; that has tended to inflame public opinion against the campaign, revealing the severe limitations of the army’s counterinsurgency techniques.

The Pakistani military, which remains focused on India and regards the Taliban as a lesser threat, has yet to retool itself for a counterinsurgency, despite having received $12 billion in aid from Washington since 9/11 for the fight against the militants
.

Many of the people who have fled Bajaur are now squatting in camps around the city of Peshawar, 50 miles south of Khar. In interviews on Thursday, they said they were upset that so many civilians had been killed in the air raids.

Fazle Sadiq, a primary school teacher, said the wife of a school principal and four others were killed in one airstrike in his village in Bajaur.

The government can’t win just with airstrikes,” said Mr. Sadiq, who had arrived at a camp at Nowashera on Wednesday. “If they want to re-establish their authority, they have to send ground troops.”

He added: “Their authority has completely collapsed. They have only two or three towns
.”

In another illustration of how prepared the Taliban are to execute suicide attacks, on Tuesday a bomber hit the emergency room of the government hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the edge of the tribal areas, killing 32 people and wounding 55.

That attack came just an hour after a Shiite leader had been murdered in the town, and a large group of followers were taking the body to the mortuary at the hospital. The Taliban, who are Sunni, apparently had a suicide bomber immediately ready and in place to blow himself up in the crowd.

The Taliban attack on the Shiites occurred the day after Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, and the timing drew considerable attention.

“This is significant, because it has been claimed all along that the Taliban are attacking the army and blowing up government installations because the former president had made this country America’s ally,” an editorial in Dawn said.

Now, the Taliban had decided to “declare war on the democratic government” as well, the paper said.

But it was not yet clear, the paper said, that the new civilian government had either the time or the inclination to demonstrate that, no matter who controlled the country, terrorism would be treated as Pakistan’s No. 1 enemy.

[bth: essentially the Taliban has carved out a Talibanistan from the flank of Pakistan and Afghanistan.]

64 in Pakistan Die in Bombing at Arms Plant - NYTimes.com

64 in Pakistan Die in Bombing at Arms Plant - NYTimes.com: "Two"suicide bombers killed at least 64 people outside Pakistan’s biggest weapons factory complex on Thursday, in the deadliest attack by the Taliban since they began hitting Pakistani government sites with suicide bombers more than 18 months ago.

The Taliban said the bombings were in response to a fierce Pakistani military campaign, including fighter jets and helicopter gunships, that has unfolded over the past two weeks in the tribal region of Bajaur.

The insurgents warned of more attacks if the government continued its campaign, which the military says has led 200,000 people to flee their homes
. ...

The fighting in Bajaur has been the most intense since then, and the Taliban attacks on Thursday made it clear that, even with Mr. Musharraf gone, any attempt to challenge the militants’ strongholds would be met with retaliation — suicide bombings aimed at bringing the insurgent war home to the heart of Pakistan.

The vivid displays of carnage pose one of the greatest challenges to any post-Musharraf government that might be willing to meet Washington’s demand for greater action against the militants, who have used the tribal areas to stage attacks on American forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistanis suffered 56 suicide attacks last year, killing more than 400 civilians. The previous biggest attack came during the election campaign in February, when a suicide bomber at a rally in the tribal areas killed 55 people, according to a tally by the daily newspaper Dawn.

The attack on Thursday was directed against the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, a complex of more than 16 factories with about 20,000 workers. It seemed timed to cause maximum casualties, coming as it did during the afternoon change of shifts.

The complex, which makes ammunition, rifles, pistols and explosives both for the Pakistani Army and for export, is only about 20 miles north of the capital, at a place called Wah.

A retired general who headed the ordnance factory at Wah, Talat Masood, said that in choosing the weapons complex, the Taliban had selected a symbolically important industry, and one that Pakistanis had thought virtually impregnable.

The insurgents were also intent, General Masood said, on trying to intimidate the new civilian government. “They are trying to give a signal that they can hit at any defense installation,” he said of the Taliban. “And they are intensifying the pressure on the civilian government to stop the Bajaur operation.”

Since Mr. Musharraf resigned on Monday, the leaders of the two main political parties, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, have been embroiled in a power struggle over who should replace the president. ...

Though the Pakistani military has offered no explanation for the fighting, it called in airstrikes starting on Aug. 8 after a ferocious Taliban ambush of three convoys of the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary group under the command of the army.

