11 August, 2007

Back shortly

I'm free of infections at last, the worst of which was actually acquired courtesy of the NHS, so hopefully normal service will be resumed in about a week to ten days, following a family bereavement. It never rains but....

10 May, 2007

Pakistan: An ally in crisis.

Family Security Matters, an American website "created to give Americans like us the tools to become involved citizens and powerful defenders of our homes, our families, and our communities", has been running an interesting three-part series entitled "Pakistan: An Ally in Crisis". The series examines the possible consequences of the increasing influence of radical Islam in Pakistan.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

A good introduction to the complexities of Pakistani politics in relation to the War on Terror, although perhaps a caveat should be entered that the reality of the relationships between the various parties is often much more complex than it seems at first sight.

Taliban Spring Offensive IV.

Afgha.com continues Chronicling the Spring Offensive, with Part IV covering April 19 - May 8. Once again the, by now, familiar pattern emerges of isolated suicide bombings which, although potentially deadly, are much less dangerous than the frontal attacks of last year.

A significant strand to emerge from the chronicle is the Taliban's targeting of Afghani policemen. Otherwise, it seems pretty much a continuation of previous activity.

Afgha.com also highlights the use of mentally and physically handicapped individuals as suicide bombers.

Here we go again.

Blogging will fully resume next week hopefully. 16 days ago the first morning news story I read in the DT print edition was about hospital death rates. Out of interest, I googled Chesterfield Royal Hospital, our local hospital, and found this old BBC report. Oh dear, tempting fate. By 2pm I was in there with a lulu of a COPD exacerbation, under the care of Hadfield, the consultant quoted by the BBC. I got out this morning.

From what I have seen over the last sixteen days, I can offer the practical observation that patients tend to die in hospitals because they are terminally ill and not because of any willingness on their part to meet fatal criteria set out by civil servants. But then I think most people already know that.

19 April, 2007

Iranian arms for the Taliban.

US government officials have finally gone public with one of the least surprising revelations of the week: that Iran is supplying arms to its former enemies in the Taliban. I call it the "least surprising" because it is such an obvious way to attack the west in general and the US and the UK in particular. Iran may have little reason to fear any responses. US policy seems to be increasingly hamstrung by Congress and the UK looks disturbingly irrelevant after the Royal Navy's recent humiliation. Moreover, Iran's recent triumphs through Hizballah in Lebanon will have probably have impressed the Tehran terrorists with the potential benefits of fighting wars by proxy.

The International Herald Tribune reports on the revelatory remarks of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Baltimore Sun also weighs in. Sadly, the British press does not seem to be very interested in a development which could pose a major danger to British troops. I can find coverage only in the Guardian.

18 April, 2007

Problems looming for Iraq from North Waziristan

Last week, following a "turf war" in South Waziristan in which the Taliban killed some 300 al-Qaeda Uzbeks, many Uzbeks were reported to be fleeing to North Waziristan. Now it seems the circumspect amongst the Uzbeks are beginning to leave North Waziristan. The Pakistani Daily Times reports that:

“Around 50 families of foreigners have departed for their respective countries in the last month,” the spokesman, Gohar Ayub, told NNI from North Waziristan. He said he was speaking on behalf of local Taliban spokesmen Abdullah Farhad and Tariq Jamil. President Gen Pervez Musharraf informed army generals from 22 countries on Friday that tribesmen had killed 300 foreigners in South Waziristan and that he expected similar action in North Waziristan. ““The foreigners decided to leave North Waziristan after the tribal operation against the Uzbeks in South Waziristan. The foreigners said they did not want their women and children to become targets,” the Taliban spokesman said. He said that around 50 families, including Chechens, Turks, Tajiks and Arabs, had returned to their countries.

Ayub said that most of the families were returning to their homelands through Afghanistan and Iran. He said the Arabs were planning on returning to Iraq. It is difficult to verify the claim independently, reports NNI. Ayub said it was possible that they were relocating to Afghanistan for “jihad” but he added that this was their decision and had nothing to do with the tribal leaders in North Waziristan.

The spokesman said the foreigners were leaving the area through their own decision because of the fights between tribesmen and foreigners in South Waziristan. He said the tribal elders had not advised them on this matter. He said the foreigners had told their local supporters that they would make future strategy after leaving their women and children behind in their home countries.

Ayub said that the local Taliban were strictly following the September 5 peace agreement with the government. He said that as long as the government didn’t violate it, the local Taliban wouldn’t either. He said that no one entered Afghanistan through North Waziristan and combatants were coming from different parts of Afghanistan.
It could be bad news for coalition forces in Iraq.

Liam Byrne on immigration

It is getting damn crowded on the erstwhile roomy far shores of the right. Where once Ultras could roam in peace, we are now being crowded out by government ministers. The latest arrival is Liam Byrne, the UK immigration minister. The Daily Telegraph and the Times both report that he (and no doubt others in the Labour government) has apparently suddenly realised that large scale, unlimited immigration is damaging to British society. Some of us have been telling the left that for decades, so is this new found concern for the cohesion of society a genuine conversion to sensible thinking or is there some other motive, perhaps an electoral calculation from the the fag end of a wretched government already aware impending electoral disaster?

