Saturday, July 03, 2010

Cocaine armada: most narcotic submarines slip through US net | News - BIG BLUE TECH - Technical Diving Thailand

Cocaine armada: most narcotic submarines slip through US net | News - BIG BLUE TECH - Technical Diving ThailandThe subs are powered by ordinary diesel engines and built of simple fibreglass in clandestine shipyards in the Colombian jungle. US officials expect 70 or more to be launched this year with a potential cargo of 380 tonnes of cocaine, worth billions of dollars.

The submersibles boast technologies that make them difficult to intercept, even though US forces use state-of-the-art submarine warfare strategies against them. Authorities say most slip through their net. “You try finding a floating log in the middle of the Pacific,” one US drug agent said.

US officials and their Colombian counterparts have detected evidence of more than 115 submersible voyages since 2006. They have apprehended the crews of more than 22 submersibles at sea since 2007.

Six crews have been arrested this year. The Colombian Navy has intercepted or discovered 33 subs since 1993.

The vessels do not fully submerge but skim the sea surface. They move quickly at night, then drift like sleeping whales during the day. Under cover of darkness, they slither out of Colombia’s shallow rivers and 10 days later rendezvous offshore along the Central American coast, usually near Guatemala, where cocaine is offloaded and the subs are sunk.

“These vessels are intelligently designed,” said Rear Admiral Joseph Nimmich of the US Coast Guard. “They are not very comfortable, but they are now very seaworthy.”

The latest submersibles can travel 4800 kilometres without refuelling. Colombian officials say some former military personnel may be helping to design, construct and direct the vessels. Admiral Guillermo Barrera of the Colombian Navy says the subs usually carry four to 10 tonnes of cocaine.

They typically have a crew of four, including a captain, an engineer and a seaman who helps steer and unload the cocaine. The fourth crew member usually represents the owner. With cargoes worth $US100 million ($125 million) or more, “you want to know where they’re headed”, Admiral Barrera said.

Crews are well compensated, splitting as much as $US500,000. The work is dangerous; the subs cross stormy sea lanes without lights, with a shifting ballast of fuel and drugs. The cabins are hot and cramped, with a bucket for a latrine and a floor to sleep on....

Navy’s New Solution to Bombs: Cook Them With Microwaves

Navy’s New Solution to Bombs: Cook Them With Microwaves | Danger Room | Wired.com
There’s no end to what the U.S. military has tried against improvised explosives: mand-made lightning, bomb-handling robots, radio frequency jammers and electronics-frying high electromagnetic pulses. Now, they may have gone one step further, developing explosive-killing microwaves that don’t just damage the weapon’s circuitry, but are powerful enough to actually detonate a bomb before the enemy does. Think of it like a directional microwave oven. Except munitions are on the menu....



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bth: this is just stupid.  Look at the size of the rig and what is the point?  To heat it to detonation?  Why not shoot it with a shotgun or drop a mineral water charge on it if that was the intention?  So now they will armor the vehicle that provides the power that cooks the IED which most likely consists of a rice pot full of ammonium nitrate.  This is just dumb and range up there with the lighting rod approach that also suffers from the same deficiencies in logic.

The Realist Prism: Changing Our Nation-Building Role Models - World Politics Review

WPR Article | The Realist Prism: Changing Our Nation-Building Role Models
... Inevitably, we are disappointed when the Hamid Karzais, the Nouri al-Malikis and others fail to live up to these often-idealized expectations.

Maybe it would help if we substituted a different set of historical names and role models. If we can't get a Washington in Afghanistan, we'd certainly do well to settle for a local version of Plutarco Elias Calles, crossed with a bit of Anton Cermak.

Cermak -- the Cook County Board president from 1922-1931, and then the mayor of Chicago from 1931-1933 -- was a Czech-American politician who realized the importance of building cross-ethnic coalitions as a key to successful and sustainable governance. He successfully welded together a number of Chicago's ethnic communities -- Jews, Italians, African-Americans, Irish and different Eastern European nationalities -- into a cohesive political bloc. He did so as one of the proponents of the "balanced ticket" approach, running a slate of candidates to appeal to a broad cross-section of ethnic groups and economic interests. Cermak is often considered to be the father of Chicago's formidable Democratic machine. In a fractious society like Afghanistan or Iraq, where there are deep ethnic, linguistic and sectarian divides, and where recent elections have demonstrated the weakness -- or near-absence -- of overarching, national political identities, old-time Chicago politics, for all the corruption they engendered, would still be an important and crucial step forward.

Calles, president of Mexico from 1924-1928, may be an even more important figure to emulate. With the country emerging from years of civil war and still caught up in the throes of insurrection and insurgency, Calles realized that generals, warlords and regional bosses would not buy into the new constitutional order unless they became stakeholders in the system. In 1929, Calles created the Party of the National Revolution (PNR) as an overarching association of regional strongmen, generals, labor unions and peasant collectives. For those willing to play ball, the new party guaranteed that they would receive at least a half-a-loaf: They might not get their entire agenda, but some of their interests would be secured. The alternative was to go up against this new powerhouse -- and risk complete elimination.

We tend to view Calles' party -- which eventually became the PRI, the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party -- through the lens of its late 20th century dysfunction and corruption. But at the time of its founding, Calles' party was significant for persuading former warlords and peasant rebels to seek compromise and consensus at the political bargaining table, rather than resorting to a resumption of the fighting that had so devastated Mexico for a decade. In his 1997 tome on Mexican politics, "Mexico: A Biography of Power," Enrique Krauze observed:

Clearly it was not democracy, but it was closer to it than all the previous revolutionary regimes except for the government of Madero. Thanks to the PNR, Mexico avoided the militarist destiny of almost all Latin America. Right up to its revamping in 1938, the PNR was a civilized conclave of generals who resolved their differences without drawing their revolvers. It softened and contained violence -- until violence could fall out of fashion.

Is that not an acceptable fallback plan for Afghanistan today?

Warlords faded away in Mexico not because they were wished away but because they ended up being "neutralized" by the PNR -- by essentially being comfortably bought off until they ultimately gave up their power to re-initiate hostilities. In Afghanistan today, warlords and regional armed groups retain their disruptive capacities as a hedge against both the expected failure of the U.S. effort to contain the insurgency and as a way to protect against a central government they distrust. Our state-building efforts there, culminating in the "government in a box" approach that was so lacking during the Marjah offensive earlier this spring, can only succeed if there is an Afghan equivalent of Calles to serve as the political glue holding together the country's rival factions. Of course, an intriguing "what if" question is whether the late Ahmad Shah Massoud was beginning to move in this direction prior to his assassination by al-Qaida on Sept. 10, 2001.

Afghanistan also needs a Calles-style party if it has any hope of harnessing the immense mineral bounty that lies underneath its soil. For these resources to be effectively developed, there must be a social compact in place that commits those who control the land where the minerals are to be mined to share the profits with those who control the land by which these riches will be exported to overseas markets -- and through which the necessary foreign specialists and engineers must travel. At present, there is no incentive structure in place that commits regional stakeholders to support this type of economic development.

Critics will point out many valid objections to the apparent "lionizing" of politicians like Cermak and Calles, and argue that for much of the 20th century, neither Chicago nor Mexico were good examples of functioning, responsive democratic polities. Both had a good deal of social and economic problems to boot. While that is true, the likelihood of places like Afghanistan or Iraq quickly leapfrogging such formative periods of political construction to suddenly become advanced industrial democracies in the next several years is practically nil.

