Saturday, September 25, 2010
More than 250 civilians working under U.S. contracts died in the war zones between January and June 2010, according to a ProPublica analysis of the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Labor, which tracks contractor deaths. In the same period, 235 soldiers died, according to Pentagon figures....
- bth: a fact filled article worth reading in full. We've outsourced the war.
Both companies received separate contracts worth less than $1 million each in early September from the USAF Air Armament Centre (AAC) for an 'NKCE' concept.
Neither company could clarify what NKCE means, but the AAC issued a request for proposals last May for technical information to support the development of a 'non-kinetic counter electronics' capability.
'It is envisioned that the NKCE capability will require an aerial delivery platform for operational flexibility and desired capability to engage multiple targets per mission,' says the AAC acquisition notice.
The new weapon will be used to disrupt or destroy 'electronic equipment deep in the enemy's infrastructure', it adds.
The NKCE concept emerges as Boeing continues to develop an airborne demonstrator called the counter-electronics high-power microwave advanced missile project (CHAMP). The $38 million demonstrator is funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory, and includes ground and flight demonstrations to run through 2012.
The HPM source for the CHAMP missile demonstrator is supplied by a New Mexico-based company called Ktech Corp. Sandia National Laboratories is providing the pulse power system.
- bth: a directed electro-magnetic pulse?
The FBI says it has searched eight homes in Minnesota and Chicago in a terrorism investigation. One of the subjects says the FBI is targeting leaders of the anti-war movement.
FBI spokesman Steve Warfield tells The Associated Press that six warrants in Minneapolis and two in Chicago were served about 7 a.m. Friday. Warfield says the FBI is seeking 'evidence relating to activities concerning the material support of terrorism.'
Minneapolis anti-war activist Mick Kelley says his home was among those searched. He tells the AP he believes the FBI is 'harassing anti-war organizers and leaders' who opposed U.S. intervention in the Middle East and Latin America.
Warfield wouldn't comment on whose homes were searched. But he says the FBI doesn't anticipate any immediate arrests and says there's no 'imminent threat to the community.'
- bth: counter terror or political harassment?
That would be GUSS, the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate vehicle. Currently in development at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va., GUSS is a sensor-loaded remote-controlled cybermule that Marines are using in simulations to haul gear or get their wounded out of danger. You can pre-program a route into GUSS’ navigation system, letting it go off on its own, or direct it Wii-style using a steering-wheel-like controller. Unfortunately, it appears to have at least one big design flaw.
Sure, Johnny Five was a tracked vehicle and GUSS has wheels. (Also, GUSS probably isn’t alive. Yet.) But like the Short Circuit protagonist, GUSS’ main applications operate along a decidedly low-tech principle: just make Marines’ lives easier. Grace V. Jean reports in the latest National Defense that Marine squads training in the Hawaii heat with GUSS carrying their water supplies were able to complete more practice patrols than those who had to haul their water themselves. Thanks, robot!
He’s even got a counterinsurgency mode. Marines conducting a sit-down with mock Afghan villagers rested their gear on him so that they didn’t look so menacing. Maybe a future model will eat soup with a knife.
On the other hand, GUSS’ eyes aren’t so great and it gets tired fast. “You’d kick up dust in front of it and for some reason the sensors would look at that cloud of dust as a wall,” Sergeant Benjamin Johns tells Jean. “And it’ll stop for anywhere from one to five minutes.”
Kind of a big design flaw, albeit one that flows from an understandable reason. According to our friend David Axe, who checked in on GUSS in July, when GUSS is in full autonomous mode, it doesn’t rely on GPS to get from place to place, thereby avoiding roadblocks or other travel pitfalls that GPS guidance can’t foresee. Its sensors follow Marines as they go on missions, meaning it’s got to go off-road when the Marines do, another thing that occasionally foils GPS. Alas, GUSS’ sensors have to be able to tell the difference between dust and brick if it’s to be useful.
As Axe notes, the Army backed away from using a robo-mule after wasting millions building models that couldn’t handle rugged terrain. And GUSS wouldn’t be the Corps’ first unsuccessful experiment with robots: its gun-toting Gladiator never made it past the testing stage. GUSS is a some unknown time away from being sent into action, so tests and future upgrades will have to determine whether the Marines are finally going to get their own robot pals.
- bth: this in fact is a pretty good idea within technical reach. I'd suggest however the best place to start is in the base perimeter instead of in combat. This is because the terrain is known, the coordinates identified and the need for all terrain capabilities is less.
The plane -- which had 273 people onboard and was flying from Canada to Pakistan -- landed after a caller told authorities that a passenger had explosives with him.
All passengers were later evacuated from the plane, Stockholm Police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said.
The man in custody is suspected of 'preparation of aviation sabotage,' Lindgren said, adding that no explosives had been found yet.
'Right now we are still searching through the plane and the baggage, but we have found no expolsives on the man,' he said.
