Thursday, December 31, 2009

Marine's success in Afghanistan has a history

Reporting from Nawa, Afghanistan - It's not yet 10 a.m., and Lt. Col. William McCollough must confront a pair of problems that threaten to undercut Marine success in this onetime Taliban stronghold.

Two members of the community council, the group organized by Marines to instill confidence among villagers in their government, have been killed, probably by Taliban fighters. The Afghan police response has been sluggish.

Meanwhile, rumors are sweeping the farming community that there is favoritism and corruption in the U.S.-sponsored program to distribute wheat seed and fertilizer. The program is aimed at persuading farmers to forgo planting opium poppies, which are turned into heroin, the proceeds frequently funding the Taliban.

McCollough, commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and the son of a Midwestern small-town newspaper publisher, wants to face both issues head-on. But he knows he must work through the shaky government structures of the Nawa district and Helmand province.

He cannot merely tell his Marines to go arrest the killers, nor can he send a sound truck through the villages blaring a message about the wheat seed and fertilizer program, tactics that met with only marginal success in the early years of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

It's a slow process. "Clear, hold, build and transition" carries little of the high drama of the classic Marine strategy of "locate, close, engage and destroy." Not every day is an advance, not every attempt at undercutting the Taliban is going to be successful.

McCollough's task is to take the hard-learned lessons of Iraq -- patience, restraint in the use of force, the need for a local "buy in" for building projects -- and apply them to Afghanistan, a country that is far more socially fractured, war ravaged, impoverished and culturally isolated than Iraq.

It is not a war, McCollough said, that can be won quickly or by killing the enemy and spending lavishly on reconstruction.

"You can't allow frustration to set in," he said.

U.S. troops arrive

McCollough was in the lead helicopter on a moonless night back in June when about 100 Marines arrived to relieve a British army platoon that had been pinned down for months in what had once been the Nawa district government center.

Within minutes, Taliban fighters let loose with automatic weapons from the tree line just 200 yards away. Marines returned fire and began flanking the Taliban. The fight lasted most of the night, with the Marines chasing the militants away from the government center.

The next morning, 50 village elders were banging at the gate of the government center, demanding to know what the Marines were doing.

McCollough explained that they had replaced the British and were there to break the Taliban stranglehold that had closed the village bazaar and led to Taliban checkpoints, extortion and summary executions. He also explained that the U.S. would pay for any damage done by Marines to homes and farms during the fighting.

The incremental work of counterinsurgency had begun.

After weeks of sporadic fighting, the Taliban largely fled to a neighboring village. The government center and the bazaar reopened, and a smiling, glad-handing veteran of the U.S.-backed fight here against the Soviets in the 1980s was installed as district governor. He and McCollough bonded immediately.

The troops in the helicopters were followed two weeks later by hundreds of additional Marines, McCollough's entire battalion. Two dozen highly visible outposts were established. The battalion would not become a "garrison force" bottled up in a large base behind barbed wire -- an early U.S. mistake in Iraq.

"The goal was that every resident in this district would see a Marine within just a few days of us arriving," McCollough said.

With a semblance of safety assured, a "civilian surge" began: U.S. and British government workers who, in tandem with Marine civil affairs officers, met with Afghans to determine a list of priority projects.

"The No. 1 thing was security," McCollough said. "After security, four things came up in talks with the Afghans: roads, clinics, schools, canals. How can you argue with that? That's what America represents to the world."

Iraq was different

In the last of his two tours in Iraq, McCollough was based in Fallouja, assigned to work as a liaison between the Sunni Arab tribes in then-restive Anbar province and the provincial and national governments.

In Iraq, sheiks could speak for entire tribes. They were businessmen -- in construction, mostly -- and when they decided that the insurgency was bad for business, they switched to the U.S. side.

Afghanistan is more splintered; even the smallest village has multiple elders with equal authority. In rural areas, they tend to be farmers with little exposure to the outside world, unlike the Sunni sheiks in Iraq, some of whom had investments in Europe and watched the U.S. stock market closely.

On the other hand, Afghan needs are more basic than those in Iraq, McCollough said, and there is not the same level of suspicion of U.S. motives, although there is concern that the U.S. will soon reduce its efforts as it did after toppling the Taliban in 2001.

"They're at the needs stage here, " McCollough said. "In Iraq, they wanted larger things. Sometimes I thought they all wanted to live in San Diego."

No military operation is a one-man show, but it is also true that a military unit often takes on the tenor and values of its leaders. McCollough, a rock-solid believer in the goals and efficacy of the U.S. counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan, is relentlessly optimistic and detail-oriented.

"A leader sets the tone, the pace and the agenda," said Marine Col. Gerald Fischer, commanding officer of the provincial reconstruction effort in Helmand. "Bill took advantage of the opportunities he found and created even more."

McCollough says it is important not to promise anything one cannot deliver. If he tells an elder he will investigate why a tribesman was detained as a possible Taliban, he does.

"They can sniff out a faker very quickly," he said.

As McCollough's battalion prepared to return to Camp Pendleton this month -- to be replaced by one from Hawaii -- his counterinsurgency efforts were drawing high marks from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Nawa district had begun an evident, but sometimes halting, recovery.

"He gets it," said Michael Butt, director of the small grants program for U.S.-based International Relief & Development. "He makes the Afghans partners. He doesn't dictate or kowtow."

Nawa district Gov. Haji Abdul Manaf, a combat leader during the CIA-backed fight against Soviet forces, said he was sorry to see McCollough and his troops going home.

"Col. Bill thinks like an Afghan," Manaf said. "He helped the bad people die, but he didn't hurt any of the good people."

One way that risk for civilians was reduced was limiting the use of mortars and air power during the summer assault. McChrystal has emphasized avoiding civilian casualties.

At McCollough's orders, the Marines launched foot patrols to rout the Taliban. Now the children of Nawa sing:

"When the British were here, they were afraid the Taliban were in the corn.

"Now the Taliban are afraid the Marines are in the corn."

A Minnesota boy

McCollough was not destined for a military career while growing up in Brainerd, Minn.

His father, Terry McCollough, was the owner of the Brainerd Dispatch (circulation 16,700), and the young McCollough spent his teen years working in circulation, as a janitor, stuffing inserts into the newspaper, and as a cub reporter.

Instead of his father's alma mater, Stanford, he chose Norwich University in Vermont, a private military school, where he majored in English literature. Palo Alto, he said, was too far from the woods and hunting grounds that he loved. His father has since sold the newspaper but remains as publisher.

In McCollough's notebook, crammed with details about meetings with Afghan leaders and facts and figures about drainage projects, are pictures of his wife, Caroline, a former flight attendant, and their sons, Jack, 9, and Hunter, 6.

McCollough, 40, writes and e-mails his family frequently but does not call them often. Phone calls, he said, can be disruptive, leaving family members to fret about what they should have said.

Also in his notebook are copies of the Kipling poem "If" and of an iconic Norman Rockwell illustration, the one of a New Englander standing up at a town meeting, expressing his views, free of fear.

"That reminds me of the kind of thing we want for these people," McCollough said.

A lean 5 foot 8, and with a youthful appearance, he does not have the overpowering command presence of some Marine leaders. And his language is relatively free of curse words.

The enlisted Marines refer to him, behind his back, as "the Jedi," a reference to his ability to stay calm even amid chaos and danger, such as the early fighting.

Capt. Frank "Gus" Biggio, a Washington lawyer and reservist who has headed the civil affairs unit for the One-Five, said McCollough can take complex subjects, such as counterinsurgency, and describe them in easily understood concepts.

McCollough rarely raises his voice, which has a reedy tone. His icy stare, however, can bring a subordinate to attention.

One thing in particular annoys him: the suggestion that Afghanistan is too poor and too rooted in the past to be helped.

"We're not dragging them kicking and screaming anywhere," he said. "We're working with them to make this place secure and stable so that Taliban or people like them stop terrorizing the people."

Taking action

By noon the day after the killings, McCollough had contacted the district governor and urged him to have the national police send investigators to Nawa as soon as possible.

He also assigned a staff sergeant to meet daily with the investigators in order to share intelligence.

In the end, no arrests were made, but McCollough was pleased that the Afghan investigators uncovered information indicating the names of the suspected killers, information that confirmed intelligence gathered by the Marines.

The killers, McCollough was convinced, were hiding in Marja, a Taliban area that Marines and Afghan soldiers plan to assault soon. If he had a disappointment about his tour in Nawa it was that he was returning home before the planned assault.

