Friday, May 21, 2010

US military frees two Iranians held in Iraq: Iranian embassy

The Raw Story | US military frees two Iranians held in Iraq: Iranian embassy

The US military in Iraq has freed two Iranian prisoners from its custody, an Iranian diplomat at Tehran's embassy in Baghdad told AFP on Friday.

"Two Iranians have been freed by the Americans after co-operation with the office of the prime minister (Nuri al-Maliki) and the Iranian embassy," an Iranian diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat declined to give any further details about the two Iranians who were freed. It was not immediately clear when they were released.

The American military did not respond to requests to confirm the prisoners' release....

[bth: so now the 3 American hikers will be freed. So earlier this week the French freed an Iranian caught by the Americans buying nuclear parts and a french citizen caught in Iran was freed. Not the Iraqis release 2 Iranians and I'll bet next week the three hikers are released on humanitarian grounds. All parties will claim there was no deal. But there was/is.]

A stupid way to unload a UGV from a Buffalo

France24 - Iraq, Afghan wars biggest logistical effort since WWII: US general

US Army soldiers unload a robot to deactivate an IED they discovered on a main road in Yosef Khel district of Paktika province. The US military's drawdown in Iraq and buildup in Afghanistan represents the biggest movement of troops and equipment since World War II, a top general said Friday.
So this could be replace with an electric winch but no we've got 3 men exposed to deploy this 'man portable' ugv.  We can do better than this. Why aren't we?

$200m 'behaviour detection' officers fail to spot a single terrorist at airports - Telegraph

$200m 'behaviour detection' officers fail to spot a single terrorist at airports - Telegraph

A team of more than 3,000 "behaviour detection" officers hired to spot terrorists at US airports have failed to catch a single person despite costing the taxpayer $200 million (£140 million) last year....

[bth: 160,000 innocent travelers were tagged. Less than 1% arrested. Zero for 23 in catching terrorists. This program is a bust.]

Questionable China-Pakistan deal draws little comment from U.S.

Questionable China-Pakistan deal draws little comment from U.S.

Diplomacy sometimes consists of winks and nods, not outright trades. That might explain why the Obama administration has been quiet about a recent Chinese commercial transaction that nuclear specialists say marks a blatant disregard of international guidelines.

In the midst of intense negotiations on new sanctions for Iran, which China was reluctant to embrace, Beijing confirmed that one of its state companies had signed an agreement to supply Pakistan with two new nuclear reactors.

The lucrative deal, if consummated, appears to be a clear violation of international guidelines forbidding nuclear exports to countries that have not signed onto the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or do not have international safeguards on reactors. China agreed to the restrictions in 2004 when it joined the organization that monitors such transfers, the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

President Obama has strongly advocated for restrictions on the spread of nuclear technology. But his administration has said little publicly about the China-Pakistan deal. Meanwhile, the administration announced Tuesday that China, despite its misgivings, had signed on to a draft U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran.

U.S. officials said there's no connection between the two developments, but some analysts see the potential for a quid pro quo.

Before the announcement, Mark Hibbs, a nuclear specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote an analysis on the issue in which he said that members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group "expect that the Obama administration will accept a limited amount of additional Chinese nuclear commerce with Pakistan as a price for getting Chinese support on U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran in weeks ahead."

China suggests the sale is grandfathered from before it joined the NSG, because it was completing work on two earlier reactors for Pakistan at the time. "China and Pakistan conduct civilian nuclear cooperation fully in compliance with the two countries' respective international obligations," said Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong. "The cooperation is transparent, only for peaceful purpose and subject to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] supervision."

Few outside experts agree. For its part, the administration says its position on the reactor sale is still under review.

"This is something that is still under discussion among all of us," Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg said last week. "Obviously it's important from our perspective that all countries live up to their commitments." He said the question of whether the sale could be considered grandfathered is "something that we haven't, I think, reached a final conclusion on."

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely, said the United States is waiting for China to detail how it plans to proceed with this transaction. "We don't have much clarity, and so the issue has not ripened in the government," he said. He said any claim that the reactors are grandfathered "would be a hard case to make," but China could seek a formal exemption from the guidelines -- which are voluntary in any case.

Indeed, complicating matters is that the United States, after hard lobbying, in 2008 won a specific exemption at the NSG for trade with India, Pakistan's nuclear-armed rival. Pakistan has long wanted its own exemption -- and the United States has refused -- but the administration may not want to roil relations with Islamabad at a time when their partnership on counterterrorism is seen as crucial.

