Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stop the presses, literally in Iraq

Stop the presses, literally in Iraq - Opinion - Al Jazeera English
..."Conditions on the ground continue to worsen for Iraq's journalists," Sherry Ricchiardi told me.

This is backed up by figures released, last month, by the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory which counted more than 160 attacks on reporters, including 33 arrests or detentions and 40 instances of obstruction or the confiscation or damaging of equipment, over just two weeks.

Additionally, according to Muscati, state security forces have killed more than 17 protesters and injured more than 250 persons during the recent unrest.

General Buchanan talked about democracy, dissent, and protests in Iraq only obliquely, preferring to focus on what the Iraqi government was learning from demonstrations elsewhere in the region.

He said that unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa had "reinforced the Iraqis' understanding of what democracy is all about."

While noting that Iraq's media was important to keeping the Maliki regime accountable to the people, Buchanan failed to address the severe crackdown on press freedom or the violence against journalists and indirectly mentioned only that the Iraqi "government is wrestling with how do they do that [allow for press freedom] and ensure protection of the people at the same time."

Sherry Ricchiardi sees the recent repression in starker terms. "It is part of the orchestrated crackdown on media," she wrote to me. "The [Iraqi] government and security forces appear to be getting bolder in attacks on media."

When asked if General Lloyd Austin, the commander of US forces in Iraq, had addressed the issue of media repression with his Iraqi counterparts, Capt. Dan Churchill, a spokesman for US forces in Iraq, explained to me that the general applauded the Iraqi government's "decision to investigate alleged incidents of excessive force by the Iraqi security forces."

When asked for an official statement on the crackdown, Churchill responded by email: "We condemn any and all attacks on media organisations and journalists in Iraq. The protection of journalistic freedom is an essential aspect of all democratic societies."

The US military continues, however, to advise and train Iraqi security forces and bolster their potential to suppress free speech.

It already seems to be taking toll. "I think journalists are more reluctant to cover protests after what happened on February 25th because they're concerned for their security and they got the message that they shouldn't be doing this," Muscati said.

If more journalists are silenced, more media outlets shut down and self-censorship takes hold, the results could be catastrophic.

"The question now is whether Iraq will move forward on human rights and due process," Muscati told me, "or whether will revert to being a police state again."

Ignatius is wrong about this

Drone attacks in Libya: A mistake - PostPartisan - The Washington Post
Drone attacks have become an addictive tool of U.S. national security policy, as illustrated by Thursday’s unfortunate announcement that President Obama has authorized their use in Libya.

Armed with Hellfire missiles, the Predator drone is a tool for assassination from 10,000 feet. It has been used by the CIA, with a paper-thin veneer of deniability, to attack al-Qaeda operatives and related targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where other weapons do not reach. One would like to think that’s a special case, born of the extreme threat posed on Sept. 11, 2001, and the remoteness of the tribal areas where the attackers are hiding.

But now we have Defense Secretary Robert Gates, accompanied by Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating at a news conference that Obama “has approved the use of armed Predators” over Libya—and, indeed, that the first mission was launched Thursday but aborted because of bad weather.

They did not state what targets the Predator had been assigned to strike. But surely it’s likely that the goal was to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi or other members of his inner circle....

-- bth: David Ignatius is wrong about drones.  While typically they have been used for precise hits on terrorists and could be used as an assassination tool, the reason they are deployed in Libya is to fly lower and slower than we could with manned aircraft such as AC130s because we need the precision to hit armor near the front lines and to distinguish friend from foe who are using identical equipment.  Also there have been significant changes in the weaponry available for drones including small rockets and what are essentially guided mortar bombs.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that we have given satellite phones to rebels and also placed spotters up front to identify targets for drone attack.

Militants attack Pakistani border post, kill 19 security personnel

Militants attack Pakistani border post, kill 19 security personnel - Monsters and Critics
Islamabad - Hundreds of suspected militants attacked a border post in Pakistan's north-western region along the border with Afghanistan, killing 19 security personnel, a Pakistani official said on Friday.