"That's where the bastards that killed Swanson are," he said, a reference to Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson, the last of four Marines from the One-Five killed during the deployment.

The district governor spoke on the radio -- radios are being distributed by the Marines -- in support of the wheat seed and fertilizer program. Distribution continued, without apparent disruption by the rumors.

"If all of us band together," McCollough told the Afghans, "this will be the best place in Afghanistan."


Video: Bomber Invited onto US Base? CBS

Hole in the moon could shelter colonists

The moon may not be made of Swiss cheese, but it appears to have at least one deep hole, a vertical skylight that could serve as a protective lunar base for future astronauts.

"We discovered a vertical hole on the moon," an international team of scientists recently announced.

The gaping, dark pit on the near side of the moon is as big as a city block and deep as a modest skyscraper. It is thought to be a collapsed lava tube, created perhaps billions of years ago when the moon was warmer and volcanically active. The moon, overall, is more than 4 billion years old.

The discovery, detailed in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in October, was made using data from the moon-orbiting Japanese SELENE spacecraft. It was not widely reported at the time, and the journal announced it today. The work was led by Junichi Haruyama of the Japanese Space Agency JAXA.

Safe haven?
Recent discoveries of water and water ice on the moon hold promise that astronauts could journey back and stay for longer periods, perhaps even establish lunar colonies. But a remaining hurdle to setting up a permanent moon base is devising shelter to shield colonists from radiation and meteor strikes that befall the gray world, which has no protective atmosphere or magnetosphere.

"Because lava tubes are sheltered from the harsh environment on the moon's surface, such tubes could one day be useful for lunar bases," the scientists said in a statement.

Similar Mars caves have found and also envisioned as potential shelters, should humans desire to return to a sort of modernized cave man existence.

Deep and wide
The hole is nearly circular, about 213 feet (65 meters) across with a depth of 262 to 289 feet (80-88 meters). Here's how scientists think it was created:

Flowing lava long ago left a tunnel with a roof of somewhat fragile, cooled lava, which later collapsed. The hole is in the Marius Hills region, an area known to have been volcanic.

"Lava tubes, underground cave-like channels through which lava once flowed, are commonly found on Earth," the researchers point out. Scientists have long debated whether the moon might have such caves, but no firm evidence had been found until now.


Or an alien space station..

Rocket Launcher Found In Apartment

HOUSTON -- Police went to a southwest Houston apartment to break up a disturbance but ended up finding something else, KPRC Local 2 reported Wednesday.

A woman called police on Monday and said a man was forcing his way into her apartment in the 5300 block of Elm Street.

When officers went inside, they found something that made them concerned enough to call the bomb squad.

They found an AT-4 shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. It can shoot a missile nearly 1,000 feet through buildings and tanks.

"It gives infantrymen the advantage with an ultra-light weapon that can stop vehicles, armored vehicles as well as main battle tanks and fortifications," said Oscar Saldivar of Top Brass Military and Tactical on the North Freeway.

That type of rocket launcher has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The renter of the apartment didn't want to talk to KPRC Local 2.

"This is my house," the woman said. " Get away from here. I don't want to talk to nobody."

The woman did tell police that the rocket launcher belonged to Nabilaye I. Yansane, someone whom she allowed to store items at her apartment.

Police records show that she didn't want Yansane at her apartment, so she called them.

According to court documents, officers also found Jihadist writings that allegedly belonged to Yansane. The woman didn't want to talk to KPRC Local 2 about that, either.

"I don't know," she said. "You'll have to ask the police."

Yansane was charged with criminal trespassing and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to three days in jail, which he has already served. No charges related to the rocket launcher or writings were filed.

"Other people could have had access to the apartment, so maybe if a rocket launcher was located there, as is stated in the offense report, maybe it belonged to somebody else," attorney Garl Polland said.

Prosecutors said there are no state charges for having the unarmed launcher or possessing Jihadist writings, unless they contain some type of threat.

The former director of Houston's FBI office said rocket launchers can be dangerous if they're in the wrong hands.

"I don't know any other use for those weapons except in combat," Don Clark said. "I've had them in combat, used them in combat. That's what they are used for."

Houston police said they did a thorough investigation and did not find any ties to terrorists or a terrorist network.

Click 2 Houston

And here we thought everyone would love America once we elected O as President.

Thanks CI-Roller Dude for the info

Heads set to roll as Obama goes on attack over security failures that allowed Christmas Day bomber on to plane

Heads are set to roll in the U.S. intelligence community as an angry Barack Obama fends off criticism over the attempted bombing of a passenger plane on Christmas Day.

Publicly the White House is standing by the top spymaster in the U.S., intelligence chief Admiral Dennis Blair.

The four-star admiral, who is responsible for coordinating intelligence gathering between 16 agencies, has the full confidence of the president, aides are insisting.

But speculation was rife that Blair or Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano could be forced to resign after Mr Obama said on Tuesday there had been a systemic failure by the country's security agencies to prevent the botched Christmas Day attack.

Napolitano has been lambasted by Republican critics, and in the media, for initially saying the air security system worked. She quickly back-pedalled, claiming she had meant the system of beefing up measures worked after the incident had occurred.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Napolitano had the president's support, and Obama referred to her in his public comments on Tuesday, supporting her statement that correct actions were taken after the attempted attack.

But Kurt Volker, a former CIA analyst and until recently U.S. ambassador to Nato, said Blair and Napolitano were facing the traditional Washington blame game.

'That's politics. It's the way politics goes, that you look for whom you can blame so you can say, 'if my party had been elected instead of yours, things would have been better,'' said Volker, now at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

A senior aide said Obama would seek accountability at the highest levels for the failure, a remark some observers took to mean that heads would roll.

Obama, a Democrat, is under pressure from Republicans, who fault his administration for not preventing the attack and the president for keeping silent about it for three days while on vacation in Hawaii.

Republicans portrayed Obama as weak on national security even as he campaigned for last year's presidential election, and have sought to push that point before mid-term elections in November, when they will challenge the Democrats' control of both houses of the U.S. Congress.

'The terrorist plot to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 exposed a near-catastrophic failure at every level of our government,' the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said in a statement.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who staked out a position as a leading security hawk under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks and is a vocal critic of Obama's national security policies, also weighed in.

He told Politico news website: 'As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war.

'He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war.'

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said it was 'telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the administration than condemning the attackers.

'Unfortunately, too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers and making political hay, instead of working together to find solutions to make our country safer,' he said in a blog posted on

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, is charged with smuggling explosives on board and attempting to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam with almost 300 people on board.

In candid criticism of the failures that could have led to disaster, Obama said U.S. security agencies had failed to piece together bits of information to prevent Abdulmutallab from boarding the flight with explosives.

As director of national intelligence, it is Blair's job to connect the dots. The position was created by Congress in an effort to correct the intelligence failures blamed in part for the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks on the United States eight years ago.

Writing in the Washington Post on Dec. 18, Blair said, 'Our nation is becoming safer every day because we are aware that information increases in power only when it is shared. But, he acknowledged ongoing problems "in our technologies, business practices and mind-sets.'

Blair said on Tuesday that while the intelligence community had dramatically improved information sharing since Sept. 11, 'it is clear that gaps remain and they must be fixed.'

Obama has ordered a review of information sharing procedures and he is due to receive a preliminary report on Thursday. Gibbs said he was uncertain whether the findings would be made public.


Mayo Clinic in Arizona to Stop Treating Some Medicare Patients

Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little.

More than 3,000 patients eligible for Medicare, the government’s largest health-insurance program, will be forced to pay cash if they want to continue seeing their doctors at a Mayo family clinic in Glendale, northwest of Phoenix, said Michael Yardley, a Mayo spokesman. The decision, which Yardley called a two-year pilot project, won’t affect other Mayo facilities in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.

Obama in June cited the nonprofit Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for offering “the highest quality care at costs well below the national norm.” Mayo’s move to drop Medicare patients may be copied by family doctors, some of whom have stopped accepting new patients from the program, said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, in a telephone interview yesterday.

“Many physicians have said, ‘I simply cannot afford to keep taking care of Medicare patients,’” said Heim, a family doctor who practices in Laurinburg, North Carolina. “If you truly know your business costs and you are losing money, it doesn’t make sense to do more of it.”

Medicare Loss

The Mayo organization had 3,700 staff physicians and scientists and treated 526,000 patients in 2008. It lost $840 million last year on Medicare, the government’s health program for the disabled and those 65 and older, Mayo spokeswoman Lynn Closway said.