A Cermak-Calles approach is an acceptable "halfway house" for the near and mid-term future. If successfully implemented, perhaps future Library of Congress country studies on Afghanistan or Iraq will draw similar conclusions to the one already published about Mexico, which noted that the creation of the ruling PNR party "engineered an unprecedented political peace." That's something both countries could use.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the former editor of the National Interest, and a frequent foreign policy commentator in both the print and broadcast media. He is currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government. His weekly WPR column, The Realist Prism, appears every Friday.

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bth:  JB, a friend of mine that has been involved in law enforcement for years in many hot spots for the US and the UN and foreign governments - Jordan, Iraq, UN, Gaza, Lebanon, etc. says he has always felt that police officers especially those dealing with organized crime would be and are better at dealing with these hot spots.  I've come to the conclusion he is right - that shades of gray are closer to reality than black and white.

Gates Tightens Rules for Military and the Media

Gates Tightens Rules for Military and the Press - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — Nine days after a four-star general was relieved of command for comments made to Rolling Stone magazine, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued orders on Friday tightening the reins on officials dealing with the news media.

The memorandum requires top-level Pentagon and military leaders to notify the office of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”

Just as the removal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal from command in Afghanistan was viewed as President Obama’s reassertion of civilian control of the military, so Mr. Gates’s memo on “Interaction With the Media” was viewed as a reassertion by civilian public affairs specialists of control over the military’s contacts with the news media....
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bth: now we have the bureaucracy putting out an over reactive memo which is going to be impossible to enforce or abide by despite lip service from Mullen and others.  McChrystal and his groupies should have known better.  No amount of memos or official double speak will overcome pure stupidity on his behalf.  Sec. Gates is growing increasingly detached from reality and I think its about time to look for a replacement.  He has truly served his country in an honorable and dedicated manner, but all people run their course, and he has run his.

Troops call it the Heart of Darkness, the spiritual home of the Taliban - Telegraph

Troops call it the Heart of Darkness, the spiritual home of the Taliban - Telegraph

...The gardens are a patchwork of safe areas and battlegrounds, demarcated by streams, tracks and trees. Platoons can count attacks from almost any group of trees.

In the labyrinth of alleys and sun-baked mud houses in Senjaray town, foot patrols have come under grenade attack from fighters no older than boys.

Patrols have found bunkers, fighting positions and "bed down positions" where fighters can rest unobserved.

"There's no doubt that in large tracts of Zhari, you have got clear evidence that the insurgency is alive and well and has significant freedom of action," said Gen Nick Carter the British officer commanding international troops in southern Afghanistan.

"That means the population is oppressed and is not connected to the government."

The intelligence reports that the insurgents are now as corrupt and mercenary as the hated warlords, suggests an opportunity exists to import Afghan civil servants to set-up schools and clinics across the rural district.

The operation - which must also take harvest time demands into account - is set to stretch far into the autumn.

But American commanders are confident that weight of numbers not time will tilt the battle. "We have heard all the names, the Heart of Darkness and so on," said Major Matt Neumeyer "But just by sheer numbers we are going to gain more space and take it from the enemy."

US $250m superbomber 'almost as good' as $8m robot * Alert * Print * Post comment Top US general Petraeus in bitchslap for 'Bones'

US $250m superbomber 'almost as good' as $8m robot • The Register
General David Petraeus - the famous US officer who oversaw the "surge" in Iraq and is now set to take over the war in Afghanistan - has delivered a stinging bitchslap to the US Air Force's fleets of heavy manned bombers. Petraeus says that a mighty 200 tonne, quarter-billion-dollar B-1 "Lancer" is "almost" as good as having a much cheaper unmanned aircraft.

The bitchslap was administered earlier this week in the form of a left-handed compliment during Petraeus' confirmation hearings in Washington DC prior to assuming command in Afghanistan.

Military.com reports that one of the legislators grilling Petraeus was Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a state home to a large airbase full of B-1B Lancer heavy strategic bombers.

With the US services facing imminent budget pain following the recent economic crisis, senior airforce figures have lately speculated that the B-1 fleet could be cut, as supersonic heavy bombers' usefulness in modern warfare is questioned by many.

This would be bad news for Thune and his pork-hungry constituents, so he took a break from probing Petraeus' fitness for command to squeeze an endorsement for the B-1 out of the general....

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bth: Do we have the luxury of keeping the B1?  It no longer seems appropriate for the wars we are fighting.  Our needs changed and our equipment must change accordingly.

The significance of Israeli's drone program should not be underestimated

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Spy in the sky rakes in millions for Israel
Drones are a key weapon and a major cash earner for Israel, the world’s largest exporter of pilotless planes

The eyes in the sky of modern warfare, whose hallmark hum is heard over Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza, drones are a key weapon and a major cash earner for Israel, the world’s largest exporter of pilotless planes.

With more than 1,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) sold, Israel has raked in several hundred million dollars over the years. Israel’s fleet ranges from aircraft which fit in a soldier’s backpack to planes the size of a Boeing 737 that can fly as far as Iran.

Interest is such that a Turkish military delegation reportedly made a secret trip to Israel last month for training in remote piloting of the Heron drone, despite a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries.” It is good for reaching remote targets, wherever it is needed,” an officer who would only identify himself as Captain Gil, said, pointing to an IAI Heron on the tarmac of the Palmahim Air Base, near Tel Aviv.

The plane, known in Israel as Shoval — “trail” in Hebrew — has a 16-metre (52-foot) wingspan, can fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet (almost 10 kilometres) and can stay in the air for 40 hours. It carries an array of sensors and radar systems, transmits information in real time, and is equipped with missiles. “It can stay above a target a long time, without fear a pilot might get shot,” said Gil as the bright sunlight reflected on the aircraft’s silver fuselage.

The sound of a drone circling over the base could be heard. A monotonous hum that is all too well known to residents of the Gaza Strip, where at times it is followed by a deadly air strike.

UAVs played a key role in the devastating 22-day offensive against the Palestinian enclave, which Israel launched on December 27, 2008 in a bid to end daily rocket fire against the Jewish state.

Drones – US-made in this case – are also widely used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, both to monitor and to strike.

Turkey says it is using Israeli drones, in coordination with the Americans, for surveillance in northern Iraq, the rear base for attacks on Turkish targets by the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)

Israel prides itself on the cutting-edge technology of its UAVs, but human rights groups said scores of Palestinian civilians were killed by drones during the Gaza offensive.

Israel insists it does all it can to avoid civilian casualties, while Gil stressed that drones are crucial to troop protection. Gil, who sports aviator-type sunglasses, is a pilot, but one who sits outside the plane – behind a computer in an office set up in a container. Take-off and landing is generally done manually, with the computer taking over, unless manually overridden, for the rest of the flight.

Israel recently unveiled the Heron TP, also known as Eitan — Hebrew for “strong” — a 4.5-ton flying behemoth about the size of a 737 whose autonomy puts it well within range of Iran – the Jewish state’s arch-enemy. At the other end of the scale is a hand-sized and -launched flying machine.

“Israel is the world’s leading exporter of drones, with more than 1,000 sold in 42 countries,” says Jacques Chemla, head engineer at the UAV department of the state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries, the flagship of the country’s defence industry. afp
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bth; This article from a Pak paper make the point that Israel is the largest exporter of drones.  When I talked to one of the Israeli companies a few months ago I was told that they are now exporting the controls and software and letting the indigenous country provide the air frames often of local design.  This is some shrewd marketing in my opinion.

General Odierno: Al Qaeda in Iraq faces serious financial crunch - CSMonitor.com

General Odierno: Al Qaeda in Iraq faces serious financial crunch - CSMonitor.com

A money crunch is fueling Al Qaeda in Iraq's recent string of robberies and attacks on banks as the weakened organization tries to reconstitute itself, the top US commander in Iraq said.

Gen. Ray Odierno, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor on Friday, said US and Iraqi operations have arrested or killed dozens of AQI leaders and broken large AQI rings that extorted millions of dollars a year from Iraq’s oil distribution network and major companies.

