Saturday, September 27, 2008

French and NATO Intentionally Deceiving the Public

French and NATO Intentionally Deceiving the Public: "22"September 2008

Afghanistan

NATO and the French military continue to deny that a secret report exists concerning the loss of ten French soldiers last month in Afghanistan. For the record, I have no intention of publishing any part of the secret report. Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper heavily cited the report, and I merely confirmed that the report does in fact exist, that the newspaper article accurately reflected the contents of the report, and warned that if NATO and the French military maintained their position that the report was either inaccurate or nonexistent, they might find themselves contradicted by its publication. More importantly, the document was handed to me with zero expectation that I would keep it secret. In fact, there seemed to be an expectation that I might publish something, though I did keep it secret, other than to verify the Globe and Mail story.
Below is my original post:

20 September 2008

I was able to carefully read the secret NATO/ISAF report cited in this news story, which does a good job of reporting the facts in the report. Photographs published in the report showed very accurate fire on vehicles, which supports the claim that the Taliban are becoming more proficient with their small arms fire. The document also indicated that the Taliban had used armor piercing bullets in the ambush. The French soldiers were completely unprepared for this level of combat. Apparently, the survivors were rescued by American forces, including “Green Berets” who were nearby.

Michael



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We can’t win this war if the people at home think the military here is deceiving them.

One of the reasons we succeeded In Iraq was that, for the most part, the American and British militaries had an open and truthful approach to journalists. They let us see the good, the bad, and the ugly, though few journalists spent much time down in the “trenches.” From the perspective of working journalists, most of us didn’t believe we were being systemically deceived by the military (except for a few notable exceptions). This was especially true beginning in early 2007 when General David Petraeus took command. Sure, the military constantly tried to shunt journalists to school openings, water projects and hug-fests, but that was fair play. They wanted to get their message out. Most of us saw nothing wrong with that, except that few journalists care to cover school openings or new clinics. The military was trying to emphasize the positives (of which there were many) while journalists were more apt to cover the negatives (again, there were many). Car bombs were more likely to get airtime and column inches.

Here in Afghanistan, I sense a storm brewing between NATO and the media. The official denial of the secret report on the 18 August Taliban ambush on French forces is not an isolated incident. There have been other instances which give the impression of a pattern of denial and cover-up. NATO credibility is critical in this war. Support is already weak in several NATO countries. The Afghani and, even more so, Pakistani populaces are often skeptical of our efforts and question our honesty. For example, when the U.S. was recently blamed for the deaths of nearly 100 innocent people in a single attack, the basic facts of the case were highly disputed. Who are the people supposed to believe? Because they know the impact on the propaganda war, the Taliban routinely lies about casualties, exaggerating the number of civilians killed and claiming their own fighters were civilians. If NATO is found to be spewing propaganda, they will not be able to counter Taliban propaganda. Western journalists here already do not believe the Taliban or al Qaeda. We know they lie. But enemy shams do not translate into NATO credibility. Frankly, I do not know who to believe about the alleged killing of nearly 100 people. I wanted to believe our side, but they don’t always inspire confidence. If we didn’t kill 100 innocent civilians, why not invite some journalists out to the village to verify the facts for themselves? And if we did kill them by accident, why not just admit it?

In Iraq, Al Qaeda and other groups undermined themselves. Our people wrestled away the high ground, but it was a long, hard fight, requiring diligence, discipline, and a sometimes painful honesty. In Afghanistan, maintaining our credibility could be even more difficult than in Iraq. Many people, such as Pakistani cab drivers, will likely never believe a word we say. That comes with the territory. What NATO cannot afford is to be seen by fair-minded journalists as being no more trustworthy than the enemy.

Denials like the ones recently made by NATO and the French military only undermine credibility and create an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust. If both the Taliban and NATO are propaganda machines, the Taliban wins. Also, these denials put the burden of proof on those journalists who have written about the report. The Globe and Mail and I now must prove that the document exists, otherwise our own credibility is undermined.

The photos I published on the 21 September of the damaged Afghan Police vehicle were not from the secret report. Those photos were from a separate, non-classified source. Exactly how the damage was sustained was unknown by the source, but it could have been an accident during the fighting.

The French and NATO should come clean, make a straightforward accounting of the facts and move on. Yet this morning, here’s the news:


BRUSSELS, Sept 21, 2008 (AFP) - NATO denied Sunday that French soldiers
had been ambushed by better armed Taliban fighters in Afghanistan last
month but expressed concern about increasingly sophisticated
cross-border attacks.

"We have no information and have seen no information that would indicate
that the French forces were in any way ill-equipped for this mission,"
chief NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, citing a "secret" NATO report, said
Saturday that Taliban fighters who ambushed French soldiers on August 18
-- killing 10 of them -- were well-trained and better armed than their
enemy.

But Appathurai said: "I am in a position to say that there is no such
report, either from NATO or from ISAF," the International Security
Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

"Neither the secretary general (Jaap de Hoop Scheffer) nor indeed NATO
headquarters has any knowledge of such a report's existence. After some
research we are still unable to find any evidence of such a report," he
said.


I get the foreboding sense the AfPak war might become far worse than Iraq ever was. Everything here feels wrong. In Iraq, I didn’t trust the enemy to tell the truth, but found that our side was generally honest. Here in Afghanistan, the enemy is deceitful, but why should I trust NATO when their story keeps changing? Now the French Defense Minister admits there was a report, but says it was not official, just a “fragmented” email expressing “a personal opinion.”


'Account' of ambush of French troops in Afghanistan: minister

1 hour ago

PARIS (AFP) — France's defence minister confirmed Monday the existence of a NATO officer's "account" of a deadly ambush of French soldiers last month, after a newspaper cited what it said was a report that said the force was ill-equipped.

Herve Morin told RTL radio the description of the battle in Afghanistan was a "fragmented written account done in the heat of the moment the day after or 48 hours after the operation, using elements at the officer's disposal."

