Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To All Readers Of WNU -- Happy New Year Everyone

My Comment: We are a bit ahead of the curve right now .... and I do look like the above at the moment .... even though New Years is only 6 hours away.

Sigh .... regular blogging will resume tomorrow when we all wake up.

U.S. Vacates Baghdad Palace Ahead Of Handover

U.S. Army soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division scan for suspicious activity during a patrol of the Diyala River Valley in Iraq on Dec. 27, 2008. DoD photo by Petty Officer Walter J. Pels, U.S. Navy. (Released)

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S. officials withdrew on Wednesday from the Saddam Hussein-era palace they have occupied in Baghdad since 2003, a sign of the change of power when their troops come under Iraqi authority at midnight.

The U.S. force in Iraq, now more than 140,000 strong, has operated since 2003 under a U.N. Security Council resolution which expires at midnight on New Year's Eve. From January 1, U.S. troops will operate with authority granted by the Iraqi government under a pact agreed by Washington and Baghdad.

The pact -- viewed by both countries as a milestone in restoring Iraqi sovereignty -- requires U.S. troops to leave in three years, revokes their power to hold Iraqis without charge and subjects contractors and off-duty troops to Iraqi law.

Iraq also reached a deal with Washington's main ally Britain on Tuesday giving its 4,100 troops until the end of July to depart. Small contingents from Australia, El Salvador, Romania, Estonia and the NATO alliance will also leave in 2009.

Read more ....

My Comment: I am sure that a lot of souvenirs have been taken as mementos to bring back to the U.S. A small reminder for some of the high cost of this mission.

Gaza And Hizballah

Israeli tanks take position on the northern border with the Gaza Strip. Hamas vowed on Wednesday to fight "until the last breath" if Israel makes good on threats to send ground troops into Gaza after rejecting calls for a truce and pressing on with its air assault. (AFP/Jack Guez)

From Counter Terrorism Blog:

Israel completed its fifth day of air operations against Hamas in Gaza today. Meanwhile, throughout the Middle East, battle lines are being drawn between “moderate” Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt and the militant camp, led by Syria, Iran, and their Lebanese ally Hizballah. Recent days have seen a flurry of verbal attacks launched against the “moderates,” accusing these states of not being supportive enough of Hamas.

The war of words reached a fever pitch earlier this week after Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah essentially called for civil insurrection in Cairo to compel the Egyptian Government to open the Rafah border with Israel ala August 2008 when Hamas destroyed the border fence allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to enter the Sinai.

Read more

My Comment: This is all about religion. The Shiite and Sunni conflict is now open and available for all to see. This will only get worse with time.

DARPA Unveils Cyber Warfare Range

From Aviation Week:

Cyber weapon researchers worry that pieces of the digital warfare puzzle are still missing, in particular projection of new threats that foes may throw at the U.S. But U.S. Defense Department researchers may have an answer in the form of a new proving grounds of sorts.

“Who’s looking at what’s coming next?” asks Rance Walleston, director of BAE Systems’ Information Operations Initiative. “That’s still weak.”

Already, “we are seeing the threats shifting,” says Aaron Penkacik, director of BAE Systems’ Collaborative Technology Alliance that works with small companies and universities around the world to create and developed specialized materials and technologies. “As you go into a new theater of operations, you see [advanced communications and new uses for networks] pop-up everywhere. The threat is there, ad-hoc, undefined and asymmetric. So you have to stand up your capability quickly to defend and fight your networks.”

Read more ....

My Comment: The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the extent and effectiveness of the U.S. military and its use of high technology and broadband in their battles. Predators in the sky, GPS missile strikes, communication and just on time awareness of troop and enemy positions .... this has made the U.S. military machine unmatched to anyone in the world today.

The use of viruses, malware, and other web and high tech tools as weapons is now expected from the other side. The extent of this conflict and its limits are now finally being stated by the U.S..

Record 151 US Troops Die In Afghanistan In 2008

Photo: A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender air-to-air tanker from the 908th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron refuels a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft over Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2008. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

From AP:

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A record 151 U.S. forces died in Afghanistan in 2008, the deadliest year yet in a seven-year war that military officials say is likely to get even bloodier in 2009, as thousands more American troops pour into the country.

The number of roadside bombs doubled from the year before to roughly 2,000, with many of the devices more powerful than in previous years.

Unlike in 2007, when militants carried out ambushes only in small numbers, insurgents over the last year massed in groups of hundreds on multiple occasions. Some 200 militants nearly overran a small U.S. outpost in eastern Afghanistan in July, launching an early morning attack that killed nine U.S. troops.

Read more .....

My Comment: This tally will be increasing appreciably in 2009. How much .... your guess is as good as mine.

Smaller Is Better: A Discussion

U.S. Army soldiers conduct a neighborhood presence patrol in the Qahira neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 11, 2008. The soldiers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Edwin M. Bridges

From DoD Buzz:

At a recent conference here in Washington, D.C. on future defense strategy, Dakota Wood, a former Marine and one of the big brains over at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, posed some provocative questions about correct force-sizing for the contemporary and future battlefield.

He argued in his presentation, and in a monograph titled The U.S. Marine Corps: Fleet Marine Forces for the 21st Century, that in a future filled with small wars where potential opponents are changing their organizational “building block” away from brigades and battalions to smaller, distributed units, then perhaps the U.S. military should follow suit.

Read more ....

My Comment: If this is the future of warfare, why are we spending multi-billions on F-22s, carrier task forces, and SDI platforms.

It's Pay Raise Time For U.S. Troops


WASHINGTON -- Troops worldwide will receive a 3.9 percent pay raise starting on Thursday, but Defense Department civilian employees working overseas will see only a 2.9 percent bump in their paychecks.

Under rules outlined by the White House two weeks ago, all stateside civilian federal workers will receive a pay raise of at least 3.5 percent: a 2.9 percent basic pay raise plus at least another 0.7 percent locality pay raise.

Workers in 37 metropolitan areas will see an even greater increase, because of the high cost of living there and the large disparity between government and private sector wages.

Read more ....

