Saturday, May 08, 2010
Under current scales, an average sergeant in the Army with four years of service and one dependent would receive $52,589 in annual compensation, a figure that includes basic pay, housing and subsistence allowances, as well as tax benefits.
Vice Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III, the chief of naval personnel, said improvements in pay and benefits have made it more likely that sailors will stick around longer. Last year, a Navy survey found that about 60 percent of spouses wanted their sailors to make a career of Navy life, meaning a stint of at least 20 years. In 2005, he said, only about 20 percent of spouses felt the same way.
"I think pay was previously a concern, but it's started to change," Ferguson said. He added that Congress had been "extremely generous" but that rising personnel costs were already influencing what the Navy spends to operate, maintain and modernize its fleet.
The Pentagon wants a pay raise of 1.4 percent for service members next year, an increase based on the Employment Cost Index, which the Labor Department uses to measure private-sector salary increases. Congress, as it has for the past several years, has indicated it favors a slightly bigger bump, of 1.9 percent.
Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the extra half of a percent may not sound like much, but it would accrue annually and cost about $3.5 billion over the next decade. "If you continue doing it, it becomes a huge burden on the defense budget in the long term," he said.
Other well-meaning programs to support service members and their families have turned into budgetary Frankensteins.
In February, the Pentagon abruptly shut down a new tuition-assistance program for military spouses after it was overwhelmed with applicants. Defense officials had set aside $61 million for the program, which reimburses tuition costs of up to $6,000 per person, but discovered they might need as much as $2 billion to satisfy unexpected demand.
Congress chastised the Pentagon for mismanaging the program, which has since resumed, though defense officials aren't sure how they will pay for it.
[bth: This makes me nuts. The Pentagon has no trouble recommending ships that can't possibly be afforded or planes with multi-fold cost overruns but got help us if a sergeant gets a living wage for spending 15 months in a combat theater. And guess what, if we had invested more in body armor and vehicular armor early on and made gear that was more ergonomic in the first place many of our healthcare bills wouldn't be there either. Gates disappoints me on this one. We've had an explosion of general officers in recent years and nobody seems to be complaining about that but let the sergeant and his family get off welfare and oh no that can't happen. Gates disappoints on this one.]
Nuclear Proliferation in Latin America: Is Brazil Developing the Bomb? - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
... How exactly could Brazil go about building nuclear weapons? The answer, unfortunately, is that it would be relatively easy. A precondition for the legal construction of small reactors for submarine engines is that nuclear material regulated by the IAEA is approved. But because Brazil designates its production facilities for nuclear submarine construction as restricted military areas, the IAEA inspectors are no longer given access. In other words, once the legally supplied enriched uranium has passed through the gate of the plant where nuclear submarines are being built, it can be used for any purpose, including the production of nuclear weapons. And because almost all nuclear submarines are operated with highly enriched uranium, which also happens to be weapons grade uranium, Brazil can easily justify producing highly enriched nuclear fuel.
Even if there is no definitive proof of Brazil's nuclear activities (yet), past events suggest that it is highly likely that Brazil is developing nuclear weapons. Neither the constitutional prohibition nor the NPT will prevent this from happening. All it would take to obtain a parliamentary resolution to eliminate these obstacles would be for Lula da Silva to say that the United States is not entitled to a monopoly on nuclear weapons in the Americas. If that happens, Latin America would no longer be a nuclear weapons-free zone -- and Obama's vision of a nuclear-free world would be finished.
[bth: what I don't understand is why Brazil feels it needs to go in this direction.]
Friday, May 07, 2010
[bth: double the troops double the attacks. What is interesting though is that these IED attacks are being initiated by the Taliban, not us and that there is little American troops can do about it except drive over them. More miles driven, more IEDs run over. This is the Achilles heal of having more conventional troops on the ground.]
Thursday, May 06, 2010
...There's no mention of holds in the Senate's rules, but they have become increasingly used in recent years because the Senate has shifted to doing much of its work by "unanimous consent" agreements between the party leaders. If a single senator notifies the leaders he objects, that bill or nomination can't advance without a time-consuming process usually requiring a 60-vote majority.
There's no serious effort to ban holds, but there is growing sentiment that senators should at least be more open about applying them. "If any of my colleagues have holds on either side of the aisle, they ought to have the guts to go public," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Wyden's longtime partner in opposing secret holds.
In a 2007 ethics bill, Wyden and Grassley succeeded in winning a six-day limit on anonymous holds, after which the senator placing one must identify himself and give a reason for wanting to block a vote on a nomination or bill. But that clock begins to tick only when someone – as McCaskill did – goes to the Senate floor and tries to bring up a nominee or bill.
