Friday, June 04, 2010

Direct attacks ebb, IEDs on rise in Afghan east: US general - Yahoo! News

Direct attacks ebb, IEDs on rise in Afghan east: US general - Yahoo! NewsWASHINGTON (AFP) – Nine years into a grinding war, a "degraded" Taliban is conducting fewer direct assaults in eastern Afghanistan, turning instead to more roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the US commander there said Thursday.

"We realize that Afghanistan and Regional Command East are at a critical moment," Major General Curtis Scaparrotti said, as the United States scrambles to boost Afghan Security Forces (ASF) capability and local government competence ahead of a planned foreign troop pullout beginning in July 2011.

"In terms of strength within RC East, I don't believe that they're any stronger now than they were a year ago," the commander said of the Taliban, speaking to reporters in the US capital via live video-link from Afghanistan.

"I would say it is degraded," he said of the militant group's capacity in the east, but noted that attacks with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are on the rise.

"They have conducted less direct fire attacks from the winter into this spring, and they're using more IEDs, suicide vests and potentially a car bomb," he said....

[bth: who is this guy kidding? In the last year we lost several battles, were driven from at least 4 provinces in the east and while its true that we've made them pay for it, the reason the insurgents are using less direct fire and almost doubling their IED attacks is because we aren't in direct ground contact with them on as many FOBs and camps. What's more the 4000 troops he is getting out of the next 30,000 aren't enough. The Taliban has 14 million Pashtun to draw from in Afghanistan, not counting Pakistan. ... When you get into the article you realize that this guy is about to have his replacement arrive in 2 weeks and he barely got his civilian aid workers hired, much less meaningfully deployed. This would be more widely reported except for the fact that embeds like Yon have been being chased out and those remaining are often on the large bases being raised as mushrooms.]

Taliban fighters turn to deadlier IEDs -

Taliban fighters turn to deadlier IEDs - MarineCorpsTimes.comMARJAH, Afghanistan — A Marine convoy comprising several Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs, was traveling on one of Marjah’s many dirt roads May 15 when the lead vehicle set off a new type of IED, sending a plume of dust, smoke and twisted metal 50 feet in the air.

The attack highlighted a growing problem facing U.S. forces in Afghanistan: the Taliban is adapting and outsmarting the equipment designed to counter roadside bombs.

The Taliban is defeating even the Marine Corps’ newest tactical vehicle, which uses mine rollers, heavy trailer-like devices mounted on the front of armored transports to trigger roadside bombs before the vehicles roll over them. Enemy fighters are now setting homemade explosives farther away from the pressure plates that activate them, to ensure the detonation occurs under the vehicle when the mine roller hits the plate.

Marines in the May 15 convoy, launched by members of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, from Patrol Base Camel, experienced this firsthand. The mine roller was almost untouched by the explosion, which occurred on a road the Marines called “Hippo,” but the M-ATV attached to teetered at a 45-degree angle and sat in a 4-foot hole. The front right tire was missing and engine fluids were pooling beneath it.

“Keep eyes all the way around!” yelled Lance Cpl. Chris Ducharme, the driver of another vehicle farther back in the convoy. “Watch out for RPGs because that’s what they like to do when this happens!”

No ambush occurred, and no Marines were killed, but the turret gunner, Lance Cpl. Dominque Draper, suffered a minor concussion and deep bruise to his arm after getting tossed around in the turret.

“The entire west side of the vehicle is gone,” an unharmed Staff Sgt. Dominic Freda informed his Marines by radio, while sitting in the passenger seat of the destroyed vehicle. “This thing isn’t going anywhere.”

The new IED tactics don’t end with vehicles. Taliban forces also have started to plant directional fragmentation-charge IEDs, or makeshift anti-personnel mines, Marines here say. Typically built in a coffee can or another small, metal device, they are packed with nuts, bolts or spark plugs and attached to 10 to 20 pounds of homemade explosives. Most are detonated remotely by an insurgent, but a few have been set with tripwires, said Staff Sgt. Ryan Clay, a platoon sergeant with 3/6’s India Company.

Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Lepping, an explosive ordnance disposal technician attached to 3/6 in Marjah, said the anti-personnel IEDs are more common now than the larger ones targeting vehicles. They’re cheaper to make, and since so many Marines patrol on foot, they are more likely to cause injuries. They have been mounted in trees, walls and buildings, but are most commonly buried on trails traveled by Marines

Marines with 3/6 even saw an IED set floating in a canal during the initial push into Marjah, although it was ineffective.

“Ever since they did the push into Marjah, [the Taliban] has done a lot of them,” Lepping said of the anti-personnel IEDs. “When they notice a lot of vehicles, they go to large IEDs. When they notice a lot of troops on the ground, they go to DFCs. They’re looking for kills.”