Pakistani Militant Confesses To Role In Mumbai Attacks

In New Delhi on Wednesday, Home Minster Palaniappan Chidambaram told journalists that India's president approved new anti-terror legislation to beef up police powers in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. Manish Swarup/AP

From Christian Science Monitor:

The diplomatic row between India and Pakistan continues to deepen following the November terrorist attack as both countries send more troops to their borders.

A war of words continues between India and Pakistan amid new evidence that a Pakistani militant group masterminded the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) last month. And as Pakistan continues to move troops to its eastern border with India, analysts say Pakistan may be too distracted to effectively fight militants at home.

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported new evidence linking Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba to the Mumbai attacks:

At least one top leader of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, or "Army of the Pure," captured in a raid earlier this month in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, has confessed the group's involvement in the attack as India and the U.S. have alleged, according to a senior Pakistani security official....

Read more ....

My Comment: Tensions may be going down right now .... but both sides will not undo centuries of distrust and animosity this year. Further complicating the situation is Pakistan's losing war against Islamic militants who are bent in overthrowing the central government. If successful .... this will throw the entire region into a permanent war footing.

Iraq To Greet New Year In A Hush, Officials Say

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Carney (right) speaks with an Iraqi soldier at a checkpoint during a patrol in the Gazaliyah district of Baghdad, Iraq, on Sept. 19, 2008. Carney is assigned to Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. DoD photo by Spc. Charles W. Gill, U.S. Army. (Released)

From The New York Times:

BAGHDAD — The government ordered hotels and private clubs in Baghdad to cancel their New Year’s Eve celebrations, disappointing many Iraqis who had hoped they could celebrate the new year now that the streets are safer than they have been in years past.

The parties were canceled because New Year’s Eve coincides with Muharram, a mournful religious period for Shiites. The government, which is dominated by religious Shiite parties, issued the order on Sunday.

Several hotels and private clubs in the capital, which have been hosting boisterous parties recently, given the improved security situation, said none would be held on Wednesday in compliance with government orders.

“The orders of the Ministry of Interior have been enforced at clubs, party venues and family clubs,” said Maj. Gen. Ali al-Yasseri, a police commander in Baghdad. “These places will be closed in accordance with Iraqi law.”

Read more

My Comment: This year is Iraq's break or make year. It will either be the same low intensity warfare (which I doubt), or the first baby steps towards something better .... both politically and economically (which I hope). But if the religious extremists with their intolerance towards others get involved .... expect trouble.

U.S. And Russian Relations -- A Commentary

Russia's Woes Spell Trouble For The U.S.
-- Wall Street Journal

Obama shouldn't reward dictatorial Kremlin with goodwill overtures.

Russia faces a particularly nasty version of the global recession (at a minimum), and perhaps an economic "perfect storm." Regardless of how bad its economy gets, two broad political trends, each carrying profound implications for Russia's foreign policy and U.S.-Russian relations, are bound to emerge.

The first will be a growing dissatisfaction with the government, which may lead to a political crisis. The second will be a reactionary retrenchment: increased internal repression and more of its already troubling foreign policy. Managing the relationship with Moscow in the face of these trends is something President-elect Barack Obama and his administration should start thinking about now.

The size and depth of Russia's economic problems -- and thus the amount of political turbulence -- will depend primarily on two variables. The first is the ruble decline. The national currency is steadily depreciating and has reached an all-time low against the euro despite the central bank's having spent $161 billion on its defense since mid-September. The ruble's losing at least 25% to 30% of its value is a given; the key political issue is whether the weakening can be managed into a gradual decline, or whether the depreciation turns into a panicky flight from the currency. (Already last September Russians dumped around 160 billion rubles to buy $6 billion -- the highest demand for dollars since the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis.)

Read more ....

My Comment: Russia will be looking inward for the next few years. The financial crisis is now hitting the country, and the plunge in oil prices has made the situation worse. Internal ethnic problems, a backward military, and a perception of weakness will dictate a Russian Government policy to be more focused at home. No foreign adventures for this country in the foreseeable future.

U.s. and Russian relations will be passive at worse. Russia will be necessary as a transit point for Nato supplpies into Afghanistan since Pakistan has proven to be unreliable. Sanctions against Iran and North Korea will require Russian acceptance .... which they probably will give. The only sore point is missile defense in Europe. But I would not be surprised if some accommodations are made on this issue within the first year of President Obama's administration..

Israel Hamas War -- News Updates For December 31, 2008

Smoke rises from an explosion on a house hit by an Israeli missile in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008. Israel rejected mounting international pressure to suspend its devastating air offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)

Israel Rejects Truce Call, Attacks Gaza -- Yahoo News/AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israel rejected international pressure to suspend its air offensive against Palestinian militants whose rocket barrages are striking close to the Israeli heartland, sending warplanes Wednesday to demolish smuggling tunnels that are the lifeline of Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers.

The diplomatic action was set in motion by the scale of destruction in Gaza since Israel unleashed its campaign Saturday, and a casualty toll that Gaza officials now put at 390 dead and some 1,600 wounded. Hamas says some 200 uniformed members of Hamas security forces have been killed, and the U.N. says at least 60 Palestinian civilians have died. Four Israelis have been killed by militant rocket fire, including three civilians.

Read more ....

