Monday, May 31, 2010

Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state

Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel's government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state.

The Free Gaza Movement's evolution is among Israel's chief reasons for conducting Monday morning's raid on a ship carrying medicine, construction materials, school paper and parts for Gaza's defunct water treatment plant. The movement once drew its support almost entirely from activists and donors in Australia, Britain and the United States. But the ship that Israeli forces stormed Monday morning was operated by a Turkish charity that Israeli intelligence agencies and others contend has connections to radical Islamist groups. The raid left nine activists dead, and at least eight U.S. citizens in Israeli custody.

The movement's leadership rejects Israeli claims of an Islamist takeover.

"That's absolutely ridiculous," said Ramzi Kysia, who sits on the board of the U.S. arm of the Free Gaza Movement. "There's always been an expectation that Israel would try to set an example with one of these flotillas. But the fact that they did so in this way is absolutely insane. The Israeli government is out of control."

Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, said there was a "qualitative change" to this Gaza aid mission compared with earlier ones that Israel's navy had let pass. He said the group on the Mavi Marmara vessel was "a front for a radical Islamist organization, probably with links to the ruling party in Turkey," which less hawkish Israeli governments than the current one have pointed to as a model of appropriate Islamist rule. He called the aid mission a provocation.

"And we walked right into the trap," Rabinovich said.

Israel's government has long divided Palestinian advocacy groups into two camps -- those run by Israelis and Palestinians, and those headed by foreigners. The two often overlap in terms of financial support, but they act at times toward different ends.

Many of the Israeli and Palestinian-run groups focus on chipping away at the legal framework underpinning Israel's occupation of the territories it seized in the 1967 war. The work does not always make headlines outside the region, which is a chief goal of the Free Gaza Movement and other international groups that seek to draw attention to the Palestinian national cause.

"One of our goals is to bring in actual materials," said Adam Shapiro, a Free Gaza Movement board member whose wife, Huwaida Arraf, was aboard one of the boats seized before dawn Monday. "But there's also a political component. The blockade is a form of collective punishment, and nearly everyone talks about how it shouldn't be in place but never does anything about it. We're showing you must act."

The Israeli government largely sealed off the Gaza Strip when it withdrew its soldiers and settlements from the narrow coastal area in summer 2005.

A 2006 election victory by Hamas, an armed Islamist movement formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement that does not recognize Israel's right to exist, followed by a purging of the rival Fatah a year later gave Hamas day-to-day power over Gaza. The group, and other militant factions, used the territory to launch rocket attacks on southern Israel. The Israeli government hoped a siege would keep weapons out of Gaza and create public antipathy toward the Hamas-run government. The United Nations has criticized the blockade for causing a humanitarian crisis in the strip, where 1.5 million people live, most of them destitute refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants.

Kysia said the group initially set summer 2007 as the date for running the Gaza blockade. But money and volunteers were scarce until the movement began to recruit through the International Solidarity Movement, whose foreign activists often work inside the Palestinian territories. "We maxed out our credit cards, emptied our bank accounts and jumped off a cliff," Kysia said.

By summer 2008, the group had bought two fishing boats, and the Israeli government let them dock in Gaza five times that year. The boats carried medicine, food, school and construction materials, and other non-military items, as well as human rights activists and lawmakers from Europe and Turkey. On one occasion, the boats carried out Palestinian students who had won scholarships to study abroad but had been unable to secure Israeli travel documents.

Then in late 2008, when Israel began "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza to put down Hamas rocket fire, the Israeli navy turned back a flotilla carrying medical supplies. The group tried again in January and June 2009, when the Israeli military seized the ship and detained those aboard for as long as eight days.

Among them was Máiread Corrigan-Maguire, a Northern Ireland peace activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. Corrigan-Maguire was scheduled to travel on the flotilla Sunday night. But Kysia said the cargo ship she was supposed to sail on had mechanical problems and did not leave port. Among the Americans onboard was Edward L. Peck, a retired U.S. diplomat who once served as chief of mission in Iraq.

Israel has been concerned about the participation of Insani Yardim Vakfi, or IHH, a large Turkish charity that raises some of its money from Islamic religious groups. Kysia compared IHH to the U.S. charity CARE, which relies in part on donations from Christian organizations.

"Just because the IHH affiliation is with Islam and not Christianity does not mean they are terrorists," Kysia said.

But an Israeli military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said: "It was called a 'ship of peace,' but they were carrying cargo for war."

The official conceded that "we should've been a little smarter about how to stop them."


Back from Iraq, DVC student chronicles the war experience

After nearly two hours of relating his experiences as a Recon Marine in Iraq, Chris Clark throws out one more quick anecdote a less grounded person might have turned into an epic tale.

"I completely forgot "... I took shrapnel from a suicide bomber on my first tour and got a Purple Heart," he says. "Funny — if that's the right word — how something like that would slip my mind.

"Like I said, things get rather blurry and it's hard to recall sometimes exactly how it happened."

Writing about "it" sorts things out for Clark. The 24-year-old student, headed for Stanford this fall, has written for New American Media and the Diablo Valley College Inquirer about surviving two tours in Iraq and making the transition back home.

Sitting in the quad at DVC in Pleasant Hill, the 2004 graduate of California High in San Ramon, where he currently lives, doesn't fit the stereotype of gung-ho soldier. Looking like a million other college students, he's laid-back, engaging and open to talking about things most people can only imagine.

He describes his column of Humvees tripping a roadside bomb, which ripped through the vehicle behind him and blew his sergeant's legs off. "He did make it and was there to greet us when we came home, with his prosthetic legs," says Clark, whose unit was chronicled — before he arrived in September 2005 — in HBO's "Generation Kill."

He details marching in combat gear in 130-degree heat and wondering whether he'd live another day. He describes how cruelty and horror almost become normal.

In his writing, Clark, president of the 150-member veteran's group at DVC, also ruminates on transitioning to more peaceful times. In last week's edition of The Inquirer, he described visiting Thailand for two months in 2009 after leaving the Marines, mingling with Buddhist monks and working at a school for orphans.

"How could such anger and compassion share the same world?" he wrote. "What do they tell us of the same fate — or promise — of humanity? It was a question I could have asked myself. Why would someone volunteer for war and find peace among the less fortunate?"

"I cherish peace because I have experienced war."

'Human toll'

The Inquirer's faculty adviser Jean Dickinson says Clark effectively gives readers an appreciation of "the human toll" of war.

"The most moving piece was about him being in Thailand, healing from his experiences from Iraq and working with orphans," she says. "I found him to be very soft-spoken, but very much wanting to get his story out — and those of other campus vets. He's a very good writer."

There's been some awkward moments in classes when the war has come up and various opinions fly about.

"When I was first here, I felt like I was the only vet in the world," he says. "The war would get brought up and I'd get defensive. It's very personal to me, or any vet. I had to readjust. I'd say it's easy to have a certain opinion when you haven't seen the traumatic results."

Kurt Sorensen was one of Clark's best friends in his unit. When Clark gets married in July — to a woman he was friends with in high school and whom he started dating just before his first tour of duty — Sorensen will come from Oregon to be a groomsman.

Trusted friend

In case he was killed, Sorensen said, he wrote a letter to his parents and entrusted Clark to carry it because "that's the kind of guy he is. You know it would get there."

"It would be 137 degrees and we'd be hungry and tired and out for a few days, and Chris would just be laughing at the whole thing," Sorensen says. "Which, in turn, would make everyone else laugh."

Friendship gives soldiers a tangible reason to fight for each other, Clark says. They don't necessarily want to be there — especially guys on their second or third tours — but are too busy watching each other's backs to worry about reasons.

"You're fighting for the guys around you — I can't recall one time when there was a conversation about politics," says Clark, who has mixed feelings about the Iraqi people. He calls them "hospitable" and describes how one family shared a big meal with his unit to celebrate American Thanksgiving.

"But there were instances where a village would welcome you, then you'd leave and there be an IED (improvised explosive device) planted in the road. The problem over there is that there's no uniforms and every home owns an AK-47. A guy could be standing there (with a gun) and mean you no harm."

Outside of a bit of shrapnel in his hand ("It wasn't bad at all. I don't even have a gnarly battle scar from it"), he made it through two tours physically sound. The difficulties as a soldier helped shape the new civilian. His grades — and the G.I. Bill — got him into Stanford, where he and his new wife will live in student housing while he studies international affairs. It's somewhere he never saw himself before.

"I always wanted to be a Marine," he says. "I didn't have great grades (in high school). I wanted the stability, the experience. I always wanted to be in Special Ops. I always wanted to be in the most elite unit."

If Stanford qualifies, then mission accomplished.


More Saudi currency going to Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 31 (UPI) -- More than $1 billion in Saudi Arabian currency has been sent to Afghanistan in the past four years, likely to support terrorism, investigators say.

The Times in London quoted members of FinTraca, the Afghan intelligence unit, saying the funds had gone through Pakistan, where they were converted in rupees or dollars.

