Saturday, August 22, 2009

Compare and contrast British and US vehicles in Afghanistan

Defence of the Realm: The appliance of scienceThe contrast between the exisitng technologies is clearly seen in the picture above where, in a composite convoy comprising UK and US forces, we see a US Maxxpro MRAP leading a British Wimik (the same type of vehicle in which Major Shirley was injured), the latter complete with the same strapped-on Kevlar armour, added in a vain attempt to improve the protection.

[bth: compare and contrast.  Which vehicle would you rather be in?  The American Maxpro or the Winik from the UK?  The British vehicle would be equivalent to the vehicles the US military was pawning off on troops and the public and acceptable circa 2004 - deathtraps with kevlar blankets as a shroud.  Note in the third picture of the blown up American vehicle the cab and glass are intact, the wheel and fender are sheared but the crew likely walked away shaken not stirred.]

In the field with the troops in Helmand - Asia, World - The Independent

In the field with the troops in Helmand - Asia, World - The Independent:... "The village elders were polite but guarded. Niamtullah Khan, a farmer who guessed his age was '70 or 80', said: 'If you ask anyone if they would like bombs and mines, or schools or clinics, then, of course, we want schools and clinics. But for that you need security, will the British and the government provide that? We are happy to show them where the mines and bombs are, but they must protect us. I am willing to vote. I will vote for anyone who provides security, but who is that person? We have received no information.'"

His neighbour, Amar Jan, was dismissive of the polls: "They are corrupt in Kabul, they steal the money, I do not trust them. What is happening here is more important. This area is poor, we need money to be spent here, if there are jobs then the Taliban would not be able to turn the heads of the young people.

"But if the promises being made are not kept, then the Taliban will return here and this war will go on for a long, long time."

Defence of the Realm: Coincidence?

Defence of the Realm: Coincidence?: ...."The 116-vehicle convoy, one of the biggest to ever leave Camp Bastion, was travelling a dangerous 40 miles to bases in the Sangin Valley via the outskirts of Gereshk and then off-road through open desert. It took a full day to get to the first base, with a Manoeuvre Operations Group [MOG] in Vikings acting as a screen for the convoy and clearing the path ahead (one of which took an IED hit).

The road convoy was mounted, incidentally, at a time that the US forces are increasingly relying on airlift. Since 2005, there has been an 800 percent increase in air drops – from two to three per week to seven to eight per day. In July, the USAF made 1,700 air drops over Afghanistan. That is the most since the start of the Afghan conflict, in 2001."....

[bth: a shortage of helicopters results in air drops and lengthy armored convoys moving out into the desert and swinging back it looks like.... So in this convoy vehicle spacing 227 feet. So if it took a full day to go 40 miles and assuming 12 hours of daylight and operations during daylight only we are at a pace of 3.3 miles per hour. Assuming 40 miles in 24 hours we're looking at 1.7 miles per hour. Assuming a union job and only an 8 hours job - unlikely - we are at 5 mph.]

Defence of the realm: Fine words...

Defence of the Realm: Fine words ...
.....But what has marked out the most recent casualties – and magnified the rate of attrition – is the Taleban tactic of employing multiple IEDs in complex traps, with secondary devices aimed at killing rescue parties when they come to the aid of those caught in the primary blast.

With this current incident, this is the fourth time in the Sangin area, since 10 July, that troops have been caught out with fatal effect. That is not to say that similar tactics are not being used by the Taleban elsewhere – they are. Earlier this month we saw a soldier killed near Gereshk (although not so very far from Sangin) when he sought to recover an Afghan soldier's body. Then there was the incident in December 2008 when a soldier was killed after a complex ambush on a Viking near Lashkar Gah.

From other reports, though, it would appear, complex IED ambushes are now theatre-wide, these also having been experienced by USMC patrols further south in Garmsir.

Nor indeed is the slaughter confined to British troops. While we have lost 15 so far this month, the total losses for all coalition forces have now reached 50, not so very far short of last month's total of 76.

