Saturday, July 02, 2011

Afghan civilian deaths at record levels are largely linked to Taliban increases in IED activity

Deadly roadside blast hits Afghanistan - Central & South Asia - Al Jazeera English
...The UN says 2,777 civilians people were killed last year, the highest total since the war started in 2001.

The UN also said last month that the number of security incidents in Afghanistan this year since March was 51 per cent higher than in the same period last year.

The Taliban's spring offensive - self described as Operation Badr- has seen a surge in violence in the past couple of months with attacks launched throughout the country. Civilians constitute most of the casualties in these attacks.

May was the deadliest month for civilians in Afghanistan since the UN began compiling statistics of casualties four years ago.


Iran Funnels New Weapons to Iraq and Afghanistan

Iran Funnels New Weapons - WSJ.com
TEHRAN—Iran's elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has transferred lethal new munitions to its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, according to senior U.S. officials, in a bid to accelerate the U.S. withdrawals from these countries.

The Revolutionary Guard has smuggled rocket-assisted exploding projectiles to its militia allies in Iraq, weapons that have already resulted in the deaths of American troops, defense officials said. They said Iranians have also given long-range rockets to the Taliban in Afghanistan, increasing the insurgents' ability to hit U.S. and other coalition positions from a safer distance.

Such arms shipments would escalate the shadow competition for influence playing out between Tehran and Washington across the Middle East and North Africa, fueled by U.S. preparations to draw down forces from two wars and the political rebellions that are sweeping the region...

-- bth: is there any other indication than that we have not lost influence and Iran gained it in the region in the last decade?

Iran: Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Christian priest

Iran: Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Christian priest - Adnkronos Religion
Tehran, 1 July (AKI) - Iran's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence handed to a Chiristan priest convicted of apostasy, Iranian website Peykeiran reports.

A lower Iranian court sentenced the priest, Yousef Nadarkhani, from the city of Rasht on the Black Sea, in December 2010 after finding him guilty of apostasy. He has been held for almost two years in Lakan prison and was arrested in October, 2009 while attempting to register his evangelical church in the city of Rasht.

The young priest was born to a Muslim family but denies he was ever a Muslim.

Under Iran's Sharia law, converting to another religion from Islam is apostasy, a crime punishable by death...

Iran and surrogate attacks on US forces in Ira

U.S. military says Iran behind rising deaths - The Washington Post
...Now, according to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, the primary threat to the Americans comes from three Shiite militia groups operating in Iraq, which officials said they believe are being trained and equipped by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps special forces.

“All of them receive at least indirect support from elements in Iran,” Buchanan said in an interview this week.

In early June, what U.S. officials believe was a sophisticated rocket slammed into a joint Iraqi-U.S. military base in eastern Baghdad, killing six American soldiers in the deadliest single attack on forces here in more than two years. In addition, three U.S. troops were killed by roadside bombs in June.

Last week, an American contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development was killed when suspected Shiite militants attached a bomb to a car he was riding in near a Baghdad university. And Sunday, two U.S. troops were killed when an apparent armor-piercing grenade was lobbed at their vehicle.

Although the U.S. military did not release specifics on Wednesday’s attack pending notification of next of kin, officials familiar with the incident said the rocket was so powerful that it also wounded more than a dozen soldiers, several critically.

There was no immediate assertion of responsibility for that attack. However, Kataib Hezbollah, one of the Shiite militia groups mentioned by Buchanan, said earlier last month that it was responsible for the attack that killed six soldiers.

Buchanan said there is “no doubt” that Kataib Hezbollah “follows orders” from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, a highly specialized unit responsible for operations outside Iran. “Their leadership lives in Iran, they are directly trained by the Quds Force and they are supplied by them,” Buchanan said.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed similar frustration with Iran’s ties to the Shiite militias operating in Iraq. Iran is “facilitating weapons, they’re facilitating training, there’s new technology that they are providing,” Gates said. “They’re stepping this up, and it’s a concern.”...
-- bth: Iranian Revolutionary Guard at work again using surrogate forces to kill Americans. It is too bad that Sadr seems to have a perpetual get out of jail free card on such matters.

U.S. Afghan Pullback Lets Taliban Open New Bases, Pakistan Military Says - Bloomberg

U.S. Afghan Pullback Lets Taliban Open New Bases, Pakistan Military Says - Bloomberg

A U.S. pullback of troops from northeastern Afghanistan over 20 months has let Islamic guerrillas establish bases in the area and carry out unusually large attacks on Pakistan in recent weeks, the Pakistani military said.

Several Pakistani Taliban groups moved fighters into Nuristan and Kunar and used those Afghan provinces five times in the past month to send forces numbering in the hundreds to attack Pakistani border posts or police stations, said military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.

