Saturday, November 01, 2008

Bloomberg.com: Worldwide

Ryan Says Treasury to Need `Unprecedented\' Financing (Update2)

By Rebecca Christie and Robert Schmidt

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Treasury faces historic financing demands from a weakening economy and the added costs of a $700 billion Wall Street rescue program, the department\'s top domestic finance official said today.

``This year\'s financing needs will be unprecedented,\'\' said Anthony Ryan, the Treasury\'s acting undersecretary for domestic finance, at a Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association conference in New York, where he was a last-minute substitute for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Ryan\'s borrowing outlook comes after Treasury officials spent much of the past month publicly praising the rescue plan\'s virtues. The Treasury needs to sell debt to raise money for the new initiatives and also cope with a weaker economy, two factors analysts say may push the country\'s budget deficit to more than $1 trillion for the current fiscal year.

As part of the rescue effort, the Treasury aims to boost the economy by pushing $250 billion in new capital to U.S. banks. Half of that money has been set aside for large banks, which hold about half of all U.S. deposits, in hopes of stimulating more lending to businesses and consumers. The rest will go to regional banks and smaller institutions.

America's Defense Meltdown

The summary section of this upcoming report is well worth a read in full.
Here are some quick takeaways:

  1. America's defene budet is now larger in inflation adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of WWII, and yet our Army has fewer combat brigades than at any point in that period, our Navy has fewer combat ships and the Air Force has fewer combat aircraft.
  2. Cost overruns in weapon systems are higher today, in inflation adjusted dollars, than any time ever before. not a single major weapon system has been delivered on time, on cost and as promised for performance.
  3. In assessing the leadership of the Pentagon going into the Middle East, most of the military heirarchy dd not even comprehend the difficulties of those missions and misperceived that the key issue was the number of military personnel sent to invade and then occupy an alien land in the Middle East. An then many of them publicly complained that the civilian leadership had made a mess of things, saying so from the comfort of a retirement pension.
  4. No one has been held accountable.
  5. Pursuing a national strategy that has torn us apart domestically, isolated us from our allies, made us an object of disrespect in the eyes of those uncommitted t our cause and caused our enemies to find motivatio nfor greater action on their own part.
  6. Congress has got to reassert itself into all aspects of policy making.
  7. Lead people first and manage things second.
  8. Change seeking individuals are the ones who best adapt and prevail in humankind's most stressful circumstance: war. They are the war winning leaders and must be cultivated.
  9. Harmonize the army and the marines - Inchon landings are over with.
  10. Bring the navy into the 21st century instead of still preparing to fight the Japanese imperial fleet.
  11. Get the air force into close air support.
  12. Decrease the size of the officers corp.
  13. Subs are the capital ships of this era. We need to focus surface ships on brown water fights and moving large quantities of material.
  14. Develop clear air to air capabilities in a cost effective manner. Drop the focus on strategic bombing.
  15. Gut the current tanker program and the Osprey program for more cost effective alternatives.
  16. "A fundamental source of DOD's problems is the historically long pattern of unrealistically high defense budget projections combined with equally unrealistic low estimates of the costs of new programs. The net effect is for DOD's leaders to claim that they can afford the weapons they want to buy. Thus, there is no urgency to face up to the needed hard choices on new weapons systems."
  17. Analytical integrity based on real world combat history must be applied. In the absense of objective, independent assessment of weapons program cost, performance, and scheule (especially at the beginning of any program), DOD decision-makers have no ability to manage programs with any competence whatsoever.
  • A new panel of independent, objective professionals (with no contempraneous or future ties whatsoever with industry or other sources of bias and self-interest) should be convened by the president to assess:
  • The extend to which DOD programs and policies do or do not fit with current world conditions.
  • The president's national security strategy, and
  • A realistic assessment of the reduced budget that will be available for the DOD.
  • This panel should provide the Sec. of Defense his primary advice on how to proceed with DOD program acquisition and management until such time as the military services and the regular civilian bureaucracy have demonstrated sufficient competence and objectivity to re-assert primary control.
  • The president should expect strong protest. Most will refuce to adapt. Those who can adapt, especially in the military services, should be brought back into the decision making structure. Those who cannot should anticipate a career outside the DOD.