Senators can also still keep a hold secret by abandoning it before the six days is up and getting a colleague to take it up.
Now, Wyden and Grassley want to make senators disclose their holds within two days of placing them, whether or not anyone has made the formal effort to bring a nomination to the floor for consideration. The bottom line, Wyden said, "is that if you can't make a good public case for why you are doing something, you shouldn't be doing it."
[bth: The senate has become arcane and is in need of reform, but individual senators are greedy for power and would prefer power over the process instead of a process that works. So the Senate becomes increasingly dysfunctional.]
...Researchers have already begun to catalogue genetic differences that set present-day humans apart from Neanderthals. So far, they have found that genes involved in wound healing, skin, and energy metabolism underwent evolutionary changes, along with genes associated with cognitive development.
"This is a very powerful method for shining light ... and finding these important changes that happen in a really crucial time in human evolutionary history," said Richard E. Green, the lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Neanderthals and modern humans are close relatives, split from the same branch of the evolutionary tree between 270,000 and 400,000 years ago. That means Neanderthal DNA is already mostly the same as human DNA. But using three independent methods, researchers looked at whether Neanderthal genes flowed back into the human population, and -- to their surprise -- found evidence that Neanderthals and humans mated after the split....
[bth: worth reading in full. We always assume humans were more intelligent, but what if it had nothing to do with that and more to do with wound healing, skin and energy metabolism. Much to ponder.]
Unable to whip the votes against Audit the Fed in the Senate, the White House prevailed upon Bernie Sanders to limit the audit to only going back to 2007, and Bernie complied. What does that mean? Scarecrow:
The key is not when they audit, it’s what the get to audit. They’ve excluded the workings of the Open Markets Committee where the decisions were made.
The incompetence occurred in the Fed’s FOMC, where they missed signals, squashed dissent, and showed they were fools or tools. What the GAO will get, in a not fully public form, is a peek at how badly insolvent the banks were when the Fed accepted their toxic assets and gave them cash instead. So we’ll get an accounting of how much looting occurred by not necessarily learn how the looting occurred or who designed it or covered it up.
And this is just the Senate. They’ll get another chance to expand the coverup in conference with the House.
What’s shielded under the FOMC operations?
- 1. Transcripts of meetings and staff input? We don’t get those for five years, if then.
- 2. Authorization for bailing out the foreign banks?, because that wasn’t done through the other mechanisms that might be audited.?
- 3. Policies/directions wrt to accepting toxic assets for cast?
We could get a bunch of numbers that all add up, but even those could be in aggregate form, which is how you hide individual culpability while claiming you’re protecting proprietary information (shielding a bank).
Bernie was evidently on CSPAN this morning saying that they’d make changes in conference too. As Michael Whitney said, Bernie “held out longer than when he screwed us on public option.” I guess that’s progress.
[bth: the core problem with this is that it doesn't address the trust issue - or put differently the distrust issue. Until people feel that they can get a fair deal and put trust in the system, we're going to continue to drag ass. Who the hell is Bernie Sanders protecting? It isn't the average American.]
Obama pokes fun of Politico:
Now, look, I have a reputation for giving cable a hard time, so let's pick on Politico for a while. (Laughter.) You know, people attack Politico for putting a new focus on trivial issues, political fodder, gossip sheet. That's not fair. Politico has been doing this for centuries now. Just check out these headlines -- our researchers found these: "Japan surrenders -- where's the bounce?" Then there's this one: "Lincoln saves Union, but can he save House majority?" I don't know if you can see, there's a little portion there -- "He's lost the Southern white vote." (Laughter.) It's an astute analysis there.
And my favorite, July 3, 1776 -- "Senior Whig official: Talks break down, independence dead." (Laughter.)
So this is nothing new. But even though the mainstream press gives me a hard time, I hear that I'm still pretty big on Twitter, Facebook -- or as Sarah Palin calls it, "the socialized media." (Laughter.)
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
BAGHDAD – An agreement signed by Iraq's two main Shiite blocs seeking to govern the country gives the final decision on all their political disputes to top Shiite clerics, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
If the alliance succeeds in forming the next government, the provision could increase the role of senior clergy in politics. The provision would likely further alienate Iraq's Sunni minority, which already feels excluded by Shiite dominance and had been hoping that March's election would boost their say in power.
