Saturday, November 15, 2008

Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Peshawar

Yet another foreign diplomat has been targeted in Pakistan's Taliban-infested Northwest Frontier Province. "Unknown gunmen" kidnapped Hashmatullah Atharzadeh, the commercial attaché for the Iranian consulate in Peshawar, the provincial capital.

Atharzadeh was captured and his driver was killed while traveling through Hayatabad, a neighborhood in southwestern Peshawar, and heading to the consulate. The kidnappers blocked the road, stopped the car, and killed the driver after he attempted to resist the kidnapping.

No group has responsibility for the attack, however the Taliban have been behind numerous kidnappings and assassination attempts against foreigners in Peshawar and neighboring Khyber over the past year. Just yesterday, a Taliban force killed an American aid worker and his driver in a so-called secure neighborhood in Peshawar. The fighters blocked the car and opened fire.

Abdul Khaliq Farahi, Afghanistan’s consul general in Peshawar was kidnapped by the Taliban in Hayatabad in September. The Taliban tracked down his car and forced it to pull over. His driver was killed. Farahi was Afghanistan's ambassador-designate to Pakistan.

In late August, a Taliban strike team ambushed a car carrying Lynne Tracy, the US Consulate's principal officer, as she left her home in the same neighborhood in Peshawar. Tracy narrowly escaped the attack as her driver was able to dodge the roadblock put up by the Taliban fighters.

In February, the Taliban kidnapped Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, as h drove through Khyber. The Taliban demanded the release of Afghan Taliban commander Mansoor Dadullah in exchange for the ambassador. Azizuddin was eventually released in exchange for 55 Taliban operatives, including two men who were previously held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The Taliban have been able to penetrate the security layers in the cases of the two US citizens. In all of the cases, the Taliban had intelligence on the movement of the foreigners, by either observing their movements or from inside information.

The government launched an operation to relieve the Taliban pressure on Peshawar last summer. The Taliban have claimed they intend to take control of the provincial capital.

Saudi Arabia and Religious Toleration?

"The conference provides an opportunity for Saudi Arabia, which prohibits the public practice of non-Islamic faiths, to present a more tolerant image on the world stage. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis.

The meeting this week also provided Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni an opportunity to highlight her commitment to peace talks on the eve of elections in Israel, in which her ruling Kadima party will run on its ability to secure peace with the country's Arab neighbors. It also signaled that Israel's leaders are making some progress toward better relations with Saudi Arabia, which does not recognize Israel. In a rare gesture, Abdullah agreed to attend a dinner with the Israeli president on Tuesday night hosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. The two leaders, however, ate at separate tables and did not speak to each other." Washpost



The Salafism that is the official position in Saudi Arabia has not previously allowed such an attitude. There are no churches, temples or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The traditional Islamic recognition of the kinship of the three "Heavenly Religions" is stretched mighty fine in "The Kingdom." No public practise of Judaism or Christianity is allowed. Society there has followed an unrelenting path of hostility to other faiths, indeed to other interpretations of Islam within the Sunni "community." On that basis and in the belief that God's Will must be done in the establishment of Wahhabi Salafism, many bad things have been done, and extremist splinter groups like Al-Qa'ida were allowed to develop.

There is a new spirit abroad in the lands of the Middle East. Something new is being discussed in the mosque universites and among the ulema'. Is there an opening for a general diplomatic campaign that might to some extent reconcile the peoples?

In the Middle East, religion, government, economics and war are all intimately and inextricably linked. Peace can not be made without religious reconciliation. There was no Renaissance in the Middle East, no Protestant Reformation. The European historical phenomena that separated lfe into the different spheres of "sacred" and "profane" never really occurred in the Islamic World. That set of ideas is an import from the West. The paradigm that dictates separation of things like "church" and "state" never prevailed in the area. The neocon folly was rooted in the idea that it had. There have been many attempts to transplant the idea of the division of life on the Western pattern. Nationalism, Communism, Baathism, socialism; the list is lengthy. All failed. They foundered on the shoal of the solidity of the local forms that continue to persist so strongly.

If the door to religious and therefore political reconciliation begins to open, let us hope that diplomacy will walk thought it. "Tawhiid" can have many meanings. pl

[bth: Col. Lang is an excellent observer of the ME and I enjoy reading his insightful blog.]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Depression Economics Returns

