Saturday, August 28, 2010
Nasser Ahmad al-Bahri says he thinks Yemen's government will need outside intervention to remain in power.
He says recent attacks by Al-Qaeda in southern Yemen are an indication of its increasing strength in the country.
U.S. officials have said the CIA now sees Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen as a greater threat to the United States than its parent organization, whose leaders are thought to hiding out in Pakistan.
Washington is already spending tens of millions of dollars to help Yemen's government fight Al-Qaeda.
On August 25, U.S. officials said unmanned missile-carrying Predator drone aircraft could be added to the fight.
The Vietnam Veterans of America sued the CIA in January 2009, claiming the agency had experimented on soldiers at Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick, Md., testing the effects of mind-controlling drugs.
The VVA says soldiers were treated 'in the same capacity as laboratory rats or guinea pigs.' The underlying federal complaint claims that at least 7,800 soldiers were subjected to 'at least 250, but as many as 400 chemical and biological agents.
This original complaint, filed in January 2009, claimed that "this vast program of human experimentation, shrouded in secrecy," was done without informed consent of the soldier-guinea pigs. "In 1970, defendants provided Congress with an alphabetical list showing that they had tested 145 drugs during Projects Bluebird, Artichoke, MKULTRA and MKDELTA." These drugs included sarin and other deadly nerve toxins, barbiturates, irritants, including cyanide, phosgene nerve gas, LSC, PCP and other psychedelics, THC "about times the then-street strength of marijuana," and tranquilizers.
In its request for sanctions, the Vietnam Veterans claims the CIA stalled discovery, in bad faith, by refusing to turn over requested documents related to the secretive project, without adequate explanation....
The system is designed to shoot down mortars and rockets from Gaza or Southern Lebanon with guided missiles.
The system, called Iron Dome, has gone through testing and installation will start later this year.
According to US State Department figures, direct military aid to Israel was $2.55bn in 2009.
This is set to increase to $3.15bn in 2018.
A White House spokesman reaffirmed what he called the administration's 'unshakeable commitment' to Israel's security - adding that Mr Obama recognised the threat posed by missiles and rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah.
Iron Dome was conceived and developed in Israel following the Lebanon war of 2006, during which Hezbollah launched about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.
Southern Israel has also come under fire, with thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian militants. ...
bth: why is the US taxpayer paying for this system?
Consider the following therapeutic.
I have been assigned as a staff officer to a headquarters in Afghanistan for about two months. During that time, I have not done anything productive. Fortunately little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well.
We are part of the operational arm of the International Security Assistance Force commanded by U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus. It is composed of military representatives from all the NATO countries, several of which I cannot pronounce.
Officially, IJC was founded in late 2009 to coordinate operations among all the regional commands in Afghanistan. More likely it was founded to provide some general a three-star command. Starting with a small group of dedicated and intelligent officers, IJC has successfully grown into a stove-piped and bloated organization, top-heavy in rank. Around here you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a colonel.
For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general's thought processes as abruptly as a computer system's blue screen of death.
The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn't matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.
Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.
Each day is guided by the 'battle rhythm,' which is a series of PowerPoint briefings and meetings with PowerPoint presentations. It doesn't matter how inane or useless the briefing or meeting might be. Once it is part of the battle rhythm, it has the persistence of carbon 14.
And you can't skip these events because they take roll -- just like gym class.
The start and culmination of each day is the commander's update assessment. Please ignore the fact that 'update assessment' is redundant. Simply saying commander's update doesn't provide the possibility of creating a three-letter acronym. It also doesn't matter that the commander never attends the CUA.
The CUA consists of a series of PowerPoint slides describing the events of the previous 12 hours. Briefers explain each slide by reading from a written statement in a tone not unlike that of a congressman caught in a tryst with an escort. The CUA slides only change when a new commander arrives or the war ends.
The commander's immediate subordinates, usually one- and two-star generals, listen to the CUA in a semi-comatose state. Each briefer has approximately 1 or 2 minutes to impart either information or misinformation. Usually they don't do either. Fortunately, none of the information provided makes an indelible impact on any of the generals.
One important task of the IJC is to share information to the ISAF commander, his staff and to all the regional commands. This information is delivered as PowerPoint slides in e-mail at the flow rate of a fire hose. Standard operating procedure is to send everything that you have. Volume is considered the equivalent of quality.
Next month IJC will attempt a giant leap for mankind. In a first-of-its-kind effort, IJC will embed a new stovepipe into an already existing stovepipe. The rationale for this bold move resides in the fact that an officer, who is currently without one, needs a staff of 35 people to create a big splash before his promotion board.
Like most military organizations, structure always trumps function.
The ultimate consequences of this reorganization won't be determined until after that officer rotates out of theater.
Nevertheless, the results will be presented by PowerPoint.