He said police still are determining what exactly was said during the call that forced the plane to land. 'Our priority is to find out what happened on that plane,' Lindgren said.
The man was arrested in a 'very nondramatic fashion' as passengers filed off the plane, he added. While the man was carrying a passport, police are still investigating his identity....
Al-Hazza claimed that the measure will cut down on libel and defamation and is not intended to limit freedom of speech.
However Saudi Arabia has a checkered history when it comes to Internet censorship, and old media is currently very regulated. The government heavily controls the few newspapers in operation and traditional journalists can be detained if they cross the line.
While the Saudi government has arrested bloggers critical of Saudi life and censored activist Twitter pages in the past, this is the first attempt at regulating online media as a whole. As blogging becomes more popular, Saudi Arabian authorities are starting to treat it with the same caution and restriction applied to traditional media in the country....
Friday, September 24, 2010
bth: unauthorized navy stunts caused significant damage to 2 new helicopters. ... Time to get rid of two naval aviators.
The connection itself is cash for these lobbying firms -- especially when the lawmaker is still in office. A new study from the London School of Economics finds that when a U.S. senator leaves the Hill, the lobbyists who used to be his staffers make 24 percent less money for their firms. That amounts to $177,000 less per lobbyist per year.
'Jesus,' said retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). 'The next year? I better tell that to my staff,' he joked. 'Don't go to K Street.'
- bth: $740K is the price of privileged access in DC. This is a price normal Americans can't pay nor should they be expected to do have access to their elected representatives. But there it is, the price of access - before taxes. How do we prevent this from continuing?
The University of Illinois on Thursday denied 1960s radical William Ayers emeritus faculty status after trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy noted Ayers dedicated a book to, among others, the man who killed Kennedy's father, Robert F. Kennedy.
All nine voting trustees either opposed granting Ayers, a recently retired University of Illinois-Chicago professor, the largely honorary status or abstained from the vote. Universities often grant emeritus status to distinguished retired faculty members. At Illinois it doesn't come with any monetary benefits, spokesman Tom Hardy said.
Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group held responsible for a series of bombings during the Vietnam War era, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol...
- bth: I can't believe anyone things Ayers is academic material much less honorary emeritus status. He tried to kill other Americans. His book dedications were just insulting to the Kennedy family and most Americans.
Col. Robert Saum is being replaced as acting director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, the official said. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Saum has been accused by an office employee of unwanted sexual advances and creating a hostile workplace. The Pentagon inspector general is investigating.
In a brief statement, Dr. George Peach Taylor, director of the military's health care program, said Saum will report to Taylor's deputy, Rear Adm. Christine Hunter. Taylor did not address the allegations against Saum and did not say what Saum's duties would be in his new assignment.
Saum is a highly decorated officer with a doctorate in cognitive studies, according to his official military biography, which has been removed from the Defense Centers of Excellence website. Saum was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
Saum had been acting director of the Defense Centers of Excellence since late June. He replaced Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, who abruptly resigned amid heavy criticism on Capitol Hill that the office had not moved quickly enough to improve care for troops.
Injuries caused by roadside bombs and combat stress are the signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq....
- bth: this hugely important position has an ass chasing clown running it? What a horrible situation. When Mr. Fischer donated an entire brain trauma center to the Army last summer he couldn't get senior military or civilian leadership to show up. Now we've got this guy Saum seemingly doing everything but his job. Someone told me recently there are great brain trauma specialists available; unfortunately none of them were in the military. FUBAR.
WASHINGTON — Plans by the British government to make significant cuts in defense spending have spurred concerns among American military experts about Britain’s ability to carry out its role as the United States’ most dependable ally.
A wrenching government spending review has pitted Britain’s army against its navy, spawned a series of leaks to the British media and raised the question of whether the military that emerges from the budget cuts — expected to be 10 percent to 20 percent of current outlays — will be a strategically agile force that can join the United States on major combat operations.
American and British officials said that they did not expect any cutbacks to curtail Britain’s capabilities to fight in Afghanistan over the next five years. But some American military experts question whether the British military will be capable of undertaking future ground operations that are as demanding as those in Afghanistan or to carry out simultaneous operations, including risky humanitarian missions, effectively.
With other European nations embarking on substantial military spending retrenchments, and the Obama administration committed to acting in concert with allies whenever possible, the British spending review has received high-level attention in Washington, including in a meeting on Wednesday between Liam Fox, the British defense minister, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Mr. Fox told reporters later that, after any cuts, the British military would be able to respond to a broad array of threats and retain capabilities particularly valued by the Pentagon. He identified those as Britain’s Special Forces, its nuclear deterrent, its participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program and its ability to deploy substantial forces when needed....
-- bth: the Brits can't provide helicopters and armored vehicles to their soldiers in Afghanistan now. How would a 10% cut improve this situation. The Brits are simply sliding into military irrelevance. They do not have enough troops, equipment or money to remain relevant. A crying shame really.
The New York court found Aafia Siddiqui guilty of the attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan in a case that sparked outrage in Pakistan.
