Saturday, August 15, 2009

Defence of the Realm: Different realities - 2

Defence of the Realm: Different realities - 2: ....."Despite all this, the IED is still regularly claiming victims. Elsewhere, however, we learn that the successful countermeasures, and especially the use of better armoured vehicles, is – as we would expect – provoking a Taleban response.

The conventional wisdom is that the insurgents would simply build bigger bombs, but in fact the Mastiff has proved so resistant to attack that, even despite six stacked mines being used, no soldier has yet been killed in one.

What seems to be happening is that Taleban bombers have shifted to attacks on Afghan soldiers and police, who do not have the MRAPs or other countermeasures. Thus, with about as many Afghan personnel as there are coalition troops, the Afghans are taking higher casualties because they are more vulnerable.

In Iraq, the US found it necessary to equip the Iraqi Army with its own fleet of MRAPs, and with IED investigation equipment, and it looks as if a similar programme will have to be mounted in Afghanistan. But, for the moment, at least some progress has been made.

More and better technology is still needed. Some is on its way but there are still gaps and glaring deficiencies in an Army which should have been better prepared but which has been behind the curve throughout the campaign."

Defence of the Realm: Helicopter blues

Defence of the Realm: Helicopter blues: "The demand for more support helicopters in Afghanistan cannot be met fully because there are not enough crews to fly them, RAF commanders have acknowledged. Five trained crews were required for each one to ensure safety. So says The Times which cites Air Commodore Simon Falla, deputy commander of the Joint Helicopter Command.

He also reveals another reason why Britain could not send too many more helicopters to Helmand - a shortage of parking space. 'There is pressure on real estate. There is this cry for more helicopters but where are you going to park them? They have to be parked somewhere,' he says.

Backing up the military inertia is defence secretary Bob Ainsworth, who blandly declares that the military will not be rushed into redeploying Merlin helicopters to Afghanistan, as 'we won't jeopardise safety'."....


Meanwhile, the Canadian government has announced a $1.15 billion contract for 15 new CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, which are expected to be delivered between 2013 and 2014.

Pending delivery, Canada's defence minister Peter MacKay has said that Canada would overcome a critical shortage of support helicopters by buying six used machines from the United States as well as leasing six Russian-made aircraft.

Presumably, the Canadian government have already booked the parking slots, and one assumes that pilots will be found to fly them – unless, of course, the Canadian military take lessons from the British military and find ever more inventive reasons why the aircraft cannot be deployed.

[bth: the response between the Canadians and the British could not be more stark]

Washington's Blog - on consumer confidence

Washington's Blog: "The Washington Post wrote yesterday:

Darkening consumer confidence and plunging prices combined with a generally dismal outlook to dampen hopes for a quick economic recovery...

The decline itself is less meaningful than the fact that economists expected consumer confidence to rise in August. This means the experts underestimated the pessimism of American consumers, which helped send the stock market down Friday...

The consumer confidence survey contained two notable findings: the lowest number of consumers in the survey's 60-year history said their personal finances are improving. Many said their net wealth is being hammered by unemployment, shorter hours and diminutive wage gains.

Of course, the government has thrown trillions at the too-big-to-fail banks, but has done next to nothing to help the struggling American people.

In the world of cheerleading corporate talking heads, the following obvious statement by the chief investment officer of $216 billion dollar investment firm Russell Investments (Stephen Wood) stands out as a breath of fresh air:

I think you're going to need to see a material stabilization in labor markets before you get meaningful and stable consumer confidence.

Summers, Bernanke and Geithner can prop up the stock, bond and other markets until the cows come home, but if unemployment is still rising, consumers will not be confident, they will spend less, and - because consumer spending equals 70% of the economy - the economy won't really recover.

'There is no refuge, no place to go to deal with your grief' - Asia, World - The Independent

'There is no refuge, no place to go to deal with your grief' - Asia, World - The Independent: "n the first ever unauthorised dispatch from an officer on the frontline, one young Captain offers a brutally honest account of life in Afghanistan, revealing the pain of losing comrades, the frustration at the lack of equipment, and the sense that the conflict seems unending and, at times, unwinnable

The author's name has been withheld"

My motivation is simple. Writing this helps vent off some of the frustration at what is happening out here in Afghanistan to those serving in the British Army, where death and serious injury are sickeningly common occurrences.

Before coming here, I had done two tours in Iraq which saw fierce fighting against the enemy. But, sometimes out here I feel I might as well be on my first tour, as a novice second lieutenant instead of a so-called senior captain with over eight years experience in the Army, due to a shocking rate of attrition that I have never encountered before.

Commentators keep citing previous figures for casualty rates in the Falkland's conflict, as well as the years in Northern Ireland, suggesting that, spread over the time we have been in Afghanistan, the figures here are not that bad

How reassuring. For a moment I thought the rates might be quite bad; but thank goodness I have been shown that what we are experiencing is in fact a tolerable "medium" number of casualties.

Can we really only analyse the death and injury rate, or view it as a cause for concern, once we get past a certain benchmark or once the average number outstrips a previous average? I had hoped that human progression was a bit more advanced than that, and that there might be more to the situation than a comparison of statistics.

Then there are the injuries. I am talking about limbs removed, double or even triple amputations, on a scale that we've never seen before.

When you read about a "very seriously injured" casualty, that person's life is never going to be the same, nor is it for the rest of their family, who will be sucked in and forever affected by the aftermath.

So what effect does this have on us all out in Afghanistan? My experience of this is from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guard's Battle Group, who have endured a significant number of fatalities and seriously injured personnel, including the death of their commanding officer.

