Friday, April 23, 2010

Israel rejects Obama's call for building halt in East Jerusalem / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com

Israel rejects Obama's call for building halt in East Jerusalem / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a call by US President Barack Obama to halt new construction in East Jerusalem, his aides confirmed Thursday. The rejection, which was delivered privately over the weekend, appeared likely to further complicate American efforts to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Both sides lay claim to the holy city, and Israel does not consider building there to be a settlement activity.The international community does not view East Jerusalem as legally Israel's.

Israel's announcement last month of a plan to construct 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem – which Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 war – ruffled visiting US Vice President Joe Biden and threw planned peace talks off track. Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, was set to touch down in Israel later today to try to reanimate them, The Associated Press reports."...

[bth: basically there is no peace process. Just a series of unilateral actions.]
Naval Open Source INTelligence

General Dynamics Demonstrates Precision Strike Capability for Tactical UAVs with 81mm Air-Dropped Guided Mortar -- BOTHELL, Wash., April 1 /PRNewswire/ --

General Dynamics Demonstrates Precision Strike Capability for Tactical UAVs with 81mm Air-Dropped Guided Mortar -- BOTHELL, Wash., April 1 /PRNewswire/ --: "BOTHELL, Wash., April 1 /PRNewswire/ -- General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems has successfully guided an 81mm Air-Dropped Guided Mortar (ADM) to a stationary ground target. The guide-to-target flight demonstrations, conducted at Ft. Sill, Okla., confirmed the ability of the 81mm ADM using a novel guidance kit and fuze to provide a precision strike capability for Tactical-Class Unmanned Aircraft (TUAV). The ADM was released from a TUAV using the company's newly developed 'Smart Rack' carriage and release system that enables weaponization of any TUAV platform.

Application of RCFC technology to the 81mm air-dropped guided mortar has been developed in conjunction with the U.S. Army's Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) in Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. ARDEC developed and successfully tested environmental sensors for the guidance kit's fuzing system. The results from the Ft. Sill flight tests built on previously successful 81mm air-dropped guided mortar guide-to-target flight demonstrations by General Dynamics and ARDEC in Kingman, Ariz., in December 2008."...

YouTube - Seals & Crofts " Summer Breeze"

YouTube - Seals & Crofts " Summer Breeze"

New Report: Politics and Power in Kandahar (SWJ Blog)

New Report: Politics and Power in Kandahar (SWJ Blog): .

..."Key finding and recommendations:

- Kandahar is strategic terrain for the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Karzai family, and a central focus of ISAF’s 2010 counterinsurgency campaign.

- Ahmed Wali Karzai’s influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any of ISAF’s governance objectives, and a consistent policy for dealing with him must be a central element of any new strategy.

- While most actors in Kandahar call themselves tribal leaders, few influential actors in Kandahar derive their influence from this position. Control over guns, money, and foreign support have become more important as sources of power.

- Anti-government sentiments are exploited and aggravated by the Taliban. Many of the local powerbrokers who are excluded from Ahmed Wali Karzai’s network see the Taliban insurgency as the only viable means of political opposition."

NightWatch 20100422

NightWatch 20100422 - KGS:... "The data indicate Americans should stay out of the northern Mexico crime buffer zone and need to fortify the southern border. If security in Afghanistan is more important than security in Texas, then the Defense Department and the associated Congressional committees need new leadership and an epiphany!"...

[bth: damned right]

Dare Israel go it alone in attacking Iran? — War in Context

Dare Israel go it alone in attacking Iran? — War in Context:
..."And just as Israeli strategists weigh up that risk, so too Iranian strategists must be making some of the same calculations — ones that may well suggest that for Iran, the benefits of an Israeli attack may appear to outweigh the costs.

These benefits include:

* the financial reward from a hike in oil prices
* the silencing of the regime’s domestic critics
* the deepening of ties between Turkey, Syria and the non-aligned international community
* the further isolation of Israel, whose political vulnerability is far greater than its military vulnerability

Couple these to the fact that Israel might only succeed in doing limited damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities and it’s no wonder Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has seen little reason to temper his language."...

Arianna Huffington: Guns vs. Butter 2010

Arianna Huffington: Guns vs. Butter 2010:... "And Barney Frank, who has been one of the few in Washington arguing for the need to cut military spending, says that our military over-commitments have 'devastated our ability to improve our quality of life through government programs.' Looking at the money we've spent on Iraq and Afghanistan, Frank says: 'We would have had $1 trillion now to help fix the economy and do the things for our people that they deserve.'

The National Priorities Project (NPP) offers a cool online tool that brings this budget trade-off to life by showing -- specifically -- all the things that could have been done with the money spent on Afghanistan and Iraq. It allows you to break the numbers down by your state, Congressional district, or town and to focus on the kinds of opportunity costs that most interest you, including education, public safety, affordable housing, and health care for kids.

For example, according to the NPP, since 2003, Americans have spent over $747 billion in Iraq. Of that, taxpayers living in California have forked over $94.7 billion. That could have provided 35 million children with health care for a year -- or 11 million places in a Head Start program. Or funding for over 1.6 million public safety officers. Or 283,378 affordable housing units. Or 1.3 million elementary school teachers. Or 11.3 million college scholarships. This in a state that has laid off more than 23,000 teachers, and has seen tuition rates at public universities skyrocket -- putting higher education beyond the reach of the very students these universities were created for. And those that are able to go are leaving in debt -- the average college student graduates carrying a debt of over $23,000.

Education has always been the path middle class Americans took to attain the American Dream. But those Americans are increasingly finding that path -- and that dream -- blocked.

Again, we are not talking about lessening America's national security. We are talking about eliminating or cutting back outdated and redundant military defense programs.

Barney Frank points to pricey relics of the Cold War such as the F-22 fighter, the Osprey transport helicopter, and missile defense programs in Eastern Europe as examples of wasted resources. He also suggests doing away with one prong of America's hugely expensive nuclear triad -- bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles -- designed to annihilate a Soviet empire that no longer exists. 'My radical proposal,' Frank told HuffPost's Ryan Grim, 'is that we say to the Pentagon that they can pick two of the three, and let us abolish one.'"...

N.Korea seizes S.Korean assets at mountain resort

The Raw Story | N.Korea seizes S.Korean assets at mountain resort: "North Korea announced Friday it had seized South Korean-owned buildings at a mountain resort, accusing Seoul of heightening cross-border tensions over the sinking of a warship.

The action comes amid high cross-border tensions over the sinking of a South Korean warship last month near a disputed sea border that left 46 sailors dead.

Pyongyang has denied it was responsible for the mystery blast, accusing Seoul of seeking to shift the blame in order to justify its hardline policy toward its neighbour.

'The situation has reached such extreme phase that it is at the crossroads of a war or peace, much less thinking of the resumption of the tour,' a North Korean state agency in charge of tours said in a statement published by state media.

'It is quite natural that we can no longer show generosity and tolerance to the south side under this situation,' it said.

North Korea accused Seoul of linking the blast to Pyongyang 'deliberately' and described South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak as a 'traitor'."....

[bth: I don't understand what N. Korea is trying to accomplish.]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Israel mulls buying more F-15s, F-16s - UPI.com

Israel mulls buying more F-15s, F-16s - UPI.com: "TEL AVIV, Israel, April 19 (UPI) -- Israel is mulling the purchase of more Boeing F-15Is or Lockheed Martin F-16Is to fill the operational gap caused by the growing delays -- and soaring price tag -- of the ill-starred F-35 stealth fighter the air force wants to buy.

Jane's Defense Weekly reported the Israeli air force is considering the acquisition of one squadron -- 18-24 aircraft -- if the delay in developing the F-35, also known as the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, is prolonged.

