Saturday, February 19, 2011

Amnesty says 46 killed by Libyan security forces | Reuters

Amnesty says 46 killed by Libyan security forces | Reuters

(Reuters) - Human rights group Amnesty International said on Friday its sources had said Libyan security forces had shot dead at least 46 people in the past three days.

Amnesty said in a statement sources at al-Jala hospital in Benghazi had reported 28 deaths and more than 110 people injured in Thursday's protests in the city, and at least three further deaths on Friday.

Local human rights activists reported at least 15 deaths on Thursday during protests in the nearby town of Al Bayda, an Amnesty International spokeswoman said....

-bth: if we wanted to fund a revolution this would certainly be a good place to start.

Shooting of Bahrain protesters

The Daily Beast: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Davis case: Driver who ran over Ibad reaches US | Pakistan | DAWN.COM

Davis case: Driver who ran over Ibad reaches US | Pakistan | DAWN.COM: "ISLAMABAD: The US Consulate’s driver accused of crushing a Pakistani citizen to death while driving a vehicle to assist Raymond Davis, has reached the United States, television reports quoted American media as saying.

Another man who was in the car when it ran over Ibadur Rehman on January 27 in Lahore had also reached the United States.

Media reports said both men had diplomatic visas.

Raymond Davis, the American that they were rushing to assist, is now being detained in a pair of fatal shootings.

When asked regarding the arrival of the two functionaries, US State Department spokesman P J Crowley said he would apprise on the subject at a later date.

Earlier on Friday, the Lahore High Court had ordered the Punjab police to proceed, in accordance with the law, on a case registered against the US Consulate’s driver.

The court had also directed police to record statements of the complainant and eyewitnesses.

- bth: so while attention is directed at Davis the driver of the second car that ran over the innocent Paki in haste to rescue Davis slips quietly to the US. This might be what Kerry accomplished.

Top US lawmakers reject Pakistan aid cuts over Davis issue | World | DAWN.COM

Top US lawmakers reject Pakistan aid cuts over Davis issue | World | DAWN.COM:... "But Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on Leahy’s subcommittee, strongly warned against any rollback of assistance to Pakistan, citing the need for help in the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for suspected terrorists.

“Our relationship’s got to be bigger than this,” Graham said.

“This is a friction point, this is a troubling matter, it doesn’t play well in Afghanistan. We can’t throw this agent over, I don’t know all the details, but we cannot define the relationship based on one incident because it is too important at a time when we’re making progress in Afghanistan,” he said.

Despite the deep and growing frustration in the US Congress over the dispute, lawmakers were keenly aware of the need not to destabilise Pakistan at a time when Washington relies on Islamabad in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“It doesn’t seem like threatening to withhold aid from a volatile nuclear state with a wobbly civilian government is the best idea right now,” said one congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity....

- bth: "We can't throw this agent over...". thanks Sen. Lindsey Graham. Idiot.

Ties Fray Between Pakistan and U.S. Intelligence Agencies -

Ties Fray Between Pakistan and U.S. Intelligence Agencies - "Ties between U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies have deteriorated sharply in recent months, compromising cooperation on a range of critical counter-terrorism efforts, including U.S. drone strikes targeting top militant leaders, current and former officials say.

Some U.S. officials describe relations between the two spy agencies as the worst since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. One senior official said the tensions have cost the U.S. the chance to strike at some senior terrorists in the region.

The state of relations, while never perfect, is now alarming counter-terrorism and military officials, who say close cooperation between the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is essential to the campaign against al Qaeda and the war against the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan.

Behind the falling out is a series of controversial incidents starting late last year, which prompted tit-for-tat accusations that burst into the open with the December outing of the CIA's station chief in Islamabad.

More recently, tensions have risen to new highs over Pakistan's detention of former Special Forces soldier Raymond Davis, a U.S. government contractor in the city of Lahore, for killing two Pakistanis in disputed circumstances. A Pakistani court Thursday ruled to delay by three weeks a hearing on whether Mr. Davis is covered by diplomatic immunity.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama urged Pakistan to honor a 1961 treaty on diplomatic immunity to which both Pakistan and the U.S are signatories. Pakistan's central government faces public pressure from Islamist and student groups not to release Mr. Davis, who shot dead the two men on Jan. 27 in the center of Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city. Mr. Davis has said the men were trying to rob him at gunpoint.

Faced with pointed questions from lawmakers about strained ties with Pakistan, CIA Director Leon Panetta this week acknowledged relations between intelligence agencies were 'one of the most complicated' he's ever seen. While the ISI continues to help the U.S. target al Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas, Mr. Panetta said its policies in other areas are in direct conflict with the U.S., stoking frequent tensions.

One U.S. official briefed on the matter, defending the agency's handling of the ties, acknowledged that relations were in a 'trough at the moment,' but rejected suggestions they were at their worst since 9/11. He said the disagreements stem not from a lack of cooperation 'but because the Pakistanis are pulling stunts that just don't make any sense.'...

