Saturday, March 13, 2010

Informed Comment

[bth: compare this information with the Gallup poll numbers in Pakistan showing a stark decrease in support for al Qaeda and the Taliban]

MACH 6 Cruise Missile

Danger Room

Danger Room - 500 AK47s Please

Danger Room

Lessons of Vietnam Revisited

Lessons of Vietnam Revisited:... "Although the discomfort that many Americans feel in recalling Vietnam is all too understandable, our present circumstances demand that we make the effort.

When the Vietnam debacle finally ended, discerning its “lessons” became for a time a cottage industry. Yet only now, decades later, are the war’s real lessons becoming evident. Two lessons in particular cry out for our attention.

First, peering across a vast cultural and historical divide to discern what it is that others “want” (or “need”) is exceedingly difficult. To imagine that American power, wealth, and know-how offer a neat recipe for reducing those difficulties is surely a delusion. American tutoring serves primarily to squander lives and money while annoying, if not altogether alienating, the subjects of our ostensible beneficence.

Second, allowing others to exercise real self-determination just might serve U. S. interests better than insisting that things be done our way. In Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay, the Americans came and went, leaving behind a few ruins. Vietnam remains stubbornly Vietnamese. And yet when offered the chance, the Vietnamese take from us what they find useful for their own purposes. They choose, rather than having choice shoved down their throats. As a result, the Vietnamese people today have gained for themselves what American nation-builders once aspired to create: a dynamic, increasingly prosperous society that poses little threat to any of its neighbors and none to the United States.

Is the result a Jeffersonian democracy? Maybe not. Yet the outcome—which the U. S. war and all that it involved merely served to retard—works for the Vietnamese and works for us as well.

The Vietnam War was unnecessary and counterproductive. Is it not at least possible that the same might be said of the Long War as well?"

[bth: as usual this article from Andrew Bacevich is worth reading in full]

YouTube - Murray Hill Incorporated is Running for Congress

YouTube - Murray Hill Incorporated is Running for Congress

Campaign stunt launches a corporate 'candidate' for Congress -

Campaign stunt launches a corporate 'candidate' for Congress - "Murray Hill might be the perfect candidate for this political moment: young, bold, media-savvy, a Washington outsider eager to reshape the way things are done in the nation's capital. And if these are cynical times, well, then, it's safe to say Murray Hill is by far the most cynical.

That's because this little upstart is, in fact, a start-up. Murray Hill is actually Murray Hill Inc., a small, five-year-old Silver Spring public relations company that is seeking office to prove a point (and perhaps get a little attention).

After the Supreme Court declared that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to funding political campaigns, the self-described progressive firm took what it considers the next logical step: declaring for office.

'Until now, corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence-peddling to achieve their goals in Washington,' the candidate, who was unavailable for an interview, said in a statement. 'But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.'

William Klein, a 'hired gun' who has been enlisted as Murray Hill's campaign manager, said the firm appears to be the first 'corporate person' to run for office and is promising a spirited campaign that 'puts people second, or even third.'

The corporate candidate already has its own Web site, a Facebook page with 2,600 fans and an online ad on YouTube that has drawn more than 172,000 hits.

The ad makes a particularly passionate case for why it's necessary to have more direct corporate representation in Congress.

In a soothing voice, a narrator bemoans that 'as much as corporate interests gave to politicians, we could never be absolutely sure they would do our bidding.' The ad includes images of gleaming office towers and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and promises Murray Hill will bring 'enlightened self-interest and corporate accounting' to Congress.

It concludes with a rousing call to action: 'Vote for Murray Hill Incorporated for Congress -- for the best democracy money can buy.'

The firm, whose clients include labor unions and environmentalists, is seeking to enter the Republican primary for the 8th District seat held by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).

The firm 'wanted to run as a Republican because we feel the Republican Party is more receptive to our basic message that corporations are people, too,' Klein said, adding that his client has no particular beef with Van Hollen."...

US High-Speed Rail: China To Bid On Projects

US High-Speed Rail: China To Bid On Projects: "BEIJING — China plans to bid for contracts to build U.S. high-speed train lines and is stepping up exports of rail technology to Europe and Latin America, a government official said Saturday.

