Saturday, July 18, 2009

YouTube - Gracie Fields - Now Is The Hour

YouTube - Gracie Fields - Now Is The Hour

The Afghan Helicopter War - Afghanistan War News - Popular Mechanics

The Afghan Helicopter War - Afghanistan War News - Popular Mechanics: ..."The operation’s Afghan soldiers–although poorly trained, ill-equipped and often illiterate—represent the exit strategy for a coalition of 42 countries dominated by the U.S. and other NATO members. For nearly eight years the coalition has tried to establish an effective national government in Kabul, but that requires a loyal Afghan army and police force that can exert control over the country.

To do so, the Afghans must counter an insurgency sponsored by the Taliban, a homegrown but Pakistani-supported fundamentalist Islamic militia that ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Insurgents receive supplies and refuge in neighboring Pakistan, then cross the border to pay Afghans to plant roadside bombs and launch ambushes. They also infiltrate villages by intimidating or killing locals.

According to current military thinking, the best way to marginalize the Taliban is to convince Afghans that the government in Kabul can protect them. If Afghan soldiers and police can persuade impoverished locals to spurn Taliban paychecks and report insurgent activity, then the government may become securely established. Operations like Thunder Almasak—a house-by-house, village-by-village sweep for insurgents and weapons in the Zormat Valley—is designed to do just that. If successful, it will move the coalition one small step closer to withdrawal."...

Belmont Club » Let a hundred choppers bloom

Belmont Club » Let a hundred choppers bloom: "Joe Pappalardo of Popular Mechanics called it the “helicopter war” and noticed, as he boarded a Chinook while accompanying it on operation, the disparity between the disciplined, well equipped American airborne troops and the relatively rag-tag Afghan National Army. But in reality Pappalardo’s “helicopter war” phrase is as deceiving as Mao’s Hundred Flowers slogan and David Cameron’s rotary wing inquiries. “Helicopter war” is a proxy term for one of the core debates in Afghanistan: whether the American way of battle, which goes beyond the possession of mere helicopters to encompass the electronic bubble, persistent networks, fire support, logistics that permit the Geronimo Scouts to patrol in the middle of Taliban country, apparently alone but in reality, the leading edge of an invisible field of force — whether all this — could be sustained by the Afghans, even if they had all the helicopters in the world. Joe Pappalardo, understands the mission he is witnessing is a search for a sustainable model of warfare, one which the Afghans can continue on their own. It’s only called the “helicopter war”, but it is really about something far larger.

In their own ways the British debate over helicopters and Joe Pappalardo’s “helicopter war” metaphor are proxies for the respective debates over Afghan strategies of the UK and the US. In the British context “helicopters” are about whether the UK truly believes that keeping Afghanistan — and Pakistan — out of Jihadi hands is worth fighting a war for. On the face of it, a secure Afghanistan is probably worth more to Britain than America. The links between the UK and Pakistan are now so tight that a Jihadi victory would pose an immediate threat to Britain via Britons of South Asian origin. The problem the British face is one of determining and sustaining war policy; not half-heartedly, as Brown is doing, but whole heartedly. Fish or cut bait. In the American context “helicopters” denote another problem. That of finding a low-cost, low-tech and sustainable mode of combat that the Afghans can be taught to wage after the US has drawn down.

Neither the British nor the American debate has been resolved. But let a hundred flowers bloom and hundred schools of thought contend.


[bth: the Belmont Club is a superb editorial blog]

Do not forsake me

Belmont Club » Do not forsake me

Belmont Club » Do not forsake me

Belmont Club » Do not forsake me

Belmont Club » Do not forsake me

Belmont Club » Do not forsake me:... "The Economist thinks that a plea based on sentiment may have little chance of prospering in a Washington marching to a different drummer.

It is all fine stuff. The administration’s eastern Europe policy is indeed worryingly vague. But the letter risks sounding plaintive and na├»ve. Supporting Mr Walesa in the 1980s was both a noble cause and helped speed the Soviet empire’s demise. But Russia does not pose the existential threat to America that Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union once did. Sadly, other stuff matters more. And it is strange to blame the West for complacency about the region: gloom would be a better word. “They are asking us, in principle, to risk world war three in their defence” a savvy American official said recently. “If their country stands for organised crime and economic collapse, that’s a hard sell”.

It is amazing how much that sounds like “you’re on your own, bub.” Well maybe that’s the way it always is."

Air Force Plans for All-Drone Future | Danger Room | Wired.com

Air Force Plans for All-Drone Future | Danger Room | Wired.com: ..."The Flight Plan represents a new twist in a heated debate raging in Congress over the Pentagon’s 3,000-strong fighter force. The legislature is split over whether to fund more F-22 fighters — a move that could draw a veto from President Barack Obama. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has long favored drone development over buying more manned fighters, and in May Joint Chiefs chair Admiral Mike Mullen predicted Gates’ position would win out, over the long term. “There are those that see [the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter] as the last manned fighter,” Mullen said. “I’m one that’s inclined to believe that.” General Atomics, which makes the popular Predator line of drones, underscored Mullen’s comment by unveiling its new, faster Predator C.

If Flight Plan proves an accurate predictor, it’s not just manned fighters (maybe) headed for extinction, but (maybe) nuclear bombers, transports, tankers … nearly all human-occupied military planes."

U.S. Commanders Are Concerned About New Iraqi Restrictions on American Troops

U.S. Commanders Are Concerned About New Iraqi Restrictions on American Troops: ..."'Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover,' Bolger noted in the e-mail.

A spokesman for Bolger would not say whether the U.S. military considers the Iraqi order on July 2 valid. Since it was issued, it has been amended to make a few exemptions. But the guidelines remain far more restrictive than the Americans had hoped, U.S. military officials said."

Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, the commander overseeing the logistical aspects of the withdrawal, said Iraqi and U.S. commanders have had fruitful discussions in recent days about the issue.

"It's been an interesting time, and I think we've sorted out any misunderstandings that were there initially," she said in an interview Friday.

One U.S. military official here said both Iraqi and American leaders on the ground remain confused about the guidelines. The official said he worries that the lack of clarity could trigger stalemates and confrontations between Iraqis and Americans.

"We still lack a common understanding and way forward at all levels regarding those types of situations," he said, referring to self-defense protocols and the type of missions that Americans cannot conduct unilaterally.

In recent days, he said, senior U.S. commanders have lowered their expectations.

"I think our commanders are starting to back off the notion that we will continue to execute combined operations whether the Iraqi army welcomes us with open arms or not," the U.S. commander said. "However, we are still very interested in and concerned about our ability to quickly and effectively act in response to terrorist threats" against U.S. forces.


[bth: so this is what victory looks like.]

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Secret to a Devastating Elbow Strike - Military Fitness Blog

The Secret to a Devastating Elbow Strike - Military Fitness Blog

Raw Story » Senator will claim he was clergyman to avoid ethics probe

Raw Story » Senator will claim he was clergyman to avoid ethics probe: "Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) will not cooperate with investigators who investigate Sen. John Ensign’s extramarital affair with the wife of a former top aide—even with the Senate’s own Ethics Committee.

Coburn told Roll Call: “I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon. That is a privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the (Senate) Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody.”

Coburn lived with Ensign in Capitol Hill home owned by a Christian fellowship during the time that Ensign had an affair with the wife of a former top aide to Ensign."...

[bth: hypocrite ]

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children's Healthcare (VIDEO)

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children's Healthcare (VIDEO)


Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children’s Healthcare

Joe Cirincione: Gates Grounds the Airborne White Elephant Laser

Joe Cirincione: Gates Grounds the Airborne White Elephant Laser:... "Consider the example of one of those programs - the Airborne Laser. This was supposed to put high-powered lasers on a fleet of 747s. After more than a decade of research and development, we have yet to achieve a laser with enough power to knock down a missile in boost phase more than 50 miles from the launch pad - thus requiring these huge planes to loiter deep in enemy air space to have a feasible chance at a direct hit.

Moreover, the 10 to 20 aircraft needed would cost about $1.5 billion each plus tens of millions of dollars each year for maintenance and operating costs. The program and operating concept were fatally flawed and it was time to face reality. So we curtailed the existing program while keeping the prototype aircraft for research and development.

....

Some have called for yet more analysis before making any of the decisions in this budget. But when dealing with programs that were clearly out of control, performing poorly, and excess to the military's real requirements, we did not need more study, more debate, or more delay - in effect, paralysis through analysis. What was needed were three things - common sense, political will, and tough decisions. Qualities too often in short supply in Washington, D.C."...

News Release - State Tax Revenues Across U.S. Experience Largest Decline on Record, New Rockefeller Institute Report Shows

News Release - State Tax Revenues Across U.S. Experience Largest Decline on Record, New Rockefeller Institute Report Shows:... "Early figures for April and May of 2009 show an overall decline of nearly 20 percent for total taxes, a further dramatic worsening of fiscal conditions nationwide. Preliminary figures for the state fiscal year 2009 indicate around 8 percent decline in total taxes, 13 percent in personal income taxes, and 5 percent in sales taxes.

Authors of the report – Institute Senior Fellow Donald J. Boyd and Senior Policy Analyst Lucy Dadayan – noted that local tax collections fared better than state taxes, with overall growth of 3.9 percent in the first quarter.

The Institute report regularly examines the three major sources of revenues for states: personal income taxes, sales taxes and corporate income taxes. During the first quarter of 2009, personal income taxes fell 17.5 percent. Sales tax collections were down 8.3 percent and corporate income taxes fell 18.8 percent.

“Such extraordinary weakness in revenues, along with continued if more moderate growth in expenditures, make widespread budget shortfalls highly likely this year,” Boyd and Dadayan wrote in the report.

For a full copy of the report, visit www.rockinst.org.


[bth: this is horrifying.]

Jakarta Bombing Video: Explosions Hit Hotels In Indonesia (VIDEO)(SLIDESHOW)(UPDATES)

Jakarta Bombing Video: Explosions Hit Hotels In Indonesia (VIDEO)(SLIDESHOW)(UPDATES)

Gates: Future Jet Supporters are Risking Today’s Troops | Danger Room | Wired.com

Gates: Future Jet Supporters are Risking Today’s Troops | Danger Room | Wired.com: "At a speech today in Chicago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lashed out at members of Congress, at the “defense and aerospace industry,” and at the “institutional military itself” for trying to keep ultra-expensive, often-useless weapons programs in the Pentagon budget. It’s just not right, he said, while the country is fighting two wars in which such gear is clearly not required.

“The grim reality is that with regard to the budget we have entered a zero-sum game. Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity… is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk that I will not take and one that I cannot accept,” he said"...

[bth: a speech well worth reading in full. He is spot on. The contractors are better at defending themselves than the country. Gates has been as astoundingly good Sec. of Defense.]

Defence of the realm; not even cat litter

Defence of the Realm
....However, we also get Warrant Officer Mark Hatton, of the army's special investigation branch. We learn that the Jackal Munday had been driving was not faulty. Then we get:

The IED was carrying between 15 and 20kg of homemade explosive which was detonated by a pressure plate when the vehicle drove over it. It was a significant amount of explosive. The Jackal did have protection underneath. It is a tragic set of circumstances. James did have all the right protection which unfortunately didn't save him.

