Saturday, March 19, 2011
The fall of Hosni Mubarak not only left Iran with one enemy fewer; it also loosened Egypt's control of the Sinai Peninsula — the preferred route for smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian enclave is ruled by Hamas, the militant Islamist group that Iran funds and arms. Iran is evidently eager to exploit opportunities in Sinai.
On March 13, Egyptian border guards stopped five trucks just north of Egypt's border with Sudan. Shots were fired, and the drivers fled, leaving behind a cargo of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and explosives. Egyptian officials told reporters the ordnance was headed for delivery to Hamas through the web of tunnels that run under Egypt's border with Gaza. A report from Sudan put the number of trucks at seven. (See "Bahrain Protest: Saudi Arabia, Iran Complicate Unrest.")
Then on March 15, Israeli commandos boarded the container ship Victoria in the Mediterranean. Opening containers listed on the manifest as holding lentils and cotton, the Israelis found 2,400 mortars, 67,000 Kalashnikov rounds and a half-dozen C-704 land-to-sea missiles and radar systems to guide them. There were instruction books in Farsi, the language of Iran. The vessel had previously stopped in Syria, Iran's major ally in the region, and was on its way to the Egyptian port of Alexandria.
The ship had made a stop in the Turkish port of Mersin on the way, but Israeli officials took pains to say there was no indication that Turkey had any knowledge of the shipment. And indeed, March 16 brought news of Turkish F-16s forcing a massive Iranian cargo plane to land as it flew through Turkish airspace in route to Syria. The suspicion was that the Russian-made Ilyusin was ferrying arms either to Hizballah, the Shi'ite militia that Iran sponsors in Lebanon, or to Hamas — or else that it was carrying materials related to Iran's nuclear program. After an inspection, however, Turkish officials declared the cargo included "nothing illegal" and let it continue to Aleppo.
"The assumption is that Iran is always trying to smuggle more weapons,'' says Miri Eisin, a retired Israeli colonel with a background in intelligence. "They don't have any incentive not to smuggle weapons."
It's not clear whether Iran is sending out more shipments than usual or if it's just that for some reason more of them are being detected. The revolutionary atmosphere in the region may have increased watchfulness among Middle East governments regarding the movement of arms. "I think there's a lot more awareness ... that more weapons [are] wandering around the Middle East now," says Eisin. "It's like, where are they going? Which side are you on?"...
--- bth: so what is going on here? Also there is a report of Egyptians stopping a bunch of trucks on its southern border loaded with munitions from Iran. Is there a surge going on or just more intercepts? Very confusing without enough facts to make a determination.
THE Pentagon's plans for military action in Libya include the imposition of a no-fly zone and strikes with Tomahawk cruise missiles, drones and ground-attack aircraft.
A former senior Pentagon official warned that if the US decided to hit certain targets with Predator drones, it would have to be part of "a much broader context".
He said Libya did not have many tanks, but destroying a few with the Predator's Hellfire missiles would not end the violence. Most of the US air force's Predators and the longer-range Reaper drones are assigned to Afghanistan. But some could be redeployed for use in Libya.
"The best thing about using Predators is that they have a lot of loiter time and there is no air crew to be put at risk," the former Pentagon official said.
The Predator, armed with two Hellfires, has a range of 3200km and can stay in the air for 24 hours. The Reaper, with 14 Hellfires or a combination of weapons including two 226kg Paveway II laser-guided bombs, has a range of 5150km and can remain airborne for up to 28 hours. Italy has six of its own Predators, based at Pisa.
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Experts in the use of unmanned aircraft said the new generation of armed drones could provide a more politically acceptable and highly effective weapon against the tanks and artillery that had been Muammar Gaddafi's most effective tool against the rebels.
"It (the fleet of drones) might offer an opportunity for an arm's-length show of force in the hope that that would be enough and it makes it a bit more politically acceptable," said Paul Cornish, head of international security at Chatham House in London.
Elizabeth Quintana, the head of air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute, said: "He (Gaddafi) is only very rarely using his aircraft. He has concentrated on other forces - tanks and artillery. So a no-fly zone that only prevents aircraft flying has a limited effect. Drones would be very, very effective in limiting movement on the ground. Because of their endurance they can be very sure in what they are targeting, very precise." The Tomahawk option has already been accounted for with the decision to redeploy the nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class submarine USS Providence from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The submarine, armed with Tomahawks, went through the Suez Canal a few days ago, sources said. USS Providence was part of the strike force assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
The carrier itself, however, is now heading for the Gulf of Aden, although a Pentagon official said it could be turned around if required or could be ordered to take part in operations from its present location. The US navy now has a growing fleet in the Mediterranean, ready if action in Libya is ordered. They are the USS Kearsarge, an assault ship with 400 Marines, USS Ponce, another assault ship, three destroyers, USS Barry, USS Stout and USS Mason, and USS Providence.