China has built 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers) of high-speed rail for its own train system and President Barack Obama issued a pledge in November with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to cooperate in developing the technology.

'We are organizing relevant companies to participate in bidding for U.S. high-speed railways,' Wang Zhiguo, a deputy railways minister, told a news conference."...

[bth: oh great. So we'll pay the Chinese for it with stimulus funds while 10% of America is unemployed.]

The 13 Funniest Help Wanted Signs Ever (PHOTOS)

The 13 Funniest Help Wanted Signs Ever (PHOTOS)

Lehman Brothers Hid Borrowing, Examiner Says -

Lehman Brothers Hid Borrowing, Examiner Says - "It is the Wall Street equivalent of a coroner’s report — a 2,200-page document that lays out, in new and startling detail, how Lehman Brothers used accounting sleight of hand to conceal the bad investments that led to its undoing."

The report, compiled by an examiner for the bank, now bankrupt, hit Wall Street with a thud late Thursday. The 158-year-old company, it concluded, died from multiple causes. Among them were bad mortgage holdings and, less directly, demands by rivals like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, that the foundering bank post collateral against loans it desperately needed.

But the examiner, Anton R. Valukas, also for the first time, laid out what the report characterized as “materially misleading” accounting gimmicks that Lehman used to mask the perilous state of its finances. The bank’s bankruptcy, the largest in American history, shook the financial world. Fears that other banks might topple in a cascade of failures eventually led Washington to arrange a sweeping rescue for the nation’s financial system.....

[bth: after reading the entire article and nuanced phrases and pulling out the dictionary to learn what nonculpable accounting means and colorable claims meant, and to be refreshed on Repo 150 I can pretty well say that the public was defrauded by accounting gimmicks designed to overstate the cash position and understate the debt of Lehmans. Specifically they would sell up to $50 billion to another firm at the end of a quarter for cash to push the debts to another firm, then a few days later after the quarter's accounting was over they would buy it back. At its core, accounting was established to determine truth and thereby trust in the firm that was being audited. When it fails, trust fails. When trust fails, the system breaks down. That's where we are today. The system broke down and is not being fixed. That's why Repo 150 is legal if unethical. Its why the public has a loss of trust in the system. Sen. Dodd should understand that. The SEC and Fed and Treasury should and do understand that, but they don't have the guts or integrity to fix it.]

Taliban Increasingly Unpopular in Pakistan

Taliban Increasingly Unpopular in Pakistan: "WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Taliban's presence on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is largely unwelcome, but increasingly so in Pakistan, where Gallup surveys show they have lost much of the little appeal they had. Four percent of Pakistanis in a November-December 2009 poll, conducted prior to Pakistan's current push to rout the Taliban within its borders, said the Taliban's presence in some areas of the country has a positive influence, down from 15% in June."...




Evidence Mounts NATO Report Lied on Afghan Civilian Killings -- News from

Evidence Mounts NATO Report Lied on Afghan Civilian Killings -- News from "The February 12 night raid against a house party in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province remains shrouded in mystery, but NATO’s official story appears to be crumbling as even NATO officials concede that the claims made were not strictly true.

NATO’s official statement claimed at the time that the raid on the home led to a “fire fight” against “several insurgents” who were killed, before NATO made a “gruesome discovery” of bound and gagged bodies in a nearby room.

NATO is conceding now that all of the slain people were civilians killed in the raid. NATO communications direct Rear Admiral Greg Smith also admitted that they had no real evidence that the men slain at the home had ever fired a shot against the NATO forces.

Witnesses at the site reported that one of the people in the compound, a local policeman, shouted “don’t fire, we work for the government” before being gunned down by the invading forces.

Rear Admiral Smith defended the killing of the policeman, however, saying “if you have got an individual stepping out of a compound, and if your assault force is there, that is often the trigger to neutralise (read: kill) the individual. You don’t have to be fired upon to fire back.

Since the incident, all those detained by NATO have been released without charges. In addition, the US has reportedly paid $2,000 to the family for each of the civilians killed in the attack."

[bth: so what happened here? Its looking like we just killed folks at this house for no reason.]