[bth: the good news is that the M-ATVs are working as illustrated by the survival of the crew and the pictures which are attached to the original article. The bad news is that they can be damaged and cost a lot.]

Taliban fighters turn to deadlier IEDs -

Taliban fighters turn to deadlier IEDs -

M-ATV destroyed by IED May 15 2010

Taliban fighters turn to deadlier IEDs -

Note the cabin appears undamaged but the front is destroyed.  This vehicle appears to have been pushing a roller system in front as a counter IED tool.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Dissent at the CIA: Officers protest ‘harmful’ drone strikes | Raw Story

Dissent at the CIA: Officers protest ‘harmful’ drone strikes | Raw Story

... They learned about the impact of drone strikes on recruiting by extremist leaders in Pakistan from intelligence gathered by CIA and the National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic communications, according to Addicott.

They have informed high-level CIA officials about their concerns that the programme is backfiring, Addicott told IPS.

"The people at the top are not believers," said Addicott, referring to the CIA. "They know that the objective is not going to be achieved."

The complaints by CIA operatives about the drone strikes' blowback effect reported by Addicott are identical to warnings by military and intelligence officials reported in April 2009 by Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers. Landay quoted an intelligence official with deep involvement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as saying al Qaeda and the Taliban had used the strikes in propaganda to "portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death".

The official called the operations "a major catalyst" for the jihadi movement in Pakistan.

A military official involved in counterterrorism operations told Landay the drone strikes were a "recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban".

The CIA operatives' opposition to the drone strikes programme extends to Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan, all of which now have confirmed deaths from drone strikes, according to Addicott.

The official goal of the geographical expansion of drone strikes is to destroy or disrupt al Qaeda. But al Qaeda is less a major organisation than "a mentality" in most Middle Eastern countries, Addicott said, and the CIA officers fear that the strikes will only reinforce that way of thinking.

Addicott said the drone programme has been driven by President Barack Obama, rather than by the CIA. "Obama's trying to show people that we're winning," he added.

The programme was originally authorised by President George W. Bush against a relatively short list of high-level al Qaeda officials, and with highly restrictive conditions on approval of each strike. The strike could not be approved unless the target was identified with high confidence, and a complete assessment of "collateral damage" had to ensure against significant civilian casualties.

In early 2008, however, Bush approved the removal of previous restraints. As recounted by David Sanger in his 2009 book, "The Inheritance", Bush authorised strikes against targets merely based on visual evidence of a "typical" al Qaeda motorcade or a group entering a house that had been linked to al Qaeda or its Pakistani Taliban allies.

As a top national security aide to Bush acknowledged to Sanger, the shift was "risky" because, "you can hit the wrong house or mistakenly misidentify the motorcade".

It also meant that anyone who could be linked in some way to al Qaeda, the Taliban or "associated forces" could now be targeted for drone attacks.

The Obama administration has continued to justify the programme as aimed at high-value targets, suggesting that it can degrade al Qaeda as an organisation by a "decapitation" strategy, according to Addicott. However administration officials now privately admit that the objective of the programme is to "demoralise the rank and file", he said.

That won't work, according to Addicott, because, "These are tribal people. They don't view life and death the way we expect them to."

In effect, the drone strikes programme has become an "attrition" strategy for Pakistan, Addicott said.

Such a strategy in Pakistan's tribal region appears to be futile
. Madrassas in the region have churned out tens of thousands of young men with militant views, and their activities are spread across hundreds of sites in the region. A U.S. military intelligence official told Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal in 2009 that there were 157 training camps and "more than 400 support locations" in the tribal northwest.

Within the administration, it appears that the logic behind the programme is that it has to be seen to be doing something about al Qaeda. "The argument I get from people associated with the programme," said Micah Zenko, a fellow in Conflict Prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations, "is the same as the one [CIA Director Leon] Panetta gave last year."

"Very frankly," Panetta declared May 18, 2009, "it's the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership."

Zenko, who has studied the bureaucratic in-fighting surrounding such limited uses of military force, told IPS drone strikes have appealed to the Obama administration because they offer "clear results that are obtained quickly and are easily measured

All the other tools that might be used to try to reduce al Qaeda influence in Pakistan and elsewhere take a long time, require cooperation among multiple actors and have no powerful political constituency behind them, Zenko observed.

Dissent from those who are involved in the programme itself has little effect when it is up against what is perceived as political pressure to show progress against al Qaeda - no matter how illusory....

