Saturday, April 02, 2011

US Navy to field full-on robot war-jets as soon as 2018

US Navy to field full-on robot war-jets as soon as 2018 • The Register
....But that could change in as little as seven years. The US Naval Air Systems Command (aka NAVAIR) yesterday issued an announcement that it would like contractors to conceptually demonstrate that it's possible to deploy an Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system "in the 2018 timeframe". The UCLASS is to be "persistent" - ie it should be possible for a naval air wing to keep robot spyplane-bombers in the air around the clock for long periods - and it should be able to operate based aboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN).

According to the announcement:

The envisioned capability will include CVN launch; CVN based flight control inside the Carrier Controlled Airspace (CCA) and within line-of-sight (LOS) of the CVN; and land-based mission control outside the CCA and LOS with the CVN utilizing existing DoD Unmanned Air System (UAS) control systems (modified as necessary); and recovery back aboard the CVN. Additionally, the air vehicle will be operable from BLOS land-based, fixed site airfields utilizing the remote vehicle control architecture, and interfaced with other Navy airborne systems during mission operations. Persistence should allow a single carrier to provide sustained 24/7 ISR capabilities even when conducting 12-hour flight deck operations. The envisioned system may require aerial refueling capability.

Most of this will be demonstrated as part of the ongoing X-47B programme, intended to show that unmanned jets can do carrier operations. The first X-47B took to the air last month, though only from a normal landbased runway: it and its companion aircraft are expected to achieve the full panoply of carrier operations - catapult launch, tailhook/arrester-wire landing, even air-to-air refuelling - by the end of 2013.....

--bth I think this is a good move and the navy may leap ahead of the air force in doctrine and capabilities

Pakistan replacing US with China as its principal arms supplier

Pakistan replacing US with China as its principal arms supplier
Pakistan is expanding its nuclear-capable arsenal by embracing China as its new strategic arms partner and backing away from the United States, according to analysts.

Until the mid-1960s, the US was the principal weapons supplier to Pakistan, but it began to back away from the relationship after years of difficult and sometimes unpredictable relations following the 9/11 attacks.

The fact that the US no longer fully supports the military ambitions of Pakistan has led Islamabad to replace America with China as its main source of defence material, at least in terms of arsenals, development and training.

"China is perceived as not coming with nearly as many strings attached as relations with the United States," Fox News quoted Nate Hughes, director of military analysis at intelligence website Stratfor, as saying.

A Pakistani government official was recently quoted as saying that it was vital for the navy to acquire more submarines to offset "the pressure we will definitely come under" due to the rapid expansion of India's naval capability.

"Our Chinese brothers have always come to our help and we are asking them for assistance once again," he added.

Although the value of these contracts are kept a tight secret, one would wonder how Pakistan can commit such enormous resources to defence spending....

More Here Than Meets the Eye

Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Foster Miller robots on display

Friday, April 01, 2011

Mass. National Guard member dies

Mass. National Guard member dies
(NECN) - A member of the Massachusetts National Guard has died in Afghanistan.

According to the Department of Defense, Spc. Dennis C. Poulin, 26, of Cumberland, R.I., died March 31 in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries sustained on March 28 in Konar province, Afghanistan, from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard, Milford, Massachusetts.

Poulin was in a vehicle that rolled over. He was deployed to Afghanistan last July.

China's defence spending trends

Thursday, March 31, 2011

101st says 6 killed in ongoing Afghanistan battle

101st says 6 killed in ongoing Afghanistan battle - Florida Wires - MiamiHerald.com
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- A tough battle continues in eastern Afghanistan's most volatile area where six U.S. soldiers died on Tuesday, said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division.

Campbell spoke to reporters at Fort Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line during a video conference from his headquarters in Bagram on Thursday and said that 117 members of the 101st have died in Afghanistan since last March. All six soldiers were from the 1st Brigade Combat Team.

The latest deaths came during ongoing combat to clear insurgents from eastern Afghanistan. Campbell said he couldn't discuss details because the operation was ongoing but called it a joint mission involving NATO forces, the Afghan National Army and border police in Kunar province.

"There were a significant number of insurgents killed in this operation, several large caches found and this operation is still ongoing," he said.

Campbell said the province that sits along the border with Pakistan is one of the most active places for insurgents in the eastern region of the country and he expects that it will be one of the last areas to be transitioned to Afghan security control.

