Saturday, January 05, 2013

Mass protests against government spread in Iraq

Mass protests against government spread in Iraq -

... Maliki and his government have their “last chance for reconciliation,” Alaa Makki, who leads the Sunni Iraqiya bloc in parliament, told Al Jazeera. Protesters “are waiting for the government to send somebody there, representing the governmental concerns."

The prime minister appears to be trying to head off clashes that could escalate the situation. In a statement Friday (link in Arabic), Maliki called on the armed forces and police to “exercise the utmost restraint” in dealing with protesters. He also asked demonstrators to stop “sectarian and terrorist groups" from infiltrating and sowing sectarian strife, “which if returned, God forbid, it will burn us all.”  

Kurdish and Sunni sources told Reuters that Sunni Islamists are driving the protests in the hopes of creating their own semi-autonomous region akin to Kurdistan, emboldened by the belief that the ongoing uprising in Syria will ultimately tip the regional balance of power toward Sunnis.

The unrest comes ahead of elections slated for this spring. Sadr is believed to be making gestures to the Sunni protesters and religious minorities in order to style himself as a unifying figure ahead of the provincial vote.

Repoted Strikes Under Bush and Obama

Pakistan strikes

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Free Syrian Army claims chemical weapons capability

Free Syrian Army claims chemical weapons capability — RT

A prominent member of the Free Syrian Army claims the rebels have all the components to produce chemical weapons and have the know-how to put them together and use if necessary.

­“If we ever use them, we will only hit the regime's bases and centers,” the political adviser of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Bassam Al-Dada, was quoted by Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency.

The adviser stressed that the Syrian opposition would only use chemical weapons if the ruling regime did so first.

If President Bashar Assad threatens Syrian opposition fighters with chemical weapons, Al-Dada noted, he should know that the opposition “also possess them.”

Al-Dada stated that their expertise came from army officers with technical knowledge who had defected from the government side. However, he did not mention anyone in particular.

The media have quickly made links between the announcement and Major-General Adnan Sillu, who defected from the regime in July 2012 and who prior to that led the army’s chemical weapons training program.

In June 2012, Adnan Sillu was quoted by Al Arabiya that “probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them over”. He claimed that the stores of mustard gas and nerve agents — such as in Homs, east of Aleppo and east of Damascus – were not properly secured.

Earlier in December, he claimed that the Syrian regime's arsenal of chemical weapons almost matches Israel’s....

Defense Bill: Obama Signs $633 Billion Measure Into Law

Defense Bill: Obama Signs $633 Billion Measure Into Law

HONOLULU -- President Barack Obama has signed a $633 billion defense bill for next year that tightens penalties on Iran and bolsters security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Obama had threatened to veto the measure because of a number of concerns, including limits on his authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for one year.

But Obama said that although he continued to oppose certain sections of the bill, "the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great to ignore."

The bill includes cuts in defense spending that the president and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, along with the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan.

-bth: sesquestration still hangs over all

NightWatch -- Afghanistan - Hekmatyar's statement

NightWatch 20130102 - KGS

Afghanistan: Former Afghanistan Prime Minister and enemy of the present regime, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, gave an interview to a British news outlet which was published today. He said Afghanistan will collapse into murderous civil war after NATO troops withdraw in 2014 - and expressed his determination to kill more British troops "so they could never make the mistake of coming again to this region."

Hekmatyar also indicated that his Hizb-e-Islami party was prepared to participate in the 2014 presidential elections. He insisted that he wanted a "peaceful transition" from the present Afghan government to a new administration based on "free and fair elections.

Comment: Hekmatyar qualifies as one of the most enduring and brutish political figures in Afghanistan. He was prime minister in 1996 before the Taliban took power, but has fought the US, Afghan and NATO forces implacably in the past ten years.

The significance of his statement is that the Pashtuns will fight to the departure of the last US soldier and are determined to govern Afghanistan again, by force or through elections. Hekmatyar understands how democracy works and can be derailed to legalize dictatorship. He has done it before and has now declared that is his future goal.

His message is bring on the elections-the Pashtuns outnumber all other ethnic or sectarian groups. In fair elections, the Pashtuns will always win, though not necessarily Hekmatyar's party.