[bth: I have no problem with drone strikes if it fits into a bigger strategy and path toward victory, but what is the strategy now and what is victory against al Qaeda and the Taliban? ... Perhaps we should be looking at more targeted drone attacks as a reduction in their recruitment (not an increase of it) should be our objective.... or are we at a point where the political strategy is to look like we are doing something against terrorism and nothing more?]

US Embassy in Iraq missing property worth millions - Yahoo! News

US Embassy in Iraq missing property worth millions - Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON – Tens of millions of dollars in federal property is missing or unaccounted for at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest U.S. diplomatic mission abroad, according to an internal State Department audit released Wednesday.

The report from the department's inspector general found that 159 of the embassy's 1,168 vehicles, worth $18.5 million, are unaccounted for.

The report said 282 vehicles worth $40.4 million have not been properly registered, and $2.3 million in other property, including furniture and other office equipment, is missing.

The audit doesn't say whether the missing property has been lost or stolen, but it says the failure to account for the items is unacceptable.

Auditors also found that the embassy is paying nearly $270,000 per year in charges for more than 2,000 cell phones that have not been registered to authorized users. The report said the embassy could save more than $740,000 a year by disconnecting unassigned and underused cell phones and limiting international calls.

In addition, the report said the embassy has 1,000 more hand-held radios than it is using and could save $936,000 if they were sent to posts where they are needed....

[bth: All while we are laying off teachers in this country.]

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Official: U.S. could call for vote on Iran resolution next week -

Official: U.S. could call for vote on Iran resolution next week - CNN.comWashington (CNN) -- The U.S. could put its draft resolution on Iran sanctions up for a vote at the U.N. Security Council next week, without the desired support of council members Turkey and Brazil, a senior administration official tells CNN.

The official, who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said the U.S. does not intend to "wait until everybody is aboard."

In the daily State Department briefing Wednesday, however, department spokesman P.J. Crowley referred to the timing of the vote by saying it would come in June.

"I think you will see this matter come before the Security Council for a vote sometimes this month," Crowley told reporters. He cited President Barack Obama's earlier statement that he wants a vote by the "end of spring."

The U.S. introduced its draft resolution last month. Crowley said he expects annexes, which describe some of technical details of the sanctions, to that draft will be completed within the "next few days."

At the United Nations, the Security Council president, Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, said the resolution's sponsors want "prompt action." But Heller speculated to reporters it may take perhaps ten days or more for a vote. Lawyers and other experts, he said, have been discussing the resolution and "progress has been made on the text."

The United States is facing significant opposition from Turkey and Brazil on the push for sanctions. The deadly raid by Israeli forces on a flotilla of civilian ships has complicated matters -- especially with Turkey, which had significant numbers of its citizens aboard the flotilla.

Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutolgu, told reporters Tuesday in Washington that Turkey remains opposed to sanctions and was critical of the U.S. for not directly condemning the Israeli attack. In May, the leaders of Turkey and Brazil traveled to Tehran and brokered a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran. That deal was dismissed by the United States as inadequate.

"Brazil thinks it is counterproductive to discuss sanctions right now" while Iran still has a month to follow through on its side of the nuclear swap deal, a Brazilian official told CNN. The official spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the issue. Under that agreement, Iran said it will ship 1,200 kilograms (about 2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium out of the country to Turkey for safe-keeping. In exchange, it would receive nuclear fuel rods needed for an Iranian reactor that produces medical isotopes....

[bth: one has to wonder if the Turkish flotilla was scheduled to interfere with this action or put Obama in a position where he had to support Turkey against Israel on the flotilla to get the Turkish/Brazilian support with Iran. It is important to always ask, why now?]

More Saudi currency going to Afghanistan -

More Saudi currency going to Afghanistan -

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 31 (UPI) -- More than $1 billion in Saudi Arabian currency has been sent to Afghanistan in the past four years, likely to support terrorism, investigators say.

The Times of London quoted members of FinTraca, the Afghan intelligence unit, saying the funds had gone through Pakistan, where they were converted into rupees or dollars.

"We can trace it back as far as an entry point in Waziristan," said Mohammed Mustafa Massoudi, director general of FinTraca in Kabul. "Why would anyone want to put such money into Waziristan? Only one reason -- terrorism."

The flow of cash from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan has been on the increase and reached the highest rate this year since FinTraca was established in 2006 with U.S. and British help.

Saudi Arabia is an ally in the war on terror, but a U.S. government report last year found private Saudi supporters were the leading source of financing for the Taliban, The Times said.

Most of the cash enters Afghanistan through al-Qaida-dominated territory in the Pakistani tribal area, FinTraca said.

Afghan authorities say insurgents must renounce al-Qaida ties before they will be allowed to become involved in the political process.

