Saturday, October 31, 2009

Army medic tells of heroism in Taliban attack in Afghanistan

A medic in the British Army, who helped to save the lives of 35 casualties during the worst spate of roadside bombings in Afghanistan, has described an incident in which five soldiers died. Corporal Carl Thomas rushed to help the wounded without a helmet, rifle or body armour and was reprimanded for it twice.

The Regimental Combat Medic was serving with C Company, 2nd Battalion The Rifles at forward operating base Wishtan at the time of the incident on July 10.

The 2 Rifles battle group lost 24 soldiers killed in action and more than 80 wounded, the worst casualty rate for a British unit in Afghanistan.

Thomas, 29, from Bootle, Liverpool, was on a dawn patrol in a complex of mud-walled compounds half a mile from the base. “There was a bang and I saw a dust cloud over a compound which I knew a section led by Lieutenant Alex Horsfall had moved into 30 seconds earlier,” he said.

“I came around the corner and knew straight away there were mass casualties. The bomb had taken out the whole section. As the smoke cleared I saw bits of webbing, parts of weapons systems and casualties scattered around the place.

“One lad was killed outright. Mr Horsfall was lying against the wall and I could see straight away he was T1 [critically injured]. He had lost a leg and badly injured his left arm. I applied tourniquets, first field dressing and HemCon haemostatic bandage.

“Mr Horsfall was not a good patient. He was fighting me, trying to hit me with his injured arm. I sorted him out.”

The platoon had walked into the most lethal trap yet sprung in the Afghan conflict and was surrounded by a “daisy chain” of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A secondary blast, triggered by an insurgent, killed four men in the stretcher party carrying a critically injured interpreter.

A full-scale firefight was in progress. Thomas had taken Horsfall back to the base, removed his body armour and put down his weapon.

“A call came in over the radio that there were more casualties. In the confusion I could not find my body armour or helmet and just ran out of the base back to the contact area.

“They talk about the ‘golden hour’ in treating a casualty [when there is most chance of saving life] but there's also a platinum 10 minutes. The faster you take action the better the chances.” But the casualties had already died and there was nothing Thomas could do.

“There were three enemy firing points in contact with the boys and I turned up, grabbed someone’s rifle and started putting rounds down. At that point the colour sergeant gave me a massive bollocking to the effect of, ‘What the f*** are you doing? Get back to the base before you end up getting killed’. Fair one, it wasn’t my best moment.

“I got another bollocking off Sergeant [Paul] McAleese when I got back to the base.”

McAleese, who was the son of a former SAS hero, would himself be killed by a Taliban bomb along with one of his men five weeks later.

When Horsfall got back to Britain, he sent Thomas a case of champagne for saving his life.


Soldiers turned away from Tiger Tiger bar for wearing uniforms

Servicemen from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles had gone to the Tiger Tiger bar after hundreds of residents watched them march through the town following their return from a tour of duty.

Hours earlier they had cheered through the streets and given the freedom of the borough. The battalion lost 13 men in Afghanistan, making it the worst hit British unit.

However, bar staff turned them away saying their attire was too untidy.

Some soldiers accepted the rejection and went to a nearby Primark store to buy civilian clothing, but others were left furious by the move.

The bar's staff said that after 8pm on Thursday there was a strict evening dress code, which states that only smartly clothed drinkers are allowed in.

But because the soldiers had been marching through the town centre that day they did not have a change of clothes with them.

Their battalion was part of the 19 Light Brigade, which took over operations in Sangin, Afghanistan, in April this year and had lost 13 men and suffered dozens of casualties.

Rifleman Danny Simpson, one of the 13 who died in Sangin, came from the Croydon area and the soldiers had come from their base in Northern Ireland at the invitation of the mayor.

Barry Cordery from the Norbury British Legion said: "It is an absolute disgrace, they should have been welcomed in.

"It was all about them, they had come to Croydon because the borough invited them and they came to remember their comrade, Rifleman Danny Simpson.

"The people at Tiger Tiger should have treated them like celebrities instead of turning them away."

Dozens of soldiers had been drinking in the bar following the march and a reception for friends and family at Fairfield Halls.

But staff told them they had to leave the bar at 8pm because they did not conform to the dress code.

A customer said: "The soldiers took it surprisingly well. A lot of them went out to Primark to buy civvies but they shouldn't have had to.

"They were wearing their uniform as a badge of honour and rightly so.

"If they had been fighting each other I could understand but they were just having a drink. Everyone else welcomed them to the borough so why Tiger Tiger couldn't bend their rules for one night I don't know."

Another customer said: "It was a total disgrace what happened to those soldiers.

"They lay down their lives for us and this is how we repay them. I was ashamed to be in the bar. I won't be going there ever again."

Tiger Tiger general manager, Ross Palmer, said: "Unfortunatley it is our dress code that on Thursday nights people must come dressed in smart casual clothes.

"We understand that they have just returned from Afghanistan but that is our policy I am afraid."


Bush Calls Afghanistan Mission 'Necessary for Peace'

Former U.S. President George W. Bush, in a rare public appearance, said Saturday the mission in Afghanistan is "necessary for peace and stability."

Speaking at a leadership conference in India's capital, New Delhi, Mr. Bush warned that if the Taliban and al-Qaida take control of Afghanistan, the people there will "face a return to a brutal tyranny."

Mr. Bush ordered U.S. troops into Afghanistan in late 2001, after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The invasion to fight militants quickly ousted the hardline Taliban government.

The former president has made few public appearances since leaving office in January.

China taps huge copper reserves in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — At a former al-Qaida stronghold southeast of the Afghan capital, a state-owned Chinese company is at work on a $3 billion mine project to tap one of the world's largest unexploited copper reserves, a potential financial boon for an impoverished country mired in war.

The promise of a bright future at Aynak, however, cannot conceal the troubling reality of how business is often done in Afghanistan, according to critics of the Kabul government's decision to reject bids from competitors in the U.S., Canada and other countries.

The bidding process unfairly favored China, they allege, and epitomized the back-room deals and abuse of power that has turned Afghans against their government and undercut the U.S. military effort there.

Corruption and graft long have been ingrained in Afghanistan's public institutions. Yet the extent of this corrosion has taken on new significance as the White House considers expanding the U.S. commitment to a war unsupported by a growing number of Americans.

Widespread fraud in Afghanistan's presidential election in August has raised doubts about how quickly a stable and credible government can be installed. A U.N.-backed commission threw out nearly one-third of President Hamid Karzai's votes, setting the stage for a Nov. 7 runoff.

In his recent assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, the top U.S. commander warned that unchecked corruption has led alienated Afghans to support the Taliban-led insurgency.

Afghan officials insist the Aynak bidding was handled openly and honestly, and will create thousands of jobs. But several U.S. geologists and Western businessmen who watched the process closely disagree.

James Yeager, an American geologist who advised Afghanistan's minister of mines, says a few Afghan officials dominated a secretive selection process that gave the winner, China Metallurgical Group Corp., improbably high marks over its foreign competitors.

Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, said the bidding process was above board. He said he pushed for the U.S. bidder, Phelps Dodge, to be awarded the Aynak rights, but that China offered to start work right away while Phelps wanted to wait until the country was safer.

"We can't afford to give the mining rights to a company that will sit on them for the next 10 or 15 years," Jawad said.

China Metallurgical, better known as MCC, has a poor track record with mining projects in other countries, according to Yeager and other critics. In neighboring Pakistan, for example, where MCC operates a copper mine, there's been little benefit to the local economy. But that information was ignored during the deliberations, they say.

MCC did not immediately respond to questions submitted by e-mail, as the company requested, about whether MCC received special treatment from the Afghan government on the Aynak bidding process; whether it was allowed to see copies of other bids, as at least one competitor alleges; or whether the Pakistan mine has failed to help the local economy.

The Aynak deal was awarded to the Chinese late 2007, but the project is only now getting under way. Before copper can be hauled from the ground, China must make a substantial investment to build a power-generating station, roads and a railway to move the metal.

Yeager and Larry Snee, a former U.S. Geological Survey official who also has worked in Afghanistan, contend that MCC probably will steer most of the jobs to Chinese workers.

"Of course, the Afghans are going to benefit," Snee said. "But will they get all they deserve?"

China needs huge quantities of raw materials to feed its rapid economic growth and energy demands. It is well positioned to become the dominant force in Afghanistan's potentially lucrative minerals sector, said Don Ritter, president of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce in McLean, Va.

"In what direction do (Afghanistan's) mines and minerals develop?" Ritter said. "Do they go the Eastern model, where everything is done behind a closed door? Or, is there an open, transparent competition, where the money is laid on the table without undue influence?"

Yeager has distributed a 78-page report on the Aynak contract in which he contends that M. Ibrahim Adel, Afghanistan's minister of mines, and his associates shut out legal, financial and technical experts who could have helped them on the decision.

Yeager doesn't accuse Adel or anyone else from benefiting personally by awarding the work to MCC. But the final decision, Yeager says, was dictated by bureaucrats concerned with dollar amounts and personal preferences.

One of the losing competitors for the contract was Hunter Dickinson, a global mining company based in Vancouver, Canada. Robert Schafer, Hunter Dickinson's chief of business development, said an Afghan official told him that its bid had been shown to the Chinese while the proposals were being evaluated.

Schafer said he "wasn't surprised at all" to learn that MCC won.

Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, did not address the allegations. He said China is committed to pursuing economic, trade and investment projects in Afghanistan that benefit both countries.

China has contributed little to improving security in Afghanistan, yet with the Aynak deal, stands to gain from the sacrifices made by the U.S. and NATO in troops and money.

"The world isn't fair," said Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. "A worse outcome to staying and helping the Chinese would be withdrawing and losing a great battle in the war against radical Islam."


Ukraine Bans Big Crowds to Combat Swine Flu

MOSCOW — The Ukrainian government is taking some of the sternest measures in the world against the spread of the swine flu virus, ordering schools nationwide to close for three weeks, banning public gatherings and imposing restrictions on travel.

Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko announced the measures on Friday in response to rising fears about swine flu, especially in western Ukraine. Federal health officials said 33 people had died from the flu across the country, although there was conflicting information about which type of the virus was to blame.

The situation in Ukraine “has reached the epidemic threshold,” Ms. Tymoshenko said. The ban on public gatherings, she said, would apply to “all large-scale events, concerts, movie showings and any other gatherings of people for the next three weeks.”

The World Health Organization said it would send a team to Ukraine to assist the authorities there.

News reports from western part of the country said there were long lines at pharmacies as people sought medication and masks.

With all rallies canceled, the anti-flu measures were expected to have an immediate impact on the campaign for Ukraine’s presidency. The election is on Jan. 17, and Ms. Tymoshenko formally registered as a candidate on Saturday. She said she did not expect that the voting would have to be postponed.

The virus is spreading across Eastern Europe, but it was not clear why Ms. Tymoshenko chose to undertake stronger moves, like closing schools nationwide, than her counterparts in Russia and Poland.

There were indications, however, that the government’s response was being influenced by electoral politics. Ms. Tymoshenko, one of the leading candidates, and her bitter rival, President Viktor A. Yushchenko, who is far behind in opinion polls in his bid for re-election, both sought to make clear that they were aggressively addressing the outbreak.

On Friday, Mr. Yushchenko criticized Ms. Tymoshenko, saying that he had ordered an inquiry into why the country was not, in his opinion, prepared.

“We will have an assessment of the issues that arose — why this has turned out to be so acute,” he said.


Ukraine Experiencing Severe Influenza-Related Hemorrhagic Epidemic

The Health Ministry has confirmed 33 deaths from flu and acute respiratory viral infection in Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Lviv regions since October 19, the Health Ministry said.

As of 9:00 am, October 30, the number of infected people was 81,000, of them 33,500 are children. A total of 2,341 people were hospitalized, including 1,100 children.

According to the Health Ministry, the risk groups include able-bodied people, pregnant women, minors and elderly people.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, the Health Ministry has declared an epidemic of the A(H1N1) influenza in Ukraine.

After the declaration, Yuschenko wrote to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to request allocation of funds from the state budget for financing constant monitoring of the spread of influenza viruses, including the A(H1N1) influenza virus, as well as for financing proper operations of viral laboratories belonging to the State Sanitary and epidemiological Service and health institutions in all regions of Ukraine.

Most of the news is in Russian. Highlights include extensive quarantines and public closings, activation of military medical system, public panic, lungs of the dead filled with blood. They may have a mutation of the flu of the subtype "California". They are officially requesting the help of the WHO.
I don't know if your watching the Supremes on cspan, but the relations between Breyer and Scalia has clearly broken down...Hold on to your hats. I have never been more worried about our future in my life...

[update] A Conversation On The Constitution


Source: Abdullah may pull out of Afghan runoff

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah have broken down, and Abdullah is likely to pull out of next week's presidential runoff, a person with knowledge of the talks said Friday.

An announcement could come as early as Saturday but more likely Sunday, the person said.

Abdullah, who was once Karzai's foreign minister, put forward several conditions earlier this week for the Nov. 7 election to be credible, but intensive talks between the two candidates and their supporters over the past few days broke down Friday, the person, a Westerner, said on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

Abdullah gave Karzai until Saturday to agree to the conditions, the person said.

The political stalemate in Kabul comes as President Barack Obama has been meeting with his advisers to try to determine U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, including troop levels. A weakened Afghan government will make it harder for Obama to get public support for his efforts.

The runoff election in Afghanistan became necessary after widespread fraud in the first-round of voting in August resulted in thousands of Karzai's ballots being invalidated, pushing him below the required 50 percent margin to win. Concerns have been raised about a possible repetition of the ballot-box stuffing and distorted tallies in the second round.

Abdullah complained Monday that there were no assurances that the November vote would be fairer than the first balloting. The story was first reported by CNN.

One of Abdullah's demands was to fire the head of the Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission, Azizullah Lodin, within five days.

He said Monday that Lodin has "no credibility." But Lodin has denied allegations of bias in favor of Karzai, and the election commission's spokesman has already said Lodin cannot be replaced by either side.

Abdullah also wanted changes in several ministries and a power-sharing deal, the person close to the talks told The Associated Press.

Abdullah was pressing for a power-sharing agreement with Karzai instead of a vote, but Karzai refused, insisting instead on a vote and then a power-sharing agreement, the person said.

A senior U.S official, speaking on condition of anonymity, wouldn't comment on the likelihood of Abdullah pulling out of the election.

"The U.S. remains committed to working with the Afghans to conclude their Presidential election process. If the two candidates agree a solution that is acceptable to both of them, in the interests of Afghanistan and is constitutionally sound, then that is a matter for them," the official said.

Despite the massive fraud and rejected ballots, Karzai's vote in the first round was far higher than Abdullah's and he is widely expected to win the runoff.

This year's election - the first run by Afghans since the ouster of the Taliban - was supposed to affirm the government's credibility. Instead, the massive fraud raised questions about the Karzai administration just as U.S. officials are debating whether to send more troops.

The Taliban, who threatened voters during the August balloting, have warned Afghans that they risk further attacks if they do not stay away from the polls next week. On Wednesday they targeted a U.N. guest house where 34 staff - including a number of U.N. election workers - were sleeping. Eight people were killed in the assault, five of them U.N. staff members.


4th typhoon in month lashes sodden Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A powerful typhoon crashed into the Philippine capital Saturday with pounding rain and strong winds, causing a massive power outage, downing trees and bringing fresh floods to areas still partially submerged from a recent deadly storm.

More than 100,000 people sought shelter in five province east and south of Manila in the path of Typhoon Mirinae on the main Luzon Island. One river in Laguna province south of Manila overflowed, flooding most of lakeside Santa Cruz town and sending residents clambering onto roofs to escape rising waters, said Mayor Ariel Magcalas.

"We cannot move, this is no joke," Magcalas said. "The water is high. We need help," he said in a public address via Radio DZBB.

Rescue teams were dispatched to the flooded communities but were having difficulty moving in light trucks, said regional disaster officer Fred Bragas.

"As of now, our efforts are concentrated on rescue and evacuation," he said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

In Manila, residents hunkered down in their homes overnight as rains beat down on dark, deserted streets. Mirinae passed south of the sprawling city of 12 million with winds of 93 miles (150 kilometers) per hour and gusts of up to 115 mph (185 kph).

The fourth typhoon to lash in the Philippines in a month, Mirinae was tracking the same route as Tropical Storm Ketsana on Sept. 26 when it dumped the heaviest rains in 40 years in and around Manila - a month's worth in just 12 hours - leaving hundreds dead and thousands stranded in cars, on rooftops and in trees.

Strong winds toppled trees and power poles, slowing traffic on some highways, radio stations reported. Manila electric power distributor Meralco said the winds had forced outages in many areas around the capital and nearby areas.

Commuter train service was disrupted, flights at Manila international airport were canceled and about 8,000 ferry passengers were stranded as the coast guard grounded all vessels.

Unlike Ketsana, the latest typhoon was quick - moving fast at 15 mph (24 kph). It was projected to veer away from the Philippines in the direction of Vietnam by later Saturday.

At least 10,000 villagers left their homes near rivers and close to the Mayon volcano in Albay province, said Jukes Nunez, a provincial disaster official.

Mayon, in the eastern Philippines, is the country's most active volcano and authorities fear that rains might unleash rivers of mud and loose volcanic rock.

In Arenda village, where knee-deep waters still lingered a month after Ketsana hit, Hilaria Abiam was getting ready to leave at a moment's notice from her house along the shore of Laguna Lake, southeast of Manila.

"If the floodwater threatens to rise again, then I will surely evacuate because I am really frightened," she said.

Another resident, Loida Vicente, prepared a boat at her home.

"I have a lot of children and if the water rises suddenly, then we will use that to evacuate," she said.

The government's disaster agency told people to prepare 72-hour survival kits, including food items like rice plus a radio set, flashlights and batteries, clothing and first aid supplies.

Ahead of the typhoon, millions of Filipinos boarded buses heading to home provinces for this weekend's All Saints Day, when people visit cemeteries to pay respects to dead relatives in this devoutly Roman Catholic nation.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro expressed fear that floods and traffic congestion may trap visitors at graveyards, where people traditionally spend a day or even a night, but few heeded his call to scrap their commemorations.

The northern Philippines is still struggling to recover from back-to-back storms that killed 929.

In some provinces, floodwaters raged through cemeteries, breaking up tombs and sweeping away caskets and bodies.

About 122,000 people remain in government-run evacuation centers, and many communities in Manila suburbs are still under water, with residents moving around on makeshift rafts and foot bridges.