(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a veteran of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently serving his second deployment to Afghanistan. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army or U.S. government.)
bth: the colonel that wrote this article was just kicked out of Afghanistan because of it.
QUETTA: Three NATO oil tankers were attacked on Thursday in Quetta, Kalat and Mastung in which thousands of litres of oil was wasted. According to sources, an oil tanker, carrying fuel for NATO forces was coming from Karachi when unidentified assailants opened fire on it on the RCD highway near Lak Pass area of Quetta. Another oil tanker came under fire near Mongechar area of Kalat district, some 145 kilometres from the provincial capital. Another oil tanker was attacked near Sor Gaz area of Mastung. The attackers were ridding on motorcycles and sprayed the tanker with bullets destroying the fuel. However, no one was injured in the attacks. staff report
Rana Sanaullah, law minister of Punjab province of which Lahore is the capital, said the motive was unclear for the kidnapping of the son-in-law of General Tariq Majid, chairman of the powerful army's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Majid has a largely ceremonial function in the army. But the kidnapping of his son-in-law is likely to add to a sense of deteriorating law and order in the country with an unpopular civilian government, devastating floods and a Taliban militant insurgency. Some six to eight men kidnapped Aamir Malik, a leader of a traders' body, on Wednesday night.
'Multiple teams' of police and security agencies were trying to find him, said Sanaullah, who is also responsible for security matters in the province. 'The kidnappers have not yet made any contact,' Sanaullah said.
Paul Rockwood converted to Islam sometime around 2002, while living in Virginia. Soon after his conversion, he became a strict adherent of the teachings of radical al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki. The cleric's 'Constants on the Path to Jihad' and '44 Ways to Jihad' played an integral role in Rockwood's radicalization. He began the very early stages of his terror planning prior to moving to Alaska in 2006. But it was in Alaska that Rockwood's plot began to take form and his intentions became clearer. ...
Friday, August 27, 2010
Here is the Black-I Robotics LandShark Series UGV at AUVSI 2010 in Denver August 2010. It is in the Textron booth. Textron has developed a Droid mobile phone interface between the LandShark so that limited control of the robot can occur form a Droid cell phone. How cool is that? There are many useful applications such as squad level control of a UGV, sharing images between a UGV and squad members and so on. Fascinating times.
U.S. Government Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records | SFTT: Best body armor, combat boots, helmets, sidearms and weapons for US frontline troops.
U.S. Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records
(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it. (For the complete Courthouse News article, see: http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/08/16/29630.htm )
As supporters of SFTT know, we have, to no avail, for several years requested that these records be reviewed by the appropriate oversight bodies of the US Congress. It was only after this baffling refusal that SFTT’s editor requested the records under the FOIA. To no one’s surprise, DOD denied SFTT’s request. Under the brilliant guidance and with the incredible support of Kirkland & Ellis’ NYC office, SFTT’s editor filed a new request, and that request was basis for the complaint in federal district court upon which the judge issued this ruling.
In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination, and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”
Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)
Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”
It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.
So, why has DOD not released the responsive records, i.e., the Firearm Wound Charts and body armor description sheets?
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The briefing on the latest progress in the war, which covered the period between May 8 and August 8, provides a rare glimpse into an aspect of the Afghanistan war that up until know has only been known by the US government and a few top politicians from other NATO member states. The military officials reported that the commanders and those arrested had been 'taken out of the game.' ...
Other details in the briefing included:
- the fact that, in almost all instances, 82 percent, the elite soldiers struck at night
- the special forces' main target were Taliban structures in the southern part of the country, Jalaluddin Haqqani's terror network in the east and foreign fighters with connections to al-Qaida
- regional Taliban commanders, heads of so-called IED-cells (who attack alliance troops with explosives) and al-Qaida contact persons, have been the subject of targeted air strikes or they have been killed during arrest attempts.
- the special forces, including the successor to the US military's notorious , always act together with Afghan soldiers they had trained....
bth: can we keep up a high night raid assassination program while dialing down the number of troops we have in Afghanistan? I would think that we could and probably should. The logistics train of so many troops, most of whom don't get of the base, suggests to me we should alter our footprint accordingly.
Nightwatch had these comments: "Afghanistan-Denmark-NATO: Today the Danish Foreign Minister said Denmark has turned down a NATO request to send F-16 fighters to Afghanistan because it believes it has done enough for the international military mission there.
"We are one of the countries that contributes the most to Afghanistan," Foreign Minister Lene Espersen told the media after a meeting of parliament's foreign affairs committee. "This is why we rejected the NATO request" which was also made to other member countries, she said.
Espersen said the committee "has a strong desire to scale down engagement" in Afghanistan as the Danish defense budget was "under pressure" and the government "is under no obligation to do more" there. Denmark "can be proud" of its role in Afghanistan, she said, adding that "it's up to other countries to play a role and meet demands".
