Saturday, September 20, 2008 French soldiers unprepared for Taliban ambush: report French soldiers unprepared for Taliban ambush: report: "It"was mid-afternoon when a tribal elder invited a U.S. military commander for a quiet chat in a garden. His village was surrounded by foreign troops, hunting around the mountain valley in search of infiltrators from Pakistan rumoured to be lurking in the barren hills.

Thirty soldiers from a French airborne platoon wandered farthest from the village, exploring a steep slope covered with rocks and scrubby vegetation under a high ridge.

That hill would soon become a killing ground, scene of the deadliest ambush against international forces since 2001, and the latest troubling sign that the insurgents are mastering the art of guerrilla war.

A NATO report on the incident obtained by The Globe and Mail provides the most in-depth account so far of an attack on Aug. 18 that shook the countries involved in the increasingly bloody campaign. The NATO report, marked “secret,” reveals woefully unprepared French troops surprised by well-armed insurgents in a valley east of Kabul. Ten soldiers were killed, the report concludes, but the other soldiers were lucky to escape without more deaths.

The French did not have enough bullets, radios and other equipment, the report said. The troops were forced to abandon a counterattack when the weapons on their vehicles ran out of ammunition only 90 minutes into a battle that stretched over two days. One French platoon had only a single radio and it was quickly disabled, leaving them unable to call for help. Chillingly, in an indication that the French troopers may have been at the mercy of their attackers, the dead soldiers from that platoon “showed signs of being killed at close range,” the report said.

By contrast, the insurgents were dangerously well prepared. The investigation found evidence of well-trained snipers among the guerrillas – highly unusual, because the Taliban are frequently mocked for their poor marksmanship – and indications they were supplied with incendiary bullets designed to punch holes in armour.

Insurgents have spread rumours in recent weeks that they captured French soldiers during the ambush, perhaps even videotaping their executions. “Maybe I will make her my wife,” said Mullah Rahmatullah, a local commander, describing a captive female soldier in a boastful conversation with a researcher for The Globe and Mail. Other rumours described French soldiers dying of stab wounds.

But senior Western officials say this was a disinformation campaign by the Taliban, who notoriously exaggerate their victories. The classified military review concludes that all French dead were killed by insurgent fire, except one soldier who died in a vehicle accident.

U.S. officer: Pakistani forces aided Taliban - Navy News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Navy Times

U.S. officer: Pakistani forces aided Taliban - Navy News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Navy Times: "Pakistani"military forces flew repeated helicopter missions into Afghanistan to resupply the Taliban during a fierce battle in June 2007, according to a Marine lieutenant colonel, who says his information is based on multiple U.S. and Afghan intelligence reports.

The revelation by Lt. Col. Chris Nash, who commanded an embedded training team in eastern Afghanistan from June 2007 to March 2008, adds a new twist to the controversy over a U.S. special operations raid into Pakistan Sept. 3.

Pakistani officials strongly protested that raid, with a statement issued by the foreign ministry calling it a “gross violation of Pakistan’s territory.”

But fewer than 15 months earlier, Pakistani forces were flying cross-border missions in the other direction to resupply a “base camp” in Nangarhar Province occupied by fighters from the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Hezb-i-Islami faction led by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Nash told Army Times in a Sept. 17 telephone interview.

He had previously alluded to the episode in a PowerPoint briefing he had prepared to help coalition forces headed to Afghanistan. The briefing, titled “Observations and Opinions IRT Operations in Afghanistan by a Former ETT OIC” and dated August 2008, has circulated widely in military circles. Military Times obtained a copy.

Nash said his embedded training team, ETT 2-5, and their allies from the Afghan Border Police’s 1st Brigade fought “a significant fight” in late June 2007 in the Agam Tengay and Wazir Tengay valleys in the Tora Bora mountains of southern Nangarhar — the same region in which al-Qaida forces fought a retreat into Pakistan from prepared defenses in the winter of 2001-2002.

“I had six [Marine] guys on a hill,” Nash said. “They weren’t surrounded, but in the traditional sense they might have been.”

At a critical point in the battle, the Pakistanis flew several resupply missions to a Taliban base about 15 to 20 kilometers inside Afghanistan, Nash said. None of the Marines witnessed the helicopter flights during the four days they were there, he said in a Sept. 19 e-mail. Rather, the supply flights had been reported to them by Afghan soldiers and local civilians in the village of Tangay Kholl.

Summarizing the reports, he said, “A helo flew in the valley, went over to where we knew there was a base camp, landed [and] 15 minutes later took off,” adding that this happened “three different times.”

The Afghan government’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, had sources in the camp who confirmed that the helicopters were on a resupply mission, according to Nash.

“From NDS sources that we had in the opposing camp, [we know] they were offloading supplies,” he said.

This was consistent with multiple other reports Nash and his Marines received during that period, he said in the e-mail. “The officer that I had advising the [Afghan Border Police brigade] intelligence officer reported to me the presence of this support in south Nangarhar throughout late June and into August of ’07,” he said. “Both Maj. Razid — the ABP [Brigade] intelligence officer — and Lt. Col. Daoud … then working in ABP intelligence separately and on numerous occasions reported this to the ETT.”

He said these reports were confirmed by a separate set of Marine trainers advising the Afghan National Army battalion in the area, who checked out the reports “through their Afghan intelligence officer.”

Two NDS lieutenant colonels, working separately, made further reports to the Marine ETTs about the Pakistani helicopter support to the Taliban.

Nash set great store by the NDS reports. “In general, we do not rely on the Afghan human intelligence nearly enough,” he said. “Everybody will always roll out the one time that somebody [in NDS] was working for the other side. But I can tell you that when bullets were flying, they were spot on for me, so I trusted them.”

The Marine officer said he was not sure what model the helicopters were, but added: “My understanding is they were painted in military colors.”

“In passing this information to other governmental agencies at the time, they confirmed the events via word of mouth to me and my intelligence adviser to the Afghans,” Nash said.

“Other governmental agencies,” or “OGA,” is a phrase U.S. military personnel often use to refer to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Few other U.S. forces were involved in the late June battle, because the major U.S. force in the area, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was focused elsewhere at the time, Nash said.

“[I] passed the information to the coalition, my reporting chain, OGA knew about it, Afghans knew about it,” he said. “We didn’t report or pursue any further. Just accepted [it] as a fact. There was nothing we were going to do about it anyway.”

The U.S. military public affairs office at Bagram air base in Kandahar did not respond to e-mailed questions.

Nadeem Kiani, the press attaché at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C., denied Nash’s claims. “There is no truth to these sorts of reports,” he said, adding that “120,000 Pakistani troops are fighting terrorism in the tribal areas” and that about 2,000 Pakistani troops had lost their lives to terrorists.

Nash’s briefing included a slide titled “Outside Enemy Support,” which mentions ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) support to “anti-coalition militias,” or ACM: “Helo re-supply to ACM training camps inside Afghanistan.”

When told of Nash’s briefing, several U.S. military and civilian officials expressed surprise and said this was the first they had heard of such support.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan from November 2003 to May 2005, said he “would have been absolutely astounded” had the Pakistanis attempted to resupply the Taliban by helicopter during his tenure in command, which ended in May 2005. “Nothing remotely like that occurred,” he said.

A field-grade Army officer with recent experience in eastern Afghanistan was also surprised by Nash’s claim.

“I never saw or heard of an ISI helicopter resupplying the enemy inside Afghanistan,” he said. “I just didn’t. It doesn’t match any of my knowledge of that area.”

Another Army officer, currently stationed in eastern Afghanistan, also said he had never heard of any cross-border Pakistani helicopter flights to support the Taliban.

But according to Nash, the helicopter missions were just the tip of the iceberg of the support the Taliban and its allies in his area of operations received from Pakistani forces. That support included training and funding — he notes in his briefing that the average Taliban fighter makes four times the average monthly income of an Afghan — in addition to logistical help and, on numerous occasions, direct and indirect fire support, he said.

“What [the Pakistanis] bring to the fight is not only tactical expertise, but [because of] how they’re arrayed along the border, they can easily provide support by fire positions that our enemies are able to maneuver under,” Nash said. “We were on the receiving end of Pakistani military D-30.”

The D-30 is a towed 122mm howitzer.

“On numerous occasions, Afghan border police checkpoints and observation posts were attacked by Pakistani military forces,” usually those belonging to the Frontier Corps, a locally recruited force in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas that abut the border with Afghanistan, he said.

In addition, he said, his Marines had definitely seen combat with Pakistani forces.

The introduction of al-Qaida and Pakistani military training teams into Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami units resulted in a “dramatic increase in capabilities” for those forces, Nash said.

“The biggest thing is coordination between enemy units,” he said, adding that the Taliban and its allies had evolved from “hit and run” attacks to “hit and maneuver.”

“Their ability to pull something off like a pincer movement or a flanking movement wasn’t necessarily present before,” he said.

But with the injection of “professional” expertise, he said, “You started to see attacks that weren’t conducted by goat herders. These were people who knew what they were doing.”

Shown a copy of Nash’s briefing, a U.S. government official who closely tracks events in Afghanistan and Pakistan said he could confirm everything Nash said about Pakistani support to the Taliban with the exception of the line about “helo resupply.”

All of that’s going on,” the U.S. government official said. “They have [training] personnel in place … I’ve heard the logistical supply is very much going on.”

But despite the extensive military and paramilitary support Nash said Pakistani forces were providing the Taliban and their allies, the Marine officer stopped short of saying Pakistani forces fighting the coalition were carrying out Pakistani government policy.

“I’m not saying that any of that is sanctioned by the government of Pakistan,” he said. “What I’m saying is this is occurring,” the officer said.

The U.S. government official who closely follows Afghanistan and Pakistan also said it was difficult to gauge exactly who in the Pakistani government was giving the go-ahead for such extensive support of the Taliban.

“The question that’s hard to answer is what level of senior leadership is that under,” the official said. “The usual Pakistani M.O. is to say ‘Those are rogue elements and we’re trying to get them under control.’ ”

He noted that the Pakistanis used a similar defense when it came to the support its forces gave to the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against Soviet forces.