Public (and therefore political) acceptance of this continued toll of fatalities – which admittedly by contrast with previous campaigns is relatively modest – requires us to trust that the Army knows what it is doing, and the casualties are a necessary and unavoidable consequence of war, all in the context of the military making progress towards achieving its aims.

Sensitised by the saga of the Snatch Land Rover, however, and many other subsequent episodes where it has been demonstrated that the military (with or without the dereliction of the MoD – and it is difficult to assess where the responsibility lies) has been somewhat cavalier in its responsibilities, we are less than convinced that the Army has a grip on the situation.

Looking down from this end of the telescope – lacking the context and broader appreciation of the campaign in Helmand – all we see is a progression of casualties, some of which are evidently caused by the same Taleban tactic, for which the Army seems to have no obvious counter.

The Army response (and that of so many of its fellow travellers) is to retreat behind the wall of OPSEC (operational security) oblivious to the very obvious fact that the enemy clearly knows a great deal about its operations, with so many others directing sneering condescension at those who have the temerity to question or even doubt the wisdom and professionalism of "Our Brave Boys".

So often are our soldiers cast as "heroes" that there is virtually a cultural taboo against offering even the mildest criticism of soldiers, even though there is nothing particularly heroic about being blown apart by a hidden IED, or having limbs ripped apart. In fact, it is a squalid, miserable way to go.

Somehow, though, the military – or perhaps the politicians – are going to have to come to terms with the legitimate, but often overstated demands of OPSEC, and the need to provide enough information to assure its critics that the Army is responding effectively to the different threats in theatre, and is taking them seriously.

Fine words are no longer good enough – if they ever were.

Defence of the Realm: Chinook shot down

Defence of the Realm: Chinook shot down
....From the MoD website, we learn that the incident happened after two helicopters dropped off cargo and passengers a few miles north of Sangin. Shortly after take-off "the four-strong crew of one Chinook saw cockpit indications of an engine fire during take-off."

The pilots skilfully continued to manoeuvre the helicopter about 1km away from the "danger zone" (the MoD phrasing) "to safely make an emergency landing." All four crew onboard managed to evacuate the aircraft safely. They were recovered by the second helicopter which took them out of the area.

The MoD, initially, quite deliberately did not rule out enemy action, and have now confirmed that the aircraft was brought down by a combination of "RPG and small-arms fire".

Precisely what damage was caused has not been revealed, but a Chinook has a sophisticated and highly effective fire suppression system and, therefore, a straight engine fire should not present a catastrophic emergency. Furthermore, the engine casings are heavily armoured, which makes you wonder what sort of weapons were deployed. Then, the aircraft has a capability to fly on one engine, especially if it is lightly loaded, as was the case.

Interestingly, the extraction of the four crewmen was effected by the other Chinook, rather than relying on – say – the quick reaction force from Sangin (or even the troops who had just been dropped). One should not read too much into this, especially as the other Chinook was in the air over the scene, but in the event that the crew were uninjured, one might expect them to remain by their machine, pending either repairs or arrangements for recovery.

This brings in a fourth point, that the aircraft was subsequently destroyed by a coalition airstrike, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taleban. This clearly indicates that it there was a significant enemy threat and that it was thought tactically inadvisable to commit ground troops to secure the area.

For such a high-value asset, the possibility of recovery would have been strongly considered – unless of course the aircraft was much more badly damaged than has been indicated, and was already deemed to be beyond economic repair.

In fact, that seems to have been the case. According to The Times, a Special Forces unit had disembarked with their kit only minutes earlier, but when the helicopter lifted off with just the four-man crew on board, it came under attack. The engine burst into flames and the crew had to fight the controls to make an emergency landing. "They managed to fly the Chinook forward 500 metres to reach a safe area before landing it," one MoD official says.

The "unrecoverable" helicopter was still on fire and a decision was taken to destroy it to prevent Taleban insurgents from seizing any of the equipment on board. A Nato bomber was called in and dropped a 500lb bomb on the wreckage.