Hibbs said in an interview Wednesday that the administration faces two unappealing options -- either move to make life difficult for China at the NSG for failing to abide by the guidelines, or bite the bullet and let the sale go forward. "My understanding is that it is more likely that option 2 is what they will choose," he said.

The NSG will soon hold a plenary meeting, chaired by New Zealand, a tough proponent of maintaining nuclear rules, and Hibbs said that other countries are waiting for the Obama administration "to show leadership on how to deal with this issue." He said that "if the United States chooses to say nothing, then the question arises whether anyone else would object."

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the China-Pakistan deal "is some of the fallout of the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement" -- which included the special exemption for nuclear trade. The deal was a Bush administration initiative -- but was avidly supported by then-Sens. Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

[bth: Obama cut a deal. What can you say.

New U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan quickly learn about challenges

New U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan quickly learn about challenges


The treacherous farmlands of the Zhari and Argandab districts on the western outskirts of the city are among the most important terrain for the new troops. The two U.S. battalions there will soon grow to five, each with approximately 1,000 troops. The commander of one battalion, Lt. Col. Johnny Davis, said about 10 percent of his soldiers had arrived at this forward operating base, just 10 days before the scheduled transfer-of-authority ceremony.

An outgoing battalion, led by Lt. Col. Reik Andersen, delayed its departure by 10 days to accommodate the slow arrival of the new troops, Hodges said.

In the coming days, the new battlefield commanders will shadow their counterparts through intelligence briefings and meetings with local officials, while learning about the difficulties that lie ahead in bringing security to Kandahar.

On Monday night, Capt. Nicholas Stout, a company commander, arrived in the Senjaray area of Zhari to take the reins from Capt. Jeremiah Ellis. By Tuesday morning, Ellis was walking Stout through the Pir Mohammad School.

The school was built in 2005, then shut down by the Taliban two years later, and reopening it has become Ellis's obsession. For six months, he and his men have fought military bureaucracy, endured gunfire and grenades, filled sandbags for the windows and shoveled human excrement from the classrooms. They are now, he told Stout, days away from opening. Even a single functioning school would be a small victory against the Taliban, Ellis said, and for his soldiers ending their difficult tour.

"They can come here and take a photo of this and say: 'You know what? We did this thing,' " Ellis said. "I don't know if it's the Taliban or Pakistan that's going to be in charge of this country in five years. It's not going to be us. I hope it's the Afghans. But you don't have to know the outcome to know that this is worth trying."

The new commanders in Zhari face many challenges: a determined Taliban insurgency; trigger-happy Afghan security guards who escort NATO supply convoys and spray bullets as they pass through town; a district government without a governor.

The former governor, Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, recently left his post to run for parliament, leaving his lone staff member, a secretary, in charge.

"The district governor taking off is going to be a big challenge for us," said Andersen, commander of the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. "It's going to be difficult to find somebody of his caliber to go back."

[bth: the comments of Ellis that I highlighted are telling. They are not of victory but of inevitability. Much to consider here and worth reading in full. Are we winning in Afghanistan?]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

North Korea Fired Torpedo That Killed 46 And Sank Cheonan, Says South Korea

North Korea Fired Torpedo That Killed 46 And Sank Cheonan, Says South Korea

....Pieces recovered at the sinking site "perfectly match" the schematics of the torpedo included in introductory brochures provided to foreign countries by North Korea for export purposes, chief investigator Yoon Duk-young said.

A serial number on a torpedo fragment also was consistent with markings from a North Korean torpedo that South Korea obtained years earlier, Yoon said.

"The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine," he said. "There is no other plausible explanation."

Investigators also confirmed that several small North Korean submarines and a mother ship supporting them left a North Korean naval base two to three days ago before the attack, and returned to port two to three days after the attack....

[bth: ok so now what?]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mysterious ‘White Taleban’ strike fear in village hearts - Times Online

Mysterious ‘White Taleban’ strike fear in village hearts - Times Online

As they got to the crest of the hill the US patrol stopped in their tracks, astonished at the scene below. In the river was a group of men, one soldier said, “just kinda frolicking about”.

For several minutes each side contemplated the other in silence. “There were about 15 of them,” said Specialist Tom Weaver, 24. “At first I thought it was some of our Navy Seals” — US special forces who are encouraged to grow beards. “They saw us and they didn’t really run away. Some just stayed and watched us.”

The men had long beards and long hair, in some cases below their shoulders, quite unlike the local style. They were shirtless and wore only Western-style shorts, a degree of nakedness alien, even offensive, to Afghan culture. But their most remarkable feature was their skin colour. They were white.