The newly announced alliance between the Shiite blocs practically ensures they will form the core of any new government and squeeze out the top vote getter, the secular Iraqiya list, which was largely backed by Sunnis. But the terms of the alliance show the deep distrust between the two Shiite partners and seek to limit the powers of the prime minister.
A leading member of the prime minister's coalition who signed the agreement on Tuesday confirmed it gives a small group of clerics led bythe last word on any disputes between the two allied blocs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation....
[bth: fabulous. Another theocracy masquerading as a democracy.]
A US Special Operations Force source told me that the planes were likely RC-12s equipped with a Guardrail Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) system that, as the plane flies overland "sucks up" digital and electronic communications. "Think of them as manned drones. They're drones, but they have men sitting in them piloting them and they can be networked together," said the source. "You have many of them--four, five, six of them--and they all act as a node and they scrape up everything, anything that's electronic and feed it back." The source added: "It sucks up everything. We've got these things in Jalalabad [Afghanistan]. We routinely fly these things over Khandahar. When I say everything, I mean BlueTooth would be effected, even the wave length that PlayStation controllers are on. They suck up everything. That's the point."
Guardrail has been used for years by the US military. In recent years, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has also used the "Constant Hawk" and "Highlighter" aerial sensor platforms. All of these programs have recently undergone a series of upgrades.
So were US special forces involved with Shahzad's arrest?
"My conjecture at the moment is that immediately after this went down and they knew that he was on the loose, parts of the domestic counter-terrorism operations that they had set up during the Bush administration were reactivated," says the Special Forces source. "They're compartmentalized. So they kicked into high gear and were supporting law enforcement. In some cases, law enforcement may not have even known that some of the signals intelligence was coming from covert military units."
If true, that could mean that secretive programs such as "Power Geyser" or "Granite Shadow," remain in effect. These were the unclassified names for reportedly classified, compartmentalized programs under the Bush administration that allegedly gave US military special forces sweeping authority to operate on US soil in cases involving WMD incidents or terror attacks.
"They sidestep Posse Comitatus," said the source....
[bth: so this is a fascinating article and worth a full read in itself. Note how the story was changed to delete reference to this military program of domestic spying.]
Then if you string things together you have this link to a special program called Power Geyser that allowed a small number of soldiers to work domestically on counter terrorism on US soil.
ASHINGTON, Jan. 22 - Somewhere in the shadows of the White House and the Capitol this week, a small group of super-secret commandos stood ready with state-of-the-art weaponry to swing into action to protect the presidency, a task that has never been fully revealed before.
As part of the extraordinary army of 13,000 troops, police officers and federal agents marshaled to secure the inauguration, these elite forces were poised to act under a 1997 program that was updated and enhanced after the Sept. 11 attacks, but nonetheless departs from how the military has historically been used on American soil.
These commandos, operating under a secret counterterrorism program code-named Power Geyser, were mentioned publicly for the first time this week on a Web site for a new book, "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World," (Steerforth Press). The book was written by William M. Arkin, a former intelligence analyst for the Army.
The precise number of these Special Operations forces in Washington this week is highly classified, but military officials say the number is very small. The special-missions units belong to the Joint Special Operations Command, a secretive command based at Fort Bragg, N.C., whose elements include the Army unit Delta Force. ... [bth: again well worth a full read.]
... [bth: then we have this fascinating post from Firedoglake about a secrete series of electronic intercept planes that seem to have tracked the movement of perhaps his cell phone as he booked his airline reservation or probably more likely tracked the unique identifier of the phone as it moved through traffic.]
Shahzad, 30, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, has been in custody since shortly after midnight. He was hauled off a plane in the nick of time as it was about to fly to the Middle East. CBS 2 obtained air traffic control recording intended to stop the pilots from taking off. The controller alerts pilots to "immediately" return to the gate.
In the end, it was secret Army intelligence planes that did him in. Armed with his cell phone number, they circled the skies over the New York area, intercepting a call to Emirates Airlines reservations, before scrambling to catch him at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
There’s been some talk about good old-fashioned police work nabbing this guy, but I don’t recall the FBI ever calling in an intelligence plane to sniff a cell phone in order to locate a suspect.
This begs a number of questions:
– Is this a special operation or part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force?
– How often has this "sniffing" function been used over American soil?
– Why was this information released so publicly, disclosing methods and means?
– And if this can be done with a plane today, will law enforcement do this soon using drones?
I’m sure you have a few more questions. What are you thinking about this scenario?
UPDATE — 7:55 PM EDT —
As you’ll see in comments, the original story posted at WCBS has been, um, edited. I have a screenshot for you, though, of the story as it appeared approximately 6:25 p.m. this evening (you may need to right click on the image after opening to expand)....
