Saturday, January 15, 2011
Gates was speaking in Japan on Friday, during a week-long Asia tour focused on the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea and the increasing military assertiveness in the region of Pyongyang's only major ally China.
The Pentagon chief stressed that China's President Hu Jintao, whom he met on Tuesday, was 'in command and in charge' but also said there were signs that civilian leaders had been unaware of the J-20 jet's test flight.
When Gates met Hu and other top officials on Tuesday, Chinese state media published photos that were said to show the debut flight of the J-20, the country's first radar-evading combat aircraft.
The timing of the stealth fighter's flight appeared to be a snub to Washington, fuelling the sense of a military rivalry despite positive statements from both governments during the four-day visit.
But Gates said Friday that, in his meeting with Chinese civilian leaders, there were 'pretty clear indications they were unaware of the flight test'.
Gates, speaking at Tokyo's Keio University, said 'this is an area where over the last several years we have seen some signs of, I guess I would call it a disconnect between the military and the civilian leadership'....
- bth: interesting observation by Sec. Gates.
Netanyahu’s office said the two “discussed a series of issues, including advancing the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which will be based on security, and the challenge to the international community posed by the Iranian nuclear program.”
Romney, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 GOP nomination, has not yet declared he’s running but has laid much of the groundwork for a campaign. He’s been hiring staff and on Wednesday resigned from the board of Marriott International.
Before visiting Israel, Romney traveled to Afghanistan, where he met with President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Gen. David Petraeus. He’ll also visit Jordan and the United Arab Emirates before returning to the US. Aides haven’t disclosed how long he will be in the region.
“The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Governor Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world,” adviser Eric Fernstrohm told the Boston Globe earlier this week.
Romney last visited Israel in 2007 for the annual Herzliya Conference on Israeli security. He and Netanyahu worked together early in their careers as consultants at the Boston Consulting Group.
The Israel leg of his trip is being paid for using personal funds and contributions from the American Israel Education Foundation, which is part of American Israel Public Affairs Committee....
International attention to Afghanistan's drug problem has waxed and waned over the course of the war, often as a result of shifts in Western priorities as elected governments have changed and conflict with Islamist insurgents has intensified.
In the first several years after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, U.S.-led policy was military-driven and drugs were not seen as a critical issue. Poppy cultivation, once banned by the Taliban, surged. By 2004, the U.S. and British governments stepped in with programs to eradicate poppy, encourage farmers to grow other crops and train Afghan police and prosecutors in how to combat drug trafficking.
Those efforts met with mixed success. Afghanistan eliminated poppy cultivation in 20 of 34 provinces, but it continued to flourish in the south and west, where the insurgency was strongest. Anti-drug police arrested hundreds of smugglers, but few major traffickers were caught and some were released under high-level political pressure. Insecurity and Taliban threats made some alternative crop programs hard to carry out.
Now, Afghan officials say, the latest NATO push to wipe out the Taliban leadership and focus on military goals has once again led to a reduced international interest in the drug war.
According to a U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime report released in September, the value of Afghan opium skyrocketed from $29 per pound in 2009 to $77 per pound in 2010, fueling fears that production levels will soon follow upward. Although the amount of land devoted to growing poppies has remained the same over the past year - about 304,000 acres - the number of families producing the crop has grown. In all, more than 1.5 million Afghans depend on the sale of drugs for their livelihoods.
'I was excited when I took this job, but it seems narcotics is no longer a priority,' said Lt. Gen. Bazz Mohammed Ahmadi, who was named to head the anti-narcotics police in September. 'All the attention now is on security, but people don't realize that drugs and insecurity go together.'
Chipping away at success
Ahmadi's troops, trained by the British and now working closely with American anti-drug agents, have achieved considerable success in detecting and confiscating drugs. One recent week, for example, they carried out five raids across the country and seized 4,782 pounds of opium, 1,246 pounds of heroin - some of it hidden in a shipment of blenders at Kabul airport - and a whopping 41 tons of hashish, which they captured in a helicopter raid on a rural nomad camp. Their efforts have been aided by a fungus that blighted hundreds of thousands of poppy plants last year.
But Afghan officials said they face a double challenge from the Taliban, whose fighters protect and profit from poppy cultivation in areas they control, and from the country's powerful drug mafia, which is often able to circumvent law enforcement efforts and intimidate or compromise even well-trained anti-drug forces.
The successful effort to wipe out poppy farming in secure northern and eastern provinces, they said, has had the unintended effect of concentrating production in a handful of southern provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar, where both insurgents and traffickers are most active. They said NATO forces, eager to win cooperation from local farmers, sometimes turn a blind eye to the crops they grow, and fighting provides convenient cover for smuggling....
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According to police sources, the ambush took place as the drivers took a break to take dinner at motels located at roadside when unknown armed militants came driving a car and opened indiscriminate fire on tankers.