The incident took place early Thursday in the remote area of Jandool in Lower Dir district when between 500 and 600 militants crossed from the Afghan province of Kunar and attacked the Kharakhai post.

Fazal Karim, a government official in the district, said the post was jointly manned by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, local border security forces and tribal police.

'They fired at the post with heavy weapons for hours. Some security personnel died in the exchange of fire while five were beheaded after the attackers occupied the post,' Karim said.

A Pakistani intelligence official said that the attackers were mostly Pakistani Taliban from the nearby district of Bajaur.

'Some reports indicate that from Bajaur they went to the Afghan province of Kunar and from there they launched the attack with the assistance of Afghan Taliban.'

-- bth: how is it that we can allow a force of over 500 to move back and forth across the border?  How is it that a force this large is allowed to amass in Kunar without aerial bombardment?

Friday, April 22, 2011

U.S. Ramps Up Airdrops to Forces in Afghanistan

U.S. Ramps Up Airdrops to Forces in Afghanistan - WSJ.com
WAZA KHWA, Afghanistan—The U.S. military, using Google Earth and disposable parachutes, is escalating its airdrops to troops in isolated outposts, to avoid exposing ground convoys to ambushes and roadside bombs.

Around-the-clock Air Force drops of ammunition, fuel, food and water have doubled annually since 2006, reaching 60 million pounds of supplies last year.

The airdrops have taken on a new urgency with the surge in U.S. forces to almost 100,000 troops and the intensified threat from hidden explosives, which are often placed along known supply routes. Such booby-traps killed 268 American troops last year, up 60% from 2009, according to

Libya's Regime and Refined Fuel Supplies

Could Gaddafi have his refined petrol supplies cut off?

1. Libya imports refined fuels like gasoline. Those supplies have become perilous.

"Like many oil-producing countries, Libya has constrained refining capacity and has long relied on outside supplies for its fuel. It bought 80,000 barrels a day of refined products abroad in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency. The civil war has worsened the situation, leaving many domestic refineries out of order or in rebel hands, triggering fuel shortages and forcing the country to search for more fuel abroad."


2. Today rebels seized a key western Libyan border crossing point that cuts off a road based supply line from Tunisia turning back fuel trucks.

"DEHIBA, Tunisia — Libyan rebels overran forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the international border crossing near this tiny village Thursday, wresting control of a strategic supply route. The mountainous region near the crossing has been under government siege since Libya’s uprising began two months ago.The early morning gunfight is the first major victory on Libya’s western front for the ragtag alliance of rebel fighters seeking to topple Gaddafi and end his four decades of authoritarian rule."


3. MQ has been using ship to ship transfers of fuel that would otherwise be blocked by sanctions along with questionable intermediaries. The ships are going to Tunisia and then transferring their load which is then smuggled in to Tripoli by ship. If these ships were interdicted by a more vigorous naval blockade, perhaps it would be possible to cut off his Mediterranean supply lines of refined fuel as well.

If his land and sea supply routes are cut off for refined fuel?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Obama OKs use of armed drones in Libya

Obama OKs use of armed drones in Libya - Washington Times
WASHINGTON | President Obama has approved the use of armed drones in Libya, authorizing U.S. airstrikes on ground forces for the first time since America turned over control of the operation to NATO on April 4.
Mugshot
It also is the first time that drones will be used for airstrikes since the conflict began on March 19, although they have routinely been flying surveillance missions, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Thursday.

He said the U.S. will provide up to two 24-hour combat air patrols each day by the unmanned Predators.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the drones can help counteract the pro-Gadhafi forces’ tactic of traveling in civilian vehicles that make it difficult to distinguish them from rebel forces.

“What they will bring that is unique to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on targets that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions,” Cartwright said. “They are uniquely suited for urban areas.”

He added, “It’s very difficult to pick friend from foe. So a vehicle like the Predator that can get down lower and can get IDs better helps us.”

One more way to insult 9/11 responders that have developed complications - screen them as terrorists

9/11 Responders To Be Warned They Will Be Screened By FBI's Terrorism Watch List (EXCLUSIVE)
WASHINGTON -- A provision in the new 9/11 health bill may be adding insult to injury for people who fell sick after their service in the aftermath of the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, The Huffington Post has learned.