"We can trace it back as far as an entry point in Waziristan," said Mohammed Mustafa Massoudi, director-general of FinTraca in Kabul. "Why would anyone want to put such money into Waziristan? Only one reason -- terrorism."

The flow of cash from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan has been on the increase and reached the highest rate this year since FinTraca was established in 2006 with U.S. and British help.

Saudi Arabia is an ally in the war on terror, but a U.S. government report last year found private Saudi supporters were the leading source of financing for the Taliban, The Times said.

Most the cash enters Afghanistan through al-Qaida-dominated territory the Pakistani tribal area, FinTraca said.

Afghan authorities say insurgents must renounce al-Qaida ties before they will be allowed to become involved in the political process.


Maybe O can bow lower to the king and make it all better

U.S. seeks to balance India's Afghanistan stake

(Reuters) - The Obama administration is grappling with how to balance India's role in Afghanistan as arch-rival Pakistan also jostles for influence there ahead of Washington's planned troop withdrawal to start in mid-2011.
U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is set to be included on the agenda in U.S.-India talks this week in Washington -- with Delhi seeking clarity over rival Pakistan's role, particularly in reconciliation plans with the Taliban.

The Obama administration has so far sent mixed signals over the kind of role it wants India to play in Afghanistan, leaving an impression at times, say experts, that Pakistan's strategic interests could have more weight.

"I don't think this (U.S.) administration or the previous one knows how to balance our legitimate interests in both Pakistan and India effectively," said Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University and a South Asia expert.

While U.S. diplomats have praised the $1.3 billion India has pumped into reconstruction work in Afghanistan since 2001, military commanders have voiced concern that muscle-flexing by India could provoke Pakistan and stir up regional tensions.

"Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India," wrote U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who is in charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in a leaked assessment of the war last September.

The implication of McChrystal's view, said expert Lisa Curtis, was that India's approach was not viewed as helpful and Pakistan's strategic interests were more in play.

"That sent the wrong signal," said Curtis. "The U.S. should instead positively reinforce the political and economic activities of engagement by India (in Afghanistan)," added Curtis, who is with the Heritage Foundation.

"The idea that we would somehow ask India ... to draw back from Afghanistan to placate Pakistan which is still harboring Afghan Taliban leadership is very short-sighted and frankly makes no strategic sense," said Curtis.


Senior U.S. officials strongly reject suggestions that Pakistani interests take preference in Afghanistan or that there has been a push to "go slow" in its ties with India.

"I have never heard that," said one senior U.S. official. "Our consistent line, both privately to the Indians and the Pakistanis, has been that we can have a positive relationship with both countries. In other words, the friend of my enemy is not my enemy in this case," added the official.

Washington is juggling Pakistani complaints over India's activities, including building roads close to the border areas and reports of new diplomatic outposts, which Delhi denies.

"My response to Pakistan's complaints about India is that you are free to do the same thing and to help Afghanistan rebuild," said the senior U.S. official of Pakistani claims.

India, for its part, says Pakistani claims are overblown and points to its own losses in Afghanistan, including an attack on one of its guest houses this year, as well as Pakistan harboring militants on its territory.

One of Delhi's biggest concerns is the role Pakistan might play in reconciliation moves in Afghanistan, with fears any Afghan plan to broker a deal with the Taliban could undermine India's security and give Islamabad greater influence there.

Pakistan, one of a handful of countries that recognized the Taliban regime before the U.S. invasion in 2001, is seen as a key player in any plan for reconciliation.

"From the Indian point of view, what is at stake here is they don't want the return of the Taliban," said Fair.

James Dobbins, former U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, said the U.S. needed to take a firm line with both countries over their activities in Afghanistan.

"The U.S. message to the Pakistanis must be to stop being so paranoid ... Its message to the Indians must be to stop provoking the Pakistanis," said Dobbins, who is with the Rand Corporation.

One area where he said the United States wanted to see improvement was in resolving Indian and Pakistani differences over the disputed region of Kashmir, a conflict which overshadowed cooperation on Afghanistan.

"The U.S. believes that the prime difference between Pakistan and India is not over Afghanistan but over Kashmir. As long as there is a divide over Kashmir, they will never agree on Afghanistan," said Dobbins.


Marines See Benefits of 'Hunt and Help' in Helmand

MIAN POSHETH, Afghanistan May 31, 2010 —

Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, is the opium capital of the world and the financial base of the Taliban. It is one of the most dangerous parts of country.

"Nightline" visited the province to see Marines Fox Company at work in the town of Mian Posheth. After months of volatility, there are signs that Helmand may be calming -- and the Marines credit their own restraint in engaging in combat, combined with local outreach tactics.

Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

One day we accompanied Marines a few miles south of their base, where the company said they'd found an unexploded roadside bomb. The bomb disposal squad was on site.

The tip was reported by a local Afghan. Such tips are one advantage of the soldiers' living among the people.

We walked a mile through poppy fields, avoiding the road, which was likely littered with bombs.

The bomb squad prepared for the task at hand.

"I have to put my faith life and my trust in his hands and vice versa," said Staff Sgt. Eric Chir of his partner, Sgt. Johnny Jones.

"We either talk a lot or we don't talk at all, but we always know what each other is about to do," said Jones.

This isn't "The Hurt Locker." There are no big bomb suits, and robots can't be used in this terrain.

With painstaking care, the Marines prepared to detonate the bomb.

There was an achingly long silence, and then... the bomb went off.

The blast rang in our ears. We walked to the crater, but suddenly a local resident warned that there were three more bombs in the area.

Hearts pounding, we carefully followed our own footsteps back across a canal.

It was a reminder of how tenuous the progress is here. Helmand has been cleared several times but never held.

And as tense as the experience was, it was a big improvement over the violent situation here just nine months ago.

Helmand Province, Then and Now
Photojournalist Dennis Danfung's upcoming documentary, "Hell and Back," captures Mian Poshteh last year. Fighting was fierce and relentless.

"On a daily basis we fought," said Capt. Scott Cuomo. "The market that you go through was barren, nobody there, no one drove on this road."

On Dec. 1, 2009 Lance Corp. Taylor Prazynski was killed by a roadside bomb next to the new base.

The men named it "Patrol Base Gators" after Prazynski's favorite football team, the Florida Gators.

"You know we talk about him every day," said Sgt. Eric Finch. "Marines, we are a tight-knit bunch of guys and we don't take things like that lightly."

The soldiers took pains not to lash out at locals, some of whom likely knew the bomb was there. The marines' leadership calls this "courageous restraint" -- a growing mantra in a battle where "the people are the prize."

"I mean, don't get me wrong, when we find the bad guys and they need to die, they're going to die, but when it comes to the innocent people that are just trying to live their lives, we're here to help them do that," said Finch.

Perhaps because of that, these days things are starting to look different, at least in this corner of Helmand Province.

Cuomo, the commander of Fox Company, doesn't seem all that nervous now when he walks the roads.

He greets locals with a handshake and the hearty greeting, "as-salaamu allayakum," peace be with you.

Wearing no body armor, Cuomo strolls through Mian Poshteh.

"The whole west side of this thing was loaded with drugs and weapons, different paraphernalia along those lines," Cuomo explained.

What Went Right in Helmand
The roads of Mian Poshteh are busy and the market is bustling. So why the turnaround?

"Three words: 'Hunt and help.' Period," Cuomo said. "You can go after the enemy every single day, you better come swinging with something else. You better come swinging with some help."

Cuomo began moving groups of Marines to live on small patrol bases in villages, where they could better protect the elders and mullahs who were willing to work with them.

Life on these bases is extremely basic. Soldiers sleep with no shelter and eat packaged food. There is no running water. Showers are a luxury. And there is no privacy.

And with their June 2011 pullout date drawing ever closer, the men know they have precious little time to turn the tide of the war here.

"Above my pay grade to speculate on whether it's tenable," said Cuomo. "By 2011, I have no idea whether to say yes or no."

The hope is that each day here brings them a step closer to success. When we were with the company, a rare mail delivery brought care packages.

"Twizzlers, iced tea, toothbrushes, and trail mix, deodorant, Nutri Grain bars, Easter bunny," one soldier ticked off. "It's a little bit melted but it will cool down tonight."

It was a much-needed taste of home -- which is the main thing on the soldiers' minds right now.


Obama tells Netanyahu on phone: We need raid 'facts' ASAP

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday after the latter cancelled a planned Oval Office meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

During their 15-minute conversation, Obama conveyed his understanding for Netanyahu’s decision to return immediately to Israel from Canada and not stop in Washington following the deadly clash between the IDF and activists trying to break the Gaza blockade earlier in the day.

The two leaders also agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity. “The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals,” a statement put out by the White House read. “The president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible.”

The visit had been expected to reaffirm the strong US-Israel relationship after weeks of tension and provide a public welcome to Netanyahu after his nighttime White House visit in March was conducted under a total media blackout. It was to come in the midst of nascent proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians as the US sought to build momentum to move to direct negotiations and ahead of a high-profile visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House next Tuesday.