At least 20 fuel containers caught fire due to gunshots while the fierce ablaze also gutted nearby shops and hotels, witnesses said. No law enforcement agency official could manage to arrive at crime scene.
Meanwhile, miscreants have continued firing on fuel tankers with little pauses in order to create trouble for fire brigade rescuers.
Also panic and fear have gripped nearby localities due to continuous firing in the area.
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Friday, January 14, 2011
The project, called 'Virtual Fence,' was rolled out under the Bush administration in 2006 with much fanfare about how technology could help secure the border. Illegal immigrants crossing the border would be detected by a radar and picked up by remote cameras, which were monitored by border patrol agents.
But numerous internal and Congressional reviews found consistent performance problems with the project's systems, which only spanned 53 miles of the vast U.S.-Mexico border.
A DHS assessment released today found that 'the SBInet system is not the right system for all areas of the border and it is not the most cost-effective approach to secure the border. However, some elements of the SBInet development have provided useful capability.'*...
- bth: amazing how much money can get pissed away over a bad project.
When Danger Room last checked in on India Company of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in September, it was preparing to head to Helmand’s Sangin District with a passel of solar panels called the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System, or “Greens.”
The Humvee-transportable panels might be green, but they had a distinct tactical use: power up Marine operations while cutting back on the amount of fuel resupply that insurgents can target. The system hadn’t been used in a war before, so it was an open question how well it would perform.
Pretty impressively, if a Marine press release is to be believed. One of the company’s squad leaders, Staff Sgt. David Doty, said that the energy generated by the solar panels has dropped his generators’ fuel consumption from 20 gallons a day to just 2.5 gallons. And the more gas the Marines save with solar power, the less they’ll have to truck in through convoys that insurgents shoot at and blow up. The panels also allow Patrol Base Sparks to use its generators less at night, cutting down on noise that can tip insurgents off to the Marines’ positions.
Those tactical gains make the military virtues of energy efficiency more plain than anything policymakers or think-tankers can say, according to Christine Parthemore of the Center for a New American Security. “The benefit to the lack of noise and attention drawn to the [base] because of not having to run the generators — no one was talking about that six months ago,” Parthemore says.
The Greens deployment isn’t the only renewable-energy technology the Marines have in Sangin. To recharge radio batteries, they’ve got a flexible solar panel that’s light enough for a single leatherneck to carry, called a Solar Portable Alternative Communication Energy System. A photovoltaic tarp called PowerShade fits over a standard tent to light it up. And a large power source called the ZeroBase Regenerator sucks up enough sunlight to run more than 20 lighting systems and 15 computers.
Before India Company made it to Sangin, the military didn’t have ground units using renewable-energy tech in the spartan conditions of a war zone. The Navy has set a goal for itself of cutting its petroleum use in half by 2015, something that shipboard nuclear power allows. And the Army recently set up a 500-megawatt solar plant in California. ...
- bth: it has been reported in Congress that it costs the US $400 per gallon to get fuel to the front lines of Afghanistan. Frankly any renewable sources make sense in that environment. I would add that we should be looking heavily at wind power as well for remote bases and even in support of Afghanistan's population.
The memoir, roughly rendered in English as “Witness to Revolution and Near Anarchy,” by retired Turkish intelligence official Osman Nuri Gundes, says the religious-tolerance movement, led by an influential former Turkish imam by the name of Fethullah Gulen, has 600 schools and 4 million followers around the world.
In the 1990s, Gundes alleges, the movement 'sheltered 130 CIA agents' at its schools in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan alone, according to a report on his memoir Wednesday by the Paris-based Intelligence Online newsletter.
The book has caused a sensation in Turkey since it was published last month.
Gulen could not be reached for comment.
But two ex-CIA officials with long ties to Central Asia cast doubt on Gundes’s charges....
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Thursday, January 13, 2011
The disparity may continue to grow, as the U.S. Air Force reports that 87% of those seeking to become chaplains are enrolled at evangelical divinity schools.
Multiple reasons are cited for the disproportionate number of evangelicals in the chaplain ranks. Many Protestant and Catholic seminary leaders have remained opposed to military life since the Vietnam War. Also, evangelical seminaries make it easier for aspiring chaplains to get their education online through Web-based courses.
Military officials insist the personal beliefs of chaplains do not get in the way of providing religious services to troops of all faiths.
The new mandate means the end is in sight for German soldiers in Afghanistan. According to German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle the withdrawal could begin later this year:
'We're confident that we will be able to start reducing the Bundeswehr deployment for at the end of the year,' Westerwelle said. 'For the first time we're starting to hand over regional responsibility to Afghan posts in the new year.'...
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
'As difficult as it may be to accept, we must prepare ourselves for more violence and more casualties in coming months,' said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
'The violence will be worse in 2011 than it was in 2010 in many parts of Afghanistan.'...
Note that three of these countries with harsh penalties for blasphemy are close allies of the United States.