"We knew that we would get a fight in there," he said. "We do expect that the enemy, over the course of the spring, will try to surge back. We believe we have done some significant damage to the insurgents in Regional Command East over the last 10 months or so."

Attacks on coalition forces have remained high even over the winter months during this deployment, Campbell said. Attacks since October were up 21 percent over last winter, but he said their effectiveness is lower.

"Some of them leave and then come back out of Pakistan," Campbell said. "Many have stayed and fought throughout the winter."

He said morale remains high for the troops from the storied division, who have suffered their deadliest year in combat since Vietnam.

"They've been able to look over the last 10 months and look at the accomplishments they have had, the difference they have made in the lives of the Afghan people," he said.

Campbell said the entire Fort Campbell community was grieving the loss of the six soldiers and gave his condolences to their families. The Pentagon released the names of the six soldiers on Thursday.

They were Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, 29, of Cleburne, Texas; Pfc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, 20, of Glendale, Ariz.; Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28, of Hialeah, Fla.; Staff Sgt. Frank E. Adamski III, 26, of Moosup, Conn.; Spc. Jameson L. Lindskog, 23, of Pleasanton, Calif.; and Pvt. Jeremy P. Faulkner, 23, of Griffin, Ga.

-- bth: the generals speaks of gains but I'll be damned if I see them. We pulled out of Kunar and now raid it as a Taliban sanctuary.  Enemy attacks are up 21% year over year.  What are the gains Gen. Campbell is referring to? We are paying a very heavy price.

Senators broach idea of Khadafy paying for campaing - No shit Sherlock

Senators broach idea of Khadafy paying for campaign - Political Intelligence - A national political and campaign blog from The Boston Globe - Boston.com
WASHINGTON — Can the $30 billion Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy has squirreled away in foreign bank accounts be used to reimburse the very nations making war on him right now?

That was a question that came up repeatedly today at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as members from both parties seized on the idea of using Khadafy's nest egg to finance the no-fly zone over his country imposed by the United States and an international coalition.

Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, started it all by asking Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg about the costs of the military operation in Libya.

"Who is going to pay for it?" he asked.

Then he asked how much of Khadafy's money was frozen abroad.

That's when Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the committee, connected the dots, asking Steinberg: "Is there any reason why Colonel Khadafy can't pay for this himself with those funds?

Steinberg seemed flustered by the question.

"Pay for?" he asked.

"Pay for the cost of this military effort," Kerry asked. "Wouldn't we have a basis for which to lay a claim for payment for damages for the cost of his actions?"

Steinberg, a consummate diplomat, said the State Department is exploring a variety of options, and that the United States should not take any action without agreement of its international partners. The US government has said that Khadafy's frozen funds are held in trust for the future democratic government of Libya.

"We'd like to very squarely put it on the table that we ought to be looking at that hard," Kerry said.

Seconds later, Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, continued on that theme.

"I think one of the things we ought to be doing is looking at what that authority is and creating the opportunity for those funds to be used to reimburse the liberation of an oppressed people, if the funds are in fact those of Mr. Khadafy," Isakson said. "Is there any precedent for those funds being used to reimburse a country for its effort in liberating a nation?

Steinberg acknowledged that some of Saddam Hussein's frozen funds were ultimately used on US-led reconstruction projects in Iraq. Iraqis have complained bitterly that much was wasted....

--- bth: no shit. why aren't we doing this?  What is so damn hard about taking the $30 B and using it defray costs and then turn over the remains to the Libyan rebels.  One can be certain that MQ is looting his own treasury as we speak.

Pentagon Art: $600,000 Gurgling Toad Sculpture

Pentagon Art: $600,000 Gurgling Toad Sculpture - Washington Whispers (usnews.com)
A $600,000 frog sculpture that lights up, gurgles "sounds of nature" and carries a 10-foot fairy girl on its back could soon be greeting Defense Department employees who plan to start working at the $700 million Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. this fall. That is unless a new controversy over the price tag of the public art doesn't torpedo the idea....




-- bth: $600K piece of crap



Karzai sacks official after women sing without headscarves

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Karzai sacks official after women sing without headscarves
KANDAHAR: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sacked the deputy governor of a restive southern province after two women performed without headscarves at a high-profile concert he helped organise, an official from Helmand province said on Wednesday.