Yet it gets worse. The sixth paragraph of today’s denial:

There had been no official report "but there was email correspondence between an ISAF officer and command HQ in Kabul, in which the officer expressed his personal opinion on what happened during the ambush," the source said.


The French and NATO should make their own on-the-record statements instead of using journalists as their messengers who can later take the blame for any “misinterpretations.” They should say exactly what was “wrong” about the report and the Canadian newspaper article. There might not have been an “official report”, but that seems to be a rather meaningless distinction, except that the obvious intent is to discredit the source. Same with calling it an email (do French soldiers still file their reports on paper?) The secret report was a genuine After Action Report. The document was not an email missive done on the fly, but a detailed eyewitness account, written in an official manner that I have seen many times before. NATO and the French officials are almost begging someone to publish the actual document.

[bth: Michael Yon has been highly credible in the past, not only in his public correspondence but in his private communications we've had in the past. If he says he read the report that officially doesn't exist, then I believe him and not the official sources. The rot of lies are setting in. We are willingly giving up our moral high ground. Why? Why reduce ourselves to lies? When truth leaves. Trust follows.]

Chief U.S. Drone Maker Tapped Out | Danger Room from Wired.com

Chief U.S. Drone Maker Tapped Out | Danger Room from Wired.com: "Earlier"this year Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took the U.S. military to task for not getting more armed spy drones into service over Iraq and Afghanistan. He said demanding more drones was "like pulling teeth."

The Air Force responded, saying that it was training up drone operators as fast as it could. Now it turns out there's another obstacle to boosting the Pentagon's armed drone fleet, Defense News reports. The principle manufacturer, General Atomics, is falling behind on deliveries of Predator and Reaper drones, according to the Government Accountability Office:

It took the company 10 months to deliver 24 Predators ordered in July 2006, records show. But it will take 17 months for the company to deliver the same number of aircraft ordered in April 2008. ... "General Atomics is a good engineering company that has had problems transitioning to high volume," said former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.

General Atomics denies there's anything wrong.

Defense News draws a parallel with the shortage of blast-resistant armored trucks (aka, "MRAPs") in Iraq two years ago. To get more of the lifesaving vehicles to the troops, the Pentagon undertook a World War II-style industrial mobilization, enlisting every available manufactures, licensing designs and investing heavily in raw materials. It worked. Could we do the same for drones?

Singapore Tech X Challenge Results and Videos – World War Robots at TechX - Popular Mechanics

Singapore Tech X Challenge Results and Videos – World War Robots at TechX - Popular Mechanics

Singapore Tech X Challenge Results and Videos – World War Robots at TechX - Popular Mechanics

Singapore Tech X Challenge Results and Videos – World War Robots at TechX - Popular Mechanics

Navy awards Z-Medica $2M for nano-bandages - Massachusetts Biotech and Technology News and New England Local Business News

Navy awards Z-Medica $2M for nano-bandages - Massachusetts Biotech and Technology News and New England Local Business News: "Medical"products maker Z-Medica Corp. was awarded a $2 million contract form the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to conduct clinical trails of the Wallingford, Conn.-based company’s wound treatment, QuickClot Combat Gauze. The product is made up of surgical gauze woven together with synthetic nano-sized materials that can stop bleeding in seconds, the company said.

The trials will be conducted at John Hopkins University in Baltimore; the University of Miami; the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester; Vanderbilt University in Nashville and Hartford Hospital in Conn.

They study will test the product for small entry, large exit bullet wounds, typically experienced by soldiers in battle, according to the company.

The company also stated that the U.S. Department of Defense Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care has already selected the product to stop bleeding in soldiers with deep “tourniquet” wounds for the entire U.S. military. Z-Medica has received 510(K) clearance from the FDA.

Red State Update

Red State Update

The Associated Press: GAO rejects claim Army botched body armor tests

The Associated Press: GAO rejects claim Army botched body armor tests: "WASHINGTON"— The Government Accountability Office has rejected a claim that testing of improved body armor for U.S. forces was flawed, clearing the way for the Army to get the stalled $1 billion project moving again.

Had the GAO agreed with a contract protest filed in July by ArmorWorks of Chandler, Ariz., the program to buy sturdier armor could have been delayed for months. That would have been bad news for the Army, which has been criticized for moving too slowly to provide troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with the best battlefield gear.

ArmorWorks accused the Army of not following accepted testing standards after the company's protective plates failed when armor-piercing rounds were fired at them.

Once a protest is filed with the GAO, work on a contract is put on hold until the complaint is resolved.

Three other companies passed the tests that took place at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland between February and June. That means they'll compete for as many as 1.2 million sets of body armor the military will buy over the next five years.

A copy of GAO's ruling on the ArmorWorks protest has not been made public. The GAO's Web site states only that the case was dismissed on Tuesday....

Russia offers Chavez nuclear help amid US tensions

Russia offers Chavez nuclear help amid US tensions: "Venezuelan"President Hugo Chavez was to meet Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Friday after Russia risked Washington's wrath by offering the fierce US foe help developing nuclear energy.
The two were to meet in the city of Orenburg after hawkish Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Chavez in Moscow on Thursday that Russia was "ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in nuclear energy."

The countries have boosted ties in recent weeks following sharp US criticism of Russia's incursion into Georgia, with Moscow dispatching long-range bombers and warships to Venezuela for exercises near US waters.

Putin made the nuclear offer after Russia this week delayed talks with the United States and other powers on fears Iran is developing nuclear weapons, concerns critics say have been exacerbated by civilian nuclear technology provided by Moscow.

Chavez called for increased ties with Russia as a counter-balance to US power.

"Today like never before all that you said on the multi-polar world becomes reality. Let us not lose time," Chavez told Putin. "The world is fast developing geopolitically."