More News On The Israel Hamas War

Israel says Gaza truce proposal unrealistic -- Yahoo News/Reuters
Israel Rejects Immediate Cease-fire with Hamas -- Voice of America
Israel Rejects Proposed Cease-Fire -- Washington Post
Israeli security cabinet rejects Gaza truce proposals: official -- Yahoo News/AFP
Israel 'Rejects 48-hour Ceasefire Plan for Gaza' -- The Times
Despite Deeper Strikes, Israelis Vow to Soldier On -- New York Times
Gaza rockets hit deep into Israel -- BBC
Israel Presses on With Gaza Strikes -- Washington Post
IAF Aircraft Strike Haniyeh's Offices -- Jerusalem Post
Behind Gaza Operation, An Uneasy Triumvirate -- Washington Post
Israel Pressed to End Gaza Attacks -- Washington Times
Volunteer suicide bombers seek to attack Israel -- Yahoo News/AP
Gaza militants await Israeli troops -- Reuters
Amid a Buildup of Its Forces, Israel Ponders a Cease-Fire -- New York Times
Vulnerable Israeli homefront rethinks withdrawals -- Yahoo News/AP
Foreign Leaders Push for Gaza Cease Fire -- Wall Street Journal
Israelis Ponder Ceasefire Calls -- BBC News
Behind Closed Doors, US Seeks Israel Exit Strategy -- Los Angeles Times
Hamas Misjudged Israel's Mood -- Toronto Star
Hamas Steps Up Grad-type Rocket Attacks -- Jerusalem Post
Gazans unsure where to flee violence -- Yahoo News/AP
Civilians Increasingly at Risk in Assault on Hamas -- Christian Science Monitor
Moderate Arab States Feel Popular Anger -- New York Times
Egypt Will Not Fully Open Gaza Border Crossing -- Voice of America
Egypt Offers Humanitarian Aid but Is Criticized -- New York Times
The Already-strained Hamas-Egypt Relationship Sours -- Los Angeles Times
FACTBOX - Countries pledge aid to Palestinians in Gaza -- Reuters
Israel Under Pressure to Open Gaza 'Aid Window' -- Daily Telegraph
At Lebanon's Shatila Refugee Camp, a Welter of Opinion -- Los Angeles Times

Commentary, Editorials, And Analysis

Israel's Options in Gaza -- Los Angeles Times editorial
Security Dilemmas in Gaza -- The Times editorial
Security Dilemmas in Gaza -- Times of London
Plenty of Blame to Go Around in Gaza -- Int'l Herald Tribune
Israel Justified, But at What Cost? -- Toronto Star editorial
Bush, Obama and the Gaza blitz -- MSNBC
Darkness in Qassam-Land -- Washington Post opinion
Fight Fire With a Cease-Fire -- New York Times opinion
Obama Needs to Stand Up to Israel -- CS Monitor
What Hamas Wants -- National Post
We Must Adjust Our Image of Hamas -- The Times opinion
Israel, Hamas, and Moral Idiocy -- Christian Science Monitor opinion
Hamas As A Political Failure -- Harry's Place
Gaza: Crossroads for Obama -- Christian Science Monitor opinion
Is Israel Repeating Mistakes of the Past? -- Der Spiegel
Israel Leaves Peace Process in Ruins -- Daily Telegraph opinion
Excessive Force? -- National Review
Injustice of Israel's Heavy Hand -- The Australian opinion
'Disproportionate Force' in Gaza? -- Jerusalem Post opinion

U.S. Military Team In Israel Reported Safe Despite Attacks

From U.S. Department Of Defense:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2008 – About 100 U.S. European Command soldiers, airmen and Marines deployed to Israel to help set up an early warning radar system reported no close encounters with air strikes or retaliatory attacks along the Gaza Strip, a Eucom spokesman said.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas refused to renew a ceasefire agreement with Israel when it expired Dec. 19, and began stepping up rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel. Israel, in turn, began launching airstrikes against Gaza Strip targets Dec. 27 in an effort to eliminate Hamas’ ability to fire rockets into Israeli territory.

Air Force Lt. Col. John Dorrian confirmed Stars and Stripes’ report that the Eucom team is operating on an Israeli air base nowhere near the targeted areas.

The Eucom troops deployed to Israel to help set up an Army/Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance system, Dorrian confirmed. The Israeli government requested the system to help defend against a potential missile attack from Iran.

Read more ....

Pondering the Strategic Objectives of Hamas -- A Commentary

Israeli soldiers stand near armoured military vehicles just outside the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

From Information Dissemination:

With the revelations made in this Haaretz article that Israel has been planning for the current conflict for several months, the implication is that the pre-cease fire condition between Hamas and Israel was never an accepted long term condition from the perspective of Israel. The implications of the revelations made in the article are numerous, and interesting from an observers perspective.

We learn that through extended intelligence efforts, lessons learned fighting Hezbollah two years ago, and a disinformation campaign Israel has capitalized on Hamas's decision to break the cease fire agreement by inflecting serious damage through its air campaign against Hamas targets. The high death toll and large number of wounded are expected results. While there are several ways to look at the high number of civilian deaths, I tend to treat these as a trend to be expected set by the conditions these conflicts are now fought under.

Read more ....

My Comment: A well written and thoughtful analysis. A must read.

U.S. To Widen Supply Routes In Afghan War

Pakistani tanks on Tuesday in Jamrud during an offensive that closed the Khyber Pass, an allied supply route into Afghanistan. Ameer Zada/Associated Press

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The United States and NATO are planning to open and expand supply lines through Central Asia to deliver fuel, food and other goods to a military mission in Afghanistan that is expected to grow by tens of thousands of troops in the months ahead, according to American and alliance diplomats and military officials.

The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed by Pakistani security forces on Tuesday as they began an offensive against militants in the region.

The militants have shown that they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning cargo trucks and Humvees over recent weeks. More than 80 percent of the supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan.

Read more ....

More News On NATO's Afghan/Pakistan Supply Routes

Khyber Operation Seeks To Secure NATO Supply Route -- Long War Journal
U.S. plans to expand its Afghan lifelines -- International Herald Tribune
US eyes alternate supply lines into Afghanistan: official -- AFP
Pakistan closes US supply route to hit militants -- AP
Pakistan Launches Assault in Northwest -- Washington Post
Eight die in Pakistan offensive against militants in the Khyber Pass -- Christian Science Monitor

Israel Hamas War: A Head-Scratching Time Out? -- A Commentary

From In From The Cold:

That's how Jerusalem Post columnist David Horovitz described a potential cease-fire between the IDF and Hamas. According to various media and diplomatic reports, Israel is considering a 48-hour suspension of its attacks against the terror group--and possibly, a longer pause--if Hamas agrees to stop its rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns.

The cease-fire would come as Israeli forces are inflicting severe damage on the terrorist organization, its leadership, and key infrastructure targets. As Horovitz writes, the idea of a cease-fire at this juncture is simply mind-boggling:

Read more ....

Somalia Fighting Threatens Food Deliveries

From World Politics Review:

MOMBASA, Kenya -- In November, the port of Merka in southern Somalia, previously held by the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) alliance, was captured without a fight by soldiers of the rival Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

In the aftermath of Merka's fall, the U.N. worried that the ICU might halt aid shipments to the starving country. Those fears proved premature, but ultimately accurate. Last week, further advances by the Islamic Courts threatened to disrupt incoming food convoys.