Comment: Denmark has 750 soldiers in Afghanistan serving in the International Security Assistance Force force, primarily in Helmand province. Its small contingent has sustained, proportionally, the heaviest losses of any ISAF nation with 34 combat deaths. The fight in Afghanistan is not popular in NATO. More countries may be expected to decline further involvement and pursue early withdrawal in 2011."
--- bth: this week I met with a group affiliated with Dutch special forces. I asked him about the Dutch leaving Afghanistan. He said he thought most if not all NATO forces besides the US would leave Afghanistan. He also said that we should expect to see European NATO forces deployed in increasing strength into Africa with a target toward al Qaeda bases there. I don't know if this is true or not, but it would explain recent French government statements on Africa. So the US will focus on Afghanistan and the European NATO forces will focus on Africa it seems.
While some called it the end of the seven-year war, Obama sought to avoid the sort of 'mission accomplished' moment that haunted his predecessor.
But the White House wants to find a way to mark the moment and remind voters just two months before midterm elections that he delivered on his vow to pull out combat forces.
Obama plans to make a high-profile speech on the drawdown next week, and aides are discussing whether to have him meet with returning troops.
Vice President Joe Biden will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis on Monday....
But after seven years of a war started by President George W. Bush on the basis of false intelligence, the desire for finality, and perhaps closure has focused attention on this moment and provoked a fresh discussion in Washington about what it all has meant.
'If we can't have a victory parade, we at least ought to be able to make some definitive conclusions,' said Andrew Bacevich, a military specialist at Boston University who lost a son in Iraq and has written a new book, 'Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War.' 'And it just doesn't seem that we are going to do so. We want to just move on, sadly.'
- -- bth: So we are just moving along. The President wants to take credit for kind of getting us out but can't declare mission accomplished. So just move along folks, nothing to see here. .... Is this what my son died for?
Colorado Public Radio's Zachary Barr has more.
ZACHARY BARR: A robot that looks like a mini tank ambles along the convention center floor. It can frighten you, like by siren. And it can kill you -- several different ways.
RICH LEHMAN: It can shoot you in single shot. It can shoot you with the machine gun if you like -- also use the 40mm on the side there.
Rich Lehman works for QinetiQ, the machine's manufacturer. Hundreds of other companies are here too -- exhibiting robots that crawl, swim and fly.
The unmanned vehicle industry is a $6 billion business, and spokeswoman Linsday Voos says it's looking to get even bigger.
LINDSAY VOOS: You know, when you think about crop dusting -- what a great and efficient way to use an aircraft if you can do it remotely or autonomously.
The trouble is, while public agencies like police and border control can operate unmanned planes -- civilians cannot. So in addition to developing robotic soldiers and crop dusters, the industry's looking to make peace with regulators.
In Denver, I'm Zachary Barr for Marketplace
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
LANDIKOTAL: Five NATO oil-supply tankers were blown up at the Torkham border on Tuesday. On the second consecutive day, in a parking lot at the Torkham border, five oil tankers carrying fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan were blown up by a bomb fixed to one of them. The rest of the tankers caught fire and were burnt totally. No casualties were reported until the filing of this report. More than 150 Afghanistan-bound oil tankers had been parked near the Torkham border for customs clearance on Tuesday when a powerful bomb went off in one of the tankers, turning four more into ashes, a Khasadar Force official said. staff report.
bth: with so many trucks stranded by flooding, one wonders when this number of destroyed tankers will skyrocket.
Sadr who fled to Iran 3 years ago dislikes the Iraqi prime minister. He reportedly told the Iranian leaders that his opposition to a government formed by Maliki is a matter of principle.
Sadr bitterly split from Maliki when the latter allowed American troops to attack his militia members 3 years ago....
bth: one wonders how he maintains his financing besides stealing oil concessions and kidnappings.
“From the beginning to end, it was overall about $10 million that was paid to the kidnappers of the Spaniards,” said the mediator, who asked not to be named....
bth: given how many were killed in the Madrid train bombing you'd think the Spanish government would have grown a pair by now.
The southernmost route used to supply the Kandahar Air Base in southern Afghanistan goes through the town of Sukkur, then to Jacobabad and Quetta, crossing the Afghan border at Chaman. That road is underwater and has been washed away in some areas, and Jacobabad is completely cut off, accessible only by air, said Ejaz Jakaharani, a member of Parliament from Jacobabad.
The other route trucks use to reach the Afghan capital, Kabul, and Bagram Air Base is the Indus Highway, which runs along the right bank of the Indus River from Karachi to Dera Ismail Khan, providing the shortest route to Peshawar and the Afghan border crossing at Torkham. That road is underwater north of the town of Shikarpur and is impassable, said Ali Nawaz, an inspector for the National Highway Authority. Trucks carrying United States military supplies have been forced to use much longer routes, south along the coast of Baluchistan, and up through the center of the country as far as the capital, he said.
