Saturday, August 04, 2012

THE DAILY STAR :: : 'This is war': Iran feels impact of sanctions

THE DAILY STAR :: News :: Middle East :: 'This is war': Iran feels impact of sanctions

Khamenei last week underlined that, under the Western pressure, "not only will we not revise our calculations, but we will continue on our path with greater confidence."
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed that when he said Iran had 11,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges operating -- hundreds more than reported in a May 25 report by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.
Sanctions pain 
But signs of the impact of sanctions are piling up.
Iran's currency, the rial, is trading at over 20,000 to the dollar -- around half of what it was worth a year ago.
Abbas Memarnejad, the head of Iran's Customs Organisation, was quoted on the website of state broadcaster IRINN as saying that imports have fallen seven percent in the past four months to 17.3 billion dollars, while non-oil exports had plummeted 16 percent to 12 billion dollars.
Iranian media have shown images of long lines of people waiting to buy subsidised chicken, after prices for the fowl have nearly tripled in the past year because of accelerating inflation.
A closed-door meeting of top Iranian government officials and lawmakers last week agreed to budget cuts as part of a strategy to mitigate the sanctions' effects, according to Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini, speaking to the official news agency IRNA.
Iran's central bank chief Mahmoud Bahmani -- who also described the sanctions as "no less than military war" -- said on Tuesday that a special sanctions-management cell had been set up in the bank that met daily.
"In times of sanctions, we need to carry out asymmetrical economic warfare, which we have begun," he said, according to IRNA....
-bth: sanctions may not be having an impact on Iran's nuclear program, but it must be seriously hurting the average Iranian who has seen its currency devalued by 2 times and prices of basic commodities like chicken triple.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Iran 'considers supplying missiles to Taliban' - World - DNA

Iran 'considers supplying missiles to Taliban' - World - DNA

Iran has increased its support for the Taliban by allowing the militants to open an office in the country while considering the supply of surface-to-air missiles, according to Afghan and Western officials.

By helping the Taliban, Iran aims to derail a decade-long "strategic partnership" signed between Afghanistan and America in April. Tehran would also have the option of stirring violence in Afghanistan in retaliation for any US strike on its nuclear facilities.

A member of the Taliban's Shura, or ruling council, was allowed to set up an office in May in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Two months later, intercepted communications showed members of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps discussing plans to send surface-to-air missiles to Afghanistan, although there was no evidence of the weapons actually being dispatched.

If they were given to the Taliban, it would mark a significant escalation of Iranian support. Iran's Shia regime was an enemy of the Sunni Taliban when the latter ruled most of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. When Taliban forces captured the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, they murdered nine Iranian diplomats.

However, the US was now seen as "the bigger enemy", a Western official in Kabul told the Wall Street Journal. "Iran is willing to put aside ideology and put aside deeply held religious values for their ultimate goal: accelerating the departure of US forces from Afghanistan," he said.

Nato commanders say Iran has long provided small arms and training to the Taliban. William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary, last year complained to Tehran after British SAS soldiers seized a convoy carrying Iranian-manufactured 122mm rockets destined for the Taliban. But the Taliban has received far greater quantities of aid and support from Pakistan.

Iran has also refrained from supplying more advanced weapons, notably the armour-piercing explosive charges that were widely used against American and British forces in Iraq...

-bth: there is an awful lot that both Iran and the US could do to one another to make their existence miserable.  Those neo-cons who advocate war with Iran fail to present the retaliatory options Iran has against us.

Mandatory Budget Cuts From Sequestration Slammed By Republicans As 'Dumb,' 'Terrible'

Mandatory Budget Cuts From Sequestration Slammed By Republicans As 'Dumb,' 'Terrible'

WASHINGTON -- Republicans are sounding increasingly angry with the deficit-cutting deal, which was pushed through by their own leadership in the House, passing Congress last summer, and requires deep cuts to the military budget starting at the end of 2012.
The Budget Control Act set up the ill-fated Super Committee that was supposed to find up to $1.5 trillion in savings, or trigger "sequestration" -- automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion divided between defense and other programs.
The committee failed, and starting in January, the Department of Defense must find more than $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. While some Republicans opposed the sequestration scheme at the time, their dissatisfaction is becoming increasingly widespread -- and blunt.
"I thought it was the dumbest idea in a body known for dumb ideas," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. "It was ill-conceived ... and the penalty clause was just crazy. From a Republican point of view, we lost our way. The party of Ronald Reagan would never have allowed this to be on the table."...