In deployments not seen since the Cold War, Russia this month sent two long-range bombers to Venezuela for exercises and has dispatched a flotilla of warships from the Arctic base of Severomorsk to Venezuela, near US waters.

Putin thanked Chavez for the "warm welcome" given to the planes and said South America was growing in importance for Moscow.

"Latin America has become an important chain-link in creating a multipolar world, and we will pay more attention to this vector," he said.

Russia's relations with the United States are in a deep chill, most recently over the brief war in Georgia last month -- a conflict where Chavez was one of the few world leaders to support Moscow. ...

[bth: Chavez has a big mouth and a little country.]

McCain’s Economic Plan For Nation: 'Everyone Marry A Beer Heiress' | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

McCain’s Economic Plan For Nation: 'Everyone Marry A Beer Heiress' | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
McCain�s Economic Plan For Nation: 'Everyone Marry A Beer Heiress'"

Jon Stewart: Bush Bailout Speech Just Like Iraq Speech (VIDEO)

Jon Stewart: Bush Bailout Speech Just Like Iraq Speech (VIDEO)

Armchair Generalist: Run Away, Run Away!

Armchair Generalist: Run Away, Run Away!: "On"Thursday, DC emergency responders had an unexpected bioterrorism incident - except it was a hoax.

D.C. police and fire crews raced to the government building, at 810 Vermont Ave. NW, after a threatening letter was opened about 11:30 a.m. in a basement mailroom. The headquarters is about a block from the White House. Officials declared the area safe about 1 p.m.

The letter contained a "written threat" and "a fair amount of a powdery substance," triggering the concerns, Assistant D.C. Fire Chief Lawrence Schultz said.

The 24 workers, all from the mailroom, were isolated from the rest of the building's employees while authorities tested the letter for traces of anthrax spores. A decontamination tent was set up, an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station was closed and traffic was detoured in the immediate area.

Within 90 minutes, tests showed that the letter did not contain any biological agents or danger.

Another bio hoax, another training exercise for the emergency responders. Interesting how it appears they might be relying on less reliable, but accurate SMART tickets (or whatever the equivalent

$13 Billion in Iraq Aid Wasted Or Stolen, Ex-Investigator Says - washingtonpost.com

$13 Billion in Iraq Aid Wasted Or Stolen, Ex-Investigator Says - washingtonpost.com: "A"former Iraqi official estimated yesterday that more than $13 billion meant for reconstruction projects in Iraq was wasted or stolen through elaborate fraud schemes.

Salam Adhoob, a former chief investigator for Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, an arm of the Democratic caucus, that an Iraqi auditing bureau "could not properly account for" the money.

While many of the projects audited "were not needed -- and many were never built," he said, "this very real fact remains: Billions of American dollars that paid for these projects are now gone."

He said a report that went to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top Iraqi officials was never published because "nobody cares" about investigating such cases. Many investigators, he said, feared for their safety because 32 of his co-workers have been murdered.

Adhoob said he reported the abuses to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an agency charged by Congress with helping to root out cases of waste, fraud and abuse in the nearly $50 billion U.S. reconstruction effort. SIGIR spokeswoman Kristine Belisle said her agency continues to "actively follow up" on Adhoob's information, but she would not discuss ongoing investigations.

Adhoob was one of three Iraqi men who testified before the Democratic panel yesterday. Abbas S. Mehdi, a former Iraqi official who held a cabinet-level post, told of widespread corruption. And an Iraqi American who for five years has been a senior adviser to Defense and State department officials in Iraq testified in silhouette by video from an undisclosed location because, he said, he feared for his safety. In a modified voice, he said Iraqi government officials worked with al-Qaeda terrorists at the Baiji refinery to steal oil to sell on the black market.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who chairs the committee, said that "taxpayers have been bled dry with massive misuse of public dollars."

"It is all pretty sobering," he added later. "Our country cannot continue to be blind or oblivious to what is happening."

Adhoob, who worked for three years at the Iraqi agency and oversaw 200 investigators and other employees, said he had a "firsthand, up-close look at corruption" and eventually had to flee the country because of death threats. He said his agency -- the Commission on Public Integrity, which U.S. government officials say is the equivalent of the FBI -- estimates that an additional $9 billion in U.S. funds was lost because of corruption and waste. Because the $13 billion figure came from the Iraqi auditing bureau and the $9 billion figure came from Adhoob's agency, Dorgan's staff members said there could be some overlap.

Adhoob's agency has been accused of pursuing investigations against political rivals.

In one scheme described by Adhoob, Iraqi Defense Ministry officials helped set up two front companies that were to buy airplanes, armored vehicles, guns and other equipment with $1.7 billion in U.S. funds. The companies were paid, but in some cases they delivered only "a small percentage" of the equipment that had been ordered and, in one case, delivered bulletproof vests that were defective and could not be used.

The companies also overcharged for military helicopters and tried to deliver aircraft that were more than 25 years old, he said. Instead of demanding the money back, Adhoob said, the Defense Ministry renegotiated with the companies for "a series of mobile toilets and kitchens -- which have never been delivered."

Adhoob said some of the investigations conducted by his agency and others uncovered "ghost projects" that never existed or instances in which Iraqi and U.S. contractors did poor-quality work. In one case, $24.4 million was spent on an electricity project in Nineveh province but an oversight agency found that it "existed only on paper."

Investigations by Iraqi oversight agencies also found that some of the money sent to the Defense Ministry was diverted to al-Qaeda in Iraq, Adhoob said, and deposited into banks in Jordan and elsewhere.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Main and Central
Main and Central

Pakistani police capture al Qaeda's Karachi commander - The Long War Journal

Pakistani police capture al Qaeda's Karachi commander - The Long War Journal: "Pakistani"police detained a senior leader af al Qaeda's network in Karachi during raids in the southern city as more information on al Qaeda's network inPakistan comes to light.