Alternatively, if the delays become too problematical, the IAF may postpone its procurement program and retain aircraft such as the F-16A, which it had planned to phase out once it received the initial batch of F-35s."...

[bth: if this happens it could certainly be a big bell weather event.]

The World From Berlin: 'Truth Is Often The First Casualty Of War' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

The World From Berlin: 'Truth Is Often The First Casualty Of War' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International:;;; "'There is hardly any other phrase that has been as misunderstood as the timeless sentence written by General von Clausewitz: 'War is the means and never can the means be conceived without the end.' German politicians discussing the current mission in Afghanistan would do well to heed the old Prussian's words.'

'So how should we proceed in Afghanistan? To bunker down there for the long haul is not possible. Even less likely is a hasty retreat, which would leave behind a black hole. The alliance in Afghanistan would be destroyed and Germany would no longer have any influence on American strategy and Germany would then have to go its own way, without security.'

'The principle of 'come together, leave together' still applies. And anyone sending soldiers into danger must align the military means with the political goals. Leadership means having to explain, justify and sometimes even to limit. That is the chancellor's challenge: Her touchstones are national interest, alliances and global security. The sole goal must be to prohibit Islamic extremism in that wild nation and to calm the situation in Pakistan. How that can be accomplished and what measures will be sufficient to do it are the inescapable questions.'"

YouTube - Fanny Blair - Jim Moray

YouTube - Fanny Blair - Jim Moray

YouTube - Bruce Springsteen - The River

YouTube - Bruce Springsteen - The River

The Associated Press: Report: SKorea warned of NKorean submarine attack

The Associated Press: Report: SKorea warned of NKorean submarine attack: "SEOUL, South Korea — Military intelligence officers had warned earlier this year that North Korea was preparing a suicide submarine attack on a South Korean vessel in retaliation for an earlier defeat in a sea battle, a newspaper said Thursday.

There has been growing speculation that North Korea was behind the March 26 explosion that split the 1,200-ton Cheonan in two and sank it, killing at least 38 people and leaving eight missing.

Seoul has not directly blamed Pyongyang for the blast, and the North has denied involvement, but suspicion remains given the country's history of provocation and attacks on the South.

On Thursday, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported the Korea Defense Intelligence Command had alerted the navy weeks ahead of the ship sinking that North Korea was preparing underwater suicide teams in mini-submarines to attack the South.

These 'human torpedo' squads were said to involve small submarines that are navigated so close to the target that their torpedoes or explosives blow up both target and the attackers, or are timed to explode while the attackers escape from the vehicle, the report said.

The attack preparations were aimed at retaliating against the South over its defeat in a naval skirmish in November, the paper said. The site of the sinking is near where the rival Koreas fought three times since 1999, most recently a November clash that left one North Korean soldier dead and three others wounded.

South Korea is investigating the wreck of the Cheonan and investigators say preliminary indications are that the blast was external, not on board the ship. Some experts say the investigation could take several years.

The two Koreas have never signed a peace treaty since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

The Chosun Ilbo said the military was investigating whether the navy and Joint Chiefs of Staff had been properly braced for a North Korean attack following the intelligence warning, though it's not clear whether the Cheonan sank due to any attack.

Navy and Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said they would not comment on the report because it involves military intelligence affairs.

Also Thursday, Yonhap news agency reported that military intelligence officers believe a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Cheonan based on a joint intelligence analysis with the U.S. military.

Yonhap, citing an unidentified military source, said the assessment was submitted to the presidential Blue House shortly after the warship sank. The Blue House, however, denied it has received such an intelligence report.

A Seoul-based activist raised a similar claim Tuesday, saying he had been in touch with a North Korean military officer who had claimed that a North Korean semi-submersible vessel fired a torpedo at the Cheonan.

A high-profile North Korean defector living in Seoul said he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Il masterminded the blast to stoke tension, cause social confusion in the South and shake its economy."...

[bth: S. Korean government seems to be doing everything possible to stall the conclusion that N. Korea deliberately sunk this ship. N. Korea certainly knows how to take things to the edge. But to what end? A lot of risk for no apparent gain that I can see.]

Air Force to launch X-37 space plane: Precursor to war in orbit? / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com

Air Force to launch X-37 space plane: Precursor to war in orbit? / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com: "Clear, sunny skies are forecast for Cape Canaveral Wednesday, perfect weather for the launch of a new unmanned spacecraft and the dawn of an era. Just don’t expect the Air Force to tell you what that new era is."

For the first time, the service will launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a brand new, unmanned spacecraft to demonstrate the military’s ability to fly into space, circle the globe for months on end, and return intact, only to fly again.

But whether the X-37 space plane is merely showing off nearly two decades of research and development or is actually a precursor to militarizing the final frontier, is far from clear since the vehicle’s payload is classified. An Air Force official won’t even say when it will return to California or where it will land. But it can “loiter” over the globe for more than nine months.

“In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back,” said Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary for the Air Force’s space programs, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

'Weaponization' of space?

Arms control advocates say it is pretty clearly the beginning of a “weaponization of space” – precursor to a precision global strike capability that would allow the US to hover for months at a time over anywhere it chose with little anyone could do about it.

“The idea of being able to launch an unmanned research platform that can stay up there for months on end provides you with all kinds of capability, both military and civilian,” says Chris Hellman, a policy analyst with the National Priorities Project, a budget watchdog in Northampton, Mass.

He believes the fact that it is an Air Force initiative may say something about what it will ultimately used to do. And that may not sit well with others. “I can see where the prospect of having half a dozen of these things with unknown payloads circling overhead could be very troubling to people,” Mr. Hellman says.

What the Air Force will say is that the X-37 will demonstrate “various experiments” and allow “satellite sensors, subsystems, components, and associated technology” to be transported into space and back. Officials say the vehicle could change the way the service operates by making space operations more “aircraft like” with a vehicle like the X-37 able to take off and later land and then fly again.

When it returns, scientists will determine how many of its components survived the flight and how long it will take to get the craft back into the air. The shorter the turnaround time, the better, since that would mean fewer X-37s would have to be built, regardless of its ultimate mission.

If it takes a long time to get the bird back in the air, “it will make this vehicle less attractive to us in the future,” Mr. Payton said.

Many unknowns, including ultimate mission

Still, there are many unknowns. And analysts who typically know about such things are left to shrug.

“There does not seem to be a publicly acknowledged capability that this thing will lead to,” says John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, a national security research organization in Alexandria, Va. “If taken at face value, it seems to be simply to satisfy the idle curiosity of the scientific community.”

Mr. Pike believes one of the inherent values of the X-37 could be as a maneuverable satellite which could be used to look over China's shoulder one day, yet evade any attempts to shoot it down.

On the other hand, says Pike, it could amount to nothing more than “recreational engineering,” borrowing a term from the magazine Scientific American. “What’s a few hundred million dollars between friends?”

Whatever it is or represents, the Air Force likes it. Air Force officials say they are already building another X-37 spacecraft that it hopes to fly by 2011.


[bth: recreational engineering. What a phrase. So what do we have here? A space drone/fighter? Something to keep the defense contractors going now that the shuttle has been shit canned? I can work with that, but I just want to know. Even the mysterious star wars defense program had a mission. What's the mission?]

Is the X-37B the start of war in space? | News.com.au

Is the X-37B the start of war in space? | News.com.au: "IT'S one of the most anticipated space launches since the original manned space shuttle Columbia blasted off in 1982.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been sunk into it over nearly 20 years of research and development.

It's the X-37B.

And unfortunately, that's all we can tell you, because the unmanned spacecraft, which looks like a small shuttle, is one of the US military's most tightly guarded secrets.

