Saturday, September 13, 2008

Army awards BBN $3.5M for wearable gunshot spotter system - Massachusetts Biotech and Technology News and New England Local Business News

Army awards BBN $3.5M for wearable gunshot spotter system - Massachusetts Biotech and Technology News and New England Local Business News: "BBN Technologies has landed $3.5 million from the U.S. Army for continued development of a wearable gunshot detection system in partnership with the Natick Soldier Systems Center, officials report."...

Diaspora of ex-iRobot innovators builds new robotics cluster in region - Massachusetts Biotech and Technology News and New England Local Business News

Diaspora of ex-iRobot innovators builds new robotics cluster in region - Massachusetts Biotech and Technology News and New England Local Business News

Route Clearance Platoon Sweeps up Weapons Caches

Family Security Matters » Publications » Route Clearance Platoon Sweeps up Weapons Caches: "Many"countermeasures are adopted to avoid improvised explosive devices, which are a significant threat to deployed Coalition forces in Iraq. However, the best way to avoid IEDs is to destroy them at the source.

A large number of potential threats against Coalition forces were found and destroyed during a cache sweep in western al-Anbar province, Iraq, Aug. 26-30.

Service members with Route Clearance Platoon, Company A, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, do not normally search for caches.

“Ultimately, our mission is to do route clearance, which is clearing routes for convoys on roads frequently traveled by Coalition forces,” said Cpl. Eric M. Gonzalez, 21, a combat engineer with Route Clearance Platoon, from Bakersfield, Calif. “We’re still engineers and we have the assets and skills to do cache sweeps, so we still can do it.”

During the mission, the service members with Route Clearance Platoon worked around the clock to find and locate all the possible future threats they could.

“We were looking for munitions that could be used against Coalition forces now and in the future,” said Gonzalez. “Cache sweeps are usually done by engineers who are attached to infantry battalions. We worked the long hours so we can get back to our route clearance missions, which are our priority.”

This is the first cache that Route Clearance Platoon has found during their deployment, and while the platoon continued searching for more cache sites, Marines with Support Platoon, Company A, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 provided assistance by digging up the caches. Support Platoon uncovered more than 530 pieces of ordnance and more than 5,000 anti-aircraft and .50 cal rounds....

Amazing Grace

Crooks and Liars

Crooks and Liars

Crooks and Liars

Seven Years Later: Why Is There Still A Hole at Ground Zero?

TPMCafe | Talking Points Memo | Seven Years Later: Why Is There Still A Hole at Ground Zero?: "Seven"years ago this week, I stood on the pile of burning rubble at the south end of Manhattan with thousands of other Americans who in our nation's defining hour did what we could to make a difference. Firefighters, doctors, soldiers, cops, steelworkers, and nurses--we all came together to serve our country in a time of exceptional need. I will never forget the demonstrations of courage and the expressions of sorrow, the sight of the bodies and the smell of the smoke. And I will never forget the bold promises of our leaders, uttered loudly before the smoke even cleared.

They stood on the pile with bullhorns, they issued press releases, and spoke at benefit concerts. We heard politicians from every corner of America swear: "Never Again! We'll make them pay! The terrorists won't win! We will rebuild!"

Seven years later, that hasn't happened. And we should all be embarrassed as a nation for one simple reason more than all the others--there is still a mammoth, gaping hole at Ground Zero.

Bureaucratic gridlock, partisan bickering, old-fashioned greed and failed leadership have all been blended together perfectly in one big pot to create a colossal, historic stew of inaction. And that stew has given the terrorists a score that not only have we failed to avenge, but we have failed to fully recover from. The wounds of 9/11 are not healed, the statement has not been made, and the country--especially the President and the two men running for that office--seem to have forgotten about the recovery of Ground Zero altogether.

Now this week, of course, we'll get the standard, annual photo ops, bold promises and tough talk. Rudy Giuliani will be celebrated, and plastered on every TV network in America. Emotional remembrance videos will run on a loop all week long. Politicians will manipulate the tragedy into a gotcha talking point to bolster their position on one issue or another. And more promises will be made. But the fact will remain--there is no monument, there is no building, and there is no attention. No one in Washington seems to give a second thought to the south end of Manhattan anymore. Except when it's politically convenient for them.

New York is the city I love most in the world. I lost friends on 9/11. I pulled bodies from the rubble there. I, along with almost two million other troops, were sent to war because of what happened there. And I am sick and tired of walking and driving by it and seeing a stalled construction site.

So today, I call on Senators Obama and McCain to make a promise they will keep. Pledge to all those that died, all those that served, and all those that remember, that Ground Zero will be re-built by the end of your first term. Blow through the logjam, bring the divided interests together, craft a plan, flex some muscle, and start moving forward briskly. If you want to unite the country as President, this is a perfect place to start. If we can put a man on the moon, create the internet, and fight two wars simultaneously, I am sure that America can mobilize all its political will, ingenuity and resources to rebuild one of the most important pieces of real estate in the world. And it can start with new leadership under your watch. You can't shake up Washington, if you can't even rebuild Ground Zero.

On September 11, 2001, millions of young Americans like me promised to take a bullet for this country. Seven years later, the least our presidential candidates can do is make a promise to rebuild a few sacred acres of it.

Paul Rieckhoff is the Executive Director and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). A non-profit and nonpartisan organization, IAVA is the nation's first and largest group for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, representing more than 100,000 veteran members and civilian supporters in all 50 states. Rieckhoff served as a First Lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in the Iraq war from 2003-2004. He is now a nationally recognized authority on the war in Iraq and issues affecting troops, military families and veterans.

Two jailed for errors in Koran | The Australian

Two jailed for errors in Koran | The Australian: "AN"Afghan court has sentenced an ex-journalist and a mullah to 20 years in prison each for publishing a translation of the Koran alleged to contain errors, friends and media rights groups said today.

Afghan and international media rights organisations condemned the sentences handed down yesterday and called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene.

Former journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai was arrested in November trying to escape into Pakistan as religious clerics and parliament were in an uproar about a Dari-language version of the Muslim holy book he had published.

Mullah Qari Mushtaq, who was sentenced with him, had approved the version which other clerics and parliamentarians claimed contained errors and misunderstandings about issues such as homosexuality and adultery.

Critics also complained the book did not include the original Arabic text as required by Islamic law.

"We appeal to the President's spirit of tolerance and ask him to intercede on behalf of two men who have been given extremely severe sentences," said Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and Article 19, another rights watchdog.

"Their aim was not to violate Islamic law, but only to promote the Koran among the Persian-speaking peoples," they said in a statement.

Afghan media unions have also called on Mr Karzai to intervene, said Hafiz Barakzai from the National Union of Journalists.

"This is an academic issue .... (Islamic) scholars should sit and discuss it," he told AFP.

Two brothers of Zalmai who had been arrested with him on charges of trying to help him flee the country were freed yesterday after being held in jail for seven-and-a-half months, a friend said, labelling the detentions illegal.

Zalmai, expected to appeal, had been a fairly outspoken TV journalist in the 1980s, Reporters Without Borders said. At the time of his arrest, he was a spokesman in the office of the attorney-general.

Another journalist is appealing a death sentence handed down by a primary provincial court in January for distributing an article downloaded from the internet which questions the Koran, particularly its views on women.

Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, has been in jail for nearly a year.

Afghanistan's judicial system is based on Islamic Sharia law which forbids criticism of Islam and rules that the death penalty should be applied in cases of blasphemy.

[bth: this type of thinking and action is 500 years behind the modern world. Hard to imagine a thinking person living in this environment.]

Stock plunge could threaten Russian economic boom

Stock plunge could threaten Russian economic boom: "MOSCOW"AP) - The message from the Kremlin is not to panic. But that's exactly what many investors in Russia are doing.
Russia's stock markets are down some 40 percent since the start of the year, threatening to undercut a remarkable eight-year economic boom.

Eighteen months ago, it seemed unthinkable. Russia's high-flying economy was a strong draw for investors seeking fat emerging-market returns, the government encouraged ordinary Russians to invest in the stock market via the so-called "people's IPO" for the VTB Group banking concern and, most importantly, the price of oil kept marching up, up, up.

But geopolitical tensions and sliding crude prices have contributed to a black week—and an even blacker year—for Russian equities, scaring off a thinning number of investors. Russia proudly proclaimed itself "an island of stability" at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January but is now looking the most fragile of all the major emerging markets.

Banks are short of liquidity and clamoring for more ready cash from the central bank, while investors are starting to voice concerns over the economy, which remains highly reliant on its oil and gas industry. It's the No. 2 oil producer after Saudi Arabia....

Rats and a cat bodyguard recruited to tackle Colombia's land mines - Telegraph

Rats and a cat bodyguard recruited to tackle Colombia's land mines - Telegraph: "Colombian"police are training up a new elite squad of rats and a cat to tackle the growing problems of land mines laid by Marxist rebels

Tomas the cat is being trained alongside 14 rats, including his partner Pablo, in a laboratory in the north of the capital, Bogota.

Vet Luisa Fernanda Mendez, who runs the laboratory, said: "We chose rats because they have a sniffing capacity similar to dogs, but can search in less accessible sites and their training can be completed more quickly."