Police captured a senior terrorist leader named Rahimullah during a early morning raid in the port city. Rahimullah's capture led to a follow-on raid that targeted a suicide bombing cell.

Three terrorists were killed during the raid after throwing hand grenades at the police. A gun battle and an explosion was reported. Police indicated the bombers blew up their vests, but a doctor and other witnesses said the men were shot a point-blank range. Police later found C4 explosives, suicide vests, submachineguns, pistols, hand grenades, and jihadi literature at the scene of the attack.

Rahimullah, whose real name is Ali Hassan, was reported to have been appointed as the leader of the consolidated terror groups in Karachi by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. Rahimullah "established contact with Baitullah Mehsud and many Karachi-based activists," earlier this year, Daily Times reported. He was "affiliated" with the Pakistan terror groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and several other Pakistani terror groups have merged with al Qaeda in Pakistan, and operate under the name of Brigade 313. This group is interlinked with Paksitan's Taliban and also recruits senior members of Pakistan's military and intelligence services, a senior US official told The Long War Journal. The unit has been many of the high-profile attacks and bombings inside Pakistan, including multiple assassination attempts against former President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Gilani. ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

US told it must hold talks with Taliban - Telegraph

US told it must hold talks with Taliban - Telegraph: "Owais"Ghani, who governs the North West Frontier Province and its adjoining tribal areas, is the most prominent figure to date to publicly advocate holding talks with militant commanders leading the insurgency against coalition forces in Afghanistan.

His thinking reflects that of the conservative hardcore of Pakistan's military hardliners who are accused by Western intelligence operatives of supporting the Afghan Taliban as a "hedging policy" to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

"They have to talk to Mullah Omar, certainly – not maybe, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani group," Mr Ghani told The Daily Telegraph in an interview in Peshawar.

"The solution, the bottom line, is that political stability will only come to Afghanistan when all political power groups, irrespective of the length of their beard, are given their just due share in the political dispensation in Afghanistan."

The governor's remarks are likely to cause controversy among Pakistan's allies in the US-led "war on terror" and at home where the ruling Pakistan's People's Party is opposed to the Taliban.

Mullah Omar went into hiding during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. British intelligence believes that he has his headquarters in Quetta in southwestern Pakistan.

In 2006, Mr Musharraf acknowledged that some retired Pakistani intelligence officials may still be involved in supporting their former Taliban protégés whom they worked with during the 1990s when Pakistan helped the movement sweep to power in Afghanistan.

Jalaluddin Haqqani is a veteran commander of the American-backed Afghan war against Soviet invasion in the 1970s and 1980s, and developed links with Osama bin Laden during that period.

Haqqani has had close links with the CIA and Pakistani intelligence agencies, notably the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The New York Times reported in July that the CIA had given the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, evidence of the ISI's continued involvement with Haqqani, who is now leading militants against coalition forces in Afghanistan, along with evidence of ISI connections to a suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed nearly 60 people on July 7.

The Hezb-e-Islami, the Mujahideen faction of the former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was one of the groups which helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but has had links with Pakistan since 1978.

But in the civil war that followed in the early 1990s, his group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Pashtuns clashed violently with other Mujahideen factions in the struggle for control of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The Hezb-e-Islami was blamed for much of the terrible death and destruction of that period, which led many ordinary Afghans to welcome the emergence of the Taliban.

Some of his party members are part of the Afghan parliament and he is said to have taken part in back-channel negotiations with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Mr Ghani said that all three militant commanders were in Afghanistan.

"They are a power group that has to be preserved to seek political solutions we would not destroy them because then you are contributing to further instability," he said.

He denied that Pakistan "wants the Taliban back".

He added: "No sir, we have no favourites in Afghanistan."

Mr Ghani said that West must accept that the "Mullah is a political reality".

However he denied that Pakistan is supporting them by pointing out that it had handed over key Taliban ground commanders operating in Helmand province where British forces are based.

Senior American commanders and policymakers are considering a shift in strategy in Afghanistan. The chairman of the US joint chief of staffs, Admiral Mike Mullen, recently said that failure there was possible and "time was running out".

Mr Ghani said: "You are headed for failure. I think Afghanistan is practically lost. It is compounding our problems."

The governor added that the West must hold talks with the Taliban as al-Qaeda was regrouping from Iraq to Afghanistan. Russia had begun to supply weapons to militants and that the Afghans were intolerant of foreigners on their soil and so were staging "a national uprising".

"To eliminate the Taliban you have to slaughter half the Afghan nation," said Mr Ghani.

President Karzai routinely renews his call for peace talks. Members of a cross-border Afghan-Pakistani tribal council agreed last year to pursue talks with the Taliban.

The initiative received initial encouragement from the Taliban but its leadership then set preconditions for the 50,000 US and Nato troops to be withdrawn and Islamic law to be restored to the country.

Washington rejects talks with the Taliban maintaining that America will not negotiate with "terrorists".

Mr Karzai and the United Nations have stipulated that a key condition for peace talks is that the Taliban must accept the constitution that was signed by Mr Karzai in 2004.

It is doubtful that the America's allies in Afghanistan-which is formed among ethnically distinct groups from the Pashtun Taliban, the Northern Alliance, would accept such talks.

Mr Ghani said that Mr Karzai "does not represent any power group – tribal, religious or political and therefore like the people in his government he is dependant on foreign power. He is therefore an obstacle to dialogue and peace."

He described Pakistan's military strategy as one of containment. "We are not looking for quick fixes. We want to hold it to a level where we can just tolerate it until Afghanistan settles down," said Mr Ghani.

When asked about allegations that Pakistan has used the Taliban to retain its influence in Afghanistan, Mr Ghani replied: "We could counter that by saying India uses the Northern Alliance."

[bth: except for that NYC Twin Towers thing. That's why this won't happen and shouldn't.]