Mayo’s hospital and four clinics in Arizona, including the Glendale facility, lost $120 million on Medicare patients last year, Yardley said. The program’s payments cover about 50 percent of the cost of treating elderly primary-care patients at the Glendale clinic, he said.

“We firmly believe that Medicare needs to be reformed,” Yardley said in a Dec. 23 e-mail. “It has been true for many years that Medicare payments no longer reflect the increasing cost of providing services for patients.”

Mayo will assess the financial effect of the decision in Glendale to drop Medicare patients “to see if it could have implications beyond Arizona,” he said.

Nationwide, doctors made about 20 percent less for treating Medicare patients than they did caring for privately insured patients in 2007, a payment gap that has remained stable during the last decade, according to a March report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a panel that advises Congress on Medicare issues. Congress last week postponed for two months a 21.5 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors.

National Participation

Medicare covered an estimated 45 million Americans at the end of 2008, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency in charge of the programs. While 92 percent of U.S. family doctors participate in Medicare, only 73 percent of those are accepting new patients under the program, said Heim of the national physicians’ group, citing surveys by the Leawood, Kansas-based organization.

Greater access to primary care is a goal of the broad overhaul supported by Obama that would provide health insurance to about 31 million more Americans. More family doctors are needed to help reduce medical costs by encouraging prevention and early treatment, Obama said in a June 15 speech to the American Medical Association meeting in Chicago.

Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman for health care, declined comment on Mayo’s decision to drop Medicare primary care patients at its Glendale clinic.

Medicare Costs

Mayo’s Medicare losses in Arizona may be worse than typical for doctors across the U.S., Heim said. Physician costs vary depending on business expenses such as office rent and payroll. “It is very common that we hear that Medicare is below costs or barely covering costs,” Heim said.

Mayo will continue to accept Medicare as payment for laboratory services and specialist care such as cardiology and neurology, Yardley said.

Robert Berenson, a fellow at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center in Washington, D.C., said physicians’ claims of inadequate reimbursement are overstated. Rather, the program faces a lack of medical providers because not enough new doctors are becoming family doctors, internists and pediatricians who oversee patients’ primary care.

“Some primary care doctors don’t have to see Medicare patients because there is an unlimited demand for their services,” Berenson said. When patients with private insurance can be treated at 50 percent to 100 percent higher fees, “then Medicare does indeed look like a poor payer,” he said.

Annual Costs

A Medicare patient who chooses to stay at Mayo’s Glendale clinic will pay about $1,500 a year for an annual physical and three other doctor visits, according to an October letter from the facility. Each patient also will be assessed a $250 annual administrative fee, according to the letter. Medicare patients at the Glendale clinic won’t be allowed to switch to a primary care doctor at another Mayo facility.

A few hundred of the clinic’s Medicare patients have decided to pay cash to continue seeing their primary care doctors, Yardley said. Mayo is helping other patients find new physicians who will accept Medicare.

“We’ve had many patients call us and express their unhappiness,” he said. “It’s not been a pleasant experience.”

Mayo’s decision may herald similar moves by other Phoenix- area doctors who cite inadequate Medicare fees as a reason to curtail treatment of the elderly, said John Rivers, chief executive of the Phoenix-based Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“We’ve got doctors who are saying we are not going to deal with Medicare patients in the hospital” because they consider the fees too low, Rivers said. “Or they are saying we are not going to take new ones in our practice.”


"Have Medicare, will work for health care!"

Dissident, 82, detained at Moscow rally

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Police detained dozens of anti-Kremlin activists, including an 82-year-old Soviet dissident dressed as Santa Claus' female helper, at a New Year's Eve rally on Moscow's main shopping street Thursday.

Hundreds of riot police surrounded a Christmas tree in the centre of the city and arrested the opposition activists as they gathered to defend their right to peaceful protest.

A man dressed as Father Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, was dragged through the snow to a waiting bus. Soviet-era dissident and rally organiser Lyudmila Alexeyeva, dressed as Snegurochka, Father Frost's female assistant in Russian fairytales, was escorted to a bus by riot police.

"I don't know why I was detained... How could I possibly offer any resistance to anyone?" she said, quoted by Echo Moskvy radio, which reported that between 30 and 50 people had been detained.

A coalition of opposition groups organised the December 31 rally to defend their right to protest, as enshrined under Article 31 of the Russian constitution. Unsanctioned rallies are one of the few outlets for Russia's weak and fragmented opposition.

"Down with Putinism, Freedom to Russia," one protester shouted from the window of a bus being driven to a local police station, a reference to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The opposition say Putin was the architect of a major clampdown on civil liberties in Russia during his presidency from 2000-2008.

Activists shouted "shame" as police detained several elderly people.

Moscow City Hall denied permission to hold the protest on the grounds that it clashed with a rally by pro-Kremlin activists, who danced to holiday music as police made their arrests.

Pro-Kremlin group Young Russia said in a press release that 70 of their activists had rallied against the opposition, whom they accuse of receiving funding from the West.

"Bad Santa arrived from abroad to steal our holiday," the statement said.

According to local tradition, Father Frost gives presents to children on New Year's Eve, Russia's main winter holiday.


War Is Boring’s Newest Contributor: Kim Jong Il

"David Axe here. War Is Boring is excited beyond words to bring you our latest contributor, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il of North Korea. We hope you enjoy the Dear Leader’s wit, wisdom and insight. Please hang on every precious word. Please, do it for my Korean family."
War is Boring

I think this is a joke, but with Axe you never know.

Dealing With Terrorists?

"The word here is the release of the British hostage is all about the U.S. making deals with terrorists. British contractor Peter Moore was just released by his terrorist captors after two years. He is thankfully said to be doing well. The release is believed to be in exchange for the release of Qais al Khazaali by the U.S. forces. According to rumour here, it is all linked to the U.S. hikers held in Iran. In other words, Moore was kidnapped by Iran-backed thugs. Iran wanted the young radical religious leader Khazaali to be released in exchange for the U.S. hikers. The British hostage was just a bonus. I have no idea whether any of this is true, I'm just telling you what's being said here. Iran is grooming some young radical imams to take over once Sistani passes on. If the hikers are released soon, then we'll know that at least some of the rumours are accurate. As for the plans Iran has for the young radicals, we can be sure they are real."

I still find it hard to believe O could be this stupid

Terrorism must be tackled ideologically

"The director of Al Arabiya is correct: We 'Need to Wage War Against Extremist Websites'

'Who Turned Abdulmutallab into a Terrorist?

"Less than a day after the failed attempt to bomb a plane that was flying over the U.S. city of Detroit, a different kind of hunt began – the hunt for the person who instructed Omar Abdulmutallab [to carry out the operation], the person who turned Abdulmutallab into a terrorist. Omar Abdulmutallab is a Nigerian man who left Nigeria young and innocent and left London a prepared terrorist.

"Attention turned towards the Yemeni Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki, once again, who believes that he is the Sheikh of the new terrorists. It was this same Sheikh who instructed Major Nidal Hasan, an American of Arab origin, to commit the Fort Hood killings.""
Iraqi Mojo

The prove that Jesus Christ was not Crucified

"...Second: JC is a prophet and he was himself a Muslim and asked his followers to follow Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and be Muslims. Most important is that God got no son what so ever. The danger of saying that (God has be-gotten) a son is serious mistake and Allah will punish it heavily. So be ware!"

Poor sam has gone mad

US judge dismisses charges in Blackwater Iraq killings

A US federal judge has dismissed all charges against five guards from US security firm Blackwater over the killing of 17 Iraqis in 2007.

The five, contracted to defend US diplomatic personnel, were accused of opening fire on a crowd in Baghdad.

District Judge Ricardo Urbina said the US justice department had used evidence prosecutors were not supposed to have.

The five had all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. A sixth guard admitted killing at least one Iraqi.

The killings, which took place in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, strained Iraq's relationship with the US and raised questions about US contractors operating in war zones.

Lawyers for the five guards say they were acting in self-defence, but witnesses and family members of those killed maintain that the shooting on 16 September 2007 was unprovoked.

Plea deal

The disputed evidence concerned statements the guards gave to state department investigators, which they were told would not be used to bring a criminal case.

This limited immunity deal meant that prosecutors should have built their case against the men without using the statements.

But Judge Urbina said prosecutors had failed to do so, and that the US government's explanation for this was "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility".

Justice department spokesman Dean Boyd told the Associated Press news agency: "We're obviously disappointed by the decision. We're still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options."

The five guards were Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough - all of whom are decorated military veterans.

As well as the 14 counts of manslaughter, they had faced 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.

