Saturday, July 25, 2009

U.S. admits it has no case against teen held at Guantanamo | McClatchy

U.S. admits it has no case against teen held at Guantanamo | McClatchy: "WASHINGTON — The Justice Department conceded Friday that it lacks the evidence to hold a teenage Guantanamo detainee as an enemy combatant after a federal judge last week ruled that his confession was inadmissible.

In a hearing last week, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled that Mohammed Jawad's confession to Afghan officials was inadmissible because it had been extracted through torture. She also questioned whether the Justice Department had any evidence to proceed with a trial to determine whether he can be held as an enemy combatant.

Huvelle called the case an 'outrage' and told Justice Department lawyers that their case against Jawad had been 'gutted.'

'Without his statements, I don't understand your case,' she told Justice Department lawyers. 'Sir, the facts can only get smaller, not bigger. . . . Face it, this case is in trouble. . . . Seven years and this case is riddled with holes.'

She then urged the lawyers to 'let him out. Send him back to Afghanistan.'"...

[bth: unbelievable incompetence]

Shortages of Capable Afghan Forces in South Complicates U.S. Mission -

Shortages of Capable Afghan Forces in South Complicates U.S. Mission - "'The U.S. force is growing down here, but the Afghan force is not growing nearly as fast,' said Col. Bill Hix, who until recently led the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command in Kandahar, another large southern province, overseeing the development of police and soldiers in southern Afghanistan. 'We have people who are bleeding and dying, and we need to look hard at how we generate [Afghan] forces.'"

The shortages of capable Afghan forces means they usually assist with searches and security on operations planned and led by Marines, the mentors said. "Right now, they're just happy with us telling them 'Go there, do this,' " said Stephen Woods, a civilian police adviser with the Marine mentoring team.

There are exceptions. Two police officers buying lunch in Garmsir this week observed a drug sale, shadowed the dealer, detained him and seized 30 bundles of heroin, Grieco said.

Gaining approval for increasing the size of the Afghan forces -- which requires international endorsement -- has been a maddening process, said Hix, comparing it to "negotiating a peace treaty."

Even after such approval, many hurdles remain, particularly in the south, he said.

"It's a challenge to get people down here," said Hix, adding that units that deploy to southern Afghanistan often suffer higher rates of unauthorized absences. "The guys think there is a monster down here." Drug use in the forces is another problem, according to U.S. and Afghan officers. "We lose 5 to 10 percent of every class in the police force to opiate use," Hix said.

Training the police and army poses other challenges, he said. Police officers and soldiers -- the vast majority of them illiterate villagers -- require extensive training, but during a war only so many can be pulled away from their jobs at any one time.

Building training and other facilities for the forces and providing them with equipment remain slow because of red tape and contracting rules, he said. It takes 120 to 180 days to start work on a training facility and often more than a year to 18 months to field new equipment, such as the 1,000 Humvees on order for the Afghan army in the south. "We can't swing the money cannon quickly enough to adapt," Hix said.

Still, Hix said, the Afghan forces have made significant progress in the south. In the past year, the training capacity for regional police has doubled and the rate of those absent without leave has halved.

Despite the problems, Hix said that replacing foreign forces with homegrown ones is the only viable long-term solution, in part because the latter cost far less. "We should not be substituting U.S. troops for Afghans, which is what we are effectively doing now . . . in trying to secure and stabilize Afghanistan," he wrote in an e-mail.

U.S. and Afghan officers urged greater emphasis on professionalizing the Afghan police, which are at least as critical as the army in a counterinsurgency campaign but have received far fewer resources. Residents also have complained about corruption among police officers, the mentors say.

The police's law-enforcement role in Garmsir is limited because many of the officers are illiterate, Grieco said. "Paperwork, evidence, processing -- they don't know how to do it," he said. "You can't get a policeman to take a statement if he can't read and write."

Increasing numbers of residents are coming to the police station to report problems, said Staff Sgt. David Dillon, one of Grieco's team members. Still, as a patrol moved through the local bazaar, the police barely interacted with civilians, troubling their mentors.

Shopkeepers and residents eyed the patrol silently and did not respond to greetings in Pashto. An Afghan boy swore in English at one of the Marines, who responded: "Go home."

"They're still a little hostile towards us," Woods said. "They will throw rocks. They will give you that look. They don't trust us."...

[bth: so put this story in the context of recent posts. We aren't training enough Afghan police or military. We knew this before the big push. Even our Afghan training targets, which we are far from reaching, are half that estimate needed. There is no method of paying them other than by foreign aid. They have no logistical support and little equipment. Recruitment, payment, training are all within our power, but we seem to be overlooking this. Its not glamorous, its not what makes our generals and colonels look good - it takes time, it takes work and its 'not my job man'. Plus we have insufficient translators so we can't interact with the locals as marines seize territory and there aren't enough Afghan forces to backfill and hold ground. The marines are going to rotate out and the ground is going to be lost just like in Wanat. Because of these basic issues, this battle is lost before it was fought - a tactical victory and a strategic defeat. We simply will not be able to hold the territory because we cannot interact efficiently with the locals and we don't have enough Afghan army or police forces to make the territorial advances stick. We'll blame the Afghans eventually instead of our military leadership. Its easier that way. We'll get some great photo ops of marines pushing through, taking territory and taking names, but it won't matter. We're just passing through and the Taliban just went over the hill to wait until we're gone. They will send out their suicide bombers for offense, terrorize some locals by killing the headmen and burning the girls' schools, and set their IEDs for defense. So it is I guess. Bad strategy on our part, not at the platoon level, but at the senior military levels of our government.]

Faces of the Fallen - Tillman

File:Tillman - portrait.JPG - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaFile:Tillman - portrait.JPG

[bth: I remember the day the Faces of the Fallen exhibit opened at Arlington in 2005 like it was yesterday.]

Delayed offensive wears at Pakistan's antiterror credibility |

Delayed offensive wears at Pakistan's antiterror credibility | "Peshawar, Pakistan - Doubts are mounting that the Pakistani military will launch a promised ground offensive into the Taliban heartland of South Waziristan. The prolonged delay is threatening Pakistan's already shaky credibility on battling Islamic militants in its territory.

The military says it's softening up the region with airstrikes, but analysts and even a top leader in the ruling coalition say that could be the end of the effort.

'These are mere mock operations in order to convince NATO as well as the United States of America that Pakistan is very serious against the extremists,' says Lateef Afridi, a central committee member of the Awami National Party, a coalition partner of the government.

Instead, he says, Pakistani leaders are protecting the militants as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and a lure for Americans to 'give them dollars.'"...

The military will wait until it senses it can achieve reasonable success with a ground offensive, says security analyst Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood.

That could mean it waits indefinitely, notes Khalid Aziz, chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training in Peshawar.

"The numbers required would be too huge, the terrain wouldn't allow it, and it would sap anyone's strength. So it's going to be an aerial blockade with occasional special forces going in when there is a high-value target," says Mr. Aziz.

Added to that mix are the US-operated aerial drones that frequently target militant leaders operating in the tribal areas of Pakistan, including South Waziristan. According to reports, US counterterrorism officials believea drone strike in Pakistan this spring may have killed Osama bin Laden's son.

Giving militants time to escape?

Leaders like Mr. Afridi who represent Pashtuns living in Pakistan's tribal areas express strong doubts that Islamabad has turned completely against the Taliban.

They point out that only one top commander has been captured or killed so far in Swat, leaving the command and control structure intact. The weeks of delay in South Waziristan, they say, is another chance to let leaders slip away ahead of time.

"If the Army will be starting a ground offensive, against whom? Against the trees. The livestock," says Said Alam Mehsud, the leader of a new Pashtun nationalist group in Peshawar called the Pashtun Awareness Movement.

This strain of popular Pashtun thinking that Pakistan is playing a double game has its critics among some Pashtun leaders, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.

"They forget there is an American factor. They forget Pakistan is very closely coordinating with the Americans," says Mr. Mohmand. "The Army now means business and the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

[bth: I smell bullshit. No meaningful further offensive is coming from the Pakistani military this year . One can construct the scenario and discussion going on from open source material. Look at the posts put on this blog over the last week for a pattern. The Pakistanis want the US to pressure India and are using that as an excuse for inaction. The Paki Taliban says they are just waiting for winter to retake their territory and in the meantime have cut a deal with the Paki government to divert their Taliban footmen into Afghanistan via Mullah Omar's instructions. The Paki military is quoted a few weeks ago so saying that they are in touch with Omar and can negotiate with him and are able to direct the footmen outward toward Afghanistan and India. We're saying we'll give military aid to Pakistan but only if it is not sent to the Indian border - how we could enforce that I have no idea. Bottom line, we are being lied to - no that's incorrect, the facade of lies has been stripped away. We are being negotiated with by disingenuous 'partners' in the war on terror. There is no more need for lies, we know what they are and appear willing to work with it. Such is our weakness.]

