Wednesday, June 30, 2010

U.S Enlists New Afghan Village Forces

RABAT, Afghanistan—The men of this remote village, dressed in crisp beige uniforms and armed with Kalashnikovs, are defending their land against the Taliban, in a U.S. Special Forces-driven experiment that is set to spread nationwide.

New legislation, hammered out by American and Afghan officials and expected to be enacted by President Hamid Karzai in coming weeks, would authorize armed village forces across Afghanistan and bring them into the country's law-enforcement system.

The strategy, long advocated by U.S. Special Operations commanders, aims to provide a grass-roots counterbalance to the insurgents and fill a security vacuum in swaths of rural Afghanistan that the overstretched U.S. and Afghan regular forces can't reach.


US to cut $4bn in Afghan aid over corruption fears

US lawmakers have voted to cut almost $4bn (£2.7bn) in aid to the government of Afghanistan, after allegations of corruption.

It comes after the Wall Street Journal reported that huge sums of cash had allegedly been flown out of Kabul international airport in recent years.

Military operations and humanitarian aid will not be affected by the cuts.

But critics fear the move could threaten crucial infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Gen David Petraeus, who has replaced Gen Stanley McChrystal as the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is on his way to brief US allies at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

He will then travel to Afghanistan to take up his new post, after he was confirmed by the US Senate on Wednesday.

'Lining pockets'

US Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chair of the subcommittee responsible for aid appropriations, has demanded that an audit is carried out of billions of dollars of past funds.

She said that alleged corruption in the Afghan government made taxpayer money hard to justify.

"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists," Ms Lowey said.

The money could be reinstated in a few months after a review of Kabul's efforts to tackle the issue.

Republican lawmaker Mark Kirk, however, expressed concern that the slashing of funds could put important projects at risk and would not help the war effort.

He cited the example of Kandahar's electrical system, which he said was an important step to winning over the residents of the area to the US mission.

President Hamid Karzai has denied allegations of corruption by government officials, and has pledged to take a firm stance on the issue.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal claimed that US investigators believed that "Afghan officials and their associates were sending billions of diverted US aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad".

The BBC's Jane O'Brien in Washington says that the aid cuts will send a very strong message to the Karzai government that they need to do more about corruption.

Our correspondent says that the issue is yet another blow to diplomatic relations.

Kabul has meanwhile said that international partners should shoulder some of the blame for failing to provide oversight for contracts, our correspondent adds.

The subcommittee has not cut military funds, which are to be debated in a separate bill.

Lawmakers are due to vote as early as Thursday on President Barack Obama's request for $33bn in military aid to support a surge of 30,000 troops.


US ignores plight of Brit railroaded by Afghan court

At the moment, former British service man Bill Shaw waits for justice in an Afghan prison one reporter for the Mail Online (UK) called the ‘Afghan Alcatraz.’ At the time of his arrest, Shaw was working for G4S, a company whose website says it is the ‘largest security services provider in the world, with operations in more than 110 countries across six continents.’

Apparently the US government is ignoring the plight of this man who risked his own safety to take a job providing security for the British Embassy in Kabul. Shaw was convicted of bribery by an Afghan court.
Why should the US intervene?

Last time I looked, we were allegedly 'nationbuilding' in the land of Afghanistan. If the US holds no influence there, no one does.


Stories published by The BBC and the Mail Online, as well as accounts by friends and family on a Facebook advocacy page for Shaw contain the same set of facts.

Shaw’s background reflects a long record of service to his country. The Mail Online reporter, Nadene Ghouri, said, “Shaw had a remarkable military career. He served for 28 years in the Royal Military Police, working his way up from corporal to commissioned officer, ending up as a major and being awarded the MBE [Member, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire]. He left the military in 2004…”

In 2008 Shaw went to work as a senior manager for G4S in Afghanistan, handling safety and security for numerous diplomats and other personnel. Ghouri said some of those Shaw looked after were from “the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and Revenue and Customs.”

How did this man with a distinguished record of service end up in a squalid Afghan jail, convicted of bribery?

The story is so convoluted it might be laughable if a man’s life weren’t at stake.


Ghouri’s account is straightforward; the primary facts match those given in a BBC story and in a more detailed account in a template letter prepared by Shaw’s advocates who hoped people would send the letter to local MPs (members of Parliament). The following facts are nearly verbatim from the template letter, with some information added from Ghouri’s story:

•Two armored embassy vehicles belonging to G4S were impounded by a unit of the Afghan government. Ghouri attributed the action to the Afghan Police Force who claimed the vehicles didn’t have proper plates.

•Shaw and G4S complained to the Afghan government, with involvement of the British Embassy in Kabul. G4S asked Shaw to pay $20,000 to get the vehicles back, apparently a custom in the local culture. Shaw, said Ghouri, “asked for a receipt (although he didn’t get one).”

•This from Ghouri’s account alone: Another “set of vehicles was impounded. This time, G4S, exasperated, complained to the Afghan authorities, who promised an investigation.”

•Shaw cooperated fully with an Afghan inquiry, even returning from leave in the UK to assist. He was then arrested and charged with bribery. It was alleged the money Shaw paid to retrieve the vehicles was a bribe.

Think about it for a minute. Shaw GAVE the money to the Afghans, he didn’t receive anything for himself, a requisite in a bribery conviction for a mind capable of reasoning. Shaw got back two company vehicles, not exactly a hot item for the black market if you’re a G4S employee.

Would a guilty man willingly return to Afghanistan to assist with an inquiry?


The government is asked to investigate corruption and in typically twisted fashion, the government turns the wrongdoing against an innocent person.

The template letter said Shaw has had two trials. The judge at the first trial told Shaw he was legally innocent of the charges. The letter said, “His second trial was a travesty: it lasted two hours, he had no interpreter and no evidence or witnesses were produced against him, and the judge only asked the prosecution one question, and only at the request of Bill’s defence lawyer.”


In all world religions, there are admonishments against lying. How do the court officials who railroaded Shaw feel about lying? Does Islam not observe similar standards of Christianity and Judaism in this regard?

Afghan court officials have not only committed a wrong against a human being, they have desecrated their own faith in my opinion. Lying to harm an innocent person is wrong.

Was Shaw given less rights because he is possibly not a Muslim? How does his treatment mesh with Islam? I would really like someone to explain that to me because I have always respected the faiths of others.


Ironically had it not been for war correspondent Michael Yon, Americans would probably have never heard of Bill Shaw. Yon brought this story to the attention of his nearly 36,000 fans on his Facebook page.

Recall that Yon’s Afghan embed with British troops was discontinued abruptly after he was critical of how the government was resourcing the soldiers. Yon was also critical of a particular major who made fun of one of his own troops for running in the heat. Yon wrote, “I nearly growled at the Major, but instead asked if he ever goes into combat. The answer was no. And, in fact, the Major does not leave the safety of Camp Bastion.” The dispatch, written by Yon in September, 2009, is an excellent rendering of the culture of war up close and personal. That dispatch is a backgrounder of sorts, though it has no direct relation to Shaw’s case.

The dispatches Yon filed during that time period are useful in the same manner dispatches he filed from Iraq were useful in the case of a US soldier who faced questionable charges and triumphed over them eventually.

And the cancellation of Yon's embed wouldn't be the last time he was penalized on the basis of politics.

*Asked for his opinion of Shaw's situation, Yon emailed a response: "This British veteran is essentially being kept hostage by a government that would not exist if not for the Coalition. Bill Shaw should be released immediately. Not weeks from now, but now."

Yon is one of the most widely read war correspondents in the world, eminently knowledgeable about the intricacies of the war effort in both Iraq and Afghanistan.


Meanwhile, Bill Shaw sits in a jail, often surrounded by Taliban fighters who would, if given the chance, do him great harm.

His plight is nothing more than a result of political posturing. He is caught in a game of politics between a fledgling, questionable government and one of the most powerful governments in the world. He is ignored by the US who should be advocating for him because Great Britain is one of our only allies in a worldwide war the US neither wanted nor started despite what some national media proclaim.

The US controls the purse strings to Afghanistan and those of us back home are paying taxes through the nose to help finance this war. If US leaders don’t understand the leverage in that, they are not as bright as they should be and we should probably hang it up and just leave that Godforsaken backward place, just leave it with its frighteningly eerie beauty and its long bloody history.

Shaw’s family went to see him, and they said the local people were kind and hospitable. That has been my own impression of refugees I've met from Afghanistan.

Those in the court system that have railroaded an innocent man deserve far lesser descriptions. And those who convicted Shaw should face charges themselves for risking the life of an innocent man and for defaming the character of an innocent man by fabricating.

We should also ask ourselves and those in Congress who finance this war what kind of racket is being run in Afghanistan when it comes to impounding corporate vehicles. What kind of government are we working with here?

I emailed Shaw’s wife to ask if there was anything I should refrain from talking about. She wrote back to tell me there wasn’t much “that could make things worse.”

Mrs. Shaw also said, “He does have an appeal on Sat 3rd though that should have happened last Sat. We were told not to be too optimistic about the outcome.”