BBC: Pirates want $7 million ransom for UK couple

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - The BBC said Friday that Somali pirates called the broadcaster to demand $7 million for the release of a British couple whose yacht was hijacked off the coast of Africa.

The British broadcaster cited an unidentified caller as saying the size of the ransom was justified because NATO forces in the area had arrested Somali fishermen and destroyed their equipment.

"If they do not harm us, we will not harm them," the BBC quoted the caller as saying. "We only need a little amount of $7 million."

Paul and Rachel Chandler were headed to Tanzania in their boat, the Lynn Rival, when a distress signal was sent Oct. 23. The British navy found their empty yacht on Thursday, and both have been in sporadic contact with the British media since.

Rachel Chandler told her brother, Stephen Collett, in a telephone call broadcast by ITV News on Friday that the couple were "bearing up."

"They tell us that we're safe and we shouldn't worry and that if we want anything they will provide it in terms of food and water and everything like that," she said, according to a transcript. "They are very hospitable people so don't worry ... Physically we're fine, physically we're healthy."

Earlier Friday, a Somali pirate claiming to speak on behalf of the group holding the couple said they planned to move them to another hijacked ship with other hostages anchored off the eastern coast of Somalia.

Abdinor, who identified himself only by his first name, said the Chandlers were healthy and his group took them to rest on land Thursday night at the coastal town of Harardhere. He said at the time they had not yet made a ransom demand.

The BBC reported that the pirates discussed for several hours how much money to ask for in return for the pair.

Leah Mickleborough, the couple's niece, said the family had been unaware of the ransom request before they saw it on the BBC.

"We had no idea what the figure would be. We have seen the report on the BBC and we will look into it," she said.

Britain's Foreign Office said it was aware of the report but did not immediately provide any further details.

British officials held a meeting on the hostage situation Friday in the government's crisis briefing room, known as COBRA. The Foreign Office said a team from across several government departments was involved.

Both the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense declined to comment on whether any potential rescue was under consideration.

"We're not going to comment on those issues," said a Foreign Office spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

Over the past two years, France and the U.S. have used military force to rescue hostages from Somali pirates but all cases have involved small vessels - either sailboats or a lifeboat.

In an April French rescue, a hostage was killed. In the same month, the U.S. navy killed Somali pirates and rescued an American cargo ship captain from the lifeboat where he was being held.

The high-seas hijackings have persisted despite an international armada of warships deployed by the United States, the European Union, NATO, Japan, South Korea and China to patrol the region.

All navies patrolling the expansive waters off the Somali coast have avoided military action against pirates holding hostages on cargo or other large vessels.

Maritime security expert Nick Davis said he thought there was "absolutely zero interest" on the part of the military to use force to rescue the Chandlers.

"That is not a way forward out of this, just not at all," he said.

To launch a military operation on the pirates would be tactically challenging, Davis said. Getting on board a large container ship, populated by well-armed pirates is a daunting proposition - and it could also transform what pirates see as a business transaction into something more hostile, he said.

The Chandlers' family has said the couple aren't rich and that their yacht, the Lynn Rival, is their main asset. Douglas Guilfoyle, a lecturer at University College London, said that could pose a problem.

"The complication I see here is it sounds like these are not people of wealth, nor are they extensively privately insured," he said.

Separately, Spain on Friday gave permission for its fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean to carry private security guards with military-grade weapons to fend off pirate attacks off Somalia.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega made the announcement a month after a Spanish tuna trawler was hijacked by pirates, who continue to hold it and its crew of 36.

She said another Spanish vessel in the region escaped an attempted hijacking Friday when the attackers' skiff had engine trouble.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years. The multimillion-dollar ransoms the pirates regularly collect are a strong lure for young gunmen in a country where nearly half the population is dependent on aid.


Let them have them. We'll add the video to the collection
The TV news is gushing at the news that Karzai will stay as prez. It's almost like they want us to fail

I have to admit, this looks like my exit.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Saudi concern rises over Al Qaeda activity in Yemen

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - The discovery by Saudi police of two Al Qaeda extremists wearing explosive vests in preparation for an "imminent" suicide attack underscores yet again the rising threat to Saudi Arabia from the deteriorating security situation in neighboring Yemen.

The target of the foiled Oct. 13 attack is not yet known, Ministry of Interior spokesman Gen. Mansour Al Turki said Monday. But equipment found in the men's car last week, including explosives, machine guns, grenades, and two additional vests, suggests that the operation would have been significant – potentially resulting in the loss of many lives.

The men, one of whom spent several years in the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had been sent to Saudi Arabia by an Al Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen, according to a Saudi Interior Ministry statement. Their foiled attack was the second close call for Saudi security forces in less than two months involving Saudi militants from the Yemen-based group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Made up largely of Saudis and Yemenis, AQAP is reportedly being reinforced by veteran jihadi fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to some analysts. It is able to work in relative freedom in Yemen because of the Yemeni government's preoccupation with its own more pressing issues, namely a full-blown rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. Another reason the Yemeni government tolerates the group's presence may be because the jihadi fighters sometimes assist Yemeni forces in military operations against the rebels, a Western diplomat said – all of which make the precarious state a potential haven for militants.

"In Yemen there is great potential for [AQAP] to take advantage of undergoverned spaces to regroup, plot, and prepare for attacks against US and Western targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the region," says Christopher Boucek, author of a September report on Yemen called "Avoiding a Downward Spiral."

The Saudi government, which shares a long, rugged border with Yemen, is extremely concerned about its neighbor's internal turmoil.

"Yemen is the backyard of Saudi security," says Mustafa Alani, a counterterrorism expert at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "The Saudis look at Yemen and see separatism, sectarianism, terrorism, so they have genuine concerns."

Yemen: A terrorist haven?

In an effort to stop further deterioration, the Saudi government is publicly "standing 100 percent behind" the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, says Mr. Alani. "They think it must be supported despite all its shortcomings."

The kingdom has been the second-largest contributor – after the United States – to an international appeal for humanitarian aid in Saada, where an estimated 150,000 Yemenis have been displaced from their homes because of ongoing fighting between government forces and Houthi rebels.

Saudi concerns about Yemen's direction are shared by Washington, according to Mr. Boucek, Middle East researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"For the US government, Yemen is a counterterrorism priority second only to Afghanistan/Pakistan," Boucek said in an interview.

In his report, he said that while the international community must be "realistic about the limitations of intervention in Yemen. In the near term, however, inaction is not an option."

Operations inside Saudi Arabia

The recent interception of two suicide bombers follows earlier arrests this year of extremists operating inside Saudi Arabia with links to Al Qaeda. In April, 11 men who allegedly had stored components for more than 30 suicide vests, some of it in caves, were detained. Their main targets, spokesman Al Turki said at the time, were to have been Saudi security officials and policemen.

In August, the Interior Ministry announced that a year-long surveillance operation had led to the detention of an Al Qaeda-linked cell of 44 men. The men, most of whom held advanced university degrees, had hidden away machine guns and electronic circuits for bombs, a statement said.

On Aug. 27, Abdullah Asiri, pretending that he was surrendering to authorities, blew himself up while seated next to Saudi Arabia's top counter-terrorism official. He allegedly had secreted the bomb inside his body. The official, Prince Muhammed bin Nayef, escaped serious injury.

The two fighters discovered last week, Rayed Abdullahi al-Harbi and Yousef Mohammed al-Shihri, were both on a Saudi government most-wanted list issued in February. Al Shihri is a former Guantanamo detainee, and the brother-in-law of Saeed al-Shihri, the Yemen-based deputy commander of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who also was at Guantánamo, spokesman Turki said.

Dressed like women, their faces hidden by veils, Harbi and Shihri were stopped at a highway checkpoint last week in the southern province of Jizan near the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border last week.

When police on duty asked a policewoman to check the identities of the "women," the militants began firing. In the shoot-out that ensued, the would-be suicide bombers and one policeman were killed, the government statement said.

Two additional suicide vests found in the men's black GMC, suggesting that others would have joined their operation.

"The whole group was planning one terror attack and each of them had a specific role to play," Turki told the Associated Press. "The presence of the extra belts indicates they were working with people inside the kingdom."

The car's driver and six Yemenis allegedly collaborating with the slain extremists were arrested, the ministry said.


U.S. Use of Drones Queried by U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — The United States must demonstrate that it is not randomly killing people in violation of international law through its use of drones on the Afghan border, a United Nations rights investigator said Tuesday.

The investigator, Philip Alston, also said the American refusal to respond to United Nations concerns that the use of drones might result in illegal executions was an “untenable” position.

Mr. Alston, who is appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, said his concern over drones had grown in the past few months as the American military prominently used them in the rugged area along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said the United States may be using the drones legally but needed to answer questions he raised in June. “Otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws,” he said.


I got your drone, right here.

Malik hails PM’s peace talk

Srinagar, Oct 29: Hailing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s unconditional dialogue offer to Pakistan and separatists for permanent solution of Kashmir issue, JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik Friday cautioned both India and Pakistan about the repeated failures of dialogue processes in past.
“We have sacrificed our three generations for the solution of Kashmir dispute and now we don’t want to transfer this dispute to the fourth generation.