US General: Combat Troops Might Be Needed in Iraq Beyond August -- News from

US General: Combat Troops Might Be Needed in Iraq Beyond August -- News from "The number of potential excuses for having to back off President Obama’s August “deadline” for having all combat troops out of Iraq continues to grow, with Major General Tony Cucolo, the commander of US troops in Northern Iraq, providing the latest possible reason."

According to Maj. Gen. Cucolo, the US may need to keep the combat troops in Iraq past August to maintain the “buffer” along the internal border between the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq.

The US has been increasing the number of their own checkpoints in Nineveh and other border provinces in recent months, as they attempt to calm growing tensions between the Kurds and Sunni Arabs, as well as the ever-present danger outright conflict between the Peshmerga (the troops of the Kurdistan Regional Government) and the Iraqi government’s security forces...

India embraces Russia arms -

India embraces Russia arms - "ndia signed five deals Friday to purchase more than $7 billion in hardware and expertise from Russia, including an aircraft carrier, a fleet of MIG-29 fighters, defense and space technology and at least 12 civilian nuclear reactors.

On the minds of both parties, analysts said, was a nation not present at the signing. 'China will be the ghost in the room,' wrote analyst C. Raja Mohan in an opinion piece this week in the Indian Express.

Having a working aircraft carrier -- India's only carrier, the 50-year-old British-built Viraat, rarely leaves port -- should allow India to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean. India has watched China in recent years forge strategic port alliances with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar as part of Beijing's South Asian 'string of pearls' strategy.

China doesn't have an aircraft carrier, although U.S. intelligence reports suggest it could within five years. Nor is it expected any time soon to base military craft in the Indian Ocean. But Beijing is heavily outspending India on defense and is keen to safeguard its seaborne oil trade with the Middle East, a lifeline for its hyper-charged economy."...

[bth: fascinating connectivity between countries. Article worth reading in full]

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sharif Mobley, Alleged NJ Al Qaeda Terrorist, Worked At Five Nuclear Plants Before Arrest

Sharif Mobley, Alleged NJ Al Qaeda Terrorist, Worked At Five Nuclear Plants Before Arrest: "HADDONFIELD, N.J. — Before he was rounded up in a sweep of suspected al-Qaida terrorists in Yemen, Sharif Mobley was a laborer at five nuclear plant complexes in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Authorities are investigating whether he might have had any access to sensitive information that would have been useful to terrorists.

Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog of the nuclear power industry, said the case raises questions about security at the nation's nuclear power plants – even though Mobley has not been linked to any wrongdoing at any of them.

Some of the information used to give temporary workers like Mobley clearance comes from other nuclear power companies and is sometimes incomplete, Lyman said.

'The real question is: Was there information that the NRC or utilities could have seen that would have led to his disqualification?' Lyman asked.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Friday that Mobley worked between 2002 and 2008 for contractors who did work at the Salem and Hope Creek plants in New Jersey; the Peach Bottom, Limerick and Three Mile Island facilities in Pennsylvania; and Calvert Cliffs in Maryland."...

Mobley is a 26-year-old natural-born U.S. citizen who grew up in Buena, N.J., and later lived in Philadelphia and Newark, Del. A former neighbor said he moved to Yemen about two years ago, supposedly to learn Arabic and study Islam.

He was among 11 al-Qaida suspects detained this month in a security sweep in Yemen's capital of San'a this month. He was taken to the hospital over the weekend after he complained of feeling ill. Yemeni officials said he snatched a gun from a security guard and fatally shot one guard and wounded another before being captured.

His parents have said he is not a terrorist.

A former friend said he believed Mobley was becoming radical before he moved to Yemen about two years ago.

Roman Castro, an Army veteran who did a tour in Iraq after he and Mobley graduated from high school together in 2002, said Mobley had only these words for him in a chance meeting four years ago: "Get the hell away from me, you Muslim killer!"



