Saturday, June 23, 2007

Odinero versus Taguba. Taguba squashed like bug.

I'm starting to get the feeling this PR campaign the pentagon is running with this whole operation Arrowhead Ripper is more for the benefit of a skittish Congress than for public consumption. They know the public is already lost, so all the need to do now is keep a few wavering Republicans on-board.

Petraeus will be along in a few months and will bring along the good news about all the dead al-Qaeda type and all the bomb makers they've captured.

Look at the news the last few days:

"The military said Friday that U.S. soldiers backed by attack aircraft captured 18 suspected militants and confiscated weapons and equipment the day before in three raids targeting bomb networks around northwestern Baghdad." [ABC]

"BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed 90 al Qaeda fighters around Baghdad during one of the biggest combined offensives against the Sunni Islamist group since the invasion of Iraq in 2003."

Etc . . .

How do they know that all 90 were al-Qaeda fighters? Who's checking up to make sure all the captured fighters are actually fighters? Remember, we had this problem back in 2004 when Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno's 4th ID was, according to Thomas Ricks:

"Known for 'grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who was not,' according to a subsequent investigation of the 4th Infantry Division's detainee operations by the Army inspector general's office. Its indiscriminate detention of Iraqis filled Abu Ghraib prison, swamped the U.S. interrogation system and overwhelmed the U.S. soldiers guarding the prison." [WaPo]

See how the military works? Antonio Taguba get's the ol' heave-ho for doing his job in uncovering the mess Odinero made, and Odinero gets promoted to second in command. That really make me feel that they've learned their lesson on setting up jihadi universities.

Anyway, Odinero says yesterday:

"I think if everything goes the way it's going now, there's a potential that by the spring we will be able to reduce forces, and Iraq security forces could take over. It could happen sooner than that. I don't know."

Or not, just keep pumping out the rosy press briefings for a few more months.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Willy Pete makes an appearance in Baqubah

Last night Michael Gordon was on ATC talking about the battle in western Baqubah. Gordon is currently embedded with the 1st Batallion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. What you would have missed if you had sneezed was the part about civilians being injured by White Phosphorus.

The interviewer asked Gordon, almost as an afterthought, whether there were any civilian casualties. (What a question!) Gordon said, 'Oh yes. 'In fact,' he says, his photographer had seen civilians who had been injured by "phosphorus shells."

Yes, you heard right, civilians in Baqubah injured by Willy Pete.

Naurally, the interviewer didn't follow up on that line of questioning and moved on. So all we have is that little slip of the tongue by Gordon. But judging by what went on in Fallujah in Nov. 04, and the resulting collective yawn by the American media, there isn't any reason to believe the military wouldn't just go along using WP against humans with impunity.

The thing about WP is that, according to an Iraq vet I used to work with, the stuff gets on your skin and it doesn't stop burning. It's basically a crueder nother form of napalm.

Willy Pete in the Battle of Fallujah II:

A little refresher; back in Nov. 2004, during the Battle of Second Fallujah, the Marines hit the city of 300,000 with everything they had -- including White Phosphorus. In April of '05 I posted about Willy Pete (what the Marines call WP) and cited eyewitness accounts:

1st Lt. Neil Prakash writes that on November 8th 2004:

In preparation for the assault, artillery guns dropped white phosphorus or 'Willy Pete' on the city. The FA guys later told us this was the newest WP in the way it deployed. Whatever it was, it was incredible. As the rounds came in, they burst in the air several hundred feet above the ground. They streaked towards the ground in little spider trails burning bright orange. The WP hit the ground creating a thick white smoke screen but it still burned bright orange on the ground. This lit up the battlefield for the main effort, and created a smoke screen."

The technique of dropping WP on insurgents is called Shake and Bake.

Choice America Network reported back in Nov. 2005:

"[In] a story on artillery use in Fallujah from the March/April edition of the US Army’s 'Field Artillery Magazine' states that 'The munitions we brought to this fight were illumination and white phosphorous (WP, M110 and M825), with point-detonating (PD), delay, time and variable-time (VT) fuses. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with High Explosives (HE). We fired ’shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.'”