-bth: both parties think they will get political mileage out of this situation.  Consequently neither of them will really resolve this matter, much less address it until after the November election.  Frankly it will likely be 1Qtr Calendar 13 before action is taken.  In the meantime, many government programs will be pushed along and DOD contractors will have no choice but to begin laying off staff.  The ultimate consequence of this indecision is likely to be another recession.

The big retreat: Fed cuts to defense loom - Boston Business Journal

The big retreat: Fed cuts to defense loom - Boston Business Journal

Massachusetts could lose thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in federal funding for high-tech work if Washington’s prolonged budget impasse continues into 2013, a situation that will automatically trigger some $500 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Local tech experts and elected officials agree that such a move, known as sequestration in political circles, could be devastating to the state. Massachusetts received nearly $13.9 billion in DoD and Department of Homeland Security contracts in 2011, funds that supported more than 130,000 jobs in the state, according to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts Donahue ...

-bth: Sequestration would devastate the high tech and defense industry along the 128 to 495 corridors. 

Taliban cheers reopening of NATO supply line | Fox News

Taliban cheers reopening of NATO supply line | Fox News

..."Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. "Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."

A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.

"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."

Both commanders spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by NATO or Afghan forces, and neither would specify exactly how much money they make off the convoys.

The U.S. military estimated last year that $360 million in U.S. tax dollars ended up in the hands of the Taliban, criminals and power brokers with ties to both. More than half the losses flowed through a $2.1 billion contract to truck huge amounts of food, water and fuel to American troops across Afghanistan.

The military said only a small percentage of the $360 million was funneled to the Taliban and other insurgent groups. But even a small percentage would mean millions of dollars, and the militants, who rely on crude weaponry, require relatively little money to operate.

The military investigated one power broker who owned a private security company and was known to supply weapons to the Taliban. The power broker, who was not named, received payments from a trucking contractor doing business with the U.S. Over more than two years, the power broker funneled $8.5 million to the owners of an unlicensed money exchange service used by insurgents.

A congressional report in 2010 called "Warlord, Inc." said trucking contractors pay tens of millions of dollars annually to local warlords across Afghanistan in exchange for guarding their supply convoys, some of which are suspected of paying off the Taliban....

-bth: a similar situation unfolded in Vietnam I'm told.  ...

Thursday, August 02, 2012

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Real Estate Prices in Kabur - An Indicator of Falling Confidence

e-Ariana - Todays Afghan News

...  "There are no buyers. They've all disappeared," he says. "The political situation is bad, so people don't have the courage to buy. [Last year] the market was very good. But then the political situation badly affected those looking to buy or sell their homes. Many homeowners are going back overseas and leaving Afghanistan altogether." The catalyst, Mirza says, is fear.

As tens of thousands of NATO-led coalition forces prepare for a major drawdown in 2014, uncertainty about future security and the country's heavy reliance on foreign aid have sparked an exodus. Demand and housing prices have plummeted by as much as 50 percent in wealthy neighborhoods occupied by Afghan businessman and foreign workers....

NightWatch 20120801 - KGS on Rumored Bandar Assassination

NightWatch 20120801 - KGS: Saudi Arabia: Special Comment: During this Watch, Saudi Arabian officials have not confirmed nor denied rumors that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan has died from wounds sustained in a 22 July bombing of the General Intelligence Headquarters in Riyadh. The US also has had no comment on this issue, which has received little treatment in mainstream American media.

Bandar was appointed President of the General Intelligence Presidency on 19 July, the day after the bombing in Damascus that killed the Minister of Defense and President al Asad's brother-in-law, among other senior officials.

What has been confirmed by official sources is that unidentified terrorists executed a bombing at the Saudi intelligence headquarters on the 22nd and killed the deputy chief of intelligence. No reports at the time or since indicated Bandar was mortally wounded.

Many blogs and a few news services reported that Bandar has made no public appearances nor has been listed as an attendee at an official function since the 22 July attack. Multiple, complex searches of the Internet found no information about public appearances by Bandar.

Bandar has kept a low profile and it is the fasting month of Ramadan, which could explain his absence from public reporting. More importantly, the Saudis easily could put to rest the rumors of Bandar's death. They have not. Nor has the White House refuted the reports, as it easily could do, were Bandar still alive.


If he died from an assassination attempt on the 22d, the most obvious and likely culprits are Syria and Iran. The case against Syria is that the attack on the 22d is in retaliation for the 18 July attack in Damascus.

This is not likely because it exceeds Syrian capabilities. For more than a year Syria intelligence has been preoccupied by internal threats. The time required to mount an external operation is long and depends on inside knowledge of the movements and schedules of the targets. These are beyond Syria's present and recent capabilities.