... And with no possibility of further interest rate cuts, there’s nothing to stop the economy’s downward momentum. Rising unemployment will lead to further cuts in consumer spending, which Best Buy warned this week has already suffered a “seismic” decline. Weak consumer spending will lead to cutbacks in business investment plans. And the weakening economy will lead to more job cuts, provoking a further cycle of contraction. To pull us out of this downward spiral, the federal government will have to provide economic stimulus in the form of higher spending and greater aid to those in distress — and the stimulus plan won’t come soon enough or be strong enough unless politicians and economic officials are able to transcend several conventional prejudices. One of these prejudices is the fear of red ink. In normal times, it’s good to worry about the budget deficit — and fiscal responsibility is a virtue we’ll need to relearn as soon as this crisis is past. When depression economics prevails, however, this virtue becomes a vice. F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget in 1937 almost destroyed the New Deal. Another prejudice is the belief that policy should move cautiously. In normal times, this makes sense: you shouldn’t make big changes in policy until it’s clear they’re needed. Under current conditions, however, caution is risky, because big changes for the worse are already happening, and any delay in acting raises the chance of a deeper economic disaster. The policy response should be as well-crafted as possible, but time is of the essence. Finally, in normal times modesty and prudence in policy goals are good things. Under current conditions, however, it’s much better to err on the side of doing too much than on the side of doing too little. The risk, if the stimulus plan turns out to be more than needed, is that the economy might overheat, leading to inflation — but the Federal Reserve can always head off that threat by raising interest rates. On the other hand, if the stimulus plan is too small there’s nothing the Fed can do to make up for the shortfall. So when depression economics prevails, prudence is folly. What does all this say about economic policy in the near future? The Obama administration will almost certainly take office in the face of an economy looking even worse than it does now. Indeed, Goldman Sachs predicts that the unemployment rate, currently at 6.5 percent, will reach 8.5 percent by the end of next year. All indications are that the new administration will offer a major stimulus package. My own back-of-the-envelope calculations say that the package should be huge, on the order of $600 billion. So the question becomes, will the Obama people dare to propose something on that scale? Let’s hope that the answer to that question is yes, that the new administration will indeed be that daring. For we’re now in a situation where it would be very dangerous to give in to conventional notions of prudence.
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Mansfield soldier dies in Iraq


By Milton Valencia, Globe Staff

MANSFIELD – He was good at football and hockey and one heck of a poker player. Corey Shea was also good at being a soldier, his family said today.

“He was a hero,” his mother, Denise Anderson, said. “He was my hero.”

Shea, 21, died in Iraq Wednesday near the city of Mosul when he and other soldiers were ambushed by a renegade Iraqi soldier with possible ties to al Qaeda. One other soldier was killed, six more were injured. The Iraqi soldier was shot dead.

Specialist Shea, a cavalry scout with the Killer Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas, had been in Iraq for a year. His tour of duty was to expire in January.

Family and friends gathered on the front porch of Shea's parents' house this evening, reminiscing about him.

Shea joined the Army for the camaraderie, the sense of belonging. No one likes being in war, but he liked being a soldier, his mother said. He drove Humvees and Bradley vehicles, and manned gun turrets.

“Anything they told him to do, he’d do in a heartbeat,” his mother said.

Shea is the first known soldier from Mansfield to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Massachusetts Veterans Services’ office.

He graduated from Mansfield High School in 2005. A popular student, he had close friends, and many girlfriends. He was handsome, his mother said.

Shea took some college classes but wanted to be a soldier and enlisted not long after high school, his mother said. He was stationed in Texas before he was deployed.

He returned to his old school just weeks ago, during a leave, to see his old teachers and show them the person he had become.

“One of the teachers told him he could do what he wanted with his life, and he went back to show him,” said his sister, Kristen Anderson, a 17-year-old who attends the school now. The school had a moment of silence in Shea’s honor today.

Army manipulated general's photo

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Associated Press on Friday suspended the use of photos provided by the Defense Department after the Army distributed a digitally altered photo of the U.S. military's first female four-star general.

The image of Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody is the second Army-provided photo the AP has eliminated from its service in the last two months.

The AP said that adjusting photos and other imagery, even for aesthetic reasons, damages the credibility of the information distributed by the military to news organizations and the public.

"For us, there's a zero-tolerance policy of adding or subtracting actual content from an image," said Santiago Lyon, the AP's director of photography.

Santiago said the AP is developing procedures to protect against further occurrences and, once those steps are in place, it will consider lifting the ban. He said the AP is also discussing the problem with the military.

Col. Cathy Abbott, chief of the Army's media relations division, said the Dunwoody photo did not violate Army policy that prohibits the cropping or editing of a photo to misrepresent the facts or change the circumstances of an event. She did not know who changed the photo or which Army office released it, she said.

Dunwoody was promoted to full general on Friday at a Pentagon ceremony attended by Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff.

In the original photo, the general appears to be sitting at a desk with a credenza and bookshelf behind her. Three stars on her uniform identify her as a lieutenant general, her rank before Friday's promotion.

The altered photo, distributed by the Army and run on the AP's photo wire Thursday, shows Dunwoody in fatigues in front of an American flag. Her rank, affixed to the front of a soldier's tunic, is not visible.

"We're not misrepresenting her," Abbott said. "The image is still clearly Gen. Dunwoody."

In September, the AP banned use of a photo of Army Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, who was killed in Iraq. Dawson's face and shoulders appeared to have been digitally altered.

Abbott said Dawson's unit did not have an official photo of him and wanted one that could be used for a memorial service.

"That photo was released to the public strictly by accident," she said. "We apologized for that."

Bob Owen, deputy director of photography at the San Antonio Express-News, was the first to notice the changes in the Dawson and Dunwoody photos, finding the earlier versions on the Internet.

Owen said he views all photos supplied by the Defense Department skeptically.

"Photo journalists lose their jobs over this," he said.

[bth: just stupid]

Countering the Taleban's 20-year war

The Taleban is planning for a 20-year war in Afghanistan - and the US and its allies are now having to develop policies to match.