Their lawyers said the men were thrilled by the ruling.

"It's tremendously gratifying to see the court allow us to celebrate the new year the way it has," said Bill Coffield, who represents Mr Liberty. "It really invigorates your belief in our court system."

Donald Ball's lawyer, Steven McCool, said it felt like the "weight of the world" had been lifted from his client's shoulders.

"Here's a guy that's a decorated war hero who we maintain should never have been charged in the first place," he said.

A sixth Blackwater employee, Jeremy Ridgeway, had agreed to a plea deal in return for testifying against his colleagues.


CIA agents killed in Afghanistan were in Taliban's backyard

Two separate attacks in Afghanistan Wednesday that killed seven CIA agents and five Canadians – including the first Canadian journalist killed in the war – offer crucial clues about the geography of the conflict that the US and its allies are fighting.

The location of the two attacks is a guideline for where the fighting could be the toughest during the remaining 18 months of the Afghan surge. Khost and Kandahar – along with the opium capital of Helmand – promise to be perhaps the most difficult areas to pacify.
As the homelands for Afghanistan’s two most capable insurgent groups – the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura – Khost and Kandahar are, in many ways, the cardinal points from which the will of the Afghan insurgency radiates.

The seven CIA agents were killed in US outpost near Khost, an eastern border town. Khost is linked to perhaps the single most capable militant pitted against the US: Jalaluddin Haqqani.

The Haqqani network established by Jalaluddin and now run by his son, Sirajuddin, is allied with the Afghan Taliban as well as Al Qaeda and has been responsible for some of the more daring attacks against the Afghan government and foreigners. Its operatives are alleged to have bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008, attempted to assassinate President Hamid Karzai at a military parade in April of that year, and stormed the five-star Serena Hotel three months earlier.

The network also held kidnapped New York Times reporter David Rohde for several months before he escaped earlier this year.

In its way, the Wednesday attack in Khost was similarly daring. Somehow, the bomber managed to enter Forward Operating Base Chapman before detonating his bomb. The incident represents that worst one-day loss of life for the CIA since eight agents died in the Beirut Embassy bombing in 1983, The Washington Post reports.

Until Wednesday, only 90 CIA officers had been killed in the line of duty since the agency was founded in 1947, The New York Times adds.

The secrecy surrounding the CIA means that details on the attack are scarce, and no explanation has yet been offered as to how a suicide bomber was able to enter a heavily armed compound without detection.

But Khost is in the Haqqani network’s backyard. The terrorist group is known to operate out of North Waziristan, which is directly across the border in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. If the US surge makes advances in the Afghan east, the strongest resistance is likely to center around Khost and its two neighboring provinces, Paktia and Paktika.

The same holds true in the south, where Kandahar is the Taliban heartland and the former home of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Intelligence suggests that Omar is perched across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, and his Quetta Shura (council) is the single greatest threat to US forces in Afghanistan, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan.

The Quetta Shura’s goal is to liberate Kandahar, he said in his battlefield assessment.

It is in Kandahar that the four Canadian soldiers and one journalist were killed Wednesday.


Neither wars nor drones

A young Nigerian from an affluent family, trained in Yemen and reportedly influenced by extremists in the United Kingdom, tried to blow a hole in a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day and failed.

Instead, he blew a greater hole in the logic of the US Global War On Terror - GWOT.

If he succeeded, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would have cost the lives 300 innocent people and bruised Western economic recovery.

But even though he failed, his journey demonstrated that there is nothing "central" about the ''central front in the war on terror". Nor is it a war in any traditional military sense.

Although the Obama administration inherited the war strategy from its predecessor and has tried to distance itself from the Bush administration's GWOT, it has faced the same dilemma of how to go about preventing a repeat of 9/11.

Thus far the one-year-old administration has tried to be more nuanced, more selective and less rash than its predecessor's disastrous policies.

But it has offered no real alternatives.

'Fighting the terrorists'

The US has long adopted two paths: A Pentagon-led war through overwhelming use of military force, occupation and counterinsurgency and a CIA-managed secret campaign of spying, harsh interrogation, assassinations, and extraordinary rendition.

In terms of war, the Bush administration considered Afghanistan as the "central war on terror" and went to war in 2001, but soon "forgot" it in favour of the more ambitious but disastrous war against Iraq - the manufactured front of the GWOT.

The Obama administration has been redeploying out of what Obama termed the "stupid" war in Iraq to the fighting in Afghanistan. It then proceeded to escalate and expand it to Pakistan as another indispensable front (Afpak) for winning the GWOT.

But over the last several months, Yemen has emerged as the latest front. Reportedly, the US air force has participated in the bombardment of several locations in Yemen and spent tens of millions of dollars.

But since the Nigerian man was apparently trained in Yemeni camps that are less threatened than Afghanistan, one can expect this war front to be expanded sooner rather than later.

Waging another war in or through Yemen could prove, as in Afghanistan, untenable as the country could descend into chaos.

With war against the Houthis in the north, tensions with the secessionists in the south, and the regime's tenuous hold on power, Yemen could implode.

Intelligence & prevention

The Nigerian's journey of radicalisation via London and Yemen has exposed intelligence failure on the part of Western agencies, considering that his father had blown the whistle on him several months ago.

President Obama admitted as much, and US experts made clear that the 9/11 commission's main recommendations are yet to be implemented. Not mentioned is the failure of US wars to prevent attacks.

But more security and screening at airports that have been proposed over the last few days, are hardly the answer. As most experts would tell you, serious prevention starts before suicide bombers get to the airports. It starts with good intelligence.

To its credit, the Obama administration realised that extracting information under torture is not helpful, but rather counterproductive, and banned it. It also signed into law the closure of Guantanamo prison.

But there is no proof that it stopped its rendition programmes. Worse, targeted killings or assassinations continued unabated. They even increased, according to some reports, using drones and other unsavoury methods that inflict terrible losses on innocent lives, the so-called collateral damage.

Zero-sum game

What is obvious to many but unclear to both the Obama administration and its predecessor, is that the Pentagon's wars and Western intelligence operations are not complementing one another as part of comprehensive policy.

Rather, they are part of a zero-sum approach to preventing another attack in the US.

In other words, wars are bad for preventive intelligence operations. They also consume the lion's share of the security budget of the US.

Intelligence gathering has helped prevent major attacks and led to the arrest of many suspects.

But the overt wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the covert wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen are mostly inflaming anger and providing new recruits for al-Qaeda and its mutations, making intelligence gathering and "terror prevention" ever more impossible.

In the long run, these war zones would become the fertile ground for extremism and bases for anti-Western operations. They also incite mostly young people across borders to take up the fight against those they perceive as new Crusaders.

In the GWOT, wars have come with terribly high cost and low yield, while prevention, with all its shortcomings, has brought better results at far lower costs.

Wars, classic or covert, undermine serious political settlements or solutions to problems, whether intra-national or inter-regional.

And neither wars or drones are right to tackle the problem of "terrorism".

Unless the Obama administration recognises that "counterterrorism" is first and foremost political and not military, it will repeat more of its predecessor's crimes and mistakes.

To be continued ...

Al Jazeera

Poor O taking it from all sides.

All he needs to do is submit to the will and all will be alright

Experts: Obama faces no easy decisions with Yemen

Washington -- President Barack Obama faces no easy decisions when weighing how to fight al-Qaida in Yemen, experts say.

"It's not just, 'let's go get these guys.' If we could have just gone and gotten them, we would have done that," James Carafano, a counterterrorism expert at the Heritage Foundation, said.

"You have to have good intelligence. You have to worry about collateral damage. You have to worry about the safety of (U.S.) personnel. ... And then you have to worry about what's the opportunity to collect intelligence and take prisoners for interrogation. All those things have to align before you decide what you are going to do and when," he added.

Some options bandied about by experts include air strikes, covert operations and bolstering the military might of Yemen to root out terrorists. The debate comes follows the Yemen-based branch of al-Qaida's claims this week that it aided attempted bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, of Nigeria. He is in a federal prison in Milan, accusing of trying to detonate powerful chemical explosives hidden in his pants as Flight 253 was about to land in Detroit.Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, says Obama should coordinate with Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh on a response.

The former member of the House Armed Services Committee said she also thinks more money should be given to Yemen, but worries that the Yemen president's political problem complicate monetary assistance.

"Whatever is done needs to be a (U.S.-Yemen) coordinated approach," said Miller. "You don't want to limit what those resources are. But you have to be certain if we send in a lot more money or additional armaments that it is being used to combat terrorism. ... If they think they have (an) airstrike where they can hit al-Qaida, then hit them and hit them hard."