[bth: I would give an alternate explanation besides funding terrorism; funding heroin trafficking and production. The time lines of money and production correlate well.]

YouTube - Early One Morning

YouTube - Early One Morning

YouTube - Dropkick Murphys - Fields of Athenry

YouTube - Dropkick Murphys - Fields of Athenry

Turkey's curious 2 track strategy

Turkey is on the one hand maintaining its close military ties with Israel and on the other stroking a public crisis with the government of Israel that may have lasting and long term implications on how the world views Israel's treatment of the people of Gaza.

Let's compare two articles:

Here is one from The National which would suggest the Turkish government was on the verge of war with Israel's government. Note how it nuances Israel's government from Israel itself.

"ISTANBUL // While stoking international outrage over the deadly Israeli commando attack on aid ships carrying supplies for the Gaza Strip, the Turkish government, one of Israel’s fiercest critics, is also working hard to channel the anger at home and abroad into concrete steps to end the Gaza blockade.

“Nobody should test Turkey’s patience,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, who cut short a visit to South America and returned to Turkey because of the crisis, said in a speech in Ankara yesterday. “Turkey’s friendship is as valuable as its emnity is fierce.”

Speaking to rapturous applause from deputies of his ruling party, he said those Israeli officials responsible for the attack should be punished and that Turkey would support the Palestinian people “even if all others are silent, close their eyes or turn their backs”. He said aid ships for Gaza would reach their destination “one day”.

Mr Erdogan was careful to focus his criticism on the Israeli government, not on Israel as a whole entity or on Jews in Israel or in Turkey. He did not announce any additional measures against Israel beyond the ones already taken, including the temporary recall of the Turkish ambassador from Tel Aviv, thereby leaving the door open for an eventual improvement in ties.

“It was like a declaration of war,” Ferai Tunc, a foreign policy columnist, told the NTV news channel after the speech. “But it was a declaration of war against the Israeli government, not against Israel as such.”

In his speech, Mr Erdogan called for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and said he had talked to several world leaders about the situation. He also said he was scheduled to hold telephone conversations with Barack Obama, the US president, and with David Cameron, the new British prime minister, later in the day.

In the eyes of the Turkish public, Israel has turned into “a rogue state”, Cengiz Candar, a prominent columnist, wrote in yesterday’s Referans newspaper. “Hitler’s children”, read the main headline in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily. Many newspapers carried pictures of one of the injured activists whose hands had been tied by Israeli soldiers even though he lay on a stretcher with a bloodied face...."

... “The Gaza blockade is not a bilateral problem between Turkey and Israel, but a big international human tragedy,” Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, said in a statement. “We expect this inhuman blockade to be lifted immediately.”

Turkey can use the global criticism directed against Israel and its own position as a rising power in the region to build up pressure to make sure the blockade is lifted, Candar wrote. “If Turkey is able to direct the international crisis and the outrage against Israel in the international community effectively, it can play a role in having the Gaza blockade lifted.”

Turkish officials contacted the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League as well as Nato and the EU to increase pressure on Israel.

A high-ranking Turkish diplomat said that the crisis had at least brought the Gaza problem back onto forefront of the international agenda. “The world had almost forgotten the conditions in Gaza,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “Whether this will contribute to ending the blockade will be determined in the coming weeks.”

Now compare that with this article from the Associated Press showing that the government and especially the military of Turkey is maintaining a working relationship with Israel when it comes to arms - drones, tanks and planes to be specific.

"...But other officials were delivering messages of restraint and Turkey said it was not canceling plans to accept $183 million (euro150.56 million) worth of Israeli drone planes this summer.

"We will find a solution within law and diplomacy," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Monday. "No one should expect us to declare war on Israel over this."

Turkey's eight-year-old Islamic-rooted government has publicly and frequently expressed outrage over Israel's 2008-2009 war in Gaza and continuing blockade of the strip. But Turkey's deeply secular military remains heavily dependent on high-tech Israeli arms in its battle against Kurdish separatist guerrillas based along Turkey's mountainous southeastern border with Iraq.

Israel's right-leaning government said that the countries' defense ministers had agreed hours after the raid that the incident wouldn't affect Israeli weapons sales to Turkey.

The massive Heron drones to be delivered this summer can fly at least 20 hours nonstop and first saw action against Hamas militants in the Gaza war. Turkey hopes they can gather crucial intelligence on Kurdish rebels and allow pinpoint strikes at a time of escalating insurgent attacks. Israel also recently completed a more than $1 billion upgrade of Turkey's aging tank fleet and U.S.-made F-4 warplanes. Turkey has opened its airspace to Israeli pilots for training purposes.

