Friday, November 21, 2008

Chinese Armor-Piercing (AP) Sniper Rounds and XSAPI Body Armor

By David Crane

defrev at gmail dot com

November 19, 2008

Human Events is reporting on the use of Chinese armor-piercing a.k.a. armor-penetrating (AP) bullets
by enemy snipers in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the article,
this new Chinese AP rifle ammo is copycatting U.S.-made AP ammo design,
and is "sending alarm bells through the Pentagon as it hurries to keep
pace by producing improved body armor for soldiers, Marines, airmen and
sailors, although the Chinese munitions are "not thought capable of
defeating the super-hard ceramic plates that now protect service
members against smalls-arms fire, including armor-piercing bullets."

So, why the alarm? Because, the article states, "there are intelligence reports that China is using the copycat bullets to...

board to an even better armor-defeating rifle round that would be able
to kill protected personnel," which is one of the reasons why the Army
has been so hell-bent on developing the elusive XSAPI (X Small Arms Protective Insert)
body armor. The new XSAPI body armor has suffered delay after delay due
to manufacturers' inability to bring it in within the Army's weight
requirement. So far, Pinnacle Armor Dragon Skin body armor is the only
ballistically proven Level V anti-rifle body armor system DefenseReview
has actually seen and handled.

Defense Review hasn't yet been able to examine the XSAPI
hard armor plates that Ceradyne is supposedly producing. Right now,
XSAPI is kind of like Bigfoot--only there are actually pictures of
Bigfoot. How much does an XSAPI plate weigh? We don't know. How much
does XSAPI weigh per square foot? We don't know. What's XSAPI's
thickness? We dont know. Does XSAPI work as advertised? We don't know.
What specific real-world enemy AP rounds, and how many of them, can a
single XSAPI plate stop?  We don't know.  What does an XSAPI
plate look like? We don't know.

DefenseReview will endeavor to
obtain the answers to these questions, however. If any of our military
readers can provide this information to us, we're open. Please drop us
an email or give us a call.

In a June 6, 2007 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., "called for a side-by-side test of Dragon Skin
and the Interceptor run by government engineers and overseen by both
congressional and Pentagon auditors. That led to the Army's June 20
request to industry for both flexible armor designs like Dragon Skin
-- which incorporates a series of interlocking ceramic disks rather
than a single rigid plate -- and for a so-called "XSAPI" plate which
could stop armor piercing rounds the current ESAPI can't," according So, what were the results of that Dragon Skin vs.
Interceptor side-by-side test, and how did Dragon Skin fare in the XSAPI testing? Was it even allowed to compete?

DefenseReview will try to find out, although we're aware that the
U.S. Army's deck is rather seriously stacked against Pinnacle Armor and
its CEO Murray Neal, ever since Neal embarrassed the Army by publicly
challenging the Army's fairness with regard to body armor
testing.  The Army has tried very hard in the last year and a half
or so to cut off all avenues of Pinnacle Armor's business, including
military, law enforcement and foreign sales as punishment for Mr.
Neal's insolence.  Basically, they've done their best to put him
out of business.  They even managed to pressure DOJ/NIJ to pull
Dragon Skin's NIJ Level III certification after it had already passed
all their (NIJ's) testing, which is unprecedented.

After Neal's little jaunt up to Capitol Hill, DefenseWatch
obtained ballistic test documents that, according to DefenseWatch,
"show blatant and unequivocal signs of having been fraudulently
altered, albeit in the most clumsy manner, to falsely portray test
results of Pinnacle Armor's Dragon Skin body armor
in three tests from August 2005 through June 2006. Additionally, sworn
depositions describe the criminal manipulation of test protocols by
Army acquisition officials to produce fraudulent test reports that
allowed them to falsely claim Dragon Skin had failed to perform to the
levels cited by its manufacturer. These criminal distortions of
standard test protocols were simple, yet breathtaking in their

Wow. Pretty strong stuff. DefenseReview reprinted the DefenseWatch report, here.

Defense Review probably won't be able to obtain any ballistic test data
on XSAPI, since it's most likely classified. However, we will at least
try to find out if these mystical (and mythical) XSAPI plates actually
exist, or are simply the stuff of legend or fantasy. Stay tuned.

Mosul, where Iraq's insurgency still rages

...Unlike other Sunni-dominated provinces which are largely
homogeneous, Nineveh, with a population of 2.8 million people -- of
whom 1.8 million live in Mosul -- comprises 60 percent Sunnis, 30
percent Kurdish, five percent Shiites and five percent other
communities, including Christians.

Here the Sahwas, recruited
initially by the US military but now on the payroll of Baghdad, are not
welcome -- especially by Kurdish parties and their powerful militia,
the peshmergas.

"With seven ethno-sectarian divisions, the moment you start arming a tribe, every tribe will want to be armed," said Boyd.

this cosmopolitan city, a trading crossroads since antiquity, it is
easy for a militant cell to operate. The result -- on average no less
than 10 to 12 car bomb blast every day

On Sunday, the convoy of
Iraqi Colonel Mohammed, who uses only one name, was hit by a bomb
hidden in a truck on a main thoroughfare. His armoured vehicle was
struck by shrapnel which punctured three tyres but there were no

In mid-October the Iraqi government ordered a massive
deployment of forces to Mosul, swelling the numbers of police and
troops in the city to around 36,000.

Among them is police Captain
Hassan Ali. Perched at his hilltop headquarters, he explained,
"Elsewhere, the people have understood. They said 'chase these
terrorists'. But here, that has not yet started.

"The communities
live very separately: the Kurds only listen to the Kurdish parties, the
tribes think only of their own interests," said Ali.

"The level
of corruption and intimidation is very high. It is usual that a guy we
hold for terrorism is very quickly released. People don't want to speak
because they fear revenge. This is the reason the terrorists are still
powerful in Mosul."

In Baghdad, national security adviser Muwafaq
al-Rubaie said Mosul was also the last stronghold of members of the
Baath party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Mosul has
thousands of former regime elements and former high ranking Baathists.
This is the last bastion of the Baath party," Rubaie told AFP.

political, it's religious and it's also ethnic tensions between Arabs
and Kurds and you have the Turkomen also, so it is very complicated. It
will take some time to solve that."

With an unemployment rate
exceeding 50 percent
, Nineveh with its thousands of idle youths is an
ideal recruiting pond for around 15 active insurgent groups in the
area, says American Major Scott O'Neal, chief of operations of the 3rd

"Elsewhere, the Sahwa has taken away one of the prime
elements of the insurgency in these areas, which is the lack of
employment," said O'Neal.

"A lot of these guys were working with the insurgency only to put food on the table. Here, this doesn't exist yet."

[bth: 10 to 12 car bomb attacks daily is just extraordinary.]

Guantanamo almost twice official Pentagon figure

...On Sunday, the Pentagon admitted
that 12 juveniles -- those under the age of 18 at the time their
alleged crimes took place -- have been held at Guantanamo Bay (as
opposed to the figure of eight that was submitted to the UN in May).
But a RAW STORY count, drawn from the Pentagon's own records, reveals
that the total number of juveniles held at Guantanamo is at least 22 --
nearly double the official Pentagon figure....