After three days of fighting, the corps was forced to retreat to its headquarters in Khar, the capital of Bajaur.

The government’s airstrikes since then appear to have hurt the Taliban, analysts say. The army says about 400 Taliban were killed, a figure that analysts described as substantial but that could not be independently verified.

The airstrikes, however, have also exacted a heavy civilian toll; that has tended to inflame public opinion against the campaign, revealing the severe limitations of the army’s counterinsurgency techniques.

The Pakistani military, which remains focused on India and regards the Taliban as a lesser threat, has yet to retool itself for a counterinsurgency, despite having received $12 billion in aid from Washington since 9/11 for the fight against the militants
.

Many of the people who have fled Bajaur are now squatting in camps around the city of Peshawar, 50 miles south of Khar. In interviews on Thursday, they said they were upset that so many civilians had been killed in the air raids.

Fazle Sadiq, a primary school teacher, said the wife of a school principal and four others were killed in one airstrike in his village in Bajaur.

The government can’t win just with airstrikes,” said Mr. Sadiq, who had arrived at a camp at Nowashera on Wednesday. “If they want to re-establish their authority, they have to send ground troops.”

He added: “Their authority has completely collapsed. They have only two or three towns
.”

In another illustration of how prepared the Taliban are to execute suicide attacks, on Tuesday a bomber hit the emergency room of the government hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the edge of the tribal areas, killing 32 people and wounding 55.

That attack came just an hour after a Shiite leader had been murdered in the town, and a large group of followers were taking the body to the mortuary at the hospital. The Taliban, who are Sunni, apparently had a suicide bomber immediately ready and in place to blow himself up in the crowd.

The Taliban attack on the Shiites occurred the day after Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, and the timing drew considerable attention.

“This is significant, because it has been claimed all along that the Taliban are attacking the army and blowing up government installations because the former president had made this country America’s ally,” an editorial in Dawn said.

Now, the Taliban had decided to “declare war on the democratic government” as well, the paper said.

But it was not yet clear, the paper said, that the new civilian government had either the time or the inclination to demonstrate that, no matter who controlled the country, terrorism would be treated as Pakistan’s No. 1 enemy.

[bth: essentially the Taliban has carved out a Talibanistan from the flank of Pakistan and Afghanistan.]

Draft Accord With Iraq Sets Goal of 2011 Pullout - NYTimes.com

Draft Accord With Iraq Sets Goal of 2011 Pullout - NYTimes.com: "The"United States has agreed to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by next June and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011 if conditions in Iraq remain relatively stable, according to Iraqi and American officials involved in negotiating a security accord governing American forces there....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blog: Nukes & Spooks - What was the message behind extraordinary Afghanistan attack?

Blog: Nukes & Spooks: "Earlier"today, about 30 miles outside of Kabul, Taliban forces launched an extraordinary attack on a French patrol, killing 10 soldiers and injuring another 21. It lasted for hours and as many as 200 Taliban forces were involved. Clearly, it was well-coordinated.

It was the latest in a string of bad news coming out of Afghanistan these days. This summer has been the deadliest for NATO and U.S. troops since 2001. Indeed, more soldiers are dying in Afghanistan than Iraq.

Monday’s attack was the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan since 2001. Until Monday, the deadliest attack had been on July 13 when the same amount of Taliban soldiers attacked a U.S. patrol. Nine U.S. troops were killed in that attack.

In addition, it was the deadliest attack against French forces since 1983 when 58 paratroopers were killed by a suicide bomber in Lebanon. Before Monday, the French had lost 14 soldiers in Afghanistan since the end of 2001.

So why did it happen? There are two theories being considered here at the Pentagon. One is political and the other is strategic. ...

[bth: I note with bewilderment how a major battle can be fought for hours only 30 miles from Kabul. Where are the air assets or artillery that would support these French troops?]

Documents: US strike aided bin Laden-Taliban ties

Documents: US strike aided bin Laden-Taliban ties: "The"U.S. cruise missile strike on an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in 1998 was meant to kill Osama bin Laden. But he apparently left shortly before the missiles struck, and newly declassified U.S. documents suggest the attack cemented an alliance with his Taliban protectors.

The State Department documents released Wednesday provide details of the evolving relationship between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and al-Qaida chief bin Laden over four month in 1998. The period begins Aug. 21, 1998, one day after the missile attack — retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7 of that year
.

