Saturday, November 08, 2008

Evangelical foreign policy is over

WITH Barack Obama's election to the presidency, the evangelical moment in US foreign policy has come to an end. The United States remains a nation of believers, with Christianity the tradition to which most Americans adhere. Yet the religious sensibility informing American statecraft will no longer find expression in an urge to launch crusades against evil-doers.

Like our current president, Obama is a professed Christian. Yet whereas George W. Bush once identified Jesus Christ himself as his favorite philosopher, the president-elect is an admirer of Reinhold Niebuhr, the renowned Protestant theologian.

Faced with difficult problems, conservative evangelicals ask WWJD: What would Jesus do? We are now entering an era in which the occupant of the Oval Office will consider a different question: What would Reinhold do?

During the middle third of the last century, Niebuhr thought deeply about the complexities, moral and otherwise, of international politics. Although an eminently quotable writer, his insights do not easily reduce to a sound-bite or bumper sticker.

At the root of Niebuhr's thinking lies an appreciation of original sin, which he views as indelible and omnipresent. In a fallen world, power is necessary, otherwise we lie open to the assaults of the predatory. Yet since we too number among the fallen, our own professions of innocence and altruism are necessarily suspect. Power, wrote Niebuhr, "cannot be wielded without guilt, since it is never transcendent over interest." Therefore, any nation wielding great power but lacking self-awareness - never an American strong suit - poses an imminent risk not only to others but to itself.

Here lies the statesman's dilemma: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. To refrain from resisting evil for fear of violating God's laws is irresponsible. Yet for the powerful to pretend to interpret God's will qualifies as presumptuous. To avert evil, action is imperative; so too is self-restraint. Even worthy causes pursued blindly yield morally problematic results.

Niebuhr specialized in precise distinctions. He supported US intervention in World War II - and condemned the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended that war. After 1945, Niebuhr believed it just and necessary to contain the Soviet Union. Yet he forcefully opposed US intervention in Vietnam.

The vast claims of Bush's second inaugural - with the president discerning history's "visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty" - would have appalled Niebuhr, precisely because Bush meant exactly what he said. In international politics, true believers are more dangerous than cynics.

Grandiose undertakings produce monstrous byproducts. In the eyes of critics, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo show that all of Bush's freedom talk is simply a lie. Viewed from a Niebuhrean perspective, they become the predictable if illegitimate offspring of Bush's convictions. Better to forget utopia, leaving it to God to determine history's trajectory.

On the stump, Obama did not sound much like a follower of Niebuhr. Campaigns reward not introspection, but simplistic reassurance: "Yes, we can!" Yet as the dust now settles, we might hope that the victor will sober up and rediscover his Niebuhrean inclinations. Sobriety in this case begins with abrogating what Niebuhr called "our dreams of managing history," triggered by the end of the Cold War and reinforced by Sept. 11. "The course of history," he emphasized, "cannot be coerced."

We've tried having a born-again president intent on eliminating evil. It didn't work. May our next president acknowledge the possibility that, as Niebuhr put it, "the evils against which we contend are frequently the fruits of illusions which are similar to our own." Facing our present predicament requires that we shed illusions about America that would have offended Jesus himself.

Obama has written that he took from reading Niebuhr "the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world" along with the conviction that evil's persistence should not be "an excuse for cynicism and inaction." Yet Niebuhr also taught him that "we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things." As a point of departure for reformulating US foreign policy, we could do a lot worse.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, is the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."


[bth: his book, The Limits of Power"  is a useful and important read.]


Soldier honored at Walpole fountain rededication

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Andrew Bacevich and his wife, Nancy, paused for a moment after the ceremony honoring their fallen son, Army Lieutenant Andrew Bacevich.

By Matt Collette, Globe Correspondent

WALPOLE – As Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor, West Point graduate, and Vietnam War veteran, stood before about 200 residents at the rededication of the Bird Fountain on the Town Common this morning, he recalled when his fallen son, Army Lieutenant Andrew Bacevich, was brought back from Iraq last year. Thousands of people had lined the streets as the funeral procession for the 27-year-old passed through the center of town.

“We were profoundly moved by that gesture of respect,” said Bacevich. The family felt they had to give back to the community, he said, and donated $5,000. Lieutenant Bacevich was killed on May 13, 2007, Mother's Day, after an IED exploded in Iraq.

The town used the family's donation to renovate the C.S. Bird Fountain , which had been dry for decades. Dozens of Walpole residents donated their time, resources, and money to transform the public space, which had fallen into disrepair.

The Bird Fountain was a gift to the town in 1905 from Charles Sumner Bird, a prominent businessman, said town administrator Michael Boynton.

“These gifts – one of generosity and the other, the living of one’s own life for the freedom of others – will be here at Town Common forever,” Boynton said. “To our community and our nation, there will always be the life of Andrew Bacevich.”

Mark Voner , the chief executive of Veterans Development Corp., a veteran-run construction company, coordinated much of the work done at the fountain and donated his company's time and services.

"I had no problem not knowing Andrew, because I do know Andrew," said Voner, a Marine who served in Lebanon in the 1980s. "I know him as a veteran and I know him as a son."

Voner told the Baceviches he hoped the rededicated fountain gave "the dignity and pride that your son truly deserves."

Speaking after a plaque honoring his son was unveiled, Bacevich was visibly moved by the completed fountain.

"Something extraordinary happened," he said. "Something dead has been brought back to life."

Edward Mulvehill, director of the Department of Veterans' Services in Norwood, brought his girlfriend's three sons with him to today's ceremony.

"These young men," Mulvehill said of the boys at his side, "are the future of America. It's important for them to know about Andrew Bacevich. We had a conversation in the car on the way over, and they get it."

Everett "Rocky" Rockwood, an 84 -year-old veteran who stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, said he was glad to see so many people, especially young children, honoring Bacevich's service.

"It's nice that these young kids know what's going on," said Rockwood.

Tom Rockwood , a 53 -year-old member of the Chamber of Commerce, said he attended to see the culmination of so many community residents' work.

"The entire community came together and all put something into it," he said.

After Veterans Day, the fountain will be shut off and winterized, said Boynton.

"Come springtime, it will flow again," said Boynton. "And I assure you, it will flow forever."


[bth: very best regards to Andrew and Nancy and a kind jesture for the people and from the people of Walpole.]


Lieberman's gavel

If you wield a congressional oversight gavel, and your buddy's in the White House, you might just conduct exactly zero investigations into presidential wrongdoing. But when the election comes, and your other buddy loses to a guy you don't really like, you might think about becoming a real pest to the new administration.