Initially when news came out about the military using WP and as an anti-personnel weapon they claimed WP was used only for illumination. On Nov 16 2005 the BBC reported:

"US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in last year's offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, the US has said. 'It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants,' spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said."

Right, it's another one of those high-tech precision guided weapons that have worked so well in Afghanistan.

Don't hold your breath waiting for NPR or anyone else to really look into this.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gaza schmaza!

I'm still having difficulties wrapping my head around the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Now, W. meets with Ehud Olmert and says the both of them are going to help out Fatah in the West Bank. Olmert says to W., "like you, I want to strengthen the moderates," but that's not to say he's exactly on the same page with W.'s great new plan to shower Abbas and Fatah with military aid. If the interview he did in the NYT is any indication, he's not too hip on the plan to give Palestinians, no matter how moderate, a ton of weapons.

He told the Times: "Everyone says help the moderates and provide them with weapons. But it’s another thing to ask yourself, if I’m going to give weapons and these weapons are going to be taken by Hamas, what am I doing?"

[The same could probably be said about the new idea of arming the anti-al-Qaeda Sunni tribes in Iraq, too, but that's another rant.]

Whereas W. is talking about Abu Mazan being a "good fella" Olmert is talking about "making sure there is security for the Israeli people." W.'s pledge to help Israel out with another 10-year military agreement will probably smooth over Olmert's total distain for Abbas' ability to actually govern -- for a little while -- but W. & Co. shouldn't get the idea that Israel is going to play ball just because they're getting a few more billions worth of cluster bombs and "precision-guided" munitions.

If I'm the Israelis right now, I've got to be thinking our good friends the Americans are totally responsible for the mess that's sitting on their doorstep right now.

Kevin Peraino in Newsweek reports:

"In a confidential report leaked last week, United Nations envoy Alvaro de Soto wrote that 'the U.S. clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas.' De Soto recounts listening to a U.S. official declare 'I like this violence' [Elliot Abrahams, perhaps?] twice at an envoy's meeting in Washington recently."

Despite Sean McCormick's dismissal of de Soto's summation of the situation as "the views of an individual," to me it rings absolutely true. Didn't John Bolton just say recently that he was "damn proud" of the U.S. deciding to sit back and allow Israel and Hezbollah duke it out, regardless of the tens of thousands of casualties Israel's air bombardment was causing? Condi kept insisting to our increasingly horrified allies that she was doing everything possible to arrange an "enduring ceasefire," but we now know she was just lying through her teeth.

And it was W.'s and Condis' insistence on holding elections in the first instance that led to Hamas coming to power, despite Israel's and Abu Mazan's loud objections. And arming Fatah has not only resulted in the showdown made inevitable by that flow of arms, which Fatah just lost in spectacular fashion, but has also, as Olmert pointed out, left Hamas swimming in shinny new American made weapons.

Why on earth would the Israelis go along with anything this bunch has to say now? My God, just look at Gaza -- to say nothing of Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq!

Of course, as much as I understand Israel's reluctance to go along with anything W. & Co. are proposing they're proscription for dealing with Hamas in Gaza is both totally predictable and just as counterproductive. The Newsweek cover story this week:

Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defense minister says:

"'There's no common ground [with Hamas]' . . . Dialogue, he says, is almost certainly a nonstarter.' Listen to them, for God's sake! Gaza will be worse than Mogadishu. Our Apache [helicopter gunships] will talk to them.'"

That'll work out well, as it always does. Trying to pin the humanitarian disaster that's coming exclusively on Hamas will be a little trickier than usual, but that's what AIPAC is for, right?

Next stop: The West Bank:

AP reports today that:

"A senior Hamas leader said the group had been had recruited about 4,000 gunmen and had thousands of weapons. He said that when the signal comes to act, Hamas would carry out car bombings and try to assassinate Fatah leaders to destabilize the West Bank."

And, in a not very reassuring sign: "Yesterday, civilian cars were banned from security headquarters in the territory amid concerns about car bombs."

