They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Friday, June 30, 2006

U.S. Troops Accused of Killing Iraq Family


Five U.S. Army soldiers are being investigated for allegedly raping a young woman, then killing her and three members of her family in Iraq, the U.S. military said Friday.

The soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of raping.

Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. It did not elaborate.

"The entire investigation will encompass everything that could have happened that evening. We're not releasing any specifics of an ongoing investigation,'' said military spokesman Maj. Todd Breasseale. Read more

'Stakeknife' Scappaticci secures gagging order

Belfast Telegraph

Suspected British spy Freddie Scappaticci has succeeded in getting a High Court injunction banning the media in Northern Ireland from revealing details of his identity or whereabouts.

The former IRA man, who was accused of being double agent Stakeknife in 2003, took the action against Independent News and Media Limited - The Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life - and MGM Limited which owns The Mirror.

Mr Justice Weir granted the injunction, which applies to all media, after the west Belfast republican's solicitor submitted a draft order to the High Court in Belfast yesterday with a number of requests regarding publication of his details.

Among the information banned from publication by the order was:

- Any proposed new name for Scappaticci;

- His address or any details which may lead to information on his whereabouts;

- Any image made or taken of him from May 11 2003 onwards;

- The nature and location of his employment;

- Any image made or taken of any place or premises he attends or has links with;

- Any description of accommodation in which Scappaticci lives.

Scappaticci, once head of the IRA's internal security unit known as the 'nutting squad', has consistently denied the spy allegations first levelled against him in a number of Sunday newspapers on May 11, 2003.

The top level republican was accused of being Stakeknife, a double agent working for the British at the heart of the IRA for more than 25 years.

Legal representatives for both MGM Limited and Independent News and Media Limited told the court that they did not object to the terms of the injunction. The court was told of confusion over the action because none of the newspapers involved had intended or were seeking to publish information about Scappaticci. Read more

db: Over at Slugger [see comments] Martin Ingram - co-author of the Stake Knife book - claims that the order is designed to protect Freddie's new ID given to him by HMG.

We are told that there are certain internet web sites that don't take gagging orders all that seriously - sadly we are not one of them. The photograph of Scappaticci below - taken 14th May 2003 and hence BANNED - has been modified in the lab to protect us.

Any similarity between this photograph and Mr Scappaticci's new identity is coincidental.

ICRC urges Israel to allow urgent medicines into Gaza


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), concerned about escalating Middle East violence, called on Friday for Israel to allow urgent medical supplies into Gaza.

Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC spokeswoman, said Israel was obliged under international law -- including the Geneva Conventions -- to ensure that humanitarian supplies reach Palestinian civilians.

Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza on Friday, setting ablaze the Interior Ministry office of the Hamas-led Palestinian government in a widening military effort to secure the release of a soldier captured last Sunday.

"We are negotiating with Israel to allow in humanitarian aid. These are essential medicines and medical supplies for the Palestinian Red Crescent," Krimitsas told Reuters.

"We are concerned at the humanitarian consequences of the escalation of violence and closure of crossing points to Gaza, especially the Karni crossing," she added.

Karni is Gaza's main commercial crossing, through which virtually all trade between Israel and the impoverished coastal strip must pass.

The ICRC is also anxious to deliver food packages and household items for Palestinian families, some of whom have had their homes destroyed, according to Krimitsas.

"Under international law, Israel has the obligation to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza. It also has the duty to ensure that the vital supplies for the population, including food and medicine, are adequate," she said.

Israeli strikes have knocked out bridges, water systems and a major power transformer in the densely populated Gaza Strip, home to 1.4 million Palestinians.

Hospitals, hard-hit by the loss of electricity, have to use generators for power, consuming precious fuel, Krimitsas said.

"We are worried about the fuel stocks. Palestinian authorities have estimated that they have enough for about 7 to 10 days," she added. Link

Democracy, War and the Illusion of Public Opinion


In the West, there isn't just one democracy; there are different types, all with differences in application and ethics between them. But if American democracy is the most important democracy, it is a million times more a democracy of war than a democracy of values. The need for war is dictated by the size of its interests and the expansion of areas of influence defended by that particular 'democracy'. The variables of size and nature of interests are the essential differences and this can be seen in the huge disparity between the Swiss democracy and the American one. Accordingly, had the Swiss one tenth of the US interests in the world, they would have been no less 'cowboys' than those in Texas.

In fact, the nature of the capitalist economy and its constant need for expansion and growth are the source of the aggressive tendency of great capitalist/democratic systems. The values of democracy - freedom, justice, equality, etc - do exist, and they can be referred to whenever needed; however, they do not work when the need for war is the main tool of defending their interests. All words about democracy would become empty words, and all ethical arguments fall under the feet of the oldest parliaments if war is on the door step. Since 'the national interest' comes first, the majority keep quiet at best, if they do not connive.

Is there any doubt that both Houses of the British Parliament which have hundreds of MPs and Lords can be considered gods of noble human values and ethics? Of course there isn't. But even this parliament allowed a charlatan prime minister like Tony Blair to lie to it, and lead the country into a dirty war. Of course, it was necessary to market those goals as an ultimate example of love for democracy and to save the Iraqi people from dictatorship. Here we are. These are the same people on whom atrocities, tortures and violations are committed everyday by the occupation forces. Read more [Alarab is not 'firefox friendly']

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Gaza: Health crisis looms as plant bombed


THE destruction of the only power plant in the Gaza Strip threatens to create a humanitarian disaster because the plant supplied electricity to two-thirds of Gaza's 1.3 million residents and operated pumps that provided water.

Across Gaza yesterday, people hurried to stock up on emergency supplies of bottled water, candles and food that will not spoil.

With nearly three-quarters of a million people without electricity, Gazans sat on the footpath to try to catch a breeze, glancing skyward when Israeli aircraft circled overhead.

Twelve hours later, workers at the power station were still hosing down six wrecked transformers billowing smoke after each one was picked off by a single missile, leaving heaps of buckled metal.

The plant's operations manager, Derar Abu Sisi, predicted it would not be generating again before the end of the year. He said: "What I know about war is that economics and infrastructure is usually the last target ... We're very sorry that it's the first stage of war here. They know very well the electricity sector doesn't have weapons."

Britain has challenged Israel's justification for the bombing of the plant. A Foreign Office spokesman said the destruction of the power station represented a collective punishment of a civilian population that posed no military threat. Collective punishments are a war crime outlawed by the fourth Geneva Convention.

... Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, insisted the destruction of the plant was done for purely military reasons. Israel has not adopted the Geneva Conventions into law but it says it abides by them.

Mr Regev denied destroying the power station was illegal, saying his country was involved in a genuine military conflict. Read more

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949


No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Afghanistan: Welcome back to the Great Game


They were gathering in the poppy harvest when the British troops arrived a month ago in Helmand, the hottest, poorest and most drug-ridden province of southern Afghanistan.

The acreage of poppies is down this year, but in spite of the drought and the fighting, the yield has been good.

The total crop from the south of Afghanistanis expected to net just under $3bn, but that money will go to the warlords, the middlemen and traffickers; only tiny sums will reach the farmers.

The Taliban, with their cohorts of sharp-featured teenagers in black turbans fresh from the madrasas of the refugee communities straddling the Pakistan border, have been telling anyone who will listen in the opium villages along the Helmand river that the British have come to burn their crops and destroy their lives.

"Most of our problems come from across the border," declares the newly restored Afghan defence minister, General Abdul Raheem Wardak, a former mujahideen commander against the Russian occupation way back when. "That's where they get their good equipment, training and recruits."

The general doesn't mince his words. Some say he is likely to be the next US favourite to take over in Kabul, should the already stumbling Hamid Karzai fall in the next few months.

A British colonel who made much the same critique of the new strength of the Taliban coming from Pakistan got an official telling-off after the Guardian reported his words.

"The Taliban have been building a shadow authority here," says Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, commanding the Helmand taskforce. "There has been no security here since the Taliban regime fell four years ago, no police and no law at all."

The new Taliban is now engaged in a small war against the British-led forces in Helmand. In the past 10, they have fought two major battles, one lasting all day, at Musa Qala, in which three British soldiers have died. Read more

Strength of Taliban was underestimated


The Taliban's resistance against British troops in Afghanistan has been stronger than expected, a British commander said on Wednesday, but he said his forces were equal to the challenge.

Maj-Gen Peter Wall, deputy chief of joint operations, spoke a day after Taliban fighters killed two British soldiers in Helmand province.

"It's certainly so that yesterday we had a bad day - two brave men were killed in action - but I think the Taliban had a worse day," Maj-Gen Wall said in an interview with the BBC radio.

