Monday, February 28, 2011

Breaking: Iran Has Several Military Bases in Libya

In an interview today on the Al Arabyia news network, an informed source within the Revolutionary Guards Corps revealed that Iran has several military bases in Libya.

The source, who requested anonymity due to his sensitive position within the Guards, elaborated further that the Iranian military bases are located mostly along Libya’s borders with the African countries of Chad and Niger. From there, he said, the Guards actively smuggle arms and supply logistical assistance to rebellious groups in the African countries.

According to this source, Guards enter Libya under the guise of oil company employees. Most of these companies are under the control of the Revolutionary Guards.

The source, who is a colonel in the Guards, added that Gaddafi and his government are quite aware of these activities and have even signed joint contracts with those Iranian oil companies so that the the Guards can enter Libya without any trouble.

The colonel stated that with the current unrest in Libya, over 500 Guards have been unable to evacuate and are under orders to destroy all documents.

According to this source, the military collaborations between the Revolutionary Guards and the Gaddafi government date back to 2006.

It is important to note that Nigerian officials recently confiscated an Iranian arms shipment destined for Gambia. The weapons included mortars, rockets, and shells for anti-aircraft guns and were hidden in containers marked building materials. Nigerian officials have accused a suspected member of the Guards and a Nigerian of illegally importing arms and have set the trial for later this year.


Egypt's imams protest junta's dictates

Thousands of imams have staged a demonstration in Egypt against what they call state security agencies' excessive interventions.

The protesters gathered in front of the offices of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on Sunday, saying they have been dictated by the ruling junta about what to preach during Friday Prayers' sermons.

The demonstrators also said they would submit a list of demands to the military council, stating that the popular revolution must give them the power to speak freely.

The regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak used to dictate Friday Prayers' sermons as well. It used mosques to dissuade citizens from taking part in anti-government protests.

Indignation has been mounting at the army since it took power after eighteen days of pro-democracy demonstrations led to the overthrow of Mubarak's three-decade despotic rule on February 11.

Egyptians, fearing their revolution will be hijacked by those who have served Mubarak's regime, have been constantly demanding that the military hand over power to a civilian government elected by the people.

In response to people's growing protests, the army was forced to form a new constitution to reform some of the basic rules that have been in place for thirty years.

The ruling military council is reportedly going to call for a referendum on constitutional changes by the end of March.

Conditions have not completely returned to normalcy in the country. Some public sector laborers are still on strike for poor working conditions and low salaries.


US Marines M777 Howitzer 155mm in Afghanistan

West moves military assets around Libya

The Pentagon is deploying naval and air forces around Libya as the US and UK governments consider tougher measures to force Muammer Gaddafi from power, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone.

“We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people,” David Cameron, UK prime minister, said. “In that context I have asked the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone.”

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, at a UN meeting in Geneva, said: “Nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyans.” She added she had discussed a no-fly zone with other foreign ministers.

She insisted the naval deployments did not signal pending military action, emphasising instead that refugees might need to be rescued at sea amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.

According to Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, US military planners are working on “various contingency plans ... [and] repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made”.

The military manoeuvring coincided with US and UK efforts to ratchet up financial pressure being brought to bear on Colonel Gaddafi, whose forces remain in control of Tripoli, the capital.

“As of today at least $30bn in government of Libya assets under US jurisdiction have been blocked,” said David Cohen, acting US Treasury undersecretary. “This is the largest blocking under any sanctions programme ever.”

The UK, meanwhile, has frozen at least £1bn of assets belonging to Col Gaddafi and five members of his family.

With Col Gaddafi apparently willing to fight to the death, some opponents of the regime are arguing that the international community should threaten military action, in an effort to persuade the Libyan leader’s forces to defect and hasten his downfall.

Col Gaddafi’s enemies fear his ability to dig in and threaten cities that have already fallen to rebel forces. There were reports Monday that the Libyan airforce had bombed an arms depot in territory held by anti-regime forces in the country’s eastern region.

In a defiant interview, Col Gaddafi told the BBC that “all my people love me” and are prepared to die for him.

UK officials said they could use of a British military air base in Akrotiri, Cyprus to enforce a no-fly mission. “Akrotiri would be very useful if we wanted to deploy,” said an official. “That would seem most logical.”

Although fixed-wing aircraft appear to be depleted, British officials said the main concern was that Col Gaddafi could use helicopters to mount bombing raids on opponents.

Pentagon officials say deployments are small in scale. A Pentagon spokesman said US military planners are working on “various contingency plans [and] repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made”.

Top military officials in Washington have also been looking at other options, including “safe zones” for people sheltering from the regime, securing ports, airports and oil fields and providing guarantees for an attempt to set up a new government.

UN approval of a no-fly zone would be difficult to secure, given China’s and Russia’s extensive doubts about military intervention. Some western diplomats suggested a no fly-zone could be imposed by a coalition of nations outside the Nato remit.

US officials emphasise that co-operation with Britain and France would be particularly important, but Germany has signalled deep reluctance about any military intervention.

The European Union also announced sanctions on Libya. But while the measures went further than a United Nations Security Council resolution agreed at the weekend they were less extensive than unilateral US measures, which froze assets belonging to Libya’s sovereign wealth fund.

Libya also looks likely to become the first country to be expelled from the UN Human Rights Council.

Foreign ministers from the US, Russia, the UK, Germany and other states convened on Monday for a council session in Geneva, where they condemned the violence that Col Gaddafi has unleashed on his opponents in recent days.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Monday that he hoped to complete a preliminary examination of the violence in Libya in a few days before opening a full investigation.


By the time they finish diddling it'll be over.

And everyone is fainting in anguish that Gadafi is killing people. What the Fuck did they think he's been doing all along?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oman clashes widen protest rumblings in Gulf

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Protests against the tight grip of Gulf rulers widened Sunday as riot police in Oman battled pro-democracy demonstrators in a deadly clash that sharply raised tensions in the region.

Tiny Bahrain is already in turmoil and giant Saudi Arabia is seeking to hold back calls for reforms.

The Gulf protests have shaken the once-comfortable command of various monarchs and sheiks. An ever deeper and sustained political revolt would thrust the Arab world's uprising into the heart of the region's oil riches and Washington's front-line allies against Iran.

The U.S. has long counted on the Gulf's rulers as reliable partners - particularly their common ground over concerns about Iran's efforts to expand its influence. No ruling system has given way, but cracks are evident.

Protesters are calling for the ouster of the Bahrain monarchy that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Marchers on Sunday streamed through the diplomatic zone in Bahrain's capital Manama, chanting slogans against the king.

Opposition forces, meanwhile, are showing resolve to challenge the absolute rule of dynasties in Saudi Arabia and now Oman, which shares with Iran control of the strategic oil tanker route through the Strait of Hormouz and is a mediator between Iran and the West.

In the Omani town of Sohar, security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters demanding a greater voice in the country's affairs. At least one person was killed, police officials said, but other reports cited Omani media sources saying at least two died.

Oman's state-run news agency said protesters set cars and houses on fire, burned down a police station and set the governor's residence ablaze in the seaside town, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Muscat.

It marked the first serious confrontation against protesters seeking to open up the ruling system of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose nation straddles the southeast corner of the Arabian peninsula and is co-guardian of the Strait of Hormuz. About 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic passes through the waterway at the mouth of the Gulf.

The sultan has already take bold steps to try to quell the unrest. On Saturday, he replaced six Cabinet members and last week boosted the minimum wage by more than 40 percent.

"We want new faces in the government and we have a long list of social reforms," said Habiba al-Hanay, a 45-year-old civil servant.

Omanis are not seeking to oust the country's ruler, al-Hanay said. "We just hope he will hear us and make changes," she added, noting that unemployment is high and education is poor in the country, which only has one university.

The tone appeared different in Bahrain, which has been gripped by nearly two weeks of protests and clashes that have left seven people dead.

Protesters streamed through Bahrain's diplomatic area and other sites Sunday, chanting slogans against the country's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the political crisis.

At least three processions paralyzed parts of the capital, Manama, and appeared to reflect a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain's rulers to hold talks.

"No dialogue until the regime is gone," marchers chanted as they moved through the highly protected zone of embassies and diplomatic compounds. No violence was reported.

Bahrain is among the most politically volatile nations in the Gulf - with majority Shiites claiming widespread discrimination by the Sunni rulers - and was the first in the region to be hit by the demands for reform sweeping the Arab world.

Some of the marchers in Bahrain claim that authorities still hold more than 200 political prisoners despite the release of about 100 political detainees last week.

Shiites, who account for about 70 percent of the country's 525,000 people, have long complained of discrimination and other abuses by the Sunni dynasty that has ruled for more than two centuries.