Omar said publicly on Aug. 21 he would continue to protect bin Laden. But the next day, he told a State Department employee in private that he would be open to negotiating bin Laden's presence in Afghanistan, giving U.S. officials faint but ultimately false hope the Taliban might hand him over to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden had been in Afghanistan since he was expelled from Sudan in May 1996.

Those talks took place sporadically over the next few months in 1998, according to documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In the interim, however, bin Laden had traveled south in Afghanistan to Kandahar. There, he would be close to Omar, who wanted to "keep a watch on him," said a secret cable sent from Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan, to U.S. diplomatic and military posts on Sept. 9, 1998.

By the end of that October, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad was concerned the tables had turned and Omar was falling under bin Laden's political and philosophical sway. The U.S. once had believed the Taliban's ambitions were confined to turning Afghanistan into a Sunni Muslim theocracy. Now, however, there were signs that Omar's association with bin Laden was driving him toward a greater goal — pan-Islamism, the unification of all Muslims under a single Islamic state.

"I believe that bin Laden has been able to get into the good graces of Omar — who is very poorly educated and unsure of foreign affairs — and to influence him in his way of thinking," according to a cable from Oct. 22. "The potential ramifications of a Mullah Omar who is drifting toward pan-Islamism are grim. First and foremost, it could mean that the Taliban would under no condition expel bin Laden because they see his cause as theirs."

The rest of the documents detail months of unsuccessful U.S. attempts to persuade the Taliban to expel bin Laden.

"Time for a diplomatic solution may be running out. Taliban brush-off of our indictment and other evidence may indicate movement from tolerance" of bin Laden's presence "to more active support," said a Nov. 28 memo for then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Bin Laden remained in Afghanistan until after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he apparently was driven out by the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He is believed to be hiding in western Pakistan's ungoverned border area.

After the bombings of the two American embassies, the U.S. launched 62 Tomahawk cruise missiles at two al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. It was believed bin Laden was at one of them meeting with several of his top men, but left shortly before the missiles struck.

[bth: why now? Why after 10 years do these State Dept documents come out just before the Democratic convention where Obama is expected to chart a course of getting Osama Bin Laden and getting out of Iraq? State is playing politics.]

Moscow envoy to NATO pledges 'no Cold War' - The Boston Globe

Moscow envoy to NATO pledges 'no Cold War' - The Boston Globe: "MOSCOW"- Russia's envoy to NATO said yesterday that Russia will behave in a pragmatic manner following the alliance's decision to freeze regular contact with Moscow.

Under US pressure, NATO agreed Tuesday to freeze contact with Russia until Moscow had withdrawn its troops from Georgia in line with a peace deal.

"We will carefully analyze this situation," the envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, said. "There won't be any aggressive action from anyone on our side. We will behave in a pragmatic manner. . . . There will definitely not be a Cold War."

Russia's military cooperation with the Atlantic alliance - which has recently included joint exercises, work on detecting explosives, and allowing NATO to cross Russian territory to reach Afghanistan - is not at stake, Rogozin said from his Brussels office.

"I am planning, over the next few days, to give certain signals concerning military cooperation," he said. "I think the signals will be received positively. Without Russia's support in Afghanistan, NATO would face a new Vietnam, and this is clear to everyone. Militarily, NATO and Russia have a very good and trusting relationship."

Moscow's representation at NATO later said Rogozin was being recalled to Moscow for emergency consultations on a response to NATO's recent criticism of Russia.

NATO member Norway said yesterday that Russia had decided to temporarily freeze military cooperation with members of the alliance, but Rogozin emphasized this was not total.

"Decisions are being taken on the current cooperation and not about cooperation in general, Rogozin said. "These decisions are of temporary character, of regional character, not global character."

Areas that could be affected were military naval exercises in the Far East, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic region, he added.

"We don't need to ruin this cooperation now."

At the United Nations yesterday, Russia circulated its own draft resolution aimed at bringing peace to Georgia, a day after blocking a Western draft that demanded immediate Russian withdrawal.

The Russian text restated and endorsed a peace plan promoted by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and signed last week by Russia and Georgia. Western diplomats say they are in favor of that plan but reluctant to set it in stone with a Security Council resolution when they say Russia is ignoring its provisions by failing to make significant military withdrawals.