Foreign fighters remain a rarity in the Afghan war — Nato commanders insist that Kandahar, the focus of the next big campaign, is all but free of them — but Zabul is one area in which there have been consistent reports of their presence, infiltrating from Pakistan’s Waziristan province, a few days’ walk across the border....

[bth: worth reading in full as it regards the changing complexion of the enemy in some parts.]

YouTube - Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

YouTube - Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

Source: Faisal Shahzad Had Bigger Targets

Source: Faisal Shahzad Had Bigger Targets

MYFOXNY.COM EXCLUSIVE - Fox 5 has exclusive details on the Times Square bomber case suspect Faisal Shahzad plotted his potentially deadly mission as he assembled his four-wheel arsenal.

A source close to this investigation tells Fox 5 exclusively that Shahzad allegedly had bigger, more destructive plans -- other targets in our area. The source says that Shahzad has told interrogators that if the Times Square bombing was successful, that he had four other locations to possibly attack.

If the bomb inside the pathfinder in Times Square went off as planned, a source tells fox 5 that Faisal Shahzad says he was taking aim at four other high-profile targets: Rockefeller center, grand central terminal, the world financial center which is across from ground zero, and Connecticut-based defense contractor Sikorsky....

Pictures of the 'White Taliban' in Nuristan - Threat Matrix

Pictures of the 'White Taliban' in Nuristan - Threat Matrix

The overrun of Camp Keating from the eyes of the Taliban.

Pakistani says false alarm led to Chile detention | Antiwar Newswire

Pakistani says false alarm led to Chile detention | Antiwar Newswire

A Pakistani detained in Chile said Tuesday the positive test for explosive traces he registered at the U.S. Embassy was likely a false alarm and denied any wrongdoing. He said he holds no ill will toward America.

Mohammad Saif Ur Rehman Khan was detained May 10 after the embassy said tests detected explosive traces on his cell phone and papers. Chilean authorities said they later found traces of the same substance on items in his apartment and charged him with possessing explosives.

The 28-year-old read a statement in English to reporters outside the public defenders office Tuesday, professing his innocence and calling the allegations against him "baseless and false." He said the case appeared "to have stemmed from a false alarm."

Soon after his arrest, Khan told local media he thought his detention was an attempt to cover up shame for America's actions in Iraq and Pakistan.

But on Tuesday he was less critical of the United States.

"I have friends and family in the United States of America and more than anyone I want America to be safe and secure," he said. "I have been to the U.S. and I greatly admire the American values of truth, justice and freedom."

In Tuesday's statement, Khan repeated his claim that he was in Chile to learn Spanish and study the tourism industry.

Khan has been released from detention but is not allowed to leave Chile's capital pending the investigation. He is staying at a student residence in Santiago.

A summary of the closed hearing posted on the judiciary's website Saturday said both TNT and tetryl — a chemical that boosts the power of explosives — were found on his cell phone and documents at the embassy. It added that a police search of his room later found the same chemicals on his clothes, a suitcase and a computer bag.

Source: AP News

Pakistan arrests army officer linked to Times Square bomb suspect - NewsTimes

Pakistan arrests army officer linked to Times Square bomb suspect - NewsTimes

ISLAMABAD — Investigators have arrested a Pakistani army major linked to the prime suspect in the botched attempt to bomb New York City's Times Square early this month, Pakistani law enforcement sources said Tuesday.

The major's involvement with suspect Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to fly to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, remains unclear. Law enforcement sources said the major had met Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, in Islamabad, the capital, and was in cell phone contact with him.

The major's arrest marks the first time someone in Pakistan's military establishment has been directly linked to the case. The sources would not say when the alleged meeting and phone calls between Shahzad and the major took place, or what was discussed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

McClatchy blog: Nukes & Spooks - France and Iran Swap Prisoners

McClatchy blog: Nukes & Spooks

We posted here earlier this month about France's release of Majid Kakavand, the Iranian engineer arrested at U.S. request and accused by the United States of illegally procuring dual-use items for Iran's military complex.

We ended the post with this note:

Postscript: There's been widespread suspicion of a deal between France and Iran that involves Kakavand's freedom in return for that of Clotilde Reiss, a young Frechwoman detained in Iran after last June's disputed elections. We should soon see if the suspicion is merited....