With each death I think each of us experiences a feeling of total shock, powerlessness and impotence. Within your mind you feel you have to do something, especially if you knew the individual. Back at home that might be to jump in the car and drive to some secluded spot where you can get out and scream at the top of your lungs to let out all the anguish. But here nothing of the sort is possible. You are all enclosed within your camp or patrol base; there is no refuge, no private corner to go to, to deal with your grief.

Around you everything else has to continue, and cannot stop. The radios still have to be manned and answered, the patrols still have to be planned, the convoys have to be organised. It is not as if you can take a day off to deal with the grief, to come to terms with it. And even if you could, what good would that do?

Who wants to go and sit in their tent, sweating in temperatures in the high 40s, brooding on the possibilities: what were they thinking in those last few moments, did they know what had happened, did they know they were dying, how terrified and alone did they feel?

The only option available is to embrace the alternative: keep joking with your friends, maintain the banter levels, swapping smutty jokes and stories – literally forcing yourself to keep smiling.

I do not say that as a praiseworthy example of that renowned, age-old, plucky, English stiff upper lip. Far from it – it may be our worst enemy.

After death, life obviously has to go on, but I have always felt that life should go on having learnt a lesson from that death, improving your life as a testament to that life robbed – not merely moving on with a smile, whilst showing "fortitude".

I am just speaking for those of us who deal with the deaths and injuries in Afghanistan indirectly, as an explosion in the distance, followed by a report on the radio, then a helicopter coming in to pick up the casualty.

As for those who deal directly with the deaths and injuries, who have to go into the Viking vehicles after the explosion to pull out the casualties, who have to tourniquet the remaining stumps after both the legs of a person have been blown off, those who have to pick up the leftover pulpy fragments of a disintegrated body and put them into a bag, I am not sure how they react.

I would imagine in a similar way to the rest of us: you put it aside as soon as you can, as there is nothing to be achieved in thinking about it. All you will do is think yourself into a corner, where you are faced with the absurdity and horrid waste of it all. And if you let that take a hold, how are you meant to perform, drag yourself out of your tent at 4am after just three hours sleep, to go on another foot patrol, another 18-hour convoy, another 12-hour shift in the operations room? It does not work.

There is so much that still needs to be done, there are still weeks to get through, more patrols and convoys that need to be completed. So the event of each death is placed away, zipped up in a mental body bag, back in the recesses of your mind.

However, unlike a real body bag, which fortunately disappears, that mental body bag remains in the morgue of your sub-conscious, quite possibly to come out and be re-opened, once you return home and have the chance to think about each death, each injury, each friend gone.

Then there are the equipment shortages. Due to the pitiful numbers of support helicopters and Apaches needed to escort them, every day troops on the ground are forced to expend an enormous amount of hours and manpower just standing still. They sacrifice their reserves of energy, motivation and willpower securing and picketing routes for the never-ending vehicle convoys that have to keep happening in order to resupply the patchy spread of patrol bases with water, ammo and rations; as well as recovering the vehicles that invariably go into ditches and securing helicopter landing-sites for the evacuation of casualties from improvised explosive device strikes.

I think if Sisyphus (the Greek mythological character cursed to roll a huge boulder repeatedly up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again, throughout eternity) could see us now, he would offer his sincere condolences and offer a friendly arm around the shoulder, saying that he knew what it felt like.

If someone provided one of those garishly coloured (army) pie charts depicting the percentage of time and effort sucked up into the black hole of orchestrating these road moves, it would provide a statistic that would be both shocking and embarrassing. It might also partly explain why the military is struggling to gain an advantage over the Taliban and cannot hold a significant amount of ground. Its energy, time and focus is bound up with those road moves, and our most vital asset, our troops, are either sweating on the sides of the roads, securing them, or sweating inside the vehicles of those often doomed convoys. I am not criticising the military on the ground, who have to deal with this dilemma. Everyone seems to already agree on this issue of the equipment, in particular the lack of support helicopters – which rather begs the question of how on earth is nothing done about it? And how does the fact that nothing gets done about it seem to be the status quo and keeps occurring year after year, budgetary policy after budgetary policy, operational tour after operational tour? If a magic genie were to appear in front of my eyes, who in keeping with the spirit of the present credit crunch cutbacks, could afford to grant me just one wish, I think I would simply choose a massive increase in helicopters and pilots – a wish that would have such a crucial influence on what is happening to the British Army out here.

We are dealing here with a tenacious and stubborn enemy. Despite our dropping bombs on compounds that the enemy is using as firing-points, the very next day, new enemy fighters are back.

On the one hand, perhaps the enemy command is so feared, authoritative and manipulative that they force unwilling fighters into those compounds as pure cannon fodder. On the other, perhaps, the fighters willingly go back, despite their comrades having been killed there, so strong is their faith in an afterlife, or so strong is their belief in the jihad they are fighting.

Whatever the reason, they come back undaunted to the same firing-points, despite our overwhelming fire power. Their numbers seem to stay constant, as opposed to decreasing – all of which gives a strong indication that we will not be able to reduce their numbers to a level where they are tactically defeated.

It seems increasingly true that a stable Afghanistan will only be possible with some sort of agreement, involvement or power-sharing deal with the Taliban.

However, as the British Army units here are increasingly sucked into the turmoil of the latest "fighting season" there seems little evidence that anything is happening on the political and diplomatic stage. In the meantime, tour follows tour, during which the most intense fighting appears to achieve not much more than extremely effectively inflicting casualties on both sides, whilst Afghanistan remains the sick man of Central Asia.