The Iranians are also obvious beneficiaries from the death of a superstar in a rather ordinary Saudi monarchy. The Iranians have the skills but have not demonstrated the capabilities or intentions to execute such an operation against the Saudis. Assassination of Bandar would be an act of war that risked a general conflict.

The ayatollahs have shown no disposition to internationalize the Syrian conflict, especially while US aircraft carrier task groups are in the region. Despite their bombastic public statements, Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadi-Nejad are not risk takers when US aircraft carriers are nearby.

A more plausible scenario, derived from the Riyadh bombing of 2003 and other past bombings, is that an internal dissident group, possibly working with Iran or Syria, executed the 22 July attack. The timing relative to the 18 July attack creates the perception of cause and effect, but that is almost certainly serendipity. This scenario would constitute another disaster for Saudi security.

Riyadh has experienced a number of bombings in the last ten years. All have been attributed to al Qaida, internal dissidents or Hezbollah operatives. Any or all could be agents of Iran, but any action against the Saudi monarchy serves Iran's interests, no matter who sponsors the attack.

For now the 18 July attack in Damascus and the 22 July attack in Riyadh that reportedly resulted in Bandar's death appear to be symmetrical, evening the score. The perception is the reality and that should keep the situation from escalating to general war, assuming Bandar is dead.

If Bandar is alive, all of this reporting has been a false alarm. If he has been killed, then no one is safe in Saudi Arabia. More later.

-bth: if DEBKA publishes something alone I view it as likely fiction.  If Nightwatch does, then I view it with credibility.  Nightwatch is now covering the story.  Who done it?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Syria reportedly eliminated Bandar bin Sultan in retaliation for Damascus bombing [Voltaire Network]

Syria reportedly eliminated Bandar bin Sultan in retaliation for Damascus bombing [Voltaire Network]

Though not yet announced by the Saudi authorities, the death of Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has been confirmed to Voltaire Network by unofficial souces.
Prince Bandar had just been appointed head of Saudi intelligence on July 24: a promotion which was interpreted as a reward for having organized the attack in Damascus on July 18. The Saudi services, with logistical support from the CIA, had managed to blow up the headquarters of the Syrian National Security during a Crisis Cell meeting: Generals Assef Chaoukat, Daoud Rajha and Hassan Tourkmani were killed instantly. General Amin Hicham Ikhtiar died soon after from his wounds. This operation, called "Damascus Volcano" was the signal for the attack on the capital by a swarm of mercenaries, mainly coming from Jordan.
Prince Bandar was himself the target of a bomb attack on July 26, and subsequently succumbed to his injuries....

-bth: astonishing if true.

Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria | World news | The Guardian

Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria | World news | The Guardian

... Osama joined the group. "He [the Saudi] is a very good man, he spends his days teaching us. You ask him anything and he will answer you with verses from the Qur'an, you want to read the Qur'an you can read. You want to study bomb-making he will teach you."

In the pre-revolutionary days when the regime was strong it would take a year to recruit someone to the secret cause of jihad. "Now, thanks to God, we are working in the open and many people are joining in," said Osama.

In Shahail we interviewed Saleem Abu Yassir, a village elder and the commander of the local FSA brigade. He sat in a room filled with tribal fighters and machine-guns. The relationship with al-Qaida had been very difficult, he said, with the jihadis being secretive and despising the FSA and even calling them infidel secularists. But now they had opened up, co-operating with other rebel groups.

"Are they good fighters?" he threw the question rhetorically into the room. "Yes, they are, but they have a problem with executions. They capture a soldier and they put a pistol to his head and shoot him. We have religious courts and we have to try people before executing them. This abundance of killing is what we fear.

We fear they are trying to bring us back to the days of Iraq and we have seen what that achieved."

Osama had told me that his group was very cautious about not repeating the Iraq experience – "they admit they made a lot of mistakes in Iraq and they are keen to avoid it", he said – but others, including a young doctor working for the revolution, were not convinced. The opposition needed to admit Al-Qaida were among them, and be on their guard.

