...In Syria, thousands of Alawites have left their homes in war-shattered cities such as Homs, for the relative safety of the overwhelmingly Alawite provinces of Tartous and Latakia.
Syrian opponents of Assad say Alawite fighters are trying to carve out a breakaway enclave in the country's mountainous Alawite heartland by driving out local Sunnis. They say recent killings in overwhelmingly Sunni villages close to Alawite communities are meant to lay the groundwork.
Earlier this month, regime forces from nearby Alawite areas were blamed for killing dozens of civilians in Banias and Bayda, two Sunni communities in western Syria. The violence bore a closer resemblance to two reported mass killings last year in Houla and Qubeir, Sunni villages surrounded by Alawite towns in central Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper that having failed to control the entire country, Assad was now executing his "plan B" — which involves opening up an Alawite corridor between central Syria and Lebanon and driving Sunnis away from the area.
"There is an effort to cleanse the region," Davutoglu said in the interview, published last week. "This will cause turmoil in Lebanon too. It could cause a culture of revenge."
-bth: so this article says 35K of the 70K casualties in this war are Alawite. Given their very small percentage of the population the casualty rate must be severely felt. That they are fortifying their coastal enclave is also consistent with the location of Russia's last naval base in the region and its recent reinforcements securing naval access.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
...These spreading fissures leave little optimism that Syria can be stitched back together under one leadership in the near future.
“The only real outcome I see in the next 5 to 10 years is a series of cantons that agree to tactical cease-fires because they are tired of the bloodletting,” said Mr. Holliday, the analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. “That trajectory is in place, with or without Assad.”
Friday, May 17, 2013
...The Navy has invested $813 billion in its unmanned X-47B, a project that is close to operational.
This might seem like a large amount until you consider that DOD plans to spend $1.5 trillion on its manned F-35.
Of course, these costs will grow as the robots are produced on a larger scale. And people will never be completely eliminated from the DOD: Pentagon commanders are likely to use robots as companions to human soldiers, not as replacements.
But because they’re cheap to maintain, the rise of robot warriors is likely to reduce DOD spending. As production increases, efficiencies will be found, reducing costs. All signs indicate that the cost of using a robot in battle is likely to be less than using a human.
The real savings come through medical costs. Robots do not require long-term medical care, the time and services of the Veterans Administration, or anything else connected to the government’s bottom line.
If the robots are destroyed, they’re replaced. If they’re damaged, they’re repaired. They don’t require rehab or multiple surgeries to recover. And they don’t require psychological care for costly and tough-to-treat afflictions like post-traumatic stress.
Unless they begin to think.
... But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be “realistic,” aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The meeting produced no decisions, either about policy or about the length of any debt-limit increase. Aides said another date-certain suspension — rather than a higher limit — remains a possibility.
Another open question: When should the House act? Aides predicted that House leaders would settle on a strategy and push a bill through before the August recess, before real negotiations with Democrats begin sometime after Labor Day.
“We’re not hurrying this. We’re not going to rush it. We’re going to listen to members. This is the day when you sit down with a yellow pad and pencil and start listing the pros and cons,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.). “But we’re very serious about finding something that could get 233 Republican votes and pass the House.”
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The U.S. government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan recontruction — Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) following a report said the Finance Ministry of Afghanistan has levied nearly $1 billion since 2008 in business taxes and associated penalties on 43 contractors.
The report issued by SIGAR on 14 May stated that the Afghan govrnment levied nearly $921 million “illegitimate” taxes on contractors working on U.S. funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
The taxes were levied on contractors despite both the U.S. and Afghan government agreed to be exempted, creating dispute between the government and the contractors, the SIGAR audit revealed....
-bth: another ripoff
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Local officials reported that due to ongoing threats from the Taliban 40 schools have been forced to close in the Shahjoi district of Zabul province.
According to local officials the education and training processes has been stopped completely for 6 weeks in that district.