YouTube - Gov. Schwarzenegger Campaigns for McCain-Palin

YouTube - Gov. Schwarzenegger Campaigns for McCain-Palin: ""

YouTube - Gov. Schwarzenegger Campaigns for McCain-Palin

YouTube - Gov. Schwarzenegger Campaigns for McCain-Palin: ""

U.S. Borrowing Needs to Reach $2 Trillion in 2009, Goldman Says

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government\'s borrowing needs will almost double to $2 trillion this fiscal year, prompting the Treasury to revive three-year notes and hold more frequent sales of 10- and 30-year debt, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The Treasury should consider holding so-called reopenings of two-year note auctions on a monthly basis because demand for the maturity is strong enough to support sales of $50 billion to $60 billion a month, Goldman said in a note dated Oct. 29. The Treasury could, for example, hold an initial $40 billion sale and a $15 billion reopening two weeks later, it said. The Treasury sold $34 billion in two-year notes this month.

My Way News - US deaths in Iraq plunge to wartime low in October

BAGHDAD (AP) - U.S. deaths in Iraq fell in October to their lowest monthly level of the war, matching the record low of 13 fatalities suffered in July. Iraqi deaths fell to their lowest monthly levels of the year. Eight of the 13 Americans died in combat, most of them in northern Iraq where al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgent groups remain active. The U.S. military suffered 25 deaths in September and 23 in August.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, 15 U.S. military deaths were reported for October. The monthly toll in that combat theater had been in the 20s since June, when 28 Americans were killed - the worst one-month total since that war began in late 2001.

The sharp drop in American fatalities in Iraq reflects the overall security improvements across the country following the Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and the rout suffered by Shiite extremists in fighting last spring in Basra and Baghdad.

But the decline also points to a shift in tactics by extremist groups, which U.S. commanders say are now focusing their attacks on Iraqi soldiers and police that are doing much of the fighting....

Iraq MP: 420 secret detention centres in Iraq

GENEVA - An Iraqi parliamentarian on Thursday called on the United Nations to investigate what he said were over 400 secret detention centres in the country controlled by both the government and US-led foreign forces.

Mohammad Al-Dainy told a news conference in Geneva there were at least 420 such places, some of them underground.

"These centres of detention are completely illegal. Nobody can visit them. Conditions there are much worse than in official prisons," he said.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Iraqi forces detain 180 "suspects" during Basrah raids - The Long War Journal

Iraqi forces detain 180 "suspects" during Basrah raids - The Long War Journal: "Iraqi"security forces conducted a massive sweep throughout Basrah province Tuesday. Iraqi Army and police units detained 180 "suspects," including a Pakistani national, and found several large weapons caches, during the operations.

Forty-four suspected insurgents were detained, including a Pakistani man, while entering Iraq "illegally through Safwan border road, 60 km west [of] Basrah," the Basrah media office told Voices of Iraq. Operations outside of Basrah netted additional 136 isuspects.

The Pakistani man was likely an al Qaeda operative. Safwan is in southeastern Basrah, right on the border with Kuwait. While most al Qaeda operatives pass through Syria or Iran, the transit through Kuwait, while uncommon, does occur.

Al Qaeda has an active support network in Kuwait. Some of the senior most al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks; Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, an al Qaeda spokesman; Omar Farouq, a senior al Qaeda operative; Ramzi Yousef, a planner behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The affiliation of the rest of the captured men was not given, but are likely members of the Mahdi Army. The Iraqi military is often circumspect about the detention of Mahdi Army fighters.

The Mahdi Army has been active in Basrah until Iraqi forces launched an operation in March to clear the city and wider province from the Iranian-backed militia. More than 3,000 Mahdi Army leaders and operatives are said to have fled to Iran to regroup, and are believed to be infiltrating back into Iraq.

Targeting Qods Force inside Iraq

Prior to today's sweep in Basrah, Iraqi security forces captured an "Iranian infiltrator" in province's Shatt al Arab region, Voices of Iraq reported. While not stated, the Iranian is a member of the Ramazan Corps, the command created by Qods Force, the elite special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Qods Force has established the Ramazan Corps to direct operations inside Iraq, and has been working to undermine Iraq's security and political environment.

Iraqi forces have now captured nine Iranian agents and killed one since Oct. 18. One Iranian was killed and another was captured during a clash with Iraqi forces in Al Kut in Wasit province on Oct. 24. Iraqi police captured three armed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps officers in Al Kut on Oct. 20. Border guards captured four more Iranian agents in Mandali in Diyala province.

Prior to this week, only a handful of Iranian operatives, along with a Lebanese Hezbollah leader, have been reported captured inside Iraq. The US military believes Iran is ramping up operations inside Iraq after losing ground during the Iraqi offensive during the spring and summer of 2008.

[bth: very impressive. Our intel must be getting really good. I wonder if there is a link between the Sadr City raid and this series?]