Britain has 3,300 troops in Afghanistan, working with the country's national army.

"Notwithstanding yesterday's tragic losses, the force that we have has demonstrated it is more than equal to the task," Maj-Gen Wall said.

"I don't accept we are involved in mission-creep. I do think that we should have expected a reaction from the Taliban - perhaps it has been a little bit more virulent than we had hoped," Maj-Gen Wall said. Link

db: Caught the end of a Sky News piece on Afghanistan last night. They had an 'expert' in the studio who suggested that the British have been presented with a 'choice' - between Afghanistan and Iraq - and that in his view the Brits should redeploy troops to Afghanistan - because it is a more 'popular' war with the public. Frying pans and fires come to mind. The reality is that the Brits are currently asleep regarding Afghanistan - 'popular' the war is not.

Afghanistan: UK support for US policies risks failure

Belfast Telegraph

The UK mission in Afghanistan is in danger of failing because of "misguided" support for American military and drug-eradication policies, an international think-tank has claimed.

Instead of taking part in the reconstruction of the country shattered by decades of war, British forces find themselves "at war" with a resurgent Tal-iban and alienated from an increasingly hostile population.

The report came as Tony Blair led tributes in the Commons to the two special forces soldiers killed in Helmand on Tuesday. He said: "They were fighting the Taliban. They were brave and committed soldiers. This country can be very proud of the work they were doing."

The study by the Senlis Council, a drug policy think-tank, predicts that the violence in the south will escalate. The Taliban and their allies have been exploiting the anger felt by farmers at the destruction of opium crops and by civilians who have suffered in US-led operations.

Lt-Gen David Richards, the British officer who is due to take over all Nato operations in Afghanistan with US troops under his command, warned the crop eradication programme was driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban and the Western forces are creating new enemies. Last week Hamid Karzai, the President, levelled unprecedented criticism at the US-led coalition's tactics, deploringthe deaths of hundreds of his countrymen and women while the Taliban grows in strength. About 600 people have been killed this year. UK and other Nato forces in Afghanistan are supposedly on a different mission from the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which is engaging in war-fighting operations against Tal-iban and al-Qa'ida fighters. The Senlis Council says villagers cannot differentiate between foreign troops. One researcher said that when she tried to explain the difference at a village shura (council) in Helmand, one elder said: "You cannot tell the difference between our tribes, so how can you expect us to tell the difference between yours. As far as we are concerned, they are all foreign soldiers who are Christians and they are in our country." Read more

Richard Tomlinson arrested over MI6 lists

Tomlinson v MI6

I am having to write this blog from work now, as MI6 have again confiscated all my computer gear with trumped up and invented charges against me. As I wrote in my last post, the British police would not show me the lists while I was being questioned, making it difficult for me to answer their questions. I am now back on line, so have searched around for the lists. I have not managed to find the original postings on uk.politics.misc - perhaps they have been deleted or perhaps it is just me not having a newsgroup reader on my work computer. Anyway, I have found them on

This appears to be the "John Jo" list. This appears to be the "Todor Velichkov" list. And finally this apears to be the "Alan Bond" list. [visit RT site or cryptome for links]

These lists have now been confirmed as genuine by MI6 - if they are not genuine how could they have got a magistrate to sign off an international warrant to arrest me and search and confiscate my affairs? The British Police also confirmed that they were genuine when they interviewed me. This amazes me, that the British authorities have decided to admit that these lists are genuine - they could simply say that they were a random list of FCO and MI6 staff, drawn at random from the Diplomatic List, and nobody would know differently.

But since they have now proclaimed them as being genuine, and the lists are already published elsewhere on the internet, I can discuss them in detail on here without breaching any law. Read more

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The plight of Afghan civilians? Don't ask the U.N.


Ameerah Haq is one of the two Deputy Special Representatives for Afghanistan appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. She is responsible for Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction (RRR), as well being Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Is the UN concerned that civilians are not being protected in this new upswing in conflict, particularly in the south and east?

ANSWER: Certainly the UN is always concerned about the protection of civilians, it is our humanitarian mandate to protect civilians. Unfortunately, we don't really have proper and accurate information about the number of civilian casualties in the recent upsurge in the south.

I think it will be very useful for us to get the figure from the government or other sources on what the civilian casualties are but certainly it's the UN's humanitarian mandate more than anything else that we must advocate on behalf of civilians.

We will always try to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians in conflict but I think our frustration is, as I said before, that we really don't know the number of civilian casualties. The BBC estimate is about 900 - that is the number I have seen but I don't know the real number.

...Q: Do you have information on the number of civilians displaced currently in the south by the violence?

A: We don't have a number for those who are mostly at risk in the south, but we are monitoring through the UN agencies who have operations in those areas - for example on refugees and internal displacements we know that there have been some internal displacements as a result of Operation Mountain Thrust [coalition anti-Taliban operation] three weeks ago.

It's probably in the hundreds but ...

... Q: Many civilians have been accidentally killed in coalition operations in recent months. Has the UN been able to influence the US-led coalition's rules of engagement to try and protect local people during these attacks?

A: I think the UN always has tried. Our aim is always to try to reduce casualties in any effort. But in terms of specific rules of engagement here in Afghanistan we have not had any specific discussion with the coalition on this issue.Link

Germany can accept nuclear enrichment in Iran


Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium for power generation provided there is close monitoring by U.N. inspectors to ensure that it is not trying to develop atomic weapons, Germany's defence minister said.

The minister's comments could suggest that after years of failed negotiations with Iran, Germany and some Western powers are willing to compromise with Iran over enrichment in order to resolve peacefully the nuclear stand-off with Tehran.

But it is unclear if this view has been agreed among all Western powers and if it would be acceptable to hardline camps in Washington and London, Western diplomats say.

In an interview with Reuters, Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung was asked if Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium under scrutiny by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

"I think so. The offer includes everything. That means the civilian use of nuclear energy is possible but not atomic weapons. And monitoring mechanisms must be applied. I think it would be wise for Iran to accept this offer," he said.

Jung was referring to a June 6 offer of incentives made to Iran by Germany and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

He said close IAEA oversight of any Iranian enrichment activities would provide the necessary assurances to the international community.

"IAEA inspections can provide those assurances through monitoring. That is not a problem," he said Read more

db: Hello Washington? ....London?

U.S. Waters Down Iraqi Peace Plan


The Iraqi reconciliation plan unveiled by Prime Minister Al-Maliki on Sunday had the potential to mark a turning point in the war. But thanks to U.S. interference, instead of a road map for peace, the plan that emerged looks more like a bump in Iraq's torturous path to continued violence and suffering.

Iraqi government officials, anxious to reduce the violence that has engulfed their nation, initiated talks last month with various insurgent groups to come up with a reconciliation plan. The roots of this plan are not new. They date back to the November 2005 Iraqi Reconciliation Conference in Cairo, where Iraqis from different political and religious persuasions came together and elaborated a long list of recommendations for ending the violence.

The plan announced by the Iraqi government on Sunday builds on many of those recommendations. It includes compensation for those harmed by terrorism, military operations and violence; punishment for those responsible for acts of torture; compensation for civilian government employees who lost their jobs after the fall of the Saddam regime; the promotion of the political neutrality of Iraq's armed forces and the disbanding Iraq's militia groups; the return of displaced people to their homes and compensation for any losses they have suffered; review of the de-Baathification committee to ensure it respects the law; and cooperation with the United Nations and the Arab League to pursue national reconciliation.

But two of the most critical aspects of the reconciliation plan discussed with the insurgents -- the withdrawal of U.S. troops and amnesty for Iraqis who fought soldiers but not Iraqi civilians -- were abandoned under intense U.S. pressure. The result is a weak plan that will probably not entice a significant number of fighters to lay down their weapons. Read more

Gaza invasion targets civilian infrastructure

Christian Aid

Israeli tanks have invaded the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip, following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants on Sunday.

This comes at the end of a month during which 34 Palestinian civilians have been killed in Gaza in Israeli military attacks or 'targeted assassinations' of suspected militants. This includes 10 children.

Christian Aid condemns all violent actions and believes that without an end to violence by all sides there will be no security, no end to poverty and no peace.

Last night Israel also hit a power station which supplies 65% of Gaza's electricity and also the water pumping station.

William Bell, Christian Aid's senior policy officer responsible for the Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories, said: 'Christian Aid partners in Gaza are telling us how people are rushing to buy dwindling supplies of bottled water, that tomorrow there will be very little bread available in Gaza as the ovens will not be working and that stocks of petrol and gas remain scarce.