Ah ... the "tragic set of circumstances" – move on, nothing to see here. Unremarked is that, had between "15 and 20kg of homemade explosive" gone off under the wheel of a Mastiff, a Ridgeback, or any Class I MRAP, the vehicle would have shrugged off the blast and Munday would probably not even have suffered a headache.

MRAPs are resistant to 14kg TNT equivalent under any wheel, and with homemade explosives producing as little as 30 percent of the blast effect of military explosives, not only would Munday still be alive, the vehicle could have been back on the road in a few hours, fully repaired.

But all we get is that Warwickshire coroner Sean McGovern recorded a narrative verdict that James died from blast wounds.

From The Daily Express, we get the same dire fare. The headline is, "Mum tells labour: you must put troops first", "feathering the nest" gets an airing and we are told that Trooper Munday served with Princes William and Harry in the Household Cavalry's D Squadron.

As for the Jackal, it was "hit by a 45lb roadside bomb" and "athough the Jackal had a specially reinforced floor, the young soldier was killed." Two other soldiers with Trooper Munday were injured in the blast but survived.

And, while we have the paper declaring that "the timing of Mrs Munday's attack will embarrass Gordon Brown as his funding strategy for the war comes under close scrutiny," we also get MoD plant, Warrant Officer Mark Hatton, who tells the inquest: "The Jackal did have protection underneath. James did have all the right protection, which unfortunately didn't save him."

Finally, for no apparent reason, we get from The Sun a eulogy (which also appears in a number of other papers), not for Trooper Munday but another Jackal casualty. Neil Dunstan (pictured) one of two of the three-man crew killed.

And there, embedded in the text is the MoD's planted message – the whole reason for the piece – helpfully articulated by Dunstan's surviving girlfriend, "Brave Kate", who was due to wed Neil next July.....

[bth: I just find it astounding, the apathy among the British media on public on the poor equipment their troops are receiving.  Its a crime.]


Defence of the Realm: In a class of its own

Defence of the Realm: In a class of its own: ..."Thus, on 5 July 2006, The Independent was reporting that British forces were facing a supply crisis because nearly half of their helicopter transport fleet was unable to fly in daylight hours due to the searing Helmand heat.

Said the paper, with the 3,300 British reliant on six Chinook and four Lynx aircraft for all transport and supply, they were finding that 'The extreme heat and thin, rising air of the Helmand desert has limited the Lynx ... to use between dusk and dawn, when temperatures fall to acceptable levels.'"...

Bizarrely, although the failed Lynx costs the Army £23,000 per hour, when it could actually fly, the cost per hour of operating the Bell 212 helicopter was a mere £2,000. According to official sources - six of these aircraft have been operated in these two theatres, since 1993 in Brunei and 2003 in Belize.

Similar types are operated by the US Marines and the Canadians in Afghanistan, the latter being the upgraded Bell 412, four models of which are also operated by the RAF in Cyprus, again because of the hot conditions experienced there.

As for availability, the world is awash with second-hand Hueys and, in March 2007, we noted that the nascent Iraqi Air Force had taken delivery of five "Huey" helicopters, the first of a batch of 16 donated by Jordan.

They had been refitted with modern avionics and new engines in the United States at a cost of $3.5 million each, funded by Washington. Fitted with Kevlar armour and missile defence systems, the full upgrade made them, effectively, new aircraft.

That option was available to the UK government, and for a modest outlay, the Army could have had effective Lynx replacements in Afghanistan from the very time it was deployed to Helmand. It is believed that this option was blocked because the Army preferred to wait for the upgraded Future Lynx – not due for delivery until 2014 – fearing that if a "good enough" solution had been found, the order would have been delayed or reduced.

As it is, the order has now gone through but, in desperation, the government made conditional on the order, the retro-fitting of the more powerful engine equipping the Future Lynx to 12 existing Mk 9 airframes. This was announced in December last year.

Although deliveries of the first four were originally scheduled for later this year, they will not arrive until April 2010, with the rest to follow later in the year. The ultimate scandal though is that the cost for the 12 upgrades is £70 million. At just under £6 million each, that is about £2 million more than it would have cost to procure refurbished Bell 412s.

In the annals of MoD incompetence, this saga must surely stand out in a class of its own.

[bth: one wonders if the British government or its people gives a damn about the inadequately equipped soldiers it is sending to war?]

General Warns Against Quick End to Afghan Combat - NYTimes.com

General Warns Against Quick End to Afghan Combat - NYTimes.com:... "General McChrystal said his ultimate task was to win over a majority of the Afghan public, many of whom are angry and distrustful of the Americans after nearly eight years of war and all too many errant airstrikes that have killed civilians.

The general said the Taliban’s use of roadside bombs would eventually “boomerang,” because 80 percent of the bombings harmed Afghans, and more than half of the attacks killed and wounded civilians.

“At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population,” General McChrystal said. “As you fight for them, you are trying to convince them. You are in an argument with the enemy over the population, and they are listening, and they are watching what you do and what you say. They are going to decide based on who makes the most convincing argument.”

“Are you protecting them? Can you stop them from being coerced at midnight by an armed man who shows up and threatens them?” the general continued. “It’s a retail war.”"
Informed Comment

Goldman Sachs in Talks to Acquire Treasury Department - Borowitz Report

Goldman Sachs in Talks to Acquire Treasury Department - Borowitz Report: "In what some on Wall Street are calling the biggest blockbuster deal in the history of the financial sector, Goldman Sachs confirmed today that it was in talks to acquire the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

According to Goldman spokesperson Jonathan Hestron, the merger between Goldman and the Treasury Department is 'a good fit' because 'they're in the business of printing money and so are we.'