[bth: That's the key, the supply routes to Afghanistan.]

Russia Blocks Georgia's Main Port City of Poti - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Russia Blocks Georgia's Main Port City of Poti - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "POTI"Georgia — Russian forces blocked the only land entrance to Georgia's main port city on Thursday, a day before Russia promised to complete a troop pullout from its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Armored personnel carriers and troop trucks blocked the bridge to the Black Sea port city of Poti, and Russian forces excavated trenches and set up mortars facing the city. Another group of APCs and trucks were positioned in a nearby wooded area.

Although Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has promised that his forces would pull back by Friday, Russian troops appear to be digging in, raising concern about whether Moscow is aiming for a lengthy occupation of its small, pro-Western neighbor.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told The Associated Press that Russia was thinning out its presence in some occupied towns but was seizing other strategic spots. He called the Russian moves "some kind of deception game."

"(The Russians) are making fun of the world," he declared....

[bth: I'm surprised there aren't sniper attacks or random mortar attacks on these check points.]

Rice discusses troop withdrawals with Iraqis

My Way News - Rice discusses troop withdrawals with Iraqis: "BAGHDAD"(AP) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew into Baghdad on Thursday for discussions with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top Iraqi officials, hoping to iron out remaining differences in a U.S.-Iraq security deal that envisions the withdrawal of American troops.

"The negotiators have taken this very, very far," she told reporters, "but there is no reason to believe that there is an agreement yet." She flew into Baghdad amid indications that a draft deal had been concluded, but she said that was premature.

"There are still issues concerning exactly how our forces operate," Rice said. "The agreement rests on aspirational timelines."

Rice declined to talk about specifics, but U.S. officials said more work is needed to reach agreements on a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals, immunity for U.S. troops and the handling of Iraqi prisoners.

"Ultimately the prime minister has to make the call on moving forward," Rice said. She described her visit as "a chance for me to meet with the prime minister and see what we can do from Washington to get to closure."

Iraqi and American officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday that negotiators had completed a draft agreement that extends the legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond the end of this year, while calling for them to move out of Iraqi cities as soon as June 30....

[bth: why the rush after five years? It's about declawing the Democrats at their convention next week and setting the stage for McCain.]

M of A - Fuel for War in Afghanistan

M of A - Fuel for War in Afghanistan: "The"U.S. plans to reinforce its troops in Afghanistan:

The Pentagon will be sending 12,000 to 15,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.

Those are three brigades plus support units and maybe an extra brigade on top later on. Where will those troops come from? We don't know yet, but there will likely be less forces in Iraq soon.

The outgoing ISAF Commander McNeill said 400,000 NATO/U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan. Currently are some 60,000 to 70,000 are there. The new contingent will not make much of a difference.

But these additional forces in Afghanistan will be a much bigger logistic problem than they were in Iraq. Let us look at fuel consumption.

There are few official numbers but estimates range from between 16 gallons of fuel needed per soldier per day to 24 gl per soldier per day. This includes all needs: air support, electricity, climate, cooking, driving etc. We will use 20 gl/s/d for our further estimates.

Most of the fuel used in Afghanistan today comes through Pakistan. Without Russian now unlikely (or Iranian always unlikely) cooperation all fuel has to come through Pakistan. Pakistan has refinery capacities for only half the fuel it uses itself so the refined products the U.S. troops need have to be imported via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

From there the fuel goes by truck either through Quetta and the border town Chaman to Kandahar, or though Peshawar and Torkham at the Khyber Pass to Kabul and the huge U.S. base at Bagram north of Kabul (map).

With the additional troops there will be an additional need of 240,000 gl/day. Gleaned from photos the usual tank used by the contractors for the transports from Karachi to Afghanistan seems to be around 5,000 gl/truck. With the new troop's fuel demand, about 50 additional fuel trucks will have to arrive per day. Accounting for the air force balance about 40 of those will go to Kabul and some 10 to Kandahar.

The direct line distance from Karachi to Kabul is about double the distance from Kuwait to Baghdad. But the mountainius roads are much worse than in Iraq and pure driving time from Karachi to Kandahar is 18 hours and to Kabul 36 hours. Driving at night on the snowy serpentines of Khyber with lots of bad folks around is not recommend.