“It shows how hard it is to purposefully change the momentum” in Middle East peace-making, Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted. “Even when you try to build small steps to change things, the waves come crashing down.”

He also assessed that in contrast to the Europeans, who already were using the incident Monday to reinforce calls for an end to the Gaza blockade, the Americans would want to have a fuller grasp of the situation before reviewing Gaza policy.

“On the American side there’s going to be a real desire to understand what happened,” he said.


How does Turkey dare to try and run a blockade and not expect any violence, or to blame Israel for the results?

S.F. clinic treats war stress in new way

The soldier didn't want to be there.

"I had a fight with my girlfriend," he told Dr. Karen Seal at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. "She thinks I'm different since I got back from Iraq. She says I scream in my sleep."

Normally, Seal, one of the country's leading researchers on combat stress among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, doesn't have a camera trained on her when she's doing a medical assessment.

But although this time the dialogue is scripted, the actor playing her patient can summon real tears because he actually did serve in Iraq. Together with Seal and a staff psychologist, the trio is making an instructional video to help primary care doctors learn what to do when a young veteran exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Seal, who in 2007 published the first national study on the prevalence of mental health disorders among men and women returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, says primary care doctors need help treating a younger clientele with different stresses than wars past.

As the conflicts in the Persian Gulf continue, soldiers cycling through their third, fourth and fifth tours are starting to fill VA waiting rooms alongside their comrades from World War II and Vietnam.

"Now we have all these vets in school on the GI Bill, they are 19 years old, and they can't remember things," said Seal. "They sit in the front row and try real hard, and don't understand why they can't concentrate."

Warrior culture
Getting veterans to buck warrior culture and see a therapist is difficult, Seal said, but now 75 to 100 veterans a month come to an innovative, one-stop clinic that Seal and colleagues started in 2007 specifically for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Integrated Care Clinic is one of the first for this population, and is helping position the San Francisco VA and UCSF as a national hub for PTSD research.

A team of three doctors including Seal, combat specialists, physical therapists, pain experts and neuropsychologists work together to help a vet feel better again.

"We are really starting to move in a little bit in a specialized direction," Seal said. "Most people think of PTSD as flashbacks, or alcoholism. But we're just now learning it's affecting memory and ability to focus in school. It's more subtle than we thought."

Seal co-directs the clinic, sees patients, teaches medicine and psychiatry at UCSF, is involved in six different research studies, and is raising two boys. And she still finds time to run several times a week.

"Most primary care hospitals are not prepared to deal with this, and it's only going to get bigger and lead to major behavioral problems if it's not addressed," Seal said, noting that two-thirds of those with a PTSD diagnosis self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

PTSD widespread
Estimates by organizations - including Swords to Ploughshares, the nonprofit Rand Corp., and Stanford University - contend that about one-third of the 1.9 million men and women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have suffered from PTSD.

Symptoms include irritability, anger, emotional numbing, depression, outbursts, isolation, avoidance, hyper vigilance and nightmares.

About 17 percent have experienced brain injuries ranging from mild to severe, which leads to sleep disturbances, headaches, pain, poor balance and speech problems.

Sufferers are two to three times more at risk for cardiovascular disease: smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes.

"Karen Seal is the main reason I didn't wind up doing something incredibly stupid," said Army Capt. Michael Gerold, 41, of San Francisco, who sustained severe spinal cord damage in a gunfire ambush in Afghanistan, and now can't feel his limbs. He takes pain medication daily.

"For the first year when I got back, I didn't tell anyone what was wrong with me, and I had a very hard time. I lost my fiancee through this. Karen was the first person who explained what was going on with me," Gerold said.

Nearly 70 percent of homecoming vets who needed emotional help didn't seek it from the military or Veterans Affairs, according to a 2008 Rand study.

Seal did her own study for the Journal of Traumatic Stress and found that among those who did receive a PTSD diagnosis through a VA clinic, 90 percent didn't complete a course of treatment.

A "stay tough" military culture keeps vets from talking about their problems.

Mental health ward
"At the military hospital in Fort Benning (Georgia), the mental health ward is on the fourth floor, and none of the soldiers wanted to go into the elevator for fear someone would see them press number No. 4," said retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Countouriotis of Petaluma, who has two sons and a daughter who were deployed. Two of them were injured.

While serving in Iraq 11 months ago, his unit had one licensed clinical social worker for 2,000 troops, Countouriotis said.

In between deployments, Countouriotis visited Seal at the new clinic in San Francisco and was so impressed, he flew the San Francisco VA's flag on his base in Afghanistan.

"The military needs more people like Karen whose job it is to sit down and listen to soldiers and offer some kind of service," he said.

The San Francisco VA has added several dozen mental health clinicians in the last few years who do just that.

Seal's studies have shown that prolonged exposure to therapy - nine to 12 sessions over 15 months - help a veteran manage PTSD.

She's also studying computerized "cognitive processing therapy," a series of brain fitness exercises.

"We're studying something that's the invisible of the invisible," she said. "Why it's hard for vets to go school, why they are forgetful, can't organize, and become impulsive."


Growing Wings in Afghanistan

The United States is ramping up its presence in Afghanistan for a huge offensive this month—the most aggressive in the nine-year occupation—in Kandahar, a southern Afghan city of about half a million people. Code-named Hamkari (Dari for “cooperation”), its ambition is nothing short of stupefying: to blow the Taliban out of its strategic stronghold and simultaneously win over the hearts and minds of the locals. “Our mission is to show irreversible momentum by the end of 2010,” Brig. Gen. Frederick Hodges, who commands troops in southern Afghanistan, said recently. For President Obama, the stakes couldn’t be higher. This is the turning point of the war.

To know how it’ll work out, look no further than Peter Beinart’s rollicking new history of hubris in American foreign policy during the last 100 years. Beinart, a former editor of The New Republic who teaches writing and political science at CUNY’s Graduate Center, might say we’ve grown wings. And mighty big ones, in this case. In The Icarus Syndrome, he argues that the United States repeatedly follows an old Greek script: the mythical story of Icarus, whose wings of feathers and wax allow the boy to fly, until—becoming overconfident and heedless of his father’s warning—he flies too close to the sun, melts his wings, and falls to his death. Hubris, which the Greeks called “insolence toward the gods,” sealed his fate—making it a useful allegory for American adventures like World War I, Vietnam, and, most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The tendency is so natural, and Beinart lays out the consequences with such aplomb, that it’s bewildering how, time and again, the best and brightest in Washington (to say nothing of the American public) flap those wings right at the sun. Back in the 1920s, in Beinart’s analysis, it was the “hubris of reason” that drove President Woodrow Wilson to naively assume that a system of international law—the League of Nations—could eradicate high politics and keep overzealous powers like Germany under control. Four decades later, the “hubris of toughness,” brought to the fore by President John F. Kennedy, sent nearly 60,000 Americans to their deaths in Vietnam. And the “hubris of dominance” instilled a false sense of capability in the administration of George W. Bush (and Beinart himself, who supported the war), which resulted in fiasco. “In important ways, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq echo the Icarus tale,” Beinart writes. “But they differ in one crucial respect: Icarus dies from his hubris; America does not.”

It’s not much of a stretch to say that there’s a pathology at work here. As American economic power grew during the 20th century, its people and policymakers came to believe they could surmount the impossible. As Beinart puts it, “In our political culture, publicly acknowledging that something is beyond America’s power is perilous.” In politics, that has meant that making war equals votes. When President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Tonkin Gulf resolution—essentially a blank check for escalation in Vietnam—his poll numbers shot up some 30 percent. After George H.W. Bush invaded Panama in 1989 (remember that one?), his approval ratings hit heights not seen since Vietnam. Ditto that for George W. Bush after 9/11, when he invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban (for the first time).

But each time the country has flown higher and higher, fighting more strategically ambitious wars, there’s been an accompanying crash back down to earth. Wilson’s failed project resulted in World War II. The period of withdrawal from Vietnam, and the socioeconomic malaise of the 1970s, couldn’t have been further from Kennedy’s soaring idealism of 10 years before. Likewise, the severe political polarization—not to mention the unforeseen cost in blood and treasure—that came with the Iraq invasion ended the jingoism of the months after September 11, 2001. The wings come off, we hit the ground, and it all starts again.

Beinart is a wondrous storyteller. There’s not much that he leaves out of The Icarus Syndrome. (It’s exactly the book I wish I’d had when I was teaching American foreign policy to undergraduates.) He covers just about every one of the U.S.’s overseas military interventions since World War I, and unlike the authors of many wide-ranging histories, he has the writing chops to infuse the story with the dramatic tension and flair it deserves. Consider this psychological snippet: “Walter Lippmann also seduced the powerful, but he did it through the front door. Disappointed by his own father, he acquired others, becoming the brilliant son that great men felt they deserved.” The book is largely an intellectual history, so it’s not just presidents and politicians: Beinart sincerely believes that ideas matter in world politics. That means early on we meet progressives like John Dewey and Lippmann, and realists like Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr. George Kennan is a central figure through the Cold War. And much later, neoconservatives like Irving Kristol and Francis Fukuyama come front and center for the expedition in Iraq.