The fact that it was destroyed says a great deal about the strength of the coalition grip in the area, where a considerable number of operations have been mounted to "chase out" the Taleban. Normally, the preference would be to secure the site, even if the aircraft was destroyed, in order to carry out a crash investigation.

That this aircraft was downed as result of enemy action comes as no surprise. Since April, we have been aware of a deliberate Taleban strategy to down a Chinook, with it becoming very obvious that these helicopters were targets.

Further evidence came with the downing of the Mi-26 in July, followed by an initial announcement by the Taleban that they had shot down a Chinook, when it was even more evident that the enemy was aiming for a "spectacular". Fortunately – the aircraft downed was empty, and no one was hurt. The Taleban still have not succeeded, but it is quite obvious that they are trying.

If as a result of all this, helicopter re-supply to forward areas is considered too dangerous, this will impose considerable extra strain on resources, as may already be happening. But it also calls into question the prevailing narrative that more helicopters are the answer to reducing troop casualties.....

The DEW Line

The DEW Line

The DEW Line

Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops -

[Military Contractors]

[bth: Note that there were about 40,000 contractors added to Afghanistan since December.  As this graph clearly shows, the Afghan surge is composed of contractors and lots of them.  What are they dong?]

US Drone Strike Kills 12 in North Waziristan -- News from

US Drone Strike Kills 12 in North Waziristan -- News from "US drones fired missiles at the North Waziristan town on Darpa Kheil, just outside of Miramshah, killing at least 12 people and wounding an as-yet unknown number of others. The town is the home of a major religious school set up by the Haqqani family, and has been a target of US strikes in the past."...

The Haqqani family is led by the elderly Jalaluddin Haqqani, Siraj’s father and a veteran of the US-back mujahideen which opposed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan who later became an opponent of the US occupaiton of Afghanistan. The family has been in the news is recent months when it was reported that they had “bought” a US soldier who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan by Taliban forces....
Obama's desperate appeal for Lockerbie bomber to die in Scottish prison as killer's fate is decided | Mail OnlineA few words of advice for Megrahi as he walks gingerly up the steps of the Libyan jet waiting to take him home

[bth:  so read the writing on the aircraft boarding ramp being used by the freed Lockerbie bomber.  Irony piled on top of injustice.  Released at according to the Libyans for a trade deal.]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Naval Open Source INTelligence

BBC NEWS | Europe | Polish army chief quits amid row

BBC NEWS | Europe | Polish army chief quits amid row: "The head of the Polish army has resigned after a dispute in which he accused the government of failing to properly equip troops in Afghanistan."

Lt Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak also said ministry officials' knowledge of war was limited to the movies.

He made his comments after the death of a Polish officer earlier this month in an ambush in Afghanistan.

Poland has 2,000 troops in the country as part of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.

The dispute involving Gen Skrzypczak became public following this month's battle between Polish troops and insurgents.

Four soldiers were wounded in the clash.

Initial inquiries found that the unit had not received prompt back-up owing to equipment shortages.

Gen Skrzypczak publicly accused the defence ministry of incompetence and failing to provide his troops with modern helicopters and other military hardware....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tom Ridge: I Was Pressured To Raise Terror Alert To Help Bush Win

Tom Ridge: I Was Pressured To Raise Terror Alert To Help Bush Win: "In a new book, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge reveals new details on politicization under President Bush, reports US News & World Report's Paul Bedard. Among other things, Ridge admits that he was pressured to raise the terror alert to help Bush win re-election in 2004.

Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was 'blindsided' by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over."..

[bth: sadly Ridge did not call a bluff, he did not resign and he raised the terror alert. Now he gets a spine an rights a book. Thanks for nothing.]