Reid should really strip Lieberman of his chairmanship.


[bth: damned right.  Get him out]

British troops will be out of Iraq by the middle of next year, Sky News has learned.

Final negotiations are under way with the Iraqi government, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to make an announcement by Christmas.

Iraq is pressing for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and is in talks with the Americans about their role once the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.

British forces have been based in the south of the country since the invasion in 2003.

The situation has changed dramatically in Basra since the Iraqi government took on the local militias earlier this year. As a result, the British presence in Basra could be all but over by next summer.

Britain's International Development Minister, Douglas Alexander, is here flying the British flag.

He told me: "We'll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq but we will see a significant drawdown of British troops as a recognition of the progress and success that's been enjoyed here in Basra....

Friday, November 07, 2008

My Son is Alive’: A mother's perspective

This is a mother’s story.
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It is not anti-war or pro-war. It is not about politics.

It’s about a woman who gave birth to a beautiful baby boy 26 years ago.

She swelled with pride as she watched him grow into a brave and patriotic young man. He had wanted to be a soldier since he was a child playing with his friends and had to fight to join the U.S. Army after high school because of an incorrect asthma diagnosis, but he didn’t give up.

This is the story of a woman sitting at work on June 8, 2006, laughing with co-workers when her cell phone rang.
It was an Army captain. Her heart stopped.

He told her everything was okay. She told him everything was not okay or he wouldn’t be calling her.

At the same time, it occurred to her that her firstborn had not been killed because that news is always delivered in person.
“My son is alive,” she thought to herself.
It was a defining moment.

The captain told her that both of her son’s legs had been amputated following a roadside explosion in Iraq.

She sank to the floor sobbing. She remembered rubbing his feet when he was tired and tickling them to make him laugh when he was a little boy. She kept asking the captain to repeat himself. Nothing was making sense.

She still grieves. At times she has become physically ill at the thought of how much her son has suffered. But other times she is overcome with joy that he survived and amazed at his courage and resiliency.
Soldiers call the day they were wounded their “alive day.”

This is the story of a mother who struggles with the anguish of a wounded son but who willed herself to focus on the great gift she received two years ago, not the terrible blow.
This is the story of a mother’s love.

He would do it again

Army Sgt. Brian Fountaine, whose father, Paul is a U.S. Marine and Boston firefighter, joined the Army in early 2001 shortly after graduating from high school in 2000. He was home on leave from basic training on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I just hugged him and started crying. I knew he was going some place bad,” said his mother Roberta Quimby of Main Street in Hanson.

But Brian wasn’t afraid, she said.

“He didn’t want to kill people or get killed, but he wanted to do what he was trained to do. He’s a very patriotic young man. He would do it again in a heartbeat,” Quimby said.
Quimby said Brian tried to make the most of his time in Iraq.

Every chance he got, he tried to share ordinary human moments with civilians. He played soccer with kids and asked everyone back home to send food and clothes he could distribute to the needy.

When Brian was finally able to tell her what happened on that horrible day, she was touched by his grace during such a trauma.

There were three men in the Humvee and Brian was in command. Brian had the presence of mind to use his own belt as a tourniquet. The driver was also badly injured and lost a leg, but the young gunner was blown clear, uninjured. The gunner panicked, but Brian knew he and the driver needed his help to survive. Brian went into sergeant mode and talked him through it.

“Brian should have died. He basically saved his own life,” Quimby said.

My son is alive

Quimby, an administrative assistant, chronicled her experience helping nurse Brian back to health at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. in a book she aptly called “My Son is Alive.”

For the book, Quimby gathered up the email updates she sent friends and family during the first few months and added reflections on those daily experiences.

The emails are generally as upbeat as she can make them and focus on Brian, but in the reflections, with the distance of time, she confides in the readers how scary and numbing so much of the experience was.

Quimby had never written a book before. It is not always polished, but that may be its biggest asset. Her raw emotions shine through. It is a deeply personal and engrossing account of the toll the war took on one young man from Hanson and his loving family.

A new day

When Brian is wearing pants, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong he walks so well, Quimby said.

But he usually prefers shorts. Brian is proud of his prosthetic legs. They were hard earned. He suffered through a year of dangerous infections, multiple surgeries and excruciating pain, both phantom and otherwise, to get to this point.

In the meantime, he’s gone skiing and white water rafting, Quimby said. Brian was never one to sit still. He likes to work and he likes to play, and he didn’t let his injury change that.

He’s also getting settled in to his custom built completely accessible house in Plymouth, a gift from Homes for Our Troops of Taunton, a non-profit organization that builds accessible housing for wounded veterans.

Quimby said the house has made a huge difference in Brian’s life.
And he’s not living there alone.

Four months after Brian was injured, an Internet pen pal from Kansas visited him in the hospital.
“It was love at first sight,” Quimby said.

Quimby said she liked Mary, her future daughter-in law, immediately. Quimby saw in her a quiet strength. Mary took over Brian’s care, and they quickly became inseparable.
They were married on June 8, 2008.
“He wanted to make a happy memory for that day,” Quimby said.

Veterans Day

Quimby and her husband Chet have always been patriotic, she said. They’ve always attended Veterans Day parades and flown the flag at half-staff on Nov. 11.
But the holiday has an added meaning for her now.

“I get more choked up. I can cry at the sight of a beautiful flag flying in the breeze,” she said.

They are tears of love and pride and joy and sorrow, she said.

“I think of the sacrifice he made for his county, him and all the others who sacrificed,” Quimby said.

For information about purchasing a copy of “My Son Is Alive,” go to www.deedspublishing.com.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Customer service, Pentagon style

CBS’s 60 Minutes featured a story last night about reservists who find it increasingly difficult to hold on to their everyday jobs after serving multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While many employers want to support the troops the first time around, they are less enthusiastic after the second or third tour, according to the story, even though the Soldiers & Sailors Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) protects reservists’ jobs no matter how many tours they do.  Indeed, they are supposed to come back at the same pay. The companies argue they are incurring high costs to replace employees – even temporarily – during an economic downtown. At companies where the employee is not replaced, business suffers when someone is gone month after month, they said. So, some openly refuse to hire reservists. 

The reservists said they don’t know where to turn. So Thomas Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reservist affairs, told reservists “call my office. Call me personally.” He then gave out his number, 703.697.6631, on the air.

“I invite people if they have a problem, tell me,” Hall told reporter Lesley Stahl.