“In the past we never had this kind of experience, where 200 to 300 militants attacked us,” Abbas said yesterday in an interview at Pakistan’s army headquarters in Rawalpindi. “It’s a big body in this mountainous terrain” and shows that the militants have established bases in northeastern Afghanistan that can house, feed and transport such groups, he said....

As the Pakistani army has undertaken offensives since 2007 to re-capture districts taken over by the Taliban, the surviving Taliban forces have moved to Kunar and Nuristan to regroup, Abbas said. These include Taliban commanders Hakimullah Mehsud from South Waziristan, Faqir Muhammad from Bajaur and Abdul Wali from Mohmand, he said.

The U.S. military made its most prominent advance into Nuristan after 2006, establishing several small outposts to interdict guerrillas crossing into the province from Pakistan. After repeated Taliban attacks on the camps left dozens of U.S. soldiers dead, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, ordered a shift of troops from rural outposts to population centers, and the Nuristan bases were abandoned in 2009.

“ISAF posts were vacated and that created a void,” Abbas said. “Unless we resolve this, it will not allow the whole effort of bringing stability in the region.”...

-- bth: so when we had outposts in Nuristan and Kunar and were bleeding out, the Pakistani army was holding back. Then when we pulled back, the Taliban decided to create a safe haven and were even quoted in I think it was Asia Times talking about creating strategic depth for the anticipated and much telegraphed Pakistani army offensives. The insurgents benefit most from the uncoordinated movements of coalition forces and Pakistan and they feed on mistrust between all parties. A zone about the size of Switzerland I'm told has been created where attacks against Afghanistan or Pakistan can be carried out.


This is happening immediately south of El Paso

Mexican marines fight suspected cartel members for 5 hours, leaving 15 gunmen dead in north - The Washington Post
Five copies of a message addressed to Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte were also found Friday painted on blankets known as “mantas” in Ciudad Juarez, a city across the border from El Paso, Texas. Those messages, apparently posted by rivals of the Sinaloa drug cartel, accused officials of protecting the Sinaloa organization.

It was not clear if the messages in Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez were related.

“This sort of message will not stop us from continuing the fight to bring peace back to this state,” Chihuahua Interior Secretary Graciela Ortiz said.

The threatening message against Duarte comes amid threats to the governor of Nuevo Leon, another northern state bordering Texas. Two of Gov. Rodrigo Medina’s bodyguards were mutilated, killed and dismembered in June.

Also in Nuevo Leon, gunmen tried to assassinate the mayor of Santa Catarina, a town where the police chief was slain Monday, officials said.

Mayor Gabriel Navarro escaped injury when his eight bodyguards drove off the attackers, state public safety spokesman Jorge Domene said.

On Monday, authorities say, Santa Cararina Police Chief German Perez’s bodyguards and other police officers did nothing to stop gunmen who burst into his office and shot him to death. Seven city police officers are under investigation.

Navarro had said hours before Friday’s attack that he fired city Public Safety Secretary Manuel Uco and the director of traffic police, Antonio Marroquin. Uro has been questioned in Perez’s killing, but authorities haven’t said if he is considered a suspect.

bth: we need to be aware of the extreme threat arising just south of our border where civil order hangs by a thread.

Fuel shortage in Tripoli may undo Gadhafi: report - UPI.com

Fuel shortage in Tripoli may undo Gadhafi: report - UPI.com

TRIPOLI, Libya, July 1 (UPI) -- NATO airstrikes and rebel counterattacks remain inconclusive, but a worsening fuel shortage may be the undoing of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, analysts say.

The prognosis of Gadhafi's administration buckling under the burden of a siege-like rebel stranglehold on the Libyan capital's energy supplies gained support from military analysts after reports Tripoli was facing severe shortages, including difficulties with securing fuel for Gadhafi's armed forces and the city itself.

A number of sources have confirmed Libyan rebels have cut the oil pipeline from the El Sharara field to the Zawiyah oil refinery, the main source of fuel for the capital, African Energy said on its Web site, africa-energy.com.

The rebels are "aiming to drain Tripoli," African Energy said, citing sources close to the opposition Interim National Council.

"It is dangerous to make predictions in such a complex situation," African Energy said, but the move to deprive Gadhafi's forces of fuel -- following what African Energy has been told was an internal debate among the rebels over the advisability of hitting energy infrastructure -- could signal the conflict is closer to its endgame than many analysts suggest.

Rebel spokesman Juma Ibrahim was quoted as claiming opposition forces had turned off a pipeline in Rayayna used to ship oil from the Awbari oil field in the south to the Zawiyah refinery....