- bth: it is almost impossible to sort this out from open sources except to note that the public actions on both sides suggest a dysfunctional relationship

Pak mulls ‘blood money’ deal to let off Davis, buy peace with US - The Times of India

Pak mulls ‘blood money’ deal to let off Davis, buy peace with US - The Times of India: "ISLAMABAD: Pakistan government is exploring a possible 'blood money deal' between American official Raymond Davis, arrested for double murder in Lahore, and relatives of the victims for ending the tense standoff with the US.

Finding itself on a sticky wicket, the government is looking at a face-saving option under which the relatives of the two men killed by the American agree to withdraw charges in exchange for money to be paid by Davis.

Davis, who was arrested in Lahore on January 27 after he shot and killed two men he claimed were trying to rob him, may have to spend at least three more weeks in custody with a Pakistani court on Friday putting off till March 14 the case to decide his diplomatic status.

PM Gilani has raised the possibility of 'blood money' to settle the double murder case under Islamic and Pakistani laws. Gilani made references to such a settlement during his speech to a gathering of Islamic scholars and also his meeting with US senator John Kerry. ...

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Map of Security Situation by Province in Afghanistan

Friday, February 18, 2011

Attack On Nato Convoy In Afghanistan

Attack On Nato Convoy In Afghanistan: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Officials: Up to 73,000 more Afghan forces needed

Officials: Up to 73,000 more Afghan forces needed: "The Obama administration is debating proposals that would increase Afghan security forces by up to 73,000, as officials wonder how much Afghanistan can absorb and what the U.S. can afford.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the U.S. will spend $12.8 billion in 2012 to train and equip the Afghan forces.

'So the question is, how long can we afford to do that? And you cannot do that indefinitely,' Gates said.

- bth: it a hell of a lot cheaper than sending in our own troops

Al Jazeera says signal jammed, website blocked | The Raw Story

Al Jazeera says signal jammed, website blocked | The Raw Story: "DUBAI (Reuters) - The Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera said on Friday its signal was being jammed on several frequencies and its website had been blocked in Libya.

Al Jazeera, whose coverage of the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is widely watched in the Arab world, reported the jamming on its website where it offered alternative frequencies on the Arabsat, Nilesat and Hot Bird satellites.

Al Jazeera has closely followed events in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, contacting protesters and government backers by telephone and often using footage of events sent via the Internet....

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Foreign Policy Watch: Americans Want Real News

Foreign Policy Watch: Americans Want Real News: "Al Jazeera English's jump in viewers over the past few weeks is a pretty good indication that there's a market in this country for intelligent international news coverage. While blonde-girl-gets-kidnapped-in-small-town-America stories might sell to a certain demographic of viewers, there is little doubt that there exists a large pool of disgruntled Americans who don't currently watch cable TV because they feel as though it's trivial and highly sensationalized. The media critic Jeff Jarvis, in a speech I attended awhile back, made the argument that although the gradual sensationalization of cable news coverage has been justified on economic grounds ('we just can't make a profit if we run serious news stories; that's not what Americans want,' the TV execs say), there is a market for in-depth, thoughtful, comprehensive TV news coverage of international issues in this country. It's just not being tapped into.

While CNN, FOX, and MSNBC have mostly bumbled through the coverage of the uprising in Egypt, Al Jazeera English has been busy making a name for itself here in the United States. Since the channel was launched in 2006, Al Jazeera English has been heavily marginalized in the US market. With the exception of a few minor cable companies, the station has not been offered by any of the major American cable/satellite providers. In recent weeks, however, particularly as the Egypt protests have unfolded, the channel's English-language website has received an astounding 2000% increase in hits, of which 60% have come from the United States. Many of these visitors have been logging on in order to watch Al Jazeera English's live feed, which can be viewed directly from their website.

Now, it looks like Al Jazeera English is trying to build on this momentum to finally force its way into the American market. ...

- bth: there was a time a half decade ago that I thought Al Jazeera was a propaganda tool. Now I find their website interesting and informative on many topics related to the middle east. Is that because their reporting got much better or that my standards fell?

NightWatch 20110217 - KGS - North Korea

NightWatch 20110217 - KGS: "North Korea: Update. Satellite images show North Korea has completed a launch tower at a second missile launch facility at Tonchang Dong, in the northwest, Voice of America reported 17 February. The facility is more advanced than the first launch site at Musudan Ri, also known as Taepo Dong, and can handle significantly larger missiles.

Comment: This facility has been under construction and under surveillance for years. The report and the complex are reminders of North Korean intentions to build bigger and better missiles, tested from a modern complex on the west coast.

China: For the record. The Beijing government informed U.N. Security Council (UNSC) members it would block publication of a special report that accuses North Korea of violating sanctions over its nuclear program, according to a report from Reuters. The U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea submitted the report to the UNSC sanctions Committee on 27 January. It finds that Pyongyang 'almost undoubtedly' has several undisclosed uranium enrichment-related facilities. The report also found the North's enrichment program and development of a light-water reactor are serious breaches of U.N. sanctions.

China said it would block the report's publication and prevent its transfer to the full UNSC.