Multi-National Force - Iraq - IA soldiers seize 2nd large weapons cache in Sadr City in week

Multi-National Force - Iraq - IA soldiers seize 2nd large weapons cache in Sadr City in week: "BAGHDAD"– In another independent operation in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, the Iraqi Army seized a second large cache of weapons, munitions and improvised explosive device-making material in less than a week Oct. 28.

At approximately 8:30 a.m., IA soldiers from the 44th Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division, conducted an operation in the northern area of Sadr City. Based on intelligence gathered from local sources, the IA soldiers discovered the large cache at a suspected IED-making factory.

The cache included 160 blocks of C4 explosives, 34 complete explosively formed penetrators, 53 copper plates, 40 shaped plates for EFPs, three presses and a punch, all believed to be used for making EFPs, and 14 107 mm rockets.

“This is another great effort by the Iraqi Army and further demonstrates their ability to develop their own intelligence and defeat the threat to Iraq from Iranian-backed special groups,” said Col. John Hort, commander, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “The weapons the IA discovered today were especially deadly. Thanks to the IA’s resolve, these weapons will never be used to harm innocent people.”

[bth: what's interesting is that this indicates that the EFPs were manually made in Sadr City. Further that the US military now acknowledges that in its press release. A year ago this would not have happened - it would have all been blamed on Iran.]

A Question for A.I.G.: Where Did the Cash Go?

The American International Group is rapidly running through $123 billion in emergency lending provided by the Federal Reserve, raising questions about how a company claiming to be solvent in September could have developed such a big hole by October. Some analysts say at least part of the shortfall must have been there all along, hidden by irregular accounting....

[bth: read this article and conclude that AIG is the Enron of insurance.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Consumers shaken by economy

The implosion of the housing bubble, the weak job market, the bailout of the banks, and the sell-off in the stock markets have put consumers in a sour mood.
The Conference Board reports its consumer confidence index fell to a record low in October. It was the largest one-month decline in the index, which dates back to 1967. See full story.
As bad as they think the economy is now, they are convinced it'll get worse. Consumers say their job prospects are weak, their incomes aren't likely to grow, and the prices they pay are likely to soar.
Consumers usually pay more attention to prices at the gas pump than they do to prices on Wall Street. But the good news on gas prices isn't sinking in. Don't consumers know that gas prices have fallen $1.05 in the past month?
Things must be really bad if cheap(er) gas doesn't make us happy.
These same surly people will be heading to the polls in one week, and they'll probably be carrying torches and pitchforks.
The two previous lows in consumer confidence also came during election years, said David Ader, a bond strategist for RBS Greenwich Capital. In 1980, voters threw out Jimmy Carter. In 1992, voters threw out George H.W. Bush. Voters can't throw out his son this year because he's term-limited, but it looks like they'll take out their anger on the Republican Party instead.
Lousy confidence on Main Street could lead to regime change on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Alarming Sex Assault Rate Found Among Vets

(CBS) For a soldier, the wounds of war can be felt long after a tour of duty ends, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports, and not all of them are inflicted by the enemy. Tuesday, researchers reported that an alarming number of female soldiers have sought treatment for sexual assault committed by fellow soldiers.

A Veterans Administration study found that one in seven female veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan seeking medical care from the VA suffered sexual trauma - everything from harassment to rape.

Medical records of 125,000 war veterans, both men and women, showed 15 percent reported sexual trauma. That works out to nearly 2,600 veterans, almost all women.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, since the study covered only a fraction of the 870,000 veterans who have fought - and none still on active duty.

"I do feel that it is much higher than that, and if they could get the records of all the women that have returned that had been sexually assaulted, those afraid to come in, they would find that it's a lot higher," said Wanda Story.

Story, who was raped twice during her military service 20 years ago, now heads the United Female Veterans of America.

She says the military has done a lot to improve the climate for women, but war makes it worse.

"They're out there, they're away from their families, they're away from their girlfriends, you know, their wives," she said. "They see an opportunity."

A recent survey by the Government Accountability Office of just 13 military bases found 103 servicemembers who say they've been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months. Numbers like that produced this jaw-dropping statement by Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.:

"Women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to be killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Harman said.

And women who suffer sexual trauma are more likely to develop medical and mental problems. Studies show it ranks high - or higher - than combat as a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Real News Network - Pakistan in a panic

The Real News Network - Pakistan in a panic

Monday, October 27, 2008

New blood-clotting bandages OK’d for use

rmy medics will soon begin carrying the next generation of blood-clotting bandages onto the battlefield, replacing the dressings soldiers have used since 2003.