[bth:  what a pointless way for the Pentagon to lose credibility.]

Going post-partisan on your mullahs

Dialogue with Iran? Congress has gotcher back, Mr. President-elect.

That's how it seemed Tuesday evening in the Hart Senate building, when
three top congressional leaders - two Democrats and a Republican - told
a friendly audience that they backed President-elect Obama's policy of

The unity (with a caveat I'll explain below) would seem to bury for now
the call for further isolation that permeated the presidential campaign
of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as those of McCain's Republican

First, the "friendly audience:" That's the National Iranian American Council,
the domestic group that is perhaps the most outspoken advocate for
greater engagement with Iran and among the most strident opponents of a
strike (Israeli or otherwise) as a means of containing Iran's suspected
nuclear threat.

(That would seem to make NIAC the mirror image of the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee; but, this is DC, and in June, AIPAC and NIAC
joined at AIPAC's new HQ to convene an off the record two days of
"transpartisan dialogue" - yes, "transpartisan" spooks me too - on "the
relationship between the United States, Israel and Iran and its effects
on U.S. foreign policy." Go figure this town.)

Back to the speakers at the NIAC event:

U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), who chairs the foreign affairs
subcommittee on the U.S. House of Representatives' powerful Oversight

"The million dollar question then is: will a new approach of
diplomacy and negotiation work? My first response is to ask: What has
the outgoing administration's approach gotten us? I would argue very
little, and in many ways, it has been counterproductive. So what are
the signs that an alternate approach - one focused first and foremost
on diplomacy and negotiation - might work? I agree with those who say
that while no approach is risk-free and there are no certainties in
this complicated world of ours, Iran has demonstrated its desire in the
not so disatnt past to play a useful regional role."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), significant because he is a centrist and
played the leading role in pulling Iran isolationist Sen. Joe Lieberman
(I-Conn.), back into the Democratic caucus:

"I have concluded - as has President-elect Obama and Vice
President-elect Biden - that it is time for the United States to
engage, by pursuing a robust and aggressive diplomacy, including
direct, comprehensive talks with the Iranians that address their
nuclear program and support of terrorists, among other issues....

"It must be said that in order to defend our security and our close
ally Israel, military strikes against Iranian nuclear sites should
remain on the table. The threat Israel fears is real and must be taken
seriously. However, a number of policymakers believe, and I concur,
that military force would be ill-advised. First, any strike would be
difficult to execute as there is little known about exactly where the
Iranian facilities are located. Second, U.S. or Israeli military
strikes would likely rally a mostly pro-American population around the
highly unpopular government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Third, they would
surely prompt widespread Iranian retaliation throughout the region,
particularly in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Iraq.
Finally, any kind of unilateral military action - particularly after
the U.S. invasion of Iraq - would lack the necessary international

Consider Carper's speech Congress' (and the Obama administration's)
first shot across the bow against any Israeli plans to strike: Not
gonna get our backing.

Finally, the most warmly greeted guest was Sen. Arlen Specter, the
veteran Jewish Republican from Pennsylvania: (Specter spoke off the
cuff, and these are drawn from my notes, not prepared remarks.)

Dialogue "does not seem to be a very complicated proposition."
Ahmadinejad is unpalatable, "but if you want to pick out the world's
worst terrorist, it would probably be Muammar Qaddhafi" of Libya, with
whom the United States now enjoys full relations. "If you make
enriching uranium a condition of the talks, what is there left to talk

The caveat: Specter has long advocated dialogue with Iran (often
joining the late Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, in stressing the practical logic of such an approach).

Still, the appearance of a staunchly pro-Israel Jewish Republican at the event was symbolic in of itself; and as Democrats edge closer to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate,
it suggests that even if they fail to reach the magic number of 60,
when it comes to Iran, there likely won't be much obstruction


[bth: looks to me like dialogue with Iran is on the menu for next year.]

Galloway: Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue

With two months still to go before his inauguration, Barack Obama and his transition team are already off on the wrong foot, signaling that they have no intention of investigating anyone in the Bush administration for possible war crimes.

What we're talking about is the torture of terrorist suspects in American custody in a grotesque violation of both our treaty obligations under the Geneva Conventions and our historic principles as a democratic nation.

By their own machinations and attempts to redefine and pervert both treaties and our own laws, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington and any number of lesser suspects sought to shield themselves from, or put themselves above, justice.

They did so knowing full well that what they were doing -- clearing the way for interrogators at Guantanamo and in the CIA's secret dungeons to do anything short of murder to extract information from terror suspects.

The "harsh interrogation methods" included water-boarding, stripping and humiliating prisoners, subjecting them to extremes of temperature, putting them into stressful physical positions for hours, the use of psychotropic drugs and doubtless other equally uncivilized practices.

Obama's moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, and it's no way to begin an administration that was elected on promises of change. What it says is that if you're one of the elite and powerful, your violations of the law will be overlooked, no matter how much damage you did to our country's standing in the world.

What signal does it send to Bush's gang of unindicted co-conspirators, who've unwrapped a Pandora's box of other offenses -- from perverting the administration of justice, to illegally eavesdropping on the phone conversations and e-mails of ordinary Americans, to salting the stream of intelligence with bogus material, to inviting their cronies to loot the Treasury with no-bid military contracts, to lying under oath to congressional oversight committees, to applying political litmus tests to the hiring of civil service employees to the wholesale destruction of White House e-mails and records?

This nation was founded on the principle of equal justice under the law. No one ought to be able to hold a get-out-of-jail-free card by virtue of having been the most powerful felon in the land, or of working for him.

This signal on torture investigations says that Obama wants to start his administration as a uniter, not a divider, trying to untangle the unholy mess that the Decider and Co. are leaving behind them in the economy, in our military, in virtually every walk of our national life. It speaks to his desire to reach across the aisle to the defeated Republicans and try to bring them back into the fold as Americans.

That's all well and good, but not if it comes at the cost of lifting the blindfold off justice's eyes and letting her pick and choose who'll pay for criminal acts and who won't. That's no way to begin, and no way to continue.

Out in West Texas, crusty old ranchers plagued by coyotes killing their calves and baby sheep shoot the offending beasts and hang their carcasses on the nearest barbed wire fence as an object lesson to the rest of the pack.

Unless the newly empowered Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill hang a few coyotes on some fences in Washington, they're making a huge mistake that will come back to haunt them, and all the rest of us, too.

Unless the truth, the whole truth, is unearthed, justice is done and the Republican closet is emptied of festering transgressions, the next pack will do it again, secure in the knowledge that their positions will protect them from the penalties that more ordinary citizens must pay for the same crimes.

The people of this nation have spoken loudly. They voted to throw the rascals out. They voted for a different way of governing, a different way of law making. They voted for equal rights under the law.

If their desires aren't satisfied -- if the new broom sweeps no cleaner than the old one -- the next time around they may move things up a notch and throw all the bastards out -- and they'd be fully justified in doing so.

US, UK deploy manned unmanned aircraft to save bandwidth

Bandwidth-starved military spyplane chiefs are resorting to the use
of humans as airborne data-processing nodes, according to reports.
Difficulties in deployment of unmanned robot surveillance craft have
led to the purchase of basic civilian planes for use in intelligence
work above Iraq and Afghanistan.