"There are still common interests, common needs," said Ofra Bengio, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center. "For the time being, we're in the middle of a crisis...but governments change."

Erdogan met with the military's second-ranking general, the defense minister and national intelligence chief minutes before his speech to parliament. Although Turkey has scrapped three joint army and navy exercises and pulled its ambassador to Israel, Erdogan's heated address shied away from proclaiming a broader change in policy.

"From now on, it is no longer possible to turn a blind eye on the lawless behavior of the current Israeli government," he said.

Turkey called for emergency meetings of the United Nations Security Council and NATO to condemn the killings. But its representative to NATO did not demand that the alliance take collective action against Israel, according to a diplomat who attended the talks. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"The relations are based on mutual trust and I don't think they are permanently damaged," said Mahfi Egilmez, an analyst with NTV television. "The relations can improve when there is a new government in Israel or when the Gaza conflict is solved."..."

I would only add that the PM of Turkey was in South America at the time of this provocation. It looks more like Turkey is forming an alliance with Brazil that is stronger than its tied to NATO or the US in particular.

It would seem that the Turkish government is targeting a change in the Israeli government, breaking the Gaza blockade and shifting its alliances away from the US.

Before people dismiss Turkey as irrelevant, it should be remembered that it has more troops under arms than any other Nato country except the US.

Mossad chief: Israel gradually becoming burden on U.S. - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Mossad chief: Israel gradually becoming burden on U.S. - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Mossad Chief Meir Dagan said on Tuesday that Israel is progressively becoming a burden on the United States.

"Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden," said Dagan, speaking before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. ...

[asset or liability?]

China tops Japan in U.S. poll on key ties | The Japan Times Online

China tops Japan in U.S. poll on key ties | The Japan Times Online

China overtook Japan as the most important partner for the United States in Asia for the first time since 1985, reflecting the country's increasing economic weight, according to the results of a survey covering about 200 U.S. opinion leaders released Tuesday by the Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. survey commissioned to Gallup in February and March by the ministry also showed that Japan tied with China for the position of the most important U.S. partner in Asia in a poll of some 1,200 people aged 18 or above among the general public.

Among the opinion leaders, 56 percent said China is the most important, compared with 36 percent who named Japan. The poll of the general public put both countries at 44 percent.

The margin of error was 7 percent for the opinion leaders and 3 percent for the general public, according to the ministry.

As for why the opinion leaders chose China or Japan as the most important U.S. partner in Asia, economic ties and U.S.-bound investment topped the list for both countries, while they cited the size of national land and population for China and the alliance and friendship for Japan as the second-most common reason....

[bth: major shift in public opinion is occurring.]

Op-Ed Contributor - Israeli Force, Adrift on the Sea -

Op-Ed Contributor - Israeli Force, Adrift on the Sea -

... But Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force — not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one.

Thus, the only way for Israel to edge out Hamas would be to quickly reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the establishment of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as defined by the 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel has to sign a peace agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah government in the West Bank — and by doing so, reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip. That latter conflict, in turn, can be resolved only by negotiating with Hamas or, more reasonably, by the integration of Fatah with Hamas.

Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land, and the Palestinians are not alone in this land. We are not alone in Jerusalem and the Palestinians are not alone in Jerusalem. Until Israelis and Palestinians recognize the logical consequences of this simple fact, we will all live in a permanent state of siege — Gaza under an Israeli siege, Israel under an international and Arab siege.

I do not discount the importance of force. Woe to the country that discounts the efficacy of force. Without it Israel would not be able to survive a single day. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget for even a moment that force is effective only as a preventative — to prevent the destruction and conquest of Israel, to protect our lives and freedom. Every attempt to use force not as a preventive measure, not in self-defense, but instead as a means of smashing problems and squashing ideas, will lead to more disasters, just like the one we brought on ourselves in international waters, opposite Gaza’s shores.

Amos Oz is the author, most recently, of the novel “Rhyming Life and Death.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

YouTube - The Kiss - The Last Of The Mohicans

YouTube - The Kiss - The Last Of The Mohicans

YouTube - TOP 5 War Time Movie Songs #5

YouTube - TOP 5 War Time Movie Songs #5

A Realistic Ship Building Program is Something We Control and Should Hold Leadership Accountable For

Navy Times Mobile

Navy cost estimates for its 30-year shipbuilding plan are short to the tune of $93 billion, or 18 percent, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday. The independent analysis was done at the request of the House’s Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee.

Replacing Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines presented the largest difference between CBO and Navy numbers. The Navy, which was strongly criticized for not including any cost estimates in its 2009 shipbuilding plan, now puts the cost at $86 billion, or $7.2 billion per boat. CBO puts the cost at $8.2 billion per boat for a total price tag of $99 billion.