The Army surgeon general has approved Combat Gauze as a replacement for Hemcon, a square pad that contains chitosan molecules extracted from shrimp shells. Another bandage, called WoundStat and made by TraumaCare, will replace QuikClot for wounds that are difficult to bandage or in cases where Combat Gauze has failed to stop the bleeding.

The surgeon general approved the new hemostatic bandages in response to feedback from combat medics in the Army, Navy and Air Force and using data compiled by the Army Institute of Surgical Research and the Naval Medical Research Center on hemorrhage control.

More than 277,000 of the Combat Gauze bandages and 17,700 packages of WoundStat have been purchased and they are at a distribution point in Qatar awaiting shipment to Iraq and Afghanistan, said Col. Paul Cordts, director of health policy and services in the office of the Army surgeon general.

Combat Gauze, which is made by Z-Medica and is in the QuikClot family of products, comes in a small package that has four yards of 3-inch flexible, roll-up gauze infused with an inorganic mineral called kaolin that triggers blood clotting upon application.

Medics can wrap the gauze or pack it into a wound cavity. Unlike Hemcon, there is no heat reaction or burning when it comes in contact with skin or soft tissue, Cordts said.

QuikClot granules also generate heat, enough in some cases to cause second-degree burns when placed against the skin. Its replacement, WoundStat, is also granular, composed of the clay mineral smectite, but while they are poured directly into a wound they don’t burn, according to researchers at the Institute of Surgical Research.

“With WoundStat, the real target is the wounds that cannot take a tourniquet,” said Col. Lorne Blackbourne, commander of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and a trauma surgeon who has deployed to Iraq. These wounds may be in areas that can’t take tourniquets but can take compression, including groin, neck, underarm and subclavia.

That represents up to 20 percent of the potentially salvageable wounds we’re seeing on the battlefield,” Blackbourne said.

But Blackbourne and the other Army researchers who spoke to military reporters at the Pentagon Oct. 15 say they don’t know what would happen if one of those granules traveled into the bloodstream. As such, they describe WoundStat as an agent that should be used carefully and as a last resort.

“The theoretical risk is that if it gets in the blood vessel, the vessel would clot,” Blackbourne said. “That means we don’t want to use this unless we have life-threatening hemorrhage. As surgeons, we’d much rather have a live patient come to us with a clot in the vessel, which we can fix almost all the time. One thing we don’t want to lose sight of is, this will save the war fighter’s life to get them to a surgeon.”

“In surgery we often talk about life over limb. If the wounded war fighter is going to die, we want to use this hemostatic agent so that they live, even with the risk of injury to the limb,” Blackbourne asserted.

The Army’s plan is to have combat medics carry three Combat Gauze pouches and two WoundStat packages. Combat Lifesaver bags carried by designated soldiers will be stocked with three Combat Gauze packages.

Each deployed soldier will carry one Combat Gauze in their Improved First Aid Kits.


[bth: excellent move.  Considering that it took Robert Little of the Baltimore Sun to shine a light on the slow deployment of tourniquets and blood clotting agents, this is a light year improvement.  Very good move by the army.]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Afghanistan not mission impossible

Afghanistan not mission impossible theage.com.au: "THE"head of NATO, General John Craddock, recently said that NATO's mission in Afghanistan was being undermined by troop shortages and by operational restrictions on the use of troops.

National restrictions ensure that national interests are met but can result in making troops almost unusable. Heavily restricted troop deployments were referred to in Iraq as "self-licking ice-creams", impressive in themselves but of no real use. And if European nations are wavering, why should Australia put its soldiers' lives on the line? There are many reasons.

First, our involvement in Afghanistan is in our own interest. The struggle in Afghanistan is part of a global struggle. Australia is an interdependent part of this world and, as a rich and privileged country, has obligations. Failure would have implications for our region, particularly for Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world and a fragile new democracy.

Second, the Afghanistan war is winnable. We are not being asked to do the impossible. It is not going any worse than just about any other war. No wars go well initially and the average length of a counter-insurgency is nine years. We are really in only the second year and, just as we did not get serious about the Iraq war until its fifth year, we are not yet serious about the Afghan war.

Third, this is a morally defensible war, just as the counter-insurgency in Iraq that followed the contentious invasion was morally defensible.

Fourth, we are there now, and to withdraw is more significant than to not commit in the first place.
Pulling out of Afghanistan has consequences. Handing Afghanistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda would solve no problem, and would betray 30 million Afghans who have as much right to determine their own future as Australians thought the East Timorese should have.