-bth: why are we trying to negotiate with this party?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Iran Health Minister Fired by Ahmadinejad

Iran Health Minister Fired by Ahmadinejad | Uskowi on Iran - اسکویی در باره ایران

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today fired his minister of health, Dr. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, the sole female member of the Cabinet. The minister was replaced by a temporary caretaker. Dr. Dastjerdi had criticized the authorities for not providing her ministry enough hard currency to import needed medicine. 

Last week her ministry in a statement said the Central Bank had not allocated a budget to import medicine, but provided hard currency for importing “pet food, horse saddles and dog collars.” Parliamentarians have also accused Ahmadinejad of underfunding medicine.

Reports: Russia sends another naval ship to Syria

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian news agencies say the navy is sending another ship to the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a naval base.

The reports Sunday by the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agency cited an unidentified official in the military general staff as saying the Novocherkassk, a large landing ship, has set sail from the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk. The ship is expected to arrive in the Tartus area in early January.

The reports gave no information on the ship's intent. But Russian diplomats have said that Moscow is preparing a plan to evacuate thousands of Russians from Syria if necessary. The Defense Ministry announced two weeks ago that several ships were being dispatched to the Mediterranean.

Read more:
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Monday, December 31, 2012

Team BlackSheep XMas Special

Greenwich Village couple busted with cache of weapons, bombmaking explosives: sources - NYPost

Woman of privilege and beau charged with having bomb material in Greenwich Village apartment -

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.

People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.

Cops found the stash in the couple’s West Ninth Street home Saturday when they went there to look for Gliedman, 27, who was wanted for alleged credit-card theft.

A detective discovered a plastic container with seven grams of a white chemical powder called HMTD, which is so powerful, cops evacuated several nearby buildings.

Police also found a flare launcher, which is a commercial replica of a grenade launcher; a modified 12 gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun; ammo; and nine high-capacity rifle magazines, the sources said.

Cops also allegedly uncovered papers about creating homemade booby traps, improvised submachine guns, and various handwritten notebooks containing chemical formulas....

Graham: Panetta says deal won't avert sequestration

Graham: Panetta says deal won't avert sequestration -

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told him there "will be nothing" in the fiscal cliff deal to avoid sequestration.

"I was called by Leon Panetta last night...during dinner," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday", "and he said, 'Lindsey, I have been told there's not going to be anything in the bill to avoid sequestration going into effect.'"

Panetta says "if we do this, it will be shooting the Defense Department in the head, and we'll have to send out 800,000 layoff notices at the beginning of the year. He's worried to death that if we don't fix sequestration, we are going to destroy the finest military in the world at a time we need it the most and this bill doesn't cover defense cuts, on top of the ones we already have," Graham said.

Sequestration, which would kick in on Jan 2 if there is no deal to avert it, would cut nearly $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade.

Dashcam Captures Red Wings Tupolev Tu-204 Crash In Moscow

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Army looks to using EMP grenades

Army looks to using EMP grenades by

Today, the biggest threat against America's troops in Afghanistan is the IED, or Improvised Explosive Device. Combating this threat is difficult and dangerous. Jamming vehicles, robots and Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams have to be called in whenever an IED is discovered in order to neutralize it. It's an expensive and time consuming procedure, and unfortunately, though the US military has become better at detecting IEDs, some of them are still only discovered as they go off.

In order to simplify the procedure, bringing IED disposal down to an individual level, the US Army is looking into developing an EMP Grenade. The grenade would be portable and light weight enough to be carried by individual soldiers, and could be tossed near an IED to neutralize it. Indeed, it could even be tossed into a room where an unknown IED may exist, and neutralize the threat before it's even detected....

Bombs planted in cement blocks may target police, army: Punjab government

Bombs planted in cement blocks may target police, army: Punjab government – The Express Tribune

A report by the Punjab government has stated that terrorists have started planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in cement blocks which may be used to target the police and army personnel, reported Express News on Friday.

The report said that the bombs planted in cement blocks are hard to find and are detonated through a cell phone.

In wake of the report, the Punjab Home Ministry ordered inspection of all companies manufacturing cement blocks and ordered immediate action to be taken against terrorist groups.

The ministry has also ordered the use of IED jammers during VVIP movement in the province.

Earlier during this month, the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) had defused two bombs on the main GT Road in Peshawar – both of them planted in bricks and camouflaged among the footpath blocks.