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

House bans earmarks to for-profit contractors -

House bans earmarks to for-profit contractors - "Facing an election-year backlash over runaway spending and ethics scandals, House Democrats moved Wednesday to ban earmarks for private contractors, sparking a war between the parties over which would embrace the most dramatic steps to change the way business is done in Washington"...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Zabul province seeks U.S. troops, but is caught in Afghan numbers game -

Zabul province seeks U.S. troops, but is caught in Afghan numbers game - "This debate, as well as the tension it created even between U.S. units with differing goals in Zabul, rose to the level that the secretary of the Army visited Zabul to help hash it out. 'It got pretty heavy,' said a senior U.S. military official in Zabul."

In response to the protest, NATO commanders in southern Afghanistan agreed to leave small groups of U.S. troops in the districts, which "allayed the local leaders' concern," said one U.S. official. Brig. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, director of operations for southern Afghanistan, said the battalion's rapid withdrawal, to beat the winter snows, should have been better explained.

"I personally failed to fully appreciate the psychological impact in moving forces away from there over toward Helmand," he said. "But if you ever want to concentrate somewhere, you have to take from somewhere else."...

[bth: the article goes on to explain that we need to concentrate forces to take on projects in Helmand. OK I buy that but didn't we double our Afghan troop strength in the last year to do just that? Or was this whole surge a hype and a sham?]

New Afghan leader was jailed for attempted murder in Germany - Telegraph

New Afghan leader was jailed for attempted murder in Germany - Telegraph: "Mr Zahir, who has been appointed as administrator for Marjah, was given a four-year sentence in Germany for stabbing his 18-year-old stepson with a kitchen knife.

He will now be in charge of bringing good government to the former Taliban stronghold targeted in Operation Moshtarak after being backed by President Hamid Karzai and US military commander General Stanley McChrystal."

Mr Zahir said the allegations against him were "baseless" attempts to defame him by his political enemies but he did not deny attacking his stepson.

"Who has not had fights at home with his wife and children? But no one asks that and it's a personal issue. Why is this being held against me?" he said. "I want to raise my son in the right way. I may have slapped him but as a means of educating him to the right path," he added.

According to German court records, Mr Zahir stabbed his son during a family row at his daughter's home in Rodgau in 1997. He had been angry with his twin step sons because they had moved out of his family home. He tricked them into returning to Afghanistan for a family wedding and then abandoned them there.

When they later returned to Germany, they confronted him, and in the row he stabbed one of them with kitchen knife. The blade pierced his liver and was treated as "life-threatening".

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates last night said he would investigate the claims, while diplomatic sources in Kabul said the appointment could raise difficult questions about the sacrifices of British and American soldiers' lives in the area....

[bth: another step in the march to good governance?]

Fiction of Marjah as City Was US Misinformation by Gareth Porter --

Fiction of Marjah as City Was US Misinformation by Gareth Porter -- "For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a 'city of 80,000 people' as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marjah was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centers in Helmand.

It turns out, however, that the picture of Marjah presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict.

Marjah is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers’ homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.

'It’s not urban at all,' an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted to IPS Sunday. He called Marjah a 'rural community.'

'It’s a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds,' said the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.

Richard B. Scott, who worked in Marjah as an adviser on irrigation for the U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that Marjah has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an 'agricultural district' with a 'scattered series of farmers’ markets,' Scott told IPS in a telephone interview.

The ISAF official said the only population numbering tens of thousands associated with Marjah is spread across many villages and almost 200 square kilometers, or about 125 square miles."...

The decision to hype up Marjah as the objective of "Operation Moshtarak" by planting the false impression that it is a good-sized city would not have been made independently by the Marines at Camp Leatherneck.

A central task of "information operations" in counterinsurgency wars is "establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative," according to the Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006.

That task is usually done by "higher headquarters" rather than in the field, as the manual notes.

The COIN manual asserts that news media "directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency." The manual refers to "a war of perceptions … conducted continuously using the news media."

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage such a war in advance of the Marjah operation. In remarks made just before the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the counterinsurgency manual, saying, "This is all a war of perceptions."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marjah was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a "large and loud victory."

The false impression that Marjah was a significant city was an essential part of that message.

[bth: worth reading in full. It seems we've been played by our own military into thinking this was the next Fallujah wish critical significance. This goes a long way to explaining the incessant hyping that occurred about a month ago and the breaches in operational security by the Marine general last month. It was a hype, a PR stunt to show us that we had big mo on our side.]