U.S. stops giving militant death tolls in Afghanistan - Los Angeles Times

U.S. stops giving militant death tolls in Afghanistan - Los Angeles Times: ..."The division command never used casualty figures as a measure of its progress, believing they had little relevancy. But public affairs officers considered a high enemy death toll an easy way for the American public to understand that U.S. forces had won an engagement.

Army Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the former spokeswoman for the 101st, said the reports were necessary to undercut insurgents' propaganda.

'Without our reports, the absence of enemy fatalities could leave a false impression that the only ones that suffer losses are the Americans and NATO,' she said in an e-mail.

'When we know what we inflict upon the enemy and report the facts without embellishment or exaggeration or spin then I believe it is the right thing to do -- not because the winner is the one with the least amount of dead, but because we can be counted upon to tell the truth and the enemy cannot,' she said."...

[bth: by no longer reporting civilian or enemy casualties, a key metric of any war is removed. It may not be the metric of victory, but if it isn't, what is? Land occupied? How does the American public know if we are winning or losing in Afghanistan? I see no meaningful metric in place and wonder now if indeed there actually is one suitable?]

Dutch withdrawal from Afghanistan harbinger of Canadian dilemma

Dutch withdrawal from Afghanistan harbinger of Canadian dilemma: "TARIN KOWT, Afghanistan — In a foretaste of what may be the Afghan response to a Canadian withdrawal of combat troops from Kandahar in 2011, a Pushtun leader in neighbouring Uruzgan has declared that if Dutch soldiers leave his province next year, as The Hague has ordered, he and his tribe will either seek the protection of the Taliban or flee the country.

Mohammed Daoud, the handsome, soft-spoken chief of the 25,000 Durrani, who live in the fertile northern reaches of Uruzgan, gave the stark warning to Dutch soldiers, diplomats and aid workers who met with him and six tribal elders at the main Dutch base in the province.

'If the Dutch leave, this is bad news,' Daoud said over tea. 'A lot of people will leave the area and I will be the first of them.

'This is not only my voice but the voice of my people. If it happens, I will make a hard decision. If it is safe, I will go to the Taliban for protection. If it isn't, I will go abroad.'

After famously saving trapped Dutch soldiers from a Taliban attack two years ago, Daoud's father, Rozi Khan, was accidentally killed by Australian soldiers last year."...

[bth: of things to come. If the Dutch pull out and then the Canadians we, the US, probably will not have sufficient forces to fill the void, surge or not.]
Naval Open Source INTelligence

Naval Open Source INTelligence

Corrections | Free Range International - Comments on Wanat July2008

Corrections | Free Range International: ...."Wanat was a minor disaster – the Army lost 9 killed and over 20 wounded out of a force of 42 soldiers and 3 Marines. The only thing which saved the day for these warriors was their own tenacious resistance. Tom Ricks has written extensivly on the battle and even has a book out on it. I went back and looked at the intel reports we were reciving back then – primarily from the UN. Wanat is in Bargi Matal District which just fell to the gem smuggling branch of the Taliban last week. Here is a report on that district from the day before the battle for Wanat:

On 12 July, Nuristan Province, Bargi Matal District, unknown time, a group of AGE (approx 600 members) including foreigners has infiltrated into the area. The group is planning to take over the DAC and is currently engaged in an armed clash with the security forces in the area. The district authorities have requested the provincial government to send more reinforcement to help defend the DAC from the insurgents."

One of the aspects in dispute from this battle is that the senior commanders were not paying attention to the situation in this remote province and sent too small a force on a mission which made little sense. These things happen in war – but it is always the cover up which causes problems and that is clearly what Senator Webb isw focused on. One of the reasons the people in Bargi Matal were in not mood to host soldiers had to do with us killing all their doctors and nurses in one very stupid attack. Again I go back to UN reporting from a year ago:

The most notable incident during this reporting period was the killing of three INGO local staff members (along with approximately 13-18 other locals) and the wounding of a fourth by IMF on 4 July. The victims had been warned to evacuate the area by IMF ahead of an imminent operation and were in the process of departing the area when the incident occurred. The NGO staff was travelling in local transport when it was attacked by a helicopter. IMF claimed the victims were AOG, a claim that was subsequently proven incorrect. The security situation in Nuristan has deteriorated rapidly since Governor Nuristani’s removal from office due to his perceived ineffectiveness with dealing with AOG.

AOG = armed opposition groups and IMF = international military forces in UN reporting. This incident was a bad deal, no other way to describe it and the locals were in a state of high agitation about it too. Did you note the name of the Governor who had just been sacked by the Karzai government? Governor Nuristani who was obvioulsy from Nuristan and, given the surname, a man of prominance. Want to bet the locals were steamed about that too? One has to wonder what the plan for Wanat was and why they were even still thinking of going there given the amount of bad juju happening in this remote place we should not even really give a damn about in the first place. There are no American forces anywhere near this district today – it is now (and should always have been) a problem the Afghans have to deal with.

The Army apparently conducted a very weak investigation into this battle and then tried to put it sown the institutional rabbit hole by removing after action interviews from its Operational Leadership Interview series and issuing well deserved medals for bravery to surviving participants. It is not just ignoring the lessons from this unfortunate incident in play here. It is how the Army fights the counterinsurgency battle because the senior leaders involved are defending their plan by claiming they were executing current COIN (counterinsurgency) doctrine. Yet anyone with the most elementary knowledge of the topic can clearly see they were doing the exact opposite. Their troops in the various small combat outposts in the region had no meaningful contact with the local people at all.

Inspirational senior battle leaders are hard to come by. Qualities which the services value in peace time commanders do not always fit the bill, especially in counterinsurgency warfare. I do not believe Senator Webb is after the brigade commander directly responsible for the deployment of a under equipped platoon to Wanat last July. I think he has much bigger fish to fry. Maybe some good will come of all this, but that is not normally how these things turn out.

[bth: so it seems a few things were left out of the original report regarding Wanat by the officers in their official report. I think I've read everything public on this topic so I'm pretty sure I'm correct. Like the fact that they knew 600 militants were about to attack and that we'd just accidentally killed the entire medical staff in the area infurating the locals. Now it seems it was all for nothing as Wanat is now taken over by the Taliban. Indeed, the vitality of the position that cost so many American lives turned out to be abandonable a week later anyway. That platoon was done a terrible disservice by its senior officers, yet no one is held to account. Perhaps Webb will do something. Good men are dying because of incompetent leadership able to sweep things under the rug.]

Death Report of Bin Laden Son Believable - World Watch - CBS News

Death Report of Bin Laden Son Believable - World Watch - CBS News: "A senior Western diplomat speaking to CBS News strengthened this morning's report that Osama bin Laden's son Saad has died.

'Intelligence information suggests Saad bin Laden has not been in communication with anyone for a few months now. That strengthens speculation over his death,' a NATO-country ambassador said to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday night.

Speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity, the ambassador said, 'So far, there is no indication that he was anywhere near his father if and when killed. Osama bin Laden is apparently still alive.' This was the first time that a senior western diplomat in the Pakistani capital independently confirmed the report since NPR quoted an unnamed counterterrorism official reporting the younger bin Laden's death.

Earlier on Thursday, a Pakistani government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the claim of Saad bin Laden's death could not be ascertained unless his body was found. 'I am skeptical because in the past too, we have heard of high profile terrorists including Osama bin Laden being dead but then they have resurfaced,' he told CBS News."

[bth: There is no credible evidence whatever that this is true. If we monitored his communications perhaps we have a clue where his pappy is, but I doubt it. One might also assert that since we haven't heard from him, he may be planning his next attack. I suspect this was just floated out there and attributed to an anonymous source to imply we are making 'progress' in Pakistan and Afghanistan.]

Troops say unfit linguists being recruited for Afghanistan | Stars and Stripes

Troops say unfit linguists being recruited for Afghanistan | Stars and Stripes: "NAWA, Afghanistan — Josh Habib lay in a dirt field, gasping for air. Two days of hiking with Marines through southern Afghanistan’s 115-degree Fahrenheit heat had exhausted him. This was not what he signed up for.