Solution of Kashmir dispute is mandatory for overall peace in the world and for this reason Kashmiris will welcome any initiative aimed at permanent solution of the Kashmir issue,” Malik said while addressing a public gathering in Pulwama on Friday.
He hailed the recent unconditional dialogue offer by Indian PM to Pakistan and Kashmiri separatist for finding solution to Kashmir dispute. “The talks should be aimed at resolution of Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of the state,” he said and cautioned India and Pakistan about the repeated failure of the dialogue process in the past.
“The failure of dialogue processes in past have dampened the interest of Kashmiris in the process. The need of the hour is to make the talks more meaningful and result oriented, which will reinvent the faith of our people on the process of dialogue. India and Pakistan should restore the confidence of people of J&K,” he said amid applauses and shouts from the audiences.
The JKLF chairman said solution of Kashmir issue is directly related to peace and prosperity in subcontinent and the entire world. “So it is important for India and Pakistan to solve this dispute with the active participation of Kashmiris,” he said adding, “Talks for the sake of talks is not acceptable to us.”
Terming the huge presence of Indian armed forces in Kashmir as illogical, he said, “Troops should be withdrawn immediately from the civilian areas”.
The JKLF chairman while highlighting successes of signature campaign and Safre Azadi campaign disclosed that Front will be launching another programme - foot march of the entire state. “Through this new programme, we want to press Indian and Pakistani leadership to resolve Kashmir issue and save our 4th generation from this lingering dispute,” he said.
Before launching the foot march, Malik said JKLF will organise peace processions and seminars in every district and tehsil headquarters.

Rising Kashmir News

India's fate linked with that of its neighbours: PM

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh again signalled his desire to re-engage with Pakistan pointing to the need for a leadership in south Asia that was prepared to take a long-term view so that the future was not hostage to the past.

Emphasising that India sought peace and progress in the neighbourhood, the PM on Friday said the country's destiny was "intrinsically linked'' with that of its neighbours. Without naming Pakistan, Singh stated India wanted to resolve all outstanding issues with its neighbours through dialogue.

"We seek good relations with each one of them. I have repeatedly said we see our security and prosperity in their progress and stability. We sincerely wish to resolve all outstanding issues with neighbours through dialogue and in the spirit of partnership and friendship that should rightly characterise our relations,'' Singh said while addressing a leadership summit organised by a media house.

While replying to a question later, Singh noted that Pakistan was faced with many internal problems and wished it success in its fight against terrorism. He added the region needed leadership that could take a long-term view and muster the courage to take bold decisions. "We must not allow our past to limit our future,'' he said, as he outlined his vision for India 2020.

In Srinagar on Thursday, the PM had spoken of his preparedness for talks without pre-conditions with Pakistan while adding important riders that this could not happen if terrorist attacks did not stop. In Delhi, he dwelled more on his essential desire to move ahead with Pakistan, bosltering the view that some developments could be on the cards if no big terror strike took place.

In official quarters, there is a feeling that if the Sharm el-Sheikh fiasco had not happened, there may have already been some movement on talks with Pakistan. As of now, the PM is moving cautiously but seems keen to explore the possibility of progress on engaging Islamabad.

"We wish our neighbours well. India is always happy to extend a helpful and supportive hand to all our neighbours. We wish to see democracy take deep roots in all these countries so that people of South Asia are truly empowered to take their destiny into their own hands,'' said Singh.

To a question on China, while he said that there was enough space in the world to accommodate the growth of both the countries, he asserted that India was taking all necessarry steps to augment its defence preparedness when it came to threat from any country. He said security was a primary concern for the government.

When asked if the government was divided on the issue of tackling Maoists with railway minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly going against the government line, PM Manmohan Singh alluded to differences within the government even though he declared that the government would go all out to maintain law and order. "We are a functional democracy. There are occasions when there are differences of opinion among various leaders of our own coalition. But let there be no doubt that law and order is the primary responsibility of every civilised state,'' said Singh.

"Whatever comes in the way to maintain and enforce law and order, it will be dealt with as it ought to be. The India of tomorrow cannot be built from New Delhi alone. We require the active cooperation of state governments... We will help the states regardless of their political complexion,'' he added.

The Times of India

Chicago terror case's troubling implications

WASHINGTON - It is a worrisome first: an American accused of going to Europe to plot a terrorist attack there. That is the most striking aspect of a Chicago case in which a Pakistani-American businessman allegedly planned an attack on a Danish newspaper targeted by Islamic extremists for printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed. The businessman, David Coleman Headley, was arrested by the FBI this month after a year-long investigation.

The case is the latest example of a U.S. suspect allegedly gaining direct access to high-level extremist leaders. It indicates that Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani group accused in last year's Mumbai attacks, still shares Al Qaeda's determination to strike the West. And with officials saying additional arrests are possible, the case also reiterates a surprising reality: One of the world's most likely targets of terrorism today is placid Denmark, population 5.5 million. "We never thought it could be persons from the U.S. coming here to commit attacks," said Hans Jorgen Bonnichsen, a former chief of Denmark's police security intelligence service, in a telephone interview. "This shows a new tendency." The evolving threat shows the need for close teamwork with law enforcement in other countries, he said."Until yesterday, the threat was mainly from homegrown groups," Bonnichsen said. "This case shows a very strong connection to Al Qaeda groups in Pakistan. That is really a challenge and we can only handle it by depending on good international cooperation."

Denmark has confronted a barrage of propaganda and threats since 2005, when the Jyllands Posten newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed -- an act condemned by Muslim groups and defended by advocates of free speech. In a 2007 raid on a bomb factory in a Copenhagen apartment, police arrested two South Asians who later were convicted of training with Al Qaeda in Pakistan for a bomb attack.

In February, 2008, police broke up an alleged homegrown plot in which three suspects planned to assassinate the newspaper's cartoonist. Publications reprinted the Mohamed cartoons in solidarity with the victim, triggering an "absolutely berserk" surge of threats, said a Danish intelligence official who requested anonymity.

Four months later, a car-bombing at the Danish embassy in Islamabad killed six people and Al Qaeda declared the attack was revenge on Denmark. Danish security forces keep close watch on their surprisingly fierce extremist underworld. But they had not expected the likes of Headley, an American who admits visiting the newspaper's offices in January and July on the pretext of wanting to advertise his immigration consulting company in Chicago, according to an FBI complaint.

Headley, 49, filmed video of potential targets during an alleged scouting mission in Copenhagen and Aarhus for what officials say may have been a commando-style raid, like the Mumbai attack. In addition to his passport and profession, Headley was older than most extremists. Police are still trying to determine if he had any Danish accomplices.

"This is what Danish intelligence was most scared of," said Morten Skjoldager, author of "The Threat Within," a new book about terrorism in Denmark. "The extremist environment in Denmark is so small that, if you get in touch with someone in that world, it will be noticed by the intelligence services. But so far, it seems he had no connections with Denmark."

Headley's travels represent the reverse of a trend feared by U.S. authorities: terrorists forged in Europe's large militant communities taking advantage of limited visa requirements to enter the United States.

Radicalization among U.S. Muslims remains rare compared even to small countries like Denmark. With Al Qaeda determined to strike on U.S. soil, Western officials assume that Americans will be used for attacks here. European police generally devote less scrutiny to U.S. visitors than to some of their citizens of immigrant descent returning from South Asia or North Africa.

"It's a bit surprising," said Louis Caprioli, an executive at the GEOS security firm in Paris and former French anti-terror chief. "It's the first time we talk about an American leaving for Europe for a terrorist act."

Headley was born Daood Gilani in the United States and attended military school in Pakistan, his family homeland. He admits changing his name in 2006 to "raise less suspicion" when traveling, the federal complaint says. It suggests that his business was a cover. "Notwithstanding his apparent lack of financial resources and substantial employment, Headley has engaged in extensive international travel" to destinations including the militant bastion of Waziristan, the complaint says. He admits to training with Lashkar and working with the group for at least three years, authorities say.

Created by Pakistani security forces as an arm in the struggle for Indian-occupied Kashmir, Lashkar funnels recruits to Al Qaeda and participates in plots against the West. Lashkar's slick English propaganda appeals to aspiring holy warriors in North America and Britain. Foreigners find it easier to reach Lashkar training camps because they are tolerated -- or supported -- by elements of Pakistan's security forces, according to Western anti-terror officials.

Headley developed the Denmark plot with a Lashkar operative in Pakistan and with Ilyas Kashmiri, a notorious militant chief who runs a training camp in Waziristan and has become a close Al Qaeda ally, the complaint charges. As evidence, it cites surveillance and Headley's confession. Headley allegedly met Kashimiri and communicated with him through the Lashkar operative. Calling Kashmiri "his spiritual guide," Headley wrote anguished e-mails after inaccurate news reports that the leader had died in an air strike, the complaint says. Learning that Kashmiri was alive, the complaint says Headley wrote: "Buddy, if this is true, then I will say 100 prayers." FBI agents arrested him Oct. 3 at the airport as he began a trip to Pakistan to meet with Kashimiri, the complaint says.

In other recent cases, authorities similarly accused young Americans of going to Pakistan and gaining access to top bosses of Al Qaeda, who enlisted them for U.S. plots. U.S. air strikes, aided by spies on the ground, have made Al Qaeda increasingly wary of Westerners, European officials say. But militant groups remain eager for U.S. recruits, investigators say.

Headley's handlers made the most of his value as an undercover operative, at one point communicating with him about switching from Denmark to a plot in India, the complaint says. During the exchanges, Headley allegedly used code substituting business for terrorism and companies for terror groups. "The main thing is the business must go on," he wrote on Sept. 20, according to the complaint. "I don't care [if] I am working for Microsoft or I am working [for] GE or Philips."