Asked why the only aircraft carrier in the region was heading away from Libya, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said sufficient land-based aircraft were available. There are two squadrons of F16s - about 40 aircraft - at Aviano in Italy. General Norton Schwartz, the US air force chief, said he expected that F22 Raptor stealth fighters would be used in a no-fly zone operation. They would be used with other fighters (F16s), refuelling tankers and surveillance and electronic jamming aircraft.
P3 Orion surveillance aircraft are already monitoring the Libyan airspace, along with NATO AWACS planes. The US's specialist jamming aircraft would be used to block communications between Gaddafi's regime and his army commanders.
If the F22s are used to attack Libyan fighters, it will be the first time that the US's most advanced fighter jets have been used in anger. They are normally based at Langley in Virginia but would probably be redeployed to Aviano for operations over Libya.
NATO has been planning for a no-fly zone for weeks but until the UN Security Council resolution was tabled yesterday by the US, Britain and France, there had been low expectations of any authorisation for military action.
Britain has two frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland, already in the Mediterranean with French and Italian ships making a combined international force of about a dozen vessels.
Britain has a sovereign airbase in Cyprus but does not routinely keep jets there. Sources said the Cypriot government would have to grant permission for British aircraft to participate in a no-fly zone from Cyprus. A similar situation exists for bases in Malta.
Britain can offer a number of "force multipliers". The RAF has a squadron of E3D Sentry AWACS aircraft, which carry out surveillance from high altitudes and operate command-and-control - a prized intelligence asset. A squadron of Sentinel R1 aircraft, which are able to track vehicles and individuals on land, is also available.
A number of Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence aircraft, which, like HMS Cumberland, are due to be scrapped in the coming months, could also be deployed.
France's solitary aircraft carrier, Charles De Gaulle, is in the Mediterranean and would typically be defended by frigates, destroyers and submarines. It has a highly effective force of up to 35 Rafale and Super-Etendard fighter-bombers as well as E2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft.
Analysts suggest a coalition of Western and Arab forces would have three options for enforcing a no-fly zone. Imposing a full no-fly zone would involve patrolling more than 1.7 million square kilometres, more than five times the territory covered by the Iraq no-fly zone during the 1990s. Establishing the zone would involve strikes to degrade Libya's air defences, using hundreds of aircraft.
The US Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments costed an initial disabling of Libyan air defences last week at between $US500 million and $US1 billion. A more limited zone would cover the north of the country, north of the 29th parallel, where most of the population is.
Or it could be restricted to aircraft and ships off the Libyan coast.
--- bth: On the other hand the US has over 28 Reapers that have the ability to mount and fire air to air missiles, Sidewinders along with Stinger, Hellfires II and guided bombs. MQ has perhaps 40 usable aircraft. Drones aren't fast but they loiter a long time and give us stand off ability, The French keep taking about action but I haven't seen any indication they are more than mouth at this point. They have an aircraft carrier and bases readily available. The Brits simply have defunded their air capabilities. They don't have a carrier and the Tornados they keep talking about? Well where are they? The Brits simiply do not have force projection capabilities left after MOD budget cuts. It looks to me that the US Navy has let its fixed wing carrier go to Gulf of Aden and turned the issue over to European based Air Force resources. Why did the navy leave amphibious resources and that stupid Osprey around? What good is that if we aren't putting boots on the ground. So MQ has made his land grab while NATO dithered but it looks like he is extended and stretched along coastal roads and I'm not certain he can rely on supply lines.
PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Wednesday banned the entry of Afghanistan-bound oil tankers carrying oil for the NATO troops.
Official sources said that the terminals of these tankers have also been shifted to Nowshera.
“These oil tankers are no more allowed to enter Peshawar or even stay in the suburbs due to security reasons,” a senior official of the provincial Home Department said.
The government has also decided not to allow parking to these oil tankers anywhere near the roads or at petrol pumps.
The decision has been taken in the wake of increasing attacks on the Afghanistan-bound vehicles, especially tankers carrying oil for the international forces in the war-torn country.