Soon, indeed. According to an AFP report today, Reiss' Iranian lawyer has told reporters that she will soon be allowed to leave the country. Reiss wasn't acquitted of charges of participating in the post-election protests, and had to pay an exorbitant fine, reportedly $285,000.

Of course, there was no quid pro quo here. Of course the Iranian foreign minister's phone call a few weeks back to Kakavand assuring him he'd be free soon was merely a pep talk. And the French court's sudden about-face on the evidence against Kakavand was merely based on an examination of the facts.

Of course.

Monday, May 17, 2010 - International - US likely to replace Dutch Afghanistan mission - International - US likely to replace Dutch Afghanistan mission

The US will probably take over from the Netherlands as lead nation to the Nato-led ISAF mission in the Afghan province of Uruzgan, stated Peter van Uhm, chief of the Dutch armed forces, during a television talk-show on Thursday.

The US will continue the Dutch military's work in collaboration with Australia and Singapore, which also have soldiers stationed in the southern province. A proposal to this extent is awaiting approval by Nato’s mission command in Kabul, a spokesperson for Van Uhm confirmed. The number of soldiers involved remains unknown. ..

[bth: worth reading in full. So the Dutch are cutting and running. We're going to fill the 1700 soldier hole with US 'surge' troops. Next we will see the Germans, Canadians and Brits bailing out. Also at the end of the article you see that the Dutch to save a buck are going to sell their base instead of giving it to us when we move in to replace them. Cheap bastards.]

Poppy Opium and Fungus Among Us

BBC News - Fungus hits Afghan opium poppies


A fungus attacking poppy plants is slashing opium production in select areas of Afghanistan while increasing prices 50%. In some regions there is a 70% crop failure.

Some Afghans are saying that the fungus was caused by the ISAF forces. Indeed in 2000, the US and UK funded research from the former Soviet bloc on fungus production to attack poppy plants.
Poppy heads affected by the disease (Pic: UNODC)
My guess is that we would only know for sure if we knew what the fungus was by independent confirmation and if it turned out that the pattern of fungus infestation matched political contours in Afghanistan. i.e, crop failures amongst our enemies and not our 'friends'.
Pleosporafungus: A biological weapon for the drugs war
It isn't clear to me that a surge by 50% in opium prices is a good thing for the US and its allies as it changes the economic dynamics of poppies versus other commercial crops and it certainly increases the speculative value of those holding large inventories from the prior year like the Taliban.

I think a lot of the back and forth about Helmand and Kandahar in the news and on the battle field is who controls the crops at harvest time. Is it the Taliban or is it Karzai's brother and corrupt local police. I haven't seen one article discussing this, probably because it would likely bet the reporter arrested, but I think it is a key factor. Insurgencies require cash flow and in Afghanistan its about poppy production.

I'd also add that we could buy the entire crop for $3billion which is about 2 weeks of our occupation cost.

Afghan war costs now outpace Iraq's -

Afghan war costs now outpace Iraq's -

...The number of U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan has risen to 87,000, on top of 47,000 from 44 other countries. At the same time, the number of U.S. servicemembers in Iraq has dropped to 94,000. By next year, Afghanistan is to have 102,000 U.S. servicemembers, Iraq 43,000.

•Afghanistan will cost nearly $105 billion in the 2010 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, including most of $33 billion in additional spending requested by Obama and pending before Congress. Iraq will cost about $66 billion. In fiscal 2011, Afghanistan is projected to cost $117 billion, Iraq $46 billion. To date, Pentagon spending in Iraq has reached $620 billion, compared with $190 billion in Afghanistan.

•Costs per servicemember in Afghanistan have been roughly double what they are in Iraq since 2005. That is due to lower troop levels, Afghanistan's landlocked location, lack of infrastructure, high cost of fuel and less reliable security. "The cost just cascades," says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "That's always been an issue in Afghanistan."

"Iraq, logistically, is much easier," says Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. "You get the stuff to Kuwait and just drive it up the road."

[bth: the military realized that they couldn't get much more money out of Congress as the troops were being reduced from Iraq and so it roughly cost twice as much to keep troops in Afghanistan as Iraq so if we withdrew 80-100K from Iraq we could afford to put 40+K into Afghanistan. So guess what Petraeus' number was? You guessed it. Now unfortunately that is not enough manpower to really secure the southern flanks of Afghanistan. So now what? Well Petraues suddenly clamps down on embeds like Yon and Karzai puts government controls on the media effectively cutting off the flow of public information on how the war is going. Then to top it off, our good Gen. McChrystal says that it will take until after November to know who is winning (since we evidently are not) which conveniently is after the US congressional elections.]