Blasphemy laws are of course objectionable on their face, though they also exist in Christendom. (For what it is worth, there is a wikipedia survey of such laws.) As recently as 1969 a man in Finland was fined for a blasphemous piece of artwork entitled “Pig Messiah.” Some provinces of Australia, still have such laws on their books, though the last prosecution was in Victoria in 1918. Brazil, Austria, Denmark, etc. have anti-blasphemy laws, though they have not been used any time recently and the penalties are fines and jail time. It is more common nowadays in Europe for individuals to be prosecuted on charges of hate speech toward a religious community. Ironically, Germany used its anti-blasphemy law, originally designed to protect Christianity, to convict a man of defaming Islam in 2006. Israel also has a law against blasphemy, and in India it is illegal maliciously to defame someone’s religion. Blasphemy laws in many Muslim countries resemble those in Christendom in involving fines and jail time....
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“You have to ratchet up the pressure,” Netanyahu said, adding that they needed “a credible military option that is put before them by the international community led by the United States.”
The comments echo previous ones made by Netanyahu during his November US visit, during which he complained that the US wasn’t threatening to attack Iran nearly often enough. At the time US military leaders insisted that they were threatening Iran exactly the right amount.
Netanyahu’s desire to see more threats against Iran comes as Israeli officials publicly insisted Iran’s nuclear program had been set by at least five years by sabotage. Netanyahu was reportedly outraged by the comments, which go against decades of official Israeli policy insisting that Iran is always on the brink of creating a nuclear weapon through its civilian program.
- bth: Netanyahu isn't going to be happy until he pushes us into war with Iran
The highest number of casualties came in 2007, coinciding with the worst sectarian violence and the surge in U.S. military forces to quell it. In that year, 7,295 people died — nearly 20 a day — from improvised explosive devices, says the Pentagon. Another 21,970 Iraqis were wounded.
The devices include roadside bombs, car bombs and suicide bombers.
The military has been reluctant to release civilian deaths in part because the figures are imprecise estimates, said Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. It's difficult, he said, to discern civilians from insurgents after a bomb explodes. And the reports cover only incidents that U.S. troops responded to.
Despite the imprecision, Lapan said the military believes insurgents killed far more civilians than U.S. and allied forces have in Iraq. However, the military is unable to quantify the claim, he said.
The figures show insurgent bombs killed 1,770 coalition troops, most of them American, from 2005 to 2010. Those bombs wounded 14,055 U.S. servicemembers.
'The enemy put civilians purposely at great risk by its tactics and actions,' Lapan said in an e-mail.
Estimates vary among organizations that have tried to count civilian dead, according to a review last year by the Congressional Research Service. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights reported that 85,694 Iraqi civilians died from insurgent attacks from 2004 through 2008. The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, estimated that more than 111,000 Iraqis died from war-related incidents from 2003 through 2010.
Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at Brookings, said the U.S. military did not show much interest in tracking civilian casualties until 2007, when President Bush made Gen. David Petraeus the commander in Iraq. Petraeus implemented a counterinsurgency strategy that used a surge in troops to secure Iraqi civilians and pursue militants.
'It didn't see population protection as central to the mission or our core responsibility and wanted to avoid any and all talk that resembled the body-bag emphasis of the Vietnam War,' O'Hanlon said.
Sectarian violence dropped significantly after the surge but casualties from IEDs have still killed and maimed thousands of Iraqis in the past two years. In 2010, IEDs killed 1,327 Iraqi civilians and wounded 5,740 people, according to the figures.
'The improvement continued gradually and slowly even in 2010 as we cut our forces more than half,' O'Hanlon said. 'So there is a silver lining.'
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The commander of the prop-driven CU-170 Herons, which operate out of Kandahar Airfield, said the Canadian Forces will disband his squadron once troops pull out of Kandahar.
Maj. Dave Bolton, the new and final commander of Task Force Erebus, said his team will then go on to other jobs within the military.
'There's a lot of very young people that were involved with this program,' he said in an interview.
'There's probably going to be a hiatus of somewhere between two and five years. But those people will still be in the military, and those people will have this experience, and they'll be able to move forward with the yardstick when the time comes.'
The Herons were leased as part of the independent Manley commission report to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan until 2011.
The vehicles, which are flown by controllers on the ground, help Canada and other members of the U.S.-led coalition keep watch over roads where insurgents are believed to be planting roadside bombs or planning ambushes.
The commander of Canada's air wing in Kandahar, Col. Paul Prevost, lauded the work of Task Force Erebus during a ceremony this week in which Bolton took over command of the drone squad.
'People don't realize what Erebus does until Erebus doesn't do it,' Prevost said....
- bth: this is an amazingly stupid and short sighted move on the part of the Canadian military. Foolish bordering on irresponsible.