Merka's fall was a watershed event for this nation of 8 million that hasn't had a functional central government since a brutal civil war beginning in 1991. The ICU had briefly controlled much of Somalia in 2006 before the TFG, with U.S. and Ethiopian reinforcements, routed the Courts in an overwhelming Blitzkreig-style attack.

Read more ....

Ukraine 'Paid Gas Debt In Full'

From BBC News:

President Viktor Yushchenko has said Ukraine has paid its debt to Gazprom in full, to prevent the Russian firm cutting off its gas supplies.

But Gazprom said it had not received the money so far and "it is too early to talk about debt repayment".

Talks continued in Moscow as the two sides also need to agree on a price for 2009 gas supplies to Ukraine.

The Russian monopoly has threatened to cut off gas to Ukraine unless Ukraine signs a new contract by 1 January.

Read more ....

Russia: Medvedev’s Assertiveness Troubles Putin

Dimitry Medvedev And Vladimir Putin

From The Financial Times:

It was an innocuous sounding comment in what appeared to be a routine television interview. But in the six days since Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, described his feelings about taking the oath of office in May, the corridors of power have been buzzing.

“The final responsibility for what happens in the country and for the important decisions taken would rest on my shoulders alone and I would not be able to share this responsibility with anyone,” Mr Medvedev told an interviewer.

For a normal president in a normal country, such a remark would have been a statement of the obvious. But to a select few, it was a “dog whistle”, a message audible only to those Mr Medvedev wanted to hear.

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Blair Still To Be Top Spy, Despite Silence On Nomination

From CQ Politics/Spy Talk:

Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the former Pacific forces commander who once coordinated military operations at the CIA, is still on tap to become the nation's next top intelligence officer, despite an unexplained delay of an official announcement from President-elect Obama, sources familiar with the process say.

Blair has been touted as a shoe-in for the nomination by unnamed congressional and other anonymous sources.

But weeks have passed since his name first surfaced as a cinch for the Obama administration's director of National Intelligence.

Even in the absence of a formal announcement, however, Blair is being prepped for confirmation hearings on his expected nomination.

"I know he's being prepared for his hearing," said a top former intelligence official, who also asked for anonymity in exchange for talking freely about the process.

Read more ....

Obama Fiddles While Gaza Burns -- A Commentary

From The Nation:

Thanks to Hamas' stupid, provocative, and self-defeating rocket assault on, well, nothing, in Israel, the Middle East that Barack Obama will inherit from George W. Bush just got a lot more complicated. And, sadly, Obama seems content to fiddle while Gaza burns.

Yesterday Obama got an official US intelligence briefing on the crisis in Gaza, which may or may not have numbed his brain with data he didn't need. Obama didn't need an intelligence briefing to tell him anything he really needs to know: that, once again, the twin poles of Israeli and Palestinian extremism have flared up in a way that will only undermine, perhaps fatally, the chances of a negotiated accord during Obama's first term in office.

Read more ....

U.S. Army: Reorganizing On The Run

From Strategy Page:

December 30, 2008: Despite major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army is going through a major reorganization. The end result will increase the number of combat brigades from 33 to 43. This required the transfer of over 40,000 people from combat-support jobs to the combat brigades. New equipment for each of the "reset" units costs over half a billion dollars per brigade. Most of this reset is complete, with all the new brigades ready for service in two years.

Read more ....

South Ossetia Claims Georgia Moving Tanks Close To Border

From Defense Technology News:

Georgia is moving tanks and armored vehicles closer to the border with South Ossetia, the Georgian breakaway republic said Monday.

"According to intelligence reports, Georgia has moved 28 tanks to Gori, where a tank battalion is stationed. In addition, Cobra armored vehicles have been spotted in the village of Nikozi near the South Ossetian border," the state committee on information and press said in a statement.

Read more ....

Pakistan: Swat Falls, Talibanization Moving Eastward

From The Captain's Journal:

What was once a scenic vacation and ski resort area is now a Taliban stronghold.

Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region outside the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive …

“You can’t imagine how bad it is,” said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. “It’s worse day by day.”

Read more ....

On Saddam Anniversary, Iraq Readies Macabre Museum

A museum worker shows to reporters a noose that will be displayed in a new Iraqi museum in Baghdad December 30, 2008. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

From Yahoo News/AP:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The man putting together Iraq's newest museum doesn't like to be alone in his office, where he keeps bloodied nooses, a medieval-looking torture device and boxes of documents chronicling atrocities under Saddam Hussein.

"It's uncomfortable. You feel as if there's someone there with you," said the soft-spoken court official, who asked to go unnamed. To escape the eeriness, he works alongside colleagues next door.

On the two-year anniversary of Saddam's death by hanging, Iraq is preparing to open a new museum that will allow Iraqis to see up close such macabre mementos of mass executions, torture, and other atrocities committed in Saddam's decades-long rule.

Read more ....

Landslide Win For Ex-PM Sheikh Hasina In Bangladesh Poll

Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister and leader of The Awami League party Sheikh Hasina Wajed is pictured at her residence in Dhaka. Sheikh Hasina won the country's first election since 2001 in a landslide Tuesday, crushing her bitter rival to retake power in the impoverished south Asian nation. (AFP/Deshakalyan Chowdhury)

From Yahoo News/AFP:

DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladesh's former premier Sheikh Hasina Wajed won the country's first election since 2001 in a landslide Tuesday, but her bitter rival rejected the result saying the polls had been "stage-managed".

Khaleda Zia's rejection of the outcome early Wednesday threatened to throw the impoverished South Asian nation into fresh political uncertainty after two years of rule by an army-backed caretaker government.

The election commission said Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party had won 231 of the 297 seats in parliament counted so far, giving her an overwhelming win in Monday's vote with just a few results still to be tallied.

Read more ....

U.S. Losing 'Secret' War in Somalia

From The Danger Room:

For several years the U.S. military has fought a covert war in Somalia, using gunships, drones and Special Forces to break up suspected terror networks -- and enlisting Ethiopia's aid in propping up a pro-U.S. "transitional" government. It's a relatively unknown front in the "war on terror," and one where the U.S. and its allies are losing ground, fast.