As workers laid down truckloads of quarried stone to shore up the road, he said it would take six days just to open the roughly 20 miles of road to Jacobabad, since the water was still flowing fast.
Work would really start properly only when the waters had receded, and it would take months longer to repair and reopen the many other smaller roads throughout the district, he said.
bth: big big problem. Fuel constraints will slow any offensive.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
What started as the arrest of a little-known Karzai aide has become a significant test of the Obama administration’s efforts to root out corruption in Afghanistan, even as it tries not to alienate the Karzai government. The two goals are coming into conflict at a time when American popular support for the war is eroding and frustration in Congress about the Karzai government is rising.
The investigations that led to the arrest last month of the aide, Mohammed Zia Saleh, a member of Afghanistan’s National Security Council, are being carried out by Afghan investigators who are strongly backed by the United States. Mr. Karzai admitted Sunday that he had personally intervened to secure the release of the aide and said he would impose new rules governing the investigators.
Some United States officials and outside experts warned that the escalating tensions between Washington and Kabul could undermine the overall American strategy in Afghanistan, aimed at combating Taliban militias and strengthening government institutions before a planned American military withdrawal beginning next summer.
“The administration is engaged in a delicate balancing act in Afghanistan in which the principal objective is stability,” said David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and national security specialist. “There are a couple of things they need for stability: one is government institutions that people trust and don’t want to overthrow. And the other is government institutions that are strong enough politically to survive.
“And the calculation here is that you need Karzai for the latter and you need anticorruption for the former. The problem is that Karzai is too associated with corruption,” Mr. Rothkopf said, “so if the anticorruption efforts are too vigorous, they will lead to undermining this ally.”...
They came with their blueprints, their engineering know-how and their money. By the time they left in the early 1970s, they had helped build a world-class dam that kept parts of Pakistan dry this month while vast stretches of the country drowned.
'This dam gives great benefit to the nation, and if not for the Americans it would never have been constructed,' said Syed Naimat Shah, a local contractor.
But Shah hasn't seen any new assistance from the Americans in decades, and apparently many Pakistanis haven't, either. The U.S. government has provided about $18 billion in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made this country America's most essential, and vexing, ally. Yet according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month, half of Pakistanis believe the United States gives little to no assistance here.
For Obama administration officials, that's a source of deep anxiety -- and frustration. Pakistan is at the center of U.S. hopes to turn around the flagging Afghan war, but persistent anti-American feelings limit the extent of Pakistani cooperation. On her visit to Pakistan last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mused that Americans must wonder 'why we're sending money to a country that doesn't want it.'
Pakistanis insist they are not ungrateful. They just don't see any tangible impact from the massive sums the United States spends. Unlike assistance from decades ago, the money from the post-Sept. 11 era, Pakistanis say, tends to vanish without a trace.
'Everyone here hates the American government,' said Shah, a spirited 71-year-old with a stark white beard and a sharp tongue. 'I haven't seen a penny of this U.S. assistance.'
Analysts say there are many reasons: poor coordination with the Pakistani government, a lack of understanding of Pakistan's needs and a reluctance to produce iconic projects, lest they become targets for terrorists.
'American assistance is always of a nature that is not seen or felt,' said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. 'How many dams were built? How many highways? Can you touch anything that was built with U.S. assistance?'
U.S. officials say aid money is making a positive impact, if not always a widely noticed one. Since Sept. 11, Pakistan has ranked among the top five recipients of U.S. civilian and military aid, in a group with Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. But they acknowledge the overall criticism and say they are fundamentally changing the way they spend taxpayer dollars here. ...
bth: Perhaps a key reason they don't see it is that its stolen along the way or turned into artillery shells or military equipment. You can almost time the military crisis in Pakistan and a capture of a number 3 or 4 level al Qaeda guy just days before a major aid conference with the US. That entire country is corrupt to the bone.
About every fourth soldier here, where 48,000 troops and their families are based, has been in counseling during the past year, according to the service's medical statistics. And the number of soldiers seeking help for combat stress, substance abuse, broken marriages or other emotional problems keeps increasing.
A common refrain by the Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, is that far more soldiers suffer mental health issues than the Army anticipated. Nowhere is this more evident than at Fort Hood, where emotional problems among the soldiers threaten to overwhelm the system in place to help them.
Counselors are booked. The 12-bed inpatient psychiatric ward is full more often than not. Overflow patient-soldiers are sent to private local clinics that stay open for 10 hours a day, six days a week to meet the demand.
'We are full to the brim,' says Col. Steve Braverman, commander of the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on the post.
PTSD: Hundreds of soldiers incorrectly dismissed
BUREAUCRACY: Benefits process streamlined for vets with PTSD
That doesn't even count those soldiers reluctant to seek care because they are ashamed to admit they need help or the hundreds who find therapy outside the Army medical system, Braverman and other medical officials say.