Justice will come only when Shaw is freed from this irrational confinement that flies in the face of all that is good in any religious doctrine. If there is a leader in the free world who still has a spine, he should take steps to move the process along immediately and see that an innocent man be freed to return home safely to his family.

The US Report

U.S. Troops Face New Threat: Afghanistan’s Toxic Sand

U.S. troops already face plenty of threats in Afghanistan: AK-47–wielding insurgents, improvised bombs, an intransigent and incompetent government. Now add a less familiar challenge to that list of woes: Afghanistan’s toxic sand.

The pulverized turf, it turns out, contains high levels of manganese, silicon, iron, magnesium, aluminum, chromium and other metals that act as neurotoxic agents when ingested. Combine the country’s frequent sandstorms and the kicked-up dust that results from helicopter travel with troops’ nostrils, mouths and pores, and you’ve got an unexpected example of how inhospitable the terrain is for the soon-to-be 98,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines fighting the war.

That’s all according to new research presented this month to a neurotoxicology conference in Oregon by a senior scientist with the Navy Environmental Health Effects Laboratory. That scientist, Palur G. Gunasekar, tells Politics Daily’s Sheila Kaplan that “[a]s the sand extract dose increases at the higher concentration you see cell death.” As the late Ronnie James Dio told us time and again, metal is evil.

A Navy spokesman tells Kaplan that more research is necessary to determine whether a connection exists between Afghan sand and neurotoxicology, as the service has yet to receive complaints from troops about “cognitive difficulties that are unrelated to traumatic brain injuries.” Those injuries have become the signature trauma of nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices, with nearly 64,000 cases diagnosed between 2003 and 2009.

According to ProPublica, Congress has dedicated an estimated $1.7 billion over the last few years to help troops recover from traumatic brain injuries, even standing up six new “Defense Centers of Excellence” in 2007 to provide research support as well as medical care.

But now it looks like there’s a new, tragic and expensive unintended health consequence of the war. And if the Defense Department’s late start in combating traumatic brain injuries is instructive, it’s going to take a lot more than research and the glacial pace of the defense health bureaucracy to deal with neurotoxic sand.

A September 2009 Defense Department overview of its anti-TBI efforts (.PDF) to date found that grappling with the scope of such a multifaceted health problem required “collaborative efforts” with “state-of-the-art science, technology and knowledge-based outcomes.” And the Department still isn’t there yet, years later.

Until something like that kicks into gear for toxic sand, troops are going to be left on their own to mitigate their exposure, so that may mean enterprising commanders ordering their troops to wear black sunglasses and face masks this summer in the Afghan desert. If there’s any upside to a covered face in baking heat, at least it’ll look pretty metal.


Is Obama’s 2011 Afghanistan Deadline a Mistake?

General Petraeus and everyone else in the Obama chain of command swears up and down that they’re committed to the July 2011 deadline for beginning to bring troops home. But the question remains: is setting a transition date actually a mistake?

The Obama administration argues that the date sends “a message of urgency” to the Afghan government to get its act together and start governing. Less clearly stated but still salient is that the war has stretched out for over nine years with minimal progress and the public is tired of waging it. Advocates for the Obama administration’s strategy don’t say that they think their approach to the war will work. They say that it’s the least-worst strategy to secure U.S. interests against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whatever that says about the administration’s intellectual honesty, it’s not a rallying cry to fight.

Meanwhile, the administration’s opponents in the Senate today said any deadline heralding any transition to Afghan responsibility is a bad idea. Their refrain is that you don’t announce the date a war will end before you win it. And in a conventional conflict, that’s true. In a conflict that depends on the popular legitimacy of a foreign military coalition waging a really long war, and on the ability of the Afghan government to deliver prosperity and justice and essential services, it’s more complicated.

But Sen. John McCain and company are right that the July 2011 date is problematic. Even the most stalwart defender of the administration’s decision to set the date has to concede that it hasn’t been quite the “forcing mechanism” for the Afghan government that Obama intended. Since the date was unveiled, Hamid Karzai has shown himself to be far more inclined to cut a deal with the Taliban than he has to govern. His “peace jirga” started to build a consensus for offering the Taliban peace terms. Reportedly, he and the Pakistanis are working on the contours of what the New York Times reported could amount to a “separate peace” on terms that may or may not support U.S. interests against al-Qaeda, with the Pakistanis offering to bring its quasi-proxies in the Haqqani extremist network and the Taliban in from the cold if Karzai agrees to share power.

There’s only so far you can go with this assessment, in fairness. Karzai has pledged support for NATO-Afghan security operations in the southern city of Kandahar. And everyone pretty much acknowledges that the Afghan war is going to end with some kind of negotiated power-sharing arrangement with unsavory characters.

But contrast it with what the Afghan government is doing on, well, governance. The famous “government in a box” that Gen. Stanley McChrystal forecast would be airlifted into Majra in February turned out to be empty. And a recent United Nations report found that while there are some positive signs that the Afghan government is starting to prioritize economic development, it’s not really gotten into gear out past Kabul, where it matters. (Or, as the report put it, “the capacity of subnational government to coordinate through the sector working groups is limited in many locations where mechanisms are operating below expectations.“) To top it all off, Karzai is backsliding on pledges to hold government officials accountable for the country’s endemic corruption. Does this sound like Karzai’s hearing that “message of urgency” on governing?

None of this is to say that Karzai would act with greater haste to govern if Obama didn’t say that U.S. troops are going to start to very slowly come home in July 2011. The U.S. has eight years’ worth of evidence that an unpressured Karzai is pretty disinclined to reform. And no critic of the Obama administration’s July 2011 transition date has offered any alternative proposal for how to compel Karzai to sack up and start governing. What’s more, Petraeus made it clear that if the Taliban have taken any encouragement from the date, he intends to beat it out of them.

But it is to say that if we’re to take Obama and Petraeus seriously that capable governance is the key to Afghanistan’s long-term stability, it’s worth acknowledging that the mechanism that Obama chose to compel Karzai to govern looks more like it’s compelled him to move in a different direction — one that has a far less clear benefit to U.S. interests. And that might strengthen the hand of aides in December’s upcoming administration-wide strategy review who argue that only a more-rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops than Obama and Petraeus currently envision will have the desired result.


It also tells our allies that we can't be trusted, and that come some fixed date, we're out of here, so don't count on us.

Pentagon Brass Plots Mega-Database of Brain Injuries

In the latest of a series of efforts to do right by injured troops, the Pentagon is moving forward with an ambitious database to monitor traumatic brain injuries from war-zone diagnosis to post-deployment treatment. And — in a step that could help scientists unravel the injuries — they want the system to link each TBI to specific incidents on the battlefield.

If, that is, the database even works to begin with.

The Pentagon’s plodding attempts to overhaul their management of troop’s mental health has been marred by a series of recent missteps. In early June, an NPR/Propublica report revealed gaping holes in the military’s ability to diagnose PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. And just last week, the leader of the military’s key mental health centers stepped down amid ongoing criticism of facility’s progress.

But while the military was coping with plenty of bad PR, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III was issuing an action plan for the new database, in a memo obtained by Lynn notes in the memo that the Pentagon’s policy will now mandate that officials “identify, track and ensure the appropriate protection of service members exposed to concussive events, including blast events, to the maximum extent possible.”

It’s a step the military’s been planning for months, but the 17-page memo marks the first official policy statement on the database, which will enter development stages within six months. The database would be all-encompassing, following troops from the front-lines to post-deployment care. Those exposed to bomb blasts or other trauma would be inputted into the system immediately, via web-based telemedicine portal, and then monitored for developing symptoms. Because TBIs can take months to show up, the database could be a valuable tool in linking post-deployment ailments to war-zone exposures.

And the system could also be a boon for scientists. Lynn calls for “comprehensive, retrospective analyses of relevant event-triggered data,” which could help determine which kinds of blasts leave troops most susceptible to TBIs, and, hopefully, exactly how the blasts affect the brain.

But the idea could have trouble getting off the ground. Because “forward units operate in areas that have little or no bandwidth, which these communications systems require to work properly,” one unnamed source told NextGov that it’s going to be tough — if not impossible — for the military to catch TBIs right after they happen.

Not to mention that the database will still rely on the same flawed diagnostic tools the military’s been criticized over before. As NPR/Propublica revealed, one screening test missed TBIs in 40 percent of afflicted troops, and another was dubbed “as reliable as a coin flip” by top military medical experts.

Of course, the injuries are notoriously tough to diagnose, largely because scientists still aren’t clear exactly what causes them. That was one catalyst for the Pentagon’s new, 72,000 square foot facility for brain injury research, which opened last week.

No doubt, a computerized database would be better than how the military currently keeps tabs on war-zone injuries — pen and paper forms, of which an estimated 400,000 have yet to be inputted into troop medical files. But while a tool that tracks injuries from war-zone to home would make a valuable addition to the Pentagon’s fledgling health-care system, science (not to mention war-zone Internet connections) needs to catch up before any computer system can make a significant impact.