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Afghanistan: The Mystery of the Drone Attacks - The Daily Beast

Afghanistan: The Mystery of the Drone Attacks - The Daily Beast: ..."There have been previous pauses in Predator strikes before—Bill Roggio’s authoritative log at shows two shutdowns in 2009 (of 33 and 28 days in length) and two in 2010 (of 19 and 15 days in length). In those instances, bad weather was indeed cited as the cause. But this time, the Waziri residents seem to have guessed right. Newsweek has confirmed that it’s no coincidence the ramped-up attacks ended abruptly with Davis’ arrest. A senior Pakistani official has confirmed that Davis’ case is directly connected to the freezing of the attacks, and says that Washington is afraid of further inflaming anti-American sentiment in Pakistan in the wake of the shootings. The U.S. insists that Davis fired in self-defense at the men—who reportedly flashed guns at him as they drove by on a motorcycle—and that he enjoys full diplomatic immunity. Embassy officials are pressing for him to be released immediately into American custody. The Pakistani police, meanwhile, are considering possible murder charges. This week, the Lahore court gave Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari’s beleaguered government three more weeks to decide whether Davis, who remains in jail, is indeed entitled to full diplomatic protection....

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AllGov - News - Defense Department Helps Big 5 Military Contractors

AllGov - News - Defense Department Helps Big 5 Military Contractors: "Banks may not be the only too-big-to-fail businesses the U.S. government is determined to help succeed. The presence of the Department of Defense’s top weapons buyer at a military industry investment conference has demonstrated the importance placed on the well-being of the largest defense contractors by Washington, which wants the industry to remain profitable.

Although Ashton Carter, under secretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, delivered some sobering news to defense companies at the conference—that the administration won’t stand for any mergers involving the Big 5 (Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Boeing)—he reiterated the point that their profitability is a prime concern of the Defense Department. The Obama administration will encourage the merger of smaller companies.

“If the Pentagon wants the military industry to be healthy and profitable, it can pretty much ensure that outcome,” wrote Joe Nocera of The New York Times.

That’s what Washington has been doing for decades now. Even after the conclusion of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the Defense Department gave the industry direction to ensure its future success.

At a special dinner in 1993 hosted by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, the top 15 contractors were told it was time to consolidate some of their operations. The result was today’s Big 5, after General Electric Aerospace, Martin Marietta and Lockheed turned into Lockheed Martin, after McDonnell Douglas folded itself into Boeing, and after Grumman joined Northrop to create Northrop Grumman, to name just the biggest of the mergers.
-Noel Brinkerhoff

- bth: and that is how its done

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Square One Robotics

Square One Robotics: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Hill Panel Rolls Over for Pentagon’s Big Budget Plan | Danger Room |

Hill Panel Rolls Over for Pentagon’s Big Budget Plan | Danger Room | ..."Effectively, Gates was pushing GOPers for the greater defense spending they already want. It also had the effect of taking much of the urgency out of the 2012 budget. The committee chairman, Buck McKeon, said that he and Gates were in “very strong agreement” on getting a fiscal-2011 budget passed. That helped set the tone for the hearing.....

- bth: article worth reading in full. Essentially it was staged theater

Surveillance Footage and Code Clues Indicate Stuxnet Hit Iran | Threat Level |

Surveillance Footage and Code Clues Indicate Stuxnet Hit Iran | Threat Level | "New clues about Stuxnet provide the strongest evidence yet that the superworm targeted a nuclear enrichment plant in Iran, according to a new report.

The clues come from surveillance cameras installed by international investigators at the Natanz enrichment plant in Iran, which show Iranian workers feverishly replacing damaged equipment during the time Stuxnet is believed to have attacked the plant. Other clues appear in the attack code itself, showing that the worm targeted a configuration that researchers now say match precisely the centrifuge setup at Natanz. And still more clues are found in a connection to five organizations that researchers say were first targeted by the worm before it hit Natanz.

The findings come in a report released Tuesday [.pdf] by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which says that while Stuxnet may have hit Natanz, its impact on Iran’s nuclear program was not detrimental.

Stuxnet was discovered last June by researchers at a security firm in Belarus, who found it on infected machines belonging to customers in Iran. Recent reports have indicated that the malware was developed by a U.S. government lab and tested in Israel before being unleashed.

Although researchers have believed for months that Natanz was the attack target, the belief has largely been based on circumstantial evidence and unreliable reports from Iranian officials that Natanz was hit by unspecified malware.

But the new clues are “the best evidence” that Stuxnet was aimed at Natanz, according to ISIS founder and former United Nations weapons inspector David Albright.

According to researchers, Stuxnet has two attack sequences, one that targets a Siemens S7-417 programmable logic controller (PLC) and one that attacks a Siemens S7-315 PLC. PLCs control functions in industrial facilities, such as the speed at which a rotor operates....

- bth: basically we destroyed the centrifuges.

Colin Powell demands answers over false Iraq intel: reports | The Raw Story

Colin Powell demands answers over false Iraq intel: reports | The Raw Story: "LONDON — Ex-secretary of state Colin Powell called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain how he was given unreliable information which proved key to the US case for invading Iraq, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

Powell's landmark speech to the United Nations on February 5, 2003, cited intelligence about Iraq leader Saddam Hussein's bioweapons programme gained from a defector, codenamed Curveball.

But he has now admitted that he lied to topple the dictator, in an interview with the Guardian.