MotherJones Blog: On Iraq's Northern Front, Echoes of Georgia?

MotherJones Blog: On Iraq's Northern Front, Echoes of Georgia?: "The"following post is from occasional contributor Douglas Macgregor, an independent military strategist, retired Army colonel, and author of Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century.

Evidence is piling up that the Turkish government will commit its armed forces against the de facto Kurdish state in Northern Iraq sooner rather than later. During his trip to Ankara last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was assaulted with questions from Turkish authorities about Kurdish activities in Kirkuk designed to drive out the remaining Arabs and establish Kurdish control over Iraq's northern oil and gas resources.

What most Americans don't know is that the Turkish government has tried to negotiate a settlement with the Kurds through its new Special Envoy for Iraq, Murat Ozcelik. People who know Ozcelik insist he is the best person to negotiate Turkey's peace with the Kurds. Unfortunately, his Kurdish counterpart, Massoud Barzani, has turned out to be a fool who thinks he leads a pan-Kurdish movement inside Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Convinced that Kurdistan's oil and gas wealth empowers it to act as though it were a sovereign state, Barzani has reportedly missed his chance to secure real peace for the Kurds. Increasingly, he looks more and more like the Kurdish equivalent of Arafat—except that Barzani and the Kurds are likely to meet a far more bitter end. The Turks won't exercise the restraint the Israelis have vis-à-vis the Palestinian Arabs.

Much of the violence that is picking up between the Kurds and the Sunnis may well be the first sign of a Turkish counter-offensive to punish the Kurds for their continued support of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that seeks to establish a Kurdish state in the region. Barzani reportedly considers it his sacred duty to harbor the PKK, while Jalal Talibani, Iraq's Kurdish president, views the PKK as some sort of strategic hedge against Turkish military intervention.

"The Kurds have overplayed their hand thanks to lots of American encouragement," one of the most astute observers of the Turkish scene told me. "This isn't so unlike Georgia. But the resulting violence will be far worse; Iraq will grow more unstable and the US will lose what little credibility it has left in the Middle East."

We can only hope that United States withdraws our ground forces soon. Army and Marine ground forces already depend heavily on fixed bases for operational capability, and the prospect of facing a Turkish Army and Air Force full of young, energetic Turks only too happy to kill Americans is something this country should seek to avoid. Nothing good will come of it.

Click here for my December 2007 Mother Jones report on the danger of Turkish intervention in Iraq.

Mystery surrounds hijacked Iranian ship - The Long War Journal

Mystery surrounds hijacked Iranian ship - The Long War Journal: "A"tense standoff is underway in northeastern Somalia between pirates, Somali authorities, and Iran over a suspicious merchant vessel and its mysterious cargo. Hijacked late last month in the Gulf of Aden, the MV Iran Deyanat remains moored offshore in Somali waters and inaccessible for inspection. Its declared cargo consists of minerals and industrial products, however, Somali and regional officials directly involved in the negotiations over the ship and who spoke to The Long War Journal are convinced that it was heading to Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia's Islamist insurgents.

It was business as usual when speedboats surrounded the MV Iran Deyanat on August 21. The 44468 dead weight tonnage bulk carrier was pushing towards the Suez and had just entered the Gulf of Aden - dangerous waters where instability, greed and no-questions-asked ransom payments have led to a recent surge in piracy. Steaming past the Horn of Africa, 82 nautical miles southeast of al-Makalla in Yemen, the ship was a prize for the taking. It would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars - possibly millions - to the Somalia-based crime syndicate. The captain was defenseless against the 40 pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades blocking his passage. He had little choice other than to turn his ship over to them. What the pirates were not banking on, however, was that this was no ordinary ship.

The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) - a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship's hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

The MV Iran Deyanat set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July and, according to its manifest, planned to travel to Rotterdam, where it would unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and "industrial products" purchased by a German client. Its arrival in the Gulf of Aden, Somali officials tell The Long War Journal, was suspiciously early. According to a publicly available status report on the IRISL Web site, the ship reached the Gulf on August 20 and was scheduled to reach the Suez Canal on August 27 - a seven day journey. "Depending on the speed of the ship," Puntland Minister of Ports Ahmed Siad Nur said in a phone interview on Saturday, "it should take between 4 and 5 days to reach Suez."


A hijacked bulk carrier looms in the horizon of the beach in Eyl. Photo from Garowe Online.

Suspicion has also been cast on the ship's crew, half of which is almost entirely staffed by Iranians - a large percentage of Iranian nationals for a standard merchant vessel. Somali officials say that the ship has a crew of 29 men, including a Pakistani captain, an Iranian engineer, 13 other Iranians, 3 Indians, 2 Filipinos, and 10 Eastern Europeans, possibly Croatian.

The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates - 50 onboard and 50 onshore. Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died. "Yes, some of them have died. I do not know exactly how many but the information that I am getting is that some of them have died," Andrew Mwangura, Director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, said Friday when reached by phone in Mombasa.

News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. Osman also confirmed to The Long War Journal that during the six days he negotiated with the pirates members of the syndicate had become sick and died. "That ship is unusual," he said. "It is not carrying a normal shipment."

The delegation faced a tense situation in Eyl, Osman recounts. The syndicate had demanded a $9 million ransom for 10 ships that were in its possession and refused permission to inspect the Iranian vessel. At one point, he said, the pirates threatened to "blow up" the MV Iran Deyanat if authorities tried to inspect it with force. A committee of delegate members and Eyl city officials was formed to negotiate directly with the pirates in order to defuse the situation.

Once in direct contact, the pirates told Osman that they had attempted to inspect the ship's seven cargo containers after they developed health complications but the containers were locked. The crew claimed that they did not have the "access codes" and could not open them. The delegation secured contact with the captain and the engineer by cell phone and demanded to know the nature of the cargo, however, Osman says that "they were saying different things to different people." Initially they said that the cargo contained "crude oil" but then claimed it contained "minerals."

