Saturday, January 31, 2009

Revealed: Recent U.S.-Iran Nuclear Talks Involved Key Officials (UPDATED)

From Foreign Policy (The Cable):

As Barack Obama settles into the Oval Office and begins his stated mission of reorienting U.S. foreign policy, there's been a flurry of attention to exactly when and how Obama will open a direct dialogue with Iran, as he promised in his campaign. No question that will mark a break from the stinging rhetoric and halting, inconsistent diplomacy of the Bush years. But several sources told The Cable that the informal dialogue between senior Americans and the Iranians was much more robust in recent months than has been previously reported.

Over the past year, our sources confirmed, former Defense Secretary William Perry and a group of high-level U.S. nuclear nonproliferation specialists and U.S. experts on Iran held a series of meetings in European cities with Iranian officials under the auspices of the Pugwash group. (Pugwash, a group founded in 1957 by an international group of scientists, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for advocating for the elimination of nuclear weapons.) Perry served as a member of the Obama campaign's national security working group.

Read more ....

My Comment: It appears that contacts with Iran have been more extensive and deeper than what has been first reported. But as I had mentioned in a post a few days ago, Iran has shown no serious interest to negotiate with the U.S. since the Iranian revolution of 1979. If they are talking, it is to distract attention from their nuclear program .... which from where I am standing I will have to say it is working.

Chemical Warfare – Ancient Persian-Style

Persian siege tactics, depicted here at the Chehel Sotun Pavillion in Iran,
overpowered the Romans at Dura-Europos. Corbis

From The Independent:

The earliest example of chemical warfare has been unearthed at an archaeological site in the Syrian desert, where soldiers of an ancient Persian empire gassed a platoon of Roman troops in about 256AD by asphyxiating them with the smoke from burning bitumen and sulphur.

A makeshift grave of 20 Roman soldiers in full battle armour was discovered at the site of the ancient city of Dura-Europos in the 1930s but it is only now that scientists have been able to figure out exactly how they died.

It was known that they were killed while defending the city against a Persian siege by digging tunnels to counter those being dug by the Sasanian Persian army under the walls of the city. New evidence suggests the Roman troops were deliberately gassed, said Simon James, an archaeologist at Leicester University.

Read more ....

My Comment: History is always repeating itself .... including the history of warfare.

The U.S. Is Now The #1 Target According To Jihadist Communications Traffic Since The Israeli-Hamas War

Photo from Granitegrok

From Rantburg:

The US and Europe are among the most threatened by jihadists following Israel's recent operations in Gaza.

IntelCenter's "Gaza Response: Analysis of Jihadist Statements & Threatened Targets v1.0 - 30 Jan. 2009" report illustrates how developments in one part of the world can significantly increase the threat level faced by countries not directly involved.

Since there is a well-established correlation between changes in threat messaging and where attacks are executed, especially for groups in the al-Qaeda orbit, there is a significant level of increased risk faced by those targets identified in this report. Twenty-three out of 53 statements issued by jihadists on Gaza included threats. The US was the target of 46.7% of the threats while Israel came in at 30% and Europe 10%. Israel's withdrawal of forces is unlikely to have a significant calming effect and the motivation for retaliatory strikes will remain high for the forseeable future. Terrorist planning for large-scale events occurs over a period of month and years, not weeks. The impact of this planning cycle is that retaliatory attacks are likely to occur long after the most recent fighting in Gaza has been forgotten in the West but will still be fresh in the minds of jihadists.

Read more ....

My Comment: I cannot say that I am surprised.

Turkey Is No Longer An Honest Broker In The Missle East

Photo: Syrian President Bashar Assad (right) shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Damascus, Syria. Photo: AP

'Erdogan-Led Turkey Can't Broker Talks' -- Jerusalem Post

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "has lost all credibility as an honest broker in peace discussions," a senior Israeli diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post Saturday night, citing Erdogan's recent anti-Israel rhetoric.

"As long as he is the prime minister of the country, Turkey has no place in peace negotiations or discussions," the official added. "It is not a trustworthy diplomatic partner anymore."

Until recently, Turkey had played a key role in quiet discussions between Israel, Syria, and other regional players.

The loss of the Turkish diplomatic channel was a serious blow to these discussions, said Foreign Ministry officials.

"The only parties that could reasonably play that mediating role now are the Americans under Obama, or, in theory, a European party," the diplomatic official surmised.

Read more ....

More News On Turkey As A Honest Broker
In The Israeli - Arab Conflict

Erdogan risks mediator role -- The Guardian
Israel: Erdogan's Davos behavior may ruin Turkey's EU chances -- Haaretz
Turkish PM Vents Frustration with Israel -- Voice Of America
Arabic press praises Erdogan -- BBC News
Iran hails Turkish PM for Gaza walkout -- AFP

Nato Figures Show Surge In Afghanistan Violence

Photo: U.S. Army soldiers rest during a mission to check security efforts at Salang tunnel in the Hindu Kush mountain range in the Parwan province of Afghanistan on Jan. 30, 2009. The soldiers are with Alpha Company, Division Special Troop Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. DoD photo by Spc. Scott Davis, U.S. Army. (Released)

From The Guardian:

Violence soared by nearly a third last year, the highest rise since coalition operations began.

Violence in Afghanistan soared by nearly a third last year, the highest rise since coalition operations in the troubled country began more than seven years ago.

According to new Nato statistics obtained by the Observer, violence rose by 31%, taking levels of fighting to a new peak of intensity. In 2007 there were around 5,000 "violent incidents" in the 20 worst-affected districts of the country. Last year the total rose to around 7,000.

Nato officials said the sharp rise was "in large part" due to more international troops pushing into areas that were previously without any military presence – such as the major deployment of US marines to the southern province of Helmand where UK forces are based – provoking more combat.

Read more ....

My Comment: With the surge starting in Afghanistan right now, expect an even greater increase in violence and casualties starting in spring time.