“I think that’s as much bulls---today as it was 20 years ago,” he said

World Politics Review | Counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan: An Interview with John Nagl

World Politics Review |: "President"Urs Gehriger | 18 Sep 2008

John A. Nagl, 42, is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, a veteran of both Operation Desert Storm and the current conflict in Iraq, and was one of the writers of the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. He is also the author of "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife," published in 2005. In that book he uses archival sources and interviews to compare the development of counterinsurgency doctrine and practice in the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency with the strategy used in the Vietnam War. Urs Gehriger of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche recently spoke with Nagl about the success of Gen. David Petraeus' counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq, and what needs to be done to successfully implement them in Afghanistan.


It is now widely recognized that the surge in Iraq was a success. Even Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, originally a staunch opponent of the surge, recently said it ". . . succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." You have visited Iraq recently. What is your impression?

I also would have to say the surge succeeded far beyond my wildest imagination. I am thrilled. Gen. Petraeus sent me to Iraq for a 10-day visit in July and August. The progress was remarkable, incontrovertible and some of it may be irreversible. There is a huge and very positive change.

What are the reasons for this change?

Victory has a thousand fathers, and the success of the surge has a thousand causes. Certainly the new counterinsurgency strategy Gen. Petraeus implemented by focusing first on providing security to the population, the additional troops he had with which to implement that strategy, the tribal outreach we both took advantage of and encouraged, the Sunni awakening, and the "Sons of Iraq" flipping from fighting with al-Qaida to fighting against al-Qaida, and the subsequent decision by Sadr and the Shia militias to renounce armed violence and take political action to achieve their objectives -- all of those things factor in to the success of the surge. I would say that the mental construct that Gen. Petraeus had of how to counter an insurgency was the single most important factor. He understood what he was trying to accomplish in a different way than his predecessors did and he took advantage of opportunities as they became available to him.

Victory has a thousand fathers, you say. You are certainly one of them. You co-authored the Counterinsurgency Field Manual in 2006. For almost two years this strategy has been implemented on the ground in Iraq. What are the most important lessons to be learned?

I would contest your claim that I was one of the fathers; I would say that I was an uncle twice removed. The lessons learned are: You have to protect the population first. And learn and adapt. What Gen. Petraeus and his team did in Iraq over the past two years was those two things. They focused first on protecting the population. But they also had a flexible and agile mindset that constantly evaluated where they were and what they wanted to accomplish and tried to figure out the best way forward based on the continually evolving situation on the ground. And it was that mindset that allowed Petraeus' team to take advantage of things like the Sunni Awakening through outreach to the tribes.

There is growing evidence that the Sunni tribes reached out first. Why were Gen. Petraeus' predecessors not ready to take advantage of tribes' willingness to cooperate?

It appears that Gen. Casey actually changed his position on tribal engagement. He started some tribal engagement late in 2006 with the Sunnis. In particular Col. Sean McFarland did so in Ramadi. What Petraeus did was take advantage of the work that had been done by a number of people including Gen. Casey to flip the Sunni tribes. And that is probably the single most important factor. Once the Shia no longer needed any militias to protect themselves against the Sunni insurgents, violence dropped dramatically. And that's where we are now.

Some back in the U.S. have been using the word "victory." Do you expect the war in Iraq soon to be over?

No happy dancing in the end zone. There is still very much a fight going on in Mosul. The remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq are fighting us in Mosul. The two battalion commanders on the ground there, Lt. Col. Chris Johnson with 1-8 Infantry, Lt. Col. Keith Barclay with 3/3 Armored Cavalry Regiment, still have a fight on their hands. I am confident that they will succeed. The critical fight now is for political progress from the Iraqi government, particularly in terms of reconciliation with the Sunnis, that matches the military success we've had on the ground. I'm reasonably confident that we will see that political progress over the next year as long as we continue to provide security guarantees in Iraq.

The focus now is shifting back to Afghanistan, where security has been deteriorating for a number of years. What has to be done?

The good news is: We are now winning in Iraq. The bad news is: We are not winning in Afghanistan. The fact is that we have not had the level of thinking about the Afghan campaign that we have about the fight in Iraq. And we need that desperately. It's time to encourage good hard thinking and doing about the war in Afghanistan.

Are there lessons from Iraq you can apply in Afghanistan?

History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. The principles of counterinsurgency that we put in the first chapter of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual can also be applied to the fight in Afghanistan. The lessons don't transfer directly, but the principles continue to apply. The first thing we have to do is secure the population in Afghanistan. To do this we need more troops on the ground. Now we are standing in front of the dike and we got 10 fingers and 10 toes and one nose and we have been trying to fill 30 holes. The first thing you got to do is get enough people to fill the holes and then you can start building the dike up stronger.

Both candidates for the White House speak of a troop reinforcement of two to three brigades. Can more American boots on the ground alone turn the tide and stabilize the country?

In the short term they have to be American troops. But in the long term to succeed in this fight they have to be Afghan troops. Secretary of Defense Gates made an incredibly important decision a few weeks back when he decided to double the size of the Afghan National Army. We need to put lots and lots of resources into training and equipping and recruiting and organizing and growing the Afghan National Army because this is our exit strategy.

The war in Afghanistan is set in a totally different arena than the one in Iraq. Where do you see the biggest challenges?

Afghanistan is a much harder problem than Iraq was. First the world needs to understand this. And it has to understand how important it is that we all succeed in creating a stable Afghanistan. We have a bunch of things that are not going well there. The chain of command is convoluted. National caveats on what forces can do are not helpful. I understand that NATO signed up for a different level of responsibility in Afghanistan. It didn't look like it was going to be an active counterinsurgency campaign, but it is. Afghanistan is an important testing ground for NATO and its member states. NATO is not passing that test right now.

Compared with Iraq, two major differences stand out: geography and opium. How can an effective counterinsurgency best address these problems?

One has to bear in mind that Afghanistan has never in its history had a strong central control of the country. It has never had the infrastructure that is required to reach out from Kabul into the whole country. The challenge in Afghanistan is extraordinary. When the Romans faced an insurgency in a distant province the first thing they did was build a road. And a key part of our counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is building roads so the government is able to reach the people. Then it is important to defeat corruption and create a government that is responsive to the needs of the people. The opium problem finances the insurgency and incites corruption from government agents. The road answer also helps that: We can't convince farmers to grow wheat rather than opium unless they can ship the wheat to the market. In that terrain if you have to feed a family you can ship a whole lot more opium out on the back of a mule than you can wheat.

Then there is the long border to Pakistan and the tribal wilderness behind it where insurgents group, train and launch their attacks into Afghanistan. What is the best way to deal with this problem?

We really have to think of Afghanistan not as a problem in itself but in conjunction with Pakistan. The Pakistan problem is huge and growing. The combination of the two is perhaps the greatest midterm national security threat the world faces today. The next U.S. president is absolutely going to devote significant time and resources to that challenge. What we need is a combined strategy for both countries. And this strategy has also got to include India. I believe the United States and NATO should play a key role establishing confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan because Afghanistan is in some way a proxy war between those two countries. And establishing good governance, expanding the reach of the Pakistani government into the tribal areas of Pakistan is a challenge just as great as expanding the reach of the government in Afghanistan, but we are much less able to control it.

Next Page: Cross-border raids 'come with significant political costs' . . .

President Bush signed an order in July authorizing new rules of engagement that allow U.S. troops to pursue insurgent targets across Afghanistan's 1,500-mile long border with Pakistan. Do you consider such cross-border missions as an indispensable part of a counterinsurgency strategy?

It is impossible to kill or capture your way out of an insurgency. Although cross-border raids can be tactically effective, they come with significant political costs that must be weighed carefully. In general, except against the highest-value targets, they should only be conducted in conjunction with forces of the country in which the operation happens.

The recent spate of U.S. strikes under the new rules has provoked sharp condemnation from top Pakistani government and military officials. Do you see other effective ways to solve the cross-border insurgent problem?

Ultimately, defeating any insurgency requires the support of a capable host nation government and its own security forces. This is the long term answer in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, as well as in Iraq. Efforts to build the capacity and capability of the Afghan and Pakistani governments are the first order of business.

The Taliban recruit generally from local Pashtun tribes. The Pashtun fighters have a reputation as proud and extremely determined fighters who have never in hundreds of years surrendered to a foreign power. How can you either defeat them or win them over to your side?

Insurgents vary in degree of commitment to their cause. I like to think of an insurgency as an onion, with many different layers. It took us a long time in Iraq to understand that we could peel away the top layers of the insurgency, which were not as committed to the cause as those further inside, through negotiations and accommodations. It's only the very core of the insurgents who will not negotiate and must be captured or killed. In Afghanistan, we are fighting Pashtun nationalists, members of the Taliban, and terrorists from al-Qaida. We need a different strategy for each group, as each wants different things and will accept different inducements. There are a lot of similarities in my eyes between the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the Sunnis in Iraq: fierce fighters who we were able to flip by exploiting fissures between them and their nominal al-Qaida allies.

The Taliban have had some important victories on the propaganda front. Their attacks are broadcast on the Internet and via Al-Jazeera. Recently the French weekly "Paris Match" shocked the nation by publishing photos in which the murderers of a French commando parade in the uniforms they stripped off the dead soldiers. How does a counterinsurgency strategy plan to deal on the propaganda front?

In the new Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, we discuss six different logical lines of operation that must be pursued simultaneously to defeat an insurgency: conducting combat operations to provide civil security; building host nation security forces; establishing essential services for the population; providing good governance; and encouraging economic development are five of those lines of operation. But the most important, the line of operation that encompasses all of them and is ultimately decisive, is conducting effective information operations. This is the most important of all tools in defeating an insurgency, and it is the area we currently do least well. There is enormous room for improvement in information operations -- and a real opportunity to dramatically change the situation on the ground when we begin conducting them more effectively. Any counterinsurgency operation is ultimately a war over support of the population. We can win that war if we fight both harder and smarter, using all of the tools at our disposal.

