Thursday, January 27, 2011

Support for Afghan war plummets in Poland - :: News from Poland

Support for Afghan war plummets in Poland - :: News from Poland: "Two out of three Poles are against Poland’s involvement in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, finds a survey by the Foundation for European Studies.

Support for Poland’s 2,600 troop strong mission has fallen to just 17 percent, finds the survey by the Poland-based think tank.

When the mission began back in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attack on the US by al-Qaeda terrorists, 69 percent gave their support in Poland. Now, the exact opposite is the case, with 69 percent declaring their opposition.

The results of the survey come in the wake of two more Polish deaths in the Ghazni province at the weekend, when a lance corporal and a civilian medic lost their lives after an IED exploded while troops were passing by on a routine patrol.

Klaus Bachmann from the Foundation for European Studies told Polish Radio that the limited amount of information about the reasons behind the NATO-led mission partly explains the low level of support in the country for the Polish presence in Afghanistan.

“Polish soldiers are dying there. There is a war […] but people do not know against whom,” he said.

Former defence minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz blames the lack of interest Poles take in the world outside their borders for the lack of support for the war.

“In Poland, people are haunted by a ‘our little shack’ mentality,” he says.

So far, 23 Polish troops have died in Afghanistan.

President Komorowski has indicated that he wants the combat mission to end in 2012, with Polish troops staying on only to train Afghan security forces. (pg)

- bth: Poles have been good and loyal allies for America in Afghanistan. IEDs are taking their toll and it is disturbing that support has fallen to 17%. If the Poles leave in 2012 with their armored vehicles, we will have to replace them because they protect a key highway link.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Moscow airport bomb: suicide bombers were part of squad trained in Pakistan - Telegraph

Moscow airport bomb: suicide bombers were part of squad trained in Pakistan - Telegraph: ..."'The explosion occurred the moment the presumed female suicide bomber opened her bag,' the security source told the RIA Novosti news agency. 'The terrorist was accompanied by a man. He was standing beside her and (the blast) tore off his head.'

Intelligence services have been embarrassed by the revelation that informants had warned of an attack on an airport in the Russian capital just weeks before the incident. Security experts said the tip-off had revealed that a criminal gang based in the Moscow suburbs was assisting a Chechen bombing making squad and that a suicide cell was travelling from a training camp.

A newspaper close to Russia's FSB security service published what it claimed was a warning to Moscow police issued in December that said there was credible intelligence that a suicide squad made up of three women and one man from Chechnya was headed to Moscow.

The memo said the team had spent time in Pakistan and Iran and that one of the women had a relative with a flat in Moscow that might be used as a bomb making factory. Another group of five Islamist militants trained in Pakistan was also expected to cross into Russia soon, it added.

An al-Qaeda linked website said that the group Islamic Caucasus Emirate, led by the rebe Doku Umarov, was poised to claim it had staged the attack. It said that Russia's harsh military measures against independence activists in the Caucasus had provoked the attack. It said: 'You disbelievers are the firewood of Hell. You will enter it.'

The daily Kommersant newspaper said security service officials were alerted to the extent of the threat when a woman accidentally blew herself up on New Year's Eve in Moscow. It later emerged that her husband was in jail for being a member of an Islamist terror group and that she and a girlfriend had been sent to Moscow from the internal Muslim republic of Dagestan to commit an act of terror.

Russian media published a grisly picture of the male terrorist's severed head that was being circulated around police and security services in the troubled mostly Muslim North Caucasus region to see if anyone recognised him. ...

- bth: was her male accomplice expecting to be killed or was he the trigger man?

Manila bus bomb similar to devices used in restive south | World | Reuters

Manila bus bomb similar to devices used in restive south | World | Reuters: "MANILA (Reuters) - A deadly bomb on a Manila bus appears similar to devices used recently on Mindanao island, a troubled region where Muslim separatists and Maoists guerrillas are active, the Philippine government said on Wednesday.

No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blast.

The death toll rose to five after a woman died in hospital overnight. Thirteen others were injured when the bomb exploded on the bus as it was travelling on the city's main highway near the central business district.

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said preliminary findings showed the bomb used an 81 mm mortar with a timing device. Police have said the device, which blew a hole in the side of the bus, was placed under a seat about halfway down the vehicle.

'From our experience, this type of bomb was used in Mindanao in recent months. In terms of the motive, we cannot determine yet... but we can say the universe of possible groups is now a little bit smaller,' he said in a radio interview....

The Canadian Press: Number of US troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan rose 60 per cent last year

The Canadian Press: Number of US troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan rose 60 per cent last year: "KABUL — Roadside bombs killed 268 American troops in Afghanistan last year, a 60 per cent increase over the previous year even as the Pentagon employs new measures to counter the Taliban's makeshift weapon of choice.