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, urges Obama to treat future suspected terrorists in similar incidents as enemy combatants who can be interrogated.

"One of the things he has to do is stop this trend of making our efforts on terrorism a law enforcement issue," said Rogers, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

"When the first thing you do to a guy like that (the Flight 253 suspect) is to read them their Miranda rights that you have the right to remain silent, you clearly are going to lose valuable information. And the key to an incident like that is time. Because as much information as you can get as soon as you can get it allows the United States government to disrupt other events.

"There may be 25 more just like him. He clearly ran into them, saw them, was around them at training. And every tiny detail he can give us means something," added Rogers, a former FBI agent.

Miller on Wednesday announced she's introducing legislation that will clarify federal law so that the president has authority to treat all terrorists as enemy combatants.

"Abdulmutallab's actions were a terrorist act and not a criminal act," Miller said. "He committed an act of war. Instead of being treated as a common criminal, this individual should have been given over to the military so they could have interrogated him with the most aggressive interrogation methods this administration would condone.

"... I believe the President has the authority to treat terrorists as enemy combatants and hand them over to the military. This legislation will clarify without a doubt that authority and will give our country the essential tools we need to deal with terrorists who commit acts within our borders," said Miller.

Miller said the president has authority to detain enemy combatants captured on the battlefield, but that Congress needs to clarify that authority includes suspects captured on U.S. soil, who would be tried before military tribunals.

"This conflict is global in nature -- we need to ensure that individuals who wish to cause harm and destruction within the U.S. are caught and held as enemy combatants, so they can be tried in a proper military commission," Miller said.


Yemen: Al Qaeda 'most dangerous' arrested

(CNN) -- A man described as "one of al Qaeda's most dangerous members" was arrested in Yemen, the Yemeni military, an embassy official and state-run news agency Saba said.

Mohammed Abdu Saleh al-Haudali, 35, is "one of the most dangerous terrorists wanted by the security forces," according to a Yemeni military Web site, citing a security source.

Al-Haudali was arrested Wednesday in the village of Deer Jaber in the Bajel district, northeast of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, said Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Yemen Embassy in Washington.

Al-Haudali exchanged fire with security forces before his arrest, Saba reported, citing Hodeidah province security officer Abdul-Wahab al-Radhi. However, the Yemeni military site quoted the security source as saying al-Haudali was caught when he attempted to open fire on authorities.

In addition, Albasha told CNN, Mohammed Ali Al-Henk, "a wanted al Qaeda operative," was captured in the Arhab district north of Sanaa.

Yemeni air forces have raided al Qaeda hideouts in Sanaa along with Abyan and Shabwa governorates, killing dozens of al Qaeda suspects, Saba reported. It did not say when the raids took place.

Following the raids, the Interior Ministry told its offices to raise security alerts and tighten defense procedures nationwide in anticipation of operations, Saba said.

The arrests come after a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to detonate an explosive device on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, December 25. Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.

Suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab spent time in Yemen, sources have said. His father, Umaru AbdulMutallab, contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria several weeks ago to report his son had "become radicalized," and had gone to Yemen to participate in "some kind of jihad," a family source said.

A federal security bulletin obtained by CNN says the explosives used in the incident were obtained in Yemen.

A U.S. government official said that between August and October, extremists in Yemen were discussing operations and mentioned a person called "the Nigerian." The source said that U.S. intelligence officials also had a partial name for the person: Umar Farouk.


Iran’s tottering regime is fighting for its very life

The popular movement in Iran is rapidly transforming from protest into uprising. Since the death of its spiritual mentor, Grand Ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri, there have been the most intense and violent confrontations yet with the Iranian security forces. The question is whether it will become a revolution; and if so, when.

Judging from the slogans – Marg bar dictator (Death to the dictator), once a rarity, is now heard as often as Allah-u-Akbar, a rallying cry intended to deny religious legitimacy to the regime – and the unrelenting mobilisation of the Green movement, the tipping point may not be far away.

Many observers expected the movement, a disparate mix of opposition groups that has taken to the streets since the fraudulent presidential elections of June 12, to lose momentum after the initial protests. Repression, intimidation and disorganisation would lead to resignation among the movement’s followers. Some argued that because it was bourgeois (for which read illegitimate and superficial) and apparently confined to urban areas, it did not reflect any genuine popular desire to shake the system. In fact, the protesters were the ones rejecting the democratic return of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency.

The opposition’s leaders – under constant surveillance, cut off from their base and with no plan (or intention) to overturn the system put in place by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – could be punished, perhaps even lured back. The regime could count on Iran’s rural poor, who had benefited from the largesse of Mr Ahmadinejad’s populist policies, and on the republic’s committed security apparatus.

That expectation and these assumptions have proved wrong: the depth of discontent with the nature and workings of the regime clearly cuts across social and regional divides. It may seem to be on a roll in the Middle East, boasting of regional political successes against the US and technological prowess in its nuclear programme, but there is something rotten at the heart of the Islamic Republic.

The demonstrations have now spread to the entire country, and anger at the security forces has overcome fear. Poor, it turns out, does not mean blind or stupid. The underprivileged can see that their lot has not improved during the Ahmadinejad years, and that cash handouts are a stopgap measure that cannot compensate for the corruption and mismanagement that plague Iran’s economy.

Extraordinary reporting and footage on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the main means of communication with the outside world, are evidence of that. A few days ago a crowd attacked Bassiji militiamen and released two men from the gallows. Demonstrators overwhelmed policemen, and then proceeded to protect them.

Faced with a potential loss of legitimacy, the regime could resort only to force. In recent weeks, the reaction has ranged from the petty (stripping the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani of some of his titles and seizing the Nobel medal from Shirin Ebadi) to the criminal (the murder of the opposition leader Mir Hosein Mousavi’s nephew, the killing of a young doctor who refused to whitewash the evidence of a prisoner’s death). In addition, the regime has intimidated Iranians abroad, allowed torture and rape in prisons and ordered thugs to destroy the offices of senior dissident clerics such Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei.

This behaviour is an indication more of desperation than of confidence. With little popular or religious support, the leadership finds itself at the mercy of its security apparatus. There is a significant consensus among Iran-watchers that the management of the crisis is now solely the responsibility of the Revolutionary Guard force, which has the most to lose from political upheaval. The commanders of the Bassiji and Pasdaran forces have issued the starkest warnings, deliberately conflating opposition protests and foreign pressure.

These are signs that the regime can escalate its response in coming days, from declaring martial law and intensifying repression to jailing the opposition’s principal leaders – Mir Hosein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami. Yesterday, pro-regime demonstrators in Isfahan and Hamdan even demanded their execution for treason.

Not everyone in decision-making circles would welcome such aggravation. There are many conservative politicians, still loyal to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who question the merits of supporting Mr Ahmadinejad at any cost and are concerned by the militarisation of the regime. The loyalty of the security forces, especially the police and the regular military, cannot be assumed. And the memory of the fall of the Shah in 1979 is never too far away.

Just as the international community has no business encouraging or provoking regime change in Iran, it should now refrain from unwittingly extending a lifeline to a government under duress. If the Islamic Revolution falls, it should be under the weight of its own contradictions and failures.

Fixated on the threat of Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions, Washington is having a hard time navigating Iranian politics. Barack Obama finally spoke on Monday of Iran’s iron fist. In fact, the US can undercut the opposition by doing too much to engage Tehran; with, for example, the ill-advised idea of sending Senator John Kerry on a mission there.

The best gift for Tehran would be the perception that the world is indifferent to its internal convulsions and the promise of the Green movement, but ratcheting up the pressure could achieve the same negative result. The opposition itself is calling for targeted sanctions that would focus on the security structure, and for diplomacy that would prioritise human rights over security issues. It may achieve the former, but not the latter as long as the opposition does not define what the broad tenets of its foreign policy would be if it came to power.

And that, of course, is expecting far too much from a movement that as yet has no political platform on either domestic or foreign matters.

Al Arabiya

Damn, that Iranian influence in Iraq has turned into a real bitch.

Half of UK’s new armoured vehicles in Afghanistan out of service

More than half of the new armoured vehicles sent to Afghanistan are out of service, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

Only 134 of the 271 Mastiffs, the heaviest and most protective of the Army’s armoured vehicles in Afghanistan, are “fit for purpose”, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The same poor service history is also affecting the new Ridgeback vehicles which are being used for the first time by 11 Light Brigade in Afghanistan. In written Commons answers, the Liberal Democrats were told that nearly 40 per cent of Ridgebacks were not operational at present.