You have repeatedly emphasized both in public and in meetings with military leaders that in counterinsurgency the key to success is largely with small groups of U.S. military advisers. You called for an advisory strategy with a total of 20,000 combat advisers. What makes the role of an adviser so important?

I spent the last 18 months at Fort Riley, Kansas training what we call military transition teams, small groups of 11 to 16 American soldiers who embed inside Iraq or Afghan battalions, brigades, and divisions. These advisory teams are a wonderful resource. They bring with them access to some of things that America has an abundance of and that other countries don't have as much of: access to intelligence, the ability to analyze intelligence and use it effectively to target enemy forces in a counterinsurgency campaign, access to reconstruction funds, access to artillery, air support and medical evacuation, and perhaps most importantly the culture of training and discipline that are the hallmarks of American forces. These small teams of Americans have an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. This mission, known as "Foreign Internal Defense," is traditionally done by Special Forces. Unfortunately, demand for Special Forces exceeds supply, so we have to convert American conventional forces to do this mission. We have done this to date in a rather ad hoc fashion. I have recommended professionalizing the selection, the training and the employment of these forces.

The idea behind this advisory strategy is T.E. Lawrence's dictum: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands." Do the old lessons of the legendary "Lawrence of Arabia" still apply?

T.E. Lawrence is a role model for how to conduct the foreign internal defense mission. He had an appreciation for the cultures and the customs of the host nations, the Arab tribes, he worked with. Those lessons matter as we think about how to select, train and deploy our advisers. Those advisers have to have a real affinity for the forces they are working with. Based on hard experience, I have called it "Diarrhea Diplomacy." You have to live with them. You have to eat their food to truly make them listen to your advice and for them to model themselves after you.

A doctrine for an advisory mission is still not in effect. Why is that?

Recently I have talked to a number of senior generals about this and asked this very question: "Why don't you have any doctrine to this mission now that you have done it for almost seven years?" We are making progress, but it is not as fast as I would like it to be. Secretary of Defense Gates also believes that this is a very extraordinarily important mission, and he also believes that we can do it better.

The coordination among NATO allies in Afghanistan has been difficult for a long time. Why?

Winston Churchill said: "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them." This is not a new problem. But in Afghanistan it is grave. There is no common understanding in NATO what counterinsurgency is. The Dutch are writing the NATO counterinsurgency manual now. This is a good thing, but it's a little late. It was Gen. Petraeus' advantage in Iraq that he had this fingerspitzengefühl [intuitive sense], he understood the problem intellectually and instinctively. We are not at that point with all the countries in NATO. The U.S., too, didn't have a very good understanding of counterinsurgency for a number of years. It's a hard challenge and it takes a long time to figure out, but we can do more as an alliance and can put more emphasis behind building a common understanding of this problem. This will help to remove some of the national caveats, make it clear to all the nations involved what's at stake and what it is going to take to win this fight. Counterinsurgency is a very hard kind of warfare. It isn't peacekeeping. There is no peace to keep. You have to be willing to fight for the security of the population. And not all countries in NATO understand the problem and what we have to do to fix it.

What are the next steps the U.S. plans to make in order to counter the growing insurgency?

The United States is reconfiguring its command structure to increase unity of command, at least over American forces. U.S. Gen. David McKiernan is the new ISAF and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander. The key question is political will. Are the countries of NATO willing to give the commander support to the extent of being willing to conduct operations with far reduced national caveats and put their forces more directly into the line of fire to defeat a strong and growing insurgency?

A number of NATO states are not willing to expose their troops on the front line. Do you see other opportunities for them to contribute more in this war?

Absolutely. Afghanistan is the fifth poorest nation in the world. Dollars and euros are bullets in this fight. There is a whole lot more that we can do with economic development. Some of the countries that are not willing or not as able to fight on the front lines may be able to help. There is huge potential and a number of ways that they can contribute. They can help with information operations. They can build roads. They can train Afghan security forces. These are things countries like Germany could do more of. That would make a huge difference. But the key question, again, is political will and leadership.

Urs Gehriger writes for the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. A version of this interview appears in that publication's current issue

A new sitrep, as we move into phase 3 of the financial crisis « Fabius Maximus

A new sitrep, as we move into phase 3 of the financial crisis « Fabius Maximus: "Summary"In response to the growing financial crisis, the government at last takes large-scale measures to stop the rip. These move us ever farther from a free-market system, towards an increasingly centralized and government-dominated economy. Taken in haste, we will have a long-time to consider the wisdom of these steps. Few things so effectively panic a people into surrendering their sovereignty like a hot crisis. Also, remember that that the winners of the November election will have to guide us through this crisis.

Update: This is history in the making, a decisive change in our political and economic system. This post takes a first cut at placing this event in perspective against the overall economic process affecting the United States. Paulson has become a Marxist, for sure. We do not yet know of which form: Karl or Groucho.

In my report on 15 September I described the three phases of the crisis.

Collapse of the mortgage brokers, starting in December 2006 — met with laissez faire (indifference).
Collapse of flawed financial institutions (Countrywide bank, Bear-Stearns, the government-sponsored enterprises) — met with massive intervention and bailouts.
Contagion and failure of healthy institutions.
As we entered phase 3, I said that treatment of the financial system, not its parts, would be needed. That might include actions such as…

massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs,
large scale and explicit nationalizations,
coordinated central bank action to adjust relative currency values and control capital flows.
We saw two of these steps initiated on Thursday.

(1) Coordinated central bank action

Hoping to shore up confidence with a show of financial shock and awe, the Federal Reserve stunned investors before dawn on Thursday by announcing a plan to provide $180 billion to financial markets through lending programs operated by the European Central Bank and the central banks of Canada, Japan, Britain and Switzerland.
— Source: NY Times. See Brad Setser’s blog at CFR for analysis of this in a global context.

(2) Massive nationalization of assets — the master bailout, limits as yet unknown and unknowable

The head of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve began discussions on Thursday with Congressional leaders on what could become the biggest bailout in United States history. While details remain to be worked out, the plan is likely to authorize the government to buy distressed mortgages at deep discounts from banks and other institutions. The proposal could result in the most direct commitment of taxpayer funds so far in the financial crisis that Fed and Treasury officials say is the worst they have ever seen.

Senior aides and lawmakers said the goal was to complete the legislation by the end of next week, when Congress is scheduled to adjourn. The legislation would grant new authority to the administration and require what several officials said would be a substantial appropriation of federal dollars, though no figures were disclosed in the meeting.

— Source: NY Times.

For details, the few we know, see the offical statement by Secretary Paulson. In the Q&A session Paulson said “We’re talking hundreds of billions.”

What do we know, as big decisions are taken behind closed doors?

A few things are clear.

(a) The government is acting without plan, in haste or even desparation. This greatly increases the odds of policy error, historically what turns a crisis into a disaster.

(b) This requires skillful execution to avoid generating inflation in the US or a currency crisis in the US dollar. Or both. Avoiding both might not be possible.

(c) The US government does not have the money for large-scale nationalizations. Nor does the savings poor United States. We must borrow it. In today’s environment, the only potential lenders are a small number of foreign central banks.

(d) This bails out the private institutions responsible for this crisis. They keep the profits and stick the taxpayers with the potentially large losses.

(e) Most important, the government is still responding only to the financial crisis. The US recession, part of a accelerating global slowdown, remains outside their planning focus. So they remain in a reactive mode, which seldom works well.

The last 3 are esp problematic.

(c) Have the potential lenders (e.g, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia) been consulted up front, or will they get what is in effect a demand to finance a fait accompli (or else risk trashing the global financial system)? Either way, how will they react? We want our existing loans rolled over at low interest rates, our existing massive current account financed at low rates, and now hundreds of billions of dollars at low rates to finance this plan.

(d) How will we reduce the moral hazard created, as we have shown our large financial institutions that they we will underwrite any losses from their reckless speculation? I doubt that a severe lecture will do the job. Vowing to be stern in the next crisis (2028?) might not have much effect. And let’s hope the American public does not realize that they have been conned — free markets for private profit, socialized losses if the bets do not pay off.

(e) Excerpt from the economist David Rosenberg’s report of 18 September:

We have been in this credit collapse now for roughly a year, and yet it seems as though we have yet to fain the clarity and transparency that is required to transition to the next positive economic cycle. A year into this thing and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel … because people still do not comprehend the severity of the asset liquidation and debt deflation process underway.

A cautionary note — Our creditors grow restless

I recomend close attention to the following. It is is not the first such article, nor will it be the last. China’s rulers warn us that our line of credit has limits, and the warnings grow more frequent and more explicit. I suggest we listen to avoid an unpleasant surprise in the future.

“China paper urges new currency order after ‘financial tsunami’“, Reuters, 17 September 2008 — Excerpt:

Threatened by a “financial tsunami,” the world must consider building a financial order no longer dependent on the United States, a leading Chinese state newspaper said on Wednesday. The commentary in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily said the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEH.P: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) “may augur an even larger impending global ‘financial tsunami’.”

The People’s Daily is the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party … Its pronouncements do not necessarily directly reflect leadership views, but this commentary by a professor at Shanghai’s Tongji University suggested considerable official alarm at the strains buckling world financial markets.

… “The eruption of the U.S. sub-prime crisis has exposed massive loopholes in the United States’ financial oversight and supervision,” writes the commentator, Shi Jianxun. “The world urgently needs to create a diversified currency and financial system and fair and just financial order that is not dependent on the United States.”

… The commentary suggested China must brace for grave economic fallout and look to alternatives, saying the crisis brings to mind the Great Depression of the 1930s. “Lehman Brothers announced bankruptcy will not only have a domino effect on the global financial world, it will bring a shock to the world economy,” the front-page comment stated.