I think of a scene near the end of Pat Barker's novel The Ghost Road, set at the end of the First World War, in which a seriously injured soldier lies in hospital, gradually dying. The soldier regains consciousness but due to his injuries can only slur a sentence together, which he keeps repeating. His family agonisingly try to decipher what he might be saying, which sounds like "shotvarfet, shotvarfet". His doctor realises what he is trying to say and translates: "He's saying, 'It's not worth it' ."

The man's father, a retired Army major, in grief blurts out: "Oh, it is worth it, it is."

This incredibly powerful passage goes some way to articulating our response to this conflict. We seem to know and say that it is not worth it, whilst instinctively reacting and saying that it is worth it – it has to be worth it. If I am honest, I do not know what I think about it all conclusively; my reasoning is lost in the storm of media, opinions, analysis that are at play here.

However, I know that no matter how hard I try to see through the clutter of opinions and utter something of my own in order to explain or justify what I'm involved in, I just cannot shake off that nagging, repetitive voice in my head that says "shotvarfet, shotvarfet".

The Welsh Guards' casualties

Guardsman Christopher King a 20-year-old from Merseyside was killed in an explosion while on patrol in Helmand on 20 July.

Private John Brackpool was killed by a gunshot wound on 9 July while attached to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. The 27-year-old from Sussex was shot near Lashkar Gah.

Lance Corporal Dane Elson was 22 when he was killed by an improvised explosive device during an attack on a compound in Babaji, near Gereshk on 5 July.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe was a 39 year old from Oxfordshire. He was killed by an IED in Lashkar Gah on 1 July.

Major Sean Birchall a 33-year-old, was killed in an explosion on 19 June while on patrol in Basharan near Lashkar Gah.

Lieutenant Mark Evison, 26-year-old from London, died in hospital in Birmingham on 12 May after being shot in Helmand.

Lance Sergeant Tobie Fasfous was killed by an explosion while on patrol in Helmand on 28 April.

[bth: go to the original article. Read the commentaries that follow. The British public is pulling away. It is happening.

Lack of mission, lack of equipment, lack of helicopters, lack of armor, lack of a care or competence from faceless bureaucrats in MOD, 8 years of war, it is all taking its toll on our staunchest ally.

I could see it while in London two years ago - the disinterest. Now it is disdain.

Soon, like Iraq, Americans will be alone, without friends, in the fields of Helmand facing the Taliban while al Qaeda festers and schemes in Pakistan.]

Defence of the Realm: A torrid time

Defence of the Realm: A torrid time: ..."In effect, what we might be seeing is the Taleban setting out to 'kill to order', aiming to maximise media coverage and thereby maximise the impact on the UK audience.

If that is the Taleban aim, then they will have been considerably assisted by the number of 'own goals' perpetrated by the MoD and the Army, not least in the delayed deployment of the Ridgeback. The Dubai incident has very much lodged in the collective media brain, to be absorbed as part of the narrative.

Although it has not yet fully registered that the Army is responsible for some of the delay, the delays in getting equipment to theatre is a story that very much has 'legs'. It is given a boost today with the News of the World reporting that Ridgebacks and other armoured vehicles are being stockpiled at the depot in Ashchurch in Gloucestershire, instead of being sent out to theatre (pictured above).

What also has not yet registered is the extraordinary delays behind the whole Ridgeback programme. Mooted in October 2007, the intention to order was announced personally by Gordon Brown in December 2007. By June 2008, the theatre 'fit' and been finalised and in August 2008, with great fanfare, the MoD announced that the first five vehicles had arrived in the UK for theatre conversion (picture below) - flown in to minimise delays....

[bth: again worth reading in full - how British MOD bureaucrats are killing soldiers through incompetence and will likely results in Britian reducing its role in Afghanistan to guarding bases]

Defence of the Realm: A sine qua non

Defence of the Realm: A sine qua non: ..."A lengthy report (351 pages, pdf) from the House of Common Foreign Affairs Committee gets an airing in the media today and we are seeing more reporting on the online editions.

Conveying the flavour of the report is Deborah Haynes in The Times, who fillets the conclusions to tell us one of the main findings, that 'Britain has taken on far more than it can handle in Afghanistan and should instead focus on security, ditching its lead role in other objectives such as fighting the drugs trade.'

She goes on to write:

A failure by different Government departments to coordinate their work has also hampered progress in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, where the majority of British troops are based, according to the cross-party report. In a damning indictment of Britain’s past eight years in the country, the ... Committee warned that the Government risked losing support for the mission at home and in Afghanistan by failing to set out clear and achievable goals.

This blog is very keen to see MPs take a greater role in criticising government performance, particularly through the select committee system, and then to contribute to the more effective formulation of policy. However, if the Committee's remedy for the lack of direction is to recommend that in the immediate future "the Government should re-focus its efforts to concentrate its limited resources on one priority, namely security," then its priorities are misplaced.

Nonetheless, while it may have a good point about the failure to set out clear and achievable goals having an influence on public support, simply then for concentrate on security, per se is unlikely to have the desired effect, not least because it has missed a crucial point: arguably the most powerful influence on public sentiment is the steady, high profile reportage of troop casualties.

To that effect, the absolute priority must first become – not so much as an objective as a sine qua non - force protection. Unless the military can contain what is seen as an unacceptable and unsustainable casualty rate, it will not be able to deliver on any other agenda.

Furthermore, the military must not only be able to protect itself, it must be able to do so with an economy of resource, without degrading its own operational capabilities. Otherwise, we end up in the situation which poisoned the Iraqi campaign where so much effort was devoted to countering attacks that almost all the effort was devoted to this end. Thus did the military end up describing themselves as the "self-licking lollipop."