The problem is that the policies carried out up till now - a combination of military operations and civilian development in the hope that in due course the Afghan government will be strong enough on its own - have led to a deteriorating security situation.

The issue beyond that though is whether the strategy is right. The former European Union envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vedrell thinks not. He told the BBC that the current strategy would not bring success and that President Bush's administration was misleading itself on the issue. He said that many mistakes had been made.

In the meantime, reinforcements are now needed and a gradual shake-up in security planning is underway.

The new head of US Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East and Afghanistan, is to be David Petraeus, the general who is credited with turning the war in Iraq around. Can a "mini surge" work in Afghanistan?

graph showing military casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq

President Bush is announcing that a drawdown of troops from Iraq will enable the US to send an extra combat brigade to Afghanistan early next year.

Presidential candidates, the successful one of which will face difficult decisions in the years ahead if the war continues to be hard, are weighing in.

Senator John McCain is promising three extra brigades, Senator Barack Obama two.

The US is sending a senior counterinsurgency expert, Gen John Nicholson, to the south to invigorate operations there.

It is interesting to note that one of his forebears was a British brigadier who raised the siege of Delhi in 1857 - with a deserved reputation for great brutality that the current Nicholson will want to avoid.

Gen Nicholson's mission might herald a greater role for the US military in the south.

There is also to be streamlining of the command arrangements between the Nato-led Isaf forces and the separate US forces operating under the banner of "Enduring Freedom".

Military tactics are also under question, especially the widespread use of air power, which is needed to make up for the lack of troops on the ground. This has led to numerous disasters among the civilian population.

Few Western diplomats have any faith that the Pakistani army is in a position to stop the Taleban crossing the border. Some military figures believe that Pakistani elements still favour the Taleban and there is now a lowered expectation that, at best, Pakistan can play a role in targeting individuals....

Most Britons want troops out of Afghanistan: poll

LONDON (AFP) — More than two-thirds of Britons believe British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan next year, according to an opinion poll released on Wednesday.

Sixty-eight percent said Britain should withdraw while 24 percent said British soldiers should stay in the violence-wrecked country.

Britain has over 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, largely battling Taliban insurgents in the south and more than 120 British servicemen have been killed.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, visiting London on Wednesday, called for the international coalition to deploy more combat troops to the south, where the fighting is most intense.

His British counterpart David Miliband, backed his call, saying Britain was looking for increased "burden sharing" from its NATO allies.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that Britain would consider sending more troops to Afghanistan if US president-elect Barack Obama commits more US soldiers in an Iraq-style 'surge' operation to crush the insurgents.

[bth: the alliance over Afghanistan is beginning to buckle]

Afghan suicide attack kills eight

Seven civilians and a US soldier have been killed in a suicide car bomb attack against a US convoy in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan officials say.

The blast tore through a crowded market near Jalalabad, capital of the eastern Nangarhar province.

Many of the 65 injured were children, an interior ministry spokesman said.

A large number of foreign and Afghan troops are battling the Taleban in the south and east of the country and are routinely targeted by the militants.

A US military spokesman had earlier told the BBC that 19 people had died in the blast.

Meanwhile, two British marines were killed in an explosion in the southern province of Helmand on Wednesday.

The insurgency has recently been gaining ground in Afghanistan, where the central government remains weak and the foreign forces are under-resourced, correspondents say....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Two schoolgirls blinded in acid attack in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Two men on a motorcycle used water pistols to spray acid on girls walking to school Wednesday in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, blinding at least two of them, military spokesmen said.

An Afghan schoolgirl sits in a hospital Wednesday after being sprayed with acid in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

An Afghan schoolgirl sits in a hospital Wednesday after being sprayed with acid in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

U.S. Col. Greg Julian said Afghanistan's National Military Command Center told him that four girls were hurt in the incident. Two were blinded and remain hospitalized, and two were treated and released, he said.

The men escaped after the attack, and no one claimed responsibility for it, but Arab-language network Al-Jazeera said Taliban militants were suspected to be responsible.

The incident occurred about 8 a.m. near Mirwais Nika Girls High School in the Meir Weis Mena district.

Kandahar government spokesman Parwaz Ayoubi gave different figures on the number of girls injured, saying six were burned, one of them severely. He called the attackers "enemies of education."

Girls were forbidden to attend school under the Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, when U.S.-led forces removed them from power....

[bth: hard to imagine the cruelty required to do this. Hard to imagine someone claiming that it is God's will that girls be forbidden to go to school.  Hard to imagine the cowardly chickenshits this world has to put up with that tolerate and encourage this barbarity against school girls.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

U.S. Supply Convoy Hijacked In Pakistan

(CBS/AP) Suspected Taliban fighters hijacked trucks carrying Humvees and other supplies for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan this week, authorities said, in a brazen attack near the Khyber Pass that underscored the militants' grip across key mountain strongholds.

The assault highlighted the vulnerability of a vital supply route for the 65,000 U.S. and NATO forces battling a resurgent Taliban in landlocked Afghanistan. A significant amount of supplies for the Western forces go through Pakistan.