World Politics Review Blog |Lost in Neocon Translation

World Politics Review Blog |Lost in Neocon Translation: "Ever"wonder what would happen in an alternate universe where, instead of haunting Fox News studios, John Bolton had been born in India? Well, he'd probably be named Bharat Verma, and he'd probably be the Editor of the Indian Defense Review. And not only would he be glad about the instability threatening Pakistan's existence, he'd be actively encouraging it and lauding the benefits resulting from the "cessation of Pakistan as a state":

Pakistan's breakup will be a major setback to the Jihad Factory, as the core of this is located in Pakistan, and functions with the help of its army and the ISI. This in turn will ease pressures on India and the international community. . .

The chances of Central Asia getting infected with the Jihadi fervour will recede. Afghanistan will gain fair amount of stability. India's access to Central Asian energy routes will open up. With disintegration of ISI's inimical activities of infiltration and pushing of fake currency into India, from Nepal and Bangladesh will cease. Within the Union social harmony will improve enormously. Export of Islamic fundamentalism, with its 360-degree sweep from Islamabad, will vanish. Even a country like Thailand will heave a sigh of relief!

Of course, that's just boilerplate stuff compared to Verma's recipe for dealing with China:

With China's one arm, i.e. Pakistan disabled, its expansionist plans will receive a severe jolt. Beijing continues to pose primary threat to New Delhi. Even as we continue to engage with it as constructively as possible, we must strive to remove the proxy. At the same time, it is prudent to extend moral support to the people of Tibet to sink Chinese expansionism in the morass of insurgency.

For a change, let us do to them what they do to us!

Fortunately, Verma seems bent out of shape with how the Indian government is actually handling things. But it's important to remember that this sort of thinking exists just about everywhere, and frightening to imagine what things might have looked like if it had gotten the upper hand not only in Washington circa 2001-2004, but elsewhere as well.

Update: Then again, the Verma might be pleased to learn that India just deployed six nuclear-capable fighter jets to Kashmir. The move follows a visit to the Line of Control Monday by Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani to underline the "Pakistani consensus" on Kashmir, and is another sign of rising tensions between the two countries.

[bth: interesting world perspective from India]

Obama Promises To Stop America's Shitty Jobs From Going Overseas | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Obama Promises To Stop America's Shitty Jobs From Going Overseas | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
Obama Promises To Stop America's Shitty Jobs From Going Overseas"
Obama Promises To Stop America's Shitty Jobs From Going Overseas

Think Progress » Army releases doctored photos of dead soldiers.#

Think Progress » Army releases doctored photos of dead soldiers.#: "The"Kicker reports that “the Associated Press retracted two government-issued photographs last night after a photographer in Texas alerted the agency that the photos in question appeared to be doctored.” The photos depicted two U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley R. Durbin, who both died in Iraq on September 14. Between the two photos, only the name, rank, and face of each soldier changes:

Bob Owen of the San Antonio Express-News, who first discovered the photos had been digitally altered, commented, “I’d like to think that the media holds itself pretty accountable and we try really hard to keep high standards. … Obviously the army, and the government, doesn’t see anything wrong with that [photo altering] at all.”

[bth: go to the original link for the photos. They are clearly photoshopped and a head put on the second picture. Sgt. Dawson was murdered by one of the squad leaders (see CNN article below) and then the army photoshopped his head onto a picture identical to Sgt Durbin's who was killed with him. Doesn't somebody give a damned about ths soldier and his family? Ridiculous]

Family of U.S. soldier in dark about 'non-hostile' death -

Family of U.S. soldier in dark about 'non-hostile' death - "BAGHDAD"Iraq (CNN) -- Darryl Mathis waits in his Pensacola, Florida, home for the body of his 24-year-old son to return home from Iraq. Mathis, a military veteran himself, was seething with anger Thursday as he spoke about the death of Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson.

Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin, 26, are said to have been shot and killed by another U.S. soldier on Sunday at a base south of Baghdad.

Darryl and his wife, Maxine (Dawson's stepmother), say the military has told them nothing about the incident: no details on his death, no information at all.

His voice shakes as he says he believes that the military has let him down.

"I'm very disappointed -- very," he said. "If I would get a straight answer, if they would actually tell me what's going on, I would have something to work on; but right now, I have nothing to work on. Everything I'm getting, I'm getting from the media."

Darryl Mathis said he may consider hiring a lawyer so he can "get to the bottom of this."

His wife sobs as she says her stepson's death was foreshadowed by a phone call he made to her from Iraq.

"He said that he was more shaky sometimes of the soldiers than of the enemy, because of the young guys over there."

She said she asked him, "What in the world do you mean? You're afraid of your own soldiers?"

" 'These kids are trying to fight a war they know nothing about. ... They're jumpy. ... They're more scary than the enemy,' " she said he told her.

"And I said, 'Oh, God,' " said Maxine Mathis.

Since learning about the her stepson's death, Maxine Mathis said, she has forgiven the shooter "with all of [her] heart."

She said she knows that he and his family too must be suffering and hopes to meet him when he's ready so she can "just ask 'Why?' "

On any given day, CNN receives dozens of detailed news releases from the U.S. military, including those announcing U.S. military casualties. In the cases of Dawson and Durbin, there was no mention of their names, and the releases were terse.

"A multi-national division center soldier died this morning of non-combat related causes," the first release read. "The cause of death is under investigation."

A second release came later in the day.

"A second multi-national division center soldier died this morning of non-combat related causes. The solider died of wounds September 14 at a coalition forces combat Army support hospital," it read. "The incident is under investigation."

Inquiries Thursday from CNN were met with a news release that a press officer said had been drafted Wednesday. However, the release uncharacteristically had not been e-mailed out to reporters that day.

After naming the two soldiers and giving their rank and unit, it reads, "A U.S. soldier is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths. He is being held in custody pending review by a military magistrate. The incident continues under investigation." The release gives no other details.

The U.S. military is classifying Dawson's death as "non-hostile," something his father finds puzzling.

"I don't know. I really don't know," he said. "I just can't get it together with that. I had never heard that before. 'Non-hostile' in a war zone?"

Lt. Col. Paul Swiergosz is a public affairs officer for the area in Iraq where the incident took place. He says the "non-hostile" death classification was given "because the deaths were not the result of hostile enemy action."

But details on what happened remain scarce.

CNN phoned an Army base in Fort Stewart, Georgia, to ask for more details on the incident. CNN was then e-mailed another press release -- this one written by Gen. Tony Cucolo, the commanding general of the Third Infantry Division -- that a press officer said had been drafted Wednesday.

That release also had not been e-mailed to reporters, as is customary.

"We do know one soldier, a fellow noncommissioned officer, allegedly opened fire and mortally wounded his squad leader and fellow team leader," reads the statement.

A spokesman at Fort Stewart said, "A soldier has been taken into custody. The incident is under investigation, and that is all I can say."

The spokesman would not even confirm information in his commanding general's press statement.

Maxine Mathis says she is stunned at how her stepson's death has been handled by the military. She says the Army assigned someone to help the family with anything they needed once they found out Darris had been killed, but she and her husband don't know how he died.

She said her husband asked the liaison officer whether it was true that Darris had been killed by another U.S. solider. She said the officer denied it, insisting that he didn't know anything else.

Darryl Mathis continues to express his disappointment in the lack of information from the military about his son, amid rumors that his son's body could be home by Saturday.

"I don't even know where he's at, at this time," he said.

Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, said he thinks the way the military classifies deaths in Iraq is an attempt to keep the public combat numbers down.

"There is a clear and longstanding record, regarding the classification of causalities in Iraq, to minimize combat losses. And we're seeing people wounded and killed that would have well been considered casualties from hostile action in previous conflicts. It's an attempt to conceal the actual cost of this war in terms of casualties," Muller said.

"The Department of Defense has announced the death of every service member who has given their life in operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom," said a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck. "We have been open and transparent on the numbers of casualties suffered in these operations."

Mathis says his son wanted to come home to his wife and four young children and was in the process of applying for a transfer.

"Last I spoke to him was last week Monday. He called every Monday and said he was checking his paperwork. He said he was going to call me back once he found out. That was the last I heard from him."

Mathis' wife cannot stop sobbing.

"We don't know why; we don't know why," she says "All we know is that our son died a useless, needless death. That's all we know."

With all of the differing stories being told and the lack of information, Darryl Mathis said, he just "can't believe anything."

The Hindu : Opinion / News Analysis : Is America losing out on Iraqi oil?

The Hindu : Opinion / News Analysis : Is America losing out on Iraqi oil?: "On"August 23, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Al Shahristani flew out of Iraq and headed for China. Five days later, he signed a $3b contract with the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). The agreement revived an earlier deal signed in 1997 for the development of the Ahdab field, located 160 kilometres southeast of Baghdad.

Contrary to post-invasion predictions, the first foreign contract for the development of an Iraqi oil field has not gone to a western oil major. In fact, the deal with a Chinese company has signalled that Iraq might have begun to strongly resist western oil interests, seeking a free run over its mammoth energy resources. The jury is now out on whether the deal with China will set a precedent that will derail the American oil project in Iraq.

The contract with China has flowed from a strongly nationalistic oil policy the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has begun to pursue recently. In a BBC interview aired in June, Dr. Shahristani — a former nuclear scientist and a key architect of this policy — unveiled the broad principles of the new Iraqi approach. He stressed that in future the state-run Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) would steer the development of Iraq’s oil resources. Iraq’s oil would remain in sovereign Iraqi hands, and foreign participants would not have any ownership rights over it. He added that foreign companies would be allowed to cooperate with INOC, and paid a fee for their services. Foreign presence would be of a technical nature, temporary and terminate with the expiry of signed contracts....

[bth: the analysis is worth reading in full. The Iranians won the peace. China will now make money on it. The US will have paid $100,000 or so per Iraqi it 'liberated' when the final financial tally is made.]

Friday, September 19, 2008

YouTube - McCain Palin Perfect christian Liars

YouTube - McCain Palin Perfect christian Liars: ""

YouTube - Kelly and Aunt Susan Collab!