[bth: then if you follow the comments on the Firedoglake blog post there is a statement that after the CBS story was pulled or more like altered, there would be a flurry of white noise and disinformation to cover the trail, create an alternate story that would explain the nabbing of the suspect involving no fly lists such as this one from Rosen. ]
From the AP:
[Terrorism suspect Faisal] Shahzad was placed on a "no-fly" list Monday after he was identified as the buyer [of the Nissan Pathfinder], [FBI official John] Pistole said. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declined to say how Shahzad was able to board the flight if he was on the "no-fly" list.
Also from the New York Times:
In September 2009, Mr. Shahzad was sent a letter notifying him that he was being sued over a $218,400 loan from a mortgage arm of Chase bank. The mortgage covered the single-family home with an assessed value of $242,690 on Long Hill Avenue in Shelton. The bank took Mr. Shahzad and his wife, Ms. Mian, to court. One or both appeared before the court last fall and filed affidavits about their debts that were entered in the court record as recently as last month.
UPDATE: More from Josh Gerstein, who adds, "I understand that while most domestic and some international carriers have transferred automatic no-fly matching duties to the Transportation Safety Agency and all are supposed to by 2010, most international [airlines] still have not and Emirates is among them."
Also see this from NBC's Jim Miklaszewski:
*** UPDATE *** NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports that a senior U.S. official familiar with events surrounding the capture of Shahzad says if the security system had worked properly, "He should have never been able to get on that airplane."
According to the official, Shahzad's name was put onto the U.S. "no-fly list" about 11 a.m. Monday, some 12 hours before he was taken into custody aboard that United Arab Emirates flight that pulled away from the gate at JFK, bound for Dubai. As required, once the plane was locked up and started to pull away from the gate, the airline submitted the final manifest to customs. According to one official, "We're extremely fortunate that alert agents caught the name, and ordered the plane to return to the gate."
Also see this from the Post: "Instead, the airline noted that Shahzad made his reservation on the way to the airport and paid cash for the flight, alerting U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the source said."
Close call. He paid cash for the flight making his reservation on the way to the airport and he was on the no-fly list, and he still was able to board the plane at all?
Perhaps the passenger manifest list sent by the air crew as the flight was about to pull back from the gate is the second chance they got.
Officials declined to say if he was traveling under a different name, the Post reported. Reports said he had one U.S. and two Pakistani passports.
[bth: note in all the articles that they said, that local law enforcement that made the arrest might not have known that the source of the information was military and secret. This probably is stated to avoid a legal problem. So one wonders.]
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
WASHINGTON – The no-fly list failed to keep the Times Square suspect off the plane. Faisal Shahzad had boarded a jetliner bound for the United Arab Emirates Monday night before federal authorities pulled him back.
The night's events, gradually coming to light, underscored the flaws in the nation's aviation security system, which despite its technologies, lists and information sharing, often comes down to someone making a right call.
As federal agents closed in, Faisal Shahzad was aboard Emirates Flight 202. He reserved a ticket on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, paid cash on arrival and walked through security without being stopped. By the timeofficials spotted Shahzad's name on the passenger list and recognized him as the bombing suspect they were looking for, he was in his seat and the plane was preparing to leave the gate.
But it didn't. At the last minute, the pilot was notified, the jetliner's door was opened and Shahzad was taken into custody....
[bth: so by a whisper we caught this guy and didn't let him fly away. I guess it could be worse, but it sure could have been better. He never should have gotten on the plane.]
Monday, May 03, 2010
..."The fundamental problem with reintegration is the dissonance between motives of fighters and what reintegration has to offer, most of which is about job opportunities," said Matt Waldman, a Harvard University researcher who has written about reintegration and recently interviewed several current and former Taliban commanders. "They're not fighting for jobs."
Instead, he said, they are fed up with what they see as a profiteering and exclusionary government that has strayed from Islamic principles, and they oppose the presence of nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in their country.
Some U.S. officials worry that the Afghan government will have problems getting the message out to its army and police, which could kill or capture those insurgents who have gained amnesty.
Many Afghans, in and out of the government, oppose any outreach to the Taliban. Within the past six weeks, both of Karzai's vice presidents, Mohammed Fahim and Karim Khalili, have said the president could be killed if the Taliban gets a foothold in the government, according to a foreign diplomat in Kabul.