The role of the cats is to act as "bodyguards" to protect the rats from predators such as other cats or iguanas.

The training program for the rats lasts two to three months and start when the rat is just a month old. Other nations, among them Spain and Mexico, are looking at the Colombian experiment, attracted by the low costs - the project has a budget of less than £30,000 a year - and the possibilities in the fight against terrorism.

Once the rats find a mine they stand up on their hind legs alongside it, until an explosive experts comes up to either decommission it or destroy in with a controlled explosion.

The rats are now being delivered to specialised police units, the carabineros, that act in rural and high-risk areas. There, they will be given time to get used to their handlers before being deployed to zones where land mines are common.

For policeman Henry Munoz, used to training dogs and horses, working with rats took a little getting used to.

"To begin with there was a little repulsion," he admitted. "But now I am used to it."

Every day land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) kill or main three people in Colombia and the country has overtaken Afghanistan and Cambodia as the country with the most land mine victims. ...

Brazil plans to build 50 more nuclear power plants_English_Xinhua

Brazil plans to build 50 more nuclear power plants_English_Xinhua: "RIO"DE JANEIRO, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao announced Friday Brazil plans to build 50 to 60 nuclear power plants in half a century, with each having capacity of 1,000 megawatts.

"The general idea is to build one plant per year," he said during a visit to the construction site of Brazil's third nuclear power plant, Angra 3. ...

[bth: so Brazil has a nuclear electric and alcohol vehicular fuel energy plan. We have no plan. Why not?]

Saudi cleric says 'depraved' TV moguls may be killed

Saudi cleric says 'depraved' TV moguls may be killed: "A"senior Saudi cleric has issued a religious decree saying the owners of television networks broadcasting "depravation and debauchery" may be killed, Al-Arabiya television reported on Friday.
"The owners of these channels propagate depravation and debauchery," said Saleh al-Luhaidan, chief justice of the supreme judicial council, the highest judicial authority in the ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom.

He made the remarks on radio in response to a caller who asked him to give an opinion on what he said were "immoral" programmes on Arab television during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a source at Al-Arabiya said.

"It is lawful to kill ... the apostles of depravation... if their evil cannot be easily removed through simple sanctions," Luhaidan said, according to excerpt of the remarks broadcast on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya.

The situation is "serious ... the degradation of morals is a form of perversion on earth," he added. ...

[bth: as if he couldn't just change the channel with a remote]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gina Gershon Parodies Sarah Palin (VIDEO)

Gina Gershon Parodies Sarah Palin (VIDEO)
See more Gina Gershon videos at Funny or Die

McCain's Roommates from FOD Team

McCain's Roommates from FOD Team
See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Informed Comment

Informed Comment

Video of POW McCain's release surfaces

The Raw Story | Video of POW McCain's release surfaces

islandpacket.com | Island fourth grader suspended for using broken pencil sharpener

islandpacket.com | Island fourth grader suspended for using broken pencil sharpener: "A"10-year-old Hilton Head Island boy has been suspended from school for having something most students carry in their supply boxes: a pencil sharpener.

The problem was his sharpener had broken, but he decided to use it anyway.

A teacher at Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School noticed the boy had what appeared to be a small razor blade during class on Tuesday, according to a Beaufort County sheriff's report.

It was obvious that the blade was the metal insert commonly found in a child's small, plastic pencil sharpener, the deputy noted.

The boy -- a fourth-grader described as a well-behaved and good student -- cried during the meeting with his mom, the deputy and the school's assistant principal.

He had no criminal intent in having the blade at school, the sheriff's report stated, but was suspended for at least two days and could face further disciplinary action.

District spokesman Randy Wall said school administrators are stuck in the precarious position between the district's zero tolerance policy against having weapons at school and common sense.

"We're always going to do something to make sure the child understands the seriousness of having something that could potentially harm another student, but we're going to be reasonable," he said.

[bth: moronic school administrators should be fired.]

U.S. frets nuts-and-bolts will hinder Iraqi security | International | Reuters

U.S. frets nuts-and-bolts will hinder Iraqi security | International | Reuters: "MUTHANNA"AIR FIELD, Iraq (Reuters) - The mechanics First Lieutenant Ahmed Abbas commands are capable enough, but the Iraqi army officer complains they can't work miracles without spare parts for broken-down Humvees.

His men, wearing blue jumpsuits as they huddle around the open bonnet of a Humvee, are forced to scavenge parts from destroyed vehicles or scour auto markets near this dusty Baghdad airbase for brake disks or steering boxes.

"We make requests, but they don't have the parts," he said.

But on another base across Baghdad, $51 million in repair parts sit unused, the U.S. military said.

The inability to get parts to vehicles that need them illustrates Iraq's struggle to keep its military running -- supplying troops with food and bullets, moving tanks to battle zones, fuelling and refitting trucks and ambulances.

U.S. officials in Iraq are quick to credit the Iraqi military's increasing skill on the battlefield for helping bring about the sharp drop in violence over the past year.

Yet such improvements have exposed the Iraqi army's Achilles' heel, a weak logistics system, they say.

"If you know that you're going to get bullets, you know that you're going get medical care, you're going to fight a little harder, right?" said Colonel Edward Dorman, the senior logistician for U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Getting Iraq's nuts-and-bolts ability up to speed, he said, "instils a little more confidence. It allows us to walk away."

U.S. officials say Iraq's performance in this area will show how well its forces will be able to sustain security gains, especially with American troop levels falling.

EQUIPMENT BUILD-UP

Iraq's security forces have grown to 591,000 personnel, including 180,000 in the army. The police comprise the bulk of the security forces.

As the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has rebuilt its military from scratch, Iraq has acquired a large amount of weapons and vehicles to boost its firepower -- stretching its ability to repair, maintain and even keep track of equipment.

Dorman said Iraq was "almost totally reliant" a year ago on U.S. forces to transport equipment, resupply soldiers with ammunition, retrieve damaged vehicles and more.

But he also noted major strides to improve logistics, which were reflected in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's offensives against Shi'ite militants in the past several months
.

"It ain't the easiest thing in the world for any army that's regaining its footing and reinventing itself. It's really hard," said Lieutenant-Colonel Fred Wintrich, who heads a team of 23 U.S. soldiers who live alongside Iraq's 54th Army Brigade, 6th Division at the Muthanna air field in Baghdad.

Wintrich's is one of five such logistics teams across Baghdad providing advice on repairing vehicles, administering emergency medical care and paying staff.

He said the Iraqi army is "infinitely" more disciplined and capable than in years past, when ill-equipped units struggled to impose order and some soldiers melted away in battle.

"Now, soldiers use helmets. The helmets are buckled. Their weapons are clean," Wintrich said.

The same goes for logistics: "Two years ago, getting the Iraq army paid was a problem. Today, it's not."

Yet work remains if the U.S. military is to meet its goal of ensuring Iraq is not hobbled by weak logistics by April 2009. Dorman reckons Iraq is 50 or 60 percent of where it needs to be eventually.

Even today, only 80 percent of the Iraqi army's vehicles are in condition to be driven into battle, he said
.

Luckily, oil-rich Iraq can afford to buy equipment. The Pentagon said last week Iraq had requested information about buying 36 F-16 fighter jets, and officials have signaled they want to acquire other high-tech gear.

What hinders the military, U.S. officials say, are the inadequate procurement and distribution systems.

That mirrors the problem the central government, flush with cash due to high oil prices, has in spending money on improving desperately needed basic services like electricity.

As Colonel Barry Diehl, who heads logistics for U.S. forces in Baghdad, noted: "There's equipment out there."

U.S. frets nuts-and-bolts will hinder Iraqi security | International | Reuters

U.S. frets nuts-and-bolts will hinder Iraqi security | International | Reuters: "MUTHANNA"AIR FIELD, Iraq (Reuters) - The mechanics First Lieutenant Ahmed Abbas commands are capable enough, but the Iraqi army officer complains they can't work miracles without spare parts for broken-down Humvees.

His men, wearing blue jumpsuits as they huddle around the open bonnet of a Humvee, are forced to scavenge parts from destroyed vehicles or scour auto markets near this dusty Baghdad airbase for brake disks or steering boxes.

"We make requests, but they don't have the parts," he said.

But on another base across Baghdad, $51 million in repair parts sit unused, the U.S. military said.

The inability to get parts to vehicles that need them illustrates Iraq's struggle to keep its military running -- supplying troops with food and bullets, moving tanks to battle zones, fuelling and refitting trucks and ambulances.

U.S. officials in Iraq are quick to credit the Iraqi military's increasing skill on the battlefield for helping bring about the sharp drop in violence over the past year.

Yet such improvements have exposed the Iraqi army's Achilles' heel, a weak logistics system, they say.

"If you know that you're going to get bullets, you know that you're going get medical care, you're going to fight a little harder, right?" said Colonel Edward Dorman, the senior logistician for U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Getting Iraq's nuts-and-bolts ability up to speed, he said, "instils a little more confidence. It allows us to walk away."

U.S. officials say Iraq's performance in this area will show how well its forces will be able to sustain security gains, especially with American troop levels falling.