Bahrain's leaders, meanwhile, face pressure from other Gulf leaders to stand firm. Many Sunnis across the region fear that conceding significant power to Bahrain's Shiites could open the door for greater influence by Shiite powerhouse Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, more than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists have joined calls for Western-allied King Abdullah to enact sweeping reforms, including relinquishing many powers under a constitutional monarchy.

The statement seen on several Saudi websites Sunday reflects the undercurrent of tension that has simmered for years in the world's largest oil producer. While King Abdullah is seen as a reformer, the pace of those reforms has been slow as Saudi officials balance the need to push the country forward with the perennial pressure from hard-line clergy in the conservative nation.

Abdullah has tried to fend off the protest rumblings with a spending spree.

On Sunday, he ordered government sector workers employed under temporary contracts be offered permanent jobs with major benefits. It followed a slew of measures last week under a $36 billion package that includes interest free loans to Saudis for needs such as marriage, starting a business or buying furniture.

A key test may come next month. Social media sites have called for protest rallies in Saudi Arabia on March 11.

Demonstrations also are planned March 8 in Kuwait, one of the few Gulf states with a powerful elected parliament and a highly organized political opposition. Last month, Kuwait lawmakers nearly brought down the nation's prime minister with a no-confidence vote.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Egypt proposes competitive presidential elections

CAIRO (AP) - A constitutional reform panel on Saturday recommended opening Egypt's presidential elections to competition and imposing a two-term limit on future presidents - a dramatic shift from a system that allowed the ousted Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades.

The changes are among 10 proposed constitutional amendments that are to be put to a popular referendum later this year. The proposals appeared to address many of the demands of the reform movement that help lead the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.

But some Egyptians worry that the proposed changes don't go far enough to ensure a transition to democratic rule, and could allow the entrenched old guard to maintain its grip on power.

The most important of the eight-member panel's proposals would greatly loosen restrictions on who could run for president, opening the field to independents and candidates from small opposition parties. That marks a drastic change from the previous system that gave Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party a stranglehold on who could run.

"We were denied the right to have candidates before. Now they opened the door for whoever wants to run," said pro-reform Judge Ahmed Mekky. "This is a step forward."

A candidate would be allowed to run by doing one of three things: collecting 30,000 signatures from 15 of Egypt's 29 provinces; receiving the approval of at least 30 members of the elected parliament; or representing a party with at least one lawmaker in parliament.

The panel also recommended full judicial supervision of the electoral process, which would address regular criticism that the government routinely rigged past elections to ensure Mubarak's party retained its hold on power.

On Egypt's widely criticized emergency laws, which have been in place for 30 years and grant police sweeping powers of arrest, the panel proposed limiting their use to a six-month period with the approval of an elected parliament. Extending their use beyond that should be put to a public referendum, it said.

The recommendations did not directly address the law governing the formation of political parties - a process that previously was controlled by Mubarak's ruling party. Nor did they meet the demand of some protesters that the current constitution be simply scrapped and a new one created from scratch.

But the panel's chief, Tareq el-Bishri - considered one of Egypt's top legal minds - said the proposals "constitute a temporary constitution, after which a new constitution for the country can be drafted."

The suggestions were welcomed by some. Others dismissed them as patchwork changes to a faulty constitution that among other things gives unlimited powers to the president.

Islam Lotfi, a leading youth activist and a member of Egypt's most organized political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, said the promise to rewrite the constitution responds to a major demand of the protesters.

But he called for the military to change the laws to scrap restrictions on forming political parties.

"Otherwise the military will fall prey one more time to the grip of the businessmen and the corrupt," he said.

Tahany el-Gibali, the deputy head of Egypt's Constitutional Court, said the amendments show a "serious shortcoming" in managing the transitional period by rushing toward elections without allowing new political players the time to form.

"This denies the new forces on the ground the right to organize and form new parties to run in those elections," el-Gibali said. "This will make the elections exclusive to the old powers," such as the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the old regime, particularly the businessmen.

The ruling military council, which took over from Mubarak, has said the military wants to hand power over to a new government and elected president within six months. It disbanded both houses of parliament and promised to repeal the emergency laws, though only when conditions permit.

Many Egyptians are growing impatient with the country's new military rulers to carry out promised reforms.

On Friday, tens of thousands rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square to keep up the pressure on the military, pushing for the dismissal of the head of the caretaker government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was appointed by Mubarak.

They are want a more active civilian role in the decisions made by the council. On Saturday, hundreds returned to the square. They were mainly protesting the beating of protesters the night before at the hands of the military police. The protesters were planning to camp outside the Cabinet to press for Shafiq's dismissal.

The overnight clash signaled a tougher line from Egypt's military rulers, who had avoided violently confronting anti-government protesters in the streets while promising to meet their demands for democratic reform and a return to civilian rule.

The military apologized Saturday and said the situation "wasn't intentional." In a statement, the ruling military council promised such confrontations would not happen again.


12 killed as Iraqis protest in 'Day of Rage'

BAGHDAD (AP) - Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces Friday in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger that left 12 people dead - the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago.

In northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing 10 demonstrators. In the western Anbar province, two people were shot and killed in a protest. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops who chased them down the street.

The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government. Shiite religious leaders discouraged people from taking part, greatly diminishing the Shiite participation and the overall size of the crowd in a country where such religious edicts hold great sway.

In Baghdad's Sunni enclave of Azamiyah, one resident said people there did not want to attend because they feared being labeled Saddamists. "The government has already convicted anyone who takes part in the demonstrations by accusing them of terrorism," said 41-year-old Ammar al-Azami.

Khalil Ibrahim, 44, one of about 3,000 protesters in downtown Baghdad, railed against a government that locks itself in the Green Zone, home to the parliament and the U.S. Embassy, and is viewed by most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public service.

"We want a good life like human beings, not like animals," Ibrahim said.

The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the official concerns that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.

Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted, "No to unemployment," and "No to the liar al-Maliki," referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge from the square to the Green Zone clashed with security forces. The demonstrators knocked down some of the concrete blast walls that were put up Thursday night and threw rocks at troops who beat them back with batons. Six riot police and 12 demonstrators were wounded in the melee, according to police and hospital officials.

The Iraqi prime minister thanked the security services for their "patience and self-restraint" and said he would investigate violations that took place in a few areas.

Just the night before, al-Maliki warned people to stay away from the demonstrations, saying that Saddamists and al-Qaida were behind the marches. He gave no proof for this claim, and there were no terrorist attacks reported across the country targeting the protesters.

The demonstrations stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government's seeming inability to improve their lives.

The most deadly clashes came in the Mosul. Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services, when guards opened fire, according to a police official. A police and hospital official said five protesters were killed and 15 people wounded.

Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the building.

A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija tried to break into the city's municipal building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih.

Security forces opened fire, killing three demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said. Protesters set fire to three police stations and the municipal council building, said Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir. The Iraqi Army was eventually called in to restore order.

At least two people were killed and 14 others injured in riots in Anbar province, said Sheik Efan Saadoun, a provincial councilor.

Police used stun grenades to ward off about 1,000 demonstrators in Saddam Hussein's former hometown of Tikrit and one person died in the melee, a police official said.

In the south, about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Gov. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his resignation.

They appeared to get their wish when the commander of Basra military operations told the crowd that the governor had resigned.

Most protests in recent weeks have been peaceful, although a few have turned violent and seven people were killed before Friday. The biggest rallies have been in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah against the government of the self-ruled region.

Police opened fire Friday in the town of Kalar, south of Sulaimaniyah, when a crowd of demonstrators closed in on the headquarters of one of the main ruling parties, police and hospital officials said. One demonstrator was killed and 25 others wounded.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.


In setback, Iran to unload fuel from nuclear plant

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - In a major setback to Iran's nuclear program, technicians will have to unload fuel from the country's first atomic power plant because of an unspecified safety concern, a senior government official said.

The vague explanation raised questions about whether the mysterious computer worm known as Stuxnet might have caused more damage at the Bushehr plant than previously acknowledged. Other explanations are possible for unloading the fuel rods from the reactor core of the newly completed plant, including routine technical difficulties.

While the exact reason behind the fuel's removal is unclear, the admission is seen as a major embarrassment for Tehran because it has touted Bushehr - Iran's first atomic power plant - as its showcase nuclear facility and sees it as a source of national pride. When the Islamic Republic began loading the fuel just four months ago, Iranian officials celebrated the achievement.

Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency in Vienna said that Russia, which provided the fuel and helped construct the Bushehr plant, had demanded the fuel be taken out.