In terms, force protection comprises three components: base protection; route security; and what might be termed operational security.

Compared with Iraq, where British bases were under constant attack from indirect fire – and even direct assault – base protection has not been quite so problematical in Afghanistan. Under the combined weight of IEDs deployed on an industrial scale, and the composite ambushes involving direct fire in combination with IED ambushes, however, route security is proving to be a major issue.

Similarly, "operational security" is giving rise to considerable concerns, some of which we addressed in the previous piece.

If there are failings here, none are more egregious than in the failure of the military to secure its lines of communication. A very significant proportion of its casualties arise while troops are transiting in vehicles, mostly prey to IEDs....

[bth: this report is worth reading in full as it provides a clear link between the failure of the british government to equip its troops with the rise in casualties, mission drift and loss of public support as a result.]

Defence of the Realm: Three dead in a Jackal

Defence of the Realm: Three dead in a Jackal: ..."This brings to 195 the number killed in Afghanistan (163 KIA) and to 14 the number of soldiers killed in Jackals (plus one Afghan interpreter

Writes Michael Evans in The Times, 'the Jackal armoured vehicle, sent out to Helmand to provide extra protection - it was designed to be mine-resistant - has proved vulnerable to the increasing size and potency of the Taleban’s improvised explosive devices (IEDs).'

The Daily Telegraph notes that it has previously been estimated that at least of quarter of the 100 Jackal fleet in Afghanistan have been severely damaged or destroyed by enemy action.

It thus reports that: 'There is no doubt that the Taliban are targeting the Jackal upping the dose of explosives everytime,' a defence source said in June, with the paper having first published concerns about the Jackal in March when five servicemen had been killed and MoD later confirmed that 18 of the vehicles had been targeted in attacks.

It was believed that the Taliban were deliberately targeting the vehicles because of a high success rate, the paper adds, stating that the Jackal has been seen as particularly vulnerable because the driver sits over the top of the front wheel which is generally the first point of contact with a bomb, it has Kevlar anti-ballistic protection rather than steel blast cover and it does"not have a V-shaped hull to deflect the blast....

[bth: further indication of the shitty equipment the Brits have given their soldiers]

'The world went silent . . . being blown up was too quick to be frightening' - Times Online

'The world went silent . . . being blown up was too quick to be frightening' - Times Online: "Spurts of dust kicked up in the field to the left of the US Marines and the clatter of gunfire grew louder. The Marines began to run, their bodies taking on the hunched and wary posture of troops under fire. Shouting into radios, officers were struggling to catch up with the ambush that was beginning to envelop them."

More regular, disciplined shots sounded close by. A pall of ugly brown smoke hung in the clear dawn air several hundred metres away, marking the spot where a bomb explosion had initiated the Taleban ambush. It was 6.45am.

I was in the middle of the first squad of Marines. We pounded headlong towards a mud compound ahead. As we got to about 10ft of the corner of the building, the world went suddenly and inexplicably silent and everything turned white.

Being blown up was too quick to be frightening. Instead, the sensation was one of odd detachment....

US Marines from Fox Company 2-8 take in a couple of suspects for questioning

[bth: worth reading in full]

Friday, August 14, 2009

'Too little parking' to boost Afghanistan helicopter numbers - Telegraph

'Too little parking' to boost Afghanistan helicopter numbers - Telegraph: "Britain can only send a limited number of helicopters to Afghanistan because of a shortage of “parking” spaces, Air Cdr Simon Falla, a senior officer, has disclosed."

Air Cdr Falla, Deputy Commander, Joint Helicopter Command, said that finding extra facilities to transport, park and maintain helicopters on Nato bases there would be a problem.

Ministers are under intense pressure after military leaders said that more helicopters would cut the number of British soldiers killed by roadside bombs - 196 British personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

They have promised to add to the fewer than 30 helicopters that are there, starting with Merlins, the last of which returned from Iraq yesterday.

However, Air Cdre Falla warned that there were logistical constraints.

“There is this cry for more helicopters,” he said. “Where are you going to park them? Because they all have to park somewhere. It’s quite a small place we are flying in. There is pressure on space and you have to be careful in deploying extra helicopters.”

British troops in Helmand have the use of 10 Chinooks and five Lynxes while US forces in Afghanistan have access to more than 100 Chinooks. The British often borrow US helicopters, but the American aircraft may also be limiting the scope for British deployments.

“We talk about America having lots of helicopters; they have to park somewhere,” Air Cdre Falla said. More helicopters also meant more ground crews and transport planes to carry parts, he said. An increase in the fleet could only be gradual.

British forces operate from two main bases in the country, Camp Bastion and Kandahar Air Station. Camp Bastion’s runway is dominated by a US fleet which is operated “inefficiently” according to some British commanders. A second tarmac runway is due to be completed this year. At Kandahar, another parking area will soon be required and will be complicated by the need for protection from regular Taliban rocket attacks.

The number of British helicopters that can be sent to Afghanistan is also limited because no more than 25 per cent of the total can be on operations at one time, it was disclosed. The others are being serviced or used for training in the UK.

Air Cdre Falla said: “When you get a headline saying there are more helicopters in Hampshire than Helmand, there might well be, but there’s a bloody good reason for that.”

Just six of the fleet of 28 Merlins will be in Afghanistan at any one time. Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, indicated that they would not be armour-plated, despite pilots telling The Daily Telegraph that a lack of protection from bullets and rocket-propelled grenades would endanger the lives of passengers and crew. He said he was confident the helicopters were “perfectly capable of the job”. He added: “We can’t compete with America. People need to accept we are part of a coalition. We share their helicopters and they share ours.”