A Threat To Putin’s Big Plans

Opposition groups led by Communists protested the economic policies of the Russian government in the eastern city of Vladivostok on Saturday. James Hill for The New York Times

From New York Times:

MOSCOW — Over the last eight years, as Vladimir V. Putin has amassed ever more power, Russians have often responded with a collective shrug, as if to say: Go ahead, control everything — as long as we can have our new cars and amply stocked supermarkets, our sturdy ruble and cheap vacations in the Turkish sun.

But now the worldwide financial crisis is abruptly ending an oil-driven economic boom here, and the unspoken contract between Mr. Putin and his people is being thrown into doubt. In newspaper articles, among political analysts, even in corners of the Kremlin, questions can be heard. Will Russians admire Mr. Putin as much when oil is at $40 a barrel as they did when it was at $140 a barrel? And if Russia’s economy seriously falters, will his system of hard, personal power prove to be a trap for him? Can it relieve public anger, and can he escape the blame?

“We talk about a lack of democracy in Russia, but I like my own formula for the country, which is authoritarianism with the consent of the governed,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “And it can be taken away.”

Read more ....

More News On The Economic Crisis In Russia

Russia arrests dozens at anti-Putin protests -- AFP
Protesters rally in anger at Russia's economy -- AP
As Economy Sinks, Russians Protest -- New York Times
Thousands protest in Russia over financial crisis -- Reuters
Russia rocked by financial crisis protests -- The Guardian
Economic woes fuel Russian protests -- Al Jazeera
At Least Two Dozen Protestors Arrested In Russian Anti-Putin Rally -- AHN
In pictures: Russian demonstrations -- BBC News

After Campaign Push, Obama Cultivates Military

In Iraq in July, Senators Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel, right, talked to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander there. Lorie Jewell/U.S. Army, via Associated Press

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The outreach began more than a year ago when Barack Obama, the antiwar candidate who had never served in the military, turned to a group of young officers just out of active duty for a fresh perspective on America’s two wars.

“He asked a lot of questions,” recalled one of the officers, Craig M. Mullaney, a former Army Ranger in Afghanistan who in campaign travels with Mr. Obama told him how his platoon of 35 men had vaccinated camels, worked with tribal elders and been in charge of security for a province the size of Vermont.

That early outreach has since given way to a carefully planned campaign by Mr. Obama to build trust with the military and avoid the mistakes that hobbled Bill Clinton, the last Democratic commander in chief. By Thursday, when the president met for the first time with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in “the tank,” the secure Pentagon conference room, the campaign had progressed to the point that participants left “comforted,” as one put it, about Mr. Obama’s willingness to work with them.

Read more ....

My Comment: Changing the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. Asking the Pentagon for 10% across the board cuts. This and other policies will alienate much if not all of the arms services. The killer (at least for me) was not attending the Presidential Ball that is dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients on the night of the inauguration, an event that every President has attended since President Eisenhower.

President Bush was always perceived by the military as one of them (i.e. a soldier) .... President Obama will never attain that same stature. The best that he can do is listen .... make his presence felt among the soldiers in non-public events, and go the extra distance in addressing their concerns when they arise. His extension on the "stay at home for a longer duration after serving in a combat zone" is a step in the right direction.

With Subtly Changed Goals And Tactics, Barack Obama Woos A Reluctant Europe

Barack Obama gave a speech in Berlin in front of 200,000 cheering Europeans as part of a trip intended to prove he's a man of the world - and one who's capable of leading it. (New York Daily News)

From Times Online:

There was a decisive shift inside the Obama Administration this week when it came to Afghanistan. It was a reflection of how perilous the mission has become and was also triggered by the realisation that getting European allies to send significantly more troops could be beyond even the new President’s powers of persuasion.

Mr Obama has long made clear that on Afghanistan – his top foreign policy priority – he expects much from his European allies. Yet as he discovered last week, after a disappointingly lukewarm response from the EU to help him to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, his request for thousands more European troops in Afghanistan is already running into resistance. No formal request of Britain has yet been made but Mr Obama will press Gordon Brown for additional troops, perhaps as many as 5,000. British military officials say that a deployment on that scale is out of the question. It will ultimately be Mr Brown’s call and Mr Obama will exert considerable pressure in the months ahead.

Read more ....

My Comment: He is not going to succeed. He will ask Europe to invest more in Afghanistan .... this is not going to happen. He is going to ask Europe to become more involved in Third World conflicts and in helping failed states .... this is not going to happen. Limiting trade with countries like Iran and with organizations like Hamas may make some headway, but it will fall far short of what is expected.

The big sore points between the U.S. and Europe will be trade, energy dependence, and financial/monetary policy. The passage by the U.S. Congress that prohibits the purchase of non-U.S. steel is already raising the threat of trade protectionism and tariffs. High unemployment, out of control government spending .... all of these factors are going to make U.S. and European relations chilly ... with everyone looking at their self interests first.

Defense Official: Obama Calling For Defense Budget Cuts

From FOX News:

Some overall budget figures are expected to be announced Monday.

The Obama administration has asked the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent -- about $55 billion -- a senior U.S. defense official tells FOX News.

Last year's defense budget was $512 billion. Service chiefs and planners will be spending the weekend "burning the midnight oil" looking at ways to cut the budget -- looking especially at weapons programs, the defense official said.

Some overall budget figures are expected to be announced Monday.

Read more ....

My Comment:These cuts are going to profoundly impact all the services and future weapons programs. SDI will be cut, if not eliminated. F-22 will be eliminated. F-35 scaled back. A carrier task force or two mothballed. Nuclear modernization eliminated.

The list will be long .... and its impact will be felt immediately.

In a world filled with dangers and aggressive powers, these moves come at a disheartening time. It is also no surprise that states like Iran are now openly talking about U.S. failure.