For years now, ground commanders fighting elusive enemies in
Southwest Asia have been begging for more and more long-endurance
overhead surveillance, particularly that provided by the well-known
Predator and Predator-B/Reaper Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs).

An earlier Beechcraft modified for knob-turner special missions

Yes, that one is pretty funny looking

Initially, problems in delivering more video and groundscan radar
imagery were seen as following from foot-dragging by the air force.
Generals were reluctant to draft jet jockeys into hated shift duties on
the ground, piloting roboplanes by remote over satellite hookups from
America. That logjam was resolved at least in part by sacking the boss
of the US air force - his replacement has pledged to send pilots into
drone duties straight from training if that's what it takes.

After that, continued slow ramp-up of the drone fleets was blamed on
demand outstripping supply - there are other customers for UAVs than
the military, including the CIA* and homeland-security authorities -
and failures by one of the main roboplane makers, General Atomics, to
scale up its manufacturing base swiftly enough.

In any case, more and more talk has been heard this year on the
stateside spyplane beat of "Project Liberty" - a cheap-and-cheerful
push to get more surveillance birds into the Southwest Asian skies in a
hurry. The plan is to buy ordinary civilian twin-engine planes and fit
them out with the lightweight sensors used by UAVs. They would of
course need pilots, but in fact so do the current Predator and Reaper.
The only difference is that these pilots would need to be physically in
the aircraft.

This Tuesday, indeed, saw an order for 23 Beechcraft King Air 350
extended-range models for the US air force 645th Aeronautical Systems
Group, aka "Big Safari", a famous secretive spyplane and
electronic-trickery unit. King Airs are a very popular plane for
clandestine spy work, oft-used by shadowy American and allied spy/intel
and spec-ops projects and units over the years with a variety of mad
equipment fitted.

Indeed, the King Air is so popular for this kind of job that there's
a generic term for a spyplane-modded one. It is Funny Looking King Air
(FLKA), as used by the doyen of secret-plane journalism, Bill Sweetman
of Aviation Week....

Thursday, November 20, 2008 News | New friendly fire coverup: Army shreds files on dead soldiers News | New friendly fire coverup: Army shreds files on dead soldiersHours after Salon revealed evidence that two Americans were killed by a U.S. tank, not enemy fire, military officials destroyed papers on the men.
By Mark Benjamin

Editor's note: On Oct. 14, 2008, Salon published an article about the deaths of Army Pfc. Albert Nelson and Pfc. Roger Suarez. The Army attributed their deaths in Iraq in 2006 to enemy action; Salon's investigation, which included graphic battle video and eyewitness testimony, indicated that their deaths were likely due to friendly fire.

After Salon published Benjamin's Oct. 14 report, the Army ordered soldiers to shred documents about the men. As proof that they were ordered to destroy the paperwork, a soldier saved some examples and provided them to Salon.


Nov. 20, 2008 |

Last month, Salon published a story reporting that U.S. Army Pfc. Albert Nelson and Pfc. Roger Suarez were killed by U.S. tank fire in Ramadi, Iraq, in late 2006, in an incident partially captured on video, but that an Army investigation instead blamed their deaths on enemy action. Now Salon has learned that documents relating to the two men were shredded hours after the story was published. Three soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo. — including two who were present in Ramadi during the friendly fire incident, one of them just feet from where Nelson and Suarez died — were ordered to shred two boxes full of documents about Nelson and Suarez. One of the soldiers preserved some of the documents as proof that the shredding occurred and provided them to Salon. All three soldiers, with the assistance of a U.S. senator's office, have since been relocated for their safety.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Oct. 14 was a long and eventful day at Fort Carson. The post had been in an uproar. The night before, Salon had published my article airing claims that two of the base's soldiers, Pfc. Albert Nelson and Pfc. Roger Suarez-Gonzalez, had been killed by friendly fire in Iraq on Dec. 4, 2006, but that the Army covered up the cause of death, attributing it to enemy action.

Based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and on video and audio recorded by a helmet-mounted camera that captured much of the action that day, my report stated that Nelson and Suarez seemed to have been killed by an American tank shell. The shell apparently struck their position on the roof of a two-story ferro-concrete building in Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, killing Suarez instantly, mortally wounding Nelson, and injuring several other soldiers. I included both an edited and a full-length version of the video in the article. The video shows soldiers just after the blast claiming to have watched the tank fire on them. Then a sergeant attempts to report over a radio that a U.S. tank killed his men. He seems to be promptly overruled by a superior officer who is not at the scene. An official Army investigation then found that the simultaneous impact of two enemy mortars killed the men.

The article about the alleged friendly fire incident was long overdue for some of the men who fought in Ramadi that day for the Army's Fort Carson-based D Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Many continue to insist privately that a U.S. tank killed their friends.

But for their superior officers, the publication of the article was a problem to be solved. On the morning of Oct. 14, battalion leaders held an emergency meeting in response to the Salon article. The sergeant in charge of 2nd Platoon, Nelson and Suarez's platoon, had a pointed confrontation with at least one of his men in a vain search for the source that leaked the Ramadi video to Salon. Soldiers were told to keep quiet from then on.

"Everybody was trying to figure out who released this video and who talked to a reporter," said Pvt. Charles Kremling, a stout, tough-looking infantryman from the 2nd Platoon, as he recalled the accusatory atmosphere on the base that day. "Pretty much we were made to understand that we are not supposed to be talking about this."

Kremling was in Ramadi the day that Nelson and Suarez died. He had been huddled among the 2nd Platoon soldiers on the second floor of the ferro-concrete structure when the explosion shook the roof above him and threw him to the floor. Above him, on the roof, soldiers say a tank shell screeched in from the west, killing Suarez instantly and blasting his head and torso clear off the building to the east. The shell severed Nelson's left leg, and he suffered nearly a half hour waiting for a botched medical evacuation as his buddies struggled to save him. He died at the gates of a military hospital.

By the evening of Oct. 14, after the battalion leaders' meeting and after both cable and network news had aired segments on the Salon exposé, the harried atmosphere died down at Fort Carson. When Kremling and Pvt. Albert "Doc" Mitchum, a compact, battle-hardened medic, reported for extra duty at battalion headquarters sometime after 6 p.m., they were tired and facing hours of mind-numbingly boring tasks. Being a private working the late shift in battalion headquarters usually meant a night of filing paperwork or straightening up offices.

Staff Sgt. Swinton was in charge that night. He told Kremling, Mitchum and a third soldier who had reported for duty that the evening's labor would include the inglorious task of cleaning out a closet. The first priority, Swinton said, was to shred the thousands of pages of documents in two large copy-paper-size boxes. It would be tedious work, but Swinton was adamant. "He says, 'I need that paper shredded. That has to be done tonight,'" remembered Kremling, who volunteered to get started on the job.

At first, the men tried to avoid the monotony of shredding. "We are talking about two Xerox boxes — filled," Kremling told me later. But eventually Kremling told the other two, "I'll go do it."

Kremling stepped into a quiet office with the boxes of documents and the shredder. Kremling lifted handfuls of paper out of the first box and stuffed the material into the machine. It hummed to life, chopping away.