'The message to the civilian population of Gaza could not be clearer - collective punishment is part of Israel's military strategy. Read more

Basra residents call for human rights recognition


Residents of Basra, some 550km south of the capital, are calling for recognition of their human rights following a series of allegations of abusive treatment by local police. This follows the announcement by the central government in Baghdad that security in the south of the country was improving.

Though Basra has long been free of sectarian violence, residents say the city is beginning to fragment along Shi'a and Sunni divisions and that, as a result, violence is on the rise. More than 250 civilians have been killed in Basra since the beginning of May. Read more

Hamas seals deal on Israel

Times Online

A dramatic change in policy by the militant Palestinian group could lead to a national coalition and the start of negotiations with Israel

As Israeli tanks massed on Gaza's borders last night, Hamas executed a dramatic shift in policy to reach an agreement that implicitly recognises Israel.

The militant Palestinian group's surprise move could see the Hamas-led Government - anathema to Israel and the West - replaced within weeks by a national unity coalition.

Details of the agreement remained unclear, but Palestinians hoped that the prospect of the secular Fatah party and other factions joining the Government might end international sanctions, and make it possible for Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate President, to restart negotiations with Israel.

But those hopes depend on the immediate military crisis being resolved. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, promised a "comprehensive and protracted" military operation unless Gilad Shalit, the 19-year-old soldier captured on Sunday, were freed.

Israel closed Gaza's border crossings, and refused to let Mr Abbas return to the West Bank. While convoys of Israeli tanks took up position just north of Gaza and armoured bulldozers constructed sand berms along the border, Palestinians hastily built defences against attack.

In northern Gaza, from where Palestinian militants have regularly fired rockets into Israeli towns, fighters put up barricades in Jabalya refugee camp, while Islamic Jihad fighters further south posed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, AK47s, bomb belts made of ball bearings and explosives packed into disinfectant bottles.

The men conceded that they had nothing to match Israel's F16 fighters and Merkava tanks. But, one said: "We have exploding bodies." Read more

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Israeli missile hits bridge in Gaza


An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a bridge in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday as troops prepared for a threatened offensive into the territory, Palestinian witnesses said.

Israel has been planning a major push into the territory following the capture of an Israeli soldier by militants from Gaza on Sunday.

The bridge lies on one of the main roads linking the north and south of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian security sources said Israeli tanks were moving near the northern end of the Gaza Strip, but the army said they had not yet crossed the border.

Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip last year after 38 years of occupation. Link

Israeli helicopters strike Gaza power plant


Israeli helicopter gunships fired at least two missile into a Palestinian power plant in the central Gaza Strip on Wednesday, cutting electrical supplies to large areas of the coastal territory, witnesses said. END

Putin Urges Weapons-Treaty Talks With U.S.


President Vladimir Putin urged the United States on Tuesday to open talks on a weapons treaty to replace the key START agreement, seizing the initiative in what Russia considers the neglected sphere of arms control with less than three weeks before meeting President Bush in St. Petersburg.

"We call for the renewal of dialogue on key weapons reduction issues - first of all, we propose to our American partners to launch negotiations on replacing the START treaty," Putin said, adding that it was necessary to help reverse what he called a period of "stagnation" in disarmament.

The treaty, signed in 1991 by the United States and the Soviet Union, limits the number of various types of vehicles and warheads that could be deployed by either side, and it contains measures both sides can take to inspect and verify reductions. The agreement, which also provides verification procedures for the subsequent 2002 Moscow Treaty on strategic reductions, expires in December 2009.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private, Washington-based Arms Control Association, said neither the United States nor Russia had shown much interest in a follow-up treaty. He called Putin's call "very, very significant." Read more

Afghanistan: The last thing we want to do is shoot

President Hamid Karzai is a strong leader who is revered by his people and fully supports the international coalition's campaign against the Taliban, Canada's top military leader in Afghanistan said Tuesday.

Brig.-Gen. David Fraser had just returned from meetings with Karzai in Kabul, where the president is under growing criticism at home and abroad over the increasingly violent insurgency and government corruption.

Fraser said he got a different impression of the president as they met to discuss the coalition's military operations in Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces.

"He (Karzai) is an incredibly charismatic man who is passionate about this country. He is a great leader who meets with elders all the time," said Fraser, the commander of the coalition's multinational brigade.

"He still has the full support of the people down here. He is revered as a great leader for Afghanistan and I can't say enough about him. He is just quite a remarkable man."

.... "I had a chance to talk with the president himself and went over what we are here to do to support him," Fraser said.

"We are well within what he wants us to do - which is to support him in his vision of establishing an Islamic republic. We're doing it. I told the president the last thing we want to do is shoot."Read more

db: That squared Karzai, now let's get on with the killin'.

Des Browne: British Basra Best

Hansard 26.6.06

Harry Cohen: Is not the purpose of UK forces in Basra to maintain order and to ensure basic amenities? If so, why did a state of emergency have to be declared after a surge of killings, and why is Bill Neely, ITN's international editor, reporting on limbs amputated for lack of basic medical supplies, children dying from preventable diseases, and no treatment for cancer patients for three years in Basra's main hospital? Why are Ministers sleep-walking when they should be waking up to their responsibilities? If they say, "Can't do", should not it be a case of "Can't stay"?

Des Browne: My hon. Friend's position on the presence of British forces in Iraq is well known, as it has been over the years. The fact is that British forces in Basra have seen an improvement in a significant number of the services available to the people of Basra. There has been an increase in violence over the last few months, but that is entirely coincidental with the period between the election and the formation of the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government are now in place and the Prime Minister, the new Defence Minister and the new Minister of the Interior have publicly stated that security in Basra is a priority. They have developed a plan that will be led by the Iraqi security forces themselves, in the form of the Iraqi army. There are significant difficulties; the Iraqi police have been significantly infiltrated by violent groups who are part of an outside process and there is a degree of corruption, but the plan addresses those issues. To suggest that the situation for the ordinary people of Basra is no better since British forces have been there is not true - it has improved for them. Link

Pentagon Resists Ban on "Degrading Treatment"


As new reports detail further abuse by the U.S. military of its prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a behind-the-scenes battle is being fought between the U.S. departments of state and defence about whether a key section of the Geneva Conventions should be included in new rules governing Army interrogation techniques.

The Pentagon is pushing to omit from new detainee policies a central principle of the Geneva Conventions that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment". Critics say such a step that would mark a further shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

The State Department is opposing the decision to exclude Geneva Conventions protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider.

Meanwhile, in the face of growing criticism over U.S. treatment of detainees, Pentagon officials have decided to make public all of the military's interrogation techniques. Military leaders had previously argued that making all of the interrogation tactics public would allow enemy combatants to train and prepare for specific techniques.

The Pentagon's decision came as two previously secret Army investigative reports on prisoner abuse were released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) under a freedom of information request.

The more than 1,000 pages turned over to the ACLU include one report by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on special operations forces in Iraq and another by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby on Afghanistan detainees.

The Formica report reviewed only three allegations of abuse by special operations forces, but found that Iraqi detainees were held for up to seven days at a time with their eyes taped shut in tiny box-like cells so small that they had to sit with their knees to their chests while loud music blared, and detainees were fed only bread and water for up to a week.

One of the detainees said he was kept inside his tiny cell for two days, another for five days, and the third for seven days. The one kept for seven days alleged that "before he was placed in the box his clothes were cut off. He said that while held in the box, his captors duct-taped his mouth and nose, making it hard for him to breathe." He charged that water was thrown on him, that he was beaten, kicked and electrocuted.

Formica concluded that overall conditions "did not comport with the spirit of the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions", but dismissed allegations that prisoners were physically abused or humiliated. The general recommended no disciplinary action against any U.S. special operations personnel. Read more

Haniyeh's moment


Senior figures in Gaza suggested yesterday that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh may use the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit as a chance to serve as a mediator and to bring about the soldier's release in exchange for the release of prisoners - to establish his status as a can-do leader.

Despite Israeli declarations that there will be no negotiating with kidnappers, these sources believe the Israeli government will not be able to withstand public pressure to bring the soldier home.

Haniyeh, who has said a number of times that he does not fear for his own life, is the only one who can broker a deal, as the kidnappers do not trust PA chair Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah people.

If the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service cannot locate and free Shalit using military means - there will be no alternative to negotiations, and the Palestinian premier is the only person to turn to in such a case.

There is no doubt that Haniyeh is interested in this possibility. Since his election, Ismail Haniyeh has been trying to present himself as the prime minister of the entire Palestinian people and not just a representative of Hamas. He behaves just like a seasoned diplomat, speaking cautiously. Yesterday his spokesman, Dr. Ghazi Hamad, asked the kidnappers to safeguard the life of the soldier, but did not demand his release.