The Goldman spokesman said that the merger would create efficiencies for both entities: 'We already have so many employees and so much money flowing back and forth, this would just streamline things.'"...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Raw Story » Report: Bush admin ‘blacklisted liberal groups’

The Raw Story » Report: Bush admin ‘blacklisted liberal groups’:,,. "According to an internal Justice Department report from 2008, while the policy was in place from 2006 to 2007, 'candidates to the Honors Program whose applications indicated liberal affiliations were rejected at a high rate, around 55 percent, as opposed to candidates who had conservative affiliations, who were rejected at a rate of about 18 percent,' the Blade states.

Eighty-two percent of applicants who had 'liberal affiliations' were rejected for summer internships, while only 13 percent with conservative affiliations were rejected for the same programs."...

Iraqis to U.S. military: Stay on your base | Freep.com | Detroit Free Press

Iraqis to U.S. military: Stay on your base | Freep.com | Detroit Free Press: ..."American officers have been surprised to learn that “out of the cities” meant just that. “The Iraqis have been hell-bent on taking control of all security operations in the city and completely excluding the Americans, to the point of completely refusing to permit U.S. patrols of any kind into the city except logistics convoys,” one U.S. officer in Baghdad said. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to talk to journalists."

Added another American soldier who works closely with the Iraqi National Police, who requested anonymity for similar reasons: “Business is pretty much as usual. Our guys don’t ask for help on the ground very often, and not at all since the 30th. We give them the usual help, and they mention several times how pleased they are that we are still here with them.”

The “usual help” includes more in-depth intelligence sharing, coordinating communications among Iraqi units and pervasive surveillance from the air.

What makes a targeted attack legal or illegal: the experience of a former IDF advisor, By Amos N. Guiora | Foreign Policy

What makes a targeted attack legal or illegal: the experience of a former IDF advisor, By Amos N. Guiora | Foreign Policy: ..."So, here's my legal advice for the United States as the Washington debate heats up: Counterterrorism, in civil democratic regimes, must be rooted in the rule of law, morality in armed conflict, and an analysis of policy effectiveness. There can be no 'ifs, ands, or buts.'"

Targeted killings are indeed legal, under certain conditions. The decision to use targeted killing of terrorists is based on an expansive articulation of the concept of pre-emptive self defense, intelligence information, and an analysis regarding policy effectiveness. According to Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, a nation state can respond to an armed attack. Targeted killing, however, is somewhat different because the state acts before the attack occurs. In addition to self-defense principles, the four critical principles of international law -- alternatives, military necessity, proportionality, and collateral damage -- are critical to the decision-maker's analysis.

The basis for the attack is intelligence information that meets a four part test: Is it reliable, credible, valid, and viable? Given the stakes, corroborated information is significantly preferable to information that comes from a single source.

Israel instituted its targeted killing policy in large part in response to Palestinian suicide-bombing attacks. But it's not just the bombers themselves that are a threat. Four actors -- the bomber, the planner, the driver/logistics person, and the financier -- form the basis of the suicide bombing infrastructure. Determining which of the four is a legitimate target, and when, is the critical question decision-makers face. As not all four are legitimate targets at all times, the commander is limited against whom he can act; that reality reflects the limits of self-defense....

New Atlanticist: Obama's Missed Opportunity

Obama's Missed Opportunity | Atlantic Council
Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, July 7, 2009

....President Obama could have told this Russian audience his intellectual and political journey to support NATO expansion. He could have said to them, while I don't expect you to support it, at least you should understand why I and others in Washington favor the expansion of the alliance to include Ukraine and Georgia.

But none of this appeared. Instead, the president, in his speech, made it seem that the only thing that guides the U.S. desire to see Georgia and Ukraine in NATO is respecting the abstract principle of sovereignty and how this will make the world a better place. It is just supporting our values.

One doesn't have to be a throwback to the 19th century to say that argument is unconvincing! Surely there must be some vital interests at stake—either directly affecting America or her allies. The whole point of the "reset" was to be able to speak frankly and honestly with Russia. So why did the president not take this chance?

[bth: worth reading in full.  So why aren't we speaking to the younger and more educated Russians?  Why aren't we seeking opportunities for mutual security?]


War Is Boring

AFP: Hidden bombs wreak grim toll on Afghan frontline

AFP: Hidden bombs wreak grim toll on Afghan frontline: "GARMSIR, Afghanistan (AFP) — The bomb killed two US Marines instantly, shredded their armour and flung body parts into a canal. A mission to open a supply line in Taliban country faced a hidden enemy at every turn."

A foot patrol was advancing painstakingly with metal detectors and bare hands to defuse bombs planted on a rough track when an explosion shot a cloud of dust and rocks into the sky in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province at dusk.

"I turned away and felt rocks in the air as they came over my back," said Sergeant Anthony Zabala, 31. "That was it," he added.

The unit has been in Afghanistan for only months, part of a surge of 21,000 extra US troops sent to quell a Taliban insurgency that is testing Western military endurance and shows signs of expanding beyond southern and eastern heartlands.

The two dead men had expressed frustration earlier in the day to an AFP reporter about the difficulties posed by so-called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but seemed confident they could neutralise the threat.

"They have been placing IEDs all along this route. We were on alert that it was a dangerous place to work," said Zabala after Monday's bombing.

Years of Marine training and adrenaline kicked in. Helicopters landed, rotor blades roaring in the darkness to evacuate two wounded as Marines scoured the undergrowth, shouting out the names of two comrades who vanished.

Suddenly, someone found the plate of a flak jacket, flung 50 metres (55 yards) away on the far bank of the canal.

Marines, who quickly stripped off and waded waist-deep through thick reeds, shouted that they had found body parts in the water....

The unit had left base camp at dawn last Wednesday to clear a 30-kilometre (19 mile) supply line to compatriots airlifted behind Taliban lines on July 2 at the start of one of the biggest offensives of the nearly eight-year war.