Two years ago, the U.S. military fought alongside Ethiopian troops in a lightning-fast armored assault deep into Somalia aimed at destroying the Islamic government, which the Pentagon suspected of harboring Al Qaeda operatives. Today the Islamists are back, waging a brutal insurgency that has killed thousands of people and steadily gained ground against the occupying Ethiopians and their allies in the transitional government.

Read more ....

Iraqis To Take Charge Of Green Zone In 2009

A private security company's armored vehicle rolls through Tahrir square in central Baghdad on Dec. 13. Iraq will have more jurisdiction over security contractors next year. By Hadi Mizban, AP

From USA Today:

BAGHDAD — When the calendar flips to 2009 on Thursday, Iraq's government will gain control over the Green Zone and its own airspace and some jurisdiction over security contractors under the terms of a deal that will fundamentally change how the United States operates here.

The changes, outlined in a landmark security agreement the Bush administration signed in November, are part of the broadest transfer of responsibilities to Iraqi hands since 2004, when the government regained sovereignty from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

Read more ....

Heaven Help Us! What Prime Minister Jim Callaghan Said When He Discovered Britain Only Had Two Days Of Ammunition To Fight The Russians

Photo: James Callaghan described Britain's inability to defend itself as a scandal

From The Daily Mail:

British defences were so perilously low during the Cold War that the RAF's ammunition would have lasted for only two days if the Soviets had decided to launch an attack, official files reveal today.

The RAF's Phantom jets had enough firepower to defend the country for just two waves of attacks from Leonid Brezhnev's bombers.

And if enemy planes had slipped through, air defence missile batteries protecting key strategic targets could have been fired only twice before they, too, ran out of ammunition.

At sea, the Navy would have been no match for the threat posed by enemy submarines and on land the Army was so stretched that even when fully mobilised it would have been unable to cope with a wide-scale campaign of sabotage and subversion from the might of the Soviet special forces.

Read more ....

More News On Britain's Lack Of
Preparedness During The Cold War

Files Reveal British PM's 1978 Cold War Fears -- Defense News
Secret Reports Reveal 'Defenseless' 1970s Britain -- The Danger Room

Bonuses, Elite Rep Help Boost Marine Numbers

From Yahoo News/AP:

WASHINGTON – Buoyed by more recruiters, bigger bonuses and an elite reputation, the Marine Corps has grown by nearly 27,000 members in a little more than two years — half the time that military officials believed it would take.

While the rapid expansion has stretched the Marine budget and put some recruits in temporary or quickly refurbished barracks, it is also easing the strain on Marine forces tapped for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In early 2007, the Marine Corps launched a program to expand its ranks — planning to add about 5,000 Marines a year for five years, and reaching a total of 202,000 by 2012. But this month the Marines already hit 200,000, and Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said they will meet their 202,000 goal in early 2009.

Read more .....

My Comment: Hooo .... rahhhh!!!!

Another Senior Iranian Military Official Defects

(Photo from Military Photos)

From Pajamas Media:

Mohammad Reza Arian, an Iranian military official with the rank of colonel, has defected to Turkey. Colonel Arian also succeeded in bringing out his wife and two daughters during his escape operation. This brings the number of senior Iranian military officials who have defected to Turkey over the last number of years to two. The first was General Ali Reza Asgari, who was considered to be the “father of Hezbollah.” He escaped to Turkey via Syria in early 2007.

This new development in the intelligence war between Iran and the West was initially reported by the Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper on December 13. However, the first time it was brought to the attention of Iranians was on December 26. The first Iranian Web site to break the news was Tabnak, which is based in Tehran. In its report Tabnak quotes the article in Hürriyet. It must be noted that Tabnak is one of the most credible news agencies inside Iran.

Read more ....

My Comment: These types of debriefings is what some in the intelligence community will give their eyeteeth for.

Russian Air Force: Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-35 Super Fulcrum (Watch Video)

Hat Tip to Defense Technology News.

The Demise Of Britain's Tank Industry

(Photo from the Daily Mail)

From The Register:

Comment Oh woe! The country which invented the tank (Blighty) may soon no longer have a tank industry! The end of yet another era is at hand. It's just like Concorde! And the Vulcan, Lightning, etc. Let gloom be unconfined - Santa won't be bringing any more British tanks for Christmas in years to come.

Or so says the British tank industry, anyway. The last fortnight has seen several reports in the business press on the possible imminent doom of UK tank-making, following a recent MoD budgeting announcement by Defence secretary John Hutton. In addition to pushing back any serious spending on the Navy's planned new aircraft carriers, Mr Hutton also effectively kicked into touch the long wrangled-over Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) "Utility Vehicle" (UV).

Read more ....

My Comment: First .... it was the airplane industry. Then the production of nuclear weapons. Followed now by the tank industry. Tomorrow .... the navy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chihuahua City Now A Model For Cleaning Up Mexico's Police

Photo: Rich Clabaugh/Christian Science Monitor Staff

From Christian Science Monitor:

A three-month-old program that allows human rights workers 24-hour access to live images of prison life is the newest effort toward transparency for Chihuahua's lauded police department.

Chihuahua city, Mexico - There is nothing extraordinary inside the municipal jail in Chihuahua City: Half a dozen men kill time – some sleeping, others pacing – their languid motions caught on TV monitors outside their cells.

But the cameras aren't just to aid the guards. Across town, Chihuahua's state human rights office is viewing the same scene on a TV screen that shows images from cameras set up throughout two city jails.

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My Comment: Transparency is the weapon that is most effective against corrupt police, bureaucrats, and politicians. This story is another example of what happens when you practice it.

Unrest Caused By Bad Economy May Require Military Action, Report Says

Soldiers standing guard in Washington, D.C., during the riots that occurred after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 1968. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (digital file no. 04301u)

From El Paso Times:

EL PASO -- A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report "Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development," which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released.

"Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security," the report said, in case of "unforeseen economic collapse," "pervasive public health emergencies," and "catastrophic natural and human disasters," among other possible crises.

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My Comment: This general is retired for a reason .... cough .... cough.