Inside Guantanamo Bay, A Study In Contrasts

Camp Delta military-run prison at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base.
Photograph: Brennan Linsley/PA/The Guardian

From FOX News:

Assaults, cartoons and art class — all are part of the daily life at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

On a tour of the U.S. detention facility's camps four, five and six, which include the maximum security camps, FOX News was shown a place where often the facts are stranger than fiction.

"Once again on behalf of the joint task force, welcome to Camp 5. This is a maximum security facility," said Navy Commander Jeff Hayhurst, the deputy commander of the joint detention group and FOX News' guide for the day.

"It opened in 2004, cost $17.5 million. It’s modeled on a max security facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. Most of it was pre-fabricated off island and constructed once it arrived. … Again max security."

This camp is for the most non-compliant detainees — those who refuse to follow the rules.

Read more ....

My Comment: 62 former Gitmo inmates have gone back to the battlefield to kill and main American soldiers/civilians and their allies. Some of these men are incredibly dangerous, who if given the resources and freedom would not hesitate to plan a mass casualty attack against the U.S.

There is no other prison in the world that can house these inmates .... even the supermax in Colorado will not be able to accommodate them. But for their own philosophical reasons .... President Obasma and his supporters will not tolerate Gitmo's continued presence, and that an alternative must be found.

What that alternative is .... I am waiting with bated breath.

General Says Shoot Dealers in Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier surveys a poppy field as smoke rises in the distance near Spin Boldak in southern Afghanistan. Poppy seedpods produce opium, which can be refined into heroin. A recent United Nations report found that despite a multimillion-dollar effort to eradicate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, production reached record highs in 2007. (Photo from National Geographic)

From The New York Times:

BERLIN — NATO’s senior military commander has proposed that the alliance’s soldiers in Afghanistan shoot drug traffickers without waiting for proof of their involvement with the Taliban insurgency, according to a report in the online edition of Der Spiegel magazine.

The commander, Gen. John Craddock of the United States, floated the idea in a confidential letter on Jan. 5 to Gen. Egon Ramms, a German officer who heads the NATO command center responsible for Afghanistan, Spiegel Online reported Thursday.

General Craddock wrote that “it was no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective,” the news magazine reported. A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the wording of the letter, and several NATO officials said publicly on Friday that no such orders had ever been given to NATO troops.

Read more ....

More News On The Proposal Of Shooting Drug Dealers In Afghanistan

Nato split over order to strike Afghanistan drug smugglers -- Times Online
NATO High Commander Issues Illegitimate Order to Kill -- Der Spiegel
NATO Officers Reject Order to Kill Afghan Drug Traffickers -- Deutsche Welle
Leak about Afghan tactics throws spotlight on NATO -- International Herald Tribune
NATO official criticized for killing order -- Times Of The Internet
Afghanistan: Order to Kill Angers German Politicians -- Europe News
NATO orders leak probe after Afghan drug report -- Reuters
NATO launches probe into leak of classified document -- China View

My Comment: The drug industry in Afghanistan has resulted in making 1,000,000 Afghans dependent on drugs. Societies and families have been eviscerated as a result of opium and its derivatives .... both in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world.

In addition, the opium industry provides the money to the Taliban and their allies to purchase the weapons that they need, and to employ the desperate men in their ranks to fight ..... thereby continuing the misery.

The farmers who grow these crops and the dealers who sell them are just as guilty as the men who prepare suicide bombers to attack civilian targets. They may not have a weapon in their hands .... but they are the merchants of death and misery.

The elimination of Afghanistan's poppy fields should have been done a long time ago. Sigh .... better late than never.

The End Game Begins In Sri Lanka

A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard in Mullaittivu, the former military headquarters of the Tamil Tiger rebels, on January 27. Red Cross officials were negotiating Saturday to evacuate more wounded from the conflict zone in Sri Lanka's embattled north as the island's military kept up its push to crush Tamil separatist rebels. (AFP/File/Ishara S. Kodikara)

Sri Lanka Deadline For Civilian Safe Passage Ends -- The AP

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan government deadline for Tamil Tiger rebels to let civilians leave the northern conflict zone ended Saturday with only about a hundred reaching safe areas.

According to the Red Cross, some 250,000 civilians are trapped in the 115-square mile (300-square kilometer) area where the rebels have been boxed in by advancing troops. The government puts the number at about 120,000.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that more than 100 civilians including 16 children fled the war zone and "sought protection with security forces" on Saturday.

Read more ....

My Comment: Expect a major offensive from the Sri Lankan Army in the next few days. With over 250,000 civilians being kept bottled up in a small area of land .... no food .... no water .... this will be the bloodiest battle for 2009 in Sri Lanka .... if not the world.

Is North Korea Preparing For War?

North and South Korea stand on the 'brink of war' as Kim Jong-il's tears
up the non-aggression pact Photo: REUTERS

North And South Korea Stand On 'The Brink Of War' -- Times Online

The confrontaion between North and South Korea has escalated with Kim Jong-il's regime claiming it was on the 'brink of war' after tearing up a non-aggression pact signed in 1991.

In a significant escalation of tensions, North Korea cancelled all military and political agreements after accusing Seoul of aggressive posturing.

Pyongyang's decision to nullify all accords increases the prospect of an armed confrontation on the Peninsula, where over a million soldiers face each other across the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two Koreas.

North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea blamed the South for pushing the two countries "to the brink of a war".

Pyongyang said it now regarded the maritime border between the two states as "void". The last time the two countries clashed militarily was at the disputed frontier in the Yellow Sea, when their navies fought a deadly gun battle in June 2002.

Read more .....