The real round-trip ride Karachi-Kabul is thereby some 10 days, to Kandahar 5 days. In total 400 additional tank trucks will be needed on the road to/from Kabul and 50 to/from Kandahar. Add 50 or so trucks that will be in maintenance at any time. Where does one get 500 additional tank trucks in Pakistan between now and the end of the year?

One will also have to find, vet and train 500+ Pakistani drivers who are willing to risk their life on these rides. Note that each truck and its content is worth more than 95% of Pakistanis will ever make in their whole life. Who controls them? Will they drive in convoys? Who will guard those? How many troops will be needed to protect them? How many trucks will simply vanish?

A Mujaheddin in Afghanistan needs a tenth of a gallon per day, if any at all, on station and a bit more while traveling. These resistance fighters have no real logistic problem as they can live off the land.

The 'western' forces in Afghanistan have huge logistic problems. To put two feet on the ground they need twenty feet or more behind them shuffeling papers, organising and feeding the logistic queue. Their way of existence and fighting is incompatible with the country they are in. Too many trucks will not come through. The logistic lines are too long and to insecure. The road war will kill their mission.

Pentagon Plans to Send More Than 12,000 Additional Troops to Afghanistan - US News and World Report

Pentagon Plans to Send More Than 12,000 Additional Troops to Afghanistan - US News and World Report: "The"Pentagon will be sending 12,000 to 15,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.

A request by Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, for three U.S. brigades with support staff has been approved. "Now that means we just need to figure out a way to get them there," adds a senior defense official.

The troops are slated to arrive earlier than has been previously discussed, on the heels of the deadliest months for American forces in Afghanistan since the war began.

The first wave of soldiers will be a U.S. Army brigade from the 10th Mountain Division, according to a senior military official. This brigade is scheduled to ship out between November and January, while two other brigades are likely to arrive "sometime in the spring or summer of next year," the official adds.

And there may be even more to come. "I've also asked for some additional forces on top of that for the current fight," says McKiernan, who wants to bolster the 101st Airborne Division in Regional Command East, which has been rocked by recent insurgent attacks. In July, nine U.S. troops were killed by insurgents who overran a combat outpost on the Kunar border of eastern Afghanistan. This week, militants tried but failed to overrun a base in Khost, just a few miles from the border, launching waves of attacks just before midnight on Monday.

Finding those particular troops to supplement the 101st, however, depends on conditions and troop levels in Iraq, adds McKiernan, who took over the NATO command in June. "That's really a zero-sum decision."

He disputes the notion that the three brigades on the way represent a troop "surge" for Afghanistan, predicting the need for an extended involvement of a larger force. "I've certainly said that we need more security capabilities," he says. "But I would not use the term 'surge,' because I think we need a sustained presence."

Both major U.S. presidential candidates have called for putting a greater military emphasis on Afghanistan, and it now appears that whoever wins the election will inherit a growing war already underway.

In March, 3,500 troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived to bolster NATO forces. Originally slated to return to the U.S. in October, they have seen their tour extended by one month.

The three additional brigades would considerably increase the U.S. force presence in Afghanistan, which currently stands at 34,000. Of these, 15,000 U.S. troops are under NATO command, while an additional 19,000 operate independently, primarily in the volatile eastern border region.

There has been growing concern that there are too few NATO troops to take on an emboldened Taliban. In some cases, the warlords directing attacks on American forces are the same ones the CIA backed in the 1980s when they fought Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan.

Some U.S. military officials express skepticism, however, about the impact more U.S. troops can make seven years into the war, in a large country that has grown increasingly violent—with citizens, they add, who are increasingly disillusioned. "I don't know if it's too late," says a senior military official. "But it's going to be much, much harder to turn things around at this point."

U.S. military officials are particularly concerned about the sharp spike in roadside bombs, up "30 to 40 percent" over last year, says McKiernan. "It's the largest casualty-producing event in Afghanistan."

Causing that spike is what McKiernan describes as the "deteriorating condition" of the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan, with a porous border that facilitates the planting of such bombs.

Clearing up ungoverned lands rife with insurgents in Pakistan, McKiernan says, is pivotal to improving security in Afghanistan. "We have a cross-border firing incident out of Pakistan almost daily, and unfortunately those aren't diminishing," he adds. "There are militant sanctuaries in Pakistan, and they operate at will."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Taliban attack survivor describes scene of 'pure chaos' - CNN.com

Taliban attack survivor describes scene of 'pure chaos' - CNN.com: "WASHINGTON"(CNN) -- A soldier who survived a Taliban attack that killed nine U.S. troops in Afghanistan last month described a scene of "pure chaos" in which he watched buddies die.