'We are disappointed and saddened by the sentence but the government has not given up,' foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP, hours after Siddiqui's family vowed to launch a 'movement' to get her released from jail.
The tough jail term sparked immediate outrage in Siddiqui's hometown of Karachi and in Lahore, where hundreds of activists demonstrated, chanting anti-US slogans. Further protests were expected on Friday.
'We are continuing efforts to get Aafia Siddiqui repatriated to Pakistan,' the foreign ministry spokesman said....
- bth: what I find odd is that the Paki government would be taking a stand on her sentencing.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Yes, he responded, "That's correct."
bth: Maj. Gen. Schloesser appears to be an honorable man with moral integrity. A rare characteristic. I respect his decision. I hope he was able to apply some lessons learned from Wanat to other bases in his region so that the debacle is not repeated.
But the review, commissioned after an embarrassing and disruptive episode, does not wholly resolve who was responsible for the inflammatory quotations, most of which were anonymous.
The Army review has been turned over to a higher-level inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general, because the matter involves not only a four-star general but several subordinates outside the Army.
The Army report, which has not been released, points some blame at a mid-level Navy special warfare officer who served as an aide to General McChrystal, according to Army, Pentagon and other military officials. But that officer was never interviewed by the Army’s investigators, and so was blamed based on the comments of others. The officer has told Navy officials that he did not make the offending comments, according to Pentagon officials.
The actions or comments of two civilians on the general’s team were criticized by the Army review, officials said. ...
- bth: this is an Army whitewash. One wonders why have an investigation at all? So no one in the Army was insubordinate but the finger is pointed by the Army officers at the Navy officers and civilians who are beyond the scope of the Army investigation. What a convenient pant load. Why bother? ...
The Haqqani Network fighters gathered near Combat Outpost Spera and prepared to open fire on the base 'with small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire,' Combined Joint Task Force - 101 stated in a press release. But the Haqqani Network fighters were observed as they moved into position to attack.
'Both remotely piloted aircraft and strategically placed surveillance cameras identified the insurgent forces preparing to open fire with a mixture of small arms and rocket propelled grenades,' CJTF-101 stated. Helicopters from an Attack Weapons Team from Task Force Viper, 1st Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, were dispatched and routed the Haqqani Network fighters.
ISAF stated that between 25 to 30 'insurgents' were killed, while CJTF-101 put the number at 27. No US or Afghan troops were reported to have been killed or wounded in the fighting.
The Haqqani Network has carried out four major attacks against heavily defended US outposts in eastern Afghanistan since the end of August.
On Aug. 28, Haqqani Network fighters launched coordinated attacks against Forward Operating Bases Salerno and Chapman in Khost province. US and Afghan troops routed the Haqqani Network fighters, killing more than 35, including a commander, during and after the attacks. Several of the fighters were wearing US Army uniforms, and 13 were armed with suicide vests. US forces killed and captured several commanders and fighters during raids in the aftermath of the attacks.
And on Sept. 2, the Haqqani Network attempted to storm Combat Outpost Margah in the Bermel district of Paktika province. US troops repelled the attack with mortar and small-arms fire, then called in helicopter gunships to finish off the attackers; 20 were reported killed.
- bth: compare these defensive 'victories' against the debacle at Wanat where intelligence of impending attacks were ignored or dismissed. Also the availability of more UAV recon seems to be making a difference vs 2008 when those resources were largely in Iraq. Maybe we are finally getting our UAV and ground intel into synch and perhaps pulling in some of our outlying bases and focusing on those that are defensible may be making a difference in outcomes. Finally perhaps Haqqani's network is trying to kill off its lower grade troops and volunteers before it has to pay them over the winter. It should be remembered that Queen Elizabeth left her sailors on ships for months after the Armada was completed so that their ranks could be thinned by disease, as the crown did not have enough money to pay all the crews until nature had done what the Spanish had not - thin the payroll.
The presumed loser, of course, is the United States, whose wealth and influence are being spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose economic troubles have eroded its standing in a more dynamic Asia.
But rising frictions between China and its neighbors in recent weeks over security issues have handed the United States an opportunity to reassert itself — one the Obama administration has been keen to take advantage of.
Washington is leaping into the middle of heated territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations despite stern Chinese warnings that it mind its own business. The United States is carrying out naval exercises with South Korea in order to help Seoul rebuff threats from North Korea even though China is denouncing those exercises, saying that they intrude on areas where the Chinese military operates.
Meanwhile, China’s increasingly tense standoff with Japan over a Chinese fishing trawler captured by Japanese ships in disputed waters is pushing Japan back under the American security umbrella.
- bth: fascinating how this ebbs and flows
--- bth: this is worth reading in full. These rare earths are critical to high performance and light weight motors for electric cars, electronics, windmills, etc. This is not to be taken lightly.