The planned replacement of 14 ballistic missile subs with 12 new Tridents has already caused contentions as the move will cut all shipbuilding by half for 14 years to cover the cost, according to a July 2009 Congressional Research Service report. CBO’s most recent analysis, which bumps the cost further still, comes less than one month after Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned whether “the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 to 6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers.”

The Navy’s plan, sent to Capitol Hill on Feb. 1, looks to buy 276 ships — 198 combat ships and 78 logistic and support ships — to boost the 286-ship fleet past the goal of 313 to a force of 323 ships. This would occur over three decades at an annual cost of “no more than $15.9 billion per year” in 2010 dollars. That represents a $1 billion increase over annual funding seen over the past 30 years (in 2010 dollars). When post-delivery costs and things such as refueling nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are added to the plan, the annual shipbuilding budget would hit $18 billion, according to Navy documents.

The CBO report said the Navy’s estimates come up short. The average baseline cost will be $19 billion annually, and total costs will hit $21 billion, the report said.

One key lawmaker said the report validates what he and others on the committee have suspected for some time.

“If we are going to have any realistic possibility of getting to 313 [ships], 15 billion a year is just not going to do it,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va. “The CBO report bears out that the costs were being underestimated and we were not on a clear path to get to 313.”

Wittman, who recently introduced legislation that would boost the annual shipbuilding budget from $15 billion to $20 billion, said the CBO study validates the premise for his bill.

“If you look at the expense of refueling aircraft carriers as well as outfitting and some of the post-delivery costs, it raises the average to $21 billion,” he said. “So you can make the argument that even $20 billion doesn’t quite get us there, but I wanted to make sure it was something reasonable and thoughtful, and the CBO study bears that out.”

The differences between the CBO and Navy numbers are not uncommon, but could prove problematic for the Navy plan which points to the cost savings provided. Though the fleet would grow under the 2011 plan, the number of ships purchased would diminish by 7 percent, or 20 ships, when compared to the 2009 plan. This would cut shipbuilding costs of the 2009 plan by one-third, according to the Navy. But the CBO analysis puts the cost savings at 25 percent – a $93 billion difference.

CBO estimates are 4 percent higher than the Navy’s for the plan’s first decade, but 13 percent higher in the second and 37 percent higher for the final. The difference comes from diverging confidences in the ability to control design and construction costs, according to the report. The report also said the Navy’s labor and material cost projections are not consistent with economic patterns.

YouTube - Vivaldi - Spring

YouTube - Vivaldi - Spring

On opium production in Afghanistan

Helmand Poppy Growth Surges - FEATURES - Current Intelligence
Landowner Hajji Fateh Khan lives in one of the most violent districts in Afghanistan, but this spring he says is a happy man as deep-pocketed buyers eye the imminent opium yield from his poppy plantations.

“The year before last, four kilogrammes of opium was sold for 200 US dollars, but now that weight fetches up to 1,000 dollars,” the farmer from Nad Ali in southern Helmand province said.

“Who does not like more money, and this is the only crop which earns lots of it?” he added with a laugh.
Khan has further cause to celebrate his illegal harvest. It was produced not on his own 40-hectare spread of arable farmland, but rather on a 12-ha patch he started cultivating in the outlying, government-owned desert. And so far, no one has tried to destroy it.

Not only does the fertile desert soil push up bumper yields once irrigated from deep wells, but Khan says a strong Taleban presence there deters attempts by the authorities to implement eradication.

Provincial officials continue to downplay reports of a jump in prices and production. Following a one-third drop in cultivation nationally since 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime this year also predicts a stable crop in Helmand, which has 70,000 ha of poppy fields and accounts for an estimated 60 per cent of world production of heroin.

But in Helmand’s Nad Ali district, the head of the shura (local assembly) committee for social affairs, Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, said the situation is noticeably deteriorating.

“Opium production is increasing this year because the price is high and eradication programmes are not as active as last year,” he told IWPR. “A lot of people are now growing in the desert.”

Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, who until mid-2008 was Helmand’s police chief, also said that according to his information, local poppy farming had increased 20 per cent this year.

“Beside an increase in opium prices, cultivation has also been boosted by other factors like growing administrative corruption in Helmand, insecurity, poverty, usurpation of government-owned land and a rising number of drug traffickers,” he said.

A switch-round in opium and wheat prices that occurred in 2008 resulted from grain shortages in Afghanistan and low imports from abroad, pushing the wheat price way above that of the drug.

Now the balance is tipping back in favour of opium, say those who produce it. Farmers in some areas actually cited an increase in government eradication as driving up profits from production.