Built by Boeing's Phantom Works division, the X-37 program was originally headed by NASA.

It was later turned over to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.

And when it launches tonight (local time) in a nine-minute window between 23:52 and 00:01 GMT (09:52 - 10:01 AEST), only a very select few in the US military will know what its 'unspecified payload' is.

We do know it can circle the Earth for more than nine months.

“In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back,” US Air Force spokesman Gary Payton told reporters yesterday.

The X37-B was originally planned to require the services of a space shuttle to launch, but now it's a standalone craft.

It also lands like a space shuttle.

As usual with this type of thing, there is plenty of speculation about what the military will do with the X-37B.

Christian Science Monitor believes the X-37B rollout may signal the start of war in space, quoting arms control advocates who say it's clearly the beginning of the 'weaponisation of space'.

What information the US military has chosen to release only claims that the spacecraft will conduct 'classified experiments' while in orbit.

Mr Payton said the Air Force's main interest is to test the craft's automated flight control system and learn about the cost of turning it around for launch again.

'Currently, we're looking at a 2011 launch for that second tail number,' he said.

'That assumes everything goes properly as predicted on this first flight.'

Whatever that means."

12 dead in hospital attack in Pakistan – Afghanistan Crossroads - CNN.com Blogs

12 dead in hospital attack in Pakistan – Afghanistan Crossroads - CNN.com Blogs: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Twelve people were killed and 35 were wounded Friday morning in a suicide bombing at a western Pakistan hospital, authorities said. The attack occurred at Civil Hospital in the city of Quetta, police said.

Among the dead were four police officers and a TV cameraman, authorities said. Police found the head of the suicide bomber and he appears to around 20 years old.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militant group in Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for the suicide blast, according to group spokesman Ali Sher Haideri.

In an unrelated incident, militants bombed a school in northwest Pakistan early Friday, officials said.

The attack on the five-room girls' school in the Charsada district of the North West Frontier Province is the latest in a series of blasts that have destroyed dozens of schools in the area in recent years."...

[bth: it may be my imagination but it seems Taliban attacks in Pakistan have begun to rise from a recent lull.]

NightWatch for 04/21/2010 - KGS

NightWatch for 04/21/2010 - KGS:.... "South Korea: A South Korean activist told Agence France-Presse on 21 April that he has learned that many North Korean soldiers believe the South Korean patrol ship which sank last month was attacked in a premeditated military operation approved by leader Kim Chong-Il.

'Despite Pyongyang's denial, many North Korean soldiers believe a torpedo sank the ship,' Choi Sung-Yong, a campaigner for the return of South Koreans abducted by North Korea. The officer said Kim gave an order to exact revenge for a sea skirmish last November, in which the South Korean navy left a North Korean patrol boat on fire, killing one and injuring three North Korean sailors.

The North vowed to take 'merciless' military action to protect its version of the Yellow Sea border. Choi said 13 commandos using a small submarine appeared to have launched a torpedo.

Comment: Choi is reputed to have the access he claims, but there is no way to corroborate his report in open sources. However, the North Korean torpedo attack explanation for the sinking was first suggested by the South Korean Defense Minister. It has become the most accepted theory of the case.

Choi's sources also accurately describe North Korean tactics and use of midget submarines or submersible vehicles. If the attack occurred in this fashion, it was 'merciless,' as the North threatened.

Such an attack would appear to be part of the continuing dispute over the sea boundary, which both nations have chosen to keep localized to this point. The South Koreans have many options for retaliation so as to even the score and still keep this a localized contest, if President Lee chooses. The timing suggests both sides expect a significant increase in tension for this and economic reasons.

The most extraordinary aspect of the sinking is Kim Chong-il's blatant exploitation of China to provide cover for this atrocity.

North Korean media reported in detail how Kim received, wined and dined the newly appointed Chinese ambassador at the time of the sinking. Kim apparently intended all along to implicate China as condoning the North Korean commando operation, by association. Such crass behavior ought to evoke some kind of Chinese reprimand of North Korea and should strain their relations.

US diplomats should ensure that their Chinese counterparts are aware that China appears to have been duped into providing diplomatic cover for the North Korean commando attack, if the torpedo attack account is accurate, which seems increasingly to be the case."....

[bth: OK so a N. Korean mini sub sank the S. Korean ship. Now what?]

More anger, apologies over shooting of 2 men in Afghanstan's Khost

More anger, apologies over shooting of 2 men in Afghanstan's Khost: "KABUL -- NATO's acknowledgment Wednesday that the unarmed young men shot to death two days earlier in Khost province were not 'known insurgents,' as previously alleged, has prompted another military apology and fueled anger over civilian casualties.

The shooting of two brothers and two cousins driving home from a volleyball game came just a week after U.S. soldiers shot up a passenger bus in Kandahar and killed four civilians. In both cases, soldiers apparently -- and mistakenly -- thought that approaching vehicles represented a threat.

NATO officials said that fingerprints of two of the men killed in Khost had shown up in an insurgent biometric database but that they later decided the data might not be relevant."...

German troops in Afghanistan call on Angela Merkel to explain why they're at war | Mail Online

German troops in Afghanistan call on Angela Merkel to explain why they're at war | Mail Online: ..."Germany has the third largest presence in Afghanistan after the U.S. and Britain. The German parliament approved the dispatch of a further 850 soldiers in February when it extended the mandate for the military mission.

Yet the political will for German troops to engage the enemy head-on remains lacking.

Cracks are growing in the parties that supported their engagement there up until now.
Ottmar Schreiner, a left-wing member of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), said his party has 'growing doubts' about German involvement in Afghanistan.

He said: 'If things haven't improved in Afghanistan by next year then I don't see where a majority for a new extension of the mandate is going to come from.'

The trouble for Mrs Merkel is that German involvement is deeply unpopular with some 80 per cent of the public, who want the troops to come home. Germany’s disastrous wars of the last century have left its public with a deep pacifistic streak.

The German press has been swift to condemn the government for its indecisiveness.

The Financial Times Deutschland said: 'With every dead German soldier in Afghanistan, the calls for an immediate withdrawal grow louder. This reflex shows that the German public is still not clear about the character of the mission.

'The politicians are largely to blame. Since the beginning of the mission eight years ago they suppressed a realistic description of the situation... Deaths, injuries, battles and heavy weaponry -- none of these suit the picture that was painted back then.'

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung said: 'Why are German soldiers in Afghanistan at all? As the chancellor and her government are still sticking to the military mission there it is their duty to explain it. But she has failed to do so.

'This can be explained by her basic attitude - it is only worth talking about problems when they become virulent.

'In the case of Afghanistan this is particularly catastrophic. Because the government has failed to make its case in what is the biggest foreign policy and security policy challenge in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.'"

[bth: the Canadians, the Dutch, the UK, the Germans are heading for the exit over the next 2 years in Afghanistan.]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

First Draft

Obama's 7 Broken Promises - Page 1 - The Daily Beast

Obama's 7 Broken Promises - Page 1 - The Daily Beast

1. Don't Ask Don't Tell
2. Immigration Reform
3. C-SPAN Negotiations
4. Closing Guantonamo Bay
5. To the Moon and Back
6. Cap and Trade
7. Transparency

Clearly plenty of room for improvement in his performance to date.

Fall River soldier, 20, dies in Afghanistan - The Boston Globe

Fall River soldier, 20, dies in Afghanistan - The Boston Globe: "A 20-year-old Massachusetts National Guard soldier from Fall River was killed by an improvised explosive device Monday in Afghanistan.

Sergeant Robert Barrett, a 2007 graduate of B.M.C. Durfee High School, was the father of a 2-year-old daughter. Eight other soldiers were injured in the explosion, which occurred south of Kabul International Airport.