The true meaning, according to the complaint: Headley did not care which group he worked for as long as he could help carry out attacks.


Iran's Sunni militants carve secretive path

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Seven years ago, a little-known group called Jundallah emerged in Iran with claims to fight for the rights of minority Sunnis in the unruly tribal areas near the border with Pakistan.

But just last week, Iranian leaders say, this shadowy group with reported connections to countries as diverse as the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia delivered a devastating attack on Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard. The Oct. 18 suicide bombing in an Iranian border village killed at least 42 people, including top Revolutionary Guard commanders.

The bombing suggests that ambitions by Jundallah — the Soldiers of God — have risen, and that the group is moving toward a wider uprising. Jundallah's attack on a Shiite mosque in May and recent use of suicide bombers could point to the growing influence of militant Islamic groups seeking a Sunni revolt against Shiite control in Iran, experts say.

Recent Jundallah attacks "express a clear will for a definitive rupture with the regime in Tehran," said Stephane Dudoignon, a Paris-based researcher who specializes in the Baluchi region. "It seems to be announcing an unprecedented escalation of violence in the months and years to come."

Last week's bombing also shows how Jundallah has become a magnet for theories and suspicions. Immediately after the attack, leaders in Tehran drew a far-reaching web of accusations linking Jundallah to supporters in Pakistan, Britain and the United States. All three nations quickly rejected the claims.

The rumblings — never clearly confirmed or debunked — span from covert U.S. aid, to indoctrination by Islamic radicals to links to smuggling networks. Reports by regional experts and interviews with security officials, including a former military chief in Pakistan, suggest Jundallah has benefited from U.S. and Pakistani help and, more recently, may have drifted closer to anti-Shiite militants with links to Saudi Arabia.

The claims of Jundallah's outside contacts could not be independently verified. They lend support, however, to long-standing speculation of U.S. and Pakistani encouragement to the group in efforts to rattle Iranian authorities with a low-level rebellion.

Gen. Aslam Beg, a former army chief of staff in Pakistan, told The Associated Press that the border village of Mand has been used as a staging point for U.S. contacts with Jundallah. U.S. aid also was funneled into the region through the Pakistani ports of Kot Kalmat and Jiwani, he alleged.

Beg, who left military service in the early 1990s, gave no other details or definitive timeline on the alleged U.S. links to Jundallah, which operates in one of the most inaccessible areas in the region.

In an article for, former CIA field officer Robert Baer wrote that the CIA had "sporadic" contact with Jundallah, but it was largely restricted to intelligence.

"A relationship with Jundallah was never formalized," Baer wrote.

An officer with Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said he could shed no light on Beg's claims. But he added that Pakistan would never allow its territory to be used for attacks against a neighbor.

Officials in Washington and London also reject any links. Shortly after the suicide bombing, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly called claims of U.S. involvement "completely false."

Yet Washington has been less clear on how it views Jundallah. The group has not been placed on any terrorist watch list or designation. Instead, it's been described in various U.S. reports as an "opposition group" or "militant" faction.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations, said a decision on Jundallah could come soon, but declined to elaborate. Options include designating Jundallah a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" or placing it to one of several other terrorism blacklists.

Britain, too, denies any ties and has condemned Jundallah attacks. "They had nothing to do with the U.K.," Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement.

Experts estimate Jundallah has between 250 and 1,000 fighters. They are believed bankrolled by kidnapping-for-ransom plots and smuggling goods, such as subsidized Iranian fuel, into fellow Baluchi tribal areas in Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.

Jundallah's statements in the past have called for greater rights and prosperity for Iran's Baluchi region, which is inaccessible to journalists. But a July report by the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment cites indications that Jundallah has been building ties to Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Janghvi and Tehrik-e-Taliban.

Both groups are battling Pakistan's military offensive into its northwestern Waziristan region.

"The story of Jundallah is the story of how an ethnic resistance movement has transformed into a violent sectarian group adopting tactical and ideological elements from the global jihadi movement," said the report.

After last week's suicide blast, Iran sent Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar to Islamabad to press Iran's claims that Pakistan allows Jundallah to operate on its territory — a charge Pakistan denied.

The two countries agreed to set up a joint border monitoring unit. But tensions quickly returned after Pakistan on Monday detained 11 Iranian agents who crossed the rugged border in apparent pursuit of smugglers. Authorities first identified them as Revolutionary Guard members, but then altered the statement to call them only security officers.

Although Pakistan and Iran have pledged cooperation to crack down on Jundallah, the two nations have been deeply at odds on other regional issues.

Pakistan was among the main international backers of Afghanistan's Taliban, which was fiercely opposed by Tehran. Iran even backed the U.S.-aided Northern Alliance that helped topple the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jundallah's rise could be an outgrowth of other tensions between the two nations.

A former police official familiar with the region said the government of former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf gave Jundallah space to operate in 2003 and 2004. It came after Iran contributed intelligence that linked Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to an international smuggling ring providing nuclear material and technology.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from Pakistani intelligence, the official said that Musharraf also opened the floodgates to money from Saudi Arabia. The funds were used to build madrassas, or religious schools, in the Baluchi area and elsewhere espousing the austere Deobandi sect of Sunni Islam, the official said.

Pakistan's top Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, said Jundallah leader Abdulmalik Rigi was hiding in Afghanistan.

Yet Rigi has given several interviews from Pakistan this year, including one to Al-Arabiya television, claiming it trains its fighters in camps outside Iran. Rigi did not specifically name Pakistan, but most experts believe there are substantial cross-border ties.

"We train 20, 30 or 50 men every month and then send them in. So far we have trained over 2,000 men," Rigi told Al-Arabiya in September. "We're an Islamic Awakening movement. ... We suffer economic problems and very meager resources."

On both sides of the border, ethnic Baluchis are among the poorest and least educated, according to U.N. statistics.

"Apart from the narcotics trafficking, I don't know what they do there," said Christine Fair, regional expert at the RAND Corp.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finds her diplomatic mojo in Pakistan

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is nothing if not strong, determined and resilient. The world has seen her rise above circumstances that would have reduced lesser leaders to rubble: from the failed healthcare reform effort she championed during President Bill Clinton’s administration to her public stoicism and gutsy resolve when Bubba was caught philandering with the intern in the blue dress. She carved out an unlikely new role for herself as Senator from New York; then saw a substantial lead in the Democratic presidential primary wither away as the country elected its’ first black president instead of the first woman president.

Refusing to be vanquished, Mrs. Clinton was then passed over for the VP slot but had the class, gumption, and dedication to America and the world to step into the visible and powerful role of Secretary of State at a time in world history when many things are just plain screwed up.

Just in case the world needed reminding,Secretary Clinton showed she’s got game by making a very dangerous, highly visible trip to Pakistan. If facing down terrorist threats, bombs, and growing anti-American sentiment weren’t enough, Secretary Clinton single-handedly changed the course of American diplomacy and the foreign policy efforts of the Obama administration when she called the Pakistan regime out on its’ support for the war on terrorism. Indeed, the trip itself took guts, but it was what Secretary Clinton said to a group of Pakistani journalists on the world stage that made people everywhere stop, take notice, and Twitter all about it.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall during her meeting with Pakistani journalists when she tossed diplomatic protocol aside and kicked hurt feelings to the curb when she said, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they (Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership) are, and couldn’t get to them if they really wanted to,” she said, adding, “Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” One can imagine the scene as pokara potato snacks got caught in shocked and constricted throats; eyes bulged with pupils as small as spots on a dalmation, while frantic hands knocked over tall glasses of sweet yogurt lassi in disbelief.

Secretary of State Clinton called Pakistan’s regime suspect partners in the war on terror. She put a voice to thoughts America and the world were reluctant to express, and she fixed her hosts with that steely Clinton gaze, that regal countenance that could grace currency, and unflinchingly implied that they were either marginal liars or massive liars. Either way, Clinton made her point, and added an exclamation point that the Obama administration’s engagement dialogue on foreign policy issues was not to be taken lightly.

Pakistan has only had a dog in the terrorist hunt because then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s aide Richard Armitage told them the day after 9/11 that Pakistan “would be bombed back into the stone age” unless they got on board and helped close the noose around the throats of the Taliban while the U.S began a tireless hunt for Osama Bin Laden. President Pervez Musharraff relented, but only after determining that Armitage would be proven right, because the U.S. would most certainly unite with Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, to wipe the floor with Musharraf’s regime in retaliation for Pakistan’s supportive relationship with the Taliban.

Though Pakistan relented, the government is continuously fending off challenges from within from the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Agency). In his illuminating book “Descent Into Chaos” , author Ahmed Rasheed describes the ISI as “the military’s all-powerful and much-feared intelligence agency, which for two decades had run Pakistan’s covert wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir, had harassed dissidents at home, and was now the principal supporter of the Taliban regime”. Rasheed goes on to detail how Pakistan , at the behest of Taliban leader Muhllah Omar, evicted Hamid Karzai, from Pakistan, where he had lived since 1983 because Omar grew tired of Karzai’s anti-Taliban posturing from the safety of Pakistan. Rasheed’s description is based on events just prior to September 11, 2001.