YouTube - Kelly and Aunt Susan Collab!: ""

YouTube - Sarah Palin Gives Hillary Clinton a Call

YouTube - Sarah Palin Gives Hillary Clinton a Call: ""

IEEE Spectrum: Countering IEDs

IEEE Spectrum: Countering IEDsBillions of dollars spent on defeating improvised explosive devices are beginning to show what technology can and cannot do for the evolving struggle

Two platoons of U.S. Army scouts are in a field deep in the notorious “Triangle of Death” south of Baghdad, a region of countless clashes between Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. The platoons are guided by a local man who’s warned them of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices, designed to explode when stepped on. He has assured them that he knows where the IEDs are, which means he’s almost certainly a former Sunni insurgent.

The platoons come under harassing fire. It stops, but later the tension mounts again as they maneuver near an abandoned house known to shelter al-Qaeda fighters. A shot rings out; the scouts take cover. They don’t realize it’s just their local guide, with an itchy trigger finger, taking a potshot at the house. The lieutenant leading the patrol summons three riflemen to cover the abandoned house.

Then all hell breaks loose. One of the riflemen, a sergeant, steps on a pressure-plate IED. The blast badly injures him, the two other riflemen, and the lieutenant. A Navy explosives specialist along on the mission immediately springs into action, using classified gear to comb the area for more bombs. Until he gives the all clear, no one can move, not even to tend the bleeding men. Meanwhile, one of the frozen-in-place scouts notices another IED right next to him and gives a shout, provoking more combing in his area. Then a big area has to be cleared so that the medevac helicopter already on the way can land. The sergeant dies several hours later in a field hospital.

That incident, which took place on 7 November 2007, exhibits many of the hallmarks of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan—a small patrol; a local man of dubious background; Navy specialists working with soldiers on dry land; and costly technologies pressed into service against cheap and crude weapons.

And, most of all, death by IED.

“Sergeant T” became one of the 24 coalition soldiers killed by IEDs that month in Iraq. As of the end of June, IEDs have killed untold thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, as well as 1795 coalition military people in Iraq and another 231 in Afghanistan, according to the Web site Those figures are nearly half of all combat fatalities in Iraq and roughly 30 percent of those in Afghanistan, according to the site.

IED fatalities in Iraq were down sharply in May and June, to 14 and 11, according to iCasualties. But they were up in Afghanistan, to 12 in May and 22 in June. Overall, in the first half of this year, IEDs, including suicide bombs, killed 115 coalition people in Iraq and 72 in Afghanistan. Those figures mean that in the first half of 2008, IEDs caused 54 percent of all coalition deaths (including nonhostile ones) in Iraq and 59 ­percent in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has responded with the most intensive program of technology development in at least a decade. It has spent US $12.4 billion over the past three years on counter-IED equipment, technology R&D, training, and other measures through the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and its predecessors.

JIEDDO says that its mission is to support efforts to defeat IEDs as ­“weapons of strategic influence.” This wording acknowledges that insurgent fighters use IEDs with no hope of defeating a military force in the traditional sense. The point is to cause death and destruction resulting in news imagery that affects the politi­cal will of the country that dispatched the force. This distinction is significant because it implicitly suggests that IEDs and the casualties they cause cannot be eliminated. It points to a response based on minimizing their effectiveness, for example with armor and by other means, to marginalize their strategic impact.

JIEDDO emphasizes a holistic approach, incorporating such nontechnical aspects as training troops in ­counter-IED tactics and technology and using law enforcement techniques, forensics, and intelligence to smash the networks that build and deploy IEDs. But this year, $2.57 ­billion of JIEDDO’s $4.38 ­billion budget is devoted to developing ­counter-IED technologies, feeding a perception that the agency is chasing a cure-all....

[bth: this excellent article is worth reading in full.]

M of A - Housing Crisis: Creative Destruction Can Help

M of A - Housing Crisis: Creative Destruction Can HelpThinking about a solution to the housing mess I had been playing with this idea for a while:

Here is one government program to fix the housing crisis: buy and destroy homes.

While I did some math on this, I never wrote about it. Now Fabius Maximus makes the argument.

The core of the housing crisis is overbuilding, which has created an excess supply of housing units (broadly defined).
Many vacant homes will be destroyed, the fast track to fixing this problem. Empty houses get vandalized, destroyed by the owners (spite or insurance fraud), occupied by squatters or meth labs, or wrecked by the forces of nature. In regions with net out-migration (e.g., Detroit) homes remain vacant for long periods, often abandoned by their owners (valueless but costly due to taxes and maintenance). As anyone familiar with the history of the South Bronx knows, empty homes acts as an infectious blight that can devastate larger areas. After a decade or two, the result can look like Dresden after the bombing in 1945.

There are excess houses on the market. These houses will decay without occupation and lead to slums. This will be expensive for their owners as well as for the communities, i.e the taxpayers.

Further these excess houses depress prices and they are the reason why the decline of house prices will go much further than necessary. Without supply destruction the prices for houses will be lower after the decline than before they bubbled up because of this excess supply.

So how much would the taxpayer have to invest to get rid of them?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are some 130 million houses in the U.S. but only 111 million are occupied. 14.6% are not occupied.

Here are the vacancy rates for rentals and for 'owner occupied' units:


The graph shows how the Rental Vacancy Rate (pink, left scale) jumped from some stable 8% in the 1980s and 90s to 10%. The vacancy rate of 'owner occupied' units (blue, right scale) jumped from a long term 1.7% to 2.7%. There are simply too many houses.

To bring the vacancy numbers back to normal levels the excess supply, according to my calculations some 1.1 million of rental units and some 815,000* of 'owner occupied' units are excess, will have to be destroyed. (People who can not afford to own, will move back to rental units. So in reality one would destroy 1.9 million 'owner occupied' units and the rental excess would be diminished by people moving.)

The U.S. could easily buy the total of 1.9 million units and depose them. It could buy whole suburbs and tear them down. At a $100,000 average price per unit the current owner or mortgage holder would likely make a big loss so there would be no moral hazard.

The total price for the taxpayer would be $190 billion - i.e. small change in light of recent Treasury and Fed operations. Throw in a few billions for the current jobless craftsman who can tear those down and turn the energy wasting suburbs back into fields.

To do this will likely be cheaper than to take care of the consequences of decaying houses and a deeper fall of house prices and rents as necessary.

* numbers corrected - see the first comment

[bth: an article and comments on Moon over Alabama worth reading in full.]

M of A - Russia Irrelevant?

M of A - Russia Irrelevant? Russia’s invasion of Georgia has achieved – and will achieve – no enduring strategic objective. And our strategic goal now is to make clear to Russia’s leaders that their choices could put Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.
Secretary Rice Addresses U.S.-Russia Relations At The German Marshall Fund, Sept 18, 2008

International irrelevance? Hmm ... you really think so? Here is the response:

Russia threatened to block NATO from using its air space for operations in Afghanistan if member states did not stop "hostile" policies toward Moscow, the Kremlin's top diplomat in Kabul said.

"(Russian air space) is still open, but if the NATO countries continue to their hostile policies with regard to Russia, definitely this issue will happen," Zamir Kabulov told BBC radio in an interview aired on Thursday.
Russia envoy warns NATO on air space to Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2008

[bth: We can piss off Pakistan or we can piss off Russia, but we can't do it at the same time.]

Wired: Hot to: Zap Bombs Before They Blow Up

A combination of technology and tactics has cut the number of improvised bomb attacks in Iraq by more than 50%. Some of the gear blocks triggering signals, before they can set an explosive off; some protects troops from blasts' impact; some looks for bombs' signature, in the trash and dirt that line Baghdad's roads. But perhaps the least-discussed gadgets are ones that blow up improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, before they're supposed to strike.

IEEE Spectrum, in an exhaustive feature on the tech of Iraq's IED war, looks at exactly this kind of gear:

A type of “predetonator” used in Iraq emits a strong electromagnetic pulse that wrecks the integrated circuits in the cellphone or other appliance that triggers an IED. The pulse comes from a very high voltage capacitor discharging very suddenly. When its ICs are zapped, the trigger might “fail open”—with no explosion—or it might “fail closed,” detonating the IED...

More sophisticated predetonators are said to mimic the signals of the IEDs’ triggering devices in order to set them off...

An article in the 25 March edition of The Scotsman newspaper... said that U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were using specially equipped Vietnam-era EA-6B Prowler aircraft to clear roads for convoys by transmitting appropriate signals to predetonate IEDs.

But how much impact has this or any equipment had on the bomb fight, really? At the Pentagon, much of the credit has been given to better training -- and better inflitration of the bomb-planting networks. And in Afghanistan (where, presumably, U.S. forces use the same tech), IEDs are way, way up.
Informed Comment

MotherJones Blog: Federal Action Against Iranian Global Procurement Network Suggests That Deadly Iraq IED Components of US Origin

MotherJones Blog: Federal Action Against Iranian Global Procurement Network Suggests That Deadly Iraq IED Components of US OriginToday, the Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced that, in cooperation with the US attorney in Miami and other federal agencies, it had broken up an Iranian global procurement network used to illegally acquire US-origin dual use and military components. "This extensive, effective government effort has broken up a lethal international ring seeking to harm American and allied forces as well as innocent civilians by acquiring sensitive U.S. technology capable of producing improvised explosive devices (IED) similar to those being used in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Commerce Under Secretary Mario Mancuso.

A corresponding Justice Department press release today announced the unsealing of a 13-count indictment "charging eight individuals and eight corporations in connection with their participation in conspiracies to export U.S.-manufactured commodities to prohibited entities and to Iran. ... The defendants are charged with purchasing and causing the export of U.S. goods to Iran through middle countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, England, Germany, and Singapore." None of the eight defendants reside in the U.S.