"The secrecy is not clear to us," Mwangura said about the cargo. "Our sources say it contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals." IRISL has flatly denied the ship is carrying a "dangerous consignment" and has threatened legal action against Mwangura.

The syndicate set the ship's ransom at $2 million and the Iranian government provided $200,000 to a local broker "to facilitate the exchange." Iran refutes that it agreed to the price and has paid any money to the pirates. Nevertheless, after sanctions were applied to IRISL on September 10, Osman says, the Iranians told the pirates that the deal was off. "They told the pirates that they could not come because of the presence of the U.S. Navy." The region is patrolled by the multinational Combined Taskforce 150, which includes ships from the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

In a strange twist, the Iranian press claims that the U.S. has offered to pay a $7 million bribe to the pirates to "receive entry permission and search the vessel." Officials in the Pentagon and the Department of State approached for this story refused to comment on the situation. Somali officials would also not comment on any direct U.S. involvement but one high-level official in the Puntland government told The Long War Journal "I can say the ship is of interest to a lot of people, including Puntland."

The exact nature of the cargo remains a mystery but officials in Puntland and Baidoa are convinced the ship was carrying weapons to Eritrea for Islamist insurgents. "We cannot inspect the cargo yet," Osman said, "but we are sure that it is weapons."

"Puntland requested the pirates two weeks ago to hand over this Iranian ship, saying that it is carrying weapons to Eritrea," Puntland Fisheries Minister Abdulqadir Muse Yusuf told Reuters. "I have seen food and other odd items on the ship but I do not know what is hidden underneath."

Iran's involvement in the conflict in Somalia on behalf of Islamist insurgents is well documented. In 2006, Iran flouted arms embargos and provided sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), intelligence sources told The Long War Journal, including SA-7 Strella and SA-18 Igla MANPADS - shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles - as well as AT-3 Sagger antitank missiles.

A report issued by the United Nations in 2006 states that weapons were transferred to Somalia through Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which also absorbed a contingent of 700 Islamist fighters from Somalia during Hezbollah's war with Israel. The report also states that Iran provided support for Islamist training camps inside Somalia and had sent two emissaries to negotiate with the ICU for access to Somalia's uranium mines

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: Paulson's Plan

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: Paulson's Plan: "I listened"to Treasury Secretary Paulson a lot this morning as he explained the "plan." Under his concept, the federal government will buy a great deal of presently worthless securitized mortgage debt, hold it for years and then sell it to someone who wants it, presumably because the value of the underlying real estate has gone up. The institutions from which the federal government will buy the debt will play a large, perhaps decisive, role in setting the price at which they "are willing" to sell the now worthless debt to the federal government.

Paulson hopes that the institutions that will be unburdened of this worthless paper will once again soar like eagles (wasn't there a song?). This would seem likely to lead to high profitability for the unburdened institutions with lots of money for all.

Wait! Not so fast! Paulson is not enthusiastic about requiring the "unburdened" to give the government warrants for future stock sales to the government. Such warrants would enable the tax suckers (us little people) to buy the companies at distressed prices (like, now prices) and sell the stock at later higher prices so that the Treasury of the United States (us tax suckers) could make money out of this whole thing.

Paulson also does not think that in return for the US government buying the nearly worthless mortgage securities, the "unburdened" should accept restrictions on executive compensation. Why? He believes that such a restriction would cause the presently burdened institutions to refuse to sell the government their "treasured" worthless paper. Hmmm.

When asked why he thought the presently worthless mortgage "bundles" will become valuable some day "over the rainbow," he expressed faith in the future of America. Bless him! pl

If I do not understand this, explain it. pl

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=atwDaTfVQX64&refer=home

Loan Titans Paid McCain Adviser Nearly $2 Million - NYTimes.com

Loan Titans Paid McCain Adviser Nearly $2 Million - NYTimes.com: "Senator" John McCain’s campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pierre M. Sprey and Winslow T. Wheeler: Another Defense Acquisition Disaster

Pierre M. Sprey and Winslow T. Wheeler: Another Defense Acquisition Disaster: "Politicians"in the US are papering over serious problems in the country’s armed forces. Equating exposure of flaws with failure to “support the troops,” Congress, the presidential candidates and think-tank pundits repeatedly dub the US armed forces “the best in the world”. Behind this vapid rhetoric, a meltdown - decades in the making – is occurring.

The collapse is occurring in all the armed forces, but it is most obvious in the US Air Force (USAF). There, despite a much needed change in leadership, nothing is being done to reverse the deplorable situation the air force has put itself into. The USAF’s annual budget is now in excess of USD150 billion: well above what it averaged during the Cold War. Despite the plentiful dollars, the USAF’s inventory of tactical aircraft is smaller today than it has ever been since the end of the Second World War. At the same time, the shrunken inventory is older, on average, than it has been ever before. Since George W Bush came to office in 2001, the air force has received a major budget “plus up,” supposedly to address its problems. In January 2001 a projection of its budgets showed USD850 billion for 2001 to 2009.

It actually received USD1,059 billion – not counting the additional billions (more than USD80 billion) it also received to fund its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the “plus up” of more than USD200 billion, the air force actually made its inventory troubles worse: from 2001 to today, tactical aircraft numbers shrank by about 100 aircraft and their average age increased from 15 years to 20, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Not to worry, the air force and its politicians assert, the solution is in hand; it is called the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. It will do all three tactical missions: air-to-ground bombing, air-to-air combat and specialised close air support for ground troops – and there will be tailored variants for the air force, navy and marines. Most importantly, it will be “affordable” and, thus, the US can buy it in such large numbers that it will resolve all those shrinking and ageing problems.