'It has been known for several years that the source called Curveball was totally unreliable,' Powell told the British newspaper....

- bth: when Powell gave his famous speech I believed him. I didn't believe Bush or Cheney or the neocons but when Powell said, it I figured that was that. So now Powell is calling the CIA? He has known for years that this guy Curveball was a liar set up by Chalabi and others. Further if Colin Powell had in 2002 or 3 when he found out he had been used by Cheney, resigned, history would be vastly different and he would likely be president today. But Powell is consistent. Powell does what is good for Powell. He has been that way since Vietnam. One wonders what the world would be like if he had been a better man, a braver man.

Map of Afghanistan and the Ring Road

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pentagon Red Tape Delayed Iraq’s Life-Saving Lasers | Danger Room |

Pentagon Red Tape Delayed Iraq’s Life-Saving Lasers | Danger Room | "Military bureaucrats needlessly blocked U.S. troops in Iraq from getting laser weapons — tools that could’ve kept civilians from getting killed. That, in a nutshell, is what the Pentagon’s Inspector General concluded after an investigation of the Marine Corps’ botched attempts to send the nonlethal lasers to the war zone.

It’s a major mea culpa, but it comes with an important caveat: Sure, the Marines’ pencil-pushers mishandled the urgent request for lasers, first issued five years ago. But that doesn’t give today’s front-line commanders an excuse for circumventing the bureaucrats.

The background to the IG’s investigation is a tragic one. During the bloodiest phase of the Iraq war, native civilians, long accustomed to barreling through traffic in their compact cars, would unwittingly speed toward U.S. military checkpoints.

They looked a lot like suicide bombers. Startled Americans would yell, flash their Humvees’ headlights and even fire warning shots — often to no effect.

Iraqi roads are too chaotic, and many warnings simply too ambiguous. Faced with a last-second decision to open fire or risk a suicide blast, the Americans often opted to shoot the driver.

There’s no telling how many Iraqis died this way. Compounding the tragedy is the possibility that it was all preventable.

As early as the spring of 2006, the Pentagon admits, an inexpensive bit of off-the-shelf technology could have given U.S. Marines at their checkpoints in western Iraq a better way of warning off approaching drivers. But the tech — a nonlethal laser gun that “dazzles” drivers and forces them off the road — ran afoul of the Marines’ weapon-developing bureaucracy.

The laser dazzlers were nine months late when they finally arrived in Iraq in late 2006. In the interim, as many as 50 innocent Iraqis were killed in checkpoint shootings, according to one Marine study.

“The lack of a nonlethal laser dazzler capability increased the risk of unwarranted escalation-of-force incidents and the difficulty of safeguarding civilians,” the Inspector General’s report (.pdf) notes.

“The decision to delay,” the report adds, “was unnecessary.”

The Marine Corps’ failure to get lifesaving technology to its front-line troops in a timely manner speaks to the military’s ongoing struggle with a bloated, slow-moving bureaucracy that seems, at times, to forget that America is at war. But in addition to condemning the bureaucracy for its lethargy, the IG also issued a warning to combat units that might try to go behind the bureaucrats’ backs by buying new gear with their own funds.

The need for dazzlers was apparent even before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Lt. Gen. Martin Berndt, commander of Marine forces in Europe, included dazzlers on a list of “urgently needed capabilities” in a February 2003 letter addressed to the commandant of the Marine Corps and copied to Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Virginia. Berndt’s letter should have served as a heads-up, but to be fair, the formal request for dazzlers didn’t come until more than two years later, from the II Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq.

After a spate of checkpoint incidents, II MEF filed an “urgent universal need statement” in September 2005, requesting 400 dazzlers, each costing around $10,000. The urgent-need process is supposed to take just six months from request to fielding, but in this case Development Command waited six months before even beginning the process of buying lasers.

According to the IG, the first four months of delay resulted from Development Command’s dispute with the deployed troops over which laser the Corps should purchase. II MEF had specifically requested a dazzler from Connecticut’s LE Systems, but that model hadn’t been certified by the Navy’s laser-safety board — though U.S. Special Forces had endorsed it. Incredibly, the spat over the dazzler brand outlasted II MEF’s deployment.

I MEF, the command that replaced II MEF in Iraq in mid-2006, shared the preference for the LE Systems laser. Frustrated with the bureaucratic delays, I MEF bought 28 of LE Systems’ dazzlers using its own money and had them shipped directly to Iraq.

When the Marine brass found out, they ordered I MEF to lock away the LE Systems dazzlers and never use them in combat. Today, the IG is recommending the Marine Corps investigate the circumstances of I MEF’s laser purchase and “if appropriate, initiate administrative action.”

Only after the LE Systems debacle did Development Command initiate the formal process for buying approved dazzlers. “An additional two months elapsed because the administrative processing of the urgent request lagged,” the IG’s report continued. “As a result, the Marines deployed to Iraq in 2006 were unnecessarily left without a nonlethal laser dazzler capability.”

That “increased the risk of unwarranted escalation of force incidents.” The 400 Navy-certified lasers didn’t begin reaching Iraq until very late in 2006 or early in 2007.