Officials worry the problems may worsen — for the military and the country.
'If Fort Hood is representative of the Army — and 10% of the Army is assigned to Fort Hood — then if you follow the logic, our numbers should be scalable to any other post in the country,' says acting base commander Maj. Gen. William Grimsley.
'I worry that if we don't see this through the right way over the long haul ... we're going to grow a generation of people 10 or 15 years from now who are going to be a burden on our own society,' he says. 'And that's not a good thing for the Army. That's not a good thing for the United States.'
Statistics provided to USA TODAY by Fort Hood commanders show the explosion of mental health issues here:
•Fort Hood counselors meet with more than 4,000 mental health patients a month.
•Last year, 2,445 soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), up from 310 in 2004.
•Every month, an average of 585 soldiers are sent to nearby private clinics contracted through the Pentagon's TRICARE health system because Army counselors cannot handle more patients. That is up from 15 per month in 2004.
•Hundreds more see therapists 'off the network' because they want their psychological problems kept secret from the Army. A free clinic in Killeen offering total discretion treated 2,000 soldiers or family members this year, many of them officers.
•Last year, 6,000 soldiers here were on anti-depressant medications and an additional 1,400 received anti-psychotic drugs.
'I don't think we fully understand the total effect of nine years of continuous conflict on a force this size,' Chiarelli says, reacting to those statistics....
“The Iranian artillery shelled border regions on Qandil mountains on Wadi Rasoul in Bashdar region, north of Sulaimaniya,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
“The shelling set a nearby forest ablaze,” he added.
The Iranian army is shelling these areas under the pretext they harbor the PJAK fighters.
The PJAK, or the Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan), is a militant Kurdish nationalist group based in northern Iraq that has been carrying out attacks in the Kurdistan Province of Iran and other Kurdish-inhabited areas....
KABUL: Even as conflict rages in Afghanistan, authorities are trying to make life in the capital a little more normal by removing or repositioning Kabul’s ubiquitous concrete blast-prone walls.
Work crews this week began tackling the 10-foot (3-meter)-tall concrete barriers that ring government buildings, embassies, banks and other potential targets in the Afghan capital and sometimes block vehicle and even pedestrian traffic.
The goal is to improve the flow of traffic through the congested city, whose population has tripled to 4.5 million since the Taliban were ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Removal of the walls makes Kabul look less like the capital of a country at war.
In Iraq, a similar move by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki backfired. A drop in violence last year prompted al-Maliki to order most blast walls removed even as critics accused him of lifting security measures prematurely for political purposes.
Walls in Baghdad went back up after a huge bombing in August 2009 that killed about 100 people....
bth: Karzai is likely to regret this move, but not until after the Fall elections
Much of the effort has taken place behind the scenes, with delegations from across Iraq’s fractured political landscape holding talks with senior Syrian figures.
But there have been public manifestations of the diplomacy, most notably when Ayad Allawi and Muqtada al Sadr met in Damascus last month.
It was the first time the two men, both highly influential as leaders of major Iraqi political factions, had ever met face to face. Previously they had been in a state of open war, their forces clashing in 2004 and 2005.
The Allawi-Sadr Damascus summit almost did not happen, coming to pass at the 11th hour after a high level Syrian intervention that persuaded Mr Allawi to make the trip, according to officials in his Iraqiyya bloc.
“Syria did a remarkable thing by breaking the ice and arranging those meetings,” said Mohammad al Gharawi, Syria office director for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which is allied with the Sadr movement. “In the past the Sadrists attitude had been to see Allawi as a red line, they would not meet him, so that is a significant shift.”
Mr Gharawi said ISCI had long urged its coalition partner to hold leadership level talks with Iraqiyya but that it had required painstaking Syrian mediation to make it happen.
“It’s not a small thing to see Muqtada al Sadr and Ayad Allawi shaking hands,” he said. “It may not have solved all the differences between them but it has defused tensions. That’s very positive.”
In order to manage what is a highly complex and important area of policy, Damascus has set up a special Iraq unit with contacts to Iraqi groups and direct access to top Syrian decision-makers. Iraqi politicians who spoke to The National said they were amazed at the depth and detail of knowledge of Iraq’s affairs possessed by the Syrian authorities.
Damascus has cultivated contacts with groups from across the political spectrum, from pro-insurgency rejectionists to government ministers. That has put it in a unique position of being able to reach all factions, Iraqi and Syrian officials said.
During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Syria hosted his political opponents – among them Nouri al Maliki, Iraq’s current prime minister – and rebuffed attempts to have them extradited to Baghdad. More recently, during Mr al Maliki’s rule, Damascus has similarly hosted his opposition – including Saddamists – and has refused demands that they be sent back to Iraq.