It was also confirmed that eight Chinooks grounded by computer problems since 2001 will be in service next year but only two will be in Afghanistan at any one time.

[bth: amazing how pathetic the British and their helicopter excuses have become. Good grief. No place to park them - all 6 of them in Afghanistan? Please. Better to just say nothing at all than say this tripe.]

Belmont Club » The Opium War

Belmont Club » The Opium War: ..."The fight is for dusty little towns whose major economic importance is probably their status as trading centers. Wikipedia says that “on August 12, 2009, U.S. Marines mounted a helicopter assault on the Taliban-held town of Dahaneh” as part of the over-all operation codenamed Strike of the Sword. “The assault began before dawn, with Marines entering the town as others battled militants in the surrounding mountains. The first wave of Marines was met with small arms, mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire. Marines said that they have killed 7-10 militants so far. U.S. Marine Harrier jets were also involved in the battle dropping flares in a show of force. After several hours fighting was still continuing and the Marines had by that point captured several militants and seized about 66 pounds of opium.” An AP article characterizes it as an attempt to control an opium route leading south into Pakistan, leaving no doubt that Strike of the Sword is meant not only to defy the Taliban’s boast that they would scuttle the elections, but to tie up the purse strings which sustain them."


A recent announcement that up to 50 “opium barons” have been cleared to be hit means that from one point of view, the campaign is an opium war. Taking these physical locations is probably less important than being able to control the trading network itself. There are estimated to be 1,500 small and 500 large opium traders in the Helmand. The ongoing USMC attack is taking place in the middle of the traditional trading season (from June to September) and may threaten, perhaps pointedly, to ruin it.

The seasonal dimension to opium trade must be emphasised. The key period of selling from the farmgate is during the months of production – from May to July in Helmand and July to September in Ghor. It was apparent from interviews with farmers and small traders that there are farmers in Helmand who retain small stocks of 2–10kgs as reserves that are slowly traded through the year according to need....

[bth: if you can destroy the harvest after the farmers have been paid but before the opium can be sold to exporters, you've really got the Taliban in a cash bind. Seems like a viable strategy to me.]

Belmont Club » The Opium War

Belmont Club » The Opium War

Belmont Club » The Opium War

Belmont Club » The Opium War

Naval Open Source INTelligence

US marines in Afghanistan launch first energy efficiency audit in war zone | Environment |

US marines in Afghanistan launch first energy efficiency audit in war zone | Environment | ..."US marines in Afghanistan run through some 800,000 gallons of fuel a day. That's a higher burn rate than during an initial invasion, and reflects the logistical challenges of running counter-insurgency and other operations in the extreme weather conditions of Afghanistan.

'We need to understand where the fuel goes,' Conway told a Marines Corps energy summit today. 'The largest growing demand on the battlefield today is for electricity and how we create that.'

He added: 'We are going to more efficient. We have got to be.'"...

Conway, who led the marine invasion of Iraq in 2003, said he was motivated by the high costs — as well as the risks to troops – of getting oil and water to combat zones. For land-locked Afghanistan, the nearest port at Karachi in Pakistan is more than 400 miles away from marine bases, and maintaining those long supply lines has become an increasingly dangerous proposition.

Some 80% of US military casualties in Afghanistan are due to improvised explosive devices (IEDS), and many of those placed in the path of supply convoys.

The costs of shipping water and fuel to the troops is also becoming unsustainable. The price of a gallon of petrol in a war zone can cost up to $100. "It is a shocking figure to compute what it costs by the time you pour that gallon of gas into a Humvee or an aircraft in the place you are operating," Conway said.

He said he was looking to his energy auditors to find ways of cutting back energy consumption at operating bases, and also to pare down the equipment carried by each individual marine. An average marine carries about 9lbs of disposable batteries in their kit to power equipment such as night vision goggles and radios.

One immediate target of the auditors is likely to be climate control. Some 448,000 gallons alone are used to keep tents cool in the Afghan summer, where temperatures reach well over 40C, and warm in the winter, said Michael Boyd, an energy adviser to the Marine Corps.

The marines have been exploring ways to reduce that consumption by spraying tents with a foam coating.

"That's a huge saving and you are no longer putting trucks on those roads, and tanker drivers in harm's way and everyone else involved on the way," Boyd said.

[bth: last I checked a third of the supply convoys in Iraq (don't know about Afghanistan) consisted of bottled water. Now why that is I don't know since in every other war we had water purification systems that used local water instead of shipping it around the globe from private contractors that had political fixes in with favored government officials. For another, Afghanistan has an abundance of wind power available for electricity. For another, we could buy fuel from the local market for nonessential uses instead of shipping it in ourselves via Pakistan where we are subject to ambush and extortion.]

Afghan president's brother denies drugs link - Yahoo! News

Afghan president's brother denies drugs link - Yahoo! News: "KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai's half-brother denied a report on Thursday that British forces had seized tons of opium on his land last month, saying it was aimed at hurting the president a week before an election.

The German magazine Stern reported British special forces found several tons of opium in Kandahar province on land belonging to Ahmad Wali Karzai, who is head of the provincial council as well as the president's half-brother.

'This is the time of the election. They are just doing this to hurt the president, that's all,' Ahmad Wali Karzai told Reuters by telephone.

Asked who he blamed for trying to discredit his brother he said: 'I don't know. Whoever wrote this.'