The announcements were forwarded by a Washington trade lawyer, aware of my interest in the issue. A couple months ago I reported on a curious phenomenon: why was so much US sensitive military equipment and technology ending up in Iran, the subject of extensive US sanctions? One major soft underbelly of US efforts to restrict the sale of US military equipment to Iran turns out to be the United Arab Emirates, where both the US and Iran have extensive trade ties. In my report, I cited a former Commerce Department official who noted:

"The rhetoric from Commerce…is all about national security ... US bureaucrats don't want to find their names in press for not enforcing when a US soldier is killed [in Iraq] by US technology that was exported to Iran through UAE. So, the rhetoric is very tough for UAE enforcement. On the other hand, we desperately want the oil dollars…So, mixed messages galore."

The scenario the former Commerce Department official suggested in passing was disturbing. Were some of the components in the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) blamed for killing US forces in Iraq - that the US military alleged were being supplied to Shiite militants in Iraq by Iran - in fact of American origin? Is that why the US military has repeatedly indicated it would display the evidence of the Iranian origin of some of these weapons, and then halted the full presentation?

Today's announcement by the Commerce Department raises just such questions. Stay tuned.

US seeking sole command of Nato's war against the Taliban - Asia, World - The Independent

US seeking sole command of Nato's war against the Taliban - Asia, World - The Independenthe Bush administration is pushing for sweeping changes to the military command structure in Afghanistan, so that the head of international forces would report directly to US Central Command instead of Nato.

The changes would have huge repercussions for Nato, whose officials have stated that Afghanistan is a "defining moment" for the organisation's ability to conduct large-scale operations abroad.

The Independent has learnt that the proposal to streamline the complex chain of command, enabling US General David McKiernan to be answerable to superiors at Centcom in Tampa, Florida, rather than Nato, is before Robert Gates, the American Defence Secretary....

[bth: interesting. More efficient chain of command. But the cost is that Afghanistan becomes America's war instead of NATO's.]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Remember Me

When not on patrol, Marine created life-saving device | Top stories | - Houston Chronicle

When not on patrol, Marine created life-saving device | Top stories | - Houston Chronicle: "For"seven months, Marine Sgt. Jason Cox patrolled near Fallujah, Iraq, from the turret of a Humvee, a gunner for a squad whose greatest fear was the unseen. Roadside bombs were the gravest threat and often went undetected until it was too late.

So Cox, a graduate student in chemistry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, put his scientific background to the test, designing a groundbreaking device that used infrared imaging to detect improvised explosives from a safer distance. With the help of other members of his unit, Cox worked in his few off-hours to modify existing thermal-imaging equipment to identify specific light characteristics, then tested the technique on patrols.

A large step forward
Able to identify remotely detonated devices from more than 200 yards, Cox's system proved an immediate success and marked a critical advance against the bombs. Cox's research, conducted during his tour in 2006, has now spurred the Marines to purchase new detection technology that incorporates Cox's findings.

Cox, a five-year reservist in the Marine Corps and a Worcester resident, was recently honored for his work with the US Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. The award recognizes Cox's "initiative, perseverance, and total dedication to duty," which honored "the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

Cox, a 27-year-old who returned in 2006 after his tour and is researching pharmaceuticals at WPI, said his brainstorm was born of intuition and necessity. "This particular threat was very dangerous, and infrared and night goggles couldn't see it," he said, describing a specific type of explosive widely used against U.S. troops at the time. "I became curious if there was another way to image things, and we found a way to make them really stand out."

The device allows military personnel to locate roadside bombs' triggering systems, which are almost impossible to see with the naked eye or other imaging techniques, by recognizing differences in thermal expansion, or how materials swell when heated. The technique is mainly used at night.

Cox's breakthrough earned him instant popularity among his fellow Marines, as well as some good-natured mockery of his bookish leanings. But Cox said he has been touched by the military's gratitude and takes great pride in helping protect other service members.

Science on the front lines
His platoon commander, Staff Sgt. Chris Singley, said Cox's system has doubtlessly saved lives. "The biggest thing he did is create standoff distance. Instead of seeing it at the last minute, we were able to have some warning."

For his thesis adviser, Venkat Thalladi, Cox's discovery showed the value of scientific expertise on the front lines.

"With pharmaceuticals, it could be one year, two years or 10. There's no way to tell," said Thalladi, an assistant chemistry professor. "Here is a person who with simple deductive logic saved lives in real time."

Cox, who grew up in Southborough, received his bachelor's degree in 2005 and had entered graduate school when he was deployed. Upon his return, he resumed his studies while serving in the reserves. Married with a 4-month-old daughter, he is savoring life at home but would proudly serve a second tour. "I enjoy working in the lab," he said. "But I enjoy being a Marine equally."

Iraq's Nouri Maliki breaking free of U.S. - Los Angeles Times

Iraq's Nouri Maliki breaking free of U.S. - Los Angeles Times: "BAGHDAD"— Once dependent on American support to keep his job, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has consolidated power and is asserting his independence, sharply reducing Washington's influence over the future of Iraq.

Iraq's police and army now operate virtually on their own, and with Washington's mandate from the United Nations to provide security here expiring in less than four months, Maliki is insisting on imposing severe limits on the long-term U.S. military role, including the withdrawal of American forces from all cities by June.

America's eroded leverage has left Iran, with its burgeoning trade and political ties, in a better position to affect Iraqi government policies.

It also means that whichever U.S. presidential candidate is elected -- Republican John McCain, who insists on what some see as a vaguely defined American victory in Iraq, or Democrat Barack Obama, who has long called for a timeline for withdrawing U.S. combat troops -- will have less ability to sway Baghdad than did the Bush administration.

"If the next president waits too long, our diminishing leverage will likely disappear altogether, leaving us with two strategic options: resign ourselves to 'ride the tiger' -- that is, accept that we have to simply accept what the Iraqi government does and, at most, mitigate or help buffer the consequences -- or jump off the tiger altogether," said Iraq expert Colin Kahl of the Center for a New American Security.

The Maliki government's assertion of power has brought an end to the aggressive approach of the U.S. during its troop buildup last year. American forces frequently intervened in warfare between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. They even challenged Maliki's Shiite-led government by striking alliances with former Sunni insurgents and arresting Shiite police and army commanders implicated in sectarian violence. Since enhancing his strength in a successful spring offensive against a rival Shiite militia, Maliki has insisted that all American troops leave by 2011, unless Iraq requests otherwise. Shiite officials give mixed signals on whether they would ask U.S. military advisors to stay.

During the summer, the prime minister shuttered a joint committee and demanded the U.S. military hand him jurisdiction over dealings with Sunni-dominated paramilitary units.

U.S. officials here acknowledge that their leverage is diminished. Active Iraqi army units came to outnumber U.S. troops in 2007 and started reporting back to Maliki directly through newly established regional command centers.

"They have more capability, so they don't have to listen to us as much as they used to," said a U.S. Embassy official who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

"We always knew this time would come," added the official, saying previous preparations to hand over power had been sabotaged by dysfunction in the Iraqi government.

The shift is largely rooted in Maliki's military victory against the radical Mahdi Army militia in the southern port city of Basra and Baghdad's Sadr City district. The offensive in Basra, launched against the recommendations of the U.S. military, reinvented the prime minister as a decisive commander in chief.

The turnaround came only months after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescued Maliki from political oblivion. In December, Rice met with leaders from Iraq's Kurdish bloc, the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which had sought the tacit blessing of the White House to vote him out of power. Instead, Rice told the leaders that Maliki continued to have Bush's support, according to several Iraqi officials familiar with the meeting.

In March, Iran intervened on Maliki's behalf. Iranian leaders convinced the head of the Mahdi Army, anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, to end his militia's fighting in Basra after an Iraqi delegation traveled to Iran and met with senior Iranian officials and Sadr, according to a participant, lawmaker Ali Adeeb, a leader in Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party. A second trip to Tehran in May by Adeeb and others had a similar effect on Mahdi Army members fighting in Sadr City.

"Iran's help is paying off even now," Adeeb told The Times. "Sadr's speeches and announcements are more moderate than they used be."

In June, Maliki made his own visit to Tehran, a trip coinciding with a more hostile stance by the Iraqi government toward the Americans.

During that visit, Maliki's office ordered government employees not to attend a twice-yearly conference scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, the same week. Iraqis had been expected to lead the majority of panels, but at least 15 Iraqi speakers skipped the event.

In August, Maliki shut down an Iraqi-American committee on basic services for security in Baghdad. "He terminated the group, saying there were too many Americans," said a Western advisor to the Iraqi government.

With more than 146,000 troops still on the ground in Iraq, the U.S. retains a sort of military veto power over any efforts to oust them before the White House is ready. America's ability to provide air power and help build an Iraqi air force also remain an enticing lure.

But Maliki and other Shiite leaders are juggling intense pressures, in part because of their close relationship with Iran. Maliki appears particularly leery of being branded an American puppet. This has been most prevalent in negotiations over the U.N. security agreement, meant to provide a legal mechanism for American troops to stay beyond this year.

"The prime minister has shown everyone he means business," said lawmaker Sami Askari, a close advisor to Maliki. "Not everything America wants, America can get."

The Iraqis are prepared to simply ask for an extension of the mandate of one year or less if Washington doesn't agree to Iraq's terms, said lawmaker Sheik Humam Hamoodi.

So far, the White House has balked at Iraq's demands for an unconditional U.S. troop withdrawal date and for Iraqi courts to have some jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers.

Asked about the prime minister's tilt, the U.S. Embassy official said Maliki was under pressure from Sadr and Iran.

"I don't think he is anti-American per se," the diplomat said. "I think he is trying to balance a variety of domestic and external pressures and he judges the American relationship from that context."...

[bth: Iran won the Iraq war.]

Monday, September 15, 2008

Saturday Night Live - Palin / Hillary Open - Video -

Saturday Night Live - Palin / Hillary Open - Video - ""

The Old New Englander: Are you scared yet?

The Old New Englander: Are you scared yet?