The tens of thousands of cops, firefighters, construction workers and others who survived the worst terrorist assault in U.S. history and risked their lives in its wake will soon be informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s terrorism watch list, according to a letter obtained by HuffPost.

Any of the responders who are not compared to the database of suspected terrorists would be barred from getting treatment for the numerous, worsening ailments that the James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Law was passed to address.

It’s a requirement that was tacked onto the law during the bitter debates over it last year.

The letter from Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, informs medical providers and administrators that they should begin letting patients know before the new program kicks in this July.

“This is absurd,” said Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer. “It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine.”...


- bth: Rep. Stearns that required this as an insult to 911 responders who need help is despicable.

Fight Against Extremists Stretches Pakistan’s Military

Defense.gov News Article: Fight Against Extremists Stretches Pakistan’s Military
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 20, 2011 – Just as two wars over the last decade have stretch the U.S. Army thin, the Pakistani military is stretched by its fight against extremist groups along the country’s western border, senior defense officials said here today.

At any given time, roughly one-third of the Pakistani army is deployed along the border region. Another third is along Pakistan’s border with India, and the rest is in garrison training and re-equipping.

“There are units along the border that have been in the fight for two years,” said a senior defense official, speaking on background. “That’s a long time. They are stretched.”

While many in the United States want the Pakistani military to do more against terrorist groups in North Waziristan, the truth is it may not be able to do much more, the official said. Pakistani troops – including members of the Frontier Corps – are in Khyber province, South Waziristan and other areas of Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas. North Waziristan, specifically, is a safe haven for many senior Taliban leaders launching attacks in Afghanistan.

The military has launched a campaign against terrorists in Mohmond province – an area they cleared once, but where extremists have re-emerged. And that’s the problem, the official said: once the army clears an area – “and they do that quite well,” he said – the soldiers don’t have a force to turn it over to, and they’re forced to police the region. “The civil capacity does not exist in the region to hold the area,” the official said.

The civil capacity also does not exist to rebuild areas, and the army is stepping into the breach. “They are building schools and roads and water projects,” the official said. “This should be the job of civilian agencies, but they are not available.”

If Pakistan’s army could turn over the policing and development duties, troops would be available for further operations against the extremists, the official said, but they cannot.

The Pakistani military could deploy troops from the border with India to step up the fight against extremists, but Pakistan sees India – a nation with which it has fought four wars– as the foe. India and Pakistan have troops facing each other in Kashmir province. A solution to the dispute over Kashmir, which goes back to the founding of the two nations in 1947, could “unlock solutions” for Pakistan, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with Pakistani reporters.

It was a major move to deploy the Pakistani forces from the Indian border in 2008, and U.S. officials do not expect that to happen again....

-- bth: so basically the US military and the Pak military are saying that for $3 billion this is all you will get from Pakistan unless we get India to make major concessions to Kashmir which is not going to happen.  They are not going to take meaningful action in N. Waziristan.

NATO says Afghan troop recruitment up sevenfold

NATO says Afghan troop recruitment up sevenfold - Monsters and Critics
Kabul - The recruitment of Afghan security forces has gone up from 800 a month in 2009 to 6,000 a month, NATO said Wednesday.

The recruitment was target to reach the goal of a 305,000-force by October, General Joseph Blotz, spokesman for NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said.

There are currently 152,000 soldiers and 118,000 police officers in Afghan national security forces. International donors have agreed to an expansion of the local security forces, while Afghan officials have said they would need at least 400,000 by the time they assume overall security responsibility from the allied troops....

--- bth: so what is causing the increase in recruitment?  Is it better pay?  A change in tribal alignments?  What?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Military Surveillance Robot Approved for First Responders

Military Surveillance Robot Approved for First Responders
A robot used to covertly transmit live video during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by local and state firefighters and police, ending a legal battle between amateur radio operators and law enforcement over the device.