Barrett would have turned 21 on May 14. Last night, his family talked about why he became a soldier.

“There was never any doubt,’’ said his mother, Carlene. “His older sister, Rebecca, was in ROTC, and he used to go with them to competitions.’’

“Just 8 years old,’’ Barrett’s father, Paul, hollered in the background.

“By the time he got to high school, he knew the ups and downs and ins and outs of the ROTC,’’ Carlene Barrett continued. She quipped that her son enjoyed ROTC much more than he enjoyed going to class.

“He was a normal kid who wouldn’t clean his room and aggravated his parents,’’ she said. “But he was never a troublemaker. He had a lot of friends; I found that out tonight.’’
Robert Barrett
Last night, friends and family gathered at the Dwelly Street Armory in Fall River. Carlene Barrett said she was overwhelmed by how many hands she shook and hugs she shared with her son’s friends, many of whom he had known since elementary school.

“He was the kind of person that, even as a little one, he respected everyone,’’ she said.

Barrett was a member of the First Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment of Fall River. He enlisted Jan. 29, 2008, his mother said. He served honor guard duty before leaving home Jan. 6 for training and deployment.

Carlene Barrett said her son was scared when he got the call to go to Afghanistan but was hoping to make a difference. “Robert loved his country, and there was no doubt about that,’’ she said.

Barrett recently asked his parents to send toys for the impoverished Afghan children he met. He died before receiving them.

“Robert said he would never, ever complain again about anything that he didn’t have,’’ his mother said.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com."

NightWatch for 04/20/2010 - KGS

NightWatch for 04/20/2010 - KGS:... "Afghanistan: The deputy mayor of Kandahar was killed 'by a terrorist with a revolver' as he was going to the local mosque, according to a statement by the Afghan Interior Ministry, Agence France-Presse reported 20 April.

This shows the Taliban ability to operate with impunity in Kandahar. Thus far they are not abandoning Kandahar in anticipation of the announced NATO offensive.

Kyrgyzstan: Russian President Medvedev instructed Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov to take measures to ensure the security of Russian citizens in Kyrgyzstan and step up the protection of Russian facilities. This instruction responds to a rise in cases of seizure and illegal takeover of property in and around Bishkek, the Kremlin press service reports.

Comment: Some of the unrest in the past few days has been directed against ethnic Russians, especially on the outskirts of Bishkek. The interim government has responded with force to protect ethnic Russians and with propaganda to deny that attacks were racially motivated.

Medvedev's instructions could be interpreted as a justification for introducing more Russian security personnel to help improve security conditions."...

The Scoop Deck – When small was small

The Scoop Deck – When small was small:... "One thing you do learn is that then, as now, one of the most effective weapons against a small boat is another small boat. Or ship."knapp at sea 1944

News from Israel, Ynetnews - recent poll data

News from Israel, Ynetnews: "Only Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan are viewed in a more negative light than Israel, according to a poll conducted in 28 countries and published Tuesday by the BBC.



The poll shows that just 19% of the 29,000 respondents questioned view Israel positively versus 50% who perceive the country in a negative light. Together with Israel at the bottom of the list are Iran (15% positive, 56% negative), Pakistan (16% positive, 51% negative), and North Korea (17% positive, 48% negative).

The poll also showed that world perceptions of the US are improving with 46% of respondents viewing the country favorably and 34% viewing the country negatively. Only two countries saw a decrease in the perception of the world's number one superpower – Turkey and India.


Topping the list of 'America haters' are Turkey, with 70% of its respondents viewing the US unfavorable, and Pakistan, with 52% viewing the US negatively. Support for the US dropped surprisingly in India, from 43% to 39%.


'People around the world today view the United States more positively than at any time since the second Iraq war,' said Doug Miller, chairman of international polling firm GlobeScan, which carried out the poll with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (Pipa) at the University of Maryland. He noted that the 'Obama effect' apparently is a real thing.


Pipa director Steven Kull noted: 'After a year, it appears the 'Obama effect' is real.


According to the poll, the most favorable viewed countries are Germany (59%), Japan (53%), Britain (52%), Canada (51%), and France (49%)."

[bth: I don't understand Turkey. What's up there? 70% unfavorable?]

Afghan war is unwinnable and we should not be there, say voters - UK Politics, UK - The Independent

Afghan war is unwinnable and we should not be there, say voters - UK Politics, UK - The Independent:... "High levels of voter dissatisfaction with Britain's eight-year military involvement in Afghanistan were uncovered by the survey. According to ComRes, 72 per cent believe the war, which has so far cost more than 280 British lives, is 'unwinnable', with just 19 per cent taking the opposite view.

More than half (53 per cent) say they 'don't really understand why Britain is still in Afghanistan', with 42 per cent disagreeing. A gap between the sexes emerged, with 60 per cent of women but 47 per cent of men saying they did not understand Britain's presence in Afghanistan. A sense that the issue has so far been avoided in the election campaign emerged, with 70 per cent saying they believed the main parties did not offer them 'any real choice of policies' on Afghanistan."...

Bush Insider Reveals Guantanamo Deception: Hundreds of Innocents Jailed | CommonDreams.org

Bush Insider Reveals Guantanamo Deception: Hundreds of Innocents Jailed | CommonDreams.org: "Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, provided shocking new testimony from inside the Bush Administration that hundreds of the men jailed at Guantanamo were innocent, the top people in the Bush Administration knew full well they were innocent, and that information was kept from the public.

Wilkerson said President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld “indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons” and many in the administration knew it. The wrongfully held prisoners were not released because of political maneuverings aimed in part to cover up the mistakes of the administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who served in the U.S. Army for over thirty years, signed a sworn declaration for an Oregon federal court case stating that he found out in August 2002 that the US knew that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo were not enemy combatants. Wilkerson also discussed this in a revealing and critical article on Guantanamo for the Washington Note."..

At the end of his nine page sworn statement, Wilkerson explains his personal reasons for disclosing this damning information. “I have made a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred because knowledge that I served an Administration that tortured and abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the record clear on what occurred. I am also extremely concerned that the Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes.”

Wilkerson concluded his article on Guantanamo by issuing a challenge. “When – and if – the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.”...

Asia Times Online :: Central Asian News and current affairs, Russia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan

Asia Times Online :: Central Asian News and current affairs, Russia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan: "...The Russian leader said: 'We wanted to intervene in a situation that is ultimately another country's sovereign affair, but in order to prevent bloodshed ... Various forces had to get involved in order to reach an agreement in this situation ... taking into account the tapestry of various interests in Kyrgyzstan and in the region as a whole.'

Significantly, Medvedev held out a stern warning:

Now, as for whether this kid of situation could arise in other countries in the post-Soviet area, or elsewhere in the world ... Anything is possible. If people are unhappy with their leaders, if the authorities do not make the needed effort to support people and address their biggest problems, this kind of situation could repeat itself anywhere, in any country where the authorities are no longer in touch with the people ... Listening to some of the statements that followed these events [in Kyrgyzstan] it seems to me that these statements were dictated by fears that this conflict and its outcome stirred among the leaders in a number of countries. But the only way to avoid such fears is to govern one's own country in competent fashion.

Moscow's gamble
The past 10 days have rewritten the great game in Central Asia. Medvedev revealed he 'won't hide the fact' that apart from Kazakh President Nurusultan Nazarbayev, he had talked with US President Barack Obama on how to 'settle this [Kyrgyzstan] matter' and that 'we have all succeeded in preventing events from taking a more serious turn'.