“Instead of being complimented for organising such a big show in order to bring a smile to people’s faces, Karzai sacked the deputy governor,” said Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for the Helmand governor. “Unfortunately, the president has some ultra-conservative people around him who advise him on these issues.” Abdul Satar Mirzakwal had been second in command for over three years in restive Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold where attacks are common and insecurity rife.

The concert, held last November, was the first major musical performance in the province for many years and featured Afghan star Farhad Darya, who now lives abroad. It drew around 12,000 people, including foreign military officials stationed nearby, and the smooth staging was hailed as a huge security achievement for the Afghan national police.

Karzai’s office declined to comment on the dismissal, which may have been aimed at currying political support in the more conservative swathes of Helmand society. Mark Sedwill, the top NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, recalled in a recent speech that the president had discovered on a visit to the Helmand town of Marjah last year that his leadership was not respected in the area.

“As President Karzai said afterwards, in areas like Marjah, people preferred the Taliban to his government and regarded him as a puppet: a point he was to repeat publicly and which has affected his political outlook since,” Sedwill said. reuters

Signs of Strain as Taliban Gird for More Fighting - NYT

Signs of Strain as Taliban Gird for More Fighting - NYTimes.com
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan Taliban are showing signs of increasing strain after a number of killings, arrests and internal disputes that have reached them even in their haven in Pakistan, Afghan security officials and Afghans with contacts in the Taliban say.
The killings, coming just as the insurgents are mobilizing for the new fighting season in Afghanistan, have unnerved many in the Taliban and have spread a climate of paranoia and distrust within the insurgent movement, the Afghans said.

Three powerful Taliban commanders were killed in February in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, well known to be the command center of the Taliban leadership, according to an Afghan businessman and a mujahedeen commander from the region with links to the Taliban. A fourth commander, a former Taliban minister, was wounded in the border town of Chaman in March, in a widely reported shooting.

There have also been several arrests in Pakistan of senior Taliban commanders, including those from Zabul and Kabul Provinces, and the shadow governor of Herat, Afghan officials said. Mullah Agha Muhammad, a brother of Mullah Baradar, the former second in command of the Taliban who was arrested by Pakistan security forces over a year ago to stop him negotiating with the Afghan government, was also detained briefly to send out the same warning, said the chief of the Afghan border police in Kandahar, Col. Abdul Razziq.

While the arrests have been conducted by Pakistan security forces, no one seems to know for sure who is behind the killings. Members of the Taliban attribute them to American spies, running Pakistani and Afghan agents, in an extension of the American campaigns that have used night raids to track down and kill scores of midlevel Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and drone strikes to kill militants with links to Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas....

--- bth: I am skeptical of this story.  I would suggest that it is likely spun in several directions including to suggest that Petraeus is making progress in Afghanistan despite evidence that the insurgency is beween 35-50K now.  We will have to wait and see but I'm skeptical that three assassinations make a trend.

Karzai sacks official after women sing without headscarves

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Karzai sacks official after women sing without headscarves
KANDAHAR: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sacked the deputy governor of a restive southern province after two women performed without headscarves at a high-profile concert he helped organise, an official from Helmand province said on Wednesday.

“Instead of being complimented for organising such a big show in order to bring a smile to people’s faces, Karzai sacked the deputy governor,” said Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for the Helmand governor. “Unfortunately, the president has some ultra-conservative people around him who advise him on these issues.” Abdul Satar Mirzakwal had been second in command for over three years in restive Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold where attacks are common and insecurity rife.

The concert, held last November, was the first major musical performance in the province for many years and featured Afghan star Farhad Darya, who now lives abroad. It drew around 12,000 people, including foreign military officials stationed nearby, and the smooth staging was hailed as a huge security achievement for the Afghan national police.

Karzai’s office declined to comment on the dismissal, which may have been aimed at currying political support in the more conservative swathes of Helmand society. Mark Sedwill, the top NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, recalled in a recent speech that the president had discovered on a visit to the Helmand town of Marjah last year that his leadership was not respected in the area.

“As President Karzai said afterwards, in areas like Marjah, people preferred the Taliban to his government and regarded him as a puppet: a point he was to repeat publicly and which has affected his political outlook since,” Sedwill said. reuters

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Atrocities like this from Iraq barely make the news in the USA

56 killed in grisly Iraq hostage siege - The Globe and Mail
Wearing military uniforms over explosives belts, gunmen held a local Iraqi government center hostage Tuesday in a grisly siege that ended with the deaths of at least 56 people, including three councilmen who were executed with gunshots to the head.