Greatscat!: Bush's Motorcade Passes Up Parents of Dead Soldiers for McCain Fundraiser

Greatscat!: Bush's Motorcade Passes Up Parents of Dead Soldiers for McCain Fundraiser

Michael Yon - Online Magazine Death in the Corn Part I

Michael Yon - Online Magazine: "The"soldiers are living like animals at a little rat’s nest called FOB Gibraltar. They call it “Gib.” Named after the lynchpin of British naval dominance in the Mediterranean, this cluster of mud huts in the middle of hostile territory is more like Fort Apache, Afghanistan. The British soldiers from C-Company 2 Para live in ugly conditions, fight just about every day, and morale is the best I have seen probably anywhere.

The few outside visitors arrive in helicopters that are sometimes spaced days apart, so that if a visitor stays overnight, he could be stuck for a week or more. The closest Afghan dwellings are a few hundred meters away, and each is surrounded by a mud wall. The Brits and Americans call these dwellings “compounds,” because in fact they are little forts. Most Afghans here are a primitive lot who live far outside of cities, and even villages. The Brits say that locals live as their ancestors dwelled in the fourteenth century. Iraq is by comparison extremely advanced and familiar. Local homes are made of mud, straw, and poor-quality bricks that were dried in the sun, not fired in a kiln. Farmers in this area of Afghanistan keep their animals within the compounds, and so the families live in private zoos, and the Brits are in the middle of clusters of zoos that I call Jurassic Park. Though most compounds immediately around Gib are abandoned, crops grow nearly up to the concertina, tripwires, claymore mines and fortifications that form the perimeter of the base....

[bth this and the article following in on Michael Yon's website are worth reading in full.]

Afghanistan Is in Its Worst Shape Since 2001, European Diplomat Says -

Afghanistan Is in Its Worst Shape Since 2001, European Diplomat Says - "GENEVA"One of the most experienced Western envoys in Afghanistan said Sunday that conditions there had become the worst since 2001. He urged a concerted American and foreign response, even before a new American administration took office, to avoid “a very hot winter for all of us.”

The envoy, Francesc Vendrell, a Spanish diplomat with eight years’ experience in Afghanistan, especially criticized the growing number of civilian deaths in attacks by American and international forces.

Those deaths have created “a great deal of antipathy” and widened the distance between the Afghan government and citizens, he said here at an annual review of global strategy organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Mr. Vendrell recently stepped down as the European Union envoy in Kabul.

The United States military is investigating an assertion by villagers in western Afghanistan that some 90 men, women and children died in a missile attack on Aug. 22. The Afghan government and a United Nations investigation have backed that assertion, but American officers have said that only seven civilians were killed.

Mr. Vendrell warned that the situation was precarious among the Pashtun tribes who live mainly in southern Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan. He also said that the Taliban-led insurgency had spread not only to the east but also close to Kabul and, in pockets, to the north and west, hitherto relatively peaceful.

While only a minority of Pashtuns actively support the Taliban, he said, most Pashtuns “are sitting on the fence to see who is going to be the winner.”

Because the country faces a number of problems — the rising cost of food and fuel, the deterioration in security and what Mr. Vendrell called the international community’s failure to engage either the Taliban or regional powers like Pakistan, Iran and India in the search for solutions — Afghanistan could be facing “a very cold winter” that threatened to become “a very hot winter for all of us,” he said.

He urged that Afghan authorities and foreign agencies follow up any military successes against the Taliban with concrete assistance to convince local citizens that Westerners and the Kabul government can deliver security and at least some well-being.

Mr. Vendrell bluntly recited what he called a long series of foreign mistakes in Afghanistan. While he played a leading role in the conference in Bonn, Germany, that set up the post-Taliban government, he said Sunday that the “first great mistake” made in 2001 was holding that conference. By the time the Bonn talks took place, he said, Northern Alliance warlords and their allies already controlled two-thirds of Afghanistan, making their rule a “fait accompli.”

In addition, he said, the United States and its allies placed too much faith in President Hamid Karzai and did too little to ensure that his government had a monopoly of force, with a strong police force and other institutions.

“We thought we had found a miracle man,” Mr. Vendrell said, alluding to Mr. Karzai without naming him.

“Miracle men do not exist. Too much responsibility without power was invested in this person,” he said.

Mr. Vendrell’s audience included dozens of security and foreign policy specialists, as well as a smattering of American military officers and some government ministers, including Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister. His alarm about Afghanistan and Pakistan was echoed in conversations at the conference.

Mr. Vendrell said that nevertheless it was time not to abandon Afghanistan but to redouble efforts there, both military efforts and those to build up civilian institutions and ensure that elections are held next year. In particular, he said, the United States must develop clear standards to govern the detention of hundreds of Afghans it holds without trial.

This is not the time to leave; we are not destined to fail, but we are far from succeeding,” he concluded.

India: Crude bombs mock missile might

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Nation | Crude bombs mock missile might: "New"Delhi, Sept. 14: A sleek air-to-air missile was test-fired for the second time in two days today in a demonstration of India’s new military might that is ringing hollow after a series of crude blasts killed unwary innocents in the heart of the capital last evening.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has earmarked about Rs 1,000 crore for developing the Astra BVRAAM (beyond visual range air-to-air missile). At the current rate, it is likely to be inducted at least seven years from now.

No budget has as yet been drawn up for a project to make crude-bomb detectors.

India’s air force has not been in aerial combat — for which the Astra missile is meant — since 1971. Even in the 1999 Kargil war, IAF combat aircraft were operating in the air-to-ground mode and were allowed to do so only from within Indian airspace.

But crude bombs that exploded in Connaught Place and Karol Bagh in Delhi, at Civil Hospital and in Juhapura in Ahmedabad, and at Madiwala and Audugodi in Bangalore are of more recent vintage and are taking a higher toll of Indian lives than the wars for which the military is being prepared.

Forensic examination of bombed sites in Bangalore and Ahmedabad revealed that the explosives were little more than a lethal cocktail of the white ammonium nitrate powder, metal filings and ball-bearings packed tightly into a package that weighed less than six kilograms.

India’s military technology establishment, the DRDO, has now been asked to focus its attention on developing equipment that can detect these elementary devices of terror such as the bombs that tore through Delhi last evening.

The chemical, also sold by about 100 companies in the country as fertiliser, was said to have been used in the devices that devastated busy spaces in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, too.

But the DRDO today is kicked about its latest test of the Astra (Sanskrit/Hindi for weapon) BVRAAM. Only about half-a-dozen countries in the world — Russia and five Nato member countries — have such a capability, said a senior officer.

“We were testing its telemetry capabilities,” said a senior DRDO scientist about the weekend tests. “We were checking its guidance mechanism to see if we can effect mid-course correction after the missile is fired from an aircraft. The experiment is by and large successful,” he said.

The Astra was first tested in 2003 but it was yet to be test-fired from an aircraft, though that was what it was meant for.

The 3.5m-long pencil-shaped weapon is being designed to be attached to the pods of the IAF’s Sukhoi 30 Mki aircraft and the indigenous light combat aircraft Tejas and fired at enemy aircraft that cannot be sighted (“beyond visual range”).

The Astra team is led by the director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad, and its project director is S. Gollakota.

Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast have been importing jammers to neutralise improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but these would not be of much use in detecting the kind of bombs that are the latest astra in the arsenal of urban terrorists.

“We have been asked by the Union home ministry if we can produce equipment to find such bombs,” a senior DRDO official said today

A Delhi-based laboratory of the DRDO, the Laser Science and Technology Centre, has taken up a project to use laser beams to detect chemical cocktails that go into the crude explosives from a distance of about 10 metres.

“All over the world many countries are trying to develop similar technology,” the scientist said. In the US, homeland security systems are among the largest area of research in military technology since 9/11.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

YouTube - ETVDesign 4orce Tracked Vehicles

YouTube - ETVDesign 4orce Tracked Vehicles: ""

YouTube - Tracked Robot: Everything You see a M113 Gavin Does dynmicpa

YouTube - Tracked Robot: Everything You see a M113 Gavin Does dynmicpa: ""

YouTube - TANK Object 279 -prototype heavy tank(Video)

YouTube - TANK Object 279 -prototype heavy tank(Video): ""

Video: Little Dragon Runner 'Bot Gets a Grip | Danger Room from

Video: Little Dragon Runner 'Bot Gets a Grip | Danger Room from

American Revolutionary -

American Revolutionary - "BOSTON"-- In February, the Iranian government showed a fictionalized video on the dangers of foreign plots against the state. One of its stars: a mysterious American named Gene Sharp.

In June 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez publicly accused Mr. Sharp of stirring unrest in Venezuela. Last year in Vietnam, authorities arrested several opposition activists who were distributing a book written by Mr. Sharp. In 2005, fires destroyed two Moscow bookstores selling Russian translations of the same book.

The target of all this intrigue and animosity is 80 years old and slightly stooped. He walks with a cane.

Working from a modest house in East Boston, Mr. Sharp is nearly unknown to the U.S. public. But he is despised by many authoritarian regimes and respected by opposition activists around the globe. Mr. Sharp has had broad influence on international events over the past two decades, helping to advance a global democratic awakening.

An aging academic, Mr. Sharp says he has no links with the government or any intelligence agency. He responded to Mr. Chavez's speech with an open letter suggesting that if the president is concerned about being overthrown, he should read "The Anti-Coup," a booklet Mr. Sharp co-authored.

Spread via the Internet, word-of-mouth and seminars, Mr. Sharp's writings on nonviolent resistance have been studied by opposition activists in Zimbabwe, Burma, Russia, Venezuela and Iran, among others. His 1993 guide to unseating despots, "From Dictatorship to Democracy," has been translated into at least 28 languages and was used by movements that toppled governments in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Several years ago, a funding cut drastically curtailed the operations of Mr. Sharp's Albert Einstein Institution, which is devoted to research and promotion of peaceful resistance to dictatorships. He dismissed most of his staff, closed his office in a Boston business district and retreated to his personal digs.

Since then, Mr. Sharp has worked from a brick townhouse near Logan Airport. Shy, never married and childless, Mr. Sharp spends most of his days in the company of a young assistant and a massive black dog named Caesar. To unwind, he tends orchids in a greenhouse on the top floor.