Single Wheel Transportation | Product Design and Development

Single Wheel Transportation | Product Design and Development

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Open-Source, Accelerometer-Equipped Glove Allows for Infinite Control Possibilities | Popular Science

Open-Source, Accelerometer-Equipped Glove Allows for Infinite Control Possibilities | Popular Science

WPR Article | Reporter's Notebook: In Afghanistan, Itching for a Fight that Never Comes

WPR Article | Reporter's Notebook: In Afghanistan, Itching for a Fight that Never Comes: ..."At daybreak, the troops assemble and begin searching through the 40 or 50 khalats in the village. As per coalition protocols, the Afghan National Police is always the first to enter a house, followed by the Afghan National Army, while the Americans secure the perimeter. After numerous operations with the ANP, I have yet to see an Afghan policemen actually unshoulder his rifle before entering a home. They usually knock softly on the door, exchange a few words with the homeowner, and then casually enter the courtyard. This is in sharp contrast to the team of tightly wound U.S. soldiers by the door, lined up in 'stack formation' with weapons at the ready. Curiously, almost no males of military age are found in the village -- in every home children answer the door. By the end of the operation, a couple of detainees are brought back to the battalion headquarters, but from what I understand, they are small-time operatives. It seems the elusive Taliban in Wardak have escaped to fight another day.

This operation perfectly illustrates the paradox of the coalition's new COIN doctrine: The more you protect your soldiers, the more you endanger them. Slow, infantry-style dismounted patrols and joint operations with the ANA and ANP are what provide the necessary intelligence required to unmask the Taliban, but they carry with them the risk of higher coalition casualties. Instead of shelling the target house from kilometers away with their 155mm artillery rounds, the soldiers of 4/25 put themselves on the ground, and very much in harm's way, in order to protect the civilians here in Wardak. Sadly, the same measures that are put into place to protect the civilians can protect the Taliban as well. In Wardak, like in the rest of Afghanistan, many of the Taliban are civilians -- for at least 12 hours a day.

This challenge of shifting from "kings of the battlefield" to "armed social workers" has not been easy on the soldiers of 4/25. On a recent patrol to purchase supplies for an upcoming key leader engagement, one disgruntled soldier expressed it best: "If I die here today, what are they going to tell my mother? Your son was killed buying drinks for dinner."

[Exclusive] S. Korea Deploying 1,000-Kilometer Cruise Missiles

[Exclusive] S. Korea Deploying 1,000-Kilometer Cruise Missiles: "South Korea began deploying 1,000-kilometer-range surface-to-surface cruise missiles in the field earlier this year, according to missile developers and military sources Monday.

The missile, a modified variant of the Hyunmoo missile, is capable of reaching as far as Beijing and Tokyo, as well as hitting key targets in the entire North Korean territory, they said.

It is the first time that the development and deployment of the long-range cruise missile, dubbed Hyunmoo-III, have been confirmed. Previously, the government neither confirmed nor denied the cruise missile development in an apparent move not to provoke tensions with China and Japan, as well as North Korea.

The Hyunmoo is a ballistic missile, developed by the state-funded Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and LIG Nex1, a leading missile developer in South Korea, with a range of 180 to 300 kilometers."

The Secret Life of Tom Daschle, Moonlighting For The Insurance Industry - Swampland -

The Secret Life of Tom Daschle, Moonlighting For The Insurance Industry - Swampland - ...

[UnitedHealth top lobbyist Judah] Sommer has retained such influential outsiders as Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Senate Leader who now works for the large law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle, a liberal from South Dakota, dropped out of the running to be Obama's Secretary of Health & Human Services after disclosures that he failed to pay taxes on perks given to him by a private client. He advised UnitedHealth in 2007 and 2008 and resumed that role this year. Daschle personally advocates a government-run competitor to private insurers. But he sells his expertise to UnitedHealth, which opposes any such public insurance plan. Among the services Daschle offers are tips on the personalities and policy proclivities of members of Congress he has known for decades.

Conceding that he doesn't always agree with his client, Daschle says: "They just want a description of the lay of the land, an assessment of circumstances as they appear to be as health reform unfolds." He says he leaves direct contacts with members of Congress to others at his firm.,,,

"Now it is one thing for Daschle to make this convoluted argument--that he can at once advocate the public option while taking money to help those leading the charge to defeat it. It is quite another for Daschle to be allowed on a show like Meet The Press to talk about the insurance industry without any disclosure of the fact that he now works as a strategist for the insurance industry."...