"Upon a demand from Russia, which is responsible for completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant, fuel assemblies from the core of the reactor will be unloaded for a period of time to carry out tests and take technical measurements," the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh as saying. "After the tests are conducted, (the fuel) will be placed in the core of the reactor once again."

"Iran always gives priority to the safety of the plant based on highest global standards," Soltanieh added.

Calls to the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom for comment were not answered Saturday afternoon.

The spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said the fuel unloading was nothing unusual.

"It's a kind of technical inspection and to obtain confidence about the safety of the reactor," Hamid Khadem Qaemi told the official IRNA news agency. He accused foreign media of blowing the issue out of proportion.

The Bushehr plant is not among the aspects of Iran's nuclear program that are of top concern to the international community and is not directly subject to sanctions. It has international approval and is supervised by the U.N.'s nuclear monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In a report released Friday about Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA said that Tehran informed the agency on Wednesday that it would have to unload the fuel rods. The agency said it and Tehran have agreed on the "necessary safeguards measures."

A senior international official familiar with Iran's nuclear program said the IAEA had no further details. He said unloading and reloading fuel assemblies is not unusual before any reactor startup. The official asked for anonymity because his information was confidential.

Soltanieh and other officials have not specified why the fuel had to be unloaded, but Iranian officials denied any link to the Stuxnet computer virus.

"Stuxnet has had no effect on the control systems at the Bushehr nuclear power plant," Nasser Rastkhah, a senior official in charge of nuclear security, told the official IRNA news agency.

Foreign intelligence reports have said the control systems at Bushehr were penetrated by the malware - malicious software designed to infiltrate computer systems - but Iran has all along maintained that Stuxnet was only found on several laptops belonging to plant employees and didn't affect the facility's control systems.

Some computer experts believe Stuxnet was the work of Israel or the United States, two nations convinced that Iran wants to turn nuclear fuel into weapons-grade uranium.

The Islamic Republic is reluctant to acknowledge setbacks to its nuclear activities, which it says are aimed at generating energy but are under U.N. sanctions because of concerns they could be channeled toward making weapons. Only after outside revelations that its enrichment program was temporarily disrupted late last year by Stuxnet did Iranian officials acknowledge the incident.

The startup of the Bushehr power plant, a project completed with Russian help but beset by years of delays, would deliver Iran the central stated goal of its atomic work - the generation of nuclear power.

But the inauguration of the facility has been delayed for years. Iran said when it began inserting the fuel rods in October that the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor would begin pumping electricity to Iranian cities by December. But it pushed back the timing to February, citing a "small leak" and other unspecified reasons.

The Bushehr plant itself is not among the West's main worries because safeguards are in place to ensure that the spent fuel will be returned to Russia and cannot be diverted to weapons making.

The United States and some of its allies believe the Bushehr plant is part of a civil energy program that Iran is using as cover for a covert program to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the accusation.

The Bushehr project dates back to 1974, when Iran's U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.

In 1992, Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to complete the project and work began in 1995.

Under the contract, Bushehr was originally scheduled to come on stream in July 1999 but the startup has been delayed repeatedly by construction and supply glitches.


Friday, February 25, 2011

U.S. Pulling Back in Afghan Valley It Called Vital to War

KABUL, Afghanistan — After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

The reorganization, which follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley, runs the risk of providing the Taliban with an opportunity to claim success and raises questions about the latest strategy guiding the war.

American officials say their logic is simple and compelling: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.

“If you continue to stay with the status quo, where will you be a year from now?” General Campbell said. “I would tell you that there are places where we’ll continue to build up security and it leads to development and better governance, but there are some areas that are not ready for that, and I’ve got to use the forces where they can do the most good.”

President Obama’s Afghan troop buildup is now fully in place, and the United States military has its largest-ever contingent in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama’s reinforced campaign has switched focus to operations in Afghanistan’s south, and to building up Afghan security forces.

The previous strategy emphasized denying sanctuaries to insurgents, blocking infiltration routes from Pakistan and trying to fight away from populated areas, where NATO’s superior firepower could be massed, in theory, with less risk to civilians. The Pech Valley effort was once a cornerstone of this thinking.

The new plan stands as a clear, if unstated, repudiation of earlier decisions. When Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former NATO commander, overhauled the Afghan strategy two years ago, his staff designated 80 “key terrain districts” to concentrate on. The Pech Valley was not one of them.

Ultimately, the decision to withdraw reflected a stark — and controversial — internal assessment by the military that it would have been better served by not having entered the high valley in the first place.

“What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” said one American military official familiar with the decision. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”

Gen. Mohammed Zaman Mamozai, a former commander of the region’s Afghan Border Police, agreed with some of this assessment. He said that residents of the Pech Valley bristled at the American presence but might tolerate Afghan units. “Many times they promised us that if we could tell the Americans to pull out of the area, they wouldn’t fight the Afghan forces,” he said.

It is impossible to know whether such pledges will hold. Some veterans worry that the withdrawal will create an ideal sanctuary for insurgent activity — an area under titular government influence where fighters or terrorists will shelter or prepare attacks elsewhere.

While it is possible that the insurgents will concentrate in the mountain valleys, General Campbell said his goal was to arrange forces to keep insurgents from Kabul, the country’s capital.

“There are thousands of isolated mountainous valleys throughout Afghanistan, and we cannot be in all of them,” he said.

The American military plans to withdraw from most of the four principal American positions in the valley. For security reasons, General Campbell declined to discuss which might retain an American presence, and exactly how the Americans would operate with Afghans in the area in the future.

As the pullback begins, the switch in thinking has fueled worries among those who say the United States is ceding some of Afghanistan’s most difficult terrain to the insurgency and putting residents who have supported the government at risk of retaliation.

“There is no house in the area that does not have a government employee in it,” said Col. Gul Rahman, the Afghan police chief in the Manogai District, where the Americans’ largest base in the valley, Forward Operating Base Blessing, is located. “Some work with the Afghan National Army, some work with the Afghan National Police, or they are a teacher or governmental employee. I think it is not wise to ignore and leave behind all these people, with the danger posed to their lives.”

Some Afghan military officials have also expressed pointed misgivings about the prospects for Afghan units left behind.

“According to my experience in the military and knowledge of the area, it’s absolutely impractical for the Afghan National Army to protect the area without the Americans,” said Major Turab, the former second-in-command of an Afghan battalion in the valley, who like many Afghans uses only one name. “It will be a suicidal mission.”

The pullback has international implications as well. Senior Pakistani commanders have complained since last summer that as American troops withdraw from Kunar Province, fighters and some commanders from the Haqqani network and other militant groups have crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan to create a “reverse safe haven” from which to carry out attacks against Pakistani troops in the tribal areas.

The Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups are all but certain to label the withdrawal a victory in the Pech Valley, where they could point to the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from the same area in 1988. Many Afghans remember that withdrawal as a symbolic moment when the Kremlin’s military campaign began to visibly fall apart.

Within six months, the Soviet-backed Afghan Army of the time ceded the territory to mujahedeen groups, according to Afghan military officials.

The unease, both with the historical precedent and with the price paid in American blood in the valley, has ignited a sometimes painful debate among Americans veterans and active-duty troops. The Pech Valley had long been a hub of American military operations in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces.

American forces first came to the valley in force in 2003, following the trail of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami group, who, like other prominent insurgent leaders, has been said at different times to hide in Kunar. They did not find him, though Hezb-i-Islami is active in the valley.

Since then, one American infantry battalion after another has fought there, trying to establish security in villages while weathering roadside bombs and often vicious fights.

Along with other slotlike canyons that the United States has already largely abandoned — including the Korangal Valley, the Waygal Valley (where the battle of Wanat was fought in 2008), the Shuryak Valley and the Nuristan River corridor (where Combat Outpost Keating was nearly overrun in 2009) — the Pech Valley was a region rivaled only by Helmand Province as the deadliest Afghan acreage for American troops.

On one operation alone in 2005, 19 service members, including 11 members of the Navy Seals, died.

As the years passed and the toll rose, the area assumed for many soldiers a status as hallowed ground. “I can think of very few places over the past 10 years with as high and as sustained a level of violence,” said Col. James W. Bierman, who commanded a Marine battalion in the area in 2006 and helped establish the American presence in the Korangal Valley.

In the months after American units left the Korangal last year, insurgent attacks from that valley into the Pech Valley increased sharply, prompting the current American battalion in the area, First Battalion, 327th Infantry, and Special Operations units to carry out raids into places that American troops once patrolled regularly.

Last August, an infantry company raided the village of Omar, which the American military said had become a base for attacks into the Pech Valley, but which earlier units had viewed as mostly calm. Another American operation last November, in the nearby Watapor Valley, led to fighting that left seven American soldiers dead.