Beinart’s argument, however, suffers from one serious flaw. Though he carefully draws out the nuances of each era, he compares the domestic political ramifications of very different conflicts without adjusting for the evolution in the way wars are fought. The fact is that, as the geopolitical order changed in the last 100 years, the nature of war, battle, and security changed even more radically. Vietnam and Afghanistan are not state-on-state military wars like World Wars I and II. That means the fundamentals—like winning and losing—play differently at home, altering Washington’s (and voters’) calculus of what’s worth fighting and how. In other words, the American electorate expects something very different from the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan than it did from the unconditional surrenders that ended earlier wars. Beinart’s analysis would have benefited from not assuming politics always played more or less the same.

So what do our wings look like in Afghanistan? The eeriest echo from Beinart’s book is undoubtedly Kennedy’s inaugural address: “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger,” the young president said. “I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it.” But, setting the stage for a country about to grow tragically huge wings, Beinart points out that “1961, unlike 1938, was not freedom’s hour of maximum danger.” And as the U.S. soars into Kandahar—a dangerous city in a little-understood country on the other side of the world—it’s worth asking again if this is an hour of maximum danger, worthy of extending, even amplifying, what will soon be a decade-long war. Or whether, before we close in on the sun, it’s finally time to clip those wings.


German president Horst Köhler quits over Afghanistan gaffe

Germany's president, Horst Köhler, resigned without warning today, after intense criticism of remarks in which he suggested military deployments were central to the country's economic interests.

Köhler's departure leaves a vacuum that will only add to Angela Merkel's growing political woes, amid criticism over a lack of decisive leadership, and a four-year low rating for her government in opinion polls.
Köhler, 67, was accused of advocating a form of "gunboat policy" after saying that a large economic power like Germany, with its significant global trading interests, must be willing to deploy its military abroad.

Though a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), he has previously managed to stay out of the political fray.

In a radio interview given on his return from a tour of German military bases in Afghanistan earlier this month, Köhler, a former head of the International Monetary Fund, said that the largely pacifist German public was finally coming to terms with the concept that their country could no longer avoid involvement in military missions, which helped "protect our interests, for example, free trade routes, or to prevent regional instability, which might certainly have a negative effect on our trade, jobs and income".

The remarks were seized upon by the German left, who accused Köhler of supporting a type of "gunboat diplomacy" and of betraying the thousands of German soldiers who are currently stationed in Afghanistan.

Jürgen Trittin, the leader of the Greens, said Köhler's comments were inconsistent with Germany's constitution and he accused the president of being a "loose rhetorical cannon".

Members of Merkel's centre-right coalition government accused him of a careless choice of words.

Ruprecht Polenz, the CDU's foreign policy spokesman, said: "It was an unfortunate formulation, to put it mildly".

Köhler's office said his comments had been misinterpreted. Even though the radio journalist's question had been about Afghanistan, the president had not been referring to Afghanistan in his reply, but to the deployment of German military to the Indian Ocean to help keep shipping lanes free of Somalian pirates.

Announcing his resignation at the presidential palace, Bellevue, in Berlin, he appeared flanked by his wife, Eva Luise, and looked ashen-faced and sometimes close to tears.

Köhler said he felt his office had not been afforded the respect it deserved, and expressed his regret "that my comments on an important and difficult question for our nation were able to lead to misunderstandings".

Köhler's decision marked the first time in post-war German history that a president has resigned with immediate effect. An election for a new president is due to take place within the next month.

Merkel said she "deeply regretted" Köhler's resignation, and admitted it had come as a huge surprise to her.

"I tried to persuade him to change his mind, but that wasn't possible," she said, adding that Köhler had won the love and respect of the German people largely because of his talent for "thinking outside the box". She would miss the former banker's advice over financial issues in particular, especially at a time of economic crisis.

Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister and Labour MP for Rotherham, said Köhler had fallen victim to those who still saw Germany as a "post-1945 dwarf orphan of world politics".

He added that Köhler had done nothing more than "express the self-evident truth that German military power was now an expression of German national interests".


Gunmen attack hospital in Pakistan, kill 8 people

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) - At least two gunmen disguised in police uniforms attacked a hospital in eastern Pakistan late Monday where doctors were treating a captured militant, killing eight people and taking several patients hostage, said officials.

It was unclear whether the attack in Lahore was aimed at releasing the militant, who was part of a group of gunmen who attacked a minority sect in the city on Friday and killed 93 people. Several people who were wounded in Friday's attacks were also being treated, said Muazzam Ali, a doctor.

The gunmen stormed Jinnah Hospital in a hail of gunfire shortly before midnight Monday, said Rana Sanaullah, the law minister in Punjab province where Lahore is the capital. Five of the eight people killed in the attack were policemen, he said.

One of the gunmen climbed up to the roof and was shooting at police who surrounded the building, said Sanaullah.

Lahore has experienced a string of deadly attacks in the past year by militants who have declared war on both the government and minority groups in the country.

Friday's attacks against two mosques in Lahore targeted the Ahmadi sect, a minority reviled as heretics by mainstream Muslims. Seven gunmen attacked the mosques with assault rifles, grenades and suicide vests. At least two of the attackers were captured, while some died in the standoff or by detonating their explosives.

Police have said the men who attacked the mosques in Lahore were part of the Pakistani Taliban and trained in the North Waziristan tribal region. Authorities have arrested at least seven other men allegedly linked to the attacks who were members of a variety of banned militant groups.


President's party leads in Georgia local elections

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) - Candidates from President Mikhail Saakashvili's party dominated local elections in Georgia, according to preliminary results Monday in the first ballot since the war with Russia two years ago.

The most closely watched contest is for mayor of the capital Tbilisi, the first time the post has been determined in a direct election.

The Central Elections Commission said incumbent Gigi Ugulava, a Saakashvili ally, had won the crucial race after a preliminary count at all the capital's voting precincts.

Nationwide, Saakashvili's party was getting nearly 70 percent of the vote, the commission said based on results from about 4 percent of the polling stations.

Saakashvili weathered weeks of demonstrations last spring demanding his resignation.

The brief 2008 war saw Russia drive deep into Georgian territory and two separate territories break entirely with Georgia. The war damaged Saakashvili's reputation, which already was tarnished by complaints that he was showing an authoritarian streak.

But the opposition lost luster when last spring's protests fizzled out inconclusively and opposition factions have not been able to coalesce into a unified front.

The local councils are constituted of both party-list and individual mandate seats and it is likely to be several days before a comprehensive picture emerges of how much power Saakashvili's United Democratic Movement will be able to wield.

The election observers' mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said elections "marked evident progress toward meeting international standards, but significant shortcomings remain to be addressed."

A statement from the mission cited systemic problems in some regions of the country including ballot-box stuffing. It also criticized many television stations for bias in campaign coverage, although it said the country's public broadcasting company have balanced coverage.

Several opposition parties expressed doubt about observers' objectivity. "International organizations always express the interests of the government," Tbilisi mayoral candidate Zviad Dzidziguri said.


Man arrested after US forces flight to divert

MEXICO CITY (AP) - An Aeromexico flight from Paris to Mexico was forced to divert to Montreal after U.S. authorities refused to let the plane use U.S. airspace, and a man onboard was taken off and arrested under an outstanding warrant, officials and passengers said.

The man, who officials did not name, was arrested Sunday at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, said Lauren Gaches, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Other passengers on Aeromexico Flight 006 from Charles De Gaulle Airport to Mexico City were re-screened and allowed to re-board the flight, Gaches said. The plane arrived in Mexico City about 3:30 a.m. EDT (0730GMT) Monday.

She gave no further details. As a matter of policy, the TSA does not confirm or deny whether a person appears on a government watch list.

"The United States' ability to refuse entry into its territory of any flight it deems to present a threat to its security is recognized by numerous countries and is consistent with international agreements," Gaches said.

Passengers coming off the plane told The Associated Press that six Canadian police officers had boarded in Montreal, handcuffed the man and led him off the aircraft. They said the man did not resist.

"He was calm as if he knew what was going to happen," said Mauricio Oliver, a 36-year-old Mexican passenger. "They handcuffed him and they took him."

Oliver said a flight attendant told him the man was from Somalia, but other passengers gave conflicting information about his nationality.

French passenger Christian Collier, 63, said everyone aboard remained calm during the incident.

A spokesman for Canada Border Services, Dominque McNeely, said there was no incident on the aircraft and that law-enforcement officials boarded the plane around 2:30 p.m. Sunday and took the suspect into custody.

"The flight landed and we had excellent cooperation with everyone involved," he said.

McNeely said the man was being detained in Montreal and a detention hearing would be held in the next 48 hours.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police official said officers assisted Canada Border Services.

In Mexico City, Aeromexico did not respond to questions for comment.

The Paris Airport Authority did not immediately comment Monday on the flight or what passport control measures had been carried out on the passenger at Charles de Gaulle before the flight left.