Despite continuing high levels of violence in Afghanistan and ebbing popular support for the war effort, the often heated debate surrounding the war strategy has moderated in recent weeks. Both administration and Pentagon officials portray a December review of the strategy as unlikely to produce any major changes in approach. 'This will be about fine-tuning,' said a senior Pentagon official. 'It is not going to be another review like the fall.'
The next major question facing Obama is how quickly he will begin to pull troops out of Afghanistan after July 2011, his stated deadline to begin the withdrawal process. Petraeus, who took over as top commander in Afghanistan this summer, has advocated a gradual removal as responsibility for security is shifted to the Afghans.
Gates and Petraeus have said that the U.S. troop surge and strategy focused on protecting the Afghan people from Taliban insurgents appear to be showing tentative signs of progress.
But concerns remain about the competence of the Afghan security forces and President Hamid Karzai's government, which is deeply unpopular among Afghans and perceived as corrupt. Most military officials in Afghanistan cite poor governance and corruption as the major factors driving the insurgency. Although the United States is engaged in large-scale operations to drive the Taliban from population centers in the south and the east, military officials complain that there is still no coherent strategy to deal with governance and corruption problems.
- bth: the fact is the 'surge' in Afghanistan was more a budget calculation than a hard estimate of the number of troops required (likely over 250k). The math could be worked out on an envelope. It costs 2 times as much to put a soldier in Afghanistan as Iraq. We were pulling about 100K troops out of Iraq offset by an increase in contractors. So how many troops being withdrawn from Iraq can go to Afghanistan to keep the DOD budget flat or higher? Well less than 50K troops. Given the need for more contractors in Iraq, a desire not to increase the budget given our downsizing in Iraq and our need to slow the troop rotation in order to avoid burnout ... well it leaves us with less than 50K. When you factor in the 15K troops that were sent before the 30K troops, you get about 45K soldiers in Afghanistan more than 2 years ago and a generally flat DOD budget. Do the math.
The existence of the teams is disclosed in 'Obama's Wars,' a forthcoming book by longtime Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. But, more broadly, interviews with sources familiar with the CIA's operations, as well as a review of the database of 76,000 classified U.S. military field reports posted last month by the Web site WikiLeaks, reveal an agency that has a significantly larger covert paramilitary presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan than previously known. ...
- bth: to me this makes a lot of sense. I don't see the issue being raised by the press other than that this force has existed for years and been largely unreported.
AMERICA'S top general in Afghanistan has dampened expectations of plans for troop withdrawal starting next year.
General David Petraeus told The Times that Mr Obama's deadline of July 2011 for the start of a drawdown would in fact be the start of a "process", and and described a major policy review ordered by President Obama as little more than a "mid-course assessment".
"It is not a date when we rush for the exit and reach for the light switch to turn it out before leaving the room," as he reserved the right to set his own timetable based on conditions on the ground.
His remarks came as a new book by Bob Woodward exposed deep divisions within the Obama Administration over US goals in Afghanistan and whether the President's high-risk surge strategy can achieve them.
According to Obama's Wars, the new Commander-in-Chief had to fight off requests from the Pentagon for more troops even after authorising the deployment of 30,000 extra US soldiers.
The hybrid counter-insurgency strategy that he settled on was then attacked by his most senior civilian adviser, with Richard Holbrooke quoted as saying that the strategy "can't work".
The book also reveals that the CIA has created a 3,000-strong covert paramilitary Afghan force with orders to hunt al-Qa'ida targets inside Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.
General Petraeus offered a staunch defence of his counter-insurgency strategy, but admitted that the campaign caused him frustration and impatience.
He is under pressure to demonstrate that his tactic of pouring additional forces into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, secure the country and create a stable government is working.
"I am conscious of the fact that the Afghan clock doesn't always move quite as rapidly as folks in other locations would like to see it move and as we would like to see it move," he said.
"There are clocks in Washington and in London and other capitals that are also ticking rapidly. Our job obviously is to do the best we can to produce progress to show that this is the right approach and that it has the best prospect of achieving our important objectives here in Afghanistan."
Asked whether he was worried about waning public support for a war that has lasted nine years, General Petraeus said: "We are obviously conscious of the strategic context in which we carry out this campaign. We feel the same frustration and impatience that citizens do... but again I think we also recognise the importance of the mission here. There's no question between this mission and the link to September 11, 2001, or to the attacks in your country."
President Obama and David Cameron have already said that they want to start pulling out troops by next July. General Petraeus, however, described the date as merely the start of a "process".
The commander said that he would provide an assessment of the state of the campaign and future plans at a Nato summit in Lisbon in November - a meeting that he thought would perhaps have greater prominence than a planned US review of the strategy by President Obama in December.
"I think is more what one would call a mid-course assessment," he said.
bth: Gen. Petraeus discusses timelines as something he determines and dismisses all others as needless noises and distractions that need to be pounded to get another 10 minute snooze. When he runs for President he can set these timelines. In the meantime President Obama has the say, or should, if this were a democracy. ... Petraeus is setting the stage for a Republican run for President and to say that he won Iraq and Obama lost Afghanistan.