Historically, Pakistan has always played both sides against the middle.
Thus, it may have been this knowledge, coupled with years of suspicion that Pakistan had been double-dealing in the war on terror that motivated Secretary Clinton to unprecedented candor. Prior to this trip, many in the U.S. had questioned whether the Secretary had been marginalized in foreign policy, as Vice President Joe Biden took control of the Afghan War debate; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates monitored military strategy talk; husband President Clinton travelled to North Korea to free two American journalists taken hostage and then held court on ‘Larry King Live’ the night before a worldwide meeting of the U.N; and just recently, Soviet Union Prime Minister Valdimir Putin chose instead to go to China to negotiate a fuel deal, leaving President Dmitry Medevev to meet with Clinton.

Sensing that Secretary Clinton might have been feeling knocked down, kicked around, and just plain disrespected, the ‘Today’ show’s Ann Curry asked her about feeling marginalized in an October interview. Clinton responded, “I believe in delegating power. I’m not one of these people who feels like I have to have my face in the front of the newspaper or on the TV every moment of the day”, she said, adding “it would be irresponsible and negligent were I to say, ‘Oh no, everything must come to me’. When Curry pressed her further on policy decisions, Secretary Clinton told Curry that she is part of a team that makes policy decisions, and left it at that.

Thus, it was likely a by-product of the whisperings of such sentiment that prompted Secretary Clinton’s bold pronouncement; and, perhaps Clinton didn’t appreciate having a massive suicide bomb go off in a Peshawar market upon her arrival, cannibalizing the very women and children that she champions around the world. Further, Clinton has had to face down belligerent, ungrateful, and insolent students and leaders who ceaselessly challenged her and blamed the United States for Pakistan’s recent trouble with Taliban insurgents.

She put Pakistan on notice that after 10 years and billions of dollars in U.S. aid to this ‘partner’ in the war on terror, she wasn’t convinced that Pakistan seemingly has no clue where the Al Qaeda leadership is hiding, within Pakistan. It was a vintage diplomatic performance the likes of which America hasn’t seen since Ronald Reagan famously exhorted Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “…tear down these walls” at the fall of Communism.

Thus, despite Pakistani’s whining to the world that they are insulted by Clinton’s untrusting words, the Secretary of State made it crystal clear that it will no longer be possible to continue to take billions in aid with one hand, while whispering our anti-terrorism plans to the enemy.
Clinton's message was conveyed and understood loudly and clearly; and no one tossed any shoes her way.


Also Moving From Iraq to Afghanistan: Blood Platelets

President Obama will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Friday to debate the wisdom of sending up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The meeting comes as the deadliest month for U.S. troops in eight years of war draws to a close — a spike in casualties that has already triggered a flow of precious reinforcements. The U.S. military has begun for the first time transferring from Iraq to Afghanistan pint-sized bags of platelets — the key blood component that encourages clotting and can prevent wounded soldiers from bleeding to death.

U.S. forces in Iraq needed the life-saving elixir far more than those in Afghanistan until fairly recently. Back in October 2006, 106 U.S. troops died there compared with 10 in Afghanistan. Three years later, those numbers have flipped: 56 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month, compared with six in Iraq. On Thursday, President Obama called his visit to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base in the wee hours to witness the return of 18 U.S. troops killed in the Afghan war "a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day."

But despite the grim tableau witnessed by Obama, it could have been worse. A 2008 Army book on combat surgery in Iraq and Afghanistan says the "recent (limited) theater availability of ... platelets" is a key reason for a significant reduction in fatal bleeding. Wounds that cause such hemorrhages are "the most preventable cause of death on the battlefield," it says, adding that pumping platelets into a wounded soldier is better than using whole blood.

Platelets — the "body's own Band-Aid" — circulate along the smooth walls of blood vessels, seeking telltale signs of a leak. Once detected, the colorless, irregularly-shaped platelets stick to the rupture's edge and attract fellow platelets to join it in a clump and begin the process of sealing the wound. "We noticed an increase in the survival rate compared to when we were using whole blood," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jordan, who oversees platelet collection in Balad, Iraq, told a military interviewer in August. "They serve as the main factor in stopping bleeding and are used in any situation in which there is excessive blood loss."

Beginning in 2006, U.S. troops have been donating about 60 bags a week of platelets at the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, sitting back and watching a movie as an IV siphons the donor's blood through a centrifuge, where the platelets are separated out before the blood is returned to the donor. Soldiers can volunteer for the two-hour procedure twice a month. But platelets' life-saving properties don't last long — there is no way to preserve them, and the cloudy, yellow liquid containing them typically has to be discarded a week after it is drawn. Their short shelf-life outside the body means that the platelets have to be drawn close to the front lines.

As the Iraq war has wound down, a growing share of the platelet supply was going to waste, and on Oct. 14 the first batch was sent the more than 1,000 miles from Balad to a U.S. military hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Pentagon officials say it makes more sense to tap into the existing setup in Iraq for platelets than to try to establish a similar pipeline in Afghanistan.


Canadians continue to do the job in Afghanistan

It's now, with the future of the Afghan mission hanging in the balance, that Canadian soldiers overseas and their families most need public support.

Will we give it?

A curious thing happened when the federal political debate about the Afghan mission ended last year, with the Liberals endorsing an extended mission to February 2011.

With the Afghan war no longer a political football in question period, it soon moved off the front pages. Both critics and champions faded into the background.

Other factors, as well, contributed to a lower profile. The retirement of Gen. Rick Hillier was one. Hillier's magnetic personality and frank speech alone had kept Afghanistan uppermost in many Canadians'minds.

The recession was another. Suddenly, Canadian news outlets were less able and willing to spend the lavish amounts necessary to keep reporters, photographers and camera operators in the field.

Third, and most recent, has been a hesitation in leadership from the United States. U. S. President Barack Obama's security team was to meet for the sixth time in full conference, to try to hammer out a strategy for the Afghan war.

The senior officer on the ground, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, wants at least 40,000 more troops and he wants them yesterday. He's been told, not so politely, to be patient and keep his mouth shut while doing so.

But time is wearing on.

Here's the thing: Whatever the eventual U. S. strategy, a speedy pullout is not among the options. The United States is committed to staying in Afghanistan and really has no choice but to do so. The country remains highly unstable and the fate of its neighbour, nuclear-armed Pakistan, increasingly hangs in the balance.

This means Canada, as a key U. S. ally and NATO member, is not leaving any time soon either, however, our political leadership may fudge things now.

Our battle group, the combat arms component, may be pulled out. But Canadians will remain.

There has been talk of continuing to man the provincial reconstruction team base in Kandahar City, post-2011. This would make sense, since the team is the leading edge of the humanitarian aspect of the military mission.

Here is the blunt truth about a post-2011 Canadian presence in Kandahar: It will still be dangerous. Indeed, the battle group's departure may make it more so. Our people there, whether soldiers, aid workers or diplomats, will still risk injury and death.

That's because the insurgency does not confine itself to military targets. Indeed from the very beginning its tactics have been aimed primarily at disrupting fledgling efforts to provide modern health care, education and the like.

The 2,700 Canadian soldiers in Kandahar now, and the smaller number likely to remain there post 2011, have as much of a claim to public support as did earlier rotations when the mission was more generally popular.

Indeed, with the Afghan effort increasingly turning into a bitter struggle, with failure a possibility, we all the more need to redouble the personal support we extend to our soldiers and their families.

The Hamid Karzai regime has in many ways failed to measure up to the hope placed in it by its international allies. But that is not the responsibility of Canadian men and women in uniform.

The overwhelming majority of our soldiers have done their jobs with skill, courage and honour, and continue to do so.

They represent the very best that Canada has to offer and deserve our enduring gratitude and respect.


Maybe this O mob strategy is actually working.

SKorea planning troop deployment to Afghanistan

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea announced plans Friday to send troops to Afghanistan to protect its civilian aid workers, two years after withdrawing its forces following a fatal hostage crisis.

The South Korean government intends to expand a reconstruction team now helping to rebuild Afghanistan and will dispatch police and troops to protect them, Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said.

The decision to dispatch troops is subject to approval in parliament, where the ruling Grand National Party has enough seats to guarantee passage.

The announcement comes about two years after South Korea withdrew some 200 army medics and engineers from Afghanistan. The pullout, though previously planned, followed a hostage standoff in which the Taliban killed two South Koreans after demanding that Seoul immediately withdraw its troops.

Moon stressed that the troops would not take part in combat operations.

"Our security troops will not take part in any battle other than" defending aid workers, he said.

The spokesman did not say how many troops will be sent or when, or how many more aid workers would be added to the current team of 25.

However, local media reports say the government is considering increasing the number of aid workers to 130, and plans to send about 300 troops. The troops likely will be deployed early next year, the reports said.

Many South Koreans oppose sending troops to Afghanistan because of the 2007 hostage crisis, which dominated headlines here for six weeks. The Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean religious workers and killed two of them before freeing the others after Seoul promised to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

The main opposition Democratic Party said it does not yet have an official position on the plan. Secretary-general Rep. Lee Mi-kyung voiced concern Friday that South Korean troops could come under attacks if redeployed to Afghanistan.

South Korea, a key U.S. ally, also dispatched troops to Iraq from 2003-2008, part of efforts to bolster its alliance with Washington.


$160,000 Per Stimulus Job? White House Calls That 'Calculator Abuse'

Posting its results late this afternoon at, the White House claimed 640,329 jobs have been created or saved because of the $159 billion in stimulus funds allocated as of Sept. 30.

Officials acknowledged the numbers were not exact, saying that states and localities that reported the numbers have made mistakes.