Fatah lawmaker Kamal Abu Rob can claim that, "The only way to deal with Hamas . . . is by dismantling every single military cell in the West Bank, and that's what the security apparatus is doing now," but he's missing the point that the very same, much better armed, security apparatus just got their asses handed to them by a bunch of raving lunatics. Call me crazy, but I haven't seen anything from Fatah in either the political realm or the in military arena that makes me think they have any ability to deal with Hamas, regardless of how much money W. throws at them.

It's been over a year and a half since the US and EU imposed sanctions on the PA and the Palestinians haven't appeared to have learned their lesson. As the Economist pointed out in an Op-Ed last week, Hamas, "Cannot be bludgeoned out of the equation. It represents a good chunk of Palestinians; some 44% of them across the two Palestinian territories voted for it. . . There is no sign that the Palestinians as a whole are turning against Hamas -" But hopefully -- "Most Palestinians, notably including even most who voted for Hamas, want a two-state solution in which a sovereign Palestinian state and a secure Israel one must co-exist side by side. Hamas knows it cannot ignore that view."

So, put it that way, I guess there's some hope. But then again . . .

This just in:


"Israel fired missiles and sent tanks on a foray into Gaza on Wednesday, killing four Palestinians in the deadliest military action since Hamas militants took control of the coastal strip."

Condi has a solution, though: "We're laying the foundations for someone else to succeed in the future, and I think that's fine."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Kurds and Talibs and Iranians! Oh no!

News item June 12:

"Kabul, Afhanistan --- Iran gives political support to President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government in neighboring Afghanistan, but might also be aiding Taliban as a way of hedging its bets, NATO's top general here said yesterday." [AP]

U.S. Army General Dan McNeill said in an interview that there is "ample evidence" that Iran is helping Karzai's government with road building and the like. But, he adds, "I don't doubt that somewhere the Iranians may have helped the Taliban. . . So what does this add up to? It makes me think of a major American corporation that will give political campaign money to three or four different candidates for president of the United States. Somebody is going to come out on top. The corporation wants to be alligned with whoever comes out on top." [What?]

A day later, undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns comes out and tells CNN there is "irrefutable evidence" that weapons shipments to the Taliban were "coming from the government of Iran."

On the same day from Germany, Sec Def Gates says, "I haven't seen any intelligence specifically to this effect, but I would say, given the quantities that we're seeing, it is difficult to believe that it's associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it's taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government." [NYT]

[See more about Afghanistan at LTAD, where I did most of my blogging today]

What the hell is going on here, you ask?

Well, clearly, the Sec Def has learned the lesson of Colin Powell, so he's not going to come right out and spew some wild allegation he can't hang his hat on . . . but there is someone who doesn't mind making things up and working the intel around the facts it later on.

Newsweek reports:

"In the last few weeks, Cheney's staff have unexpectedly become more active participants in an interagency group that steers policy on Afghanistan, according to an official familiar with the internal deliberations. During weekly meetings of the committee, known as the Afghanistan Interagency Operating Group, Cheney staffers have been intensely interested in a single issue: recent intelligence reports alleging that Iran is supplying weapons to Afghanistan's resurgent Islamist militia, the Taliban, according to two administration officials who asked for anonymity when discussing internal meetings.

An official familiar with the interagency group's deliberations said that Cheney's aides kept asking what sounded like leading questions, demanding to know whether there was any Iranian entity other than the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—the state security force Washington accuses of arming Iraqi insurgents—that could be responsible for the arms shipments. Cheney's aides, the official added, appeared less interested in other more mundane items on the Afghanistan policy committee's agenda."

What a surprise, huh?

[Check out what Cheney is really up to from Harry Shearer's latest installment of Dick Cheney: Confidential

And then there's the Kurds:

Here's an added little bonus to this story that sort of speaks to the morrass we've got ourselves into

Perhaps you've heard about our good friends the Turks who are at the moment chomping at the bit to go into northern Iraq and clear out the PKK fighters our good friends the Iraqi Kurds are harboring --- or at the very least tolerating. (In fact, the Turks seem to have already gone into northern Iraq on "hot pursuit" (not an incursion!) raids into Iraq; the most recent incident, that we know of, being earlier this month when 600 Turkish commandos entered Iraq near the Turkish border town of Cukurka.)