EQUIPMENT BUILD-UP

Iraq's security forces have grown to 591,000 personnel, including 180,000 in the army. The police comprise the bulk of the security forces.

As the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has rebuilt its military from scratch, Iraq has acquired a large amount of weapons and vehicles to boost its firepower -- stretching its ability to repair, maintain and even keep track of equipment.

Dorman said Iraq was "almost totally reliant" a year ago on U.S. forces to transport equipment, resupply soldiers with ammunition, retrieve damaged vehicles and more.

But he also noted major strides to improve logistics, which were reflected in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's offensives against Shi'ite militants in the past several months
.

"It ain't the easiest thing in the world for any army that's regaining its footing and reinventing itself. It's really hard," said Lieutenant-Colonel Fred Wintrich, who heads a team of 23 U.S. soldiers who live alongside Iraq's 54th Army Brigade, 6th Division at the Muthanna air field in Baghdad.

Wintrich's is one of five such logistics teams across Baghdad providing advice on repairing vehicles, administering emergency medical care and paying staff.

He said the Iraqi army is "infinitely" more disciplined and capable than in years past, when ill-equipped units struggled to impose order and some soldiers melted away in battle.

"Now, soldiers use helmets. The helmets are buckled. Their weapons are clean," Wintrich said.

The same goes for logistics: "Two years ago, getting the Iraq army paid was a problem. Today, it's not."

Yet work remains if the U.S. military is to meet its goal of ensuring Iraq is not hobbled by weak logistics by April 2009. Dorman reckons Iraq is 50 or 60 percent of where it needs to be eventually.

Even today, only 80 percent of the Iraqi army's vehicles are in condition to be driven into battle, he said
.

Luckily, oil-rich Iraq can afford to buy equipment. The Pentagon said last week Iraq had requested information about buying 36 F-16 fighter jets, and officials have signaled they want to acquire other high-tech gear.

What hinders the military, U.S. officials say, are the inadequate procurement and distribution systems.

That mirrors the problem the central government, flush with cash due to high oil prices, has in spending money on improving desperately needed basic services like electricity.

As Colonel Barry Diehl, who heads logistics for U.S. forces in Baghdad, noted: "There's equipment out there."

Crooks and Liars » Ollie North And That Afghan Airstrike

Crooks and Liars » Ollie North And That Afghan Airstrike: "The"story of an American airstrike on an Afghan village on the night of August 21 keeps getting stranger. At first, the US military said that militants had been killed in the attack, then Afghan officials alleged that only civilians had died - over 80, including at least 50 children. The US military investigated and stuck by its story and then mobile phone video of dozens of civilian casualties, ostensibly from the strike, turned up.

Now, the US has dispatched a general to Afghanistan to look anew at the events surrounding the airstrike and re-appraise the military investigation’s conclusion.

But the story has taken a new turn - it appears the original investigation relied on the corroboration of an embedded journalist when it concluded that the airstrike had, after all, only hit militants. That journalist has now been revealed to have been former Iran/Contra conspirator and FOX correspondent Colonel Oliver North.

The US military said that its findings were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the US force. He was named as the Fox News correspondent Oliver North, who came to prominence in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, when he was an army colonel.

Sources close to one of the investigations said that a video film was shot by Afghan officials the morning after the attack. It corroborates the doctor’s footage but has not been made public.

In a statement released on Saturday, the commander of Nato forces, General David McKiernan, appeared to back away from previous US accounts. He said: “Following the recent operation in Azizabad, Shindand district, we realise there is a large discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties reported by soldiers and local villagers. I remain responsible to continue to try and account for this disparity in numbers, but above all I want to express our heartfelt sorrow to all families that lost loved ones in this firefight.”

(Some of the mobile phone footage is at that Times link. It was shot by a doctor and the Times says “has been edited to remove the most graphic footage of dead children and adults”. Even so, it’s not for the faint of heart.)

As my colleague Anderson wrote at Newshoggers:

It is entirely unclear just what North did to “corroborate” US military claims of Taliban deaths, but his efforts to bolster the military stance appear about to go down in the same flames that killed 90 Afghan civilians.

While doubtful, perhaps the US military should rethink their reliance on the fantastical stories of a known bullshit artist and pathological liar, someone who by all rights ought to be in prison.

I wonder if we’ll see North answer questions about what he said and why he said it on FOX? Somehow, I doubt it.

Keith Olbermann covered the airstrike massacre during his Bushed! segment, its disastrous diplomatic aftermath and North’s involvement on Monday: “Realising that a) he’s not a journalist b) he’s not independent and c) his eye-witnessing includes seeing things that aren’t really there, the US military has now reversed its stance…”

[bth: Oliver North has made a career or violating the public trust.]

John McCain was against Future Combat Systems before he was for criticizing Barack Obama for being against it | FP Passport

John McCain was against Future Combat Systems before he was for criticizing Barack Obama for being against it | FP Passport: "As"I noted yesterday, the McCain campaign has been dinging Barack Obama for proposing a slowdown in funds for Future Combat Systems, the Army's $200 billion modernization program.

Well, the indefatigable Noah Shachtman has kept digging, and he's found a doozy. John McCain's top economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, submitted a budget plan to the Washington Post's editorial board in July. In it, the McCain campaign says it will eliminate -- not slow -- FCS entirely:

Balance the budget requires slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed).

Whoops. Shactman comments:

McCain aides are privately furious about the contradiction, I'm hearing. But there's been no official comment, so far, about the mix-up.

McCain Campaign Called for 'End' to Army 'Future' | Danger Room from Wired.com

McCain Campaign Called for 'End' to Army 'Future' | Danger Room from Wired.com: "The"McCain campaign's budget plan suggests that the Army's massive modernization effort, "Future Combat System[s]... should be ended." But, as noted earlier, that's at odds with what the candidate himself is saying. Just yesterday, McCain went after his Democratic rival, Barack Obama -- for suggesting that Future Combat Systems be merely "slow[ed]."

On July 14th, "the McCain campaign's senior economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, provided [a] plan to balance the federal budget by 2013 to The Washington Post editorial board," the paper writes. Included in that plan was the following passage:

Balance the budget requires slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed).

McCain has long had problems with FCS, the Army's effort to revamp soldiers' networks, robots, and fleets of ground vehicles. In 2006, McCain held hearings on the program -- specifically, on the shady deal between Boeing and the Army for FCS. Eventually, that contract was changed.

McCain aides are privately furious about the contradiction, I'm hearing. But there's been no official comment, so far, about the mix-up.

The Petraeus Doctrine

The Petraeus Doctrine: "For"or a military accustomed to quick, easy victories, the trials and tribulations of the Iraq War have come as a rude awakening. To its credit, the officer corps has responded not with excuses but with introspection. One result, especially evident within the U.S. Army, has been the beginning of a Great Debate of sorts.

Anyone who cares about the Army’s health should take considerable encouragement from this intellectual ferment. Yet anyone who cares about future U.S. national-security strategy should view the debate with considerable concern: it threatens to encroach upon matters that civilian policy makers, not soldiers, should decide.

What makes this debate noteworthy is not only its substance, but its character—the who and the how.

The military remains a hierarchical organization in which orders come from the top down. Yet as the officer corps grapples with its experience in Iraq, fresh ideas are coming from the bottom up. In today’s Army, the most-creative thinkers are not generals but mid-career officers—lieutenant colonels and colonels.

Like any bureaucracy, today’s military prefers to project a united front when dealing with the outside world, keeping internal dissent under wraps. Nonetheless, the Great Debate is unfolding in plain view in publications outside the Pentagon’s purview, among them print magazines such as Armed Forces Journal, the Web-based Small Wars Journal, and the counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama.

The chief participants in this debate—all Iraq War veterans—fixate on two large questions. First, why, after its promising start, did Operation Iraqi Freedom go so badly wrong? Second, how should the hard-earned lessons of Iraq inform future policy? Hovering in the background of this Iraq-centered debate is another war that none of the debaters experienced personally—namely, Vietnam.

The protagonists fall into two camps: Crusaders and Conservatives.

The Crusaders consist of officers who see the Army’s problems in Iraq as self-inflicted. According to members of this camp, things went awry because rigidly conventional senior commanders, determined “never again” to see the Army sucked into a Vietnam-like quagmire, had largely ignored unconventional warfare and were therefore prepared poorly for it. Typical of this generation is Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, once the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, who in late 2003 was still describing the brewing insurgency as “strategically and operationally insignificant,” when the lowliest buck sergeant knew otherwise.

Younger officers critical of Sanchez are also committed to the slogan “Never again,” but with a different twist: never again should the officer corps fall prey to the willful amnesia to which the Army succumbed after Vietnam, when it turned its back on that war.

Among the Crusaders’ most influential members is Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a West Pointer and Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate from Oxford University. In 2002, he published a book, impeccably timed, titled Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam. After serving in Iraq as a battalion operations officer, Nagl helped rewrite the Army’s counterinsurgency manual and commanded the unit that prepares U.S. soldiers to train Iraqi security forces. (Earlier this year, he left the Army to accept a position with a Washington think tank.)