But, interestingly, Medvedev left out his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, whom he met last week, as his interlocutor on crisis management in Bishkek. Nor has Moscow invoked any role for either the Collective Security Treaty Organization or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The swiftness with which senior American officials began contesting for political space in Bishkek is also striking. Michael McFaul, the senior White House advisor on Russia, said on April 9, 'This is not some anti-American coup. That we know for sure, and this is not a sponsored-by-the Russians coup.' The Obama administration hurriedly dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake to Bishkek to consult Roza Otunbayeva, the chairperson of the interim government.

The US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, who was caught by surprise by the turn of events and was in the US, rushed back to Bishkek. Bakiyev's son, who was visiting Washington and scheduled to meet Blake, was brusquely told to get lost. Evidently, Washington was quick to realize the utter folly of its diplomacy of investing so heavily on Bakiyev and his family. In Central Asia, no one wagers with such abandon.

To quote Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia section in Global Affairs magazine, 'Kyrgyzstan is a tiny test case whether the US and Russia can find a way in Eurasia. There could be a new deal ... Russia isn't categorically against a US presence in Manas. It just wants the future to be discussed with [Premier Vladimir] Putin and Medvedev.'"....

[bth: an article worth reading in full. Fascinating.]

Allawi: International Supervision Needed for Recount -- News from Antiwar.com

Allawi: International Supervision Needed for Recount -- News from Antiwar.com: ..."For Allawi this all spells one thing: a plan to rig the election a month and a half after it was held. With the level of distrust between the two factions it is hard to blame him, and after the international community praised the initial election a serious “revision” of the results will be difficult to justify."

Deadly riots in Kyrgyzstan challenge interim government | McClatchy

Deadly riots in Kyrgyzstan challenge interim government | McClatchy:... "But the new government, headed by the liberal and multilingual former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, faces a vast array of problems, which some experts fear might ultimately overcome it.

'Kyrgyzstan is an extremely poor country, with deep regional divisions, that lacks any strong or developed state institutions,' says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.

'It's a mountainous country with serious land shortages. What we're seeing now are illegal land seizures taking place, but it is happening in a very dangerous way, with mobs attacking the property of ethnic Russians, trying to take their land, homes, and businesses and make them flee,' he says. 'I am not sure the interim government will be able to cope with this.'

On Monday, unrest broke out near the village of Mayevka, near Bishkek, where rioters attempted to seize land from non-Kyrgyz landowners. After what Russian media described as 'bloody clashes,' the protesters moved into Bishkek and surrounding regions, where looting and violence reportedly continued through the day Tuesday.

Experts say that two 'revolutions' in the past five years have unhinged the country's legal culture and devalued respect for any governmental authority.

'After all this, the Kyrgyz population thinks that if power can be grabbed by people at the top, why can't they seize a bit of somebody's property or land?' says Sanobar Shermatova, a central Asia expert with the official Russian RIA-Novosti news agency. 'They think they have the right to get something for themselves.'"...

[bth: so I wonder how Russia and China weigh in on this. Russia was being the jacking around we got on the air base a year or two ago. China seems quiet but as it borders this state one wonders.]

Gates calls for overhaul of export licensing controls

Gates calls for overhaul of export licensing controls: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that the government's Cold War-era system of licensing the export of weapons and other high-tech goods was actually harming national security by blocking arms sales to allies and giving an advantage to foreign manufacturers.

He called on Congress to create a single licensing agency to replace what he called a 'byzantine amalgam' of bureaucracies from the Commerce, State and Defense departments that regulate the export of a wide range of products with potential military applications, including satellites, night-vision goggles and even certain kinds of nuts and bolts."...

Gates said the Obama administration hoped that Congress would pass legislation by the end of the year to authorize the reforms -- a timetable that analysts described as highly ambitious.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he shared Gates's goal of "more effective controls that better address today's -- and tomorrow's -- security threats." In a statement, he said he was preparing a bill to modernize export controls on "dual-use" technology that can be used for civilian or military purposes, but did not commit to Gates's specific proposals.

Although some leaders in Congress have agreed that the current export-control system needs fixing, there is less appetite for the creation of a new federal bureaucracy.

"I do think there is at least some receptivity on the Hill," said James M. Ludes, executive director of the American Security Project, a bipartisan public policy group that has studied U.S. export controls. But for members of Congress, "it's not clear that the need is for real restructuring, or if the current system just needs some tinkering."


[bth: Sec. Gates couldn't be more right. The current regs were written at the height of the Cold War and are hopelessly obsolete and confusing. Further they essentially cripple our ability to export legitimately againste more nimble and less scrupulous competitors like Israel, Brazil, UK, France just to name our friends. What's more there is almost no way not to violate the law unless you've got a whole department of lawyers working for you which much small and midsized firms do not.]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

YouTube - Funniest Thing Ever - Hilarious

YouTube - Funniest Thing Ever - Hilarious

Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information | Electronic Frontier Foundation: "Once upon a time, Facebook could be used simply to share your interests and information with a select small community of your own choosing. As Facebook's privacy policy once promised, 'No personal information that you submit to Facebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.'

How times have changed.

Today, Facebook removed its users' ability to control who can see their own interests and personal information. Certain parts of users' profiles, 'including your current city, hometown, education and work, and likes and interests' will now be transformed into 'connections,' meaning that they will be shared publicly. If you don't want these parts of your profile to be made public, your only option is to delete them."...

Push on to protect new troops from IEDs - USATODAY.com

Push on to protect new troops from IEDs - USATODAY.com: "WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is scrambling to provide the latest handheld mine sweepers and observation balloons to detect makeshift bombs for the thousands of additional troops President Obama has ordered to Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates assigned Under Secretary Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's top acquisition official, and Marine Lt. Gen. John 'Jay' Paxton to identify what troops need and get it to them by the peak of the summer fighting season. By June, the last of the 30,000 new troops Obama ordered will arrive and are expected to be part of an offensive to secure Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city.

'Jay and I are not focused on next year, long programs, finding the perfect technical solution,' Carter said in an interview with USA TODAY. 'We're focused on the here and now.'

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to be the No. 1 threat to kill or wound U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Critical equipment being rushed to Afghanistan includes:

• Handheld mine and explosive detectors. Commanders in Afghanistan issued an urgent request for devices that can be used quickly and easily by troops who leave the protection of their armored vehicles. About 3,500 mine detectors are in the process of being shipped to Afghanistan..

Another device being fielded is the Sherlock, which helps troops detect explosives made from fertilizer, the primary component of bombs in Afghanistan.

• Balloon-mounted cameras, known as elevated line of sight surveillance.

'These are large airships like the balloon that's over the ball game,' Carter said. 'The soldier that looks up there knows that that's protecting him, the townsman knows that that's protecting him, the Taliban knows that that might be looking at him. That's a way of providing eyes in the sky when we just don't have enough of the fancy (drones).'

The military is doubling the number of balloons by summer, said Navy Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

• Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles designed specifically for rugged terrain and poor roads in Afghanistan. The vehicle's raised chassis allows the blast to dissipate before hitting its V-shaped hull, which deflects the force.

There are about 1,000 all-terrain MRAPs in Afghanistan, and thousands more will be shipped there as quickly as possible, Carter said.

Another key to reducing bomb attacks is stemming the flow of fertilizer — the primary ingredient — from Pakistan, Paxton said.

'What we're expecting to do, particularly along the border is to make the transshipment of it more difficult, to make the detection of it more positive and earlier and to do all those things where we can to interdict or identify and narrow down and close the supply chain,' he said.

The Counter-IED Senior Integration Group's mission is to accelerate the work of task forces and organizations also charged with a portion of the Pentagon's IED effort, Carter said. Task forces already exist for MRAPs and intelligence gathering and surveillance. JIEDDO, the principal counter-IED agency, will have a budget of $3.4 billion in 2011.