“We know that Syria has a close relationship with Iran, but we are still excepted here, Syria sees us as a real fact of Iraqi politics,” said a Saddam Hussein loyalist who remains an active member of the outlawed Iraqi Baath party. The Baathists’ military wing is involved in insurgent activity and is opposed to Tehran’s involvement in Iraq.
But the Baathist said Syria’s wide contacts might one day prove crucial in stabilising Iraq. Those links had already allowed for a cautious unofficial dialogue between representatives of insurgent groups and the governments they are fighting, he said, even if they had yet to yield concrete results.
“More than once the Americans have sent intermediaries to us here to ask about our positions and Mr al Maliki himself sent a delegation to us earlier this year to discuss reconciliation,” the Baathist said. “In the end all of our differences can only be resolved through discussion and Syria has kept that possibility open.”
Damascus’s acceptance of pro-Saddam exiles has led to serious problems with the Iraqi authorities. Perhaps Syria’s most strained Iraq relationship is with Mr al Maliki, who last year accused Damascus of harbouring the bombers behind a deadly attack in Baghdad, an allegation it denied.
While relations remain cool, the two sides have been in dialogue since the election, with at least two delegations from the Iraq Dawa party, which Mr al Maliki heads, holding talks with Syrian officials.
Business between the two governments has also quietly resumed in the form of trade discussions, despite both having withdrawn their ambassadors over the highly public bomb dispute.
Ahmed al Dulaimi, spokesman for Iraqiyya in Damascus, said Syria was wielding its influence to help form a non-sectarian, strong central government.
“The Syrians always warn against the kind of destructive sectarian divisions we’ve seen,” he said. “They back the idea of a national government that represents all of Iraq and that reflects the election results but that is not some weak partnership, created according to sectarian quotas, and unable to make decisions,” Mr al Dulaimi said.
Iran, Syria’s main regional ally, is widely perceived as favouring a sectarian division of power in Iraq, in order to ensure it has a Shiite-controlled, non-threatening neighbour. That has fuelled persistent suggestions that Iran and Syria disagree over Iraq’s future.
In a recent visit to Damascus, Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied reports of a rift, saying the two countries’ positions were “in unison”. His comments did little to tamp down speculation.
“I have it on good authority that Iran is the country most opposed to Syria’s interests in Iraq,” said a Syrian analyst. “Iran wants the Sunnis marginalised in Iraq but Syria doesn’t; an oppressed Sunni minority living next door could make problems here. Syria wants national unity in Iraq.”
With its own large Kurdish minority, Damascus is also keen to ensure that Iraq’s Kurds do not push for independence, something that it fears would threaten Syria’s territorial integrity.
Mustafa Mukdad, managing editor of the Syrian state run daily newspaper Al Thawra, said Damascus had good reason to know what was going on in its war-torn neighbour and in helping it form a stable government.
“When there is peace and quiet in Iraq, Syria will be quiet too,” he said, adding that with a US timetable for complete withdrawal set for the end of 2011, policy differences between Damascus and Washington over Iraq had lessened considerably.
“We have a vested interest in peace and stability,” he said. “It is not about supporting one Iraqi group against the other, it is about trying to make the necessary reconciliation.
“Syria knows Iraq’s problems, it knows all the factions. As the evidence proves, if you don’t have Syria’s help on Iraq, you will not get a solution.”
bth: fascinating to see how Syria positions itself as both spoiler and power broker.
“The movement of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr expressed their approval to nominate Allawi for the prime minister post and to form a new government, while our negotiations with the Movement have reached advanced phases and their results have been positive and fruitful,” Ziyad al-Darb told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
Darb said that al-Iraqiya’s contacts with al-Fadila Party, led by its Secretary-General Hashim al-Hashimi, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) of Shiite leader Ammar al-Hakim “are expected to be settled within one week from now”.
The Iraqi political arena is witnessing continuous differences in viewpoints among the main blocs that won the nationwide March 2010 elections, particularly regarding their competition to win the new prime minister’s post and the formation of the forthcoming government.
The differences are focused mainly between the largest two blocs: al-Iraqiya and the State of Law. None of the two blocs, however, has obtained the parliamentary majority enough to solely form the new government....
bth: anything involving Sadr should be viewed with suspicion.
MQM Leader Altaf Hussan
Generally considered Pakistan’s most liberal major party, the MQM is politically dominant in the Sindh Province and in Karachi in particular. The group has been clashing openly with the ANP, allies of Pakistan’s ruling Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP), in Karachi.
Hussain insisted that the members of the current civilian government amounted to “corrupt feudals” loyal primarily to the United States and insisted that the military should start a “French Revolution” style revolution against the ruling political bloc. He pledged the support of his party to any potential “martial law like steps” taken by the military.