Today, I decided to call the number and see what kind of response reservists would get from Hall’s office. I found LTC Matthew Leonard, who has been taking many of the calls.  LTC Leonard could not have been friendlier, I am happy to report. He said that by noon he had received roughly 115 calls. But only about 15 percent were actually reservists who had an issue with an employer and needed help. The rest, Leonard said, were people hanging up (apparently only calling to see if the number worked), people with concerns not even remotely related to the military, and former servicemen convinced a 50-year-old injury from the Korean War was the reason behind the current ailments.

“A lot of times, they just want to bend your ear,” Leonard said.

My fellow N&Ser, Warren Strobel said Leonard’s experience reminded him of when then Secretary of State James Baker was testifying about Middle East peace at a particularly tense moment. Frustrated, he said that if the Israelis and Palestinians want to talk, they should call. He then shouted out 456.1414, the White House switchboard number (which still works by the way). He later had to buy the receptionists flowers after a flood of phone calls, none from Israelis or Palestinians offering to broker a peace deal.

As it turns out, reservists who need help shouldn’t call Secretary Hall, but log onto this website. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is designed to address these kinds of issues, Leonard told me. So here is the link. If you are a reservist and don’t get the answers you want, could you let me know? My number is 202.383.6186. And I too want to hear from you.


[bth: very impressive move on Hall's part. Commendable]

Hackers

The computer systems of both the Obama and McCain campaigns were victims of a sophisticated cyberattack by an unknown "foreign entity," prompting a federal investigation, NEWSWEEK reports today.

 At the Obama headquarters in midsummer, technology experts detected what they initially thought was a computer virus—a case of "phishing," a form of hacking often employed to steal passwords or credit-card numbers. But by the next day, both the FBI and the Secret Service came to the campaign with an ominous warning: "You have a problem way bigger than what you understand," an agent told Obama's team. "You have been compromised, and a serious amount of files have been loaded off your system." The following day, Obama campaign chief David Plouffe heard from White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, to the same effect: "You have a real problem ... and you have to deal with it." The Feds told Obama's aides in late August that the McCain campaign's computer system had been similarly compromised. A top McCain official confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the campaign's computer system had been hacked and that the FBI had become involved.

 Officials at the FBI and the White House told the Obama campaign that they believed a foreign entity or organization sought to gather information on the evolution of both camps' policy positions—information that might be useful in negotiations with a future administration. The Feds assured the Obama team that it had not been hacked by its political opponents. (Obama technical experts later speculated that the hackers were Russian or Chinese.) A security firm retained by the Obama campaign took steps to secure its computer system and end the intrusion. White House and FBI officials had no comment earlier this week....

Military to reduce presence in Iraq

WASHINGTON - Spurred on by a continued decline in violence, the US military will reduce its presence in Iraq to 14 combat brigades this month, at least two months earlier than originally planned.

Military officials say two brigades from the 101st Airborne Division will leave Iraq this month, and only one will be replaced. A brigade is roughly 3,500 soldiers.

Initially the 3d Brigade, 101st Division, was scheduled to leave this month, and the 2d Brigade, 101st Division, was to leave by February.

Yesterday, however, the military announced the 2d Brigade will instead return to its Fort Campbell, Ky., home base this month, after serving for 13 months.

The unit served in northwest Baghdad, where violence has plunged, including a 50 percent decline in overall attacks in the area and a more than 90 percent drop in murders....


[bth: with the decline in violence, the ridiculously long tours and the chronic need for troops in Afghanistan, I simply do not see why troop level draw downs aren't accelerated.]


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Afghans Say US-Taliban Battle Near Wedding Party Kills 37 People

Afghan villagers say at least 37 people were killed, including members of a wedding party, when U.S. warplanes bombed a village in southern Afghanistan.

Witnesses say U.S. forces called in air strikes Monday during a battle with Taliban militants near a village in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province. They say the warplanes bombed a nearby housing complex where villagers had been celebrating a wedding.

Villagers say the bride was among several people who were wounded and taken to a hospital in Kandahar city. Kandahar Governor Rahmatullah Raufi says civilians were killed in the fighting but gave no figures.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Wednesday on U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to put a stop to civilian casualties resulting from U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military says it is investigating casualty reports from Monday's battle. A military spokesman offered condolences and apologies if innocent people were killed.

Residents say U.S. troops entered the village late Monday in a search of militants and detained several men.

U.S. and NATO-led operations against militants in Afghanistan have caused scores of civilian deaths this year, prompting growing criticism from Mr. Karzai's government.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul Wednesday, the Afghan president called for a change in the U.S. strategy for fighting terrorism.

NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces say they do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties, but they say mistakes do happen.

U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Tuesday to assess efforts to combat growing insurgent violence in Afghanistan.

It is the general's first trip to Afghanistan since he took command of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia last week.

In another development, Britain's defense ministry says a British solider was killed by enemy fire Tuesday in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

[bth: this is almost an exact replay of what happened last summer, only then the US denied it happened, and a few weeks later the Taliban organized several hundred fighters to attack and overrun a US outpost.  At least this time it seems US spokesmen acknowledge a potential problem. If it is the case that the Taliban or al Qaeda are deliberately using weddings to mask movements, then we should call it for what it is - but if that isn't the case ...]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Afghan Officials Aided an Attack on U.S. Soldiers

WASHINGTON — An internal review by the American military has found that a local Afghan police chief and another district leader helped Taliban militants carry out an attack on July 13 in which nine United States soldiers were killed and a remote American outpost in eastern Afghanistan was nearly overrun.

Afghan and American forces had started building the makeshift base just five days before the attack, and villagers repeatedly warned the American troops in that time that militants were plotting a strike, the report found. It said that the warnings did not include details, and that troops never anticipated such a large and well-coordinated attack.

The assault involved some 200 fighters, nearly three times the number of Americans and Afghans defending the site.

As evidence of collusion between the district police chief and the Taliban, the report cited large stocks of weapons and ammunition that were found in the police barracks in the adjacent village of Wanat after the attackers were repelled. The stocks were more than the local 20-officer force would be likely to need, and many of the weapons were dirty and appeared to have been used recently. The police officers were found dressed in “crisp, clean new uniforms,” the report said, and were acting “as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.”

The attackers were driven back after a pitched four-hour battle, in which American artillery, warplanes and attack helicopters were ultimately called in. Still, the militants fought in ways that showed imaginative military training, if not sophisticated weapons.

In the midst of the battle, American soldiers were at times flushed out into the open when they fled what they thought were grenades, but were in fact rocks thrown by Taliban attackers, the report said. The day before the attack, the militants began flowing water through an irrigation ditch feeding an unused field, creating background noise that masked the sounds of the advancing fighters.