The two departments are now scrambling to fix the problem which defence sources say was caused by poorly written requirements produced by inexperienced procurement officials.
The vehicles rejected include some of those being used in combat by Canada's allies in Afghanistan.
The problem with the Close Combat Vehicle procurement project centres on the Defence Department's requirement that firms prove the armour on their vehicles can meet a particular military standard. But the standard being used by the Defence Department is so new that the vehicles, while already meeting some of the toughest NATO standards of protection, have not been tested to the appropriate level.
Vehicles disqualified in the Canadian competition included those offered by German, French, U.S. and British firms.
Public Works and the Defence Department will now rewrite the qualifications to drop the reference to the specific standard, instead using existing NATO armour protection levels, sources say.
It's not clear whether the problem will cause a delay in the procurement. ...
- bth: so what has happened is that soldiers from Canada will die in Afghanistan over the next year because they have shitty equipment, but the government has decided that it will let them get blown up instead of spending the money needed to get them proper equipment. I'll bet money this whole regulation delay is just an attempt to keep the budget down - unfortunately by killing Canadian soldiers.
The latest quarterly report by the government, which covers the period from April 1 to June 30, also notes the assassination of several Afghan officials and an 'early escalation of the fighting season.'
'This quarter was marked by a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, with increasing insurgent violence and intimidation targeting civilians, the assassination of several officials from Afghan government institutions and civil society, and an early escalation of the fighting season,' states the report, referring to the security situation as 'increasingly volatile.'...
Canada is scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan next year....
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
- bth: I wonder if this correlates with the meeting a few days ago with the King of Saudi Arabia. Was there a warning from him of an impending problem? One always wonders about timing of such things.
...Afghanistan: The Governor of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan said on 21 September that the militant group Hizb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (HiG) not the Taliban, is responsible for most of the violence and instability in the north. Governor Ata Mohammad Nur said the lack of responsible leadership in security institutions, uncoordinated and ineffective military policies and operations, and night raids have strengthened opponents of the government.
Nur said about half of Hizb-i-Islami's members have joined with the government, but the other half are causing insecurity and violence.
Comment: By reputation, Nur is one of several "warlord" governors in the north. They reportedly obtained significant land holdings in the interim period between the last Taliban offensive against the Tajiks in the north in 2001 and the return of refugees from Pakistan to reclaim their farms after US special forces and Uzbek militias routed the Taliban.
Land expropriation in the north by Tajik and Uzbek strong men in late 2001 and thereafter is one of the most serious, least reported and unaddressed problems left over from the overthrow of the Taliban. In the north, it is a major factor contributing to Pashtun support for the Taliban.
Nur's statement that HiG has split is accurate, but even those that joined the government are for sale and usually in the service of Nur as protection and tax collectors. Nur, which means "enlightened," previously was known only as Atta Mohammad and was an ethnic Tajik militia leader. He remains an enemy of Karzai and the Pashtuns.
Nur's exoneration of the Taliban implies that he is making deals with his enemies as he sees fit and outside the control of the central government. Identification of HiG in this fashion indicates Nur has not yet found the price for buying off the HiG remnants, as he has the Taliban. Pashtuns live in several enclaves in Balkh, mainly in Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the largest cities in northern Afghanistan.
Balkh is relatively free of insurgent violence, mainly because Nur uses ancient tactics to maintain the peace: bribery or extermination and confiscation of land. Balkh is not a cradle of good government in a western sense, but it is much less violent than most provinces...
-- bth: I find Nightwatch has insightful analysis and is well worth a daily read.
The Pentagon quietly announced yesterday that Rear Admiral Kathleen Dussault is out as commander of Task Force 2010, a unit co-established by General David Petraeus to ensure that the military’s contracting dollars in Afghanistan don’t inadvertently fund corrupt businesses, warlords or insurgents. A congressional report issued shortly before her arrival found that the U.S.’ lack of visibility into the practices of its often-shady subcontractors undermines Afghan stability. In an interview with Danger Room shortly after arriving in Kabul in June to stand up the command, Dussault predicted that getting the military out of the thicket of unintended kickbacks to “powerbrokers” and the Taliban would require “limiting some partnerships that we’re in right now, apply more controls in a number of them, and in some cases, we’re going to need to walk away from some providers.”...
- bth: all the feel of a whitewash for PR sake. We aren't really willing to address contractor corruption because we aren't willing to 1) acknowledge how we fund the taliban to get our supplies through Pakistan and 2) we can't confront Karzai et al.
Economic Talks on Hold: Netanyahu Gets The Cold Shoulder From Brussels - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
Israeli diplomatic overtures aimed at bettering relations with Europe have failed. The European Union is not prepared to deepen cooperation with Israel on political and economic issues, despite Israeli expectations that it would do so in response to the resumption of Middle East peace talks at the start of the month.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to widen the range of Israeli products getting duty free status in the EU. But for the time being, Brussels does not want to resume talks about improving ties after negotiations were suspended following the war in Gaza in January 2009 and the subsequent election of the hardliner Netanyahu.