The number of U.S. troops wounded by what the military terms improvised explosive devices also soared, according to U.S. defence figures obtained Wednesday.

There were 3,366 U.S. service members injured in IED blasts — up 178 per cent from the 1,211 hurt by the militants' crudely made bombs in 2009, the figures showed.

Defence officials attributed the rise in casualties to the surge in U.S. forces in Afghanistan last year. Fighting has increased, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan, as coalition forces work to weaken the Taliban in their strongholds and keep them from returning in force this spring.

The Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, based outside Washington, D.C., said not all the year-end statistics were gloomy.

During heavy fighting in June and July, 35 per cent of the bomb blasts killed or wounded U.S. troops. That percentage fell to 26 per cent in December despite ongoing violence and a high volume of IED attacks.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001, 619 U.S. troops have been killed and another 5,764 have been wounded in roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon figures.

Overall, at least 1,370 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began. Last year was by far the deadliest for all foreign troops, including Americans, with 702 killed, eclipsing the 2009 record of 504....

- bth: nonmetallic ANFO bombs are taking their toll and beating our detection systems evidently. This is disturbing given the happy talk JIEDDO relayed a few weeks ago which seemed too good to be true. Note that the information published here comes from JIEDDO but is not reported in the US, its from Canada. Sadly the level of disinterest in the US is astounding. Likely the seasonal decrease from 35% to 26% was due to decreased dismounted activity.

Monday, January 24, 2011

YouTube - Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, organ

YouTube - Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, organ: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Former Pakistani spy who aided U.S., Taliban reported dead in militant custody -

Former Pakistani spy who aided U.S., Taliban reported dead in militant custody - "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —
A former Pakistani spy who helped the Taliban rise to power in Afghanistan has died in militant captivity 10 months after he was seized in northwest Pakistan, a top official said Monday.

Sultan Amir Tarar, who as an American ally against Soviet rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, died of a heart attack while in custody, said Tariq Hayat, the most senior government representative in the tribal regions.

Tarar was kidnapped along with a British TV journalist who was released in September and another former spy, Khalid Khawaja, who was executed by his captors in April. It is unclear why the two men traveled to the northwest, but they may have been acting as guides to the reporter.

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Tarar's life personified some of the deep complexities of U.S. and Pakistani policies toward insurgents in the region.

His death in militant captivity was also shrouded in uncertainty, but appeared to indicate the extent to which some insurgents in the northwest had abandoned any loyalties to Pakistani intelligence agencies that nurtured an earlier generation of fighters.

Tarar, who was better known as Col. Imam and usually seen wearing a white turban and army camouflage jacket, played a major role in funneling Pakistani support and training to Afghans fighting Soviet rule in the 1980s, a push in large part financed by the CIA.

After the Soviets withdrew, he continued to be Pakistan's point man with the Taliban, which were seen by Islamabad as allies. He provided the movement with arms, funding and training and was known to be close to Mullah Omar. He and Khawaja remained publicly sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban and Omar since the movement's downfall in 2001 in the U.S-led invasion.

Some media reports have said Tarar maintained operational ties with the Afghan insurgents in recent years, which he denied. In interviews before his kidnapping, he had spoken of the need to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban to end the almost 10-year war.

They two presumably felt their background and Islamist views offered some protection while traveling there. The region is now home to groups battling the Pakistan state and its intelligence agencies, al-Qaida and also Afghan Taliban factions fighting in Afghanistan.

A previously unknown militant group calling itself the 'Asian Tigers' initially said it had seized the men. Analysts speculated the captors were a new breed of militants who had turned against their former protectors....

- bth: what does this really tell us about the internal situation of the Taliban and the ISI? Is it much more factional than earlier believed?

NightWatch 20110123 - KGS Lebanon and its emerging Hezbollah controlled government

NightWatch 20110123 - KGS: ..."Lebanon: Lebanese Army commander General Jean Kahwaji said on 23 January that the armed forces will deal severely with anyone working to agitate the internal political situation. The army would not hesitate to strike at anyone being aggressive towards citizens, he stated during an inspection tour of the special forces training facility in Roumieh. Transgressing people's security and property shall not be tolerated, he said.

Comment: Last week the army began to deploy to key points in the country to deter and prepare for internal political violence after the prosecutor delivered indictments to the investigating magistrate of the Special Tribunal.

The Lebanese army is supposed to be politically neutral but its leadership is pro-western, pro-Hariri primarily and most of the officer corps is pro-Christian. As the national military force it has the duty to deploy so as to maintain internal order, but deployment also is a political act on behalf of the government and its backers and a necessity to keep up with the dispersal of fighting groups from Hezbollah and other factions that began weeks ago.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made his second key speech in less than a week today, 23 January. Nasrallah said Hezbollah would lead a national unity government. President Michel Suleiman has called parliamentarians for consultations Monday. Hezbollah announced it will be ready.