Air Force May Be Developing Stealth Drones in Secret - Wired

Air Force May Be Developing Stealth Drones in Secret | Danger Room |

... When it comes to drones, “retrenchment returns the Air Force to business as usual,” Lt. Col. Lawrence Spinetta and M.L. Cummings wrote in Armed Forces Journal. But that retrenchment could be a cover. It’s very possible that all the Air Force’s recent backtracking on unmanned warplanes applies only to unclassified efforts. It’s feasible, even likely, that Air Force UAV initiatives are thriving within the military’s $35-billion-a-year classified budget. For sure, the stealthy Sentinel drone that first appeared in Afghanistan five years ago and subsequently spied on Iran and Pakistan is one product of the classified budget.

In fact, it makes sense for UAV development for the post-Iraq and -Afghanistan era to favor “black” programs. As America’s wars become more high-tech and its foes more heavily armed, the Air Force will need truly cutting-edge drones — the robot equivalents of the Cold War F-117 and B-2 stealth warplanes, both of which were designed and initially produced in total secrecy in order to protect their pricey new technologies.

In a recent article for Aviation Week, reporter Sweetman laid out the evidence for no fewer than two new, jet-powered, radar-evading Air Force UAVs still cloaked in black funding. In 2008 Northrop Grumman, maker of the B-2 stealth bomber, scored a $2-billion Pentagon contract that the company took pains to keep off the books. At the same time, Northrop hired as a consultant John Cashen, the man most responsible for devising the B-2′s radar-defeating shape.

The funding and Cashen’s expertise were applied to a secret effort to build a larger successor to the Lockheed Martin-made Sentinel, according to Sweetman. The new drone “is, by now, probably being test-flown at Groom Lake,” a.k.a. Area 51, Sweetman wrote.

In parallel, Lockheed could be building a stealthy spy drone meant to fly ahead of the Air Force’s new bomber, helping to jam enemy radars and spot targets for the larger, manned plane. Sweetman called the secret spy drone, which has been alluded to by Pentagon officials, “a real and funded program.” Perhaps coincidentally, in December last year a commercial satellite spotted what appeared to be a previously unknown UAV type at Lockheed’s facility in Palmdale, California.

Despite the public statements eschewing old-style drones, it’s possible the Air Force is working hard to field brand-new flying robots better suited to an era of conventional warfare. But it could be years before we know for sure, as any evidence is deeply classified and could remain so. “When the new systems will be disclosed is anyone’s guess,” Sweetman lamented.

Today’s drones might have hit their peak, by the Air Force’s reckoning. But tomorrow’s drones could rise to take their place.

US Navy Bomb-Sniffing Dolphins Get The Axe, Replaced By Robots

Robots Replace Bomb-Sniffing Dolphins - Science News - redOrbit

... “About a quarter of (the Navy dolphins) would be affected. But it’s not like they are going to go jobless. We have other assignments,” explained Rothe. “We are certain that there’s going to be fewer mine-hunting dolphins.”

The new torpedo robots will be used to hunt for enemy mines and can be manufactured much more quickly than a dolphin can be trained. As it stands, it takes the Navy’s $28 million Marine Mammal Program 7 years to fully train a dolphin to look for underwater mines or enemy divers. These robots are also entirely replaceable should a mission go awry.

The replacement robot, known as Kingfish, has been developed by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems in Point Loma. This long, sleek robot is completely unmanned and programmed to go about its mission. It can run for 24 hours underwater, collecting information about the activities going on under the sea, providing the Navy with a picture of what’s happening in these foreign ports.

According to the Tribune, Kingfish is a larger cousin of a previous bot named Swordfish which has already been used in a few limited missions. Kingfish has already been shown off to the public in a mine countermeasure exercise which took place in the Persian Gulf this September. Though the Navy plans to have these robots fully implemented by 2017, Rothe has said the total cost of this new program is still undetermined.

Million Days Lost to Diarrhea Spur Military’s Cure Search - Bloomberg

Million Days Lost to Diarrhea Spur Military’s Cure Search - Bloomberg

The elite Pentagon research unit that helped create the Internet and stealth fighter jets is now taking on diarrhea.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is dedicated to maintaining the U.S. military’s technology edge, wants to develop a commercially viable medicine that delivers quick, temporary protection for soldiers from a variety of diseases such as the flu, diarrhea and malaria.