The snub from Brussels follows a political miscalculation by Netanyahu. While Netanyahu's government considered the mere meeting between the prime minister and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington this month to be a milestone, the Europeans are deeply skeptical about the talks.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, didn't even deem it necessary to travel to the United States for the meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas.
Instead of symbolic gestures, Europe is demanding that real advances be made in the peace process. At last week's EU summit in Brussels, EU foreign ministers demanded that Israel extend the moratorium on building settlements in the West Bank beyond September. So far, though, Netanyahu is refusing to do that.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The U.S. ranked first three months ago in the last quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll. Along with the slipping perceptions of the U.S. markets in the most recent survey, conducted Sept. 16-17, poll respondents say the Federal Reserve is likely to take further steps to try to bolster the economy.
In the September poll of 1,408 investors, analysts and traders who are Bloomberg subscribers, respondents rate the U.S. fourth for potential returns over the next year, behind Brazil and China, tied for first, and India, in third place.
The U.S. economic situation “is obviously unsustainable, and the concerted attempt to suspend disbelief is playing increasingly poorly abroad,” says poll respondent Eric Kraus, chief strategist for Otkritie Brokerage House in Moscow. “One can delay, but no one can forestall the unwind of a multidecade credit bubble.” ...
John Brennan, assistant to US President Barack Obama for homeland security and counter-terrorism, discussed in Jeddah on Sunday 'issues that concern the two countries' with King Abdullah, Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, the state news agency said without elaborating.
Afterward, Brennan held talks with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, the country's senior domestic security official for 35 years. ...
- bth: so what does this mean?
But the Americans decided to abandon the posts, instead concentrating their troops in four major bases from which they could conduct operations.
On Monday commanders handed over responsibility for the volatile town that had claimed 106 British lives, a third of the total killed in Afghanistan. The move, announced in July, was described as a “tactical realignment and rebalancing”, which would allow Britain’s 10,000 troops to concentrate their strength in more the more populous central Helmand.
Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, said British forces should be “very proud of the achievements they have made in one of the most challenging areas of Afghanistan”. But British military sources criticised the Americans, saying they were abandoning parts of Sangin where the locals had been won over. The move would also allow the Taliban to lay more explosive devices along Route 611, the main trade artery in Sangin. “It’s a hard pill to swallow that the Rifles put so much sweat and blood into establishing these patrol bases only for them to be dismantled by the Americans,” said a recently returned officer.
“They are trying a new approach but it was one tried by us in the past and led to troops being tied to just the outskirts of town and gave the Taliban the chance to plant IEDs virtually wherever they wanted.” Some of the forts would be handed over to Afghan forces, while others were likely to be taken over by the Taliban.
The departure of British troops from Sangin was the latest handover to US marines, who have come to dominate military efforts in northern Helmand in the past year. Since the first of 20,000 US troops arrived in the province two years ago, they have taken over the towns of Garmsir, Nowzad, Musa Qala, Kajaki dam and now Sangin.
Maj Gen Richard Mills, the American commander in Helmand, said his forces had inherited “a solid security bubble” from the British. “They are leaving strong professional relationships with the people and the Afghan forces in Sangin,” he said.
David Cameron said yesterday that British soldiers who lost their lives in Sangin “did not die in vain”. The Prime Minister hailed the “magnificent job” done by British troops, and rejected suggestions that Britain had failed in its mission.
Col Richard Williams, the former SAS commanding officer, said British forces had “overreached” themselves by going into Sangin. He said the force of 3,300 troops sent to Helmand in 2006 was sufficient only to hold Lashkar Gah, and should not have been deployed to nine further centres.
bth: the Brits never had enough troops or equipment for the territory they took responsibility for. And the sad fact is the Brits are very likely to be pulling out of Afghanistan in due course anyway.
While American air operations in Iraq show little sign of letting up, the U.S. air war over Afghanistan continues to escalate, military statistics indicate. Last month, U.S. pilots went on 3,200 “close air support” sorties over Afghanistan, about 30 percent more than August, 2009’s total. Those airmen dropped bombs or fired weapons on 500 different missions, a 25 percent increase from last year.
Monday, September 20, 2010
The FBI counter-terrorism records show political activists were secretly photographed and FBI agents staked out their homes. Agents went through activists' garbage and their cell phone and motor vehicle records. The records also show other law enforcement officials documented activists as they visited libraries, food stores, restaurants, taverns and a church.
The Des Moines Register reported the contents of the more than 300 pages of records Monday. The FBI documents were provided to the newspaper by former University of Iowa Antiwar Committee member David Goodner, who obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The records are heavily redacted, but the newspaper reports that they show federal authorities thought the Iowa City activists were part of a national network of radicals who wanted to disrupt the GOP convention in Minnesota and the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The records show the investigation lasted from March to December in 2008....
Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s announcement on September 8, 2010, that the Taliban was close to victory against NATO should not be dismissed. The Taliban have the military capacity to shut down the NATO supply links to Pakistan and other adjoining countries. NATO and American forces have such exorbitant daily supply needs that the Taliban could force some or potentially most Western forces to retreat from Afghanistan within 30 days.
Western military supplies (other than ammunition, weapons, communications gear and some spare parts, which apparently are all air-lifted) filter into Afghanistan through a small number of mountain passes and then are internally redistributed through a poorly constructed and insecure “ring road” system. On June 20, 2009, Major-General Michael Tucker, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of ISAF in Kabul, told Philip Smucker of the Asia Times (for his story Afghanistan’s Road to Somewhere), that:
“Security in Afghanistan is ultimately defined by our ability to build and defend the ring road.”
He was correct and the Taliban know it. As seen in the daily military incident reports, the Taliban have spent years practicing and perfecting their road interdiction tactics. NATO and American forces do not possess the manpower to patrol 3,000+ kilometers of primary roads. In contrast, the Taliban possess the capacity to cut, block and disrupt this road system. The bridges, overpasses, tunnels and passes are especially vulnerable to sabotage during the winter months....
bth: it is very difficult to win a war when the enemy can cut off your supply lines at will.
According to Israel's army radio, the prime minister's office has approached Washington with a deal to continue the moratorium for another three months in return for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying in 1987. Binyamin Netanyahu, has long pressed for Pollard to be freed, but winning his release would help him sell concessions to rightwing members of his cabinet and the settlers....
Sami Samir Hassoun, 22, a Lebanese citizen living in Chicago, was charged with one count each of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of an explosive device....
bth: at last a few good questions to the president.
WASHINGTON – The FBI gave inaccurate information to Congress and the public when it claimed a possible terrorism link to justify surveilling an anti-war rally in Pittsburgh, the Justice Department's inspector general said Monday in a report on the bureau's scrutiny of domestic activist groups.
Inspector General Glenn Fine said the FBI had no reason to expect that anyone of interest in a terrorism investigation would be present at the 2002 event sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a nonviolent anti-war and anti-discrimination group.
The surveillance was "an ill-conceived project on a slow work day," the IG stated in a study of several FBI domestic terrorism probes of people affiliated with organizations such as Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker.
Earlier, in statements to Congress and in a press release, the FBI had described the Pittsburgh rally surveillance by one agent as related to a terrorism investigation.
In a letter to the IG, FBI Deputy Director Timothy Murphy said the FBI regrets that inaccurate information was provided to the FBI director and Congress regarding the basis for the agent's presence at the rally.
Speaking generally of the FBI probes it studied, the IG said a domestic terrorism classification has far-reaching impact because people who are subjects of such investigations are normally placed on watchlists and their travels and interactions with law enforcement may be tracked.
The FBI has broad definitions that enable it to classify matters as domestic terrorism that actually are trespassing or vandalism, the inspector general said.
The IG said the evidence did not indicate that the FBI targeted individuals involved with the groups on the basis of their free-speech activities protected by the Constitution's First Amendment, but rather due to concerns about potential criminal acts.
The IG also concluded that the factual basis for opening some investigations was factually weak and that in several instances there was little indication of any possible federal crime, as opposed to state crimes. In some cases, the IG found that the FBI extended the duration of probes without adequate basis and in a few cases the FBI improperly retained information about the groups in its files, classifying some probes relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its "Acts of Terrorism" classification.
Regarding the Pittsburgh rally, controversy erupted in 2006 over whether the FBI had spied on protesters at the event several years earlier because of their anti-war views....
bth: Amazing how easy it is for the feds to chuck civil liberties right out the window.
'As item by item comes out, we ask if it is excess to the Army's requirements,' Maj. Gen. George Harris, an official in the office of the Secretary of the Army, said. 'If it is excess, then let's see if this is something Iraq needs.'
Officials said the equipment was provided to the Iraq Army to accelerate independence. They said a much greater amount of U.S. equipment was transferred to Afghanistan.
"It is to our advantage to have the Iraqi Army capable of standing on its own sooner rather than later," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, deputy chief of staff of G4, said.
Stevenson said 559 up-armored Humvee combat vehicles have been transferred to the Iraq Army. He said the Army has also been trained to operate and maintain the vehicles.
Officials said the U.S. military has pledged to transfer 8,500 Humvees to Iraqi security forces. They said about 7,000 vehicles have already been relayed with the rest expected to arrive by late 2011.
"If that meant giving them some of our equipment to enable them to develop their minimum essential capability so they could operate after we left — that is what we needed to do," Stevenson said. "We have in fact done some of that."
bth: a couple of years ago when we were trying to get funding for armored vehicles, we proposed this very method of disposition. It made so much sense since it had been done with other countries like Vietnam and Korea, but it met stiff resistance from the army brass who were probably trying to keep the war costs down for Rumsfeld. After Gates took over that nonsense ended. What I don't understand however is why we aren't selling this equipment to Iraq? Its used and should be discounted, but Iraq is too rich to get stuff like this for free. While we are at it we should sell them some MRAPs too as they are well suited for Iraq and less so in Afghanistan. Reportedly we have thousands lined up in depots in Kuwait.