“It’s only a matter of how, when and in what manner do we conduct operations there against the extremists and terrorists,” Ambassador Husain Haqqani said in an interview at the Bloomberg Washington Bureau yesterday. Pakistan has amassed 38,000 military and paramilitary forces in the tribal area in the past few months, he said.
Pakistani military action in North Waziristan would address criticism from some U.S. officials, who have questioned whether Pakistan has done enough to drive Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda from the region. Pakistan does not want U.S. troops on the ground there, Haqqani said.
“Only Pakistan will determine what to do and when to do it,” Haqqani said. Putting U.S. “boots on the ground is not going to happen, and it’s not needed,” he said.
In 2009, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari launched an offensive against domestic Taliban militants in the Swat valley. He has extended the fight to six of Pakistan’s seven tribal regions, with the exception of North Waziristan.
Pakistan now has 147,000 armed forces in the northwestern regions, Haqqani said, noting that the previous government, led by General Pervez Musharraf, never launched assaults in tribal areas.
Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan today will be an opportunity to reaffirm the allies’ strategic partnership, and ensure that “we understand each other’s needs and objectives” and that they are “matched by operational capacities,” Haqqani said.
Pakistan’s armed forces are overstretched from manning both the Afghan and the Indian borders, and they also need better resources and training for fighting insurgents in mountainous areas such as North Waziristan, he added. ...
--- bth: so if selling and paying for some F16s to Pakistan gets us 38,000 troops into North Waziristan, that seems like a good trade.
'The Pope's statement is part of a conspiracy to pit the world's religions against each other,' said Sahibzada Fazal Karim, a member of Pakistan's parliament and the leader of Sunni Ittehad, an alliance of eight Sunni Muslim groups, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn News.
Speaking on Monday during an address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Benedict called on governments to do more to protect Christians who have recently been the victims of violence in Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq.
He also called for the abolition of a law in Pakistan which cited last week's assassination of the Punjab governor Salman Taseer who called supported a Christian woman on awaiting execution for under the blasphemy law.
'I once more encourage the leaders of that country to take the necessary steps to abrogate that law, all the more so because it is clear that it serves as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities,' Benedict said.
Karim called the pope's comments a 'violation of the UN's charter of peace,' saying they meddled in a sovereign country's internal affairs.
Taseer's security guard Malik Mumtaz Qadr has admitted to the assassination.
- bth: so if Islamists kill christians, its their freedom of religion. If the Pope speaks out about it, it violates the UN's charter of peace. What bull crap.
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But in pictures for local newspapers, Érika Gándara, 28, seemed to relish the role, posing with a semiautomatic rifle and talking openly about the importance of her new job.
“I am the only police in this town, the authority,” she told reporters.
Then, two days before Christmas, a group of armed men took her from her home, residents say, and she has not been seen since.
It was an ominous punctuation mark on the wave of terror that has turned this cotton farming town near Texas into a frightened outpost of the drug war. Nearly half of its 9,000 residents have fled, local officials say, leaving block after block of scorched homes and businesses and, now, not one regular police officer. ...
-- bth: isn't this more relevant to US national security than Afghanistan?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Three levels, at least, and at each a threat to assumptions that underlie the Obama administration’s strategy. One is that Pakistan is moving toward the West, even if sporadically. Another is that the United States can gradually deal more with Pakistan’s elected government, and less with its military. The third, and most critical, is that Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal is truly safe from betrayal by insiders. ...
- bth: worth reading in full as Pakistan slips into darkness... There is the world as we wish it to be and the world as it is.
'The killer of my father, Salman Taseer, was showered with rose petals by fanatics. How could they do this?' - Telegraph
But, to look hard at the face of my father's assassin is to see that in those last moments of his life my father faced the gun of a man whose vision of the world, nihilistic as it is, could admit no other.
And where my father and I would have parted ways in the past was that I believe Pakistan and its founding in faith, that first throb of a nation made for religion by people who thought naively that they would restrict its role exclusively to the country's founding, was responsible for producing my father's killer.
For if it is science and rationality whose fruit you wish to see appear in your country, then it is those things that you must enshrine at its heart; otherwise, for as long as it is faith, the men who say that Pakistan was made for Islam, and that more Islam is the solution, will always have the force of an ugly logic on their side. And better men, men like my father, will be reduced to picking their way around the bearded men, the men with one vision that can admit no other, the men who look to the sanctities of only one Book.
In the days before his death, these same men had issued religious edicts against my father, burned him in effigy and threatened his life. Why? Because he defended the cause of a poor Christian woman who had been accused – and sentenced to die – for blasphemy.
My father, because his country was founded in faith, and blood – a million people had died so that it could be made–could not say that the sentence was wrong; the sentence stood; all he sought for Aasia Bibi was clemency on humanitarian grounds. But it was enough to demand his head.
What my father could never say was what I suspect he really felt: 'The very idea of a blasphemy law is primitive; no woman, in any humane society, should die for what she says and thinks.'