Maliki: Friday protests organized by Saddamists and al-Qaeda

"Maliki's scare tactics won't work with Iraqis anymore and only serve to undermine his credibility. Iraqis are fed up with cronyism, corruption and graft:"
Healing Iraq

The Iraqi government is corrupt and based on sectarianism

"In Iraq the revolution will start on the 25th February 2011 against all kinds of corruptions and for real democracy.

The democracy that came with the American occupation proved its failure. Democracy doesn’t mean corruptions and sectarianism. Eight years passed since the downfall of the previous dictator and Iraq ultimately became under the multiple dictators of sectarian groups both in the government and the parliament."


"When Heretic and I got busted for this blog while we were in Iraq, they said the same shit then as what they're saying now to justify ending the war blog culture....

That it is a breach of operational security, that it only helps the enemy by lending encouragement, that it paints the picture that troop morale is low.

Same old shit as in any imperial war. Keep military adventures as far away from the plebeians as possible.

Unlike other war bloggers, we came out very fortunate. Our chain of command's threats of court-marshal proved to be futile. As was later confirmed by Military Intelligence and C.I.D., not once did we ever technically break OPSEC."
Fight to Survive

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Russia warns fanatics may rule Arab world

Russia on Tuesday sounded the alarm over the unrest sweeping the Middle East, saying the revolts risked bringing Islamist fanatics to power and breaking up Arab states into “little pieces”.

Striking a strong note of discord with Western sympathy for the protestors demonstrating against dictatorial regimes across the Arab world, President Dmitry Medvedev warned that the events could also impact Russia itself.
Daily Nation

One can only hope...

FBI Arrests a Suspected Bomb Plotter

Federal agents charged a Saudi student in Texas with attempting to construct improvised explosives and compiling a list of possible targets, including the home of former President George W. Bush.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, 20 years old, was arrested and charged in a federal criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Mr. Aldawsari is in the U.S. on a 2008 student visa and is enrolled at South Plains College, near Lubbock, Texas.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have scrambled in recent weeks to determine whether Mr. Aldawsari has links to international terrorist groups and have found none, according to U.S. officials. Mr. Aldawsari is set to appear in federal court in Lubbock on Friday and faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Attempts to contact Mr. Aldawsari's attorney weren't successful.

The FBI alleges that electronic surveillance and searches of Mr. Aldawsari's apartment turned up Internet blog postings and a personal journal that expressed his desire for jihad and martyrdom.

An FBI affidavit filed in federal court says the investigation began Feb. 1 after a North Carolina company alerted law enforcement about suspicious purchases of the chemical phenol. The FBI says phenol has common legitimate uses but can be used to make trinitrophenol, an explosive also known as picric acid.

After the company's shipping restrictions for the chemical thwarted the purchase, Mr. Aldawsari bought the chemical and other ingredients—including wiring, clocks and lab equipment to help make explosives—from other sources, including, according to the FBI affidavit.

In recent years, jihadi websites and articles published in the Yemeni al Qaeda affiliate's magazine have urged Muslims living in Western countries to build improvised explosives from substances easily found in anyone's kitchen. It isn't clear whether Mr. Aldawsari viewed those websites.

Federal authorities have developed tripwires in the private sector that could alert them to terrorism suspects who are seeking to buy ingredients for explosives. For instance, companies that sell chemicals often used in hair products are required to maintain records and report suspicious customer purchases.

James T. Jacks, the U.S. attorney in Dallas, credited the information supplied by the public with thwarting Mr. Aldawsari.

Mr. Aldawsari's alleged plot was derailed in part by what appear to be his own missteps. According to the FBI, he sent himself bomb recipes through email accounts that were monitored by investigators. He also allegedly maintained a personal journal, which FBI agents copied during searches of his apartment.

The criminal complaint alleges that Mr. Aldawsari emailed himself a list of possible targets for attack, including the Dallas address of former President Bush, reservoirs and dams in Colorado and California, nuclear-power plants and Dallas nightclubs.

Mr. Aldawsari also researched realistic-looking baby dolls, which the FBI alleges he considered using to hide explosives.

In one journal entry, the suspect said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks produced a "big change" in his thinking and that he was inspired by Osama bin Laden, according to the FBI.

Another journal entry cited by the FBI is alleged to read in Arabic: "I excelled in my studies in high school in order to take advantage of an opportunity for a scholarship to America, offered by the [Saudi] government and its companies....Now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad."

A Jan. 12 email Mr. Aldawsari sent himself was characterized by the FBI as "a simplified lesson on how to booby trap a vehicle with items that are readily available in every home."

Mr. Aldawsari was enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock before transferring to South Plains. Jimmy Woods, a sophomore at Texas Tech who took a chemical-engineering seminar with Mr. Aldawsari, described him as a dedicated student who always showed up for homework-group meetings.

"He seemed like a normal kid to me, scared about being away from home for the first time," said Mr. Woods, who met Mr. Aldawsari when they were both freshmen in the fall of 2009. "It's not like I ever suspected him to be a terrorist."

Mr. Aldawsari always came to class cleanly shaven and with his hair combed, Mr. Woods recalled, and seemed shy. In the photo released by the FBI, "he looked like a different person," Mr. Woods said.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Super-stealth sub powered by fuel cell

Eckernfoerde, Germany (CNN) -- It is almost totally silent, radiates virtually no heat and is constructed entirely from non-magnetic metals.

Meet the U212A -- an ultra-advanced non-nuclear sub developed by German naval shipyard Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft, who claim it to be "the peak of German submarine technology."

And few would argue. The super-stealth vessel is the first of its kind to be powered by a revolutionary hydrogen fuel cell that lets it cruise the deep blue without giving off noise or exhaust heat.

That's important, because according to Bernd Arjes, a captain in the German Navy, silence keeps submariners alive.

"We operate in coastal waters around Europe and this submarine is specially designed for finding submarines. If you want to find other submarines of course you have to be quiet," he said.

With this latest technology, he added, "the boat is virtually undetectable."

But being indistinguishable is not the only thing that sets the U212A apart. Unlike conventional subs, which need air to combust diesel, the fuel cell doesn't require oxygen to operate.

This means it can remain submerged for many weeks -- holding its breath many times longer than its gas-guzzling cousins.

You'd expect a boat like this to pack a punch, and you'd be right.

The 212A is armed with 12 heavyweight wire guided torpedoes, each capable of destroying a war ship or disabling an aircraft carrier.

"An aircraft carrier might not break with one torpedo but probably gets hit at the rudder or something. And then he probably can't maneuver into the wind to use his aircraft," said Arjes.

Germany, which has no nuclear weapons or nuclear-powered ships of its own, is the world's third largest exporter of defense goods.

HDW began developing the technology for the U212A in 1994, with the first vessels reaching market in 2003.

Export editions have already been sold to the navies of Greece, Portugal and South Korea.

But sub-aquatic sailors around the world should think twice before getting too excited over this new toy.

With a high degree of self-automation, the sub requires only a small crew and there is extraordinarily little in the way of creature comforts for those few on board.

And so it seems that even with all this state-of-the-art technology, a submariners life still remains one of confined living quarters and shared bunks.

""This is a scheduling issue. The president will meet with Secretary of State Clinton this afternoon. We will have something to say out of that meeting. If possible, the President will speak this afternoon or tomorrow," White House press secretary Jay Carney said of President Obama's lack of response to the crisis in Libya."

She don't have a phone, or he cant buy a clue?

I think Nutjob is right, we need a revolution right here in the US.

Nervous China puts security apparatus into overdrive

Sitting last week in his cramped Beijing flat just beyond the city’s fifth ring road, Teng Biao talked about a joke he used to share with Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned activist who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Mr Liu would tease him about his ability to continue working as a human rights lawyer without being sent to jail.

“Doing this type of work, we can never be afraid of being jailed,” said Mr Teng. “But if you are in prison, you cannot do things.”

The joke is not looking so funny now. On Saturday, Mr Teng was called in to talk to the local police and as of Wednesday evening, he had still not reappeared, swallowed up somewhere in the city’s labyrinthine security bureaucracy. The police came later to his flat and took the two laptops that he spent his days crouched in front of.

“Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea?” is the euphemism that often accompanies such a police summons. Some young wits have even invented a new character that combines the symbol for tea with the similar character for interrogation. The normal routine is a few hours of questioning over, yes, some tea, followed by a rap on the knuckles.

Yet in the past few days, after an online call to bring a “Jasmine Revolution” from the Middle East to China began circulating, the system has gone into overdrive. According to human rights groups, more than 100 activists have had their movements restricted since last Friday. Among them, five lawyers, including Mr Teng, have been detained.