The Mastiff and Ridgeback are examples of the new type of heavily armoured, mine-resistant, wheeled patrol vehicles used by the Army on operations in Afghanistan

They provide much greater protection to personnel than the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover which has proved so vulnerable to roadside bombs.

Willie Rennie, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “These worrying figures undermine Labour’s claim that our troops have the armoured vehicles they need.

“The Government says more Mastiffs and Ridgebacks are protecting our troops from roadside bombs but now we find only half of them are fit for purpose.

“We must make sure our troops have the kit they need to do their job as safely as possible. Mere promises are not enough. Gordon Brown has to deliver.”

Announcing in November that there was now enough equipment in Afghanistan to deploy extra troops, Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, said: “[There are] a lot more Mastiffs, almost double the number of Mastiffs than we had before.”

He said the better-armoured vehicles, such as the Mastiff and Ridgeback, were “now beginning to flow into theatre in considerable numbers”.

“The Mastiff is a fantastic vehicle and the fact that we’ve now got almost twice as many as we had a few months ago is a big boon to people,” Mr Ainsworth said.

An MoD spokesperson said: “Our commanders in Afghanistan have the armoured vehicles they need to conduct their tasks. Nearly three quarters of our vehicles are ready for operations, but we operate in demanding conditions and of course a minority will sometimes require repairs.

“Our forces do a great job of maintaining vehicles and getting them back on the frontline as quickly as possible."

The MoD has spent £1.3 billion on armoured vehicles over the past three years.


Kristol: Obama Can Still Designate Abdulmutallab An Enemy Combatant

Unable to defend themselves on the merits, the administration and Democratic leaders are trying to change the topic to blaming Bush and Republicans. This is pathetic.

First of all, Obama is president. He has been for almost a year. Whatever mistakes Bush did or didn’t make, Obama is in charge -- and the issue isn’t partisan score-settling, it’s whether the system he is in charge of is working. It isn’t.

One reason the system isn’t is some of the people he put in charge -- Janet Napolitano and Dennis Blair come to mind. Another reason is certain concrete policy choices they’ve made -- e.g., embracing a law enforcement approach and, without even weighing the choice, immediately choosing to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect, not an enemy combatant.

But, a knowledgeable friend with national security experience e-mails, a deeper reason may be this:
Obama fundamentally altered the culture and risk-taking incentives of the intelligence community with policy and personnel changes. The sense of urgency is gone, and he's made it uncool to call the war on terror a war at all. If he wants to treat terrorism like a criminal act, rather than an act of war, we should not be surprised when the results look a lot like the bureaucratic foul-ups that happen all the time in law enforcement. He gutted the Homeland Security Council coordinating role, he diluted the focus of the daily intel brief, he made CIA officials worry more about being prosecuted for doing their jobs than capturing terrorists. He's so worried about the political consequences to his administration of a terrorist attack on our home soil that he denies the obvious -- that Major Hasan is a jihadist terrorist -- and he wants to shut down GITMO and bring terrorists here. He's made it his business to turn much of the national security apparatus set up by Bush and Cheney upside down and has succeeded....

On the comparisons to how the shoe bomber was treated, it's important to note that the shoe bomber was arrested in December 2001. President Bush's order authorizing detentions of enemy combatants was issued in mid-Nov 2001 and there was scant infrastructure in place or much precedent a month later to hold a terrorist in custody as an enemy combatant. Of course, by 2002 there was GTMO and the CIA program overseas, and President Bush started designating terrorists as enemy combatants, including Jose Padilla (a US citizen), al-Marri, and detainees at GTMO. Most important...I bet that if the administration had thought the shoe bomber had more information to provide under interrogation, President Bush would not have hesitated to order the Justice Dept to have the criminal charges dismissed and designate him as an enemy combatant. Will Obama take that step if his investigators tell him that's the only way to get more info from Abdulmutallab? The point is that we're eight years down the road from 9/11 and the shoe bomber, and Obama refuses to use the authority he has to get the intelligence we need.
This last question is key. In light of the reporting that Abdulmutallab has clammed up on the advice of his lawyers, will Obama now at least consider designating him an enemy combatant?


Into Thine Hand I Commit My Spirit

President Obama's Letter to CIA Employees

To the men and women of the CIA:

I write to mark a sad occasion in the history of the CIA and our country. Yesterday, seven Americans in Afghanistan gave their lives in service to their country. Michelle and I have their families, friends and colleagues in our thoughts and prayers.

These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life. The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA. You have helped us understand the world as it is, and taken great risks to protect our country. You have served in the shadows, and your sacrifices have sometimes been unknown to your fellow citizens, your friends, and even your families.

In recent years, the CIA has been tested as never before. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, you have served on the frontlines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century. Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure. Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated. Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day.

The men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan did their duty with courage, honor and excellence, and we must draw strength from the example of their sacrifice. They will take their place on the Memorial Wall at Langley alongside so many other heroes who gave their lives on behalf of their country. And they will live on in the hearts of those who loved them, and in the freedom that they gave their lives to defend.

May God bless the memory of those we lost, and may God bless the United States of America.

President Barack Obama "

It's Not Yet Friday, But It Is New Year's Eve — What Better Time to Release an Iran-Backed Terror Master Who Murdered American Troops?

I can't believe I am writing this while Iranian tyrants are brutally suppressing a revolt by the Iranian people . . . and only days after the Obama administration made a fiasco of a terrorist attack that nearly killed 289 people.

Back in the early summer, I wrote about how, even as the Iranian regime continued killing American troops, the Obama administration had engaged in shameful negotiations with an Iran-backed terror network (the League of the Righteous) in Iraq — negotiations that resulted in the release of Laith Qazali, one of the terrorists responsible for the murders of five American soldiers in Karbala, in exchange for the remains of two British hostages.

Shortly thereafter, the Obama administration released the "Irbil Five," commanders from the Iranian IRGC's elite "Quds Force" who had been captured by our military after coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds of American soldiers and Marines.

Today, New Year's Eve, while everyone's attention is understandably on family and friends, we learn (thanks to the ever alert Bill Roggio, reporting on the Standard's blog) that the administration has now released Qais Qazali, Laith's brother, who is the head of the Iran-backed terror network, in addition to a hundred other terrorists. In violation of the long-standing, commonsense policy against capitulating to kidnappers and terrorists because it just encourages more hostage-taking and murder, the terrorists were released in exchange for a British hostage and the remains of his three contract guards (whom the terrorists had murdered).

So, as the mullahs, America's incorrigible enemies, struggle to hang on, we're giving them accommodations and legitimacy. And the messages we send? Terrorize us and we'll negotiate with you. Kill American troops or kidnap civilians and win valuable concessions — including the release of an army of jihadists, and its leaders, who can now go back to targeting American troops.

As Bill elaborated in the Long War Journal: “We let a very dangerous man go, a man whose hands are stained with US and Iraqi blood,” a military officer said. “We are going to pay for this in the future.”

It is just astonishing.


Well that just sound too stupid to be true?

TSA subpoenas bloggers, demands names of sources

WASHINGTON – As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public.

Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his lap top computer. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn't cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

"It literally showed up in my box," Frischling told The Associated Press. "I do not know who it came from." He said he provided the agents a signed statement to that effect.

In a Dec. 29 posting on his blog, Elliott said he had told the TSA agents at his house that he would call his lawyer and get back to them. Elliott said late Wednesday he could not comment until the legal issues had been resolved.

The TSA declined to say how many people were subpoenaed.

The directive was dated Dec. 25 and was issued after a 23-year-old Nigerian man was charged with attempting to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam. The bomb, which allegedly was hidden in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear, malfunctioned and no one was killed. Authorities said the device included a syringe and a condom-like bag filled with powder that the FBI determined to be PETN, a common explosive.

The near-miss attack has prompted President Barack Obama to order a review of what intelligence information the government had about Abdulmutallab and why it wasn't shared with the appropriate agencies. He also ordered a review of U.S. aviation security. The government has spent billions of dollars and undergone massive reorganizations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The TSA directive outlined new screening measures that went into effect the same day as the airliner incident. It included many procedures that would be apparent to the traveling public, such as screening at boarding gates, patting down the upper legs and torso, physically inspecting all travelers' belongings, looking carefully at syringes with powders and liquids, requiring that passengers remain in their seats one hour before landing, and disabling all onboard communications systems, including what is provided by the airline.

It also listed people who would be exempted from these screening procedures such as heads of state and their families.