Israeli commandos storm aid flotilla; 10 killed

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing at least 10 passengers in a predawn raid that set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.

Israel said its commandos were attacked by knives, clubs and live fire from two pistols wrested from soldiers after they rappelled from a helicopter to board one of the vessels.

Dozens of activists and at least 10 Israeli soldiers were wounded in the bloody confrontation in international waters.

Reaction was swift and harsh, with a massive protest breaking out in Turkey, Israel's longtime Muslim ally, which unofficially supported the mission. Ankara announced it would recall its ambassador and call off military exercises with the Jewish state.

The bloody showdown came at a sensitive time in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to meet Tuesday with President Barack Obama to discuss the next round in U.S.-led indirect negotiations. From Toronto, Netanyahu spoke by telephone with top Israeli officials and expressed his "full backing" for the military, according to a statement from the army.

The White House said in a written statement that the United States "deeply regrets" the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this "tragedy."

The activists were headed to Gaza on a mission meant to draw attention to the blockade, which Israel and Egypt imposed after the militant Hamas group seized the territory of 1.5 million Palestinians in 2007.

There were conflicting accounts of what happened early Monday, with activists claiming the Israelis fired first and Israel insisting its forces fired in self defense. Communications to the ships were cut off shortly after the raid began.

An Israeli commando who spoke to reporters on a naval vessel off the coast, and who was identified only by the first letter of his name, "A," said he and his comrades were surprised by a group of Arabic-speaking men when they rapelled onto the deck.

He said some of the soldiers, taken off guard, were stripped of their helmets and equipment and thrown from the top deck to the lower deck, and that some had even jumped overboard to save themselves. At one point one of the passengers seized one of the soldiers' weapons and opened fire.

A high-ranking naval official displayed a box confiscated from the boat containing switchblades, slingshots, metal balls and metal bats. "We prepared (the soldiers) to deal with peace activists, not to fight," he said. Most of the 10 dead were Turkish, he added.

A Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on board one of the ships, with activists in orange life jackets running around as some tried to help an activist apparently unconscious on the deck. The site also showed video of an Israeli helicopter flying overhead and Israeli warships nearby.

Turkey's NTV showed activists beating one Israeli soldier with sticks as he rappelled from a helicopter onto one of the boats.

Activists said Israeli naval commandos stormed the ships after ordering them to stop in international waters, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Gaza's coast.

An Al-Jazeera reporter on one of the Turkish ships said the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it. The pan-Arab satellite channel reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli navy forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the captain.

"These savages are killing people here, please help," a Turkish television reporter said.

The broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, "Everybody shut up!"

In a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel's military chief of staff and navy commander said the troops were able to take over the five other boats without incident and all of the violence was centered on the boat carrying most of the flotilla's passengers, the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara.

Troops were attacked, said Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and an unspecified number of troops were helicoptered to hospital suffering from gunshots, knife wounds and blows.

"To me it is clear without a doubt, judging by what I saw and what I heard in the first reports from the soldiers, that in light of the danger to human life this violence required the use of weapons, and in my opinion the soldiers acted as they should have in this situation," Ashkenazi said.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed regret for the loss of life, but called IHH, a Turkish group organizing the sea convoy, a violent organization "operating under cover of humanitarian activity."

The ships were being towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, and wounded were evacuated by helicopter to Israeli hospitals, officials said. Two ships had reached port by midday.

Many of the passengers were from European countries.

The European Union deplored what it called excessive use of force and demanded an investigation by Israel. The EU said the blockade of Gaza, now in its fourth year, is "politically unacceptable," and called for an immediate, sustained opening of crossings into the Hamas-controlled territory, according to a statement by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Turkey called on the U.N. Security Council to convene in an emergency session about Israel.

Thousands marched in protest in Istanbul, some setting Israeli flags on fire after trying to storm the Israeli consulate. Israel quickly advised to its citizens to avoid travel to Turkey. In neighboring Jordan, hundreds demonstrated in the capital Amman to protest the Israeli action and demand that their government breaks diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Israeli security forces were on alert across the country for possible protests.

There were no details on the identities of the casualties, or on the conditions of some of the more prominent people on board, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli "aggression," declared three days of mourning across the West Bank and called on the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency sessions on the incident.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the rival Hamas government in Gaza, condemned the "brutal" Israeli attack and called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene.

In Uganda, Ban condemned the deaths of the activists and called for a "thorough" investigation. "Israel must provide an explanation," he said.

The activists were headed to Gaza on a mission meant to draw attention to a 3-year-old Israeli blockade of the coastal territory. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, violently seized the territory. Critics say the blockade has unfairly hurt Gaza's 1.5 million people.

Before the ships set sail from waters off the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus on Sunday, Israel had urged the flotilla not to try to breach the blockade and offered to transfer some of the cargo to Gaza from an Israeli port, following a security inspection.

The violent takeover threatened to deal yet another blow to Israel's international image, already tarnished by war crimes accusations in Gaza and its blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.

Organizers included people affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group that often sends international activists into battle zones, and the IHH.

The Turkish group is an Islamic humanitarian group that is based in Istanbul but operates in several other countries. Israel recently arrested the IHH's West Bank operative, but said his arrest was not related to the planned aid mission.

Hasan Naiboglu, the Turkish maritime affairs undersecretary, told the Anatolia news agency that Israel had jammed communications with the ships. He accused Israel of violating international law by carrying out the raid in international waters.

Turkey had unofficially supported the aid mission and has been vocally critical of Israeli military operations against Palestinians in Gaza.

The flotilla of three cargo ships and three passenger ships carrying 10,000 tons of aid and 700 activists was carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials.

This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.

Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in January 2009.

The latest flotilla was the largest to date.


American cage fighter 'rips out still-beating heart of training partner after fearing he was possessed by the devil'

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT U.S. cage fighter ripped out the heart of his training partner while he was still alive after becoming convinced he was possessed by the devil, it was alleged today.

Jarrod Wyatt also cut out Taylor Powell's tongue and ripped off most of his face in a brutal assault that police said looked like a scene from a horror film, officers said.

They claim they found the 26-year-old standing naked over his friend's body with parts, including an eyeball, strewn around the blood splattered room in Klamath, California.

Wyatt allegedly told police he had drunk a cup of tea spiked with hallucinogenic mushrooms and became convinced Powell was possessed.

According to an autopsy Powell, 21, bled to death after his heart was ripped out.

The coroner said Powell had been alive when the organ was ripped out after his chest had been sliced open with a knife.

Wyatt told the police he thrown the heart into a fire along with other organs that he had removed from the body, it was claimed.

He allegedly told investigators he cooked the body parts because he was fearful Powell was still alive and he ‘needed to stop the Devil’.

Police had been called to the grisly scene after a third friend had witnessed a sudden mood change in Wyatt after they had all ingested wild mushroom tea.

Justin Davis told police he returned to the flat to find Wyatt naked and covered from head to toe in blood.

He noticed an eyeball lying in the middle of the floor and saw Powell's mutilated body.

A lawyer representing Wyatt has claimed the wild mushrooms caused him to act in such a violent way and had not control over his actions.

‘My client was trying to silence the devil,’ said James Fallman.

‘I think he was having a psychotic fit based on the mushrooms he had.’

Wyatt has been charged with first degree murder and torture.

Prosecutors added the torture charge as Powell was still alive when his heart was removed.


Israeli commandos describe initial moments of raid

Israeli commandos who raided a Gaza aid ship on Monday were set upon by activists with knives and clubs and some troops jumped overboard to save themselves, according to an Israeli account.

Israel said commandos opened fire in self-defence and 10 activists were killed and seven troops wounded. With Israel jamming signals and censoring media, there was little independent reporting of the events at sea.

An Israeli military spokesman said some of the commandos were equipped with paintball guns but the non-lethal weapons were not enough against activists who charged in with batons.

"They had pistols with live ammunition as back-up, to defend themselves," he said.

One of the commandos told reporters he descended by rope from a helicopter onto one of the six ships in the convoy and was immediately attacked by a group of people waiting for them.

"They beat us with metal sticks and knives," he said. "There was live fire at some point against us."

A Reuters cameraman on the Israeli navy ship Kidon close to the six-vessel aid convoy said commanders monitoring the operation were surprised by the strong resistance put up by the pro-Palestinian activists.

One of the commandos said some of the soldiers were stripped of their helmets and equipment and a number were tossed from the top deck to a lower deck and then leapt into the sea to save themselves.

"They jumped me, hit me with clubs and bottles and stole my rifle," one of the commandos said. "I pulled out my pistol and had no choice but to shoot."


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Radioactive fish near Vt. nuke plant deemed common

MONTPELIER, Vt. — When a fish taken from the Connecticut River recently tested positive for radioactive strontium-90, suspicion focused on the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear plant as the likely source.

Operators of the troubled 38-year-old nuclear plant on the banks of the river, where work is under way to clean up leaking radioactive tritium, revealed this month that it also found soil contaminated with strontium-90, an isotope linked to bone cancer and leukemia.