In recent days, the Recovery Act board has been reviewing all the numbers, with many inaccurate ones having been posted. California's San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission received $5 million in stimulus funds to hire workers to build addition train track for the Union Pacific Railroad in an economically tarnished spot of the Golden State.

Brian Schmidt, director of planning and programming for the commission said that his staff originally reported to the Obama administration that the stimulus money saved 250 jobs. Then, realizing they had mistakenly double credited, they later changed that to 125 jobs. Tuesday, they updated it again to 74 jobs.

Ed DeSeve, senior advisor to the president for Recovery Act implementation, said he'd been "scrubbing" the job estimates so much since they came it at the beginning of the month that he now has "dishpan hands and my fingers are worn to the nub."

White House officials heralded the unparalleled transparency in reporting job numbers to the public, but acknowledged there is no consistent standard across states or localities, or among federal agencies giving out stimulus funds, in differentiating between a “saved” job and a “created” job.

The White House argues that the actual job number is actually larger than 640,000 -- closer to 1 million jobs when one factors in stimulus jobs added in October and, more importantly, jobs created indirectly, such as "the waitress who's still on the job," Vice President Biden said today.

So let's see. Assuming their number is right -- 160 billion divided by 1 million. Does that mean the stimulus costs taxpayers $160,000 per job?

Jared Bernstein, chief economist and senior economic advisor to the vice president, called that "calculator abuse."

He said the cost per job was actually $92,000 -- but acknowledged that estimate is for the whole stimulus package as of the end of 2010.

Vice President Biden heralded news this week of gross domestic product growth in the 3rd quarter of 3.5 percent, saying "the economic forecasters have attributed ... the vast bulk of this growth to the Economic Recovery Act -- the much-maligned and battered Economic Recovery Act. Put another way, without the Economic Recovery Act, it's very unlikely this economy would have expanded at all this last quarter. It may have even contracted."

DeSeve and Bernstein were not able to say how many of the 640,329 jobs were saved and how many were created. How do they know that government officials asking for stimulus funds to help prevent layoffs were legitimate?

"What we have to do is expect that our public officials are honest," DeSeve said. "I know that's a high bar."

Joining Biden at an event in which reporters were not permitted to ask questions, California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the money California has received "has created or saved 62,000 teachers' jobs; but not only teachers' jobs. Those are for administrators and professors. So there's again people that said, 'Well, we would have done something about that, anyway.' No, those teachers would have been gone if it wouldn't have been for the federal stimulus money. I just wanted to make sure you understand that."

Of the 640,329 jobs cited today, White House officials said 80,000 were in the construction sector and more than half -- 325,000 -- were education jobs, despite President Obama's claim in January that 90 percent of the stimulus jobs would be in the private sector. Bernstein said Mr. Obama's pledge was an assessment of the totality of the jobs saved or created by the end of 2010.

Officials pointed out that today’s report did not include jobs saved or created by more than $80 billion in tax cuts, as well as other money in the $787 billion stimulus package, such as $250 stimulus checks for 54 million Americans.

ABC News

Seems like they ask the wrong question, shouldn't they be asking if tax revenues from the "jobs" was enough to cover the maintenance on the 160 billion loan used to create or save said job?

UN guard killed in Afghanistan hailed as hero

MIAMI — A United Nations security guard from Miami who died fighting Taliban attackers at a hotel in Afghanistan is being hailed as a hero by top U.N. staff for the lives he and another guard helped save.

Louis Maxwell, 27, and the other U.N. guard, Laurance Mefful of Ghana, held off the attackers for at least an hour, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday.

"They fought through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop," Ban told the U.N. General Assembly. "They held off the attackers long enough for their colleagues to escape, armed only with pistols against assailants carrying automatic weapons and grenades and wearing suicide vests."

Maxwell, a 2000 graduate of Miami Central High School, was the only American to die in the siege that left 11 people dead, including the attackers. Mefful was also killed.

On Friday afternoon, family and friends gathered at Maxwell's parents' home in South Florida. A bright white wreath was hung near the home's door.

Sandra Maxwell, Louis' mother, said her son was an outstanding trumpet player at Miami Central High School — so good that he was offered a full music scholarship to Florida A & M University. But he decided to enlist in the Navy after graduating and became a U.N. security guard in 2007.

"He had a heart, determination and was very conscientious in whatever he did," she said. "He just didn't give up."

That determination showed during his final hours, she said.

"I'm told from U.N. top officials that because of my son, 17 people are alive," she said, crying. "He was brave. He fought until he couldn't fight anymore.

"He paid the ultimate price. He was a hero."

The mother spoke with her son for the last time on Sunday.

"I said, 'I love you, be careful,'" she recalled.

"And he said, 'you know I will.' "

Funeral services in Miami have not been set.


White House Says No 'Veracity' to Argument That Forcing Individuals to Buy Health Insurance Is Unconstitutional

( -- White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told on Wednesday that there is no "veracity" to the argument that the U.S. Constitution does not authorize the federal government to force individuals to buy health insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office has said that the federal government has never before in American history forced Americans to purchase any good or service.

When the health-care bill was being debated in the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised questions about the constitutionality of forcing Americans to buy health insurance, which all congressional versions of the health care bill would do.

Hatch rejected the notion that the Commerce Clause--which empowers Congress to regulate commerce "among the several states"--justifies forcing Americans to purchase a product they do not want to buy. If Congress can make people buy health insurance, Hatch argued, they can force Americans to buy refrigerators or new cars.

But Gibbs said those who make this kind of argument have no federal court cases to back them up. "I won't be confused as a constitutional scholar, but I don't believe there's a lot of--I don't believe there's a lot of case law that would demonstrate the veracity of what they're commentating on," said Gibbs.

Asked by last week where specifically the Constitution authorizes Congress to mandate that individuals buy health insurance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "Are you serious? Are you serious?"

A Congressional Research Service report concluded that requiring individuals to purchase or have health insurance could be challenged.

"Whether such a requirement would be constitutional under the Commerce Clause is perhaps the most challenging question posed by such a proposal, as it is a novel issue whether Congress may use this clause to require an individual to purchase a good or service," the CRS reportedly says.

In 1994, when the Clinton administration attempted to push a health care reform plan through a Democratic Congress that also mandated every American buy health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office determined that the government had never ordered Americans to buy anything.

"The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States," the CBO analysis said. "An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government."


Iraq arrests senior officers over blasts

[Al Arabiya Latest] Iraq arrested dozens of security officials over bombings that killed 155 people and vowed to arrest more security officers suspected of colluding with the bombers or dereliction of duty, an official said on Thursday.

Two-high profile attacks over the last two months have raised pressure on Iraq's developing military and police, which are taking over security from U.S. troops as Washington draws down ahead of an eventual pull-out in 2011.

Those arrested were deployed in the Salhiya section of the capital where the devastating suicide blasts on Sunday targeted government buildings and wrought havoc in the streets, said Atta, spokesman for Baghdad military command.

"The commission of inquiry into the double attack on Sunday ordered the arrest of 11 officers of various ranks and 50 members of the security forces responsible for the protection of Salhiya," he said.

The health ministry said on Thursday the toll from the attacks claimed by al-Qaeda but blamed by the government on members of the outlawed Baath party stood at 153 people killed and more than 500 wounded.

Among those arrested, said Atta, are four senior army officers and seven senior policemen, including the chief of police of Salhiya under whose jurisdiction the justice ministry, one of the targets of the attacks, falls. Also rounded up, he added, are the commanders of 15 security checkpoints in Salhiya.

Baghdad's governor, Salah Abdul Razzaq, on Monday blamed negligence or even collusion by the security forces for the bombings in the heart of the capital, Iraq's deadliest day in more than two years.

"It's a human failure... It can only be negligence or collusion," Razzaq told AFP, noting that footage showed a white Renault truck carrying two tones of explosives driving up to the justice ministry building.

The logo of the Department of Water in Fallujah, a former insurgent bastion west of Baghdad, was painted on the side of the truck, he said. "How did it get from Fallujah to here?"

Trucks are barred from entering Baghdad, especially Salhiya neighborhood, during daylight hours.

Razzaq said that the vehicle that was blown up in front of the other target, a provincial government building, was a Kia minibus.

Defense ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP earlier this week that security forces raided two houses in Baghdad, where they found bomb-making materials, and made arrests, but did not specify how many.

"It looks like the same materials used on Bloody Wednesday," he said, referring to August 19 bombings at government ministries in Baghdad that killed around 100 people.

Askari said the evidence found confirmed the bombers were linked to al-Qaeda and supporters of the Baath Party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Al Arabiya

Pakistan finds passport of 9/11 suspect: report

[Al Arabiya Latest] Pakistani forces found a passport of an Islamist militant linked to two hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks during an offensive against Taliban strongholds near the Afghan border, a TV station said on Thursday.

The passport of Said Bahaji, a German of Moroccan origin, was among documents, weapons and jihadi literature seized by the government forces during their operation in South Waziristan and was shown to a group of journalists during an official trip.

"The passport shows he reached Karachi just days before 9/11," Dawn News said, showing a passport purportedly belonging to Bahaji.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas, who accompanied the reporters on the trip to South Waziristan had no comments to offer.

"I haven't seen the passport. These reporters may have seen it."

Bahaji's name appeared in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The report said Bahaji spent eight months with hijackers Mohamed Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh between Nov. 1998 and July 1999.