The acting Governor Mohammad Jan Rassoul Yar has said that by closing the schools, the Taliban have shown that they want to keep the young generation away from education and use them for their illicit objectives in the future.
The local residents also confirmed that the schools have been closed and their children are not going to schools for over a month.
According to the local residents the Taliban have reacted against the recent regulation of the Qalat Traffic department that prevents them from using motorcycles in that district.
The local residents added that if the Government takes back its regulation on prohibiting the use of motorcycles in the district the problem would be solved.
Though a lot of efforts have been underway to re-open the schools, there is yet to be a positive result.
-bth: so the Taliban closed the schools so that they can get use of their motorcycles back to plant IEDs and ambush people. How is it that the Taliban retains popular support?
(Reuters) - Four U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on Tuesday, the coalition and officials said, a day after three Georgian soldiers were killed in nearby Helmand....
bth: Sadly, this barely makes the news. The US is mentally disengaged from Afghanistan. We need to get the hell out.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
ABOARD THE U.S.S. GEORGE H.W. BUSH — At 11:19 a.m. today, for the first time in history, a plane without a pilot in it executed one of the most complex missions in aviation: launching off an aircraft carrier at sea. Only the Navy can’t yet land that drone aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, an even harder but necessary maneuver if large drones are really going to operate off carriers.
On a crisp, bright and nearly cloudless day, about 100 miles off the Virginia coast, the crew of the Bush and the team behind the highly autonomous X-47B loaded up the deck’s second catapult with the drone and shot it off into the sky above the eastern Atlantic. The drone — which has its own callsign, “Salty Dog 502″ — turned downwind and passed over the ship twice, first from 1000 feet overhead and then from 60 feet overhead, before flying back to dry land in Maryland. The launch went exactly as the Navy hoped....
Monday, May 13, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a ‘‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’’ into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls....
Sunday, May 12, 2013
The US Navy's quieter way to spy, the Ion Tiger, just bested its own 2009 flight record with a key assist from liquid hydrogen. The unmanned aerial vehicle had previously relied on 5000-psi compressed hydrogen for fuel, but for its latest flight test the Naval Research team swapped that out for a new cryogenic tank and delivery system that relies on the liquid stuff; a choice made for the element's increased density. With that one significant change in place, the craft was able to outperform its last endurance run of 26 hours and two minutes by almost double, lasting 48 hours and one minute in a flight made mid-April. Spying: it's not only good for the government, it's good for the environment, too.
...On May 1st, Afghan intelligence officials received reports that a complex attack was imminent in Farah Province. A truck with more than 3000 kg of explosives was being prepared for movement to a target area densely populated with civilians. As a frame of reference, the truck bomb used in the Oklahoma City terrorist attack had just over 2,200 kg of explosives - and that detonation killed nearly 200 people, injured more than 600, and damaged more than 300 buildings within a sixteen-block radius. Once the Taliban began moving the truck to its intended target, it was destroyed with a precision strike. Eight insurgents were killed, including two members of the cell that are also thought to have attacked the Farah courthouse complex in early April.
The identities of the Iranians were not disclosed, and it is unclear if they were Iranian foreign fighters linked to al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, or if they were members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps - Qods Force. Iranians, along with "Arabs," were reported to have been killed in an ISAF airstrike on April 1.
Iran, through Qods Force's Ansar Corps, is known to sponsor al Qaeda and Taliban groups in western and southern Afghanistan [see LWJ reports, Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury, and Treasury targets Iran's 'secret deal' with al Qaeda]. ISAF officials have also directly linked Qods Force to several of the Taliban commanders.
ISAF has targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in western Afghanistan between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in early February 2011; LWJ's queries to ISAF on this subject have gone unanswered [see LWJ report, Taliban suicide assault team kills 36 Afghans in western city].
-bth: so Iran is arming certain Taliban commanders with very large truck bombs in Afghanistan but the ISAF has stopped reporting Iranian involvement since 2011? Why?