Three days later, officials said a fish caught four miles upstream from the reactor in February had tested positive for strontium-90 in its bones. State officials say they don't believe the contamination came from Vermont Yankee.

Tritium was reported leaking from the plant in January, and since then has turned up in monitoring wells at levels 100 times the federal Environmental Protection Agency's safety limit for that substance in drinking water. Other radioactive isotopes have been found as well, including cesium-137, zinc-65 and cobalt-60.

Officials have said tritium has been flowing downhill from the plant to the adjacent river, though it is diluted quickly in the fast-flowing stream. Tests on river water have not produced measurable tritium readings. Now the question is whether strontium-90, generally considered a more dangerous isotope than tritium, may also have found its way to the river.

State health officials say Vermont Yankee most likely was not the source of the radioactivity in the fish, a yellow perch. Fish and other living things — including humans — around the world have been absorbing tiny amounts of strontium-90 since the United States, Russia and China tested nuclear weapons in the atmosphere in the 1950s and 1960s. A fresher dose was released by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

"It's clearly consistent with the background levels from Chernobyl and weapons testing that went on until 1965," said Michael Dumond, chief of prevention services, which includes radiological health, for the state of New Hampshire. The river between the states is New Hampshire territory, though Dumond said New Hampshire has largely deferred to Vermont on testing samples from it.

Does that mean strontium-90 is present in fish caught around the world?

"Yes. It's everywhere," said John Till, president of South Carolina-based Risk Assessment Corp. and a consultant for more than three decades in testing for radioactive substances in the environment.

Till said he supports nuclear power but faults the industry for a lack of speed and candor in discussing its risks.

Should people limit fish consumption because strontium and other radioactive substances can collect in their tissue?

"Absolutely not," Till said, adding that the amounts are too tiny to be a concern. (Some states, including Vermont, have urged limits on fish consumption — especially by children and pregnant women — because of mercury contamination.)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that radioactive strontium is a human carcinogen, but the arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracks toxic substances says exposures must be at high levels before the risk of cancer is elevated.

David Deen, a Vermont state legislator, Connecticut River Watershed Council river steward and fishing guide, is not mollified.

"As a guide, I'll tell you when the fish you're angling for are identified as having strontium-90 in them, it doesn't do much for the image of pristine fishing," said Deen, chairman of the House Fish and Wildlife Committee.

Some people think Vermont Yankee should not be let off the hook any more easily than was the fish that ended up in a Tennessee lab and tested positive for strontium-90.

William Irwin, radiological health chief for the state of Vermont, acknowledged that it was impossible to establish a baseline for strontium-90 in Connecticut River fish, because the state had not tested for it before this year. For that reason, it can't be determined for certain whether Vermont Yankee has been adding strontium-90 to the river

Irwin said the 59 picocuries per kilogram found in the perch's bones was actually at the low end of measurements taken from fish caught even much farther from nuclear plants.

Still, Irwin's comments troubled Helen Caldicott, a pediatrician by training, an internationally known critic of nuclear power and author most recently of a book debunking nuclear as a solution to global warming, "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer."

"What is the baseline level in fish from (bomb-testing and Chernobyl) fallout?" Caldicott asked in a phone interview from her home country of Australia. "What he's saying is fallacious. He doesn't have a baseline level, so to say it's the same as baseline level is not true."

Irwin said there was strong evidence that the strontium-90 in the fish was not from Vermont Yankee, but added it is impossible to say for sure.

Vermont Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said the only spot on the reactor site where strontium-90 had been found was in the pit plant technicians had dug looking for the source of the tritium leak, in an alley between two plant buildings.

Irwin said strontium-90 appeared not to have migrated from there. "We did not find it in groundwater," he said. "We did not find it in river water." And it was not found in soil samples taken farther from the site of the Vermont Yankee leak.

Irwin said a study last year by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation found levels of strontium-90 in Hudson River fish at up to three times the level found in the Connecticut River fish. That study looked at fish samples from much farther from the nearest nuclear plant — 80 to 90 miles upriver from Indian Point — and attributed the results to bomb testing and Chernobyl, Irwin said.

Caldicott was not convinced. "Fish can swim 80 miles," she said. "To say that the strontium-90 didn't come from Indian Point, I would be very suspicious."

Irwin said the fish seemed to have caught the public's imagination. Asked what species the fish was, he said he didn't know, but later said it was "a red herring."

Given his doubts that the strontium in the perch came from Vermont Yankee, Irwin said he considered it more important that he and his staff focus on testing roughly 2,000 samples taken since January closer to the reactor than the four-mile distance at which the fish was found.

"We're sampling groundwater, drinking water, river water, river sediments, soil and fish. Starting next week we'll be collecting vegetation," Irwin said. "We're going to be doing all of these analyses of all these samples for a very long time."

"We're in this for the long haul," he said. "We'll get more samples. We'll get more analytical data, and we'll get a better and better picture of what the truth is."


First the Gulf, now this...

Taliban Leave Pakistan, but Afghans Repel Them

KABUL, Afghanistan — After five days of fighting, the Afghan border police, supported by American helicopters, repelled a force of Pakistani Taliban who appeared to have crossed the border to try to carve out a new haven in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province, according to Afghan officials.

Meanwhile, in Paktia Province in southeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban ambushed a joint force of Afghan National Police and NATO soldiers, killing at least five Afghan police officers, provincial police officials said.

The attacks not only indicated that the summer fighting season had begun, but also provided a reminder of the permeability of Afghanistan’s rugged border, which is difficult for NATO vehicles to patrol but well traveled on foot and donkey by insurgents who know their way over the high mountain passes.

In Nuristan, the fighting in the Barg-e-Matal district ended with two border police officers dead, three wounded, at least three houses burned and at least 25 Taliban dead, said Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the head of the Afghan Border Police for the country’s eastern region.

An American military spokesman in Jalalabad, Maj. T. G. Taylor, confirmed that helicopters had provided some close air support overnight.

“Large numbers of Taliban” were involved in the fight, General Mamozai said. He estimated that more than 600 insurgents were in the area. He said they came to Barg-e-Matal from the Pakistani areas of Swat, Bajaur and Chitral and included Chechens and Arabs as well as Pakistanis.

Though it was impossible to confirm the presence of such a large contingent of Pakistani Taliban and fighters with Al Qaeda, the fighting underscored the difficulty of denying havens to militant groups when borders are so permeable. Many of the Pakistani Taliban and others appeared to have felt that they could no longer operate freely in some of their bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas because of military operations by the Pakistani Army, and so were apparently testing nearby areas where there is no little or no presence of NATO troops.

General Mamozai sounded pleased that his forces had received strong backing from Nuristani residents who apparently did not want the Taliban to take up residence in their area. Nuristanis, who speak a different language from the main Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari, have a reputation as clannish and wary of outsiders who attempt to move onto their territory regardless of their nationality.

“In this fight not only our Afghan forces took part, but even local villagers also helped us in fighting the Taliban,” General Mamozai said.

“Three houses of villagers were burned by the Taliban because the villagers were helping us during the fight,” he said.

He said he could not confirm the death of Maulana Fazlullah, a notorious member of the Pakistani Taliban, who was reported to have died earlier this week in the fighting.

In Paktia, the Taliban ambushed a joint NATO-Afghan patrol in the early afternoon in the Dandi Patan district, killing five Afghan police officers and damaging two of their vehicles, which generally have little protection against bullets, bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Dandi Patan district police chief, Commander Wahab, was in the convoy and survived the attack, but was seriously wounded, said Ghulam Yaar, the security officer for the Paktia provincial police headquarters. Commander Wahab was taken to the nearby American-run Forward Operating Base Salerno for medical treatment.

The police in Khost announced Friday that the police chief of Alisher district, Jawar Khan, had died Wednesday of his wounds from a Taliban attack on May 20.

A NATO soldier died in southern Afghanistan early on Friday when an improvised explosive device detonated near him, according to a military statement.


Israel stations nuclear missile subs off Iran

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.

The first has been sent in response to Israeli fears that ballistic missiles developed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, a political and military organisation in Lebanon, could hit sites in Israel, including air bases and missile launchers.

The submarines of Flotilla 7 — Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan — have visited the Gulf before. But the decision has now been taken to ensure a permanent presence of at least one of the vessels.

The flotilla’s commander, identified only as “Colonel O”, told an Israeli newspaper: “We are an underwater assault force. We’re operating deep and far, very far, from our borders.”

Each of the submarines has a crew of 35 to 50, commanded by a colonel capable of launching a nuclear cruise missile.

The vessels can remain at sea for about 50 days and stay submerged up to 1,150ft below the surface for at least a week. Some of the cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in the Israeli arsenal.

The deployment is designed to act as a deterrent, gather intelligence and potentially to land Mossad agents. “We’re a solid base for collecting sensitive information, as we can stay for a long time in one place,” said a flotilla officer.

The submarines could be used if Iran continues its programme to produce a nuclear bomb. “The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran,” said a navy officer.

Apparently responding to the Israeli activity, an Iranian admiral said: “Anyone who wishes to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a forceful response from us.”