Army Spc. Tyler Stafford and fellow soldiers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team were establishing an outpost near the village of Wanat when about 200 Taliban militants attacked July 13.

"They had 200-plus guys all shooting at us -- I mean, pure chaos," Stafford said. "You could hear guys screaming."

Nine Americans were killed and 12 -- including Stafford -- were wounded in the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in three years. Afghan sources said that up to 100 militants were killed in the attack.


Stafford, who is recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said he and his fellow soldiers were facing Taliban fighters on three sides when the attack began.

The Americans were outmanned and outgunned. A NATO spokesman said the defense of the outpost was "heroic."

Once he was wounded, Stafford called out to his friend, Cpl. Matthew Phillips.

"I yelled to him, I was like, 'Phillips, man I need help. I'm hit.' ... I looked at him and I called him about four or five times. I was like, 'Phillips. Phillips. Are you all right, Phillips?' And he never moved

"That's the first one of my buddies I've ever seen die."

A short distance away was Cpl. Jonathan Ayers.

"He never once stopped shooting," Stafford said. "I thought that was completely amazing. He never, I mean, he finally was killed by [rocket-propelled grenades] and gunfire, but he never once stopped shooting back at them."

Lt. Jonathan Brostrom and Cpl. Jason Hovater were killed when they ran through a hail of Taliban gunfire in an attempt to carry more ammunition to their fellow soldiers, Stafford said.

"They knew our guys were in trouble, and when the Airborne's in trouble, you don't leave them to die; you go help them," Stafford said. "They brought what they could."

The Americans were running low on ammunition, and some of them were so badly wounded they were unable to move, Stafford said.

Help did not come for an hour, he said.

Stafford eventually was helicoptered to safety. He said he looked back at the scene below while aboard the chopper.

"It's like one of the those movies out of like Vietnam that you see with all these special effects and everything's on fire," he recalled. "Smoke in the air, and that's all you see is tracer rounds going back and forth ... just, 'boom, boom, boom.' "

The other Americans who died were Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling, Spc. Sergio Abad, Cpl. Pruitt Rainey and Cpl. Jason Bogar.

"The way they served each other -- you're fighting for the guy on your back, the guy that's in the foxhole next to you, when that kind of stuff happens. We all love each other very much," Stafford said

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 08/19/2008 | Iraqi army seizes 2 Sunni officials in chaotic pre-dawn raid

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 08/19/2008 | Iraqi army seizes 2 Sunni officials in chaotic pre-dawn raid: "BAGHDAD"— Iraqi forces raided the provincial government compound in Diyala Province in a chaotic operation early Tuesday, killing the governor's secretary and seizing computers and cars before local police engaged them in a two-hour gun battle, police and local officials said.

Four policemen were wounded, according to a local police official. Local police and government officials claimed the raiders had U.S. support, but U.S. spokesmen said the U.S. military was unaware of the raid and provided no assistance. Iraq's Interior Ministry said the raid is being investigated.

The Iraqi forces arrested Hussein al Zubaidi, provincial council member and head of the provincial security committee. A nearby raid conducted almost simultaneously by unidentified armed forces arrested the president of Diyala University.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Diyala Operations Center told McClatchy the raiding party was a "special unit" of the Iraqi Army, which works closely with U.S. forces. Diyala governor Raad Rashid told McClatchy the troops wore U.S. fatigues and carried U.S.-issued equipment.

"They were wearing khaki. Their weapons were American. The Humvees they used looked American," said a surviving secretary, Abbas Adnan, who was in the government compound when it was raided. "They didn't have any ranks on their shoulders. They didn't talk."

An officer in the Iraqi Diyala Operations Room said the unit "that came to conduct the operation had air cover. This air cover was American helicopters. They shot at the police in protection of their unit." The officer asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

American officials disputed this account. Maj. John Hall and Navy Lt. Patrick Evans, both U.S. military spokesmen, issued identical statements saying the operation was conducted "without the knowledge or assistance of coalition forces."