Viewpoint with James Zogby

Russia media slams 'unconvincing' spy scandal

Russian media on Wednesday disparaged US claims of a Russian spy ring, saying the scandal was an unconvincing sham aimed at derailing the reset in relations between Moscow and Washington.
"The highest-profile Russia spy scandal in the United States looks like the most unconvincing and most unnecessary," said the leading broadsheet daily Kommersant.

Several newspapers wrote that the scandal was directed against US President Barack Obama and his policy of resetting ties with Moscow after years of frigid relations.

"So stupid!" gushed Tvoi Den, one of Russia's most popular tabloid newspapers. "US special services let their president down conducting the silliest operation to capture sham Russian spies."

Mass-circulation newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets -- known for its close ties to the Kremlin -- said that "it would be more logical to assume that the main target in this story is Obama who has a lot of ill-wishers in his own country."

"There's more politics than intelligence in this scandal," it added.

The US authorities announced late Monday they had broken a spy ring of 11 "deep-cover" suspects, accused of infiltrating US policymakers on behalf of the Kremlin and seeking details of US nuclear weapons and foreign policy.

"FBI interfered in the reset," declared newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "The spy scandal brings into question the rapprochement between Moscow and Washington."

But Kommersant said the reaction from the Kremlin and the White House meant that both Russia and the United States wanted to limit the fallout so as not to hurt rapidly improving bilateral relations.

Quoting an unidentified high-ranking source in diplomatic circles, Kommersant said all the country's "eloquent speakers" had been ordered to refrain from making public comments so as not to fan the flames of the spy scandal.

Many of the commentators, who usually speak on behalf of the Kremlin, refused to comment on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Mikhail Margelov -- the usually highly loquacious chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia's upper house of parliament -- told AFP he was unavailable.

"He is neither the intelligence nor the foreign ministry, he will not comment on anything," the spokeswoman said.

The United States took pains to avoid rebuking Russia over the spy row and said the uproar would not damage Obama's vaunted "reset" of ties with the Kremlin.

The White House said Obama knew the FBI was closing in on the 11 alleged spies when he met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a warm White House summit and chummy burger bar trip last week, though did not mention it.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was repeatedly goaded in his daily briefing to condemn Russia's action, but styled the operation as solely a "law enforcement" matter.

Asked for Obama's response to the intriguing tale of deep cover spies living open American lives, Gibbs again attempting to keep the row out of the diplomatic realm, saying: "he did not have a personal reaction that I know of."

There was none of the outrage or frostiness witnessed during the tense days of the Cold War when both nations ran extensive underground networks and regularly expelled presumed agents.

Gibbs said Obama had known about the unfolding operation against the alleged ring of sleeper spies, in four northeastern states, before he met Medvedev here last week and at G8 and G20 meetings in Canada.

But he said Obama had not raised the issue with the Russian leader.

The "reset" of relations has seen Russia back new nuclear sanctions against Iran and the signing of a nuclear arms reduction treaty.


Which is a bigger scandal, the spies, or the Russians so worried about, and protecting O from all us evil Americans.

Afghan leader: Foreign contracts fuel corruption

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his finance minister pushed back Wednesday against allegations of government corruption, saying that their international partners must shoulder some of the blame for waste, graft and the billions of dollars streaming out of the country.

Corruption and a weak court system have undermined public trust in Karzai's government. The Obama administration and other donor nations, who need Karzai to be perceived as a credible partner, are pressing him to make reforms. Afghan government officials, however, have become increasingly vocal in condemning the way foreign nations award contracts, which sometimes end up in the hands of politicians and powerbrokers.

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said the bulk of the $4 billion in cash that has been flown out of the nation in the past three and a half years is from huge contracts that the international community has given to large Afghan and foreign companies.

Zakhilwal also squared off against U.S. Representative Nita Lowey, who threatened this week to block billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan until she was convinced that "U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists."

He said Lowey, a Democrat from New York and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department's budget, was wrong to suggest that the Afghan government officials had misused or pocketed donor funds.

"She is not accurate on the fact to blame the Afghan government for it because it had nothing to do with it," Zakhilwal said, calling for a joint investigation with international partners into cash trafficking.

Zakhilwal, who is backed by the West, has acknowledged that there is graft and corruption in the Afghan government, especially in the delivery of government services. But he stressed that there are few, if any, examples of mismanagement of donors' money by the Afghan government, which controls only a small percentage of the funds. His ministry says that since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, 77 percent of the $29 billion in international aid spent in Afghanistan has been disbursed on projects with little or no input from Afghan government officials.

"To relate the cash trafficking with corruption in the government of Afghanistan is baseless," Zakhilwal said. "We strongly believe that the bulk of this money is from the huge contracts that our international partners have given out directly to big companies, particularly private security companies, without any involvement from the Afghan government."

Corruption was a topic of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's brief visit to Afghanistan.

A statement released by Karzai's office said that the president complained to Holder in a meeting at the presidential palace that awarding contracts to government officials, political figures and parliamentarians was helping fuel the "negative phenomenon" of corruption in Afghanistan. Karzai said Holder indicated that the U.S. government planned to review and reform the contract process in Afghanistan.

"Giving contracts to such figures is a matter of concern for the Afghan government," the statement said.

Karzai also complained that contracts were being awarded to private security firms, which he said undermined efforts to build a strong national army and police force.

America's top prosecutor said the U.S. commitment to help Afghanistan create a fair court system and fight terrorism, corruption and drug trafficking would outlast any foreign military presence in the country. He encouraged Karzai to continue efforts to improve governance and law enforcement "as much work remains to be done."

In his meeting at the palace, Holder also met with Afghan Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Aloko who on Tuesday defended himself against allegations that he's being pressured not to pursue cases against powerful figures. Aloko also accused U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry of overstepping his diplomatic authority by suggesting that he step down as attorney general if he wasn't going to charge an Afghan banker in a corruption case.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Eikenberry, did not comment on the conversation, saying the ambassador's discussions with Afghan officials were private.


US, Afghans repel attack against major base

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - U.S. and Afghan troops repelled an attack Wednesday on one of the biggest NATO bases in eastern Afghanistan by militants who used a suicide car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in a failed attempt to breach the defenses.

It was the third ground assault against a major coalition base in Afghanistan in the past five weeks - a sign that the insurgents have not been cowed by U.S. efforts to ramp up the war.

Eight militants were killed in the attack, which occurred at the airport base on the outskirts of Jalalabad about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border.

The attack began with a suicide car bomber detonating his explosives near the gate to the base, followed by a half-hour gunbattle, Afghan officials said. An Afghan soldier and one international service member were wounded, NATO said.

Chief NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said the attackers were unable to penetrate the defenses.

"While designed to garner media attention, this attack only temporarily disrupted operations as our forces successfully repelled the attack," said Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, a U.S. spokeswoman.

In a text message to The Associated Press in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said six suicide attackers killed 32 foreign and Afghan security forces. The insurgents often exaggerate their claims.

The Jalalabad attack followed a May 19 ground assault against the giant Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and another three days later against Kandahar Air Field in the south.

Those attacks - though militarily ineffective - have raised concern in the NATO mission about the audacity of the insurgents in the face of overwhelming NATO firepower. In all three assaults, insurgents launched what the military calls complex attacks - those that employ multiple types of weapons.

On June 15, a senior Pentagon official, Michele Flournoy, told a Senate committee that the number of complex attacks had been dropping since February, suggesting that was a sign the Taliban's capabilities were diminishing.

Wednesday's attack occurred hours before the U.S. Senate confirmed Gen. David Petraeus as the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus replaces Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired after he and his aides made unflattering comments about Obama administration figures to Rolling Stone magazine.

Petraeus is due to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday en route to Kabul, the alliance announced.

The Wednesday attack was part of a pattern of rising violence in eastern Afghanistan, despite the U.S. focus on operations in the Taliban's southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

A U.S. service member died of wounds suffered in a gunbattle with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said without giving further details. That brought to 59 the number of American troops who have died in June in Afghanistan.

Fighting has been under way since Sunday in the eastern province of Kunar with insurgents believed responsible for a roadside bombing that killed five American service members on June 7, according to U.S. statements.

Two American soldiers were killed Sunday in the first day of the operation. About 600 U.S. and Afghan troops are taking part, the U.S. statement said.

Insurgents with close ties to al-Qaida - such as the Haqqani group and followers of ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - operate in the east along with mainstream Taliban fighters.

In the south, NATO said 43 insurgents had been killed or captured in a three-day operation aimed at disrupting militants in Panjwai, a Taliban stronghold near Kandahar city. The operation is part of the plan to bolster security in Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the former Taliban headquarters.

Afghan and international troops have reportedly captured more than 115 suspected insurgents in the past two months, including more than 15 mid- and senior-level militant leaders, and destroyed four roadside bomb factories, according to NATO.

Wednesday also marked the first anniversary of the capture of Spc. Bowe W. Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, the only American service member held prisoner by the insurgents. Bergdahl was discovered missing during his unit's roll-call the following day.

"Since he was captured on June 30, 2009, it has been a top priority for U.S. and coalition forces to find him, recover him, and bring him home safely," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication. "We continue our efforts to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return."