This went on for about a half hour. "I was shredding for a while. I was halfway through the first box," he recalled. He picked up a stack with an official-looking memorandum on top. "I started feeding it into the shredder and then, Bam! I noticed the names Albert Markee Nelson and Roger Suarez," he remembered. "And I look into my lap and there is paperwork galore with their names on it," he exclaimed. "I was like, 'What the fuck?'"

He froze. He shuffled through the boxes at his feet. Nelson, Suarez and more, page after page. "The first thing I was thinking was Enron," said Kremling. "People go to jail for this kind of shit."

Kremling grabbed an inch-thick stack of documents and went to find his buddy, Mitchum, in another room. "I said, 'Look at this! There are boxes full of documents about Nelson and Suarez!"

Mitchum understood immediately what his friend was thinking. He tried to stay calm. "I wanted to make sure we were not overreacting," Mitchum recalled.

Mitchum walked into the room with the shredder humming away. "I looked through the boxes," he said. He was stunned.

"It was not just those two individuals," Mitchum recalled. On closer inspection of the contents in the boxes, Mitchum noticed a file on a Julio Gonzales. Then he found another Nelson, but not his Nelson. "It was anybody with the name Suarez and anybody who was named Nelson," he stammered.

It was as if somebody had rifled through the unit files and, in a desperate effort to get rid of everything associated with the two dead soldiers, simply marked anything with the name Nelson or Suarez for destruction. Of the two boxes, one contained documents mostly on Suarez, the other, mostly Nelson — one box for each man.

They brought the third soldier into the room and showed him the files. The three men stood there watching the shredder hum away, unsure of what to do next. They paced. They argued. Nobody knew what to do. Should they stop shredding? Spirit away the documents in the trunk of a car? If this was some kind of coverup, where they unwitting accomplices?

Like Kremling, Mitchum had been in Ramadi on the day in question. He had been holed up with members of the 3rd Platoon in a building a few hundred yards to the southwest of where Nelson and Suarez died, and vividly remembered the hours-long battle against Iraqi insurgents that ended with a barrage of U.S. tank fire. Unlike a number of Salon sources who say they saw the tank fire at the building where Nelson and Suarez died on Dec. 4, 2006, Kremling and Mitchum were not eyewitnesses to the tank shot, though Kremling was on the second floor of the building that got hit. But both men believed their buddies who claimed to have seen it, as opposed to the official Army explanation.

After much discussion, the men called the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the army's premier investigative organization, based at Fort Belvoir, Va. But by this time, it was late at night. No answer. They dialed the Army inspector general. "They keep bankers' hours," Kremling complained.

Finally, they called a trusted fellow soldier. His counsel was that although it was difficult to say, they should proceed as if they had received a lawful order, since as far as they knew, they had. He thought they should probably go ahead and shred the stuff.

But after they resumed shredding and were almost finished with the second box, one of the three soldiers snapped. "This is bullshit!" he announced. "I'm pretty sure this is illegal." He reached into the second box, pulled out seven pages, folded the documents twice and shoved them in his pocket. "I finally said, 'Fuck it,'" he told me about his decision to grab some of the documents. "I'm tired of getting bullied around."

The papers he grabbed at the last moment are routine — deployment checklists, immunization records and other forms. But the documents definitely refer to the Albert Nelson from Ramadi, and they are unquestionably official Army documents. The documents have two holes punched on the top of each page, like many Army files. The various documents contain Nelson's full name, his home address in west Philadelphia, the names of some of his family and his correct Social Security number. (Some of the paperwork is reproduced here, but with personal information redacted.)

The seven pages that survived the shredding incident are not dramatic and do not pertain to the friendly fire incident. But they provide proof that on Oct. 14, the day Salon published the article about Nelson and Suarez's deaths, the Army was shredding documents about the two men.

I learned about the destruction of the documents through my sources at Fort Carson. I contacted the soldiers involved and interviewed them in Colorado Springs in mid-October. They wanted the story out but feared repercussions from the Army. They also complained of serious but largely untreated medical problems from combat in Iraq.

I called the office of Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who has a long track record of advocacy on behalf of returning veterans. Bond's staff contacted officials at Fort Carson and raised the issue of the shredding incident and the health problems of some soldiers from the friendly fire unit. The Army agreed to move the soldiers out of their unit and work to address their medical needs. Bond's staff also contacted a representative of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, who agreed to assist them in getting medical care.

The Army has completed an investigation into the shredding incident, called a 15-6 investigation, a relatively informal, internal affair typically conducted by one officer who reports to his commander. In a 15-6, the military unit that may have screwed up is responsible for investigating itself.

Kremling and Mitchum's brigade commander, Col. Randy George, told me in a phone interview that he ordered a captain on his staff to handle this 15-6 investigation. (George was not the commander of the brigade in Ramadi in 2006, and he had not heard of the friendly fire incident until Salon published the initial story.)

George's investigation found that the battalion routinely shreds old, inactive personnel files. The destruction of documents on Oct. 14 was routine. "They shredded some documents," George told me. "Coincidentally it happened on the 14th ... We shred documents all the time."

George acknowledged that files on Nelson and Suarez went into the shredder on Oct. 14 — but none were related to the alleged friendly fire. "I would guarantee you that there was nothing in there that was destroyed that had anything to do with that incident."

George sent me a copy of his investigation, which includes a sworn statement from an Army staff sergeant (name redacted) who works on personnel issues in the battalion headquarters. The sergeant wrote that the shredding on Oct. 14 resulted from an effort that began in early September to clean out old files. That sergeant also wrote that "at no time did anyone give any order to destroy personal records specific to those two soldiers, nor did anyone I work with indicate that the battalion leadership or any company commander direct [sic] any soldiers ... to destroy the records of those two soldiers."

George's investigation also contains sworn statements from the soldiers interviewed by Salon, reflecting essentially what they told me. They describe boxes filled predominantly with files on the two men, including some documents with both men's names on them. They also reiterated what they said in our interviews — they simply don't know for sure exactly what all they put into the shredder on Nelson and Suarez.

"The documents that were shredded were not related to the deaths or the investigation into the deaths" of Nelson and Suarez, according to the copy of George's investigation. "The command was aware of the media interest in the case but had no motivation to destroy the documents; and the command did not order nor did it know about the shredding of the documents."

On Oct. 14, George did discuss the Salon article with his superiors in the 4th Infantry Division, he confirmed. And he did order an effort to comb through files that day, but only to identify who from the unit on the day of Nelson and Suarez's deaths might still be around. "I asked who was in the unit because I was not here when that happened," he told me. "But that had nothing to do with shredding any documents."

This self-exoneration echoes the Army's original investigation into Nelson and Suarez's deaths. Col. Sean MacFarland was the commander of the tank unit in Ramadi that was supporting Nelson and Suarez's infantry company that day in 2006. MacFarland also oversaw the subsequent Army investigation into the deaths, another 15-6, which found that two enemy mortars landing simultaneously killed Nelson and Suarez, not MacFarland's tanks.

MacFarland said in a brief telephone interview on Oct. 14 that the full investigation included 170 photographs, dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of ballistic analysis.