Precipitate withdrawal would increase the destabilisation of Pakistan, and embolden extremists, just as if we had failed in Iraq.

Let's learn from Iraq. Iraq is not yet ancient history; the post-invasion lessons occurred only in the past few years and many are still being learnt. We may not have agreed with the invasion, but we can still learn from the counter-insurgency.

Serious fighting in Afghanistan has been occurring only over the past two years, and it is still nothing like the intensity of Iraq. I served in Iraq in the second year of that war and we faced three major issues: no unity of command or effort; no comprehensive plan; and insufficient troops.

We are only now overcoming these deficiencies. Security in Iraq may now be sufficient to effectively touch the hearts and minds of the people. The Iraq war was no more badly handled than any other counter-insurgency in history but, in its sixth year, the war is showing undeniable signs of success. If some US troops stay until 2011, as planned, that will make it an average nine-year counter-insurgency.
The problems in Afghanistan are similar.

A lack of unity of command and effort in Afghanistan has already been addressed by the US. It will take some time to have effect and to produce a comprehensive plan. This will be harder than it was in Iraq, because in Afghanistan, the US is highly dependent on its allies.

Nothing will solve the lack of reliable troops except sufficient numbers of such troops. Troop levels in Afghanistan makes Iraq troop numbers look luxurious. You cannot do the clever parts of counter-insurgency until you have established physical security, and that takes troops. The question is: how many troops and who will provide them? This was solved in Iraq in two ways - by the US troop surge of 30,000, and by increasing the number of Iraqi troops to more than 500,000 now.

What do we - the coalition, not just Australia - need to do to "win" in Afghanistan? Iraq can be our guide.
First, we need a consistent strategy to win, not a strategy to "go home". We may have -winning rhetoric, but a -strategy is indicated only by action, not words.

We need the resources to win. A few more French or German battalions will not win the war. In a "self-licking" way, small numbers of new troops will just protect existing troops. Promised US commitments for next year may stop us going backwards as fast as we are now.

We need sufficient troops to establish greater security of the population. This will never occur at current troop levels.

We will never win the trust of the people without physical security. We may not be defeated immediately if we do not commit more troops now, but we will never win.

Australians should not hide behind the idea that we cannot make a big enough troop commitment to be meaningful. The US is desperately short of troops worldwide.

We need to use increased foreign troops over a period of time to protect the population and to attack the Taliban while we build up the Afghan army. We underestimated the numbers in Iraq - our first goal was to produce an Iraqi security force of 271,000. We soon learned that we needed 500,000, its current strength.

This will take three to five years in Afghanistan, as it took in Iraq.
The current proposed number for the Afghan army of 120,000 is ridiculously low for a country of 30 million. It should be at least double that and probably closer to 500,000. This will be expensive, but if you do not train and equip the force it
is not worth doing. To even start down that road, you need a shield of sufficient foreign troops that can fight.

Major-General Jim Molan recently retired after 40 years in the Australian military. He is the author of Running the War in Iraq (HarperCollins).

[bth: ironic that we have to read an Australian paper to get this perspective. ]

review of: Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think

....

According to the Gallup Poll, less than 20 percent of Muslims are ethnically Arab, and most live outside of the Middle East. Muslims share belief structures and history with Jews and Christians. While these are fairly obvious facts, the Gallup research reveals that in the eyes of the majority of Muslims, terrorism is antithetical to Jihad. In fact, not only is it antithetical to jihad, but the majority of Muslims see Jihad as a metaphorical struggle, not military.

One of the persistent truisms among many Westerners is the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. The book explores the views of Muslims on democracy, and comes to the conclusions that the majority of Muslims desire democracy, and theorizes that the lack of democracy in the Islamic world is more a function of history than religion. On the subject of religion and democracy, the authors also point out that the majority of Muslims agree that the legal structure of their government law should be based in Sharia. While Western conventional wisdom appears to support the notion that Sharia is fundamentally undemocratic and anti-civil rights, the majority of Muslims polled think that Sharia and democracy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, these numbers agree almost exactly with similar polls in America, concerning the role of religion in the making of laws.

While anti-Islam thought is generally attributed to “neo-conservatives” or the religious right, Who Speaks for Islam? also takes traditional liberal conventional wisdom to task, in that the authors make some fairly convincing points that disassociates the traditional secular/liberal view that correlates religion and violence/wars.