Attacks on convoys carrying food, fuel and other supplies are common on the road. But Monday's raid was especially large and well-organized. It also could further strain U.S.-Pakistani relations over rooting out Taliban and al Qaeda militants along the border, which remain entrenched despite military offensives and U.S. missile strikes.

Some 60 masked militants blocked the route at several points before overpowering the convoy, said Fazal Mahmood, a government official in Khyber tribal region. He identified the attackers as members of Pakistan's Taliban movement.

Security forces traded fire with the gunmen, but were forced to retreat, he said. The militants took about 13 trucks along with the drivers, who were believed to be Pakistani.

A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed the thefts late Tuesday.

"There were some U.S. military materials that were taken - Humvees and water tank trailers," said Maj. John Redfield.

CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports the war President-elect Barack Obama is inheriting in Afghanistan includes an insurgency that's stronger than ever and willing to turn very young men into suicide bombers, and it's a war that is creeping ever closer to Kabul.

In the most recent violence:

  • A car bomb exploded next to an Afghan government office during a provincial council meeting Wednesday, killing at least three people and wounding 28, officials said. The attack in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar ripped through the council office, flattened two nearby homes and damaged the nearby offices of the country's intelligence service, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.

  • Hours earlier in Kandahar, two men on a motorbike threw acid on six Afghan girls walking to school Wednesday, hospitalizing two of the girls with serious burns, said Dr. Sharifa Siddiqi. Four others were treated and released. Atifa Bibi, 14, said from her hospital bed that two men rode up to the girls while they were walking to school and threw the acid. Bibi had burns on her face, which was covered in medical cream. No one immediately claimed responsibility, and Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied that the insurgents were involved. Bibi's aunt, Bibi Meryam, said the family had not received any threats not to send their girls to school, but now they would consider keeping the girls at home until security stabilized.

  • Over the border, in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, gunmen blocked the car of an American aid worker on Wednesday and killed him and his Pakistani driver, police said. The man was shot to death in Peshawar's upscale University Town, police official Arshad Khan said. U.S. Embassy acting spokesman Wes Robertson declined to identify the American or say what he was doing in the area other than to say he was not a diplomat. However, a Western security official in Peshawar said the slain American worked for a development organization with projects in the northwest. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.

    In the past, U.S. and NATO officials have played down their losses from hijackings and attacks along the Khyber Pass.

    But earlier this year, NATO said it was trying to reduce its dependence on the route by negotiating with Russia and other nations to let it truck "non-lethal" supplies to Afghanistan through Central Asia.

    Pakistani security forces, backed by helicopter gunships, hunted for the missing trucks and drivers. The military said late Tuesday it had recovered some of the stolen materials but would not specify what.

    "We are using all resources to trace and recover the hijacked trucks, some of which were carrying vehicles for the allied forces in Afghanistan," Mahmood said.

    NATO and U.S. officials have in the past suggested that ordinary criminals - not an orchestrated campaign by militants - are the main problem.

    The Khyber Pass, a stretch of about 30 miles, has long been an important trade route and militarily strategic area traversed for centuries by armies, from Moghul warriors to British colonial forces. It abuts Peshawar, Pakistan's main northwestern Pakistan city.

    In a bid to eliminate militancy in the border region, the U.S. has stepped up unilateral missile strikes there, a move condemned by Pakistani leaders who say it only deepens anti-American feelings among civilians.

    Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was headed to the United States Tuesday for a U.N. conference on interfaith relations. He was expected to broach the subject of the missile strikes with U.S. officials.

    Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, issued a statement after a meeting Tuesday with a U.S. congressional delegation saying there was a "need for restoration of trust between" the two nations and that there must be "complete respect for Pakistan's territorial integrity."

    Pakistan has pursued its own military offensives against insurgents, including ones in the Swat Valley and the Bajur tribal region. The U.S. has praised the operations, but the militants have staged a wave of suicide attacks, apparently in retaliation.

  • [bth: why do we haul our own water through Pakistan to Afghanistan?  Is it not possible for us to produce clean water in country?  Taliban need only block the supply routes to cap our size and inhibit our operations.  It also gives the Russians huge leverage on us, i.e., Georgia and the Ukraine in exchange for an alternate supply route to Afghanistan.]

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    US spec-ops get robot whispercopter kill fleet this month • The Register

    US spec-ops get robot whispercopter kill fleet this month • The Register: "The"US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) secret military forces are receiving their first robotic whisper-mode helicopters, according to reports. The plan is for the you-never-saw-us-we-aren't-even-here brigade to receive a ten-strong fleet of Boeing A160T "Hummingbird" droid kill-choppers, under an extended demonstration programme...

    Remote-control guns guard Gaza - News

    Remote-control guns guard Gaza - News: "Published"Date: 12 November 2008
    ISRAELI defence officials have said the military has deployed remote-controlled machine-guns along the Gaza Strip. The system allows female soldiers watching screens in control rooms to spot targets and open fire. In the past, lookouts had to call in ground forces to intercept militants.
    Israel is using more unmanned weaponry to protect soldiers.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Report details attack on GIs in Afghanistan

    The Army’s official report on the July battle in Afghanistan that killed nine paratroops and wounded 27 others is filled with details of heroism, desperation and a calculated risk gone wrong.