In 2007, Marine Corps scientist Franz Gayl — a longtime critic of the Pentagon establishment — lumped the dazzler with blastproof trucks and small aerial drones as examples of urgently needed weapons that the Marine Corps bureaucracy has deliberately delayed in recent years, to the detriment of front-line troops.

“Gross mismanagement of the dazzler issue may have created a significant adverse impact on the [Ground Combat Element's] ability to accomplish its mission,” he claimed. (Gayl would later be stripped of his security clearance, allegedly in retaliation for his whistleblowing efforts.)

LE Systems founder Titus Casazza explained that, perversely, delays could translate into job security for bureaucrats. “Is it that the longer things take, the more complicated you make it and the longer the approval process takes, the longer you keep your job? Nobody wants to make a decision without CYA [cover your ass] up one side and the other.”

With America’s state and non-state rivals only becoming more sophisticated, the Pentagon knows it must do better. The Marine Corps introduced a new Web-based system in October 2008 for tracking weapons requests. “The establishment of the Virtual Urgent Universal Need Statement system should improve the efficiencies of the urgent-needs process,” the IG claimed.

That’s good news for U.S. troops, but no comfort at all for all those dead Iraqis, the Marines involved in unnecessary killings, or the Marine officers who could face disciplinary action for daring to buy badly needed gear for their troops, over the heads of heel-dragging bureaucrats.

Photo: ArmorCorp
bth: I am intimately familiar with this incident and the product and every damned word of this story is true. Many Iraqis were needlessly killed because of some bureaucratic incompetence and foot dragging. A God damned shame. Murderous incompetence within the Marine Corp at the time while front line troops went begging for equipment local law enforcement in the US could buy. Franz Gayl was brutally treated in all this and unjustly so by ass covering brass. A lot of Iraqi civilians and a lot of Marines died or were forever traumatized by accidentally shooting Iraqis at check points because of this bullshit. Sad does not begin to define what went on here.

Afghan minister defends move to take over women's shelters - Monsters and Critics

Afghan minister defends move to take over women's shelters - Monsters and Critics: "Kabul - A cabinet minister on Tuesday defended government plans to take control of all women's shelters in Afghanistan, saying organizations that run such houses were corrupt.

Human rights advocates last week warned of an alarming setback for hard-earned women's rights in Afghanistan after the government proposed a bill that would virtually bring all shelters under the control of the government in Kabul.

Currently, these shelters - which house women and girls who have fled their homes because of domestic violence, rape or child and forced marriages in this deeply conservative society - are run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and funded by Western countries.

'It is the duty of the government to protect women who suffer from domestic violence,' said Husn Banu Ghazanfar, minister for women's affairs. 'It is our duty.

Ghazanfar, whose ministry would be in charge of the shelters if the bill is approved by the newly seated parliament, accused NGOs that run the shelters of widespread corruption.

The international community annually allocates 11 million dollars to fund 11 shelters across the country that house 220 women, she said, adding, 'Now someone should tell me how they spent that much money.' ...

- bth: we support this government?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

General Petraeus Out In Afghanistan By End Of Year: Report

General Petraeus Out In Afghanistan By End Of Year: Report: "General David Petraeus is expected to leave his post as commander of United States troops in Afghanistan, the Times Of London reports early Tuesday evening.

The Washington Post reported earlier in the day:

No final decisions have been made, but military officials said that Petraeus, who took command last July, will rotate out of Afghanistan before the end of the year.

The general who replaces Petraeus will have to navigate a tricky relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani leaders...

According to the Times, the Pentagon is expected to name a replacement for Petraeus by the end of the year.

President Barack Obama tapped Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal last summer after controversy swirling around critical comments the then-commander made about Obama administration officials to Rolling Stone landed him out of his post.

Reuters reports:

Petraeus has been talked about for a while as a possible successor to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), who is expected to retire in October. Any move would be part of a broader shake-up in the administration, which will also see Defense Secretary Robert Gates retire this year.
His departure, especially with Gates on his way out, could create the space for Obama to recalibrate Afghan strategy, backing away from the military surge and focusing more on a political settlement - if he wants to do so.

The Post notes that Petraeus is not the only leading U.S. official in Afghanistan expected to rotate out of his post this year. Among others, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who has expressed reservations about the country's Afghan war strategy, will reportedly leave his job in coming months.
Story continues below

The Times reports:

It forms part of a sweeping reorganisation of top American officials in Afghanistan, which the Obama Administration hopes to present as proof that its strategy does not depend on the towering reputation of one man.

- bth: its probably of note that Romney flew to Afghanistan and had a private meeting with Petraeus.

AFP: Afghan war costs $300 million a day: Pentagon

AFP: Afghan war costs $300 million a day: Pentagon: "WASHINGTON — The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will allow for a reduced US defense budget in 2012 but the war in Afghanistan still costs the United States close to 300 million dollars a day....

BBC News - Malaysia Valentine's Day raids lead to mass arrests

BBC News - Malaysia Valentine's Day raids lead to mass arrests: "Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms.

The religious authorities in Malaysia say Valentine's Day is synonymous with immoral activities.

Those arrested could be jailed for up to two years if convicted.

The anti-Valentine's Day campaign by the country's Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa issued in 2005....