Such bugs are the bane of troops sent abroad. Diarrhea struck as many as 60 percent of deployed troops at the start of the Iraq war, said Mark Riddle, a U.S. Navy commander who performs military medical research at the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. More than 1 million service days were sacrificed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “due to severe diarrhea in deployed forces,” DARPA said in program documents on a federal website.


...“They want to be able to give somebody genes that would encode a protein and make antibodies that would quickly go out and protect you,” he said. “And they don’t want it permanently there, they want it temporarily there, a burst of exposure to your immune system and then it goes away.”

Johnston said he hasn’t decided whether his research group will submit a proposal.

“If it worked well, any pharmaceutical company would be interested,” he said.

If the project is successful, new companies are more likely to immediately embrace the new technology than the biggest drugmakers like Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and Merck, said NYU’s Caplan.

“I would expect this would be attractive to startups, startups that would then sell themselves to big pharma,” he said.

The research program, which is expected to run for five years, is also geared toward developing a drug to protect troops against cholera, colds and malaria, according to DARPA. It said the military lost more days of work to malaria in endemic regions during the 20th century than bullets, even though some drugs exist to protect against the disease.

US to give $135m to check IEDs - Pak Intl News

US to give $135m to check IEDs -

The United States intends to spend almost $135 million this year to support Pakistan in countering Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in its troubled areas.


This money will be taken from the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) to train its security forces as well as deliver forensic and detection kits, jammers, and mine resistant vehicles.


Since 2009, the State Department and the Department of Defence have provided around $113 million in PCCF to help Pakistan counter IEDs, said Jonathan Carpenter, Senior Economic Adviser, Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday at the hearing arranged by the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.


He said that among the obstructions to implementation were the lack of capacity, equipment and training, for which the US was ready to boost the efforts. He said that IEDs would continue to remain a top threat even after the 2014 transition period.


Carpenter told the audience at the hearing that Pakistan’s efforts to combat IEDs remain incomplete. “The strategy that was discussed here in this committee more than two years ago has not been fully implemented, nor incorporated into legislation,” he added, but at the same time appreciated Pakistan’s stance on the issue.


Highlighting the efforts he said that the Pakistani military has conducted eight operations against suspected IED manufacturing facilities along the border this year. “There have been notable seizures of IED precursors in January, May and December of this year,” he said.


He added that his department has also worked closely with the Department of Agriculture to expand certain Agriculture Extension programmes related to soil fertility in Pakistan. “There has, and must continue to be, a great deal of attention paid to Calcium Ammonium Nitrate, or CAN, a fertilizer produced in Pakistan and used legally for agricultural purposes in Pakistan. Afghanistan, as this committee knows, outlawed CAN in January 2010,” he said.


Director Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, Lieutenant General Michael Barbero, also testified that during the past two years in Afghanistan, IED events increased 80 percent, from 9,300 in 2009 to 16,800 in 2011. But in 2012 IED related incidents reached 14,500. Barbero pointed out that there have been more than 926 IED attacks inside Pakistan just this year, resulting in an excess of 3,700 casualties.

-bth: so IED events in Afghanistan are about 1/3rd the peak level in Iraq and rising.  Also note that casualties per incident in Pakistan are about 4:1 which is very high and in fact higher than the 2.6:1 ratio we saw early in the Iraq war before appropriate equipment was fielded.  This may be due to the deliberate targeting of civilians I'm guessing.


International Governance of Autonomous Military Robots - ISN

International Governance of Autonomous Military Robots

...The TALON SWORDS platform developed by Foster-Miller/QinitiQ has already been put to test in Iraq and Afghanistan and is capable of carrying lethal weaponry (M240 or M249 machine guns, or a Barrett .50 Caliber rifle). Three of these platforms have already served for over a year in Iraq and as of April 2008 and were still in the field, contrary to some unfounded rumors[xv].

A newer version, referred to as MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), is ready to replace the earlier SWORDS platforms in the field. The newer robot can carry a 40mm grenade launcher or an M240B machine gun in addition to various non-lethal weapons. The President of QinitiQ stated the purpose of the robot is to “enhance the warfighter’s capability and lethality, extend his situational awareness and provide all these capabilities across the spectrum of combat.”[xvi]

It is interesting to note that soldiers have already surrendered to UAVs even when the aircraft has been unarmed. The first documented instance of this occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. An RQ-2A Pioneer UAV, used for battle damage assessment for shelling originating from the U.S.S. Wisconsin, was flying toward Faylaka Island, when several Iraqis hoisted makeshift white flags to surrender, thus avoiding another shelling from the battleship.[xvii] Anecdotally, most UAV units during this conflict experienced variations of attempts to surrender to the Pioneer. A logical assumption is that this trend will only increase as UAVs’ direct-response ability and firepower increase.