The base and a nearby observation post were held by just 48 American troops and 24 Afghan soldiers. Nine Americans died and 27 were injured, most in the first 20 minutes of the fight. Four Afghan soldiers were also wounded.

The intensity of the attack was so fierce, the report said, that American soldiers shot at insurgents as close as about 15 yards away, often until their weapons jammed, and at militants who shinnied up trees overhanging their positions to shoot at the Americans.

The attack on the outpost, near Wanat, caused the worst single loss for the American military in Afghanistan since June 2005, and one of the worst over all since the invasion in late 2001. It underscored the vulnerability of American forces in Afghanistan, as well as the continuing problem posed by uncertainties over the loyalties of their Afghan allies, especially the Afghan police.

The military investigating officer, an Army colonel whose identity was not disclosed in a redacted copy of the report provided to The New York Times, recommended that the police chief and the district governor be replaced, if not arrested.

But the senior American commander in eastern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, decided after conferring with American forces that relieved the unit, that the district governor had probably been acting under duress and had been cooperative with American troops, according to the general’s spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green.

Colonel Nielson-Green said in a telephone interview on Monday that while the governor had been absolved, it was unclear whether the police chief in Wanat was complicit.

A spokesman for Afghan Defense Ministry officials said the Americans had never discussed these complaints with them.

Hajji Abdul Halim, deputy governor at the time of the Wanat attack, and now the acting governor of nearby Nuristan Province, said Monday that both officials had been detained briefly and then released.

“We suspected them after the incident, but the American forces released the district governor after two days of custody,” he said in a telephone interview.

The report, which was completed on Aug. 13 and declassified in recent days to allow military officials to brief family members of those who were killed, did not assign blame to any commanders of the unit involved — the Second Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — a unit that was in the final days of a 15-month deployment when the attack took place.

“The actions by leaders at all levels were based upon sound military analysis, proper risk mitigation and for the right reasons,” the report said....


[bth: no one held to account, not the officers who had forewarning, not the police chief, not the governor.  No one held accountable and the ill chosen position was abandoned afterward.  For what?]



Informed Comment

Naval Open Source INTelligence

Naval Open Source INTelligence

Monday, November 03, 2008

Reid: Stevens, as felon, will not stay in Senate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made it clear that Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), having attained the status of convicted felon on October 27 pending sentencing, will not remain in his Senate seat.

"[As] precedent shows us," Reid said in a Saturday statement, "Senator Stevens will face an ethics committee investigation and expulsion, regardless of his appeals process."

Stevens' longtime friend Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) disagreed. "As the Senate has done in every other instance in its long 220-year history, I am absolutely confident that Ted Stevens will be sworn into the Senate while he appeals this unjust verdict," he said. "I am certain that this decision in Washington, D.C., will be overturned on appeal."

"While I respect the opinion of Senator Daniel Inouye," Reid countered, "the reality is that a convicted felon is not going to be able to serve in the United States Senate...This is not a partisan issue and it is unfortunate that Senator Stevens has used his long time friendship with Senator Inouye for partisan political gain."...

[bth: Stevens is and has been corrupt for years and now he is going to get what's due.  It's that simple.  He was always corrupt and now he is a liability.  He's gone.  Watch him retire for 'health' reasons.]

US military: 40 tons of Afghan dope destroyed

KABUL, Afghanistan—A U.S. military spokesman says Afghan and coalition troops have seized 40 tons of hashish during a raid in southern Afghanistan.

Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews says the drugs were found during the Monday raid in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province.

Border police commander Abdul Raziq says the drugs were found in the basement of a compound in Nawa Kili village. He says American military helicopters were used during the raid.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the main ingredient for the production of heroin. But the country also grows large quantities of cannabis, the plant used to produce hashish and marijuana

[bth: I think we've been quietly targeting the destruction of harvested drug stashes in Taliban areas of Afghanistan for some months.]

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Q&A: Snatch Land Rovers

The British Army's use of the lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rover has been under the spotlight for several years.

Their vulnerability to roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has earned them the nickname "mobile coffins".

Although they are to be replaced, they have hit the headlines again with the resignation of an SAS reservist commander in Afghanistan who says his safety warnings were ignored.

What does the army use them for?

Snatch Land Rovers are officially categorised as Protected Patrol Vehicles.

Land Rover after an attack in Iraq in 2004
The Land Rover was specifically designed for Northern Ireland

They are used in peacekeeping missions and other operations where troops need quick land transport.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said tanks are often too big and too slow, cumbersome and likely to annoy civilian populations.

The Land Rovers are fortified with armour to offer the troops protection against explosions and ballistics.

And they also have electronic counter-measures (ECMs) - designed to detect roadside bombs before they explode.

Their use became widespread in Northern Ireland as a cheap and speedy way of transporting troops during the Troubles.

Why are they controversial?

A number of incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised concerns about the safety of the Land Rovers.

The thin-skinned vehicles are designed to withstand small arms fire, but have been criticised for offering insufficient protection against roadside bombs.

In the past five years, more than 30 UK soldiers have been killed in the lightly-armoured vehicles in Afghanistan, where roadside bombs now account for almost 60% of coalition deaths.

Major Matthew Bacon
Major Matthew Bacon was killed in a roadside bomb in Basra in 2005

Concerns over the vehicles have been raised by MPs, military personnel and the families of dead soldiers.

Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in June 2004, has become a vocal critic of the Land Rovers.

A coroner ruled it was probable the bomb would not have detonated had an electronic detection device designed to protect troops against roadside attacks been fitted to the Land Rover.

The equipment had been available but was left in a store under a mile away because of a clerical error.

Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in September 2005, claimed the Land Rovers had not given his son enough protection.

Sue Smith, mother of Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, one of three soldiers killed in Iraq in 2005 when their Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb, said lightly-armoured vehicles were putting soldiers' lives at risk.

She recently launched a damages action against the MoD that alleged "failures" over the use of the vehicles.

In 2006, the Defence Secretary Des Browne ordered a review of the Land Rovers, which had increasingly become known as "soft targets".

But the month-long review concluded the vehicles provided the best mobility for the difficult terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In December 2007, Mr Browne met with some of the families, including Mr Bacon, who called for the vehicles to be removed from action.

The vehicles hit the headlines again when Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British woman killed on duty in Afghanistan, and three male SAS reservists died on 17 June when their Land Rover was destroyed by a landmine.

What are replacing them?

At the end of October, the government announced a £700m investment in more than 700 vehicles which will offer British troops greater protection than they have now.

As part of the programme, Snatch Land Rovers will be upgraded to a new type called the Snatch Vixen which possesses more power and provides better protection.