Monday, March 08, 2010

Navy has fired 6 commanders since January, triple its usual monthly rate -

Navy has fired 6 commanders since January, triple its usual monthly rate - "The Navy has fired six commanding officers since the start of the year -- triple its usual monthly rate -- including a foul-mouthed captain who was dismissed for subjecting her crew to 'cruelty and maltreatment' aboard a warship in the Pacific.

Capt. Holly Graf, commander of the USS Cowpens, a guided-missile cruiser, was relieved of duty Jan. 13 after an investigation found she cursed so much at her 400-member crew that even the sailors -- no strangers to four-letter words -- were intimidated. According to the Navy inspector general's report released this week, officers complained that their captain humiliated them in front of the rest of the crew by calling them 'idiots' and 'stupid' as she spat a stream of obscenities. One noncommissioned officer said Graf treated him like a toddler, forcing him to take a 'time out' by standing alone in an empty watch room."...

MIT engineer designs wheelchair that takes on Third World conditions - The Boston Globe

MIT engineer designs wheelchair that takes on Third World conditions - The Boston Globe

Hobbyists Build Google Android-Powered Robot [VIDEO]

Hobbyists Build Google Android-Powered Robot [VIDEO]

Analysis: kidnapping a multimillion-pound industry in Pakistan - Times Online

Analysis: kidnapping a multimillion-pound industry in Pakistan - Times Online: "Kidnapping for ransom is big business in Pakistan. Estimates vary but it is thought that dozens of people, including children as young as 4 or 5, are abducted every day by criminal gangs, or by Islamic militants to fund their activities.

Last year more than 150 people were kidnapped from Peshawar and taken to militant strongholds in the lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The relative wealth of expatriates means that they are often targeted while travelling from Islamabad airport to villages in Punjab and Kashmir.

The security forces have sometimes been in cahoots with the kidnappers, so trust in the police is low and only a few cases are reported.

According to a senior Pakistani police official, in some cases the victims are also sold to other more powerful gangs."...

[bth: this cannot be endearing them to the local population]

Can Afghanistan economy thrive without poppy? / The Christian Science Monitor -

Can Afghanistan economy thrive without poppy? / The Christian Science Monitor - "Let's do the math. President Hamid Karzai, backed by NATO commanders, says the country needs 400,000 Afghan soldiers and police to defend itself. That would cost about $10 billion annually.

Afghanistan's current budget: $1.1 billion. And $400 million of that comes from foreign donors.

To close that gap, Afghanistan cannot rely on the current dynamo of its economy – poppy. While it accounts for nearly 30 percent of the country's gross domestic product, and 90 percent of the world's heroine, it's unlikely to ever be legalized and, therefore, taxed. On Wednesday, the government launched a massive poppy eradication program, starting in the south.

What can be done to build up the remaining 70 percent of the economy?
Magic bullets

Policymakers zero in on two areas to grow Afghanistan's $11.4 billion economy: agriculture and mining. Farming has big potential by virtue of its huge workforce, and mining holds the prospect of untapped value in the billions of dollars. Both, however, will take years to develop and improved security to encourage investment.

Mining is currently a $52 million a year industry – less than 1 percent of the economy. But a few big-name projects highlight its potential. In a deal with the Chinese in 2007, the Aynak copper mine will bring in $1 billion of annual revenue for Kabul. And bids were due Feb. 15 to exploit Hajigak, a massive iron ore deposit.

'That's estimated to bring in up to $3 billion a year in government revenues for centuries,' says Craig Steffensen, Afghanistan country director for the Asian Development Bank. 'I think the mining sector is this magic bullet that everyone is looking for to sustain things without [foreign donors] having to cover costs until kingdom come.'"...

[bth: interesting that we fight the fight but the Chinese are getting mining rights for the copper.]

All the Taliban wanted was money: Rescued Sikh - Pakistan - World - The Times of India

All the Taliban wanted was money: Rescued Sikh - Pakistan - World - The Times of India: "PESHAWAR: All that the Pakistani Taliban wanted was money and that's all they talked about, says Gurvinder Singh, one of the two Sikhs from Peshawar who were rescued after 40 days of captivity with the Pashtun-speaking terrorists. The Taliban beheaded the third abducted Sikh trader last month because their ransom demand wasn't met.

