Saturday, March 30, 2013

Afghanistan Withdrawal: U.S. Leaves Nirkh, Key Base In Wardak Province

Afghanistan Withdrawal: U.S. Leaves Nirkh, Key Base In Wardak Province

.... Afghan and coalition officials say the back-country policemen have so eroded militant influence that they've become a top target for the Taliban. The bounty for killing a local policeman is $6,000 compared to $4,000 for a regular, uniformed policeman and $2,000 for an Afghan army soldier, one Afghan official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

The units are so popular with local security officials that Thomas has more requests to start new units than his 61 American teams can build. The Afghan interior ministry also has asked the U.S. to consider expanding the local police force by another 45,000 troops. Thomas said he now has to do his own analysis for Dunford, to determine if the coalition can afford to fund them and if Afghanistan needs that many....

-bth: given that it costs about $1.5 million to keep a US soldier in Afghanistan for a year and that these local police seem to be effective, how about simply drawing down US forces more quickly and using the money instead to fund these locals?

Israel could withstand Syrian chemical weapons: general -reuters

Israel could withstand Syrian chemical weapons: general | Reuters

... The Lebanese front has been mostly quiet since, but Israel believes Hezbollah guerrillas might lash out in reprisal should it launch a long-threatened strike on Tehran's nuclear projects.

Among Hezbollah's rockets are 5,000 with explosive payloads of between 300 kg (660 lb) and 880 kg (1,940 lb) and capable of reaching Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial capital, Haaretz quoted Eisenberg as saying.

"I am preparing for a scenario in which more than 1,000 missiles and rockets are fired at the home front on each day of fighting," he said, adding that Israel could suffer more casualties in its civilian interior than on its front lines.

Israel's technologically advanced military includes Iron Dome interceptors that can shoot down most rockets used by Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis have so far deployed five of the interceptors, well short of the 13 they say they would need for nationwide defense.

Eisenberg said that, in any war, he would recommend that key Israeli industrial areas and military bases, rather than civilian centers, get preferential Iron Dome protection.

'Israel's enemies have put the entire civilian population on the frontline' - Haaretz

'Israel's enemies have put the entire civilian population on the frontline' - Week's End - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper

The penny finally dropped in the wake of the 4,200 rockets that rained down on Israel during the 34 days of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Since then, as all parties to the conflict are now well aware, it has been understood that every large or small military campaign will be accompanied by massive rocket and missile fire into Israel's populated areas....

Dodging Iranian Sanctions - Around the block - The Economicst

Dodging sanctions in Iran: Around the block | The Economist
...“The Europeans send our cargoes to Dubai, documented as the final destination. From there we are in charge.” Amir uses Gulf middlemen to change the documents, for a fee of 3-5%, before the goods are shipped to Bandar Abbas, Iran’s largest port.
Because few international banks deal with sanctioned Iranian institutions, Iranian importers have to find roundabout ways of paying suppliers. Amir uses a network of Iranian go-betweens who own companies in South Africa and Malaysia to pay his suppliers’ Western banks. He says 30% of his revenues are spent on avoiding sanctions—not counting the time involved.
The sanctions have hit Iran’s oil industry the hardest. Iran’s government depends on oil for more than half of its revenue, but exports have fallen and grown more volatile. The country’s total production is a quarter less than the 3.6m barrels per day it pumped in 2011.
One way of keeping sales going is to dress up Iranian oil as Iraqi. Another trick is to move Iranian oil onto foreign tankers on the open sea. Once crews have switched off their ships’ tracking beacons, this is all but undetectable. The oil is sold at a discount. Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a big market for Iranian oil. Business is down, says Sajad, but European firms still trade with Iran, using Swiss subsidiaries which broker deals with the Iranians and collect the crude using tankers under the flag of a third country.
The sanctions have been a fillip for the few institutions still handling Iranian money. One foreign bank charges 5% on cash moving in or out of Iran, says an Iranian shipping source. Normal business rates are a fraction of a percent, but Iranian firms have little choice.
Sometimes the fear of sanctions is more effective than the sanctions themselves..
-bth: the net effect of these Iranian sanctions seems not to stop commerce but to drive up its cost.