-- bth: looks like we are indeed facing another round of oil tanker price and access negotiations with Pakistan
U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will be getting a tech upgrade later this month as QinetiQ unrolls its Individual Gunshot Detectors (IDG). The device is worn on the shoulder and contains four acoustic sensors that act as an acoustic radar to locate the point of origin of enemy fire.
The IGD has attached to a small screen mounted on the body armour, which displays the direction and distance towards a fired shot.
13,000 of the devices will be released to the U.S. military, with 1500 strategically dispersed among platoons and squads in different areas and locales every month for 12 months. Though the units are going to be spread thinly among soldiers in the coming months, the military plans to incorporate the technology into their Land Warrior and Nett Warrior systems in the future. In that context, the acoustic sensor will display data on a helmet-mounted display, and networks between soldiers will allow each member of a squadron to see the location of a shooter detected by one sensor.
“The next thing we want to do is try to integrate this capability with other capabilities,” says Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, Program Executive Officer Soldier. ”For example, we have Land Warrior deployed in Afghanistan and we’re going to have Nett Warrior coming into the force. How about, if you get shot at, not only do I know where that came from, but others know where it came from because I can network that capability.”
The U.S. Government ordered $9.95 million worth of the IGD devices in 2008, meaning soldiers already in the field will undoubtedly be glad to hear they’re finally arriving.
BERLIN—Germany abstained from the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for military action against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime as it doesn't want to take part in any military action, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday.
But the country may compensate for that by assuming other North Atlantic Treaty Organization to free up its resources for the Libya mission, Mrs. Merkel said in a briefing on Libya.
"We fully endorse the aims of the resolution. Our attitude can't be mixed up with neutrality," she said.
Germany's foreign and defense ministers are in talks with NATO to see whether it could take over other tasks , Mrs. Merkel said.
She said one possibility would be that Germany helps with radar flights over Afghanistan by Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle earlier Friday had tried hard to avoid the impression that Germany is isolated among its Western allies. France, the U.S. and the U.K. had all voted in favor of the resolution. On Friday, Libya declared an immediate cease-fire in a response to the vote.
Mr. Westerwelle also said that Germany's position was in line with that of other major countries, Brazil, India, Russia and China.
"I can assure you that we get respect for our position, also among our European partners, and that was expressed in talks yesterday," he said at a briefing Friday morning.
Late Thursday, Mr. Westerwelle said that Germany supported U.N. measures for stricter sanctions against the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but was skeptical about military intervention.
"Here we see significant danger and risk. This is why we couldn't vote in favor of this part of the resolution," he said, adding that German soldiers won't participate in any military deployment.
Mr. Westerwelle added Friday that Germany understands the "honorable motives" of those who opted for a military intervention, and that pressure on Col. Gadhafi needed to be stepped up considerably.
"This dictator must end his civil war, his war against his own people," he said.
—Emese Bartha contributed to this article.
Friday, March 18, 2011
The Obama administration is calling on lawmakers to stop passing stop-gap spending measures and agree on a budget for the rest of the fiscal year.
The statement came Thursday after Congress passed the sixth short-term budget extension since October 1. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said two and three-week extensions add “uncertainty” to the economy and distract the government from other “urgent priorities.”
But Carney said the president will continue to oppose cutting what he called, “critical investments” in education, innovation, and research and development. He said funding in these areas helps grow the economy and create jobs.
Thursday's continuing resolution passed funds the federal government for another three weeks. The resolution includes $6 billion in cuts to government programs.
Last week, the Senate rejected two competing proposals to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year — a Republican-sponsored measure that slashed $60 billion from the 2011 budget, and a Democrat-supported bill that called for several billion dollars in reductions. The fiscal year ends September 30.
-- bth: the practical impact of continuing resolutions is that bureaucrats stall, waiting for spending clarity. It will cost the country far more than the budget cuts proposed by either party. I think the country is approaching a point of saying we should throw all the incumbents out.
The commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific says he is sending his troops into the danger zone near the Japan's crippled nuclear power plants as needed, and if necessary he will send more to help prevent a meltdown of the reactors' fuel and the release of large amounts of harmful radiation.
In a phone call from his headquarters in Hawaii, Admiral Robert Willard told reporters at the Pentagon everything possible must be done to avoid the worst case scenario.
"That would be a situation where the recovery effort to keep the cores covered in these reactors would ever be abandoned. And we believe that that can't happen, that we must do everything required to keep water and cooling affecting these reactors," said Willard.