More News On North Korea

North Korea Scraps Seoul Accords -- Wall Street Journal
North Korea scraps agreements with South -- Christian Science Monitor
North Korea breaks military pacts with Seoul -- Financial Times
South Korea Heightens Military Readiness as North Scraps Pacts -- New York Times
Analysis: N. Korea angling for Obama's attention -- AP
Power Struggle Suspected in N. Korea -- Washington Times
Now Is No Time to Downplay North Korea -- Wall Street Journal opinion

Iraq War News And Election Update -- January 31, 2009

A police officer stands guard outside a polling centre as election officials carry in voting booths in Mosul, Iraq. Photograph: AP (The Guardian)

Voting Under Way In Iraq Amid Tight Security -- Yahoo News/AP

BAGHDAD – Iraqis passed through security checkpoints and razor-wire cordons to vote Saturday in provincial elections that are considered a crucial test of the nation's stability as U.S. officials consider the pace of troop withdrawals.

Polls opened shortly after dawn after a step-by-step security clampdown across the country, including traffic bans in central Baghdad and other major cities and closure of border crossings and airports. Turnout appeared brisk in many areas and officials extended polling to accommodate crowds.

Read more ....

More News On Iraq

Iraqis vote in key test of nation's progress -- Yahoo News/AFP
Tight security as Iraqis vote for peace, change -- Yahoo News/Reuters
Iraq gives extra hour for casting ballots in provincial elections -- China View
Iraqis Stream to the Polls Amid Tight Security -- Washington Post
Iraqis Vote in Key Test of Stability -- Voice of America
Iraqis hope elections will herald new era -- Times Online
Iraqis go to polls amid tight security -- Financial Times
Bracing for a shift, Iraqis vote -- International Herald Tribune
Voting under way in Iraq provincial elections -- CNN
Iraq's Sunnis Turn Toward the Ballot -- Los Angeles Times
A Calmer Iraq Takes Another Try at the Ballot -- New York Times
Maliki sees strong turnout in Iraq vote -- AFP
No Injuries Reported in Iraqi Elections -- New York Times
Mortar shells near Iraq voting centres, no one hurt -- Reuters
In Iraq's oil-rich Basra, voting is a way of settling scores -- McClatchy Newspapers
Female candidate runs to make change in her life, in Iraq -- McClatchy Newspapers
Sadr Is Silent, but Backers Work Behind Scenes -- New York Times
For Prominent Iraqi Cleric, a Test of Influence -- Washington Post
Iraqi Military Ethics Center Hosts Election Conference -- AFPS
Challenges on Iraq's Election Day -- Washington Post opinion

Analysis: UAVs Protect U.S. Troops In Iraq

Predator B can conduct multiple missions simultaneously due to its large internal and external payload capacity. Photo from Airforce Technology.

From Space Wars:

Unmanned aerial vehicles have proven their worth in the war on terror as reconnaissance and surveillance platforms that provide battlefield commanders with real-time, optically enhanced streaming video of terrain, suspicious movements and intelligence-driven targets of interest.

On the brigade level, the Shadow-200 tactical UAV stands out. On the battalion level and lower, it's the Raven, a hand-launched UAV just 38 inches in length, with a 5-foot wingspan and with nose and side-mounted cameras. The battery-operated vehicle is so small, it can be packed in a suitcase and assembled in minutes. It can take to the air for about 60 minutes to provide soldiers in the field with real-time imagery of what lies ahead, although its cameras lack a zoom capability.

But neither the Shadow nor the Raven is weapons-capable. The Predator-MQ1, however, is another matter. It's the big boy on the block with lethal punch to its payload, as terrorists in Iraq as well as Afghanistan have found out.

Read more ....

My Comment: The Taliban have repeatedly told reporters and journalists that the weapon system that they fear the most are the UAVs. Operating 24/7, with an arsenal that is both deadly and accurate, there is (so far) no defense against such a weapons platform.

No surprise .... every military department in the world now wants their own fleet.

Chairman Senate Armed Services Committee -- No More New Programs For The Pentagon

Reset Wins Over Modernization: Sen. Levin --

In a policy declaration that will reverberate through the Pentagon and defense industry, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee made clear today that when he has to pick whether to approve funding for a new program or for one that needs rebuilding he’ll pick the existing program.

“I think there is a tension there and the reset will have to prevail,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in response to my question about the choices he will have to make as authorizers look for sustainable cuts to the defense budget.

Levin was speaking Friday afternoon with reporters to outline the committee’s main goals over the next few months. Here they are, in order:

Read more ....

Update: SASC Chair: Cuts, Acquisition Reform Coming -- Defense News

My Comment: A clear cut warning if there ever was one. No new programs. No procurements for new ideas or new projects. The goal is to keep and fix what we have.

This is going to take some in the Defense establishment a while to digest.

Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy Likely To Ditch Karzai, Focus On Local Governance

SNOW TUNNEL - U.S. Army soldiers drive toward Afghanistan's Salang tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountain range to check on security, Jan. 30, 2009. The soldiers are assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's Company A, 101st Division Special Troop Battalion. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Scott Davis


One thing that came through loud and clear during Defense Secretary Robert Gate’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week was that the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is the top foreign policy priority of the Obama administration. The big question on everybody’s lips: What is the new administration’s new strategy to bring about a different outcome to the long festering security sore that is Afghanistan?

Gates said, to begin with, the military plans to speed more troops to Afghanistan to try and reverse the Taliban’s growing strength. But in his next breath he warned against sending so many troops that the U.S. is seen by ordinary Afghans as an army of occupation. When that happens, invading armies are sent scurrying for the exits by an enraged populace, either to the east over the Khyber Pass like the British, or north over the Amu Darya River like the Soviets. To avoid a Kipling-like outcome to our military adventure in Afghanistan, Gates says the U.S. focus should be on building up the Afghan army and police force as rapidly as possible so as to put an Afghan face on the much needed constabulary counterinsurgency force. Gates said many of the U.S. troops on their way to Afghanistan will serve as advisers to the fledgling Afghan security forces.

Read more ....

My Comment: There are two wars occurring in Afghanistan right now. The first one is the military campaign .... in which the Taliban are slowly asserting their control over the country. The second .... the political campaign .... will be a defeat once Karzai and his government are swept aside in favor of a more regional focus.