The arrested men were all Sunni. The Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party in the country, condemned the raids as sectarian persecution that was directed at the party. "These violations represent a violation of the law they claim they have come to implement," the party said in a statement on its Web site.

Iraqi army and police, backed by the U.S. military, launched a major operation three weeks ago intended to clear Diyala of insurgents, most prominently the Sunni-led al-Qaida in Iraq. Some leaders of U.S.-backed Sunni militias, including former Sunni insurgents now paid by the Pentagon to fight al-Qaida in Iraq, say the operation has targeted them as well.

Adnan said that, when the secretary, Abbas Al Timimi, headed for the operational command building, "he was shot dead, without a word." Adnan said Timimi was a civilian and "wasn't carrying any weapons."

Local police surrounded the raiders as they withdrew. A two-hour gun battle ensued, stopping only when orders came from Baghdad to let the raiders pass, said the police official.

Dria said that the soldiers beat up lawmakers, took computers and left the government compound in disarray.

Governor Raad Rashid said he'd not been told about the raid beforehand. "Even the security forces in Diyala had no idea," he said.

Majida Orebi, wife of university president Nazar Jabbar al Khafaji, said their house was raided after midnight Tuesday morning. Security forces pinned down her husband, she said. He told them: "'I'm the president of Diyala University and I've done nothing wrong,'" she said. But the troops "told him to shut up, and started shooting down the doors upstairs," she said. The forces also took money and computer gear, she said.

The incidents are under investigation, said Abdul Karim Khalaf, acting Baquba police chief and a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which oversees police throughout the country.

"An operation took place not according to accepted procedures," he said

[bth: So Maliki now takes on the Awakening?]

"friday-lunch-club": "..The New US President must make clear to Maliki & co. that the era of unconditional support is over—or see security gains evaporate fast..."

"friday-lunch-club": "..The New US President must make clear to Maliki & co. that the era of unconditional support is over—or see security gains evaporate fast...": "Colin"H. Kahl, John A. Nagl, Shawn Brimley in FP, here
"...Genuine reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites remains elusive. The “Sunni Awakening”—the Sunnis’ decision to cooperate with U.S. forces against AQI—ranks among the biggest reasons for the decline in violence in Iraq. But don’t be fooled: The awakening represents an accommodation with the United States, not the Shiites who dominate Iraq’s government. These security gains could dissolve if the Sunni “Sons of Iraq”—many of them former insurgents—are not integrated into official forces or gainfully employed, and if emerging tribal leaders don’t get an opportunity to share power at the local and national levels through elections......Iraq could easily backslide into mass violence. The surge was supposed to be about buying time to build Iraqi capacity and create breathing space for political accommodation. Yet, as Iraqi capacity and confidence have increased, Maliki and his allies seem less inclined to reach out to their adversaries. By emphasizing capacity over political will, the Bush administration has failed to force Iraqi leaders to make tough compromises. Instead, it too often conveys messages of unconditional support to the Iraqi government that undermine the behind-the-scenes cajoling of U.S. commanders and diplomats..."

Taliban kill 10 French troops in Kabul province ambush - The Long War Journal

Taliban kill 10 French troops in Kabul province ambush - The Long War Journal: "Ten"French soldiers were killed and 21 were wounded in a major clash with the Taliban in Kabul province, just 35 miles from the capital.

The battled began late on Aug. 18 in a pass just west of the town of Surobi in eastern Kabul province. The joint French and Afghan force was ambushed "during a joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan national army," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The initial patrol was reinforced with quick reaction forces, close air support, and mobile medical teams," the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release. "During the engagement a large number of insurgents were killed." Afghan defense ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said 13 rebels, including a Pakistani national, were killed in the fighting, according to The Sydney Morning Herald...

FOB Salerno withstands 2-day Taliban onslaught - The Long War Journal

FOB Salerno withstands 2-day Taliban onslaught - The Long War Journal: "Nearly"30 Taliban fighters attempted to storm a major US base in eastern Afghanistan a day after a double car bombing attack was attempted on the same base.

Forward Operation Base Salerno, the biggest Coalition base in southeastern Afghanistan, withstood Monday’s failed car bombing attempt, but one of the bomber’s managed to detonate his vehicle at the base’s perimeter, killing 10 Afghans and injuring 13 others, according to a US military press statement condemning the attack. Afghan security personnel were quick to spot a second would-be suicide bomber and shot and killed the driver before he could detonate his car stuffed with explosives. A second man found inside the vehicle was detained by security forces.