[bth; so back in June at a public forum in DC I asked Daschle why the federal government wasn't going to be allowed to use its buying power to bring drug prices down from the highest in the world under the proposed legislation? His response, "you know why." Well, guess I do now.]

Monday, August 17, 2009

Close review of F-35 program may raise cost estimate

Close review of F-35 program may raise cost estimate | Business |
A team of crack Pentagon cost analysts and technical experts has begun a close review of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighter program that is expected to produce a sharply higher cost estimate.

Just a year ago the Joint Estimate Team told senior Defense Department officials that getting the F-35 into service would cost at least $15 billion more than expected.

That forecast was sidestepped by Pentagon officials as they prepared the 2010 defense budget. But a similar or worse projection this time could present defense planners with difficult choices in the fall as they prepare the 2011 budget proposal.

With the F-22 program slated for cancellation, the F-35 is the biggest, highest-profile and most expensive weapons system in development. It’s also expected to be the primary combat aircraft of the U.S. armed forces for decades to come.

The Pentagon has "got a lot of eggs in that one [F-35] basket, and we can’t afford to have more delays and rising costs," said Todd Harrison, an analyst with the influential Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

With the Pentagon and the military services working on 2011 budget requests, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn last month directed the cost analysts to re-examine the F-35 and prepare a hard-nosed assessment.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program: Collapse is a “When” Question, not an “If” Question

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program: Collapse is a “When” Question, not an “If” Question
.....Characteristics identified with previous nonviable projects on “life support” include (cited verbatim)[iii]:

1. Perceived lack of alternatives to the end product;
2. Preoccupation with short term project management problems;
3. Lack of awareness of changes or evolution in the end user environment (needs);
4. Lack of awareness of technological evolution and changes in the end user environment (means);
5. Self deception by managers, planners or end users, or any or all of these groups;
6. Overinvestment in organisational or public politics required to sustain the project;
7. Fear of mistakes being exposed to scrutiny, also fear of public embarrassment;
8. Emotional attachment to the product, the project, or marketing propaganda for the product......

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gaza Under Siege on Vimeo

Gaza Under Siege on Vimeo

Gaza Under Siege from Lily Keber on Vimeo.

Informed Comment

Global News Blog » Blog Archive » Who is funding the Afghan Taliban? You don’t want to know | Blogs |

Global News Blog » Blog Archive » Who is funding the Afghan Taliban? You don’t want to know | Blogs |: "The article by Jean MacKenzie originally appeared in GlobalPost. This is part of a special series by GlobalPost called Life, Death and The Taliban. Click here for a related article Funding the Pakistani Taliban.

KABUL — It is the open secret no one wants to talk about, the unwelcome truth that most prefer to hide. In Afghanistan, one of the richest sources of Taliban funding is the foreign assistance coming into the country.

Virtually every major project includes a healthy cut for the insurgents. Call it protection money, call it extortion, or, as the Taliban themselves prefer to term it, “spoils of war,” the fact remains that international donors, primarily the United States, are to a large extent financing their own enemy."...

Up until quite recently, most experts thought that drug money accounted for the bulk of Taliban funding. But even here opinion was divided on actual amounts. Some reports gauged the total annual income at about $100 million, while others placed the figure as high as $300 million — still a small fraction of the $4 billion poppy industry.

Now administration officials have launched a search for Taliban sponsors. Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a press conference in Islamabad last month that drugs accounted for less of a share of Taliban coffers than was previously thought.

“In the past there was a kind of feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” said Holbrooke, according to media reports. “That is simply not true.”...

But perhaps U.S. officials need look no further than their own backyard.

Anecdotal evidence is mounting that the Taliban are taking a hefty portion of assistance money coming into Afghanistan from the outside.

This goes beyond mere protection money or extortion of “taxes” at the local level — very high-level negotiations take place between the Taliban and major contractors, according to sources close to the process.