In the multi-sided labyrinth of competing interests that would make even Gerry Kasporov get a headache, it turns out that a PKK bombing of a Turkish train may have helped us out even as they're antics threaten to ignite a regional conflagration that could make Iraq look like a tea party.

Newsweek reports:

"A little-noticed train accident in Turkey last month offered new clues about alleged Iranian efforts to stir up trouble in the Mideast. The train was carrying two shipping containers of explosives and small to medium-size weapons like rocket-launcher pads . . . Three U.S. officials familiar with current intel, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitive topic, told NEWSWEEK they believe the train was ferrying the equipment from Iran to Syria: from there, they believe, it would have been sent to the Lebanese movement Hizbullah, a longtime client of Tehran . . . Authorities believe the train derailed after Kurdish separatists blew up the tracks. . . Two of the U.S. officials said that many U.S. analysts believe someone high up in the Tehran regime must be authorizing the arms deliveries. But one U.S. and two British officials (who, concerned about diplomatic sensitivity, also asked for anonymity) said there was no smoking-gun intercept or document proving the ayatollahs' complicity."


Keep in mind that while we're complaining about Iran sending weapons to the Talibs and Hezbollah, we're sending weapons and money to various shadowy Sunni groups inside Lebanon who may or may not have links to al-Qaeda and may or may not hate the Shiites of Hizbollah more than they hate us. According to Sy Hersh, remember, our good buddy Prince Bandar (Bush) of Saudi Arabia assured his good buddy Dick Cheney: "We’ve created this movement, and we can control it."

I'm going to take a handfull of Tylonal, more at a later time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Surge, another progress report:

So it looks like things are going swimmingly in Iraq: Mosques getting blown up; bodies popping up everywhere, raging battles between al-Qaeda and our new Sunni friends in Anbar, battles raging between Shiites and Shiites, and Shiites and Sunnis -- you know, the usual. There is one little fly in the ointment, however (that progress report Petraeus is due to deliver to Congress in September might not be exactly what all those very nervous Republicans are expecting).

Although, the "surge" is now in full swing, Lt. General David Petraeus is starting to hint that we might be looking at -- as Rummy might have put it -- a long slog. Petraeus cautioned yesterday that, "Just about everybody out there recognizes that a situation like this, with many, many challenges that Iraq is contending with is not one that's going to be resolved in a year or even two years. In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone on at least nine or 10 years." [AP]

Oddly, he didn't get around to giving any historical examples of these supposed successful "counterinsurgency operations" that go on for nine or 10 years. The French in Algeria and in Vietnam and our lengthy counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam come to mind as examples of the way things usually go with these sorts of things, but, who knows, maybe he has in mind another historical example of things winding up successfully for the occupying force. I guess, we'll just have to wait a decade or so and see what happens.

In any case, Petraeus explains the apparent upsurge in insurgent attacks and sectarian body counts as just a consequence of US forces going on the offensive: "The enemy is going to respond. That is what is happening." (See, it's actually a good thing mosques are blowing up all over the place.) This, by now, long worn-out excuse for higher casualties and the lack of any difference in the level of violence, is the same old crap Rummy used to blow up everyone's dresses, isn't it? If the surge, after lo-these-many-months, hasn't done anything to quell the insurgency, and has in fact caused the insurgency to redouble it's efforts at countering our tactics, then what's plan B?

And isn't the idea of sending 30,000 more troops into the vortex of Iraq to provide the Iraqi "government" with some breathing space so they can get on with finding a political solution to the problems that "everybody out there" agrees can't be resolved through military force? To me, it looks like we're playing whack-a-mole again and the Iraqis aren't even close to agreeing on anything.

In fact, Damien Cave writes in the NYT that the Iraqis are hopelessly deadlocked on all the issues the US wants them to resolve. Cave writes: "With three months until reports on progress are due in Washington, the deadlock has reached a point where many Iraqi and U.S. officials question whether Iraqi legislators will pass any substantive laws before the end of the year." ( Hmmm ... imagine that!)