Fahim and Khalili were both members of the Northern Alliance, which led the overthrow of the Taliban government with U.S. assistance in 2001. Former Northern Alliance commanders think "the whole idea of bringing [militants] in is antithetical to us: 'We fought them and won, we don't want them back,' " said a senior U.S. military official in Kabul.
Even to Afghan supporters of Taliban outreach, there is skepticism that amnesty for individual foot soldiers will change the war, particularly during a U.S. troop buildup and an upcoming military offensive in Kandahar.
U.S. military officials want "to put pressure on insurgents and try to pave the way to a political deal," said a senior Afghan official. "But killings, targeting, doesn't help. We've been killing them for the past nine years."...
...To wit, this quote I received from a former insurgent in January of 2007:
Through my [experience as an enemy], the way I look at Americans, I look at them and feel like they are occupiers, occupying my country when the invasion happened. But when other parties showed up - especially the radicals and the Iranian militias, both who are not Iraqis - now I prefer the Americans. I've met [various Americans working for Fallujah]. It is my feeling that [they are] working hard, and (before I knew) you (Americans) I had a different image. Now that I know the Americans, I have a different impression. Now I deal honestly with them and feel they are really working for the benefit of my side. I think the Americans are more for Iraq than the Iraqis themselves.
Another, from a Fallujan security volunteer in September 2007:
At first, Americans were not doing a good job, because if they were attacked, they would kill [civilians] in the surrounding area, but now they are good to the people and trying to help. They are going out sooner or later, and it is a good gesture of them to try to help us before they leave.
Paraphrased, this man went on to say that his opinion also changed when he realized that the Americans were "not after the oil, after all."
And ironically, just as Anbar's Sunnis realized the Americans wanted out, they began to hope we'd stay, as many astutely realized that any hope of dealing with the Shia-dominated central government would require US brokerage.
This quote from the former AQI in the IWPR article makes the point:
Now it’s better to stand back and watch because the battle is not over yet. I worry that the Sunni may ask us to take up arms again if Iran gains political power after the US pullout. I used to support the US withdrawal but now I don’t want it to happen so quickly. They (the Americans) should end the Iranian influence before they pull out. If they withdraw and Iran is in Iraq this will create a new Sunni armed uprising.
Many of his sentiments in the rest of the article are commonly mentioned by both American intelligence officials and Iraqis. I personally disagree with many of his perceptions, of course; but differences of opinion with a former insurgent are distinct from understanding the frame of reference that can spark smoldering insurgency into wider rebellion. The piece is highly recommended.
One portion is unusual and compelling, given the source:
Islam teaches us to tell the truth, even if it is against us. There was a Marine who fought bravely against us in 2004. He fiercely repelled many of our attacks on his own. But he couldn’t keep it up for long because he was outnumbered by al-Qaeda fighters. He went down during the engagement, clutching his dog tag. I respected him a lot because of his fighting. I wished that the Iraqi government had half of this Marine’s courage and his sacrifice. Iraq would have been a better place.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Third party photo replaced because a badge likely differentiated originally pictured militants from being AQI. Thanks to those who provided feedback.
[bth: worth a full read]
...“We call them vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices,” he said. “That’s sort of the inside baseball vernacular, but basically it’s a car bomb, and of course the reason the car is used is the delivery. It can carry the weight.”
From 1970 through 2007, terrorists used car bombs at least 1,495 times, according to research by the terrorism response center in Maryland. The center tracked 876 in the Middle East and North Africa, 212 in Western Europe and 163 in South Asia.
New Yorkers on Sunday had contradictory reactions to the failed attack. Many said they had grown accustomed to the fear of terrorist attacks, and they could not say they were truly surprised. Others, who said they had gotten used to the fact that no terrorist strike had succeeded in the city since the Sept. 11 attacks, were now suddenly faced with a reminder of how suddenly and randomly it could happen.....
[bth: in my opinion truck bombs are the great thing to fear. Portable and very large. The McVeigh bomb was relatively small compared to what occurred in Iraq.]
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Contact: Khurram Sundhu - Manager Operations
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Phone: +92-(302)-4444253 Fax: +92-(42)-35783603
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Wah Nobel (Pvt) Ltd.
Company Name: Wah Nobel (Pvt) Ltd.
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Reference source the Wall Street Journal
....Timothy McVeigh used a 600-pound ammonium nitrate bomb, mixed with fuel, to destroy the federal Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. Last year, Pakistan banned the fertilizer in its Northwest Frontier province, a center of Islamist resistance.
NATO estimates that as little as 5% of the nitrate fertilizer entering Afghanistan goes to legitimate use. Pakistan, which operates two large fertilizer plants, is the biggest provider, although Iran and China are also "significant suppliers," according to a briefing delivered last month by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, who is in charge of intelligence gathering in Afghanistan.