Can India become a great power? - The Economist

India: Can India become a great power? | The Economist

...India should start to shape its own destiny and the fate of its region. It needs to take strategy more seriously and build a foreign service that is fitting for a great power—one that is at least three times bigger. It needs a more professional defence ministry and a unified defence staff that can work with the country’s political leadership. It needs to let private and foreign firms into its moribund state-run defence industry. And it needs a well-funded navy that can become both a provider of maritime security along some of the world’s busiest sea-lanes and an expression of India’s willingness to shoulder the responsibilities of a great power.

Most of all, though, India needs to give up its outdated philosophy of non-alignment. Since the nuclear deal with America in 2005, it has shifted towards the west—it tends to vote America’s way in the UN, it has cut its purchases of Iranian oil, it collaborates with NATO in Afghanistan and co-ordinates with the West in dealing with regional problems such as repression in Sri Lanka and transition in Myanmar—but has done so surreptitiously. Making its shift more explicit, by signing up with Western-backed security alliances, would be good for the region, and the world. It would promote democracy in Asia and help bind China into international norms. That might not be in India’s short-term interest, for it would risk antagonising China. But looking beyond short-term self-interest is the kind of thing a great power does.

That India can become a great power is not in doubt. The real question is whether it wants to.

-bth: an article worth reading in full.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Facial recognition and GPS tracking: TrapWire company conducting even more surveillance -

Facial recognition and GPS tracking: TrapWire company conducting even more surveillance — RT USA

An internationally-spread Orwellian surveillance system uncovered by RT has been linked to a software company that collects the GPS coordinates of cell phone users in over 100 major cities.

The discovery of the TrapWire risk mitigation program last year and its ability to match human faces caught on camera against massive databases of intelligence led to an outcry from privacy advocates around the world. Now once again the burgeoning preponderance of Big Brother is being put into perspective.

In late 2011, members of the loose-knit hacktivist group Anonymous pilfered data from the servers of private intelligence firm Stratfor that were in turn handed over to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks for dissemination. When internal emails alluding to a service called TrapWire surfaced in the leak, an investigation uncovered a program that, according to the company’s founder, “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition.”

TrapWire developers Abraxas later became the subject of several investigative reports by RT and others, and further analysis revealed that that company was acquired in 2010 by technology giants Cubic Corporation of Southern California. Cubic would eventually deny any affiliation ever existed between their San Diego headquarters and the spy-program discussed by Stratfor execs, but links were nevertheless still evident. A Department of Homeland Security website, in fact, all but affirmed that TrapWire was being sold to government agencies as a product of Abraxas as recently as February 2011....

-bth: there seems to be no government effort to restrict invasion of privacy.  In fact it is quite the opposite. The implications can be dire for a free society.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Iraqi oil: Once seen as U.S. boon, now it’s mostly China’s - McClatchy

Iraqi oil: Once seen as U.S. boon, now it’s mostly China’s | McClatchy

.... The International Energy Agency expects China to become the main customer for Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, recently declared “a new trade axis is being formed between Baghdad and Beijing.” Birol said that about 80 percent of Iraq’s future oil exports were expected to go to Asia, mainly to China.

Iraq’s potential for oil production is huge. The International Energy Agency predicts that Iraqi production will more than double in the next eight years and that the country will be by far the largest contributor to growth in the global oil supply over the next two decades. By the 2030s, the agency expects Iraq to become the second largest global oil exporter, overtaking Russia.....

Cowboy Wind Farm Celebration

bth: 2/3rds of its power from wind.  Excellent

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Iraq war at 10 - Mike Barnicle in Politico

Opinion: Iraq war at 10 - Mike Barnicle -

Early Wednesday, the day after the nation paused to remember a war that began exactly a decade ago, the grass and ground in Arlington National Cemetery was still soft as a sponge from the rain that fell Monday evening. As always, it was quiet as a cathedral with the only noise billowing from passenger jets that leaned into the cloudless sky as each departed Reagan airport, soaring above the Pentagon and long rows of the noble dead, lost in a war that began in deceit while they now lie buried in Section 60.