"I think it was the gold standard of investigations," MacFarland said, "particularly in an active combat zone."

He argued that his investigation shows that the eyewitnesses are mistaken. "I think there was a strong consensus among the soldiers at the platoon that yes, a tank fired at their building. But the evidence just did not support that," he said. "One could see how young soldiers in the fog of war could get confused," he continued. "So a soldier could very easily be forgiven for thinking that tank was shooting at his building, but they weren't."

I've known for months about the existence of MacFarland's investigation and I requested all of it, including the photographs, statements and exhibits, back on July 30. So far, the Army has produced only a heavily redacted, 10-page summary of the investigation and a two-page memo from MacFarland concurring with the findings. A letter from Fort Carson officials, dated Oct. 10, says they are still looking for the rest of the material requested by Salon in July.

The men in battalion headquarters on Oct. 14 acknowledge that they don't know what they destroyed under orders, or even whether they shredded investigative documents. Said Mitchum, "Who knows what was in there?"

What Mitchum is sure of is how Nelson and Suarez died. "They were killed by a tank," he said. He complained about officers and senior enlisted leaders going along with the official story that the cause of death was enemy fire. "They fall in line," he told me. "And they don't give a shit what it makes us feels like."

-- By Mark Benjamin

[bth: superb reporting by Mark Benjamin. More to come.]

Russia to send more warships to battle Somali pirates | Agence France-Presse, a global news agency: "MOGADISHU"MOGADISHU, (AFP) - Russia announced Thursday it would send more warships to combat piracy in the waters around Somalia, as the Saudi owners of the Sirius Star negotiated with the pirates holding their oil tanker.

Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the top commander of the Russian navy, made the announcement according to a report by RIA Novosti news agency.

"After the Neustrashimy (Fearless), ships from other fleets of the Russian navy will head to the region," Vysotsky said, referring to a frigate sent to the area in September.

"This is needed because of the situation that has developed in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates have sharply increased their activities," he said, according to RIA Novosti..

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Sea of Unwanted Imports

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Gleaming new Mercedes cars roll one by one out of a huge container ship here and onto a pier. Ordinarily the cars would be loaded on trucks within hours, destined for dealerships around the country. But these are not ordinary times.

For now, the port itself is the destination. Unwelcome by dealers and buyers, thousands of cars worth tens of millions of dollars are being warehoused on increasingly crowded port property.

And for the first time, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Nissan have each asked to lease space from the port for these orphan vehicles. They are turning dozens of acres of the nation’s second-largest container port into a parking lot, creating a vivid picture of a paralyzed auto business and an economy in peril.

“This is one way to look at the economy,” Art Wong, a spokesman for the port, said of the cars. “And it scares you to death.”

The backlog at the port is just part of a broader rise in the nation’s inventories, which were up 5.5 percent in September from a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department. The car industry has been hurt particularly, with sales down nearly 15 percent this year. General Motors has said it would run out of operating cash by the end of the year if it does not receive a government bailout.

But the inventory glut in Long Beach is not limited to imported cars. There has also been a sharp drop in demand for the port’s single largest export: recycled cardboard and paper products.

This material typically goes to China, where it is used to make boxes for new electronics and other products that are sent back to the United States. But Chinese factories reacting to sharply falling demand are slowing production, so they need less cardboard. Tons of paper are piling up recycling businesses around the port, the detritus of economies on hold.

Long Beach is an important port, particularly for the West. It is where imported products arrive and filter through the tributary of trucks, trains and retailers into the hands of consumers. But now, products are just sitting.

“We’re supposed to move things, not store them,” Mr. Wong said.

Roughly 20 percent of the nation’s container imports last year came through Long Beach, putting it close behind the largest container port, Los Angeles. This year, shipping volume at Long Beach is down 10 percent from 2007, and nearly all major ports around the country have seen similar declines. Veteran port workers say the slowdown since mid-October is like nothing they have ever seen. And it is having a cascading impact on other businesses and workers.

In the 150-acre terminal where Toyotas are unloaded, there is a sea of Corollas, Camrys and RAV4s. The mere presence of so many cars is not unusual, given that Toyota brings in 250,000 cars a year in biweekly shipments. But in a sign that something is amiss, dozens of tractor-trailers that transport new cars to dealers sat empty last week amid the rows of Toyotas.

Kurt Golledge, 48, was one of just two truckers loading his green, 75-foot-long hauler with cars last week. Mr. Golledge said eight of his colleagues were laid off this month because Toyota dealers did not want more deliveries.

I was dropping cars in Henderson, Nev., about a month ago and the dealer told me: ‘Take ’em somewhere else and dump ’em,’ ” said Mr. Golledge, who works for a company called Allied Systems. “All the dealers are telling us the same thing.”

Auto dealers typically place orders with manufacturers months in advance, but they can modify their orders to receive fewer vehicles.

The ships keep coming, but there’s nowhere for the cars to go,” Mr. Golledge said. He said he believed the vehicles he was loading would be his last before he was laid off, and he was already considering where he might find a new job.

While shipments for some items have slowed, the cars have kept coming in at their regular pace partly because the auto factories can take months to adjust to changes in demand. Toyota is wrapping up a deal to use six acres to park cars at the port, and is seeking more space.

“Toyota wants as much as we can give them,” said Gail Wasil, assistant director of the port’s real estate division.

For its part, Toyota says the higher-than-usual inventories at the Long Beach port are a result of shrinking demand, particularly in Southern California, which is one of its biggest markets. The company declined to say how many cars were at the port or how long they would be warehoused.

Toyota has adjusted its output to reflect falling demand, said Sona Iliffe-Moon, a Toyota spokeswoman.

Ms. Wasil said Nissan, whose cars arrive through the port of Los Angeles, sought a deal with Long Beach to park its overflow vehicles there. Mercedes struck a deal to use more acres just a few weeks ago, she said.

Officials from Mercedes and Nissan did not return calls seeking comment.

The mothballing of cars is nothing new for Detroit, where thousands of unwanted American-made cars have been parked over the last two years at Michigan’s state fairground and in lots at its airports.

It is more unusual to see a lot at the California port filled with thousands of unsold Mercedeses, most of them gathering dirt on the plastic white film that protects their hoods and trunks. Some appeared to have been stashed at the port for several months.

Last week, Mercedes delivered around 1,000 more cars to Long Beach on the Grus, a 580-foot container ship.

“A year ago, I was looking into buying one of these for my wife,” said Kurt Garland, the terminal manager overseeing the unloading of the white, silver and black sports cars, sport utility vehicles and sedans. “Now I’m not. I’m saving money, paying bills, hunkering down.”

Not far away, metal, cardboard, paper and plastic are piling up in the lot of Corridor Recycling. The company takes in refuse from around the country, then bales it for shipment to China. The cardboard is used to make new boxes while used shrink wrap is turned into shoe soles and insulation for sleeping bags and coats.

For much of this year, the company shipped about 25 containers a day, each filled with 23 tons of refuse to be recycled. But after the Olympics, demand slowed for recycled metal. In October, demand for everything else took a sharp downturn, and for the last two weeks the company has not shipped a single container.