Habib is not a Marine. He is a 53-year-old engineer from California hired by a contracting company as a military translator. When he applied for the lucrative linguist job, Habib said his recruiter gave no hint he would join a ground assault in Taliban land. He carried 40 pounds of food, water and gear on his back, and kept pace — barely — with Marines half his age.

U.S. troops say companies that recruit military translators are sending linguists to southern Afghanistan who are unprepared to serve in combat, even as hundreds more are needed to support the growing number of troops.

Some translators are in their 60s and 70s and in poor physical condition — and some don’t even speak the right language.

“I’ve met guys off the planes and have immediately sent them back because they weren’t in the proper physical shape,” said Gunnery Sgt. James Spangler, 36, who is in charge of linguists at Camp Leatherneck, the largest U.S. base in Helmand province....

The company that recruits most U.S. citizen translators, Columbus, Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel, says it’s difficult to meet the increased demand for linguists to aid the 15,000 U.S. forces being sent to southern, Pashto-speaking provinces this year as part of President Barack Obama’s increased focus on Afghanistan. Only 7,700 Pashto speakers live in the United States, according to the 2000 census.

Mission Essential’s senior vice president, Marc Peltier, said the linguists the company deploys to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries meet government standards. The military sets no age or weight requirements, he said.

“I really wish everyone we send over was a 21-year-old who can pass the Marine Corps physical fitness exam. They’re not,” said Peltier.

“It’s been a shock to some of them. You can’t really acclimate them. We don’t have centers to run scenarios out in the heat,” he said.

How translators come to believe they won’t face danger could originate with recruiters.

Khalid Nazary, an Afghan-American citizen living in Kabul, called Mission Essential about a job and let an Associated Press reporter listen.

He asked if he would go to “dangerous places.”

“Oh, no, no, no. You’re not a soldier. You’re not a soldier. Not at all,” the recruiter, Tekelia Barnett, said. “You’re not on the battlefield.”

After being pressed on the point, Barnett said the linguist would be subject to “any” assignment, and if he didn’t want the task he could quit.

Peltier later said it was indeed possible that translators would be on the battlefield. He said he would talk to Barnett to make sure she made that more clear. Peltier also said the first phone call was “introductory” and that recruits go through two weeks of training “and get a very clear picture of what they’re going to do.”

Others disagreed.

“They say you’ll get a shower once a day, have access to Internet and TV, call home six times a week,” Woodall said. “And when the guys get out, they’re completely shell-shocked.”

Habib, the translator, said a Mission Essential recruiter originally told him that if he passed his language test, he would work out of the main U.S. base at Bagram about 30 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Once in Afghanistan, he says he was told he would lose his job if he didn’t go with the Marines to Helmand.

Troops and translators say they suspect recruiting companies try to send as many interpreters as possible to Afghanistan to collect fees.

Millions of dollars are involved. Known as Category II translators — U.S. citizens who obtain a security clearance — such linguists earn a salary that starts at $210,000 a year.

Mission Essential Personnel recruits and hires most Category II linguists in Afghanistan. Peltier said the company was founded by two former Army Special Forces reservists who sought to improve the quality of translators after seeing them “pushed out the door and being mistreated.”

The military gave Mission Essential performance bonuses in each quarter last year, Peltier said. When the company took over the Afghanistan language contract in late 2007, only 41 percent of linguists’ jobs were filled. Today 97 percent of the jobs are taken, he said....

[bth: As we complete our 8th year of war in Afghanistan, who would of thought that we might actually have to train linguists? I guess is wasn't the Army or Marines.... And so we dishonorably discharged those translators that are gay? What bullshit. Good marines and soldiers are going to die because of this institutional incompetence.]

“They were too old. They couldn’t breathe. The"

DAWN.COM | World | Pakistan to investigate bomb attack on French engineers

DAWN.COM | World | Pakistan to investigate bomb attack on French engineers: "PARIS: Pakistan will hold a new investigation into a bomb attack that killed 11 French engineers if France produces evidence that its intelligence agency played a role, its interior minister said.

French judges are already probing claims that Pakistani officials may have ordered the attack to take revenge on France after they were denied cash kick-backs on an arms deal that had been promised them.

Speaking after he met his French counterpart in Paris, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that while Pakistan had no new information on the attack he was open to holding a new inquiry."...

The attack, in which a bus carrying French naval engineers working on a project in Pakistan was hit with a massive bomb, had been blamed on Islamist militants angry at France’s support of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

But in recent months, a former French intelligence official and lawyers acting for the families of the victims and have suggested that Pakistani agents may have manipulated a jihadi group into carrying out the attack.

They suggest that members of the Pakistani military may have taken revenge on France after Paris cancelled a promise to pay them kickbacks on the sale to Pakistan of the three submarines that the bomb victims were working on.

French officials cancelled ‘commissions’ on the contract on the orders of then president Jacques Chirac, who was reportedly concerned that some of the money might be funnelled back to France to fund a rival’s election campaign.

Former presidential candidate Edouard Balladur has firmly denied that his campaign planned to take a cut of the bribes paid to Pakistani officials.

France’s current leader, President Nicolas Sarkozy, was at the time head of Balladur’s campaign and has also angrily denied any wrongdoing, adding that he is ready to testify before the judge investigating the attack. —AFP

Secret Program Works to Field SEAL Plane

Defense Tech: Secret Program Works to Field SEAL Plane
In a move that harkens back to the days of recycled World War II torpedo bombers sheep-dipped as close air support planes, the Navy intends to field a limited number of turbo-prop attack planes outfitted with the most modern surveillance, tracking and weapons systems to help special ops forces keep track of bad guys and, in a pinch, put warheads on foreheads.imminent-furySMALL.jpg

Call it an A-1 Skyraider on steroids – a “Back to the Future”-resurrection of a kind of plane last seen pounding enemy positions with rockets, guns and bombs over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1960s.

Code named “Imminent Fury,” the classified, year-long program has so far produced one fully-outfitted plane and is set to field four more to directly support SEALs and other operators on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

According to a source close to the program who declined to be named, the Navy has leased an EMB-314 Super Tucano for the job. Made by the Brazilian aerospace company Embraer, it is now being tested on desert ranges in California and the service’s top test facility at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. The Navy loaded it up with sensors and weapons systems that “would make an F-16 pilot blush,” the source said.

With top end electro-optical and infrared sensors, laser and GPS-guided bombs, rockets, twin .50 cal. machine guns, encrypted radios – and even the capability to tie in UAV surveillance feeds – the Super Tucano outfitted for the SEALs is a ground-pounder’s angel from above....

[bth: this program has potential and many enemies i.e, the US Air Force.  Too bad the Air Force doesn't care about front line ground troops.  They'd be a better service if they did.]

Sangow Bar Village - Michael yon

Sangow Bar Village

On a per capita basis, Afghanistan is becoming more dangerous for British and American troops than Iraq ever was.  For those who fought in places like Anbar, Basra, Baghdad, Diyala and Nineveh, that’s saying a whole lot.  On a per capita basis, there are strong indications that Afghanistan will prove more deadly than Iraq during 2006-2007.  One can only imagine how many days and nights Secretary Robert Gates and his advisors must have agonized over troop levels here.  On the one hand, we have a fraction of the troops we need, but on the other, increasing troop levels increases hostility toward us.  Secretary Gates has made it clear to me that his biggest concern is that we will lose the goodwill of the people and they will turn against us.  This happens to be my own biggest concern.  The agony is in knowing we need more medicine and the medicine can be highly toxic here.  Many people have complained that the new restrictions on air strikes will hurt us, but from my boots, General McChrystal (the new boss here) has fulfilled the intent of his boss, and that the decision, though tough, was wise; if we lose the widespread assent of the Afghan people, it’s all over but for the bleeding.

Today our chances are not good, but there remains a real chance to succeed.  Those chances improve dramatically when we take a no-kidding inventory of the situation and refine our goals to align with reality.

While war ravages neighboring narco-provinces, sluggish progress is being made in others.  Here in Ghor Province, the Japanese, Lithuanians, and a host of other nations have teamed up in this remote area of Afghanistan....

[bth: this excellent post from Michael Yon is worth reading in full.  Sponsor him if you can.  He is one of the few sources in trustworthy and credible information from Afghanistan.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Washington's Blog - Unemployment not just a problem in America

Washington's Blog: "Citigroup is projecting that unemployment in Spain will rise from its current 17.9% to 22% next year.

Spain's unemployment is largely driven by the bursting of its housing bubble."...