As well as ramifications for trafficking volumes to western markets, poppy’s see-sawing fortunes are a crucial element in the conflict between the Taleban and international forces. Opium revenues are a chief source of funding for the insurgency.

However, Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for the Helmand governor, Mohammad Gulab Mangal, remains adamant that there is no marked increase in cultivation and reiterated the intention of the authorities to stamp out poppy farming.

According to Ahmadi, the fight against its growth in Helmand rests largely on a three-phased British carrot-and-stick initiative now under way called the Food Zone programme.

The first phase supplies farmers with fertilisers and improved seeds for alternative crops. The second includes a public awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of opium, while the third brings prosecutions against those who persist in growing poppy.

“If farmers who have already been assisted through the Food Zone project still cultivate poppy, their poppy fields will be destroyed and they will be detained,” Ahmadi said, while also pledging the destruction of fields of farmers who reject the British programme.

“This year a considerable decrease will be observed in poppy cultivation,” he predicted.
But like other aspects of government here, the plan to break the opium trade is vulnerable to localised corruption.

While a considerable chunk of the proceeds from poppy cultivation goes into the Taleban’s coffers, corrupt law enforcement and government officials also feed off this giant industry.

We aren’t alone in this business,” Hajji Baridada, a poppy farmer in Gereshk district, told IWPR. “The Taleban tell us to grow poppy and that they will protect it from the government by planting mines.

“They then take 600 to 1,200 dollars from us for each deep well we use. Then local [army or militia] commanders come and tell us that they will protect our poppy fields but we will have to give them one kilogramme of opium for every 2,000 square metres planted.

“Then the police also come and take their share. We no longer know what we should do.”
Standing just over a metre tall on thick green stems, the immature poppy seed pods are slit and drained of their milky latex sap which then dries to a sticky brown opium residue.

This contains up to 12 per cent morphine, which can then be chemically processed into heroin. Production facilities are readily accessible to most small farmers with some modest start-up capital.

But for another Helmand farmer, Hajji Mawladad, paying off all sides got too much. Eventually, he decided to turn his back on the opium trade and grow only wheat this year with help from the British programme.
“Farming poppy is a great headache, because there is fear of destruction of the field on one hand and the cuts local commanders receive on the other,” he said.

In a bid to step up pressure on farmers whose fields enjoy Taleban protection, Helmand’s new chief of police, Asadullah Sherzad, told a recent news conference that growers would answer for any harm inflicted on his subordinates.

“We will hold responsible any farmer on whose land a mine harms one of my officers,” Sherzad declared.
Despite such warnings, enforcement prospects are still weak in remote rural areas where Taleban control is strong. Even aerial eradication is no guarantee of success, because unless farmers can be reached to offer an alternative livelihood, wholesale destruction of their crops can trigger a dangerous backlash.

Hajji Zaqum, a poppy growing landlord in Helmand’s much fought-over Sangin district, said government eradication of fields would only strengthen the insurgents.

“I can say with confidence that if people’s poppy fields in Sangin are destroyed, they will go over to the Taleban and fully support them,” he said.

Regarding those like the landowner Khan who cultivate poppy in government-owned desert areas, the governor’s spokesman, Ahmadi, said they could expect no leniency for having broken the law on two counts.
“The government will destroy their fields, but will not provide them with any kind of assistance,” he said.
But farmers who expressly moved their operations that far into areas controlled by the Taleban clearly did not do so on a whim and will not be easily deterred.

Unlike the overworked green farming areas by the canals and rivers, the desert soil is highly fertile and can be brought to life using wells bored 100 m or deeper and served by generator-powered water pumps. Once irrigation is steady and the poppies take root, a superior grade of drug bounty flows.

“I am happy about my cultivation this year because on the one hand it is in the desert and on the other the opium is very good quality and strong,” Khan said.

Aziz Ahmad Tassal is an IWPR-trained reporter in Helmand. This article originally appeared in Afghan Recovery Report No. 359 (27 April 2010), produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

Monday, May 31, 2010

Top Canadian Commander In Afghanistan Ousted Over Allegations Of 'Inappropriate Personal Relationship'

Top Canadian Commander In Afghanistan Ousted Over Allegations Of 'Inappropriate Personal Relationship'

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The chief of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, has been relieved following allegations of an inappropriate relationship, the Canadian military said Sunday.

Canadian Col. Simon Hetherington said Menard's dismissal would not have an impact on the Canadian mission in southern Afghanistan, where NATO forces are fighting the Taliban. A major campaign is planned in and around Kandahar city in the coming months.

"Operations continue unabated," said Hetherington, acting commander.