“Major cellphone companies, for example – they would threaten them, if you don’t pay us we’ll go after towers and networks,” he said, crediting intelligence gained from those arrests and killings for cracking the extortion network. “It’s more difficult for them to get funding, so they’re turning to outward criminality in order to fund their operations.”

In a wide-ranging interview in one of Saddam's former palaces, Odierno said AQI appears to have become increasingly disconnected from Al Qaeda's central leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan – and fighting to remain influential. To him, Al Qaeda's lack of announcement regarding new leadership in Iraq after top AQI figures Abu Ayub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi were killed this spring indicates that Al Qaeda headquarters considers the weakened organization here to be much less relevant.

“You have decentralized [AQI] cells that are attempting to continue to execute the last orders given – I think bank robberies and other things are a sign that the funding has been cut,” he said. Odierno, in some of the first detailed comments on AQI's operations, said extortion fees from truck drivers and other parts of the oil distribution network had provided a major part of the organization's revenue, along with payments from major companies such as cellphone carriers.

“What they’re trying to do is reorganize themselves so they can garner more attention, more support to continue, so our goal is to continue to work with Iraqi security forces so they’re not able to do that,” he said.
A change in tactics

AQI has either taken credit or is believed to be behind a string of attacks last month, including a suicide raid on Iraq’s central bank, another suicide car bomb attack on the Finance Ministry’s trade bank, and a string of armed robberies of gold stores – all of them marking a change in tactics. The attacks have prompted comparisons with high-profile Taliban operations aimed at getting the attention of potential financial backers.

“They’ve gone from a broad-based insurgency to basically terrorist activities of suicide bombers and suicide vests – that’s about all they’re able to do now, so you see them morphing and trying to figure out what they can do to try to continue their effectiveness within Iraq,” said Odierno.

Al Qaeda in Iraq previously has focused on broader attacks aimed at reigniting sectarian violence. In the depths of Iraq's civil war four years ago, a substantial number of Iraqis, particularly in tribal areas, backed Al Qaeda – some seeing the Sunni organization as protection against Shiite threats. That popular support for the insurgency has now widely dissipated....

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bth: fascinating interview, but one wonders why if they are successfully extorting cell phone companies, oil companies and trucking firms why a cut with their Pakistani brothers would make much difference to their funding?

Cyprus official: Russian spy has fled island | Antiwar Newswire

Cyprus official: Russian spy has fled island | Antiwar Newswire

After eluding a dragnet extending from airports to yacht marinas, the suspected paymaster for a Russian spy ring nabbed in America has likely fled this Mediterranean resort island, the Cypriot justice minister said on Friday.

Loucas Louca told the Associated Press in an interview that he thinks Christopher Metsos — who disappeared after being released on bail this week — will probably never be apprehended on the island because he is no longer here.

"I believe he's not in Cyprus, that's my belief," he said.

Metsos, 54, is wanted in the United States on charges that he supplied money to a spy ring that allegedly operated under deep cover in America's suburbs. He disappeared Wednesday after being granted bail.

Louca said Metsos was arrested Tuesday after Interpol, the international police agency, issued a notice requesting his arrest. He was trying to board a flight to Budapest, Hungary, with his girlfriend at the time, he said.

The woman was allowed to board the flight since there was no Interpol notice regarding her, Louca said.

Metsos arrived in Cyprus on June 17, traveling as a tourist on a Canadian passport, which a man in Canada has said stole the identity of his dead brother. Louca said Metsos had been with his girlfriend during his stay on the island, but could not say whether the couple had arrived together.

Investigators have retrieved Metsos' laptop computer from his Larnaca hotel room, but have not checked its contents, he said. He said police would hand the laptop over to U.S. authorities when they request it.

The only other item investigators found in the hotel room were Metsos' slippers, Louca said.

Louca strongly defended Cypriot authorities' handling of the affair, which left the government deeply embarrassed and stung by rumors, touched off by the island's close ties with Russia, that it was somehow complicit in Metsos' disappearance.

"I feel strongly about the fact that Cyprus police have put enormous effort into arresting the suspect and the interested parties are aware of that," he said. "If we wanted him (Metsos) to evade, as we have been accused, we wouldn't have tried as hard to arrest him in the first place."

In the ethnically divided island's Greek-speaking south, tens of thousands of Russians own mansions and offshore accounts, read Russian-language newspapers and send their children to Russian schools. The island is also a popular destination for Russian capital because of low taxes.

Ties extend to the very top. The island's Greek Cypriot president Dimitris Christofias, the only communist head of state in the European Union, earned a doctorate in history in Russia and speaks the language.

Christofias counts on Russian political support in reunification talks with the breakaway Turkish Cypriots and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to visit the island in October.

Cyprus was ethnically split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece.

Louca conceded that the court's decision to free Metsos on bail was "a mistake," but said that he and Attorney General Petros Clerides were planning to file an appeal before Metsos' disappearance made it pointless.

The minister insisted that police could not put Metsos under strict surveillance to prevent him from disappearing because once the court freed him on bail, any such move would breach privacy laws.

"Monitoring him (Metsos) would consist of infringement of human rights and would be illegal," he said.

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bth: basically the Greek Cypriots let this Russian spy escape. With friends like these...


Army ‘psy ops’ gets new name

Army ‘psy ops’ gets new name - Army News, news from Iraq, - Army Times
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The Army has dropped the Vietnam-era name “psychological operations” for its branch in charge of trying to change minds behind enemy lines, acknowledging the term can sound ominous.

The Defense Department picked a more neutral moniker: “Military Information Support Operations,” or MISO.

U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw said Thursday the new name, adopted last month, more accurately reflects the unit’s job of producing leaflets, radio broadcasts and loudspeaker messages to influence enemy soldiers and civilians.

“One of the catalysts for the transition is foreign and domestic sensitivities to the term ‘psychological operations’ that often lead to a misunderstanding of the mission,” McGraw said....
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bth: the US military has got to be the worst at psyops and the media.  Good grief.

Long War Journal: The 'only 50 to 100' al Qaeda in Afghanistan fallacy - Threat Matrix

The 'only 50 to 100' al Qaeda in Afghanistan fallacy - Threat Matrix

The CIA continues to get it all wrong when discussing al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Numerous officials are repeating CIA Director Leon Panetta's claim that al Qaeda maintains only a small footprint in Afghanistan. Here is what Panetta said over the weekend on ABC News' This Week:

"I think at most, we're looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan," he said.

As noted in the somewhat recent Threat Matrix series tracking dead 'al Qaeda guys' in Afghanistan, the number would seem to be a tad higher. Just this week, the US and the Afghan military launched an operation in Kunar that targeted "al Qaeda and Taliban leadership in the area." The names of the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were not disclosed. At LWJ we provided the names of two known major al Qaeda leaders, Abu Ikhlas al Masri, al Qaeda's operations chief for the province, and Qari Zia Rahman, who sort of straddles both the al Qaeda and Taliban. Rahman is considered the top regional commander in Kunar and Nuristan, as well as across the border in Bajaur, Pakistan.

While researching al Qaeda and the Taliban in Kunar, I was pointed to this analysis on Kunar by the Institute for the Study of War. There is a lot of good information on the province, but this stuck out [emphasis mine]:

Provincial officials estimated in 2008 that there were at least 2,000 insurgents in the mountains of Kunar. This number probably varies widely given the proximity to the Pakistani border and the ease with which insurgents can cross the frontier. About half the insurgents in Korengal are believed to be local fighters, while the other half are believed to be foreigners, including Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens, and Uzbeks.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the 2,000 insurgents in Kunar has remained constant since 2008, even if this number is probably low, as more fighters are said to have moved into Kunar since the US began abandoning outposts there last fall. That makes an estimated 1,000 of those fighters foreign. Now, how many of these are actually al Qaeda is certainly something up for debate, as the odds are good that the bulk of these are Pakistanis. But as we've argued many times before, the distinctions between these groups are breaking down as time moves on. Qari Zia Rahman is a good example of this.....