The five-hour standoff in Tikrit, former dictator Saddam Hussein's home town, ended only when the attackers blew themselves up in one of the bloodiest days in Iraqi this year.

First they set fire to the bodies of the three slain Salahuddin province councilmen in a brutal, defiant show of how insurgents still render Iraq unstable — even if it has so far escaped the political unrest rolling across the Arab world.

“Why did they shoot him and set fire to his poor body?” said Salahuddin government spokesman Mohammed al-Asi, trying not to weep when confirming the killing of lawmaker Mehdi al-Aaran, an elderly man who headed the council's religious affairs committee.

Speaking in a muted voice, Salahuddin Governor Ahmed Abdullah called the attack “a tragic incident carried out by ruthless terrorists.”

Iraqi officials were quick to blame al-Qaeda in Iraq for the slaughter, noting that executions and suicide bombers are hallmarks of the extremist group. A senior intelligence official in Baghdad likened the attack to al-Qaeda's horrifying hostage raid last fall on a Catholic church in Baghdad that left 68 dead and stunned the nation.

Tuesday's attack left 56 victims dead and 98 wounded, including government workers, security forces and bystanders, said Salahuddin health director Dr. Raied Ibrahim. Many died in the volleys of gunfire and explosions....

Obama Signed Secret Libya Order Authorizing Support For Rebels

Obama Signed Secret Libya Order Authorizing Support For Rebels
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and the White House declined immediate comment.

News that Obama had given the authorization surfaced as the President and other U.S. and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

The United States is part of a coalition, with NATO members and some Arab states, which is conducting air strikes on Libyan government forces under a U.N. mandate aimed at protecting civilians opposing Gaddafi....

-- bth: so what part of this is secret? Nothing that I can see.

Arlington's Burial Mix-Ups: Will the Army Fix the Problem? - Times

Arlington's Burial Mix-Ups: Will the Army Fix the Problem? - Yahoo! News
-- bth: I appreciate mark Benjamin's effort to focus on this problem at Arlington National Cemetery until it is resolved.  Ultimately Arlington will need to be turned over to the Veterans Administration that has the computer resources, administration and expertise to manage this property as its center of attention (and alon with over 100 other cemeteries) instead of being a one off event for the Army which has consistently shows grows corruption and incompetence with regard to Arlington.



On a recent, unusually warm late-winter day, a young woman sat quietly at the foot of a white headstone at Arlington National Cemetery, among a cluster of graves of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The woman, maybe 25 years old, sat in the grass, hugging the headstone.

The question is not why she was doing that (that's easy to understand); the question is whether the headstone she was hugging was the right one. Last summer, an Army inspector general's investigation confirmed that the Army had effectively lost control of its sacred ground, the national resting place of John F. Kennedy, Audie Murphy and 330,000 others who faithfully served their country. The Army probe played down reports of misplaced or lost remains, but the revelations prompted congressional hearings and howls of disgust from veterans' organizations. In an unusual departure from the Army's normal reflexes, Army Secretary John McHugh pushed out the superintendent of Arlington and his deputy and installed a new boss to make things right on its hallowed site. (See TIME's video "Obama's Veterans Day Visit to Arlington.")

But it appears likely that the problems at Arlington are far worse than the Army has acknowledged, and the new chief, Kathryn Condon, admits the service may never be able to identify all the missing remains on the immaculate 624-acre (250 hectare) site. The Army now plans to make only educated guesses about the identity of remains rather than digging in the dirt to be sure. That means that the true location of some remains may be a mystery forever.

Mistaken Identities
The Army has known for months that it may have a massive case of mistaken identity on its hands - but has been reluctant either to admit it or to learn exactly how widespread the burial errors are. Through the Freedom of Information Act, TIME obtained the raw transcripts of interviews that cemetery workers gave in 2009 and 2010 to the inspector general. In contrast to the tepid report the IG released last June, the transcripts show how workers repeatedly found unidentified remains while digging in what were supposed to be empty graves. "We went into a grave site, which we assumed was empty," one worker recalls. "Dig down ...and, uh ... whoops! Another coffin." Another worker guessed that "one time out of 10," a headstone at Arlington sits above the wrong grave. (See a brief history of unknown soldiers.)

The idea of workers' unexpectedly coming across remains where none were supposed to be is troubling, but at least those remains can be identified. Many caskets buried at Arlington carry exterior identification tags. And for those that do not, rapid advances in DNA identification technology provide hope that almost any mystery can be solved. (Comment on this story.)