'We're not a new bureaucracy,' Carter said.

Dakota Wood, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Carter's group can help if it expedites critical equipment to Afghanistan, though he wondered if another task force was needed.

'I wouldn't want a gap to go unfilled, but this does seem a little late in the game,' he said."

[bth: JIEDDO is fighting for bureaucratic survival. A lot of money into JIEDDO, not much coming out. Also the MRAPs need to be swapped out for MATVs except those on convoy duty along the main highway. Off road they are just too heavy and need independent suspension. The MATVs offer that plus IED survivability. The need for mine detectors isn't a new revelation, just a slow delivery on the part of JIEDDO. More of the same too little too late.]

Al Jazeera English - CENTRAL/S. ASIA - Taliban takes over Afghan valley

Al Jazeera English - CENTRAL/S. ASIA - Taliban takes over Afghan valley

Monday, April 19, 2010

Provinces in Afghanistan we've lost to the Taliban

Pakistan wants trade, not aid, says Qureshi

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Pakistan wants trade, not aid, says Qureshi: "MULTAN: The government advocated for trade instead of aid during talks with the United States and European Union leaders, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Saturday.

Qureshi said US President Barack Obama had reiterated his commitment to expediting the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones’ (RoZs) legislation in the US Senate.

He said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani would take up the case of Pakistan’s inclusion in the list of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP Plus) countries when he would meet EU leaders at the second Pak-EU summit on April 21 in Brussels.

The 27-member EU was Pakistan’s largest trade partner and GSP Plus status would not only increase Pakistan’s exports to the EU up to $6 billion but would also create one million jobs for the unemployed youth, he added.

The foreign minister said Pakistan’s preference is to combat economic challenges included steps to overcome energy crisis and seek enhanced access of Pakistani products to lucrative foreign markets including that of the US and the EU."...

[bth: I don't see any reason we should not be increasing economic trade with Pakistan. Let's face it, we have a great interest seeing textiles, shoes etc. being produced in Pakistan than say in China.]

Taliban Buildup In Kandahar: Islamist Fighters Prepare To Face NATO In Afghanistan

Taliban Buildup In Kandahar: Islamist Fighters Prepare To Face NATO In Afghanistan: ..."The Taliban commander, who uses the pseudonym Mubeen, told The Associated Press that if military pressure on the insurgents becomes too great 'we will just leave and come back after' the foreign forces leave.

Despite nightly raids by NATO and Afghan troops, Mubeen said his movements have not been restricted. He was interviewed last week in the center of Kandahar, seated with his legs crossed on a cushion in a room. His only concession to security was to lock the door.

He made no attempt to hide his face and said he felt comfortable because of widespread support among Kandahar's 500,000 residents, who like the Taliban are mostly Pashtuns, Afghanistan's biggest ethnic community.

'Because of the American attitude to the people, they are sympathetic to us,' Mubeen said. 'Every day we are getting more support. We are not strangers. We are not foreigners. We are from the people.'

It is difficult to measure the depth of support for the Taliban among Kandahar's people, many of whom say they are disgusted by the presence of both the foreign troops and the insurgents. Many of them say they are afraid NATO's summer offensive will accomplish little other than trigger more violence.

Mubeen said Taliban attacks are not random but are carefully planned and ordered by the senior military and political command that assigns jobs and responsibilities to its rank and file. The final arbiter is the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who heads the council, or shura, that decides strategic goals which are passed down the ranks to commanders in the field, he said.

'We are always getting instructions from our commanders, what suicide attacks to carry out, who to behead if he is a spy,' Mubeen said, gesturing with a maimed hand suffered during fighting in 1996 when the Taliban were trying to gain control of the capital of Kabul.
Story continues below

Then, like now, his enemies were members of the Northern Alliance, dominated by Afghanistan's minority ethnic groups and returned to power by the U.S.-led coalition following the Taliban's collapse in 2001."...

[bth; worth reading in full. It appears to me that the Taliban still has complete freedom of movement in Kandahar.]

Trust In Government? Poll Find Nearly 80% Of Americans Don't

Trust In Government? Poll Find Nearly 80% Of Americans Don't: "WASHINGTON — America's 'Great Compromiser' Henry Clay called government 'the great trust,' but most Americans today have little faith in Washington's ability to deal with the nation's problems.

Public confidence in government is at one of the lowest points in a half century, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they don't trust the federal government and have little faith it can solve America's ills, the survey found.

The survey illustrates the ominous situation President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party face as they struggle to maintain their comfortable congressional majorities in this fall's elections. Midterm prospects are typically tough for the party in power. Add a toxic environment like this and lots of incumbent Democrats could be out of work.

The survey found that just 22 percent of those questioned say they can trust Washington almost always or most of the time and just 19 percent say they are basically content with it. Nearly half say the government negatively effects their daily lives, a sentiment that's grown over the past dozen years.

This anti-government feeling has driven the tea party movement, reflected in fierce protests this past week.

'The government's been lying to people for years. Politicians make promises to get elected, and when they get elected, they don't follow through,' says Cindy Wanto, 57, a registered Democrat from Nemacolin, Pa., who joined several thousand for a rally in Washington on April 15 – the tax filing deadline. 'There's too much government in my business. It was a problem before Obama, but he's certainly not helping fix it.'

Majorities in the survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it's interfering too much in state and local matters. The public is split over whether the government should be responsible for dealing with critical problems or scaled back to reduce its power, presumably in favor of personal responsibility."...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Macleans.ca » Blog Archive In Afganistan the final battle begins «

Macleans.ca » Blog Archive In Afganistan the final battle begins «:... "If ordinary Afghans believe their government can enforce minimal standards of comfort and decency, they won’t put up with Taliban fighters who, after all, first showed up among them less than 20 years ago in a country that had been war-wrecked to anarchy. And if they don’t believe it, then the other strangers in their midst—the Canadian, U.S. and allied armies—can kill all the insurgents they like, it won’t change the fundamental equation.

It was always easy enough to find a general or two in Kabul or Kandahar willing to pay lip service to this doctrine. What I found this time, in spartan fortified camps in territory the Taliban still held as recently as last November, was majors and captains in their thirties who truly believe the goodwill of the population is their real target and who plan and work according to that assumption. Guys like Jeremiah Ellis.
Capt. Ellis commands the Dog Company of the 1st Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 12th Infantry Regiment. He greeted Leslie, Menard, and the other top Canadian officer in our four-vehicle convoy, Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, at an outpost in Senjaray. Ushering his VIP guests into a briefing room built of plywood and sparsely decorated with folding chairs and wall maps, Ellis gave only the briefest account of the military situation—basically, his guys have it under control—before pleading for help to reopen the local school.

“This place is ready to tip,” from a population that supports the Taliban to one that will reject them, he told Leslie. “These people want to tip.” But the haunted school in the middle of town is the biggest reason they don’t.

Canadian money built and opened that school, but Canadian troops were not around to defend it when the Taliban booby-trapped it in 2006 and left letters saying anyone who tried to take it back would be murdered. If Dog Company takes the school back, sooner or later the insurgents will do the same. What’s needed is a commitment from the Afghan government to keep it open, backed by Afghan National Army troops who will be vigilant long after Jeremiah Ellis goes home.
He’s pleaded for help, he told Leslie. The Afghan police, poorly equipped and often corrupt, have been no help. “They’d show up, kick a dog, steal an apple, not do much.” It’s the Afghan army, rapidly growing and professionalizing, that’s needed. “Until then, that school sits as a monument,” Ellis said. “It sits there as a monument to the fact that their government won’t do anything for them.”