...."We, when necessary, will conduct operations inside that radius, when they're in support of the Japanese Defense Forces," he said. "So while U.S. citizens are constrained from operating in there, my forces are not, when they're needed to conduct humanitarian assistance, disaster response or logistics support to our Japanese friends or to our own forces or any other forces that we happen to be supporting."
Admiral Willard has 15 ships and thousands of naval, ground and air force personnel working to help Japan deal with the damaged nuclear reactors and the humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake and tsunami. And he has unmanned, remotely controlled aircraft that can fly close to the reactors to gather data without endangering any pilots.
He also has a small team working with Japanese officials to assess the danger in areas near the reactors, and he has 450 more experts in radiological contamination on alert to be deployed to Japan if needed.
In addition, all U.S. aircraft and ships in the area have sensors on them, and any data on radiological contamination is immediately shared with the U.S. and Japanese governments....
--- bth: so what is slowing things up?
WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia is believed to have arranged the blood money that allowed CIA contractor Raymond Davis to go home after nearly two months in a Lahore jail, diplomatic sources told Dawn.
They said that the Saudis joined the efforts to resolve the dispute late last month after it became obvious that Davis`s continued incarceration could do an irreparable damage to US-Pakistan relations.
The Saudis agreed to pay the money, “at least for now”, to get Davis released, the sources said, but did not clarify if and how would the Saudis be reimbursed.
“This is something that needs to be discussed between the United States and the Kingdom,” one source said. “Mr Davis`s surprise departure from Pakistan came after it became obvious that the Americans were getting impatient,” he added.
The New York Times, however, quoted US officials as saying that the money would be paid by members of the Pakistan government, and then reimbursed by the Obama administration.
US officials, who spoke to the media, also insisted that the CIA had made no pledges to scale back covert operations in Pakistan to earn Davis`s release. The CIA also refused to give the Pakistani government or its intelligence agency a roster of American spies operating in the country, the officials said.
In an interview broadcast on Thursday by the US National Public Radio, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not clarify the situation either. “Well, you`ll have to ask him what he means by that,” said Ms Clinton when informed that Punjab`s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was insisting that the blood money had been paid.
“And a lawyer involved in the case said it was $2.34 million. There is no money that came from anywhere?” she was asked....
--- bth: interesting. I wonder why we used the Saudis for this. Also it seems the Paki clerics are awfully quiet right now. I wonder if the Saudis paid them off too?
“The United States did not pay any compensation,” the secretary replied. “Did someone else, to your knowledge?”
RAF ground attack aircraft are ready to help impose a no-fly zone over Libya as ministers ordered defence chiefs to finalise plans enabling Britain to take part immediately in military action against forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.
Tornado all-weather attack aircraft, equipped with precision weapons, were almost certain to be the first British assets used in any military operation, officials said. They are based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Though due to phased out under the government's defence their performance has been tested in operations over decades. It was not immediately clear whether they would fly from a military base in southern France or from RAF Akrotiri, in one of Britain's sovereign base areas in Cyprus.
It was also unclear whether Eurofighter Typhoons would take part in an operation. Britain has two ships off the Libyan coast, and Chinook helicopters and early-warning aircraft equipped with long-range radar based in Malta, but would need permission from the Maltese government to use them in action over Libya.
For this reason, it would be easier for British aircraft to be based in Cyprus or France, which also strongly supports a no-fly zone. British forces could also use bases in Egypt if the new government there agreed.
Britain and France could begin operating a limited no-fly zone over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with little or no US support, according to analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), though it may have only a limited impact on Gaddafi's brutal crackdown on the rebels. However, they warned that it would not stop Gaddafi's ground forces, which are leading the assault on the rebels with tanks and artillery.
IISS fellow Douglas Barrie said Tornado GR4 ground attack or submarine-launched cruise missiles could be used to take out the Libyan air defences, including a long-range surface-to-air missile system thought to be based within 30 to 40 miles of Benghazi.
A force of six to eight Typhoon fighters could be deployed to patrol over Benghazi, supported by two or three tankers for air-to-air refuelling and Nimrod R1 reconnaissance aircraft, temporarily reprieved by the Ministry of Defence, he said.
Barrie said the Libyan air force might have as few as 40 operational fixed-wing aircraft. Most are Soviet-era, Russian-built fighters that are obsolescent in western terms, although there are also some more modern French Mirage F1s.
Another IISS fellow, Brigadier Ben Barry, said a no-fly zone would have little effect on the regime's ground forces. "A no-fly zone can have military effect … But it can have relatively little effect if what the actors want to do is entirely on the ground," he said.