The transcripts, however, show that an unknown number of cremated remains were placed in urns that are lost forever. The problem stems from Arlington's policy of burying spouses on top of each other. When a veteran or his loved one died and the remains were cremated, the urns were interred just 3 ft. (1 m) below ground. When Arlington workers returned later to prepare the grave site for a coffin burial of a spouse, they generally removed 7 ft. (2 m) of fill. Workers complained in the transcripts that they were sometimes not alerted that an urn was already in a grave before they dug there a second time. Urns were sometimes scooped up by backhoes and dumped into a landfill, where workers would occasionally come across them later by chance. "That happens a lot," one worker said. "Nobody knows until somebody happens to see it in the landfill and says, 'Oh, my God, man. We just screwed up.'"

Read "A Farewell to a Fallen Service Member."

See a TIME photo essay on the effects of the war at home.

And then there is Arlington's Civil War–era style of record keeping. Years after other massive cemeteries computerized all their burial records, Arlington still tries to track about 30 burials a day with bits of paper recording the names and locations of remains. (This antiquated system has persisted years longer than it should have because the previous Arlington leaders paid millions aimed at computerizing Arlington to a group of friendly contractors who did almost nothing in return.)

Graves at Arlington are generally numbered sequentially and grouped into sections that often consist of several thousand burial sites each. TIME has reviewed records and inspected headstones for more than a dozen of these sections, from brand-new burials to graves that date from the late 1800s. It is clear that burial errors are spread throughout the hundreds of thousands of graves at Arlington. In section 64, for example, the headstone for Army Specialist Chin Sun Pak Wells, who died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, sits above grave No. 4642. But according to internal cemetery documents obtained by TIME, her grave card - one of two pieces of paper that show where her headstone should be - says she is in grave 4672. Similarly, the records for section 64 put the remains of Navy Commander Russell K. Wood Jr., Army Sergeant First Class Ernest F. Freeman and Air Force Lieut. Colonel Arthur Rolph in two separate graves each. (See "Photographing the Remains of the Fallen.")

Mistaken identity at the cemetery takes still other forms. Arlington's paperwork, for example, says that in 2005, in that same section, Army Sergeant First Class Irving Havenner Jr. and Air Force Colonel George Drury were both buried in the same grave, No. 2605.

Kathryn Condon, the new Arlington boss and a career Army executive, won't acknowledge the scope of the problem but doesn't really deny it either: "I can't tell you if the problem is massive yet until we see where we have our discrepancies." Since taking over nearly a year ago, she says, she has implemented strict, six-step chain-of-custody standards for keeping track of remains buried today. Thanks to those steps, she says, the headstones erected since her arrival stand over the right graves. (See "100 Years of the U.S. Army Reserve.")

As for past errors, Condon described an ambitious, years-long project to probe for potential mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of burial records will be digitized and compared with overhead images of the headstones in each section. Workers will then load into that database photographs of the front and back of each numbered headstone. Potential problems should pop up once all that data is compared. "That will tell us where we might have potential discrepancies," Condon explains, "or not." (Comment on this story.)

But Condon also revealed a critical incongruity in her plans to "fix Arlington." She admits that the burial paperwork is an unreliable mess, yet at the same time she insists there is enough correct information in the documents to figure out the likely location of remains with some degree of accuracy - and without digging to make sure. Condon calls this the "presumption of regularity" in the paperwork. What she means is that when documents show one person buried in two places, for example, the cemetery could use ground-penetrating radar to figure out whether a particular grave contains remains or not. "When the headstone matches the records and we probe [with radar] and it all matches, you have to have a presumption of regularity that that is a correct grave site," she says.

See a TIME photographer's Iraq diary.

Read "TAPS: Help for the Families of Fallen Soldiers."

The problem with this is that radar will tell the Army only if there is a casket in the ground, not who is in it. Condon admits that such judgments about who is buried where may turn out to be wrong. "The only way you are ever truly going to find out is to physically excavate," she acknowledges. Where cemetery records suggest that there are remains in two places, the Army could decide that the grave with the headstone that matches the name on the paperwork is probably the correct one. "We can validate through the records process," Condon explains.

Condon's strategy is to rely on the records and noninvasive tools to figure out the most likely identity and location of remains. She says she has already used this method to identify the remains in three mystery graves during her 10-month tenure. She will not dig to confirm those judgments, she says, unless next of kin absolutely insist. (See pictures of the final journey of a fallen soldier.)