Called the Recon Scout Throwbot, the robot transmits over the 430-448 MHz portion of the 420-450 MHz frequency band, which is primarily used by the federal radiolocation service. The spectrum is also utilized by amateur radio enthusiasts. The latter group, spearheaded by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), opposed a waiver request filed with the FCC by Recon Scout maker ReconRobotics Inc. to use the band.

The ARRL argued that ReconRobotics’ claims that the device would be useful in public safety and anti-terrorism operations didn’t prove that a waiver to use the frequency bands was in the public interest. The FCC admitted, in its order approving the waiver, that while some interference in the frequency bands may occur, it isn’t a reason to prohibit the use of the Recon Scout.

The FCC approval does come with some limitations, however. The robot can only be used by state and local police and firefighters on the specific band. Operators must also first use the Recon Scout on 436-442 MHz bands. If those frequencies are inaccessible, then the 430-436 MHz and 442-448 MHz bands — where interference is more likely — can be accessed....

-bth: the FCC has been ridiculously constraining the use of certain frequencies needed by robotics.

Juan Cole: Bush's Pre-War Iraq Oil Deals Alarmed BP

Bush's Pre-War Iraq Oil Deals Alarmed BP | Informed Comment
George W. Bush was quietly approaching US petroleum corporations and trying to do deals with the French and Russian governments and their energy companies regarding Iraqi petroleum fields in fall of 2002, according to British government documents. BP learned of these secret negotiations, and arranged for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Trade Minister, Lady Elizabeth Symons, to lobby Bush on behalf of BP, which was afraid of being “locked out” of the Iraqi fields after the war.

The anxieties were palplable in a memo written by Edward Chaplin, director of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office, in October of 2002, after a meeting with the companies: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

After a meeting with BP executives at the Foreign Office on 6 November 2002 to discuss the situation in post-war Iraq, an FO official wrote, “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

Symons tried to reassure BP that she believed it would be given Iraq concessions as a reward for Britain joining in the Iraq War, which proves that Blair was already committed to the war, despite his denials at that time. She pledged to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on the lobbying.

The British daily, The Independent, has been given 1,000 documents detailing talks between the British government and oil companies such as BP and Shell in fall of 2002 about their share in Iraqi petroleum. The memoranda were gained through Freedom of Information requests over five years by the activist Greg Muttitt, who has a book forthcoming. The documents flatly contradict denials 1) by Shell that its representatives met with the Blair government on Iraq at that time; 2) by BP that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraqi petroleum, and 3) by Tony Blair himself that it was a “conspiracy theory” that he was interested in Iraq’s petroleum as a motive for war....

-- bth: so it was about the oil?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Would Libyans accept a deal granting Gaddafi immunity from prosecution?

Would Libyans accept a deal granting Gaddafi immunity from prosecution? « revolutionology
...What Benghazi residents do agree on

Though they may differ on whether they would trade Gaddafi’s instant departure for his immunity from prosecution, Benghazi residents speak with one voice about a number of other issues. One is their insistence that any post-Gaddafi Libyan government be democratically elected and accountable to the people. Another is that civil rights be guaranteed in the new Libya. A third is that Libya’s oil revenues be spent on its people and the rebuilding of Libya’s infrastructure, not on its leader’s children or on preferential handouts to those connected to the regime.

Another issue on which Benghazi residents appear unanimous is that militant religious extremism has no part in the revolution. Many people in Libya’s east are frustrated by international speculation about a possible role for Al Qaeda in their revolution. “Al Qaeda’s beliefs are hated here,” says Mansour, a 40-year-old businessman. “But can you tell me why everyone thinks Al Qaeda is here?” He points to my face and laughs, wondering if it’s because some Libyans have beards. “You have a beard, but you’re not Al Qaeda!”

A protester in front of Benghazi’s courthouse on April 15 says she wants Gaddafi out — in Arabic, Hebrew, English, and French

Indeed, humor itself is a ubiquitous feature of life here — despite the fact that the front line hovers near Ajdabiyah, 160 km to the southwest and the last city before Benghazi on the coastal highway. “I saw a guy holding a sign in front of [Benghazi’s] courthouse a few days ago,” says Suleiman, the car-rental-agency owner. “It read: ‘BREAKING NEWS: Satan defects from Gaddafi regime.’”