“It just came to a complete stop. Absolutely a stop,” said Gilbert Dodson, the recycling company’s co-owner. “I’ve seen it slow over the last 25 years, but this is the worst,” he said of the current downturn.

Like his counterparts in the auto industry, Mr. Dodson is looking for extra space to accommodate the growing number of bales on his three-acre property. The recycled goods keep arriving in big trucks, even though he now pays only $21 a ton for refuse he paid $120 a ton for earlier this year, but there is nowhere for him to export.

“It keeps coming in,” he says. “But no one is buying.”

[bth: if we aren't careful this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as manufacturers' cash gets stuck in inventory and inventory stops moving.  A failure to lend to consumers, who are scared and stop buying, cause this problem which will then lead to unemployment within the manufacturing sector.  We are in for a tough global recession unless we take quick action.  I'm not talking about bailing out Wall Street.  I'm talking about investing in infrastructure and other long term assets that stimulate growth and jobs.  Government unfortunately will have to prime the pump now.  It won't self ignite among consumers or the banks.]

Taliban threatens attacks on Paris

A TALIBAN military leader threatened to carry out attacks in Paris unless French troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, in a video broadcast today on Al-Arabiya television.

The video, which the Dubai-based TV station did not say how it obtained or when it was filmed, also claimed responsibility for an operation in August in which 10 French soldiers were killed.

 The video shows a Taliban military leader, identified as Faruq, saying in comments dubbed into Arabic that the French can await their response in Paris if French troops are not withdrawn from Afghanistan.

He also claimed Taliban responsibility for an August 18 attack around 60km south of Kabul in which 10 French soldiers were killed and 21 wounded.

The attack was widely attributed to the Taliban at the time, and the French media published photographs of Taliban wearing uniforms from troops killed in the clash.

France currently has around 2,600 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force as well as the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Your request is being processed... Sam Stein Sam Stein | HuffPost Reporting From DC Become a Fan Get Email Alerts from this Reporter RSS Hagel, Unrestrained, Lashes Into Bush, Rush And The GOP

Two months before he leaves office, Sen. Chuck Hagel is increasingly unrestrained by political niceties.

Appearing at a forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advances International Studies, the outgoing Nebraska Republican leveled harsh criticism at his own party, the lack of intellectual curiosity among some of his colleagues, the Bush administration's handling of nearly every aspect of governance and -- perhaps most bitingly -- the conservative radio voices that often dictate the GOP agenda.

"We are educated by the great entertainers like Rush Limbaugh," said Hagel, sarcastically referencing the talk radio host who once called him "Senator Betrayus." "You know, I wish Rush Limbaugh and others like that would run for office. They have so much to contribute and so much leadership and they have an answer for everything. And they would be elected overwhelmingly," he offered. "[The truth is] they try to rip everyone down and make fools of everybody but they don't have any answers."

It wasn't all an exercise in unloading pent-up frustrations. Hagel offered praise for Robert Gates -- creating the impression that he would like the current Pentagon chief to remain at the post once President-elect Barack Obama takes office. He also deflected questions about whether he would serve in the Obama administration or what he thought of the possibility of Hillary Clinton at Secretary of State. Moreover, Hagel offered what amounted to an hour-long plea for the next administration and Congress to reconfigure the way it works together and within the international framework when it comes to foreign affairs.

"Eighty-seven percent of the American people said America is going in the wrong direction," said Hagel. "You don't need to know another number about anything, and so the election was pretty predictable: the American people don't like what is going on... they want us to start doing what leaders are expected to do, address the problems, find some consensus to governing. Get along. There will be disagreements, sure... but in the end we can't hold ourselves captives to this raw, partisan, political paralysis."

But the truly memorable bits came when -- unrestrained by formalities -- he deployed a sharp tongue while riffing on the GOP. Reflecting on the Bush administration, Hagel, one of the earliest critics of the Iraq war, held back few punches.

"Yes, there have been some differences and some pretty significant ones in [the Republican Party]. But when you ask the question: 'Has [our approach] worked? I don't think many people will say it has worked," he said, adding later: "God knows I would never question the quality of our elected officials, that's why I'm so popular with many of them."

The main thrust of his critiques was aimed not at any individual specifically, but at a closed-off mindset that he believed had taken hold of Republican politics and, consequently, the GOP's approach to foreign policy. "Engagement is not appeasement," he said. "Diplomacy is not retreat. Somehow too many in this town and in this country have disconnected all of that."

Later in the question-and-answer session, he offered an example to illustrate this quip, gently mocking those officials and voters who, for one reason or another, had problems with things from France or people who were Muslim.

"There is always going to be a certain know-nothing element to democracy," said Hagel. "That is their choice. But in a world that is so vitally interconnected, it does help if you try to understand the other side... Ask them: 'What is it that scares you about the French so much?'"

There were, additionally, some compliments to spare. Hagel, on several occasions, lauded the work and approach of Gates, who he said had taken the right ethos to the job at Defense. Finally, he offered a sincerely funny line about Warren Buffet, the heralded financier, Oracle from Omaha and (seemingly) one individual to have weathered the current financial market meltdown.

There is news today that [Obama] is in serious negotiations with Warren Buffet for Buffet to buy the entire United States government," Hagel joked in the opening of his speech. "I applaud that. I am seeking the job of buffet's driver. He is the only one who has money. Obviously we think highly of warren and we take great pride that he is a cornhusker."

[bth: Hagel has impressed me very much over the years as I've followed defense issues especially as regards war policy and equipment issues.  He has integrity.  I hope there is a place for him in the Obama administration.  I'd love to see him Sec. of Defense.]

Taliban threaten Daewoo Bus Service

KARACHI: The Taliban have issued threats of dire consequences to Daewoo Pakistan Bus Service, Daily Times learnt here on Monday.

A letter posted by the Taliban through mail to the company states, “I am going to warn you for the last time that we will be at your bus stand in the near future and kill your driver or blow up one of your buses.” The letter added, “We have a complete map of your bus stand ... We can hit your female employees with rockets.”

Following the frequent threats, Chan-II Kim, Chief Executive and President of the Daewoo Bus Service, has written a letter to the Punjab Transport Authority, saying, “We are facing an intense problem of security to our set-ups in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Sargodha, Bahawalpur, Sadiqabad and Faisalabad. We have received several threat calls from unknown persons and also received a letter delivered to us by the Taliban.” He requested law-enforcement agencies to boost security for the company’s set-ups.

Pakistan reopens Khyber crossing to NATO convoys

Pakistan reopened the vital Torkham border crossing point to NATO traffic destined for Afghanistan today.

The border crossing point in the lawless Khyber tribal agency was closed Saturday after Taliban forces hijacked and looted a convoy of trucks containing supplies and equipment for NATO forces, including two US-made armored Humvees, on Nov. 10.

The Pakistani military is now providing armed escorts for the NATO convoys, which are driven by Pakistani truckers. Prior to this, the government relied on Frontier Corps and checkpoints manned by the Afridi tribe that are dotted along the road stretching from Peshawar to Torkham.

The US military is concerned about its tenuous supply lines that stretch from the port of Karachi, then northward to Peshawar, then westward through Khyber into Pakistan. While the security situation in much of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies has deteriorated over the past several years, the road through Khyber has largely remained secure.