But an estimated 18-hour trip morphed into a week with no end in sight, forcing commanders to contemplate the quickest evacuation route.

In six days, the unit crawled just a handful of kilometres, bogged down by blasts and delayed by an ambush, advancing inch by inch across terrain mined intensively with the deadliest weapon known to insurgents -- the IED....


[bth: note the rate of pace has fallen to about 2 miles per day. very difficult going.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

U.S. Debates Fate of CIT, a Small-Business Lender

Washington Debates CIT Group’s Fate - NYTimes.com
...CIT, however, could be the litmus test in that debate. While not small — with $75 billion in assets it is the nation’s 26th-largest bank holding company — CIT is a small fraction of the size of Lehman or Washington Mutual, which had $639 billion and $309 billion in assets, respectively, when they failed last fall. Administration officials say they do not believe the failure of CIT would pose systemic risks, as the collapse of such institutions as Bear Stearns, Citibank and Bank of America would.

CIT and government officials on Monday explored the possibility of federal assistance to the beleaguered company, but had made no decision by early evening.

The situation was described as fluid, and the government could still decide to provide aid, said administration officials briefed on the situation.

The outcome could affect hundreds of thousands of small- and midsize businesses across the country that depend on CIT for access to loans to run their businesses.

Unlike retail banks, which are largely financed by customer deposits, CIT raises money in the capital markets to lend. When the credit crisis hit, CIT was hobbled, and sharply reduced the credit it offered.

A decision to allow the company to file for bankruptcy would create a potentially awkward situation for the Obama administration. In December, at the height of the crisis, the Treasury Department rushed through an application by CIT to become a bank holding company and flooded it with billions of taxpayer dollars through the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Then there is the issue of appearances if the administration allows a lender that services smaller companies to collapse, after stepping in to provide multiple lifelines to Citigroup, Bank of America and other troubled large financial institutions considered too important to let die....

[bth: the main difference is that small businesses don't have lobbyists like the big banksters.  Credit to small businesses has been cut in half in the last 12 months and last years wasn't a good one.  Since 3/4 of the jobs are created by the small businesses we are strangling, you can see the equation. Washington and Wall Street are killing off small business from construction to auto parts suppliers and dealers.]


Brown Promises More Helicopters for U.K. Forces in Afghanistan - Bloomberg.com

Brown Promises More Helicopters for U.K. Forces in Afghanistan - Bloomberg.com: "July 13 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government pledged more helicopters and greater resources to help British troops serving in Afghanistan, seeking to deflect criticism that the country’s armed forces are under-equipped.

“In the last two years we’ve increased helicopter numbers by 60 percent, and since we’ve provided more crews and equipment we’ve increased their capability by 84 percent,” Brown told lawmakers in Parliament in London today.

The comments came three days after the Ministry of Defense announced the deaths of eight British soldiers in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.K. soldiers to have died since the beginning of July to 15 and surpassing the number of U.K. troops to have been killed in Iraq since 2001.

Lawmakers from all parties have voiced concern that the British people have lost sight of the objectives in Afghanistan since 2001, when the U.S. and Britain decided to topple the Taliban government for its support of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The opposition Conservative Party led criticism today, accusing the Labour government of the “ultimate dereliction of duty,” in under-equipping the armed forces."...

Trampled by the 'civilian surge' in Afghanistan

Trampled by the 'civilian surge' in Afghanistan - Salt Lake Tribune
...The problem with this approach is that when military structures perform or oversee civilian tasks, the nonmilitary humanitarian work often gets politicized and militarized, and the difference between the two is blurred. If executed as planned, the "civilian surge" may worsen the situation here.

Integrating more civilians into military structures means further militarizing what has traditionally been humanitarian work. This is not in the interest of the Afghan people, who expect security from coalition forces and assistance from civilian aid agencies.

The main destination of this "surge" will be the U.S.-led provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), whose performance in Afghanistan has been criticized by humanitarian groups on the ground: One aid worker from a European nongovernmental
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organization said they behave like "Humvees in a china shop."

While working in the eastern city of Jalalabad last year, I heard many tales that amounted to such porcelain-breaking. The main victims were the communities the PRTs were seeking to help. An Afghan working for an Asian NGO recounted how 15 Humvees entered their compound unannounced and the uniformed "farenjee" (Afghan for "foreigners") began conducting quick medical examinations -- 45 seconds per patient -- while photographing the process to document their outreach. (After complaints from the NGO, the Americans said they spent 105 seconds per patient, not 45.) There was the time that armed, uniformed Americans arrived at an orphanage, I was told, to distribute pencils and notebooks. In the process, the Americans terrified the female employees of the orphanage and the young children. An Afghan doctor from an American NGO told me his concerns about the welfare of communities where the PRTs distribute medicines from their Humvees: The labels are in English or Urdu, he noted, not Pashto, the language spoken in the region.

I visited Jalalabad again in May. The aid agency I work for, the International Rescue Committee, continues to implement programs there, but even now the ever-deteriorating security environment means we mostly have to rely on our trusted staff of Afghans. I did get to visit the American PRT in Jalalabad, where I was received by a senior civil affairs officer. He told me and an Afghan colleague of mine that Americans were no longer going out to villages uninvited. I suggested that the danger still existed for locals contacted by the PRTs -- these Afghans could be branded collaborators. But the officer saw no problem. "Our presence forces them to make a choice: Either they support the government or they support the Taliban," he said. And he added, "It takes a little bit of courage if you want to be free; freedom does not come free."

My Afghan colleague later told me of recent incidents in which a mullah was killed in Chaparhar, apparently for working with government and coalition forces, and another mullah was decapitated in Khogyani for allowing his two sons to serve in the Afghan National Army, which was trained by the U.S.-led coalition.