"This could relatively quickly take the military pressure off the rebels and, if integrated into any rebel counter-offensive, it could be as decisive as coalition airpower was in supporting the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2001," he said.
"As in Afghanistan, its effects would be much improved by the presence of special forces on the ground. They might also be able to undertake ground raids on particularly important government targets, albeit with increased risk."
Despite the fiasco of the aborted covert SAS-MI6 operation in eastern Libya earlier this month, special forces could still play a role in the Libyan conflict, analysts suggested.
...As for Obama, with our foremost Asian ally going through the agony of its worst natural disaster and with revolution raging through the Arab world, he has given us his picks for the Final Four in the "March Madness" of college basketball — and set off with Michelle to party in Rio.
How relevant is he? And how relevant are we?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
President Obama’s inaction on Libya isn’t baffling just the international community — it’s also causing major conflicts within his own administration, according to the Daily. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unhappy with how Obama handled the uprising in Egypt, but it is his waffling on Libya that has sent her over the edge, the Daily reports:
Fed up with a president “who can’t make his mind up” as Libyan rebels are on the brink of defeat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is looking to the exits.
At the tail end of her mission to bolster the Libyan opposition, which has suffered days of losses to Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, Clinton announced that she’s done with Obama after 2012 — even if he wins again.
And that clash with Obama may have led to Clinton’s decision to step down from the State Department in 2012. She told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday that she wouldn’t take on a second term as secretary of state or serve in another capacity in the administration.
“Obviously, she’s not happy with dealing with a president who can’t decide if today is Tuesday or Wednesday, who can’t make his mind up,” a Clinton insider told the Daily. “She’s exhausted, tired.”
The source compared Clinton’s job to “playing sports with a bunch of amateurs.”
It sounds like Clinton is tired of taking the fall for Obama’s poor decisions. As Peter Wehner noted, the secretary of state was snubbed by an Egyptian youth-group coalition during her visit to Cairo this week, because the coalition felt that the U.S. didn’t support the protest movement quickly enough.
And the Daily points out how close Clinton has grown to the Libyan opposition movement, even allowing the former members of the Libyan Embassy to work out of offices in the State Department. If that’s any indication of where her sympathies lie, then she’s sure to be fuming over Obama’s nonchalance on the issue.
-- bth: looks like Hillary is splitting the blanket with Obama over Libya. Obama was making jokes about her recently saying it was hard to sleep at the White House with Hillary throwing rocks at the window all night.
TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - Japan may build robots to play the violin, run marathons and preside over weddings, but it has not deployed any of the machines to help repair its crippled reactors.
While robots are commonplace in the nuclear power industry, with EU engineers building one that can climb walls through radioactive fields, the electric power company running Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has not deployed any for the nuclear emergency.
Instead, its skeleton team has been given the unenviable and perhaps deadly task of cooling reactors and spent nuclear fuel on their own, only taking breaks to avoid over-exposure.
A science ministry official said a robot used to detect radiation levels is at the site of the accident in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, but nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama said: "We have no reports of any robots being used."
That robot would have come in handy early on Thursday when workers monitoring radiation had to back away from the plant because it was becoming too hot.
While Japan is renowned for its cutting edge technology, it also maintains an anachronistic element in its society that relies on humans for tasks that have given way to automation in many other parts of the world, such as operating elevators and warning motorists of road construction.
In one of Japan's worst nuclear accidents, two workers were killed in September 1999, when workers at a nuclear facility in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo, set off an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction by using buckets to mix nuclear fuel in a lab.
Japan is a world leader in robots, using them to automate the most complicated manufacturing processes and to sift through rubble to look for victims in earthquakes.
Robots were also used after two infamous nuclear disasters -- Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and will almost certainly be used at Fukushima for work in highly radioactive areas.
Kim Seungho, a nuclear official who engineered robots for South Korea's atomic power plants, said: "You have to design emergency robots for plants when they are being built so they can navigate corridors, steps and close valves."
The Fukushima plant was built in the 1970s, well before robots were able to work on sophisticated tasks.
Robots are in place in many nuclear plants for structured situations such as monitoring pipes and simple maintenance.
Kim, a deputy director in nuclear technology for the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, said budget constraints and denial have kept emergency robots out of many plants in his country and around the world.