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bth: he has a goood point. How does Panetta reconcile this? Too bad the senators were too dumb to ask.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Jamming the IED assembly line

Opinion: Jamming the IED assembly line - Sen. Bob Casey - POLITICO.com
Improvised explosive devices are the No. 1 killer of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan — in 2009, 275 U.S. troops died in IED attacks.

And the threat keeps growing. In the first four months of 2010, roadside bomb incidents in Afghanistan increased 94 percent over a comparable period last year, according to the United Nations. The impact of this deadly tool of war has been felt back in my home state of Pennsylvania, for we have lost many Marines, soldiers and National Guard troops.

The vast majority of the more than 6,000 roadside bombs discovered in Afghanistan in 2009 used ammonium nitrate as their principal explosive ingredient. How can we in Congress help the troops on the ground where it matters most? Make it as hard as possible for the Taliban to get their hands on ammonium nitrate.

Americans were seared by the deadly power of ammonium nitrate when Timothy McVeigh used it in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. It can be used as a fertilizer, as well as an explosive in the mining and construction industries.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has recognized the threat and banned its use as a fertilizer. Afghan troops and police, supported by the International Security Assistance Force, have begun a concerted effort to crack down on its proliferation, distribution and sale.

Despite these government restrictions, ammonium nitrate is still ubiquitous in Afghanistan, because of smuggling along supply routes from its neighbors — particularly along Pakistan’s tribal belt, where smuggling seems a way of life.

In late June, ISAF reported that 11 tons of ammonium nitrate was seized by Afghan forces. These 11 tons would have been enough to build more than 500 IEDs — roadside bombs that could have been used to kill NATO forces, Afghan troops and civilians....
The Daily Beast

Boston Dynamics: Dedicated to the Science and Art of How Things Move.

Boston Dynamics: Dedicated to the Science and Art of How Things Move.




Thursday, July 01, 2010

Military announces plans for Spc. Scott Andrews' funeral - Fall River, MA - The Herald News

Military announces plans for Spc. Scott Andrews' funeral - Fall River, MA - The Herald News


The military announced funeral arrangements for Army Spc. Scott A. Andrews, killed last week in Afghanistan by an enemy improvised explosive device.

His funeral Mass will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Holy Name Church, 709 Hanover St., followed by an honor procession in the North End of the city, past his 93 Martha St. home, to St. Patrick’s Cemetery on Robeson Street where he will be buried with full military honors.

Calling hours will be held Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Manuel Rogers & Sons Funeral Home, 1521 N. Main St.

Andrews’ body will be returned to Massachusetts at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford on Thursday at a time still to be determined, reported Massachusetts National Guard Maj. Lisa Ahaesy, state public affairs officer providing support to the family.

The announcement followed an hour-long meeting the military, city departments, veterans and support personnel held Tuesday at Government Center with the victim’s parents, Jo Ann Mello and Alfred Andrews, both of Fall River, to prepare for his funeral.

He also has two older brothers, Matthew and David.

A city native who turned 21 on Memorial Day, Andrews was a member of the Army’s 618th Engineer Support Co., 27th Engineer Battalion (combat and airborne), 20th Engineer Brigade (combat), stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C.

He served in his first assignment in Afghanistan as a wheeled vehicle mechanic during route clearance operations.

During the two years and four months since he enlisted for active duty in February 2008, Andrews was awarded the following military awards, decorations and campaign and service medals, Fort Bragg officials reported:

The Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Good Conduct Medal and a Combat Action Badge.

Andrews died June 21 of injuries suffered near his operating Base Lagman in the Zabul province of southeastern Afghanistan.

This will be the second funeral for a young city soldier killed in action in Afghanistan the past two months. Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Barrett was killed April 19 by a suicide bomber and was buried on May 1 at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

The Andrews family requested their son’s burial in their hometown and near their home, military officials said.

“She wanted the procession to go by her home,” Army Capt. Andrew Parris, casualty assistance officer for the family, said of Jo Ann Mello’s request.....

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bth: this is the second young man from Fall River in the last 3 months.

Killers Stalk Politicians as Iraq Seeks Government

Killers Stalk Politicians as Iraq Seeks Government - NYTimes.com
MOSUL, Iraq — Since Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March, killers in this violent northern city have stalked members of the Iraqiya Party, which won the most seats, part of a nationwide outbreak of violence directed at officials and other civic leaders.


Some 150 politicians, civil servants, tribal chiefs, police officers, Sunni clerics and members of Awakening Councils have been assassinated throughout Iraq since the election — bloodshed apparently aimed at heightening turmoil in the power vacuum created by more than three months without a national government.


During the past 72 hours alone, at least eight Iraqi police officers, an Iraqi Army general, a government intelligence official, a member of an Awakening Council, a tribal sheik, and a high ranking staff member of Baghdad’s local government have all been assassinated in either Baghdad or Mosul....

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bth: the article goes on to explain that these are assassinations and the assailants are using silencers and sticky bombs which are more indicative of Shia assassination teams than al Qaeda mass bombings.  It also says that the assassination attempts aren't reported anymore because the Army and government are suspected of being involved.  Amazing how little has been reported about this in the US


Military restricts use of vehicles vulnerable to IEDs - USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook

Military restricts use of vehicles vulnerable to IEDs - USATODAY.com
WASHINGTON — Top commanders in Afghanistan have further tightened restrictions on the use of vulnerable vehicles after roadside bomb attacks that have killed eight U.S. soldiers since late May.

The Pentagon displays a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle aimed at providing troops with safer, more maneuverable transportation.

The new rules come as attacks from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have spiked to record levels and insurgents create ever more lethal bombs.

One of those bombs killed five soldiers June 7 when it destroyed their Humvee in eastern Afghanistan.

The Humvee's fatal flaw, a 2008 Pentagon inspector general's report found, is that its "flat bottom, low weight, low ground clearance and aluminum body" leave it vulnerable to IEDs buried in roads. Military officials had known of that weakness since 1994, according to the report.

At the time of the attack in June, troops needed at least a lieutenant colonel to approve leaving a protected base in a Humvee, according to Maj. Patrick Seiber, an Army spokesman for forces in eastern Afghanistan.

This month, the commander of coalition forces in the region raised the authorization for Humvee use to the level of colonel, Seiber said in an e-mail.

The change by Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, had been discussed for some time, Seiber said, and was not simply a reaction to the attack June 7.

Colonels command brigades, which have as many as 5,000 servicemembers. Lieutenant colonels command battalions of about 800 servicemembers.

The bombing June 7, like all attacks that result in troop deaths, is under investigation by the military, Seiber said.

The new requirement for a colonel's authorization is an overreaction to tragic events, said Dakota Wood, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He noted that a lieutenant colonel has about 20 years of experience.

Sergeants and junior officers often have the most relevant experience in combat, Wood said. Top officers should rely on their subordinates' judgment about the danger on roads and the vehicles required for Afghanistan's rugged terrain, he said.

"Out of concern for high casualty levels because of roadside bombs, senior leaders appear to be taking decisions out of the hands of subordinates," Wood said.

Roadside bomb attacks have soared in Afghanistan.

The 1,128 IED attacks in May were more than double the same month in 2009, according to the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization. Attacks that wounded or killed coalition troops increased by 205%.

Those bombs killed 134 servicemembers from January through May and wounded 1,052, records show.