Why Al Qaeda Isn't Gaining A Foothold In Cambodia

Village Elder: Yousuf Bin Abetalip, one of Cambodia's 400,000 Muslims.
Photo by David Montero

From Christian Science Monitor:

The post-Khmer Rouge nation is a portrait of tolerance for Muslims, but the US worries that this could change.

CHROYAMONTREY, Cambodia - In this village, and others like it throughout Cambodia, Muslims and non-Muslims live side by side in harmony, their existences unmarred by the toxic cocktail of government repression, separatist ambitions, and growing radicalism characteristic of many neighboring countries.

"I've been living with Muslim neighbors since I was young," says resident Ouk Ros. "When there's a marriage, we join together in the party."

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My Comment: Saudi Wahabism is now coming to Cambodia. Everything is going to change now.

The World's Deadliest Conventional Weapons

A Lockheed Martin AC-130H Hercules gunship aircraft from the 16th Special Operations Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., released jettisons flares as an infrared countermeasure during multi-gunship formation egress training Courtesy USAF (Photo from Flight Global)

From FOX News:

The five deadliest conventional weapons in the world are all part of the U.S. Armed Forces' arsenal, though many are used by other countries as well.

Some date back to World War II in concept, but they are still lethal and continue to be used in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fearsome five:

The AC-130 aerial gunship: This comes in two forms, the AC-130H "Spectre" and the more heavily armed AC-130U "Spooky," both flown by the U.S. Air Force. Versions of the AC-130 were first deployed during the Vietnam War.

It's designed to hit targets on the ground or at sea, firing Gatling guns and howitzers fore, aft and to the side. The AC-130's weakness is that it flies "low and slow," making it vulnerable to surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles.

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My Comment: I would also add UAVs and other robotic weapon systems.

Afghanistan War News Updates -- December 30, 2008

A U.S. Army commander tries to extinguish the flames after a roadside bomb hit a military vehicle in eastern Afghanistan this fall. New statistics show that such attacks have become the leading threat to Western troops in the country. Zuma

Afghan Roadside Bombings Rise Sharply -- Wall Street Journal

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Roadside bombs, long the biggest danger facing Western forces in Iraq, have now also become the primary threat to forces in Afghanistan.

The number of incidents involving "improvised explosive devices," or IEDs, rose 33% in 2008 from a year earlier, and the number of casualties caused by these roadside bombs increased by the same amount, according to statistics compiled by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The bombs are the largest single cause of U.S. and NATO deaths and injuries.

"IEDs are the biggest threat we face," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said in an interview. "They are the largest killer of ISAF troops."

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More News On Afghanistan

Roadside bombings double in Afghanistan -- CNN
Afghan attacks 'double' in 2008 -- BBC
Rash of Bombings in Afghanistan -- New York Times
Afghan, NATO troops kill nine rebels: police -- AFP
Ft. Campbell Soldier Killed In Afghanistan -- MSNBC
Coalition forces target Haqqani network in Paktiya -- U.S. Central Command
Afghanistan, US consider 'community' security forces -- AFP
U.S. backs plan for engaging Afghan tribes -- Reuters
Pakistan closes NATO supply line to Afghanistan -- International Herald Tribune
US military deaths in Afghanistan region at 558 -- AP
No Longer the Forgotten War, Afghanistan Will Be a Hard One for Obama to Win -- U.S. News And World Report

The Battle of Gaza and The Real War -- A Commentary

From Pajamas Media:

It was only a matter of time before Israel lashed out at Hamas in Gaza. Even the appeasers in Israel, of whom there are many, could not indefinitely accept thousands of rockets landing in civilian centers, especially after the battle against Hezbollah in 2006, which was widely viewed as a fiasco for the Israeli Army and for the leaders in Jerusalem who are facing an election in two months. Defense Minister Barak says it’s “all-out war,” which suggests ground operations. The usual rule in these cases is that Israel doesn’t have much time to accomplish its objectives; the “international community” rallies to the side of Israel’s enemies, and Israel’s leaders invariably convince themselves that if they play ball, they’ll be rewarded for it. But that never happens. So far the Brits and the Vatican have already demanded an end to operations against Hamas, and by the time I finish typing this there will be more.

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IDF Starts Gaza YouTube Channel; Already Hit With Terms of Use Violations

From Confederate Yankee:

The Isael Defense forces have started a YouTube channel to show the precision and care they are taking in destroying Hamas terrorist weapons dumps smuggling tunnels, and rocket launching sites located in residential areas by the terrorists. Hamas places the sites among homes and school in hopes that innocent civilians—particularly children—will be killed. Hamas can then use Palestinian and Arab cameramen with sympathies towards their cause to take pictures of the dead and wounded civilians for Hamas' propaganda war, which is typically waged via cameramen from Reuters, AFP, and the Associated Press.

Typically, as in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, these photos are stage managed to varying degrees, while a few are occasionally staged.

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Fear And Resolve As Rockets Head North Into Israel

A rocket is fired from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel as seen from the Israeli-Gaza border. Israel on Tuesday mulled a proposed 48-hour truce as world leaders stepped up calls for an end to the violence and warplanes pummelled Hamas targets in the battered Gaza Strip for a fourth day. (AFP/Jack Guez)

From The New York Times:

ASHDOD, Israel — A piercing shriek went up and a young woman fainted as the body, wrapped in a white shroud, was brought into the packed funeral hall.

On Tuesday, this fast-developing modern port city about half way between Gaza and Tel Aviv buried its first victim of a rocket attack: Irit Sheetrit, a 39-year-old mother of four.

The Katyusha-type rocket that killed her was fired on Monday night by Palestinian militants from Gaza; it was the first to have hit this city of more than 200,000, so far north of the Palestinian territory.

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Pro-Palestinian Protesters At Obama's Hawaii House

Protestor Ephrosine Daniggelis holds a placard in front of U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's vacation compound in Kailua, Hawaii December 30, 2008, during a protest against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

From Reuters:

KAILUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - A small group of placard-waving pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's vacation retreat in Hawaii on Tuesday to protest against the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Obama has made no public comment on the strikes, which Israel launched on Saturday. Aides have repeatedly said he is monitoring the situation and continues to receive intelligence briefings but that there is only one U.S. president at a time.