Fertilizer's use as a bomb material has grown in importance in Afghanistan, and today 80% to 90% of the roadside bombs contain ammonium nitrate, the report said. The simplicity of the fertilizer bomb, packed into everything from pipes to drums to pressure cookers, has helped it surpass conventional military mines that the Taliban used in the first years of the U.S.-led war.
The bombs have also gotten bigger. Gen. Flynn's report said that the proportion of big bombs—25 pounds or more—has "dramatically increased." Many are now large enough to overcome NATO's heavily armored vehicles—even the supposedly mine-resistant 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected troop carriers, officials say.
If successful, choking off nitrate fertilizer could winnow the death toll in Afghanistan's southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, where more than one-third of total casualties have been inflicted on NATO troops since the beginning of the war. The region remains a center of poppy production.
In the volatile Zharay district of Kandahar province, a Taliban stronghold straddling the highway from Helmand, American soldiers regularly come under attack from IEDs, most of them based on ammonium nitrate.
The bombs come in all shapes and sizes: from jugs and pipes filled with the deadly powder that are placed in the path of foot patrols or hidden in trees, to the giant 1,200-pound bombs placed in culverts or buried in the dirt that rip apart armored vehicles....
See this reference form the NYTs a couple of months ago.
...On Sunday, Afghan police officers and American soldiers, acting on intelligence, went first to a compound in the southern part of the city and found 1,000 100-pound bags of ammonium nitrate and 2,000 bomb-making components. They detained 15 people there. They were then led to a second compound a short distance away, where they found 4,000 100-pound bags of the fertilizer.
On Tuesday, Afghans and Americans were still carting away the ammonium nitrate; so far, officials said, they had filled 10 40-foot-long shipping containers with the bags.
The statistics related to homemade bombs tell much of the story of the Afghan war.
The use of homemade bombs has been skyrocketing. Last year, 4,100 bombs either exploded or were discovered beforehand in Afghanistan. So far this year, 6,500 bombs either have been found or have gone off, military officials in Kabul said.
About 60 percent of homemade bombs are discovered here before they explode, officials in Kabul say.
An overwhelming majority of homemade bombs here, about 75 percent, are in southern Afghanistan, in places like the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. Most of the 17,000 additional troops sent to the country this year by President Obama went to those places.
While homemade bombs are the leading killer of American and other NATO soldiers, about 70 percent of those killed and wounded in such attacks are Afghan, officials said...
In November 2009, a ban on ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizers was imposed in the Malakand Division - comprising the Dir, Swat, Chitral and Malakand districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, by the NWFP government, following reports that those chemicals were used by militants to make explosives. In January 2010, these substances were also banned in Afghanistan for the same reason. ... so evidently its also banned in Taliban controlled areas of Pakistan which I didn't know. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANFO
May 1, 2010
Reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan
Twice a week, a caravan of trucks lumbers out of this volatile northwest Pakistan city in the dead of night and makes its way toward Afghanistan, loaded with one of the most coveted substances in a Taliban bombmaker's arsenal: ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
Every time the illicit caravan makes its trip, it moves unhindered past a gantlet of Pakistani police checkposts along the Pak-Afghan Highway. A string of bribes paid out to police, politicians and bureaucrats ensures that the smuggled explosive agent reaches its destination, middlemen on the Afghan side of the border who sell it to insurgents, says the co-owner of a Pakistani trucking firm that dispatches the caravans.
Banned in Afghanistan, ammonium nitrate is the basic ingredient of the Taliban's roadside bombs. The amounts ferried into Afghanistan are staggering. Each truck carries 130 bags, each of which contains 110 pounds of ammonium nitrate. A caravan typically has least 12 trucks, which means a single night's shipment can move 85 tons of the fertilizer.
The caravans head out every third night.
"I know that it's used to kill American soldiers," said the businessman, a lanky, thirtysomething Pashtun from the Khyber district in Pakistan's tribal areas, a haven for Taliban militants. He agreed to discuss his company's smuggling activity on condition that he not be named.
"But people in the tribal areas don't have any choice but to do this," he says. "If they would give us another way to make money, we would take it."