A suicide car-bomb attack on an armored sport-utility vehicle in Kabul on May 18 killed a U.S. colonel, a Canadian colonel and two U.S. lieutenant colonels. The attack killed the most high-ranking U.S. officers since the war began in 2001.

Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the military leadership in Kabul, said commanders continually assess insurgent threats and take measures to protect troops.

Commanders have to balance protection with conducting the counterinsurgency campaign, he said.

"We have to convince the Afghan people we are here to help their government and them," Shanks said in an e-mail. "You can't do that from inside an armored vehicle. No amount of armor protection will protect troops from some of the IEDs we've seen in the recent months."

The military's newest defense against IEDs — an all-terrain armored truck — has helped troops survive dozens of attacks in Afghanistan and could help defuse the insurgents' most effective weapon against coalition troops, according to military officials and analysts.

The all-terrain version of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle was designed specifically for Afghanistan's poor roads and rugged terrain.

The MRAPs produced for Iraq aren't nimble enough for much of Afghanistan, and their ride was bone-jarring for troops in the back, said Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, who leads the Pentagon effort to field the trucks for Afghanistan.

The first all-terrain MRAPs arrived in Afghanistan late last year.

A Marine battalion commander in restive Helmand province reported that insurgents had destroyed 50 of the all-terrain vehicles with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Brogan said. The most serious wound suffered in the attacks was a bad concussion. Nobody died, the commander told Brogan in an e-mail. The trucks have seats for four troops and a turret for a gunner.

"The troops really love these vehicles," Brogan said.

Navy Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a Central Command spokesman, said there have been about 200 IED attacks against the all-terrain MRAPs between January and June. The attacks resulted in several deaths and a number of injuries, but the death and injury rates would have been much more significant had troops not been in those vehicles, Hanzlik said.

Commanders have issued urgent requests for more than 8,000 of the trucks to protect troops from roadside bombs. About 3,000 of the vehicles are in Afghanistan, and the remainder will arrive in November.

The MRAP's raised chassis and V-shaped bottom can protect troops by putting them farther from the blast and deflecting its force.

The vehicle's off-road ability makes U.S. forces less predictable, Brogan said.

"We can make the targeting challenge more difficult for the enemy," he said. "If we can go where they're not expecting us, you might not run into a bomb."

The trucks have the potential to be "hugely important" in defeating the insurgency, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, a think tank.
---------
bth: Tom Vanden Brook is probably the only current reporter that adequately covers the vehicle issue.  So this restriction of armored humvee use in Afghanistan is not so unusual.  It has happened several other times in both Afghanistan and Iraq as it related to other vehicles such as a ban on unarmored humvees leaving a base in Iraq without applique armor; a ban on humvees without factory armor leaving the base; the ban on mid sized trucks without armor leaving the base; and so on.  Someone is always going to say that you can't build the perfect vehicle and this is true, but it doesn't mean that better vehicles aren't saving lives.  If the marines report in this article that 50 vehicles have been destroyed with only a few injuries, that statistic with unarmored humvees would be have been in the range of 2.4 injuries per vehicle with 1:4 KIAs a few years ago so you can do the math, the vehicles save lives.  The downside of the larger vehicles is that even all terrain versions really aren't all terrain and are mostly dirt road and level field restricted.  What's very disturbin about the stats shown for the first 6 months of the year in Afghanistan is that there were 1128 ied attacks which I take it to mean actual detonations on vehicles and there were 134 dead and 1052 wounded which is a marked increase in recent ratios for comparable events in Iraq?  Why is that?  Is it that we are still using light vehicle or unarmored ones in Afghanistan?  That is more than a 1:1 ratio of IED attacks to injuries counting wounded and 10:1 approximately between IED attacks and casualties. This is very high given the current state of available equipment.  One wonders if there is some delay in getting MATVs into theater due to logistics constraints through the Khyber Pass.  A couple of hundred vehicles were destroyed in transit a couple of years ago in Pakistan.  I'll bet we are actually flying in these new vehicles instead of ground transport.  That means $50K per vehicle just in air shipment.

New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered

New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered - NYTimes.com
ASPEN, Colo. — Michael E. Leiter, one of the country’s top counterterrorism officials, said Wednesday that American intelligence officials now estimated that there were somewhat “more than 300” Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a rare public assessment of the strength of the terrorist group that is the central target of President Obama’s war strategy.


Taken together with the recent estimate by the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, that there are about 50 to 100 Qaeda operatives now in Afghanistan, American intelligence agencies believe that there are most likely fewer than 500 members of the group in a region where the United States has poured nearly 100,000 troops.


Many American officials warn about such comparisons, saying that Al Qaeda has forged close ties with a number of affiliated militant groups and that a large American troop presence is necessary to helping the Afghan government prevent Al Qaeda from gaining a safe haven in Afghanistan similar to what it had before the Sept. 11 attacks.


On Monday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that on a recent trip to the region he was struck by the “depth of synergies” between Al Qaeda and a number of other insurgent groups, including the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban.


Mr. Leiter, who is the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, concurred with Admiral Mullen’s judgment.


But with the fighting in Afghanistan intensifying and few indications that the Taliban are weakening, the recent estimates of Al Qaeda’s strength could give ammunition to critics of President Obama’s strategy who think the United States should pull most of its troops from the country and instead rely on small teams of Special Operations forces and missile strikes from C.I.A. drones.....

---------

bth: is 100,000 troops in Afghanistan the best way to deal with this threat?

US officials: Al-Qaida operative tied to NY plot

US officials: Al-Qaida operative tied to NY plot | Antiwar Newswire
Counterterrorism officials have linked one of the nation's most wanted terrorists to last year's thwarted plot to bomb the New York subway system.

Authorities believe that Adnan Shukrijumah (ahd-NAHN' el SHOOK'-ree joohm-HAH') met with one of the would-be suicide bombers in a plot that Attorney General Eric Holder called one of the most dangerous since 9/11.

Officials say Shukrijumah is among the top candidates to be al-Qaida's next head of external operations, the man in charge of planning attacks worldwide.

Federal prosecutors have named Shukrijumah in a draft indictment but were still discussing whether to pursue it. Some feared the extra attention would hinder efforts to capture him.

Current and former officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
----------
bth: the American public seems to think that just because things are going badly in Afghanistan and Iraq is out of the news that problems with al Qaeda and terrorism on US shores is a thing of the past.  Far from it.  DOJ would be wise to keep Americans in the loop by keeping this information in the news instead of tucked away somewhere.

Loveless Chinese troops banned from online dating

Loveless Chinese troops banned from online dating | Antiwar Newswire
What will the lonely hearts of the People's Liberation Army do now?

Rigid restrictions on Internet usage imposed this month on the 2.3 million-strong Chinese armed services are sure to cramp the already lackluster social lives of the predominantly young, male force. Online dating was given the boot, along with blogs, personal websites and visits to Internet cafes.

It may seem harsh and out of touch, particularly for troops posted in remote regions of China who have little contact with the civilian world. But military experts said restraints are necessary to avoid compromising security for a Chinese military that prizes secrecy.

"Some soldiers leaked military secrets when chatting online, for instance, giving away troop locations. Certainly a large amount of secrets were revealed this way and the regulation has just blocked the hole," said Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

Plus, Ni said, "matchmaking for soldiers can be conducted in more serious ways, such as through introductions from families, friends, or their work units."

China is just the latest country to wrestle with the sticky issue of Internet freedoms for its military, trying to find a balance between the demands of Web-savvy troops, who as civilians were used to sharing personal details online, and the need to maintain security.
------
bth: an intelligence opportunity

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aid cash feared lost as £2bn is flown out of Afghanistan

Aid cash feared lost as £2bn is flown out of Afghanistan - Telegraph
The sum haemorrhaging from one of the poorest countries in the world has led officials to believe the money is from plundered Western aid projects and security or reconstruction contracts, it has been reported.