According to the poll data, over 90 percent of Muslims disapprove of terrorism. Ironically, this number is much higher than those who disapprove of terrorism among Americans. In addition, the great majority of terrorists who self-identify by action or by opinion are not demonstrably religious. Both of the above points are particularly eye-opening, in that they appear to swim directly upstream from prevailing Western, secular, liberal traditions and thought.

Perhaps the most compelling point of the book is the examination of Muslim women and their opinions about Islam, and women’s rights. In sum, Muslim women want liberty, but not libertinism. Contrary to the popular Western view that women are suppressed by men in Islamic society, Muslim women’s opinions track Muslim men’s opinions on nearly every issue. For instance, the majority of Muslim women support Sharia as a basis for law. In fact, a large percentage of Muslim women consider Sharia as “protective” of women and feel that those protections gives them an advantage over men, before the law. Perhaps disappointingly for many who oppose Muslim women’s traditional dress, a large number of Muslim women see traditional dress as superior to Western dress. Muslim women also have a better self-image than Western women, perhaps not coincidentally.

This dissonance is probably a result of Muslim women not sharing the same “issue set” as western women’s rights activists, and see western “women’s rights” as a justification for neo-colonialism. Where some Western activists think that Muslim women should demand an end to female mutilation and traditional dress, and demand access to abortions and “equal rights” before the law, the majority of Muslim women really want better economics and peace, as well as medical care and infrastructure.

The authors close the book with data about whether the Muslim World hates the US for its freedom and prosperity, as espoused by many pundits. In fact, according to their polling data, the majority of Muslims admire American freedoms and technology. Perhaps surprisingly, self-identified terrorists admire American freedoms at a higher rate than the general population. The authors close by theorizing that perhaps disillusionment with the disconnect between American ideals and American actions has a role in the formation of terrorists in the Muslim world.

Contrary to many academic books, reading the research methodology was actually highly entertaining, especially since most writers describe their methodology in tedious, highly technical terms. The Gallup organization is rightfully proud of their product, and takes the time to make the two tabs on their methodology both educational and interesting.

Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think is an important book, that should be on “required reading lists” that wish to examine The Long War, Islam, or terrorism. The authors’ assertion that religious and fundamentalist does not mean “violent” will be sure to raise a fair amount of controversy among many quarters, because the Gallup Poll numbers used in the book contradict both neo-conservative and traditionally American “liberal” ideas about the Islamic world. Most of all, the book will provide “grist for the mill”, especially for those of us who seek a better understanding of Islam, and the causes of non-state violence in the world.

Afghanistan: The night I was 'killed in action' by a Taliban ambush - Telegraph

Afghanistan: The night I was 'killed in action' by a Taliban ambush - Telegraph

Iraq's prime minister won't sign U.S. troop deal

....He said that Maliki had come to the Political Council for National Security, a top decision-making body, and said the new accord was the best he could obtain, but it didn't include everything that Iraq wanted.

If Maliki signed the accord and turned it over to the parliament, "I'm sure that the agreement will not be approved for 10 years," Sagheer said.

The cleric said the draft accord was "good, in general," but its timing was bad. If an Iraqi negotiator accepted the agreement, "he will be taken as an agent for the Americans," and if he were to reject it, "he will be taken for an agent for Iran."

A second factor is that the accord comes just before the U.S. elections, and an Iraqi negotiator had to ask whether it was best to negotiate with the lame-duck Bush administration or wait for its successor. More important, Sagheer said, are the approaching provincial elections in Iraq, which could be held early next year.

"Iraqi politicians don't want to give their competitors the chance to use this agreement to destroy them," he said.

The accord contains a number of American concessions, calling for U.S. troops to withdraw to their bases by June 2009 and to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 — both dates subject to extension, but only if the Iraqi government requests it.

The accord also would allow Iraq to prosecute U.S. troops except when they're on U.S. bases or on military operations, strips private military contractors of U.S. legal protection and reclaims control over Baghdad's "Green" zone, the location of the U.S. Embassy and military headquarters and much of the Iraqi government's headquarters.

Sagheer said that setting a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal was a "historic" accomplishment.

He also acknowledged that an extension of the current U.N. mandate might not reflect the gains made in the status of forces draft.

"For everything there is a price," he said. "And although (the accord) has many advantages, it also has many disadvantages, as it does for the coalition forces."

The problem for Iraqis, he said, was "the feeling with some of the parties that America has no intention of withdrawing within the timetable." Iraqis, he said, had so many negative experiences while a British mandate under the League of Nations from 1920 to 1932 that they fear a written agreement. "We have the feeling that if the Iraqi government accepts the demands, it will give a legal right to be occupied, so we don't have any kind of sovereignty."