As it happened, no real protest met the first call for action on Sunday. A large crowd assembled outside a McDonald’s in central Beijing, but most were passers-by who thought the foreign television cameras meant celebrity sightings. There were no chants, no slogans, no banners. Yet that has not stopped the security forces from launching a sweeping crackdown.

Watching the tragicomic ranting of Libya’s Muammer Gaddafi or the scenes from Cairo, the near-universal view among China-watchers is there is little chance of something similar in Beijing, if nothing else because of China’s far superior record for competence. So why does the government look so nervous? And why are lawyers bearing the brunt of the backlash?

One explanation is that beneath the surface of China’s non-stop economy, there is much more unrest than meets the eye. There have certainly been some powerful warnings. Yu Jianrong, an influential scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, last year warned of an upsurge in “venting incidents”, unauthorised outbursts of public rage, often about land disputes.

Such perceptions have empowered the state security apparatus, which has seen large increases in budget and personnel. In truth, this crackdown is only the latest in a series that stretches back to the March 2008 Tibet riots, taking in the Olympics, the 60th anniversary of Communist China in 2009 and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Beijing’s political activists have grown wearily used to the constant harassment.

Activist lawyers have been targeted precisely because they have started to channel some of these resentments. Teng Biao described last week the gradual narrowing of space that he and his colleagues enjoy. He used to help run the now-shut non-profit Open Constitution Initiative, an organisation that did work on forced abortions and illegal land seizures. Last year, he founded a new group to campaign on death penalty cases, an area where the government has signalled it is keen to push reform. But his wife watched at the weekend as police took away case files for this organisation too.

There is an ideological element too to the move against lawyers, a post-Lehmans drift away from western ideas of rule of law. Legal experts say there is renewed support for civil cases to go to mediation, a process conducted by a Communist party official, rather than to court – party wisdom trumping the law.

Yet if Mr Yu’s research has helped raise anxieties, the official response has been the opposite of what he preaches. The real risk for China was not unrest, but the “rigid stability” of an unbending political system, which was bottling up social tensions.


Just keep buying "made in china"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Parents Of Marine Taken Off Life Support Speak Out

COLUMBIA, Tenn. - A family from Columbia just returned from Germany where they had their final moments with their son, a Marine who was left brain dead after being shot in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Andrew Carpenter's parents were forced to make the decision to take him off life support. Carpenter passed away on Saturday.

"We had got a letter from him before he left, it was a like a good bye letter," recalled Andrew Carpenter's dad, Kevin.

He held the note from his son written months ago, after his second deployment to Afghanistan.

It's still too hard for Kevin and Cindy Carpenter to read the letter and cope with the loss of their son after he was shot in the neck by a sniper in Afghanistan last Monday.

"It was a very small bullet but it did a lot of damage," said Cindy Carpenter, Andrew's mom.

The bullet left him brain dead in a German hospital and left his parents with no choice but to fly across the world to remove him from life support.

"We just needed to be able to touch him and hold him. We were there when he was born and we were there when he died," said Cindy.

But the one person who couldn't be there was his wife, Crissie. She is nine-months pregnant with their first child and couldn't make the flight to Germany. Doctors said Andrew wouldn't survive a flight to the U.S.

"I feel for her so much because she wanted to be there so badly and she was doing the best thing for her child," said Cindy.

They taped a picture of her ultrasound, a little boy named Landon, to Andrew's chest during his final moments.

"For me it felt like hours, but it wasn't hours it was a matter of minutes," said Cindy.

"It was the peace I needed to find. It still hurt but we got to hold him, kiss him," added Kevin.

They were given a moment to whisper what they wanted him to know: just how proud they were of their son, their hero.

"We just want everyone to remember that Andrew is a hero, he gave his life for his country and was doing what he wanted to do," said Cindy.

Carpenter's family is still waiting for his body to be flown back to Columbia to make funeral arrangements.

Meanwhile, they are asking for donations for baby Landon in lieu of flowers. He is expected to be born in the next couple of weeks.

Details for those donations will be here on when they become available.


Gadhafi's LatAm allies show solidarity, caution

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) - The bloody upheaval in Libya is creating an uncomfortable challenge for Moammar Gadhafi's leftist Latin American allies, with some keeping their distance and others rushing to the defense of a leader they have long embraced as a fellow fighter against U.S. influence in the world.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said Tuesday that the unrest may be a pretext for a NATO invasion of Libya, while Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega offered support for Gadhafi, saying he had telephoned to express solidarity.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, has stayed mute. Bolivia came closest to criticizing the government in Tripoli, issuing a statement expressing concern over "the regrettable loss of many lives" and urging both sides to find a peaceful solution.

Latin America's leftist leaders have found common cause with Gadhafi over his opposition to U.S. foreign policy and sympathized with his revolutionary rhetoric. Gadhafi has responded over the years by awarding the Moammar Gadhafi International Human Rights Prize to Castro, Ortega, Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Now those ties are being tested as Libya's security forces repress protesters emboldened by the fall of pro-Western strongmen in Egypt and Tunisia. Human rights groups say more than 200 people have died.

Gadhafi vowed Tuesday to fight to his "last drop of blood" and roared at his supporters to strike back at opponents.

While the United States, Europe and the U.N. Security Council have forcefully denounced the crackdown, Ortega has been Gadhafi's staunchest ally. He said in remarks excerpted by state radio Tuesday that he had kept in communication with the Libyan leader, expressing his solidarity over the "moments of tension."

"There is looting of businesses now, there is destruction. That is terrible," Ortega said. He added that he told Gadhafi "difficult moments put loyalty to the test."

Castro, meanwhile, said in a column published Tuesday by Cuban state media that it is too early to criticize Gadhafi.

"You can agree or not with Gadhafi," Castro said. "The world has been invaded by all sorts of news ... We have to wait the necessary time to know with rigor how much is fact or lie."

But he did urge protests of something that he says is planned: A U.S.-led invasion of the North African nation aimed at controlling its oil.

"The government of the United States is not concerned at all about peace in Libya and it will not hesitate to give NATO the order to invade that rich country, perhaps in a question of hours or very short days," Castro wrote.

"An honest person will always be against any injustice committed against any people in the world," Castro said. "And the worst of those at this instant would be to keep silent before the crime that NATO is preparing to commit against the Libyan people."

While Chavez has not commented publicly on the unrest in Libya, Venezuela's foreign minister issued a statement Monday saying he had phoned his Libyan counterpart to express hopes that Libya can find "a peaceful solution to its difficulties ... without the intervention of imperialism, whose interests in the region have been affected in recent times."

In Nicaragua and Venezuela, critics said their governments had revealed their own autocratic leanings through their sympathy for Gadhafi and failure to condemn the crackdown.

"While the whole world is moved and disgusted by the killings in Libya, our Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro is reveling in announcing that Moammar Gadhafi is alive and kicking in Tripoli," the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional said in an editorial Tuesday.

Opposition lawmaker Alfonso Marquina said his colleagues would introduce a resolution condemning "all acts of violence, of repression, of human rights violations in Libya on the part of Mr. Gadhafi."

Others said Chavez's silence suggests he might be trying to distance himself from his North African friend. The two leaders have had such warm ties that on Monday, rumors swept the world that Gadhafi was fleeing to Venezuela. Gadhafi took to television to deny them.

"Our garrulous president is keeping a thunderous silence," the director of the newspaper Tal Cual, Teodoro Petkoff, wrote in an editorial. "Now that the democratic rebellion has reached Libya, Chavez is looking the other way and even abandoning his disgraced 'brother.'"

There is no indication the upheaval in the Middle East is inspiring unrest in Latin America, though the possibility seemed to be on some leaders' minds.

In Venezuela, the government agreed to review the cases of some prisoners who Chavez's opponents say are being persecuted by the government. The concession was a key demand of dozens of protesters who had been on hunger strike since Jan. 31; they ended their protest Tuesday.

In Cuba, the government-run website Cubadebate published Castro's column alongside photos of calm streets in Havana - which it said were taken at a place where opponents abroad had urged protesters to gather.

Ortega accused opposition forces in Nicaragua of trying to generate chaos and made a point of saying he has ordered his security forces not to repress any demonstrations.

"Here we have a democracy and anybody can protest," Ortega said.


Death to the Tyrants

US warships box in Iranian flotilla, delay Suez passage

The repeated delays and contradictory statements about the two Iranian warships' transit of the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean is accounted for by a standoff between the Iranian flotilla and five US warships deployed in recent days at the waterway's southern entrance and along its course, debkafile's sources disclose.
Thursday night, Feb. 17, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, escorted by missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and the fast supply ship USNS Arctic, headed south through the canal. By Friday morning, they were through and taking up position opposite the Kharg cruiser and Alvand missile destroyer of the Iranian Navy's 12th Flotilla, which were waiting to enter the Suez Canal at the southern Red Sea entrance.