"Nuclear plant operators don't liked to think about serious situations that are beyond human control," he said by telephone. (Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
-- bth: you can't build robots the day after you need them.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
LAHORE, Pakistan — An American CIA contractor detained on suspicion of murder was released on Wednesday after families of the two Pakistanis he killed were given "blood money" and the case was dropped, Pakistani officials said.
The killings and detention of Raymond Allen Davis had strained ties between Pakistan and the United States and added to anti-America sentiment.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Davis was charged with murder Wednesday but then immediately pardoned by the families of the victims in exchange for compensation or "blood money", as is permitted under Pakistani law. Davis was arrested on Jan. 27 after killing two Pakistanis in what he said was self-defense.
Chaudhry Mushtaq, superintendent at Kot Lakhpat jail, said Davis left the jail with U.S. consulate officials after the hearing.
U.S. officials were not available for comment.
The United States had insisted that Davis had diplomatic immunity and demanded Pakistan free him immediately.
Pakistani officials, faced with criticism by Islamist parties and members of the public, had refused to state clearly whether he had immunity.
Pakistani officials had suggested that the payment of "blood money" was the best solution and in recent days speculation mounted that such a deal was in the works.
Sanaullah said Davis was formally indicted on murder charges before members of the two slain mens' families were taken into the court, where they signed papers formally forgiving him in exchange for an undisclosed sum of money.
Judges then acquitted him on all charges, he said....
-- bth:; a suitable resolution to a difficult situation
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
As the war in Afghanistan approaches it's eleventh year, nearly two-thirds of Americans are saying the conflict is not worth fighting, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
The survey (.pdf) found that a record 64 percent do not support the war. Only 31 percent thought the war was worth fighting. The findings were a major swing from February 2007, when 56 percent approved of the war, and only 41 percent disapproved.
While 73 percent thought that the U.S. should withdraw a substantial number of troops from the country this summer, 53 percent doubted a major withdrawal would happen.
The poll also had little good news for U.S. President Barack Obama on the domestic front. Fifty-five percent disapproved of his handling of the economy. Only 43 percent approved.
Obama's handling of the federal budget deficit was approved by just 39 percent, while 55 percent disapproved.
At 55 percent, overall job approval was the only bright spot for the president.
Republicans in Congress fared even worse than Obama.
Only 34 percent thought that Republicans did a better job at handling the economy. Forty-six percent thought the president did a better job.
To the extent the economy has recovered, only six percent of respondents gave Republicans credit. Obama was given credit by 39 percent. Both were given credit by 27 percent, and 27 percent gave neither credit.
Overall, confidence in the U.S. system of government was at 26 percent, a 35-year low. That's down seven points since October.
The poll of 1,005 adults was conducted March 10-13 by Langer Research Assoc.
-- bth: so confidence in the US system of government is at its lowest levels since Gerald Ford? Holy crap. You'd think somebody in DC would get the message but they don't seem to.
After stressing for years that removing insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan is vital to winning the war in Afghanistan, US military officials are subtly deemphasizing the importance of that goal as realities on the ground shift.
Foremost among Pakistan's sanctuaries has been North Waziristan, which has served as headquarters for a key insurgent group allied with the Taliban, the Haqqani network. Without the Haqqani network, many senior US military officials believe, the Taliban would likely not be able to sustain operations against NATO troops throughout Afghanistan.
Yet in comments that surprised many analysts, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of US troops in eastern Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters last month that, even if Haqqani network forces aren't cleared out of North Waziristan, it is still possible for the United States to win the war in Afghanistan....
bth: these shifts at such fundamental levels which would seem to fly in the face of common sense do a great deal to undermine the confidence Americans can put in military assessments and strategy.
SLAMABAD, March 12 (Xinhua) -- The current worsening security situation in Pakistan is spreading panic among the countrymen and government high-ups as due to the rise in number of terrorism activities, bomb blasts, suicide attacks and target killing incidents an average of 13 Pakistanis die every single day.
A Pakistani research center on Friday reported that over the past seven years, since war against terrorism shifted to Pakistan from Afghanistan, total fatalities in terrorist violence stand at 33,467 Pakistanis.
In only 2010, almost 7,435 Pakistani people and security personnel were killed in 473 bomb blasts including 49 suicide attacks, the research center said.
At least 200 people have been killed and more than 600 injured in more than 150 smaller or bigger terrorist attacks throughout the country.
"The fact remains that Pakistan is burning because there is so much combustible material present right now, and the conflagration is spreading like never before," said Khalid Saleem, a Pakistan based defense analyst while talking to Xinhua.