"Described as an insecure follower with no personality and with limited knowledge of Islam, Bahaji nonetheless professed his readiness to engage in violence," it said.

Atta and Binalshibh used Bahaji's computer for internet research as evidenced by documents and diskettes seized by German authorities after the 9/11 attacks, the Commission said. Binalshibh was arrested in Pakistan with the help of FBI and CIA in 2002.

Educated in Morocco, Bahaji returned to Germany to study electrical engineering at the Technical University of Hamburg. He spent five months in the German army before obtaining a medical discharge, the Commission said.

Al Arabiya

Looks like the Saudi Ministry of Propaganda is on board.
Act surprised.

Saudis being dragged into Yemen war

Slowly but surely, Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally shied away from conflict in favor of diplomacy and buying its way out of trouble, is being dragged into the Middle East's conflicts as a participant.

It's happening in Iraq and Iran, but right now the main hotspot is Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula, wracked by tribal insurrection, southern secessionists and a resurgent al-Qaida.

Things are so bad in Yemen, the most populous country on the peninsula, that it is in danger of collapsing as a state with its wars and insurrections spilling over into Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer.

The Saudis have backed Yemen's beleaguered president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in his five-year war with Shiite Zaidi rebels in the unruly north, centered on Saada province.

His government in Sanaa says the tribesmen are backed by Shiite-dominated Iran, Saudi Arabia's main rival in the oil-rich Gulf, and its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon.

Tehran denies that. But Sunni-dominated Yemen said in August that it had captured Iranian-made arms, including machine guns and battlefield rockets, from the rebels and intercepted a boat carrying six Iranians, possibly agents or military instructors, off Yemen's coast.

According to Arab officials and Western intelligence sources, the Saudis, who don't want Iran stirring up trouble on their porous southern flank, have been financing Saleh's counterinsurgency campaign to the tune of millions of dollars a week.

There have been repeated reports, largely from the northern rebels who are known as al-Houthis after the clan leading the rebellion, that the Saudi military is aiding Saleh's poorly trained and badly equipped forces with airstrikes against rebel strongholds along the mountainous border.

On Oct. 19 the insurgents claimed Saudi ground forces in the Hasama border region bombarded the main market town
with machine gun and mortar fire. Authorities in Sanaa deny any Saudi involvement.

According to Texas-based security consultancy Strategic Forecasting, "Yemen and Saudi Arabia are now seeking out mercenaries, particularly from Ukraine, to fly Yemen's Soviet-era MiGs and Sukhois in hopes of regaining the upper hand against the al-Houthis and their Iranian backers in this proxy war."

Saleh's forces, ill equipped and poorly paid, have fared badly against the rebels since he launched a major scorched-earth offensive against the al-Houthis in August, supposedly on the ground they broke a cease-fire agreement but more likely because Saleh feels a need to assert his authority as the state falls apart.

In those circumstances, Saudi backing is vital if he is to cling to power and ensure that his son Ahmed, a general who commands the army's special forces, is to succeed him.

Egypt, another Sunni-led Arab state that opposes Shiite Iran, is also reported to be aiding Saleh with arms shipments. According to Strategic Forecasting, "The Egyptians are pushing for sustained airstrikes in Â... Saada province, greater U.S. assistance and replacement pilots for Yemen's air force.

"The Saudi leadership is expected to consult with the United States on the matter, but efforts already appear to be under way to place more capable pilots in Yemen's combat jets."

A failed attempt by a Yemeni al-Qaida operative to assassinate the Saudi prince who heads the kingdom's counterinsurgency campaign in the Red Sea port of Jeddah on Aug. 17 heightened alarm in Riyadh about the prospect of Yemen falling apart.

The Saudis fear that al-Qaida, which has been rebuilding its forces in eastern Yemen after its campaign in Saudi Arabia was crushed in 2006-07, would exploit the chaos to launch a new offensive against the al-Saud monarchy.

The Saudis also seem to be taking a tougher line over Iran. The disappearance and possible defection of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Saudi Arabia in early June was the first known incident of its kind to occur in the kingdom.

It pointed to a possible joint operation between Saudi intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to get their hands on an Iranian with inside knowledge of Tehran's reported drive to acquire nuclear weapons.

If so, that would be a first. Saudi intelligence, which played a key role with the CIA in arming Islamist guerrillas against the Soviets in the 1979-89 Afghan War, is also now reported to be aiding dissident forces inside Iran to counter Iranian encroachment in Iraq as U.S. forces withdraw.

Space War

Stop the press

Simple Afghan mission turns deadly for U.S. soldiers

CHAHAR BAGH, Afghanistan (Reuters) – The mission was simple.

Some 20 U.S. soldiers were to patrol a riverbed in the dead of night, camp until morning, and provide backup to Afghan troops and their Canadian mentors in a clearing operation in Chahar Bagh village, an insurgent hotbed on the outskirts of Kandahar City.

Less than 12 hours later, seven of the soldiers and their Afghan interpreter would be dead, killed by a massive homemade bomb buried deep under pebbles along the dried-out riverbed.

The attack illustrates how a more aggressive U.S. military strategy of going into Taliban strongholds risks mounting casualties as President Barack Obama weighs whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. The initial operation this week passed without incident. Around 200 Afghan soldiers and their Canadian trainers pushed through the village of mud houses surrounded by lush pomegranate orchards. A handful of men were arrested for later questioning.

The U.S. soldiers were not needed.

"What are you going to write about? This is some boring ass mission," one 1st Platoon soldier joked with a reporter as the sun rose behind a cragged mountain towering over the village.

The soldiers -- small groups from three platoons of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 17th Infantry Regiment Stryker Brigade -- had pushed out from their base at around midnight. Not far from Chahar Bagh village, they dismounted from their armored Stryker vehicles and continued on foot.

Setting up in the riverbed alongside the village, the soldiers kept watch and waited. As the sun rose across the river valley, they jibed with each other and talked about life back home.

By mid-morning, the operation was over. Three Stryker vehicles rumbled toward 2nd Platoon men waiting further down the riverbed to bring them back to base.

As the vehicles returned with the soldiers on board, a huge explosion sent rocks and sand flying high into the air. The first Stryker had hit a massive IED or improvised explosive device, flipping the 20 metric tons vehicle onto its side.

The thick armored plate beneath the Stryker had been blown straight through the floor and the roof. Pieces of metal and debris lay strewn around the wreckage.

Minutes earlier, 1st Platoon soldiers had set off on foot, passing right over the site of the bomb, to meet their own waiting vehicles. As they mounted their Strykers, less than 400 meters away, the explosion tore through the air.

"Oh s**t! Get in! Get in!" yelled 1st Platoon Sergeant First Class Kelekolio Paresa to his soldiers and accompanying reporters as the men scrambled into the vehicles.

"I got, I got, seven KIA (killed in action) and an Afghan interpreter KIA!" a broken voice came across the radio.

"S**t, we gotta go back and help!" shouted Paresa. The 1st Platoon Strykers turned around and raced back. As they reached the scene, gunfire broke out. Insurgents, laying in wait, were firing at the Strykers from orchards next to the village.

Seconds later, the deafening sound of gunfire burst through the air as the Strykers returned fire. Empty shell casings rained down inside the vehicle, bouncing off the floor.

"Open the ramp!" shouted Paresa. Soldiers poured out of the Stryker, firing a hail of bullets and grenades toward the oncoming gunfire.

Two Kiowa attack helicopters circling above fired rockets into the orchards.

The insurgents stopped firing. "Cease fire!" shouted Paresa.

"I need seven litters (stretchers)!" yelled a soldier near the overturned Stryker.

It had carried nine men. Seven soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed instantly. Their bodies, ripped apart in the blast, lay scattered around the wreckage. The soldiers lifted the dead onto stretchers to be picked up by a helicopter. Only the driver survived.

"Thank God we were on foot. We walked right over that IED. Twice! That triggerman was waiting for the Stryker," said Paresa later.

The men from 1st Platoon had walked across the site of the bomb and had camped no more than 50 meters away.

A command wire, used to activate the bomb, was traced some 100 meters away behind a low stone wall. An insurgent had most likely been behind the wall, waiting for a Stryker to pass full of soldiers before he detonated the bomb, the soldiers said.

They estimated the size of bomb at 600-900 kg (1,300-2,000 pounds). It was the largest IED any of the soldiers had ever experienced, in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Stryker Brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July as part of a troop drive ordered by Obama to quell a strengthening insurgency. For the past few months, the Strykers have been trying to clear insurgents from villages they say are used as staging posts for attacks inside Kandahar City.

The militants, preempting the soldiers' arrival, have laid dozens of bombs in their path. The Strykers have suffered a high rate of casualties.

In all, the Brigade has lost more than 30 soldiers, 20 of those from 1st Battalion and 10 of those from Charlie Company. More than 40 have been wounded. IEDs, the Taliban's weapon of choice, have killed nearly 240 foreign soldiers this year alone.

"That was my best friend. We were together for two years. I just waved to him," said Specialist Nicholas Saucier, speaking about one of the dead.

"I'm sick of this s**t! Guys are getting killed every week," he said, tears welling up as he looked back at the wreckage.

Other soldiers took a more philosophical view.

"These guys are great. Even after all this, after picking up their buddies' dead body parts, they'll soldier on. They dug deep. And in a couple days they'll get back on their horse and do what they have to do," said Staff Sergeant Jason Hughes.