To Nagl, the lessons of the recent past are self-evident. The events of 9/11, he writes, “conclusively demonstrated that instability anywhere can be a real threat to the American people here at home.” For the foreseeable future, political conditions abroad rather than specific military threats will pose the greatest danger to the United States.

Instability creates ungoverned spaces in which violent anti-American radicals thrive. Yet if instability anywhere poses a threat, then ensuring the existence of stability everywhere—denying terrorists sanctuary in rogue or failed states—becomes a national-security imperative. Define the problem in these terms, and winning battles becomes less urgent than pacifying populations and establishing effective governance.

War in this context implies not only coercion but also social engineering. As Nagl puts it, the security challenges of the 21st century will require the U.S. military “not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies.”

Of course, back in the 1960s an earlier experiment in changing entire societies yielded unmitigated disaster—at least that’s how the Army of the 1980s and 1990s chose to remember its Vietnam experience. Crusaders take another view, however. They insist that Vietnam could have been won—indeed was being won, after General Creighton Abrams succeeded General William Westmoreland in 1968 and jettisoned Westmoreland’s heavy-handed search-and-destroy strategy, to concentrate instead on winning Vietnamese hearts and minds. Defeat did not result from military failure; rather, defeat came because the American people lacked patience, while American politicians lacked guts.

The Crusaders’ perspective on Iraq tracks neatly with this revisionist take on Vietnam, with the hapless Sanchez (among others) standing in for West­moreland, and General David Petrae­us—whose Princeton doctoral dissertation was titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam”—as successor to General Abrams. Abrams’s successful if tragically aborted campaign in Vietnam serves as a precursor to Petrae­us’s skillfully orchestrated “surge” in Iraq: each demonstrates that the United States can prevail in “stability operations” as long as commanders grasp the true nature of the problem and respond appropriately.

For Nagl, the imperative of the moment is to institutionalize the relevant lessons of Vietnam and Iraq, thereby enabling the Army, he writes, “to get better at building societies that can stand on their own.” That means buying fewer tanks while spending more on language proficiency; curtailing the hours spent on marksmanship ranges while increasing those devoted to studying foreign cultures. It also implies changing the culture of the officer corps. An Army that since Vietnam has self-consciously cultivated a battle-oriented warrior ethos will instead emphasize, in Nagl’s words, “the intellectual tools necessary to foster host-nation political and economic development.”

Although the issue is by no means fully resolved, the evidence suggests that Nagl seems likely to get his way. Simply put, an officer corps that a decade ago took its intellectual cues from General Colin Powell now increasingly identifies itself with the views of General Petrae­us. In the 1990s, the Powell Doctrine, with its emphasis on overwhelming force, assumed that future American wars would be brief, decisive, and infrequent. According to the emerging Petrae­us Doctrine, the Army (like it or not) is entering an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous—with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier’s repertoire. ...

[bth: this article is worth reading in full. What surprises me about the debate is that it presumes the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Somalia or the Sudan are over. They are not. They are not history. They are current time. .... Doesn't it seem that we should be shaping our military based on probable conflicts and enemies? ... Doesn't it seem that we should be anticipating problem areas and organizing our force structure accordingly? ... Doesn't it seem that instead of abandoning artillery training we should create specialized divisions that retain that knowledge while creating other specialized units for counter insurgency? Doesn't special forces mean special training? Does the 10th Mountain have to look like the 1 Armored? No it doesn't. .... So Andy B. makes the point that the army should be making these decisions. Well they shouldn't in a vacuum and Washington is a leadership city at present, but it doesn't mean that generals can't freakin think. This debate shouldn't be just among colonels. Generals lead. So lead.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Hunt for Bin Laden, a New Approach

In Hunt for Bin Laden, a New Approach: "PESHAWAR", Pakistan -- Frustrated by repeated dead ends in the search for Osama bin Laden, U.S. and Pakistani officials said they are questioning long-held assumptions about their strategy and are shifting tactics to intensify the use of the unmanned but lethal Predator drone spy plane in the mountains of western Pakistan.

The number of Hellfire missile attacks by Predators in Pakistan has more than tripled, with 11 strikes reported by Pakistani officials this year, compared with three in 2007. The attacks are part of a renewed effort to cripple al-Qaeda's central command that began early last year and has picked up speed as President Bush's term in office winds down, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials involved in the operations.

There has been no confirmed trace of bin Laden since he narrowly escaped from the CIA and the U.S. military after the battle near Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in December 2001, according to U.S., Pakistani and European officials. They said they are now concentrating on a short list of other al-Qaeda leaders who have been sighted more recently, in hopes that their footprints could lead to bin Laden.

In interviews, the officials attributed their failure to find bin Laden to an overreliance on military force, disruptions posed by the war in Iraq and a pattern of underestimating the enemy. Above all, they said, the search has been handicapped by an inability to develop informants in Pakistan's isolated tribal regions, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

With CIA officers and U.S. Special Forces prevented from operating freely in Pakistan, the search for bin Laden and his lieutenants is taking place mostly from the air. The Predators, equipped with multiple cameras that transmit live video via satellite, have launched their Hellfire missiles against four targets in the past month alone. Since January, the reconnaissance drones have killed two senior al-Qaeda leaders with $5 million bounties on their heads.

Still, debate persists among both U.S. and Pakistani officials over the merits of this aggressive approach, which has resulted in higher civilian casualties and strained diplomatic relations. "Making more effort and flailing are different things," said a senior Pakistani security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating U.S. authorities.

Bin Laden, a 51-year-old Saudi, has thwarted the U.S. government's attempts to catch him since 1998, when he signed a fatwa calling for attacks on Americans and ordered the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Today, seven years after he masterminded the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden is believed to wear disguises routinely and takes extreme care to avoid electronic communications, relying on human couriers to pass messages, officials said. Pakistani officials said the CIA and the U.S. military have played into bin Laden's hands by pursuing al-Qaeda with bombs and missiles. Pashtun tribes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, angry at the number of civilian casualties, see the United States as the enemy, the officials said. Despite a $25 million reward posted by the U.S. government, no one has been willing to turn in the al-Qaeda leader.

"Unless you have people who support you, human intelligence will never work," said Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, a retired Pakistani general who oversaw efforts to track bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders after 2001. "You have to have friendly people."

Another major obstacle has been the war in Iraq.

Officials with the CIA and the U.S. military said they began shifting resources out of Afghanistan in early 2002 and still haven't recovered from that mistake.

"Iraq was a fundamental wrong turn. That was the most strategically negative action that was taken," said John O. Brennan, a former deputy executive director of the CIA and a former chief of the National Counterterrorism Center. "The collective effort in the government required to go after an individual like bin Laden -- the Iraq campaign consumed that
."

The Bush administration tried to reinvigorate the flagging hunt for bin Laden early last year by redeploying Predator drones, intelligence officers and Special Forces units to Pakistan and Afghanistan. But by then, U.S. counterterrorism officials said, the war in Iraq had already given bin Laden and his core command precious time to regroup and solidify their new base of operations in northwestern Pakistan.

More recently, the search has been hobbled by a tattered relationship between the United States and Pakistan. CIA and U.S. military officials said cooperation is so bad that they now withhold intelligence about the suspected whereabouts of al-Qaeda commanders out of fear that the Pakistanis might tip them off. Leaders in Pakistan respond that they are committed to fighting al-Qaeda. But they also persistently deny that bin Laden is in their country.

Although they lack hard evidence, U.S. officials said it is only logical that bin Laden is in Pakistan, where he has roamed the mountains along the Afghan border for two decades and enjoyed the protection of Taliban leaders.

"In many ways, it's a perfect place," said Bruce Riedel, a former South Asia analyst for the CIA and National Security Council. "But there's not a scintilla of evidence that we have any idea where he is."

U.S. intelligence officials said bin Laden's fear of being caught prevents him from overseeing al-Qaeda's day-to-day operations. But they said there is no doubt he remains in charge of the network.

Bin Laden "remains al-Qaeda's authoritative source for strategic and tactical guidance," Ted Gistaro, the U.S. government's top intelligence analyst for al-Qaeda, said in a speech last month. He added that bin Laden, along with his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, "continue to maintain al-Qaeda's unity and its focus on their strategic vision and operational priorities."

Bin Laden is believed to depend on a small circle of fellow Saudis for his personal security. But officials said the Taliban provides him and his lieutenants with a network of safe houses.

According to an internal Taliban memo viewed by The Washington Post, Taliban security operatives have a code name for bin Laden -- Taqwa, an Arabic term that means fear of or reverence for God.

A Hamstrung Hunt

In late 2005, the CIA disbanded Alec Station, its special unit dedicated to tracking bin Laden. The search was going nowhere.

The CIA concluded that bin Laden's importance had diminished compared with other terrorist threats, such as al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq. Analysts who had specialized in tracking the terrorist leader were reassigned.

A year later, however, many intelligence officials were beginning to change their minds. After the disruption of the airliner plot in London in August 2006, it became clear that al-Qaeda's core command -- previously thought to have been knocked out -- had made a comeback. The CIA later dispatched scores of additional officers to Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province, where al-Qaeda had taken root.