Baloney. When the first official cost and quantity estimate for the F-35 showed up on Capitol Hill in 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) predicted 2,866 units for USD226 billion. That is a not inconsiderable USD79 million for each aircraft. The latest official estimate is for a smaller number of aircraft (2,456) to cost more (USD299 billion). That represents a 54 per cent increase in the per-unit cost to USD122 million, and the deliveries will be two years late.

The Government Accountability Office reported in March that the US can expect the costs to increase some more – perhaps by as much as USD38 billion – with deliveries likely to be delayed again, perhaps by another year. That is just the start of the rest of the bad news.

The price increases and schedule delays cited above are for currently known problems. Unfortunately, the F-35 has barely begun its flight-test programme, which means more problems are likely to be discovered – perhaps even more serious than the serious engine, flight control, electrical and avionics glitches found thus far.

Take the F-22 experience; it was in a similarly early stage of flight testing in 1998. Its programme unit cost was then USD184 million per aircraft but it climbed to a breathtaking USD355 million by 2008. Considering that the F-35 is even more complex (19 million lines of computer code compared to 4 million, and three separate service versions compared to one), the horrifying prospect of the F-35?s unit cost doubling is not outlandish. The last tri-service, tri-mission “fighter” the US built, the F-111, tripled in cost before being cut back to barely half the number originally contemplated.

The DoD currently plans to spend more than USD10 billion to produce fewer than 100 F-35s per year at peak production. USAF leaders would like to increase the production rate and add in a few more F-22s. That plan is irresponsibly unaffordable (which contributed to the recent departure of the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff). The unaffordability will become even more obvious when the unavoidable F-35 cost increases emerge. The inevitable reaction, just as in past programmes, will be a slashing of annual production, the opposite of the increase the air force needs to address its inventory problems.

The DoD fix is simple: test the F-35 less and buy more copies before the testing is completed. Two test aircraft and hundreds of flight-test hours have been eliminated from the programme, and there is now a plan to produce more than 500 copies before the emasculated testing is finished. This approach will not fix the programme but it will help paper over the problems and make the F-35 more cancellation-proof in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.

It gets even worse. Even without new problems, the F-35 is a “dog.” If one accepts every performance promise the DoD currently makes for the aircraft, the F-35 will be:

? Overweight and underpowered: at 49,500 lb (22,450kg) air-to-air take-off weight with an engine rated at 42,000 lb of thrust, it will be a significant step backward in thrust-to-weight ratio for a new fighter.

? At that weight and with just 460 sq ft (43 m2) of wing area for the air force and Marine Corps variants, it will have a ?wing-loading? of 108 lb per square foot. Fighters need large wings relative to their weight to enable them to manoeuvre and survive. The F-35 is actually less manoeuvrable than the appallingly vulnerable F-105 “Lead Sled” that got wiped out over North Vietnam in the Indochina War.

? With a payload of only two 2,000 lb bombs in its bomb bay – far less than US Vietnam-era fighters – the F-35 is hardly a first-class bomber either. With more bombs carried under its wings, the F-35 instantly becomes ?non-stealthy? and the DoD does not plan to seriously test it in this configuration for years.

? As a ?close air support? attack aircraft to help US troops engaged in combat, the F-35 is a nonstarter. It is too fast to see the tactical targets it is shooting at; too delicate and flammable to withstand ground fire; and it lacks the payload and especially the endurance to loiter usefully over US forces for sustained periods as they manoeuvre on the ground. Specialised for this role, the air force’s existing A-10s are far superior.

However, what, the advocates will protest, of the F-35?s two most prized features: its “stealth” and its advanced avionics? What the USAF will not tell you is that “stealthy” aircraft are quite detectable by radar; it is simply a question of the type of radar and its angle relative to the aircraft. Ask the pilots of the two “stealthy” F-117s that the Serbs successfully attacked with radar missiles in the 1999 Kosovo air war. As for the highly complex electronics to attack targets in the air, the F-35, like the F-22 before it, has mortgaged its success on a hypothetical vision of ultra-long range, radar-based air-to-air combat that has fallen on its face many times in real air war. The F-35’s air-to-ground electronics promise little more than slicker command and control for the use of existing munitions.

The immediate questions for the F-35 are: how much more will it cost and how many additional problems will compromise its already mediocre performance? We will only know when a complete and rigorous test schedule – not currently planned – is finished. The F-35 is a bad deal that shows every sign of turning into a disaster as big as the F-111 fiasco of the 1960s.

In January the US will inaugurate a new president. If he is serious about US defences – and courageous enough to ignore the corporate lobbies and their minions in Congress and the think-tanks – he will ask some very tough questions.

These will start with why an increased budget buys a shrinking, ageing force. After that the new president will have to take steps – unavoidably painful ones – to reverse the course the country is now on.

The man who best deserves to be inaugurated next January will actually start asking those questions now.

Pierre M Sprey, together with John Boyd and Everest Riccioni, conceived and shaped the F-16; Sprey also led the technical side of the US Air Force’s A-10 design concept team

Winslow T. Wheeler spent 31 years working on Capitol Hill with senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office, specializing in national security affairs. Currently, he directs the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington and is author of The Wastrels of Defense.

STLtoday - Grieving father fights for burial spot next to soldier son

STLtoday - Grieving father fights for burial spot next to soldier son: "O'FALLON"Mo. -- The father of an Army corporal killed in Afghanistan is livid that the U.S. government won't honor his request to be buried next to his son at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

Kurt Zwilling's son -- 20-year-old Gunnar Zwilling -- was not married, and his father wants him to have family next to him. Because Kurt Zwilling is a veteran himself, having served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam, he has a right to be buried at Jefferson Barracks -- just not to pick the spot.

The government has told him he can't reserve the spot next to his son; those spaces are reserved for spouses, he was told.

"He was my boy, my baby," Kurt Zwilling says of Gunnar. "There's not anyplace I'd rather be then next to my own son. It gives me peace."