This conviction that the first job of soldiers is to vouchsafe the essentials of a civil society was clear everywhere we travelled. Near the village of Nakhonay we visited Combat Outpost Shkarre, built around a single-storey building of dried mud and grass the Taliban were using, only months ago, as an outpost to trigger roadside bombs to destroy passing traffic.

The soldiers of Delta Company’s 11 Platoon have only lately installed working hot showers in the yard. Our convoy stayed overnight, sleeping on cots under the stars. For Capt. James O’Neill, 11 Platoon’s commander, the main goal is to keep local “FAMs”—fighting-age males in their late teens and twenties—busy with construction and irrigation projects so life in the area would improve and the FAMs would be harder to lure into the insurgency.

“I remember when I was in work-up training, thinking, ‘What is this COIN shit?,’ ” O’Neill said, using military slang for counterinsurgency. “I’d say, ‘We’re Canadian Forces, let’s just kill the enemy.’ ” But these days the overwhelming majority of IEDs Delta Company disposes in the area are those turned in by local residents. That only happens because the Canadian soldiers and the villagers have worked together and grown to trust one another. It makes everybody safer.

Menard’s enthusiasm for the strategy of keeping on the population’s good side is endless. He’s poured huge resources into basic irrigation and road building. “You’ve seen water like probably you’ve never seen in the past,” he said, referring to the reappearance after many years’ absence of verdant farmlands in Arghandab, just north of Kandahar. “I’m still digging and clearing canals so that farmers can have some water so they can farm. It’s as simple as this. I’m trying to give the obvious a big place. I’m not suggesting this is very brilliant. But that’s what I’m doing and it’s working. We are in a position now to reinforce what they want. They’re not after, you know, solar-powered lights or whatever. They want water.”

The focus on the population is also driving the ISAF forces to push their presence from the big camps into smaller outposts closer to the people. That’s the first point Menard always emphasizes: “Live among the population and protect them day and night.” This carries some risk. Instead of arming to the teeth every time they go out, soldiers are more often leaving helmets and body armour aside as they participate in shuras with local district leaders and elders. But that builds trust and, sometimes, genuine co-operation.

Menard ran down a list of the other elements of his command philosophy. “Persistent, partnered presence.” No more of the “whack-a-mole” Canadian forces participated in for so long, where they would show up just long enough to beat down a sudden outcropping of insurgent violence, only to leave for another crisis zone and allow the Taliban to rebuild where they’d just been flushed out.

Instead, Menard has established two main geographic zones extending around Kandahar City. Closest to the hub is a “ring of stability,” in which ISAF forces and the Afghan government work together to ensure something like an ordinary life for a majority of the province’s population. “Creating an environment where people can be employed, sell their products, do their farming, have an alternative to what they know right now,” Menard said. Further out is a “ring of security,” in more sparsely populated terrain, where the coalition has been fighting the Taliban to a draw and where the bulk of the action this summer will take place.
The scale of the Canadians’ and Americans’ pure military advantage is breathtaking. In southern Panjwayi our convoy veered off-road and travelled through a patch of desert to meet 11 Canadian Leopard tanks encamped in a circle. Nothing the insurgents have can put more than a dent in any of those awesome machines. But not even hardware this impressive will provide the “enduring results” and the “persistent, partnered presence” that are on Menard’s checklist of proper counter-insurgency concepts.

What’s needed are two things that are harder to conjure. Without them, even a bulked-up, population-focused ISAF mission stands every chance of failing. The first is time. The population has lived in a near-constant state of civil, regional and global war for decades. In that kind of environment, hope is ephemeral and never to be trusted. Success lies in assuring the population that a better standard of living, free of harassment from insurgents, might be permanent.

Of course this requirement slams up against the Canadian Parliament’s decision to end the military involvement in Kandahar in 2011. Nobody I talked to would say a word against this decision for the record. “I would never want the Canadian army to stay somewhere that the Canadian people didn’t want us to be,” Leslie said. “Ever. We go where the government sends us, we fight the good fight or whatever else the role requires us to do, we come home when Parliament sends us home.”
Privately, others involved in the military effort express a lot of frustration with the 2011 deadline. But whatever Canada does, or even the Americans, all this COIN stuff will come to little without the second needed ingredient: a legitimate, competent, compassionate Afghan government capable of responding to the population’s wishes and ensuring some level of comfort and security for them.

Which is why Hamid Karzai’s reliably erratic behaviour causes so much consternation. The Afghan president is plainly in over his head, unable to stem rampant corruption if he is not actively benefiting from it. It got worse during my trip, with Karzai even threatening to join the Taliban if he didn’t get proper respect from the West. (This caused great amusement even among Afghans I spoke to. “I’m sure if he tried it,” one interpreter told me, “the Taliban would cut him into 12 pieces.”)
Remarks like Karzai’s “are killing us,” one Western diplomat told Leslie in Kabul. Soldiers and Western civilian authorities can do a lot, but they cannot hold this country’s hand forever.

But the 2011 deadline and the fitness of the Karzai government are problems for another day. Neither will matter if the massively expanded ISAF force in Kandahar cannot change the dynamic in the province quickly. “Is this just another summer? Oh no,” Menard said. “This is the summer. And I’ll tell you why. We will be in a position to break them. I truly believe this. The reason is resources, force ratio, and the establishment of the ring of stability so the population is supporting us. It’s not us fighting the Taliban. It’s the population saying, ‘You know what? We’ve had enough of the Taliban.’ ”

All a visitor could do was to wish him and his forces luck. I found more reason for optimism on this visit to Afghanistan than on either of my other two visits. But soon enough the guesswork will be out of it. By the first days of autumn we will know whether anything has really changed in Kandahar. From there it will be easier to decide, at last, whether there would be any point in staying further."

[bth: worth reading in full even exciting that we might actually have a working plan with the Canadians in Kandahar until you get to the line where the Canadians are pulling out next year and that we depend on Karzai to pull the second key ingredient of the victory strategy together - a competent government.]

More of Pentagon's secret hunt units sent to Afghanistan - latimes.com

More of Pentagon's secret hunt units sent to Afghanistan - latimes.com:... "With such an abbreviated timeline, the elite manhunt teams represent the most effective weapon to disrupt the insurgent leadership, senior officials said. The officials contend that stepped-up operations by teams inserted in recent months already have eroded the Taliban leadership. Defense officials specifically single out the work of special operations forces in eliminating mid-level Taliban leaders before the February offensive in the Helmand province town of Marja. They say the forces have begun similar operations in nearby Kandahar province.

'You can't kill your way out of these things, but you can remove a lot of the negative influences,' said a senior Defense official. 'A significant portion of the leadership has fled over the border, been captured or removed from the equation.'

But the buildup carries risks. Special operations forces have been involved in some botched strikes that ended up killing civilians -- mistakes that Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has said could undermine the overall mission. For years, Karzai and other officials have complained bitterly about civilian deaths in military actions by the U.S. and its allies."...

SpyTalk - A U.S. general revises assessment of Afghan war

SpyTalk - A U.S. general revises assessment of Afghan war: "Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the top military intelligence official who only four months ago warned that “time is running out” in Afghanistan, offered a sharply different, upbeat picture of the war during an unheralded recent visit to a Kabul think tank.

“Peace in Afghanistan [is] so close,” Flynn reportedly said at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, a pro-government think tank which conducts research on the war effort and the Taliban insurgency.

Flynn also recommended the power of positive thinking as a key solution to ending the war successfully, according the center's account, which received virtually no attention here.

“General Flynn described Afghanistan as a human body that required positive messages to stay healthy,” according to the center, which is headed by Hekmat Karzai, a relative of the Afghan president who has degrees from the University of Maryland and American University.