The environment, however, had become more hostile than ever. Resurgent Taliban fighters had forced the Pakistani government to sign cease-fire agreements in the lawless tribal border areas of North and South Waziristan. Surveys showed that bin Laden's popularity had soared among Pakistanis and that animosity toward the United States was pervasive.

Most CIA case officers were restricted to Pakistani military bases in remote areas. Arthur Keller, a retired CIA officer who served in the tribal areas in 2006, said he had little freedom of movement. Pakistani liaison officers, he said, were more interested in keeping an eye on their CIA counterparts than in providing assistance.

"I couldn't go out myself -- blond-haired, blue-eyed me. I could do it in Austria, but not in Pakistan," Keller said. "It's all done at two removes. That's typical of how it works in a region where the Pakistanis aren't interested in helping out, which they definitely weren't."

Since then, the hunt for bin Laden and his deputies has also been hamstrung by a running dispute among U.S. officials over whether to send Special Forces units into Pakistan, despite an order from the Pakistani government prohibiting such operations.

U.S. officials said they have drafted several covert missions since 2005 that would have dispatched teams of Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force into Pakistan after receiving intelligence on individual al-Qaeda leaders, though not bin Laden. But most of the raids were canceled or failed to receive high-level approval because of doubts that they would work and concern over the fallout if U.S. commandos were killed or captured, the officials said.

"There were some really heated debates between the CIA and Special Forces about who should have authority to do what, and under what circumstances," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the discussions. "Don't underestimate the friction that was caused by that."

The disagreements appear to have been resolved, at least for now.

Last week, in a covert raid, U.S. commandos crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan in helicopters and killed about 20 people in a suspected Taliban compound in South Waziristan.

Although it formally protests such actions as a violation of its sovereignty, the Pakistani government has generally looked the other way when the CIA has conducted Predator missions or U.S. troops respond to cross-border attacks by the Taliban. But some officials said ground incursions deep into Pakistani territory could provoke political upheaval.

"This has become incredibly complicated and messy," said a former senior British intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The Americans have been talking about inserting themselves militarily into the tribal areas since 2005, at least. But I think it would just complicate the whole issue by a very significant factor."

Michael Scheuer, a retired CIA officer and former chief of the agency's bin Laden unit, said there weren't many alternatives. "Our options are terrible," he said. "The new president will inherit a fish that is really starting to smell."

Ignoring Hearts and Minds

Pakistani officials said that if the U.S. government had really wanted to rout al-Qaeda, it should have tried harder to modernize Pakistan's impoverished tribal belt, instead of targeting it with missiles.

"We thought, and we still think so, that the American strategy should have been to stabilize the area rather than look for a needle in a haystack," said Mahmood Shah, a retired civilian security chief for the tribal regions.

"If you find him now, the problem still won't be resolved," he said of bin Laden. "Maybe you'll get the fish, but you'll poison the pond around him."

Since 2002, the United States has given more than $10.5 billion in aid to Pakistan, not including funds for covert operations. Much of the money, however, has gone to Pakistan's military or has been spent with little oversight, according to U.S. government audits. Only a tiny fraction has gone for building schools and hospitals in western Pakistan.

"The Americans didn't believe in that," said the senior Pakistani security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They just said, 'Bang, bang, bang.' A man who has a sledgehammer in his hand, all problems look like nails."

J. Cofer Black, director of the CIA's counterterrorism center from 1999 to 2002, was a key player in the hunt for al-Qaeda and well known in Washington for his give-no-quarter approach. "When we're through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs," he told Bush shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In an interview last month, however, Black echoed concerns expressed by other officials that the U.S. government had paid too little attention to the "hearts and minds" of people living along the Afghan-Pakistani border, many of whom have reinforced their allegiance to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

"This may sound strange coming from a flies-on-the-eyeballs guy, but the most important thing is support and aid to local leaders and the population," Black said. "If you don't have that, you can put in all the divisions you want, and it won't matter
."

A Double Game

For seven years, the hunt for bin Laden hinged on the proposition that the U.S. government had a reliable partner in Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, who resigned under pressure last month.

But even some Pakistanis said the U.S. government was naive to think that Musharraf or his generals would do much to find bin Laden. They noted that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency had cultivated ties with the al-Qaeda leader for two decades and that many officers remained sympathetic to his cause.

Afrasiab Khattak, a Pashtun politician based here in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said Pakistani forces would occasionally help the CIA capture second-string al-Qaeda figures, but only to keep the aid money flowing from Washington.

"The Bush administration deceived itself," he said. "From the very beginning, the Pakistani generals were playing a double game. It was an open secret."

Khattak said he has warned U.S. officials since 2000 of bin Laden's close relations with Pakistan's spymasters, adding that he tried to alert Washington after 2002 that al-Qaeda was rebuilding in the tribal areas.

"We kept telling the Americans, 'They are here.' They said: 'No, no. This cannot be true. General Musharraf is very committed, he's with us,' " recalled Khattak, president of the Awami National Party in North-West Frontier Province.

Musharraf and other Pakistani officials have repeatedly dismissed assertions that bin Laden is in their country, pointing the finger at Afghanistan instead.

Retired Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, former commander of the NATO-led military coalition in Afghanistan, said that whenever he raised the subject of bin Laden with his Pakistani counterparts, the answer was the same.

"They'd say: 'If he's around here, he's on your side of the border. If you think you know where he is, tell us,' " said McNeill, who stepped down as commander in June. "That's always their comeback. My response is: 'If I knew, I don't believe I'd tell you. We'd go after him first.' "

Pakistani generals, in turn, blame U.S. officials for not trusting them. They point out that more than 1,000 Pakistani troops have been killed while fighting insurgents in the tribal regions.

Aurakzai, who was appointed after Sept. 11, 2001, to oversee military operations in northwestern Pakistan and later served for almost two years as governor of North-West Frontier Province, said the United States doesn't want to accept the possibility that bin Laden could be hiding elsewhere.

"We've been imprisoned by this idea that he's either on the Afghan or Pakistani side of the border," he said. "Why aren't we looking anywhere else? I think we need to change this mind-set."

So where to start?

"How the hell do I know?" the general replied.

Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.

US "Dangerously Vulnerable" To Chemical, Biological, Nuclear Attacks: Reports

US "Dangerously Vulnerable" To Chemical, Biological, Nuclear Attacks: Reports: "WASHINGTON"— The United States remains "dangerously vulnerable" to chemical, biological and nuclear attacks seven years after the 9/11 attacks, a forthcoming independent study concludes.

And a House Democrats' report says the Bush administration has repeatedly missed opportunities to improve the nation's security.

The recent political rupture between Russia and the U.S. only makes matters worse, said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who helped lead the 9/11 Commission and now chairs the independent group's latest study.

Efforts to reduce access to nuclear technology and bomb-making materials have slowed, thousands of U.S. chemical plants remain unprotected, and the Bush administration continues to oppose strengthening an international treaty to prevent bioterrorism, according to the report by the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure America.

The group includes leaders of the disbanded 9/11 Commission, the bipartisan panel that investigated government missteps before the 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

"The threat of a new, major terrorist attack on the United States is still very real," says the report to be released Wednesday, the same day a congressional commission will hold a hearing in New York on nuclear and biological terrorism threats.

"A nuclear, chemical or biological weapon in the hands of terrorists remains the single greatest threat to our nation," the report said. "While progress has been made in securing these weapons and materials, we are still dangerously vulnerable."

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, had harsher criticism of the Bush administration's efforts. Their report, written by the staffs of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees, found little or no progress across the board on national security initiatives.

[bth: Funding for counter terrorism is down year over year. What a ridiculous situation. Its going to take a freaking terrorist attack where people are killed AGAIN before we get serious about this matter. As someone described the situation to me - 'its event driven'.]

The BRAD BLOG : 'Daily Voting News' For September 09, 2008

The BRAD BLOG : 'Daily Voting News' For September 09, 2008: "After"months of pressure from state election officials, voting rights groups, veteran’s organizations, members of the US Senate, and citizens, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has decided that it will be alright for veterans who live in VA facilities or are patients in VA facilities to be visited by non-partisan folks who want to help them register to vote. Unfortunately this decision comes just a month from the voter registration deadlines in most states. Now those groups who have fought hard to get permission to register veterans need to go do the job.

Ohio is becoming a battle ground for voter registrations. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is going to battle against the state legislature over a law that was passed in 2006 that allows counties to remove voters from the rolls if election notices sent by the counties to the voters are returned for any reason. This is a violation of state law and federal law and the US Constitution according to her lawyers. Any voter removed from the rolls must be given due process. ...

[bth: these veterans were being deliberately disenfranchised by the Bush Adminitration's Sec. of the VA. Alma has been working on this issue for months locally. The VA staff at the local level are helpful but were being blocked at the national level by the secretary. Criminal in my opinion.]

What Is Woodward's 'Secret Weapon' in Iraq? | Danger Room from Wired.com

What Is Woodward's 'Secret Weapon' in Iraq? | Danger Room from Wired.com: "Everyone's"buzzing about the "sophisticated and lethal special operations program" that Bob Woodward alluded to in his recent 60 Minutes interview. An important question is: what in the heck was Woodward talking about? Secret death rays? The Voice of God weapon? It's enough to make me break from my current coffee shop lounging existence to chime in with some thoughts on the subject. First, let's review what Woodward said in the interview:

"This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target and kill leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs," Woodward told Pelley.