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met Wednesday with President Hamid Karzai to discuss legal issues including the ongoing fight against corruption, which has undermined public trust in the government.

A statement released by Karzai's office said the president complained to Holder that awarding contracts to government officials, political figures and parliamentarians was helping fuel the "negative phenomenon" of corruption. Karzai said Holder indicated that the U.S. government planned to review and reform the contract process in Afghanistan.

Karzai also complained that contracts were being awarded to private security firms, which he said undermined efforts to build a strong national army and police force.

Holder encouraged Karzai to continue efforts to improve governance and law enforcement "as much work remains to be done."


Cypriot police say Russian spying suspect vanished

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) - Cypriot police began searching late Wednesday for an alleged Russian spy wanted in the United States who vanished after being released on bail a day earlier in the Mediterranean island nation.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said Christopher Robert Metsos, 54, who says he is Canadian, failed to report to police in the southern coastal town of Larnaca between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. local time (1500GMT and 1700GMT; 11:00 a.m. EDT and 1:00 p.m. EDT) Wednesday according to the terms of release imposed on him Tuesday by a Cypriot court.

Katsounotos said a search failed to locate Metsos and authorities have begun the procedures to issue a warrant for his arrest for breaching the terms of his release.

Andreas Pastellides, one of two lawyers representing Metsos in Cyprus, told the Associated Press that they'd had no contact with their client since Tuesday afternoon.

Pastellides said Metsos did not show up for a meeting he was supposed to have Wednesday afternoon in Larnaca with Pastellides' partner, Michalis Papathanasiou.

Metsos' quick disappearance raised questions about why Cypriot authorities released him on bail.

"I'm truly surprised that the court issued no such detention order against an individual who is alleged to be a spy," said Ionas Nicolaou, member of parliament for the opposition Disy party and chairman of parliament's Legal Affairs Committee. "By virtue of the fact that this individual was suspected of being a spy, I don't think his conditional release was justified. Of course, I can't know exactly what facts or arguments were presented before the court for that decision to be taken."

But Pastellides defended the bail request.

"We objected to our client's detention because he did not wish to be detained until his extradition," Pastellides said. "Yes, it was a serious case, but God forbid if someone remains detained for a month until extradition proceedings can begin."

Pastellides said he was not surprised that the judge freed Metsos, saying that his partner Papathanasiou, who represented Metsos in court, convinced the judge his detention wasn't necessary by pointing out Metsos' willingness to surrender his travel documents, appear once a day at a local police station and pay bail of about euro26,500 ($32,500).

Dean Boyd, spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department's national security division, said he was aware of the media reports regarding Metsos, but is "going to have to defer to Cyprus authorities for comment."

A spokesman at FBI headquarters in Washington, William Carter, said the bureau is aware of press reports on the Metsos matter "and we are not commenting at this time."

Metsos had been staying at a hotel in Larnaca.

Metsos could have slipped into the Turkish Cypriot north of the island, which is recognized by no country other than Turkey and has no formal extradition treaties with other countries. The north is linked to Turkey by an airport and ferry services. There are no direct air links to any other country other than Turkey, but a ferry service also runs between the northern port of Famagusta and Latakia, Syria.

The north has had a reputation for acting as a refuge for Britons fleeing justice in their homeland. Crossings between the north and south of the island were forbidden until 2003, when authorities on both sides and relaxed restrictions. Since 2003, there have been hundreds of thousands of crossings from both sides across six crossing points.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Metsos was arrested early Tuesday at Larnaca airport as he tried to board a flight for Budapest, Hungary. His arrest was based on a notice issued by Interpol, the international police agency.

Katsounotos had said that Metsos arrived on the island June 17. Cypriot authorities received the Interpol arrest warrant on June 25.

In the past, the east Mediterranean island has been known as a regional hub for spies from across the Mideast, as it straddles the meeting point of three continents - Europe, Africa and Asia. It lies in far eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, a mere 45 miles or so from the southern coast of Turkey, about 110 miles from Syria and 145 miles from Lebanon.


2 police charged in brutal killing

CAIRO (AP) - Two plainclothes police officers were charged Wednesday with illegal arrest and brutality in the death of a businessman in Alexandria in a case that has drawn attention from governments and human rights activists.

Khaled Said, 28, died June 6. Witnesses said the two officers dragged Said out of a cafe and beat him to death. However, two state autopsies determined that he died of suffocation from swallowing a packet of drugs.

The autopsy results were met with derision after photos of Said's body circulated, showing him covered with bruises, his teeth broken and jaw smashed.

The charges brought Wednesday against the two plainclothes agents marked the first government acknowledgment of possible wrongdoing on the part of its police in the case.

The killing became a rallying point for government critics who denounced it as an example of rampant police abuses under a three-decade-old emergency law during President Hosni Mubarak's rule. The case led to street protests in Cairo and Alexandria. The U.S. State Department and rights groups including Amnesty International called for a transparent investigation.

Activists charged that the brutal killing was retaliation for Said's embarrassing the police officers in an Internet posting.

The charge sheet filed by the Alexandria prosecutor accused the two officers, Warrant Officer Mahmoud Salah and Sgt. Awad Ismail Suleiman, of "illegal arrest, using physical torture and brutality."

Even so, the government hotly rejected a statement Monday by the European Union ambassadors in Cairo that noted "discrepancies" between the autopsy reports and witness accounts, calling for an inquiry to be conducted "impartially, transparently and swiftly in a way that will credibly resolve the discrepancies."

On Wednesday the Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned EU envoys and informed them of Egypt's response.

Hossam Zaki, the ministry's spokesman, said the statement "constitutes a clear violation of the diplomatic norms and an unacceptable interference by foreign embassies in Egypt's internal affairs."

Zaki said the case was being investigated by the Egyptian judiciary, and "everyone should respect its procedures and verdicts."

Lawyer Mohammed Abdel-Aziz of the Al-Nadim center for victims of torture said Wednesday that each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of one year or a 200 pound ($36) fine, but that was not enough. He said the killing was planned in advance, and the police officers should be charged with more serious crimes.

Said's brother, Ahmad, agreed. "We insist that they (police) killed him, and we demand that the two policemen be charged with premeditated killing," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Alexandria.


Every time I read any version of this story I cant help but think of The Big Pharaoh. I can only hope it was not our old friend BP.

Iraq rivals meet to bring premiership row to head

BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his arch rival for the premiership Iyad Allawi met on Wednesday, aides said, in a bid to resolve a row that has stalled coalition talks for months.

The meeting was only their second head-to-head since an inconclusive March 7 general election that has created a prolonged power vacuum and fears insurgents intent on derailing constitutional politics might exploit the uncertainty.

“It was an exchange of points of view and important issues such as the formation of a national unity government,” said Hassan Sneid, a member of parliament from Maliki’s State of Law alliance, who was present at the meeting.

Sneid said there “was no political deal” behind the meeting and its importance had been exaggerated.

But he added both Maliki and Allawi “expressed their wish to speed up the formation of a government before July 14,” the deadline for parliament to hold its first session since MPs were sworn in earlier this month.

US ambassador Christopher Hill said the hard bargaining between the two declared rivals remained at a “preliminary stage,” but that he was encouraged all sides were still talking to each other constructively.

“Obviously there is going to be a lot of bargaining and discussion about ministries,” Hill told reporters.

“They are going to look at leadership positions — prime minister, president and speaker,” he said.

“There are questions whether we have a presidency position which is changed,” he added, referring to suggestions that the deadlock over the premiership be resolved by giving more power to the presidency to create checks and balances between the two positions.

“The important thing from our point of view is that discussions are still ongoing,” the US ambassador added.

Khaleej Times

Why Obamanomics Has Failed

The administration's stimulus program has failed. Growth is slow and unemployment remains high. The president, his friends and advisers talk endlessly about the circumstances they inherited as a way of avoiding responsibility for the 18 months for which they are responsible.

But they want new stimulus measures—which is convincing evidence that they too recognize that the earlier measures failed. And so the U.S. was odd-man out at the G-20 meeting over the weekend, continuing to call for more government spending in the face of European resistance.

The contrast with President Reagan's antirecession and pro-growth measures in 1981 is striking. Reagan reduced marginal and corporate tax rates and slowed the growth of nondefense spending. Recovery began about a year later. After 18 months, the economy grew more than 9% and it continued to expand above trend rates.

Two overarching reasons explain the failure of Obamanomics. First, administration economists and their outside supporters neglected the longer-term costs and consequences of their actions. Second, the administration and Congress have through their deeds and words heightened uncertainty about the economic future. High uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth.

Most of the earlier spending was a very short-term response to long-term problems. One piece financed temporary tax cuts. This was a mistake, and ignores the role of expectations in the economy. Economic theory predicts that temporary tax cuts have little effect on spending. Unless tax cuts are expected to last, consumers save the proceeds and pay down debt. Experience with past temporary tax reductions, as in the Carter and first Bush presidencies, confirms this outcome.