The president has long been dogged by accusations that members of his powerful family are involved in the drugs trade. He has repeatedly said he has seen no proof.

A British embassy spokeswoman said of the reported seizure: 'We don't comment on operations.'"...

Three British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, taking toll to 199 - Times Online

Three British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, taking toll to 199 - Times Online: "Three British soldiers died in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan yesterday. Their deaths took the number of war dead in the campaign against the Taleban to 199.

A fourth soldier was seriously injured in the explosion, which occurred shortly after dawn as the men were on a foot patrol in Sangin, Helmand province. Their families have been informed.

In a bloody day for Britain, at least four other troops were wounded in incidents across Helmand.

Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, paid tribute to the dead: “It brings us very close to the sad milestone of 200 fatalities in this conflict."....

The 199 soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Clearing roadside bombs perilous duty - Washington Times

Clearing roadside bombs perilous duty - Washington Times: ..."Maj. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, who took charge of more than 24,000 NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan this spring, says that about 70 percent of the U.S. casualties in his region last month came from IEDs and that Wardak Province, just west of Kabul, had the most blasts at 42.

About two hours into the day's journey, the lead vehicle detects something suspicious, and Spc. Mike Booth, 22, who in civilian life works construction in Green Bay,maneuvers his large vehicle called a Buffalo for a closer look.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Burger, 35, from Wassau, Wis., then operates a giant robotic claw on the front of the vehicle to look for trip wires and explosives.

'They want me to find it quickly, but it just doesn't work that way,' he said.

For two hours, the convoy stops traffic while the team searches, first by machine, and later on foot, backing up traffic of colorful buses and trucks overflowing with bags of wheat. Before moving on, they find four mortar rounds rigged as IEDs and detonate them safely.

Three hours later, they come to another hole in the road and launch another search. An Afghan National Army unit had found part of a suspected IED, but they needed the coalition's help in extracting the rest. Staff Sgt. Burger finds what he thinks is a mortar round, but closer examination reveals an empty water bottle.

"If we're told a wire is in place, and we didn't thoroughly look for it and something happened - I'd take it pretty hard," he said.

The convoy continues, and two hours later, the inevitable happens: An explosion rips into the convoy's rear vehicle, twisting the axle and rolling it into a ditch. Luckily, everyone walks out safely from their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP.

"It's like being at the top of a roller coaster, and you lurch forward, then start falling with no brakes," said Spc. Ryan Haring, 20, of Tomahawk, Wis., who was driving the stricken vehicle.

"It was the biggest I'd been in," added Sgt. John Johnson, 41, of Lac du Flambeau Reservation.

After hundreds of soldiers died in roadside bombings while riding Humvees in Iraq, the U.S. Army ordered the MRAPs. In Afghanistan, the MRAPs are not good in snow or rugged terrain, but they are saving lives until the coalition can develop and deploy all-terrain versions of the blast-resistant vehicles.

"We trust the vehicles," said Spc. Haring, "As long as we wear our helmets and seat belts, you don't move too much. The worst thing we have is rollovers."

The enemy is adapting here in the Tangi Valley -- creating larger and larger roadside bombs. "They've gotten bigger," said Col. David B. Haight, commander of the Army's 3rd brigade, 10th Mountain Division, "They are several hundred pounds, some of them."

Maj. David Stevenson, executive officer of 287th Infantry, 3rd brigade, 10th Mountain Division, says he can see the psychological toll on soldiers from almost daily IED attacks. "They never know when they're going to get hurt."

"I always expect to get hit," said Sgt. First Class Millard, "When we don't -- it's a good day." Although the Wisconsin Guard unit completed the mission without casualties, it was not to be a good day for the coalition along Route Georgia.

Just a few hours after the Guard passed, another convoy got hit.

This time, the MRAP flipped over into a small river, killing 23-year-old Gunnery Sgt. Jerry Evans Jr. of Orlando, Fla., and shattering the legs of two other soldiers. It happened at the same location where the Guard unit had earlier discovered and detonated its first IED of the day.

"The most common misconception is that once we clear a road -- it stays clear," said Sgt. First Class Millard. "Once we lose visual site of a route, it's no longer clear."

Jessica Weinstein/The Washington Times An improvised explosive device hole is on Route Georgia, a 17-mile stretch of road where insurgents plant bombs.

Fingerprints confirm Jakarta bomber alive - Rest of World - World - NEWS - The Times of India

Fingerprints confirm Jakarta bomber alive - Rest of World - World - NEWS - The Times of India: "MELBOURNE: Fingerprint analysis has confirmed that one of two men reported killed in a Java shoot-out with police was not Indonesia’s most wanted
terrorist, Noordin Mohammed Top.

Malaysian-born Top is a prime suspect in last month’s near simultaneous suicide attacks on Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels that killed nine people and wounded 53.

Officials were publicly sticking to their line that only DNA tests would confirm the identity of the body, but a source involved in the investigation said that th dreaded terrorist remained at large."

More Pakistanis View Al-Qaeda, Taliban Negatively, Poll Finds -

More Pakistanis View Al-Qaeda, Taliban Negatively, Poll Finds - "Pakistani views of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have shifted markedly since last year, with unfavorable opinions doubling to about two-thirds of those surveyed in a new Pew Research Center poll.

Condemnation of extremists did not coincide with a more favorable view of the United States, held by only 16 percent of the Pakistanis surveyed. Only 13 percent said they had confidence in President Obama, a stark contrast to his overwhelming popularity in much of the rest of the world. A hefty 64 percent said they regard the United States as an enemy of Pakistan.