Gurvinder's story blows the myth the Pakistani Taliban has built around itself as a band of fighters for Islam.

'All the bandits wanted was money. They were not religious men. We did not see any one of them offering prayers even once,' he said at his home in Peshawar's Mohallah Jagan Shah. The area near Khyber Pass, from where they were rescued, is under the influence of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders Nazir Afridi, Adnan Afridi and Tariq Afridi.

While Surjeet Singh was rescued on Monday along with Gurvinder and they were reunited with their families in Peshawar, Jaspal Singh was beheaded after the families failed to raise the ransom of 30 million Pakistani rupees within the deadline. Jaspal's decapitated body was found on February 21."...

[bth: another article about the money. Did the displacement caused by the Pakistani army and the move to Karachi cause this?]

Heroin lab menace grows in Afghanistan - Asia Times

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan: "WASHINGTON - Drug traffickers are increasing imports of precursor chemicals used for processing raw opium poppy in Afghanistan into heroin and morphine, according to a new United States State Department report released on Monday.

They are channeling the chemicals through new routes and diverting them from legal commerce and grey markets, said the State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2009. West Asia and Africa are the new key transshipment points to smuggle and divert chemicals.

''Trafficking throughout Afghanistan continues to be a big challenge,' David Johnson, assistant secretary at the Bureau of

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said.

According to a survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, Afghanistan remains the world's top producer of opium despite a 22% decline in the area under poppy cultivation there during 2009. Historically, traffickers have exported raw opium produced in Afghanistan to other countries for processing into heroin and other opiates. In recent years, however, the country has emerged as one of the biggest producers of refined products.

Drug traffickers in Afghanistan deal in all forms of opiates, including unrefined opium, semi-refined morphine base and refined heroin.

The decrease in poppy cultivation has as much to do with economics as security, according to independent experts in the US. ''The decline is fueled by over-production of poppy which led to a lowering of prices,'' said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a security expert with the Brookings Institution and author of Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs. ''The market is saturated,' she told Inter Press Service.

The increase in precursor chemicals coming into Afghanistan poses major challenges for the US and the international community's efforts to fight drug-trafficking. It suggests that traffickers intend to expand their refinery operations inside the war-torn country."...

[bth: attempting to capture more of the value added. The chemical plumes from these operations should be easy to detect if we want]

Russian 'Bin Laden' killed by Moscow's special forces - Telegraph

Russian 'Bin Laden' killed by Moscow's special forces - Telegraph: "The FSB intelligence service said a special forces operation had resulted in the death of Sheikh Said Buryatsky, an Islamist convert whose real name was Alexander Tikhomirov.

FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov told President Dmitry Medvedev that the operation in southern Russia last week had resulted in the death of eight militants and the capture of ten."

The successful mission became a truimph when it appeared that one of Russia's most wanted men and the ideologue-in-chief of the Islamist rebel movement in Chechnya and southern Russia was reported among the dead.

Mr Bortnikov said Tikhomirov was the "odious" terrorist, a man the local media dubbed the Russian counterpart to Osama bin Laden. He said Tikhomirov and his associates were behind the bombing of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg last November, an incident that left 28 people dead and 90 wounded. They may also have been behind a similar attack on the same line in 2007, he suggested....

[bth: score one for the Russians. Article worth a full read.]

Cocaine, kidnapping and the Al-Qaeda cash squeeze - Telegraph

Cocaine, kidnapping and the Al-Qaeda cash squeeze - Telegraph: ..."But in some regions al-Qaeda is still struggling to garner all the cash it needs to operate as effectively as it would like.

'In Afghanistan, we have a severe supply deficit,' said Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the former chief of its finance committee who now helps lead al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, in a video appeal for funds last year.

'Many mujahideen sit and wait and cannot fight for lack of supplies... If a holy fighter does not have the money he cannot fight jihad. Fear Allah and be ambitious in waging jihad through donating goods.'

The group has even begun demanding money from shaking down its own recruits. In a recent example, four Belgian and two French Muslims were told they must pay 2,000 euros to be smuggled from Iran to Pakistan, 400 euros for their training and housing and 900 euros for equipment and weapons. The six were arrested on their return to Europe in December.