Israel’s urgent need to deter the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance was demonstrated last month. Ehud Barak, the defence minister, was said to have shown President Barack Obama classified satellite images of a convoy of ballistic missiles leaving Syria on the way to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, will emphasise the danger to Obama in Washington this week.

Tel Aviv, Israel’s business and defence centre, remains the most threatened city in the world, said one expert. “There are more missiles per square foot targeting Tel Aviv than any other city,” he said.


Al-Qa'ida 'running out of suicide bombers in Iraq'

Al-Qa'ida is struggling to launch frequent suicide attacks in Iraq for the first time because of a shortage of foreign volunteers travelling to the country to carry them out.

Interrogation of prisoners and intercepted messages revealed that local al-Qa'ida commanders are complaining about the lack of foreigners to carry out suicide missions as they had done to devastating effect in the past, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said in an interview with The Independent.

"The shortage of suicide bombers is because Islamic fundamentalists are more interested in Afghanistan and Pakistan these days, the Americans are withdrawing from Iraq and al-Qa'ida's networks have been disrupted by ourselves and the Americans," said Mr Zebari, whose own foreign ministry building was badly damaged by a vehicle bomb last August that killed 42 staff members and injured many more. "I expect al-Qa'ida will pool its remaining resources and make another spectacular attack in Baghdad very soon."

Mr Zebari said he believes that al-Qa'ida is finding it much more difficult to find safe havens in parts of Iraq dominated by the Sunni Arab community which turned out to vote en masse in the general election in March.

The use of suicide bombers from outside Iraq – the majority coming from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Algeria and Morocco – played a central role in destabilising the Iraqi governments which followed Saddam Hussein. The first suicide bombings started in August 2003 and al-Qa'ida was able to attract volunteers for suicide missions from across the Muslim world, enabling it to launch seven or eight attacks in a single day.

In 2007, 5,480 people were killed from "multiple fatality bombings" but this number more than halved the following year and dropped further to 2,058 in 2009. In the first three months of 2010, 346 people have died, according to the Brookings Institution think tank.

Shia civilians in markets or coming out of mosques were frequently targeted by the fanatically Sunni al-Qa'ida leaders. Sitting in his temporary office beside the recently reopened foreign ministry building, Mr Zebari said that the only factor now favouring al-Qa'ida is the political stalemate that has yet to produce a government, 75 days after an election on 7 March failed to produce an outright winner.

In this uncertain political atmosphere, even a reduced level of attacks increases instability. He said that earlier this week, a newly elected member of parliament was assassinated in Mosul "almost certainly by al-Qa'ida, but Sunni politicians immediately blamed the government for not giving the MP enough protection".

A leader of the Kurdish resistance to Saddam Hussein for many years, Mr Zebari has a reputation of being one of the ablest ministers in the governments which followed the overthrow in 2003.

But he sounded despairing as he detailed the difficulties in forming a new power-sharing government because of the personal animosities between leaders. He suggested that the UN play a greater role taking over from the US which "in the past played a crucial role banging heads together".

The results of the election have been in dispute since the bloc headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came a narrow second to the Sunni-backed bloc headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Because both blocs fell far short of an outright majority, they are competing to form a governing coalition. So far there has not even been a round-table meeting between the different parties and Mr Zebari does not believe that the US proposal for a grand coalition between Mr al-Maliki and Mr Allawi is feasible. "The difficulty is in deciding who will be in the driving seat," he said.

The result of these internal divisions in Iraq is that foreign powers are playing an ever increasing role in deciding what happens in the country. Mr Zebari pointed to the growing role of Iran, Turkey and Syria in Iraq.

The Independent

Inside the mind of a Taliban bomb master

Squatting on a concrete floor with nails, wires and a plug socket scattered around his feet, Naimatullah goes carefully about his business.

“This is the detonator for the bomb,” he says in a soft voice, a small object in his hand. Then he scoops up some white powder, packing it into a plastic drinks bottle. “These are very tasty explosives, very strong,” he says.

The camera tracks Naimatullah’s hands as he crams nails, fertiliser, petrol and lime into a yellow bucket. The bomb he is making is designed to explode with a lethal burst of shrapnel, slicing through the flesh of British and American soldiers in Afghanistan. The petrol will set fire to their “infidel tanks”, he adds.

The 25-year-old Pashtun, with a neatly trimmed beard, is one of the Taliban’s bombmaking masterminds. Last week, in an interview with The Sunday Times, he displayed the video, filmed on a mobile phone, showing himself at work. It will soon be used to help train other bomb makers.

Every year Naimatullah crosses the border into Pakistan and spends a couple of months at a Taliban camp, teaching his deadly art to the next generation of bomb specialists.

The toll is heavy. Last Wednesday Corporal Stephen Curley, 26, a Royal Marine, became the latest British casualty following a blast in Helmand province. In total 181 British servicemen and women have been killed by bombs since mid-2007. Last year nearly 400 Nato troops died in explosions and 1,800 were badly wounded.

On the same day that Curley died, Naimatullah described how he operates. “I enjoy killing foreign soldiers,” he said. “I am serving my God and my nation and I am training others to do the same.”

He boasted that he had killed “lots” of American troops only a fortnight earlier by detonating a bomb under a US armoured vehicle. That attack took place in Khost province in southeast Afghanistan, where he leads a 10-man explosives unit. But his expertise has been passed on to Taliban cells operating across the entire country.

Among the victims in Helmand have been four of the most highly trained British bomb disposal experts, including Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid. Last week it emerged that their chief, Colonel Bob Seddon, has resigned, citing concerns about the amount of pressure that his men are facing in Afghanistan.

In 2007 there were 2,600 attacks using homemade bombs. In January alone this year there were 1,000 bomb attacks. Faced with such an onslaught, have Britain and its allies underestimated their enemy? And what can they do to counter bombers such as Naimatullah?

SITTING cross-legged on the floor of a safe house in Kabul, Naimatullah appeared far from threatening when I met him last week. Despite his relative youth, he was already going bald. “It is because I normally wear a turban,” he explained, smiling.

A friend who grew up with him in the same village had persuaded Naimatullah to break cover. The son of a peasant farmer, he looked uncomfortable in the presence of a western “infidel”. He refused to reveal his real name, spoke monosyllabically to begin with and avoided making eye contact.

He said he wanted to be interviewed so he could correct some of the common misconceptions about the Taliban. The meeting was also an opportunity for him to demonstrate his handiwork by giving me a copy of his training video.

“The foreigners say we are paid to lay the bombs,” he said. “They call us the $10 fighters. This is all lies. We are not paid a regular salary. If the little money we do receive stopped coming to us then we would still continue our jihad for as long as we could afford.”

Five years earlier Naimatullah’s father sent him to a madrasah across the border in North Waziristan where he studied the Koran, sharia and the tenets of jihad, or holy war.

“The mullahs would tell us how the infidels had invaded our homeland,” he said.

“They did not come for reconstruction — it is a lie. They just came to ruin the country and to kill Muslims. Of course I agreed with what they taught me. We could see what was happening.”

Within months he had joined the Taliban, initially working as a foot soldier in his home province of Khost. He swiftly gained a reputation among his peers as a fearless commander, often volunteering to lie in ambush closest to advancing US troop convoys.

Naimatullah’s dedication paid off and his commander eventually sent him back to school, this time to a madrasah in Pakistan’s North West Frontier province. On his first day there, a leading cleric stood up in front of the pupils and asked them what they would rather be: a suicide bomber, a bomb maker or a fighter.

“It was the young and naive ones who wanted to be suicide bombers,” he said.

“I wanted to be a bomb maker. Suicide attacks you can only carry out once. In my profession I can live longer and so I can kill more.”

His training took place in the basement of a mud house on the edge of a village. An instructor taught in front of a blackboard, drawing in chalk the techniques used to make IEDs as the class of 10 sat at his feet, surrounded by photographs of bombs tacked to the walls.

By 2009, after a series of successful attacks on US troops, the pupil had replaced the master. Naimatullah is now one of at least 100 trainers who teach recruits about various types of IED: pressure plates, detonated when a soldier steps on the bomb; remote-controlled, triggered by a mobile phone; and command wire, detonated by attaching wires to a battery pack.

He advises students to lay the bombs in hard ground and to improvise by adding unexploded mortar rounds, artillery shells or gas canisters to create maximum carnage.

“We look for areas where troops are naturally channelled by the terrain. Or we look for routes that convoys will follow — harder ground, previous tyre marks in the dirt. But we also have to consider where we hide, where the best place to put the man on the trigger is.”

Classes last for 2½ hours each day and students are made to sit an oral exam — many are illiterate — at the end of the three-month training period.

Naimatullah explained how bombs can be made from components scavenged from old artillery shells or sometimes from putty explosives acquired in Pakistan, as well as the Taliban’s secret ingredient: “We mix yoghurt on top of the explosives. It helps to hide the bomb,” he said. The curdled yoghurt might also throw sniffer dogs off the trail.