With Pakistan already in turmoil over the floods and facing endless US-mandated wars, the Zardari government seems to be hanging on by a thread, and events allies are starting to concede that the military takeover of some major cities, at least temporarily, is a virtual inevitability.
bth: Every single civilian government in Pakistan has been overthrown by a military coup. It is virtually inevitable.
Monday, August 23, 2010
bth: nice discussion on data presentations using the web
The plan, part of an effort to monitor an outflow of money thought to exceed $1 billion a year, centers on the installation of U.S.-developed currency counters at the Kabul airport. The devices would be used to record serial numbers on bills to determine whether money being carried out of the country has been siphoned from aid funds flowing in, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
Authorities also said they intend to eliminate an arrangement that has allowed top government officials and other well-connected Afghans to board planes -- even while carrying suitcases packed with cash -- without declaring the transfers or being searched.
The measures represent the latest effort to combat rampant corruption in Afghanistan with a combination of sophisticated U.S. technology and expanded enforcement. U.S. government agencies have also provided Afghan units with wiretap equipment that has been used to build corruption cases against senior government officials in Afghanistan, including a top national security adviser to President Hamid Karzai.
It is legal to carry large sums of cash out of Afghanistan, as long as the transfers are declared. But authorities have grown increasingly convinced that much of the money is being siphoned from U.S.-backed aid projects and is swelling secret accounts being set up by Afghan elite in other countries, including the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai.
Source of contention
Concern over corruption in Afghanistan -- where the United States is spending tens of billions of dollars as part of the war effort -- has become a major source of contention between Washington and Kabul.
Karzai has lashed out against investigations that have implicated members of his inner circle and has moved to limit the powers of U.S.-backed anti-corruption teams. On Friday, Karzai pledged to support the units, but he also said in a statement that the teams should be free of "foreign interference or political influence."
Obama administration officials describe the issue as an emerging crisis, with a key congressional panel threatening to withhold $4 billion in aid until it is clear that the money won't be squandered in a country regarded as among the most corrupt in the world.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars leave the country every month in cash," said a senior U.S. official involved in anti-corruption probes. Much of that money "was meant to be spent in Afghanistan. When it's being siphoned off or diverted, then there's no benefit to the Afghan economy or public."...
bth: so if you string the recent articles together you see that with inspection at the Kabul airport increasing, the money is going though the Kandahar airport controlled by Karzai's brother. If that airport is closed down for dollar transfers one can expect to see dollars converted into gold and transferred in that manner. One also has to consider how the heroin lords in Afghanistan are able to pay back their arab financial backers. The money will need to come back to Dubai or Saudi Arabia somehow. In the past I understand it was gold shipments through Iran.
According to a Washington Post report on Friday, U.S. and Afghan authorities, “alarmed by an exodus of money from Afghanistan … are trying to constrict a flow of cash through the country's main airport,' in Kabul. The airport, according to the report, is 'believed to be a major conduit for drug proceeds and diverted foreign aid.”
But a former CIA official who works with Afghanistan's spy service said the airport at Kandahar dwarfs Kabul as an exit point for millions of dollars in pilfered U.S. aid money and drug proceeds. The president's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, president of the provincial council in Kandahar, has been repeatedly accused of controlling the opium trade there.
“The direct Ariana flight from Kandahar to Dubai in its cargo hold carries many bales of U.S. dollars wrapped in burlap,” said the former CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so he could speak freely. “No hand carry. This is AWK’s preferred route.”
“On one day in July,” he added, “one of our guys saw 13 bales of cash being unloaded in Dubai from this flight.”
Karzai, sometimes called 'the King of Kandahar,' has denied his involvement in the drug trade, most recently in an interview Thursday with CBS News.
'No one came up with any proof that I'm involved in any illegal activities,' he said. 'When it comes to drug issues, it's not a legal issue. It is a political issue...'
Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, or NDS, keeps a close eye on meetings between Ahmed Wali Karzai and the CIA, the former CIA official said.
“The NDS has told us where they meet, when they meet, what his monthly salary is, how it is delivered and the names of the two CIA women who do the actual cash transfer,” he said.
The former official, a CIA operations official during his almost four decades in the spy agency, gives the Afghan intelligence service high marks.
'I have read a lot of NDS material by now, and contrary to one’s usual impression about Third-World intel services, they are good (if perhaps not too aware of human rights).'
'One of our non-US guys,' the former official continued, 'had a long friendly chat with the head of NDS, and the NDS head just lit into the stupidity and myopia of CIA. It made me cry.'
The Washington Post, the New York Times and other news media reported last year that Karzai, who controls much in the bellwether province of Kandahar, is a U.S. intelligence asset.....
bth: more and more this is looking like a situation of who controls the cash flow from US aid and heroin. Is that what the Kandahar offensive is about?
In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.