Are Sadr militias rearming in Iraq's south? -

Are Sadr militias rearming in Iraq's south? -

A senior US general said forces loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are rising again in Iraq's south, engaging in intimidation, extortion, and political violence as politicians in Baghdad continue to negotiate over forming a government two months after national elections.

Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, in charge of US forces in nine southern provinces, said he has not ruled out involvement by Sadrist paramilitaries or splinter groups in a string of deadly attacks Monday across the south.

“There’s evidence in the past that they’re not at all reticent to intimidate and to murder their fellow Shiite citizens, so I do not exclude them,” said Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, in a telephone interview from Basra.

The violence, which killed 119 Iraqis and wounded almost 300 in 10 separate attacks across the south, included an attack on an imam who has spoken out against the militias and the bombing of a mosque. [Correction: The original article misstated the number killed in the May 10 attacks.]

It will likely be unclear for some time who was behind the attacks – the deadliest in Iraq this year. But the reactivation of the Sadr militia known as the Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) and other Shiite militias – not yet seen in Baghdad – would be a key warning sign of a resurgence of sectarian violence.

A recount of a portion of the votes from Iraq's election remains under way and most analysts expect it will still be some months before a government is formed....

Much of Basra's oil fields and ports were controlled by Shiite militias until Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent in Iraqi Army forces two years ago to take back the south. The Iraqi Army broke a stranglehold on the city by the Mahdi Army, the Sadr movement’s paramilitary wing, known for killings and corruption.

Following a cease-fire, the movement’s leader, Sadr, who is in Iran pursuing his religious studies, suspended the militia....

[bth: So it looks like Maliki is going to form a coalition with Sadr and free 2000 or so of his lieutenants that have been arrested. The control of the sourthern oil fields is about control of the cash flow. So Maliki has got to find himself in a very difficult situation. Meanwhile that fat ass Sadr 'studies' in Iran while his thugs keep the pressure on.]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

'SNL' Rips BP, Halliburton For Failed Oil Containment (VIDEO)

'SNL' Rips BP, Halliburton For Failed Oil Containment (VIDEO)

Gen. Cartwright: “It’s Not about the Platform” « New Wars

Gen. Cartwright: “It’s Not about the Platform” « New Wars


Our first reaction in the military to a problem is go build something. Okay? The problem is competitive advantages out there in the battlefield is in a 30-day cycle, not a 30-year cycle. Took us 15 years to design the Joint Strike Fighter. It will take us another 10 to field it and then we expect 30 years of life out of it.

Go back to a gent by the name of Fuller that basically focused on the idea and construct that if you’re going to do grand strategy, your first objective is to appreciate the commerce and financial position of your nation. And this nation along with the world is going through a global economic crisis, okay?

…Wake up, you’re not going to have 300, 500 ships. You are not going to have thousands of new aircraft unless we change the way we’re doing business because just saying I need it and therefore it’s important and therefore you’re going to provide it is not going to go much further. And you cannot build strategy in the absence of resource. It’s just a fact. And to do so is perilous for the country.

…You’ve got to focus your resource and your capability and your intellectual capital on the fight that you’re in. You can wish for another future, but you cannot get there unless you can take care of the present…You must win that to get to the next one.

We tend to want to build and buy and field everything ourselves. We want it to be the best that could possibly be out there and now, quite frankly, pick your service – we’ve got a ship on each coast, we got an airplane on each coast. That’s the direction we’re headed. They’re the best in the world but there’s only a couple of them and yet the world we face is a hugely dispersed and diffused threat.

We need to be in a lot of places. We need quantity more than we need that high-end exquisite capability and if we can’t figure out how to get to that, then again, we’re living in denial of the world we’re in, hoping for the world we want to have in front of us.

In the world we’re living in, you can also get weapons of mass destruction from the single terrorist. You’ve got to acknowledge that fact and you’ve got to acknowledge that one size does not fit all. An offensive-only strategy will not work, nor will a defensive-only strategy work. You have to be able to tailor it for the world that you’re actually in, not the one you wish you were in.

It is not the platform anymore. The platforms just eclipsed in their value in the first or six years and they become obsolete. It’s the intellectual capital, our ability to upgrade and our ability to turn them fast enough to be inside of the adversary’s decision moves.

…It’s a question of balances. It’s not a question of either/or. And so the balance, right now, is moving more towards what used to be called the lower end of the spectrum, but stability operations, influence operations....

[bth: wow. Somebody in the Joint Chiefs actually gets is.]