Contact with the foreign troops, it seems, does not come free, either.

The PRT in Jalalabad has not had significant run-ins with nongovernmental organizations over the past year, but problems persist. Staff changes are frequent, and the handovers are poor, so Afghans watch the civilians who are arriving continually try to reinvent the wheel. I am confident that the civil affairs officer I spoke with and his colleagues from the National Guard have the best of intentions, but theirs is a mission impossible. The PRTs' directive to "win the hearts and minds" -- known as WHAM -- and to implement "quick-impact projects" is better suited for charity handouts than a strategy for reconstruction and development.

Simply put, PRTs are a military tool attempting to perform civilian tasks. Inherently, they undermine the necessary distinction between the development objectives of humanitarian aid workers and the political-military objectives of coalition forces.

Relief and development work is more effectively done by experienced and independent aid agencies, working in partnership with the communities they serve. Staff members at the main NGOs in Afghanistan are mostly national (99 percent of IRC staff is Afghan) and know the local languages and culture. As such, they do not require expensive protection. They are also experienced in aid delivery. Most NGOs have been working with Afghans for many years and are committed to long-term stabilization and recovery.

Civilians in Afghanistan are caught between the Taliban and coalition forces. Humanitarian groups cannot be "force multipliers" or "post-battle cleanup" teams; they are the only ones with enough impartiality to provide assistance to the Afghan people....


CIA Contemplated Human Hit Squads, Turned to Killer Drones | Danger Room | Wired.com

CIA Contemplated Human Hit Squads, Turned to Killer Drones | Danger Room | Wired.com: "Killer drones 1, human assassins 0, it seems. The CIA tried - but wasn’t able - to assemble hit squads, to go after Al Qaeda bigwigs. “It sounds great in the movies, but when you try to do, it it’s not that easy,” one former intelligence official tells the New York Times. “Where do you base them? What do they look like? Are they going to be sitting around at headquarters on 24-hour alert waiting to be called?”

So instead, the agency has relied, in part, on Predator drones to take out jihadists. All those questions of basing and of readiness are easy to answer, when your pilots-turned-assassins are sitting thousands of miles from their targets. But it also means that many, many more civilians being killed, along with the extremists, one intelligence official tells the Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman.

“We’re talking about the difference between two feet and 50,000 feet,” the official said. “Do you want the collateral damage of 50,000 feet or two?”"

U.S. Air War All-But-Over in Iraq | Danger Room | Wired.com

U.S. Air War All-But-Over in Iraq | Danger Room | Wired.com: "This is how far the U.S. war effort in Iraq has wound down: There wasn’t a single American airstrike in Iraq last month, according statistics from the U.S. Air Force. And insurgent improvised bombs, the country’s deadliest threat, are down 90 percent.

Iraq is still a dangerous place; five Christian churches were attacked on Sunday, for example. But the newly quiet sky shows just how far American military involvement in Iraq’s affairs has shrunk. In June of 2007, there were 207 airstrikes. In June 2008, there were 25. Now, none.

No more bombs over Baghdad doesn’t mean peaceful skies across the Middle East and Central Asia, however. American aircraft bombed Afghanistan 437 times this past month, and over 2000 times in 2009. That’s about 20 times the amount of bombs dropped on Iraq this year.

The changing tempos of the two wars can be seen in other statistics, as well. There were 260 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks in Iraq last month, according to statistics from the military’s Joint IED Defeat Organization. That’s down from 602 attacks in June 2008 and 2588 in June 2007. The trends in Afghanistan are going in the other direction. The jury-rigged explosives hit a new high there last month: 736 in June, compared to"308 in June 2008, and 234 in June 2007....

Hegel in Helmand « Kings of War

Hegel in Helmand « Kings of War:.... "I’ve been a little critical of evasive language here. So its only fair that I state my own unheroic position clearly: Al Qaeda is a non-trivial and malign force but ultimately one that is self-defeating. Our objective in Afghanistan should not be to purge it via the medicine of democratic governance, which is too hard, too expensive, too dangerous and too unnecessary. (that is not to deny that Afghans may well decide to develop their own democracy with or without our assistance. It is to question whether we should be engaged in a large-scale military campaign to do so on our own timetable.)

Instead, our goal should be to leave Afghanistan as a place where AQ cannot operate safely or unmolested. They may seek to set up shop again there, but they will be hunted, harassed and permanently trying to stay alive. To do this, we need to craft a coalition of all those, no matter how unpleasant, who share this minimal aim. It means cutting deals with bastards, keeping a lighter presence, and doing rough work in the shadows, and feeding money and material support to those willing to help out. Not a perfect or humane alternative, and one where innocents will be killed, but a more realistic and affordable one.

Illiberal? Absolutely. But thirty years of endless war sounds like an even worse illiberal state."

[bth: worth reading in full]

Nightwatch: comments on N. Korea

"...Comment: North Korea can be brought to its metaphorical knees by stopping any one of three items: crude and refined oil products; rubber from Southeast Asia; and specialty steel imports, usually from Japan. A cutoff of oil products not only stops the armed forces – the primary user of fuel for vehicles -- but forces them to draw down war time stocks if a cut off were prolonged."

China controls this source of energy and manipulates it for its own advantage. China wants North Korea humble and dependent, but not in collapse. There is no prospect that China will ever simply stop all fuel supplies by pipeline and ship to North Korea.

Rubber is 100% imported, from Southeast Asian nations – think Thailand and Malaysia -- and usually are shipped by rail from Chinese ports, mostly in South China. An international agreement to stop all shipments of rubber and new and used rubber products (mostly from Japan again) would grind North Korea to a halt, literally, in a matter of months. The armed forces would be hurt first, most and worst because they possess most of the vehicles and use them the most.