"But what are we talking about here? It's some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you're looking for?" Pelley asked.

"I'd love to go through the details, but I'm not going to," Woodward replied.... "If you were an al-Qaida leader … and you knew about what they were able to do, you'd get your ass outta town."


I'm going to make a wager about what I think Woodward is talking about, and I'll be curious to see what Danger Room readers have to say. I believe he is talking about the much ballyhooed (in defense geek circles) "Tagging, Tracking and Locating" program; here's a briefing on it from Special Operations Command. These are newfangled technologies designed to track people from long distances, without the targeted people realizing they are being tracked. That can theoretically include thermal signatures, or some sort of "taggant" placed on a person. Think Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Well, not so many cameras, maybe.

Why do I think this is the technology Woodward is referring to? Well, first, because it pretty much fits the bill, in terms of the type of capability he appears to be talking about. It has involvement from a number of players, including the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and Special Operations Command. Also, the Defense Science Board has talked about this capability in similar terms, saying "the global war on terrorism cannot be won without a ‘Manhattan Project’-like TTL [tagging, tracking, and locating] program."

Do I, however, think that there really has been some great big breakthrough, that, in Woodward's words, is the equivalent of the "advent of the tank and the airplane?" Or, in the case of the Manhattan Project comparison, the atomic bomb? I don't know what Woodward has been presented with, or what he knows of these capabilities, but I'm not convinced it's as dramatic a technological breakthrough as he seems to suggest. That said, I suppose it could be, but it looks like we'll have to wait to see more details

[bth: KGB used to put radioactive dust on a person's door mat and then track the radiation.]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

700-Ton Ground Bot Pushes Trust Envelope | Danger Room from Wired.com

700-Ton Ground Bot Pushes Trust Envelope | Danger Room from Wired.com: "The"crowd gasped last year at the Urban Challenge robot race in Victorville, California, when the 15-ton Oshkosh TerraMax cargo truck -- largest by far of the 11 racers -- pulled into the gate. The bot had to bow out after minor collision, but its sheer size relative to its SUV-based rivals was most impressive.

Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Carnegie Mellon University, whose team placed first at Urban Challenge, is partnering up with tractor-maker Caterpillar to build the world's largest ground robot: a 700-ton robo dump truck capable of hauling 240 tons of earth. Just to be clear: that's nearly 50 TerraMaxes crammed together. (Thanks to Bill Sweetman at Ares for the tip!)

What's the big deal? Well, you can't just scale up robot technology. TerraMax, for its part, required special algorithms in order to navigate in a world scaled for smaller vehicles, according to Oshkosh engineer Chris Yakes. That's the subject of a chapter in my new book WAR BOTS.

And, as always with robots, there's a trust issue -- another major theme of WAR BOTS. The bigger a bot is, the more intimidating it is and the less likely people will be to trust it. Consider the reaction Army soldiers had to the Convoy Active Safety Technologies experiment. CAST, a robotic autopilot based on Urban Challenge technology, was installed on a couple medium cargo trucks and put through the paces in Virginia last year. The idea was to give soldiers in Iraq a smart robotic buddy to help them on long supply runs. The robot could steer while the soldier kept an eye out for attackers.

The system was safe, but according to one Army researcher I spoke to, soldiers still didn't trust it.

But with exposure comes acceptance, and as giant bots like Caterpillar's find their niches in the civilian world, the military will become more comfortable with them, too.
Daily Kos: State of the Nation

US finds clues in bakery to foil Iraqi terror plot|NewsChannel 8

US finds clues in bakery to foil Iraqi terror plot|NewsChannel 8: "Lt"Christopher Hanes knew something was wrong as soon as he stepped into the Friends bakery. The oven was unused, the water tank was empty and a large concrete bin was full of dirt that the two employees claimed was used to cool cakes. Hanes and his soldiers moved the water tank and found the entrance to a 50-foot tunnel heading straight for the nearby provincial government headquarters.

The U.S. military believes insurgents planned to tunnel underneath the compound's blast walls and blow up the headquarters building. With 250-300 Iraq (web|news) is working in the governor's office and perhaps hundreds more there for business, casualties from such a blast could have been catastrophic.

Discovery of the tunnel Sept. 1, the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, drove home a message: Sunni militants have been battered but not defeated despite a monthslong operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces to clear Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad....

Al Qaeda video slams Iran - swissinfo

Al Qaeda video slams Iran - swissinfo: "DUBAI"Reuters) - Al Qaeda has issued a video marking the September 11 attacks, in which deputy group leader Ayman al-Zawahri accuses Iran of taking part in a Western "Crusader" war against Islam, Al Jazeera television said on Monday.

The video also shows apparently recent footage of senior al Qaeda figure Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, casting doubt on a report that he was killed on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan last month.

In a segment on the video aired by al Jazeera, Zawahri attacked Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, questioning the Islamic Republic's anti-Western stand.

"The (leader of Iran) collaborates with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and recognises the puppet regimes in both countries, while he warns of death and destruction to anyone who touches an inch of Iranian soil," Zawahri said.

Al Qaeda, a militant Sunni Islamist group, often criticises predominantly Shi'ite Iran, which has good relations with Afghanistan's anti-Taliban leaders and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government.

"Not even one Shi'ite authority -- whether in Iraq or elsewhere -- has issued a fatwa (religious edict) obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American Crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan," Zawahri said.

Another segment of the video showed Abu al-Yazid commenting on the resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, announced on August 18 -- six days after a Pakistani official said Abu al-Yazid had been killed in clashes with Pakistani forces near the Afghan border.

Abu al-Yazid, also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri, said on the video that Musharraf was "humiliated by God" for betraying Islam.

"So here he is ... finding no option but to resign from the presidency," he said.

Yazid, believed to be commander of al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan, is an Egyptian who served time in jail with Zawahri after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

An Al Jazeera editor told Reuters the network received a copy of the 90-minute video, which he said was a compilation, including new material.

(Reporting by Firouz Sedarat, and John Irish; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Airliner bomb plot: The al-Qaeda connection

Airliner bomb plot: The al-Qaeda connection - Telegraph: "That"man, abu Ubaida al-Masri, apparently came up with a novel design of home-made detonator that would be utilised in the attacks. Although intelligence services know what al-Masri looks like and have a photograph of him, they do not know his true identity.

Al-Masri, which is not his real name, has been described as being in his mid-forties, 5ft 7ins tall, muscular and tanned, with greying black hair and a greying beard. He is also missing two fingers, probably as the result of a bomb explosion in Chechnya during the 1990s.

Al-Masri was among a contingent of Egyptians who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and afterwards travelled to Bosnia and Chechnya before arriving in Britain.

By 1995 he was in Munich, Germany, using an alias and asking for asylum. The claim was rejected and he was jailed pending deportation, then released.

He returned to Afghanistan in 2000, serving as an instructor at a training camp near Kabul, where he taught about explosives, artillery and mapping.

The CIA now believes that al-Masri is dead, probably from hepatitis C earlier this year.

He was just one of the links between the liquid bomb plot gang and the July 7 and July 21 bombers.

Intelligence officials also believe the same man was in overall charge of all three plots: al-Qaeda's number three, Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi.

Another key figure that links the different terrorist gangs is Rashid Rauf.

Rauf has not been seen in Britain since the brutal killing of his maternal uncle in 2002, who was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach as he walked home from work in Alum Rock, Birmingham.

Security sources believe Rauf, who knew the leader of the July 21 bombers, Muktar Ibrahim, was the man who housed the liquid bomb plot gang as they arrived at a safe-house in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, where he worked as a travelling salesman.

Investigators believe he acted as a staging post and sent the bombers up to the mountains of the lawless tribal areas to meet with al-Qaeda's bomb-makers.

It was Rauf's sudden arrest in Pakistan which led to the rounding up of the airlines terror cell in Britain as the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command feared their operation could be exposed.

But Britain was unable to get him extradited and 16 months after his arrest he disappeared from custody in a bizarre escape after a court hearing.

Rauf's family run a bakery in Birmingham.

His father was a religious judge in Kashmir, before he moved to Britain in the 1980s, later setting up an Islamic charity called Crescent Relief

Monday, September 08, 2008

Informed Comment

Terror groups developing 'dirty bomb', say security chiefs - Telegraph

Terror groups developing 'dirty bomb', say security chiefs - Telegraph: "They"are exploiting the political chaos in Pakistan in a bid to acquire nuclear material for a 'spectacular' attack.

At least one plot has been uncovered involving Pakistani-based terrorists planning to use nuclear material against a major European target.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda terror group, whose terrorist infrastructure is based in the province of Waziristan in northwest Pakistan, is known to be trying to acquire nuclear technology to use in terror attacks against the West.

Other militant Islamist groups in Pakistan, such as the newly formed Pakistani Taliban, have also shown an interest in developing weapons with a nuclear capability, according to Western security officials.

Security chiefs fear the mounting political instability in Pakistan will make it easier for militant Islamist groups to develop a primitive nuclear device.