There were already early indications yesterday of appeals to Haniyeh by various entities including senior Egyptian and Jordanian officials, who had until now either expressed doubts about or totally ignored the Hamas government. It was reported last night, for instance, that Egyptian deputy intelligence chief Mustafa Buheiri is coming to Gaza to deal with the problem and he will have choice but to approach Haniyeh.

Yesterday's attack was announced by a young masked man known as Abu Obeida, a well-known spokesman for Hamas military wing Iz al-Din al-Qassam, who acted according to the Hezbollah "model" and said no information on the kidnapped soldier would be provided for free.

This operation will have an important influence on internal Palestinian politics. Although Abbas, through aide Nabil Rudeineh, expressed concern about the IDF's reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, journalists in Gaza reported satisfaction among the masses, who had been calling recently for revenge in light of the recent assassinations of residents of the Gaza Strip.

One associate of the Hamas leadership said yesterday that movement's military people, who are controlled by Khaled Meshal in Damascus, had almost no choice but to carry out a harsh military operation against Israel.

During the recent election campaign, Hamas activists promised the electorate they would act on two fronts: first, it said it would fight Fatah's corruption and waste, and second, unlike Fatah, it determined that "opposition" fighters working against the occupation would not be arrested. After the recent IDF assassinations of civilians, including children, many in Gaza have asked the Hamas leadership: Where are you? How can you sit quietly in the face of the killings and the slaughter of children?

Against this backdrop, it is likely Hamas' political status is gaining strength. The movement did make some concessions to Abbas on some clauses of the "prisoners' document." But its way back to popularity was effected through yesterday's operation. Link

Karzai upsetting the sponsors

Washington Post/Reuters

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is losing support from many Afghans and some foreign governments as a Taliban-led insurgency escalates and his government fails to stem endemic corruption, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

"The president had a window of opportunity to lead and make difficult decisions, but that window is closing fast," the Post cited an unidentified foreign military official as saying.

"President Karzai is the only alternative for this country, but if he attacks us, we can't help him project his vision," the official is cited as saying. "And if he goes down, we all go down with him."

On Thursday, Karzai complained about what he called a lack of full cooperation from his foreign allies, saying U.S.-led forces had adopted the wrong approach in Afghanistan and urged the international community to provide more help in training and equipping the Afghan army and police.

The Post said Karzai had bristled at international criticism that greeted his recent naming of 13 police officials, some of whom have been accused of human rights abuses. Foreign officials and analysts said the appointments were intended to create ethnic and political balance and were not based on professional qualifications, the newspaper said.

"He's making decisions for short-term stability that go against his own interests and the long-term interests of building the country," an unnamed European official told the Post. "As a result, international support for him is eroding and it could become a real rift at the worst possible time."

Several European governments are expressing serious concerns about Karzai's leadership, the Post reported, without singling out the countries by name.

"There is an awful feeling that everything is lurching downward," a Western diplomat told the newspaper. "Nearly five years on there is no rule of law, no accountability." Link

db: Is this a warning to Karzai that he should keep his mouth shut and his nose out of NATO's business - the mass killing of 'the spoilers'? He had said last week "It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. (Even) if they are Taliban, they are sons of this land," For him to suggest that Taliban were 'sons of this land' must have pissed a few people off - the last thing you need people to believe is that the Taliban are human too [with families, kids and stuff].

It's interesting that a story appeared last week in what looked more like PSYOP than scoop, via ABC News, who claimed to have obtained a computer flash drive containing secret US military documents from a street bazaar outside Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The documents, which ABC said the US military had stated "appear to be genuine" claimed that Dr. A. Wali Karzai - professor in Biochemistry - and brother of the President of Afghanistan - "receives money from drug lords as bribes to facilitate their work and movement".

Monday, June 26, 2006

SNATCH Land Rovers - We're Having a Review

When told on the 12th June 2006 by Lord Astor of Hever that the Snatch Land Rover was "not remotely adequate" for patrolling in Iraq "where insurgents use landmines" Dodgy 'Lord' Drayson, the defence procurement minister replied:
I do not accept that Snatch Land Rovers are not appropriate for the role. We must recognise the difference between protection and survivability. It is important that we have the trade-offs that we need for mobility. The Snatch Land Rover provides us with the mobility and level of protection that we need.
Now, 14 days later - following some excellent coverage in the Sunday Times by Michael Smith and Jon Ungoed-Thomas [see earlier posts] - the government is apparently sensing that the issue could well escalate out of control and in doing so cause them some political damage. "What, Tony Blair lets our troops die rather than cough up a few million quid for some decent armour?". Erm, yes, that has certainly been the case up to now - and that is likely to be the case for some time to come. Having said that, our new defence secretary Des Browne told MPs he could not fail to be aware of concerns about the vehicles after recently visiting Iraq- and had this to say in the House of Commons today regarding an action plan:
"This is a serious issue. I've asked for a review into this,"

"There are medium and long-term plans in relation to vehicles and I will be looking in the short-term at what we can do to respond to the situation."
Yes folks, we're gonna have a review! Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, sensing an opportunity to make some political capital but no less correct in his observations stated that Snatch Land Rovers did not offer "the level of protection our troops need in Iraq - yet we continue to use them. Our troops are quite right to demand the level of protection afforded to their American colleagues. They must be asking if the MoD is acting through complacency or incompetence." Or possibly both - with a set of priorities that ranks the necks of those forced to fight in the government's 'wars of choice' very low - when it comes to spending money. In fairness though, when troops get blown to pieces - perhaps unneccessarily - all parties make an excellent job of saying the right thing. See John Reid's tribute to Gordon Gentle [emphasis added]:
"The loss of Fusilier Gentle is devastating for all who knew him, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues. The death of any member of the Armed Forces is extremely serious - the safety of our personnel is and must remain paramount.

"Whilst every possible precaution is taken to protect Service personnel the unfortunate reality is that, despite the best training, tactics and equipment, military operations are dangerous. That is why I stand in awe of the bravery displayed by those who volunteer to take part in them.

Mulla Omar claims to control 'major area' of Afganistan


Afghanistan's major chunk lies with Taliban: Mulla Omar

Taliban chief Mulla Mohammad Omar has said that the Afghanistan's capital getting out of hand [db:losing control of the capital] didn't mean that Taliban have vanished - a major area including the mountains of Afghanistan were still under the possession of the Taliban.

Mulla Omar in an audio message said that there existed a difference between the overthrow of his government and that of Zahir Shah [former King], who had left for Rome and his army was also decimated, but he (Mulla Omar) has neither deserted Afghanistan nor his army has finished after the fall of his government.

Without naming Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he said, "Today, if the US army is not with you, then you have no status--the Russian army had also come to Afghanistan-- remember its doom."

Mulla Omar told that Afghanistan was the country of the Muslims, here the believer in God were in great majority, the intruders here would never be able to enforce their ideology. He told the rulers of Kabul that they could not run the country with the borrowed wisdoms and Insh Allah they would be sunk. Link

Afghanistan: Allies can't end violence - Omar

Daily Times

Taliban's fugitive leader Mulla Omar has claimed that the coalition and Afghan government do not have the wisdom to solve the escalating violence in Afghanistan, according to an audiotape aired on Sunday by Geo Television.

The tape was apparently made during a recent meeting of Taliban leaders in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, the network claimed. "They cannot solve the issue of Afghanistan based on their wisdom and thinking," said the speaker on the tape, who Geo said was Omar but whose identity could not be immediately authenticated.

The tape comes amid the deadliest campaign of militant violence since the Taliban's ouster in 2001. US-led forces have launched their largest ever anti-Taliban offensive - Operation Mountain Thrust - across southern Afghanistan.

The Geo reporter said that the tape also included Omar's purported claim that the Taliban control large areas of the country. Afghan officials had no immediate comment on the tape, which Geo said was obtained in an email from Taliban representatives in Afghan capital Kabul. Geo officials also could not be reached for comment.

The tape was the first allegedly by Omar since July 2005, when he had vowed in another audio statement that the Taliban would continue to fight coalition forces.

Omar led the Taliban in the capture of Kabul in 1996, which ended roughly five years of civil war in Afghanistan that killed about 50,000 people.

Omar's exact whereabouts have been unclear but he is believed to be hiding in areas along the Pak-Afghan border as well as in southern regions of his war-torn country. Link

db: The coalition does not lack wisdom - I don't know what Mulla Omar is going on about. As the NATO sec gen said - you just kill all the 'spoilers', maybe 50-100 per day [whilst simultaneously winning hearts and minds] and everything will work out fine in the end.