Leaving Some Behind
Condon knows from experience that digging sometimes leads only to new confusion. Last August, a skeptical widow steadfastly insisted that Arlington disinter the remains of her husband, an Army staff sergeant, from a grave in section 66 - even though the Army's records showed that her husband's remains were safely in that grave. His headstone also sat atop that site.

Arlington workers dug and found the remains not of the Army sergeant but of Jean Koch, wife of retired Air Force Colonel Bill Koch. And when Arlington workers dug under Jean Koch's headstone, which stood one grave to the left of the Army staff sergeant's headstone, they found no remains at all. So from Koch's headstone, they moved two graves over to the right. The headstone sitting there was marked as being for the wife of an unrelated Navy commander. They dug and found that Navy commander's wife's remains - along with the remains of the Army staff sergeant that officials were looking for in the first place. (See pictures of one American unit's final days in Iraq.)

It was a horrifying, domino-like series of burial mistakes, and it supports what people familiar with the cemetery's operations have long said: each burial error at Arlington might represent several related burial mistakes. Paul Bucha, who earned a Medal of Honor in Vietnam and who spends considerable time on veterans' issues, railed at the notion that Arlington would not determine beyond any shadow of doubt the correct identity and location of remains at the cemetery. "The question is, Which family will you look in the eye and swear that you know their loved one is buried there?" he asks.

Settling for an educated guess on the identity of remains, veterans say, flies in the face of the military's sacred leave-no-one-behind battlefield ethos. From the lowly Army private to the top Pentagon brass, the military has long stopped at nothing to bring a service member's remains home for honorable burial. Some 350 Pentagon employees work tirelessly in a program to track down combat remains wherever they may lie around the world. To help identify those remains, the Pentagon runs the largest high-tech forensic laboratory in the world, in Hawaii. "If you don't know who is in the ground," Bucha says, "how do you say no one is left behind?" (Comment on this story.)

Bill Koch had previously visited the headstone of his wife Jean in section 66 only to learn last summer that her grave was empty. Contacted by TIME in Raleigh, N.C., Koch noted the irony of the military's pulling out the stops to identify a finger bone from the jungles of Vietnam but being reluctant to use a backhoe at Arlington. "They are never," he said, "going to fix the problem."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nightwatch: Spratly Island issues between Philippines and China brewing

NightWatch 20110328 - KGS
Philippines: Armed forces chief General Eduardo Oban said on 28 March that 8 billion pesos ($186 million) has been earmarked for naval and air equipment to increase the military's presence in Palawan, in southwestern Philippines and the island closest to the disputed Spratly Islands. Oban said the military would use the funds to purchase vessels and long-range patrol aircraft. The government also will allot funds to repair a military runway and purchase an additional radio station on Pagasa Island, one of the islands in the South China Sea near the Spratlys that the Philippines claims as national territory.

Comment: This means the Philippines disputes China's claim to own all the islands in the South China Sea and intends to protect its handful of islands and quays from Chinese poaching.

Case Shiller Home Price Indices

Monday, March 28, 2011

A War By Any Name By ROSS DOUTHAT NYT

A War By Any Name - NYTimes.com
Tonight, in a speech that probably should have been delivered before American planes began flying missions over North Africa, Barack Obama will try to explain to a puzzled nation why we are at war with Libya.

Not that the word “war” will pass his lips, most likely. In press briefings last week, our Libyan campaign was euphemized into a “kinetic military action” and a “time-limited, scope-limited military action.” (The online parodies were merciless: “Make love, not time-limited, scope-limited military actions!” “Let slip the muzzled canine unit of kinetic military action!”) Advertising tonight’s address, the White House opted for “the situation in Libya,” which sounds less like a military intervention than a spin-off vehicle for the famous musclehead from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”

But by any name or euphemism, the United States has gone to war, and there are questions that the president must answer. Here are the four biggest ones:

What are our military objectives? The strict letter of the United Nations resolution we’re enforcing only authorizes the use of air power to protect civilian populations “under threat of attack” from Qaddafi’s forces. But we’re interpreting that mandate as liberally as possible: our strikes have cleared the way for a rebel counteroffensive, whose success is contingent on our continued air support.