The MoD says the Vixen has been especially configured for Afghanistan, and will offer the "highest levels of protection for its size and weight class".

It says a small number of Vixens have already been fielded in the country.

Mastiff vehicles in Afghanistan
The heavily-armoured Mastiff is also in use in Afghanistan

The MoD said a range of armoured vehicles, from the heavily-armoured Mastiff to the more agile Jackal, are now available and it was already reducing the Snatch Land Rover's patrolling roles.

Defence Secretary John Hutton defended the continued use of the Snatch, saying the availability of the high-mobility and low-profile vehicle was considered "mission critical" by the military.

"We cannot make Snatch invulnerable - any vehicle can be overmatched if faced with an overwhelming attack," he said.

"But these modifications mean that Snatch Vixen will offer the highest levels of protection for its size and weight class."

The government hopes they will be in frontline use by the end of 2010.

Other possible replacements had been put forward in the past.

US forces use Humvee vehicles, but these have come in for similar criticism to the Land Rovers and are thought to be susceptible to roadside bombs and grenades.

The RG31 vehicle used by the South African army had also been touted as a possible but it is designed to protect against landmines.

[bth: This puts the Brits 5  years behind the Americans in arming their vehicles to counter IEDs.  What a total waste of soldiers. It also means that they will become IED bait as insurgents can identify these weak vehicles as vulnerable to IED attack.  Replacements fielded in 2010!  What a fucking crime against your own men.]

Afghan women decry Taleban talks

Representatives of women from across Afghanistan have called on President Hamid Karzai not to undermine their position by talking to the Taleban.

The president's brother recently sat with former Taleban leaders at a religious meal hosted by the Saudis.

The meeting was regarded as a possible prelude to talks between the Afghan government and the Islamist movement.

Mr Karzai told a conference of about 400 women that any talks with the Taleban would respect the constitution.

'No compromises'

The women fear that the talks could lead to a reversal of the gains they have made since the overthrow of the Taleban in 2001.

They called on President Karzai to make sure their rights are guaranteed....

But President Karzai rejected calls from some delegates for public hangings for those convicted of rape and abductions of women....

[bth: I've been amazed at how little international outrage there is for the treatment of women in Afghanistan.  Its as if westerns think they will offend muslims by insisting that they not rape and abduct women - treat them as property, kill them.  The treatment of women in Afghanistan has been absolutely shameful by any modern standard. Is this the way slavery was discussed in polite company before the American civil war? I grow sick of politeness without purpose.]

Taliban Two-Step: Can’t Sit Down Yet

Don't even ask Mullah Sabir about peace talks. There's nothing to talk about, says the tall, burly Afghan, one of the Taliban's highest-ranking commanders. "This is not a political campaign for policy change or power sharing or cabinet ministries," he tells NEWSWEEK at a textiles shop on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. "We are waging jihad to bring Islamic law back to Afghanistan." The refusal to negotiate comes straight from the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, says Sabir, who did not want his full name used: "The tone of his rejection has been so strong from the first that no one would dare to raise the subject with him." The trouble is, Sabir hasn't seen Mullah Omar in years, and he doesn't know of anyone who has. Internet posts released in Mullah Omar's name on Muslim holy days are the only hint that the one-eyed Commander of the Faithful is still alive. All the same, Sabir says he and thousands of other Taliban won't stop fighting until they're back in power.

Everyone seems eager to talk peace in Afghanistan—except the only people who can turn the wish into a fact. The Taliban's brutal insurgent ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has endorsed the idea of negotiations; so has the U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah personally hosted an exploratory discussion in Mecca between Afghan and Pakistani officials and former Taliban members during Ramadan, and last week Afghan and Pakistani tribal elders and politicians held a two-day meeting in Islamabad. But Mullah Omar's fighters aren't about to quit while they're on a roll. The number of Coalition deaths in Afghanistan since May has exceeded U.S. deaths in Iraq for the first time since the invasion of Iraq. The Afghan insurgency, which seemed as good as dead in 2004, has come back strong.

The Americans aren't racing to the peace table either, despite Gates's in-principle support for negotiations. Big moves are likely to wait until the next U.S. president takes office, and the consensus in any case is that the situation on the ground isn't right yet. "If you go into these talks when you appear to be militarily weak, you're negotiating a partial surrender," warns Robert Neumann, who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. The hope is that Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the surge strategy in Iraq, will find a way to fix that problem in his new role as CINCCENT—commander in chief, U.S. Central Command.

Iraq's turnaround came when tribal leaders in Anbar province, fed up with the brutality of Al Qaeda in Iraq, banded together against the insurgency. But the Taliban are running their own war, not taking orders from psychopathic foreigners. Taliban commanders say Osama bin Laden's global jihadists are not a significant force in Afghanistan anymore. "If they want to hide and fight here with us, we won't stop them," says Mullah Sabir. "But they have no bases here, and we will not let them use our territory as they did before their strikes on the United States." The 9/11 attacks and the resulting U.S. invasion are a source of deep resentment among the Taliban. "Today we are fighting because of Al Qaeda," Sabir complains. "We lost our Islamic state. Al Qaeda lost nothing." Still, talks with any segment of the Taliban will have to be predicated on a complete break with Al Qaeda.

If that condition can be met, there are fissures that Petraeus might find ways to exploit. Some fighters are Pashtun nationalists; others are strict Islamists; still others are mere thugs. "Based on what we heard while we were there, a lot of these guys are involved in the insurgency for economic reasons first and ideological reasons second," says Nathaniel Fick, who served as a Marine officer in Afghanistan during the first year of the war and returned this summer to do research for the Center for a New American Security. "Eighty percent of the fighters are part-timers. We know that from data the military has collected. Most of those part-timers, one would think, are 'reconcilable' "—that is, they could be persuaded to leave the insurgency. Even some high-ranking members are showing interest in the Saudi meeting. "Now the Taliban know there's another way besides the military option," says Zabibullah, a senior Taliban political operative in Pakistan. "Talks may be something to consider." (Nevertheless, a Taliban spokesman adamantly denies reports that Mullah Omar sent representatives or even a list of demands to Mecca.)

The Taliban has always been basically a loose amalgam of regional and tribal militias. Individual commanders have enormous autonomy in their home areas: some continue to enforce the medieval dictates of Mullah Omar's defunct regime, but others tolerate music, Qur'an classes for girls, even televisions. In hard-line Helmand province, barbers are allowed to trim beards.