Of all the threats U.S. troops face in Afghanistan, the roadside bomb is the one they dread most. Western forces have suffered 602 combat-related deaths since the beginning of 2009, and 361, or three of five, have been caused by roadside bombs, according to icasualties.org a website that keeps track of war-related deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ammonium nitrate bombs, often crude, wood-and-graphite pressure-plate devices buried in dirt lanes or heaps of trash, are difficult to detect and devastating when they detonate. The fertilizer's might as an explosive agent was witnessed in the United States in 1995, when Timothy McVeigh's 4,800-pound ammonium nitrate bomb killed 168 people at a government building in Oklahoma City.
In Afghanistan, a typical homemade bomb weighs about 65 pounds, most of it ammonium nitrate. A shipment of 85 tons of ammonium nitrate could yield more than 2,500 bombs.
Made by combining ammonia gas and nitric acid, ammonium nitrate is one of the world's most popular fertilizers. It was used by Afghan farmers, but because of the roadside bombs, the United States persuaded President Hamid Karzai's government to ban the substance in January.
But Pakistani smugglers continue to truck massive amounts into Afghanistan. Several other countries in the region, including Uzbekistan and Iran, also manufacture the fertilizer, but almost all that gets into Afghanistan comes from Pakistan, says Kenneth Comer, director of intelligence at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, a research arm of the U.S. military that develops ways to detect and withstand roadside bombs.
Pakistan manufactures 496,000 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer each year. It also imports ammonium nitrate from several countries, including China, Germany and Sweden, Comer said. The United States has begun talks with Pakistani officials to persuade them to ban the manufacture and use of ammonium nitrate and switch to urea as the country's main fertilizer. Unlike ammonium nitrate, urea cannot be readily used as an explosive agent.
"I can't find anyone who thinks ammonium nitrate makes sense as a fertilizer as opposed to what's more commonly used in both [Pakistan and Afghanistan], which is urea," Comer said.
Officials in Islamabad say such a ban would be a hard sell in Pakistan. "It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the [sole] manufacturer to switch to urea," said Qadir Bux Baloch, spokesman for the Pakistani Agriculture Ministry.
As long as ammonium nitrate remains legal in Pakistan, the United States will have to rely on Pakistani police and border authorities to curb smuggling. For the time being, , however, rampant corruption within the ranks of law enforcement and local government allows ammonium nitrate to be smuggled freely into Afghanistan.
The Khyber businessman said his company pays about $830 in bribes for a single truckload of ammonium nitrate. About 40% of that goes to local police, he said, and the rest gets paid out to local officials.
Middlemen on the other side of the border bribe Afghan authorities so they can transfer the shipments to their own trucks and move the explosive agent through their country, the Khyber businessman said.
The businessman says he clears about $950 a month smuggling ammonium nitrate. At least eight trucking firms with warehouses on the outskirts of Peshawar regularly smuggle the substance into Afghanistan, he said.
Authorities in Peshawar have never raided his warehouse, he said. "There are only a few police officials in Peshawar who know about what we do, and we bribe them."
Peshawar's top administrative official, Commissioner Azam Khan, said no Pakistani court had ever convicted anyone of smuggling ammonium nitrate into Afghanistan. Khan said he had begun convening meetings with local law enforcement and administrative officials to find ways to tackle the smuggling of ammonium nitrate and other commodities into Afghanistan.
"We're trying to think out of the box," Khan said. "We're looking at what laws we can use to get at the black market storage of ammonium nitrate, to make it more difficult to store it in bulk."
Some security officials say Pakistan should have ample incentive to better scrutinize the movement of ammonium nitrate within the country, given its own struggle with Islamic militants.
In March, police seized 6,600 pounds of ammonium nitrate stashed in a fruit market in Lahore's Allama Iqbal neighborhood. Investigators believe the three men arrested in the seizure were connected to a series of suicide bomb blasts that killed more than 50 people in early March.
Zulfiqar Hameed, a senior Lahore police official in charge of investigations, said his officers could have tracked down the middlemen who supplied the ammonium nitrate to the militants if Pakistan required manufacturers to put tracking numbers on each fertilizer bag.
"It's a totally undocumented market," Hameed said. "There's no reliable way of finding out who bought those bags. That's a huge problem."
Even if Pakistani authorities took steps to clamp down on ammonium nitrate smuggling, the Khyber businessman said, he doubted they would derail his operation. Along Pakistan's tribal belt, where smuggling is a way of life, the policemen and bureaucrats accustomed to a steady stream of payoffs aren't likely to turn over a new leaf anytime soon.
"Never have these supplies been interfered with," the businessman said, chuckling as he sipped cola from a plastic cup in a darkened office. "These shipments always reach their destination."