Arianna Huffington: States Forced to Cut Services to the Bone: The Opportunity Cost of the Bank Bailout

Arianna Huffington: States Forced to Cut Services to the Bone: The Opportunity Cost of the Bank Bailout: ..."America's states are facing a projected cumulative budget gap of $166 billion for fiscal 2010. Even more budget gaps are expected for fiscal 2011. Total shortfalls through 2011 are estimated at $350 billion to $370 billion -- and could be even higher if unemployment continues to rise.

These are massive numbers. But when you remember that we spent $180 billion to bail out AIG ($12.9 billion of which went straight to Goldman), you realize that that alone would be more than enough to close the 2010 budget gap in every state in the union. Toss in the $45 billion we gave to now-making-a-profit Bank of America and the $45 billion we gave to now-making-a-profit Citigroup and we are well on the way to ensuring that no state's vital service are cut through 2011."...

Marine from the Cape dies in Afghanistan - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

Marine from the Cape dies in Afghanistan - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

Skype singled out as threat to Russia's security | Technology | Reuters

Skype singled out as threat to Russia's security | Technology | Reuters: "MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's most powerful business lobby moved to clamp down on Skype and its peers this week, telling lawmakers that the Internet phone services are a threat to Russian businesses and to national security.

In partnership with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political party, the lobby created a working group to draft legal safeguards against what they said were the risks of Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services.

VoIP software has used the Internet to let hundreds of millions of people talk long-distance for free, or at far cheaper rates than traditional service providers can offer.

At a meeting of the lobby this week, telecom executives portrayed the most popular VoIP programs like Skype and Icq as encroaching foreign entities that the government must control.

'Without government restrictions, IP telephony causes certain concerns about security,' the lobby's press release said. 'Most of the service operators working in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are foreign. It is therefore necessary to protect the native companies in this sector and so forth.'"...

[bth: behold big brother]

U.S. Officials Met With Iraqi Insurgent Groups Twice in Spring, Both Sides Say -

U.S. Officials Met With Iraqi Insurgent Groups Twice in Spring, Both Sides Say - "BAGHDAD, July 23 -- U.S. officials engaged in negotiations with Iraqi insurgent groups in two meetings this spring that culminated in an agreement to organize talks intended to bring the groups into Iraqi political life, an insurgent leader and Turkish and American officials said Thursday.

The negotiations involved at least three insurgent leaders and at least three State Department officials, who met in Turkey in March and May, said Sheik Ali al-Jubouri, an insurgent representative. A third meeting was supposed to take place in June, but it never happened, Jubouri said in an interview by telephone from Qatar."...

Pakistan's Gillani Asks U.S. for Drone Technology, Other Military Aid -

Pakistan's Gillani Asks U.S. for Drone Technology, Other Military Aid - "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 22 -- Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on Wednesday called on the United States to provide real-time intelligence, unmanned aircraft technology and other military assistance to help his country combat the Taliban without relying on attacks from U.S. drones."...

[bth: I could see the US operating some drones under Pakistani control over its own territory. That said, it should be noted that Pakistan hands our technology over to China and Pakistan has its own drone program well underway. Why don't they use that?]
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Free Range International - Contact

Free Range International: ..."Having spent time this morning walking the ground where the Jalalabad attack went down it is hard to come up with any rational thought process which would have put two suicide vest wearing riflemen and an RPG gunner on foot, walking up the busiest road in the region to attack the front gate of the Jalalabad airport. There was a VBIED discovered later in the day further down the road from the airport (not yet reported in the news) which was an abandoned Alto sedan containing ten 60mm mortar rounds, four 82mm mortar rounds and fifty pounds of additional explosives all rigged to explode with a typical VBIED trigger system. This vehicle was not discovered until hours after the attack but it safe to conclude that it was going to be used in some coordinated manner with the three idiots who “attacked” up the busiest road in Eastern Afghanistan."...

[bth: worth reading in full]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Willow Garage

Willow Garage

Learning From Animators to Improve PR2 | Willow Garage

Learning From Animators to Improve PR2 | Willow Garage

Biden says Guantanamo will close by January

The Raw Story | Biden says Guantanamo will close by January: "The Guantanamo Bay detention camp will close by next January, Vice-President Joe Biden said Thursday, adding that decisions on all inmates were likely 'well before January.'

In an interview with the BBC, he insisted Washington was on course to fulfil the closure pledge made by US President Barack Obama immediately after his inauguration in January.

'We are going through every single detainee's records... to make a judgement about whether or not they should be tried [or] ... released and if so, what country might take them if we can't get them back to the country of origin because they're going to be tortured or mistreated,' he said.

Speaking during a trip to eastern Europe taking in Georgia and Ukraine, he added: 'We expect before January -- well before January -- we will have a decision on each and every individual being held.'"...

Raynham fallen soldier receives Medal of Honor; Obama calls family with news - Brockton, MA - The Enterprise

Raynham fallen soldier receives Medal of Honor; Obama calls family with news - Brockton, MA - The Enterprise: "Raynham native who was killed in action in Afghanistan has been awarded the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military award, an Army official has confirmed.

Raynham native Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti, killed June 21, 2006, as he attempted to help two fellow soldiers, was awarded the commendation from President Barack Obama Tuesday, an Army spokesman said. He was 30. It was not clear when or how his family would receive the blue ribbon and adjoining medal.

Monti, who was on his second tour in Afghanistan, was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) of Fort Drum, N.Y.
He and a fellow soldier were killed after they encountered enemy forces using small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades during combat operations."....

Soldier killed in action receives Medal of Honor | NECN

Soldier killed in action receives Medal of Honor | NECN

From Brian & Alma Hart to Paul and Michelle Monti and family. We are so very pleased that Jared is being recognized and honored so. Also thanks to Iris Adler from NECN for seeing that this story gets told and not forgotten.
The Raw Story » Aussie comedy show raids John Yoo’s Berkeley class

Aussie comedy show raids John Yoo’s Berkeley class

The Raw Story » Aussie comedy show raids John Yoo’s Berkeley class

Op-Ed Columnist - Terror Creeps Into the Heartland -

Op-Ed Columnist - Terror Creeps Into the Heartland - ..."If we want to stabilize Pakistan, we should take two steps. First is to cut tariffs on manufactured imports from Pakistan. That would boost the country’s economy, raise employment and create good will. Cutting tariffs is perhaps the most effective step we could take to stabilize this country and fight extremism."

Second, we should redirect our aid from subsidies to the Pakistani military to support for a major education initiative. A bill in the Senate backed by the Democrat John Kerry and the Republican Richard Lugar would support Pakistani schools, among other nonmilitary projects, and would be an excellent step forward.

In rural Pakistan, you regularly see madrassas established by Islamic fundamentalists, typically offering free tuition, free meals and even scholarships to study abroad for the best students. It’s clear that the militant fundamentalists believe in the transformative power of education — and they have invested in schools, while we have invested in the Pakistani Army. Why can’t we show the same faith in education as hard-line Muslim fundamentalists?

[bth: very valid points]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BBC NEWS UK has enough helicopters - Brown

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | UK has enough helicopters - Brown: "Gordon Brown: 'I am satisfied that Operation Panther's Claw has the resources it needs'

Gordon Brown has said the UK has enough helicopters for an offensive in Helmand - and said lives lost during the past month were not due to a shortage.

It comes after Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch Brown rowed back on comments in a newspaper interview that the UK did not have enough helicopters.

The PM said the minister had 'corrected any misrepresentation' of his comments.

'For the operation we are doing at the moment we have the helicopters that we need,' Mr Brown told a news conference.

Amid an on-going political row over resources, Lord Malloch Brown had said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph: 'We definitely don't have enough helicopters.'"...

[bth: PM Brown is a liar. UK is contracting with Ukranian mobsters for helicopters which have crashed or been shot down for lack of defensive equipment. British troops are sponging off the Americans for equipment and British are dying needlessly on the roads because they have no choice since air resources are so limited and their ground vehicles are totally inadequate for the mission - deathtraps against IEDs. That PM Brown gets away with statements like this in the face of evidence to the contrary speaks volumes about the indifference the British public feels toward the mission and the support needed for their troops in combat.]

Pakistan Objects to U.S. Expansion in Afghan War -

Pakistan Objects to U.S. Expansion in Afghan War - ...."Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that the Marines fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan, with the potential to further inflame the troubled province of Baluchistan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Pakistan does not have enough troops to deploy to Baluchistan to take on the Taliban without denuding its border with its archenemy, India, the officials said. Dialogue with the Taliban, not more fighting, is in Pakistan’s national interest, they said.