Distrust is spreading in the ranks. Off the battlefield, Taliban fighters wonder aloud what has become of Mullah Omar. Some think he may have been put under house arrest—or worse—by his second in command and brother-in-law, Mullah Baradar. "He may have removed himself, or someone may have removed him," says a former Mullah Omar aide, unnamed so his worries don't land him in trouble. "For the past two years, no one that I know has any hard evidence of where he is or what he's doing." What would Mullah Omar say about mowing down civilians and beheading captives in the name of jihad? the aide asks, describing his former boss as a simple, decent village mullah who was always upset to hear of his men doing bad things....

[bth: separating foreign jihadists from local Taliban is a victory in one sense - that Afghanistan isn't a base for international terrorists that can strike the US.  Of course that may be presumptuous since they struck London....  Anyway, the point is that in one sense the problem is now regionally contained though Pakistan stands on the brink of civil war.  Now how to address it locally?  What makes it worthwhile for the 80% who are economically driven - if that is indeed the case - to find other gainful employment (hopefully not growing poppies).... Have we created any conditions for economic and social development?  Roads to drive our tanks on is not quite what most of these fighters had in mind.  Afterall the Soviets built roads.  What do the village elders want?  What will they fight for?  Is our presence a corrosive element in and of itself?]

Iraqi troops find EFP factory in Sadr City

Iraqi troops uncovered a massive weapons cache and factory inside the northeastern neighborhood of Sadr City. The cache contained 34 of the deadly explosively formed penetrators, the weapons that are the hallmark of the Iranian-backed Shia militias. This is the third large cache found in Sadr City since Oct. 20.

The raid was conducted in the northern area of Sadr City, the former stronghold of Muqtada al Sadr's Iranian-backed Mahdi Army. Iraqi troops from the 44th Brigade of the 11th Iraqi Army Division conducted the operation after receiving tips from residents in Sadr City.

The find is "significant as it included the machines used by the enemy to manufacture explosively-formed penetrators – the number one killer of our US soldiers," said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad.

EFPs, EFP cones and other materials seized in the Oct. 28 raid. Image from Multinational Division Baghdad. Click to view.

The soldiers found 34 EFPs; 53 copper plates and 40 shaped plates, which are used for the EFP's shaped warhead; 160 blocks of C4 explosives; and 14 107mm rockets and launch rails. Also found were three presses and a punch, machinery that is thought to be used to mill the copper plates into the cone-shaped warhead.

Since Oct. 20, Iraqi troops found two other large caches in Sadr City. A raid by troops from the 3rd Battalion, 42nd Brigade of the 11th Iraq Army Division on Oct. 20 resulted in the discovery of 61 rockets, 368 mortar rounds, 263 mortar tubes, shape charges, an IED, 32,000 rounds of ammunition, seven DSHKA machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades launchers and grenades, and other equipment.

The same Iraqi Army unit also found a large cache in Sadr City the day prior. The troops found 15 EFPs, an IED, two 72.5 mm rockets, two 64 mm rockets, numerous RPG launchers and warheads and hand grenades, and other equipment.

In all, 49 of the deadly EFPs have been found by Iraqi troops since Oct. 20.

Iraqi and Coalition forces have maintained the pressure on the Iranian-backed terror groups operating inside Iraq during the month of October. Seven Iranian-trained Special Groups fighters have been killed and 118 have been confirmed captured during raids since Oct. 1, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Iraqi forces also detained 180 "suspects" in Basrah during a sweep on Oct. 28, but it is unclear how many are considered Special Groups fighters. One of the men detained was a Pakistani.

Twenty-eight of the Iranian-backed Shia terrorists captured since Oct. 1 are members of the Hezbollah Brigades. The Hezbollah Brigades is an Iranian-backed terror group that has been behind multiple roadside bombings and rocket attacks against US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. This group uploads videos of attacks onto the Internet.

Coalition forces have captured 16 Hezbollah Brigades operatives since Oct 21. A raid in Amarah netted an "Iranian-backed financer" and four associates. More than $50,000 and almost 12 million Iraqi Dinar (approximately $10,000) was found during the raid. On Oct. 28, four operatives, including an "administrator," were captured during an operation in Abd ar Rahman, about four miles east of Sadr City. Another three Hezbollah Brigades were captured in Baghdad on Oct. 21.

Taking on Qods Force

Iraqi security forces are also zeroing in on Iran's network inside Iraq. Iraqi forces have captured nine Iranian Qods Force agents and killed one since Oct. 18. Iraqi soldiers captured an Iranian "infiltrator" during a sweep in Basrah on Oct. 28. Iraqi troops killed one Iranian agent captured another during a clash 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 in Mandali in Diyala province.

US military officers believe Iran is ramping up its operations inside Iraq after its surrogates suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Iraqi military during the spring and summer of 2008. Iraqi troops went on the offensive against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed terror groups in Baghdad and central and southern Iraq. More than 2,000 Mahdi Army members were killed and thousands more were wounded. The operation forced Muqtada al Sadr to agree to a cease-fire and disband the Mahdi Army....

[bth: this article is worth reading in full.  It looks like Iraq's government forces have been very successful in rolling up Iranian Qods forces in Iraq of late.  Also note in the photo the extreme size of the EFPs.  These are clearly designed to punch through armor approximately 1/2 the diameter of the EFP - in short US armor.  The smaller ones are likely for assassinations.  That the tools used to make them were found locally is telling as is the way they are made - essentially hand tools, copper plating and it looks like oil well pipe.  These devices are fiendishly easy to make and it is amazing that we haven't seen so many more.  If the Iranian government wished to deploy their own EFPs from factories in Iran we'd see many more with much more devastating effect. ... So where did the RDX come from?]

61 killed in multiple bombings in India

India has been hit with another coordinated bombing attack, this time in four districts in the eastern state of Assam. Sixty-one Indians were killed and more than 470 were wounded in the multiple blasts.

The bombs were detonated almost simultaneously around 11:30 local time today. Thirteen bombs were detonated in markets, a court office, and near the Assam state capital. The attacks, like previous attacks in India the past several years, were designed to maximize casualties....

[bth: this devastating wave of attacks barely gets news coverage in North America.]

As Taliban Overwhelm Police, Pakistanis Hit Back

SHALBANDI, Pakistan — On a rainy Friday evening in early August, six Taliban fighters attacked a police post in a village in Buner, a quiet farming valley just outside Pakistan’s lawless tribal region.

The militants tied up eight policemen and lay them on the floor, and according to local accounts, the youngest member of the gang, a 14-year-old, shot the captives on orders from his boss. The fighters stole uniforms and weapons and fled into the mountains.

Almost instantly, the people of Buner, armed with rifles, daggers and pistols, formed a posse, and after five days they cornered and killed their quarry. A video made on a cellphone showed the six militants lying in the dirt, blood oozing from their wounds.