The development of autonomous, lethal robotics raises questions regarding if and how these systems can conform as well or better than our soldiers with respect to adherence to the existing Laws of War. This is no simple task however. In the fog of war it is hard enough for a human to be able to effectively discriminate whether or not a target is legitimate. Fortunately for a variety of reasons, it may be anticipated, despite the current state of the art, that in the future autonomous robots may be able to perform better than humans under these conditions, for the following reasons[xviii]:

- The ability to act conservatively: i.e., they do not need to protect themselves in cases of low certainty of target identification. Autonomous, armed robotic vehicles do not need to have self-preservation as a foremost drive, if at all. They can be used in a self-sacrificing manner if needed and appropriate without reservation by a commanding officer.

- The eventual development and use of a broad range of robotic sensors better equipped for battlefield observations than humans currently possess.

- They can be designed without emotions that cloud their judgment or result in anger and frustration with ongoing battlefield events. In addition, “[f]ear and hysteria are always latent in combat, often real, and they press us toward fearful measures.”[xix] Autonomous agents need not suffer similarly.

- Avoidance of the human, psychological problem of “scenario fulfillment” is possible, a factor believed partly contributing to the downing of an Iranian Airliner by the U.S.S. Vincennes in 1988.[xx] This phenomenon leads to distortion or neglect of contradictory information in stressful situations, where humans use new incoming information in ways that only fit their preexisting belief patterns, a form of premature cognitive closure. Robots can be developed so that they are not vulnerable to such patterns of behavior.

- Robots can integrate more information from more sources far faster before responding with lethal force than a human possibly could in real time. These data can arise from multiple remote sensors and intelligence (including human) sources, as part of the Army’s network-centric warfare concept and the concurrent development of the Global Information Grid.[xxi] “[M]ilitary systems (including weapons) now on the horizon will be too fast, too small, too numerous and will create environments too complex for humans to direct.”[xxii]

- When working in a team of combined human soldiers and autonomous systems as an organic asset, they have the potential capability of independently and objectively monitoring ethical behavior in the battlefield by all parties and reporting infractions that might be observed. This presence alone might possibly lead to a reduction in human ethical infractions.

The trend is clear: Warfare will continue and autonomous robots will ultimately be deployed in the conduct of warfare. The ethical and policy implications of this imminent development are discussed next, followed by a discussion of governance options....

May the robot shoot back at the human? - Avionics Intelligence

May the robot shoot back at the human? - Avionics Intelligence

.... The Iranian case presents two problems. The U.S. Defense Department is already planning to buy/build more unmanned robot aircraft than manned aircraft. If we permit autonomous machines to be attacked by manned aircraft adversaries with impunity, a vulnerability arises when confronting a country that is willing to forgo autonomous machines and instead deploy manned aircraft.

On the other hand, if we allow the robots to shoot back in self-defense, we have crossed into uncharted territory where unmanned, autonomous robots will be authorized to kill humans for the first time. The slippery slope may follow: Is the machine authorized to kill humans preemptively, before the human has fired upon the machine but seems sure to do so?

These issues are being studied and debated by military officers, scientists, engineers and ethicists.

But the urgent reality of how to respond confronts us now, in the airspace above our ships and sailors in the Persian Gulf. We are setting precedents by our action or inaction. And do not doubt that the Chinese, who have disputed freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, are studying our response to these attacks on our machines in international waters.

These are tough questions with no easy answers. History is being made, and the more the public is involved, the better. We will all live with the consequences, especially those who sail in harm's way from Hampton Roads.

Capt. Mark Hagerott, who has served on four Norfolk-based ships and in Fleet Forces Command, is on the faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy and is a Cyber Fellow in the Center for Cyber Security Studies. These are his views and do not represent those of the academy, the Navy or the federal government.

Syrian refugees flock to Greece

Iraq's battle with Al Qaeda continues