The events surrounding Mr. Baradar’s arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. Some details are still murky — and others vigorously denied by some American intelligence officials in Washington. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan’s postwar political order.
“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.” ...
bth: the military likes to talk about centers of gravity as if they were 19th century Prussian officers. If you had to pick a center of gravity in the Afghan war it wouldn't be the Taliban or al Qaeda. It would be the Pakistani government and in particular the double dealing ISI. This article is worth reading in full.
'Security sucks. Development? Nothing substantial. Information campaign? Nobody believes us. Governance? We've had one, hour-long visit by a government official in the last 2 1/2 months,' the battalion commander says. 'Taliban is the home team here.'
'Here' is 116 square miles (300 square kilometers) of Zhari, a district just west of Kandahar through which the insurgents funnel fighters, drugs, explosives and stage attacks into the city.
It's also an iconic, psychologically significant spot for the Taliban. Just about two miles (three kilometers) south of the main U.S. base of Howz-e-Madad, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar ran an Islamic school, founded the movement in 1994, and nearby hung a warlord from the barrel of a tank after he raped two teenagers.
Senior commanders call the fight for Zhari the next step – Phase 3 – of a wider campaign to pacify Kandahar, the country's second largest city, and surrounding countryside. They argue success in Kandahar could lead to overall victory, given that the Taliban's power base is rooted in this region.
Zhari itself remains insurgent territory despite five major NATO operations in recent years. In September 2006, a Canadian-led force launched a major operation in Zhari and nearby Panjwai district, pushing out the Taliban but at a cost of 28 coalition lives. Months later, the Taliban were back.
Militarily, Benchoff will have to seize the village of Singesar, site of Mullah Omar's school now defended by fortified trenches, mortars and mines, and stop Taliban movements and ambushes along Highway 1 and a parallel dirt road dubbed Iron City. Getting the area's 10,000 inhabitants to sever their links to the Taliban may prove even harder.
With the opening salvo of the push already on the planning boards, perhaps the densest concentration of forces in Afghanistan today has been marshaled: some 1,000 U.S. and 400 Afghan troops, a superb, rarely realized ratio for counterinsurgency operations of one soldier for every 10 civilian residents.
bth: Good grief. So what if the outskirts of Kandahar are controlled by the Taliban? Does it matter to our national interests? We've taken nearly a year to mount this offensive and with a 1:10 troop to population ratio the outcome is ordained, at least for the assault. But why make this such a singular event? Is it a PR stunt for the American public? Is it to control the drug profits? We have under staffed army units all over eastern Afghanistan that need more troops to even hold the ground they have. And if there has been only one meeting with the local government in 2 and a half months, one can assume there is not going to be any local support for the US troops no matter what we do.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
In addition to the beefed up State Department presence, a contingent of 50,000 troops will stay in the country until the end of 2011, and, as the president himself acknowledged in a speech to U.S. veterans earlier this month, Americans will continue to die in Iraq. 'The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq,' he told the veterans, before drumming home his message: 'Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing—from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.'
Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, told me by phone that while the military real estate in the country has been significantly reduced, it is still sizable: there are today 92 operating bases in Iraq, down from a high of more than 500 at one point. Johnson also laid out the impressive workload for the six 'advise and assist' brigades. The troops will continue to train the Iraqi army and police and will also provide help with logistics, air support, and surveillance—operating the ubiquitous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, for reconnaissance as part of the intelligence-gathering operation—as well as provide security for State Department, NATO, and United Nations personnel. And here is the thing that no officials have been keen to talk about: American troops will still participate in counterterrorism operations, because, despite years of training costing billions of dollars, the 660,000 Iraqi security forces still can't operate fully without help.
Iraq is not yet a stable country, and for those 50,000 troops still left behind, the end to major combat operations may feel like a conclusion in name only. They—and we—are still engaged in Iraq.
Judicial officials had for more than a month said Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year, was 'missing' and that his re-trial over Hassan's murder had to be postponed.
'This guy, he escaped from prison,' Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim told AFP. 'People facilitated his escape, he is gone.'
Ibrahim added that 'all the people who facilitated this were arrested and are going to court,' but did not specify how many people were detained, or when Rawi escaped.
Earlier on Sunday, Rawi's re-trial at Baghdad's Central Criminal Court had been adjourned until September 19, with a justice official and a lawyer for Hassan's family saying authorities had not been able to locate the defendant for more than a month.
The lawyer for the victim's family, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the court had sent a letter to the justice ministry to inquire about Rawi's whereabouts.
'Until now, the justice ministry has not sent a reply, so the case was delayed,' the lawyer said....
bth: so was it a month ago that the prison system was turned over to the Iraqis? Note even the lawyer for the Hassan family speaks under condition of anonymity which gives you a perspective on the level of security. Also not the Iraqi government gave the escapee a 1 month head start before admitting the problem.