African Energy said its sources suggest the rebels may also have blocked other sources of fuel for Gadhafi's administration. These include a pipeline that can take crude to the refinery from Eni's Wafa field.

A Europe-based oil and gas trader with detailed knowledge of Libya's downstream sector told African Energy of reports that gas supplies could already be affected.

If Gadhafi's government cannot re-establish crude oil supplies or source additional fuel from Tunisia or Algeria, then it will be dependent only on existing stocks. The refinery's total storage capacity could amount to 4 million barrels equivalent, including oil products.

There is industry speculation and little concrete information on how much crude oil the 120,000-barrels-a-day refinery can actually process...

.

-- bth: if someone would destroy the remaining refinery's storage facility this conflict might come to a quick and timely end. Hold the sea embargo in place, close off the land routes for fuel and the pipelines. This would be a merciful end to a tough and protracted problem.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, War Fever Subsides in Washington

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, War Fever Subsides in Washington | TomDispatch
....Evidence suggests that the officer corps itself is rethinking the role of military power. Consider, for example, “Mr. Y,” author of A National Strategic Narrative, published this spring to considerable acclaim by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. The actual authors of this report are two military professionals, one a navy captain, the other a Marine colonel.

What you won’t find in this document are jingoism, braggadocio, chest-thumping, and calls for a bigger military budget. If there’s an overarching theme, it’s pragmatism. Rather than the United States imposing its will on the world, the authors want more attention paid to the investment needed to rebuild at home.

The world is too big and complicated for any one nation to call the shots, they insist. The effort to do so is self-defeating. “As Americans,” Mr. Y writes, “we needn’t seek the world’s friendship or proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions… We will pursue our national interests and let others pursue theirs...”

bth: My friend Andrew's article and commentary is worth reading in full.  Perhaps America is coming to its senses.  Perhaps.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can the US decline to vacate a Pakistani air base?

U.S. rejects demands to vacate Pakistan drone base | Reuters

(Reuters) - The United States is rejecting demands from Pakistani officials that American personnel abandon a military base used by the CIA to stage drone strikes against suspected militants, U.S. officials told Reuters.

U.S. personnel have not left the remote Pakistani military installation known as Shamsi Air Base and there is no plan for them to do so, said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive material.

"That base is neither vacated nor being vacated," the official said. The information was confirmed by a second U.S. official....

YouTube - ‪humanoid multimodal tactile sensors hd‬‏

YouTube - ‪humanoid multimodal tactile sensors hd

‬‏

Does the area of Pashtun dominance mark the future fault line in an Afghanistan civil war?

Kabul Hotel aerial photo

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

UK still trusts aged systems for EOD missions | Shephard Group

UK still trusts aged systems for EOD missions | Shephard Group

...Speaking at the Military Robotics conference in London on 28 June, Lt Col Andy Stevens of the UK Defence Academy, outlined how one of the first ROVs used in the Northern Ireland conflict in 1972, the Wheelbarrow, is still as important in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as it was then.

Stevens told Shephard that in order to understand and advance the technologies currently being deployed, the UK must look at the platforms that were 'really simple', yet still adaptable today.

He referred to UK's principles when it comes to ROV usage, such as you should 'always put a robot into harm's way', and in order to demonstrate that you are a 'force for good', the UK-centric approach was to leave as little collateral damage as possible.

The 'hugely versatile beast' that is the Wheelbarrow has survived until now because of important, yet simple, features.

'The option for cables should always be there in uncertain theatres', as on the Wheelbarrow, otherwise human intervention is necessary and negates the advantage of using an unmanned system.

The Wheelbarrow can also have a range of utilities attached to it, such as a scalpel or a claw to open doors, and this is something that is being lost through the current trend of using one uniform system.

'We are going down the route of one size fits all, but I'm afraid it doesn't,' Stevens said.

He said that in order to provide the right balance of capabilities, there needed to be a complete range of system types, and he pointed out that the US is now 'ripping off trigger systems and cutting off components', because they had not got the balance right in the first place.

Maintenance of these systems was also paramount, and the Joint Robotics Repair Detachment at Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, which repaired some 1,800 ROVs from April 2009 until April 2010, is an example of the prevalence of such systems in theatre.

To increase the life-cycle of its Wheelbarrow systems, the UK has painted the ROVs white to reflect heat away from the system. The UK MoD is also eagerly awaiting the delivery of its new 'radically different' Cutlass system, which will be employed during the London Olympic Games in 2012.

-- bth: Wheelbarrow overheats in the desert and its tracks are too narrow and heavy for soft soil. Conversely it has a good disruptor payload.