The stand at Buner has entered the lore of Pakistan’s war against the militants as a dramatic example of ordinary citizens’ determination to draw a line against the militants.

But it says as much about the shortcomings of Pakistan’s increasingly overwhelmed police forces and the pell-mell nature of the efforts to stop the militants, who week by week seem to seep deeper into Pakistan from their tribal strongholds.

Since the events in Buner, the inspector general of the police in the North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, has encouraged citizens in other towns and villages in his realm to form posses of their own.

The hope is that determination itself will deter Taliban encroachment, building on the August victory with one phalanx after another of committed citizens.

But the strategy is also a sign of his desperation.

“We are laying down our lives,” Inspector General Khan said in an interview in October. “By the hundreds the police are being targeted and killed.”

He has had to lower recruitment standards to fill out the ranks, he said, “because this is war.” Even so, he has supplemented his force with what he said were some 15,000 “special police” — citizens whom he cannot pay, but whom he is willing to arm. “Any community which helps us, we give them weapons,” Inspector General Khan said.

The army was of no use here.

“There is no other way,” Inspector General Khan warned. “Pure military action would create a lot of devastation, to the extent that people would turn against the government.”

Indeed, after the Taliban were cornered, a new peace committee composed of elders and politicians passed a resolution declaring Buner a zone free of both the army and the Taliban.

The local police chief in the Buner district, Zubair Shah, a rising star of the Pakistani police force, acknowledged the challenges of confronting a Taliban threat that is more deeply ensconced in communities all over Pakistan than had been thought.

He is trying to tamp down the Taliban with a police force that is grossly underpaid and frequently overmatched by better armed militants. Currently, the police officers in Buner earn about one-quarter the monthly salary that the Taliban are offering, Mr. Shah said.

Moreover, given that the police have become a primary target of the militants, it is hardly surprising that morale has plummeted. “The people are more motivated than the police,” he said. ....

[bth: an article worth reading.  So is there a third path, the use of special forces and indigenous populations well lubricated with funds that can restore order and contain the Taliban?]

Commander in Afghanistan quits

LONDON (Reuters) - A commander of the elite special forces in Afghanistan has resigned, a defence source said on Saturday, declining to give further details.

Major Sebastian Morley, a reservist commander with the Special Air Service (SAS), blamed a chronic lack of investment in equipment for the deaths of some of his soldiers, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

He described the failure to equip his troops with heavy armoured vehicles as "cavalier at best, criminal at worst," the paper reported.

The Ministry of Defence and the government have faced repeated criticism from senior officers and politicians over equipment shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last month, a coroner said defence chiefs should "hang their heads in shame" over the lack of proper equipment and training that contributed to the death of a British soldier during a rescue in an Afghan minefield.

The Telegraph report said Morley thought his soldiers were needlessly put at risk because they were forced to travel in lightly armoured Land Rovers rather than heavier vehicles.

He blamed "chronic underinvestment" for the deaths in June of four British soldiers killed by a landmine which destroyed their Land Rover in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

One of those killed was Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British female soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

Morley could not be reached for comment. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said it never comments on the SAS.

He issued a statement saying: "Equipping our personnel is a clear priority and we are absolutely focussed on providing them with a range of vehicles that will protect them from the ever-shifting threats posed by the enemy.

"Just this week we announced a 700 million pounds spend on more than 700 new and upgraded armoured vehicles.

"This was on top of the 10 billion pounds of new equipment delivered to the forces in the past three years."

Britain joined the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and still has about 8,100 troops there fighting the Taliban and training Afghan forces.


Photo


[bth: so take a look at the picture which accompanies the article.  The Land Rovers are overweighted - you can see the suspension bowing - they have strapped kevlar blankets on the sides of the vehicle ala 2003 and 2004 for the US army and the gunners have no shielding.  I'll bet the windshield isn't ballistic grade either.  These are death traps in today's environment of IEDs and RPGs.  It is criminal that there isn't better gear.  ... I will note that when did you ever hear of a US officer resigning his commission over a lack of equipment.  I'll give it to the officer, he has more integrity than the US officer corp - at least he is trying to take action to protect his troops from bureaucratic neglect.]

Analysis: Al-Maliki stressing US departure

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister is pushing the idea that the U.S. departure is in sight in a bid to sell the security deal with Washington to Iran.

To reinforce the message, the Iraqis are asking for changes to the deal that would effectively rule out extending the U.S. military presence beyond 2011.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies are also describing the agreement not as a formula for long-term U.S.-Iraqi security cooperation — the original goal when the talks began earlier this year — but as a way to manage the U.S. withdrawal.

It's unclear whether this will be enough to win over the Iranians and Iraqi critics — or whether the U.S. will go along with the demands submitted by the Iraqi Cabinet this week.

The Iraqis want expanded Iraqi jurisdiction over U.S. troops and elimination of a clause that could allow the soldiers to stay past a tentative Dec. 31, 2011 deadline.

Iran strongly opposes the agreement, fearing it could lead to U.S. troops remaining in a neighboring country indefinitely.

With Iranian sensitivities in mind, the Iraqis also want an explicit ban on the U.S. using Iraqi territory to attack its neighbors — a demand that was reinforced by last Sunday's U.S. raid against a suspected al-Qaida hideout in Syria....

[bth: I just don't see any hope of reaching agreement before December's deadline.]

globeandmail.com : Talking to the Taliban

globeandmail.com : Talking to the Talibanglobeandmail.com: Talking to the Taliban

[bth: this series of interviews is very informative. A couple of quick conclusions: 1. Taliban are essentially local fighters supported locally 2. they fight to expel nonmuslims 3. they will no accept a compromise with the government because it is supported by non-muslims 4. they grow poppies for cash and to hurt non-muslims. 5. most have not been bombed 6. they do not accept the Durand line. 7. there seems to be no compromise possible with non-muslims. 8. the fighters may represent the extremists in the population, but they also have the guns.]

globeandmail.com: Military relying on Afghan contractors for security

globeandmail.com: Military relying on Afghan contractors for security: "ARGHANDAB"DISTRICT, Afghanistan — To an untrained observer, it might seem odd that nearly 50 Afghans have been given free rein to gallivant around a foreign military outpost in their dusty Toyota 4Runners, armed with Kalashnikovs.

They shout at each other in Dari, a Persian dialect spoken in northern and western Afghanistan that is unintelligible to most Canadian soldiers and their hired Pashto interpreters here in the south.

Around the clock they churn up gravel as they dart between lookout towers along the base perimeter. As they blew by one of the senior officers on base the other day, leaving him shrouded in dust, Sergeant Major Shawn Mercer let a wide grin cross his face.