But more than half said that improved relations between Pakistan and the United States were important, and large majorities supported U.S. efforts to provide aid and intelligence to the Pakistani military. U.S. military assistance to Pakistan has totaled about $11 billion since 2001, and the Obama administration has requested an additional $2.5 billion for 2010."

Public displeasure with the United States focused on the war in Afghanistan -- with seven in 10 Pakistanis calling for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops -- and on missile attacks by U.S. Predator drones on al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the western Pakistani mountains near the Afghan border.

Only 22 percent said the United States takes Pakistani views into account when making foreign policy decisions, a number largely unchanged since 2007.

The face-to-face survey of about 1,200 adults, largely in urban areas, took place in late May and early June, about a month after the Pakistani army began a major offensive against entrenched Taliban forces in the Swat Valley region in northwest Pakistan. The military last month declared victory in the operation, although the return of more than 2 million people displaced by the fighting has been slowed because of ongoing security concerns.

Military operations have also produced at least a temporary lull in suicide bombings that swept Pakistan this year. More than 87 percent said such attacks are never justified, the highest percentage in the poll.

Public support for the Pakistani military remains high, with 77 percent saying it is having a good influence on their country. But President Asif Ari Zardari has dropped sharply in popularity, with 32 percent saying they had a favorable view of him, down from 64 percent in a similar survey last year. By contrast, 67 percent said they approved of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and 79 percent had a favorable view of the leader of the government's main political opposition, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

India remains a prime concern for most Pakistanis, with 88 percent saying they viewed it as a threat, compared with 73 percent for the Taliban and 61 percent for al Qaeda....

Former Afghan president escapes Taliban ambush

Reuters AlertNet - Former Afghan president escapes Taliban ambush: "KUNDUZ, Afghanistan, Aug 13 (Reuters) - A former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, survived a Taliban ambush on Thursday in northern Kunduz province, where militants clashed with police for a second straight night, officials said.

The violence jolted the once-quiet part of the country a week before a presidential election that the militants have vowed to disrupt. Insurgents are spreading their attacks from the south and east into Afghanistan's north and west.

Rabbani, now a member of parliament, is a one of the main supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, the leading rival to incumbent Hamid Karzai in the Aug. 20 poll."...

Monday, August 10, 2009

CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive - CNN Poll: Support for Afghanistan war drops « - Blogs from

CNN Political Ticker: All politics, all the time Blog Archive - CNN Poll: Support for Afghanistan war drops « - Blogs from "WASHINGTON (CNN) — A new national poll indicates that support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low.

Forty-one percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday say they favor the war in Afghanistan — down 9 points from May, when CNN polling suggested that half of the public supported the war. Fifty-four percent say they oppose the war in Afghanistan, up 6 points from May.

'Afghanistan is almost certainly the Obama policy that Republicans like the most,' says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. 'Nearly two-thirds of Republicans support the war in Afghanistan. Three-quarters of Democrats oppose the war.'

A record 44 United States troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, and 11 have been killed so far this month.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted 7/31-8/3, with 1,136 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points

–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report"

Taliban Now Winning -

Taliban Now Winning - "The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency's spiritual home."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the commander offered a preview of the strategic assessment he is to deliver to Washington later this month, saying the troop shifts are designed to better protect Afghan civilians from rising levels of Taliban violence and intimidation. The coming redeployments are the clearest manifestation to date of Gen. McChrystal's strategy for Afghanistan, which puts a premium on safeguarding the Afghan population rather than hunting down militants.

Gen. McChrystal said the Taliban are moving beyond their traditional strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west.

The militants are mounting sophisticated attacks that combine roadside bombs with ambushes by small teams of heavily armed militants, causing significant numbers of U.S. fatalities, he said. July was the bloodiest month of the war for American and British forces, and 12 more American troops have already been killed in August....

Death of TTP chief

Death of TTP chief: "ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Rehman Malik has challenged the Taliban to prove their leaders are still alive, after reports that two of them have been killed.

Rehman Malik told the BBC officials physical evidence showed that the top commander, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US missile attack on Wednesday.He said intelligence suggested that a shoot-out later broke out between Mehsud’s potential successors in which one died.

The militant group’s spokesmen were unable to offer any physical evidence to disprove the government’s claims. In an interview with the BBC, Malik denied the allegation that Pakistani security forces had no evidence to prove that Mehsud was killed, along with one of his wives, in a strike on his father-in-law’s house in the Zangarha area, northeast of Ladha, on Wednesday.

“The day before yesterday, there was credible information coming from inside the area that Baitullah Mehsud had been killed,” the minister said, adding “This credible information had come right from sources based in South Waziristan, and particularly in Ladha.”...

[bth: So my take is that Mehsud has been able to hide from us for years, then according to Pakistani news sources he met a couple of weeks ago and told his lieutenants that they wouldn't be together much longer, then he breaks cover which he had heretofore strictly maintained and goes to his father-in-law's house, puts an IV in his arm, sits in a chair on the roof with his new young second wife massaging his diabetic racked legs in plain view of US drones that had been tipped off to his whereabouts by ISI Paki sources. Did I mention that there was a reward on his head of $5 MM. I'm guessing he decided to die a martyr after his diabetes picked up and intended to have the reward money given to his ISI buddies or his in-laws. So now the US is demanding proof before payment. What a corrupt system and its amazing how the Taliban have figured out how to manipulate the US. One wonders if there wasn't some way for us to plant dissent among his followers to try to split them apart further. Maybe we did, but I'm doubtful.]