Another large part of the stimulus went to relieve state and local governments of their budget deficits. Transferring a deficit from the state to the federal government changes very little. Some teachers and police got an additional year of employment, but their gain is temporary. Any benefits to them must be balanced against the negative effect of the increased public debt and the temporary nature of the transfer.

The Obama economic team ignored past history. The two most successful fiscal stimulus programs since World War II—under Kennedy-Johnson and Reagan—took the form of permanent reductions in corporate and marginal tax rates. Economist Arthur Okun, who had a major role in developing the Kennedy-Johnson program, later analyzed the effect of individual items. He concluded that corporate tax reduction was most effective.

Another defect of Obamanomics was that part of the increased spending authorized by the 2009 stimulus bill was held back. Remember the oft-repeated claim that the spending would go for "shovel ready" projects? That didn't happen, though spending will flow more rapidly now in an effort to lower unemployment and claim economic success during the fall election campaign.

In his January 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama recognized that the United States must increase exports. He was right, but he has done little to help, either by encouraging investment to increase productivity, or by supporting trade agreements, despite his promise to the Koreans that he repeated in Toronto. Export earnings are the only way to service our massive foreign borrowing. This should be a high priority. Isn't anyone in the government thinking about the future?

Mr. Obama has denied the cost burden on business from his health-care program, but business is aware that it is likely to be large. How large? That's part of the uncertainty that employers face if they hire additional labor.

The president asks for cap and trade. That's more cost and more uncertainty. Who will be forced to pay? What will it do to costs here compared to foreign producers? We should not expect businesses to invest in new, export-led growth when uncertainty about future costs is so large.

Then there is Medicaid, the medical program for those with lower incomes. In the past, states paid about half of the cost, and they are responsible for 20% of the additional cost imposed by the program's expansion. But almost all the states must balance their budgets, and the new Medicaid spending mandated by ObamaCare comes at a time when states face large deficits and even larger unfunded liabilities for pensions. All this only adds to uncertainty about taxes and spending.

Other aspects of the Obama economic program are equally problematic. The auto bailouts ran roughshod over the rule of law. Chrysler bondholders were given short shrift in order to benefit the auto workers union. By weakening the rule of law, the president opened the way to great mischief and increased investors' and producers' uncertainty. That's not the way to get more investment and employment.

Almost daily, Mr. Obama uses his rhetorical skill to castigate businessmen who have the audacity to hope for profitable opportunities. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has taken that route. President Roosevelt slowed recovery in 1938-40 until the war by creating uncertainty about his objectives. It was harmful then, and it's harmful now.

In 1980, I had the privilege of advising Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to ignore the demands of 360 British economists who made the outrageous claim that Britain would never (yes, never) recover from her decision to reduce government spending during a severe recession. They wanted more spending. She responded with a speech promising to stay with her tight budget. She kept a sustained focus on long-term problems. Expectations about the economy's future improved, and the recovery soon began.

That's what the U.S. needs now. Not major cuts in current spending, but a credible plan showing that authorities will not wait for a fiscal crisis but begin to act prudently and continue until deficits disappear, and the debt is below 60% of GDP. Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.) offered a plan, but the administration and Congress ignored it.

The country does not need more of the same. Successful leaders give the public reason to believe that they have a long-term program to bring a better tomorrow. Let's plan our way out of our explosive deficits and our hesitant and jobless recovery by reducing uncertainty and encouraging growth.


Can someone please remind O that he did not come in out of the vacuum, that he was in fact in congress, and in the majority for the two years he served there, and that he voted for much of the crap that he now tries to blame on the last administration.

Or is it just me

BP Slick Covers Dolphins and

US accepts international assistance for Gulf spill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is accepting help from 12 countries and international organizations in dealing with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The State Department said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. is working out the particulars of the help that's been accepted.

The identities of all 12 countries and international organizations were not immediately announced. One country was cited in the State Department statement -- Japan, which is providing two high-speed skimmers and fire containment boom.

More than 30 countries and international organizations have offered to help with the spill. The State Department hasn't indicated why some offers have been accepted and others have not.


New prototype US spy satellite rushed into active use

An experimental "hyperspectral" spy sat which is able to detect buried roadside bombs and concealed cave or tunnel entrances has been handed over to the US forces for operational use in the Wars on Stuff.

The TacSat-3 was launched aboard a Minotaur-1 rocket along with several other small satellites from Wallops Island, Virginia, in May 2009. The TacSat was designed to prove the US concept of "operationally responsive space", where a military user can make a request and a small inexpensive satellite can be in a suitable orbit within days rather than months or years.
Thus the TacSat is designed to be fitted with a variety of different payloads as required by an operational commander. TacSat-3, as a prototype, carried one in particular known as the Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer, or ARTEMIS. This is a "hyperspectral" sensor able to detect not just visible light but infrared and ultraviolet as well.

The idea of hyperspectral sensing is not, however, merely to "see" in the usual sense of optical telescopes, infrared nightscopes and/or thermal imagers. This kind of detection is used on spy satellites and other surveillance systems, but it suffers from the so-called "drinking straw effect" - that is, you can only view a small area in enough detail to pick out information of interest. It's impossible to cover an entire nation or region in any length of time by such means; you have to know where to look in advance.

Hyperspectral imaging works differently. It's based on the same principle as the spectrometry used in astronomy and other scientific fields - that some classes of objects and substances will emit a unique set of wavelengths when stimulated by energy. In this case, everything on the surface below the satellite is being stimulated by sunlight to emit its unique spectral fingerprint.


Sifting the 'hyperspectral cube'
By scanning across a wide spectrum all at once across a wide area, it's then possible to use a powerful computer to crunch through all wavelengths coming from all points on the surface below (the so-called "hyperspectral cube", made up of the full spectrum coming from all points on a two-dimensional surface).

If the sensor is good enough and the computer crunching powerful and discriminating enough, the satellite can then identify a set of points on the surface where substances or objects of interest are to be found, and supply map coordinates for these. This is a tiny amount of data compared to the original "hyperspectral cube" generated by ARTEMIS and crunched by the satellite's onboard processors, and as such it can be downloaded to a portable ground terminal (rather than a one with a big high-bandwidth dish). Within ten minutes of the TacSat passing overhead, laptop-sized ROVER ground terminals can be marking points of interest on a map for combat troops nearby.

Exactly what sorts of objects and substances ARTEMIS is able to pick out of its region-spanning hyperspectral cubes is a military secret. However this briefing pdf [1] given in 2006 by US airforce lab officials suggests that it was expected to pierce overhead camouflage that would deceive optical or thermal sensing; that it would be able to spot disturbed earth and "concealed adits" (that is cave or tunnel entrances invisible from above) and generally "detect and identify" unspecified "targets".

Evidently the TacSat-3 can do at least some of this, as we now learn that following a year as an experiment it has proved so successful that it is now being handed over to US air force Space Command to become a full-time operational asset - America's first hyperspectral spy sat.

"ARTEMIS can detect various man-made and natural materials, which adds a fundamentally new capability," according to Bill Hart, veep at ARTEMIS maker Raytheon.

TacSat-3 has "demonstrated the utility of hyperspectral information to benefit soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines around the world," says Dr Peter Wegner, chief of the Operationally Responsive Space office at the Pentagon, in a statement issued yesterday.

It's quite unusual for a military prototype to be put straight into frontline service like this; furthermore we're told that ARTEMIS data has already been "used operationally" even while the TacSat-3 was under control of the airforce research lab.

All this would seem to indicate that hyperspectral spy sats are set to become a significant new player in the surveillance and spookery world. Even more than ever, you may watch the skies - but the skies will be watching you back. And you can forget about relying on your insulated camouflage netting or your overhung tunnel entrance which never shows a shadow, or your buried bomb or weapons cache. ARTEMIS and its successors will sniff you out, perhaps, even if thus far you have remained completely unseen.

There's more on the TacSat-3 here [2] for those interested. ®

The Register

VA hospital may have infected 1,800 veterans with HIV

(CNN) -- A Missouri VA hospital is under fire because it may have exposed more than 1,800 veterans to life-threatening diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis has recently mailed letters to 1,812 veterans telling them they could contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after visiting the medical center for dental work, said Rep. Russ Carnahan.

Carnahan said Tuesday he is calling for a investigation into the issue and has sent a letter to President Obama about it.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," said Carnahan, a Democrat from Missouri. "No veteran who has served and risked their life for this great nation should have to worry about their personal safety when receiving much needed healthcare services from a Veterans Administration hospital."

The issue stems from a failure to clean dental instruments properly, the hospital told CNN affiliate KSDK.

Dr. Gina Michael, the association chief of staff at the hospital, told the affiliate that some dental technicians broke protocol by handwashing tools before putting them in cleaning machines.

The instruments were supposed to only be put in the cleaning machines, Michael said.

The handwashing started in February 2009 and went on until March of this year, the hospital told KSDK.

The hospital has set up a special clinic and education centers to help patients who may have been infected. However, Carnahan said he feels more should be done and those responsible should be disciplined.

"I can only imagine the horror and anger our veterans must be feeling after receiving this letter," Carnahan said. "They have every right to be angry. So am I."