Furthermore, since the first week of February, the USS Kearsarge, another aircraft carrier, was posted in the Great Bitter Lake opposite Ismailia and the canal's main routes with a large contingent of marines aboard.

The USS George Washington carrier and the USS Carl Vinson were additionally deployed in the Gulf of Aden, the latter having been moved from the Pacific.
A battle of nerves is therefore underway.
The Iranian warships found themselves cheek to jowl with a major concentration of America naval might piling up in the Red Sea and Suez and were not sure what would happen if they went forward with their mission to transit the Suez Canal for the Mediterranean for the first time in 30 years on their way to Syria.
Sunday night, the Canal authorities announced another 48 hours delay shortly after Tehran state TV claimed the warships were already through to the Mediterranean.

And, finally, the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier was quietly transferred from Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet amid the anti-government uprising, to a point opposite the Iranian Gulf coast.

This pile-up of US naval, air and marine might at strategic points in the Middle East is a warning to meddlers to keep their hands off the revolutions, uprisings and protests sweeping Arab nations. It carries a special message for Tehran that the Obama administration will not permit the Islamic Republic's rulers to make military and political hay from the unrest - in Bahrain or anywhere else.

By positioning the Enterprise opposite Iran's 12th Flotilla at the Red Sea entrance to the Suez Canal on Feb. 17 Washington has confronted Tehran with a hard dilemma, which was practically spelled out by US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley a day earlier: "If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do," he said. "It's not really about the ships. It's about what the ships are carrying, what's their destination, what's the cargo on board, where's it going, to whom and for what benefit."
This was the US spokesman's answer to the debkafile disclosure of Feb. 16 that the Kharg was carrying long-range surface missiles for Hizballah. It raised the possibility that the moment they venture to sail into the Suez Canal, the two Iranian warships will be boxed in between the Enterprise and the Kearsarge and called upon the allow their cargoes to be inspected as permitted by the last round of UN sanctions against Iran in the case of suspicious war freights.

According to debkafile's intelligence sources, the flurry of conflicting statements from Cairo and Tehran were issued to muddy the situation surrounding the Iranian flotilla and cloud Tehran's uncertainty about how to proceed. The next date announced for their passage, Tuesday night, Feb. 22, will be a testing moment.


Pakistan’s Nuclear FollyPublished

With the Middle East roiling, the alarming news about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons buildup has gotten far too little attention. The Times recently reported that American intelligence agencies believe Pakistan has between 95 and more than 110 deployed nuclear weapons, up from the mid-to-high 70s just two years ago.

Pakistan can’t feed its people, educate its children, or defeat insurgents without billions of dollars in foreign aid. Yet, with China’s help, it is now building a fourth nuclear reactor to produce more weapons fuel.

Even without that reactor, experts say, it has already manufactured enough fuel for 40 to 100 additional weapons. That means Pakistan — which claims to want a minimal credible deterrent — could soon possess the world’s fifth-largest arsenal, behind the United States, Russia, France and China but ahead of Britain and India. Washington and Moscow, with thousands of nuclear weapons each, still have the most weapons by far, but at least they are making serious reductions.

Washington could threaten to suspend billions of dollars of American aid if Islamabad does not restrain its nuclear appetites. But that would hugely complicate efforts in Afghanistan and could destabilize Pakistan.

The truth is there is no easy way to stop the buildup, or that of India and China. Slowing and reversing that arms race is essential for regional and global security. Washington must look for points of leverage and make this one of its strategic priorities.

The ultimate nightmare, of course, is that the extremists will topple Pakistan’s government and get their hands on the nuclear weapons. We also don’t rest easy contemplating the weakness of Pakistan’s civilian leadership, the power of its army and the bitterness of the country’s rivalry with nuclear-armed India.

The army claims to need more nuclear weapons to deter India’s superior conventional arsenal. It seems incapable of understanding that the real threat comes from the Taliban and other extremists.

The biggest game-changer would be for Pakistan and India to normalize diplomatic and economic relations. The two sides recently agreed to resume bilateral talks suspended after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. There is a long way to go.

India insists that it won’t accept an outside broker. There is a lot the Obama administration can do quietly to press the countries to work to settle differences over Afghanistan and the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan must do a lot more to stop insurgents who target India.

Washington also needs to urge the two militaries to start talking, and urge the two governments to begin exploring ways to lessen the danger of an accidental nuclear war — with more effective hotlines and data exchanges — with a long-term goal of arms-control negotiations.

Washington and its allies must also continue to look for ways to get Pakistan to stop blocking negotiations on a global ban on fissile material production.

The world, especially this part of the world, is a dangerous enough place these days. It certainly doesn’t need any more nuclear weapons.


Parl. unanimously passes 2011 state budget

BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: The Iraqi parliament on Sunday unanimously approved Iraq’s federal state budget for the year 2011, ending its session to convene on Monday after voting over all items in the budget, an Iraqi legislator said.

“Debates over all the items of the 2011 state budget were completed in today’s session,” Alaa Mikki, a lawmaker from al-Iraqiya bloc, told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

The Iraqi cabinet had approved in a session on Feb.
2 the final draft budget for the year 2011.

Mikki added that Monday’s session will see voting over a fact-finding committee on power distribution failures and another on al-Baghdadiya channel.

Ahmed al-Abbasi, a member of the National Alliance, had said on Sunday that the parliament voted over canceling all social benefits for the three top posts – the president, prime minister and parliament speaker.

He said the parliament also decided to distribute the 20% surplus from the budget over citizens in the form of grants.

“The parliament added a paragraph regarding a no-confidence vote over a minister or governor if he/she failed to accomplish 75% of the tasks to which funds were appropriated,” Abbasi noted.


Shit, Iraq's got a budget, Libyans got fucked

Monday, February 21, 2011

US drone kills five in Pakistan: officials

A US drone attack killed at least five militants in north-west Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal district late on Sunday, officials said.

"Five militants were killed in the strike," a military official told AFP. "The target was a house used by militants," he added, requesting anonymity.

An intelligence official who confirmed the attack put the toll at six dead and three wounded.

The unmanned aircraft fired three missiles at the house in Kaza Panga village, 15 kilometres west of Wana, the main town in lawless South Waziristan.

The attack was the first since a US gunman shot and killed two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore on January 27, triggering a diplomatic row between Pakistan and the United States.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wounded Iraq Veteran, Military, ROTC Cursed, Jeered At Columbia

Columbia University students heckled a war hero during a town-hall meeting on whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

"Racist!" some students yelled at Anthony Maschek, a Columbia freshman and former Army staff sergeant awarded the Purple Heart after being shot 11 times in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008. Others hissed and booed the veteran.

Maschek, 28, had bravely stepped up to the mike Tuesday at the meeting to issue an impassioned challenge to fellow students on their perceptions of the military.

"It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting," said Maschek. "There are bad men out there plotting to kill you."

Several students laughed and jeered the Idaho native, a 10th Mountain Division infantryman who spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington recovering from grievous wounds.

Maschek, who is studying economics, miraculously survived the insurgent attack in Kirkuk. In the hail of gunfire, he broke both legs and suffered wounds to his abdomen, arm and chest.

He enrolled last August at the Ivy League school, where an increasingly ugly battle is unfolding over the 42-year military ban there.

More than half of the students who spoke at the meeting -- the second of three hearings on the subject -- expressed opposition to ROTC's return. Many of the 200 students in the audience held anti-military placards with slogans such as, "1 in 3 female soldiers experiences sexual assault in the military."

The university has created a task force polling 10,000 students on the issue, but would not release the vote tally of the 1,300 who have already responded.

In 2005, when the university last voted to reject ROTC's return, it cited the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

That policy was overturned in December, but resistance remains.

"Transpeople are part of the Columbia community," said senior Sean Udell at the meeting, referring to the military's current ban on transgender soldiers.

Faculty members are divided.

"Universities should not be involved in military activities," Sociology Professor Emeritus Herbert Gans told The Post. "Columbia should come out against spending $300 billion a year on unnecessary wars."

A group of 34 faculty colleagues, including historian Kenneth Jackson and former Bloomberg adviser Esther Fuchs, plan to announce their support of ROTC tomorrow.

José Robledo, 30, a Columbia student who commutes to Fordham University for ROTC coursework, said he found the treatment of Maschek abhorrent.

"The anti-ROTC side has been disrespectful and loud. They hiss and they jeer," he said. "It's been to the detriment of the argument."


Cosmic census finds crowd of planets in our galaxy

WASHINGTON (AP) - Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical: at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.