He stressed the need of personal security for common Pakistanis and also linked it with the broad strategy to deal with the rising terrorism.
"Despite its claims of success, the government has actually failed to rein the terrorist groups and provide security to the common man," said Khawja Nazir, a resident of capital Islamabad....
LAHORE, Pakistan — The Pakistani government on Monday further postponed the resolution of the question of whether a C.I.A. operative being investigated for a double murder is entitled to diplomatic immunity.
At a hearing at Punjab High Court here, the government said the Foreign Ministry had not clearly stated that the operative, Raymond A. Davis, was entitled to immunity.
The court ruled that the issue could be decided by the trial court in the murder case, which may begin on Wednesday.
Mr. Davis, a former Green Beret employed by the C.I.A., fatally shot two motorcyclists in Lahore in January. He has said he did so in self-defense, and the United States has said he is a diplomat and entitled to immunity.
The Pakistani government has sought to delay decisions on the case to allow public anger over the shootings to subside. Under pressure from opposition parties, and facing widespread discontent over the economy, the government has avoided making any decision that could be seen as pro-American and unpopular, and has left it in the hands of the Foreign Ministry and the High Court.
Ceding the decision of whether Mr. Davis has diplomatic immunity to the trial court will draw out the process and will not please the American government, which has demanded his immediate release. Mr. Davis has refused to sign a charge sheet, but the murder trial may now proceed at a hearing on Wednesday.
The High Court decision may prove unfavorable for Mr. Davis, since Pakistan’s courts are susceptible to the pressure from the street — religious parties and extremists have campaigned to have Mr. Davis hanged — and from the military establishment. American officials have said Mr. Davis’s team was involved in gathering intelligence on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group under the wing of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.....
LAHORE: A recent notification from the Punjab Home Department to the inspector general of police has ordered screening of and action against extremists in the police department, including three constables who refused to take off their badges displaying religious slogans from their uniforms during the recent hearing of US citizen Raymond Davis’s case. The constables, Adnan Ahmad, Muhammad Tariq and Muhammad Asghar, were wearing the badges on their uniforms while performing duty during hearing of the case. They were asked by senior authorities to remove the badges, but they reportedly refused to do so, saying that they will not remove their badges merely to please the US citizen. The notification said that no policeman was supposed to wear any other badge on their uniform except the badges with their names written on them. Separately, Elite Force authorities declared more than 55 of their personnel unfit for performing duties with VIPs. The investigation was initiated after the assassination of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by his own Elite Force guard on January 4. staff report
bth: this is all too little too late.
Monday, March 14, 2011
The Prime Minister told MPs that while world leaders debated options including a no-fly zone over Libya Col. Gaddafi was making gains against opposition forces.
Revealing Britain's growing frustration at international indecision, Mr Cameron signalled that he was prepared to consider a no-fly zone without a new United Nations Security Council resolution.
"Every day Gaddafi is brutalising his own people," he said. "Time is of the essence." As he spoke, Libyan government forces continued to bombard opposition positions as they advanced on the rebel capital, Benghazi.
Though hindered by a sandstorm over the new front line, near the town of Ajdabiya, air force jets made new bombing raids, according to rebel fighters. If they take Ajdabiya, the armed forces can move straight on to Benghazi or take the main highway to the Egyptian border, seal it, and encircle the remaining opposition.
"Everyone here is puzzled as to how many casualties the international community judges to be enough for them to help. Maybe we should start committing suicide to reach the required number," the rebel spokesman, Essam Gheriani, said in Benghazi....
--- bth: Cameron talks a lot and does little. He is all hat and no cattle.
On the tricky question of how involved the United States should get in the Libyan civil war, Americans are taking a moderate approach. A 56 percent majority support the enforcement of a no-fly zone, and a 53 percent majority would support sending "arms and supplies" to the rebel fighters. But only 22 percent would want America to send ground troops into Libya. Still, 22 percent is more than we'd expect. Iraq and Afghanistan had no effect on you people? [CNN (PDF)]
bth: arms and supplies at 53% seems like a reasonable mark
...General comment: The general theme in the weekend protests is the youth movement appears to be fading. It claims credit for forcing two heads of state to resign, but that was actually intra-palace politics involving the armed forces. Libya's counter-revolution has encouraged all the tough-gut, hardline regimes to stand firm. Thus far, there are no revolutions.
In instability theory, the side with the most guns, including bullets, always wins. Libya is proving that point once again.