Women shout slogans for the anti-Valentine's Day Campaign, near Kuala Lumpur on 11 February 2011

- bth: fucking fatwas

Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war | World news | The Guardian

Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war | World news | The Guardian: "The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

'Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,' he said. 'They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.'

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

The careers of both men were seriously damaged by their use of Janabi's claims, which he now says could have been – and were – discredited well before Powell's landmark speech to the UN on 5 February 2003.

The former CIA chief in Europe Tyler Drumheller describes Janabi's admission as 'fascinating', and said the emergence of the truth 'makes me feel better'. 'I think there are still a number of people who still thought there was something in that. Even now,' said Drumheller.

In the only other at length interview Janabi has given he denied all knowledge of his supposed role in helping the US build a case for invading Saddam's Iraq.

In a series of meetings with the Guardian in Germany where he has been granted asylum, he said he had told a German official, who he identified as Dr Paul, about mobile bioweapons trucks throughout 2000. He said the BND had identified him as a Baghdad-trained chemical engineer and approached him shortly after 13 March of that year, looking for inside information about Saddam's Iraq.

'I had a problem with the Saddam regime,' he said. 'I wanted to get rid of him and now I had this chance.'

He portrays the BND as gullible and so eager to tease details from him that they gave him a Perry's Chemical Engineering Handbook to help communicate. He still has the book in his small, rented flat in Karlsruhe, south-west Germany.

'They were asking me about pumps for filtration, how to make detergent after the reaction,' he said. 'Any engineer who studied in this field can explain or answer any question they asked.'

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif's son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi's claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif's version. 'He says, 'There are no trucks,' and I say, 'OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],'' Janabi recalled.

He said the BND did not contact him again until the end of May 2002. But he said it soon became clear that he was still being taken seriously.

He claimed the officials gave him an incentive to speak by implying that his then pregnant Moroccan-born wife may not be able to travel from Spain to join him in Germany if he did not co-operate with them. 'He says, you work with us or your wife and child go to Morocco.'

The meetings continued throughout 2002 and it became apparent to Janabi that a case for war was being constructed. He said he was not asked again about the bioweapons trucks until a month before Powell's speech.

After the speech, Janabi said he called his handler at the BND and accused the secret service of breaking an agreement that they would not share anything he had told them with another country. He said he was told not to speak and placed in confinement for around 90 days.

With the US now leaving Iraq, Janabi said he was comfortable with what he did, despite the chaos of the past eight years and the civilian death toll in Iraq, which stands at more than 100,000.

'I tell you something when I hear anybody – not just in Iraq but in any war – [is] killed, I am very sad. But give me another solution. Can you give me another solution?

'Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.'

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Mayberry Machiavellis: Obama Political Team Handcuffing Recovery

Mayberry Machiavellis: Obama Political Team Handcuffing Recovery: "Under the leadership of President George W. Bush, science, empirical evidence and expert advice struggled to be heard above the din of politics. It's one thing to prioritize politics over good policy; it's quite another to let bad politics drive the agenda. But that's what the Bush administration did during its Terri Schiavo era and his congressional majorities paid the price.

Today, a new band of Mayberry Machiavellis has gained control, counseling President Obama to ignore the advice of his economic team and press forward with deficit reduction ahead of job creation.

Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told the New York Times recently that 'it's my job to report what the public mood is.' The public mood, said Axelrod, is anti-spending and anti-deficit and so the smart politics is to alleviate those concerns. 'I've made the point that as a matter of policy and a matter of politics that we need to focus on this, and the president certainly agrees with that,' said Axelrod of the deficit hawkery that the administration has engaged in over the last several months....

- bth: unfortunately I see nothing form the President or the Congress that will help strengthen the economy. Just the opposite. It flies in the face of any macro economic policy that I am aware of. Expect to see a continued loss of jobs in the private sector as a decline in 'discretionary spending' results in a decline in GDP.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Commanders to change bomb disposal tactics - Telegraph

Commanders to change bomb disposal tactics - Telegraph: "Rather than removing bombs from the ground without blowing them up, so that they can be forensically analysed, more devices will now be simply destroyed in situ. Senior officers believe the new tactic will be quicker and safer.

All six bomb disposal operators killed in Helmand since 2006 have died while attempting to remove improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the ground so that they could be examined by intelligence staff – a process known as 'exploitation'.

The current tactics are based on trying to achieve a balance between destroying bombs in order to allow greater freedom of movement for troops, and gathering intelligence to target the Taliban networks which build and plant IEDs.

All information gleaned from analysing the components of an IED, such as the switch or pressure plate, the configuration of the power pack, together with any DNA evidence is fed into a Nato intelligence database.

The information can then be used to either capture and prosecute those responsible or, as is more often the case, allow the special forces to target the insurgents in a strike operation.

Army commanders are planning to change bomb disposal tactics in Afghanistan to cope with the surge in the number of Taliban booby traps.
While exploitation has met with some considerable success, there is a growing belief amongst commanders that better freedom of movement for the local population, Nato and Afghan security orces might reap greater rewards in the battle for hearts and minds.

Thousands of IEDs have been buried in Helmand, especially in area where British troops are deployed.