Mind, were Japan ever to take the time to inventory how dependent North Korea is on Japan’s economy, it would make two findings: that North Korea is almost a Japanese dependency for all modern systems and subsystems and that Japan could single handedly bring it to heel by manipulating the key components of the dependency. The rule of thumb is that anything in a North Korean weapon or other system that contains complex electronic components came from Japan. Specialty steels for nuclear components and other uses also come from Japan.

An embargo of specialty steels, especially for making ball bearings, will destroy all North Korean industry in six months. Everything that moves smoothly, from hydroelectric turbines to diesel electric locomotives to agricultural tractors to roller skates moves on ball bearings. Stop the production of ball bearings and the North Korean armed forces walk; coal cannot be mined or shipped for electricity production; all railroad trains eventually stop; the Pyongyang subway eventually stops and so on.

South Korea and North Korea almost have a single complementary economy. It also can bring down the North Korean economy. Without Japanese and South Korean help, China could not sustain the North.

Forget arms control, for those policy makers who claim to be serious about hobbling North Korea. If they say they are serious but only focus on proliferation, then they do not understand the problem, or are only posturing to appear tough. Economic warfare works....

Free Range International - Heavy Weather

Free Range International:.... "But these days our troops go into battle with armor weighing as much as that worn by medieval knights. Add to that water and ammo and our troops are working in 130 degree heat with 80 to 100 pounds on their bodies and that is just the combat load. What can be done about that? I would not want to be the commander who had to tell a father his son died from a gun shot wound to the chest which could have been stopped by our standard issue body armor but wasn’t because it was too hot that day to be wearing it. I would not want to tell the same father his son will never be mentally stable because his brain fried in the desert heat before we could get him back into an ice bath at the field hospital fast enough."

The answer is to have a single policy from on high dictating at what temperature and under what conditions body armor and helmet will be considered too dangerous to wear which would take the heat off of the combatant commanders. That won’t happen because our senior leadership is terrified of excessive battle casualties. Iraq showed us that the American public will tolerate this sort of deployment as long as we do not approach or exceed 2.5 casualties per day. The British – who lost eight men today – are rapidly getting to the point where their public will not tolerate much more. The goal for all commanders in theater is to avoid losing people and that is not the proper mindset for counterinsurgency warfare.

Michael Yon has been in country and hanging out in the very remote Ghor Province and recently added to the Afghanistan debate with this piece last week. The Belmont club picked up on the post and Richard Hernandez (one of my personal favorites) wrote this comment:

“The current plan for Afghanistan campaign has implicitly assumed that the goal of creating a society able to resist al-Qaeda like groups can be reached with the time and resources available. There’s no reason to believe why this must be true beyond the assertion that it is. If Michael Yon’s insight is correct, then the assertion is not proved; and we may be trying to solve an problem of exponential complexity with a polynomial time algorithm; that is to say trying to attain a strategic goal unreachable by the tactical means at our disposal.”

“Solve a problem of exponential complexity with a polynomial time algorithm;” those are the exact words I used at the Tiki Bar last night during our weekly social – the exact words…..Ok that’s BS but man; I like the way it sounds which is why I read the Belmont Club first thing every morning. Michael’s observations are spot on – this is a big country full of people who have not concept of modernity. We do not have the time or resources to fix all that is broken – the key is setting reasonable goals in critical areas where the people want our help and then leaving. Just say no to polynominal time algorithms – they have no place in our strategic or tactical thinking.

[bth: this was an excellent original post worth reading in full and studying the pictures]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Informed Comment

Parents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan lash out at Government - Telegraph

Parents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan lash out at Government - Telegraph: "They joined politicians and former Armed Forces chiefs in demanding that ministers provide more money to pay for helicopters and armoured vehicles for troops fighting in Helmand.

They spoke as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) named some of the eight soldiers killed during a 24-hour period last week – the most devastating day for British ground troops in Afghanistan."

Two of them were Rifleman Daniel Hume, 22, from 4th Bn The Rifles, who was killed in an explosion while on foot patrol near Nad-e-Ali on Thursday afternoon, and Pte John Brackpool, of the Prince of Wales's Company, 1st Bn Welsh Guards, who was shot dead near Char-e-Anjir, just outside Lashkar Gah, on the same day.

He would have been celebrating his 28th birthday yesterday. Lt Col Robert Thomson, commanding officer of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, has written a eulogy to five of his men, to be read at a memorial service in Camp Bastion on Monday.

In the eulogy, made available to The Sunday Telegraph, he says: "There will be no turning, the work is too important. We are undeterred. But we will miss each fallen rifleman sorely.

"They lived and fought alongside us and tonight our lives are much worse for them not being here. But we can celebrate what they were and what they achieved and we are so very proud of them."

Meanwhile, paying tribute to Rifleman Hume in a statement, his parents said: "He was proud to serve his country and was planning to move battalion when he returned, so that he could guarantee a speedy return to Afghanistan. We have lost a son and a best friend, his death has left a huge void in our lives, we are fiercely proud of him."

The deaths of the eight soldiers prompted other families to speak out in criticism of the Government's funding of the campaign.

Jane Ford, whose son Ben was killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan two years ago, said: ''It is our sons who are suffering because of [ministers'] stingy attitude. It is their blood that is paying. If we are not careful the Government will just waste money on things that are not necessary – like giving the money to MPs for their luxury apartments. Why can't we have luxury bombs?"

Ian Sadler, the father of 21-year-old Jack Sadler, who died in Afghanistan in 2007 when his Snatch Land Rover went over a mine, said: "Our soldiers must have a lot better than the vehicles they are being given at the moment. A Land Rover or a high-mobility truck are just not suitable for travelling in a mined environment. We also need more helicopters."