In Nov. we will know if a "party of no" strategy was better than a "party with an alternative" strategy.
In an Associated Press poll released last week, 38 percent of respondents approved of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, while 60 percent disapproved - not exactly where any party wants to be this close to an election. The ratings for Republicans in Congress, however, were even worse, with 31 percent approving and 68 percent disapproving. A New York Times/CBS News survey released last week also showed congressional Democrats' approval rating at a measly 30 percent, while congressional Republicans' sat at a ghastly 20 percent.
And in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this month, voters expressed a distinct desire not to reelect incumbents in either party. Just 34 percent said Democrats deserved reelection, while 31 percent said Republicans did. The deep unpopularity of the GOP brand is one of the last vestiges of hope for Democrats seeking to retain their majorities in the House and Senate in what - if history is any guide - is shaping up to be a difficult midterm election season for the party.
There is no great affection for the Republican Party in this country, a senior Obama administration official said last week. That creates the opportunity for competitive races district by district.
The official noted that the GOP's unpopularity marks a critical difference between the election this November and 1994, when the party's sweep of more than 50 seats won it the majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. Then, the official argued, Republicans had been out of power for more than four decades and voters were ready to try something different. This time, voters know what they would be getting with Republicans in charge and don't like it, the source said....
According to Seattle Weekly, which originally published an illustration by cartoonist Molly Norris entitled 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,' Norris was told by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to 'go ghost.'
'On the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI,' Norris is 'moving, changing her name and essentially wiping away her identity,' a Seattle Weekly report said on Thursday. The Seattle office of the FBI did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric linked to Al Qaida and thought to be hiding in Yemen, said this summer on a website that social satirist Norris was a 'prime target.' Awlaki said in the June issue of 'Inspire', an English-language magazine for American Muslim youth, that Norris was a 'prime target' whose 'proper abode is hellfire.'
The threat didn't become public until now because authorities thought it might be fake - until the full, 67-page issue of Inspire was recently posted on a jihadi message board on the internet.
Molly Norris originally launched her mock campaign in protest at threats of violence issued against those who depict Mohammed, which is considered blasphemous in Muslim culture.
The prosecutor said in a statement that police were investigating whether the man, who flew through Schiphol on his way from Liverpool in northern England to Entebbe in Uganda, had connections to a foreign militant organization.
The military police arrested the man in an aircraft that was ready to depart, the prosecutor said.
Dutch authorities said the arrest was made on the basis of a tip from British authorities, but there was no immediate comment from London's Metropolitan Police, which handles terror issues, Liverpool's Merseyside Police or the British Home Office.
'We are just investigating his possible involvement in a terrorist organization. There was no explosive material found in his luggage,' a Dutch police spokesman said.....
-- bth: curious action given no physical evidence.
Two relatives said Jordan's state intelligence agency summoned Palestinian-born militant Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi late Friday and that he has not returned home since.
They said they confirmed his detention with authorities.
Both relatives spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared government retribution.
Jordanian security officials declined comment.
Al-Maqdisi shared a cell block between 1995 and 1999 with al-Zarqawi, who led al-Qaeda in Iraq before he died in a U.S. airstrike in 2006.
Al-Maqdisi was released in 2008 after three years in jail for encouraging attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.
- bth: is Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi up to no good again?
- bth: difficult to see how any peace talks will advance when the Foreign Minister of Israel is allowed to make statements and take actions like this.
Israeli Company Hired by State Government to Spy on Pennsylvanians and Other Americans | CommonDreams.org
bth: what are we doing allowing state governments to hire foreign nationals to spy on our citizens engaged in peaceful demonstrations which are protected by the US constitution?
Washington had agreed to absorb and give citizenship to 100 000 refugees, while Israel would accept less than 20 000, Israeli media quoted Olmert as telling a conference.
'The numbers discussed were below 20 000, but this would require an end to the conflict and a Palestinian announcement that they would not make any more demands,' the Ynet website quoted him as saying.
Olmert was speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv organised by the Geneva Initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian group that aims to show a peace accord is possible....
bth: so why is Olmert talking about this and why now?
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Neither the whistleblower's computer disk full of incriminating documents nor a trail of allegations of waste, fraud and shoddy construction, however, prevented Louis Berger from continuing to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
In fact, two months after the government learned of the employee's allegations, the U.S. Agency for International Development tapped Louis Berger to oversee another $1.4 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan.
The decision to brush aside the allegations and the evidence and keep doing business with Louis Berger, underscores a persistent dilemma for the Obama administration in Afghanistan and elsewhere....
bth: I wonder who is in there pocket?