The Pakistani account made clear that even as the United States recommits troops and other resources to take on a growing Taliban threat, Pakistani officials still consider India their top priority and the Taliban militants a problem that can be negotiated. In the long term, the Taliban in Afghanistan may even remain potential allies for Pakistan, as they were in the past, once the United States leaves."

The Pakistani officials gave views starkly different from those of American officials regarding the threat presented by top Taliban commanders, some of whom the Americans say have long taken refuge on the Pakistani side of the border.

Recent Pakistani military operations against Taliban in the Swat Valley and parts of the tribal areas have done little to close the gap in perceptions.

Even as Obama administration officials praise the operations, they express frustration that Pakistan is failing to act against the full array of Islamic militants using the country as a base.

Instead, they say, Pakistani authorities have chosen to fight Pakistani Taliban who threaten their government, while ignoring Taliban and other militants fighting Americans in Afghanistan or terrorizing India.

Such tensions have mounted despite a steady rotation of American officials through the region. They were on display last weekend when, during a visit to India, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said those who had planned the Sept. 11 attacks were now sheltering in Pakistan. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued an immediate rebuttal.

Pakistan’s critical assessment was provided as the Obama administration’s special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday night.

The country’s perspective was given in a nearly two-hour briefing on Friday for The New York Times by senior analysts and officials of Pakistan’s main spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s policy. The main themes of the briefing were echoed in conversations with several military officers over the past few days.

One of the first briefing slides read, in part: “The surge in Afghanistan will further reinforce the perception of a foreign occupation of Afghanistan. It will result in more civilian casualties; further alienate local population. Thus more local resistance to foreign troops.”

A major concern is that the American offensive may push Taliban militants over the border into Baluchistan, a province that borders Waziristan in the tribal areas. The Pakistani Army is already fighting a longstanding insurgency of Baluch separatists in the province.

A Taliban spillover would require Pakistan to put more troops there, a Pakistani intelligence official said, troops the country does not have now. Diverting troops from the border with India is out of the question, the official said.

A spokesman for the American and NATO commands in Afghanistan, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, said in an e-mail message on Monday that there was no significant movement of insurgents out of Afghanistan, and no indication of foreign fighters moving into Afghanistan through Baluchistan or Iran, another concern of the Pakistanis.

Pakistani and American officials also cited some positive signs for the alliance. Increased sharing of information has sharpened the accuracy of strikes against militant hide-outs by Pakistani F-16 warplanes and drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. And Pakistani and American intelligence operatives are fighting together in dangerous missions to hunt down fighters from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas and in the North-West Frontier Province.

But the intelligence briefing clearly illuminated the differences between the two countries over how, in the American view, Pakistan was still picking proxies and choosing enemies among various Islamic militant groups in Pakistan.

The United States maintains that the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, leads an inner circle of commanders who guide the war in southern Afghanistan from their base in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.

American officials say this Taliban council, known as the Quetta shura, is sheltered by Pakistani authorities, who may yet want to employ the Taliban as future allies in Afghanistan.

In an interview last week, the new leader of American and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, paused when asked whether he was getting the cooperation he wanted from Pakistani forces in combating the Quetta shura. “What I would love is for the government of Pakistan to have the ability to completely eliminate the safe havens that the Afghan Taliban enjoy,” he said.

The Pakistani intelligence officials denied that Mullah Omar was even in Pakistan, insisting that he was in Afghanistan.

The United States asked Pakistan in recent years to round up 10 Taliban leaders in Quetta, the Pakistani officials said. Of those 10, 6 were killed by the Pakistanis, 2 were probably in Afghanistan, and the remaining 2 presented no threat to the Marines in Afghanistan, the officials said.

They also said no threat was posed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader who American military commanders say operates with Pakistani protection out of North Waziristan and equips and trains Taliban fighters for Afghanistan.

Last year, Washington presented evidence to Pakistani leaders that Mr. Haqqani, working with Inter-Services Intelligence, was responsible for the bombing last summer of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 54 people.

Pakistani officials insisted that Mr. Haqqani spent most of his time in Afghanistan, suggesting that the American complaints about him being provided sanctuary were invalid.

Another militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is also a source of deep disagreement.

India and the United States have criticized Pakistan for allowing Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, to be freed from jail last month.

The Pakistani officials said Mr. Saeed deserved to be freed because the government had failed to convince the courts that he should be kept in custody. There would be no effort to imprison Mr. Saeed again, in part because he was just an ideologue who did not have an anti-Pakistan agenda, the officials said.

[bth: amazing that we get anything done with allies like this. One wonders if it is at all possible for us to negotiate a troop reduction between Pakistan and India along their common border. The raid in India last November was almost certainly designed to minimize the number of troops Pakistan could send to attack the Taliban by tying them up along the Indian border. Also from this an recent articles including recent statements by the Pakistani military, it seems clear that Mullah Omar is working in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the help and sanctuary of the Pakistani government.]

Taliban wearing burkas kill 14 | The Australian

Taliban wearing burkas kill 14 | The Australian: "KABUL: Taliban suicide bombers, most of them disguised in burkas, tried to storm government buildings and a military base in two Afghan cities yesterday, as this month's death toll for US forces rose to the highest in the war.

Fourteen people died in the attacks in Gardez and Jalalabad, a day after a roadside bomb killed four American troops amid a surge in violence ahead of elections on August 20, when President Hamid Karzai will stand for re-election despite criticisms about security and corruption.

Taliban militants have increasingly used co-ordinated suicide and gun attacks in their fight against Mr Karzai's Western-backed government and its foreign military allies deployed in the country for nearly eight years.

Six suicide bombers, some of them also carrying guns, tried to enter several government buildings in Gardez in Paktia province but were shot dead before reaching their targets, provincial spokesman Rohullah Samoon said."...

[bth: note this detailed reporting is coming from Australia, not US media sources]

Pakistan: Swat Taliban leader vows to seize assets of pro-army 'traitors' - Adnkronos Security

Pakistan: Swat Taliban leader vows to seize assets of pro-army 'traitors' - Adnkronos Security: "Mingora, 21 July (AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - As thousands of people continued to return to Pakistan's troubled northwest Swat region, local Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah vowed to seize property belonging to families who have backed the ongoing military operation in Swat.

Militant sources told Adnkronos International they have been waiting for the refugees to return to Swat so they can use them as human shields against the military.

The militants have also been waiting for the onset of winter when snowfalls will cut off military supplies, the sources said

“Once these two things happen, militants will once again occupy 90 percent of the valley,” a militant told AKI.

According to the Pakistani military, more than 2,000 Taliban have been killed and the local Taliban have been completely defeated in the three-month-long offensive to quash insurgents in the restive region.

Some three million people fled the conflict, which began earlier this year in Swat district and spread to the neighbouring districts of Buner and Lower Dir. Militants are fighting to introduce strict Islamic law in Swat and several surrounding areas."...

[bth: this seems to be further evidence that the Swat area is virtually a mafia land grab - mines, minerals and timber. Also note the way the militants lay out their strategy.]

Troops hit Taliban bomb factories

Troops hit Taliban bomb factories: "Troops from the Quebec-based Royal 22nd Regiment and their Afghan army allies 'hit the jackpot' in a major combat operation that ended Sunday, discovering four factories used by the Taliban to make improvised explosive devices about 17 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City.

'The quality of stuff we took was absolutely impressive. We have taken away their capacity to make thousands of IEDs,' said the lead author of the mission, Lt.-Col. Mike Patrick. He described the operation, which was dubbed Constrictor 4, as the most successful carried out so far this year in Kandahar to degrade the enemy's ability to fight.

As well as seizing suicide bomber vests and large quantities of explosive nitrates and accelerants, the troops found three 50-calibre Russian heavy machine guns, two 82mm bazookas, thousands of metres of commercial grade detonation cord and large quantities of ballbearings that can cause extreme bodily harm when packed into IEDs.

'It was one of those serendipitous moments when we thought we would find one thing and hoped for another and found it. Our success in this operation was a '10,'' the chief of operations for Canada's Task Force Afghanistan said.

'It was the difference between a Mom and Pop operation and the Mafia. It was a small assembly line. Mr. Ford would have been proud.'"...

[bth: very interesting. Also the article describes how the Canadians feigned an assault on a village as a diversion and then attacked another via helicopter landings. Very clever and well done.]