Comment: Nasrallah's statement indicates Hezbollah expects to dominate the next government. This is based on a switch in allegiance by the Druze, last week. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose faction formerly backed prime minister Sa'ad Hariri, said Friday he will back Hezbollah. News sources reported Jumblatt made the switch reluctantly and under significant pressure.

The Druze switch in allegiance should give Hezbollah and its allies a majority in parliament and the ability to more or less dictate the next prime minister. In Lebanon's power-sharing political arrangement, the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Christian Maronite and the speaker of parliament a Shi'ite.

A strong Hezbollah-led coalition pretty much negates the attempt to legislate factional balance in the leadership position. There are many Sunni politicians who are hostile to the US and Hariri and whom Hezbollah will find acceptable.

Warning: Hezbollah will likely control the next government in Lebanon. The durability of its coalition is questionable, but it will receive strong backing from Iran and from Syria. It also is not clear whether Hezbollah will be more Lebanese nationalist than pan-Shiite in its policies.

What is clear is that a Hezbollah-controlled government will repudiate the Special Tribunal and halt Lebanese funding and hospitality. It also will be much more hostile to Israel because it will legitimate Hezbollah fighters are defenders of Lebanon. It will be able to restrain the Lebanese Army probably by increasing the proportion of Shiites at all ranks. It might even try to divert US-supplied equipment to Hezbollah.

A Hezbollah government will represent a significant setback to US foreign policy which has steadfastly backed the Special Tribunal, a six year policy that has now backfired, it appears. US access will decline. Western investment is likely to decline until the new government proves itself credit-worthy.

Hezbollah might move slowly in taking control in Beirut to try to reduce the immediately polarizing effects of a new government. Nevertheless, it is likely to look to Syria and Iran for guidance and support. A Hezbollah-controlled government must be treated as an Iranian breakout.

Israel must prepare defenses for a potential condition of encirclement, not just as in a generalized strategic sense, but in the sense of a much more immediate operational and tactical threat.

Political alliances are temporary in Lebanon, so the alignments might change. Barring that change, the environment around Israel will be much tenser and probably more violent.

Lebanon-US: For the record. The US announced it will consider suspending US aid to Lebanon in the event Hezbollah controls the government....

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Asia Times Online ::Rising Taliban because of weak justice system

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan:... "Haji Habibur Rahman greeting me. He's a malik (tribal chief) and sported a white turban; his aristocratic demeanor made him stand out from all the other people in the room.

'For the last year the Taliban have regrouped very strongly in villages across Baghlan province,' Rahman said.

'What made them come back after eight years?' I asked.

'A bad system of justice halted routine life. Court cases went pending for years. That was the main reason why the Taliban were welcomed,' Rahman said.

He continued, 'The Taliban were never unpopular in our area. They left under duress because they were defeated by the American forces. They were popular in 2001, and they are still popular.

'Moulvi Younus is the in-charge of Pol-e-Khumri district. He is a local tribesman. The Taliban appointed him as the [shadow] governor of Baghlan. He runs the province through a shura-e-rahbary [leadership council]. It has representatives in all provinces. We have their cell phone numbers, and if we want to resolve a dispute, we take the cases to them and they solve it then and there,' Rahman said.

Mohammad Islam, a youth, chipped in: 'The Taliban [after 2001] left for southern Afghan districts, northern Afghanistan was not their focus. In the meantime, two different developments occurred.

'First and foremost was the unpopularity of the foreign occupation in Afghanistan. Islamic scholars in the province unanimously declared it a battle between Islam and infidels. At the same time, youths felt that the government didn't carry out any development work in the province.

'The Taliban saw this and their command council in Helmand sent commanders who within a few months organized the youths. First Qari Jabbar was appointed as governor, but he was killed and now Moulvi Younus is governor.'

Pashtuns have been the ruling class in northern Afghanistan since the time of King Shah, despite being the ethnic minority. During Taliban rule (1996-2001) this position was consolidated, but after the defeat of the Taliban they not only came under the domination of the majority Tajik and Uzbek population, but were suspected of being Taliban sympathizers and punished.

This has all changed. The Pashtun villagers of Baghlan cite examples over the past year of Uzbek fighters coming from Pakistan's tribal areas and being killed in Kunduz and Baghlan, but they do not see this as a major trend as all armed opposition in the area under the Taliban is local, and even insurgents of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan have been driven out.

A sign of the Taliban's control is that from 6 pm to 6 am, all cellular companies switch off their transmission towers as the Taliban have warned them that during the night the government uses cell phone signals to trace the Taliban and their sanctuaries. If the towers are not silenced, they will be blown up.