-- bth: if indeed these are the demands of the Libyan people, the US should be highly supportive to the point of arming these rebels.

Nightwatch comments on Libya - Economic underpinnings of the rebellion

NightWatch 20110418 - KGS
Libya: Rebels will not sell more oil until production restarts in the battle-damaged, eastern Messla and Sarir fields, an oil official said on 18 April. Repairs will be completed in a matter of weeks, not months, an oil minister for the east said. According to the minister, the main challenge was to find parts to repair the damages to the fields, which rebels say were hit by pro-Qadhafi forces. A power-generation system, an oil tank and several diesel tanks that fuel the generators were damaged, the minister said.

Comment: Qadhafi's loyalists are attacking the economic underpinnings of the rebellion. As always, repair parts -- often ball bearings -- are the weak link in every economy.

-- bth: invariably it comes down to cash flow and oil revenue

Report: Senior Syria officer assassinated over unwillingness to open fire at protesters

Report: Senior Syria officer assassinated over unwillingness to open fire at protesters - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
A senior Syrian military officer was assassinated over his unwillingness to open fire at anti-government protesters, websites linked to Syrian opposition groups said on Monday.

According to the report, a Syria colonel was killed along with two of his sons as part of what the opposition websites are calling a new policy by Bashar Assad' regime, geared at getting rid of officers who show sympathy toward protesters.....

-- bth: could the Assad regime actually fall?

Talks on U.S. Presence in Afghanistan After Pullout Unnerve Region

U.S. Presence in Afghanistan After Pullout Unnerves Region - NYTimes.com
...The Russians, though generally supportive of NATO’s role in Afghanistan, were alarmed at the prospect of a long-term Western presence.

“The Russian side supports the development of Afghanistan by its own forces in all areas — security, economic, political — only by its own forces, especially after 2014,” said Stepan Anikeev, a political adviser at the Russian Embassy here. “How is transition possible with these bases?”

American officials have hastened to assure Russia and other neighbors about their intentions after 2014. Mr. Grossman made a visit late last month to Moscow to do so. And officials from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on down have insisted that any presence after 2014 would not mean permanent bases.

It is a “long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech to the Asia Society on Feb. 18.

“In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people,” Mrs. Clinton said, adding, “We do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country.”

The Russians, however, have complained that any talk of a foreign troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 violates international understandings, including one made in a joint statement by President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev on June 24 supporting a neutral status for Afghanistan.

Afghan officials have acknowledged, however, that the talks do countenance some sort of long-term bases after 2014, if only for the purpose of continued training of Afghan troops. “What we’re discussing is a long-term strategic framework agreement,” said Ashraf Ghani, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai who is one of the Afghan negotiators. “The U.S. has many 10- to 25-year-long agreements, a wide range of agreements.”

“The important thing now is that the sense of abandonment that was in the air last year is gone now,” he said.

One person’s long-term base is another’s permanent base, however — and in the region many people took Mrs. Clinton’s assurances as proof that the United States was not leaving, whatever the bases are called.

“A 10- or 20-years agreement can be prolonged at any time,” Mr. Anikeev said. “And we have no guarantee they’re not permanent.”

“The Americans have not been honest about this, even among themselves,” said Mullah Attullah Lodin, deputy chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, which is charged with leading reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. “One says we are not building bases, another says we are building them, and it’s very confusing.”

The big concern, he said, was that if any such agreement were reached, it would make it that much harder to enter into serious peace talks with the Taliban. “That is the first thing the Taliban demand is the withdrawal of foreign troops,” Mullah Lodin said.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the national security adviser to Mr. Karzai, disagreed. “Reconciliation and a strategic relationship, they are not contradictory to one another. We have the same goals, peace and stability in Afghanistan, and elimination of sanctuaries and bases for terrorism, that is for the common good.”