Flynn maintained the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force “had learned from its past mistakes and that it was now time to be proactive with a new message.”

“To do this effectively,” Flynn added, “Afghans must be that messenger.”"...

[bth: I don't know if intelligence is improving under Flynn or not. What I am sure of is that he is trying to control the message for the media, by systematically eliminating people like Michael Yon from the pool and by putting a smiley face on things today while overstating the dire situation in December. Its part of message management - we must have more troops, this sky is falling "message for 2009", the message for 2010 is we are building victory on to victory starting with Marj an much over hyped and manipulated event now called a strategic victory to and impending military victory over Kandahar which by way we already occupy, at least in the city. So its a game of perceptions. You know this BS is happening when you see IEDs discussed as strategic weapons to manipulate the American perception of war instead of seeing them for what they are - homemade mines used to kill American soldiers and contractors and nothing more. Expect major discussion of improvement in Afghanistan about August-October 2010 just before the US election. That is what this is about. Apathetic voters who don't think or look too hard at Afghanistan. It is just too easy to send someone else's son to war.]

Taliban targets U.S. contractors working on projects in Afghanistan

Taliban targets U.S. contractors working on projects in Afghanistan: "KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The Taliban has begun regularly targeting U.S. government contractors in southern Afghanistan, stepping up use of a tactic that is rattling participating firms and could undermine development projects intended to stem the insurgency, according to U.S. officials.

Within the past month, there have been at least five attacks in Helmand and Kandahar provinces against employees of U.S. Agency for International Development contractors who are running agricultural projects, building roads, maintaining power plants and working with local officials.

The USAID 'implementing partners,' as they are known, employ mainly Afghans, who are overseen by foreigners. The companies' role is becoming increasingly important as more aid money floods into southern Afghanistan as part of a dual effort to generate goodwill and bolster the Kabul government....

'The bad guys have figured it out,' one U.S. official in Kandahar said. 'I've never seen them go after implementing partners this way. We've got to reevaluate now what we're doing.'

...

The U.S. official said it would be foolish to think that the attacks were independent of one another. 'This can't be coincidental,' he said. 'This is what they're doing now.'

A senior U.S. military official in Kandahar said the military is 'looking hard at these incidents' for signs of a pattern and to figure out whether targeting contractors has become a tactic. As more U.S. troops arrive and Afghan forces improve, it was to be expected that insurgents would go after more vulnerable targets, the official said, especially 'as we focus on improving governance.'"

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, residents who work with U.S. troops or civilians do so at great personal risk. But the spate of violence against USAID contractors in Afghanistan appears to represent a decision by the Taliban to undercut Afghan support for the U.S. efforts, officials said. A key facet of U.S. strategy in Helmand and Kandahar is to flood those insurgent hot spots with day-labor opportunities, farming assistance and other projects that complement the military operations.

But unlike gun-toting NATO troops who live on fortified bases, the workers running those projects routinely mingle with residents, making them "the definition of a soft target," said another U.S. official in Kandahar.

"USAID now is going to have to really start scrambling to mitigate any damage to their operations," the official said. "You don't want to see implementers pulling back."

On Wednesday, U.S. officials in Kandahar said they discussed whether Chemonics should move to a military base because of threats. Michelle Millard, a Chemonics spokeswoman, said the firm could not comment, citing the "fluid security situation." Officials are also considering whether private security firms that guard USAID contractors should coordinate with U.S. military units. At the moment, "they don't talk to each other," a U.S. official said....


[bth: So this probably explains why Michael Yon lost his embed privileges about a week ago after reporting the killing of Afghan contractors building a bridge near marines but not receiving protection from us even after multiple Taliban threats against them. ... Based on what I've read, I think work programs like this make meaningful progress in our favor and the Taliban hates them accordingly. Our failure to coordinate security between contractors working for USAID and US military units is our own fault. Rather than change the way media covers such events how about the army change its approach to protecting USAID workers and contractors?]]

Army Researchers: Why the Kandahar Offensive Could Backfire | Danger Room | Wired.com

Army Researchers: Why the Kandahar Offensive Could Backfire | Danger Room | Wired.com: "The southern Afghan province of Kandahar trusts the Taliban more than the government. And that’s according to a survey commissioned by the U.S. Army.

Kandahar is expected to be the focal point of operations for U.S. and NATO troops this summer, but a poll recently conducted by the Army’s controversial social science program, the Human Terrain System (HTS), is warning that rampant local corruption, and a lack of security, could undermine coalition efforts to win the support of the local population.

Among other things, the survey’s authors warned that a lack of confidence in the Afghan government “sets conditions for a disenfranchised population to respond either by not supporting the government due to its inability to deliver improvements in the quality of life or, worse yet, by supporting the Taliban.”"....

[bth: worth a full read]

Kyrgyz interim leader says U.S. base unjustified - CTV News

Kyrgyz interim leader says U.S. base unjustified - CTV News: "BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — A top official in Kyrgyzstan's interim government told The Associated Press on Saturday that a U.S. air base supporting operations in Afghanistan is 'not justified,' the first sign of significant divisions over the facility.

Azymbek Beknazarov, the acting prosecutor general, is deputy leader of the interim government and is likely retain a position of power when the permanent government is formed, giving him significant sway over the Manas base.

Since a bloody uprising that culminated in the toppling of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the interim government's leader has announced the Manas air base can remain open for a year after the lease expires in July.

Beknazarov and others in the interim government charge the U.S. with ignoring their oppression when they opposed Bakiyev because it wanted to protect Manas.

'All the Americans care about is that the military base stays,' Beknazarov said. 'They forgot about freedom, about democratic values. They forgot about Kyrgyzstan — they are only looking at their military base.'

'In my opinion, the presence of the Manas center is not justified,' he said.

Beknazarov declined to comment on whether he or anyone in the interim government will attempt to initiate the closure of the base. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek declined to comment.

At Bakiyev's presidential compound near the southern village of Teyit, special forces on Saturday cordoned off the area to allow prosecutors to enter and search for weapons."

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, threatens to block Nato offensive - Times Online

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, threatens to block Nato offensive - Times Online:...."In Kandahar he persisted, deflecting complaints against himself with further criticism of outsiders and saying he had now “rescued myself from foreigners’ orders”.

Few elders at the shura seemed impressed. They pressed for a purge of his officials. “If we speak out and if we tell you the truth of what’s happening here, we will not last the night,” said one elder. “We will be assassinated. Everyone is scared.”

A white-bearded frail man stood up, leaning on a walking stick, and said: “The other day people came with guns and told me to shut my shop and go to my house. I phoned the police. They said, ‘It’s none of our business and we don’t care’.”

Sitting just off the stage at the meeting was the president’s brother. Ahmed Wali Karzai is the head of Kandahar provincial council and is alleged by US officials to profit from drug trafficking and organised crime. The president is reported to have refused US requests to remove him from his post.

On the streets of the city this weekend there appeared to be little or no support for a Nato push in the province. “Look what happened in Marjah,” said one local government official in Kandahar, referring to the last US offensive launched in February in central Helmand province.

“The US controls the place by day but the Taliban control it by night. What is the point? If you help the government, you will be murdered.”

At a popular coffee shop in the city centre, Khaled, a medical student from Kabul, said the influence of the Taliban was creeping back into the area.

“A Nato offensive here will not help,” he added.

“We know what they do. They arrive in great numbers and provide security for two weeks and then they go and the insecurity returns.”

General Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, had warned Clinton about Karzai’s character last year. He said that McChrystal’s proposals for a a troop surge should not be supported unless the president changed.

“President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner,” he wrote in a telegram that was later leaked."