John Hart is located at Grave 7892, five headstones from York Drive. He graduated from Bedford, Mass High School in June 2002, eager to join the Army and defend his country. He arrived in Iraq, near Kirkuk, with the Airborne, 508th Infantry Regiment, a year later, middle of the summer of 2003. He celebrated his 20th birthday with others in his platoon on September 18th. And then he was gone, killed on October 18, 2003 when he and the others in his unarmored Humvee came under attack while driving a U.S. Army vehicle that offered less protection than a Toyota Corolla.

“There are way too many people in Section 60,” his father Brian Hart said the other day. “For us, it’s been a lost decade.”

“I think of him every single day,” Alma Hart, the dead private’s mother, added.

“There’s a book I read once,” Brian Hart was saying. “I think the title is “Rebel Private” and it’s about a southern enlisted man during the Civil War. A recruiter for the Confederacy comes by one day and the rebel is fixing his roof. And soon as the recruiter talks to him, he can’t get down off that roof fast enough.

“The irony here is that almost exactly ten years ago this time John couldn’t wait to get to Iraq. He was going crazy because he thought the war would be over before he got there. It’s hard to believe how naïve the country was.”

This week, the media – print and electronic, blogs and columns – have been filled with the folly of Iraq: trillions spent, billions wasted, 4475 Americans killed, 32,221 wounded, a quarter millions victims with traumatic brain injury, all of them volunteers, all of them less than one percent of a big nation that viewed war largely through a remote control TV clicker.

Here are some of John Hart’s neighbors today: Daryl Dent, U.S. Army, 21 when killed on August 26, 2003; Lt. Andrew Stern, USMC, 24 when he died on September 16, 2004; Lt. Col Kevin Michael Shea, who died on his 38th birthday, September 14, 2004.

A huge number of the dead were killed months, even years, after “Mission Accomplished” was declared. Truth and facts had already lost battle after battle within the Bush White House as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz succeeded in sending more and more Americans to war without proper equipment or even a clear sense of mission.

“I don’t know how to describe it, the last ten years, “ Brian Hart added. “I sit back and read just about anything and everything about the war and I can’t come to any other conclusion: All those people, all that money, all that sacrifice, for what? For nothing.

“There were two survivors in my son’s vehicle, a Humvee that shouldn’t have been sent to war. Two survivors. That was my son’s contribution. He saved their lives.”

“Sometimes, I feel that there’s a stigma that goes along with losing a son like this, “ Alma Hart was saying. “It’s almost as if you’re damaged goods. I find that some people, not all but some, get uncomfortable when they find out that John died in the war. They don’t know what to say.

“ A while ago, a counselor told me something that really helped though. She said, ‘Alma, it’s not your problem to manage others feelings.’ That made sense to me.”

The volunteer Army in Iraq as well as Afghanistan differs from the draft of Vietnam. It means many soldiers and Marines are older, more are married, more have children. That means the losses add up to more widows, more orphans, more divorces within families fractured by deployment after deployment. The cost, the burden, of Iraq will be lugged across several generations.

The military is exhausted. The nation too. A few weeks ago, a 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal was killed in Afghanistan. When that war began in the fall of 2001 he was 8 years old, standing at a school bus stop, a lunch box in hands that a decade later would carry an assault rifle in a country we can not understand and cannot pacify.

“It’s been a long slog, “ Brian Hart said. “A long, long slog.”

Mike Barnicle is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist, and social and political commentator. He is a regular contributor on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Thousands of Libyan missiles from Qaddafi era missing in action -CBS

Thousands of Libyan missiles from Qaddafi era missing in action - CBS News

...Before his overthrow and death in the fall of 2011, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was believed to have purchased 15,000-20,000 Soviet MANPADS. Concern over the whereabouts of the missiles - and the possibility that terrorists could buy them on the black market and even use them to shoot down American passenger jets - drove a U.S. effort to recover as many as possible. But only about 2,000 were accounted for prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on Benghazi, Libya, according to the source. He describes those working to locate the missiles as "beside themselves" and "frustrated."...