[bth: Kudos to Mr. Rodriguez for a refreshing dose of investigative journalism. It would be nice to know the name of the plant and its ownership structure. Dear Gen. Petraeus, how about buying the only AN plant in Pakistan to reduce IEDs, tapping its phone lines, photocopy their receipts. bribing the truck drivers or their companies for intelligence, putting RFID trackers on the pallets, booby trapping AN bearing trucks that have crossed the Afghan border with this payload and if necessary burning that plant right down to its foundation in an unfortunate late night fire? $4.5 billion to JIEDDO to counter IEDs and we can't find a solution to the AN issue? Detecting IEDs in the ground is too late. One wonders if we and our allies are really serious about this issue that has killed so many Americans.]
Walters said Pacific Command, Southern Command and Africa Command have requested more UAVs, but are being forced to wait until demand is met in the Central Command.
Drones are used from Yemen to Pakistan, but most of the demand is related to the surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he said April 28 at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement conference in northern Virginia.
It will likely be a year before U.S. planners have a better handle on how many UAVs will be needed there and how many can be spared for use outside of the Middle East, he said.
Eventually, those other regional commands will have to learn the ins and outs of employing UAVs, perhaps bringing in units that have practical experience with them, Walters said. He said Southern Command, which operates in Latin America, has a serious need for the aircraft but has very limited practical experience with them, while the situation is slightly better in Pacific Command.
Walters said the military, whose UAV fleet has grown from about 200 in 2001, needs to figure out what to do with them as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.
By 2012, he said, “We’ll have 8,000 UAVs that will have to fit into” the Defense Department’s global maintenance and basing structure.
In the U.S., he said, the Army and Federal Aviation Administration are trying to figure out how to allow the pilotless aircraft to operate in civil airspace. Many of the UAVs will be based far away from the slivers of airspace where they are currently allowed to fly.
Walters said the two groups agree that UAVs need reliable onboard systems to sense and avoid nearby aircraft and to automatically return home if they lose connection to ground control stations.
[bth: well this is budget time. Let's deconstruct what's happening because the headline would suggest we don't have enough equipment to go around and that its all in Afghanistan. But then with a little knowledge we know that most of these UAVs are actually small - not the stuff that gets the headlines. And then we see that as the ME winds down all these UAVs need homes in the continental US to which they are currently prohibited due to stupid bureaucratic delays and to justify keeping a maintenance and support structure - indeed even growing it geographically - as it is less likely to be needed since fewer will be needed even though production continues unabated. So when you scrape it down, its not about front line troop requirements and equipment shortages, its about sustaining the bureaucracy after the need declines and we have a surplus.]
Now unnamed Pakistani operatives are being quoted as claiming that Mehsud was only wounded. "He is alive ... He had some wounds but he is basically OK," the Guardian quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official as saying. The BBC reported that it had received a video of Mehsu, but that it could not determine when the footage was shot.
A U.S. official, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, tells Declassified that U.S. agencies are checking out those reports to find out whether Pakistani officials really are saying such things, and whether there is evidence to support those claims. U.S. agencies have always made it clear to policymakers that there’s no proof that the Pakistani Taliban leader was killed, according to another U.S. official familiar with intelligence reporting. But a third official adds that U.S. agencies haven’t given policymakers any fresh intelligence recently that he isn’t dead. ....
[bth: Mehsud, still undead. Jeez, we're like the gang that can't shoot straight.]
POINTER - Journals - 2004 - Vol 30 No. 2 - Book Review: On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman F. Dixon
• A fundamental conservatism and clinging to outworn tradition, as well as an inability to profit from past experience.
• A tendency to reject, suppress or ignore information which is unpalatable or conflicts with pre-conceptions.
• A tendency to under-estimate the enemy and over-estimate the capabilities of one ’ s own side.
• An undue readiness to find scapegoats and suppress news about military setbacks.
• A predilection for frontal assaults and the belief in brute force rather than the use of surprises or ruses.
• Indecisiveness and a general abdication from the role of a leader.
• A failure to exploit a situation due to the lack of aggressiveness.
There are obviously other reasons for failure in war, such as the lack of training, technological inferiority, the lack of proper intelligence equipment, failure of logistical support, ineffective flow of information and communication as well as the destruction of morale. However, those factors are external to the leader, whereas military incompetence is an inherent fault in military leadership. All else being equal, a well-equipped, well-trained fighting force will be made ineffective by the presence of an incompetent leader, and no amount of military intelligence, regardless of how accurate and timely it is, will be used effectively by an incompetent general. Therefore it is clear that a military leader is one of the most important force multipliers of any military organisation. ....