Despite such worries, American and Afghan officials are negotiating on an accelerated timetable, with the Americans hoping to come to an agreement by July, when the first withdrawals of some American troops are to start, diplomats say.

The Afghans are very worried about after 2014,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic delicacies. “They’re trying to extract from the West as much as they can now.”

Mr. Ghani said that Afghan officials were hoping to win agreement on the transfer of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which dispense aid from the United States and NATO countries directly to projects in the Afghan countryside, to Afghan government control. In general, the Afghans want to see more aid money funneled through their government, and they also want to see a reduced presence of the United Nations.

Then there is the issue of how the Afghans will be able to pay for their greatly enlarged police and military, which by some estimates will require $10 billion a year to sustain come 2014 — 10 times the Afghan government’s annual tax revenues.

“The whole mindset is to get as much as possible in the course of the next couple years,” the European diplomat said. “They really understand that they won’t get as much as they used to get, and they’re desperate to get as much as they can.”

One regional diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for similar reasons, said the Americans were equally concerned to keep a long-term or permanent foothold in Afghanistan for their own interests as well.

“There was a time when the Americans were struggling to find one base in Central Asia,” he said. “Here is a place where they can have all the bases they want, and Afghanistan is a place between two potential nuclear Islamic powers, Iran and Pakistan.”

“There are forces of reaction who are itching to fire the starting gun on Great Game 3.0, and the insurgents will try to exploit this,” said Mark Sedwill, the NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, in a recent speech.

Reaching accord among the diplomats on a Strategic Partnership Declaration will only be a first step. Mr. Karzai has already said any such agreement would have to be put to a nationwide loya jirga, a tribal assembly that acts as referendum on important issues.

“In general, people in Afghanistan are against foreign forces,” Mullah Lodin, the negotiator, said. “I don’t think the loya jirga will ever support foreign forces in the country.”

Mr. Spanta recognized the difficulty. “We have to convince the Afghan people there is something for us in this,” he said.

-- bth: so it looks like we will not have permanent bases but long term leases.  Also that if the Afghan government wants a police and army, it will have to tap the US for financial support.  Our check book is probably our greatest weapon in Afghanistan.

Egyptians Court U.S. Foes

Egyptians Court U.S. Foes - WSJ.com
CAIRO—Iran and Egypt's new government signaled Monday they were moving quickly to thaw decades of frosty relations, worrying the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia that the overtures could upset the Mideast's fragile balance of power.

Iran said it appointed an ambassador to Egypt for the first time since the two sides froze diplomatic relations more than three decades ago, the website of the Iranian government's official English-language channel, Press TV, reported late Monday.

Also Monday, officials at Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that new foreign minister Nabil Elaraby is considering a visit to the Gaza Strip—an area controlled by Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamist group backed by Tehran and until now shunned by Cairo....

--- bth: this may be significant.  Something to watch closely.

Pak Trib: Militant intentions: Taliban plan tit-for-tat if N Waziristan attacked

Militant intentions: Taliban plan tit-for-tat if N Waziristan attacked – The Express Tribune
LAHORE:

The Pakistani military high command may not have yet made a decision about strike against the Taliban in North Waziristan, but the militant groups based there are taking no chances, preparing contingency plans for a counter-assault if necessary.

An interior ministry report states that a secret meeting of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Masjlis e Shura, recently held in South Waziristan was attended by the leaders of the Haqqani group, the Al Haq Brigade, the Fidayi Force, the Allah Dad group, the Lashkar-e-Islam, the Jaish-e-Islam, and the Mujahid Khalid group. The militant leaders had gathered to decide how to respond in the event of a Pakistan Army attack on North Waziristan.

The meeting was more akin to the board of directors meeting of a large corporation, with a presentation of cash flows, a review of past operations and perceived threats in the coming year as well as a strategic plan for 2011.

The militant leaders reportedly reviewed the availability of funds from donors in the Arab world, and created a strategic plan to conduct large-scale attacks against important buildings, military installations and high-profile individuals in the coming year, including Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his son. The plan would be activated if the military initiated an operation against Taliban groups in North Waziristan....