But with outgoing Republican President George W. Bush already viewed as a lame-duck, many people, particularly in the Middle East, are looking past him to Obama, who is due to be sworn in on January 20, for leadership.

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Gazan Civilians Increasingly At Risk In Assault On Hamas

Urban war: A Gazan looked over Hamas government buildings hit by
Israeli missiles on Tuesday. Mohammed Salem/Reuters

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Israel may consider a 48-hour cease-fire with Hamas, but threatened a ground invasion if militant rockets didn't stop during a temporary truce.

Tel Aviv - On the fourth day of airstrikes in Gaza Tuesday, one of Israel's many targets was a Hamas military commander's home within the teeming Jabaliya refugee camp. He wasn't there, but seven civilians died as a result of that attack.

Until now Israel has targeted mainly Hamas offices, ministries, and centers of power in a bid to limit collateral damage while still crippling the Islamists' ability to fire rockets across the border. But as the conflict stretches on and Israeli warplanes and drones seek out Hamas commanders and other militant leaders hiding in neighborhoods in the densely packed coastal strip, it will be harder to contain civilian deaths.

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Israeli Jets Drop 'Small Smart Bomb' in Gaza Strikes

GBU-39 Bombs

From The Danger Room:

The Israeli Air Force has debuted a highly accurate -- and U.S.-supplied -- smart bomb in its air campaign over Gaza. Back in September, Israel received congressional authorization to buy up to 1,000 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the first shipment of the bombs arrived earlier this month. Israeli fighters reportedly employed the bombs to target Qassam rocket launchers during the initial bombardment. They were also used in the bombing of a network of tunnels in Rafah on Sunday.

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YouTube, Twitter: Weapons in Israel's Info War

From The Danger Room:

Days after sending aircraft to strike Hamas militants in Gaza, the Israeli government is launching a campaign to dominate the blogosphere.

Among other things, the Israeli military has started its own YouTube channel to distribute footage of precision airstrikes. And as I type, the Israeli consulate in New York is hosting a press conference on microblogging site Twitter. It's pretty interesting to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reduced to tweets of 140 characters or less ("We hav 2 prtct R ctzens 2, only way fwd through neogtiations, & left Gaza in 05. y Hamas launch missiles not peace?"; "we're not at war with the PAL people. we're at war with a group declared by the EU& US a terrorist org").

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Attacking Gaza: The Fog — And Rain — Of War

Israeli soldiers clean the barrel of a tank at a staging area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
Sebastian Scheiner / AP

From Time Magazine:

In war, weather matters. Israel's military offensive against Gaza was timed to coincide with three days of clear skies. Cloudlessness certainly helps the dozens of Israeli drones circling above the densely packed streets of the Palestinian seaside territory, using video and infrared cameras to search for possible targets.

Members of the militant group Hamas depend on the weather as well. For them, the cloudier it is the better. Firing off Qassam rockets into Israel is an inexact science. But given enough time to position the rockets properly — time which an overcast or rainy day can provide — Gaza's rocket makers are far more likely to hit their intended targets. That's what happened on Monday evening when, as rain blanketed Gaza and much of Israel's south coast, a rocket launched from inside Gaza struck a playground in Ashdod, killing a mother of four as she waited at an adjoining bus stop. She was the third Israeli fatality since the assault began. According to Palestinian sources, Israeli attacks have killed more than 300 people in Gaza.

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Managing Gaza -- A Commentary

From The Terror Wonk:

Israel’s operation in Gaza is reaching a critical point. While talking heads will debate grand strategy, the options are limited. Behind the headlines is the crucial issue of how Israel’s national security process works (or doesn’t – in light of the weaknesses revealed in the 2006 Lebanon war). The next moves will demonstrate whether or not Israel has successfully incorporated the lessons from the failures of the 2006 Lebanon War. This is crucial to re-establishing Israeli deterrence.

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Israel And Hamas Under Pressure For Gaza Aid Truce

Israeli soldiers stand atop an armoured personnel carrier just outside the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008. (Nikola Solic/Reuters)

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

GAZA (Reuters) – Foreign powers stepped up calls on Israel and Hamas on Tuesday to halt hostilities after four days of Israeli air attacks on the Gaza Strip and rocket salvoes by the Islamist militants deep inside the Jewish state.

The Quartet of Middle East peace brokers -- the United Nations, United States, Russia and European Union -- urged an immediate ceasefire, a U.N. spokeswoman said after telephone consultations by the group's foreign ministers.

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Olmert: Airstrikes, Blockade Merely 'First Stage' In Gaza

From CNN:

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Israel's fourth day of attacks in Gaza sent the Palestinian death toll to more than 375 as the Jewish state's prime minister warned Tuesday that the air offensive marked only the beginning, according to officials.

"We are currently at the first stage of the operation," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told President Shimon Peres during a morning briefing, according to officials.

Olmert's summation came a day after Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's parliament that the campaign launched Saturday marked an "all-out war" against Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.

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IAF Unleashes Massive Strike On Hamas Tunnel Network Near Rafah

A Palestinian man walks past a destroyed car after an Israeli air strike in Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

From Haaretz:

The Israel Air Force on Tuesday evening unleashed a massive strike on a network of Hamas-dug tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip near the Philadephi Route, according to Palestinian sources.

IAF planes attacked dozens of the tunnels, which Hamas had used to smuggle weapons and militants between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, the army said in a statement.

The army said that the IAF struck 30 additional targets over the course of Tuesday, including seven Grad and five Qassam rocket launchers, rocket launching cells, rocket launching sites, weapons manufacturing facilities, Hamas outposts and armed terror operatives.

The IAF kept up a relentless string of attacks on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, smashing a government complex, security installations and the home of a top militant commander.

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My Comment: This is a direct attack on Gaza's economic lifeline. This immediately stops the shipment of weapons, food, and essential supplies.

Bangladesh BNP Rejects Parliamentary Election Results

From China View:

DHAKA, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson and former prime minister Khaleda Zia who lost Monday's parliament election said Tuesday midnight that the election results are not acceptable to her party.

In a brief statement to the press after a meeting of the BNP standing committee, she said, "The blueprint about which we had been saying earlier, came into reality through the election results."

Khaleda said it is noticeable that there are some leaders of her party who have been elected time and again in the past with big margin are on the list of losers.