    But for at least one parent of a 173rd Airborne Brigade soldier killed in the battle near Wanat on July 13, not all of the questions have been answered.

    "The report is fairly accurate, but for me it’s fairly incomplete," David Brostrom, the father of 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, said in an interview last week from his home in Hawaii.

    Brostrom retired as a colonel after 30 years in the Army. He has read the Army’s report and has been personally briefed by Col. Charles Preysler — the commander of his son’s brigade in Afghanistan, and a man David Brostrom once commanded.

    As a military man, Brostrom said, he perhaps knows more about what to look for than the other grieving families do.

    And Brostrom said he has, through a Hawaii senator, filed a Congressional inquiry about the battle focusing on 26 questions, mainly involving the level of support his son’s platoon and other troops in theater received, such as intelligence and air support.

    "Very few [of those questions] were answered in the 15-6," he said, using the military’s term for an investigation.

    Preysler is now commander of the U.S. Army training center in Grafenwöhr, Germany, that prepares troops for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Though the report concludes that no blame should be assessed to U.S. commanders, Preysler said last week that "any time you take casualties, you think it through very hard about how you could have done anything differently. I think every commander who loses troops will do that."

    Wanat is the center of local government and at the end of a road — in the Afghan sense — that snakes up some five miles from Camp Blessing in mountainous terrain. U.S. troops had only been at the Wanat patrol base for four days when they were attacked by an enemy force the report puts at 200.

    The troops, mostly from Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, were to hold the area until a combat outpost could be built.

    "It was a move that made sense given the tactical situation as we knew it back then," Preysler said.

    The troops knew, Preysler said, they likely would be "tested just like they have at every single [forward operating base] we’ve ever put up."

    By the end of the fight, 36 of the 48 U.S. personnel originally at Wanat were wounded or killed.

    But, Preysler said, "No one’s talked about the bravery and persistence those soldiers made in defending that position. I can’t say enough about that."

    The 44-page report lays out those efforts in the spare, direct staccato of the infantry colonel who wrote the report, but whose name has been redacted from the version publicly released.

    It begins with the decision to close down an "extremely vulnerable" combat outpost nearby and relocate to Wanat, a move discussed by the brigade for more than a year.

    Ten months of coordination with Afghan officials about the land allowed militants to plan an attack "that only required refinement once the land was occupied."

    On July 9, in the early morning darkness, the U.S. troops and 24 Afghan paratroops established the vehicle patrol base.

    Each day, locals warned the U.S. troops of an impending attack.

    "There was intelligence an attack would occur," the report found, "but this was to be expected for the Waygal District."

    Troops expected a "probing attack" of around 20 militants. Instead, at around 4:20 a.m., the force of 200 enemy launched a complex, well-organized attack that first targeted the troops’ heavy weapons.

    The narrative describes a pitched battle in which troops fought militants firing from a mosque, an adjacent bazaar, up in trees and within 15 meters of U.S. positions.

    Four of the nine soldiers at an observation post were killed within the first 20 minutes of fighting. Claymore mines and hand grenades were used liberally. Close-air support was called in, and nearly 100 artillery rounds were fired from Camp Blessing. An hour and 35 minutes into the fight, the first medical evacuation helicopters arrived; an hour and 48 minutes into the fight, the first reinforcements arrived.

    In the interim, troops had mounted four brave runs at reinforcing the observation post. It was during the first of those attempts that Jonathan Brostrom was killed with two of his men.

    The report says that between 21 and 52 militants were killed in the attack, and estimates an additional 45 were wounded. Only two bodies were recovered after the fight.

    The report also states that "there is most likely an enemy video of this fight" that militants will release to discredit coalition governments, "especially in a presidential election year."

    Thus far, no traces of such a video have been publicly identified.

    In the end, the report concludes that the decision to build and occupy the patrol base at Wanat was the correct one, despite the outcome.

    "Commanders should not become risk averse about following counterinsurgency doctrine and remain in their FOBs as a result of the unfortunate loss of nine paratroopers," the report reads. "The risk of casualties is inherent in counterinsurgency operations. Commanders must focus on mitigating the risks rather than not taking the risks by allowing the fear of casualties to paralyze efforts to connect with the people and separate the insurgents from the populace."

    On the morning of July 15, "the order was given to relocate the forces from Wanat to other locations."

    While the report said the Afghan district police chief and district governor were "complicit" in the attack and recommended they be removed — if not arrested — U.S. officials have since softened that conclusion.

    The 173rd Airborne lost 43 soldiers during its roughly 15 months in Afghanistan.

    The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry had more than 1,000 engagements in that time and its soldiers have earned a Distinguished Service Cross, 10 Silver Stars and dozens of other valor awards to date.

    [bth: no action was taken against the Afghan governor or chief of police in the district.  No action was taken against the officer that put this unit in such a ridiculous and weak position.  Warnings of imminent attack were so intense prior to the battle that one sergeant who was killed actually called his father before the battle on a satellite phone to let him know.  The position was untenable at the outset and abandoned after the battle.  Reinforcements took almost two hours to travel 5 miles.  Only two enemy bodies were actually recovered.  There is a lot not to like about the way these troops were left in an exposed, untennable position which was then abandoned. A lot not to like about their supporting fire and cover. No one is held to account. The position which seemed so critical before the battle which cost so many lives, appears not so so important to the same officers afterwards.  This was a fine unit.  Fine soldiers and brave young officers. The problems were at the top, not the bottom.]