Pakistan is the world's only Muslim country with a nuclear weapons arsenal, which was developed during the 1990s by the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadir (AQ) Khan.

Dr Khan was placed under house arrest after he was accused of selling the blueprint for Pakistan's atom bomb to rogue states such as Libya, North Korea and Iran. But the restrictions on Dr Khan's detention have been eased since President Pervez Musharraf was forced from power.

Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is subject to stringent security safeguards put in place with the help of the American military when Mr Musharraf was in office. But there is mounting concern within Western security circles that Islamic terror groups will gain access to Pakistan's expertise in developing terrorist weapons containing nuclear material.

"Islamist militant groups want to carry out terror attacks on a massive scale, and there is no better way for them to achieve that objective than to develop some form of primitive nuclear device," said a senior U.S. security official.

The most likely terror device using nuclear material is a "dirty bomb", where conventional explosives are fitted with radioactive material.

Security experts believe the detonation of such a device in a city like London would provoke widespread panic and chaos, even though the area of contamination would be relatively small.

Western security officials say they have uncovered evidence that a Pakistani based group was planning to attack a European target with such a device, although details of the planned attack have not been made public.

The sweeping victory of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of murdered Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, in the presidential election at the weekend, has done little to reassure Western diplomats that the security situation in Pakistan is about to improve. Mr Zardari was jailed for nine years on corruption charges, and Western diplomats have little confidence in his ability to provide strong leadership.

"Pakistan is in danger of becoming a failed state, and Mr Zardari's election victory is unlikely to improve the situation," said a Western diplomat. ...

Most of the recent Islamist terror plots against Britain – including the July 7 attacks in London in 2005 – had links with Pakistan, and British security officials say groups based in Pakistan continue to pose the greatest terrorist threat to Britain.

British security officials recently confirmed that they were investigating at least 30 terror plots that originated in Pakistan. "In the past many of the plots have been fairly primitive, but we are seeing a growing level of sophistication. We fear it is only a question of time before the groups based in Pakistan develop some form of nuclear capability

Outmaneuvered And Outranked, Military Chiefs Became Outsiders

Outmaneuvered And Outranked, Military Chiefs Became Outsiders: "At"the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late November 2006, Gen. Peter Pace was facing every chairman's nightmare: a potential revolt of the other chiefs. Two months earlier, the JCS had convened a special team of colonels to recommend options for reversing the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Now, it appeared that the chiefs' and colonels' advice was being marginalized, if not ignored, by the White House.

During a JCS meeting with the colonels Nov. 20, Chairman Pace dropped a bomb: The White House was considering a "surge" of additional troops to quell the violence in Iraq. "Would it be a good idea?" Pace asked the group. "If so, what would you do with five more brigades?" That amounted to 20,000 to 30,000 more troops, depending on the number of support personnel.

Pace's question caught the chiefs and colonels off guard. The JCS hadn't recommended a surge, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Iraq commander, was opposed to one of that magnitude. Where had this come from? Was it a serious option? Was it already a done deal?

Pace said he had another White House meeting in two days. "I want to be able to give the president a recommendation on what's doable," he said.

A rift had been growing between the country's military and civilian leadership, and in several JCS meetings that November, the chiefs' frustrations burst into the open. They had all but dismissed the surge option, worried that the armed forces were already stretched to the breaking point. They favored a renewed effort to train and build up the Iraqi security forces so that U.S. troops could begin to leave.

"Why isn't this getting any traction over there, Pete?" Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief, asked at one session inside the "tank," the military's secure conference room for candid and secret debates. Was the president being briefed?

"I can only get part of it before him," Pace said, "and I'm not getting any feedback."

Pace, Schoomaker and Casey found themselves badly out of sync with the White House in the fall of 2006, finally losing control of the war strategy altogether after the midterm elections. Schoomaker was outraged when he saw news coverage that retired Gen. Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff, had briefed the president Dec. 11 about a new Iraq strategy being proposed by the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank.

"When does AEI start trumping the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this stuff?" Schoomaker asked at the next chiefs' meeting.

Pace, normally given to concealing his opinions, let down the veil slightly and gave a little sigh. But he didn't answer. Schoomaker thought Pace was too much of a gentleman to be effective in a business where forcefulness and a willingness to get in people's faces were survival skills. "They weren't listening to what Pete [Pace] was saying," Schoomaker said later in private. "Or Pete wasn't carrying the mail, or he was carrying it incompletely."

In several tank meetings, Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations, voiced concern that the politicians were going to find a way to place the blame for Iraq on the military. "They're orchestrating this to dump in our laps," Mullen said. He raised the point so many times that Schoomaker thought the Navy leader sounded "almost paranoid."


* * *

The atmosphere in the tank was tense Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, as Pace briefed the chiefs and the colonels on a White House meeting about Iraq the day before. J.D. Crouch, a deputy to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, had presented the results of a secret strategy review on how to respond to the escalating violence. "I walked out happy because I got my views on the table," Pace said, making it clear that this was not always the case.

The president, Pace told the group, is "leaning into announcing a new phase in the war that will help us achieve our original end state. . . . By April 1, 2007, we would have five more brigades in Iraq."

Schoomaker was dismayed. Suppose the surge didn't work? "What is our fallback plan?" he asked.

There was no fallback, Pace replied.

"Are people engaged on this," Schoomaker asked almost defiantly of the surge proponents, "or is this politics?"

"They are engaged," Pace replied. But if progress is still lacking "after we surge five brigades," Pace said, "then you are forced to conscription, which no one wants to talk about." To mention a draft was to invite the ghosts of Vietnam into the tank.

"Folks keep talking about the readiness of U.S. forces. Ready to do what?" Schoomaker growled. "We need to look at our strategic depth for handling other threats. How do we get bigger? And how do we make what we have today more ready? This is not just about Iraq!"

Part of the chiefs' job was to figure out how to accelerate the military's overall global readiness and capacity, Schoomaker said. "I sometimes feel like it is hope against hope," he said. "I feel like Nero did when Rome was burning. It just worries the hell out of me."

Several colonels wanted to applaud. It worried them, too. Others disagreed, feeling it was more important to focus on the current war. But they all maintained their poker faces.

"Look, no one is whistling 'Dixie' here," Pace told the group. "The president and the White House understand the resource constraints."

It was not clear that anyone believed what the chairman was saying, or whether even Pace believed it.

"We need to position ourselves properly for the decision likely to come," Pace said. "The sense of urgency is over Iraq, but not over the other issues."

Mullen said the all-volunteer force might break under the strain of extended and repeated deployments. "I am still searching for the grand strategy here," Mullen said. "How does a five-brigade surge over the next few months fit into the larger picture? We have so many other issues and challenges: Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and places we are not even thinking about today."


* * *

In Baghdad, Gen. Casey realized that he had lost a basic, necessary ingredient for a commanding general in wartime. He had lost the confidence of the president, a stunning and devastating realization.

He wasn't alone. The president was not listening to Casey's boss, Gen. John P. Abizaid at Central Command, anymore, either.

"Yeah, I know," the president said to Abizaid at a National Security Council session in December, "you're going to tell me you're against the surge."

Yes, Abizaid replied, and then presented his argument that U.S. forces needed to get out of Iraq in order to win.

"The U.S. presence helps to keep a lid on," Bush responded. There were other benefits. A surge would "also help here at home, since for many the measure of success is reduction in violence," Bush said. "And it'll help [Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki to get control of the situation. A heavier presence will buy time for his government."

The rest of Iraq wasn't as tenuous as Baghdad, Abizaid said. "But it's the capital city that looks chaotic," Bush said. "And when your capital city looks chaotic, it's hard to sustain your position, whether at home or abroad."


* * *

The chiefs' frustration grew so intense that Pace told Bush, "You need to sit down with them, Mr. President, and hear from them directly."

Hadley saw it as an opportunity. He arranged for Bush and Vice President Cheney to visit the JCS in the tank Dec. 13, 2006. The president would come armed with what Hadley called "sweeteners" -- more budget money and a promise to increase the size of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps. It would also be a symbolic visit, important to the chiefs because the president would be on their territory.

"Mr. President," Schoomaker began, "you know that five brigades is really 15."

Schoomaker was in charge of generating the force for the Army. Sending five new brigades to Iraq meant another five would have to take their place in line, and to sustain the surge, another five behind them. This could not be done, Schoomaker said, without either calling up the National Guard and Reserves or extending the 12-month tours in Iraq. The Army had hoped to go in the other direction and cut tours to nine months.

Would a surge transform the situation? Schoomaker asked. If not, why do it? "I don't think that you have the time to surge and generate enough forces for this thing to continue to go," he said.

"Pete, I'm the president," Bush said. "And I've got the time."

"Fine, Mr. President," Schoomaker said. "You're the president."

Several of the chiefs noted that the five brigades were effectively the strategic reserve of the U.S. military, the forces on hand in case of flare-ups elsewhere in the world. Surprise was a way of international life, the chiefs were saying. For years, Bush had been making the point that it was a dangerous world. Did he want to leave the United States in the position of not being able to deal with the next manifestation of that danger?