Afghan, US forces repel coordinated Taliban suicide assaults - The Long War Journal

Afghan, US forces repel coordinated Taliban suicide assaults - The Long War Journal: "Afghan and US forces repelled coordinated Taliban assaults in two major cities in eastern Afghanistan. Suicide bombers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles attacked government installations and a US base in the cities of Gardez and Jalalabad. Eight Taliban fighters and six Afghan security personnel were reported killed in the failed attacks.

In Gardez in Paktia province, six suicide bombers, some wearing the full-length burkas worn by Afghan women, attacked government buildings, including the provincial intelligence office, but were gunned down as they attempted to storm the buildings.

Three intelligence officials were killed when one of the suicide bombers detonated his vest outside the intelligence department. The other five suicide bombers and two policemen were killed during gun battles outside a police station and the governor's house. One of the suicide bombers detonated his vest outside the Paktia governor’s home.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman for eastern Afghanistan, took credit for the attack and claimed 15 heavily suicide bombers were involved in the attack.

In Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, police and US forces killed two suicide bombers as they attempted to attack a forward operating base at the airport outside the city. Another bomber was captured, ...

[bth: the article itemizes suicide attacks by date and it appears that waves of suicide bombers are being released about once a month this year with multiple suicide bombers working together. ... The war in Afghanistan is coming down to suicide bombers being the offensive smart weapon of the Taliban and IEDs and snipers being their best defensive weapons.]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Long War Journal: US Predator strikes in Pakistan: Observations

US Predator strikes in Pakistan: Observations - The Long War Journal
The dramatically increased use of covert US air power to target al Qaeda and Taliban assets in Pakistan's lawless tribal zones has sparked a controversy in the US and abroad. Critics of the airstrikes, which are carried out by unmanned Predator attack aircraft, contend that the actions violate Pakistan's sovereignty, kill innocent civilians, and make enemies of Pakistani tribesmen. Proponents of the airstrikes say that they are necessary to prevent the next major attack against the West and to disrupt al Qaeda and the Taliban's operations directed against Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Whatever the case may be, the directive to ramp up the air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas has been issued, first by President George Bush in the summer of 2008, and continued by President Barack Obama only days after his inauguration.

A look at the publicly available data on the US air campaign in Pakistan shows a marked increase in the frequency in attacks since 2008. These attacks are also becoming increasingly lethal. A little more than one in five of the strikes have killed a High Value Target. And an overwhelming number of strikes – nearly 90 percent – have taken place against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in North and South Waziristan....

Another indicator of the increasing lethality of US airstrikes inside Pakistan is the rising average number killed per attack. So far in 2009, the average casualty rate has been 11.77 killed per strike, compared to 8.81 in 2008....

[bth: worth a read in full from the original source.  Also check out the graphs.  Very interesting.]

Zero Hedge: No Inflation Here

Zero Hedge: No Inflation Here: ..."In addition, the Fed needs an upward sloping supply curve to get the economic ball rolling. Today we estimate that the AS curve is flat. The reason it is in this perfectly elastic shape, rather than upward sloping, is that we have substantial excess labor and other productive resources. For example, in June the work week was at a record low while the U6 unemployment rate was at an all time high of 16.5%. No wonder wages are deflating. Further, industry capacity utilization was at a four decade low at 68.3%, while manufacturing capacity was at a six decade low for the longer running series at 65.0%. Indeed, when excess resources are extreme, the AS curve is likely to be not only horizontal, but shifting outward, meaning that prices will be lower at any level of aggregate demand or GDP. Thus,
even if Fed actions could shift the aggregate demand curve outward, which it cannot do under present circumstances, inflation would still be a long way down the road. Thus, theory and current evidence clearly point to deflation as the overwhelming economic risk....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fox analyst: Talkiban should kill US soldier if he deserted - What BS from Fox

Raw Story » Fox analyst: Taliban should kill US soldier if he deserted
Just a few months after he advocated for military attacks on journalists, Fox News strategic analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters is telling viewers that the soldier captured by the Taliban, now positively identified as 23-year-old Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, collaborated with the enemy by appearing in a Taliban hostage video.

Peters also said that the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance suggest he may have deserted his unit — and implied the Taliban should kill the US serviceman for that.

“We must wait until all the facts are in to make a judgment, but … he is an apparent deserter,” Peters told Fox’s America’s News Headquarters on Sunday. “Reports are indeed that he had abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post and walked off.”

Bergdahl disappeared from a base in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, and was declared “missing-captured” on July 3.

Peters said the video shows Bergdahl “collaborating with the enemy,” and added that it’s “not really relevant” that the private appeared on the video “under duress.”

Peters escalated his rhetoric when he suggested that the Taliban should kill the serviceman.

“I want to be clear. If when the facts are in we find out it’s through some convoluted chain of events he really was captured by the Taliban, I’m with him. But if he walked away from his post and his buddies in wartime — I don’t care how hard it sounds — as far as I’m concerned the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills,” said Peters....

[bth: one wonders what qualifies Lt. Col. Peters to make such stupid statements.  One wonders how he can assert motivation to the soldier.  He all but called him a deserted but I have seen no evidence to back that up.  Is Lt. Col. Peters one of the talking shills that the Pentagon paid to be on the news? And one asks, what the hell this Col. was actually trying to say.]

Americans won't accept 'long slog' in Afghanistan war, Gates says

Americans won't accept 'long slog' in Afghanistan war, Gates says - Los Angeles Times
..."After the Iraq experience, nobody is prepared to have a long slog where it is not apparent we are making headway," Gates said in an interview. "The troops are tired; the American people are pretty tired."

Deep public unhappiness with the war in Iraq helped sink President George W. Bush's approval ratings, making him the most unpopular president in recent history, according to some surveys.

While not predicting a parallel fate for the Obama administration, Gates emphasized the need for progress in Afghanistan during an interview aboard his plane as he returned to Washington after visiting sailors Friday at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.

Gates has spoken about the need for progress in Afghanistan and the public's fatigue of war. But in this interview, he went further by offering a more specific time frame for needed progress as well as the consequences of failing to meet it.

Gates has overseen an overhaul in the administration's Afghanistan strategy in recent months, sending 21,000 additional troops and choosing a new commander to lead the international effort.

"This is where we are really getting back into the fight," Gates said.

The strategy switch came after extremist attacks rose dramatically last year and U.S. and NATO troop casualties surpassed record levels. A U.S. fighter jet crashed on Saturday, killing the two crew members and bringing the number of Western deaths in Afghanistan to at least 50 in July, the deadliest month yet.

President Obama said last week that he hoped to "transition to a different phase" after the Afghan presidential election Aug. 20.

During the 2007 buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, military leaders often mentioned the importance of adding time to "the Washington clock" to give their strategy a chance to work.

Gates said that Americans would have the patience to continue the war in Afghanistan only if the new military approach began to move the conflict out of deadlock.

"If we can show progress, and we are headed in the right direction, and we are not in a stalemate where we are taking significant casualties, then you can put more time on the Washington clock," he said....

[bth: I think Americans are willing to be more patient about Afghanistan - at least so long as OBL keeps breathing]

Marines Face Taliban Resistance in Clashes in Afghanistan's Helmand Province -

Marines Face Taliban Resistance in Clashes in Afghanistan's Helmand Province - ..."Often Taliban fighters flee when helicopters arrive, Sun said, but this time they stayed, and attempted to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at one of the aircraft. The Huey made two strafing runs with its Gatling guns over the tree lines, while the Cobra fired missiles, finally ending the firefight. The helicopter crew spotted at least two dead Taliban fighters."

Although the Marines asked to pursue the Taliban fighters south, more senior commanders denied the request. Sun said he thinks the problem was a lack of helicopters to provide air power and to evacuate any possible casualties, as well as roads that had not been cleared of bombs.

"Due to the limited numbers of helicopters available, it would not have been in our best interest to get decisively engaged," Sun said. In addition, moving south would leave the bazaar open to attack, he said....

[bth: this article is worth reading in full. I pulled the sections which seems to further indicate a shortage of helicopters, this time with the marines]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

MoD rejected three deals to buy Black Hawk helicopters | UK news | The Observer

MoD rejected three deals to buy Black Hawk helicopters | UK news | The Observer: "Defence ministers spurned three separate deals to buy American Black Hawk helicopters which would have helped to plug the dangerous shortage facing British troops in Afghanistan. The most recent rejection came only days ago, the Observer can reveal.

A letter sent last week by the defence equipment minister, Quentin Davies, to Sikorsky, the US manufacturer of the Black Hawk, appears to admit that snubbing its latest offer could delay the introduction of desperately needed helicopters into Afghanistan.