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Guinea Junta Names PM, Asks For International Understanding

Most foreign governments have condemned the coup in Guinea

From AFP:

CONAKRY (AFP) — The new military junta in Guinea on Tuesday appointed banker Kabine Komara prime minister and called on the world to show understanding over the situation in the mineral-rich West African country.

The international community has strongly condemned the putsch and in an effort to win over his foreign critics Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the coup leader who now acts as president, held a series of high-level meetings Tuesday.

He met ambassadors of the G8 countries, and representatives of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

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American Exit Increases Optimism In Falluja

The Old Bridge, freshly painted green, where the bodies of two Blackwater security guards were hung in 2004. Johan Spanner for The New York Times

From New York Times:

FALLUJA, Iraq — In Falluja, a town that rises abruptly out of the vast Syrian Desert an hour west of Baghdad, nearly every building left standing has some sort of hole in it.

Mosques are without their minarets. Apartment walls have been peeled away by artillery shells. A family’s kitchen is full of tiny holes made by a fragmentary grenade.

Of all the places fighting has raged since the American invasion nearly six years ago, Falluja — the site of two major battles and the town where American security contractors were killed and their bodies hung from a local bridge — stands out as one of the bloodiest and most intractable.

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US, Allies Seize 20 Tons Of Drugs In Indian Ocean

From AP:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. Navy says it and British forces have seized more than 20 tons of drugs smuggled along a "hash highway" through the waters of the western Indian ocean.

The Navy estimates the narcotics seized since October — mostly hashish — are worth $100 million. It said proceeds could have helped fund militants in Afghanistan.

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Egypt Mocks Iran, Hezbollah On Military Record

From Reuters:

CAIRO, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit mocked the military records of Iran and the Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim movement Hezbollah in an escalating war of words over Egypt's cooperation with Israel in the blockade of Gaza.

Aboul Gheit, in an interview with Egyptian television broadcast on Monday night, said Hezbollah destroyed Lebanon in 2006 and that its Katyusha rockets and rocket-propelled grenades were nothing compared to the Egyptian army.

Addressing Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, he said: "You are a man who used to enjoy respect, but you have insulted the Egyptian people."

The Egyptian minister also attacked Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who criticised Arab governments on Monday for their lack of response to Israeli raids which have killed some 348 Palestinians in Gaza.

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Somali President's Resignation Could Resolve Crisis: Ethiopia

From AFP:

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's resignation after a drawn-out power struggle could boost efforts to stabilise the country, a senior Ethiopian official said on Tuesday.

Yusuf announced his resignation on Monday following a bitter feud with his prime minister, adding concerns about increased political instability to fears of a security vacuum as Ethiopian troops pull out of Somalia.

But Bereket Simon, an advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said Yusuf's departure could give fresh impetus to a transitional administration long crippled by internal differences.

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Russia's Medvedev Signs Extension of Presidential Terms

From Voice Of America:

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has signed a constitutional amendment extending presidential terms from four years to six years following its speedy approval by lawmakers.

The measure signed Tuesday does not apply to Mr. Medvedev's current term, which expires in 2012. But, critics said they are designed to help his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, return to the presidency.

The new law also extends the term of Russia's parliament from four to five years.

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Rare Suicide Bombing in Iran Kills 4

From The New York Times:

TEHRAN — Employing a tactic not seen in Iran before, a suicide bomber affiliated with a Sunni militant group killed four people and wounded 12 in an attack early Monday in Saravan, a southeastern city, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The group, Jundallah, has attacked Iranian armed forces and Revolutionary Guards in the past. But this was the first time it had used a suicide bombing similar to those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“This group has killed many innocent and defenseless civilians in the past, and the security forces have killed their members,” IRNA reported without providing further information.

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Electronics Fuel Congo Conflict

From NPR:

Day to Day, December 30, 2008 · The deadly conflict in eastern Congo is fueled in part by hunger for the region's minerals. The appetite for the coltan and cassiterite has boomed in recent years with the explosion of demand for cell phones and other electronic devices.

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Oil Down $1 On Grim Economic Outlook

A woman fills petrol into her car at a filling station in Puchheim westward of Munich in this December 12, 2008 file photo. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell $1 on Tuesday as fear about demand in a sickly world economy outweighed expectations of further Saudi supply cuts in February and tension in the Middle East due to the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

The market took in data showing a sharp fall in weekly U.S. retail gasoline demand, and record low consumer confidence in the world's largest energy user in December.

U.S. crude settled down 99 cents at $39.03 a barrel. London Brent settled down 40 cents at $40.15.

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Ghana Knife-Edge Result Delayed

From The BBC:

The electoral commissioner of Ghana has delayed the result of Sunday's knife-edge presidential run-off until Friday.

Results in the Ashanti and Volta regions have been disputed and the Tain area, where the poll was delayed, will now vote on Friday.

Officials said the contest between the opposition's John Atta Mills and ruling party's Nana Akufo-Addo was so close one result could decide the outcome.

The BBC correspondent in Ghana says there are fears violence could erupt.

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U.S. Deaths In Iraq Down 66 Percent From Last Year

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Gerald Davis and Staff Sgt. Mesa Anderson identify unserviceable munitions before disposing of them through a controlled detonation at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, on Oct. 8, 2008. The numbers and types of munitions are carefully monitored to ensure no ordnance is left on the range. Both airmen are assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Jason Epley, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

From CNN:

(CNN) -- American military deaths in Iraq have dropped dramatically this year, a trend observers attribute to the lasting effects of the U.S.-led surge offensive, more robust Iraqi security performance and civilians' disgust with warfare.

A CNN count of Pentagon figures shows that 309 U.S. service members in Iraq have died this year: 222 in hostilities such as combat and attacks, and 87 in non-hostile circumstances such as traffic accidents, suicides and natural deaths.

The U.S. death toll has been much higher in past years. Last year, 906 died: 768 in combat and attacks and 138 in non-hostile circumstances. There were more than 800 deaths in 2004, 2005 and 2006 as well.

"It's no single effort. It's a combination of efforts," said Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commanding general of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. "The people of Iraq are tired of violence, and they are assisting the security forces; the government is improving its ability to govern and to apply the rule of law."

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