"For a handful of party leaders with the power to make deals, the promise of compromise now carried less allure than the possibility of domination. Long suppressed Shiites and Kurds now see total victory in their grasp. . . Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a U.S. commander Monday that 'there are two mentalities in this region: conspiracy and mistrust.'"

Our new War Czar, General Douglas Lute, when he was pressed by the Armed Services Committee to explain his initial negative opinion regarding the surge said:

"I registered concerns that a military 'surge' would likely have only temporary and localized effects unless it were accompanied by counterpart 'surges' by the Iraqi government and other, nonmilitary agencies of the U.S. government." [AP]

If the Iraqis are more concerned about screwing each other and solidifying their positions in their respective ethnic enclaves to the north and south, which they quite obviously are, then I don't see much hope of any breathing space being of any use, even if we could provide it, which we can't. Hell, these bozos can't even manage a quorum in the parliament on a good day, them getting around to passing any laws that might under-cut their positions of strength is just a pipe dream.

General Lute also foresaw the push-back from the insurgents that Petraeus is spinning as a good thing, too:

"I also noted that our enemies in Iraq have, in effect, a 'vote' and should be expected to take specific steps to counter from our efforts."

That's a very interesting way of putting it: They have a 'vote.' The way this administration always goes about this kind of thing they always ignore the fact that there's someone on the other side. Ignoring Hamas really worked out well, didn't it? Ignoring North Korea led to them making actual nukes, not just plutonium, and giving Syria and Iran the cold shoulder went a long way to last summer's Israeli/Lebanese war.

You can best-case every scenario all you want, but the insurgents are still there and they have a say in how the surge is going to turn out. Gambling (sorry "gaming") the Iraqi insurgents can't hang with us for another ten years is not a bet I would take. But then again, it's not like W. & Co. are risking their own blood and treasure, so why not play Iraqi roulette, what do they have to lose, right?

The problem with Palestinians

I still haven't been able to quite wrap my head around what's going on with the whole Hamas take-over of Gaza thing and all the various scenarios this development is going to entail, so I'll just say this about that: At first blush it seems to me that the administration's rush to embrace Abu Mazen is yet another major blunder in the making. As the WaPo quoted Robert Malley saying:

"The less we try to intervene and shape Palestinian politics, the better off we will be, almost every decision the United States has made to interfere with Palestinian politics has boomeranged."

[Of course, that pretty much applies only to W. & Co. doesn't it? I mean, I don't recall every move Clinton, Bush Sr. and Carter made in Palestinian politcs exploding in their faces.]

I don't know what the solution is to this entire mess is, but just deciding to ignore the fact that Palestinians voted for Hamas in a democratic election and coming out now putting the stamp of approval on the newly unelected Fatah "emergency government" in the West Bank can't be a good start.

What little legitimacy Abu Mazen might have enjoyed in the eyes of the Palestinians will also surely be damaged by appearing to be propped up by the US and Israel. And what little ambiguity there was about where all the money and weapons for the Fatah's security arm was coming from is right out there in the open now. Here we go again by backing a fatally weakened "leader," in the al-Maliki/Sinoria mold.

And just as al-Maliki has had his little problem with both condemning and relying on the Madhi army, Mazen has the al-Asqa Martyr Brigades and Islamic Jihad to deal with. It seems to me I saw pictures on the front page of my newspaper showing al-Asqa Brigade types storming the PA parliament a couple of days ago.

Strangely, I'm buying the notion that Abu Mazen is somehow going to have the political capital and or the military might to roll up those two groups. And, obviously, if he isn't capable of keeping these militant off-shoots in check, the Israelis are not likely to view Mazen as a "partner for peace," for very long; especially, if Netanyahu get's into power.

Who knows, maybe another round of the Lebanese war this summer will get everyone's mind off this mind boggling conundrum and we can kick the Palestinian problem down the road for another -- oh, I don't know -- say, 18 months?
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