With no effective central government .... an effort that has expended numerous lives, time, and monies will be for naught. A fractured central government will be translated into a fractured Afghan Army .... an Army which is the hope for Afghanistan (and for us).

The situation in Afghanistan is dire .... dire enough for the Obama administration to give up on the strategy of the past 8 years, and to proceed with an effort that is untested and unsure of success.

From what I can see .... we are clearly losing this war.

Afghanistan War News Updates -- January 31. 2009

Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Shah Marai/AFP/Getty (Time Magazine)

'Incompetent' Hamid Karzai's Political Future
In Doubt -- Times Online

When Hamid Karzai first took to the international stage in Tokyo in 2002 he was hailed as the only man who could reunite and rebuild Afghanistan after three decades of war.

Seven years on, the new US Administration appears to see him as a liability rather than an asset, and looks increasingly likely to seek an alternative candidate to support in the coming election.

The political future of the Afghan President will be high on the agenda for Richard Holbrooke, the new US special envoy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, who will visit the two countries for the first time in that role next week.

Read more ....

More News On Afghanistan

Will the U.S. Stick By Karzai in Afghanistan? -- Time
Higher stakes: US to seek Afghanistan help at NATO -- MSNBC
U.S. eyeing plan for fifth brigade in Afghanistan -- Reuters
Obama's missing timetable for Afghanistan -- Christian Science Monitor
US in contact with Pakistan over Afghan deployment: Pentagon -- Daily Times
Obama Taps a General as the Envoy to Kabul -- New York Times
Call for More Afghan Troops -- The Australian
British Were Complacent in Afghanistan, Says Sir Jock Stirrup -- The Times
Bomb network busted in Afghanistan: US coalition -- AFP
Afghanistan and the surge skeptics -- Reuters
British soldier killed in Afghanistan firefight -- Yahoo News/AFP
Afghanistan imperative: Taming the narco-state -- International Herald Tribune
Oxfam says new U.S. strategy needed in Afghanistan -- International Herald Tribune
Iraq, Afghan auditors issue quarterly reports -- Yahoo News/AP
Afghan Vote Postponed Until August -- Wall Street Journal
Afghan Presidential Election Delayed -- New York Times
Afghanistan to Delay Presidential Vote by 4 Months -- Washington Post
Afghan officials set August date for presidential election -- L.A. Times
Afghan Presidential Poll Postponed Until August -- Voice Of America

What Is Happening In Gaza Today

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region this week to shore up the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and try to get the peace process back on track. But infighting among Palestinian leaders adds another wrinkle to an already difficult task. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP)

Dozens Believed Dead In Reprisal Attacks As Hamas Retakes Control -- The Guardian

Suspected collaborators shot during and after war
Escaped criminals killed by relatives of their victims

Evidence is emerging of a wave of reprisal attacks and killings inside Gaza that have left dozens dead and more wounded in the wake of Israel's war.

Among the dead are Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli military. Others include criminals who were among the 600 prisoners to escape from Gaza City's main jail when it was bombed as the war began. Their attackers are thought to be their victims' relatives.

During and after the war, there have also been attacks on security officials from Fatah, the bitter rival of Hamas, the Islamist movement in control of the Gaza Strip. One witness told the Guardian how her brother, a Fatah military intelligence officer, was shot three times in the legs in an apparent punishment attack by gunmen from Hamas's armed wing.

Read more ....

More News On Gaza, Hamas, And Fatah

Hamas is accused of turning its weapons on rivals in Gaza -- McClatchy Nespapers
Senior Hamas leader in first showing since Gaza war -- Reuters
Top Hamas official declares victory over Israel in Gaza rally -- Jerusalem Post
Hamas official declare victory in Gaza rallies -- AP
Hamas wants new leadership for Palestinians -- Reuters
Hamas dispenses politics along with aid to Gazans -- Yahoo News/AP
Aid trucks stranded at Egypt's Gaza border -- WTOP/AP
Gaza's economy in tatters, can it be rebuilt? -- Yahoo News/AP
Egypt to host Gaza reconstruction forum March 2 -- AFP
Thousands of al-Qaeda supporters active in Gaza -- YNET News
Hamas officials signal willingness to negotiate -- Yahoo News/AP

Trends In Unmanned Warfare

ST. LOUIS, April 18, 2004 -- A Boeing Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) X-45 aircraft releases an inert Global Positioning System-guided bomb and makes aviation history today at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Range, China Lake, Calif. The mission was the first time an unmanned autonomous aircraft has dropped a precision bomb on a target from an internal weapons bay. Photo from Boeing

WNU Editor: The Mountain Runner has posted a number of past posts that gives recognition to "P.W. Singer's excellent book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century" ..... the posts that he has listed are the following:

* Unintended Consequences of Armed Robots in Modern Conflict (Oct 19, 2007)
* The Strategic Communication of Unmanned Warfare (June 1, 2008)
* Combat Robots and Perception Management in the May/June 2008 issue of Serviam
* Robots on the Radio: interviews with Arkin, Asaro, and Armstrong on warbots (June 20, 2008)

There are more at his blog .... the link is here.

My Comment: Since the early 1980s, I have always been interested in the evolution and integration of computers/robot systems into weapon platforms. It is refreshing to read the above posts for their clarity and information. The future is now .... it is just that only a few people are aware of it.

The Mountain Runner is an excellent blog .... each post is never a disappointment.

Promoting The Worse In The CIA -- Change We Can Believe In

Controversial CIA Official Tapped for Counterterrorism Center, Sources
Say -- CQ Politics/Spy Talk

Disenchanted CIA employees have long complained that Operations Directorate managers with serious blots on their record evade punishment and continue up the career ladder.

Along that line, grumbles are growing that a former CIA station chief in Baghdad, allegedly "notorious" for womanizing and the licentious behavior of his aides, is in line to become chief of the spy agency's powerful Counterterrorism Center, or CTC.

"It's a done deal," said a recent retiree who spoke anonymously because of agency security rules.