At least 500 million of those planets are in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold zone where life could exist. The numbers were extrapolated from the early results of NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope.

Kepler science chief William Borucki says scientists took the number of planets they found in the first year of searching a small part of the night sky and then made an estimate on how likely stars are to have planets. Kepler spots planets as they pass between Earth and the star it orbits.

So far Kepler has found 1,235 candidate planets, with 54 in the Goldilocks zone, where life could possibly exist. Kepler's main mission is not to examine individual worlds, but give astronomers a sense of how many planets, especially potentially habitable ones, there are likely to be in our galaxy. They would use the one-four-hundredth of the night sky that Kepler is looking at and extrapolate from there.

Borucki and colleagues figured one of two stars has planets and one of 200 stars has planets in the habitable zone, announcing these ratios Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. And that's a minimum because these stars can have more than one planet and Kepler has yet to get a long enough glimpse to see stars that are further out from the star, like Earth, Borucki said.

For example, if Kepler were 1,000 light years from Earth and looking at our sun and noticed Venus passing by, there's only a one-in-eight chance that Earth would also be seen, astronomers said.

To get the estimate for the total number of planets, scientists then took the frequency observed already and applied it to the number of stars in the Milky Way.

For many years scientists figured there were 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, but last year a Yale scientist figured the number was closer to 300 billion stars.

Either way it shows that Carl Sagan was right when he talked of billions and billions of worlds, said retired NASA astronomer Steve Maran, who praised the research but wasn't part of it.

And that's just our galaxy. Scientists figure there are 100 billion galaxies.

Borucki said the new calculations lead to worlds of questions about life elsewhere in the cosmos. "The next question is why haven't they visited us?"

And the answer? "I don't know," Borucki said.

Sir Paul can still jam..even if he's slowing down a bit.

China cracks down on call for 'Jasmine Revolution'

BEIJING (AP) - Chinese authorities cracked down on activists as a call circulated for people to gather in more than a dozen cities Sunday for a "Jasmine Revolution" apparently inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Middle East.

The source of the call was not known, but authorities moved to halt its spread online, and police detained at least 14 people, by one activist's count. Searches for the word "jasmine" were blocked Saturday on China's largest Twitter-like microblog, and the website where the request first appeared said it was hit by an attack.

Activists seemed not to know what to make of the call to protest, even as they passed it on. They said they were unaware of any known group being involved in the request for citizens to gather in 13 cities and shout, "We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness."

Some even wondered whether the call was "performance art" instead of a serious move in the footsteps of recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.

Always on guard to squelch dissent at home, China's authoritarian government has appeared unnerved by the events in the Middle East. It has limited reporting, stressing the instability caused by protests in Egypt, and has restricted Internet searches to keep people uninformed.

Authorities appeared to be treating the protest call seriously. Families and friends reported the detention or harassment of several activists, and some said they were warned not to participate Sunday.

Police pulled Beijing lawyer Jiang Tianyong into a car and drove away, his wife, Jin Bianling, said. She told The Associated Press by phone that she was still waiting for more information Saturday night.

Su Yutong, an activist who now lives in Germany, said that even if Chinese authorities suspect the call to protest wasn't serious, Saturday's actions showed they still feared it.

"If they act this way, they'll push this performance art into the real thing," she said in an e-mail.

In a Twitter post, Su listed at least 14 people who had been taken away and called that count incomplete.

Tensions were already high in recent days after a video secretly made under house arrest by one of China's best-known activist lawyers, Chen Guangcheng, was made public. Chen and his wife reportedly were beaten in response, and some of Chen's supporters reported being detained or beaten by authorities after meeting to discuss his case.

The call for a Jasmine Revolution came as President Hu Jintao gave a speech to top leaders Saturday, asking them to "solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society." Hu told the senior politicians and officials to provide better social services to people and improve management of information on the Internet "to guide public opinion," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The ruling Communist Party is dogged by the threat of social unrest over rising food and housing prices and other issues.

In the latest price increase, the National Development and Reform Commission announced Saturday that gasoline and diesel prices would be raised by 350 yuan ($53) per ton.

Meanwhile, Shanghai became the latest city to place new limits on housing purchases to tamp down soaring home prices. Residents who already own two or more homes in Shanghai would be prohibited from buying more, while outsiders would be limited to one, Xinhua reported.

The call to protest was first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language website "Boxun has no way to verify the background of this and did not participate," it said.

The Boxun site was unavailable Saturday, and reported being attacked.

"This is the most serious denial of service attack we have received," it said in a statement. "We believe the attack is related to the Jasmine Revolution proposed on Feb. 20 in China."


Saturday, February 19, 2011

DHS erroneously seizes 84,000 domains, falsely accuses them of trafficking in child porn

The DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement department has lately claimed for itself the right to seize and shutter domain names without substantial due process. Unsurprisingly, it is now making enormous, crushing errors as it exercises its self-appointed role as domain cop. The latest bungle? Erroneously shutting down 84,000 domains and replacing their content with a warning accusing them and their visitors of trafficking in child porn.

The domain in question is, which belongs to the DNS provider FreeDNS. It is the most popular shared domain at and as a result of the authorities' actions a massive 84,000 subdomains were wrongfully seized as well. All sites were redirected to the banner below.

The FreeDNS owner was taken by surprise and quickly released the following statement on their website. " has never allowed this type of abuse of its DNS service. We are working to get the issue sorted as quickly as possible."

Eventually, on Sunday the domain seizure was reverted and the subdomains slowly started to point to the old sites again instead of the accusatory banner. However, since the DNS entries have to propagate, it took another 3 days before the images disappeared completely.

Most of the subdomains in question are personal sites and sites of small businesses. A search on Bing still shows how innocent sites were claimed to promote child pornography. A rather damaging accusation, which scared and upset many of the site's owners.


Navy Breaks World Record With Futuristic Free-Electron Laser

WASHINGTON – The Navy just set a new world record, a test blast from a new type of laser that can shoot cruise missiles from the sky in seconds with a deadly accuracy that simply doesn't exist in the military’s vast arsenal today.

And that new record moved them one step closer to proving the "holy grail" of laser guns is real.

To create incredible power requires incredible energy. After all, the more power one puts into a laser accelerator, the more powerful and precise the light beam that comes out on the other end. During a private tour of the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, VA., on Friday, saw scientists blast unprecedented levels of power into a prototype accelerator, producing a supercharged electron beam that can burn through 20 feet of steel per second.

Scientists there, in coordination with the Office of Naval Research (ONR), injected a sustained 500 kilovolts (KV) of juice into a prototype accelerator where the existing limit had been 320 kV -- a world’s record, the scientists explained.

“This is brand new -- it has not been done before, in the world,” said Carlos Hernandez-Garcia, director of the injector and electron gun systems for the FEL (Free Electron Laser) program, who added that Friday’s breakthrough was the culmination of six years of development.

But what does this mean to the Navy, and to war fighting in particular? Quentin Salter, program manager for ONR, said the test steps up the transition to newer, more powerful laser technologies.

“It’s huge in regards to upgrading the laser power beam quality,” he said. According to ONR officials, that laser beam will eventually perform at a staggering “megawatt class,” a measure of the laser's strength. Right now, the accelerator at Jefferson Lab is performing at just 14 Kilowatts.

Next up for the tech: additional weaponization. The Navy just awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $163 million to take that technology and package it as a 100 kW weapons system, one that the Navy hopes to use not only to destroy things but for on-ship communications, tracking and detection, too -- using a fraction of the energy such applications use now, plus with more accuracy. Saulter said they hope to meet that goal by 2015.

“We’re fast approaching the limits of our ability to hit maneuvering pieces of metal in the sky with other piece of flying metal,” explained Rear Admiral Nevin P. Carr Jr., Chief of Naval Research, in an interview with That’s why he calls free election laser technology or “directed energy” tech “our marquee program.”

While Carr acknowledges that this is not “something that we are going to wave a wand at and it’s going to appear” -- in fact, the Navy doesn't expect to hit the ultimate megawatt goal until the 2020s -- there have been several incremental victories that have pushed this project ahead of schedule that have scientists and program managers excited.

“With every single milestone, [the naysayers] have been proven wrong,” said Dr. George R. Neil, associate director of the FEL program at Jefferson Lab. Neil pointed to a bottle of champagne in the control room -- that one was for when they met the 10 kW threshold four years ago, nearly a decade after the Navy began funding the development of the FEL accelerator at the Newport News facility.

Today, Neil and others have shown that they have the ability to harness super-conducting electron power.

The military already uses lasers across the spectrum. What make this technology different (and its potential so extraordinary) is its power source.