Some governments have made promises of modest political reforms, but even Egypt appears to be making only cosmetic changes by amending the constitution. All governments have regrouped and recovered. All promises are reversible. The movement appears to have peaked and does not look sustainable.
Some implications. First, the Arab youth lacks leadership, insight and planning. It poses no threat to anyone except itself. Western education and exposure made young Arabs feel uncomfortable without providing any practical sense about how to carry off a revolution or move for more acceptable changes. Modern technology seems to have tempted young Arabs with illusions of invincibility that provide no protection against real bullets.
The western democracies are out of energy and idealism for now. Having spent vast resources for modest results in the past decade in Iraq and especially Afghanistan, they are not inclined to get involved with the Arab youth. Western pressure is no threat to authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries, aside from insipid statements about unacceptable behavior and feckless sanctions. Qadhafi's vengeance on the rebels will be limited only by his own and his western-educated children's imaginations, provided they win.
The message thus far is a strong preference for regimes that are, regardless of their illegitimate antecedents and disreputable histories. Even governments that are the products of revolution have proven suspicious of and hesitant to deal with revolutionary movements.
The youth exposed vulnerabilities that wiser, more sophisticated enemies will exploit in the future. The Islamists, for example, will have obtained a better sense of the vulnerabilities of the authoritarian regimes and their strengths. When they make their move against the kingdoms, they will have benefited from the pending failure of the youth movement....
-- bth: this will be viewed as opportunity missed by us I fear. Given the choice between Arab freedoms and access to oil from tyrants we chose the tyrants.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has been unable to visit with Private Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of leaking State Department cables to WikiLeaks, despite being a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"I put in a request to the secretary of defense, who referred me to the secretary of the army, who referred me to the secretary of the navy, who referred me to the secretary of defense, and still not an answer on whether or not I can visit Private Manning," Rep. Kucinich explained to Scott Horton of KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles on Friday.
He previously announced he would visit Manning to investigate reports that he had been subjected to abuse while in custody.
Manning attorney David Coombs revealed last week that for at least two nights in row, the Army private had been "stripped naked" for as long as seven hours at a time.
In the mornings, he was left without clothes and forced to stand at attention.
"No one held prisoner anywhere in America should be tortured," Rep. Kucinich told Horton. "And the fact that he’s awaiting trial and they’re doing this to him raises serious questions about our criminal justice process. And I’m going to continue my efforts to address the plight of Private Manning and to try to stop this outrageous treatment of him."
Manning has been held at the prison since July under a maximum security regimen, which leaves him in his cell for 23 hours a day, because authorities say his escape would pose a risk to national security....
-- bth: this Private may have conducted espionage, we don't know for sure, but I don't understand putting him in a maximum lock up in solitary and denying visitors from congress. Also there is the strong implication that we are now condoning torture of this American. One wonders how this would play out if his any confessions are expunged due to coersive treatment.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
An Army explosives technician from San Jose was killed while trying to disarm a bomb in Afghanistan, the Defense Department and relatives said Monday.
Staff Sgt. Mark Wells, 31, died Saturday in Helmand province when he stepped on a hidden bomb, his family said.
A graduate of Leigh High School in San Jose, Wells leaves behind his wife, Danielle, who is eight months pregnant, and their 2-year-old son, Finnegan.
His parents, Burl and Sharon Wells, were at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday awaiting the arrival of their son's remains.
"My son was fearless. He was my personal hero," said Burl Wells, 60, of Spring, Texas.
"He understood the risks involved, but he loved doing what he was doing. And what I miss the most is I won't be able to talk with him anymore," the elder Wells said.
"Mark was a very patriotic person, and he believed in serving his country," said his aunt, Patti Stewart of Carson City, Nev. "He was an amazing husband and father, and he was just a wonderful human being."....
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Gunmen Sunday shot dead a Muslim cleric in northeastern Nigeria who was known for giving sermons condemning the actions of an Islamic sect responsible for a series of violent attacks in recent months.
The cleric was killed outside a mosque in the remote northeastern city of Maiduguri when gunmen drove past and shot him at close range, according to a witness. The police confirmed the shooting but gave no further details.
Witnesses said the cleric was known in the local area for outspoken sermons againstBoko Haram, a radical Islamic group behind months of unrest and targeted religious killings.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sinful," put up posters last month in Maiduguri warning of a "full-scale war" and telling civilians to stay away from politicians and members of the security forces.
The sect wants sharia, Islamic law, more widely applied across Nigeria but its views are not espoused by most of the country's Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa....
--- bth: another moderating voice gunned down