Last week The Sunday Telegraph highlighted how the lives of British troops were being put at risk by delays to a new fleet of up to 50 Mastiff armoured patrol vehicles – designed to withstand the blast from the most powerful mines and roadside bombs.

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, faced a charge from Lord Guthrie, the former chief of the defence staff, of spending "the minimum [the Government] could get away with" on defence while Maj Gen Julian Thompson, a former commander of the Royal Marines, called for an "enlarged defence budget".....

IBDeditorials.com: Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- A Double Agent At The CIA?

IBDeditorials.com: Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- A Double Agent At The CIA?: ..."Reyes and other Democrats on the committee won't tell the public what exactly the so-called 'significant actions' concealed from Congress were, or what the 'affirmative lie' was.

Ironically, they're hiding behind a smoke screen of governmental secrecy, with one House aide telling Politico that 'the details behind the letter are apparently at very high levels of classification.'

As Republicans have already surmised, it smells more like a very low level of politicization. The goal of this seems to be to immunize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from accusations that she lied about what the CIA told her regarding enhanced interrogations during the Bush administration's first term."

As Hoekstra told CBS on Thursday, "it looks like they're working on the political equation" rather than "trying to foster a bipartisan consensus on national security."

Hoekstra went on to call Reyes' letter "one of the most bizarre episodes in politics that I've seen in my time here in Washington." That's saying a lot. But it's even worse than that.

According to Reyes, Panetta's closed testimony "may well lead to a full committee investigation" of the CIA. Will there be a new Church Committee-style witch hunt, which crippled our spies' abilities and destroyed their morale in the 1970s?

All of this comes as debate nears on the Intelligence Authorization Bill. As part of the debate, Democrats intend to require that details of covert actions be revealed to the entire membership of the Senate and House intelligence committees, not just the eight leaders of both parties from the leadership and intelligence panels.

With the unfolding terrorist threats the U.S. faces in coming years, the last thing we need are preemptive congressional assaults from Congress against our spies — especially if their ammunition comes from the CIA director himself.

A Call to Jihad From Somalia, Answered in America - NYTimes.com

A Call to Jihad From Somalia, Answered in America - NYTimes.com: "MINNEAPOLIS — The Carlson School of Management rises from the asphalt like a monument to capitalist ambition. Stock prices race across an electronic ticker near a sleek entrance and the atrium soars skyward, as if lifting the aspirations of its students. The school’s plucky motto is “Nowhere but here.”"

For a group of students who often met at the school, on the University of Minnesota campus, those words seemed especially fitting. They had fled Somalia as small boys, escaping a catastrophic civil war. They came of age as refugees in Minneapolis, embracing basketball and the prom, hip-hop and the Mall of America. By the time they reached college, their dreams seemed within grasp: one planned to become a doctor; another, an entrepreneur.

But last year, in a study room on the first floor of Carlson, the men turned their energies to a different enterprise.

“Why are we sitting around in America, doing nothing for our people?” one of the men, Mohamoud Hassan, a skinny 23-year-old engineering major, pressed his friends.

In November, Mr. Hassan and two other students dropped out of college and left for Somalia, the homeland they barely knew. Word soon spread that they had joined the Shabaab, a militant Islamist group aligned with Al Qaeda that is fighting to overthrow the fragile Somali government.

The students are among more than 20 young Americans who are the focus of what may be the most significant domestic terrorism investigation since Sept. 11. One of the men, Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up in Somalia in October, becoming the first known American suicide bomber. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert M. Mueller, has said Mr. Ahmed was “radicalized in his hometown in Minnesota.” ...

[bth: this is an old story. Why is it now appearing in the NYT's? I'll bet money it has to do with the CIA disclosures and some grievous violation of our civil liberties which are about to be disclosed. Its about keeping the scare up.]

UK pledges equipment to troops in Afghanistan | Reuters

UK pledges equipment to troops in Afghanistan | Reuters: "LONDON, July 11 (Reuters) - British troops fighting in Afghanistan will get whatever equipment they need, said finance minister Alistair Darling on Saturday, as pressure built on the government over its strategy after the death of eight soldiers.

The soldiers were killed on Thursday and Friday in the southern province of Helmand, where British and U.S. forces are waging a major offensive against Taliban insurgents."

Britain has now lost more soldiers in Afghanistan -- 184 -- than it did in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The latest deaths have shocked Britons and brought newspaper headlines such as "Our darkest day in war on Taliban" and "This bloody war".

They also led the media, military experts and opposition politicians to question the government's strategy and its commitment to equipping the troops properly.

"If they need equipment, whatever it is, to support them in the frontline then of course the government, through the Treasury, is ready to help," Darling told the BBC, without giving figures.

"You can't send troops in to the front line and not be prepared to see it through in terms of the equipment, the resources that they need."

Britain sent 700 extra troops to Afghanistan for the August presidential election period, taking its force to 9,000.

The Ministry of Defence denied an article in Sunday's edition of The Observer newspaper that Britain could send up to 2,000 more troops to Afghanistan within months.

The ministry kept the position under review but "there is no plan to send 2,000 more troops", a spokesman said.

[bth: this is so damned predictable. Now as part of the 'too little too late' policy they are scrambling to get equipment - proper vehicles - into theater after the Taliban killed eight soldiers because of the poor selection of equipment the Brits gave their troops. The government will simply try to wait until the headlines die down and then back off on the promise. They are trying to run a war on a peace time budget. My take on the British public when I was last in London was one of extreme indifference about the whole affair. The pressure will be on pulling their troops back home. The Taliban knows this. Look form more casualties as the British troops are targeted.]