The military now uses solid-state lasers that use crystals and glass, as well as chemical lasers that use often dangerous liquid materials. The FEL is different. It requires only electrons, which can be created from matter inside the injector with energy that is constantly recycled. In other words, it uses less shipboard power than current weapons systems. “It won’t slow down the ship,” Saulter said.

In addition, according to Navy officials, the FEL laser can perform at different wavelengths, meaning it can operate at lower and more powerful levels so that it can be used for different applications, which other laser technology cannot. It is also not vulnerable to atmospheric conditions, as solid-state lasers are, making them wane in power depending on the weather.

“The fact that you can tune the wavelength, that’s what makes it different. You can optimize the beam for the conditions of the day -- that’s really powerful,” said Adm. Carr. “So in a warfighting sense, the FEL’s ability to do that on a ship makes it much more attractive” than other laser technology.

The scope of the project from start to finish is impressively daunting. It's outfitted with enough piping, conductors, cables and other material to fill a small gymnasium, and they do this all at the lab.

The Navy must not only figure out a way to harness the electron beam into a light ray, but to shrink the accelerator down to size so that it would fit neatly on a Navy destroyer.

But for now, researchers take each milestone as proof they are moving in the right direction. The Navy has asked for $60 million for its directed energy budget for 2012. As for Friday’s 500 kV breakthrough, they say it’s a big one.

“This will shorten the timeline for the Navy to get to the Megawatt” league, Saulter said. Clearly, the day's events were a feather in everyone’s cap.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Restrepo': A Soldier's-Eye View From Afghanistan

Restrepo chronicles a year with a single platoon stationed at the Restrepo outpost in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, considered one of the military's most dangerous postings.

Co-directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington spent 10 months with the platoon, capturing the daily lives of soldiers as they pushed back Taliban fighters and foreign insurgents.

The filmmakers consciously avoided revisiting the political debates over the Afghan war, Junger tells NPR's Neal Conan. The soldiers "really don't talk about their politics. But their reality, their emotional reality, is not often reported on. ... We really wanted to somehow give the nation access to that reality."

Junger and Hetherington also hope their film will help viewers think more critically about the needs of soldiers as they return to civilian life. "Many of these young men were going through some of the most traumatic experiences in their life ... living daily with the risk of death, or watching friends die around them," says Hetherington.

"Ultimately, these young men that we've instrumentalized and sent out there ... on taxpayer dollar are coming back home," Hetherington says. "And we have to make a space for them, we have to ... realize what they've been through."


Stunner! Supremes to give eligibility case another look

In a stunning move, the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled another "conference" on a legal challenge to Barack Obama's eligibility to occupy the Oval Office, but officials there are not answering questions about whether two justices given their jobs by Obama will participate.

The court has confirmed that it has distributed a petition for rehearing in the case brought by attorney John Hemenway on behalf of retired Col. Gregory Hollister and it will be the subject of a conference on March 4.

It was in January that the court denied, without comment, a request for a hearing on the arguments. But the attorney at the time had submitted a motion for Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who were given their jobs by Obama, to recuse.

Should Obama ultimately be shown to have been ineligible for the office, his actions, including his appointments, at least would be open to challenge and question.

At the time, the Supreme Court acknowledged the "motion for recusal" but it changed it on official docketing pages to a "request." And it reportedly failed to respond to the motion.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt revises its Constitution

CAIRO - The Egyptian army, in charge of the country since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, has given ten days on Tuesday to a committee of lawyers to amend the Constitution and warned that further strikes would be "disastrous" for the country.

The supreme council of the armed forces, to whom Mubarak has entrusted the reins of the country by resigning Friday, suspended Sunday the constitution and dissolved Parliament, promising democratic elections in the coming months.

The army appointed a commission to revise the Constitution who "must finish work in ten days," according to an official statement. Its members met for the first time on Tuesday.

"We will revise the Constitution to remove all restrictions and obstacles and to meet the aspirations of the revolution and the people," said one of the members of this commission, Sobhi Saleh, lawyer and former member of Muslim Brotherhood.

Wow, a committee with a whole ten days..

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tunisians vote with their feet, flee the country

LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AP) - A month after massive protests ousted Tunisia's longtime dictator, waves of Tunisians are voting with their feet, fleeing the country's political limbo by climbing into rickety boats and sailing across the Mediterranean to Europe.

More than 5,000 illegal immigrants have recently washed up on Italy's southern islands - an unintended consequence of the "people's revolution" that ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the uprisings in Egypt and beyond.

European powers cheered when Tunisia's 74-year-old ruler fled into exile in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, but the fallout a month later has tempered their enthusiasm. It has also exposed a dilemma for western countries that allied with repressive leaders in North Africa seen as bulwarks against extremism, and now must build new diplomatic relationships in a still-uncertain political climate.

On Monday, the European Union announced a euro258 million ($347 million) aid package to Tunisia from now until 2013, with euro17 million ($22.9 million) of that to be delivered immediately. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, visiting Tunisia, said the funds were a gift, not a loan.

Meanwhile, Tunisia sternly rejected Italy's offer to send police there to help tackle waves of illegal migrants fleeing political upheaval, most landing on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa - an arid one-town island of 6,000 people.

Lampedusa's Mayor Bernardino Rubeis told AP Television News that the island's detention center for migrants had to leave its doors open since there were not enough police to guard it.

Rubeis said the migrants were milling about, some buying food in shops and not causing any problems.

"I want to change my life," said one Tunisian who wore a T-shirt from Italy's AS Roma football team and who declined to give his name, citing his difficult situation. "We came here because now it's not safe and there are no jobs in Tunisia."

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni - who has called the migration a "biblical exodus"- offered police "contingents, which can patrol the coasts" as well as boats and other equipment and urged the 27-nation European Union to hold a special meeting on immigration strategy.

But Tunisia's Foreign Ministry categorically rejected the offer, expressing "astonishment" about it and saying it would fight any foreign "interference in its domestic affairs or any attack on its sovereignty."

Italy's offer, meanwhile, drew criticism from Germany.

"We should help, we should get involved, but certainly not awaken an impression that Tunisia can't resolve its own affairs," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "That can only be misunderstood in Tunisia itself after such a proud, great revolution."

The stakes couldn't be higher for the North African nation of 11 million: Not only is it attempting to create a multiparty democratic system from scratch after more than half a century of strongman rule, but it's being scrutinized as a bellwether for Arab giant Egypt, where a popular revolt deposed authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak last week.

Under Tunisia's longtime dictator, trying to emigrate to Europe was a crime punishable by fines and prison time. The law is still on the books, but would-be immigrants are taking advantage of the power vacuum to brave choppy Mediterranean waters to reach Lampedusa, 75 miles (125 kilometers) away.

Many migrants have been flown to Sicily or the Italian mainland for document checks, and those ineligible for asylum risk deportation. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was in Tunis to discuss the exodus.

In the last five days, 5,278 migrants have arrived by boat on Italian shores, almost all Tunisian or claiming to be Tunisian, the Italian interior minister told reporters in Rome.

There was no firm estimate about how many people might potentially flee from Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere in the region. But it could be "tens of thousands ready to depart," Maroni said.

"In five days, we have 5,200. If we go on like this we'll surpass 80,000" in a year.

Italy has arrested 26 people who operated the boats and seized 41 vessels. Identity checks have found some of the arrivals were criminals who escaped from Tunisian jails in the chaos, the minister said, without saying how many.

Tunisia was gripped by chaos in the days that followed Ben Ali's flight, but daily life has largely returned to normal. Stores, markets, gas stations and schools have reopened, and people have returned to work. The marauding gangs of suspected regime loyalists who pillaged homes and businesses have largely melted away.

But plenty of problems remain. Elections that are supposed to take place in about five months have still not been scheduled, and the caretaker government has been hit by waves of resignations. The unpopular foreign minister tendered his resignation on Sunday, just weeks after his predecessor was fired in a purge of ministers with roots in Ben Ali's feared RCD party.

Since securing its independence from colonial protector France in 1956, Tunisia has steered a secular, pro-Western course and has been a key ally in the U.S. fight against terrorism, as well as a popular tourist destination for Europeans.

There are questions on whether the banned Ennahdha, or Renaissance party - branded an Islamic terrorist group by Ben Ali but considered moderate by scholars - could become a major political force. Thousands flooded the Tunis airport to lavish a hero's welcome on the party's exiled leader, Rachid Ghanouchi, as he returned last month after spending nearly two decades in London.

Tunisia is also planning an international conference seeking economic and political support for the changes ahead. Regional Development Minister Nejib Chebbi has said damage during the unrest has cost Tunisia some euro2.5 billion ($3.4 billion).