They sometimes add American-donated fertiliser that “is easily found in the bazaar”, said Naimatullah, relishing the irony. Sim-card holders from mobile phones are ferried in from Pakistan. The Taliban attach the electronic holders to the bomb’s detonator and place a sim card inside. To detonate the bomb, the Taliban simply dial the sim card’s number.

Naimatullah added: “In other provinces like Helmand they are using a lot of homemade stuff, but for us Pakistan is a 20-minute drive away. Why should we risk making explosives when we can just go across the border and get it ready made?” He grew silent when pressed on whether Pakistan’s military or its intelligence agency supplied components. “I cannot say. It comes from Pakistan. That is all,” he said with a sly smile.

LAST autumn I met Schmid in Sangin, the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. He was exhausted, having defused 64 IEDs over four months in searing temperatures and under constant threat from Taliban gunfire. Schmid, 30, told me that the army was trying to train more bomb disposal experts because of the strain men like him were under in Helmand.

It could not be achieved overnight, he said: “Technicians do seven years of training. People think there’s a short-term solution to the number of operators, but they can’t just be churned out. They need a good background knowledge of ammunition and explosives.”

Two weeks after our conversation Schmid was dead, blown up by a bomb he had tried to defuse. He was awarded the George Cross posthumously.

On Friday a coroner examining the death of Captain Daniel Shepherd, a colleague of Schmid in the bomb squad, said there was an urgent need for more remote-controlled robots. Shepherd, 28, was killed by a blast last July after defusing 13 bombs by hand in 36 hours.

Schmid’s American counterparts are considered so valuable that many are assigned former US special forces soldiers to act as bodyguards against Taliban gunfire. Over the past three years the US military has pumped more than £10 billion into research and technology designed to detect and neutralise the IEDs that cost the Taliban just £20 to make.

Nato officials admit that money will not defeat IEDs unless the source of the problem is addressed: until the supply line from Pakistan is cut off there will be no end to the bloodshed. Men like Schmid and Shepherd will continue to die.

Naimatullah, who has seen four Taliban fighters killed since he became the commander of his own IED unit, said: “We know about the computer planes [US drones] and their technology. Every night we prepare to die. This is a holy war; we are fighting for a good cause so the thought of death does not bother us.”


Kurdish rebel chief to abandon peace efforts

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan accused Turkey of ignoring his calls to establish talks with his rebels and said he would withdraw from the peace process, a Kurdish newspaper reported Saturday.

Ocalan's announcement that he would formally abandon his efforts and leave his rebel command in charge comes amid new clashes between Kurdish guerrillas and the Turkish military.

Kurdish rebels killed two soldiers and three pro-government village guards in two separate clashes Saturday near the Iraqi border, the state run Anatolia news agency said. Turkey's military killed at least 24 Kurdish rebels in an airstrike on rebel hideouts in northern Iraq last week and separate clashes this week.

"I am withdrawing after May 31 since I could not find an interlocutor," Ocalan was quoted as saying on the website of the Ozgur Politika newspaper.

Ocalan has been influential over his rebel command based in northern Iraq and unsuccessfully pressured Turkey to establish dialogue with his rebels, who are branded as terrorists by the United States and the European Union.

Ocalan said his rebel command would be in charge of the process, along with a pro-Kurdish political party that struggles for Kurdish rights.

"From now on, the PKK might reconcile with the state and find a solution or they might get stuck. Or it is possible that the PKK might be defeated and lose the war or be abolished," Ocalan said. "We can't know what would happen after the war."

The clashes picked up after Turkey's highest court shut down a pro-Kurdish party in December for links to Kurdish rebels, complicating the government's efforts to reconcile with the minority Kurds to end the 26-year-old conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Turkey has urged Iraq to eradicate Kurdish rebel bases to prevent hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets. The rebels took up arms in 1984.


Iraq's al-Maliki says he's only party PM nominee

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's prime minister said Saturday he is the only nominee from his political party to run the nation's next government, rejecting suggestions of a consensus candidate to satisfy those concerned about his leadership.

Nouri al-Maliki's comments revealed an unwillingness to budge in negotiations with his Shiite partners over forming Iraq's likely next government despite a process that has dragged on in the nearly three months since the March 7 election left the country without a clear winner.

Other Shiite political groups and religious leaders whose support al-Maliki is depending on have been lukewarm at best about him remaining in the job.

Asked by reporters if his State of Law political coalition would compromise on a candidate to satisfy the concerns, al-Maliki said there is "only one nominee to be a prime minister."

"No, the State of Law insists on its candidate," al-Maliki told reporters in the city of Najaf. It was clear he was talking about himself.

Al-Maliki's State of Law coalition came in second in the election behind a coalition backed by Iraq's minority Sunnis. But no single group won an outright majority, making a coalition government necessary.

The prime minister's party has joined up with the religious Shiite Iraqi National Alliance in hopes of capturing enough seats in parliament to run the next government.

The leader of one of the two main political parties that make up the alliance, powerful Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, has said he does not believe al-Maliki has enough Iraqi or international support to remain prime minister.

The other wing of the Iraqi National Alliance, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, intensely dislikes al-Maliki because he crushed their Mahdi Army militia in 2008 and jailed thousands of them. The Sadrists initially rejected al-Maliki as head of a new government. But politicians involved in negotiations say Sadrists are now softening in the face of pressure by neighboring Shiite power Iran to back al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki, whose political coalition fell two seats behind his Sunni-backed rival, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, has demanded ballot recounts and other legal challenges in an attempt to stay in power.

Cementing a Shiite-dominated coalition government that excludes Sunnis could worsen violence, particularly attacks against the government and its security forces. Since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003, Sunnis have been marginalized, and disaffected Sunni Arabs formed the core of the insurgency.

Last week, Iraq's election commission sent the final vote results to the Supreme Court for certification, which could be a major first step toward ending a delay that has heightened tensions in the fragile democracy as American military forces prepare to go home. There is no deadline for the court to certify the results, but U.S. officials believe it will be soon.

Al-Maliki was in Najaf for a 90-minute meeting with the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. After the meeting, al-Maliki said al-Sistani urged him to work quickly to seat a new government as outlined by Iraq's constitution.

Al-Sistani voiced similar concerns last week to Allawi, who leads the Iraqiya coalition that won the most votes in the election.

"We are ready to meet the brothers in the Iraqiya list," al-Maliki told reporters.

In a website statement issued Saturday, Iraqiya called anew on the United Nations and international allies "to intervene quickly to protect the political process and the election results from being manipulated."

Iraqiya cited unnamed forces that it feared would try to pressure the Supreme Court to declare another political group the election victor - despite Iraqiya's win at the polls.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hate-mongers of Pakistan and Khalid Khwaja Mystery

"Son of the slain former ISI officer, Khalid Khwaja–who was killed a couple of weeks ago in North Waziristan by “Asian Tigers”–has said he will go to court against the renowned Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir. This comes after the audio-tape leaked in Pakistani media in which allegedly Hamid Mir is talking with a member of Taliban. In the audio-tape conversation, published by some Pakistani newspapers, Hamid Mir accuses Khalid Khwaja of being a CIA agent and close to Ahmadiya sect. Khwaja’s son, Usama Khalid says Mir published a report in The News and Jang newspaper on May 02 with same contents discussed in his conversation in the tape. Mr. Mir says the audio is fake, while his employer Jang Media Group, that runs top Pakistani newspapers Jang and the News and the most watched Geo TV has said it will investigate the issue. Hamid Mir hosts a prime time talk show “Capital Talk” live from Islamabad on Geo TV every night."
Kabul Prespective

Jalala-Not So Bad and Not So Good

"Security incident rates around Afghanistan are skyrocketing and this year it appears that Jalalabad is, for the first time, going to get its fair share of attention. This unfortunate fact is forcing outside the wire implementers to spend an inordinate amount of time tea drinking and jaw jacking with various local officials and ISAF people in order to get a handle on just how safe we are. My assessment? We’re in for a bad summer, but not as bad a summer as the few internationals working outside the FOB’s in the south. There are two reasons for this; the first is most of us working outside the wire in the east have been here a long time and have developed networks to local people who provide both warning and protection. The second thing going in our favor is that the attacks are amateurish and stupid; even if we were being targeted, the chances of being caught in an effective attack are minimal. This is clearly not the case in the southern region of Afghanistan where al Qaeda operatives are lending technical expertise and the Quetta Shura is able to funnel in ample amounts of money and munitions."

'Hizbullah has missile base in Syria'

The Syrian government has denied that the bases are being used by Hizbullah, claiming they are for Syrian military use only.

In the beginning of April , Kuwait's Al-Rai newspaper reported that Syria had transferred Scud ballistic missiles to Hizbullah. Israel subsequently issued a stern warning that it would consider attacking both Syrian and Lebanese targets in response to a Scud attack on its territory.

Last month, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned that Hizbullah had acquired Scud missiles and improved its missile capabilities.

"There are rockets and missiles in Lebanon in greater quantities and levels of sophistication and this point endangers Israel," Feinstein said to AFP.