Kurt Zwilling, 53, of O'Fallon, is in remission from skin cancer. He buried his son on July 22. Gunnar Zwilling, who served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was among nine American soldiers killed and 15 wounded July 13 in an attack by more than 100 militants in northern Afghanistan. At his funeral, an Army commander presented the grieving family with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

"I've given up a lot for this country," Kurt Zwilling says. "I want to be next to my son. I feel that's the least they could do."

But it doesn't work that way when it comes to spots in veteran cemeteries, a spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration explains.

"We assign gravesites at the time of need. We don't make reservations for the future," administration spokesman Michael Nacincik said from Washington today.

Nacincik said that, once the father dies, the administration would take up his request then, but isn't making any promises.

If the site next to his son has been taken, Nacincik said, the government agency could consider putting the father's casket atop the son's in a double-depth arrangement. He said parents and children have been buried before in this setup. Generally, when it happens, the veteran parent had a young child who died first. That happens infrequently.

Kurt Zwilling said the double-depth arrangement isn't what he wants. He is planning to be remarried this year and wants to be buried next to his son -- and in a double-depth gravesite with his future wife.

Nacincik said what the Zwilling father is asking for -- the spot next to his son -- is even more rare. Nacincik said he couldn't think of an instance where it's happened. The administration "does not keep records on parent-child burials and we have no way to data mine our burial records for such information," he wrote in an email.

Eligible veterans, their spouse and dependent children can be buried at a VA national cemetery. Gravesites are assigned after a person has died. The space next to Gunnar Zwilling presumably goes to the next veteran to die. Nacincik said the father can make his wishes known by writing a letter and, once he dies, his survivors can ask the National Cemetery Administration to consider it -- if the spot is still available.

"The key being that I can't guarantee what any decision in the future might be," Nacincik added. "Most likely, it would probably be favorably received. We try to accommodate veterans as best we can within the existing laws."

Nacincik said the big reason such reservations aren't taken is that a grieving person may decide something else later.

"People change their minds all the time," Nacincik said. "What he wants now may not be what he wants in the future. Especially when the death is recent and the family is distraught. We really have to wait until the time of need in the future.

"Usually, people move on. Other life events happen. They move to Florida."

One burial plot next to Gunnar Zwilling is already taken. The gravesite is that of another young soldier, Pvt. Vincent Cortez Winston Jr., who was killed Sept. 4 when a land mine exploded near his vehicle in Afghanistan. But the burial plot on the other side of Gunnar Zwilling is vacant. For now.

The National Cemetery Administration has 125 VA national cemeteries. Last year, there were 101,000 burials. Currently, about 3 million people are buried in 2.8 million VA national cemetery gravesites. A congressman from New York has proposed widening the law to allow more people to be buried in national cemeteries. The administration is in the midst of its largest expansion since the Civil War, primarily because of the large numbers of World War II veterans who are dying. Currently, about 1,100 of the estimated 1,900 veterans who die every day had served in World War II.

A few days after burying his son, Kurt Zwilling started making requests to be buried next to him. He called a cemetery representative and was told no. He wrote a letter to the federal government, but again was turned down. He put in another request through his military bereavement officer. The local funeral home has even championed his cause, trying to research the matter and work through the Army.

"He's been through so much, I hope they can make it work for him," said Scott Payne of Baue Funeral Home. "But it's one of those things. You just never know. All we can do is hope for the best."

Meanwhile, Kurt Zwilling is fuming. Four days before he died, Gunnar Zwilling called his father.

"He told me he was going into a bloodbath," the father recalls. "He knew what he was doing, and he went anyway because it was his job. They sent him on a suicide mission.

"I gave my son," Kurt Zwilling added. "I'm not asking any questions. All I ask if that the space next to him be reserved for me."

Kurt Zwilling's father and uncle, who also served in the military, are buried at Jefferson Barracks several sections away from Gunnar -- about the distance of a city block. Kurt Zwilling's other son, Alex Zwilling, is alive and well and serving in the Air Force.

Kurt Zwilling visits his son's gravesite every week. "It's on a hill, next to the pavilion. It's a beautiful place. Serene," he says. Kurt Zwilling worries the spot he wants will be taken -- and his complaints moot -- once the next local soldier is killed in action.

"We all know there's going to be another one," he says.

"The next thing they're going to do to shut me up is to put someone to the right of him, so the logical thing for me to do is go away," Kurt Zwilling says. "I'm damn mad. I'm not asking much more of this life. But I've got one last task."

kbell@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8115

[bth: amazing isn't it. Just a little human touch and this wouldn't be a problem. It's said that sites aren't assigned in advance, but one need only look around at Arlington to see that exceptions are made every day. Who will speak up for a corporal and his Dad?]

Exclusive: Foreign banks may get help - Mike Allen - Politico.com

Exclusive: Foreign banks may get help - Mike Allen - Politico.com: "In"a change from the original proposal sent to Capitol Hill, foreign-based banks with big U.S. operations could qualify for the Treasury Department’s mortgage bailout, according to the fine print of an administration statement Saturday night.

The theory, according to a participant in the negotiations, is that if the goal is to solve a liquidity crisis, it makes no sense to exclude banks that do a lot of lending in the United States.

The legislative outline that went to Capitol Hill at 1:30 a.m. Saturday had said that an eligible financial institution had to have has “its headquarters in the United States.” That would exclude foreign-based institutions with big U.S. operations, such as Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS. The theory, according to a participant in the negotiations, is that if the goal is to solve a liquidity crisis, it makes no sense to exclude banks that do a lot of lending in the United States.

But a Treasury “Fact Sheet” released at 7:15 last night sought to give the administration more flexibility, with an expanded definition that could include all of those banks: “Participating financial institutions must have significant operations in the U.S., unless the Secretary makes a determination, in consultation with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, that broader eligibility is necessary to effectively stabilize financial markets.”...

[bth: unbelievable.]