And when finally my father sought the repeal of the laws that had condemned her, the laws that had become an instrument of oppression in the hands of a majority against its minority, he could not say that the source of the laws, the faith, had no place in a modern society; he had to find a way to make people believe that the religion had been distorted, even though the religion – in the way that only these Books can be – was clear as day about what was meant.
Already, even before his body is cold, those same men of faith in Pakistan have banned good Muslims from mourning my father; clerics refused to perform his last rites; and the armoured vehicle conveying his assassin to the courthouse was mobbed with cheering crowds and showered with rose petals.
I should say too that on Friday every mosque in the country condoned the killer's actions; 2,500 lawyers came forward to take on his defence for free; and the Chief Minister of Punjab, who did not attend the funeral, is yet to offer his condolences in person to my family who sit besieged in their house in Lahore.
And so, though I believe, as deeply as I have ever believed anything, that my father joins that sad procession of martyrs – every day a thinner line – standing between him and his country's descent into fear and nihilism, I also know that unless Pakistan finds a way to turn its back on Islam in the public sphere, the memory of the late governor of Punjab will fade.
And where one day there might have been a street named after him, there will be one named after Malik Mumtaz Qadir, my father's boy-assassin.
Aatish Taseer's The Temple-Goers was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award
- bth: there it is in stark terms. "reduced to picking their way around the bearded men, the men with one vision that can admit no other..."
Mansour al Turki, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, announced the names of most-wanted Saudis at a press conference in Riyadh on Jan. 9. A list was sent to Interpol last week.
Turki said the Saudis are 'extremely dangerous,' according to The Saudi Gazette, which also published the photos of the 47 wanted terrorists.
'They have had training in the use of arms, and some of them have had leadership roles in al Qaeda,' Turki said.
According to Turki, none of the 47 al Qaeda operatives are in the Kingdom. Twenty-seven of them are thought to be in Pakistan and Afghanistan, 16 are thought to be in Yemen, and four more are believed to be in Iraq.
Missing from the current list of most-wanted Saudis are some of the top leaders of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda; Osama's sons, Mohammed, Said, and Hamza bin Laden, both of whom hold senior leadership positions; Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama's brother-in-law and a senior al Qaeda leader; Said al Shihri, the deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa'id, a top financier and a manager for Shabaab, al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia....
- bth: so why aren't the bin Ladens on the list?
Seoul and Tokyo are important trading and diplomatic partners, but the possibility of such a military treaty is a sensitive topic in South Korea, where many people still harbor strong resentment against Japan's 35-year occupation. Bilateral ties often suffer over territorial and historical disputes stemming from the colonial legacy.
Monday's talks, however, come as Tokyo and Seoul struggle to deal with a shared worry over North Korean aggression, including the deadly shelling of a front-line South Korean island on Nov. 23.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa were to have talks Monday on the military accords, North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and the artillery attacks, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
The accords are aimed at strengthening defense cooperation by sharing important intelligence, mostly on North Korea, and assisting each other's military with fuel and medical supplies during peacekeeping operations abroad, a Defense Ministry official said....
- bth: so Sec. Gates is dealing with the Chinese and getting a tepid response from their military. Concurrently and probably not coincidentally Japan and S. Korea are strengthening ties in mutual response to N. Korea and China.
The Chinese incursion took place in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, the Press Trust of India said without citing a source for the information.
Chinese soldiers threatened an Indian contractor and his workers who were building a bus station near Demchok in India's Leh region along the so-called Line of Actual Control that divides India and China. Construction work has been halted since then, the report said.
China has made similar incursions previously, the most serious in 1962 when the two sides fought a brief border war. The incident underscores the tensions that exist between the Asian giants stemming from India's swift economic growth and the increasing challenge it poses to China's dominance of the region.
On Monday, India's army chief, Gen. V. K. Singh, played down the incident saying it may have occurred over 'a difference in perception' of where the border lies. Singh said the Line of Actual Control as perceived by India 'runs in a particular direction, while the Chinese have a different alignment of the Line.'...
- bth: I'll bet this is tied to a quick increase in modernization within India's armed forces
“The Iraqi Defense Ministry is planning to sign a contract with the United States to supply the Iraqi Army with advanced combat weapons, F16 Jets, Abrams Tanks and other heavy weaponry, for US$13 billions (b),” the Saudi-based al-Sharq al-Awsat (Middle East) Newspaper quoted Major-General Mohammed al-Askari as saying.
Askari said that the said consignment “aims to supply the Iraqi Army with advanced combat appliances to defend Iraq, including jets, tanks, advanced helicopters, warships, armored cars and light weapons,” but the deal “won’t cover the armament of north Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga forces, as they would be limited to arm the Iraqi Army only.”
- bth: so that's the deal. We get arms dollars from the Iraqi government in trade for cutting off the Peshmerga.