To keep the road open, the US paid off members of the Afridi tribe to secure the road through Khyber, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. "This strategy clearly is not working any longer," the official said.

The US military is uncomfortable relying on Pakistan's Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps to keep the supply line open. "These same Pakistani units have been defeated by the Taliban in past battles in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, and even in Swat," the official said, noting that entire Pakistani Army companies have been captured or routed by the Taliban in the past.

The Khyber crossing route is the main supply line for US and NATO forces operating in neighboring Afghanistan. An estimated 75 percent of NATO supplies move through Khyber. The rest of the supplies pass through the Chaman border crossing point in Baluchistan or arrive via air.

The crossing was also closed on Sept. 6 in protest against US airstrikes and an air assault against Taliban forces in South Waziristan. Pakistan reopened the crossing after one day.

The US has been quietly trying to secure alternate routes through central Asia, but the routes are less dependable and increase the amount of time it takes to move the supplies into Afghanistan.

But the military is concerned these alternate routes can be shut down if the US has major disagreements with Russia or China, who control these routes.

"We'd have to depend on Russia or China for our supplies to reach Afghanistan," a senior US military officer told The Long War Journal.

"Over time, this is not sustainable. Take the Georgian crisis," the officer said, noting Russia's invasion of the Republic of Georgia last summer. "If we move our supplies through Russia, and another crisis like this arises, say in the Ukraine, our hands will be tied. We will have to choose between supporting a burgeoning democracy and supporting the protracted fight in Afghanistan."

The officer also expressed concerns about the US' ability to deploy more forces into Afghanistan to fight against a resurgent Taliban given the poor security in Pakistan. "Adding three more brigades of troops and their accompanying support elements means we need to significantly increase the supplies moving through Pakistan," the officer stated. "We are only increasing our logistical problems and betting on Pakistan to keep these routes open is a bad play."

[bth: Russia's new president has made it clear that the US position in Georgia is linked to supply lines through Russia to Afghanistan.  So our troops in Afghanistan are essentially hostage to Pakistani military and Russian vetos. ... Question:  I wonder why the bribery we've been using to keep the Paki supply lines open for some years suddenly isn't working properly?  Has someone upped the ante?  Also why are we shipping bottled water via convoy and not producing clean water directly and for ourselves?]

Shoppers Cut 2008 Christmas Spending Plans in Half from 2007

Shoppers around the country say they are planning to spend an average of $431 for gifts this holiday season, down from $859 last year according to the twenty-third annual survey on holiday spending from the American Research Group, Inc. The overall average planned spending is down almost 50% from 2007 and it is the lowest level of planned spending recorded by the American Research Group since 1991....

CNN: Scooter Libby may have requested Bush pardon

As President Bush gets closer to leaving the White House, expectations are mounting that he will follow his predecessors in issuing a slew of last-minute pardons on his way back to Texas.

Former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, perhaps the best-known federal convict of the last eight years, may have filed a request for a pardon from President Bush, CNN's Sonny Hostin reported Monday. Libby was convicted of lying in the CIA leak case, but Bush commuted his sentence last year....

Tons of poppy seeds seized in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Poppy seeds that would have yielded 30 tons of pure heroin worth $1.34 billion bound for Taliban coffers have been seized in Afghanistan, British officials say.

The Sun, a British tabloid, reported exclusively Monday that British Chief Inspector Rob Rogers was a key figure in derailing the operation that ultimately would have dropped the drugs on Britain's streets.

"It took two huge lorries (trucks) to bring the seeds to the police station," said Rogers, a Defense Ministry officer from Burghfield who has been training local Afghan counter-narcotics officers. "It's made a huge dent in production and Taliban profits. There are enough seeds to plant 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of poppies."

Three Afghans were arrested during the seizure and the 17.5 tons of seeds will be burned. The Sun didn't say when the seizure took place.

About 93 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan....

White powder scares cost law enforcement time, money

Firefighters and federal agents have responded to more than 30,000 incidents involving suspicious powders, liquids or chemicals since 2001 in what authorities say is the terrifying legacy of the anthrax attacks after 9/11.

Postal service and law enforcement officials say thousands of the incidents are hoaxes involving white powder sent through the mail and thousands more are emergency calls to report powder found on countertops, in mailrooms and elsewhere.

"A single incident can warrant a huge response," says Billy Hayes of Washington, D.C.'s fire department. "It gets very expensive, not to mention the inconvenience."

There is no official count of the number of white powder calls in the seven years since letters poisoned with anthrax killed five people. But in just the past year, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has responded to 2,893 incidents, many of which involved white powder, spokesman Douglas Bem says.

The FBI, which is called when a threatening note is found or when it otherwise appears a crime may have been committed, looked into more than 900 biological incidents from January 2007 to August 2008, "the majority of those incidents being white powder letters," spokesman Richard Kolko says....

Pirates raise stakes with oil tanker hijack

Pirates operating off the coast of east Africa have hijacked a Saudi supertanker fully laden with an estimated 2m barrels of oil in an attack that marks a significant escalation in the scope of banditry in the region.

The pirates, believed to be from lawless Somalia, seized control of the Sirius Star, which is owned by Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, on Saturday, 450 nautical miles south-east of the Kenyan Indian Ocean port of Mombasa....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Panel finds widespread Gulf War illness