Davies admits that rather than opt for the 'earlier acquisition of another helicopter', the government chose to pursue the heavily criticised refit of Britain's ageing Puma fleet.

The minister's letter is dated 7 July, the day trooper Christopher Whiteside, 20, died on foot patrol in Helmand after being hit by a hidden explosive device. Military figures say that lives are being lost in Afghanistan because troops have to travel by land, making them vulnerable to roadside bombs.

Defence industry sources have also revealed that under the initial offer from Connecticut-based Sikorsky in 2007, 60 Black Hawks would already have been available for British forces in Helmand province, where they have sustained heavy casualties from roadside bombs in their renewed offensive against the Taliban."....

[bth: helicopters and IED resistant vehicles or lack thereof. The latest in a long line of evidence that the UK is failing its troops in the field. It has an army smaller than our marine corp. It has failed to deliver equipment to its troops for years now. Witness the recent debate about having the air force take over the navy's aircraft because there is a lack of money to support it. The people and the politicians simply don't give a damn - it costs money and its an unpleasant message - the will simply isn't there.]

The NSA wiretapping story nobody wanted

The NSA wiretapping story nobody wanted: "DG News Service - They sometimes call national security the third rail of politics. Touch it and, politically, you're dead.

The cliché doesn't seem far off the mark after reading Mark Klein's new book, 'Wiring up the Big Brother Machine ... and Fighting It.' It's an account of his experiences as the whistleblower who exposed a secret room at a Folsom Street facility in San Francisco that was apparently used to monitor the Internet communications of ordinary Americans.

Klein, 64, was a retired AT&T communications technician in December 2005, when he read the New York Times story that blew the lid off the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Secretly authorized in 2002, the program lets the U.S. National Security Agency"(NSA) monitor telephone conversations and e-mail messages of people inside the U.S. to identify suspected terrorists. Klein knew right away that he had proof -- documents from his time at AT&T -- that could provide a snapshot of how the program was siphoning data off of the AT&T network in San Francisco.

Amazingly, however, nobody wanted to hear his story. In his book he talks about meetings with reporters and privacy groups that went nowhere until a fateful January 20, 2006, meeting with Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Bankston was preparing a lawsuit that he hoped would put a stop to the wiretap program, and Klein was just the kind of witness the EFF was looking for.

With the EFF on board, Klein was briefly a media celebrity -- the man who had the guts to expose the NSA's secret wiretapping program. In his book he provides the documents and the stories that illustrate how all of this transpired....

I was most worried at the time when the LA Times was killing my story, but at the same time the LA Times showed it to the government. Then I really was panicking because that meant that the government knew everything and probably knew my name, but I didn't have any publicity.

IDGNS: The media merit a full chapter (entitled: 'Going Public vs. Media Chickens') in your book. What happened there?

Klein: The LA Times was particularly egregious because they were planning a front-page spread. They were the first entity I'd given all the documents to. Then they talked to the government about it, and it turned out they were talking to not only the NSA director, but the director of national intelligence, who was John Negroponte at the time. So that meant the government knew it. And then a few weeks later the LA Times killed the story. So the only thing you can read into is that basically the government squashed the story. [The LA Times' editor in early 2006, Dean Baquet, said the government had nothing to do with the decision. 'We did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on,' he told ABC News -- ed.]

IDGNS: How long did they have the story?

Klein: I started dealing with them in late January 2006, and in February they showed it to the government, and then they started wobbling. By the end of March 2006, they officially told me the story was killed.

IDGNS: Did they cover it in April, after it became public?

Klein: No that was funny. After it finally hit the news everywhere else, The LA Times didn't run with the stuff I'd given them. They'd squashed the whole thing....

IDGNS: A lot of people you might have expected to be interested in this story weren't interested initially. In the book, you talk about going to EPIC [the Electronic Privacy Information Center] and getting nowhere; you talk about the media and you also talk about Congress. You never testified before Congress.

Klein: This book has several aspects. The first aspect is the spying itself and the technical apparatus; another aspect is the role of the media and how the media has basically functioned as a propaganda apparatus for the government, more or less willingly. Part of the book is about the struggle to make the media cover this story. And the third part of this story is about Congress. It was a struggle, a struggle which failed I might add, to get Congress to investigate and do something about this. Congress ran away from me. They didn't want to touch me with a 10-foot pole, starting with my own senator, Dianne Feinstein, who was a key member of both the Intelligence Committee in the Senate and the Judiciary Committee. She was one of the first legislators I tried to contact in February 2006. I was given the number of her chief attorney in Washington, and he first was very interested. He talked to me on the phone and asked me a bunch of detailed questions and told me he'd get back to me. And then I never heard from him again.

IDGNS: Why do you think you had trouble getting Congress interested?

Klein: With the Republicans, it's obvious why they didn't want to deal with it. Their administration was responsible for the whole illegal spying operation. The first layer of the Democratic party leadership, it turns out, had been knowledgeable and briefed on this program and was complicit, in my view....

India-Pakistan rivalry

India-Pakistan rivalry: "Sunday, July 19, 2009
Dr Farrukh Saleem

India and Pakistan are in a state of active hostility — if not war or at least two proxy wars. At least six of the Pakistan army’s nine corps are on the border with India. Of the six, I Corps and II Corps are heavy armour strike corps. At least seven of the Indian army’s 13 corps are on the border with Pakistan. Of the seven, X Corps and II Corps are powerful strike corps (strike corps is an offensive formation). Additionally, all of India’s holding crops that are directly facing Pakistan also have significant offensive capabilities. In effect, 66 per cent of the Pakistan army’s holding and strike formations are directly facing India. In effect, more than 53 per cent of the Indian army’s holding and strike formations are directly facing Pakistan."

Pakistan maintains — and sustains — critical assets in the northeast that have managed to pin down India’s XV Corps, IX Corps, XVI Corps, XIV Corps, XI Corps, X Corps and II Corps. India’s 4 Armoured Brigade, 340 Mechanised Brigade, 11 and 12 Infantry Divisions, Jaisalmer Air Force Base, Utarlai Air Force Base and Bhuj Air Force Base maintain a threatening-offensive posture. India is actively supporting anti-Pakistan Baloch elements as well as anti-Pakistan Taliban factions. India is bent upon projecting power into Afghanistan thus encircling Pakistan. And, India – post-Operation Parakram — has been investing into a "Cold Start War Doctrine" involving joint operations by the Indian army, air force and navy; eight integrated battle groups with armour, artillery, infantry and combat air support.

For FY 2009, India’s defence spending will rise by close to 50 per cent to a colossal $32.7 billion (according to Jane’s Information Group). India is planning its biggest-ever arms purchases; $11 billion fighter jets, T-90S tanks, Scorpion submarines, Phalcon airborne warning and control system, multi-barrel rocket-launchers and an aircraft carrier. At $32.7 billion India’s defence spending translates into 2.7 per cent of GDP.

For FY 2009, Pakistan’s official defence spending is set at $4.3 billion while unofficial estimates go as high as $7.8 billion. If Pakistan were to match India’s rise we would have to spend more than five per cent of our GDP on defence. For the record, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan spend an overwhelmingly large percentage of their GDP on defence. Iraq, Somalia and Sudan are all — or have been — in a state of civil war. For the record, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia use to spend an overwhelmingly large percentage of their GDP on defence. Soviet Union is no more. Czechoslovakia is no more.

The US and the Soviet Union fought a 50-year Cold War during which the Soviet Union stockpiled some 13,000 active nuclear warheads. In 1991, the US won without even firing a shot. The Soviet Union raced a race that it couldn’t win. The Soviet Union split into 15.

Over the past century, economic development has been all about intense trading. Pakistan has two population centres; central Punjab and Karachi. Central Punjab is a thousand kilometres from the nearest port. Between Karachi and central Punjab is a desert in the east and on west is an area that does not — and cannot — support population concentrations. To develop economically, we must trade. Trade we must. And, the only population concentration to trade with is on our east.

Time — and money — is on India’s side. Composite dialogue among civilians means little — if anything at all. What is needed is a strategic dialogue. How can India be persuaded to pull back its offensive formations? In return for what? How can we use our America leverage in our longer-term interest? We cannot win an arms’ race with India. We ought to race a race that we can win. We can continue to race a race that we are bound to lose. Or, begin a new race that we may be able to win — or at least not lose.

The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Email:

[bth: if trade is what Pakistan needs, how can America assist? If Pakistan needs India to step down its military forces along the common border, perhaps Pakistan ought to consider breaking its ties with terrorist groups.]