Bush told the chiefs that they had to win the war at hand. He turned again to Schoomaker. "Pete, you don't agree with me, do you?"

"No," Schoomaker said. "I just don't see it. I just don't. But I know right now that it's going to be 15 brigades. And how we're going to get those 15 brigades, I don't know. This is going to require more than we can generate. You're stressing the force, Mr. President, and these kids just see deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan for the indefinite future."


* * *

"The tank meeting was a very important meeting," Bush told me during a May 2008 interview. "In my own mind, I'm sure I didn't want to walk in with my mind made up and not give these military leaders the benefit of a discussion about a big decision."

The president said that if he were just pretending to be open-minded, "you get sniffed out. . . . I might have been leaning, but my mind was open enough to be able to absorb their advice."

I told him that, based on my reporting, some of the chiefs thought he had already decided, that they had sniffed him out.

"They may have thought I was leaning, and I probably was," Bush said, noting that the chiefs had felt free to express themselves. "But the door wasn't shut."

Still, Bush fully understood the power of his office.

"Generally," he said, "when the commander-in-chief walks in and says, done deal, they say, 'Yes sir, Mr. President.' "


* * *

Just after Christmas, while in the United States, Casey got an e-mail from one of his contacts. "Hey, you need to know that the White House is throwing you under the bus," it read.

A couple of days later, Abizaid phoned Casey with a warning. "Look," Abizaid said, "the surge is coming. Get out of the way." Casey was soon offered a promotion to Army chief of staff, and in February 2007, he left Iraq, replaced by Gen. David H. Petraeus.

The president said later in an interview, "The military, I can remember well, said, 'Okay, fine. More troops. Two brigades.' And I turned to Steve [Hadley] and said, 'Steve, from your analysis, what do you think?' He, being the cautious and thorough man he is, went back, checked, came back to me and said, 'Mr. President, I would recommend that you consider five. Not two.' And I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Because it is the considered judgment of people who I trust and you trust that we need five in order to be able to clear, hold and build.' "

The views of those trusted people came largely through back channels, rather than through the president's established set of military advisers -- Casey's deputy saying that a surge wouldn't work with fewer than five brigades and Jack Keane making the same case to Hadley and Vice President Cheney.

Hadley maintained that the number "comes out of my discussions with Pete Pace."

"Okay, I don't know this," Bush said, interrupting. "I'm not in these meetings, you'll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do."

So the president did not know what his principal military adviser, Gen. Pace, had recommended. Pace, however, had told the chiefs Nov. 20, 2006, that the White House had asked what could be done with five extra brigades.


* * *

The president announced the surge decision Jan. 10, 2007. Five more brigades would go to Baghdad; 4,000 Marines would head to Anbar province.

The next morning, he went to Fort Benning, Ga., to address military personnel and their families. His decision had been opposed by Casey and Abizaid, his military commanders in Iraq. Pace and the Joint Chiefs, his top military advisers, had suggested a smaller increase, if any at all. Schoomaker, the Army chief, had made it clear that the five brigades didn't really exist under the Army's current policy of 12-month rotations. But on this morning, the president delivered his own version of history.

"The commanders on the ground in Iraq, people who I listen to -- by the way, that's what you want your commander-in-chief to do. You don't want decisions being made based upon politics or focus groups or political polls. You want your military decisions being made by military experts. They analyzed the plan, and they said to me and to the Iraqi government: 'This won't work unless we help them. There needs to be a bigger presence.' "

Bush went on, "And so our commanders looked at the plan and said, 'Mr. President, it's not going to work until -- unless we support -- provide more troops.' "

Brady Dennis and Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.

[bth: I'm reading Andrew Bacevich's book, "The Limits of Power". It is pretty easy to see how and why the JCS have been overriden. Is the country better or worse off as a result? Very disturbing that the President is taking his advice from the American Enterprise Institute.]

Iran solidifies control over Hizbullah | Iran news | Jerusalem Post

Iran solidifies control over Hizbullah | Iran news | Jerusalem Post: "Iran"is consolidating its grip on Hizbullah and has instituted a number of structural changes to the Lebanese group, under which Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah no longer enjoys exclusive command over its military wing, top Israeli defense officials have revealed.

According to the officials, following the Second Lebanon War, Iran decided to step up its involvement in the Hizbullah decision-making process and has instituted a number of changes to the terror group's hierarchy, under which Nasrallah has to receive Iranian permission prior to certain operations.

"There is real Iranian command now over Hizbullah," a top IDF officer said. "This doesn't mean that Nasrallah is a puppet, but it does mean that whenever he pops his head out of his bunker he sees an Iranian official standing over him."

Reports of Iranian discontent with Nasrallah had begun to surface following the 2006 war, which Teheran reportedly was not interested in at the time. Several reports in the Arab press claimed that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ousted Nasrallah from his post as Hizbullah secretary-general and replaced him with Naim Qassem, Hizbullah's second in command. Iran has denied the reports.

"Iranian supervision grew tremendously following the war," the top officer explained. "Nasrallah is still in a decision-making position but Iran's influence has dramatically increased."

A report in a Syrian opposition paper claimed Sunday that a high-level delegation of Iranian Revolutionary Guards visited Beirut last week to coordinate the integration of some Hizbullah branches into the Guards' Al-Quds Force, which is in charge of Iran's terror activities in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

According to the Reform Party of Syria, parts of the Hizbullah operation structure will now be under the command of Brig.-Gen. Faramaz Ghasem Suleimani, commander of the Al-Quds Force. Suleimani is listed by the US as a terrorist and the Guards was declared a terror group in 2007.

The paper claimed that Iran's ultimate plan was to dilute Syrian influence over Hizbullah in case Damascus strikes a peace deal with Israel.

Iran's solidification of its control over Hizbullah is seen as an attempt to direct its military forces in the event of a conflict in the Middle East. If Iran is attacked by the US or Israel, it may now be able to order Hizbullah to retaliate on its behalf.

In the past, IDF Military Intelligence has speculated about what Nasrallah would do in such a situation, raising the possibility that Hizbullah would not immediately attack Israel if Iran was attacked. ...

Blasts reported in Pakistan's troubled northwest

Blasts reported in Pakistan's troubled northwest: "Pakistan's"military says several explosions have rocked the Miran Shah area in Pakistan's troubled northwest, injuring at least 12 people.

An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of his job, says it appears that several missiles hit a seminary and adjoining house in Jalauddin Haqqani in the North Waziristan tribal agency Monday morning.

Maj. Murad Khan, an army spokesman, only confirmed blasts near Miran Shah.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

M of A - Filkins on Pakistan

M of A - Filkins on Pakistan: "Dexter"Filkins has a traveled the Pakistani western boarder region for some years. He went back this summer and now wrote a long piece on the current situation.

The Pakistani army and government have no incentive to hinder Taliban attacks within Afghanistan. Indeed they have several reasons to support such and they do so. As emphasized in prior pieces here, their top motivation is the strategic position towards India. Pakistan fears Indian influence in Afghanistan that could end with fighting India in the east and in the west:

After the U.S.-led invasion in the fall of 2001, .. , India lost no time in setting up consulates throughout Afghanistan and beginning an extensive aid program. According to Pakistani and Western officials, Pakistan’s officer corps remains obsessed by the prospect of Indian domination of Afghanistan should the Americans leave. The Taliban are seen as a counterweight to Indian influence. “We are saving the Taliban for a rainy day,” one former Pakistani official put it to me.

The second reason offered is general anti-American and pro-Islamic disposition in the Pakistani security forces.

The third one is a new aspect to me and interesting:

The reason the Pakistani security services support the Taliban, [the retired Pakistani official] said, is for money: after the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistani military concluded that keeping the Taliban alive was the surest way to win billions of dollars in aid that Pakistan needed to survive.

On the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North-West Frontier province (map) Filkins finds the traditional tribal structures with tribal heads (malik) through which the government rules broken. The Taliban have overwhelmed those structures by force, but also by social means:

Hamidullah, for instance, was an illiterate wheat farmer living in Khyber agency when, in 2002, a wealthy landowner seized his home and six acres of fields. Hamidullah and his family were forced to eke out a living from a nearby shanty. Neither the local malik nor the government agent, Hamidullah told me, would intervene on his behalf. Then came Namdar, the Taliban commander. He hauled the rich man before a Vice and Virtue council and ordered him to give back Hamidullah’s home and farm. Now Hamidullah is one of Namdar’s loyal militiamen.

The Pakistani army only fights the Taliban, when they turn against Pakistan outside of the FATA. Then it hits back hard to make a point and after that offers peace.

The [peace agreement struck between the army and Mehsud], which has not been officially released, provides a look into the Pakistani government’s new strategy toward the militants. According to the agreement, members of the Mehsud tribe agreed to refrain from attacking the Pakistani state and from setting up a parallel government. They agreed to accept the rule of law.

But sending fighters into Afghanistan? About that, the agreement says nothing at all.

The Pakistani strategy is to redirect the Taliban threat from inner Pakistan areas towards Afghanistan. It has several good reasons to do so and I can not think of a scenario that would take away these incentives except a retreat of 'western' forces from Afghanistan. But that is still some years away. Meanwhile a lot of people will be killed in the conflict.