Pentagon puts Afghan drug-traffickers on hitlist | World news |

Pentagon puts Afghan drug-traffickers on hitlist | World news | ..."In interviews with the Senate foreign relations committee, two US generals serving in Afghanistan said major traffickers with known links to the insurgency had been put on the 'joint integrated prioritised target list'. That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time.

Currently, they said, there were about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list.

'We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency,' one of the generals told the committee staff."...

[bth: the harvest is in. Now would be the time to strike.]

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Battle of Britain in Reverse « New Wars

Battle of Britain in Reverse « New Wars: ..."Today the new wonder of the jet age seems to be stealth, which in retrospect is more a sign of obsolescence than another turning point in the age of manned flight. While the advanced technology of radar-evading materials does make the aircraft invisible to normal modes of detection, the expense of deploying such a capability is prohibitive to most nations other than the US. The tiny numbers which even a superpower can purchase means that older, cheaper legacy fighters must soldier in most of the functions, because they can’t afford to be replaced.

The next war then will certainly be a missile war. Though aircraft will still be around in various functions, they will be limited to a supporting role, such as tactical transport, vertical lift for troops, or mopping up after the rocket barrage. Many of their traditional roles will be overtaken by unmanned aerial vehicles, which without having to risk a pilot or $100 million dollar aircraft of which only a handful can be bought, makes the most sense."


WARSHIPS SEIZE TALIBAN DRUGS: ..."He said coalition forces had seized more than 30 tonnes of illegal drugs over the past five months – with more than 70 per cent as a result of Royal Navy interceptions. HMS Chatham and HMS Montrose worked with the Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Edinburgh in the operations."...

According to some estimates, hashish accounts for half the profits from the drug trade in the Gulf. The UN World Drug Report estimates that drug addiction rates have almost tripled in the Arab world....

Submarines: Why Worry? « New Wars

Submarines: Why Worry? « New Wars: ..."Late Cold War and the Future: The Aircraft Carrier?-Armed with cruise missiles, they now possessed the extended reach of the carrier’s naval bombers. Increasingly, the cruise missiles can loiter like the manned planes, as well as ferry separate payloads as do the bombers. Experiments are also being conducted in launching unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which themselves are improving in range, payload, and capability.

Whatever the current faults of today’s archaic Russian Navy, we think the US Navy ignores the submarine threat to its peril. However important Expeditionary Carrier and Marine Amphibious Fleets, they are of little use if they are denied freedom of passage to their intended target. Considering how far the new U-boats have advanced since World War 2, with enhanced stealth and propulsion systems, not to mention the long -reach of cruise missiles, plus the fact that it took the combined industrial might of three navies to defeat them, we see them in a position to become an equal threat to surface warships as they were to the slow and poorly armed merchantmen of the last world war." / UK - Banks make $38bn from overdraft fees / UK - Banks make $38bn from overdraft fees: "US banks stand to collect a record $38.5bn in fees for customer overdrafts this year, with the bulk of the revenue coming from the most financially stretched consumers amid the deepest recession since the 1930s, according to research. The fees are nearly double those reported in 2000.

The finding is likely to increase public hostility towards the financial sector, which has been under political pressure to ease the burden on consumers by increasing credit availability and lending more fairly after being bailed out by taxpayers."...

[bth: they do it because they can. These banksters, these wards of the state, have no problem screwing the most desperate. ]

In The Graveyard of Fuel Tankers | Free Range International

In The Graveyard of Fuel Tankers | Free Range International: "For the first time in this conflict it appears that Taliban fighters are moving out of the “Southern Triangle” of Nangarhar Province and attempting to interdict the road to Kabul. The latest attack was on 6 August and it occurred much further east than the series of attacks last summer which we think emanated out of Laghman Province and featured the impressive shooting of The RPG Mechanic. The 6 August attack happened in broad daylight at around 0800 in the morning (I just missed it having left that day for Kabul at 0700) and the ambush team stayed on scene to fight with the ANP for around an hour pulling out only after American soldiers arrived on scene....

This was the targeted tanker - it took multiple hits to the cab and tanker from small arms fire and an RPG hit to the external fuel tank behing the cab

[bth: the author goes on to say that the reason these Taliban forces are able to amass like this is because of the new rules of engagement regarding close air support - or lack thereof]

Army: 'Insufficient evidence' of crime in soldier's electrocution -

Army: 'Insufficient evidence' of crime in soldier's electrocution - "There will be no criminal charges filed in the death of a Green Beret who was electrocuted in his quarters in Iraq last year, the Department of Defense said Friday."

The Army's 11-month investigation "concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove that any one person, persons or entity was criminally culpable" in the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, the Department of Defense said in a written statement.

Maseth, a 24-year-old decorated Green Beret from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was electrocuted in a shower in his Baghdad quarters -- a former palace of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- in January 2008.

"The investigation revealed that there were numerous entities, individuals, both contractors and government employees, who breached their respective duties of care; however, none of those breaches, in and of themselves, were the proximate cause of his death," the Army said.

A report released last month from the Pentagon's inspector general found that Maseth's death stemmed from failures both by the U.S. military and by military contractor KBR.

The company did not properly ground and inspect electrical equipment, the inspector general's report found, while Maseth's commanders failed to ensure that renovations to the building where he was based had been properly done. The Army did not set electrical standards for jobs or contractors.

KBR has said the palace was not properly grounded by contractors when it was built.

The Pentagon report concluded that KBR failed to ground a water pump at the building, and the company did not report improperly grounded equipment during routine maintenance.

Maseth's family is suing the company....

[bth: absolutely no accountability]

Informed Comment