US Police Kit For Winning Hearts and Minds

"The M113 Carrier, with it's proven adaptability, offers an affordable, 'best value' approach for meeting 21st century emergency vehicle requirements."

db: We were just having a look around the web for info relating to the Land Rover SNATCH story, and came by these pics, which are displayed here. It would be wrong to assume the Met in London don't have a few of these parked up somewhere ready for deployment.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rebuilding Not Yet Reality for Fallujah

IPS - Dahr Jamail and Ali Fadhil

One and a half years after the November 2004 U.S. military assault on Fallujah, residents tell of ongoing suffering, lack of jobs, little reconstruction and continuing violence

The U.S. military launched Operation Phantom Fury against the city of Fallujah-destroying an estimated 70 percent of the buildings, homes and shops, and killing between 4,000 and 6,000 people, according to the Fallujah-based non-governmental organisation the Study Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (SCHRD).

IPS found that the city remains under draconian biometric security, with retina scans, fingerprinting and X-raying required for anyone entering the city. Fallujah remains an island: not even the residents of the surrounding towns and villages like Karma, Habbaniya, Khalidiya, which fall under Fallujah's administrative jurisdiction, are allowed in.

Security badges are required for anyone wishing to enter the city. To obtain a badge, one has to be a Fallujah native from a certain class. That is, if one is from Fallujah and a government official, a high-class badge of grade G will be issued. Journalists with an X-grade badge will be allowed. Then there are B for businessmen and C for those who have contracts with U.S. military in the city. Last are the R-grade badges, which will not be admitted through the main checkpoint at the west side of the city, and must seek entrance through "second class" checkpoints elsewhere.

Having entered the city through the main checkpoint, the first thing visible is the destroyed homes in the Al-Askari district. Virtually every home in this area has been completely destroyed or seriously damaged.

"I could not rebuild my house again because rebuilding is rather costly nowadays," Walid, a 48-year-old officer with the former Iraqi army, told IPS. With sorrow in his eyes he told of how he built his home six years ago. After the destruction, "They [U.S. Military] paid us 70 percent of the compensation and with the unemployment in the city we spent most of it on food and medicines. Now everybody is waiting for the remaining 30 percent."

Slightly different version of this same story could be told by the hundreds of people who lost their houses in the April and November 2004 bombing campaigns.

Across the Euphrates River from the city sits Fallujah General Hospital. Built in 1964, the hospital was unable to function during either U.S. siege because it was being occupied by the U.S. military.

Doctors were reluctant to talk to IPS unless promised anonymity. "It is more a barn than a hospital and we are not honoured to work in it," said one doctor. "There is a horrible lack of medical supplies and equipment, and the Ministry of Health is not doing much about it," added another doctor, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

When IPS mentioned a new hospital under construction in the city, one of the doctors replied, with irony, that half of the people of Fallujah would be dead before that hospital project was completed. He said an emergency plan for the existing hospital is essential, especially because people are too afraid of seeking medical attention in any of the Baghdad hospitals for fear of being kidnapped and killed by death squads. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Ramadi General Hospital, often used by residents of Fallujah, is no longer accessible due to the ongoing U.S. military siege of that city.

During the interview of the doctors, patients and their companions gathered around and started complaining about "the lack of everything" in the hospital. "You press people always come here and talk to us, but there is no result," said an elderly woman in a challenging tone. "If you put me on television, I will tell the whole world how bad the situation is in this city."

The doctors interviewed, however, did praise the role of some local and international NGOs that had offered help to the hospital on occasion.

The people of Fallujah are struggling to survive amidst skyrocketing unemployment, lack of supplies and ongoing violence in the city. At a grocery market, there was another side to the story. Haji Majeed Al Jumaily, 64, was a blacksmith before his hands weakened. He asked the grocer a dozen times how much an item cost before saying, "I only have 2,000 dinars, less than a dollar and a half, to spend and I don't know what to buy with it. Everything is so expensive and my nine family members must be fed."

He told IPS how his two sons were killed by random gunfire from the new Iraqi army two years ago. "Now I have to take care of their two wives and six children as well as my wife," he said. The market was full of people, but poverty is obvious from the way people wandered about trying to balance what to spend with what they have in hand.

"Unemployment in Fallujah is a major problem that should be handled," commented Jassim Al Muhammadi, a lawyer. "The financial situation is collapsing every day and people do not know what to do. The siege is adding a lot to this problem."

Ali Ahmed, a 17-year-old student, interrupted: "We do not need press releases in this city, sir. What we really need is a solution to the everlasting problem of this city... The Americans and Iraqis in power accused us of terror, killed thousands of us and now they are just talking about reconstruction. Well, they are all thieves who only care for what they can pinch off the Iraqi fortunes. Just tell them to leave us alone as we do not want their fraudulent reconstruction."

Ahmed added that the U.S. military continues to kill and arrest people for any reason whatsoever, and sometimes for no reason.

Infrastructure in Fallujah is just as bad as any other part of Iraq. Water, electricity, cooking gas, fuel, telephone and mobile services are very poor. All of the residents interviewed complained about the government's indifferent attitude towards them. The majority believed it was for sectarian reasons, although some others thought it is the same all over Iraq.

The mayor of Fallujah was not available to interview, but in his latest appearance on television he announced his resignation. In his statement televised on Jun. 14, he declared firmly, "The Americans did not fulfill their promises to me and so I resign."

Similar reports about the situation in Fallujah were made by the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on May 21: "there is still slow progress on humanitarian issues, according to local officials."

The report stated that two-thirds of the city's residents had returned, but 15 percent remained displaced in the outskirts of Fallujah, "living in abandoned schools and government buildings."

"Approximately 65,000 people are still displaced out of Fallujah," reported Bassel Mahmoud, director of the city's reconstruction projects.

The IRIN report, similar to what IPS found here, said, "Despite Baghdad allocating 100 million dollars for the city's reconstruction and 180 million dollars for housing compensation, very little can be seen visibly on the streets of Fallujah in terms of reconstruction. There are destroyed buildings on almost every street. Local authorities say about 60 percent of all houses in the city were totally destroyed or seriously damaged and less than 20 percent of them have been repaired so far... Power, water treatment and sewage systems are still not functioning properly and many districts of the city are without potable water."

Residents complained to IPS that they had less than four hours of electricity per day, and there was great frustration that at least 30 percent of the allocated reconstruction funds were shifted to pay for extra checkpoints and security patrols in the city.

And while the residents continue to wait for the promised compensation funds, of the 81 reconstruction projects slated for the city, less than 30 have been completed and many others will most likely be cancelled due to lack of funding, according to a Fallujah council member who spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity.

Current estimates of the amount needed to rebuild Iraq are between 70 and 100 billion dollars. Only 33 percent of the 21 billion dollars originally allocated by the United States for reconstruction remains to be spent. According to a report by the U.S. inspector general for reconstruction in Iraq, officials were unable to say how many planned projects they would complete, nor was there a clear source for the hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to maintain the projects that had been completed.

As for Fallujah in particular, security has eaten up as much as 25 percent of reconstruction funding, but even more has reportedly been siphoned off by corruption and overcharging by contractors.

Last year, a U.S. congressional inspection team was set up to monitor reconstruction in Iraq. On May 1, they published a scathing report of the failure of U.S. contractors to carry out projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The report also noted that nearly nine billion dollars in Iraqi oil revenues which had been disbursed to ministries was "missing." Link

Could Iran Defend Itself Against a U.S. Attack?


Iran is a formidable military power, second only to Israel in the Middle East. This is the judgement of most Western observers.
Unlike Israel, however, it has been denied access to American weapons, and indeed to most Western weapons, since the overthrow of the Shah by the Islamic Revolution 27 years ago. And, again unlike Israel, Iran has no nuclear bombs - at least not yet. Nevertheless, militarily, it is by no means backward or defenceless.
Largely through its own immense efforts - and with some help from Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea - Iran has created a powerful military-industrial complex, which employs more than 200,000 engineers, technicians and skilled workers.
According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Iran today produces almost two thousand defence items, from munitions to aircraft, and from missile boats to satellites. It exports military equipment to over 30 countries, including seven in Europe.
How would it fare if it were attacked by the United States alone -- or indeed by the U.S. and Israel together. Could it defend itself? Could it strike back? To what extent has it acquired a capability for strategic deterrence? Read more

Land Rover SNATCH: Pay up and save lives

Three items in this weekend's Sunday Times regarding the useless Land Rover SNATCH [see earlier post], including the following Leader:

It is of course a hugely sad matter that the toll of British soldiers killed in Iraq has been growing steadily to reach its current total of 113. Every military death is a blow for the country and a tragedy for the family and friends of those who fall victim. So it is reasonable to assume that the Ministry of Defence will do all it can to prevent the deaths or injuries of our troops. including providing them with the best weapons and armour to do such a dangerous job.