This is not the first time this year a hospital has been in hot water for not following proper procedures.

In June, Palomar Hospital in San Diego, California, has sent certified letters to 3,400 patients who underwent colonoscopy and other similar procedures, informing the patients that there may be a potential of infection from items used and reused in the procedures.


Ed Koch: We Cannot Win In Afghanistan And Should Withdraw As Soon As Possible


We Cannot Win In Afghanistan And Should Withdraw As Soon As Possible
By Ed Koch

Rather than coming to our aid, our NATO Allies are abandoning us in droves. Most of them are planning to leave Afghanistan as soon as they can. Even today, we provide the vast majority of troops on the ground. Meanwhile, we have seen our casualties mount with deaths now over 1,000, 97 of which occurred this month alone. Further undermining our efforts is the fact that the Karzai government is widely unpopular among Afghans. On the June 27th edition of "Meet The Press," reporter Tom Ricks, commenting on the unwillingness of Afghans to accept the Karzai government even while rejecting the Taliban, said, "I remember reading an interview with an Afghan villager. The reporter said to him, 'What did you think of the Taliban vs. what did you think of the police sent by Kabul?' He said, 'Well, the Taliban were pretty mean to us; they were pretty rough. We didn't like them. But when the police from Kabul came, the first thing they did was take our little boys and rape them.' You've got to deal with this Afghan government. Our biggest single problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban. They are a consequence of our problem. Our problem in Afghanistan is the Kabul government."Besides the Kabul government, we are impeded by new rules of engagement that will not allow us to win. The New York Times of June 23rd carried a lengthy article on those rules and reported how frustrated the American soldiers are, believing they are being denied needed support from our air force because of the fear of injuring civilians. We are doing to ourselves what the United Nations is trying to do to Israel - imposing a doctrine of proportional response. The lives of our soldiers are no longer our prime concern. We will not provide maximum protection if doing so could damage our relationship with President Karzai or other Afghan political figures. If we won't protect our troops as our first priority, then along with other reasons, we cannot win, and we should get out now. READ MORE...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is a Lousy Deal Better than No Deal?

"According to news reports here, the Shiite alliance has made it clear to Maliki that they will not support his candidacy for prime minister. Without the alliance, he simply can't win anywhere near enough votes in parliament for a second term. The problem with the alliance is they are unable to agree on a different candidate, leading us to believe they will support Ayad Allawi.

The reports also say that tomorrow (Tuesday) morning Maliki will meet with Allawi. They definitely feel the pressure to set up a government. Since the start, Allawi has said he will work with anyone. Originally the other politicians ignored Allawi, but now that the court certified the election results, he is acknowledged by all as the winner of the most seats in parliament.

It is possible that Allawi and Maliki will reach some sort of agreement. In other words, it is possible that Allawi will be supported as prime minister by his fellow lawmakers. The worry is that he will be a weak prime minister because the rest of the politicians will block most, if not all, his efforts to get anything done. Such a deal would be frustrating for Allawi, and it would be frustrating for the Iraqi people."


Monday, June 28, 2010

Matt Bors: Age of Accountability

What Marja Tells Us of Battles Yet to Come

MARJA, Afghanistan — Each day, American foot patrols move through farmers’ fields and irrigated villages. And each day some are ambushed or encounter hidden bombs. The patrols turn into gunfights in withering heat, or efforts to dismantle the bombs or treat the wounded. Casualties accumulate with the passing weeks, for Americans and Afghans alike.

A few months ago, Marja was the focus of a highly publicized assault to push the Taliban from a stronghold and bring Afghanistan’s densest area of opium production under government control. The fighting remains raw.

What does it mean?

Is the violence a predictable summer fight for an area the Taliban and those who profit from the drug economy do not want to lose; in other words, an unsurprising flare-up that can be turned around? Or will Marja remain bloody for a long time, allowing insurgents to inflict sustained losses on American units and win merely by keeping the fight alive?

As NATO and Afghan forces flow into neighboring Kandahar Province, where for the next many months the latest high-profile effort to undo the Taliban’s hold will unroll, the continuing fighting in Marja can be read as a sign of problems in the American-led surge. It can also be read as something less worrisome: a difficult period in a campaign always expected to be hard.

A prevailing assessment among officers on the ground is this: The outcome is too soon to call.

“Right now it’s gray,” said Maj. Lawrence Lohman, the operations officer for Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which operates outposts in northern Marja.

Those who deem the Marja offensive a disappointment, or even a failure, point to the daily violence and to the signs that Afghans have been leaving the area, at least temporarily, to avoid the fighting. They also point to Taliban intimidation of residents, a still limited government presence, and the continued reliance of Afghan police officers and soldiers on American supervision and logistics. These, they say, are ill-boding signs.

But the signals are contradictory.

Most of Marja’s civilians returned after moving away ahead of the initial assault. Most of them remain. Compounds that were empty in February are inhabited. Roads once quiet are busy. Fields are thick with crops. Shops in some bazaars have reopened. Afghan units participate visibly in dangerous missions.

Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, the battalion’s commander, noted that some of Marja’s residents had begun providing information on the Taliban, including sharing the names and locations of fighters. Many civilians have been seeking aid and a few have sought contracts for small scale development projects, the early steps in engagement.

“I’ve seen good growth and good progress,” the colonel said. He added: “There is still a lot to be done.”

The Marines point to what they clearly hope is a Helmand pattern, apparent in other districts, including Nawa, where the Taliban were strong and fighting was initially intense. The pattern, they said, is this: With time and resources, the insurgents’ position erodes, villages become secure, and engagement and the Afghan government presence expand.

Pursuing this goal, Marine companies have been sending out constant small patrols. Their presence keeps the Taliban occupied and inflicts losses, the Marines say, and creates the space to allow for development or programs to gain traction. In the short term, it is also a recipe for small-unit violence — fierce and frequent.

“It goes back to the very basics of what we do: gain and maintain contact,” said Col. Randall P. Newman, who commands Marine ground forces in central Helmand Province.

Colonel Newman said he expected skirmishes to decline in frequency in the months ahead. “I don’t think the guys who are shooting now are committed enough to keep doing this a long time,” he said.

More Western troops have died in Helmand Province than in any other, and the sight of medevac helicopters over Marja each day is a reminder that the area has become a center of the province’s bloodshed.

But Helmand is not uniformly violent. There are areas where fighting is regular — Marja, Sangin, Nahr-e-Saraj — and areas where the Taliban had fought hard before being marginalized as a combat force.

Moreover, the rising casualties have complicated causes. Some are related to the combined effects of Taliban resistance and the Marines’ grinding patrol tempo. Others can reasonably be attributed to a shift made last year to rules of engagement that guide American forces.

The shift de-emphasized airstrikes, artillery and mortars. This transferred some of the risk in skirmishes from Afghan civilians to Western combatants. In the past, American patrols in contact often quickly called for and received fire support. Not anymore. Many firefights these days are strictly rifle and machine gun fights.

Understanding the shift is important. It has made engagement times noticeably longer, driving up the troops’ risks and amplifying a perception that Marja, fought with less fire support than what was available to American units in other hotly contested areas, is mired in blood.

That perception has obscured a wider view. Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the British officer commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan’s south, urged patience. “The challenge with this campaign is that it takes time, because it’s in the minds of people, and its people take time to be convinced,” he said.

He also cautioned against drawing conclusions by extrapolating from Marja alone. The operation, he said, opened provincial roads. Six months ago, the provincial governor, Gulab Mangal, could barely travel; now he covers much of the province.

“You’ve got a central Helmand that is linked together, and in economic terms can develop,” General Carter said. “So I think people tend to make the mistake of just thinking about Marja.”

Meanwhile, Marines are wounded by bombs or shot each week. The violence in itself does not mean that the campaign is lost. Fighting is normal to war, a concept sometimes played down in discussions about the United States’ counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes developing relationships with the population and helping government agencies gain credibility and provide services.

Those directly involved caution that a few months of fighting is not necessarily a basis for grim forecasts, especially during the first summer in a former Taliban enclave. American commanders have been voicing frustration nonetheless, as was evident last month in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s description of Marja as “a bleeding ulcer.”

The remark underscores perhaps the clearest conclusion that can be drawn thus far. Even before the last troops of the Obama administration’s surge arrive in Afghanistan, high-level American commanders appear pressed for time, no matter the complexities faced by troops on the ground.


Petraeus Comes East

The coverage of the impending arrival of General Petraeus to take charge of the Afghan Campaign has been intense. Pundits both big and small have been offering anaysis almost non-stop – I’m getting Petraeus fatigue reading all this junk. But for those of you who haven’t reached that point yet here is my contribution on The Aloyna Show:

Apparently this move was greeted by the White House press corps as pure genius on the part of the President and on that I am not too sure. Granted this is an inspired choice and a much better one than I feared would be made. I still think General Mattis was the best choice for the job because there needs to be serious reform to how the ground troops are deployed, missioned, and supported with both air and surface delivered fires. It will be difficult for Gen Petraeus to introduce changes in the ROE because McChrystal worked for him and the current operational constraints iritating the troops had to have been approved by Central Command."