A CIA spokesman called that "wrong."

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act prohibits further identifying the official, who was Baghdad station chief during 2005.

"He was probably the single most notorious COS [chief of station] Baghdad, the guy who was in charge there when boozing and womanizing was really out of control," he added.

"What message do you think that is going to send to the troops?"

Read more ....

My Comment: It is not what you know .... but who you know and when you know them. If this story is true, this appointment is clearly an appointment done more out of loyalty and friendship, than out of professionalism and a resume of accomplishment.

U.S. Deserter 'Having Time of My Life' as He Seeks Asylum in Germany

Photo: U.S. Army deserter André Shepherd, left, is seeking asylum in Germany with the help of peace activist Ulli Thiel, right. His hearing is Wednesday. Mike Esterl/ The Wall Street Journal

From The Wall Street Journal:

KARLSRUHE, Germany -- Germany has been very good to Spec. André L. Shepherd since he deserted the U.S. Army.

The 31-year-old former mechanic of the 601st Aviation Support Battalion is enjoying perks that eluded him back home in Ohio: a bed, a bank account, a cellphone and friends.

Best of all from his standpoint, he isn't back in Iraq.

"I'm having the time of my life," says Mr. Shepherd, the only American bunking at a refugee-processing center in southern Germany.

The U.S. deserter enters uncharted legal territory on Wednesday, when Germany begins weighing his request for political asylum. The case will put to the test a 2004 European Union directive requiring member countries to grant asylum to soldiers protesting unlawful wars.

Read more ....

My Comment: Thousands of American servicemen killed and injured fighting against the worse of the worse human beings on the planet .... Al Qaeda, Bathists, Taliban ..... and this "soldier" is having the time of his life at the expense of the public dole.

The U.S. military is a volunteer organization. Signing up and then making excuses on why he does not want to respect his agreement with the U.S. Army is silly at best, pretty stupid and irresponsible at the worse.

If the Germans want to have him .... I say good riddance.

National Security Court? We Already Have One -- A Commentary

From The Investigative Project On Terrorism:

Last week, the Wall Street Journal offered an op-ed article detailing the difficulties facing the Obama Administration in closing the Guantanamo detention center: what to do with those detainees and how to handle terrorism suspects captured in the future on foreign battlefields by our military and intelligence services. The article notes that a possible option to solve these problems would be the Congressional creation of a new "National Security Court." Such a court would be a hybrid of federal civilian criminal courts, U.S. military courts and the Guantanamo-based military commissions.

Read more ....

My Comment: I am sure that within the year something is going to be dredged up.

Planning For The "Unthinkable"

Hiroshima Memorial

From The Armchair Generalist:

I'll bet that you were just wondering if your state and city emergency planners were prepared for that DHS scenario of a 10 kiloton nuclear device going off in your city. Well, wonder no more! The feds have written the manual for how to prepare for and respond to that event.

What is the "Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation"?

The White House developed this guidance specifically for application for nuclear detonations. This guidance is the first Federal guidance focusing on areas of severe damage and high radiation. It provides the basis to help state and local planners develop state and local plans by tailoring this guidance to their specific circumstances or to compare differing inputs and assumptions. It serves to facilitate coordination between state and local planners and the Federal government.

Read more ....

My Comment: A great post. Makes me want to dig my own fall out shelter and stock it with food and provisions.

Was Candidate Obama Working With Arab Intermediaries To Establish An Unofficial Dialogue With Al Qaeda?

Strong views: National security adviser nominee Jim Jones shakes hands with President-elect Obama. Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton looks on. (Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

Report: Barack Obama's Al Qaida Initiative Began Months Before His Election -- World Tribune

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama was working with Arab intermediaries to establish an unofficial dialogue with Al Qaida long before his election as the 44th U.S. president, according to a report in the upcoming weekly edition of

Al Qaida has offered what has been described as a truce in exchange for a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to the report.

Obama has deemed the U.S. reconciliation with the Muslim world, including Iran, as his main foreign policy goal, sources quoted in the report said. The president has been aided by several Persian Gulf Arab Muslims with ties to Al Qaida's leadership in Pakistan, they said.

Read more ....

My Comment: I am skeptical of this report. There is no smoking gun. No evidence. No proof that such discussions even occurred.

But while I am skeptical, I am sure that the Saudi Royal Family are not .... and maybe that is why this story is being published.

Friday, January 30, 2009

U.S. May Forge New Ties With Syria

From CBS News:

A U.S. Congressional delegation was to arrive in Damascus Friday night in what could be the start to a new chapter in Syria – U.S. relations.

After years of disregard by George W. Bush, President Bashar al-Assad is hoping Barack Obama will bring Syria into the diplomatic fold, genuinely engaging Israel's neighbor in the effort to bring lasting stability to the Middle East.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wa., was heading the delegation of House Armed Services Committee members dispatched by the Obama administration, which seems keen to push the Mideast peace agenda, according to diplomats in Damascus.

Read more ....

My Comment: Here we go again .... placating dictators with the belief that they would be our friends in the future, Nope .... they are dictators, and in Syria's case they are aligned with some countries (Iran) and groups (Hezbollah) who have been involved in the systematic murder of American nationals.

Appeasement never works. Never.

U.S. And Iranian Discussions Have Been Ongoing Since Last Year

Photo: Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry

Ex-Defense Chief Met With Tehran Aide -- Washington Times

Perry talks reach highest level so far.

Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry held a series of previously undisclosed meetings last year with a senior adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss Iran's nuclear program, a person familiar with the back-channel talks said Thursday.

The person, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the talks took place with Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, Mr. Ahmadinejad's closest aide, and were "discussions, not negotiations," aimed at clarifying understanding of the two sides' positions.

Former U.S. officials have had numerous conversations with Iranians over the years, but few, if any, with officials as influential as Mr. Samareh.

Read more ....

My Comment: The U.S. political establishment wants to play footsie with the devil. But this will end like all other attempts .... U.S. embarrassment and regrets.