Now we learn that British soldiers have been patrolling the streets of Iraq in Land Rovers that offer almost no protection against lethal roadside bombs. Nearly a quarter of British soldiers so far killed in hostile action have been the victims of roadside bombs and were patrolling in these so-called "Snatch" Land Rovers. The vehicles, some up to 20 years old, were shipped to Iraq from Northern Ireland, where they were used to police a very different and much less bloody conflict. Their bodywork and floors offer only thin protection against the improvised explosive devices used by the insurgents. Aware of this, the terrorists have started to target the Land Rovers and the risks of more fatalities are increasing every day.

We would naturally expect the ministry to do something about this. Far from it. The bureaucrats are digging in. It is not as if there is no alternative. The RG-31, an armoured Land Rover built by BAE Systems, is being used by the Americans and the United Nations. Some deaths from roadside bombs can never be prevented but other countries' soldiers seem better protected.

Complaints about inadequate equipment have dogged the British mission from the start. When Sergeant Steve Roberts was shot two years ago it emerged that the protective vest he should have been wearing was not available. The six military policemen killed by a mob three years ago had antiquated radios and inadequate ammunition. The scandal over Land Rovers not fit for their purpose is just the latest sorry example of Whitehall warriors sending our fighting men badly protected into the field. Link

db: For info on the RG31 see links at foot of this item

Iraq's victims of violence doubt Maliki peace plan


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national reconciliation plan is a hard sell on Karrada Inner street, where a roadside bomb left Akram Jabaar with a painful limp and little faith in his government.
"If you really want the truth, Maliki won't succeed and I really don't think he or his government are serious about reconciliation," said the 23-year-old clothes vendor, who struggles to walk with shrapnel in his knee.
"He says he wants to end sectarianism but his government is full of sectarians. It is logical to think there will be a civil war."
Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist whose government was sworn in on May 20, presented his much-heralded blueprint for stability to parliament on Sunday.
It was long on promises and short on details of how his Shi'ite-led administration intended to ease communal violence, disband militias and tackle a Sunni Arab insurgency that has killed many thousands of security forces and civilians.
Victims of the violence ravaging Iraq will be especially hard to convince that the plan will turn their lives around.
The bomb that exploded this month in the busy Karrada district where Jabaar earns the equivalent of $4 a day was typical of the violence that shatters Iraqi lives every day.
Bomb attacks killed at least six people in Baghdad today, minor bloodshed by the capital's standards.
Jabaar, a Shi'ite, and his two brothers had just set out their merchandise on a sidewalk stand when three men pretending to be customers approached the area.
They left a plastic bag on the sidewalk.
It exploded minutes later.
His brothers are still in serious condition in hospital.
He wonders how reconciliation is possible in a country where you can be blown up or shot at any time.
Shi'ite militiamen shot dead his Sunni neighbour, he said.
Sunni leaders accuses Shi'ite militias of running death squads.
"Maliki can't talk about national reconciliation when he is allowing those Shi'ite militias to run around and kill people. This government's policies are sectarian."
In another section of Karrada, one of Baghdad's quieter neighbourhoods, Karim Mehdi sat on his living room floor.
His nephew, Seif Saleh, was killed by the same bomb.
Saleh and three university classmates happened to be buying fruit from a market when the bomb exploded.
Mehdi, who fled his home in the violent Sunni Dora district because he got tired of seeing bodies in the streets, is also pessimistic about Maliki's plan.
"This can't work. Too many parties want too many things. There is no united voice in Iraq," he said. Link [Firefox is a problem at alarab]

Fear battles hope on the road to Kandahar


Walk out of the gates, past the bored British soldiers in their guardhouse, past the Afghan troops on the outer wall, past razor wire and take the dusty path through the ramshackle cemetery. Go past a new, whitewashed villa built for a local 'businessman' and on through the labyrinth of narrow alleys and traditional mud-walled homes and then turn left through a passage way and there you will find the scruffy bazaar of Lashkar Gah and the Taliban.

Two men, both bearded and wearing the trademark thick-coiled black turban, were sitting in the shade behind a friend's workshop. They had agreed to talk to The Observer. 'I am proud to be a Talib,' said Fazl Rahman, 40. 'Why should I deny it? Why should I be afraid?'

'The foreigners are here for their own reasons,' said his younger comrade. 'If they were here to help us, everyone would be living better. But look.' He pointed to the dirt street outside, the shacks, the sagging electricity cables, the thin trees that provide scant protection from the heat of the early afternoon sun and then waved his hand towards the camp a few hundred metres away, the longest-established British base in Helmand province. 'All foreigners are our enemy,' he says. 'You are a journalist, so we don't harm you. But if you were a soldier we would kill you. Afghanistan is the castle of Islam and the foreigners are destroying our religion.' Read more

British 'helpless' as violence rises in southern Iraq


British forces are facing rising violence among Shia Muslim factions in southern Iraq, but are powerless to contain it, military and diplomatic sources have told The Independent on Sunday. Both British and Iraqi authorities were seeking to play down the situation, they added.

The hidden political and factional tensions in the British zone of Iraq, particularly in Basra, were highlighted by a car bomb in the centre of the country's second city on Friday. The local police said 10 were killed and 15 wounded. Hospital sources said at least five bodies were brought in. But the provincial governor, embroiled in a bitter dispute with the police chief, insisted only two people were killed. As violent incidents have increased recently, political leaders in other southern cities have also tried to minimise casualty figures. Read more

Brit troops stuck in rut with Land Rover SNATCH

Unlike the Land Rover SNATCH patrolling the desert in Afghanistan, the campaign [?] to secure a viable armoured personnel carrier for Brits in both Afghanistan and Iraq has gained some traction with the Sunday Times entering the fray. We were expecting something -having observed in the last few days plenty of visits to db via logs from News International which focused on a few pieces we have published concerning the British SNATCH and the DODGY defence procurement minister 'Lord' Drayson [to repeat: He received a peerage from Labour and within weeks bunged them half a million quid]. See Times story below:

Sunday Times
Outcry over 'death trap' army Land Rovers in Iraq
Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Michael Smith

THE FATHER of a soldier killed in Iraq has accused the government of allowing troops to die needlessly by deploying old and inadequately armoured Land Rovers in the conflict zone.

Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb last September, says the second-hand "Snatch" Land Rovers have led to unnecessary deaths.

Bacon, 63, a former Metropolitan police officer, said: "When the roadside bombs are around these vehicles become a death trap. Some soldiers killed by roadside bombs would be alive today if they had been in the right vehicles."

His comments reflect growing concern over the use of ageing vehicles shipped out from Northern Ireland. They are not designed to withstand powerful explosions.

At least 18 soldiers have been killed in attacks on them, representing nearly a quarter of all casualties lost in hostile action in Iraq. Troops say the Land Rovers are seen as a soft target.

The government compiled a report on the "protection level" of the Snatch Land Rover in March 2005 which is believed to have highlighted its vulnerability to roadside bombs. The findings have never been released on grounds of security.

One officer serving in Iraq says some commanders have been in mental turmoil at the prospect of sending young soldiers out to patrol in the vehicles. "[They have] no choice but to use what they were provided with," he wrote in an e-mail seen by The Sunday Times. "That [has] led to terrible decisions having to be made, decisions that have caused untold anguish and mental suffering."

It has been confirmed that one heavily armoured vehicle considered by the Ministry of Defence, the RG-31 built by a division of BAE Systems would have provided significantly more protection. Ministers say it was rejected because it was considered too wide to go down some streets.

Relatives of the dead and campaigners say the RG-31 is a viable alternative, as most of the fatal incidents have been on open ground. Bacon, 34, an intelligence officer, was killed as he was being driven to Basra airport on a dual carriageway.

Sue Smith, 44, the mother of Private Phillip Hewett, 21, from Tamworth, who was killed by a roadside bomb while travelling in a Snatch Land Rover, said: "If we want our troops to protect the Iraqis surely we should protect the UK soldiers first."

Brigadier Bill Moore, who is in charge of a programme at the MoD to find a new vehicle, said the use of heavy armour had to be balanced with the need to interact with local communities. Link

Also In Sunday Times: Is the army putting money before lives?