The so called 'build quality' is usually poor, making handling of the devices extremely hazardous. It is no longer regarded as 'tactically appropriate' to recover devices as a matter of routine.

Between the beginning of July 2009 and the end of March 2010 – the period when Taliban bomb production soared – 109 British soldiers were killed, and of those 83 died in IED blasts.

Sources have said that given the number of bomb disposal teams, which are relatively few in number compared with the volume of bombs, commanders now favoured a move 'to destroy rather than exploit' IEDs.

One senior source said: 'Every operator who has died was killed while attempting an exploitation. The job is inherently risky.

'The operational situation on the ground will always dictate whether a device is disarmed or destroyed but if an operator is clearing a route with ten devices he shouldn't be disarming them all.

'The risk is too great, but that decision is always left to the operator.'

According to the sources, 'cultural' differences exits between the various experts within the Counter IED Task Force, which was established in 2009 in response to the surge in use of Taliban bombs, in their approach to dealing with the devices.

Royal Engineers tend to view IEDs as an obstacle preventing freedom of movement that should be destroyed, whereas members of the Royal Logistic Corps, the unit which historically deals with IED disposal, would always seek to neutralise a device as part of the intelligence strategy.

At an inquest last week it emerged that Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid was killed in Sangin in October 2009 while attempting an exploitation.

Prior to the explosion in which he was killed, he had already removed two bombs so that they could be forensically analysed.

The other bomb disposal operators to have died in Helmand since 2006 are: Warrant Officer (2nd Class) Gary O'Donnell GM and Bar, Captain Daniel Shepherd, Capt Daniel Read, SSgt Brett Linley and WO2 Charles Wood.

Colonel Gareth Collett, head of Army Bomb Disposal, said: “It is up to the explosive ordnance disposal operator on the ground, nobody else, to make the decision to exploit or destroy any device he or she encounters, based on a thorough threat assessment of the situation, the commander’s mission and the time available.

“Preservation of life and property is paramount in any decision. The introduction of dedicated IEDD (Destroy) teams has enabled commanders to improve significantly the freedom of movement of coalition forces in Afghanistan in areas where there is no obvious exploitable benefit to be gained from an IED.”

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Video: Sean Rayment on his book, Bomb Hunter - Telegraph

Video: Sean Rayment on his book, Bomb Hunter - Telegraph: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

At least 21 dead, many hurt in Afghan Taliban raid - The Economic Times

At least 21 dead, many hurt in Afghan Taliban raid - The Economic Times: "KANDAHAR: Taliban insurgents armed with bombs, automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Kandahar police headquarters Saturday during a bloody assault on the southern Afghan city that killed at least 21 people and wounded dozens more.

The bold afternoon raid showed insurgents are still able to launch deadly strikes on heavily fortified government institutions despite the past year's influx of US troops into Kandahar province, the Taliban's birthplace. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Fifteen of those killed were Afghan police officers, said provincial Governor Toryalai Wesa. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said three Afghan soldiers, two civilians and one intelligence service agent also died in the assault. ...

- bth: Surprising that this scale of attack could occur during a massive flood in Kandahar.

Veterans of the first Gulf War can't get treatment; Army admits medical records were destroyed | Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota | 10 News

Veterans of the first Gulf War can't get treatment; Army admits medical records were destroyed | Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota | 10 News: "St. Petersburg , Florida -- Operation Desert Storm, which pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait but kept Saddam Hussein in power, took a huge toll on American servicemen and women.

159,705 veterans were injured or became ill, and 10,617 veterans have died of combat related injuries or illnesses since the initiation of the Gulf War during August 1990. Since the second Gulf War began, there have been another 5,884 casualties.

Most of the veterans we talked to for this story say they are aware when they sign their name on the dotted line, they might not come home or could be wounded. However, they say that is part of the job.

The Gulf War veterans were talked to also ask us not to identify them.

As one told us, it's the government and he knows what the government is capable of doing and he doesn't want his name out there.

One solider trying to get help from the Veterans Administration for combat-related injuries says he has been turned down, because his records are missing. He says he has all the medical records for the time he was in the states, but the records for everything that happened outside of the country are gone.

The VA has heard similar complaints before, but a letter from Department of the Army that has never been made public before says after Desert Storm ended, units were told to destroy their records since there was no room to ship the paperwork back to the states. The letter goes on to say it was in direct contradiction to existing Army Regulations.

We showed Andrew Marshal -- the regional director of the Disabled American Veterans -- the letter and he said he was surprised they were told to do that and that the Army put it in writing. Marshal says, 'This could have been one, five, six, a couple of hundred or this could be thousands [of soldiers]. You don't know.'

Marshal says there should have been backups to the records destroyed in the Persian Gulf. But in the Army's letter, it says several years after soldiers began putting in medical claims, it was discovered all records below the brigade level no longer existed. When we showed this to Marshal, he agreed some of the records could have been destroyed.

It's not just the after-action reports that have been destroyed or are missing. Files we've obtained show when some veterans come to the Veterans Administration to get help for service-related disabilities, there are records to show they served, but their medical records are nowhere to be found. That means when the vets make the claims, they have to be turned down.

Another Gulf War vet told us there is no recourse and what disturbs him the most.