The following day saw an estimated 30 Taliban fighters, including at least seven suicide bombers, launched a “wave of attacks against the base beginning around midnight,” according to Arsallah Jamal, the provincial governor of Khost. Mortars and rockets struck the base shortly before midnight, a diversionary attack while the suicide-bomb cadre made its way near the base’s air field. Three US soldiers and six Afghan commandos were wounded in the attack.

The Taliban attackers tried to breach the entrance to the airstrip contained within the base, an indication the Taliban may have wanted to detonate themselves on or near Coalition aircraft in what would have been a major propaganda coup for the Taliban.

The Taliban group was observed “posturing for an attack” nearly 1,000 meters outside the base’s perimeter before Coalition forces opened up with small-arms fire, according to an International Security Assistance Force press statement. Helicopter gunships later pounded the Taliban’s staging area resulting in the death of three out of seven suicide bombers.

Three other suicide bombers detonated themselves shortly before they were racked by heavy machine-gun fire. Afghan commandos are credited with surrounding the Taliban shortly before the attack could be launched, shooting dead several of the suicide-bombers before Coalition aircraft pounded the remaining fighters.

The double attack on FOB Salerno was claimed by the Taliban through their spokesman for their “eastern zone,” Zabibullah Mujahid. He claimed 15 Taliban suicide bombers, backed up by a force of 30 other Taliban, managed to breach the base’s perimeter and detonated at least one bomb within the airfield, killing a large number of American soldiers and destroying some aircraft. The Afghan Defense Ministry, ISAF, and the Coalition have all denied this allegation.

“This was a major group of terrorists in suicide bomber form, an attack on the Coalition forces base, and it was a major operation of the Afghan National Army commandos who succeeded in eliminating 10 suicide bombers before they could do anything,” General Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, told reporters in Kabul.

A hornet’s nest

The sprawling FOB Salerno, which now includes a state-of-the-art medical wing and burn center, is situated a few kilometers north of Khost City, the provincial capital of Khost. Several insurgent groups including the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the notorious Haqqani Network are active throughout the province, which borders Pakistan’s restive tribal agencies.

The Haqqani Network has conducted a devastating car bomb campaign throughout the region this spring and summer, with the March 3 truck bombing of the Sabari district headquarters being the most spectacular. The building was brought down by an estimated four-ton truck bomb detonated by a Turkish-born German citizen who was recruited into the Haqqani Network in neighboring North Waziristan, Pakistan. Two US soldiers and scores of Afghan security forces were killed in the attack.

The province has undergone a flurry of other attacks including a massive frontal attack launched by the Taliban against the Spera district headquarters in late July. Provincial authorities later estimated between 50-75 fighters were killed in the fierce battle.

The early morning attack began when nearly 100 heavily armed Taliban fighters approached the Spera district headquarters, approximately nine miles from the Pakistan border, and engaged Afghan police personnel in a gunfight. Afghan and Coalition soldiers responded to the attack and drove the Taliban back using small-arms fire and helicopter gunships. Fleeing Taliban fighters were caught in the open and hit with missiles fired from aircraft resulting in the large number of Taliban killed, according to Afghan security officials.

Alarming discovery

Insurgents continue to use remote areas of Khost province as key logistical and training grounds for spectacular terrorist attacks. Both Siraj and Jalaluddin Haqqani were suspected of hiding in northern Khost between March and July of this year. And in an additional alarming development, insurgents in Khost have acquired a sophisticated batch of Type 69 airburst, anti-personnel rocket-propelled grenades, a deadly breed of munitions rarely seen in Afghanistan before a cache of 89 was unearthed during a Coalition raid in late June. The grenade is designed to bounce off the ground near enemy troops before exploding six feet off the ground unleashing 800 steel ball bearings into a kill radius of 15 meters. More ordnance including 25 anti-tank weapons and 25 mortars were also discovered in the same cache.

The source of the weapons has not been identified but it is likely the weapons were smuggled over the porous border with Pakistan. Insurgents in Iraq are known to use similar devices but there is no evidence these weapons came from Iraq.

[bth: it appears to me that we've lost control of the ground situation in Afghanistan. Every indication is that we are reactive now, not proactive and essentially being pushed into a defensive posture.]