"You see how rich we are," says Mr. Sharp, dressed in wrinkled black pants, as he motions at his cluttered office. Books are everywhere, even on shelves in the bathroom. A bulletin board boasts stickers for a student movement that brought down Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic ("He is finished") and for a Tibetan student group ("Game over. Free Tibet").

Mr. Sharp never expected his work would find adherents in so many countries. "I'm still a little stunned by that," he says.

Although nonviolent struggle has played a major role throughout history, Mr. Sharp was among the first modern scholars to take a comprehensive look at all the various movements, from the civil-rights struggle in the U.S. to uprisings in Eastern Europe.

"You had to do a lot of work to get all you need," says Ivan Marovic, one of the founders of the Serbian youth movement that helped depose former leader Mr. Milosevic. "Gene Sharp put it all together."

In his writings, Mr. Sharp teased out common principles that make nonviolent resistance successful, creating a broad road map for activists looking to destabilize authoritarian regimes. Mr. Sharp's magnum opus, the 902-page "Politics of Nonviolent Action," was published in 1973. But the main source of his success is his 90-page "From Dictatorship to Democracy."

This slim volume offers concise advice on how to plan a successful opposition campaign, along with a list of historically tested tactics for rattling a dictatorial regime. Aimed at no particular country, and easily downloadable from the Internet, the booklet has found universal appeal among opposition activists around the globe.

Though he warns readers that resistance may provoke violent crackdowns and will take careful planning to succeed, Mr. Sharp writes that any dictatorship will eventually collapse if its subjects refuse to obey.

He offers a list of 198 methods of nonviolent action, like the staging of mock elections to poke fun at problems like vote-rigging, using funerals to make political statements and adopting symbolic colors, a la Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. Less conventional tactics include skywriting political messages and "protest disrobings."

In Zimbabwe, opposition activist Magodonga Mahlangu has organized the tract's translation into two main local languages. In Russia, opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky estimates he and his colleagues have used about 30 of 198 protest methods listed in Mr. Sharp's booklet. Venezuelan student leader Yon Goicoechea says Mr. Sharp's work inspired him to think creatively of ways to carry out antigovernment protests: Activists once tied themselves to the stairs of a government building and have staged street theater to mock constitutional changes.

The son of an itinerant Protestant minister, Mr. Sharp was born in 1928 in North Baltimore, Ohio. The Sharps moved around a lot, and young Gene often lost friendships and "had to start all over again," he recalls. While still in high school, Mr. Sharp began reading about Nazi atrocities, which helped trigger his fascination with the nature of totalitarian regimes and with ways to resist them.

In 1951, Mr. Sharp received a master's degree in sociology from Ohio State University. His lifelong research interest has been Mohandas Gandhi's Indian independence movement that shook off British colonial rule largely by peaceful means. In the 1950s, Mr. Sharp spent nine months in jail for refusing conscription during the Korean War. He later moved to England and then Norway, where he studied how local schoolteachers used nonviolent means to weaken the country's pro-Nazi Quisling regime in World War II.

In 1965, Mr. Sharp came to Harvard University as a researcher in international studies, and in 1983 he founded the Albert Einstein Institution, choosing the name because the renowned physicist also had an interest in nonviolent resistance.

In 1987, when Mr. Sharp was teaching at Harvard, a flier for his seminar on nonviolent sanctions caught the eye of Robert Helvey, a Vietnam veteran and a former defense attaché at the U.S. embassy in Burma.

"I had an image of nonviolence as being a bunch of long-haired hippies," recalls Mr. Helvey, who was at Harvard on a year-long fellowship from the Army. After he heard Mr. Sharp talk about seizing power, he says he realized the approach had "nothing to do with pacifism" and invited the scholar to lunch. The two men hit it off.

Around the same time, a military junta seized power in Burma. Three years later, Mr. Helvey, by then retired from the military, was in the Burmese jungle imparting Mr. Sharp's teachings of peaceful resistance to antigovernment guerrillas.

Although nonviolent opposition had a history in Burma, the concept was a tough sell among the more-militant dissidents. "We were very much engaged in the armed struggle at the time," recalls Kyaw Kyaw, a Burmese opposition activist who says he eventually embraced the idea of nonviolent action.

In 1992, Mr. Sharp slipped into Burma on a boat from Thailand and taught some seminars to the guerrillas. A Burmese exile asked Mr. Sharp to write a short primer on nonviolent struggle. The result was "From Dictatorship to Democracy," which was initially intended only for Burmese consumption.

In 1997, Marek Zelazkiewicz, a Polish-American peace activist involved in the Balkans, picked up a photocopy in the U.S. and took it to then-unraveling Yugoslavia. Mr. Zelazkiewicz first preached nonviolent resistance in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were being persecuted by Mr. Milosevic's Serb-dominated regime. That fight quickly got too brutal for peaceful opposition.

So, the peace activist decided to work on Serbian public opinion and headed to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, hiding pictures of alleged Serbian atrocities and a copy of Mr. Sharp's booklet in his duffel bag. "If you take out the ladies, it was nearly [like] James Bond," Mr. Zelazkiewicz says of his cloak-and-dagger movements. He hand-delivered a copy to a local democracy-promotion group called Civic Initiatives, which translated and published it.

"It was interesting to hear that there was this whole science behind what we were learning the hard way," says Srdja Popovic, one of the founders of Otpor, a youth opposition movement that got the book from Civic Initiatives. Otpor activists traveled to Budapest, where Mr. Helvey gave them a workshop on nonviolent resistance. Otpor's country-wide campaign of grassroots activism and civil disobedience helped push Mr. Milosevic out of power in 2000.

By then, Mr. Helvey, working closely with Mr. Sharp, had written his own book examining how best to undermine or co-opt a regime's "pillars or support," such as the police, the military, media and civil servants.

Heartened by their success in Serbia, Otpor members gave seminars on nonviolent struggle to Georgian and Ukrainian activists, relying in part on Mr. Sharp's tract. Mass protests in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005 forced incumbent regimes out of office. "You cannot import social change," says Mr. Popovic. "But the knowledge can be transferred."

Mr. Kozlovsky, a member of the Russian opposition group Oborona, came across "From Dictatorship to Democracy" on the Web in 2005 and immediately decided to have it translated into Russian. The first printing house he enlisted backed out of the deal, saying the book was too sensitive, so he found another publisher who printed 1,500 copies, Mr. Kozlovsky says.

In July and August of 2005, two small bookstores where the book was sold burned down, destroying some of the books, Mr. Kozlovsky says. "I still keep a half-burned copy on a shelf in my office," he says, adding that he's trying to organize another printing. At one of the stores, Mr. Kozlovsky says, an explosive device thrown by unknown parties set off the blaze.

The cause of the other fire has been officially ruled an accident. There's no evidence of government involvement in the incidents. Both shops carried other opposition literature as well.

Thousands of miles away, in the United Arab Emirates, Iranian oil and gas engineer Mehdi Kalantarzadeh found "From Dictatorship to Democracy" on the Internet, combined it with Robert Helvey's book, and translated the mix into Farsi last year. The Iranian activist forwarded his translation to Shahla Lahiji, a prominent Iranian publisher who often pushes the limits of state censorship.

"I knew what I'm publishing," Ms. Lahiji says. "I knew it wouldn't make the regime happy." Ms. Lahiji says the book was selling briskly at her stand in the book fair in Tehran last year, and that a few months later a pro-government Web site accused her of "teaching velvet revolution to the people."

In the Iranian government's fictional video that aired on Iranian television a few months later, three Iranians receive cash to stir unrest in exchange for a promise to "have a good time in America." The scheme unravels after one plotter's sister calls an Iranian government hotline (the number is provided). A stern voiceover introduces a computer-drawn likeness of Mr. Sharp as "one of the CIA agents in charge of America's infiltration into other countries," according to a translation by the Middle East Research Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

For all his success, a few years ago Mr. Sharp, who left Harvard in the 1990s to focus on the institution, found himself confronted by a coup of sorts -- this one at his doorstep. Since its founding in 1983, the Albert Einstein Institution had been funded by Peter Ackerman, managing director of investment firm Rockport Capital Inc. who had written his doctoral thesis under Mr. Sharp's guidance before earning millions working with financier Michael Milken in the 1980s. Over the years, Mr. Ackerman estimates he has given a sum in the "low eight figures" to the institution.

But by 2004, Mr. Ackerman wanted the institution to be more active in spreading nonviolence research, he says. He was exploring other means of promotion, such as video. Mr. Sharp preferred keeping the institution smaller, although he won't go into specifics. Mr. Sharp says the dispute is "related to different views of reality between Peter and myself."

Mr. Ackerman cut the funding of the Albert Einstein Institution and turned to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, or ICNC, which he founded in Washington, D.C. in 2002. An annuity which Mr. Ackerman set up in the 1980s still provides Mr. Sharp's personal income. Mr. Sharp's institution still collects some minor funding from other private sources.

Mr. Ackerman has underwritten production of two documentaries, one on the downfall of Mr. Milosevic and the other on the history of nonviolent conflict.

He has also commissioned the creation of a video game, "A Force More Powerful," in which players can model nonviolent struggle in fictional scenarios, such as a dictatorship in the country of Infeliz. The game's chief designer is Mr. Marovic, one of the founders of Otpor, the Serbian opposition group.

The Otpor alumni now run the Belgrade-based Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas, which is funded by Mr. Ackerman's ICNC. Canvas has trained activists from Venezuela, Nigeria and the Palestinian territories, among many others. A large part of ICNC's and Canvas's theoretical arsenal is drawn from Mr. Sharp's writings.

Mr. Ackerman points out that he still supports Mr. Sharp financially and distributes his books. "My center is a bigger compliment to Gene than Gene is willing to make to himself," he says.

Write to Philip Shishkin at

[bth; for those interested in nonviolent resistence I would recommend going to the websites and downloading the books which are available on-line.]