This is the second time in a month that the TSA has found some of its sensitive airline security documents on the Internet.


The Stazi are green with envy.

Those incompetent boobs are just trying to cover their own asses
Rush Limbaugh said to be in a Viagra induced coma.

Them hot young Hawaiian bois were just too much for his heart.

Autos: Diesels could outrun hybrids in 2010

Plug-in hybrids may generate more eco-buzz when the calendar flips, but diesels could prove more powerful in revving up the automotive economy.

Those of us who remember diesel-powered hatchbacks of the '70s as loud, dirty and troublesome may have to adjust our thinking to see them as "Green Cars." But the diesel-powered Audi A3 TDI won the title of Green Car of the Year at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, following in the tracks of Jetta TDI, another diesel from Audi's parent Volkswagen. And there are more where those came from.

In truth, diesels have become quiet, strong and clean, not to mention amazingly economical. I recently drove a diesel-powered Lancia Delta through the hills and highways of Italy's Tuscany region for a week and came away very impressed with the compact hatchback's comfort and performance. After more than 200 miles of sight-seeing, I only needed to replace a quarter of a tank of fuel before returning the Delta to the rental car agency.

Now, there's serious talk about Chrysler's new parent Fiat rebadging the Delta for the North American market. Chrysler is expected to show its version of the Delta at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Jan. 11-24. While Chrysler would no doubt introduce the gasoline-powered version first, the diesel might be coming later.

Chrysler has already blazed trails with diesel versions of its Grand Cherokee SUV and Liberty crossover SUV.

Europe's affinity for diesel is also prompting Nissan's Infiniti luxury division to introduce a V6 diesel version of the M sedan. To compete with Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and the other luxury brands in Europe, Infiniti must have a diesel, company execs have said. To turn the diesel version profitable, Infiniti needs to make it available in its largest market, North America.

And another Japanese brand, Suzuki, could gain a diesel engine through Volkswagen's nearly 20 percent stake in the company. Suzuki, which specializes in small cars like the impressive SX4, is likely to offer diesels first in India before attempting to sell the concept in the U.S.

While 50 percent of the cars in Europe are diesels, they are only likely to reach 10 percent of the U.S. market by 2015, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

Past perceptions of diesels are only part of the explanation for the lagging demand. Politics and economics are overarching factors in the marketing of the cars.

When fuel prices spiked to record levels after Operation Iraqi Freedom, diesel fuel prices surpassed those of premium unleaded, despite the fact that diesel is easier to refine. Supplies of diesel were reduced as refiners shifted their capacity to gasoline in all its myriad formulations.

Diesel fuel pumps are also more difficult to find, though they are not as rare as natural gas stations or hybrid plug-in posts.

To comply with U.S. particulate standards, most diesels have to be fitted with more expensive after-treatment equipment than what Europe requires.

Europeans demand greater fuel economy than Americans for one simple reason: Their fuel costs more. A $3 gallon of diesel fuel in the U.S. would cost $7 in Italy. While taxes account for 70 percent of the pump price in European and only 17 percent in the U.S., Europe keeps taxes lower on diesel than on gasoline. Tax incentives would go a long way toward making diesels and bio-fuel diesels a growing trend in the U.S.

To make diesels more attractive, the European carmakers are seeking to educate American buyers on how the new engines perform.

The Audi A3 TDI's 42 miles per gallon on the highway is competitive with that of a hybrid.

The 2-liter diesel 4-cylinder engine in Volkswagen's 2010 Jetta TDI (Turbo Diesel Injection) powered a Jetta to a Guinness World Record for Lowest Fuel Consumption. Production models of the TDI trim are rated at 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. While pricier than the gasoline-powered version, the TDI is attractively priced at $22,660.

VW also sold a TDI version of the Golf, which is a descendant of the original Rabbit that was known as a smoky noisemaker. With the diesel Golf, observers are unlikely to identify the car as a diesel, even with the engine running.

BMW, which has been building diesel engines since 1983, is promoting the new clean diesel technology with a dedicated Web site With its 335d and X5 diesels already on the road in the U.S., BMW promises that more are on the way.


Its not that I am against diesels, so I don't see how it is that your right, or how that video with dancing girls made me right about anything?

But if we increase the number of diesels on the road they would compete with over road trucks and agriculture equipment for the fuel...What if we combine the two, Hybrid diesels, we could most likely achieve 5 hours per gallon, that could be something like 450 miles per gallon....too bad our dear king the custodian will never allow it to happen.

Court freed Somali suspect with chemicals, syringe

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - A Somali court acquitted and released a suspect who tried to board a plane in Mogadishu in November with chemicals and a syringe - materials similar to those used in the attempted attack against a Detroit-bound airliner.

The news that Somali officials freed the suspect will hamper efforts by U.S. investigators to learn if the two attempted attacks were linked. Terrorism analysts had said the arrest in Somalia could prove highly valuable to the Detroit investigation.

Somali Police Commissioner Gen. Ali Hassan Loyan said the court released the suspect on Dec. 12 after ruling that officials hadn't demonstrated he intended to commit a crime. The man, whose name has not been released, said the chemicals were to process camera film.

In light of the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound plane, Loyan said Somali authorities would collaborate with U.S. officials and share information and the confiscated materials.

"Somalia's federal government affirms that it is ready to double its cooperation with the countries in the world, particularly with America, for it is clear that the incident that happened in Mogadishu and the one that happened in a region in America are similar," Loyan told a news conference in the Somali capital.

U.S. officials on Wednesday learned about the early November incident at Mogadishu's international airport and began investigating for links between it and the Detroit case.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said U.S. investigators were working with Somali authorities, and linking the case to the Christmas attack "would be speculative at this point."

A Nairobi-based diplomat, though, said the incident has similarities to the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound plane. The Somali was said to have a syringe, liquid and powdered chemicals - tools similar to those used by the Nigerian suspect on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

The Somali suspect was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before boarding the Daallo Airlines plane bound for the northern Somali city of Hargeisa. The plane was then headed to Djibouti and Dubai.

A government-appointed expert concluded that the suspects' materials could not have brought down the commercial airliner. Loyan said the expert did conclude though that the materials were a danger to the aircraft.


Post-Attack, U.S. Strengthens Focus on Yemen

After the failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound flight, media turns to al-Qaeda's growing influence in Yemen

Christmas in Kandahar: A soldier's thoughts

Cpl. James Dalton, 21, of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria, was deployed to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving weekend. He's been writing monthly dispatches from the Canadian Forces base at Kandahar. This is his fourth column.

Wintertime sees a relief from the intense heat of the summer months and the start of frigid cold temperatures at night that would make you think you're back in Canada.

Even the Afghans think we're crazy when they see us sleep outside. Unfortunately, the backs of the vehicles we drive are uncomfortable just to sit in, let alone stretch out and sleep.

Traditionally over the winter, we see a decline in insurgent activity as many of the Taliban leaders head back to their homes in Pakistan and order attacks from there. Usually, there is a decline in firefights between coalition forces and Taliban, but we see a spike in IEDs around the country.

Last week, I went on a foot patrol through a built-up urban area of Kandahar with some Americans and Afghan police forces. This being my first patrol on foot, I was slightly edgy and careful of every step I took. Every bush I walked by I thought could potentially be a spot where someone could put a bomb.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I started to relax a little. Kids come up to you constantly to say hello in hopes that maybe you have something to give them. Two boys asked me if I had money, chocolate or candy. I shook my head and held out my hand to show them I didn't have any, but they still grabbed it and went through each one of my fingers to make sure.

I and the other Canadian on the patrol seemed to get the majority of the attention, possibly because we were dressed differently, but many of the Afghans driving by would yell "Canada!" out their car windows and wave or give us the thumbs-up. One kid ran by the police officer and the American in front of me to shake my hand.

Getting to walk around and see people face-to-face was much more rewarding than driving past them in an armoured vehicle.

The thing you realize is that in the end, people are the same everywhere. They just want to feel safe and to be able to work so they can feed their children and provide them with a normal life. It's hard to do that in a country that's seen nothing but war since the Russians came in 1978.

Christmas doesn't have the same feel as it does most years. Other than an occasional decoration in certain buildings, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

We've been receiving a lot of great gifts from back home. Unfortunately, I opened mine as soon as I got them, thus fulfilling the Christmas dreams I had when I was eight years old.

I'm also missing out on my family's tradition of watching the movie A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. We've watched that movie every year since I was about seven years old. What kind of parents would make their child watch a movie on Christmas Eve about a man being haunted by three ghosts ... on Christmas Eve! I couldn't sleep; I just sat straight up all night with a baseball bat and a whistle.