--- bth; worth reading in full.  one wonders if this is for real or a propaganda stunt on the part of the Taliban to deter an attack on N. Waziristan.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Time-Lapse Milky Way Video Captures Nature From A Unique Perspective (HD VIDEO)

Time-Lapse Milky Way Video Captures Nature From A Unique Perspective (HD VIDEO): "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Robot in Japanese reactors detects high radiation

Robot in Japanese reactors detects high radiation - The Times of India
TOKYO: Readings on Monday from a robot that entered two crippled buildings at Japan's tsunami-flooded nuclear plant for the first time in more than a month displayed a harsh environment still too radioactive for workers to enter.

Nuclear officials said the radiation readings for Unit 1 and Unit 3 at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi plant do not alter plans for stabilizing the complex by year's end under a 'road map' released by the plant operator on Sunday.

Workers have not gone inside the two reactor buildings since the first days after the plant's cooling systems were wrecked by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and littered them with radioactive debris.

A US-made robot that looks like a drafting lamp on treads haltingly entered the two buildings on Sunday and took readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. More data must be collected and radioactivity must be further reduced before workers are allowed inside, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

It is still possible, he said, to achieve plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co's goal of achieving a cold shutdown of the plant within six to nine months as laid out in a timetable the company announced Sunday.

"I do believe we must be creative to come up with ways to achieve our goals," Nishiyama said.

TEPCO official Takeshi Makigami said the robots must pave the way for workers to be able to re-enter the building.

"What robots can do is limited, so eventually, people must enter the buildings," Makigami said.

The robot was set to investigate Unit 2 later Monday.

The robots being used inside the plant, called Packbots, are made by Bedford, Massachussetts company iRobot.

As work continues inside the plant to reduce radiation levels and stem leaks into the sea, the Defense Ministry said it would send about 2,500 soldiers to join the hundreds of police, outfitted with protective suits, who are searching for bodies in tsunami debris around the plant.

The combined earthquake and tsunami have left more than 27,000 people dead or missing.

Free Range International: Poppy Time

Free Range International » Poppy Time
...We are spending too much money and blood in Afghanistan while achieving very little besides beating the dog shit out of the Southern Taliban. That is something which the Marines in Helmand and the ISAF units in Kandahar can be proud of but it is not enough. When I look at the train wreck that is the United States economy coupled with the unwillingness of our elected leaders to deal with the mess they made I am reminded (yet again) of the Roman Empire. Contemplate this quote (hat tip Dan Carlin’s Hard Corps History) from historian Michael Crawford who wrote in The Roman Republic:

The dangerous developments of the second century BC were then in large measure the result of growth of the Roman Empire providing the oligarchy with wealth which had to be invested making it easy for them to acquire extra land, providing them with slaves to work it and offering no alternative land elsewhere to those dispossessed. A part time peasant army conquers the Mediterranean and that conquest facilitates its destitution.

The level of debt being generated by our political masters is unsustainable, the amount of spending on the war in Afghanistan is unsustainable, the financial obligations of American states are unsustainable. Yet, our political class continues to demagogue, evade, reward themselves with benefits regular Americans can only dream of, while our military leaders focus on marginal issues like women on submarines or the acceptance of homosexuals (as if they have not always been in the military anyway). Our government leaders focus on everything except the fact we have no money. Our military leaders focus on everything except the fact that we’re losing in Afghanistan. The American people work hard to support their families while sending their children off to fight for a military that is rapidly adopting the liberal cultural mores of the ruling class at the expense of traditional martial virtue. The men and women fighting here and elsewhere will return to a country where only the elite prosper, where the rules for the political class and the working class are different. They are going to fight like lions to support our constitution while the administration shreds that constitution and leaves the common folk destitute....

When the incident rate in the south drops like this there is only explanation; Poppy time

--- bth: original article is worth reading in full.

Gaddafi’s son: We will deal with terrorists first and then talk reform

Gaddafi’s son: We will deal with terrorists first and then talk reform - The Washington Post
...In an interview that reflected the defiance of the Gaddafi family more than two months into its efforts to put down a rebellion supported by the United States and its allies, the 38-year-old said the world had gone to war with Libya based on nothing more than rumor and propaganda.