If the rebels stall out short of Tripoli, though, how will we respond? With a permanent no-fly zone, effectively establishing a NATO protectorate in eastern Libya? With arms for the anti-Qaddafi forces, so they can finish the job? Either way, the logic of this conflict suggests a more open-ended commitment than the White House has been willing to admit.

Who exactly are the rebels? According to our ambassador to Libya, they have issued policy statements that include “all the right elements” — support for democracy, economic development, women’s rights, etc. According to The Los Angeles Times, they have filled what used to be Qaddafi’s prisons with “enemies of the revolution” — mostly black Africans, rounded up under suspicion of being mercenaries and awaiting revolutionary justice. According to The Daily Telegraph in London, their front-line forces include what one rebel commander calls the “patriots and good Muslims” who fought American forces in Iraq.

Perhaps Obama can clarify this picture. The rebels don’t need to be saints to represent an improvement on Qaddafi. But given that we’re dropping bombs on their behalf, it would be nice if they didn’t turn out to be Jacobins or Islamists.

Can we really hand off this mission? Officially, this is a far more multilateral venture than was, say, the invasion of Iraq. But as Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin points out, when it comes to direct military support, this war’s coalition is “smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.” Officially, too, the United States is already stepping back into a supporting role, as NATO takes over the command. But as Wired’s Spencer Ackerman argues, the difference between a “high” United States involvement and a “low” military commitment may prove more semantic than meaningful.

Obama has said our involvement will be measured in “days, not weeks.” With one week down already, is this really plausible? And anyway, how responsible is it to commit American forces to a mission and then suggest, as a senior administration official did last week, that “how it turns out is not on our shoulders”?

Is Libya distracting us from more pressing American interests? While we’ve been making war on Qaddafi’s tin-pot regime, our enemies in Syria have been shooting protesters, our allies in Saudi Arabia have been crushing dissidents, Yemen’s government is teetering, there’s been an upsurge of violence in Israel, and the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be moving smoothly into an alliance with the Egyptian military. Oh, and we’re still occupying Iraq and fighting a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and trying to contain Iran.

Last week, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg rank-ordered Mideast trouble spots that “demand more American attention than Libya.” He came up with six: Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen’s Qaeda havens, post-Mubarak Egypt and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One can quibble with Goldberg’s ordering but not his broader point. While we intervene in Libya, what is our Egypt policy? Our Yemen policy? Our Syria policy? With the entire Middle East in turmoil, does it make sense that Washington is focused so intently on who controls the highway between Ajdabiya and Surt?

It’s clear that not everyone in this White House thinks so. Defending the intervention on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Robert Gates let slip that he believes that Libya is not a “vital interest” of the United States.

President Obama’s most pressing task tonight will be to explain why his secretary of defense is wrong — and why, appearances to the contrary, the potential payoff from our Libyan war more than justifies the risks.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

173rd Airborne commander relieved of duty

173rd Airborne commander relieved of duty - News - Stripes
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Army has relieved Col. James H. Johnson III of command of the 173rd Airborne Brigade for serious allegations “that were substantiated” following an extensive review, said the deputy commander of V Corps.

The Army announced its decision on Johnson late Friday. Col. Kyle Lear is serving as the acting commander until Johnson’s replacement arrives this summer. However, it didn’t go into any detail about Johnson’s transgressions, or whether he will be court-martialed.

Brig. Gen. Allen W. Batschelet, Johnson’s direct supervisor, said in a telephone interview that Johnson faced “a number of allegations that were (later) substantiated.” Commanders need to be held to the highest standards, he said.
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“Once this is compromised, we have an obligation to take action,” Batschelet said. “These sorts of things can become a distraction.”

While the Army says it can’t elaborate on the allegations against Johnson, talk of the colonel’s troubles are the grist of rumors, particularly in the communities where the brigade is based.

“It’s a pretty grave decision we had to make,” Batschelet said of relieving Johnson. “We hold commanders to the highest standards.”

Based in Vicenza, Italy, the brigade includes six battalions. Two battalions are in Vicenza, and four are in Germany, with three of them in Bamberg. The fourth battalion is based in Schweinfurt.

Johnson assumed command of the brigade in October 2008. He led it on a yearlong tour of Afghanistan, with the brigade returning to Europe late last year. The Army suspended Johnson as commander Feb. 17. On Friday, the suspension was lifted.

“He’s officially relieved of command at this point,” said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Europe.

--- bth: more shitty leadership.  I'll bet it comes out that the action against him was taken just before it hit the news.