The year is coming to a close and I'm sure a lot of people are looking forward to the start of 2010 and the end of another decade, a decade where we saw the reality-show craze and Facebook reach new heights in popularity.

You could probably make a reality show about a gas jockey and turn him into a sex symbol for high school girls overnight. They would go crazy for his two-cent narratives for every emotional scene.

"I couldn't believe he wanted me to check the oil after I just filled up his truck! My girlfriend just dumped me and my parents made me walk the dog at six this morning! Nobody understands me."

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy new year.


h/t What the F*&#!?!?

America’s Muslims and Arabs in Uniform = Powerful Assets

"Last month Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on American soldiers at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding 30. Although the investigation is still underway, it’s become fairly clear that Hasan was motivated by his extreme Islamic views. Hasan betrayed his oaths as a doctor and as an Army officer. He betrayed the people he swore to help.

While Hasan’s name is now widely known, there’s another Arab Muslim soldier whose name is not — but should be. Four years ago this week, a Green Beret staff sergeant named Ayman Abdelrahman Taha died fighting in Iraq. Taha is just one of many American Muslims to pay the ultimate price while serving his country."
War is Boring

For the Little Ones-- By: Jason "Fear the Media"

"for the little ones:

Try something for a minute… Close your eyes and try to picture war through the eyes of an 8 year old little boy. You're in the school yard playing soccer with your friends and family without a care in the world. All of the sudden there is an explosion and before you know it there's chaos. You look at the ground and see your little sister laying there lifeless. You feel helpless, the oldest of 3 children with your big brother responsibilities. They can't find your other sister and you can only assume the worst. The fear going through your mind sends you into shock. Gone from 8 years old without a care in the world to having your family cut down significantly by the horrors of war."
Lead Soldiers

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Thinker's Perspective

"A few young thinkers spoke about the upcoming elections today. One guy, a Christian but don't ask me whether he's Catholic or Orthodox, said he believes Iraqis are tired of being ruled by religious parties. For this reason, he predicts Allawi and Mutlak will win the most votes in March. Another guy, a Muslim but don't ask me whether he's Sunni or Shiite, said he believes the recent car bombs came from Iran, who wants to scare the Shiites into voting the religious list. For this reason, he predicts a big win for the Shiite Alliance led by Ammar Al Hakim. They did not seem to think that Ayad Jamaleldin has much of a chance. "But Ahmad Chalabi is in the Shiite Alliance group," said one. "God can't extract him from this place.""

Home Fires: I Will Carry You

At this time of year I always get nostalgic about the past and excited about the future, ask myself the hard questions. Did my actions during the year match my ambitions? What is most important to me? Am I in positive relationships?
My main goal for 2009 was simply to provide a stable, secure, loving environment for my kids. To carry them, if need be, through the hard days. Human bonds are either strengthened or destroyed by time apart, and since getting home from Iraq in the summer of 2006, I have tried to overwrite many of the negative experiences. I definitely did so in 2009, defragmenting the hard drive of memory with meaningful ones and zeros. Now, instead of fellow soldiers, it is my kids flanking me almost everywhere I go, braving a vivid desert life.

These days I don’t only see the world through my own 38-layer lens, but I also experience it vicariously through two other sets of eyes. One set is the big brown eyes of a 9-year-old girl named Chloe. And the other is a big blue set of eyes on a 7-year-old boy named Lee. I was humbled by serving my country in Iraq, and now I am humbled to be raising these children, witnessing the beauty and innocence of their spirits. Every day here in southern Utah is a fresh adventure framed by red sandstone mountains.

Chloe likes to point out that she’s not a girly girl. She wants to be seen as a tomboy, and yet she dances and sings almost from the time she climbs out of bed until she gets back in, and she leaves the house every day, walking the 10 seconds between house and truck, brushing her hair. She brings extra shoes and change of clothes almost everywhere she goes. For Halloween this year she was Cleopatra and every night lately, if I tuck her in and then walk back into her room five minutes later, I will find her with her brush and ponytail holders arranged on the pillow in front of her, and she will be sitting Indian style and silently braiding her hair in the dark. She’s the lady of the house and she keeps us boys in check. She is absolutely hilarious and says things that cause me to laugh out loud all the time. She loves pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and everything associated with writing and books and office supplies. Her world is one of flowing creative thought and music. She recently joined her school newspaper and started voice lessons.

Lee is going through a skateboarding phase. Spiderman is still cool, he says, but not cool enough to dominate the comforter on his bed, his pillowcase and a poster on his wall. Now it’s all about the Tony Hawk (who, admittedly, is really cool) Pro Skater video game (when he’s not out front riding his own skateboard). He’s funny to watch when he plays the video game because his face gets serious and his fingers move so fast I don’t think there’s any way he could actually know what he’s pressing. But he does. He hits every button with a clear purpose, pushing himself heroically through each level of the game. Watching the world through his eyes is a joy, a surrogate adventure through a land in which every object holds the potential for climbing, where every piece of candy that comes within sight is a matter of destiny. He’s only in first grade but he already loves to read and write. In my son’s world, Tony Hawk holds the crown of coolness and presides over these concrete jungles. Lee is such a happy boy these days that he skips every few steps. His enthusiasm for life is contagious.

We were on a hike recently and Chloe fell down and cut her knee on some sharp rocks. It was bleeding pretty badly and she couldn’t walk. We were maybe a mile from the truck, so after I cleaned the wound and wrapped it up, she carried my backpack and rode on my back. She had her head on my shoulder and through her tears she kept trying to apologize, saying, “I’m sorry I got hurt, Dad. I’m so sorry.” She felt really bad that I had to carry her, and that we had to cut the hike short. I told her that she never, ever had to apologize for getting hurt. As I carried my daughter and looked down at my son, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

With 2010 only hours away, and fully aware of the hundreds of thousands still serving in the Middle East, I remember what it felt like to be there during the holidays and I find myself looking inward — safely behind the still-hanging Christmas lights on my home here in suburbia.

The two memories about my deployment that stand out the most are the moment I left and the moment I got back. And in those memories my kids are there, looking right into my eyes. In the first, they are crying and waving their hands out of the back window as I stand and watch the car turn a corner through acid tears after having them sit on the trunk for half an hour while I tried to explain that I had to go bye-bye for a while. They did not understand. And in the second memory, they are smiling nervously, excited to see me but also confused because I had been gone for so long.

Here’s how this year is going to end. I will tuck these adorable human beings in on New Year’s Eve and when I wake them up they will shake off bright untarnished dreams and keep growing up way too fast. No more leaving and coming back for this dad. My place of duty is right here. Don’t worry, I tell them. Just leave the worrying up to me. I will carry that weight. And if life gets hard or you fall down and cut your knee, I will carry you, too.

Home fires


"I’m back after a month off to find things have changed very little on the Afghan street. Nobody here seems to believe we are going anywhere in 18 months yet everyone I talk with thinks the international military effort is entering its final stage. I have been on the road for most of the week and have had the chance to talk with all sorts of folks from the military, USAID, and many Afghans. The lack of optimism regarding our effort was the common denominator in every conversation. That is not to say morale is down; the military is able to go out and do whatever they plan whenever they want. We are not being beaten by the Taliban; we are beating ourselves."

I Think I'm Going To Puke...

"This little fucking douche bag was in the same company as me in Afghanistan! I will never forgive him for this!

Embrace the Suck

Here to There: Tips and Tricks for the Student Veteran

"For many student veterans across the country, the first semester under the Post 9/11 GI Bill is in the books. Some of the smarter folks opted to stay with the old Chapter 30 until the new bill, Chapter 33, was fully worked out. Others chose to put their faith into the VA and went with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, much to the chagrin of bill collectors and landlords. It is not clear what the VA has learned since the Great GI Bill Kerfuffle of 2009, but it is evident that problems will continue into the new year. Its fully automated system won't be in place until December 2010, so until then the crush of new applicants will have to be processed by a team of monkeys pounding on the keyboard of a Commodore 64. According to the VA, less than 5,000 eligible students are still waiting for payments. Take a stroll through the many comments left on the Post 9/11 GI Bill Facebook page and it might give you a reason not to believe such an estimate. The comments left by students still waiting for tuition payments read like a digital Trail of Tears, with many pleading for help months after submitting their paperwork. One post from early December challenges Facebook users to amass 10,000 followers by 2010. Perhaps a real goal, like completing 10,000 applications by the end of the fall semester, was too bold a prospect."
Army of Dude