For the Iranian mullahs, the most important thing to them is the development of their nuclear weapons program. This is a project that has been ongoing for almost 20 years, and after billions of dollars spent they are on the verge of being successful. They will talk .... but appeasing U.S. interests is at the bottom of their priority list right now.

This Day In History -- Raid At Cabanatuan January 30, 1945

Photo: Former Cabanatuan POWs in celebration, 30 January 1945 U.S. National Archives

From Wikipedia:

The Raid at Cabanatuan in the Philippines on 30 January 1945 by US Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas resulted in the liberation of 512 [1] prisoners of war (POWs) from a Japanese POW camp near Cabanatuan and was a celebrated historic achievement involving Allied special forces during World War II.

Edward Dmytryk's 1945 film Back to Bataan starring John Wayne opens by retelling the story of the raid on the Cabanatuan POW camp. The raid was recreated, with great attention to historical accuracy, in the 2005 John Dahl film The Great Raid.

Read more ....

My Comment: The 2005 Film, The Great Raid, is one of my favorites.

Sri Lanka War News Updates -- January 30 - 31, 2009

The area controlled by the Tamil Tigers has been squeezed by a government offensive
launched in January 2008. Image from AFP

Sri Lanka Rejects Ceasefire With Tamil Rebels -- AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) — Sri Lanka on Friday rejected growing international calls for a ceasefire amid fears for the safety of 250,000 civilians trapped as the military pushed for victory against Tamil rebels.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said there would be no let-up in the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) despite calls for a truce.

"There will be no ceasefire," the minister told reporters after a meeting with Colombo-based diplomats. "We will continue with our military operations and we will continue to liberate areas which have not been liberated so far."

Read more ....

More News On Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka rules out cease-fire with rebels -- Yahoo News/AP
Tigers say civilians will remain -- BBC
Sri Lanka vows safe passage for civilians but no truce -- Reuters
Sri Lankan President Appeals to Rebels to Allow Civilians to Flee War Zone -- Voice Of America
Sri Lanka to rebels: Let civilians flee war zone -- AP
Sri Lanka urged to protect Tamil civilians -- Financial Times
Blood on many hands as Tamil Tigers' insurrection faces military defeat -- Northern News
UN Leads Evacuation From Sri Lanka -- New York Times
UN Evacuates Wounded Civilians From Sri Lanka -- Washington Post
Tamils Given 48 hrs for Civilian Passage -- The Times
Sri Lanka Leader Vows Safe Passage -- BBC News
Tamil Tiger Leader Wounded -- The Times
U.N. rescues 50 children from Sri Lanka fighting -- CNN
Sri Lanka urged to end war reporting ban -- AFP

Gangs Responsible For 80% Of US Crime

FBI: Burgeoning Gangs Behind Up To 80% Of U.S. Crime -- USA Today

Criminal gangs in the USA have swelled to an estimated 1 million members responsible for up to 80% of crimes in communities across the nation, according to a gang threat assessment compiled by federal officials.

The major findings in a report by the Justice Department's National Gang Intelligence Center, which has not been publicly released, conclude gangs are the "primary retail-level distributors of most illicit drugs" and several are "capable" of competing with major U.S.-based Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

Read more ....

My Comment: Why fight wars abroad when there are wars in our neighborhoods. I live in Montreal, Canada. In the nineties we had a vicious gang war between motorcycle gangs for the drug trade. 160 were murdered (that is known), and bombings had become a weekly occurrence. It was only through draconian laws and the unleashing of law enforcement that stopped this war.

The U.S. will soon need to do the same thing. Mexico is a warning to all of us of what happens when actions are delayed.

Obama Redefines War On Terror

Change of command: President Obama met members of the US Armed Forces on a visit to the Pentagon Wednesday. Obama is shifting the focus of the war on terror to Afghanistan. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

From Christian Science Monitor:

The president focuses on Al Qaeda and on repairing America’s image in the Muslim world.

President Obama’s executive orders closing the Guantánamo detention facility and outlawing torture were interpreted in some circles as closing the door on the Bush administration’s global war on terror.

But Mr. Obama – who used the word “war” in his inaugural address to describe the fight with Islamic extremists who would do America harm – is not so much ending the war on terror as he is redefining it and narrowing its focus.

The president is signaling a desire to home in on the Al Qaeda organization and its leadership, as well as on those Taliban leaders who have created a haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan from which to plot against US interests, say counterterrorism experts.

At the same time, Obama aims to cleave Muslim populations from extremist forces by emphasizing his and America’s common interests with the Muslim people, and by acting fast on issues that matter to them.

Read more ....

My Comment: War on terror????? .... Never existed. Jihad ... what is that? But Al Qaeda, the Taliban .... now that we can chew up.

Sigh .... I heard all of this in the nineties. Look at the man or men who cause terror .... but ignore the philosophical and religious context behind it.

This redefinition and playing with language will only serve to muddle and distort the fight against militant Islam.

News Briefs For January 30, 2009

PROOF - Iraqi National Police officers show their purple index fingers as proof of having voted outside the Abu Ghraib Boys High School, Jan. 28, 2009. Iraqi Security Forces, detainees, hospital patients and other special needs cases were given the opportunity to vote three days before the general population in the provincial elections, scheduled for Jan. 31. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brock Jones


Israeli settlements in the West Bank expand.

Hamas 'persecuting Fatah members' in Gaza.

Gaza's economy in tatters, can it be rebuilt?

U.S. Mitchell warns of setbacks ahead in Mideast talks

Cyprus detained Iran arms ship en route to Syria.


Obama places call to China's president.

Pakistani PM says US strikes inflame tensions

North Korea renounces agreements with South Korea in challenge to US.

China, EU vow to deepen cooperation

Pakistani envoy slams India over Mumbai

Key Afghan US airfield shut down after `mishap'.


Al Qaeda holding Europeans taken in Mali - military.