Proceeds from the country's rampant opium and heroin businesses also account for part of the sum, which is more than the Afghan government's entire tax revenue.


The money is packed in suitcases or even stacked on pallets and flown mainly
to Dubai.



Customs records for legally declared money leaving the airport showed £2.1
billion left between since the start of 2007 and the end of February 2010.



The declared cash is likely to be a fraction of what actually leaves the
country. Customs records are incomplete and money is also smuggled out
unregistered.



In
December The Daily Telegraph reported that the Afghan ministry of finance
estimated £6m a day was being smuggled out.



Afghanistan's endemic corruption and Hamid Karzai's failure to tackle the
problem have angered his western backers who are pouring in money to defeat
the Taliban insurgency.



Nato spent more than £10bn in Afghanistan alone last year.



Afghanistan's gross domestic product was only £8bn in 2008....

===

bth: so basically the powerful in Afghanistan are moving their money to Dubai.  This is hardly a good sign.

Electricity privileges of officials cut

Electricity privileges of officials cut | Gorilla’s Guides
Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani yesterday revoked electricity privileges enjoyed by government officials as he took temporary control of the power portfolio amid public fury over rationing.
Shahristani said his measures would redirect much-needed supplies to a national grid that currently provides ordinary citizens with power for only one hour in every five, or less. “It is impossible for anyone who takes responsibility (for electricity) for a few days to end the suffering of the Iraqi people,” he told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad. “But I have taken these measures to reduce the problems facing those who have a limited amount of electricity.”
Shahristani said he had ordered a stop to special supplies given to Iraqi officials living in the International Green Zone and elsewhere in the capital. Shahristani also said production hikes ordered at several power stations would increase production by 250 megawatts.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Karim Waheed, who as electricity minister had been the main target of protests over limited power supplies.

----------
bth: so I'm going to ask a stupid question.  Why would the US or the Iraqi government think that centralized electricity control or generation would ever work in a country whose infrastructure, power lines for example, can be cut or damaged at will?  Wouldn't it be better to invest in decentralized power like solar energy or wind in a climate so well suited for that kind of power source?  Instead we have most of the countries electricity being generated by personal generators which depend on exportable hydrocarbon fuel and black market distribution.

We've losing control of the main road and supply line in Afghanistan.

Dangerous Afghan highway threatens NATO supply flow - Afghanistan - Stripes
....The U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government aid agency, financed the original reconstruction of the highway after the fall of the Taliban, a project that was completed in 2005, and it oversees its maintenance. According to the agency, six of the 24 causeways have been damaged by homemade bombs, and 85 of 1,866 culverts have been blown up.

The International Security Assistance Force said there were about 90 improvised-bomb strikes, 120 bombs found and 290 armed attacks on the highway from May 6 to June 10.

The destruction of bridges and culverts on the highway forces drivers onto dirt byways, turning what had been a five-hour trip when the road was built into one of some 12 hours.

Repairs are urgently needed, and last week the USAID awarded a contract for rebuilding nine bridges to The Louis Berger Group, a U.S. company that will use Afghan firms as subcontractors. Since that contracting process began, however, three more bridges have been blown up....

The best thing the Congress can do is turn Arlington National Cemetery over to the VA

Should Army Surrender Arlington National Cemetery to VA?
.... In 1973, Congress passed the National Cemeteries Act, which transferred 82 of the 84 then-existing national cemeteries to the Veterans Administration. The law left responsibility for Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers' Home National Cemetery here with the Army. The service also maintains 28 post cemeteries and manages three plots at civilian cemeteries.

The VA's National Cemetery Administration has grown to 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico and includes 33 soldiers' lots in private cemeteries as well as monument sites -- and it is still growing. The Interior Department maintains, through the National Park Service, 14 more cemeteries, all but two of them closed to new burials.

The VA "does an excellent job," the VFW's Davis said. While he is concerned that base closings and a shortage of buglers have meant it's more difficult to provide full military honors to all veterans, he has heard "no complaints" about misplaced remains and mismarked graves at VA cemeteries.

Davis agreed with McHugh, who said employees at Arlington "ensure that every service is not only conducted with military precision, but also with kindness, compassion, sensitivity and honor." He said he has relatives buried at Arlington and it "does a superb job with the families."

But the VFW spokesman said Arlington's antiquated filing system of paper records and index cards was "unacceptable" and inadequate to keep track of more than 300,000 graves and as many as 150 funerals a week. He noted that the VA has automated records and launched an online grave locator in 2004.

McHugh told the House panel that the Army has made computerizing Arlington's records a top priority. He also said workers were removing old grave markers that The Washington Post reported were discarded in a creek on the cemetery grounds.

"The Army is doing and will continue to do all that is necessary and possible to right these unimaginable, unacceptable wrongs," McHugh said.
------------
bth: it would be one thing if the Army's administration of Arlington were competent and uncorrupted but had made mistakes they were correcting.  None of that happened.  It was incompetent, horribly corrupt and I suspect based on knowing some of the whistle blowers that the administrators are likely to be facing criminal charges.  Further the Army could always have adopted the computer record system of the VA but despite spending millions and failing they still retain a paper record system.  Turn Arlington over to the VA.

U.S. and Afghan forces launch major assault in eastern province of Konar

U.S. and Afghan forces launch major assault in eastern province of Konar
..."The Taliban know we are bringing our surge of forces, and they realize they can't just let that happen, so they are pursuing their own surge," said Maj. Gen. John Campbell, the senior commander in eastern Afghanistan.

The U.S. and Afghan troops, flown in on Black Hawk helicopters, seized the mountainous high ground in Konar province's Marawara district in the pre-dawn hours Sunday and were soon attacked by a force of as many as 200 insurgents.

Two U.S. troops died in the assault, and as many as 150 insurgent fighters were killed by the U.S. and Afghan troops in what U.S. officials said was one of the most intense battles of the past year. "Once the battle began, others from the area tried to maneuver into the area," said Col. Andrew P. Poppas, who commands a swath of territory the size of Massachusetts along the border with Pakistan. "This was a tough fight."

Afghan officials had been complaining for several weeks that the Afghan Taliban, which traditionally has been strongest in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south, had been infiltrating the province as part of an effort to open a second front. Some Pakistani Taliban fighters, who are only loosely connected to the Afghan insurgents, also had sought sanctuary in the area, fleeing a Pakistani army attack on the other side of the border, U.S. officials said.

Before the battle, the Afghans estimated that as many as 250 insurgents had infiltrated the remote district, and U.S. officials said there had been a steady increase in deadly roadside bomb, mortar and rocket attacks throughout the area. "I was kind of incredulous when I heard there were that many enemy in there," said Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, a senior Army official in the region.....

----------
bth: 'incredulous'? We abandoned 4 provinces to the Taliban after being pushed out last year by the Taliban who where in turn pushed over the border by the Pakistani Army.  We gave them a base of operation - so what is the surprise that there are 250 of them in an area the size of Massachusetts? 

Taliban extend sphere of influence, expert says

Taliban extend sphere of influence, expert says - Monsters and Critics
Kabul - Afghanistan's Taliban militants are expanding their influence further into regions outside their traditional power base, the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) said.

'Their intake from non-Pashtun ethnic groups is growing, from where the Taliban hardly recruited in the past,' AAN co-director Thomas Ruttig said.

That trend was particularly obvious in Kunduz province in north-eastern Afghanistan, where German troops are based, he said.

In a report released Tuesday, the AAN criticized a significant lack of understanding about the nature of the Taliban movement by the international community.