Other politicians said that if Washington agrees to extend the negotiations, the talks will never end.

"This is all a game to win time. When the current issues are settled, they will just find new ones. . . . They are delaying to appease Iran," said Mithal al Alusi, a secular Sunni legislator whos' critical of the current Shiite-led government

[bth: interesting.  After all the posturing the best deal is no deal for all parties.]

Nukes: Too Deep to Hit

Western intelligence experts believe that Iran's nuclear facilities are so deep underground that it would be difficult for Israelto wipe them out, or even significantly damage them, with a quickairstrike. In order to deal a serious setback to Iran's nuclearprogram, at least four key sites inside Iran would have to be hit, saidone Western official, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitiveinformation. The facilities, however, are located in tunnels fortifiedby barriers more than 60 feet thick. According to this official andother U.S. experts, Israel does not possess conventional weaponscapable of knocking out the facilities. Breaking through the thickshell would require, at minimum, several bunker-buster bombs strikingprecisely the same spot. "These targets would be very hard to destroy,"said former U.N. nuclear expert David Albright. Theoretically, Israelcould do a lot more damage with a nuclear strike. But U.S. and otherWestern experts say there is no reason to believe the Israelis willabandon their policy against shooting first with nukes.

U.S. and allied efforts to keep tabs on Iranian nukes suffered a blow recently because of a "spy vs. spy" mixup in Germany.For more than 10 years, according to two Western counterproliferationofficials, the BND (Germany's equivalent of the CIA) employed anIranian-Canadian informant known by the code name "Sinbad." Sinbadpeddled technology to the Iranians, and, in turn, brought the BNDhigh-quality Iranian government documents, including what Germany's DerSpiegel magazine described as pictures of tunnel-digging machinery andbriefing papers on nuclear delivery systems. But the espionageoperation recently ran aground when German Customs officers, unaware ofSinbad's role as a spy, busted him for illegal missile-technologyshipments to Iran. Sinbad had concealed extracurricular schemes fromthe BND, and the spy agency had no power to stop the investigation. Oneof the counterproliferation officials said that Sinbad's arrest was asignificant setback to espionage efforts against Iran's nuclear program.

[bth: I don't believe the last two sentences; that BND had no power to stop the investigation. Hardly.]



Iraq's Main Sunni Party Suspends Ties With US Over Raid

Iraq's Main Sunni Party Suspends Ties With US Over RaidBAGHDAD — Iraq's largest Sunni party said Saturday that it has suspended official contacts with American military personnel and civilians after the killing of a man near Fallujah.

The Iraqi Islamic Party accused the raid of having a "hidden political motive" in an indication of rising tensions in Anbar province ahead of provincial elections, due to be held by the end of January.

The U.S. military said U.S.-backed Iraqi soldiers arrested a wanted insurgent leader suspected of training roadside bomb cells in an operation Friday that killed an armed man who opened fire on the troops.

The IIP alleged that a senior member of the party was killed in his bed and five others were arrested during the raid in the Halabsa area on the outskirts of the former insurgent stronghold.

It accused the troops of targeting party members after its success in forging tribal alliances with other political blocs.

"The hidden political motive behind this incident is clear," the party said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The party said it "has decided to suspend all official contacts with the Americans, both military and civilians, until the party receives a reasonable explanation about what happened, along with an official apology."

It also demanded assurance those responsible would be punished, compensation for the victims and the release of the five detainees.

[bth: you get the impression that much is going on that isn't being reported. I also have heard from my friends that there have been several recent kidnapping attempts of US soldiers in and around Baghdad and suburbs. That doesn't seem to be in the press either. Are there independent journalists in Iraq anymore?]

Terrorist 'tweets'? US Army warns of Twitter dangers

Terrorist 'tweets'? US Army warns of Twitter dangers: "A"draft US Army intelligence report has identified the popular micro-blogging service Twitter, Global Positioning System maps and voice-changing software as potential terrorist tools.
The report by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion, posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), examines a number of mobile and web technologies and their potential uses by militants.

The posting of the report on the FAS site was reported Friday by Wired magazine contributing editor Noah Shachtman on his national security blog "Danger Room" at wired.com.

The report is not based on clandestine reporting but drawn from open source intelligence known as OSINT.

A chapter on "Potential for Terrorist Use of Twitter" notes that Twitter members sent out messages, known as "Tweets," reporting the July Los Angeles earthquake faster than news outlets and activists at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis used it to provide information on police movements.

"Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences," the report said.

Hacktivists refers to politically motivated computer hackers.

"Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives," the report said.

"Extremist and terrorist use of Twitter could evolve over time to reflect tactics that are already evolving in use by hacktivists and activists for surveillance," it said. "This could theoretically be combined with targeting."

The report outlined scenarios in which militants could make use of Twitter, combined with such programs as Google Maps or cell phone pictures or video, to carry out an ambush or detonate explosives.

"Terrorists could theoretically use Twitter social networking in the US as an operation tool," it said. "However, it is unclear whether that same theoretical tool would be available to terrorists in other countries and to what extent."

Besides Twitter, the report examined the potential use by militants of Global Positioning Systems and other technologies.

"GPS cell phone service could be used by our adversaries for travel plans, surveillance and targeting," it said, noting that just such uses have been discussed in pro-Al-Qaeda forums along with the use of voice-changing software.

"Terrorists may or may not be using voice-changing software but it should be of open source interest that online terrorist and/or terrorist enthusiasts are discussing it," the report said.

[bth: no doubt some expensive contract will now be let to make address this 'threat'. The use of new technology always seems to be viewed with suspicion from the military and other authoritarian regimes. The people should beware of trading freedom for the illusion of security.]

Pakistan "turns corner" in offensive, commander

Pakistan "turns corner" in offensive, commander - Boston.com: "LOISAM, Pakistan"(Reuters) - Pakistani forces have turned the corner in the country's main front in its war against militancy with the capture of a strategically important village after heavy fighting, the commander of the operation said on Saturday.

The major-general in charge of the offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border said his men were estimated to have killed more than 1,500 militants since August while 73 soldiers had been killed.

There has been no independent verification of the military's casualty estimate but soldiers on the front said fighting had been fierce with well-organized and well-supplied militants battling hard from networks of tunnels and fortified compounds.

The army has pushed militants off a road running west from the region's main town of Khar, with villages along the road suffering heavy damage. Villagers fled before the fighting.

Militants remained a few kilometers either side of the road and were exchanging intermittent fire with security forces on Saturday when the military took a group of reporters to the destroyed village of Loisam captured in the past few days.

"The worst is over I think things from here onward will be much easier. In my personal feeling, I think we've turned the corner," said Major-General Tariq Khan, commander of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, who is in charge of the offensive.

Bajaur is one of seven semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun regions in northwest Pakistan, known as tribal agencies, where al Qaeda and Taliban have been expanding their influence in recent years.

The United States, facing a surge in Taliban violence in Afghanistan, has been pressing Pakistan to eliminate militant havens in the agencies.

U.S. forces have carried out about a dozen missile strikes and a commando raid in North and South Wazirisan, to the southeast of Bajaur, in recent weeks.

FOREIGN MILITANTS

Khan described Bajaur as the militants' center of gravity, a mountainous region giving the insurgents easy access to other Pakistani tribal agencies and to Afghanistan.

The militants had made extensive preparations to defend it, he said. "No other agency has been prepared for a battle like this," Khan told reporters in Khar.

Khan said 300 foreigners had been captured in the fighting including Uzbeks, Tajiks and Afghans.

Loisam is on a cross-roads and controls access to three of four valleys in the area. Its capture would disrupt militant communications and infiltration routes, he said.

The village was almost completely destroyed. Concrete shops in its center were reduced to broken slabs of rubble.

Soldiers now occupying the mud-walled compounds they captured in the fighting fired heavy machine guns toward militants who responded with rifle fire from a web of dried-up river beds that cut through the countryside.

Tanks fired rounds from their cannons across terraced fields, their abandoned crops shriveled on the parched ground, while helicopter gunships circled, occasionally firing down.

The authorities are encouraging the area's Pashtun tribesmen to revive traditional militias known as lashkars, to take on the militants and secure areas captured by the army.

The strategy of supporting tribal militias to evict militants bears a parallel with the Awakening Council movement in Iraq, in which Sunni tribesmen have risen against al Qaeda and driven them from their neighborhoods with help from the U.S. military.

One tribal elder, Mian Masood Jan, explaining why he and his men were forming a lashkar, said the people of Bajaur had supported the Islamist guerrillas who battled Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

But he said the new generation of fighters had brought nothing but trouble: "Enough is enough."

[bth: interesting. These lashkars might in fact work. I don't believe the 20:1 casualty ratios the army suggests in this article or the scope or permanence of this victory, but it may be the beginning of something more meaningful, a Pakistani solution to its internal terrorist problems with the Taliban and foreign fighters. Perhaps a sign of optimism in an otherwise disasterous year of violence in Pakistan.]