Before the last Congress recessed, proponents pushed for $205 million for the Iron Dome — an Israeli defense system that intercepts short-range rockets that can be fired from Gaza or Lebanon — to be included in the yearlong continuing resolution (CR) to fund FY 2011. Because of issues unrelated to Israel funding, Democrats and Republicans weren't able to come to an agreement on a long-term resolution and the funding was dropped from the short-term CR. President Obama sought the funds in May on top of $200 million in the CR for the long-range Arrow missile-defense program and other joint U.S.-Israeli anti-missile measures.
In August, House appropriators pushed funding for Israeli missile defense to $422.7 million, its highest level ever.
Funding for Israel missile defense over the past two years adds up to nearly $1 billion. Aid to support the short-range David's Sling anti-missile system, for example, more than doubled from $37 million in FY 2008 to $80 million in FY 2010....
- bth: but we stripped the marines of landing craft
But don’t expect the Pentagon to make any dramatic changes to the U.S.’s 60-year old posture in Europe. Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks it’s too large and too brass-heavy, but Danger Room is hearing that only one Army brigade might actually get shipped back home.
In his Thursday press conference, Gates called out U.S. European Command for hosting way too many cushy billets for senior officers, part of his long-telegraphed effort to get rid of useless jobs for generals and admirals. The services’ top contributing officers in Europe will now be three-stars instead of four-stars, with their large support staffs reduced accordingly. But Gates only hinted about trimming what he called “clear… excess force structure” on a continent at peace.
According to what we’ve been able to learn since, here’s what’s up for review: at least one Army brigade, at most 3500 soldiers. Seem like small beer? The Army has 42,000 soldiers stationed in Germany and Italy (currently scheduled to drop to 32,000 by 2014), including four brigade combat teams. Danger Room was waved off of expecting “major” troop reductions in the ballpark of tens of thousands. That will leave the military way invested in Europe, which doesn’t face any likely threat that U.S. ground forces would be required to deter or repel....
- bth: why aren't we trimming back our land forces in Europe much further given our overstretched commitments elsewhere? Gates has no one to blame for his timidity on this important issue.
bth: are we listening? 50 years this month.
Since President Obama took office in January 2009 and vowed to end Taliban gains in Afghanistan, casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have nearly quadrupled.
In 2010, the bombs wounded 3,366 U.S. troops, which is nearly 60% of the total IED-wounded since the war's start in late 2001, according to Pentagon figures.
In nine years of war, 617 American troops have been killed by IEDs and the majority of those deaths came in the past two years. The 268 troops killed by IEDs in 2010 account for more than 40% of all deaths caused by bombs during the war.
'It's clear that the insurgency in Afghanistan remains very robust,' said John Nagl, a former Army officer and president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. 'As we increase our capabilities in the country and the region, they are also 'surging.' '
President Obama boosted troops levels in Afghanistan from 30,000 two years ago to the close to 100,000 troops there today. Fighting alongside U.S. troops are 50,000 international forces. There also are more than 200,000 Afghan army troops and police.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force that oversees the war effort says the higher tolls are the result of the added troops moving into Taliban-held territory and forcing them to fight back. Those troops are often on foot patrol outside the protection of armored vehicles, the ISAF says.
Also contributing to the increase in IED casualties is that a relatively mild winter has kept mountain passes open and allowed insurgents to travel more freely. In a statement to USA TODAY, the ISAF said that al-Qaeda is directing militants to return to areas they were pushed out of by American and Afghan forces and fight back.
ISAF also said it is trying to reduce the IED threat by sending out teams of bomb hunters on foot and in vehicles to find and disable the devices. Cameras monitor routes to catch insurgents burying bombs, and Afghan forces are being trained to find IEDs, the ISAF said.
Despite increased casualties, the military says progress is being made against the IED threat.
The bombs, often made from cheap, easy-to-obtain ingredients such as fertilizer and fuel, have become less lethal in recent months, according to the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Pentagon's lead agency for combating makeshift bombs. One quarter of IED attacks killed or maimed U.S. troops last summer compared with 16% of such attacks in December.
Wounded troops are less likely to die now as well. The ISAF attributes better survival rates to quicker medical treatment and the widespread use of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks built specifically for Afghanistan's tough terrain.
Nagl foresees a tough fight ahead, since fighting tends to pick up each spring.
'My sense is that this struggle will continue deeper into the fighting season than usual, and I don't expect bad weather to stop us from pursuing the Taliban,' Nagl said. 'We'll know a lot more about how effectively we've been able to put pressure on the enemy based on who comes out to fight in the spring.'
- bth: Vanden Brook usually rights a good article on IEDs and armor but look at the highlighted paragraph. It makes no sense. How can progress be insinuated when casualties per IED attack have RISEN to 25% from 16%? This means that simple fertilizer bombs with low metallic content are jacking up our casualties despite all the equipment we are fielding.