This Gulf War veteran served 20 years in the Army. The Veterans Administration has documentation he served in the 82nd Airborne division as an Army ranger and made 125 parachute jumps. All of his claims, including hearing loss, ankle and back injury, have been denied because efforts to obtain service medical records for all potential sources were unsuccessful. He says all his medical records are gone.

The Department of Defense does have records and sent a letter telling this same soldier that he and others in his unit were in an area where exposure to nerve agents sarin and cycolossarin was possible, but they should not worry about any bad affects. ...

- bth: I believe this was done on purpose in Gulf War I to minimize claims for exposure to nerve gas agents. I have friends that are trapped in this paper chase and they are definitely injured from exposure to something that has affected their nervous system giving them intermittent symptoms like ALS.

Obama assertion: FBI can get phone records without oversight | McClatchy

Obama assertion: FBI can get phone records without oversight | McClatchy: "WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's Justice Department has asserted that the FBI can obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process or court oversight, according to a document obtained by McClatchy.

That assertion was revealed — perhaps inadvertently — by the department in its response to a McClatchy request for a copy of a secret Justice Department memo.

Critics say the legal position is flawed and creates a potential loophole that could lead to a repeat of FBI abuses that were supposed to have been stopped in 2006.

The controversy over the telephone records is a legacy of the Bush administration's war on terror. Critics say the Obama administration appears to be continuing many of the most controversial tactics of that strategy, including the assertion of sweeping executive powers.

For years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI sought and obtained thousands of telephone records for international calls in an attempt to thwart potential terrorists.

The bureau devised an informal system of requesting the records from three telecommunications firms to create what one agent called a 'phone database on steroids' that included names, addresses, length of service and billing information.

A federal watchdog later said a 'casual' environment developed in which FBI agents and employees of the telecom companies treated Americans' telephone records so cavalierly that one senior FBI counter-terrorism official said getting access to them was as easy as 'having an ATM in your living room.'...

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America's hottest export: Arms - Feb. 11, 2011

America's hottest export: Arms - Feb. 11, 2011: "FORTUNE -- This time last year, Boeing's F-15 production line, which is housed in a beige, dreary building on the outskirts of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, was on the verge of shutting down. The F-15 is an old jet, first designed in the 1970s to outmaneuver Soviet MiGs. It has long been surpassed by more advanced rivals, and the U.S. military hasn't bought a new one since 2001. When production slowed to a trickle a few years ago, a pair of orders from Korea and Singapore kept the line alive, barely, and it has been churning out about one F-15 a month since then. Local politicians fretted that Boeing would have to close the production line, eliminating hundreds of jobs and delivering a blow to the struggling regional economy.

Then, last summer, rumors surfaced about a deal -- a big one. The workers at the plant followed the news online, where defense publications reported on the details of the sale. The would-be buyer, they learned, was Saudi Arabia, and the proposed order was massive -- 84 planes, as well as upgrades to older jets. In October the Department of Defense, which administers sales to foreign countries, finally announced an arms package worth some $60 billion, including 70 Apache attack helicopters, also made by Boeing (BA, Fortune 500), and the fleet of F-15s....

As defense giants like Boeing, Raytheon (RTN, Fortune 500), and Lockheed Martin (LMT, Fortune 500) increasingly seek to peddle their wares to well-financed (sometimes by the U.S.) international customers, they have a surprising ally: the President. "Obama is much more favorably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations," says Loren Thompson, a veteran defense consultant. Or, as Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, puts it: "There's an Obama arms bazaar going on."

Administration officials say the boom in arms exports is simply the result of healthy demand. Indeed, American-made arms are widely considered the best and most coveted weapons in the world. But the Obama team has hustled to pave the way for big sales like the Saudi deal; the President himself recently sought to secure a pending $4 billion aircraft deal with India. Obama is also backing a massive push to rewrite the rules that govern arms exports, a process that some say will reduce oversight of U.S. weapons sales.

For the administration, robust international arms sales advance domestic goals, like bolstering exports and supporting a defense workforce of more than 200,000. Weapons transfers are also a subtle yet potent form of diplomacy: By arming its allies, the U.S. can spread the burden of policing hot spots (the Middle East, the Korean peninsula). And arms exports give Obama's State and Defense departments tremendous negotiating clout with buyers....

- bth: this is an excellent article on a complex subject. The fact is the US makes the best weapons. We don't make the best cars or consumer electronics and we certainly don't export them well. What we make best are weapons and that is what we are going to export on a massive scale.

Defense officials warn of crisis unless Congress approves 2011 funding bill

Defense officials warn of crisis unless Congress approves 2011 funding bill: "While the Obama administration is set to release its 2012 budget request Monday, Congress still has not approved a final 2011 budget for the military. Now the Pentagon is warning that it faces a crisis situation.

For weeks, Defense Department officials have said that unless lawmakers pass the Obama administration's 2011 budget request, they will be unable to start new weapons programs and may have to limit training, maintenance and even personnel pay and other activities. Officials have also said that they will be forced to continue programs the Obama administration had sought to terminate, because the funding has not been formally cut off. ....

- bth: That Congress should actually approve a budget is critical for FY11.