    Muslim clerics endorse anti-terror fatwa -

    Muslim clerics endorse anti-terror fatwa - "Muslim clerics from around India approved a fatwa against terrorism Saturday at a conference in Hyderabad"

    Maulana Qari Mohammad Usman Mansoorpuri, president of the Jamaiat-Ulama-i-Hind, called terrorism the most serious problem facing Islam, The Hindu reported. He blamed Islamic radicals for their actions and the news media for failing to distinguish between the radicals and the majority of Muslims.

    "We have no love for offenders whichever religion they might belong to," he said. "Our concern is that innocents should not be targeted and the career of educated youth not ruined. The government should ensure transparency in investigation."...

    [bth: an appropriate and long over due action that should be applauded.]

    U.S. military admits killing 37 Afghan civilians in battling militants - People's Daily Online

    U.S. military admits killing 37 Afghan civilians in battling militants - People's Daily Online: "The"U.S. military Saturday admitted it while responding to an insurgent ambush has killed 37 civilians and wounded 35 others in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar, a Taliban heartland.

    Militants, who came in large numbers to Wech Baghtu village of Shah Wali Kot district, fired at a joint patrol of Afghan national security forces and the U.S.-led forces there Monday and then close air support was called in by the military to suppress the rebels, the U.S. forces said in report of a joint probe with Afghan government.

    The air strike however hit a wedding gathering at the village, causing a lot of civilian casualties, according to locals. Haji Roozi Khan, a local villager and eyewitness, earlier told Xinhua 37 civilians including 10 women, 23 children died and over 30 others including the bride sustained injuries in the air raid lasting from around 2 p.m. until late that night.

    "Insurgents fired at ANSF and Coalition forces from some of the villagers' homes while using the homes for cover," the report issued by the U.S. military said Saturday, citing local elders.

    "The villagers also stated that insurgents prevented the families from leaving the village, indicating a deliberate attempt to cause civilian casualties," it added. ...

    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Report: Al-Qaida planning Britain strikes -

    Report: Al-Qaida planning Britain strikes - UPI.comLONDON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Al-Qaida cells in London, Birmingham and Luton, England, are planning mass casualty attacks in Britain, a government intelligence report indicates.

    The restricted document, authored by the Ministry of Defense, MI5 and the British Special Branch, maintains al-Qaida operatives based in Britain will attempt another "spectacular" event targeting major transport facilities, such as airports and train stations, the Sunday Telegraph said.

    The report said there are "some thousands" of extremists active in Britain, who are mostly British-born young men of Pakistani and Middle Eastern descent between the ages of 18 and 30. Many of them, it said, are believed to have been trained in overseas terrorist camps....
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    Taliban's New Super-Bombs Threaten U.S. Troops, Even in Pricey MRAPs - US News and World Report

    Taliban's New Super-Bombs Threaten U.S. Troops, Even in Pricey MRAPs - US News and World Report: "GHAZNI"Afghanistan—Throughout Afghanistan, roadside bombs are increasing not only in number but also in size, with devastating consequences for U.S. troops and beleaguered Afghan truck drivers alike.

    Culverts that run under the road to help drain and irrigate surrounding fields in the rural country now regularly conceal these powerful improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, with increasingly large charges. Roadside bombs that once weighed 10 to 20 pounds have morphed into multigallon drums packed with 200 to 500 pounds of explosives, which insurgents roll into culverts with wheelbarrows.

    The enhanced bombs have in some cases proved effective in destroying the U.S. military's expensive new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles—the product of a multibillion dollar investment by the Pentagon that features a V-shaped hull to absorb and disperse the impact of roadside bombs.

    The vehicles were not built, however, to withstand 200-pounds worth of explosives. "They've flipped MRAPs 15 feet in the air sometimes," says one U.S. officer in Afghanistan. "And they break them in half." U.S. troops inside the overturned vehicles have been crushed and seriously injured by falling equipment.

    The Taliban's latest IED offensive has turned Highway 1, the paved artery that links Kabul to Kandahar, from a once powerful symbol of progress in Afghanistan into a deadly stretch littered with burned-out bridges and smoldering trucks.

    The new bombs, which U.S. military officials say began cropping up in June, are part of an insurgent effort, they add, to disrupt commerce, create chaos, and strike at the heart of government efforts to bring progress to strategic provinces like Ghazni. Highway 1 runs through the province, which remains home to a number of Taliban leaders.

    The construction-grade explosives are trucked in from Quetta, a Taliban stronghold in neighboring Pakistan, according to U.S. intelligence officials. But the material is manufactured elsewhere, leading officials to believe that insurgents are bypassing border crossings in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have a greater presence, to bring them in through southern provinces. U.S. troop presence is sparse to nonexistent in the south of the country. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned from violent Helmand province in early October, and for now, U.S. troops are stretched too thin, say Pentagon officials, to replace the marines.