“They're fast, like light,” he said.

They're paid to be. Increasingly, Afghan nationals employed by private security contractors are being relied on by international forces here for an integral defensive task: keeping 24-hour perimeter watches to block the Taliban from entering or attacking military bases. While private security firms have long been used by foreigners working in the capital Kabul, military use of the firms' fighters has recently become more widespread.

The Canadian military, which has 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers across southern Afghanistan, employs five of these contractors. All have been accredited by the Afghan government after a crackdown last year on a host of suspicious security firms.

“The use of security firms allows for the freeing up of Canadian Forces personnel so these highly trained forces can be tasked with those duties that will best advance the mission in Afghanistan,” said Captain Sonia Connock, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces in Kandahar.

One of the firms, called Tundra – which has some Canadian ownership, Capt. Connock said – employs the contingent of security officers stationed at this outpost in Arghandab district. Most were deemed qualified because they have spent their life at war, workers said.

“They were all fighters,” said Said Hasib, 23, a Kabul native who as one of the few English speakers in the group acts as a spokesman. “They see war when they open their eyes.”

By that, he meant most of Tundra's employees – their ages range from about 20 to 45 – have never lived during peaceful times.

“They are fighting their whole life. They are not afraid of anything,” Mr. Hasib explained, noting that if his colleagues were not fighting Russians or corrupt warlords, they were battling the Taliban. Some, he said, are former soldiers of the recently formed Afghan National Army, which is being trained in stages by the international forces. The ANA is a favourite target of the Taliban, particularly in the volatile south. The men who left the army to join Tundra did so because soldiering was too dangerous for the meagre pay, Mr. Hasib said.

While there is less action in the security job – employees are not used for offensives – at Tundra, most of the fighters can make between $300 and $500 (U.S.) a month.

That doesn't seem like much to cement the loyalty of men on whom Canadian soldiers are depending for their safety. But Sgt. Major Mercer said he is reassured by the fact that the crew hails mainly from the northern part of the province, outside the Pashtun belt where the Taliban have their roots and where many residents have links to them (although that does not mean they automatically support the insurgents). This drastically reduces the likelihood of a Tundra employee being swayed by the Taliban, Sgt. Major Mercer said.

It does not mean, however, that they've escaped being targeted.

“The Taliban would kill us faster than they would kill [foreigners],” said Musa, a 21-year-old from Kabul. “If any [insurgent] caught us, if he asked from us where we are going … they would slaughter us.”

That is largely why most Tundra employees are travelling home to visit their families less frequently. Flights are too expensive, said Rahmat Khan, a 34-year-old supervisor who sends his paycheques to his wife and four children. And for a Dari speaker to travel the dangerous road from Kandahar to Kabul is to gamble with death.

Despite this, the employees said they're happy to make sacrifices to do the job.

“We feel good about Canada. It is a peaceful country,” said Mr. Hasib, adding he has gleaned his impressions of the country from reading Canadian magazines. From them, he said, he senses a multicultural parallel between Afghanistan, which draws people from across the region, and Canada.

“It's a team over here where there is an attack. We are saving Canadians.”

In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized? | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized? | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?"
In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?

Cindy McCain Claims She’s ‘Just Like Any Other Female Human’ | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Cindy McCain Claims She’s ‘Just Like Any Other Female Human’ | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
Cindy McCain Claims She�s �Just Like Any Other Female Human�"
Cindy McCain Claims She�s �Just Like Any Other Female Human�

Struggling Lower-Class Still Unsure How Best To Fuck Selves With Vote | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Struggling Lower-Class Still Unsure How Best To Fuck Selves With Vote | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "WASHINGTON"—As election day nears, millions of the nation's poorest voters have reportedly yet to settle on the most profound and enduring way to completely fuck themselves over when they head to the polls this year.

"On the one hand, I'm pretty sure Barack Obama will undermine my best interests by maintaining the same centrist, pro-corporate policies of previous Democratic administrations," said Jim Estey, 34, a recently laid-off assembly-line worker. "Conversely, I agree with McCain and Palin on abortion, which might just balance out the fact that they'll further marginalize people like me by supporting deregulation and slashing social programs. So it's pretty much a toss-up at this point."

Though such behavior appears to directly undermine their own well-being, lower-income voters have historically supported candidates determined to screw them six ways to Sunday, including Bill Clinton, who incarcerated them in record numbers and cut the welfare benefits many depended on for day-to-day sustenance, and George W. Bush, who widened the gap between them and the rich and sent thousands of them to die in Iraq. This year's election is reportedly unique in that the nation's poor must not only weigh how deeply and painfully their chosen candidate will penetrate their rectums, but must also consider unforeseen outside circumstances—such as economic collapse and terrorism—that might allow the next president to bend them over and brutally rape them in ways they never thought possible.

The latest polls indicate that a majority of lower-class citizens might choose not to vote at all Nov. 4, preferring instead to leave the details of how they get fucked to the moneyed classes

Israel's Rabbinical High Court Annuls 40,000 Conversions - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Israel's Rabbinical High Court Annuls 40,000 Conversions - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "JERUSALEM" — Raised without religion in Maryland, Shannon sought to make a new life for herself as a Jew in Israel.

In a rigorous conversion process, she studied religious law for a year, took a Hebrew name and changed her wardrobe to long skirts and sleeves as dictated by Orthodox Jewish custom. Finally, a panel of rabbis pronounced her Jewish.

But five years later, she and some 40,000 like her have suddenly had their conversions annulled by Israel's Rabbinical High Court. The court says the rabbi who heads a government authority set up to oversee conversions is too liberal in approving them.

The issue, now headed to Israel's Supreme Court, has exposed an intensifying power struggle inside Israel's religious establishment over the age-old question of "who is a Jew." It also threatens to deepen the wedge between Israel and American Jews, who largely follow more liberal schools of Judaism....

Israeli security chief warns of assassination

Israeli security chief warns of assassination - Yahoo! News: "JERUSALEM –"An Israeli security chief says he is "very concerned" that hardline extremists could assassinate an Israeli leader to foil peace moves with the Palestinians.

Shin Bet internal security agency head Yuval Diskin says "a group in the extreme right" is prepared to assassinate politicians "in order to halt diplomatic processes." Diskin spoke Sunday at the weekly meeting of the Israeli Cabinet.

His statement was released by another meeting participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.

This week, Israel marks the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli extremist.

[bth: amazing how tolerant we are of whack jobs that claim to act violently in the name of religion - all kinds of religions.]