WASHINGTON - At least one in four U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suffers from a multi-symptom illness caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during the conflict, a congressionally mandated report being released Monday found. For much of the past 17 years, government officials have maintained that these veterans -- more than 175,000 out of about 697,000 deployed -- are merely suffering the effects of wartime stress, even as more have come forward recently with severe ailments. “The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that ’Gulf War illness’ is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time,” said the report, being released Monday by a panel of scientists and veterans. A copy was obtained by Cox Newspapers. Gulf War illness is typically characterized by a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue and widespread pain. It may also include chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes. Two things the military provided to troops in large quantities to protect them -- pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB), aimed at thwarting the effects of nerve gas -- are the most likely culprits, the panel found. The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, created by Congress in 2002, presented its 450-page report to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake on Monday. It said its report is the first to review the hundreds of U.S. and international studies on Gulf War vets since that have been conducted the mid-1990s. In a 2004 draft report to Congress, the panel said that many Gulf veterans were suffering from neurological damage caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. The new report goes further by pinpointing known causes and it criticizes past U.S. studies, which have cost more than $340 million, as “overly simplistic and compartmentalized.” It recommends that the Department of Veterans Affairs order a re-do of past Gulf War and Health reports, calling them “skewed” because they did not include evaluations of toxic exposure studies in lab animals, as Congress had requested. The panel examined such tests and noted that recent ones -- unethical to carry out on humans - have identified biological effects from Gulf War exposures that were previously unknown. While it called some new VA and DOD programs promising, it noted that overall federal funding for Gulf War research has dropped sharply in recent years. Those studies that have been funded, it said, “have little or no relevance to the health of Gulf War veterans, and for research on stress and psychiatric illness.” “Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War had the distinction of serving their country in a military operation that was a tremendous success, achieved in short order. But many had the misfortune of developing lasting health consequences that were poorly understood and, for too long, denied or trivialized,” the committee’s report says. The report also faults the Pentagon, saying it clearly recognized scientific evidence substantiating Gulf War illness in 2001 but did not acknowledge it publicly. It said that Acting Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Gulf War illnesses Lt. Gen. Dale Vesser remarked that year that although Saddam Hussein didn’t use nuclear, biological, or chemical agents against coalition forces during the war -- an assertion still debated -- “It never dawned on us ././. that we may have done it to ourselves.” “We know that at least 40,000 American troops may have been overexposed to pesticides,” Vesser said, adding that more than 250,000 American troops took the small, white PB pills. “Both of these substances may (be) consistent with the symptoms that some Gulf War veterans have.” The panel is urging Congress to spend at least $60 million annually for Gulf War research. It notes that no effective treatments have yet been found. The VA declined to comment until it has a chance to review the report. The panel focused its research on comparing the brain and nervous system of healthy adults with those of sick Gulf War vets, as well as analyzing changes to the neuroendocrine and immune systems. It found that in terms of brain function, exposure to pesticides and the PB pills hurts people’s memory, attention and mood. Some people, it notes, are genetically more susceptible to exposures than others. About half of Gulf War personnel are believed to have taken PB tablets during deployment, with the greatest use among ground troops and those in forward positions. Many veterans say they were forced to take the pills, which had not been approved by the FDA, and some said they immediately became sickened. “Many of us got sick from the pills,” said retired Staff Sgt. Anthony Hardie, a Wisconsin native who was with a multinational unit that crossed from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait and then Iraq. He said he was required to take them for several weeks and soon suffered from watery eyes and vision problems, diarrhea, muscle twitching and a runny nose. A fellow Special Forces officer, he said, lost about 20 pounds in short order. “All of us had concerns at the time.” To ward off swarms of sand flies in Kuwait City and the eastern Saudi province of Dhahran, Hardie said trucks would come through at 3 a.m. and spray “clouds” of pesticides. Fly strips that smelled toxic hung “everywhere,” especially near food. “The pesticide use was far and away (more) than what you’d see in daily life,” he said. Several soldiers interviewed said they were ordered to dunk their uniforms in the pesticide DEET and to spray pesticide routinely on exposed skin and in their boots to ward off scorpions. Others wore pet flea collars around their ankles. The federal panel added that it also could not rule out an association between Gulf War illness and the prolonged exposure to oil fires, as well as low-level exposures to nerve agents, injections of many vaccines and combinations of neurotoxic exposures. Hardie, a panel member, is convinced that he was later exposed to the chemical warfare agent Lewisite in a freshly abandoned Iraqi bunker; he noted its signature strong geranium smell. He said he and others in his unit who ran miles a day past burning oil wells later hacked up black chunks of mucus and what he says his doctors think were pieces of his lung tissue. He said civilian doctors have diagnosed him with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, dizziness, confusion, acid reflux disease and chronic sinusitis. He was not among the 100,000 U.S. troops who were potentially exposed to low-levels of Sarin gas, a nerve agent, as a result of large-scale U.S. demolitions of Iraqi munitions near Khamisiyah, Iraq, in 1991. Troops who were downwind from the demolitions have died from brain cancer at twice the rate of other Gulf War veterans, the report stated. A panel member, Dr. Roberta White, chair of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, found evidence last year linking low-level exposure to nerve gas among in Persian Gulf troops with lasting brain deficits. The extent of the deficits - less brain “white matter” and reduced cognitive function -- corresponded to the extent of the exposure. In addition, the panel said, Gulf War veterans have significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) than other veterans. White said that while there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of Gulf War vets contracting multiple sclerosis (MS), studies haven’t confirmed a combat link to that degenerative disease. Questions also remain about rates of cancers, disease-specific mortality rates in Gulf War veterans and the health of veterans’ children. Conversely, the panel said there is little evidence supporting an association or major link with depleted uranium, anthrax vaccine, fuels, solvents, sand and particulates, infectious diseases, and chemical agent resistant coating (CARC). The fact that veterans repeatedly still find that their complaints are met with cynicism, she said, “upsets me as a scientist, as someone who cares about veterans.” Hardie said the Gulf War veterans have felt profound frustration that the health community as a whole has only been treating affected veterans’ symptoms. “If you have MS - ’here’s some Motrin.’ How long can you take nasal steroids without getting at root cause -- the brain damage?” he said. “The sad thing is scientists are saying in more precise terms what veterans were saying all along: We are sick, sickened by Gulf War service, and we need health care to help us. [bth: in the end we will have killed more of our own men than the Iraqis did]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pakistan closes border crossing to NATO traffic

Pakistan has halted all NATO supply convoys into Afghanistan via the Torkham border crossing point, citing the poor security situation along the vital artery into Afghanistan. "Hundreds of trucks and containers had been stopped in Peshawar" after the political agent of the Khyber tribal agency shut down traffic along the road, Daily Times reported. "Supplies had been suspended following incidents of looting of trucks and containers carrying oil and other supplies for the NATO forces battling Taliban in Afghanistan." An estimated 75 percent of NATO supplies move through Khyber to resupply troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The bulk of NATO's supplies arrive in the port city of Karachi, move north to Peshawar, and head west to the Torkham crossing into Afghanistan and the final destination in Kabul. The rest of the supplies pass through the Chaman border crossing point in Baluchistan or arrive via air. The US has been quietly trying to secure alternate routes through central Asia. Taliban forces and criminal elements have hijacked dozens of trucks over the past month, but the most high-profile incident occurred on Nov. 11. Taliban fighters under the command of Baitullah Mehsud, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, looted thirteen trucks carrying wheat, supplies, and two American-made humvees. The Taliban were photographed parading the vehicles throughout the agency. The provincial government of the Northwest Frontier Province recommended closing the road on Nov. 11 "because of the volatile security situation on the restive Pak-Afghan border," according to Daily Times. Some trucking companies are braving the roads, but are doing so without protection. Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing once this year. Some officials claimed it was due to the poor security, but the minister of defense and other officials cited the US airstrikes and raids targeting Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the tribal areas. The crossing was reopened the next day. The road from Peshawar to the Torkham border crossing at the Khyber Pass has been secured by a combination of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and members of the Afridi tribe. A senior US military intelligence official expressed dismay in the performance of these local forces during a conversation with The Long War Journal. The official is also concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Peshawar. The Taliban have been encroaching on Peshawar since last year, when its fighters began enforces sharia and pressuring businesses to establish Islamic outfits. The Pakistani military launched a military operation in Khyber last June with the goal of relieving pressure on the provincial capital. But the short-lived operation left the extremist forces operating in Khyber intact. Since the summer, the Taliban have effectively surrounded Peshawar on three sides [see map]. The Taliban run the Mohmand tribal agency and have a strong presence in Charsadda to the North. Khyber to the East is flooded with extremists, and Arakzai to the South is also under Taliban control. Recently Hamid Nawaza, a retired Pakistani general and military analyst described Peshawar as "besieged from all sides by the terrorists," according to Daily Times. Nawaza said the police are poorly armed and trained, and often flee during engagements with the Taliban. ...