"Who kidnapped the foreign engineers who worked in the nearby oilfield?" he asked. "They have better financing than the FSA and we have to admit they are here.
"They are stealing the revolution from us and they are working for the day that comes after."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Afghanistan Veterans With Genital Wounds Receive Little Help From Pentagon

Afghanistan Veterans With Genital Wounds Receive Little Help From Pentagon

WASHINGTON -- For the growing number of soldiers and Marines whose genitals are damaged or destroyed by blasts from improvised explosive devices while in combat, the Pentagon has decided it will not provide some critical reproductive health benefits.
To put it bluntly, if you are sent to war and an IED blast blows off your testicles, the U.S. government will not pay for your wife to have in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination using donated sperm.
The new policy, quietly adopted without announcement by the Defense Department, responds to the growing demands of the more than 1,800 veterans with genital wounds that the government that sent them to war now help them return to normal life, including raising a family.
The policy authorizes payment for some reproductive procedures for the first time, including limited in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. But it also specifically excludes covering males who cannot produce sperm. "Third-party donations and surrogacy are not covered benefits," the policy states firmly.
The Pentagon decision dashes the hopes of a growing number of young Americans wounded in combat and unable to produce sperm who had wanted to start a family. In one recent U.S. military study, the average age of those with genital wounds was 24 years. The majority of those in military service -- 56 percent -- are married.
Pentagon officials were not immediately available to explain their decision to deny benefits to couples like Heather and Mark Litynski, a Marine who lost both legs and his left arm, along with his testicles, to an IED blast in Afghanistan almost two years ago.
Heather, 27, and Mark, 26, had decided to use donor sperm to begin their long-planned dream of raising a family. But the cost of in vitro fertilization can be dauntingly high: at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda., Md., where Mark was a patient, it costs $4,800 to $7,000 for each procedure. They were hoping the military would cover the cost....

-bth: this situation is unacceptable and total bullshit.  Less than $50 million would pay for multiple procedures for at least 2000, or all those with lost testicles. Good grief.  This can be fixed by Congress.  Further dismounted IED lower body wound are predominant now in Afghanistan.  If for no other reason, there is a cold blooded assessment of troop morale. ... Assuming the Pentagon doesn't do the right think in the first place (which they didn't). 

e-Ariana - On Shift in Casualties to Afghan forces

e-Ariana - Todays Afghan News

 Afghan security forces are dying at five times the rate of NATO soldiers as Taliban insurgents step up attacks ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014, the latest figures show.

While deaths among NATO's troops are regularly chronicled in the 50 countries that contribute soldiers to the war, the daily casualties among the Afghans they are fighting alongside rarely make headlines.

A total of 853 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in the past four months, government figures show, compared with 165 NATO troops, according to a tally kept by the website

President Hamid Karzai warned in May that the Afghan death toll would increase as the US-led troops start withdrawing and hand increasing responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

Both NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghanistan's interior ministry have noted a surge in attacks in recent months since the start of the Taliban's annual summer offensive.

"Enemy-initiated attacks over the last three months (April-June) are 11 percent higher compared to the same quarter last year," ISAF said in a report last week.

The month of June alone saw the highest number of attacks in nearly two years, with more than 100 assaults a day across the country, including firefights and roadside bombings, the US-led coalition said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said at the weekend that there had been a surge in casualties suffered by police in the past four months, with 635 killed and 1,246 wounded.

"This year, the enemies of Afghanistan have intensified their attacks against Afghan security forces," he said.

"We have increased our operations against the enemy and they also intensified their attacks," he said, adding that 1,730 insurgents had been killed over the same period.

The upturn comes as NATO countries have already started to withdraw their 130,000 troops after more than 10 years of war and ahead of a 2014 deadline for an end to combat operations.


"Since they started their new summer offensive their goal has been to target Afghan forces, to demoralise them and to create fear so that no one could join them," he said.

Mujda also suggested that the government underplayed casualties in their statistics because "they don't want to demoralise the forces".

He said a more realistic figure had been presented earlier this month by a former chief of the National Directorate of Security, Amrullah Saleh, who said more than 1,800 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the previous three months -- well over double the official figure.

Defence Ministry sources told AFP that in the four months since the start of the Afghan solar year at the end of March, 218 Afghan soldiers had been killed.

Police, who play a paramilitary role in the war-torn country, are more exposed to insurgent attacks in local areas where they are always on the roads or manning small checkposts while the army operates out of fortified bases.

ISAF said one reason for the increase in the number of attacks over recent months was an earlier start to the summer fighting season because of an early end to the harvest of opium poppies -- a major source of income for Taliban Islamist insurgents.

Another was the increased presence on the battlefield of Afghan security forces as they take more responsibility from NATO troops ahead of the drawdown.

Despite the rise in attacks, the number of coalition deaths in the first six months this year -- 220 -- was down on the same period last year when 282 died, according to

About half of all deaths in both periods were due to roadside bombs, the statistics show....

Report: Iran begins stockpiling 3-month food supply - The Washington Post

Report: Iran begins stockpiling 3-month food supply - The Washington Post

 TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian news agency is reporting the country has begun to stockpile a three-month supply of foodstuffs for its population.