Other themes from Loughner’s life fit the rampage-killer profile. He saw himself in world historical terms. He appeared to have a poor sense of his own illness (part of a condition known as anosognosia). He had increasingly frequent run-ins with the police. In short, the evidence before us suggests that Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it.
Yet the early coverage and commentary of the Tucson massacre suppressed this evidence. The coverage and commentary shifted to an entirely different explanation: Loughner unleashed his rampage because he was incited by the violent rhetoric of the Tea Party, the anti-immigrant movement and Sarah Palin. ....
"Tucson, Arizona (CNN) -- Tucson just isn't that kind of town, says Christin Gilmer.
Gilmer is talking about Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, that has made its name picketing the funerals of people who died of AIDS, gay people, soldiers and even Coretta Scott King.
But when the church announced its intention to picket the funeral of a 9-year-old girl -- one of six people who died Saturday during the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- Gilmer and others in the college town put their feet down.
Tucson, said Gilmer -- who said two of the six people killed were friends -- is a 'caring, loving, peaceful community.'
'For something like this to happen in Tucson was a really big shock to us all,' she said. 'Our nightmare happened when we saw Westboro Baptist Church was going to picket the funerals.'
They're planning an 'angel action' -- with 8-by-10-foot 'angel wings' worn by participants and used to shield mourners from pickets. The actions were created by Coloradan Romaine Patterson, who was shocked to find the Topeka church and its neon signs outside the 1999 funeral of Matthew Shepherd, a young gay man beaten and left on a fence to die in Laramie, Wyoming.
'We want to surround them, in a nonviolent way, to say that our community is united,' Gilmer said. 'We're a peaceful haven.'
'You don't mess with Tucson,' said Gilmer, 26, who described it as 'a little dot of blue in a sea of red....
- bth: no national tragedy would be complete without the Westboro Baptist Church showing up. Evil, pure evil.
“Democracy has brought us a media that is extremely right-wing, conservative,” Mr. Sethi, 62, said. “Most are in their 30s and are a product of the Zia years, of the textbooks and schools set by the Zia years, which are not the sort of things that we were taught.”
“The silence of the armed forces is ominous,” Mr. Sethi added.
Indeed, whether on the military or civilian side, the government has failed to act forcefully on the case at every stage, the former security official said. Whether through fear or lack of policy, it has done little to challenge the ideology behind the attack or the spreading radicalism in Pakistani society.
“The entire state effort has been on the capture and kill approach: how many terrorists can you arrest and how many can you kill,” the former security official said. “Nothing has been done about the breeding ground of extremism.
“Unless the government does something serious and sustained,” the official warned, “we are on a very dangerous trajectory.”
- bth: an article well worth reading on Pakistan's blasphemy law and the support for it and the recent assassin by young lawyers. The author of this article describes the problem as a generational one, the Zia generation, but I'm not so sure. It seems the Pakistani society has become radicalized and terrorized at the same time much like Germany with the rise of the Nazis in the 30s.
Monday, January 10, 2011
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Sunday, January 09, 2011
Taseer's murder has been widely applauded by rightwing elements, whose views appear to be politically motivated rather than driven by any ideology. Further, the secular and liberal majority of the country has mostly been silent, and the government too has not said a word against those who have openly lauded Taseer's killing.
Some lawyers showered the confessed killer - security guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri - with rose petals when he arrived at court on Wednesday, and an influential Muslim scholars group praised the assassination of a person who dared oppose a law that orders death for those who insult Islam.
'Whoever killed him [Taseer] is a pious man and will go directly to heaven,' a former parliamentarian and the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Asadullah Bhutto, said soon after news of the killing broke.
Haji Hanif Tayyab, a former federal minister, commented on a television channel, 'Whoever loves the Prophet shouldn't be saddened by Taseer's death.'
Thousands of Facebook users have welcomed Taseer's death as a strike against reformers of the country's tight blasphemy law, while more than 500 clerics and scholars from the group Jamat Ahle Sunnat said no one should pray or express regret for his killing. The group representing Pakistan's majority Barelvi sect, which follows a brand of Islam considered moderate, also issued a veiled threat to other opponents of the blasphemy law.
'Opponents [of the law] are as guilty as ones who commit blasphemy,' the group warned in a statement, adding that politicians, the media and others should learn 'a lesson from the exemplary death'.
Jamat leader and former member parliament Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri paid tribute to the murderer for his 'courage, bravery and religious honor and integrity'.
Anti-blasphemy campaigners have been stopped in their tracks.
Tahira Abdullah, a renowned human-rights activist and highly vocal in the media against the law, has turned off her cell phones and left her Islamabad residence because of a possible threat to her life.
Another prominent campaigner, a lawmaker from the Pakistan Muslim League, Quaid-e-Azam Marvi Memon, is avoiding the media. Lawmaker Sherry Rahman, who moved a private bill against the blasphemy law, has increased the strength of her security squad from four guards to 16 and largely limited herself to her Karachi residence.