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Afghanistan: 82 more dead 'spoilers'

"The message to the spoilers, be it Taliban, be it drug lords, be it warlords, whatever, will be a very stern and strong message: You will not get in our way. You will be dealt with very robustly if necessary." NATO sec gen Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Forbes/AP - MSS ['Military Spokesman Said']

Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces killed about 82 militants in battles across southern Afghanistan, the military said Saturday.

On Friday, troops fought more than 40 extremists during a five-hour gunbattle near the village of Mirabad, northeast of the capital in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the militants were believed killed, the coalition said. No coalition or civilian injuries were reported.

In a separate assault, Afghan and coalition forces battled a large group of militants in the Zharie district of Kandahar province, killing about 25 during the three hours of fighting.

"Several extremists broke contact by using innocent Afghan civilians as shields to escape into nearby villages," a military statement said. Read more

db: Karzai said this week "It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. (Even) if they are Taliban, they are sons of this land,". "Not acceptable" in this context has a different meaning to the one generally understood. For further clarification see Dictionary of Puppetspeak [Amazon $8.99+pp]

Land Rover Snatch is good. RG31 is bad

The Land Rover SNATCH vehicle is currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan by British forces. What little protection it offers to troops is via S2 composite fiberglass. On their website NP Aerospace - the manufacturer - calls the deployment of 'armoured' SNATCH by the British as 'particularly successful' - although it is not clear if they are referring to their own consequent sales success or the effectiveness of the Land Rover SNATCH in preserving the lives of troops. A quick search on Google would suggest that they are referring to the former.

Just how much protection the SNATCH offers is difficult to establish because although the government conducted a study some time ago, the results remain 'secret':
David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his oral answer of 22 May 2006, Official Report, column 1183, on Iraq, what assessment has been made of the effectiveness of composite fibreglass in protecting the occupants of Land Rovers used by the British military for patrol purposes in Iraq. [74274]

Des Browne [holding answer 5 June 2006]: The overall protection level afforded by the Land Rover Snatch vehicles was assessed in March 2005 as part of a number of ongoing assessments to ensure the suitability of a range of equipment used on current operations. The results of these assessments are being withheld on the basis that disclosure of such information could prejudice the safety of the armed forces.
As a follow-up to articles on the Snatch Land Rover and the possible replacement - the RG31 - published here in the last few months [see three most recent at foot of this story] see below the House of Commons exchange between Ann Winterson MP and Secretary of State for Defence Adam Ingram. Unfortunately Ms Winterson's question was pretty feeble - given that an almost identical enquiry had been made of the minister [and brushed aside] only days previously.
22 June 2006:

Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what evaluation his Department has made of the RG31 vehicle; and what assessment has been made of the possible advantages of this vehicle compared with the Snatch armoured Land Rover. [78216]

Mr. Ingram: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 16 June 2006 [db: see below], Official Report, column 1528W, to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). Compared to Snatch, the RG-31'’s size means it cannot access areas of the urban environment that Snatch is able to.

16 June 2006:

Nyala Armoured Vehicle

Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment his Department has made of the suitability of the Nyala RG-31 armoured vehicles for use in (a) Afghanistan and (b) Iraq. [76502]

Mr. Ingram: The Ministry of Defence considered the RG-31, alongside a number of alternatives, to supplement our current fleet of vehicles, but concluded that its size and profile did not meet our needs.
Britain's unprotected troops in Iraq and Afghanistan - See links to RG31 info
Dodgy Minister defends useless 'Snatch' vehicles
IED exploded under this [non-snatch] vehicle

Friday, June 23, 2006

'Tasteless' Iraq 9/11 cartoon x 2

db: Cartoonist Joel Pett's graphic in - of all places - USA Today makes a reasonable point. 9/11 came 'out of the blue' because 'they hate our freedom' [unless you read Robert Fisk or a few others]. Whilst on the other hand the US dead in Iraq - and a much larger group of Iraqis - were served up as sacrifice by Bush and his neocon friends consciously and knowingly in pursuit of US power in the region. Sadly it could also be said that whereas the killers involved in 9/11 achieved everything and probably more than they imagined in their wildest dreams, Bush has achieved very little - if you exclude the gains made by corporate war profiteers and oil companies from the equation - which is something of course, when weighing up the pros and cons of this 'failed' adventure, that Bush wouldn't do.

A patriot from Florida writes [not a spoof]:

'Tasteless' illustration

I have the perfect description for Joel Pett's so-called cartoon: tasteless.
I cannot fathom why USA TODAY decided to print such a thing that has no value whatsoever.
The July Fourth holiday is approaching, and I just hope that more patriotic cartoons will appear.

Kate Hoffay
Melbourne, Fla.

Cartoon for Kate Hoffay

Apologies to Joe Pett

Iran killing US Troops in Iraq - says CBS

CBS beefs up US propaganda

'General: Iran Planting Bombs In Iraq'
- this is the CBS/AP headline currently appearing here on the CBS News website. However nowhere within the story is there a quote from the General to back up this clear statement to the effect that Iran has now entered the war in Iraq.

What he does say is this:

"We are quite confident that the Iranians through their covert special ops forces are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq," Casey said at a Pentagon press conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by his side.

Casey went so far as to accuse the Iranian government of helping mastermind the attacks.

"Now you would assume they're not doing that independently, that there is some central direction from somebody in Tehran," Casey said.
It's nothing more than the usual narrative - spiced up a little to serve as a timely justification for keeping US forces in Iraq despite growing US opposition [53% seek a timetable for withdrawal]. Clearly the US has zero evidence to back up its claims. However this hasn't stopped CBS from doing all it can to make matters worse - with a headline that serves not to expose US military/government propaganda - but to boost it. The accompanying 1 minute 38 second video 'news' report does the same. So much for the lessons learned in the run-up to the Iraq war.

More Brit troops available for Afghanistan - 'if necessary'

Another Blairwar going pear-shaped

Last week Britain deployed 130 extra troops to Afghanistan to 'help protect' Kandahar airfield - which is in addition to the 3,300 British troops already deployed in Helmand.

The MoD recently stated that "We have made clear that we do not expect to achieve all the UK's objectives for Helmand within the three-year deployment announced on January 26."

It would seem to follow that if the 3,430 troops are not now expected to meet their goals within the original time frame, then perhaps - as most observers seem to agree - 3,430 is itself an unrealistic number. Would any sane person be willing to stake money on the UK government not making another announcement within the next few months that due to changing circumstances on the ground a further x hundred troops will be deployed to complete the mission - "reconstruction and stabilisation, which might include some counter-insurgency operations for defensive purposes."

There are already signs that this is exactly where we are heading - Wednesday's exchange in the House of Lords between Lord Hamilton of Epsom and Dodgy 'Lord' Drayson [was given peerage by Labour and within weeks bunged them half a million quid] seems to point in that direction.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, few independent commentators believe that 3,300 troops are enough to make any impact on this vast province in Afghanistan. If the numbers have to be increased as a result of a review, where will those troops come from?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I shall not get into predicting how the situation may develop. We are confident that the force package that has been provided on the basis of the development put in place by the military planners is absolutely appropriate for the task in hand. However, as I have said several times already, we will need to review the profile of the deployment as it progresses. It is moving slightly faster than we had expected, but we are confident that, if necessary, we have the reserves to meet any of the changes. The overall deployment of the British Armed Forces is running at about 18 per cent of the total military capability. That is challenging, but we believe that we can manage it.
Battles escalate in Afghanistan
Afghan Problem 'a Lot Deeper Than Bin Laden'
US expects more Afghan violence
In Afghanistan, bad is getting worse

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Karzai: Killing "sons of this land" unacceptable

Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the international community to reassess its approach to the war on terror Thursday, saying the deaths of hundreds of Afghans in fighting with U.S.-led forces was "not acceptable."

A clearly frustrated Karzai said the approach being taken by coalition forces to hunt down militants does not focus on the roots of terrorism itself.

"I strongly believe ... that we must engage strategically in disarming terrorism by stopping their sources of supply of money, training, equipment and motivation," Kabul said during a press conference.

In recent weeks, Afghan and coalition forces have launched a massive anti-Taliban operation across four southern provinces aimed at killing or capturing fighters blamed for an upsurge in violence.

More than 600 people, mostly militants, have been killed in recent weeks as insurgents have launched their deadliest campaign of violence in years. At least 14 coalition soldiers have been killed in combat since mid-May.

"It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. (Even) if they are Taliban, they are sons of this land," he said. Link

db: What's up with Karzai? We're only killing the spoilers - as the plucky NATO Sec Gen said. They are the forces of evil - we are bringing freedom to an unfree world. We even gave them some footballs.