The Friday report by semi-official Mehr quotes deputy industry minister Hasan Radmard as saying the country has been buying wheat, cooking oil, sugar and rice for the food reserve.

 Radmard said the decision came based on a decree by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in recent weeks. Part of the purchased foodstuffs has already been imported, he added....

-bth: a pretty clear indicator of trouble ahead.

Afghan truckers a forgotten front in a war growing deadlier by the day | Reuters

Afghan truckers a forgotten front in a war growing deadlier by the day | Reuters

...  For the majority of contracts paid by the military, worth around $8,000 on average, middlemen pocketed $4,000 for doing nothing other than having good connections.

Drivers then received around $300 per month in salary, but pocketed $1,000 extra in danger money for each 10- to 15-day delivery to military bases in the riskiest areas.

"The middlemen often hold our money for sometimes months, investing it in other things. Sometimes when we go to claim, the company has disappeared and we get nothing. The Americans don't care about that," Lalajan said.

Laghman province, which is home to the truckers, is one of Afghanistan's poorest, with 67 percent of people living in poverty and 78 percent underemployment, while seven in 10 people do not get adequate food each day, according to World Bank data.

Asked which road he feared most, 40-year-old driver Mohammad Qayum said the valley route to the most far-flung U.S. base in the northeast, Forward Operating Base Bostick near the Pakistan border in north Kunar, was the most dangerous.

Bostick, in a natural mountain amphitheatre visited by Reuters in June, is a frequent target for Taliban rockets aimed down at the first battalion of the U.S. 12th Infantry Regiment.

"Last year, two of my trucks were attacked going to Kunar. My nephew was inside and was burned to death," said Lalajan, nodding agreement with his friend.

Smaller cooperatives like his with 70 trucks say margins are so tight they cannot make the security payments to protect convoys and which critics say often end up in the hands of the Taliban, helping fund the insurgent war effort.

"For bigger companies that get first-hand contracts, for them it's possible. They can have 60 trucks in a convoy and can pay some money to avoid attack," he said. "But for us there are lots of Taliban groups. Which one would we pay? The attacks have been mounting."

Habibullah said the only thing keeping drivers in jobs vital to the NATO war effort currently were danger bonus payments, but even they were losing their lure as the Taliban intensified their fight and foreign troops wound back their presence.

"We don't have any faith that the government will reach any deal with the Taliban. If they reach a deal, these attacks on us will still continue, because in the eyes of the Taliban we are kaffirs (infidels)," he said.

"We think for drivers like us, as has happened with some translators, foreign borders should be opened to us. We should be allowed to leave Afghanistan."

Chinese destroyer enters Mediterranean via Suez - Israel News, Ynetnews

Chinese destroyer enters Mediterranean via Suez - Israel News, Ynetnews

Meanwhile, Egypt's Al-Wafd website reported that high security measures were taken during the ship's crossing of the canal.

Beijing, an ally of Syria, has repeatedly blocked Western-backed Security Council attempts to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to end the violence sparked by a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Last month reports claiming that the armies of Iran, China, Russia and Syria are planning to hold naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea were circling the media outlets. According to the report, 90,000 soldiers from the four countries will take part in the large-scale maritime war games, which will be held off the Syrian coastline. 

In February, two Iranian naval ships sailed through Egypt's Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, and according to Iranian reports, the ships docked in Syria.

Just last month, Russia said that it had dispatched a flotilla of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean, some of which would dock in Syria.

Moscow's gesture was the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began. Nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.

-bth: I wonder where the Chinese ships will dock?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Afghan rights report stalled by warlord fears - Features - Al Jazeera English

Afghan rights report stalled by warlord fears - Features - Al Jazeera English

A recent report detailing atrocities committed over three decades of conflict in Afghanistan was supposed to provide answers to the families of one million people killed and 1.3 million left disabled by the violence, but now some fear that a focus on naming politically-connected perpetrators could prevent the document's release.
The report, "Conflict Mapping in Afghanistan Since 1978", based on six years of research by a team of 40 researchers and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), has not been released to the public, apparently because it implicates prominent warlords in various abuses.
News of the report's stalling was first covered by the New York Times on July 22. It is set to be the first officiallly sanctioned, Afghan-produced account of human rights abuses over the past three decades.
The findings of the 800-page document including evidence of 180 mass graves, killings of civilians and prisoners, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, and destruction of towns and villages - quickly angered powerful men within the Afghan government. First vice president Marshal Fahim, for example, was livid that his name was among the 500 linked to the mass killings of fighters and civilians from 1992 to 1996....