The state of South African democracy today.

France to withdraw 1,900 troops from Africa

US skeptical about Zimbabwe power-sharing deal.


ETA vows to keep fighting after 50 years.

Iceland could join EU by 2011.

Refinery strikes spread across UK


Homeland secretary wants criminal aliens out of US.

2010 Winter Olympics security costs rise five-fold to $1-billion

Bolivian Marxist Evo Morales cozies up to radical Islamists

Venezuelan defiance to rights treaty could set precedent.


Ireland’s debt outlook cut to ‘negative’ by Moody’s.

Italian Mob revenue surges to $167 billion from 2007.

Iceland could be fast-tracked to join the EU within two years, to help the small Nordic state out of its economic crisis.

U.S. Q4 GDP down 3.8 percent, biggest drop since 1982.

U.S. eyes two-part bailout for Banks

Grim US, Japan data show financial crisis deepens

Doctors Spooked by Israel's Mystery Weapon

Image from Global Security

From The Danger Room:

Critics continue to press the case that Israel committed "war crimes" in its war with Hamas, because of the civilian casualties in Gaza. Ironically, many of these wounds may have been caused by a weapon designed to reduce collateral damage. Not that the Israelis admit they have the thing.

We first reported on Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions in 2006. The weapons originated as an offshoot of a bunker-busting program, when it was found that adding tungsten powder to explosives seemed to increase the blast effect over a small area. The powder was acting as micro-shrapnel which only carries for a few feet (compared to hundreds of feet for larger fragments), so the result was dubbed the "focused lethality munition" (FLM) which does massive damage in a small area and nothing outside.

Read more ....

My Comment: Global Security also reported the use of these munitions in 2006. The U.S. has not classified this weapon as "illegal", but it has stated that it has carcinogenic properties and that it is also very detrimental to the environment.

Former USS Cole Commander Slams Obama On Guantanamo -- A Commentary

The USS Cole In the Middle East Shortly After The Bombing. The Main Blast Damage is in Center
(Photo from Lockportians At Large)

From McClatchy Newspapers:

The former commander of the USS Cole, the American war ship thatwas struck by a suicide boat in Yemeni waters more than eight years ago, on Thursday slammed President Barack Obama's orders to close the Guantanamo detention center and reassess the prisoners being held there.

''We shouldn't make policy decisions based on human rights and legal advocacy groups,'' retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kurt Lippold said in a telephone interview. "We should consider what is best for the American people, which is not to jeopardize those who are fighting the war on terror — or even more adversely impact the families who have already suffered loses as a result of the war."

Read more ....

My Comment: The main stream media has so far been very quiet on the opposition of 9/11 and USS Cole families to President Obama's decisions in regards to Gitmo. But if one of these Al Qaeda suspects have their charges dropped ... expect an uproar that even they will not be able to contain.

Obama Made a Rash Decision On Gitmo -- A Commentary

President Obama was joined by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and 16 retired generals and admirals in the Oval Office as he signed the executive orders. Doug Mills/The New York Times

From The Wall Street Journal:

The president will soon realize that governing involves hard choices.

During his first week as commander in chief, President Barack Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay and terminated the CIA's special authority to interrogate terrorists.

While these actions will certainly please his base -- gone are the cries of an "imperial presidency" -- they will also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks. In issuing these executive orders, Mr. Obama is returning America to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001. He's also drying up the most valuable sources of intelligence on al Qaeda, which, according to CIA Director Michael Hayden, has come largely out of the tough interrogation of high-level operatives during the early years of the war.

Read more ....

My Comment: In From the Cold's comments on this Wall Street Journal opinion piece are a must read.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Qaeda To Blow Up Holiest Christian Site

From Press TV:

Benjamin Netanyahu, the favorite to win the upcoming Israeli election, says al Qaeda terrorists will destroy Jesus Christ's burial site.

Netanyahu, who claims he had predicted an Islamic extremists attack on the World Trade Center six years before the actual attack, said terrorists will target Church of the Holy Sepulchre also known as the Church of the Resurrection - Christianity's holiest site.

The church located in Jerusalem (al-Quds) -- which Christians believe is the site of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus -- attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims every year and is considered a spiritual focal point.

Read more ....

My Comment: Actually, their stated target is this.

Pentagon Keeps Mum On Who's At Bagram

Photo from The Atlantic.

From Huffington Post:

An untold portion of the 600 detainees at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan were captured outside the country while engaged in peaceful activities, lawyers and court documents say, and imprisoned alongside Afghan warriors. The U.S. government has argued that battlefield rules put the prisoners beyond the reach of civilian justice, even though they weren't captured in the Afghan war zone.
The total number of captives nabbed abroad and held at Bragram is redacted from this public court document.

A lawsuit by four Bagram detainees has revealed striking similarities between the prison in Afghanistan and the Guantanamo Bay facility. To determine the full measure of that resemblance, District Court Judge John D. Bates instructed government lawyers to turn over the total number of captives nabbed abroad. That crucial number was redacted from public court documents (PDF) filed in the case. Recently, Bates has turned to the Obama administration, which recently put the Gitmo military commissions on hold, for guidance.

Read more ....

My Comment: The problem of Bagram and its housing of detainees stems from the Afghan Government itself. Canadian forces in the south of the country now scrutinize the well being of detainees after they have passed them onto the Afghan Government .... this happened when it was learned that pass detainees were tortured .... and in some cases had disappeared .... when they had been transferred to the Afghan prison system.

The jailbreak out of Kandahar Prison last summer in which hundreds of hardened Taliban escaped also revealed the inadequacies of the Afghan penal system, and the need for Nato to supervise the prison care for the most dangerous detainees.

With the closing of Guantanamo now in the works, expect combatants and/or Al Qaeda leaders who are captured to now be housed in Bagram. The alternative of leaving them with Afghan and/or other country jurisdiction will just open a Pandora's box of abuse, unlawful conduct, and/or the release of dangerous men.