WaPo on Sec. Gates

Lessons from the Gates war room - The Washington Post
...In the years that followed, Gates backed up the emotion with action, speeding new mine-resistant vehicles to the battlefield and adding helicopters and medical facilities to ensure that wounded troops in remote areas of Afghanistan reached a field hospital in less than an hour after injury. The moves, which Gates describes as his proudest legacy, saved thousands of American lives.....

bth: an article worth reading in full.  It is amazing what an honest and competent person can accomplish.  Sec. Gates was the man at the moment we needed him.


Justice Dept. Finally Wakes Up to Corruption At Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery’s mishandling of remains prompts FBI criminal probe - The Washington Post
The Justice Department is investigating the mishandling of remains at Arlington National Cemetery in a broad criminal inquiry that is also seeking evidence of possible contracting fraud and falsification of records, people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.

A federal grand jury in Alexandria has been subpoenaing witnesses and records relating to the scandal at the nation’s most venerated military burial ground, sources said. The investigation, conducted by the FBI and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, has been underway for at least six months, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly....
So Genna Gray broke this open several years ago  when she pointed out problems as an employee, was fired and her email was broken into and she was impersonated over email by someone very high up at Arlington NC.  For several years no one would listen to her and the only reporter willing to cover the story was Mark Benjamin from Salon.com.  Now the illustrious Washington Post which ignored this issue for quite awhile reports that the Justice Dept. is finally, after years and after Congressional hearings, taking this matter seriously.  They will very likely find contractor/administrator collusion and kickbacks.   The administration of Arlington needs to be taken from the Army which only has one other facility I am aware of and turned over to the Veterans Administration which manages 131 other facilities without incident.  The upgrading to electronic records should be done in conformity with these other facilities.  How difficult is this decision anyway? 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

BBC News - Afghan central bank governor Abdul Qadeer Fitrat flees

BBC News - Afghan central bank governor Abdul Qadeer Fitrat flees

The governor of Afghanistan's central bank, Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, has resigned and fled the country, saying his life is in danger for investigating fraud.

He said the government had interfered in his efforts to pursue those responsible for corruption at the privately-owned Kabul Bank.

Mr Fitrat was speaking from the US where he has residency. He says he will not return to Afghanistan.

An Afghan government spokesman said the resignation amounted to treason....

--- bth: I think this is the beginning of the end of the Karzai government whose friends looted this bank. They want the US or IMF to pay off the corrupt losses but I think there will be a uproar in the US if that happens. So Karzai shows up talking with the Iranians and the Chinese of late. He's fishing for a sugar daddy and so is Pakistan.

Nightwatch on Sudan/China

NightWatch 20110627 - KGS
Sudan-China: Sudanese President Omar al Bashir arrived in Beijing on 27 June for talks with Chinese officials. Al Bashir's is expected to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials on 29 June, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said.

Comment: al Bashir is wanted for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur under an international criminal warrant. China is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Neither is the United States....

-- bth: so Sudan's President met last week in Iran with leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and Tajikistan (sp?), now he hops a plane to China.  Is there a firming anti-western alliance growing between China,Pakistan,Iran and Sudan?

EOD Unveils New Facilities, Memorial

EOD Unveils New Facilities, Memorial

June 28, 2011
Navy News|by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley




IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. -- Nearly 1,000 Sailors and family members attended the 3rd Annual Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Group One All-Family Picnic at Naval Outlying Landing Field (NOLF), Calif., June 24.

During the festivities, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 11 held a ceremony where they conducted their official ribbon cutting of the unit's new EOD training and evaluation facility. EODMU 11 moved to Imperial Beach, Calif., more than a year ago from Whidbey Island, Wash., said Lt. Cmdr. Cameron Chen, executive officer of EODMU 11.

As part of the ribbon cutting ceremony a memorial was presented for Sailors of EODMU 11 lost in Iraq. "We built a memorial in front of our building to recognize the six fallen heroes of Mobile Unit 11," said Chen. "Back in 2007, we were deployed as a battalion staff in Iraq and we had a period where we lost six of our technicians. It was a huge blow to us." Family members of two of the fallen EODMU 11 sailors were given the honor of unveiling the memorial.

The new facility features administrative offices, work out bays and training spaces.

"I am so impressed with the building," said Carol Taylor, a picnic attendee. "What impressed me most were the six young men who lost their lives, the purple hearts, and that will never cease to bring tears to my eyes."

After the ceremony, EODMU 11 demonstrated fast roping from helicopters, underwater re-breathing, scuba, Improvised explosive device (IED) robot maneuvering, and EOD bomb suits for attendees. Morale, Welfare and Recreation also participated in the event by hosting a 5k run/ walk.

"From the ropes to the robots, I loved it all and that is why I want to come back next year," said Taylor.
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