Another Skipper Gets Tossed

June 27, 2010: The U.S. Navy has relieved the captain of a frigate (USS John L. Hall), because, two months ago, his ship bumped into a pier as it was docking in the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia. There was no damage to the pier, but the Hall suffered damage costing $160,000 to repair. After the investigation was over, the navy concluded that the captain should be relieved for “loss of confidence in his ability to command.”
That makes seven ship captains relieved so far this year, more than twice the rate that it has been relieving them in the last few years. That, in turn, is an increase over the rate for the 1990s. Other strange things are happening. One of the most recent dismissals was unusual for two reasons. First, the dismissed captain was a woman, and, secondly, the navy gave the reason (abusive treatment of the crew, and the captains demeanor and temperament). Complaints from the crew had been coming in for some time, and the captain was relieved as she was at the end of her tour of duty on the USS Cowpens, and in the process of turning over command to another officer. The dismissed captain went off to her next assignment, as a staff officer, but her career prospects are now rather dim.

The navy rarely releases details of why the officers are relieved. But the usual reasons are character flaws of one kind or another. Running the ship aground is seen as a rather obvious failing, but it is not the most common one. Those would be cases involving "zipper control" (adultery with another officer's wife, or a subordinate). The British also relieve a lot of commanders, and are more forthcoming with the reasons. One British skipper got the sack recently for "bullying." That is similar to what happened on the Cowpens.

In the last decade, the U.S. Navy has been relieving more commanders (of ships and units). In the first few years of the 21st century, the navy relieved 6-8 commanders a year. In 2003, that went up to seventeen, and the number has remained high every since. At the end of the Cold War, in the late 1980s, the rate was about a third less, and after the Cold War ended, it declined further.

So why has the relief rate more than doubled in the last few years? With more women aboard warships, there have been more reliefs for, as sailors like to put it, "zipper failure." There may have been more than are indicated, as sexual misconduct is often difficult to prove, and a captain who is having zipper control problems often has other shortcomings as well. Senior commanders traditionally act prudently and relieve a ship commander who demonstrates a pattern of minor problems and who they "lack confidence in."

Many naval officers see the problem not of too many captains being relieved, but too many unqualified officers getting command of ships and units in the first place. Not every naval officer qualified for ship command. Only a small percentage of the 53,000 commissioned officers gets one. The competition for ship commands is pretty intense. This, despite the fact that officers know that, whatever goes wrong on the ship, the captain is responsible.

It's a hard slog for a new ensign (officer rank O-1) to make it to a ship command. For every hundred ensigns entering service, about 90 will stay and make it to O-4 (Lieutenant Commander), usually after about nine years of service. About 67 of those ensigns will eventually get to serve as XO (executive officer, the number two officer on a ship) after 10-12 years of service. Some 69 of those ensigns will make it to O-5 (Commander), where it first becomes possible to command a ship (a frigate or destroyer.) About 38 of those hundred ensigns will get such a command, usually after 18-20 years of service, and for about 18 months. About 22 of those ensigns will make it to O-6 (Captain) after 20-21 years of service. But only 11 of those ensigns (now captains) will get a major seagoing command (cruiser, destroyer squadron). Officers who do well commanding a ship will often get to do it two or three times before they retire after about 30 years of service.

But with all this screening and winnowing, why are more unqualified officers getting to command ships, and then getting relieved because they can't hack it? Navy captains point to the growing popularity of "mentoring" by senior officers (that smaller percentage that makes it to admiral.) While the navy uses a board of officers to decide which officers get ship commands, the enthusiastic recommendation of one or more admirals does count. Perhaps it counts too much. While the navy is still quick to relieve any ship commander that screws up (one naval "tradition" that should never be tampered with), up until that point, it is prudent not to offend any admirals by implying that their judgment of "up and coming talent" is faulty. In the aftermath of these reliefs, it often becomes known that the relieved captain had a long record of problems. But because he was "blessed" by one or more admirals, these infractions were overlooked. The golden boys tend to be very personable and, well, look good. The navy promotion system is organized to rise above such superficial characteristics, but apparently the power, and misuse, of mentoring, has increasingly corrupted the process.


In Afghanistan, Petraeus will have difficulty replicating his Iraq success

This week's confrontation between a senior Army general and the president of the United States may have signaled the beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan. In a year or two, President Obama will be able to say that he gave the conflict his best shot, reshaping the strategy and even putting his top guy in charge, the general who led the surge in Iraq -- but that things still didn't work out.

Then he can begin pulling out.

This is not a vote of no-confidence in Gen. David H. Petraeus, whom the president has selected to lead the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, replacing the disgraced Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. It is a simple recognition that the conditions Petraeus enjoyed in Iraq are far from present in Afghanistan, and that the key skills he brought to bear in the first war won't help him as much in the second.

What allowed Petraeus to succeed in Iraq was not the troop surge itself; after all, a city as big and sprawling as Baghdad, with 5 million people living in two- and three-story homes, can swallow 30,000 troops without a burp. Nor was it his development of a counterinsurgency doctrine for the Army. The key tenets -- such as focusing on protecting the population, while still going after the diehard insurgents, and splitting rather than uniting the enemy -- were familiar stuff to anyone who had read the relevant books. It seemed novel only in the context of Iraq, where for many years the American commanders had terrified families by knocking down doors in the middle of the night, treating locals not as the prize to be won but as the playing field on which they confronted the insurgents.

Rather, Petraeus's critical contribution in Iraq was one of leadership: He got everyone on the same page. Until he arrived, there often seemed to be dozens of wars going on, with every brigade commander trying to figure out the strategic goals of a campaign. Before Petraeus arrived, the top priority for U.S. forces was getting out. After he took over, the No. 1 task for U.S. troops, explicitly listed in the mission statement he issued, was to protect the Iraqi people.

Of course, establishing cohesion in the U.S. effort in Iraq took a lot more than issuing statements. In spring 2007, I watched Petraeus work hard to establish a consensus about what the goals should be and how to achieve them. "There are three enormous tasks that strategic leaders have to get right," he told me one day in Baghdad. "The first is to get the big ideas right. The second is to communicate the big ideas throughout the organization. The third is proper execution of the big ideas." An astute bureaucratic operator, he used a variety of studies and panels convened in his Baghdad headquarters to pull together the big ideas of how to deal with the insurgency and how to better protect the Iraqi people. These had the useful side effect of getting buy-in from civilian American officials in Iraq.

Just as important, he worked tirelessly with his military subordinates, going out and talking not just to the division commanders below him, but to their brigade commanders and even to the battalion commanders an echelon below them. He issued letters to the troops explaining the new approach of living among the people and protecting them with small, vulnerable outposts. He walked the streets and talked to Iraqis. He also hired a leading counterinsurgency expert, David Kilcullen, an Australian infantry officer turned anthropologist, to coach American commanders, making sure that they not only talked counterinsurgency but that they also learned how to practice it. In a series of interviews I conducted with Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, one of his favorite words was "relentless." It is the best one-word summary of his approach.

Finally, Petraeus took a much more humble stance, in which Iraqis were not told what to do and how and when to do it, but were asked their advice about what to do, and the best way to do it. It was notable that three of the most important advisers around Petraeus as he took command were foreigners -- Kilcullen; a pacifistic British political adviser named Emma Sky who had been against the war; and Sadi Othman, a Palestinian American who became Petraeus's personal envoy to the Iraqi government. A sharp contrast to the frat-boy atmosphere around McChrystal depicted in a Rolling Stone profile that led to his dismissal.

Petraeus was aided enormously by Ryan C. Crocker, one of the savviest American diplomats and one of the most experienced in the region, having served in Pakistan, Lebanon and in Iraq decades prior. Early in the war, friction between Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez had crippled the U.S. effort and confused Iraqis. Bremer was all about transforming Iraq politically, an inherently turbulent mission, while the U.S. Army decided on its own that its job was to produce stability.

Repelled by such persistent friction, Petraeus and Crocker were determined to coordinate their actions. Word went out to subordinates that neither of them would tolerate infighting between civilian and military officials. When the two returned to the United States to testify before Congress in September 2007, they showed a united front, key in winning them more time for the war at a moment when congressional leaders such as Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. were saying it was time to "stop the surge and start bringing our troops home."

In Kabul, alas, Petraeus will find no such useful ally in the American ambassador. Instead, the top U.S. diplomat there is Karl W. Eikenberry, who relentlessly opposed McChrystal's initiatives. Unlike Crocker, Eikenberry has no strong base in the State Department and is not steeped in the history and culture of the region. Rather, he is a retired general who in fighting with McChrystal over the past year used many of the same arguments that another American commander, John Abizaid, had used in opposing Petraeus's approach to Iraq. That is no coincidence -- Abizaid and Eikenberry have been close friends since they were West Point roommates in the class of 1973.

On top of that, Petraeus will have to deal with Richard C. Holbrooke, who seems to have achieved little as a special presidential envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the general will face a host government even more troublesome than what he dealt with in Baghdad. Indeed, the two biggest problems the United States faces in Afghanistan are the Karzai government and the Pakistani government -- and neither of those really can be addressed by military operations.