A shadowy office in Kabul houses the Taliban contracts officer, who examines proposals and negotiates with organizational hierarchies for a percentage. He will not speak to, or even meet with, a journalist, but sources who have spoken with him and who have seen documents say that the process is quite professional.

The manager of an Afghan firm with lucrative construction contracts with the U.S. government builds in a minimum of 20 percent for the Taliban in his cost estimates. The manager, who will not speak openly, has told friends privately that he makes in the neighborhood of $1 million per month. Out of this, $200,000 is siphoned off for the insurgents.

If negotiations fall through, the project will come to harm — road workers may be attacked or killed, bridges may be blown up, engineers may be assassinated.

The degree of cooperation and coordination between the Taliban and aid workers is surprising, and would most likely make funders extremely uncomfortable.

One Afghan contractor, speaking privately, told friends of one project he was overseeing in the volatile south. The province cannot be mentioned, nor the particular project.

“I was building a bridge,” he said, one evening over drinks. “The local Taliban commander called and said ‘don’t build a bridge there, we’ll have to blow it up.’ I asked him to let me finish the bridge, collect the money — then they could blow it up whenever they wanted. We agreed, and I completed my project.”

In the south, no contract can be implemented without the Taliban taking a cut, sometimes at various steps along the way.

One contractor in the southern province of Helmand was negotiating with a local supplier for a large shipment of pipes. The pipes had to be brought in from Pakistan, so the supplier tacked on about 30 percent extra for the Taliban, to ensure that the pipes reached Lashkar Gah safely.

Once the pipes were given over to the contractor, he had to negotiate with the Taliban again to get the pipes out to the project site. This was added to the transportation costs.

“We assume that our people are paying off the Taliban,” said the foreign contractor in charge of the project.

In Farah province, local officials report that the Taliban are taking up to 40 percent of the money coming in for the National Solidarity Program, one of the country’s most successful community reconstruction projects, which has dispensed hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the country over the past six years.

Many Afghans see little wrong in the militants getting their fair share of foreign assistance.

“This is international money,” said one young Kabul resident. “They are not taking it from the people, they are taking it from their enemy.”

But in areas under Taliban control, the insurgents are extorting funds from the people as well.

In war-ravaged Helmand, where much of the province has been under Taliban control for the past two years, residents grumble about the tariffs.

“It’s a disaster,” said a 50-year-old resident of Marja district. “We have to give them two kilos of poppy paste per jerib during the harvest; then we have to give them ushr (an Islamic tax, amounting to one-tenth of the harvest) from our wheat. Then they insisted on zakat (an Islamic tithe). Now they have come up with something else: 12,000 Pakistani rupee (approximately $150) per household. And they won’t take even one rupee less.”

It all adds up, of course. But all things are relative: if the Taliban are able to raise and spend say $1 billion per year — the outside limit of what anyone has been able to predict — that accounts for what the United States is now spending on 10 days of the war to defeat them.

[bth: one wonders how much it costs to bring fuel through Paksitan into Afghanistan? How much gets taken off the top by the Taliban so that we can run our MRAPs and airplanes?]

White House appears ready to drop 'public option' - Yahoo! News

White House appears ready to drop 'public option' - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON – Apparently ready to abandon the idea, President Barack Obama's health secretary said Sunday a government alternative to private health insurance is 'not the essential element' of the administration's health care overhaul.

The White House indicated it could jettison the contentious public option and settle on insurance cooperatives as an acceptable alternative, a move embraced by some Republicans lawmakers who have strongly opposed the administration's approach so far."...

[bth: without a way of leveraging government negotiating power to lower drug costs, etc. there is no way expanding insurance to 50 million people is going to do anything but raise healthcare costs. That's why the drug companies are not fighting the bill and indeed funding advertisements supporting it. They get more money. Costs are going up because we've backed away from a golden opportunity to constrain them. Higher healthcare costs mean higher taxes and more jobs overseas.]