    On one recent drive between U.S. military installations in Ghazni province, troops from the 1st Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment dismounted to check each culvert along a paved road pocked with craters and blown-out bridges. It is painstaking and time-consuming work—the culverts are every 100 meters apart in some areas. Insurgents "are targeting the infrastructure, because that's what the government can provide," says Capt. Spencer Wallace, a company commander with the battalion.

    But recently the battalion caught a high-tech intelligence break when an unmanned aerial vehicle discovered a nine-man team planting IEDs near a U.S. forward operating base and called in an air strike. When troops got to the scene, they found bodies with watches set to Pakistan time and pockets full of Pakistani money.

    It was, they surmised, a cell sent to train Afghan insurgents to build and plant large roadside bombs. With the help of intelligence streams from more UAVs, the battalion was able to track down five IED-planting teams in seven nights, leading to a decrease in roadside bombs in the area. Overall, those kinds of attacks have decreased from 30 a month in July and August to some five a month in September and October.

    But the ongoing concern, says one U.S. military official, is that there simply are not enough unmanned drones to go around, and the prospect of U.S. troops checking every culvert they cross is unrealistic. "We need more consistent [UAV] surveillance," says the official. "Because these guys will regroup and come back."

    Iraqi Public Opinion on the Presence of US Troops - World Public Opinion

    Iraqi Public Opinion on the Presence of US Troops - World Public Opinion: ..."Furthermore"Iraqis' attitudes about US forces are likely to affect their readiness to cooperate with coalition efforts to fight the insurgency, or even their readiness to support the insurgency. There is evidence that many Iraqis do support attacks on US troops and that this attitude is related to perceptions of US long-term intentions in Iraq. Thus dealing with these perceptions is critical to the success of the mission.

    So turning now to the polling data: is the story simply that Iraqis want US forces to leave Iraq? I will indeed be presenting some data that say that Iraqis want US troops to leave within a near-term time frame.

    But I will then show some data suggesting that their attitudes are not quite that simple: That there is some interest in a continuing relationship with US forces, but only in a context in which the relationship between the US and the Iraqi government is fundamentally changed from what it is now

    I will start with the most recent polling. In March of this year ORB conducted a poll for the British Channel 4, asking Iraqis what they would like to see happen with the Multinational Forces. Seventy percent said they want the Multi National Forces to leave, with 78 percent of this group wanting them to leave within six months or less and 84 percent within a year. Thus about six in ten of the whole sample said they want the troops out within a year or less.

    In a poll conducted in February of this year for a consortium of news outlets led by ABC News, 73 percent said they oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq. Sixty-one percent said that the presence of US forces in Iraq is making the security situation in Iraq worse.

    Iraqis have been asking for a timetable for withdrawal for some time now. At the beginning of 2006 found that 7 in 10 wanted US-led forces out according to timetable of two years or less. About a year later 7 in 10 favored a timetable of one year or less.

    In late 2006 the US State Department conducted polls in numerous major Iraqi cities and consistently found about two-thirds calling for the US to leave

    While some might think that the Iraqi people should be impressed with the results of the surge on stability in Iraq, most insist that they are not. In the Channel 4 poll only 26 percent said that the surge had succeeded while 53 percent said that it had not. The ABC News poll found only about a third saying that the surge had a positive effect on security and slightly over half said that it had made security worse.

    Iraqis seem to shrug off concerns about the security implications of a US withdrawal. Asked by ABC News what impact it would have on the overall security situation "if American forces left the country entirely," only 29 percent say that it would become worse. Forty-six percent said it would get better and 23 percent said it would be the same. Asked about the British withdrawal from Basra, 6 in 10 say that the security situation there is the same or better. In the poll 58 percent predicted that if US-led forces were to leave Iraq inter-ethnic violence would go down, and 61 percent predicted that day-to-day security would improve.

    Now, all this said, it would seem that the Iraqis are giving a pretty unequivocal message for US-led forces to leave Iraq within a fairly narrow time frame. However, there are other poll questions in which the Iraqi people express a desire for some degree of continued involvement

    The very same ABC News poll that delivered some of the harshest criticism of US troops also asked whether the US should have "a future role" in a number of areas. Remarkably high numbers said that it should. Seventy-six percent favored the US providing training and weapons to the Iraqi army. Eight in 10 favored the US participating in security operations against al-Qaeda or other jihadists operating in Iraq--something that would, of course, be at odds with the US completely withdrawing all its forces.

    Support for non-military forms of involvement has also been high. The poll found 68 percent favoring "helping Iraqis organize their communities to address local needs such as building schools and health clinics."

    More broadly, the Channel 4 poll asked Iraqis whether they want the US to play a larger or smaller role in the future of Iraq. Only 22 percent said they want the US to play a smaller role. The largest number--40 percent--said they want the US to play a bigger role and another 13 percent want America's role to remain the same as now

    So what is going on here? How is it that on one hand Iraqis think the presence of US troops makes the security situation worse and they should leave within a year, and on the other hand that it would be very nice if they were to train Iraqi forces and help with the security situation vis-Ã -vis al Qaeda?

    Here is my interpretation. There are two frames through which Iraqis view US-led forces in their country. One frame--the weaker frame--is that security in Iraq is still fragile and that the US may be able to offer some aid to Iraq.