NightWatch - Two Blows to the Free Syrian Army leadership

NightWatch 20130325 - KGS

Syria: The leader of the Free Syrian Army, which the West backs, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, was wounded seriously on 25 March by an explosive device attached to his car. One of his legs was blown off along with other wounds.

Comment: No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the second major blow to the leadership of the non-jihadist component of the Syrian opposition in two days. The demoralizing impact of Asaad's loss on the more moderate armed opposition fighting groups will match that of former President Khatib's resignation on the secular political opposition.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Have The Russians Already Quietly Withdrawn All Their Cash From Cyprus? - Zerohedge

Have The Russians Already Quietly Withdrawn All Their Cash From Cyprus? | Zero Hedge

Yesterday, we first reported on something very disturbing (at least to Cyprus' citizens): despite the closed banks (which will mostly reopen tomorrow, while the two biggest soon to be liquidated banks Laiki and BoC will be shuttered until Thursday) and the capital controls, the local financial system has been leaking cash. Lots and lots of cash.

Alas, we did not have much granularity or details on who or where these illegal transfers were conducted with. Today, courtesy of a follow up by Reuters, we do.

The result, at least for Europe, is quite scary because let's recall that the primary political purpose of destroying the Cyprus financial system was simply to punish and humiliate Russian billionaire oligarchs who held tens of billions in "unsecured" deposits with the island nation's two biggest banks.

As it turns out, these same oligrachs may have used the one week hiatus period of total chaos in the banking system to transfer the bulk of the cash they had deposited with one of the two main Cypriot banks, in the process making the whole punitive point of collapsing the Cyprus financial system entirely moot....


German elections are coming. Merkel must look tough. So she will sacrifice the small businesses, the individuals the uninfluential of Cyprus to show her German volk. The example must be made as the Germans desire on a small country because its easy and they can. But the Russian oligarchs and politicians slipped the noose of Cyprus, the London bankers, the German banks and the Russian government facilitated this looting in the last week while the banks were closed to the public. The fast money merely sped up while the little people waited in line at the ATM. And the rest of Europe watched hoping that it won’t happen to them; the Italians, the Greeks, the Spanish, the Portuguese. Expropriations from the weak, the small, the honest occurred in the 30s and 40s. What is old in Europe is new again. Be aware.

French fight in Mali's hostile desert - BBN

BBC News - French fight in Mali's hostile desert
... In the valley of Ametetai, where the French believe al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had built its Malian "sanctuary", soldiers uncovered construction trucks that jihadi fighters used to dig trenches and underground caches.
French helicopter flying over the Adrar of Tigharghar mountain range French helicopters have been exposed to small arms fire in the region
They also found passports and medical supplies.
"We broke al-Qaeda's neck," said Gen Bernard Barrera who commands the French intervention from the nearby town of Tessalit.
"Most of their positions were located around the rare wells so they could be self-sufficient," he said.
The militants had cultivated their own vegetable gardens, stocked bags of rice and drums of oil....

A 50-Point Swing Against Targeted Drone Killings of U.S. Citizens - Slate

Drones poll: More people oppose drones killing U.S. citizens.

A year ago, as the presidential race was taking shape, The Washington Post's pollster asked voters whether they favored the use of drones to kill terrorists or terror suspects if they were "American citizens living in other countries." The net rating at the time was positive: 65 percent for, 26 percent against.

Today, after a month of Rand Paul-driven discussion of drone warfare, Gallup asks basically the same question: Should the U.S. "use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists?" The new numbers: 41 percent for, 52 percent against.

The lede of the poll is even kinder to Paul, finding as high as 79 percent opposition to targeted killing in the United States. But that's a new question. On the old question, we've seen a real queasy swing of public opinion.