'Al-Qaeda has been forced to make major changes to its model of funding,' Michael Jacobson, a senior official on terror financing at the US treasury department under President George W Bush, told The Sunday Telegraph.

'Before 9/11, al-Qaeda was a centralised organisation that funded its own operations and also other groups, bringing them into its orbit via its purse strings.

'Now we see a lot of different cells that are inspired by al-Qaeda and have connections to it but are running their own operations, and are self-funding via everything from kidnapping and now drug smuggling to welfare fraud.

'Recruits to al-Qaeda are even having to provide their own funding. The 7/7 London bombings [on July 7th, 2005] were a case in point. Although some of the group had received training in Pakistan and met al-Qaeda operatives, they financed the attack through personal loans, bank overdrafts and credit card fraud.'

The change in al-Qaeda's financial fortunes that has forced it to seek new sources of funding reflects the success of international co-operation.

The organisation is 'in its weakest financial condition in several years, and as a result, its influence is waning', David Cohen, assistant US treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, told an audience last October. But he warned that it was too soon for 'victory laps'.

International efforts to combat the financing of terrorism, a little-known but key element of global counter-terror strategies, has put treasury officials at the forefront of national security operations.

Pursuing terrorists' money not only restricts their ability to stage attacks but provides crucial intelligence about their operations, personnel and locations. As Stuart Levey, US treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has put it: 'Money trails don't lie'."...

[bth: worth reading in full. It appears that al Qaeda does indeed have money problems. One wonders if that is at the heart of our drive into Helmand province and the seizure of Marja.]

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Iranian Air Force to test new laser-guided bomb - Threat Matrix

Iranian Air Force to test new laser-guided bomb - Threat Matrix: "As the defense buildup in the Persian Gulf continues, Iranian Air Force Commander Brigadier General Hassan Shahsafi announced plans for Iran to test a prototype of the Qassed 2 (Farsi for 'messenger') laser-guided bomb.

Iran's experimentation with laser-guided bombs began in September 2006 with a series of large-scale war games in Sistan-Baluchistan province. During these games, which were called 'Blow of Zolfaqar,' the Qassed 1 -- the Islamic Republic's first 'smart bomb' -- made its debut.

These war games were coordinated between the Iranian Air Force and Navy, and resulted in the testing of several coast-to-sea, surface-to-surface, and air-to-surface missiles that were all either produced or improved by engineers in the Iranian Defense Ministry. As recently reported by Air Force officials, the Qassed 1 is now in mass production and is ready for distribution to all branches of the armed forces.

The alleged enhancements of the newly unveiled Qassed 2 will include 'longer range, more accuracy, and more explosive power,' according to Shahsafi.

Despite Shahsafi's announcement, it is unknown when the Qassed 2 will make a debut and whether it will be available for mass production in the near future. If history is any guide, the new bomb will not constitute much of an improvement over the previous system and will not be ready for distribution for many years."....


[bth: this probably coincides with our announcement that we are giving laser guided bombs to Pakistan]

Mitch McConnell On RNC Fundraising Presentation: 'I Don't Like It,' No One Does

Mitch McConnell On RNC Fundraising Presentation: 'I Don't Like It,' No One Does: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the Republican National Committee on Sunday for producing a fundraising presentation that mocked the President and congressional leadership as cartoon villains and socialists.

Asked about the document -- which outlines how 'ego-driven' wealthy donors could be persuaded to take out their checkbooks -- the Kentucky Republican called it 'certainly not helpful' to the Republican cause.

'I can't imagine why anybody would have thought that was helpful,' McConnell added. 'Typically the way parties raise money is because people believe in the causes they advocate. I think the way we raise money from donors across America is to stand for things that are important for the country.'"...

[bth: at a time when the country needs leadership and forward momentum we have fear mongering.] - Lise Eliot: Pink Brain, Blue Brain - Lise Eliot: Pink Brain, Blue Brain

No school for almost half of Afghan children: president - Yahoo! News

No school for almost half of Afghan children: president - Yahoo! News: "KABUL (AFP) – Almost half of school-age children in Afghanistan do not have access to education, President Hamid Karzai said Saturday as he inaugurated the new school year.