    The other and more dominant frame is that the United States has effectively occupied Iraq. As early as 2004 Gallup asked Iraqis whether they primarily thought of coalition forces as liberators or occupiers. Seventy-one percent said occupiers.

    In a variety of ways Iraqis signal that they do not feel that they have genuine sovereignty. In our September 2006 poll 77 percent said that they assumed that the US plans to have permanent bases in Iraq. More importantly, 78 percent said they thought that if the Iraqi government were to tell the US to withdraw its forces, the US would refuse to do so.

    Our analysis of this poll found that frustration with this situation may be related to support for attacks on US troops. A disturbingly high 61 percent of Iraqis said that they approved of attacks on US troops. What was curious was that approximately half of these same people who approved of attacks on US troops said they did not actually want the troops to leave immediately. Rather, it appears that they supported the attacks because they thought it was necessary to put pressure on US troops to leave eventually.

    So what does this suggest? It suggests that what is key here is that the US needs to address the feeling held by most Iraqis that they are not being treated as a sovereign power.

    One way that has been widely discussed is for the US to set a timetable for withdrawal. This would make unambiguous that US troops will eventually leave

    Some have argued that a timetable would weaken the government because it would send a signal to the insurgents that the US is not determined to stay the course. However, has found that only one in four Iraqis appear to agree. Rather, 53 percent have said that a timetable would strengthen the government. Presumably this would be because it would contribute to the perception that the government is, or at least will soon be, the real power in the country.

    More fundamentally, the US must find ways to show respect for the Iraqi government. It should be recognized that for the US to have such powers as the right to arrest and imprison Iraqis independent of the oversight of the Iraqi government weakens the perception that the Iraqi government is in charge. Most important, though, convincingly sending the message that the US will only be in Iraq as long as the government wants it to be is central. The idea proposed by Michael Matheson of basing the UN Mandate governing the presence of US troops on Chapter VI rather than Chapter VII could be a meaningful way of codifying that US troops are in Iraq at the will of the Iraqi government

    In closing, it is clear that the Iraqi people are quite eager for the US to lighten its military footprint in Iraq. More importantly it appears that they are eager to regain their sense of sovereignty. As long as they do not have this sense, they are likely to continue to have a fundamentally hostile attitude toward all aspects of the US presence in Iraq. However, as Iraqis gradually regain this sense that their country belongs to them, they will likely move toward wanting some ongoing relationship with the US, both economic and military, to help them find their way out of this troubled period of their long history.

    Alarm over growing use of sticky bombs in Iraq | International | Reuters

    Alarm over growing use of sticky bombs in Iraq | International | Reuters: "BAGHDAD"(Reuters) - Iraqi and U.S. officials are concerned about an apparent surge in "sticky bombs," explosives fixed to vehicles with magnets or glue, as a tactic for assassinating Iraqi officials.

    The use of such small explosives by Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militiamen is not a new phenomenon in more than five years of war in Iraq.

    But U.S. and Iraqi security officials are paying renewed attention on the bombs in the last two months, especially in the capital Baghdad.

    "It seems we have had an uptick, 21 sticky bombs in the last month of October (in Iraq)," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover said.

    Personnel were being told to check their vehicles before driving and to be alert while they traveled, he said.

    Bombs are usually stuck to the target's car while it is parked then is triggered by remote control.

    It is not clear whether the "sticky" bombs mark a shift in tactics for militants as violence drops to sharply in Iraq.

    They may be an efficient way to target politicians or low-level officials for assassination but they are too small to be used for mass killings that have been a favorite tactic of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.

    "It is an easy method for them because the sticky bombs are a small size, easy to carry and plant. We have noticed this in the last two months," Iraqi security forces spokesman Qassim Moussawi said.

    A sticky bomb killed one member of the provincial governing council in Kerbala, south of Baghdad, last month, and wounded two others. The explosives have also targeted police.

    Moussawi said a bomb-making factory that Iraqi security forces discovered in Baghdad last month contained 187 sticky bombs and 43 roadside bombs.

    Last week, Iraq police captured 12 militants trying to smuggle sticky bombs into the western city of Ramadi

    (Reporting by Tim Cocks and Aseel Kami; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

    M of A - Doubleplusungood Economy News

    M of A - Doubleplusungood Economy News: "A"hefty unemployment report was released to day by the Labor Department:

    Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 240,000 in October, and the unemployment rate rose from 6.1 to 6.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. October's drop in payroll employment followed declines of 127,000 in August and 284,000 in September, as revised.

    The headline number is the U3 measurement of unemployment which not very inclusive. The realistic number measured as U6 includes "Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers" is at a seasonal adjusted 11.8%.

    Average hours of those employed are down while seasonal and inflation adjusted hourly wages are up a bit.

    Notice that the original number for September 2008 was a drop of 159,000. It was now revised to 284,000. The original August number was a drop of 84,000, now revised to 127,000. The October number published today will likely need a huge correction.

    On October 27 the Dow was at a low of 8,175. It rallied from there to 9,625 on November 4. Since then it is down to 8,800 and I expect it to at least retest the 2002 low of 7,528. It could go down much lower though because current earning expectations are still much too high.