Coalition Forces Kill Three Afghan Police


Coalition forces killed three Afghan policemen in the eastern Kunar province, after mistakenly identifying them as a danger, the U.S. military said.

The incident occurred yesterday when armed men who weren't in uniform approached a coalition checkpoint "at speed'' in an unmarked vehicle, Lieutenant Tamara Lawrence, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said today in a telephone interview from Kabul.

"The coalition forces at the checkpoint felt that they were in imminent danger,'' Lawrence said. "There were weapons inside the car and when the car failed to slow down, they fired." Read more

db: The report goes on to say that the US military spokesperson did not specify the nationality of the 'coalition' forces involved. That's a tough one to try and work out with few clues.

Finding more Taliban than Expected: Britain

Pakistan Times

There are greater numbers of Taliban rebels putting up a fight in southern Afghanistan than expected by the newly deployed British military, a senior commander for Afghanistan said.

British troops are however still more than a match for the militants as seen in clashes earlier this month, the commander told reporters at a British base in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province.

The British commander, speaking late Tuesday on condition of anonymity, said the military had underestimated the strength of the hard line Taliban when it drew up plans to deploy in the restive southern region 16 months ago.

Now that 3,300 soldiers are assembling in Helmand, where they are taking over control of security from the US military, they are beginning to see a different picture.

"I suppose the most significant difference has been the extent to which the Taliban have had some successes this year and are probably in slightly greater numbers then we might have expected after the excellent work done by our American predecessors," the commander said. Link

db: The "excellent work done by our American predecessors" - in Taliban recruitment. I think the anon commander was taking the piss.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Afghanistan: 20 more dead 'spoilers'

IHT: Afghan and coalition forces raided a Taliban meeting in southern Afghanistan, killing 20 militants in heavy fighting, an Afghan military official said Wednesday.

U.S.-led soldiers and Afghan troops received information that the insurgents had gathered near Musa Qala, a remote town in southern Helmand Province, late Tuesday and surrounded the area, a local Afghan commander, General Rahmatullah Roufi, said.

During heavy fighting, 20 insurgents were killed and one Afghan soldier was wounded, Roufi said. No coalition soldiers were hurt. Read more

db: The plucky NATO Sec Gen wasn't kidding when he said "The message to the spoilers, be it Taliban, be it drug lords, be it warlords, whatever, will be a very stern and strong message: You will not get in our way. You will be dealt with very robustly if necessary."

The ongoing body count of dead spoilers will not be permitted to hinder our determination to win hearts and minds. We only seek to kill the spoilers - this is a peace keeping mission.

N Korea tops class at Bolton school of diplomacy

Commenting on US concerns [extreme discomfort, fear, panic, powerlessness] over the reported imminent test firing by N Korea of an ICBM North Korea's deputy chief of mission at the United Nations expressed a desire to resolve the issue "through discussions". John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, pointed out the following:
"I've noted that the North Korean (deputy ambassador) here has said actually what they want to do is talk to us if we're so concerned with it," Bolton told reporters.

"I must say you don't normally engage in conversations by threatening to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles..."
The N Koreans may be forgiven for thinking that it is just this sort of 'diplomacy' that the Americans understand. Remember it is the U.S. which refuses to remove the nuclear strike option from 'the table' in their dealings with Iran, whilst at the same time offering to negotiate in direct talks if Iran suspends all enrichment activity. What's more it was Bolton himself who bragged to British MP's just how easy it would be 'take down' the Iranian 'nuclear operation' via military strikes:
According to Eric Illsley, a Labour committee member, the envoy [John Bolton] told the MPs: "They must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down." Link
As the Guardian stated - It was unusual for an administration official to go into detail about possible military action against Iran.

Britain's unprotected troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Whilst Canada and the US invest in RG31's to protect their troops from IED's, the UK sends Brits out on patrol in 'SNATCH' Land Rovers.

In the House of Lords, Lord Astor of Hever recently pointed out to Defence procurement minister - Dodgy 'Lord' Drayson [he was given a peerage by Labour and within weeks bunged then half a million quid] - that the Land Rover 'SNATCH' vehicle was not fit for purpose and asked for an assurance from the ignoble 'Lord' that it is the intention of the government to provide equipment that is. He went on to ask "What assessment have the Government made of the RG-31 which, with its V-shaped undercarriage, has a greater resilience to IEDs and which the Americans have bought in large numbers just for this role?" Drayson [left pic], in a feeble and wholly inadequate reply, stated that the SNATCH was indeed suited to 'our' requirements [I trust he will be riding in one sometime soon, hopefully in Iraq, without company] and that "We had 14 RG-31s in Bosnia, which we took out of service some time ago due to difficulties with maintenance. We have looked at the RG-31 alongside a number of alternatives for our current fleet and concluded that the size and profile did not meet our needs. Size is important in the urban environment. The RG-31 cannot access areas that Snatch Land Rovers can get to."

Unlike most news organisations that are waiting for a few more deaths to accumulate in both Iraq and Afghanistan before dragging themselves away from more pressing matters such as 'two jags' last shag or Charles Craig's crack binge, the Daily Telegraph has not completely ignored this story - and lays the blame at the door of Blair, who bends over backwards to please Bush by over committing British armed forces but shys from stumping up the cash to protect them from unnecessary risk:
One reason British troops continue to be killed and injured in southern Iraq is that they are expected to patrol in lightly-armoured Land Rovers which give them no protection against roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Meanwhile, their American counterparts walk away unscathed, even when their RG31 armoured patrol vehicles are hit by the same explosives. Yet the Ministry of Defence has not equipped the British Army with the RG31, even though it is built by a British-owned company.

This is a small but chilling example of the shambles the MoD is making of Britain's defences, thanks not least to the way Tony Blair is trying to pursue two contradictory policies at the same time. This has not been properly appreciated because media coverage of defence has become so scrappy. Read more
There the RG31 pops up again. Does the writer not know that we had some in Bosnia, where we had 'maintenance issues'. Does he not know that they are bigger than the SNATCH? Neither of these drawbacks stopped the Canadians from investing heavily in the solution. The way they saw things was rather different to Drayson, the government and the British military establishment. They insisted that protecting their troops came first. Simple. What is more they were prepared to openly debate the route to take for replacement of the 'G Wagon' - which is what they were using in Afghanistan previously AND they implemented the solution without wasting time. From CASR - Canadian American Strategic Review:
Identifying the Requirement for Armoured Patrol Vehicles for OP Archer:
In a landmine-riddled country like Afghanistan, the need for mine-resistant patrol vehicles was obvious. But the Taliban insurgents were also applying the leasons of Iraq to Kanadahar. Suicide bombers and roadside or vehicle- borne IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) were becoming the norm in S.E. Afghanistan. A CF APV would need to be hardened against mines and IEDs ... By listing the APV as an Immediate Operational Requirement, the CDS was able to expedite this entire program. Delivery of these Off-the-Shelf vehicles is timed to match the CF's 2006 combat deployment to Kanadahar. A $60M contract was awarded to GDLS Canada "to provide 50 RG-31...with an option for 25 more" in November 2005 with deliveries to begin in February 2006.
The option to procure 25 additional vehicles was exercised May 31st, 2006, at a cost of US$28 million.

Certainly there will be situations where vehicles such as the SNATCH will have an advantage over a replacement like the RG31 - as the Canadians acknowledge - however those advantages did not outweigh the overwhelming priority given to troop protection. Also, by purchasing the RG31's they were under no obligation to off-load all the 'G-Wagons'- but what they are able to do is deploy the right vehicle for the job.

Canada spent in access of $200M on Equipment for its deployment to Afghanistan. They have clearly placed a premium on preserving the lives of troops. It would be interesting to know exactlyy how much Blair set aside. My guess is very little. Certainly if the British approach to [not] replacing the useless SNATCH vehicle is anything to go by.


And, just in case you were wondering our view is NO to both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that's an issue we have with the immoral War Pimps - not the guys who die unnecessarily to fight them.

Previously at db:
Dodgy Minister defends useless 'Snatch' vehicles
IED exploded under this [non-snatch] vehicle

'Professional Grade: A working paper on fatalities in military vehicles in Iraq' [June 2006 pdf] - Focuses on performance of US vehicles in Iraq - includes info on RG31
Defense Update: RG-31 Nyala Mine Protected Vehicle
CASR - Canadian American Strategic Review
Defense Industry Daily: Canada Purchases $200M in Equipment for Operation ARCHER in Afghanistan
BAE Systems RG-31 Mine Protected Vehicle [inc. PDF Brochure]