McChrystal was dismissed because of the magazine article that laid before the world the sniping and backbiting between U.S. military and civilian officials in the Afghan war. That is not going to end just because Petraeus goes to Kabul, or even because the president has said he doesn't like it. It might end only when one person is put in charge of the overall American presence in Afghanistan, with the power to hire and fire. Obama has not taken that step, so it is likely that the same nettlesome quarrels that exasperated McChrystal also will fatigue his successor.

For the second time in three years, Petraeus has come to the rescue of a president beleaguered by a faraway war. President George W. Bush came to rely enormously on Petraeus in 2007, when the general's credibility on Iraq far exceeded that of the White House. It will be interesting to witness how the relationship between the new president and his new general evolves. Petraeus is much more like Obama than he was like Bush. The Dutch American general and the African American commander in chief are oddly similar. Both are the sons of immigrant fathers; both are intelligent and ambitious; both are more cool, cerebral and distant than most of their peers.

But in Bush, Petraeus had a president willing to take huge risks, such as putting Iraq's Sunni insurgency on the American payroll and taking far heavier casualties as U.S. troops moved off big bases. Obama has not shown a willingness to gamble that much in Afghanistan. Perhaps not even Petraeus could talk this president into rolling the dice.


Report: US warships stationed off Iranian coast

As unconfirmed reports of an imminent Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities pick up steam in the Middle Eastern media, a US-based strategic intelligence company has released a chart showing US naval carriers massing near Iranian waters.

The chart, published by Stratfor and obtained by the Zero Hedge financial blog, shows that over the last few weeks a naval carrier -- the USS Harry S Truman -- has been positioned in the north Indian Ocean, not far from the Strait of Hormuz, which leads into the Persian Gulf. The carrier joins the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was already located in the area. The chart is dated June 23, 2010.

Reports of mass movements of Israeli and US naval warships have been circulating through the media for weeks. On June 19, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that 12 US and Israeli warships were seen moving through the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

And a report from the Associated Press published Saturday evening cited "unconfirmed" reports from Israeli and Iranian media that Saudi Arabia has allowed Israel to use its territory in preparation for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

"The allegation could not be independently confirmed, and the Saudis deny cooperating with the Israeli military," AP reported.

An article in the Gulf Daily News, largely dismissed by Western observers, did not mention any Saudi involvement but said Israel is preparing to attack Iranian targets from the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The claims that Israel may be preparing for an assault on Iranian nuclear facilities were strengthened this weekend by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who told reporters at the G8 summit in Canada that G8 leaders "believe absolutely" that Israel will "probably" strike Iran.

“Iran is not guaranteeing a peaceful production of nuclear power [so] the members of the G8 are worried and believe absolutely that Israel will probably react preemptively,” Berlusconi said, as quoted at Ha'aretz.

CIA director Leon Panetta said Sunday that Iran has enough enriched uranium to build two nuclear bombs. In an interview on ABC's This Week, Panetta also said he believed the recent spate of international and US sanctions against Iran will not convince the country to change course on its nuclear program.

"Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not," Panetta said.


I'm not sure I believe O has the balls. But like all cornered animals, he could bite.

Undisciplined Afghans endanger Marjah Marines

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Many Afghan National Army troops who work and patrol with U.S. Marines are considered a nuisance at best and a danger at worst.

Many refuse to go on patrol, smoke hashish and sleep while on guard — just a few things they do that would have any Marine in hot water.

But Marines aren’t universally down on the ability of Afghan security forces, who are partnered with each Marine unit in Helmand province. Some say they have met good Afghan soldiers who fight with courage, take pride in their work and are proficient with weapons ranging from the 5.56mm M249 squad automatic weapon to rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

But the general consensus from rank and file infantrymen is that for every good ANA soldier, there are at least five or six who are lazy, incompetent or both.

“They’re not willing to do the job it takes to defend their country,” said Lance Cpl. Lucas McGary, a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. “They’re so worthless that their worthlessness doesn’t faze anyone anymore.”

Such frustration is fostered by incidents that span a variety of categories:

• 1. Safety. Marines say Afghan soldiers aren’t careful with their weapons, and numerous accidents have occurred because of it. On two occasions, an ANA soldier based with India Company, 3/6, negligently discharged a SAW within ANA living quarters, each time shooting a round into a wall, Marines said. Another time, an Afghan soldier partnered with India’s 3rd Platoon accidentally shot himself in the foot with an M16A2 rifle while on patrol, said Staff Sgt. Ryan Clay, the platoon sergeant.

An Afghan soldier partnered with Kilo Company, 3/6, recently wounded himself after negligently discharging his M16A2 as well. His weapon went off while his right hand was on the muzzle and the weapon was pointed skyward, said Staff Sgt. Gearold Provence, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of an embedded training team. The weapon was set for a three-round burst — one round hit his thumb, another hit a finger and the third was discharged into the air, Provence said.

• 2. Discipline. Marines say that while some Afghan soldiers are willing to defend their country, many appear to have become soldiers for the paycheck, food and water. For example, while manning a small patrol base here, Marines with India Company’s 3rd Platoon struggled to get just two ANA soldiers to join them on most security patrols. Eventually, the 11 soldiers they partnered with were transferred to another security base with more supervision. Afghan soldiers also are frequently late for patrols, and sometimes sleep on the job when they’re supposed to join Marines in standing guard at patrol bases, Marines said.

• 3. Bravery. Some Afghans have performed courageously under fire, but many panic when the Taliban attacks, said Lance Cpl. Eric Sickler, a rifleman with India Company, 3/6. Pinned down in a firefight, some choose to stay behind cover and point their weapons over the top of barriers, blindly shooting at the enemy, he said. The problem has persisted despite numerous corrections, Marines said.

• 4. Officers. Marines say they are frustrated that whenever a decision has to be made involving the ANA, it must go through the senior-most Afghan officer available. The system runs counter to the Corps’ reliance on NCOs and slows decision-making on the run, they say.

New recruits, new problems
Afghanistan’s army has long had a reputation for incompetence and corruption. However, Marines here praise the effort of the last group of Afghan soldiers who fought with them, the ANA’s 203rd Corps. That unit included seasoned veterans who fought side by side with U.S. forces during the initial push into this former Taliban stronghold, which is home to tens of thousands of civilians. They had fought the Taliban in Khost province and other areas of eastern Afghanistan for months, and weren’t afraid of combat.

The 203rd Corps, however, returned to eastern Afghanistan this spring and has been replaced with troops from the recently formed — and still growing — 215th Corps, based in Helmand province. The 215th was activated in April at Camp Shoraback, a part of Camp Leatherneck where Afghan troops are trained. There are more than 104,000 ANA soldiers across Afghanistan, with plans to increase the service to 134,000 by October.

Ultimately, the 215th Corps is expected to take control of Helmand’s security. For now, however, there will be growing pains. Sergeants and officers are often no more than 20 years old, and they struggle to assert authority over their junior enlisted troops who are unwilling to perform a required task, Marines said.

“When you have a sergeant who’s a problem, it’s really an issue,” said 1st Lt. Ramon McCrimmon, the officer in charge of a team of Marine trainers with Kilo, 3/6. “It poisons the whole platoon.”

Afghan troops say they’re trying their best, but don’t always get the gear they need. Their boots, provided by the Afghanistan government, fall apart within weeks, and they drive around in old U.S. Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks, rather than armored mine-resistant vehicles.

Ahmad Mokhtar, 19, the executive officer for an ANA company attached to Kilo Company, said there is sometimes tension between Afghan soldiers and the Marines. The fault, he said, can lie with either side, depending on the incident. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the weapons handling of the 70 soldiers in his company will improve with time, but that they didn’t have enough training before becoming soldiers.

The Marine Corps is aware of the shortfalls in the 215th Corps and is working to address the issues, said Terry Walker, a retired chief warrant officer 5 who serves as the top training adviser for Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan.

“Many of the 215th Corps officers are as newly minted as the corps itself,” Walker said. “Most of the company-grade officers are serving in their first unit. One could expect a growth period coupled with a hesitancy to act.”

Most recruits in the 215th were “force-fed” from the Kabul National Training Center run by NATO forces, Walker said. The Marine Corps recently began to train ANA troops at Camp Leatherneck, graduating its first class of about 80 troops June 2. The Corps will begin a separate class at Leatherneck next month to train Afghan NCOs.

“We have not had sufficient time partnering with these new units to instill our Marine warrior ethos into each and every one of these new recruits,” Walker said. “Given more time, we will instill a fighting spirit into all of our [Afghan National Security Forces]. This takes time, and our Marine units are up to the task.”

Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of 1st Marine Division (Forward) in Afghanistan, said many of the problems he sees now with the Afghan army were present in the early days of developing the Iraqi army a few years ago.

“I see a lot of the same things, in terms of force development and maturation kind of things,” he said. “I know it’s frustrating for the individual Marines sometimes, but … this is right on the glide slope of where you’d expect [the new soldiers] to be.”