The Taliban were no longer a tribal Pashtun movement, but have turned into a political Islamist movement in which ethnicity no longer plays a role, which opened the Taliban to non-Pashtuns, Ruttig said.

An increasing number of Afghan Tajik and Uzbek commanders were joining the Taliban movement, the German analyst said....

-----
bth: why?

Now we are at old Iraqi casualty levels but in Afghanistan

France24 - Foreign troop toll in Afghan war hits 100 for June
AFP - Deaths of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban insurgency have hit the unprecedented toll of 100 for the month of June alone, according to an AFP tally Tuesday.

German Defence Minister questions role of Nato in Afghanistan war

German Defence Minister questions role of Nato in Afghanistan war - Europe, World - The Independent
Germany is arguing for the aims of Nato's operations in Afghanistan to be significantly scaled down and wants the alliance to adopt criteria to ensure that it never commits itself to a similarly open-ended mission in future.

This was the message conveyed by the German Defence Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, during a lecture at a London think-tank yesterday.

He was speaking after two days of talks with British officials, at a time when operations in Afghanistan are at a crucial juncture and the alliance is engaged in a comprehensive review of its future.

In his remarks on Afghanistan, Dr zu Guttenberg, who is a key member of Angela Merkel's government and one of Germany's most popular politicians, spoke of the difficulties of "selling" the Afghan mission to a sceptical German public, a problem he noted was common to governments throughout the alliance. But in calling for strict criteria to govern Nato missions, he drew lessons from the Afghanistan experience and effectively called into question the wisdom of the whole project.

He set out four criteria, which – he said – should have to be met before Nato embarked on any military operation. First, action should be taken only if there is "great and imminent danger to another Nato member".

Second, there had to be "a clearly defined political goal". Third, an alliance military campaign should be mounted "only if there is no alternative", and finally, Nato should act "only if the capability for success was provided from the beginning". Arguably, none of these criteria were met when the Afghan operation was designated a Nato mission.

Elsewhere in his address, Dr zu Guttenberg spoke of the need for "commitment to match capability" and for the national security of alliance members and the collective security of the alliance always to be paramount in decision-making.

Dr zu Guttenberg's call for the goals of the Afghan operation to be revised downwards is likely to receive a favourable reception among many members of the alliance, including Canada and Poland, which are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan. But it could put Germany on a collision course with the British army, which has argued that the sort of counter-insurgency war being fought in Afghanistan is the shape of the future. It is using this argument to justify maintaining the strength, and funding, in the run-up to the Strategic Defence Review this autumn.

With the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, informed that he will be retiring after the review, however, and every government department facing swingeing cuts, it appears no option has been ruled out.



VA hospital may have infected 1,800 veterans with HIV - CNN.com

VA hospital may have infected 1,800 veterans with HIV - CNN.com

(CNN) -- A Missouri VA hospital is under fire because it may have exposed more than 1,800 veterans to life-threatening diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis has recently mailed letters to 1,812 veterans telling them they could contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after visiting the medical center for dental work, said Rep. Russ Carnahan.

Carnahan said Tuesday he is calling for a investigation into the issue and has sent a letter to President Obama about it....

----

bth: this is a crime as far as I'm concerned. The only thing I would add to the article is that the VA has been reporting these instances and the private sector hospitals have not. Don't kid yourself, its happening there too only the legal liabilities are such that they fail to voluntarily report.

Risky Business: With Stimulus Funds Running Dry, Government Betting On Private Sector

Risky Business: With Stimulus Funds Running Dry, Government Betting On Private Sector

...One day of trading isn't necessarily a referendum on economic policy, of course. Leonhardt equivocates on the question of longer-term spending versus austerity, writing, "You can find good evidence to support either one." But investors remain consistently reluctant to let their money ride, consumer confidence is in the gutter, and the U.S. Census Bureau hired more than ten times as many Americans in May as the entire private sector put together.

As the Los Angeles Times outlines, state and local governments are still heavily dependent on soon-to-expire federal stimulus funding to avoid making painful cuts to social services that benefit millions of desperate Americans. The U.S. government isn't alone in its hesitation to keep spending, but the devastating effects of austerity measures in Ireland offer a bleak picture of what may come if Congress continues on a similar path.

There is precedent for premature economic optimism in the United States, as well. In 1937, the middle of the Great Depression, significant relative economic expansion had prompted President Roosevelt to cut spending and Congress to raise taxes, cratering the still-fragile national economy and spiking unemployment. Though Leonhardt argues that America will have to endure some painful cuts in the future, he writes, "The parallels to 1937 are not reassuring."

-------

bth: so the feds tell the private sector, you give us light first then I'll give you wood.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Self Shaping Robot

Danger Room

NDIA Ground Robotics Cap.mov from Victoryvideo on Motionbox

NDIA Ground Robotics Cap.mov from Victoryvideo on Motionbox

In Ordinary Lives, U.S. Sees the Work of Russian Agents - NYTimes.com

In Ordinary Lives, U.S. Sees the Work of Russian Agents - NYTimes.com

...Illegals will sometimes pursue degrees at target-country universities, obtain employment, and join relevant professional associations” to deepen false identities.

One message from bosses in Moscow, in awkward English, gave the most revealing account of the agents’ assignment. “You were sent to USA for long-term service trip,” it said. “Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles and send intels [intelligence reports] to C[enter].”

It was not clear what the intelligence reports were about, though one agent was described as meeting an American government employee working in a nuclear program. The defendants were charged with conspiracy, not to commit espionage, but to fail to register as agents of a foreign government, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison; 9 were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. They are not accused of obtaining classified materials.

There were also hints that Russian spy bosses feared their agents, ordered to go native in prosperous America, might be losing track of their official purpose....

---------
bth: so what is going on here and why now? The tasks these agents were assigned to according to the Boston Globe printing of the affidavits might best be covered by a google search. Why run a spy ring to penetrate think tanks? It just doesn't make sense. Also why now? Why not a year ago or a year from now? Why days after Medvedev was here with Obama? This doesn't add up. Mrs Cravitz from Be Witched would be a better spy than this lot.

While the world looks to the south of Afghanistan the fighting is heaviest in the underreported eastern provinces

Afghan, US forces launch offensive in Kunar - The Long War Journal
The Afghan Army and US military launched a major air assault yesterday in a remote district in eastern Afghanistan that borders Pakistan.

More than 700 US and Afghan troops were inserted by US Black Hawk helicopters into the Marawara district in Kunar province on Sunday and immediately came under fire from a large force of Taliban fighters, estimated at more than 200 men. Soon more Taliban fighters poured into the area to battle the battalion-sized assault force.

"Once the battle began, others from the area tried to maneuver into the area," Colonel Andrew Poppas, the US Army commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, told The Washington Post. "This was a tough fight."

The US military claimed that more than 150 Taliban fighters were killed in the attack during heavy fighting. Two US soldiers and one Afghan soldier were reported to have been killed during the assault.

The intense fighting ended earlier today, and US and Afghan forces are establishing security outposts in the remote district....

Monday, June 28, 2010

The last post: McChrystal's bleak outlook

The last post: McChrystal's bleak outlook - Americas, World - The Independent
... Details of General McChrystal's grim assessment of his own strategy's current effectiveness emerged as the world's most powerful leaders set the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, a five-year deadline to improve security and governance in his country.

The G8 summit in Toronto called for "concrete progress" within five years on improving the justice system and for Afghan forces to assume greater responsibility for security. David Cameron said a "political surge" must now complement the military one.

But the "campaign overview" left behind by General McChrystal after he was sacked by President Barack Obama last week warned that only a fraction of the areas key to long-term success are "secure", governed with "full authority", or enjoying "sustainable growth". He warned of a critical shortage of "essential" military trainers needed to build up Afghan forces – of which only a fraction is classed as "effective".