Over 5,000 pirates operate off Somali coast: Russian Navy- Hindustan Times

Over 5,000 pirates operate off Somali coast: Russian Navy- Hindustan Times: "At least five large groups of pirates totalling over 5,000 people are operating in the Gulf of Aden, the first deputy chief of the Russian Navy General Staff has said.

'Pirates have become more daring and aggressive recently - there were instances when they seized vessels right in front of the ships that were responsible for the security of commercial shipping,' Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio station Saturday.

According to the United Nations, Somali pirates collected $150 million in ransom payments from ship owners last year, while overall losses from piracy were estimated at $13-16 billion, including the soaring cost of insurance and protection for vessels, as well as sending ships on longer routes to avoid high-risk areas."...

[bth: these are the first statistics I've heard on the extent of the problem. I wonder how accurate they are?]

Khaleej Times Online - Ahmadinejad’s first VP pick walks away

Khaleej Times Online - Ahmadinejad’s first VP pick walks away: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial choice for first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, has walked away from the job, state-run English-language channel Press TV reported.

Press TV sourced its report to the education ministry-funded news agency, Pana, and gave no other details of Mashaie’s decision.

Mashaie’s appointment was strongly opposed by hardliners among Ahmadinejad’s own support base.

Mashaie, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad’s son, is a controversial figure who last year earnt the wrath of hardliners, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for saying Iran is a “friend of the Israeli people.”"

Web 2.0 warfare from Gaza to Iran

Web 2.0 warfare from Gaza to Iran: "Recent weeks have seen an explosion of interest in Twitter, a social networking application which has been used by thousands of internet users to pass on news, views and rumours about the situation unfolding in Iran in the wake of the disputed presidential election.

The Iranian struggle is not however, the first conflict in which emerging ‘Web 2.0’ social media technologies have played a significant role. Israel's offensive in Gaza in December 2008 - January 2009 provides an important precedent which shows that, despite its undoubted potential for empowering new forms of bottom-up organisation, the social web is not immune from very traditional propaganda techniques."

Operation Cast Lead - The First Social Media War
The roots of Israel's media strategy in Gaza emerged in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War. The Winograd Commission appointed by the Israeli Government to look into the conflict criticised a lack of co-ordination in the country's media effort. This led to the creation of the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister's Office to co-ordinate efforts across government departments.[1][2]

The new directorate became operational some eight months before the Gaza conflict, and began planning for the offensive two months later, well before the events that ostensibly led to the breakdown of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.[1] As well as co-ordinating government ministries, the directorate also liaised with bloggers and community organisations. [3]

One key reservoir of new media expertise in Israel was the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, a private college with some notable connections to Israeli intelligence. It hosts the Institute for Policy and Strategy formerly headed by Uzi Arad, an ex- Mossad intelligence director and currently an advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Arad was questioned by the FBI and barred from the US for several years because of his contacts in Washington and Herzliya with Larry Franklin, a US official jailed for leaking classified documents to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.[4]

IDC Herzliya's GLORIA Center is also the base for the Middle East Review of International Affairs, the journal from which the British Government plagiarised elements of the February 2003 'dodgy dossier' on Iraq.[5]

In June 2007, the IDC's Sammy Ofer School of Communications became the home for a new centre with an explicit remit to develop new media technologies for 'telling Israel's story to the world', The Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy.

According to its founding statement , the Institute "provides workshops on creating effective new media advocacy campaigns and works with students in producing video, audio and written content about various aspects of life in Israel for use in new media channels such as the blogosphere, virtual worlds, social networks, computer games, pod casts and more."[6]

The Institute's project's include a media fellows programme , which trains 15 students in "promoting Israeli advocacy using new media tools" each of whom "will be expected to be on call ready to provide credible, first hand information on their experiences in Israel."[7]

Also notable is a year-long Israel advocacy course for international students called the Ambassador's Club. This programme is run by the Institute in conjunction with US-based Israel advocacy organisation StandWithUs, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.[8][9]

The three-way relationship between IDC Herzliya, StandWithUs and the Foreign Ministry was central to Israel's new media operation following the launch of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

As the Israeli offensive got under way in December 2008, the Sammy Ofer School and StandWithUs came together to launch an online operation entitled Help Us Win.

Working with Stand With Us, the school’s dean, Dr. Noam Lemelshtrich-Latar and Major Reserve Jonathan Davis of the IDC, prepared the IDC students with relevant information that would help their cause. Asaf Talmor-Wertheimer, CEO and Co-Founder, Atarim Group Ltd. took time from work to join the Help Us Win cause as one of the group leaders.[10]
The project established two situation rooms, in Herzliya and Jerusalem, staffed around the clock by 15 to 20 volunteers whose role, according to the JTA news agency, was to "promote pro-Israel content on social networking Web sites, respond to online opinion polling and try to alter the tenor of discussions in Internet chat rooms."[11] In the US, the New York office of StandWithUs was also co-ordinating with these efforts.[12]

One of those hired by StandWithUs to lead the project was social media consultant Niv Calderon.[13] In an online résumé Calderon described his role during this period as "social media presence and crisis management for the Israeli For[e]ign Ministry during operation Cast Lead".[14]...

The post highlighted the following activities:

This is what we've got so far:

1- A blog: Help Us Win. The center of attention.
2- A multi language Status Report center that can show you (currently in English and French) what's going on all over the social web, divided to tabs for the different subjects and languages.
3- A Recruiting System - please register if you wanna help.
4- a Twitter account.
5- Two Facebook groups, in English and French.
6- A Press Releases Blog for government and IDF press releases. They should be more available anyway.[16]
According to Calderon, the tools used by HelpUsWin up to this point included: Gmail, Google Docs, Wordpress, Tumblr, Picasa Web, Netvibes, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Wufoo Forms.[16]

They also produced a social networking application called QassamCount, to track the number of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. This was initially created for Twitter by Dan Peguine, who went onto develop a version for Facebook with Arik Fraimovich.[17]...

That was not the only thing the two applications had in common. was created by Arik Fraimovich, the same IDC Herzliya student who adapted QassamCount for Facebook.[30]

Fraimovich is also a former consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, a fact which caused some controversy when it was noticed by some users of[31] Challenged by two Egyptian Twitterers, Fraimovich responded:
@ahmedsalem309 @mshady a. I no longer work for MOD; b. while I don't like their administration, I do have sympathy for the people.[32]
At some point after this conversation, the reference to the Ministry of Defense consultancy was removed from the about page on Fraimovich’s blog. Interestingly, so too was the reference to his studying at the IDC Herzliya.[33]

Fraimovich’s QassamCount application was clearly an instrument of Israeli foreign policy. It is surely legitimate to ask, therefore, whether the same might not be true of

It is not necessarily obvious what the object of such an exercise might be, but it is doubtful whether Israel’s goals would have much in common with those of the Iranian protestors. ....

Significant evidence that this is indeed the Israeli government’s position is provided by a story which appeared in the Israeli daily Haaretz, almost two weeks before the election.
Organizing demonstrations in front of Iranian consulates worldwide, staging mock stonings and hangings in public, and launching a massive media campaign against Iran - these are just some of the steps Israeli diplomats have been told to take in the coming weeks. The goal, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official, is "to show the world that Iran is not a Western democracy" in the run-up to the country's presidential election on June 12.

About a week ago, the head of the ministry's Task Force on Isolating Iran sent a classified telegram to all Israeli embassies and consulates, titled "Activities in the Run-up to Iran's Presidential Election." It detailed things Israeli representatives should do before, during and after the election.[38]
Given that Twitter is supposed to have revolutionised Israeli diplomacy, one might expect a “massive media campaign” to “show the world that Iran is not a Western democracy” to include a social media element. One might not be surprised to find that element based on the people and tactics employed in the Gaza social media effort.

The role of Arik Fraimovich and is perhaps the best evidence that this is what happened, and that the Israeli government’s pre-election plan to isolate Iran played a role in igniting the Twitter revolution that has unfolded across the internet in recent weeks.

It is important to note that there is nothing unprecedented about a state seeking to advance its interests in this way. Throughout the 20th century major powers employed state-private propaganda networks in the quest for geopolitical advantage. The technique was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s through the network of front organisations associated with the Comintern. It was adopted by Britain in the 1940s with organisations like British Security Co-ordination, which in turn provided a precedent for post-war CIA networks such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom. All were quick to adopt the latest information technology available in their day. The Twitter revolution may just be the latest chapter in that story.

[bth: worth reading in full]