The colonel said Lt. Gen. Marc Lessard, commander of Canadian forces abroad, had relieved Menard of his command because of an "alleged inappropriate personal relationship."

Hetherington gave no further details. An investigation was under way.

Menard has been on leave from Afghanistan for several weeks. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty at a court-martial in Canada to accidentally firing his weapon at Kandahar Air Field in March and was fined....

[bth: looks like Michael Yon was right about this guy. Yon has been vilified by Canadian bloggers and surrogate milblogging thugs sent out by McCrystal's PR admiral. Besides accidentally discharging his weapon near his defense minster and boarding a helicopter and having an 'inappropriate relationship' this guy failed to guard a critical bridge that resulted in a suicide bomber getting his vehicle near a US truck resulting in the destruction of a critical bridge and the death of an American. Yon called him out. Yon lost his embed over this.]

Echoes of Raid on ‘Exodus’ Ship in 1947

Global outrage at Israel violating international maritime law - RT Top Stories

Global outrage at Israel violating international maritime law - RT Top Stories

Sunday, May 30, 2010

YouTube - Ray Charles - Oh Beautiful America

YouTube - Ray Charles - Oh Beautiful America

YouTube - The Kiss - The Last Of The Mohicans

YouTube - The Kiss - The Last Of The Mohicans

YouTube - Black Hawk Down - Leave No Man Behind (Soundtrack)

YouTube - Black Hawk Down - Leave No Man Behind (Soundtrack)

YouTube - A Summer Song Chad and Jeremy

YouTube - A Summer Song Chad and Jeremy

YouTube - Faith Hill National Anthem

YouTube - Faith Hill National Anthem

A new memorial is dedicated today at Bedford High School - The Boston Globe

A new memorial is dedicated today at Bedford High School - The Boston Globe

Alma Hart likes the location of the memorial at Bedford High School. To be dedicated today at 3 p.m., it will honor her son and three other graduates who lost their lives in service to their country.

“It’s right at the spot outside the high school where kids wait for rides,’’ she said. “When John was a student this was just a parking lot, but now it’s a paved area with benches, and memorial markers around the flagpole.

“As kids are waiting for their parents to pick them up, they’ll have a chance to stand by the plaques and read the names. And I’m sure it will give them all a moment to think about their own futures, and what they might do when they get out of high school.’’

Private First Class John Hart was killed in an ambush near Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2003. A year later, another Bedford graduate, Marine Lance Corporal Travis Desiato, died in action in Iraq’s El Anbar province.

With nearly a quarter of the students at Bedford High coming from families with ties to nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, students, teachers, and administrators at the school are keenly aware of the sacrifices of military life. But when Hart and Desiato died in rapid succession, it hit the school community hard. Both had graduated only recently, and teachers, students, and former students knew them well.

So when plans for a $51 million renovation project at the high school shifted into high gear about two years ago, principal Jon Sills started working on including in the design a war memorial honoring the high school’s fallen alumni.

The memorial — four granite posts around the flagpole, each with a plaque describing one of the men — will honor Hart and Desiato and two Bedford High graduates who were killed in Vietnam: Terry Reed and Robson Wills. The school opened in the mid-1950s, and these four are the only alumni to die defending their country. The location is particularly symbolic because, as a member of the school’s Junior ROTC, Hart on most mornings had the job of raising the flag.

At the dedication today, family members, students, teachers, administrators, town officials, and residents will gather to offer tribute to the four men.

Each one will be remembered by a designated representative: for Willis and Reed, friends will speak for them; for Hart and Desiato, it will be their fathers.

The national anthem will be played, and the Junior ROTC will raise the flag.

Sills said many people in town pitched in to make the memorial a reality.

“It was important to us to make this a community-owned project,’’ said Sills. “So we did a lot of fund-raising to give individuals and organizations in the community an opportunity to contribute. In doing so, we raised about $40,000. Other funds were earmarked for this project as part of the overall site work for the high school construction.

“Over the past year it has really come together,’’ the school’s principal said.

Terry Reed’s sister, Bonnie Reed Gallogly, who lives outside San Francisco now, said she was moved to hear that her brother would be remembered in Bedford so many years later.

“I think it is a very nice thing that they are doing,’’ she said. “I am grateful to the community for taking this interest in my brother.’’

Dr. Joseph Desiato will be one of the speakers this afternoon, remembering his son.

“I think that Bedford High School, the faculty and the community, has been tremendously supportive to our family,’’ he said. “This memorial plaza is a fantastic effort by the community to help remember these four men. We are extremely appreciative of this.

“Any time Travis is thought about or remembered, we appreciate it greatly, because it’s the way we continue to believe Travis lives on.’’

Convoy Attacked