He pinpointed an "ineffective or discredited" Afghan government and a failure by Pakistan "to curb insurgent support" as "critical risks" to success. "Waning" political support and a "divergence of coalition expectations and campaign timelines" are among the key challenges faced, according to the general.

It was this briefing, according to informed sources, as much as the Rolling Stone article, which convinced Mr Obama to move against the former head of US Special Forces, as costs soar to $7bn a month and the body count rises to record levels, because it undermined the White House political team's aim of pulling some troops out of Afghanistan in time for the US elections in 2012. In addition to being the result of some too-candid comments in a magazine article, the President's decision to dispense with his commander was seen by the general's supporters as a politically motivated culmination of their disagreements.

General McChrystal's presentation to Nato defence ministers and Isaf representatives provided an uncompromising obstacle to Mr Obama's plan to bring troops home in time to give him a shot at a second term, according to senior military sources. The general was judged to be "off message" in his warning to ministers not to expect quick results and that they were facing a "resilient and growing insurgency"....

------
bth: so Obama shot McChrystal the messenger?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Further evidence of double dip recession

FT.com / Markets - Economic Outlook: Worsening picture in the US
Investors will this week be bracing themselves for signs that the US recovery is slowing, as a slew of economic data on the world’s largest economy is expected to paint a downbeat picture.

However, they face a challenge disentangling the effects of the removal of government stimulus programmes from the scale of the private sector recovery.

ChartThis week sees the release of the monthly US non-farm payrolls report, the most closely watched statistic in global markets.

The headline figure is expected to show a sharp drop in non-farm employment – but that is largely the effect of temporary workers hired to carry out the US census coming to the end of their contracts.

There was a decline of about 250,000 in the number of people working on the census this month from May, leading to consensus expectations of a drop of 75,000 in the headline non-farm payrolls figure.

That could push the US unemployment rate above its current level of 9.7 per cent, leading to fears that the
 recovery might stall.

Chart

Report: Karzai holds secret talks with top militant - World news - South and Central Asia - Afghanistan - msnbc.com

Report: Karzai holds secret talks with top militant - World news - South and Central Asia - Afghanistan - msnbc.com

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has held face-to-face talks with Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of a particularly brutal militant group with ties to al-Qaida, Al Jazeera reported on Sunday.

The presidential office reportedly denied that any meeting took place between Karzai and the Haqqani network, a group high on the CIA's hit list that is believed to have been behind some of the most sophisticated attacks across Afghanistan.

Pakistan's army chief and the head of the country's intelligence services are thought to have accompanied Haqqani to the talks, sources told Al Jazeera. Pakistan's intelligence and military officials have long been thought to foster close links with members of the Taliban and other militant groups working in Afghanistan.

The reports have fuelled speculation that Pakistan is trying to forge a deal that would safeguard its interests in Afghanistan, Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr said from Kabul...

How to create a double dip recession

RealClearPolitics - Video - Obama Calling "Bluff" Of Those Complaining About Debt He Created
President Obama on controlling the debt: "Somehow people say, why are you doing that, I'm not sure that's good politics. I'm doing it because I said I was going to do it and I think it's the right thing to do. People should learn that lesson about me because next year when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country, I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficits and debt step-up because I'm calling their bluff. We'll see how much of that, how much of the political arguments that they're making right now are real and how much of it was just politics."

------------
bth: So when i was in DC a few weeks ago a congressman said that on Nov. 3 Obama was going to go all out to slash the deficit before inflation kicked in.  Well there isn't any fucking inflation in the economy and a huge overhang of untapped labor.  So I'm not sure what kind of BS is coming but I'm pretty sure a double dip recession is in the cards.

YouTube - Top 5 War Time Movie Songs #3

YouTube - Top 5 War Time Movie Songs #3

American public's support for the war in Afghanistan is about to go away in frustration

Quagmire? Nine years on, Americans grow weary of war in Afghanistan - CSMonitor.com
....Most Americans agree with Obama that McChrystal had to go, polls show. But they’re far less supportive of the conflict itself, weary of what’s become the longest war in US history.

A recent Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters finds that just 41 percent “now believe it is possible for the United States to win the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan.” More to the point, a plurality of 48 percent now say ending the war in Afghanistan is a more important goal than winning it.

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

Meanwhile, 53 percent of those polled by Newsweek disapprove of how Obama is managing the war – a sharp reversal since February when 55 percent supported Obama on Afghanistan and just 27 percent did not. (Put another way, the percentage of Americans who disapprove of Obama’s Afghan policy has nearly doubled in four months.)

The same Newsweek poll finds that “46 percent of respondents think America is losing the war in Afghanistan (26 percent say the military is winning). A similar plurality think the US is losing the broader war on terrorism (43 percent vs. 29 percent)…”

So where is the term Utility of Force show up in our current Afghan strategy?

Leon Panetta: There May Be Less Than 50 Al Qaeda Fighters In Afghanistan
WASHINGTON -- CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Sunday there may be less than 50 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan, with "no question" that most of the terrorist network is operating from the western tribal region of Pakistan.

Panetta's remarks came as President Barack Obama builds up U.S. forces in Afghanistan to prop up the government and, in his words, "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda." About U.S. 98,000 troops will be in Afghanistan by fall.

Asked by ABC's Jake Tapper to estimate the number of al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, Panetta said, "I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. At most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity."

Panetta told ABCs' "This Week" that the CIA is heavily focused on killing the al Qaida leadership in Pakistan, and he defended CIA drone strikes against "dead wrong" claims that they violate international law. He said Osama bin Laden is hiding amid the region's rough terrain with "tremendous security around him."

Asked to describe what an American victory would look like in Afghanistan, Panetta said: "Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That's the fundamental goal of why the United States is there. And the measure of success for us is: do you have an Afghanistan that is stable enough to make sure that never happens."

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bth: so where does utility of force come into play?  Shouldn't we be sharpening our objectives and concentrating our effort on al Qaeda and on ANA and ANP training and development in those areas that can support such infrastructure?  Does that require that we occupy and subjugate 14 million Pashtuns?  I think we need to take this opportunity to sharpen our objectives and strategy accordingly

Afghanistan Progress 'Slower' Than Anticipated

Afghanistan Progress 'Slower' Than Anticipated - Political Punch
In an EXCLUSIVE interview on “This Week,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said that making progress in Afghanistan is both “harder” and going more slowly than anticipated.

“There are some serious problems” in Afghanistan, Panetta said. “We’re dealing with tribal societies. We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency,” he said.

But, the CIA director said, the U.S. is making progress in Afghanistan. “It’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated. But at the same time, we are seeing increasing violence,” he told host Jake Tapper.

“Is the strategy the right strategy? We think so,” he said. “I think…the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability. If they can do that, then I think we’re going to be able achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the President is after,” Panetta said.

“This is going to be tough. This is not going to be easy,” he said.

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bth: To follow Panetta's logic our goal would be a less corrupt more efficient narco state.  We aren't addressing narcotics at all.  We are pretending that Karzai was democratically elected and that his brother isn't a narcotic kingpin in his own right.  We should be having our so called Nato allies train hundreds of thousands of ANA and ANP but nothing like that is happening.  We should be addressing a long term revenue strategy for an Afghan government when in fact the only tax stream that is available is the 'tariff' imposed by warlords on goods that pass through critical mountain passes to which the central government gets little if any.  This strategy of bringing good government, indeed centralized government, to Afghans, of building up their armed forces against all odds and of beating the Taliban which has strong local support among Pashtuns is a busted plan.  It is a fraud on the American public.  We need a different set of objectives - something narrower and achievable within our means.  Put simply, what does America Need From Afghanistan?