Despite a seven-fold increase in the number of children going to school in the eight years since the repressive Taliban regime was overthrown, 42 percent still do not attend or have access to schools, Karzai said.

'Five million school-age children in our country do not go to school, some because of war or because their schools have been closed by the Taliban or others, some because they do not have the ability to go to schools,' he said.

In early 2002, fewer than one million children -- only boys -- attended 3,400 schools across the country, taught by 20,000 male teachers, said education minister Mohammad Farooq Wardak.

By contrast, seven million students -- 37 percent of them girls -- attend 12,500 schools, where 30 percent of the teachers, or 175,000, are women.

'We are still facing a series of serious challenges,' Wardak told a ceremony at a secondary school adjacent to the Presidential Palace.

'Forty-two percent of school-age children do not have access to schools and another 11 million of our compatriots are illiterate,' he said."...

Army launches investigation: Corrupt Afghans stealing millions from aid funds - Asia, World - The Independent

Army launches investigation: Corrupt Afghans stealing millions from aid funds - Asia, World - The Independent: "A major investigation has been launched into contracts awarded by coalition forces in Afghanistan that are worth hundreds of millions of pounds. The probe into construction and logistics contracts of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) has been ordered by Major General Nick Carter, commander of Isaf forces in the south of the country.

It is prompted by mounting concerns that the very money supposed to win over the hearts and minds of Afghans is ending up in the hands of the Taliban, drug lords or profiteers.

The British commander's concern is part of a wider crackdown on corruption, with General Stanley McChrystal having declared war on those making millions out of what has become a billion-dollar black hole for aid funds, in an anti-corruption directive issued last month."

A third of the costs of supplying the armed forces in Afghanistan is spent on paying protection, bribery and safe passage fees, and everybody is complicit, claim Afghan experts, who spoke under condition of anonymity.

Trucks pay a "Taliban tax" of up to $1,500 each time they venture out from Karachi to Camp Bastion. And millions are being made by a clique around Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, many of whom have interests in transportation and private security.

Members of prominent Afghan families, including Hashmat and Ahmed Wali Karzai, brothers of President Karzai, and Hamed Wardak, the son of the Defence Minister, Rahim Wardak, are among those accused of controlling private security firms benefiting from lucrative security contracts by paying off the Taliban.

Up to $600m of aid for reconstruction projects goes on security each year, according to Afghan government sources. The US Congress is investigating allegations of a massive protection racket in which private security companies paid to protect routes for coalition forces are involved in paying off local warlords and the Taliban.

It is not just Afghan firms that are causing concern. The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, is to review allegations of misconduct in Afghanistan by the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater. The company is mired in allegations that it has previously misappropriated government weapons and hired people with violent backgrounds.

As little as a quarter of the aid money pumped into the country actually stays in Afghanistan, according to aid organisations in Afghanistan. Of the money that is spent on aid, about a third goes on bribes and protection money, claims Sayed Javed, president of the NGO Kabul Group Consulting.

Mohammad Hashim, from Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a Kabul-based NGO, claimed: "There is a huge corruption within Helmand province where the Afghan and international forces are fighting against Taliban. The reconstruction and most of the aid project has been conducted by the governor's own companies which are ultimately involved in corruption and futility. This governor is supported by central government."

Isaf would not comment on details of the investigation but a spokesman said: "Isaf is aware of allegations that procurement funds may find their way into the hands of insurgent groups, but we do not directly support or condone this activity." He added that relationships between contractors and subcontractors "are not entirely transparent".

But it is not just military contracts that are affected. One of Britain's flagship projects to encourage Afghan farmers to switch from growing opium to wheat is in crisis. The £13m Helmand Alternative Livelihoods Programme, run by the British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, was supposed to get better quality seed to farmers in time for the growing season. But there have been at 12 arrested in Afghanistan amid accusations of widespread corruption in recent months, including allegations of people pocketing cash by giving farmers cheap seeds. Some seed came in sacks containing rocks to falsify the weight....

[bth: Afghanistan is a giant shake down and extortion racket.]