The Afghan government, as well as Central Asian countries, especially Uzbekistan, are extremely worried about the situation in northern Afghanistan - and seemingly with considerable justification.

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Asia Times Online : Uzbekistan future target

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan: ..."'This is just the core group. They are regular Taliban. Let me explain how we work. We have informers all across the region. They provide us with information about a target. Most of the time it is the arrival time or the route of a NATO supply convoy. Sometimes it is about the movements of the Afghan National Army, the police or NATO forces. And sometimes it is about attacking a military base,' Mustafa said.

'For any particular operation, we often ask the people related to those who are part of our group - relatives or friends - to support our operation, and this is the way in which we increase our numerical strength. These are people who work as farmers or laborers in the day and then participate in operations as the Taliban with us during the night,' Mustafa said, adding that after an attack the local population always provided hiding places.

Mustafa maintained that the total strength of the Taliban in Baghlan province was about 2,000, but if the irregulars he mentioned are added, the strength would increase at least three times.

'The local population's support is the real strength behind the Taliban. Earlier, their charity went to the madrassas, but now it all goes to the Taliban. Similarly, when we plan any big operation, local businessmen become our sponsors. We ask them for the money and they are always generous enough to meet our demands,' Mustafa said.

Mustafa then showed cell-phone video footage of a Taliban attack on a military base in Kunduz.

'At the moment, all cities are controlled by the government and all regions along with mountains are under the control of the Taliban. However, in winter we evacuate much of those areas as well. This is for two reasons. The snow on the mountains makes our movement difficult; similarly, all trees lose their leaves during the winter and we lose our camouflage in the thick jungles of Baghlan. Therefore, we have to leave our regions and take refuge in southern border areas,' Mustafa said.

'Are the Taliban only Pashtuns?' I asked.

'They are the majority, but the situation is changing a lot. Almost 20% of our people now belong to ethnic Tajik and Uzbek communities living in northern Afghanistan. Our connection is the madrassas. We all studied together, and after the US invasion we convinced them to take part in resistance.'

Mustafa confirmed that a good number of fighters were also coming from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia.

'Russia? You mean from Chechnya? I asked.

Mustafa took out his cell-phone and opened it to a picture of a bearded man with long hair and a cap, which made it difficult to distinguish his ethnicity.

'He is Khatab. My friend. He was from Russia. He converted to Islam and joined us for jihad. One year ago, he was killed in battle,' Mustafa said.

I questioned Mustafa on how their ideological counterparts in Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Tajikistan and Russia connected with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

'I can tell you that there is an active connection between the Central Asian command and the Taliban in northern Afghanistan and they often join us, but how they connect, this is beyond my level. Our superior commanders are in touch with their counterparts in Central Asia and if somebody arrives in Afghanistan or goes to Central Asia from Afghanistan, it is arranged at a senior leadership level,' Mustafa said.

I tried to turn the discussion to global trends in Islamic militancy, but it appeared this was not Mustafa's forte. His vision and understanding were limited to northern Afghanistan. He knew al-Qaeda not as strategists, but as fellow jihadis. However, he was clear-headed on two counts; al-Qaeda had established bases in Kunduz province, and the war had to enter Uzbekistan, sooner or later.

'Uzbekistan is the center of all activities against us. All supplies come through Uzbekistan, and all other support for NATO is also from Uzbekistan, and therefore to overwhelm NATO we will have to take our war to Uzbekistan to force them to give up their support to NATO,' Mustafa said in very plain and simple words about a future dimension of the Afghan war....

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Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan

Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan:... "'Let's not use the term Taliban for insurgents. We may call them opposition forces,' Majeed said at the beginning of the interview.

'I don’t call them terrorists either. They are local people who are not aware of good and bad. They are less educated. I am completely in favor of talking to them so they will give up their opposition to the government, but unfortunately several external factors are using them,' Majeed said, pointing to Iran as the main culprit.

'I don't know personally, but this is the opinion of some very well informed people here in Afghanistan that although Iran may not have any sympathy with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, it is interested in engaging the Americans in the conflict, and that's why it is supporting the opposition forces here,' Majeed said.

'Another factor is al-Qaeda, which like the whole Muslim world also wants trouble in our region, especially for Russia and for Uzbekistan. There have recently been complaints to the Afghan Foreign Office by the Russians as well as by Uzbekistan that the growing activities of militants in northern Afghanistan were becoming a serious threat for their security,' Majeed said.

I finished my interview and walked along a river - although the winter is dry, the snow-covered mountains would make movement for the militants difficult. They are better off in the southern regions - the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan - where they can preserve their strength until this summer. The governor of Baghlan and the security chief saw this lull as a success. It is not.

- bth: as usual Asia Times writes an article worth reading in full.