In Saif Gaddafi’s telling, he has been betrayed by his “best friend,” who defected to join the rebels. His father’s government is besieged by al-Qaeda. And President Obama has proved no different from his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The comments underscore the uncompromising stance of the Libyan government at a time when the fighting has stale­mated and NATO faces internal squabbling. Although there had been indications this month that Saif Gaddafi was interested in a diplomatic solution to the crisis that has divided his nation, his tone during an hour-long interview suggested that the core decision-makers in Tripoli are in no hurry to find a political way out....

-bth: crushing the insurgents then negotiating does not sound like an acceptable plan to the anti-MQ forces.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rough measures on the actual use of APOBS by dismounts in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan’s south, signs of progress in three districts signal a shift - The Washington Post
...Such aggressive measures, far harder-edged than how the U.S. military has traditionally operated in Afghanistan, became a critical component of operations across the south. In Zhari, soldiers fired more than 400 high-explosive line charges — small rockets that pull a wire embedded with C4 and can clear a truck-wide path for 110 yards. Everything in the way was pulverized, including roadside bombs, crops and homes.

In Sangin, the Marines used 24 line charges to tear up a 1,600-yard stretch of road embedded with 52 bombs. In another part of the district, they used multiple charges to demolish tall compound walls that insurgent snipers employed for concealment; Marine officers have told residents that if they want to rebuild, their walls must be lower than four feet....

--- bth: I question some of these stats as they don't on first blush add up to what the manufacturer of the APOBs say, for example the path might be 1/2 meter and not truck wide as an example.  But some quick calculations on the Zhari army situation claims 110 yards (120.3 meters) per times 400 = 48.11 kilometers.  In the case of the marines 1749 meters divided by 24 line charges is 72.9 meters per charge.

A generator that’s lighter than air — and relatively light on the wallet

A generator that’s lighter than air — and relatively light on the wallet - The Boston Globe
....Altaeros’s blimp, technically called an “aerostat’’ since it is tethered to the ground rather than free-flying, is designed to hold a wind turbine in its hollow center and fly at nearly 2,000 feet, where the winds are more consistent and powerful. (The wind turbines proposed for the Cape Wind project, by comparison, will reach 440 feet.) A thick mooring cable will carry the electricity generated by the turbine to a ground station.

The company’s vision is that airborne wind power will prove an important complement to traditional pole-mounted turbines. Altaeros has already raised several hundred thousand dollars to test its technology and has been meeting with individual investors and venture capital firms to raise more. Based in East Cambridge, Altaeros is one of a half-dozen or so companies around the world working on designs that would send wind turbines high into the sky.

While we’ve captured power from the wind for hundreds of years, there are drawbacks to putting a spinning rotor atop a tall pole. “Thirty to 50 percent of the cost of putting up a wind turbine is building the tower,’’ says Altaeros chief executive Adam Rein. And if you try to build a taller tower to harness stronger winds at higher altitudes, construction costs increase further and objections from neighbors get louder.

The Federal Aviation Administration says tethered balloons are kosher, but they can’t be near airports or fly above 2,000 feet. They must be illuminated at night and include safety precautions in case the tether rips. (In that scenario, the balloon is designed to automatically let helium escape, letting the balloon drift to the ground.)

Altaeros says its balloons could produce up to five times more power than conventional turbines of the same size.

Altaeros believes its aerostat design could produce two to five times as much power as a pole-mounted, 350-foot-tall turbine in the exact location. Initially, the company is developing what you might call “wind power in a box,’’ packing the balloon, helium tanks, rotor, generator, and related gear into a shipping container. The container would then be sent to a remote oil field, island, or military post that would typically rely on a diesel generator for power. Altaeros’s aim is that the aerostat will be flying after just a day of set-up and will only need to descend every three or four months for a helium top-off and a maintenance check...

-- bth: great idea.  Why aren't we trying these in Afghanistan where it costs us $400 per gallon to get fuel to a FOB?