On Thursday, Karachi's liberal affluent elite were busy in socialite clubs discussing whether Pashtun security guards should be fired and replaced with Goan Christian guards, yet no one dared raise the issue of why sections of society can get away with so brazenly applauding the death of someone trying to right what he saw as wrong.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of upcoming book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban 9/11 and Beyond published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
- bth: deafening silence indeed. The silence of fear.
The blockade has strained relations between the neighbours with Kabul claiming it flouts a transit agreement and saying it has not been given a reason for the ban.
Hundreds of people protested outside the Iranian embassy on Friday, demanding Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, ban Iranian imports if the border is not reopened within the week. ...
Petrol prices in Kabul hit 92p per litre, up from 57p in early December. Customs officials at Islam Qala have estimated they are losing £320,000 per day in tax revenue.
A spokesman for the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry said fuel prices were "the biggest problem facing private business in Afghanistan right now". The chamber is now threatening to boycott an Economic Cooperation Organisation summit in Tehran on January 17.
Afghanistan is totally reliant on foreign fuel supplies, with 30 per cent entering from Iran and the rest from Uzbekistan. Nato forces are supplied through Pakistan and Uzbekistan and receive nothing through Iran, a spokesman said.
The Iranian embassy declined to comment.
- bth: fuel supplies remain the weak point of Afghanistan and NATO
Well-placed sources revealed that ten bearded personnel of Elite Force had been withdrawn from VVIP's security as Taseer's killing sparked security concerns among the top Pakistan politicians, particularly the liberal and moderate ones, The Nation reports.
A special team of the Elite Force comprising experienced officers have begun screening of the Elite Force officials in order to monitor their activities and religious leanings.
- bth: it beggars belief that the screening criteria comes down to whether they have a beard.
Religious groups blocked a main thoroughfare in Karachi’s teeming metropolis holding banners in support of the police commando who shot dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer on Tuesday over his views in favour of the law’s amendment.
Taseer had called for reform of the blasphemy law that was recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death. But his outspoken liberal stance offended the country’s increasingly powerful conservative religious base.
“Mumtaz Qadri is not a murderer, he is a hero,” said one banner in the national Urdu language in support of the man who carried out Pakistan’s most high-profile political killing in three years.
“We salute the courage of Qadri,” said another.
“There are at least 40,000 people here and more are coming,” senior police official Mohammad Ashfaq told AFP, watching over a sea of protesters bellowing slogans in favour of “jihad” and waving the flags of religious parties.
Another senior police official confirmed the number and said some 3,000 police officers were guarding the event, which had forced the closure of businesses and roads in the area.
Rally leader Qari Ahsaan, from the banned Islamic group Jamaat ud Dawa, addressed the crowd from a stage.
“We can’t compromise on the blasphemy law. It’s a divine law and nobody can change it,” Ahsaan told the masses.
“Our belief in the sanctity of our prophet is firm and uncompromising and we cannot tolerate anyone who blasphemes. Whoever blasphemes will face the same fate as Salman Taseer,” 40-year-old labourer Abdul Rehman told AFP at the rally.
Controversy over the law flared when former information minister Sherry Rehman tabled a bill in November calling to end the death penalty for blasphemy, after Christian mother-of-five Asia Bibi was sentenced to hang.
Rights activists also say the law encourages extremism in a nation already beseiged by Taliban attacks.
Rehman spoke to AFP from her heavily-guarded home in Karachi on Sunday and said she would not be cowed by the protest.
“They can’t silence me… it’s not any extreme position like a repeal bill, it’s very rational. They can’t decide what we think or speak, these are man-made laws,” said Rehman.
Politicians and conservative clerics have been at loggerheads over whether President Asif Ali Zardari should pardon Asia Bibi.
Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, but Bibi’s case has exposed the deep faultlines in the conservative country.
Christian groups held memorial services in the Punjab cities of Lahore and the capital Islamabad on Sunday to honour the assassinated Muslim governor Taseer.
Bishop Alexander John Malik led a rare gathering of 300 Christians at a cathedral in the eastern city of Lahore.
“He was a voice for the oppressed section of society. We dedicate this day to him,” Malik said, before leading prayers for the governor.– AFP
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Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries.
- Book III, 3.82-
Father Marqus, the Bishop of Alexandria, said that in his entire life he had never seen the degree of solidarity of Muslims with Coptic Christians that he has witnessed in recent days. He said that Muslims attending the funeral of the Christian victims of the New Year’s Day bombing had treated them like Muslim martyrs, pronouncing ‘God is Great!’ in mourning, and had erupted in applause at the condemnation of the terrorists. He said that the bombing was like an aqua regia solution that would assay the metal of the Egyptian people and reveal their golden nature. The act of terror, he said, will have the opposite effect of the one intended, and will instead increase the love of Christians and Muslims for one another....
- bth: compare and contrast this reaction from Egypt with this weeks activity in Pakistan and Arizona