I think the Daily Mail has got it right in highlighting that:

Mr Byrne acknowledged that mounting public concern over immigration could not be blamed on media scaremongering, and highlighted the "political risks" facing governments which fail to tackle such concerns, citing governments in Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands which "lost power in elections where immigration was a serious issue."
Byrne reveals his new thinking in "Rethinking Immigration and Integration", an article contributing to a study of such issues by the Policy Network think tank, from where it can be downloaded as a pdf file.

Chronicling the Taliban spring offensive 3.

Part Three of Afgha.com's chronicle of the Taliban's spring offensive, covering the period between 28 March and 18 April, is now available. Links to Parts One and Two can be found here.

From the Taliban, it is the largely, by now, familiar pattern of isolated, nonetheless lethal, small scale attacks. The ISAF seems to have continued its precision attacks on Taliban leadership and to have launched its own spring offensive, with a major assaults around Sangin (see, 6-7 and 15-16 April) and Garmsir (13-14 April). It looks like the pattern may be set for the immediate future, possibly for at least as long as the Taliban forces in western Pakistan are tied up consolidating their position there by hammering al-Qaeda's Uzbeks.

Over the coming months, the key places in Helmand to watch will probably continue to be: Sangin, where the prize is control of the economically vital Kajaki hydro-electric Dam; Garmsir, which is the "Taliban gateway to Helmand" from the Taliban's strongholds to the east in Pakistan; and Musa Qala, the importance of which, after last year's controversial British-Taliban truce, is probably as much symbolic as strategic.

17 April, 2007

Cricket in Iraq and Afghanistan

More news that you are unlikely to come across in the msm. In Basra, the British Army has been introducing Iraqi children to the noble game through Kwik Cricket, a flexible form of the sport developed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in consultation with educationalists mainly for use by children from the age of 5 in primary schools. Both the Ministry of Defence and the ECB have reports.

The splendid Major Andrew Banks, who never deploys without his cricket bat, also ran a similar scheme in Afghanistan last year. He told the ECB that the Iraqi children had little concept of bat and ball games and they "... never quite understood the lbw law but they enjoyed themselves and that was what mattered." No problem. I have known umpires who never understood the lbw law either.

Last year the Afghan national team played its first match against the MCC, as result of which two Afghans were invited to join the MCC Young Cricketers and later in 2006 the Afghans toured England, playing at quite a good standard against county 2nd XIs.

British forces at war: as witnessed by an American.

Michael Yon blogs from Basra, Iraq, where he is with 5 Platoon, 2nd Battalion, "The Rifles" Battle Group. It is an article full of insights about the dangers being faced daily by our troops.

One thing that struck me was Yon's observations that the soldiers' missions were being made more dangerous, and their lives threatened, by a lack of helicopter support:

...The ensuing firefights were vigorous. As more enemy joined and the battle progressed, British elements maneuvered and fired, making adjustments to the plan to mold the fight. With no helicopters above to help develop ground awareness or to help shape the combat by engaging targets, British commanders directed their elements by map and ground-feel. Having no helicopters also left rooftops open to the enemy, adding another dimension to the combat.
It seems a depressingly similar story to the long running, scandalous helicopter shortage in Afghanistan.


A pointer to an informative blog on Afghanistan I came across recently. Safrang is well worth bookmarking. The About section says,

Safrang recognizes that there is a dearth of serious English language blogs on Afghanistan reflecting the national perspective and aims to play its small part in filling this void.
That has a familiar ring. A major reason for my starting this blog was the dearth of any serious press coverage in the UK, a void which needed filling. Safrang though, unlike CS, is actually written by an Afghan so it contains a lot of insights not actually available to the outsider. I report the news as best I can, Safrang gets inside it.

Operation Achilles in Helmand.

Operation Achilles, the ISAF's major anti-Taliban offensive in Helmand, Afghanistan has been continuing this week with series of joint Afghan-British strikes targeted against terrorist leaders in the north of the province. According to an ISAF press statement:
... in joint operations with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), ISAF launched a series of attacks and precision strikes against Taliban extremist in the Northern Helmand this week resulting in the elimination of several key extremist leaders from the ongoing insurgency.

“Striking at the heart of the problem and removing these key leaders has paid off,” stated Major General Ton van Loon, Commander of Regional Command South. “We fully realize the influence these Taliban extremist leaders have on the population of Southern Afghanistan who have clearly told us they felt like they where hostages in their own communities. Removing these extremist leaders from the equation allows freedom of choice to young men who are otherwise intimidated and coerced to join the Taliban extremists in the South,” he added.
Afgha.com summarises the latest state of play in the province with useful links to contextual material. Basically, a mixed picture emerges with ISAF success in retaking control of Sanguin being offset by continuing Taliban dominance of the Musa Qala, Now (New) Zad and Bagrhan districts. Afgha.com concludes that,
The recent offensive launched by NATO against the Taliban militants holed up in Helmand [Operation Achilles] is likely the beginning of a summer long campaign aimed at securing the Kajaki dam complex in northern Helmand and securing the ring highway (highway 1) that cuts through Afghanistan’s southern underbelly, stretching from Herat to Kabul.
The BBC has a few earlier pictures from Operation Achilles.

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